by Arthur W. Pink
Philologos Religious Online Books
Studies in the Scriptures
by Arthur W. Pink
THE GOOD SAMARITAN.
It has long seemed to this writer that Luke 10:30-35 sets before us an exquisite picture of the sovereign grace of God unto those who have no claim upon Him. That grace is portrayed in the actings of Him who “came to seek and to save that which was lost.” First, we have depicted the state of the sinner: ruined, wretched, inert, helpless in himself. Next we are shown the worthlessness of human remedies, their unwillingness to come to the relief of the one fallen. Then we behold the Saviour succouring, fully meeting the needs of the fallen one. It is the blessedness of the Gospel which is here unfolded, the fullness of its provision, the sufficiency of its remedy. Consequently nothing is here said of its requirements—repentance and faith—nothing of man's responsibility to meet those requirements. Instead, the sinner is viewed as one who is entirely passive, everything being done for him and to him: he is the recipient of unsought compassion, goodness and free grace. He is not even represented as crying out for help, nor does he “co-operate” at any point. His case is desperate: a fit subject for the great Physician, a suitable object for the Lord of Glory to bestow favour upon!
Strange it is that some of the best commentators dissent from such an interpretation as we have outlined above. Thomas Scott sees in the passage nothing more than “a beautiful illustration of the law of loving our neighbour as ourselves, without regard to nation, party, or any distinction.” In his sermon thereon C. H. Spurgeon said, “I do not think that our Divine Lord intended to teach anything about Himself in this parable, except as far as He is Himself the great Exemplar of all goodness. He was answering the question, 'who is my neighbour?' and He was not preaching about Himself at all. There has been a great deal of straining of the parable to bring the Lord Jesus and everything about Him into it, but this we dare not imitate. Yet by analogy we may illustrate our Lord's goodness by it.” We must leave it to the judgment of our readers as to whether or not what follows is a “straining” or forcing into this portion of God's Word what is not really there.
The context begins at Luke 10:25, where we read of a Jewish lawyer asking Christ, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”—his design being to draw from Him an incriminating reply. Doubtless he had heard that Christ taught salvation by grace through faith apart from the deeds of the Law. Therefore he determined to now demonstrate from His words that He was in open conflict with Moses, whose disciple he professed to be. Having no conception of salvation except by Law-keeping, he framed his question in a legal way: “what shall I do”? Yet in his remaining words he betrayed his gross ignorance and blindness, for whoever heard of inheriting anything by doing? To “inherit” one must be an “heir,” and heirs are born such. A man must be born of God, be made a child of God by the supernatural operation of the Spirit, in order to be an “heir” of God (Rom. 8:17).
Having approached the Lord on the ground of creature performances, on the basis of doing something, Christ answered him accordingly: “What is written in the Law? how readest thou?” (Luke 10:26). It is most instructive and blessed to note how the Lord met different inquirers for He always dealt with them according to their moral state: it was not so much the question as the questioner He dealt with. There is only one way of dealing with those who are self-sufficient and self-righteous and that is to press upon them the righteous demands of the Law. The Law declares plainly enough what is required of man, what he must “do,” namely, obey God, render full obedience to all His commands, or otherwise fall under His condemnation. It is either complete compliance with the Law's requirements or come under the curse of God: “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the Law to do them” (Gal. 3:10).
The lawyer gave a correct summary of the Law's requirements (Luke 10:27), but was then met with a word from Christ well calculated to shatter his self-confidence: “And He said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live” (v. 28). It is not sufficient to try and obey God, it is not enough to do our best (though who among us ever really did so!): “do” them is the uncompromising demand of Sinai. Nor will a partial obedience suffice: “For whosoever shall keep the whole Law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). Ah, my reader, law is inflexible and unmerciful in the very nature of the case. It presents a fixed standard and cannot do otherwise than pronounce guilty all who come short of it. How clear it is, then, that “by the deeds of the Law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight” (Rom. 3:20). The Law should convince us that we are utterly undone, lost—that unless Christ saves us there is no hope for us.
“But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?” (Luke 10:29). Observe this verse opens with “but” not “and.” The man was not sincere: it was not light he sought, but to ensnare the Saviour. Yet it seems to us the previous statement of Christ's had probed his conscience and made him feel uneasy. None had expressly condemned him, yet he now sought to “justify himself.” Christ had drawn the issue and he sought to evade it: lawyer-like he attempts to raise a quibble over a word. “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour and hate thine enemy” (Matt. 5:43). Did not that furnish ground for necessary distinctions? Was an Israelite alone the “neighbour”? was every Israelite such, or was there a third class between the two? And if the classification was so uncertain, might not the duty of loving the neighbour be held in abeyance? With such quibbles will men seek to escape the cutting edge of God's Word.
This brings us to the passage upon which expositors are disagreed—Luke 10:30. It opens with, “And Jesus answering said,” from which it is assumed that Christ did no more than continue His conversation with the lawyer, supplying a reply to his last question, an assumption or conclusion which is said to receive confirmation in verse 36, where the Lord asked His tempter, “which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?”—to which the lawyer answered, “he that showed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.” According to our understanding of verses 30-35 the Lord's design was twofold. First, He drew a picture or stated a case which exposed the state of His interrogator: only one with an unneighbourly heart would ask such a question! Second, He took advantage of the occasion to use the Law to bring into relief the glory of the Gospel, portraying one who was in desperate need of love's ministration and showing that by Himself ministering to that need He was the perfect Neighbour, the true “Friend of sinners.” Viewing the passage thus, let us now consider—
I. The State of the Sinner.
With six short lines Christ drew the picture of fallen man: true of the human race in general, true of every man in particular. 1. He “went down from Jerusalem to Jericho” (Luke 10:30). In that brief clause there is both a refutation of the flesh-captivating theory (lie) of “evolutionism” and an allusion to the Fall. Man did not begin existence as a beast, to slowly fight his way upwards by his own efforts; instead, he was created in the image and likeness of God, but apostatised, and ever since his direction has been downward. Man was placed in a paradise of peace and rest, but he left that blissful state of his own accord and contrary to the expressed command of his Maker. The word “Jerusalem” signifies “the foundation of peace” and stands for heavenly and spiritual things, being the City of God, but apostate man has turned his back upon it, and now, “the way of peace” he knows not (Rom. 3:17). But more—he has gone down “to Jericho,” which is the place of destruction and of the curse (Josh. 6:26). Such is the estate into which man, by his revolt against God, has fallen: he has destroyed himself and lies under the curse of the thrice Holy One.
2. “And fell among thieves.” Travelers tell us that the road from Jerusalem to Jericho is a steep descent, the latter part of it going through a desert and it is still infested with brigands or highwaymen. In his original state of peace and rest, man was safe and happy, but by deliberately forsaking the same he encountered those who were the remorseless enemies of his soul. The Devil, the world and the flesh are the thieves which rob man of his heritage: they sap his energies, deprive him of the time which should be redeemed for eternity and take away all serious thoughts God-ward. They take from us, but never give; that was how they treated the “prodigal son” in the far country till he was reduced to penury and starvation. Egypt is the outstanding symbol of the world in the Scriptures, and what did it give to Israel? Nothing but the taskmaster and the whip. O my reader, Satan and the world may promise you “a good time,” but they are liars and thieves, waiting to rob you of your soul and your bodily health! Pay no heed to their siren voices, but hearken unto what God says to you.
3. “Which stripped him of his raiment.” How solemnly true to life is this! What did Satan do to our first parents? What did sin do unto Adam and Eve? It stripped them of that brilliant raiment of light with which God had originally covered them (Psa. 104:2 and cf. Gen. 1:27). As the result of their disobedience they stood naked before God with nothing to hide their shame. But man lost something more than his outward adornment by the Fall; through sin he was divested of his internal investiture—he was stripped of the robe of original righteousness in which the soul had hitherto appeared in immaculate purity before God. And thus it is with you, my reader, if you be out of fellowship with Christ—your sins are uncovered to the sight of Heaven—you are naked and exposed to the law, the justice, the wrath of God. Nothing but the atoning blood of Christ can hide your shame from a sin-hating and sin-avenging God. O that you might be brought to realize your wretched plight!
4. “And wounded him.” Sin and Satan have wounded man's body, which bring it down with disease and pain to the dust from whence it was taken. They have wounded his soul in all its faculties: his understanding with darkness, his will with a vicious choice, his affections with worldly-mindedness, so that he places his love upon the creature instead of the Creator. They have wounded his conscience with guilt, with fear of death and dread of Hell. They have stopped his ears to the voice of the Spirit and closed his eyes to the glory of God. How completely and severely man is wounded appears from that solemn description supplied by the inspired Prophet: “The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds and bruises and putrifying sores” (Isa. 1:5, 6). Worst of all sin has inflicted a mortal wound which has deprived man of his spiritual consciousness, for he is insensible, unaware of his desperate state.
5. “And departed.” When those thieves had taken everything they sought from the traveler and left him sorely wounded, they callously went their way, caring nothing what became of their miserable victim. How heartless and cruel! Yes, though he appears as an angel of light, desiring to make us happy, Satan is a heartless fiend, anxious only that others should share his awful doom. Though sin clothes itself in many specious forms which attract the unwary, yet it is remorselessly cruel, having no concern for the grief it produces. Satan and sin rob us of health and strength, destroy manhood and womanhood, bring them to the place of acutest distress, and then leave them to their fate. Worldlings will pose as happy and friendly companions while a man's money lasts, but when adversity and retribution overtake him, they depart and desert him. Though history faithfully records these facts, each new generation refuses to profit from the warning and rushes headlong to its doom.
6. “Leaving him half dead.” Some have stumbled over these words, supposing that if the previous clauses depict the state of the sinner then the description falls short at this point. Not so, the terms are minutely accurate: half dead is precisely the condition of man since the Fall. Alive naturally, dead spiritually; alive earthward, dead heavenward; alive unto sin, dead toward God: no desire to please Him, no fear of Him, no love for Him—“She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth” (1 Tim. 5:6). Moreover, men are only “half dead” with regard to the wages of sin: even now they are “alienated from the life of God,” but in the Day of judgment they shall be “punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thess. 1:9)—when they are cast into the Lake of Fire “which is the second death” (Rev. 20:14). In these six lines then, we have a true picture in every part of its tale of misery, the faithful and unerring representation of fallen man, such as none but a Divine Artist could have drawn.
II. The Passersby.
“And by chance there came down a certain priest that way; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, come and looked on him, and passed by on the other side” (Luke 10:31, 32). If careful attention be paid to their setting, and especially to their terms, these verses need occasion no more difficulty than those which precede or those which follow. But if they are regarded cursorily and only a blurred and general view be taken of their contents, then the fault is ours if we err in our understanding of them. If we approach them on the assumption (“presumption,” we ought to say) that they supply nothing more than the “drapery” of the parable, then no wonder if they convey no clear conceptions. Are we to regard each parable of our Lord's as designed merely to set forth a single and central truth, much in it being only “embellishment,” or as a Divinely-drawn picture, no line in it being superfluous and meaningless? Which is the more honouring to God?
This writer has no difficulty or hesitation in answering these questions. In his judgment it is quite clear that the “priest” and the “Levite” symbolize or set forth something definite, something which it is important for us to understand, something which serves to enhance the beauty and blessedness of that which follows. What that something is must be prayerfully inquired after and sought for by duly pondering each particular detail mentioned in connection with the “priest” and the “Levite.” First, it is said of the former that “by chance” he came that way. The same thing is intimated in the case of the “Levite” by the word “likewise.” Second, of the former it is said that he “saw” the half-dead traveler; of the latter that he “looked” on him. Third, in each case we are told that he “passed by on the other side,” that is he offered no assistance to the desperately wounded one—he ministered not to his sore needs. Let us seek to ponder these details.
1. “By chance there came down” that way a certain priest. “By chance” means “by accident,” or as the world speaks, “by a mere co-incidence” the priest passed along the road at that time. But does not this very expression present a real difficulty to those who believe that there are no “accidents” in a world which is governed by God—that nothing enters our lives by mere “chance” or without His appointment? Most certainly this was not a “chance” meeting with respect to Him by whose Providence our every act is ordered. Yet the solution is simple: the word “chance” signifies without design: he had no conscious intention, no deliberated purpose of encountering the poor sufferer. Therein lies the key which unlocks this section of the narrative: it was never the Divine will that religion as such should recover or save the sinner—whatever the reason why God gave the “priest” and the “Levite,” it most certainly was not for that.
2. What was denoted here by the “priest” and the “Levite”? Viewing the whole parable dispensationally the one fallen by the way-side would be Adam: the “priest” the patriarchal era, from Adam to Moses, when the firstborn was the priest, having the right to offer up the appointed sacrifices. Then followed the Levitical age, from Moses to Christ. But considered doctrinally and practically, the priest and Levite would stand for the moral and ceremonial law of Sinai. Was it then the purpose of Christ to throw contempt upon Law and Religion? Certainly not: His purpose was to teach us what, after nineteen centuries, vast multitudes in Christendom are still ignorant of, namely, that neither the deeds of the law nor religious performances can avail anything for a desperately wounded sinner who is dead toward God. Baptism, confirmation, church-membership, fasting, attendance at the Lord's Table can neither impart life nor remove the guilt of sin. The most scrupulous observance of ordinances amounts to nothing for one who is under the wrath of God.
3. “He passed by on the other side.” The real force of this is nearly always missed. It was not that Christ here portrayed the priests of Israel as a callous and cruel class. No, according to his own inspired textbook the priest and the Levite could do nothing else. The “priest” was appointed for the specific purpose of offering sacrifices. But the wounded traveler had none, nor had he any money to purchase one, for he had been robbed! What, then, could the priest do for him? Nothing whatever. Nor was the “Levite” any better equipped: for him to have so much as touched a bleeding man would have ceremonially defiled him (Lam. 4:14)! Neither the one nor the other was competent to or qualified for delivering the ruined sinner, nor had God ever appointed them for any such end.—A.W.P.
(To be completed, Lord willing, in the February issue)