Matthew 18Notwithstanding our blessed Saviour had so often told his disciples that his kingdom was not of this world, yet they still dreamt of a temporal and earthly kingdom, which he, as the Messias, should shew forth the glory of; in which there should be distinct places of honour and offices, one above another; and accordingly, at this time, the ambition of the disciples led them to enquire of our Saviour, who should have the chief place of honour and dignity under him in that his kingdom, who should be the principal officers of state; concluding it must be some of them, though they could not agree who were fittest for those high posts of honour and service.
Learn hence, that the best and holiest of men are too subject to pride and ambition, to court worldy dignity and greatness, to affect a precedency before, and a superiority above, others: the disciples themselves were tainted with the itch of ambition, which prompted them to enquire of their Master, Who should be the greatest in his kingdom of the church?
Our Saviour intending to cure this pride and ambition in his disciples, first preaches to them the doctrine of humility, and to enforce his doctrine he sets before them, a little child, the proper emblem of humility; assuring them, that unless they be converted, or turned from this sin of pride and ambition, and become as a little child in lowliness of mind, and contempt of worldly greatness, they cannot be saved.
Learn hence, 1. That no sins are more odious and abominable in the sight of God, than pride and ambition; especially amongst the ministers of the gospel.
Learn, 2. That persons already converted, do stand in need of farther conversion: they that are converted from a state of sin, may want to be converted from a particular act of sin: this was the disciples case here; they were turned from a course of sin, but they wanted conversion from a particular act of sin; to wit, from ambition.
Learn, 3. That conversion, though sincere, may be very imperfect. Converts still have remains of corruption, some lust often breaking forth, which they must take special care to resist and subdue.
As if our Lord had said, "That the apostle, or that minister, who thinks as meanly of himself as a little child, and is humble and lowly in his own esteem, he deserves the highest place of dignity and honour in my church."
Note, That the truly humble person, who is freest from affecting pre-eminency, is most worthy of the highest dignity and eminency in the church of God: and in the account of Christ, the way to be honourable is to be humble. "Before honour is humility."
Our Saviour having declared, that the humblest persons should be always highest in his esteem; he next declares how exceeding dear and precious such christians are to him, who resemble little children in humility of heart, and innocency of life: assuring the world, that whatever kindness and respect is shewn to such for his sake, he reckons shewn to himself; and all the disrespect and unkindness which is offered to them, be accounts as done unto himself: so near is the union, and so dear the relation, betwixt Christ and his members, that whatever good or evil is done unto them, he reckons as done unto himself.
Two things are here observable:
1. The necessity of scandalous offences: It must needs be that offences come:
2. The misery and mischief that comes by them: Woe unto the world because of offences: Woe unto such as give offence; this is va indignantis, the woe of one denouncing; and woe to such as stumble at offence given, this is va dolentis, the woe of one lamenting.
From the whole, Note, 1. That scandals, or offensive actions in the church of Chrsit, will certainly fall out among those that profess religion, and the name of Christ. Offences will come; Their necessity is partly from the malice of Satan, partly from the wickedness and deceitfulness of men's own hearts and natures, God permitting those to have their natural effects.
2. That scandalous and offensive actions from such as profess religion and the name of Christ, are baneful and fatal stumbling-blocks to wicked and worldy men.
3. That the offence which wicked men take at the falls of the professors of religion, to the hardening of themselves in their wicked practices, is matter of just and great lamentation; Woe unto the world because of offences!
This command of Christ is not to be understood literally, as if it were our duty to maim our bodily members; but the exhortation is to cut off all occasions that may betray us into sin; and to mortify our darling and beloved lust, though as dear to us as our right eye.
Learn, 1. That sin may be avoided. It is our duty to avoid whatever leads unto it, or may be the instrument or occasion of it.
2. That the best way to be kept from the outward acts of sin, is to mortify our inward affection and love to sin. If our love and affection to sin be mortified, our bodily members may be preserved, for they will no longer be weapons of sin, but instruments of holiness.
Observe here, 1. A cautionary direction given by Christ to the men of the world concerning his members; Take heed that ye do not offend one of my little ones; that is, that ye do not undervalue and neglect, much less injure and afflict, them.
2. A reason assigned, Because their angels being constantly and immediately in the presence of God, are perpetually ready to execute his will, by revenging any wrongs and injuries done unto his friends and children.
Learn, 1. What is the office and employment of the glorious angels; namely, to be the immediate attendants upon the royal person of the supreme King and Sovereign of the world.
Learn hence, 2. In what esteem good men are with God, and what a mighty regard he has for the meanest of his children, that he commits the care and preservation of them to the holy angels, who are nearest to him, and in highest favour and honour with him.
It is St. Jerome's note upon this place, That great is the dignity of these little ones, seeing every one of them from his birth hath an angel delegated to preserve him. But though others think that the opinion of a tutelary angel, or of one particular angel's having the custody of one particular saint, as his continual charge, has not a sufficient foundation in the holy scriptures! yet all the angels in heaven are ministering spirits unto them; and though they do not always attend upon their person (for they stand before the face of God) yet it is to to receive his commands, either to help them in their exigencies, or punish those that injure them.
How our Saviour continues his argument against giving offence to his children and members; he came into the world to redeem and save them; therefore none ought to scandalize and offend them. And to illustrate this, he compares himself to a good shepherd, who regards every one of his sheep; and if any wander or go astray, he seeks to recover it with desire and joy.
Learn, 1. That the natural condition of mankind is like to that of wandering sheep; they err and go astray from God their chief good, and the object of their complete happiness.
2. That it was the work and business, the care and concern, of Jesus Christ, to seek and recover lost souls, as the shepherd doth his lost sheep.
3. That the love and care of Christ towards his sheep, in seeking to save and to preserve them, is a forcible argument unto all, not to scandalize and offend them, much less to persecute and destroy them.
In these words our Saviour gives us an excellent rule for the duty of fraternal correction, or brotherly admonition.
Where note, 1. That brotherly reproof and admonition is a duty incumbent upon church members.
2. That it may be administered successfully, it must must be administered privately and prudently.
3. When private admonition prevails not, Christ has appointed church-governors, to execute church-censures on the obstinate and irreclaimable.
4. Persons justly falling under the censures of the church, and rightly excommunicated, are to be looked upon as obstinate and contumacious offenders, and the members of the church to shun society and conversation with them: If he neglect to hear the Church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man, and as a publican was among Jews; wholly neglected, and not thought fit to be conversed with.
That is, whomsoever the officers of my church shall justly excommunicate upon earth, shall, without repentance be shut out of heaven; and whosoever upon their true repentance, shall be absolved on earth, shall be absolved in heaven.
Learn, That Christ will ratify in heaven whatsoever the church assembled doth in his name upon earth; whether to the censuring of the guilty, or the absolving of the penitent. This power of binding and loosing is by Christ committed to his church.
Here we have a gracious promise made by Christ of his presence with all his members in general, and with is ministers in special; whenever they meet together in his name, that is by his authority, in obedience to his command, and with an eye to his glory. Whenever they celebrate any sacred institution of his, or execute any church-censures, he will be in the midst of them, to quicken their prayers, to guide their councils, to ratify their sentence, to accept their endeavours.
Learn, 1. That Christ will be graciously present with and amongst his people, whenever they assemble and meet together in his name, be it ever so small a number.
2. That Christ will, in a special manner, be present with the guides and officers of his church, to direct their censures, and to confirm the sentence passed in his name, and pronounced by his authority upon obstinate offenders.
Here St. Peter puts a question to our Saviour, how often Christians should forgive offences to their brethren professing repentance: Christ answers that there should be no end of our mutually forgiving one another, but we are to multiply our pardon as our brother manifests his repentance. Not that we are hereby obliged to take the frequent offender into our bosom, and to make him our intimate; but to lay aside all malice, and all thoughts and desires of revenge, and to stand ready to do him any office of love and friendship.
Learn, 1. That to fall often into the same offence against our brother, is a great aggravation of sin, so the multiplication of forgiveness is a great demonstration of a God-like temper in us. He that multiplies sin, doth like Satan, sin abundantly; and he that multiplies pardon, doth, like God, pardon abundantly.
Our blessed Saviour, to enforce the foregoing doctrine of mutual forgiveness, propounds a parable; the main scope of which is to shew, that unless we do actually forgive and pass by injuries done to us, we cut ourselves off from all interest in God's pardoning mercy, and must expect no forgiveness at the hands of God.
From the whole, Note, 1. That as we all stand in need of forgiveness from God, so likewise of forgiveness from one another.
2. That we all stand bound by the laws of our holy religion, to forbear and forgive one another.
3. That Almighty God has made the forgiving one another, the certain and necessary condition of his forgiving us.
4. That such as are inexorable towards their brethren, shall find God Almighty hard to be intreated towards themselves. We may expect the same rigour and severity from God, which we shew to men.
5. That the freeness of God's love in forgiving us, ought to be both an argument to excite us to forgive one another, and also a rule to direct us in the manner of forgiving each other.
Doth God forgive us when he has power in his hand to punish us? So must we when we have ability and opportunity for revenge. Doth God forgive universally all persons? So must we all provocations. Doth he forgive us freely and willingly, heartily and sincerely? So must we; we must be as forward in forgiving, as they in provoking.
Learn from the whole, The equity of unlimited forgiveness of our brother, because our God and Saviour forgives us more numerous and heinous sins than our brother is capable of committing against us. Let all unmerciful and unchristian creditors remember this text, who cast poor men into prison for debt, who have nothing to pay; surely he who bids us lend, looking for nothing again, will not allow us to imprison where nothing can be hoped for.
It is to be feared, such will find but little mercy hereafter, who have shewed no mercy here; for it at the great day such shall be condemned as did not visit Christians in prison, what will their condemnation be, who cast them into prison?
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