IS IT RIGHT FOR A CHRISTIAN TO PRAY FOR FORGIVENESS?
Such a question would be absurd were there not those who contend that it is wrong (even dishonoring to the blood of Christ) for any Christian to ask God to pardon his sins, quoting “HAVING forgiven you ALL trespasses” (Col. 2:13) But sadly there are such Christians, and hence this short article.
Positionally speaking we have ALL our sins or debts cancelled by the sacrifice of the Son of God . . . “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile!” [Psalm 32:1,2] Yet nevertheless, daily sins call for daily repentance and prayer for forgiveness and mercy.
As the Apostle reminds us – “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, WE HAVE AN ADVOCATE with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” [1John 2:1,2] And again – “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso CONFESSETH AND FORSAKETH THEM shall have mercy.” [Prov 28:13]
The whole of psalm 51 is the prayer of a man who was already forgiven ALL his trespasses by the atonement of Christ, and yet he pleads for forgiveness and mercy in the most bitterest form. Are we warranted in supplicating God for the pardon of our sins? For there are those today who insist that WE Christians occupy a different and superior relation to God than David did.
It will no doubt surprise some Christians that we even raise such a question. One would naturally think it was so evident that we OUGHT to pray for forgiveness, that none would question it; that such a prayer is so well founded upon Scripture itself, is so agreeable to our condition as erring believers, and is so honoring to God that we SHOULD take the place of penitent suppliants, acknowledging our offenses and seeking His pardoning mercy, that no further proof is required. But alas, so great is the confusion in Christendom today, and so much error abounds, that we feel obliged to say a few words unto the elucidation of this point.
There is a group, more or less influential, who argue that it is dishonoring to the blood of Christ for any Christian to ask God to pardon his sins, quoting “HAVING forgiven you ALL trespasses” (Col. 2:13). These people confuse the IMPETRATION of the Atonement with its APPLICATION, or in less technical terms, what Christ purchased for His people, with the Holy Spirit’s making good the same to them in the court of their conscience. Let it be clearly pointed out that, in asking God for forgiveness, we do NOT pray as though the blood of Christ had never been shed, or as though OUR tears and prayers could make any compensation to divine justice.
Nevertheless, renewed sins call for renewed repentance: true, we do not then need another Redeemer, but we DO need a fresh exercise of divine mercy toward us (Heb. 4:16), and a fresh application to our conscience of the cleansing blood (1 John 1:7, 9).
The saints of old prayed for pardon: “For Thy name’s sake, O Lord, pardon mine iniquity; for it is great” (Ps. 25:11). The Lord Jesus taught His disciples TO PRAY “Forgive us our debts” (Matthew 6:12), and that prayer is assuredly for Christians today, for it is addressed to “Our FATHER!” In praying for forgiveness we ask God to be gracious to us for CHRIST’S sake; we ask Him not to lay such sins to our charge—”enter not into judgment with Thy servant” (Ps. 143:2); we ask Him for a gracious MANIFESTATION to us of His mercy to our conscience—”Make me TO HEAR joy and gladness; that the bones which Thou hast broken may rejoice” (Ps. 51:8); we ask Him for the comforting proofs of His forgiveness, that we may again have “the joy of His salvation.”
Now it is in Psalm 32 that we learn of the answer which “The God of all grace” (1 Peter 5:10) granted unto His erring but penitent child David. In his introductory remarks thereon Spurgeon said, “Probably his deep repentance over his great sin was followed by such blissful peace that he was led to pour out his spirit in the soft music of this choice song. The word “Maschil” at its head, signifies “Teaching”: “The experience of one believer affords rich instruction to others, it reveals the footsteps of the flock, and so comforts and directs the weak.” At the close of Psalm 51 David had prayed, “O Lord, open Thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Thy praise” (v. 15): here the prayer has been heard, and this is the beginning of the fulfillment of his vow.
“Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile” (Ps. 32:1,2). In the former Psalm David had begun with the plaintive cry for mercy; here he opens with a burst of praise, celebrating the happiness of the pardoned penitent. There we heard the sobs of a man in the agonies of contrition and abasement; here we have an account of their blessed issue. There we had the multiplied synonyms for sin and for the forgiveness which was desired; here is the many-sided preciousness of forgiveness possessed, which runs over in various yet equivalent phrases. The one is a psalm of wailing; the other, to use its own words, a “song of deliverance.”
The joy of conscious pardon sounds out in the opening “BLESSED is the man,” and the exuberance of his spirit rings forth in the melodious variations of the one thought of forgiveness in the opening words. How gratefully he draws on the treasures of his recent experience, which he sets forth as the “taking away” of sin—the removal of an intolerable load from his heart; as the “covering” of sin—the hiding of its hideousness from the all-seeing Eye by the blood of Christ; as the “imputing not” of sin—a debt discharged. How blessed the realization that his own forgiveness would encourage other penitent souls—”FOR THIS shall every one that is godly pray unto Thee” (v. 6). Finally, how precious the deep assurance which enables the restored one to say, “Thou art my hiding place; Thou shalt preserve me from trouble; Thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance” (v. 7)!
Here, then, is hope for the greatest backslider, if he will but humble himself before the God of all grace. True sorrow FOR sin is followed by the pardon OF sin: “If we confess our sins. He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). “Is it possible that such a backslider from God can be recovered, and admitted afterwards to comfortable communion with Him? Doubtless it is: ‘for with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him there is plenteous redemption,’ and He will never cast out one humble penitent believer, whatever his former crimes have been, nor suffer Satan to pluck any of His sheep out of His hand. Let then those who are fallen return to the Lord without delay, and seek forgiveness through the Redeemer’s atoning blood” (Thomas Scott).
Remember this – that so long as David refused to humble himself beneath the mighty hand of God, seeking from Him a spirit of true repentance, and freely confessing his great wickedness, there could be no more peace for him, no more happy communion with God, no further growth in grace! O my reader, we would earnestly press upon you the great importance of keeping short accounts with God. Let not guilt accumulate upon thy conscience: make it a point each night of spreading before Him the sins of the day, and seeking to be cleansed therefrom. Any great sin lying long upon the conscience, unrepented of, or not repented of as the matter requires, only furthers our indwelling corruptions: NEGLECT CAUSES THE HEART TO BE HARDENED! “My wounds stink and are corrupt because of my foolishness” (Ps. 38:5): it was his foolish neglect to make a timely application for the cure of the wounds that sin had made, which he there laments.
“O Israel, return unto the LORD thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. Take with you words, and turn to the LORD: say unto Him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips!” [Hosea 14:1-3]
[The last nine paragraphs are quoted from A.W Pink’s “The Life of David”]