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Bible Commentaries

William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament

Matthew 18

 

 

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Verse 1

APOSTOLICAL AMBITION

Matthew 18:1; Mark 9:33-35; Luke 9:46-47. Mark: “And being in the house, He asked them, What were you disputing about with one another on the road? And they were silent; for on the road they had been disputing with one another which one should be greater. And He, sitting down, called the Twelve, and says to them, If any one wishes to be first, he shall be last of all, and the servant of all.” We see here the outcropping of ambition among the apostles, each one wanting the pre-eminence in the gospel kingdom; thus most unequivocally illustrating their need of the fiery baptism, to consume all their ambition, and humiliate them, meek and lowly, at the feet of Jesus, in utter and eternal abandonment to God, to be taught by the Holy Ghost. This is demonstrative proof of the second work of grace in the Divine economy, as no one would dare to call in question the conversion of the apostles. They had already, pursuant to our Savior’s commission, gone all over that country, preaching the gospel, casting out demons, and healing the sick. Jesus never sent out sinners to preach. He does not yoke up the devil’s cattle to pull the salvation wagon, but always uses His own. Jesus very pertinently notifies them that, in His kingdom, the one highest in office is least of all — i.e., deepest down in the valley of humiliation — and servant of all, as his official administrations include all, actually making him the benefactor of all his subordinates. While this is not always true in ecclesiastical officers, it is invariably the matter of fact in the kingdom of God; as in the Divine estimation, going down is coming up, and the enlargement of our field of labor simply magnifies our servitude to all included in these augmented dominions.


Verses 2-5

THE INFANT THE PARAGON

Matthew 18:2-5; Mark 9:36-37; Luke 9:48. Mark: “Jesus, calling to Him a little child, placed it in their midst, and said, Truly, I say unto you, Except ye may be converted, and become as little children, you may not enter into the kingdom of the heavens. Therefore whosoever may humble himself as this little child, the same is the greater in the kingdom of the heavens; and whosoever may receive one such little child in My name, receiveth Me.” Mark: “Taking a little child, He placed it in their midst, and taking it up in His arms, He said to them.” . . . There is no mistake as to the conclusion that these are literal, natural infants, small enough for Jesus to lift up in His arms, exhibiting them illustratively. This is beautifully illustrative of the glorious, universal redemption in Christ, reaching every human being, even in the prenatal state, so soon as soul and body, united, constitute personality. Now as these infants, by the redemption of Christ, had been born in the kingdom, and could only get out by sinning out, which they could not do till they reached responsibility, it was demonstrative proof that they are all members of the heavenly kingdom; whereas, in the case of adults, the matter is at least problematical, so that we can not know for any one but ourselves the status before God. So here we have an irrefutable illustration of the consolatory fact that all infants are members of God’s kingdom, and here held up as paragons, because there can be no defalcation in their case, as they can only get out by actual sin, of which they are incapable till they reach responsibility. Hence, in their case, there can be no doubt, which can not be said of any adult, because no one but God knows the heart. It is a patent fact that infancy is the very period of an humble, loving disposition; humility and love constituting the preeminent graces of the kingdom. We may pertinently here observe that these infants are not sanctified, but possessed of depravity, manifested in evil tempers cropping out from the cradle; but, as Jesus says, they are normal citizens of the kingdom, standing where a genuine conversion brings every adult, and needing sanctification, like every justified Christian, such as those apostles, who there permitted ministerial ambition to show its cloven foot to their just reprehension.


Verses 6-8

RESPONSIBILITY OF OFFENDING THE LITTLE ONES

Matthew 18:6-8; Mark 9:42-44. “Whosoever may offend one of these little ones who believe in Me, it is better for him rather if a millstone is hung round his neck, and he has been plunged into the sea. If thy hand may offend thee, cut it off; it is good for thee to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands to go away into hell, into the fire that can not be quenched, where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”

Matthew 18:7 : “Woe unto the world because of offenses! It is necessary that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh!” So long as we are on probation, temptation, which is but another name for offense, supervenes as a logical sequence. Our Lord is here speaking primarily of natural infants, but also including the spiritual; i.e., young converts. You see the awful and momentous responsibility devolving on all the people who offend these infants, natural and spiritual. What does this mean? It simply means leading them into sin, by precept or example, nolens, volens. There is a deep sleep on all the world appertaining to this awful responsibility. By the wonderful redeeming grace of Christ, every human being is born in the kingdom of God, and only gets out by sinning out. O what an awful wreckage is everywhere going on! Parents and Churches are blind to these stupendous facts. How long infantile justification is retained depends upon the light shining in the home, and the opportunities available. With some, the age of responsibility is reached much earlier that in case of others. Which should be the grand enterprise of all parents, to so bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, so culture and fortify, as to retain them indefinitely in the kingdom. I trow, this will be the normal economy during the millennium, when the generations will look back on their predecessors with horror and astonishment, because they permitted their children to sin away their infantile justification, become backsliders, and take chances between reclamation and damnation. Doubtless the majority who go from earth to populate heaven during these probationary ages, die in their infancy, thus including one-half of the whole human race, in reference to whom there is no defalcation. Awful responsibilities in eternity and judgment await the people who have been instrumental in leading infants to commit sin. How frequently the parents, brothers, and sisters thus inadvertently crimson their hands in the blood of the little ones, actually leading them across the line, out of infantile justification, into the kingdom of Satan! God sets great store on these infants, both natural and spiritual, because His Son left heaven and suffered and died for them. He wants them to glorify Him on earth, people heaven, and do His will through all eternity. Hence the awful responsibility devolving on the audacious person who may prove instrumental in their abduction out of the kingdom. O how reckless, thoughtless, and foolhardy people are in their treatment of the little ones! “Offend” here is scindahzo, from scandalon, and means a stumblingblock. Therefore anything said or done, causing an infant or a young convert to waver or stumble in the rectilinear way of truth, innocence, and righteousness, is the offense here so rigidly stigmatized and terrifically anathematized. We know that infants have evil tempers, which nothing but entire sanctification can remove. The mere existence of this hereditary evil does not vitiate their justification, as they received it by irresponsible heredity; while its arousement would lead to voluntary acts of sin, calculated to forfeit their justification, and occasion stumbling and falling. Paul says: “Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath;” i.e., do nothing to make them angry. The responsibility of parents, permitting their children to associate with evil companions, is simply immeasurable, amounting to the awful reality of giving them a ticket over the Black Valley route to hell.


Verse 8-9

DOOM OF THE WICKED

Matthew 18:8-9; Mark 9:45-48. “And if thy foot may offend thee, cut it off; it is good for thee to go into life lame, rather than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire which can not be quenched, where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” This awful deliverance of our Savior, relative to the doom of the wicked, follows as a normal sequence from the innumerable and egregious sins committed in giving offense to spiritual and natural infants. Consequently He goes out into a clear, straight, and unequivocal affirmation, relative to the endless punishment of the wicked, which is simply irrefutable by all the sophistry of Universalism, all the chicanery of infidelity, and all the diabolical effrontery of the Pandemonium. Here, Jesus says that the wicked “go into the fire which can not be quenched, where the worm [i.e., the conscious living] dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” The word for “die” is teleutao, from telos, the “end;” consequently, it means never have an end, the strongest and most inevasible word in the Greek language. These words and phrases, uttered by the Savior, can never be modified, evaded, weakened, or explained away. The sophistry that would have the audacity to tinker with these plain and unmistakable words of Jesus, could upset every truth in the Bible, completely take God’s Book of Truth out of our hands, leaving us groping in the utter bewilderment of rayless night. O that the preachers would preach like Jesus! If they do not, they have no right to preach at all. You have no right to deliver a message for another, unless you deliver it as he gave it to you. The reason why so many preachers have lost their power, is because Jesus does not send them. The reason why He does not send them, is because they have failed to deliver His message as He gave it to them. If you were to send a man with a most important message, and he should materially change it, either by additions or subtractions, or both, you would never again trust your business in his hands. Preachers stand in the pulpit, empty as the shell of a dead oyster, because of the delinquency in the faithful deliverance of the Lord’s message. The wicked are going to hell by millions. The most successful method of stopping them is faithfully, persistently, importunately fearlessly, and tearfully telling them precisely what they are doing, without mollification or modification, but persistently warning them night and day. One of the saddest concomitants of the awful apostasy in the Churches is the elimination of endless punishment out of the pulpit. Just as heaven should be the constant theme preached to the Christian pilgrim for glory bound, so hell should be the incessant theme roaring from every pulpit in the ears of all the hellward bound. If this is not faithfully adhered to, conviction will not only go out of a Church, but evanesce from a community, leaving all the gospel timber-gum logs, which will neither rive nor split.


Verse 10

CHAPTER 34

GUARDIAN ANGELS

Matthew 18:10. “See that you do not look with contempt on one of these little ones; for I say unto you, Their angels, in the heavens, do always behold the face of My Father who is in the heavens.” Here our Lord warns us against our prevailing predilection to undervalue infancy, both natural and spiritual. All the children born in the membership of an organized Church are so neglected spiritually, and encompassed with temptation, that they, at least clandestinely and inadvertently, become sinners before we are aware, thus incurring an awful responsibility; meanwhile, spiritual infants are left in a cold, worldly Church, speedily to freeze to death. A babe may be born in an icehouse, but it will soon imbibe cold enough to put it in its coffin. Our Savior here seeks to augment our appreciation of infants, both natural and spiritual, by reminding us of the honor conferred on their guardian angels in heaven, being permitted to occupy a place so prominent and near the throne as always to behold the face of the Father.

This affirmation clearly recognizes the existence and utility of the guardian angels.

Here we have heaven in the plural number, including innumerable celestial worlds. There is no doubt but the angels are infinitely more numerous than the entire human race; while we are assured that they take a great interest in humanity, having been present, and doubtless cooperative, in creation; deeply sympathetic in the fall, so as to make heaven resound with weeping; infinitely joyous in the redemptive scheme, keeping the firmament bright with the splendor of their wings, as they fly from heaven to earth, et vice versa, on missions of love and mercy; constantly cooperative with Moses and the prophets, the saints and martyrs, of all bygone ages; sweeping down from heaven, and singing their triumphant anthems over the shepherds tented on the fields of Bethlehem, unutterably delighted to proclaim to the world the Incarnate Savior. Doubtless we all have our guardian angels, who comfort us amid earth’s woes, and shield us from a thousand perils. As you look back, I trow, you can see hairbreadth escapes from death, and perhaps spiritual calamities worse than death. I assure you, I can witness to instances not a few where I could pertinently say with David, “There is but one step between me and death.” During a storm on the Mediterranean Sea, last December, perhaps injudiciously endeavoring to walk the deck, I was thrown among the machinery, striking my eyebrow on an iron, bringing gushing blood; an eighth of an inch farther would evidently have broken the skull. Do you realize your own guardian angels about you? I do. Methinks the ancient philosopher, walking in the light of nature and the Holy Ghost, having never seen the Bible, which is a constant heavenly sunburst on you and me, certainly did realize the presence of the guardian angels when he said, “I am least lonesome when alone, and busiest when unemployed.”


Verses 15-20

CHURCH DISCIPLINE

Matthew 18:15-20. “If thy brother may sin, go, convict him, between thee and him alone.” Many a time you can win him by thus going privately and quietly, with the loving overtures of a friend and the sympathies of a brother. This is invaluable direction. Be sure that you heed it. It is awfully grievous to the Savior to go recklessly into Church discipline, widen the breach, and ruin the brother, world without end; whereas, if you had gone alone, not so much as intimating the matter to a human being, in the great majority of cases you would succeed. The great mistake is in speaking of it, and thus giving it publicity.

“But if he may not hearken, take with thee yet one or two, in order than in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.” If your kind and loving visit in the capacity of a sympathizing brother, no publicity having been given even to the Church, much less the world, has signally failed, after all you could do by prayer and entreaty to soften his heart and win him back for Jesus, — now the omens look really gloomy, rigid discipline, in all probability, becoming your imperative duty, in order to remove the unholy leaven out of the lump.

“And if he may not hear them, tell it to the Church; but if he may not hear the Church, let him be to thee as a heathen and a publican. Truly, I say unto you, So many things as you may bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven; and so many things as you may loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven.” Church here is ekklesia, from ek, “out,” and kaleo, “to call.”

Hence it means the company of individuals called out of this wicked world by the Holy Ghost, and organized with a bishop — i.e., the pastor or leader of the band, having in charge the spiritual interest; a deacon — i.e., the holy man or woman having charge of the temporal interest; and the eldership, composed of the people enjoying spiritual seniority, being intrusted with the general interest. Our Lord here provides abundantly for the government of the Church, in this simple and unmistakable formula; i.e., first go to the offending party, alone with him, on your knees, with your tears of sympathy and words of kindness. If you fail, then take one or two brothers or sisters, filled with the Holy Ghost, and wait on him, invoking the blessing and help of God. If then you fail, bring the case before the whole Church. In case of final failure, let him be to you as a heathen or a publican. Now you observe that our Lord says that, pursuing this course, if faithful and true, your final verdict is ratified in heaven, standing valid, and preparing all parties to meet at the judgment bar. Thus our Savior has made perfect provision for the perpetuated purity of the Church, which is absolutely indispensable; as Paul says, “A little leaven will leaven the whole lump” — i.e., one corrupt member is likely to contaminate the whole Church, as one rotten potato will rot a barrel. O how the wicked, worldly Churches of the present day need the enforcement of this law! “Brother Godbey, it would tear our Churches all to pieces, and break up our organizations.” All right; Jesus makes no mistakes. Awful will be our responsibility. If we do not enforce discipline, and remove the rotten apples out of the pile, they will soon all go to destruction. Such is the apostasy of the Churches of the present age that discipline has become a matter of bygone history. If not revived and enforced, according to the very words of Jesus in this paragraph, which is plain, simple, practical, leaving excuse for none, we never can have a genuine revival of the Churches. Holiness people, beware! and enforce discipline as here enjoined by our blessed and glorious Lord, or we go the way of our ecclesiastical predecessors, in the track of fallen Judaism, Romanism, and the dead Protestant Churches. Good Lord, deliver us!


Verse 19-20

EFFICIENCY OF PRAYER

Matthew 18:19-20. “Again I say unto you, If two of you shall agree on earth concerning anything which you may ask, it shall be done unto you by My Father who is in the heavens. For where two or three are assembled in My name, there I am in the midst of them.” This is really a wonderful promise to the saints of all ages, assuring us of His personal presence in an assembly of two or three, and positive answer to prayer in case of unity on the part of those two or three. This promise guarantees the miraculous availability of the social prayer league in every home. Christians are not aware of the paradoxical availability of family prayer, actually securing the presence of Jesus in the home, the little prayer-meeting, and the Sabbath gatherings. You see here the necessity of union in order to availability. Though the number may be small, only amounting to two or three, if they are really united, they have the promise.

When a circuit-rider, thirty years ago, I went to an old church out in the country to begin a protracted meeting, when the snow was knee-deep, and all the waters frozen into ice. I met but four people, though it was Sunday. We availed ourselves of this promise. Within forty-eight hours, the house ran over, the altar was piled with seekers, and such a revival as the people had not seen in a generation swept down from heaven, ninety souls being gloriously converted and added to the Church within two weeks. If two or three will meet and unite at a Throne of Grace, it is their glorious privilege to be master of the situation. I never found a place in my life where I could not have a glorious revival. When in the pastorate, I made it a rule to have a big revival in every community in my territorial bailiwick. In countless instances I have gone to a place where I had not a solitary member; prevailed on two or three, or perhaps a half dozen, to unite with me in prayer, having no congregation to begin with. We never staid long on our knees, gripping the mercy seat in an inflexible prayer-league, till the people came trooping and booming from all directions, crowding us out of all room, and apparently under conviction from the moment of their arrival, and ready to crowd the altar and seek salvation. What was the solution? We had actually prayed them under conviction before we ever saw them.

This is the Lord’s infallible receipt for a revival. Will you take it? You need not send off after a big preacher, who may come, and he may not. Get two or three to help you, and send for Jesus. He is sure to come. When He comes, the people will come too. And they will come crying, and they will go away shouting.


Verses 21-35

FORGIVING ONE ANOTHER

Matthew 18:21-35. “Then Peter, coming to Him, said, Lord, how frequently shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? until seven times? Jesus says to him, I do not say unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven.” You see from this response of our Lord that our forgiveness is to be utterly illimitable. The rabbis had taught that three times were often enough. Here you see the verdict is plain and definite we are to forgive on infinitesimally.

“Therefore the kingdom of the heavens is like unto a kingly man, who wished to make a reckoning with his servants. And he, beginning to reckon, one was brought to him owing him ten thousand talents.” What an enormous indebtedness! One talent is four hundred dollars. The Greek word here is i.e., “myriad,” ten thousand — but it is in ‘the plural number; hence, tens of thousands. Now, since myriad is in the plural, though the sum is indefinitely large, its minimum is twenty thousand talents; i.e., eight millions. But as the sum is indefinitely great, we have no right to settle on the minimum. Therefore, with the convenience of round numbers, we may conclude that he owed him ten millions of dollars, whereas it might have been infinitely greater. “And he, not being able to pay, the lord commanded him, his wife, and children, and all things so much as he had, to be sold, and payment to be made. Then that servant, falling down, continued to worship him, saying, Be patient with me, and I will pay thee all things. The lord of that servant, being moved with sympathy, sent him away, and forgave him the debt. And that servant, having gone out, found one of his fellow-servants, who owed him a hundred denaria [i.e., fifteen dollars; as the denarion is fifteen cents]; and seizing, throttled him, saying, Pay me what you owe me. Then his fellow-servant, falling down, continued to entreat him, saying, Be patient with me, and I will pay thee. And he was not willing; but going away, cast him into prison until he may pay the debt. Therefore his fellow-servants, seeing the things which were done, were grieved exceedingly, and having come, they explained to their lord all the things which had been done.” The fellow servants here are the saints, who are always grieved when they see an unforgiving spirit among them, and immediately go and tell the Lord about it; i.e., get to praying over it in good earnest. When that is the case, something is sure to happen. “Then his lord, calling him to him, says to him, Thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, since .thou didst entreat me; did it not behoove thee to have mercy on thy fellow-servant, as I also had mercy on thee? And his lord, being angry, delivered him to the tormentors until he may pay all that was due him. Thy My Heavenly Father will do unto you, if you do not each one forgive his brother from your hearts.” You are not only to forgive, but to do it cheerfully and spontaneously, with brotherly love gushing up from the deep interior of the heart; as God forgives you, lovingly, freely, and fully, for Christ’s sake. We are not to conclude that God gets angry in the human sense, as He has no malevolent affections nor evil passions, like fallen men and demons.

The language here is an accommodation to our human apprehension, the anger of God being His righteous and holy indignation. I hope you hear, see, and understand this allegorical exegesis, which our Savior gives, in order to elucidate the infinite magnitude of God’s forgiving mercy, and the insignificance of ours, even though we do cheerfully, freely, and fully forgive all who have ever done us an injury.

Now, remember the case: The one servant was forgiven ten millions of dollars; and the other only owed him fifteen dollars, only one six- thousandth part of his indebtedness, yet seizing and throttling him, and demanding the payment of the fifteen dollars, and even casting him into prison because he couldn’t pay it. Now I hope you see the beautiful and forcible meaning of the allegory. Let the people treat us as badly as they can, our Heavenly Father has actually forgiven us six thousand times as much as all we ever can forgive them — all our innumerable sins, in thought, word, and deed, actually amounting to ten millions, contrasted with the fifteen dollars which some one owes us. Now, if we are too vile, selfish, and diabolical to forgive our comrades what little they may owe us, how can we expect God to forgive us the ten millions which we owe Him? Now you see, in the finale of this affair, that the ungrateful servant, who had been forgiven so much, and then refused to pardon his fellow-servant, was actually arrested, and delivered to the tormentors till he paid it all.

This is the great trouble with Churches — having fallen out with one another, they refuse to forgive and make friends. Consequently they all fall under condemnation, backslide, as you see in this illustrative case, get back where they were before they were forgiven, forfeiting all the progress they had made in the Divine life, and, if they so persist, finally making their bed in hell. We find whole Churches stranded, befogged, wrecked, and captured by the devil in this way.

 


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Bibliography Information
Godbey, William. "Commentary on Matthew 18:4". "William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/ges/matthew-18.html.

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