PRAYING FOR FORGIVENESS.
Studies in the Scriptures
by Arthur W. Pink
“Forgive us our sins” (Luke 11:4). In view of a serious error which has been accepted by not a few professing Christians, we feel that a more detailed consideration of these words is needed than we were able to give them in our current article on Matthew 6:9-13. This error is that it is wrong for believers to ask God to pardon their sins, that it is highly dishonouring to Christ for them to do so. It may strike most of our readers as strange that any who claim to be the Lord’s people should object to the using of this petition in the Family prayer: their own spiritual instincts (a burdened conscience seeking relief, and a tender heart grieved over offending a gracious God) and the clear testimony of Scripture thereon should prevent such a foolish mistake. Yet there are those who insist that a justified person ought not to pray for the pardon of his sins, since this is what God has already granted him.
Those errorists to whom we are here alluding suppose that it is as unnecessary and absurd for them to now ask God to forgive their trespasses as it would be to make request that He should choose them to eternal life, or that Christ should now render satisfaction (make an atonement) to Divine justice for the sins of His people, which He has already done. Now it is a glorious fact that the believer in Christ has been “justified from all things” (Acts 13:39) and that he “shall not come into condemnation” (John 5:24). Nevertheless these blessed declarations of the Gospel must not be used so as to nullify other aspects of the Truth equally important and vital: “having forgiven you all trespasses” (Col. 2:13) must not be interpreted in a manner which sets aside, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Any difficulty which the reader may experience at this point will disappear if it be borne in mind that no such idea is presented anywhere in the Scriptures as a pardon of all sins, past, present, and to come.
Before turning to the constructive side of our subject let us seek to point out wherein the above error lies. First, it is due to confounding the purpose of God with the actual execution of the same. That all the sins of believers are pardoned in the everlasting counsels of God is blessedly true, yet our sins are not actually pardoned until we repent of the same. God determined to create from all eternity, but that determination was only realized when “in the beginning” (Gen. 1:1) of time, the heavens and the earth were actually brought into existence. God decreed the regeneration of His people, who suffered spiritual death in Adam, yet that decree is only made effectual when they are personally born again. In like manner, God willed the remission of all the sins of His people, but that decree is executed gradually, daily—as they sin and repent of the same. To talk of eternal justification or forgiveness is as senseless as to speak of eternal creation or regeneration.
Second, the above error grows out of a failure to distinguish between the impetration of Christ’s atonement and the application of the same unto believers. Throughout His life, and particularly so in His death, the Lord Jesus made full and perfect satisfaction unto Divine justice on behalf of all His people’s liabilities; but when do they actually enter into the good of the same? By nature they are “the children of wrath, even as others” (Eph. 2:3). On the other hand, “there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1): but we enter Christ by a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17)—it is only then that we gain access to the riches of the spiritual realm. Even then, we have to sue out our interest in Christ. There is now “a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of (the heavenly) Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness” (Zech. 13:1): to that fountain we need to have continual recourse that we may be washed from our uncleanness.
Third, the above error arises from a failure to perceive the way wherein God gives pardon. This is not only in a way of grace, but of holiness, too. In the pardoning of sin the Lord never makes light of its enormity. Very much to the contrary. The Cross of Calvary makes unmistakably evident the exceeding sinfulness of sin in the sight of Heaven. Nor is that all. It is the special office of the Holy Spirit to convict the sinner of the heinousness of his rebellion against God, and this He does by enlightening his understanding, softening his heart, and searching his conscience. In God’s light we are given to see light, so that the vileness of our condition and the excuselessness of our conduct is borne in upon us. The result is that we are pierced to the quick, made to mourn for our transgressions against a holy and gracious God, and are brought to genuine repentance before Him. Then are we in a fit state to receive His mercy.
The testimony of Scripture is harmonious throughout that repentance on the part of the sinner ever precedes the actual bestowment of pardon by God. “If they shall confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers, with their trespass which they trespassed against Me, and that also they have walked contrary unto Me, and that I have also walked contrary unto them and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if then, their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity, then will I remember My covenant” (Lev. 26:40-42). “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long . . . I acknowledged my sin unto Thee and mine iniquity have I not hid . . . And Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin” (Psa. 32:3, 5). “Whoso confesseth and forsaketh his sins shall have mercy” (Prov. 28:13). “Repent ye therefore and be converted that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19). “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee” (Acts 8:22). Alas that such verses as these have no place in most of the “evangelistic” activity of our day. Alas that so few of God’s own people are now being taught that He requires them to daily renew their repentance.
God will not suffer His saints to lie down in their sins as the sow does in the mire. “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:12). On a previous occasion we have called attention to the significant fact that this petition in the Family prayer opens with the word “And,” thus connecting it with the previous request: “Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us.” Among other things this teaches us that we are just as much in need of daily forgiveness as we are of daily sustenance. The best of God’s children is not so fully sanctified in this life but there is still that in him which needs Divine pardon: “For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good and sinneth not” (Eccl. 7:20)—both by omission and commission. Even though by grace we have a conscience void of offense both toward God and man, nevertheless we still need to pray, “Cleanse Thou me from secret (unknown) faults.”
It is plain from Holy Writ that it has been the practice of the saints in all ages to pray for the pardon of their sins. To mention but two cases David prayed, “For Thy name’s sake, O LORD, pardon mine iniquity; for it is great” (Psa. 25:11), yet in this very Psalm we find him expressing himself as a justified person: “O my God, I trust in Thee . . . Thou art the God of my salvation” (vv. 2, 5). Again we find him praying, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of Thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions” (Psa. 51:1), and this after having received a definite intimation from God through Nathan, “The Lord also hath put away thy sin” (2 Sam. 12:13). So, too, Daniel made request: “O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive” (9:19). To these may be added all those passages where believers prayed for salvation, which necessarily included an asking for the pardon of sins.
Let us now carefully inquire as to what it is we beg for when we ask for the forgiveness of our sins. First, for the grant of a Divine pardon. It is true that our justification may rightly be considered as an immanent act in the mind of God, that is, that from eternity He purposed not to impute sin unto His people; nevertheless Christ’s righteousness is not applied unto them until they repent and believe. In this connection it is striking to note that Paul, when in a justified state, expressed his earnest desire, “That I may win Christ and be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness of God” (Phil. 3:9). The Lord Jesus made a perfect satisfaction unto God which was accepted by Him, and therefore He was entitled to be received into Heaven and there administer His mediatory kingdom. Yet God required Him to sue out the fruits of His purchase: “Ask of Me, and I shall give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance” (Psa. 2:8). And so we are to ask for our right: “I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD, and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin” (Psa. 32:5). What consequence is to be drawn? This, “for this shall everyone that is godly pray unto Thee” (v. 6).
Though God be so ready to forgive yet He requires us to call upon Him and seek this (as all other blessings) at His hand. Why so? Because He deals with us as a Sovereign, and therefore does He require an humble submission from us, seeking in the terms of grace. Christ was not a Mediator of our choosing, but of God’s, and therefore though justice has been fully satisfied yet the debt must be sincerely and contritely owned by us. Moreover, in our begging for Divine mercy we are to confess our own misery and poverty, that we are utterly unable to make any satisfaction ourselves. “If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1), and God requires us to acknowledge our complete dependence upon the advocacy of Christ. Though God provided a remedy for the bitten Israelites, yet in order to benefit therefrom they must look unto the brazen serpent (Num. 21:8). So it is with us now.
In this asking of God to grant us a pardon for Christ’s sake we make request that He would not lay to our charge those sins which we daily commit, saying with the Psalmist, “enter not into judgment with Thy servant” (143:2), for Thou hast entered into judgment with Thy Son and laid upon Him all the iniquities of Thy people. “If Thou, LORD, shouldest mark (Hebrew: “impute”) iniquities, O LORD who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with Thee that Thou mayest be feared” (Psa. 130:3, 4). We therefore pray that God would not visit upon us the punishment which our transgressions deserve, but that on the ground of Christ’s sacrifice it may be remitted us. This petition also includes the request that it may please God to spare us the governmental consequences of our sins, and that He will restore us unto full communion with Himself.
Second, in praying for the forgiveness of our sins we ask for a continuation of God’s pardon. As in connection with the supply of our temporal needs we ask for a continuance of daily bread (even though our larder is well stocked), so we make request for a continuance of pardoning mercy. Sin still indwells us and the effects are not done away till we make our exit from this world. Often accusations of conscience for past sins come upon us, so that we are (for our further humbling) made to “possess the iniquities of our youth” (Job 13:26), and this makes us long for a renewal of this Divine benefit. “Remember, O LORD, Thy tender mercies and Thy lovingkindnesses, for they have been ever of old. Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to Thy mercy remember me for Thy goodness’ sake, O LORD” (Psa. 25:6, 7). Thus David begged that God’s past mercies might continue with him.
Third, we thereby make humble request for the assurance and comfort of our pardon. Strictly speaking, this is an effect or fruit of forgiveness, yet is this specially desired by the penitent believer: that “being justified by faith we may have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ” and “access by faith into this grace wherein we stand” (Rom. 5:1, 2). This is a manifestation of and realization in our hearts of the pardoning mercy of God: that we may have a comfortable sense of being washed from our sins by the precious blood of the Lamb. It is one thing for God to blot sins out of His book of remembrance, it is another for Him to remove them from our conscience. It is an additional blessing when we are “sprinkled from an evil conscience” (Heb. 10:22). David prayed for this when he said “Make me to hear joy and gladness, that the bones which Thou hast broken may rejoice . . . Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation” (Psa. 51:8, 12).—A.W.P.