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but every additional proof of so material a support under the afflictions and calamities of life, must be grateful to every heart that has known what affliction is.
The verse that comes next in order is this: "For the Son of man is come to save that which is lost." The connexion of this verse with the preceding one is somewhat obscure, but seems to be as follows: You may think, perhaps that man is too mean, too insignificant a being, to be worthy of the ministration and guardianship of celestial spirits. But how can you entertain this imagination, when you know that for this creature man, for fallen and sinful man, did the Son of God condescend to offer himself up a sacrifice on the cross, and came to save that which was lost? Well then may the angels of heaven be proud to guard what their Lord and Master came to save. Jesus then goes on to exemplify, by a familiar similitude, his paternal tenderness to the sons of men. "How think ye, if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and go into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep than of the ninety and nine that went not astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father that one of these little ones should perish." We are not to infer from this similitude, that God sets more value, and looks with more complacency and approbation on one repenting sinner, than on ninety and nine righteous persons who have uniformly and devoutly served him. This can never be imagined; nor would it correspond with the illustration. The shepherd himself does not set a greater value upon the lost sheep than he does upon those that are safe; nor would he give up them to recover that which has strayed. But his joy for the moment, at the recovery of the lost sheep, is greater than he receives from all the rest, because he has regained that, and is sure of all the others. The whole, therefore, that was meant to be inculcated by this parable is, that God's parental tenderness extends to all, even to the sinner that goes astray, and that he rejoices at the
conversion and recovery of the meanest individual, and of the most grievous offender. This is the very conclusion, and the only one which our Lord himself draws from the parable. "Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish."
Such then being the mercy of the Almighty even to his sinful creatures, our Lord goes on to intimate to his disciples, that they ought also to exercise a similar lenity and forbearance towards their offending brethren.— "If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established; and if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church; but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican." In this passage there are evident allusions to the laws and customs of the Jews, who, for the conviction of any offender, required the testimony of at least two witnesses; * and in the case of notorious and obstinate offenders, reproved them publickly in their synagogues. But the obvious meaning in regard to ourselves is, that even against those who have ill-treated and injured us, we should not immediately proceed to extreme severity and rigour; but first try the effects of private, and gentle, and friendly admonition; if that fail, then call in two or three persons of character and reputation to add weight and authority to our remonstrances; and if that has no effect, we are then justified in bringing the offender before the proper tribunal, to be censured or punished as he deserves, avoiding all communication with him in future, except what common humanity may require even towards an enemy. These directions are evidently the dictates of that moderation, mildness, and benevolence, which characterize all our Saviour's precepts, and more particularly distinguish this chapter.
*Deut. xix. 15.
"Verily I say unto you," continues our Saviour, "whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven; for where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."
There is some difficulty and some difference of opinion with respect to the precise meaning of these verses; but they evidently have a reference to the case of the offender stated in the preceding verses; they are addressed exclusively to the apostles; and the most natural interpretation of them seems to be as follows:Whatever sentence of absolution or condemnation you shall in your apostolical capacity pronounce on any offender, that sentence shall be confirmed in heaven: and whatever even two of you shall ask in prayer for direction and assistance from above, in forming your judicial determination, it shall be granted you; for where only two or three of you are gathered together in my name, and are acting under my authority and for my glory in any case of great importance, there am I in the midst of you by my holy spirit, to guide, direct, and sanction your proceedings.
We now come to one of the most interesting and most affecting parables that is to be found either in scripture, or in any of the most admired writings of antiquity. In consequence of what our Lord had said in the course of his instructions on the subject of injuries, Peter came to him, and said, "Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him, till seven times?" an allowance which he probably thought abundantly liberal. Jesus saith unto him, "I say not unto thee until seven times, but until seventy times seven;" that is, this duty of forgiving injuries has no limits. However frequently you are injured, if real penitence and contrition follow the offence, a Christian is always bound to forgive. To illustrate and confirm this im
portant duty, our Lord subjoins the following parable. "Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a king, which would take account of his servants; and when he had began to reckon, one was brought to him which owed ten thousand talents, (that is nearly two millions, some think more than two millions of our money.) But for as much as he had not to pay, his Lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.” This seems a most severe penalty for insolvency; and yet it was a frequent practice among the Jews,* as we learn both from various passages of the Old Testament and from Josephus: and we are told by several intelligent travellers, that insolvency is one of the causes of slavery in Africa at this very hour. So perfectly conformable to fact and to the truth of history is every cir cumstance that occurs in the sacred writings. "The servant therefore fell down and worshipped him," prostrated himself at his master's feet, and in the most moving terms besought him saying, "Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all." Then the Lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellow servants which owed him an hundred pence, (a very trifling sum;) and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me what thou owest." He assailed him with far greater violence and brutality than his lord had used • towards himself for a debt of ten thousand talents. "And his fellow servant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying "Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all;" the very same supplicating attitude, the very same affecting words that he had himself made use of towards his lord; " and he would not but went and cast him into prison till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow servants saw what was done, they were very sorry;" sorry for the sufferings of the unhappy debtor; sorry for the disgrace brought on human nature by the unfeeling creditor; "and they came
* Exod. xxii. 3. Lev. xxv. 47.
and told unto their lord all that was done. lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt because thou desiredst me; shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors till he should pay all that was due to him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses."
Such is the parable of the unforgiving servant, which I am sure has not only been heard but felt by every one here present. It requires no comment or explanation; the bare repetition of it is sufficient: indeed it cannot be expressed in any other words than its own, without impairing its beauty and its strength. Notwithstanding the frequency of its recurrence in the course of our church service, there is no one, I believe, that ever hears it without emotion and delight. Amidst so much excellence as we meet with in the Gospel, it is not easy to say what is most excellent; but if I was to select any one parable of our Lord's as more interesting, more affecting, coming more home to the feelings, and pressing closer on the hearts of men than any other of the rest, I think it would be this. Certain it is, that in all the characters of excellence, in perspicuity, in brevity, in simplicity, in pathos, in force, it has no equal in any human composition whatever. On its beauties therefore, I shall not enlarge, but on its uses and its application to ourselves, I must say a few words.
And in the first place I would observe, that the object of this parable is not only to enforce the duty of cultivating a placable disposition, but a disposition constantly placable, always ready to forgive the offences of our brother, however frequently he may repeat those offences. For it was immediately after our Lord had told Peter that he was to forgive his brother not merely seven times, but seventy times seven, that he added this parable to confirm that very doctrine; therefore, says he, is the kingdom of heaven like unto a certain king,