The Fact that God does not Forgive us our Sins Unless We Forgive the Sins which Others have Committed Against Us and which they Ask to Have Forgiven them by Us. – The Fact that the Purpose and Aim of Every Action of Ours Must be Moral. – What the True Treasure is which we Ought to Pursue.
The Lord, who taught us the superb prayer which is therefore called The Lord’s Prayer, also gave the commandment that in praying we ought to say, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:12). For just as, whenever we sin, we want to have God favorable, propitious, and inclined to pardon our sins, so ought we also to be favorable, forgiving, and lenient in dealing with the slips and offenses of others
We owe to God strict fulfillment of our duties. But, at the same time, other men owe it to us not to wrong us or harm us, but, on the contrary, to do us good turns and to bestow benefactions upon us whenever we are in need of them. This duty is one that is common to all men, and we all ought to have respect for the rights of other men and, of course, this includes the right to life, to honor, and to property. But just as we sin against the right of God in disobeying His commandments and His laws, so we sin also against the rights of others in wronging others; that is to say, we commit sins against one another in wronging one another, precisely as we sin against God in failing to observe His rights
In view of this fact, how ought we to behave towards our debtors and those who sin against us? Precisely, of course, as we should like God to behave towards us when we sin against Him. What do we seek of God when we sin against Him? Obviously, pardon and forgiveness, or the remission of our sins. “And forgive us,” we say, “our debts.” But God will not allow remission and pardon except on condition that we admit and acknowledge and recognize the sin by confessing it, and as a result of our repentance. Do you ask God for pardon when you acknowledge and confess that you have sinned? If you do, God, being compassionate and pitiful, grants you it, and wipes out your sins. But if your conscience does not bother you and you do not even ask for pardon, then God will not grant you any, on the very ground, of course, that you have not asked Him for any. God does not grant pardon to an unrepentant sinner, notwithstanding the fact that, being good, He wants the salvation of every man. But you must grant pardon to others in order to receive pardon of God. If you give pardon, you receive pardon. But if you refuse to give what is asked of you, then, and for that reason, neither shall you receive what you ask for. You have to forgive in order to be forgiven. For the Lord said:
“If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive men not their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6: 14-15).
Forgive, and it shall be forgiven thee, saith the Lord elsewhere (Luke 6:37). Do you want God to be favorable to you, when you are cruel to others? If you do, it will be impossible for you to obtain such favorable treatment. Hence it is to be concluded that you must pardon those who have offended you and who acknowledge their offense and demand forgiveness, in order that God may pardon your sins. For otherwise you cannot expect God to accord you pardon and mercy. God is lenient to those who are lenient, but righteous and just to those who are destitute of leniency. To the one in the parable who owed the debt of ten thousand talents the Lord remitted the debt, because the debtor asked Him to do so, but, since he would not remit the debt of a fellow servant who owed him a hundred pence and treated him cruelly, the Lord ordered the severest treatment to be given to him.
”I acknowledge that I have wronged you, brother, whether it be by words or by deeds, and I comprehend the consequences of my wrongdoing. I comprehend and realize the fact that unless I repent, unless I make the wrong right, unless I satisfy the divine law, I shall be punished. I beg you to forgive me. Do not ask that I be punished.” If the one who has wronged you says such things to you, it is your duty to forgive him, and you must therefore do so, if you want God to pardon your sins also.
But in case he will not acknowledge his having wronged you, it is your duty first to upbraid him or to rebuke him in your presence and his only, then in the presence of two witnesses, and afterwards in the presence of brethren and of the Church. If, in spite of such censure, he persists in his refusal to acknowledge his wrongdoing, let him be like the heathen and the publican! He loses his status as a brother among brethren, and is to be ranked among the impious and the faithless. Whatever Christ says, He says it and commands it and makes it a law as between Christians who believe in Him and who are obliged to show mercy to others as they have had mercy bestowed upon them, and to love others as they have been loved themselves, and to have compassion and pity and to forgive others as they themselves have been forgiven, being joined together through love with Christ and with one another, and constituting a society, or community, of rational, logical, and moral beings to the glory of God, pursuing in their activities a moral object or aim, and avoiding and eschewing ostentatious displays of vanity and of idle thoughts. That is why the Lord goes on to say:
“Moreover, when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance; for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head, and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father, who is in secret; and thy Father who seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.” (Matt. 6: 16-18).
Fasting, the giving of alms, and every external act of ours ought to be done for a moral purpose or moral object and with a holy motive; for otherwise it can have no moral value in the eyes of God. Those who fast, who give alms, and who bestow benefactions upon others with the motive of idle display and ostentation or of eliciting men’s praise, or because they are pursuing interests of their own that are paltry and vain, may be honored by men, and be lauded and eulogized, and their names may be published in the newspapers, and even be inscribed on pillars and the like as if they were benefactors and philanthropists. For men look at external appearances of acts and not at their internal motives, which only God can see. But God rewards only those acts and deeds which have been done with a moral motive and for a moral purpose or object, but not those due to motives of vain ambition, love of world, self-interest, and vanity. God can see into the heart, and He judges every man not only according to what he had done, but also according to what he has thought, liked, remembered, wanted!
“So ye,” says Christ, “who are My disciples, ought to emulate Me in doing good to others by acting with a moral motive and for a moral end in order to please God, and not like hypocrites, who do good on the surface in order to be honored by men. Ye ought at all times and in all places take as the standard of your actions the divine law and the judgment of God, regardless of human judgments when they happen to be opposed to the judgment of God and the divine law.” When you are fasting, you ought to fast in truth, and not merely in external form. You ought to shun evil altogether as well as the filth of sin, feeding yourselves with what is good, doing what is good, fasting as true Easters, and not merely appearing as though fasting, being truly temperate in all things, and avoiding ostentation, imaginary grandeur, and human praise. Seek praise and true honor from God, who alone is the appraiser and rewarder of virtue. Eschew Pharisaism and conceited boasts, and do nothing that does not bear the stamp of virtue. Let your works, whether done in secret or in the open, according to circumstances, always bear the seal of the moral law, the stamp of virtue: let them be done with a pure thought and motive and for a moral purpose. Whether you are fasting or praying or giving alms, do all these things for the glory of God, and out of a deep sense of duty to do them, and of performing everything that you do out of love for divine virtue. Out of love pardon those who offend you, and out of love of God practice what is good in order to be perfected in virtue and in order to become like God. While loving God and divine virtue as the good par excellence, try to acquire this, for your true treasure consists in having acquired this. That is why the Lord goes on to say:
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures on the earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroy, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matt. 6: 16-18).
Earthly treasures keep the heart and the intellect bound to the interests of matter and to what pertains to matter and materiality. But heavenly treasures lift the heart and the intellect up to God. Consequently our Lord commands the love and the pursuit of heavenly treasure, and forbids love of and adherence to things that are vain, fleeting, evanescent, and transient-things that pass out of the present life and become lost or inexistent. “Lay not up for yourselves treasures on the earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break through and steal.”
The treasuring and hoarding of material objects implants in the soul a love of money and greed, and this desire is necessarily left unsatisfied throughout life, since it can never be sated, for it does not find in matter and materiality its fulfillment and satisfaction, but only in God and divine virtue. Those who deem their happiness to consist in or to depend on matter and materiality are deluding themselves and wandering in error; and so are those also who are busying themselves night and day in laying up treasures of material goods. Virtue is the true treasure of the soul, and happiness is to be found in acquiring virtue. Virtue is something which cannot be taken away from him who possesses it, and which remains for ever his inalienable property. Material objects and material possessions of all kinds can be stolen; they corrode or rust or rot or otherwise disappear, and vanish. Moreover, when death supervenes, they become utterly useless to their former possessor or owner. Hence it is plain that the Lord quite rightly forbids the hoarding of material things and the laying up of treasures of a material nature, such as works of art and the like; and wondrously recommends to us the acquisition of immortal virtue.
Of course, in forbidding the hoarding and saving of treasures as personal property the Lord is not prohibiting the collection and supply of what is necessary for the carrying on of the present life, the work of providing food, clothing, and shelter, and all other necessities of life, nor due care of the body, for He gave the body, and the law of maintaining it through the eating of proper food. He ordained also the law requiring us to work for a living. But He also prohibits troublesome and meticulous care and worry over the acquisition of much goods and unnecessary property, not, however, arduous efforts for the acquisition of the necessities. He forbids the attachment of the heart to the acquisition and accumulation of money and of other property beyond what is necessary for everyday use; and especially the devotion of the intellect to this acquisition and accumulation all the time throughout life. Accordingly, He commands the liberation of the soul from this paltry business, and the mental slavery involved therein.
It is a flagitious shame for any Christian to allow himself to be truly mastered and swayed by passions bent on the quest of material things, and to make it the object of his life to lay up treasures of material goods. Material goods ought to be considered means of enabling us to live on the earth, and not the final purpose of our life. The final purpose of our life ought to be the acquisition of divine virtue. “For where our treasure is, there will our heart be also.” If our treasure be of a material nature, our heart too will be of a material nature and grossly bestial. But if our treasure be a heavenly one and of a celestial nature, or of an immaterial nature, our heart too will also be free to roam the realm of heaven, instinct with divine sentiments and alive to the charms of heaven. As a result of the foregoing analysis, we are now in a position to deduce the following propositions as corollaries thereof:
1) That we ought to forgive those who trespass against us, or offend us, not merely seven times but even seventy-seven times, provided they repent and ask us to forgive them, in order that we too may be pardoned by God when we offend Him and repent, for this is a law of justice and of righteousness.
2) That the motive behind every action of ours ought to be a pure and holy one, and its purpose a divine one, so that our acts may bear the stamp of morality and be virtuous.
3) That the object and aim of our life ought to be the acquisition of virtue in God, and not destructible material wealth; in any case it ought not to be to lay up treasures of vain material goods. Virtue is the true inalienable wealth that cannot be taken away; that which is good for us and which brings us true happiness. In fact, we were created for virtue and truth, and therefore we ought by all means to concentrate on the pursuit of truth and of virtue as the utmost good of our intellect and heart. For it is in the enjoyment of this treasure that life and happiness consist, as does also our blissfulness, or blessedness. Blessed, indeed, are they who become possessors of this true treasure which is inalienable and irremovable and imperishable and indestructible and everlasting. O my soul, become thou a lover and admirer, a zealot, a desirer of this heavenly treasure, and pursue thou the acquisition of it! Take thou care lest anything of a material or of a vain nature become the aim and object of thine activities and actions, whether it be inane glory, or love of sensual pleasure, or love of money, or avarice, or any other vain conceit or will-o’-the wisp. Let the divine virtue of Jesus by all means be thine ideal and thy model for imitation. Therein look thou soundly and sanely, and pattern thyself after the similitude thereof, with perfect confidence that there is nothing in the world more precious, more lovely, more admirable, or more valuable than is virtue possessed and exercised according to the precepts and the example of Christ; and for the sake thereof one ought to be ready and willing to sacrifice even one’s life of the body.