Christ's Object Lessons
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 19: The Measure of Forgiveness
Based on Matt. 18:21-35
Peter had come to Christ with the question, "How oft
shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till
seven times?" The rabbis limited the exercise of forgiveness
to three offenses. Peter, carrying out, as he supposed,
the teaching of Christ, thought to extend it to seven, the
number signifying perfection. But Christ taught that we
are never to become weary of forgiving. Not "Until seven
times," He said, "but, Until seventy times seven."
Then He showed the true ground upon which forgiveness
is to be granted and the danger of cherishing an
unforgiving spirit. In a parable He told of a king's dealing
with the officers who administered the affairs of his
government. Some of these officers were in receipt of vast
sums of money belonging to the state. As the king investigated
their administration of this trust, there was brought
before him one man whose account showed a debt to his
lord for the immense sum of ten thousand talents. He had [p. 244] nothing to pay, and according to the custom, the king
ordered him to be sold, with all that he had, that payment
might be made. But the terrified man fell at his feet and
besought him, saying, "Have patience with me, and I will
pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with
compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.
"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. And his fellowservant fell down at his
feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and
I will pay thee all. And he would not; but went and cast
him into prison, till he should pay the debt. So when
his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very
sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.
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: shouldest not thou also have had
compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?
And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors,
till he should pay all that was due unto him."
This parable presents details which are needed for the
filling out of the picture but which have no counterpart
in its spiritual significance. The attention should not be
diverted to them. Certain great truths are illustrated, and
to these our thought should be given.
The pardon granted by this king represents a divine
forgiveness of all sin. Christ is represented by the king,
who, moved with compassion, forgave the debt of his
servant. Man was under the condemnation of the broken
law. He could not save himself, and for this reason Christ
came to this world, clothed His divinity with humanity,
and gave His life, the just for the unjust. He gave Himself [p. 245] for our sins, and to every soul He freely offers the
blood-bought pardon. "With the Lord there is mercy, and
with Him is plenteous redemption." Ps. 130:7.
Here is the ground upon which we should exercise
compassion toward our fellow sinners. "If God so loved
us, we ought also to love one another." John 4:11. "Freely
ye have received," Christ says, "freely give." Matt. 10:8.
In the parable, when the debtor pleaded for delay, with
the promise, "Have patience with me, and I will pay thee
all," the sentence was revoked. The whole debt was
canceled. And he was soon given an opportunity to follow
the example of the master who had forgiven him. Going
out, he met a fellow servant who owed him a small sum.
He had been forgiven ten thousand talents; the debtor owed
him a hundred pence. But he who had been so mercifully
treated, dealt with his fellow laborer in an altogether
different manner. His debtor made an appeal similar to that
which he himself had made to the king, but without a
similar result. He who had so recently been forgiven was
not tenderhearted and pitiful. The mercy shown him he
did not exercise in dealing with his fellowservant. He
heeded not the request to be patient. The small sum owed
to him was all that the ungrateful servant would keep in
mind. He demanded all that he thought his due, and carried
into effect a sentence similar to that which had been so
graciously revoked for him.
How many are today manifesting the same spirit.
When the debtor pleaded with his lord for mercy, he had
no true sense of the greatness of his debt. He did not
realize his helplessness. He hoped to deliver himself.
"Have patience with me," he said, "and I will pay thee all."
So there are many who hope by their own works to merit
God's favor. They do not realize their helplessness. They [p. 246] do not accept the grace of God as a free gift, but are trying
to build themselves up in self-righteousness. Their own
hearts are not broken and humbled on account of sin, and
they are exacting and unforgiving toward others. Their [p. 247] own sins against God, compared with their brother's sins
against them, are as ten thousand talents to one hundred
pence —nearly one million to one; yet they dare to be
In the parable the lord summoned the unmerciful debtor,
and "said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee
all that debt, because thou desiredst me; shouldest not thou
also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I
had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered
him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due
unto him." "So likewise," said Jesus, "shall My Heavenly
Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not
every one his brother their trespasses." He who refuses
to forgive is thereby casting away his own hope of pardon.
But the teaching of this parable should not be misapplied.
God's forgiveness toward us lessens in no wise our
duty to obey Him. So the spirit of forgiveness toward our
fellow men does not lessen the claim of just obligation. In
the prayer which Christ taught His disciples He said,
"Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." Matt.
6:12. By this He did not mean that in order to be forgiven
our sins we must not require our just dues from our debtors.
If they cannot pay, even though this may be the result of
unwise management, they are not to be cast into prison,
oppressed, or even treated harshly; but the parable does
not teach us to encourage indolence. The word of God
declares that if a man will not work, neither shall he eat.
(2 Thess. 3:10.) The Lord does not require the
hard-working man to support others in idleness. With many
there is a waste of time, a lack of effort, which brings to
poverty and want. If these faults are not corrected by those
who indulge them, all that might be done in their behalf
would be like putting treasure into a bag with holes. Yet
there is an unavoidable poverty, and we are to manifest
tenderness and compassion toward those who are unfortunate. [p. 248] We should treat others just as we ourselves, in like
circumstances, would wish to be treated.
The Holy Spirit through the apostle Paul charges us:
"If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any
comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels
and mercies, fulfil ye my joy, that ye be like-minded, having the
same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing
be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of
mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look
not every man on his own things, but every man also on
the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was
also in Christ Jesus." Phil. 2:1-5.
But sin is not to be lightly regarded. The Lord has
commanded us not to suffer wrong upon our brother. He
says, "If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him."
Luke 17:3. Sin is to be called by its right name, and is
to be plainly laid out before the wrongdoer.
In his charge to Timothy, Paul, writing by the Holy
Spirit, says, "Be instant in season, out of season; reprove,
rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine." 2 Tim.
4:2. And to Titus he writes, "There are many unruly and
vain talkers and deceivers. . . . Wherefore rebuke them
sharply, that they may be sound in the faith." Titus 1:10-13.
"If thy brother shall trespass against thee," Christ said,
"go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if
he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. 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. 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."
Our Lord teaches that matters of difficulty between
Christians are to be settled within the church. They should [p. 249] not be opened before those who do not fear God. If a
Christian is wronged by his brother, let him not appeal to
unbelievers in a court of justice. Let him follow out the
instruction Christ has given. Instead of trying to avenge
himself, let him seek to save his brother. God will guard
the interests of those who love and fear Him, and with
confidence we may commit our case to Him who judges
Too often when wrongs are committed again and again,
and the wrongdoer confesses his fault, the injured one
becomes weary, and thinks he has forgiven quite enough.
But the Saviour has plainly told us how to deal with the
erring: "If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him;
and if he repent, forgive him." Luke 17:3. Do not hold
him off as unworthy of your confidence. Consider
"thyself, lest thou also be tempted." Gal. 6:1.
If your brethren err, you are to forgive them. When
they come to you with confession, you should not say, I [p. 250] do not think they are humble enough. I do not think they
feel their confession. What right have you to judge them,
as if you could read the heart? The word of God says,
"If he repent, forgive him. And if he trespasses against
thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn
again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him."
Luke 17:3, 4. And not only seven times, but seventy times
seven—just as often as God forgives you.
We ourselves owe everything to God's free grace.
Grace in the covenant ordained our adoption. Grace in the
Saviour effected our redemption, our regeneration, and our
exaltation to heirship with Christ. Let this grace be
revealed to others.
Give the erring one no occasion for discouragement.
Suffer not a Pharisaical hardness to come in and hurt your
brother. Let no bitter sneer rise in mind or heart. Let no
tinge of scorn be manifest in the voice. If you speak a
word of your own, if you take an attitude of indifference,
or show suspicion or distrust, it may prove the ruin of a
soul. He needs a brother with the Elder Brother's heart of
sympathy to touch his heart of humanity. Let him feel the
strong clasp of a sympathizing hand, and hear the whisper,
Let us pray. God will give a rich experience to you both.
Prayer unites us with one another and with God. Prayer
brings Jesus to our side, and gives to the fainting, perplexed
soul new strength to overcome the world, the flesh, and the
devil. Prayer turns aside the attacks of Satan.
When one turns away from human imperfections to
behold Jesus, a divine transformation takes place in the
character. The Spirit of Christ working upon the heart
conforms it to His image. Then let it be your effort to
lift up Jesus. Let the mind's eye be directed to "the Lamb
of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." John
1:29. And as you engage in this work, remember that "he [p. 251] which converteth the sinner from the error of his way,
shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude
of sins." James 5:20.
"But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither
will your Father forgive your trespasses." Matt. 6:15.
Nothing can justify an unforgiving spirit. He who is
unmerciful toward others shows that he himself is not a
partaker of God's pardoning grace. In God's forgiveness the
heart of the erring one is drawn close to the great heart
of Infinite Love. The tide of divine compassion flows into
the sinner's soul, and from him to the souls of others. The
tenderness and mercy that Christ has revealed in His own
precious life will be seen in those who become sharers of
His grace. But "if any man have not the Spirit of Christ,
he is none of His." Rom. 8:9. He is alienated from God,
fitted only for eternal separation from Him.
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It is true that he may once have received forgiveness;
but his unmerciful spirit shows that he now rejects God's
pardoning love. He has separated himself from God, and
is in the same condition as before he was forgiven. He has
denied his repentance,and his sins are upon him as if he
had not repented.
But the great lesson of the parable lies in the contrast
between God's compassion and man's hardheartedness; in
the fact that God's forgiving mercy is to be the measure of
our own. "Shouldest not thou also have had compassion
on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?"
We are not forgiven because we forgive, but as
we forgive. The ground of all forgiveness is found in the
unmerited love of God, but by our attitude toward others
we show whether we have made that love our own. Wherefore
Christ says, "With what judgment ye judge, ye shall
be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be
measured to you again." Matt. 7:2.
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"Gain that is Loss"