The Master ' s teaching on the subject of the injury worked on the souls of others by our sins. The disciples pray for an increase of faith that they may be kept from such sins. The Lord ' s reply. His little parable on humility. The healing of the ten lepers. The ingratitude of all save one. The question of the Pharisees as to the coming of the kingdom. The Lord ' s answer, and his teaching respecting the awful suddenness of the advent of the Son of man.
I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, the other left . How taken? Not, as some scholars have supposed, taken only to perish, but taken away by the Lord in the way described by St. Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 , where he paints how the faithful servant who is living when the Lord returns in glory, will be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. The other will be left. Thus, as it has been strikingly observed, "the beings who have been most closely connected here below shall, in the twinkling of an eye, be parted for ever."
The kingdom and the day of the Son of man.
This passage is not to be isolated as if it were a definition complete in itself of Christ's view of the kingdom of God. Some, doing this, have found in it a justification of the teaching that God's kingdom has no external character, that the coming of the Lord is only a revelation of truth in and to the heart of man. This is to do violence to the language of Jesus. In what he says afterwards to his own, in the solemn discourse reported two chapters hence, he refers to the coming of the Son of man as a fulfilment which would have its outward signs and effects, and for which his people are to wait. On the occasion before us he sets his Word in the sharpest possible antagonism to the carnal and unworthy notions which prevailed among the Pharisees who had demanded a statement from him as to how the kingdom should come. E.g. the Pharisees conceived of this kingdom as a victorious world-power. "Not so," is the assertion ( Luke 17:20 ); "God's kingdom does not come with observation, does not lend itself to such outwardness as your vision contemplates." The Pharisees separated the citizenship in the Divine kingdom from character. The right to partake of its glories was a political right. It measured the extravagance of their social caste. It was not a chastening and purifying expectation. It was a dream of conquest and outward abundance which kept their minds on the stretch, which made them dupes of those who claimed to be Messiahs or forerunners of Messiahs. "The kingdom of God," says Jesus, "is not heralded by loud professions, by cries of, 'Lo here! or, lo there!' Unobserved, often unthought of, are its marches and movements, its surprises and its conquests" ( Luke 17:21 ). As the concluding touch of the answer, Jesus warns against a restless asking "when the kingdom shall come," as if it were a prospect wholly future. He reminds us ( Luke 17:21 ) that the kingdom is here and now, that it is verily and indeed among us. And the caution is as timely for us to-day as it was for the Pharisee then. For we are all apt to associate God's kingdom with some distant prospect or some condition removed from the world in which we live. And the doctrine of the Lord's advent is too often mixed up with schemes of prophecy, with calculations of catastrophes and the like, which men profess to expound or to forecast, crying, "Lo here! or, lo there!" Not, therefore, without meaning for more than the old Hebrew separatists is the counsel, "Look into the region of character for the reality of the kingdom. Where the King is, there is the court. If God has possessed your souls, his kingdom is among, is in you." Observe the solemn discourse to the disciples suggested by the demand which he has met. The words which follow from Luke 17:22 may be regarded either as an epitome of longer addresses, or as an address in itself complete. Look on it as an instruction preliminary, and preparatory, to the fuller opening up of the time of the end. The shadows are getting longer and longer; Jerusalem is not far ahead; the night is at hand in which, under the form of his first appearing, the Son of man cannot work. The look forward in the verses before us is to
I. A DAY OF DISTRESS . When ( Luke 17:22 ) the mind would cast a regretful retrospect on the time when the Lord was with them—their Sun and Shield. Ah I would that he, the Bridegroom of our souls,
"Our Shepherd, Husband, Friend,
Our Prophet, Priest, and King,"
were going before us as in the days of old! But no; the shadow on the dial of time cannot be put back. The Church must face perplexities and follow its path through them. It hears voices crying, "Lo here! and lo there!" and the voices are so delusive that even the elect are often bewildered. The Master's word is, "Onwards!" He bids us look up where Stephen beheld him—standing, bending forward in sympathy and help. In the struggle, through the din, although it seems as if he were not, he is with his Church until the end of the age.
II. A DAY CALLING FOR PATIENT FAITH . There are incertitudes and excitements which sometimes almost suspend the action of faith. There are complications in the Church and the world which induce a feverishness of tone. What the Lord enjoins ( Luke 17:25 ) is a calm, although wakeful, vigilance. He reminds his followers that the way to the crown is by the cross, that the offence of the cross must be exhausted, and then the end shall come. Thus, whilst the sentence is ( Luke 17:26-30 ), "The coming may be at any moment, it will be, as was prefigured in the days of Noah and Lot, when men are least expecting it," the balancing thought is added, that a testimony must be given to all the nations. And the right kind of waiting is that which seeks to fill up what remains of his sufferings, so that, when he shall appear, his people may be found "not sleeping in sin, but diligent in his service, and rejoicing in his praises." It is in this connection that the reference is made ( Luke 17:29 ) to the tradition concerning the wife of righteous Lot. "She looked back, and became a pillar of salt." The world-clinging heart was stiffened into a very column of worldliness. Remember, there are to be no regrets, no glances behind. A heart single, and free for the Lord, is the condition of the disciple who shall escape all these things that shall come to pass, and stand before the Son of man. "Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it" ( Luke 17:33 ).
III. A DAY OF JUDGMENT . The revelation of Christ is a judgment—in the fuller meaning of the word, a making manifest, a bringing to light of the hidden bents of mind and separation of the true from the false. Whenever Christ is presented, the judgment is set and the books are opened. The end is simply the full apocalypse of the judgment which is now proceeding. The lightning ( Luke 17:24 ) "that lighteneth out of the one part of heaven, shining to the other," is the manifestation of the electricity with which the atmosphere is charged. What of this day of judgment? It is ( Luke 17:27 , Luke 17:28 ) the condemnation of the world as to its worldliness in both its more sensual and its more cultured aspects—the sensuality typified in the days of Noah; the culture, with coarseness, typified in the wealthy citizen of Sodom. It is ( Luke 17:34 , Luke 17:35 ) the disjunction of the closest of life's fellowships—the two in the bed, the two at the mill, the two in the field. The issues that, unobserved by many, are being adjusted and completed will be set forth in their reality. What men would not believe men will be brought to know. "The Lord cometh; he cometh to judge the earth." "Where?" ask these simple men, affrighted—"where, Lord?" and the enigmatical response ( Luke 17:37 ) is given. Wherever there is corruption, wrong, death, there is the scene of the judgment of God. Jerusalem was the carcase more immediately in view, and the eagle, sign of the Roman empire, that was raised over its battlements was the sign of other eagles that were already gathering. But may we not ask whether the Jerusalem that is in bondage, the Christendom that is, is not ripening for judgment? "Receiving the kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire."
"The one shall be taken, and the other left." And who or what is it that decides which one shall be taken and which left? Events are often occurring which convey to us the impression of—
I. THE LARGE AMOUNT OF ACCIDENT which enters into the fabric of human life. Take, for example, a bad railway accident. How accidental it seems that one man should just miss that train and be saved, and that another should just catch it and be killed; that one should take a seat in the carriage which is crushed, and another in the carriage which is left whole; that one should be sitting exactly where the bent and twisted timber pierced him, and another exactly where no injury was dealt, etc.! It is the same with the battle-field, with the thunderstorm, with the falling house. One is taken, and another left; and the taking of the one and the leaving of the other seems to be pure accident—not the result of reason or forethought, but entirely fortuitous.
II. OUR CORRECTED THOUGHT CONCERNING IT .
1 . Of accident in the sense of chance we know there is nothing. Everything is "under law;" and even where there is no law apparent, we are assured, by the exercise of our reason, that there must be the operation of law, though it is out of our sight. In this world of God's, pure chance has not an inch of ground to work upon.
2 . There is usually much more play of reason and habit in "accidental events" than seems at first sight. Things result as they do because habit is stronger than judgment, or because foolish men disregard the counsel of the wise; because thoughtful men take the precautions which result in their safety, and because thoughtless men take the action which issues in their suffering or death.
3 . The providence of God covers the entire field of human life. May we venture to believe that the hand of God is in the events and issues of life? I think we may.
III. THE LARGE MEASURE OF UNCERTAINTY THAT REMAINS AND MUST REMAIN . Human science has introduced many safeguards, but it has also introduced new perils. The "chapter of accidents" is as long as it ever was in the contemporary history of mankind. God is supreme, but he lets many things happen we should antecedently have supposed he would step in to prevent; he lets good men take the consequence of their mistakes; he permits the very holy and the very useful to be overtaken by sad misfortunes and even by fatal calamities. We cannot guarantee the future; we cannot ensure prosperity, health, friends, reputation, long life. To one that seems to be heir to all these good things they will fall; to another who seems equally likely to inherit them they will be denied: one is taken, the other left. Therefore let us turn to—
IV. THE ONE GOOD THING ON WHICH WE CAN ABSOLUTELY COUNT . There is "a good part which shall not be taken away." This is a Christian character; its foundations are laid in repentance and faith; it is built up of reverent study, of worship, of the obedience of love. Its glory is in resemblance to Jesus Christ himself. This is within every man's reach, and it cannot be taken; it must be left. He who secures that is safe for ever. No accident can rob him of his heritage. His treasure and himself are immovable; for "he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever."—C.
The advent of the kingdom and the King.
Jesus was on journey to Jerusalem when the ingratitude of the nine lepers, just noticed, took place, and this gave rise to speculation as to the near approach of his kingdom. His enemies, the Pharisees, put the sarcastic question when the kingdom of God should come, as much as to say, "We have heard of it long; we should like to see it." £ This leads our Lord to unfold the nature of his kingdom's advent and of his own.
I. HIS KINGDOM COMES IN THE HEARTS OF MEN . ( Luke 17:20 , Luke 17:21 .) The characteristic of worldly kingdoms has always been ostentation. They try to impress the senses by noisy advents, brag, advertisement, the blare of bugle and roll of drum. And some think that there is nothing worth talking about which can come in any milder way. The Jews expected a kingdom of God to supersede the Roman, and that its advent would be seen in the defeat and expulsion of the conquerors of Canaan. But, no; the kingdom was coming in men's hearts; it was there it had its sphere and home.
1 . How superficial is the sovereignty which is not founded in the heart I This is the world's experience daily. The outward sovereignty is a name and based on fear.
2 . How noble is the sovereignty which is based upon people ' s hearts ! It is here Jesus reigns. We love him. We would die for him. Thus his kingdom progresses wherever a heart is touched by Christ's love. His triumph is over the selfishness of mankind. He conquers them by self-sacrificing love. £
II. THE KING HIMSELF IS TO COME AS SUDDENLY AS THE LIGHTNING - FLASH . ( Luke 17:22-24 .) He is not to give warning of his approach. There will be no need to go here or there under the impression that he has come quietly and privately, to prepare for his public manifestation; but suddenly like the lightning-flash, and publicly like its heaven-enlightening beam, is he to come for judgment. Hence the awful suddenness of his advent is distinctly implied. He will give no premonitory warnings, but overwhelmingly sudden and awful will be his approach. No wonder in such circumstances that many shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, one of those seasons of quiet philanthropy such as the Saviour was now leading among men. The Pharisees were mistaking altogether the significance of his present mission.
III. THE RESULTS OF THE PRESENT MISAPPREHENSIONS . ( Luke 17:25-30 .)
1 . The first sad result will be the rejection and martyrdom of Jesus ( Luke 17:25 ). Misapprehending the significance of his meek and lowly philanthropic life, his generation united in rejecting him, and secured his crucifixion on the tree. They would not have the King when actually among them in flesh and blood.
2 . Men will act like the antediluvians and Sodomites up to the very time of our Lord's advent. A sense of carnal security characterized these sinners. They thought in Noah's day that no harm would overtake them. There was no sign of the Deluge except Noah's precautions against it, and they would not act upon such signs. In Sodom it was the same. The inhabitants thought no change would come over their selfish, sensual dream. But the Deluge came, and the fire and brimstone descended, notwithstanding. So will it be with the advent of Christ—it will come as a sudden, unexpected judgment upon many. And this carnal security is a present danger with many. They fancy they are safe, that nothing will interfere with their security; but the Saviour makes his advent suddenly, and they are overwhelmed.
IV. THE REALITIES OF THE ADVENT . ( Luke 17:31-37 .) Now, the truth is clearly brought out that some shall be saved and others lost at the advent.
1 . Let us look at the lost. They are brought under our notice here in several ways. Thus Lot ' s wife is taken as a type of the lost. Now, we know that she was lost through looking longingly back to her worldly things. God, by his angels, had set the family's faces towards the mountains and himself. Were they prepared to take him and his favour as their portion, and give up all their property in Sodom? If they looked longingly behind them, it would show that the world was still more to them than God. The poor wife could not resist the temptation, and so she was changed into a pillar of salt. She is, then, the type of those who are almost saved, but worldliness gets the better of them, and they are lost. Again, the lost ones are represented as food for eagles ( Luke 17:37 ) This brings out the corruption characterizing them. They have become moral carrion which only the eagles can consume. There is, doubtless, a reference to the Roman invasion under Titus, and to the destruction of corrupt Jerusalem. The Roman armies were God's scavengers to destroy a corrupt people. This was one way in which Christ made an advent to judgment. Lastly, we have the lost described as those who are continually seeking to save themselves (verse 33). Those whose one aim in life is self-preservation, the saving of themselves at every turn, who think of self as the supreme concern, are only losing themselves. The curious paradox is that those who save themselves at every turn lose themselves; while those who do not count their lives dear, but Christ's concern as supreme, find themselves safe at last. Let us see to it, therefore, that we are neither worldly minded, nor corrupt, nor given up to selfishness, else we are among the lost.
2 . But let us look at the saved ones. These are those who have kept Christ before them as their Lord and Master, whose interests should be supreme (verse 33). They value him more than life, and so he saves them. The nature of salvation is thus plainly unfolded. The saved ones are those with whom Christ is all in all. They prefer him to everything else. The instinct of self-preservation has in them given place to an instinct to preserve the honour and promote the kingdom of the Master. And those who have trusted him and honoured him so thoroughly shall find that he will not disappoint them. Let us wait for his appearing, then, and love it; and when it flashes across the world, we shall be allowed to escape the judgments that come upon the earth, and to stand before the Son of man.—R.M.E.