Thursday, June 8th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible Poole's Annotations
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Matthew 18". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ mpc/ matthew-18.html. 1685.
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Matthew 18". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://studylight.org/
- Henry's Complete
- Clarke Commentary
- Bridgeway Bible Commentary
- Coffman's Commentaries
- Barnes' Notes
- Bullinger's Companion Notes
- Calvin's Commentary
- Bell's Commentary
- College Press
- Church Pulpit Commentary
- Smith's Commentary
- Dummelow on the Bible
- Constable's Expository Notes
- Darby's Synopsis
- Ellicott's Commentary
- Expositor's Dictionary
- Hole's Commentary
- Meyer's Commentary
- Gaebelein's Annotated
- Morgan's Exposition
- Gill's Exposition
- Everett's Study Notes
- Haydock's Catholic Commentary
- Commentary Critical Unabridged
- Gray's Concise Commentary
- Parker's The People's Bible
- Sutcliffe's Commentary
- Trapp's Commentary
- Kretzmann's Commentary
- Lange's Commentary
- Grant's Commentary
- Henry's Complete
- Henry's Concise
- Poole's Annotations
- Pett's Commentary
- Peake's Commentary
- Preacher's Homiletical
- Poor Man's Commentary
- Benson's Commentary
- Sermon Bible Commentary
- Horae Homileticae
- Scofield's Notes
- The Biblical Illustrator
- Coke's Commentary
- The Expositor's Bible Commentary
- The Pulpit Commentaries
- Treasury of Scripture Knowledge
- Wesley's Notes
- Whedon's Commentary
- Henry's Complete
- AEK Concordant NT Commentary
- Abbott's NT
- Orchard's Catholic Commentary
- Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary
- Contending for the Faith
- Daily Study Bible
- Expositor's Greek Testament
- Family Bible NT
- Godbey's NT Commentary
- Alford's Greek Testament Commentary
- Meyer's Commentary
- Bible Study NT
- Bengel's Gnomon
- People's NT
- Robertson's Word Pictures
- Schaff's NT Commentary
- Vincent's Studies
- Burkitt's Expository Notes
- Daily Study Bible
- Brown's Commentary
- Golden Chain Commentary
- Lightfoot's Commentary
- McGarvey'S Commentaries
- Fourfold Gospel
- Gospels Compared
- Box on Selected Books
- Lapide's Commentary
- International Critical
- Ironside's Notes
- Broadus on Matthew
- Layman's Bible Commentary
- Restoration Commentary
- Watson's Expositions
- Utley Commentary
- Kelly Commentary
- Zerr's N.T. Commentary
MATTHEW CHAPTER 18
Matthew 18:1-6 Christ proposes a little child to his disciples for a pattern of innocence and humility.
Matthew 18:7-9 He warns them to avoid offences, though at the expense of a hand, a foot, or an eye,
Matthew 18:10-14 and not to despise the little ones, whom it is the Father’s will to save.
Matthew 18:15-20 He teacheth how to treat an offending brother,
Matthew 18:21-35 and how oft to forgive him, by the parable of a king, who punished one of his servants for refusing that mercy to his fellow which he had experienced from his lord in a larger degree.
Mark, who relates also the same history more largely, Mark 9:33, saith, that this discourse was in the house at Capernaum, and that our Saviour began with them, asking them what they had been discoursing of by the way. That they held their peace, for they had been in the way arguing one with another who should be the greatest; they might at the same time also ask Christ the question. Luke, in whom we find the same history, speaketh of it only as a question that had arisen among themselves, Luke 9:46. It had been the matter of their thoughts in the way, yea, and of their more private discourse also. Luke saith, Jesus knew the thoughts of their hearts. We had need set the Lord at all times before our eyes, for we are always in his sight. He encompasses all our paths, as the psalmist saith. In the way, when we think also we cannot be overheard, he heareth us, and will call us to account for our travelling thoughts and discourses. They were at first ashamed to tell the Lord what they had been thinking and discoursing upon, for Mark saith, Mark 9:34, they held their peace. But by and by they propound the question to Christ himself; so saith Matthew, What do they mean here by the kingdom of heaven? or what gave them occasion to such a discourse? It is most probable that they did not in this question intend the kingdom of glory; but either the church, or gospel dispensation; or (which indeed is most likely) that earthly kingdom which the Jews thought the Messiah should exercise on the earth. The general error of their nation, about a secular kingdom, which the Messias, when he came, should exercise upon the earth, restoring the kingdom to Israel, as they phrase it, Acts 1:6, seemeth to have infected them; so as though in this they differed from the unbelieving Jews, that they owned Christ to be the promised Messiah, and the Christ the Son of God, yet they looked for a temporal kingdom which he should administer. Three times we find them in this mistake; here, and Matthew 20:21, and at our Saviour’s administration of the supper, Luke 22:24; and by Acts 1:6 it should seem that till Christ’s ascension they were not fully instructed in the nature of Christ’s kingdom, but expected that after his resurrection this kingdom of his should have began; and therefore they say,
Wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? Some think that that which at this time raised their jealousy and stirred up their ambition, was our Saviour’s promising Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven, Matthew 16:19, and paying tribute for him, Matthew 17:24-27. But neither of these could be, for had not the keys been given equally the question had been determined, they needed have reasoned no more. He that had the keys was certainly to be the greatest; and for the paying of tribute, it was too minute a thing to cause such a jealousy. Besides, this discourse of theirs was by the way to Capernaum, where he now was; that was after he came to the house. But they doubtless fancied a temporal kingdom of the Messiah, in which places would be bestowed; and Christ, by his discourse about the tribute, had asserted himself a King’s Son; and they conceived that after his death and resurrection (which Christ had lately been speaking of) this his kingdom would begin, which also agreeth with what we have Acts 1:6; they therefore thought it now time to speak for places. They had been arguing the point amongst themselves, and could not come to a resolution. Some of them were Christ’s near kinsmen (such was James, Galatians 1:19). Some of them had more extraordinary parts; he named two of them, on this account, the sons of thunder. To others he had showed a more particular kindness; John is called the beloved disciple; Peter, James, and John were taken up to the mount to see his transfiguration. These things might cause some emulation and suspicions; they therefore come to our Saviour to be resolved.
1. How slowly do we conceive, and how hardly do we come to understand, spiritual things! We are of the earth, and we are earthly.
2. How prone are we to seek great things for ourselves, neglecting our higher spiritual and eternal concerns! This text lets us see, that even the best of men are subject to earthly mindedness, ambition, emulation, and hardly brought truly to understand, believe, and seek the things which are above.
Let us now observe how our Saviour behaveth himself towards his disciples upon this question, and what answer he makes to it.
Mark saith, Mark 9:35-37, And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all. And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them: and when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them, &c. Luke saith only, that he took the child, and set him by him, Luke 9:47; and adds, Luke 9:48, he that is least among you all, the same shall be great. How easy a thing had it been for our Saviour, had the intended any such primacy in the church as the papists contend for, to have said, Peter shall be the greatest! Here was a very fair opportunity for him, if he had pleased, so to have declared his will; but here is not a word of such tendency. Mark saith our Saviour,
1. Sat down, as the manner of their teachers was, when they taught, to denote their authority.
2. He called the twelve, to let them know that what he was about to speak was a grave matter not of a particular but universal concern for them to learn, that, they might teach others.
He said unto them, ( saith Mark), If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all; and (which Luke adds) he that is least among you all, the same shall be great. You would know (saith he) who shall be greatest he that doth not desire to be first; he who is most remote from pride and ambition; he that most contemneth the world, and the priorities and superiorities of it. The proud and ambitious man, he that seeketh great things for himself, shall be of least esteem in my kingdom; he is really least in grace, and ought to be of least esteem and repute among Christians, and he will be the last in the kingdom of glory.
Then he calleth to him a little child: the word doth not always signify a very young child; here it doth, for,
1. He took him in his arms (saith Mark).
2. A young child was the fittest pattern to commend humility to them.
This was an ancient and usual way of teaching, by types, as it were, or patterns: see Jeremiah 19:10; Jeremiah 27:2. He reads this lecture upon the child, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, &c. The prefixing Verily adds much to the authority of this saying. Converted here, στρα-φητε, doth not signify the change or conversion of a soul from a state of sin unto God, (so the apostles were already converted), but the turning of their souls from a particular lust or error, into the opposite right way of truth and holiness: except ye repent of your pride and ambition, ye cannot be saved. The next words expound it, and become as little children: not as little children in all things, (which was the Anabaptists’ dream in Germany, upon which they would run about the streets playing with rattles, &c.), but, Matthew 18:4, humbling yourselves as little children.
1. Little children know not what dominion means, and therefore affect it not, are not ambitious.
2. They are not given to boast and glory, and to prefer themselves before others.
3. They are ready to be taught and instructed.
4. They live upon their fathers’ providence, and are not over solicitous.
5. They are not malicious and vindictive. In malice (saith the apostle) be ye children.
The three first are principally here intended. If ye be not thus like little children, ye will be so far from being greatest in the kingdom of God, that you will never come here at all. So as this text teacheth us all,
1. The necessity of humility in order to salvation.
2. That even converted souls have need of a daily conversion. Repentance is a work which will never be perfected till we come to die.
3. How abominable in the eyes of God ambition and pride are in any, especially in ministers of the gospel.
4. That in the church the way to be great is to be humble.
5. That true humility lieth in a mean opinion of ourselves, not minding high things, condescending to men of low estate, not being wise in our own conceits, Romans 12:16; in honour preferring one another, Romans 12:10.
Mark hath it thus, Mark 9:37, Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever receiveth me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me. Then he addeth, Mark 9:42, And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea. Our Lord having declared that the little ones before mentioned shall be greatest in the kingdom of God, here cometh to show the care which he in his providence will take for them; that their friends shall be his friends, and their enemies his enemies: Whoso receiveth such a little child, that is, a humble Christian. In the next verse it is opened by, one that believeth in me. By receiving I conceive is here to be understood the showing of any favour or kindness to them: Christ declares that he would take it as done to himself. It is much the same with Matthew 10:40-42. Mark addeth, He that receiveth me, receiveth him that sent me. The reason is, because he and his Father are one, and the Father takes any kindness done to Christ as if it were done to himself, and the Son takes any kindness or unkindness done to any humble, believing soul, as if it were done to himself: see Matthew 25:34-46.
But whoso shall offend one of these little ones, &c. As offending signifieth the laying of a stumbling block before any, so it signifieth any motion or temptation to them to sin against God, whether it be by flattering or frowning arguments, though the latter seemeth rather to be understood here; so, by offending, it signifies the doing them any harm upon Christ’s account, because they own him, and make a profession of his gospel, which, besides that it is a stumblingblock upon which they fall and suffer as to their bodies and outward concerns, is also a stumbling block to their souls, such dangers being strong temptations to Christians, to turn them aside from the right paths of truth and holiness.
It were better for him that a millstone, &c.; mulov onikov, a stone in such a mill as asses were wont to draw, because of the heaviness of it. Some think our Saviour in this phrase alludes to some punishment of notorious malefactors, in use not amongst the Jews, but some other nations, by tying a stone about their necks, and throwing them into the sea: but whether it be such an allusion or no, is of no great moment; the phrase signifieth a certain destruction, both in regard of the weight of the stone and the depth of the sea. He saith, It is better that a millstone, &c., because of the punishment which shall be inflicted on such persons beyond this life.
By offences are here meant stumbling blocks to souls, such persons or actions as are to others temptations to sin. The world, saith our Savour is full of temptations. Temptations to sin are on all hands, some enticing and persuading men to that which is evil, others setting them an example to it, others alluring them by promises, others by threatenings and punishments driving men to it as much as in them lieth: the world will one day find the evil and mischief of it.
It must needs be that offences come; God hath so ordered it in the wisdom of his providence, that he will not restrain the lusts of all men’s hearts, but suffer some to walk in their own ways. Men in power will command those under them to do what is sinful, fright them by threatenings, force them (if possible) by punishments. Equals and inferiors will set examples of sin, allure, entice, and persuade. But woe be to those by whom such offences come! Men, saith our Savour, should be so afraid to sin, as they should rather part with the dearest things they have in the world, if they be as dear as eyes, hands, feet, rather than sin, or endure them to be occasions of sin to them. See Poole on "Matthew 5:29", where Matthew 18:8,Matthew 18:9 are opened. Mark hath the same things, Mark 9:43-48, only with the addition of this saying thrice, Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched; which phrase doth but denote the eternity of sinners’ misery, taken from Isaiah 66:24.
Our Saviour having before declared how dear believing souls are unto him, though their quality or parts be not like others’, here he gives the world a further charge not to despise, that is, not to contemn or neglect them, because God the heavenly Father hath such a care of them, so as he hath given his angels a charge over them, Psalms 34:7; Psalms 91:11; Hebrews 1:14; which
angels (saith he) do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven, that is, are always ministering before him, and ready to execute his will and pleasure; so as the argument is not only drawn from the indecency and undutifulness that such despising must import, but also from the danger of it. Your heavenly Father so loveth these little ones, that he hath given his angels a special charge concerning them; and these angels being continually in the Lord’s presence, are ready both to make report how they are used in the world, and likewise having commission from God to execute his vengeance upon those who neglect, despise, or affront those that he hath taken into such a special protection. Here is no ground in this text for their notion, who fancy that every particular child of God hath his proper angel to attend him. Our Saviour doth not say their several and respective angels, but their angels; and if all the angels be ministering spirits, for the good of God’s elect, Hebrews 1:14, I see no great reason to contend for a particular angel for every individual amongst them. But be that as it will, the opinion hath no patronage from this text.
We find the same in Luke 19:10, but applied upon another occasion. Our Saviour here riseth higher in his argument against giving offence to his little ones. All scandal tendeth to the ruin and destruction of him to whom it is given. Scandalum non est nisi malae rei aeidificans ad Gehennam, saith Tertullian; and a greater than he hath taught us the same lesson, Romans 14:15; 1 Corinthians 8:11 Now, saith our Saviour, I am
come to save that which was lost; you ought therefore to take care that you be not the causes and instruments of any being lost. Or thus; You look upon poor humble souls, that believe in me, as mean, contemptible creatures, therefore you think you may despise them: were not all those whom I came to redeem in as mean and despicable a condition? Yet I did not despise their souls. Did I come to save them, and shall it be your work to destroy them?
We shall meet with the parable or similitude more fully, Luke 15:4. To what purpose it is brought here our Lord hath told us, Matthew 18:14, to show us, that it is not the will of our heavenly Father that the least and meanest believer should perish. And every scandal, or offence, (as I before showed), hath a tendency to destroy that soul before whom it is laid, or to which it is given. Take heed, saith our Saviour, of giving scandals and offences to others, yea, though you should have observed them in something slipping and going astray. Will you be more uncharitable to men than you are to the beasts which you keep? You do not thus with a sheep; though it be gone astray you do not despise and neglect it, much less take courses to drive it further. No, you rather leave the rest, as being safe, and go, though it be into the mountains, to recover the sheep that is lost; and if you find it, have a greater passion of joy for that one sheep so recovered than for all the other. If you see some error in any of my sheep, if they do wander, should it not be your care rather to restore such in the spirit of meekness, as Galatians 6:1, than to lay further stumbling blocks before them, and give them occasion of further stumbling and falling? My Father hath done so for lost man: my coming to seek and to save that which is lost, is an evidence to you that it is not his will that one of my little ones should be lost.
Our Saviour very appositely addeth this to his former discourse concerning avoiding offences, that none might think that by the former doctrine he had made void the law, Leviticus 19:17, which commanded all in any wise to rebuke their neighbour, and not to suffer sin upon him, pretending that it was their duty in some cases to offend any person by that law. He here telleth them that he would not be so understood, as if they might not tell offenders of their sins for fear of offending them, this had been to have withheld charity from their souls under a pretence of charity. Only in these reproofs we must keep an order, which order he here prescribes.
1. Doing it privately, between them and him alone.
2. If that had not its effect, then taking two or three with them.
3. If that also proved ineffectual, then telling it to the church.
4. If that he would not hear the church, then, let him be unto thee (saith Christ) as an heathen and a publican.
If thy brother shall trespass against thee. By brother here he meaneth any Christian; for what hath the church to do to judge those that are without? 1 Corinthians 5:12.
Trespass against thee. Some interpret this of offences done so privately, that none else knoweth them but one single person; but it is objected, that then there needed no going to him, much less were there need of any witnesses, for they could prove nothing. Others therefore understand the precept of private injuries, which are in man’s power to forgive, Luke 17:3. Others think such injuries are primarily intended, but yet the precept is not to be restrained to them, but to be understood of all offences, whether against God, ourselves, or our neighbours; and that our Saviour useth this term against thee only to distinguish the offences he is here speaking of from public scandals; for, 1 Timothy 5:20, it appeareth to be the will of God, that public and open sinners should be rebuked before all, that others may fear. The rule therefore seemeth to be given concerning private miscarriages; not such only as are done in the sight or hearing of a single person, but such as are not the matter of public fame, nor openly committed before a multitude, but being committed more secretly, are come only to the knowledge of some particular person or persons. In such cases it is the will of God, not that we should blazon and publish them, but, being certain that any Christian hath so offended, it is our duty first to go to him, and tell him of it; that is, not only tell him what thou knowest, or hast heard in matter of fact, that he hath spoken or done, but show him also the sinfulness of it.
If he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother; that is, if he confesseth the sin, and be brought to a sight of it, a sorrow for it, and a resolution against it for the time to come, thou hast gained the soul of thy brother.
But if he will not hear thee, if he either denieth the matter of fact, that he did such a thing, or (admitting that) standeth to justify the fact, as what he might do, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established: one or two more, either such as may be of more authority with him, whose words may probably be of more weight than thine with him, or who may witness the matter of fact if it be denied, or at least witness by charitable admonition of him, and his contumacy, if he refuseth to hearken to thee, and to repent and reform. What was the law of God in civil and judicial causes, Deuteronomy 19:15,
God would have observed in ecclesiastical causes: One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established. And so the words in Matthew should be translated, or at least understood; every word, that is, every matter, be confirmed.
And if he shall neglect to hear them; either refuse to speak with them, or to suffer them to speak with him; or, hearing them with his ears, if he persists to deny the fact, or to justify the fact, as if it were no sin, or go on still in the same course; (all these things are to be understood by the term of not hearing); if he shall not hear them, tell it to the church. That the term church is a noun of multitude is evident, and therefore cannot be understood of any particular person. Some would by the church here understand the political magistrate; but as this sense is embraced by very few, so it is very improbable that our Saviour should send Christians in that age to the civil magistrates, when they were all great haters and persecutors of the Christian religion, especially in cases that were not punishable by the judges; for no deliberate person will say, that the offences mentioned in this text were all of that nature as a civil judicature might take notice of them. Others say, that by the church is here meant the Jewish court called the Sanhedrim, which had a mixed cognizance, both of civil and ecclesiastical causes. There are three prejudices against this:
1. That the Jewish court was never in Scripture called ’ Ekklhsia.
2. That it is not probable that our Saviour would direct Christians to go to the Jewish courts in such cases.
3. That the Sanhedrim was too great a court to be troubled with all scandals, though they did take cognizance of some things in religion, which were of a grand concern; such as blasphemy, idolatry, false prophets, &c.
Others therefore understand it of the Christian church. Against this opinion there is this great prejudice, that there was no such thing in being at that time; but I take this to be a lighter objection than those against the two other opinions:
a) Because we need not understand our Saviour speaking with relation to the present time, but the time to come, and giving laws which should take place and abide from the gathering of the Christian church to the end of the world.
b) Nor is it necessary that we should take the term church here in the strict sense, in which it is most generally used in the Scriptures of the New Testament for the general notion of the word is only a company of people called together; and in this sense, Tell the church, is no more than, Tell the multitude, make his crime more public: now what that multitude was which our Saviour meant, would easily be understood when the churches came to be formed.
But the next verse will make it more plain; Matthew 18:18, Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, &c. By the church then must be meant those who had power to bind and loose. Now though at this time there was no particular church formed, yet there were some who had a power to bind and loose. Christ had given such a power to his apostles. These were the present church, and at this time in being. They were afterwards to constitute particular churches, to whom, (when constituted), in force of this precept, such offences were to be told. There are yet further disputes, whether this offence and contumacy be to be told only to the rulers, or to the multitude. I say, to the whole church, but first to the rulers, then by them to the multitude, not to judge of it, but for their consent in casting a person out of the communion of the church. Thus the incestuous person was first accused to Paul, then cast out by the consent of the whole church, 1 Corinthians 5:3-5. For it is unreasonable to think that people should deny communion to any without knowing a justifiable cause; and to no purpose for rulers in a church to cast one out of its communion with whom the members will have communion.
If he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican; that is, esteem him as a vile person, for so they esteemed all heathens and publicans. How far this could reach beyond having an intimacy of civil communion with them, and a communion with them in the sacrament, I cannot understand; for as Christians were licensed to a civil commerce with heathens and publicans, so neither were heathens and publicans ever, that we read of in holy writ, denied the benefit of their prayers, and hearing the apostles preach. I am very well satisfied, that the primitive church did not deny to persons excommunicated liberty to be present at the prayers of the church, but it was long after the apostles’ times, and whether grounded upon any practice of theirs I much doubt. Christians had a liberty to pray for any who had not sinned the sin unto death: that they might not be present at such prayers I cannot learn from any thing in holy writ.
We met with this sentence, Matthew 16:19, where we observed that by binding and loosing was signified (according to the usage of the Jews of those times) declaring of propositions true or false, or judging things lawful or unlawful. Some think that it hath no further import here; but it is the opinion of Mr. Calvin, and other very judicious interpreters, that it is here to be extended to the censures of the church, the sentence of the church pronounced justly in the case of offences; and is added, lest persons justly denied the communion of the church should contemn such censures. Christ assures these persons that such censures ought not to be slighted, for God would confirm them in heaven; as also to their absolutions, or readmissions of such persons into their communion, upon their true repentance and acknowledgment of their errors. Not that our Lord by this intended to confirm all sentences of excommunication, or to patronize any cheat or hypocrisy in any, to gain an absolution, or restoration to the church. But only, as to the first, to assure stubborn and impenitent sinners that he would ratify what his church did, according to the rule he had given them to act by. It is therefore a terrible text to those who are justly and duly cut off from the communion of the church, for notorious and scandalous sins, such as whoso committeth and doth not repent of, they shall never enter into the kingdom of God. And as comfortable to those who, being so cast out, do truly repent, and are under temptations to be swallowed up of too much sorrow. If therefore any be cast out of any church for professing or standing to any truth of the gospel, or because he will not do what is sinful, we must not understand them bound in heaven, though they be bound on earth, nor have any such excommunications any terror in them. How forcible are right words! But these arguings, what do they reprove? The church is not by this text made infallible, nor is the holy God by it engaged to defend their errors.
Most interpreters agree there is a connection betwixt these verses and those immediately preceding, as if it were a further confirmation of what God had said concerning his binding and loosing in heaven whatsoever they should bind or loose on earth; and say, the asking mentioned in this verse supposes that no church will adventure upon so grave an act as excommunication, without asking his direction or counsel; nor undertake such a thing as absolution, without the like serious asking of God pardon for the repenting sinner. Now, saith he, let the church be never so small that so joins in prayers on this occasion, what they ask of God shall be done. Whether it hath any such reference or no, or be an independent promise of Christ’s presence with his church, I shall not determine. Those who think this text hath such a particular reference, yet do also grant it a more general promise of Christ’s presence with his people. Whenever they are met by his authority, or upon his account or command, whether it be for counsel, or judgment, or prayer, or the celebration of any sacred institution of his, he is in the midst of them, to protect and favour them: what they ask
shall be done for them; that is, provided the thing asked be good, Matthew 7:11, and for a right end, James 4:3, and in a right manner, Luke 18:1; James 1:5-7. Christ in this text establisheth the duty of prayer in communion with others. He doth not only require of his people secret prayer, Matthew 6:6, but also praying in company with others; the gathering together of his people for prayer, whether in private families or more public congregations.
Luke hath something like this Luke 17:4, but it seemeth to have been spoken at another time, and upon some other occasion; yet the sense is much the same, and there are who think that Peter’s mention of seven times arose from our Saviour’s command there, that we should forgive our brother offending us seven times, when our Saviour by it intended not a certain and definite number, but a number uncertain and indefinite. But it is a greater question, what sinning and what forgiveness is there meant, I cannot think that our Saviour here speaketh concerning the church’s absolving scandalous sinners justly excommunicated, but of the private forgiveness of injuries done to us; it is not the church, but I forgive him; for although the doors of the church ought to be as open to a repenting sinner as the doors of heaven are, yet I think both the phrase of the text and the following parable (which seemeth to me a comment upon this text) seem to lead us to the interpretation of these verses as to private wrongs or injuries; they are properly sins against us, and such as it is in every single person’s power to forgive. But it seems hard that Christians should be obliged to forgive another his private wrongs so often as he doth them, if he will go on without end multiplying affronts and injuries to us; we must therefore know, that our Saviour by this precept doth not oblige any to take his enemy into his bosom, and make him his intimate or confidant again; but only to lay aside all malice, all thoughts and desires of revenge towards him, to put on a charitable frame of spirit towards him, so as to be ready to do him any common offices of friendship. Thus far we are obliged to forgive those that do us injuries, so often as they stand in need of forgiveness. The apostle, Colossians 3:8, speaks of wrath, malice, &c., as pieces of the old man, which every true Christian hath put off, and calls upon us in malice to be children.
All these verses (except the last) are but a parable, which (as I before showed) is a similitude brought from the usual actions of men, and made use of to open or apply some spiritual doctrine. The main scope, or the proposition of truth, which our Saviour designs to open or press, is that which is first and principally to be considered and intended; and that, as I before showed, is to be known, either by the particular explication given by our Saviour, or by what went immediately before, or followeth immediately after. The scope of this parable is plainly expressed, Matthew 18:35,
So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses. Nor is it obscurely hinted to us in what went before, where our Saviour was instructing Peter in the great duty of forgiving men their trespasses. This being agreed, as we use to say, that similitudes run not on four feet, so we are not to expect that all the actions of men, mentioned in the parable, should be answered by some correspondent actions of God: As similitudes always halt, so never more than when by them God’s actions are expressed and represented to us. The main points which this parable instructs us in are;
1. That it is our duty, especially theirs who have received forgiveness from God, to forgive their brethren.
2. That if they do not, they may justly question whether God hath forgiven them, and expect the same severity from him which they show unto their brethren.
These being the main things for instruction in which this parable is brought, and which we ought chiefly to eye as the things taught us by this parable, nothing hindereth but that it may also instruct us in some other things, though we cannot raise a proposition of truth from every branch of the parable, and some things be put in according to the passions and usual dealings of men, which possibly are in them unrighteous actions, and may follow from their ungoverned passions, which will by no means agree to the pure and holy nature of God. I will first open such terms in the parable as may be less intelligible to vulgar readers.
The kingdom of heaven; my administration of my kingdom: I am come to purchase remission of sins, and to dispense out remission of sins to those who are indebted to the justice of my Father; but in the application of my blood to men and women for the remission of their sins, both my Father and myself will do as a king, that took account of his servants, &c. Men must look for pardon from my Father, and benefit from me as their Redeemer, upon the following terms: see Matthew 6:15.
Ten thousand talents; a certain for an uncertain number; a very great sum. Those who have computed it, say it amounts to a million eight hundred and seventy-five thousand pounds. He
commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had; a thing which our law will not suffer, but in use amongst other nations, and amongst the Jews in particular, as may be learned from 2 Kings 4:1.
And delivered him to the tormentors; that is, to the keepers of the prison; so the next words teach us, and the Greek word often signifieth no more, though it doth indeed sometimes.
An hundred pence, Matthew 18:28, signifieth a small sum, hardly exceeding in our money fifty shillings. This parable excellently instructs us in these truths:
1. That as men, by the law of nature and God, and the laws of men, may be debtors to us, to our reputation, to our estate; so we are all debtors to the glory, honour, and justice of God.
2. That it is a vast debt we owe to God’s honour and justice, to which no debt owing by any to us can bear any proportion.
3. That we have nothing to pay to God, in satisfaction for our debt.
4. That God hath a right to demand a full satisfaction of us.
5. That God, for Christ’s sake, upon our application to him for mercy, will forgive us our debts.
6. That we are not so ready to forgive our brethren their little injuries, as God is to forgive us.
7. That our difficulty to forgive our brethren, after God’s liberality in forgiving us, is a great charge, or will be a great charge against us in the court of heaven.
8. That we ought to set before us God’s compassion towards us, and free love in forgiving us, potently to move us to forgive those who have done us injury, and to forgive them out of that consideration.
9. That we ought from our hearts to forgive men their trespasses; that is, so as not to hate them, bear them any grudge or malice, seek any private revenge upon them, or public satisfaction, beyond what they are able to give, but be ready to do them what common offices of kindness in their straits are in our power.
10. That the not doing of this will be an ill evidence to our souls, that God hath not indeed forgiven us, as well as a bar against such forgiveness; and an ill omen, that some punishment from God expects us in this life, to bring us to a temper more conformable to the gospel, and if not, this life, yet in the life which is to come.