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1. Unto them Unto his disciples. Though it was doubtless later in their journey toward the Jordan than the discourse of the coming of the Son of man in the last chapter, yet the impress of that discourse is upon the mind, and the same solemn topic tinges the present parable.
Always to pray The habit of earnest vocal devotion, public, family, and private, will in due time impregnate the Christian soul with prayer. The human spirit thus attains the temper in which it spontaneously breathes prayer.
And not to faint Not faint through weariness of the long well doing. It is a sad thing when prayer grows silent on the lips, and faint in the heart. For since prayer is the vital breath of the Christian, without it the Christian life ceases, and the man is spiritually dead.
§ 98. PARABLE OF THE UNJUST Judges , vv1-8.
As in the previous chapter, the discourse has a reference to the Second Coming of the Lord. The Church is a widow in his absence; she has an oppressive adversary, being the persecuting world, or the devil, of whom it is the instrument; God is to her, for the interval, as the relentless, unlistening judge. Great is the danger that her faith should fail, and her prayer grow faint and cease. But, in fact, she has a swift Avenger of whom she should never lose sight. Yet when the Son of man comes to execute that vengeance, though the Church through her long life shall have sent millions to glory, there will peradventure be scarce a faithful remnant on earth!
2. A judge In this second and third verse the two leading characters are given, God and his Church; while in the back ground appears the adversary, the enemy of both.
Feared not God… man A tolerably finished specimen of depravity of temper. That reverence which belongs to God as our infinite superior, and that respect which is due to our fellow -man, being absent from his soul, nothing is left but a sordid and intense regard to himself. Hence, while appeals to his conscience and tenderness are wholly naught, the slightest appeal to his ease or his interest brings immediate action.
3. A widow This widow, we find by Luke 18:7, is God’s own elect. It is the Church of the truly justified from Christ’s First Coming to his Second. The Church is the bride of Christ; and to indicate our deprivation during his absence on high she is held
a widow. Avenge me of mine adversary The Church’s word avenge, according to the Greek, properly signifies justice, not revenge. It is the cry of the oppressed and martyr Church against her persecuter. It is represented by St. John in the Apocalypse with wonderful grandeur as coming up to God from the souls of the martyrs under the altar. “How long, O Lord, dost thou not avenge our blood?”
Revelation 6:9-10. But the Church is thus guilty of no unholy passion. This cry is but the utterance of divine justice in her behalf to the divine Ruler.
Mine adversary The plaintiff or accuser. Here is perhaps an allusion to the name Satan, which signifies accuser, and as the name of him who is called the accuser of the brethren.
4. For a while The grand interval between the First and Second Coming of the Son of man. This we take to be its true and perhaps its only proper meaning. But as the same principle is applicable to the prayer of the individual soul as to the collective prayer of the Church, so God often makes a trying interval between the offering of our prayer and the granting of the reply.
I fear not God Most men believe that they are not so very bad; and though they may each deceive themselves, yet they are the less evil for even this self-pretence. But here is a man consciously unprincipled upon principle. The man who can thus unflinchingly face himself, can of course show the hardest face to others.
5. Troubleth me She might cry until doomsday before his sense of justice would be touched; but he is sensitive to the slightest touch of selfish ease.
Weary me In the original we have here a remarkable term for weary, derived from the boxer’s art. It signifies to strike below the eye, so as to produce a bruise. Hence to fatigue; or, as we might say in English, to beat out.
6. The unjust judge Of just so relentless and hard a face does the Judge of all the earth appear to the prayer of his Church through different ages.
How long does wickedness triumph in the earth, and the righteous cause fail to advance! How tardy the extension of religion, and through what severe trials does the Church and holy truth have to struggle!
7. His own elect They are all this while his own and elect. That is, they are chosen; a choice; for so the word elect means. They are chosen according to God’s eternal purpose in Christ, and according to his foreknowledge of their meeting the conditions of election, namely, of faith, repentance, and perseverance.
Cry day and night Their prayer is earnest; for it is not an imprecation, nor a murmur, but a Godward ascending cry. That prayer mounts to his throne, for it arises day and night.
8. Speedily Here is the grand contradiction reconciled in regard to the time of our Lord’s Second Coming.
He will bear with them long He will avenge them speedily. The time is both distant and near. It is distant to man’s eye; near to the view of Him who measures by the chronology of his own eternity.
When the Son of man cometh Our Lord here intimates that in a most solemn and important sense the faith of the Church will scarce hold out until his Second Coming. She will all but faint in her prayer and watchfulness before that day. This is clearly in unison with those texts which represent that it will be upon an apostate earth that the judgment throne of Christ will appear. 2 Peter 3:4. See Revelation 20:7. Even after the millennium, Satan is released from prison, and deceives again the nations who had before been under the reign of Christ with his saints. The judgment scenes occur immediately after the tribulation of those days. See on Matthew 24:29. Notwithstanding, therefore, the certainty that Christ will in due time avenge his elect, the prayer of the Church may hardly last, and faith upon earth may scarce be found. This by no means proves that the number of the saved will be finally few. The elect, gathered during the millennium day, may be a multitude which no man can number, immensely surpassing the entire catalogue of the damned.
9. Unto certain The best commentators decide that the Greek word for unto should be rendered concerning. The parable was addressed to the disciples concerning the trusters in themselves and despisers of others, of whom this Pharisee is selected as an example.
Trusted in themselves So low was their estimate of sin, and so high their estimate of their own merit, that they proposed to stand before God, to be justified on the ground of their own excellence; nay, came into his presence, and under forms of prayer and thanks, paraded these laudations of themselves and depreciations of their fellows.
Despised others Their great sin was, that, despising the work of elevating others, as Jesus did the publicans and Gentiles of this region, they really rejoiced in their sinfulness and degradation, over which they could glory as a superior and despotic caste. Their language was, This people that know not the law are accursed.
§ 98. PARABLE OF THE PHARISEE AND PUBLICAN, Luke 18:9-14 .
As the preceding parable inculcates intensity, so this illustrates humility, in prayer.
10. Two men And, therefore,
sinners. Went up Just as the publican went down to his own house; because the temple was on high ground.
The temple to pray The place of prayer in the temple was probably the court of the women, where also were the chests for depositing the alms of the faithful. In the court of the temple, the suppliant directed his face toward the holy of holies; but if in another country, toward Jerusalem.
Pharisee… publican Our Lord is now, probably, still in the region where a large number of publican converts were opposed and oppressed by the haughty oligarchy of Pharisees. See notes on Luke 13:32; Luke 17:5. Doubtless many a poor publican was hereby encouraged to repentance, being taught that his utter casting himself on God’s mercy in absolute abhorrence of his sins, was a surer road to justification than the cruel sanctimony of the professional saints, who rejoiced to retain beneath their feet a lower caste of sinners over whom they could boast and tyrannize.
11. Pharisee stood To pray standing was the ancient custom of the Jews in their temple service. Scholars here find a peculiar expressiveness in the Greek verb, which implies that he formally placed himself in a standing position. The publican simply stopped and stood. Prayed That is, he boasted; for in reality he only, with a slight phrase of thanks, told God how good he was. He praised rather than prayed; and praised himself rather than God. In fact, he really omitted to pray at all. As if he had no sin, he asked no forgiveness. As if he had no defect or weakness, he asked no divine aid. As if he had no wants, he asked no favours. His performance is divided into two parts. Under the form of thanks, Hebrews , 1, enumerates the bad things that the rest of men are, but he is not; 2, enumerates the good things he does. And there he closes.
Prayed thus with himself Nobody shares with him the delight of his self-complacent devotion; it was all his own. Perhaps a better construction would render the latter phrase by himself, and refer it to stood. This makes him stand and pray sanctimoniously apart in the true spirit indicated by the term Pharisee, which signifies separatist.
I thank thee His thanksgiving is but a prelude and a pretext for an enumeration of his own virtues. The humblest Christian may think of all there is good in his case in order that he may the more abundantly thank God; this man’s thank God is a mere decent preface to an enumeration of his superiorities.
Other men Literally, the rest of men. He is the exceptional case, the one good; all the rest are mere foils to exalt his excellence. We are not sure but that the characters whom this Pharisee conceives himself to be unlike were all held to be embodied in the publicans; so that his whole prayer thus far is not only a eulogy upon himself, but a satire upon his fellow-worshippers.
Extortioners Extortion was considered a peculiar vice of publicans. (See note on Luke 19:8.)
Unjust Either through violence or fraud.
Adulterers No doubt our Lord here meant to concede to the Pharisees the virtues claimed by this individual. But the phrase which couples publicans and harlots would indicate that he is as truly selecting the vice of which the publicans were held guilty. In commending his own virtues, the Pharisee is confessing his neighbor’s sins.
Or even as this publican In this sharp utterance he detects himself. His prayer is a slant upon that fellow-worshipper whom he should compassionate.
12. I fast From his mere virtues, the Pharisee proceeds to his pieties. He has works of supererogation to tell.
Twice in the week By the Mosaic law, required but once a year. So that these two fasts a week were extra and voluntary holiness and merit to spare.
Tithes The tenth parts.
All I possess This translation scarcely does credit to the Pharisee’s piety. It should be rendered all that I acquire. He gave tithes both of property and income.
13. Publican standing afar off From the Pharisee.
Would not lift up so much as his eyes Modestly the publican stands in the distance, turns his face toward the Most Holy, and casts his eyes upon the ground.
Smote upon his breast Within which ached a wounded conscience. Six different positions, thrice repeated with corresponding positions of hands and expression of face, all thrice or more repeated, are described by oriental tourists as the monotonous mechanical performance of the Moslem in mumbling his formula of prayer. Millions of such repetitions are not worth this single impulsive unprescribed movement of the feelings; this agonized smiting of the suffering breast.
Be merciful Be propitiated. Do we owe to Luke’s Pauline sympathies the use of this word? It is the very word by which the apostle of the Gentiles expresses the reconciliation of God to us by the accepted atonement of Christ.
A sinner Rather the sinner. Just as the Pharisee was the righteous distinctly from the rest of men, so our publican is the sinner, though without any thinking about what anybody else is. Be propitiated to the sinner, me. Religious formalism can, however, adopt the publican’s style when that is understood to be the true religious fashion. A modern puritan can deal in the strongest hyperboles of self-abhorrence as taught by his traditional tenets, and be proud of the intensity of his self-condemning phrases. The true Christian can sincerely say with the dying Grotius, “I am that publican;” yet, fixing his eye on Christ, can thank God that through the grace given him he has this testimony, that he pleases God.
14. I tell you With what emphasis and power did this tell you come from this divine I.
Down to his house Where went the strutting Pharisee? Who knows? But this publican sought a home now illuminate by the beams of God’s smiling face.
Justified Not merely pardoned; but held as enjoying the position of one just before God. The Epistle to the Romans is the expansion of this great thought.
Rather than the other The other was amply justified by and before himself; this man is justified by and before God.
Exalteth himself Our Lord here repeats one of those great formulas which expresses a fundamental law of the kingdom of God.
Here terminates the great series of the ( Peculiaria Lucae) Peculiar Contributions of Luke, or the LUKEAN SECTION. (See p. 101.) Thus far his path has been independent and alone; he is now joined by his brother Evangelists. Henceforth, though often furnishing peculiar paragraphs, he moves abreast with them.
THE FINAL JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM AND CONTEST THERE. Luke 18:15 to Luke 22:6.
(See Historical Synopsis, vol. i, p. 14.)
§ 104. CHILDREN BLESSED BY CHRIST, Luke 18:15-17 .
Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16.
15. They brought… infants They were not only little children, but Luke here calls them βρεφη , infants; and Mark says that “he took them up in his arms.”
16. Suffer little children to come For when they are brought they truly come. The act which brings them avails, as their own faith would, to place them into a visible and symbolical relation to Christ. And the reason why they should be brought is given by Mark, “for of such is the kingdom of God;” and inasmuch as “except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,” it follows that these must be in a state virtually equivalent to that of the adult who is born again. A man is born externally of water, because he is born internally by the Spirit. John 3:3; John 3:5.
17. Receive the kingdom of God as a little child It is plain that the little child here specified must be a literal infant. And when it is asked in what respect is the converted adult to become as a little child, we must reply, just in that respect by which a child is a member of the kingdom of God. He must come back to that state of acceptance with Christ which he possessed before actual sin. See note on Matthew 18:3.
§ 106. JESUS, vv. GOING UP TO JERUSALEM, vv. FORETELLS HIS PASSION TO THE TWELVE APART, Luke 18:31-34 .
See notes on Matthew 20:17-19; Mark 10:32-34.
§ 108. JESUS RESTORES SIGHT TO THE BLIND NEAR JERICHO, Luke 18:35-43 .
See notes on Matthew 20:29-34; Mark 10:46-52.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Luke 18". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25