Matthew 5:26
Truly I say to you, You shall by no means come out there, till you have paid the uttermost farthing.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(26) The uttermost farthing.—The Greek word is derived from the Latin quadrans, the fourth part of the Roman as, a small copper or bronze coin which had become common in Palestine. The “mite,” half the quadrans (Mark 12:42), was the smallest coin in circulation. The “farthing” of Matthew 10:29 is a different word, and was applied to the tenth part of the drachma.

Do the words point to a terminable or to an endless punishment? In the frame-work of the similitude such a sentence would not involve perpetual imprisonment, if only the condemned could get together the money wherewith to pay his debt or fine; and we might infer, as Romanist divines have inferred, that such a payment, to be followed by liberation, was possible in the divine judgment. But in practice, unless the man had friends or property, the sentence would, for the most part, involve a life-long punishment. And the question may well be asked, when we turn to the realities shadowed forth in the parable, Can a man pay the “uttermost farthing” in that unseen world? Does he pay by enduring for a given time a given measure of suffering, bodily or spiritual? Can he there find others to pay it for him? Do not the words “till thou hast paid” exclude the thought of their intervention as availing to stay the full action of the great law of retribution? These questions must, for the most part, be so answered as to diminish the force of the first hasty inference. If hope is not shut out altogether, it is because we cannot absolutely answer the first question in the negative. There may be a suffering that works repentance, and the repentance may lead to peace and pardon—there may be, but that is the very utmost that can be said. It is noticeable that the word “prison” is that used in 1Peter 3:19, where the “spirits in prison” are, almost beyond a doubt, represented as the objects of a dispensation that proclaimed even there the good news of salvation. But the whole tone of the passage is that of one who seeks to deepen the sense of danger, not to make light of it, to make men feel that they cannot pay their debt, though God may forgive it freely, accepting faith in Him in lieu of payment.

5:21-26 The Jewish teachers had taught, that nothing except actual murder was forbidden by the sixth commandment. Thus they explained away its spiritual meaning. Christ showed the full meaning of this commandment; according to which we must be judged hereafter, and therefore ought to be ruled now. All rash anger is heart murder. By our brother, here, we are to understand any person, though ever so much below us, for we are all made of one blood. Raca, is a scornful word, and comes from pride: Thou fool, is a spiteful word, and comes from hatred. Malicious slanders and censures are poison that kills secretly and slowly. Christ told them that how light soever they made of these sins, they would certainly be called into judgment for them. We ought carefully to preserve Christian love and peace with all our brethren; and if at any time there is a quarrel, we should confess our fault, humble ourselves to our brother, making or offering satisfaction for wrong done in word or deed: and we should do this quickly; because, till this is done, we are unfit for communion with God in holy ordinances. And when we are preparing for any religious exercises, it is good for us to make that an occasion of serious reflection and self-examination. What is here said is very applicable to our being reconciled to God through Christ. While we are alive, we are in the way to his judgement-seat; after death, it will be too late. When we consider the importance of the case, and the uncertainty of life, how needful it is to seek peace with God, without delay!Agree with thine adversary quickly - This is still an illustration of the sixth commandment. To be in hostility, to go to law, to be litigious, is a violation always, on one side or the other, of the law requiring us to love our neighbor, and our Saviour regards it as a violation of the sixth commandment. While you are in the way with him, says he, that is, while you are going to the court, before the trial has taken place, it is your duty, if possible, to come to an agreement. It is wrong to carry the contention to a court of law. See 1 Corinthians 6:6-7. The consequence of not being reconciled, he expresses in the language of courts. The adversary shall deliver to the judge, and he to the executioner, and he shall throw you into prison. He did not mean to say that this would be literally the way with God, but that His dealings with those that harbored these feelings, and would not be reconciled with their brethren, were represented by the punishment inflicted by human tribunals. That is, he would hold all such as violators of the sixth commandment, and would punish them accordingly.

There is no propriety in the use sometimes made of this verse, in representing God as the "adversary" of the sinner, and urging him to be reconciled to God while in the way to judgment. Nor does the phrase "thou shalt by no means come out thence until thou hast paid the uttermost farthing" refer to the eternity of future punishment. It is language taken from courts of justice, to illustrate the truth that God will punish people according to justice for not being reconciled to him. The punishment in the future world will be eternal indeed Matthew 25:46, but this passage does not prove it.

Thine adversary - A man that is opposed to us in law. It here means a creditor; a man who has a just claim on us.

In the way with him - While you are going before the court. Before the trial comes on. It is remarkable that this very direction is found in the Roman law of the Twelve Tables, which expressly directed the plaintiff and defendant to make up the matter while they were in the way, or going to the praetor - in via, rem uti pacunt orato. - Blackstone's Commentary, iii. p. 299. Whether the Saviour had any reference to this cannot be determined. As the Roman laws prevailed to some extent in Palestine, however, it is possible that there was such an allusion.

The officer - The executioner; or, as we should say, the sheriff.

The uttermost farthing - The last farthing. All that is due. The farthing was a small coin used in Judea, equal to two mites. It was not quite equal to half a farthing of British money.

26. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing—a fractional Roman coin, to which our "farthing" answers sufficiently well. That our Lord meant here merely to give a piece of prudential advice to his hearers, to keep out of the hands of the law and its officials by settling all disputes with one another privately, is not for a moment to be supposed, though there are critics of a school low enough to suggest this. The concluding words—"Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out," &c.—manifestly show that though the language is drawn from human disputes and legal procedure, He is dealing with a higher than any human quarrel, a higher than any human tribunal, a higher than any human and temporal sentence. In this view of the words—in which nearly all critics worthy of the name agree—the spirit of them may be thus expressed: "In expounding the sixth commandment, I have spoken of offenses between man and man; reminding you that the offender has another party to deal with besides him whom he has wronged on earth, and assuring you that all worship offered to the Searcher of hearts by one who knows that a brother has just cause of complaint against him, and yet takes no steps to remove it, is vain: But I cannot pass from this subject without reminding you of One whose cause of complaint against you is far more deadly than any that man can have against man: and since with that Adversary you are already on the way to judgment, it will be your wisdom to make up the quarrel without delay, lest sentence of condemnation be pronounced upon you, and then will execution straightway follow, from the effects of which you shall never escape as long as any remnant of the offense remains unexpiated." It will be observed that as the principle on which we are to "agree" with this "Adversary" is not here specified, and the precise nature of the retribution that is to light upon the despisers of this warning is not to be gathered from the mere use of the word "prison"; so, the remedilessness of the punishment is not in so many words expressed, and still less is its actual cessation taught. The language on all these points is designedly general; but it may safely be said that the unending duration of future punishment—elsewhere so clearly and awfully expressed by our Lord Himself, as in Mt 5:29, 30, and Mr 9:43, 48—is the only doctrine with which His language here quite naturally and fully accords. (Compare Mt 18:30, 34).

The Same Subject Illustrated from the Seventh Commandment (Mt 5:27-32).

Forasmuch as the overt acts and expressions of unjust wrath and malice are iniquities punishable by the judge, let it be the care of those that will be my disciples, if by their passions they have provoked any, and made them their adversaries, quickly to agree with them; for you know the ordinary course of enraged adversaries amongst men, is to bring their actions, and to bring men before the civil judge; and when the judge upon inquiry hath found them guilty, he useth to deliver them to the gaoler to be carried to prison, until they have fully paid their fines for such offences. And forasmuch as not only the overt acts, but the passions which cause such acts, are culpable before God, and make men obnoxious to his righteous judgment, and God by them is made an adversary to the soul, as having violated his great command, Thou shalt do no murder; let all my disciples, who have been or may be overtaken with such faults, by repentance and faith in me make their peace with God in this life, lest dying in impenitency they be put under the eternal displeasure and wrath of God, from whence they shall never be delivered, Matthew 6:15 18:35. Verily, I say unto thee,.... This may be depended upon, you may assure yourself of it, that

thou shalt by no means come out thence, from prison,

till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing, or "last farthing"; or as the Ethiopic version reads it, "till thou hast exactly paid all"; which seems to express the inexorableness of the creditor, and the impossibility of the debtor's release.

Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast {q} paid the uttermost farthing.

(q) You will be dealt with in this manner, to the utmost extremity.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Matthew 5:26. Ἕως ἄν, until) The debtor is left to himself; see ch. Matthew 18:34. It is strange that the expression, ἕως ἄν, should have been urged by those, who hence infer the possibility of payment, rather than τὸν ἔσχατον κοδράντην, the last farthing.—τὸν ἔσχατον, the last) Thus does Divine justice exact everything, not a single farthing more or less than you owe.[209]—κοδράντην, quadrantem) Substantives which express foreign articles are very frequently transferred from one language to another, instead of being translated.[210]

[209] O the vain and most deceitful persuasion of the old man, whereby he supposes that God will only lightly exact the debts due to Him. Nay, unless remission interpose so as to remove utterly one’s countless faults, the uttermost avarice of man does not exercise as great rigour, as the divine justice justly and deservedly maintains.—Vers. Germ.

[210] The quadrans, the fourth part of an asse, about a farthing and a half of our money.—(I. B.)Verse 26. - Thou shalt by no means, etc. A solemn statement of the unrelenting character of justice. The Romanists hold that the verse implies

(1) that if payment can be made, release follows;

(2) and that payment can be made.

The first statement is probable; but as for the slightest hint of the second, it is wholly wanting. Christ affirms that non-reconciliation with a brother, if carried beyond that limit of time within which the quarrel can be made up, involves consequences in which the element of mercy will be entirely absent. The element of mercy can enter up to a certain point of time, but after that only justice. (On "pay," ἀποδῷς, see Matthew 6:4, note.) It will be observed that, in the above interpretation, ἀντίδικος has been consistently explained as a human adversary, for this seems to be the primary meaning here. But it should not be forgotten that, in the parallel passage in Luke, the reference is to God. Offences against man are there represented in their true character as offences against God, who is therefore depicted as the adversary in a lawsuit. That, from another point of view, be is also the Judge, matters not. Both conceptions of him are true, and can be kept quite distinct. It may be the case, indeed, that this reference of ἀντίδικος to God was present to St. Matthew's mind also when he recorded these words, and this would partly account for the terrible emphasis on ver. 26, the pendant to ver. 22. But even if the reference to God were present to St. Matthew's mind by way of application, it is not with him, as it is with St. Luke, the primary. signification of the word. Farthing. The quadrans, the smallest Roman coin.
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