Thursday, June 8th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible Barnes' Notes
These files are public domain.
These files are public domain.
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Matthew 18". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ bnb/ matthew-18.html. 1870.
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Matthew 18". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/
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Whoso shall offend - That is, cause to fall, or to sin; or who should place anything in their way to hinder their piety or happiness. See notes at Matthew 5:29.
These little ones - That is, Christians manifesting the spirit of little children, 1Jo 2:1, 1 John 2:12, 1 John 2:18, 1 John 2:28.
It were better for him that a millstone ... - Mills, anciently, were either turned by hand (see the notes at Matthew 24:41), or by beasts, chiefly by mules. These last were of the larger kind, and the original words denote that it was this kind that was intended. This was one mode of capital punishment practiced by the Greeks, Syrians, Romans, and by some other nations. The meaning is, it would be better for him to have died before he had committed the sin. To injure, or to cause to sin, the feeblest Christian, will be regarded by Christ as a most serious offence, and will be punished accordingly.
Woe unto the world because of offences - That is, offences will be the cause of woe or of suffering. Offences, here, mean things that will produce sin: that will cause us to sin, or temptations to induce others to sin. See the notes at Matthew 5:29.
It must needs be ... - That is, such is the depravity of man that there will be always some who are attempting to make others sin; some people of wickedness endeavoring to lead Christians astray, and rejoicing when they have succeeded in causing them to fall. Such, also, is the strength of our native corruption and the force of passion, that our besetting sins will lead us astray.
Woe to that man by whom the offence cometh - He who leads others into sin is awfully guilty - no man can be more guilty. No wickedness can be more deeply seated in the heart than that which attempts to mar the peace, defile the purity, and destroy the souls of others; and yet in all ages there have been multitudes who, by persecution, threats, arts, allurements, and persuasion, have endeavored to seduce Christians from the faith and to lead them into sin.
If thy hand ... - See the notes at Matthew 5:29-30. The sense in all these instances is the same. Worldly attachments, friendships, and employments of any kind, that cannot be pursued without leading us into sin, be they ever so dear to us, must be abandoned, or the soul will be lost.
It is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed ... - It is not meant, by this, that when the body shall be raised it will be maimed and disfigured in this manner. It will be perfect. See 1 Corinthians 15:42-44. But these things are said for the purpose of carrying out or making complete the figure or the representation of cutting off the hands, etc. The meaning is, it is better to go to heaven without enjoying the things that caused us to sin, than to enjoy them here and then be lost.
Halt - Lame.
Maimed - With a loss of limbs.
Into hell fire - It is implied, in all this, that if their sins, however dear to them, were not abandoned, the soul must go into everlasting fire. This is conclusive proof that the sufferings of the wicked will be eternal. See the notes at Mark 9:44, Mark 9:46, Mark 9:48.
Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones. ... - That is, one who has become like a little child, or a Christian.
For I say unto you ... - Jesus then proceeds to state the reason why we should not despise his feeblest and obscurest follower. That reason is drawn from the care which God exercises over them. The first instance of that care is, that “in heaven their angels do always behold his face.” He does not mean, I suppose, to state that every good man has his guardian angel, as many of the Jews believed; but that the angels were, in general, the guards of his followers, and aided them and watched over them. See the notes at Hebrews 1:14.
Do always behold the face of God - This is taken from the practice of earthly courts. To be admitted to the presence of a king; to be allowed to see his face continually; to have free access to him at all times, was deemed a mark of special favor 1 Kings 10:8; Esther 1:14, and was esteemed a security for his protection. So, says our Saviour, we should not despise the obscurest Christian, for he is ministered to by the highest and noblest of beings by beings who are always enjoying the favor and friendship of God.
For the Son of man ... - This is a second reason why we should not despise Christians. That reason is, that the Son of man came to seek and save them. He came in search of them when lost; he found them; he redeemed them. It was the great object of his life; and, though they may be obscure and little in the eye of the world, yet that cannot be an object of contempt which the Son of God sought by his toils and his death.
Son of man - See the notes at Matthew 8:19-20.
That which was lost - Property is lost when it is consumed, mislaid, wasted, sunk in the ocean, etc. - when we have no longer the use of it. Friends are lost when they die - we enjoy their and happiness. He is useless to society. So all people are “lost.” They are wicked, miserable wanderers from God. They are lost to piety, to happiness, to heaven. These Jesus came to save by giving his own life a ransom, and shedding his own blood that they might be recovered and saved.
To show still further the reason why we should not despise Christians, he introduced a parable showing the joy felt when a thing lost is found. A shepherd rejoices over the recovery of one of his flock that had wandered more than over all that remained; so God rejoices that man is restored: so he seeks his salvation, and wills that not one thus found should perish. If God thus loves and preserves the redeemed, then surely man should not despise them. See this passage further explained in Luke 15:4-10.
Moreover, if thy brother - The word “brother,” here, evidently means a fellow-professor of religion. Christians are called brethren because they belong to the same redeemed family, having a common Father - God; and because they axe united in the same feelings, objects, and destiny.
Trespass against thee - That is, injure thee in any way, by words or conduct. The original word means sin against thee. This may be done by injuring the character, person, or property.
Go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone - This was required under the law, Leviticus 19:17. In the original it is “go and reprove him.” Seek an explanation of his conduct, and if he has done wrong, administer a friendly and brotherly reproof. This is required to be done alone:
1. That he may have an opportunity of explaining his conduct. In nine cases out of ten, where one supposes that he has been injured, a little friendly conversation would set the matter right and prevent difficulty.
2. That he may have an opportunity of acknowledging his offence or making reparation, if he has done wrong. Many would be glad of such an opportunity, and it is our duty to furnish it by calling on them.
3. That we may admonish them of their error if they have done an injury to the cause of religion. This should not be blazoned abroad. It can do no good - it does injury; it is what the enemies of religion wish. Christ is often wounded in the house of his friends; and religion, as well as an injured brother, often suffers by spreading such faults before the world.
Thou hast gained thy brother - To gain means, sometimes, to preserve or to save, 1 Corinthians 9:19. Here it means thou hast preserved him, or restored him, to be a consistent Christian. Perhaps it may include the idea, also, thou hast reconciled him to thyself - thou hast gained him as a Christian brother.
But if he will not hear thee ... - That is, if he spurns or abuses you, or will not be entreated by you, and will not reform.
Take with thee one or two more - The design of taking them seems to be,
Tell it to the church - See the notes at Matthew 16:18. The church may here mean the whole assembly of believers, or it may mean those who are authorized to try such cases - the representatives of the church, or these who act for the church. In the Jewish synagogue there was a bench of elders before whom trials of this kind were brought. It was to be brought to the church in order that he might be admonished, entreated, and, if possible, reformed. This was, and is always to be, the first business in disciplining an offending brother.
But if he neglect to hear the church, let him be ... - The Jews gave the name “heathen” or “Gentile” to all other nations but themselves. With them they had no religious contact or communion.
Publican - See the notes at Matthew 5:47. Publicans were people of abandoned character, and the Jews would have no contact with them. The meaning of this is, cease to have religious contact with him, or to acknowledge him as a Christian brother. It does not mean that we should cease to show kindness to him and aid him in affliction or trial, for that is required toward all people; but it means that we should disown him as a Christian brother, and treat him as we do other people not connected with the church. This should not be done until all these steps are taken. This is the only way of kindness. This is the only way to preserve peace and purity in the church.
Whatsoever ye shall bind ... - See the notes at Matthew 16:19. These words were spoken to the apostles. Jesus had before addressed the same words to Peter, Matthew 16:19. He employs them here to signify that they all had the same power; that in ordering the affairs of the church he did not intend to give Peter any supremacy or any exclusive right to regulate it. The meaning of this verse is, whatever you shall do in the discipline of the church shall be approved by God or bound in heaven. This promise, therefore, cannot be understood as extending to all Christians or ministers, for all others but the apostles may err.
Again I say unto you, That if two of you ... - This is connected with the previous verses. The connection is this: The obstinate man is to be excluded from the church, Matthew 18:17. The care of the church - the power of admitting or excluding members - of organizing and establishing it - is committed to you, the apostles, Matthew 18:18. Yet there is not need of the whole to give validity to the transaction. When two of you agree, or have the same mind, feelings, and opinion, about the arrangement of affairs in the church, or about things desired for its welfare, and shall ask of God, it shall be done for them. See Acts 1:14-26; Acts 15:1-29. The promise here has respect to the apostles in organizing the church. It cannot with any propriety be applied to the ordinary prayers of believers. Other promises are made to them, and it is true that the prayer of faith will be answered, but that is not the truth taught here.
For where two or three ... - This is a general assertion made to support the particular promise made Matthew 18:19 to his apostles. He affirms that wherever two or three are assembled together in his name, he is in the midst of them.
In my name - That is,
There am I in the midst of them - Nothing could more clearly prove that Jesus must be omnipresent, and, of course, be God. Every day, perhaps every hour, two or three, or many more, may be assembled in every city or village in the United States, in England, in Greenland, in Africa, in Ceylon, in the Sandwich Islands, in Russia, and in Judea - in almost every part of the world - and in the midst of them all is Jesus the Saviour. Millions thus at the same time, in every quarter of the globe, worship in his name, and experience the truth of the promise that he is present with them. It is impossible that he should be in all these places and not be God.
Then came Peter ... - The mention of the duty Matthew 18:15 of seeing a brother when he had offended us, implying that it was a duty to forgive him, led Peter to ask how often this was to be done.
Forgive him - To forgive is to treat as though the offence was not committed - to declare that we will not harbor malice or treat unkindly, but that the matter shall be buried and forgotten.
Till seven times? - The Jews caught that a man was to forgive another three times, but not the fourth. Peter more than doubled this, and asked whether forgiveness was to be exercised to so great an extent.
I say not unto thee, Until seven times, but, Until seventy times seven - The meaning is, that we are not to limit our forgiveness to any fixed number of times. See Genesis 4:24. As often as a brother injures us and asks forgiveness, we are to forgive him. It is, indeed, his duty to ask forgiveness, Luke 17:4. If he does this, it is our duty to declare that we forgive him, and to treat him accordingly. If he does not ask us to forgive him, yet we are not at liberty to follow him with revenge and malice, but are still to treat him kindly and to do him good, Luke 10:30-37.
Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened ... - The phrase, “the kingdom of heaven,” here has reference to the church, or to the way in which God will deal with his people. “It shall be in my church as it was with a certain king; or God will deal with the members of his church as a certain king did with his servants.” See the notes at Matthew 3:2. This parable (see Matthew 13:3) is related to show the duty of forgiving others. It is not necessary to suppose that it was a true narrative, but only that it illustrated the truth which he was teaching. At the same time it may be true that such an occurrence really took place.
Would take account of his servants - To take account means to reckon, to settle up affairs. The word “servants” here means, probably, petty princes, or, more likely, collectors of the revenue or taxes. Among the ancients kings often farmed out, or sold for a certain sum, the taxes of a particular district or province. Thus, when Judea was subject to Egypt or Rome, the kings frequently sold to the high priest the taxes to be raised from Judea on condition of a much smaller sum being paid to them. This secured to them a certain sum, but it gave occasion to much oppression in the collection of the taxes. It is probable that some such persons are intended by the word servants.
Ten thousand talents - A talent was a sum of money, or weight of silver or gold amounting to three thousand shekels. A silver shekel was worth, after the captivity, not far from half a dollar of our money. A talent of silver was worth (circa 1880’s) 1,519.23 =342 British pounds, 3 shillings, 9d.; of gold, 243,098.88 =5,475 British pounds. If these were silver talents, as is probable, then the sum owed by the servant was 15,180,000, or about 3,421, 875 British sterling (circa 1880’s), a sum which proves that he was not a domestic, but some tributary prince. The sum is used to show that the debt was immensely large, and that our sins are so great that they cannot be estimated or numbered. Compare Job 22:5.
His lord commanded him to be sold ... - By the laws of the Hebrews they were permitted to sell debtors, with their wives and children, into servitude for a time sufficient to pay a debt. See 2 Kings 4:1; Leviticus 25:39-46; Amos 8:6.
The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him - This does not mean that he paid him religious homage, but that in a humble, reverent, and earnest manner he entreated him to have patience with him. He prostrated himself before his lord, as is customary in all Eastern nations when subjects are in the presence of their king. See the notes at Matthew 2:2.
The lord of that servant was moved with compassion ... - He had pity on him. He saw his distressed condition. He pitied his family. He forgave him the whole debt. This represents the mercy of God to people. “They have sinned.” They owe to God more than can be paid. They are about to be cast off; but God has mercy on them, and, in connection with their prayers, forgives them. We are not to interpret the circumstances of a parable too strictly. The illustration taken from selling the wife and children Matthew 18:25 is not to be taken literally, as if God would punish a man for the sins of his father; but it is a circumstance thrown in to keep up the story - to make it consistent - to explain the reason why the servant was so anxious to obtain a delay of the time of payment.
But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellow-servants which owed him an hundred pence - Greek, δεναριον denarion; Latin, denarius; a Roman silver coin in common use. When Greece became subject to the Romans, and especially under the emperors, the denarius was regarded as of equal value with the Attic drachma - about 7 1/2 d. sterling, or 15 cents (circa 1880’s); consequently, this debt was about 15 dollars - a very small sum compared with what had been forgiven to the first servant. Perhaps our Saviour, by this, meant to teach that the offences which our fellow-men commit against us are very small and insignificant compared with our offences against God. Since God has forgiven us so much we ought to forgive each other the small offences which are committed.
Took him by the throat - Took him in a violent and rough manner - half choked or throttled him. This was the more criminal and base, as he had himself been so kindly treated and dealt so mildly with by his lord.
Besought - Entreated, pled with him.
So when his fellow-servants ... - This is a mere circumstance thrown into the story for the sake of keeping, or making a consistent narrative. It cannot be intended to teach that other Christians should go and tell God what a brother has done; for God well knows all the actions of his children, and does not need us surely to inform him of what is done. It is abusing the Bible, and departing from the design of parables, to press every circumstance, and to endeavor to extract from it some spiritual meaning. Our Saviour, in this parable, designed most clearly to exhibit only one great truth - the duty of forgiving our brethren, and the great evil of not forgiving a brother when he offends us. The circumstances of the parable are intended only to make the story consistent with itself, and thus to impress the general truth more fully on the mind.
Delivered him to the tormentors - The word “tormentors” here probably means keepers of the prisons. Torments were inflicted on criminals, not on debtors. They were inflicted by stretching the limbs, or pinching the flesh, or putting out the eyes, or taking off the skin while alive, etc. It is not probable that anything of this kind is intended, but only that the servant was punished by imprisonment until the debt should be paid.
1. We see that it is possible to make a profession of religion an occasion of ambition, Matthew 18:1. The apostles at first sought honor, and expected office as a consequence of following Christ. So thousands have done since. Religion, notwithstanding all the opposition it has met with, really commands the confidence of mankind. To make a profession of it may be a way of access to that confidence. Thousands, it is to be feared, even yet enter the church merely to obtain some worldly benefit. Especially does this danger beset ministers of the gospel. There are few paths to the confidence of mankind so easily trod as to enter the ministry. Every minister, of course, if at all worthy of his office, has access to the confidence of multitudes, and is never despised but by the worst and lowest of mankind. No way is so easy to step at once to public confidence. Other people toil long to establish influence by personal character. The minister has it by virtue of his office. Those who now enter the ministry are tempted far more in this respect than were the apostles; and how should they search their own hearts, to see that no such abominable motive has induced them to seek that office!
2. It is consummate wickedness thus to prostitute the most sacred of all offices to the worst of purposes. The apostles at this time were ignorant. They expected a kingdom in which it would be right to seek distinction. But we labor under no such ignorance. We know that the kingdom of Christ is not of this world, and woe to the man that acts as though it were. Deep and awful must be the doom of him who thus seeks the honors of the world while he is professedly following the meek and lowly Jesus!
3. Humility is indispensable to religion, Matthew 18:3. No man who is not humble can possibly be a Christian. He must be willing to esteem himself as he is, and to have others esteem him so also. This is humility, and humility is lovely. It is not meanness it is not cowardice - it is not want of proper self-esteem; it is a view of ourselves just as we are, and a willingness that God and all creatures should so esteem us. What can be more lovely than such an estimation of ourselves! and how foolish and wicked is it to be proud that is, to think more of ourselves, and wish others to think so, than we really deserve! To put on appearances, and to magnify our own importance, and to think that the affairs of the universe could not go on without us, and to be indignant when all the world does not bow down to do us homage this is hypocrisy as well as wickedness; and there may be, therefore, hypocrites out of the church as well as in it.
4. Humility is the best evidence of piety, Matthew 18:4. The most humble man is the most eminent Christian. He is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. The effect of sin is to produce pride. Religion overcomes it by producing a just sense of ourselves, of other people, of angels, and of God. We may therefore measure the advance of piety in our own souls by the increase of humility.
5. We see the danger of despising and doing injury to real Christians, and more especially the guilt of attempting to draw them into sin, Matthew 18:6. God watches over them. He loves them. In the eye of the world they may be of little importance, but not so with God. The most obscure follower of Christ is dear, infinitely dear, to him, and he will take care of him. He that attempts to injure a Christian, attempts to injure God; for God has redeemed him, and loves him.
6. People will do much to lead others into sin, Matthew 18:7. In all communities there are some who seem to live for this. They have often much wealth, or learning, or accomplishment, or address, or professional influence, and they employ it for the sake of seducing the unwary and leading them into ruin. Hence, offences come, and many of the young and thoughtless are led astray. But He who has all power has pronounced woe upon them, and judgment will not always linger. No class of people have a more fearful account to render to God than they who thus lead others into vice and infidelity.
7. We must forsake our dearest sins, Matthew 18:8-9. We must do this, or go to hell-fire. There is no way of avoiding it. We cannot love and cherish those sins and be saved.
8. The wicked they who will not forsake their sins - must certainly go to eternal punishment, Matthew 18:8-9. So said the compassionate Saviour. The fair and obvious meaning of his words is that the sufferings of hell are eternal, and Christ did not use words without meaning. He did not mean to frighten us by bugbears or to hold up imaginary fears. If Christ speaks of hell, then there is a hell. If he says it is eternal, then it is so. Of this we may be sure, that every word which the God of mercy has spoken about the punishment of the wicked is full of meaning.
9. Christians are protected, Matthew 18:10. Angels are appointed as their friends and guardians. Those friends are very near to God. They enjoy his favor, and his children shall be safe.
10. Christians are safe, Matthew 18:11-14. Jesus came to save them. He left the heavens for this end. God rejoices in their salvation. He secures it at great sacrifices, and none can pluck them out of his hand. After the coming of Jesus to save them - after all that he has done for that, and that only - after the joy of God and of angels at their recovery, it is impossible that they should be wrested from him and destroyed. See John 10:27-28.
11. It is our duty to admonish our brethren when they injure us, Matthew 18:15. We have no right to speak of the offence to anyone else, not even to our best friends, until we have given them an opportunity to explain.
12. The way to treat offending brethren is clearly pointed out, Matthew 18:15-17. Nor have we a right to take any other course. Infinite Wisdom - the Prince of Peace - has declared that this is the way to treat our brethren. No other can be right; and no other, therefore, can be so well adapted to promote the peace of the church. And yet how different from this is the course commonly pursued! How few go honestly to an offending brother and tell him his fault! Instead of this, every breeze bears the report - it is magnified - mole-hills swell to mountains, and a quarrel of years often succeeds what might have been settled at once. No robber is so cruel as he who steals away the character of another. Nothing can compensate for the loss of this. Wealth, health, mansions, equipage, all are trifles compared with this. Especially is this true of a Christian. His reputation gone, he has lost his power of doing good; he has brought dishonor on the cause he most loved; he has lost his peace, and worlds cannot repay him.
“Who steals my purse, steals trash: ’tis something, nothing:
’Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands.
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.”
13. We have every encouragement to pray, Matthew 18:20. We are poor, and sinful, and dying, and none can comfort us but God. At his throne we may find all that we want. We know not which is most wonderful - that God deigns to hear our prayers, or that people are so unwilling to use so simple and easy a way of obtaining what they so much need.
14. We should never be weary of forgiving our brethren, Matthew 18:22. We should do it cheerfully. We should do it always. We are never better employed than when we are doing good to those who have injured us. Thus doing, we are most like God.
15. There will be a day in which we must give up our account, Matthew 18:23. It may tarry long; but God will reckon with us, and everything shall be brought into judgment.
16. We are greatly indebted to God - far, far beyond what we are able to pay, Matthew 18:24. We have sinned, and in no way can we make atonement for past sins; but Jesus the Saviour has made an atonement and paid our debt, and we may be free.
17. It is right to pray to God when we feel that we have sinned, and are unable to pay the debt, Matthew 18:26. We have no other way. Poor, and needy, and wretched, we must cast ourselves upon his mercy or die - die forever.
18. God will have compassion on those who do this, Matthew 18:27. At his feet, in the attitude of prayer, the burdened sinner finds peace. We have nowhere else to go but to the very Being that we have offended. None but he can save us from death.
19. From the kindness of God to us we should learn not to oppress others, Matthew 18:28.
20. It is our true interest, as well as duty, to forgive those that offend us, Matthew 18:34. God will take vengeance, and in due time we must suffer if we do not forgive others.
21. Christians are often great sufferers for harboring malice. As a punishment, God withdraws the light of his countenance; they walk in darkness; they cannot enjoy religion; their conscience smites them, and they are wretched. No man ever did or ever can enjoy religion who did not from his heart forgive his brother his trespasses.
22. One reason why Christians ever walk in darkness is, that there is some such duty neglected. They think they have been injured, and very possibly they may have been; they think they are in the right, and possibly they are so; but mingled with a consciousness of this is an unforgiving spirit, and they cannot enjoy religion until that is subdued.
23. Forgiveness must not be in word merely, but from the heart, Matthew 18:35. No other can be genuine. No other is like God.