A Laymen’s Commentary on the Large Catechism: Fifth Petition

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
    whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
    and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
    my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

I acknowledged my sin to you,
    and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
    and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

Therefore let everyone who is godly
    offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found;
surely in the rush of great waters,
    they shall not reach him.
You are a hiding place for me;
    you preserve me from trouble;
    you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
    I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
    which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
    or it will not stay near you.

10 Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
    but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.
11 Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous,
    and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!

(Psalm 32)

 

The Fifth Petition.

And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

What does this mean?–Answer.

We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look upon our sins, nor deny such petitions on account of them; for we are worthy of none of the things for which we pray, neither have we deserved them; but that He would grant them all to us by grace; for we daily sin much, and indeed deserve nothing but punishment. So will we verily, on our part, also heartily forgive and also readily do good to those who sin against us.

(Small Catechism)

 

Forgive our sins, Lord, we implore,
that they may trouble us no more;
We, too, will gladly those forgive
Who hurt us by the way they live.
Help us in our community
to serve each other willingly.

(LSB 766)

 

The Fifth Petition.

85] And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

86] This part now relates to our poor miserable life, which, although we have and believe the Word of God, and do and submit to His will, and are supported by His gifts and blessings, is nevertheless not without sin. For we still stumble daily and transgress because we live in the world among men who do us much harm and give us cause for impatience, anger, revenge, etc. 87] Besides, we have Satan at our back, who sets upon us on every side, and fights (as we have heard) against all the foregoing petitions, so that it is not possible always to stand firm in such a persistent conflict.

88] Therefore there is here again great need to call upon God and to pray: Dear Father, forgive us our trespasses. Not as though He did not forgive sin without and even before our prayer (for He has given us the Gospel, in which is pure forgiveness before we prayed or ever thought about it). But this is to the intent that we may recognize and accept such forgiveness. 89] For since the flesh in which we daily live is of such a nature that it neither trusts nor believes God, and is ever active in evil lusts and devices, so that we sin daily in word and deed, by commission and omission, by which the conscience is thrown into unrest, so that it is afraid of the wrath and displeasure of God, and thus loses the comfort and confidence derived from the Gospel; therefore it is ceaselessly necessary that we run hither and obtain consolation to comfort the conscience again.

90] But this should serve God’s purpose of breaking our pride and keeping us humble. For in case any one should boast of his godliness and despise others, God has reserved this prerogative to Himself, that the person is to consider himself and place this prayer before his eyes, and he will find that he is no better than others, and that in the presence of God all must lower their plumes, and be glad that they can attain forgiveness. 91] And let no one think that as long as we live here he can reach such a position that he will not need such forgiveness. In short, if God does not forgive without ceasing, we are lost.

92] It is therefore the intent of this petition that God would not regard our sins and hold up to us what we daily deserve, but would deal graciously with us, and forgive, as He has promised, and thus grant us a joyful and confident conscience to stand before Him in prayer. For where the heart is not in right relation towards God, nor can take such confidence, it will nevermore venture to pray. But such a confident and joyful heart can spring from nothing else than the [certain] knowledge of the forgiveness of sin.

93] But there is here attached a necessary, yet consolatory addition: As we forgive. He has promised that we shall be sure that everything is forgiven and pardoned, yet in the manner that we also forgive our neighbor. 94] For just as we daily sin much against God, and yet He forgives everything through grace, so we, too, must ever forgive our neighbor who does us injury, violence, and wrong, shows malice toward us, etc. 95] If, therefore, you do not forgive, then do not think that God forgives you; but if you forgive, you have this consolation and assurance, that you are forgiven in heaven, not on account of your forgiving, for God forgives freely and without condition, out of pure grace, because He has so promised, as the Gospel teaches, but in order that He may set this up for our confirmation and assurance for a sign alongside of the promise which accords with this prayer, Luke 6:37: Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven. Therefore Christ also repeats it soon after the Lord’s Prayer, and says, Matt. 6:14: For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, etc.

97] This sign is therefore attached to this petition, that, when we pray, we remember the promise and reflect thus: Dear Father, for this reason I come and pray Thee to forgive me, not that I can make satisfaction, or can merit anything by my works, but because Thou hast promised and attached the seal thereto that I should be as sure as though I had absolution pronounced by Thyself. 98] For as much as Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, appointed as external signs, effect, so much also this sign can effect to confirm our consciences and cause them to rejoice. And it is especially given for this purpose, that we might use and practise it every hour, as a thing that we have with us at all times.

In the previous petitions, we have prayed not only for God to keep His Word, but also for us to keep it as well.  Now we come to the fact that we fail to do so. Thus we pray for forgiveness. This fifth petition pleads with God to bestow on us His Second and Third Article gifts, which win and deliver this justification to us.

God forgives our sins objectively without us praying.  What we are praying for here is subjective justification, the great “for you” that takes the abstract Gospel and makes it personal.  After all, if forgiveness is not received and believed it is lost. Faith is needed in order to receive it.   However this faith is not a work of ours, it is a gift of God and is passive in its reception of forgiveness (Romans 5:1-11).

We sin daily, and continually (Romans 7:14-18, Genesis 6:1-8).  Even after we are regenerated in Baptism we still sin.  As such we continually need the forgiveness of sins. When our conscience is troubled, we should seek out the forgiveness of sins and not look to the Law to be justified (Romans 12:3-8, 1 John 1:5-10).  Thus we should plead with God for forgiveness and He will surely give it (Hebrews 10:19-39, Psalm 32, Romans 4:7-8).

Because God has so abundantly forgiven us, we too must forgive others (Matthew 18:21-35).  If we do not forgive our brother who has wronged us, we sin against our neighbor and God.  After all, a Christian is duty bound to forgive the sins of those who are penitent.

So abundant is God’s giving of forgiveness, He even gives us various means by which to receive it. In the Absolution, God declares us righteous as from Christ Himself. In Holy Baptism, we are clothed with Christ’s righteousness—our sins are washed away. And in the Sacrament of the Altar, we eat and drink the very Body and Blood of Christ for the forgiveness of our sins—just as Jesus says. By means of all these blessings, the Lord makes us blameless before Him and redeems us to be His beloved children (Ephesians 1:3-14).

1 Lord, to You I make confession:
I have sinned and gone astray,
I have multiplied transgression,
Chosen for myself my way.
Led by You to see my errors,
Lord, I tremble at Your terrors.

2 Yet, though conscience’ voice appall me,
Father, I will seek Your face;
Though Your child I dare not call me,
Yet receive me in Your grace.
Do not for my sins forsake me;
Let Your wrath not overtake me.

3 For Your Son has suffered for me,
Giv’n Himself to rescue me,
Died to save me and restore me,
Reconciled and set me free.
Jesus’ cross alone can vanquish
These dark fears and soothe this anguish.

4 Lord on You I cast my burden–
Sink it in the deepest sea!
Let me know Your gracious pardon,
Cleanse me from iniquity.
Let Your Spirit leave me never;
Make me only Yours forever.

(LSB 608)

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