The economic anarchy to which the world drifts, even apart from a bankrupting war, becomes obvious.   In 1850, Harper’s Magazine points out, with a world population of about 1,050,000,000, the total of all national debts was only £250,000,000.  By 1890, when the world held nearly 1,500,000,000 people, the debts had mounted to £5,500,000,000.  And now, with about 1,800,000,000 people, the debt is perhaps four or five times larger than it was even in 1890.  And the economic chaos, become universal, will produce Antichrist.  “What is it that gave Italy back to an absolute ruler? £5,000,000,000 of war borrowings on top of an already heavy debt structure were more than her government could handle as a democracy.  What made Hitler the absolute ruler of Germany?  National despair under the load of debt.  A master had to appear in Russia, too, because of debt






The appalling financial crisis coming is seen in the expenditure of countries not in the War.  A bill is being introduced in the United States (Times, Jan. 5, 1940) authorizing the construction of 95 warships and 3,000 naval aeroplanes at a cost of £325,000,000; while the estimated expenditure of the national Budget for 1940 is £2,106,000,000, with a total public debt of £10,989,755,324.



*       *       *



Sir George Paish, an authority on City finance [before the outbreak of the Second World War] and speaking of the finance of the world, said:-  “We face not a wreck of a nation, but the wreck of the world



*       *       *



Debt is so degrading that if I owed a man a penny, I would walk twenty miles in the depth of winter, to pay him, sooner than I feel that I was under obligation.  Poverty is hard, but debt is horrible.  We may be poor but yet respectable, but a man in debt cannot even respect himself.  Some people seem to even like to owe money; but I would as soon be a cat up a chimney with a fire alight, or a fox with the hounds at my heels.  An honest man thinks a purse full of other people’s money to be worse than an empty one.  He cannot bear to eat other people’s cheese, wear other people’s shirts, and walk about in other people’s shoes.



Some people who have a dollar coming will spend five on the strength of it, which does not belong to them.  Such a person is both unwise and dishonest.  “Cut your coat according to your cloth” is sound advice; but cutting other people’s cloth by running into debt is as like thieving as four pence is to a groat.  Debtors can hardly help being liars, for they promise to pay when they know that they cannot, and when they have made up a lot of false excuses they promise again, and they lie as fast as a horse can trot.



                                                                                                             - C. H. SPURGEON.



*       *       *








Has the Holy Spirit anything to say in Scripture concerning debts?  Undoubtedly and, if we are God’s children, shall we not have ears to hear?  Temperament and circumstances of early upbringing affect many very deeply as to this subject there are lands where almost everyone is in debt.  But though believers should be patient and tender to those who have not received so many privileges as themselves, we are not to make our temperament, or theirs, authoritative.  Love to the Lord, and reverence for His words, must ever be first.



The word “debt” means more than a duty, it implies an overdue duty, or one which cannot be fulfilled at once.  If you send me certain goods with an account, I am not in debt if I have wherewith to pay, and gladly remit at your request.  The money is yours at my house. But if I have only half the needed money, and keep you waiting a week, I am in debt before God.



We are conscious of one continual debt.  The very passage which forbids material debts humblingly implies this: “Owe no man anything, but to love one another” (Rom. 13: 8).  How much more we should love the brethren, because we should have much more love to their Lord and ours.  In this connexion we enter into the prayer, “Forgive us our debts” (Matt. 6: 12), and long to please our Heavenly Father and obey Him more and more.



Debts have always existed, and apparently will remain.  The rules for Israel were definite, for example in Deuteronomy 15: 2; 23: 19, 20; 24: 10-13.  Nehemiah was deeply concerned as to the biting usury of his days (5: 7, 10; 10: 31), and the characteristics of godliness in Psalm 15: 5 and Ezekiel 18: 8 are impressive.



But is a believer warranted, in the light of Romans 13, in allowing a debt to-day?  The fact that God deigned to bless the widow in 2 Kings 4: 1-7 affords no approval.  Moreover, the advantage of a temporary loan is no reason for it unless we can find the authority of the Lord.



Surely we feel that the prohibition of debt already seen is definite, and that to seek to get round it is to oppose the will of the Lord.  If only children of God would take this standpoint, and in faith render unto Him freely (Mal. 3: 16), they would surely find His supply of “needs”.  Debts may be expected if we do not give readily unto Him.  The believer who unwisely says, “I cannot afford a tenth” - less than Israel’s smallest amount - and who knows nothing of systematic giving, invites debt.  And the believer who “will” have this or that, which other homes possess - possibly some decoration, or musical instrument, tending to help away from a pilgrim attitude in the present dispensation - may learn at last that the financial trials are because our Father promises to deal with “needs”, not “personal fancies”. Alas, how much might have been given to spread God’s truth, if His people had rejoiced to remain outside the fashion.  How few would like the blessing of Deuteronomy when the “raiment waxed not old”.  There was no room for a “change”.  Beloved friends, we are all more influenced by circumstances, and by “others” who are broader, than we realize.*


* A word in this connection as to the ever extending principle of the “hire system” may be permitted.  A believer may be technically out of debt in obtaining furniture thus, but he will often find a heartache and uncertainty, if simply wishing to please the Lord.



I need hardly say that loving sympathy should be felt for those who are saved when in debt, and prayerful interest does not hastily judge such.  But faith will bring such a victory, and godly care will be rewarded.  If, however, a believer saved in debt is careless, and spends indulgently, he cannot expect the Lord’s encouragement.



Moreover, there may be cases where a child of God in business, or through sickness, is suddenly confronted with peculiar problems.  Arm-chair criticism is not a mark of godliness.  It may be our loving Heavenly Father has some lessons to teach such - ah, more than “may be” - but are there not with us, even with us, sins against Him (2 Chron. 28: 10), and do not we also need His gracious humbling - for it is in love?  Granted that the words of James 2: 15 refer to complete destitution, and that the tried believer on his part should feel called to sell goods rather than expectingly “ask” others (or decide what they ought to do), it is the privilege of each to ponder the Holy Spirit’s words, “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Gal. 6: 2).



Need it be said that “collective” debt is quite unscriptural.  An assembly should never think of such a course.  How often it has been brought about through un-appointed buildings and display.  Undoubtedly many will help men willingly as to such steps, but this does not make any action the will of the Lord.  That is the fundamental question, and His redeemed people need have no hesitation as to the answer.  His will, and not expediency, is the “pattern” which has been graciously shown them.



And thus we plead with those who desire to provide things honourable (“not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men”), and to take Him at His Word, and to trust Him to enable expenditure within income.  And if trials come, they are not by chance.  Our heavenly Father is willing to teach, and willing to step in, as for Abraham in Genesis 22., though it may be at the last moment.  His people should be bowed before Him, for all pride, and feverish excitement will hinder hearing His voice.  “In nothing be anxious  He is worthy of faith, and let the principle of love’s prompt obedience suggested and urged by Proverbs 6: 3 be seen in the life of any to whom this message comes when in debt.


 - The Student of Scripture.



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Many of the inhabitants of Manchester and the surrounding towns, will remember a singular old minister, with a red, round, pleasant-looking countenance, a bald head, and who often preached in a velvet skull-cap.  He was a man of very peculiar views, but almost unequalled in his description of Christian experience.  This man once preached in Rochdale, from the text, “Lord, help me  Having read his text, he took off his spectacles, and, in his usual, deliberate way, looked round on the congregation, saying:- “Friends, by way of introduction, I will tell you how 1 got this text; and if you will allow me to speak in the first person, I can tell you easier by saying I than he.



“Well, then, before I was fully devoted to the ministry I was in business, and as most business men do, I worked a little on credit.  When I gave up business and settled as a preacher and pastor of a congregation, I was owing several sums of money; but much more was owing to me, so I felt no fear of being unable to pay my creditors.  One of these creditors to whom I owed twenty pounds, called upon me for the payment.  I said to him, ‘I will see what I can do for you next Monday  He called on the Monday, but I had not got the money.  He was rather cross with me, saying ‘I had no business to promise except I intended to perform  This observation touched my pride, and I told him that I would pay him on the coming Monday.  He went away in a rage, saying ‘he hoped I would



“I set out on the following day to see some of my debtors, not fearing but I could raise the twenty pounds, but I did not get one farthing.  I tried others, but with the same success.  I then put down on a sheet of paper the names of several of my friends, certain that I could borrow twenty pounds from any one of them.  But, to my utter amazement, I was mistaken.  All of them could sympathize with me a deal better than lend me anything.  The next day I made out another list of those not so well able to help me as the former, for I thought if I could get five pounds there, I would be able to raise it all.  I travelled many miles on my errand, spending a whole day, but returning in the evening without one penny.



“Saturday morning came, and I arose from a sleepless bed.  I ate very little breakfast, and when at prayer I was so overcome with my feelings, that my wife asked me if I was poorly, or in trouble.  ‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘I am in trouble enough and I then told her all about the cause of my sorrow.  She was silent for a few minutes, and then said, ‘You have often talked and preached about the power of faith.  I think you will now need some yourself  Having said this she arose from her chair, and went rattling among her pots and kettles.  She was evidently mortified because I had been refused the money by those she had considered our friends.



“On Saturday I was in a state of torpor until evening.  I then, with a heavy heart, went upstairs into a little room I called my study; for I had three times to preach on the Sunday and no text; twenty pounds to pay on the Monday, and no money.  What was I to do?  For a long time I sat with my face buried in my hands, and then I fell on my knees, and I believe I said, ‘Lord, help me’, a hundred times, for I could say nothing but ‘Lord, help me, Lord, help me  While praying I felt an impression that these words might serve me for one text; and as Sunday came before Monday, I began Sunday work; but no other text could I think of but ‘Lord, help me



“While preaching on the Sunday morning, I had so many thoughts and illustrations arising out of the subject that I felt great liberty in preaching.  One of my illustrations was about a man I knew well, who was a deacon of a church, and had been an executor for two orphan children.  He was tempted to make use of the money, and much of it was lost.  This so preyed upon his mind that he lost his peace of mind, and he died with the reputation of a rogue.



“‘Now,’ I said, ‘had this man, the executor, when he first thought of taking the children’s money, resisted the temptation by calling on God to help him - help him to be honest, help him to do nothing but what a professing Christian ought to do - instead of losing the money, his good name, his peace of mind, and, perhaps his life, God would have heard his prayer, and saved him



“Noon came; but my sermon was not half done.  I preached from the same text again in the afternoon, and again in the evening; and I felt that I could have preached from it a week.



“After finishing the night’s service, when I got to the bottom of the pulpit stairs, a young man stood there who asked to see me in private.  I took him into the vestry, and requested his errand, expecting it would be about his soul.  For several minutes we were both silent, but at length he said, ‘You knew my mother, Mr. Gradsby



“I looked in his face, saying, ‘Surely I did; but I did not know you at first



“‘Well, sir, when she died she left me some money - in fact, all she had, except two small sums she wished me to give, one sum, of five pounds, to a poor old woman of her acquaintance; and speaking of you she said, “Our minister needs help, and I wish you to give him twenty pounds.” I paid the five pounds to the old woman; but, thinking no one knew, I resolved never to give you the twenty.  But while you were talking about the roguish executor this morning, I felt thunderstruck, and I have brought you the twenty pounds.  Here it is; do take it, and do forgive me



“It was now my turn to be thunderstruck.  While the young man was putting the sovereigns into my hand, I trembled all over.  God had heard my prayer; He had helped me through Sunday, and sent me the twenty pounds for Monday.  It was mine and I took it.  I shook the young man’s hand, and, without putting the money into my pocket, I went quickly home, spread it out on the table before my wife, saying, ‘Here it is!  I now see how it was that I could not borrow the money.  God knew where it was, and He sent me the twenty pounds, and delivered me out of my trouble.  He had heard my prayer, and helped me, and I will trust Him and praise Him as long as I live!’  Oh! my dear friends, when that little prayer, ‘Lord, help me’, comes from the heart of one of God’s children in distress, neither men, nor devils, nor angels can tell its power.  It has brought me thousands of blessings, besides the twenty pounds



- The Gospel Herald.



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The Tsar Nicholas was accustomed to visit his camps at night, clothed as an ordinary officer, that he might know, what was going on.  Late one night he made his tour of inspection.  Seeing a light shining under the paymaster’s door, he entered it; and he saw a young officer, the son of an old friend of the Tsar, asleep.  The Tsar stepped over to awaken him, when he noticed a loaded revolver, a small pile of money, and a sheet of paper with a pen that had fallen from the hand of the sleeping man.



On the sheet of paper was a long list of debts, gambling and other evil debts.  The total ran into many thousands of roubles: the officer had used army funds to pay these wicked, reckless debts, and now, having worked till late into the night trying to get his accounts straight, had discovered for the first time how much he owed.  It was hopeless.  On the sheet of paper, below the terrible total, was written:- “Who can pay so great a debt  Unable to face the disgrace, the officer had intended shooting himself, but completely worn out with sorrow and remorse, he had fallen asleep.



The Tsar’s first thought was to have the man arrested and then court-martialled; but as he remembered his love for the young officer’s father, mercy triumphed over judgment, and, picking up the pen, he answered the question with one word: - NICHOLAS.



Soon after the Tsar had left, the young officer woke, and took up the revolver to blow out his brains; when his bewildered eye was suddenly caught by the signature.  Surely it was impossible!  He had some papers in his possession which bore the genuine signature of the Tsar, and quickly he compared the names; and to his intense joy, yet bitter humiliation, he realized that his Tsar knew all about his sins, knew the utmost of his mighty debt, and yet instead of inflicting the penalty he deserved, had assumed the debt himself, and justified the debtor.  Joyfully he lay down to rest, and early the next morning bags of money arrived from the Tsar sufficient to pay the last penny of “so great a debt”.






*       *       *






Having asked for food, the disciple of Christ now sues for pardon.  In the words of Thomas Manton, the Puritan, we have “done with the supplications of the Prayer, and are come to the deprecations  That is to say, we pass from petitions for the obtaining of good things at the hands of God, and bring forward those which are concerned with the removing of evil from ourselves.



As the disciple offers this petition day by day, it is clear that the words contemplate, not an unregenerate rebel seeking Divine acceptance, but rather a trustful worshipper desirous of continual cleansing.  Though in times gone by the petitioner may have walked in the ways of sin, now it is his privilege to be in the school of a Teacher who leads in the path of holiness, and in that school he would be “without offence  Hence the petition, for himself and others in like circumstances, “Forgive us our debts



The words, certainly the sentiments, were quite familiar.  Israel had learned the initial lessons in regard to sin and forgiveness.  In St. Matthew’s version of the Prayer we read of “debts”; in St. Luke’s version of “sins”; while in the verses following the Prayer in Matthew’s Gospel we read of “trespasses  Between the words there are doubtless refinements of difference; but that difference is not fundamental.  We are justified in regarding the “debts” and “trespasses” of Matthew as finding their explanation in the “sins” of Luke.  Whether we fall short as debtors, or decline from the path of rectitude and thus are guilty of trespass, all our delinquencies come into the inclusive category of SIN; and for sins we are bidden to seek forgiveness.



Thus we are led, at the outset, to understand the petition as a constructive confession of faults which, if un-forgiven, expose the offender to the penalty of the Divine law.  These ideas were familiar to the Jewish mind; and the Septuagint Version of the Old Testament had adopted the Greek word …forgive”) as expressing the doctrine of forgiveness of sin and remission of the penalty incurred by a breach of law (see Gen. 1. 17; Ex. 32: 32; Lev. 4: 20; 5: 10, 13; Ps. 25: 18; Isa. 22: 14; 55: 7).



In the petition under consideration, with this same Greek word for “forgive we find a doctrine which may be expressed in three points: (1) that, though disciples of Christ, we are sinners, debtors to God; (2) that God is gracious, and willing to pardon our offences; and (3) that though, when coming to Christ as our Saviour, we may receive remission of sins that are past, yet there is need for daily cleansing - hence our continual prayer for pardon.  In the words of a Puritan worthy:-



“We daily renew our sins by omission and commission; and though the foundation of our pardon be laid in our regeneration, yet, that it may be actual and full for following sins, we must have renewed repentance, faith, and prayer*


* Richard Baxter, THE CATECHISING OF FAMILIES, chap. xxix. See PP. 33, 36, 37, ante.



Thus we see that, in words at once few and explicit, the entire body of Christian teaching as to sin and forgiveness is compressed in the petition before us.  Who shall suggest that the implication is not adequate?  “Forgive us” - need we specify the offences, tell the tale of our deficiencies?  If it is true, as the Jewish doctors held, that “he that transgresses, though in secret, thrusts God away from him,” so also is the converse true, that he that seeks pardon for his offences, with the desire to live a life of righteousness, draws God nigh unto him.  And, assuredly, in this petition, pardon is asked in terms which are as comprehensive as human need can possibly demand.  How different is this from the teaching of a Judaism, which rejects Christ!  In the Synagogue service of the Day of Atonement, as we have seen, a thousand words or more are required wherein to specify sinfulness and to seek remission.  In fact, there is a piling up of words in the admission of what is already known to an all-seeing God and, moreover, this is done in the very spirit of the “vain repetitions” which our Lord reproved.



Contrast with this the teaching of the Prayer.  When confessing sin to an earthly parent, the penitent may say, “I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight” (Luke 15: 21); but when asking pardon from the all-holy and omniscient God, direct confession is not required - hence it is not even suggested by the Master.  Confession in the heart is necessary: words with the lips may be dispensed with.  Thus in the petition, “Forgive us our sins guilt is manifestly implied, though its measure is left with Him who will “abundantly pardon  In one brief sentence, in one comprehensive imperative, our Lord provides us with confession (understood) and petition (expressed).



“As we Forgive



The extension, “as we forgive them that trespass against ushas been somewhat misunderstood; in fact, by some the words have been so interpreted as to challenge the relation of the Prayer to the Dispensation of Grace!  In other words, there has been found in the petition a pleading with God on the ground of personal merit; and by consequence it has been suggested that the disciples were, in these words, encouraged to expect Divine forgiveness BECAUSE, on their part, they had exercised clemency toward those who had done them injury!  Hence a comment which takes the form, “This is legal ground



This view invests the words with a meaning which the Master cannot have intended, and, further, it evinces an extraordinary confusion of the principles of Law and Grace.  Is it really disputed that Christ came to reveal the Father? and is it really held that He came to do work in the household of Moses? (see John 1: 17).  Impossible! Our Lord gave no instruction on “legal ground  From first to last, on the contrary, He occupied GOSPEL “ground,” being engaged in work which had for its object the enlargement of the Jewish people into a truer and deeper liberty, in order to a more full and complete communion with God.  As to the words which have been particularly misconstrued, … they are not, in reality, of doubtful significance.  Far from suggesting a reason for forgiveness, they view that blessing in the light of similarity.  The sense is not “because,” “on the ground of,” or for the reason that but rather it is “even as,” “as also,” “like as.”* In the words of Bloomfield, they denote “similarity of kind, not comparison of degree.”**


* See illustrative occurrences : Matt. 18: 33, 20: 14; Acts 11: 17, 22: 5, 25: 10; Rom. 9: 25; 1 Cor. 7: 7; 9: 5; 16: 10; Eph. 2: 3; 5: 23; 2 Tim. 3: 9; Heb. 13: 3; 1 Pet. 3: 7; 2 Pet. 2: 1; 3: 16; Rev. 18: 6.


** Bloomfield’s GREEK TESTAMENT, Additional Annotations (1851), P. 13. Similarly Alford, GREEK TESTAMENT, Comment on Matt. 6.



Hence, addressing the Heavenly Father, the disciples say, in effect: “In the matter of our daily sins, do Thou as we are in the habit of doing with those who offend against us - GRANT US FORGIVENESS.” And we shall see that in this petition they were instructed in reference to a practice that was well understood in Jewish life at the time.



“The Lord’s Release



It is important to bear in mind that the spirit of forgiveness was provided for under the Old Covenant.  We read, “If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink” (Prov. 25: 21; cf. 24: 17).  Here we have a doctrine of forgiveness, broad-based on the Divine example of long-suffering and pardon (Ex. 34: 6, 7; Num. 14: 18-20).  Though there might be laxity on the point in daily experience, yet the ideal was written plain in the sacred literature of Israel.  “The discretion of a man maketh him slow to anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression” (Prov. 19: 11).



There is, however, more to say on this matter.  Not only had the children of Israel been taught to exercise a forgiving spirit; but through the operation of an institution that was peculiar to their religious and social order, the people had become accustomed to forgive off-hand, and as a matter of course, those that were indebted to them.  The fact and its justification is found in “the Lord’s Release which came at the end of every seven years, as described in Deut. 15.



Every creditor shall release that which he hath lent unto his neighbour; he shall not exact it of his neighbour and his brother: because the Lord’s release hath been proclaimed” (v. 2; cf. chap. 31: 10).  This ordinance of the Sabbatical year occupied an important place in a system whereby abject poverty was prevented, and a spirit of brotherhood fostered in the Israelite community.



Thus from time to time, as of duty and not of merit, the pious Jew forgave those that were indebted to him: on the one hand, he set free his servant after six years of work (Ex. 21: 2; cf. Jer. 34: 13 ff.); and, on the other hand, he “wrote off” the obligations of those who owed him anything.  And even though the year of release might be “at hand the man who had means was compelled to help his poor brother with a loan, though it was morally certain that he would not receive anything in return.  By obeying the law in this respect, he was “lending unto the Lord and on account thereof he would receive blessing from heaven (vv. 9, 10; cf. Prov. 19: 17).  Hence when a Jew spoke of forgiving the trespasses of others, as the early disciples were led to do in the words of the Lord’s Prayer, he was simply alluding to a beneficent practice, ordained by statute in the Theocratic Government: there was, assuredly, no thought of merit, no complacent boasting of deeds of mercy or virtue.*


* It is noteworthy that, in Matt. 6: 12, the R.V. adopts a reading which it renders “as we also HAVE FORGIVEN” - an appeal to a past experience; while in Luke 11: 3 it reads “for we also FORGIVE” - an appeal to a national or habitual practice.



In this light we see the practical force of the clause.  While the sense is not “because we forgive,” so neither was it “in the measure that we forgive.”  Rather, it was “EVEN AS we forgive,” i.e. IN LIKE MANNER.  And how was that?  By “cleaning the slate,” by wiping off once and for all, and never to be recalled, the tale of indebtedness, whether of service in the case of slaves, or of money in the case of debtors.  “Forgive us, even as we have forgiven” - i.e. to remember no more, to pass by in such a manner that the account can never again be presented for payment!  Said the Jew, in effect, as he used these words of Christ: “We forgive our debtors under a law from which we cannot escape; and the forgiveness brings peace and liberty to those that are forgiven.  Even so, our Heavenly Father, forgive Thou us - straightaway and for ever, to the end that we may walk before Thee in peace and liberty, as children of the Most High, released from spiritual bondage by a forgiveness which ensures that we shall never be called into judgment



We leave this subject for more detailed treatment in an Appendix: merely remarking that the institution in question exercised a great moral influence in Israel.  Among other things, it was a token of Grace under the dispensation of the Law; and assuredly it magnified the pardoning mercy of God.  Doubtless there was transgression in this regard: some Israelites had “base thoughts in their hearts” and were unforgiving (Deut. 15: 9).  In these circumstances, there arose a habit of speaking of Divine pardon in measured terms: e.g. “God forgives him who forgives his neighbours,” and “So long as we are merciful, God is merciful; but if we are not merciful to others, God is not merciful to us.”!  These detached sayings of the Rabbis are hardly open to criticism, however, for our Lord uttered words to a like effect when He said: “If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you  All the while, however, we must remember that the Divine measure is “How MUCH MORE If we, men of earth, forgive, as we do, how much more may we not reckon on, be assured of, the forgiveness of our Heavenly Father?



The Prayer of the Child of God



As we have seen, this petition is for the child of God: it only befits such as can say “Our Father  The words are not for one who is AGAINST THE SON, but rather for one who is ON His PART.  They are for those who have experienced acceptance with God, and now seek a continued evidence of the Divine favour.  And the fact that God is “faithful and just to forgive” His people, is sufficient proof that His people stand in need of forgiveness (see 1 John 1: 9).  In the words of Dean Vaughan:-



“The one sweeping forgiveness may lie far in the past - yet is there day by day a forgiveness needed, and a forgiveness vouchsafed.  ‘He that hath bathed himself’ all over, once for all, in the ocean of Atonement, ‘needeth not’ afterward ‘save to wash his feet’ - yet that partial washing he needs, and here it is provided for.”*


* THE LORD’S PRAYER (1875), pp. 14i, 142.



A clear judgment on this point, will not only save us from misunderstanding the petition, but also from entertaining low and unworthy views of the Prayer as a whole.  Another well-known expositor says:-



“Here we have the entreaty of one already saved, that the daily transgressions of his still imperfect condition, and the many shortcomings of his service to the Lord Jesus, may be graciously pardoned.  And the Prayer should check anything like presumption or spiritual pride, reminding us, as it does, how continually we need the cleansing blood to wash away the stains of our repeated trespasses.”*


* G. H. Pember, THE GREAT PROPHECIES OF THE CENTURIES CONCERNING THE CHURCH, pp. 171, 172.  William Kelly’s explanation is to the same effect: “The forgiveness of a child is all that is spoken of here, the removal of what hinders communion. ... It is therefore the habitual need of the soul, just as the daily bread was that of the bodyEXPOSITION OF THE GOSPEL OF LUKE, pp. 183, 184.



In terms which seem to belong to a past time, but are nevertheless of the essence of New Testament teaching, we may describe the petition, and, indeed, the Prayer as a whole, as for such as are “justified in Christ Jesus  Accordingly, the “forgiveness” of which we now read, and the “deliverance from evilwhich will be considered in a later chapter, both contribute to the SANCTIFICATION of the believer; and it is, of course, fitting that those who are being so “prepared unto glory” should forgive them that trespass against them, and confess the same in the words ordained by Christ.



It is related of a Christian pastor of large experience that he found a member of his flock labouring under great distress of mind, and unable to obtain that peace which she sought by prayer.  This clause of the Lord’s Prayer supplied a conclusive test; the lady was, in fact, unwilling to complete the petition – “as we forgiveetc.  Until these words express our personal experience, we cannot offer the Prayer with assured acceptance.



The Practical Issue



A sound interpretation must not ignore the immediate circumstances of the men into whose mouth the petition was first put.  Beyond question they were men who were called upon to suffer obloquy and shame for the name of their Master.  They knew what it was to go “as lambs into the midst of wolves and to encounter peculiar trials as the followers of a Rabbi who was despised by the leaders of the people. Their friends and brethren disowned them, and those of their own household assumed the attitude of foes (Matt. 10: 34-36).  It was in aggravated circumstances such as these that the disciples learned to “forgive their debtors and in the light of truly terrible experiences that they came to realise the depth of God’s forbearance and pardoning mercy (cf. Matt. 5: 44, 45; Luke 6: 31-35).



It was to these men that the Lord spoke when He said: “Whensoever ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have aught against any one, that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.  If ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses  And again, it was in the hearing of these men that He said: “judge not, and ye shall not be judged; and condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned; release, and ye shall be released” (Mark 11: 25, 26; Luke 6: 37).  These counsels lie at the base of the spirit of forgiveness; and they intimate very plainly the condition of the enjoyment of Divine favour, even as they indicate the frame of mind which will incur the Divine displeasure.



The man who refuses forgiveness to his fellow cannot expect forgiveness from God.  In the first place, there is in his heart a disposition of enmity which effectually stands in the way of his prayer being accepted.  In the second place, it would appear that, in his own mind, he has denounced judgment upon his fellow, whom, in such a manner as it is in his power, he retains under the bondage of un-forgiven guilt.  Such a man is not in a position to receive any blessing from God; and for him to ask daily for pardon is simply an act of ignorance or impiety.  Let him “first be reconciled to his brother”: “the merciful shall obtain mercy” (Matt. 5: 7, 24).



Accordingly, if we would offer this petition aright, and continue to enjoy the forgiveness of which it speaks, we must, for ourselves, seek a forgiving spirit, and maintain the same with vigilance.  It was in answer to a question put by Peter, as to how often an offending brother should be pardoned, that our Lord spoke the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant, concluding with the counsel that we are to “forgive every one his brother from our hearts” (Matt. 18: 21-25; Luke 17: 3, 4).  We are to forgive, not to judge.  If, by the exercise of an unforgiving spirit, we judge our fellows, in like manner we shall ourselves be judged.



The Believer’s “Quit-Rent



Is it not of deep significance that this clause of the Prayer is the only one which our Lord proceeds to expand and enforce?  And the added words are very explicit: “If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6: 14, 15).  As the law of “the Lord’s Release,” in Deut. 15., did not ignore the hard-hearted man with “a thought of Belial” (or base thought) in his heart (verse 9), so neither did our Lord overlook the possibility of some follower of His thinking that he could ask for a release which, on his own part, he was unwilling to grant.  It thus appears that at the point of personal duty the test is decisive - a duty which, it has been said with truth, is at once “the hardest to the natural man, and the most characteristic of the mind of Christ Jesus*


* Bishop Alfred Barry in THE TEACHER’S PRAYER-B00K, P. 42.


In the words of Martin Luther, this clause is a TOKEN designed to remind us of the ground or condition of continued blessing; and, moreover, when spoken from the heart it may be regarded as a SEAL affixed by God to the absolution which is desired.*  Further, in the quaint words of Anthony Farindon, it is the believer’s “QUIT-RENT” - as he says: “Your quit-rent, your acknowledgment of God’s great mercy, is your mercy to others.  Pay it down; or you have made a forfeiture of all**


* Luther’s PRIMARY WORKS: The Lord’s Prayer, fifth petition.


** Anthony Farindon, sermon on “The Love of Mercy,” No. IX. in vol. COMPLFTE WORKS (ed. Jackson, 1849).



“In many things we offend all  As children of God, however, we may daily pray, “Forgive us our debts”; and when we stand praying, we must not neglect to forgive - not refuse to do as we desire to be done by.  In order to a right mind on the entire matter, we do well to give heed to the words of the Apostle when he said, “Be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4: 32).  And this, assuredly, is not legal ground, but the ground of grace; and therein we see how the justified sinner may bring forth fruit unto holiness, and in the process of sanctification realise the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.



Hence in all circumstances we may say:













“Our spirits should be emptied of all petty sectarianism because of our recognition of the debt we owe to other traditions than our own.  I began church membership among rigid Scottish Presbyterians.  As a student I attended a Baptist church.  While at Princeton I made contact with American Presbyterianism.  In Spain I Enjoyed fellowship with Plymouth Brethren; in Uruguay we attended a Methodist Episbopal church; now I enjoy unusual spiritual communion with dear Episopal friends, while I serve a Presbyterian seminary.  How could I be sectarian?” – J. A. MACKAY, D.D.




Keep in mind:-


“He who is now ruled by Christ will one day rule with Christ