by J. C. Ryle
Then Peter came to Him and said, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, 'Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.' Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, 'Pay me what you owe!' So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.' And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?' And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses." Matthew 18:21-35
In these verses the Lord Jesus deals with a deeply important subject--the FORGIVENESS OF INJURIES. We live in a wicked world, and it is vain to expect that we can escape ill-treatment, however carefully we may behave. To know how to conduct ourselves, when we are ill-treated, is of great importance to our souls.
In the first place, the Lord Jesus lays it down as a general rule, that we ought to forgive others to the uttermost. Peter put the question, "How often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Until seven times?" He received for answer, "I don't tell you until seven times, but, until seventy times seven."
The rule here laid down must of course be interpreted with sober-minded qualification. Our Lord does not mean that offences against the law of the land and the good order of society, are to be passed over in silence. He does not mean that we are to allow people to commit thefts, and assaults, with impunity. All that He means is, that we are to exercise a general spirit of mercy and forgivingness towards our brethren. We are to bear much, and to put up with much, rather than quarrel. We are to look over much, and submit to much, rather than have any strife. We are to lay aside everything like malice, strife, revenge, and retaliation. Such feelings are only fit for heathen. They are utterly unworthy of a disciple of Christ.
What a happy world it would be if this rule of our Lord's was more known and better obeyed! How many of the miseries of mankind are occasioned by disputes, quarrels, lawsuits, and an obstinate tenacity about what men call "their rights!" How many of them might be altogether avoided, if men were more willing to forgive, and more desirous for peace! Let us never forget that a fire cannot go on burning without fuel. Just in the same way it takes two to make a quarrel. Let us each resolve by God's grace, that of these two we will never be one. Let us resolve to return good for evil, and blessing for cursing, and so melt down enmity, and change our foes into friends. (Rom. 12:20.) It was a fine feature in Archbishop Cranmer's character, that if you did him an injury, he was sure to be your friend.
In the second place, our Lord supplies us with two powerful motives for exercising a forgiving spirit. He tells us a story of a man who owed an enormous sum to his master, and had "nothing to pay." Nevertheless at the time of reckoning his master had compassion on him, and "forgave him all." He tells us that this very man, after being forgiven himself, refused to forgive a fellow-servant a trifling debt. He actually cast him into prison, and would not abate a fragment of his demand. He tells us how punishment overtook this wicked and cruel man, who, after receiving mercy, ought surely to have shown mercy to others. And finally, he concludes the parable with the impressive words, "so my heavenly Father will also do to you, if you don't each forgive your brother from your hearts for his misdeeds."
It is clear from this parable that one motive for forgiving others, ought to be the recollection that we all need forgiveness at God's hands ourselves. Day after day we are coming short in many things, "leaving undone what we ought to do, and doing what we ought not to do." Day after day we require mercy and pardon. Our neighbors' offences against us are mere trifles, compared with our offences against God. Surely it adversely suits poor erring creatures like us, to be extreme in marking what is done amiss by our brethren, or slow to forgive it.
Another motive for forgiving others, ought to be the recollection of the day of judgment, and the standard by which we shall all be tried in that day. There will be no forgiveness in that day for unforgiving people. Such people would be unfit for heaven. They would not be able to value a dwelling-place to which "mercy" is the only title, and in which "mercy" is the eternal subject of song. Surely if we intend to stand at the right hand, when Jesus sits on the throne of His glory, we must learn, while we are on earth, to forgive.
Let these truths sink down deeply into our hearts. It is a melancholy fact that there are few Christian duties so little practiced as that of forgiveness. It is sad to see how much bitterness, unmercifulness, spite, harshness, and unkindness there is among men. Yet there are few duties so strongly enforced in the New Testament Scriptures as this duty is, and few the neglect of which so clearly shuts a man out of the kingdom of God.
Would we give proof that we are at peace with God, washed in Christ's blood, born of the Spirit, and made God's children by adoption and grace? Let us remember this passage. Like our Father in heaven, let us be forgiving. Has any man injured us? Let us this day forgive him. As Leighton says "we ought to forgive ourselves little, and others much."
Would we do good to the world? Would we have any influence on others, and make them see the beauty of true religion? Let us remember this passage. Men who care not for doctrines, can understand a forgiving temper.
Would we grow in grace ourselves, and become more holy in all our ways, words, and works? Let us remember this passage. nothing so grieves the Holy Spirit, and brings spiritual darkness over the soul, as giving way to a quarrelsome and unforgiving temper. (Ephes. 4:30-32.)