Adam Clarke Commentary
The disciples inquiring who should be greatest in Christ‘s kingdom, Matthew 18:1. He takes occasion to recommend humility, simplicity, and disinterestedness, Matthew 18:2-6. Warns them against offenses, Matthew 18:7. Recommends mortification and self-denial. Matthew 18:8, Matthew 18:9. Charges them to avoid giving offense. Matthew 18:10, Matthew 18:11. Parable of him who had lost one sheep out of his flock consisting of one hundred, Matthew 18:12-14. How to deal with an offending brother, Matthew 18:15-18. A gracious promise to social prayer, Matthew 18:19, Matthew 18:20. How often an offending brother who expresses sorrow, and promises amendment, is to be forgiven, Matthew 18:21, Matthew 18:22. The parable of the king, who calls his servants to account, and finds one who owed him ten thousand talents, who, being unable to pay, and imploring mercy, is forgiven, Matthew 18:23-27. Of the same person, who treated his fellow-servant unmercifully, who owed him but a small sum, Matthew 18:28-30. Of the punishment inflicted on this unmerciful servant, Matthew 18:31-35.
At the same time - Or hour; but ωρα is frequently used to signify some particular time: however, instead of ωρα , three MSS., all the Itala but four, and Origen, read ημερα , day. Origen says both readings were extant in MSS. in his time.
Who is the greatest - Could these disciples have viewed the kingdom of Christ in any other light than that of a temporal one? Hence they wished to know whom he would make his prime minister - whom his general - whom his chief chancellor - whom supreme judge, etc., etc. Is it he who first became thy disciple, or he who is thy nearest relative, or he who has most frequently entertained thee, or he who is the oldest, merely as to years? Could this inquiry have proceeded from any but the nine disciples who had not witnessed our Lord‘s transfiguration? Peter, James, and John, were surely more spiritual in their views! And yet how soon did even these forget that his kingdom was not of this world! See Mark 10:35, etc.; John 18:10, etc. The disciples having lately seen the keys delivered to Peter, and found that he, with James and John, had been privileged with being present at the transfiguration, it is no wonder if a measure of jealousy and suspicion began to work in their minds. From this inquiry we may also learn, that the disciples had no notion of Peter‘s supremacy; nor did they understand, as the Roman Catholics will have it, that Christ had constituted him their head, either by the conversation mentioned Matthew 16:18, Matthew 16:19, or by the act mentioned in the conclusion of the preceding chapter. Had they thought that any such superiority had been designed, their present question must have been extremely impertinent. Let this be observed.
A little child - But this child could walk, for he called him to him. Nicephorus says, this was Ignatius, who was afterwards bishop of Antioch, and suffered martyrdom under, and by command of, the Roman Emperor Trojan, in the 107th year of our Lord. But this good father is not much to be depended on, being both weak and credulous.
Except ye be converted - Unless ye be saved from those prejudices which are at present so baneful to your nation, (seeking a temporal and not a spiritual kingdom), unless ye be clothed with the spirit of humility, ye cannot enter into the spirit, design, and privileges of my spiritual and eternal kingdom. The name of this kingdom should put you in mind of its nature. -
1.The King is heavenly;
2.His Subjects are heavenly-minded;
4.The Government of this kingdom is wholly spiritual and divine.
See on Matthew 3:2 (note).
And become as little children - i.e. Be as truly without worldly ambition, and the lust of power, as little children are, who act among themselves as if all were equal. The following saying from the Boostan of the poet Saady is very appropriate. “The hearts of infants being free from avarice, what care they for a handful of silver more than for a handful of dust?”
Whosoever therefore shall humble himself - So great is the disparity between the kingdom of Christ and the kingdoms of this world, that there is no way of rising to honors in the former, but by humility of mind, and continual self-abasement.
The same is greatest - Thus our Lord shows them that they were all equal, and that there could be no superiority among them, but what must come from the deepest humility; he intimates also, that wherever this principle should be found, it would save its possessor from seeking worldly honors or earthly profits, and from seeking to be a ruler over his brethren, or a lord in God‘s heritage.
One such little child - As our Lord in the preceding verses considers a little child an emblem of a genuine disciple, so by the term in this verse he means a disciple only. “Whosoever will receive, i.e. show unto such a child-like, unambitious disciple of mine, any act of kindness for my sake, I will consider it as done to myself.”
But whoso shall offend one of these little ones - But, on the contrary, whosoever shall cause one of the least of those who believe in me to be stumbled - to go into the spirit of the world, or give way to sin - such a one shall meet with the most exemplary punishment.
A millstone - Μυλος ονικος , an ass‘s millstone, because in ancient times, before the invention of wind and water mills, the stones were turned sometimes by slaves, but commonly by asses or mules. The most ancient kind of mills among the inhabitants of the northern nations, was the quern, or hand-mill. In some places in Ireland, Scotland, and the Zetland Isles, these still exist.
Drowned in the depth of the sea - It is supposed that in Syria, as well as in Greece, this mode of punishing criminals was practised; especially in cases of parricide; and when a person was devoted to destruction for the public safety, as in cases of plague, famine, etc. That this was the custom in Greece, we learn from the Scholiast on the Equites of Aristophanes, Οταν γαρ κατεποντουν τινας, βαρος απο των τραχηλων εκρεμων . When a person was drowned, they hung a weight, ( υπερβολον λιθον , Suidas), a vast stone about his neck. See the ancient Scholia upon the Equites, lin. 1360, and Suidas, in υπερβολον λιθον . We find also that it was a positive institute of the ancient Hindoo law. “If a woman,” says the precept, “causes any person to take poison, sets fire to any person‘s house, or murders a man, then the magistrate, having bound a stone to her neck, shall drown her.” Halhead‘s Code of Gentoo Laws, 4th. edition, page 306.
Wo! - Or, alas! ουαι . It is the opinion of some eminent critics, that this word is ever used by our Lord to express sympathy and concern.
Because of offenses - Scandals, stumbling-blocks, persecutions, etc.
For it must needs be that offenses come - Αναγκε γαρ εϚιν ελθειν τα σκανδαλα , for the coming of offenses is unavoidable. Such is the wickedness of men, such their obstinacy, that they will not come unto Christ that they may have life, but desperately continue deceiving and being deceived. In such a state of things, offenses, stumbling-blocks, persecutions, etc., are unavoidable.
Wo to that man - He who gives the offense, and he who receives it, are both exposed to ruin.
If thy hand, etc. - See the notes on Matthew 5:29-30 (note).
One of these little ones - One of my simple, loving, humble disciples.
Their angels - always behold - Our Lord here not only alludes to, but, in my opinion, establishes the notion received by almost all nations, viz. That every person has a guardian angel; and that these have always access to God, to receive orders relative to the management of their charge. See Psalm 34:8; Hebrews 1:14.
Always behold the face - Hence, among the Jews, the angels were styled מלכי פנים, (malakey panim), angels of the face, and Michael is said to be סר הפנים, (sar ha) -(panim) the prince of the face. This is an allusion to the privilege granted by eastern monarchs to their chief favourites; a privilege which others were never permitted to enjoy. The seven princes of Media and Persia, who were the chief favourites and privy-counsellors of Ahasuerus, are said to see the king‘s face. Esther 1:14; see also 2 Kings 25:19, and Jeremiah 51:25. Our Lord‘s words give us to understand that humble-hearted, child-like disciples, are objects of his peculiar care, and constant attention. The clause, εν ουρανοις , in the heavens, is wanting in several MSS., versions, and fathers.
For the Son of man, etc. - This is added as a second reason, why no injury should be done to his followers. “The Son of man has so loved them as to come into the world to lay down his life for them.”
That which was lost - Απολωλος . In Revelation 9:11, Satan is called Απολλυων , (Apolluon), the destroyer, or him who lays waste. This name bears a near relation to that state in which our Lord tells us he finds all mankind - lost, desolated, ruined. So it appears that Satan and men have the nearest affinity to each other - as the destroyer and the destroyed - the desolator and the desolated - the loser and the lost. But the Son of man came to save the lost. Glorious news! May every lost soul feel it! This verse is omitted by five MSS., two versions, and three of the fathers; but of its authenticity there can be no doubt, as it is found in the parallel place, Luke 19:10, on which verse there is not a single various reading found in any of the MSS. that have ever been discovered, nor in any of the ancient versions.
Doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains - So our common translation reads the verse; others, Doth he not leave the ninety and nine Upon The Mountains, and go, etc. This latter reading appears to me to be the best; because, in Luke 15:4, it is said, he leaveth the ninety and nine In The Desert. The allusion, therefore, is to a shepherd feeding his sheep on the mountains, in the desert; not seeking the lost one On the mountains.
He rejoiceth more - It is justly observed by one, on this verse, that it is natural for a person to express unusual joy at the fortunate accomplishment of an unexpected event.
It is not the will of your Father - If any soul be finally lost, it is not because God‘s will or counsel was against its salvation, or that a proper provision had not been made for it; but that, though light came into the world, it preferred darkness to light, because of its attachment to its evil deeds.
If thy brother - Any who is a member of the same religious society, sin against thee, 1. Go and reprove him alone, - it may be in person; if that cannot be so well done, by thy messenger, or in writing, (which in many cases is likely to be the most effectual). Observe, our Lord gives no liberty to omit this, or to exchange it for either of the following steps. If this do not succeed,
2. Take with thee one or two more - Men whom he esteems, who may then confirm and enforce what thou sayest; and afterwards, if need require, bear witness of what was spoken. If even this do not succeed, then, and not before,
3. Tell it unto the Church - Lay the whole matter before the congregation of Christian believers, in that place of which he is a member, or before the minister and elders, as the representatives of the Church or assembly. If all this avail not, then,
Let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican - To whom thou art, as a Christian, to owe earnest and persevering good will, and acts of kindness; but have no religious communion with him, till, if he have been convicted, he acknowledge his fault. Whosoever follows this threefold rule will seldom offend others, and never be offended himself. - Rev. J. Wesley.
Whatsoever ye shall bind, etc. - Whatever determinations ye make, in conformity to these directions for your conduct to an offending brother, will be accounted just, and ratified by the Lord. See on Matthew 16:19 (note); and, to what is there said, the following observations may be profitably added.
Again I say unto you - The word αμην , verily, is added here, in ninety-eight MSS., (many of which are of the greatest antiquity and importance), seven editions, all the Arabic, the Slavonic, and several of the Itala. The taking in or leaving out such a word may appear to some a matter of indifference; but, as I am fully convinced Jesus Christ never spoke a useless or a needless word, my maxim is, to omit not one syllable that I am convinced (from such authority as the above) he has ever used, and to take in nothing that he did not speak. It makes the passage much more emphatic - Again, Verily I say unto you,
If two of you shall agree - ΣυμφωνηϚωσιν , symphonize, or harmonize. It is a metaphor taken from a number of musical instruments set to the same key, and playing the same tune: here, it means a perfect agreement of the hearts, desires, wishes, and voices, of two or more persons praying to God. It also intimates that as a number of musical instruments, skilfully played, in a good concert, are pleasing to the ears of men, so a number of persons united together in warm, earnest, cordial prayer, is highly pleasing in the sight and ears of the Lord. Now this conjoint prayer refers, in all probability, to the binding and loosing in the preceding verse; and thus we see what power faithful prayer has with God!
It shall be done for them - What an encouragement to pray! even to two, if there be no more disposed to join in this heavenly work.
For where two - are gathered together in thy name - There are many sayings among the Jews almost exactly similar to this, such as, Wherever even two persons are sitting in discourse concerning the law, the Divine presence is among them. See much more in Schoettgen. And the following, among the ancient Hindoos, is like unto it: “When Brahma, the Lord of creation, had formed mankind, and at the same time appointed his worship, he spoke and said, ‹With this worship pray for increase, and let it be that on which ye shall depend for the accomplishment of all your wishes. With this remember God, that God may remember you. Remember one another, and ye shall obtain supreme happiness. God, being remembered in worship, will grant you the enjoyment of your wishes: he who enjoyeth what hath been given unto him by God, and offereth not a portion unto him, is even as a thief. Know that good works come from Brahma, whose nature is incorruptible; wherefore, the omnipresent Brahma is Present In The Worship.” See the Bagvat Geeta, p. 45,46.
In my name - Seems to refer particularly to a public profession of Christ and his Gospel.
There am I in the midst - None but God could say these words, to say them with truth, because God alone is every where present, and these words refer to his omnipresence. Wherever - suppose millions of assemblies were collected in the same moment, in different places of the creation, (which is a very possible case), this promise states that Jesus is in each of them. Can any, therefore, say these words, except that God who fills both heaven and earth? But Jesus says these words: ergo - Jesus is God. Let it be observed, that Jesus is not among them to spy out their sins; or to mark down the imperfections of their worship; but to enlighten, strengthen, comfort, and save them.
Till seven times? - Though seven was a number of perfection among the Hebrews, and often meant much more than the units in it imply, yet it is evident that Peter uses it here in its plain literal sense, as our Lord‘s words sufficiently testify. It was a maxim among the Jews never to forgive more than thrice: Peter enlarges this charity more than one half; and our Lord makes even his enlargement septuple, see Matthew 18:22. Revenge is natural to man, i.e. man is naturally a vindictive being, and, in consequence, nothing is more difficult to him than forgiveness of injuries.
Seventy times seven - There is something very remarkable in these words, especially if collated with Genesis 4:24, where the very same words are used - “If any man kill Lamech, he shall be avenged seventy times seven.” The just God punishes sin in an exemplary manner. Sinful man, who is exposed to the stroke of Divine justice, should be abundant in forgiveness, especially as the merciful only shall find mercy. See the note on Matthew 5:7, and on Matthew 6:14, Matthew 6:15 (note). The sum seventy times seven makes four hundred and ninety. Now an offense, properly such, is that which is given wantonly, maliciously, and without Any Provocation. It is my opinion, that, let a man search ever so accurately, he will not find that he has received, during the whole course of his life, four hundred and ninety such offenses. If the man who receives the offense has given any cause for it, in that case, the half of the offense, at least, towards his brother, ceases.
Therefore is the kingdom - In respect to sin, cruelty, and oppression, God will proceed in the kingdom of heaven (the dispensation of the Gospel) as he did in former times; and every person shall give an account of himself to God. Every sin is a debt contracted with the justice of God; men are all God‘s own servants; and the day is at hand in which their Master will settle accounts with them, inquire into their work, and pay them their wages. Great Judge! what an awful time must this be, when with multitudes nothing shall be found but sin and insolvency!
Ten thousand talents - Μυριων ταλαντων , a myriad of talents, the highest number known in Greek arithmetical notation. An immense sum, which, if the silver talent be designed, amounts to 4,500,000 sterling; but if the gold talent be meant which is by far the most likely, then the amount is 67,500,000 sterling, a sum equal to the annual revenue of the British empire! See the note on Exodus 25:39.
He had not to pay - That is not being able to pay. As there could not be the smallest probability that a servant, wholly dependent on his master, who was now absolutely insolvent, could ever pay a debt he had contracted of more than 67 millions! - so is it impossible for a sinner, infinitely indebted to Divine justice, ever to pay a mite out of the talent.
Commanded him to be sold - his wife - children, etc. - Our Lord here alludes to an ancient custom among the Hebrews, of selling a man and his family to make payment of contracted debts. See Exodus 22:3; Leviticus 25:30, Leviticus 25:47; 2 Kings 4:1. This custom passed from among the Jews to the Greeks and Romans. I have already remarked (see Genesis 47:19) that in the Burman empire the sale of whole families, to discharge debts, is very common.
Fell down and worshipped him - Προσεκυνει αυτω , crouched as a dog before him, with the greatest deference, submission, and anxiety.
Have patience with me - Μακροθυμησον επ ‘ εμοι , be long-minded towards me - give me longer space.
1.Deep humiliation of heart - he fell down.
4.A firm purpose to devote his soul and body to his Maker - I will pay thee all.
A sinner may be said, according to the economy of grace, to pay all, when he brings the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus to the throne of justice, by faith; thus offering an equivalent for the pardon he seeks, and paying all he owes to Divine justice, by presenting the blood of the Lamb.
Moved with compassion - Or with tender pity. This is the source of salvation to a lost world, the tender pity, the eternal mercy of God.
A hundred pence - Rather denarii. The denarius was a Roman coin, worth about seven-pence halfpenny English. The original word should be retained, as our word penny does not convey the seventh part of the meaning. A hundred denarii would amount to about 3l. 2s. 6d. British, or, if reckoned as some do, at seven-pence three farthings, the sum would be 3l. 4s. 7d.
Took him by the throat - Κρατησας αυτον επνιγε . There is no word I am acquainted with, which so fully expresses the meaning of the original, επνιγε , as the Anglo-saxon term throttle: it signified (like the Greek) to half choke a person, by seizing his throat.
Fell down at his feet - This clause is wanting in several ancient MSS., versions, and fathers. Several printed editions also have omitted it; Griesbach has left it out of the text.
Pay thee all - Παντα , all, is omitted by a multitude of MSS., versions, and fathers.
And he would not, etc. - To the unmerciful, God will show no mercy; this is an eternal purpose of the Lord, which never can be changed. God teaches us what to do to a fellow-sinner, by what He does to us. Our fellow-servant‘s debt to us, and ours to God, are as one hundred denarii to ten thousand talents! When we humble ourselves before him, God freely forgives us all this mighty sum! And shall we exact from our brother recompense for the most trifling faults? Reader, if thou art of this unmerciful, unforgiving cast, read out the chapter.
Like man new made
The deeds of Mercy. - ”
His fellow-servants saw what was done - An act of this kind is so dishonorable to all the followers of Christ, and to the spirit of his Gospel, that through the respect they owe to their Lord and Master, and through the concern they feel for the prosperity of his cause, they are obliged to plead against it at the throne of God.
His lord, after that he had called him - Alas! how shall he appear! Confounded. What shall he answer? He is speechless!
Shouldest not thou also have had compassion - Ουκ εδει και σε , Did it not become thee also? What a cutting reproach! It became Me to show mercy, when thou didst earnestly entreat me, because I am Merciful, It became thee also to have shown mercy, because thou wert so deep in debt thyself, and hadst obtained mercy.
Delivered him to the tormentors - Not only continued captivity is here intended, but the tortures to be endured in it. If a person was suspected of fraud, as there was reason for in such a case as that mentioned here, he was put to very cruel tortures among the Asiatics, to induce him to confess. In the punishments of China, a great variety of these appear; and probably there is an allusion to such torments in this place. Before, he and all that he had, were only to be sold. Now, as he has increased his debt, so he has increased his punishment; he is delivered to the tormentors, to the horrors of a guilty conscience, and to a fearful looking for of fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. But if this refers to the day of judgment, then the worm that dieth not, and the fire that is not quenched, are the tormentors.
So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you - The goodness and indulgence of God towards us is the pattern we should follow in our dealings with others. If we take man for our exemplar we shall err, because our copy is a bad one; and our lives are not likely to be better than the copy we imitate. Follow Christ; be merciful as your Father who is in heaven is merciful. You cannot complain of the fairness of your copy. Reader, hast thou a child, or servant who has offended thee, and humbly asks forgiveness? Hast thou a debtor, or a tenant, who is insolvent, and asks for a little longer time? And hast thou not forgiven that child or servant? Hast thou not given time to that debtor or tenant? How, then, canst thou ever expect to see the face of the just and merciful God? Thy child is banished, or kept at a distance; thy debtor is thrown into prison, or thy tenant sold up: yet the child offered to fall at thy feet; and the debtor or tenant, utterly insolvent, prayed for a little longer time, hoping God would enable him to pay thee all; but to these things thy stony heart and seared conscience paid no regard! O monster of ingratitude! Scandal to human nature, and reproach to God! If thou canst, go hide thyself - even in hell, from the face of the Lord!
Their trespasses - These words are properly left out by Greisbach, and other eminent critics, because they are wanting in some of the very best MSS. most of the versions, and in some of the chief of the fathers. The words are evidently an interpolation; the construction of them is utterly improper, and the concord false.
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