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What a beautiful thing is the spirit of Christ! But the world crushes it out of the hearts of men, and places there the spirit that controls the world to-day, the spirit of egotism and selfishness.
So acceptable to God is Christian love and union that Jesus declares that if even two shall unite in asking anything of Heaven, it shall be given by the Father. Certainly it is the most powerful appeal possible for Christian harmony and union. It is the same plan of argument as that which we have explained above. It is true of two, and in a greater degree true of more than two.
Men face death to open up the treasures of the mines of the earth. These words open up the treasures of Heaven, and men hear them, and turn away and heed them not. They are not a hyperbole, but a sober, exact statement of an eternal promise. We become somewhat cold to these words, because we do not see the fulfilment of these promises. We are so attached to this world, that we are ever prone to measure what God is doing for us by what he does here. If we see not the gift at hand in something that we can touch or see, we feel as though God had done nothing for us. Things mysterious, difficult, and sorrowful are working for our good under the direction of God. What is promised by Christ is that the union of Christians in prayer moves God to grant good to man, and God in his wisdom chooses the best things for the petitioners. "And in like manner the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity; for we know not how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which can not be uttered; and he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, that he maketh intercession for the Saints according to the will of God."—Rom. VIII. 26–28.
If it is better for a man that he should be tried in the crucible of suffering, as gold is tried by fire, God will do it. Men are like children who pass by treasures of inestimable worth, and hold out their hands for gaudy trinkets that please their childish fancy. And then these men will grumble, and complain that their petitions are unanswered. The great Aristotle defined love to be to wish one real good. This is
God's way; he does not deceive us by granting our unwise demands, but gives us the real good.
So therefore the words of Christ assure us that when we unite in Christian unity, and petition Heaven, we always receive the real good which the wisdom of God sees will be for our good.
This union in Christ does not necessitate that men shall be present in the same place; it is a union of souls. It can take place when two people united in Christian love are praying for a common end, even if they are antipodes.
It is rarely recorded that any other Apostle save Peter addressed a direct question to the Lord. Peter was the spokesman, the leader. The Apostles looked to him to represent them to the Lord. The preceding discourse of the Lord had dealt in a very explicit way with the obligation of forgiveness of injuries, and of the preserving of peace and union. Peter would be informed of a practical point. After three successive attempts at the correction of an offender, such incorrigible offender was to be shunned; was there a point where also forgiveness was no longer obligatory? Peter knew the great spirit of mercy and love that informed all the Master's life; and therefore in his form of question he assigns the number seven, a large number to express such relation of human life. It is evident that in assigning this number, Peter attempted to express the mind of the Lord; but the Lord's answer reveals the infinite distance between divine love and the mercy of
Some explain the numeral in the Lord's answer to be "seventy times and seven.' For this opinion are cited Origen, Augustine, Arnoldi, Bisping, Ewald, Hilgenfeld, Meyer, and Keim. But by far the greater weight of intrinsic evidence and of authority stands for "seventy times seven." This numeral is not employed by the Lord to express any definite number, or to fix any point where the obligation of forgiveness ceases. It is a certain play on the number proposed by Peter, and the evident intention of the Lord is to declare that there is no bound to forgiveness. "The quality of mercy is not strained." The use of this numeral more vividly impresses on
the mind the obligation of unlimited forgiveness than a cold declaration of the same obligation would be.
As there is no point where God's forgiveness will not be vouchsafed to sinful man, if man properly dispose himself, so the course of man's forgiveness of his brother is commanded by God to be without bound.
As is his custom, Christ illustrates his doctrine by a beautiful parable.
The present parable has this in common with all parables, that certain features are introduced merely for the naturalness of the historical setting, and these elements have no corresponding counterpart in the moral order of truth which the parable is intended to illustrate. We shall point out these elements in our treatment of the parable.
The king who would make a reckoning with his servants represents God; the servant who owed the king ten thousand talents is any and every one of the children of men. According to the most probable method of estimate the talent in the days of Christ was equivalent to six thousand Attic drachmæ. The equivalent of a talent in American money would be about $1,250.00; so that the whole sum owed by the servant to the king was twelve million, five hundred thousand dollars. When we consider that money was vastly more valuable in those days than now, we are able to realize the proportion of the servant's indebtedness.
This immense debt represents the debt of man's sin; not merely the debt of sin of a singularly sinful man, but of every man. We are born in sin. By that awful mystery that invests our conception we come into this world children of wrath. We are thus insolvent debtors at birth, and by the acts of our life we increase the indebtedness. Therefore this parable has a personal interest for every one of us; every one of us stands in the relation of the debtor servant of the king.
In fact, the enormous sum specified by Christ as the servant's debt does not adequately represent the debt of our sin; for the servant's debt, though great, was nevertheless finite, ours is infinite. In the absolute possibility of things, the servant in time could pay his debt; we by ourselves could never pay ours.
In ancient jurisprudence it was allowed to seize a man and his family, and cast them into prison, or hold them as slaves for debt. An evidence of such usage among the ancient Hebrews is found in II. Kings, IV. 1: "Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets unto Elisha, saying: Thy servant, my husband is dead: and thou knowest that thy servant did fear the Lord: and the creditor is come to take unto him my two children to be bondmen."
The Lord refers to this law only by way of illustration, not to approve it. It was not then the time to reform the laws of the world. He was to found a Church that should stamp the impress of the love of God and of man on every human institution, and teach the universal brotherhood of man.
The command of the king to sell the man, his wife, and is children for the debt was just, inasmuch as it was in accordance with the laws of the place and time. As it refers to God, it illustrates two things, the gravity of sin, and the severity of its punishment.
The next element in the parable that deserves attention is the readiness with which the king forgives the servant. At once he not only grant's the suppliant's petition, but gives him a full remission of the whole debt. The servant had only asked for time, a suspension of the sentence, and the king forgives him the whole debt. No other inducement is brought to bear on the king save only the prayer of his servant, and yet the servant goes forth a free man. This illustrates the readiness of God to forgive, and his bounty in forgiving. Shall we seek for concrete examples in proof of this? When we were outcasts, a fallen race, he died for us. As he himself says, no man can do more than die for his friend, and the Lord has died for wicked servants. Can anything be more pathetic than the way in which by the prophet Ezekiel the Lord offers mercy to the sinner? "Say unto them: As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?" -Ezekiel, XXXIII. 11. And "again when I say to the wicked: Thou shalt surely die; if he turn from his sin, and do that which is lawful and right; if the wicked restore the pledge,
give again that he had taken by robbery, walk in the statutes of life, committing no iniquity; he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of his sins that he hath committed shall be remembered against him."-Ezekiel, XXXIII. 14-16. Infinite mercy can go no further. All is blotted out by the soul's turning to the Lord. When men have committed certain shameful sins, they shudder at the thought that these sins might ever be revealed. What a consolation to know that even in the judgment these sins will not be recorded against the man who is converted to the Lord! In the judgment nothing will be manifested that is unfavorable to the elect, for penance and the forgiveness of God have annihilated them. The man with hands imbrued in his brother's innocent blood, yea, even the man who has reached the summit of human malice by hating God has a way open to him to come back to the King, and obtain the forgiveness of the whole debt. But that conversion must be a thing of the heart; it must make the man a new man; it must pierce the man's being like arrows of fire, and crush and subdue the old nature. Mere words, perfunctory cold acts will not suffice. And hence it is that in this age of the world, when all in men's lives is so cold and worldly, great conversions are rare.
The parable next proceeds to contrast God's dealing with man with man's dealing with man. This same servant who had been forgiven ten thousand talents finds a fellow servant who owes him the paltry sum of a hundred pence. One hundred denarii constituted one mina, the sixtieth part of a talent. Therefore this servant owed the other servant one six-hundred-thousandth part of that which had been forgiven by the king. The immense difference between the two debts illustrates the difference that exists between offenses and injuries done to us and that which we do to God. The malice of an act against a man is as nothing compared to the infinite malice of sin against God.
It is true, we can not see this clearly here. Some light is thrown on it by the theological argument that the gravity of an offense is measured by the dignity of the person offended; and as God is infinite in every attribute, the malice of a sin is, in a certain sense, infinite. We cannot realize it. The