The two debtors

The two debtors

Of offences against ourselves. The Unmerciful Servant.

(The Gospel History, Section 76)

The Unmerciful Servant by Rembrandt

Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would make a reckoning with his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not wherewith to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And the lord of that servant, being moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. But that servant went out, and found one of his fellow-servants, which owed him a hundred pence: and he laid hold on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay what thou owest. So his fellow-servant fell down and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay that which was due. So when his fellow-servants saw what was done, they were exceeding sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord called him unto him, and saith to him, Thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou besoughtest me: shouldest not thou also have had mercy on thy fellow-servant, even as I had mercy on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due. So shall also my heavenly Father do unto you, if ye forgive not every one his brother from your hearts.

The two debtors

(The Saviour of the World, Vol V Book I Poem II)

A Lavish Eastern King one day
Thought his poor kingdom was the prey
Of greedy courtiers, unjust lords,
Who seized upon those fair rewards
Merit alone should claim, and spent
As they were kings themselves, nor lent
Of all their wealth for public use,
Or rid the land of one abuse.

“I’ll call a reckoning,” cried the King,
“See what account these lords will bring,
Of wealth they gather as for me,
But spend in rout and revelry.”
He set his scribes to work, and scarce
Had they begun their task, than worse
Than all imaginings, appeared
The debts and frauds the King had feared.
For one poor wretch no good they bode,
So numerous, vast, the sums he owed:
Day after day they laboured on
This great lord’s schedule; when ’twas done—

Each item reckoned in a sum—
The very lawyers were struck dumb!
Ten thousand talents! sure his head
As well as wealth were forfeited!
In millions sterling, we should name
The debt th’ accomptants must proclaim.

The satrap stands before the King,
An abject wretch with nought to bring,
Not even poor excuse, for all
That wealth he’d lost beyond recall:
To his scribes the King said, “Sure, ye err!
What say’st to this accompt, good sir?”
The trembling wretch had ne’er a word
To propitiate his angry lord:
“What hast to say for all this waste,
What recompense to offer? haste!”
“I’ve nothing, Lord, to bring to thee,
Of all wherewith thou’st trusted me!”

Then turned the King to his chief lord;—
“Hear’st thou his self-condemning word?
Nought has he of that vast estate
I lent him; he has runagate,
And pleased himself at lavish cost
With wealth to my poor kingdom lost:
Go, gather all to him remains—
The palaces, gardens, he retains,
His servants, children, e’en his wife;
Nay, sell himself,—I spare his life.”

And, lo, a sound of weeping’s heard;—
Men listen for the broken word:—
“Have patience, Lord, and bear with me,
And all this debt I’ll pay to thee!”—
The wretch cried, sobbing, at the feet
Of the great King he dared entreat
For pardon, promising to pay
When nought he had, or hoped, to lay
Before his offended Lord.

But he,

Distressed the man’s distress to see,
Bade let him go: released, forgiven,
Sure that man dwelt—one hour—in heaven!

No sooner was this satrap freed,
Than seeking how to meet his need,
He thought who owed him any sum,
And bade all these before him come:
One poor wretch owed a hundred pence,
And, quick, for that so small offence,
He seized him by the throat and cried,
“Pay that thou owest!” He denied
Intent his fellow wrong to do,
And vowed he’d pay in season due:
His fellow-servant had no ruth
But cast him into prison, sooth,
For little debt he soon might pay
Had he been left at liberty.

But not unmoved his fellows saw
This wrong done to their friend. The law
Might give this cruel lord the right
To treat his fellow with despite;
But he was a servant, too! they ran
With their complaint of this hard man
To lay it before the King: he heard,
And wrath and sorrow moved his word:
“Have I not just forgiven thee
That debt immense thou owed’st me?
I thought that thou would’st mercy shew
To him who aught to thee should owe:
Thou hadst no pity for distress,
Nor would’st with love thy brother bless:—
Go thou and pay the penalty
Of all the wrong thou’st done to me:
Forgiveness for him is there none,
Who forgives not wrong to him is done.”

The disciples heard with awful dread
The accusing word the Lord had said:
For the first time, each saw unrolled
Those debts, tremendous, manifold,
He owed his King, most merciful,
Who gave forgiveness, bountiful
As the early rains, to wash away
Record of all he could not pay!
Forgive his brother? Nay, he’d run
To pardon him had trespass done
Against him: how else could he shew
A heart with gratitude aglow
For that abundant pardon free,
Had saved him in his misery?

“Forgive ye not your brother’s sin,
Then have ye never hope to win
Forgiveness at My Father’s hand
Of all that debt He will demand.
The utmost penalties remain
For them, their brother’s debts retain.”

St. Matthew xviii. 23-35.

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