Vol. 6, No. 2
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William Barclay writes that once President Lincoln was asked how he was going to treat the rebellious Southerners when they had finally been defeated and returned to the Union of the United States. The questioner expected Lincoln would take dire vengeance, but he answered, "I will treat them as if they had never been away."
There was a father with two sons. The youngest came to his father and demanded his inheritance. His father complied, and in short order, the young man had wasted it away. Far from home, penniless and friendless, he resolved to return, confess his sins and ask to be made a household servant. From a distance, his father saw the wayward son approaching. The father ran to him, embraced him and kissed him. In short order, the young man was cleaned up and a great celebration held. What a wonderful story of forgiveness, but it's not over, yet (Luke 15:11-24).
The elder brother, returning from the field, heard the merrymaking as he approached. Inquiring of one of the servants, he learned that his brother had returned, and a celebration was underway. Outraged, he stubbornly refused to participate. His father came out and pleaded with him to join the festivities, but he would not. He had been a faithful son, yet he had never had a party. How could his father possibly justify a celebration for his wayward brother (Luke 15:25-32)?
I have no doubt that story was told by Jesus not only to illustrate the Father's capacity to forgive, but to indict the Pharisees for their unwillingness to do so. Forgiveness is something we all need. No one can honestly claim personal uprightness. No matter how hard we try, we still fail. Without forgiveness, we would be hopelessly lost.
It is important to keep before us the fundamental fact that forgiveness only comes to the forgiving (Matthew 5:7)! Jesus stated it clearly: "And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have aught against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses" (Mark 11:25-26). We must learn to forgive if we are to know the Father's forgiveness!