Matthew 18:21

Jesus once required forgiveness to be repeated seven times (Luke 17:4). St. Peter now asks what is to be done when these seven times of pardon are passed. Our Lord simply multiplies them by seventy. There is to be no arithmetic in the matter; there is to be no limit to forgiveness.

I. IT IS A MISTAKE TO SEARCH FOR THE MINIMUM OF DUTY. Why should St. Peter want to know what to do when he had forgiven seven times? Was there any law which he might transgress if he went too far in the generosity of pardon? His question was one that should never have been asked. It savours of rabbinical casuistry. Now, one of the great defects of casuistry is that it is too often pursued in the interest of those who wish to do no more good than is absolutely required of them. But the spirit of such a desire is immoral. He who seeks a limit to forgiveness has not really a forgiving spirit at all. He only forgives under compulsion, that is to say, he does not really forgive in his heart. So it is with all other duties. When we ask how far must we go, with how little will God be satisfied, we betray a spirit out of sympathy with our duty. If we loved it we should not anxiously search for the line of obligation, we should rather press on to the utmost with an enthusiastic desire to do our best.

II. FORGIVENESS CANNOT HAVE A LIMIT. Some duties are limited, although we are free to exceed the limit. This is the case with honesty. We have simply to pay what we owe, to give a just price for what we buy, to refrain from stealing, and we have discharged the whole of our obligation in this direction. Thus, at all events in the pecuniary world, it is possible to be absolutely honest, and hosts of people have reached the stage of absoluteness in regard to this duty. But there are other duties that run out to the infinite; we can never entirely compress them. All our spiritual education only enables us to reach towards a little more of their boundless possibilities. Of such a nature is forgiveness. We may be called at any moment to carry this further than we have yet gone.

III. THE LIMITLESS CHARACTER OF FORGIVENESS SPRINGS FROM ITS DIVINE ORIGIN. Forgiveness is God-like. It belongs to the ethics of heaven. It cannot be enforced in the law courts of earth, where Shylock is awarded his pound of flesh. In strict right and law, forgiveness cannot be enacted. Forgiveness is above law, as the sovereign who pardons in clemency is above the judge who is compelled to condemn in justice. God forgives without limit. He requires the condition of repentance, and this we have a right to demand also (see Luke 17:3). But when that is present he forgives hardened old offenders, who have grieved his Spirit many and many a time before. It is only the limitless forgiveness of God that makes it possible for us to be pardoned by him. Then it is incumbent on us to show the same spirit towards our fellow men. - W.F.A.

Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?
I. THE BEST EXEMPLIFICATION OF THE SPIRIT OF FORGIVENESS IS OUR LORD'S OWN LIFE. There were two kinds of sin in these days of which Christ took cognizance; those against society or the race, and those against Himself. To each He applied the principle of the text. He forgave the vilest sinners who came to Him; and Saul who persecuted His Church. But we find the highest illustrations of His love when we mark His dealings with the souls He seeks to save. Christ does not turn against the man who rejects Him.


1. Shall not Christians be forbearing towards other men. Let us bear wrong in as generous a spirit as we can. The feeling of brotherhood must be kept higher than that of revenge.

2. This law must be observed in the family.

3. Christ teaches the spirit in which we must regard offenders whose sin is against society. Unlimited forgiveness you will say is unpractical. Put it into action, and let it fail. Christianity conquers by failing; its martyrs are its victors. This is not a dead law; but life-giving.

(A. J. Griffith.)

I. A PERSONAL OFFENCE IS ANYTHING WHEREBY WE ARE PERSONALLY INJURED IN OUR FEELINGS, OUR REPUTATION, OUR PERSON OR ESTATE. A public offence is one by which the Church is injured by any of its interests.


1. We should not cherish any malignant or revengeful feelings towards those who injure us.

2. We should not retaliate, or avenge ourselves on our offenders.

3. We should cherish towards those who offend us the feelings of kindness, regarding them with that benevolence which forbids our wishing them any harm.

4. We should treat them in our outward conduct with kindness, returning good for evil. and acting towards them as though they had not injured us.

III. WHEN ARE WE TO FORGIVE? There are two classes of passages which bear upon this subject.

1. Those which prescribe the condition of repentance (Luke 17:3).

2. Those in which no such condition is prescribed (Matthew 6:14; Matthew 18:21; Matthew 5:44, 45). So Christ prayed for His crucifiers. So Stephen prayed. So is God in His dealings with us. These passages are not inconsistent. The word forgiveness is used in a wider or a stricter sense. In the wider sense, it includes negatively, not having a spirit of revenge; and positively, exercising a spirit of kindness and love, and manifesting that spirit by all appropriate outward acts. This is forgiveness as a Christian's duty in all cases. In a more restricted .sense it is the remission of the penalty due to an offence. This is illustrated in the case of an offence against the Church. Repentance is the condition only of the remission of the penalty, not of forgiveness in the wider sense. There are penalties proper to private as well as public offences.


1. God's command.

2. God's example.

3. Our own need of forgiveness. Our sins against God are innumerable and unspeakably great.

4. The threatening that we shall not be forgiven unless we forgive others.

5. It is a dictate of Christian love.

(C. Hodge, D. D.)

I. Is urged by a consideration of the greatness of God's mercy to us.

II. Of the lightness of our brother's sins.

III. Of the terrible consequences of indulging an unforgiving spirit.

(Dr. Dobie.)

1. If God commands us thus to forgive, there must be an infinite ocean of forgiving love in His own heart.

2. That God's forgiveness is altogether above man's conception of it.

(J. H. Evans, M. A.)



(B. W. Noel, M. A.)

There are many wrong notions about forgiveness. Consider the following conspicuous points —

I. The principle of forgiveness is single.

II. Forgiveness and forbearance are two separate principles of action.

III. The object of the Christian religion is to make like God, and therefore the Christian is called upon to imitate God in his action.

IV. Compassion and forgiveness are very different things.

V. Forgiveness has an element of justice in it.

(N. Schenck, . D. D.)

This question was framed in the very spirit of the old law of retaliation. By proposing any limit whatever to forgiveness, Peter showed that he still considered that to forgive was the exceptional thing, was to forego a right which must some time be reassumed, was not an eternal law of the kingdom, but only a tentative measure which at any moment may be revoked; that underneath the forgiveness we extend to an erring brother, there lies a right to revenge which we may at any time assert. This feeling, wherever it exists shows that we are living with retaliation for the law, forgiveness for the exception. But Christ's law is, that forgiveness shall be unlimited.

(Marcus Dods, D. D.)

A man strikes me with a sword, and inflicts a wound. Suppose, instead of binding up the wound, I am showing it to everybody, and after it has been bound up I am taking off the bandage constantly, and examining the depths of the wound, and making it fester, is there a person in the world who would not call me a fool? However, such a fool is he who, by dwelling upon little injuries or insults, causes them to agitate and influence his mind. How much better were it to put a bandage on the wound and never look to it again.


A soldier in the American army heard of the severe illness of his wife. He applied for leave of absence but was refused. He left the army, but before he got away he was retaken, and brought in as a deserter. He was tried, found guilty, and summoned before the commanding officer to receive his sentence. He entered the tent, saluted, and stood perfectly unmoved while the officer read his fearful doom — "To be shot to death with musketry on the next Friday." Not a muscle of his face twitched, not a limb quivered. "I deserve it, sir," he replied, respectfully; "I deserted from my flag. Is that all, sir? .... -No," replied the officer — "I have something else for you;" and, taking another paper, he read aloud the doomed man's pardon. The undaunted spirit which severity had failed to move was completely broken down by clemency. He dropped to the ground, shaking, sobbing, and overcome, and, being restored to his regiment, proved himself grateful for the mercy shown him, and was soon promoted for good conduct.

A private was court-martialled for sleeping at his post. He was convicted, sentenced to death, and the day fixed for his execution. But, the case reaching the ears of the President, he resolved to save him; he signed a pardon and sent it to the camp. The day came. "Suppose," thought the President, "my pardon has not reached him." The telegraph was called into requisition; but no answer came. Then, ordering his carriage, he rode ten miles and saw that the soldier was saved. When the Third Vermont charged upon the rifle-pits, the enemy poured a volley upon them. The first man who fell, with six bullets in his body, was William Scott, of Company K. His comrades caught him up; and, as his life-blood ebbed away, he raised to heaven, amid the din of the war, the cries of the dying, and the shouts of the enemy, a prayer for the president.


Peter's question showed that he wholly misunderstood the nature of forgiveness. He thought it was something he might withhold or give as he pleased. Our Lord shows that it is a state of the heart which cannot be called forth by order or calculation.

I. Both in the parable and in the teaching of our Lord here it is admitted THAT ALL MEN HAVE CLAIMS ON ONE ANOTHER. These are not to be compared, in point of magnitude, with the claims which God has on all, but still they are claims. The man who is debtor towards God may be a creditor towards somebody, and the man who has committed most wrongs may be able, in his turn, to say that there is some one who has wronged him.

II. Admitting to the full the claims which one man has against another in the way of personal offences, YET THERE IS SOMETHING OF MORE IMPORTANCE STILL THAN THE RECTIFYING OF A WRONG ACT OR WORD. His of importance to have the wrong righted, but Jesus Christ has more respect still to the character, repentance, and restoration of the individual who has offended. It is difficult to realize that the offender has inflicted a worse injury on himself than on the offended, the injury he has wrought on his own spirit. This truth will come out more clearly when you consider the precepts Christ gives for guidance in the matter, and the great result of success — "Tell him his fault between thee," etc., "Thou hast gained thy brother." This is above all personal gain. Charity is victory.

III. This duty of forgiveness is ENFORCED BY A PARABLE WHERE OUR CLAIMS ON OTHERS ARE PLACED IN CONTRAST WITH GOD'S CLAIMS ON US. We have no hope but in forgiveness. If we feel the need of Divine compassion, have we not learned the worth of it towards our fellow-creatures.

(A. Watson, D. D.)

Suppose a man were to put the question, How often must I admire what is beautiful and great in creation? how often must I cherish affection for my child? how often must I honour God? how often must I practise the duty of kindness? or how often must I feel sympathy for the unhappy and the suffering? You will see that any answer which could be given to such a question would be misleading, simply because the question proceeded on a false notion of what admiration, or affection, or sympathy is. To give a direct answer to such questions, you could only say, in Christ's words, "Until seventy times seven "i.e., numbers have nothing to do with the matter. Forgiveness is a simple state of mind, like admiration of God's creation, for which all that a man needs is a sense of beauty and order in his nature, Forgiveness is a state of heart, just as affection or sympathy is. And no man thinks of determining how often and how far he must feel sympathy, or how often and how far he must love those who are dear to him. The sympathy is always there, the love is always in the heart, and it requires only to be appealed to and touched to come forth. You could not imagine a man of genuine tenderness of heart making up his mind and calculating whether he should feel pity for a case of distress or not. You could not imagine a friend debating with himself whether he would sympathize with his friend in some calamity. Sympathy is free and spontaneous; it does not come and go at one's call: love is only love; sympathy is only sympathy, when it can't help itself.

(A. Watson, D. D.)

If a man, in robbing us of a trifle, were to meet with an accident which disabled him and made him a sufferer for life, we should feel that his punishment far exceeded our loss; and most of us would have the heart to commiserate him, even though he had only himself to blame. And if the injury is not to life or limb, but to the immortal part of the man — if he destroys his own spiritual life — we should commiserate him all the more.

(A. Watson, D. D.)

We may not forgive with our lips, and bear malice in our hearts. Such sham forgiveness is only too common. A man was lying on his sick bed, and the clergyman by his side was urging him to be reconciled to some one who had injured him. After much persuasion the man said, "If I die I will forgive him, but if I live he had better keep out of my way." And again, our forgiveness must be willing, not forced from us.

(Buxton Wilmot.)

How many are there who profess to forgive, but cannot forget, an injury. Such are like persons who sweep the chamber, but leave the dust behind the door. Whenever we grant our offending brother a discharge, our hearts also should set their hands to the acquittance.

(Archbishop Secker.)

We may without sin he sensible of injuries (a sheep is as sensible of a bite as a swine); but it must be with the silence of a sheep, or at utmost the mourning of a dove, not the roaring of a bear, or bellowing of a bull, when baited. All desire of revenge must be carefully cast out; and if the wrongdoer say, "I repent," you must say, "I remit," and that from the heart; being herein like that king of England of whom it is said that he never forgot anything but injuries.

(John Trapp.)

Matthew 18:21 NIV
Matthew 18:21 NLT
Matthew 18:21 ESV
Matthew 18:21 NASB
Matthew 18:21 KJV

Matthew 18:21 Bible Apps
Matthew 18:21 Parallel
Matthew 18:21 Biblia Paralela
Matthew 18:21 Chinese Bible
Matthew 18:21 French Bible
Matthew 18:21 German Bible

Matthew 18:21 Commentaries

Bible Hub
Matthew 18:20
Top of Page
Top of Page