Matthew 6:12,14-15 Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors … For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will forgive you too; but, if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Not only does a man need to realize that he needs to pray this petition of the Lord’s Prayer; he also needs to realize what he is doing when he prays it. Of all petitions of the Lord’s Prayer this is the most frightening.

“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” The literal meaning is : “Forgive us our sins in proportion as we forgive those who have sinned against us.” In Matthew 6:14-15 Jesus says in the plainest possible language that if we forgive others, God will forgive us; but if we refuse to forgive others, God will refuse to forgive us. It is, therefore, quite clear that, if we pray this petition with an unhealed breach, an unsettled quarrel in our lives, we are asking God not to forgive us.

If we say, “I will never forgive so-and-so for what he or she has done to me,” if we say, “I will never forget what so-and-so did to me,” and then go and take this petition on our lips, we are quite deliberately asking God not to forgive us. As someone has put it: “Forgiveness, like peace, is one and indivisible.” Human forgiveness and divine forgiveness are inextricably intercombined. Our forgiveness of our fellow-men and God’s forgiveness of us cannot be separated; they are interlinked and interdependent. If we remembered what we are doing when we take this petition on our lips, there would be times when we would not dare to pray it.

When Robert Louis Stevenson lived in the South Sea Islands he used always to conduct family worship in the mornings for his household. It always concluded with the Lord’s Prayer. One morning in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer he rose from his knees and left the room. His health was always precarious, and his wife followed him thinking that he was ill. “Is there anything wrong?” she said. “Only this,” said Stevenson, “I am not fit to pray the Lord’s Prayer today.” No one is fit to pray the Lord’s Prayer so long as the unforgiving spirit holds sway within his heart. If a man has not put things right with his fellow-men, he cannot put things right with God.

If we are to have this Christian forgiveness in our lives, three things are necessary.

(i) We must learn to understand. There is always a reason why a person does something. If he is boorish and impolite and cross-tempered, maybe he is worried or in pain. If he treats us with suspicion and dislike, maybe he has misunderstood, or has been misinformed about something we have said or done. Maybe the man is the victim of his own environment or his own heredity. Maybe his temperament is such that life is difficult and human relations a problem for him. Forgiveness would be very much easier for us, if we tried to understand before we allowed ourselves to condemn.

(ii) We must learn to forget. So long as we brood upon a slight or an injury, there is no hope that we will forgive. We so often say, “I can’t forget what so-and-so did to me,” or “I will never forget how I was treated by such-and-such a person or in such-and-such a place.” These are dangerous sayings, because we can in the end make it humanly impossible for us to forget. We can print the memory indelibly upon our minds.

Once the famous Scottish man of letters, Andrew Lang, wrote and published a very kind review of a book by a young man. The young man repaid him with a bitter and insulting attack. About three years later Andrew Lang was staying with Robert Bridges, the Poet Laureate. Bridges saw Lang reading a certain book. “Why,” he said, “that’s another book by that ungrateful young cub who behaved so shamefully to you.” To his astonishment he found that Andrew Lang’s mind was a blank on the whole affair. He had completely forgotten the bitter and insulting attack. To forgive, said Bridges, was the sign of a great man, but to forget was sublime. Nothing but the cleansing spirit of Christ can take from these memories of ours the old bitterness that we must forget.

(iii) We must learn to love. We have already seen that Christian love, agape ( Greek #26 ), is that unconquerable benevolence, that undefeatable good-will, which will never seek anything but the highest good of others, no matter what they do to us, and no matter how they treat us. That love can come to us only when Christ, who is that love, comes to dwell within our hearts–and he cannot come unless we invite him.

To be forgiven we must forgive, and that is a condition of forgiveness which only the power of Christ can enable us to fulfill.