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18. Parables

1In that hour came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven? 2And he called to him a little child, and set him in the midst of them, 3and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye turn, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven. 4Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me: 6But whoso shall cause one of these little ones that believe on me to stumble, it is profitable for him that a great millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be sunk in the depth of the sea.

7Woe unto the world because of occasions of stumbling! for it must needs be that the occasions come; but woe to that man through whom the occasion cometh! 8And if thy hand or thy foot causeth thee to stumble, cut it off, and cast it from thee: it is good for thee to enter into life maimed or halt, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into the eternal fire. 9And if thine eye causeth thee to stumble, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is good for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into the hell of fire. 10See that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven. 11For the Son of man came to save that which was lost. 12How think ye? if any man have a hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and go unto the mountains, and seek that which goeth astray? 13And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth over it more than over the ninety and nine which have not gone astray. 14Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.

15And if thy brother sin against thee, go, show him his fault between thee and him alone: if he hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. 16But if he hear thee not, take with thee one or two more, that at the mouth of two witnesses or three every word may be established. 17And if he refuse to hear them, tell it unto the church: and if he refuse to hear the church also, let him be unto thee as the Gentile and the publican. 18Verily I say unto you, what things soever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and what things soever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19Again I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father who is in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

21Then came Peter and said to him, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? until seven times? 22Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven. 23Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, who would make a reckoning with his servants. 24And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, that owed him ten thousand talents. 25But forasmuch as he had not wherewith to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26The servant therefore fell down and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 27And the lord of that servant, being moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. 28But that servant went out, and found one of his fellow-servants, who owed him a hundred shillings: and he laid hold on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay what thou owest. 29So his fellow-servant fell down and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee. 30And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay that which was due. 31So when his fellow-servants saw what was done, they were exceeding sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. 32Then his lord called him unto him, and saith to him, Thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou besoughtest me: 33shouldest not thou also have had mercy on thy fellow-servant, even as I had mercy on thee? 34And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due. 35So shall also my heavenly Father do unto you, if ye forgive not every one his brother from your hearts.

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Matthew 18:1. At that time the disciples came to Jesus. It is evident from the other two Evangelists, that the disciples did not come to Christ of their own accord, but that, having secretly disputed on the road, they were brought out of their lurking-places, and dragged forth to light. There is nothing inconsistent with this in the account given by Matthew, who hastens to Christ’s reply, and does not relate all the circumstances of the case, but passes over the commencement, and relates in a summary manner the reason why Christ rebuked the foolish ambition of his disciples for the highest rank. When Christ makes inquiry about a secret conversation, and forces the disciples to acknowledge what they would willingly have kept back, this teaches us that we ought to beware of all ambition, however carefully it may be concealed. We must also attend to the time at which this occurred. The prediction of his death had made them sad and perplexed; but as if they had received from it unmingled delight, as if they had tasted of the nectar which the poets feign, 497497     “Comme si tout alloit a souhait et comme si ce qu’on leur a dit estoit aussi doux a avaller que sucre;” — “as if every thing went to their wish, and as if what was said to them were as pleasant to swallow as sugar.” they immediately enter into a dispute about the highest rank. 498498     “De la primaute;” — “about the primacy.” How was it possible that their distress of mind vanished in a moment, but because the minds of men are so devoted to ambition, that, forgetful of their present state of warfare, they continually rush forward, under the delusive influence of a false imagination, to obtain a triumph? And if the apostles so soon forgot a discourse which they had lately heard, what will become of us if, dismissing for a long period meditation on the cross, we give ourselves up to indifference and sloth, or to idle speculations?

But it is asked, what occasioned the dispute among the disciples? I reply, as the flesh willingly shakes off all uneasiness, they left out of view every thing that had given rise to grief, and fixed on what had been said about the resurrection; and out of this a debate sprung up among idle persons. And as they refuse the first part of the doctrine, for which the flesh has no relish, God permits them to fall into a mistake about the resurrection, and to dream of what would never take place, that, by mere preaching, Christ would obtain a kingdom, an earthly kingdom, and would immediately rise to the highest prosperity and wealth.

There were two faults in this debate. First, the apostles were to blame for laying aside anxiety about the warfare to which they had been called, and for demanding beforehand repose, and wages, and honors, as if they had been soldiers that had served their time. The second fault is, that, instead of laboring with one consent, as they ought to have done, to render mutual assistance, and to secure for their brethren as large a share of honors as for themselves, they strove with wicked ambition to excel each other. If we wish that our manner of life should receive the approbation of the Lord, we must learn to bear patiently the burden of the cross that has been laid on us, till the proper time arrive for obtaining the crown, and, as Paul exhorts, in honor preferring one another, (Romans 12:10.) To the first of these faults is closely allied the vain curiosity of those persons in the present day, who, leaving the proper duties of their calling, eagerly attempt to fly above the clouds. The Lord, who in the Gospel invites us to his kingdom, points out to us the road by which we are to reach it. Fickle persons, who give themselves no concern about faith, patience, calling on God, and other exercises of religion, dispute about what is going on in heaven; as if a man who was about to commence a journey made inquiry where a lodging-place was situated, but did not move a step. Since we are commanded by the Lord to walk on the earth, those who make the condition of departed saints in heaven the subject of eager debate will be found, in so doing, to retard their own progress towards heaven.

2. And Jesus called a child to him. The general meaning is, that those who desire to obtain greatness by rising above their brethren, will be so far from gaining their object that they do not even deserve to occupy the lowest corner. He reasons from contraries, because it is humility alone that exalts us. As we are more powerfully affected by appearances presented to the eyes, he holds up to them a little child as an emblem of humility. When he enjoins his followers to become like a child, this does not extend indiscriminately to all points. We know that in children there are many things faulty; and accordingly Paul bids us be children, not in understanding, but in malice, (1 Corinthians 14:20;) and in another passage he exhorts us to strive to reach the state of a perfect man, (Ephesians 4:13.) But as children know nothing about being preferred to each other, or about contending for the highest rank, Christ desires that their example should banish from the minds of his followers those eager longings after distinction, which wicked men and the children of the world continually indulge, that they may not be allured by any kind of ambition.

It will perhaps be objected, that children, even from the womb, have a native pride, which leads them to desire the highest honor and distinction; but the reply is obvious, that comparisons must not be too closely or too exactly carried out, so as to apply at all points. The tender age of little children is distinguished by simplicity to such an extent, that they are unacquainted with the degrees of honor, and with all the incentives to pride; so that they are properly and justly held out by Christ as an example.

3. Unless you are converted. To the example of little children must be referred the conversion of which he now speaks. Hitherto they had been too much habituated to the ordinary customs of men; and if they would gain their object, they must pursue a totally different course. 499499     “Il leur est besoin de tourner bride, et de s’accoustumer a tout cela;” — “they must wheel round, and get accustomed to all this.” Every one wished for himself the first or the second rank; but Christ does not allot even the lowest place to any man who does not lose sight of distinctions and humble himself On the contrary, he says,

4. Whosoever shall humble himself like this little child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. This is intended to guard us against supposing that we degrade ourselves in any measure by freely surrendering every kind of distinction. And hence we may obtain a short definition 500500     “La vraye definition;” — “the true definition.” of humility. That man is truly humble who neither claims any personal merit in the sight of God, nor proudly despises brethren, or aims at being thought superior to them, but reckons it enough that he is one of the members of Christ, and desires nothing more than that the Head alone should be exalted.

5. And he that shall receive such a child. The term children is now applied metaphorically by Christ to those who have laid aside lofty looks, and who conduct themselves with modesty and humility. This is added by way of consolation, that we may not account it troublesome or disagreeable to exercise humility, by means of which Christ not only receives us under his protection, but likewise recommends us to the favor of men. And thus believers are taught in what way they ought to esteem each other: it is by every one humbling himself How is mutual friendship usually maintained among the children of the world but by every man complying with the wishes of another? The more desirous a man is to obtain renown, the more insolently does he grasp at power, that he may be raised to a lofty station, and that others may be ridiculed or despised; but Christ enjoins that the more a man abases himself, the more highly shall he be honored. Such, too, is the import of the words given by Luke, he that is least among you shall be great; for our Lord does not enjoin us to think more highly of those who justly deserve to be despised, but of those who divest themselves of all pride, and are perfectly willing to occupy the lowest place.

Matthew 18:6. But whosoever shall offend one of those little ones. This appears to be added for the consolation of the godly, that they may not be rendered uneasy by their condition, if they are despised by the world. It is a powerful obstruction to the voluntary exercise of modesty, when they imagine, that by so doing they expose themselves to contempt; and it is hard to be not only treated disdainfully, but almost trodden under foot, by haughty men. Christ therefore encourages his disciples by the consoling truth, that, if their mean condition draws upon them the insults of the world, God does not despise them.

But he appears to have had likewise another object in view; for a dispute had arisen amongst them as to the first place of honor, from which it might naturally have been inferred that the Apostles were tainted with sinful ambition. Every man who thinks too highly of himself, or desires to be preferred to others, must necessarily treat his brethren with disdain. To cure this disease, Christ threatens a dreadful punishment, if any man in his pride shall throw down those who are oppressed with poverty, or who in heart are already humbled.

Under the word offend he includes more than if he had forbidden them to despise their brethren; though the man who gives himself no concern about offending the weak, does so for no other reason, than because he does not render to them the honor to which they are entitled. Now as there are various kinds of offenses, it will be proper to explain generally what is meant by offending If any man through our fault either stumbles, or is drawn aside from the right course, or retarded in it, we are said to offend him. 504504     “L’Escriture dit que nous oftensons ou scandalizons cestuy la.” — “Scripture says that we give offense or scandal to that man.” Whoever then desires to escape that fearful punishment which Christ denounces, let him stretch out his hand to the little ones who are despised by the world, and let him kindly assist them in keeping the path of duty; for Christ recommends them to our notice, that they may lead us to exercise voluntary humility; as Paul enjoins the children of God to

condescend to men of low estate, (Romans 12:16,)

and again says that

we ought not to please ourselves, (Romans 15:1.)

To hang a millstone about a man’s neck, and drown him in the sea, was the punishment then reckoned the most appalling, and which was inflicted on the most atrocious malefactors. When our Lord alludes to this punishment, we are enabled to perceive how dear and precious those persons are in the sight of God, who are mean and despised in the eyes of the world.




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