(Kersten, The Heidelberg Catechism in 52 Sermons, Vol.2, Part 25)

A Supplication for Remission of Sins

Lord's Day 51

Psalter No. 216 st. 3
Read Luke 7:36-50
Psalter No. 280 st. 1, 4
Psalter No. 419 st. 2
Psalter No. 61 st. 1, 2, 4


    An impressive example of sin-pardoning grace is described for us in
Luke 7. A sinner has entered the home of Simon the Pharisee. She could
not be denied entrance; eastern hospitality would not allow it. But
surely He who is Simon'ven! Does not Christ Himself say so? Nay, more,
He confirms it! He not only speaks of her, but also to her: "Thy sins
are forgiven thee," and He delivers her from the attack which is
directed upon the remission of her guilt, "Thy faith has saved thee. Go
in peace."
    Would that we were all like this woman!
    May God keep us from her sinful ways, but inwardly we also are lost
sinners! Salvation lies only in the remission of our sins.
    Do not God's people learn to seek that remission in the blood of
the covenant?
    Is it not necessary to seek that remission again and again?
    The Lord taught His church to pray thus: "And forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors." Of this petition we must now speak,
according to the explanation given us in Lord's Day fifty-one.
    Lord's Day 51
Q. 126. Which is the fifth petition?

A. "And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors"; that is, be
    pleased for the sake of Christ's blood, not to impute to us poor
    sinners, our transgressions, nor that depravity, which always
    cleaves to us; even as we feel this evidence of thy grace in us,
    that it is our firm resolution from the heart to forgive our
    In this Lord's Day supplication is made for the remission of sins,
and our attention is drawn
      I. to the supplicant;
     II. to the supplication;
    III. to the liberty of prayer.
    The three petitions in which God's people present their particular
needs according to the prayer which Christ Himself taught His
disciples, can be divided into two groups: first, a petition concerning
temporal life, and second, two petitions touching spiritual life. The
petition, "Give us this day our daily bread", includes all our needs
for our temporal life. Christ taught His church to pray not only for
bread, but for "all things necessary for the body". "In all thy ways
acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths."
    The two other petitions concern the needs of the soul: "Forgive us
our debts" and "Lead us not into temptation". Now we must consider the
first of these two, guided by Lord's Day 51, in which the supplicant is
described as a poor sinner.
    We with all people are sinners. "We all have sinned and come short
of the glory of God." In Adam we all have fallen away from God and have
become slaves of sin. As sons and daughters of Adam, we bear his image,
the image of the earthy. Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?
Not one. We have fallen so deeply that we cannot do otherwise than sin!
In thoughts, words, and deeds we transgress God's commandments with
every heartbeat of our life. Day by day we increase our guilt. We heap
debt upon debt. It reaches up to heaven. God's law pronounces the curse
upon us. God's goodness, even though it was shown to us, testifies
against us. Debt, condemning debt, rests upon us from day to day, and
we have not a penny to pay the debt. The whole world is unable to
counterbalance it with one mite. Yet for all that we are not poor. We
will not admit before God that we have guilt. We are rich, and
increased with goods, and have need of nothing.
    Can you think of anyone in a sadder state than one who incurs debts
and cares not about them; who in his misery is unaware of his sad
state, even though he speaks of it and confesses that by nature he is
subject to condemnation? Neither are we true supplicants merely because
we say repeatedly day by day, "Forgive us our debts". True supplicants
are poor sinners who have been shown their guilt, who are concerned
about their own sins because God has brought their guilt home to them.
Alas, we have much to say about the sins of others. We know this about
one and that about another. From the eminence of our imagined
superiority we look down upon and judge another. What another has done
is terrible. But our own guilt carries very little weight. The woman in
Luke 7 had a debt of 500 pence, the Pharisee only 50. But alas, Simon
to his own hurt did not count those 50. Yet Christ taught us to pray
for the forgiveness of our own guilt and of the corporate guilt that
rests upon us, the guilt of our nation and the guilt of the church of
God. We are greatly mistaken if we think we have no part in the guilt
that is heavy upon the land we live in and upon the church which is
planted there. You may speak with disdain about the fretting evil in
the land; you may turn your back upon God's church and recount all her
faults; but if ever you are to lift up your soul to God, you must share
that guilt; in fact, the guilt of the church must become your guilt.
Forgive us our debts.
    Read Lamentations 3. Jeremiah's soul is stirred and wounded. God is
his antagonist, a bear lying in wait, a lion in secret places. "I am
the man that has seen affliction by the rod of His wrath." Not for a
personal transgression but for the sin of his people, his strength and
his hope are perished from the Lord. But at that same moment forgiving
grace comforted his soul, and gave him hope for the church of God, when
he was a poor sinner before God.
    Poor sinners! God only can make us such. The publican was one when
he stood afar off and dared not lift up his eyes unto heaven, when he
smote upon His breast and cried out, "God be merciful to me, a sinner."
    Usually they are also poor in the world. Among them you do not find
many rich or many nobles. Yet poverty does not make us poor before God
any more than the riches of the world make us rich in God.
    Come what may, we do not want to hear about our debts. Only God can
open our hearts. He opens our blind eyes. He summons the sinner before
His bar. He convinces of sin. He makes him lose all his fancied riches.
The sinner comes to himself. His debt is very great. It is so immensely
great that it calls for the judgment of death. And God is both holy and
just. He cannot forego His justice. There is no escape. The sinner does
everything he possibly can. He prays, reads, goes to church, visits
God's people, weeps, hopes, promises God to do better. But he cannot
pay what he owes. On the contrary, his debt increases daily, and the
sinner becomes poorer. There is none more miserable than he. No hope
remains for him. Instead of becoming better, he becomes worse. His end
will be death! No improvement is possible, for he is conceived and born
in sin. No one can save him. Even God's people can do nothing to rescue
him. He stands alone before God's justice. Can you imagine a poorer
creature than he?
    Poor sinners are those to whom God has made known their poverty,
those who have been made more acquainted with themselves. The
instructor speaks of the depravity which always cleaves to us. O how
great that is, much greater than we thought when we were at the
beginning of our way or when we walked in the light of our deliverance.
That depravity cleaves to us day and night, in word and in thought, in
conversation and in prayer. In truth, God's people become so poor that
they cannot bring forth anything that pleases God. In everything, even
in their most holy exercises, they need the intercession of Christ, the
expiation of all their actions. Gone is that rich life of enjoying and
boasting; gone is that rich life of living out of the wonders God
wrought in conversion of which they loved to speak; gone are all their
riches; they are poor, utterly poor before God. Only in Christ is their
salvation, only in Him is their refuge. They are poor sinners, but poor
sinners are rich in God. Theirs is the forgiveness of sins, which they
implore of God in truth. Now it is such a poor sinner, enlightened by
God that utters
the petition, "Forgive us our debts", that is: be pleased for the sake
of Christ's blood not to impute to us poor sinners our transgressions,
nor that depravity which always cleaves to us.
    In Luke this petition reads: "And forgive us our sins". Matthew
characterizes those sins as debts, and the Catechism speaks of
transgressions and depravity. Sin makes us debtors to God's justice.
This justice requires of us restitution of the image in which God
created us, and also demands that our whole life be well-pleasing unto
God. Sin displeases God, corrupts us and makes us debtors to God's
    Now it is before this justice that the poor sinner bows down in the
dust. God's justice made him guilty. This supplicant, therefore, has
more than some general realization of having committed some sinful
deeds, more than pangs of conscience about some evils which were
committed. The true supplicant who seeks forgiveness stands before
God's justice as a sinner. It is a common fault of many in these days
that there is no realization of the inflexible justice of the Lord God.
Therefore true humiliation is lacking and men flatter themselves that
all is well without coming to the knowledge of redemption that is in
Christ and to the forgiveness of sins which is founded on His blood. We
cannot urge upon you strongly enough the necessity of a thorough
knowledge of the justice of the Lord, so that as guilty ones we may
implore the Lord for forgiveness. His justice demands perfect
satisfaction. It demands restitution of the image of God which we lost
by our wilful disobedience. The true supplicant comes to know himself
as a totally guilty sinner before the judgment seat of God. Oh, what
sincere supplication then follows: "Forgive us our debts." Those debts
are transgressions, iniquities. There is no escape. Only one
possibility remains, namely, that God forgives sins. That can be done
only for the sake of Christ's blood, because for God to forgive sin
means something other than passing it by in silence.
    An earthly king has the right of pardon. His pardon releases the
guilty person from his well-deserved penalty. But with God release of
the penalty is not possible, without satisfying the requirements of
justice. We must either by ourselves or by another give perfect
satisfaction. Therefore absolving the elect sinner of the penalty is
called forgiving, for without his paying a penny God blots out his sins
by virtue of the atonement Christ brought.
    God can forgive only after payment for sin has been made. With Him
forgiveness is based upon Christ's satisfaction. True prayer then
includes seeking the forgiveness of sins in the blood of Christ. The
petition here mentioned drives the soul to Christ. Sin continues to
testify against us and to condemn us as long as we do not obtain the
acquittal in Christ. Many souls remain in doubt regarding their state
and in fear of death for a long time, because they do not come to
Christ. There are indeed moments in which they bow in true humiliation
before the justice of God, as being completely indebted to that
justice. Christ indeed is willing to reveal Himself to them as a
complete Savior. The Lord did indeed engrave the most precious promises
in their souls upon which they might hope. But always the justice of
God, which remains unsatisfied, confronts them, and the demands of that
inexorable justice oppresses them. Oh, if only there was an acceptance
of the righteousness of Christ by faith. Then the law would be disarmed
of its curse and their sins would be cast in a sea of eternal
    Again and again such souls must cry out, "Forgive us our debts",
and there is in them a longing for the application of the righteousness
of Christ so that they as poor sinners may be delivered by God, the
Father, out of their bondage by enabling them to testify of the
satisfaction they have found in Christ, the Mediator. "In Whom we have
redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the
riches of His grace." How desirable it would be if the true need of
Christ were more lively in our hearts, if it would become more
unbearable among God's people to lack a conscious knowledge of Christ.
Our thoughts are more occupied with a variety of experiences than
directed toward the only Surety. Nevertheless we can better do without
all things than without Him. For only in Him is the remission of sins;
only He can satisfy the demands of God's justice. Should we then not
cry out of the inmost needs of our souls, "Forgive us our debts", so
that we might find peace in the blood of the Lamb? Then the Lord would
be glorified as God, Who will not hold the guilty guiltless, but who is
also a forgiving God in Christ. "Blessed is he whose transgression is
forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord
imputeth not iniquity." But there is more.
    Sin always cleaves to God's people. That continues in this life.
There are times in which the love of Christ so overrules their lives
that they sing cheerfully, "Advancing still from strength to strength,
They onward go...", (Psalter No. 229:4) but experience teaches them to
agree with what the Catechism says here, namely, that sin always
cleaves unto us. Perfection is not found here below. Only in Christ the
church is perfect. In itself it remains reprobate because of the sin
that always cleaves to it. Every sin in itself is worthy of death.
Hence not one day passes, not even a moment in which God's people do
not need forgiveness for the sake of Christ's blood. The justification
of the sinner before God is a complete acquittal of guilt and
punishment, and it grants a right to eternal life. But the state of
reconciliation in which the soul stands to God is not rooted in the
consciousness that God the Father has once acquitted us, but in the
lively ministration of Christ. Therefore God's people, whether great or
small, concerned or justified, in whatever state they may be, must
continually and unceasingly desire: "forgive us our sins".
    The soul cannot be in a more barren condition than when it is
living on an acquittal once received. One then becomes a great
justified Christian who lords it over others, and practices very little
the life of a poor sinner. "I will also leave in the midst of thee an
afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the Name of the
Lord." God wants to thrust His people from the high places to which
they aspire so often. Sometimes this brings them through very deep
ways, but this bears the blessed fruit of true humiliation and true
knowledge of self. The Lord spoke to Peter: "When thou art converted,
strengthen thy brethren." Oh, how much meaning there was in that word
for Peter! The way would lead through terrible depths. He would even
deny his Master three times. But when God's grace would raise him up
out of the depths and would forgive his sin, then Peter would carry
away the benefits also for the salvation of his brethren.
    Fear should fill our hearts when we walk haughtily and are not
continually constrained to seek the remission of sins in Christ's
blood. We should fear also because such a frame of mind is evidence
that sin does not weigh heavily upon us. We do not then look upon sin
as a damnable evil that stirs up God's wrath. It is this that dulls the
soul, makes life wither, and brings us in danger of being overcome by
sin. Christ ever lives at the right hand of His Father, to make
intercession for His people. Should they not then always seek the
benefits of that intercession, in order to be found always among those
who shall be included in the presentation of Christ's righteousness.
Should they not then by faith have constant need of that righteousness
of Christ?
    Surely then the Lord will make Himself known and take away our
sins, so that they shall make no separation between Him and us.
Unconfessed sins cause us to grope in the dark without the declaration
of God's favour. No great experiences of long ago can nourish the soul
then. We have forgotten God, and He will make Himself known only in a
way of true confession of iniquities and the seeking of forgiveness in
Christ's blood. To speak with our fathers in the Canons of Dort, by
such sins into which God's children sometimes fall by their own fault,
"they very highly offend God, incur a deadly guilt, grieve the Holy
Spirit, interrupt the exercise of faith, very grievously wound their
consciences, and sometimes lose the sense of God's favour for a time,
until their return into the right way of serious repentance, the light
of God's fatherly countenance again shines upon them" (Head V, art. 5).
    No, not one of these ever falls from grace, and God does not
withdraw His Holy Spirit entirely, even in the saddest cases. But He
certainly and effectually renews them to repentance by His Word and by
His Spirit, so that they may have a sincere and godly sorrow because of
the sins they have committed, and with a broken heart may desire and
obtain forgiveness by faith in the blood of the Mediator.
    To the prayer for forgiveness the Lord has connected the testimony
that we are ready to forgive. That testimony lies in the words, "As we
forgive our debtors."
    What now? Must we base our prayer upon the fact that we forgive our
debtors? Would that be praying, if we should say, "Lord forgive us now,
we deserve it, because we forgive our debtors"? Anyone can feel that
this would be resting upon good works. Christ could not have included
such self-righteous Phariseeism in this prayer. Such praying is no
praying, but a contempt of grace. The petition does not say, "because
we forgive", but "as we forgive". How clearly the instructor explains
it when he tells us that this part of the prayer refers to
the liberty of the true supplicant.
    The basis for the forgiveness of sins is found in the blood of
Christ. There is no other foundation. Outside of that blood God is a
devouring fire and everlasting burnings with whom no man can dwell. But
in Christ there is forgiveness. Whosoever builds upon another
foundation is like the foolish builder. He that presents his prayers
before God on any other foundation will find them returning to him.
Such prayers are not acceptable to God; they are a stench in His holy
nostrils. Once more: the ground of our salvation, the only ground upon
which we can meet God and the true ground by God's grace, upon which we
present our prayers and implore the forgiveness of our sins, is the
blood of Christ. That is not contradicted but confirmed in this
petition. And the words which complete the petition, namely, "as we
forgive our debtors", do not in any way indicate the basis of prayer.
The instructor gives us this clear explanation: "even as we feel the
evidence of Thy grace in us, that it is our firm resolution from the
heart to forgive our neighbor."
    But in Luke 7, as we quoted in the beginning of this sermon, there
is written that Christ said of the wicked woman who was in the house of
Simon the Pharisee, "Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she
loved much." Those are the exact words. But that quotation from Luke 7
confirms the explanation of the instructor. Her sins were not forgiven
because she loved much, but her love was a testimony, an evidence of
the forgiveness of her sin. What did that love show? In the first
place, her sincere mourning over her sins, her upright breaking with
iniquity and her restless seeking of Christ. This she did as one who
was wrought upon by the Spirit of God. This woman comes to Christ as
one drawn by the Father, to seek forgiveness from Him. No, she does not
seek to make merchandise of the forgiveness of sin; she cannot lay her
own virtues in the balances, for she has nothing but sin. The love with
which she loves Jesus shows that she has received forgiveness.
    So it is also in the fifth petition. Forgiving our neighbors is not
a ground but an evidence of the forgiveness of sins.
    But still the petition reads: as we forgive. This does not indicate
the ground, but could it be that it indicates the measure? No. How is
that possible? Would you compare the grace of God to a corrupt man's
inclination to forgive? Then all would be lost, eternally lost for all
God's people. Neither ground nor measure is given in these words of the
Lord's prayer. They only show the work of God's grace in His people. He
whose sins God forgives will be under such a deep impression of the
complete blotting out of so great a debt, will from the heart forgive
his neighbor. That will be the fruit of the glorification of God's
    "Forgive our debtors", meaning those who have wronged us. Some have
wrongly sought to rid themselves of their financial debts by appealing
to the forgiveness of sins. They said, "God has forgiven my guilt, and
now my creditor is also obliged to forgive, for it is written, 'As we
forgive our debtors'." Such an argument is dishonoring to God; it is
antinomian. Christ subjected Himself to men's ordinances and paid the
tribute money. Did not Zacchaeus confess his guilt even though Christ
forgave his sins? Did he not repay? You make a mockery of grace if you
use it to clear yourself from your obligations.
    Our debtors wronged us; they disdained us; they slandered us; they
injured us. What in turn lives in us? What comes into our hearts? What
embitters our lives? Revenge! In one word: revenge! We want to get even
with them! We want to square accounts! In our evil hearts we wish them
ill, even death! The most dreadful murders are the expression of that
which lives in our hearts, even though the Lord keeps us from the
execution of it. How many feuds there are sometimes among relatives!
They never forget, because there is no sincere forgiving. In the world
among the unconverted at times, there is a certain pliability that
makes it easier for them to endure and forget the grief done to them
than is found among God's people. Nevertheless, sincere and
wholehearted forgiving is only a fruit of grace. The Lord spoke of this
in Luke 6: "Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.
Judge not, and ye shall not be judged; condemn not, and ye shall not be
condemned; forgive and ye shall be forgiven. For with the same measure
that ye mete withal, it shall be measured to you again." How can anyone
pray to the Lord for forgiveness, while there is revenge toward our
neighbors dwelling in our heart, while anger fills our soul? Can you
pray with an angry heart?
    I remember hearing of a church gathering in which a quarrel arose
between two ministers. It went so far that no reasoning could avail. At
last the chairman put an end to it, and asked one of the two disputing
ministers to close with prayer. After some objection he decided to pray
the Lord's Prayer. He prayed until he came to the words, "Forgive us
our debts". He could go no further. He began again. A third time he
prayed. Then he broke down. God made him feel his guilt and he prayed,
"Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors". The trouble was over!
The two shook hands. One who feels guilty before God forgives his
neighbor. "For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father
will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses,
neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." If we hold the sins
of our neighbors against them, our souls cannot obtain the favour that
is in Christ. This applies also to the children of God. If we would
approach unto God with liberty to desire the forgiveness of sins, we
must have a free conscience. This means that the seeking of grace goes
hand in hand with the forsaking of sin, with the complete forsaking of
sin. God sees the innermost secrets of our hearts. The true supplicant
neither can nor desires to keep anything hidden from His all-seeing
eye; he lays all things open; he must forgive his neighbor. He has the
same experience as David, when he sings in Psalm 65:
        A mighty stream of foul transgression
        Prevails from day to day;
        But Thou, O God, in great compassion,
        Wilt purge my guilt away.
        Blest is the man whom Thou hast chosen,
        And bringest nigh to Thee,
        That in Thy courts, in Thee reposing,
        His dwelling place may be.
                Psalter No. 419 st. 2
    Unconverted hearers, do not seek revenge. Are you living at
variance with your fellow men, your neighbors, your fellow-workers? Do
you have a quarrel with your relatives or with those who go with you to
God's house? Is your heart angry and do you seek revenge? Let me
admonish you to beware of this sin. Even in this life it may have very
dreadful results. For basically, revenge is murder. Oh, banish it from
your hearts before the power of darkness gets complete dominion over
you. Above all, seek the forgiveness of your iniquities from God. God's
justice must be satisfied. That justice was violated by sin, but that
justice is also glorified in Christ. God grant you grace to seek the
one and only Surety for your souls in Whose blood lies the ground of
forgiveness. May nothing but the blood of Christ set you at rest. I
beseech you, reject everything that is outside of Christ so that by
grace you may escape for your life, not only out of Sodom, but into
    How much of the comfort of life is lost because we do not from the
heart forgive our neighbor. Come, people of God, search your hearts. Is
this one of the reasons why so little is known of God's forgiveness in
Christ? Is it not a sad sign in many that they do not only attain to
the joy of faith in Christ, but apparently they also feel no need for
reconciliation with God and justification by faith? Is this not one of
the reasons why the fruit of grace shines forth so little? Oh, that we
might learn to bow, and be willing to be the least so that our souls
might sincerely long for forgiveness, that the Lord might reveal
Himself to us in the greatness of His grace and that we might
continually enjoy its benefits. How barren is our life sometimes. How
far are the exercises of faith removed from us at times. How has our
love waxed cold. God's people are estranged from each other, and stand
opposed to each other instead of seeking fellowship with one another in
these dark days. Here lies an unforgiven deed; there an argument about
the church; there a difference of opinion concerning a vital point.
That ends all communication. Condemnation follows. No more fellowship!
May God arise over His church and glorify His grace abundantly in us.
Then we would understand what He taught us in the parable of the
unmerciful servant whose debt of ten thousand talents (an enormous
debt) was forgiven, but who cast his debtor into prison for a debt of
one hundred pence, yes, an insignificant one hundred pence. What is all
the wrong our neighbor has done to us compared to the enormous debt,
deserving of death, which God forgave us? Should we not then, people of
God, forgive our neighbors? Where is your liberty in approaching to
God? O, what a dreadful thing is that indwelling corruption that is in
us, that sinful self, and that want of self denial? May God subdue
these more and more, by the sprinkling of the blood of Christ. He once
prayed for His enemies, which included you: "Father, forgive them, for
they know not what they do." May He strengthen the work which he has
begun in you, and grant that we all may seek Him continually in
humiliation and tenderness of heart in the petition: "And forgive us
our debts as we forgive our debtors." Amen.

Kersten, Heidelberg Catechism in 52 Sermons, Vol.2
(continued in part 26...)

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