<< MATTHEW XVIII: Spiritual Meaning >>
1 At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?
2 And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them,
1 The disciples themselves had at first no other opinion respecting the heavenly kingdom, than that of pre-eminence, as on earth, for then they did not know that heavenly enjoyment is not enjoyment of greatness and pre-eminence, but the enjoyment of humiliation and of affection for serving others, thus of desiring to be least, and not greatest. A. 3417.
1 This chapter commences with an incident tender and beautiful in itself, and one in which, like so many others recorded in the gospel, the wisdom of the Lord Jesus is seen to flow as a living stream from the fountain of his love. Children of frailty, the disciples had been contending among themselves for pre-eminence, and they come to their Master, that he may settle the dispute, and ask him, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? Each of the disciples desired to be greatest, and to rule – none were willing to be least, and to serve. This is the condition of the natural man, and continues to be that of every man till he is brought under the dominion of him who was himself the least of all and the servant of all.
3 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
3 As soon as the Lord is present with any, they are let into a state of innocence, for the Lord enters by innocence, even with the angels in heaven. On this account no one can come into heaven unless he has somewhat of innocence. A. 3519.
In an infant there is innocence in external form, and innocence is that which is truly human, for into it as into a plane, flows love and charity from the Lord, When man is being regenerated and becoming wise, the innocence of infancy, which was external, becomes internal. It is for this reason that no one can enter heaven, unless he has something of innocence. A. 4797.
Praise can come to the Lord by no other way than through innocence, for by this alone is effected all communication and all influx, and consequently access. A. 5236.
That by little children is here signified innocence may be evident, because with little children there is innocence, and because those who are innocent appear in heaven as little children. A. 5608.
3, 13, 18. See Chapter V., 18, 26. E. 228.
2, 3. In appealing to the Lord as the arbiter in this dispute, the disciples acknowledged his authority as supreme, and were disposed to abide by his decision. They expected, however, that he would decide for them what they had been unable to agree upon among themselves – which of them should be greatest in his kingdom. Great must have been their surprise and humiliation when Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him, in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. This was a question that had not entered into their thoughts, much less into their discussion. Believing they had been called to the kingdom, they only concerned themselves about the stations of dignity they were to occupy in it. But the little child in the midst of them and the Lord’s few words, told them that the love of dominion, which had led them to contend for the highest place, unfitted them even for the lowest; and that unless they were converted, and became as little children, they could not so much as enter into the kingdom of heaven. This conveys a most instructive lesson. Without conversion there is no salvation. The ruling love must be turned from self to the Lord, and from the world to heaven But the disciples are also to become as little children. Born anew, they are to be innocent, confiding, teachable in all things, conforming to their heavenly Father’s will. In the spiritual sense, the Lord’s beautiful and significant act teaches us that innocence, of which a little child is the emblem, must be in the midst, or be the inmost, of all the graces and virtues that form the kingdom of heaven in the mind and life of man. Without conversion of the soul to God, and a childlike dependence upon him, no one can enter into his kingdom.
4 But the question of the disciples did not, directly relate to what was required to gain admission into the kingdom, but to who should be greatest in it. It was necessary, and our Lord saw good, first to instruct them in what was required in order to their being admitted into the kingdom at all. Now he comes to the subject of their inquiry, concerning which they had contended among themselves, – Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? The Lord had already (ch. v. 19) taught his disciples that whosoever should do and teach his commandments should be great in the kingdom of heaven; this was the first time he had occasion to instruct them respecting who was the greatest. The same image that served to illustrate the nature of heaven serves to illustrate greatness in it. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Innocence is the grace which qualifies us for heaven, and our greatness in it depends on the depth and fulness in which that grace is received. Heaven most intimately dwells in innocence, and where there is more of innocence there is more of heaven; and he who is most deeply imbued with this, the essence of all heavenly virtues, must possess the largest share of all the excellencies in which heaven consists. As innocence is the essence, humility is the son, of every grace and virtue. Our growth in grace is in proportion to our humility. The most humble is the most exalted, the least is the greatest. This is more than a figure. Every regenerate one has within him the old man and the new. The more the old man is humbled, the more the new man is exalted; he in whom the old is least is he in whom the new is greatest. The highest angels are they who have most completely humbled self; they are, therefore, the most innocent; they are, spiritually, the little children to whom we are sent to learn wisdom, and like whom we must humble ourselves if we wish to be greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
5 And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.
5 See Chapter X., 22. A. 6674.
See Chapter VII., 22. R. 839.
5, 20. See Chapter VII., 22. P. 230.
See Chapter VII;, 22. R. 618.
5 They who are in this state of innocence, which is a state far removed from self and self-seeking, are pre-eminently in the Lord and the Lord in them. This is meant by the words, Whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. To receive one such little child is to receive such a principle of innocence from the Lord – and to do this in the name of the Lord is to do so, not in outward appearance only, by a mere affectation of humility, but really and from the heart. And as in such genuine innocence the Lord himself dwells, it being only attainable by gift from him, it is evident that he who receives it receives with it the Lord himself, and with him every angelic grace and virtue.
6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
7 Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!
6 Swedenborg translates, that an ass-millstone be hanged about his neck. See Note in Revised Version.
To be plunged into the sea means to be plunged into scientifics derived from things worldly and terrestrial, even to the denial of truth Divine. A millstone is truth serving faith, an ass is the natural, because a beast of service. Hence an ass-millstone stands for the natural and worldly scientific principle. The neck means the conjunction of things interior and exterior. To be hanged there means-the shutting out and interception of good and truth. The depth of the sea means what is merely worldly and corporeal, thus hell. A. 9755.
By a mill and a millstone is signified that which prepares good, that it may be applied to uses. A. 10303.
The truth of the Word adulterated is signified by the millstone, and by the sea hell. R. 791.
See Chapter VIII., 32. E. 538.
By offending one of the little ones who believe in Jesus, is signified to pervert those who acknowledge the Lord, by its being better that an ass’s millstone should be suspended to the neck is meant, that it would be better not to know any good and truth, but only what is false and evil. By being drowned in the depth of the sea, is signified to be cast down into hell. The reason why this is better or more expedient is, because to know goods and truths and pervert them, is to profane. E. 1182.
6 Since the reception of this principle of innocence is of such indispensable necessity, no wonder that the rejection and destruction of it is attended with such awful consequences, expressed in the remarkable words, But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. The word offend is used in the sense of causing to stumble. Hence, in the spiritual sense, to offend one of these little ones which believe in the Lord, is willfully to pervert and turn aside from his innocence one of the faithful; and also to pervert in ourselves any principle of innocence in which the Lord is, by turning to self, the world, and the flesh. The figurative expressions which follow describe the dreadful state occasioned. “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck,” means, that it were better be had always remained confirmed in evil lusts and false persuasions – confirmation being meant by a millstone – so that no communication had ever been opened between his internal man and his corrupt external, the neck denoting the communication between them; and to be “drowned in the depth of the sea,” is to be immersed in the false persuasions of the natural mind, and plunged, in consequence, into the abyss of woe. Dreadful as a confirmed state of evil is, it is yet less so than that which is incurred by perverting any divine principle – anything in which is innocence received from the Lord – because the state induced is one of profanation, which is far worse than any that can result from unmixed evil, when goodness and truth have never been received into the affections, and consequently are not sinned against and rejected, after having once been known and loved
7 The Lord now exclaims, Woe unto the world because of offences for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! To offend, we have seen, is to cause to stumble; and an occasion of stumbling is given to the weak, when one who makes a profession of religion acts in such a manner as shows that religion has but little influence on his mind; and this takes place always in consequence of his religion not being genuine, because his heart is a stranger to the scriptural grace of innocence. From this cause what great injury has in all ages been done to the cause of religion. But what is the reason of this “needs be” that offences will come? Does it mean that there are any persons who are so utterly enslaved to Satan that they have no power to break their bonds, and must be the cause of scandal to the religion! they profess, whether they will or not. Nothing like this is meant. It is a certain truth that man has grace given to him every moment, by which he may turn from his evil ways and come to a better state, if he would make use of it, which also he has continual power given him to do. The meaning is, that Divine Providence sees it necessary, in order that man may be kept in a state capable of salvation, that he should be left at liberty either to cultivate sincerity in his religious profession or not, since, if it were attempted to infuse heavenly graces into him by compulsion, the injury would be still greater. But there is a possibility of becoming a stumbling-block in a different and still worse way than this; and that is by designedly turning the simple from their integrity, by teaching them to imbibe sentiments subversive of the doctrines of genuine truth, or to indulge in evil practices that destroy or injure their capacity of receiving the heavenly graces of the Lord’s kingdom. But whoever is guilty of such infatuation does it at his peril; for it is expressly said, “woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!” Woe is an expression used in Scripture to express lamentation for any deplorable perversion of the sacred things of the church, and also to indicate the grievous penalties which they incur who are agents in such perversions. In the present case such penalties, it is declared, are unavoidable by those who have been the occasion of throwing a stumbling-block in the way of others. Woe is the result of offence even to those who stumble; for suffering is ever and unavoidably the fruit of sin. But the woe is especially to that man by whom the offence or stumbling cometh. This shows the wise and merciful discrimination which the Lord makes between degrees of guilt, as well as the difference of results arising out of the nature of the case itself.
8 Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire.
8 By the foot which must be cut off if it caused stumbling, is meant the natural, which continually opposes itself to the spiritual, that it must be destroyed if it attempt to impair truths. Thus on account of the disagreement and dissuasion of the natural man, it is better to be in simple good, though in the denial of truth. This is signified by entering into life lame. A. 4302.
8, 9. It may be evident what hell-fire is. It is nothing but hatred, revenge, and cruelty, or what is the same the love of self, for such do these become. A man during his life in the body, if of such a quality, however he may appear outwardly, if he were inspected closely by the angels would not appear otherwise in their eyes. That is his hatreds would appear as torches of fire, and the falsities from them as furnaces of smoke. A. 1861.
Heaven is called eternal life, in other passages simply life, for the reason that the Lord is life itself, and he who receives His life is in heaven. A. 2658.
Entering into life means into heaven. Making alive or quickening—John v. 21; and life manifestly mean spiritual life, or life in heaven, vi. 63. A. 5890.
See Chapter IV., 16. A. 7494.
See Chapter III., 10. H. 570.
That man after death lives for ever is manifest from the Word, where life in heaven is called eternal life, and also simply life. p. 324.
See Chapter III., 10-12. E. 504.
8-9. But we do not need to go out of ourselves to look for the stumbling-block: the hand, and the foot, and the eye may offend us. And although this fact brings the criminality of offending home to us, it also affords opportunity of removing the cause of offence, which we are able to do by removing the offending member. Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off and cast them from thee and if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee. Every one can see that this is not to be understood and acted on literally, and yet that it teaches us the lesson of self-denial. We have already considered a passage similar to this in the Lord’s sermon on the mount (ch. v. 29), where it is shown that by removing the offending members is meant to prevent the intentions of the mind from coming into act. There is, however, some difference between the two passages. In the sermon on the mount the order in which the members are mentioned is the reverse of that which is observed here. And as the first in a series gives its character to the whole, we conclude that the precept, as given in the fifth chapter, where the eye, a symbol of the intellect, is mentioned first, relates to the spiritual class; and that, as it occurs here, where the hands and feet, symbols of the will, are first spoken of, it relates to the celestial. In regard to the place of punishment, there it is hell, here it is hell-fire, and as fire is emblematical of love, the fiery hell is that where the love of self reigns, and this is opposite to the highest heaven, where love to God is the ruling principle.
9 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.
9 The left eye is the intellectual, but the right eye is its affection. See also Chapter V., 29. A. 2701.
That it is better not to know and apprehend the truths of faith, than to know and apprehend them and still live a life of evil, is signified by its being better to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell-fire. A. 3863.
See Chapter V., 29. R. 48.
See Chapter V., 29. E. 152.
See Chapter VII., 14. E. 186.
10 Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.
10 To behold the face of God means to enjoy peace and good from mercy. A. 5585.
Little children suffer themselves to be governed by angels. No one can see the face of God except from innocence. A. 5608.
By the faces of Jehovah are signified the interior Divine things of the Word, of the church and of worship. The reason is because the interior Divine things of the Word, of the church and of worship are the Divine truth proceeding from the Lord, thus the Lord in heaven. A. 10579.
By their beholding the face of their Father in heaven is signified that they receive Divine good from the Lord. That they do not actually see the face appears from the words of the Lord, John i. 18; v. 37. E. 254.
Here it is said that their angels do always behold, because there are spirits and angels attendant upon every man, according to the nature and the quality of the man, io such are the spirits and angels who are attendant upon him. With infant children there are angels from the inmost heaven, and these see the Lord as a sun, for they are in love to Him and in innocence. By the face of the Father is understood the Divine love which was in the Lord, consequently the essential Divine, which is Jehovah, for the Father was in Him and He in the Father, and they were one. E. 412.
10, 14. No one can profane that of which he does not know the nature or the existence. This is why more of the Gentiles are saved than of Christians, besides that their children are all of the Lord’s Kingdom. A. 1059.
10, 14, 19. See Chapter V., 45, 48. A. 8328.
10 Since innocence is that which is to be restored, it is that also which above all things is to be preserved. How important, then, the warning, Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones! We are guilty of this when we despise innocence and simplicity. Some regard these excellences as weaknesses, and are therefore little inclined to cultivate them. But the warning here is not to the natural man, but to the spiritual; and is intended to guard him against allowing anything of self-conceit and self-confidence to insinuate itself into his mind, – which cannot fail to injure or destroy that purity of heart which enables him to see God. Hence the reason the Lord gives why we should not despise one of these little ones. For I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. No doctrine of Scripture is more clearly taught than the ministry of angels. Unconscious as we are of their presence, we are constantly attended by these celestial beings, who are mediums through whom the Lord conveys his gifts to us, and instruments by whom he protects us against the spirits of darkness. The angels attendant on men are such as are suited to their state and character.
Infants and little children are attended by angels of the highest heaven, and these constantly see the Lord as a sun; for they are in love to him, and in innocence, and this is meant, in the sense nearest to that of the letter, by their always beholding the face of the Father. The face of the Lord is the divine love which was in the Lord, consequently the essential divinity, which is Jehovah; for the Father was in him, and he in the Father, and they were one. But in the purely spiritual sense these words mean that the Lord, as to his divine good, is in the good of innocence – for the good of innocence is meant by a little child, and the Divine good by the face of the Father. Whether, therefore, we regard the Lord’s words in the immediate or remote sense, the warning is solemn, and should teach us to take heed that we despise not either the infant innocents or the innocence of which they are the emblems.
11 For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.
12 How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?
11 See Chapter XIII., 37. L. 27.
His coming redemption, and the passion of the cross, were for the sake of the salvation of men, and because the salvation of men was and for ever is His end, it follows that the abovementioned operations are mediate ends,, and to save is the ultimate end. T. 142.
11-13. See Chapter IX., 12, 13. A. 2661.
By sheep on the mountains are signified those who are in the good of love and charity, but by the one which has-gone astray, is signified one who is not in that good, because in falsities from ignorance, for where falsity prevails that good cannot exist, because good is of truth. E. 405.
The same which is signified by ten is also signified by a hundred, namely, much. E. 675.
11 The words which the Lord now addresses to his disciples do not, in their natural sense, seem to be connected with the subject on which he had been instructing them, but, when it is spiritually considered, will be found to have an intimate relation to it. The Son of man is come to save that which was lost. In these beautiful words how strongly is expressed the intense ardour and boundless universality of the Divine love! Who can read or hear them without being in some measure impressed by the love which breathes through them, without beholding his God and Father in the amiable light in which they so plainly present him – as a God of boundless mercy, whose will is ratified when his creatures receive his saving grace, and, returning from their wanderings in the paths of evil, find their true home in the shelter of his arms? When it is said that the Son of man is come to save that which is lost, it seems plain that the words must refer, not so much to persons as to principles, or rather to one grace, which it was the Divine purpose to restore, and the restoration of which to its true place in the human heart is the restoration of man to a state of salvation and happiness. Innocence was that which man lost by the fall, and innocence was that which the Lord came to restore by his redemption.
12 The Lord illustrates the truth he had been declaring, by a parable. How think ye? If a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which, is gone astray? There is a beautiful truth in this as illustrative both of the Lord’s love, and the unity of his flock. What love does it bespeak in the Infinite to come down from heaven, by assuming human nature, to seek those who had wandered from his fold! In the Lord’s sight angels and men form but one flock, having one fold and one shepherd. Their safety and felicity result from their unity. When one sheep wanders from the fold, the whole flock suffers. If man’s happiness is dependent on his connection with angels, the happiness of angels must be proportionally dependent on their connection with men. If there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, there must be sorrow in heaven over those who live on in impenitence. The shepherd is therefore represented (Luke xv. 4) as leaving the sheep in the wilderness, when going to seek the wanderer whose feet had stumbled upon the dark mountains (Jer. xiii. 16). Look now at the subject in its individual application. The Lord comes down from heaven to earth, in us, when he comes from the internal down into the external, there to seek and restore the affection of innocence and charity, which had been lost in consequence of having separated itself from the corresponding principles in the internal. The remains of heavenly principles are preserved in the internal of every one, but the external in every one goes more or less astray. The shepherd leaves the ninety and nine, and goes after that which is lost, that he may restore it to the fold, and make that completeness which can only result from the union of the principles of the internal and external man.
13 And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray.
13, 18. See Chapter V., 18-26. R. 23.
See Chapter VIL, 15. E. 1154,
13 And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. Why should there be more joy over the lost one recovered than over those who remained in the fold? Because the affections of the inner man find their true joy only in their connection with the corresponding affection of the outer man. While the internal affections are alone, they are like the ninety and nine sheep left by the shepherd in the wilderness; and it is not until he has returned to them, bringing the lost sheep upon his shoulders, and restoring it to his fold, that there is joy in heaven – for the Lord’s rejoicing is his glory imparted to us and felt in us. It is evident that the Lord cannot rejoice more in one than in another; but when we know that what is spoken of in the Word as his feeling is to be understood as his love as it affects us, we can see both the propriety and instructiveness of the language of inspiration.
14 Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.
14, That His will on this occasion stands for love is evident. E. 295.
14, 19, 35. See Chapter V., 16. E. 254.
14 Even so it is not the will of a your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish. The parable of the lost sheep had been delivered to illustrate this truth. It embraces within its meaning and purpose the bringing of little children ultimately to the kingdom of heaven and imposes upon parents and others concerned in the education of the young, the church as a body included, the duty of devoted attention to their true welfare; for what God wills, he requires our agency to effect. But how is this result to be secured, but by securing a state of innocence? We cannot, it is true, by the best teaching and example, make the salvation of a human being a matter of certainly – but we, no doubt, can do much to promote it. And the best way to do our part in this important work is to cultivate in our children, and no less in ourselves, the innocence which makes men the children of God. The more of this celestial grace we have, the more we are of the character of those “little ones” of whom our Lord says, “Of such is the kingdom of heaven.” How beautiful, how tender is the love which expressed itself in the words of the Lord regarding little children and how anxious should we be to be able to feel and act according to it.
15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
15 All in the universe who are the neighbour are called brethren, and this because everyone ought to love his neighbour as himself, thus from love or good. A. 2360.
In this passage is understood by brother the neighbour in general, thus every man, but especially those who are in the good of charity, and thence in faith from the Lord,. for the subject treated of in those passages is concerning the good of charity, for forgiveness is of charity. It is likewise said, if he hear thou hast gained thy brother, by which is signified, if he acknowledge his trespasses and be converted. E. 746.
15-17. But the Lord turns to a duty seemingly of another kind, and one most difficult to perform – the duty of forgiveness. Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone. We need not expect to pass through life without both giving and receiving offence. We must carefully distinguish between real and fancied injuries. The sense of injury is often the result of sensitive self-love. When we are satisfied that our brother has really trespassed against us, our conduct in regard to him is to be regulated by this law. We are to tell him his fault personally and privately. If this rule were acted upon, much scandal would be swept away, and our social atmosphere cleared of one of its most pestilential vapours. If he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. We must, of course, have told him his fault for the purpose of gaining him. And this implies that we have told him the truth in love – neither magnifying his fault nor showing resentment against him on account of it. And we must be desirous, not only of gaining him as a friend, but gaining him as a Christian brother – gaining him from his evil, and thus gaining him to God is well as to ourselves. If this effort fail, and we are convinced it has failed through no fault of ours, we are then to seek the aid of others. But if he will not hear thee, then take with, thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. These are not intended to be simply witnesses against the offender, but they are to witness between the parties – to see that the complainant has acted justly and kindly in his cause, as well as to testify on what ground the effort to gain his brother has been unsuccessful. These also are understood to be brethren, and to use their brotherly influence to effect an amicable adjustment of the difference. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. The church must exercise a firm but temperate discipline, that a sickly sheep may not be unnecessarily driven from the fold, nor a diseased one be allowed to remain in it to infect the whole flock. So much on the literal sense of this important law. We now turn to its spiritual sense. In the spiritual sense, brethren are those who are united in the bond of charity, and belong to the household of faith. Abstractly, brethren are the principles of charity and faith themselves – they are also the will and the understanding, and also the internal and the external man. The trespass in this case is a trespass of charity against faith, or of faith against charity, and is one that takes place in ourselves. Nor does this deprive it of its personal application, for it is just in proportion as we commit this inward sin in ourselves that we are, liable to commit the outward sin against a brother. But can charity and faith sin against each other? True charity and faith cannot, but these graces exist in their perfection in no human mind, and the corruption that adheres to them sometimes makes one offend against the other; and as there is offence, so may there be reproof – for charity may act undirected by faith, and faith may act uninfluenced by charity. Every act of self-reproach is an instance of this. It is our faith reproving our charity, or our charity reproving our faith, for some trespass it has committed against its brother. These are called the acts of an accusing conscience, and they are rightly so called. Conscience is formed by the union of charity and faith. So far is this union extends, so far conscience exists – and conscience condemns acts clone contrary to its dictates. How does the law, to tell the offending brother alone, apply in this case? It teaches us that in any disagreement that may arise between our charity and faith, or, what is the same, between our will and understanding, we are to employ the one who has received the offence to correct the one who gave it. If our will acts against our understanding, so as to cause a breach of charity, we are to employ our understanding to convince and gain the offending brother; and if our understanding gives way to doubt or error, so as to cause a breach of faith, we are to employ the will to correct our understanding; and the desired result is that, by removing the cause of offence and estrangement, the two may be reconciled. If this first and direct attempt fail, the next step is to seek for aid and testimony from the truths of the Word. “One or two” of these mean truths of faith and truths of charity. These are to be employed, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established The two witnesses have been explained to mean the will and the understanding and the three to mean will, understanding, and action. Men will be judged from the testimony of these three, or from the witness of two. But in the purely spiritual sense the two or three witnesses are the goods and truths of the Word. And the idea here set forth is, that if evil or falsity cannot be removed by the action of its opposite good or truth alone, testimony is to be sought from collateral goods and truths, that every word may be established. If the evil or error do not yield to this, the ultimate appeal is to the church. As the church includes all who are in the goods and truths of religion, the church, spiritually, signifies all these goods and truths themselves. To tell the complaint against an offending brother to the church is to call in the whole testimony of the Word; and if this do not succeed, then the resisting member is to be rejected, as opposed to all the laws of goodness and truth, of heaven and the church. In the nearest application of this law, understood in reference to those who are being regenerated, the offending brother is not positive evil or falsity, but spurious good or truth, or the principle of charity or faith. Spurious good is good which is not united to truth, and spurious truth is truth not united to good, – so, spurious charity is that which is not united to faith, and spurious faith is that which is not united to charity So far as either of these is spurious, it trespasses against the other; and so far as either is genuine, it endeavours to correct and seek reconciliation with the other. But if the spurious principle is so opposed to the genuine that it cannot be brought into compliance and agreement with it it must be rejected, as having in it no real agreement with either the good or truth of the church, which is meant by being an heathen man and a publican.
16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
16 The command given in the representative church, that all truth shall stand on the word of two or three witnesses, and not on that of one, is founded on the Divine law, that one truth does not confirm good, but several truths, for one truth without connection with Others, is not confirming, but several together, since from one may be seen another. A. 4197.
18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
18 See Chapter XVI., 18, 19. A. 9410.
See Chapter XVL, 18, 19. E. 206.
These words were not spoken to Peter only, but to all the apostles, which is very evident, for the Lord immediately adds (verses 19, 20). By the name of the Lord is understood everything by which He is worshipped, and as He is worshipped by truth grounded in good, which is from Him, therefore this is understood by His name. The same thing is signified therefore by whatsoever they should ask on earth being done for them in heaven, as is signified by whatsoever they should bind or loose on earth being bound or loosed in heaven, for the former words are explained by the latter. E. 411.
The twelve disciples represented all the things of the church as to its goods and truths ; Peter represented it as to truth, and truths and goods save a man, thus the Lord alone, from whom they are. R. 174.
18 In connection with this disciplinary law, there is again introduced the declaration of the Lord to Peter, after his confession of Jesus as the Christ. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. In explaining these words as they occur in ch. xvi. 19, we have seen that heaven and earth are the internal and external man, or the spiritual and the natural mind. Whatever is bound and loosed in the external, is bound and loosed in the internal. By this the internal and the external are brought into agreement, and so form one mind. This result follows the establishment of an agreement between good and truth, charity and faith, will and understanding; for in reality, good and charity and will are internal, and truth and faith and understanding are external. Our Lord, we may conclude, introduced this statement here for the sake of the connection which the truth it teaches has with the present subject. The internal and the external of the mind being the brethren who may offend and be at variance with each other, we are here instructed that the way to bring the internal and external into harmony, is to bring the external into order, by binding and loosing the principles that require these operations – to bind the evil and set the good at liberty. This subject our Lord continues to treat of in the words which now follow.
19 Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.
19, 20. See Chapter VI., 9. A. 2724.
he name of Jehovah means all the good of love and all the truth of faith, which is from the Lord. A. 9310.
The name of the Lord by which is meant Himself as to His Human. R. 839.
See Chapter XVIII., 18. E. 411.
By agreeing together in the name of the Lord, and being gathered together in His name, is not understood in the name alone, but in those things which are of the Lord, which are the truths of faith and goods of love, by which he is worshipped. E. 696.
The presence of the Lord is indeed with all, and also His love is towards all, but still man cannot be led and saved by the Lord, but according to his reception of the Lord by love and faith toward Him. E. 815.
19 Again. I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth, as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall he done for them of my Father which is in heaven. These words clearly instruct us that whatever man can do for himself amounts to no more than putting himself in the attitude in which the mercies that the Lord is ever willing to bestow can be imparted to him, but that everything really good that he enjoys is afforded him as a free gift from the Lord alone. When man asks, that which he needs is done for him of his Father who is in heaven. We need not insist on the necessity of prayer – the point here that demands our attention is the promise, that the harmonious petition of two or three shall secure an answer. There is a special lesson taught in these divine words. It does not follow that every prayer that two on earth may agree to offer shall certainly be answered; but the two that are meant in the spiritual sense must agree in the prayer, both in him who prays in his closet and in every one who prays in the church. Numbers, as we have seen, do not mean quantity, but quality. The number two denotes conjunction or union, and as all conjunction results from love, which is the same thing as goodness, the number two denotes the quality of a thing in respect to goodness. The number three denotes what is full and complete, because there are three essentials, answering to love, wisdom, and use, or to soul, body, and operation, which enter into the constitution of everything that exists, – from the Lord himself – in whom this unity is called Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – to man, who was created in his image and likeness, and to everything in creation, all of which, in some way or other, bears a reference to man. And as this threefold arrangement of everything in the universe is the result of the eternal laws of divine order, which are the laws of divine truth, therefore, as the number two, in a good sense, denotes the quality of a thing as to good, the number three denotes the quality of a thing as to truth. The number two here bears its primary signification, that of conjunction, and also its secondary signification that of good; and the meaning of the declaration is, that if man desires anything good, not with a divided but with a united mind – that is, if he desires it with the whole heart, and asks it from the Lord from such desire – he shall obtain it. Whatsoever is asked from a state and principle that is truly good, and from the conjunction of goodness and truth in the mind, as this is under the control of the man himself, signified by the two being agreed on earth touching anything they shall ask, shall assuredly be done for us of our Father which is in heaven, – the term Father being used to denote, not another divine being separate from the Lord Jesus Christ, but the divine love of his own essence; divine love being the universal Father, and it being from that love as its only source that any and all good can be experienced and received by man.
20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
20 By those who are gathered together in the name of the Lord are here signified those who are in the doctrine of faith concerning love and charity, and thus who are in love and charity. A. 2009.
See Chapter X., 22. A. 6674.
Where the Word is read with sanctity, and the Lord is worshipped from the Word, the Lord with heaven is there. This is because the Lord is the WoH, and the Word is Divine truth which makes heaven. P. 256.
See Chapter X., 22. R. 81.
In the spiritual sense the name of God means all that the church teaches from the Word, and by which the Lord is invoked and worshipped. All these things in the complex are the name of God. There are also many passages in which the name of God means the D vine which proceeds from God, and by which He is worshipped. T. 298.
See Chapter X., 22. T. 682.
See Chapter X., 22. E. 102.
Here by two or three being gathered together are not meant two or three, but they who are in good and hence in truth, neither by the name of the Lord is meant His name, but all the good of love and the truth of faith by which He is worshipped. E. 532,
20. To those encouraging words the Divine speaker adds the reason of this assurance: For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. These words do assuredly, in the sense nearest to the letter, convey the promise of the Lord’s continual presence with his church, wheresoever any branch of it, however small, is assembled in his love and fear; and thus illustrate the advantage and necessity of united worship. But in their purely spiritual sense the words carry on the same general subject respecting effectual individual worship as the preceding verse, and teach us that, in everything good and true that is genuine, in the mind of man, the Lord himself is present, filling it with his divine life, and making it fruitful of continual and eternal peace and blessedness. The two gathered together, we have seen, are goodness and truth conjoined; the three signify a state that is full and complete, in consequently of the good in the will and the truth of the understanding being determined to action. The name of the Lord is his nature and quality, and is applied to whatsoever is truly from him, and by which, therefore, he is truly worshipped. And where there are such states as have been described, deriving their character from the Lord’s nature and quality, there is the Lord himself, with all his divine perfections, ever filling with his divine fulness what has been received, and eternally conjoining the happy subject of it with himself.
21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.
21 See Chapter XVIII., 15. A. 2360,
See Chapter XVIII., 15. E. 746.
21, 22. The number seven is holy on account of the fact that the seventh day signifies the celestial man, the celestial church, the celestial kingdom, and in the highest sense the Lord Himself. For this reason wherever it occurs in the Word the number seven signifies holy, or sacred, and the holiness or sacred-ness is predicated of the things or according to the things treated of. From this comes the signification of the number seventy, which comprehends seven ages—for an age in the Word is ten years. When anything most holy or most sacred was to be expressed it was said, seventy fold or seventy ti?7ies—as when the Lord said they should forgive their brother, by which is meant that they should forgive as many times as he sins, so that it should be without end or should be eternal—which is holy. A. 433.
That it is from the command of the church that everyone ought to forgive his brother, or neighbor is evident from the Lord’s words in Matthew. But with the Jewish nation it was ingrained that they should never forgive, but count as an enemy every one who had in any way injured them. A. 6561.
The Lord remits the sins of all men. He does not accuse and impute, but yet He cannot take them. away except according to the laws of His Divine providence, for since He said to Peter (verses 21-22); What will not the Lord forgive, Who is mercy itself ? P. 280.
I have heard out of heaven that the Lord remits to everyone his sins, and never talks vengeance, and does not even impute them, because He is love itself and good itself. Yet sins are not thereby washed away, for they are not washed away except by repentance. T. 409.
The Lord because He is mercy itself, remits their sins to all, nor does He impute them to anyone, for He says, they know not what they do, but still the sins have not therefore been taken away. T. 539.
Here to forgive seven times means to forgive as often as the offender should return, saying he repented, and thus at all times. E. 257.
Peter was instructed by the Lord concerning charity, that a brother was to be forgiven as often as he sinned. E. 820. 21-35.
See Chapter III., 8, 9. A. 1017.
See Chapter III., 8, 9. A. 2371.
21, 22. Peter, who had heard the Lord speak of one brother trespassing against another, now inquires of him, 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. Considered literally, the Lord here teaches unlimited forgiveness. He does not mean to inculcate forgiveness to a brother who is always sinning and repenting The Lord’s words are to be understood to inculcate a merciful and forgiving disposition, an ever readiness to forgive, in imitation of him who is mercy itself and forgiveness itself. The same truth is taught in a higher degree in the spiritual sense. Here, too, forgiveness is to be perpetual. The inclination of truth to good and of good to truth is to be constant, and the desire for union to be unceasing. The numbers seven and seventy times seven express the character of this forgiveness, as well as its extent and constancy. Seven is a holy number. And our Lord’s answer to Peter’s question implies that we are not only to forgive from the holy principle of faith, which Peter represented, but from the most holy feeling of love, which Jesus expressed, – for this name is expressive of the Lord’s love, as Christ is of his truth.
23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.
23-35. See Chapter III., 7. A. 4314.
23 The momentous lesson which the Lord delivered on the subject of forgiveness he now illustrates by a parable, and one of the most instructive and edifying that occur in the Word. Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. The king is the Lord, his servants are the human race; more specifically, they are the professing members of his church, who, being in possession of the Word, and thus in the knowledge respecting the Lord and their duties, are more peculiarly qualified to be his servants: and in the particular sense, all the principles which are from the Lord in the human mind. The king reckoning with his servants denotes a state of reflection, into which man is brought when regeneration commences, upon his spiritual state and his prospects in eternity, with the anxiety which arises upon a perception of his deficiencies, and of his consequent liability to eternal ruin. No one who has learnt from the Word something of his true state, of the eternal world, and of the innumerable benefits he has received from the Lord, can, if he ever reflects at all, avoid regarding himself in the light of a debtor who owes to the Lord all that he is or has. And when he reflects further upon the use he has made of the Divine mercies, he must be strongly blinded by self-love and pride indeed, if he does not feel how ill a requital he has made for such benefits, and how impossible it is that he should ever make such a requital for them as they deserve. When he reflects upon the matter, under the illumination of divine truth, he will perceive that, while the talents with which he has been intrusted have been confided to him for this one end – to enable him to attain eternal life and happiness – he has directed them chiefly to worldly and transient objects; and that though he may have laid up treasures for himself in this life, he is not rich towards God. Such must be the reflections of every man when first awakened to a serious consideration of the things of eternity. The excitement of such reflections as these, by an influx from the Lord himself, is the experimental form of the king’s reckoning with his servants.
24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.
25 But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.
26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.
28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.
24-28. The signification of tens — many, but in less degree because under hundreds. A. 8715.
24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. Its being said that one was brought unto him, denotes the first perception in the mind of man of the infinite obligation be owes to the Lord. This debtor owed his lord the debt before he was “brought unto him;” just as man has received from his birth immense natural and spiritual endowments, whether he ever reflects thereon or not; but the bringing the servant under the eye of his lord, in the character of a debtor to this great amount, expresses a vivid perception awakened in the mind of man of the state in which be stands.
25 It is found that the debtor, while be owes this incalculable sum has not to pay, which denotes the perception which man has in this state of trial – for such it is – of his nothingness and worthlessness. This is a perception that these talents have not been put into the bank, or employed in any other profitable way, so that the Lord, at his coming, might have received his own, and that with usury. The consequence is, that his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. This denotes a further perception, presented to the mind of man in this state, that he is liable to have all the ennobling excellences of his nature taken away, and to be consigned, a wretched slave, to the regions of eternal darkness; and that this must be his lot if he makes no better a return for the Divine bounties than he has hitherto done. The lord’s commanding the servant to be sold does not mean that the Lord is disposed to exact with severity all that is due to him – but it denotes a perception, on the part of man, that such consequences as are here stated must follow from a perseverance in a course of impenitence. Although the servant is a great debtor, yet he is considered as being still in the service of his lord; by which we learn that, notwithstanding man’s rebellion and ingratitude, still, until he has finally confirmed himself in his refusal to make that return to his bountiful Lord and Saviour which his mercy requires, he is regarded as being in his service – a subject of his kingdom. To be sold is to be entirely alienated from the service of so good a Master, which is perfect freedom, and consigned irrecoverably to the dominion of another master, all whose servants are most abject and cruelly-treated slaves; in other words, to be consigned to the dominion of hell and the powers of darkness. And not only is the servant himself to be sold, but his wife, and children, and all that he has. The man and his wife denote the two leading and general powers of the mind, which are the will and understanding – his children denote all the sentiments respecting what is good and true that are spontaneously produced in the mind from the activity of the will and the understanding; and all that he has denotes all determinations to action thence resulting, and everything of a lower degree that belongs to his mind. For these to be sold is to be for ever alienated from the Lord and his kingdom: it denotes a state in which the will is utterly incapable of loving anything but what is evil, which it regards as its only good, and the understanding is incapable of any apperceptions but what are fantastical and false, which it regards as true; and in which, whatever sentiments are produced by the activity of these principles are of the same perverted order, to which everything that has a place in the mind tends, and which it confirms.
26 The parable proceeds to describe representatively the effect produced in the mind – by the discovery that has been made to it of its state, and the dreadful ruin to which it is exposed by its neglect of the duties it owes in return for the great mercies received. This is expressed by its being said, the servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee, all. These words express the dread that has been excited by the view, before perceived, of the lost state in which man is while he remains immersed in merely natural pursuits, without any regard to higher things; and they also express the first commencement of a desire and attempt to make the return required by the Lord for his mercies, accompanied with most earnest supplication to him for a continuance of those bounties without which man can do nothing. The servant’s falling down before his lord denotes deep humiliation on the part of man before his God, with those feelings of the heart without which no real humiliation can exist, which are, that in and of himself he is utter worthlessness and helplessness. To worship the, Lord from this state is to acknowledge, with lively conviction, that all good is from him alone. To say to the Lord, “Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all,” is to entreat to be allowed to continue under the government, not of divine truth alone, as is the case with those who are condemned, but of the Divine goodness and mercy, being the result of a perception that nothing but pure mercy in the Lord can bear with the multiplied provocations of man. And to say, “I will pay thee all,” does not mean to undertake to cease to be a debtor to divine bounty, for this no man can do, and no man in the possession of his reason can think he can do it, but it denotes an engagement to make that return for boundless mercies which the Lord accepts as payment, – which is to appropriate by actual life the good which the Lord offers to our acceptance, living to him alone, or making the pure goodness and truth of which he is the author the supreme object of our affections, and referring all our mercies to him, in heartfelt gratitude and love.
27 Nothing, however, it is evident, was yet done by the convicted servant – this type of man in general – towards the payment of his debt, beyond entreaties and resolutions. But how were these accepted? Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. Here we have a true picture of the boundless universality of the Lord’s divine love and mercy towards every individual of the human race. Great as are our delinquencies, the Lord freely remits them all, not imputing our transgressions unto us. And this he in fact does whether we are sincere penitents or not, whether we remain immersed in our evils, or, in compliance with solicitations for our real welfare, we relinquish them, and accept his saving graces indeed. That such is the unbounded nature of the Lord’s mercy is evident from the part of the parable which now follows.
28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellow servants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. It is important to mark the transition of state here expressed by the significant act of the servant, after the tender scene that had taken place between him and his master, – the servant “went out.” All that has hitherto been recorded of the servant and his lord is descriptive of a transaction that had taken place in the mind; the conviction, the remorse, the prayer, the forgiveness, have as yet been acts of the inner man. The concurrence of the outer man is necessary to give effect and endurance to these inward operations – the thoughts and affections of the mind must be confirmed by the words and actions of the life. It is not how we think and feel, but how we speak and act, which determine our real state. How different may we be in our conduct, when we “go out” into the world, from what we are when within in our closet, – when the internal man, which is in immediate connection with heaven is active, and when the eternal man, which is in immediate connection with the world, is active! When it is so explicitly said of the servant that he went out, it is intended to express descent from an interior into an exterior state; and that in this state he was not prepared to bring the mercies he had experienced into act, and to exhibit that love and disposition to forgiveness which, he had just learned, dwell so infinitely in the breast of the Lord, whom man ought to take for his pattern, is evinced in the manner in which he immediately behaved. His fellow-servant whom he found denotes the external man as to the faculty of receiving divine grace from the Lord; for that the external man has also such a faculty must be evident, otherwise it never could be conformed to the image of the internal, and then man could never be regenerated and saved. The one hundred pence which this servant owed to the other, denotes the fulness of the capacity of reception in the external or natural man; the number one hundred denoting fulness, and a penny, or denarius, denoting what is peculiar to the natural man – all the truths suited to its nature, and, in fact, all its capacities and talents. The hundred pence, then, have a similar signification, in regard to man as a natural being, to that which the ten thousand talents bear to the whole man, more particularly when he is regarded as a spiritual being. And these hundred pence are said to be owing by this fellow-servant to the first, because all man’s capabilities as a natural being are designed to minister to his use as a spiritual being; or because all the endowments of the external man are designed to be subservient to the spiritual man, and are considered as the property of the internal. The second servant has the same relation to the first servant as the first has to his lord. As the internal man receives his gifts and endowments immediately from the Lord, the external man receives them immediately from the internal. Strictly speaking, the internal man receives his endowments from the Lord immediately, and the external receives his endowments from the Lord mediately through the internal; as we should say, the soul receives life directly from the Lord, and the body receives life from the soul. But the internal man has no more right to claim these endowments of the external man as his own, than he has to claim as his own those which he has received immediately from the same Divine source of all power and virtue. Yet this, we find, is what he does, and what man is prone to do. This claim is meant by its being said of the servant that he laid hold of his fellow-servant. And the way in which he laid hold of him was by taking him by the throat – literally, he strangled or choked him. How strikingly does this expression present to us what man does when he desires to possess the gifts and endowments of his natural man in a disorderly manner, not submitting them to higher ends, or enjoying them in dependence on the Lord! For the neck, as we have seen (v.8), denotes the communication between the internal and the external man; wherefore, whatever intercepts the passage by the neck from the head to the body represents the closing of the communication from the internal man; and as natural death results in the one case, so spiritual death results in the other. Such interruption, then, of the communication between the internal and external man is represented by the one servant taking the other by the throat, or choking him. And the words with which the merciless creditor accompanied his significant action, “Pay me that thou owest,” imply more explicitly still a demand on the natural powers for all the enjoyments they can give, and a determination to arrogate all the endowments of the natural man to ourselves, as if we had a right to indulge unrestrictedly in all the pleasures they can afford – as if to live as merely natural or animal beings where the sole end of our existence. In this state, also, whatever divine graces may have been internally received will all appear as if they belonged to the natural man; and hence, in the demand, “Pay me that thou owest,” is included an idea as if all that man had in any way received from the Lord were his own, and a claim to himself of merit for every good, whether real or apparent, that he possesses.
29 And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.
31 So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.
32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me:
33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?
34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.
35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
35 See Chapter XVIII., 15. A. 2360.
See Chapter XVIII., 15. E. 746.
29 But, it may be asked, is man, then, to make no use of his natural endowments? Are all natural pursuits prohibited by religion, all natural pleasures regarded by it as criminal? The Lord has given an answer – “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” The same doctrine of the allowableness of natural pursuits, when kept in subordination to spiritual ones, and that it is then only that man’s natural endowments are truly valuable to him, and afford him true enjoyment, is taught in the fellow-servant’s answer upon being thus roughly handled. It is said that he fell down at his feet, buy which is signified acknowledgment that the faculties of the natural man are designed for man’s use; and he besought him, saying, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all; being the same words as the other servant had used when called to account by his Lord. In that case they implied a determination and engagement on the part of the man to fulfil the duties required of him by the Lord; here the meaning must necessarily be modified to adapt them to the case of their being given to a fellow-servant, who denotes, not the man himself, but a certain faculty of the mind. Here, then they express the great truth, that man’s natural powers only render him their proper use when he does not arrogate them to himself, and apply them merely to minister to his natural man without regard to anything further. The request, “Have patience with me,” denotes a perception, which is even in this state communicated to man, that he is not to subject his natural endowments to this cruel bondage: and the promise, “I will pay thee all,” denotes the further perception that in this case he will derive from them that just use which they are given to afford – that when they are made subordinate to eternal ends, they convey the greatest delight that can be derived from them, at the same time that they conduce to the well-being and support of his internal man, and thus to man’s true happiness.
30 This limited, though in reality more full use of the faculties of the natural man does not satisfy the desires of man while he is in this external state: unless he makes his natural gifts his all, it appears to him as if they were nothing. This is represented when it is said of the first servant that he would not accede to his fellow-servant’s request. On the contrary, he cast him into prison till he should pay the debt; by which is meant, that when man regards external he continues to view these as his all he is always requiring of them more assistance in the prosecution of his gross pursuits than they are able to give. He deprives them of their proper liberty by turning them from their proper use, and continually regards them as his debtors, to whose service he has an unbounded right.
31 However, it appears, through the divine mercy of the Lord, that these abuses, which, if they continued unchecked, would destroy the man entirely, do not pass unnoticed, and divine means are employed to bring the sinner to a sense of his error. There are fellow-servants, we find, who note what is done, and who bring upon it the animadversions of the lord. These other fellow- servants denote all the truths which man has received in his mind and memory from the Holy Word, and from the Lord by means of the Holy Word, whether immediately or otherwise. By these the principle called conscience is formed in the mind, and with them and it, there is a communication still preserved with the Lord and heaven. For as man of himself is utterly corrupt and evil, it is evident that the Lord cannot communicate with anything that is man’s own; wherefore there are insinuated into the mind of every one knowledges of divine truth, and affections therewith conjoined, which are not man’s own, but are of the Lord with him. From this source it is that a sense of pain and remorse is often felt when man falls into the practice of evil, or confirms himself in the inclination of the natural man alone – and into these the Lord can flow, to operate what is necessary for man’s reformation, so far as he does not decidedly confirm himself against it: if he does, after a time, the truths received from the Word become in a manner abolished from his mind, and the remonstrances of conscience, having long been stifled, at last cease to be made. The pain then which is first felt when man plunges into evil and disorder, after his mind has been furnished with such knowledge from the Word as might teach him better, is denoted by its being said that the fellow-servants, when they saw what was done, were very sorry, their sorrow denoting contrariety between the man’s conduct and the dictates of divine truth.
32 But this not being sufficient to withhold him, it is necessary that he should be subjected to a severe discipline, which is denoted by the servants telling their lord, and his rebuking and punishing the servant. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me. This evidently denotes the perception communicated to man of the enormity of his conduct – a conviction of the judgment which is based upon it by the Divine truth; and bitter indeed are the pangs of conscience which are endured by this conviction. “O thou wicked servant.” What can this imply, when pronounced by the Lord, but a declaration and discovery of his own utter depravity and liability to eternal ruin! And what can it imply as apprehended by man but a perception of the corruption of his entire nature both by inheritance and choice – a perception that in himself he is indeed nothing but evil! “I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me.” This evidently is a bringing to mind of the pure mercy of the Lord, which giveth liberally and upraideth not, and which is such as requires nothing of man but a desire on his part to receive it. This is introduced to point out what is the conduct which is plainly the duty of man, and without a compliance with which even the boundless mercy of the Lord is not sufficient for his salvation.
33 For the Lord adds, Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow-servant, even as I had pity on thee? This instructs us that man is to make charity the rule of his conduct as to his external man, even as the Lord acts from love towards him, and is willing to communicate charity to his internal man. Certainly nothing can be stronger, more pathetic, more impressive, than the mode in which this remonstrance is stated in the literal sense. It is impossible to convey in a more forcible manner the precept, that man is to cultivate in his bosom the feelings of charity and forgiveness. And to remind him of this duty, he has the Lord’s divine words before him, “I forgave thee all that debt.” Does it not assure him of the constant presence of the Divine mercy, love, and forgiveness, from whence he may take as much as is sufficient to enable him also to act under the principle of love, and so to remove his evils that they may be forgiven or remitted indeed.
34 The consequence of man’s not doing so is stated in its being said, His lord was wroth. Such expressions do not mean that there really are any vengeful passions in the Source of all good, but by such language the contrariety between the state of the wicked and the Lord’s divine love is what is intended, and their inability to view him such as he really is, because they do not receive his love in their own heart and minds – for it is always through the medium of his own state that man forms his interior ideas of the Divine nature. So, by the expression of the Lord being wroth, we are taught that when man plunges into evil, or desires to enjoy the powers of his natural man to promote merely selfish designs, he so averts himself from the Lord that he can no longer, as before, enjoy an inward perception of him as a God of love, remitting his debts and deficiencies. Before this can be restored, states of severe temptation are to be undergone for it is only by means of temptations that evils can be removed from the affections, so that the heart shall lust after them no longer. This process is what is described by its being said that the lord delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. The payment of all that was due unto him, in this view of the subject, is that species of payment which is that alone which the Lord requires, which consists in the grateful acceptance of the Lord’s mercies, the appropriation of them to the use for which they are given, and the return of all to the Lord, in the sincere acknowledgment that all are from him. But should man determine to continue in the confirmation of his evils, then these words describe, not the temptations by which evils are removed, but the desolations by which he is deprived of every real good which he had received, and every noble faculty which he had abused; and the payment of the debt is then to be understood in the other sense which we have seen it bears, that of the resumption, as it were, by the Lord, of all the endowments which man continues to pervert. When once evil has been confirmed in the mind, it can only be removed by the discipline of temptation – and removed it must be before good can become predominant, and the man prepared for a state wherein good ever reigns. So when once any good or truth has been received in affection, and confirmed, it only can be removed, if evil obtains the mastery, by desolations; and it must be removed before the wretched victim can be consigned to his final home in the abodes of darkness; and if it cannot be removed, it is because a state of profanation has been induced, which is attended with worse horrors even than one of unmixed evil.
35 Since, even at the best, evils once confirmed can never be removed from the interiors but by painful temptations, how strongly should come home to us the divine words with which the Lord makes the application of his parable, So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses. In the natural sense this teaches us that we cannot be in the reception of the Lord’s love towards ourselves, but in proportion as we are in the exercise of charity towards others. And, spiritually, we are reminded by it of the necessity of putting away evils, by man himself, in order to their removal and remission by the Lord. In the Lord’s prayer we are desired to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors:” thus the forgiveness of debts forgive by us is prescribed as the measure of the forgiveness which will be awarded to us by our Divine Judge; and we are in the strongest manner forbidden to look for forgiveness on any other ground, when we are even commanded in our prayers to recognize the unalterable nature of this rule of the Lord’s divine order. The meaning is, that so far as we have ourselves power over our conduct and inclinations, we are to regulate them by the dictates of the laws of eternal truth and goodness. Now we have such power over all that belongs to our natural man. We can control our actions so as to refrain from the commission of actual evils. We can control our inclinations and thoughts so far as not to encourage and willfully dwell upon such tendencies or imaginations as we know to be evil. So far as this, we can spiritually forgive our brother his trespasses we can make good or charity our rule of action, and remit or remove whatever would violate it. So far then our heavenly Father will forgive our trespasses; will remit or remove the tendencies and lusts towards evil which exist in our interior, and will pass upon us eventually the judgment of charity and mercy.
AUTHOR: EMANUEL SWEDENBORG (COMPILED BY ROBERT S. FISCHER AND LOUIS G. HOECK 1906)
COMMENTARY AUTHOR: WILLIAM BRUCE (1866)
PICTURES: JAMES TISSOT Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum