The Penitential Spirit of the Lord’s Prayer
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The PENITENTIAL Spirit of the Lord's Prayer.
"Forgive us our sins." Matthew 6:12
Prayer for divine forgiveness, springing from penitence for conscious sin, is the burden of this petition taught us by our Lord. It is proposed to consider both of these states in the present chapter. We, of course, begin with the essential grace of REPENTANCE, seeing that this is God's order in conversion. Contrition for an offence must precede the pardon of an offence. In social life, in the family government, in the Church, and in the State this is an acknowledged and invariable law. The debtor would be incapable of appreciating the clemency which cancelled the debt, so long as he denied either the existence or the justice of the claim. Unconscious of the obligation, he would be insensible to the grace that remitted it.
In a higher and more impressive sense does this hold good between the sinner and God. The forgiveness of sin is too divine and costly a pearl to cast before swine. In other words, God holds this His own and sole prerogative at too high a rate to exercise it in behalf of a sinner blind to, and the willing slave of, his sins. Repentance is in His eye so divine and gracious a work, the humble and contrite heart so spiritual and precious a sacrifice, that to this man, and to him alone, will He condescend to look with an eye of forgiving love and complacent delight; and upon him and him only will He bestow the costliest blessing that He can give or we receive--the pardon of sin. Can we for a moment suppose that God will bind this precious jewel upon a brow that has never bowed before Him in penitence, confession, and prayer? Will He confer so costly a blessing upon a soul incapable of knowing its worth or of tasting its sweetness, and not even asking or desiring its bestowment? Assuredly not! God will never pour the grace of His pardoning mercy and love but into the vessel of a broken heart.
But the prayer, "Forgive," is the breathing of a penitent soul. It expresses the conviction and is an acknowledgment of sin. It is a prayer that could only arise from a heart sorely conscious of its misery and plague. It is the language of a self-arraigned, self-convicted soul. Standing at the bar of its own conscience, and trying itself, as if in anticipation of the great judgment, and passing the sentence of self-condemnation, it appeals to God the Judge of all--"Forgive!"
And yet it is also the prayer of a forgiven soul. Forgiveness is a past, present, and future act of sovereign grace. This prayer, as it is the first and earliest, so is it the latest and last breathing of a pardoned and gracious man. All through the divine life--as we shall presently show--there is a daily renewal of pardon, a constant application of atoning blood to the quickened conscience. And prayer may ascend to our Heavenly Father for forgiveness with a firm faith in His precious assurance--"I have pardoned"--until prayer for pardon shall terminate in its eternal praise.
Let us now direct our attention to the petition--"Forgive us our sins."
There is a close and beautiful connection--the links of which are so delicate as to be visible only to the spiritual eye--between the present and the preceding petition. The prayer fordaily bread finds its best exposition in the prayer for daily forgiveness. The true, the heavenly bread has in it this divine and precious element, and it is no bread to me apart from it. What is mere bread to a man under the sentence of death, but the bread of condemnation? You who are still under the law, dead in trespasses and sins; you who have no righteousness but your own works, no Savior but yourself; you whose heaven is earth, whose God is your belly, whose possessions are beautiful parks, and pleasant pictures, and costly jewels, and domestic comforts, and luxurious enjoyments, and gay delights--so long as you are unconverted and under the condemnation of God's holy law, you but eat the bread of the convict who tomorrow is roused to his last meal before he is led forth to die. Dreadful state! the daily bread you coldly ask, yet munificently receive, is the bread of death, not the bread of life! There is in it no ingredient of God's forgiveness of sin, no sweetness of Christ's love to the sinner, no foretaste of a heaven of glory, no nourishment for a soul that is to live forever--it perishes, and, inevitably and eternally, you perish with it! And yet you exist on, and dream on, and trifle on, profoundly unconscious of your perilous condition, totally insensible to the dread world to which you hasten.
We now turn to the petition before us. It portrays God as a Creditor, man as the debtor, and the attitude of the soul as that of a humble penitent suing for the forgiveness of the debt. Before you proceed or read further, will you, my reader, pause upon the threshold of the subject, and lift up your heart in silent prayer to the Holy Spirit for His enlightening, quickening grace, that the great and vital truths about to be unfolded may be the power of God unto your salvation, and, if saved, for your more abundant sanctification, comfort, and fitness for glory.
Man is God's debtor in a thousand ways. We commence with his being. He made us, and not we ourselves. As "none can keep alive his own soul," it follows that not having the power to preserve life, no creature has power to give life--so that we are neither self-created nor self-preserved. God made us. It is a proper and beautiful acknowledgment of the Episcopal service, "We thank You for our creation." Will any intelligent individual assert that he is under no obligation to God for his bodily existence, his intellectual faculties, his moral powers, his soul capable of such high enjoyment now, and, if saved, destined to a happiness inconceivably great and eternal hereafter? This is a debt. We owe all we are to Him who has said, "I have created him for my glory." We are not self-proprietors, we belong not to ourselves, we are not our own. We may not employ our members, nor use our faculties, as we desire. Our physical, intellectual, and moral nature belongs to God. Made originally in His image, it was made exclusively for His glory.
The inventor of a curious piece of mechanism must of necessity be its sole proprietor. The mechanism has no natural and inalienable right to itself, simply because it displays such inventive genius and possesses such marvelous action. The argument of Locke is as logically sound as it is theologically correct--that, God has a right to His workmanship. It is His own. He made us at His will, and at His will He can destroy us. Admit that man has property in himself, and you must admit that his responsibility to God ceases. The moment he ceases to be a dependent being, he ceases to be a responsible being. He then becomes--dreadful conclusion!--a deity to himself. To himself he is alone accountable how he uses the members of his body, how he employs the faculties of his mind, how he lays out the powers of his soul, how he disposes of his earthly substance. A god to himself he owns no other allegiance, acknowledges no other authority, recognizes no other right to rule and to possess him than his own!
But no sophistical reasoning, no fine-drawn infidelity, can contravene the fact or release him from the truth that, the creature must be the absolute and sole property of the Creator; that this involves his responsibility; and that as a responsible being "every one of us must give account of himself to God." Such is the natural debt you owe to God, my reader. You owe to Him as your Maker every member of your body, every faculty of your mind, every power of your soul. To Him you must give account of your body, how you have used it; of your talents, how you have employed them; of your soul, how you have cared for it; of your rank, wealth, influence, time, how you have laid out all for God. Do you acknowledge the debt? Do you recognize the claim by a holy, cheerful, unreserved surrender? God has power to assert His claim, and He will assert it for time and for eternity.
But we are God's MORAL debtors. The existence of a moral government implies the existence of moral law; and the existence of law implies the existence of moral obligation on the part of the subjects of that government. Every human being is a subject of God's moral government, and is under the most solemn obligation--an obligation enforced by rewards and punishments the most holy and inflexible--to obey. God, as the Great Ruler of the universe, has a right to prescribe rules of action to His creatures, and to connect those rules with promises and threatenings. Let it be borne in mind that His enactings are not simply commands, but in the strictest and highest sense, laws. Commands and laws are two different things. It is true that every law involves a command, but every command does not involve a law. A command must be rightful in order to be a law, and not merely rightful, but he who issues the command must have authority so to do, and those to whom the command is given must be bound to obey; on these conditions only does a command become a law. Hence we learn what sin is. Sin is a deviation from the law of God. In the language of jurists this would simply be called a crime, but in the language of Scripture it is called sin. "Sin is the transgression of the law."
We come now to the subject of man's obedience to God. It is illustrated by the idea of the payment of a debt. The stern, unbending language of the law is, "Pay me that you owe." From this demand there is no release. The claim must be met, the obligation cancelled, or the penalty endured, either in the person of the actual debtor, or in the person of an equivalent surety equal to the justice and extent of the demand. It is here the mediatorial scheme presents itself. In default of man's obedience--his original violation of God's law, and, as a consequence, his utter inability to keep one single precept--the Son of God came into the world, was born of a woman, and was made under the law; and by His perfect obedience He became the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believes. How divine is the gospel plan! With whom but with God could it have originated? What mind could have conceived, what heart devised, what power have executed the salvation of man but His? The entire scheme is so befitting and marvelous.
It meets all the requirements of God's government, and all the necessities of man's condition. On the part of His elect people the Lord Jesus has paid this great debt of obedience. He obeyed in their stead and as their substitute, and His obedience--the obedience of the God-man Mediator--becomes virtually the righteousness in which they stand delivered from condemnation and accepted of God. "By the obedience of one many (a number which no man can compute) are made righteous." Take hold in simple faith of this righteousness, my reader, and you are fully, freely, and forever justified. In other words, take hold of Christ, who is the "Lord our Righteousness," for, "by Him all who believe are justified from all things." Through no other door can you enter heaven but this.
We owe SUPREME LOVE to God. The terms of the law are clear and explicit--"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment." The law requires us to love God with all the powers and faculties of our being--the will, the understanding, the affections. This love must be paramount to all objects whatever they may be--simply, singly, supremely. In man's innocence this law was implicitly obeyed, his state of original and perfect holiness rendering him as capable of, as he was happy in, so doing. His fall, however, has rendered him utterly unable to perform it. So far from loving God with all his soul, he has no true love to God whatever, but sad, dreadful hatred to God and to everything that belongs to Him. "The carnal mind is enmity against God." The use of the abstract term 'enmity', instead of the concrete enemy, in this passage, is remarkably striking and solemn. In our description of character we always make choice of the latter. We say of a person that he is friendly, not friendship; that he is lovely, not love. But this mode of speaking would not do justice to the present case.
Man is not only an enemy to God, but he is enmity itself against God. Hatred to God is not a mere quality or attribute of man, something which exists in him; it is his very nature, it is himself. We owe, then, to God this debt of supreme love. It is the law of His moral government that we give to Him--the Supreme Good-- the supreme affection of our soul, of which He is worthy. Were there a being higher than God--we recoil instinctively from the bare supposition--then it would be an unrighteous law that challenged for God our single and supreme love. But since the Lord our God is one Lord, and that He is the eternal, self-existent Jehovah, the Creator of heaven and earth, man's divine Maker, and the moral Governor of the universe, it is a most righteous law that demands from the creatures He has made their single, undivided, supreme affection.
No inability to render this single affection releases us from the duty. The obligation is still the same--irrevocable, irrefragable, eternal. Do you love God, my reader? I drop the cold expression which presents your obligation as a duty. I speak of it rather as a precious privilege--the highest privilege belonging to man--Is God the chief object of your supreme affection? Inquire of your conscience, examine your heart, look into your life, and ask yourself the solemn question--Do I love God? Have I returned to Him the affection His law requires, His nature demands, my being justly owes? What traces are there in my conduct, what evidences in my life, of love to Christ? Do I exhibit any of the marks of genuine affection to my Maker, Preserver, and Benefactor? Have I believed in Christ, have I accepted God's plan of salvation, am I regulating my life by His word, am I warring with sin and striving after holiness? If I do not love God with all my soul, then whom do I love? And if I die with this debt of love uncancelled, what awaits me except the prison from whence there is no release until I shall have paid the uttermost farthing.
But how sacred is this obligation, how precious this privilege to a child of God! Love to God is the sweetest debt you pay. What are your happiest moments? Are they not when, floating upon the wings of affection, your soul mounts towards the Fountain of life, the center and source of love, and you find yourself approaching nearer and still nearer the ineffable glory of God?
And here again the Lord Jesus Christ, as the great paymaster of His people, graciously appears. In default of their ever reaching this standard of perfect love to God required by the law, Jesus presents Himself on their behalf. He came, as I have just shown, to keep every precept of the law in their place--and this the chief one of all--for "love is the first and great commandment," and, "love is the fulfilling of the law." He loved God with a perfect love. He loved Him with all His heart, and with all His mind, and with all His soul; and so, as the substitute and surety of His elect Church, He honored and magnified the law in this its highest and chief requirement.
How delightful to study the whole life of Jesus as the life of love--love to God and love to man! Love explains the great mystery of His marvelous incarnation. Love admits us to the secret of His life of unreserved devotion to man. Love explains the marvel of His unparalleled sufferings and His ignominious death. Love elucidates the great truth of the gospel--the Innocent One suffering for the guilty, the Just One for the unjust. I ask philosophy, I challenge every system and religion invented by man, to explain this mystery of substitution in the moral government of Jehovah--the holy Son of God suffering and dying in man's stead--and all is silence! There is no solution, there is no clue but His love--His own divine and eternal love supplies it.
Oh, yes! all His life was love--love to His Father, love to His commands, love to His honor, love to His truth, love to His person, love to man, love to sinners the vilest, to rebels the greatest, to enemies the bitterest, to His murderers the fiercest--love which constrained Him to lay down His sacred life, to give Himself an expiatory offering and an atoning sacrifice unto God for man's salvation. This one single, magic word--love--is the great principle of all that is most stupendous, mysterious, and sublime in our religion. This reveals the Mind where all originated, and unveils the bosom where all centered. The grand secret of heaven is now made known!
And yet it is the substitution of one mystery for another. If love explains His mission and defines His work, what shall explain His love itself? Truly, "the love of Christ passes knowledge." But in the embrace of this mystery I am willing forever to dwell. Conscious that His almighty arms are around me, I ask, I desire no more than the assurance that "He has loved me, and has given Himself for me." I fall before Him in the dust, I kiss the border of His robe, I bathe His feet with tears, until at length, weighed down with the weight of such amazing love, my cup running over, my soul filled to its utmost capacity of emotion, I exclaim, "I am sick with love. Turn away Your eyes from me, for They have overcome me. Withhold Your hand, or take me up into Your presence, where there is fullness of joy; and raise me to Your right hand, where there are pleasures for evermore."
Thus what a debtor is the child of God! Ask the believer in Jesus for what he is indebted, how much he owes! He replies, "I am indebted more than I can ever pay. I owe my happy being to God, my ransomed soul to Christ, my new-born life to the Holy Spirit. I owe my body, soul, and spirit to my Savior, for He purchased all with His own most precious blood, saved me from death, ransomed me from condemnation, rescued me from hell. I am a debtor to sovereign grace, but for which I would never have come as a poor sinner to the feet of Jesus, but would have lived and died and had been eternally lost in my sins. I am daily, hourly, a debtor to the restraints of divine grace, to the constraints of divine love, to the consolations of divine sympathy, and to that divine power which keeps me from falling and preserves me unto His heavenly kingdom."
Such is the grateful acknowledgment of every child of God, of every sinner saved by grace. Beloved, evidence your indebtedness by your cheerful obedience, your holy walk, your unreserved surrender. If you love Him, keep His commandments. If you would confess Him, bear His cross. If you would imitate Him, die to sin and to the world. If you would glorify Him, "present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your most reasonable service."
"Lord, when my thoughts delighted rove
Amid the wonders of Your love,
Your sight revives my drooping heart,
And bids invading fears depart.
"Guilty and weak, to You I fly,
On Your atoning blood rely;
And on Your righteousness depend,
My Lord, my Savior, and my Friend.
"Be all my heart, be all my days,
Devoted to Your single praise
And let my glad obedience prove,
How much I owe, how much I love."
But what is the import of this petition--"Forgive us our sins?" Let us examine it. It at once confronts us with the sin-forgiving God. It presents Him to our view exercising one of the most divine and glorious prerogatives of His nature, the prerogative of pardoning sin. Against whom is sin committed? Against God. Then in whose hands alone is the prerogative and power of pardon lodged? In His against whom the sin is committed. This single and simple argument overthrows entirely the Popish figment of priestly absolution--that is, the confession of sin to, and the exercise of forgiveness by, MAN. Such a doctrine resolves the whole matter of salvation into mere human agency. In the Romanistic scheme, the power of the priest is everything. He is a confessing priest, a forgiving priest, a sacrificing priest, and, I may add, a ruling, despotic priest. Man is everything, and Christ is virtually nothing.
But this petition, taught us by our Lord, brings us through the true Priesthood into the presence of the only sin-pardoning Being in the universe. Pardon is ingrained with God, and it being the most godly exercise of His divine sovereignty, He delegates it to no other. It is His divine right, His exclusive property, and He has fenced and vindicated it with the most holy and jealous care. See how early in the history of the race God stepped forward, as it were, invested with this divine and magnificent robe. "The Lord passed by Moses, and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, patience, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin."
Here we have the very marrow of the gospel at the very commencement of the Bible. Indeed, what is the Bible, the whole Bible, but a record of the "glorious gospel of the blessed God?" It is a gradual development of God's plan of salvation by the revelation of Jesus Christ. We have in the prophet Micah another remarkable unfolding of God's sin-forgiving character--"Who is a God like unto you, who pardons iniquity, transgression, and sin." And why does He pardon? It is written, "Because He delights in mercy." When God is spoken of in His word as delighting in any one especial perfection of His nature--for He must delight in all--we have the most transcendent view of the greatness, the glory, and the preciousness of that perfection. Now, God is said to "delight in mercy." It is a natural, essential perfection of His being. It is the spring from whence pardon flows through Christ's atoning blood; and pardon is the channel through which streams of peace, and joy, and hope flow into the soul. Every spiritual blessing comes through the door of forgiven sin.
We reach, then, a most precious and encouraging view of this subject--the DELIGHT with which God exercises this divine prerogative of pardon. Oh, how low are our thoughts of the readiness with which He meets the penitent sinner with the sentence of forgiveness! Listen to those words of sweetest music breathing from Isaiah's harp--"Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord; for He will have mercy upon him, and to our God; for He will abundantly pardon." What says Nehemiah? "You are a God ready to pardon." Such is God's character. Such is the Being with whom we have alone to do in the great and momentous matter of our sins. MERCY is the brightest jewel in the diadem of God; and mercy rejoices against judgment. In this respect the government of God and the government of man essentially differ. In the DivineGovernment, mercy is central and justice incidental, In the human government, justice is central and mercy incidental. God, in His dealings with the sinner, works from the center of love to the circumference of justice; man, in his dealings with man, works from the center of justice to the circumference of mercy. Thus God ends where man begins. Not until love, as it were, has exhausted all its resources; not until mercy has uttered her last and latest appeal to the sinner to repent and return, does justice step forward to arrest the criminal and hail him to judgment.
Can we, then, hesitate to throw ourselves at the feet of His pardoning mercy who has said, "Come, now, and let us reason together, says the Lord; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow, though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." Who shall prohibit you when God invites your approach? who shall say 'no', when He has said 'yes'? Who shall affirm that your sins are too enormous, your iniquities too aggravated, your transgressions too many, to be forgiven? Bring the great, the measureless, the long-standing and accumulated debt, and in penitence and faith, cast it down at the footstool of mercy, and see if God will not be true to His word--"If we confess our sins, He is able and just to forgive us our sins."
The order in which the Holy Spirit in this passage places the precept and the doctrine, is worthy of remark. First, the confession of sin; second, the forgiveness of sin. God has laid great stress in His word upon the confession of sin. How touching His language addressed to His backsliding people, whose backslidings were of a most aggravated character--than which none could have been of deeper guilt, seeing that they had committed the sin of idolatry!--"Only acknowledge your iniquity." This was all that He required at their hands. "Only acknowledge." Poor penitent soul, bending in tears and self-reproaches over this page, read these words again and again, and yet again, until they have scattered all your dark, repelling thoughts of this sin-forgiving God, winning you to His feet as His restored and pacified child--"only acknowledge your iniquity."
"What! Lord! after all that I have done, after my base returns, my repeated wanderings, my aggravated transgressions, my complicated iniquity, my sins against conviction, light, and love; do you still stretch out your hand to me, a poor, wretched wanderer as I am? Do you go forth to meet, to welcome, to pardon me? Do you watch the first kindling of penitence, the first tear of contrition, the first word of confession--'Father, I have sinned!' Lord, I fall at Your feet, since You say, 'Only acknowledge your iniquity,' the greatest of sinners. Your power has drawn me, Your love has subdued me, Your grace has conquered me!" Such was the royal penitent's experience "I said I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord, and You forgave the iniquity of my sin." My beloved reader, God only writes the sentence of forgiveness upon a contrite, sin-confessing heart.
The confession of sin, to be real and acceptable to Him, must not be in the abstract, but minute and in detail. There is a great and fatal danger of merging what are falsely termed "little sins" into great ones; of allowing the major to absorb the minor. We overlook, in our confessions to God, the sins of the heart, the thoughts, the imagination, and the tongue. We do not take into account the sins of indolence, extravagance, wasted time, lost opportunities, neglected privileges; worldliness of dress, of living, and of recreation; covetousness, baseness, selfishness, uncharitableness, malice, slander, unkind and false insinuations. These are sins which exist to a great enormity, and yet seldom enter into our confessions, or lay our mouths in the dust before God. "Oh," as a holy man of God has said, "there is nothing more heartless than some of those general confessions that come from the lips of man." Such, then, is the nature of that confession of sin, which He to whom alone confession is to be made, and with whom exclusively belongs the prerogative of pardon, demands. The Lord lay it closely upon our hearts!
The remaining portion of this chapter must be devoted to a yet untouched, but important part of our subject--the DAILY APPLICATION FOR DIVINE FORGIVENESS.
With regard to this point, there occurs a most remarkable and instructive, yet much misunderstood passage, in the exquisitely touching narrative of Christ's act of washing the disciples' feet. The words are these--"A person who has bathed all over does not need to wash, except for the feet, to be entirely clean." The proposal of our Lord to wash the feet of His disciples, although in perfect harmony with every previous act of His holy life, was perfectly unique and startling to the high-minded, impulsive apostle Peter. Recoiling from a proposal so menial and condescending on the part of his Master, he exclaims, "You shall never wash my feet!" He had yet to learn the lesson that, "to obey was better than sacrifice." Such, in effect, was the teaching of his Lord when He uttered the significant words, "If I wash you not, you have no part with me."
Startled by this solemn warning, and with an impetuosity characteristic of this disciple, he rushes to an opposite extreme, and exclaims, "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head." Thus difficult is simple obedience--self-will, refusing, on the one hand, what Christ demands, and demanding, on the other hand, what Christ does not offer. It was this dialogue between the Lord and the disciple that elicited the declaration, to which once more I call the reader's attention, "A person who has bathed all over does not need to wash, except for the feet, to be entirely clean."
Our Lord, in the first place, refers to the great washing, as a thing past and done; not to the washing of baptism, whether received in the unconsciousness of infancy or with the intelligence of faith, but the washing of atoning blood, even His own blood, shed for the cleansing "of sin and uncleanness." The true believer has already passed through this washing; he is now and entirely washed; he is now and fully pardoned; his is the condition of a present, a complete, and irrevocable forgiveness. How emphatic the terms used by the Lord--"A person who has bathed all over!" Corresponding with this, how decided the language of the apostle, who will not be suspected of any trimming in a truth so vital and precious as this--"Such were some of you, but you are washed."
Mistake not, my reader, as some have done, the present and perfect washing here referred to. There are preachers and writers who speak boldly of "holy baptism," of the "laver of baptism," of "baptismal purity," as if there existed in God's word an idea, or the phraseology expressive of the idea, so derogatory of the work of the Holy Spirit, and so fatally imperiling the deathless interests of souls. Woe be to us if we either add to, or take from, what is written in God's word! The terrible threatening with which the sacred canon closes, at once affirms the completeness, and fences the integrity of the Bible while it solemnly warns us of the crime of denying the one and of tampering with the other.
But the only baptism referred to in these remarkable words of the Lord Jesus is, the 'Baptism of His own blood'. Thus interpreted, how significant and precious the truth, "A person who has bathed all over." The atoning blood of the Savior, the "precious blood of Christ, as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot," is the divine, the only laver in which the penitent and believing soul is now washed, entirely washed, forever washed, from ALL sin. "By one offering He has perfected forever those who are sanctified." This is the first, the great and indispensable washing--"Without the shedding of blood there is no remission." Unwashed, uncleansed in His blood through faith, our sins are yet unpardoned, our guilt is yet uncleansed, our debt is yet unremitted.
But if we, on the other hand, have by faith approached His blood, have plunged into this open Fountain, have bathed in this divine laver, and have thus been baptized in blood, our present and high position is that of a sinner all whose sins are forgiven, all whose guilt is cleansed, and whose person appears before God washed whiter than snow. Seek, my reader, to ascertain your true standing, your real position as before God. Remember, no altar but the cross, no sacrifice but Christ, no laver but His blood, can avail to snatch you from endless condemnation, to save you from the worm that never dies, from the fire that is never quenched.
And yet a great truth is enfolded in the condescending act of our Lord when He "took a basin of water, and washed His disciples' feet." What was the moral significance of this lowly act? what the evangelical interpretation of this expressive symbol? Most clearly and undoubtedly Christ taught us the necessity of daily repentance, washing, and forgiveness. The "feet" are those parts of the body which are the most exposed to the dust and defilement of earth. The head may teem with lofty thoughts, the heart pulsate with pure affections, the hands overflow with generous actions, the eye roam amid countless beauties, and the whole soul live in an ecstasy of delight, while the feet trod and accumulate the dust from whence we sprang and to which we return. Does there exist, then, no necessity, palpable and impressive, of daily washing? What, in eastern climates, is a literal and indispensable act--the constant laving of the sandaled feet--in the divine life is a spiritual and not less necessary one.
The Christian's weary travel is through the dusty lanes, and defiling paths, and across the sandy desert of a world "lying in the wicked one." And whether he be engaged in recreation, in business, in social communion, or in duty, although the soul is washed, and is entirely clean, the feet still need continuous washing in the "water and the blood" which issued from the Savior's pierced side. If it be true, as an eminent divine has remarked, that "the devil lets no saint of God reach heaven with unsoiled feet," it is equally and yet more divinely true that Christ came into the world to "destroy the works of the devil," and this among them, by providing for the believer's daily repentance and remission of sin.
With this petition, then, and "having boldness (or liberty) to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus," let us, day by day, "draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water," breathing in our heavenly Father's ear the petition taught us by His Son, "Forgive us our trespasses. Forgive my daily failures, negligences, and carelessness of my religious life. The omissions of duty--the shortcomings of practice--the waste of time--lost opportunities--the neglect of my Bible and my closet--the excuses for sin--the parleying with the tempter--the self-seeking--the subtle shades of evil blending with my commercial, professional, sacred calling. Forgive all my eruptions of temper--my evil speaking--the wounds I have inflicted, the injuries I have done--the stiflings of conscience, and the grieving of the Holy Spirit. Pardon my iniquities, O Lord, for they are many and great."
And in this daily washing of the feet, may there not be a pointed reference to the constant application of the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit?--"the body washed with pure water." This was strikingly shadowed forth in the type of the laver placed by God's command between the congregation and the altar, which was to be filled with water, in which those who approached the altar were first to wash. "And he set the laver between the tent of the congregation and the altar, and put water there, to wash withal. And Moses and Aaron, and his sons, washed their hands and their feet thereat--when they went into the tent of the congregation, and when they came near unto the altar, they washed; as the Lord commanded Moses."
They had already worshiped at the "altar of burnt-offering by the door of the tabernacle," and had "offered upon it the burnt-offering and the meat-offering." But now, penetrating into the tabernacle, and coming near the altar of incense, they were intercepted by the laver filled with water, which stood between the tent and the altar, in which they must wash their hands and their feet--not the whole body--before they came near unto the altar. Did not this signify that, not only does the believer need Christ's blood of atonement, but also thesanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit in its daily application to the feet--the earth-soiled, earth-wounded, earth-weary feet--of his homeward travel?
Thus are we taught our daily need of the Holy Spirit, not only to guide and comfort us, but what should be still more deeply the yearning of our heart, that He might sanctify us. As the Spirit of holiness, He makes us holy; as the Sanctifier, He promotes our progressive sanctification. This He does by developing the divine nature within us, by curbing our strong propensities to evil, and by leading us continually to the blood of atonement. And when our Lord filled the basin with water, and washed the disciples' feet, by that lowly yet significant act He seemed to say, "He that is washed in my blood is clean from the guilt and condemnation of sin every whit, yet needs afterwards the daily sanctifying grace of my Spirit." Thus constantly approaching the altar of sacrifice and the laver of purification, Enoch-like, we shall "walk with God." Living in perpetual sunlight, our path to glory will be one of progressive luster, even that of the just, which shines more and more unto the perfect day.
There is an UNSELFISHNESS in this petition, as taught us by Christ, which we have need to learn. "Forgive US OUR sins." We are to be concerned on account of, to mourn for, and to confess penitentially, the sins of others. And although no individual can repent and believe, be pardoned and accepted on behalf of another, yet, while we are commanded "not to be partakers of other men's sins," at the same time, like Nehemiah and Daniel, we are to confess the sins of our families, of the Church, and of the nation, and humble ourselves before God because of them, and to intercede for His pardoning mercy. Did not Moses, throw himself in the breach, and more than once, by his intercessory supplications, avert the Divine judgments from the children of Israel? "Pardon, I beseech You, the iniquities of this people, according unto the greatness of Your mercy." "And the Lord said, I have pardoned according unto your word." How earnest and touching the prayer! how quick and gracious the response! Such, also, is the teaching of the apostles--"I exhort that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men." Pardoned ourselves, let us wave before God our censer of intercession for the pardon of others--our parents, our children, our kindred, our friends--while the jubilee sound of sins forgiven through Christ still rolls its echoes round a world needing God's forgiveness.
"When this passing world is done,
When has sunk yon glaring sun,
When we stand with Christ in glory,
Looking o'er life's finished story,
Then, Lord, shall I fully know--
Not until then--how much I owe.
"When I hear the wicked call
On the rocks and hills to fall,
When I see them start and shrink
On the fiery deluge brink,
Then, Lord, shall I fully know--
Not until then--how much I owe.
"When I stand before the throne,
Dressed in beauty not my own,
When I see You as You are,
Love You with unsinning heart,
Then, Lord, shall I fully know--
Not until then--how much I owe.
"When the praise of heaven I hear,
Loud as thunders on the ear,
Loud as many waters' noise,
Sweet as harp's melodious voice,
Then, Lord, shall I fully know--
Not until then--how much I owe.
"Even on earth, as through a glass,
Darkly let Your glory pass,
Make forgiveness feel so sweet,
Make Your Spirit's help so meet,
Even on earth, Lord, make me know
Something of how much I owe.
"Often I walk beneath the cloud,
Dark as midnight's gloomy shroud;
But, when fear is at its height,
Jesus comes, and all is light;
Blessed Jesus! bid me show
Doubting saints how much I owe.
"When in flowery paths I tread,
Often by sin I'm captive led;
Often I fall--but still arise--
The Spirit comes, the Tempter flies;
Blessed Spirit! bid me show
Weary sinners all I owe.
"Often the sights of sorrow reign--
Weeping, sickness, sighing, pain;
But a night Your anger burns,
Morning comes, and joy returns;
God of comfort! bid me show
To Your poor how much I owe."
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