from WL Worcester (H Blackmer, ed.), 
The Sower.  Helps to the Study of the Bible in Home and Sunday School
(Boston: Massachusetts New-Church Union, n.d.)

Table of Contents


Lesson 26

Matthew 18:21-35:  Forgiveness

The Story


Do you know what it means if I tell you that you ought to forgive a person who has hurt you or said some unkind thing to you? Is it forgiving if you hurt the person who has hurt you, or say unkind things to him? Is it forgiving if you let yourself feel angry toward the person and think hard thoughts about him? No; if you forgive the person, you do not hurt him because he has hurt you: you do not let yourself feel angry toward him, nor think hard thoughts about him. You may feel sorry for what he has done, but you feel kindly toward him, and want to help him to do better.

This is what a mother means if a child comes to her and is sorry for something he has done wrong, and she gives the child a kiss and says, "I forgive you." She means that she is not angry, but loves the child, and wants to help him to do better. And this is the way that the Lord always feels toward us when we are sorry for something we have done wrong, and want to do better. He forgives us. The Lord wishes us to forgive, because it is more helpful to others to be forgiving, and because it is so much happier for us not to have angry feelings and unforgiving thoughts.

Peter once asked the Lord a question about forgiving. "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." Does it mean that we ought to be just a little forgiving or very forgiving? Does it mean that we ought to forgive reluctantly as a duty, or gladly and with love? It means that we should forgive always and gladly.

And the Lord told a story about forgiveness; let us read it. (Matthew 18:23-35) Ten thousand talents is an enormous sum of money. A penny was a little coin worth fifteen cents; but it was pay for a day's work in those days. Do you think who the Lord means by the king in the parable? He means Himself. The story shows that the Lord is glad and willing to forgive us, but that He cannot forgive us if we are not forgiving to one another. This helps you to understand the part of the Lord's Prayer which says, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors."


Think first of Peter's question and the Lord's answer about forgiveness, and then about the parable. How forgiving does the Lord mean that we should be? Entirely and always forgiving. We should not count the times, but forgive till we have no wish to be unforgiving. The number seven is associated with the seventh day, the holy Sabbath rest - the heavenly state when it is easy to do right.

The parable is of a king reckoning with the officers of his government and under rulers. Ten thousand talents is something like ten million dollars. Who is meant by the king? The enormous debt suggests our indebtedness to the Lord for everything, and our many, many failures to give Him the gratitude that we ought, and to use His good gifts as we should. The penny (fifteen cents) suggests the smallness, in comparison, of the little debts and wrongs about which we should be forgiving to one another. Remember the penny also in Matthew 20:2 and 22:19. The imprisonment and the selling of men and their families for debt were both common in those days.

Why is it that the Lord's forgiveness to us depends upon our forgiveness to our brother? And if we are not forgiving, can it be that He is wroth or angry and will deliver us to the tormentors? Answer the last question first.

Look back to Matthew 5:25, 26. What does it mean, that if we do not hasten to agree with an adversary, we shall be delivered to the officers and the judge, and shall be cast into prison, from which we cannot come out till we have paid the uttermost farthing? If we do not agree with our adversary, but keep unkind feelings and thoughts toward him, these very feelings and thoughts shut us up and make us hard and unhappy, and there is no escape from this prison except by completely repenting of the hard thoughts and feelings. And so if we are unforgiving, the unkind, resentful thoughts and feelings are the tormentors, and there is no escape from them except by giving up these thoughts and feelings. The king in the parable was wroth, and the Lord may seem so to us. Really He is never angry, but even with His great love He cannot deliver us from thoughts and feelings which we are not willing to let go.

"Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven." What we are willing to do for others determines what the Lord can do for us. All good things come to us from the Lord, to pass on in use to others. If we are selfish toward others, grasping and unkind, the gifts are not passed on and they cannot be given us from the Lord. As the stream of life flows out generously to others, it can come abundantly from the Lord. The truth is taught in many places in the Scriptures. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." "Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned; forgive and ye shall be forgiven: give, and it shall be given unto you. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again." (Luke 6:36-38) 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." (Matthew 6:14, 15) Only as we exercise kind, generous love toward others can that love come to us from the Lord, and fill our souls with blessing.

1. How do I really forgive anyone for a wrong he has done? by saying that I forgive him?

2. How often ought we to forgive?

3. What debt does the Lord forgive us? What is the condition of His forgiveness?

4. Who or what are "the tormentors"? Why cannot the Lord save us from them if we are unforgiving?

Spiritual Study


Let someone make a study of the number seven and of passages in the Bible where it is used. You will easily remember its meaning by association with the seventh day, the day of rest after the week of labor. It suggests the state of peace which follows effort and temptation. There is the idea of completeness in the number, and of holiness. To forgive seven times implies some heavenly motive, perhaps a faithful willingness to forgive as often as duty requires; but seventy times seven means a fullness of heavenly affection which makes it easy to forgive without limit. (E. 257; A. 433)

Read the parable carefully, seeing in it all you can of instruction in regard to our relations with our fellow servants and with the Lord, our King. We are called servants especially in the early stages of regeneration, while we act more from a sense of duty than from loving freedom. (Luke 15:19; John 15:15) The servants are brought to the king; we are to consider our relation to the Lord. It is one of great indebtedness. The command to sell suggests the impossibility of making just return to the Lord, even if all that we have, and all that we are, is put absolutely at His service. The wife and children represent faculties and developments of one's own life. (Exodus 20:17; Joshua 7:24) The Lord asks no return for His blessings, but that we shall have no wrong feeling of pride and selfishness in regard to them, but shall be grateful and make them of use to others.

The servant went out and was unforgiving to his fellow servant. We consider now our relation with others. By being selfish and unforgiving toward our fellow servant we close up the channels of life from within. This is represented by seizing by the throat, choking the flow of life between the head and the body. The hard thought and feelings expressed in the acts of violence toward the fellow servant put us again in a false relation toward the Lord; we are again in debt to Him. Moreover, these same hard feelings and thoughts become tormentors from which there is no escape till our hearts are made right toward our neighbor and so toward the Lord.

We may also think of the fellow servants as representing external faculties of our own life, which we are slow to bring into right relation to the Lord. In this sense those who saw the wrong and were very sorry represent recognition of the wrong and sorrow on account of it in our own hearts. There is also promise in the last verse of the chapter, as in Matthew 5:26, that when through temptation one repents of his selfishness, he will find the free and happy life, grateful and trustful toward the Lord, generous and forgiving toward his fellow men. (A. 892; E. 629)

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