The origin of the saying is from“An Essay on Criticism”, by Alexander Pope. Here’s the verse that includes the phrase.
If Wit so much from Ign'rance undergo,
Ah let not Learning too commence its Foe!
Of old, those met Rewards who cou'd excel,
And such were Prais'd who but endeavour'd well:
Tho' Triumphs were to Gen'rals only due,
Crowns were reserv'd to grace the Soldiers too.
Now, they who reached Parnassus' lofty Crown,
Employ their Pains to spurn some others down;
And while Self-Love each jealous Writer rules,
Contending Wits becomes the Sport of Fools:
But still the Worst with most Regret commend,
For each Ill Author is as bad a Friend.
To what base Ends, and by what abject Ways,
Are Mortals urg'd thro' Sacred Lust of praise!
Ah ne'er so dire a Thirst of Glory boast,
Nor in the Critick let the Man be lost!
Good-Nature and Good-Sense must ever join;
To err is Humane; to Forgive, Divine. (Bold mine)
All People Err (Sin, make mistakes)
Romans 3:23 (NLT) For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.
1 John 1:8,10 (NLT)8 If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.
It’s in our human nature to sin and make mistakes and it’s in God’s divine nature to forgive us.
1 John 1:9-10 (NLT)9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.
When we forgive others, especially those who we don’t think deserve forgiveness, those who have deeply hurt us so badly that the result of their action(s) stay with us for the rest of our lives, we are acting in a God-like manner.
Romans 5:8, 10 (NLT)8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son.
Here’s what I wrote in a post last year, “What Does The Bible Say? Does Forgiving Mean Forgetting?”
God wants us to forgive each other just like He has forgiven us through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Once we do what it says in
Romans 10:9-10 (HCSB) 9 If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation.;
God treats us as though we never sinned at all and doesn’t hold our sins against us. So, in a sense, He “forgives and forgets.”
In the same way when we forgive we should act as though it never happened. We do still remember the offense, and we should learn from it, but to truly forgive, we should treat the person as though it never happened.
I realize that it’s impossible for us to do that on our own however we have the Holy Spirit in us that empowers us, to do what is impossible to do in our flesh.
It’s not natural for us to want to forgive, but we are not to continue to follow our natural desires and tendencies. That’s divine power.
Galatians 5:16-17 (NLT)16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.
A Methodist pastor, William Willimon once wrote “The human animal is not supposed to be good at forgiveness. Forgiveness is not some innate, natural human emotion. Vengeance, retribution, violence, these are natural human qualities. It is natural for the human animal to snarl and crouch into a defensive position when attacked, to howl when wronged, to bite back when bitten. Forgiveness is not natural.”
Here’s something else I found while doing the research for this post. At one time John Wesley met the governor of Georgia, General James Oglethorpe. In a conversation about one of the governor’s enemies, General Oglethorpe said, “I never forget, and I never forgive” John Wesley replied,”Then sir I hope you never sin.”
Think about that for a moment. The only person who can afford to never forgive is the one who never sins and needs forgiveness.
Without the power of the Holy Spirit forgiveness, in every case, is impossible. You hear people say all the time that “I just can’t forgive what they did to me.” They are right, you can’t, but with the Holy Spirit working through you can. I found these “Four Promises of Forgiveness” in “NO That’s NOT in the Bible”, by David O. Dykes.
- “I will choose not to think about this incident” Remember, it’s impossible to forget the offense, but you can choose not to think about it.
- “I will not harm you for this incident.” You must be willing to release the offender from any desire to exact revenge. People often misunderstand this point. If someone committed a crime against you, forgiveness doesn’t prevent you from allowing the law to execute justice. However, forgiveness prohibits you from personally becoming judge, jury, executioner for what the offender did. It does not excuse what happened or make it okay. Forgiveness does not let them off the hook--it lets you off the hook emotionally.
- “I will not bring up this incident again.” A husband once told a friend, “When my wife and I argue, she gets historical.” Perplexed, his friend said, “Do you mean hysterical?” The husband said, “No, she gets historical--she brings up all the mistakes I’ve ever made.” When God forgives our sin, He buries them in the depths of the sea and He never goes fishing for them. When you forgive someone, don’t keep resurrecting the incident.
- “I will not allow this incident to stand between us.” True forgiveness wipes the slate clean so that the broken relationship can be restored. Again, that’s what happens when God forgives us. OUr sin has separated us from God, and His forgiveness removes the wall of separation so we can have a personal relationship with Him.
Romans 12:18 (NKJV) If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.
We can only do what we can do. We can’t control what others do or how they choose to respond. God requires us to take the first step and that is to forgive. Forgiveness requires one person to offer forgiveness. Reconciliation requires two people. One to forgive, one to accept the forgiveness.
That’s really the way that it works between God and us. God wants to be reconciled with everybody so He offers His grace and forgiveness universally and unilaterally.
2 Peter 3:9 (NLT) The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.
That doesn’t mean that everybody will accept His forgiveness and grace because He has given us freewill so the choice to accept His forgiveness and grace is ours. Reconciliation with God doesn’t happen until we repent and accept His forgiveness and offer of salvation. He doesn’t even require that we do anything else other than to come just as we are and acceot His grace.
Isaiah 1:18 (NLT)18 “Come now, let’s settle this,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.
Joel 2:32 (NLT)32 But everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved, for some on Mount Zion in Jerusalem will escape, just as the LORD has said. These will be among the survivors whom the LORD has called.
It’s the same way with us. When you forgive someone for something that they have done that has hurt you for no reason, you may feel that person doesn’t deserve forgiveness. However as God has done for you don’t wait until they come to you asking for forgiveness. With the help of the Holy Spirit you can choose to forgive them. If they accept the relationship will be reconciled. If they reject your forgiveness the two of you will not be reconciled but you have done all that God requires of you.
No the saying “To err is human, to forgive, divine” is not in the Bible. However we know that it is true that we must forgive, because God says if we don’t He won’t forgive us.
Matthew 6:14-15 (NLT)14 “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you.15 But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.
In their book Boundaries, Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, write that unforgiveness is the stupidest thing a person can do. They say “When you refuse to forgive someone, you still want something from that person, and even if it is revenge that you want, it keeps you tied to him [or her] forever,” You may think that you are hurting the person by not forgiving them, but the truth is that you are uptight, stressed-out,and sick at heart. If there’s someone you haven’t forgiven to it today.
As David Dykes said “To err is human and to forgive feels divine.”