A discussion at De Regnis Duobus about justification and "forgive us our trespasses" in the Lord's Prayer prompted me to look up what Louis Berkhof says about this in his Systematic Theology. Berkhof was a Reformed theologian who taught theology for many years at Calvin College. The question is this: When we ask God daily in the Lord's Prayer to forgive us our sins, were these sins already forgiven at the moment of our [initial] justification? The Catholic answer is 'no'. For Catholics, all past sins are washed away at baptism, but not future sins; that is the purpose of the sacrament of penance. What does Berkhof say? Here is an excerpt from his Systematic Theology:
"The usual position of Reformed theology, however, is that in justification God indeed removes the guilt, but not the culpability of sin, that is, He removes the sinner's just amenability to punishment, but not the inherent guiltiness of whatever sins he may continue to perform. The latter remains and therefore always produces in believers a feeling of guilt, of separation from God, of sorrow, of repentance, and so on. Hence they feel the need of confessing their sins, even the sins of their youth, Ps. 25:7; 51:5-9. The believer who is really conscious of his sin feels within him an urge to confess it and to seek the comforting assurance of forgiveness. Moreover, such confession and prayer is not only a subjectively felt need, but also an objective necessity. Justification is essentially an objective declaration respecting the sinner in the tribunal of God, but it is not merely that; it is also an actus transiens, passing into the consciousness of the believer. The divine sentence of acquittal is brought home to the sinner and awakens the joyous consciousness of the forgiveness of sins and of favor with God. Now this consciousness of pardon and of a renewed filial relationship is often disturbed and obscured by sin, and is again quickened and strengthened by confession and prayer, and by a renewed exercise of faith." (p. 515)
Berkhof is claiming that in [initial] justification, God removes the penalty for all sin (past, present and future), but not the subjective feeling of guilt for whatever sins we continue to commit. Because we feel these guilty feelings, even though after our [initial] justification we are no longer subject to punishment for any sins we commit (past, present, and future) but perpetually stand entirely cleared by God's declaration, we still feel the need ("urge") to confess our sins and gain assurance of forgiveness. According to Berkhof, this urge we feel indicates that it is an "objective necessity" for us to continue to confess and pray for forgiveness, so that as we do so, the fact of our having been already forgiven for all our sins (past, present, and future) will sink more deeply into our consciousness.
According to Berkhof's position, after our [initial] justification, feelings of guilt are untrue; they have not yet caught up to what one knows by faith to be true about one's standing before God. Therefore, it would follow that we should welcome the overcoming or cessation of such feelings. We should outgrow them as our feelings conform to the truth. At least, if we can outgrow such feelings we should. Berkhof claims that the standard Reformed position on the purpose of confessing our sins and asking God for forgiveness after our [initial] justification is that it is not to gain forgiveness of sins, but to relieve the subjective urge we feel to confess, and to acquire the comforting feelings of assurance that our sins are forgiven. This seems to me to be a rather Freudian/Jungian psychologizing of the purpose of "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us" which we pray in the Lord's Prayer, and of the Apostle John's statement, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)
What I find most strange about this notion is that in order to convince ourselves in our feelings that all our sins (past, present, and future) were forgiven at the moment of our [initial] justification, we are encouraged by Berkhof to do certain acts that imply that our sins still need to be forgiven. So it is good that we daily confess and ask forgiveness, and in doing so, comfort ourselves by making ourselves think that in confessing our sins daily and in asking God daily to forgive them, somehow that activity ensures that God has forgiven us, even though in actuality our sins (past, present and future) were all already forgiven at the moment of our [initial] justification. Doesn't this daily activity teach the exact opposite? If you were trying to compose a prayer that teaches that our sins still need to be forgiven, isn't something like the line in the Lord's Prayer what you would write? Wouldn't a better practice for teaching Berkhof's theology of justification be the replacement of that line in the Lord's Prayer with this one: "I thank you Lord that all my sins, past, present, and future were already forgiven when I first believed"?
If Berkhof is correct that this psychologized notion of the purpose of continued confession and asking for forgiveness is the standard Reformed position, then it seems to me that Reformed teachers and pastors would be urging all believers to try to get over this urge to confess and ask for forgiveness. The goal would be to get over the felt-need to say that line in the Lord's Prayer. True integration of mind, heart and feelings, that is, true spiritual maturity would be to get to the point where we would simply leave out that line when praying the Lord's Prayer, and feel no guilt or compunction in doing so (or in doing anything else). Pastors, being mature, would tell their congregations that they [the pastors] no longer confess their sins or ask God for forgiveness, because they don't feel those inaccurate feelings any more. They are fully convinced, in mind and feelings, that all their sins (past, present and future) were forgiven at the moment of their [initial] justification, and their sheep should all seek to reach that same mature state.
But if that is not their practice or their goal, then they should consider the possibility that sins are forgiven progressively, over the course of a believer's life, through the application of the work of Christ to the believer through prayer and the means of grace offered to us by the Church. That conception of justification is closer to the Catholic notion of justification.