S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
If a man has any talent in writing, it shows a good mind to forbear answering calumnies and reproaches in the same spirit of bitterness in which they are offered. But when a man has been at some pains in making suitable returns to an enemy, and has the instruments of revenge in his hands, to let drop his wrath, and stifle his resentments, seems to have something in it great and heroical. There is a particular merit in such a way of forgiving an enemy; and the more violent and unprovoked the offence has been, the greater still is the merit of him who thus forgives it.
The Gospel comes to the sinner at once with nothing short of complete forgiveness as the starting-point of all his efforts to be holy. It does not say, Go and sin no more, and I will not condemn thee; it says at once, Neither do I condemn thee; go and sin no more.
Let not the sun in Capricorn [when the days are shortest] go down upon thy wrath, but write thy wrongs in ashes. Draw the curtain of night upon injuries, shut them up in the tower of oblivion, and let them be as though they had not been. To forgive our enemies, yet hope that God will punish them, is not to forgive enough. To forgive them ourselves, and not to pray God to forgive them, is a partial act of charity. Forgive thine enemies totally, and without any reserve that, however, God will revenge thee.
Tell us, ye men who are so jealous of right and of honour, who take sudden fire at every insult, and suffer the slightest imagination of anothers contempt, or anothers unfairness, to chase from your bosom every feeling of complacency; ye men whom every fancied affront puts in such a turbulence of emotion, and in whom every fancied infringement stirs up the quick and the resentful appetite for justice, how will you stand the rigorous application of that test by which the forgiven of God are ascertained, even that the spirit of forgiveness is in them, and by which it will be pronounced whether you are, indeed, the children of the Highest, and perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect?
Alas! if my best Friend, who laid down his life for me, were to remember all the instances in which I have neglected Him, and to plead them against me in judgment, where should I hide my guilty head in the day of recompense? I will pray, therefore, for blessings upon my friends even though they cease to be so, and upon my enemies though they continue such.
A constant and unfailing obedience is above the reach of terrestrial diligence; and therefore the progress of life could only have been the natural descent of negligent despair from crime to crime, had not the universal persuasion of forgiveness to be obtained by proper means of reconciliation recalled those to the paths of virtue whom their passions had solicited aside, and animated to new attempts and firmer perseverance those whom difficulty had discouraged, or negligence surprised.
Nothing is more moving to man than the spectacle of reconciliation: our weaknesses are thus indemnified, and are not too costly, being the price we pay for the hour of forgiveness; and the archangel who has never felt anger, has reason to envy the man who subdues it. When thou forgivest, the man who has pierced thy heart stands to thee in the relation of the sea-worm that perforates the shell of the mussel, which straightway closes the wound with a pearl.
The brave only know how to forgive: it is the most refined and generous pitch of virtue human nature can arrive at. Cowards have done good and kind actions; cowards have even fought, nay, sometimes conquered; but a coward never forgaveit is not in his nature; the power of doing it flows only from a strength and greatness of soul conscious of its own force and security, and above all the little temptations of resenting every fruitless attempt to interrupt its happiness.
The duty of Christian forgiveness does not require you, nor are you allowed, to look on injustice, or any other fault, with indifference, as if it were nothing wrong at all, merely because it is you that have been wronged.
But even where we cannot but censure, in a moral point of view, the conduct of those who have injured us, we should remember that such treatment as may be very fitting for them to receive may be very unfitting for us to give. To cherish, or to gratify, haughty resentment, is a departure from the pattern left us by Him who endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, not to be justified by any offence that can be committed against us. And it is this recollection of Him who, faultless Himself, designed to leave us an example of meekness and long-suffering, that is the true principle and motive of Christian forgiveness. We shall best fortify our patience under injuries by remembering how much we ourselves have to be forgiven, and that it was while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Let the Christian therefore accustom himself to say of any one who has greatly wronged him, That man owes me an hundred pence. An old Spanish writer says, To return evil for good is devilish; to return good for good is human; but to return good for evil is godlike.
Richard Whately: Annot. on Lord Bacons Essay, Of Anger.