That Place Where Genealogy & A Forgiving Spirit Meet

“It is a duty to forgive everyone that is indebted to us, under pain of the Divine condemnation… for an unforgiving spirit cannot possibly be a happy one.”

~ The Reverend William H. Sutherland, Ohio frontier circuit preacher | DDiv | my great-grandfather

~ • ~

Good thought, eh?  I stumbled upon it when I was doing some random genealogical research.

[Amazing what a person can find online.]

The quote you see above comes from Charles C. Cole’s Lion of the Forest: James B. Finley, Frontier Reformer, a biography about Finley.  Like Finley, my great-grandfather was a frontier circuit preacher who travelled via horse or on foot to spread the word of God.  It was a difficult life and the pay was nominal.  Most men did the job for a few years and then moved onto something less strenuous, less religious.

However, my great-grandfather toughed it out and eventually went on to earn an advanced degree in theology.  Throughout his subsequent career as a reverend he rose within the ranks of the Methodist Episcopal Church* to become an elder of some sort.  [More research needed.]  But before he became someone of note within the church, he ruffled a few feathers out there on the circuit.

[Specifically, the feathers of Finley.]

As I understand it, Finley and my great-grandfather did not agree on what constituted Christian forgiveness.  Finley believed that a Christian could not forgive someone unless that someone had first repented.

My great-grandfather took a more progressive view and said that forgiveness was not dependent upon someone else repenting, but was an action that a good Christian took as a matter of course.  The responsibility to forgive was the appropriate behavior of the forgiver, regardless of what the person requiring forgiveness did– or did not do.

[You still with me here?]

I like learning that my great-grandfather, who is affectionately known within this house as The Old Coot, was not as coot-ish as I imagined him to be.  My take-away from this is that he had a good heart, and apparently the sense to know what to worry about and what to let go of.

Rather modern thinking, for an old-time religious fellow.  I’m impressed.

* In 1844 there was a schism within the U.S.A. Methodist church resulting in the denomination dividing into two factions: the Methodist Episcopal Church condemned slavery;  the Southern Methodist Church allowed slavery.  This schism foreshadowed the Civil War by about 20 years.

14 thoughts on “That Place Where Genealogy & A Forgiving Spirit Meet

  1. I did not know that about your great grandfather! That is very cool. And he sounds like a very nice guy. I definitely believe in forgiveness, weather or not the other person has repented. It is a weight lifted off my shoulders.


    • Beth, I knew a little bit about him before I started looking online, but I didn’t expect to find out that he was mentioned in a book about someone else’s life. I agree about forgiveness. Live life light, eh?


    • la p, DDiv is Doctor of Divinity. It’s mentioned every so often when I find a bit of info on him. I have no idea where or when he got it. Something more for me to discover, I do believe.


  2. I agree with your g-gpa completely. Forgiveness is an act that can only happen within the forgiver and gives peace. I’ve found that out the past few years. Waiting for people to repent, hmmm. I would be carrying around SO much bitterness, which wouldn’t be good for me at all.


    • Margaret, you make a good point about not wanting to be bitter. I forgive easily, but I also remember and avoid thereafter. I have a feeling that this man just kept on butting heads with whoever got in his way to salvation. Or at least I know that he did with at least one other person, Mr. Finley!


  3. Forgiveness, in my mind, has more to do with you than the other person. Carrying anger and bitterness around is hurtful to you, not generally the person whom you’re waiting to repent. Oh my, I can just imagine waiting for people to repent. Great Grandpa sounds quite forward thinking for his day.


    • Zazzy, I was surprised by Great Grandpa’s take on forgiveness. Of course, I was surprised to find out that he’d been quoted in a book about someone else, so it was surprise all around. Some days the www outdoes itself with the unexpected.


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