The Prayer Collect
LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy household the Church in continual godliness; that through thy protection it may be free from all adversities, and devoutly given to serve thee in good works, to the glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Philippians i. 3.
I THANK my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace. For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the tender mercies of Christ Jesus. And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.
21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? 22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. 23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. 24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. 25 But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. 28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. 29 And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. 31 So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. 32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: 33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? 34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. 35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses. (Matt 18:21-35)
Reading the last part of the Prayer of Collect today, one might be led to believe that the first aim of the Church is to serve God in good works; but that assumption misses the central point. It is God’s Holy Ghost that keeps the Church centered on God’s will and purpose, and maintains the Church in godliness. Our efforts at ‘being good enough’ always fail of accomplishment. Only in its dependence upon the Providence and protection of God can the Church be free from all adversities. It is when the heart of the Church is centered upon God’s perfect will that it can be devoutly given to good works. The good works of the Church are the fruit that issues from sound faith and doctrine. Without faith, we are totally incapable of good works. We must be God-Like if we are His children. That quality enables us to forgive sins against us even as we are forgiven.
Paul echoes the sentiment of the Prayer Book Prayer of Absolution in assigning whatever good work that has ensued from his preaching to be solely to the glory and keeping of God. The officiate at worship in the Anglican Church does not forgive a single sin or absolve a single soul of sin. He merely pronounces that it is the will of God to forgive all who earnestly repent. The arrogance of Rome has led to the ungodly error of believing that the priest can forgive or absolve sin. The Pharisees challenged Jesus when He forgave the man with palsy of his sin. They said, “Only God can forgive sins.” The Pharisees were right – only God can forgive sins. Their tragic mistake was in failing to recognize Christ as God Himself. When you think of it, how can a sinner forgive sins of other sinners – and, of course, ministers are sinners, too? It is reprehensible that a pretentious minister would ever claim that authority which belongs ONLY to God.
It is very timely that our Gospel text today will address forgiveness for it is a component of every worship service, but also of everyday life for the Christian. So many errors have grown up around the law of forgiveness, and many are deceived by blind guides who urge forgiveness of every trespass against us even when the offender does not ask. If a criminal broke into your home and began murdering every member of your household beginning with your tender young daughter, would you forgive him with each additional murder, or would you take action to defend your family by neutralizing the murderer? It is absolute nonsense to preach, or believe, that we must go about simply forgiving every cruel act of the wicked. This false teaching has led to a sterile American church in which no discipline or defense can be possible against the ungodly among us.
This fact is so clearly and unmistakably brought out in our Gospel text. Peter, seeking to appear quite pious and proper, asks the Lord: “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times?” Seven is considered a very divine and complete number, so Peter chooses this number to gain favor to himself. He believes that he is being over-generous in his charity to forgive. The answer Christ returns is one which most probably shocked, not only Peter, but all those other disciples listening. Jesus responds: “I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” Well, this number is very great, and made up of two perfect multipliers: 7x10x7 = 490. Please do not get bogged down with counting how many times you have forgiven your neighbor until you reach this magic figure – that is not the meaning. A talent was of an enormous value, and every sin is of enormous magnitude. King David says that his sins were more than the hairs on his head – and David was not bald! “. . . . mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of mine head: therefore my heart faileth me.” (Psalms 40:12) The meaning which Christ conveyed was that there should be an indefinite and limitless number of times that we must grant forgiveness to those who seek it. There is a reason for this large number which I will explain later. If we forgive as many as 490 times, forgiveness will become an imbedded habit of life (as it should be).
I saw a very erroneous and misleading quote on Facebook the other day which showed a large man pointing at his young child and saying: “You must forgive everyone their sins whether they ask for it or not!” What a lie from Hell. This idea is not Godly and nowhere found in Scripture. Jesus uses a parable of two different men to illustrate the real nature of forgiveness – one of a King who forgives a servant, and of the servant who does not forgive.
Before getting into this account of the King and the ungrateful servant, let us consider, seriously, the nature of forgiveness that God has granted to you. When you fully confirmed, or accepted, Christ as your Lord and Savior, you prayed for forgiveness of all of your sins. God did, at that very moment, forgive you of all of your sins – but not a moment before your repentance of them. There must have been a very large multitude of sins for which you were forgiven – certainly a number exceeding 490 Since that time, unless you are a very exceptional saint (an I doubt you are), there have been untold scores of sin for which you have repented and been forgiven: perhaps scores, perhaps hundreds, perhaps thousands? More like thousands, I would say. But God has forgiven you each sin of which you have repented. Now let us look at the example Jesus gives in the Parable:
- The King and His Debtor:
23 “Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. 24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. 25 But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.”
Who do you suppose the King represents in the above passage? It is, of course, God. Who do you suppose was the servant? It was Jerry, Bob, Betty, Paulette, Richard, Donald, and all who call upon the Name of the Lord. We are all a part of every Word that the bible speaks – either good or bad. There will come a time when the books are closed and accounting made, friend, of our lives. God will review our account and decide if our debts have been either paid, or delinquent. May I remind you that your sins are ENORMOUS! But God’s grace is sufficient to cover all through the redemption made available through the sacrifice of His only Begotten Son. Now, I will tell you that ten thousand talents will not begin to number your sins, or mine. But ten thousand talents represent a grievous debt of billions of dollars in our contemporary society. It is a figure that no man can pay. Is there any way that we can make amends for our sins to repay God for the blood of His Son shed on the cross for them? Is it not a grievous number of sins? This servant to which the Lord makes reference had racked up an enormous debt which he could not possibly pay. The proper punishment for not paying one’s debts was imprisonment and his family sold into slavery until the debt was paid. Can you pay such a debt from the prison of Hell? Can we keep the law so perfectly that the King will not find a debt on our account sheet?
The servant was frantic with grief and hopelessness. There being no possible means of repaying the debt (of sin), what did the servant do, and what COULD he do? He had no recourse except that of begging mercy through repentance. 26 “The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.” Have mercy on me, Lord. Forgive my great shortcomings (my sins) and I shall change. Have you come to the point of knowing your only recourse was to throw yourself down before the Throne of God’s Grace and beg forgiveness – not from a priest, but from God? How does the Lord respond to such tears of repentance? 27 “Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.” This act of the King (God) is not exceptional, but made available all whose burdens of sin have become unbearable. He did not simply grant a probationary release, but a permanent forgiveness of ALL debt. What a relief it must have been to have been relieved of such a burden of debt – for the servant, and for you and me, when we came to Christ! Please note that forgiveness was not granted until it was pleaded for. How should we respond afterwards?
- The Forgiven Debtor and the Unforgiven:
How soon does the dog return to its own vomit and the washed pig to wallowing in the mud! “But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.
(2 Peter 2:22) The nature of a dog and a pig remains the same regardless the provision made for them. A reprobate sinner may fain the repentance necessary before God, But his old nature shall return unless he has truly been made a new creature in Christ.
Did this forgiven servant amend his thinking after being forgiven? 28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.” He was greedy when he begged for mercy of the King, and his darkened heart is yet filled with greed – a hundred pence was a pittance compared to even a single talent; but it must be said that the forgiven servant at this point has no obligation to forgive the debt. That obligation will be made in the next verse: 29 “And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.” Suddenly, the circumstances have changed. The same appeal made by the forgiven servant to the King is now being made to him. How he responds will determine his standing with the King (God). Will he freely forgive as he was forgiven? 30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.” First of all, just as we, or a priest, cannot forgive or absolve sin, so can we neither condemn any to the same Hell from which we have been so graciously saved. What abject ingratitude. Once forgiveness is asked for, out of a sincere heart, we have no choice but to forgive. And, just as God does, we should remember the debt no longer that we have forgiven. Make no mistake; the eyes of God are everywhere. His Holy Angels also report directly to Him of every transgression of man.
31 “So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.” The fellow servants were more righteous than the forgiven servant because they were sad to see the injustice of an unforgiving heart. No such injustice remains secret to the mind of God. 32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: 33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? 34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.” God has forgiven us an immensity of sins, yet we often fail to forgive those around us of a single offense thought they come begging for forgiveness. God places no higher standard of forgiveness upon His children than He, Himself, exercises. To be forgiven of God, we must pray for forgiveness. To be forgiven by men, we must repent and ask for forgiveness. Then are we required to forgive without number of times. God compares the process of our responsibility to forgive to be identical to His. Remember the Lord’s Prayer which too many utter in vain? “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” (Matt 6:12) Have we repeated that verse with true conviction? What does this mean? Jesus explains it perfectly in the Parable today and in the sequential statement on the Lord’s Prayer: “For if 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.” (Matt 6:14-15)