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The Love of Christians.
by Isaac Williams

from Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays and Holy Days

throughout the Year, Vol. II. Trinity Sunday to All Saints' Day 

Rivingtons, London, 1875.
Second part of Sermon LXIX. for the Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity.
 Phil. i. 3-11.    St. Matt. xviii. 21-35.
A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; 
as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.ST. JOHN xiii. 34.
(for the first part, on the Epistle)

...this brotherly love to each other of them that are found in Christ, this bringing forth much fruit in mutual affection and forgiveness, on account of the love of Christ, is nowhere set forth in a more striking manner than in the parable from St. Matthew in this day’s Gospel.

Peter said unto Jesus, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him ? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, until seven times: but until seventy times seven. St. Peter asked this question as a Jew who was used to the law, for the law lays down the exact measure of duty, how much was to be restored and the like; but the Gospel has another law which has no measure at all, because it is that of love which is to have no bounds, for it is to be like the Love of God. Look how high the Heaven is in comparison of the earth, it says, so great is His mercy toward them that fear Him. And again, Look how far the east is from the west, so far hath He set our sins from us. But the Heaven above our heads is without bounds ; and if we were to go either east or west we might go on without end, into infinite space. Such then is the Love of God, and our love is to endeavour to be the same. Now this is the most difficult precept in the Gospel; so that in hearing of this law of forgiveness the disciples said, “Lord, increase our faith.” But if it is the most difficult, yet to a good man it is at the same time the most gracious of all commands, because it expresses the love and mercy of God towards ourselves. And thus it is set forth in the following parable.

Therefore is the Kingdom of Heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. Not at the last Great Day only, but always from our baptism to our death God is in some sense “taking account,” judging, releasing, condemning. “His eyes consider the poor, and His eyelids try the children of men.”

And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. Now one talent being equal to some hundreds of pounds, of course ten thousand talents was beyond what any one could pay. And it indicates the great holiness of God, for it is on account of His being most holy that our sins against Him are so infinite; He knows them all, He reckons -them all, He is grieved by them all; whether in thought, word, or deed, they are all offences against His infinite holiness. And every one who comes to repentance and a sense of God’s presence must feel with the Psalmist, “My sins are more in number thin the hairs of my head, and my heart hath failed me.”

But forasmuch as he had not to pay, for his debt was immense and he had nothing, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. Such is the condition of man by nature, unable to make any satisfaction or atonement to God; upon him is passed the sentence of death. The servant therefore fell down and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. This is the case of the accepted penitent: although he can of himself do nothing, and has nothing to pay, yet does he acknowledge the debt, and promises to do all that he can do; he humbles and abases himself before God, or, as it is said, he “fell down.” And he pays all adoration and reverence, “he worshipped him,” it is added. Then does God in Christ meet him, and lift him up with all mercy and loving-kindness, not merely grant what he asks, in affording him a respite and time to pay, but infinitely more than he could ask or think; “he loosed him, and forgave him the debt.” “None of the sins that he hath committed,” as the Prophet says, “shall be mentioned unto him.” And this Divine love is the very pattern which is given for us all to follow, as our Lord Himself says, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, that ye may be the children of your Father which is in Heaven.” It is infinitely high, so that we can never go far enough in this temper; it is not in purity, nor in justice, nor in courage, nor in wisdom, that we are called upon to imitate Almighty God, so much as in this grace. “Be ye merciful as your Father in Heaven is merciful,” and, as our Lord says, “Learn of Me, for I am meek.” It is the very measure of our acceptance: “with what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again.” 

But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellow-servants, which owed him an hundred pence. This might be much for one servant to owe another, but compared with what he had himself owed his master, it was so trifling as to be absolutely nothing. And he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellow-servant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not; but went and cast him into prison., till he should pay the debt. Now we must not deceive ourselves because the parts of this parable find no exact fulfilment in our own case, the laying hands on him, the seizing him by the throat, and a debtor falling down at our feet; for not only do these perhaps never take place according to the letter, but in some of the worst cases to which the parable refers, there is no outward appearance whatever of this kind; it may not be any matter of money due at all, it may be some overreaching in other matters, or it may be some slight, some standing in our way, some bitter word which has provoked us, or it may be some envious ill will on our part, or even no more than some dislike; and the unforgiving temper may have no means of avenging itself by casting an enemy in prison, or putting him down in any way. The worst case of this kind may all take place in the heart only, scarce, if at all, shown by outward gesture, word, or deed, but only known to the great Searcher of hearts.  Such is the unforgiving temper which asks forgiveness of God, while it is not itself reconciled to man. Yea, such a one, though he may ask forgiveness of God, yet in fact feels not his own need of mercy, nor is he sensible of the weight of his own sins.

So when his fellow-servants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.  Such an instance is a grief now to all good men, and an offence to the Church of God: but this is not all that is implied in this statement of his fellow-servants, in such grief complaining to their lord.  As it is said that “the saints shall judge the world,” so will the righteous acquiesce in the just judgments of God; yea, they will seem in the very name of all justice and mercy to call for that judgment.  “Let the hills be joyful together before the Lord, for He cometh to judge.”

Then his lord, after that he had called him, for he seemed to keep silence and leave him alone for awhile; but after he had called him, he said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt because thou desiredst me: shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow-servant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth. This, with very wonderful power of expression, is called in other places “the wrath of the Lamb,” from which the sinner will call upon the mountains to fall on him and hide him; i. e. even He Who had such infinite compassions, Himself so meek and forgiving, Who had wrought all the atonement for him, even He the meek Lamb of God, the very Victim for all sin, is said to be wroth; for the weight of all His mercy but weighs down the unforgiving heart with a heavier judgment. He was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. All the burden of his own sins oppresses him for ever, with none of them forgiven, and with no hope of any one to release him.

So likewise, adds our Lord to this parable in very emphatic and awful words, so likewise shall My Heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.

Thus, although the parable had given an account of outward circumstances, of words spoken, and deeds done, yet by this last sentence our Lord lays all the stress upon the keeping of the heart; it is if ye from your hearts forgive not; there must be outward conduct in word and deed showing forgiveness, but this forgiveness must be from the heart. And observe His words: it is not “forgive all men,” but forgive each his brother; it is by the bond of brotherhood in Christ, in the bowels of Christ Jesus, as St. Paul says, nor is it general but particular, each his brother.

On this subject, therefore, the great law of love, upon which more than anything else our forgiveness for sins daily incurred, and the sentence of the Day of Judgment will depend, what else can we add, but those words of wisdom, “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life"?