By  D. M.  PANTON, BA.


One truth stands out like a Matterhorn in the teaching of our Lord, a truth of extraordinary importance to every child of God, and as difficult to climb as the most dangerous of Alpine passes.  The Lord had just laid down the law (Matt. 18: 17) whereby an offending brother, if he refused all apology to the injured brother, though accompanied by a friend or even upheld by the whole assembly, must be regarded as an outsider.*  Whereupon Peter, anxious to learn the limits of forgiveness, asks how often pardon is to be granted to a repentent offender:‑“How often shall I forgive him? until seven times?”  The injuries which the Church must meet in days now immediately ahead of us are so gigantic that we cannot know too soon or too thoroughly how we are to meet these injuries.


[*The Saviour does not say that be must not be forgiven by the injured brother, but that, to obey the law of the Church, the latter must renounce all fellowship with one who refuses to withdraw an iniury that he has done.]




it is impossible to exaggerate the emphasis which our Lord's answer places on forgiveness. He immediately replies:‑“I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven” or, in other words, absolutely indefinitely.  Forgiveness does not mean that we approve or condone or under-rate the wrong done: it means that “we are to shut our souls against all suggestions of requital or future revenge; we are to use all means of furthering the interests of those who have done us harm” (C. S. Robinson,D.D.).  Augustine puts it beautifully:- “Do you who are a Christian desire to be revenged and vindicated, while the death of Jesus Christ has not yet been revenged, nor his innocence vindicated?”


A Debt


The truth is so important that our Lord devotes to it a full and graphic parable.  A steward is brought before an Eastern Monarch for debt, and is found to be owing an enormous sum - ten thousand talents; a sum which, in modern money, would be equivalent to anything between £2,000,000 and £6,000,000, according to the exact value of a talent; and when the steward casts himself on his knees for pardon, his enormous debt is at once cancelled.  Later he incurs fresh debt and it is then revealed how our later debts are to be paid.  Every sin we commit - whether before conversion or after - is a debt to God; either it is cancelled by God wiping it out, or else it must be paid in full; and all our accounts, sooner or later, must be laid before God.


A Believer


Now we must grasp at once that the pardoned servant is a believer, a syrnbol of every one of us who is saved, since the reasons are indisputable and final.  For (1) our Lord says,‑“Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto” a king and his servants: that is, it is a photograph of the redeemed.  Again (2) the steward is forgiven and his first enormous debt is never re-charged on him: no unbeliever, while still an unbeliever, is forgiven his debt against the King of kings.  Again (3) Peter’s question was how often he, should forgive his brother: the two servants are children of God, who are to forgive even as they have been forgiven.  And finally (4) that God forgives the unsaved only if and when they forgive others is a doctrine nowhere contained in the whole Book of God: an unbeliever is never forgiven because he forgives, but solely because - as exactly as the steward - he flings himself on his knees for unconditional pardon.  On the contrary, our Lord now reveals that a believer’s offences, committed after conversion, depend, for their pardon, on his forgiveness of others.  So the parable deals with a forgiven soul.  The Law demands that we discharge our whole debt to God; but when, as unbelievers, we realize its.enormity, and our hopeless bankruptcy, and cast ourselves at His feet, “the lord of that servant, being moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt”. Our pardon, in conversion, is a pardon for which no forgiveness of others is asked: that is, it is that unconditional pardon which alone can make a man a child of God.




The crisis arrives.  This pardoned man suffers a real injury from a fellow-servant; and though the wrong-doer implores pardon, he only attempts to throttle him, and ultimately casts him into prison.  With fearful sharpness our Lord then compares God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of a brother’s injury: the one was a pardon totalling anything between £2,000,000 and £6,000,000 sterling*; and the other is a debt amounting to about  - £3. 10s. 0d.  So the Apostle Peter, after pressing on us “love of the brethren, and in your love of the brethren love”, says:- “He that lacketh these things is blind, seeing only what is near, having forgotten the cleansing from his old sins(2 Pet. 1: 9).  The steward imposes his own trifling debt, having totally forgotten his own cancelled debt which was almost beyond computation.


[* The immense cost of each saved sinner can be judged from the fact that 10,000 talents of silver is the sum at which Haman reckons (Esther 3 : 9) the revenue derivable from the destruction of the whole Jewish people. “Ten thousand Babylonian talents were about £4,000,000” (Professor Paulus Cassel).]




Judgment now falls.  Then his lord called him unto him” - it is the summons to the judgment Seat – “and saith to him, Thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou besoughtest me: shouldest not thou have had mercy on thy fellow-servant, even as I had mercy on thee?”  How beautifully Stephen fulfilled it: he prayed with his last breath,- “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge(Acts 7: 60).  And so Nurse Cavell said, a few hours before she was killed:- “I must have no hatred or bitterness toward anyone”.  The steward was bitterly resentful against a fellow-believer: so, while his former immense pardon is not revoked, yet he is delivered over to punishment “till” - the lost are delivered to torment for ever, not temporarily – “he should pay that which was due”; that is, all liabilities he had incurred since the great pardon which had made him a child of God.  Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy (Matt. 5: 7); but “Judgment is without mercy” - that is, justice takes its ordinary course – “to him that hath showed no mercy: mercy rejoiceth against judgment”.  John Wesley once travelled with a General Oglethorpe.  The General’s servant had committed a peculiarly annoying theft, and his master exclaimed, “I have ordered him to be tied hand and foot, and to be carried to the man of war, which sails with us.  The rascal should have taken care how he used me so, for I never forgive.”  Then,Sir,” said Mr. Wesley, looking him calmly in the face, “I hope you never sin.”  The General was dumbfoundered, and forgave his servant.


Divine Action


Now, therefore, in language that could not be more studied or explicit, Christ draws the overwhelming conclusion. “SO ALSO SHALL MY HEAVENLY FATHER DO UNTO YOU” - only disciples are present (18 : 1), and even Peter is thus directly addressed in the threat – “if ye forgive not every one his brother from your hearts”. So also it is the only clause in the Lord’s Prayer which He selects for comment, and it would be impossible to stress it more strongly.  He says:‑“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, NEITHER WILL YOUR FATHER FORGIVE YOUR TRESPASSES” (Matt. 6: 14).  Our Lord appeals to the most powerful possible motive of self-interest: it is pardon for pardon.  Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: and condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned : release, and ye shall be released” (Luke 6: 37).


Universal Pardon


Finally, we do well to ponder carefully that in other passages Christ bids an unconditional pardon which is not dependent on our brother’s admission of the wrong, but corresponds with God’s now not imputing to the world its trespasses.  This parable stresses why we should forgive; but our forgiving heart is to cover universal wrong.  “Whensoever ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have aught against anyone ; that your Father also may forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11: 25).  Our Lord’s own “Father, forgive them” never waited for repentance.  And it is to be more than a lip-forgiveness: “forgive every one his brother from your heart.  We are, in our very heart of hearts, to cease for ever from the sore sense of a hurt we are to shut our souls against all suggestions of requital or future revenge; we are to illustrate the greatness of God’s pardoning love by the quickness of our own” (C. S. Robinson, D.D.).


Divine Pardon


To whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little (Luke 7: 47)


Simon, her kisses will not soil;

Her tears are pure as rain;

Eye not her hair’s untwisted coil,

Baptized in pardoning pain.

For God hath pardoned all her much,

Her iron bands have burst;

Her love could never have been such

Had not His love been first.

But oh! rejoice ye Sisters pure

Who hardly.know her case;

There is no sin but has its cure,

Its all-consuming grace.

He did not leave her soul in hell,

’Mong shards the silver dove,

But raised her pure that she might tell

Her sisters how to love.