The language spoken in heaven by the angels and the redeemed is the language of forgiveness. It will be the only language spoken there. No other language will be understood. It will be spoken by the cherubim and the seraphim and the whole angelic host as they praise God, the author of forgiveness and of eternal salvation. It will be spoken by all the redeemed as they greet one another on the banks of the River of Life and gather round the throne of the Lamb and sing their song unto him who loved them and washed them from their sins. But no one can learn that language after he gets to heaven. It must be learned here upon earth—in this world, and in this life. That is what Jesus taught us when he taught us to pray, "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors."
In The Rise of the Dutch Republic Motley records a fine exhibition of the Christian spirit, under the most trying of circumstances, on the part of a persecuted Protestant: "An affecting case occurred in the north of Holland, early in this year, which, for its peculiarity, deserves brief mention. A poor Anabaptist, guilty of no crime but his fellowship with a persecuted sect, had been condemned to death. He had made his escape, closely pursued by an officer of justice, across a frozen lake. It was late in the winter, and the ice had become unsound. It trembled and cracked beneath his footsteps, but he reached the shore in safety.
The officer was not so fortunate. The ice gave way beneath him, and he sank into the lake uttering a cry for succor. There were none to hear him except the fugitive whom he had been hunting. Dirk Willemzoon, for so was the Anabaptist called, instinctively obeying the dictates of a generous nature, returned, crossed the quaking and dangerous ice at the peril of his life, extended his hand to his enemy, and saved him from certain death. Unfortunately for human nature, it cannot be added that the generosity of the action was met by a corresponding heroism. The officer was desirous, it is true, of avoiding the responsibility of sacrificing the preserver of his life, but the burgomaster of Asperen sternly reminded him to remember his oath. He accordingly arrested the fugitive, who, on the sixteenth of May following was burned to death under the most lingering tortures."
Instances like this shine like stars in the night of man's history since Christ came into the world to die for it. Nor does the fact that the hapless Anabaptist was fleeing the brutality of men who bore the name of Christian cast the least shadow over the beautiful Christianity of his fine act; but, on the contrary, it only serves to make it stand out in brighter glory. We read this narrative and we exclaim, "There is the Christian spirit!"
During one of the persecutions of the Armenians by the Turks, an American girl and her brother were pursued by a blood-thirsty Turkish soldier. He trapped them at the end of a lane and killed the brother before the sister's eyes. The sister managed to escape by leaping over the wall and fleeing into the country. Later she became a nurse.
One day a wounded soldier was brought into her hospital. She recognized him at once as the soldier who had killed her brother and had tried to kill her. His condition was such that the least neglect or carelessness on the part of the nurse would have cost him his life. But she gave him the most painstaking and constant care. One day when he was on the road to recovery he recognized her as the girl whose brother he had slain. He said to her, "Why have you done this for me who killed your brother?"
She answered, "Because I have a religion which teaches me to forgive my enemies."
During the Revolutionary War, at the town of Ephrata, beyond Harrisburg, there lived a very reputable and highly respectable citizen who had suffered an injury from a worthless and vile man in that town. This wicked man enlisted in the army, and there lived up to his evil record in civil life. Presently he was arrested for a very serious offense, convicted by a court martial, and sentenced to be hanged.
The news of his sentence got back to Ephrata. Then that citizen whom this convicted man had wronged set out for the army, walking all the way to Philadelphia and beyond. When he found his way to Washington's headquarters, he pled for the life of this convicted man. Washington heard him through, and then said he was sorry but that he could not grant the request. The sentence must be carried out and executed, first of all, because the man had committed a heinous offense, and second, for the sake of the discipline of the army. But seeing the disappointment in the man's face when he turned to go, Washington said, "Are you a relative of this man?"
The man said, "No."
"Then," said Washington, "are you his friend?"
"No," said the citizen, "that man was my deadly enemy."
In Quo Vadis, that great tale of early Christian history, Chilo, a man of all wickedness, the peripatetic philosopher, thief, slanderer, panderer, and betrayer of the innocent, had sold the wife and daughter of his friend Glaucus into slavery and tried to kill him for his faith in Christ. Glaucus was one of those Christians who were covered with pitch, fastened to pillars, and then set on fire in the Vatican gardens for the amusement of Nero. As he drove down the lines of this human agony, Nero had by his side this wicked Chilo. Presently they came to the pillar where Glaucus was burning, but still alive and conscious. As the wind blew the smoke away for a moment, disclosing the face of Glaucus, Chilo was seized with sudden compunction of conscience and bitter remorse. Stretching his arms up toward the agonizing martyr, he cried out, "Glaucus, in Christ's name, forgive me!"
At that the head of the martyr moved slightly, and from the top of the pillar was heard a voice like a groan, "I forgive."
Those who stood about saw a strange light come into the face of Chilo. Turning toward Nero and lifting an accusing finger, he cried out, "There is the incendiary."
In the excitement that followed Chilo encountered in the crowds St. Paul, who told him of the infinite forgiveness of Christ and baptized him into the Christian faith. The next day when Chilo himself was in the hands of Nero's torturers, who demanded that he retract his Christian confession, Chilo asked that he might die in the way the Christians died. When his torturers were binding him with ropes and piercing him with iron tongs, Chico kissed their hands with humility and forgiveness. Forgiven himself, he had learned to forgive—and he died in peace.
Joseph Parker as a young man used to debate in the mining fields of England, on the town green, with infidels and atheists. An infidel once shouted at him, "What did Christ do for Stephen when he was stoned?" Parker said the answer that was given him was like an inspiration from heaven. "He gave him grace to pray for those who stoned him." Stephen had the mind of Christ; and hearing him pray for those who did him wrong at once recalls the prayer of Jesus himself, under like circumstances: "Father, forgive them."