The Hard Debtor
Matthew 18:23-35
Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened to a certain king, which would take account of his servants.…

This parable follows our Lord's answer to St. 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.

I. THE GREAT DEBT. This represents what the sinner owes to God. We pray that God will forgive us our debts (Matthew 6:12). Deficiencies of duty are like debts considered as arrears of payments. Positive transgressions are like debts, through our having wilfully appropriated what was not our own without paying for it. The accumulated omissions and offences make up the one consolidated debt of guilt.

1. Its immense size. Christ names a fabulous sum. There is no counting the accumulated sins of a lifetime.

2. 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 forevery soul. Long delay means an aggravated debt.

II. 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.

III. 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.

IV. 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.

V. 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 brother-men. - W.F.A.

Parallel Verses
KJV: Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.

WEB: Therefore the Kingdom of Heaven is like a certain king, who wanted to reconcile accounts with his servants.

The Forgiving Spirit Aided by Prayer
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