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TEXT: Ephesians 4:32
SUBJECT: Baxter on Forgiveness #1
Tonight, with the Lord's help, we'll get back to my favorite Puritan author, Richard Baxter. On some points of theology, he is not a reliable guide. But when it comes to practical living for Christ, I've never read anyone half as good as he is. My judgment is not mine alone. During his life, he was the best-selling author in England and America. And since his death in 1691, his books have never gone out of print. The People of God have always profited from the godly wisdom and common sense of Richard Baxter.
The topic we'll take up tonight is an important one. Baxter gives it the title,
"Directions for the forgiving of enemies, and those that injure us; against wrath and malice, revenge and persecution".
In other words, How to forgive people who've done you wrong.
NEED AND DUTY
The need to forgive others doesn't have to be proven, does it? Everyone has been hurt, offended, ignored or excluded. The most well-liked person in the world has plenty to forgive.
And forgive, he must. God says so many times in the Bible and in ways no one could miss.
We have commands, Colossians 3:12-13,
"Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another."
We have examples as well. Think of
"Father, forgive them, for they know
not what they do".
Although these are all powerful motives to forgive others who've done you wrong, I am most impressed by another. It's one I've read hundreds of times-and never without discomfort. Here it is, Matthew 6:14-15,
"If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their tres- Passes, neither will your heavenly Father Forgive your trespasses".
I'm not sure I can fit the verse into the doctrine of Salvation by Grace Alone, but whether I can or not, the verse is true. God so wants you to forgive others, that He threatens to not forgive you unless you forgive them.
Forgiveness, therefore, is in important duty. And unlike dying for Christ, it's one you're called to do just about every day of your life.
We must learn to forgive. And to do it. Whether the offense is big or small; one-time or repeated; from our best friend or worst enemy, we must forgive others.
But how do we do it? Baxter has a lot to say on this one. He offers seven directives; and on the last one, he adds twenty considerations! We'll start tonight, and as the Lord provides, we'll carry on for several weeks.
But before we do, let me remind you: Studying forgiveness is not the same as practicing it! It's good to read Baxter on forgiving others--it's better to forgive others. Don't forget that! We've got to be more than "hearers of the Word" (or preachers of it either!). We've got to become
"Doers of the Word".
Especially when it comes to forgiveness. If you're to become more forgiving than you are, you must.
REMEMBER WHAT A GRUDGE IS.
My Oxford English Dictionary gives several different meanings for the word, "grudge". They include "murmuring, grumbling, discontent, ill-will, resentment, and an unwillingness to give, grant, or allow". Every one of these is true and helpful, but none of them gets to the heart of the matter.
What, exactly, is a grudge? It's murder. Here's the quote,
"It is not only actual murder that is forbidden in the sixth commandment, but also all inordinate wrath, malice, and desires for revenge, for so the Prophet and Judge of the Church hath expounded it".
By "prophet and judge of the church", he means Jesus Christ. In Matthew 5:21-22, He identifies a grudge with the sin of murder,
"You have heard that it was said to those of old, you shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you that whoever is angry with His brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his Brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, You Fool! Shall be in danger of hell fire."
What would you think of a person who tried to justify a murder? If he said, "Well, you know what he did to me?" You might sympathize with him as the victim of someone's sin, but you couldn't possibly say, "Well, in that case, it was all right to kill him!"
Yet we do that all the time when it comes to grudges. We excuse them, we justify them, we may even boast about them. But if we remembered what they are-what they really are-we'd repent of them. Thus, if you want to quit holding grudges, remember what they are-murder in the heart! That's Number One.
If you want to become more forgiving, a second thing to do is to.
LOOK FOR GOD IN THE ONE WHO HAS OFFENDED YOU.
Everyone is made in the Image of God-including the worst sinner. Every believer bears a double-image. One because he's a human and the other because he has become something like Christ in the New Birth. If you look hard enough for God in others, it won't be long before you start seeing Him to some degree.
And, by seeing Him in others, you separate the wrong you've been done from the person who did you wrong. This will allow you to hate the sin without hating the sinner. And that's another way of saying you won't hold a grudge.
This is what you ought to do. But is it what you do? If you're anything like I am, it isn't. When someone does me wrong, I tend to see the Devil in him. If I hold on to it long enough, it gets worse and worse. He goes from being the devil's victim to his servant to his friend to his son to the devil himself! This is what grudges do to us-it makes us minimize all the good in others and maximize all the bad.
And that, in turn, justifies the grudge and makes it harder and harder to repent of. Here's the quote,
"See God in your neighbor, and love him for that which is of God in him. If he is holy, he has the moral image of God. If he is unholy, he has the natural image of God as a man. Though there is something in him that deserves your hatred, yet that is not his substance or Person. Do not hate or wrong that which is of God! If you would but see His Image in others, it would raise your reverence for them and lower your wrath".
If you want to stop holding a grudge, look for the Lord in the people who've done you wrong. In some cases, He's easy to see in them (despite their faults). In others, He better disguised. But keep looking for Him, and you'll see Him. When you do, you'll drop your bitterness. That's Number Two.
Thirdly, if you want to become more forgiving.
FORCE YOURSELF TO THINK OF THE GOOD IN THE ONE WHO HAS OFFENDED YOU.
I chose my words carefully. When you're mad or hurt, it's hard to see good in the one who has done you wrong. He might have done you a thousand favors in the past, but you forget them all when he does you wrong. Or, he may have a hundred good traits, but it's the one bad one you focus on. Thus, you have to force yourself to think of the good in him.
Apply this to your wife. You came home late today and she was all over you! Where have you been? Dinner's cold! Why didn't you call? You're so thoughtless! On and on it goes. This is a real wrong. It shows disrespect and a lack of patience, love, and courtesy.
It's easy to stew about it. Until you start thinking of all the good she's done you over the years. Maybe she was rude and unreasonable tonight, but she's also cooked for you for the last twenty years! And laughed with you. And made love to you. And overlooked a lot of your faults. Is it right to discount all of these things? To regard them as nothing compared to tonight's angry fit? Does one sin (or more than one) undo all the good she's done you?
No fair-minded person would think that. So, instead of sulking in the garage, why don't you tick off her good traits and all the favors she has done you? Before long, you'll be ashamed of yourself. And you'll drop your grudge.
Let me give you an example. A friend of mine is married to the most impossible woman I've ever met. He used to come over about once a week to dump all over me about her. I never said a word. He'd go on for fifteen or twenty minutes about how she disrespected him or embarrassed him or yelled at him or...on and on it went. But before long, he'd start thinking about how well she cooks or how neat she keeps the house or how careful she is with their money or how helpful to other people. He'd come over full of bitterness and contempt; he'd leave grateful that God gave him such a good wife.
The wrongs he complained about were true. But they weren't the whole story. When he thought of the Big Picture, he dropped his grudge. And so will you. Here's the quote,
"Observe more the good in your neighbor than the evil. Malice overlooks all that is good and amiable, and can see nothing but that which is bad and detestable. It listens more to those who condemn others than to those who praise them. It is more our duty to observe the good in them than the evil. .The least good in them, if rightly observed, would diminish your dislike of them".
Note the words, "the least good". The worst sinner has some good traits. It is unjust to overlook them. And the more you do that, the easier it is to hold a grudge.
My grandfather hardly ever said a bad word about others. A friend baited him one day by mentioning the neighborhood scoundrel. This fellow was rotten to the core-cruel, selfish, proud, lazy, dishonest, you name it and he was guilty of it. When the man said, How about so-and-so? My grandfather replied,
"He's a good whistler".
You do that and you won't hold your grudge so tightly. That's Number Three.
Here's Number Four. If you want to become more forgiving that you are.
LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.
"Learn but to love your neighbor as yourself, and this will make it easier to both forbear and forgive him.
With yourself you are not so quick to be angry. Against yourself, you bear no malice and desire No revenge."
This is Puritan counseling at its best! "Love covers a multitude of sins". And because I love myself more than anyone else, I tend to overlook or excuse or at least underplay my own sins. Either I didn't do it at all or if I did I didn't mean to and if I did mean to, I sure won't do it again! We're all this way! We're slow to find fault with ourselves or to exaggerate the gravity of what we've done.
If we loved others as much as we do ourselves, we'd cut them the same slack! And that, in turn, would keep us from holding a grudge.
Let me close by reminding you of the duty of forgiving others and the importance of it too. Every Word of God is important-and must be obeyed. But some parts are more important than others. And forgiving others is one of them!
This means: You must forgive others-whether you feel like it or not. And no matter what they've done to you or how often they've done it.
To help you do it, Richard Baxter offers four pieces of advice:
That's what we ought to do. And with God's help, we can do it. Now, let's pray for grace and put feet on our prayers. For Christ's sake. Amen.
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