(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 Beloved, 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 neighbor. 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. I 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 II 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 justice. 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 forgetfulness. 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 III 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 grace. "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 Zoar! 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...) ---------------------------------------------------- file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-02: krhc2-25.txt .