Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint;Luke 18:1
That saying with others did encourage one to prayer. Then the Tempter again laid at me very sore, suggesting That neither the Mercy of God, nor yet the Blood of Christ did at all concern me, nor could they help me for my sin; therefore it was but vain to pray. Yet, thought I, I will pray. But, said the Tempter, your sin is unpardonable. Well, said I, I will pray. It is to no boot, said he. Yet, said I, I will pray.... So I went to prayer to God.... And as I was thus before the Lord, that Scripture fastened on my heart, O man great is thy faith, even as if one had clapped me on the back, as I was on my knees before God.
—Bunyan, Grace Abounding, sees. 200, 201.
References.—XVIII. 1.—J. Learmount, British Congregationalist, 25th July, 1907, p. 82. S. Bentley, Sermons on Prayer, p. 14. J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons (2nd Series), p. 195. F. B. Cowl, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 141. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xliii. No. 2519. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in a Religious House, vol. i. p. 293. XVIII. 1-5.—H. S. Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 161. XVIII. 1-8.—F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. iii. p. 179. J. A. Alexander, The Gospel of Jesus Christ, p. 381. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xv. No. 856. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 306. XVIII. 1, 9.—Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 117. XVIII. 1-14.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Luke, p. 131. XVIII. 3.—H. Bonar, Short Sermons for Family Reading, pp. 376 and 385.
The Doctrine of Delays
The Divine delay meets us everywhere and in every sphere; there is scarce one heart but has been torn and tried by it. Now in this matter of delay it seems to me that not a few of God's people are still children. They think that God has some quarrel with them personally. They forget that the problem is as old as time. Delay tends to become more marked the higher you rise in the Creator's purposes. The greater and richer the blessing that we pray for, the more must we reckon on the delays of God.
I. We should not forget what I might call the moral training of delay. Did we get everything we craved for in the very hour of asking it, I think it would be a long farewell to manhood. Work reveals character, but so does waiting. Waiting shows the baby or the man. We need to be tested to prove if we be worthy just to receive and use the thing we crave. So it often is that God delays, and will not answer us, and keeps us waiting. It is not in scorn, but in the wisest love that He will not for a while.
II. Then it is very helpful to remember that Divine delay does not mean inactivity. There have been men of genius who could only work irregularly; for long periods they seemed to do nothing at all. Then suddenly, and as if by inspiration, their powers took fire and they wrought at a white heat. You may be sure of it that the periods in between were not so idle as the world considered them. By thought, by reading, by communion with glad nature, half-un-consciously they were preparing for their work. As it is with men of genius, so with God, only in loftier and nobler ways. His delays are not the delays of inactivity. They are the delays of preparation. It takes a million of years to harden the ruby, says the poet, yet through all the years the hardening goes on. It takes a century for the sea to wear away one cliff, yet every night when we sleep the breakers dash on it. So when we pray and strive and nothing happens, till we are tempted to say, 'God does not know, God does not care,' who can tell but that, behind the veil, infinite love may be toiling like the sea to give us in the full time our heart's desire. Do not lose heart at the delays of God.
—G. H. Morrison, The Unlighted Lustre, p. 158.
References.—XVIII. 6.—T. G. McCormick, Church Family Newspaper, vol. xvi. p. 10. XVIII. 6, 7.—J. H. Jeilett, The Elder Son, p. 68.
How long, O Lord! Not forever; no. All anarchy, all evil, injustice, is by the nature of it, dragon's teeth; suicidal, and cannot endure.'
Reference.—XVIII. 7.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlviii. No. 2836.
It is obvious that if He does not find faith He will find nothing. Nothing is more striking about our Lord Jesus Christ than this, that while He preached and hoped the best, He was never afraid to face the worst. You can hardly imagine a greater contrast than the magnificent hopefulness of the declaration, 'Shall the Lord avenge His own elect? I tell you He will avenge them speedily'—with the sadness with which, as He looked down the ages, He said, 'Nevertheless, when the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?' It makes us ask two questions: First, what is this faith on which everything depends, on which the success or failure of Jesus Christ's mission depends? and secondly, would He find that faith if He came today?
I. What is faith? I suppose that on no subject in the world are there greater misconceptions than on the nature and character of faith. There are some who think, and honestly think, that faith is mere credulity. Let us face, then, this common idea, this deadly accusation. And I will have you notice that the Bible attaches the most tremendous importance to our reason. The first thing, therefore, to get rid of, if we are to see our way through this accusation against our faith, is the idea that God and religion and the Church and the Bible do not welcome the intellects of us all. Bring your reason to the faith. From long experience with doubters, I find that they often doubt, because they do not think enough, and not because they think too much. Then notice this—that conversely, just as religion recognises the intellect, so science and the study of nature demand faith. The great mistake which so many of us make is to imagine that we consist solely of our analytical reason. What we have to bring to the help of our intellect is our imagination—that Divine power which sees great things and grasps them. And with your imagination bring your conscience. Then notice this: that just as the great discoveries in nature, after they have been conceived by the imagination, are perpetually tested by experience, so we have the mighty witness of experience to the spiritual verieties which we believe. (1) Is faith opposed to practical work? True faith, the faith which works by love, has such an instantaneous effect upon action, that you can only compare it to the flash and report of a firearm. (2) Well, then, what does faith come out to be? If faith is the energising, active, brave, strong angel which bears up the universe, if faith is the lever which moves the world, then surely it becomes a most searching question, 'When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?'
II. Would He find that faith if He came today? It would be possible to make out the most appalling picture that Christ could find no faith if He came today. But on the other side, there is a brighter point of view. Every man who is not ashamed of his faith where he works, every woman who bears a brave witness in her drawing-room or in her cottage, every boy who stands by his faith at school, all are helping to make it possible that when Jesus Christ comes He shall find faith on the earth.
—Bishop Winnington-Ingram, Banners of the Christian Faith, p. 1.
Faith on the Earth
A question like this always carries the strongest negative. It is simply a strong and impassioned way of denying a thing which is asked—'The Son of Man shall not find faith on the earth'. 'Not find faith on the earth?' What, nowhere? Shall there be no faithful ones among 'the quick,' that shall be waiting and looking for the Second Advent? Thank God, He always has His own. But our Saviour's words of indignant wonder too clearly tell us that 'faith' will not characterise the world in the latter days.
I. The Decay of Faith.—These words of our Lord are becoming every day something more than prophecy. We are probably living almost, if not quite, in their fulfilment. When Christ comes, what He will look for is 'faith'. That inference is clear; for what a man does not find must be that for which he was searching. Therefore, when Christ returns to our world in His glory, His eye will range over it in a moment to scan and test its 'faith'. Can we wonder at this? Let us look at facts. I believe that I am speaking the opinion of all who are the most conversant with the state of Christendom, when I state that faith is greatly on the decrease. And the result of all is an awful breadth of spiritual wilderness.
II. The Causes of the Decay.—If I venture for a moment to look into the reasons of these things, perhaps I might particularise the following:—
(a) Preference for the visible.—It is always in the indolent and grosser nature of man to prefer the present and the visible to the future and the unseen. The heart gravitates to practical materialism as a stone gravitates to the ground. It is always a special act to make a man feel the invisible, live in the invisible. For in fact, all faith is miracle.
(b) The advance of Science.—And days of great science, such as these, are always likely to be days of proportionate unbelief, because the power of the habit of finding out more and more natural causes is calculated, unless a man be a religious man, to make him rest in the cause he sees, and not to go on to that higher cause of which all the causes in this world are, after all, only effects.
(c) Familiarity with Divine Things.—And familiarity, too, with Divine things, which is a particular characteristic of our age, has in itself a tendency to sap the reverence which is at the root of all faith.
(d) The selfishness of the age.—But still more, the character of the age we live in is a rushing selfishness. The race for money is tremendous; men are grown intensely secular; the facilities are increased, and with them the covetousness. You are living under higher and higher pressure, and everything goes into extremes; all live fast. And the competition of business is overwhelming, and the excitement of fashion intoxicating. How can 'faith,' which breathes in the shade of prayer and meditation, live in such an atmosphere as this?
III. How does it Stand with our Faith.—Now, if these things are so, if it be a fact that 'faith' is getting rarer and rarer, is not it very important to each one of us to determine how it stands with our faith? Let me just throw out one or two suggestions to you about faith.
'Faith' is a moral grace, and not an intellectual gift. It lives among the affections; its seat is the heart. A soft and tender conscience is the cradle of faith; and it will live and die according to the life you lead.
If you would have 'faith,' you must settle with yourself the authority, the supremacy, and the sufficiency of the Bible. All truth must be an uncertainty if you have no standing-ground. Therefore, establish to your own mind the Divine origin, the universal application, and the ultimate appeal of the Scriptures.
Then, when you have done that, you will be able to deal with promises. Feed upon promises.
Take care that you are a man of meditative habit There cannot be faith without daily, calm, quiet seasons of thought.
But, above all, have the eye upward. All faith, and every stage of it, is a direct answer to prayer.
Show me a Stoic, if you can. Show me a man whose life is moulded on the doctrines he professes. Show me a man who is sick and happy, in peril and happy, dying and happy, exiled and happy, in disgrace and happy. Show me such an one; for, by God, I fain would see a Stoic. You cannot? Well, show me at least one who is shaping for a Stoic. Do me this kindness. Grudge not an old man a sight he has yet failed to see. Do you think you need to show me the Zeus or the Athena of Phidias, all ivory and gold? Nay, let any of you show me but a soul of man ready to think as God thinks, refusing to blame God or man, ready not to be disappointed about anything, not to think himself an injured party, not to be angry or envious or jealous, and—let me say it outright—desirous of becoming Divine himself, and in this poor, mortal body thinking of his fellowship with God. Show me such a man. Nay, you cannot.
—Epictetus, Diss., 2:19.
That which caused bur Saviour the keenest suffering was not so much the thought of the torment he was to endure, as the thought that these torments would be of no avail for a multitude of sinners; for all those who set themselves against their redemption, or who do not care for it.
—Eugénie de Guérin.
'I do not conceive,' writes F. W. Robertson to a friend, 'that this passage even touches the question whether the human race will advance or deteriorate, whether religion will be spread universally or be extinct at Christ's coming; but another question altogether, for "faith" here means not faith generally, but faith with a special reference—a reference to the redress spoken of: not to the Christian religion, but to the Christian tendency to despond when things look dark.'
References.—XVIII. 8.—Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 349. T. Arnold, Christian Life: Its Ropes, p. 15. Archbishop Magee, Sermons at Bath, p. 300. A. Whyte, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lviii. p. 264. R. W. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. iii. p. 207. Bishop Winnington-Ingram, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 88. J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons (9th Series), p. 121. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxiii. No. 1963. H. Scott Holland, Church Times, 5th Feb. 1909.
The Pharisee and the Publican
The lessons taught by this parable are many. Its main lesson, no doubt, is the warning it conveys against spiritual pride, and the encouragement it gives to humility. But there is much beside this.
I. Consider in what the prayer of the Pharisee differed from that of the Publican.
(1) In reality it was no prayer whatever. Still, it might have been in one sense no prayer, and yet acceptable to God. For instance, it might have been an act of praise, which is the highest form of prayer (Psalm 50:14; Sir 35:6-7). And, indeed, it was an act of praise, but it was an act of self-praise. It was an act of thanksgiving, but he thanked God that he was 'not as other men are'.
(2) Where were these two men? In the Temple. For what object? To pray. In Whose presence? In God's. They both acknowledged this in their prayer. But the one says, 'God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are,' and the other, 'God be merciful to me a sinner'. The Pharisee singles out the poor Publican, and his mind fastens upon him. His mind fed upon pride, and there was his food. He seizes upon it, devours and assimilates it, and is satisfied. Yes, and 'full' (1 Cor. iv. 8) though he thought himself to be, he would have to go 'empty away' (St. Luke i. 53).
(3) A sense of sin never entered this Pharisee's mind. He did not pray to God to forgive him what he was, but he thanked God for what he was not
(4) The prayer of the Pharisee may be briefly summed up thus: He gave thanks without being grateful. He asked for no grace, and received none. He went away justified, but only in his own sight. His prayer was weighted with pride, and it fell to the earth, whence it came; or, if it went up at all, it went up as a witness against him; it was resisted of God; it drew no grace from Him.
II. Let us turn to the Publican.
It matters little what he had been. His trade, often marked by oppression and extortion, was held in abhorrence by the Jews; he had been looked upon not merely as an apostate from his religion, but also as an official in the pay of a foreign Power. Whether he was better or worse than his class matters not much. One thing we know—he stood in the Temple in the character of a humble praying penitent.
The Pharisee came in righteous in his own eyes, and wise in his own conceit; and so he goes out. He passes the Publican with the same look of scorn, little dreaming of the change in him. How startled he would be if he but knew what their relative position was in the eyes of the All-seeing God. 'This man'—i.e. the Publican—says our Lord, 'went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.'
—J. B. Wilkinson, Instructions on the Parables.
The Prayer of the Scorned
The last was first; the farthest away was nearest God. No Scripture portraits are more to the life than those of the Pharisee and the publican. Their anonymous names have entered into our common speech, and in the market-place, as in the pulpit, when men speak of two types always appearing, they do it in the terms of this parable.
I. An enduring instinct overthrows for a time an artificial distinction. In the hunger for God men come together.
II. Where separation has least justification, there the folly of man creates it. To the entrance of the temple and no farther on one path. Where separation has least sanction in truth and experience it begins. The kind of praying that sets you farther from your neighbour can be no true approach to God.
III. The separation is accepted, but the order reversed. The foremost come out least in the sight of God, and last in those gifts God gives those who truly seek. (1) The spirit of the Pharisee offers the most effective obstacle to man's approach to God. (2) The spirit of the Pharisee offers the most effective obstacle to God's approach to man. (3) The root of it is a shallow thought of God.—T. Yates, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxii. p. 76.
References.—XVIII. 9.—Expositor (4th Series), vol. iv. p. 446. XVIII. 9-14.—F. Bourdillon, Plain Sermons for Family Beading (2nd Series), p. 138. G. T. Newton, Preacher's Magazine, vol. viii. p. 367. Expositor (6th Series), vol. i. p. 465; ibid. vol. viii. p. 119. XVIII. 10.—T. H. Ball, Persuasions, p. 292. J. C. M. Bellew, Five Occasional Sermons, p. 43. Fr. St. John Corbett, The Preacher's Year, p. 136. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xli. No. 2395.
You have no pity; you have no sense of your own imperfections and your own sins. It is a sin to be hard: it is not fitting for a mortal—for a Christian. You are nothing but a Pharisee. You thank God for nothing but your own virtues—you think they are great enough to win you everything else.'
—Maggie Tulliver to her brother, in The Mill on the Floss.
References.—XVIII. 11.—J. Keble, Sermons for Sundays after Trinity, pt. i. p. 406. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year (2nd Series), vol. ii. p. 91. J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons, p. 114. H. P. Liddon, Sermons on Some Words of Christ, p. 221. XVIII. 11-13.—J. Wright, The Guarded Gate, p. 41. XVIII. 12.—Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 348. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 262.
The Publican's Prayer
The burden of this man's cry is mercy, and deeper still he begs for propitiation, that the wrath of God excited by his sins may be appeased. Hence it is the cry of one who has begun to realise the true nature of sin. The knowledge of sin, in its full malignity and horror, is a true step in repentance. The sense of sin, we are sometimes told, is absent largely from this generation; if so, it is a serious thing, for it means the negation of all progress and the absence of all excellence.
II. The cry of the publican is the cry of the soul terrified by the sense of impending punishment. There are two especial things connected with sin which drive the sinner back on the mercy of God and make him crave for His help; the one is the powerlessness to arrest the consequences of sin, the other is the threatened loss of that to which every man passionately clings—his own liberty.
—W. C. E. Newbolt, Church Family Newspaper, vol. xiv. p. 620.
Prayer, said Geiler of Kaysersberg, is asking from God. He recommended as model prayers, 'Domine propitius esto mihi peccatori' (Luke 18:13), the Psalm 'Miserere mei Deus,' and the Pater.
Dr. Eugene Stock tells us that Bishop Daniel Wilson of Calcutta directed in his will that on a tablet to his memory in the Cathedral should be engraven the words in Greek as so much more emphatic than the English:—'Ο θεὸς ἱλάσθητί μοι τῷ ἀμαρτωλῷ—'God be propitiated to me the sinner'.
References.—XVIII. 13.—H. Woodcock, Sermon Outlines (1st Series), p. 117. R. W. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. ii. p. 89. F. B. Cowl, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xvii. p. 384. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv. No. 216; vol. xxxiii. No. 1949. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ix. p. 441.
The Desire for Satisfaction
If we look at the parable with open minds, it draws a contrast between self-satisfaction and self-dissatisfaction in the spiritual life, and teaches that dissatisfaction is the more excellent way.
I. There is an inevitable desire amongst men for self-satisfaction, and they desire a system of life which promises them this source of gratification. The longing to be able to say with a good conscience, 'I have done all that was my duty to do,' has led to many attempts to define and regulate the sphere of duty. (1) The first evil result which follows from the pursuit of self-satisfaction in the spiritual life is that it cuts a man off from half of the lessons whereby God would train his soul in holiness. It cuts him off from that large sympathy with all men, which is the special work of our great Master's life on earth. The man who deliberately makes a division in his own mind between himself and those who hold with him on the one side, and all other men on the other side, is certainly making his own life poorer, and is losing precious opportunities. (2) But further than this, self-satisfaction is destructive to the desire for progress. This, I think, is the real head and front of the Pharisee's offending. His religion distinctly led him to the performance of his moral duties, and made him a worthy member of civil society. But we feel that, when he had reached the point of thanking God that he was not as other men are, he had little chance of further growth. This is the danger of self-satisfaction; it is destructive of effort, and without continued effort it is difficult to keep the level already gained. We know that in science, in literature, and in art, it is fatal to rest contented, and that a Divine discontent is the next precious gift of heaven to the man of genius. Every one is bound to pursue knowledge up to the limit of his capacity and opportunity; and every one is equally bound to develop, to the best of his power, his moral and religious sense. To rest satisfied with a decent average is to prepare the way for a general decline.
II. The publican sought for no satisfaction, yet it came of itself. Peace came to him, though he sought it not. How came it, from so unpromising a beginning? The answer is, that instead of the approval of self-satisfaction, he received the joy of pardon, and with pardon a renewal of hope and strength. Now, it has been urged that the Christian teaching about forgiveness is immoral and anti-social; it weakens the sense of responsibility, and hides from a man the inevitable that a wrong done cannot be undone, a truth which is the real deterrent from vice. A great deal might be said on this point; I am only concerned to show that the desire for pardon is the result of a sense of failure, and that a sense of failure is inseparable from any worthy appreciation of the task undertaken.
—Bishop Creighton, The Heritage of the Spirit, p. 89.
'The mystic,' says Mr. Arthur Symons, 'knows well that it is not always the soul of the drunkard or the blasphemer which is farthest from the eternal beauty.'
References.—XVIII. 14.—R. W. Church, Village Sermons (3rd Series), p. 267. Bishop Bickersteth, Sermons, p. 168. C. Kingsley, The Good News of God, p. 355. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvi. No. 2687. Expositor (4th Series), vol. viii. p. 85; ibid. (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 249. XVIII. 15.—T. Sadler, Sunday Thoughts, p. 27. XVIII. 15-30.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Luke, p. 138. XVIII. 16.—R, J. Campbell, The Restored Innocence, p. 1. XVIII. 17.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiv. No. 1439. J. Martineau, Endeavours after the Christian Life, p. 101.
How strange it is that such a question should be so put! How rare are the occasions on which two people approach one another so nearly! Most of us pass days, weeks, months, years, in intercourse with one another, and nothing which ever remotely concerns the soul is ever mentioned. Is it that we do not care? Mainly that, and partly because we foolishly hang back from any conversation on what it is most important we should reveal, so that others may help us. Whenever you feel any promptings to speak of the soul or to make any inquiries on its behalf, remember it is a sacred duty not to suppress them.
—Mark Rutherford, in Catherine Furze.
Reference.—XVIII. 18, 19.—Expositor (4th Series), vol. iv. p. 382.
In our own experience it has been no uncommon thing, I suppose, when grave and difficult matters have been in question, and we have been speaking of them with the looseness and carelessness of youth—carelessness, alas! of which old age does not always cure us—when we have talked too fast, and were committing ourselves to more than we could make good—to find ourselves checked and as it were pulled up, by those wiser and more thoughtful than ourselves, for the confusions of our language, and the 'shortness' and shallowness of our thoughts. It was the case here.
—R. W. Church.
References.—XVIII. 19.—R. J. Campbell, A Faith for Today, p. 53; ibid., Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. p. 321. Expositor (4th Series), vol. vi. p. 88; ibid. (6th Series), vol. x. p. 175. XVIII. 21, 22.—J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. ii. p. 261. XVIII. 22.—H. R. Gamble, The Ten Virgins, p. 103.
Is it a truth, that if we are great owners of money, we are so swoln by a force not native to us, as to be precipitated into acts the downright contrary of our tastes?
When Wesley began his ministry at Savannah, it happened that 'in the second lesson (Luke xviii.) was our Lord's prediction of the treatment which he himself (and, consequently his followers) was to meet with from the world. "Verily, I say unto you, there is no man hath left house, or friends, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God's sake, who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting." Yet, notwithstanding these declarations of our Lord—notwithstanding my own repeated experience—notwithstanding the experience of all the sincere followers of Christ whom I have ever talked with, read, or heard of; nay, and the reason of the thing convincing to a demonstration that all who love not the light must hate him who is continually labouring to pour it upon them; I do here bear witness against myself, that when I saw the number of people crowding into the church, the deep attention with which they received the word, and the seriousness that afterwards sat on all their faces; I could scarce refrain from giving the lie to experience and reason and Scripture all together.
'I could hardly believe that the greater, far the greater part of this attentive, serious people, would hereafter trample underfoot that word, and say all manner of evil falsely of him that spake it.'
References.—XVIII. 31.—T. F. Crosse, Sermons (2nd Series), p. 98. H. Alford, Sermons and Christian Doctrine, p. 166. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Sermonettes for a Year, p. 49. XVIII. 31-33.—C. Kingsley, The Good News of God, p. 223. XVIII. 31-34.—F. Bourdillon, Plain Sermons for Family Beading, p. 159. Expositor (5th Series), vol. iv. p. 418. XVIII. 34.—J. Keble, Sermons for the Holy Week, p. 1. T. F. Crosse, Sermons (2nd Series), p. 98. H. Jones, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. p. 380.
Luke 18:34; Luke 18:42
This passage of Scripture is divided into two distinct parts—the one about the Twelve, the other about blind Bartimæus (see Mark 10:46); but together they illustrate the important subject of spiritual sight. And what more appropriate subject than this for us on this day, the festival of St. Mark, who by his Gospel has done so much for the illumination of the Church? Why was it that the Twelve could not understand anything concerning Christ as a suffering Saviour? They were spiritually blind. Why was it that the blind man recognised Jesus as the Son of David? He had spiritual sight. Notice:—I. The Twelve.—(Mark 3:14-19). They were unlearned men (Acts 4:13) and of obscure station (Matthew 4:18); but they had all the advantage of seeing and hearing what Christ did and said (Matthew 13:16-17; Acts 1:3). They had a certain knowledge of the Scriptures and of Christ (John 1:45). They acknowledged Jesus to be the Christ (Matthew 16:13-16). Why, then, did they not understand about His sufferings and death? What did Scripture say? (Isaiah 53.; Micah 5:1; Zechariah 13:6). They needed to be taught by the Holy Spirit whom Christ was to send. (See Luke 24:25-27; Luke 24:44-48). Christ gave them the Spirit (John 20:22). And what was the result? (Acts 1:16-20). What understanding after Pentecost' (Acts 2:25-36; Acts 2:18-22, &c).
II. The Blind Man.—He was unable to see what Christ did, and so poor that he could not provide himself with assistance (Revelation 3:17-18). The multitude tell him that Jesus of Nazareth passeth by (John 1:46; John 7:52). Why does he persist in crying 'Jesus thou son of David? This was a title of the Messiah (Matthew 21:9). It had been promised to David that the Christ should be of his seed (Psalm 132:11; 1 Chronicles 16:11-15). This poor blind man was clearly taught to see that Jesus was the Messiah, and so his Saviour (Psalm 27:1). He saw Him with the eye of faith, though deprived of natural sight (John 20:29). He expresses his desire (ver. 41; Jeremiah 33:3). His prayer is more than answered (ver. 42; John 15:7). His sight is restored (ver. 43; Psalm 30:2).
Let each of us who knows his spiritual blindness make the prayer of Bartimæus his own: 'Lord, that I may receive my sight'.
A Blind Beggar
I. Hebe is a sight to move our pity. Blind and begging, either were bad enough, but sad is it indeed for him who carries a double burden, of darkness and of want. And nigh unto Jericho, too. 'The city of fragrance, the city of roses, the city of palm-trees, the paradise of God,' as one has called it. In this blaze of light and beauty sits a blind beggar! Why does God let there be any blind beggars? He is kind. He is almighty. Why is there any want and sorrow. Well, let us stand beside him for a while, and we may come to see that, as in everything else, there are two sides to this matter of blind beggars. Here comes a man anxious and careworn, counting up his gains, and fretting within himself that he made no more by his last venture. 'Listen to the birds,' says the blind man, 'they do sing sweetly; I love to hear them. And how the scent of roses fills the air today!' But turn to the merchant again. He is looking at nothing but the ground, and without so much as seeing that. Pity the poor blind indeed! Which is the blind man, the beggar by the wayside, or the man who has eyes and sees not, and ears but hears not, and a nose has he but he smells not. 'Oh, he is rich,' you say. No, no, he is the poor man. Pity him. Now, startling the business man in the midst of his fretting, comes the voice of the blind. 'Poor fellow,' he mutters to himself, 'here I have been worrying about a bad debt; and after all I have enough left and to spare—and he stops to give the blind beggar an alms. 'Well, it is a mercy to have one's eyes,' he says, as he goes on his way, 'how much I have to be thankful for!' And presently he looks up, 'Really what a beautiful day it is! And these birds, how they do sing! Well, well, that is music. And—yes, really the air is wonderfully sweet and fragrant with the flowers.' Oh, wonderful blind beggar, thou hast opened a blind man's eyes to his mercies, and unstopped his ears to God's music, and given to him the faculty to smell the sweetness of God's earth. Want and woe, suffering and sorrow are God's angels of mercy to us—to us who think ourselves rich and increased in goods and in need of nothing.
II. We linger on the scene to find a stimulus and guide for our faith. Suddenly there comes the murmur of a crowd, the hum of many voices. 'What is it?' asks the blind man of one and another. At last he finds somebody who stays to reply: 'The great Prophet of Nazareth passeth by'. At once his soul is thrilled with eagerness. Suddenly bursts a cry: 'Thou Son of David, have mercy upon me!' Then come the hindrances. But Jesus stops and bids them bring the beggar, 'What wilt thou that I do for thee?' Instantly the blind man cried; 'Lord, that I might receive my sight'. At once his eyes were opened. Jesus is a great physician. No case is too far gone for Him.
—M. G. Pearse, Naaman the Syrian and other Sermons, p. 167.
References.—XVIII. 35.—S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year (2nd Series), vol. i. p. 129. T. F. Crosse, Sermons (2nd Series), p. 173. Expositor (4th Series), vol. vi. p. 192. XVIII. 35-43.—T. Davies, Sermonic Studies, p. 129. XVIII. 37.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xv. No. 906. XVIII. 38.—R. W. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. iii. p. 74. XVIII. 39.—S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, vol. i. p. 178. XVIII. 40.—J. M. Neale, Readings for the Aged (4th Series), p. 18. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. i. p. 128. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 454. XVIII. 40, 41.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Luke, p. 144.
On the Threshold of Lent
This passage is a very familiar one to most of us. It is one which I have no doubt many of us have pictured to ourselves again and again, one of those scenes in the Gospel which we seem able to imagine more vividly than others. And it is a most pathetic story; this of the poor blind man, in his poverty and blindness, sitting by the wayside, calling out so eagerly to our Lord.
I. I want you to notice first that eager desire of poor blind Bartimæus. It is difficult for us, to whom God has given the gift of sight, to realise what blindness must mean; to live in a world of darkness with no sunlight, no sense of form or colour, not to see the faces of our friends, or the wonderful sights of nature, and to be so helpless as the blind often necessarily are. Who can wonder that he had so eager a desire for help, or that he was so prompt? This was perhaps his one chance. He had heard what the great Prophet had done for others. How can he let this chance pass by? And so he calls out, 'Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy upon me'. But the earnestness of his desire is sharply tested. Everything that the crowd can do to discourage it they do. The caravan of people—of the pilgrims going up to Passover, as is usual in a crowd, is excited, selfish, wrapped up in its own interests and very likely misunderstanding him, thinks that he is begging for alms. And so the people rebuke him that he should hold his peace. They were quite out of sympathy with him. 'But he cried so much the more.' It is a very strong word which is translated 'cried'—'he screamed in eagerness so much the more, "Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me."'
You see, his eager desire stood the test. He did not mind being conspicuous. He did not mind drawing attention to himself, or being tiresome, and hindering the people who wanted to push on. And then Jesus stood and commanded him to be called, because 'He is more ready to hear than we to pray, and is wont to give more than we desire or deserve'. 'Receive thy sight,' He said, 'thy faith hath made thee whole.'
So then let us notice in this story—which has such deep meanings in it, if only we would ponder them—the magnetic power of a strong desire, of a strong, living faith.
II. And then let us think of the question which our Lord asked of him, and the answer that he gave, 'What wilt thou that I should do unto thee?' 'Lord, that I may receive my sight.' We wonder why our Lord should have asked him. The need must have been perfectly obvious to our Lord: of course He knew why the man called to Him. Let us ever recollect that in prayer our object is not to give information to God. 'Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask Him.'
But it is His way to give His best gifts to those who pray. He loves to see His children at His knees. He wants us to feel our utter dependence upon Him; and so He willed that this poor man should express in words his needs. 'What wilt thou that I should do unto thee?' 'Lord, that I may receive my sight.'
It is because of this lack of realising and grasping the unseen that our enthusiasm is so little and our power to help other people so weak. If only we could say, like St. John in his old age, 'That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you'. People will say to us, as our Lord said to Pilate, 'Sayest thou this thing of thyself—all this that you say about your religion, or about religious subjects—or did others tell it thee of Me?' Did we get it out of books? Did we get it secondhand? Or, have we made it our own experimentally? Have we tried to work it into our very innermost selves and to live by it?
Well might we say, each one of us, 'Lord, that I may receive my sight as I go through this Lent'. We might make St Augustine's prayer—it is a very easy one to remember—our own, 'I would know Thee, I would know myself.
III. Then lastly, the sequel of it all. 'Jesus said unto him, Receive thy sight, thy faith hath made thee whole, and immediately he received his sight and followed Him.' 'Immediately!' I have known many cases, and I doubt not you have, where this clearness of vision has come quite suddenly to a man and roused him out of a careless, or unbelieving, or sinful life. But it is not always so. It. may come quite gradually. To St. Paul the light came with one great flash on the way to Damascus. I suppose it had been coming for a long time before. To the other Apostles, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ came slowly and gradually. We can trace it coming as we read the Gospels. Whichever it is, whether it comes to us at once, or whether it comes to us gradually, the result will be the same—'He followed Him'—it is quite practical. If we really believe in the things of the unseen world, if we really believe in the Incarnate Son of God, if we really believe in prayer and Sacraments, we shall be called by some of our friends visionaries. We shall be told that we are unreal. And there is such a thing as unreality. There is mysticism which may be perfectly unreal. But let us remember that a true mysticism and a true power of seeing the unseen lies at the heart of the deepest and best religion. We must be visionaries, yes, and see visions. Not, I suppose, anything such as the saints have seen, not what we ordinarily call visions; but see something though very dimly, of the true light of God shining into our hearts. And we must follow it. This insight must always be translated into action. The two things may seem far apart. It may seem strange that the sculptor or the architect can translate his idea into solid stone—so cold and hard and unresponsive; but that is his work. And it is our work to translate what God teaches us in to the practical reality of daily life.
—W. B. Trevelyan, Church Times, 26th Feb. 1909.
References.—XVIII. 42.—J. Keble, Sermons for Septuagesima to Ash Wednesday, p. 191. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xx. No. 1162. Charles Brown, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxviii. p. 161. XIX. 1.—Joseph Parker, The Gospel of Jesus Christ, p. 73. Mark Guy Pearse, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 33. XIX. 1-10.—B. J. Snell, Sermons on Immortality, p. 149. S. Chisholm, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lviii. p. 322.
Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man:
And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary.
And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man;
Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.
And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith.
And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?
I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?
And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:
Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them: but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them.
But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.
Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.
And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God.
Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother.
And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up.
Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.
And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich.
And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!
For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
And they that heard it said, Who then can be saved?
And he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.
Then Peter said, Lo, we have left all, and followed thee.
And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God's sake,
Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting.
Then he took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished.
For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on:
And they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again.
And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken.
And it came to pass, that as he was come nigh unto Jericho, a certain blind man sat by the way side begging:
And hearing the multitude pass by, he asked what it meant.
And they told him, that Jesus of Nazareth passeth by.
And he cried, saying, Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me.
And they which went before rebuked him, that he should hold his peace: but he cried so much the more, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me.
And Jesus stood, and commanded him to be brought unto him: and when he was come near, he asked him,
Saying, What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee? And he said, Lord, that I may receive my sight.
And Jesus said unto him, Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee.
And immediately he received his sight, and followed him, glorifying God: and all the people, when they saw it, gave praise unto God.