Andrew Fuller Friday: On Christian Forgiveness

Christian Forgiveness

Matt. 18:23, and following verses

The manifest design of the parable is to impress upon us the duty of forgiveness one to another, from the consideration of God’s freely forgiving us. That in the parable, I imagine, which struck the querist* as inconsistent with Calvinistic principles, was the supposition of a man being given up to the tormentors whose sins had been forgiven. Some expositors, in order to solve this difficulty, suppose the punishment to mean his being given up to church censures; others, to temporal calamities, and the accusations of a guilty conscience. But it appears to me that this is altogether foreign from the design of Christ. Our Lord certainly meant to suggest to all the professors of Christianity, all the subjects of his visible kingdom, that unless they forgave men their trespasses they themselves should not be forgiven, but should be cast into endless torment. The true solution of the difficulty I take to be this: It is common with our Lord in his parables to address men upon their own principles; not according to what they were in fact, but what they were in profession and expectation. For example, “There is joy over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons which need no repentance.—The whole need not a physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Not that there were any among mankind who were righteous, whole, and needed no repentance, in fact, but merely in their own account. The elder son in the parable, in Luke 15, is doubtless intended to represent the scribes and Pharisees, who at that time drew near and murmured at Christ’s receiving sinners, ver. 1, 2. And yet this elder son is allowed to be very obedient, (at least he is not contradicted in this matter,) and to have a large interest in his father’s inheritance; not because it was so in fact, but as reasoning with them upon their own principles.

But what is nearer still to the case in hand is the parable addressed to Simon the Pharisee. Our Lord here supposes that Simon was a little sinner, and a forgiven sinner; and yet in fact he was neither. No set of men were greater sinners in reality than the Pharisees; and this man gave proof of his being in an impenitent and unforgiven state. But Christ reasoned with him upon his own principles: q. d. You reckon yourself a little sinner, and that what few failings you have will doubtless be forgiven you: well, be it so; this woman is a great sinner, and so accounts herself: I forgave her all her transgressions, and therefore you need not wonder at her conduct; her love to me is greater than yours, even allowing, for argument’s sake, that your love is sincere.

Thus, in the parable under consideration, our Lord solemnly warns all the members of his visible kingdom, who professed to be the people of God, and who had their expectations of being forgiven of him, without determining whether their professions were sincere or their expectations well-founded, that if they forgave not men their trespasses, neither would his heavenly Father forgive them their trespasses. Whether they were sincere or not, made no difference as to the argument: If a person lays his account with being forgiven of God, and is unforgiving to his brother, his conduct is inconsistent and wicked; for being under the power of self-deception, his motive is the same as if it had been otherwise.

There are some subjects on which I feel myself incapable of throwing any fresh light. Where this is the case I think it my duty to decline them. Under this description I must reckon the questions of a correspondent who signs himself A Berean; and another who has addressed me under the signature of Candidus, concerning the decrees of God. I feel difficulties upon those great subjects, on which, at present, I had rather pray than write.



Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 644–645). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.

By |April 24th, 2020|Categories: Andrew Fuller Friday|

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