And when you stand praying, forgive, if you have ought against any…
I. Let us, in the first place, ENTER UPON AN INTELLIGENT EXPOSITION OF THE VERSES JUST AS THEY STAND. It will be quite as necessary for us to be sure what they do not mean, as what they do mean; for the declaration has been somewhat abused.
1. It is easy to show what our Lord does not teach in His repeated counsels on this point. The new revision gives a very interesting turn to the form of expression by throwing the verb into the past tense: "forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." This intensifies the admonition, and enforces the condition that ensures success in our praying; for it demands that our pardon of injuries shall have taken place previous even to our coming to the mercy seat for ourselves. It cannot be that the passage we are studying means that our forgiveness of others is in any sense the ground for our remission of sins from God. It cannot be that the passage means that our forgiveness of others is to furnish the measure of our own pardon from God.
2. What then does our Lord mean when He gives this warning? How is a forgiving spirit connected with our prayers? If our having pardoned those who have injured us be not a ground for our own pardon nor a measure of Divine grace, what is it? For one thing, it may be used as a token. It can be looked upon as a hopeful sign that our transgressions have been removed, and that we are now heirs of the kingdom. "For, if ye forgive men their trespasses your heavenly Father will also forgive you." Such a token can be employed very easily. If used faithfully, it would set at rest many a doubt concerning religion in one's heart. For another thing, this passage may serve as an admonition. And it is likely that it will have in this its widest use. The petition of the great universal prayer cannot be pressed without its comment. In this demand for a forgiving spirit, there is nothing less than a permanent reminder that when we come asking for pardon, we must be prepared to exercise it likewise; if not, we are to turn on our track and seek preparation.
II. This being the exposition of the verses, and the conclusion having been inevitably reached that we cannot even pres without the spirit of forgiveness, IT IS EVIDENT THAT WE MUST MOVE FORWARD TO A HIGHER PLANE OF CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE IN THIS ONE PARTICULAR. So we inquire, in the second place, concerning the reach and the limit of the doctrine of forgiveness.
1. The reach of it is indicated in an incident of Simon Peter's life (Matthew 18:21, 22).
2. But now, with a sober sense of inquiry, and a sincere wish to be reasonable, some of us are ready to ask after the limit as well as the reach of this counsel. (Luke 17:3, 4.) Before this question can be plainly answered, we must be careful to see that forgiveness does not imply that we approve, condone, or underrate the injurious acts committed; we forgive the sinner, not the sin — the sin we are to forget. Nor does forgiveness imply that we are to stifle all honest indignation against the wickedness of the injury. Nor is it settled that we are to take the injurious man into constant companionship if we forgive him; Jacob and Esau will do better apart. What, then, are we to do? We are, in our very heart of hearts, to cease forever from the sore sense of a hurt; we are to shut our souls against all suggestions of requital or future revenge; we are to use all means for furthering the interests of those who have done us harm; we are to illustrate the greatness of God's pardoning love by the quickness of our own. All this before our wrongs have been atoned for; before our honest acts and decent deeds have been shown! It does seem a little difficult; but think over 's searching question: "Do you who are a Christian desire to be revenged and vindicated, and the death of Jesus Christ has not yet been revenged, nor his innocence vindicated?" It is related of the chivalric leader, the great Sir Tristam, that his stepmother tried twice to poison him. He hurried to the king, who honoured him as he honoured none other, and craved a boon: "I beseech you of your mercy that you will forgive it her! God forgive it her, and I do! For God's love, I require you to grant me my boon!"
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.