Blog 151: 3.20.45 - 3.20.47

Iain D Campbell

The remaining petitions deal with all that pertains to our spiritual life, and Calvin sees a correlation between them and the nature of the new covenant. The promise of God in the covenant to forgive the sins of his people (Jeremiah 31:34) Calvin sees as related to the petition 'forgive us our debts'. God's promise to engrave his law on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33) Calvin sees as related to the petition for deliverance from evil and help against temptation. In this way the Lord's Prayer becomes a fitting pattern for the new covenant believer.

Our sins are called 'debts' because they leave us accountable to God, and freedom from them can only come by way of forgiveness. Thus 'in the first section of the prayer the highest perfection is set before us, but in the latter our weakness'. Those who truly aspire to the glory of God in all things are most aware of their own needs. The addition of the words 'as we forgive our debtors' is not meant to make our receiving forgiveness conditional on our granting it, but to show the freeness and wonder of God's grace. If we can willingly forgive others, how much more does God freely forgive us? As Calvin comments on Matthew 6:12: 'if the Spirit of God reigns in our hearts, every description of ill-will and revenge ought to be banished'.

The inscription of the law on our hearts corresponds to the petition that God will deliver us from evil, by keeping us from temptation. As he makes clear in the commentary on Matthew 6:13, Calvin sees one petition here. Our battle is with evil, that is, with sin and with the devil. We may be drawn away from God by the allurements of what appears good, or by the difficulties of life's trials, and 'we pray that whatever is presented to us tending either way we may turn to good - namely, that we may not be puffed up in prosperity or yet cast down in adversity' (3.20.46).

Not that we would wish to be completely free from such testings, says Calvin; without them we would become lazy and sluggish in our faith. But their power is great, and we require the help of God to be given to us. It is also fitting, says Calvin, that we conclude with the one place where there is 'firm and tranquil repose for our faith' (3.20.47) - in the ascription of kingdom, power and glory to God forever.