Mt 18 Unmerciful Servant



23″Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents[g] was brought to him. 25Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. 26″The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. 28″But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. 29″His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ 30″But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. 32″Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35″This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” (MATTHEW XVIII. 23-35.)


The law of spiritual life is use. The good that we love, and the truth that we think, become ours, for actual life, only in the degree that we act from them, and thus embody them in our conduct. The point of the parable is the illustration of this law of spiritual life, as it applies to the principle of mercy, or forgiveness of others. “Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.” “With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” And this law is not an arbitrary rule, like the enactment of a legislature, but a spiritual principle of human life.

It is said of the Lord, “With the merciful Thou wilt show Thyself merciful.” And the reason is plain; those who see and appreciate the Divine mercy, are those who adopt it as a principle, and act from it. They can understand the Lord’s love, in the degree in which they feel and act from a similar love, in their dealings with men. And, on the other hand, those who have no appreciation of the character of the Divine Love, are those who, in their own lives, are not making any effort to live from any such love.


Peter asked, “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.” Possibly Peter may have had in his mind the Lord’s words, “if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times a day turn to thee, saying, I repent, thou shalt forgive him.”

In the traditions of the Jewish elders, no man was required to forgive any injury more than three times, to the same person. And Peter probably had the common idea of the natural mind, that, as every repetition of an offence makes the offence worse, there must come a time when the offender goes beyond any claim to be forgiven. Some such principle is adopted in the criminal law of many countries.


And the Lord’s answer must have greatly surprised Peter. “Seventy times seven,” or four hundred and ninety times, was so great a number, that mentioned as it was, it clearly meant that men are to forgive others indefinitely, always, without counting the number of times. For the very idea of counting the times involves a natural desire to hold one’s wrath until the offender passes the limits, and then to punish him.

But the Lord taught Peter, (and also, through Peter, He taught all men,) that our forgiveness of others does not depend on the number of their offences, but on our own states of mind; and that we are to cultivate a forgiving disposition, which loves to forgive, for the good of the other person. What we need, then, is not to count how many times we have forgiven a person, but to see that any unforgiving disposition is evil, and that it must be put away, in the regeneration.


“Seven” is a representative number, denoting what is holy. And “seventy times seven” emphasizes this holy spirit of love to all men, which should influence us, in all our dealings with others. “Be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect;” i. e., be moved by a similar perfect and unselfish love to men.


“The kingdom of heaven” is the regenerate and heavenly condition of mind and life. The king is the Lord, as the Divine Truth, ruling in the general heavens, and in the particular heaven of every regenerate mind.


The” servants,” with whom He reckoned accounts, are the human race. Men become truly the servants of the Lord, as they live in love, faith, and obedience to Him. To” reckon” with men, or adjust their accounts with Him, is to test the quality of their minds and lives; to show what principles are actuating them. This the Lord does, in each man, inwardly, and by means of the truth sown in the man’s mind. The King takes account with his servant, when the man, properly instructed in the truth, reflects upon the quality of his own mind and life.

Every wise man does this. And a “reckless” man is one who acts impulsively, without reflecting that a reckoning is to come. When the man reflects, it is the Lord who takes account, because the Lord moves every regenerating man to reflect upon the quality of his own character, and upon the influences that are bearing upon him.


There is some uncertainty about the exact value of the talent, because talents were of silver, and of gold, and they differed in value, at different times. But, in any view of the case, the amount of ten thousand talents was enormous, equaling several million dollars. And the value is intended to represent the immense and unlimited debt. which we all owe to our Lord, for all His mercies to us. Literally, the reference is probably to the deputy of the king, a ruler of some province, who owed his position to the king, and who, therefore, paid tribute; as, in our day, for instance, the ruler of Egypt has been subject to the sultan of Turkey.


Every regenerating man reflects upon what he owes to the Lord. And he sees how greatly he is indebted. Of course, much of this debt existed from the man’s birth; but the man did not previously recognize it. And now, as he sees his indebtedness, he recognizes the fact that he has not, in his life, paid all his debts to the Lord; that he has lived for himself, and for the world, rather than for the Lord, and for his fellow-men.

And he sees that, as far as his own exertions are concerned, he is hopelessly in debt, and utterly unable to pay all that he owes to the Lord; “he had not [the means] to pay.” He sees that, of himself, he cannot live as he should live, to pay his spiritual debts; that he cannot save himself, and must depend on the mercy of the Lord.


But, “his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made ;” that is, the reflecting man sees that he is not, naturally, so living as to discharge his debts to the Lord, but that he is naturally tending downwards, to the hells, by a life of selfishness. And he is conscious that, unless he shall pay his debt of acknowledgment, gratitude and obedience to the Lord, he will be condemned by his own evils.

Thus, to be “sold,” would be to come into such a degenerate state, that his understanding would be fixed in false ideas, and his will in evil affections, and his life in sin; and that all his possessions, mental and physical, would be used for self, and for the unholy life of evil. As an illustration, it is said of Ahab, “There was none like unto Ahab, who did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord.” In this state, the man will lose all that he could hold dear, spiritually; all that he thinks he has, of goodness, truth and uses.


The” man” represents the understanding; and his” wife” represents the will; and his” children “are the affections and thoughts born of the union of his will and understanding. “All that he has,” are all the external things which belong to his natural mind and life. These are sold, sold into servitude, or slavery to evil, when they are alienated from the Lord, and devoted to self.

The reflecting man recognizes this downward tendency of his natural disposition. Seeing his condition, he is alarmed, and pleads for mercy, acknowledging his debt, and, his desire and intention to pay it, in time, and to devote himself to doing so; that is, he expresses his desire and intention to keep the Lord’s commandments, and thus to change his character, under the Lord’s direction, and by His mercy.

His willingness to pay his debt, if possible, and when possible, represents his desire to be governed by the Divine Love, which is merciful, rather than to be judged by the rigid law of truth, which seems to be hard.


These things are meant by the words, “Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.” The man sees that, by the law, he is condemned, and that nothing except the Divine Love and Mercy can help him, He does not expect to be able to pay all the debt he has owed to the Lord, in the past: but he intends to make such amends as he can, by now doing all he can do; i. e., he will try to live as he should live. He will remember the Lord’s mercy and he will try to feel, think and act towards others, as he now asks the Lord to do towards him: i. e., he will try to act from love and mercy, and not from rigid truth, separated from love: and not to hold others to a stricter account toward him, than he now asks the Lord to do, in dealing with him.


And the Lord recognizes the man’s condition, and aids him. As the man sees the Lord as a King, as the Divine Truth, reckoning with His servants, he is led to see and acknowledge his own debt to the Lord; and then, as he determines to do his best to pay that debt, this acknowledgment of the Lord, and of the man’s indebtedness, and his determination to keep the Lord’s commandments, now reveal to him a new phase of the Lord’s character, His Divine Love and Mercy. “The Lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.”

The man’s consciousness of his condition, and of his needs, produced humiliation, and a change in disposition. And these changes opened the man’s mind to a clearer perception of the real character of the Lord. For the Lord is always “moved with compassion.” But the letter of the text, being representative, does not utter spiritual truths in clear doctrines, but gives the outward and representative picture, accommodated to man’s natural mind.


All that the man can do, to pay his debt, is to renounce the dominion of his self-love; to deny himself; and to take up the cross, and follow his Lord, by keeping the commandments, and looking to the Lord for support in his efforts. Thus the man unites himself, in heart, with the Divine Love, which is Infinite Mercy. Then he is brought into spiritual liberty; i. e., the Lord looses him from the debasing slavery to his evils. And then the Lord forgives him the debt, because the man willingly gives to the Lord the life which he acknowledges to be clue to the Lord.

These operations go on in the inward mind, in the spirit of the man. But the man has not yet made himself secure in this principle of forgiveness, because he must yet carry it out in his own conduct, and thus confirm it as his own. If he would make an opening for the Divine Love to operate in his heart, he must, in his dealings with others, allow the Divine Love to move him, and to control his action. He must be as merciful, and as patient, to others, as he sees the Lord is to him. As he does this, heaven will flow into him, and through him, to others.

But, if he does not do so, he acts from self-love, and then the Divine Mercy can not bless him, because he tries to keep it, for himself, alone. For the moment a man tries to use the Divine Mercy selfishly, and for himself, only, that moment he stops the flow of the Divine Mercy into his own heart, because he changes the character of what he receives from the Lord.

Thus the Divine Mercy can bless a man, only in so far as it can flow through the man, to others. For the characteristic quality of the Divine Mercy is the love of giving good to others. And when the man selfishly refuses to use the Divine Mercy, in his dealings with others, he destroys, in himself, the characteristic quality of that mercy.


Thus, as the man declines to allow the Divine Mercy to fill him with its characteristic spirit, and to make him merciful to others, he stops the inflowing of the Divine Mercy into himself; and, being left without the blessing of that mercy, he is remanded to prison ; i. e., he takes himself back into the hell which his own selfishness makes. Thus, “the same servant went out, and found one of his fellow-servants, who owed him a hundred pence.”

That he “went out,” from the presence of the king, means, spiritually, that he went out from communion with interior principles, in his spirit; he “went out” into his external, his natural mind and thought. When he was in an interior state, he could see the Divine Love, forgiving men. But now he goes “out” he begins to think and act in his external mind and life. Anyone can make good resolutions, when he sees spiritual principles; but only the regenerating man keeps these resolutions, when he goes “out,” into the common affairs of his outward life.


The “fellow-servant” of the spirit, is the natural man, the natural mind. The spirit serves the Lord, and the natural mind serves the spirit, in the name of the Lord. Thus the spiritual mind and the natural mind are also fellow-servants, serving the Lord. The natural mind owes obedience to the spirit, and to the Lord. This is its debt of one hundred

pence: all it can do. This debt is very small, in comparison with the spirit’s debt of ten thousand talents; because the natural mind can do very little, and on a very low plane, towards what the spirit can do. The mercies of our natural life, though they place us in debt, are much less, in quantity and in quality, than the mercies of our spiritual life.

The amounts of the two debts ate intended to show the vast difference in the value of the two parts of our life. They show, also, how great must be our Lord’s forgiveness towards us, in comparison to any forgiveness which we can show towards others.


But the insincere natural man does not appreciate these facts. He has gone “out” from the Lord’s presence in interior truths. The man” laid hands on” his fellow-servant, who owed him, “and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me what thou owest.” The man, thinking in his outward mind, demands that his natural mind and life shall furnish him all the pleasures he desires. He forgets that his natural life, also, should be given to the Lord.

The neck is the communication between the head, representing interior things, or the spirit, and the body, representing exterior things, or the natural mind. Life from the brain flows through the neck, into the body. To “choke,” or stop, that inflowing life, is to kill the body.

And, in the mind, the analogous operation is to choke, or stop, the inflowing of the spiritual mind into the natural mind. And the man, thus spiritually choking his natural mind, also chokes the flow of the Lord’s life into his spirit. ” Pay me that. thou owest,” is a demand to indulge in the delights of self-love, and to make the natural mind cater to the evil appetites of the man.


“And his fellow-servant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.” The natural mind acknowledges its duty to the spirit; it sees its duty to live by the commandments, at the bidding of the spirit. But, if we make our natural mind live a sensuous life, separated from the Lord, and opposed to His commandments, we throw our natural mind into prison, into the bondage of evil, which is hell. This is what the servant did, in the text, when he refused to show mercy to his fellow-servant.


“So when his fellow-servants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.” These upright fellow-servants are the truths in the natural memory, and in the conscience; truths which have been received from the Word of the Lord. These are very sorry; they produce remorse; they show the opposition between the man’s life and the Lord’s commandments. They accuse him to the Lord. Then the lord, the king, called the unmerciful servant, and rebuked him; i. e., the Lord, by means of conscience, shows the man his present state; as one of evil, and of ingratitude.


“And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was clue unto him.” The man, averting himself from the Lord, in his life, ceased to see the mercy of the Lord; and then he supposed that his sufferings were induced by the Lord, to punish him. And before he could again see the Lord’s real character, he had to undergo temptation-combats against his own inclinations to evil.

Thus, when the man inwardly knows the mercy of the Lord, and yet outwardly feels inclined to be unmerciful to his fellow-men, he will be subject to temptations, until he pays his debts; i. e., until he yields obedience to the laws of spiritual life; until he gives up self-love, and accepts the Divine will, as shown through his regenerating spiritual mind.

He must keep his own natural mind and life in order, as of himself; and then the Lord will keep his spiritual mind in order. For the natural life is the base, on which our Lord builds up our spiritual life. Our Lord will inwardly fill us with every spiritual principle that we will practise in our outward life. ” Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

Every time we show an unforgiving spirit, we condemn ourselves, more than we condemn the other person. Even while we are complaining of the evils in the other person, we keep ourselves in worse evils. We have an opportunity to see our evils, but we lose our opportunity, when we see the evil in the other person, and do not see our own evils.


We must not, of course, mistake what is meant by mercy. Mercy does not mean indulgence of the evils of others, under a false external tenderness, which allows evils to go unchecked, until they burn out the spiritual life. Genuine mercy is spiritual; it is training the man for heaven, by training him out of his natural hell.

Mercy relates not only to our acts, but also to all our feelings and thoughts towards others. We are unmerciful, when we judge others by a stricter standard than that by which we desire ourselves to be judged. We are unmerciful when we cherish any unkind feelings or thoughts towards others.

Before we can come out of the prison of our natural evils, we must feel, think and act towards others, from pure, unselfish love; and this, no matter what their character may be. We must love to lead them out of evil, for their good. And to lead them, we must walk in the way, ourselves. We cannot drive anyone out of evil, while we are, ourselves, walking in the way of evil.

The Lord always forgives all men; He has no feeling of unforgiveness. But no man can receive the practical benefits of the Lord’s forgiveness, until in his own life, he acts from a similar forgiveness towards others. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”


When our sins are forgiven by the Lord, they are not washed away, but only removed to the outside of our life. We are withheld from them, by the power of our Lord, and with our co-operation, while we are willing to be so withheld. But, if we cease to do good, and fall back into evil, we fall back into the power of evil, into the prison which our evils make for us.

Only the mercy and power of the Lord withhold even the angels from evil. And the angels, knowing this, desire the Lord to lead them, and to withhold them from evil. But the devils are devils, because they will not allow the Lord to lead them out of evil, and to withhold them from evils. The angels know that, without the Lord’s help, they would be miserable. But the devils think they would be happy, if the Lord would only allow them to do as they please. Thus what the angels see as Divine Mercy, the devils think to be cruelty. “With the merciful, Thou wilt show Thyself merciful”


The unforgiving spirit was one of the prominent evils which brought the Jewish dispensation to an end. So important is the principle of forgiving others, that it is the one point in the Lord’s Prayer, which is repeated by the Lord, immediately after the prayer. Thus it is brought into marked prominence, as the principle which practically sums up the spirit of that model prayer.

For, why should we pray for mercy which we do not use towards others? If a man will not do to others as he asks the Lord to do for him, he condemns himself by the same truths by which he seeks to condemn others. Men cannot do anything for the Lord, except as they do good to their fellow-men. “Inasmuch as ye have clone it unto one of the least of these, My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.”


This parable illustrates the law of Divine forgiveness. It shows the falsity of the old doctrines of “Vicarious Atonement,” and justification by Faith, Alone.” The old idea was that the debt must be paid, by some one, because justice so demands. But, in the parable, the debt was not paid; it was forgiven. Arbitrary Justice was not satisfied. And, on the other hand, the sin was not wiped out, by any arbitrary mercy; but Divine Mercy operated upon the man, according to his state. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die,” because sin is death.

In the parable, though the debt was forgiven, yet the man was afterwards cast into prison, for not forgiving his fellow-servant.

But the fact is, the man was not imprisoned by the Lord, but by his return to his own evils, which imprisoned him in sin. It appears, to the natural man, that the Lord punishes him, because he cannot see that his punishment is the necessary result of his own evils.

The Lord asks no atonement for our sins; He asks us to abandon our disposition to sin, and our practice of sin. And as we inwardly hate evil, and outgrow it, and love and do good the Lord’s love can enter into our life. No arbitrary forgives call change our character. Opening all the prisons would not make the criminals better men. Nor would it make them any more truly happy; it would only allow them to plunge further into evil, and into the sorrowful results of evil.

Divine forgiveness is as constant, and as eternal, as Divine Love. But forgiveness does not take away a man’s disposition to do evil. But when the man sees his evil natural condition, and acknowledges it, and looks to the Lord for help, the Lord’s power can enter into the man, and inwardly uphold him, because he opens his will, his understanding and his life, to the Divine Influence. And then the Lord can withhold the man from evil; and can help him to say, “I have kept myself from mine iniquity.”

The man can use the Lord’s power to help him, only so long as he is willing to co-operate with that power.

Divine Mercy is not, in any case, from any change in the disposition of the Lord towards the sinner, but in the disposition of the sinner, himself. When the sinner looks to the Lord, in love, the Divine Mercy can do, for the sinner, and in him, what the man would not, before, allow it to do, but what it was always seeking to do.

Divine forgiveness is not a thing of the past, nor merely of the future, but of the present. If we now are withheld from evil and sin, it is because we now acknowledge our weakness, and accept the Lord’s aid, and keep his commandments. We are sustained, at each moment, by the life which momentarily comes to us from the Lord. The law of spiritual life is use. What we use is ours; what we neglect, we lose.

Author: Edward Craig Mitchell 1887