By Bobby Thompson.
When Alexander Pope said, “To err is human, to for-give divine,” he was not engaged in idle use of words. Truly, forgiveness is one of the great attributes of God. Indeed, we should rejoice in it, for to be without it is to be without hope. (Ephesians 2:12). Only those who have been forgiven are in a position to understand and appreciate its meaning. Not only is the term one of tenderness and beauty in our language; it is far reaching in its consequence. It has to do with human relations which involve the destiny of the soul. No man is ever through with sins until they have been forgiven. Either one’s sins have been forgiven or he is still in sin. Time does not erase sins and no amount of self-justification will ever take them away. An unforgiven person or an unforgiving person cannot be saved. Remember the words of Christ: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15).
Let us consider the nature of forgiveness. What does forgiveness include? From the negative viewpoint, forgiveness does not erase the fact of sin. Furthermore, it does not blot from a person’s mind the memory of sin. Paul well remembered his life as chief of sinners and “…how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it.” (Galatians 1:13). He remembered such even in the period when he had God’s promise that these sins were forgiven. Again, we might mention that forgiveness does not release one from the consequences of sin. In Psalm 51:3, David wrote: “For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.” It appears that he refers to a single sin in his life that was foremost. What could have been before him more than the adultery with Bathsheba, and in an effort to conceal it, having Uriah, her husband, put to death? The writer of first Kings makes reference to this by saying that David did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord “…except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.” (1 Kings 15:5). Though forgiven, the consequence of the sin still remained with David. We must not forget that forgiveness does not release one from the consequence of the sin committed. Men have transgressed God’s law and been forgiven, but in some cases there was the debt to society which, by the law of the land, even their life was required in execution or lengthy imprisonment.
From the positive standpoint, forgiveness is a release from the enormous debt incurred by sin. In Matthew l8, Jesus relates the parable of the unforgiving servant. The parable reveals a servant who owed his master the enormous sum of ten thousand talents. Not being able to pay his master, “The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all’. Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.” (Matthew 18:26-27). Think of the tremendous load that was removed from this man! This portrays the Lord forgiving the sinner of his sins as he seeks forgiveness in obeying the gospel of Christ.
Again, forgiveness involves a removal of a broken fellowship. As one transgresses God’s will, fellowship is broken with God. When one is obedient to God that he might have God’s forgiveness, fellowship is restored. This view of forgiveness is seen in the account of the penitent prodigal. “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son’. But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry: for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.” (Luke 15:20-24). In this very beautiful and touching scene, one views forgiveness in action and fellowship that had been broken, restored.
To forgive is to give up, not only any claim for requital or retribution, but also any resentment or desire for revenge. There is a difference between pardon and forgiveness. Pardon is to free one from punishment and refers to consequence. Forgiveness has reference to feelings. An executive may pardon, but forgiveness must come from the one who has suffered the wrong. God both pardons and forgives. In this, we should truly rejoice! May we never lose sight of our need for forgiveness, and having been forgiven, and always be ready to forgive those who seek our forgiveness. May we never be like the unforgiving servant who was forgiven so much by his master, but refused to forgive his fellow man. (Matthew 18:28-30).