“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
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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.