Three Necessary Virtues
If a man is to live with any joy and fullness and to find what a noble abode this world may prove, there are three virtues which he must steadily pursue. The first is faith in God, for without faith existence will always be a tangled skein; the second is courage, for every life has its hills and we face them poorly if our heart is faint; and the third is forbearance—forbearing one another. It is on forbearance then that I desire to dwell, and I propose to gather up what I wish to say in this way. First, I shall touch on some of the evils of the unforbearing spirit. Second, I shall indicate the character of true forbearance. Then I shall suggest some thoughts to make us more forbearing.
An Unforbearing Spirit Makes Life a Disappointment
First, then, some of the evils of the unforbearing spirit; and one of the first of them to arrest me is that it makes life a constant disappointment. I have often wondered that there is no trace of disappointment in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. You may call Him a despised man if you will, but you could never call Him a disappointed man. He came to His own and His own received Him not; they laughed Him to scorn and then they crucified Him; yet when He entered the glory and saw His Father’s face, do you think He said, “Father, it has been a tragic disappointment”? For all its sorrow, life was not that to Christ: it was full and fresh and dew-touched to the close, and one of the sources of that unfailing freshness was our Savior’s knowledge of the secret of forbearance. Jesus expected great things from humanity. Jesus never expected the impossible. I like to think that He who made the heavens was ready when the hour came to make allowances. Depend upon it that if we expect the impossible, we are doomed to the disappointment which is worse than death. There is only one highway to the world’s true comradeship—it is the road of forbearing one another.
It Hurts Those We Love the Most
Another evil of the unforbearing spirit is this, that it presses hardest on life’s tenderest relationships. It becomes powerful for evil in that very region where ties are most delicate and life most sweet. There are some worms that are content to gnaw green leaves and to spend their lives on the branches of the tree. But there are others that are never satisfied with leaves, they must eat their way into the red heart of the rose. That is the curse of the unforbearing spirit—it gnaws at the very heart of the rose of life. It is comparatively easy to be forbearing with those whom we rarely meet and whom we hardly know. We are all tolerant of those who lightly touch us. But it is with those whom we meet and among whom we mingle dally, who share the same home with us, who live with us and love us—it is with those that it is often hardest to forbear, and it is on those that the sorrow of unforbearance falls. There are ministers who can speak well of every congregation except the one which they have been called to serve. There are husbands who are gentle to everybody’s faults with the exception of the faults of their own wives. And it is just because unforbearance has a greater scope in proportion as life’s ties grow tenderer and dearer, that the Gospel of love insists so urgently on the duty of forbearing one another.
It Reacts with Certainty upon the Man Himself
But there is another evil of the unforbearing temper—it reacts with certainty upon the man himself. For with what judgment we judge we shall be judged, and with what measure we mete it shall be measured unto us. If we are intolerant, we become intolerable. If we never make allowances for anybody, God knows the scant allowance that we get. Just think of the Pharisees a moment. Their crowning vice was that they were unforbearing. There was not a little that was good in many Pharisees, but they were harsh and censorious and exacting—need I remind you of the vials of stern judgment that were poured on the Pharisees by Jesus Christ? Let that suffice for the evils of unforbearance. It makes life one constant disappointment. It presses hardest on life’s tenderest ties. It reacts inevitably on the man himself.
True Forbearance Begins in a Man’s Thought
In the second place I wish to indicate the character of true forbearance, and it is urgently important that we should pay heed to this. For the devil has got his counterfeit of every grace, and a counterfeit grace is sometimes worse than sin.
The first thing that I would say about it is that tree forbearance begins in a man’s thought. It is a good thing to be forbearing in our acts, a great thing to be so in our speech, yet I question if we have begun to practice rightly this preeminently Christian virtue till we are habitually forbearing in our thought. “Master,” said the disciples, “shall we call down fire on these villages? They would not receive us: shall we clear them away like Sodom?” And it was not quite for their words that Christ rebuked them—ye know not what spirit ye are of. Ah! if our bitter and unforbearing words flashed into utterance without any thought, they would not wound so nor would they leave these scars that the kindnesses of weeks cannot efface. It is because they so often betray the unforbearing thoughts that have been harbored in secret and cherished in the dark that the bite of them is like a serpent’s fang. We talk of a hasty word, but a hasty word might mean little if it were only the out-flash of a hasty thought. What a hasty word often implies is this: that in secret we have been putting the worst construction upon things; then comes the moment of temper when the tongue is loosened, and we never meant to utter what we thought, but it escapes us—-only a hasty word—yet the bitter thoughts of a fortnight may be in it. True forbearance begins in a man’s thought.
It Is Independent of Our Moods
Again, true forbearance is independent of our moods. It does not vary with our varying temper. It is a mock forbearance that comes and goes with every variation in the day. There are times when it is very easy to be forbearing. When things have gone well with us, when we are feeling strong, or when some great happiness has touched our hearts—it is not difficult to be forbearing then. When we are in a good humor with ourselves, we can be in a good humor with everybody. But true forbearance is not a passing gleam nor is it the child of a happy mood or temper; it does not depend on the state of man’s health or on whether or not he has had a good day at business. It is a virtue to be loyally practiced for Christ’s sake whatever our mood or disappointment be. I should not have wondered much if Christ had been forbearing when He rode in triumph into Jerusalem. Amid the cries of Hosanna and the strewing of the palm branches it might have been easy to have congenial views. But when His face was marred more than any man’s, when they were looking on Him whom they had pierced, when the nails were torture and when the cross was agony, was it not supremely hard to be forbearing then? Yet it was then that the Redeemer prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Forbearance must not vanish when we suffer.
It Helps to Better Things
There is one other mark on which I would insist and it is this, that true forbearance helps to better things. It is like the sunshine which brings the summer nearer; it is part of that gentleness which makes men great. There is a certain lenient indulgence that is the very antipodes of this great virtue. There is a soft and easy way of smiling at all sin that may send a man to the devil double-speed. Such leniency is the leniency of Antichrist. Christian forbearance never makes light of sin; it never oils the wheels of Satan’s chariot; it can be stem, it whets its glittering sword; if a man is a scoundrel it can tell him so. But it never despairs, never passes final judgments, sees possibilities, touches the chord of brotherhood until a man feels that someone believes in him, and sometimes it is heaven to feel that. One day they dragged a poor woman before Christ, and the Jews would have stoned her, for she was taken in sin. But Jesus said “Neither do I condemn thee; go, and sin no more,” and I am certain she never so sinned again. Peter was saved by the forbearance of Christ Jesus—”and the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter.” Thomas was saved by the forbearance of Christ Jesus—”reach hither thine hand, thou doubter, let Me not scold thee.” The forbearance of Christ was a great moral power, and all Christian forbearance must share the same prerogative.
Forbear Others because You Know So Little about Them
Then lastly let me suggest some thoughts that may help to make us more forbearing.
First think how little we know of one another. We know far too little to be censorious or harsh. One secret of the perfect gentleness of Christ is His perfect knowledge of everyone He met. I suppose that most of us have known some man whom for years, perhaps, we used to judge unkindly. We never liked him and our thoughts of him were bitter. Then one day we learned the story of his life, and we found that long ago when the heavens were blue above him, there had fallen on his life some crushing blow; and we say “Ah! if we had only known that story, we should never have judged the man as we have done.” It is well to remember how ignorant we are when we are tempted to be unforbearing. There may have been something in the upbringing that would explain a score of things if we but knew it. There may have been elements that made the temptation awful, yet how we jested and sneered when someone fell! Forbearing one another—because of life’s complexity; because we cannot see, because we do not know; because only God can tell the million threads that are woven into the tapestry of being. Our very dearest are such strangers to us that it is always wisest to forbear.
We Need Others to Forbear Us
Next think how greatly we ourselves need forbearance. Even if we do not give it, we all want it. I suppose we all irritate and alienate other people a thousand times more often than we ever dream of. If other people are doing so to us, it is but reasonable to think we are doing so to them. Never a sun sets but a man feels how easily he might have been misjudged that day. Never a morning breaks but a man knows that he will make demands on the forbearance of the world. If we need forbearance, then let us give forbearance. If we need to be kindly judged, then let us judge so. Let us forbear one another because of our own great need.
How God Is Forbearing Us
Lastly think how God has forborne us. The forbearance of God is a perpetual wonder. He has been willing that men should taunt Him with being idle, and He has been willing that men should say He did not care rather than that He should seem an unforbearing God. Is there no secret passage in your life which being trumpeted abroad would have almost ruined you? God in His mercy has never blown that trumpet blast, and His long-suffering has been your salvation. Then we are such poor scholars in His school; we are so backward and so soon turned aside; we make so little progress in His teaching and are so keen about everything save Him—surely there is no forbearance in the world like the forbearance of our heavenly Father. It is a great example: shall we not copy it? Days will be golden and silenced birds will sing when we revive the grace of forbearing one another.