THE FIFTH PETITION.
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
This article touches our miserable and wretched life; and, although we may have the Word of God, though we may believe, do his will or suffer it to be done, and nourish ourselves with the gifts and blessings of God, yet this life does not proceed without sin; for we still daily digress much, and exceed proper bounds, while we live in this world among people, who cause us a great deal of sorrow, and give us occasion for impatience, wrath, and revenge. And besides this, we are pursued by the devil, who urges us on every side, and strives (as we have already heard) against all the foregoing articles, so that it is impossible always to remain firm in this perpetual contest.
Here, then, it is again highly necessary to pray and to exclaim: "Beloved Father, forgive us our trespasses." Not, that he does not also forgive sins without and prior to our prayer. For he gave us the Gospel, in which there is free remission of sin, before we prayed for it, or ever thought any thing in reference to it. But for this reason we should pray, that we may acknowledge and accept such forgiveness. For, since the flesh, in which we daily live, is of such a nature as not to trust and believe in God, and is ever agitated with evil lusts and wicked desires, so that we daily sin in words and actions, by commission and omission, in consequence of which our consciences become dissatisfied and fear the wrath and indignation of God, and thus we let our consolation and confidence afforded by the Gospel, sink down; it is, therefore, necessary to resort to this source without in ermission [sic], and to receive consolation, and raise up our consciences again.
And indeed, the consequence of this should be, that God may subdue our pride, and keep us in humility. For he has reserved the prerogative to himself alone, that, if any one wish to boast of his piety, and despise others, he should examine himself, and place this prayer before his eyes, and thus he may soon discern that he is better in no respect than others; for we must all drop our plume before God, and rejoice that we become participants of remission. And let no one think, while we live here, to arrive at such a degree of perfection, that he has no need of this forgiveness: and in a word, if God does not forgive us continually, we are lost.
Consequently, then, the meaning of this petition is, that we desire God not to look upon our sins, or to charge us with that which we daily deserve, but to act towards us graciously, and to forgive us, as he has promised, and thus afford us a joyful and tranquil conscience, so that we can approach him in prayer. For if the heart is not at peace with God, and cannot obtain this assurance, it will never venture to pray. This assurance, however, and joyfulness of heart we cannot obtain, unless we know with certainty that our sins are forgiven.
Here there is, however, a necessary and yet a consolatory clause annexed: As we forgive those who trespass against us. He has promised, that we shall be certain that all our sins are forgiven and pardoned, provided we also forgive our neighbors. For, as we daily commit many offences against God, and still he forgives all through grace; so we must also ever forgive our neighbors who do us injury, violence, and injustice, and manifest a wicked disposition towards us. But if you do not forgive, think not that God will forgive you; if, on the other hand, you forgive, you have the consolation and assurance, that you are forgiven in heaven, not on account of your forgiveness towards others, for God does it freely and through pure grace, because he has promised it, as the Gospel teaches; but for the purpose of strengthening and assuring us, he proposes this as an evidence in connection with the promise; which accords with this petition, Luke 6, 37: "Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven." For this reason, Christ also repeats it immediately after the Lord's Prayer, Matt. 6, 14, saying: "For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you."
Therefore, this evidence is connected with this petition, that when we pray, we may be reminded of the promise, and thus think: "Beloved Father, for this reason I come and pray, that thou wouldst forgive me, not that I can make satisfaction, or that I merit enough by my works, but because thou hast promised it, and set thy seal to it, so that it might be as certain as if I had absolution announced by thyself." For, as much as Baptism and the Sacrament, instituted as external evidences, avail, so much can this evidence also avail in strengthening and cheering our consciences; and it is even particularly set before us, that we might use and exercise it every hour, as a thing which we continually have with us.