The Master's teaching on the subject of the injury worked on the souls of others by our sins. The disciples pray for an increase of faith that they may be kept from such sins. The Lord's reply. His little parable on humility. The healing of the ten lepers. The ingratitude of all save one. The question of the Pharisees as to the coming of the kingdom. The Lord's answer, and his teaching respecting the awful suddenness of the advent of the Son of man.
Luke 17:1, Luke 17:2
Then said he unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come: It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. The thread of connection here is not very obvious, and many expositors are content with regarding this seventeenth chapter as simply containing certain lessons of teaching placed here by St. Luke without regard to anything which preceded or succeeded them in the narrative, these expositors regarding the contents of this chapter as well authenticated sayings of the Master, which were repeated to Luke or Paul without any precise note of time or place, and which appeared to them too important for them to omit in these memoirs of the Divine life. Notwithstanding this deliberate opinion, endorsed by Godet and others, there does seem a clear connection here with the narrative immediately preceding. The Divine Master, while mourning over the sorrowful certainty of offences being committed in the present confused and disordered state of things, yet pronounces a bitter woe on the soul of the man through whose agency the offences were wrought. The "little cues" whom these offences would injure are clearly in this instance not children, although, of course, the words would include the very young, for whom Jesus ever showed the tenderest love; but the reference is clearly to disciples whose faith was only as yet weak and wavering—to men and women who would be easily influenced either for good or evil. The offences, then, especially alluded to were no doubt the worldliness and selfishness of professors of godliness. The sight of these, professedly serving God and all the while serving mammon more earnestly, would bring the very name of God's service into evil odour with some; while with others such conduct would serve as an example to be imitated. The selfish rich man of the great parable just spoken, professedly a religious man, one who evidently prided himself on his descent from Abraham the friend of God, and yet lived as a heartless, selfish sinner, who was eventually condemned for inhumanity, was probably in the Lord's mind when he spoke thus. What fatal injury to the cause of true religion would be caused by one such life as that! It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he east into the sea. This was a punishment not unknown among the ancients. The ancient Latin Version, and Marcion in his recension of St. Luke, read here, "It were better for him that he had never been born, or that a millstone." etc. The awful sequel to a life which apparently had given the offence to which the Lord referred, endorses this terrible alternative. Yes; better indeed for him had that evil life been cut short even by such a death of horror as the Master pictures here, when he speaks of the living being cast into the sea bound to a millstone.
Take heed to yourselves: If thy Brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. "But do you take heed," the Lord went on to say, "my disciples; you too are in danger of committing deadly sin yourselves, and of doing my cause irreparable injury. Soft living m selfish luxury, about which I have been speaking lately, is not the only wrong you can commit; there is sore danger that men placed as you are will judge others harshly, even cruelly, and so offend in another way 'the little ones ' pressing into the kingdom: this is your especial snare." Things Jesus had noticed, perhaps congratulatory, self-sufficient comments he had heard them make on the occasion of the lately spoken parable of Dives, very likely had suggested this grave warning. So here he tells them, the future teachers of his Church, how they must act: while ever the bold, untiring, fearless rebukers of all vice, of every phase of selfishness, they must be never tired of exercising forgiveness the moment the offender is sorry. The repentant sinner must never be repelled by them.
And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith. The disciples, moved by the severe and cutting rebuke of their Master—a rebuke they probably felt their harsh, self-congratulatory state of mind had well merited-come to him and ask him to give them such an increased measure of faith as would enable them to play better the difficult and responsible part he had assigned them. They evidently felt their weakness deeply, hut a stronger faith would supply them with new strength; they would thus be guided to form a wiser, gentler judgment of others, a more severe opinion too of themselves.
And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you. The Lord signifies that a very slight real faith, which he compares to the mustard seed, that smallest of grains, would be of power sufficient to accomplish what seemed to them impossible. In other words, he says, "If you have any real faith at all, you will be able to win the victory over yourselves necessary for a perpetual loving judgment of others." The sycamine tree here mentioned in his comparison is not the sycamore; he was probably standing close by the tree in question as he spoke. The sycamine is the black mulberry, Morus nigra, still called sycamenea in Greece.
Luke 17:7, Luke 17:8
But which of you, having a servant ploughing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by-and-by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat? and will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? And here we have the Lord's answer to his disciples' request to increase their faith. They were asking for a boon he would not, nay, could not, grant them yet. A small measure of real faith was sufficient to teach them that God would give them strength enough to keep themselves from committing this offence against love and charity of which he warned them so solemnly; but they prayed for more. "They were asking for faith, not only in a measure sufficient for obedience, but for a faith which would exclude 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 … In other words, the 'increase of faith' 'for which the apostles prayed was only to come through obedience to their Master's will" (Dean Plumptre). The little parable was to teach them that they were not to look to accomplishing great things by a strong faith given to them in a moment of time, but they were to labour on patiently and bravely, and afterwards, as in the parable-story, they too should eat and drink. It was to show them that in the end they should receive that higher faith they prayed for, which was to be the reward for patient, gallant toil. And gird thyself, and serve me. It is scarcely wise, as we have before remarked, to press each separate detail of the Lord's parables. Zeller, quoted by Stier," makes, however, an application of this to the 'inner world of the heart,' in which there is no going straightway to sit down at table when a man comes from his external calling and sphere of labour, but we must gird ourselves to serve the Lord, and so prepare ourselves for the time when he will receive us to his supper." This is interesting, but it is doubtful if the Lord intended these special applications. The general sense of the parable is clear. It teaches two things to all who would be, then or in the ages to come, his disciples—patience and humility. It reminds men, too, that his service is an arduous one, and that for those really engaged in it it not only brings hard toil in the fields during the day, but also further duties often in the evening-tide. There is no rest for the faithful and true servant of Jesus, and this restless work must be patiently gone through, perhaps for long years.
Luke 17:9, Luke 17:10
Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not. So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do. And for the loyal, patient, unwearied worker there must be no saying, "What shall we have therefore?" (Matthew 19:27). No spirit of self-complacency and of self-satisfaction must be allowed to brood over the faithful servant's thoughts. In much of the Lord's teaching at this period of his life the position of man as regards God seems to have been dwelt on. God is all; man is nothing. In God's great love is man's real treasure; man is simply a steward of some of God's possessions for a time; man is a servant whose duty it is to work ceaselessly for his Master, God. There are hints of great rewards reserved for the faithful steward in heaven, promises that a time should come when the unwearied servant should sit down and eat and drink in his Master's house; but these high guerdons were not earned, but were simply free, gracious gifts from the Divine Sovereign to his creatures who should try to do his will. This patient, unwearied toil; this deep sense of indebtedness to God who loves man with so intense, so strange a love; this feeling that we can never do enough for him, that when we have taxed all our energies to the utmost in his service, we have done little or nothing, and yet that all the while he is smiling on with his smile of indescribable love;—this is what will increase the disciples' faith, and only this. And in this way did the Lord reply to the disciples' prayer, "Increase our faith."
And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem. Just a note of time and place inserted by St. Luke to remind the reader that all these incidents took place, this important teaching and the momentous revelations concerning man's present and future were spoken, during those last few months preceding the Crucifixion, and generally in that long, slow progress from the north of Palestine through Galilee and Samaria to the holy city.
Luke 17:12, Luke 17:13
And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: and they lifted up their vetoes, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. These met him somewhere outside the village-separated by the fact of their unhappy malady, leprosy, from their fellows, in accordance with the old Mosaic Law of Le 13:46, "He is unclean: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be." These had no doubt heard of the many lepers who had been healed by the Galilaean Teacher who was then drawing nigh the village. They did not venture to approach him, but they attracted his attention with their hoarse, sad cry. The legal distance which these unfortunates were compelled to keep from passers-by was a hundred paces. He does not seem to have touched them, or talked with them, but with an impressive majesty bids them go and return thanks for their cure, which his will had already accomplished. They evidently believed implicitly in his healing power, for without further question they went on their way as he had commanded, and as they went the poor sufferers felt a new and, to them, a quite strange thrill of health course through their veins; they felt their prayer was granted, and that the fell disease had left them. They were not sent to the capital city; any priest in any town was qualified to pronounce on the completeness of a cure in this malady (Le Luke 14:2-32).
And he was a Samaritan. Apparently nine of these lepers were Jews, and only one a Samaritan. This man would not have been allowed to associate with Jews but for the miserable disease with which he was afflicted, and which obliterated all distinction of race and caste. It is the same now at Jerusalem; in the leper-houses, termed "Abodes of the Unfortunate," Jews and Mohammedans will live together. Under no other circumstances will these hostile peoples do this.
Where are the nine? It has been suggested that the priests, in their hostility to Jesus, hindered the return of the nine. The one who was a Samaritan would naturally pay little heed to a remonstrance from such a quarter. From the terms of the narrative it is, however, more likely that the strange Samaritan, as soon as he felt he was really cured, moved by intense, adoring gratitude, at once turned back to offer his humble, heartfelt thanks to his Deliverer. The others, now they had got what they so earnestly required, forgot to be grateful, and hurried off to the priests to procure their certificate of health, that they might plunge at once again into the varied distractions of everyday life—into business, pleasure, and the like. The Master appears especially moved by this display. He seems to see in the thanklessness of the nine, contrasted with the conduct of the one, the ingratitude of men as a whole, "as a prophetic type of what will also ever take place" (Stier).
Thy faith hath made thee whole. This was something more than the first noble gift, which he, in common with his nine fellow-sufferers, had received. A new power was his from that day forth. Closely united to his Master, we may think of the poor unknown Samaritan for ever among the friends of Jesus here and in the world to come. There are degrees in grace here. The nine had faith enough to believe implicitly in the Master's power, and in consequence they received his glorious gift of health and strength; but they cared to go no further. The one, on the other hand, struck with the majesty and the love of Jesus, determined to learn more of his Benefactor. From henceforth we may consider the Samaritan was one of "his own." SS. Luke and Paul gladly recorded this "memory," and no doubt not once or twice in the eventful story of their future lives used the incident as a text for their teaching when they spoke to the stranger Gentiles in far cities. Being a hated Samaritan, they would say, argued no hardness of heart, nor was it any bar to the bestowal of Jesus' most splendid gifts, first of life here, and then of life glorious and full in the world to come.
And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come. The following discourse of the Lord in reply to the Pharisee's question, 'When cometh the kingdom? was delivered, clearly, in the closing days of the ministry, probably just before the Passover Feast, and in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem. The query was certainly not put in a friendly spirit. The questioners had evidently caught the drift of much of our Lord's late teaching, and had seen how plainly he was alluding to himself as Messiah. This seems to have been the starting-point of their bitter, impatient inquiry. We must remember that the great rabbinic schools in which these Pharisees had received their training connected the coming of Messiah with a grand revival of Jewish power. If in reality this Galilaean Rabbi, with his strange powers, his new doctrines, his scathing words of reproach which he was ever presuming to address to the leaders in Israel,—if in reality he were Messiah, when was that golden age, which the long looked-for Hope of Israel was to introduce, to commence? But the words, we can well conceive, were spoken with the bitterest irony. With what scorn those proud, rich men from Jerusalem looked on the friendless Teacher of Galilee, we know. We seem to hear the muttering which accompanied the question: "Thou our King Messiah!" The kingdom of God cometh not with observation. This answer of our Lord's may be paraphrased: "The kingdom of God cometh not in conjunction with such observation and watching for external glorious things as now exist among you here. Lo, it will burst upon you suddenly, unawares." The English word "observation" answers to the signification of the Greek as meaning a singularly anxious watching.
Neither shall they say, Lo here: or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. That kingdom will be marked out on no map, for, lo, it is even now in your midst. It may be asked—How "in your midst"? Scarcely not as Godet and Olshausen, following Chrysostom, think, in your hearts. The kingdom of God could not be said to be in the hearts of those Pharisees to whom the Master was especially directing his words of reply here. It should be rather understood in the midst of your ranks; so Meyer and Farrar and others interpret it,
And he said unto the disciples. The Master now turns to the disciples, and, basing his words still upon the question of the Pharisees, he proceeds to deliver a weighty discourse upon the coming of the kingdom which will be manifest indeed, and externally, as well as internally, exceeding glorious, and for which this kingdom, now at its first beginning, will be for long ages merely a concealed preparation. Some of the imagery and figures used in this discourse reappear in the great prophecy in Matthew 24:1-51. (a shorter report of which St. Luke gives, Luke 21:8-36). Here, however, the teaching has no reference to the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Jewish polity, but only to "the times of the end." The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it. In the first place, our Lord addressed these words to the disciples, who, in the long weary years of toil and bitter opposition which lay before them, would often long to be back again among the days of the old Galilaean life, when they could fake their doubts and fears to their Master, when they could listen without stint to his teaching, to the words which belonged to the higher wisdom. Oh, could they have him only for one day in their midst again l But they have a broader and more far-reaching reference; they speak also to all his servants in the long Christian ages, who will be often weary and dispirited at the seemingly hopeless nature of the conflict they are waging. Then will these indeed long with an intense longing for their Lord, who for so many centuries keeps silence. These will often sigh for just one day of that presence so little valued and thought of when on earth.
And they shall say to you, See here; or, See there: go not after them, nor follow them. Again addressed to the disciples in the first instance, but with a far more extended reference. In the early days of Christianity such false reports were exceedingly frequent; false Messiahs, too, from time to time sprang up; unhealthy visions of an immediate return disturbed the peace and broke into the quiet, steady work of the Church. Nor have these disturbing visions been unknown in later ages of Christianity. Dean Alford has a curious comment here. He sees in the words of this verse a warning to all so-called expositors and followers of expositors of prophecy who cry, "See here! or, See there! every time that war breaks out or revolutions occur.
For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day. "Yes," went on the Master, "let not delusive expectations interrupt you or turn you aside out of the narrow way of patient faith, for my' coming will, like the lightning, be sudden, cud will gleam forth on every side. There will be no possibility of mistake then."
But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation. But, and here again he repeats "as a solemn refrain to all his teaching," the warning to his own of the fearful end fast coming on him. If he is to come again with glory, he must first go away with shame, persecuted, forsaken, by the generation then living. The suffering Messiah must precede the glorified Messiah. After this rejection and suffering would begin the period alluded to above (Luke 17:22) as the time when men should long to have him only for one day in their midst. During this period Messiah should continue invisible to mortal eye. How long this state was to continue, one century or—(eighteen have already passed), Jesus himself, in his humiliation, knew not; but he announced (Luke 17:26-30) that a gloomy state of things on earth would be brought to a close by his reappearance. Ah! "when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?'
As it was in the days of Nee (Noah) … as it was in the days of Lot. The prominent sin of the antediluvian, he reminds them, was sensuality in its varied forms. The torch of religious feeling will have waned in that unknown and possibly distant future when Messiah shall reappear, and will be burning with a pale, faint light. The bulk of mankind will be given up to a sensuality which the higher culture then generally reached will have been utterly powerless to check or even to modify. Men, just as in the days when the ark was building and Noah was preaching, as in the days when the dark cloud was gathering over the doomed cities of the plain and Abraham was praying, will be entirely given up to their pursuits, their pleasures, and their sins. They will argue that the sun rose yesterday and on many yesterdays; of course it will rise to-morrow. Perfect security will have taken possession of the whole race, just as, on a smaller scale, was the case in the days of Noah and of Lot, when the floods came and the fire, and did their stern, pitiless work; so will that day of the second coming of Messiah, with its' bloody and fiery dawn, assuredly come on man when he is utterly unprepared.
Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed. "Is revealed,'' that is to say, he has been present all along, through those long ages of waiting; only an impenetrable veil has hid him from mortal eyes. In that day will the veil be lifted, "and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced" (Zechariah 12:10).
Luke 17:31, Luke 17:32
In that day, he which shall be upon the house-top, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back. Remember Lot's wife. The Lord, with this striking imagery, describes, not the attitude which men who would be saved must assume when he appears with power and great glory—there will be no time then to shape any new way of life—but it pictures the attitude they must always maintain, if they would be his servants, towards the things of this world. His servants must be ready to abandon all earthly blessings at a moment's notice; none but those who have been sitting loosely to these will be able, when the sudden cry comes, at once to toss away all, and so to meet the long-tarrying Bridegroom. The reminder of Lot's wife—a very familiar story to Jews—warned all would-be disciples of the danger of the double service, God and the world, and how likely the one who attempted it would be to perish miserably.
Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it. Very deep must have been the impression which this saying made upon the early Church. So literally did many interpret it, that the wiser and more thoughtful men in the congregations during the days of persecution had often to prevent persons of both sexes recklessly throwing away their lives in the conflict with the Roman authorities. Very many in the first three centuries positively courted martyrdom.
Luke 17:34, Luke 17:35
I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, the other left. How taken? Not, as some scholars have supposed, taken only to perish, but taken away by the Lord in the way described by St. Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, where he paints how the faithful servant who is living when the Lord returns in glory, will be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. The other will be left. Thus, as it has been strikingly observed, "the beings who have been most closely connected here below shall, in the twinkling of an eye, be parted for ever."
is wanting in nearly all the oldest authorities. It was subsequently inserted in this place by copyists from Matthew 24:40—a passage in which much of the imagery here used was repeated by the Master. In one important feature this discourse differs from that delivered at Jerusalem a little later, and reported at length by St. Matthew in his twenty-fourth chapter. There is no reference here (in St. Luke) to the siege of Jerusalem; the whole teaching is purely teleological, and deals exclusively with what will take place at the close of this age.
And they answered and said unto him, Where, Lord? The disciples were still unable to grasp the full meaning of their Master's words when he spoke of his second advent being visible in all parts of the world, comparing it to a flash of lightning which gleams at the same instant in every point of the horizon. "Where, Lord, will all this take place which thou hast been telling us about?" And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together. The imagery is taken from Job 39:30, "Where the slain are, there is she" (the eagle); the bird intended being most probably the great vulture, well known in Syria. It is seen, for instance, travellers tell us, in hundreds on the Plain of Gennesaret; it is a hideous looking bird, equal to the eagle in size and strength, and acts as a scavenger to purify the earth from the putrid carcases with which it would otherwise be encumbered. "Do you ask where all this will take place? As the curtain of the future rolls up be fore my inward eye, I see the vultures of Divine vengeance flying in flocks athwart the whole area of the earth; the sky is darkened with their numbers; far as my eye can reach, I still see them. Alas l for the habitable earth, my Father's goodly world … it is rank everywhere with corruption..., wheresoever the carcase is, there the vultures will gather together" (Dr. Morrison). The Lord's answer to the question—"Where?" was that his words applied to the whole earth. The terrible and awful scenes he had pictured would take place everywhere. The carcase, as Godet phrases it, is "humanity, entirely secular and destitute of the life of God The eagles (vultures) represent punishment alighting on such a society." There is another interpretation of these words, which, although many great expositors favour it, must be rejected as improbable, being so alien to the context of the whole passage." The dead body (the carcase), according to these interpreters, is the body of Christ, and the eagles are his saints, who flock to his presence, and who feed upon him, especially in the act of Holy Communion.
The Addition Besought.
We are not informed of the circumstances which called forth the discourse condensed in the first ten verses of the chapter. An occasion was, by some incident, provided for a solemn warning against the sin of an unforgiving and uncharitable spirit. And this warning apparently intensified a conviction which had been simmering in the minds of the disciples, and led to the prayer, "Lord, Increase [or, 'add to us'] faith." Have we not a part in this cry? Are there not some of us who feel that, although we live in the light of Christ's Word and kingdom, we yet need one great addition—faith?—
"The childlike faith that asks not sight,
Waits not for wonder or for sign."
I. THE PRAYER SUPPOSES A WANT. Trace this want from two or three positions.
1. Reflect how sorely we are wanting in a lively sense of the great truths of our holy faith. These truths are not mere opinions; they are facts. The seat of the doctrine is the fact; it is with the facts that faith has primarily to do. Are we receiving the facts with our whole mind and strength? That God is; that Jesus Christ is; that the Holy Spirit of God is witnessing with our spirits and helping our infirmities;—what of these fundamental verities? Realize what a thorough grasp of these facts would involve; what manner of persons they ought to be to whom they are matters of experience and consciousness. And what are we? Alas! is it not too certain that, between the truths in which we declare our belief, and the affections and attitudes of our minds, there is a sad disproportion; that whilst we say, "Lord, I believe," we have need of the addition, "Help our unbelief; add to us faith"?
2. Reflect again, how constantly we are reminded that the words of Christ are "too deep, too high," for us. Even when we follow him as our Master, how dim are our apprehensions of his truth! Perhaps this was the immediate reason of the apostles' prayer. They had been listening to wonderful teaching—e.g, the cycle of parables in the fourteenth and fifteenth chapters—and, after hearing all, how poor was the vision of the realities with which the sayings were charged! And the demand made on them in respect of forgiveness, how could they meet such a demand in a world like this? "O Lord, thy thoughts are very deep, thy commandment is exceeding broad; add faith!" Can we not sympathize? Do we not often feel that Christ's doctrine is pitched on a note far above the level of our mind? We think that it will not do to interpret it too literally, that we must take only broad and general views. The teaching as to conduct seems too fine, too pure and otherworldly for the state of things about us. How can we realize it? "Lord, add to us faith."
3. Reflect, once more—when we look around, what is one of the chief wants of the time? Is it not faith? How much of the instruction given in Christian churches is halting and confused!—the sceptic,- too evidently looking over the shoulder l Religion is a thing talked about rather than lived in. And when we scrutinize the countenances of the "anonymous many-sided" force which we call society, what furrows appear in it! what lines betokening the absence of trust—man in man, having its root in the absence of trust; man in the living God! Is not this signified in the conflict of interests—labour and capital, class against class. To bridge the yawning social chasms, oh for a new spirit of faith! We need a chasm-bridging Church—a Church presenting, with a new force, the ideal of Christian brotherhood. "Lord, add to those who call on thy Name the faith by which the just live, through which 'they work victories, obtain promises, stop the mouths of lions'!" It is because of the lack of an heroic trust in the living God and his government that so few sycamine trees are plucked up by the root, so few mountains of sin and pride are cast into the sea. "Lord, bid us stretch forth our palsied hand, that we may take the fulness of thy grace! Add to us faith! "
II. So much for the want which the prayer supposes. Consider THE SCOPE AND IMPORT OF THE PRAYER ITSELF. First, it suggests the way of the addition; secondly, it reminds us of the conditions on which the increase sought is realized.
1. The way of the addition. "The apostles said unto the Lord." It is the only example of a common appeal, the only instance of the apostles, as distinct from the disciples, having a special concerted supplication. Sometimes there was a holy restraint on them, and they durst not ask him. But this is a matter on which they could speak; it came out of the sense of their relation to him that they should go, with their great weakness, direct to his presence. Sometimes, when the hard saying was uttered, they reasoned one with another. But this is not a matter for conference. Only the hand of the Lord opened wide can supply the needed addition. For so it is. In pressing with the little we have to the Lord himself, we get the addition, we have the faith. Any faith, any trust whatsoever in the eternal love and righteousness, is a gift of God, a hold which God has on you, and which, if you only go whither it would lead, will bear you to a confidence more complete and unreserved. The one thing is, do not stop, mourning over what you have not; use what you have; it is enough to lead you to the Lord. Little-faith, at least thou canst cry. Cry the more, the more that the noisy world within or without bids thee hold thy peace. Cry the more, the less thou dost seem to have. "To them that have no might, he increaseth strength." "This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him."
2. Further, connecting the apostles' prayer with the Lord's reply, we see the condition on which the increase sought is realized. The reply is given in Luke 17:8-10. There is a twofold type, with a twofold promise.
"So in the darkness I may learn
To tremble and adore,
To sound my own vile nothingness,
And thus to love thee more.
"To love thee, and yet not to think
That I can love so much,
To have thee with me, Lord, all day,
Yet not to feel thy touch."
The ten lepers.
Our minds have been so occupied by the fulness of teaching contained in the three last chapters, that we have almost lost sight of the progress of our Lord to the capital. Now the evangelist recalls our attention. He presents the little party, followed no doubt by many who were attracted from one motive or from another, as "passing through the midst of," or rather "between Samaria and Galilee "—Samaria on the right, Galilee on the left, and before them the river Jordan. It is in the immediate neighbourhood of a certain village, no name given, that the company are met by the fellowship of misery. A sad spectacle indeed, but one not unfrequent in the sunny isles of Southern seas, and in Eastern cities and thoroughfares. "Sauntering down the Jaffa road," says Dr. Thomson, "on my approach to the holy city, in a kind of dreamy maze, with, as I remember, scarcely one distinct idea in my head, I was startled out of my reverie by the sudden apparition of a crowd of beggars, without eyes, nose, hair. They held up to me their handless arms, unearthly sounds gurgled through throats without palates; in a word, I was horrified." It is a group of these miserables which clamours to Jesus as he nears the village walls. Those with him had heard the wild "Tame, tame! Unclean, unclean!" when suddenly the cry was exchanged for "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" These ten, each a homeless man; some with the recollection, perhaps, of happy homes, of other days, of the solaces of human love,—all drawn together by virtue of that gregarious instinct which acts on even the wretched. Class distinctions, even the estrangement of opposite nationalities, are forgotten in the one uniting circumstance—a common woe. No man would have allowed the dust of the Jew to have the same place of sepulture as the dust of the Samaritan; but these men, dead while they live, may herd as they please. Oh, what a sight to that heart in whose consciousness there survived the feeling of the morning stars and the triumph of the sons of God over the creation on which God had pronounced his "Very good"! What resistless eloquence in the cry, "Jesus, Master, have mercy"! He hears, and he answers in his own way; for in the Gospels there is a striking variety in the dealings of the Lord with those who call on him. Each person is a specialty to him. His way with these ten is not to respond as he did to the leper who knelt to him, beseeching, "If thou wilt, thou canst." To them he gives no direct answer; he bids them at once go and show themselves to the priests. This was the trial of their faith. The priests could only pronounce a person cured; for the ten to obey was equivalent to a trust that the power of the cure lay with Jesus the Master. They go; and shortly the limbs no longer drag, the sensations of health, as of new fresh currents coursing through the frame, tell them that they are cleansed. And now for the point of the incident. One, and only one, turns back, and he a Samaritan; and with a loud voice he gives God the glory, and, falling down before his Benefactor, renders thanks and praise. "Were there not the ten cleansed? Where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger." It is the old story of the thankless heart. Note some of the lights and shadows of the picture of ingratitude.
I. ALL HAD BEEN EARNEST UNDER THE PRESSURE OF THE GREAT WANT AND IN THE PRESENCE OF THE DELIVERER. There was faith enough for prayer, not for praise. Is this uncommon? We have heard that, overtaken by unexpected calamity—fire, shipwreck, etc.—knees which for long years refused to bow, have bowed, and lips that uttered the adorable Name only in blasphemy have uttered the most fervent pleadings for mercy. The record of the great plague in London is a most graphic description of a new earnestness which nearly the whole population manifested, so that there were not clergy enough, services enough, to meet the demand for prayer. Have we not the tokens of this same state of feeling in ourselves? Oh, there is no difficulty in a cry when the life hangs in doubt, when the shadow of death creeps up the wall of the home and lies across the bed of the dearly beloved. The heart needs no book then to teach to pray; it will cling to any plank; somehow, anyhow, the voice must rise like a fountain, "Jesus, Master, have mercy!"
II. WHERE ARE THE NINE WHO WERE EARNEST
"Even he who reads the heart—
Knows what he gave and what we lost,
Sin's forfeit, and redemption's cost—
By a short pang of wonder crost,
Seems at the sight to start."
They are cleansed. The need is relieved. They are so far on their way. Perhaps there had been some discussion between the one and the nine, and they may have argued," Let us get to our homes. Grateful to him? Certainly; but he will never miss us." Have we not all illustrated the reasoning? How did the writing of Hezekiah when he was sick condemn him when he was well! "I will go softly all my days" was part of the writing which contained the reflections and purposes of the recovery. How did that harmonize with his pride and ostentation to the messengers of Baladan? Alas! how quickly is the love which special moments originate overborne by the return of the old things, or the influence of new scenes and circumstances?
"Not showers across an April sky
Drift when the storm is o'er,
Faster than those false drops and few
Fleet from the heart, a worthless dew."
Most of all is this true when the record borne is of blessings bestowed, when the prayer which brought to the feet of Jesus has been answered even in a manner which can be traced. What healings are received! and yet there is no turning back of the soul to glorify the Healer! What plenteousness of redemption! and yet there is no loud voice to confess the Redeemer! The proportion is the nine thankless to the one thankful. And is not ingratitude among the most common of vices?—the Aaron's rod which swallows up and comprises in itself all the baser vices? Archdeacon Farter quotes the lines of Wordsworth—
"I've heard of hearts unkind
Kind deeds with coldness still returning:
Alas I the gratitude of men
Hath left me oftener mourning."
And he adds, "If Wordsworth found gratitude a common virtue, his experience must have been exceptional." "Give thanks unto the Lord at the remembrance of his holiness. Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his Name. Bring an offering, and come into his courts:'
The kingdom and the day of the Son of man.
This passage is not to be isolated as if it were a definition complete in itself of Christ's view of the kingdom of God. Some, doing this, have found in it a justification of the teaching that God's kingdom has no external character, that the coming of the Lord is only a revelation of truth in and to the heart of man. This is to do violence to the language of Jesus. In what he says afterwards to his own, in the solemn discourse reported two chapters hence, he refers to the coming of the Son of man as a fulfilment which would have its outward signs and effects, and for which his people are to wait. On the occasion before us he sets his Word in the sharpest possible antagonism to the carnal and unworthy notions which prevailed among the Pharisees who had demanded a statement from him as to how the kingdom should come. E.g. the Pharisees conceived of this kingdom as a victorious world-power. "Not so," is the assertion (Luke 17:20); "God's kingdom does not come with observation, does not lend itself to such outwardness as your vision contemplates." The Pharisees separated the citizenship in the Divine kingdom from character. The right to partake of its glories was a political right. It measured the extravagance of their social caste. It was not a chastening and purifying expectation. It was a dream of conquest and outward abundance which kept their minds on the stretch, which made them dupes of those who claimed to be Messiahs or forerunners of Messiahs. "The kingdom of God," says Jesus, "is not heralded by loud professions, by cries of, 'Lo here! or, lo there!' Unobserved, often unthought of, are its marches and movements, its surprises and its conquests" (Luke 17:21). As the concluding touch of the answer, Jesus warns against a restless asking "when the kingdom shall come," as if it were a prospect wholly future. He reminds us (Luke 17:21) that the kingdom is here and now, that it is verily and indeed among us. And the caution is as timely for us to-day as it was for the Pharisee then. For we are all apt to associate God's kingdom with some distant prospect or some condition removed from the world in which we live. And the doctrine of the Lord's advent is too often mixed up with schemes of prophecy, with calculations of catastrophes and the like, which men profess to expound or to forecast, crying, "Lo here! or, lo there!" Not, therefore, without meaning for more than the old Hebrew separatists is the counsel, "Look into the region of character for the reality of the kingdom. Where the King is, there is the court. If God has possessed your souls, his kingdom is among, is in you." Observe the solemn discourse to the disciples suggested by the demand which he has met. The words which follow from Luke 17:22 may be regarded either as an epitome of longer addresses, or as an address in itself complete. Look on it as an instruction preliminary, and preparatory, to the fuller opening up of the time of the end. The shadows are getting longer and longer; Jerusalem is not far ahead; the night is at hand in which, under the form of his first appearing, the Son of man cannot work. The look forward in the verses before us is to
I. A DAY OF DISTRESS. When (Luke 17:22) the mind would cast a regretful retrospect on the time when the Lord was with them—their Sun and Shield. Ah I would that he, the Bridegroom of our souls,
"Our Shepherd, Husband, Friend,
Our Prophet, Priest, and King,"
were going before us as in the days of old! But no; the shadow on the dial of time cannot be put back. The Church must face perplexities and follow its path through them. It hears voices crying, "Lo here! and lo there!" and the voices are so delusive that even the elect are often bewildered. The Master's word is, "Onwards!" He bids us look up where Stephen beheld him—standing, bending forward in sympathy and help. In the struggle, through the din, although it seems as if he were not, he is with his Church until the end of the age.
II. A DAY CALLING FOR PATIENT FAITH. There are incertitudes and excitements which sometimes almost suspend the action of faith. There are complications in the Church and the world which induce a feverishness of tone. What the Lord enjoins (Luke 17:25) is a calm, although wakeful, vigilance. He reminds his followers that the way to the crown is by the cross, that the offence of the cross must be exhausted, and then the end shall come. Thus, whilst the sentence is (Luke 17:26-30), "The coming may be at any moment, it will be, as was prefigured in the days of Noah and Lot, when men are least expecting it," the balancing thought is added, that a testimony must be given to all the nations. And the right kind of waiting is that which seeks to fill up what remains of his sufferings, so that, when he shall appear, his people may be found "not sleeping in sin, but diligent in his service, and rejoicing in his praises." It is in this connection that the reference is made (Luke 17:29) to the tradition concerning the wife of righteous Lot. "She looked back, and became a pillar of salt." The world-clinging heart was stiffened into a very column of worldliness. Remember, there are to be no regrets, no glances behind. A heart single, and free for the Lord, is the condition of the disciple who shall escape all these things that shall come to pass, and stand before the Son of man. "Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it" (Luke 17:33).
III. A DAY OF JUDGMENT. The revelation of Christ is a judgment—in the fuller meaning of the word, a making manifest, a bringing to light of the hidden bents of mind and separation of the true from the false. Whenever Christ is presented, the judgment is set and the books are opened. The end is simply the full apocalypse of the judgment which is now proceeding. The lightning (Luke 17:24) "that lighteneth out of the one part of heaven, shining to the other," is the manifestation of the electricity with which the atmosphere is charged. What of this day of judgment? It is (Luke 17:27, Luke 17:28) the condemnation of the world as to its worldliness in both its more sensual and its more cultured aspects—the sensuality typified in the days of Noah; the culture, with coarseness, typified in the wealthy citizen of Sodom. It is (Luke 17:34, Luke 17:35) the disjunction of the closest of life's fellowships—the two in the bed, the two at the mill, the two in the field. The issues that, unobserved by many, are being adjusted and completed will be set forth in their reality. What men would not believe men will be brought to know. "The Lord cometh; he cometh to judge the earth." "Where?" ask these simple men, affrighted—"where, Lord?" and the enigmatical response (Luke 17:37) is given. Wherever there is corruption, wrong, death, there is the scene of the judgment of God. Jerusalem was the carcase more immediately in view, and the eagle, sign of the Roman empire, that was raised over its battlements was the sign of other eagles that were already gathering. But may we not ask whether the Jerusalem that is in bondage, the Christendom that is, is not ripening for judgment? "Receiving the kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire."
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Luke 17:1, Luke 17:2
Our Lord here delivers very weighty truth of a practical kind to the whole body of his adherents—to "the disciples." It is truth which remains as appropriate and as necessary as it was when it was uttered.
I. OUR NEED OF THE POWER OF SPIRITUAL RESISTANCE. "It is impossible but that offences will come." Knowing the human world as Christ knew it, he perceived that his disciples would, through many generations, be subjected to continual and severe trial of their faith. With such error, such selfishness, such despotism, such heartlessness, such iniquity in the world, it was inevitable that temptations should abound. The path of Christian life must lie through a country beset with moral evil; the journey home must be attended by the most serious perils.
1. The aim of the enemy. This would be, as it is still, to lead the disciples of Christ into
2. The weapons of his attack. These are
3. Our resources of resistance. These are
II. OUR LORD'S REGARD FOR HIS DISCIPLES OF HUMBLER RANK. "Woe unto him" through whom it results that the stumbling-block is in the way and the weak disciple falls! "It were better for him" that the worst disaster should befall him than that he should contract such guilt as that and be open to such condemnation. Nothing could more strongly mark the deep interest our Lord takes in his humbler disciples than the severity of this his indignation against those who wrong them. The intensity of his wrath is the measure of the depth and tenderness of his love. Among his followers are those who occupy high places—in ecclesiastical position, in social honour, in mental equipments, in constitutional strength. But there are also those who take the lower place; not the children only—the "little ones" in years and size—but the inexperienced, the unsophisticated and unsuspecting, the mentally weak, the spiritually feeble; those who are much at the mercy of the strong; those who, for some cause and in some one respect, are unendowed and unequipped with the ordinary means of defence. These "little ones" are often:
1. The object of disregard. Many pass them by as unworthy of consideration; they will not repay attention; they will not contribute anything considerable to the cause in hand.
2. The mark at which iniquity aims. For it is one that can be easily hit; it is a victim ready for the blow.
3. But it is for us to remember that they are always the object of our Lord's peculiar interest and affection, he cares for them the more that men care for them so little, lie remembers them in "their low estate;" and as a mother lets her heart go most freely to her weakest child, so does he bestow upon these members of his Church all the fulness and all the tenderness of his Divine love. He indicates to us here how he feels toward those that do them harm; and, conversely, it is safe for us to infer that he is peculiarly pleased with those who, entering into his own spirit, love and guard and guide these disciples of lowlier rank.
III. CHRIST'S ESTIMATE OF SIN AND SUFFERING. "It were better," etc. We have sometimes to choose between sinning and suffering; e.g. the martyr in time of persecution; the son or servant commanded to do that which to him would be sin because "not of faith." This word of our Lord reminds us that any physical suffering, any bodily evil, any temporal misfortune, of whatever magnitude it be, is much to be preferred to any serious sin. Be sunk in the sea, be utterly extinguished, let the worse come to the worst, but do not descend to anything which is mean, which is unholy or impure, which would stain your own conscience or injure and perhaps slay a brother's or a sister's character, which would grieve the Father and Saviour of us all.—C.
Luke 17:3, Luke 17:4
Our duty when wronged.
The opening words of this passage, "Take heed to yourselves," point to our Lord's sense of the great difficulty we are likely to experience in learning the forthcoming truth, or to the great stress he lays upon its illustration in our lives—it might well be either or both of these. For it is a difficult lesson to learn well; and our Master does make much, as other passages show, of this particular grace.
I. OUR OPENNESS TO INJURY.
1. We come into the world with a strong sense of what is due to us. We all feel that there is due to us a certain measure of respect as human beings, as those made in the image of God; also that we can claim just and equitable treatment. Men may not withhold or remove from us that which we consider to belong to us. If they do we are aggrieved; we have a sense, more or less deep, of having been wronged—our sense of injury rising and falling with the sensitiveness of our nature and the character of the offence. There is neither virtue nor vice, honour nor shame, in this. It is an instinct of our nature which we have in common with our kind.
2. There are many possibilities of offence. In our present condition we touch one another at so many points that there is great likelihood of offence being given and taken. At home; in all the complications of our business life; in all our social relations; in the Church of Christ and the worship of God; in the field of philanthropy;-in all these domains we e, have to do" with one another; and it is improbable in a very high degree, it is almost impossible, that we should always comport ourselves as our neighbours would expect; it is inevitable that we should occasionally differ as to what is due from one to another.
II. OUR DANGER UNDER A SENSE OF INJURY.
1. The mistake we are likely to fall into when we have a sense of injury is that of instantly concluding that we have been wronged; we are apt to hurry to the conclusion that some one has slighted or injured us. But before we give way even to a strong feeling, we should make quite sure that things are as they seem to be. There are many possibilities of mistake in this world of error and misunderstanding.
2. The sin into which we are tempted to tall is that of giving way to unbecoming anger and unchristian retaliation—a feeling of bitter resentment, vindictive, passionate, such as does not become the children of God; and action which is intended to result in suffering on the part of the wrong-doer; we proceed to "avenge ourselves."
III. OUR DUTY WHEN WRONGED.
1. Direct communication, and, where it is necessary, friendly remonstrance. Matthew tells us that Christ enjoined upon us that, under a sense of injury, we should "go and tell our brother his fault between ourselves and him alone." This is surely most wise. Instead of dwelling upon it and magnifying it in our own mind; instead of talking about it and causing it to be spread abroad and discoloured and misrepresented,—the one right thing to do is to go at once to our offending neighbour and tell him our grievance. It is very likely he will explain everything, and there will be no need of any overlooking on our part; or, if wrong has been done, it is very likely he will appreciate our fairness and friendliness in coming straight to him, and will make the apology that is due on his part. Then must come:
2. Free and full forgiveness. "If he repent, forgive him." If he should refuse to repent, we must pity him and pray for him, that his eyes may be opened and his action amended, and himself raised by doing the right and honourable thing. But if he repent, then it is our high and Christian duty to forgive. And how shall we forgive? Even as God, for Christ's sake, forgives us (Ephesians 4:32).
Luke 17:5, Luke 17:6
It is the part of a wise teacher to endeavour both to elevate and to humble his disciples. He will not discharge his whole duty nor realize his full opportunity unless he imparts elevating aspirations and unless he promotes a deep humility of heart; he will thank God and congratulate himself when he knows that his hearers are happily sensible of progress, and also when he learns that they are profoundly dissatisfied with their attainments. Both these results ensued from the teaching of our Lord.
I. THE DISCIPLES' DISSATISFACTION WITH THEMSELVES. Evidently the apostles of our Lord felt that there was something lacking in their souls which they would gladly possess. The doctrine of the great Teacher, perhaps, was not so clear to them as they could have wished; or perhaps they felt themselves a painfully long distance behind their Leader in their spirit and bearing; or it may be that they found themselves unable to do such works as they judged they ought to be able to do, in and through the Name of the great Healer. But whencesoever their source of dissatisfaction, they agreed that they were in spiritual want.
II. THEIR CONCLUSION AS TO THE REMEDY THEY NEEDED. They agreed that what was wanted was an increase of faith. And they were perfectly right in their judgment.
1. They wanted to believe in Christ in a way not then open to them. They became "greater in the kingdom of heaven" afterwards, more enlightened, more spiritual, more devoted, more useful, because afterwards they had a deep and a firm faith in Jesus Christ as their almighty Saviour, as their Divine Lord. But they did not know him yet as such; for as such he had only begun to reveal himself to them.
2. But they needed a fuller faith in him as they did then know him. A more complete and implicit confidence in him
III. THE TRUTH CONTAINED IN OUR LORD'S REPLY. "If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed," etc. This truth is surely not that the possession of a faith as slight as the mustard seed is small will suffice, but that the faith which is full as is the mustard seed of life and power of appropriation will avail for all occasions. For it is not true that a slight and feeble faith does suffice. It failed the apostles on one memorable day (Luke 9:40). It has been failing ever since. Only a faith which is a living and a growing power, like the mustard seed in the soil, will triumph over the difficulties to be met and mastered. The fact is that:
1. A formal faith is worth nothing at all; indeed, less than nothing, for it deludes and misleads.
2. A feeble faith will accomplish little. It sinks in the hour of trial (Matthew 14:30); it shrinks from open avowal, and makes feeble fight in the hour of battle (John 3:1; John 7:50; John 19:38); it enters upon, but abandons, the goodly enterprise (Acts 13:13).
3. A living, appropriating faith is the only effective power. A faith that, like the mustard seed in the soil, puts forth the power of life, and appropriates to itself the riches that are around it in order that, further on, it may bear fruit—this is a power that will be felt. It will accomplish great and even wonderful things; it will surprise the unbelieving as much as if it actually did the very thing which the Master speaks of in his illustrative language.
(1) It will uproot great evils in God's Name and strength.
1. Is there anything seriously lacking in our spirit, character, life, work?
2. May it not be traced to the absence or to the feebleness of our faith? If we believed more truly in Jesus Christ, if we realized more thoroughly what we accept, should we not be more to God and do more for him?
3. Shall we not come to our Saviour, unhesitatingly, earnestly, perseveringly, with this prayer of the apostles?—C.
The spirit of Christian service.
The hardest nut may have the sweetest kernel; the least inviting and most difficult parable may have the most strengthening and stimulating truth beneath the surface. So with this passage. We may be even repelled from treating it because it seems to represent our Father in a light in which we do not like to look at him. It seems as if we were required to regard him as a hard taskmaster, indifferent to the past labour and present weariness of his servants, accepting their service without sign or token of recognition. We don't recognize the portrait in this picture. But when we look longer and see more, we understand that Jesus Christ did not for a moment intend to convey this impression of his Father and ours.
1. It is inconsistent with the revelation of God which Christ gave us both in his doctrine and in his own Person and life. For in both of these God is revealed to us as a Father who gives rather than receives. Jesus Christ himself was "amongst us as he that serveth;" he "came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give his life;" it is not from him that we can receive the impression that God is one that exacts everything and makes no response.
2. Christ's method of teaching does not require us to interpret the parable in this sense, He argued not only from comparison, but from contrast; not only from the less to the more worthy, but also from the unworthy to the excellent. He said, "If an unjust judge for a bad reason will do right, how certainly will the just Judge for a high one!" He said, "If an ungracious neighbour, prompted by a selfish consideration, will listen and comply, how much more surely will the gracious God, from beneficent considerations!" So here. The slave, when he returns from his day's laborious duties, prepares, unthanked, for his master's comfort before he thinks of his own necessities; and he does this unquestioningly, uncomplainingly. How much more ready, more eager, should we be to serve our God!—we who are not slaves, but children; to serve him, who is no unresponsive and inconsiderate taskmaster, but who is Considerateness itself, who is Responsiveness itself, who is Encouragement itself. We should be ready and eager to serve him to the uttermost, and when we have done everything we can do, be prepared to say, "It is nothing of all that we should do and would do for thee." Now, there are certain occasions to which this more particularly applies; and here we have a touch of resemblance in the parable. As the master there requires of his slave something over and above his day's work in the field, so does our Lord sometimes ask of us more than we thought he would when he first said to us, "Follow me," and we said, "Lord, I will." This may be in the way—
I. OF ACTIVE SERVICE; e.g. when parents have clothed and fed, taught and trained their own children, they may be directed, in God's providence, to take charge of the children of others; or when the minister, superintendent, missioner, teacher, finds that the duty he has undertaken involves a great deal more of costly work than he had counted upon—more time, trouble, patience, self-mastery, self-sacrifice.
II. OF SACRIFICE; e.g. when the young man leaves home or college for work in the foreign field, he finds that the privations he has to endure, the scenes he has to witness, the discouragements he has to bear, the parting with his children he has to go through, are a great deal more than he realized when he started on his way.
III. OF SUBMISSION. When life seems to have been lived through, its strength spent and its work done, the weary human spirit craves rest, the rest of the heavenly home; but God may allot many months or even years of patient waiting before the summons is sent to "come up higher." And in whatever way, or to whatever degree, the heavenly Father may ask of his children the service which they did not look for, such should be and may be their spirit of
The commonness of ingratitude, etc.
Under the guidance of this narrative, we think of—
I. THE COMMONNESS OF INGRATITUDE. Only one of these ten men had a sufficient sense of indebtedness to return to Christ to offer thanks. The ingratitude of the remaining nine touched, smote, wounded our Lord, and he used the reproachful words of the text (verse17). This ingratitude was not a remarkably exceptional illustration of our nature; it is one of those things in respect of which "he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow." For that which youth refuses to believe, experience obliges us to acknowledge, viz. that to accept a great boon from the hand of love, and to show no proper sense of gratitude, is not a rare but a common thing. It is likely enough that we may go much out of our way to do a man a kindness, and that when we look for his response we shall be disappointed. What then? Shall we be diverted from the path of beneficence by this unlovely fact? Shall we say, "Since it is very likely that my services will not be appreciated, they shall not be rendered"? Certainly not. For:
1. There is gratitude to be gained and to be enjoyed. This proportion is not representative. It is not the case that nine men out of ten are insensible to kindnesses shown them. It is as likely as not, perhaps more likely than not, that if we do help out brother in his hour of need, if we do sustain him in sorrow, succour him in distress, stand by him in temptation, lead him into the kingdom of God, we shall win his gratitude, and we may secure the profound, prayerful, lifelong affection of a human heart. And what better reward, short of the favour and friendship of God, can we gain than that?
2. If we fail to obtain this, we shall stand by the side of our Divine Master; we shall share his experience; we shall have "fellowship with the sufferings of Christ." He knew well what it was to serve and be unappreciated, to serve and be disparaged. To be where he stood, to
"Tread the path our Master trod,
To bear the cross he bore,"
this is an honour not to be declined.
3. If man our brother does not bless us, Christ our Saviour will. The most heroic deed of love may go, has gone, unrewarded of man. But the smallest act of kindness rendered to the humblest child will not go unrewarded of him. "Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only … shall in no wise lose his reward."
II. THE UNCOUNTED DEBT DUE TO JESUS CHRIST. These nine men having received the greatest good one man could receive from another—deliverance from a living death—failed to recognize their obligation, did not stop to consider it. They were not the last to be guilty in this respect.
1. How much more do many owe to Christ than they think they do! They say, "We do not choose to range ourselves under him and call him 'Master;' we can construct our own character, can build up rectitude and purity and benevolence of spirit apart from his truths or his will; we can do without Christ." But suppose we subtract from the elevating and purifying influences which have made these men what they are all those elements which are due to Christ, how much is left? How little is left? The influences that come from him are in the air these men are breathing, in the laws under which they are living, in the literature they are reading, in the lives they are witnessing; they touch and tell upon them at every point, they act silently and subtly but mightily upon them; they owe to Jesus Christ the best they are and have; they ought to come into direct, living, personal relations with the Lord himself.
2. How much more do some men owe to Christ than they stay to consider! These nine men would not have disputed their obligation had they been challenged, but they were so anxious to get home to their friends and back to their business that they did not stay to consider it. Have we stayed to consider what we owe to him who, though he has not indeed cured us of leprosy, has at infinite cost to himself prepared for us a way of recovery from that which is immeasurably worse—from sin and death? to him who, "though he was rich, for our sakes became poor, that we through his poverty might be rich?"
III. THE PERIL OF EARLY PRIVILEGE. It is significant enough that the tenth leper who did return to give glory to God was a Samaritan—was "this stranger." Taking this fact with that concerning the Roman soldier whose faith surprised our Lord, and that of the Syro-Phoenician woman whose importunity prevailed over every obstacle, we may conclude that the Hebrew mind was so familiarized with "signs and wonders," that those outside the sacred circle were far more impressed by what they witnessed than the people of God themselves. It is well to he the children of privilege; but there is one grave peril connected with it. We may become so familiar with the greatest of all facts as to become insensible to their greatness. The Swiss peasant who lives on the Alpine slopes sees no grandeur in those snow-clad summits on which his eyes are always resting; the sailor who lives by the sea hears no music in "old ocean's roar." We may become so familiar even with the story of the cross that our minds are unaffected by its moral grandeur, by its surpassing grace. It behoves us to take earnest heed that we fall not into this fatal snare; lest many should come "from the north, and the south, and the east, and the west, and sit down in the kingdom of God," and we, the children of the kingdom, be excluded. We must do our utmost to realize the great truths which have so long been uttered in our hearing.—C.
Luke 17:20, Luke 17:21
Radical mistakes respecting the kingdom of God.
Pharisaism took its hostile attitude toward Christianity because it entirely failed to understand it. It made two radical mistakes which completely misled it.
I. THE MISTAKES WHICH PHARISAISM MADE.
1. As to the character of the coming kingdom. It thought it was to be outward, earthly, political, temporal; it was looking and longing for the time when another David, another Judas Maccabaeus, should come, should liberate the Holy Land from the grasp of the pagan power, and make Jerusalem the metropolis, the centre and glory of the earth.
2. As to the evidences and signs of its coming. It looked for a grand display of power, for overwhelming evidences that would strike every eye and startle and convince every mind that One was at hand who should assume the sovereignty awaiting him. And so it came to pass that when Jesus was born at Bethlehem, a Babe cradled in a manger; when he grew up to be a Carpenter at Nazareth; when he gathered no army, and struck no blow for national deliverance; when there was no ostentation about his method; when he lived to bless and teach individual men and women, and wrought his work quietly and unpretendingly;—Pharisaism decided that he was not the Coming One, and that his reign was not to prove the kingdom of God. Pharisaism entirely mistook God's purpose, and fatally misinterpreted his procedure.
II. THE MISTAKES INTO WHICH WE ARE LIABLE TO FALL. Not, of course, the same but similar, and equally disastrous.
1. When we look for blessedness in out ward circumstances instead of in inward peace. We say, "If I could but win that prize, gain that post, secure that friendship, earn that income, how bright would be my lot, how glad my heart, how radiant my life I" But we are wrong. Gladness of heart and excellency of life are not to be found in sunny circumstances, but in a pure heart, a heart that is at rest, a heart at home with God. "Out of the heart are the issues of life;" the fountain of lasting joy rises from our own breast; the kingdom of God is within us.
2. When we look for blessedness in the time that is beyond. "Man never is, but always to be blessed." There is even an unchristian longing for the heavenly future. When" to abide in the flesh" is more needful for those for whose welfare we are largely responsible, then the "kingdom of God" for us is not in the distance; it is in the present sphere of duty; it is in present peace, present joy, present service, in the blessedness which Christ gives to his servants "Before they reach the heavenly fields, Or walk the golden streets," in those "heavenly places" of holy service and happy fellowship in which he "has made them to sit" (Ephesians 2:6).
3. When we wait for heavenly influences to fall upon us instead of availing ourselves of those we have. Not only is there no need for any soul to wait for some remarkable and overwhelming influences before entering the kingdom, not only is it wholly unnecessary, but it is positively wrong to do so. It is in those quiet influences which are now working within your heart that God comes to you. He will never be nearer to a human soul than when his Spirit fills it with a holy longing, and makes it eager to know what it must do to enter into life. Wait not for anything that is coming: act on the promptings that are within you, and your feet shall then surely stand within the kingdom of God.—C.
The brief day of opportunity.
The thought of our Master in this passage (as I understand it) is this: "I have been asked when the kingdom of God will come: my reply is that it has come already; that you have not to look about in this and that direction; here, in the midst of you, impersonated in him that speaks, is the kingdom. It is present in the Present One. But," he says to his disciples, "he is present in a very strict sense. The time will soon be here when you will greatly long for his fellowship, and you will not be able to possess it. Do not believe those who will tell you that the Son of man is still on earth; it will not be true. His life below will be of the very briefest; it will be but as a lightning-flash which passes through the darkened heavens in a moment, and is gone again; so brief will be his stay, so soon will he be gone. But before he goes he must suffer many things; much must be done, for much must be endured, before his short day is done."
I. THE BRIEF DAY OF OUR LORD'S OPPORTUNITY. When we think of the long centuries that preceded, and of those that have already succeeded, the day of Christ, we may well regard his short visit to our world as a mere flash of light for transitoriness. What were those few months of his short stay among men compared with all those dark ages, and to all those that have been illumined by the light which his truth has shed upon them! But, transient as it was, it sufficed. It does not take long to utter or to illustrate the most Divine and the most vital truths; it did not take long to undergo the most mysterious and the most availing sorrows—it took but a few agonizing hours to die the death of atonement. Into that short day of opportunity our Divine Redeemer compressed:
1. The utterance of all needful truth—all the truth we need for our guidance into the kingdom of God, and for our passage through life and death into the kingdom of glory.
2. The illustration of every human grace; the living of a human life in all its perfect loveliness and grandeur.
3. The endurance of sorrow such as constituted him for ever the Man of sorrows, and the High Priest of human nature, touched with the feeling of our infirmities (Hebrews 4:15).
4. The dying of that death which is the all-sufficient sacrifice for sin. A few months of time sufficed to complete his work and make him the Divine Teacher, Leader, Friend, Saviour, of the whole race of man for all time to come.
II. OUR BRIEF DAY.
1. Measured by hours, our day is very brief. Human life is abort at the longest. We are "but of yesterday,' and to-morrow we shall not be. The rocks and even the trees look down on many generations. And in all the bustle and battle, in all the pursuits and pleasures of our lira, the little time we have hastens away and is gone far sooner than we thought it would go. It is not only our poetry that sings, but our experience that testifies of the swiftness of our course beneath the sun.
2. Yet it holds manifold and precious opportunities of regaining our position as the children and heirs of God; of doing "many things" that shall tell even in future years for truth and God; of "suffering many things" after Christ our Lord, and in holy and noble fellowship with him (Philippians 3:10).
3. Its transiency is an urgent reason for
Whilst we have the light that shines, let us walk and let us work in the light.—C.
The unlearnt lesson.
Man differs from the brute creation in that he learns and profits by experience—he advances. He passes through stage after stage toward the perfection of his life upon the earth. He is the hunter at one period, then the shepherd, then the agriculturist. From the lowest barbarism he reaches, in time, the most refined civilization. But he is very slow indeed to learn, if he does learn at all, moral and spiritual truths. The excellency of thrift, of temperance, of purity, of patience,—how long a time it is taking man to acquire these virtues! Our text opens to us the truth of the danger of spiritual trifling, and indicates that what men were long ages ago, that they still are in this respect.
I. SPIRITUAL TRIFLING. The men of the time of Noah were living in a state of utter worldliness and impiety. They were not without remonstrance and rebuke; Noah was himself "a preacher of righteousness" unto them. But they hearkened not, nor heeded; they made light of his admonitions and his warnings. They found some pretext under which they could easily hide the truth he reminded them of, and they went on their way of materialism and enjoyment. The same with the people of Sodom, and the character and instruction of Lot. And so with us.
1. Men are living in sinful selfishness and worldliness—many in crime, many more in vice; but a very large multitude in practical godlessness. God is not in all, he is not in many if in any of their thoughts. His will is not the object of their inquiry, is not the rule of their life.
2. The religious teacher comes and admonishes; he says, "Man cannot live by bread alone;" the claims of the Divine Father, of the holy Saviour, are the supreme claims, etc.
3. But still the same course is pursued; the better thoughts that are momentarily stirred in the heart are silenced; sacred truths are extinguished; the truth of God is treated lightly; the world and the things that are in the world are uppermost and are victorious.
II. THE PALPABLE FOLLY OF SUCH TRIFLING AS THIS.
1. It is attended with immediate and certain injury. For it is impossible for a human soul to reject the truth or to quench the Spirit of God, and not be seriously the worse for such an act.
2. There is the grave peril of a great disaster. The generation is eating and drinking and marrying, and behold! the Flood sweeps them away. The cities are trading and feasting, and lo! the fires of heaven come down and consume them. They who trifle with the most sacred things are sure to find that, suddenly, in such an hour as they think not, the end arrives. The business plans are all broken off; the brilliant career is concluded; the flow of pleasures is arrested. Death suddenly appears, and deals his fatal blow. These sacred opportunities which have been so little prized, so much disparaged, recede with terrible rapidity and disappear. Opportunity that waited by the side, and waited all in vain, melts and vanishes in a moment. The soul awakes from its long lethargy to see that its powers have been wasted and that its chance is gone!
III. THE ELUSIVENESS OH THIS SOLEMN LESSON. Men have always known this, and they have always acted as if they were ignorant of it. "As it was … so shall it be." So is it to-day. By spiritual trifling men fritter away the golden chance that Divine love puts into their hands. Be wise in time. Realize what you are doing, what injury you are working, what risk you are running.—C.
"The one shall be taken, and the other left." And who or what is it that decides which one shall be taken and which left? Events are often occurring which convey to us the impression of—
I. THE LARGE AMOUNT OF ACCIDENT which enters into the fabric of human life. Take, for example, a bad railway accident. How accidental it seems that one man should just miss that train and be saved, and that another should just catch it and be killed; that one should take a seat in the carriage which is crushed, and another in the carriage which is left whole; that one should be sitting exactly where the bent and twisted timber pierced him, and another exactly where no injury was dealt, etc.! It is the same with the battle-field, with the thunderstorm, with the falling house. One is taken, and another left; and the taking of the one and the leaving of the other seems to be pure accident—not the result of reason or forethought, but entirely fortuitous.
II. OUR CORRECTED THOUGHT CONCERNING IT.
1. Of accident in the sense of chance we know there is nothing. Everything is "under law;" and even where there is no law apparent, we are assured, by the exercise of our reason, that there must be the operation of law, though it is out of our sight. In this world of God's, pure chance has not an inch of ground to work upon.
2. There is usually much more play of reason and habit in "accidental events" than seems at first sight. Things result as they do because habit is stronger than judgment, or because foolish men disregard the counsel of the wise; because thoughtful men take the precautions which result in their safety, and because thoughtless men take the action which issues in their suffering or death.
3. The providence of God covers the entire field of human life. May we venture to believe that the hand of God is in the events and issues of life? I think we may.
III. THE LARGE MEASURE OF UNCERTAINTY THAT REMAINS AND MUST REMAIN. Human science has introduced many safeguards, but it has also introduced new perils. The "chapter of accidents" is as long as it ever was in the contemporary history of mankind. God is supreme, but he lets many things happen we should antecedently have supposed he would step in to prevent; he lets good men take the consequence of their mistakes; he permits the very holy and the very useful to be overtaken by sad misfortunes and even by fatal calamities. We cannot guarantee the future; we cannot ensure prosperity, health, friends, reputation, long life. To one that seems to be heir to all these good things they will fall; to another who seems equally likely to inherit them they will be denied: one is taken, the other left. Therefore let us turn to—
IV. THE ONE GOOD THING ON WHICH WE CAN ABSOLUTELY COUNT. There is "a good part which shall not be taken away." This is a Christian character; its foundations are laid in repentance and faith; it is built up of reverent study, of worship, of the obedience of love. Its glory is in resemblance to Jesus Christ himself. This is within every man's reach, and it cannot be taken; it must be left. He who secures that is safe for ever. No accident can rob him of his heritage. His treasure and himself are immovable; for "he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever."—C.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
Graces stimulated and strengthened.
The preceding chapter urges most powerfully, by precept and parable, consideration for others. Money is to be used for this end. But consideration may be shown in many other ways. And want of consideration may be one of those "occasions of stumbling" (so in Revised Version) to the Lord's little ones which shall be visited with such overwhelming retribution. Our Lord consequently begins by teaching—
I. THE GREAT DANGER OF CAUSING A LITTLE ONE TO STUMBLE. (Luke 17:1, Luke 17:2.) In this way he urges his disciples to watchfulness. He plainly implies that defenceless individuals who fall through stumbling-blocks placed in their path shall have in God a most terrible Avenger. Better the most fearful physical death than the fate of those who cause them to stumble. Of Judas it was expressly stated it would have been better if he had never been born; and the same might be said of every one who, like him, throws stumbling-blocks in his brother's way. The ruin of the innocent, through exposing them to temptation, will be visited by God's most terrible indignation.
II. THE DISCIPLES OF CHRIST MUST GUARD AGAINST AN UNRELENTING AND UNFOR GIVING TEMPER. (Luke 17:3, Luke 17:4.) The disciples are to take heed to themselves. They are not to be avengers. They have not the solidity of judgment or of character to exercise vengeance. It is to be left to God. If, therefore, a brother trespass against us, we are to pursue such a path as will result in forgiveness and reconciliation. We are to rebuke him courageously; then, if he repents, if he shows signs of sorrow and confesses his fault, even though it should be repeated seven times a day, we are to forgive him. Now, this forgiving spirit is Divine. It is God-like. It is the spirit God has manifested in Christ, and which we should cultivate most diligently.
III. OUR LORD'S EXHORTATIONS LED THE DISCIPLES TO SEEK AN INCREASE OF FAITH. (Luke 17:5-10.) When we have discovered how small our forgiving spirit is, we then begin to see how small other graces are, and to cry, "Lord, Increase our faith." It is most instructive to notice how our Lord responds to the disciples' desire. And:
1. He shows them how very small their faith is. His statement implies that it was less than a grain of mustard seed, for, if they had even so little a measure of genuine faith, they could remove any difficulty out of their path. Even a sycamine tree might be plucked up by the roots, or any difficulty which such an obstacle would represent, and be cast by faith into the sea. The first lesson we have got to learn is how small our faith is, and then it will soon increase.
2. tire impresses on them the cultivation of a sense of their own unprofitableness to God. He likens them to a farm-servant who, when he has finished in the field, comes home and is then put to wait at table on his lord. His work is never done. He turns from one occupation to another; and only laments at the close that he could not do more and better. Now, this sense of unprofitableness really arises out of the magnificence of the Christian ideal. The Christian system sets before us such incomparable excellency, that we are always coming short of it. All Christian progress is just conditioned upon this sense of unprofitableness. Our faith will grow exceedingly when this sense of unprofitableness has been secured and is maintained. Of course, this teaching of our Lord is quite consistent with the reward promised in his grace, of "Well done, good and faithful servant." The servant looks at his labours in the light of strict justice, and acknowledges his shortcoming. The Master looks at them in the light of grace and love, and rewards them with overflowing bounty. Even when receiving the reward at last, it will be with surprise, and with the consciousness that we have been but unprofitable servants.
IV. THE DISCIPLES ARE INSTRUCTED AT THE SAME TIME REGARDING HUMAN INGRATITUDE. (Luke 17:11-19.) It so happened that ten lepers cross the Saviour's path, and their cry for mercy meets with immediate response. But their cure is given on their way to the priests, who could only give them a certificate of cure. The sense of cure came upon the ten, we may believe, at the same time. But only one, and he a Samaritan, returned to express his gratitude. The other nine, all Jews, passed on to the priest with a joyful sense of cure, but little sense of gratitude. It was such ingratitude as called for the animadversion of Jesus, while the Samaritan's gratitude led our Lord to say his faith hath made him whole. It seems clear that he became attached to Jesus in a way the others did not. The expression of his gratitude led to an assurance of faith. Now, this was a wholesome lesson for the disciples, as it is also for us. How many blessings have we all got from the hands of Christ, for which we have returned no thanks at all! And, if we have been ungrateful to our Lord, should we not put up with a good deal of ingratitude? It is a sense of personal ingratitude which will stimulate the grace within us, and make us less surprised when we are the objects of ingratitude on the part of others we have befriended. In this plain and practical fashion our Lord stimulated and strengthened the graces of his disciples, and indicates how our graces may be stimulated likewise.—R.M.E.
The advent of the kingdom and the King.
Jesus was on journey to Jerusalem when the ingratitude of the nine lepers, just noticed, took place, and this gave rise to speculation as to the near approach of his kingdom. His enemies, the Pharisees, put the sarcastic question when the kingdom of God should come, as much as to say, "We have heard of it long; we should like to see it." £ This leads our Lord to unfold the nature of his kingdom's advent and of his own.
I. HIS KINGDOM COMES IN THE HEARTS OF MEN. (Luke 17:20, Luke 17:21.) The characteristic of worldly kingdoms has always been ostentation. They try to impress the senses by noisy advents, brag, advertisement, the blare of bugle and roll of drum. And some think that there is nothing worth talking about which can come in any milder way. The Jews expected a kingdom of God to supersede the Roman, and that its advent would be seen in the defeat and expulsion of the conquerors of Canaan. But, no; the kingdom was coming in men's hearts; it was there it had its sphere and home.
1. How superficial is the sovereignty which is not founded in the heart I This is the world's experience daily. The outward sovereignty is a name and based on fear.
2. How noble is the sovereignty which is based upon people's hearts! It is here Jesus reigns. We love him. We would die for him. Thus his kingdom progresses wherever a heart is touched by Christ's love. His triumph is over the selfishness of mankind. He conquers them by self-sacrificing love. £
II. THE KING HIMSELF IS TO COME AS SUDDENLY AS THE LIGHTNING-FLASH. (Luke 17:22-24.) He is not to give warning of his approach. There will be no need to go here or there under the impression that he has come quietly and privately, to prepare for his public manifestation; but suddenly like the lightning-flash, and publicly like its heaven-enlightening beam, is he to come for judgment. Hence the awful suddenness of his advent is distinctly implied. He will give no premonitory warnings, but overwhelmingly sudden and awful will be his approach. No wonder in such circumstances that many shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, one of those seasons of quiet philanthropy such as the Saviour was now leading among men. The Pharisees were mistaking altogether the significance of his present mission.
III. THE RESULTS OF THE PRESENT MISAPPREHENSIONS. (Luke 17:25-30.)
1. The first sad result will be the rejection and martyrdom of Jesus (Luke 17:25). Misapprehending the significance of his meek and lowly philanthropic life, his generation united in rejecting him, and secured his crucifixion on the tree. They would not have the King when actually among them in flesh and blood.
2. Men will act like the antediluvians and Sodomites up to the very time of our Lord's advent. A sense of carnal security characterized these sinners. They thought in Noah's day that no harm would overtake them. There was no sign of the Deluge except Noah's precautions against it, and they would not act upon such signs. In Sodom it was the same. The inhabitants thought no change would come over their selfish, sensual dream. But the Deluge came, and the fire and brimstone descended, notwithstanding. So will it be with the advent of Christ—it will come as a sudden, unexpected judgment upon many. And this carnal security is a present danger with many. They fancy they are safe, that nothing will interfere with their security; but the Saviour makes his advent suddenly, and they are overwhelmed.
IV. THE REALITIES OF THE ADVENT. (Luke 17:31-37.) Now, the truth is clearly brought out that some shall be saved and others lost at the advent.
1. Let us look at the lost. They are brought under our notice here in several ways. Thus Lot's wife is taken as a type of the lost. Now, we know that she was lost through looking longingly back to her worldly things. God, by his angels, had set the family's faces towards the mountains and himself. Were they prepared to take him and his favour as their portion, and give up all their property in Sodom? If they looked longingly behind them, it would show that the world was still more to them than God. The poor wife could not resist the temptation, and so she was changed into a pillar of salt. She is, then, the type of those who are almost saved, but worldliness gets the better of them, and they are lost. Again, the lost ones are represented as food for eagles (Luke 17:37) This brings out the corruption characterizing them. They have become moral carrion which only the eagles can consume. There is, doubtless, a reference to the Roman invasion under Titus, and to the destruction of corrupt Jerusalem. The Roman armies were God's scavengers to destroy a corrupt people. This was one way in which Christ made an advent to judgment. Lastly, we have the lost described as those who are continually seeking to save themselves (verse 33). Those whose one aim in life is self-preservation, the saving of themselves at every turn, who think of self as the supreme concern, are only losing themselves. The curious paradox is that those who save themselves at every turn lose themselves; while those who do not count their lives dear, but Christ's concern as supreme, find themselves safe at last. Let us see to it, therefore, that we are neither worldly minded, nor corrupt, nor given up to selfishness, else we are among the lost.
2. But let us look at the saved ones. These are those who have kept Christ before them as their Lord and Master, whose interests should be supreme (verse 33). They value him more than life, and so he saves them. The nature of salvation is thus plainly unfolded. The saved ones are those with whom Christ is all in all. They prefer him to everything else. The instinct of self-preservation has in them given place to an instinct to preserve the honour and promote the kingdom of the Master. And those who have trusted him and honoured him so thoroughly shall find that he will not disappoint them. Let us wait for his appearing, then, and love it; and when it flashes across the world, we shall be allowed to escape the judgments that come upon the earth, and to stand before the Son of man.—R.M.E.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Luke 17". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Lent