The Unmerciful Servant
Matthew 18:21-35
Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?…

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.

I. The first result of this spirit is that IT LEADS TO DISHONOURABLE OUTLAY UPON OURSELVES OF WHAT GOD HAS GIVEN US FOR 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.

II. 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.

1. 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 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?

2. But the chief aggravation of this man's conduct lay in the tact that he had just been forgives. 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 recgonizes 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. - D.

Parallel Verses
KJV: Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?

WEB: Then Peter came and said to him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Until seven times?"

The Superior Influence of Forgiveness
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