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Matthew 18:5. One such little child.—Whether literally or only morally a little child. Our Saviour had reference, we doubt not, to both phases of childhood. That He refers to literal childhood may be inferred from Luke 9:48. But such a reference, though real, would be only bridging the way for His far more important reference to moral or spiritual childhood (Morison). In My name.—Literally, upon My name, upon the ground or footing of My name, i.e. in consideration of Me—out of regard or respect for Me (ibid).
Matthew 18:6. Offend.—Or morally ensnare. “Whosoever shall give him occasion for relapsing into unbelief, as was done by hierarchical arrogance” (Lange). It were better for him.—It is profitable for him (R.V.). Literally, it is advantageous to him, in order that a millstone might be hanged about his neck. There is an awful and august irony in the literal expression. It it assumed that be who leads astray one of Christ’s little ones had an end in view. He contemplated some advantage or other. Let it be so! says our Saviour. Advantage! Let him have the paltry advantage which he seeks. It is an advantage with a tremendous disadvantage coming behind. The spiritual wickedness which is impelling him to seek the imagined advantage has a terrific aim beyond. And thus, poor infatuated creature, he is advantaged—is he? If he be, it is in order that a millstone may be hanged about his neck! Such is the graphic force of the Saviour’s idea, when his expression is resolved into its constituent elements (Morison). A millstone.—Literally, a millstone turned by an ass, and so larger than the ordinary millstone. The manner of death alluded to appears to have been unknown to the Jews. But Plutarch mentions this punishment as being common to Greece and Rome. Cf. Juv., Sat., xiv. 16, 17, where, as in other places, it is named rather than the cross as a swift and terrible penalty for crime (Carr).
Matthew 18:7. Woe.—The interjection is one of sorrow as well as denunciation, and here the former meaning is predominant, as the latter is in the next clause of the verse (Plumptre). Needs be.—Especially in the age blessed by the presence of the Messiah; just as insects abound in summer (Bengel). Offences.—The occasions (R.V.). It is possible that Matthew here (Matthew 18:7-9), according to his custom, has grouped cognate sayings, not originally spoken in this connection (Maclaren).
Matthew 18:10. In heaven their angels.—A difficult verse, but perhaps the following may be more than an illustration: Among men, those who nurse and rear the royal children, however humble in themselves, are allowed free entrance with their charge, and a degree of familiarity which even the highest state-ministers dare not assume. Probably our Lord means that, in virtue of their charge over His disciples (Hebrews 1:13; John 1:51), the angels have errands to the throne, a welcome there, and a dear familiarity in dealing with “His Father which is in heaven,” which on their own matters they could not assume (Brown).
Matthew 18:11. For the Son of man, etc.—Omitted in the Sinaitic, the Vatican, and other important MSS., also in R.V. However, as Carr says, it falls in precisely with the train of thought, and is almost required to connect Matthew 18:10; Matthew 18:12.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 18:1-14
True greatness.—How the opening question of this passage came to be asked seems to be taught us by St. Mark. It was after a dispute on the subject of inquiry, which had occurred “by the way” (Mark 9:33-34). The same reference also seems to throw light on the exact purport of the question itself. Tell us “then” (Matthew 18:1, R.V.) what is the truth about this subject of greatness. Who is greater and who is less, in regard to this point? The Saviour answers by placing a little child in the midst of them, and then taking it in His arms (Mark 9:36), as though He would say by that action, This is to be great in My kingdom, and to be dear unto Me, viz., to be as this babe is, and think nothing about it. True greatness in My kingdom consists, in other words, in not seeking greatness at all. In the rest of the passage the Saviour goes on to further explain and enforce this statement, by showing, first, what is true of such persons on earth; and, second, what is thought of them in heaven.
I. What is true of them upon earth.—Viz., that they are those on whom the welfare of the world itself turns. We may see this, on the one hand, by what is true of their friends. How well it is with all those who show them kindness and love! How well it is even in the case of the very humblest among them! To receive the least of such as being what he is, viz., a believer in Christ, is all one, in Christ’s sight, with receiving Himself (Matthew 18:5). This is the well-known principle of Matthew 25:40. And this is, also, if we think of it rightly, having a crown of greatness indeed. What, for a creature, can be a greater privilege than that of ministering to the Creator (see Revelation 22:3). It is a privilege certainly of which the holy angels seem glad indeed to partake (Matthew 4:11; Luke 22:43). Can any persons be greater, therefore, than those who can put this privilege within any man’s reach? And who are in this way, therefore, as it were, the ambassadorial representatives of Christ Himself upon earth? We may see the same also, next, by seeing what is true of those persons who are the enemies of such men. Unhappily, that there are such is only too plain. There are those, who, so far from “receiving” (Matthew 18:5) these, seek to hinder them in their course; and, either by persecution or opposition, on the one hand, or by persuasion and temptation, on the other, seek either to drive them or seduce them into wrong. Evil indeed is it with any man who attempts anything of the kind. All such attempts are things, in God’s sight, of the most serious kind. Nothing more so, in fact. Better anything, in fact, for any man than to have this true about him. Better have round about him in the most helpless position the heaviest possible weight (Matthew 18:6). Better lose also any part of himself—even the limbs he moves with, the eye he sees with—than in this way to lose all and lose it also for ever! (Matthew 18:8-9). Nothing is more evil, in fact, than being the “occasion” (Matthew 18:7) of evil to those that are Christ’s. See, therefore, on the whole, what a double crown of greatness these carry about with them as they move. There are none more to be cherished than these—none more to be feared than these—amongst all the inhabitants of the world. Can any of its inhabitants either expect or ask to be really higher than that?
II. What is thought of them in heaven.—Under this head we are shown, on the one hand, that they are the constant objects of God’s regard. In Genesis 28:0 we read of the angels of God “ascending and descending” between heaven and earth. In Ezekiel 1:14 of “the living creatures that ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning.” In Zechariah 6:5, of “spirits” which “go forth from standing before the Lord of the whole earth.” And in Zechariah 1:11 of some such bringing in their report of what they have seen on the earth. A like way of speaking seems to be employed in this place. Even Christ’s “little ones” are represented as having “angels” who bring back tidings about them. And of such angels we seem taught that they all have immediate access to the presence of God. Whatever the mysteries and the difficulties and the errors connected with the subject, this much appears plain. What happens to these “little ones” is of immediate interest to the Great Father of all. Through these higher ones the eye of the Highest of all is for ever bent upon them. Is not this to be “great”? Next, they are shown to be the special objects of God’s recovering grace. Even when astray and so “less than the least,” they are not only within—they are even specially within—the scope of His thoughts. Almost inexpressible, indeed, is the degree of tenderness with which they are thought of at such times. It is like that which happens, when, in a flock of one hundred sheep, one amongst them is lost. Immediately that one sheep, in the shepherd’s mind, has a place of its own. Immediately, therefore, he leaves all the rest of them to go in search of that one. And naturally, therefore, if he finds it, he rejoices in finding it more than over the ninety and nine (Matthew 18:12-13). It is a true picture, though an inadequate one, of the will of the Father. His straying “little ones” are not less precious to Him because they are in danger of “perishing.” They are rather—if not more precious, which could not very well be—more thought about, and more longed for, and more sought after by Him (Matthew 18:14). Never, it would seem indeed, are His thoughts tenderer than they are to those who need His tenderness most. How great a thing, therefore—how truly great—to be numbered amongst them at all!
1. See, therefore, in conclusion, in the first place, what a secret of contentment is here.—What other distinctions are comparable to this of really belonging to Christ? What can they add to us if we possess this? How far can they compensate us, if we do not? And what have we really lost, if possessing this, we only attain them in part? Also, and lastly, can we really miss what is good in them, if this other possession be ours (1 Corinthians 3:22)?
2. See, in the next place, what an incentive to effort is here.—Why should those who enjoy this greatness desire to keep it to themselves? Will it not, in reality, be all the greater if they do not? There is no blessing like that of being a blessing. There is no greatness greater than that of sharing greatness with others. The more light we communicate to our fellow-travellers, the more there will be for us all.
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 18:2. The ministry of children.—The Evangelists never hesitated to tell the truth about themselves; however humiliating, still it was told; so that if this be not a veritable record, the men who wrote it must, of all men, have been the most singular in their taste. What can be more humiliating than the spectacle of the disciples as it is presented to us in this chapter? The little child is their teacher. We are in a world of children. They are the poetry of life.
I. The little child has something to give us.
1. What an opening of the heart is made by the coming of a little child.—It is a great lesson for us in more ways than one. It suggests that there is no power by which we are so likely to move the hearts of an adult generation gone from God as the power of little children.
2. When the world is redeemed the spirit of the little child will be supreme. “A little child shall lead them.”
II. We have something to give the little child.—I speak especially to Sunday-school teachers. Your primary work is to train children for Jesus Christ. Teach them that they are the children of God, that they are not the children of the devil; that they are not meant to do the devil’s work; that the love of the Father is towards them, that though they may have evil passions and sins and frailties, yet they are God’s children. Surround them from their infancy upwards with an atmosphere of love. Expect them to feel the power of the love of Christ early. Welcome every sign of a gracious, gentle, loving heart towards Jesus.—J. G. Rogers, B.A.
A child in the midst (A Sunday-school anniversary sermon).—Jesus set a little child in the midst!
I. This is what God did in redeeming the world.—By the incarnation there was “set in the midst” of the prophets, philosophers, armies, governments of the world, “a little child.” The sign that God has come to redeem the world was not in blare of trumpets, volleys of artillery, edicts of emperors, but in the swaddling-clothes that swathed a Babe in a manger. Among the lessons of the holy manger are:—
1. The might of gentleness.
2. The love of God.
II. This is what Jesus did in teaching the disciples.—Some have said it was Ignatius, some Peter’s child. He takes him into His arms. There is a fourfold lesson here.
1. Imitate childhood.
2. Receive childhood.
3. Consider childhood.
4. Care earnestly for childhood.
III. This is what the church does here to-day.—The Sunday-school calls us round the cradle—sets a child in our midst.
1. It indicates faith in the worth of childhood.
2. Admits the need of childhood.
3. Promotes loyalty to the Saviour of childhood.—U. R. Thomas, B.A.
Our Lord’s object-lesson.—The child I suppose to have been a very young child. For such a little child is completely free from folly, and the mania for glory, and from envy, and contentiousness, and all such passions.—Chrysostom.
Matthew 18:3-4. The greatest in the kingdom.—
I. None but the lowly are in the kingdom (Matthew 18:3).—A most heart-searching lesson! What grave doubts and questionings it must have suggested to the disciples! They had faith to follow Christ in an external way; but were they really following Him? Had He not said, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself?” Were they denying self? On the other hand, however, we need not suppose that this selfish rivalry was habitual with them. It was probably one of those surprises which overtake the best of Christians; so that it was not really a proof that they did not belong to the kingdom, but only that, for the time, they were acting inconsistently with it; and therefore, before they could think of occupying any place, even the very lowest in the kingdom, they must repent, and become as little children.
II. The lowliest in the kingdom are the greatest (Matthew 18:4).—Though the thought was new to them at the time, it did come home to them; it passed into their nature, and showed itself afterwards in precious fruit, at which the world still wonders. They did not, indeed, get over their selfishness all at once; but how grandly were they cured of it when their training was finished! If there is one thing more characteristic of the Apostles in their after life than any other, it is their self forgetfulness—their self-effacement, we may say. Where does Matthew ever say a word about the sayings or doings of Matthew? Even John, who was nearest of all to the heart of the Saviour, and with Him in all His most trying hours, can write a whole Gospel without ever mentioning his own name; and when he has occasion to speak of John the Baptist does it as if there were no other John in existence. So was it with them all.—J. M. Gibson, D.D.
Matthew 18:3. Meetness for the kingdom of heaven.—What is this “conversion” concerning which Jesus says that without it entering the kingdom of heaven is impossible for any man?
I. It is aversion from sin.—Education, society, natural temperament may lead a man to dislike some sins. But with sin, as sin, the unconverted man lives at peace. Conversion changes all this. What the chill of an iceberg would be to a tropical plant, or the gnawings of an ulcer to a sensitive nerve, sin is to his soul. He fears it, he hates it. And this aversion from sin includes all sin—sins of the heart, as well as of the life.
II. It is inclination towards God.—Just as the flowers open to the sun; just as the child runs into the parent’s arms; so does the converted man rise in all his being towards the God who is at once his life and joy. His God-ward tendencies take a practical shape. He loves and delights in all that God loves—God’s book, day, people. Now, to such a man “the kingdom of heaven” is open. He has an eye for its beauty, an ear for its song, a heart for its service. This here on earth. But hereafter the same will be true. Let death come when it may, he is ready for the “kingdom.”—A C. Price, B.A.
Children a parable of the kingdom of heaven.—Every reader of the Gospels has marked the sympathy of Jesus with children. How He watched their games. How angry He was with His disciples for belittling them. How He used to warn men, whatever they did, never to hurt a little child. How grateful were children’s praises when all others had turned against Him. One is apt to admire the beautiful sentiment, and to forget that children were more to Jesus than helpless and gentle creatures to be loved and protected. They were His chief parable of the kingdom of heaven. As a type of character the kingdom was like unto a little child, and the greatest in the kingdom would be the most child-like. According to Jesus, a well-conditioned child illustrates better than anything else on earth the distinctive features of Christian character:
1. Because he does not assert nor aggrandise himself.
2. Because he has no memory for injuries, and no room in his heart for a grudge.
3. Because he has no previous opinions, and is not ashamed to confess his ignorance.
4. Because he can imagine; and has the key of another world, entering in through the ivory gate and living amid the things unseen and eternal. The new society of Jesus was a magnificent imagination, and he who entered it must lay aside the world-standards, and ideals of character, and become as a little child.—John Watson, M.A.
Matthew 18:4. Receiving the kingdom of God as a little child.—There are three senses in which this humility may be understood.
1. As opposed to the pride of intellectual self-sufficiency—in receiving the doctrine of the kingdom in a spirit of docility, without doubting or disputation, as when the child shall receive his father’s word with implicit faith.
2. As opposed to the pride of self-righteousness—in receiving the blessings of the kingdom without any consciousness of desert, as when the child shall expect and take favours at his father’s hand without the faintest sentiment of any merits of his own.
3. As opposed to ambitious pride—in receiving the kingdom in a spirit of love for the brethren, without contention for preeminence, as when the nobleman’s child shall, if permitted, make a companion of the beggars on a footing of the most perfect equality.—W. Anderson, LL.D.
Humility.—A farmer went with his son into a wheat-field to see if it was ready for harvest. “See, father,” exclaimed the boy, “how straight those stems hold up their heads! They must be the best ones. Those that hang their heads down I am sure cannot be good for much.” The farmer plucked a stalk of each kind, and said, “See here, foolish child. This stalk that stood so straight is light-headed, and good for nothing, while this that hung down its head so modestly is full of the most beautiful grain.”
Matthew 18:6. Injuring others.—The atmosphere of carnality and selfishness in which the disciples were moving, as their question showed, would stifle the tender life of any lowly believer who found himself in it; and they were not only injuring themselves, but becoming stumbling-blocks to others by their ambition. How much of the present life of average Christians is condemned on the same ground! It is a good test of our Christian character to ask—would it help or hinder a lowly believer to live beside us? How many professing Christians are really, though unconsciously, doing their utmost to pull down their more Christ-like brethren to their own low level! The worldliness and selfish ambitions of the church are responsible for the stumbling of many who would else have been of Christ’s little ones.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Matthew 18:7. Giving occasions of stumbling.—If there is any work in the world which peculiarly deserves the name of the work of the devil, it is the hindrance which men sometimes put in the path in which their fellow-creatures are called by God to walk.
I. The most glaring form of the sin of tempting others is that of persecuting and ridiculing the conscientious.—Every one who endeavours to live as God would have him is sure to lay himself open to ridicule, if nothing worse. How easy it is to ridicule the imperfect virtue, because it is imperfect; how easy, and yet how wicked!
II. Are Christians quite safe from doing this great and sinful mischief?—I fear not.
1. Christians are not exempt from the common failing of all men, to condemn and dislike everything which is unlike the ordinary fashion of their own lives.
2. Christians are quite as liable as other men to be misled by the customs of their own society, and to confound the laws that have grown up amongst themselves with the law of God.
3. Christians are very often liable, not, perhaps, to put obstacles in the way of efforts to do right, so much as to refuse them the needful help without which they have little chance of succeeding.
4. Christians are quite as liable as any to give wrong things untrue names, and to take away the fear of sin by a sort of good-natured charity towards particular faults.
5. Christians are liable to that which is the common form of tempting among those who are not Christians; not to persecute or ridicule what is right, but to seek for companions in what is wrong. They are tempted, whenever sin is too powerful for their wills, to double it by dragging others with them on the same path.—Bishop Temple.
Responsibility for wrong-doing.—The words, “It must needs be that offences come, but woe unto that man …” unite in strange contrast the two truths which all the history of human guilt brings before us. Crimes seem to recur with something like the inevitable regularity of a law, and yet in each single instance the will of the offender has been free to choose, and he is therefore rightly held responsible both by Divine and human laws.—E. H. Plumptre, D.D.
Matthew 18:8-9. Self-injury.—
I. How, and when, and in what, do men thus injure themselves?—
1. We may take the hand and eye and foot as symbolical of what belongs closely and intimately to our being and nature; our habits, affections, dispositions, tendencies. Do not these perpetually offend us; harm and obstruct the growth, and mar the beauty and symmetry of the spiritual life? Indolence, pride, lust, passion, selfishness.
2. Under this symbolical language we may include things that we blindly and foolishly turn into means of offence and self-injury, viz., outward relationships and circumstances and duties and pleasures.—Anything that makes a man less virtuous, Christlike, less humble and heavenly-minded and self-sacrificing, becomes, in its measure, an “offence” unto him, a means of self-injury.
II. What is the prevention?—A decisive one: “cut them off,” etc. We may think, as we hear people say of a child with some physical weakness or deformity, “in the course of time he will outgrow it.” We fear the reverse will be the case with character. Our habits, weaknesses, obstacles, snares, offences, all these would only gather power with time, undermine our character, and do us deeper harm. It must be no momentary self-chastisement or penance—no mere determination to try to repress—we must adopt no half-measures whatever. Just as with dross in gold, and speck in fruit, and moth in garment, as with parasite and weed, so with these moral offenders, we must “cast them out.”
1. For our own sake.
2. For Christ’s sake.
3. For the sake of others.—Theodore Hooke.
Self-regard involves self-sacrifice.—There are stringent principles in these vivid words. Lawful things may be occasions of sin. Taste, occupations, the culture of some bodily or mental aptitude, study, art, society, all perfectly innocent in themselves and perfectly permissible for others who are not hurt by them, may damage our religious character. We may be unable to keep them in bounds, and they may be drawing off our interest and work from Christ’s service. If so, there is but one tiling to do, put your hand on the block, and take the axe in the other, and strike and spare not. It is of no use to try to regulate and moderate; the time for that may come. But, for the present, safety lies only in entire abstinence. Other people may retain the limb, but you cannot. They must judge for themselves, but their experience is not your guide. If the thing hurts your religious life, off with it. Christ bases His command of self-mutilation on the purest principles of self-regard. The plainest common sense says that it is better to live maimed than to die whole. He is a fool who insists on keeping a mortified limb, which kills him.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Complete, yet lost; maimed, yet saved!—Note, too, the possibility of a man cultured, full-summed in all his powers, yet, for lack of the one thing needful, perishing, like some tree, rounded, symmetrical, complete, without a branch broken or a leaf withered, which is struck by lightning, and blasted for ever. And, on the other hand, a man may be maimed in many a faculty, and extremely one-sided in his growth, ignorant of much that would have enriched and beautified, but if he have the root of all perfectness in him, then, though he passes into life maimed, he will not continue so there, but every grace which he abjured for Christ’s sake, will be given him, and then “shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing.”—Ibid.
Matthew 18:10-14. Consolation respecting the little ones.—In the Saviour’s words, there appear three guarantees for the safety of His “little ones”:—
I. The care of the guardian angels (Matthew 18:10).—It does not follow from this that each individual has one guardian angel assigned to him as a good genius to watch over him from the cradle to the grave. Of this Scripture reveals nothing. Enough that to the good angels as heavenly servants is committed the care of the heirs of salvation.
II. The love of the Good Shepherd (Matthew 18:11-13).—The Son of man, the Lord of angels, has saved those little ones, and He will not suffer them to perish. There is no weakness in His purpose, no negligence in His oversight, no change in His love. In regard to those who are actually children a fine passage occurs in the second part of the Pilgrim’s Progress. “By the riverside in the meadow there are cotes and folds for sheep, and a house built for the nourishing and bringing up of those lambs, the babes of those women that go on pilgrimage. Also there was here One that was intrusted with them, who could have compassion, and could gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom. Now to the care of this Man Christiana admonished her four daughters to commit their little ones, that by those waters they might be housed, harboured, succoured, and nourished, and that none of them might be lacking in time to come. This Man, if any of them go astray, will bring them back again. He will also build up that which was broken, and will strengthen them that were sick. This Man will die before one of those committed to His trust shall be lost. So they were content to commit their little ones to Him.” In a word, all young children who are committed to the Lord in faith, and all childlike Christians, are “safe in the arms of Jesus.”
III. The will of the Father in heaven (Matthew 18:14).—It is the Father’s will which the Son interprets and fulfils in saving the lost. It is the same supreme will which secures by the providence of the Son, the guidance of the Spirit, and the ministry of good angels, that none of the rescued ones shall perish. “Not one of these little ones.” The Father has a smile for this child and correction for that; a promise for this one and a warning for that, as each may require; but for every one He has love.—D. Fraser, D.D.
Matthew 18:10. Interest in the children (For a Sunday-school anniversary).—
I. Christ’s interest in a little child.—Because the thing on earth most like Himself. So much in men and women unlike Christ. So much in child like Him. Because of the mission Christ came to fulfil. Put into word “save.” Can we clothe the idea in other forms?
1. Christ came to win love. Just what a child can do. Wins his mother’s love first.
2. To keep up the sense of beauty. The most beautiful thing on earth is a little child.
3. To raise the idea of innocence. Purity is taught through innocence.
4. To teach dependence on God.
II. Christ’s revelation of His Father’s interest in a little child.—In heaven God keeps the picture, photograph, vision, correspondent, of every child. God has with Him ever our glorified children, and also the picture of the earth-children. Then:—
1. He knows all that happens to them on earth.
2. He knows what we do with them—how we treat them; how we neglect them.
3. He knows the children that bear, in bodily, and in home, and social, disability—and in early death—the sin-burden of humanity. The pattern, the picture, of every suffering child is always before God. What a precious thought for the children! What a searching thought for those who have to do with the children!
III. Christ’s command to His disciples to take interest in little children.—Our temptation is to “despise the little ones.” We may fail of our duty in two ways.
1. In active faithfulness to them.
2. In receptivity of influence from them.—Weekly Pulpit.
Matthew 18:11. Salvation for the lost condition.—Every kind of work supposes something to be done, some ground or condition of fact to be affected by it; education the fact of ignorance, punishment the fact of crime, charity the fact of want. The work of Christ, commonly called a work of salvation, supposes in like manner, the fact of a lost condition, such as makes salvation necessary. “Was lost.” This work is to be a salvation, not as being a preventive, but as being a remedy after the fact.
I. Clear away some obstructions, or points of misconception.—
1. Christ does not mean, when He says “was lost,” that the lost condition is literally accomplished in the full significance of it, but only that it is begun, with a fixed certainty of being fully accomplished.
2. “Total depravity,” is no declaration of Christ, and He is not responsible for it.
3. Your want of sensibility to the lost condition Christ assumes, may prove the truth of it. “If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost.”
4. God wanted, in the creation of men, free beings like Himself, and capable of common virtues with Himself—not stones, or trees, or animals—and, being free, and therefore not to be controlled by force, they must of necessity be free to evil. This being true, creatures may be made that perish, or fall into lost conditions.
5. The amiable virtues, high aspirations, and other shining qualities you see in mankind, make the assumed fact of our lost condition seem harsh and extravagant. But, considering how high and beautiful a nature the soul is, it should not surprise you that it shows many traces of dignity, even after it has fallen prostrate, and lies a broken statue on the ground.
II. Look at the evidence of the fact and accept the conclusion it brings.—
1. Our blessed Master, in assuming your lost condition, is not doing it harshly, or in any manner of severity.
2. Possibly, He knows you more adequately than you know yourself. What does He in fact say? Notice His parables of the lost sheep and the lost piece of money, etc.
3. Think it not strange if your heart answers, after all, to the heart of Jesus, and reaffirms exactly what He has testified. You live in a world where there is certainly some wrong—you have seen it, suffered from it, and consciously done it. But all wrong, it will be agreed, is something done against the perfect and right will of God, and a shock must of necessity follow it.
III. Speak of the salvation—what it is, and by what means or methods it is wrought.—Manifestly this can be done only by some means or operation that respects the soul’s free nature, working in, upon, or through consent in us, and so new ordering the soul. Christ works by no fiat of absolute will, as when God said, “Let there be light.” He moves on your consent, by moving on your convictions, wants, sensibilities, and sympathies. He is the love of God, the beauty of God, the mercy of God—God’s whole character brought nigh, through a proper and true Son of man, a nature fellow to your own, thus to renovate and raise your own. The result can never be issued save as we on our part believe.—H. Bushnell, D.D.
“Was lost.”—If you see a man topple off the brink of a precipice a thousand feet high, you say inwardly, the moment he passes his centre of gravity, “He is gone”; you know it as well as when you see him dashed in pieces on the rocks below; for the causes that have gotten hold of him contain the fact of his destruction, and he is just as truly lost before the fact accomplished as after. So if a man has taken some deadly poison, and the stupor has begun to settle upon him already, you say that he is a lost man; for the death-power is in him, and you know as well that he is gone as if he lay dead at your feet. So a soul under evil once begun has taken the poison, and the bad causation at work is fatal; it contains the fact of ruined immortality, in such a sense that we never adequately conceive it, save as we give it past tense, and say, “was lost.”—Ibid.
Matthew 18:12. Seeking the wanderer.—I. Look at the figure of the one wanderer.
1. All men are Christ’s sheep. All men are Christ’s, because He has been the Agent of Divine creation, and the grand words of the hundredth Psalm are true about Him, “It is He that hath made us, and we are His; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture.” They are His because His sacrifice has bought them for His. Erring, straying, lost, they still belong to the Shepherd.
2. Notice next the picture of the sheep as wandering. The straying of the poor half-conscious sheep may seem innocent, but it carries the poor thing away from the shepherd as completely as if it had been wholly intelligent and voluntary. Let us learn the lesson. In a world like this, if a man does not know very clearly where he is going he is sure to go wrong. If you do not exercise a distinct determination to do God’s will, and to follow in His footsteps who has set us an example, and if your main purpose is to get succulent grass to eat and soft places to walk in, you are certain, before long, to wander tragically from all that is right, and noble, and pure.
II. Look at the picture of the Seeker.—In the text God leaves the ninety and nine, and goes into the mountains where the wanderer is, and seeks him. And thus, couched in veiled form, is the great mystery of the Divine love, the incarnation and sacrifice of Jesus Christ our Lord. Not because man was so great; not because man was so valuable in comparison with the rest of creation—he was but one amongst ninety and nine unfallen and unsinful—but because he was so wretched, because he was so small, because he had gone away so far from God, therefore the seeking love came after him, and would draw him to itself.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Matthew 18:14. The love of God for little children.
I. A love of utter unselfishness.
II. A love of delight in them.
III. A love of compassion towards them.
IV. A love of trust in the almost infinite capacities of children.—T. Gasquoin.
Matthew 18:15. Moreover, etc.—Better, and if thy brother shall sin. A twofold train of thought is traceable in what follows.
1. The presence of “offences” implies sin, and the question arises how each man is to deal with those sins which affect him personally.
2. The dispute in which the teaching recorded in this chapter had originated implied that the unity of the society which was then represented by the Twelve, had for the time been broken. Each of the disciples thought himself, in some sense, aggrieved by others. Sharp words, it may be, had been spoken among them, and the breach had to be healed (Plumptre).
Matthew 18:17. Church.—The word “church” (Gr. ekklesia), is found only here and in Matthew 16:18 in the Gospels. Carr says the reference is either to:
1. The assembly or congregation of the Jewish synagogue, or to:
2. The ruling body of the synagogue (collegium presbyterorum, Schleusner). This must have been the sense of the word to those who were listening to Christ. But, as Dr. Morison points out, the Saviour had deliberately gone out of his way to avoid the employment of the word “synagogue.” The expression, he adds, just means the church. And yet, as assuredly, it determines nothing as to the arrangements which the church might be at liberty to make for the profitable, seemly, and efficient transaction of its discipline and other business.
Matthew 18:18. Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth, etc.—What was spoken to Peter alone (Matthew 16:19) is now spoken to all the disciples representing the church (Carr).
Matthew 18:19. It shall be done for them.—The promise is dependent on implied conditions. Those who pray must be gathered together in the name of Christ (Matthew 18:20), i.e. as trusting to His intercession, asking a prayer which is not the utterance of the natural but the spiritual man, asking it in entire submission to the will of their Father in heaven. In the absence of those conditions, as in the prayer of the sons of Zebedee, asking they knew not what (Matthew 20:20), that which they desired might be withheld from them, or granted in quite another manner than that on which they had set their hearts (Plumptre).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 18:15-20
Collective grace.—“Occasions of stumbling” cannot always be avoided (Matthew 18:7). When they do come how should they be dealt with? They should be dealt with by the “church,” in other words, by that general body of believers in Christ of whom He spoke under that name not long before, in reply to the confession of St. Peter (Matthew 16:18). This seems to be the general principle implied in this passage. The cautions to be observed in applying it, and the reasons which make these cautions necessary seem to be the chief further points here presented to our notice.
I. The requisite cautions.—These may be regarded as three. The first is a caution against too great eagerness in applying this method at all. It is not the first thing—it is rather the last thing—to be thought of in such cases. The first thing to be thought of, if thy brother has offended thee, is the welfare of thy brother. The thing to be done, if it may be, is to bring him to a sense of his sin; and so, as it were, to “gain him” back again to his proper standing and place (Matthew 18:15). If this be accomplished there will be no necessity for appealing to the church. And this can best be done, it is evident on the face of it, by dealing with him alone. Let this, therefore, be the universal first rule in regard to such offences. Do not have recourse to any degree of publicity till you have seen what private dealing can do. The next caution is on similar lines. Do not go by one leap from the individual to the general. Even if strictly private remonstrance should fail entirely of obtaining a hearing (Matthew 18:16), there is a process far short of complete publicity which may be adopted with hope; and which you are bound to adopt, also, if you wish, as you ought, to make sure of your ground. In reality, the matter in question is one both of fact and of judgment. Has thy brother really done as you say? Is the character of that which he has done really that which you think? If he refuses to “hear” thee privately because he disputes these two things, endeavour to obtain the opinion of others about them; but only so in sufficient numbers for the occasion (Deuteronomy 19:15). And then, with these to fortify you (if they agree with you), appeal to him again. In any case, till you have tried this, do not proceed to the extreme step of appealing against him to all. Rather—so the legitimate inference is—try all other plans first. Finally, be careful if at last driven to this, not even then to push matters too far. Keep in view carefully what is the very outside of what you have to do in such matters. All that is asked of you, in regard to such offences, is to avoid complicity with the offender (cf. 1 Timothy 5:22). And all that the church itself can do legitimately, in regard to such offenders, is to withdraw its countenance from them. Let that, therefore, be the very utmost that you yourself seek to attain in this way. Let the most obdurate brother be to you only as not a brother in truth (Matthew 18:17).
III. Why these cautions are so especially needed.—Generally, we may say, because of the vast importance attaching to the idea of the “church.” Like an ironclad on the waters, the great body of believers has a momentum about it which makes its least movement momentous. This seems to be illustrated here in three separate ways. There is special weight, we are taught, in the first place, in the common judgment of those who believe. In a general way we may even say of that judgment that it is the judgment of God. Whatever difference of opinion there may be as to the best way of ascertaining this common judgment, and whatever undoubted and formidable difficulties there are in the way of so doing, it cannot be doubted, that, if ascertained, it is a thing of great weight. No true believer will readily venture either on setting it aside, on the one hand, or adding to it, on the other (Matthew 18:18). In a similar way, we are taught, next, that there is very great power in the common desires of those who believe. What God leads them to agree in (Matthew 18:19), He agrees in as well. We cannot doubt this if we really believe them to be “led” by His “Spirit” (Romans 8:14). Neither dare we deny this even where the number of those thus “agreeing together” is the very least that it possibly can be in the nature of things. There cannot be agreement at all unless there are two at least to agree. If there are but two such, we are taught here, their prayer will be answered (Matthew 18:19). Judge, therefore, of the efficacy of the “common prayer” of all who believe. Lastly, these things are true because of the special honour which it has pleased God to put on common confession of Christ. This would seem to be the secret of all. Where “two or three only” are so far united as to be “gathered together” in the “name” of Jesus, they are doing open homage to Him. The fact of their being there with that object—the fact of their having come there with that object—the fact of their being there unitedly, with that object—all lend significance to their presence. That significance is not lost on their Master. So far from this He is with them in spirit to accept their homage. He is with them in power to honour them for it; He is with them in grace to give weight and authority and efficacy to all that they do in. His name. That is why these “candlesticks” give the light that they do—because He Himself walketh in the midst of them (Revelation 1:13). That is why “the blessed company of all Christian people” is the thing that it is—because it is “the fulness of Him who filleth all in all” (Ephesians 1:23).
Two brief but not unimportant lessons seem to follow:—
1. We shall be very careful how we allow ourselves to trust implicitly in all we hear on the subject.—There are those who are always ready to speak in the name of the church. They are to be found in very diverse and very far apart ecclesiastical quarters. We shall be very careful how we admit so great a claim simply because it is claimed. Nothing comes more naturally to a partisan spirit and a self-sufficient judgment and a narrow nature, than the assertion of such a claim. All the more reason for not allowing ourselves to accept it without thought (1 John 4:1).
2. We shall be equally careful not to oppose ourselves rashly to what others think on this subject.—So to do, in effect, would be little else than making a church of oneself. And that may safely be said to be, of all conceivable churches, the farthest of all from the truth. How is it possible for one mind to be a collection of many? (cf. also Jeremiah 7:4).
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 18:15-17. Brotherly love in dealing with injuries.—“If thy brother shall trespass against thee,”—what? Pay no heed to it? Since it takes two to make a quarrel, is it best simply to let him alone? That might be the best way to deal with offences on the part of those that are without; but it would be a sad want of true brotherly love to take this easy way with a fellow-disciple. It is certainly better to overlook an injury than to resent it; yet our Lord shows a more excellent way. His is not the way of selfish resentment, nor of haughty indifference, but of thoughtful concern for the welfare of him who has done the injury. That this is the motive in the entire proceeding is evident from the whole tone of the paragraph, in illustration of which reference may be made to the way in which success is regarded: “If he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.” If a man sets out with the object of gaining his cause or getting satisfaction, he had better let it alone; but if he wishes not to gain a barren triumph for himself, but to gain his brother, let him proceed according to the wise instructions of our Lord and Master.—J. M. Gibson, D.D.
Matthew 18:17. The offender and the church.—
1. When more private means avail not to remedy a scandal, Christ hath appointed more and more public censure and discipline in His church. 2. Christ hath appointed a church of governors or rulers over congregations, and over all particular persons within the same, which must attend the complaints of the offended and remove scandals, and who have power to call before them and to examine and censure the offender for that end.
3. The church hath means and power to remove public scandal, which, being employed by the church and obeyed by the offender, excommunication is not to be used; for neglecting to hear the church presupposeth the church’s direction and order to be given forth for amendment of the offender and removing of the scandal.
4. When the church hath given sentence upon the offender and hath appointed the way to remove the scandal, then the offender should obey in the Lord, for Christ declareth it a censurable fault to neglect to hear the church. 5. If the offender disobey the church’s direction for removing the scandal, then the church may and should excommunicate the obstinate, i.e. declare him to be deprived of the honour of a Christian till he repent, and to be holden in such disrespect as the heathen and publicans were by the Jewish church in those days.
6. When the church declareth an offender contumacious or excommunicateth him as unworthy of the fellowship of the saints for his present abominable condition, then every believer must carry himself toward the excommunicate as toward a man disgraced and cast out of church-honour, to the intent the offender may be ashamed of his sin and repent.—David Dickson.
Matthew 18:20. Christ’s church.—This is the principle of the text—wherever men come together for a common purpose, and that purpose represented by the name of Christ, there is in them a more than human power—the power of an indwelling Christ, wise to guide, patient to endure, strong to achieve. I wish to apply this principle to three aspects of church life.
I. This is the principle which underlies and gives its chief value to ecclesiastical independency.—We stand as Congregationalists, not for the principle that we will be free to do what we please, not merely for the principle that no other ecclesiastical organisation shall dominate us; we stand for a spiritual principle, that wherever men, whatever their form of creed, their method of worship, their organisation, come together, animated by a Christian purpose, there Christ is and there is a part of Christ’s church.
II. In this declaration is the secret and the inspiration of our faith in catholicity.—There are but two conditions to the promise—gathered together, and gathered together in My name. Go with me and take the round of the Brooklyn churches. Their creeds are not all correct. Possibly none of them are quite correct. Their formularies are not all correct, possibly. Not one of them is essential. But they are united in a common purpose, and they are united around a common Lord.
III. This text gives to us the secret of the power of the church.—It is the power of Christ in His church—not in a hierarchy, not in a definitely organised and established body, but in every body of faithful disciples united to worship Him and to work for Him.—L. Abbott, D.D.
Christ in the church.—The living presence of Christ in His church is:—
I. The bond of its union.
II. The soul of its worship.
III. The power of its ministry.—J. Branwhite French.
The power of combination.—The chemist mixes his various elements together in the battery, and when they are brought together, and the conditions are fulfilled, electricity is there. He does not summon electricity from some remote distance; but already dormant in those elements was the electric power, and when they are combined, instantly the electric power springs into existence. So Christ says, “In each one of you Christians there is a dormant power.” I am in you, but there is more of Me in all of you together than there is in any one of you separate and individually; and when you have combined around My banner and My name to do My will, there springs into existence, not merely the strength that comes from union, but the Diviner help that comes from this, that I am in the midst of that organisation, the spirit that inspires the body. It becomes at once more than human—it becomes Divine—the body of Christ.—L. Abbott, D.D.
Matthew 18:22. Until seventy times seven.—That is, as often as there is a cause—a certain number is put for an uncertain (John Wesley).
Matthew 18:24. Ten thousand talents.—The talent was not a coin, but a weight or sum of money. See margins A.V. and R.V. The amount here intended cannot be exactly determined. “Even if silver talents are meant, the sum is enormous—at least two million pounds of our money. It was probably more than the whole annual revenue of Palestine at this time” (Carr). The expression is perhaps used indefinitely for a very large sum; yet it might be understood literally, if we suppose, with Archbishop Trench, that the servant in question is a satrap or governor of a province, who should have remitted the revenues of his province to the royal treasury. Cf. Esther 3:9 (Mansel).
Matthew 18:27. Forgave him the debt.—The Greek noun in this case expresses a debt contracted through a loan, and in the interpretation of the parable suggests a thought like that in the parables of the Pounds, the Talents and the Unjust Steward. What we call our own—life, with all its opportunities—is really lent to us, and God requires repayment with interest (Plumptre).
Matthew 18:28. An hundred pence.—A hundred Roman denarii. See margin A.V. and R.V. The denarius was the common wage per day of a labourer (Matthew 20:2).
Matthew 18:29. Besought.—Not the same word as “worshipped” (Matthew 18:26). The word in the text would be used by an equal addressing an equal (Carr).
Matthew 18:31. Very sorry.—This seems to point to the common conscience of mankind approving or anticipating the Divine sentence (ibid.).
Matthew 18:34. Tormentors.—This word probably signifies more than “keepers of the prison,” as it is sometimes interpreted. Though there is no evidence of torture being applied to debtors under the Jewish law, yet the practice was not unknown in other countries (Mansel).
Matthew 18:35. From your hearts.—A different principle from the Pharisees’ arithmetical rule of forgiveness (Carr). Their trespasses.—Omitted in R.V., the MS. authority being against the retention of the words.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 18:21-35
Quousque?—The Rabbis are said to have taught men to forgive their neighbours three times, but no more. Even this advice, however, they are also said to have qualified so greatly as to amount, practically, to hardly recommending any forgiveness at all. Doubtless, therefore, in the question he asks (Matthew 18:21). Peter thought himself to be even conspicuously nearer the spirit of Christ. The Saviour’s reply showed him plainly that he was yet very far off. Showed him, in fact, that there was hardly any limit to the question he asked (Matthew 18:22). Amongst many things confessedly difficult in the parable which follows, there are two things bearing on this question of forgiveness which it makes very plain. It shows, first, the real character of man’s relation to God; and therefore, secondly, the real meaning, on man’s part, of a distinct refusal to forgive.
I. Man’s relation to God.—Generally speaking, this is that of a debtor to his creditor. We have not done to God as we ought. In this broad way of speaking there is “no difference” between one man and another. We have “all sinned and come short” in this most vital respect (Romans 3:22-23). We have all unquestionably withheld that from God which is just as unquestionably His legitimate due. We have done so, also, to an extent which it is quite impossible to compute. This is signified by the ten thousand talents of which the parable speaks. In 2 Kings 5:26, we see how much Gehazi thought of doing with only two “talents of silver”; and may judge, therefore, what would have been the purchasing power of five thousand times as many talents; and these, moreover, not impossibly, talents of “gold.” It is just one of those sums, in short, which is so great that we cannot really reckon it up. And yet it is that, be it observed, to which our Saviour Himself compares our “owings” to God. It follows, next, therefore, that the debt in question is what we can never discharge. It is true, no doubt, that the servant here spoken of, when called to account, and in imminent danger, promised to discharge, and that in full, what was owing by him; but that we may, perhaps, look upon as being simply in keeping with the general unscrupulousness of his character. And that is certainly in keeping with what we see daily of the utterly unreliable arithmetical reckonings of most persons in debt. Those who never have saved as yet always think that they can. Those who attribute all the evil of the past to infirmity, always hope to be not only strong, but doubly strong in the future. What we know of such “hopes” is that they are not believed in by any one else; and, in fact, that the very expression of them only increases the mistrust of every one else. Just so is it of all those who think of making up for themselves and by their own efforts what is owing from them to God. It only shows that they have no adequate conception either of themselves or of it. And yet, for all this, observe, lastly, that we are none of us, at present, as it were, paying the penalty of that debt. God may, indeed, have begun to “reckon with us” about it, as was done with the man in this story. He may be causing us thereby to feel something of its weight and enormity. But He is not as yet exacting from any of us in this world, that heavy and terrible “satisfaction” for it, which, is required by His law. In this sense we are all of us—even the most unbelieving among us—“forgiven” souls for the time, and the sentence against us, if not yet in all cases reversed, is yet, in all cases, suspended. So that to every living soul we may say as was said of old in the latter part of Job 11:6.
II. The true meaning, therefore, on man’s part, of a distinct refusal to forgive.—We see, in the first place, the intrinsic iniquity and wickedness of so doing. For it is exacting that from our neighbour which is not being exacted from us. It is taking him “by the throat” when we have been allowed to go free. It is saying to him just that which has not been said to ourselves. And using the hand, as it were, which has been released from prison to close it upon him. A most outrageous and crying injustice, if ever there was one in the world! Also, it is an injustice which is greatly aggravated by every difference in the two cases. What are one hundred pence to ten thousand talents? What are my brother’s few sins against me compared to my numberless sins against God? What my rights, also, against him as my fellow-servant compared with God’s rights over me as His creature? Even if the cases had been similar, the injustice of not doing as I have been done by would be at once gross and complete. As things are, it is even more—it is beyond expression in words. Lastly, we are to notice here the exceeding audacity of this description of conduct. We are told (Matthew 18:31) that when the man’s “fellow-servants saw what was done, they were exceeding sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.” This is not an inapt description of the real meaning of such an action as that. It is doing that which is sure to come under the notice of God. It is an appeal to God, in fact, on such an offender’s part, against that offender himself. Other sins may be described as simply so many violations of His law—and they bad enough in all conscience. But this is very much more; it is a direct perversion of it, it is an open defiance of it as well. How can God be omniscient and not know of such things? How can He be holy and not abominate such cruelty? How can He be just and not punish such injustice?
See, in conclusion, how the close of this parable carries us back. The Rabbis and Peter (Matthew 18:21) had treated forgiveness as an exceptional thing; a thing to be granted, as it were, under compulsion, and only so far. The issue of this teaching of Christ is on just the opposite line. According to Him we should not be reluctant but glad to forgive. Let your forgiveness be “from the heart” (Matthew 18:35). This is the true mark of belonging to Christ (Ephesians 4:3). Compare also the saying about Archbishop Cramner: “Do my Lord of Canterbury an ill-turn, and you have made him your friend for life.” Also how the whole parable carries us upward. Why were these other teachers so radically wrong as to their duty towards their neighbour? Because they were wrong to an equal degree about their relation to God. This is always true of the unregenerate heart (see Psalms 9:17; Psalms 10:4). The opposite is the unfailing sign of the regenerate heart (Psalms 51:4; Genesis 39:9, perhaps Psalms 16:8). How wise, therefore, the words of the Saviour in John 17:3.
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 18:21-35. The duty of forgiveness urged.—Forgiveness is urged:—
I. By a consideration of the greatness of God’s mercy to us.—How can we behold the great mercy of God to us and yet be unforgiving to others?
II. By a consideration of the littleness of our brother’s sins.—Our brother’s trespass was an error, a fault, a mishap, result of ignorance or inadvertence, small in comparison of our grave and multiplied offences. Our fellow servant needs what we sought. The unforgiving is “wicked,” evil-disposed. He invades the right of his Lord.
III. By a consideration of the terrible consequences of indulging an unforgiving spirit.—Lord not wroth on account of debt. Punishment is greater than before for sin is greater; hard, unforgiving spirit is added to debt. The offender has not caught the spirit of his Lord. He says in effect: The Lord was in error in forgiving me; He is excised from the kingdom of God, for he has not the spirit of the kingdom. He only can really understand forgiveness who practises it. Forgiveness vain if we be not cleansed from all unrighteousness.—Anon.
Matthew 18:21. Forgiving injuries.—
1. We are always in our heart to forgive, I take it, though until forgiveness is craved, it is neither wise nor necessary to express it.
2. When we think of injuries, debts, offences, it is always well to recollect that self-love is very apt to exaggerate such things, and that a day or two’s calm reflection will often convince us that we have made too much ado about nothing; and that the sensible as well as the right thing to do is to treat the matter as if it had never happened.
3. Especially is this the case with hot and unpremeditated words, spoken when our friend was off his guard, or repeated to us by some one who ought to have known better. “Also take no heed to all words that are spoken, lest thou hear thy servant curse thee.”
4. Bishop Butler has taught us that resentment is a moral faculty bestowed on the human soul for its protection and self-assertion. Not all anger is sinful. Sometimes not to be angry is the basest and most cowardly of sins. St. Paul does not tell us not to be angry; only not to harbour and cherish our resentment. “Be ye angry, and sin not. Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” Our Blessed Lord, we read, was sometimes angry; and it was a holy anger. The Revelation tells us of “the wrath of the Lamb.”
5. There are offences and offences. Some, let us confess, while they ought always to be forgiven, make the restoration of love and the rekindling of friendship impossible. “There is a sin unto death,” says St. John; and this is true of man, as well as of God, in the sense that some sins, such as repeated ingratitude, constant deceit, and flagrant dishonesty, make love, in the fullest sense of the word, not only impossible but unjustifiable. Did Christ love the scribes and Pharisees, who not only would not enter the kingdom of God themselves, but also prevented others from entering in? Did He love the “fox” Herod, or the self-blinded Caiaphas? We need not think or try to love better than the Saviour loved. But this moral impossibility of loving those who have proved themselves utterly unworthy of it must not, need not, hinder our doing them a kindness whenever it is in our power to do so, or fulfilling the reasonable claims of vicinage, or affinity, or relationship. In our hearts we can wish them well; before God we sometimes remember them, though we do not tell them so.—Bishop Thorold.
Matthew 18:23-35. Forgiveness and after.—Our Lord proceeds to lay before us something like a complete outline of the moral politics of God’s kingdom.
I. The fundamental moral principle in God’s kingdom is righteousness.—“A certain king would take account of his servants.” There are many who have failed to notice that the gospel comes to us, first of all, as the news of inquisition and of judgment, the institution of a strict account between God and man. The gospel is popularly identified with pity and compassion, and the eager welcome that it gets from many is due to the belief that it dispenses with the reckoning of judgment by the message of a mercy which is so soft and gentle that it hardly makes mention of our sin. This common notion is superficial and mistaken. God never comes to men with a fresh revelation without awakening in their souls a sharper sense of righteousness and sin. “When the Spirit is come He shall convince the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.” A solemn sense of God’s awful righteousness looking with a searching eye upon our sin is needed as the forerunner of salvation; for until we feel our guilt and confess the justice of God’s condemnation, we are in no condition either to desire or to receive the mercy that God is willing to bestow. It is the same all through the Christian life. From the converted man God demands not less, but more. No moment in his life is free from the burden of responsibility. We are always sowing, and behind every seed-time comes a harvest. This thought should give solemnity and depth of tone to every hour of life.
II. In God’s kingdom the demand for righteousness is accompanied by the needful mercy.—While the gospel demands that the righteousness of the law shall be fulfilled in us, it is quite as essentially the message of heaven’s mercy. The servant in this parable is no sooner humbled by the demands of justice than, upon the confession of his helplessness and desire to make amends, he is abundantly forgiven. It is no hard task for a, sinful man to obtain forgiveness from his God. This servant’s repentance was neither very broad nor very radical. The man was by no means a noble specimen of his race. There was in him no conspicuous merit to make him worthy of such generous treatment as to have his debt of nigh two million pounds frankly and at once forgiven. Therefore the picture is expressly intended to convey the fact that in the heart of God there is no reluctance to forgive, and that man’s honest appeal to be forgiven is met by an immediate and most generous response.
III. In God’s kingdom man’s inhumanity stultifies God’s mercy.—The most serious block to your salvation may emerge after your forgiveness rather than before it. After you have received forgiveness you enter on a new probation. What are you going to do with it? When you know that Christ has died for you, and that God forgives you, what influence are these facts going to have upon your life?—that is the question on which your ultimate salvation hangs.—Alexander Brown.
Matthew 18:23-35. The unforgiving temper.—There is a fine story illustrative of this parable, told by Fleury (Hist. Eccles., 5:2, p. 334). It is briefly this: Between two Christians at Antioch enmity and division had fallen out; after a while one of them desired to be reconciled, but the other, who was a priest, refused. While it was thus with them, the persecution of Valerian began; and Sapricius, the priest, having boldly confessed himself a Christian, was on the way to death. Nicephorus met him, and again sued for peace, which was again refused. While he was seeking, and the other refusing, they arrived at the place of execution. He that should have been the martyr was here terrified, offered to sacrifice to the gods, and, despite the entreaties of the other, did so, making shipwreck of his faith; while Nicephorus, boldly confessing, stepped in his place, and received the crown which Sapricius lost. This whole story runs finely parallel with our parable. Before Sapricius could have had grace to confess thus to Christ, he must have had his own ten thousand talents forgiven; but, refusing to forgive a far lesser wrong, to put away the displeasure he had taken up on some infinitely lighter grounds against his brother, he forfeited all the advantages of his position, his Lord was angry, took away from his grace, and suffered him again to fall under those powers of evil from which he had once been delivered. It comes out, too, in this story, that it is not merely the outward wrong and outrage upon a brother, which constitutes a likeness to the unmerciful servant, but the unforgiving temper, even apart from all such.—Archbishop Trench.
Matthew 18:28. The weakness and strength of example.—Every moralist extols the beauty and value of good example. In an age of abounding hypocrisy, it would ill become us to say aught against the habit, if it were not that the language used sometimes runs into perilous exaggeration. From the immoderate eulogy of the good example, you might sometimes infer that nothing more was needed for the awakening of men’s consciences and their guidance into peace than the consistent lives of some God-fearing men. It is bad theology. It is flatly contradicted by human experience.
I. The impotence of example.—Lest we should over-estimate the power of example, Christ has given us here a picture which illustrates its utter impotence over some minds. Mercy for himself is well enough; mercy from himself is out of the question. What had example done for him? Nothing.
II. Its causes.—How is it that, in the frailty of our nature, example is lost on some?
1. The example we expected to be so potent may be taken as a matter of course.
2. A high example often produces in the onlooker a sense of annoyance.
3. We have to face to-day a strong conviction in many minds that all professors of religion are more or less insincere. It is a revolting proof of the depth to which some natures have fallen that purity, sincerity, other-worldliness are to them incredible.
4. We are familiar, too, with another way of regarding high examples; it is the way of regretful admiration. The observer finds such a character very noble, very impressive; he does not challenge its sincerity or detract from its beauty. But in effect he says “It is above me, I cannot reach such a level; I need not try.” But how can we feel any surprise at the frequent impotence of example? Lot’s acquaintance with Abraham did not keep him from stupendous blunders. Gehazi’s daily service of Elisha could not control his greed. The companionship of St. Paul did not keep Demas faithful. Nay, most striking warning of all, from the society of those who daily looked on the example of Jesus, went the man who for thirty pieces of silver betrayed Him. As it was then, so it is now; the very noblest example will not of itself quicken a single conscience. Example is of value; but for its efficacy it depends upon an external influence—even the Holy Spirit. He who would serve Christ must believe in his own ministry and watch his own example. But he who would have hearts to be touched and lives to be changed must look beyond the witness of man.—A. R. Buckland, M.A.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Matthew 18". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10