What the Forgiveness of Almighty God requires from us
"So likewise shall My Heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses." Matthew 18:35
THIS parable is recorded by Matthew only. It arose out of an enquiry by Peter as to how often he should forgive his erring brother. It presupposed that Peter felt himself sometimes aggrieved but might not be aware that he was also capable of grieving another. The Christian Church seldom faces as it should the discords that arise amongst those who are fellow servants of the same Lord. It would seem that if one is aggrieved by his brother he should not talk about it to others but go to the person concerned and talk it over with a view of winning his brother. If the result should be negative he is to invite friends who shall be witnesses both of the alleged wrong done and of the efforts of the injured party to put the matter right. if still the aggressor is obdurate the matter is to be placed before the assembled believers who shall not be moved by family alignments or partialities but as in the sight of God shall determine the matter.
Our Lord declared that the judgment so reached and declared should be ratified in heaven. It is a very great pity that the assemblies of the Lord's people do not follow out the New Testament teaching in this respect. Peter was of opinion that, following the example of Amos, the maximum number or occasions that forgiveness was to be granted was seven, but our Lord declared that at least it was seventy times that number. Peter was no more surprised than we are: for it is doubtful if any Christian has fulfilled the ministry of forgiveness to such an extent.
The teaching produced this parable. It is called the parable of the two debtors. The king is anxious to check up on his assets and revenues in the course of which a servant is brought before him who owes 10,000 talents. He cannot pay, but he pleads for time, promising to repay what was in fact a huge debt. The king was merciful and not only gave him the time he asked, but went much better and frankly and freely forgave him the whole debt. This was an act of outstanding clemency because he was bankrupt and was facing for himself and family the possibility of life-long slavery. An enormous load was taken off his mind as he departed from the king's presence, but it was not long before he met a fellow servant in the market place who owed him 100 pence.
Forthwith he laid hands on him, took him by the throat and demanded payment of the debt. Deaf to all his entreaties, he hailed him to prison until he should discharge his obligation. Others were witnesses of the action who were cognisant of the mercy extended by the king and they came and told him. The servant was summoned once again into the royal presence. In the light of the great debt waived by the king why had he not wiped out the paltry debt of 100 pence? By his merciless attitude to his fellow servant he had forfeited the mercy of the king who delivered him to the tormentors until he should discharge the debt. Then our Lord added the words of the text. It is on that background that we are to understand it and heed its teaching. To help us to understand it we can see the servant in three pictures.
(1) PLEADING FOR MERCY
For some reason the king examined afresh his finances. We are not to suppose that this is the final Day of Judgment, but rather some interim occasion in which the king would take account of his rights and revenues. It may indeed be likened to the day of one's conversion when one is faced with the fact of obligations and responsibilities which have mounted up against us which it is utterly beyond the power of anyone to meet. The debt of this servant was a very large one. It suggests that he must have had access to the revenues of the king and that he could never have run into such a debt without his character being involved.
David prepared for the building of the temple 3,000 talents. The Queen of Sheba presented to Solomon 120 talents of gold. It may, of course, be that from David's time to that of our Lord there had been some depreciation in the value of the talent, but allowing for all such considerations it is obvious 10000 talents was a very big debt indeed.
The servant was in a predicament; for the thought that he and his family should be sold into slavery was terrifying, yet he was utterly helpless. Down on his face he went before the king, kissed his feet and worshipped him, pleading for mercy and swept away by an unwarranted optimism., he promised that given time, he would repay all. There was something in the situation that called forth the king's mercy and to the intense joy of the servant the debt was wiped out. See how graciously the words fall from the lips of our Lord: "Then the Lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt."
These are days when by reason of faulty preaching we are not making clear to men and women the extensive debt that sin creates. We seem to be able to trust Jesus without sensing the gravity of the judgment in which we are exercising trust. At least in the mind if not in the heart this servant measured something of the gravity of his debt, but many who come to Christ today seem strangely ignorant of the fact that He saves us from a lost estate.
(2) THE MEETING IN THE MARKET PLACE
It may be an insignificant observation in the parable that the servant went out from the palace. It can be argued that the audience being concluded it was his proper duty to withdraw, but in view of the teaching of the text we are bound to assume some intention in the words of the Lord. It seems he did not really calculate the immensity of his debt to the king nor his utter inability to repay it. He was not drawn to the king because of his mercy but thankful only that he had managed to escape from a frightful position. Whatever compassion the king had in wiping out the debt was not echoed in the heart of the servant in love, devotion and gratitude.
It is equally clear that in his promise to repay the debt he had no appreciation of his utterly helpless and hopeless position. All self-confidence in our dealings with God is a peril and, indeed, indicates an ignorance of the real facts of the situation. In like manner we go out when having confessed our sins and formally declared our trust in Jesus as Saviour we have no further interest in God, His Spirit, His Will, His Word and His people. The grace that redeems us has no vital part in our life. It does not determine our conduct, it does not operate in our relations with others.
The appeal for mercy began and ended in the palace, but it has no place in our dealings with others. He not only went out from the king but he found out this fellow servant. He did not meet him accidentally but our Lord plainly infers that he sought him out. It was as if having been forgiven such an exceptional debt by the king, it inspired him to think of those who owed him money so that their debts could help him. This man owes him 100 pence. Bearing in mind his experience in the palace he should be eager to remit such a paltry sum but because he sees a distinction between his dealings with the king and his dealings with his fellow servant he refuses all mercy to the one who cries to him for pity. Forgetting the proceedings in the palace he took the poor fellow by the throat denying to him the compassion he had himself pleaded for. It seems that by comparison the debts were about 1 million to 1. For this paltry sum of 100 pence the servant hailed his brother to prison
. It may need emphasising that our experience of God is to determine all our relationships to our fellows. We cannot receive redemption at the hands of God without being committed to the principle in all our dealings with our fellows. We cannot cry out for mercy without in like manner we grant mercy where others ask it of us. It is this contradiction between the grace God extends to us, and the way we deal with others, that creates so many serious contradictions in our walk and witness. In this case some onlookers saw the incongruity of the action of the servant and they told the king. So we have the third picture:
(3) BEFORE THE KING FOR JUDGMENT
The Lord was angry. The condemnation was not that he had sent his fellow servant to prison for that was justice but he is condemned because having been forgiven he failed in his turn to forgive! When the king forgave him his debt it remained cancelled as it produced in the servant the same spirit. None of us can accept and enjoy Divine forgiveness except as it becomes a vital principle and practice in our own lives. When God forgives it is that He may create in us the same compassion and love that enables Him to forgive us. It is rather a staggering thought that the king could re-create the debt he had forgiven. We shall have to think about that. Probably it means that no man has really taken forgiveness from God until the spirit of forgiveness arises in his own heart. That also will require reflection. Lacking the spirit of forgiveness he finds himself handed over to the tormentors. Who they are we are not told but the text makes it plain we ought to be interested.
What if having had some sort of conversion and failed to forgive others as we have been forgiven, we cannot escape the memory, depression, burden and hopelessness of our past sins? Is the penalty growing old with complete lack of assurance concerning the mercy and grace of God? It is the will of God that the path of the just should shine more and more unto the perfect day but that will necessitate the shedding abroad in our hearts of the redemptive, forgiving love of God by the Spirit. Clearly if redemption does not become the pattern of our dealings with others we shall not long continue to be happy, glad and grateful Christians. If we take God's mercy without taking God Himself we may discover that we have made a horrible mistake. "So likewise . . . My Heavenly Father . . . you." This then is the ground of God's dealings with us. If we cannot forgive, if we must needs take somebody by the throat and exact our rights then it means that we should defer our dealings with our brother until we have been back to God to know the enormity of our transgressions and our sins and our utter helplessness. Only so as God's forgiveness reaches our hearts can we from the heart forgive others. If we fail to learn this, if we want to take all the benefits of Divine compassion without being baptised by the Spirit into the nature of God Himself then indeed we shall live to regret our folly. 0 for a heart to deal with others as God in His mercy has dealt with us!
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