""This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."--Matt. 18:35
The parable of a man, alike a debtor receiving mercy, and a creditor showing none, thus ends. The words impress the main lesson of the picture; they unveil its prominent feature; they exhibit the important point on which the eye should rest; they awaken the echo which should reverberate from the perusal.
The warning shows that unforgiveness from God is the doom of those who forgive not heartily, gladly, universally, unreservedly, every offending brother his every offence. To withhold forgiveness from offending man is proof that there is not forgiveness from the offended God. "Whatever measure you use in giving—large or small—it will be used to measure what is given back to you." Such is the inference. It is most distinct. May an expository review of the story instructively impress it.
At the entrance a caution may not be ill-timed. The parable teaches that the unforgiving shall not find forgiveness. Such is the appalling truth. But misapprehension must not here delude. It would be grievous error to infer that forgiveness on man's part constitutes in any sense the originating cause, and moving spring of divine pardon. God is not thus actuated. But still none have a saving interest in His absolving grace whose hearts are stern in unforgiving hardness.
Let discrimination analyze the case. The fountain of forgiveness of sin is grace--the purchasing price is the God-man's blood; the recipients are the children of eternal love--the flock given to Christ in counsels of eternal wisdom. They are loved, because God willed to love them. They are forgiven, because Christ's blood has paid the total of their debt. They have washed in the fountain opened for all sin and uncleanness, because the Spirit has made them willing in the day of His power. They have, also, forgiving hearts, because the same Spirit has softened, melted, hallowed them, and established His reign of gentleness and love.
This forgiving spirit is sweet evidence that they are sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, who is the pledge of the heavenly inheritance. Without Him, there is no scriptural warrant for joying in the remission, which belongs only to the family of faith. He, who forgives not from his heart his brother all his trespasses, bears on his front those unrelenting features which exclude from fellowship with the forgiven.
These thoughts lead to the graphic lesson of the parable. Let advance be made with eyes fixed on the focus to which the rays tend, and only pausing to gather warrantable improvement from the embellishing circumstantials.
The scene thus opens (ver. 23)--"the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him." The reflecting mind instantly turns to our heavenly Father, arrayed in all power--the sovereign Ruler of the universe--who distributes to his servants their several talents, arranges their opportunities, and is about to institute the scrutiny of final reckoning. They are wise who walk and speak and live and work as they who know that they must be made manifest before the judgment-seat, and that everyone "must receive the things done in his body, according to what he has done, whether it be good or bad."
(Ver. 24.) "When he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought unto him who owed him ten thousand talents." Enormous is the amount. Astounding is the debt. It almost surpasses calculation. A terrifying thought arises--All men are debtors to God's justice, and who can reckon the inconceivable immensity of the obligation? Illustrations fail to span infinity--no words can paint a boundless magnitude. Count all the stars which sparkle on the breast of night--count all the sands which form the ocean's bed--count all the drops which constitute its billows--super-abounding sins exceed. Pile them, and the pyramid overtops the highest summit of the heavens. Let the ten thousand talents of transgression be estimated, and terror must petrify all hearts. Despair must sink into the lowest dust.
(Ver. 25.) "Since he had nothing to pay, his Lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made." The sinner's condition is utter insolvency. In himself his only property is sin. Darkness cannot create light; sin cannot cancel sin; debt cannot liquidate debt--therefore, if justice takes its course, irretrievable ruin must ensue. The sentence is just--"Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into outer darkness."
(Ver. 26.) "The servant therefore fell down and begged him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you all." In agony the debtor is prostrate on his knees. He urges no denial--he makes no excuse; he pleads no extenuating circumstances. His importuning language is confession. He prays for respite. Seemingly bereft of reason, he promises an impossibility--even full restitution. Let the sinner learn hence to sink into the depths of contrition, and to utter only cries for mercy; but let him shun the notion that he can make any repayment by his own efforts, and in his own person. Such error may not be inferred from this portion of the pictorial scene.
(Ver. 27.) "The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go." The narrative sweetly manifests pity, forgiveness, liberation. It is an exhibition of the Gospel of free grace. Our heavenly Father is rich in compassion--mercy is His precious attribute. It constitutes a grand portion of his essence--it reaches unto the heavens--it endures forever. It provides means in Jesus through which the chains fall from the sinner's hands, and the prison-cell is not his doom. An obliterating decree expunges the whole claim.
But the servant's enormous debt was brought clearly to his view, before he sought or could esteem remission. So by the Spirit's power the sinner must be taught to feel his hopeless, lost, and ruined state, before he will extend the hand of faith to grasp the free-grace pardon, or can value its full blessing.
The scene now frightfully changes. Surely the debtor thus graciously forgiven, will be melted into one flood of tenderness! Surely all his thoughts, and words, and acts will now flow in placid streams of gentleness!
It is far otherwise! The story thus proceeds (ver. 28)--"The same servant went out, and found one of his fellow-servants, who owed him a hundred pence." He goes out--Happy are they who ever abide in closest fellowship with God! In keeping near is safety, happiness, and holy living--in the slightest departure is peril, temptation, downfall.
This recipient of such goodness met a fellow-debtor who owed an hundred pence--an evanescent sum compared with his own debt just remitted--it scarcely amounted to a millionth part. Offences towards our fellow-men, though very grievous and most vile, have pigmy form beside our giant-sins against our God.
(Ver. 29.) "And he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that you owe. And his fellow-servant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay you all."
He hears the entreaty which he so recently had urged. He had prevailed. He is now supplicated by the like petition, and he miserably hardens. The heart of unrenewed man appears in odious colors--the nether millstone is of softer material.
(Ver. 30.) "And he would not, but went and cast him into prison until he should pay the debt." Unrelentingly he consigns his fellow-servant to the dungeon more justly merited by himself--he sternly inflicts the penalty so tenderly remitted to his prayer. Unmelted by a sense of his free and full pardon, he freezes into icy cruelty.
(Ver. 31.) "So when his fellow-servants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told their lord all that was done." Many eyes look watchfully around, and pitiless obduracy even here awakens indignation. Many Christian hearts, in meek complainings unto God, call down attention to surrounding misery, and pray Him to put forth His mighty hand to check all evil and redress all wrong.
Now the final scene is reached. (Ver. 32.) "Then his lord, after he had called him in, said unto him, O you wicked servant." For the first time reproof goes forth. "I forgave you all that debt because you begged me; should not you also have had compassion on your fellow-servant, even as I had pity on you?" If the mercies of redemption, and the tenderness of the God of all grace fail to produce meek, loving, gentle, forgiving temper, the evidence is clear and sad, that the Spirit who uses the Gospel as His conquering power is not present. In such case the unsubdued heart has not been allured into the arms of Jesus. To receive Him is to become partaker of His love--to abide in Him is to abide in heavenly-mindedness. The unmerciful are not fitting through grace for heaven, where the congenial song is praise for forgiveness without end. Is not the warning plain?--"He shall have judgment without mercy that has showed no mercy."
(Ver. 34.) "And his lord was angry, and delivered him unto the tormentors until he should pay all that was due unto him."
Such is the dreadful conclusion. Let its solemn message sink deeply into pondering thoughts.
(Ver. 35.) "So likewise;" in like measure, and the measure is torment until all is paid, "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." Unrelentings will fall on the relentless--they who spared not will not be spared--there is no pity for the pitiless.
It should not be wholly omitted that one occurrence here has raised perplexity. An inference has been wrongly sought, exciting some clouds of doubt. It appears that the mercy granted to the unmerciful servant was subsequently revoked. It has hence been imagined that a sinner forgiven today may through aggravated sin, be subsequently condemned. It is sufficient to reply that such fears are wholly in opposition to the whole tenor of Gospel-teaching. When God forgives, He forgives wholly, and forever. "With Him is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." "He hates divorce." "Repentance is hid from His eyes." Let it be added that this injurious inference is drawn not from the main lesson of the parable, but from its descriptive dress. The circumstantial drapery of a parable brings into clearer light a main lesson, but it never may be unfairly pressed to establish any doctrinal position.
Let none then cavil, but let all hold fast the rightful lesson. Let honest inquiry penetrate the heart, and see if any traces of enmity, malice, resentment, still linger. If so, let humble prayer ascend for increase of grace, that we may forgive the pounds due to us, and so may rejoice in evidence that God has forgiven our ten thousand talents. He may trust that God has forgiven him who feels that he can forgive all injuries. Mercy to others is reflection of mercy from above.
Here the thought can scarcely be repressed, How perfect is the Gospel-rule! If it had sway, the breast would resemble the ocean in repose--no storm would ruffle; no angry passion would disturb. Peace would walk hand in hand with joy, and every pulse be love. The promised scene would dawn--"Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them; and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God." (Rev. 21:3.)