This parable of Matthew 18 is introduced by a question from the apostle Peter concerning how often he should forgive an erring brother. His question is hard on the heels of Christ's words concerning how to deal with problems within the corporate body. Apparently this discourse of Jesus prompted Peter to consider what his options may be when he was offended personally by a brother. As we see in verse 21 of Chapter 18 Peter came to Jesus and said "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?"
In other words Peter is trying to place a limit on the amount of forgiveness he must extend to an offending brother. The rabbis taught that a person was only obligated to forgive three times. Hence, Peter seems to think that he is being quite generous, perhaps overly generous, when he asks the Lord if he should forgive until the seventh time he is imposed upon. After that he can hold a grudge if he likes.
Jesus quickly pops Peter's balloon when he says that he must forgive not only seven times but up to 70 times seven. Now, there is some dispute as to whether Jesus said 70 times seven meaning 490 or whether he meant 77. In any case the issue is not the literal number. It is the idea of continual forgiveness. In fact, we miss the point that Jesus trying to make if we get hung up on the number he intended here It's not an issue of 490 times versus 77 times it is an issue of limited forgiveness because of our self centeredness versus unlimited forgiveness because we esteemed someone more highly than ourselves. As we are going to see when we look at this parable, forgiveness cannot be meted out or measured out as if it is a commodity in short supply. The point is that stinginess and forgiveness are opposed to one another. Forgiveness must be extended with no concern for one's personal rights.
Additionally, this parable will introduced us to the concept of God's forgiveness granted to us as a tremendous debt expunged. We will also see that self-interest is the enemy of true forgiveness and is in fact evidence of tremendous hubris. Finally this parable warns us that if we disdain the tremendous debt we are forgiven and refuse to let go of our tremendous hubris we can expect that tremendous punishment will be inflicted.
Our passage reads:
Then Peter came to Him and said, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, 'Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.' Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. "But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, 'Pay me what you owe!' So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.' And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?' And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. "So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses." (Matthew 18:21-35)
Tremendous Debt Forgiven
In reply to Peter's question concerning how often he should forgive, Jesus tells him that he should forgive and forgive and forgive - that he should not be concerned with meeting out of forgiveness. He continues his answer by telling a parable that would be certain to grab the attention of his audience power way.
It begins by saying this is how God rules. Or we can understand it as meaning that the kingdom of God has become like this. In other words in a messianic reign inaugurated by the first advent of Jesus Christ this is what you need to know about the kingdom. So, in light of your question (as Jesus), I'm going to graphically illustrate how the kingdom of God works and how God rules specifically in this area of forgiveness.
It begins by telling about a certain man a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. There are plenty of folks (in light of the amount of money involved here), who have trouble accepting the fact that the king in Jesus' story is dealing with mere slaves. Many, if not most, commentators suggest that these slaves are simply service in that they are civil service employees charged with collecting taxes. But that is what Jesus says. These are people and specifically one person with tremendous debt owed to a king. These are private individuals and people just like Peter - people just like you and me who have a relationship with a mighty king and do all that sovereign and unfathomable amount of money.
And so the king summons his slaves before him to settle the accounts and there is one slave to close the king can thousand talents. Now we need to get a perspective on this. You give us an idea of what we're talking about leading to understand that the typical daily income was one dinar. So the man work six days a week he would receive six denarii every week and in order to earn a single talents he would have to work 1000 weeks. In other words 20 years of labor would earn one talents. Therefore, in this parable this particular slave owes 200,000 years of income to the king.
Jesus' goal here is to shock his audience. There is absolutely no way this man or any other common labor could earn this kind of money. Even at his peak Herod the Great was able to pull in around five or six talents a year. Now, I am defining these terms denarii and talent in terms of labor rather than try to translate them into a dollar denomination. Frankly I don't think discussion of millions of dollars has much of an impact in this day and age when our federal government routinely passes spending bills in the billions with an aggregate of trillions of dollars. Therefore I am not going to worry about what a dinar is worth or a talent is worth in terms of modern American money. Suffice it to say that 200,000 years of labor is far more than any individual could comprehend then or now.
So the king calls his slaves to account and finds that this particular slave owes him the equivalent of thousands of lifetimes of labor. There is absolutely no way this man could pay it back. And Jesus doesn't tell us how he happened to accumulate this kind of debt. That isn't his point. Remember, in a parable there is a single point or a couple of points that we need to get a hold of. What Jesus wants us to see is that this servant, the slave owes a tremendous debt to the king. It is a debt that he has absolutely no hope of paying back.
The king says well then since you campaign is back I will at least have the satisfaction of reading the earth of your putrid presence. Therefore the king commands that a man and his family and everything he owns to be sold - not to pay the debt because that's not possible, but to simply bring the servants sorry existence to a conclusion. Of course the servant doesn't take this lying down. Or maybe I should say he does take it lying down because he throws himself before the master and claims that if the king has patience he will be able to pay everything back. This is obviously untrue but the king, moved with compassion, releases the slave and forgives his debt completely.
In his elation the slave skips from the presence of the king in search of someone with whom he can share his all-consuming joy. Well, actually upon leaving the throne room of the master he seeks out a fellow slave who owes the paltry sum of a hundred denarii. In other words this man owes him a view months wages. The slave who has just experienced an unbelievable expression of compassion grabs the man by the throat and demands his money.
The fellow slave responds with words very much like the words that the first slave had used while speaking to the king. Nevertheless the forgiven slave will not budge and has his fellow servant thrown into prison.
Word gets back to the king and the king recalls his unrepentant slave, calls him wicked, and reminds them that "I forgave you all that debt because you begged me." He continues and asks the slave a rhetorical question, saying, "should you not also have compassion under fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?"
The end result is that the master is very angry and he turns the slave over to the torturers until he should pay all that was due him. In other words he will be subject to torment forever because he cannot pay this tremendous, unbelievably large, debt.
Christ closes this parable with the very sobering statement that "my heavenly father also was due to you each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses."
One question we might ask is if whether this is a picture of the last judgment. I don't think so. In fact, I believe that the summons to the master should be understood as a response to the Gospel message. In any case we don't want to get bogged down in details when we look at a parable.
So if this man is responding to the Gospel message it means that previous to this point he was unaware of his debt. Yes, he knew deep down inside that he owed this money but he did his very best to go through his day to day life acting as if the debt did not exist. It also calls is that mankind in his natural state strives to hold down any awareness of God and any sense of responsibility to him (Romans 1:18–FF).
Hence, by some means this man is made aware of his debt. He is brought to the feet of the master. He hears the Gospel of Jesus Christ and understands that he is a sinner in need of a Savior. This summons to the master could be through the personal witness of a friend or relative. It could be through the reading of the Bible on his own. Very likely it is through the preaching of the Word by a minister of the gospel. The point is that by some means the Gospel is presented to this man and he is brought to the feet of his master. And yes it is his master. God is the creator and therefore the master of all things.
But how is it that the Gospel can make someone aware of the tremendous debt they owe the Father in heaven? How is it that the Gospel can call someone to account? Well, it only happens when a sinner is confronted by the whole counsel of God.
All too often the "gospel" as presented in this modern age falls short of the full Gospel message. It is more like a Betty Ford clinic advertisement or a 12 step program designed to meet the felt needs of the inquirer. All too often what is presented as the Gospel message is focused on solving personal problems and has little or nothing to say about sin except in broad generalizations.
However, the true gospel is a presentation of the cosmic state of affairs. The true Gospel starts with an introduction of the law and so very clearly presents mankind as sinners at war with God. The true gospel presents to those in need the fact that they are sinners in two ways. First they are sinners because they have inherited a sin nature from Adam and secondly they are sinners because of their personal sense.
The first idea has been debated for ages. There are plenty of people even within the church at large to claim that man is naturally good. They suggest that the mind of a child is a blank slate that is acted upon by the environment and that any problems (those pesky little issues that the fundamentalists like to call sins), can be solved by cultural and educational remedies.
The true gospel is diametrically opposed to this kind of foolishness. You see, when Adam's sin he did so as an individual and as the covenant or federal head of mankind. He acted on behalf of the entire human race. We might see that we didn't want him to do that. We might say that it was up to us we would want to have our own crack at life in paradise. After all, who's to say that Adam had the "right stuff" to withstand temptation from a talking snake. Well, it doesn't really matter how we feel about the issue. And I can assure you, we would fare no better then Adam in that particular contest. In any case we must accept the fact that we have been burdened with Adam's failure whether we like it or not.
Think of this way: when our president declares war on a hostile nation he takes the entire country into the conflict with him. He doesn't personally suit up, grab his AR and march off to war by himself. Instead he and on our behalf and establishes a condition of war which touches upon every life in the Commonwealth. For some this state of affairs is more obvious. They are in the military and so they may find themselves on the front lines are in a support position near the actual conflict. Yet the state of war is true for every citizen of these United States.
This principle has a far more profound impact when it is realized in the spiritual or covenantal arena. Adam initiated conditions of war against the creator. We have every reason to believe that he made personal peace later but once the hostilities had commenced there was no turning back. There was no turning back because Adam was not in a position to meet the conditions of peace once hostilities had commenced. He was able to start a war - much like the an anarchist might ignite hostilities between two nations because of his foolish actions. But just like that nihilist Adam was unable to bring the hostilities to a satisfactory conclusion. Again, there is no reason to believe that Adam was excluded from the covenant relationship because of his failure to obey the creator; the war he began continued nonetheless.
So every human being is at war with God as long as they remain in their natural or a damaged state. In that natural state mankind is in active rebellion against God whether they want to be or not. The truth is, every human being wants to be at war with God (in their natural state) is, in that every human being is unwilling to submit to God. They may consider their rebellion to be mild and meet an absence of all fractious attitude or behavior. But that's just their point of view. According to God's viewpoint their condition is one of in repentance hostility toward the creator of the universe.
The second sin issue has to do with the personal lawlessness of every human being. Every man woman and child personally violates God's law. As Paul says in Romans chapter 3,
What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. As it is written: "THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NO, NOT ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS; THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS AFTER GOD. THEY HAVE ALL TURNED ASIDE; THEY HAVE TOGETHER BECOME UNPROFITABLE; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, NO, NOT ONE." "THEIR THROAT IS AN OPEN TOMB; WITH THEIR TONGUES THEY HAVE PRACTICED DECEIT"; "THE POISON OF ASPS IS UNDER THEIR LIPS"; "WHOSE MOUTH IS FULL OF CURSING AND BITTERNESS." "THEIR FEET ARE SWIFT TO SHED BLOOD; DESTRUCTION AND MISERY ARE IN THEIR WAYS; AND THE WAY OF PEACE THEY HAVE NOT KNOWN." "THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES." (Romans 3:9-18)
In thought, word and deed we sin daily against Almighty God. We may think of ourselves as "good people." We may claim that we "never sin" because we do not do the things that normally land people in jail. Yet, our standard of right and wrong is pitiful in comparison to God's standard of morality. The Bible says that sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4), and that is defined according to God standard not ours.
Thereby we owe in unfathomable debt of obedience to God. It is a debt that is beyond reckoning. We have offended God by our sin and rebellion, by our shaking a fist in his face and claiming that we know best. Man in his natural state is at war with God and in his lifetime accumulated tremendous burden of sin that he can not ever hope to repay. In God's eyes are sin is filthy nuts and putrid mess which he will not put up with.
However according to Jesus Christ the kingdom of God has become like what we see in this parable. Christ has come and has retired our debt to the satisfaction of heavenly Father. Because of what Jesus Christ has done the kingdom of God is like this. The deeply offended master is willing to forgive his slaves because of what Jesus Christ has done.
Those who hear the full Gospel (I don't mean the Pentecostal version), understand that they have a tremendous debt they cannot pay and upon realizing this fall at the feet of the master and beg for forgiveness. They understand how horrible their situation is. They aren't interested in meeting their felt needs or in boosting their self-esteem. Instead they are terrified because of the state of affairs and they cry out for mercy. When they hear the full Gospel message they understand that there is no way he in heaven or earth that they can pay for what they have done and so they will be punished in the absence of some form of relief. When they hear the full Gospel message they understand that it is only in Jesus Christ that they can receive that forgiveness.
Thus the master writes the debt off based upon the payment made by the eternal Son. But how is this possible? Well, it is possible because Jesus Christ is the second - the last - Adam and only he is able to meet the conditions which make for peace. Jesus Christ meets all the criteria necessary to come to terms with the creator. For instance he is really human and therefore can be a true representative of mankind. Secondly he is truly sinless and so does not need to be concerned with his own tremendous debt; he has no debt of sin. Thirdly he is actual royalty and is therefore an appropriate leader and head of the human race.
Without these things there would be no relief in this life or the next. Without this work of Jesus Christ there is no life for our mortal bodies in this realm through the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11).
Jesus is the ultimate man and therefore the kingdom of God is like this; the master is willing to forgive our tremendous debt for the sake of Jesus Christ. This is how God rules in the messianic age. He is a forgiving and merciful God even though we can do nothing, absolutely nothing to redeem ourselves.
Having received forgiveness the slave exits the throne room in a state of overwhelming self-confidence and self-centeredness. Yes he has heard the gospel and yes he has responded to that message of salvation but as we will see, the truth has penetrated only skin deep. His heart was not touched and he is not truly born-again.
You might say this is the point of contact with Peter's question concerning how long he was required to forgive, how much forgiveness he was required to extend. Well, Jesus is teaching by a negative example in this case.
In the parable that Jesus presents we see a man who responds to the Gospel and experience as a sense of relief. He understands the concept of salvation in Christ and so he feels as if his guilt is been removed and his debt has paid. But there is something terribly wrong here.
This man retains bitterness and I'm forgiveness in his heart even though the slights against him are nothing at all compared to the tremendous debt he was forgiven by the master. Because of his overweening hubris and self-interest this fellow actually seeks out another slave who owes him a paltry sum. Perhaps he believes that he has gained new insight because of he religious experience and so now he is able to recognize justice and injustice. In any case he remembers the slights against him and so he goes in search of this one who has offended him in some fashion.
Upon finding this fellow servant he demands that he make things right. In other words, he will no longer forgive this fellow slave because, after all, he's already used up the seven times (or whatever), that is reasonable to expect. And you will note that Jesus does not suggest we must forgive only when the one causing offense has a repentant heart. Here the idea is that forgiveness must be extended no matter what. However the slave refuses to let go of the situation because in his eyes his rights have been violated and justice demands that he received his pound of flesh from this fellow servant.
This is murder according to Matthew 5:21–26. Indeed, rather than try and reconcile with his brother this arrogant slave seeks him out to demand his due and resorts to violence in order to extract what he believes is owed him. This is the character of unforgiveness.
The response of this fellow slave should resonate with the one who was forgiven so much. His fellow servant uses words much like his own and begs for time to pay back the loan. In other words this second slave is of a repentant heart. He wants to make things right with this first man but the first slave is not of a mind to listen.
In a nutshell what was done for this first servant apparently made no real impact on his heart. He continues to live a life of self-interest blind to the fact that he has the duty to imitate the actions of the Master. Those who act out of self-centeredness always justify any attitude and any action or any judgment they might make. Their arrogance and self-interest blinds them to true justice and makes them certain that they are in the right no matter what the circumstance may be. As we see in the parable everyone else can see the truth. But the one to ask out of this tremendous hubris is certain that justice, common sense, logic and all that is right is on their side. They'll express this point of view in a variety of ways.
They may say that the action of the offender impacts other people not just themselves. In other words instead of self-interest they try to portray themselves as the defender of the common good. They suggest that holding the sword over the head of this one who seeks forgiveness is necessary because it needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.
By the way this should alert us to the fact that democracy is opposed to forgiveness and in a very real sense democracy is second only to outright tyranny in his potential for justice. Many people believe that our nation was founded as a democracy but the fact is it was founded as a republic. Democratic politics naturally lead toward purity as the majority eventually finds its voice in a single representative who claims the power of the people as his mandate and eventually moves to destroy all dissent.
Now then, in our example here this self-interested party will accumulate evidence, details that they used to convince themselves that the other party does not enjoy the same extenuating circumstances which justified their own forgiveness. In other words, the person with an attitude of self-interest will always find excuses for their own behavior which allow for their own forgiveness but the other person is never given this kind of leeway.
Moreover the person with this tremendous hubris will find unrighteous motivation in the other party while giving himself the full benefit of the doubt for their behavior. They place themselves in a special category due to their own circumstance there overwhelming burden or hardship. They claim to be in a special category due to their insights, their maturity or wisdom. The list could go on and on. In any case, this man who received the tremendous gift of forgiveness remains in his natural state and therefore is unable to extend the forgiveness to another. He will find thousands of ways to justify his behavior and will resist all efforts to bring correction.
In the parable the arrogant slave finds that his behavior lands him in trouble because his fellow servants tell the master about what has happened. Frankly this is simply a device to change the scene back to the throne room and we don't need to try and find significance in the symbolism here. We might ask ourselves if this is a picture of the final judgment. Most likely that is what is meant here but once again we cannot allow ourselves to be bogged down in details. Jesus fired this parable off without explanation and expected the tremendous contrasts to drive home his point. He wasn't interested in delivering a theological discourse on a variety of issues; he was interested in the topic of forgiveness.
In any case the man finds himself before the master once again. The master reiterates what had been done for him; "I forgive you and incalculable debt against God and forgave your life long war with the Creator. Your behavior is like a clay pot attacking the one who made it, spitting in his face and refusing to submit." All of this the master forgave the slave. Nonetheless this one who received such incredible forgiveness refused to show compassion to his fellow servants. Instead as the master reminds him, he is totally self-absorbed and disinterested in the circumstance of anyone except himself.
The result is that the master becomes angry and condemns them to eternal punishment. The parable says that he will be there until he pays it back but as I mentioned earlier there is no pain backed such a huge debt. By the way, the NIV says that he is turned over to the jailers but in the Greek it says that he's turned over to the tormentors. Thus, once again we see that the Bible teaches us that those who are outside of the covenant relationship will be condemned to eternal torment in hell (Matthew 25:46, Mark 9:47 - 48).
The kicker (if I may use the term), is that Jesus claims this is what will happen to his audience if they do not forgive their brothers from the heart. This has startling implications for Christian soteriology. A cursory reading of this text may lead us to believe that Jesus is teaching works salvation. We might look at this parable and come to the conclusion that our forgiveness from God depends upon our forgiving others. But at rock bottom this is not the case. There is nothing in the scripture that should make us think we can somehow earn our salvation. We cannot earn our salvation with works of righteousness. We cannot earn our salvation with works of compassion. We cannot earn our salvation with works of charity. There is nothing we can do to pay this tremendous debt. That is exactly what Jesus is saying here. If we keep the entire parable in mind we will realize that this debt of 200,000 years of labor cannot be eliminated because we forgive a fellow slave of one month's worth of labor. Our rebellion and sin is immeasurable and there is nothing we can do to alleviate our guilt.
In order to better understand what Jesus has in mind here we need to look back at Matthew 5:3–10. There we see the four couplets - the Beatitudes - which remind us that as a new creation we have a particular character. As a new creation we are those who are poor in spirit and know as much. Because of the new birth we truly mourn over sin. If we are in Jesus Christ we are a meet before God and hungry and thirsty for the things of the kingdom, the things of righteousness. As a new creation we are merciful and we show mercy because we have a pure, undivided heart toward God. Those who have come under the Lordship of Jesus Christ are peacemakers seeking to bring others into this peaceful relationship and finally we are a persecuted people as well.
Thus mercy and forgiveness are part of the character of the new creation. Jesus covers this ground in other portions of his sermon on the Mount including the principle that "whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, but this is the law and the prophets" (Matthew 7:12). This principle is developed throughout the New Testament and is expressed by the apostle Paul in these words:
Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, "YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY," "YOU SHALL NOT MURDER," "YOU SHALL NOT STEAL," "YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS," "YOU SHALL NOT COVET," and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:8-10)
"Love is the fulfillment of the law." Love does no harm to a neighbor." If we are truly born again then we will find it in our hearts to forgive an erring brother. If we are a new creation we will have compassion, we will be merciful and we will do everything we can to imitate our Lord Jesus Christ.
And what exactly is happening in this parable? Well, let me see if I can illustrate this with my own parable. There once was a man who bought an electric heater and took it home to use in his bathroom. He get out the instructions and saw that it was a bad idea to fill the bathtub with water, plug the heater into the wall and then set the appliance on the edge of the bathtub while it was plugged in and operating. However the man decided that he knew better so he filled the bathtub with water plug the heater into the wall turn it on and set it on the edge of the bathtub while he was climbing into the top he jostled the heater it fell in the water and he died electrocution.
Now, any reasonably intelligent person would read the instructions and realize that he didn't want to run the risk of electrocution by misusing the heater. And my parable is designed to teach by way of negative example. Hopefully all of you are reasonably intelligent and so you will take pains not to misuse your electric heater like the fellow in the parables. This is something like the parable Jesus told. Instead of reasonable intelligence he is assuming the new birth. In other words those who have experienced a new birth will heed this warning and turn away from the peril. Those who have not experienced the new birth (those without reasonable intelligence in the parable of the electric heater), will ignore this warning and continue on in their self-centered ways.
Throughout the entire scripture we see instructions given to the elect designed to turn them away from the perils of the unregenerate life. These warnings and instructions will be ignored by those who have not embraced Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. On the other hand, those who have experienced the new birth will take the word of God to heart and be guided in the power of the Holy Spirit along the path of righteousness.
There are those who might say that I am simply trying to force this text to fit my a priori notions but that is not the case. My goal is not to try and maintain the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. I am not interested in teaching that if you are truly saved you cannot lose your salvation if it is not found in the pages of Scripture. For instance in John 10:28–30 we read:
My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand. I and My Father are one." (John 10:27-30)
Again, Philippians 1:6 the Apostle Pauls says,
being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; (Philippians 1:6)
Paul in his second letter to Timothy says:
For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day. (2 Timothy 1:12)
And in Hebrews 7:25 we read:
Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25)
We can multiply references but the point is been made. Beyond direct statements of Scripture we may also draw from inferential proofs such as the doctrine of election and our mystical union with Jesus Christ to satisfy our questions concerning the idea that if we are saved we are always saved.
Finally, as we read in the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 17:
17:1 They, whom God hath accepted in His Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally, nor finally, fall away from the state of grace: but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved (Joh_10:28, Joh_10:29; Phi_1:6; 1Pe_1:5, 1Pe_1:9; 2Pe_1:10; 1Jo_3:9).
17:2 This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father (Jer_31:3; 2Ti_2:18, 2Ti_2:19); upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ (Luk_22:32; Joh_17:11, Joh_17:24; Rom_8:33-39; Heb_7:25; Heb_9:12-15; Heb_10:10, Heb_10:14; Heb_13:20, Heb_13:21); the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them (Joh_14:16, Joh_14:17; 1Jo_2:27; 1Jo_3:9); and the nature of the covenant of grace (Jer_32:40): from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof (Joh_10:28; 2Th_3:3; 1Jo_2:19).
17:3 Nevertheless, they may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins (Mat_26:70, Mat_26:72, Mat_26:74); and, for a time, continue therein (Psa_51:14 and title): whereby they incur God's displeasure (2Sa_11:27; Isa_64:5, Isa_64:7, Isa_64:9), and grieve His Holy Spirit (Eph_4:30), come to be deprived of some measure of their graces and comforts (Psa_51:8, Psa_51:10, Psa_51:12; Son_5:2-4, Son_5:6; Rev_2:4), have their hearts hardened (Isa_36:17; Mar_6:52; Mar_16:14), and their consciences wounded (Psa_32:3, Psa_32:4; Psa_51:8), hurt and scandalize others (2Sa_12:14), and bring temporal judgments upon themselves (Psa_89:31, Psa_89:32; 1Co_11:32).
Although we do not stand on any confession in place of the word of God, it is helpful to look to the wisdom of the past to strengthen our faith in the present.
In a nutshell this parable is given to believers to warn them away from the peril of unforgiveness. This one who is the subject of the Master's displeasure was not born again. He was a seat in the stones of the thorns which never came to maturity. This is because he had experienced a measure of grace, what we call common grace or perhaps what I have termed intermediate grace. His heart was warmed but he was not re-created in the image of Jesus Christ. Instead he tasted the good word but remained in his rebellion and thus fell away being utterly lost (Hebrews 6:4–6, 10:23, 26–31). If we keep in mind the fact that the Bible uses plenty of negative examples in order to guide us down the path of righteousness (don't act like this because this is how the unregenerate act), it will be easier for us to interpret the meaning of this type of parable.
Thus we must be willing to forgive from the heart. We must willingly exercise loves even if we don't feel like it. Extending forgiveness may not "feel right" at first; but as we walk out the life of obedience we will find that we become more and more like Jesus Christ and that we express the character qualities of mercy and forgiveness more naturally with each passing day.
Summary and Application
I would encourage you to take time to meditate upon the incalculable debt that Jesus Christ has paid on your behalf. One of the things that we need to do is learn to see sin as God sees it. Obviously we can never fully do this. However, if we ask God for his point of view concerning sin we will begin to see how horrible our lawlessness is in the sight of God.
We must also take pains to cultivate the new creation and to demonstrate the rule of Jesus Christ in our life by expressing mercy, love and forgiveness to our brothers and sisters in the Lord. We should be quick to forgive; we must not hesitate to extend forgiveness to others. If a brother has something against us we need to be the one to take steps to reconcile with that brother or sister. In short we must cultivate a Christlike attitude of self-sacrifice and learn to esteem others more highly than ourselves (Philippians 2:1–5).
Finally I would suggest that we must take time to study the behavior of the unregenerate - as presented in the Bible - and studiously avoid that kind of behavior. By no means should we look to the example of the world in order to discover the kind of behavior God is displeased with. It is the Bible that provides us with the mind of God concerning the behavior of the unsaved. We need to be sure that we learn from these negative examples presented in Scripture and thereby cultivate the new creation and demonstrate the rule of Jesus Christ in our life in a way that is pleasing to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
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