“The Weaned Child, A Quieted Soul”, Charles H. Spurgeon, Psalm 131:2 (Contentment, Humility, Divine Will, Child-like Spirit)

The Weaned Child by Charles H. Spurgeon

“My soul is even as a weaned child.” — Psalm 131:2

I WAS once conversing with a very excellent aged minister, and while we were talking about our frames and feelings, he made the following confession: he said, “ When I read that passage in the psalm, ‘My soul is even as a weaned child,’ I wish it were true of me, but I think I should have to make an alteration of one syllable, and then it would exactly describe me at times; * My soul is even as a weaning rather than a weaned child ,’ for,” said he, “ with the infirmities of old age, I fear I get fretful and peevish, and anxious, and when the day is over I do not feel that I have been in so calm, resigned, and trustful a frame of mind as I could desire.”

I suppose, dear brethren, that frequently we have to make the same confession. We wish we were like a weaned child, but we find ourselves neglecting to walk by faith, and getting into the way of walking by the sight of our eyes, and then we get like the weaning child which is fretting and worrying, and unrestful, and who causes trouble to those round about it, and most of all, trouble to itself.

Weaning was one of the first real troubles that we met with after we came into this world, and it was at the time a very terrible one to our little hearts. We got over it somehow or other. We do not remember now what a trial it was to us, but we may take it as a type of all troubles; for if we have faith in him who was our God from our mother’s breasts, as we got over the weaning, and do not even recollect it, so we shall get over all the troubles that are to come, and shall scarcely remember them for the joy that will follow.

If, indeed, Dr. Watts be correct in saying that when we get to heaven we shall “recount the labours of our feet,” then, I am quite sure that we shall only do it, as he says, “with transporting joy.” There, at least, we shall each one be as a weaned child.

It is a very happy condition of heart which is here indicated, and I shall speak about it with a desire to promote the increase of such a state of heart among believers, with the hope that many of us may reach it, and that all of us who have reached it may continue to say still, “My soul is even as a weaned child.”

I. First, let us think WHAT THE PSALMIST INTENDED BY THIS DESCRIPTION;

and we will begin by noticing the context, in order to understand him, and then we will consider the metaphor in order still further to see what he literally meant.

First, look at the context; and you will see that he intended that pride had been subdued in him, and driven out of him, for he commences the psalm with this, “Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty.” We are all proud by nature, though there is not one among us that has anything to be proud of.

It makes no difference what our condition is: we universally dream that we have something whereof to glory. The Lord Mayor is not a bit prouder in his gold chain than the beggar in his rags. Indeed, pride is a kind of weed that will grow on very poor soil quite as freely as in the best-cultivated garden. Every man thinks more of himself than God thinks of him, for when a man is in his highest estate and at his best, he is nothing but dust, and the Lord knoweth his frame, and remembereth that he is just that, and nothing better. Some poor creatures, however, indulge their pride, and let it run away with them as a wild horse with its rider.

They cannot be trusted with a little money but straightway they hold their heads so high that one might think the stars in danger. They cannot be trusted with a little talent but straightway their genius is omnipotent in their own opinion, and they themselves are to be treated like demi-gods. And if they are God’s servants, they cannot have a little success in the ministry or in the Sunday-school without becoming quite unpleasant to those round about them, through their boastful ways and eagerness to talk of self.

Scarcely can they have enjoyment, even of the presence of God, but what they begin to make an idol of their attainments and graces, and begin to say, “My mountain, my mountain, standeth firm. I, I shall never be moved.” Great I grows without any watering, for the soil of nature is muddy, and the rush of pride takes to it mightily. You need never be troubled about a man’s keeping up his opinion of himself, he will be pretty sure to do that, the force of nature usually runs in the direction of self-conceit.

This pride very often leads to haughtiness, domineering ways towards others, and contempt of them, as if they were not as good as we are; and if we see any errors and mistakes in them we conclude that they are very foolish, and that we should act much better if we were in their position.

If they act nobly and well, this same pride of ours leads us to pick holes in them, and to detract from their excellence; and if we cannot get up as high as they are, we try to pull them down to our own level. This is a base thing to do, but the proud man is always mean, loftiness of looks and meanness of heart run in a leash like a couple of hounds.

The humble man is the truly great man, and because God’s gentleness has made him great he is sure to be kept lowly before the Lord by the Holy Spirit. The proud man is really little; nay more, he is really nothing even in the things wherein he boasts himself.

David could say, “My heart is not haughty.” His brother, Eliab, said that he was proud when he went down to carry his father’s present to his soldier brothers, but it was not so.

His heart was content to be with the sheep: he was quite willing to follow the “ewes great with young.” When he was in Saul’s court they thought him ambitious, but he was not so, he was quite satisfied to be a servant there, to fight the battles of Israel.

The place of captain over a wandering band was forced upon him, he would sooner have dwelt at home. And when he was king he did not exalt himself. Absalom when he was aspiring to the kingdom was a far greater man to look at than his father David, for David walked in lowliness of spirit before the Lord. Whatever faults he had, he certainly had not the fault of vanity, or of being intoxicated in spirit with what God had done for him.

Now, it is a great blessing when the Spirit of God keeps us from being haughty and our looks from being lofty. We shall never be as a weaned child till it gets to that, for a weaned child thinks nothing of itself. It is but a little babe; whatever consciousness it has at all about the matter, it is not conscious of any strength or any wisdom, it is dependent entirely upon its mother’s care; and blessed is that man who is brought to lie very low in his own spirit before the Lord, resting on the bosom of infinite love.

After all, brethren, we are nobodies, and we have come of a line of nobodies. The proudest peer of the realm may trace his pedigree as far as ever he likes, but he ought to remember that if his blood is blue, it must be very unhealthy to have such blood in one’s veins. The common ruddy blood of the peasant is, after all, far healthier. Big as men may account themselves to be on account of their ancestors, we all trace our line up to a gardener, who lost his place through stealing his Master’s fruit, and that is the farthest we can possibly go.

Adam covers us all with disgrace, and under that disgrace we should all sit humbly down. Look into your own heart, and if you dare to be proud, you have never seen your heart at all. It is a mass of pollution: it is a den of filthiness.

Apart from divine grace, your heart is a seething mass of putrefaction, and if God’s eternal Spirit were not to hold it in check, but to let your nature have its way, envyings, tastings, murders, and every foul thing would come flying forth in your daily life. A sinner and yet proud! It is monstrous.

As for children of God, how can they be proud? I fear we are all too much so; but what have we to be proud of? What have we that we have not received? How then can we boast? Are we dressed in the robe of Christ’s righteousness? We did not put a thread into it; it was all given us by the charity of Jesus. Are our garments white? We have washed them in the blood of the Lamb. Are we new creatures? We have been created anew by omnipotent power, or we should still be as we were. Are we holding on our way?

It is God that enables us to persevere, or we should long ago have gone back. Have we been kept from the great transgression? Who has kept us? We certainly have not kept ourselves. There is nothing that we have of which we can say, “I did this and it is all my own,” except our faults and our sins, and over these we ought to blush. Yet, brethren, when the Lord favours us, especially in early life — though I do not know but what it is almost as much so with us who have got a little farther on — if you get a full sail and a favouring breeze, and the vessel scuds along before the wind, there is need of a great deal of ballast, or else there will soon be a tale to tell of a vessel that was upset and a sailor who was too venturesome, and was never heard of more. We have need continually to be kept lowly before God, for pride is the besetting sin of mankind.

Oh, that God would give us to be as David was — not haughty, neither our eyes lofty.

This is the first help towards being as a weaned child.

And next he tells us ‘ that he was not ambitious, — “Neither do I exercise myself in great matters.”

He was a shepherd; he did not want to go and fight Goliath, and when he did do it, it was because his nation needed him. He said, “Is there not a cause?” Else he had kept in the background still. When he went into the hold in the cave of Adullam, he never lifted a hand to become king. He might have smitten his enemy several times, and with one stroke have ended the warfare and seized the throne, but he would not lift a hand against the Lord’s anointed, for, like a weaned child, he was not ambitious. He was willing to go where God would put him, but he was not seeking after great things.

Now, dear brethren, we shall never be as a weaned child if we have got high notions of what we ought to be, and large desires for self. If we are great men in our own esteem, of course we ought to have great things for ourselves; but if we know ourselves, and are brought into a true condition of mind, we shall avoid those “vaulting ambitions which o’erleap themselves.”

For instance, we shall not be hankering after great possessions. “Having food and raiment” we shall be “therewith content.” If God adds to our store of the comforts of life, we shall be grateful. We shall be diligent in business, but we shall not be greedy and miserly. “While others stretch their arms, like seas, to grasp in all the shore,” we shall be content with far less things, for we know that greed after earthly riches brings with it slackness of desire as to true riches.

The more hungry a man is after this world, the less he pines after the treasures of the world to come. We shall not be covetous, if we are like a weaned child neither shall we sigh for position and influence; whoever heard of a weaned child doing that? Let it lie in its parent’s bosom and it is content, and so shall we be in the bosom of our God. Yet some Christian men seem as if they could not pull unless they are the fore horses of the team.

They cannot work with others, but must have the chief place, contrary to the word of the apostle who says, “My brethren, be ye not many masters, lest ye receive the greater condemnation.”

Blessed is that servant who is quite content with that position which his master appoints him — glad to unloose the latchet of his Lord’s shoes — glad to wash the saints’ feet— glad to engage in sweeping a crossing for the king’s servants. Let us do anything for Jesus, counting it the highest honour even to be a door-mat inside the church of God, if we might be such a thing as that, for the saints even to remove the filthiness from themselves upon us, so long as we may but be of some use to them, and bring some glory to God.

You remember the word of Jeremiah to Baruch. Baruch had been writing the roll for the prophet, and straightway Baruch thought he was somebody. He had been writing the word of the Lord, had he not? But he prophet said to him, “Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not.” And so saith the mind of the Spirit to us all. Do not desire to occupy positions of eminence and prominence, but let your soul be as a weaned child — not exercising itself in great matters.

Very often we seek after great approbation. We want to do great deeds that people will talk about, and especially some famous work which everybody will admire. This is human nature, for the love of approbation is rooted in us. As the old rhyme puts it —

“The proud to gain it, toils on toils endure;
The modest shun it but to make it sure.”

But that man has arrived at the right position who has become “careless, himself a dying man, of dying man’s esteem,” who judges what is right before God, and does it caring neither for public nor private opinion in the matter, to whom it is no more concern what people may say of an action which his conscience commends than what tune the north wind whistles as it blows over the Alps.

He who is the slave of man’s opinions is a slave indeed. I would sooner go to some barbarous clime where yet the slave-whip would fall upon my shoulders, and the cruel fetter would chain me to the floor, than live in dread of such a thing as I myself, and tremble with fear of offending this man and the other by doing what I believe to be right. He who fears God needs fear no one else; but he who reaches that point has undergone a painful weaning, and had it not been for that he would not be able to say, “My soul is even as a weaned child.”

 Frequently, too, we exercise ourselves in great matters by having a high ambition to do something very wonderful in the church. This is why so very little is done. The great destroyer of good works is the ambition to do great works.

A little thing can be done by a Christian brother well; but if it strikes him, “I will have a society to do it, and a committee, and a secretary, and a president, and a vice-president,” (it being well known that nothing can be done till you get a committee, and a president, and all that kind of thing), the brother soon hampers himself, and his work ends in resolutions and reports, and nothing more.

But the brother who says “Here is a district which nobody visits; I will do what I can in it” — he is probably the man who will get another to help him, and another, and the work will be done The young man who is quite content to begin with preaching in a little room in a village to a dozen is the man who will win souls. The other brother, who does not mean preaching till he can preach to five thousand, never will do anything, he never can.

I read of a king who always wanted to take the second step first, but he was not a Solomon; there are many such about, not kings but common people, who do not’ want to do the first thing, the thing they can do, the thing which God calls them to do, the thing they ought to do, but they must do something great.

Oh, dear brother, if your soul ever gets to be as it ought, you will feel, “The least thing that I can do, I shall be glad to do. The very poorest and meanest form of Christian service, as men think it, is better than I deserve.” It is a great honour to be allowed to unloose the latchets of my Lord’s shoes. A young man who had a small charge once, and only about two hundred hearers, complained to an old minister that he wished he could move somewhere else; but the old one said, “Do not be in a hurry, brother. The responsibility of two hundred souls is quite heavy a load enough for most of us to carry.”

And so it is. We need not be so eager to load ourselves with more. He is the best draughtsman, not who draws the largest but the most perfect circle; if the circle is perfect nobody finds fault with it because it is not large. Fill your sphere, brother, and be content with it. If God shall move you to another, be glad to be moved; if he move you to a smaller, be as willing to go to a less prominent place as to one that is more so. Have no will about it. Be a weaned child that has given up fretting, and crying, and worrying, and leaves its mother to do just what seemeth good in her sight. When we are thoroughly weaned it is well with us — pride is gone, and ambition is gone too. We shall want much nursing by one who is wiser and gentler than the best mother before we shall be quite weaned of these two dearly beloved sins.

Next, David tells us he was not intrusive, — “Neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.” I have seen many men always vexed and troubled because they would exercise themselves in things too high for them. These things too high for them have been many; I will mention only a few. They have expected to comprehend everything, and have never been satisfied because many truths are far above and out of their reach: especially they have expected to know all the deep things of God — the doctrine of election, and how predestination coincides with the free agency of man, and how God orders everything, and yet man is responsible — just as responsible as if there had been no foreknowledge and no foreordination.

It is folly to hope to know these “things too high for us.” Here is a little child that has just come off its mother’s knee and it expects to understand a book on trigonometry, and cries because it cannot; and here is another little child that has been down to the sea, and it is fretting and kicking in its nurse’s arms because it cannot get the Atlantic into the hollow of its hand. Well, it will have to kick, that will be the end of it; but it is fretting itself for nothing, without any real use or need for its crying, because a little child’s palm cannot hold an ocean. Yet a child might sooner hold the Atlantic and Pacific in its two hands, without spilling a drop, than you and I will ever be able to hold all revealed truth within the compass of our narrow minds.

We cannot know everything, and we cannot understand even half what we know. I have given up wanting to understand. As far as I can, I am content with believing all that I see in God’s word. People say, “But he contradicts himself.” I dare say I do, but I never contradict God to my knowledge, nor yet the Bible. If I do, may my Lord forgive me. Do not believe me for a minute if I speak contrary to God’s word, in order to appear consistent. The sin of being inconsistent with my poor fallible self does not trouble me a tithe as much as the dread of being inconsistent with what I find in God’s word. Some want to shape the Scriptures to their creed, and they get a very nice square creed too, and trim the Bible most dexterously: it is wonderful how they do it, but I would rather have a crooked creed and a straight Bible than I would try to twist the Bible round to suit what I believe.

“Neither do I exercise myself,” says the psalmist, “with things too high for me,” and I think we do well to keep very much in that line. “Oh, but really one ought to be acquainted with all the phases of modern doubt.” Yes, and how many hours in a day ought a man to give to that kind of thing? Twenty-five out of the twenty-four would hardly be sufficient, for the phases of modern thought are innumerable, and every fool who sets up for a philosopher sets up a new scheme; and I am to spend my time in going about to knock his card-houses over. Not I! I have something else to do; and so has every Christian minister. He has real doubts to deal with, which vex true hearts; he has anxieties to relieve in converted souls, and in minds that are pining after the truth and the right; he has these to meet, without everlastingly tilting at windmills, and running all over the country to put down every scarecrow which learned simpletons may set up.

We shall soon defile ourselves if we work day after day in the common sewers of scepticism. Brethren, there is a certain highway of truth in which you and I, like wayfaring men, feel ourselves safe, let us travel thereon. There are some things that we do know, because we have experienced them, — some doctrines which nobody can beat out of us, because we have tasted them and handled them.

Well, if we can go further, well and good; but to my mind, we are foolish to go further and fare worse. If a man has reached the Land’s End, and some great genius should tell him to walk on farther than Old England reaches and ridicule him because he will not go a step in advance into the fog which conceals an awful plunge, I think, upon the whole, he may be content to put up with the ridicule. Put your foot down, brother, and see whether there is anything under it— whether there is a good text or two underneath— whether there is a little personal experience underneath, and, if you do not find it, let the advanced thinkers go alone; you had better keep on the rock.

“Prove all things” — do not run after their novelties till you have proved them; and what you have proved hold fast. Be conservative in God’s truth, and radical too, by keeping to the root of the matter. Hold fast what you know, and live mainly upon the simplicities of the gospel, for, after all, the food of the soul does not lie in controversial points: it lies in points which we will never have controverted, for “without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh.”

There is the food of the soul where there is no controversy in any devout Christian spirit. Exercise yourself, then, in the plainer matters, and do not imbibe the notion that you must read all the quarterlies, and master “The Contemporary Review,” and the like, or else you will be a nobody; be content to be just such a nobody as a weaned child is, and say, “I exercise not myself in great matters or in things too high for me.”

 The same evil comes up in another form when we want to know all the reasons of divine Providence, — why this affliction was sent, and why that, — why father died, — why those two children that we loved so well were taken from us, — why we do not prosper in our various enterprises. Why? Why? Why? Ah, when we begin asking “Why? why? why?” what an endless task we have before us. If we become like a weaned child we shall not ask “why?” but just believe that in our heavenly Father’s dispensations there is a wisdom too deep for us to fathom, a goodness veiled but certain.

We exercise ourselves in things too high for us, too, when we begin considering the results of duty and hesitate to do it. A man’s course is quite clear in the word of God, but he says, “If I do that, how am I to provide for my family? If I do that, shall I not be throwing up a sphere of usefulness? I know it would be right to do it; my conscience tells me that I ought; but other people manage somehow to make notches in their conscience, and they are evidently very useful where they are.”

Ah, my dear brother, pray God to lead you in a plain path, and remember, you have nothing to do with results, except to receive them as tests of your faithfulness. Results must always be left with God; for if the result of doing right would be that you lost your life, your Master tells you that you must hate even your own life also, or else you cannot be his disciple.

You will get helped if you can trust, but if for the sake of this or that you do wrong, — I do not mind how you put it, — you are doing evil that good may come, and you are grieving the Spirit of God. Your mind will never get to be like a weaned child. It is not the child-like spirit to try to excuse yourself for maintaining a false position. The child-like spirit is to do what our heavenly Father tells us, because he tells us, and leave the consequences with him.

Thus I have said enough, perhaps too much, about the connection.

Now, from the simile itself we gather that the condition of heart of which David spoke was this— that he was like one who was able to give up his natural food, which seemed to him absolutely necessary, and which he greatly enjoyed. The weaned babe has given up what it loved.

By nature we hang on the breasts of this world, and only sovereign grace can wean us therefrom, but when we give up self-righteousness, self-confidence, the love of the world, the desire of self-aggrandisement, when we give up trusting in man, trusting in ceremonies, trusting in anything but God, then has our soul become like a weaned child. It has given up what nature feeds upon, that it may feed upon the bread of heaven.

It means, next, that he had at last conquered his desires, his longings, his pinings. The weaning child has his desires strong upon him, and he frets, but the child weaned is content, his desires lie still. And the child of God, when sufficient grace has come, feels no desires for that which once delighted him. He submits himself so completely to his Father’s will that, if he is to do without, he does without. Paul said he had learned in whatsoever state he was therewith to be content; there was another lesson which Paul had learned, but he does not tell us so: I have no doubt he had learned in whatsoever state therewithout to be content, which is a good deal more. To be content to be without as well as to be with is a high attainment. Not to have and to be as happy in not having as if one had all he desired is well. Oh, blessed state to be in! not merely taken away from the breasts of earth, but taught no longer to wish for them.

Now, a weaned child is dependent upon its mother entirely. It knows nothing about how it is to be fed. It could not feed itself, and it must die if deprived of the care of another; but it rests quietly, free from even a trace of anxiety.

I find that the Hebrew gives the idea of a child lying in its mother’s bosom, perfectly satisfied; and David puts it something like this, O my Lord, “my soul lies in thy bosom like a child that has done crying and fretting, and is weaned altogether.” Oh, happy man who so depends upon God that he leaves all his concerns with the God of love, and sings sweetly in confidence in God.

Thus I have tried to describe the state which the psalmist intended by being “as a weaned child.”

II. And now, secondly, WHAT IS THE EXCELLENCE OF THIS CONDITION?

Why is it desirable to be even as a weaned child? It is excellent every way. You will know it best by attaining to it, for when you are weaned your desires will no longer worry you.

Curb desire, and you have struck at the root of half your sorrow. He smarts not under poverty who has learned to be content, he frets not under affliction who is submissive to the Father’s will, and lays aside his own. When your desires are held within bounds your temptations to rebel are ended. You wanted this and you wanted that, and so you quarrelled with God, and your Lord and you were seldom on good terms. He did not choose to pamper you, and you wanted that he should, and so you fretted like a weaning child. Now you leave it to his will, and you have peace.

The strife is over; your soul is quieted, and behaves itself becomingly. Now, also, your resentments against those who injured you are gone; you were angry with a certain person, but your pettishness has ended with your weaning: you see that God sent him to do this which has troubled you, and you accept his hard words and cruel actions as from God, and you are angry no more.

You do not kick and struggle now against your condition and position, and you no longer murmur and complain from day to day as if you were hardly dealt with. No, if God chooses to better your circumstances you will be glad; if he does not, you just take it as you find it, for you could not blame his providence. You give your thoughts •to something better than the things of earth, for you now resolve as David did in the One Hundred and Thirty-second Psalm, which is very remarkable as following the psalm which contains our text, because there he goes on to declare that he will build for the Lord of hosts.

When your own business is all right, and you are weaned from all fretting, worrying, and self-seeking, then you are free to undertake the Lord’s business. He has done for you what you want, and now you want to do something for him. You have sought the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all other things have been added to you, so that you are as happy as the days are long in June. Look at the birds in the winter. When there is not a leaf on the boughs they sit and sing; and in the early spring, when still the winter’s cold is lingering, they pour out their very choicest songs; and yet there is not a lark or thrush among them that has an hour’s provision in store. Not one among them has house or barn, or gathers ought, and yet, according to Martin Luther’s interpretation of their song, they sing,

“Mortal, cease from toil and sorrow,
God provideth for the morrow.”

Happy is the man who comes to that condition! God bring us there.

When we are weaned we have got rid of the ground of future troubles and disappointments. We do not get weaned all at once from everything. One person here has been weaned from confidence in riches, but perhaps his heart, his affectionate heart, is clinging to some human love, some mortal joy. Well, brother, well, sister, remember that where your treasure is your heart will go, and if that treasure be taken away your heart must ache. If we trust in an arm of flesh, we make a rod for our own backs. You never lean upon a man or woman either, and steal away from simple trust in God, but what you are preparing for yourself a trial; it may be in the treachery of the one you trusted; it certainly will be, if you live long enough, in the death of that beloved one. “Dust to dust,” and “ashes to ashes,” will be the end of all earthly joy. If a building leans upon a buttress, if that buttress is taken away it must be weakened; but if it can stand alone, upon its own foundation, then it standeth firmly. The man who depends alone upon his God, and whose expectation is from him, has not half the occasions for trouble that he has who is leaning here and leaning there, and leaning in fifty places, for each earthly prop will be the cause or occasion of distress at some time or other.

III. I have very much to say on this point, but my time is gone. I will only close with the last enquiry, which is this: Is THIS STATE ATTAINABLE?

Certainly. David said, “My soul is even as a weaned child.” He did not say that he hoped it would be so. We can surely get where David got, for he was a man of like passions with ourselves. No attainment in grace is to be viewed as the monopoly of one man or one age; in fact, we have more advantages than the psalmist, for he lived under a much more poverty-stricken dispensation than we do.

Now the gates of heaven are set wide open, and the treasure-houses and the granaries of our heavenly Joseph are free to all Israel; and, if we are at all straightened, it certainly cannot be in the Lord. He does not stint us. Did David say, “My soul is even as a weaned child”? Then no believer here ought to be content till he can say, “By the grace of God I am brought into that same condition.” This sacred weanedness of heart is possible under any circumstances.

The poor have often attained it. I saw this week a poor woman, entirely dependent upon what was given to her by others, confined to her chamber, needing to be lifted from her bed, racked with rheumatic pain, and yet as happy as an angel. She was joying and rejoicing in the Lord, and one of her greatest pleasures was to sit on the side of the bed for an hour, when her pain was not so bad but what she could sit up, and get through a chapter or two; and then her heart took to itself wings, and soared up to heaven. Her soul was as a weaned child, she had no anxieties and no fretfulness. Those who attended her said that such a thing as a murmur never escaped her.

Hear this, ye poor ones! Well, and you who are better off may get there in the midst of riches, for David was a king, and yet he did not suffer his worldly wealth to canker his spirit. He was as a weaned child, though dwelling in a palace. He could get at the breast of worldly pleasures, and yet he was weaned from it. A man may be in this condition when he is tossed to and fro, and troubled. Business men are apt to say, “It is all very well for you ministers to talk about calm and peace of mind; but if you had to sell flour and bread, or measure out drapery, or look after a lot of clerks, or go into a large factory and see after a pack of work-girls, you would find it very difficult.”

My dear friends, look at David’s life. How tossed about he was! What cares, what trials, what changes, what singular alternations of condition, and yet for all that his soul was even as a weaned child. Do you think the religion of Jesus Christ was meant to be kept under a glass case, and that it would make good people of us if we were locked up in a cloister? No, it is a practical everyday religion, meant for you that have factories, and you that have bakeries, and you that have shops; the religion which cannot stand the wear and tear of everyday life is not worth twopence, and the sooner you are rid of such rubbish the better.

We want a religion which we may take with us wherever we go, that will keep us calm and quiet and self-possessed, because we are possessed of the Spirit of God. May we reach this happy state and never leave it.

What is the way to get it? The psalm tells us, “Let Israel hope in the Lord, from henceforth and for ever.”

Faith blossoming into hope is the way of sanctification, the road to a calm and quiet spirit.

You cannot say to yourself, “I will fret no longer,” and then expect never to fret. No, brother, you must expel one affection by another: one propensity must be vanquished by another. You are too ready to trust in man: trust in God will push out carnal confidence. You are expecting great things of the world, that is foolish: expect great things of God, and you will cease from carnal hopes. You are seeking from day to day for this world’s good, you feel an ambition to rise: seek after the eternal good, and feel an ambition to get nearer to God, and the other ambition will die. You are worried by fears and anxieties: come and rest your soul upon the faithful promise, and, resting there, your anxieties will cease.

I fear that many Christian people think that faith has nothing to do with every-day life; they do not expect to find that it relieves them of anxieties as to bread and cheese for themselves, and shoes and socks for the children, and all those little troubles and worries which concern a housewife and a father. But, oh, beloved, it is not so. The heathen had their household gods, and blessed be God he is our household God, the God of all the families of Israel. The Lord hears the young ravens when they cry, will he not hear his people? The ravens only cry for meat, a dead rabbit or a pigeon is all they want, yet the Lord sees that their wants are supplied, and I find that “not a sparrow falleth to the ground without your Father, and the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” These poor hairs? These little things! These trifling things!

You will never be as a weaned child till you leave these little things with God, for the child has no great things. A child’s matters are all little; though they are great to the babe they are little to us. Leave your little things with God: leave everything with God. Live in God; dwell in God; have no secrets between yourself and God. The troubles of life which fret us most are the little things. If a man goes on a long walk; it is not the climbing, and it is not the slipping down the steep hillside, it is that nasty little stone which has got into the shoe which troubles him. You can hardly see it, but there it is, and it blisters his foot and lames him. Ah, dear brother, take the little stone to God. Ask him to remove that little vexation from you, for as with God there is nothing great, so is there nothing little.

The greatest philosopher in the world, or the greatest king, if his little child had a thorn in his finger, would not think himself disgraced if he stooped to take it out with a needle; and the Lord who maketh all things, and calleth the stars by their names, does not dishonour himself when he binds up our broken hearts. Go, then, to your God, and let your soul leave everything with him, by faith being made as a weaned child.

“Easier said than done,” says somebody. Yes, brethren, except by faith, but to faith it is easy enough; and I boldly say here, I have sometimes found it easier to exercise faith than to talk about it. When I trust God — and I hope I do that habitually — I do not find that to give up anxiety and to trust in God is difficult now, though it used to be. Blessed be my Lord, I cannot help believing him, for he loads me down with evidences of his truth and fidelity. Once get really into the swim of faith and you do not need to struggle, the sacred current of grace will carry you along. Give yourself completely up to the Lord Jesus Christ and the mighty energy of the blessed Spirit, and you will find it sweet to lie passive in his hand, and know no will but his. God bring you there!

If there is any unconverted person here who cannot understand all this, I pray the Lord to make him a child first, and then make him a weaned child. Regeneration must come first, and sanctification will follow. Believe in Jesus for pardon, and then you will have grace given to resign yourself to the divine will. May the Lord wean you from earth and wed you to heaven. Amen.

Charles H. Spurgeon

“Forgiveness and Reconciliation”, Tim Keller (Pursuing Truth, Love, Relationship)

SERVING EACH OTHER THROUGH FORGIVENESS AND RECONCILIATION  by DR. TIMOTHY KELLER (2005)

On both a theological and a practical level, forgiveness is at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian. True forgiveness comes at a cost and is pursued intentionally within a community of believers. The new human community that the Bible requires cuts across all cultures and temperaments.

Put another way, it doesn’t fit any culture but challenges them all at some point. Christians from more individualistic cultures love the Bible’s emphasis on affirming one another and sharing hurts and problems—but hate the idea of accountability and discipline. Christians from more traditional communal cultures love the emphasis on accountability for morals and beliefs but often chafe at emphasis on racial reconciliation and being open about one’s personal hurts and financial needs.

But one could argue that the biblical teaching on forgiveness and reconciliation is so radical that there are no cultures or societies that are in accord with it. It may be here most of all that we see the truth of Bonhoeffer’s statement, “Our community with one another [in Christ] consists solely in what Christ has done to both of us. Christian brotherhood is a spiritual and not a human reality. In this it differs from all other communities.”

In its most basic and simple form, this teaching is that Christians in community are to never give up on one another, never give up on a relationship, and never write off another believer. We must never tire of forgiving (and repenting!) and seeking to repair our relationships. Matthew 5:23–26 tells us we should go to someone if we know they have something against us. Matthew 18:15–20 says we should approach someone if we have something against them. In short, if any relationship has cooled off or has weakened in any way, it is always your move. It doesn’t matter “who started it:”

God always holds you responsible to reach out to repair a tattered relationship. A Christian is responsible to begin the process of reconciliation, regardless of how the distance or the alienation began.

WHAT FORGIVENESS IS

When speaking of forgiveness, Jesus uses the image of debts to describe the nature of sins (Matt. 6:12; 18:21–35). When someone seriously wrongs you, there is an absolutely unavoidable sense that the wrongdoer owes you. The wrong has incurred an obligation, a liability, a debt. Anyone who has been wronged feels a compulsion to make the other person pay down that debt. We do that by hurting them, yelling at them, making them feel bad in some way, or just waiting and watching and hoping that something bad happens to them.

Only after we see them suffer in some commensurate way do we sense that the debt has been paid and the sense of obligation is gone. This sense of debt/liability and obligation is impossible to escape. Anyone who denies it exists has simply not been wronged or sinned against in any serious way.

What then is forgiveness? Forgiveness means giving up the right to seek repayment from the one who harmed you. But it must be recognized that forgiveness is a form of voluntary suffering. What does that mean?

Think about how monetary debts work. If a friend breaks my lamp, and if the lamp costs fifty dollars to replace, then the act of lamp-breaking incurs a debt of fifty dollars. If I let him pay for and replace the lamp, I get my lamp back and he’s out fifty dollars. But if I forgive him for what he did, the debt does not somehow vanish into thin air. When I forgive him, I absorb the cost and payment for the lamp: either I will pay the fifty dollars to replace it or I will lose the lighting in that room.

To forgive is to cancel a debt by paying it or absorbing it yourself. Someone always pays every debt.

This is the case in all situations of wrongdoing, even when no money is involved. When you are sinned against, you lose some thing—perhaps happiness, reputation, peace of mind, a relationship, or an opportunity. There are two things to do about a sin. Imagine for example that someone has hurt your reputation. You can try to restore it by paying the other person back, voicing public criticisms and ruining his or her reputation. Or you can forgive the one who wronged you, refuse payback, and absorb the damage to your reputation. (You will have to restore it over time.)

In all cases when wrong is done there is a debt, and there is no way to deal with it without suffering: either you make the perpetrator suffer for it or you forgive and suffer for it yourself.

Forgiveness is always extremely costly. It is emotionally very expensive—it takes much blood, sweat, and tears. When you forgive, you pay the debt yourself in several ways.

First, you refuse to hurt the person directly; you refuse vengeance, payback, or the infliction of pain. Instead, you are as cordial as possible. When forgiving you must beware of subtle ways to try to exact payment while assuring yourself that you aren’t. Here are specific things to avoid:

  • making cutting remarks and dragging out past injuries repeatedly
  • being far more demanding and controlling with the person than you are with others, all because you feel
    deep down that they still owe you
  • punishing them with self-righteous “mercy” that is really a way to make them feel small and to justify yourself
  • avoiding them or being cold toward them

 Second, you refuse to employ innuendo or “spin” or hint or gossip or direct slander to diminish those who have hurt you in the eyes of others. You don’t run them down under the guise of warning people about them or under the guise of seeking sympathy and support and sharing your hurt.

 Third, when forgiving you refuse to indulge in ill-will in your heart. That is, don’t continually replay the tapes of the wrong in your imagination, in order to keep the sense of loss and hurt fresh so you can stay actively hostile toward the person and feel virtuous by contrast.

Don’t vilify or demonize the offender in your imagination. Rather, recognize the common sinful humanity you share with him or her. Don’t root for them to fail,
don’t hope for their pain.

Instead, pray positively for their growth.

Forgiveness, then, is granted before it is felt. It is a promise to refrain from the three things above and pray for the perpetrator as you remind yourself of God’s grace to you. Though it is extremely difficult and painful (you are bearing the cost of the sin yourself!), forgiveness will deepen your character, free you to talk to and help the person, and lead to love and peace rather than bitterness.

Further, by bearing the cost of the sin, you are walking in the path of your Master (Matt. 18:21–35; Col. 3:13). It is typical for non-Christians today to say that the cross of Christ makes no sense. “Why did Jesus have to die? Why couldn’t God just forgive us?” Actually no one who has been deeply wronged “just forgives”!

If someone wrongs you, there are only two options:

(1) you make them suffer, or
(2) you refuse revenge and forgive them and then you suffer. And if we can’t forgive without suffering, how much more must God suffer in order to forgive us? If we unavoidably sense the obligation and debt and injustice of sin in our soul, how much more does God know it? On the cross we see God forgiving us, and that was possible only if God suffered. On the cross God’s love satisfied his own justice by suffering, bearing the penalty for sin. There is never forgiveness without suffering, nails, thorns, sweat, blood. Never.

WHAT WE NEED TO FORGIVE

The experience of the gospel gives us the two prerequisites for a life of forgiveness: emotional humility and emotional wealth.

You can remain bitter toward someone only if you feel superior, if you are sure that you “would never do anything like that!”

To remain unforgiving means you are unaware of your own sinfulness and need for forgiveness. When Paul says he is the worst among sinners (1 Tim. 1:15), he is not exaggerating. He is saying that he is as capable of sin as the worst criminals are. The gospel has equipped him with emotional humility.

At the same time, you can’t be gracious to someone if you are too needy and insecure. If you know God’s love and forgiveness, then there is a limit to how deeply another person can hurt you. He or she can’t touch your real identity, wealth, and significance. The more you rejoice in your own forgiveness, the quicker you will be to forgive others. You are rooted in emotional wealth.

Forgiveness founders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners. But no one can be in the presence of the God of the crucified Messiah for long without overcoming this double exclusion—without transposing the enemy from the sphere of monstrous inhumanity into the sphere of shared humanity and herself from the sphere of proud innocence into the sphere of common sinfulness.

When one knows that the torturer will not eternally triumph over the victim,
one is free to rediscover that person’s humanity and imitate God’s love for him. And when one knows that God’s love is greater than all sin, one is free to see oneself . . . and so rediscover one’s own sinfulness.

Jesus says, “If you do not forgive men their sins, your heavenly Father will not forgive your sins” (Matt. 6:15). This does not mean we can earn God’s forgiveness through our own forgiving but that we can disqualify ourselves from it. No heart that is truly repentant toward God could be unforgiving toward others. A lack of forgiveness toward others is the direct result of a lack of repentance toward God. And as we know, you must repent in order
to be saved (Acts 2:38).

GOD’S FORGIVENESS AND OURS

When God reveals his glory to Moses, he says he forgives wickedness yet “does not leave the guilty unpunished”

(Exod. 34:6–7). Not until the coming of Jesus do we see how God can be both completely just and forgiving through his atonement (1 John 1:7–9). In the cross God satisfies both justice and love. God was so just and desirous to judge sin that Jesus had to die, but he was so loving and desirous of our salvation that Jesus was glad to die.

We too are commanded to forgive (“bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another,” Col 3:13–14) on the basis of Jesus’ atonement for our sins (“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. . . . If you do not forgive men their sins, your heavenly Father will not forgive your sins,” Matt. 6:14–15; cf. Luke 6:37).

But we are also required to forgive in a way that honors justice, just as God’s forgiveness does. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3). “Christians are called to abandon bitterness, to be forbearing, to have a forgiving stance even where the repentance of the offending party is conspicuous by its absence; on the other hand, their God-centered passion for justice, their concern for God’s glory, ensure that the awful odium of sin is not glossed over.”

PURSUING TRUTH, LOVE, AND RELATIONSHIP

The gospel calls us, then, to keep an equal concern

(a) to speak the truth and honor what is right, yet
(b) to be endlessly forgiving as we do so and
(c) to never give up on the goal of a reconciled, warm relationship.

First, God requires forgiveness whether or not the offender has repented and has asked for forgiveness. “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him” (Mark 11:25). This does not say “forgive him if he repents” but rather “forgive him right there—as you are praying.”

Second, God requires speaking the truth. That is why Jesus tells his disciples in Luke 17:3 to “rebuke” the wrongdoer and “if he repents, forgive him.” Is Jesus saying that we can hold a grudge if the person doesn’t repent? No, we must not read Luke 17 to contradict Mark 11. Jesus is calling us here both to practice inner forgiveness and to rebuke and correct. We must completely surrender the right to pay back or get even, yet at the same time we must never overlook injustice and must require serious wrongdoings to be redressed.

This is almost the very opposite of how we ordinarily operate. Ordinarily we do not seek justice on the outside (we don’t confront or call people to change and make restitution), but we stay hateful and bitter on the inside. The Bible calls us to turn this completely around. We are to deeply forgive on the inside so as to have no desire for vengeance, but then we are to speak openly about what has happened with a desire to help the person see what was done wrong.

In reality, inner forgiveness and outward correction work well together. Only if you have forgiven inside can you correct unabusively—without trying to make the person feel terrible. Only if you have forgiven already can your motive be to correct the person for God’s sake, for justice’s sake, for the community’s sake, and for the person’s sake. And only if you forgive on the inside will your words have any hope of changing the perpetrator’s heart. Otherwise your speech will be so filled with disdain and hostility that he or she will not listen to you.

Ultimately, to forgive on the inside and to rebuke/correct on the outside are not incompatible, because they are both acts of love. It is never loving to let a person just get away with sin. It is not loving to the perpetrator, who continues in the grip of the habit, nor to those who will be wronged in the future, nor to God, who is grieved. This is difficult, for the line is very thin between a moral outrage for God’s sake and a self-righteous outrage because of hurt pride. Still, to refuse to confront is not loving but just selfish.

Third, as we “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), we are to pursue justice gently and humbly, in order to redress wrongs and yet maintain or restore the relationship (Gal. 6:1–5).

There is a great deal of tension between these three things! Almost always one is much more easily attained if you simply drop any concern for the other two. For example, it is easy to “speak the truth” if you’ve given up on any desire to maintain a warm relationship. But if you want both, you will have to be extremely careful with how you speak the truth! Another example: it is possible to convince yourself that you have forgiven someone, but if afterward you still want nothing to do with them (you don’t pursue an ongoing relationship), then that is a sign that you spoke the truth without truly forgiving. Of course it is possible that you do keep these three things together in your heart and mind but the other person simply cannot.

There is no culture or personality type that holds these together. People tend to believe that if you are confronting me you don’t forgive or love me, or if you really loved me you wouldn’t be rebuking me. God recognizes that many people simply won’t let you pursue all these things together, and so tells us, “As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18). That is, do your part and have as good and peaceful a relationship with people as they will let you have.

WHEN DO WE NEED TO CONFRONT AND RECONCILE?

Jesus tells us that if we have been sinned against we may need to go and speak to the offender. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3).

But when do we “rebuke”—every time anyone wrongs us? First Peter 4:8 says famously that “love covers over a multitude of sins,” and Proverbs 10:12 backs this up. This means we are not to be thin-skinned, and it would be wrong to bring up every matter every time we have been treated unjustly or insensitively. Still, passages like Matthew 18 and Luke 17 say there are some times in
which we should make a complaint. When do we do so?

This is where Galatians 6 gives us guidance. “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted” (6:1). We should give correction under two conditions.

First, we should correct when the sin is serious enough to cool off or rupture the relationship. Matthew 18:15 indicates that the purpose of a rebuke is to “win your brother over”—that is, to rescue the relationship. That is implied when Galatians 6:2 tells us that correcting someone is a way of “carrying each other’s burdens;” it is an expression of an interdependent relationship.

Second, we should correct when the sin against us is evidently part of a pattern of behavior that the other person is seriously stuck in. “If someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him” (Gal. 6:1): the image
is of being trapped in a pattern of behavior that will be harmful to the person and to others. In love this should be pointed out. So we rebuke for the person’s sake—to “restore him.” Our concern is his or her growth.

And how do we do it? “You who are spiritual should restore him gently” (Gal. 6:1). This is essential. If the motive of the correction is helping the other to grow, then we will be loving and gentle. Verses 2–3 indicate that we should do this very humbly. We are making ourselves servants by doing the correction. Ultimately, any love that is afraid to confront the beloved is really not love but a selfish desire to be loved.

Cowardice is always selfish, putting your own needs ahead of the needs of the other. A love that says, “I’ll do anything to keep him or her loving and approving of me!” is not real love at all. It is not loving the person; it is loving the love you get from the person. True love is willing to confront, even to “lose” the beloved in the short run if there is a chance to help him or her.

Nevertheless, it is clear that there are plenty of times we should not correct and not seek an apology even when one is owed. The stronger a Christian you are, the less sensitive and easily hurt you will be. When people “zing” you, snub you, ignore you, or let you down in some way, it should not immediately cool you to them.

As a mature Christian, you immediately remember

(a) times you did the same thing to others or
(b) times that people who did this to you were later revealed to have a lot on their mind and heart. If you find that any wrongdoing immediately cools you to
another and you want to insist on your right to an apology, do some self-examination regarding the level of your emotional humility and emotional wealth in Christ. Love should cover a multitude of sins (that is, most of them!)

You should be able to warmly treat people who by rights owe you an apology but whom you haven’t corrected because the slights were rather minor, or the time isn’t right to speak about it, or you don’t know them well enough to be sure it is a major pattern in their life.

HOW DO WE RECONCILE?

Here are some basics.
WHAT ARE THE MARKS OF AN UNRECONCILED RELATIONSHIP?

An unreconciled relationship is marked by avoidance, coldness, and irritability (that is, the same action performed by another person does not disturb you as much as it does when this person does it!) If you find yourself avoiding, being cold toward, or being very irritated with someone (or if you can tell that someone is cold or irritable toward you or avoiding you), then you probably have an unreconciled relationship.

On the other hand, “I forgive you” does not mean “I trust you.” Some people think they haven’t reconciled until they can completely trust the person who did the wrong. That is not the case. Forgiveness means a willingness to try to reestablish trust, but that reestablishment is always a process. The speed and degree of this restoration entail the re-creation of trust, and that takes time, depending on the nature and severity of the offenses involved.

Until a person shows evidence of true change, we should not trust him or her. To immediately give one’s trust to a person with sinful habits could actually be enabling him to sin. Trust must be restored, and the speed at which
this occurs depends on the behavior.

This also applies to the people who owe you an apology but whose sins have been “covered” (see above). A person who has let you down but whom you don’t correct has damaged your trust, albeit in minor ways. If he or she comes to apologize, it will restore the level of trust and respect you had before, but until that happens you can still have a civil and cordial relationship with them.

HOW CAN YOU RECONCILE WITH SOMEONE?

We can look at Matthew 5 and Matthew 18 as two different approaches: Matthew 5 lays out what you do when you believe you have wronged someone else, while Matthew 18 is what you do when you believe someone has wronged you. But it is also possible to also look at these passages as giving us two stages of the normal reconciliation process, because seldom does just one party bear all the blame for a frayed relationship.

Almost always reconciliation involves both repenting and forgiving—both admitting your own wrong and pointing out the wrong of the other. If we put these two approaches together, we can create a practical outline like the
one that follows.

Stage 1

Begin by confessing anything you may have done wrong (this might be called the “Matthew 5:24 phase”).

Begin with yourself.

Even if you believe that your own behavior is no more than 5 percent of the problem, start with your 5 percent! Look for what you have done wrong, and collect the criticism.

-List whatever you think you have done wrong and ask the other person to add to the list of things you have done wrong or ways you have contributed to the breakdown in the relationship. Example: “I’m here because I don’t like what has happened to our relationship [or—if the term applies—our friendship]. It appears to me that there is a problem between us; am I wrong?” Then, “Here is what I believe I have contributed to the problem between us—where I’ve wronged you. . . . But where else have I wronged you or contributed to the relationship problem, in your estimation?”

-If you are almost totally in the dark about what went wrong, you may have to simply offer to listen. Example: “It appears to me that there is trouble between us and I have offended you. Am I right? Please tell me specific ways I have wronged you. I am ready to listen—honest.”

Then listen well to the criticism you’ve invited. Seek to distill this criticism into something clear and specific. To do so too quickly may seem defensive, but eventually ask for as many specific examples as possible. If the other says, “You are bullying,” you need to find out what actual words or actions or tones of voice strike the other person as “bullying.”

Here is a practical checklist:

  • Pray silently, asking God to give you wisdom and allow you to sense his love for you.
    Assume that God is speaking to you through this painful situation and is showing you ways you should be more careful or change.
  • Assume that God is speaking to you even through a very flawed person.
  • Beware of being defensive. Don’t explain yourself too quickly, even if you have a good answer or can show the person that he or she was mistaken. Be sure you don’t interrupt or keep the other from expressing frustration. Show sympathy even if you were misunderstood.
  • Always ask, “Is there anything else? I really want to know!” In a stressful situation it is natural for the other to hold back some complaints or concerns. Get them all out on the table, or you’ll have to do this again!
  • Make it safe to criticize you: support individual criticisms with “That must have been hard; I see why you were concerned.”
  • Look for needs in the critic that may underlie the criticism. Now respond to the criticism, by doing either or both of the following:

1. “Please, forgive me for .” This is your repentance, your confession of sin.

  • Admit your wrong without excuses and without blaming the circumstances. Even if the criticism included exaggerations, extract the real fault and confess it. Even if only 10 percent of the relationship problem is you, admit it.
  • Don’t just apologize; ask for forgiveness.
  • If you can think of a plan for changing your behavior, say, “Here is what I will do to make sure not do such a thing again in the future.” Ask if there is anything you can do to restore trust. If you really cannot see any validity in any of the criticism, ask whether you can get back to the person later, after
    checking with others.
  • Avoid overstatements—“How terrible I feel over what I’ve done!” Such confessions may be mainly a painful catharsis designed to relieve one of guilt feelings through a kind of atonement/punishment, or to get others to provide lots of sympathy.
  • On the other hand, avoid being deadpan, lighthearted, or even flip. Such confessions may aim to preserve pride, merely to fulfill a requirement, to force the other person to let you off the hook but without showing any real contrition or emotional regret at all.
  • Most of all, do not make a confession that is really an attack. “If I upset you, I am sorry” falls in this category. It means, “If you were a normal person, you would not have been upset by what I did.” Do not repent to the person of something that you are not going to repent to God for nor take concrete steps to change.
  • Real repentance has three aspects: confession to God, confession to the person wronged, and offering a concrete plan for change so as to avoid the sin in the future (see Luke 3:7–14).2.
  • After you have repented, then turn to those issues that involve no sin on your part (as far as you can tell) and about which you have to say, “Please, accept my explanation for .”

• “Here’s how I see it. Can you see my motive or meaning was very different from what you inferred?”
• “Can you understand my point of view? Can you accept that I could have perceived this very differently and had the motives I am describing?”
• “Is there some way, though we see this issue so differently, that we can avoid hurting each other like this again?”

Stage #2

Now (if necessary) address any ways that the other person has wronged you (“Matthew 18 phase”). If you have done all of the above, you may well find that this approach elicits a confession from the other without your having to ask for it! This is far and away the best way to get reconciliation.

However, if the other person is not forthcoming, begin with: “From my point of view, it looks as if you did. It affected me this way: . I think it would be far better for all concerned if instead you did this: . But my understanding may be inaccurate or distorted. Correct me if I am wrong. Could you explain what happened?”

Be sure your list of things the other person has done is specific, not vague. If the other person offers an apology, grant forgiveness—but avoid using the term unless forgiveness is asked for!
Otherwise to say “I forgive you” may sound tremendously humiliating. Alternative ways to express forgiveness might be “Well, I won’t hold this against you,” “Let’s put that in the past now,” or “Think no more of it.”

Here are some general guidelines for this part of the process:

–Maintain a loving and humble tone. Tone of voice is extremely important. Overly controlled, nice, and calm may sound patronizing and be infuriating. Don’t resort to flattery or fawning syrupiness or fall into abusive or angry tones.

— Attack the problem, not the person. For example, don’t say, “You are so thoughtless”; rather, you might say, “You have forgotten this after making repeated promises that you would not.”

–Suggest solutions and alternative courses of action or behavior. Make sure all criticism is specific and constructive. Never say, “Don’t do this” without saying, “Instead do this.”

–In the heart of the discussion, you may discover some other underlying goal or need that the other person is trying to meet that could be met in more constructive ways.

–Keep in mind differences in culture. A person from a different culture may consider your approach incredibly disrespectful and demeaning when you think you are being respectful.

What if the other person won’t be reconciled to you?

First, some thoughts on failed reconciliation with a non-Christian. Christians are commanded to seek peace and reconciliation with all people (Rom. 12:18; Heb. 12:14), not just Christians. However, non-Christians may not feel the same responsibility to live in reconciled relationships. In general, you will find that non-Christians will not feel compelled to respond with forgiveness and repentance. If that occurs, you must take what you are given.

Romans 12:18–21 provides guidelines on how to stay gracious, kind, open, and cordial to persons who are being standoffish.

What if a Christian from your church is resisting reconciliation?

Matthew 18 indicates that if a fellow believer will not reconcile after repeated intentional efforts on your part, you should go to stage B—getting some other Christian friends (preferably including someone who is respected by the other person) to go along with you to reconcile the relationship. If that does not work, at stage C you “tell it to the church” and ask the elders to speak to the person.

If the person with whom you are seeking reconciliation is a Christian but lives in another region or attends another church, you should take the Matthew 18:15–20 process as far as you can. However, if you are not members of the same church it may not be possible to go to the final step of “telling it to the church.”

Again, you may have to take what you are given and deal as cordially and as graciously as possible with someone who is not reconciled to you.

More generally, learn to accept the apologies and repentances you get without demanding that people admit more than they honestly believe. If they repent nearly as extensively as you feel they should, then the relationship can be almost what it was before. If they only go halfway, then you are still better off, though the relationship is weakened because you don’t fully trust their wisdom and self-knowledge.

It is usually hardest to forgive someone who will not admit any wrong and who stays haughty. Internal forgiveness may be a longer process. Use all the spiritual resources we have in our faith:

  • + Look at God’s commands to forgive—it is our obligation.
  • + Remember God’s forgiveness of us. We have no right to be bitter.
  • + Remember that God’s omniscience is necessary to be a just judge. We have insufficient knowledge to know what others deserve.
  • + Remember that when we allow the evil to keep us in bondage through bitterness, we are being defeated by evil! Romans 12 tells us to “overcome” or defeat evil with forgiveness.
  • + Remember that we undermine the glory of the gospel in the world’s eyes when we fail to forgive.

4. A great book on relating to people who are cold of even hostile is Bold Love by Dan Allender and Tremper Longman (Colorado Springs: 1992). Don’t miss it.

WATCHING FROM THE SIDELINES

When two people within the church are in conflict with each other, it can wreak a lot of havoc in the hearts and lives of the Christians around them who are not immediately involved in the dispute. The worst thing (but the common thing!) that happens is that rather than suspending judgment, praying, and encouraging the parties toward reconciliation, people take sides in the dispute in a very world-typical way. It is hard not to sympathize with the party you know best. It is also hard for that person not to “share” his or her hurt with you in a way that does not vilify the other party in the conflict.

As a result, we can have second- and third-order unreconciled relationships. That is, we feel alienated from people who are friends of the person our friend is alienated from! The problem with this is obvious—there is no direct way to heal such breaches. If someone is avoiding you because your friend is mad at his or her friend, there is no “wrong” that you can confess or repent for. It is a spiritually poisonous situation. The problem is not that you have sinned or have been sinned against, but you have heard a bad report about another Christian and you let it come into your own heart and take root as distrust and hostility.

What should we do? First, see what James says about passing along bad reports: “Humble yourselves before the Lord. Brothers, don’t slander or attack one another” (James 4:10–11). The verb slander simply means to “speak against” (kata-lalein). It is not necessarily a false report, just an “against-report”—one that undermines the listener’s respect and love for the person being spoken about. “As a north wind brings rain, so a sly tongue brings angry looks” (Prov. 25:23).

James’s linking of slander with pride (4:10) shows that slander is not a humble evaluation of error or fault, which we must constantly be doing. Rather, the slandering person speaks as if he or she never would do the same thing himself.

Non-slanderous evaluation is gentle and guarded, and it’s always evident that the speaker is aware of sharing the same frailty, humanity, and sinful nature with the one being criticized. It involves a profound awareness of one’s own sin.

It is never “against-speaking.” “Don’t grumble [literally, don’t groan and roll your eyes] against each other” (James 5:9). Here James refers to a kind of against-speaking that is less specific than a focused slander or attack. It is hinting with not only words but also body language—shaking one’s head, rolling eyes, and reinforcing an erosion of love and respect for someone else (“You know how they do things around here!”) But it accomplishes the same thing. It brings “angry looks;” it undermines love and respect.

Second, see what the book of Proverbs says about receiving bad reports: “He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” (Prov. 17:9) The first thing to do when hearing or seeing something negative is to seek to “cover” the offense rather than speak about it to others. That is, rather than letting it in, you should seek to keep the matter from destroying your love and regard for a person. How?

—Remember your own sinfulness. “All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the LORD” (Prov. 16:2). Your motives are never as pure as you think they are.—

To know your sinfulness automatically keeps you from being too sure of your position and from speaking too strongly against people on the other side of a conflict. You realize that you may not be seeing things well.

+ Remember that there is always another side. “The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him” (Prov. 18:17). You never have all the facts. You are never in a position to have the whole picture, and therefore when you hear the first negative report, you should assume that you have far too little information to draw a conclusion.

What if the injustice seems too great or grievous for you to ignore? In Derek Kidner’s commentary on Proverbs 25:8–10, he writes that when we think someone has done wrong, we should remember that “one seldom knows the full facts, or interprets them perfectly (v. 8); and one’s motives in spreading a story are seldom as pure as one pretends (v. 10). To run to the law or to the neighbors is usually to run away from the duty of personal relationship—see Christ’s clinching comment in Matthew 18:15.

In short, if you feel the problem is so great that it threatens to destroy your regard for the person, you must go to him or her personally before you go to anyone else. When might this be necessary? Galatians 6:1 says we are to go to someone if they are “caught in a sin.” That
means some pattern of negative behavior is involved. Don’t go the first time you see or hear of someone doing wrong. When you do go, remember the principles of gentleness and persistence from Galatians 6 and Matthew 18.

The purpose is restoration of relationship.

If you hear a bad report about another Christian, you must either cover it with love or go to him or her directly before speaking of it to any others. The first thing to do is to simply suspend judgment. The second thing to do is “cover” it in love. The last thing to do is go and speak to the reported offender personally. What you should never do is withdraw from them or pass the negative report on to others.

CONCLUSION

Unreconciled relationships within the church are inevitable because the church is such a wonderful, supernaturally created community! The reason there are so many exhortations in the New Testament for Christians to love other Christians is because . . . the church itself is not made up of natural “friends.” It is made up of natural enemies. What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common accents, common jobs, or anything else of that sort [that bind most other groups of people together]. Christians come together not because they form a natural collocation, but because they have all been saved by Jesus Christ and owe him a common allegiance.

In this light we are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake. That is the only reason why John 13:34–35 makes sense when Jesus says: “A new command I give you–Love one another as I have loved you.” . . . Christian love will stand out and bear witness to Jesus because it is a display, for Jesus’ sake, of mutual love among social incompatibles.

The reason we will have to hold ourselves accountable for our relationships is that mutual love in Christian community is super-hard. Jesus has brought incompatibles together! But the reason we will want to hold ourselves accountable for our relationships is that mutual love in Christian community is one of the main ways the world will see who Jesus is. So we must never give up on each other. So we must pursue each other in love.

Copyright © 2005 by Timothy Keller, © 2009 by Redeemer City to City. This article first appeared in The Gospel and Life conferences of 2004 and 2005.
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“Face to Face with God”, Quotes from D. Martin Lloyd-Jones (Grace, Holy Joy, Believing in God)

“Prayer is beyond any question the highest activity of the human soul. Man is at his greatest and highest when upon his knees he comes face to face with God.”
–D. Martin Lloyd-Jones

“The terrible, tragic fallacy of the last hundred years has been to think that all man’s troubles are due to his environment, and that to change the man you have nothing to do but change his environment. That is a tragic fallacy. It overlooks the fact that it was in Paradise that man fell.”
― David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount

“we must never look at any sin in our past life in any way except that which leads us to praise God and to magnify His grace in Christ Jesus.”
― D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures

“If your preaching of the gospel of God’s free grace in Jesus Christ does not provoke the charge from some of antinomianism, you’re not preaching the gospel of the free grace of God in Jesus Christ.”
― David Martyn Lloyd-Jones

“If we believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the only begotten Son of God and that He came into this world and went to the cross of Calvary and died for our sins and rose again in order to justify us and to give us life anew and prepare us for heaven-if you really believe that, there is only one inevitable deduction, namely that He is entitled to the whole of our lives, without any limit whatsoever.”
― David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount

“Be still, and know that I am God’. We must not interpret that ‘Be still’ in a sentimental manner. Some regard it as a kind of exhortation to us to be silent; but it is nothing of the sort. It means, ‘Give up (or ‘Give in’) and admit I am God. God is addressing people who are opposed to Him”
― David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount

“I am profoundly grateful to God that He did not grant me certain things for which I asked, and that He shut certain doors in my face.”
― D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount

“The man who is meek is not even sensitive about himself. He is not always watching himself and his own interests. He is not always on the defensive… To be truly meek means we no longer protect ourselves, because we see there is nothing worth defending… The man who is truly meek never pities himself, he is never sorry for himself. He never talks to himself and says, “You are having a hard time, how unkind these people are not to understand you.”
― Martyn Lloyd-Jones

“It is very foolish to ignore the past. The man who does ignore it, and assumes that our problems are quite new, and that therefore the past has nothing at all to teach us, is a man who is not only grossly ignorant of the Scriptures, he is equally ignorant of some of the greatest lessons even in secular history.”
― Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Revival

“[The] term ‘decide’ has always seemed to me to be quite wrong…A sinner does not ‘decide’ for Christ; the sinner ‘flies’ to Christ in utter helplessness and despair saying —
Foul, I to the fountain fly,
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.”
–Martin LLoyd-Jones


No man truly comes to Christ unless he flies to Him as his only refuge and hope, his only way of escape from the accusations of conscience and the condemnation of God’s holy law. Nothing else is satisfactory. If a man says that having thought about the matter and having considered all sides he has on the whole decided for Christ, and if he has done so without any emotion or feeling, I cannot regard him as a man who has been regenerated. The convicted sinner no more ‘decides’ for Christ than the poor drowning man ‘decides’ to take hold of that rope that is thrown to him and suddenly provides him with the only means of escape. The term is entirely inappropriate.”
― D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers

“When the church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it. It is then that the world is made to listen to her message, though it may hate it at first.”
― D. Martin Lloyd-Jones

“The Christian is not superficial in any sense, but is fundamentally serious and fundamentally happy. You see, the joy of the Christian is a holy joy, the happiness of the Christian is a serious happiness. … it is a solemn joy, it is a holy joy, it is a serious happiness; so that, though he is grave and sober-minded and serious, he is never cold and prohibitive.”
― David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount

“If we believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the only begotten Son of God and that He came into this world and went to the cross of Calvary and died for our sins and rose again in order to justify us and to give us life anew and prepare us for heaven-if you really believe that, there is only one inevitable deduction, namely that He is entitled to the whole of our lives, without any limit whatsoever.”
― David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount