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Concerning offences given by us to others, especially Christ's little ones, which we are here charged to take heed of, pursuant to what he had said, ver. 6. Observe, The caution itself,— Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones. This is spoken to the disciples. As Christ will be displeased with the enemies of his church, if they wrong any of the members of it, even the least, so he will be displeased with the great ones of the church, if they despise the little ones of it. that are striving who shall be greatest, take heed lest in this contest ye despise the little ones.” We may understand it literally of little children; of them Christ was speaking, (ver. 2, 4.) The infant seed of the faithful belong to the family of Christ, and are not to be despised.) Or, figuratively, true but weak believers are these little ones, who, in their outward condition, or the frame of their spirits, are like little children, the lambs of Christ's flock.
We must not despise them, not think meanly of them, as lambs despised, Job. xii. 5. We must not make a jest of their infirmities, not look upon them with contempt, not conduct ourselves scornfully or disdainfully toward them, as if we cared not what became of them; we must not say, Though they be offended, and grieved, and stumble, what is that to us?” Nor should we make a slight matter of doing that which will entangle and perplex them. This despising of the little ones is what we are largely cautioned against. Rom. xiv. 3, 10, 15, 20, 21. We must not impose upon the consciences of others, nor bring them into subjection to our humours, as they do who say to men's souls, Bow down that we may go over. There is a respect owing to the conscience of every man who
appears to be conscientious. The ministrations of the good angels are about them. This Christ saith to us, and we may take it upon his word, who came from heaven to let us know what is done there by the world of angels.
Our Saviour proposes his own example as an argument against occasioning offence. For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. Christ's errand into the world was to save that which was lost, to reduce us to our allegiance, restore us to our work, reinstate us in our privileges, and so to put us into the right way that leads to our great end ; to save those that are spiritually lost from being eternally so. This is a good reason why the least and weakest believers should not be despised or offended. If Christ put such a value upon them, let us not undervalue them. If he denied himself so much for their salvation, surely we should deny ourselves for their edification and consoiation. See this argument urged, Rom. xiv. 15; 1 Cor. viii. 11, 12.
The tender regard which our heavenly Father has to these little ones, and his concern for their welfare, is illustrated by a comparison, ver. 12–14. The owner that had lost one sheep out of a hundred, does not slight it, but diligently inquires after it, is greatly pleased when he has found it, and has in that a sensible and affecting joy, more than in the ninety and nine that wandered not. The fear he was in of losing that one, and the surprise of finding it, add to the joy. Now this is applicable, 1. To the state of fallen man in general ; he is strayed like a lost sheep, the angels that stood were as the ninety and nine that never went astray; wandering man is sought upon the mountains, which Christ, in great fatigue, traversed in pursuit of him, and he is found, which is matter of joy. Greater joy there is in heaven for returning sinners than for remaining angels. 2. To particular believers, who are offended and put out of their way by the stumbling-blocks that are laid in their way, or the wiles of those who seduce them out of the way. Now, though but one of a hundred should hereby be driven off, as sheep easily are, yet that one shall be looked after with a great deal of care, the return of it welcomed with a great deal of pleasure; and therefore the wrong done to it, no doubt, will be reckoned for with a great deal of displeasure. If there be joy in heaven for the finding of one of these little ones, there is wrath in heaven for the offending of them. God is graciously concerned, not only for his flock in general, but for every lamb or sheep that belongs to it. It is not the will of your Father, that one of these little ones should perish. More is implied than is expressed. It is not his will that any should perish, but that these little ones should be saved ; he has designed it, and set his heart upon it, and he will affect it; it is the will of his precept, that all should do what they can to further it, and nothing to hinder it. 15 | Moreover "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. 16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in Pthe mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17 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 * Lev, xix, 17; Luke xvii. 3.
p Deut. xvii. 6, xix. 15; John viii. 17; 2 Cor. xiii. 1;
o James v, 20: 1 Pet. iii, 1.
Heb. x, 28.
as an 'heathen man and a publican. 18 Verily I say unto you, 'Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 '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. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am
I in the midst of them. 9 Rom. xvi. 17; 1 Cor. v. 9; 2 Thess. iii. 6, 14. g Chap. xvi. 19; John xx. 23; 1 Cor. v. 4. Chap. V. 24. 1 1 John iji, 22, v. 14.
I. Let us apply this passage to the quarrels that happen, upon any account, among Christians. If thy brother trespass against thee, by grieving thy soul (1 Cor. viii. 12), by affronting thee, or putting contempt or abuse upon thee; if he blemish thy good name by false reports or tale-bearing; if he encroach on thy rights, or be in any way injurious to thee in thy estate ; if he trespass the laws of justice, charity, or relative duties, Go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone. Let this be compared with, and explained by, Lev. xix. 17, Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart ; that, is, “ If thou hast conceived a displeasure at thy brother for any injury he hath done thee, do not suffer thy resentments to ripen into a secret malice (like a wound, which is most dangerous when it bleeds inwardly), but give vent to them in a mild and grave admonition, let them so spend themselves, and they will expire the sooner; do not go and rail against him behind his back, but thou shalt in any wais reprove him. If he has, indeed, done thee a considerable wrong, endeavour to make him sensible of it; but let the rebuke be private, between thee and him alone. If thou wouldst convince him, do not expose him; for that will but exasperate him, and make the reproof like a revenge." This agrees with Prov. xxv. 8, 9, “Go not forth hastily to strive, but debate thy cause with thy neighbour himself.” Argue it calmly and amicably; and if he shall hear thee, well and good, thou hast gained thy brother-there is an end of the controversy, and it is a happy end; let no more be said about it, but let the falling out of friends be the renewing of friendship.
If he will not hear thee—if he will not own himself in a fault, nor come to an agreement—yet do not despair, but try what he will say to it if thou take one or two more, not only to be witnesses of what passes, but to reason the case farther with him. He will be the more likely to hearken to them, because they are disinterested; and if reason will rule him, the word of reason in the mouth of two or three witnesses will be better spoken to him (Many eyes see more than one), and more regarded by him, and perhaps it will influence him to acknowledge his error, and to say, I repent.
If he shall neglect to hear them, and will not refer the matter to their arbitration, then tell it to the Church—to the ministers, elders, or other officers, or the most considerable persons in the congregation you belong to. Make them the referees to accomplish the matter, and do not presently appeal to the magistrate, or fetch a writ for him. This is fully explained by the apostle (1 Cor. vi.), where he
reproves those that went to law before the unjust, and not before the saints (ver. 1), and would have the saints to judge those small matters (ver. 2) that pertain to this life (ver. 3). If you ask, Who is the Church that must be told ? the apostle directs there (ver. 5), Is there not a wise man among you? Those of the Church that are presumed to be most capable of determining such matters ; and he speaks ironically, when he says (ver. 4), “ Set them to judge who are least esteemed in the Church ;" those, if there be no better, those, rather than suffer an irreconcileable breach between two church members. This rule was then in a special manner requisite, when the civil government was in the hands of such as were not only aliens, but enemies.
If he will not hear the Church, but persists in the wrong he has done thee, and proceeds to do thee farther wrong, let him be to thee as a heathen man and a publican. Take the benefit of the law against him, but let that always be the last remedy; appeal not to the courts of justice till thou hast first tried all other means to compromise the matter in variance. Or thou mayest, if thou wilt, break off thy friendship and familiarity with him. Though you must by no means study revenge, yet thou mayest choose whether thou wilt have any dealings with him, at least in such a way as may give him an opportunity of doing the like again. Thou wouldst have healed him, wouldst have preserved his friendship, but he would not, and so has forfeited it. If a man cheat and abuse me once, it is his fault; if twice, it is my own.
II. Let us apply it to scandalous sins, which are an offence to the little ones, of bad example to those that are weak and pliable, and of great grief to those that are weak and timorous. Christ, having taught us to indulge the weakness of our brethren, here cautions us not to indulge their wickedness under pretence of that. Christ, designing to erect a Church for himself in the world, here took care for the preservation, 1. Of its purity, that it might have an expulsive faculty-a power to cleanse and clear itself, like a fountain of living waters, which is necessary as long as the net of the Gospel brings up both good fish and bad. 2. Of its peace and order, that every member may know his place and duty, and the purity of it may be preserved in a regular way, and not tumultuously.
If thy brother trespass against thee. The offender is a brother-one that is in Christian communion, that is baptized, that hears the Word, and prays with thee—with whom thou joinest in the worship of God, statedly or occasionally. When any trespass is done against us, it is good to remember that the trespasser is a brother, which furnishes us with a qualifying consideration. If thy brother sin against thee (so the word is), if he do any thing which is offensive to thee as a Christian, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone. Do not stay till he comes to thee, but go to him, as the physician visits the patient, and the shepherd goes after the lost sheep. We should think no pains too much to take for the recovering of a sinner to repentance. Christian reproof is an ordinance of Christ for the bringing of sinners to repentance, and must be managed as an ordinance. Let the reproof be private, between thee and him alone; that it may appear you seek not his reproach, but his repentance. If he shall hear thee—that is, heed thee—if he be wrought upon by the reproof, it is well, thou hast gained thy brother; thou hast helped to save him from sin and ruin, and it will be thy credit and comfort. James v. 19, 20. If that doth not prevail, then take with thee one or two more (ver. 16).
We must not be weary of well-doing, though we see not presently the good success of it. “ If he will not hear thee, yet do not give him up as in a desperate case; say not, It will be to no purpose to deal with him any farther; but go on in the use of other means; even those that harden their necks must be often reproved, and those that oppose themselves instructed in meekness.” Take with thee one or two more. 1. To assist thee. They may speak some pertinent convincing word which thou didst not think of, and
may manage the matter with more prudence than thou didst. 2. To affect him. He will be the more likely to be humbled for his fault, when he sees it witnessed against by two or three. Deut. xix. 15. 3. To be witnesses of his conduct, in case the matter should afterward be brought before the Church. None should come under the censure of the Church, as obstinate and contumacious, till it be very well proved that they are so.
If he neglect to hear them, and will not be humbled, then tell it to the Church (ver. 17). There are some stubborn spirits to whom the likeliest means of conviction prove ineffectual ; yet such must not be given over as incurable, but let the matter be made more public, and farther help called in. Tell it to the guides and governors of the Church—the minister or ministers, the elders or deacons, or (if such the constitution of the society be) tell it to the representatives or heads of the congregation, or to all the members of it. Let them examine the matter, and, if they find the complaint frivolous and groundless, let them rebuke the complainant; if they find it just, let them rebuke the offender, and call him to repentance: and this will be likely to put an edge and an efficacy upon the reproof, because given, 1st, with greater solemnity; and, 2d, with greater authority. It is an awful thing to receive a reproof from a Church—from a minister, a reprover by office; and therefore it is the more regarded by such as pay any deference to an institution of Christ and his ambassadors.
If he neglect to hear the Church_if he slight the admonition, and will neither be ashamed of his faults, nor amend them, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican ; let him be cast out of the communion of the Church, secluded from special ordinances, degraded from the dignity of a church member ; let him be put under disgrace, and let the members of the society be warned to withdraw from him, that he may be ashamed of his sin, and they may not be infected by it or made chargeable with it
. Those who put contempt on the orders and rules of a society, and bring reproach upon it, forfeit the honours and privileges of it, and are justly laid aside till they repent and submit, and reconcile themselves to it again. Christ has appointed this method for the vindicating of the Church's honour, the preserving of its purity, and the conviction and reformation of those that are scandalous. But observe, he doth not say, “Let him be to thee as a devil or damned spirit, as one whose case is desperate,” but “ as a heathen and a publican.”
What was said before to Peter is here (ver. 18) said to all the disciples, and in them to all the faithful office-bearers in the Church, to the world's end. While ministers preach the word of Christ faithfully, and in their government of the Church strictly adhere to his laws (clave non errante—the key not turning the wrong way), they may be assured that he will own them, and stand by them, and will ratify what they say and do, so that it shall be taken as said and done by himself. He will own them
First, In their sentence of suspension-Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven. If the censures of the Church duly follow the institution of Christ, his judgments will follow the censures of the Church, his spiritual judgments, which are the sorest of all other, such as
the rejected Jews fell under (Rom. xi. 8), a spirit of slumber; for Christ will not suffer his own ordinances to be trampled upon, but will say amen to the righteous sentences which the Church passes on obstinate offenders. How light soever proud scorners may make of the censures of the Church, let them know that they are confirmed in the court of heaven; and it is in vain for them to appeal to that court, for judgment is there already given against them. They that are shut out from the congregation of the righteous now shall not stand in it in the great day. Psal. i. 5. Christ will not own those as his, nor receive them to himself, whom the Church has duly delivered to Satan; but, if through error or envy the censures of the Church be unjust, Christ will graciously find those who are so cast out. John ix. 34, 35.
Secondly, In their sentence of absolution-Whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Note, 1. No Church censures bind so fast, but that, upon the sinner's repentance and reformation, they may and must be loosed again. Sufficient is the punishment which has attained its end, and the offender must then be forgiven and comforted. 2 Cor. ii. 6. There is no unpassable
ulf fixed but that between hell and heaven. 2. Those who, upon their repentance, are received by the Church into communion again may take the comfort of their absolution in heaven, if their hearts be upright with God. As suspension is for the terror of the obstinate, so absolution is for the encouragement of the penitent. St Paul speaks in the person of Christ, when he saith, “ To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also.” 2 Cor. ii. 10. 21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin
against me, and I forgive him ? "till seven times ? 22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: 'but, Until seventy times seven. 23 9 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. 24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand † talents. 25 But forasmuch 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. 26 The servant therefore fell down, and #worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave bim the debt. 28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellow-servants, which owed him an hundred || pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. 29 And his fellow-servant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Ilave patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. 31 So when his fellow-servants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. 32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: 33 Shouldst not thou also have bad compassion on thy fellow-servant, even as I had pity on thee?
34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. 35,"So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if
ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
u Luke xvii. 4. # Chap. vi. 14; Mark xi. 25; Col. iii. 13. + A talent is 750 ounces of silver, which. after fire shillings the ounce, is £ 187, jos. y 2 Kings iv.); Neh. v. 8. 1 Or, besought him. | The Roman penny is the eighth part of an ounce, which, after five shillings the ounce, is sevenpence halfpenny. Chap. XX. 2. z Prov. xxi. 13; Chap. vi. 12; Mark xi. 26;
James i. 13. This part of the discourse concerning offences is certainly to be understood of personal wrongs, which it is in our power to forgive. Now observe,
I. Peter's question concerning this matter (ver. 21)-Lord, how oft shall my brother trespass against me, and I forgive him? Will it suffice to do it seven times? 1. He takes it for granted that he must forgive; Christ had taught his disciples this lesson (chap. vi. 14, 15), and Peter has not forgotten it. He knows that he must not only not bear a grudge against his brother, or meditate revenge,
but be as good a friend as ever, and forget the injury. He thinks it a great matter to forgive till seven times. He means not seven times a day, as Christ said (Luke xvii. 4), but seven times in his life. There is a proneness in our corrupt nature to stint ourselves in that which is good, and to be afraid of doing too much in religion, particularly of forgiving too much, though we have so much forgiven us.
Christ's reply to Peter is—I say not unto thee, Until seven times (he never intended to set up any such bounds), but, Until seventy times seven-a certain number for an indefinite one. It does not look well for us to keep count of the offences done against us by our brethren. There is something of ill-nature in scoring up the injuries we forgive, as if we would allow ourselves to be revenged when the measure is full
. God keeps an account because he is the Judge, and vengeance is his; but we must not, lest we be found stepping into his throne.
We have in this passage farther discourse of our Saviour's, by way of parable, to show the necessity of forgiving the injuries that are done to us. The parable is a comment upon the fifth petition of the Lord's prayer, Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us. Those, and those only, may expect to be forgiven of God who forgive their brethren. The parable represents the kingdon of heaven, that is, the Church, and the administration of the Gospel dispensation in it. The Church is God's family—it is his court; there he dwells, there he rules. God is our master-his servants we are, at least in profession and obligation. In general, the parable intimates how much provocation God has from his family on earth, and how untoward his servants are.
There are three things in the parable,
The master's wonderful clemency to his servant who was indebted to him; he forgave him ten thousand talents, out of pure compassion to him.
Every sin we commit is a debt to God; not like a debt to an equal, contracted by buying or borrowing, but to a superior; like a debt to a prince when a recognizance is forfeited, or a penalty incurred by a breach of the law or a breach of the peace; like the debt of a servant to his master, by withholding his service, wasting his lord's goods, breaking his indentures, and incurring the penalty. We are all debtors; we owe satisfaction, and are liable to the process of the law. There is an account kept of these debts, and we must shortly be reckoned with for them. God now reckons with us by our own consciences; conscience is an auditor for God in the soul, to call us to account and to account with us. There is another day of reckoning coming, when these accounts will be called over, and either passed or disallowed, and nothing but the blood of Christ will balance the account. The debt of sin is a very great debt; and some are more in debt, by reason of sin, than others. For the heinousness of their nature, our sins are talents—the greatest denomination that ever was used in the account of money or weight. The trusts committed to us, as stewards of the grace of God, are each of them a talent (chap. xxv. 15)—a talent of gold; and for every one of them buried, much more for every one of them wasted, we are a talent in debt, and this raises the account. In number, our sins are ten thousand—a myriad—more than the hairs on our head. Psal. xl. 12. Who can understand the number of his errors, or tell how oft he offends? Psal. xix. 12. Sinners are insolvent debtors; the Scripture, which concludeth all under sin, is a statute of bankruptcy against us all. Silver and gold can not pay our debt. Psal. xlix. 6,7. Sacrifice and offering can not do it; our good works are but God's work in us, and cannot make satisfaction ; we are without strength, and cannot help ourselves. If God should deal with us in strict justice, we should be condemned as insolvent debtors. The servant had contracted this debt by his wastefulness and wilfulness, and therefore might justly be left to lie by it. His lord commanded him to be sold, as a bond-slave; his wife and children to be sold, and all that he had, and payment to be made. Those that sell themselves to work wickedness, must be sold to make satisfaction. Captives to sin are captives to wrath. He that is sold for a bond-slave is deprived of all his comforts, and has nothing left him but his life, that he may be sensible of his miseries; which is the case of damned sinners. Thus he would have payment to be made, that is, something done towards it; though it is impossible that the sale of one so worthless should amount to the payment of so great a debt. By the damnation of sinners, Divine justice will be to eternity in the satisfying, but never satisfied.
Convinced sinners cannot but humble themselves before God, and pray rant, under this charge and this doom, fell down at the feet of his royal master, and worshipped him; or, as some copies read it, he besought him. His address was very submissive and very importunate-Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Ver. 26. The servant knew before that he was so much in debt, and yet was under no concern about it till he was called to an account. Singers are commonly careless about the pardon of their sins, till they come under the arrests of