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Bible Commentaries

Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture
Luke 18

 

 


Verses 1-7

Luke

THREE KINDS OF PRAYING

Luke 18:1 - Luke 18:14.

The two parables in this passage are each prefaced by Luke’s explanation of their purpose. They are also connected by being both concerned with aspects of prayer. But the second was apparently not spoken at the same time as the first, but is put here by Luke as in an appropriate place.

I. The wearisome widow and the unrighteous judge.

The similarities and dissimilarities between this parable and that in Luke 11:5 - Luke 11:8 are equally instructive. Both take a very unlovely character as open to the influence of persistent entreaty; both strongly underscore the unworthiness and selfishness of the motive for yielding. Both expect the hearers to use common-sense enough to take the sleepy friend and the worried judge as contrasts to, not parables, of Him to whom Christians pray. But the judge is a much worse man than the owner of the loaves, and his denial of the justice which it was his office to dispense is a crime; the widow’s need is greater than the man’s, and the judge’s cynical soliloquy, in its unabashed avowal of caring for neither God nor man, and being guided only by regard to comfort, touches a deep depth of selfishness. The worse he was, the more emphatic is the exhortation to persistence. If the continual dropping of the widow’s plea could wear away such a stone as that, its like could wear away anything. Yes, and suppose that the judge were as righteous and as full of love and wish to help as this judge was of their opposites; suppose that instead of the cry being a weariness it was a delight; suppose, in short, that, to go back to Luke 11:1 - Luke 11:54, we ‘call on Him as Father who, without respect of persons, judgeth’: then our ‘continual coming’ will surely not be less effectual than hers was.

But we must note the spiritual experience supposed by the parable to belong to the Christian life. That forlorn figure of the widow, with all its suggestions of helplessness and oppression, is Christ’s picture of His Church left on earth without Him. And though of course it is a very incomplete representation, it is a true presentation of one side and aspect of the devout life on earth. ‘In the world ye shall have tribulation,’ and the truer His servants are to Him, and the more their hearts are with Christ in God, the more they will feel out of touch with the world, and the more it will instinctively be their ‘adversary.’ If the widow does not feel the world’s enmity, it will generally be because she is not a ‘widow indeed.’

And another notable fact of Christian experience underlies the parable; namely that the Church’s cry for protection from the adversary is often apparently unheard. In Luke 11:1 - Luke 11:54 the prayer was for supply of necessities, here it is for the specific blessing of protection from the adversary. Whether that is referred to the needs of the Church or of the individual, it is true that usually the help sought is long delayed. It is not only ‘souls under the altar’ that have to cry ‘How long, O Lord, dost Thou not avenge?’ One thinks of years of persecution for whole communities, or of long, weary days of harassment and suffering for individuals, of multitudes of prayers and groans sent up into a heaven that, for all the answers sent down, might as well be empty, and one feels it hard to hold by the faith that ‘verily, there is a God that’ heareth.

We have all had times when our faith has staggered, and we have found no answer to our heart’s question: ‘Why tarry the wheels of His chariot?’ Many of us have felt what Mary and Martha felt when ‘Jesus abode still two days in the place where He was’ after He had received their message, in which they had been so sure of His coming at once when He heard that ‘he whom Thou lovest is sick,’ that they did not ask Him to come. The delays of God’s help are a constant feature in His providence, and, as Jesus says here, they are but too likely to take the life out of faith.

But over against these we have to place Jesus’ triumphant assurance here: ‘He will avenge them speedily.’ Yes, the longest delay may yet be ‘right early,’ for heaven’s clock does not beat at the same rate as our little chronometers. God is ‘the God of patience,’ and He has waited for millenniums for the establishment of His kingdom on earth; His ‘own elect’ may learn long-suffering from Him, and need to take to heart the old exhortation, ‘If the vision tarry, wait for it, for it will surely come, and will not tarry.’ Yes, God’s delays are not delays, but are for our profit that we may always pray and not faint, and may keep alight the flame of the sure hope that the Son of man cometh, and that in His coming all adversaries shall be destroyed, and the widow, no longer a widow, but the bride, go in to the feast and forget her foes, and ‘the days of her mourning be ended.’

II. The Pharisee and the publican.

Luke’s label on this parable tells us that it was spoken to a group of the very people who were personated in it by the Pharisee. One can fancy their faces as they listened, and how they would love the speaker! Their two characteristics are self-righteousness and depreciation of every one else, which is the natural result of such trust in self. The self-adulation was absolute, the contempt was all-embracing, for the Revised Version rightly renders ‘set all others at nought.’ That may sound exaggerated, but the way to judge of moral characteristics is to take them in their fullest development and to see what they lead to then. The two pictures heighten each other. The one needs many strokes to bring out the features, the other needs but one. Self-righteousness takes many shapes, penitence has but one emotion to express, one cry to utter.

Every word in the Pharisee’s prayer is reeking with self-complacency. Even the expression ‘prayed with himself’ is significant, for it suggests that the prayer was less addressed to God than to himself, and also that his words could scarcely be spoken in the hearing of others, both because of their arrogant self-praise and of their insolent calumnies of ‘all the rest.’ It was not prayer to God, but soliloquy in his own praise, and it was in equal parts adulation of himself and slander of other men. So it never went higher than the inner roof of the temple court, and was, in a very fatal sense, ‘to himself.’

God is complimented with being named formally at first, and in the first two words, ‘I thank thee,’ but that is only formal introduction, and in all the rest of his prayer there is not a trace of praying. Such a self-satisfied gentleman had no need to ask for anything, so he brought no petitions. He uses the conventional language of thanksgiving, but his real meaning is to praise himself to God, not to thank God for himself. God is named once. All the rest is I, I, I. He had no longing for communion, no aspiration, no emotion.

His conception of righteousness was mean and shallow. And as St. Bernard notes, he was not so much thankful for being righteous as for being alone in his goodness. No doubt he was warranted in disclaiming gross sins, but he was glad to be free from them, not because they were sins, but because they were vulgar. He had no right to fling mud either on ‘all the rest’ or on ‘this publican,’ and if he had been really praying or giving thanks he would have had enough to think of in God and himself without casting sidelong and depreciatory glances at his neighbours. He who truly prays ‘sees no man any more,’ or if he does, sees men only as subjects for intercession, not for contempt. The Pharisee’s notion of righteousness was primarily negative, as consisting in abstinence from flagrant sins, and, in so far as it was positive, it dealt entirely with ceremonial acts. Such a starved and surface conception of righteousness is essential to self-righteousness, for no man who sees the law of duty in its depth and inwardness can flatter himself that he has kept it. To fast twice a week and to give tithes of all that one acquired were acts of supererogation, and are proudly recounted as if God should feel much indebted to the doer for paying Him more than was required. The Pharisee makes no petitions. He states his claims, and tacitly expects that God will meet them.

Few words are needed to paint the publican; for his estimate of himself is simple and one, and what he wants from God is one thing, and one only. His attitude expresses his emotions, for he does not venture to go near the shining example of all respectability and righteousness, nor to lift his eyes to heaven. Like the penitent psalmist, his iniquities have taken hold on him, so that he is ‘not able to look up.’ Keen consciousness of sin, true sorrow for sin, earnest desire to shake off the burden of sin, lowly trust in God’s pardoning mercy, are all crowded into his brief petition. The arrow thus feathered goes straight up to the throne; the Pharisee’s prayer cannot rise above his own lips.

Jesus does not leave His hearers to apply the ‘parable,’ but drives its application home to them, since He knew how keen a thrust was needed to pierce the triple breastplate of self-righteousness. The publican was ‘justified’; that is, accounted as righteous. In the judgment of heaven, which is the judgment of truth, sin forsaken is sin passed away. The Pharisee condensed his contempt into ‘this publican’; Jesus takes up the ‘this’ and turns it into a distinction, when He says, ‘this man went down to his house justified.’ God’s condemnation of the Pharisee and acceptance of the publican are no anomalous aberration of divine justice, for it is a universal law, which has abundant exemplifications, that he that exalteth himself is likely to be humbled, and he that humbles himself to be exalted. Daily life does not always yield examples thereof, but in the inner life and as concerns our relations to God, that law is absolutely and always true.


Verse 8

Mark - Luke

THREE KINDS OF PRAYING

THE CREDULITY OF UNBELIEF

Mark 13:6. - Luke 18:8.

It was the same generation that is represented in these two texts as void of faith in the Son of Man, and as credulously giving heed to impostors. Unbelief and superstition are closely allied. Religion is so vital a necessity, that if the true form of it be cast aside, some false form will be eagerly seized in order to fill the aching void. Men cannot permanently live without some sort of a faith in the Unseen, but they can determine whether it shall be a worthy recognition of a worthy conception of that Unseen, or a debasing superstition. An epoch of materialism in philosophic thought has always been followed by violent reaction, in which quacks and fanatics have reaped rich harvests. If the dark is not peopled with one loved Face, our busy imagination will fill it with a crowd of horrible ones.

Just as a sailor, looking out into the night over a solitary, islandless sea, sees shapes; intolerant of the islandless expanse, makes land out of fogbanks; and, sick of silence, hears ‘airy tongues’ in the moanings of the wind and the slow roll of the waves, so men shudderingly look into the dark unknown, and if they see not their Father there, will either shut their eyes or strain them in gazing it into shape. The sight of Him is religion, the closed eye is infidelity, the strained gaze is superstition. The second and the third are each so unsatisfying that they perpetually pass over into one another and destroy one another, as when I shut my eyes, I see slowly shaping itself a coloured image of my eye, which soon flickers and fluctuates into black nothingness again, and then rises once more, once more to fade. Men, if they believe not in God, then do service to ‘them which by nature are no gods.’

But let us come to more immediately Christian thoughts. Christ does what men so urgently require to be done, that if they do not believe in Him they will be forced to shape out for themselves some fancied ways of doing it. The emotions which men cherish towards Him so irrepressibly need an object to rest on, that if not He, then some far less worthy one, will be chosen to receive them.

It is just to the illustration of these thoughts that I seek to turn now, and in such alternatives as these-

I. Reception of Christ as the Revealer is the only escape from unmanly submission to unworthy pretenders.

That function is one which the instincts of men teach them that they need.

Christ comes to satisfy the need as the visible true embodiment of the Father’s love, of the Father’s wisdom.

If He be rejected-what then? Why, not that the men who reject will contentedly continue in darkness-that is never possible; but that some manner or other of satisfying the clamant need will be had recourse to, and then that to it will be transferred the submission and credence that should have been His. If we have Him for our Teacher and Guide, then all other teachers and guides will take their right places. We shall not angrily repel their power, nor talk loudly about ‘the right of private judgment,’ and our independence of all men’s thoughts. We are not so independent. We shall thankfully accept all help from all men wiser, better, more manly than ourselves, whether they give us uttered words of wisdom and beauty, having ‘grace poured into their lips,’ or whether they give us lives ennobled by strenuous effort, or whether they give us greater treasure than all these-the sight once more of a loving heart. All is good, all is helpful, all we shall receive; but in proportion to the felt obligations we are laid under to them will be the felt authority of that saying, ‘Call no man your master on earth, for One is your Master, even Christ.’ That command forbids our slavishly accepting any human domination over our faith, but it no less emphatically forbids our contemptuously rejecting any human helper of our joy, for it closes with ‘and all ye are brethren’-bound then to mutual observance, mutual helpfulness, mutual respect for each other’s individuality, mutual avoidance of needless division. To have Him for his Guide makes the human guide gentle and tender among his disciples ‘as a nurse among her children,’ for he remembers ‘the gentleness of Christ,’ and he dare not be other than an imitator of Him. A Christian teacher’s spirit will always be, ‘not for that we have dominion over your faith, but we are helpers of your joy’; his most earnest word, ‘I beseech you, therefore, brethren’; his constant desire, ‘He must increase. I must decrease.’ And to have Christ for our Guide makes the taught lovingly submissive to all who by largeness of gifts and graces are set by Him above them, and yet lovingly recalcitrant at any attempt to compel adhesion or force dogmas. The one freedom from undue dependence on men and men’s opinions lies in this submission to Jesus. Then we can say, when need is, ‘I have a Master. To Him I submit; if you seek to be master, I demur: of them who seemed to be somewhat, whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me.’

But the greatest danger is not that our guides shall insist on our submission, but that we shall insist on giving it. It is for all of us such a burden to have the management of our own fate, the forming of our own opinions, the fearful responsibility of our own destiny, that we are all only too ready to say to some man or other, from love or from laziness, ‘Where thou goest, I will go; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.’

Few things are more strange and tragic than the eagerness with which people who are a great deal too enlightened to render allegiance to Jesus Christ will install some teacher of their own choosing as their authoritative master, will swallow his dicta, swear by him, and glory in being called by his name. What they think it derogatory to their mental independence to give to the Teacher of Nazareth, they freely give to their chosen oracle. It is not in ‘the last times’ only that men who will not endure sound teaching ‘heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts,’ and have ‘the ears’ which are fast closed to ‘the Truth’ wide open ‘to fables.’

On the small scale we see this melancholy perversity of conduct exemplified in every little coterie and school of unbelievers.

On the great scale Mohammedanism and Buddhism, with their millions of adherents, write the same tragic truth large in the history of the world.

II. Faith in the reconciling Christ is the only sure deliverance from debasing reliance on false means of reconciliation.

In a very profound sense ignorance and sin are the same fact regarded under two different aspects. And in the depths of their natures men have the longing for some Power who shall put away sin, as they have the longing for one that will dispel ignorance. The consciousness of alienation from God lies in the human heart, dormant indeed for the most part, but like a coiled, hibernating snake, ready to wake and strike its poison into the veins. Christ by His great work, and specially by His sacrificial death, meets that universal need.

But closely as His work fits men’s needs, it sharply opposes some of their wishes, and of their interpretations of their needs. The Jew ‘demands a sign,’ the Greek craves a reasoned system of ‘wisdom,’ and both concur in finding the Cross an ‘offence.’

But the rejection of Jesus as the Reconciler does not quiet the cravings, which make themselves heard at some time or other in most consciences, for deliverance from the dominion and from the guilt of sin. And men are driven to adopt other expedients to fill up the void which their turning away from Jesus has left. Sometimes they fall back on a vague reliance on a vague assertion that ‘God is merciful’; sometimes they reason themselves into a belief-or, at any rate, an assertion-that the conception of sin is an error, and that men are not guilty. Sometimes they manage to silence the inward voice that accuses and condemns, by dint of not listening to it or drowning it by other noises.

But these expedients fail them some time or other, and then, if they have not cast the burden of their sin and their sins on the great Reconciler, they either have to weary themselves with painful and vain efforts to be their own redeemers, or they fall under the domination of a priest.

Hence the hideous penances of heathenism; and hence, too, the power of sacramentarian and sacerdotal perversions of evangelical truth.

III. Faith in Christ as the Regenerator is the only deliverance from baseless hopes for the world.

The world is today full of moaning voices crying, ‘Art thou He that should come, or do we look for another?’ and it is full of confident voices proclaiming other means of its regeneration than letting Christ ‘make all things new.’

The conviction that society needs to be reconstituted on other principles is spread everywhere, and is often associated with intense disbelief in Christ the Regenerator.

Has not the past proved that all schemes for the regeneration of society which do not grapple with the fact of sin, and which do not provide a means of infusing into human nature a new impulse and direction, will end in failure, and are only too likely to end in blood? These two requirements are met by Jesus, and by Him only, and whoever rejects Him and His gift of pardon and cleansing, and His inbreathing of a new life into the individual, will fail in his effort, however earnest and noble in many aspects, to redeem society and bring about a fair new world.

It is pitiable to see the waste of high aspiration and eager effort in so many quarters today. But that waste is sure to attend every scheme which does not start from the recognition of Christ’s work as the basis of the world’s transformation, and does not crown Him as the King, because He is the Saviour, of mankind.


Verses 9-14

Luke

THREE KINDS OF PRAYING

Luke 18:1 - Luke 18:14.

The two parables in this passage are each prefaced by Luke’s explanation of their purpose. They are also connected by being both concerned with aspects of prayer. But the second was apparently not spoken at the same time as the first, but is put here by Luke as in an appropriate place.

I. The wearisome widow and the unrighteous judge.

The similarities and dissimilarities between this parable and that in Luke 11:5 - Luke 11:8 are equally instructive. Both take a very unlovely character as open to the influence of persistent entreaty; both strongly underscore the unworthiness and selfishness of the motive for yielding. Both expect the hearers to use common-sense enough to take the sleepy friend and the worried judge as contrasts to, not parables, of Him to whom Christians pray. But the judge is a much worse man than the owner of the loaves, and his denial of the justice which it was his office to dispense is a crime; the widow’s need is greater than the man’s, and the judge’s cynical soliloquy, in its unabashed avowal of caring for neither God nor man, and being guided only by regard to comfort, touches a deep depth of selfishness. The worse he was, the more emphatic is the exhortation to persistence. If the continual dropping of the widow’s plea could wear away such a stone as that, its like could wear away anything. Yes, and suppose that the judge were as righteous and as full of love and wish to help as this judge was of their opposites; suppose that instead of the cry being a weariness it was a delight; suppose, in short, that, to go back to Luke 11:1 - Luke 11:54, we ‘call on Him as Father who, without respect of persons, judgeth’: then our ‘continual coming’ will surely not be less effectual than hers was.

But we must note the spiritual experience supposed by the parable to belong to the Christian life. That forlorn figure of the widow, with all its suggestions of helplessness and oppression, is Christ’s picture of His Church left on earth without Him. And though of course it is a very incomplete representation, it is a true presentation of one side and aspect of the devout life on earth. ‘In the world ye shall have tribulation,’ and the truer His servants are to Him, and the more their hearts are with Christ in God, the more they will feel out of touch with the world, and the more it will instinctively be their ‘adversary.’ If the widow does not feel the world’s enmity, it will generally be because she is not a ‘widow indeed.’

And another notable fact of Christian experience underlies the parable; namely that the Church’s cry for protection from the adversary is often apparently unheard. In Luke 11:1 - Luke 11:54 the prayer was for supply of necessities, here it is for the specific blessing of protection from the adversary. Whether that is referred to the needs of the Church or of the individual, it is true that usually the help sought is long delayed. It is not only ‘souls under the altar’ that have to cry ‘How long, O Lord, dost Thou not avenge?’ One thinks of years of persecution for whole communities, or of long, weary days of harassment and suffering for individuals, of multitudes of prayers and groans sent up into a heaven that, for all the answers sent down, might as well be empty, and one feels it hard to hold by the faith that ‘verily, there is a God that’ heareth.

We have all had times when our faith has staggered, and we have found no answer to our heart’s question: ‘Why tarry the wheels of His chariot?’ Many of us have felt what Mary and Martha felt when ‘Jesus abode still two days in the place where He was’ after He had received their message, in which they had been so sure of His coming at once when He heard that ‘he whom Thou lovest is sick,’ that they did not ask Him to come. The delays of God’s help are a constant feature in His providence, and, as Jesus says here, they are but too likely to take the life out of faith.

But over against these we have to place Jesus’ triumphant assurance here: ‘He will avenge them speedily.’ Yes, the longest delay may yet be ‘right early,’ for heaven’s clock does not beat at the same rate as our little chronometers. God is ‘the God of patience,’ and He has waited for millenniums for the establishment of His kingdom on earth; His ‘own elect’ may learn long-suffering from Him, and need to take to heart the old exhortation, ‘If the vision tarry, wait for it, for it will surely come, and will not tarry.’ Yes, God’s delays are not delays, but are for our profit that we may always pray and not faint, and may keep alight the flame of the sure hope that the Son of man cometh, and that in His coming all adversaries shall be destroyed, and the widow, no longer a widow, but the bride, go in to the feast and forget her foes, and ‘the days of her mourning be ended.’

II. The Pharisee and the publican.

Luke’s label on this parable tells us that it was spoken to a group of the very people who were personated in it by the Pharisee. One can fancy their faces as they listened, and how they would love the speaker! Their two characteristics are self-righteousness and depreciation of every one else, which is the natural result of such trust in self. The self-adulation was absolute, the contempt was all-embracing, for the Revised Version rightly renders ‘set all others at nought.’ That may sound exaggerated, but the way to judge of moral characteristics is to take them in their fullest development and to see what they lead to then. The two pictures heighten each other. The one needs many strokes to bring out the features, the other needs but one. Self-righteousness takes many shapes, penitence has but one emotion to express, one cry to utter.

Every word in the Pharisee’s prayer is reeking with self-complacency. Even the expression ‘prayed with himself’ is significant, for it suggests that the prayer was less addressed to God than to himself, and also that his words could scarcely be spoken in the hearing of others, both because of their arrogant self-praise and of their insolent calumnies of ‘all the rest.’ It was not prayer to God, but soliloquy in his own praise, and it was in equal parts adulation of himself and slander of other men. So it never went higher than the inner roof of the temple court, and was, in a very fatal sense, ‘to himself.’

God is complimented with being named formally at first, and in the first two words, ‘I thank thee,’ but that is only formal introduction, and in all the rest of his prayer there is not a trace of praying. Such a self-satisfied gentleman had no need to ask for anything, so he brought no petitions. He uses the conventional language of thanksgiving, but his real meaning is to praise himself to God, not to thank God for himself. God is named once. All the rest is I, I, I. He had no longing for communion, no aspiration, no emotion.

His conception of righteousness was mean and shallow. And as St. Bernard notes, he was not so much thankful for being righteous as for being alone in his goodness. No doubt he was warranted in disclaiming gross sins, but he was glad to be free from them, not because they were sins, but because they were vulgar. He had no right to fling mud either on ‘all the rest’ or on ‘this publican,’ and if he had been really praying or giving thanks he would have had enough to think of in God and himself without casting sidelong and depreciatory glances at his neighbours. He who truly prays ‘sees no man any more,’ or if he does, sees men only as subjects for intercession, not for contempt. The Pharisee’s notion of righteousness was primarily negative, as consisting in abstinence from flagrant sins, and, in so far as it was positive, it dealt entirely with ceremonial acts. Such a starved and surface conception of righteousness is essential to self-righteousness, for no man who sees the law of duty in its depth and inwardness can flatter himself that he has kept it. To fast twice a week and to give tithes of all that one acquired were acts of supererogation, and are proudly recounted as if God should feel much indebted to the doer for paying Him more than was required. The Pharisee makes no petitions. He states his claims, and tacitly expects that God will meet them.

Few words are needed to paint the publican; for his estimate of himself is simple and one, and what he wants from God is one thing, and one only. His attitude expresses his emotions, for he does not venture to go near the shining example of all respectability and righteousness, nor to lift his eyes to heaven. Like the penitent psalmist, his iniquities have taken hold on him, so that he is ‘not able to look up.’ Keen consciousness of sin, true sorrow for sin, earnest desire to shake off the burden of sin, lowly trust in God’s pardoning mercy, are all crowded into his brief petition. The arrow thus feathered goes straight up to the throne; the Pharisee’s prayer cannot rise above his own lips.

Jesus does not leave His hearers to apply the ‘parable,’ but drives its application home to them, since He knew how keen a thrust was needed to pierce the triple breastplate of self-righteousness. The publican was ‘justified’; that is, accounted as righteous. In the judgment of heaven, which is the judgment of truth, sin forsaken is sin passed away. The Pharisee condensed his contempt into ‘this publican’; Jesus takes up the ‘this’ and turns it into a distinction, when He says, ‘this man went down to his house justified.’ God’s condemnation of the Pharisee and acceptance of the publican are no anomalous aberration of divine justice, for it is a universal law, which has abundant exemplifications, that he that exalteth himself is likely to be humbled, and he that humbles himself to be exalted. Daily life does not always yield examples thereof, but in the inner life and as concerns our relations to God, that law is absolutely and always true.


Verses 15-30

Luke

ENTERING THE KINGDOM

Luke 18:15 - Luke 18:30.

In this section Luke rejoins the other two Evangelists, from whom his narrative has diverged since Luke 9:51. All three bring together these two incidents of the children in Christ’s arms and the young ruler. Probably they were connected in time as well as in subject. Both set forth the conditions of entering the kingdom, which the one declares to be lowliness and trust, and the other to be self-renunciation.

I. We have the child-likeness of the subjects of the kingdom.

No doubt there was a dash of superstition in the impulse that moved the parents to bring their children to Jesus, but it was an eminently natural desire to win a good man’s blessing, and one to which every parent’s heart will respond. It was not the superstition, but the intrusive familiarity, that provoked the disciples’ rebuke. A great man’s hangers-on are always more careful of his dignity than he is, for it increases their own importance.

The tender age of the children is to be noted. They were ‘babes,’ and had to be brought, being too young to walk, and so having scarcely yet arrived at conscious, voluntary life. It is ‘of such’ that the subjects of the kingdom are composed. What, then, are the qualities which, by this comparison, Jesus requires? Certainly not innocence, which would be to contradict all his teaching and to shut out the prodigals and publicans, and clean contrary to the whole spirit of Luke’s Gospel. Besides, these scarcely conscious infants were not ‘innocent,’ for they had not come to the age of which either innocence or guilt can be predicated. What, then, had they which the children of the kingdom must have?

Perhaps the sweet and meek little Psalms 131:1 - Psalms 131:3 puts us best on the track of the answer. It may have been in our Lord’s mind; it certainly corresponds to His thought. ‘My heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty. . .. I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with his mother.’ The infant’s lowliness is not yet humility; for it is instinct rather than virtue. It makes no claims, thinks no lofty thoughts of self; in fact, has scarcely begun to know that there is a self at all. On the other hand, clinging trust is the infant’s life. It, too, is rudimentary and instinctive, but the impulse which makes the babe nestle in its mother’s bosom may well stand for a picture of the conscious trust which the children of the kingdom must have. The child’s instinct is the man’s virtue. We have

‘To travel back

And tread again that ancient track,’

regaining as the conscious temper of our spirits those excellences of humility and trust of which the first faint types may be seen in the infant in arms. The entrance gate is very low, and, if we hold our heads high, we shall not get through it. It must be on our hands and knees that we go in. There is no place in the kingdom for those who trust in themselves. We must rely wholly on God manifest in His Son.

So intent is Luke in pointing the lesson that he passes by in silence the infinitely beautiful and touching incident which the world perhaps knows better than any other in our Lord’s life-that of His taking the infants in His arms and blessing them. In many ways that incident would have been peculiarly suitable for this Gospel, which delights to bring out the manhood and universal beneficence of Jesus. But if Luke knew of it, he did not care to bring in anything which would weaken the lesson of the conditions of entering the kingdom.

II. We have self-renunciation as the condition of entering the kingdom.

The conversation with the ruler {vs. 18-23} sets forth its necessity; the sad exclamation to the bystanders [Luke 18:24] teaches its difficulty; and the dialogue with Peter as representing the twelve [Luke 18:28 - Luke 18:30], its reward.

{1} The necessity of self-renunciation. The ruler’s question has much blended good and evil. It expresses a true earnestness, a dissatisfaction with self, a consciousness of unattained bliss and a longing for it, a felt readiness to take any pains to secure it, a confidence in Christ’s guidance-in short, much of the child spirit. But it has also a too light estimate of what good is, a mistaken notion that ‘eternal life’ can be won by external deeds, which implies fatal error as to its nature and his own power to do these. This superficial estimate of goodness, and this over confidence in his ability to do good acts, are the twin mistakes against which Christ’s treatment of him is directed.

Adopting Luke’s version of our Lord’s answer, the counter-question, which begins it, lays hold of the polite address, which had slipped from the ruler’s lips as mere form, and bids him widen out his conceptions of ‘good.’ Jesus does not deny that He has a right to the title, but questions this man’s right to give it Him. The ruler thought of Jesus only as a man, and, so thinking, was too ready with his adjective. Conventional phrases of compliment may indicate much of the low notions from which they spring. He who is so liberal with his ascriptions of goodness needs to have his notions of what it is elevated. Jesus lays down the great truth which this man, in his confidence that he by his own power could do any good needed for eternal life, was perilously forgetting. God is the only good, and therefore all human goodness must come from Him; and if the ruler is to do ‘good,’ he must first be good, by receiving goodness from God.

But the saying has an important bearing on Christ’s character. The world calls Him good. Why? There is none good but God. So we are face to face with this dilemma-Either Jesus Christ is God manifest in the flesh, or He is not good.

Having thus tried to deepen his conceptions, and awaken his consciousness of imperfection, our Lord meets the man on his own ground by referring him to the Law, which abundantly answered his inquiry. The second half of the commandments are alone quoted by Him; for they have especially to do with conduct, and the infractions of them are more easily recognised than those of the first. The ruler expected that some exceptional and brilliant deeds would be pointed out and he is relegated to the old homely duties, which it is gross crime not to do.

A shade of disappointment and impatience is in his protestation that he had done all these ever since he was a lad. No doubt he had, and his coming to Jesus confessed that though he had, the doing had not brought him ‘eternal life.’ Are there not many youthful hearts which would have to say the same, if they would be frank with themselves? They have some longings after a bliss and calm which they feel is not theirs. They have kept within the lines of that second half of the Decalogue, but that amount and sort of ‘good thing’ has not brought peace. Jesus looks on all such as He did on this young man, ‘loves’ them, and speaks further to them as He did to him. What was lacking? The soul of goodness, without which these other things were ‘dead works.’ And what is that soul? Absolute self-renunciation and following Christ. For this man the former took the shape of parting with his wealth, but that external renunciation in itself was as ‘dead’ and impotent to bring eternal life as all his other good acts had been. It was precious as a means to an end-the entrance into the number of Christ’s disciples; and as an expression of that inward self-surrender which is essential for discipleship.

The real stress of the condition is in its second half, ‘Follow me.’ He who enters the company of Christ’s followers enters the kingdom, and has eternal life. If he does not do that, he may give his goods to feed the poor, and it profiteth him nothing. Eternal life is not the external wages for external acts, but the outcome and consequence of yielding self to Jesus, through whom goodness, which keeps the law, flows into the soul.

The requirement pierced to the quick. The man loved the world more than eternal life, after all. But though he went away, he went sorrowful; and that was perhaps the presage that he would come back.

{2} Jesus follows him with sad yearning, and, we may be sure, still sought to draw him back. His exclamation is full of the charity which makes allowance for temptation. It speaks a universal truth, never more needed than in our days, when wealth has flung its golden chains round so many professing Christians. How few of us believe that it gets harder for us to be disciples as we grow richer! There are multitudes in our churches who would be far nearer Christ than they are ever likely to be, if they would literally obey the injunction to get rid of their wealth.

We are too apt to take such commands as applicable only to the individuals who received them, whereas, though, no doubt, the spirit, and not the letter, is the universal element in them, there are far more of us than we are willing to confess, who need to obey the letter in order to keep the spirit. What a depth of vulgar adoration of the power of money is in the disciples’ exclamation, ‘If rich men cannot get into the kingdom, who can get in!’ Or perhaps it rather means, If self-renunciation is the condition, who can fulfil it? The answer points us all to the only power by which we can do good, and overcome self; namely by God’s help. God is ‘good,’ and we can be good too, if we look to Him. God will fill our souls with such sweetness that earth will not be hard to part with.

{3} The last paragraph of this passage teaches the reward of self-renunciation. Peter shoves his oar in, after his fashion. It would have been better if he had not boasted of their surrender, but yet it was true that they had given up all. Only a fishing-boat and a parcel of old nets, indeed, but these were all they had to give; and God’s store, which holds His children’s surrendered valuables, has many things of small value in it-cups of cold water and widows’ mites lying side by side with crowns and jewels.

So Jesus does not rebuke the almost innocent self-congratulation, but recognises in it an appeal to his faithfulness. It was really a prayer, though it sounded like a vaunt, and it is answered by renewed assurances. To part with outward things for Christ’s sake or for the kingdom’s sake-which is the same thing-is to win them again with all their sweetness a hundred-fold sweeter. Gifts given to Him come back to the giver mended by His touch and hallowed by lying on His altar. The present world yields its full riches only to the man who surrenders all to Jesus. And the ‘eternal life,’ which the ruler thought was to be found by outward deeds, flows necessarily into the heart which is emptied of self, that it may be filled with Him who is the life, and will be perfected yonder.


Verse 40-41

Luke

THE MAN THAT STOPPED JESUS

Luke 18:40 f11 - Luke 18:41.

This story of the man that stopped Christ is told by the three ‘Synoptic’ Evangelists, and it derives a special value from having occurred within a week of the Crucifixion. You remember how graphically Mark tells how the blind man hears who is passing and immediately begins to cry with a loud voice to Christ to have mercy upon him; how the officious disciples-a great deal more concerned for the Master’s dignity than He was Himself-tried to silence him; and how, with a sturdy persistence and independence of externals which often goes along with blindness, ‘he cried the more a great deal’ because they did try, and then how he won the distinction of being the man that stopped Christ. When Jesus stood still, and commanded him to be called, the crowd wheeled right round at once, and instead of hindering, encumbered him with help, and bade him to ‘rise, and be of good cheer.’ Then he flings away some poor rag that he had had to cover himself sitting there, and wearing his under-garment only, comes to Christ, and Jesus asks, ‘What do you want?’ A promise in the shape of a question. Bartimaeus knows what he wants, and answers without hesitation, and so he gets his request.

Now, I think in all this incident, and especially in its centre part, which I have read, there are great lessons for us. And the first of them is, I see here a wonderful revelation of Christ’s quick sympathy at a moment when He was most absorbed.

I said that all this occurred within a week of our Lord’s Crucifixion. If you will recall the way in which that last journey to Jerusalem is described in the Evangelists, you will see that there was something very extraordinary about the determination and tension of spirit which impelled Jesus along the road, all the way from Galilee. Mark says that the disciples followed and were amazed. There was something quite unlike what they had been accustomed to, in His face and bearing, and it was so strange to them that they were puzzled and frightened. We read, too, that their amazement and fright prevented them from going very near Him on the road; ‘as they followed they were afraid.’ Then the story goes on to tell how James and John, with their arrogant wish, did draw closer to Him, the rest of them lagging behind, conscious of a certain unaccustomed distance between Him and them, which only the ambitious two dared to diminish. Further, one of the Evangelists speaks of His face being ‘set’ to go to Jerusalem, the gentle lineaments fixed in a new expression of resolution and absorption. The Cross was flinging its shadow over Him. He was bracing Himself up for the last struggle. If ever there was a moment of His life when we might have supposed that He would be oblivious of externals, and especially of the individual sorrows of one poor blind beggar sitting by the roadside, it was that moment. But however plunged in great thoughts about the agonising suffering that He was going to front, and the grand work that He was going to do, and the great victory that He was going to win so soon, He had

‘A heart at leisure from itself

To soothe and sympathise.’

Even at that supreme hour He stood still and commanded him to be called. I wonder if it is saying too much to say that in the exercise of that power of healing and helping Bartimaeus, Jesus found some relief from the pressure of impending sorrow.

Brethren, is not that a lesson for us all? It is not spiritualising, allegorising, cramming meanings into an incident that are not in it, when we say-Think of Jesus Christ as one of ourselves, knowing that He was going to His death within a week, and then think of Him turning to this poor man. Is not that a pattern for us? We are often more selfish in our sorrows than in our joys. Many of us are inclined, when we are weighed down by personal sorrows, to say, ‘As long as I have this heavy weight lying on my heart, how can you expect me to take an interest in the affairs of others, or to do Christian work, or to rise to the calls of benevolence and the cries of need?’ We do not expect you to do it; but Jesus Christ did it, ‘leaving us an example that we should follow in His steps.’ Next to the blessed influences of God’s own Spirit, and the peace-bringing act of submission, there is no such comfort for sorrow, as to fling ourselves into others’ griefs, and to bear others’ burdens. Our Lord, with His face set like a flint, on the road to the Cross, but yet sufficiently free of heart to turn to Bartimaeus, reads a lesson that rebukes us all, and should teach us all.

Further, do we not see here a beautiful concrete instance, on the lower plane, of the power of earnest desire.

No enemy could have stopped Christ on that road; no opposition could have stopped Him, no beseeching on the part of loving and ignorant friends, repeating the temptation in the wilderness-or the foolish words of Peter, ‘This shall not be unto Thee,’ could have stopped Him. He would have trodden down all such flimsy obstacles, as a lion ‘from the thickets of Jordan’ crashes through the bulrushes, but this cry stopped Him, ‘Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me, and the Cross and all else that He was hastening to, great as it was for the world, had to wait its turn, for something else had to be done first. There was noise enough on the road, the tramp of many feet, the clatter of many eager tongues, but the voice of one poor man sitting in the dust there by the roadside, found its way through all the noise to Christ’s ears. ‘Which things are an allegory.’ There is an ocean of praise always, as I might so say breaking upon Christ’s Throne, but the little stream of my petitions flows distinguishable through all that sea. As one of our poets says, we may even think of Him as ‘missing my little human praise’ when the voice of one poor boy was not heard. Surely amidst all the encouragements that we have to believe that our cry is not sent up into an empty heaven, nor into deaf ears, and that all the multitude of creatures that wait before that Throne do not prevent the individualising knowledge and the individualising love of Jesus Christ from coming straight to every one of us, this little incident is not the least instructive and precious. He that heard Bartimaeus will hear us.

In like manner, may I not say that here we have an illustration of how Christ, who has so much besides to do, would suspend other work, if it were needful, in order to do what we need? As I have said, the rest had to wait. Bartimaeus stopped Christ. And our hand, if it be the hand of faith, put out to the hem of the garment as Jesus of Nazareth passeth by, will so far stop Him as that He will do what we wish, if what we wish is in accordance with our highest good. There was another man in Jericho who stopped Christ, on that same journey; for not only the petition of Bartimaeus, but the curiosity-which was more than curiosity-of Zacchaeus, stopped Him, and He who stood still, though He had His face set like a flint to go to Jerusalem, because Bartimaeus cried, stood still and looked up into the sycamore tree where the publican was-the best fruit that ever it bore-and said, ‘Zacchaeus; come down, I must abide at thy house.’ Why must He abide? Because He discerned there a soul that He could help and save, and that arrested Him on His road to the Cross.

So, dear friends, amidst all the work of administering the universe which He does, and of guiding and governing and inspiring His Church, which He does, if you ask for the supply of your need He would put that work aside for a moment, if necessary, to attend to you. That is no exaggeration; it is only a strong way of putting the plain truth that Christ’s love individualises each of its objects; and lavishes itself upon each one of us; as if there were no other beings in the universe but only our two selves.

And then, remember too, that what Bartimaeus got was not taken from anyone else. Nobody suffered because Jesus paused to help him. They sat down in ranks, five thousand of them, and as they began to eat, those that were first served would be looked upon with envious eye by the last ‘ranks,’ who would be wondering if the bits of bread and the two small fishes were enough to go round. But the first group was fed full and the last group had as much, and they took up ‘of the fragments that remained, twelve baskets full.’

‘Enough for all, enough for each,

Enough for evermore.’

There is one more thought rising out of this story. It teaches a wonderful lesson as to the power which Christ puts into the hand of believing prayer.

‘What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee?’ He had asked the same question a little while before, under very different circumstances. When James and John came and tried to beguile Him into a blind promise, because they knew that It was not likely that they would get what they asked if they said it out at first. He avoided the snare with that same question, To them the question was a refusal; they had said: ‘Master, we will that Thou wouldst do whatever we should desire’; and He said: ‘What is it that ye desire? Let Me know that first.’ But when blind Bartimaeus cried, Jesus smiled down upon him-though his sightless eyeballs could not see the smile, there would be a smile in the cadence of His words-and He said: ‘What wouldst thou that I should do for thee?’ To this suppliant that question was a promise-’I will do what you want.’ He puts the key of the royal treasure-house into the hand of faith, and says, ‘Go in and help yourself. Take what you will.’

Only, of course, we must remember that there are limitations in the very nature of the case, imposed not arbitrarily, but because the very nature of the truest gifts creates them, and these limitations to some of us sound as if they took all the blessedness out of the act of prayer. ‘We know,’ says one of the Apostles, ‘that if we ask anything according to His will He heareth us.’ Some of us think that that is a very poor kind of charter, but it sets the necessary limit to the omnipotence of faith. ‘What wouldst thou that I should do for thee?’ Unless our answer always, and at bottom, is, ‘Not my will, but Thine,’ we have not yet learnt the highest blessing, nor the truest meaning, of prayer. For to pray does not mean to insist, to press our wishes on God, but it means, first, to desire that our wills may be brought into harmony with His. The old Rabbis hit upon great truths now and then, and one of them said, ‘Make God’s will thy will, that He may make thy will His will.’ If any poor, blind Bartimaeus remembers that, and asks accordingly, he has the key to the royal treasury in his possession, and he may go in and plunge his hand up to the wrist in jewels and diamonds, and carry away bars of gold, and it will all be his.

When this man, who had no sight in his eyeballs, knew that whatever he wanted he should have, he did not need to pause long to consider what it was that he wanted most. If you and I had that Aladdin’s lamp given to us, and had only to rub it for a mighty spirit to come that would fulfil our wishes, I wonder if we should be as sure of what we wanted. If we were as conscious of our need as the blind man was of his, we should pause as little in our response to the question: ‘What wouldst thou that I should do for thee?’ ‘Lord! Dost Thou not see that mine eyes are dark? What else but sight can I want?’ Jesus still comes to us with the same question. God grant that we may all say; ‘Lord, how canst Thou ask us? Dost Thou not see that my soul is stained, my love wandering, my eyeballs dim? Give me Thyself!’ If we thus ask, then the answer will come as quickly to us as it did to this blind man: ‘Go thy way! Thy faith hath saved thee,’ and that ‘Go thy way’ will not be dismissal from the Presence of our Benefactor, but our ‘way’ will be the same as Bartimaeus’ was, when he received his sight, and ‘followed Jesus in the way.’

 


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Bibliography Information
MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on Luke 18:4". Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mac/luke-18.html.

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Friday, December 4th, 2020
the First Week of Advent
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