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An Exposition Of The Gospels by The Most Rev. John Macevilly D.D.

In this chapter, our Lord rebukes the ambitious aspirations of the Apostles, and shows the means of attaining true greatness hereafter, viz., humility (1–4). He next shows how dear the humble are to Him—also the crime of scandalizing them, and the dreadful punishment awaiting the scandalous sinner—and the sacrifices which, therefore, should be made sooner than he guilty of it (5–9). He adduces other reasons to dissuade us from giving scandal to our brethren—their angels will be witnesses against us (10). The Son of God Himself died to save those whom we destroy (11), and by the touching parable of the lost sheep, He shows how the scandalous sinner opposes the earnest will of God to save sinners (12–14). Our Lord next points out the mode of administering correction (15–20); and, in reply to Peter. He points out the duty of pardoning an offending brother, be his offences ever so numerous (21–22). By a very interesting and moving example, He points out the necessity of our pardoning our offending brethren, from our very hearts, their trifling offences against us, after the example of God, who has so often pardoned our most grievous offences against His Divine Majesty (23–35).

1. “At that hour,” &c. On His way to Capharnaum (17:23), we are informed by the other Evangelists (Mark 9:33; Luke 9:46), that the thought entered the minds of His Apostles—a thought to which they gave expression by disputing among themselves—who among them was destined to occupy the first place in His kingdom. When they arrived at His house in Capharnaum, our Redeemer, knowing their thoughts and disputations, questioned them about their disputations in the way. They, probably, from a feeling of shame, were silent (Mark 9:33). Then our Redeemer sat down, and, called together the twelve. They then took courage, knowing that their inmost thoughts and disputations in the way were known to Him, and proposed the question here recorded by St. Matthew. This they proposed in a general way, out of a feeling of modesty, without any particular reference to themselves. “Who, thinkest Thou, is the greater?” &c. From the above account, the apparent contradiction between the Evangelists is easily reconciled. The three Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, record the entire transaction, each recording a part. Luke records the commencement of the dispute; Mark, what occurred next, viz., when our Redeemer questioned them regarding it; and St. Matthew, the last part of it, when the Apostles wished to have the question solved by our Redeemer Himself.

That hour,” refers to the time they were at Capharnaum, when the occurrence regarding the payment of the tribute money took place. “Hour,” frequently denotes time in SS. Scripture; thus, “the last hour,” denotes the “last time.”

What it is that occasioned this dispute about priority is uncertain. Some say, it was occasioned by the privilege conferred on Peter, of paying the tribute money. But, this dispute occurred on the way, before Peter was thus honoured. Others assign different reasons. The most probable opinion seems to be, that it was occasioned by the reference made by our Redeemer to His resurrection, which they regarded as the commencement of His glorious reign, when He was to distribute the chief places in His new kingdom to His followers. On other occasions, when reference is made by Him to His resurrection, we find similar disputes about precedency to arise, (20:20, &c.; Luke 22:24, &c.) Not unlikely, different claims to precedency were put forward in behalf of several candidates. In behalf of some, priority of call to the Apostleship; of others, blood relationship with the future king, as in the case of the sons of Zebedee; of others, the communication of more intimate secrets by our Blessed Lord, as in the case of James the Greater and John; and, in John’s case, the manifestation of greater affection by our Lord; while, in behalf of Peter, might be alleged, besides some of the foregoing claims, the special promise made by our Divine Redeemer not long before, (16:17, &c.)

In the kingdom of heaven.” This is understood by Maldonatus of the Church militant—1st. Because our Lord clearly rebukes them for affecting precedence in this kingdom; now, he says, it would be no fault whatever in them, to desire the highest place in heaven. Again, the occasion of the dispute was, according to him, the preference shown to Peter, which had reference to the Church on earth. Others hold, that it refers to heaven; since it is of this our Redeemer treats in His reply (v. 3). The most probable opinion is, that the Apostles refer to the kingdom of the Messiah after His resurrection. While still imbued with the gross and carnal notions of their race, regarding His future reign, they imagined, that our Redeemer would found on earth, a glorious kingdom, a temporal rule far exceeding in splendour and external show the reign of Solomon, or any other of their most magnificent princes, and would assign different posts and places of honour and pre-eminence, like earthly potentates, who liberally dispense places of preferment, to the princes of their kingdom. But, our Redeemer in His reply, transfers the question regarding His temporal reign to the enjoyment of heavenly bliss and pre-eminence.

2. “And Jesus calling,” &c. St. Mark (9:34) informs us, that before doing this, He said, “If any man desire to be first, he shall be,” that is, let him be, “the last of all, and the servant of all,” which may mean, that whosoever desires “to be first,” in merit in the sight of God, must become the humblest of all, and exhibit this humility in his dealings with others; so that his future glory in heaven shall be proportioned to his humility at present. And this is borne out by verse 4, and by St. Luke, “he that is lesser among you all, he is the greater;” or, the words may mean, whosoever aspires to the highest post amongst you, should act towards the others with the greatest humility, unlike those who aspire to places of pre-eminence among the Gentiles. This derives probability from what is said (Matt. 20:25), where our Lord contrasts the conduct which should distinguish the chiefs of His kingdom with that which is exhibited by those placed in power among the Gentiles. Both meanings may be intended, viz., to inform us, how one becomes truly great before God, and how the ecclesiastical superior ought to demean himself towards his inferiors. He should be the servant of all, exercising his authority for the benefit of others, and not for his own profit or advancement. After uttering the words above recited, our Redeemer, calling unto Him a little child, took him in His arms, and having embraced him (Mark 9:35), to show His love for innocence, He “set him in the midst of them,” near Himself (Luke 9:47). Probably, He Himself, was seated in the midst of the twelve. The more forcibly to impress them with the truth He meant to inculcate, our Redeemer employs the powerful medium of instruction by example, a mode of instruction well suited to the genius of the oriental people, and frequently in use among them, as may be seen from several places of the Old Testament. Nothing was more usual with the Prophets than to employ symbolical actions for the expression of ideas. Isaias walks naked and without shoes, to convey a warning to the Jews (Isa. 20:2). Jeremias carries chains on his neck (Jer. 27:2); the same may be also seen in Ezechiel. (12:17, &c.) Our Redeemer sometimes also employs the same in the New Testament, for the purpose of conveying, and more forcibly impressing His heavenly doctrine. Thus, He washes His disciples’ feet, “exemplum dedi vobis,” &c. He breathes on the Apostles in giving the Holy Ghost, &c. The same method is employed here; because nothing leaves so distinct an impression on the mind as that conveyed directly through the senses, “sequins irritant animos demissa per aures quam quæ sunt oculis subjecta fidelibus” (Horace, Ars Poetica). Our Redeemer wishes, by this example, to cure in His Apostles the wound caused in them by the false love of glory and jealousy, by desiring them to substitute in place thereof a holy contention of humility, “vult desiderium gloriæ, humilitatis contentione sanare” (St. Jerome), and, therefore, He places a little child in the midst of them.

3. And He tells them, that “unless they be converted,” in case such dispositions of humility were wanting; for, the word does not imply, that the Apostles really wanted these dispositions; but, the words are hypothetical and general for all others. Others understand it, unless you be converted, and give up the ambitious feelings which now animate you (Jansenius). It is better, however, to take it in the former sense, and not imply, as is done in this latter interpretation, that the Apostles were in the state of mortal sin, excluding them from the kingdom of heaven.

And become as little children,” that is, become, by an act of the will, by merit, what the little child is by age, viz., small in their own estimation, and by virtue, as the child is by age, and in person. In this sense, our Redeemer desires its to become like children, but not like them in puerilities, or want of judgment, &c. We should imitate their innocence, sincerity, exemption from malice, from envy and duplicity. This the Apostle recommends (1 Cor. 14), “nolite fieri pueri sensibus; sed malitia parvuli estate,” &c., also (1 Peter 2:2); and in reference to the subject proposed, He wishes us to become like children in our contempt of honours, &c. In order to understand the force of the comparison, St. Hilary (in hunc locum) tells us, we must represent the state of infancy as a state of simplicity, in which one is attached merely to his father and mother, incapable of hating any one, desires neither riches nor honours, wholly innocent and free from vices, and from pride—of all vices, the greatest. If there he little children, addicted to anger, jealous, lying, &c., it is not of such our Redeemer speaks here.

4. Having deterred them from the pursuit of ambition, and shown the necessity of humility, our Redeemer next points out the merit of humility, and replies to the question (v. 1), “Whosoever, therefore, … he is the greatest.” Our Redeemer does not confine Himself to saying, “he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven,” as in the preceding; but, “he is the greatest” (ὅ μειζων). The article imparts to the comparison greater strength of meaning. He shall be the greatest, because more conformable to Me. And here He does not speak of “little children” in general (as in v. 3), but, “as this little child,” to show that He refers to a greater, a more perfect degree of humility, the child in question being, probably, a very small, young, little child. While the virtue of humility is absolutely necessary for entering the kingdom of heaven, a more perfect degree of this virtue is necessary for being the greatest in that kingdom. How different are the means employed for attaining greatness in an earthly kingdom.

5. “Shall receive,” that is, perform towards Him the several offices of charity, such as hospitality, &c. The word, “receives,” embraces all the duties of charity.

One such little child,” that is, a person truly humble, resembling a little child For, it is of such He speaks (v. 6), when treating of scandal.

Receiveth Me,” to which St. Mark adds (9:36), “and whosoever shall receive Me, receiveth not me, but Him that sent Me,” to convey, that such a man shall receive a great reward, not such as is given by Christ as man, but as God. By receiving such a person, we receive Christ, whom he resembles, and as it is through the grace of God, he becomes such; hence, by receiving Him, we receive the head, who communicates His own Holy Spirit to His members. The more humble we are, the more we become assimilated to Christ, who annihilated Himself at His Incarnation, and became a little one for our sakes. “For, a child is born to us, and a son is given to us,” &c. (Isa. 9:6), and the more we become like unto Christ, the more exalted shall we be in His kingdom.

6. Having shown in the preceding verses how much He values and esteems the humble, from the reward in store for those who honour and bestow benefits on them, our Redeemer now shows the same, by pointing out the heavy penalty He will inflict on those who shall dishonour and cause them the greatest of injuries, by proving the occasion of spiritual ruin to them. “He that shall scandalize,” that is, shall be the occasion of spiritual ruin, in whatever way this may be effected, whether directly intended, or indirectly, by false doctrine, bad example, persuasion, contempt, or any other means, to “one of those little ones that believe in Me.” This shows, He refers to His humble followers, who by grace and merit, become like to little children. Nothing can be more criminal than to cause the spiritual ruin of those for whom Christ died. “It were better for him that a mill-stone should be hanged,” &c., that is, rather than be guilty of such a crime, one should submit to any punishment or torture, however painful or ignominious, since the punishment of being drowned in the depth of the sea, or any other corporal punishment whatsoever, is nothing, in comparison with the eternal punishment in the depth of hell, which is the assured lot of him who causes the spiritual ruin of his neighbour. The sentence, as it stands, is elliptical. The words, “rather than scandalize one of these little ones,” should be added, as follows: “it were better … and drowned in the depth of the sea, rather than scandalize one of these little ones,” as it is read in Luke (17:2). The word, “scandalize,” is to be taken in its usual acceptation, of causing or occasioning the spiritual ruin of our neighbour, as is clear from the following verses (8, 9). Our Divine Redeemer uses this term, rather than the word, injure, or dishonour, as the opposition to the preceding word, “receive,” (v. 5), would seem to demand, because this is a more general term—a term, also, of a more spiritual signification, embracing that spiritual injury which is to be deprecated most, as most grievous in the sight of God, and which He detests most, viz., the spiritual injury entailing the eternal loss of the soul. In every sin of scandal there is involved, in a certain measure, that contempt of our neighbour, against which our Redeemer cautions us (v. 10).

One.” How great the crime of him who ruins and scandalizes many.

Of those little ones.” The humble, who become as little children. “Who believe in Me,” shows, He refers to adults, represented by the little child, whom He, probably, still held in His arms. Although our Redeemer peculiarly cautions us against giving scandal to the faithful, still we are bound to avoid giving offence to all men, as St. Paul repeatedly inculcates (1 Cor. 10:32; 2 Cor. 6:3), “giving no offence to any one,” &c.

It were better for him” (Mark 9:41; Luke 17:2). “That a mill-stone” (μυλος ονικος). The Vulgate has “mola asinaria,” referring to a heavy mill-stone, such as was turned by an ass, as contradistinguished from that turned by a man’s hand; or, it may refer to the lower grinding stone, which, like the ass, bore the entire weight of the grinding work, and was termed in Greek, ὅνος. At all events, it refers to a very heavy stone. “And drowned,” &c. St. Jerome tells us, this was the punishment inflicted, as well among the Jews as among the Syrians, on noted criminals; among the Greeks it was the punishment of sacrilege (Diodorus Siculus), and by its magnitude our Blessed Lord wishes to give the Jews a sensible idea of the grievous punishment reserved in hell for the sinner of scandal. The weight of the stone suspended from the neck, joined to the depth into which the criminal was flung, shows the certainty of his destruction. St. Jerome remarks, that although a general assertion, this, in a special way, applied to the Apostles, whose contention about pre-eminence might scendalize and turn aside those whom they might have been instrumental in calling to the faith. “Si in hoc vitio permansissent, poterant eos quos ad fidem revocabant per suum scandalum perdere, dum Apostolos viderent inter se de honore pugnare” In St. Luke (17:3) are added the words, “take heed to yourselves,” cautioning them against such a dreadful crime, entailing such fearful punishment.

7. Having shown the enormity of the sin of scandal from the magnitude of the punishment which awaits it, our Redeemer now points out, in general, its inevitable necessity.

Wo to the world,” &c., that is, a dreadful malediction is in store for “the world,” including just and sinners, on account of the prevalence of scandals. The just are in danger of being carried away by the torrent, and made to deflect from the straight paths of virtue; the wicked, of becoming irrevocably immersed in vice. Hence, the caution with which it should be avoided, in consequence of the evils resulting from it, which our Lord so bitterly deplores.

For it must be that scandals come,” which is more forcibly expressed by St. Luke (17:1), “It is impossible that scandals should not come.” This expresses not an absolute, but only a consequent, or hypothetical necessity, that scandals, in general, should sometimes exist in the world, considering the malice of wicked men, the weakness of good men, the occasions of sin, and man’s fatal proneness to evil. He does not say, that scandal must come in this or that case, as if it were independent of the free will of men in any particular instance; but, he expresses it in a general way, in the sense already explained, just as St. Paul tells us in a general way, and as a matter of consequent necessity, that heresies must be. (1 Cor. 11) This is permitted by God to test His faithful servants, to render them more diligent and watchful, and to perfect their virtue, as in the case of Job, Joseph, &c., “that they also who are approved may be made manifest among you” (1 Cor. 11:19). God thus draws good out of evil; He deems it better to educe good from evil, than to prevent evil from existing, “melius judicat ex malis benefacere, quam mala nulla permittere” (St. Augustine).

The necessity in regard to scandals taking place, referred to, by no means interferes with human liberty. The prevision of future contingent events by our Redeemer induces no necessity whatever. He foresees them in the way they are to take place; that is, freely. It is not His prescience, or prediction of evils, that causes them to exist; He foresees and predicts them, because they are infallibly to take place, and He foresees them as they are actually to take place, by the voluntary action of free agents; just, in the same way, as what we see taking place freely at present before our eyes, certainly and infallibly takes place, not because we witness it; but, we witness it, because it takes place. Our seeing it take place, by no means interferes with the perfect liberty of the free agent. So it is with God in regard to the future. With Him there is no succession of time; no past, no future. All is present. “I am who am” (Exod. 3:14). It is not, says St. Chrysostom, because Christ foretold it, that scandals exist; but Christ foretold it, because He foresaw they were to exist.

8, 9. Scandal being such a dreadful evil, both in regard to him who gives it, as well as in regard to him who receives or suffers it; hence, it is, our Redeemer having pointed out the punishment which awaits the giver of scandal, now points out the punishment of him who suffers from it, or yields to it. And He earnestly exhorts us to avoid, at any cost or sacrifice, yielding to scandal. He thereby implies, that as no one is under the necessity of giving, so, neither, is there any necessity of yielding to scandal. The words of these verses cannot be understood literally, so as to warrant the destroying of any of our members, as Origen erroneously interpreted them, whose acts of self-mutilation, in order to avoid lust, the Church condemned. In no case is this allowed, since in no case is it necessary. Several meanings are given to “hand,” “eye,” “foot,” here, as well as in Mark (9:42–44). But, however piously and appropriately meant these interpretations may be, the most probable and commonly received interpretation is, that which understands them of the objects dearest and nearest to us—pursuits most necessary and useful for us—the hand, foot, eye, being the dearest and most necessary members of our body. If these objects or pursuits, ever so dear, useful, or necessary, prove a “scandal,” or an occasion of sin to us, we must generously and courageously give them up, no matter what pain, sacrifice, or loss such separation may cost us; and pain and violent shock to our feelings are evidently supposed to arise sometimes from such separation in the words, “cut it off,” “pluck it out.” What operation more painful than the cutting off of our “right hand?” What more torturing than plucking out “our right eye?” and yet this is a duty of the most imperative necessity, enjoined by our merciful Redeemer, to save us from the horrors of the damned. And not only are we to submit to the torture of plucking out, the dearest and most necessary member, our right hand or our right eye; but, we must remove it altogether out of our sight, “and cast it from thee.”

It is better,” &c. One evil or misfortune is infinitely less than the other; and if the patient submits to the knife of the surgeon, and when necessary, to the loss of one or more of his members, however painful the operation, and however great the loss it may partially entail, in order to preserve the entire body, how much more incumbent is it not on us to submit to any temporal loss, even of life itself, sooner than become, for all eternity, fuel for “hell’s unquenchable fire?” (Mark 9:44.) It is a much lesser evil to forfeit the advantage which the enjoyment of the object or occasion of sin may bring us, than after enjoying it for a time, “having two hands or two feet … or two eyes, to be,” afterwards on account of it, consigned for ever to hell (see c. 5:30).

In St. Mark (9:42, &c.), after the words, “the unquenchable fire of hell,” are added the words (verses 43–47), “where their worm dieth not and the fire is not extinguished.” These words are taken from the Prophet Isaias, in their spiritual sense, in which sense they had reference to the eternal punishment of the reprobate in hell. The words of the Prophet primarily and literally refer to the punishment to be inflicted on the Jews on account of their many prevarications against God. “Their conquerors shall go out and see the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against Me” (Isaias 66:24). This is allusive to victors who, after satisfying their rage, go out to see the ruin of the vanquished. And to show their final and irreparable ruin, he says, “their worm shall not die,” &c.

Instead of the worms which are generated in the bodies of the vanquished dead, and the fire which reduces them to ashes being extinguished, the Prophet says, the punishment destined by God for the Jews is of a different kind. It shall continue without ceasing. The words are transferred by our Redeemer, in a spiritual sense, to express the torments of the reprobate. The “fire,” is understood to be undoubtedly real fire, which, by the omnipotence of God, acts upon pure spirits. And the “worm,” is commonly understood metaphorically, to refer to the worm of conscience, the gnawing remorses of which, coupled with a clear recollection of past sins, of graces despised, and opportunities of merit neglected, and of the nothingness of the beastly pleasures which caused their damnation, shall be the greatest torture of the damned. St. Augustine and others say, that the word may be understood literally, since the power of God could preserve these worms in fire without being ever consumed, and this is corroborated by a passage in the Book of Judith (16), “dabit ignem et vermes in carnes eorum” (see Mark 9:47).

St. Mark continues (9:48), “For every one shall be salted with fire.” As the property of salt is twofold—to burn and preserve; so, the fire of hell shall possess the quality of preserving the victims committed to it for ever. The words of this verse are allusive to the salting of victims offered to God, in accordance with His own ordinance (Lev. 9:13), “And every victim,” &c. “And,” has the force of, “as.” They shall be salted with fire, being victims of God’s eternal justice; as, according to the Divine ordinance, every victim offered to Him in the Old Law, should be first seasoned with salt.

10. Our Divine Redeemer continues to exhort us to avoid scandal. The chief cause of scandal arises from either the want of respect, or from the contempt with which men practically treat the souls of their poor, humble brethren. Hence, our Redeemer cautions us against undervaluing or despising any of our brethren.

Take heed that you despise not one of these little ones,” viz., those humble followers of Me, who have become like little children, as I inculcate. For, although despised and humble here, they are highly esteemed and honoured with God, since He has been pleased to appoint His Angels, the princes of His court, who ever enjoy His presence, to be their guardians during life, and at death. This shows their great dignity with God, which man should respect, and, therefore, no one should undervalue them. Moreover, if we injure, or, by scandal despise these little ones, and ruin their souls, they have powerful defenders, or, rather, avengers, who will be accusers for them against us at the throne of God. This is the first reason assigned by our Divine Redeemer why we should not despise or scandalize our humble brethren.

From this passage, as well from several other passages of the SS. Scriptures, it is inferred, that every one among the just, every one in the state of grace, has an Angel guardian, specially appointed by God’s sweet providence, to guard him during life. Indeed, as regards the just, it has never been denied by any Catholic writer, and it is so clearly laid down in SS. Scripture, and is so thoroughly in accordance with the common belief of the Church, that, although it be not defined as a point of faith, it may be regarded as one of the truths of Christian doctrine, winch could not be denied by any sound Catholic. It seems also to be the more probable opinion, that an Angel guardian is appointed to watch over every human being, including unbelievers of every description. St. Bernard extols the goodness and liberality of God, in thus according us, such heavenly protectors. “O wonderful condescension! O excess of goodness and love! ‘He hath given His angels charge over thee.’ Who gave them charge? The Lord of Angels, whom they obey. To whom was it given? Upon His Angels, His own Angels, hath the supreme Majesty of God laid a command—upon those sublime, those happy spirits, who approach so near His Divinity—His own domestics. Of whom does He give this charge? ‘Over thee.’ What art thou? Is not man rottenness, corruption, the food of worms? What does He charge? ‘That they guard thee, that they keep thee in all thy ways.’ They even ‘bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.’ ” (Serm. 12, in Psa. 90) The Saint (ibidem), points out the duty we owe our Angels guardian: “Great reverence, devotion, and confidence. Reverence for his presence; devotion, for his benevolence; confidence, for his custody … in every apartment, in every closet, in every corner, pay a respect to your Angel. Dare you do before him what thou durst not commit, if I saw you?” &c. “Their Angels in heaven always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” This shows, that wherever sent, in whatever occupation engaged, the blessed Angels enjoy the beatific vision of God, and the delights of Paradise. There are some who hold, that each of us has a wicked angel, appointed by Lucifer, the chief of demons, who imitates the providence of God in this respect, to lead us astray, and compass our ruin. This, however, is not an opinion generally received (see “Butler’s Saints,” 2nd October).

11. “For the Son of man,” &c. This is the second reason adduced to dissuade us from giving scandal, and destroying our brethren. Not only did God so value the souls of His people, as to appoint His Angels to guard them; He even so valued them as to send His eternal Son to die for them. Who, then, can be so daring as to destroy the soul for which Christ died? Similar is the reasoning of the Apostle (Rom. 16:14; 1 Cor. 8:8, 9). “That which was lost,” refers to the entire human race, lost by sin, and doomed to everlasting punishment due to sin, had not the Son of God mercifully vouchsafed, at the sacrifice of His precious blood and life, to substitute Himself in our stead. Blessed be His eternal goodness for ever. The words convey, that it was for sinners, and on account of sinners, the Son of God came down from heaven, so that if there were no sinners, He, most probably, would not have some. “Non est opus valentibus medicus,” &c. (See 9:13).

12. Our Redeemer here adduces the parable of the lost sheep, which He more fully and more circumstantially details (Luke 15:2, &c.), to show the great concern and love God has for the souls of every one of His elect, and the consequent guilt of the scandalous sinner, who opposes the earnest will of the Heavenly Father, that they should be saved, the conclusion He wishes to derive from the parable (v. 14), “Even so it is not the will,” &c. In this we find a third reason to dissuade us from giving scandal, by which, we despise our brethren, and ruin their souls. The reasons adduced by our Redeemer become stronger as He proceeds. The first is derived from the charge the Angels have of them (v. 10); the second, from the love which the Son of man manifested (v. 11); the third, from the will of the Eternal Father, to whom the lost sheep is an object of singular care, when wandering, and of singular and exceeding great joy, when found and brought back. It is not necessary to attempt to accommodate the several parts of the parable to the subject which it is intended to illustrate and enforce. It is the nature of all parables and comparisons in general, that of them some portions are intended rather for ornament and for completing the figurative allusion, in the way in which the subject of the parable commonly takes place, rather than for illustration. The scope of the writer, and his object in employing the parable or comparison, as seen from the context, is the safest criterion for ascertaining the extent of the application of the parable, and the parts of it meant for illustration. The present parable is variously interpreted. By “the ninety-nine sheep” some understand the Angels of heaven; and by “the one that went astray,” the human race, which our Redeemer came down from heaven to redeem. Others understand, and, more probably, “the ninety-nine,” of the just, and the straying “one,” of the sinner, who strays from the paths of virtue. Our Redeemer appeals to their own judgment, in favour of what He says, as a thing common among men. “What think you?” As if He said: I appeal to yourselves for the truth of what I am saying.

13. Our Redeemer does not say, of the shepherd or the man in question, that he loves or esteems one more than ninety-nine; but, that he feels greater actual, present, sensible joy, on finding the lost “one,” than he felt for the remaining “ninety-nine,” that were not lost, both, because of the pain the loss caused him, and the suddenness of the pleasure, arising from finding it. Great joy is preceded by great affliction. The greater the storm on sea, the greater our joy on safely reaching land; the greater the peril of the patient, the greater the joy of his friends on his restoration and recovery. A loving father rejoices more for the recovery of his son, who was on the point of death, than for the rest of his sons who enjoyed sound health, although he loves all equally well. Men are apt to rejoice more for some new and unexpected advantage, than for all their former acquisitions, although of greater value. Our Redeemer (Luke 15:10), speaks of the joy which “the Angels of God” feel on the conversion of a sinner. God Himself being immutable in His nature, is incapable of such affections.

14. The conclusion of the parable shows, the great crime of the man who gives scandal, since he opposes the will of God the Father. Our Redeemer uses not the words, “My will,” but, “the will of your Father,” to show, that such a man has the Father and the Son as his enemies, and that His will, and that of the Father, who sent Him, is one. “Your Father.” Hence, you sin against your brethren, the children of your common Father, by giving scandal, and causing him to perish whom your Father wishes not to perish. He wishes all men to be saved, and none to perish, and supplies all with the necessary graces for salvation. This He wishes, by a sincere, antecedent wish, considering the matter absolutely and in itself, just as a prince antecedently wishes all his subjects to live, inasmuch as they are his subjects. But, by a consequent wish, founded on the consideration of their resisting His law, and despising His graces and friendship, God does not wish all to be saved, just as the prince referred to wishes that some of his subjects should die, if they turn traitors, and wish to subvert order in his kingdom (see St. John Damascen, Lib. 2, de Orthodoxa fide, c. 29).

The whole drift of the parable is to show, that God the Father has the greatest solicitude and concern for His children, whom He wishes to gain heaven, and feels the greatest joy at their return, just as a man diligently searches for one of his lost sheep, and rejoices on finding it.

15. “But if thy brother,” &c. Having cautioned us not to sin against our brother by scandal, our Redeemer now points out our duty in regard to our brother, who may sin against us, viz., to manifest the greatest care for his salvation. He shows, that those to whom others have given scandal and offence, are bound not to wait till reparation is made, but to go and see after the spiritual wants of their erring brother, by timely correction. Among the precepts delivered on the Mount, He prescribed, that the party who did an injury to another, should at once, when convenient, make atonement; and the party injured should pardon him from his heart; but, here, He prescribes something greater, viz., that the injured party should, under due circumstances and with proper limitations, go and seek to “gain” his offending brother, by timely correction.

If thy brother shall offend against thee.” “Against thee,” is understood by some to mean, before thee, in thy presence, with thy knowledge. This, they say, must be the meaning; because, we are bound to administer correction to all who sin against God, which we ought to regard as committed against ourselves. Nor is the duty of correction to be confined to sins injurious to ourselves. It may be also said in truth, that whosoever sins in our presence, scandalizes, and so sins against us and injures us. However, the common interpretation, which understands it of offences against us, seems the more probable. This is the meaning evidently of the words in St. Luke (17:3, 4), “if he do penance, forgive him.” Hence, St. Peter subjoins the question, “if my brother … and I forgive him” (v. 21). Our Redeemer, therefore, speaks not of him who sins in our presence, but of him, who sins against us, and requires our forgiveness. And without excluding the private sins of our neighbour in general—since these, too, under due circumstances, entail the obligation of correction—He expressly treats only of the private sins injurious to ourselves; because, such sins are better known to us, affect us the more; and our mild correction is, therefore, the best remedy against vindictive or private retaliation. Moreover, the mild, gentle correction administered by him who received an injury, is more apt to be efficacious; since, such a man is but heaping coals upon the head of his enemy, which shall warm him into charity and repentance. Our Redeemer prescribes two things to be observed in reference to our brother who offends us—1st. To correct him, in order to procure his amendment; and 2ndly, to do that privately, “between thee and him alone,” that thus, while he perceives that we are consulting for his character, and anxious for his salvation, he may be the more readily moved to repentance, while, had he lost all feelings of shame and self-respect, he might remain obdurate in his sin.

If he shall hear thee.” If, attending to your admonition and correction, he shall do penance. “Thou shalt gain thy brother.” This shows the grievous nature of the offence which calls for fraternal correction. It also points out the end of fraternal correction—the salvation of our brother. Hence, whenever this end cannot be reasonably calculated upon, the means, viz., correction, is not of obligation. From this, our Redeemer wishes us to see the union of souls, which should exist among Christians; since, every one should regard the salvation of his brother as a gain to himself—the party correcting gains his brother; and this latter gains his own soul—and hence, the loss resulting from the enmity was common, in a certain measure, to both.

16. But should your private correction prove unavailing, still, desist not. Nothing should be left undone to recover our lost brother. After the example of the kind physician, whose individual skill may prove unavailing to his patient, we must call in others. “Take with thee one or two more,” both for the purpose of aiding thee to induce him to enter into sentiments of true repentance, so that their joint authority may prevail upon him, the more effectually, to amend his life, which is implied in the words, “if he will not hear thee;” and also, that there might be a sufficient number of witnesses to give evidence to the Church of our charity and his obstinacy, which is referred to in the following words from Deuteronomy (17:6; 19:15), “that in the mouth of two or three witnesses,” &c.

17. If the preceding course fail to correct him, we must not give over still. “If he will not hear them: tell the Church.” By this, some understand, the entire of the particular congregation of the faithful—joined to their pastors—among whom the delinquent party resides, or to which he belongs. The mode of correcting a scandalous sinner adopted in the primitive Church, in accordance with this precept of our Lord, was, after private admonitions, to denounce him to the entire Church of the place; and, if he continued obstinate and contumacious, the bishop and pastors excommunicated him in presence of the entire multitude (1 Cor. 5:3–5). In course of time, it came to pass that this denunciation was only made to the bishops, who alone, from the beginning, had the power of inflicting punishment in presence of the multitude. Others, more probably, understand by “the Church,” the rulers and pastors of the Church. For, it is of the Church, He says, immediately afterwards (v. 18), “whatsoever you shall bind,” &c.; and this applies only to the Apostles and their successors, and they alone are entitled to the obedience here required, in the words, “If he hear not the Church.” Moreover, the perpetual usage of the Church was, to have such matters referred to the bishops and pastors only, who, whether alone or in council, represent either the particular Churches confided to them, or the universal Church. Besides, it would be against charity, and a grievous injury to our neighbour, to denounce him publicly before the multitude, for a crime which is supposed to be private and occult, in the supposition here made by our Redeemer.

If he will not hear the Church,” that is, if he will not obey the prelate placed over the Church to guide and govern it, and who alone has a right to be “heard” and obeyed; then, this Bishop, divesting himself of the character of a Father, must exercise the function of a Judge; and by the sentence of excommunication, separate this incurable and incorrigible sinner from the body of the faithful, by whom he is no longer to be regarded in the light of a brother. This line of conduct is to be observed, in order that smarting under this correction, he may repent, “spiritus salvus fiat” (1 Cor. 5, &c.); and not infect the flock over whom the pastor has charge.

Let him be to thee as the heathen,” &c., that is, be regarded in the same light and treated in the same way, as the classes of persons referred to, were regarded and treated by the Jews, viz., shunned and avoided, and considered as outside the pale of salvation. The “publicans,” on account of their extortions, rapines, injustice, and oppression of the poor, were looked upon as infamous by the Jews (St. Jeromè), who altogether abstained from intercourse with the idolatrous Gentiles.

It is to be observed, with regard to the injunctions here delivered by our Divine Redeemer, regarding fraternal correction and the mode of administering it—1st. That this being a positive precept, does not bind, under all circumstances. It only binds when and where there is a well grounded hope, that it will attain the end of such correction, viz., the amendment of the sinner. Hence, when this cannot be reasonably expected, but rather the contrary is to be apprehended, either from the dispositions of the party administering correction, or of the party to whom it is administered, correction in such circumstances is to be omitted; as then, we would be only “casting pearls before swine.”

2ndly. There is question here, of occult or private sins, which are injurious only to the sinner himself, or to a private individual, but tends not to the injury of the community in general. Sins of the latter description should be at once put a stop to by all legitimate means.

3rdly. It contemplates only the correction of the delinquent; it, by no means, interferes with the course of public justice in regard to criminals, at the demands of society.

4thly. We are not bound to go in search of brethren to be corrected, but only to do so when we know of it—“against thee”—and we should be sincerely disposed to carry out these rules prescribed by our Divine Redeemer, whenever the circumstances of time, place, persons, as well as the order of charity and prudence would require it, joined to a well-grounded hope, that our correction would prove of any avail. Nay, as the mind and intention of our Redeemer is to be attended to, rather than His words, His mind and the end He had in view being, “thou shalt gain thy brother,” if circumstances would warrant us in concluding, that by departing from the letter of this rule, in a particular instance, we would better attain the end of the precept, which is, to “gain our brother,” we could depart from it; since, the best rule for the employment of the means, is to see how far it would enable us to gain the desired end, and thus employ the means, either wholly or partially, accordingly. It is, indeed, a subject of the deepest regret, that this precept of fraternal correction, so imperatively enjoined by our Divine Redeemer, as a branch of the charity we owe our neighbour, is rarely attended to as it should, and this on the part of many on whom this precept is, in a special manner, obligatory. How many do we find neglect it from indolence and sloth—others, from a false feeling of tenderness, as if it were tenderness, and not cruelty, to abstain from pointing out to our brethren, the inextinguishable fires over which they are standing day and night, while in the state of sin—others, it is to be feared, omit it from a cowardly dread of the countenance of the mighty, or, perhaps, from a false prudence, which is but folly with God—a selfish desire of gaining the favour of the sinner, and of thus advancing their own selfish ends and interests.

18. Some commentators, Origen, Theophylact, &c., understand this verse, of the man offended by his brother, who is called upon to administer correction, thus: if you whom he has offended, shall regard him here as a “heathen” or a “publican,” he shall be regarded so, and bound as such in heaven. If you loose him, that is, pardon him after this third admonition and sentence of the Church, he shall be loosed and pardoned in heaven. But, the context clearly proves the falsity of this interpretation. For, our Redeemer, after pointing out the threefold tribunal before which our offending brother is to be brought, says, if he disobey the last, viz., the Church, or the prelate presiding over and representing the Church; then, the consequence is, that he is to be altogether excluded from civil and religious intercourse, as the result of the sentence of the Ecclesiastical authority; and He carefully distinguishes the offended party, who is bound to lay the matter before the Ecclesiastical authority from this latter authority, and says of the offender, if he obey not the Church binding him, let him be regarded by you, “as the heathen and the publican.” Hence, it is one party, viz., the offended party, that referred the matter to the proper tribunal; another, that binds or looses. Speaking of the one, He uses the singular, “shall be to thee;” speaking of the other, the plural, “whatsoever ye shall bind,” &c. The words are, then, to be understood of the prelates of the Church, to whom the obstinate sinner is to be denounced, and by whom, in case of further disobedience, he is to be excommunicated. The connexion is thus quite clear. Having appointed the pastors of His Church as the last tribunal on earth, before which this contumacious sinner was to be brought, and in case of further contumacy, to be excluded by them from the society of the faithful, He adds still greater weight to their sentence, against which the obdurate sinner may be still disposed to rebel, and which he may still undervalue, by declaring, that their sentence of binding or of loosing on earth is ratified and confirmed in the high Court of heaven. He calls attention to the importance of this declaration, by prefacing it with “Amen”—a solemn form of asseveration employed by Him when treating of important subjects. The power of binding here, regards the binding in the external court of Church polity, by excommunication, to which our Redeemer directly here refers, and, also, the power of binding in the Court of Conscience and the Tribunal of Penance, where the pastors of the Church sometimes leave the sinner still unabsolved, and still bound in the chains of sin. He also adds, for the purpose of consoling the repentant, and of strengthening the timid, that whatsoever they loosed on earth, would be loosed also in heaven. The words here, in their full acceptation, embrace the power of binding and loosing in their widest extent, both in foro externo and in foro interno or the Tribunal of Penance, the same, to a certain extent, as that given to St. Peter (16:19), except that the power given to Peter extends to the entire Church, including the other Apostles; whereas, the latter received no jurisdiction over Peter or over one another. In like manner, the successors of St. Peter have jurisdiction over the entire Church, including the Bishops, being appointed by our Lord to “confirm their brethren;” whereas, the power of binding and loosing given to each Bishop who succeeds the Apostles, is confined to the particular Church over which each may be placed, by him who has charge of the entire flock, “lambs and sheep,” pastors and people.

19. “Again,” that is, I promise you something still greater; not only will the sentence of the chiefs of My Church, the depositaries of My power, be ratified by Me, but even, “if two of you”—either of the Apostles, or of the faithful, who, like the Apostles, would agree from some principle of Divine charity, and with due dispositions, ask only what is good—“shall agree upon earth concerning anything whatsoever they shall ask, it shall be done,” &c. The connexion with the preceding, according to some, is this: if two of you, agreeing among yourselves, shall obtain whatsoever you may ask, by mutual consent, how much more shall the judgment of My Church be ratified?

Others, with St. Chrysostom, St. Jerome, &c., connect those words, not precisely with verse 18, immediately preceding, but with verses 15 and 16. These say, our Redeemer here refers to the blessing of concord. Having, in the preceding verses, dissuaded them from contention and disunion, by pointing out the punishment of disunion and disobedience, the source of discord, He now points out the reward of concord, so as to stimulate them, in both instances, to its practice, by threats of punishment and hopes of reward.

If two of you,” is understood by some, of the Apostles; by others, of the faithful whom the Apostles represented. “Upon earth,” on which we live here below, contrasted with heaven, the abode of God. The blessing of concord causes God in heaven to approve of what happens on earth. “Concerning anything whatsoever,” be it great or small, easy or difficult. From the very nature of the subject, and the dispositions of those whom He addresses, our Redeemer supposes they would not petition for anything evil, but only for things conformable to His will; that they ask through His Spirit, or rather, that His Spirit asks through them. (Rom. 8) Of course, our Redeemer’s words of promise here suppose prayer vested with the necessary conditions for infallible efficacy, both as to the matter of petition, and manner of asking for it.

20. He assigns here a reason for the efficacy of the prayers of those who agree upon earth, derived from His own special presence amongst them, by His grace and assistance, on which account He renders their prayers acceptable to His Father, as if they proceeded from Himself; or, on this account, He Himself accepts their prayers, assists their efforts, and ratifies them. So that He here attributes to Himself what, in the preceding, He attributes to His Father. Others connect this with verse 18, as if it meant to prove, that whatever they shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven, &c., because, He is in the midst of them, binding and loosing, as if He said: since the aid of heavenly light is necessary for the right government of the Church; therefore, if two of those, charged with the government of the Church, agree upon anything appertaining to the exercise of the keys, they shall obtain it of His Father. “For, where there are two or three gathered together in My name,” &c., representing His name and power for governing the Church, “there He is in the midst of them,” hearing their prayers, judging, decreeing with them, governing the Church with them.

By, “in My name,” some understand, seeking My glory; others, after invoking Me in prayer. The words more probably mean, as above, gathered together with His authority, representing His person. From these words, some divines derive an argument, a minori ad majus, in favour of the infallibility of General Councils. If, where a few are assembled in the name and by the authority of Christ, He promises that special assistance, necessary for the due effect of their prayers and deliberations, how much more will He not be present in the midst of the rulers of His Church, assembled by His authority, deliberating on matters of the vastest moment, to grant them that special assistance necessary for their deliberations, which, in reference to General Councils representing the entire Church—“the pillar and ground of truth”—must imply infallibility in decreeing matters appertaining to faith and morals. (See Bellarmine Controver., Lib. 2 de Concil c. ii.)

21. What moved St. Peter to ask this question is variously accounted for. Some say, he was moved to do so, owing to our Redeemer having inculcated fraternal charity, in regard to our sinning brethren, to whom, after having done penance, He wished that pardon should be given (Luke 17:3). Our Redeemer, however, did not say, how often his offences were to be pardoned him; hence, St. Peter proposes this question, “How often shall my brother offend against me?” &c.

Others hold, that St. Peter’s question was occasioned by our Redeemer’s words (Luke 17:4), where He tells us, that if our brother sins against us seven times in a day and repent, we should forgive him. These words, being subjoined by St. Luke to the question regarding fraternal correction, it is likely they were used on this occasion, although omitted by St. Matthew. Our Redeemer meant by “seven,” an indefinite number; and hence, He meant to say, as often as thy brother offends thee, and repents of it, so often oughtest thou to forgive him. Peter, not well understanding what our Redeemer meant by “seven,” whether to be used definitely or indefinitely, asks, “how often?” &c. “Till seven times?” and wishes our Redeemer to explain what precise number of times he should forgive his offending brother. Or, it might be, that these words are expressive of astonishment, on the part of Peter, at the number of times our Redeemer wished our brother’s offences to be pardoned, as it would seem he was unworthy of being pardoned so often. Moreover, such excessive lenity might only seem as a further incitement to sin.

22. Our Redeemer, in the clearest possible terms, conveys what He meant, by telling us to forgive our repentant brother, not only “seven times, but seventy times seven,” or 490 times, which is meant to express an indefinite number; so that, no matter how often our brother may sin against us, if he repents of it, we are bound to pardon him, and we should be always sincerely disposed to pardon him from our heart. But this does not imply that we are bound to forego our just rights, either in the injuries done our character or property, or, that the order of justice, or the claims of society should be set aside. It only inculcates the obligation of pardoning our brother from our heart, and of laying aside every feeling of vindictiveness and malice. The words of our Redeemer imply, that we should set no bounds to our charity towards our neighbour. To this the following parable has reference.

23–28. “Therefore,” is interpreted by some thus, because; as if assigning a reason for the foregoing declaration, made to St. Peter, that we should forgive our offending brother, every time he repents. The word may, however, retain its usual meaning, thus: In order that you may understand how just and necessary it is for you always to forgive your repentant brother, know you, “therefore,” that “the kingdom of heaven is likened”—rendered like by Me—“to a king” &c. It has been already observed, that this form of expression only means, that something occurs in the kingdom of heaven similar to what is expressed in the parable; for, it is not the kingdom of heaven that is likened to the king, &c., but it is the King of heaven that is strictly compared to the “king,” referred to in the parable.

By “the kingdom of heaven,” here, is understood, the Church, embracing the Church, militant and triumphant. In truth, it may be said to regard the entire economy or supernatural dealings of God with man. It has been already more than once observed, that in the interpretation of parables, and their application to the subject they are intended to illustrate, there are certain parts of these parables necessarily and directly intended for illustration; there are other parts that are merely ornamental, and introduced solely with a view of rendering the parabolical narrative complete, and in harmony with what usually occurs, without any reference to the principal subject. The ornamental parts and necessary parts can be easily seen from the context and the scope of the parable. There is no difficulty in perceiving what the scope or object of the present parable is. Our Redeemer Himself applies it in the clearest terms, “So shall My Heavenly Father,” &c. (v. 35.) The scope of the parable, and the intention of our Blessed Lord, are, to show, that the Almighty is most merciful towards all repentant sinners; but most severe towards those who refuse to forgive their brethren their offences. Then, the necessary parts of this parable are—

First. The king, who entered into an account, and forgave the immense sum of ten thousand talents. This illustrates the infinite malice of sin, as being committed against a person of infinite dignity; and the infinite mercy of God, freely and generously, out of His infinite mercy and compassion, remitting His offending creature, this immense debt of mortal sin. A part connected with this is merely ornamental, wherein it is said that the master ordered, “his wife” &c. (v. 25), “to be sold.” This is allusive to the permission among the Romans, and even among the Jews (4 Kings 4:1), given to creditors, of selling all the effects of their debtors, even their wife and children, in discharge of the debt. In the parable, they have hardly any application, unless it be, perhaps, to show the severity of the punishment inflicted for mortal sin. But they, by no means, imply that the Almighty eternally punishes a man’s wife or children, for his sins, or that any one is condemned to eternal tortures, save for his own sins. The amount contained in the “ten thousand talents,” is disputed. However, here it is sufficient to know that it is put for a sum of indefinite magnitude, compared with the sum of “a hundred pence” (v. 28).

The second necessary part regards the servant, who after receiving the remission of an immense sum—“ten thousand talents”—goes forth, and throttling his follow-servant, who owed him a mere trifle, compared with the sum remitted to himself, inexorably casts him into prison, without giving him a moment’s respite or delay. This sets forth, in the clearest light, the cruelty and inhumanity of the sinner, who, after being gratuitously and mercifully forgiven his mortal sins, by his Lord and Master, and Creator, refuses forgiveness to his “fellow-servant,” his fellow-creature, with whom he shares the same common nature, whose weakness he knows, on whom he is often dependent for mutual aid and assistance.

31. The third part of the parable refers to the grievous sin, of which the man who refuses to forgive his neighbour, and harbours feelings of vindictiveness towards him, becomes guilty, and to the eternal punishment, which God has in store for such a sinner. The ornamental part, attached to this portion, is, when his fellow-servants complain of the cruel conduct of this servant to their master. This has hardly any application in the parable. It does not imply that the Angels or Saints of heaven accuse the unforgiving man; it is merely added for ornament sake, because this usually happens among men. It may, perhaps be intended to convey, that the Angels and just, and God Himself, are so offended at the ingratitude and cruelty of the sinner, who refuses to forgive his brother, that the most severe judgment is exercised upon him. The part wherein it is insinuated, that the former debt, remitted by God, revives (v. 34), may be also regarded as ornamental, it being natural that such would occur in cases like this, among men; but, it does not imply that sins, once remitted, ever again revive—the common opinion being, that, although our past merits revive, by penance, the guilt of sin being removed; our sins, once forgiven, do not revive, “for the gifts of God are without repentance” (Rom. 11:29), unless, perhaps, it may be said, that the circumstance of receiving the remission of our former sins against God, so aggravates the sin of refusing to forgive our fellow-creature, owing to the ingratitude it contains, that it is virtually equivalent to the former sins, and shall entail as severe a punishment, as the former sins would, if still unremitted; or, at least, that the subsequent sins would be less severely punished, had the former not been forgiven. Besides the ingratitude involved in every sin of relapse, there is a special ingratitude in that of refusing to pardon our neighbour, owing to its opposition to the benefit of forgiveness, already received from God.

The first part of the parable shows us the infinite mercy and clemency of our good God towards repentant sinners. “Being moved with compassion, he forgave him the debt” (v. 27), viz., the immense debt of mortal sin, represented by the ten thousand talents.

The second part shows us the execrable inhumanity of some men towards their fellow-creatures.

The third, the severity of God’s judgment against such, viz., “judgment without mercy,” &c. (St. James 2)

35. This is the application of the parable, by our Redeemer Himself. “So shall My heavenly,” &c., that is, He shall “deliver us to the torturers till we pay all the debt” (v. 34); that is to say, punish us eternally, since, for eternity, we can make no atonement whatever, even by the most excruciating tortures, for the infinite evil of mortal sin.

It is observed, that our Redeemer says, “My” (not your) “Heavenly Father,” to convey, that the man of vengeance cannot properly call God his Father, whose children he persecutes and injures.

Every one his brother.” The circumstance of our neighbour being our brother, destined for the same common inheritance of glory, should move us to extend forgiveness to him.

From your hearts.” It will not do to affect forgiveness externally. It must come from the “heart,” under pain of our being refused forgiveness by God. For the gall of hatred, our Lord wishes us to substitute the honey of charity.

This parable shows us how grievous a sin, and how hateful before God it is, to cherish rancour or hatred in our hearts, against our neighbour, who may chance to have given us offence; and how agreeable an act of sacrifice before God it is, to lay aside all such feelings, and forget all past injuries done us, as if they never took place. We have but little to forgive our neighbour, compared with what God has remitted to us. He forgave ten thousand talents; we forgive, at most, but two hundred pence. What a powerful stimulus, therefore, the consideration of all God has forgiven us, and that repeatedly, should be for us to remit from our hearts all personal insults, comparatively trifling, offered us by our neighbour.

Besides the reasons already adduced in the foregoing, to aid us in forgiving our enemies, who may have gratuitously and ungratefully injured, and are still bent on injuring us, from which our corrupt nature so strongly recoils, there are several considerations to aid us still more.

First. There is no precept more emphatically inculcated by our Lord than this (see Sermon on the Mount). We should, therefore, make every sacrifice to show our gratitude to Him, by obeying His commandments, be they ever so opposed to flesh and blood. Our enemy may not be entitled to our forgiveness. But God, our Sovereign Benefactor, for whose sake only we pardon, is.

Secondly. The prayer we every day repeat, “forgive us … as we forgive,” &c., points out our duty in this respect. We tell a lie to God, whenever, with rancour and hatred in our hearts, we address to Him, this, His own prayer.

Thirdly. The example of the Saints of old. Consider the unprovoked hostility of Saul, and his bitter, persistent, unmitigated persecutions of David, and how David, when he had him in his power, spared him. He publicly bewails his death on the mountains of Gilboe. Consider the example of Joseph—his treatment of his unnatural brethren.

Fourthly. The peace of soul, and tranquillity of conscience, produced by this victory over one’s self, illustrated in the life of St. John Gualbert (July 12).

Fifthly. The dreadful consequences of harbouring feelings of vengeance. See this illustrated in the History of Sapricius, who lost the crown of martyrdom, and denied the faith, by not pardoning Nicephorus, while the latter, owing to his spirit of forgiveness, merited the martyr’s crown (Lives of Saints, 9th February).

Sixthly. Consider all God pardoned us, and how often; His countless benefits, general and particular, in consideration of which, He asks us to pardon His delinquent children. How often do we not see in the world, worthless, undeserving children pardoned, on account of their good parents?

Seventhly. The most important consideration of all—our Lord’s example, pardoning His enemies, during life, and at death. He, the God of heaven, pardons offences He could not deserve. We, sinful creatures, cannot pardon our fellow-creatures, offences we richly deserved, and which we should lovingly accept from God’s hands, as a trifling commutation for the eternal torments of hell, we so often merited. “Why is earth and ashes proud?” (Eccles. 10:9).

Eighthly. The chief means for achieving this victory over corrupt nature, is God’s grace, which is to be obtained only by fervent and persevering prayer.








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