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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters

the Unmerciful Servant

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IF you had been destined by your parents to be a minister, and if at twelve years old you had come to the same decision yourself, from that day you would have begun to think continually about your future office, and you would every day have done something to prepare yourself for your future office. You would have made it your custom every Sabbath day to go up to the sanctuary both to hear and to ask questions about the Word of God, in the reading and preaching of which your whole life was to be spent. Even if your teachers had not shown you the way you would have found out your own way of reading the Word of God, and meditating upon it, and employing, not your memory only, but your pen and ink also, in order to store up your observations and your readings and your meditations against the time to come. You would have been like Apelles the painter who never passed a day without drawing at least one line and filling it in. Nulla dies sine linea, was all that artist's secret, and it was all his advice to his privileged apprentices. And all your days you would have attributed any success of yours to that teacher who first printed that proverb on your young conscience, and at the same time showed you how to perform it. Now, mutatis mutandis, that is to say, after making all the necessary changes, that was our Lord's exact case till He began to be about thirty years of age. And thus it was that, having been made in all things like unto His brethren, He both observed, and read, and meditated, and laid up, the greatest treasures of grace and truth against the day of His showing to Israel. And thus it was that, in all His ministry, He was never once taken unawares or unprepared. Give Him suddenly any Old Testament text to open up and He was ready on the spot to do it. Set Him any intricate question, whatever your motive might be, and immediately you got your answer. As for instance in the case now before us. When Peter came to Him and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? His Master that moment recalled that Roman procurator to mind whose case had been the conversation and congratulation of all Galilee in years now long past. And how well that case fitted into the kingdom of heaven for one parable of that kingdom, all the world has seen ever since that day on which our Lord gave that procurator's case as His answer to Peter's complaint.

Peter, for a long time, was a most interfering and offensive disciple. Peter was continually running up against all other men. He was always both giving offence and taking offence. He was always inflicting wounds and receiving the same. When Peter was converted from all that he splendidly strengthened his brethren. But during the process of his conversion, and till it was perfected, he both caused himself many stumbles and many falls, and was the cause of many such things to his fellow-disciples. What the exact matter was at that moment we are not told. Only, we have Peter coming with this remonstrance to his Master-How oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee until seven times: but, until seventy times seven. And then He told Peter the story of that Roman officer who is now known to all time as the Unmerciful Servant. And in this so apposite story, our Lord was like a scribe, as He says Himself, which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old. And then after telling Peter and all the Twelve this story of Cæsar and his degraded and imprisoned procurator, our Lord added this application to the story-So likewise shall My Heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your heart forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.

Now, we are all to learn from this scripture, as we have all learned it already from our own experience, that Almighty God has His reckoning times with all His servants, even in this life. He is to have a great, a universal, and an irrevocable, reckoning time with all men at the end of this life; but the first point in this parable is this, that He has preliminary and preparatory reckoning times in which He begins to take account of His servants even in this world. Cæsar would take account of his servants, says our Lord. Now the best way to understand this is to look back at our past lives. Unless, indeed, we have all along been let alone of God, as is sometimes the case. But, no doubt, those reckoning times have, by God's special grace to us, come already to some of us. When Dr. Chalmers's reckoning time first came to him he was a greatly gifted, but as yet an utterly unprofitable, servant. It came to him in his brother George's illness and death; and then it came back again to him in his own long, and all but fatal, illness. It came to that young communicant I told you about, when her mother died. And it came to that other young communicant when-"I was engaged to be married, sir, and she died." I have one time, especially, ever before me, when my own reckoning time once came to me. And ever since that time I see myself in this chapter as in a glass. This chapter always reads to me like a literal prophecy of myself. How did your reckoning time come to you? What was it that brought your debt to a head? What was it that brought you up to God's judgment seat before the time? What great trespass was it of yours? What great accumulation of debt was it of yours? And did you do like this Galilean procurator? Did you fall down and worship God and appeal to His patience? Did you promise to pay all the debt if only He would let you have sufficient time in which to pay it? Did you swear to Him that you would never commit that great trespass again? Did you engage also that you would watch, and pray, and would crucify your flesh, with its affections and lusts, if only He would not deliver you to the tormentors. And how did it all end? Or, is it all ended yet?

But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellow-servants which owed him an hundred pence; and he laid his hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. Now we are such, and our fellow-servants are such, that they are continually running into all kinds of debt to us, and to all depths of debt. Our brother is like Peter's brother, in that he is sinning against us seven times every day. Partly through his offensiveness and injuriousness, and partly through our imagining all kinds of offences and injuries at his hand, the most immense debts are being run up between us. Seven things in a single day, sometimes, will come between us and our brother. He forgot us. He overlooked us. He preferred some one else to us. He acted on his own intelligence, and judgment, and conscience, in some matter in which we had the insolence and effrontery to dictate to him. He got some promotion, or some praise, that we had not friendship enough to him to stomach. He was more talked about than we were. He carried his custom to another shop than ours. We wrote a book, we preached a sermon, we made a speech, we sang a song, and he did not praise us to the top of our bent. Say, how often shall my brother sin against me in such ways as these, and I forgive him? No, I cannot do it. I have tried it, and I cannot do it. From the heart to forgive debts like these no, never, I cannot do it. And dost Thou actually expect it of me? Or, is this only another economy of Thine? At any rate, it cannot be done. It has never been done, and it never will be done, so as to justify my Heavenly Father in forgiving me my trespasses. If He suspends my forgiveness on my forgiving such trespasses as these-who shall be saved? Not one. No, not one. Not I, at any rate. "Do you think it will ever be possible to construct an instrument to discover and to exhibit our thoughts against our neighbour?" asked a Pall Mall interviewer at Mr. Edison, the great American inventor. "Such an instrument is possible," returned Edison. "But what then? Every man would flee from the face of his neighbour, and would flee to any shelter." So he would. And so he does seventy times every day. As Peter afterwards said, Lord to whom shall I flee but unto Thee? Who shall shelter me and my unforgiving heart but Thee! Who can justify a man like me, both now and at the last account, but Thee and Thy Heavenly Father in Thee! Likewise also say all His disciples. As well ask us to cast Arthur's Seat into the sea.

I feel sure you all say the Lord's Prayer every night before you sleep. Well, how do you do when you come to the fifth petition, which is this-And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors? Dr. Chalmers confesses in one place that he did not feel that dreadful sense of sin and guilt which so overwhelmed Halyburton every night. There are some advantages, you see, in not having such an overwhelming sense of sin as Halyburton had. For one thing, you get sooner to sleep every night, and you get your sleep more unbroken with dreams of the coming day of account. Amen! stuck in my throat, says Macbeth. And Amen stuck many a night in Halyburton's throat over the fifth petition. His brother in St. Andrews had trespassed against him that day. He had outrun him in some race. He had outbidden him in some market. He had damned Halyburton's sermon with faint praise. He had just hinted a fault, and had hesitated dislike. He had been reported to Halyburton as having sneered at the scholarship and the style of Halyburton's first publication. He had trespassed against Halyburton that day in a way that Halyburton has not the courage to set down in black and white in his diary that night, and therefore he could neither say Amen, nor get to sleep. But Chalmers got his fill of Halyburton's sense both of the guilt and the pollution of sin, long before he went so suddenly to his last account, as we see in this mathematical illustration of it:-"The wider the diameter of light, the larger the circumference of darkness." And in this "far ben" entry of it:-"What would I do if God did not justify the ungodly!"

There is a fine touch in this ancient history that must not be neglected. When the fellow-servants of this unmerciful servant saw him so forget his own ten thousand talents as to take his hundred-pence debtor by the throat and cast him into prison, they were both sorry and angry, and went and told their Lord what had taken place. It was an excellent saying of one of the seven wise men of Greece, who, when he was asked what would rid the world of injuries, answered:-"When the bystanders shall resent an injury as keenly as he does who suffers the injury." Now those fellow-servants did that, and their resentment is told us in order that we may imitate them in their resentment. That would largely banish all injury from among ourselves, if we would all do what that wise man of Greece advised, and what those fellow-servants actually did. If we would put ourselves in the places of the men who are injured unjustly by their wicked neighbour. When we read or hear of any man being wickedly attacked by tongue or by pen, ten to one all the offender's fault has been that he has disappointed, or offended, or crossed the self-love, and the self-interest, of that revengeful and implacable man. And that, often in the utmost innocence, and even in the most absolute righteousness. Ten to one the root of the wicked treatment is nowhere else hut in the wicked heart of that mortally offended, unforgiving, and revengeful, man. Keep well in mind, my brethren, what the wise man said, when you see any man or any cause truculently attacked by tongue or by pen. Resent the injury as if it were done to yourself, and that will somewhat help to rid the world of all such injuries, and of all such injurious men. At any rate, be you not such injurious men yourselves. Forgive, and you shall be forgiven. For with the same measure that you mete withal, it shall be measured to you again.


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Bibliography Information
Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'the Unmerciful Servant'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/wbc/t/the-unmerciful-servant.html. 1901.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, August 25th, 2019
the Week of Proper 16 / Ordinary 21
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