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18. Parables

At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? 2And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, 3And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. 6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

7 Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! 8 Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. 9 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. 10 Take heed 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 which is in heaven. 11 For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. 12 How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? 13 And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. 14 Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.

15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. 16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. 18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

21Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? 22Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. 24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. 25 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 to be made. 26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. 28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. 29 And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. 31 So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. 32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: 33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? 34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. 35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.

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.


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