Of forgiving our brother

Of forgiving our brother

Of offences against ourselves. The Unmerciful Servant.

(The Gospel History, Section 76)

And if thy brother sin against thee, go, shew him his fault between thee and him alone: if he hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he hear thee not, take with thee one or two more, that at the mouth of two witnesses or three every word may be established. And if he refuse to hear them, tell it unto the church: and if he refuse to hear the church also, let him be unto thee as the Gentile and the publican. Verily I say unto you, What things soever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and what things soever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

Then came Peter, and said to him, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? until seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven.

Of forgiving our brother

(The Saviour of the World, Vol V Book I Poem I)

Of offences, salt, the mystery of a child,
Of humility and peace, had spoken the Lord:
The words He spake searched hearts as strong March winds
Search out weak places in a feeble frame:
One and another came with a case too hard
For him to determine: this one asked the Lord:—
“My brother, Lord, hath spoke ill words of me,
And one, a friendly neighbour, came and told;
What for his trespass shall I do to him?”
“My next-door neighbour hath encroached on me;
He blocks my doorway with unseemly things,
His children hinder who would enter in?”—
So said another, full of sudden wrath:
A third spake hot,—“What, to a man who cheats,
Who takes day labour from men nor will pay?”
And all the crowd were eager, each man’s face,
Hot and distorted with excess of spleen,
Shewed murderous hate within; and each disclosed
The wrong or outrage most was festering there,
In the hidden place of his heart; they looked on Christ,
Knew them in presence of the Judge, serene;
Amid contending tongues, all unperturbed;
Their clamour ceased; the calm of Justice spread
In troubled hearts; each knew his cause was safe,
And waited, meek, the verdict of the Lord.

One word He spake to all, for each had come
With tale of offence ’gainst him by brother wrought:
“What shall I do to him?” was all their cry:
And, lo! the offending brother, not the man
Who bore the offence, was in the thought of Christ,
For his, the greater need. A new thing, this,—
The injurer, not the injured, is the wronged;—
“Poor man, he has injured thee? Nay, what of that?
Consider thou the wrong he does himself
In wrong he makes thee suffer: see’st thou not
How warped his judgment, selfish, hard, his heart?
Nay, know’st thou he can find no place to pray?
A veil is between him and God; a stubborn wall
’Twixt him and all the tenderness of men,—
The while that wrong he’s done thee ’s in the way:
Haste thee to help thy brother in ill case!

“But, say’st, ‘Nay, he has done the wrong, not I!’—
His sin’s his need; his offence cries out for help,
As were he drowning or his house on fire;—
How would’st thou succour him in such distress!
I say to you, this poor man’s case is worse:
Who wrongs his brother builds an adamant tower
About him, which excludes all warmth of love
From sun in heaven—as from neighbour’s fire:
Poor wretch, he perisheth, a prisoner:
Haste, then, with quick release and let him out.”

Dismayed, they heard: then, soft forgiveness stole
As light o’er the dark world; sudden, each saw
The pitiful case of him who had done the wrong;
And knew in his heart,—’twere better to endure
All injury than commit the offence of him
Who hates the brother that hath done him wrong.
“But, Lord, he is proud,” saith one, “how make him know
That I bear no grudge, would have him free himself
From bitterness of bondage?” “Go to him;
Shew him his fault ’twixt thee and him alone,
Nor neighbours call to witness to thy wrong,
Nor prate of his offence about the town:
Simple, sincere, and loving him, he sees
Thee come, and knows thy candid soul desires
His restoration only; he repents,
And thou hast gained thy brother: well is thee!”

“But, Lord, if he be sullen, will not hear—
For scarce have I been gentle—what do I?”
“Take with thee one or two to strengthen thee;
To restrain thee, too; men are not rash of speech
When, serious, they before witnesses confer:
But, see thou gain thy brother; all thy part,—
Kind, courteous, to convince him of the truth:
Flinch’st thou? Perchance thou wert not always right?
Hap, violent words have ’scaped thee, scornful looks?
If thou hast wronged thy brother, tell him so
Before thy witnesses; then, moved, will he
Own his transgression, and thy brother’s gained.”

“If, Lord, he have in truth done me a wrong,
Nor have I aught to blame myself withal,
If he refuse to hear, though meek I come,
Nor receive my witnesses, good Lord, what then?”
“There be offences of malicious dye,
Wrought unprovoked, and suffered silently,
For th’ offender’s hardened to all just reproof,
Nor can resentment reach him. In such case,
After thou’st tried and failed, go, tell the Church:
The Spirit of wisdom rests on two or three,
As on multitudes, collected in My name:
The Church shall counsel take, hear evidence,
And let the offender speak: righteous decree
Shall issue from My Church, in meekness set
Not her own will to do. Should, then, the man
Stiffen his neck, regardless, thou no more
Canst do to save the offender; let him be
As open sinner, pagan,—nought to thee:

“But beware thou hasten not this sinner’s doom
Through thine own arrogance; ’tis thine to save,
Or damn, to bind or loose the man; he goes
Henceforth as thou’st propell’d him—saved by love
Or by thy harshness hardened; bound by heaven,
Or loosed, as thou hast willed.” They heard in fear;
Who might dare cherish wrath if a man’s soul,
Here and in heaven, hung upon his love,
And he, so quick to hate! The Lord perceived
How truth wrought in their souls, who stood condemned
Of loving not their brother.—

“There is a way

Whereby thy brother’s soul may yet be saved
And thou escape condemnation. If two of you
Agree on earth as touching anything
They will to ask, behold, My Father’s ear
Is open to their prayer; it shall be done—
That thing the two shall ask; for I am there,
In their midst, where two or three are met to pray;—
The boon they ask is theirs.”

With lightened cheer

The disciples heard this word, as men relieved
From the guilt of brother’s blood: for who would let
His brother perish when his prayers might save
And each resolved to pray, and thought in his mind
Of the two or three should help him in his prayer:
As dungeon sudden opened to broad day,
Was their heart,—in instant vision, wonderful,
Of the omnipotence of prayer, as magic sword,
Able to cut all knots men’s hate had tied.

And Peter, apt to test this weapon new,
Invincible, this brand in heaven forged,
His Lord had girt upon him, cried in haste,—
Ready to show a fond excess of love
For sinning brother,—“How oft shall I forgive,
To-day, to-morrow, until seven times,
Shall he against me sin, and I forgive?”
“Nay,” said the Lord, “thy measure’s scant, My friend;
Till seven times seventy shall thy brother sin
And thou make haste to pardon. No limit draw
To the forgiveness brother to brother owes.”

Though all the powers of heaven at their hest,
Dismayed were the poor men: they knew themselves,—
How quick to wrath, to mercy, ah, how slow!—
And, fearful of the tasks the days should bring,
Tasks of forgiveness exceeding their poor might,—
“Increase our faith,” they cry, “Lord, give us help!”
And the Lord, tender to His own, told tale,
Which, as shutter opened to the east, should throw
The light of heaven on men’s little wrongs.

St. Matthew xviii. 15-22.

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