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Life Work of Louis Harms

Theodore Harms 

Chapter 6

The Entrance Sermon of Pastor Louis Harms

Given the Second Sunday in Advent, 1849.

Grace be unto us, and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Text: St. Matthew xviii. 24-35.

"Then came Peter to him, and said, 'Lord how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times?'

"Jesus saith unto him, 'I say not unto thee. Until seven times; but until seventy times seven. Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened to a certain king which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him which owed him ten thousand talents. 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 be made. The servant therefore fell down and worshipped him, saying, "Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all." Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. But the same servant went out and found one of his fellow-servants, which owed him a hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, "Pay me what thou owest." And his fellow-servant fell down at his feet and besought him, saying, "Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all." And he would not, but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow-servants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, "O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desirest me: shouldst not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow-servant, even as I had pity on thee?” And his lord was wroth and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due him.

"'So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.'"

It is customary, my beloved, for a minister, after having preached his installation sermon, to preach on the Sabbath following his entrance sermon. As little need in my case that the sermon of last weekend should introduce me to you and you to me, as this of to-day should serve as my entrance upon the duties of a pastor to this congregation, I for several years having been one of you.

Yet must I say a few words as upon the preceding Sunday. I look upon the alliance between us as a spiritual nuptial, as I with this congregation through word and vow have in the name and by the calling of the Triune God bound myself to you. This spiritual covenant between pastor and people should be indissoluble, as the loving covenant between husband and wife. As I last Sunday kneeled with you, I freely promised that I would, according to God's will, abide with you in Christian love and faith. That I would not abandon you in need and affliction, and not separate from you, except the Almighty Father call me by death, or through His otherwise expressed will. I have prayed from the innermost recesses of my heart that He may not call me from you in any other manner than death, that I may from your midst be borne to the churchyard, where my father rests.

What I then promised, my beloved, before God the searcher of hearts, I now also promise to you, the same vow the husband makes the wife, and the wife makes the husband. The vow which a pastor makes to his congregation must the congregation make to the pastor. You must promise that you will live with me after God's will and command in all Christian love and charity, that you will not abandon me in adversity or affliction, that you will not separate from me until God separates us. If it be your earnest wish and will, as it is mine, then arise; and let us together promise, in the presence of the living Triune God, that we will live with one another after God's will and command; that we will have Christian love and charity for each other; that we will not abandon each other in trial or adversity; that, lastly, we will not separate from each other until the Almighty Father separates us.

Now God has witnessed our vows; may He give us strength to keep them, that we may render a good account before the judgment seat. Let there be an emulation between us as to which shall be most faithful—I to you or you to me—and so let us journey together upon the heavenward way.

God has bound us together in order that I may diligently and faithfully make known to you from His Word the way of life, and in order that you may diligently and faithfully hear it for your eternal peace, so that we may all enter the new Jerusalem—none be left without—and there continue the loving covenant which we have made this day. Let us pray.

Thou Triune God, send Thy Spirit into our hearts that we may be faithful to the covenant which we have made in Thy presence; faithful in teaching and hearing, faithful in believing, faithful in love and charity, faithful unto death, that we may receive the crown of life. Amen.

Now let us return to our text, which contains a beautifully clear illustration of the fifth petition of the Lord's Prayer, and with God's blessing follow thoughtfully the words of the first part— “Forgive us our debts."

The Apostle Peter, as we gather from the Scriptures, my beloved, was a high-spirited, zealous, impulsive, quick-tempered man; eager, ardent, and outspoken. To him it was marvelous that the Saviour never allowed Himself to be angered, nor evinced resentment for insults and injuries; was never weary of forgiving and forgetting, but was all infinite love, gentleness, humility, and charity. It was equally surprising to Peter that He enjoined this love, forgiveness, gentleness, humility, and charity upon His disciples. He thought, as do many people at this day, that there would be so much necessity for forgiveness that it would not be possible for sinful, weak man, particularly one of his fiery, vehement nature, to comply.

Therefore his question, “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Till seven times?” He considered apparently that seven times was ample allowance, over and above what ought to be required, and surely no one should expect more. His astonishment was great when the Saviour answered: “I say not unto thee ‘until seven times,' but until 'seventy times seven;’” which was in substance every time, all times, that thy brother offends thee.

To the natural man, this was a task much too difficult; scarcely to be understood; the working of it impossible. “Certainly," thought he, "our Lord will not expect so much of us; a man is, and must remain, a human being; and to retain gentleness, humility, and love when exasperated, and to forgive and forget all injuries and insults, is to the natural man not possible."

But mark well, my beloved, to the natural man it may not be possible; but to the Christian, to the really converted man who believes in the forgiveness of sins, it is altogether possible.

Thereupon Jesus exemplified it to Peter by saying: "The kingdom of heaven is likened to a certain king who would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought to him which owed him ten thousand talents. 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 be made. The servant therefore fell down and worshipped him and said, ‘Lord, have patience with me and I will pay thee all.’ The lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him and forgave him the debt."

This, beloved, is truly a beautiful illustration of the words, “Forgive us our trespasses.” The king, who reckoned with his servant, is our Lord and Master, our God and King, and we poor sinners are set forth by the servant who comes to be forgiven the debt of ten thousand talents, for we are one and all great sinners and debtors to God— our sins are like the sands of the sea. That the servant could not pay is exactly our case, for there are no sins that we have done that we can undo or wipe away.

If we could for once lay aside our thoughtless, frivolous way of living, and count up the sins that we have committed for one year, all our sins of thought, word and deed, the frivolity, worldliness, pride, satire, ingratitude, untruthfulness, unforgiveness, anger, and should God come and ask us an account of these and payment, what then? As we cannot undo one deed that is done, nor blot out one evil thought, would we not tremble through our marrow and bones? Would we not suffer anguish when facing the verdict, "Sell this man and all that he hath into bondage until his ten thousand talents are paid?” Never could the bondage of that poor man and his family be at an end until the debt was paid, and it could never be paid.

Is it an unjust sentence? No, the debt is there; law and justice demand that it shall be paid. The servant could blame no one but himself that he incurred such a heavy obligation, but he must hear the penalty; that is what we poor sinners must expect. If our sins are so many that we can never pay them, what sentence must God, the just and holy God, pass upon us? Cast the evil-doer into everlasting slavery, take all from him that he hath, until he pays his debt. We die, and thus is all taken from us, all that our hearts clung to: wife, children, friends, house, land, money, pleasure; all must be left behind. Helpless, destitute, we stand before God's throne; nothing has followed us but our sins, and, heavily laden with these, we are called upon to give an account; then will come the despairing cry: "Ye mountains fall upon us, and hills cover us," from the anger of God.

Oh, our sins! Our innumerable sins, what a burden they will be in that day!

And the Judge will say, bind him hand and foot and cast him into outer darkness forever and ever. Oh, terrible; through all eternity to be prisoners in the dungeon of the lost! So, beloved, stand we all in the presence of eternity. What shall we do? There is one way left open to us, as we shall learn from this servant. He fell upon his knees before the king, and pleaded with bitter tears of repentance, with anguish of heart, “Just lord, I acknowledge my guilt; I am debtor to thee for ten thousand talents; I would willingly pay the debt, but cannot. Oh, have patience with me; I of right deserve condemnation, but can only beg thy mercy."

Observe it was the only way, the right way; for we read: “Then the lord of that servant was moved to compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt;” and the servant's sorrow was lost in gladness, and his mourning turned to rejoicing. He could not pay, but repented that he could not, and God forgave the debt.

This is the only way open for sinners. We must pray to Jesus, with sincere sorrow for sin, and with true repentance: “Lord, I acknowledge my guilt, my sins are like the sands of the sea; for our innumerable transgressions we deserve death and condemnation, for Thou art just. But, Saviour, our anguish for sin is great; we wish to atone, desire from the heart to pay our great debt, but cannot; that Thou knowest. Oh, have patience with us; pity and forgive us our debt for Thy great mercy's sake, for the sake of Thy blood shed upon the cross for us. Though our sins be like the darkness of night, Thy blood can make all clear as the brightest day. Dear Saviour, Lamb of God, who bearest the sins of the world, take all the guilt of sin from us, all the misery of sin; pity us, have compassion upon us, oh, our Saviour!"

Pray thus to our Heavenly King, so will all your sorrow be turned to joy, your mourning to the blessed peace of heaven, for then will come the gracious words of Jesus, "Poor sinful one, I pity you; I will loose you from your debt, your sins are forgiven."

Forgive us our debts—this is the first part of the petition; and if you have, beloved, through prayer and repentance received forgiveness of sin through the mercy of Jesus, then consider with me the second part of the petition.

2. “As we forgive our debtors." Listen to what our Saviour further relates: “But the same servant went out and found one of his fellowservants who owed him a hundred pence, and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what thou owest.’”

Here again we have our example. The hundred pence which our fellow-men owe us dwindles beside the ten thousand talents we owe our God. In vain fell the fellow-servant at the feet of him who had just been forgiven his great debt, and pleaded for patience, and he would pay all. But the unmerciful man refused; all the favor he had just received was forgotten; he had his fellow-servant cast into prison until he could pay the hundred pence.

Is that possible? Ask your heart if it be not. Yes, it not only is possible, but I ask thee, oh man, to smite thy breast, for thou art the same unmerciful evil-doer, who will not forgive the sins of thy brother against thee, and hast forgotten that thy Saviour forgave thee thy sins. But you say he has so often sinned against me. How? Oftener than you have sinned against our Saviour? Oh, ungrateful one, who has been forgiven for your daily, hourly sins!

But let us see further in regard to this unmerciful servant. Then his fellow-servants went to the king and told him all that had been done.

Notice, beloved, that no sin remains concealed; all are poured out before the Judge; and mark me, if you accuse not yourself upon that great day, your fellow-men with whom you have dealt unjustly will accuse you; and if they, not being witnesses of your trespasses, appear not against you, the holy angels who are about you night and day will bear witness either for salvation and blessedness, or against the wicked unto condemnation. And should the angels not witness, not having seen, then there is One whose all-seeing eye never slumbers nor sleeps, from whom nothing is concealed. And this just Judge, who so freely forgave your many sins, has seen your treatment of your poor fellow-creature, your want of forgiveness for his little offenses against you; what will be His verdict in regard to your unmerciful and ungrateful conduct, which has cried to heaven against you?

It is written: “Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, ‘O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt because thou desirest me; shouldst thou not also have had compassion on thy fellow-servant even as I had pity on thee?’ And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors till he should pay all that was due him."

So will it be with you, oh unmerciful man, who art angry with thy fellow-creature, and will not forgive his transgressions against you.

God will have you come before Him, and you cannot say, “I will not come." His almighty arm will bring you through the gate of death and you cannot resist, and He will remember that for your asking He pardoned your great debt to Him; but because of your unforgiveness to your fellow-creature, He can in justice only say, because you would not forgive your fellow-creature, neither will I forgive you. For his small offenses against you, you gave no mercy; now for your multitude of sins against Me, you shall be delivered to Satan for all eternity.

Call not now upon the Saviour for mercy, as you measured to others so shall it be measured to you. You would not forgive, neither shall you be forgiven. And should you call upon Him as a father, then the answer would be, God's fatherly mercy is for God's children; and God's children have mercy upon each other. God's mercy as a father is not for God's despisers and scorners; and they mock and defy Him who will not forgive those who trespass against them, and then ask God to forgive them. God states explicitly that no unmerciful hypocrite need call upon His fatherly mercy. The Saviour says, “If you 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.”

Oh, my beloved, let us escape this snare of Satan; let us forgive and forget if we hope to be forgiven.

Oh, it is terrible, the unforgiving, obdurate, hard heart we have toward our poor fellow-pilgrims; their kindnesses we forget, but their offenses we treasure against them! For one offense, we say, we wish never to see them again! Suppose God, for our daily, hourly transgressions, should say this of us? Certainly, if we hope for mercy from Him, we must show it to others. If we do not, then we condemn ourselves each time that we say to our Father, “Forgive our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us." Do we not promise in this that we will surely, freely, daily, hourly forgive our brother who sins against us, as we surely hope for daily, hourly forgiveness from our Father? And if we do not forgive, but let anger and bitterness burn in our hearts, we shall say in substance the fearful, defiant words: “Lord, forgive me not my sin, for behold I will not forgive them who trespass against me.” Amen.

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