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The Gospel for the Two and Twentieth Sunday after Trinity.
St. Matthew xviii. si, to the end. Peter said unto Jesus, Lord, how oft Jball my Brother fin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times f Jeff** faith unto him, I fay not unto thee until seven times, but until seventy times seven. Therefore is the Kjngdom of Heaven likened unto a certain Kjng, who would take account of his Servants, 8cc.
THE Subject of the Gospel for this Day, is touching the great Duty of Mens forgiving one another their Trespasses ., a Duty frequently injoin'd and inculcated by our Blessed Saviour, and particularly in that excellent and divine Form of Prayer, which he gave to his Disciples, in which he taught them to ask Forgiveness of their Trespasses, as they forgave those that trespass against them : where our forgiving of others, is made both the Condition and Measure of that Forgiveness which we ask for our selves; and to desire the one without doing the other, is rather to provoke than to prevail with him for a Blessing.
Now the Nature, Necessity, and other Circumstances of this Duty, are explain'd to us in the Gospel for this Day; all which are illustrated by a Parable of a certain King's dealing with his Servants, as we shall see in the handling of ir.
The Gospel begins with a Question mov'd by St. Peter, who came to Jesus, and faid unto him, Lord, how oft JhaU. my Brother sin against me, and I forgive him? The Occasion of this Question was from'some Discourse going before, where our Saviour had faid to his Disciples, If thy Brother f/iail trespass against thee, go and tell him his Fault between thee and him; if he shall hear thee, thou hast gain'd thy Brother: that is, go and admonish him privately to avoid all .Shame and Reproach, and if he repent and amend, forgive him. Now here St. Peter interpos'd, I know that we are to forbear our offending Brother; and if upon the first, second, or third Admonition he repent, to forgive him. But what if he who hath thus trefpafs'd, and repented once, relapse into the same or greater Fault, and repent again, how often must I thus bear with him and forgive him? Must I do this over and over again, till it comes perhaps to seven times? To this Jesus reply'd, / fay not tinto thee till seven times, but until seventy times seven. Where there is Numertts certm pro incerto; and the Sense of the Phrase is, that this is to be done not only often, but always, without any limitation of time: tho the number of his Offences be many and often repeated, yet as often as he renews his Repentance, so often are we to renew our Forgiveness according to that of St. Luke, Chap. 17. 4. If thy Brother trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent ; thou /halt forgive him. Whereby we fee, that God would have our pardoning Mercy be in some measure like his, *. e. unweary'd and unlimited ; which is to be merciful as our Heavenly Father is merciful. But the better to explain this matter, and to shew how fully, how freely, and how frequently we are to remit the Injuries and Trespasses committed against us, 'tis here set forth and illustrated by a Parable, representing the Benefit of so doing, and the Danger of doing otherwise.
The Parable begins in the next words: Therefore is the Kingdom of Heaven liken'd to a certain King, who would take account of his Servants. Where by the Kingdom of Heaven is meant the Church of Christ, together with all the Parts and Members of it. God's dealing with them now under the Gospel, is here very fitly compar'd to a certain King, who had many Servants, whom he call'd to bring in their Account, to fee how they had manag'd their Trust, and what Debts they had contracted. By this King here is represented God Almighty, the great King and Sovereign of the World, who is elsewhere compar'd to a certain Householder going into a far Country, and committing sundry Goods and Talents to his Servants, whom he after call'd to a Reckoning for them. But to go on with the Parable;
When the King began to reckon with his Servants, the first that was brought in was found to owe him upon account ten thousand Talents. Now a Talent at that time was reckon'd 750 Ounces of Silver, which at five Shillings an Ounce made the whole amount to a thoufand eight hundred seventy five thoufand Pounds ^ a vast Sum of Mony, and far beyond the power of any Servant to pay. By this is represented the many great and invaluable Mercies and Blessings for which we stand indebted to the Goodness of God ^ Mercies that we are never able either to reckon or requite.
But what did the King in the Parable to this Servant, who was run so deep in Arrears, as not to be able to get out? Why that the next Verse tells us ., Forasmuch as he had not to pay, his Lord commanded him to be fold, and his Wife and Children, and all that he had, and Payment to be made. Where the Master order'd him to be used according to the Custom then in use among the Jews j which was, that Debtors that were not able to pay, were appointed to be sold, they and their Wives and Children, to become Servants and Bondmen to those that bought them, and by that Sale the Debt was to be fatisfy'd. Of this Custom we read in 2 Kings 4.1. where a Creditor came upon such an occasion to take two Sons of a distressed Widow to be made Bondmen. This Ufage (as some Authors tell us) was only exercis'd on such Debtors, as by Idleness, Knavery, or Prodigality had render'd themselves unable to pay ; whereas industrious Persons, who were difabled by unavoidable Accidents and Necessity, found more favour i tho this Custom is continu'd to this day in some barbarous Countries, in its utmost Rigour and Severity.
This Passage of the. Parable is design'd to let us know what God in justice may exact from all wicked, ungrateful, and unprofitable Servants: he may require of them the utmost Farthing, or yield them up to be Slaves and Vassals to the worst of Enemies ^ or, which is worse, cast them into the Prison of Hell, and doom them to outer and eternal Darkness, where is weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth.
But how did this Servant behave himself under this lad and severe Sentence? Why it follows, The Servant there fore fell down and worship'd him, faying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. The indebted Servant, instead of denying or outfacing the Debt, in all Humility fell upon Ills Knees, praying him to shew mercy, and to mitigate gate his Sentence, and not to use Extremity towards him; assuring him that he wanted not Will, but Ability to pay, and if he would grant him Time and Patience, he would do his utmost to discharge the Debt, and give him full Satisfaction.
This Passage gives us to understand, how we are to demean our selves towards God Almighty, to whom we stand so deeply indebted ; to wit, not to disown or lessen the Mercies we have receiv'd, but humbly to acknowledg our great Obligations to the Divine Goodness, to be deeply jensible and sorry for any Abuse of them, to make fresh Promises and take up new Resolutions of making better Returns for them ; imploring his Grace to enable and incline us to make him all possible Satisfaction.
But how did the Master in the Parable deal with the Servant upon this his humble Petition? Why very merciful, ly, as the following Words declare j Then the Lord of that Servant was moved with Compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the Debt : meaning, that he was so tenderly affected towards him, that he not only recall'd the former Sentence, but frankly remitted the whole Debt upon his bare Request •, a great and unexpected Favour.
By this is represented the infinite Kindnesi and Readiness of God Almighty to shew Mercy, that he is a God gracious and merciful, long-suffering, abundant in Goodness and Truth, pardoning Iniquity, Transgression, and Sin; not exacting from us more than we are able to pay, but willing upon our Submission to quit scores, to cancel our Debts, and to remember our Sins no more.
But what was the Carriage of this Servant, who had so great a Debt remitted him, towards his Fellow-Servants? Did his Master's Compassion towards him move his Bowels upon the like occasion towards them? And was he as willing to forgive others, as he was to be forgiven himself? No, quite otherwise; for the next words tell us, that the same Servant went out and found one of his Fe How-Servants who orv'd him an hundred Pence; and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, faying, Pay me that thou oxvest. He who just before had ten thoufand Talents frankly forgiven him, set upon his Fellow-Servant with the utmost Rigour for an hundred Pence j a small inconsiderable Sum in respect of the former, yea, not so much as a Penny to a Pound. He demanded it likewise with that Insolence and Indignity, as could no ways become the Station of a Ser
vant, and acted rather the part of a Bailisf than a Creditor, for he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, gave him many threatning YVords, and perhaps Blows, roughly requiring him to make present Payment of the Debt. Strange Carriage! for one who was just before forgiven so vast a Sum, presently to apprehend another in so rigid a manner for a Debt many hundred times left. One would think so late a Favour from his Master, should not be so suddenly and so easily forgotten, but that the Greatness and Frankness of it should have left such deep Impressions upon him, as to have set him upon studying to make some Return, if not to the Master, to some of his Servants and Dependents: but instead of that, he neither regarded the Kindness of his Master, nor the Necessity of his FellowServant, but acted with the Rudeness and Severity of one, who clearly overlook'd both.
But perhaps this indebted Servant might be surly and reproachful in his Language or Behaviour, either denying the Debt, or vainly delaying the Payment: No, far otherwise, for this poor Servant used the fame humble Postures of Submission to him, as he did before to his Master. For this Fellow-Servant fell down at his feet, and besought him, flying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. He ihew'd the very fame Respect, and put up the fame Petition to him, as he who had so much forgiven him did before to his Master. And yet all this would prevail nothing with him ., for the next words tell us, He would not, but went and caji him into Prison, till he should pay the Debt. The Master's Kindness, in the total remitting of his great Debt, could not melt him into the least Forbearance of his Brother for a vastly less; but he used the greatest Extremity towards him, casting him into Prison, never to be releas'd thence without paying the whole Debt.
This Pasfage of the Parable shews us the great Ingrati'tude and unworthy Dealing of some Men towards the greatest Benefactors. The great Kindness shew'd to this Servant, was intended to oblige him to shew the like to others, especially his Fellow-Servants; and the doing otherwise, was an Act of great Ingratitude: 'tis to be utterly insensible of the highest Obligations, and instead of requiting, to return Injuries and Indignities for the greatest Favours ., which they that do, deserve to be branded with the blackest Marks of Reproach and Infamy.;