Matthew 6:12
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(12) Forgive us our debts.Dutyi.e., that which we owe, or ought to do—and debts are, it may be noted, only different forms of the same word. A duty unfulfilled is a debt unpaid. Primarily, therefore, the words “our debts” represent sins of omission, and “trespasses” the transgression of a law, sins of commission. The distinction, however, though convenient, is more or less technical. Every transgression implies the non-fulfilment of duty in a more aggravated form, and the memory of both presents itself to the awakened conscience under the character of an ever-accumulating debt. Even the sins against our neighbour are, in this sense, debts which we have incurred to God; and as the past cannot be undone, they are debts which we can never pay. For us, therefore, the one helpful prayer is, “Forgive the debt,” and the gospel which our Lord proclaimed was, that the Father was ready to forgive. The confession of the debt was enough to ensure its remission, and then there was to come the willing service of a grateful love instead of the vain attempt, which Pharisaism encouraged, to score up an account of good works, as part payment, and therefore as a set-off, reducing the amount of debt. The parables of the Two Debtors (Luke 7:41) and of the Unforgiving Creditor whose own debt had been forgiven (Matthew 18:23-35) were but expansions of the thought which we find in its germ in this clause of the Lord’s Prayer.

In striking contrast with that clause is the claim of merit which insinuates itself so readily into the hearts of those who worship without the consciousness that they need forgiveness, and which uttered itself in the daring prayer attributed to Apollonius of Tyana, “Give me that which is my due—pay me, ye gods, the debts ye owe to me.”

As we forgive our debtors.—The better reading gives, We have forgiven, as a completed act before we begin to pray. In the very act of prayer we are taught to remind ourselves of the conditions of forgiveness. Even here, in the region of the free grace of God, there is a law of retribution. The temper that does not forgive cannot be forgiven, because it is ipso facto a proof that we do not realise the amount of the debt we owe. We forget the ten thousand talents as we exact the hundred pence, and in the act of exacting we bring back that burden of the greater debt upon ourselves.

Up to this point, in the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, we may think of the Man Christ Jesus as having not only taught the Prayer, but Himself used it. During the years of youth and manhood it may well have been thus far the embodiment of the outpourings of His soul in communion with His Father. Even the prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread,” whether we take it in its higher or its lower meaning, would be the fit utterance of His sense of dependence as the Son of Man. Can we think the same of the prayer, “Forgive us our debts?” It is, of course, opposed to the whole teaching of Scripture to believe that there dwelt on His human spirit the memory of a single transgression. In the fullest sense of the word He was without sin, the Just One, needing no repentance. And yet the analogy of those of His saints and servants who have followed most closely in the footsteps of His holiness may lead us to think it possible that even these words also may have had a meaning in which He could use them. In proportion as men attain holiness and cease to transgress, they gain a clearer perception of the infinite holiness of God, and seek to be made partakers of it. They would fain pray and praise and work for Him evermore, but though the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak. They are weary and faint, and they become more intensely conscious of the limits of their human powers as contrasted with the limitless range of their desires. In this sense, therefore, and strictly in reference to the limitations of the true, yet absolutely sinless, humanity which He vouchsafed to assume, it is just conceivable that He too Himself may have used this prayer. And we must remember also that He prayed as the Brother of mankind, as the representative of the race. The intensity of His sympathy with sinners, which was the condition of His atoning work (Hebrews 4:15), would make Him, though He knew no sin, to identify Himself with sinners. He would feel as if their transgressions were His transgressions, their debts His debts.

Matthew 6:12. And forgive us our debts, &c. — The suffering of punishment for transgressing God’s laws is a debt which sinners owe to the divine justice; and “when we ask God, in prayer, to forgive our debts, we beg that he would be mercifully pleased to remit the punishment of our sins, particularly the pains of hell; and that, laying aside his displeasure, he would graciously receive us into favour, and bless us with eternal life. In this petition, therefore, we confess our sins, and express the sense we have of their demerit, namely, that they deserve condemnation and wrath from God, than which nothing can be more proper in our addresses to him. The condition on which we are to ask forgiveness is remarkable. Forgive us, as we forgive. We must forgive others in order to our being forgiven ourselves, and are allowed to crave from God only such forgiveness as we grant to others; so that if we do not pardon our enemies, we, in this fifth petition, seriously and solemnly beg God to damn us eternally!” — Macknight.6:9-15 Christ saw it needful to show his disciples what must commonly be the matter and method of their prayer. Not that we are tied up to the use of this only, or of this always; yet, without doubt, it is very good to use it. It has much in a little; and it is used acceptably no further than it is used with understanding, and without being needlessly repeated. The petitions are six; the first three relate more expressly to God and his honour, the last three to our own concerns, both temporal and spiritual. This prayer teaches us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and that all other things shall be added. After the things of God's glory, kingdom, and will, we pray for the needful supports and comforts of this present life. Every word here has a lesson in it. We ask for bread; that teaches us sobriety and temperance: and we ask only for bread; not for what we do not need. We ask for our bread; that teaches us honesty and industry: we do not ask for the bread of others, nor the bread of deceit, Pr 20:17; nor the bread of idleness, Pr 31:27, but the bread honestly gotten. We ask for our daily bread; which teaches us constantly to depend upon Divine Providence. We beg of God to give it us; not sell it us, nor lend it us, but give it. The greatest of men must be beholden to the mercy of God for their daily bread. We pray, Give it to us. This teaches us a compassion for the poor. Also that we ought to pray with our families. We pray that God would give it us this day; which teaches us to renew the desires of our souls toward God, as the wants of our bodies are renewed. As the day comes we must pray to our heavenly Father, and reckon we could as well go a day without food, as without prayer. We are taught to hate and dread sin while we hope for mercy, to distrust ourselves, to rely on the providence and grace of God to keep us from it, to be prepared to resist the tempter, and not to become tempters of others. Here is a promise, If you forgive, your heavenly Father will also forgive. We must forgive, as we hope to be forgiven. Those who desire to find mercy with God, must show mercy to their brethren. Christ came into the world as the great Peace-maker, not only to reconcile us to God, but one to another.And forgive us our debts ... - The word "debts" is used here 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. The word "debts" here, therefore, means "sins," or offences against God - offences which none but God can forgive. In the parallel place in Luke 11:4, the word sins is used. The measure by which we may expect forgiveness is that which we use in reference to others See Psalm 18:25-26; Matthew 18:23; Mark 11:26; Luke 11:4.

This is the invariable rule by which God dispenses pardon He that comes before him unwilling to forgive, harboring 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 justice. No one has a right to oppress; and when a debt cannot be paid, or when it would greatly distress a debtor's wife and children, or 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.

12. And forgive us our debts—A vitally important view of sin, this—as an offense against God demanding reparation to His dishonored claims upon our absolute subjection. As the debtor in the creditor's hand, so is the sinner in the hands of God. This idea of sin had indeed come up before in this discourse—in the warning to agree with our adversary quickly, in case of sentence being passed upon us, adjudging us to payment of the last farthing, and to imprisonment till then (Mt 5:25, 26). And it comes up once and again in our Lord's subsequent teaching—as in the parable of the creditor and his two debtors (Lu 7:41, 42, &c.), and in the parable of the unmerciful debtor (Mt 18:23, &c.). But by embodying it in this brief model of acceptable prayer, and as the first of three petitions more or less bearing upon sin, our Lord teaches us, in the most emphatic manner conceivable, to regard this view of sin as the primary and fundamental one. Answering to this is the "forgiveness" which it directs us to seek—not the removal from our own hearts of the stain of sin, nor yet the removal of our just dread of God's anger, or of unworthy suspicions of His love, which is all that some tell us we have to care about—but the removal from God's own mind of His displeasure against us on account of sin, or, to retain the figure, the wiping or crossing out from His "book of remembrance" of all entries against us on this account.

as we forgive our debtors—the same view of sin as before; only now transferred to the region of offenses given and received between man and man. After what has been said on Mt 5:7, it will not be thought that our Lord here teaches that our exercise of forgiveness towards our offending fellow men absolutely precedes and is the proper ground of God's forgiveness of us. His whole teaching, indeed—as of all Scripture—is the reverse of this. But as no one can reasonably imagine himself to be the object of divine forgiveness who is deliberately and habitually unforgiving towards his fellow men, so it is a beautiful provision to make our right to ask and expect daily forgiveness of our daily shortcomings and our final absolution and acquittal at the great day of admission into the kingdom, dependent upon our consciousness of a forgiving disposition towards our fellows, and our preparedness to protest before the Searcher of hearts that we do actually forgive them. (See Mr 11:25, 26). God sees His own image reflected in His forgiving children; but to ask God for what we ourselves refuse to men, is to insult Him. So much stress does our Lord put upon this, that immediately after the close of this prayer, it is the one point in it which He comes back upon (Mt 6:14, 15), for the purpose of solemnly assuring us that the divine procedure in this matter of forgiveness will be exactly what our own is.

Sixth Petition:

Our Saviour here doth not teach us the order in which we should pray for good things for ourselves, only in three petitions comprehends whatsoever we should ask of God. For doubtless we are obliged, according to Matthew 6:32, first to seek the kingdom of God, and the righteousness thereof. That by our debts are here meant our sins is plain from Luke 11:4, as also from Matthew 6:14 of this chapter, where they are called trespasses. The sense is, then, Discharge us from that obligation to death which our sins have laid us under; give us a pardon for our sins past and present; for who liveth, and sinneth not against thee?

As we forgive our debtors; not as perfectly, but in like manner as we, according to the imperfect state of our natures, forgive those who have done us injury, not seeking any revenge upon them, nor bearing them any malice: so as indeed those who, retaining their malice in their hearts, put up this prayer unto God, do in effect pray down Divine vengeance upon their souls: well therefore doth the apostle command, that we should lift up pure hands unto God, without wrath or doubting, 1 Timothy 2:8. So that not only faith but charity also, is necessary to our praying acceptably. And forgive us our debts,.... Nothing is more frequent in the Jewish writings than to call sins "debts"; and the phrase, of forgiving, is used both of God and men. Thus the prayer of Solomon is paraphrased (y) by the Targumist:

"and hear thou the petition of thy servant, and of thy people Israel, which they shall make before this place; and do thou receive it from the place of the house of thy Shekinah, from heaven; and do thou accept their prayer , "and forgive their debts".''

So Joseph's brethren signify to him, that it was their father's orders to say unto him, "forgive, I pray thee now, the trespass of thy brethren, and their sin"; which is rendered by the Chaldee paraphrasts (z) , "forgive the debts" of thy brethren, and their sins. Accordingly, by "debts" are meant sins here, as appears from Luke 11:4 where it is read, "and forgive us our sin". These are called "debts"; not because they are so in themselves, for then it would be right to do them; debts should be paid; they are not debts we owe to God, but are so called, because on account of them we owe satisfaction to the law and justice of God: the proper debts we owe to God are love, obedience, and gratitude; and in default of these, we owe the debt of punishment. Now these debts are numerous, and we are incapable of paying, nor can any mere creature pay them for us; wherefore, we are directed to pray, that God would forgive them, or remit the obligation to punishment we lie under, on account of sin. This petition supposes a sense, acknowledgment, and confession of sin, and of inability to make satisfaction for it; and that God only can forgive it, who does, for Christ's sake, and on account of his blood, sacrifice, and satisfaction: what is here requested is a manifestation and application of pardon to the conscience of a sensible sinner; which, as it is daily needed, is daily to be asked for. The argument, or reason used, is,

as we forgive our debtors; which is to be understood not so much of pecuniary debtors, though they are to be forgiven, when poor and unable to pay; but of such who have offended, or done real injuries to others, either by word or deed: the injuries of enemies, the unkindness of friends, all sorts of offences, are to be forgiven by us; and not only so, but we are to pray to God to forgive them also. Now this is mentioned, not as if our forgiving others is the cause of God's forgiving us, or the model of it, or as setting him an example, or as if his and our forgiving were to be compared together, since these will admit of no comparison; but this is an argument founded upon God's own promise and grace, to forgive such who have compassion on their fellow creatures.

(y) Targum in 2 Chron. 21. (z) Targum Onkelos & Jon. ben Uzziel in Gen. l. 17. Vid. Targum in 1 Chron. 18. & in Cant. i. 1. & in Gen. iv. 13. & passim.

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Matthew 6:12. Ὡς καὶ ἡμεῖς, κ.τ.λ.] does not indicate the extent (Chrysostom, Baumgarten-Crusius) to which forgiveness is asked from God, which is not in harmony with the tone of the prayer; rather is ὡς the as which assigns the reason as well as makes the comparison, doubtless not as being directly equivalent to nam (Fritzsche), but it expresses the existence of a frame of mind on the part of the petitioner corresponding to the divine forgiveness: as then, we also, and so on. See on John 13:34; Schaeffer, ad Dem. V. p. 108; Hartung, Partikell. I. p. 460; Klotz, ad Devar. p. 766; comp. Luke 11:4. Yet not as though human forgiveness can be supposed to merit the divine pardon, but the former is the necessary moral “requisitum subjecti” (Calovius) in him who seeks forgiveness from God. Comp. Matthew 18:21 ff.; Apol. Conf. A. p. 115 f.; Cat. maj. p. 528; Kamphausen, p. 113.

ἀφήκαμεν] see the critical remarks. Jesus justly presupposes that the believer who asks from God the remission of his own debts has already forgiven (Sir 28:2; Mark 11:25) those who are indebted to him—that, according to Luke, he does it at the same time.Matthew 6:12. Fifth petition. ὀφειλήματα, in classics literal debts, here moral debts, sins (ἁμαρτίας in Luke 11:4). The more men desire God’s will to be done the more conscious they are of shortcoming. The more conscious of personal shortcoming, the more indulgent towards the faults of others even when committed against themselves. Hence the added words: ὡς καὶ ἡ. ἀφήκαμεν, etc. It is natural and comforting to the sincere soul to put the two things together. ὡς must be taken very generally. The prayer proceeds from child-like hearts, not from men trained in the distinctions of theology. The comment appended in Matthew 6:14-15 introduces an element of reflection difficult to reconcile with the spontaneity of the prayer. It is probably imported from another connection, e.g., Matthew 18:35 (so Weiss-Meyer).12. debts] Sins are debts, shortcomings in the service due to God.

forgive] The aorist should be read in the Greek text. The force would then be that an act of forgiveness on man’s part is past before he prays to receive forgiveness. Cp. ch. Matthew 5:23-24, also the parable of the unforgiving servant, ch. Matthew 18:23 seqq.Matthew 6:12. Καὶ, and) The three remaining petitions regard the commencement, progress and conclusion of our spiritual life in this world; and those who utter them confess, not only their own need, but also their guilt, their peril, and their difficulties. When these have been removed, God is all in all to them, by virtue of the three first petitions.—ὀφειλήματα, debts) In Matthew 6:14 we find παραπτώματα, lapses. In Luke 11:4, we have ἁμαρτίας, sins. Cf. Matthew 18:24.[263]—Ὡς, as) Before it was “AS in heaven, SO on earth,” now it is “SO in heaven AS on earth.”

[263] We ought not merely in general to pray for deliverance from guilt contracted by our sins; but whoever offends God in this or any other peculiar manner, is bound also specially to acknowledge and pray for deliverance from such offences, and so to give Him the honour due to Him.—V. g.Verse 12. - And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. Forgive; a change in God's relation to us and our sins. No plea is urged, for the atonement had not yet been made. Our debts (τὰ ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν) parallel passage in Luke, τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἡμῶν). It is probable that Matthew took one meaning, perhaps the more primary, and Luke another, perhaps the more secondary (cf. Gesenius, Thes,' s.v. הוב, and Professor Marshall, Expositor, IV. 3:281), of the original Aramaic word (חובא); but, as "debtors" comes in the next clause, it seems reasonable to suppose that Matthew represents the sense in which our Lord intended the word to be understood. Luke may have avoided it as too strongly Hebraic a metaphor, even though he does use ὀφειλέται of men in relation to God (Luke 13:4). The 'Didache,' 8, gives the singular, ὀφειλήν (cf. infra, Matthew 18:32), which Dr. Taylor ('Lectures,' p. 62) thinks is preferable. The singular, especially with "debtors" following, would very naturally be corrupted to the plural. Sins are termed "debts," as not rendering to God his due (Matthew 22:21; cf. 25:27). As we; Revised Version, as we also (ὡς καὶ ἡμεῖς). In the same way as we have - a comparison of fact, not of proportion (cf. Matthew 8:13; Matthew 18:33). (For the thought, cf. Ecclus. 28:2.) Luke's "for we ourselves also" (καὶ γὰρ αὐτοί) lays more stress on our forgiving others being a reason for God forgiving us. Forgive; Revised Version, have forgiven, in the past (aorist). Luke's present is of the habit. Our debtors. Luke individualizes (παντὶ ὀφείλοντι ἡμῖν Debts (ὀφειλήματα)

So, rightly, A. V., and Rev. (compare Luke 11:4). Sin is pictured as a debt, and the sinner as a debtor (compare Matthew 18:28, Matthew 18:30). Accordingly the word represents sin both as a wrong and as requiring satisfaction. In contrast with the prayer, "Forgive us our debts," Tholuck ("Sermon on the Mount") quotes the prayer of Apollonius of Tyana, "O ye gods, give me the things which are owing to me."

Forgive (ἀφήκαμεν)

Lit., to send away, or dismiss. The Rev. rightly gives the force of the past tense, we have forgiven; since Christ assumes that he who prays for the remission of his own debts has already forgiven those indebted to him.

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