As We Forgive
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1858
"He must pay it!" The voice that said this was firm, and the tone decided.
"I think he is very poor, Mr. Glenn," answered the collector, who was making his weekly return.
"No matter; poor people must pay their debts, as well as rich ones. I can't undertake to supply the family of every poor man in the city with shoes. There wouldn't be a pair left for my own children's feet, if I undertook such a piece of romantic benevolence."
And Mr. Glenn smiled a little grimly, as if there were something of humor in the closing sentence.
"It strikes me that there is an exception in this case," remarked the collector.
"None at all — none at all," replied the dealer in boots and shoes. "Poor people must be honest as well as rich ones, and not buy more than they are able to pay for. Horton must settle. There is no use in his trying to shirk out of it."
"He has been sick."
"Well, what of that? Other poor men are not exempt from sickness. It is the common lot. Let him do something, if it is ever so little, and thus show an honest disposition."
"It is hard to do something with nothing," said the collector.
"How does he live? He eats and drinks, doesn't he?" interrogated Mr. Glenn.
"I suppose so, and his wife and children also."
"Does he steal the money he lives on?"
"I didn't investigate the case that far," replied the collector, showing a little annoyance.
"He earns it, no doubt. And there is one thing I have to say in the matter — while Horton is in debt, he has no right to spend all he earns. He should pay off something, if it is ever so small a portion, of what is due to others. That is simple honesty."
"He has four little children; his wife is in bad health, and he is working on three-quarter time. I am sure, Mr. Glenn, that he cannot, as things now are, pay anything on your bill, without actually diminishing the supply of food, or being turned out of house and home.
"Oh! he pays his rent, then, does he?"
"He said that his landlord was a very miserly man, and required the rent weekly. That he had got a little behindhand with him, and was compelled not only to pay up the current rent, but a certain sum on what was due, at the same time — or have his things put into the street."
"I see. He will pay only on compulsion. If that is his game, we will accommodate him. Just call and say, that unless he shows some disposition to settle his debt with me, that I will send a constable after him."
"I wouldn't take that course, Mr. Glenn. His intentions are honest, I am certain. But things have gone wrong with him, and he is very much under the weather."
"Good intentions don't save any one. There must be good deeds. Nothing else will pass current here, or hereafter. Let Horton show his honest purpose — by beginning to do honest acts. Nothing less will satisfy me. Can't he pay twenty-five cents a week?"
"He might do so, I presume."
"Very well, let him begin at that figure. Tell him that so long as he pays twenty-five cents a week, punctually, I will not disturb him; but on the first failure — he may expect to see the constable."
"I must decline being the bearer of that message," replied the collector. "I would rather pay twenty-five cents a week out of my own pocket, than be your agent in any such business."
The face of Mr. Glenn grew red with anger, and he said, sharply —
"I want none of your reflections on my acts or purposes. As you have undertaken my collections, I wish the work done as I direct. The responsibility rests with me."
"Take my advice," returned the collector coolly, "and forgive this poor man his debt. It amounts to only seven dollars, and its loss will not deprive you of a single comfort, while the act will relieve him from a heavy burden. He is honest; and will pay you, if it is ever in his power, whether you cancel the obligation or not."
"You are generous with what is not your own," said Glenn, with sarcasm. "Thank you for the suggestion; but I am not in the habit of trusting people — and then forgiving them the debt. That sort of thing doesn't pay."
"It does in some cases," remarked the collector, speaking partly to himself.
"It will not pay in this case, for I don't mean to try the foolish experiment," answered Glenn.
Turning towards this hard man, who was a member of one of the churches, the collector — who was also a church-member, but of a different stamp — looked him steadily in the face for some moments, and then said,
"When you kneel before God this evening, and, in praying, say over the words, 'Forgive us our debts — as we forgive our debtors,' take heed that you are not asking for a curse instead of a blessing. If God forgives you as you now forgive this poor man — your case will not assume a very hopeful aspect: 'But if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses!' The language is not mine: I but recall to your memory, the words of eternal truth. Beware, lest, knowing these, you have the greater condemnation."
Saying this, the collector turned away, and left Mr. Glenn to his own not very pleasant thoughts.
That evening, in family worship, Mr. Glenn said over the Lord's Prayer. If the collector had been present, he would have observed a faltering in the words, 'As we forgive our debtors.' He had never before understood them as now, though he had repeated these words a thousand times since they were taught to him by his mother in childhood. All at once, they had assumed a new and startling significance. 'Forgive us our debts — as we forgive our debtors!' Here was no vague petition, but a plain request to be dealt with by God — as the petitioner dealt with his neighbor. 'For by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.' The memory of this passage, also, grew quite distinct in the mind of Mr. Glenn, and it seemed also as if spoken aloud in his ears. Conscience was at work — and fear troubling him.
"What if my soul should be required of me this night?" A sudden shiver ran through his nerves as this thought presented itself.
"God has heard and answered some of my prayers," said Mr. Glenn, as he sat apart from his family, pondering this new aspect of the case. "I asked Him, at the outset of life, to be with me in my incomings and outgoings; to smile upon my toil, and send the rain of prosperity upon my fields. And he has done so. I have prayed also from childhood, onward to this time, that he would forgive me my debts — as I have forgiven my debtors. Now, have I ever, in my heart, forgiven the man who trespassed against me? or refrained from exacting the last farthing from a debtor, no matter what his needs and circumstances? Have I regarded my brother in sickness or misfortune? Has pity touched my soul, when the unhappy debtor has pleaded for respite or forgiveness? Should God answer my oft-repeated prayer in this — will it not be in banishment from his presence?"
For hours that night, Mr. Glenn lay tossing on his bed, fearing to sleep, lest his awakening should be in another world; but, wearied nature yielded at last, and then in visions of his bed, he closed up his mortal career, and passed to his final account. But, no, 'Well done, good and faithful servant' greeted him! Instead there burned before him in letters of flame, turn which way he would, 'For by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.' He closed his eyes, 'As we forgive our debtors,' were gleaming in their place, though he tried to shut out the vision of all things. In terrible anguish, he awoke. Again he slept, and the vision was repeated. And once again, before the day broke.
Mr. Glenn assembled his household for morning worship as usual; and read a chapter from the Bible. His voice was low, and humble. The petition that followed was brief; and members of his family noticed, as an unusual thing, that he failed to conclude with the Lord's Prayer. His first act, on going to his store, was to send Mr. Horton, the poor debtor for whom the humane collector had pleaded, a receipt in full, thus cancelling the debt. He felt more comfortable after this; but still, a weight of concern lay upon his heart. Here was a new reading of the Divine precept, and one that, if accepted, might, he feared, require a degree of sacrifice that, in the present state of his natural affections, he could not give. The law, as narrowing itself down to his most literal rendering of the text, seemed the hardest in the whole code of Divine precepts.
But, Mr. Glenn had begun right. If we constrain ourselves to do what we believe the law of God requires — then we always gain power over depraving lusts, and selfish affections. We must fight against the powers of Hell — or there will be no conquest. "We must put away evil — before divine love can flow into our hearts. The case of Mr. Glenn is an illustration. The reader has seen how hard and cruel were all his feelings towards his poor debtor. Not a single wave of pity moved over his heart — not a pulse of commiseration stirred. It was different however, after he had so far conquered his selfish desire for gain, as to cancel the debt. Then pity for Horton began to work in his heart, and draw before his imagination images of sickness, discouragement, privation and suffering.
"Poor man! He has had a hard time of it. I am glad that I lifted that burden from his shoulders," he said to himself in this great change of state.
And now, the current of feeling which was flowing in the right direction, began to set stronger. True pity is not a mere idler; but a door of good deeds. Mr. Glenn began to feel an interest in the poor man, which led him to make particular inquiry into his circumstances. He found that help was really needed, and with a cheerful alacrity that surprised even himself, he reached out his hand to raise up and sustain a weak and falling brother. It was the beginning of a new life for Mr. Glenn, and one in which this small experience showed him were new and higher pleasures than any he had ever known — the pleasures which always accompany good deeds, lovingly performed.
Some weeks passed, before he again ventured to say the Lord's Prayer, in family worship. But, when the petition did pass his lips, it was in the humble hope that God would give him that spirit of forgiveness, without which there can be no remission of sins.