It is no overstatement to say Jesus’s ministry was primarily one of forgiveness. Whether he caused the blind to see, the deaf to hear, or the paralytic to walk, he typically closed with some variation of “Your sins are forgiven, go and sin no more.” On the night he was betrayed, he told his disciples they would be marked out of the world by the love they had for one another; a love that was patterned after his own. When the Roman guard’s hammer lodged the nails into his flesh he cried, “Father, forgive them.” Truly, Jesus “sets no bound to his own forgiveness.”
The Prince of Preachers consistently marveled at the forgiveness of Jesus and commended his congregation to do likewise. He urged them saying, “Remember, also, to increase your wonderment at his forgiveness…” calling Christ’s forgiveness “a constellation of wonders.” By comparison, Spurgeon remarked that our forgiveness of each other is “a very small matter” when compared to the fact that God forgives “not his fellows, but his rebel subjects, guilty of treason against his majesty.” Indeed, he mused “Could there be a sweeter word in any language than that word ‘forgiveness,’ when it sounds in a guilty sinner’s ear, like the silver notes of jubilee to the captive Israelite?”
However, God’s grace in Christ also had radical consequences for our human relationships. When Paul instructed the believers at Colossae to forgive one another, he added the qualifying statement, “…as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col 3:13). The logic being, if we are to conform to the image of Jesus Christ (Rom 8:29), then we must forgive others since Christ forgave us. We are to be loving as Christ is loving. We are to be merciful, as he is merciful. Spurgeon notes, “The mercy of God lies at the very foundation of our faith; and surely it wonderfully helps us to forgive.”
The fundamental principle was that if we wish to be God’s servants, we must be like him. Spurgeon knew this well commenting, “if you would be knights of his company, imitate his graciousness.” The standard of Christ is exceedingly high. This example was so powerful that Spurgeon exclaimed, “What a model is set before us!…what nobler pattern could have been chosen?” How high a calling lies before the eyes of every Christian who follows in the paths of Christ’s forgiveness! For to forgive is no trivial thing, rather it exemplifies “as great a faith as that which of old stopped the sun and divided the sea.”
Nevertheless, Spurgeon carried a burden knowing “that there are some who call themselves Christians, who…will not forgive.” Seeing as Jesus himself warned, “if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt 6:15). Spurgeon considered this a paradox for, “You must forgive or you cannot be saved; at the same time you must not do it from compulsion; you must do it freely.” While the willingness to forgive others is not what grants saving faith, if Christians are unwilling to forgive others, that hypocrisy comes at a price. Spurgeon gravely warned that, “Unless you have forgiven others you read your own death-warrant when you repeat the Lord’s prayer.”
Lest one feel hopeless in this daunting task, Spurgeon reminds us, “that the joy of faith is a wonderful help to forgiveness.” For one who finds joy in this great faith, “must not keep a drop of malice in [his] soul, for Christ’s sake.” Rather, every Christian should “Be godlike” and “so live that all may say of you, ‘He has been with Jesus.’” The mark of every one who identifies himself with Jesus must be not “‘I will have the law of you,’ or ‘I will avenge myself,’ but ‘I will bear and forbear even to the end.’”
Lastly, remember the example of Jesus; set him constantly before your gaze. See him hanging on a rugged cross, bloodied and scarred with rusty nails lodged in his hands and feet. As the cool iron pierces his flesh, hear him cry out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Likewise, may we all heed the exhortation of Spurgeon to, “go ye and believe in him, and be imitators of him, remembering that he forgave his murderers upon the cross whereon he wrought out our redemption.”
Quinn Mosier is pursuing his Master of Divinity at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also serves as a Research Assistant in The Spurgeon Library.