Luke 7:41
There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(41, 42) There was a certain creditor . . .—The parable has some points of resemblance to that of the Two Debtors in Matthew 18:23. Here, however, the debts, though different, are not separated by so wide an interval as are the ten thousand talents and the hundred pence. The debts are both within the range of common human experience. The “pence “are, of course, the Roman denarii, worth about sevenpence-halfpenny each. The application of the parable treats the woman as a greater debtor than the Pharisee. She had committed greater sins. Each was equally powerless to pay the debt—i.e., to make atonement for his or her sins. Whatever hope either had lay in the fact that pardon was offered to both as a matter of free gift and bounty.

Frankly.—Better, freely-i.e., gratuitously, as an act of bounty. So Shakespeare—

“I do beseech your grace. . . .

. . . . now to forgive me frankly.”

Henry VIII., Act ii., Scene 1.

Luke

THE TWO DEBTORS

Luke 7:41 - Luke 7:43
.

We all know the lovely story in which this parable is embedded. A woman of notoriously bad character had somehow come in contact with Jesus Christ, and had by Him been aroused from her sensuality and degradation, and calmed by the assurance of forgiveness. So, when she heard that He was in her own town, what could she do but hasten to the Pharisee’s house, and brave the cruel, scornful eyes of the eminently respectable people that would meet her there? She carries with her part of the spoils and instruments of her sinful adornment, to devote it to His service; but before she can open the cruse, her heart opens, and the hot tears flow on His feet, inflicting an indignity where she had meant an honour. She has nothing at hand to repair the fault, she will not venture to take her poor garment, which might have done it, but with a touch, she loosens her long hair, and with the ingenuity and self-abasement of love, uses that for a towel. Then, gathering confidence from her reception, and carried further than she had meant, she ventures to lay her sinful lips on His feet, as if asking pardon for the tears that would come-the only lips, except those of the traitor, that are recorded as having touched the Master. And only then does she dare to pour upon Him her only wealth.

What says the Pharisee? Has he a heart at all? He is scandalised at such a scene at his respectable table; and no wonder, for he could not have known that a change had passed upon the woman, and her evil repute was obviously notorious. He does not wonder at her having found her way into his house, for the meal was half public. But he began to doubt whether a Man who tolerates such familiarities from such a person could be a prophet; or if He were, whether He could be a good man. ‘He would have known her if He had been a prophet,’ thinks he. The thought is only a questionably true one. ‘If He had known her, He would have thrust her back with His foot,’ he thinks; and that thought is obviously false. But Simon’s righteousness was of the sort that gathers up its own robes about it, and shoves back the poor sinner into the filth. ‘She is a sinner,’ says he. No, Simon! she was a sinner, but she is a penitent, and is on the road to be a saint, and having been washed, she is a great deal cleaner than thou art, who art only white-washed.

Our Lord’s parable is the answer to the Pharisee’s thought, and in it Jesus shows Simon that He knows him and the woman a great deal better than he did. There are three things to which briefly I ask your attention-the common debt, in varying amounts; the common insolvency; and the love, like the debt, varying in amount. Now, note these things in order.

I. There is, first of all, the common debt.

I do not propose to dwell at all upon that familiar metaphor, familiar to us all from its use in the Lord’s Prayer, by which sin and the guilt of sin are shadowed forth for us in an imperfect fashion by the conception of debt. For duty neglected is a debt to God, which can only be discharged by a penalty. And all sin, and its consequent guilt and exposure to punishment, may be regarded under the image of indebtedness.

But the point that I want you to notice is that these two in our parable, though they are meant to be portraits of Simon and the woman, are also representatives of the two classes to one or other of which we all belong. They are both debtors, though one owes but a tenth of what the other does. That is to say, our Lord here draws a broad distinction between people who are outwardly respectable, decent, cleanly living, and people who have fallen into the habit, and are living a life, of gross and open transgression. There has been a great deal of very pernicious loose representation of the attitude of Christianity in reference to this matter, common in evangelical pulpits. And I want you to observe that our Lord draws a broad line and says, ‘Yes! you, Simon, are a great deal better than that woman was. She was coarse, unclean, her innocence gone, her purity stained. She had been wallowing in filth, and you, with your respectability, your rigid morality, your punctilious observance of the ordinary human duties, you were far better than she was, and had far less to answer for than she had.’ Fifty is only a tenth of five hundred, and there is a broad distinction, which nothing ought to be allowed to obliterate, between people who, without religion, are trying to do right, to keep themselves in the paths of morality and righteousness, to discharge their duty to their fellows, controlling their passions and their flesh, and others who put the reins upon the necks of the horses and let them carry them where they will, and live in an eminent manner for the world and the flesh and the devil. And there is nothing in evangelical Christianity which in the smallest degree obliterates that distinction, but rather it emphasises it, and gives a man full credit for any difference that there is in his life and conduct and character between himself and the man of gross transgression.

But then it says, on the other side, the difference which does exist, and is not to be minimised, is, after all, a difference of degree. They are both debtors. They stand in the same relation to the creditor, though the amount of the indebtedness is extremely different. We are all sinful men, and we stand in the same relation to God, though one of us may be much darker and blacker than the other.

And then, remember, that when you begin to talk about the guilt of actions in God’s sight, you have to go far below the mere surface. If we could see the infinite complexity of motives-aggravations on the one side and palliations on the other-which go to the doing of a single deed, we should not be so quick to pronounce that the publican and the harlot are worse than the Pharisee. It is quite possible that an action which passes muster in regard to the morality of the world may, if regard be had {which God only can exercise} to the motive for which it is done, be as bad as, if not worse than, the lust and the animalism, drunkenness and debauchery, crime and murder, which the vulgar scales of the world consider to be the heavier. If you once begin to try to measure guilt, you will have to pass under the surface appearance, and will find that many a white and dazzling act has a very rotten inside, and that many a very corrupt and foul one does not come from so corrupt a source as at first sight might seem to be its origin. Let us be very modest in our estimate of the varying guilt of actions, and remember that, deep down below all diversities, there lies a fundamental identity, in which there is no difference, that all of us respectable people that never broke a law of the nation, and scarcely ever a law of propriety, in our lives, and the outcasts, if there are any here now, the drunkards, the sensualists, all of us stand in this respect in the same class. We are all debtors, for we have ‘all sinned and come short of the glory of God,’ A viper an inch long and the thickness of whipcord has a sting and poison in it, and is a viper. And if the question is whether a man has got small-pox or not, one pustule is as good evidence as if he was spotted all over. So, remember, he who owes five hundred and he who owes the tenth part of it, which is fifty, are both debtors.

II. Now notice the common insolvency.

‘They had nothing to pay.’ Well, if there is no money, ‘no effects’ in the bank, no cash in the till, nothing to distrain upon, it does not matter very much what the amount of the debt is, seeing that there is nothing to meet it, and whether it is fifty or five hundred the man is equally unable to pay. And that is precisely our position.

I admit, of course, that men without any recognition of God’s pardoning mercy, or any of the joyful impulse that comes from the sense of Christ’s redemption, or any of the help that is given by the indwelling of the Spirit who sanctifies may do a great deal in the way of mending their characters and making themselves purer and nobler. But that is not the point which my text contemplates, because it deals with a past. And the fact that lies under the metaphor of my text is this, that none of us can in any degree diminish our sin, considered as a debt to God. What can you and I do to lighten our souls of the burden of guilt? What we have written we have written. Tears will not wash it out, and amendment will not alter the past, which stands frowning and irrevocable. If there be a God at all, then our consciences, which speak to us of demerit, proclaim guilt in its two elements-the sense of having done wrong, and the foreboding of punishment therefor. Guilt cannot be dealt with by the guilty one: it must be Some One else who deals with it. He, and only He against whom we have sinned, can touch the great burden that we have piled upon us.

Brother! we have nothing to pay. We may mend our ways; but that does not touch the past. We may hate the evil; that will help to keep us from doing it in the future, but it does not affect our responsibility for what is done. We cannot touch it; there it stands irrevocable, with this solemn sentence written over the black pile, ‘Every transgression and disobedience shall receive its just recompense of reward.’ We have nothing to pay.

But my text suggests, further, that a condition precedent to forgiveness is the recognition by us of our penniless insolvency. Though it is not distinctly stated, it is clearly and necessarily implied in the narrative, that the two debtors are to be supposed as having come and held out a couple of pairs of empty hands, and sued in formâ pauperis. You must recognise your insolvency if you expect to be forgiven. God does not accept dividends, so much in the pound, and let you off the rest on consideration thereof. If you are going to pay, you have to pay all; if He is going to forgive, you have to let Him forgive all. It must be one thing or the other, and you and I have to elect which of the two we shall stand by, and which of the two shall be applied to us.

Oh, dear friends! may we all come and say,

‘Nothing in my hand I bring,

Simply to Thy Cross I cling.


III. And so, lastly, notice the love, which varies with the forgiveness.

‘Tell Me which of them will love him most.’ Simon does not penetrate Christ’s design, and there is a dash of supercilious contempt for the story and the question, as it seems to me, in the languid, half-courteous answer:-’I suppose, if it were worth my while to think about such a thing, that he to whom he forgave the most.’ He did not know what a battery was going to be unmasked. Jesus says, ‘Thou hast rightly judged.’

The man that is most forgiven is the man that will love most. Well, that answer is true if all other things about the two debtors are equal. If they are the same sort of men, with the same openness to sentiments of gratitude and generosity, the man who is let off the smaller debt will generally be less obliged than the man who is let off the larger. But it is, alas! not always the case that we can measure benefits conferred by gratitude shown. Another element comes in-namely, the consciousness of the benefit received-which measures the gratitude far more accurately than the actual benefit bestowed. And so we must take both these things, the actual amount of forgiveness, so to speak, which is conferred, and the depth of the sense of the forgiveness received, in order to get the measure of the love which answers it. So that this principle breaks up into two thoughts, of which I have only just a word or two to say.

First, it is very often true that the greatest sinners make the greatest saints. There have been plenty of instances all down the history of the world, and there are plenty of instances, thank God, cropping up every day still in which some poor, wretched outcast, away out in the darkness, living on the husks that the swine do eat, and liking to be in the pigstye, is brought back into the Father’s house, and turns out a far more loving son and a far better servant than the man that had never wandered away from it. ‘The publicans and the harlots’ do often yet ‘go into the Kingdom of God before’ the respectable people.

And there are plenty of people in Manchester that you would not touch with a pair of tongs who, if they could be got hold of, would make far more earnest and devoted Christians than you are. The very strength of passion and feeling which has swept them wrong, rightly directed, would make grand saints of them, just as the very same conditions of climate which, at tropics, bring tornadoes and cyclones and dreadful thunder-storms, do also bring abundant fertility. The river which devastates a nation, dammed up within banks, may fertilise half a continent. And if a man is brought out of the darkness, and looks back upon the years that are wasted, that may help him to a more intense consecration. And if he remembers the filth out of which Jesus Christ picked him, it will bind him to that Lord with a bond deep and sacred.

So let no outcast man or woman listening to me now despair. You can come back from the furthest darkness, and whatever ugly things you have in your memories and your consciences, you may make them stepping-stones on which to climb to the very throne of God. Let no respectable people despise the outcasts; there may be the making in them of far better Christians than we are.

But, on the other hand, let no man think lightly of sin. Though it can be forgiven and swept away, and the gross sinner may become the great saint, there will be scars and bitter memories and habits surging up again after we thought they were dead; and the old ague and fever that we caught in the pestilential land will hang by us when we have migrated into a more wholesome climate. It is never good for a man to have sinned, even though, through his sin, God may have taken occasion to bring him near to Himself.

But the second form of this principle is always true-namely, that those who are most conscious of forgiveness will be most fruitful of love. The depth and fervour of our individual Christianity depends more largely on the clearness of our consciousness of our own personal guilt and the firmness of our grasp of forgiveness than upon anything else.

Why is it that such multitudes of you professing Christians are such icebergs in your Christianity? Mainly for this reason-that you have never found out, in anything like an adequate measure, how great a sinner you are, and how sure and sweet and sufficient Christ’s pardoning mercy is. And so you are like Simon-you will ask Jesus to dinner, but you will not give Him any water for His feet or ointment for His head. You will do the conventional and necessary pieces of politeness, but not one act of impulse from the heart ever comes from you. You discharge ‘the duties of religion.’ What a phrase! You discharge the duties of religion. Ah! My brother, if you had been down into the horrible pit and the miry clay, and had seen a hand and a face looking down, and an arm outstretched to lift you; and if you had ever known what the rapture was after that subterraneous experience of having your feet set upon a rock and your goings established, you would come to Him and you would say, ‘Take me all, O Lord! for I am all redeemed by Thee.’ ‘To whom little is forgiven the same loveth little.’ Does not that explain the imperfect Christianity of thousands of us?

Fifty pence and five hundred pence are both small sums. Our Lord had nothing to do here with the absolute amount of debt, but only with the comparative amount of the two debts. But when He wanted to tell the people what the absolute amount of the debt was, he did it in that other story of the Unfaithful Servant. He owed his lord, not fifty pence {fifty eightpences or thereabouts}, not five hundred pence, but ‘ten thousand talents,’ which comes to near two and a half millions of English money. And that is the picture of our indebtedness to God. ‘We have nothing to pay.’ Here is the payment-that Cross, that dying Christ. Turn your faith there, my brother, and then you will get ample forgiveness, and that will kindle love, and that will overflow in service. For the aperture in the heart at which forgiveness enters in is precisely of the same width as the one at which love goes out. Christ has loved us all, and perfectly. Let us love Him back again, who has died that we might live, and borne our sins in His own body.7:36-50 None can truly perceive how precious Christ is, and the glory of the gospel, except the broken-hearted. But while they feel they cannot enough express self-abhorrence on account of sin, and admiration of his mercy, the self-sufficient will be disgusted, because the gospel encourages such repenting sinners. The Pharisee, instead of rejoicing in the tokens of the woman's repentance, confined his thoughts to her former bad character. But without free forgiveness none of us can escape the wrath to come; this our gracious Saviour has purchased with his blood, that he may freely bestow it on every one that believes in him. Christ, by a parable, forced Simon to acknowledge that the greater sinner this woman had been, the greater love she ought to show to Him when her sins were pardoned. Learn here, that sin is a debt; and all are sinners, are debtors to Almighty God. Some sinners are greater debtors; but whether our debt be more or less, it is more than we are able to pay. God is ready to forgive; and his Son having purchased pardon for those who believe in him, his gospel promises it to them, and his Spirit seals it to repenting sinners, and gives them the comfort. Let us keep far from the proud spirit of the Pharisee, simply depending upon and rejoicing in Christ alone, and so be prepared to obey him more zealously, and more strongly to recommend him unto all around us. The more we express our sorrow for sin, and our love to Christ, the clearer evidence we have of the forgiveness of our sins. What a wonderful change does grace make upon a sinner's heart and life, as well as upon his state before God, by the full remission of all his sins through faith in the Lord Jesus!A certain creditor - A man who had lent money or sold property, the payment for which was yet due.

Five hundred pence - About 69 dollars 26 cents, or 14 British pounds, 11 shilling, 8d. See the notes at Matthew 18:28.

Fifty - About 7 dollars, or 1 British pound, 9 shillings, and 2d.

40-43. Like Nathan with David, our Lord conceals His home thrust under the veil of a parable, and makes His host himself pronounce upon the case. The two debtors are the woman and Simon; the criminality of the one was ten times that of the other (in the proportion of "five hundred" to "fifty"); but both being equally insolvent, both are with equal frankness forgiven; and Simon is made to own that the greatest debtor to forgiving mercy will cling to her Divine Benefactor with the deepest gratitude. Does our Lord then admit that Simon was a forgiving man? Let us see. See Poole on "Luke 7:40" There was a certain creditor,.... All the Oriental versions premise something to this. The Syriac version reads, "Jesus said unto him". The Arabic version, "then he said". The Persic version, "Jesus said"; and the Ethiopic version, "and he said to him"; and something of this kind is understood, and to be supplied in the text:

which had two debtors, the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty; these were, as the word shows, Roman "denarii" or "pence"; the former of these sums, reckoning a Roman penny at seven pence halfpenny of our money, amounted to fifteen pounds and twelve shillings and six pence; and the latter, to one pound eleven shillings and three pence; the one of these sums was ten times larger, than the other. This is a parable: by "the creditor", God is meant, to whom men owe their beings, and the preservation of them, and all the mercies of life; and are under obligation to obedience and thankfulness: hence: no man can merit any thing of God, or pay off any old debt, by a new act of obedience, since all is due to him: by the "two debtors" are meant, greater and lesser sinners: all sins are debts, and all sinners are debtors; not debtors to sin, for then it would not be criminal, but lawful to commit sin, and God must be pleased with it, which he is not, and men might promise themselves impunity, which they cannot; but they are debtors to fulfil the law, and in case of failure, are bound to the debt of punishment: and of these debtors and debts, some are greater, and others less; not but that they, are all equally sinners in Adam, and equally guilty and corrupted by his transgression; and the same seeds of sin are in the hearts of all men, and all sin is committed against God, and is a breach of his law, and is mortal, or deserving of death, even death eternal; but then as some commands are greater, and others less, so must their transgressions be: sin more immediately committed against God, is greater than that which is committed against our neighbour; and besides, the circumstances of persons and things differ, which more or less aggravate the offence.

There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Luke 7:41-43. By the one debtor[112] the woman is typified, by the other Simon, both with a view to what is to be said at Luke 7:47. The supposition that both of them had been healed by Jesus of a disease (Paulus, Kuinoel), does not, so far as Simon is concerned, find any sure ground (in opposition to Holtzmann) in the ὁ λεπρός of the later narrative of the anointing (in Matthew and Mark). The creditor is Christ, of whose debtors the one owes Him a ten times heavier debt (referring to the woman in her agony of repentance) than the other (the Pharisee regarded as the righteous man he fancied himself to be). The difference in the degree of guilt is measured by the difference in the subjective consciousness of guilt; by this also is measured the much or little of the forgiveness, which again has for its result the much or little of the grateful love shown to Christ, Luke 7:41 ff.

μὴ ἐχόντων] “Ergo non solvitur debitum subsequente amore et grato animo,” Bengel.

On the interpolated εἰπέ, which makes the question more pointed, comp. Bremi, ad Dem. adv. Phil. I. p. 119.

[112] Instead of χρεωφ., the late inferior form of writing, χρεοφ. is on decisive evidence to be adopted, along with Lachmann and Tischendorf (Lobeck, ad Phryn. p. 691).Luke 7:41. The parable of the two debtors, an original feature in the story.—χρεωφειλέται: here and in Luke 16:5, only, in N.T.—δανειστῇ (here only in N.T.): might mean a usurer, but his behaviour in the story makes it more suitable to think of him simply as a creditor.—ὁ εἶς ὤφειλε: even the larger sum was a petty debt, whereby Simon would be thrown off his guard: no suspicion of a personal reference.41. a certain creditor] Rather, money-lender.

five hundred pence] A denarius was the day’s wages of a labourer and is usually reckoned at 7½d., but really represents much more. Hence 500 denarii would certainly represent as much as £50 in these days. The frequency of our Lord’s illustrations from debtors and creditors shews the disturbed and unprosperous condition of the country under Roman and Herodian oppression.Verses 41, 42. - There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. The illustration was from the everyday life of the people. This lending and borrowing was ever a prominent feature in the common life of the Jews. Pointed warnings against greed and covetousness, and the habit of usury, and the love of perpetual trafficking, we find in all the Old Testament books, notably in Deuteronomy, and then centuries later in the Proverbs, besides repeated instances in the prophetic writings and historical books. The character of the Jews in this respect has never changed from the days of their nomad life - from the times of their slavery under the Pharaohs to our own day. In this particular instance the two debtors were of the common folk, the sums in question being comparatively small; but in both cases the debtors could never hope to pay their creditors. They were alike hopelessly insolvent, both helplessly bankrupt. The larger sum, considering' the relative value of money, has been computed only to have represented about £50 of our currency. And the two received from their creditor a free, generous acquittance of the debt which would have hopelessly ruined them. In the mind of Jesus the larger debt pictured the terrible catalogue of sins which the penitent woman acknowledged she had committed; the smaller, the few transgressions which even the Pharisee confessed to having been guilty cf. They were both sinners before God, both equally insolvent in his eyes; whether the debt was much or little was to the almighty Creditor a matter of comparative, indifference - he frankly forgave them both (better, "freely," the Greek word ἀχαρίσατο signifies "forgave of his generous bounty"). The Revisers simply translate "he forgave," but something more is needed to reproduce the beautiful word in the original. "Frankly," in the sense of "freely," is used by Shakespeare -

"I do beseech your grace...
... now to forgive me frankly."


(Henry VIII.,' act 2. sc. 1.) Creditor (δανειστῇ).

From δάνειον, a loan. Properly a lender of money at interest. Rev., lender. See on Luke 6:34 :.

Pence (δηνάρια)

See on Matthew 20:2.

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