Matthew 18


Discourse Concerning the Greatest in the Kingdom of

     Heaven, and the Mutual Duties of Christians.

                    (vs. 1-35; Mark 9:33-50; Luke 9:46-50.)



                The Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven  (vs. 1-4)


1 "At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest

in the kingdom of heaven?"  At the same time; literally, in that hour. The narrator

connects the following important discourse with the circumstances just previously

related. Peter had completed the business of the didrachma, and had

rejoined the body of disciples. These, according to Mark, had disputed

about precedency on the way to Capernaum. Fired with the notion that

their Master would ere long publicly assert His Messianic claims, which, in

their view, implied temporal sovereignty and secular power, they looked

forward to becoming dignitaries in this new kingdom. Three of them had

been honored with special marks of favor; one of them had been preeminently

distinguished: how would it be when the coming empire was

established? This had been the subject of conversation, and had given rise

to some contention among them. Christ had marked the dispute, but had

said nothing at the time. Now He gives them a lesson in humility, and

teaches the spiritual nature of His kingdom, in which earthly pride and

ambition find no place. From Mark we learn that Jesus Himself took the

initiative in the discourse, asking the disciples concerning their disputation

on the road; and, when they were ashamed to answer, he added, “If any

man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.” Our

Gospel here takes up the story. The paradox seemed incomprehensible; so

they put the question, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?

The Greek is, Τίς ἄρα μαίζων ἐστὶν - Tis ara maizon estin - who then is greater?

Vulgate, Quis, putas, major est? The illative particle “then” refers to what

is recorded in Mark 9:34, or to some such difficulty in the querists

mind. They make the inquiry in the present tense, as though Christ had

already selected the one who was to preside; and by the kingdom of heaven

they mean the Messianic kingdom on earth, concerning which their notions

did not yet rise above those of their contemporaries (compare Acts 1:6).

The comparative in the original, “greater,” is virtually equivalent to the

superlative, as it is translated in the Authorized Version. Such a question as

the above could not have been asked had the apostles at this time

recognized any absolute pre-eminence in Peter or acknowledged his



2 "And Jesus called a little child unto Him, and set him in the midst of

them,"  A little child. Our Lord teaches, not only by spoken parables,

but by symbolical actions also. This was not a mere infant, as Christ is said

to have called him unto Him. A tradition, mentioned by Nicephorus

(‘Hist. Eccl.,’ 2:35), asserts that this child was the famous martyr Ignatius.

Set him in the midst of them. Taking him in his arms, as Mark tells.

What a picture of Christ’s tenderness and human love! From the boy’s

trustfulness and submission he draws a needed lesson for the ambitious



3 "And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as

little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." Except ye be

converted στραφῆτε - straphaete); i.e. turned from proud, ambitious thoughts of

worldly dignity. There is no question here about what is popularly known as

conversion — the change from habitual sin to holiness. The conversion here spoken

of is confined to a change in the present state of mind — to a new direction given

to the thoughts and wishes. The apostles had shown rivalry, jealousy, ambition: they

must turn away from such failings, and learn a different lesson. Become as little

children. Christ points to little children as the model to which the members

of His kingdom must assimilate themselves. The special attributes of

children which He would recommend are humility, unworldliness,

simplicity, teachableness,the direct contraries of self-seeking,

worldliness, distrust, conceit. Ye shall not enter. In the sermon on the

mount Christ had said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the

kingdom of heaven” (ch. 5:3). To all who are not such the gate

opens not. That virtue which was unknown to pagan antiquity, the opposite

character to which was upholden as the acme of excellence, Christ here

asserts to be the only passport to His ideal Church on earth or ITS  ETERNAL

DEVELOPMENT in heaven. Not the self-esteeming, proud man

(μεγαλόψυχος - megalopsuchos) of Aristotle’s worship (‘Eth. Nic.,’ 4:3), but the

humble (ταπεινὸς - tapeinos), the lowly, the self-depreciating, is the man who can

realize his position in the spiritual world, and shall be admitted to its blessings and

benefits. Paul has summarized the ideal character of the members of the

kingdom in 1 Corinthians 13., especially vs. 4-5, and 7.




The Kingdom of the Childlike (vs. 1-3)


Jesus Christ not only resorted to parables in order to make His teaching

vivid; sometimes He made use of object lessons. Thus He answered the

question as to who was greatest in the kingdom of heaven by pointing to

the little child whom He had called to Himself, and set up in the midst of His

disciples. The child himself was a visible embodiment of the reply our Lord

wished His questioners to receive.


  • THE TYPE OF THE KINGDOM. The kingdom of heaven is the

kingdom of the childlike. When we look on a little child we see a typical

citizen of that glorious kingdom. Let us consider what there is in

childlikeness to be thus representative. We must approach this subject from

the ground from which Christ and his disciples came to it. The question of

primacy being in the minds of the disciples some contrast to their feelings

and dispositions is vividly suggested by the sight of the simple,

unconscious, unworldly child.


Ø      Unambitious simplicity. This would be the first impression produced by

the sight of the child, when suddenly he was called by Jesus to confront

self-seeking ambition. Even if we may believe that there was no self-seeking

in the minds of the disciples, and that their inquiry was general, not

personal, still the spirit of ambition was roused by it. But the little child

does not possess ambition. The subtle calculations by which men scheme

for pre-eminence are all unknown to him. He is pre-eminent without

knowing it.  They are the highest saints who think the least of their own



Ø      Unworldliness.  The little child is quite unconventional. He knows nothing

of the ways of the world. Of course, it is not desirable to imitate his defects,

to go back to childish ignorance. But knowledge is dearly bought when it is

acquired at the cost of SPIRITUALITY!  Wordsworth tells us that heaven

lies about us in our childhood.


Ø      Trustfulness. The child came to Jesus as soon as he was called. A look

of the Saviour was enough to dispel fear. We need the innocent confidence

of the child to come into right relations with Christ.




Ø      The entrance. The disciples had forgotten this. Busying themselves

about the rank of those who were in the kingdom, they neglected to

consider how to enter it. Yet this is the first question, and all else is

unpractical till this step has been taken. But when it has been taken, all else

becomes unimportant. It is everything to be privileged to enter the

kingdom, even though in its lowest region. Moreover, the true citizen of

the kingdom will have lost the ambition that busies itself about questions of



Ø      The turning. We are all selfish and self-seeking until we learn to repent

and take a better course. No one can enter the kingdom of Heaven while he

remains worldly and ambitious. The very spirit which seeks a first place in

the kingdom excludes from the kingdom. We need grace to turn back to

childlikeness. We must be converted into little children. The greed and

ambition must be taken out of our hearts, and the simplicity, unworldliness,

and trust of the child received in place of those ugly attributes.



Christ’s Type of the Truly Great (v. 3)


We treat this as an abstract question. What is true greatness? Who is the

truly great man? But the disciples asked a practical question, bearing

immediate relation to their temporal expectations. They, and their

conversations, can never be understood unless we keep in mind their

earthly ideas of their Lord’s mission. Judas, with the grasping disposition,

was anticipating his chances in the new kingdom; and even James and John

were scheming to secure a promise of the right and left hand places in the

new court. Over the expected offices in the new kingdom those disciples

quarrelled, until at last they brought their dispute to Jesus, for him to

decide it by his authority. When they asked, “Who is the greatest in the

kingdom of heaven?” they meant, “Who is to have the principal office in

the new Davidic kingdom which thou art about to set up?” Their question

was childish; it would have been framed very differently if it had been

childlike. As Christ corrected false notions, we h)ok at those false notions



  • MEN’S IDEAS OF GREATNESS. “The things that men deem glorious

were of no account with Christ. He did not measure a man’s eminence by

the height of the pedestal on which he stood, nor by the stars that shone on

his breast; he had no admiration for purple and gold, for the flash of jewels,

for lofty titles, or any of the thousand things that dazzle the eye and impose

on the carnal heart.” “Does true greatness belong to the lion hearted, to the

righteous, to the martyr, to the ascetic, to the saint? Is Thomas on the way

to it, with his strong, logical intellect that will take nothing on credit

without evidence and his sturdy fidelity of purpose?;’ Greatness must

associate either with:


Ø      class;

Ø      office;

Ø      wealth;

Ø      intellect;

Ø      genius; or

Ø      success, in order to be appreciated by men.


  • CHRIST’S IDEA OF GREATNESS. Here our Lord is not dealing

with all greatness; only with that greatness which is relative to the ideas

then in the minds of disciples. Their greatness meant “being served,”

guilefully watching for the attention conceived to be their due; self-

assertion. His greatness meant “serving”, guilelessly watching for the

opportunity of doing something kind; meekness that is the opposite of

self-assertion.  Of this a child is the type. A man ought not to be in

everything like a child. Experience of life makes it impossible for him to be

a child.  What was needed by the disciples, and what is needed by us, is

that “they should turn from their self-seeking ambition, and regain, in

this respect, the relative blamelessness of children.”


4 "Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is

greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Whosoever therefore. This verse gives a

direct application of the principle just enunciated, and supplies an answer to the

apostles’ question. Shall humble himself. Not that a child consciously humbles

itself, but is humble by nature. The disciple must become that by deliberate

choice which the child is by reason of his constitution and natural

disposition. The same is greatest; rather, greater (μείζων - meizon), Christ using

the same term as the questioners in v. 1. The more a man annihilates self

and casts away pride, conceit, obstinacy, the fitter is he to become a living

member of Christ’s kingdom. “Quanto humilior, tanto altior,” says Thomas

Aquinas. But this is a joint work. St. Gregory says well, “The good which a

man doeth is both the work of God and the work of man: of God, as being

the Author, in giving grace; of man, as being actor, in using grace, yet so

that he cooperate with grace by grace” (quoted by Ford, in loc.).



True Dignity Gained by Humbling the Self (v. 4)


“As this little child.” “We shall miss Christ’s meaning if we set about

thinking of children in general — of their trustfulness, teachableness,

humility, unassuming disposition, ‘sweet simplicity,’ and kindred things.

The truth is, there is human nature (and a good deal of it too) in children as

well as in men and women. Winsome as childhood is, and often rarely

beautiful, with many a wile and witchery, even the fondest mother cannot

help seeing in the child she loves best some tokens of waywardness, selfwill,

temper, caprice, and other things prophetic of ill. Jesus did not mean

the disciples to think of children in general; it was not any child, taken

indiscriminately and at random, that would have suited His purpose.” It is

this child, one who left his play, and came forward at once when Jesus

called, this child who could put self aside, who illustrates the true dignity.



OUR CHARACTER. Good people often think that it is. Saying, thinking,

and writing bitter things against themselves, that are untrue and unfelt, is

often confounded with humility. True “humility” always goes hand in hand

with “truth;” and demands expression which precisely represents feeling.

Two schools of religion are in special peril of failing into this mistake.


Ø      Those who make much of “experiences.” There is always a tendency

towards the manufacture of experiences.


Ø      Those who make much of “confessions.” There is always the peril of

getting credit for humility by exaggerating the confession. What is

true of false estimates is in measure true of all imperfect estimates.




point in our text. The disciples were scheming to advance their self-interests.

The little child promptly and cheerfully gave up his self-interests

when Jesus called him. Those disciples had been called by Jesus, but they

could not put away the self. In this sense, “humbling the self” will include


Ø      giving up your personal opinion in order to accept Christ’s revealed



Ø      putting aside your own preferences when they conflict with Christ’s



Ø      giving up what may mean your own profit or advantage, when you are

called to engage in Christ’s work. Self-humbling means Christ-exalting.



The Treatment Due to Such (vs. 5-14)


5 "And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me."

Shall receive (ο{ς ἐὰν δέξηται - hose an dexaetai - who if ever should be receiving).

The word is pregnant with meaning. It includes not only the showing of tender

affection and the giving of material succor, such as hospitality, shelter, etc., but also

the bestowal of help and support in spiritual things, encouragement in holiness,

instruction in Divine lore. One such little child. Primarily, Jesus refers to

children, pure and confiding as the one He had placed in the midst; but His

words are applicable to all who have the childlike spirit and character, the

graces which He specially loves and rewards. The expressions here and in

the next verse must be understood to belong in some cases to the symbol,

and in others to the symbolized. In my Name (ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματί μου - epi to

onomati mou - in the name of me); for the sake of my Name; because he belongs

to me; not merely from natural affection and pity, but from a higher motive,

because the child has in him somewhat of Christ — is the child of God, and a

member of Christ.  Receiveth me. That which is done to His little ones Christ

regards as done to Himself (compare ch. 10:40-42). What a blessing waits on

those who teach the young, working laboriously in schools, and training souls

for heaven! This “receiving” Christ is a far higher and better thing than being

“greatest” in an earthly kingdom.



Heavenly Greatness (vs. 1-5)


As they journeyed to Capernaum the disciples of Jesus, like their

countrymen, ever disposed to regard the kingdom of Messiah as secular,

reasoned and disputed together as to which of them should be the greater

in that kingdom (compare Mark 9:33-34). The knowledge of this contention

probably influenced the conduct of Jesus in the matter of the tribute, in

which He astonished them with an exemplification of supreme greatness in

submission (see ch.17:22-27). A similar lesson is embodied in the discourse

now before us. Note:





Ø      This was assumed in their reasoning.


o        It was the basis of that reasoning and the stimulus of the ambition

which prompted it.


o        It was itself based upon the analogy of secular kingdoms in general,

in which there are princes and nobles, ministers of state and civic



Ø      The fact was not disputed by the Lord.


o        He did not say they were mistaken, much less assert that all saints in

light stand upon an equal platform.


o        The arguments urged in favor of this view are far from being

satisfactory. There is no relevancy in the inference from the fact that

every Hebrew gathered an omer of manna (Exodus 16:14-18), , neither

more nor less.  Every laborer receiving exactly a penny (ch. 20:2),

whether he had worked one hour or had borne the burden and heat

of the day, looks more like an argument; yet this element was

introduced into the parable for another purpose, viz. to evince



Ø      On the contrary, He recognized it.


o        For He asserted it, though in a sense very different from that in which

the disciples had conceived of it.


o        It is the very doctrine of the parable of the talents. Christ, like David,

His type, has worthies of various grades of merit.


o        The anticipations of the great judgment make this very clear (compare

Daniel 12:3; I Corinthians 15:41-42).





Ø      They were influenced by secular ideas, in which goodness has little to

do with greatness.


o        In the kingdoms of this world some are born to greatness. So Simon

and Jude may have based their hopes of future distinction upon their

near relationship to Christ.


o        Some have promotion through length of service. So Andrew, the first

called to the discipleship of the kingdom, might have hoped for

precedence on the ground of that priority.


o        Some have greatness thrust upon them. So the natural covetousness of

Judas may have led him to exaggerate the importance of his money trust,

as keeper of the bag. Much of the greatness of this world is

IMAGINARY!  Peter had the keys, and may have rested his contention

for greatness upon that distinction. His fellows, however, were unwilling

to accept that as conferring permanent dignity, much less supremacy.


o        James and John sought the chief place in the kingdom by petition and

influence, after the custom of the world. The ten were displeased with

them, probably because they cherished the same desire to be superior

(see ch. 20:20-24). It is unworthy in those to contend for privileges

who shrink from work and suffering.


Ø      Jesus humbled them before the greatness of a little child.


o        Jesus taught, like the ancient prophets, impressively by signs. His lesson

here was the greatness of humility. The lesson was difficult, for the

world sees no greatness in lowliness. The teaching must be impressive.


o        The great Teacher sought not His symbol of greatness in the warrior,

like Caesar, to make whom great millions of men must die. His sign was

not the statesman, the philosopher, the poet, or even the theologian.

It was the infant. How original was His teaching!


o        Great men should not disdain the company of children. They may

receive instruction from infants. Whenever we look upon a little

child we may remember the teaching of Jesus.


Ø      He preached an impressive sermon from His text.


o        He insisted upon the necessity of conversion: “Except ye turn,” etc.

(v. 3). Note: Conversion makes men like little children.


§         Not foolish, nor fickle, nor sportive, but

§         innocent, humble, and docile.


o        To become like little children, sinners must be born anew.  (John 3:7)

The love of dominion, which led the disciples to contend for the higher

places in the kingdom, unfitted them even for the lower. The new man

is exalted upon the humiliation of the old.


o        Heaven most intimately dwells in innocency. All heavenly virtues

crystallize round innocency.. The Lord so dwells in innocency that

whoever receives a little child receives Him.


o        As innocency is the essence, so is humility the soil of every grace.

True humility is the only way to advancement in the kingdom of

Christ (compare Luke 14:11). “Climbing is performed in the same

posture as creeping” (Swift).


o        As the world sees no greatness in lowliness, so are those who do see it

greater than the world. The humble are therefore fittingly honored with

the rewards of greatness.


o        They have the special care of Christ. The best men have often the worst

treatment from the world. But Christ promises recompense to those

who show kindness to Him in His humble followers, and retribution

to those who refuse it.


6 "But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me,

it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck,

and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea."

There is an opposite side to this picture. Shall offend; cause to

stumble — give occasion for a fall, i.e. either in faith or morals. This is

done by evil example, by teaching to sin, by sneers at piety, by giving soft

names to gross offences. One of these little ones. Whether child or adult,

a pure, simple soul, which has a certain faith it be not strong enough to

resist all attack. Even the heathen recognized the respect due to the young:

Maxima debetur puero reverentia” (Juvenal, ‘Sat.,’ 14:47); and

guilelessness and purity, wherever found, win some regard, even from

worthless and careless observers. To willfully lead one such astray is a

deadly sin, which the Lord denounces in solemn terms. Christ affectionately

calls his disciples “little ones” (ch. 10:42). Believe in (εἰς - eis - ) me.

We must always distinguish between “believe in” (πιστεύειν εἰς - pisteuein eis

or ἐν - en -  credo in) and “believe” with the simple dative; the former is applied

to faith in God alone. Says St. Augustine, “Credimus Paulo, sed non credimus in

Paulum.” In the present passage the phrase implies the Divinity of Christ. It

were better; literally, it is profitable. The crime specified is so heinous that

a man had better incur the most certain death, if by this means he may

avoid the sin and save the soul of his possible victim. A millstone; a great

millstone — such a one as required an ass to move. The upper, or movable,

stone is meant, which was usually turned by the hand. Drowned. We do

not know that the Jews punished criminals by drowning (καταποντισμὸς -

katapontismos - he should be being sunk ), though it is probable that it was

practiced in some cases; but by other nations this penalty was commonly exacted.

Among the Romans, Greeks, and Syrians, it was certainly the practice.

Commentators quote Suetonius, ‘Aug.,’ 67.; Diod. Sic., 16:35; Livy, 1:51;

Aristophanes, ‘Schol. ad Equit.,’ 1360. The punishment seems to have been

reserved for the greatest criminals; and the size of the stone would prevent any

chance of the body rising again to the surface and being buried by friends — a

consideration which, in the minds of heathens, greatly increased the horror

of this kind of death.


7 "Woe unto the world because of offenses! for it must needs be that

offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh!"

This and the preceding verse occur in Luke (17:1-2) in an

inverted order. Woe unto the world! The Lord thinks of the deadly evil

brought into the world by offences given, such as bad example, unholy lives

of Christians, persecutions, scoffs, thoughtlessness — things which lead so

many astray. For it must needs be. While men are what they are, such

consequences must be expected. This is not an absolute, but a relative,

necessity. Man’s heart is evil, his tendencies are evil, temptation is strong.

Satan is active; all these forces combine to bring about a fatal result. Thus

Paul says (I Corinthians 11:19), “There must be heresies among

you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.” So

these offences of which Christ speaks are overruled and permitted for wise

purposes, that by them the righteous may be proved and purified, and the

chaff separated from the wheat. But woe to that man! Because of this evil

principle which is rife in the world, no man is exonerated from the guilt of

giving offence. He has free will; he can choose good; he can use the means

of grace; he can strengthen his natural weakness, control his perverseness,

overcome corruption, by the help of God always ready to be given to them

who seek. The first “woe” is a cry of pity for a world in danger; the second

“woe” is a denunciation of the sinner as being responsible for the evil which

he introduces. We are all in some sort our brothers’ keepers, and are bound

to help forward their salvation, and to do nothing which may tend to

endanger their souls’ health.


8 "Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and

cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or

maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into

everlasting fire."  Wherefore. The Lord teaches how to avoid this sin of giving

offence, repeating the solemn words already delivered in the sermon on the

mount, though with some variation and a different context (ch. 5:29-30).

The reference on the former occasion was especially to breaches

of the seventh commandment; here the Lord speaks of offences in general,

of that external corruption among mankind which is the fruitful source of

temptation and sin. The only remedy for this is the sternest self-denial, the

strictest watchfulness. Or thy foot. Christ did not name this member in his

previous discourse. Literally, the hand or foot leads into sin, when it is

directed to forbidden objects, moves towards the acquisition of things

contrary to the Law of God. Metaphorically, the expression signifies all

that is as dear and as necessary as these important members. Such

occasions of sin we must at once and absolutely cast aside. It includes also

persons as well as things. Friends the dearest must be parted from if their

presence, or conversation, or habits cause evil thoughts or encourage evil

acts. In the presence of such offences, ties the nearest must be snapped

asunder. Loneliness, isolation, is better than companionship in wickedness.

It has been well said by Olshausen that the hand and the foot may denote

mental powers and dispositions; and the warning is given that their over-

cultivation may prove an obstacle to the spiritual life, and must be

accordingly checked. We may also descry in the paragraph an admonition

against making too much of skill, dexterity, and adroitness in business and

occupation. There is a subtle snare in them; they may draw the heart away

from God, and must be restrained and modified, so as not to interfere with

the cultivation of religion and the care of the soul. Enter into life. This is

an addition not found in the sermon on the mount; it refers to the eternal

life which, beginning on earth, is consummated in heaven. Everlasting fire

(τὸ πῦρ τὸ αἰώνιον - to pur to aionion - everlasting fire). This is the first time that

this phrase occurs.  Whatever these words may mean, there can be no doubt that

they signify, and are intended to signify, some awful kind and extent of

punishment, the fear of which may deter from such sins as incur it. It is not

morally expedient to minimize the force of such terms by disputing about the

exact connotation of aeonian.” When we remember that the words are spoken

by the loving and pitiful Saviour, we must allow that they point to some

dreadful reality, the import of which He knew, and which He thus mercifully

veiled from us as not able to bear the full revelation (see on ch. 25:46).



The Severity of Spiritual Discipline (v.  8)


Cutting off a right hand and plucking out a right eye are extreme measures,

types of the severest dealing with one’s self. They bring into thought those

cases of disease in which signs of mortification are shown, and the limb

must be promptly surrendered or the life will be lost. (say gangrene –

CY – 2017)  Our Lord’s counsel rests upon the recognized fact that bodily

organs are the agents of sin. The palate is the agency of drunkenness and

gluttony, the eye of sensuality, and the hand of dishonesty. We do not really

cure a moral evil by merely removing the agency through which, it gains

expression, but resolute dealing with the organ that is the agent shows that we

are dealing with the inner evil, weakening it by taking away its food and

exercise. See some of the things which account for spiritual discipline taking

such severe forms.



belongs to the mystery of hereditary influences. Through a deteriorated

bodily organization, a man is born with a bias in favor of drink, cheating,

pride, sensuality. The members of one royal family are all born gluttons.

Possibly, some bias to evil is found in every disposition, and the life

problem is — What will the man do with just that tendency influencing all

relations? Acquired evils may be effectually dealt with. Evils that belong to

our bodily constitution make the moral struggle of a whole life.



real cause of the necessary severity of spiritual discipline. The man is not

strong enough to get and to hold the mastery over his evil self, and so he is

worried and worn by a struggle which has to be continually kept up,

because he is not strong enough to make any victory decisive. The hardest

moral lives are lived by the weak willed.



This may be illustrated by the difference in the tone of the moral struggle

in the case of a man converted in youth, and of a man converted in advanced

life. In the one case the bias is a mere tendency, and can be easily checked;

in the other it has become a fixed habit, and must be dug out. When a man

in middle life has vigorously taken in hand his conduct and relations, and

wisely reshaped them, he often has the bitter lesson to learn that the evil

in him remains untouched.


9 "And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is

better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having

two eyes to be cast into hell fire."  Hell fire. A synonym for the

“everlasting fire” of the previous verse, and the “unquenchable fire”

of the Baptist’s warning (ch. 3:12), and to be understood in the same sense.

It is good to be saved even with the loss of all that makes earthly life happy

and precious.



Occasions of Stumbling (vs. 6-9)


To stumble is so to trip as to be hindered in faith or to be turned out of the

way (compare ch. 5:29-30; 11:6; 13:21; 15:12; 24:10; 26:31, 33;

John 6:61-62, 66; 16:1). Occasions of stumbling are evil influences:

allurements, persuasions, temptations, bad example, calumnies, insults,

persecutions. The text teaches:




words, “which believe on me,” shows that Christ is here speaking, not of

“little ones” in age. but of his disciples, who are of a humble spirit.



Ø      There is no infallible final perseverance of the saints.


o       The recognition of this truth is the very inspiration of this

pathetic discourse. These woes would never have been

denounced upon men for the doing of what, otherwise,

would be impossible.


o       Let not the believer in Christ be high-minded.


§         Let him fear.

§         Let him watch.

§         Let him pray.


Ø      It must needs be that the occasions come.”


o       They are permitted as part of the necessary discipline of our

probation.  They come from the abuse of free agency.


o       To the faithful they prove blessed means of grace. They

educate passive virtues. The habit of resisting temptation

makes a strong character.


Ø      The instigator to evil is still responsible.


o       Where he succeeds in causing the saint to stumble he will have to

answer for the soul damaged or ruined. There is no impunity for

those who turn the simple from their integrity by teaching them to

imbibe sentiments subversive of the doctrines of genuine truth, or

to indulge in evil practices which destroy or injure the capacity

for receiving the graces of the kingdom.  (How do you think

that abortion and homosexuality fits in this scenario? – CY –



o       Where the tempter fails he is still responsible for his wickedness.


Ø      These things need to be emphasized.


o       Because the wicked are too apt to transfer the blame of their

irreligion to the account of the good, by accusing them of

apathy and negligence.  The good are undoubtedly responsible

for the faithfulness of their testimony. They are not, however,

beyond this, responsible for results.  Noah’s testimony was at

once his own justification and the condemnation of the world.


o       Because the wicked are too slow to recognize their responsibility,

not only for their own non-reception of Christ, but for the injury

they do in hindering others, and especially for damaging the

good. To offend the innocent is to offend innocence.





Ø      The sufferings of antichristian nations are admonitory. “Woe unto the

world because of occasions of stumbling!”


o       The Jews filled up the measure of their iniquity in crucifying

Christ and persecuting His disciples, and wrath came upon

them to the uttermost.  (Compare the Amorites – Genesis 15:16 –

CY – 2017)


o       Degradation and ruin have overtaken or are pursuing those

nations which have persecuted the witnesses for Christ. The

atheism of France, with its horrors and the decadence of that

nation, are the reaction of the superstition and wickedness of

earlier persecutions. Prosperity smiles upon the nations that

have accepted the Reformation. They have been enriched

by industries brought to them by Protestant refugees.


o       All antichristian nations are doomed in the anticipations of

prophecy. “Woe” hangs over “the world” in the larger sense.


Ø      Individuals also are admonished. “Woe to that man through whom the

occasion cometh!”


o       The retribution upon those who offend the disciples of Christ is

worse than death. Jerome says that Christ here speaks according

to the custom of the province in punishing the greatest criminals

with drowning. The woe here denounced is worse (v. 6).


o       The retribution is as crushing as it is sudden. The culprit had

no strength to release himself from the weight of the “great

millstone,” to turn which, supported in position, required the

strength of an ass. “It seems to have grown into a proverb

with the Jews for TOTAL RUIN!” (Doddridge).


o       The more terrible punishment is described as a Gehenna of

fire,”  in allusion to the sufferings of the victims of Moloch

(compare II Chronicles 33:6). Burning there is more dreadful

than drowning in the Lake of Galilee hard by (compare

Revelation 19:20). Those who play the devil in tempting

saints may tremble with the devils.


Ø      But there is yet space for repentance.


o       The offending hand must be cut off. Wrong doing must cease.

However useful as the right hand. However dear.


o       The offending foot must be cut off. Wrong going must cease.

However natural it may have become through habit as the use

of the right foot.


o       The offending eye must be plucked out. Illicit desire must cease,

whether instigated by covetousness, envy, pride, or passion (see

Mark 7:22).  (Of course, one may not follow the hand, the foot

or the eye, and follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit, AND

ALL WILL BE SAVED!  It is our decision!  CY – 2017)


o       These must be cast away. The hand or foot or eye refer to

those sins of honor, interest, or pleasure, which men are

prone to spare. The godly in this world are lame, deaf, dumb,

blind, both to themselves and to others (see Psalm 38:14).

The members most mortified here will shine with the greater

luster hereafter.




The Offending Member (vs. 8-9)


A moment’s reflection will convince us that these stern sentences of

Christ’s are unanswerable. If the alternative lay between losing a limb and

losing his life, who would hesitate with his decision? “All that a man hath

will he give for his life.”  (Job 2:4)



FATALLY HURTFUL TO US. It would be a mistake to suppose that our

Lord meant that under any circumstances self-mutilation would be a duty.

The causes of stumbling are not bodily, although the body may be the

instrument of temptation; they are in the thoughts and desires of the heart

(James 1:14-15). But there may be things precious as parts of our very

selves, or friends dear as the apple of the eye, or useful as the right hand,

and yet spiritually hurtful to us. Our own daily occupation, to which we

have grown until it has become as a part of ourselves, may be a source of

temptation and danger. Our habits, which are our second nature, may be a

very bad second nature.



TO OUR HIGHEST GOOD. Eyes, hands, and feet are good and useful

things in themselves. A maimed creature who has lost any of these valuable

organs and limbs is certainly a pitiable object. Naturally and rightly we

desire to keep our body sound and whole. Many possessions, though less

intimately connected with our persons, are still justly valued when

considered by themselves. But this valuation only touches a part of life, and

that the lower part. If the enemy can seize the outworks and turn them

against the citadel, it is desirable to demolish them, excellent as they may

be in form and structure, because the principal object is to keep the citadel.

The great necessity in spiritual things is to guard the very life of God

within. If anything threatens this it threatens our highest interest. Selfish

people are their own worst enemies, because, while pandering to the outer

self, they starve and poison the true self.



LIFE. We admit this in bodily disease. The shattered limb must be

amputated to preserve the patient’s life. The same principle applies in

spiritual regions. The pain of losing what is very near and dear to us may

be great. But we dare not be cowardly. A greater evil is the alternative. We

may spare our friendship, our wealth, our pleasure, and yet DESTROY

OUR SOULS!   Then at best these things can but decorate the tomb of the

dead spiritual nature. We have to rise to the stern severity of life. Sin is so

terrible that it cannot be laid aside as one would put off a superfluous

garment. It has eaten its way like a cancer into our very being. We shrink

from the knife, but we must submit to it if we would live. Desperate efforts

are needed — or rather a patient submission to the great Deliverer of souls

who sometimes saves by terrible means. Yet HE DOES SAVE!


10 "Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto

you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my

Father which is in heaven.'  From this verse to the end of the chapter we find

no parallel in the other evangelists. The Saviour here returns to the subject of

children, whether literally or metaphorically so called, and proclaims the high

appreciation which is their due. Take heed (ὁρᾶτε - horate -  see; be ye seeing)

that ye despise not one (ἑνὸς - henos - one) of these little ones. God’s care is

minute; it extends to EACH INDIVIDUAL of the class. The contempt denounced

might arise in various ways and from various considerations. The advanced believer

might despise children as not competent to enter into covenant with God or fit to

receive Church privileges, whereas circumcision under the old dispensation

and infant baptism under the gospel afford a very different view. Again, to

say or do unseemly things in the presence of children is a mode of”

despising” which may prove a deadly offence. Or the contempt may be on

the side of the ambitious and self-seeking, who cannot understand the

simple and childlike spirit which seeketh not its own. The Lord gives two

proofs of the high consideration due to His little ones. The first proof is that

which follows; the second is given in vs. 11-14. Their angels. Not “their

spirits after death,” as some commentators erroneously interpret (for the

term “angel” is not so used, and Christ speaks in the present tense, do

always behold), but the angels especially appointed to watch and protect

them — their guardian angels. This doctrine (which, as of very solemn

import, the Lord introduces with his usual formula, I say unto you), that

each soul has assigned to it by God a special angel is grounded on this, and

supported by many other passages of Scripture (compare Hebrews 1:14;

Psalm 34:7; 91:11; Luke 15:7, 10). It has been questioned how

angels can be said to succor us on earth, while in heaven they are always

looking on the face of the Father. The difficulty has been answered, among

others, by St. Gregory, who writes, “They never so go forth apart from the

vision of God, as to be deprived of the joys of interior contemplation. They

are both sent from Him, and stand by Him too, since both in that they are

circumscribed, they go forth, and in this that they are also entirely present,

they never go away. Thus they at the same time always behold the Father’s

face, and yet come to us; because they both go forth to us in a spiritual

presence, and yet keep themselves there, whence they had gone out, by

virtue of interior contemplation” (‘Moral.,’ 2:3). It is probable that the

highest order of angels is here signified, such as among the Jews was

called, “the angels of the presence, or of the face.” To behold the king’s

face means, in Eastern parlance, to be admitted to his immediate presence

— to enjoy his special favor and confidence (see II Kings 25:19;

Esther 1:14; Jeremiah 52:25). It is to these supreme beings, who

draw their knowledge and love directly from Almighty God, and receive

their commands from His mouth, that the tender lambs of Christ’s flock are

committed. This fact demonstrates their dignity and the great heinousness

of setting a stumbling block in their way.



Despising the Little Ones (v. 10)


We may well assume that our Lord included in his term “little ones,” both

children and childlike disciples. “Looking to the frequency with which our

Lord’s words were addressed to the thoughts of His hearers, it seems likely

that the faces of some at least of the disciples betrayed, as they looked on

the child, some touch of half-contemptuous wonder, that called for this

prompt rebuke.” Limiting the reference of the expression to the children,

we may notice some of the ways in which we may come to despise them.



GOOD. It is a small, almost silent, influence; one that cannot be put in

common earth scales and measured, or laid out on a bank counter and

checked. Man is interested in big things and noisy things; but the really

great forces are pervasive gravitation and silent light.


Ø      The child exerts a high moral and educational influence on its father

and mother. (Yea, even grandfather.  CY – 2017)  Every child is a

Divine testing of parental character; and may be a

Divine culture of it.


Ø      The child is a moral power in a home. Illustrate from times of strain

and sorrow.


Ø      The child often proves to be a minister of Christ in a neighborhood.

Illustrate from Norman McLeod’s “Wee Davie;” or the more recent

clever tale entitled “Bootle’s Baby.”



FOR US. No man who is resolutely set upon soul culture will ever make

the mistake of “despising the little ones.” Think of the self-restraints which

training children demands. Think of the examples that must be set. Think of

the practical wisdom that must be gained. Think of the perseverance that

may be called for. Many a man and many a woman have been ennobled by

having family life and claims grow up around them.



LITTLE ONES. If we “despise them” we shall fail to observe or meet their

peculiarities. We shall repress their strange thoughts and questionings. We

shall overestimate their failings. We shall be out of sympathy with their

play. Injustice to the little ones means spoiling the chances of their

manhood and womanhood. It is bad if the despising takes the form of

“neglect;” it is far worse if it is “moral hindering.”




NEED OF THEIR CHILD TIME. That kind of despising the little ones



11 "For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost."

This verse is omitted by the Sinaitic and Vatican Manuscripts,

and many modern editors, e.g. Lachmann, Tischendort, Tregelles, Westcott

and Hort, and the Revised Version; but is retained in many good uncials,

nearly all the cursives, the Vulgate, Syriac, etc. It is supposed to be an

interpolation from Luke 19:10; but one does not see why, if this is the

case, the interpolater should have left out the striking verb “to seek,”

which would naturally have coincided with “seeketh” in v. 12. For

expository use, at any rate, we may consider the verse as genuine, and take

it as the commencement of the second argument for the dignity of the little

ones — the simple and humble, whether children or others. This proof is

derived from the action of God towards them. The Son of man is come to

save that which was lost (τὸ ἀπολωλός - to apololos - the one being lost).

How can ye despise those whom Christ hath so loved and deemed so

precious that he emptied Himself of His glory and became man in order to

save them? The general term, “that which was lost,” is expressed by the neuter

participle, to show that there is NO EXCEPTION to THE WIDE SCOPE OF

CHRIST'S MERCY!  The race of man is lost; infants are born in sin; ALL

NEED REDEMPTION!  Everybody, poor, helpless, ignorant, tempted, comes

under this category, and to save such Christ came down from heaven. Therefore

their souls are very precious in His sight.


12 "How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be

gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into

the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?" The parable that

follows teaches the same lesson as the preceding verse. It is found in Luke 15:1-7,

with some variations, delivered to a different audience and under different

circumstances, as Jesus often repeated His instructions and teaching according

to the occasion. How think ye? What say ye to the following case? Thus the

Lord engages the disciples’ attention. An hundred sheep. A round

number, representing a considerable flock. If but one of these stray, the

good Shepherd regards only the danger and possible destruction of this

wanderer, and puts aside every other care in order to secure its safety. The

ninety and nine. These must be left for a time, if he is to conduct the

search in person. It may be that some idea of probation is here intended, as

when Jesus let the disciples embark on the lake while He Himself remained

on the shore. Many of the Fathers interpret the ninety-nine as representing

the sinless angels, the lost sheep as man, to seek and save whom Christ left

heaven, i.e. became incarnate. This, indeed, may be a legitimate application

of the parable, but is inexact as an exposition of the passage, which regards

the whole flock as figuring the human race. The sheep that remained safe

and true to their Master are the righteous; the errant are the sinners, which,

however few, are the special care of the merciful Lord. Into the mountains

(ἐπὶ τὰ ὔρη - epi ta urea - on the mountains). There is much doubt whether these

words are to be joined with goeth (πορευθεὶς - poreutheis - being gone), as in both

our versions, or with leave (ἀφεὶς - apheis - leaving), as in the Vulgate, Nonne

relinquit nonaginta novem in montibus?  In the former case we have a picture of

the toil of the shepherd traversing the mountains in search of the lost. But this

does not seem to be the particular point contemplated, nor is any special emphasis

assigned to this part of the transaction. In the parable as recounted by Luke (Luke

15:4), we read, “Doth he not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness,

and go?” So here it is best to render, Doth he not leave the ninety and nine

upon the mountains? The shepherd is not regardless of the safety and

comfort of the flock during his temporary absence; he leaves them where

they are sure to find pasture, as they roam over (ἐπὶ - epi - on - with accusative)

the hill tops, which, catching clouds and dew, are never without fresh grass. So

Psalm 147:8, “Who covereth the heaven with clouds, who prepareth

rain for the earth, who maketh grass to grow upon the mountains.”

Seeketh. The lost sheep would not return of itself. Such erring souls Jesus

seeks by the inspiration of His Spirit, by allowing distress and sorrow, by

awakening conscience and memory, by ways manifold which may lead the

sinner to “come to himself.”  (Luke 15:17)


13 "And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more

of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray."

If so be that he find it. The quest is not sure to be rewarded.

Man’s perversity makes the result uncertain. No one may safely go on

sinning, or living in careless unconcern, with the expectation of being

finally found and saved. There is a limit to the patience of the Lord. If a

man will not open his heart to good inspirations and cooperate with

preventing grace, he will not be found and brought home. God forces no

one to be saved against his will. Rejoiceth more. A natural feeling. Thus a

mother loves better an afflicted child whom she has nursed through a long

malady, than the strong and healthy children who have caused her no

trouble and anxiety. The joy at the recovery of the strayed sheep is

proportional to the sorrow occasioned by its loss and the pains and trouble

expended in the search; and this pleasure would at the moment be greater

than the satisfaction with which the other members of the flock are




The Lost Sheep and the Good Shepherd (vs. 12-13)


This parable is here associated with Christ’s care for little children (see

vs. 10-14). But in Luke it is applied to the recovery of publicans and

sinners (Luke 15:1, 4-7). There can be no doubt that Luke connects

it with its most evident and general lesson. Still, there is an a fortiori

argument in the use of the parable in Matthew. If Christ cares for the

most abandoned sinners, much more will He save little children when they

begin to wander, especially as this is too often the case just because the

negligence or evil example of older people causes them “to stumble.”




Ø      The hundred. We start with the picture of a complete flock. All men

belong by nature to God. We begin life with God. If we sin we fall. Sin is

losing our first estate, wandering from the fold.


Ø      The ninety and nine. Many are here represented as faithful. We might

think of many worlds of angelic beings in contrast of our own fallen world,

or of many members of a Church or family when contrasted with a single

defaulter. A parable cannot be pressed in all its details in order to extort

from it the exact statistics of a religious census. It is enough that under

certain circumstances one is seen to fall away from the fidelity preserved by

his companions. Now the ninety and nine are left. Absolutely Christ does

not leave his true sheep. But a special care is needed to find the lost one.

There is a common selfishness in religious people who would enjoy the

luxuries of devotion in such a way as to hinder the work of saving the lost.

Churches are filled with worshippers, who in some cases hold their pews as

private possessions, so that the wayfaring man and the stranger feel that

they are not welcome. Yet if the gospel is for any one, it is for them

(the stranger).


Ø      The lost sheep. There is but one. Yet it is a great trouble that one should

go astray.


o        This shows the value of an individual soul.

o        It reveals the awful evil of sin. The lapse of but one man into so

fearful;  a fall is enough to disarrange the whole order of the





Ø      His departure. He leaves the flock; but they are safe; for they are in the

fold. Moreover, the sight of his departure to save the lost is a warning to

those left at home of the evil of straying.


Ø      His journey. He must travel far in a waste and difficult country. Sin

leads its votaries into hungry solitudes and among fearful dangers. Christ

follows the wandering soul. His advent to this world was His following, and

His hard life and death His journeying over wild mountains, He follows each

one now. He will not leave the lost to their fate.


Ø      His success. He finds the lost sheep. He is the Good Shepherd

energetic, persevering, self-sacrificing. Therefore He succeeds. Christ

brings back souls who have wandered into the lowest abysses of sin.


Ø      His joy. This is proportionate


o        to His love for the lost sheep;

o        to its distress, danger, evil condition;

o        to the toil and difficulty involved in finding it. The joy of Christ

is the joy of saving the lost.




The Joy of Recovering Lost Things (v. 13)


Dr. M. Dods, writing on the parable of Luke 15., has the following

suggestive passage. Each of the three parables “illustrates the fact that a

more active interest in any possession is aroused by the very circumstance

that it is lost. The sheep that is lost is not on that account disregarded by

the shepherd, but receives for the time greater attention than those which

remain in the fold. The piece of money that has gone missing becomes on

that very account of greater immediate importance to the woman than all

she has safe in her jar in the cupboard. If one of a family turns out ill, it is a

small mitigation that all the rest turn out well; it is after the lost the

parent’s heart persistently goes. So is it with God. The very circumstance

that men have strayed from Him evokes in Him a more manifest and active

solicitude in their behalf. The attitude of God and of Christ towards sinners

is reduced to the great principle that anything which is lost and may be

regained exercises our thought more, and calls out a more solicitous regard

than a thing of equal value which rests securely in our possession.”


  • MAN AS LOST. The word as applied to men is a figure. A lost sheep is

one beyond the shepherd’s control. A lost piece of money is one that has

got out of the woman’s reach. This suggests that a lost man is one who has

got himself out of the Divine hands, and has taken the ordering of life into

his own hands. As the sheep is the shepherd’s; as the coin is the woman’s;

so MAN IS GOD’S!  The sheep is lost through animal perversity; the coin

is lost through accident; man is lost through MORAL WILLFULLNESS!


  • MAN AS RECOVERABLE. There would be no effort of shepherd, or

woman, if they had no reasonable hope of regaining their lost things. And

we may never conceive of men as lost in any sense that puts them beyond

moral reach. There is a hardening through willfulness; but we must never

think of that save as a process. In the case of no brother-man may it be

thought of as complete. The man beyond recovery does not exist.


  • MAN AS RECOVERED. That is the work of God in Christ; it is

accomplished for the race, and it is an infinite joy to the Recoverer. That

is the work of the Christ-man and of the Christian Church. They should

prove what joy is found in saving the lost.


14 "Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one

of these little ones should perish." Even so. The teaching of the parable is

summed up; the conduct of the earthly shepherd is a figure of that of the heavenly

Shepherd. The will of your Father… perish. To scandalize one of these

little ones, or lead him into sin (which is to cause to perish), is to fight

against God’s will, who would have all men to be saved - I Timothy

2:4). “When the dignity of the little ones was asserted, it was Πατρός μου -

Patros mou - my Father - ‘my Father;’ now that a motive directly acting on the

conscience of the Christian is urged, it is Πατρὸς ὑμῶν - Patros humon -

 your Father (Alford). Paul teaches that Christ died for the weak brethren

(Romans 14:15; I Corinthians 8:11).  With this text (v. 14) before him, it is

inconceivable that any one can hold the doctrine of the eternal reprobation of

certain souls. The whole passage is opposed to the theory of irrespective

predestination and irresistible grace.



The Little Ones (vs. 1-14)




Ø      The question of the apostles. They had not yet learned the great lesson

of humility. Perhaps the favor shown to Peter, James, and John had

excited jealousies among them. On their way to Capernaum they had

disputed who should be the greatest. After all the Lord’s teaching they did

not yet understand the spiritual nature of His kingdom. There are rivalries

and animosities in earthly states; there should be none in that kingdom

where the lowliest are the highest. But this is a hard lesson to learn, and the

apostles were long in learning it. At Capernaum they asked Christ, “Who is

the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Who should be greater (the words

literally mean) than others? Who should stand above others in the hierarchy

of the Church that should be built upon the Rock? Who should be nearer

than others to the King in the kingdom which Christ had come to establish?


Ø      The little child. The Lord’s estimate of greatness differed wholly from

that current among men. He had said once before that of all that had been

born of women there had never risen a greater than John the Baptist. He

put the holy martyr above all the monarchs, warriors, and statesmen of

ancient times. But he had then said, “He that is the least in the kingdom of

heaven is greater than he.” And now, in answer to the question who should

be greater than others in that kingdom, he called a little child unto him. The

little one came willingly, drawn by the gentle words, the loving looks, of

the Master. The Lord set him in the midst, in the place of honor; He took

him in His arms, Mark 9:36 tells us. The Lord always loved the little children;

he bade them come to him; he watched their innocent play with kindly

interest, and drew spiritual lessons from it (Matthew 11:16-17). Now

the little one lay, restful and happy, in the Lord’s embrace, Thither we

would lead our children — to the Lord, to share His love and tenderness.

And, ah! if He should call them away from our sight, we must learn to trust

them in faith, though it cannot be without tears, to those everlasting arms.

“He shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom.”

(Isaiah 40:11)  Happy child! we know not whether he grew up, as a late and

doubtful tradition says, to be the famous Bishop Ignatius. That holy martyr

bore God in his heart, as the name Theophorus imports; doubtless he was

borne up in his sufferings by the gracious help of God. We know not whether

in his infancy he was borne in the arms of Christ. That child was greatly

blessed. He would never forget, one thinks, the encircling arms of Christ.

But doth not the Scripture say to us, “The eternal God is thy Refuge, and

underneath are the everlasting arms”? (Deuteronomy 33:27)  and, alas!

how often we forget the gracious presence of God in our unbelief and selfish

fears! Now, the Lord called the attention of the apostles to the little one.


Ø      The Lords answer: the lowliest are the greatest.


o        The necessity of conversion. The deep and awful question which we

ought to put, each one to his own soul, is not — Who is the greatest in

the kingdom of heaven? but — Are we ourselves true loyal members

of that kingdom? We cannot be in the kingdom at all except in the

sense in which the withered fruitless branches still for a short time

hang on to the vine; we cannot be in the kingdom in any holy and

blessed sense unless we are converted; we cannot enter into the

kingdom of glory at the last unless we are converted. The word

“conversion” occurs only once in the New Testament (Acts 15:3);

the verb, in its various forms, nine times; but four of those passages

are quotations of Isaiah 6:10.  Sometimes the passive form of

the verb is used, sometimes the active. And it is to be noted that in the

four quotations of Isaiah 6:10, the active ἐπιστρέψωσιν

epistrepsosin - is used three times, the passive στραφῶσιν

straphosinonce. God sometimes commands His people,

“Turn ye even to me with all your hearts” (Joel 2:12), and

sometimes we pray to God, “Turn thou us unto thee, O Lord,

and we shall be turned.” (Lamentations 5:21)  There are two

aspects of the great change — the human and the Divine. Both are

real and true; neither excludes the other. What we need is the actual

knowledge of that blessed change from our own inward experience;

if we have that, we need not distress ourselves about the deep things

of God, the relations between the human and the Divine, between the

sovereignty of God and the free will of man. We must turn with all

our hearts unto the Lord, praying earnestly and humbly, “Turn thou

us, O Lord.” The apostles must turn, the Lord said, from their earthly

ambition, from their rivalries and jealousies. We must turn, each one,

from his besetting sin, or we cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.

We must all turn away from the world to God, away from self to Christ.

We must look, not to the things which are seen, but to the things which

are not seen; the line of vision, so to speak, must be changed; the eye

of the soul must be directed, not to the earth, but to heaven. The

circumstances of this great change vary in different individuals; in

some it is sudden, in others slow and gradual. Some, like Paul, can

point to a great startling crisis in their spiritual life; some few, like

Samuel, have lived from childhood in the felt presence of

God, growing continually in grace, — not without many sins, not

without continual repentance, but without any strong boundary line

marking the decisive change from evil to good. But in some form or

other, in some way or other, that change must take place in every true

Christian life. We may not be able to describe it exactly, to fix its exact

moment, its circumstances. “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and

thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh,

and whither it goeth.”  (John 3:8)  But the change must be felt in its

results (“thou hearest the sound thereof”), if we cannot define

its action. We must be conscious that our heart is turned towards God,

that our thoughts, desires, motives, hopes, point towards heavenly things.

If we have that happy consciousness, we may humbly hope that He

which hath begun a good work in us will perform it until the day of

Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)  If we have it not, let us not rest until

by God’s grace we gain it; for, except we be converted, we cannot

enter into the kingdom of heaven; and oh! what must be the misery

of those who lose that great reward!


o        The necessity of childlike humility. There is no true conversion

without humility; a man whose thoughts are filled with self cannot

turn to Christ.  Pride concentrates the regards of the soul on self; and

while the soul is occupied with self it cannot see the surpassing beauty

of the Lord, it cannot turn to Him. Those who would follow Christ

must become as little children; they must be like the little ones in

their simplicity, their trustfulness, their humility. The little child is

simple; it shows its true nature; it has no hypocrisy, no desire to seem

other than it is; it is humble and modest; it does not aim at display and

show; it is full of affectionate trustfulness in those whom it loves. And,

the Lord Jesus says, they shall be greater than others, they shall have the

higher places in the kingdom of heaven, who humble themselves as that

little child who then lay in his arms was humble; that is, with an

unaffected humility, with a simple and genuine lowliness.  Then the

Christian must not set his heart upon gaining the high places of

life; if God puts him there he must do his duty simply and humbly;

if others are set above him he must be willing to take the lowest place,

content and happy, remembering the blessed Master’s words.




Ø      The blessing of receiving them. Christ loved the little children; He

proposes their character to His followers as a model for imitation. His

words shed a new dignity, a new glory, on innocent childhood. He was

thinking probably not only of children in years, but also of the childlike in

heart and mind. He deigns to regard such as, in some sense, representatives

of Himself. Those who care for little children because Christ cared for them,

in His name and for His sake, care for Christ. These words give a very holy

meaning to single-hearted work in Sunday schools; they shed a blessing

upon orphanages, upon all Christian work done for children’s sake, all

Christian love and thought for little children. And they pronounce a

blessing upon all those who in Christ’s name receive into their affections or

into their homes true Christian men who have learned of Christ the

childlike simplicity and lowliness which He exalts so highly. These who

receive such receive Christ, as Abraham received angels unawares. Let us

love and cherish Christian-minded friends; they bring a precious blessing to

our houses, for they bring the gracious presence of Christ.


Ø      The guilt of causing them to stumble. A heathen poet tells us that the

greatest reverence is due to childhood; he bids us exclude carefully from

the sight of children everything that is coarse and evil. The Lord enforces

the same duty under more awful sanctions. The simplicity, the receptivity,

of little children expose them to evil influences. In Christian homes they are

taught to believe in Christ. Among their companions, in their schools, they

are sometimes exposed to manifold temptations. But woe to those who

purposely set stumbling blocks in their way! Woe to those, schoolfellows

or others, who try to entrap the innocent and simple hearted into profanity

and neglect of their souls! Such are acting the part of the devil; they are

doing his work; they are the enemies of Christ, the murderers of souls for

which Christ died. Better that they had died before they came to this pitch

of guilt. For souls are very precious in the sight of Christ; He shed His

precious blood for them. How must He regard those who entice them to

ruin and death?


Ø      There must be offences. Human nature being what it is, the power of the

devil being what it is, there must be always in the world men who set an

evil example, who are as stumbling blocks, as snares. It is a necessity, part

of the great mystery of the existence of evil. This necessity is not absolute;

it follows from the existence of sin; and sin is voluntary, or it would not be

sin. Sin is voluntary in individuals; but while the world remains as it is,

there must, as a fact, be sin in the world, as there must be heresies

(I Corinthians 11:19); and where there is sin there must be offences. But woe

to that man by whom the offence cometh! The guilt of sin is increased by

its contagious character. The sinner sins against his own soul; he sins also

against the souls of others; for his sin becomes a center of evil influence,

spreading its foul attractions among hearts rendered only too susceptible by

the inherited corruption of human nature. None can tell the mass of moral

disease which may spring from one source of infection. Then woe to that

man by whom the offence cometh! He knows not what fearful mischief

may follow from his wicked or thoughtless act. He may repent, thank God;

but his repentance must be deep, his sorrow great; he may be saved, yet so

as by fire. “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin.”  (I John 1:7)


Ø      They must be avoided at all costs. Those who ensnare others, who cause

them to stumble, have first been ensnared, have stumbled themselves. The

first occasion of stumbling must be avoided. The danger is great, the

consequences are fearful; better any sacrifice, any self-denial. Self-denial

leads to heaven, self-indulgence to hell. We must cut off the causes, the

occasions of sin, though they be as closely bound up with our life as the

hand, or foot, or eye. The Lord repeats the lesson which He had already

given in the sermon on the mount (ch. 5:29-30). There are some

cautions which must be given again and again — enforced with all manner

of illustrations, “precept upon precept, line upon line.”  (Isaiah 28:10)

And surely this warning of the deep necessity of real self-denial is one which

needs the most constant repetition, one which must be urged again and again,

even unto weariness. And it must be urged very strongly and forcibly. The

hand, the foot, the eye, are very valuable to us. The loss of one such member

would be very serious. To cut it off or to pluck it out would be a great

sacrifice, involving much pain, requiring very stern self-denial. But any self-

denial, the Lord Himself tells us, is better than the risk of suffering that

eternal fire which must be the end of sin and self-indulgence. Eternal fire!

soften the awful words as far as you dare; say that there is a possibility, a

bare possibility, that the word “eternal” may not necessarily involve that

endlessness which is the proper meaning of the less correct rendering

“everlasting;” say that the word “fire” is figurative, that the Lord did not

mean a material fire, corporeal torments; — after all, there remains enough

of most fearful meaning in the words of Christ (and let us remember that it

was Christ, the most gentle, the most loving Saviour, who used those

words) to make us feel what must be the dreadful danger of those who

entice others into sin, to make thoughtful, believing Christians willing to

deny themselves in every way, if so be they may escape from the wrath to

come, and save their souls alive in the great day of God.


Ø      Offences come from contempt; contempt of the little ones is a grievous

sin. To despise others was characteristic of the Pharisees; it is very sinful in

Christians. The Lord is loving unto every man; the Saviour died for all.

Christians may not dare to despise those whom the Lord loved, for whom

He gave Himself to die. To speak contemptuously of those whom we think

beneath us in rank, in riches, in intellect, in refinement, is sinful in the sight

of God. Honour all men” (I Peter 2:17), is the lesson of Holy Scripture;

for all were made by God the Father; all were redeemed by God the Son;

all may, if they will, come to God in faith and prayer, be sanctified by God

the Holy Ghost. Men think that there is no harm in contemptuous thoughts

and words; but these things are sins against the law of love, sins against God,

who bids us love our neighbor as ourselves; they greatly injure the soul.

Then honor all men; especially take heed that ye despise not one of the

little ones, the little children whom the Lord loves, or the childlike in heart

whom he commends. Despise them not, for they are dear to Almighty God;

He cares for them; He giveth His angels charge over them; He assigns to

them their angel guardians; “their angels,” the Lord says, the angels

appointed to watch over them, whose special duty it is to keep them in all

their ways, who are sent forth to minister for their sake. Men may despise

these little ones; but holy angels tend them — angels great in power and

might, angels who are near to the throne, who stand in the presence of

God, who in heaven do always behold the face of God. The Lord’s words,

“I say unto you,” give an emphatic sanction to this sweet and blessed

doctrine of the ministry of angels. As the angel Gabriel watched by God’s

appointment over the holy Child Jesus, so surely do the angels of God

watch over the little children now; so surely do they watch over us, if we

are childlike in heart, if we are among those little ones who believe in

Christ. To the believer this world is still a Bethel, the house of God, the

gate of heaven. The ladder which Jacob saw in the vision of the night

(Genesis 28:10-17) is still set on the earth, and the top reacheth to heaven;

and still do the angels of God ascend and descend, bringing help and strength,

messages of peace and love to the little ones of Christ, bearing the prayers of

the saints into the Divine presence, carrying the souls of the holy dead into

the paradise of God.


Ø      The little ones are precious in the sight of God. They must be so, for the

Son of man came to save them. None are so small, so insignificant, as to be

left out of the Lord’s loving care; for it was to save the lost that He came

— to save that which seemed utterly lost, lost beyond the power of saving

(τὸ ἀπολωλόςto apololosthe being lost - see Luke 19:10, where the

words are certainly genuine; they are of doubtful authority in this place.) It

was an evil time when the Saviour came into the world. All flesh had corrupted

his way upon the earth; the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the

pride of life were everywhere dominant (AS TODAY). The world seemed lost

to all that was good — a mass of corruption. But to save that lost world the

SON OF GOD came down from heaven and became the Son of man.

His incarnation, His sacrifice of Himself upon the cross, has given a new

value, a higher dignity, to human nature. None may dare to despise those

souls of men which the Lord Jesus loved so dearly. The blessed angels care

for Christ’s little ones; they encamp around them to protect them, because

they are His angels, His messengers (ch. 13:41), and they must care for those

who are so very precious in the sight of their blessed Lord.




Ø      Parable of the hundred sheep. One is gone astray. The shepherd leaves

the ninety and nine upon the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone

astray. Does it mean that the Lord leaves the countless host of angels on

the heavenly heights, and goeth after the one lost sheep of humanity (compare

Hebrew 2:16)? So many have understood it. But it seems more natural to

interpret the parable as intended mainly to teach the deep love of God for

each individual soul. “The Son of man came to save that which was lost.”

His great love was not merely a general love for sinful humanity as a mass;

it was an individual love for each perishing soul. (Our God is a personal,

One – on one God! – CY – 2017)  If all but one had been gathered in, He

would have gone after that one lost sheep, seeking on and on until He

found it. Human love is limited in its range. We cannot love all

mankind as we love one who is very dear to us. It is not so with the infinite

Love. The love of God is all-embracing in its extent and fullness, perfect

and complete in its individual affection. He loves all and each. “God so

loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever

believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

The shepherd if so be that he finds the lost sheep, rejoiceth more of that one

than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. The ninety and nine are

precious to the shepherd; in some sense they must be more precious than one.

But they are safe. They do not awaken the same emotion, the same intense

longing, as the one that went astray. The joy of recovery is proportioned to

the sorrow of the loss. Such would be the feelings of a human shepherd. It is

an illustration (as far as Divine truths can be shadowed by human things) of

the love of God for each separate human soul. It is not His will that one

should perish; He willeth that all men should be saved. Then let not any

Christian man dare to despise one of those whom God so greatly loved.

The Lord repeats this precious parable in Luke 15 under different

circumstances, with a somewhat different application. It cannot be

repeated too often or studied too deeply.




Ø      Even apostles had their rivalries: how earnestly we ought to strive

against envy and jealousy!

Ø      A true conversion is of all blessings the greatest; seek it with all your


Ø      There is no true conversion without a humble, childlike spirit.

Ø      An evil example involves fearful guilt; avoid it at any cost.

Ø      Honor all men, especially believers; each one is precious in the sight

of God.



The Necessity of Becoming like Little Children (vs. 1-14)


To discuss in the abstract the question who shall be greatest in the

kingdom of heaven, is a profitable employment. But when discussed with

personal reference, and in view of present competing claims, there must

inevitably be jealousies and rivalries, vanity and hatred. That His reply

might lodge in their minds, and be audible to all generations, our Lord

gives it dramatically. He calls a little child to Him, perhaps one of Peter’s

children. “Here,” says He, “is the one excellence on which my kingdom is

founded, and by which alone it can be extended — the excellence of not

knowing you have any excellence at all.” It was, in short, a true humility —

a humility that did not know itself to be humility, and was thereby

humble. To become humble is a change that must be wrought upon you

while yourself unconscious; it is like a new birth. A man feels that of all

things this is beyond him. We cannot humble ourselves to serve a purpose;

if we do so our humility cannot be genuine. Look at one or two instructive

features of childhood.


1. What delights us in children is very much their inability to conceal their

thoughts, their artless love, their general simplicity. “They are naked, and

not ashamed;” assume no disguise, because they are unconscious of the

need of any.


2. Their ready belief in everything they are told. The child hears of the

world and its wonders with a reverential awe. As we grow older we clothe

ourselves in skepticism, and guard ourselves against deception, till, as the

climax of wisdom and safety, we believe nothing, and are like the heavy

mailed knights of old, stifled in our own armor. We train our spirits to

believe in nothing but the most obvious commonplace physical things,

which by their own nature are destined to decay. And the end is, we

cannot, if we would, believe in the most tremendous realities. Well may we

pray that God would dip us in the waters of His regeneration, that so the

hard, foul crust in which this world encases us may drop off, and our flesh

become soft and fresh as a child’s again.


3. Their readiness to receive instruction, information, gifts. The whole life

of a child is reception. He takes gifts naturally, and without distressing

himself as to his right to them. He is to be fed because he is hungry, made

happy because his nature craves it. Whereas we must ever be trying to give

to God what will satisfy Him. But God sells nothing. The highest and best

things He has to give we must accept at His hand, simply because we need

them, and He is willing to give. In Christ’s own life we see this childlike

dependence beautifully exemplified. Clearly apprehending His own position

and work, He was yet as one under age. Carrying into manhood the faith of

the child, He lived as one who was well cared for, and on whom the care of

providing for Himself did not rest.


4. It is, above all, the child’s unconsciousness that he has anything to

commend him that makes him our model. The production of this humility is

an invariable and essential accompaniment of conversion. Formerly a man

lived on his own strength and for himself. Now he feels he is not his own,

but God’s; born of God, kept by God, for God’s uses, beginning from God

and ending in God. In presence of that Being, glorious in holiness and love,

he abhors his own sensual and selfish life, and abases himself utterly. He

has no claims to urge, no promises to make, no pretensions, nothing at all

to show. What this child seemed to say to these helpless disciples, he says

to all — You must turn, you must strive with your whole souls, you must

pray, but convert yourselves you cannot; it is God only that can give you a

new heart. Have you been brought to a true dependence on God, so feeling the

guilt of your past life and the evil of your natural character that you can but

leave yourself in the hand of God and His grace for pardon and renewal?



Warning for the Contemptuous (vs. 10-14)


The “little ones” here are childlike followers of Christ (compare v. 6).

Reference to the infants to whom humble Christians are likened is not

excluded. The infant seed of the faithful are of the family of Jesus. Neither

the disciple nor the infant must be despised.





Ø      The universe is dual, having material and spiritual complements.


o        Matter has characteristic properties. The properties of spirit are no less

characteristic and distinct.


o        Between the complements subsist mutual relations and interactions.

The conflicts of the moral and invisible are propagated outward

into the physical and visible. So contrariwise. 


Ø      In this system holy angels have special relations to good men.


o        Angels have a commission of guardianship (compare Psalm 34:7;

91:11-12; Hebrews 1:14). Probably they see the countenance of the

Father in the countenance of the children. Note: Evil angels sustain

corresponding relations to bad men.


o        The ancient notion may have countenance here, viz. that each

individual has a peculiar guardian angel. Corresponding to the

holy guardian is the “familiar spirit” of the wicked.


Ø      They cannot with impunity be despised whose guardians are so



o        Special favorites only, according to Oriental custom, came into a

monarch’s presence (compare I Kings 10:8; 12:6; Esther 1:14;

Psalm 103:21; Jeremiah 2:15; Tobit 12:15; Luke 1:19).


o        It is perilous to be at enmity with those who are so attended.

“Angels that excel in strength.” (Psalm 103:20)  The stronger

angels have charge of the weaker saints. Those who would not

offend the holy angels should imitate them in their care of little






Ø      Those who have the angels of God for their angels have the God of

angels for their God. This honor is superlative.


Ø      Some interpret the angels of the little ones to be the disembodied

spirits of the saints, which do always behold the face of the Father

which is in heaven.”


o        They argue that guardian angels cannot “always” be “in heaven” and

yet ministering to their charge on earth.


o        What the disciples in John Mark’s prayer meeting thought to be Peter’s

spirit, they called “his angel” (Acts 12:15).


o        The reason why we should not despise the little ones, viz. that their

angels see God, reminds us that the pure in heart alone can see God.


o        In this view the “angels of God,” in whose presence  “there is joy over

one sinner that repenteth (Luke 15:10), will be “the spirits of just

men made perfect.”  (Hebrews 12:23)  For the context in Luke shows

that this is a parallel case.


Ø      Those whose disembodied spirits would be honored with the vision of

God cannot be despised with impunity.


o        The little ones of Christ are despised by corrupting them, by failing to

edify them. They are despised when innocency and simplicity are t

reated as weaknesses.


o        Those guilty of despising them will encounter the resistance of the will

of God. “It is not the will of your Father which is in heaven that

one of these little ones should perish” etc. (v. 14; Ezekiel 18:23). If

there be joy in heaven for the finding of one of the little ones turned

out of the way, there is wrath in heaven for the offending of them.


o        “As God wilt be displeased with the enemies of His Church if they

wrong any of the members of it, so He is displeased with the great

ones of the Church if they despise the little ones” (Matthew Henry).



SPECIAL SOLICITUDE OF CHRIST. In the parable of the sheep we



Ø      The flock.


o        Holy angels are included in its unity (compare Hebrews 12:22). These

are by some accounted to be the “ninety and nine who went not astray.”


o        The ministration of angels is founded on the mediation of Christ. This is

expressed in the words, “For the Son of man,” etc., relegated, however,

to the margin in the Revised Version. So in the vision of Jacob’s ladder

(compare Genesis 28:12; John 1:51). Through Christ the holy angels

are reconciled to us.


o        The ninety and nine who went not astray may be such as the scribes

and Pharisees of the better sort; not the hypocrites, but those who,

like the elder brother, never left their Father’s house — those whose

respect for the Law kept them from committing gross offences.


Ø      The wanderer.


o        The sheep sees better herbage at a distance, and wanders after it; then

discovers more yet farther off; wanders by degrees further and further;

mistakes the way back, and is lost in the wilderness. So the soul

wanders from pleasure to pleasure, and gets LOST!


o        Now the sheep is exposed to the dangers of the lion or the wolf, the

ditch or the precipice, and is in wretchedness and terror.


Ø      The Shepherd.


o        He cares for those in the fold. They have His care in the provision of

food, as well as shelter and protection. We should sympathize with

Christ in striving to keep His sheep (see Romans 14:15; I Corinthians

8:11-12). As He is the great Shepherd, having many sheep, so is He the

good Shepherd, knowing EACH LAMB!


o        He cares especially for the wanderer. It is the shepherd’s duty to look

more particularly after the stray sheep than after those abiding in the

fold.  Jesus, who came to save a world, makes special efforts to save

even one.  The whole flock suffers when one sheep wanders.


o        “if so be that he find it.” The finding of a sinner is a contingent event.

Grace is not irresistible. Yet the wanderer should know that the

Shepherd is very near him. Are we as anxiously seeking Jesus as

He is seeking us?


o        The tender sheep is not driven, but carried by Christ. “And when he

hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders” (see Luke 15:5). He

carries us and our sins.


o        Jesus rejoices over the conversion of a sinner, as a shepherd over a

recovered sheep; as a woman over a recovered piece of silver; as a

father over a recovered son. The rejoicing affects heaven as well as

the Church on earth. It is natural to feel uncommon joy at the

fortunate accomplishment of an unexpected event.


Ø      The enemy. Those who would injure the sheep of Christ are special

objects of His displeasure.


o        The nations that injured Israel of old were severely reckoned with.


o        The antichristian nations who persecuted His people are doomed

to a fearful retribution.


o        Every contemptuous son of pride will be confronted at the judgment

of the last day.




Correction of an Offending Brother (vs. 15-20)


15 "Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him

his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast

gained thy brother."  Hitherto the discourse has warned against offending the

young and weak; it now teaches how to behave when the offence is directed

against one’s self. Moreover (δὲ - de – now; yet - introducing a new subject) if thy

brother shall trespass against thee (εἰς σέ - eis se – against thee; into you). The

brother is a brother in the faith, a fellow Christian. The words, “against thee,” are

omitted in the Sinaitic and Vatican Manuscripts, and by some modern editors, on

the ground that it is a gloss derived from Peter’s question (v. 21). The words

are retained by the Vulgate and other high authorities. Without them, the

passage becomes one of a general nature, applying to all offences.

Retaining them, we find a direction how to treat one who offers personal

offence to ourselves — which seems to suit the context best. In the case of

private quarrels between individual Christians, with the view of

reconciliation, there are four steps to be taken.


First, private remonstrance:  Go. Do not wait for him to come to you;

make the first advances yourself.  This, as being the more difficult course,

is expressly enjoined on one who is learning the lesson of humility. Tell him

his fault; ἔλεγξον αὐτόν elegxon autonexpose you him - corripe eum. Put

the fault plainly before him, show him how he has wronged you, and how he has

offended God. This must be done in private, gently, mercifully. Such treatment

may win the heart, while public rebuke, open denunciation, might only incense

and harden. Plainly, the Lord primarily contemplates quarrels between individual

Christians; though, indeed, the advice here and in the sequel is applicable to a

wider sphere and to more important occasions. Thou hast gained thy brother.

If he shall own his fault, and ask for pardon, thou hast won him for God and

thyself.  A quarrel is a loss to both parties; a reconciliation is a gain for both.

The verb “to gain” (ἐκέρδησαςekerdaesasyou gain) is used elsewhere in

this high sense (see I Corinthians 9:19; I Peter 3:1).



Christian Ways with Trespassers (v. 15)


This counsel seems to indicate that the dispute among the disciples as to

who should be the greatest had gone a considerable length, had led to hard

words, and even heart divisions. Our Lord made this the occasion for

advice in relation to misunderstandings among Christians. It should be

distinctly seen that His advice concerns cases of Christians, each party

professing strict loyalty to Christ.


  • TALK TOGETHER. Not just at once, while there is heat of feeling; but

presently, when both have had time to grow calm, and give room to those

regretful feelings which are sure to come when the more difficult passages

of life are reviewed. When offence is given, the evil to dread is the

disposition of each to stand aloof from the other. This can soon widen into

hopeless separation. In common life it is the work of friends to bring such

separated ones together; in the Christian life we find Christ expects both

the offended and the offender to be seeking each other. Talk in a Christian

spirit will often correct misunderstandings, smooth difficulties, and put

things straight. But Christ puts the chief burden of seeking reconciliation

on the injured one. The one against whom the trespass is committed is to




which the judgment of one party may be blinded; and the correction may be

beyond the power of the other party interested. Then it is wise to bring in

independent and unprejudiced persons, who may help to unite the disputing

parties. This will lead on to a consideration of the principle of “arbitration,”

and its possible adaptation, not only to Christian, but also to social and

national disputes. For such arbitration the men of character and weight are

sought. They gain power, in all phases of life, who culture character.



— do not make a public thing of private disputes save as a last extremity.

There will be different opinions as to what is referred to by the term

“Church.” Most probably our Lord was thinking of the recognized officials

of the synagogue, who formed an “ecclesia,” or Church, and acted, on

consultation, representatively and authoritatively. Christ says, “Do

everything by brotherliness; bring in the officials only as a last resort.”


16 "But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more,

that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established."


This gives the second step or stage in discipline. Take with

thee one or two more. If the offender is obdurate to secret remonstrance,

do not yet resort to public measures, but make a fresh effort accompanied

by a friend or two, who will support your view and confirm your

expostulation, which might otherwise be considered partial or self-interested.

In the mouth of two or three witnesses. The idea is derived

from the requirement of the Jewish Law in a case of litigation (see

Deuteronomy 19:15; John 8:17; II Corinthians 13:1). By the

testimony of these witnesses, every word that has passed between you may

be fully certified. There will be forthcoming, if necessary, the regular legal

evidence, should the matter come to other ears.


17 "And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he

neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man

and a publican."  Tell it unto the Church (τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ - tae ekklaesia the

out-called; the church).


This is the third step to take. Our Lord is contemplating a visible society,

possessed of certain powers of discipline and correction, such as we find in the

history of the apostolic Church (see I Corinthians 5:1, etc.; 6:1, etc.; I Timothy

1:20). Christ had already spoken of His Ecclesia in His commendation of

Peter’s great confession (ch. 16:18); so the twelve were prepared

for this use of the word, and would not confound the body here signified

with the Jewish synagogue. To the latter the expressions in vs. 18-20

could not apply. The custom and order of procedure in the synagogue

would afford an idea of what the Lord meant; but the congregation

intended was to be composed of Christians. the followers of Christ, who

were delivered from the narrowness of rabbinical rules and definitions. The

institution of ecclesiastical tribunals has been referred to this passage, but,

as understood by the apostles, it would denote, not so much ecclesiastical

rulers as the particular congregation to which the delinquent belonged; and

the offence for which he is denounced is some private scandal or quarrel.

The course of proceeding enjoined would be impracticable in a large and

widely extended community, and could not be applied under our present

circumstances. If he neglect to hear the Church.


Now comes the final stage in corrective discipline. An heathen man

(ἐθνικὸςho ethnikos the heathen; the Gentile; one of the nations)

and a publican (τελώνηςho telonaes -  the publican; the tribute collector).

The class, not the individual, is meant. If he turns a deaf ear to the authoritative

reproof of the Church, let him be regarded no longer as a brother, but as a

heathen and an outcast.  Christ, without endorsing the Jews’ treatment of

Gentiles and publicans, acknowledges the fact, and uses it as an illustration.

The obdurate offender must be deprived of Church membership, and treated

as those without the Jewish pale were commonly treated. The traditional law

enjoined that a Hebrew might not associate, eat, or travel with a heathen, and

that if any Jew took the office of publicans, he was to be virtually

excommunicated.  In later times, there naturally arose in the Christian Church

the punishment of offenders by means of exclusion from holy communion,

and excommunication. But even in this extreme case charity will not regard the

sinner as hopelessly lost; it will seek his salvation by prayer and entreaty.


18 "Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be

bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be

loosed in heaven." The following words are addressed, not, as the preceding

verse, to the offended Christian, but to the apostles, as possessed of some

superior powers above those of any individual congregation. Verily I say

unto you. The Lord solemnly confers the grant made to Peter

(ch. 16:19) on the whole apostolate. The binding and loosing, in a

restricted sense, and in logical connection with what precedes, refer to the

confirmation and authorization of the sentence of the Ecclesia, which is not

valid, so to speak, in the heavenly court till endorsed by Christ’s

representatives — the apostles. Whether the verdict was the

excommunication of the offender (“bind”) or his pardon and restoration

(loose), the ratification of the apostles was required, and would be made

good in heaven. The treatment of the incestuous Christian by Paul is a

practical comment on this passage. The congregation decides on the man’s

guilt, but Paul “binds” him, retains his sins, and delivers him to Satan

(I Corinthians 5:1-5); and when on his repentance he is forgiven, it is

the apostle who “looses” him, acting as the representative of Christ

(II Corinthians 2:10). In a general sense, the judicial and disciplinary powers

of the Christian priesthood have been founded on this passage, which from

early times has been used in the service of ordination. Each body of

Christians has its own way of interpreting the promise. While some opine

that, speaking in Christ’s name and with His authority, the priest can

pronounce or withhold pardon; others believe that external discipline is all

that is intended; others again think that the terms are satisfied by the

ministration of the Word and sacraments, as a physician gives health by

prescribing remedies.




The Offending Brother (vs. 15-18)


The wise advice which our Lord here gives is rarely followed, and yet it is

not at all impracticable, and if obeyed it would prevent an immense amount

of distress and ill feeling. Let us consider, first the general principles of His

advice, and then its special details.




Ø      The fact of the brothers offence is admitted. This is very important.

Too often men quarrel and accuse one another without justly apportioning

the faults. The innocent man is blamed by his guilty brother. We must not

put in force the process indicated by Christ until we have discovered that

our brother is really in the wrong.


Ø      The aim must be to recover the offending brother. It is not to crush and

humiliate him. It is not to have our revenge on him. It is to restore him to a

better condition of mind, and to bring about a reconciliation.


Ø      The method must be kind and generous. The slowly advancing stages

show a reluctance to proceed to extreme measures. Inasmuch as our end is

not to vindicate our own rights, but to recover our brother, our method

must be tender and considerate.


  • SPECIAL DETAILS. It is important to observe that Christ is treating

of the relation of true Christian people to one another. If either party does

not recognize the claims of Christian brotherhood, the process must be

different, although the generous spirit of Christ’s method must be observed

with all men. Let us now note the successive steps.


Ø      We are to see the offending brother alone. This is just the very last thing

some people will do. In pride or fear they shun the very person they should

seek. They refuse to speak to him, when it is their duty to be frank with

him. Yet too often they spread the tale of their wrong among their

neighbors. Thus a train of idle gossip is started, and vast mischief

originated. He who so behaves reveals himself in an unchristian light; he

becomes an offending brother, and gives the man who has offended him a

just cause of complaint. Immense mischief would be stayed if Christ’s

methods were pursued. We have to seek out the person who has wronged

us, and be simple and frank with him; then very often a little quiet talk

will bring us to a mutual understanding and end the quarrel.


Ø      If the first step fails, we are to call in the help of two or three other

Christians. This is also to be private. The calm impartiality of outsiders

may settle the dispute. The gravity of their advice may convince the

offending brother that he is in the wrong.


Ø      If this process fails, we are to appeal to the Church. Christ assumes the

exercise of Church discipline. With us this has fallen very much into

abeyance. It can only be restored in a Christ-like spirit.


Ø      Finally, if all these processes fail, we must cease to regard the offender

as a Christian brother. He has excommunicated himself. God does not

forgive the impenitent, and He does not expect us to do so. Yet we should

never hate the offender, but always desire to restore him — as we should

desire to convert “the Gentile and the publican.”


19 "Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as

touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of

my Father which is in heaven."  Again I say unto you. The following paragraph

has been thought by many to be addressed especially to the apostles in confirmation

of the powers conferred on them above; but from v. 20 we should judge

the promise to be general. Herein is set forth the privilege of united prayer.

God confirms the sentence of his authorized ambassadors; He gives special

heed to the joint intercessions of all Christians. Two of you. Two of my

followers, even the smallest number that could form an association. Shall

agree (συμφωνήσωσιν sumphonaesosinshould be agreeing) - be in

complete accord, like the notes of a perfect strain of music. Here one man’s

infirmity is upheld by another’s strength; one man’s short-sightedness

compensated by another’s wider view; this man’s little faith overpowered by

that man’s firm confidence.  Anything. Of course, this is to be understood with

some restriction. The thing asked must be reasonable, good in itself, expedient for

the petitioner; the prayer must be earnest, faithful, persevering and in the will of

God. If such conditions  are satisfied, the desire will be granted in some form,

though, perhaps, not in the way or at the time expected. Thus the Lord sanctions

guilds or bodies of Christians united together to offer up supplications for special

objects or with some definite intention in which all are agreed.


20 "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am

I in the midst of them." The promise is applied to the public prayer of the

congregation, as we see in what is called “the prayer of St. Chrysostom” in

the English Prayer book. Are gathered together. For the purpose of

worship. It is a simpler form of the word used in Hebrews 10:25, “Not

forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.” In my Name (εἰς τὸ ἐμὸν

ὄνομαeis to emon onoma -  literally, into my Name); i.e. with love to me,

yearning for union with me, and acting for my glory. This would imply decent

and orderly meeting for the highest ends. There am I in the midst of them.

Christ promises a real, actual presence, though invisible, as true as when He

appeared to His disciples after His resurrection, as true as when the

Shechinah shone in tabernacle or temple. The rabbis had a saying that if

two sat at table and conversed about the Law of God, the Shechinah rested

upon them. The promise in the text, of course, implies Christ’s omnipresence

and omniscience. This is His blessing on united, congregational prayer.



The Method of Dealing with Offences (vs. 15-20)




Ø      Secret admonition. The Lord had warned the apostles that offences must

come; He had urged the necessity of exceeding carefulness against giving

offence to others; now He tells us how to act when others put a stumbling

block in our way by their trespasses. Go and tell thy brother his fault, He

says; speak to him secretly, do not publish his transgression, do not make a

talk of it; charity endureth all things, charity hideth a multitude of sins.

Speak to him; it is better to tell him his fault than to brood over it. But

speak to him gently for his own soul’s sake. If he shall hear thee, thou hast

gained thy brother — gained him to Christ, gained his soul; for he which

converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death,

and shall hide a multitude of sins. And oh! what is the exceeding great

privilege of gaining a soul which Christ loved, for which He came down

from heaven that He might seek it!


Ø      The second step, admonition before two or three witnesses. If the first

attempt fails, still publicity should be avoided as far as possible; a second

should be made with the help of one or two Christian friends. They may

bring the erring brother to a sense of his own guilt, of the offence which he

is causing to others, of the, wrong which he is doing to the Church of

which he is a member by his willfulness and obstinacy.




Ø      Its discipline. If the sinful brother again and again refuses to listen to

Christian reproof in private, the sin which is causing offence to the brethren

must be brought before the Church. By the word “Church” the Lord must

mean the Christian Church, that Church of which He had spoken for the

first time at Caesarea Philippi, which He was building upon the Rock. He

was speaking prophetically, looking forward to the growth and increase of

the Church. “Tell it unto the Church.” This is the last resort; if he neglect

to hear the Church he must be regarded as a heathen man and a publican,

no longer a brother in the full Christian sense of the word. But we must

remember that the Lord’s mercy extended to heathen and publicans. He

came to call sinners to repentance. The sinful brother may repent, he may

be forgiven and saved. The censure itself is inflicted not only for example’s

sake, not only that the cause of offence may be removed, but also for the

sake of the offender, “that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord

Jesus” (I Corinthians 5:5).


Ø      Its authority. The Lord here confers upon all the apostles as

representatives of the Church that authority which He had already

(ch. 16:19) given to Peter as the representative of the apostolic college.

The Church, then, hath authority in controversies of faith

— authority to declare what is of faith and what is not, what is of

obligation and what is indifferent, what is allowed and what is forbidden.

Christians are bound to regard the decisions of the Church with respect and

reverence, for if rightly made they are ratified in heaven. Yet  Peter

certainly erred (Galatians 2:11); Churches may err, and alas! have

erred. It is only while the Church stands firm upon the Rock, which is

Christ; only when the two or three are gathered together in the name of

Christ, and He Himself according to His promise is in the midst of them;

when those two or three are men who have turned to God in the simplicity

and lowliness of little children; it is only then that the conditions are

fulfilled on which this promise depends. What a tremendous responsibility

rests upon those who are called to guide and rule the Church of God! All

Christian men should feel for them in the many difficulties of their arduous

work, should pray for them constantly and earnestly.


Ø      The strength of the Church. That strength lies in prayer. The power of

united prayer is such that if any two true believers agree as touching

anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them. They pray on earth,

our Father hears in heaven. United prayer brings to their help the almighty

power of God. That union of human wills into concordance with the holy

will of God must be the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the

suppliants; and when the Holy Spirit prompts the prayer, the prayer is

always heard, the petition is always granted. Only let us not misunderstand

the Lord’s promise, as perhaps the sons of Zebedee did at the time (compare

Mark 10:35, where they almost quote these words of Christ’s).

Instructed Christians will ask for spiritual blessings, which alone are

blessings always and under all conditions; or, if they sometimes ask for

earthly things (and they are encouraged to do so in the Lord’s Prayer

itself), it will always be with the Lord’s own condition, “Nevertheless, not

my will, but thine be done.” The strength of the Church lies in prayer, and

the strength of prayer lies in THE PRESENCE OF CHRIST!  The union

of only two Christians in real earnest prayer represents the Church. For Christ

Himself is present wherever two or three are gathered together in His name, or

rather, as the literal rendering is, into His Name. Christians are united by the

one Spirit into one body, into that spiritual unity which is called by the one

name (I Corinthians 12:12). Believers are gathered together into that

name, into that spiritual fellowship which can only be realized by those who

walk in the light as He is in the light (I John 1:7). And wherever that

fellowship is, there is Christ the Lord manifesting Himself to those who

meet in His name and are gathered together into His name. He is in the

midst of that little gathering, for He is God, omnipresent, ready to hear His

servants in whatever corner of the world they lift up their prayers to Him,

ready to grant their petitions, to guide their counsels, to ratify the

decisions, to give effect to the sentence issued in His name by those who

met together in His name in the simple earnestness of childlike Christians, in

the energy of that faith which has turned wholly to the Lord.




Ø      It is a difficult task to reprove a sinful brother; it is sometimes our

duty; it must be done with gentleness and wisdom.


Ø      To gain a brother’s soul is an exceeding great reward; it is worth

much prayer, much thought, much time.


Ø      The Lord bids us hear the Church; the Christian must respect the

authority of the Church.




Christian Judgment (vs. 15-20)


From dealing with the offended, our Lord here passes on to the offending,

and He shows us how we should deal with a guilty brother, for our own

sake, for his sake, for the sake of the Church, and ultimately for the sake of

the world. Christian judgment should be faithful, loving, spiritual.




Ø      The Christian will tell his brother his fault.


o        “If thy brother sin against thee.” By fraud, defamation, affront,

contempt (see Leviticus 6:1-7).


o        “If thy brother sin.” Some ancient authorities omit “against thee”

(see New Version margin; see also Leviticus 19:17).


o        “Tell him his fault.” This is fidelity to thyself, also to thy brother.

How salutary to David was the reproof of Nathan!


Ø      He will tell it him before witnesses.


o        Not in the first case. But he will not consider his soul clear if the

offending brother be not gained by the private reproof without

proceeding further.


o        The witnesses chosen should be persons of credit and reputation. True

men will not refuse to serve as witnesses in the interests of justice.


o        This precaution is due to the Church. The courts of the Church should

not be trifled with by moving them with cases which are not ripe.


Ø      He will tell it to the Church. This when the minor means have been tried

and failed.


o        But what is the Church? Amongst the Jews ten men were deemed

sufficient to constitute a synagogue. Any number of persons met in

the name or by the authority of Christ will constitute a Christian

Church (see v. 20). Tell it to the wise among the Church. Paul speaks

ironically when he says, “Set them to judge who are least esteemed in

the Church.”  (I Corinthians 6:4)


o        Tell it to the Church in justice to the Church, that its purity may be

preserved. Scandalous persons must be separated from the Church on

earth, which is the type of the purer Church in heaven.


o        Tell it to the Church in justice to the obstinate offender, that he may be

reproved before many and repent.


o        That if he be excommunicated he may be treated as a heathen and

publican. Those cast out of the kingdom of Christ belong to the

kingdom of Satan. Church discipline is for Church members. The

Christian is not forbidden to use civil courts against outsiders.




Ø      Loves reason for telling a brother his fault is to gain him.


o        This is love’s reason for going to the offender rather than waiting for

him to come. “Go and tell him.” It will give him opportunity for

explanation. The sense of injury is often the result of sensitive self-love.


o        This is love’s reason for going to him privately. It will save him the

exasperation of an unnecessary public reproach.


o        The manner will accord with the object. The truth is told in love. The

fault is not unduly magnified. There is no resentment.


Ø      Loves reason for calling witnesses is still to gain the brother.


o        “Take with thee one or two more.” To avoid unnecessary publicity, the

smallest number required to attest evidence is called in (compare

Deuteronomy 19:15; John 8:17; II Corinthians 13:1).


o        The witnesses may add persuasion. The offender may listen to the

pleadings of disinterested persons.


o        The witnesses have the double function of seeing that the reproof is

administered without malignity, and that, in rejecting it, the reproved

is incorrigible.


Ø      Love also has reasons for then telling it to the Church.


o        The offender may hear the Church and be gained.


Church courts are preferred to those of the world, as more competent

to deal with offences against Christian law. The more so when civil

rulers were notoriously enemies of the saints.


o        The purity of the Christian brotherhood must be preserved, The

Church that condones things scandalous transgresses the reason

for its existence.


o        A scandalous Church can be of little service to the world.




Ø      It recognizes the presence of God.


o        The sanctuary of God is the assembly of His saints (compare

Exodus 40:24; II Chronicles 5:14; Psalm 132:14; Matthew 28:20;

Revelation 2:1).


o        That presence is here promised in relation to maintenance of

discipline.  God is with His Church to quicken prayer, to answer

petition, to guide in counsel.


o        “If two of you shall agree,” etc. “God sometimes stands upon a

number of voices for the carrying of some public mercy, because

He delighteth in the harmony of many praying souls, and also

because He loves to gratify and oblige many in the answer” (Flavel).


Ø      It recognizes His ratification.


o        “Binding and loosing.” When the Jews set apart any to be a preacher,

they said, “Take thou liberty to teach what is bound and what is loose,”

i.e. what is binding or obligatory and what is not.


o        Here the question has relation to discipline rather than to doctrine. It is

concerned also with things rather than persons. “Whatsoever,” etc.

“In the primitive Church absolution meant no more than a discharge

from Church censure” (Wesley, in loc.).


o        The ratification in heaven of the decisions of the Church, in the strict

sense, applied to apostolic times when plenary inspiration was with

it (see John 16:24-26; Acts 9:29-31).


o        In a qualified sense it still holds good, viz. when the rules laid down

in Scripture ARE OBSERVED!


o        If through error or envy any be cast out of the Church, Christ will find

that soul in mercy (compare John 9:34-35). The instructions of the

text come to us with the force of law. We have no option to pursue

any different course with an offender, or any different order to that

here prescribed. In the whole compass of pagan ethics there is no rule

at once so manly, so benevolent, so wise, so practical.




Power Gained by Agreement in Prayer (v. 19)


This verse is part of a digression from our Lord’s point. Perhaps it is

suggested by the disunion occasioned by the disputing of the disciples, and

our Lord takes the opportunity of pressing the importance and value of

preserving mutual agreement. The disunited feeling spoils everything in

Christian life; it spoils even prayer. Harmony, unity, mutual trustfulness,

make up the atmosphere in which everything Christian can thrive. Our

Lord makes prayer a representative of every phase of Christian life and

relation. This text is, with v. 20, a very familiar promise, often used in

acts of public prayer, but almost always misquoted. (It is remarkable how

many scriptural texts have non-scriptural ideas attached to them, through

misquotation.) It is always right, and always best, to take God’s Word as it

precisely is. V. 19 appears to be an unconditional promise, but it is not.

What we ask shall be done for us, but only if two of you, my disciples, join

to ask; and only if you two are really agreed in the matter about which you

ask. It will at once be seen that, simple as these conditions sound, they

really are searching conditions, and were especially searching to those

disputatious disciples.



is the primary foundation principle of Christ’s Church. We know what it

has developed to; it is well to see what it has sprung from, it is the

voluntary union, for worship, fellowship, and prayer, of two or three. They

must be disciples; they must meet together; then we may apply the term

“Church” to them. They must agree on some special points of interest, if

they allow large liberty of opinion in other matters. The real uniting bond

must be their common love to Christ, and purpose to secure the honor of

His Name. And the Divine seal set upon their fellowship will be THE

SPIRITUAL PRESENCE OF CHRIST and all that for them, and by

means of them, which His spiritual presence involves.



AGREEMENTS. It is a meeting of necessary conditions. It is a persuasion

with God. Such agreement differs from personal prayer in two things:


Ø      It represents interest in others.


Ø      It indicates thoughtful consideration. Many a private prayer cannot be

answered because it is only the utterance of a passing impulse, and had

better not be answered. What we consult over becomes intelligent.

Well-considered prayer cannot fail to gain THE DIVINE REGARD!



The Power of United Prayer (vs. 19-20)


The point of this verse is in the idea of the association of two people in prayer.

Elsewhere we often read of the value of prayer in general. Here a special efficacy

is ascribed to the united prayer of two Christian people. Let us consider the meaning

of this. Why is Christ most present to help in united prayer?


  • IT IS UNSELFISH. Two people might be plotting together for some

mutual advantage of a low order. But we cannot conceive of their having a

prayer meeting about it. Many of our personal prayers are shamefully

selfish. They do not seek that God’s will may be done; they simply demand

a concession to our own will. The same fatal evil may be found in a united

prayer, but it is less likely there.


  • IT IS BROTHERLY. We must be on friendly, even on brotherly terms

before we can really pray together. The union of two alone in prayer

implies very deep mutual confidence. They must agree together. The

reason why earth is so cut off from heaven is that earth is too often a scene

of discord. When there is agreement on earth, earth is more like heaven,

and the wish expressed on earth may be granted in heaven.


  • IT IS DELIBERATE. The conference and agreement of the two

imply a careful consideration of the subject of the prayer. Many prayers are

too hasty and inconsiderate to deserve any attention. But the grave

conference in prayer here described by our Lord would give the weight of

deliberation to the petition. Probably it would be less foolish than many

private prayers.


  • IT HONORS THE IDEA OF THE CHURCH. Christ encouraged

secret prayer in private devotion (ch. 6:6). This should be a daily

practice. But there are reasons when more is required, viz. in general public

worship and in prayer for special objects. Now, while Christ deals with

individual souls in the first instance, He is also interested in social religion.

He did not found an order of hermits, He founded a Church. He IS

PRESENT in His Church in a peculiar way. This is the real secret of the

answer to united prayer. It is difficult to break through the reserve which

too often keeps us back from the prayer which our Lord here encourages.

But it is our duty to do so.


  • IT SHOWS THE POWER OF THE PEW. We are not heard for our

much speaking, our many words; neither are we heard on account of our

numerical strength. In listening to prayer God does not count heads; He

weighs hearts. One Elijah stands for more in prayer than a cathedral full of

listless worshippers. The ideal Church is not the large Church, but the

CHRIST-LIKE CHURCH! Religious statistics encourage a most unspiritual

way of valuing Christian work and estimating Church progress. The Church

of but two members cannot be a weak Church, if those two members are

UNITED IN PRAYER!  Further, it is to be noted that the value of a prayer

meeting cannot be measured by the numbers that attend it. A small meeting

may be a very real one, and if it is truly united IT MUST HAVE POWER

WITH GOD!   It is foolish, therefore, to despair of such a meeting because

it is sparsely attended. The prayer meeting of but two is here commended by

Christ. If it be a meeting at all, though reduced to the numerical minimum,

it may issue in incalculable results.



             The Conditions of Christ’s Sensible Presence (v. 20)


“There am I in the midst of them.” Familiarity with this sentence, and a

circle of fixed associations gathering round it, prevent our observing what

a striking and revealing sentence it is. He who spoke the words was

standing in the midst of the disciples, in the necessary limitations of a

human body. And yet He says to them that wherever two or three are

gathered together in His name, He is actually with them; in the midst of

them; and this seems to imply that His presence might actually be realized

and felt by them. This was a hopelessly extravagant declaration for any

mere limited man to make. Already Christ could present Himself as He

really was, and soon manifestly would be — AN UNLIMITED



  • THE FIRST CONDITION IS SINCERITY. The two or three must

meet in Christ’s name, distinctly as His disciples, to whom His honor is the

supreme interest. The one thing that our Lord most severely rebuked was

hypocrisy.” The one thing from which He turned away was “insincerity.”

Poverty of means or mind was no hindrance to Him; but He could only

show Himself to the true hearted. It is the ever-working law of Christ. He

comes only to the sincere.


  • THE NEXT CONDITION IS CULTURE. Precisely, the culture of the

spiritual faculties and susceptibilities. This is not adequately apprehended.

Our Lord put it very strongly to His select disciples, when He said to them,

“The world shall not see me, but ye see me.”  (John 14:19)  Their spiritual

culture enabled them to see. The higher faculties of the soul are quickened by

personal relation to Christ “who is our Life” (Colossians 3:4); but those

quickened faculties need culture, then the soul breathes in a spiritual

atmosphere, sees spiritual things, handles spiritual realities, and recognizes

the presence of the spiritual Lord. It is suggested that the gathering together

of the disciples involves their helping one another to secure this spiritual

culture; those of the fuller and higher attainments inspiring and aiding their



  • THE NEXT CONDITION IS UNITY. It might seem as if unity in

request were all that was necessary; but the true unity lies in the soul

conditions of which the request is but an expression and illustration. And it

will be found that the true unity lies in the spiritual growth and culture of

each one; just as the health of a tree is found by the growth and enterprise

of all the branches.




The Pardon of Injuries, and the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

(vs. 21-35)


21"Then came Peter to Him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother

sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?"

Peter was greatly struck with what Christ had just said about

reconciliation of enemies; and he wanted to know what limits were to be

imposed on his generosity, especially, it might be, if the offender made no

reparation for his offence, and acknowledged not his wrong doing. My

brother. As v. 15, fellow disciple, neighbor. Till seven times? Peter

doubtless thought that he was unusually liberal and generous in proposing

such a measure of forgiveness. Seven is the number of completeness and

plurality, and our Lord had used it in giving His sentence about forgiveness:

“If he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day

turn to thee again,” etc. (Luke 17:4). Some rabbis had fixed this limit

from an erroneous interpretation of Amos 1:3; 2:1. “For three

transgressions, and for four,” etc.; but the usual precept enjoined

forgiveness of three offences only, drawing the line here, and having no

pity for a fourth offence. Ben-Sira bids a man admonish an offending

neighbor twice, but is silent as to any further forgiveness (Ecclesiasticus

19:13-17). The Jews were very fond of defining and limiting moral obligations,

as if they could be accurately prescribed by number. Christ demolishes this

attempt to define by law the measure of grace.


22 "Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but,

Until seventy times seven."  I say not unto thee. Jesus gives the full weight of

His authority to His precept, in distinction from Peter’s suggestion and rabbinical

glosses.  Seventy times seven. No specific number, but practically unlimited. There

is no measure to forgiveness; it must be practiced whenever occasion

arises. Some translate, “seventy-seven times,” making an allusion to the

retribution exacted from Lamech: “If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly

Lamech seventy and sevenfold” (Genesis 4:24). Christian forgiveness

must be extended as far as old-world vengeance. Mercy rejoices against

judgment (James 2:13).  But the genius of the language supports the rendering

of the Authorized Version. Paul has caught the spirit of his Master when he

writes, “Forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven

you” (Ephesians 4:32). In the Mosaic dispensation there was some

foreshadowing of the doctrine of forgiveness in the enactments which

enjoined tender treatment of debtors, and in the terms of the jubilee law;

but there were no rules concerning the pardon of personal injuries; the

tendency of many prominent injunctions was to encourage retaliation.

Herein is seen an important distinction between the Law and the gospel,

the institutions antecedent to the death and atonement of Christ, and those

subsequent thereto.




The Duty of Unlimited Forgiveness (vs. 21-22)


Jesus once required forgiveness to be repeated seven times (Luke 17:4). Peter now

asks what is to be done when these seven times of pardon are passed. Our Lord

simply multiplies them by seventy. There is to be no arithmetic in the matter; there

is to be no limit to forgiveness.



Why should Peter want to know what to do when he had forgiven

seven times? Was there any law which he might transgress if he went too

far in the generosity of pardon? His question was one that should never

have been asked. It savors of rabbinical casuistry. Now, one of the great

defects of casuistry (the use of clever but unsound reasoning) is that it is

too often pursued in the interest of those who wish to do no more good

than is absolutely required of them. But the spirit of such a desire is immoral.

He who seeks a limit to forgiveness has not really a forgiving spirit at all.

He only forgives under compulsion, that is to say, he does not really forgive

in his heart. So it is with all other duties. When we ask how far must we go,

with how little will God be satisfied, we betray a spirit out of sympathy

with our duty. If we loved it we should not anxiously search for the line

of obligation, we should rather press on to the utmost with an enthusiastic

desire to do our best.


  • FORGIVENESS CANNOT HAVE A LIMIT. Some duties are limited,

although we are free to exceed the limit. This is the case with honesty. We

have simply to pay what we owe, to give a just price for what we buy, to

refrain from stealing, and we have discharged the whole of our obligation

in this direction. Thus, at all events in the pecuniary world, it is possible to

be absolutely honest, and hosts of people have reached the stage of

absoluteness in regard to this duty. But there are other duties that run out

to the infinite; we can never entirely compress them. All our spiritual

education only enables us to reach towards a little more of their boundless

possibilities. Of such a nature is forgiveness. We may be called at any

moment to carry this further than we have yet gone.  (I have experienced

this in my life with patience.  It seems that the more we have, the more

is required.  Then that leads me to:  “O wretched man that I am, who shall

deliver me from the body of this death?  Romans 7:24-25 – CY - 2017)



FROM ITS DIVINE ORIGIN. Forgiveness is GOD-LIKE!  It belongs to

the ethics of heaven. It cannot be enforced in the law courts of earth, where

Shylock is awarded his pound of flesh. In strict right and law, forgiveness

cannot be enacted. Forgiveness is above law, as the sovereign who pardons

in clemency is above the judge who is compelled to condemn in justice.

GOD FORGIVES WITHOUT LIMIT!  He requires the condition of

repentance, and this we have a right to demand also (see Luke 17:3). But

when that is present He forgives hardened old offenders, who have grieved

His Spirit many and many a time before. It is only the limitless forgiveness

of God that makes it possible for us to be pardoned by Him. Then it is

incumbent on us to show the same spirit towards our fellow men.



The Christian Limit of Forgiveness (v. 22)


“Until seventy times seven.” This is no fixed number. It is a figurative way

of saying that there is, and there can be, no limit to Christian forgiveness.

To understand the point and force of Peter’s question, it is necessary to

know the rabbinical rules of forgiveness with which he would be familiar. It

was a settled rule of the rabbis that forgiveness should not be extended

more than three times. Edersheim says, “It was a principle of rabbinism

that, even if the wrong doer had made full restoration, he would not obtain

forgiveness till he had asked it of him whom he had wronged, but that it

was cruelty in such circumstances to refuse pardon.” It says much for

Peter’s apprehension of His Master that he was sure He would not limit

forgiveness to the rabbinical “three times.” From his point of view, making

the three times into seven times was a splendid piece of liberality. But he

could not measure the generosity and nobility of his Lord, who took the

three times” and made it “seventy times seven.” “It did not occur to

Peter that the very act of numbering offences marked an externalism which

had never entered into, nor comprehended, the spirit of Christ. He had yet

to learn, what we, alas! too often forget, that as Christ’s forgiveness, so

that of the Christian, must not be computed by numbers. It is qualitative,

not quantitative. Christ forgives SIN, not sins; and he who has experienced

it follows in His footsteps.”



FORGIVENESS. “As Christ forgave you, so also do ye.” What do we

expect from God? Can we conceive of a limit to the times when we may

hope for the mercy of God? What would life be worth if we could? The

fear of outstretching the limit would fill us with misery. Man can never lose

the hope in God. If he does he becomes fixed in sin. “There is forgiveness

with thee” (Psalm 130:4,7); a man must be able to say that in full view of

the provocations of a long life, when he comes to his dying day. To the

Divine forgiveness there is no qualification of degrees or numbers.



BROTHER. If we are Christly, we want to do him good. It does not

matter about ourselves, and injury done to us. It does matter to a Christly

man that a brother has done a wrong. The Christly man is set upon his

recovery from the wrong; and if that means his forgiveness over and over

again, until patience is tried unto the uttermost, the Christly man will

forgive and bear, if only he may win back his erring brother at last.


Christ illustrates His precept by the parable of the unmerciful servant, and

the stern lesson which He Himself enunciates at its close.  (vs. 23-35)


23 "Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king,

which would take account of his servants."  Therefore; i.e. because such is

the infinite nature of the pardon to be meted out to an offending brother.

The kingdom of heaven. The rule observed in the government of Christ’s

kingdom with regard to forgiveness is represented by the procedure of a certain

earthly king. The picture supposes some great Oriental potentate, with numerous

viceroys or satraps, who have to render to him an account of revenues received.

These are called servants in the sense that, though they are high officials, they

are the monarch’s subordinates and dependents. Both Herodotus and

Xenophon apply the term “slave” (δοῦλος - doulos) to the great officers of

state.  Immense sums of money would pass through their hands. This accounts

for the enormous debt of the officer in the parable. Webster and Wilkinson

compare the East India Company’s collectors, who are high civil servants

of the company, that is, now, of the government. If we regard the parable

in a general light, as illustrating God’s dealings with sinful man, we must

see in the “taking account of his servants,” not the judgment of the last day,

but those many occasions when God makes a man turn his eyes inward and

learn how he stands in the sight of his Lord. Such occasions are sickness,

misfortune, great change of circumstances, a new year, reproach of

conscience, however aroused, — these and such like incidents awaken a

man to his true position, show him his delinquencies and misery.


24 "And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him,

which owed him ten thousand talents."  When he had begun to reckon.

This is the same word which is rendered “take account” in the previous verse,

and means to compare receipts, expenditure, and balance. One was brought unto

him. The defaulter did not come of himself and own his delinquency, but was

brought into his lord’s presence, probably by some who had discovered his

defalcations (misappropriations of funds), and desired to see him punished.

Otherwise the phrase may refer merely to Oriental etiquette, according to which

no one can enter the royal presence without being formally allowed the interview,

and ceremoniously introduced. Ten thousand talents. It is uncertain what is

here meant by a talent, whether of silver or gold, of Jewish, or Attic, or

Syriac standard; and, of course, the amount intended is variously

understood. We must refer to the Bible dictionaries for an explanation of

the term “talent,” merely remarking here that the highest estimate would

give six millions of our pounds, and the lowest more than half that amount.

This huge stun must represent the total revenues of a province, and the

debtor must have been a high and much-trusted official. It is used by our

Lord to signify the infinite debt the sinner owes to God. Thus in the Lord’s

Prayer we have, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our

debtors” (ch. 6:12).


25 "But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his Lord commanded him to

be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment

to be made."  He had not to pay. He was absolutely bankrupt, and had no

means whatever of meeting the deficit. To be sold. The Jewish Law

ordered such process in the case of an impecunious debtor (see Exodus

22:3; Leviticus 25:39, 41; and the concrete case in II Kings 4:1;

compare also Isaiah 50:1; Psalm 44:12). But this law was mitigated by

the enactment of the jubilee, which in the course of time restored the

bondman to liberty. The instance in the parable appertains rather to

Oriental depotism than to the proceedings under Mosaic legislation (see

v. 34, which is not in accordance with Jewish practice). The king, by this

severity, may have desired to make the defaulter feel the weight of his debt,

and to bring him to repentance, as we see that he was ready to accept the

submission of the debtor, and to grant him forgiveness (St. Chrysostom).

Payment to be made. The verb is put impersonally. Of course, the sale of

himself, wife, family, possessions, would not produce enough to satisfy the

debt; but the command is to the effect that the proceeds should be taken on

account of the debt. The parable; must not be pressed in all its details; a

false impression is often produced by fixing spiritual or allegorical meaning

upon the unimportant accessories, which, in fact, merely give vividness to

the offered picture. The sale of wife and children is of this character,

though it may be said generally and experimentally that a man’s sins react

on his family in some sort, lowering position and reputation, and reducing

to poverty etc.; but this result has no bearing on the lessening of the

original debt.


26 "The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord,

have patience with me, and I will pay thee all."  Worshipped him. Prostrated

himself before the monarch, an in this abject attitude sued for mercy. Have patience

with me. Be long suffering in my case; give me time. And I will pay thee all. In his

terror and anguish, he promises impossible things; even the revenues of a

province would not in any convenient time supply this deficiency. The

scene is very true to life. To save himself from a present difficulty, a debtor

will make any promise that occurs to him, without considering whether he

will ever be in a position to fulfill it. The defaulter in the parable must have

thought well of the king’s generosity and tenderheartedness to make such a

proposition at this extreme moment. If we take the spiritual sense of the

parable, we see that no sinner could offer to pay, much less pay, the debt

due from him to his Lord, “so that must be let alone forever” (Psalm 49:8).


27 "Then the Lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and

loosed him, and forgave him the debt."  Was moved with compassion. The

earthly circumstance has its counterpart in God’s dealings with sinners. Humility,

confession, prayer, are accepted by Him as payment of the debt. Loosed him

from arrest, from being sold as a slave. This was the first favor accorded. The

second was even greater. Forgave him the debt. The servant had asked only for

time; he receives acquittance of the enormous sum which he owed. The king’s

severity had brought home to the debtor his full guilt did its consequences;

when he realizes these, and throws himself on his lord’s mercy, he receives

more than he had asked or hoped for. But (to revert to the spiritual

interpretation) the pardoned sinner must not forget the past; he must live as

one forgiven. Says the penitent psalmist, “I acknowledge my

transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:3).


28 "But the same servant went out, and found one of his

fellow-servants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid

hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou

owest."  Went out — straightway from his lord’s presence, where he

had been so mercifully treated, while the remembrance of his free and

undeserved forgiveness must have been still fresh. Found. Lighted upon by

chance, as it were. Here, rather, was providentially offered an opportunity

of showing that his lord’s goodness was not thrown away, but had entered

his heart and controlled his conduct towards others. One of his fellow

servants. An official of the king, but probably in an inferior position to that

which he himself occupied. Seeing this man, he is reminded of a paltry debt

which this person owed him. He remembers this fact; he forgets his late

experience. An hundred pence (denarii; see on ch. 20:2);

equivalent to some £3 of our money, and a sum not a millionth part of his

own debt to his master; the proportion, as some say, may be stated more

accurately as 1 to 1,250,000. The enormous difference between these two

amounts represents the disproportion between the offences of our

neighbours against us and those of which we are guilty towards God; and

how small is the forgiveness on our side compared with that which God

freely accords to our infinite debt to him! We must consider also the parties

to whom these debts are owing — on one side, the worm man; on the

other, Almighty God. Took him by the throat (ἔπνιγενepnigenhe choked

him; was throttling him). Thus precluding all prayer and remonstrance. Such

brutal treatment was not what he himself had experienced. Pay me that thou owest;

τι ὀφείλειςho ti opheileis -  which any you are owing (quod debes – Latin).

Many manuscripts and late editors (e.g. Lachmann, Tregelles, Tischendorf, Alford,

Westcott and Hort) soften the demand by reading εἴ τι ὀφείλειςei ti opheileis

if thou owest aught - si quid debes (Latin), “as though the creditor were ashamed

of mentioning the paltry sum due; or else it is simply a fashion of speaking, not to

be pressed as if any doubt was intimated concerning the debt. It might almost be

rendered, “Pay, since thou owest something.” Not thus had his lord addressed

him in the first instance.


29 "And his fellow-servant fell down at his feet, and besought him,

saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all."

Fell down at his feet. The fellow servant repeated the action

and the very plea which he himself had but now used so successfully.

Besought. Not “worshipped,” as in the former case, where the superiority

was more marked.


30 "And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should

pay the debt." And he would not. The piteous appeal made no impression on

his hard heart. “He did not even regard the words by which he himself had

been saved (for on saying these same words he had been delivered from the

ten thousand talents), nor recognize the port by which he had escaped

shipwreck; neither did the attitude of supplication remind him of his

master’s kindness; but putting aside all such considerations by reason of

covetousness, cruelty, and revenge, he was fiercer than any wild beast” (St.

Chrysostom, in loc.). He went and cast him into prison. He either

himself dragged the wretched debtor to prison, or was not satisfied till he

had seen the door of the jail close upon him. Far from forgiving the debt,

he would not even grant an extension of time; he must have payment

immediately, or he will exact the utmost punishment till the debt is fully



31 "So when his fellow-servants saw what was done, they were very

sorry, and came and told unto their Lord all that was done."

Fellow servants. Those in the same condition of life as the

incarcerated debtor. Mystically, they would be the angels, who, like those

in the parable of the tares, tell the Lord what was done; or the saints who

plead with God against oppression and injustice. They were very sorry. It

is well remarked that anger against sin is God’s attribute (v. 34), sorrow

appertains to men. These have a fellow feeling for the sinner, in that they

are conscious that in their own heart there are germs of evil which,

unchecked, may develop into similar wickedness. Told (διεσάφησαν

diesaphaesanthey elucidate; told clearly). They took the part of their

comrade, and, not in revenge or malice, but as an act of justice, gave their

lord full information of what had happened. The just cannot hold their peace

at the sight of oppression and wrong, and God confirms their judgment.


32 "Then his Lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou

wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me:"

After that he had called him. A second time he is brought

before his lord, not now to receive forgiveness, but to have the enormity of

his guilt exhibited to him, and to suffer well deserved punishment. In a

mystical sense this call is the summons of death, which is virtually

judgment. O thou wicked servant. The lord had not so addressed him

when he had come cringing into his presence on the former occasion; he

had spoken no words of reproach, but simply left him in the hands of

justice. Now he calls him “wicked,” because he is unmerciful; he deserves

the epithet, because he has been guilty of a crime as heinous as theft or

murder. Then the lord places in strong contrast the mercy which he had

received and the unmercifulness which he had shown. All that debt. Great

as it was. Thou desiredst me (παρεκάλεσαςparekalesasyou entreat;

besoughtest me); calledst on me for aid. The debtor had not asked or hoped

for remission of his debt, and had been largely and most unexpectedly



33 "Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow-servant,

even as I had pity on thee?"  Compassion...pity. The same verb is used in both

places. Shouldest not thou also have had mercy on thy fellow servant, even as I

had mercy on thee? (Revised Version). The man’s guilt lies in his

unmercifulness in the face of mercy received. The fact is patent; it stands

for itself; it needs no amplification or enforcement. The king says no more,

and the delinquent is equally silent; he has no excuse to offer. Convicted by

his own conscience, he knows it is useless to sue for pardon or to expect

further leniency. SO IN THE DAY OF JUDGMENT no excuse can be

admitted; IT IS TOO LATE to plead or argue when the sentence is past.


34 "And his Lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till

he should pay all that was due unto him."  Was wroth. This, as we said above,

is the prerogative of God. Man is pained and grieved at sin; God is angry.

Tormentors; βασανισταῖςbasanistais - tormentors. These are not the jaillers,

prison keepers, but persons who put prisoners to the torture. Neither Jewish nor

Roman law at that time recognized any such officials; neither were those in

confinement treated thus in either community. The idea is taken from the practice

of Oriental despotism, which might thus punish an offence considered

supremely detestable. In a mystical sense these are the ministers of Divine

vengeance who carry out the behests of the King. Till he should pay;

(ἕως οῦ ἀποδῷ - heos hou apodo until he should have paid; till which he

may be paying). Some editors omit or bracket οῦ (which), but the sense is the

same with or without the relative. The debt never could be paid, so practically

the punishment would last forever. Commentators, mediaeval and modern,

see here an argument for the eternity of future punishment; others see in the

clause an intimation that sin may be forgiven in the other world, though not

repented of or pardoned in this present life. The words give no support to the

latter interpretation. Until, etc., does not necessarily signify that the condition

specified is certain to be fulfilled. As Bengel says, on ch. 1:25, “Non sequitur

ergo post.” And in the present case there could be no possibility of payment.

A criminal delivered to the tormentors would have no opportunity or means of

raising the necessary funds. If this is a picture of the final judgment, it is parallel

to our Lord’s statement in ch. 5:26, “Thou shalt by no means come out

thence till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing;” for, as the Preacher says,

“There is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave

whither thou goest(Ecclesiastes 9:10). All that was due [unto him]

(πᾶν τὸ ὀφειλόμενον αὐτῷ - pan to opheilomenon auto – all the being owed

to him). Modern editors reject αὐτῷ: Vulgate, universum debitum. This is more

general than “all that debt” in v. 32. It is usually taken to refer to the old debt now

redemanded. But a difficulty has been found in the fact that this old debt had been

freely forgiven and utterly done away, and therefore could not, in equity, be again

exacted. Hence some commentators have explained the clause as referring not at

all to the former debt, but to a new debt incurred by a new offence, viz. ingratitude

and unmercifulness. But the spiritual truth seems to be that, although sins

once absolutely forgiven are not again imputed, they make subsequent sins

more heinous, as in a human law court previous conviction increases the

penalty of a fresh transgression (persistent felon). Falling from grace, a man

passes into enmity with God, and so far cancels his pardon, and is in a state of

condemnation (see Ezekiel 18:24, 26).


35 "So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from

your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses."  

So likewise. This points to the moral of the parable intended by Christ.

It is not a lesson against ingratitude, but against unmercifulness.

“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” But want of charity

makes a man incapable of retaining God’s pardon; the Holy Spirit cannot

abide in an unforgiving soul. My heavenly Father. He says, not “your”

(ch. 6:14, 26), nor “our,” but “my heavenly Father,” the Father of

Christ, the God of all mercies. He cannot join Himself in mention with such

as are not children of God. From your hearts. Forgiveness must be real,

sincere, not pretended, nor merely outward. There must not only be no

outward act of revenge, but no malice in the heart, no storing up of evil

passions for future outlet, as occasion may arise. The heart must be in

harmony with the conduct, and both must evidence a true spirit of charity.

This alone enables one to continue in a state of grace and in reconciliation

with God; this alone makes prayer acceptable; and we are assured that, as

our heavenly Father requires us to forgive without limit, so His mercy is

infinite and will be extended to us in measure unbounded. Their

trespasses. These words are omitted by many manuscripts, the Vulgate,

and most modern editors; and they are not required by the sense. They

have been, perhaps, added to obviate a certain abruptness in the conclusion

of the parable.



The Law of Forgiveness (vs. 21-35)




Ø      Peters question. The Lord had intimated the duty of gentleness in

dealing with offences. Every effort was to be used to reconcile the

offending brother; he was to be approached with all gentleness, with all

Christian tact, if so be that he might be won back to Christ and to the

Church. Peter wished for a definite rule to guide him in carrying out the

Lord’s directions. According to the rabbis, an erring brother should be

forgiven three times. Peter suggested a larger number, the sacred number

seven, as the limit of Christian forgiveness.


Ø      The Lords answer. “I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until

seventy times seven.” There seems to be a reference to the words of

Lamech (Genesis 4:24). Lamech desired a seventy and sevenfold

vengeance. The Lord commands a seventy and sevenfold forgiveness.

There is some doubt as to the numerical value of the words. But it is of

little importance which rendering we adopt, “seventy times seven,” or

“seventy-seven times,” for the Lord certainly means that acts of forgiveness

are not to be counted. It is a question not to be settled by arithmetic, but by

Christian love and by the grace of God. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we

forgive them that trespass against us.”




Ø      The account. The Lord illustrates the duty of forgiveness by the parable

of a human king and his servants. The king would take account of his

servants. God takes account from time to time. There are preliminary

reckonings preparatory for the great day of account. In the visitations of

His providence, in dangerous sickness, in the hour of deep and heartfelt

penitence, the Lord brings home to our hearts the exceeding guilt of our

sins, the greatness of our debt. A servant was brought who owed ten

thousand talents. The reckoning had only just begun; there may have been

other even greater debts to come. It was a terrible beginning. The servant

was brought; he would not have come of his own will. The sinner shrinks in

terror from the awful presence of the Judge. Adam and Eve hid themselves

when first the King came to take account. But he was brought. We cannot

escape, we must come, WHEN HE REQUIRES our presence. The debt was

enormous, far more than we can even represent to our imagination. Such is

the awful debt of sin; we may well say every day, and many times every

day, “Forgive us our debts.”


Ø      The mercy of the king. The servant was to be sold, he and his family, and

all that he had. In his agony he fell down before his lord and worshipped

him; “Lord,” he said, “have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.” He

could not pay, he never could have paid, that vast debt. But in his

presumption, or in his deceitfulness, or, it may be, in the frenzy of his abject

terror, he promised the impossible. The king was moved with compassion;

he loosed him, and forgave him the debt. It is a parable of the infinite

compassion of the heavenly King; “he pardoneth and absolveth all them

that truly repent.” “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive

us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  (I John 1:9)


Ø      The cruelty of the servant. He went out from the king’s presence. We

are only safe while we abide in union with the Lord. He is the Source and

Fountain of love, and apart from Him there is no true and holy love. When

men go out from His presence, from the sphere of His influence, they cease

to love; they become selfish, hard, unfeeling. That forgiven servant found a

fellow servant who owed him a hundred pence, a trifling sum compared

with his own enormous debt. He caught him by the throat; he would not

listen to his prayer (though the prayer was that very same prayer which he

himself had just before poured forth in the bitterness of his soul); he cast

him into prison till he should pay the debt. So now men forget their own

guilt, their own danger; they are hard and unforgiving to others, forgetting

their own deep need of mercy and forgiveness.


Ø      The condemnation. His fellow servants were very sorry. The sins of

others will cause real sorrow to the true Christian; he will grieve over the

hard hearted and impenitent, as the Lord wept over Jerusalem. “Rivers of

waters run down mine eyes,” said the psalmist, “because men keep not thy

Law.” (Psalm 119:136)  They told their lord. The all-seeing God needs no

information from men or angels; yet in their prayers His saints lay before

Him the oppression and sufferings of His people, as Hezekiah laid the letter

of Sennacherib before the Lord, as the disciples “went and told Jesus” of the

death of the holy Baptist. The king was wroth: “O thou wicked servant,” he

said. He had not called him wicked because he owed the ten thousand talents;

he pitied him then; now he upbraids him. His want of mercy showed the utter

hardness and selfishness of his heart; it showed that his own cry for mercy

implied no sense of the greatness of his debt, but only fear of punishment.

The king was wroth; he delivered him to the tormentors till he should pay

all that was due to him. His cruelty cancelled the forgiveness which had

been granted him. His last state was worse than the first. Those who,

having been once enlightened, fall away from grace are in awful danger. “It

had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than,

after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered

unto them.”  (II Peter 2:21)  The unhappy man could never pay that

tremendous debt; he could not had he remained free, how much less when

he was in the hands of the tormentors! Those words are very awful; they

represent awful possibilities; they sound in our ears in tones of awful warning.

“So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your

hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.” The unloving

cannot abide in Christ, who is Love; the hardhearted and unmerciful cannot

continue in union with Him who, though He was rich, yet for our sakes

became poor (II Corinthians 8:9); the unforgiving cannot dare to use the

prayer which the Lord Himself hath taught us, “Forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive them that trespass against us.” “Blessed are the merciful, for

they shall obtain mercy.”  (ch. 5:7)  There is no mercy for the merciless.

We may repeat again and again the words of prayer, “Lord, have mercy

upon us!” but countless repetitions will not win mercy for those who

have not mercy in their hearts. And OH!  WE SHALL NEED MERCY

IN THAT GREAT DAY!   Then let us be merciful now: “Be ye kind one to

another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s

sake hath forgiven you.”  (Ephesians 4:32)




Ø      Let us always remember the great account; God has given us work to

do, let us work out our own salvation in fear and trembling.

      (Philippians 2:12)

Ø      Our debt is IMMENSE; let the remembrance of our sins keep us humble.

Ø      God’s mercy is INFINITE; let us trust in His forgiving love.

Ø      He is wroth with the unforgiving; let us learn mercy of the most Merciful.

Ø      We say the Lord’s Prayer daily; let us ever strive by God’s grace to

translate that prayer into practice, to live as we pray, to forgive, as we

hope for forgiveness.




The Unmerciful Servant (vs. 21-35)


The form of Peter’s question shows that he still considered that to forgive

was not the law of the kingdom, but a tentative measure which might at

any moment be revoked, that underneath the forgiveness there lies the right

to revenge. We also know this feeling of Peter’s, that in forgiving we are

doing something more than could be demanded of us. And this feeling,

wherever it exists, shows that we are living with retaliation for the law,

forgiveness for the exception. It is to mark with reprobation the

unforgiving and self seeking spirit that our Lord utters this parable.


  • The first result of this spirit is that IT LEADS TO DISHONOURABLE


BETTER USES. The man whose great motive in life is the desire to get all

the good out of it he can for himself will contract debt to God, that is, will

contract real guilt, exactly in proportion to his opportunities of doing good

and playing a high part in life. Whether the power be great or little, the

guilt contracted is the same, if we lay out on ourselves what should in

simple honesty have been laid out on God, if we habitually divert from God

the revenues which truly belong to Him.


  • But still more strongly does the parable point to THE HATEFULNESS

OF AN UNFORGIVING SPIRIT. The man was not softened by the

remission of his own great debt. So it often is with the sinner deadened by

long sin. There is no deep contrition in his cry for pardon, only a desire to

escape, as selfish as the desire to sin was. If the forgiving love of God does

not humble, it hardens us. If we take it as a mere trifle, and are not

thoroughly humbled by it, we are only too apt to show our zeal in exposing

and reproving the faults of other men, or by violent and unrelenting

condemnation of those who offend us. The hatefulness of this spirit is

signalized by one or two added particulars.


Ø      The petty amount of the debt he exacts as set over against the enormity

of that which had been remitted to himself. There is something almost

incredibly mean as well as savage in this man’s quick remembrance of the

pence that are due to himself, while he so easily puts from his mind the ten

thousand talents he owes. But our incredulity gives way when we THINK

OF THE DEBT WE OWE TO GOD and the trifles committed against us which

we find it so hard to forget. What are the causes of quarrel among men? Often a

word, a look, an expression unwittingly dropped. Or measure even the

deepest injury that has ever been done to you; the wrong that has darkened

or obstructed your whole life with that for which you yourself need to ask

forgiveness of God, and say whether you ought still to be implacable. No

doubt you may detect in the injuries done to you more malice and intention

to wound than in your own sins against God; but you will certainly not find

more dishonoring neglect, more culpable repudiation of what was due. And

what was the harm done in comparison with giving false impressions about

God or counterworking His will? Is our shame for sin against God as

intense and as real as our indignation at injuries done to ourselves?


Ø      But the chief aggravation of this man’s conduct lay in the fact that he

had just been forgiven. He thought mercy a good thing so long as he was

the object of it, but in the presence of a debtor he is deaf to the reasons

that filled his own mouth immediately before. And how hard do we all find

it to deal with others as God has dealt with us! We go from His presence,

where we have felt it is mercy, which is the most needful gift in a world

like this — it is mercy which gives us hope at all — and we go straight to

our fellow servant and exact all our due. Here, then, our Lord enounces the

law of UNLIMITED FORGIVENESS as one of the essential laws of His

kingdom.  Men are to be held together, not by external compulsion, but by

the inward disposition of each member of the society to forgive and be on

terms of brotherly kindness with every other member. We lose much of the

power and practical benefit of Christ’s teaching by refusing to listen to what

He says about His kingdom as cordially as to what He says about individuals.

We are not, perhaps, too much, but too exclusively taken up with the

saving of our own souls, neglecting to consider that the Bible throughout

takes to do with the Church and people of God, with the kingdom; and

with the individual only as a member of the kingdom of God. And so it is

not for the individual Christ legislates. To unite us individually to God He

recognizes as only half His work. Our salvation consists, not only in being

brought into reconciliation with God, but in our becoming reconciled to

men. The man who is content if he is sure his own soul is safe has great

cause to believe it in danger, for in Christ we are knit one to another. But

how are we to get into a right state of feeling towards other men; to find it

natural to forgive always, not to stand on our rights and exact our dues,

but to be moved by the desire to promote the interests of others? The true

way to a forgiving spirit is to be forgiven, to go back again and again to

God, and count over our debt to Him, though the man, whose mind is filled

with a true view of his own wrong doing, always feels how much more he

has been forgiven than he can ever be called on to forgive. We must begin,

therefore, with the truth about ourselves.




The Hard Debtor (vs. 23-35)


This parable follows our Lord’s answer to Peter’s question about the

limits of forgiveness. The great reason why we should forgive freely is that

we have been freely forgiven much more than any men owe to us.


  • THE GREAT DEBT. This represents what the sinner owes to God. We

pray that God will forgive us our debts (ch. 6:12). Deficiencies of

duty are like debts considered as arrears of payments. Positive

transgressions are like debts, through our having willfully appropriated

what was not our own without paying for it. The accumulated omissions

and offences make up the one consolidated debt of guilt.


Ø      Its immense size. Christ names a fabulous sum. There is no counting the

accumulated sins of a lifetime.


Ø      Its full exposure. The miserable debtor had been postponing the evil day.

Perhaps, as he had been left long to himself, he had begun to hope that he

would never be called to account. But the day of reckoning came. THAT

DAY WILL COME FOR EVERY SOUL!   Long delay means an

aggravated debt.


  • THE DREADFUL PUNISHMENT. It was according to the stern

legislation of antiquity, and Christ bases His parables on familiar aspects of

life without thereby justifying the facts and usages that He describes. In the

spiritual world great punishment is the due of great sin. A reaction against

the physical horrors of the mediaeval hell HAS BLINDED OUR AGE to

this fearful truth. Yet Christ frequently affirms it in calm, terrible language.


  • THE GENEROUS FORGIVENESS. In his dismay the debtor grovels

at the feet of his lord, and foolishly offers to repay all if only the king will

be patient and give him time. That is impossible, and the king knows it. We

can never repay what we owe to God. If His mercy only took the form of

staying execution, at best it would only lead to a postponement of our

doom. But the king forgave the debtor — forgave him completely. GOD

FORGIVES FREELY AND FULLY!  He acts royally. He does not spoil

His gift by making it but half a pardon. The great debt is completely

cancelled to THE PENITENT SOUL!


  • THE SUBSEQUENT CRUELTY. The debtor’s conduct was doubly

odious. He had just been forgiven himself, and his debt was vastly greater

than his fellow servant’s. Yet he treated the poor man with brutal

insistence, with cruel harshness. Nothing could be more odious than this

conduct. But is it not just the conduct of every Christian who will not

forgive his brother? The Christian should be melted by the sight of

GOD’S BOUNDLESS CLEMENCY, by his own reception of it, and

by the knowledge that God has forgiven him far more than anything

he can ever have to forgive his brother.


  • THE FINAL DOOM. The king is justly angry. He recalls the pardon.

He even has his wretched debtor put to torture. There are degrees of

punishment in the future world, and the worse torment is reserved for

those who, having accepted the mercy of God for themselves, have had no

mercy on their fellow-men.


The Limits of Mercy (vs. 21-35)


Peter’s question here was suggested by his Lord’s doctrine concerning

Christian judgment (vs. 15-20). “Then came Peter,” etc. The form of

Peter’s question may have been suggested by the custom of the rabbins

who from Amos 1:3 — “For three transgressions, and for four, I will not

turn away wrath” — held that three offences were to be forgiven, and not

the fourth; or, uniting the two numbers, made “seven times” the extreme

limit of their forgiveness. The Lord’s reply teaches us:





Ø      Forgiveness should never be refused when sought with repentance.


o        That repentance is understood here is evident from the illustrative

parable of the two debtors (vs. 26, 29). Also from the parallel place

(see Luke 17:4).


o        To gain a brother is more noble than to ruin him. Mercy is nobler

than sacrifice.  (Obedience is also better than sacrifice.   I Samuel



o        The gaining of a brother is greater than the recovery of property.

Life is more than meat. How much is a man better than a sheep?


Ø      Forgiveness is no mercy to the impenitent.


o        It leaves his evil nature still unchanged.


o        It encourages and hardens him in his perversity.


o        It offends public justice. The fellow servants of the oppressor were

“exceeding sorry.” They looked to their lord for his judgment upon

the tyrant.





Ø      Gods mercy is boundless.


o        Offences against God, as compared with offences against our fellows,

are as “ten thousand talents” to “one hundred pence.” We should

regard ourselves as debtors to God in all we have and all we are.


o        It is folly in us to say to Him, “I will pay thee all.” He that goes about

to establish his own righteousness is guilty of this folly of attempting

with nothing to pay all (compare v. 25; Romans 10:3).


o        The parable teaches that the only way to forgiveness is to acknowledge

our debt and appeal only to mercy. The promise to pay may express the

desire of the contrite heart to make amends.


o        The Lord does not exact; He forgives (compare Psalm 78:38, 40). His

mercy is limited neither to “seven times” nor to “seventy times seven.”


Ø      We must forgive as we are .forgiven.


o        This is required (compare ch. 6:12; Mark 11:25-26). It was at

the close of the great Day of Atonement that the jubilee trumpet

sounded a release from debts (see Leviticus 25:9).


o        To the merciless God will show no mercy. A claim pushed to an

extremity becomes a wrong. Mercilessness is GREAT WICKEDNESS!

“Thou wicked servant!” “To be beggars to God and tyrants to our

brethren is the height of depravity” (Helfrich).


Ø      Forgiveness must be from the heart.”


o        God’s reasons of mercy are from Himself. “He will have mercy upon

whom He will have mercy;” (Romans 9:15)  “He was moved with



o        So the wisdom which is from above, true religion, is “easy to be

entreated.”  (James 3:17)  The returning prodigal child will find

a relenting heart. The insolvent debtor, a compassionate creditor.

The distressed tenant, a lenient landlord. Gratitude to God will

make it so. “I am thy servant; for thou hast loosed my bonds.”

(Psalm 116:16)


o        This is a forgiveness which leaves no resentment behind, no refusal of

friendship. We should keep no account of the offences of a brother,

but pass them over, and so forgive and forget until it becomes a habit

to do so.





Ø      There is a time for reckoning with the King.


o        The King reckons with His servants when their regeneration

commences. Then they reflect upon their spiritual state, and

upon their liability to ruin.


o        There are retributions and rewards in the order of God’s providence

in this world.



 at the end of the age. To this end God keeps account (see Deuteronomy

32:34). Every sin we commit is a debt to God. The aggregate is the

“ten thousand talents”


Ø      His pardons will be retracted from the unmerciful.


o        The same servant went out and throttled his fellow servant. “Went

out.” How different may be our conduct when we go out into the

world from what it is when we go into our closet! Went out; not

immediately, perhaps, but when by degrees the spirit of the world

replaced the grateful emotion.


o        Those who have experienced God’s mercy have the greater reason to

deprecate His wrath. They will find the “seventy times seven” of the

mercy transformed into WRATH (compare Genesis 4:24). How

serious, then, may be the consequences of the difference between

the attitude of the closet and that of the world!


Ø      How fearful are the treasures of wrath!


o        There are the sufferings of loss. The debtor is sold up. He forfeits

wife, children, property. All ennobling excellences of his nature are

removed. His talents, his trusts, are taken away (compare ch. 25:15, 28).

“Those who sell themselves to work wickedness must be sold to make

satisfaction” (Matthew Henry).


o        The sufferings of reproach. “Thou wicked servant.” This expresses a

perception which God will give to the sinner of the enormity of his

conduct. “I forgave thee all that debt.” It is terrible to be upbraided

with the mercy we have abused. Shouldst not thou also,” etc.? What

a contrast is here with the mercy that is given liberally without

upbraiding (James 1:5)!


o        Torment. Eastern prisons were places of torment (compare ch. 25:46;

II Peter 2:4, 17; Jude 1:6). The prison keepers are the tormentors

(compare Revelation 14:10-12). The tortures are the worm that

dieth not and the fire that is not quenched.  (Mark 9:48)


o        The sufferer has no voice to reply.




Moral Fitness for Receiving Divine Forgiveness (v. 35)


Upon his earnest petition, the man gains a full and free forgiveness; but the

question arises — Did he deserve it? Was he in a state of mind fit to

receive it? Was the forgiveness any real moral good to him? This is soon

answered. The man, fresh from his great forgiveness, finds a fellow servant

who owes him but a trifling sum, and his severity with him shows clearly

enough that his heart was untouched. The unforgiving manifest that they

are unfitted to receive Gods forgiveness. The Christian limit of forgiveness

isForgive your fellow men as freely and as fully as God has forgiven

you. The Christian law of forgiveness is — Expect God to forgive you only

when you are in such a penitent, humble, and sympathetic frame of mind

that you can easily forgive your fellows.



Estimate it aright, and you will feel that there must be some preparedness for

receiving such a blessing.


Ø      Think of the greatness of the sin to be forgiven us. Take Christ’s figure

of the immense debt. See sin as ingratitude; and as disobedience.


Ø      Think of the aggravations of sin. The witfulness of many sins. They

are sins against light and knowledge. They are even committed after



Ø      Think what love is shown in the conditions of forgiveness. The

objective ground of remission is THE GIFT AND SACRIFICE




FORGIVENESS!   There is no possibility of purchasing it;

it must come to us as a gift of infinite love. It is no limited blessing.

God blots out the record utterly, as a cloud is blotted from the sky,

and flings our sins away into the depths of the sea.  (Micah 7:19)




enough that the man introduced by our Lord was wholly unworthy of the

forgiveness of that debt. It did him no sort of moral good. He was in no

sense ready for the forgiveness. So there are many who cannot be forgiven

because they are not in such moral states as would make forgiveness any

blessing to them. A humbled, regretful, gracious spirit is necessary. Such a

spirit would be tested at once by an opportunity of showing a forgiving

mind. Tender, melted, kind. The feeling of being undeserving, unworthy.

Christ’s teaching on this point has even a severe side — even His

forgiveness may be revoked, if He finds, by our behavior after forgiveness,

that we were morally unfitted to receive it.


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