THE PARABLES of JESUS CHRIST EXPLAINED
BY THE REV. J. CLOWES, M.A.
LATE RECTOR OF ST. JOHN’S COLLEGE, MANCHESTER, AND FELLOW OF TRINITY COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE.
Whoso readeth let him understand.—Matt. xxiv. 15.
A NEW EDITION.
PRINTED AT D. BATTEN’S OFFICE, CLAPHAM COMMON.
A CERTAIN CREDITOR WHO HAD TWO DEBTORS
There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me, therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said to him, You have rightly judged. Luke 7:41-43
By the creditor is to be understood, the Almighty Father and Governor of the Universe; and by his debtors, the whole human race who have received, and continually receive, from His bounty the all of their life, its faculties, and its enjoyments.
These debtors are called two debtors, in order to distinguish them into the two classes afterwards, mentioned, and described in these words: The one owed him five hundred pence, and the other fifty.
By the one who owed five hundred pence, is to be understood, that class of mankind who have received much at the hands of their Heavenly Father; and by him who owed fifty pence, is to be understood, that class who have received something, but not to the same amount with the other class.
It is to be observed, that this inequality does not originate in the Almighty, but in the use which the two classes of men, above spoken of, make of His gifts, whilst some improve them to a greater amount than others, agreeably to what is written in another parable, in which mention is made of giving to one servant ten pounds, to another five, and to another one; where the unequal distribution of the pounds is to be attributed to the unequal use which the several servants made of their respective talents.
The debt in general, as was above observed, which all mankind alike owe to their Heavenly Father, is the constant communication of life and all its enjoyments. But the life of man, it is well known, is of several orders and degrees; being first corporeal, then sensual, then natural, then rational, and, in case the man himself labours to attain it, spiritual and celestial. The life of man, therefore, which is every instant communicated from the Father of his being, is capable of continual elevation, until it rises and returns to its Divine Giver; and until again it descends from the Divine Giver, and manifests itself in all the works of a good and holy life. Though every man, therefore, receives from God the blessed gift of life with its enjoyments, and is indebted to God every instant for the continuance, support, and preservation of that gift; yet it does not hence follow, that every man turns the gift to all that advantage which was designed by the Giver, since experience teaches, that some men remain in a merely natural state of life, notwithstanding the faculty they possess of elevating it to a higher state. Hence, then, may be discovered the ground of the distinction, made in the parable, between the debtor who owed five hundred pence, and him who owed only fifty; inasmuch as the debt of five hundred pence implies that the gift of life had been improved according to the designs of the Giver, and thus had yielded much increase; whereas the debt of fifty pence implies that the gift had not been so much improved, and, consequently, had yielded less increase.
It is written of these two debtors, that when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both.
By having nothing to pay is to be understood, the general condition of all mankind, which is such, that they have nothing of their own, by which they can make any suitable return for the immense gifts bestowed on them by their heavenly Father. For all the return they can possibly make, on this occasion, is the humble and grateful acknowledgement of the divine bounty, which has heaped on them so many valuable gifts; and since they cannot make even this acknowledgement without the aid of the Divine Giver, therefore, in making this return, they give nothing of their own, and only increase the debt which they owe to their Benefactor.
The expression, he frankly forgave them both, involves in it all the depths of the divine mercy and disinterested benevolence of the Father of Mercies, which is of such a nature, that He is ever disposed to forgive, or to remit, the immense debt owing to Him from His creatures, whenever He sees them humble and grateful enough to acknowledge it. Accordingly, in the divine prayer, which He Himself has been pleased to teach for the benefit of His children, it is written, Forgive [or remit to] us our debts, as we forgive [or remit to] our debtors; in which words is contained and expressed the single condition of obtaining from the Almighty the forgiveness, or remission, of the debt owing to Him from all His creatures; which condition is simply this, that His creatures should acknowledge gratefully, not only how much they are indebted to their Heavenly Father, but likewise how much they owe to their fellow-men for all the comforts which they enjoy.
It is remarkable that, in the account of this parable, Jesus Christ Himself does not announce the lesson which He intended should be deduced from it, but only asks the significant question, Tell me, therefore, which of them will love him most?
The only assignable reason for His conduct on this occasion appears to be this, that He thought it best to appeal to the common sense and reason of mankind in a case so plain and self-evident, being fully assured that the answer to His question would be according to the tenor of that which was afterwards given by Simon, who answered and said, I suppose that he to whom He forgave most. Thus, in agreement with the testimony of the common sense and reason of mankind, the blessed Jesus would establish the validity of this great truth, that the more man is made sensible in his own mind of the immense debt which he owes to his Heavenly Father, the more he will be disposed to regard that Father, from a principle of reciprocal love and affection; this being the great end and design of all the blessings bestowed on mankind from above, to excite a grateful acknowledgement, and in that gratitude to enkindle a flame of devout regard, which may incline the humble debtor to love Him, who is essential love, and who communicates His favours for no other purpose than to impart that love.
Jesus Christ, we find, Himself makes the application of the above parable in these remarkable words, where it is said, that He turned to the woman, and said to Simon, See you this woman? I entered into your house, you gave me no water for my feet; but she has washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. You gave me no kiss; but this woman, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil you did not anoint; but this woman has anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say to you, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.
By the woman, here spoken of, is figured and represented the Church, as to the affection of truth and good, which constitutes the Church; and by the several acts which this woman performed on the feet of the Redeemer, as washing, wiping, kissing, and anointing, are further figured and described the genuine offices and operations of that affection.
By washing the Redeemer’s feet with tears, and wiping them with the hairs of the head, is denoted the purification of the natural principle, which is two-fold: first, by truth, which is signified by washing; and, secondly, by the good of truth, signified by wiping; which latter operation is performed by the hairs of the head, as the former is performed by tears; because, by tears is represented an order of interior truth, as by the hairs of the head is represented a similar order of interior good of truth. By kissing, again, is figured conjunction with the Lord’s natural principle of His Divine Humanity, by the affection of truth, as by anointing is figured the same conjunction by the affection of good. Thus, the four acts of washing, of wiping, of kissing, and of anointing the feet of the Great Redeemer, are figurative of the whole process of the Church’s reformation and regeneration, which consists in purification from all evil, and final conjunction with the divine humanly of Jesus Christ in the affection of heavenly truth and good. It accordingly follows, in this history, Wherefore I say to you, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little. For by loving much is to be understood, a devout and sincere regard to the Divine Being and His Holy Law; and wherever this love prevails, there sin, let it be ever so multiplied, must of necessity be forgiven, or remitted, since a pure love and sin can never abide together in the same dwelling; and, therefore, if a pure disinterested love be exalted to preeminence in the human mind, every kind and degree of sin must, sooner or later, be expelled from that mind. For the same reason, to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little; because, by little being forgiven is implied, that the immense debt, owing to the great Creator, has never been explored and acknowledged; and the consequence must of necessity be, in such case, that there will be little love, since, as was above observed, the measure of every man’s love to his Heavenly Father will depend altogether upon the measure he takes of the benefits and blessings which he has received from that Father.
From this parable we learn, in the first place, that the Divine Being, the Creator and Preserver of all other beings, is the universal Creditor, whilst all His creatures, in one degree or other, are His debtors. We learn, further, that these debtors are of two classes-one owing five hundred pence, and the other fifty; and that these classes are determined by the estimate which every man makes of the mercies he has received from his bountiful and Divine Parent. We learn, still further, that it is impossible for man to pay the above debt, but by the humble and grateful acknowledgement of his Heavenly Father’s benevolence, and that when this acknowledgement is made, the debt is in the same proportion forgiven, or remitted. Lastly, we learn that the degree of man’s love, or regard, to his Divine Benefactor, will always depend on the degree in which he is affected by the multiplied and valuable gifts which he has received from Him; insomuch, that he who is little affected will love little, whilst he who is much affected will love much.
Let us resolve, therefore, from now on, to make it the principal business and concern of our lives, to form a just estimate of the immense debt which we owe to our God and Saviour, taking into the account not only what He has done, and is continually doing, as to the preservation and blessing of our bodily life, but, also, what is of infinitely more importance, all that He has done, and is continually doing for the preservation and blessing of our spiritual life, as to all its faculties, operations, and enjoyments. Let us resolve, further, to endeavour to form in ourselves the blessed habit of a grateful acknowledgement of this immense debt, under a sensible conviction, that according to such acknowledgement will be the exact measure of our love and regard to the great Author of our being. Thus may we humbly hope no longer to imitate the Pharisee, mentioned in this history, who suspected a want of judgement and discernment in his Saviour God, but rather to follow the example of the woman, of whom it is written, as an everlasting memorial of pious affection, that she washed her Saviour’s feet with her tears, wiped them with the hairs of her head, kissed, and anointed them. For thus may we hope, like this woman, to enter upon the great work of purification, by which, finally, we may be admitted to the inconceivable and eternal happiness of a blessed conjunction with our God and Saviour, through His Divine Humanity, and may thus be greeted with the consolatory language, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. Amen.