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THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MATTHEW - Chapter 6 - Verse 12

Verse 12. And forgive us our debts, etc. The word debts is here used figuratively. It does not mean literally that we are debtors to God, but that our sins have a resemblance to debts. Debtors are those who are bound to others for some claim in commercial transactions; for something which we have had, and for which we are bound to pay according to contract. Literally, there can be no such transaction between God and us. It must be used figuratively. We have not met the claims of law; we have violated its obligations; we are exposed to its penalty; we are guilty; and God only can forgive, in the same way, as none but a creditor can forgive a debtor. Debts here, therefore, mean sins, or offences against God— offences which none but God can forgive. The measure by which we may expect forgiveness is that which we use in reference to others. See Ps 18:25,26; Mt 18:28-35; Mr 11:25; Lu 11:4.

This is the invariable rule by which God dispenses pardon. He that comes before him unwilling to forgive, harbouring dark and revengeful thoughts, how can he expect that God will show him that mercy which he is unwilling to show to others? It is not, however, required that we should forgive debts in a pecuniary sense. To them we have a right, though they should not be pushed with an overbearing and oppressive spirit; not so as to sacrifice the feelings of mercy, in order to secure the claims of right. No man has a right to oppress; and when a debt cannot be paid, or when it would greatly distress a wife and children, a widow and an orphan, or when calamity has put it out of the power of an honest man to pay the debt, the spirit of Christianity requires that it should be forgiven. To such cases this petition in the Lord's prayer doubtless extends. But it was probably intended to refer principally to injuries of character or person, which we have received from others. If we cannot from the heart forgive them, we have the assurance that God will never forgive us.

{z} "forgive us our debts" Mt 18:21-35; Lu 7:40-48

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