ŇAgree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.Ó   Matthew 5:25-26

 

Our Saviour still goeth on with His former rule of concord and reconciliation. Now because the meaning of  the words are controversial, it shall not be amiss somewhat to discuss the divers expositions that are made hereof. The papists say that by adversary, is meant God, commanding men in His law; and by way, is meant the space of time in this life; by judge they understand Christ; by serjeant, GodŐs angels; by prison, hell; and because in hell there be many places, therefore here by prison, they understand purgatory; and by the uttermost farthing, venial sins; as if this were the meaning: Agree with God while thou art in this life between this and the day of judgment, lest thou come before Christ, and He cause His angels to cast thee into purgatory, and there thou remain till thou have satisfied for thy least venial sins. This exposition they stand upon the more, because hereupon they would build their doctrine of purgatory.

 

But this cannot be the true meaning of this place, for the reasons following: First, these words depend upon the former, and are a continuance of the rule of reconciliation between man and man, and not between God and man. Secondly, their exposition overthroweth the meditation and satisfaction of Christ for man to God; for if (as they say) man may and must satisfy for his venial sins, even to the uttermost, then Christ did not make a perfect satisfaction for man to God; for if He did, why should man satisfy for himself? Thirdly, by this exposition they confound the adversary and the judge (for the Father and the Son are one) which in the text are made diverse and distinct. Fourthly, they make a redemption and delivery from hell, from which indeed there is no redemption. And lastly, in making a parable of this place, they set their purgatory on a sandy foundation; for from the words of a parable can no sound collection be made, but only from the main scope thereof.

 

Others there be that understand these two verses of the party offended; for (say they) Christ had shewed before the duty of the party offending, to seek reconciliation; now therefore He layeth down the duty of the party offended and wronged, namely, that when the party offending comes to him, and desires reconciliation, he must agree and be reconciled with him quickly. This exposition, howsoever it is plausible and fit in reason, yet it cannot well stand with the words of the text, which threaten to the party that agrees not with his adversary betimes, to be carried before the judge, and cast into prison, there to lie till he have paid the uttermost farthing. But there is no reason why the party offended should thus be cast into prison, and therefore it cannot be understood of him.

 

Thirdly, others expound these words to be a parable, borrowed from the courts of the Jews; and it is hard to say whether they be the words of a parable or not.

 

But to leave all these, a fourth exposition, which I take most fit and proper to express the true meaning of the place, is this: The words contain no parable, but are literally and properly to be understood; for Christ had before exhorted the party doing wrong to seek to be reconciled with his brother by acknowledging his offence, and making recompense according to the injury offered. But because men are obstinate and stiff-necked, and will not yield and submit themselves to this duty; therefore he further urgeth the party offending to the speedy performance of this duty; by the danger ensuing upon the neglect hereof; saying,

 

Agree with thine adversary etc.

that is, use means to become friends with him with whom thou art at variance (for an adversary doth not here signify an open enemy, but anyone with whom we are at difference who hath an action against us in any matter by reason of our injury done unto him).

 

Quickly

That is, without delay, stand not upon thy supposed right, but rather yield from thine own right, than over-long to defer to be reconciled.

 

Whiles thou art in the way

That is (as we may plainly see (Luke 12:58)), while thou art going with thine adversary to have the matter tried before the magistrate.

 

Lest thine adversary deliver thee to the judge

That is, lest thine adversary having a good action against thee, do convince and cast thee before the magistrate.

 

And the judge deliver thee to the serjeant, and thou be cast into prison.

That is, lest after thou art convinced of wrongdoing, the judge command the serjeant to cast thee into prison. And because it might be thought a small thing to be cast into prison, for that he might quickly come out again, therefore our Saviour Christ addeth,

 

Verily, thou shalt not come out till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.

This farthing was the least coin used among the Jews, called a quadrin, which contains two mites; as we may see (Mark 12:42) by the widowŐs gift cast into the treasury; and it is the fourth part of a penny in English; so that this last phrase is proverbial, as if He had said, Look for no compact or agreement with thine adversary, when thou art once cast into prison, for he will shew thee no favour, but use thee as hardly as may be, remitting nothing; but causing thee to make full restitution and satisfaction, even to the uttermost farthing. And this I take to be the true and proper meaning of the words.

 

The special points to be observed in the words are two: a precept and a reason thereof.

 

1. The precept is in these words: Agree with thine adversary quickly, whilst thou art in the way with him; that is, use all good means to become friends with whomsoever thou hast any ways offended, before the matter come to be tried before the magistrate. The reason is in the words following, drawn from the danger that will ensue deferring of agreement, lest thine adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge to the serjeants etc. The precept is a rehearsal of the rule of reconciliation given in the former verse touching agreement with those whom we have offended; which point, Christ stands the more upon, because of the stubbornness of menŐs hearts, that cannot abide to submit themselves, either in yielding a little of their own right, or making satisfaction for wrong done to others. Now this precept is further set out by these two circumstances: first, of the time, it must be done quickly, and not deferred upon any pretence or shew of our own right; secondly, of the place, in the way, as we go to the court.

 

(1) In this precept, our Saviour Christ gives unto us a notable rule of equanimity for the maintenance of peace and love with those with whom we are to deal in the private affairs of our special callings; namely, to deal moderately, if the matter concerns ourselves, without all rigour or extremity; unless our place be such wherein our silence may impeach the glory of God or the good of His church (Phil 4:5), Let your patient mind be known to all men.

 

To the practice of this rule, many duties are required. First, we must construe all menŐs sayings and doings in the best part; herein there failed that bare false witness against our Saviour Christ by applying His speech to the material temple in Jerusalem (Matt 26:60), which He spake of the temple of His body. This mistaking and misconstruing of menŐs sayings and doings, is the cause of much debate continually. Secondly, we must learn to bear with, and to wink at our brotherŐs wants (Prov. 19:11), It is the glory of a man to pass by an offence. If the same only concerns us, and be not too derogatory to GodŐs glory; as if he be forward, hasty, angry, reproachful, and so forth; we must in Christian patience pass by the same, as though we took no notice of it, till by our reproof we may do him good. Thirdly, though direct injury be done unto us, yet if the same be private, and do not impeach the glory of God, our life, or good name, we must be content to bear it (1 Cor. 6:7); Paul doth sharply rebuke the Corinthians for going to law about trifles, Why (saith he) suffer you not wrong? Why sustain you not harms? And this by GodŐs grace a man shall do, if first, he duly and equally considers his own deserts, both of like injuries from men, and of eternal damnation from God Himself, whom he continually offendeth. Secondly, if he have an eye to the providence of God in that thing wherein he is wronged, who disposeth all things for the good of His children. Thirdly, for the maintenance of peace we must yield our own right. So did Abraham unto Lot (Gen. 13:9), though he were above him both in years and authority, bidding him choose where he would dwell, whether on the right hand or on the left. And our Saviour Christ, though He were free, being of the kingŐs stock, yet for the avoiding of offence, paid tribute for Himself and Peter (Matt. 17:25-27). And observing these things with good conscience, we shall by GodŐs grace maintain Christian concord.

 

(2) Secondly, Christ commanding speedy agreement, condemneth that wilfulness and stubbornness of men whereby, rather than they will submit themselves and yield a little of their right, they will carry every trifling matter before the magistrate. This is a common fault among us in these days of peace, for every trial is made a law matter, which ought not to be among Christians; it plainly argueth great want of love, and small regard of this commandment of our Saviour Christ. I speak not this to condemn the lawful use of the law, but to reprove the bad practice of carnal men, who make lawing the means of their private revenge, and sometimes of flat injustice against their brethren, whom they do not affect.

 

(3) Thirdly, Christ here also noteth out the hardness and cruelty of menŐs hearts, who will never let a man go, if once they get him in the lurch. Such cruel wretches are they that take the forfeitures of leases, bonds and obligations; and such, for the most part, are our common usurers. But all these must know that they are void of love and grace, whereby they should maintain this concord which Christ requires.

 

(4) Fourthly, by this circumstance of time, Agree quickly, Christ would teach us to keep  our hearts clear from grudging and heart-burning, even then, when we have occasion of suit or controversy with others; for this rancour of heart will cause further debate and contention, like to an angry humour in the veins, which sets the whole body in burning fits.

 

(5) Fifthly, if we must use speed in seeking agreement with men whom we have offended, before we come to the trial of a mortal judge; then much more must we give all diligence to be reconciled unto God for our daily sins whereby we offend Him; and that with all speed, even in this life, before we come to His tribunal seat. For howsoever in the courts of men we may go upon sureties, yet at the bar of GodŐs judgment, none can answer for us. If we be not beforehand reconciled to God in Christ, this undoubtedly will be the issue; we shall be cast into utter darkness, and there remain till we have fully satisfied the justice of God, which will never be. Let all estates and degrees think on this, and especially the younger sort, who deceive themselves by deferring repentance, whenas indeed they, as well as others, are every day going forward to the bar of GodŐs judgment.

 

(6) Sixthly, as in seeking reconciliation, so in doing every good work that concerns GodŐs glory in the good of others, we must use all convenient speed; while we have time, we must do what good we can unto all (Gal. 6:10), for death and the last judgment come suddenly. Say not unto thy neighbour (saith Solomon) go, and come again tomorrow, if thou hast it now (Prov. 3:28). And again (Eccl. 9:10), Whatsoever thy hand shall find to do, do it with all thy power. This is JobŐs defence (Job 31:16), that he restrained not the poor of their desire, nor caused the widowŐs eyes to fail; and his practice must be our precedent, for the more good we do, the more grace we have, and the more like we be to our heavenly Father (Matt. 5:44,45).

 

 

2. Thus much of the precept. The reason followeth, Lest thine adversary deliver thee to the judge etc., which is thus much in effect: If thou shew extremity, thou shalt find extremity shewed unto thee again, even by the magistrate. They that deal stiffly and rigourously, shall be rewarded in their kind. God in His just judgement will have men measured unto, as they measure unto others (Matt. 7:2,6; Mark 4:24).

 

Here then we are taught to deal in equity and moderation with all men, in the private affairs of our callings, even as we would have them to deal with us; and then God will cause others to deal well with us; but if we deal ill with others, God will reward us in the same kind. This point all usurers, engrossers, tradesmen etc.,  should well observe, who think they may do with their own what they will; but we must know that we are but stewards, and our account will be exact.

 

Secondly, here we see Christ alloweth: 1. Of the magistrate and his judgment seat. 2. Of his proceeding against the guilty in delivering him to the officer. 3. Of the office of the serjeant. 4. Of casting guilty persons into prison. 5. Of suing at the law, when right cannot be gotten by any other lawful means. But law must not be the first course we take in seeking our right, we must rather suffer some wrong, and seek to end the matter by friends; and use law as physicians use poisons, when gentle physick will not serve the turn, then in case of extremity they do minister stronger physick; yea, sometimes poison itself; so when we cannot otherwise procure our peace and right, then we may lawfully take the benefit of the law.