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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 18

Watson's Exposition on Matthew, Mark, Luke & RomansWatson's Expositions

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Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

1 Christ warneth his disciples to be humble and harmless: 7 to avoid offences, and not to despise the little ones:

15 teacheth how we are to deal with our brethren when they offend us:

21 and how oft to forgive them:

23 which he setteth forth by a parable of the king that took account of his servants,

32 and punished him who showed no mercy to his fellow.

Verse 1

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus.

After the tribute money had been paid, as mentioned in the preceding chapter, the other disciples joined our Lord and Peter.

Saying, Who is the greatest, &c. — Not saying to Christ, as putting the question to him, for St. Mark says that “he asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way? but they held their peace;” and then, as St. Luke states, “Jesus, perceiving the thought of their hearts, took a child, &c.;” and, by his discourse accompanying this action, at once showed them that he knew the subject of their late dispute, and how to adapt his instructions in the most impressive manner, to correct their errors. When, therefore, St. Matthew says, that they came to Jesus saying, λεγοντες , he means disputing among themselves, in the way of friendly but earnest debate, which they carried on until they entered the house at Capernaum where Jesus was, when they became silent, as being afraid lest he should know that they had been agitating a subject which might subject them to his reproof. This easily reconciles the apparent discrepancy between St. Matthew and St. Luke in relating this incident; and in support of this use of λεγοντες Whitby very, satisfactorily adduces Matthew 8:27, “The men wondered, λεγοντες , saying among themselves, What manner of person is this?” Matthew 9:33: “The multitude wondered, λεγοντες , saying among themselves.”

“Then came to him the Sadducees, οι λεγοντες , those who say there is no resurrection.” The sense of St. Matthew, says Markland, appears to be this: “At that time the disciples, disputing (among themselves) which of them should be greater than the other in the kingdom of heaven, came to Jesus.” They were gradually obtaining suitable notions of the spiritual purposes for which Christ was manifested; but still, connected with these, they expected a visible administration of power and glory, and a carnal ambition had mingled itself with their better feelings. With what honesty do these historians lay open their own dulness of apprehension and moral defects, a circumstance which stamps their writings with the strongest credibility! They took it for granted that whatever “the kingdom” might be, some one of them should be greatest in it, and each would have his claims; one might urge his having become a disciple before the rest, another his relationship to our Lord by blood, and a third some circumstance of distinguishing regard which he had already received. This, however, is evident from the dispute, that none of them considered the supremacy of St. Peter as determined by the previous promise of the “keys;” and that they each thought be was equally eligible to be appointed by Christ first in his kingdom. They at least did not understand that our Lord had already made Peter “the prince of the apostles.”

Verse 2

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And set him in the midst. — That all might see; and that thus the lesson taught by this symbolical action might be impressed upon all. Of this mode of teaching by expressive actions, several examples occur in the history of the prophets.

Verse 3

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Except ye be converted, &c. — They had been disputing who should be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, being assured that they should all enter into it, whenever Christ should set it up, and that all should be of great consideration in it; but it never entered into their thoughts that there was any danger lest they should not enter it at all. Yet these words of our Lord suggest this to them. “The question with you,” as though he had said, “ought to be, not which of you shall be greatest in my kingdom; but whether you are in a state of mind to receive its benefits.” And when he declares that they must undergo a conversion before they could become its subjects, he declares them as yet unfit for its blessings. Nothing could serve to impress them more strongly with the exclusive spirituality of that kingdom which he was about to establish, than making a childlike character the essential qualification for entering it. Civil offices would require skill; the government of men energy and decision of character; the overthrow of the Roman legions, in order to deliver their country from a foreign yoke, courage; but Christ requires that they should become little children! From this alone they might most certainly conclude that, notwithstanding some better and more hallowed views, they had been under the influence of the most erroneous conceptions of the nature of the kingdom of Messiah.

These errors our Lord traces to the state of their hearts, and declares to them, Except ye be converted, that is, wholly changed in disposition, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Copious parallels have been sometimes formed between the character of little children and true disciples, and, as usual in such cases, a fertile invention has pushed interpreters beyond the warrant of the text. Our Lord himself explains his own meaning in the next verse, “Whosoever therefore shall HUMBLE himself as this little child.” In what then does the humility of a little child consist, but in freedom from ambition, and the desire of wealth and honours? The strifes of men for objects of this kind pass unheeded by the child, and kindle in his bosom no corresponding feelings: he is dead to them. This, in a child, arises not from moral principle, but from immature capacity; but in a disciple, it can only spring from renewed nature; and minds naturally aspiring and prone to earthly cupidity cannot be freed from such evils, without being at the same time debarred from the dominion of all others. Humility, therefore, as our Lord intended we should understand it, is the root of all the graces: — when self is utterly removed; when things spiritual become the supreme objects of interest and desire; when others are preferred to ourselves; when we gladly embrace the inferior offices which may be assigned us by our Lord, and tremble at the responsibility of the highest; when we are ready to endure suffering, and to submit to lowly circumstances, and are not puffed up, and despise others, if placed in higher; and, finally, when we live under an entire sense of our dependence upon God for strength and grace, and maintain an habitual consciousness of our own insufficiency, then shall we be ranked with the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

This is the true and only greatness which our Lord proposes to his disciples; and these qualities he urges upon them as the only means of obtaining distinction in his Church, which distinction was to be not so much one of rank and office, as of that meek and lowly character of which he himself, the Head and Lord, was so eminent an example. It may be here observed that though such a conversion as is here spoken of is represented as a necessary qualification for receiving the spiritual kingdom of Christ on earth, its necessity is still more strongly marked as a preparation for the felicity of a future state. The piety of a Jew might be very imperfect, yet, if sincere, he might receive the Gospel, as the disciples did, who, till the day of pentecost, remained in a defective state of spirituality, though they had been gradually advancing in it; but the conversation must be complete, and every root and principle of the worldly spirit be extirpated from the heart, before any one can enter “the kingdom of heaven,” in the highest and ultimate sense of that expressive phrase.

There the reign of God over the whole soul, in all its faculties, motives, and tendencies, must be perfect, in order that man may receive that fulness of felicity and glory, which can only result from that subjection to the infinitely wise and holy and gracious law of God, which a perfect love, breathing a spirit of perfect freedom, can alone produce. No selfish, no ostentatious, no ambitious, no irascible passion can enter there. And for this our entire and absolute conversion from all the evils of our fallen nature the Gospel was introduced, and the Holy Spirit is still given to those who seek that heavenly gift from God.

Verse 5

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

One such little child. — Here the discourse of our Lord turns from the child he had set in the midst as an emblem to the true disciples; one such little child, or as the Syriac version renders it, “one that is as this child.” Whoso shall receive such a one, however meek and lowly, and unpretending, (qualities which the world is so prone to ridicule and despise,) as his instructer in sacred things, showing to him honour and affection, for the sake of Christ, in whose name he comes, receiveth me. — Christ will go with his servants, and give himself, in the fulness of his grace and salvation, to those who receive them. This great promise still applies to those who duly estimate the writings of the apostles. They come to us still, in their office and ministry, in the simplicity and unassuming character of their histories and epistles, without the artifices of human eloquence, or the pretence of philosophy; and whosoever receives them as writers, in the name of Christ, for the truth of their testimony respecting him, out of love to the truth of which they are still the honoured messengers, receives Christ himself, who will make his Gospel so taught by them “the power of God unto salvation.” — The promise will also hold good as to the affectionate reception of every true minister, though of the ordinary rank, and not qualified by supernatural endowments as were the apostles. If he is so received for the sake of the truth he brings, Christ will come with his servant, and impart his spiritual presence to all who listen to the words which he speaks in his name, and cordially embrace them.

Verse 6

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Whoso shall offend one of these little ones. — The addition of the words, which believe in me, shows that Christ is not speaking of little ones in age, but disciples of an humble spirit. To offend, to put a σκανδαλον or stumbling block, in the way of any one, is to cause him to halt in his duty, or to put difficulties in the way of duty, or, in a still stronger sense, to cause any one to fall off from the faith; all which might be done by reproaches, calumnies, insults, and persecutions.

A millstone. — Some think this is the stone of a mill turned by an ass, which was of a larger size than those commonly used, and turned by hand; the corn necessary for the use of the family being in Palestine ground every morning, chiefly by women. The μυλος ονικος was, however, probably only the common upper millstone, called ονικος , because it had the burden of the work, being kept in motion while the lower stone remained fixed. Hence Hesychius explains ονος by ανωτερος λιθος του μυλου , the upper stone of the mill.

Drowned in the depth of the sea. — Drowning was not a Jewish punishment, but was practised in other eastern countries. It afforded a fit and striking metaphor for final and utter destruction. As there was no chance left to a man to escape from drowning who was plunged into the deep sea with a millstone around his neck, so the case of revilers, seducers, and persecutors is thus represented as wholly hopeless. Malignant opposition to the truth is punished with the highest severity; this seems one of the most certain rules of the Divine administration, and has the attestation of most extraordinary facts.

Verse 7

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Wo to the world, &c. — That is, the world by its resistance to the truth, and by its corruption of it, as also by the persecutions it will wage against the preachers and professors of it, discouraging their efforts, and obstructing their success, will bring innumerable evils upon itself, and that both in the way of natural consequence, and by provoking penal inflictions. Offences are here again stumbling blocks. But, in interpreting these, commentators have often thrown much obscurity over the passage, by understanding the sin alluded to, to be the causing a “weak brother” to stumble or fall. There is, however, no mention of weak brethren, or any allusion to them. The little ones were the true servants and apostles of our Lord, who are called little, neither in regard of age nor weakness, but because of the graces of humility and deadness to the world conspicuous in them. The word offences is also often taken in too narrow a sense; for it includes not only what may occasion a person to fall into error or sin, or what may prejudice him against truth, but every thing which hinders or creates difficulty, or turns aside from a direct course, as stones or blocks placed in the way of a traveller. Here the stumbling blocks come from the world, and must be taken to signify every thing that hinders and obstructs good men, and especially ministers, in their duty, particularly that of diffusing the truth, and of turning weak and timid persons from it through subtlety, persecution, or any other means. And the history of the world is a solemn commentary upon the truth of our Lord’s words.

Because of opposition to the truth, obstructing the success of its preachers, and discouraging those who might have embraced it, utter destruction was brought upon the Jewish state and nation about forty years afterward. The same opposition to the truth and its faithful teachers, and the perversion of men by subtle errors, plunged Christendom for ages into a superstition, idolatry, and darkness, from which it has yet but very partially recovered; and by these, during that period, the greatest evils have been inflicted upon the political and moral condition of society. From the seductions of false teachers errors of the most fatal kind have overspread the Church; by persecutions that truth has been banished which would have detected and refuted them; by the false systems of religion which have in consequence grown up, the souls of countless numbers of men have been put to hazard; and the consequent uncorrected evils of society have induced social distractions and miseries, and awakened in successive ages the just but desolating judgments of almighty God. On all these scenes our Lord’s eye was fixed when he uttered these memorable words, which, whether considered as a denunciation or as a prophecy, have been awfully accomplished. Wo, indeed, has been to the world from offences.

It must needs be. — From the desperate enmity of the carnal mind to truth and godliness.

To that man. — To every man who either originates, or aids and abets, the putting of stumbling blocks, hinderances, and obstructions before the servants of Christ; and either discourages them, and causes them to fail in their faithfulness, or frustrates the success of their holy labours.

Verse 8

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, &c. — Some critics profess not to be able to discover the connection of these words with the foregoing; but all difficulty is removed by considering them as an address to those who would seduce Christ’s servants from their duty, or obstruct them in it; and it is here worthy of particular remark, that our Lord traces these evil attempts to their true source, the love of sin in those that hate and oppose the truth. — The hand, the foot, the eye, (see note on Matthew 5:29-30,) signify those sins of honour, interest, or pleasure, which men are so prone to spare, and in many instances so resolute not to renounce; and because truth, faithfully preached and urged upon them, must necessarily expose these evils and reprove them, their enmity to it is excited, and so either by subtlety they endeavour to render its teachers unfaithful, or by violence to silence them. Thus their love of honour, wealth, and indulgence, are offences or stumbling blocks to themselves, as being occasions of sin, and especially the sin of putting stumbling blocks, seductions, or difficulties and dangers in the way of the servants of Christ. Now to all such persons these words of Christ are addressed, and they are urged by the wo just pronounced against those by whom “offences come,” to renounce every thing, though it should be as a part of themselves, a hand or foot, and though it may minister ever so effectually to their honour, interest, or pleasure, rather than be the cause of those offences against the truth and cause of Christ, of which he had so solemnly warned them. These words, therefore, though also found in the sermon on the mount, have not by any error of transcribers been repeated here; but were adduced on a distinct occasion, and with reference to a different class of persons, to whom the address is continued in the next verse.

Verse 10

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

That ye despise not, &c. — Religious enmity and bigotry always produce a contempt of the faithful disciples of Christ, and that in proportion to their zeal and piety. Here, however, to despise seems to signify to undervalue and think lightly of them, in ignorance or in forgetfulness of the high relation they stand to God, and to the heavenly world. For I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father. In other words, These are the persons whom God so regards that he will finally place them in his immediate presence, and confer upon them eternal felicity and glory. That this is the sense of the passage, may be established by a few observations.

1. Those who think that our Lord accommodates his language here to the Jewish notion that every individual has a guardian angel, and merely means by it that the disciples were the objects of the special care of Providence, ought to show that it was his practice to make use of language taken from Jewish superstitions to express the truths he was teaching. Of this we have no other instance; and there is no ground, therefore, for supposing that in this place he adopts so circuitous a mode of speech, and one which, if the Jewish notion of guardian angels were not true, could only have misled his hearers.

2. If the doctrine of guardian angels were in fact found in holy Scripture, which, in the sense of one having the charge of each individual, may be confidently denied, yet the text cannot refer to that doctrine; because the angels here mentioned are said to be in heaven, beholding the face of their Father, and that always. How then does this express the discharge of their office as guardians, which supposes them to be upon earth?

3. The passage cannot refer to the angels in general. It is indeed an express and important doctrine of Scripture, that there is a general ministry of angels exerted in behalf of the “heirs of salvation,” though not by assigning each believer to the care of a particular angel, which is a rabbinical figment. But that this general ministry of celestial spirits to the saints cannot be here meant, will follow from the reason just given, that the angels here spoken of are represented as in heaven, beholding the face of God, and not as ministering upon earth.

4. If it be said that to behold the face of God imports not their being always in his presence, (which, however, is contrary to the letter of the text,) but their being entitled to approach it, and that thus it marks the exalted dignity of those angels that minister to the disciples; it may be replied that this privilege of beholding God belongs to all the angels, or only to a part of them. If those who think the text speaks of angels confine it to a part of them, to the exclusion of the rest, then they assume what is contrary to other scriptures, which represent them all as standing before God, beholding his glory, and waiting his commands. “I saw the Lord,” says the prophet, “sitting upon his throne, and ALL THE HOST OF HEAVEN standing by him on his right hand, and on his left.” But if this same privilege of beholding the face of God be common to all the angels, it cannot be a mark of the dignity of those who are supposed to be here spoken of as ministering to the disciples.

5. Others have taken the words more vaguely and generally, as simply importing that though the angels of God are in so exalted a state as to behold the face of God, and to enjoy access to his immediate presence, yet they disdain not to care for the persons and interests of the humblest believer. This is a consolatory and interesting truth; but whoever attentively considers the words will see that if this were their meaning, the mode of expression is exceedingly obscure, and far removed from that clearness and simplicity which characterize our Lord’s teaching, except when he evidently designed, for some important purpose, to involve the truth for a time in parable, which cannot here be urged. His words are, For I say unto you, that in heaven their angels, the angels of the disciples, do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven; which convey certainly no intimation of the ministration of angels at all.

6. The term angels must therefore be taken, not for that order of celestial beings usually designated by it, but for the DISEMBODIED SPIRITS of the disciples themselves; and that this was a mode of expression in common use among the Jews of that age is strongly corroborated from Acts 12:15. Here it is related that Peter, being miraculously delivered out of prison, came knocking at the door of the house of Mary, the mother of Mark; that the damsel Rhoda knew his voice, but opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in to announce that Peter was at the gate; and that she strongly affirming it, in opposition to the incredulity of the disciples who were assembled for prayer in the house, they at length replied, believing certainly that he was still in prison, “It is his ANGEL.” Now that they could mean any thing by the term angel, except Peter’s s pirit, is incredible; for his voice, and his own affirmation to the damsel, (for what should he say to her but that he was Peter, and sought admittance?) assured the damsel that Peter was at the gate; and the disciples, at length yielding to her testimony, and doubting not but that his body was fast held in prison, being as yet ignorant of his miraculous deliverance, could only conclude that it was his spirit. As for the notion of some of the rabbins that guardian angels sometimes assumed the appearance of the person they had in charge, it cannot be proved to have been received generally even among the rabbins themselves, nor to be as ancient as the time of Peter; or even if so, as such dreams were all drawn from the oriental philosophy with which many of them were infected, they were confined to speculative men, and did not influence the popular belief. We have here then an easy interpretation of the text, and one which we shall see perfectly harmonizes with what follows. The argument against despising, Christ’s disciples is placed upon this ground, that they are so the objects of God’s regard, that he will raise them into his immediate presence, and crown them with immortal life; and this argument our Lord expresses in this most striking manner: “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones, for I say unto you that in heaven,” that is, in a future state, “their angels,” their spirits, “do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven, they are admitted even to the beatific vision of God.

Verses 11-14

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

For the Son of man is come to save, &c. — In these verses this interesting argument is still pursued in the same train, but with new illustrations. Our Lord had warned those who might be induced to reproach and persecute his true disciples, that they were not to be despised with impunity, because they were the special objects of the love of God, who would, in proof of it, raise them to a state of future felicity and honour in heaven. He now speaks of his own love to them as the Son of man, the Messiah whom they were following as disciples, and thus professing their faith in him. I, the Son of man, came to save that which was lost; and having saved those who now follow me, having rescued them from their lost condition, they are specially dear to me; just as the shepherd has peculiar joy over the sheep he has found and restored to the flock. This forms the point of the beautiful parable which follows: — And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, on its account, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. Even so, for this is the general inference, so therefore it follows from the Father’s own love, and from my mission into the world rendered successful as to them in saving that which was lost. it is not his will that one of these little ones should perish; which negative form expresses his firm and unchangeable will, that they all should be glorified with himself in eternal felicity. Infinitely stronger, therefore, is this argument against despising, and obstructing, and persecuting the disciples and ministers of Christ, than any which could arise from the circumstance of angels ministering to them. It is grounded upon the love of the Father; the advent of Christ into the world to save them; his rejoicing over them as the fruit of all his humiliations and sufferings; the intention of God to preserve them from perishing, and to bring them, even immediately after death, to behold his face in heaven, and to remain in his beatifying presence for ever. And if these considerations make a despising of his true disciples, as such, a despising of Christ, as he himself declares, and ought to operate as a salutary admonition to all, lest they should treat them with contempt or hostility; so they are powerful motives to urge mutual love upon Christians, since they are so loved by their common Father, so rejoiced over by their common Saviour, and since the time is hastening when they shall all together “in heaven behold the face of their Father which is in heaven.”

On the parable itself, it may be observed that those who have found certain mysteries in the numbers ninety-nine and one have been unacquainted with the Jewish modes of speaking, in which, in parabolical illustrations, such numbers are frequently used. Thus the rabbins: “If ninety-nine die by an evil eye, and but one by the hand of Heaven,” &c. “Although ninety-nine say, Scatter them, and only one, Divide them,” &c. In parables, as before observed, we are to regard chiefly the leading point to be illustrated, and not to suppose that the subordinate parts have an equal fulness of meaning. Frequently, indeed, they are merely introduced to fill up the picture, or to complete the narrative. Whether the ninety and nine sheep left be any thing more than this, may be doubted: if, however, it is a significant part of the parable, it must be interpreted of the angelic inhabitants of heaven. They were those whom the great Shepherd left safe in the fold when he came into our world to “seek and to save that which was lost.”

It may be farther remarked that, although in the foregoing discourse of our Lord, occasioned by his setting a little child in the midst, he makes use of the child as an emblem of the humility of his real disciples, and then breaks off to speak of the disciples themselves frequently as little ones, not of children; yet is it most reasonable to conclude that, as the humility of a little child is included in the parallel with which he commences, so there is some respect to children of tender age throughout the whole discourse, and that its bearing is much in favour of infant salvation. We may, then, with respect to them, be instructed that their “angels,” the disembodied spirits of children dying before the age in which they are capable of actual sin, do behold the face of God in heaven, and have a place among the blessed; that the great Shepherd came to save them; and that it “is not the will of the Father that one of these little ones should perish.” That infants will be saved, rests upon stronger grounds than this discourse, may be allowed, even upon that declaration of our Lord, For of such is the kingdom of heaven; but as this is unquestionably the doctrine of the whole New Testament, which condemns none but those who wilfully reject salvation, of which infants are not capable, so it is pleasing to mark how many of the kind declarations of our Lord in this discourse glance, as it were, from the disciples themselves, of whose interest in his own and his Father’s love he is speaking, upon the little child yet standing in the midst, whom he had made their emblem, and who stood there as the representative of little children in general.

Verse 15

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass, &c. — Here an entirely new subject commences; and probably it was entered upon after some interval. Those who trace a connection between it and the foregoing discourse, say that our Lord here turns from the offended to the offending party, pointing out the means of reclaiming him. But they do not observe the difference of terms. The person here spoken of is not an enemy who puts stumbling blocks before the disciples of Christ, and despises them, but a brother who trespasses, αμαρτανω , sins, against a brother; a sufficient proof that this is not a continuation of the last subject introduced. The manner here prescribed of treating the injuries we may suffer from each other in word or deed, is the opposite of that which men generally resort to, and yet would prove most effectual to remedy such evils in the first instance, and wholly prevent them from producing strife, uncharitableness, and malice. The whole compass of pagan ethics furnishes no rule at once so manly, so benevolent, so wise, so practical. Tell him his fault between thee and him alone; publish it not first to others; lay the case open to him before he is exasperated by being made the subject of public reproach; do it alone, without any witnesses, that he may be under no temptation from his pride to become obstinate; do it with reference to gaining thy brother, recovering him to the path of duty, and preventing the loss of his soul. This necessarily supposes calmness and kindness in the manner of convincing the offender of his error, and expostulating with him: and in how many cases would this rational, honest, and truly fraternal method of proceeding succeed! and how greatly is it to be preferred to a clamorous proclaiming of our injuries before we have even attempted to obtain redress! The advantages are two, and both of the highest value: one is always in our power, the other we may probably secure. By this means we preserve our own souls from being injured by anger and malice, and our charity may triumph in gaining our brother. Let us not, however, forget that this counsel of our Lord is more than prudential advice; it is his direction; and has therefore the force of a COMMAND.

Verse 16

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Of two or three witnesses. — It was the judicial rule to require the testimony of not less than two or three witnesses to establish a charge Deuteronomy 19:15. And it was probably the practice with the Jews to adopt it in settling private disputes. Here, indeed, the persons to be brought by the injured party are not witnesses of the fact of the injury, but of the charitable attempt made by him who had received it to bring the offender to a better mind, and to give him an opportunity of making an acknowledgment of his fault, and of repairing it. They were to aid in endeavouring to settle the matter of complaint; and, if unsuccessful, to give testimony of the whole proceeding to the Church; to which the first appeal was to be made. The wisdom of this advice has not failed to arrest the attention of subsequent Jewish writers. Buxtorf has produced a passage from one of them in which the words of Christ are manifestly copied: “The wise man says, If thy friend does thee an injury, reprove him between him and thee alone: if he hears thee, thou hast already gained him: if he does not hear thee, speak to him before one or two, who may consider the matter; and, if he will not hear, reckon him a worthless friend.” This author would not mention Christ by name, but says, generally, “the wise man,” or “one of the wise men,” the name by which their doctors were distinguished. Maimonides, too, has a passage borrowed from the same source, which may be regarded as a paraphrase upon our Lord’s words, and furnishes an excellent comment also upon a part of them. “He that reproveth his friend, whether for things between him and himself, or whether for things between him and God, ought to reprove him alone; and should speak to him mildly, and in tender language, and let him know that he speaks to him for his good, and to bring him to everlasting life.

Verse 17

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Tell it to the Church. — The assembly. The Jews would understand by this word, the congregation collected in the synagogue; for it was their practice to proclaim obstinate offenders there. So Maimonides, “If any refuse to feed his children, they reprove him, they shame him, they urge him: if he still refuse, they make proclamation against him in the synagogue.” But our Lord looks to the establishment of his own Church, and the exercise of discipline in those assemblies of Christians which, though like the Jewish synagogues they have the power of discipline within themselves, yet collectively form his universal Church, as the synagogues collectively formed the general Jewish Church. The apostles who then followed him may be considered as the elements of his Church at that time; but it could scarcely be considered as constituted until after the day of pentecost, when regular assemblies under apostolic direction were formed, the worship of God arranged, the Supper of the Lord administered, and the terms of communion mutually acknowledged. Christ must therefore be considered as speaking prospectively.

But if he neglect to hear the Church, &c. — The great rules of Church discipline are here most distinctly laid down. The Church is to hear the case; to advise and admonish in order to correct and save the offending person; but if the admonitions and counsels of the Church are obstinately disregarded, then the offender is to be put out of communion, and to be to the injured person and to the Church itself as a heathen man and a publican; that is, all religious connection is to be broken off with him; he is, as St. Paul expresses it, to be “put away.” But this is all: no civil disabilities are to be inflicted upon him, much less pains and penalties; and as our Lord treated “heathens and publicans” with compassion and kindness, and sought their salvation, so the advice he here gives is to be interpreted by his conduct; and the separated and disowned brother is still to be the object of charity and sympathy, and every means is to be taken to effect his restoration.

Verse 18

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth, &c. — Great obscurity has been thrown around this passage by mistaking its relation to the preceding verses, and by referring the binding and loosing to persons, in the sense of forgiving and retaining their sins, instead of to things, as the words themselves declare. Whatsoever matters or things ye shall bind, &c., οσα εαν δησητε κ . τ . λ . For the import of the phrases to bind and to loose, see the note on Matthew 16:19, where the same promise is made through Peter to the apostles. To understand this passage clearly it is necessary to consider that, as the various matters of dispute which would arise among brethren, or Christians, involved moral questions, and these were to be referred, in the last resort, to the Church, they must be determined by some fixed and settled RULES. Now Christianity is a more perfect dispensation of moral duties, as well as of grace. — This is proved from our Lord’s sermon on the mount, and many other of his discourses, where he not only refutes modern errors, but places ancient truths in clearer light, and shows their limitation or extension more accurately, and adds many others. This is farther confirmed by the moral part of the writings of the apostles, in which all the holy principles laid down in the Old Testament, and in the discourses of Christ, are drawn out into particular injunctions, and applied to the various personal, civil, ecclesiastical, and social duties incumbent upon Christians. — It was therefore necessary, after our Lord, with reference to the discipline to be exercised in his future Church, had prescribed the mode of dealing with offenders, that he should speak of the rules or laws by which all such cases were to be determined, and the source from which they should emanate. These rules or laws were to be brought in by the apostles, to whom the Holy Spirit was to be given in the plenitude of his inspiration, to bring the doctrines which Christ himself had taught to their “remembrance,” and “to lead them into all truth,” necessary to complete the Christian system.

Now these were to be the sole and only laws by which things were to be bound or loosed; that is, as shown in the note just referred to, declared lawful or unlawful, binding upon men’s consciences or otherwise: and consequently, by these rule, Christians were to form their private judgment respecting what is right or wrong in their various kinds and degrees, and by the same rules the censures or otherwise of “the Church” were to be solely directed. These words therefore were spoken to the apostles, as indeed was the whole preceding discourse: for the eleven, after they had disputed about superiority, by the way, joined Peter and Christ in the house; and the twelve being thus collected, and they only, our Lord delivers to them that series of addresses which this chapter contains. When, therefore, our Lord says, “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven,” &c., he repeats the promise he had before made to them, that they should be made the infallible teachers of the whole truth of his religion, and applies it to the practical use which should be made of the doctrines they were to leave on record, as rules to determine all moral questions in the Church; with the same assurance as before, that their inspired decisions should be confirmed in heaven, as being in fact the rules and principles on which the moral government of God would through all future time, be conducted. No man, therefore, or body of men, can have power to bind or loose in the Church, but he who is inspired to know what the laws of the Divine government are; for nothing which is declared on earth can hold good in heaven, as determining what is pleasing or displeasing to God, but what is in fact a revelation of God’s own will, which is the law of his creatures. The apostles only had that revelation, and they only therefore had the power to declare what was lawful or the contrary, “to bind and to loose.”

Verses 19-20

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

If two of you shall agree, &c. — These verses are both connected with the same subject. That plenary inspiration by which the apostles were to be led into all truth, and to be made the infallible instructers of the Church and the world, was not to be granted to them without earnest prayer. Accordingly, after the resurrection of Christ, they were directed to “tarry at Jerusalem until they were endued with power from on high.” “And these all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication.” “And when the day of pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place,” still engaged in the same exercise. Thus they agreed on earth as touching the thing they should ask, the “power from on high.” They were gathered together in the name of Christ, by his authority, professing their faith in him, and waiting the fulfilment of his promise; and he, though he had ascended to heaven, was in the midst of them, in his spiritual presence and the wonderful effusions of his Spirit, and what they asked was done for them of their Father which is in heaven.

This is clearly the primary meaning of these verses; but they contain general truths of a most consolatory kind, and in the strongest manner encourage the unity of Christians and their meeting together for prayer. “Where two or three are gathered together,” with one accord, “in his name,” and agree to ask what he has promised to bestow, their prayers shall be answered in a spiritual manifestation of the presence of Christ, and the communication of the fulness of all spiritual blessings.

Verse 21

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me? — Peter, rightly judging that what had been enjoined on the subject of gaining a brother who had committed a wrong, necessarily implied that the injured party should be ready to forgive the injury, inquires how often this placable disposition was to be exercised.

Till seven times? — If the notions of the rabbins of our Lord’s time on this subject of forgiveness were the same as those of a later date, Peter’s charity went beyond the Jewish limit, which, extended to “three times, and no more.” “He that says, I have sinned, and I repent, they forgive him to three times, and no more.” Probably, however, Peter was not acquainted with the rabbinical rules, and merely meant by seven times, very often; taking it for granted, that there must be a limit to forgiveness. Our Lord’s reply, Until seventy times seven, signifies an indefinite number, a number which has no limit. As often as an offending brother, as stated by St. Luke, shall “turn again to thee, and repent,” so often art thou to forgive. By forgiveness is here meant that which extends to actual reconciliation. Great prominence is given to this duty in the discourses of our Lord; all the angry, and harsh, and malignant passions are utterly inconsistent with the spirit of his religion. His coming into the world was the result of infinite pity and kindness to the race of man, and his own example of placability and benevolence must be followed by his disciples, or they will be at length disowned by him. This is as strongly enforced as it is beautifully exemplified by the parable which follows.

Verse 23

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king &c. — That is, the conduct of the sovereign Ruler in the new dispensation of the Gospel may be likened to that of a certain king, &c., ανθρωπω βασιλει , ανθρωπος being used for τις .

Which would take account of his servants. — The servants here probably are of that class who were intrusted with the collection of the king’s revenue. To take account, συνειραι λογον , is a formula which denotes, like the Latin, conferre rationes, to settle an account. The servants here mentioned were not slaves; δουλος , like עבד , being often used in a larger sense. That here it is not to be taken for slave is plain, the debtor being afterward appointed to be sold to pay his debt, which would have been of no benefit to the master had he been a slave, and therefore already the property of his owner.

Verse 24

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Ten thousand talents. — A talent of silver contained three thousand shekels, and was in value £375 of our money. A talent of gold was equal to £4500; but the latter is seldom meant, except where expressed. But the sum in silver was immense, and stands for an indefinitely large amount, to intimate the exceeding greatness of our debt toward God; arising out of obligations of gratitude, obedience, and service, in which we have all so failed that our iniquities are more in number than “the sands of the sea-shore.”

Verse 25

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

His lord commanded him to be sold, &c. — This was the custom in several ancient nations beside the Jews.

Verse 26

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And I will pay thee all. — To avert so dire a calamity as to be sold into slavery, the insolvent debtor appeals to the mercy of his lord; he falls at his feet; pays him the lowliest homage; acknowledges the debt, but asks for the indulgence of delay; and promises ultimate payment. All these circumstances complete the picture drawn by the parable, but are to be cautiously interpreted to a spiritual sense. This, however, may be observed, that we are taught that the only way to forgiveness is to acknowledge our debts, and to appeal only to MERCY. The promise of paying so large a debt was, indeed, a futile one; but it probably glances at that too frequent presumption which clings to all penitents in the first instance, that they shall be able by future acts of zealous service, to make some compensation for past offences. The free and princely munificence of our Lord, however, spurns all these vain offers of compromise; he “is RICH to all them that call upon him;” he “giveth liberally, and upbraideth not;” or, as his character and acts of grace are here affectingly described, “The lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.”

Verse 28

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

The same servant went out and found one of his fellow servants &c.. — Not immediately perhaps, but after some time; after those grateful emotions which he ought always to have cherished, had been suffered to subside; after he had, through unfaithfulness to the grace given, suffered the example of his lord’s clemency, pity, and munificence to lose its effect upon him; after the spirit of worldliness and selfishness, with all its obdurating influence upon the affections, had been suffered to establish itself in his heart; yes, the same servant, mark the emphasis, THAT servant himself, whose prayers and tears had moved the compassion of his lord, so that, by a munificent liberality, he had cancelled his debt of immense amount, found one of his fellow servants, who owed him a hundred pence denarii, each of the value of seven pence three farthings, and making the paltry sum of £3 2s. 6d., sterling, and laid hands upon him, and took him by the throat, επνιγε , throttled him, showing equal violence of temper and hard heartedness; and refusing to listen to the very same prayer, which he himself had imploringly offered to his lord. And he would nat; but cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt; the whole debt, which he relentlessly exacted. This excited the indignant grief of the rest of the servants, who were not unacquainted with the gracious manner in which he had been treated by the common master, to whom they make known, διασαφειν , gave exact information of the affair.

Verse 34

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

To the tormentors. — Βασανισται may here simply signify the jailers, or keepers of the prison, who, from their harshness, and, indeed, the punishments they were often directed anciently to inflict upon criminals, might have this appellation. It does not, indeed, appear that men were punished by torment simply for debt; but in this case, the man who had conducted himself so unfeelingly toward his fellow servant had incurred the strong displeasure of the king, and was to be regarded as a sort of state prisoner as well as debtor; and such criminals, under the despotisms of the east, were usually treated with great severity.

Verse 35

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also to you, &c. — “With what measure we mete, it shall be measured to us again;” if we stand so rigorously upon our rights in our transactions with our fellow creatures, as to forget the claims of benevolence and mercy, we must ourselves be content to be dealt with by God in the way of exact justice; if we are deaf to the voice of imploring distress, how should we expect God to hear our cry in that day of trouble, which, notwithstanding present prosperity, will come upon us. And if we forgive not every one his brother, and that from the heart, we shall not obtain forgiveness. This is so expressly laid down by Christ, as the rule of the Divine conduct toward us, even under the new covenant of grace, that we shall greatly deceive ourselves if we expect that any indulgence will be shown to our morose and uncharitable tempers. It becomes us, therefore, very carefully to cultivate the opposite dispositions, that, not merely from fear, but from the free and generous spirit of our religion, we may show mercy as we have received mercy, and forgive as we hope to be forgiven. The example of our heavenly Father ought to engage us to this duty; the comfort of our minds in reflecting, especially at the Lord’s table, that we are “in love and charity” with all men; and, finally, our hope of heaven; for this parable plainly teaches that our unforgiving spirit will cancel our own forgiveness with God, and place us under his displeasure, both in time and eternity.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 18". "Watson's Exposition on Matthew, Mark, Luke & Romans". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rwc/matthew-18.html.
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