At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?Matthew 18:1. At the same time — When Jesus had just foretold his own sufferings, death, and resurrection; came the disciples, saying, Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven? — Which of us shall be thy prime minister in the kingdom which thou art about to set up? which they still thought would be a temporal kingdom. That this was their meaning, appears evident from the parallel passages, Mark 9:33-37; Luke 9:46-48, (where see the notes.) So that just after the Lord Jesus had predicted that he should be rejected of the Jewish nation, condemned, and crucified, the apostles were entertaining worldly and ambitious views, striving for wealth, honour, and power, and contending with one another which should be greatest! Such is human nature, blind, unfeeling, selfish, ambitious, covetous, contentious about the little, low, perishable things of this present short-enduring world! It is true, our Lord’s late prediction concerning his sufferings (Matthew 17:23) had made the disciples at first exceeding sorry; but their sorrow was of short duration: it soon went off, or their ignorance quickly got the better of it.
And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them,Matthew 18:2. And Jesus — Perceiving the thought of their heart, says Luke, or the dispositions by which they were animated, and their ambitious views and expectations; in order to check and eradicate all such sinful inclinations and affections, he called a little child, and set him in the midst of them — That they might consider him attentively, and learn by the sweetness, docility, and modesty visible in his countenance, what the temper and dispositions of his disciples ought to be, and how dear to him persons of such dispositions are. This little child is said to have been the great Ignatius, whom Trajan the wise, the good Emperor Trajan, condemned to be cast to the wild beasts at Rome! This method of instruction was agreeable to the manner of the eastern doctors and prophets, who, in teaching, impressed the minds of their disciples by symbolical actions, as well as by words. Thus, John 20:22, Jesus, by breathing on his apostles, signified that through the invisible energy of his power he conferred on them the gifts of his Spirit. Thus also, John 21:19, he bade Peter follow him, to show that he should be his follower in sufferings. And, Revelation 18:21, an angel cast a great stone into the sea, to signify the utter destruction of Babylon.
And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.Matthew 18:3-4. And said, Verily I say unto you — What I say is an undoubted and most important truth, a truth which you ought not only firmly to believe but seriously to lay to heart: except ye be converted — Turned from these worldly and carnal views and desires; and become like little children — “Free from pride, covetousness, and ambition, and resemble them in humility, sincerity, docility, and disengagement of affection from the things of the present life, which excite the ambition of grown men,” ye shall be so far from becoming the greatest in my kingdom, that ye shall not so much as enter into it. Observe well, reader, the first step toward entering into the kingdom of grace is to become as little children: lowly in heart, knowing ourselves utterly ignorant and helpless, and hanging wholly on our Father who is in heaven, for a supply of all our wants. We may further assert, (though it is doubtful whether this text implies so much,) except we be turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God: except we be entirely, inwardly changed, and renewed in the image of God, we cannot enter into the kingdom of glory. Thus must every man be converted in this life, or he can never enter into life eternal. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself — He that has the greatest measure of humility, joined with the sister graces of resignation, patience, meekness, gentleness, and long-suffering, shall be the greatest in Christ’s kingdom: whosoever rests satisfied with the place, station, and office which God assigns him, whatever it may be, and meekly receives all the divine instructions, and complies with them, though contrary to his own inclinations, and prefers others in honour to himself, — such a person is really great in the kingdom of heaven, or of God.
Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.Matthew 18:5-6. And whoso shall receive one such little child — Whosoever shall entertain or discover an affectionate regard to any one of my humble and meek followers; receiveth me — I shall take the kindness as done to myself. As if he had said, And all who are in this sense little children, are unspeakably dear to me. Therefore help them all you can, as if it were myself in person, and see that ye offend them not: that is, that ye turn them not out of the right way, neither hinder them in it. The original expression, Ος δ’ αν σκανδαλιση, is literally, Whosoever shall cause to stumble one of these little ones that believe in me — Whosoever shall tempt them to sin, or lay obstructions in their way, and render it rough and difficult, and shall thereby impede their progress in it; it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck — Casaubon and Elsner, not to mention others, have shown at large that drowning in the sea was a punishment used among the ancients, and that the persons condemned had sometimes heavy stones tied about their necks, or were rolled up in sheets of lead. It seems to have grown into a proverb for dreadful and inevitable ruin. The term, μυλος ονικος, (as Erasmus, Grotius, Raphelius, and many others observe,) properly signifies a millstone too large to be turned, as some were, by the hand, and requiring the force of asses to move it; as it seems those animals were generally used by the Jews on these occasions.
But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!Matthew 18:7-9. Wo unto the world because of offences — That is, unspeakable misery will be in the world through them: for it must needs be that offences come — Such is the nature of things, and such the weakness, folly, and wickedness of mankind, that it cannot be but they will come: but wo to that man — That is, miserable is that man; by whom the offence cometh. Offences are all things whereby any one is turned out of or hindered in the way of God. If thy hand, foot, eye, offend thee, that is, cause thee to stumble; if the most dear enjoyment, or the most beloved and useful person, turn thee out of or hinder thee in the way. Is not this a hard saying? Yes; if thou take counsel with flesh and blood. For a further elucidation of the words, see notes on Matthew 5:29-30; and Mark 9:42-50.
Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire.
And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.
Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.Matthew 18:10-11. See that ye despise not one of these little ones — As if they were beneath your notice. Be careful to receive, and not to offend, the very weakest believer in Christ: for, as inconsiderable as some of these may appear to you, the very angels of God have a peculiar charge over them: even those of the highest order, who continually appear at the throne of the Most High. Jerome, and many others of the ancient fathers, considered this as an argument that each pious man has his particular guardian angel: but it may be justly questioned whether this is the meaning of the passage. It seems more probable the sense is, that the angels, who sometimes attend the little ones spoken of, at other times stand in God’s immediate presence; and consequently that different angels are at different times employed in this kind office. The general sense is plain: that the highest angels do not disdain, on proper occasions, to perform services of protection and friendship for the meanest Christian. And as all the angels are ministering spirits, sent forth occasionally, at least, to minister to the heirs of salvation, they may in general be properly called their angels. The expression, They behold the face of my Father, alludes to the custom of earthly courts, where the great men, those who are highest in office and favour, are most frequently in the prince’s palace and presence, and perhaps daily converse with him. The meaning, therefore, of the passage is, that the chief angels are employed in taking care of the saints; and our Lord’s reasoning is both strong and beautiful when on this account he cautions us against despising them. “O what men are they,” says Baxter, “that read and preach this, and yet not only despise them, but first ignorantly or maliciously slander them, and then by this justify their persecuting and destroying them.” But, “what a comfort to the meanest true Christian is it, that angels, who always see God’s face in glory, have charge of them!” For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost — As if he had said, Another, and yet a stronger reason for your not despising them is, that I myself came into the world to save them: and I, who came to save them, will require it at your hands, if you wrong or persecute them, or hinder them in the way of their salvation.
For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.
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 goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?Matthew 18:12-14. How think ye — What do you think would be the conduct of a faithful shepherd? If a man have a hundred sheep, and but one of them wander from the rest, and go astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine in their pasture or fold, and goeth into the mountains, with the most solicitous care and labour, and seeketh that which is gone astray — With persevering diligence? And if he find it — After long and painful seeking; he rejoiceth more over that sheep. — Which was in such danger of being finally lost; than over the ninety and nine which remained in safety. Thus does our Lord display the unspeakable love of our heavenly Father to the souls of men, and the immense care which he takes, of them. He therefore adds, It is not the will of your Father, &c., that one of these little ones should perish — He loves them certainly infinitely better than the shepherd loves his sheep, and therefore will not fail to watch over them in order to their preservation: and will judge all those that would deter, or drive away from his duty, the meanest believer. Observe, reader, the gradation: the angels, the Son, the Father!
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 which went not astray.
Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.
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.Matthew 18:15-17. But if thy brother, &c. — But how can we avoid giving offence to some? or being offended at others? especially suppose they are quite in the wrong? suppose they commit a known sin? Our Lord here teaches us how: he lays down a sure method of avoiding all offences. Whosoever closely observes this three-fold rule will seldom offend others, and never be offended himself. If any do any thing amiss, of which thou art an eye or ear witness, thus saith the Lord, If thy brother — Any who is a member of the same religious community; sin against thee — 1st, Go and reprove him alone — If it may be, in person; if that cannot so well be done, by thy messenger; or in writing. Observe, our Lord gives no liberty to omit this, or to exchange it for either of the following steps. If this do not succeed, 2d, Take with thee one or two more — Men whom he esteems or loves, who may then confirm and enforce what thou sayest; and afterward, if need require, bear witness of what was spoken. If even this does not succeed, then, and not before, 3d, Tell it to the elders of the church — Lay the whole matter open before those who watch over your and his soul. If all this avail not, have no further intercourse with him, only such as thou hast with heathen. Can any thing be plainer? Christ does here as expressly command all Christians who see a brother do evil, to take this way, not another, and to take these steps, in this order, as he does to honour their father and mother. But if so, in what land do the Christians live? If we proceed from the private carriage of man to man, to proceedings of a more public nature, in what Christian nation are church censures conformed to this rule? Is this the form in which ecclesiastical judgments appear in the Popish, or even the Protestant world? Are these the methods used even by those who boast the most loudly of the authority of Christ to confirm their sentences? Let us earnestly pray that this dishonour to the Christian name may be wiped away, and that common humanity may not, with such solemn mockery, be destroyed in the name of the Lord! Let him be unto thee as a heathen — To whom thou still owest earnest goodwill, and all the offices of humanity.
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 an heathen man and a publican.
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.Matthew 18:18-20. Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth — By excommunication, pronounced in the Spirit and power of Christ; whatsoever ye shall loose — By absolution from that sentence. See note on chap. Matthew 16:19. In the primitive church, absolution meant no more than a discharge from church censure. Again I say — And not only your intercession for the penitent, but all your united prayers, shall be heard. How great then is the power of joint prayer! If two of you — Suppose a man and his wife. Where two or three are gathered together in my name — That is, to worship me; I am in the midst of them — By my Spirit, to quicken their prayers, guide their counsels, and answer their petitions.
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.
Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?Matthew 18:21-22. Then came Peter — When Jesus had given this advice for the accommodation of differences among his disciples, Peter, imagining it might be abused by ill-disposed persons, as an encouragement to offer injuries to others, came and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Must I go on to do it until he has repeated the injury seven times? He does not mean seven times a day, as Christ said, Luke 17:4, but seven times in his life, thinking, if a man had trespassed against him seven times, though that person were never so desirous to be reconciled, he might then lawfully and properly renounce all society with him: Jesus saith, I say not, Until seven times — I never intended to limit thee in any such way; but, Until seventy times seven — That is, as often as there is occasion; a certain number being put for an uncertain: for it is not the number of times in which a person may offend that is to be here regarded, but his true repentance. In short, the precept is unbounded, and you must never be weary of forgiving your brethren, since you are so much more indebted to the divine mercy than your fellow-creatures can be to yours.
Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.
Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.Matthew 18:23. Therefore — In this respect; the kingdom of heaven is likened unto a certain king — Here our Lord illustrates the excellent morality of the preceding verse by a lively parable; in which is shown “the necessity of forgiving the greatest injuries in every case where the offending party is sensible of his fault, and promises amendment; a necessity of the strongest kind, arising from this law of the divine government, that it is the condition on which God forgives our offences against him.” — Macknight.
And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.Matthew 18:24-27. One was brought who owed him ten thousand talents — That is, according to the lowest computation, about two millions sterling. But it is probable, as the Prussian editors say, that the ten thousand talents are here put for an immense sum. Hereby our Lord intimates the vast number and weight of our offences against God, and our utter incapacity of making him any satisfaction. As he had not to pay — Was utterly unable to discharge this immense debt; his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife and children, &c. — Such was the power which creditors had over insolvent debtors in several countries of Europe, as well as Asia, in ancient times; and payment to be made — With the price of them, as far as it would go. The servant, therefore, fell down and worshipped him — That is, prostrated himself at his master’s feet; saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all — The confusion he was in made him say this without consideration; for the debt which he owed was a sum by far too great for any one, who had nothing, ever to think of acquiring. Then the Lord of that servant — Being of an exceeding generous and merciful disposition; was moved with compassion — Was touched with his distress, and ordered him to be loosed; and forgave him the debt — Discharged him from all obligation to pay it, on condition of his future good behaviour.
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.
The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, 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 fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.Matthew 18:28-30. But the same servant — Thus graciously freed from such an immense debt; went out — From the presence of his master; and found one of his fellow-servants which owed him a hundred pence — A hundred Roman denarii, each in value about seven pence halfpenny sterling, and the whole amounting only to three pounds two shillings and sixpence. And he took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest — Thus, by demanding this trifling sum in so rough a manner, and that immediately on coming out of the palace where so much lenity and mercy had been shown him in a matter of far greater importance, he manifested a most base, selfish, unfeeling, and cruel disposition. The word επνιγε, rendered, he took him by the throat, implies that he almost strangled him. And his fellow-servant fell down at his feet — As he had done at his lord’s feet; and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, &c. — Using the very words which he himself had used but just before on the like occasion. And he would not — Having so soon forgot, or not considering, the much greater mercy that had been shown to himself so lately, in the like circumstances, by their common master; but, being insolent and inexorable, and resolved not to wait a moment, he went with him before a magistrate, and cast him into prison — Protesting he should lie there till he should pay the whole debt.
And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.
So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.Matthew 18:31-35. When his fellow-servants saw what was done — When they beheld such inhumanity, in such circumstances, and from such a man; they were very sorry — Exceedingly grieved at such an instance of unexampled cruelty from a man who had himself experienced such mercy; and came and told their lord — Gave their lord the king an exact and faithful account of the whole matter. Then his lord said, O thou wicked servant — Hard-hearted and unmerciful; I forgave thee all that debt — The vast sums due to me; because thou desiredst me — Didst acknowledge the debt, fell down at my feet, and humbly begged me to have patience with thee; shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow-servant —
Who in like manner acknowledged his debt, and promised payment, showing thee, in his supplication, though thine equal, as much respect as thou showedst to me, thy lord and king? And his lord was wroth — Was exceedingly enraged; and delivered him to the tormentors — Not only revoked the grant of remission which he had just before made, as forfeited by so vile a behaviour; but put him in prison, commanding him to be there fettered and scourged; till he should pay all that was due unto him — That is, without any hope of release, for the immense debt which he owed he could never be able to pay. Instead of tormentors, here, Dr. Campbell reads jailers, observing that “the word βασανιστης, here used, properly denotes examiner, particularly one who has it in charge to examine by torture. Hence it came to signify jailer, for on such, in those days, was this charge commonly devolved. They were not only allowed, but even commanded, to treat the wretches in their custody with every kind of cruelty, in order to extort payment from them, in case they had concealed any of their effects; or, if they had nothing, to wrest the sum owed from the compassion of their relations and friends, who, to release an unhappy person for whom they had a regard from such extreme misery, might be induced to pay the debt; for the person of the insolvent debtor was absolutely in the power of the creditor, and at his disposal.” But it must be observed that imprisonment is a much severer punishment in the eastern countries than in ours. State criminals especially, when condemned to it, are not only confined to a very mean and scanty allowance, but are frequently loaded with clogs or heavy yokes, so that they can neither lie nor sit at ease; and by frequent scourgings, and sometimes rackings, are brought to an untimely end. How observable is this whole account; as well as the great inference our Lord draws from it! 1, The debtor was freely and fully forgiven; 2, He wilfully and grievously offended; 3, His pardon was retracted, the whole debt required, and the offender delivered to the tormentors for ever. And shall we still say, that when we are once freely and fully forgiven, our pardon can never be retracted? Verily, verily I say unto you, So likewise will my heavenly Father do to you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
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:
Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, 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 unto him.
So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.