This clause is the turning point in the Prayer. It is the strategic key to the whole Treatment. Let us notice here that Jesus has so arranged this marvelous Prayer that it conveys the entire ground of the unfoldment of our souls completely, and in the most concise and telling way. It omits nothing that is essential for our salvation, and yet, so compact is it that there is not a thought or word too much. Every idea fits into its place with perfect harmony and in perfect sequence. Anything more would be redundance, anything less would be incompleteness, and at this point it takes up the critical factor of forgiveness.
Having told us what God is, what man is, how the universe works, how we are to do our own work – the salvation of humanity and of our own souls – he then explains what our true nourishment or supply is, and the way in which we can obtain it; and now he comes to the forgiveness of sins. The forgiveness of sins is the central problem of life. Sin is a sense of separation from God, and is the major tragedy of human experience. It is, of course, rooted in selfishness. It is essentially an attempt to gain some supposed good to which we are not entitled in justice. It is a sense of isolated, self-regarding, personal existence, whereas the Truth of Being is that all is One. Our true selves are at one with God, undivided from Him, expressing His ideas, witnessing His nature – the dynamic Thinking of that Mind. Because we are all one with the great Whole of which we are spiritually a part, it follows that we are one with all men. Just because in Him we live and move and have our being, we are in absolute sense, all essentially one.
Evil, sin, the fall of man, in fact, is essentially the attempt to negate this Truth in our thoughts. We try to live apart from God. We try to do it without Him. We act as though as had life of our own; as separate minds; as though we could have plans and purposes and interests separate from His. All of this, if it were true, would mean that existence is not one and harmonious, but a chaos of competition and strife. It would mean that we are quite separate from our fellow man and could injure him, rob him, hurt him, or even destroy him, without any damage to ourselves, and in fact, that the more we took from other people the more we should have for ourselves.
It would mean that the more we considered our own interests, and the more indifferent we were to the welfare of others, the better off we should be. Of course it would then follow naturally that it would pay others to treats us in the same way, and that accordingly we might expect them to do so. Now if this were true, it would mean that the whole universe is only a jungle, and that sooner or later it must destroy itself by its own inherent weakness and anarchy. But, of course, it is not true, and therein lies the joy of life.
Undoubtedly, many people do act as though they believed it to be true, and a great many more, who would be dreadfully shocked if brought face to face with that proposition in cold blood, have nevertheless , a vague feeling that such must be very much the way things are, even though they, themselves, are personally above consciously acting in accordance with such a notion. Now this is the real basis of sin, resentment, of condemnation, of jealousy, of remorse, and all the evil brood that walk that path.
This belief in independent and separate existence is the arch sin, and now, before we can progress any further, we have to take the knife to this evil thing and cut it out once and for all.
Jesus knew this, and with this definite end in view he inserted at this critical point a carefully prepared statement that would compass our end and his, without the shadow of a possibility of miscarrying. He inserted what is nothing less than a trip clause. He drafted a declaration which would force us, without any conceivable possibility of escape, evasion, mental reservation, or subterfuge of any kind, to execute the great sacrament of forgiveness in all its fullness and far-reaching power.
As we repeat the Great Prayer intelligently, considering and meaning what we say, we are suddenly, so to speak, caught up off our feet and grasped as though in a vise, so that we must face this problem – and these is no escape. We must positively and definitely extend forgiveness, namely, to anyone who we think can have injured us in any way. Jesus leaves no room for any possible glossing of this fundamental thing. He has constructed his Prayer with more skill than a lawyer ever yet displayed in the casting of a deed. He has so contrived it that once our attention has been drawn to this matter, we are inevitably obliged either to forgive our enemies in sincerity and truth, or never again to repeat that prayer. It is safe to say that no one who reads this with understanding will ever again be able to use the Lord’s Prayer unless and until he has forgiven.
Notice that Jesus does not say “forgive me and my trespasses and I will try to forgive others”, or “I will see if it can be done”, or “I will forgive generally, with certain exceptions”. He obliges us to declare that we have actually forgiven, and forgiven all, and he makes our claim to our own forgiveness to depend upon that.
Who is there that has grace enough to say his prayers at all, who does not long for the forgiveness or cancellation of his own mistakes and faults? Who would be so insane as to endeavor to seek the Kingdom of God without desiring to be relieved of his own sense of guilt? No one, we may believe. And so we see that we are trapped in the inescapable position that we cannot demand our own release before we have released our brother. The forgiveness of others is the vestibule of Heaven, and Jesus knew it, and has led us to the door. You must forgive everyone who has ever hurt you if you want to be forgiven yourself. You have to get rid of all resentment and condemnation of others, and not least, self-condemnation and remorse. You have to forgive others, and having discontinued your mistakes, you have to accept the forgiveness of God for them too, or you cannot make any progress. You have to forgive yourself, but you cannot forgive yourself sincerely until you have forgiven others first. Having forgiven others, you must be prepared to forgive yourself too, for to refuse to forgive oneself is only spiritual pride.
We cannot make this point too clear to ourselves: we have to forgive. There are few people in the world who have not at sometime or other been hurt, really hurt, by someone else; or been disappointed, or injured, or deceived, or misled. Such things sink into the memory where they usually inflamed and festering wounds, and there is only one remedy – they have to be plucked out and thrown away. And the one and only way to do that is by forgiveness.
The technique of forgiveness is simple enough, and not very difficult to manage when you understand how. The only thing essential is willingness to forgive. Provided you desire to forgive the offender, the greater part of the work is already done. People have always made such a bogey of forgiveness because they have been under the erroneous impression that to forgive a person means you have to compel yourself to like him. Happily this is not the case. We are not called upon to like anyone whom we do not find ourselves liking spontaneously, and indeed it is quite impossible to like people to order. We are not obliged to like anyone, but we are under a binding obligation to love everyone, love, or charity as the bible calls it, meaning a vivid sense of impersonal good will. This has nothing directly to do with the feelings, thought it is always followed, sooner or later, by a wonderful feeling of peace and happiness.
The method of forgiving is this: get by yourself and become quiet. Repeat any prayer or treatment that appeals to you, then quietly say, “I fully and freely forgive (name of offender); I loose him and let him go. I completely forgive the whole business in question. As far as I am concerned, it is finished forever. I cast the burden of resentment upon the Christ within me. He is free now, and I am free too. I wish him well in every phase of his life. That incident is finished. The Christ Truth has set us both free. I thank God.” Then get up and go about your business. On no account repeat this act of forgiveness, because you have done it once and for all, and to do it a second time would be tacitly to repudiate your own work. Afterward, whenever the memory of the offender happens to come into your mind, bless the delinquent briefly and dismiss the thought.
After a few days it will return less and less often, until you forget it altogether. Then, perhaps after an interval, shorter or longer, the old trouble may come back to memory once more, but you will find that now all bitterness and resentment have disappeared, and you are both free with the perfect freedom to be in spirit and in truth: the children of God. Your forgiveness is complete. You will experience a wonderful joy in the realization of the demonstration.
The result of this policy will be that very soon you will find yourself cleared of all resentment and condemnation, and the effect upon your happiness, your bodily health, and your general life will be nothing less than revolutionary.
(Not to mention your recovery)