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HYMN FOR PENTECOST 16 Forgive our Sins as We Forgive

Text: Rosamond E. Herklots (1905-1987). Tune: American tune Detroit

(Because of copyright I cannot print the text, but you can find it in the links below with the music)

The Unforgiving Servant Jan van Hemessen (c. 1556)


Peter’s question about how many times he should forgive his brother gets a hyperbolic answer from Jesus. Seventy-seven times. In other word always. In a way, it is a restating of the Fifth Petition in the Lord’s Prayer, Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Today's hymn by Rosamond Herklots dwells exactly on this question. Herklots takes the Lord’s Prayer language. and meditates on it in the hymn.

This petition always give me pause as I pray the Lord’s Prayer. How necessary to the forgiveness of my sins is my forgiving others? Is that a condition on our forgiveness? I knew someone who thought it was a requirement for salvation and a difficult one. Maybe it is not a condition, but a result. Being forgiven should, but not always, open the heart to forgive others. Herklots asks in her hymn: “How can your pardon reach and bless/The unforgiving heart?”

Peter’s question comes just after Jesus has taught the disciples about congregational discipline. That is a natural question of one pondering the nature of forgiveness. We all have sentences in our memory that treat this problem, I will forgive you, but never forget, which means I haven’t forgiven you. The parable is an example of the problem. Here the King hears the cry of the one with a debt so great it is unimaginable and forgives it. That act should have changed the heart of the debtor, but it did not. Instead of doing to the other who owed him a trifle next to what he had owed, he demands repayment and has the man sent to be tortured in debtor’s prison. We get this immediately. His heart has not been changed. Because he did not forgive, the King judges him severely.

T Parable of the Unmerciful Servant Barent Fabritius

This is what the petition says, ultimately. An unforgiving heart is an unredeemed heart. The congregation which Jesus has already taught procedures for addressing sin in its midst must also come to terms with Jesus’ lesson here. The church is a community of forgiven sinners who know that their lives cannot flourish with old grudges running rampant in it. At the same time we know that congregations are turbulent complicated gatherings of different kinds of people who rub up against one another and there can be conflict.

My mother once noted about a congregation that was always troubled. It was born in the contentious heart of a woman who was perpetually difficult. Her spirit seemed to permeate the entire group for a generation. It had a reputation among pastors for being tough to serve because of that. Knowing the congregation myself I thought it was pretty shrewd judgment.

One could even wonder if Jesus’ suggestion for church discipline in the passage before this would have worked. Was it tried? I don’t know. But if it had been, and the behavior still persisted, one could remember Jesus’ parable and think here is what happens when an unforgiving heart, as per the hymn, stops the flow of grace into her heart and refuses to let it flow out to others.

As the hymn ends, we sing “Let all resentments cease.” Amen. This is the hard part of the battle, but essential to our pilgrimage.


Rosamund E. Herklots was born in North India to missionary parents from Britain. She received her education at Leeds University and was a secretary in the field of medicine, ending her career working for the Association for Spinal Bifida and Hydrocephalus in London. Toward the end of her life she began writing hymns. Of the more than 70 she wrote, many for children, her most well-known is this hymn.

The American tune is among the treasures we have from the Sacred Harp tradition. It appeared in the 1820 Southern Harmony and attributed to Bradshaw, although nothing is known about him.



Westminster Presbyterian

St. Paul’s Episcopal Milwaukee


This hymn treats the text in the last stanza. A lovely tune.

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