Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Notes from a sermon on today's Gospel reading...
by Venerable John Henry Newman, C.O.

The Parable of the Servant who Owed Ten Thousand Talents—Matt. xviii.

I consider this parable, and the other passages of our Lord's teaching which are parallel to it, of a very awful character. I think all of us will say so who seriously turn their minds to consider them. (Go through it.)

It is introduced by a question of St. Peter, which itself may be viewed in connection with another declaration of our Lord's on the same subject, which is recorded in the 17th of St. Luke, vv. 3-5(Quote.) Apparently in allusion to this, or in some connection with it, St. Peter asked: 'Lord, how often,' etc. Matt. xviii. 21-22.

In the same way in the sermon on the mount, Matt. v. 22-24. And He has introduced it as one of the seven petitions of His own prayer, which is the first element and type of all our devotions, and which we say every day. Forgiveness of injuries then bound up in the very idea of prayer in the evangelical law; and our Lord in a passage in St. Mark seems distinctly to say so; for after speaking of the faith which will move mountains, He proceeds, Mark xi. 25-26, 'And when you shall stand to pray, forgive, if you have ought against any man: that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your sins. But if you will not forgive, neither will your Father that is in heaven forgive you your sins.'

Now this great Christian precept is often expressed in these two words: viz. that when injury is done to us, it is our duty to forgive and forget. Let us dwell upon these.

Now, at first sight, we shall all of us allow that it is a very beautiful precept, especially when we are young, when our hearts are light and open, and our tempers generous; we shall on the one hand think it admirable and great, and, not having had to practise it in fact, we shall be drawn to it, think it easy, and resolve to observe it as life goes on. I can fancy young people drawing before their minds pictures of injuries done them, of their forgiving the injuries, and returning good for evil. And when they read accounts of men who have done so, and instances of generosity, magnanimity, patience and nobleness in this respect, they are greatly moved and filled with a love of the virtue. Nor is it only a beautiful precept, it is of a most useful and expedient character too. Every one must confess who turns his mind to the subject, that the world would go on far better, that all men would be happier, if this precept was universally observed. For what is a greater or wider scourge of man than war, dissensions and litigation? and though these miseries arise in a great measure from covetousness (James iv.), they arise still more from passion, from a sense of injuries, from a fierce determination to retaliate, from a thirst for revenge. James iv. 1-2, 'From whence are wars and contentions among you? ... you covet, and have not; you kill, and envy, and cannot obtain.'

To forgive and forget, then, is (1) at first sight a beautiful, an admirable precept, and (2) one which on long experience leads to the greatest benefit to mankind. All men are interested in its recognition and observance; yet it will be found not at all easy in fact, but a very difficult precept, one which is but rarely obeyed and very partially, where it is not altogether neglected; and further, one to which many plausible objections may be made, and many arguments in favour of a contrary course, which become formidable when they are brought to defend that unwillingness to obey it; and the difficulty of obeying it, which in matter of fact will be found in human nature.

Now I will first set down what I conceive the precept to be, and next consider how the objection to it arises.

(I was interrupted, or I meant to have written a sketch of a whole sermon. I have forgotten now my arrangement. I put down some isolated [topoi].) (1) Not to forgive is even contrary to justice, a higher kind of justice than natural justice, for we should do as it has been done by Almighty God to us. (2) Forgetting, yes, as God forgets, for He forgets by putting aside, behind His back, our sins. (3) We should put aside also, for a reason special to us, for the thinking of injury is a temptation to avenge it. (On distrust necessarily remaining after forgiveness) (4) Mere emotion is not revenge. (5) Though we must put aside the injury, we must not put aside the injurer, for that would be hatred—this the cardo of the difficulty of the precept. (6) On being obliged to speak to persons with whom we have quarrelled. This has exceptions, e.g. if they are likely to tempt us to sin, which perhaps was the injury; but such exceptions must be determined by a director. (7) It seems to be contrary to justice if injuries are not punished. This is true, but we must not judge in our own case. (8) Contrary to nature to forgive. Yes, but sin and redemption (see above, 2). (9) This is what this age forgets when it speaks in favour of revenge. (10) Men do not believe in redemption, nor that they are sinners. Hence Mahomet. (11) Do I put forgiveness [merely] as a condition [of obtaining forgiveness for ourselves]? No, one who believes in what Christ has done has no heart for revenge. (12) Onesimus—Christ says 'forgive me' by the lips of the fellow-servant. (13) Man's duty to pray for injurers. (14) Pray to meet them in heaven, (15) when all angularities will be rubbed off, and we shall be able truly to love them. (16) We and they are sinners; let us help each other.


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