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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

An Exposition of the Assembly's
Shorter Catechism

by John Flavel


Concerning Forgiveness of Sins.

Q. 105. What do we pray for in the fifth petition?
A. In the fifth petition, which is, [And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,] we pray, that God, for Christ's sake, would freely pardon all our sins; which we are the rather encouraged to ask, because by his grace we are enabled from the heart to forgive others.


Q. 1. Why doth this petition immediately follow the former?
A. To teach, that all temporal and corporal good things, without special and spiritual ones, are little worth; Psalm 4:6. There be many that say, who will shew us any good? Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us. Psalm 17:14-15. From men which are thy hand, O Lord, from men of the world, which have their portion in this life, and whose belly thou fillest with thy hid treasure. They are full of children, and leave the rest of their substance to their babes. As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness? I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.

Q. 2. Why is it annexed to the former with the copulative and?
A. To teach, that to be one minute in the confluence of all earthly good things, without the pardon of sin, is a very dangerous and dreadful condition; Luke 12:16, 20. And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee; then whose shall those things be which thou hast provided?

Q. 3. Why is forgiveness of sins placed in the front of spiritual blessings?
A. Because till sin be pardoned, we are under wrath, and can have no special saving grace applied to us, till we are aceepted; till we are in Christ, we have no covenant-right to the blessings of Christ; Matthew 11:28. Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Ver. 30. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light; John 15:4-5. Abide in me, and I in you; as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches. He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without me ye can do nothing. Ver. 7. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you; ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. John 3:36. He that believeth on the Son, hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son, shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.

Q. 4. Why do we pray for forgiveness? Cannot we make amends for our sins, and be freed from their guilt, without pardon?
A. No, all that we can ever do, or suffer, can never expiate the guilt of the least sin; Psalm 49:7-8. None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him; (for the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever) 1 Samuel 2:25. If one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him: but if a man sin against the Lord, who shall entreat for him?

Q. 5. Does God then freely, and out of mere grace, forgive us?
A. Yes, without any respect had to anything we can do, or be; Isaiah 43:25. I, even I am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins. Romans 9:15. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. Ver. 18. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.

Q. 6. How doth God forgive sins?
A. (1.) Universally, all sins; Exodus 34:6-7. And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands; forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin. Jeremiah 33:8. And I will cleanse them from all their iniquities, whereby they have sinned against me; And I will pardon all their iniquities, whereby they have sinned, and whereby they have transgressed against me. Hosea 14:2. Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously. (2.) Completely, and perfectly; Isaiah 43:25. I, even I am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins. Psalm 103:12. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. Micah 7:19. He will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. Isaiah 38:17. For thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back. (3.) Everlastingly; Jeremiah 31:34. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. Hebrews 8:12. And their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.

Q. 7. But doth not God punish them afterward, whom he has justified and forgiven?
A. No, not with a proper and vindictive punishment; but he brings evils upon them for their sins, as a Father chastises his child; and other sorts of afflictions for their spiritual good: He may be angry, as a Father, with those he has pardoned, but never hate them as a condemning Judge; Psalm 89:28. My mercy will I keep for him for evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with him. Ver. 34. My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.

Q. 8. How can God be said freely to pardon all our sins, when we p ray it may be done for Christís sake; does not that imply that Christ has satisfied God for our sins, and deserved our remission?
A. Yes, it does so; for the Lord Christ, by his life and death, did satisfy Divine Justice, and did merit our forgiveness: But if he did so, we did not so; our sins cost him dear, but their pardon coat us nothing; our pardon is perfectly free to us, though due to Christ, for God gave Christ freely for us; God accepts of his merits, and applies them to us freely; Romans 3:24. Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ.

Q. 9. But is there nothing required from us as the condition of pardon? and if so, how can it be absolutely free?
A. There are required repentance from sin, and faith in the Lord Christ; Luke 13:3. But except ye repent, ye shall a]] likewise perish; John 3:36. And he that believeth not the Son, shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. This is required from us towards our pardon, but yet it is free, (1.) Because God freely ordains thus to pardon. (2.) Because both these are the free gifts of God; Acts 11:18. Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life. Ephesians 2:8. For by grace are ye saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.

Q. 10. When then are our sins forgiven?
A. Just upon our closure with Christ by faith, in that very moment; Romans 5:1. Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 8:1. There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.

Q. 11. Why do we pray, in the answer, for the forgiveness of all our sins?
A. Because if the least guilt should remain upon us, it would exclude us from Godís favour, and lodge us in everlasting burnings; Romans 6:23. For the wages of sin is death.

Q. 12. What are the privileges and blessings that accompany pardon?
A. Justification is accompanied with adoption; John 1:12. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name. With the Spirit and principle of all grace and holiness; 1 Corinthians 6:11. And such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. With an infallible title to eternal glory; John 3:16. That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life; Romans 8:30. Whom he justified, them he also glorified.

Q. 13. How may we know that we are pardoned and justified?
A. Ordinarily, by our sanctification, by our loathing of sin, our contempt of the world, our valuing of Christ, our love and thankfulness to God, &c. 1 Corinthians 6:11. But ye are sanctified. Romans 7:24. O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? Galatians 6:14. By whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. 1 Peter 2:7. Unto you therefore which believe, he is precious. Luke 7:47. Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much.

Q. 14. What is meant by [our?] Is it only such sins as we have personally and actually committed?
A. No, but also Adamís sin, which is ours by imputation; Romans 5:19. By one manís disobedience many were made sinners. And original sin, which is ours by inhesion; Psalm 51:5. Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. And other menís sins, which we have made ours, by exciting them to them, not hindering of them, silence at them, and other ways; 2 Samuel 12:9. Thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon. 1 Timothy 5:22. Neither be partaker of other men's sins.

Q. 15. Wherefore are sins called debts?
A. Because they are a non-payment of Godís dues, a non performance of our duty; which makes us liable to the arrest of death, and to the prison of hell.

Q. 16. Why do we plead our own forgiveness of others?
A. Not as any merit of our own pardon; but either as an encouragement of ourselves to beg pardon; seeing such evil, envious, and malignant persons, are enabled to forgive others, much more may we hope the good and gracious God will forgive us: or, as a condition, without which, we can have no pardon, and with which we shall; Matthew 6:14. For if we forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

Q. 17. How do others trespass against us?
A. When they injure us, either in our persons, or names, or families, or estates, or souls, &c. 1 Samuel 2:25. If one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him; but if a man sin against the Lord, who shall intreat for him?

Q. 18. Can we forgive our neighbour freely, fully, and perfectly, as God doth forgive us?
A. We cannot.

Q. 19. What then is the meaning of Godís forgiving us, as we forgive others?
A. Not as to the quantity and perfection of forgiveness, but as to the sincerity and quality thereof; Matthew 18:35. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.

Q. 20. Are we always bound to manifest outwardly our love and forgiveness to all our enemies, and to behave ourselves towards them as friends?
A. No, if we have experienced them to be treacherous and false, and see no change, we are not bound to trust them; if they be, and remain wicked and profane, we must not associate with them; Psalm 26:5. I have hated the congregation of evil doers, and will not sit with the wicked. Ver. 4. I have not sat with vain persons, neither will I go in with dissemblers.

Q. 21. What then must we do to such?
A. We must heartily forgive them all their injuries, we must love them with the love of benevolence, pray for them, and be ready and willing to do them all good, both of body and soul; Matthew 5:44-45. But I say unto you, Love your enemies; bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despite-fully use you and persecute you. That you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

Q. 22. If we forgive others, shall we be forgiven ourselves?
A. We shall, if out of obedience to God, and love to Christ, we do it.

Q. 23. What is the first inference from hence?
A. That except our sins be forgiven, we are lost and undone creatures; and therefore we must never be contented, till we are pardoned.

Q. 24. What is a second inference?
A. That God is a God of love, goodness, and pardon; seeing he will not pardon us, if we do not pardon others; but will, if we do so.

Q. 25. What is a third inference?
A. That if we live in hatred when we pray the Lordís prayer, we pray for our own damnation; Matthew 18:22. Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times, but until seventy times seven. Ver. 45. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive, not every one his brother their trespasses.

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