FIFTY-FIRST LORD’S DAY.
THE FIFTH PETITION.
Question 126. What is the fifth petition?
Answer. “AND FORGIVE us OUR DEBTS, AS WE FORGIVE OUR DEBTORS;” that is, be pleased for the sake of Christ’s blood not to impute to us, poor sinners, our transgressions, nor that depravity which always cleaves to us; even as we feel this evidence of thy grace in us, that it is our firm resolution from the heart to forgive our neighbor.
Cyprian correctly and piously observes, respecting the order and argument of this fifth petition, that we pray for the pardon and forgiveness of our sins, after praying for a supply of food, that he who is fed by God, may live in God; nor do we merely have regard for this present, temporal life, but also for that which is eternal, to which all those attain whose sins are pardoned. This same Father likewise observes, that this petition is a remarkable and free confession of the church, in which she acknowledges and deplores her sins, and is at the same time a comfort that the church shall receive the forgiveness of sins according to the promise of Christ; and also binds us to extend forgiveness to our neighbor. Christ, therefore, by this petition wills, 1. That we acknowledge our sins. 2. That we thirst and long after the forgiveness of sins, inasmuch as this is granted to none but such as desire it, and who do not trample under foot the blood of the Son of God. 3. That our faith may be exercised, seeing that this petition springs from faith, and also confirms faith. For faith is the cause of prayer, and prayer is the cause of faith as it respects the increase thereof. The principal Questions which claim our attention, in connection with this petition, are the following:
Christ comprises under the term debts all our sins, original as well as actual, including sins of ignorance, of omission and commission, as he him self explains it in Luke 11:4, where he says, “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. They are called debts, because they make us debtors to God both in respect to the obedience which we have failed to render, and also to the punishment which we are bound to pay in consequence thereof: for when we sin we neither give, nor perform to God, what we owe him; and as long as we do not yield this to him, so long do we remain debtors to God, and are bound to make satisfaction by punishment. “Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them.” (Deut. 27:26.) From this state of condemnation we could never be delivered, if God did not remit unto us our sins.
A creditor is said to forgive a debtor when he does not demand from him that which he owes him, but blots his account from his books, without ex acting any punishment, as though it had been paid, as we may learn from the parable of the king who in view of the entreaties of the servant that owed him ten thousand talents, forgave him the debt. (Matt. 18:27.) So God forgives our debts, when he does not lay them to our account, nor punish us on account of them, and that because he has punished them in his Son, our Mediator. This, therefore, is what we are to understand by the forgiveness of sins, That God does not impute any sin to us, but graciously receives us into his favor, declares us righteous and regards us as his children out of his mere grace and mercy for the sake of the satisfaction which Christ made in our behalf, imputed unto us and apprehended of us by faith; and that he will, therefore, not punish us on account of our sins, but grants unto us righteousness and eternal life, since the remission of sin does away with the punishment of sin; for sin and punishment are correlatives. When sin is introduced or committed, punishment follows; but when it is taken away, punishment is at the same time removed.
Obj. To remit sin is not to impute it, nor to be willing to punish it in us. But this is inconsistent with the justice of God. Therefore when we pray that God will remit sin, we desire that he will act contrary to the order of his justice. Ans. We deny the consequence; because the order of divine justice is not violated when God pardons sin, except he pardons it without any satisfaction being made. But it is not in this way that we pray for the forgiveness of sins, inasmuch as we desire it on account of the satisfaction of Christ. Hence when our sins are remitted there is no wrong done to the order of divine justice, as it is not done without satisfaction having been made. And if some should reply, that God does not graciously and freely remit our sins, if he does it in view of a recompense having been made; we answer that they are forgiven in view of a recompense having been made, and, therefore, not freely in respect to Christ, but freely in respect to us, since he does not receive satisfaction from us, but from Christ. And if it should still further be objected, That remission of sins is not granted freely, since we have merited it in Christ; we answer, that the merit on account of which our sins are pardoned is not ours, but Christ’s, who was given by the Father freely for us, and merited this forgiveness for us without the intervention of any desert on our part, and that this his merit is freely imputed unto us. Hence our sins are graciously forgiven on account of the merit of Christ, from which it is correctly inferred that they are not imputed unto us on account of the satisfaction of Christ. For we do not desire that God would act contrary to his justice, and that he Would not regard us as sinners; but that he would impute unto us the righteousness of another, even the righteousness of Christ, with which our sins are covered. To express it more briefly we would say; God remits our sins freely, 1. Because he does not demand any satisfaction from us. 2. Because he freely gave his Son, in whom he made satisfaction. 3. Because he graciously gives and imputes the satisfaction of his Son to such as believe.
We should desire and pray for the forgiveness of sins, 1. On account of our salvation, that we may be saved: for without the forgiveness of sins, we cannot be saved. Neither does God confer this Benefit upon any, but such as desire it. 2. That we may be admonished, and reminded of the remains of sin which still cleave even to the most holy in this life, and that our repentance may thus become more earnest and deep. 3. That we may desire and receive the former blessings; because, without the remission of sins, these blessings are either not given, or else they are given to their destruction. So the wicked often receive these gifts; but not to their salvation; for they rather contribute to their condemnation.
Obj. It is not necessary that we should desire and pray for what we have. The godly have the remission of their sins. Therefore there is no need that they should desire it. Ans. The godly do, indeed, enjoy the forgiveness of sins, but not wholly, and that too not in respect to the continuance, but merely as it respects the beginning thereof. This forgiveness should without doubt be continued, inasmuch as sins are continually found even in the regenerate. God does also continue it in all those to whom he forgives sin in his Son, but with the condition that we daily desire this continuance. Hence, although God has forgiven our sins for Christ’s sake, yet he nevertheless designs that we should pray for their forgiveness. It is for this reason that we pray that God would forgive us the sins which we now, or may hereafter commit.
Our sins are so remitted unto us, as we also forgive our debtors, which clause is added by Christ, 1. That we may rightly desire and pray for the forgiveness of our sins, and may, therefore, come before God in true faith and penitence, the sign of which is love to our neighbor. 2. On account of our comfort; that we may be assured of the forgiveness of our sins, when we extend forgiveness to others for the sins which they may have committed against us; and may have the assurance that we are acceptable to God, although there are many remains of sin still within us, Obj. 1. He is not pardoned who himself does not forgive. We do not forgive. Therefore we are not forgiven. Ans. He who does not forgive fully and perfectly, does, nevertheless, obtain forgiveness, if he does but forgive truly and sincerely. Therefore forgiveness shall also be extended to us, if we forgive truly and sincerely.
Obj. 2. Christ commands us to pray that God will forgive our sins as we forgive our debtors. But we do not perfectly forgive our debtors. Therefore we, according to this petition, pray that God win* not perfectly forgive us our sins, which is to desire our destruction since God will condemn even the smallest sin. Ans. This is to put a false construction upon the words of Christ; for the particle as, as used in this petition, does not signify the degree of forgiveness, or teach that the forgiveness which we extend to others is equal to that which God extends to us; but it signifies the kind of forgiveness, or the truth and sincerity of the forgiveness which we and God extend, that God will as truly forgive us as we certainly and truly forgive our neighbor from the heart; or to express it more briefly, we may say, that there is here not a comparison according to the degrees, but according to the truth and reality of the thing, so that the sense is, God so perfectly forgives us our sins as, we truly and certainly forgive our neighbor. Obj. 3. But. Christ commands us in Luke to pray; forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. (Luke 11:4.) Therefore our forgiveness is the cause on account of which God forgives us. Ans. But this is to consider that as a cause which is none. Our forgiveness is not meritorious, or the cause of divine forgiveness, but is merely an argument and proof that God has forgiven us our sins, since we have forgiven others, if not perfectly, yet still truly and sincerely. Our forgiveness cannot be the cause of the forgiveness of God, 1. Because it is imperfect. 2. Because if it were even perfect it could still not merit any thing for the reason that what we now do, we owe to God. If we were now to perform perfect obedience, it would still be due to God. Yet we must not understand this as signifying an equality of forgiveness in us and God, but only as referring to a comparison of the kind of forgiveness. Obj. 4. He does not truly forgive who retains a recollection of injuries, and is desirous of taking revenge. But we all have a recollection of injuries, and are desirous of taking revenge. Therefore we do not truly forgive. Ans. He does not truly forgive who retains a recollection of injuries without showing any signs of disapprobation, or making any resistance thereto. And although we may scarcely be able to bury all remembrance of offences, or at least not without the greatest difficulty, yet if we only do not cherish it, but resist the remains of sin which still cleave to us, and do not give indulgence to them, there is nothing which may prevent us from truly and heartily forgiving others, and of obtaining that also on ac count of which Christ has added the particle as, which is, as has already been remarked, that we might rightly pray to God, which takes place whenever we pray in faith and repentance, both of which are confirmed in us by this petition. Faith is strengthened and confirmed in us by this petition, because when we truly extend forgiveness to our neighbor, we may and ought certainly to believe, that our sins are also forgiven us, so that we have a good conscience and are sure of being heard, according to the promise of Christ, “If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also for give you.” (Matt. 6:14.) True repentance is in like manner confirmed and increased within us by this petition, since it was chiefly to lead and pro- yoke us to this, that the condition was added, As we forgive our debtors.
For if we would obtain forgiveness for ourselves we must also extend forgiveness to others. Both causes are contained in the words of Christ as just cited, “If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you;” that is, then yon may certainly believe that you will be heard of your Father in heaven, which words comprehend a confirmation of our faith; whilst the antithesis, which follows, adds a spur, or provokes to repentance: “But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt. 6:15.)
Obj. 5. But Paul did not forgive Alexander, for he says, 2 Tim. 2:4, “Alexander, the copper-smith, did me much evil; the Lord reward him according to his works.” Yet he obtained forgiveness of God. Therefore our forgiveness is not necessary in order that we may obtain the forgiveness of God. Ans. Forgiveness is three-fold. 1. Of revenge. This pertains to all men; inasmuch as all ought to forgive revenge. It is of this that this petition speaks, and this Paul forgave Alexander. 2. Of punishment. This all cannot forgive as all cannot inflict punishment. Neither ought the magistrate to whom it belongs to inflict punishment, to remit it except for just and weighty reasons; for God desires that his justice and law should be put into execution. This Paul also forgave Alexander in as far as it had respect to him. Yet he at the same time desired that he should be punished of God, in case he would persist in sin. 3. Of judgment in reference to others. This should not always be remitted; for God, who prohibits falsehood, will not have us to judge of knaves as honest men, but designs that we should distinguish the good from the bad. Christ enjoins the same thing, when he says, “Give not that which is holy to the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine.” u Be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” (Matt. 7:6:10:16.) Paul did not, therefore, sin in entertaining an opinion of Alexander, as a wicked man, as long as he did not repent of his wickedness.
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