In this treatise it hath been noted, that there is a double sicut annexed to two several petitions: the one concerning God, and our duty we owe to Him, in the three petitions; the other concerning our neighbour, and the charity that we ought to shew towards him, in this fifth petition; wherein we are to consider this, that as this law of prayer which our Saviour prescribeth to us doth establish the law of works and faith, so these two sicuts do comprehend the sum of the Law and the Prophets. The Law saith, 'Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart;' and the same is confirmed by this petition, wherein we are taught that if we desire to have our sins forgiven of God, we must not only not hate our brother without cause, but if he offend we must likewise forgive him. Neither doth this petition concern our neighbour and brethren only but ourselves likewise, for hereby we have a pledge of remission of sins if we acknowledge that we have forgiven others; and as the taking away of our sins is the great fruit and benefit we desire of God, so the subordinate means that God hath appointed one another, not only that He might establish peace in earth among men, but that by this means glory might redound to God on high.
In respects of ourselves, this is our estate before we become true Christians, To be 'hateful, and to hate one another,' and that hath a sorrowful effect, for 'if we bite and devour one [432/433] another, we shall be consumed of one another.' To prevent this, God's will is that we should not hate but forgive one another, which unless we do we cannot live peaceably; so that this petition hath a respect to our benefit also as well as our neighbour's and God Himself also hath His part in it; for when we have forgiven our brethren and purged our hearts of all hatred, we are more fit for His service; and contrariwise, as without forgiving others we cannot live peaceably one with another, so neither can we live devoutly towards God; and therefore our Saviour chargeth, 'If thou bring thy gift to the altar and rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee, leave thy gift at the altar and go thy way first and be reconciled;' and the Apostle gives express charge that man and wife should live quietly, ne interrumpantur preces, 'lest their prayers be interrupted.'
Thus it pleased the wisdom of God in this petition to add this sicut, not for our neighbour's sake only, nor for ourselves only, but also in regard of God.
The first sicut pertaineth to the imitation of the saints in heaven: this doth not imply an imitation (for God forbid that God should do no otherwise forgive us than we forgive our brethren) but it is mere condition, teaching us that if we forgive those that are indebted to us, we shall obtain forgiveness of God; for we do not always subscribe to God's commandment, 'forgive one another, as God for Christ's sake forgave you.' But by saying this petition we bind ourselves to this condition, so as we would no otherwise be forgiven than as we forgive them.
At the first we became bound to keep His Law, which He did deliver in ten commandments, and for not fulfilling of it we fall into the penalty of Maledictus.
Now, because we have not obeyed the Law, we are to undergo the penalty, and therefore it is said to be chirgaphum contra nos.
God having the obligation in his own hands, might require the forfeiture of us; but it pleaseth Him to enter bond to us by another obligation, wherein He binds himself to forgive our sins upon this condition, that we forgive others; for if we forgive not then His bond is void, as appeareth by the parable wherein our Saviour sheweth that if we will have [433/434] forgiveness of God, we must forgive our brethren, and have compassion on our fellow-servants as God hath pity on us.
It is Christ That freeth us both from the obligation of the ten commandments and of the twelve curses, and therefore as he that receiveth a benefit doth as it were become bound to be thankful, so we enter into a new bond of thankfulness unto God, the condition whereof is that we should forgive our brethren, even as we desire to be forgiven of God.
By the words of this petition, we see what our estate is, to wit, Quilibet homo est debitor habens debitorem, 'Every man is a debtor, having a debtor;' so it appeareth by the parable, wherein as one was brought that owed a great many 'talents' to God, so He had another that 'owed a hundred pence: but there is a great difference. The debts that man oweth to God are great sins, but the debts that man oweth to man are of small value; we are debtors to God not only to keep the whole Law but also to undergo the curse of God, which is due even to the least breach of the same.
Secondly, we are indebted not only for not using His talents to His glory, but for abusing them in the service of sin; even so we are debtors one to another, not only when we neglect the duties of charity and justice, but when we of purpose do wrong one to another.
Now we can be content that others should forgive us, and therefore if we will have forgiveness of God for the debts that we owe Him we must forgive our brethren, for 'what you would that men should do to you, and in what measure, even so do to them.'
Therefore our Saviour in penning this petition tells us, that if we make to our brethren a release of our debts, He will release us of His; and this condition is very reasonable; for Cain hath no reason to hope for favour of God, though he serve Him never so devoutly one day, when notwithstanding he hath a purpose 'to kill his brother' the next, neither is it reasonable that he should say to God Dimitte mihi that will not say to his brother Dimitto tibi
The difference between God's forgiving and ours is, first in the persons that forgive. When we forgive, then one 'fellow-servant' forgives another, as duty binds them; but when God forgives us, there Dominus dimittit servum.
[434/435] Again, as I have a debter of my fellow-servant, so I may be indebted to him, and therefore I ought rather to forgive him; but God cannot be indebted to us, but we are all deeply in his debt, and therefore it is a reasonable condition that He requires at our hands.
Secondly, in the things to be remitted the number of God's debts are thousands, ours are but hundreds; His, talents, ours are but pence. The condition therefore is reasonable on God's behalf, if we consider the excellency of His person and the vileness of ours; if we regard how greatly we are indebted to God more than our brethren can be to us, ut pudeat aliâ lege petere remissionem, that we may be ashamed under any other condition to ask forgiveness.
Then we may not think much that He requireth this forgiveness at our hands, but magnify His mercy, that having forfeited our first bond it hath pleased Him to remit it, and only to tie us to this; we are to thank him that He vouchsafeth accipere stipulam pro margaritis, 'to accept our stubble for His pearls,' for the forgiveness of our sins (which was brought at so dear a rate) to accept the forgiveness we shew to our brethren.
Some would give 'thousands of rams, and ten thousand rivers of oil' for this great benefit: much more ought we condescend to God, when He offereth us so great a benefit upon so easy a condition. And thus we see that to be true in some part, which some of the heathen have observed de utilitate capiendâ etiam ab inimicis; it is not altogether for our hurt that they wrong and injure us, for unless there were some to offend us we should not have occasion to exercise this part of our mercy in forgiving; and therefore, where David compares his enemies to 'bees' and not to wasps, the reason is, for that albeit bees have stings yet they yield honey also, and so no doubt David received great comfort inwardly by means of his enemies, though outwardly they persecuted him with all the malice they could; for he, that can master his own affections so far as quietly to put up a wrong offered by an enemy and to forgive the same, may be assured that his sins are forgiven of God.
Wherein we are to consider the goodness of God That vouchsafeth to set men in His own place, and to give men a [435/436] power to forgive even as He himself doth forgive; whereby it cometh to pass that one man is to another even in God's place, so that if we would know whether God do remit our sins or no, we need not to 'climb up to heaven' to be certified of it, nor 'go down into the deep, for the word is near, even in our heart and in our mouth.'
If thy heart tells thee that thou forgivest thy brother, doubt not but God doth likewise forgive thee; and it is His mercy that He vouchsafeth to frame His pardons after our pardons, to assure us that as we forgive one another in earth so God forgives us the sins that we have committed against Him; and He layeth this necessity upon us, not only to shew that He is careful to have peace among men, but also that the He would have us to be perfect as Himself; for God is said to be proclivis ad misericordiam, tardus ad iram et vindictam, 'prone to mercy, slow to wrath and revenge.'
So Christ, requiring of us that we should forgive our brethren that offend us willeth us to be slow to anger, and long suffering, as God is, for it is not as man judgeth an honourable thing to be revenged. Wicked Lamech thought it an honour to take revenge 'seventy times seven times' of any that offended him, but contrawise Christ tells St. Peter that it should be a great honour for him to forgive until 'seventy times seven times.' Therefore it becomes a Christian rather to follow Christ that wicked Lamech; for as Christ says, It were better to lose the right eye, and the right hand, than to have 'the whole body cast into hell-fire,' so it were better for us to suffer wrong for righteousness than for worldly honour seek to deprive ourselves of the remission of our sins, which cannot be obtained of God except we be content to put up injuries offered to us.
If we will have true honour, let us imitate our heavenly Father; He is so far from taking revenge of them that offend Him, that He lets 'His sun shine upon them.' So let us account it the greatest honour for us to aspire more and more to resemble our Father herein, for the nobler sort of creatures are not desirous of revenge but only those that are vilest and of lowest power; and of all creatures unreasonable none so angry as flies and wasps and bees, and of them that have reason women are more testy and fretting than men; and of [436/437] men, none more subject to anger than such as are sick; in their greatest weakness then are they most angry, which is no sign of an honourable quality.
Let us therefore count it a shame to be like the weakest things in this behalf, and rather let us imitate the nobler creatures which are more slow to anger.
If we will be honourable, let us learn to get it by the example of such as have true honour. Joseph in the court of Pharaoh no doubt was an honourable man, and yet he placed not honour in taking revenge of his brethren that had rewarded him evil, but in forgiving them, and doing them good for evil. David was an honourable man, and yet he placed honour in pardoning Shimei, and to do good to Mephibosheth the son of Saul, that was his deadly enemy. Solomon knew, no doubt, what was true honour, and yet he gives us counsel not to seek honour by revenge: 'Say not, I will do to him as he hath done to me.' And the honourable king that was angry with the unmerciful servant, thought it more honour to draw near the honour of God in pardoning than in revenging.
The benefit that ensueth upon this condition is of two sorts; first, outward, for by virtue of it we have a covenant on God' s part, wherein He binds Himself to us that He will forgive us if we forgive our brethren; so that we may be bold to challenge Him for His promise, so that we keep to the condition.
Secondly, inward, for when we love the brethren, 'not in word and tongue only but in deed and truth, that is a means for us 'to persuade our hearts before Him.' If we forgive our brethren from our hearts, we may be assured that God will forgive us. So our Saviour affirmeth of the woman, because 'she loved much, she had many sins forgiven her'.
Some when they came to this petition left out this sicut, and so passed on to the next petition; but we must use this prayer orderly, Christ is not mocked, He penned the prayer for us Himself, and therefore He can quickly espy if we leave out any of His words, and teach us that we should pray in true charity He hath not only enjoined us to forgive our brethren as we would be forgiven, but willeth us before we begin to pray to bethink ourselves whether we forgive: Cum stabitis [437/438] ad orandum, 'When ye stand to pray, forgive.' Secondly, as we must use this sicut so not with our lips only but with our heart, for otherwise we do imprecari nobis 'we pray for vengeance against ourselves,' and Christ may say to us Ex ore tuo to judicabo, serve nequam. We cannot curse ourselves more bitterly than if we say to God 'Forgive us as we forgive our debtors,' unless we do indeed forgive them.
As we run in debt with God daily, and so need daily forgiveness, the same measure of charity we are to shew to others that offend us by forgiving them their trespasses.
We must not think it enough to forgive them till 'seven times' but until seventy times seven times,' and as we would not have a counterfeit forgiveness of God so we must be careful to forgive our brethren from our heart, otherwise He will call back His word and promise made to us touching the remission of our sins.
Whereas some count it a sufficient forgiveness to forgive only though they do not forget, they must know that is only semiplena remissio, 'a forgiveness by halves;' for we desire God by the Prophet, that He will not only forgive but forget our sins, and 'remember not our old sins:' therefore we must perform the same measure of charity in this behalf to our brethren. And whereas the messenger of 'Satan' doth so 'buffet' us and our corruption so prevails with us, that we cannot utterly forget an injury, yet so long as we shew not a revenge in deed nor in word nor in look but strive to master our corrupt affection, we shall be accounted 'according to that we have and not according to that we have not.'
As for that which some object, that so the law of justice is overthrown by this kind of mercy, it is not so, for 'mercy triumpheth over justice.'
Now as prayer is a means to apply Christ's benefits and mercy to our souls, as Christ sheweth, 'I forgave thee, because thou prayest Me,' so that is not enough unless we use charity and mercy; to Dimmitte Tu we must add Nos dimittimus, the want whereof caused the king to deal so severely with the unmerciful servant.
Now mercy, which is the second means of application [438/439] stands in giving and forgiving: Quicquid præstatur indigenti eleemosynæ est. Therefore, because these have need of forgiveness which offend, we should do a work of mercy in forgiving them when they do us wrong, and both those kind of alms and mercy are alike accepted of God, and therefore in the Law He ordained as well peace-offerings as meat offerings.
That mercy is a means to us to apply this benefit unto ourselves which Christ offereth, appeareth by these places: Proverbs the sixteenth chapter and sixth verse; 'With mercy and faithfulnesss sins are forgiven;' Isaiah the fifty-eighth chapter and seventh verse; Daniel the fourth chapter and twenty seventh verse; and Luke the eleventh chapter and forty-first verse, Date eleemosynam, et omnia sunt munda
This is that which maketh both prayer and fasting acceptable before God, and without which all prayer is rejected as hypocritical, Thus must we have oil from Him, and the vessel to receive it in us, Dimitte, et dimittis, that is, both prayer and mercy.
As we pray to God for pardon of our sins, so we must forgive others. Now Christ maketh choice of that kind of mercy which standeth in forgiving, because it is common to poor and rich, for all cannot give; but the poor may forgive as well as the rich, and therefore is it the duty of us all to forgive one another if we will be forgiven of God.
Secondly, He maketh choice of this mercy as the greatest and excellentest, for nature will move us to give to him that is in need, and we cannot in such case hide ourselves from our own flesh; but when we do not only forgive him that hath done us wrong, but also offer kindness to him that did provoke us to anger, that is a supernatural work.
Thirdly, it is the fittest mercy for we desire to be remitted, and therefore the fittest means to obtain remission is that mercy which standeth in remission and forgiving of others.
The mercy that we shew in this behalf is active mercy [339/440] that which God promiseth us, if we forgive our brethren, is a passive mercy.
Of this active mercy our Saviour saith, 'Blessed are the merciful for they obtain mercy.' But contrarwise 'there shall be judgment merciless to him that sheweth no mercy. Wherefore we must so deal with those which offend us that we may say to God Ecce misericordiam activam præsta mihi passivam, 'Behold my active mercy, perform to me Thy passive mercy.
And to shew you the necessity of this duty on our parts, Christ having penned this petition upon this condition is not contented therewith, but having ended the prayer He return to the same matter, and sheweth why we should forgive our debtors, 'For if ye,' saith He, 'forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will forgive you yours, but if you will not, neither will God forgive you;' and hereof He hath given an example in the parable of the king who, to shew to us what we are to look for at God's right hands, is said to have been loving and merciful at the first to him that was indebted so far unto him; but when the same party having the debt which he owed pardoned would not withstanding have present payment of his fellow-servant, then the king's affection was turned and he became severe and rough and committed him till he had paid all that was due.