Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Luke 17

Verse 1


(1) It is impossible but that offences will come.—In this instance, the absence of any apparent connection might, perhaps, justify us in looking on the two precepts as having been noted by St. Luke for their own intrinsic value, without regard to the context in which they had been spoken. (See Notes on Matthew 18:7.) Even here, however, we must remember that there may have been what we have called “dropped links.” It is not hard to see that the self-indulgent life, after the pattern of that of the rich man in the preceding parable, was an “offence” which, in one sense, must needs come, in the history of the Christian Church, as it had come in the Jewish, and yet would bring a woe on the man through whom it came.

Verse 2

(2) It were batter for him . . .—See Note on Matthew 18:6, where the order of the two sayings is inverted. Assuming the words to have been repeated where we find them here, the “little ones” must mean the disciples of Christ who are, in both senses of the word “offended” by the worldliness of those who profess to be religious. They are made to stumble by the temptation to follow the bad example, or their faith in the reality of godliness is shaken by seeing that the form exists without the power.

Verse 3

(3) Take heed to yourselves.—The position of the words is remarkable, and they have nothing corresponding to them in the parallel passage in Matthew 18:21, where see Note. It is as though our Lord saw in the disciples the tendency to sit in judgment on the sins of others, on such sins especially as He had just condemned, and checked it by the words “take heed to yourselves.” They were in danger of faults hardly less fatal to the spiritual life than selfish luxury, and one of those faults was the temper of hard and unforgiving judgment. When they saw a conspicuous instance of worldliness or other evil, they did as we so often do—they condemned, but did not “rebuke.” In practice, as He taught them by example as by precept, open friendly reproof, aiming at restoration, is the truest path to the forgiveness with which, in the careless estimate of most men, it seems to be incompatible.

Verse 4

(4) If he trespass against thee.—Better, if he sin. The better MSS. omit the words, “against thee,” and so make the command more general, and the verb is the same as that in Matthew 18:21, the teaching of which is here manifestly reproduced. The outward form seems at first to present a somewhat lower standard of forgiveness, “seven times,” instead of “seventy times seven.” Here, however, it should be remembered that we have “seven times a day,” and the meaning is obviously the same in both passages. No accumulation of offences, however often repeated, is to be allowed to bring us to the hardness which refuses to forgive when the offender says that he repents and asks forgiveness.

Verse 5

(5) The apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith.—The form in which the fragment that thus commences is brought before us suggests, as has been stated before (see Notes on Luke 7:13; Luke 10:1), that it was a comparatively late addition to the collection of “the words of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:35), and this is confirmed by the exceptional use of “the Apostles” for “the disciples.” It may have stood originally in an absolutely isolated form. On the other hand, its position here indicates a sufficiently traceable sequence. That command of a seven-fold—i.e., an unlimited—forgiveness seemed to make almost too great a strain on their faith. Did it not imply an almost miraculous victory over natural impulses, that could be wrought only by a supernatural grace? Was not the faith that could “remove mountains” wanted, if ever, here—a faith in the pardoning love of the Father, and in their own power to reproduce it? And so, conscious of their weakness, they came with the prayer that has so often come from the lips of yearning, yet weak, disciples of the Christ—reminding us of him who cried, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (see Note on Mark 9:24)—“Increase our faith.” May we not possibly think of Peter as having struggled to obey the rule which had been given to them before (Matthew 18:22), and as having found himself unequal to the task?

Verse 6

(6) If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed.—The words remind us, and must have reminded the disciples, of those of Matthew 17:20, which were called forth by the failure of the disciples to heal the demoniac boy after the Transfiguration. The “sycamine tree” (probably not the same as the “sycamore,” but identified by most botanists with the mulberry tree, still cultivated on the slopes of the Lebanon and in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem and Nablous, both for its fruit and as supplying food for silkworms) takes the place of “this mountain,” sc. Hermon, as an illustration of what true faith could do. If we suppose the conversation to have taken place near the Sea of Galilee, both features of the comparison gain a local vividness. It is remarkable that our Lord meets the prayer with what sounds like a reproof; and such a reproof, we must believe, was needed. The most elementary faith would have been enough to teach them (assuming the connection that has been traced above) that God is love, and that He would help them to overcome all hindrances to their love being after the pattern of His own. There was something, it may be, false in the ring of that prayer, an unreal diffidence asking for that as a gift which really comes only through active obedience and the experience which is gained through it.

Verse 7

(7) But which of you, having a servant . .?—The words contain in reality, though not in form, an answer to their question. They had been asking for faith, not only in a measure sufficient for obedience, but as excluding all uncertainty and doubt. They were looking for the crown of labour before their work was done, for the wreath of the conqueror before they had fought the battle. He presses home upon them the analogies of common human experience. The slave who had been “ploughing” or “feeding sheep” (the word is that always used of the shepherd’s work, as in John 21:16, Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:2, and so both the participles are suggestive of latent parables of the spiritual work of the Apostles) is not all at once invited to sit down at the feast. He has first to minister to his master’s wants, to see that his soul is satisfied, and then, in due course, his own turn will come. So, in the life of the disciples, outward ministerial labour was to be followed by personal devotion. In other words, the “increase of faith” for which the Apostles prayed, was to come through obedience, outward and inward obedience, to their Master’s will. Faith was to show itself in virtue, and virtue would bring knowledge, and knowledge would strengthen faith. Comp. 2 Peter 1:5, as showing that the lesson had been learnt.

Verse 8

(8) Gird thyself, and serve me.—Better, minister to me. The words receive a fresh significance if we connect them with Luke 12:37, of which they are, as it were, the complement. There the Master promises that He will gird Himself, and minister to His disciples. Here He tells them that He too requires a service. They must give Him the meat and the drink of seeing that His Father’s will is done on earth (John 4:32; John 4:34), and then they too shall be sharers in His joy. Yet another aspect of the same truths is found in the later promise of the Lord of the Churches to the servant who watches for His coming, “I will sup with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20).

Verse 9

(9) Doth he thank that servant . .?—The words are spoken, of course, from the standpoint of the old relations between the master and the slave, not from that of those who recognise that master and slave are alike children of the same Father and servants of the same Master. In order to understand their bearing, we must remember how the subtle poison of self-righteousness was creeping in, even into the souls of the disciples, leading them to ask, “What shall we have therefore?” (Matthew 19:19), and to ask for high places in His kingdom (Matthew 20:21).

Verse 10

(10) Say, We are unprofitable servants.—There is something very suggestive in the use of the same word as that which meets us in the parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:30). God, we are taught, may recognise and reward the varying use which men make of gifts and opportunities. But all boasting is excluded; and in relation to God the man who has gained the ten talents has to own that he has nothing that he has not received, and to confess that he stands, as it were, on a level with the “unprofitable servant.” Any personal claim on the ground of merit falls to the ground before such a declaration, and still more any speculative theory of works of supererogation, and of the transfer of the merits gained by them from one man to his fellow-servants and fellow-sinners.

Verse 11

(11) And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem.—This is the first distinct note of time in St. Luke’s narrative since Luke 9:51. It appears to coincide with the journey of which we read in Matthew 19:1, Mark 10:1, and is the commencement of the last progress through the regions in which our Lord had already carried on His ministry. The fact, peculiar to St. Luke, that it led Him through Samaria, apparently through that part of it which lay on the borders of Galilee, is obviously reported in connection with the miracle that follows, the other Gospels dwelling on the departure from Galilee, and the continuance of the journey to Jerusalem by the route on the east of the Jordan valley.

Verse 12

(12) Ten men that were lepers.—On the general character of leprosy, see Notes on Matthew 8:2. As only one of these was a Samaritan, it seems probable that the unnamed village was, as has been said, on the border-land of the two provinces. It is, perhaps, significant that our Lord takes neither of the usual caravan roads—one of which passed through Samaria, the other through Peræa—but chooses one for Himself that led through the one district into the other. The herding together of those who were shut out from all other fellowship has its parallel in the four lepers of 2 Kings 7:3.

Which stood afar off.—In this case, then, there was no running and falling at the feet of Jesus, as in the earlier case of healing. They kept, it would seem probable, to the legal limit of one hundred paces.

Verse 13

(13) Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.—The Greek word for “Master” is again that which has been noticed as St. Luke’s usual equivalent for “Rabbi.” (See Note on Luke 5:5.) We may believe that the earlier instance of leprosy being cleansed (Matthew 8:2), possibly many such instances (Matthew 11:5), had in some way come to their knowledge.

Verse 14

(14) Go shew yourselves unto the priests.—On the meaning and object of this command, see Note on Matthew 8:4. Here, however, it may be noted, there was no accompanying touch as the outward means and pledge of healing, and the command was therefore, in a greater degree than it had been before, a trial and test of faith. It did not necessarily imply a journey to Jerusalem. Any priest in any town was qualified for the function of inspecting and deciding on the completeness of the cure. Suddenly, or by degrees, as they went, the taint of blood disappeared, and their flesh became as it had been in the days of health.

Verse 15

(15) Turned back, and with a loud voice.—The words imply that the work of healing was not accomplished till the company of lepers were at least out of sight.

Verse 16

(16) And he was a Samaritan.—As in the parable of the Good Samaritan, St. Luke’s purpose in the selection of the incident falls in with what may be called the Catholicity of his Gospel, the breaking down of every middle wall of partition that divided the Jew from the other nations of the world. As the narrative is peculiar to his record, we may reasonably believe that it was one of the facts with which he became acquainted in the course of his personal inquiries in Galilee and Samaria. It is significant, in this case, that the barrier had been already broken down for a time by the common pressure of calamity, but no enduring sense of fellowship had as yet taken its place. The nine would seem to have separated themselves from the Samaritan as soon as they were cleansed. Men want more than the “misery” which our common proverb associates with “strange” companions, before they learn the lesson of brotherhood in its fulness.

Verse 17

(17) Were there not ten cleansed?—There is, it is clear, a tone of mingled surprise, and grief, and indignation, in the question thus asked. Looking to the facts of the case, an ethical question of some difficulty presents itself. If the nine had had faith to be healed—and the fact that they were healed implies it—how was it that faith did not show itself further in gratitude and love? The answer is to be found in the analogous phenomena of the spiritual life which are found at times in cases that are as the cleansing of the soul’s leprosy. Men have the faith which justifies; they are pardoned, and they have the sense of freedom from the burden and the disease of sin, and yet their lives show no glow of loving gratitude. They shrink from fellowship with those who, having been sharers in the same blessing with themselves, are separated from them by outward lines of demarcation. We may, perhaps, think, without being over-bold, of the twelve disciples of the Baptist, who continued in their separatist life at Ephesus, without knowing the warmth and love and joy of the indwelling of the Spirit, as presenting such analogous phenomena. (See Notes on Acts 19:1-7.) The history of most churches or smaller religious societies, perhaps also that of most individual men, presents many more.

Verse 18

(18) Save this stranger.—The word for “stranger” means literally, a man of another race, an alien. It is not found elsewhere in the New Testament, but is used in the LXX. of Isaiah 56:3. It was probably a term of contempt in common use among the Jews. (Comp. the kindred word “aliens,” with special reference to the Philistines, in Hebrews 11:34, and “one of another nation” in Acts 10:28.) It implied, as did the whole treatment of the Samaritans by the Jews. that the former were not recognised as being, in any sense, children of Abraham.

Verse 19

(19) Thy faith hath made thee whole.—The verb, elsewhere rendered, as in Luke 7:50, “hath saved thee,” is obviously used here so as to include both its higher and lower meanings. The nine had had sufficient faith for the restoration of the health of their body; his had gone further, and had given a new and purer life to his soul.

Verse 20

(20) When he was demanded of the Pharisees.—The question may have been asked in a different tone, by different classes of those who bore the common name of Pharisee. There were some who were really looking for the coming of the Messianic kingdom; there were some who altogether rejected the claim of Jesus of Nazareth to be the Christ. In the lips of the one set, the question implied a taunt; in those of the other, something like impatience. The terms of the answer contain that which met both cases.

Cometh not with observation.—The English noun exactly answers to the meaning of the Greek, as meaning careful and anxious watching. There was, perhaps, a special force in the word, as referring to the two forms of “watching” of which our Lord had been the object. Some of the Pharisees had “observed” Him once and again with a purpose more or less hostile. (Comp. Luke 6:7; Luke 14:1; Mark 3:2; where the Greek verb is that from which the noun here used is derived.) Others were looking for some sign from heaven, to show that He was the promised Head of the Kingdom. They are told that when it comes it will not be in conjunction with any such “observation” of outward things; it would burst upon them suddenly. In the meantime they must look for the signs of its presence in quite another region. The marginal reading, “outward shew”—that which is subject to observation—though giving an adequate meaning, is rather a paraphrase than a translation.

Verse 20-21

The Kingdom that is Within

The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo, here! or, There! for lo, the kingdom of God is within you.—Luke 17:20-21.

1. “The kingdom of God is within you.” That would indeed be a most pregnant and decisive utterance, if we could be sure that our Lord meant it so. Unfortunately we cannot take it with the unhesitating simplicity of the author of the Imitation of Christ, because as the words stand in the Greek they are susceptible of another rendering. The Revised Version has in the margin, “The kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” As far as the grammar is concerned, either translation is equally tenable, and the choice between them turns upon considerations which are fairly well balanced. The immediate context favours “in the midst of you,” for our Lord was speaking to the Pharisees who expected the Kingdom to be ushered in with signs and portents, with pomp and circumstance. That, He said, was a fundamental error. It was the very nature of the Kingdom to come in quietness and without attracting observation. Men would not be able to point the finger at it and say “Here it comes”; “for, behold, the kingdom of God is [already] amongst you.” If we take it so, we recall at once the words of John the Baptist (John 1:26), “in the midst of you standeth one whom ye know not.” It is true that the two words are not identical: but they seem to be indistinguishable in meaning. In both cases the Jews overlooked the really important and crucial fact because they were looking at or looking for something more conspicuous. By the singularity of his life and preaching John the Baptist had forced himself upon the attention of all the people, and even of the rulers. They discussed the question whether he could be the Expected, wholly oblivious of the fact that the Expected had been for thirty years domiciled among them. So again they discussed the signs of the promised Kingdom, and asked our Lord’s opinion about them, in total ignorance of the fact that the Kingdom was already set up in their midst. It was undoubtedly all part of the same fundamental and persistent error, and it was rebuked in almost identical words. “He is here”; “it is here; here—in the very midst of you—if you only knew it.” There is no doubt that such is the common-sense interpretation of those memorable words, and as such it must always command our respectful acquiescence, if nothing more.

But there is much to be said on the other side. “The kingdom of God is within you” goes further than the other, further than the immediate occasion required; moreover it is addressed, not to the rulers, but to mankind at large. But all that is quite in keeping with our Lord’s manner. When, e.g., our Lord exclaimed (John 4:48) “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will in no wise believe,” He was assuredly not speaking to that simple-minded nobleman from Capernaum. Only a hopeless stupidity will go on maintaining that. He had in His mind’s eye the general mass of the Galileans, who received Him because they had seen or heard of His miracles, but had no mind to accept His claims or His teachings; He saw behind them an innumerable multitude of all nations whose attitude towards the Kingdom would be equally unspiritual and unsatisfactory; and in the sorrow of His heart He spoke to them, as represented (for the moment) by the supplicant before Him. It is impossible to doubt that His words over and over again surpassed the scope and range of what was immediately present. We are justified therefore in thinking it possible, and even probable, that, in answering the question of the Pharisees, He gave utterance to a saying of the widest and most lasting significance. “The kingdom of God is within you”; i.e., its most characteristic development, its most proper and necessary manifestation, is an inward one—inward to the souls of men. In other words the Kingdom of God is a state of mind and soul which is reproduced in a multitude of individuals—a state which is characterized by the action of certain spiritual powers, by the dominance of certain moral and religious principles.

If you want to find the Kingdom of God, our Lord would say, you need not expect to read of its advent in the daily papers, or to hear the news in the gossip of the market-place; its progress will not be reported in Reuter’s telegrams, nor will its shares be quoted on the Stock Exchange: it will not fall under the cognizance of parliaments, or convocations, or councils: whatever outward connections and developments it may have, these will not be of its essence, because that is and must be inward to the souls of men.1 [Note: R. Winterbotham, The Kingdom of Heaven, 221.]

Let every man retire into himself, and see if he can find this Kingdom in his heart; for if he find it not there, in vain will he find it in all the world besides.2 [Note: J. Hales, Golden Remains.]

What are the signs by which our loyalty as citizens of the Kingdom of God will be proved? Not any uniform which can be laid aside when we enter our secret chamber; not any watchword which we can learn by an easy tradition, but a character which clothes itself in deeds, a creed which is translated into a life. The citizen must, according to the measure of his powers, embody the notes of the Kingdom, and the Kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. In “righteousness, peace, joy,” we can recognize “equality, liberty, fraternity,” interpreted, purified, and extended. They tell us that the community and not the individual is the central thought in the life of men. They tell us that the fulfilment of duties and not the assertion of rights, is the foundation of the social structure. They tell us that the end of labour is not material well-being, but that larger, deeper, more abiding delight which comes from successfully ministering to the good of others. They tell us that over all that is transitory in the form of the Kingdom, over all the conditions which determine its growth, there rests the light, the power of an eternal presence.3 [Note: Bishop B. F. Westcott.]

2. If then we take it that our Lord’s meaning is best expressed by “the kingdom of God is within you,” there are two things to be said about it.

(1) In the first place, it requires balancing, like everything else which concerns the Kingdom. For, however much the Kingdom of God is within us, its manifestation will and must pass out into life and action. We cannot help that. We cannot really cry “hands off” to Christ in the name of politics, for example. We cannot seriously maintain that the citizen or the official or the statesman should restrict his Christianity entirely to his private life because the Kingdom of God is within us. It is indeed notorious that well-meaning people allow themselves to do a thousand things in a public capacity which they would never do as private Christians; but it is certain that in this matter they are self-deceived, and will suffer a rude awakening some day. As Christians we are bound to give the most careful and scrupulous heed to a multitude of outward questions and considerations.

(2) But in the second place, we must never quit our grasp upon the fundamental principle of the inwardness of the Kingdom. We are driven to deal with the outsides of things, with tests, observances, statistics, organizations, and so on. As far as other people are concerned, we can get at the Kingdom only from outside. And so it comes to pass that for an innumerable number the outside becomes almost everything. They never get beyond it; it absorbs all their interest. What a fearful lot of arithmetic has got into the Kingdom of Heaven in our days! What counting of heads, what touting for mere numbers, what adding up of figures, of attendances, of statistics of all kinds! “Religious statistics,” they are called, by a curious euphemism, since no art of human nomenclature can make statistics religious.

We cannot too highly value the services which the shell renders to the nut that grows and ripens within its shelter. But if one should spend his time in gathering nut-shells, quite indifferent as to whether there was any nut inside or not, he would be exactly like some very active “religious” workers of to-day. One is indeed sometimes disposed to think that the enormous growth of religious agencies and organizations in the present age must be a bitter disappointment to the Lord of the Harvest; for there is no corresponding increase of inward religion. Increase there may be; but nothing commensurate with the immense expansion of machinery. There are indeed no outward and visible criteria of the true welfare of the Kingdom. There is a vast amount of action and reaction between the outward and visible, and the inward and invisible, but the one gives no direct clue to the other: and it is within, and out of sight, that the essential truth of the Kingdom is to be found.1 [Note: R. Winterbotham, The Kingdom of Heaven, 223.]


Without Observation

The first thing Christ says here about the Kingdom is that it comes without observation. Its advance is not obvious to the senses and curiosity of men; it moves onwards and diffuses itself without being perceived and commented on. And the reason for this is, that the Kingdom is in its essence not a purely political fabric, such as the materialized and unspiritual fancy of the later Jews, misled by a false patriotism, had conceived it to be, but a spiritual realm, touching this earth indeed by its contact with, and empire over, human souls, but reaching far, far away from the sphere of sense, even to the utmost confines of the world invisible. Men are not to say, “Lo, here! or, There! for lo, the kingdom of God is within” them. Its seat of power lies wholly beyond the province and capacity of eye and ear; it is set up in the hearts and consciences and wills of men; and until the most secret processes of the human soul can be displayed in sensuous forms beneath the light of day, the coming of such a Kingdom must needs be “not with observation.”

The word “observation” is used not in the modern active sense of observing, watching closely, but in the old sense of being observed, having attention paid to it. This is the sense in which Walton in his Compleat Angler uses the word: “I told you Angling is an art, either by practice or a long observation or both.”1 [Note: J. Hastings, in Dictionary of the Bible, iii. 582.]

1. This is true of Nature. The mightiest agencies ever produce effects which are silently accomplished. There is no noise in the morning of spring when the grass of the field and the trees of the forest clothe themselves with beauty in their robes of green. There is no noise on earth when the snow falls or when the seed fructifies that is yet to grow into all the richness of harvest, and become food for the millions that inhabit the surface of our globe. There is no noise when the sun rises in the east and wakes the world from slumber. Gently and noiselessly is the dew distilled beneath the stars, and as gently and noiselessly does it depart before the breath of the morning. The mighty power that bears along the worlds above us in their orbits through the immensity of space makes no noise as it speeds them in their rapidity of flight.

There are many who might be apt to think light of a very tame and feeble agency, because it is noiseless. An earthquake seems to be charged with mightier power. It thunders through the solid foundations of nature, and rocks a whole continent. In a moment the works of man are shattered and cities levelled with the ground. And yet, let the light of day cease, and there would be the reign of universal death. The vegetable world would be destroyed, the vital power of the whole animal world would be extinguished. The earth would be frozen in its centre, and the earthquake itself would cease. Such is light, that comes to us so noiselessly and gently that it would not wake an infant from its sleep, and yet every morning rescues a world from death.

“Thy kingdom come,” we are bid to ask then! But how shall it come? With power and great glory, it is written; and yet not with observation, it is also written. Strange kingdom! Yet its strangeness is renewed to us with every dawn.

When the time comes for us to wake out of the world’s sleep, why should it be otherwise than out of the dreams of the night? Singing of birds, first, broken and low, as, not to dying eyes, but eyes that wake to life, “the casement slowly grows a glimmering square”; and then the gray, and then the rose of dawn; and last the light, whose going forth is to the ends of heaven.

This kingdom it is not in our power to bring; but it is, to receive. Nay, it is come already, in part; but not received, because men love chaos best; and the Night, with her daughters. That is still the only question for us, as in the old Elias days, “If ye will receive it.”1 [Note: Ruskin, Modern Painters, v. (Works, vii. 459).]

2. This holds good also in every region of human activity, with but few exceptions. Every great movement, great event, great institution, all in short, or well-nigh all, that has exercised a deep and lasting influence on the after-history of the world, has had small and unobserved beginnings, has grown up like the mustard seed, without observation; while loud and grand commencements, summoning as with the sound of a trumpet the whole world to behold what a mighty birth is at hand, or what a glorious thing has just been born—these are almost sure to come to nothing, to end in shameful discomfiture and defeat.

Who has ever traced the obscure rudiments, the first foundations of that wondrous city on the banks of the Tiber, which was for so many centuries queen and mistress of the world; and which, when the sceptre of temporal sovereignty dropped from her aged hand, presently grew young again, and wielded, as with a new lease of life and of power, a spiritual dominion more wide and wonderful than ever her temporal had been? Who knows the secrets of the birth of Rome? But who does not know with how loud a promise, with how vainglorious an announcement, an older city was proposed to be built, the city and the tower whose top should reach unto heaven; what a name and a fame its builders designed beforehand for themselves, organizing, as they purposed to do, into one grand society all the tribes and families of the earth; and how, in a little while, nothing but a deformed and shapeless mass of bricks remained to tell of the city which should have been at once the symbol and the centre of their world-wide sovereignty and dominion?1 [Note: R. C. Trench, Sermons, 300.]

3. This silent coming of whatever shall prove great indeed, true in many regions of human activity, is truest of all in that highest region of all, where human and Divine must work together. “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter.” If other momentous births “come not with observation,” with pomp and circumstance and pride, challenging notice, noised abroad by the thousand tongues of rumour and report, least of all does the Kingdom of God come with these.

I see how you are and what you feel: you want to have room to develop in, and quietness for the purpose. In this you are quite right. But you think that the requisite room has a local habitation if it could only be discovered; and that quietness also is to be found somewhere or other. Let me use the language of Jesus: “If any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ, or lo, there, go not after him. The kingdom of God is within you.” It is most profoundly true: all development is from within, and for the most part is independent of outward circumstances.2 [Note: Life and Letters of Mandell Creighton, i. 326.]

(1) Never did the Kingdom of God come among men in a manner so direct, so blessed, and yet so awful, as when He, the King of kings, the Infinite and Everlasting Being, deigned, in His unutterable love and condescension, to robe Himself with a human body and a human soul in the womb of a Virgin mother, and thus in human form to hold high court among the sons of men. Never did the King of heaven so come among us men as when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judæa. Compared with this stupendous event, the greatest catastrophes, the sublimest triumphs, the most critical epochs in the world’s history, dwindle into insignificance; “God manifest in the flesh” was a phenomenon the like of which had never yet been seen, and it must throw into the shade every other event in the annals of mankind. And what amount of public notice did it attract? What were the thoughts and interests of the mass of men in Palestine on the day of the Nativity? The last news from Rome, the seat of empire; the sayings and doings of the able but capricious statesman who for a few years held in his hands the fate of the civilized world; the last reports from the frontier, from the Rhine, from the Danube, from the Euphrates; the state and prospects of trade in the Eastern Mediterranean; the yield of the taxes in this province or that; the misconduct of one provincial governor or of another: or matters more local than these—some phase of a long controversy between the soldiers and the civilians, between Roman officials and Jewish mobs, between this and that class of a subject population; the rivalries, the efforts, the failures, the successes, the follies, the crimes, the misfortunes of a hundred contemporaries;—of these things men were thinking when our Lord was born. The common staple of human thought and human talk, sometimes embracing the wider interests of the race, more often concentrating itself upon the pettiest details of daily, private, and domestic life, was in those days what it is in these. On that wonderful night it was so even with the villagers of Bethlehem; they could find no room for the Heavenly Visitor in the village hostelry; they little heeded the manger grotto outside, where He, the Infinite in human Form, was laid along with the ox and the ass. Truly, then the Kingdom of God came “not with observation.”

(2) It was so with the early establishment of the Kingdom, its first announcement and propagation. Twelve uneducated men possessed of little property, having few friends, obscure in social position, utterly destitute of all the usual means of extending their authority, or propagating their opinions—these twelve men, fishermen, peasants, poor and powerless, commenced a controversy against the government, the power, the wealth, the learning, the philosophy of their own and every other country. What a conflict was this! How unequally matched the combatants! How unequal in their numbers, how unequal in their circumstances, how unequal in their weapons! But these weak, defenceless, and personally insignificant men had in them a secret which was mighty to move the world. Wheresoever they went it went likewise, strange and silent. Everywhere they had the mastery, and yet there was no cry as of them that strive. Everywhere they had the mastery, yet the kings and kingdoms of the earth did not fall before them. All these stood visibly as before, but the unclean spirit was cast out of them.

Contrast this characteristic of Christ’s Kingdom with what we find elsewhere. No one would say that the religion of Muhammad made its way in the world without observation. It burst upon civilization as the war-cry of an invading host: it was dictated at the point of the scimitar to conquered populations, as the alternative to ruin or death. The history of its propagation throughout the eastern world was written in characters of blood and fire; the frontier of its triumphs was precisely determined by the successes of its warriors; and in these last centuries it has receded in a degree exactly corresponding to the progressive collapse of the barbarous forces to which it was indebted for its earlier expansion.

(3) So has been, and still is, the Kingdom of God among us—from that day, and in all the world—in this land, and at this hour. There are about us the visible structures which enshrine its presence, the outward tokens of God’s service, and the loud schemings of men who, under the name of the Church, would serve themselves of the Church as a contrivance for civilizing mankind; but they are not God’s Kingdom. There is, under the badge of religion, a strife and struggle for mastery among men that bear the sacred name which the saints first bore at Antioch; but God’s Kingdom is not in their heady tumult: there are the visible hurryings to and fro of a worldly Jehu-like zeal for the Lord; and there are the plottings of earthly Christians—for men may plot for Christ’s Church as well as against it. The same earthly and faithless temper of mind which resists God’s will may also insinuate itself into His service. Men may think, and do think, to spread His Kingdom by the stir and noise of popular excitement; but God’s Kingdom, like God Himself when He communed with His prophet on the mountain-height, is not in the boisterous and fleeting forms of earthly power. As its coming and its course, so is its character. It is not in any of these; but verily it is in the midst of us; in the still small voice of the holy Catholic faith; in the voiceless teaching of Christ’s holy sacraments, through which mysteries of the world unseen look out upon us; in the faithful witness of the Apostles of Christ, who, through their ghostly lineage, live among us still.

(4) Now, in what has been said surely there is a great lesson for our guidance whenever we attempt to spread Christianity either at home or abroad. We cannot hope to extend it successfully unless we proceed on the same method as was observed in planting it. It began by seizing strongly upon the soul of man, and passed on, after it had done its work there, by a natural expansion, not by a forcible imposition, into his outward life. But how many are there who are for inverting this order of things, who begin by assaulting the outward in order that they may carry the inward! How many, for example, there are who enter upon a crusade against certain worldly amusements, the sinfulness of which in themselves is at least questionable, or who advocate severe restriction upon ordinary pursuits on the Christian Sabbath, as if such outward restraints could in themselves make men spiritually-minded, or secure the hallowing of the sacred day of rest. Let such persons alter their course of proceeding. Let them begin by attacking the sentiments and convictions of the human soul. A man in whose soul the earnestness created by the thought of death and judgment has found place can never be frivolous in his recreations; questionable amusements, if they once had a hold upon him, will drop off when that new life circulates and stirs within him, as the snake casts its old slough in the spring. And a man who has really tasted the peace and pleasantness of communion with God would sooner deprive himself of natural repose than desecrate holy seasons. Plant, by God’s grace, the faith and love of Christ in any man’s soul, and you have then a perfect security for the innocence of his recreations and for the devout consecration of a just proportion of his time to God.

Our life can have no other meaning than the fulfilment, at any moment, of what is wanted from us by the power that sent us into life and gave us in this life one sure guide—our rational consciousness. And so this power cannot want from us what is irrational and impossible—the establishment of our temporal, carnal life, the life of society or of the state. This power demands of us what alone is certain and rational and possible—our serving the Kingdom of God, that is, our co-operation in the establishment of the greatest union of everything living, which is possible only in the truth, and, therefore, the recognition of the truth revealed to us, and the profession of it, precisely what alone is always in our power. “Seek ye the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” The only meaning of man’s life consists in serving the world by co-operating in the establishment of the Kingdom of God; but this service can be rendered only through the recognition of the truth, and the profession of it, by every separate individual. “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo, here! or, There! for lo, the kingdom of God is within you.”1 [Note: Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God is Within You (Works, xx. 379).]

Islam is growing to-day even faster in some lands than it did in the days of Lull. And yet in other lands, such as European Turkey, Caucasia, Syria, Palestine, and Turkestan, the number of Moslems is decreasing. In Lull’s day the empire of Moslem faith and Moslem politics nearly coincided. Nowhere was there real liberty, and all the doors of access seemed barred. Now five-sixths of the Moslem world are accessible to foreigners and missionaries; but not one sixtieth has ever been occupied by missions. More than 125,000,000 Moslems are now under Christian rulers. The keys to every gateway in the Moslem world are to-day in the political grasp of Christian Powers, with the exception of Mecca and Constantinople. Think only, for example, of Gibraltar, Algiers, Cairo, Tunis, Khartum, Batoum, Aden, and Muskat, not to speak of India and the farther East. It is impossible to enforce the laws relating to renegades from Islam under the flag of the “infidel.” How much more promising too is the condition of Islam to-day! The philosophical disintegration of the system began very early, but has grown more rapidly in the past century than in all the twelve that preceded. The strength of Islam is to sit still, to forbid thought, to gag reformers, to abominate progress. But the Wahabis “drew a bow at a venture” and smote their king “between the joints of the harness.” Their exposure of the unorthodoxy of Turkish Mohammedanism set all the world thinking. Abd-ul-Wahâb meant to reform Islam by digging for the original foundations. The result was that they now must prop up the house! In India they are apologizing for Mohammed’s morals and subjecting the Koran to higher criticism. In Egypt prominent Moslems advocate abolishing the veil. In Persia the Babi movement has undermined Islam everywhere. In Constantinople they are trying to put new wine into the old skins by carefully diluting the wine; the New Turkish party is making the rent of the old garment worse by its patchwork politics. In addition to all this, the Bible now speaks the languages of Islam, and is everywhere preparing the way for the conquest of the Cross. Even in the Moslem world, and in spite of all hindrances, “It is daybreak everywhere.”1 [Note: S. M. Zwemer, Raymund Lull, 151.]


In the Heart

1. The Kingdom of God comes “without observation” because it is not outward or material but spiritual and of the heart. The heart of man is God’s domain; not the only place where He would rule, but the first and essential. Here is the seat of His empire—in the heart. God’s throne must be set up and His authority recognized.

What is the Kingdom of God? It is the place where the King is, where He reigns—whether in heaven or in our hearts. Wherever anyone does a kind deed, or speaks a kind word—there is the Kingdom of God. Wherever anyone gives up his own way to please another, for Jesus’ sake, there is the Kingdom of God. Wherever anyone lets Jesus have His holy will, wherever anyone tries to think what Jesus would do, there is the Kingdom of God. To come into the Kingdom is just to take Jesus for our Master, to let Jesus take us and make us what He wants us to be.2 [Note: R. W. Barbour, Thoughts, 87.]

The heaven is here for which we wait,

The life eternal now!—

Who is this lord of time and fate?

Thou, brother, sister, thou.

The power, the kingdom, is thine own:

Arise, O royal heart!

Press onward past the doubting-zone

And prove the God thou art!

2. Hence at the outset certain fundamental truths about this Kingdom are brought home to us which it is all-important for us not to lose sight of.

(1) If the Kingdom of God begins within the man, then this Kingdom is not merely a visible organization. It is that; it must be, if it is to fulfil the end for which God has founded it; but it is more than that. For if it were all organization, and yet had no organic life, a body made in perfect proportion, but no vitality, it would be only a beautiful piece of machinery but without any inherent force.

(2) The Kingdom of God does not consist merely in numbers, nor is it measured only by size. In our day, especially, there is a tendency among men, like David numbering the people, to place reliance on statistics and to find in figures arguments for or against the progress of the Kingdom of God among men. And even earnest Christians are apt to forget, as they speak of or pray for the growth of this Kingdom, that there can be true growth only where there is inner life and vitality.

(3) The evidence of the Kingdom of God is not merely outward profession. True, the form of godliness is all-important. Yet, if there be no living spirit within, the form is dead and useless. No, the first requirement of the Kingdom is that it must be a personal thing. God begins His reign by claiming sovereignty over the inner being of each. He must reign within the man. We can understand why this must be so when we call to mind what the heart of the man is. It is the citadel of the man’s being; it is the centre of existence in spiritual as in physical life. “Keep thy heart above all that thou guardest; for out of it are the issues of life.”

If you do not wish for His kingdom, don’t pray for it. But if you do, you must do more than pray for it; you must work for it. And, to work for it, you must know what it is; we have all prayed for it many a day without thinking. Observe, it is a kingdom that is to come to us; we are not to go to it. Also, it is not to be a kingdom of the dead, but of the living. Also, it is not to come all at once, but quietly; nobody knows how. “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation.” Also, it is not to come outside of us, but in our heart: “the kingdom of God is within us.” And, being within us, it is not a thing to be seen, but to be felt; and though it brings all substance of good with it, it does not consist in that: “the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost”—joy, that is to say, in the holy, healthful, and helpful Spirit. Now, if we want to work for this kingdom, and to bring it, and enter into it, there’s one curious condition to be first accepted. You must enter it as children, or not at all: “Whosoever will not receive it as a little child shall not enter therein.” And again, “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”1 [Note: Ruskin, The Crown of Wild Olive, § 46. (Works, xviii. 427).]

O Thou, that in our bosom’s shrine

Dost dwell, unknown because divine!

I thought to speak, I thought to say,

“The light is here,” “behold the way,”

“The voice was thus” and “thus the word,”

And “thus I saw,” and “that I heard,”—

But from the lips that half essayed

The imperfect utterance fell unmade.

Unseen, secure in that high shrine

Acknowledged present and divine,

I will not ask some upper air,

Some future day, to place Thee there;

Nor say, nor yet deny, such men

And women saw Thee thus and then:

Thy name was such, and there or here

To him or her Thou didst appear.

Do only Thou in that dim shrine,

Unknown or known, remain, divine;

There, or if not, at least in eyes

That scan the fact that round them lies,

The hand to sway, the judgment guide,

In sight and sense Thyself divide:

Be Thou but there,—in soul and heart,

I will not ask to feel Thou art.2 [Note: A. H. Clongh, Poems, 69.]

3. How reasonable, then, is the claim that God makes when He appeals to a man to give Him his heart.

(1) It is reasonable because this King is the God of Love, who is not satisfied without love on the part of those over whom He reigns. He is a King who loves and would be loved. “Son,” He says, “give me thy heart.”

(2) It is reasonable because the gospel of His Kingdom is a gospel of love, “God so loved the world.” This is the starting point of the Royal proclamation. Its subjects are drawn not by fear but by love;” The love of Christ constraineth us.”

(3) It is reasonable because service in this Kingdom is a service of love. It not only has its source in a sense of duty or obedience; it is a willing, grateful service. There are no slaves in this Kingdom, only freed men. Love is the starting point of all Christian devotion and worship; “We love him because he first loved us,” and the cry of each emancipated subject must always be, “Forgiven greatly, how I greatly love.” Love is the measure of every act, prayer, worship, work; “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”

(4) It is reasonable because it recognizes a correspondence between God’s rule and the constitution of man as he has been made by God. The heart of man is always seeking an object worthy of its love; always hungry, it craves for this food; always thirsty, this is the only water which will quench its thirst. And God alone can satisfy the desire He Himself has implanted in man.

(5) Once more, it is reasonable because the heart holds the supremacy within the man. All else follows the lead of the human heart—conscience, will, reason, character—and if the heart goes wrong, all go astray. He who gives his heart gives his best, and grudges nothing, as surely as the stream takes its rise in and depends upon its source. When the heart is given to God, all is given. Other loves take their rightful place within the man. Lawful loves are raised, hallowed, lit up, regulated, and adjusted. Unlawful loves depart, cast out of the Kingdom by the allegiance of the heart to the rightful King.

Beware of the damnable doctrine that it is easy to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. It is to be obtained only by the sacrifice of all that stands in the way, and it is to be observed that in this, as in other things, men will take the first, the second, the third—nay, even the ninety-ninth step, but the hundreth and last they will not take.1 [Note: Mark Rutherford.]

Oh, glorious truth and holy,

Of Christ enthroned within;

A kingdom for Him solely,

That once was dark with sin.

My heart in full surrender,

With every pulse and thought

I’ve opened to the Monarch

Whose love the right has bought.

My Saviour reigning in me

My will no longer mine:

A sanctuary kingdom—

Amazing grace Divine!

The will of my Redeemer

Controlling every power,

His purpose working in me

And through me hour by hour.

The glory of Thy presence

For evermore I crave,

From ever looking backward

My pardoned soul to save;

A kingdom and a temple—

Let every idol fall!—

My life Thy full possession,

And Christ my All in all!1 [Note: Alfred S. Dyer.]

4. Last of all, if the Kingdom of God is within, it is not constrained by anything outward or material, however close that thing may come or however hard it may press its claim. Take two such urgent things.

(1) Inheritance.—Our essential self sympathizes with the right and pure, but our inherited nature is infected and treacherous. With the dawning of consciousness we discover in ourselves the impulses of evil derived from our ancestry. We are vain and ambitious, the victims of ungovernable temper; we are selfish and self-willed, tormented by fleshly appetites and passions. The physical and mental bias to lawlessness painfully asserts itself. The entail of evil is often simply awful, and in all of us it is deeply disquieting and humiliating. What view ought we, then, to take of these constitutional defects? Ought we tamely to permit our abnormal weaknesses and predispositions to rule and destroy us?

Let us realize distinctly and vividly what our true nature is. Our deepest nature is not animal or fiendish, but Divine; it therefore brings with it the obligation to high conduct, and competence for such conduct. “Being then the offspring of God, we ought not.…” What negatives arise out of that relationship! The offspring of God ought not to change the glory of the incorruptible One into the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of beasts and creeping things. Blind passion, wilfulness, inordinate desire, dishonouring of the body, and degradation of the mind, utterly misbecome creatures made in the image of the Divine spirituality, infinity, and immortality. “Being then the offspring of God, we ought.…” What positives are implied in that relationship! The offspring of the wise, righteous, loving God, of Him who is light and in whom there is no darkness at all, ought only to be great and pure. Instead of levelling down to the beasts which perish, we ought diligently and joyously to level ourselves up to the Holiest in the height. “Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” “To the end that ye should walk worthily of God, who calleth you into his own kingdom and glory.” “Children of God without blemish.” “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God: and such we are.” “Beloved, now are we children of God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be.” These are the royal thoughts we ought to ponder, such the pride of long descent which ought to ennoble us and to constrain to the Christ-like life. It may be true that we were preceded by men and women of infirmity; that, however, need not dishearten us. Some in the line of Joseph were far from being perfect; but the righteous God is at one end of the pedigree, and a just man at the other; because the first link is gold, the last link may be gold also, however equivocal some of the intermediate links may be.

Heredity, in the deeper meaning, is not destructive but constructive. It works for the conservation and transmission of what is favourable to an organism. It makes for health, life, perpetuation; not for disease, disorder and destruction. It tends to neutralize and eliminate the unhealthy elements which have invaded the system. But, without being in the least instructed or definite in his thinking, the average man reckons the law of inheritance as being entirely against him, and he freely imputes his faults to its working. This popular conception of heredity is practically most mischievous, and wholly false. The degrading notion has taken possession of us that we are dominated by the “dead hand,” and by it coerced to dark ways and deeds, with which we have no sympathy. Let us utterly renounce this superstition.

I believe more deeply to-day than ever that the man endowed with grace can triumph over every infirmity, and bias, and lust of our animal self. There is not a bitter man who can not go out sweet. There is not a mean man but may become magnanimous. There is not a man who has yielded to passion who may not become sober and rational. There is not a man, however subject to the flesh and the world, who may not go out and walk with raiment whiter than any bleaching on earth can make it; and I assure you that in those very moments when you have not been master of yourself, if when you have ever fallen a victim to your impulses and passions and temptations, you seek but the hand of Christ, you shall go forth in this great city and “the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.”1 [Note: W. L. Watkinson.]

With all our belief in Heredity, the transmission from generation to generation of characteristic traits, virtues, vices, habits, tendencies, etc., we must not ignore the factor of freewill, which cannot but modify and restrict the fact and limitations of Heredity. I am always reminded, when I hear the remark alluded to made, of quaint Fuller, in his Good Thoughts for Bad Times. “Lord! I find the genealogy of my Saviour strangely chequered. Roboam begat Abia—i.e., a bad father begat a bad son. Abia begat Asa, a good father and a good son. Asa begat Jehoshaphat, a good father and a bad son. Jehoshaphat begat Josiah, a good father and a good son. I see, Lord, from hence that my father’s piety cannot be entailed: that is bad news for me. But I see also that actual impiety is not always hereditary: that is good news for my son.”2 [Note: Dean Pigou, Odds and Ends, 67.]

(2) Environment.—When some of us were young the “environment” was not discovered. We used to call it circumstance, but enough years of progress are registered in the change of the name. And every schoolboy to-day loves to talk about the environment, and for some of us the environment proves most useful. What splendid people we should be if it were not for that unfriendly environment! It is fine, is it not, to think about it? How reasonable, how noble, how pure we should be if we had only been lucky enough to drop upon a nice sphere; but it is the environment that plays us false. What does it mean? Would it mean that if there were no drink we would all be sober? and if there were no money there would be no speculation? and if people did not provoke us we should be all sweet-tempered? It is the environment, and we have been unhappy enough to drop upon a miserable surrounding; and some of our writers teach us that when we get a better surrounding in another world we shall all be right.

Do not we grant too much in this perpetual talk of environment? There is a great deal about us that sets environment at a defiance. To look at it physically one would think that we have no option but to succumb to an ugly environment. Is it so, physically? I noticed the other day that in London seven tons of poisonous elements are discharged into the atmosphere every week. Seven tons of poisonous material distributed over the metropolis every week! Why, when you come to think about it, if we had any sense of scientific propriety we ought all to expire, but we do not. Oh, no! the air is there. The environment no one will deny. But we have some of the finest birds in the world in London, and some one has made a collection of butterflies, every one of them a magnificent creature, caught in the metropolis. In our parks are charming blooms, and something like six or seven millions of people manage to live, some of them to the delicate age of seventy years.

How men resist the environment intellectually! Look to the masters and you will see how little they care about the environment; how little they are in need of it. Look at a man like Shakespeare, with little or no education; what did that matter? There was something within him that dispensed with circumstance. He swept into the front rank and remained there, when the marching days were done. Look at a man like Handel, with no general education, scarcely any musical education, stepping out and blowing his golden trumpet, and the world is charmed and will be until the years are ended. Look at a man like Turner, his father a poor barber; the fellow was born in a London slum, never had a day’s education in his life; what about that? He walked up between all his canvases covered with prismatic splendour, and if you were in London you would see a crowd about his pictures. They have been there all the time ever since I have known of the place, and if you were to come back in five hundred years you would find a crowd still there.

If a man can triumph over circumstances, physically and intellectually, I rejoice to think he can triumph over them gloriously in morals and in things of character and of conduct. Your scientists say that the conditions of things must be right or the thing can not survive; if you have a rose it must have the sun; if you have a willow it must have the water-course; if you have a fern it must have a damp place. You can not change anything unless in a corresponding change of conditions. Now, I dare say that is perfectly right, but I can show you some wonderful variations from that in another sphere. I can show you lovely flowers in cellars, I can show you honeysuckle climbing icicles, I can show you roses in December snows, I can find you a lily in a cesspool; or, if you like to drop the imagery, I can find you the noblest men and the purest women in conditions that seem utterly to defy the presence of nobleness and purity; you find the most spiritual of men in Babylon; you find men with white souls in Sodom. The grace of my Master can make us to triumph over any environment and to walk in blamelessness and honour. I tell you I have seen with my own eyes a snowdrop thrust itself through three inches of macadam. The delicate stem, frail beyond language, thrust itself through three inches of macadam. It did not believe in environment. The power of God was in its root, and it thrust itself through until it saw the blue of the sky and received the kiss of the sun; and I tell you it can be with us in the same fashion. If the power of God in a root can lift a delicate flower into the sun, the power of Christ in a human heart can make us triumph over the most uncongenial surroundings.1 [Note: W. L. Watkinson.]

The paradox, “Verum est quia impossible,” which Tertullian uttered concerning doctrine, it is time for us boldly to apply to action, saying, “It is practicable because it is impossible”; for, under the dispensation of the Spirit, our ability is no longer the measure of our responsibility. “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God,” and therefore possible for us who have been united to God through faith. Since the Holy Ghost has been given, it is not sufficient for the servant to say to his Master, “I am doing as well as I can,” for now he is bound to do better than he can. Should a New York merchant summon his commercial agent in Boston to come to him as quickly as possible, would he be satisfied if that agent were to arrive at the end of a week, footsore and weary from walking the entire distance, with the excuse, “I came as quickly as I could”? With swift steamer or lightning express at his disposal would he not be bound to come more quickly than he could? And so, with the power of Christ as our resource, and His riches in glory as our endowment, we are called upon to undertake what of ourselves we have neither the strength nor the funds to accomplish.1 [Note: A. J. Gordon: A Biography, 252.]

The Kingdom that is Within


Bryant (S.), The Teaching of Christ on Life and Conduct, 36.

Byles (J.), The Boy and the Angel, 113.

Charles (R. H.), Forgiveness and Other Sermons, 76, 87.

Dewhurst (F. E.), The Investment of Truth, 89.

Grimley (H. N.), The Temple of Humanity, 153.

Jeffrey (G.), The Believer’s Privilege, 144.

Johnston (J. B.), The Ministry of Reconciliation, 126.

Kingsley (C.), Sermons on National Subjects, 373.

Leathes (A. S.), The Kingdom Within, 39.

Lewis (F. W.), The Unseen Life, 61.

Liddon (H. P.), Present Church Troubles, 1.

McConnell (S. D.), Sons of God, 135.

Macleod (D.), Christ and Society, 87.

Murray (A.), Within, 13.

Murray (W. H.), The Fruits of the Spirit, 334.

Newman (J. H.), Sermons on Various Occasions, 47.

Rawnsley (H. D.), Sayings of Jesus, 104.

Ridgeway (C. J.), The King and His Kingdom, 11.

Stevenson (J.), in Scotch Sermons, 336.

Swan (F. R.), The Immanence of Christ in Modern Life, 95, 121, 171.

Tomory (A.), in Alexander Tomory, Indian Missionary, 43.

Trench (R. C.), Sermons Preached for the Most Part in Ireland, 299.

Watkinson (W. L.), The Education of the Heart, 20.

Watkinson (W. L.), The Supreme Conquest, 189.

Whiton (J. M.), Summer Sermons, 35.

Williams (J. P.), The Duty of Exercise, 111.

Winterbotham (R.), The Kingdom of Heaven, 219.

Cambridge Review, xiv. (1893) Supplement No. 353 (G. W. Kitchin).

Christian World Pulpit, xlv. 409 (D. M. Ross); xlviii. 148 (C. S. Horne); lii. 156 (R. Thomas); lxxiii. 43 (P. McPhail).

Church Family Newspaper, Dec. 2, 1910 (H. L. Goudge).

Church Times, Dec. 27, 1912 (W. C. E. Newbolt).

Homiletic Review, liii. 449 (W. L. Watkinson).

Preacher’s Magazine, ix. 276 (G. B. F. Hallock).

Record, Nov. 13, 1908 (C. J. Procter).

Sermons to Britons Abroad, 256.

Verse 21

(21) The kingdom of God is within you.—The marginal reading, “among you.” has been adopted, somewhat hastily, by most commentators. So taken. the words emphatically assert the actual presence of the Kingdom. It was already in the midst of them at the very time when they were asking when it would appear. The use of the Greek preposition is, however, all but decisive against this interpretation. It is employed for that which is “within,” as contrasted with that which is “without,” as in Matthew 23:26, and in the LXX. version for the “inward parts,” or spiritual nature of man, as contrasted with the outward, as in Psalms 103:1; Psalms 109:22; Isaiah 16:11. It was in that region, in the life which must be born again (John 3:3), that men were to look for the kingdom; and there, whether they accepted it or rejected it, they would find sufficient tokens of its power.

Verse 22

(22) When ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man.—The words express both the backward glance of regret, and the forward look of yearning expectation. The former feeling had been described before, when the disciples were told that the children of the bride-chamber should fast when the Bridegroom should be taken from them (Luke 5:34; Matthew 9:15; Mark 2:19). The latter was expressed by-one of those who were now listening, when he spoke of men as “looking for and eagerly hasting” the coming of the day of God (2 Peter 3:12); by another, when he recorded the cry of the souls beneath the altar, “How long, O Lord?” (Revelation 6:10). It is, we must re member, the disciples, and not the Pharisees, who are now addressed. In the long, weary years of conflict that lay before them, they would often wish that they could be back again in the pleasant days of friendly converse in the old Galilean life, or that they could be carried forward to the day of the final victory. Analogous emotions of both kinds have, of course, been felt by the successors of the disciples in all ages of the Church. They ask, Why the former days were better than the latter? (Ecclesiastes 7:10); they ask also, in half-murmuring impatience, “Why tarry the wheels of His chariots?” (Judges 5:28); sometimes, even in the accents of unbelief, “Where is the promise of His coming?” (2 Peter 3:4).

Verse 23

(23) See here; or, see there.—See Note on Matthew 24:23. The words are all but identical, but the difference in the context and the occasion should be noticed as another illustration of that reproduction of the same forms of thought and language to which attention has so often been called.

Verse 24

(24) For as the lightning.—See Note on Matthew 24:27. There is, however, a noticeable variation in the form; the two “parts under heaven” taking the place of the “east” and the “west,” and the “day of the Son of Man” taking the place of the more formal “coming,” or parousia, which, as far as the Gospels are concerned, occurs only in St. Matthew. There is also, perhaps, more pictorial vividness in the two words, “lighteneth,” “shineth,” than in St. Matthew’s “cometh out,” and “appeareth,” which is probably the right rendering of the word there translated “shineth.” In any case, the words in St. Matthew are less vivid in their force.

Verse 25

(25) But first must he suffer many things.—See Notes on Matthew 16:21; Matthew 17:22. The interposition of this prophecy of the Passion in a discourse which bears primarily on the Second Advent is an individualising feature of this record of St. Luke’s.

Verse 26

(26) As it was in the days of Noe.—See Notes on Matthew 24:26-27. Here, also, the “days” of the Son of Man take the place of the parousia.

Verse 27

(27) They did eat, they drank.—Better, as in St. Matthew, they were eating and drinking, marrying, . . .; the tense throughout being that which implies continuous and repeated action.

The flood.—The Greek word is always used in the New Testament for the deluge of Noah, that meaning having been stamped on it by the use of it in the LXX. version in Genesis 6:17; Genesis 7:6-7; Genesis 7:10; Genesis 7:17.

Verse 28

(28) Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot.—The illustration does not occur in the otherwise parallel passage of Matthew 24:26-27, but was naturally suggested by our Lord’s frequent reference to the Cities of the Plain (Luke 10:12; Matthew 10:15; Matthew 11:23); The allusion to Lot in 2 Peter 2:7, may perhaps be traced to the impression made on the Apostle by this revival of the history.

They bought, they sold.—As in the preceding verse, the imperfect tense is used, they were buying, they were selling. There is a characteristic difference in the insertion of these verbs and the two which follow, as indicating a higher advance in social life than in the days of Noah.

Verse 29

(29) It rained fire and brimstone.—The combination of the two Greek words is found in the LXX. version of Genesis 19:24, and obviously suggested the like combination here and in Revelation 14:10; Revelation 20:13; Revelation 21:8.

Verse 31

(31) He which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff.—Better, his goods, as in Matthew 12:29; Mark 3:27. (See Notes on Matthew 24:17-18.)

Verse 32

(32) Remember Lot’s wife.—The reference to this, as to the history of Lot generally, is peculiar to St. Luke, and speaks strongly for the independence of his Gospel. The account of Lot’s wife had, however, already been used, or was used shortly afterwards (the date of the Wisdom of Solomon being an unsettled problem), to point a like moral, and the “standing pillar of salt” had become “a monument of an unbelieving soul” (Wisdom of Solomon 10:7). She had looked back, as the disciples were told not to look, and the glance had been fatal (Genesis 19:26).

Verse 33

(33) Whosoever shall seek to save his life.—The better MSS. give a word which is rendered elsewhere by “purchase” (Acts 20:28; 1 Timothy 3:13), and perhaps always suggests, as the other word for “save” does not suggest, the idea of some transaction of the kind. So here, the man must purchase, as it were, his lower life at the price of the higher, and he will be a loser by the bargain.

Shall preserve it.—Here, again, the English verb is weak. Better, shall give life to it. The same Greek word occurs in the better MSS. of 1 Timothy 6:13, and is there rendered by “quicken,” and in its passive form in Acts 7:49, where it should be translated preserved alive, and this is clearly the meaning here. The man who is content to risk his natural life shall gain a life of a higher spiritual order.

Verse 34-35

(34, 35) Two men in one bed.—See Notes on Matthew 24:40-41. The one to be “taken” is probably here, as there, the man who is rescued from destruction. Here there is a variation enough to prove independence, the “two in one bed” being prefixed to the examples given in St. Matthew as an instance of even closer companionship.

Verse 37

(37) Where, Lord?—The question comes in naturally here, where the future had been foreshadowed in parables and dark sayings. It would not have been natural in Matthew 24:28, where the whole context determined the locality of which our Lord was speaking.

Wheresoever the body is.—See Note on Matthew 24:28, the only variation being the use of “body” instead of “carcase.” The repetition of the half-proverbial saying at a later period indicates its importance as a law of God’s government. Men ask where His judgments fall, and the answer is that they fall wherever they are needed.

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Luke 17". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.