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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Luke 17

Verses 1-37

Luke 17:3

Sir James Stephen describes Wilberforce's Practical View of Christianity as 'the expostulation of a brother. Unwelcome truth is delivered with scrupulous fidelity, and yet with a tenderness which demonstrates that the monitor feels the pain he reluctantly inflicts. It is this tone of human sympathy breathing in every page which constitutes the essential charm of this book.'

Luke 17:3

This is certaine: That a Man that studieth Revenge, keepes his owne Wounds greene, which otherwise would heal and do well.

Bacon.

He that repents is angry with himself: I need not be angry with him.

Benjamin Whichcote.

Reference. XVII. 3, 4. Expositor (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 498.

Luke 17:5

We can no more detach what we do in our lives from what we are in our souls, than we can separate heat or light from their essential principles, or expect to enjoy either in the absence of the conditions in which their existence is involved. The disciples showed they were aware of this by that remarkable answer, when enjoined by their Master to the practice of forgiveness, 'Lord, increase our faith'; we might have expected, when a moral duty difficult to the natural man was in question, the words would have been, 'Increase our charity,' but in the conviction that obedience was only practicable through a strength and virtue that did not reside in themselves, their prayer was for an increase of the faculty through which alone the Divine aid can be made available by the soul.

Dora Greenwell.

I persuade myself also that I have faith, though it is but so so, and might well be better.

Luther.

References; XVII. 5. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon-Sketches, p. 134. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year (2nd Series), vol. ii. p. 42. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. i. No. 32, and vol. xxii. No. 1318. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 455.

The Grain of Mustard Seed

Luke 17:6

I. It is not the quantity of faith, but the quality, which is important. A grain of mustard seed and a pellet of dust may appear at a distance to be much the same, but the difference between the two is immense, because the one has no life burning at the heart of it, whilst the other contains life as God has kindled it. The one thing that you need is to have faith, as small as you like, but faith which has in it the principle of life, namely, faith with God in it. The one thing that shows whether or not your faith is of the right quality is whether it is directed towards the right object, which is Jesus Christ.

II. Your faith is like the tiny grain. You think you will never be able to produce a holy and useful life. But if only your soul can come into living union with the eternal God, there is nothing that He will not be able to effect by your instrumentality. There are five processes. (1) There must be contact. As long as you are apart from God, though trying to serve God in a strange anomaly, you are missing the true power of your life. (2) There must be solitude. (3) There must be death. (4) Receptivity. There is simply nothing impossible to the man who has learned the art of being a channel for God. (5) Individuality. The mustard seed produces mustard growth; the grain of wheat, wheat growth; the acorn, oak growth. George Müller lets God into his soul, and Ashley Down is covered with orphan houses. Spurgeon lets God into his soul, and you have the Tabernacle, and volumes of Sermons, and the orphan house, and Pastors' College.

F. B. Meyer, The Soul's Ascent, p. 277.

Luke 17:6

Faith, no larger than the tiniest mustard seed, but able to toss the mountains, as pebbles, from their foundations into the sea, is the determination to do the thing chosen to be done or to die literally to die in the trying to do it. Death is farther from most of us than we fancy, and if we would but risk all, to win or lose all, we could almost always do the deed which looks so grimly impossible. Those who have faced great physical dangers, or who have been matched by fate against overwhelming odds of anxiety and trouble, alone know what great things are to be done when men stand at bay and face the world, and fate, and life, and death, and misfortune, all banded together against them, and say in their hearts, 'We will win this fight or die'. Then, at that word, when it is spoken earnestly, in sincerity and truth, the iron will rises up and takes possession of the feeble body, the doubting soul shakes off its hesitating weakness, is drawn back upon itself like a strong bow bent double, is compressed and full of a terrible latent power, like the handful of deadly explosive which, buried in the bosom of the rock, will presently shake the mighty cliff to its roots, as no thunderbolt could shake it.

F. Marion Crawford, in The Cigarette-Maker's Romance, ix.

References. XVII. 6. Bishop Bethell, Sermons, vol. i. p. 119. XVII. 7-10. J. Bowstead, Practical Sermons, vol. i. p. 271. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxix. No. 2334. XVII. 8. Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 283. XVII. 9, 10. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Luke, p. 119.

Luke 17:10

Zachary Macaulay, says Sir George Trevelyan in the opening chapter of his Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay, 'worked strenuously and unceasingly, never amusing himself from year's end to year's end, and shrinking from any public praise or recognition as from an unlawful gratification, because he was firmly persuaded that, when all had been accomplished and endured, he was yet but an unprofitable servant, who had done that which was his duty to do. Some, perhaps, will consider such motives as old-fashioned, and such convictions as out of date; but self-abnegation, self-control, and self-knowledge that does not give to self the benefit of any doubt, are virtues which are not old-fashioned, and for which, as time goes on, the world is likely to have as much need as ever.'

'Civilisation,' writes Mr. Shorthouse in the first chapter of Sir Percival, 'civilisation pursues its beneficent march, forwarded, for the most part, by this glorious English race forwarded too, for the most part, by these little nameless wars. Three lines only in the Gazette, but some bright young life is laid down without a murmur not a vulgar life, but a life the offspring of a family, the flower and type of the human race some home is made desolate, with no thought save "we have done that which it was our duty to do". I have been told by clever men that in the days when Rome was the mistress of the world something like this was also known.'

True love never thinks it has done enough.

F. W. Faber.

'The dominant note of Herbert's poetry,' says Mr. S. R. Gardiner, 'is the eagerness for action, mingled with a sense of its insufficiency.'

It is well to believe silently in our possibilities, but to talk critically at our actual performances.... Humility is the attitude of mind which accompanies the perception that the human perfection possible to ourselves is, after all, inadequate to the ideal perfection which the conception of it implies. After we have done all we are 'unprofitable servants,' falling far short of that ideal the fulfilment of which is imposed upon us by the law of our moral and intellectual nature. Our vision of good is broader, and our aspirations higher than our powers can reach. Hence, if we are true faithful to the spiritual aspirations which claim us, and honest in the estimate of our actions and ourselves, it must be that we see ourselves always, and even necessarily, as 'unprofitable servants,' always and necessarily lower than we aspire and feel we ought to be.

Dr. Sophie Bryant.

References. XVII. 10. H. M. Butler, Harrow School Sermons (2nd Series), p. 167. J. Martineau, Endeavours after the Christian Life (2nd Series), p. 73. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi. No. 1541. W. G. Rutherford, The Key of Knowledge, p. 247. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 120; ibid. vol. ix. p. 44; ibid. (7th Series), vol. v. p. 341. XVII. 11-19. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Luke, p. 127. XVII. 12-14. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvii. No. 1635. XVII. 14. W. H. Evans, Short Sermons for the Seasons, p. 156.

The Grateful Leper

Luke 17:17

I. There are few things that we feel more than ingratitude. Some of us who work and labour are very sensitive about this. We seem always to be looking for showers of recognition and appreciation to descend upon us, and we get disheartened because we do not get much thanks. If you look at the witness of our Lord Himself, He was subject to the same thing He is always a Refuge; you can find all your troubles in the heart of your Saviour. 'Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger.' And this was a very bad case, an extreme case, because the disease that these men suffered from was the very worst. And then, not only was the disease such an extreme case, but the cure was absolutely complete. At a word they were made whole. When the Lord Jesus Christ cures, He cures indeed. The light of His countenance was health. To look upon His face is to live. He made them whole! If you surrender yourselves to the Saviour in all the difficulties of life, His work in the soul is always complete; He never does things by halves new hopes, new longings, new wishes, new desires, new joys, new heart.

Yet out of the ten who were cleansed only one returned to thank Him.

II. And now notice another thing. They all of them prayed very earnestly. They all of them said, 'Have mercy on us'. They all prayed, but only one of the ten praised.

III. The only one who redeemed the occasion was a Samaritan! Does not that correct something within our souls? Deep down beyond all our religious distinctions there is humanity the touch of nature which makes all men kin.

IV. And, last of all, let us just notice a few aspects of the thanksgiving. He returned and gave thanks himself in person. If you are to thank God, do it personally. Say to yourself, God has been good to me; I must thank Him. And it must come light out of the heart. You know what this man did. He turned back and threw himself down at Jesus' feet worshipping. He could not go a step farther before he had thanked God. It came from his heart. It was the expression of his soul. It was not that Jesus needed the thanks, but the man needed to thank Him. Thanksgiving to God is the need of a soul that knows God has blessed him. He turned round and fell at His feet, and thanked God.

The Most Popular Sin in the World

Luke 17:17

I. Ingratitude seems to be the most popular sin in the world. It is one of the worst crimes in the big black catalogue of wrong-doing. And the sin of ingratitude is the broad highway to envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness, to the cowardly denials of Peter and the bloody treachery of Judas. Our Lord was called upon to taste its bitterness in a thousand ways. Between the carelessness of the lepers and the vileness of Iscariot, He suffered to the fullest from man's ingratitude. In every phase we see the same ingratitude repeated before our eyes. (1) We see it in the home. What blows has a boy struck at his mother's tender heart! What dagger-thrusts has a father received from those to whom he had given life! Perhaps this cruel ingratitude is not at heart so cruel as we think. Perhaps, that is to say, it is not conscious, deliberate, understood cruelty at all. It is lack of imagination; it is the sin of stupidity; it is sheer thoughtlessness, not sheer wickedness. Let us hope that this is true. It is bad enough then. (2) We see this ingratitude in common service, the service which, in the ordinary course of life, man renders to man in the community. A strong man says in the pride of achievement: 'Never since I was a boy have I been under obligation to any human being'. Nonsense arrant nonsense! You are under obligation to a hundred unknown lowly workers, and under obligation, too, to the greatest of mankind. We are debtor to the Greek and to the barbarian, to men of thought as well as men of action, to the highly placed as to the lowly born.

II. The spirit in which ingratitude must be endured. It is not necessary to minimise the pain with which experience of ingratitude, developing treachery and hate, wrings our suffering hearts. But the ills of life must be borne. And without delivering ourselves into the custody of a silly optimism, it is good gospel and good sense to inquire where we may find the right spirit in which to face them all. And I suggest to you (1) that sometimes the one who suffers from ingratitude has not been altogether free from blame. There is a way of doing a kindness which is detestable. (2) But assuming that your kindness has been perfect with the perfection of the God who prompted it, let me urge this upon you: Do not condemn the whole world for the sins of a few. (3) Again, Why should you expect gratitude? Your reward is in the good that you have done. If you feel as though your heart was broken by the thanklessness of those whom you have helped, consider. When you live on, in service, in sacrifice, pouring your rich, conquering life into the spiritually anaemic, into the weak, the helpless, and the lost, when you do this amid failure, mortification, bafflement, you link yourself with the truest, bravest, noblest heroes of all time.

C. F. Aked, The Courage of the Coward, p. 153.

References. XVII. 17. S. Gregory, How to Steer a Ship, p. 97. Brooke Herford, Courage and Cheer, p. 42. F. St. John Corbett, The Preacher's Year, p. 144. J. Aspinall, Parish Sermons (2nd Series), p. 37. J. B. Mozley, University Sermons, p. 288. H. P. Liddon, Sermons on Some Words of Christ, p. 206. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. li. No. 2960. Expository Sermons on the New Testament, p. 93. J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons, p. 250. W. J. Brock, Sermons, p. 209. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year (2nd Series), vol. ii. p. 117. XVII. 18. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 298. XVII. 19. R. Higinbotham, Sermons, p. 136. XVII. 20. R. C. Trench, Sermons New and Old, p. 196. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 88. XVII. 20, 21. C. Bradley, Faithful Teaching, p. 68. D. N. Beach, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 189. XVII. 20-23. G. Littlemore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. p. 42.

The Seat of Authority

Luke 17:21

The sense of liberty, the acute consciousness of responsibility, are essential to the individual and the race; without the conviction of personal sufficiency as against circumstance our whole nature is impaired. Let us, then, remind ourselves of this spiritual sovereignty, so that we may claim and exercise it to our great advantage. We address ourselves: I. To those whose chief fight in life is with their inherited nature. (1) Let us realise 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! 'Being then the offspring of God, we ought....'What positives are implied in that relationship! (2) We so continually fail in the war with world, flesh, and devil, because the kingdom within us has fallen into anarchy. (3) The doctrine of evolution is on the side of health, rationality, and virtue. Heredity, in the deeper meaning, is not destructive but constructive. The feeblest of us, endued with the power of Christ, can triumphantly resist and overcome the motions of sin which are in our members, even when they are most entrenched and rampant.

II. A word with those whose chief peril seems to lie in their untoward circumstances. (1) It is obvious that we are not physically at the mercy of the environment, as is popularly supposed. Our body is endowed with wonderful powers of resistance: it is capable of subtle adaptations, it secretes antiseptics, it sets up reactions, and remains strangely immune in tainted atmospheres. (2) In the intellectual world we see not less impressively the mastery of unfriendly environment. (3) If, then, in our physical and intellectual life we withstand inimical environments, shall we not prevail against them in our highest life? The scientist assures us that, 'without suitable conditions life could not exist'. The rose must bloom in the sun, the fern be planted in the shade, the willow spring by the watercourses. But this law of environment ceases with physical life. We see roses blushing through cold snows, ferns flourishing in fire, honeysuckle wreathing icicles, orchids in Siberia, May flowers in December: or, to drop the imagery, we find saints living the most beautiful lives in conditions which seem utterly to forbid faith, spirituality, greatness, and nobleness. The kingdom of God is within them, and they are little concerned with the temporal environment. The pressing duty is continually to strengthen the interior against the exterior.

W. L. Watkinson, The Supreme Conquest, p. 189.

Luke 17:21

To an inquirer, who proposed to come and visit him, William Law once wrote a modest letter of dissuasion, closing with these words: 'I have wrote very largely on the spiritual life, and he that has read and likes it has of all men the least reason to ask me any questions about, or visit me on that occasion. He understands not my writings, nor the end of them, who does not see that their whole drift is to call all Christians to a God and Christ within them as the only possible life, light, and power of all goodness they can ever have; and therefore, as much turn my readers from myself as from any other Lo here! or, lo there! I invite all people to the marriage of the Lamb, but no one to myself.'

References. XVII. 21. C. S. Home, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 148. S. A. Brooke, Sermons, 1901-2, p. 1. R. Winterbotham, The Kingdom of Heaven, p. 219. D. M. Ross, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 409. E. De Pressensé, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 183. J. M. Whiton, Summer Sermons, p. 35. B. Reynolds, Church Family Newspaper, vol. xiv. p. 552. Reuen Thomas, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 156. C. J. Ridgeway, The King and, His Kingdom, p. 11. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 380; ibid. vol. viii. p. 441. XVII. 22. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxii. No. 1323. Expositor (4th Series), vol. x. p. 193. XVII. 23. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. ii. p. 334. XVII. 24. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 335; ibid. (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 388. XVII. 24-37. Ibid. vol. x. p. 349. XVII. 26, 27. T. Arnold, Christian Life: Its Hopes, p. 82. XVII. 31. Expositor (4th Series), vol. vi. p. 195.

Lot's Wife

Luke 17:32

This picture, etched so sharply on the Bible page, may well help to illustrate for us truths that should be burned into our minds and our memories.

I. Note, first, that God saves all He can. For Lot was not saved alone, in mercy that overlooked all others beside. His wife's deliverance had been cared for too, and measures taken to secure her with the rest. One of the angels clasped her hand and drew her out of the conflagration by main force. Almost against her will she was hurried so far out of danger, and the mountain-road, with its hastening fugitives, stretched out clear before her, when, in that one glance behind, her incurably corrupt nature came out, and the stroke fell.

In other words, she was nearly saved, and would have been wholly saved had that heavenly rescue-party had their will.

II. Note, secondly, how men hanker after old sins. That was the fatal flaw in this instance; and how frequently it shadows lives full of promise in the Bible! Recall some of the more prominent examples. Rachel becomes the wife of Jacob, and like him engages thereby to worship the one true God; but when she leaves her home the old idols are packed away in the baggage. The Israelites acclaim Moses as leader, and promise obedience, and set out eagerly for the desert; but the Red Sea is hardly out of sight before they are weeping for the flesh-pots of Egypt, and ready to stone their deliverer. And when we cross over to the New Testament, there is the career of Demas first feeling the strange attraction of the Gospel and waiting upon St. Paul as a familiar friend, then recaptured by the old fascination and plunging back into the world. It is a weakness all too common, this craving lust for earlier self-indulgence; and it suggests that Christ spoke to every human soul when He uttered the solemn words: No man, putting his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.

III. Lastly, note how sin can be committed in desire. At first sight, perhaps, one might suppose this woman had been dealt with very hardly; and we are tempted to say that the punishment was out of all proportion to the crime. But, if we feel that, it is because we fail to realise all that her longing glance implied. It was a clear proof that, if she could, she would have turned back to her old haunts; and that, indeed, so far as will and choice were concerned, she had turned back already. So there are instances where God cannot but take the will for the deed. H. R. Mackintosh, Life on God's Plan, p. 115.

Lot's Wife

Luke 17:32

There are few more solemn warnings in Holy Scripture than the warning of our text, 'Remember Lot's wife'. She was a professing follower of God. Her husband was a righteous man. It is very solemn when you remember who it is that gives to us this warning. Our Lord Jesus Christ was full of love and pity and compassion. And yet He would not have us shut our eyes to future doom, and He said, 'Remember Lot's wife'. It is very solemn when you remember the occasion upon which He gives this warning. It is very solemn when you remember to whom He gave this warning. And it is very solemn when you remember the sin against which He warns us.

I. In the first place, remember that she was Lot's wife. He was a distinctly God-fearing man. She was bound to him by the closest ties, and yet when our Lord looks back into the lurid fires of Sodom and Gomorrah, He singles out this woman from the general destruction as a warning for us Christians, and He says, 'Remember Lot's wife'. You may be the husband of a saint of God, and yet you may be an outcast from the realms of glory.

II. Now this woman not only was the wife of Lot, but she had great privileges. It was not only that her husband was a godly man. Her uncle was the 'friend of God'. There was not one out of ten thousand who had had such privileges as had this woman. And yet privileges do not save. And now when the day of doom comes you see her sin.

III. And what is the doom? Nearly all that we know about the future punishment of those who have been long warned, and have resisted the warning, comes from the lips of Christ Himself. Jesus Christ, speaking of the hereafter, speaks of 'hell,' 'hell fire,' 'the damnation of hell,' 'eternal damnation,' 'the resurrection of damnation,' 'everlasting fire,' 'the place of torment,' 'destruction,' 'outer darkness,' 'the worm that never dies,' 'the fire that is not quenched,' 'the place of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth,' 'everlasting sin'.

E. A. Stuart, The New Commandment and other Sermons, vol. vii. p. 129.

The words are few, and the sentence short; no one in Scripture so short. But it fareth with Sentences as with C oynes: In coines, they that in smallest compasse conteine greatest value, are best esteemed: and, in sentences, those that in fewest words comprise most matter, are most praised.... So that, we must needs be without all excuse, it being but three words and but five syllables, if we do not remember it. There are in Lot's storie,' continues Bishop Andrewes, preaching before Queen Elizabeth, 'two very notable monuments of God's judgment. The Lake of Sodome and Lot's Wife's Pillar. The one, the punishment of resolute sinne; the other of faint virtue.'

References. XVII. 32. C. Perren, Revival Sermons in Outline, p. 244. Brooke Herford, Courage and Cheer, p. 79. W. J. Brock, Sermons, p. 249. J. Aspinall, Parish Sermons (1st Series), p. 180. J. A. Alexander, The Gospel of Jesus Christ, p. 88. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxv. No. 1491. XVII. 33. Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. p. 275. J. Huntley Skrine, Sermons to Pastors and Masters, p. 118. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 278. XVII. 36, 37. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 135.

Luke 17:37

This is the guiding text of Bishop King's 'Meditations on the Seven Last Words'. He appeals to 'the eagle-spirited'....'All who are striving to strengthen their spiritual sight; all who have been striving this Lent and through the past year to keep off the film of sin all such will naturally come and gather round the cross today.'... 'There was a battlefield indeed! it was the last great assault all the power of the enemy was there. The Prince of this world and the Lord of glory fought upon the Cross.' 'Within the man invisibly was God; the Lamb of God was also the Rock of Ages, and the jaw-bone of the lion broke.'

Let us try, those who would be truly eagle-spirited, those who really desire the higher spirit of St. John, to see the body of our Lord as St. John speaks of Him when he says, 'The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory'. We saw, as it were, the tabernacle of His flesh full of grace and truth. In point of fact, pure-hearted people have the reward which our Saviour promised, 'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God'. And pure-hearted people who become eagle-spirited, keep around the Cross, as eagles in the roughest and most stormy weather move with a kind of royal independence and power. So the more eagle-spirited, and those of the deepest spiritual sight, would keep round the suffering Body of Christ, and are not merely content to see the outward things, but they see Him, in spite of suffering, much more as He is. They see more of the Divine nature.

References. XVII. 37. Archbishop Magee, The Gospel and the Age, p. 223. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Sermonettes for a Year, p. 12. T. G. Bonney, Death and Life in Nations and Men, p. 1. D. Fraser, Metaphors in the Gospels, p. 232.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Luke 17". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/luke-17.html. 1910.