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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Matthew 18

 

 

Other Authors
Introduction

CHAP. XVIII.

Christ warneth his disciples to be humble and harmless, to avoid offences, and not to despise the little ones: teacheth how we are to deal with our brethren when they offend us, and how often to forgive them; which he setteth forth by a parable of the king, who took account of his servants, and punished him who showed no mercy to his fellow.

Anno Domini 31.


Verse 1

Matthew 18:1. At the same time came the disciples This chapter is connected with the two preceding; for after Christ had delivered the keys of the kingdom of heaven to Peter, and had taken him up into the mountain with James and John, leaving the rest of his Apostles, these three seem to have exalted themselves above their colleagues, and to have been envied by them. In consequence of their ambition, they began to inquire which of them should holdthe highest dignities under the Messiah? who should be his general, his privy counsellor, and his steward? (ch. Matthew 20:21.) he who first embraced his doctrine? or he who is the nearest in blood to him? or he to whom he has been the most frequent guest? or he who is the eldest? And as St. Matthew treats more largely of this contention of the Apostles than the other Evangelists, he seems to insinuate that he was aimed at by the inquiry of his colleagues, and in some measure despised for the infamy of his former life; but that he was happily and fully vindicated and comforted by our Lord's answer. Wetstein.


Verse 2

Matthew 18:2. Jesus called a little child See Luke 9:47. Mark 9:33., &c. To check the foolish emulation of his disciples, Jesus called a little child to him, and having set him in the midst, that they might consider him attentively, he shewed them, by the sweetness, docility, and modesty visible in its countenance, what the temper and dispositions of his disciples ought to be, and how dear to him persons of such dispositions are, though otherwise weak and infirm. Some are of opinion, that the child here mentioned was the celebrated St. Ignatius, who suffered martyrdom under the reign and by the command of Trajan. The method of instruction here used was agreeable to the manner of the Eastern doctors and prophets, who, in teaching, impressed the minds of their disciples by symbolical actions, as well as by words. Thus John 20:22. Jesus, by breathing on his Apostles, signified, that through the invisible energy of his power he conferred on them the gifts of his spirit. Thus, John 21:19 he bade Peter follow him, to shew that he was to be his follower in afflictions. And in Revelation 18:21 an angel cast a stone into the depth of the sea, to signify the utter destruction of Babylon. For more examples, see John 13:4-5; John 13:14. Acts 21:11 and Macknight.


Verse 3-4

Matthew 18:3-4. And said, Verily, &c.— "So far shall ye be from becoming the greatest in my kingdom, that ye shall not so muchas enter into it,unless ye be like little children, free from pride, covetousness, and ambition, and resemble them in humility, sincerity, docility, and in disengagement ofaffection from the things of the present life, which fire the ambition of grown men." Whosoever therefore (Matthew 18:4.) rests satisfied with the providence which God has assigned him, whatever it may be, and meekly receives all the divine instructions, though contrary to his own inclinations, and prefers others in honour to himself, such a person is really the greatest in my kingdom. The first step towards entering into the kingdom of grace is to become as little children, lowly in heart, knowing ourselves utterly ignorant and helpless, and depending wholly on our Father who is in heaven, for a supply of all our wants. Except we be turned from darkness to light, and be renewed in the image of God here, we can never enter into the kingdom of glory.


Verse 5-6

Matthew 18:5-6. And whoso shall receive, &c.— "All who in the sense above explained are little children, are unspeakably dear to me; therefore help them all you can, as if it were myself in person, and see that ye offend them not; that is to say, that ye neither turn them out of the right way, nor hinder them in it." Dr. Clarke thinks, thatlittle ones mean plain and sincere Christians, before compared, for their simplicity and sincerity, to little children; and that to offend them signifies to cast a stumbling-block before them, to cause them to sin, to discourage them in their duty, or attempt to offend them. So that whoever, by a scandalous life, should lead others to think ill of the Christian profession in general, or should bypersecution discourage the weak, or by sophistry, bad example, or otherwise, pervert them from the way of truth and goodness, would fall under the weight of the terrible sentence here denounced. Casaubon, Elsner, and others, have shewn at large, that drowning in the sea was a punishment frequently used among the Syrians, Greeks, and Romans; and that the persons condemned had sometimes heavy stones tied about their necks, or were rolled up in sheets of lead, καταποντιζεσθαι, to sink them with the weight. It seems to have grown into a proverb for dreadful and inevitable ruin. See on ch. Matthew 14:28 and Mintert on the word καταποντιζω. ΄υλος ονικος probably signifies a mill-stone too large to be turned, as some were, by the hand; and requiring the force of asses to move it, as it seems those animals were generally used by the Jews on this occasion. See Raphelius, Riping, Antiq. Rom. lib. 2. 100. 7 and Lightfoot.


Verse 7

Matthew 18:7. For it must needs be that offences come See Luke 17:1 where our Lord expresses this more fully; it is impossible but that offences will come; impossible, through the weakness, folly, and wickedness of mankind. But woe unto the man by whom, that is to say, by whose faults, these offences, or scandals, come! Dr. Campbell translates this verse, Woe unto the world because of snares: snares indeed there must be; nevertheless woe to the insnarer.


Verse 8

Matthew 18:8. Wherefore, if thy hand or foot offend thee Insnare thee. Campbell, and so Matthew 18:9. Our Lord here renews the exhortation which he formerly gave, Ch. Matthew 5:29-30 rather to submit to the severest mortifications, than to indulge our sinful inclinations, to the scandal of others, and our own ruin. We may observe, that St. Matthew, who has so largely recorded the sermon on the mount, gives us again this passage of it on the present occasion; which is one proof among others, that our Lord did not think it improper or unnecessary sometimes to repeat what he had then said; and considering the importance of these maxims, and how little many of his hearers were disposed to receive and retain them, it was a valuable instance of his compassion and wisdom. See Doddridge.


Verse 10-11

Matthew 18:10-11. Take heed that ye despise not, &c.— Because pride, or a high opinion of one's self, with the contempt of others, is often the parent of offences, our Lord solemnly cautioned his disciples against that evil, and shewed them the unreasonableness of it by this delightful argument,—that the meanest Christian is an object of the care of Providence—Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; one who is converted, and becomes as a little child; one of my real disciples, of whom I have been speaking to you; for I say unto you, that in heaven, &c. which Dr. Clarke interprets, "they are the care of angels, and under the protection of God." The expression, behold the face of my Father, alludes to the custom of earthly courts, where the great men, those who are highest in office and favour, are most frequently in the prince's palace and presence. Wherefore, when we are told that the angels of the least of Christ's disciples behold the face of God, the meaning is, that the chief angels are employed in taking care of such; and our Lord's reasoning is both strong and beautiful, when on this account he cautions us against despising them. To conclude, by telling them that the Son of man was come to seek and save that which was lost; and by delivering the parable of the lost sheep, which its owner found after much painful searching, he has eminently displayed the immense care which the Father Almighty takes of men, and has given us a just notion of the value which he puts on the least of his reasonable creatures. He gives his angels charge concerning them; he has sent his only-begotten Son to save them, and condescends to share in the joy which the heavenly beings are filled with upon their recovery. The particle γαρ, rendered for in Matthew 18:11 introduces another reason to enforce the caution not to despise these little ones; and therefore would be rendered more properly, moreover or further. "Not only the angels minister to their salvation, but I, the Lord of men and angels, am come down from heaven for their sakes." See Macknight, Grotius, and Suicer's Thesaurus, vol. 1: p. 43.


Verse 12

Matthew 18:12. Doth he not leave the ninety and nine This might be rendered, Would he not leave the ninety and nine on the mountains (in their pasture or fold) and go out to seek, &c.? See this parable in Luke 15.


Verse 14

Matthew 18:14. Even so, &c.— That is, "God greatly delights in the conversion and salvation of men, and is at as much pains to reclaim them, as a shepherd is to bring back a sheep which was strayed from the fold." We may observe the gradation in these verses: first, the angels do not despise these little ones;—neither the Son,—nor the Father.


Verses 15-17

Matthew 18:15-17. Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass, &c.— Our Lord, having thus spoken to the persons offending, now addresses his discourse to the persons offended, shewing them in what manner they ought to behave towards an offending brother; and whosoever shall closely observe this threefold rule, will seldom offend others, and never be offended himself. "If any, more especially one who is a member of the same religious community, do any thing amiss, of which thou art an eye or ear-witness, first, go and tell him alone: if it may be, in person; if that cannot so well be done, by thy messenger, or in writing: If this succeed, thou hast gained thy brother; hast recovered him to God, who rejoices at the repentance of a sinner; and to thyself, with whom he was at enmity; and so hast saved him from perishing." See Proverbs 28:23. Observe, our Lord gives no liberty to omit this, or to exchange it for either of the following steps: "If this gentle method do not succeed, Secondly, Take with thee one or two more men whom he esteems and loves, who may then confirm and enforce what thou sayest, and afterwards, if need require, bear witness of what was spoken. (See Deuteronomy 19:15.) If even this do not succeed, then and not before, tell it to the church, or to that particular congregation of the faithful to which he belongs; whose sentence being declared, will shew him, that in the judgment of all good men, thou hast done thy duty, and he is to blame. If all this avail not, you will do well to enter into a protest against him, by forbearing any intimate friendship with such a person; and let him therefore, in this case, be unto thee as an heathen and a publican, or other most notorious sinner, to whom you would perform only the common offices of humanity, but would avoid his intimate society, as scandalous; and to whom you are not under those peculiar obligations, whereby Christian brethren are bound to each other." Can any thing be plainer than this? Christ here as expressly commands all Christians who see a brother do evil, to follow this method, not another, and to take these steps in this order,—as he does, to honour our father and mother.—But if so, in what land do the Christians live? See Doddridge, and Bengelius.


Verse 18

Matthew 18:18. Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth, &c.— Our Saviour here confers on his disciples in general the power of binding and loosing, which he had formerly conferred on Peter singly: but the present grant, from the connection in which it stands, appears manifestly to refer to something further than the former, which had respect to nothing but doctrine and precept. Whatever Peter declared lawful and unlawful should be held so in heaven; whereas here it relates not only to doctrine, but to discipline. If by their admonitions, whether public or private, the Apostles brought their brethren to repentance, they loosed the guilt of their sins, the fetters by which the divine justice detains men its prisoners; or, as it is expressed above, they gain their brethren. On the other hand, if the offending brother continued impenitent, after the methods prescribed were all tried, theybound his guilt the faster upon him; because, according to the laws of heaven—the terms of salvation which they were to preach by inspiration, none but penitents shall obtain pardon. Wetstein gives the following explanation of this verse: "If any one shall despise your sentence passed upon him, according to your appointed rules, he will do it to his own extreme hazard; for, refusing to returninto favour with you, he will be esteemed guilty before God. On the contrary, if he shall reconcile himself to you, he shall also obtain from God pardon for the sin committed against you." See Macknight, Grotius, and ch. Matthew 16:19.


Verse 19-20

Matthew 18:19-20. Again I say unto you Further to encourage good men to be very earnest in their endeavours to bring sinners to repentance, he assured them, that if they prayed to God for it, he would hear them, provided it was agreeable to the wise ends of his providence. Perhaps here is an allusion to a notion of the Jews, that it was necessary, that ten at least should concur in social prayer, if an extraordinary success was expected. I am in the midst of them, Matthew 18:20 means, "by my special favour and presence: for, observing that in those religious assemblies they act as the duty which they owe to me directs, I will intercede with my Father for them, and procure them from him a gracious answer to their prayers." The Hebrew doctors have a saying, that "where two persons sit together conversing about the law, there the Shechinah is among them." Dr. Clarke paraphrases the 20th verse thus: "In whatever place the true doctrine of Christ is professed and practised, whether by many or few, there is the true church of Christ." See Sermon 18 vol. 10. Wetstein, and Tillotson's Works, vol. 3: p. 307.


Verse 21-22

Matthew 18:21-22. Then came Peter—and said, Lord, how oft, &c.— If my brother repeatedly trespass against me; how often must I forgive him? Campbell. When our Saviour had given his advice for the accommodation of differences among his disciples, Peter, imagining that it might be abused by ill-disposed persons, as an encouragement to offer injuries to others; asks his Lord, how often his brother might offend, and claim forgiveness? See Luke 17:4 where it is seven times in a day, which implies very often. Here it is seven times only, a mode of expression which some imagine to have been borrowed from the Jewish tradition, by which the necessity of pardoning in lighter matters, is limited to seven times, and no more. In opposition to this tradition, our Lord may be understood as extending the terms of forgiveness, and ordering that pardon should be repeated as often as the injury,—till seventy times seven,—as often as there is occasion; a certain number for an uncertain. See Grotius and Wetstein.


Verse 23

Matthew 18:23. Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened, &c.— "For this reason, or, with respect to this matter, I may properly say that the kingdom of heaven, in its constitution and final process, may be likened to, or illustrated by the instance of a certain king who ruled over a large country, and who, as he had a great number of officers under him, was determined at length to settle accounts with his servants." Thus our Lord illustrates the excellent morality in the preceding verse, by a lively parable; in which is shewn the necessity of forgiving the greatest injuries—a necessity of the strongest kind, arising from this law of the divine government, an invariable rule of which is, that God will not forgive us our trespasses, if we do not forgive others. See ch. Matthew 6:12.


Verse 24

Matthew 18:24. One was brought unto him, &c.— When the king began to inspect the accounts of his servants, one was brought unto him, probably his steward or treasurer,—who had so abused the eminent station in which he had been placed, and the high confidence which his prince had reposed in him, that he owed him a most immense sum, and stood accountable for ten thousand talents; that is to say, upwards of 1,870,000£. sterling. The Prussian editors say, that the ten thousand talents are here put for an immense sum. Our Lord seems to mention so large a sum with a design to intimate the number and weight of our offences against God, and our utter incapacity of making him any satisfaction. See Prideaux's Connection, vol. 1: preface, p. 20: and vol. 2: p. 138.


Verse 25

Matthew 18:25. But, forasmuch as he had not to pay As it plainly appeared by this servant's having run through such vast sums, that he had been both negligent and extravagant, his lord, according to frequent custom in such cases, ordered him, &c. to be sold. See Exodus 22:3. Leviticus 25:39. 2 Kings 4:1. Nehemiah 5:5. Isaiah 50:1. Not that the value of him, his family and effects, was any way equal to the debt, but as a punishment for his wickedness; for on any other supposition, it is hard to conceive how his lord, whose humanity was so great, came to take so rigorous a measure, especially as the advantage accruing to himself therefrom must have been but a trifle in comparison of his loss. See Macknight and Olearius.


Verse 27

Matthew 18:27. Then the Lord—was moved with compassion See ch. Matthew 15:32. It is plain that the Lord forgave the servant his debt conditionally, as is strongly implied by the revocation of the pardon afterwards, Matthew 18:34.


Verse 28

Matthew 18:28. Which owed him an hundred pence The Roman penny, or denarius, here spoken of, being in value about seven-pence halfpenny of our money, the whole sum which was due to him did not much exceed three pounds sterling; therefore the servant's demanding this trifle in so rough a manner from his fellow-servant, immediately on his coming out of the palace, where so much lenity had been shewed to him in a matter of far greater importance, manifested the very basest disposition in the man. The word επνιγε, which we render took him by the throat, imports the doing so in the most furious manner, so as almost tostrangle him; and therefore more strongly expresses the man's cruelty.


Verse 31

Matthew 18:31. His fellow-servants—told unto their Lord, &c.— Διεσαφησαν . "They gave their Lord an exact and faithful account," which is the full meaning of the word. See Albert, and the Inferences on this chapter.


Verse 32

Matthew 18:32. O thou wicked servant! Slave. Doddridge; who observes that the word Δουλε is not always a term of reproach, nor does it necessarily imply more than a servant; yet in this connection the word slave seems best to express the indignation with which his lord is supposed to speak. The verb παρεκαλεσας, rendered desiredst, implies something more strong; because thou didst earnestly request and intreat me.


Verse 34

Matthew 18:34. Delivered him to the tormentors Βασανισταις, the executioners of justice. Heylin. The word does not only signify executioners, or persons who put criminals to the torture; but also gaolers, who had the charge of prisoners and examined them. Imprisonment is a much severer punishment in the Eastern parts of the world than here: state-prisoners especially, when condemned to it, are not only forced to submit to a very mean and scanty allowance, but are frequently loaded with clogs, or yokes of heavy wood, in which they cannot either lie or sit at ease; and by frequent scourgings, and sometimes racking, are quickly brought to an untimely end! There is probably a reference to this in the present passage. It may perhaps seem at first a very improper method pursued by the lord, of obtaining payment in these circumstances;yetwhenit is considered that the man's behaviour to his fellow-servant shewed him to be a wretch, not only of the most barbarous disposition, but extremely covetous; his lord had reason to suspect that he had secreted his money and goods, especially as nothing appeared in his possession; wherefore he wisely ordered him to be tormented on the rack, till he should discover with whom they were lodged, and make complete payment.—Besides, it may be considered in the light of a punishment incomparablyheavier than that which was to have been inflicted on him purely for his insolvency: for though the debt was immense, yet whilst it appeared to have been contracted not by fraud, but by extravagance and bad management, he was only to be sold with his family for a certain term of years, that payment might be made as far as their price would go: but now that he added to his former misbehaviour, covetousness, and unmercifulness in the exaction of a trifling debt from a fellow-servant, to whom he ought to have been more indulgent for the sake of their common lord, who had been so kind to him; there was all the reason in the world to suspect, that in his lord's affairs he was more fraudulent than negligent; for which cause he was delivered to the tormentors, to be punished in the manner his crimes deserved; than which a stronger representation of God's displeasure against men of unmerciful, unforgiving, and revengeful dispositions cannot be set forth, or even conceived, by the utmost force of human imagination. May it not be proper to put it here to the consciences of some, and to ask, whether rigour in exacting temporal debts, in treating without mercy such as are unable to satisfy them, and confining them in a miserable prison, where they are totally incapacitated from any probability of satisfying them;—whetherthis can be allowed to aChristian, who is bound to imitate his God and Father?—to a debtor, who can expect forgiveness only on the condition of forgiving others?—to a servant, who should obey his master?—and to a criminal, who is in daily expectation of his judge and final sentence? See Macknight, Hesychius, and Samedo's China, p. 225.

Inferences.—How great and common a misfortune is it for men to think of nothing but their own greatness, and how to raise themselves above others! If the Apostles, who had forsaken all, and who had so long enjoyed the daily instructions and edifying example of Christ, were not void of this passion, who ought not to be afraid?

Either Christ is not truth itself, or without a true conversion and humility (Matthew 18:3.) there is not the least hope of any place in heaven. What is it to be an evangelical child, but to be pure in mind and body? to wish ill to none, to be ready to do good to all, and to have no projects for advancement, riches, honours, fortunes, &c.? This Christian childhood will make us great in the kingdom of heaven. But alas! how low do we debase ourselves, in order to be great on earth! To be great in heaven, how little do we do it! The humility which pleases God, is that of choice, or of acceptance, not a natural meanness of heart and spirit; and the first place is promised to this virtue, which seems the most easy, and to the exercise of which external things are least needful; on which account we are certainly the less to be excused, if we be found deficient in it.

It is melancholy to think, that many who have by their office been employed to read and explain this lesson to others, and who have not been children in understanding, seem to have learned so little of it themselves, as if it had never been at all intended for that order of men to whom however it was immediately addressed! If there be any such yet remaining in the Christian ministry, (and would to God there were not too many!) let them seriously weigh the woe denounced on that man by whom the offence cometh, Matthew 18:7. We can never too earnestly pray that the mercies of God may be extended to all professing Christians, who wholly give themselves up to worldly pursuits and projects; but especially to those who make the church of Christ only a kind of porch to the temple of Mammon. May the divine grace deliver us from such fatal snares, and form us to that self-denial and mortification, without which we cannot be the true disciples of Christ, but after having pierced ourselves through with many unnecessary sorrows here, shall plunge ourselves deep into eternal perdition.

How happy are the meanest servants of Christ, in the care and favour of their blessed Master, and in the angelic guard (Matthew 18:10.) which by his high command are continually attending even the lambs of his flock! So condescending are the blessed spirits above, that even the greatest of them do not disdain to minister unto the heirs of salvation: how then shall the wisest and greatest of men dare to despise those, whom angels honour with their guardianship and care; especially, since God hath loved them so exceedingly, as to give even his own Son for them! Matthew 18:11. Who can either doubt or wonder as to God's sending his angels for the service of souls, after he has sent his own Son to serve them even with his blood! They do what they can to destroy the workmanship of Christ, who, by the means of scandal and offence, cause those to relapse into sin, whom he by his labours and sufferings has rescued and cleansed from it.

It is a rule to be observed by pastors, to apply themselves most to those souls whose wants are greatest. The good shepherd left the ninety and nine, to seek the sheep that was lost. In order to comprehend our good shepherd's joy on the recovery and conversion of a sinner, it is necessary to comprehend his love towards souls. But who is able to do this? If we would have some idea of it which comes near the truth, let us judge of it by his descent from heaven to be incarnate, by the labours of his life, and by the pain and ignominy of his death.

What could have been happier for the church of Christ than the observation of that plain and easy rule which he has given for ending disputes among his followers? Matthew 18:15-17 and yet, who that sees the conduct of the generality of Christians, would imagine that they had ever heard or read of such a rule?—Instead of this private expostulation, which might often bring a debate to a speedy and amicable conclusion, what public charges! what passionate complaints! what frequent and laboured attempts to take, if the least scandalous, yet not the least pernicious kind of revenge, by wounding the characters of those whom we imagine to have injured us! Alas! what is there of the spirit of Christianity in all this? If from the private carriage of man to man, we carry our reflections to proceedings of a more public nature, in what Christian nation are church censures conformed to this rule? Is this the form in which ecclesiastical judgements appear, in the popish or even the protestant world? Are these the methods used by those who boast the most loudly of the authority of Christ to confirm their sentence? Let us earnestly pray, that this dishonour to the Christian name may be wiped away, and that true religion and even common humanity, may not with such solemn mockery be destroyed, in the name of the Lord.

God is found in union and agreement: nothing is more efficacious than prayer, (Matthew 18:19.) when we are united to Jesus Christ, and offer up our prayers through his mediation. It is He himself who prays, His merits which ask, His love which intreats, His heart which groans, His blood which intercedes; and it is the Son who obtains all from his Father. This shews the advantages of prayer made in common by Christian societies, where God is served as it were with one heart, and one soul; but above all, by the great society of the church, where we are united in the body and by the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

Where love is, there is Christ; where division is, there is the evil spirit. A Christian family, which, like that of Tobias in choosing the state of marriage, seeks God alone, which brings up children only for him, and which does all the good that lies within its sphere, may be assured, by virtue of this promise, that Christ is present in the midst of them in a very particular manner. None but an omnipresent, and consequently a divine Person could say, wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them: His power and his goodness can never be impaired: be it therefore our encouragement to social prayer; and let the remembrance of our Redeemer's continual presence and inspection always encourage us to behave ourselves agreeable to the relation which we claim to him, and to those expectations from him which we profess.

How unreasonable and how odious does a severe and uncharitable temper appear, when we view it in the light of this just and convincing parable! Matthew 18:23, &c. which may be considered as our Lord's explication of the fifth petition of his own prayer. There are three things in it opposed to each other; the lord to his servant,—an immense sum to a trifle,—and the most extraordinary clemency to the greatest cruelty. The application of the parable therefore is easy, and sufficient to overturn all the arguments whereby evil minds would justify revenge; particularly those taken from the nature and number of the offences committed, or from the benefits conferred on the persons who commit them. For, in the first place, what are men compared with God? In the second place, how immense a debt does each of us owe to him?—A debt, which from infancy we began to contract, and are daily increasing in our ripening years. And in the third place, how trifling are the offences which our brethren commit against us, perhaps through inadvertency, or in consequence of some provocation received from us! most unworthy therefore of the divine mercy are weak mortals, who, notwithstanding they are themselves weighed down with an infinite load of guilt, are implacable towards their fellow-creatures, and will not forgive them the smallest offence.

Persons of this monstrous disposition should seriously consider the conclusion and application of the parable before us: So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if you from your hearts, that is to say, really, inwardly, and not in word or tongue only, forgive not every one, however great, or rich, or powerful you may be, his brother their trespasses—A most aweful denunciation! which ought, and surely must strike terror into men of fierce and implacable minds: for, whatever they may think, it will in its utmost extent be executed upon all, who will not be persuaded by the consideration of the divine mercy fully to forgive, not their fellow-servants merely, but their own brethren, such petty trespasses as they may happen to commit against them. O let us think seriously on that aweful moment, wherein we shall fall down at the feet of our Judge, there to receive the sentence of our eternal fate,—insolvent debtors as we are, without any plea but the infinite merits of the adorable Jesus; and then we shall have but little inclination to insult those whom we see prostrate before us; we shall discharge our hearts of every sentiment of rancour and revenge, nor ever allow a word, or even a wish that favours of it: and to this end give us, Lord of love, that Christian heart, whose bottom is all charity and mercy, whose works are all mildness and indulgence!

REFLECTIONS.—1st, The disciples, deeply tinctured with Jewish prejudices, entertained very false conceptions of the Messiah's kingdom, and had, in the way to Capernaum, been disputing which of them should have the precedence in it. Jesus, who knew what had been the subject of their contention, now asked them concerning it. And, after some silence and shame at being discovered, see Mark 9:33-34 they,

1. Propose to him the question in dispute, which of them should be promoted to the first post of honour in his kingdom; for each had formed some pretence to this distinguished place: and so ready are we all to be partial in our own favour; instead of being humbly content, in the views of our real deserts, to sit down with the least and the lowest.

2. By an apposite emblem Christ seeks to rebuke their vanity, and teach them what spirit they should put on. He took a little child and set him in the midst of them, that they might look and learn while he commented on the case; assuring them, that such was the nature of his kingdom, that none could enter therein, or partake of its honours and privileges, unless their hearts were converted, and turned from the affectation of earthly grandeur and greatness, and, like little children, they became dead to the contentions of ambition, and the vain desires of outward wealth and eminence: while the way to secure the most honourable place among his members upon earth, and the highest throne next his own in glory, was by sinking lowest in their own apprehensions of themselves, and, instead of affecting magisterial dominion over others, becoming humble, teachable, and ready to sit down at the feet of the meanest. Hard lessons these for human pride! Note; (1.) The way to honour is humility. The lowliest souls are dearest to the Lord; they most resemble him; while pride made angels devils, defaced God's image from the human soul, drove man from paradise, and bars the gate against his return.

3. Christ expresses his high regard and tender concern for those who in this childlike spirit are his disciples indeed. If any shall shew them the least kindness for the sake of their relation to him, he will regard it as if the favour had been shewn to his own person; while if any offend one of these, persecute or oppress them, take advantage of their simplicity or meekness to trample on them, or of their weakness to endeavour to deceive or discourage them, the most dreadful of judgements will be the punishment of such an offender: and better were it for him to have come to the most fearful death by the hands of the public executioner, even to be thrown into the sea with a milstone about his neck, than with such guilt to fall into the hands of an avenging God, under whose wrath he must perish, both body and soul, in hell. Note; (1.) Christ has the tenderest care for his poor people; and a cup of cold water given to the meanest in his name shall not lose its reward. (2.) It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a jealous God. They who now oppress and oppose the meek disciples of Jesus, little think against whom they offend, and the vengeance which awaits them.

2ndly, We have the woe denounced against the world because of offences: under which is comprehended whatever has a tendency to seduce or affright the soul from the good ways of the Lord, or to discourage and grieve the hearts of the righteous.

1. That there will be offences is certain. Considering the craft, malice, and vigilance of Satan, the perverseness of ungodly men and their rooted enmity to the Gospel, and, above all, the deep and desperate wickedness of every human heart by nature, it is morally impossible that offences should not come; and God, for wise ends, is pleased to permit them; but this will in no wise extenuate the guilt of those by whom the offence cometh, nor abate the severity of their judgement. Note; (1.) We are travelling a dangerous road: this world is full of evil, of snares and stumbling-blocks; the multitude lieth in wickedness, and many who pretend to know the path of safety only lie in wait to deceive. We need be jealous of our going, cleave to God's word alone, and neither be offended with the enmity of those that are without, nor the hypocrisy and falls of those that are professors within, remembering that the foundation of God standeth sure. He knoweth those that are his, and will keep his faithful saints that nothing shall offend them, Psalms 119:165. (2.) Though the deceived and the deceiver perish together, yet will they lie down under aggravated guilt who have been Satan's instruments to lead others into error or sin: the blood of the latter will be upon the heads of their seducers.

2. Whatever may be occasion of offence to ourselves or others, however near and dear to us it may be, we must part with it. The body of sin must be crucified. And though it may be as painful to mortify particular corruptions as to suffer the amputation of a hand or a foot, unrelenting severity is needful, where our own souls or others are in danger. And however acute the pain, or however sensibly felt the loss may be, it is better, infinitely better to endure the momentary pang of present self-denial, that we may escape eternal misery, and secure a life of never-ending glory, than for a transitory indulgence of appetite, and the sensual enjoyments of an hour, to be cast into devouring fire, and dwell in everlasting burnings. Note; (1.) In this state of corruption, not only the grosser pollutions which are in the world through lust must be abhorred, but every word, every action, be avoided, which may tend in the remotest way to inflame our own passions or ensnare others. (2.) It is highly useful for us, when in temptation, to look into the burnings of hell, and thence gain arguments to start from the most pleasurable sins. (3.) They only who have begun the life of grace, know experimentally what is meant by these severe operations of self-denial.

3. A particular caution is given to beware of despising the least of Christ's little ones, the weakest of his disciples. We must not be indifferent about our behaviour towards them, careless of what may offend them; must not treat them with contempt, as if regardless of their welfare, or slighting their weakness or infirmities; nor do ought to distress, discourage, ensnare, or lead them into sin; but we should shew our tenderness towards them, and our jealousy for them, by every expression of kindness in word and deed, and by a careful avoiding of whatever may grieve or hurt them.

4. He enforces his discourse with the consideration, that the meanest heir of salvation is attended by angelic ministers. And if those glorious spirits, who in heaven behold the face of God, and stand around his throne, the ready servants of his will, do not disdain to wait upon these little ones, much less should we think them beneath our regard; and may justly dread, if we should treat them ill, that these guardian spirits would be our accusers, and be employed as executioners of the divine displeasure against us.

3rdly, As we must be careful not to give offence, equally careful should we be to shew all Christian tenderness and charity when we are justly offended. Since in this frail and corrupted state even good men are but men, and liable to fall, transgressing the precepts of prudence, justice, or charity, we are therefore directed how to behave towards them in such cases.

1. If a brother, a professing member of our most holy faith, act unsuitably thereunto, and do us an injury, or give us cause of complaint against him, we must first give him a private and kind admonition of his fault, and mildly argue the case, desiring to bring him to repentance and amendment; more solicitous for his good, than the redress of our own wrongs. We may not in this case, through fear of offending on the one hand, be silent, and suffer sin upon our brother without rebuke; nor, on the other, give way to rash anger or revenge, and by a public reproof expose him to others, which, however true the charge, would serve not to recover, but exasperate him the more. In this way of mild and secret admonition we may hope for success; and if he express his sorrow, and desire reconciliation, then the rebuke will be esteemed a kindness, the friendship more strongly cemented, our brother recovered, and the offence forgiven and forgotten.

2. If this method of reproof prove abortive, and he is obstinate against conviction, and displeased instead of humbling himself; then take two or three faithful impartial Christian brethren, and in their presence let the matter be discussed, that they may hear and judge, and add their weight to bring the party offending to due submission and reparation of the injury. Or if their sentiments be disregarded also, they will be evidences before the church of the steps which have been taken, and ready to confirm the truth of the just accusation of the injured person.

3. If every other method prove ineffectual, then the matter should be laid before the church, the society of faithful people among whom such a one associates, that he may have a public admonition for his offence, and be called upon to repent and amend of the evil that he has done.

4. If he still remain incorrigible, and persist in his iniquity, then he is to be excluded from the communion of the faithful, and no more connection and familiarity are to be maintained with him; for the charity which teaches us to forgive our enemies, does not forbid us to be on our guard against those who have used us ill, and refuse to repair the injury. From the whole we may learn, (1.) Under every injury received, to guard our own hearts against passion or revenge: this wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. (2.) Never to speak of another's faults behind his back, till we have in love and the spirit of meekness first admonished him to his face. (3.) To be ready under every provocation to forgive and forget, the moment real repentance appears in our brother. (4.) Not to endeavour to form a party in our favour, but in cases of offence, real or supposed, where the sentiments of brethren may differ about the facts, to let some common impartial friends hear and judge, before the matter be mentioned in public, or but whispered to others.

5. Christ delegates authority to his church thus to censure offenders, and ratifies the sentence which shall be pronounced in correspondence with this his revealed word: so that those who for their notorious evils are excluded from the society of the faithful now, shall be written among the reprobate, and for ever banished from the presence of God, unless they repent of their transgressions; and then they are again to be received into the bosom of the church, and all that is part to be intirely forgiven. The absolution pronounced on them by the ministers of God on earth shall be ratified in heaven, and, the correction having become effectual, the broken-hearted penitent is to be comforted, and restored to his former place, both in the church of God, and in our brotherly affection and regard.

6. For their encouragement in every religious concern, and especially with regard to the recovery of those who are fallen into sin, that they may be restored, our Lord declares the mighty efficacy of united prayer. Whatever, according to the divine will, two or three faithful souls shall meet together with joint supplications to beg at God's hands, he will assuredly hear, and will grant their requests. For wherever the smallest number of real believers assemble in Christ's name, depending on his promises, and desiring above all things the advancement of his glory, there will he ever be, quickening their prayers, strengthening their faith, enlivening their hopes, and comforting their hearts; and when he is one of the company, their supplications must be effectual, for him the Father heareth always; and what an encouragement is this to social prayer!

4thly, As our Lord had just given directions concerning the charitable conduct to be observed towards offenders, Peter, desirous to know how far this forgiveness of personal injuries extended, proposed to his Master the question, Whether, if the offence was repeated seven times, the forgiveness must be as often granted, on the repentance of the offender? He concluded this to be a great stretch of charity; but our Lord's answer shewed him how limited his apprehensions were: I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, until seventy times seven: intimating, that we must make no limitation to our forgiveness, but be always and in all cases ready to grant it, whenever the offender repents; imitating the divine compassions, which know no bounds, nor end. And, to enforce and elucidate this, he introduces a parable, wherein this godlike charity appears most eminent, and the guilt and danger of the opposite conduct is drawn in striking colours. The parable represents,

1. The noble clemency of a great lord, who, looking into his affairs, and revising his own accounts, (which it were well if every great man did) found, among other debtors, one who owed him an immense sum, the least part of which he was unable to discharge. In consequence whereof, in course of law, according to the custom of those times, he gave orders that himself and family should be sold for slaves, and all that he had be disposed of for his use. But, terrified at the sentence, though just, the poor debtor intreats a respite, with many fair promises of payment; when, moved with his distress, the compassionate master generously and freely forgave him all, and delivered him at once from his terrors and his debt. And this may be applied to the case between God and the sinner. (1.) We are deeply in arrear to him: every sin is a debt, and we are overwhelmed with it: we are born with a sinful nature, and our thoughts, words, and deeds have been so perverse before God, so often and so greatly have we offended, that no computation can reach the number of our transgressions, nor can we conceive the greatness of our guilt or provocations. (2.) The misery of our case; and what renders it most deplorable, yea, desperate, is, that we have nothing to pay. Could we render by a perfect obedience the present debt of duty, this would make no compensation for part iniquity. (3.) God keeps an account of all: not a word is on our tongue, nor a thought in our hearts, but he knoweth it altogether; so that we can no more conceal our transgressions from him, than we can cancel them. (4.) If the divine law take its course, the consequence must be, that we should be sold to suffer for our iniquities, and in the place of torment, in body and soul, continue satisfying the justice of God to eternity. (5.) The discovery of this dreadful situation made to the sinner's soul by the preaching of the word to his conscience, or by some awakening providence, fills him with terror, and sets him crying for mercy. But frequently at first the cries of the awakened conscience are for a respite, with many promises of amendment, which the sinner sometimes foolishly thinks will be accepted in payment. And he does not see his own utter insolvency, but thinks, through the ignorance and self-righteousness of his heart, that he can make God some payment; till by and by the trial convinces him that his best is bad; and self-despair strips him naked at the foot of the cross of Christ. (6.) God's infinite compassions extend through the Redeemer to the most guilty and desperate. He freely and fully forgives all that is past: not that he does it without a satisfaction made to his justice; this the Son of his love, incarnate, and dying under the guilt of our sins, has paid; but the mercy of pardon, reconciliation, and deliverance from the bondage of guilt and corruption, is to us freely given, to the praise of the glory of his grace, without money and without price.

2. We are told the unsuitable conduct which this much-obliged servant shewed respecting a fellow-servant of his, who owed him a trifling debt. He no sooner obtained his own pardon and liberty, than he went out, seized and throttled his fellow-servant, till he was almost choked; and, with menaces and insolence demanded instant payment, or threatened him with a prison. In vain his poor brother begged a respite, and, in the very words that himself had used, desired only time, and the debt should be paid: he was deaf to intreaty, and thrust him into a jail—a piece of cruelty and oppression which the other servants beheld with grief and indignation; and they failed not to acquaint their lord with this inhuman behaviour. Note; (1.) Many professors, who presume upon God's forgiveness, shew, by their covetousness and rigorous censures of others, the hypocrisy of their hearts, and the vanity of their hopes. (2.) Offences done to us, compared with those which we have committed against God, are to trivial, that we should be ashamed to show rigour in exacting reparation. (3.) Pride and passion render men unmerciful: though they know that a prison pays no debts, they take delight in thus gratifying their insolence or revenge. (4.) The debtor must not complain, though he be dealt with rigorously; humble intreaty becomes his condition, especially when he suffers only the fruits of his folly or extravagance. (5.) A compassionate heart feels for the distresses of others, and, if it can afford no other relief to them, carries the case of the oppressor and the oppressed to God in prayer, and his ears are open thereunto; he will answer in mercy and judgment. (6.) It is especially grievous to a gracious person, to see in professors of religion a spirit of bitterness and unmercifulness; and he laments it before the Lord.

3. Just resentment fired the master's heart on hearing these tidings; and, instantly citing this hardened wretch before him, he charges him with his wickedness, and upbraids him with his cruelty and ingratitude for all the mercies that he had so lately received! expostulating with him on the case, and leaving him without excuse. In wrath, he bids him therefore instantly be seized and delivered to the tormentors; to be confined in prison, and suffer the most rigorous punishment, till all the former debt should be paid.

4. The whole parable is intended to shew us, that God will deal with us as we deal with our brethren; and if we shew an implacable and unforgiving spirit, whatever hopes of pardon we may entertain, they are delusive; his wrath hangs over us, and, in the great day of account, we shall be delivered to the tormentors. Most bounden are we therefore to forgive every injury, and never to cherish the least wish or desire of revenge; for we expect greater mercy and forgiveness from God than ever man can from us; and therefore a sense of his pardoning love should kindle ours.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Matthew 18:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/matthew-18.html. 1801-1803.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, September 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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