The next thing is perhaps the most difficult of all to deal with—Forgiveness. I believe this is keeping more people from having power with God than any other thing—they are not willing to cultivate the spirit of forgiveness. If we allow the root of bitterness to spring up in our hearts against some one, our prayer will not be answered. It may not be an easy thing to live in sweet fellowship with all those with whom we come in contact; but that is what the grace of God is given to us for.
The disciples' prayer is a test of sonship; if we can pray it all from the heart we have good reason to think that we have been born of God. No man can call God Father but by the Spirit. Though this prayer has been such a blessing to the world, I believe it has been a great snare; many stumble over it into perdition. They do not weigh its meaning, nor take its facts right into their hearts. I have no sympathy with the idea of universal sonship—that all men are the sons of God. The Bible teaches very plainly that we are adopted into the family of God. If all were sons God would not need to adopt any. We are all God's by creation; but when people teach that any man can say, "Our Father which art in heaven," whether he is born of God or not, I think that is contrary to Scripture. "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." Sonship in the family is the privilege of the believer. "In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil," says the Apostle. If we are doing the will of God, that is a very good sign that we are born of God . If we have no desire to do that will, how can we call God "Our Father?"
Another thing. We cannot really pray for God's kingdom to come until we are in it. If we should pray for the coming of God's kingdom while we are rebelling against Him, we are only seeking for our own condemnation. No unrenewed man really wants God's will to be done on the earth. You might write over the door of every unsaved man's house, and over his place of business, " God's will is not done here."
If the nations were really to put up this prayer, all their armies could be discharged. They tell us there are some twelve millions of men in the standing armies of Europe alone. But men do not want God's will done on earth as it is in heaven; that is the trouble.
Now let us come to the part I want to dwell upon: "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us." This is the only part of the prayer that Christ explained.
"For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
Notice that when you go into the door of God's kingdom, you go in through the door of forgiveness. I never knew of a man getting a blessing in his own soul, if he was not willing to forgive others, If we are unwilling to forgive others, God cannot forgive us, I do not know how language could be more plain than it is in these words of our Lord. I firmly believe a great many prayers are not answered because we are not willing to forgive some one. Let your mind go •back over the past, and through the circle of your acquaintance; are there any against whom you are cherishing hard feelings? Is there any root of bitterness springing up against some one who has perhaps injured you? It may be that for months or years you have been nursing this unforgiving spirit;how can you ask God to forgive you? If I am not willing to forgive those who may have committed some single offence against me, what a mean, contemptible thing it would be for me to ask God to forgive the ten thousand sins of which I have been guilty!
But Christ goes still further. He says: "If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift." It may be that you are saying: "I do not know that I have anything against any one." Has any one anything against you? Is there some one who thinks you have done them wrong? Perhaps you have not; but it may be they think you have. I will tell you what I would do before I go to sleep to-night; I would go and see them, and have the question settled. You will find that you will be greatly blessed in the very act.
Supposing you are in the right and they are in the wrong; you may win your brother or sister. May God root out of all our hearts this unforgiving spirit .
A gentleman came to me some time ago, and wanted me to talk to his wife about her soul . That woman seemed as anxious as any person I ever met, and I thought it would not take long to lead her into the light; but it seemed that the longer I talked with her, the more her darkness increased . I went to see her again the next day, and found her in still greater darkness of Boul . I thought there must be something in the way that I had not discovered, and I asked her to repeat with me this disciples' prayer. I thought if she could say this prayer from the heart, the Lord would meet her in peace. I began to repeat it sentence after sentence, and she repeated it after me until I came to this petition: "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us." There she stopped . I repeated it the second time, and waited for her to say it after me; she said she could not do it. "What is the trouble?" She replied, "There is one woman I never will forgive." "Oh," I said, "I have got at your difficulty; it is no use my going on to pray, for your prayers will not go higher than my head. God says He will not forgive you unless you forgive others. If you do not forgive this woman, God will never forgive you. That is the decree of heaven." She said, "Do you mean to say that I cannot be forgiven until I have forgiven her?" "No, I do not say it; the Lord says it, and that is far better authority." Said she, "Then I will never be forgiven." I left the house without having made any impression on her. A few years after, I heard that this woman was in an asylum for the insane. I believe this spirit of unforgiveness drove her mad.
If there is some one who has aught against you, go at once, and be reconciled. If you have aught against any one, write to them a letter, telling them that you forgive them, and so have this thing off your conscience. I remember being in the inquiry-room some years ago; I was in one corner of the room, talking to a young lady. There seemed to be something in the way, but I could not find out what it was. At last I said, "Is there not some one you do not forgive?" She looked up at me, and said, "What made you ask that? Has anyone told you about me?" "No," I said; "but I thought perhaps that might be the case, as you have not received forgiveness yourself." "Well," she said, pointing to another corner of the room, where there was a young lady sitting, "I have had trouble with that young lady; we have not spoken to each other for along time." "Oh," I said, "it is all plain to me now; you cannot be forgiven until you are willing to forgive her." It was a great struggle. But then you know, the greater the cross the greater the blessing. It is human to err, but it is Christ-like to forgive and be forgiven. At last this young lady said: 'I will go and forgive her." Strange to say, the same conflict was going on in the mind of the lady in the other part of the room. They both came to their right mind about the same time. They met each other in the middle of the floor. The one tried to say that she forgave the other, but they could not finish; so they rushed into each other's arms. Then the four of us— the two seekers and the two workers—got down on our knees together, and we had a grand meeting. These two went away rejoicing.
Dear friend, is this the reason why your prayers are not answered? Is there some friend, some member of your family, some one in the church, you have not forgiven? We sometimes hear of members of the same church who have not spoken to each other for years. How can we expect God to forgive when this is the case?
I remember one town that Mr. Sankey and myself visited . For a week it seemed as if we were beating the air; there was no power in the meetings. At last I said one day that perhaps there was some one cultivating this unforgiving spirit . The Chairman of our committee, who was sitting next to me, got up and left the meeting right in view of the audience. The arrow had hit the mark, and gone home to the heart of the Chairman of the committee. He had had trouble with some one for about six months. He at once hunted up this man and asked him to forgive him. He came to me with tears in his eyes, and said: "I thank God you ever came here." That night the inquiry-room was thronged. The Chairman became one of the best workers I have ever known, and he has been active in Christian service ever since.
Several years ago the Church of England sent a devoted missionary to New Zealand. After a few yeara of toil and success, he was one Sabbath holding a communion service in a district where the converts had not long since been savages. As the missionary was conducting the service, he observed one of the men, just as he was about to kneel at the rail, suddenly start to his feet and hastily go the opposite end of the church. By and by he returned, and calmly took his place. After service the clergyman took him on one side, and asked the reason for his strange behavior. He replied: "As I was about to kneel I recognized in the man next to me the chief of a neighboring tribe, who had murdered my f ather, and drunk his blood; and I had sworn by all the gods that I would slay that man at the first opportunity. The impulse to have my revenge, at the first almost overpowered me, and I rushed away, as you saw me, to escape the power of it. As I stood at the other end of the room and considered the object of our meeting, I thought of Him who prayed for His own murderers: 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.' And I felt that I could forgive the murderer of my father, and came and knelt down at his side."
As one has said: "There is an ugly kind of forgiveness in the world—a kind of hedgehog forgiveness, shot out like quills. Men take one who has offended, and set him down before the blow-pipe of their indignation, and scorch him, and burn his fault into him; and when they have kneaded him sufficiently with their fists, then they forgive him."
The father of Frederick the Great, on his death-bed, was warned by M. Eoloff, his spiritual adviser, that he was bound to forgive his enemies. He was quite troubled, and after a moment's pause said to the Queen: "You, Feekin, may write to your brother (the King of England) after I am dead, and tell him that I forgave him, and died at peace with him." "It would be better," M. Eoloff mildly suggested, "that your majesty should write at once." "No," was the stern reply. "Write after I am dead. That will be safer."
Another story tells of a man who, supposing he was about to die, expressed his forgiveness to one who had injured him, but added: "Now you mind, if I get well, the old grudge holds good."
My friends, that is not forgiveness at all. I believe true forgiveness includes forgetting the offence— putting it entirely away out of our hearts and memories.
As Matthew Henry says: "We do not forgive our offending brother aright nor acceptably, if we do not forgive him from the heart, for it is that God looks at. No malice must be harbored there, nor ill-will to any; no projects of revenge must be hatched there, nor desires of it, as there are in many who outwardly appear peaceful and reconciled. We must from the heart desire and seek the welfare of those who have offended us."
If God's forgiveness were like that often shown by us, it would not be worth much. Supposing God said: "I will forgive you, but I will never forget it; all through eternity I will keep reminding you of it;" we should not feel that to be forgiveness at all. Notice what God says: "I will remember their sin no more." In a passage in Ezekiel it is said that not one of our sins shall be mentioned; is not that like God? I do like to preach this forgiveness—the sweet truth that sin is blotted out for time and eternity, and shall never once be mentioned against us. In another Scripture we read: "Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more." Then when you turn to the eleventh chapter of the Hebrews, and read God's roll of honor, you find that not one of the sins of any of those men of faith is mentioned. Abraham is spoken of as the man of faith; but it is not told how he denied his wife down in Egypt; all that had been forgiven. Moses was kept out of the Promised Land because he lost patience; but this is not mentioned in the New Testament, though his name appears in the Apostle's roll of honor. Samson, too, is named, but his sins are not brought up again. Why, we even read of "righteous Lot;" he did not look much like a righteous man in the Old Testament story, but he has been forgiven, and God has made him "righteous." If we are once forgiven by God, our sins will be remembered against us no more. This is God's eternal decree.
Brooks says of God's pardon granted to His people: "When God pardons sin, He takes it sheer away; that if it should be sought for, yet it could not be found; as the prophet Jeremiah speaks: 'In those days, and in that time, saith the Lord, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found; for I will pardon them whom I reserve.' As David, when he saw in Mephibosheth the features of his friend Jonathan, took no notice of his lameness, or any other defect or deformity; so God, beholding in His people the glorious image of His Son, winks at all their faults and deformities, which made Luther say, 'Do with me what thou wilt, since Thou hast pardoned my sin.' And what is it to pardon sin, but not to mention sin?"
We read in the Gospel of Matthew: "Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone; if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother." Then a little further on we read that Peter comes to Christ and says: "How oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times?" Jesus replied, "I say not unto thee, until seven times; but until seventy times seven." Peter did not seem to think that he was in danger of falling into sin; his question was, How often should I forgive my brother? But very soon we hear that Peter has fallen. I can imagine that when he did fall, the sweet thought came to him of what the Master had said about forgiving until seventy times seven. The voice of sin may be loud, but the voice of forgiveness is louder.
Let us enter into David's experience, when he said: "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile. When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me; my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. I acknowledged my sin unto Thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid . I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin."
David could look below, above, behind and before; to the past, present, and future; and know that all was well. Let us make up our mind, that we will not rest until this question of sin is for ever settled, so that we can look up and claim God as our forgiving Father. Let us be willing to forgive others, that we may be able to claim forgiveness from God, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said: "If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
"Now, oh joy! my sins are pardoned!
Now I can and do believe!
All I have, and am, and shall be,
To my precious Lord I give;
He roused my deathly slumbers,
He dispersed my soul's dark night; Whispered peace, and drew me to Him
Made Himself my chief delight.
"Let the babe forget its mother,
Let the bridegroom slight his bride; True to him, I'll love none other,
Cleaving closely to His side. Jesus, hear my soul's confession;
Weak am I, but strength is Thine; On Thine arms for strength and succor, Calmly may my soul recline!"