A Plea for Forgiveness —
Following right along in the Lord’s Prayer, with no historical reference of Presbyterianism we can find, we come to the fifth petition on this day of December 23. It is, “In the fifth petition, which is, And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors, we pray, that God, for Christ’s sake, would freely pardon all our sins; which we are the rather encouraged to ask, because by his grace we are enabled from the heart to forgive others.”
The word “debts” brings to mind immediately some aspect of commercial debt owed to another. But this idea must be put out of your mind and heart in this petition. In reality, the word “debt” is one of a “mournfully numerous group” of names, according to Trench, which is applied to human sin and guilt in the word of God. In this case, what we owe is obedience and in failing that by either commission of sin or omission of sin, we are liable for God’s justice.
Then, getting to the heart of the petition, we ask that God, for Christ’s sake, would freely pardon all our sins. Having no merits of ourselves, we come to God for forgiveness only on account of the merits of Christ’s sake. Paul in Ephesians 1:7 said it plainly, “In Whom, we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.” (NASB)
The pardoning of our sins are illustrated for us by some rich figures in Scripture. In Psalm 103:12, we are told that “as far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgression from us.” (NASB)
Micah takes the figure even further when he writes in chapter 7, verse 19b that “Yes, You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.” (NASB)
Isaiah the prophet in Isaiah 43:25 speaks “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, And I will not remember your sins.” (NASB) Man might remember our sins, but God said that He will not, once they are pardoned and forgiven.
And then the most familiar of these pardoning texts is 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The word “cleanse” is the present tense, which means that He will keep on cleansing our sins upon our confession of them.
Now we arrive at the forgotten word in this petition. It is that little word “as.” Forgive us our debts, our sins AS we forgive our debtors. This little word prompted the fourth century church father Augustine to conclude this is a terrible petition. Why? Because we are asking God to pardon us as we pardon our debtors.
It is interesting to me that this is the only petition on which our Lord gave us a comment, as Matthew records it in Matthew 6:14, 15. It reads, “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (NASB) No wonder that Augustine called it a terrible petition. Deal with us, Lord, as we have dealt with others.
On the other hand, we are encouraged to pray this petition because we have forgiven and forgotten the sins of others who have sinned against us.
Words to live by: What a joy it is to know that Christ paid the punishment for our sins. And even with those sins which we do each day, upon our repentance and confession of them, He will pardon our sins and leave a clean slate before the holy God. Try a little spiritual exercise. Write down all the sins which so easily entangle you on a piece of paper. Then confess each of them to God, and pray that you will get the victory over them. Claim 1 John 1:9 or Psalm 103:12 and destroy the paper.
Through the Scriptures: 1 John 3 – 5
Through the Standards: God has appointed a day
WCF 33:1 — “God has appointed a day, wherein He will judge the world, in righteousness, by Jesus Christ, to whom all power and judgment is given of the Father. In which day, not only the apostate angels shall be judged, but likewise all persons that have lived upon earth shall appear before the tribunal of Christ, to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds; and to receive according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil.”