by Arthur W. Pink
Philologos Religious Online Books
Studies in the Scriptures
by Arthur W. Pink
THE GOOD SAMARITAN.
As we have previously intimated, in order to discover the doctrinal and spiritual meaning of our Lord's teaching in Luke 10:30-35 it is necessary to pay attention to the context. There we find a lawyer asking Christ, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (v. 25). His immediate answer we have already noted: it remains for us to point out that in the passage we are now pondering the Saviour supplied a further and more humbling, if less direct, reply. What is it that the sinner must do in order to obtain everlasting felicity? Consider the actual condition of fallen man and then answer your own question. The sinner has fallen among thieves, who have stripped him, wounded him, abandoned him to his fate, leaving him half dead—alive to the world, yet dead God-ward. What can such an one do? They who teach salvation by works ignore the ruin which sin has wrought in the human constitution; they who inculcate salvation by self-effort repudiate man's total depravity.
Such we believe was Christ's purpose in the first part of this passage: to make clear the fact that fallen man is in such a wretched condition he is beyond doing anything for his deliverance. But such a truth is far too distasteful to proud human nature. Man will not accept the Divine verdict, he will not believe his case is so desperate as the Scriptures depict it. He persuades himself that it lies in his own power to win the favour of God. He thinks that if he tries his best to render obedience to the Divine commandments and employs himself in religious performances such endeavours will receive an eternal recompense. All the expedients which human wisdom has devised as remedies for the wounds sin has inflicted may be reduced to two—law-keeping and ritualistic performances—and man fondly concludes that he finds Scriptural warrant for such remedies. Did not God Himself give the Law at Sinai, a law both moral and ceremonial? Then surely if we use them diligently they must prove effective!
It was, we are convinced, to expose the sophistry of such a theory that Christ introduced into His narrative the “priest” and the “Levite.” They were indeed the representatives of a Divinely-instituted system of religion, but Judaism was never appointed by God as a means of salvation. So far from the Law being given to furnish redemption it was but a “schoolmaster unto Christ” (Gal. 3:24), revealing to man his wretchedness and powerlessness to meet the Divine requirements. In the very nature of the case law cannot condone, but must condemn its transgressors. Though the law demands obedience, it cannot communicate enablement. On the other hand, it cannot excuse disobedience. And since fallen man is “without strength” (Rom. 5:6), his case is utterly hopeless so far as salvation by law-keeping is concerned. The Law cannot impart life, so of what avail can it be unto one who is dead toward God?
In perfect accord with what has been just pointed out, our Lord represented the priest and the Levite as coming where the wounded traveler lay “by chance,” and not by premeditated purpose. Therein He plainly denoted it was never God's design that either the moral or the ceremonial law should improve the condition of the fallen one. All they could do was “look on him” (take note of his condition) and “pass by on the other side.” The Law can render no assistance to those who have broken it. On the one hand it makes no abatement of its demands and on the other it shows no mercy. The Law can furnish no relief to those who are naked, wounded, half dead. It can supply no robe of righteousness, pour in no balm, impart no life. It cannot so much as speak a word of comfort to the distressed conscience: rather does it fill it with terror.
It is on that dark background the Saviour brought into more vivid relief the blessedness and glory of the Gospel of the grace of God. This is what is now presented to our view. But before we turn to that Divine grace as acted out in the Person and work of His dear Son, we will dispose of what some are fond of raising as an objection. We are told by a certain type of would-be superior expositors that we must not “go too far” in our application of such a passage as this, that we must beware of reading a meaning into every “trivial clause”—that we should fix our attention upon the “main features” and ignore what is “only verbiage.” Particularly do these men warn us against looking for a meaning in each detail of our Lord's parables. Personally we have long believed that the danger lies in the opposite direction: mere generalizations convey no tangible and clearly-defined concepts to the mind, and where such a loose method of exegesis be adopted, all certainty is at an end.
As the author of the “Numerical Bible” has pertinently pointed out: “A picture out of which we may leave whatever features we please to consider of no use save for decoration is surely that in which we are most liable to go astray. On the other hand, having to make every detail fit is just what will put bounds to the imagination when disposed to go astray. The insisting upon a complete agreement between the representation and what it represents is in the interests of exact interpretation every way.” But the door is not open for any debate upon this point: our Lord Himself has settled it once for all. In Matthew 13:3-9 we have the parable of “The Sower” and at verse 18 Christ began His explanation of the same. What did He say there? Did He merely generalize and summarize or did He particularize? He particularized and showed that every detail possessed a distinct significance! The “seed” was the Word of the kingdom, the “wayside” soil was an hearer who understood it not, the “fowls” which came and devoured the seed were “the Wicked One” who prevents the Word finding lodging in the heart. So Christ went on through each part of the parable, assigning a specific meaning to every term He used therein. Shall we then be deemed “fanciful” when we discover a beauty in every separate line of the picture of the good Samaritan, when the Lord Himself declared the “thorns” on the third kind of fruitless ground symbolized “the care of this world and the deceitfulness of riches” in verse 22?!
As though to anticipate the objection that that particular parable was an exception, standing in a different category from all others, we find in Mark's Gospel that before He expounded its meaning Christ asked His disciples, “Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables?” (4:13). He then went on to explain that the smallest detail in it conveyed express instructions. But more—if we turn back again to Matthew 13 it will be found that to settle the matter once and for all, Christ condescended to interpret another of His parables, that of the “Tares.” Here, too, He gave a distinct meaning to every detail: the “Sower” is the Son of Man, the “field” is the world, the “good seed” the children of the kingdom, the “tares” the children of the Wicked One, the “Enemy that sowed them is the devil,” the “harvest” is the end of the world, the “reapers” are the angels. The only detail not interpreted is “the furnace of fire,” because it is literal and not figurative. Thus, when we fail to perceive a meaning in the minutiae of our Lord's parables it is not because such is not there, but because we are not sufficiently spiritual to perceive it.
III. The Saviour Succouring.
1. “But a certain Samaritan” (Luke 10:33). This opening “But” (rather than “And”) is designed to draw a sharp contrast, to bring into welcome relief what follows from that which precedes. A “certain” Samaritan: observe he is not named, which was a rebuke not only to the lawyer but to the whole of unbelieving Israel, the allusion being to the unknown Stranger in their midst. But why allude to Himself as a “Samaritan”? Varied, indeed, are the thoughts embraced in this term. First, this was one of the Saviour's Divine titles, for it signifies “Keeper,” and is He not designated “He that keepeth Israel . . . the LORD is thy Keeper” (Psa. 121:4, 5)? Second, it was a name given Him by way of reproach by His enemies: “Say we not well Thou art a Samaritan and hast a demon?” (John 8:48). The Samaritans were abhorred by the Jews, and they refused to have any dealings with them (John 4:9), and only as a last resort would a Jew accept help from such a quarter! Third, the Samaritans were under the curse of the Law, being two-thirds heathen—see 2 Kings 17 for their unlovely origin. And this the true Samaritan must needs be: if He would remove the curse denounced on sin, He must Himself bear it.
2. “As He journeyed.” This heightens the contrast pointed by the opening “But.” It was “by chance,” without design on their part, that the “priest” and the “Levite” passed that way. Not so with the antitypical “Samaritan.” The very term “journeyed” imports a definite design and destination, a specific starting point and goal. What human pen is capable of describing the “journey” which was here undertaken—a journey taken by none less than the Son of God. It was a journey from the heights of celestial glory to the degradation of Bethlehem's manger. It tells of the activity of Divine love. It was a lengthy and labourious one, one which entailed untold hardship and suffering, for at times He “had not where to lay His head.” That journey was not completed till the Cross was reached, when He entered that unspeakable darkness wherein the light of God's countenance was removed from Him. Yet knowing all of this beforehand, that journey was freely entered into. Murmur not then fellow-minister or fellow-believer when God calls you to take some unpleasant journey in His service, but remind yourself of the one undertaken by Christ.
3. “Came where he was.” If anyone feels we have “strained” the word journey in the above paragraph, we would remind him there is one other passage (and only one other in the New Testament) wherein Christ represents Himself as taking a “journey,” namely after distributing the “talents” (equipping His Apostles—and servants—for their work) He “straightway took His journey” (Matt. 25:15). Now if that “journey” signifies His ascension from earth to Heaven (and it can signify nothing else) why should we be deemed “fanciful” for regarding the “journey” in Luke 10:33 as His descent from Heaven to earth? The outcome of this journey was that it brought Christ to where the fallen one lay. With gratitude the believer exclaims, “He brought me up also out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay” (Psa. 40:2—a Messianic Psalm as vv. 6-8 make clear)—but in order to do so Christ has to enter the pit where he lay. He came to seek and to save that which was lost and did so by putting Himself in their Law-place, taking upon Himself their sins.
4. “And when He saw him.” It was an elect soul which the Saviour here gazed upon, for the sovereign grace of God is exercised unto none save those who were “from the beginning chosen unto salvation” (2 Thess. 2:13). Thus we may regard these words as first looking back to a point before the foundation of the world, when Christ contemplated those given unto Him by the Father in the glass of His decrees. In Proverbs 8, where Christ is before us under His title of “Wisdom,” He is seen with the Father “before the mountains were settled . . . while as yet He had not made the earth” (vv. 25, 26). “Then I was by Him (said the Son) as One brought up with Him,” then it is added, “and My delights were with the sons of men” (vv. 30, 31). God showed Christ those “many brethren” among whom He was to be the Firstborn. But after His incarnation He saw them in their actual fallen state, yet He was not repelled by their putrifying sores, nor did He turn from them in disdain, not even from the leper or the adulteress. What a sight for One accustomed to behold the glories of Heaven!
5. “He had compassion on him.” How this line in the picture brings out the heart of Christ toward His own! He did not gaze upon this wretched object with stoical composure, but felt deeply his abject misery. This word evidences the reality of the Divine incarnation and manifests the genuineness of Christ's humanity. It is a word which occurs again and again in the Gospels manifesting the fact that the Lord Jesus was “moved with compassion.” It is recorded for our instruction and consolation, teaching us that our High Priest is not one who “cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities” (Heb. 4:15), for “in all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren” (Heb. 2:17). Therein He differed from the angels: they may pity us, but they cannot have “compassion” on us. Pity is sympathy for one who is in distress, but compassion is to sorrow with him: it is the placing of one's self alongside another in distress and sharing it with him. Thus it was with the Saviour: He assumed our very nature and “took our infirmities” upon Him (Matt. 8:17). It was love moving Him to use His power on our behalf.
6. “And went to him.” Here again the antithesis is sharply drawn, for this clause is in designed contrast from the “passed by on the other side” of the priest and the Levite. It brings out the radical difference between the Law and the Gospel. The Law can render no assistance to fallen man, but the Gospel presents One who is mighty to save. Here is good news, glad tidings indeed. The Law cannot bring us close to God, but the Gospel brings God close to sinners. “And went to him.” Christ does not merely advance half way toward the desperately wounded one and then bid him to come the other half. There would be no good news in that for one who is dead toward God. Nor does Christ come nine-tenths of the way and bid us go the last tenth. No, blessed be His name, He comes all the way, going after the lost sheep “until He find it, and when He hath found it, He layeth it on His shoulders, rejoicing” (Luke 15:4, 5).
7. “And bound up his wounds.” How this reminds us of that Messianic prophecy at the beginning of Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the LORD God is upon Me: because the LORD hath anointed Me to preach good tidings unto the meek, He hath sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted.” It was part of His commission to bind up the brokenhearted. Christ alone can speak peace to the burdened conscience, open blind eyes, liberate the sinner's enslaved will, and loose the tongue so that it gladly praises God. It is love which moves the Redeemer to employ His all-mighty power for the recovery of sinners. It is grace which causes Him to lay His hand upon those who are such revolting objects and tenderly minister unto them. Has He bound up your wounds, my reader? No matter how desperate they may be, they are not beyond the skill of this great Physician. Unless Christ does bind them up, you are lost forever.
8. “Pouring in oil and wine.” Observe the means for effective healing. Oil is the element with which anointing was made (Exo. 30:25; Lev. 8:12) and our Redeemer is anointed with the Holy Spirit (Isa. 61:1). Oil is therefore the symbol of the Spirit. Wine is the emblem of joy (Psa. 104:15), as “the fruit of the wine” (Luke 22:17, 18) is also the memorial of the precious blood of Christ. Nothing but the joyful remembrance of Christ's finished work, applied in the power of the Spirit, can speak peace to the lacerated conscience. When the Divine oil and wine are poured into the deepest and most dangerous wounds of sin, they infallibly work a perfect cure—for the atoning blood has a Divine virtue to heal—being appointed for that very purpose. It “cleanseth us” says one who had experienced its healing power, “from all sin.” And no wonder, for it is the blood of Immanuel. He who shed it was God and man in one Christ, and therefore is it possessed of infinite efficacy and merit. His blood can made the foulest clean, and by cleansing, it heals.
9. “And set him on His own beast.” This line in our picture presents an aspect of the truth which has no place in the emaciated evangelist of our day. Christ not only comes to the sinner in his dire distress and helplessness—He does more. He not only ministers to him and relieves his want—He goes much further. He does not leave him after He has befriended him. He not only empowers him to walk but instates him into an entirely new position. Christ not only meets the sinner in his place of need, but gives him His own place. Here is the climactic blessing of the Gospel: that the one who is saved by Christ is not only pardoned and cleansed, healed and recovered, but brought near to God in Christ's own acceptableness. Because Christ took our place we enter into His place: “For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21), and therefore God “hath raised us up together and made us sit together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6).
10. “And brought him to an inn.” Still the befriended one does nothing for himself: all is done for him. And how accurate this line in the picture! he was not brought “home” but to an “inn.” When Christ saves a soul He does not take him to Heaven at once, but leaves him in this world for a while longer. But observe well the character which is now stamped upon him: the “inn” is for wayfarers and travelers. And such is the character which Christians are to maintain upon earth: “strangers and pilgrims” (1 Peter 2:11). Thus we may note that Christ gives His people the same character He sustained—for when here He was the homeless Stranger. The “inn” is where travelers assemble and spend the night. It is the local church that is symbolized, which is an assembly of strangers and pilgrims, the place where they meet together in spiritual fellowship.
11. “And took care of him” (Luke 10:34). The tender grace of the good Samaritan did not slacken: “having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end” (John 13:1). 12. “When He departed”: contrast from “as He journeyed” (Luke 10:33)—His return on High. 13. “He took out two pence and gave to the host and said unto him, Take care of him.” His loving solicitude ceased not. The “host” is the minister of the local church or “house of God”—not the Spirit personally and distinctly, for Christ will not reward Him, yet as identified with His work and agents. The “two pence” we regard as the Two Testaments (each bearing the same Divine impress), which ministers are to make use of for the good of those entrusted to them. 14. “Whatsoever thou spendest more (the minister's own labours) when I come again, I will repay thee.” How blessed: the parable ends with the rescued one and his caretaker looking forward with joyous anticipation to the return of his Benefactor! What must I do to enter into this experience? Take the sinner's place before God, repudiate my own righteousness, and receive Christ as He is offered in the Gospel.—A.W.P.