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True Greatness

18

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2He called a child, whom he put among them, 3and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

Temptations to Sin

6 “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. 7Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling block comes!

8 “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell of fire.

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

10 “Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven. 12What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.

Reproving Another Who Sins

15 “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

 

Forgiveness

21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

 


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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.

7. Woe to the world on account of offenses! This passage may be explained in two ways. It may be taken actively, as meaning that Christ pronounces a curse on the authors of offenses; and then by the term world, we must understand all unbelievers. Or it may be taken passively, as meaning that Christ deplores the evils which he perceives to be rapidly coming on the world on account of offenses; as if he had said, that no plague will be more destructive, or attended by more fearful calamities, than the alarm or desertion of many on account of offenses. The latter meaning is more appropriate; for I have no doubt that our Lord, who had spoken on another occasion about offenses, proceeded to discourse more largely on this subject; in order to make his disciples more attentive and watchful in guarding against them. That Satan may not gain advantage over us through our sluggishness, our Lord breaks out into an exclamation, that there is nothing which we ought to dread more than offenses; for as Satan has innumerable kinds of them in his hand, he constantly, and at almost every step, throws new difficulties in our way; while we, through excessive tenderness or sloth, are too ready to yield. The consequence is, that there are few who make tolerable progress in the faith of Christ; and of the few who have begun to walk in the way of salvation, there is scarcely one in ten who has the courage to persevere till he reaches the goal. 505505     “Qui persevere courageusement iusqu’a la fin;” — “who perseveres courageously to the end.” Now since Christ intended to strike his disciples with terror on account of offenses, and thus to arouse them to exertion, woe to our indifference, if each of us does not earnestly apply himself to overcome those offenses

For offenses must come. To awaken more powerfully their care and anxiety, our Lord reminds his disciples that there is no possibility of walking but in the midst of various offenses; as much as to say, that this is an evil which cannot be avoided. Thus he confirms the former statement; for Christ shows us how great are the inconveniences which arise from offenses, since the Church never will be, and indeed never can be, free from this evil. But he does not state the reason of this necessity, as Paul does, when, speaking of heresies, he says that they arise, that the good may be made manifest, (1 Corinthians 11:19.) It must be held by us as a fixed principle, that it is the will of God to leave his people exposed to offense, in order to exercise their faith, and to separate believers, as the refuse and the chaff, from the pure wheat. Does any one object or complain, that blame attaches to our Lord for giving loose reins to Satan, to accomplish the destruction of wretched men? It is our duty to think and speak with the deepest reverence of the secret purposes of God, of which this is one, that the world must be disturbed by offenses

But woe to the man by whom the offense cometh. After having exhorted his disciples to beware of offenses, he again breaks out against those who occasion them. To impart the greater vehemence to the threatening, he adds, that neither a right eye nor a right hand ought to be spared, if they occasion offense to us; for I explain these words as added for the purpose of amplification. Their meaning is, that we ought to be so constant and so zealous in opposing offenses, that we would rather choose to pluck out our eyes, or cut off our hands, than give encouragement to offenses; for if any man hesitate to incur the loss of his limbs, he spares them at the risk of throwing himself into eternal perdition. What dreadful vengeance then awaits those who by offenses shall bring ruin on their brethren! 506506     “Lesquels par scandales auront donne occasion de faire perdre et damner leurs freres;” — “who by offenses shall have given occasion to bring ruin and damnation on their brethren.” As those two verses have been already explained 507507     Harmony, vol. 1 p. 291. under Matthew 5:29,30, it was sufficient, on the present occasion, to glance at the reason why Christ repeats here the same statement.

10. Beware of despising one of these little ones As pride is the mother of disdain, and as contempt hardens men in giving offense, our Lord, for the purpose of applying an appropriate remedy for curing this disease, forbids his disciples to despise the little ones. And certainly, as we have already hinted, no man who has a proper care for his brethren will ever allow himself, on light grounds, to give them offense This conclusion of our Lord’s discourse has the same tendency as the commencement of it, to remind us that we ought to strive with each other who shall be most submissive and modest; for God embraces with wonderful love the little ones It would be strange indeed that a mortal man should despise, or treat as of no account, those whom God holds in such high esteem. He proves this love from the fact, that angels, who are ministers of their salvation, enjoy intimately the presence of God. Yet I do not think that he intended merely to show what honor God confers on them by appointing angels to be their guardians, but likewise to threaten those who despise them; as if he had said, that it is no light matter to despise those who have angels for their companions and friends, to take vengeance in their behalf. We ought therefore to beware of despising their salvation, which even angels have been commissioned to advance.

The interpretation given to this passage by some commentators, as if God assigned to each believer his own angel, does not rest on solid grounds. For the words of Christ do not mean that a single angel is continually occupied with this or the other person; 508508     “Les mots n’emportent pas qu’un Ange n’ait autre charge que de veiller tousiours sur cestuy-ci ou sur cestuy-la;” — “the words do not bear that one Angel has nothing else to do than to watch continually over this or that man.” and such an idea is inconsistent with the whole doctrine of Scripture, which declares that the angels encamp around (Psalm 34:7) the godly, and that not one angel only, but many, have been commissioned to guard every one of the faithful. Away, then, with the fanciful notion of a good and evil angel, and let us rest satisfied with holding that the care of the whole Church is committed to angels, to assist each member as his necessities shall require. It will perhaps be asked, Do the angels occupy a station inferior to ours, because they have been appointed to be our ministers? I reply, Though by nature they take rank above us, this does not prevent them from rendering service to God 509509     “Cela n’empesche point que Dieu n’use de leur service;” — “that does not hinder God from employing their services.” in dispensing the favor which he freely bestows upon us. For this reason they are called our angels, because their labors are bestowed on us.

Matthew 18:11. For the Son of man cometh Christ now employs his own example in persuading his disciples to honor even weak and despised brethren; for he came down from heaven to save not them only, but even the dead who were lost It is in the highest degree unreasonable that we should disdainfully reject those whom the Son of God has so highly esteemed. And even if the weak labor under imperfections which may expose them to contempt, our pride is not on that account to be excused; for we ought to esteem them not for the value of their virtues, but for the sake of Christ; and he who will not conform himself to Christ’s example is too saucy and proud.

12. What think you? Luke carries the occasion of this parable still farther back, as having arisen from the murmurings of the Pharisees and scribes against our Lord, whom they saw conversing daily with sinners. Christ therefore intended to show that a good teacher ought not to labor less to recover those that are lost, than to preserve those which are in his possession; though according to Matthew the comparison proceeds farther, and teaches us not only that we ought to treat with kindness the disciples of Christ, but that we ought to bear with their imperfections, and endeavor, when they wander, to bring them back to the road. For, though they happen sometimes to wander, yet as they are sheep over which God has appointed his Son to be shepherd, so far are we from having a right to chase or drive them away roughly, that we ought to gather them from their wanderings; for the object of the discourse is to lead us to beware of losing what God wishes to be saved The narrative of Luke presents to us a somewhat different object. It is, that the whole human race belongs to God, and that therefore we ought to gather those that have gone astray, and that we ought to rejoice as much, when they that are lost return to the path of duty, as a man would do who, beyond his expectation, recovered something the loss of which had grieved him.

Matthew 18:15. But if thy brother shall sin against thee. As he had discoursed about bearing the infirmities of brethren, he now shows more clearly in what manner, and for what purpose, and to what extent, we ought to bear with them. For otherwise it would have been easy to reply, that there is no other way of avoiding offenses, than by every man winking at the faults of others, and thus what is evil would be encouraged by forbearance. Christ therefore prescribes a middle course, which does not give too great offense to the weak, and yet is adapted to cure their diseases; for that severity which is employed as a medicine is profitable and worthy of praise. In short, Christ enjoins his disciples to forgive one another, but to do so in such a manner as to endeavor to correct their faults. It is necessary that this be wisely observed; for nothing is more difficult than to exercise forbearance towards men, and, at the same time, not to neglect the freedom necessary in reproving them. 552552     “Que toutesfois on retiene tousiours ceste liberte de reprendre ce qui est a condamner;” — “so as at the same time to reserve always that liberty of reproving what is worthy of condemnation.” Almost all lean to the one side or to the other, either to deceive themselves mutually by deadly flatteries, or to pursue with excessive bitterness those whom they ought to cure. But Christ recommends to his disciples a mutual love, which is widely distant from flattery; only he enjoins them to season their admonitions with moderation, lest, by excessive severity and harshness, they discourage the weak.

Now he distinctly lays down three steps of brotherly correction. The first is, to give a private advice to the person who has offended. The second is, if he shall give any sign of obstinacy, to advise him again in presence of witnesses. The third is, if no advantage shall be obtained in that way, to deliver him up to the public decision of the Church. The design of this, as I have said, is, to hinder charity from being violated under the pretence of fervent zeal. As the greater part of men are driven by ambition to publish with excessive eagerness the faults of their brethren, Christ seasonably meets this fault by enjoining us to cover the faults of brethren, as far as lies in our power; for those who take pleasure in the disgrace and infamy of brethren are unquestionably carried away by hatred and malice, since, if they were under the influence of charity, they would endeavor to prevent the shame of their brethren.

But it is asked, Ought this rule to be extended indiscriminately to every kind of offense? For there are very many who do not allow any public censures, till the offender has been privately admonished. But there is an obvious limitation in the words of Christ; for he does not simply, and without exception, order us to advise or reprove privately, and in the absence of witnesses, all who have offended, but bids us attempt this method, when we have been offended in private; by which is meant, not that it is a business of our own, but that we ought to be wounded and grieved whenever God is offended. And Christ does not now speak about bearing injuries, but teaches us in general to cultivate such meekness towards each other, as not to ruin by harsh treatment those whom we ought to save. 553553     “Lesquels nous devions plustost tascher d’amener a salut;” — “whom we ought rather to attempt to lead to salvation.”

Against thee. This expression, as is evident from what we have said, does not denote an injury committed against any one, but distinguishes between secret and open sins. 554554     “Mais pour distinguer et mettre difference entre les pechez secrets, et les offenses manifestes;” — “but to distinguish and put a difference between secret sins and open offenses.” For if any man shall offend against the whole Church, Paul enjoins that he be publicly reproved, so that even elders shall not be spared; for it is in reference to them that he expressly enjoins Timothy, to

rebuke them publicly in presence of all, and thus to make them a general example to others,
(1 Timothy 5:20.)

And certainly it would be absurd that he who has committed a public offense, so that the disgrace of it is generally known, should be admonished by individuals; for if a thousand persons are aware of it, he ought to receive a thousand admonitions. The distinction, therefore, which Christ expressly lays down, ought to be kept in mind, that no man may bring disgrace upon his brother, by rashly, and without necessity, divulging secret offenses.

If he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. Christ confirms his doctrine by its usefulness and advantage; for it is no small matter to gain to God a soul which had been the slave of Satan. And how comes it that those who have fallen do not often repent, but because they are regarded with hatred, and treated as enemies, and thus acquire a character of hardened obstinacy? Nothing, therefore, is more appropriate than meekness, which reconciles to God those who had departed from him. On the other hand, he who inconsiderately indulges in foolish flattery willingly places in jeopardy the salvation of a brother, which he had in his hand.

According to Luke, Christ expressly enjoins us to be satisfied with a private reproof, if the brother be brought to repentance Hence, too, we infer how necessary it is that mutual freedom of reproof should subsist among believers. For, since each of us in many ways commits daily offenses, it would be outrageous cruelty to betray, by our silence and concealment, the salvation of those whom we might, by mild reproof, rescue from perdition. Though it does not always succeed, yet he is chargeable with heinous guilt, who has neglected the remedy which the Lord prescribes for promoting the salvation of the brethren. It is also worthy of notice, that the Lord, in order to render us more zealous in performing our duty, ascribes to us that honor which is his own; for to him alone, and to no other, does it belong to convert a man; and yet he bestows on us this applause, though we did not deserve it, that we gain a brother who was lost.

16. But if he shall not hear thee. The second step is, that he who displayed obstinacy, or refused to yield to one man, should be again admonished in presence of witnesses Here some object, that it will serve no purpose to call witnesses, if we have to deal with an obstinate and rebellious man, because their presence will be so far from leading him to acknowledge his guilt, that he will only make a more wicked denial. But this difficulty will be speedily removed, if we distinguish between denial and evasion He who explicitly denies the fact, and declares that he is falsely and calumniously accused, must be left alone; for it would be ill vain to press him by calling witnesses But as, in most cases, men shamelessly evade, or impudently excuse, the improper and unjust actions which they have committed, till greater authority is employed, towards such persons it is useful to observe this method.

That Christ’s discourse ought to be understood in this sense is evident from the word used, ἔλεγξον, reprove, or argue; for to argue is to convince by demonstration. 555555     “Car arguer signifie convaincre par argumens, et remonstrer par bonnes raisons;” — “for to argue signifies to convince by arguments, and to show by good reasons.” And how could I argue with a man 556556     “Or comment pourroit on arguer ou convaincre un homme, que ce qu’il a fait est mauvais?” — “Now how could we argue or convince a man that what he has done is wrong?” who boldly denies the whole matter? for he who has the effrontery to deny the crime which he has committed shuts the door against a second admonition.

We now perceive for what purpose Christ proposes to call witnesses. It is, to give greater weight and impressiveness to the admonition. As to the slightly different meaning to which he has turned the words of Moses, it involves no absurdity. Moses forbids sentence to be pronounced on a matter that is unknown, and defines this to be the lawful mode of proving, that it be established by the testimony of

two or three witnesses. At the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established,
(Deuteronomy 19:15.)

Alluding to that law, Christ says that, when two or three witnesses shall rise up to condemn the obstinacy of the man, the case will be clear, at least till the Church be prepared to take cognizance of it; for he who refuses to hear two or three witnesses 557557     “Veu qu’il n’a pas voulu recevoir l’admonition qui luy a este faite en prive par deux ou trois;” — “since he did not choose to receive the admonition which was given to him in private by two or three.” will have no reason to complain that he is dragged forth to light.

Tell it to the Church. It is asked, what does he mean by the term Church? For Paul orders (1 Corinthians 5:5) that the incestuous Corinthian shall be excommunicated, not by a certain chosen number, but by the whole assembly of the godly; and therefore it might appear to be probable that the power of judging is bestowed on the whole of the people. But as at that time no Church as yet was in existence, which acknowledged the authority of Christ, and no such order had been established, and as our Lord employs the ordinary and received forms of expression, there can be no doubt that he alludes to the order of the ancient Church, as in other places also he accommodates his modes of expression to what was known and customary. 558558     “Comme aussi en d’autres passages il s’accomodi a ce qui estoit lors ordinaire, et use des termes communes;” — “as also in other passages he adapts himself to what was then customary, and employs common terms.” When he commands that:

the offering, which we intend to present, shall be left at the altar, till we are reconciled to an offended brother,
(Matthew 5:23,)

he unquestionably intends, by means of that form of the worship of God which was then in existence and in force, to teach us, that we cannot in a right manner either pray, or offer any thing to God, so long as we are at variance with our brethren. So then he now looked at the form of discipline which was observed among the Jews; for it would have been absurd to propose an appeal to the judgment of a Church which was not yet in existence.

Now since among the Jews the power of excommunication belonged to the elders, who held the government of the whole Church, Christ speaks appropriately when he says that they who sinned must at length be brought forward publicly to the Church, if they either despise haughtily, or ridicule and evade, the private admonitions. We know that, after the Jews returned from the Babylonish captivity, a council was formed, which they called Sanhedrim, and in Greek Synedrion, (συνέδριον) and that to this council was committed the superintendence of morals and of doctrine. This government was lawful and approved by God, and was a bridle to restrain within their duty the dissolute and incorrigible.

It will perhaps be objected that, in the time of Christ, every thing was corrupt and perverted, so that this tyranny was very far from deserving to be accounted the judgment of the Church But the reply is easy. Though the method of procedure was at that time depraved and perverted, yet Christ justly praises that order, such as it had been handed down to them from the fathers. And when, shortly afterwards, he erected a Church, while he removed the abuse, he restored the proper use of excommunication. Yet there is no reason to doubt that the form of discipline, which prevailed in the kingdom of Christ, succeeded in the room of that ancient discipline. And certainly, since even heathen nations maintained a shadowy form of excommunication, it appears that, from the beginning, this was impressed by God on the minds of men, that those who were impure and polluted ought to be excluded from religious services. 559559     “Ne devoycnt estre receus a participer aux choses sacrees appartenantes au sarvice de Dieu;” — “ought not to be admitted to take part in the sacred things belonging to the service of God.” It would therefore have been highly disgraceful to the people of God to have been altogether destitute of that discipline, some trace of which remained among the Gentiles. But what had been preserved under the Law Christ has conveyed to us, because we hold the same rank with the ancient fathers. For it was not the intention of Christ to send his disciples to the synagogue, which, while it willingly cherished in its bosom disgraceful filth, excommunicated the true and sincere worshippers of God; but he reminded us that the order, which had been formerly established in a holy manner under the Law, must be maintained in his Church

Let him be to thee as a heathen and a publican. What is here added as to heathens and publicans confirms the interpretation which I have given. For heathens and publicans having been at that time regarded by the Jews with the greatest hatred and detestation, he compares to them unholy and irreclaimable men, who yield to no admonitions. Certainly he did not intend to enjoin them to avoid the society of heathens, of whom the Church was afterwards composed; nor is there any reason at the present day why believers should shrink from associating with publicans But in order that he might be more easily understood by the ignorant, Christ borrowed a mode of expression from what was then customary among his nation; 560560     “A use d’un terme convenable a la coustume du pays;” — “used a term in accordance with the custom of the country.” and the meaning is, that we ought to have no intercourse with the despisers of the Church till they repent.

18. What things soever you shall bind. He now repeats the same words which he had formerly used, (Matthew 16:19,) but in a different sense; for there he intended to maintain their authority in doctrine, but here he appoints discipline, which is an appendage to doctrine. There Christ declared that the preaching of the Gospel would not be without effect, but that the odor of it would either be life-giving or deadly, (2 Corinthians 2:15,16:) here he affirms that, though wicked men ridicule the judgment of the Church, it will not be ineffectual. We must attend to this distinction, that there our Lord’s discourse relates to the preached word, but here to public censures and discipline. Let the reader go to that passage for the import of the metaphor, binding and loosing. 561561     See page 293 of this volume.

The substance of it is this: Whoever, after committing a crime, humbly confesses his fault, and entreats the Church to forgive him, is absolved not only by men, but by God himself; and, on the other hand, whoever treats with ridicule the reproofs and threatenings of the Church, if he is condemned by her, the decision which men have given will be ratified in heaven. If it be objected, that in this way God is made a sort of petty judge, who concurs in the sentence of mortal men, the reply is at hand. For when Christ maintains the authority of his Church, he does not diminish his own power or that of his Father, but, on the contrary, supports the majesty of his word. As in the former case (Matthew 16:19) he did not intend to confirm indiscriminately every kind of doctrine, but only that which had proceeded out of his mouth, so neither does he say in this place that every kind of decision will be approved and ratified, but only that in which he presides, and that too not only by his Spirit, but by his word. Hence it follows, that men do no injury to the authority of God, when they pronounce nothing but what comes from his mouth, and only endeavor faithfully to execute what he has commanded. For, though Christ alone is the Judge of the world, yet he chooses to have ministers to proclaim his word. 562562     “Il vent toutesfois cependant que les ministres soyent ambassadeurs pour porter et publier sa parole;” — “yet he wishes that ministers should be ambassadors to carry and publish his word.” Besides, he wishes that his own decision should be pronounced by the Church; and thus he takes nothing from his own authority by employing the ministry of men, but it is Himself alone that looses and binds

But here a question arises. Since the Church endures many hypocrites, and likewise absolves (or looses) many whose professions of repentance are hypocritical, does it follow that such persons will be absolved (or loosed) in heaven? I reply, the discourse is addressed to those only who are truly and sincerely reconciled to the Church. For Christ, wishing to administer comfort to trembling consciences, and to relieve them from fear, declares that any who may have offended are freed from guilt in the sight of God, provided that they be reconciled to the Church For he has appointed this as the pledge of heavenly grace, which has no reference to hypocrites, who pervert the proper use of reconciliation, but awakens in the godly no ordinary confidence, when they hear that their sins are blotted out before God and angels, as soon as they have obtained forgiveness from the Church

In the other clause, Christ’s meaning is not at all ambiguous; for, since obstinate and haughty men are strongly inclined to despise the decision of the Church on this pretense, that they refuse to be subject to men — as wicked profligates often make bold appeals to the heavenly tribunal 563563     “Comme souventesfois on verra de meschans garnemens sans crainte de Dieu, qui diront tout haut et hardiment qu’ils appellent au jugement celeste;” — “as we shall often see wicked profligates without the fear of God, who will quite loudly and boldly say that they appeal to the heavenly tribunal.” — Christ, in order to subdue this obstinacy by terror, threatens that the condemnation, which is now despised by them, will be ratified in heaven. He encourages his followers, at the same time, to maintain proper severity, and not to yield to the wicked obstinacy of those who reject or shake off discipline. 564564     “Qui reietteront la discipline, et n’y voudront ployer le col;” — “who will reject discipline, and will refuse to bend the neck to it.”

Hence, too, we may see how absurdly the Papists torture this passage to cloak every species of tyranny. That the right of excommunication is granted to the Church is certain, and is acknowledged by every person of sound judgment; but does it follow that any individual, even though not called by the Church, but elected 565565     “Mais estant cree et ordonne;” — “but being created and appointed.” by a mitered and disguised beast, shall at his own caprice throw out the useless squibs of excommunications? 566566     “Et les face peter pour faire peur a qui bon luy semble;” — “and make them crack to frighten whomsoever he pleases.” On the contrary, it is evident that the lawful government of the Church is committed to elders, and not only to the ministers of the word, but to those also who, taken from among the people, have been added to them for the superintendence of morals. And yet, not satisfied with this impudence, they endeavor even to prove from this passage that we must bear all the burdens which they shall impose. I do not mention that the power which has been granted to the Church is basely seized and carried off by those outrageous enemies of the Church; and I only mention that, since Christ speaks only about correcting offenders, those who by their laws ensnare souls are chargeable with not less folly than wickedness in abusing this passage. Of the same stamp is their defense of their auricular confession on this pretense; for if Christ intended that those who by their own fault had been brought even to a public sentence should be reconciled to the Church, he does not therefore lay an obligations 567567     “Il ne s’ensuit pas pourtant qu’il ait impose loy.” on every individual to pour his sins into the ear of the priest. But their fooleries are so ridiculous, that it is unnecessary to spend any longer time in refuting them.

19. Again I say to you. He confirms the former statement; for not only will God bestow the spirit of wisdom and prudence on those who ask it, but he will also provide that not one thing which they shall do according to his word shall want its power and effect. By uniting agreement with prayer, he reminds us with what moderation and humility believers ought to conduct themselves in all religious acts. 568568     “En tous actes concernans la service et la parolle de Dieu;” — “in all acts relating to the service and the word of God.” The offender must be admonished, and, if he does not receive correction, he must be excommunicated. Here it is not only necessary to ask counsel at the sacred mouth of God, so that nothing may be determined but by his word, but it is proper at the same time to begin with prayer. Hence appears more clearly what I have formerly stated, that men are not allowed the liberty of doing whatever they please, 569569     “Tout ce que bon leur semble;” — “whatever they think right.” but that God is declared to have the sole claim to the government of the Church, so that he approves and ratifies the decisions of which he is himself the Author. Meanwhile, when believers assemble, they are taught to unite their prayers and to pray in common, not only to testify the unity of faith, but that God may listen to the agreement of them all. So then, as God frequently promises in other passages that he will graciously listen to the private requests of each individual, so here Christ makes a remarkable promise to public prayers, in order to invite us more earnestly to the practice of them.

20. For where two or three are assembled in my name. This promise is more extensive than the former; for the Lord declares that he will be present,

wherever two or three are met together in his name,
to guide them by his counsel, (Psalm 73:24,)

and to conduct to a prosperous result whatever they shall undertake. There is therefore no reason to doubt that those who give themselves up to his direction will derive most desirable advantage from his presence. And since it is an invaluable blessing to have Christ for our director in all our affairs, to bless our deliberations and their results; and since, on the other hand, nothing can be more miserable than to be deprived of his grace, this promise ought to add no small excitement to us to unite with each other in piety and holiness. 570570     “A nous lier les uns avec les autres en toute sainctete et crainte de Dieu;” — “to link ourselves with each other in all holiness and fear of God.” For whoever either disregards the holy assemblies, or separates himself from brethren, and takes little interest in the cultivation of unity, by this alone makes it evident that he sets no value on the presence of Christ.

But we must take care, first of all, that those who are desirous to have Christ present with them shall assemble in his name; and we must likewise understand what is the meaning of this expression; for we perceive how ungodly men falsely and impudently, as well as wickedly, cover their conspiracies with his sacred name. If therefore we do not wish to expose Christ to their ridicule, and at the same time to overturn what he has here promised, we must know first of all what is meant by this phrase. It means that those who are assembled together, laying aside every thing that hinders them from approaching to Christ, shall sincerely raise their desires to him, shall yield obedience to his word, and allow themselves to be governed by the Spirit. Where this simplicity prevails, there is no reason to fear that Christ will not make it manifest that it was not in vain for the assembly to meet in his name

In this is displayed the gross ignorance of the Papists, who exclaim that Councils could not err, and that all ought to abide by their decisions, because, as often as two or three are assembled in the name of Christ, he is in the midst of them But we ought first of all to inquire whether those persons, as to whose faith, and doctrine, and dispositions, we are in doubt, were assembled in the name of Christ. When the Papists leave out or perplex this matter, who does not see that they dexteroasly confound the distinction between holy and profane assemblies, so that the power of doing any thing is taken from the Church and conveyed to the sworn enemies of Christ? Let us therefore know that none but the pious worshippers of God, who sincerely seek Christ, are encouraged to entertain the confident hope that he will never leave them. Disregarding the bastard and abortive Councils, which out of their own head have woven a web, let Christ alone, with the doctrine of his Gospel, be always exalted amongst us.

Matthew 18:21. Lord, how often shall my brother offend against me? Peter made this objection according to the natural feelings and disposition of the flesh. It is natural to all men to wish to be forgiven; and, therefore, if any man does not immediately obtain forgiveness, he complains that he is treated with sternness and cruelty. But those who demand to be treated gently are far from being equally gentle towards others; and therefore, when our Lord exhorted his disciples to meekness, this doubt occurred to Peter: “If we be so strongly disposed to grant forgiveness, what will be the consequence, but that our lenity shall be an inducement to offend?” 571571     “Incitera les autres a mal faire, et a nous offenser;” — “shall induce others to do ill, and to offend us.” He asks, therefore, if it be proper frequently to forgive offenders; for, since the number seven is taken for a large number, the force of the adverb, (ἑπτάκις) seven times, is the same as if he had said, “How long, Lord, dost thou wish that offenders be received into favor? for it is unreasonable, and by no means advantageous, that they should, in every case, find us willing to be reconciled.” But Christ is so far from yielding to this objection, that he expressly declares that there ought to be no limit to forgiving; 572572     “Mais tant s’en faut que Christ ait esgard a ceste objection pour lascher quelque chose de son dire, que mesmes il dit notamment et expressement que sans fin ne terme on doit tousiours pardonner;” — “but so far was Christ from paying regard to that objection, to extenuate any thing that he had said, that he even says plainly and expressly, that without end or limit we must always forgive.” for he did not intend to lay down a fixed number, but rather to enjoin us never to become wearied.

Luke differs somewhat from Matthew; for he states the command of Christ to be simply, that we should be prepared to forgive seven times; but the meaning is the same, that we ought to be ready and prepared to grant forgiveness not once or twice, but as often as the sinner shall repent There is only this difference between them, that, according to Matthew, our Lord, in reproving Peter for taking too limited a view, employs hyperbolically a larger number, which of itself is sufficient to point out the substance of what is intended. For when Peter asked if he should forgive seven times, it was not because he did not choose to go any farther, but, by presenting the appearance of a great absurdity, to withdraw Christ from his opinion, as I have lately hinted. So then he who shall be prepared to forgive seven times will be willing to be reconciled as far as to the seventieth offense.

But the words of Luke give rise to another question; for Christ does not order us to grant forgiveness, till the offender turn to us and give evidence of repentance. 573573     In the French copy he adds: — “Car il semble par ce moyen qu’il commande aux siens de tenir leur coeur contre les pervers, et leur refuser pardon;” — “for it appears in this way that he commands his followers to shut their heart against the obstinate, and to refuse them pardon.” I reply, there are two ways in which offenses are forgiven. If a man shall do me an injury, and I, laying aside the desire of revenge, do not cease to love him, but even repay kindness in place of injury, though I entertain an unfavorable opinion of him, as he deserves, still I am said to forgive him. For when God commands us to wish well to our enemies, He does not therefore demand that we approve in them what He condemns, but only desires that our minds shall be purified from all hatred. In this kind of pardon, so far are we from having any right to wait till he who has offended shall return of his own accord to be reconciled to us, that we ought to love those who deliberately provoke us, who spurn reconciliation, and add to the load of former offenses. A second kind of forgiving is, when we receive a brother into favor, so as to think favorably respecting him, and to be convinced that the remembrance of his offense is blotted out in the sight of God. And this is what I have formerly remarked, that in this passage Christ does not speak only of injuries which have been done to us, but of every kind of offenses; for he desires that, by our compassion, we shall raise up those who have fallen. 574574     “Ceux qui sont cheus et ont failli;” — “those who are fallen and have transgressed.” This doctrine is very necessary, because naturally almost all of us are peevish beyond measure; and Satan, under the pretense of severity, drives us to cruel rigor, so that wretched men, to whom pardon is refused, are swallowed up by grief and despair.

But here another question arises. As soon as a man by words makes profession of repentance, are we bound to believe him? Were this done, we must of necessity go willingly and knowingly into mistake; for where will be discretion, if any man may freely impose on us, even to the hundredth offense? I answer, first, the discourse relates here to daily faults, in which every man, even the best, needs forgiveness. 575575     “Esquelles les plus parfaits mesmes ont besoin d’estre supportez, et qu’on leur pardonner;” — “which even the most perfect need to be borne with and forgiven.” Since, then, amidst such infirmity of the flesh, our road is so slippery, and snares and attacks so numerous what will be the consequence if, at the second or third fall, the hope of forgiveness is cut off? We must add, secondly, that Christ does not deprive believers of the exercise of judgment, so as to yield a foolish readiness of belief to every slight expression, but only desires us to be so candid and merciful, as to stretch out the hand to offenders, provided there be evidence that they are sincerely dissatisfied with their sins. For repentance is a sacred thing, and therefore needs careful examination; but as soon as the offender gives probable evidence of conversion, Christ desires that he shall be admitted to reconciliation, lest, on being repulsed, he lose courage and fall back.

Thirdly, It must be observed that, when any man, through his light and unsteady behavior, has exposed himself to suspicion, we may grant pardon when he asks it, and yet may do so in such a manner as to watch over his conduct for the future, that our forbearance and meekness, which proceed from the Spirit of Christ, may not become the subject of his ridicule. For we must observe the design of our Lord himself, that we ought, by our gentleness, to assist those who have fallen to rise again. And certainly we ought to imitate the goodness of our heavenly Father, who meets sinners at a distance to invite them to salvation. Besides, as repentance is a wonderful work of the Spirit, and is the creation of the new man, if we despise it, we offer an insult to God himself.

23. The kingdom of heaven is compared. As it is difficult to bend us to mercy, and as we are quickly seized with weariness, particularly when we have to bear with many faults of brethren, our Lord confirms this doctrine by a most appropriate parable, the substance of which is, that those who will not yield to pardon the faults of brethren judge very ill for themselves, and subject themselves to a very hard and severe law; for they will find God to be equally stern and inexorable towards themselves. There are three parts in which the resemblance mainly consists; for the master is contrasted with the servant, the large sum of money with small or ordinary sums, and extraordinary kindness with extreme cruelty. By attending to these three points, it will be easy to ascertain Christ’s meaning; for what are we, if we are compared with God? And how large is the sum which every one of us owes to God? Lastly, how inconsiderable are the offenses, with which brethren are chargeable towards us, if we take into account our obligation to God? How ill then does that man deserve the compassion of God, who, though oppressed with an immense load, implacably refuses to forgive even the smallest offenses to men like himself? So far as regards the words, the kingdom of heaven here denotes the spiritual condition of the Church; as if Christ had said, that the state of matters between God and men, in regard to the soul and the nature of spiritual life, is the same as between an ordinary or earthly master and his servants, in regard to money and the affairs of the present life.

25. His master ordered him to be sold. It would be an idle exercise of ingenuity to examine here every minute clause. For God does not always display severity at first, till, constrained to pray, we implore pardon, but rather meets us with undeserved goodness. But Christ only shows what will become of us, if God shall treat us with the utmost severity; and again, if He shall choose to demand from us what we owe, how necessary it is for us to betake ourselves to prayer, because this is the only refuge that remains for transgressors. We must also attend to the wide difference of the sums; for, since one talent is worth more than a hundred pence, what proportion will a hundred pence bear to ten thousand talents?

31. When his fellow-servants saw what was done. Though we ought not to search for mystery in these words — because they contain nothing but what nature teaches, and what we learn by daily experience — we ought to know that the men who live among us will be so many witnesses against us before God; for it is impossible but that cruelty shall excite in them displeasure and hatred, more especially, since every man is afraid that what he sees done to others will fall upon his own head. As to the clause which immediately follows, it is foolish to inquire how God punishes those sins 576576     “Comment il est possible que Dieu punisse;” — “how it is possible for God to punish.” which he has already forgiven; for the simple meaning is this: though he offers mercy to all, yet severe creditors, from whom no forgiveness can be obtained, are unworthy of enjoying it.

34. Delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that he owed. The Papists are very ridiculous in endeavoring to light the fire of purgatory by the word till; for it is certain that Christ here points out not temporal death, by which the judgment of God may be satisfied, but eternal death.




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