Forgiving Our Debtors

By Rev. John Wesley

And forgive us our debts (trespasses), as we forgive our debtors (those that trespass against us). Matthew 6:12

As nothing but sin can hinder the bounty of God from flowing forth upon every creature, so this petition naturally follows the former; that all hindrances being removed, we may the more clearly trust in the God of love for every manner of thing which is good.

“Our trespasses.” The word properly signifies our debt. Thus our sins are frequently represented in Scripture; every sin laying us under a fresh debt to God, to whom we already owe, as it were, ten thousand talents. What then can we answer when he shall say, “Pay me that thou owest”? We are utterly insolvent; we have nothing to pay; we have wasted all our substance. Therefore if he deal with us according to the rigor of his law, if he exact what he justly may, he must command us to be “bound hand and foot, and delivered over to the tormentors.”...

The word translated forgive implies either to forgive a debt, or to unloose a chain. And, if we attain the former, the latter follows of course: if our debts are forgiven, the chains fall off our hands. As soon as ever, through the free grace of God in Christ, we “receive forgiveness of sins,” we receive likewise “a lot among those which are sanctified, by faith which is in him.” Sin has lost its power; it has no dominion over those who are under grace, that is, in favor with God. As “there is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus,” so they are freed from sin as well as from guilt. “The righteousness of the law is fulfilled in them, and they walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit.”

“As we forgive them that trespass against us.” In these words our Lord clearly declares both on what condition, and in what degree or manner, we may look to be forgiven of God. All our trespasses and sins are forgiven us, if we forgive, and as we forgive others. This is a point of the utmost importance. And our blessed Lord is so jealous lest at any time we would let it slip out of our thoughts, that he not only inserts it in the body of his prayer, but presently after repeats it twice over. “If,” says he, “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” (vv. 14, 15). Secondly, God forgives us as we forgive others. So that if any malice or bitterness, if any taint of unkindness or anger remain, if we do not clearly, fully, and from the heart forgive all men their trespasses, we so far cut short the forgiveness of our own; God cannot clearly and fully forgive us. He may show us some degree of mercy; but we will not suffer him to blot out all our sins, and forgive all our iniquities.

In the meantime, while we do not from our hearts forgive our neighbor his trespasses, what manner of prayer are we offering to God whenever we utter these words? We are indeed setting God at open defiance; we are daring him to do his worst. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us!” That is, in plain terms, “Do not thou forgive us at all: we desire no favor at your hands. We pray that you will keep our sins in remembrance, and that your wrath may abide upon us.” But can you seriously offer such a prayer to God? And has he not yet cast you quick into hell? O tempt him no longer! Now, even now, by his grace, forgive as you would be forgiven! Now have compassion on your fellow servant, as God has had, and will have, pity on you!

Compiled by Al Bryant, "The John Wesley Reader", Word Books. This book is currently available on the used book market. Please check the used book venders for this book at IMARC.