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[2.] We are to pray for the comfortable fruits and effects of forgiveness, that being justified by faith, we may have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and access by faith, into this grace wherein we stand, Rom. v. 1, 2. or, that we may be able to conclude, that our persons and services are accepted in the Beloved; and that Christ hath loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.
[3.] We are to pray for the assurance or comfortable sense hereof, that hereby we may rejoice in hope of the glory of God: And, inasmuch as we daily contract guilt, we are to pray that this blessing may be daily applied to us, and that, both living and dying, we may be dealt with as those who are interested in Christ's righteousness as our Surety and Redeemer.
If it be objected, that pardon of sin is a blessing that every believer has; and therefore he ought not to pray for it. To this I answer, that there are many privileges which God does, or will certainly bestow upon his people, which they are, nevertheless, to pray for; otherwise they, who are in a state of grace, are not to pray for perseverance in grace; because they are assured that it shall be maintained unto salvation, according to God's promise: And, indeed, whatever promises are contained in the covenant of grace, a believer ought not, according to this method of reasoning, to pray that God would apply them to him, and so glorify his faithfulness in accomplishing them, since he is certainly persuaded that he will do it; whereas, all allow that we are to pray for this privilege: Therefore, if we have a full assurance that God has forgiven our sins; yet, inasmuch as we daily contract guilt, we are daily to pray, that he would not lay it to our charge, or deal with us as our iniquities deserve.
3. We shall now consider, how we are to address ourselves to God, or what views we are to have of him when we pray for forgiveness of sin. This depends on the idea we have of those perfections which he glorifies in bestowing this privilege; and these are, more especially, his mercy, grace and faithfulness, in accomplishing what he has promised in the covenant of grace. As for his justice, that is considered, as will be observed under a following head, as having received a full satisfaction; but this is concerned in the purchase, not in the application of forgiveness; and therefore, though God, in this respect, appears with the glory of a Judge, resolving to make no abatements of the debt which was contracted, that he may thereby express his utmost detestation of the sins committed: in this sense forgiveness is not to be obtained by entreaty; for it is inconsistent with the character of a Judge, to be moved thereby, and contrary to the demands of law and justice. But,
on the other hand, when we draw nigh to him, we consider him as a Father who delights in mercy, as it is particularly in timated in the preface to this prayer; and therefore we do not come before him as summoned to stand at his tribunal, and to be weighed in the balance by him, in which respect we would be found wanting, and, if our iniquities should be marked by him, could not stand; but we consider ourselves as invited to come into his presence, in hope of obtaining this privilege; and we consider him as he has revealed himself in the gospel, in which we are told, that there is forgiveness with him, that he may be feared, not as the criminal fears his judge, who is ready to pass sentence upon him; but as a child comes into his father's presence with such a fear as proceeds from love, and is the result of that encouragement which is given him, that he should be accepted in his sight: And, the great inducement hereunto, is the intimation that he has given thereof in the promises of the covenant of grace, and particularly those that respect forgiveness, in which he has discovered himself as a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, Neh. ix. 17. with whom is plenteous redemption, Psal. cxxx. 7. he also styles himself, Our God, who will abundantly pardon, inasmuch as his thoughts and ways are above ours, as the heavens are higher than the earth, Isa. lv. 7-9. and he has likewise promised that he will cast all the sins of his people into the depths of the sea: Therefore they consider him not only as glorifying his mercy, but as performing his truth, and acting agreeably to his faithfulness, Micah vii. 19, 20. and, all this depends entirely on the discoveries he has made of himself to us through a Mediator: This leads us to consider,
4. The way in which God bestows this blessing, and we are to seek it at his hand by faith and prayer. We have before observed, that it would be an affront to the divine Majesty, to suppose that he will extend mercy to guilty sinners, without securing the glory of his vindictive justice; and this depends wholly on the satisfaction that Christ has given to it: There fore we are to beg forgiveness for his sake, whom God has set forth to be a propitiation for his sake, that he might be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus; we are therefore first considered as having his righteousness imputed to us, and then this blessing, which we pray for, is applied to us. In this method of praying for forgiveness, we take occasion to adore the wisdom of God, which has found out this expedient to hallow or sanctify his own name, as well as secure to us an interest in his love, and, at the same time, we express the high esteem we have for the person of Christ, who has procured it for us, as also the infinite value of the price he paid in order
thereunto; and we refer our cause to him, that, as our Advacate, he would appear on our behalf, in the merit of his obedience and sufferings; that our petition may be granted in such a way, that God hereby may have the highest revenue of glory redounding to himself, and we receive the blessings consequent thereupon.
5. We are now to consider the frame of spirit with which we are to pray for forgiveness. There is no grace but what is to be exercised in prayer, agreeably to the subject-matter thereof; and it is evident, from the nature of the thing, that when we pray for forgiveness, it ought to be with a penitent frame of spirit: Accordingly repentance and forgiveness of sins are often connected in scripture. Thus it is said, Repent and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, Acts iii. 19. not that we are to suppose that repentance, or any other grace, is the cause of God's secret purpose or determination to forgive sin, or, that he accepts of it as any part of that atonement or satisfaction which his justice requires to be made for it; for this is to ascribe that to it which belongs entirely to Christ's righteousness; yet repentance is so far necessary to forgiveness, that it would be a very preposterous thing for any one to ask this favour either of God or man without it. Not to repent of a crime committed, is, in effect, a pleading for it, and a tacit resolution to persist in it, which disqualifies us from pleading a pardon; and it would be contrary to the divine perfections for God to give it to those who hereby do, as it were, practically disown their need of it.
Now the necessity of repentance, in those who are praying and hoping for forgiveness, appears from the connexion that there is between it, and all other graces; which, though distinguished, are not separated from it, and they are, all of them, necessary to salvation, which we can, by no means attain to; without being forgiven.
III. We proceed to consider, the encouragement that they, who plead for forgiveness with the exercise of faith, repent ance and other graces, have to expect, that they shall be heard and answered; and more particularly, how far that disposition, which we have to forgive others is an evidence thereof.
1. Grace exercised, is an evidence of forgiveness. This appears, in that it is a work and fruit of the Spirit, a branch of sanctification, and an earnest of eternal life; and, in this respect, that good work may be truly said to be begun, which God will certainly carry on, and perfect in glory of this, I say, every grace, provided it be true and genuine, is an evidence, from whence we may conclude our right to forgiveness, or justification, which is inseparably connected with it; as the
apostle says, Whom he called, them he justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified, Rom. viii. 30.
2. We are now to consider how far, or in what respect, our exercising forgiveness towards others, is an evidence of our having obtained forgiveness from God, which is the sense given in those words, as we forgive our debtors. We may here observe the variation of the expression in Matthew and Luke; in the former it is said, Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors; and, in the latter, Forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. There is a little difficulty contained in the sense of the particles, AS and FOR, which must be so explained, that the sense of the petition, in both evangelists may appear to be the same: Therefore, when Matthew says, Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors, the particle As, is not a note of equality, but of similitude; and accordingly it signifies, that we are to forgive others, even as God, for Christ's sake, has forgiven us; or, as we hope to obtain forgiveness from him; though, if we compare these two together, there is an infinite disproportion between them, as to the injuries forgiven, and other circumstances that attend the action. The injuries that are done to us are very small, if compared with the crimes that we commit against God; and when we are said to forgive them, there is no comparison between it and that forgiveness which we desire from the hand of God. God's forgiving us is, indeed, a motive to us to forgive others, but one is not the measure, or standard of the other: It therefore implies, that while we ask for forgiveness, we ought to do it with a becoming frame of spirit, as those who are inclined to forgive others, and, at the same time to bless God, that he has wrought this disposition in us; and, so far as we make use of it, as an argument in prayer, the meaning thereof is, that since he has made it our duty, and we trust, has also given us this grace to forgive others; we hope, that he will, in like manner, forgive us our trespasses.
We are now to consider the petition as laid down by the evangelist Luke; Forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us: which is, for substance, the same with that in Matthew, as but now explained: Accordingly the particle FOR, is not causal, but demonstrative; and therefore we are not to understand it as though our forgiving others were the ground and reason of God's forgiving us, since that would be to put it in the room of Christ's righteousness; but the meaning is, that we are encouraged to hope that he will forgive us, from this demonstrative evidence; since he has given us that grace which inclines and disposes us to forgive
others; from whence we have ground to conclude, that we shall obtain the blessing we pray for.
This leads us to consider the nature and extent of forgiveness, as exercised by us, and our obligation to perform this duty; and when this may be said to be an evidence of our obtaining forgiveness from God.
First, Concerning the nature and extent of forgiveness, as exercised by us; for the understanding of which, let it be premised,
[1.] That the injuries that are done us, are to be considered either as they contain an invasion upon, or denying us those rights which belong to us, agreeably to that station and condition in life, in which the providence of God has fixed us these must be reckoned injuries, because they are detrimental to us, and acts of injustice; or, they may be farther considered, as crimes committed against God, inasmuch as they infer a violation of the law of nature, which is instamped with his authority; whereby the rights of every particular person are determined, and to deprive us of them, is a sin against God, in the same sense in which sins immediately committed against men, are said to be committed against him. And by this we may be farther led to consider,
[2.] That injuries are only to be forgiven by us, as they are against ourselves; whereas God alone can forgive them as they are against him; and the reason hereof is, because no one can dispense with that punishment which is due for the violation of a law, but the supreme authority. The precept that is to be obeyed, and the sanction that binds over the offender to suffer for his violation of it, must be established by the highest authority. And therefore, inasmuch as the creature cannot demand that obedience which is due to God alone; for the same reason he cannot remit that debt of punishment which belongs only to God to inflict. However, we are to desire, that God would pardon, rather than punish those that have injured us: And this is the only sense in which we may be said to forgive others those crimes that are committed against God, if this may be called forgiveness. But, so far as any injury respects ourselves, as being detrimental to us, it is our duty to forgive it, and not to exercise that private revenge which is inconsistent with the subject-matter of this petition.
[3.] So far as an injury, which more especially respects ourselves, contains in it a violation of human laws, whereby the offender has rendered hemself obnoxious to a capital punishment; it does not belong to us, as private persons, to forgive the criminal, so as to obstruct the course of justice, since this is a matter that does not concern us, as not having the executive part of human laws in our power; and, to pretend to this,