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this answer; of which we shall give a summary account in the following meditation, which may be of use for the reducing our Saviour's direction into practice: Accordingly we address him in this manner, "Our eyes wait on thee, O thou preserver of 66 men, who givest to all their meat in due season. We are "poor, indigent creatures, whose necessities oblige us to re
quest a daily supply, for our outward as well as spiritual -66 wants. Thou hast granted us life and favour; and, having "obtained help from thee, we continue unto this day. Thou 66 preparest a table for us; our cup runneth over; we have "never been wholly destitute of those outward blessings which "tend to make our pilgrimage, through this world, easy and "comfortable: We therefore adore thee for the care and good"ness of thy providence, which continues to us forfeited "blessings. We have, by our sins, deserved to be deprived "of all the good things we enjoy, which we have not used to "thy glory, as we ought to have done. We acknowledge our"selves less than the least of all thy mercies; yet thou hast 26 encouraged us to pray and hope for the continuance thereof: "We leave it to thine infinite wisdom, to chuse that condition "of life which thou seest best for us. It is not the great 66 things of this world that we are solicitous about, but that "portion thereof which is necessary to our glorifying thee "therein. Thou hast made it our duty, and accordingly we "desire, to use that industry which is necessary to attain a "comfortable subsistence in the world; yet we are sensible
that the success thereof is wholly owing to thy blessing: We แ therefore beg, that thou wouldst prosper our undertaking; "since it is thy blessing alone that maketh rich, and addeth "no sorrow therewith. Keep our desires after the world with"in their due bounds; and enable us to be content with what "thou art pleased to allot for us, that our hearts may not be "turned aside thereby, from an earnest pursuit after that bread "which perisheth not, but endureth to everlasting life. If thou "art pleased to give us the riches of this world, let not our "hearts be set upon them; and if thou hast ordained that we "should be in low circumstances therein, may the frame of our "spirits be suited thereunto, and this condition of life be sanc"tified, that it may appear, that we are not too low to be the "objects of thy special regard and discriminating grace; that "having nothing, we may really possess all things, in having "an interest in thy love. As to what concerns our future "condition in this world, though thou hast made it our duty "to use a provident care that we may not be reduced to those "straits that would render the last stage of life uncomfortable; 26 yet we would do this with a constant sense of the uncer"tainty of life, since our times are in thy hand, our circum
"stances in the world at thy disposal, and we rejoice that they "are so: Therefore we earnestly beg, that if it be thy sove"reign will to call us soon out of it, that we may be as well pleased to leave, as ever we were to enjoy it, as being blessed "with a well-grounded hope of a better life: And, if it be con"sistent with thy will, that our lives be prolonged in the "world, Give us day by day our daily bread, that we may, at "all times, experience, that thou dost abundantly bless our pro"vision, and satisfy us with those things which thou seest "needful for us, till we come to our journey's end, and are possessed of that perfect blessedness which thou hast re"served for thy saints in a better world."
QUEST. CXCIV. What do we pray for in the fifth petition? ANSW. In the fifth petition, [which is, Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors] acknowledging that we, and all others, are guilty both of original and actual sin, and thereby become debtors to the justice of God; and that neither we, nor any other creature, can make the least satisfaction for that debt. We pray for ourselves and others, that God of his free grace would, through the obedience and satisfaction of Christ apprehended and applied by faith, acquit us both from the guilt and punishment of sin, accept us in his Beloved, continue his favour and grace to us, pardon our daily failings, and fill us with peace and joy, in giving us daily more and more assurance of forgiveness, which we are the rather emboldened to ask, and encouraged to expect when we have this testimony in ourselves, that we, from the heart, forgive others their offences.
AVING been directed, in the former petition, to pray for
HAVING we are now
outward blessings; we are now led to ask for forgiveness of sin; and it is with very good reason that these two petitions are joined together, inasmuch as we cannot expect that God should give us the good things of this life, which are all forfeited by us, much less, that we should have them bestowed on us in mercy, and for our good, unless he is pleased to forgive those sins, whereby we provoke him to withhold them from us: Neither can we take comfort in any outward blessings, while our consciences are burdened with a sense of the guilt of sin, and we have nothing to expect, as the consequence thereof, but to be separated from his presence; therefore we are taught to pray, that God would forgive us our sins, as one evangelist expresses it, or our debts, as it is in the other.
From whence it may be observed, in general, that sin is a. debt. As it is contrary to the holiness of God, it is a stain and blemish, a dishonour and reproach to us; as it is a violation of his law it is a crime; and, as to what respects the guilt which we contract hereby, it is called a debt; which is the principal thing considered in this petition. There was a debt of obedience demanded from us as creatures: and, in case of the failure hereof, or any other sin committed by us, there was a threatening denounced, pursuant to the sanction of the law, from whence arises a debt of punishment; and in this respect it is that we are directed, more especially, in this petition, to pray for forgiveness. There are several things which respect the nature of forgiveness, as founded on the satisfaction given by Christ, as our Surety: which have been largely insisted on under some foregoing answers: Therefore, the method we shall observe, in considering the subjectmatter of this petition, shall be,
I. To take a view of sinful man as charged with guilt, and rendered uneasy under a sense thereof.
II. How he is to address himself to God by faith and prayer for forgiveness. And,
III. The encouragement which he has to hope that his prayer will be answered. Under which head we shall take occasion to consider how far that disposition which we have to forgive ethers, is an evidence hereof.
I. Concerning the charge of guilt upon us, and that uneasiness which is the consequence thereof. Here we consider the sinner as apprehended and standing before God, the Judge of all an accusation brought in against him, in which he is charged with apostacy and rebellion against his rightful Lord and Sovereign, and, as the consequence thereof, his nature is vitiated and depraved, his heart deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; from whence proceed all actual transgressions, with their respective aggravations, which, according to the tenor of the law of God, deserve his wrath and curse, both in this life, and that which is to come f. And this charge is made good against him by such convincing evidence, that he must be very much unacquainted with himself, and a stranger to the law of God, if he does not see it: But if we suppose him stupid, and persisting in his own vindication, through the blindness of his mind, and hardness of his heart, and ready to say with Ephraim, In all my labours they shall find none iniquity in me, that were sin, Hos. xii. 8. yet the charge will, notwithstanding, appear to be just, and every mouth shall be stopped, and they are forced to confess themselves guilty before God: See Quest. CLII.
* See vol. II. 239–290 and vol. III. 72.
Upon this, conscience is awakened, and trembles at the thoughts of falling into the hands of an absolute God, who appears no otherwise to him than as a consuming fire; his terrors set themselves in array against him, and this cannot but fill him with the greatest anguish, especially because there is no method which he can find out, to free himself from that misery, which he dreads as the consequence thereof.
If he pretends to extenuate his crimes, it will not avail him; and if his own conscience does not come in as a witness against him, as having been a party concerned in the rebellion, it is an argument that it is rendered stupid by a continuance therein: Nothing that it can allege in its own vindication, will be regarded in the court of heaven, but rather tend to add weight to the guilt he has contracted; for the omniscience of God will bring an unanswerable charge against him, as being a transgressor of his law, and thereby liable to condemnation, upon which, vindictive justice will demand satisfaction.
If he makes an overture to pay the debt, he must either yield sinless obedience, which is impossible, from the nature of the thing; or bear the stroke of justice, and suffer the punishment that is due to him, which, if he is content to do, he knows not what it is to fall into the hands of the living God, or to be plunged into an abyss of endless misery. If he thinks that he shall be secure by flying from justice, this would be a vain attempt, since God is omnipresent; and there is no darkness or shadow of death, where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves, Job xxxiv. 52.
Nothing therefore remains, but that he make supplication to his Judge, that he would pass by the crimes he has committed, without demanding satisfaction: But this is to desire, that he would act contrary to the holiness of his nature; which would be such a blemish on his perfections, that he is ebliged to reject: What is this but to relinquish his throne, deny his sovereignty, and act contrary to his own law, which is the rule of his government, whereby sinners will take occasion to trans gress, expecting that they may do this with impunity?
But, is there no intercessor that will plead his cause, or appear for him in the court of heaven? this cannot be done but by one who is able to make an atonement, and thereby secure the glory of divine justice, by having the debt transferred or placed to his account, and giving a full satisfaction for it; but this belongs to none but our Lord Jesus Christ, who has obtained redemption and forgiveness through his blood; and none can take encouragement from hence, but he that addresses himself to God by faith, which we are now considering the sinner as destitute of, and therefore the charge of guilt remains upon him. And it is certain, that the consequence
hereof is such, as will tend to fill him with the greatest uneasiness under the burthen that lies on his conscience, which has a perpetual dread of the execution of the sentence that is in force against him. This wounds his spirits; and it is impossible for any one to apply healing medicines, but by directing him according to the prescription contained in the gospel, to seek forgiveness in that way in which God applies it, in and through a Mediator.
II. We are now to consider, how a person is to address himself to God by faith and prayer for forgiveness, which is the principal thing designed in this petition. Here it is to be acknowledged, that when we draw nigh to God, it is with a sense of guilt, and, it may be, with great distress of conscience, arising from it; yet it differs very much from what was ob served under the last head, when we considered a sinner as standing before an absolute God, without any hope of obtaining forgiveness, since that cannot but fill him with dread and horror; whereas, this is an expedient for his obtaining a settled peace of conscience; and, indeed, there is nothing of greater importance, than our performing this duty in a right manner. And, in order thereunto, let it be considered,
1. That when we pray for forgiveness of sin it is supposed, that none can bestow this blessing upon us but God. No one has a right to forgive an offence, but he against whom it is committed: This will appear, if we consider sin as a neglect or refusal to pay a debt of obedience, which is due from us, to God, and consequently it would be an invading his right, for any one who had no power to demand it, to pretend to give a discharge to the sinner as an insolvent debtor: This would be to act like the person mentioned in the parable, who was appointed indeed, to receive his lord's debts, but not to cancel them; and therefore, our Saviour calls him an unjust steward; and he is said to have wasted his lord's goods, by compounding the debts which were owing to him without his order, Luke xvi. 1. & seq. Now, since obedience, as it is a religious duty is due to God alone; it is only he that can give a discharge to those who have not performed it: and since it belongs to him as a judge and law-giver, to punish offenders, it would be the highest affront to him for a creature to pretend to this prerogative; and therefore God appropriates it to himself, when he says, I even I am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, Isa. xliii. 25. which expression is to be understood of him exclusive of all others; accordingly, when the Jews charge our Saviour with blasphemy on his forgiving sins, and say, Who can forgive sins but God only? the proposition was true, how false soever the inference, which VOL. IV. 3 G