Matthew 18:23
Because of this, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.
Lix. the Preacher and His HearersS. Baring-GouldMatthew 18:23
The Wicked ServantCharles KingsleyMatthew 18:23
The Limits of MercyJ.A. Macdonald Matthew 18:21-35
The Unmerciful ServantMarcus Dods Matthew 18:21-35
A Wide View of Heavenly Good Lessens the Power of Earthly WrongsW. Arnot.Matthew 18:23-35
Compassion God-LikeT. Adams.Matthew 18:23-35
Evil of SinBenjamin Keach.Matthew 18:23-35
ForgivenessH. L. Hastings.Matthew 18:23-35
Forgiveness -- One Law for Lord and ServantA. Macleod, D. D.Matthew 18:23-35
God's Mercy Reproduced in the Life of the ChristianA. Macleod, D. D.Matthew 18:23-35
Influence of ForgivenessMarcus Dods.Matthew 18:23-35
Man Freed from an Unforgiving Temper by the Gentle Influences of the Divine LoveW. Arnot.Matthew 18:23-35
Man's Unavailing Effort to Pay His Sin DebtsW. M. Taylor, D. D.Matthew 18:23-35
Mercy Uncommunicated, not Truly ReceivedW. Arnot.Matthew 18:23-35
Our Great CreditorFrom the Latin.Matthew 18:23-35
Sin as DebtBenjamin Keach.Matthew 18:23-35
Sinners Like DebtorsBenjamin Keach.Matthew 18:23-35
The Debt of ManFrom the Latin., Heubner.Matthew 18:23-35
The Forgiving Spirit Aided by PrayerW. Arnot.Matthew 18:23-35
The Hard DebtorW.F. Adeney Matthew 18:23-35
The Just AccountFrom the Latin.Matthew 18:23-35
The Magnitude of Injury Determined by Our Temper Towards ItW. Arnot.Matthew 18:23-35
The Parable of the King that Took Account of His ServantFrom the Latin.Matthew 18:23-35
The Sinner's DebtJ. Morison, D.D.Matthew 18:23-35
The TormentorsFrom the Latin.Matthew 18:23-35
The Unmerciful ServantW. M. Taylor, D. D.Matthew 18:23-35
The Unmerciful ServantExpository OutlinesMatthew 18:23-35
The Unmerciful ServantW. Arnot.Matthew 18:23-35
Twenty-Seceded Sunday After TrinityJ. A. Seiss, D. D.Matthew 18:23-35
Ways of Being DebtorsBenjamin Keach.Matthew 18:23-35

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.

Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.
I. THAT WE ARE ALL GOD'S DEBTORS. Debt in the New Testament is a common figure for sin; but duty is a moral thing, not a commercial. It is used figuratively to denote an obligation which one has failed to meet. Let us compare our character with the requirements of God's law.

II. THAT NONE OF US HAS ANYTHING WHEREWITH TO PAY HIS DEBT TO GOD. Few will admit this. They say, "Have patience with me and I will pay thee all." They will try to make themselves better.


IV. THAT THE RECEPTION OF THIS FORGIVENESS BY US INVOLVES IN IT THE OBLIGATION TO FORGIVE THOSE OF OUR FELLOW-MEN WHO HAVE TRESPASSED AGAINST OURSELVES. How far this obligation extends. It does not imply that we are to take no notice of the wrong done us; this would be selfish indifference alike to our brother and his guilt. But how comes it that the obligation to cherish this forgiving spirit is connected with our reception of God's mercy. All who accept God's pardon are at the same time renewed into His image by the power of the Holy Spirit; and so resembling Him in character, they seek to do unto others as He has done to them. Gratitude will take this form (Ephesians 4:32). Lessons:

1. That our sins against God are vastly greater than our neighbour's trespasses against us.

2. We are constantly needing the forbearance of God and the long-suffering of our fellow-man.

3. That implacability on our part is an evidence that we are as yet unforgiven by God.

(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Commonly the very last thing which he will admit is that he can do nothing to make atonement for it. He will go about to establish his own righteousness. He will try to make himself better. He will promise future obedience, as if that could be a satisfaction for the sins of the past. It is thus with him as it is too often with business men in a time of embarrassment; for, no matter how involved his affairs may be, the very last thing that a merchant will admit is that he is hopelessly insolvent. Hugh Miller, in his autobiography, thus describes what he learned by his experience as a clerk in the branch bank of Linlithgow: "I found I could predict every bankruptcy in the district; but I usually fell short from ten to eighteen months of the period in which the event actually took place. I could pretty nearly determine the time when the difficulties and entanglements which I saw, ought to have produced their proper effects, and landed in failure; but I missed taking into account the desperate efforts which men of energetic temperament make in such circumstances, and which, to the signal injury of their friends and the loss of their creditors, succeed usually in staving off the catastrophe for a season." So the sinner, in his attempts to work out his own redemption, sinks only the deeper into the mire.

(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

It is a parable to show us that our life must be a repetition "of the life of God. "How often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? "

I. THE ANSWER OF THE LORD, FOLDED UP IN THIS PARABLE, IS "AS OFTEN AS GOD FORGIVES US." As soon as the lord began to reckon with his servants, he found this great defaulter; in any company God would immediately find such an one. What our Lord represents as one act, is really a continued flow of acts; every hour we are the subjects of forgiveness. Just as often you are to let forgiveness flow forth to others; the heart of the servant must be in unison with the heart of the master.

II. GOD'S MERCY TO US IS TO BE A SPRING OF MERCY IN US TO OTHERS. The unmerciful servant would not resemble his master. We are receivers mainly that we may be givers. Observe the circumstances in which as Christians we are expected to exercise a forgiving spirit. Christ does not ask us to make bricks without straw. Everything that we need for the fulfilment of the command is provided. The Holy Spirit is given to mould us to the form of mercy which is in Him. It is a reasonable and ample provision. Christ endeavours to open our hearts by kindness; not by reproaches or commands, but by forgiveness. He dies that our transgressions may be put away. If the power to forgive be greater in us in this way than any other, the responsibility under which we lie to put forth that power is enormously increased.

III. WE MUST TAKE THE ENTIRE GIFT, OR LOSE ALL. The entire gift of the king was something more than forgiveness. It was also a forgiving heart. It is the gift of a new life. He took the liberty, joy, relief, and then stopped. He took the remission of his debt; but not the debt-remitting heart. Pardon is not salvation; there must be holiness as well.

(A. Macleod, D. D.)

If you cleave a stem of rock crystal into fragments, every fragment will be found a repetition more or less complete of the unbroken crystal. In a single drop of seawater you will find all the elements of the sea itself. Pluck a leaf from the oak, the beech, the plane, or any forest tree; place it between you and the light — you will find that the profile of the leaf is the profile of the perfect tree. Look at its veins; they are a little map of the branches of the tree. The tree reproduces itself in the leaf; the leaf is a picture of the whole tree. The form of the fragment, of the drop, of the leaf. is the form of the whole to which it belongs. This law holds throughout the wide variety of nature. A single bone reveals the animal: a single ray of light contains the mysteries of all light; the pebble you start with your foot is an epitome of the globe we inhabit.

(A. Macleod, D. D.)

Expository Outlines
This parable.

I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES WHICH LED TO ITS DELIVERY. Our Lord had been giving instructions to his disciples concerning the restoration of an erring brother. The injured party should be ready to forgive.

II. THE SEVERAL PARTS OF WHICH IT IS COMPOSED. The king is intended to represent the Most High; but He is not too exalted to attend to the concerns of His subjects.

1. A servant is in debt to his sovereign.

(1)Its amount exceedingly great. Our sin is great.

(2)This servant being unable to meet his heavy liabilities, the claims of justice are advanced.

(3)To arrest the execution of the sentence a humble and earnest plea is presented.

(4)Touched with a feeling of pity the king relinquishes his claims and extends to the debtors a full and free pardon.

2. One servant in debt to another: even to him who had been so heavily in debt himself, but was most generously released from all his obligations.

(1)A contrast truly appalling.

(2)A punishment richly deserved.


(Expository Outlines)

Warn against misapplications of the parable.

1. It would be an error to apply it to the subject of property obligations and money-debt.

2. Neither does it relate to civil punishments (Romans 13:1-5).

3. Neither are we to see in this parable the history of any particular persons, but simply the exhibition of the nature and working of the Divine principle of grace. first in absolving us, and then in the temper which it begets in the hearts of those who are the subjects of it.

4. Neither is it intended to teach us by this parable. that our exercise of forgiveness is in any way the procuring cause of God's forgiveness.The way thus cleared, consider some of the elements of the parable itself.

1. Man is an immense debtor.

2. Sad is man's estate in view of this enormous indebtedness. There is a way, however, for these terrible consequences to be averted.

4. But there may be great debtors to whom the Lord's word of entire forgiveness has been spoken, who yet in the end fail of the advantages of it.

5. God's forgiveness is not bestowed that we may indulge our selfishness and greed.

6. There are other servants spoken of besides the two debtors. "When they saw what was done they were very sorry." This is the form which true charity takes when called to witness sinfulness.

(J. A. Seiss, D. D.)

I. The PRACTICE of forgiving injuries.

II. The principle of forgiving injurious.

(W. Arnot.)

If the channel of his heart had really been inserted into the fountain-head of mercy for receiving, mercy would infallibly have flowed in the way of giving, wherever the need of a brother made an opening; if the vessel had been charged, it would certainly have discharged. No compassion flowed from that heart to refresh a fellow-creature in distress, because that heart had never truly opened to accept mercy from God; the reservoir was empty, and therefore the outbranching channels remained dry.

(W. Arnot.)

Most of the injuries with which we are called to deal are small, even in relation to human capacity; they are, very often precisely of the size that our own temper makes them. Some people possess the art of esteeming great injuries small, and some the art of esteeming small injuries great. The first is like a traveller who throws a great many stones out of the burden which he carries, and so walks with ease along the road; the other is like a traveller who gathers a great many stones on the wayside, and adds them to his burden, and is therefore soon crushed by the load.

(W. Arnot.)

A traveller in Burmah, after fording a certain river, found his body covered all over by a swarm of small leeches, busily sucking his blood. His first impulse was to tear the tormentors from his flesh; but his servant warned him that to pull them off by mechanical violence would expose his life to danger. They must not be torn off, lest portions remain in the wounds and become a poison; they must drop off spontaneously, and so they will be harmless. The native forthwith prepared a hath for his master, by the decoction of some herbs, and directed him to lie down in it. As soon as he had bathed in the balsam the leeches dropped off. Each unforgiven injury rankling in the heart is like a leech sucking the lifeblood. Mere human determination to have done with it, will not cast the evil thing away. You must bathe your whole being in God's pardoning mercy; and these venomous creatures will instantly let go their hold. You will stand up free.

(W. Arnot.)

While a few acres of cold barren moorland constitute all your heritage, if a neighbour encroaches on it by a hair's-breadth, you assert your right and repel the aggression; possibly you may, in your zeal, accuse him of an intention to trespass, if you see him digging his own ground near your border. While your property is very small, you are afraid of losing any of it; and perhaps you cry out before you are hurt. But if you become heir to a broad estate in a fertile valley, you will no longer be disposed to watch the motions of your neighbour, and go to law with him for a spadeful of moss that he may have taken from a disputed spot. Thus, while a human soul has no other portion than an uncertain shred of this uncertain world, be is kept in terror lest an atom of his property should be lost; he will do battle with all his might against any one who is, or seems to be, encroaching on his honour, or business, or property: but when he becomes a child of God, and an heir of an incorruptible inheritance — when he is a prince on the steps of a throne, he can afford to overlook small deductions from a possession that is insignificant in itself, and liable to be taken away at any time without an hour's warning.

(W. Arnot.)

The miller, finding that some of the lumps are large and hard, and that the mill-stones are consequently almost standing still, goes quietly out and lets more water on. Go you, and do likewise. When injuries that seem large and hard are accumulated on your head, and the process of forgiving them begins to choke and go slow under the pressure, as if it would soon stop altogether; when the demand for forgiveness grows great, and the forgiving power in the heart is unable to meet it; then, enter into your closet and shut your door, and pray to your Father specifically for more experience of His forgiving love; so shall your forgiving love grow stronger, and overcome every obstacle that stands in its way.

(W. Arnot.)

I. That sin is a debt, a vast debt; or that there is much, yea great, exceeding great evil in sin, considered as a debt.

II. That sinners are debtors, and have nothing to pay, and therefore are forgiven freely, as an act of God's mercy, all their debts without any satisfaction made by them.

III. That God doth and will call sinners who are debtors to Him, to an account, be they willing or no.

IV. That a pardoned person, or one that God hath forgiven, does forgive from his heart all those that have injured him, and they that do not so are not, nor shall be ever forgiven.

(Benjamin Keach.)

1. Sin is a vast debt, or an exceeding great evil in respect of God, against whom it is committed.

2. Sin is a vast debt, considering what wrong it hath done to God; it is a crossing His will, a violation of His law, a contemning His authority, a despising of His sovereignty and dominion, a defacing His image, and resisting His spirit, abuse of His patience, and a slighting of all His love, mercy, and goodness.

3. Sin is a great debt, because all men, yea, all the saints of the earth, nor angels of heaven can pay this debt.

4. Sin is a vast debt, because it exposes the sinner to eternal wrath and vengeance.

(Benjamin Keach.)

1. By owing money.

2. By being a trespasser, offender, or guilty person.

3. By robbery of a man's goods or good name.

4. By violating a covenant.

5. By receiving kindnesses. He owes the debt of gratitude and thankfulness.

(Benjamin Keach.)

1. In their unwillingness to be called to account.

2. Attended with shame.

3. They have many shifts and delays.

4. Do not like to meet their creditor.

5. Continually afraid of arrest.

(Benjamin Keach.)

There is nothing that makes a man so unlike to God, as a hard heart; without pity, without patience. In the tabernacle, the doors of the sanctum santorum were of olive-wood (1 Kings 6:31); which is the hieroglyphic of mercy: but the gates of that fearful dungeon, which is hell, are said to be of brass and iron; "He hath broken the gates of brass, and cut the bars of iron in sunder" (Psalm 107:16); the signs of hard hearts and instruments of destruction. Which serves to show, that the way to hell is by inhumanity; to heaven, by pity. Of all the passions in us, compassion is the best; and a man without this tenderness, is but the statue of a man; a mere stone in a human figure. The very stones will seem to weep, when foul weather is a-coming; and as if they had been once so full of sorrow for Christ's sufferings, that their solid breasts could no longer contain it, they brake in pieces. There be men harder than stones, that have hearts more impenetrable, obdurate, and unrelenting, and less capable of remorse; nay, instead of pitying the wounds of the miserable, they make those miserable wounds.

(T. Adams.)

The fate of the unmerciful servant tells us in the plainest language that the mere cancelling of our guilt does not save us. It tells us that unless the forgiveness of God humbles us, and begets within us a truly meek and loving spirit, we cannot be owned as His children. The best assurance that we are ourselves forgiven is the consciousness that the very spirit of the forgiving God is working in our own hearts towards others.

(Marcus Dods.)

Forgiveness is cheaper than revenge, and is sweeter and more valuable. Prudence. as well as piety, counsels quiet to men under reproof or reproach. If a bee stings you, will you go to the hive and destroy it? Would not a thousand come upon you? If you receive a trifling injury, don't be anxious to avenge it. Let it drop. It is wisdom to say little respecting the injuries you have received. When enemies see they have hit you they know where to strike next time, while if you show no signs of disquiet, they think their stroke must have missed its mark. Lie quiet, and you will be likely to be let alone.

(H. L. Hastings.)

Note —

I. THE GREAT GOODNESS AND CLEMENCY OF GOD. Delay was asked for, and remission was given. How great the love; the gift exceeds the petition.

II. THE GREAT POWER OF HUMILITY. The servant kneeled down and prayed in a few simple words, and he was forgiven his debt. Certain lions spare a prey that prostrates itself before them.

III. THE PUNISHMENT IS ONE THING, THE FAULT IS ANOTHER. There is a freeing from the dominion of Satan, and then there is a remission of the punishment. Two distinct acts. Absalom was pardoned, yet he was not admitted to David's presence (2 Samuel 14:28).


V. The NEED WE HAVE TO FORGIVE INJURIES. Like our blessed Lord and St. Stephen, we must pray for our murderers.

(From the Latin.)

I. THE SUBLIMITY OF THE JUDICIAL CONDITION. "A certain king," endowed with the highest powers, will be our judge — Jesus Christ (Revelation 19:16). His three attributes are —

1. Infallible knowledge.

2. Inflexible justice.

3. Invincible power.Hence He is to be greatly feared (Jeremiah 10:7).

II. THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF FINAL AVOIDANCE — "which would take account."

III. THE NECESSITY OF OBEDIENT SUBJECTION. "Servants," implying total subjection to Him (Leviticus 19:37).

(From the Latin.)

God is our great creditor on account —

I. OF ORIGINAL SIN (Ephesians 2:3).

II. Of ACTUAL sin (Isaiah 59:2).

III. Of OBEDIENCE by natural and Divine law (Romans 2:14, 15).

1. Natural. God is our creator (Acts 17:28). Jesus Christ is our Redeemer.

2. Divine. He is our King (Romans 13:1). We are His spiritual subjects and followers.

IV. OF GRATITUDE FOR ALL BLESSINGS. Temporal and spiritual (1 Corinthians 12:6-11).

V. OF EARNEST LOVE FOR ANY GOOD WHICH WE MAY HAVE DONE. To Him be all the praise and honour (Psalm 115:1).

(From the Latin.)

The torment of this place of tormentors (Matthew 25:30), arises from —

I. THE HOPELESSNESS OF ESCAPE. The imprisonment here knows no end (Matthew 3:12; Matthew 25:46; Isaiah 66:24).


III. THE UNCEASING TORMENT. Never any relief; not a moment's ease or forgetfulness (Revelation 14:11).

IV. THE WEARINESS AND PAIN OF BEING. A wakeful night seems multiplied into three. The same round, or rather, unvarying sameness, which makes an agony of itself.

V. THE SPECTATORS OF THIS WRETCHEDNESS (Revelation 14:10; Revelation 6:16, 17). This formed the agony of Samson (Judges 16:27, 28). It carries shame here; it will increase the agony of hereafter.

(From the Latin.)

Let us consider the nature of our debt.

I. To GOD. Pay the debt of



(3)Fear; for He is Lord of all.

II. To OURSELVES. Pay thy debt of(1) Love; we ought to love ourselves since God loves us, and we ought to obey the commandment of love — to love ourselves; not in and for ourselves, but as in and belonging to God.(2) Care; we ought to guard and preserve ourselves from dangers ghostly and bodily. Hence the gift of reason to defend and protect the course of life.(3) Salvation (Philippians 2:12; Ecclesiastes 9:10).

III. To our NEIGHBOUR. Pay thy debt of(1) Love (Matthew 19:19), dealing with him as with thyself.(2) Instruction; if he wander, seek to lead him back into the paths of righteousness (Matthew 18:15; James 5:20).(3) Help and succour (1 John 3:17, 18; Isaiah 53:7). Epilogue.

1. Husband and discipline every resource.

2. Strive and pray honestly to meet this triple debt.

(From the Latin.)What contrasts are here!

I. God, the King of kings, towards a servant; and again, a servant towards his fellow-servant.

II. An infinite debt, and again, a small debt.

III. Impossibility and inability; and again, possibility and ability.

IV. Compassion and kindness; and again, hardheartedness and cruel behaviour.


This "servant," or "minister," must have been some high functionary of state, who manipulated the revenues of provinces. He represents the sinner — every sinner. The debt for which every sinner is accountable, or liable, to God is enormous. It is not easy to determine exactly what was the value of the Hebrew talent. It contained 3,000 shekels of the sanctuary, and is supposed by some to have corresponded exactly to the Greek AEginetan talent, which exceeded the common Attic commercial talent. This common Attic talent is estimated by Boeckh as equivalent to 1,375 German thalers. Taking the German thaler as equivalent to 3s. sterling, a single Attic talent would amount to a little above £200; so then ten thousand talents would be something more than £2,000,000 sterling, an immense sum. more especially in those ancient times, when the relation of bullion to commodities was such that the prices of commodities in bullion were far smaller relatively than now. with our vast importations of gold from America and Australia. This immense sum, almost; baffling ordinary conception, represents the sinner's spiritual debt or guilt.

(J. Morison, D.D.)

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