The Gospel Messenger--June 1914
Repentance and Forgiveness
"Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him."-Luke xvii. 3, 4.
The King and Lawgiver in Zion have in this passage enjoined forgiveness, full and free; not just any way, but one way-only one way. Would Abel come confidently before God that he might obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need? Then let him bring an offering, a sacrifice acceptable to God; and this he did. But Cain failed because his sacrifice was not acceptable--"Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin;" no forgiveness, no sending off or away, or separating the sin from the sinner. This throughout the scriptures is the one fundamental meaning of forgiveness--to separate the sin from the sinner.
Then let there be no alarm if it were said that in the case under consideration, repentance--sincere and true--is the offering or sacrifice upon which forgiveness is authorized. Not that there is merit in repentance itself, or abstractedly considered; only in its relation to that great sacrifice or atonement for sin mentioned in Matt. xxvi. 28--"This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission [sending away, forgiveness] of sins," is there acceptableness in it.
"A God all mercy would be a God unjust."
Justice must sanction all the acts of mercy. In the absence of mercy, or cause for mercy, the word is-"Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet; and hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place."--Isa. xxviii. 17. No repentance is found and judgment is executed. "Such is the way of an adulterous woman; she eateth and wipeth her mouth, and saith, I have done no wickedness. "--Prov. xxx 20. In the scripture a meretricious woman represents a false church while a virtuous woman or a virgin represents the true church. Mary Magdalene was probable of the former class, but through an acceptable repentance she found favor and acceptableness with him who is "separate from sinners," "holy, harmless," "made higher than the heavens," "in whom is no guile."
The command is-"Rebuke him, [the trespassing brother], and if he repent, forgive him." But it is claimed by some that we should forgive whether he repents or not, and Eph. iv. 32 is cited as proof-"And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you." Matt. xviii. 32-35 is also cited as proof. I, however, find Christ's sacrifice as the basis of forgiveness in the first cited passage, and in the second I find a servant wickedly refusing compassion where it was pleadingly asked for; and I find severe punishment inflicted upon the unforgiving one, and also the words of Jesus--"So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
O how bad it is to refuse to forgive when and where God requires it! Lord, help us to be tenderhearted and forgiving, and deliver us from the great evil of an unforgiving and hating disposition!
But to forgive and restore without repentance would work disastrously everywhere--in church, in family and in the state and nation. It matters not how much of the spirit of love, compassion and forgiveness there may be, it could not be safely exercised at the expense and discredit of law. When Christ cried from the cross in the behalf of his crucifiers--"Father, forgive them"--it was not without regard to his own atonement, for that was and it the only basis upon which forgiveness of sin can be extended or bestowed.
For the church to exclude a member, or members, in strict accord with the law of Christ, and forgive (restore) without repentance (just from pity, love. etc.,) would be to dishonor Christ and injure herself. The lawful and safe courses is to exercise gentleness, meekness, instruction, if peradventure God will give the required repentance.
How greatly I have desired to know just what is the will of God in this important matter, and that he would give me the grace with which to do "that good and acceptable will of God," and also that in this day of confusion and strife all his people who are involved in it could be led in true humility and prayer to "Search and try their ways, and turn again to the Lord." Lam. iii. 40.
J. C. DENTON
Submitted by Elder David Montgomery | Print This Page
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Repentance and Forgiveness