“And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors,” reads the second-to-last request of the Lord’s Prayer. This request forces us to ask: Have we forgiven our debtors? For that matter, do we truly understand what it means to be forgiven? And if we are forgiven, why must we still pray for forgiveness? Lord’s Day 51 of the Heidelberg Catechism, today’s topic on URC Psalmody, offers the outline of an answer.
126 Q. What does the fifth request mean?
A. And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors means,
Because of Christ’s blood,
do not hold against us, poor sinners that we are,
any of the sins we do
or the evil that constantly clings to us.
Forgive us just as we are fully determined,
as evidence of your grace in us,
to forgive our neighbors.
46, “Lord, to Me Thy Ways Make Known” (Psalm 25)
“Because of Christ’s blood, do not hold against us, poor sinners that we are, any of the sins we do or the evil that constantly clings to us.” This request reminds us of the words of Lord’s Day 44, that “in this life even the holiest have only a small beginning” of the obedience God’s Word requires. Although we are weak and helpless, prone to stumble at the slightest obstacle, Question and Answer 126 gives us confidence that because of Christ’s blood, our heavenly Father will not hold our sins against us. This is the humility and reliance spoken of in Psalm 25, where David acknowledges, “Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way” (v. 8 ESV). In the blue Psalter Hymnal’s words:
Lord, remember in Thy love
All Thy mercies manifold,
Tender mercies from above,
Changeless from the days of old.
Sins of youth remember not,
Nor my trespasses record;
Let not mercy be forgot,
For Thy goodness’ sake, O Lord.
Just and good the Lord abides,
He His way will sinners show,
He the meek in justice guides,
Making them His way to know.
163, “Lord, Thou Hast Greatly Blessed Our Land” (Psalm 85)
While the Christian’s need for forgiveness is deeply personal, we must not think of God’s redemption as merely an individual matter. After all, we pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” As forgiven sinners we compose a Church—a redeemed people, “a community chosen for eternal life and united in true faith” (Lord’s Day 21, Q&A 54), the very body of Christ. Thus, as we seek continuing forgiveness for “the evil that constantly clings to us,” we are to do so in the corporate context of the Church as well as individually. Psalm 85 brings out this distinction in a powerful prayer for God’s forgiveness on his entire people:
Lord, Thou hast greatly blessed our land,
Thou hast brought back our captive band,
Thy pardoning grace has made us free
And covered our iniquity.
O Thou, who in a former day
Didst turn Thy dreadful wrath away,
In grace Thy people, Lord, return,
And let Thy wrath no longer burn.
O will Thine anger never cease,
Forever shall Thy wrath increase?
Revive and quicken us once more,
And Thy salvation’s joy restore.
229, “I Love the Lord, for My Request” (Psalm 116)
“Forgive us just as we are fully determined, as evidence of your grace in us, to forgive our neighbors.” In gratitude for the Lord’s deliverance, the author of Psalm 116 declares, “I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living” (v. 9). If we sincerely desire to walk in God’s ways, we must begin by forgiving our own neighbors. At the end of the Lord’s Prayer, Christ himself issues this warning: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:14,15). Should anything less be expected of those who have been forgiven so much?
Most kind and righteous is the Lord,
Our God is merciful indeed,
Delighting ever to afford
His help to me in time of need.
Return unto thy rest, my soul,
The Lord has richly dealt with thee,
Delivered thee from death’s control,
From sin and sorrow set thee free.
Since He has freed mine eyes from tears
And kept my feet from evil ways,
Redeemed from life’s distressing fears,
With Him I walk, and Him I praise.