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Thankfulness the Life of the Regenerate.

by Isaac Williams

from Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays and Holy Days

throughout the Year, Vol. II. Trinity Sunday to All Saints' Day 

Rivingtons, London, 1875, pp. 178-184.

Second part of Sermon LXI. for the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity.

 Gal. v. 16-24.    St. Luke xvii. 11-19.


And JESUS answering said, Were there not ten cleansed but where are the nine?
—ST. LUKE xvii. 17.
(for the first part, on the Epistle.
Now leprosy is, throughout the Scripture, so often put for an outward type or sign of sin, that we cannot fail to apply the Gospel for to-day, and to see how strongly and sadly it bears on this subject. And it came to pass, as Jesus went to Jerusalem, that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. And as He entered into a certain village, there met Him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off. Set apart for legal uncleanness, without the congregation of the faithful, and outside the city of God, “standing afar off,” they afford a lively representation of ourselves in our unconverted and gentile state. “Ye who sometimes were far off,” says the Apostle, “are made nigh by the Blood of Christ.” (Eph. ii. 13.)  And when he had been describing those who followed the lusts of the flesh, which shall not inherit the Kingdom of God, he adds, “and such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified.” (1 Cor. vi. 11.)  Leprosy, therefore, is a sign of that unregenerate state from which, through Christ, we are delivered.

And they lifted up their voices and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. We are all of us, in distress, wont to call upon God; such, indeed, is an act of faith in Him, with which He is pleased, and answers our prayers according to our need. But this is no proof of the habitual state of our hearts towards God; indeed, the history of the Jews of old is in this respect the case with ourselves; when oppressed by their enemies, in affliction or fear, they remembered themselves and turned unto God; they remembered that the High God was their Redeemer; but no sooner were they relieved than such feelings passed away; “within a while they forgot His works, and would not abide His counsel.” (Ps. cvi. 13. 43, 44.) And, therefore, this prayer of the lepers, and their faith in Christ, might have been very earnest for the time, and as such was answered by Him, but did not indicate their ultimate acceptance with Him.

And when He saw them, He said unto them, Go, shew yourselves unto the priests. If you will believe My Word, and obey Me, you are healed already; and as such, in obedience to the Law of Moses, “show yourselves to the priests;” they will certify that you are healed, and will again admit you into intercourse with men. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. In faith and obedience they found restoration; suddenly ‘they found their foul diseased body, which was like a living corpse, changed; they were, as it were, born again, “alive from the dead;” their flesh came again as a little child. They represent us in our mighty deliverance, washed from our sins in baptism, and made whole.

And one of them, when he saw that he was healed turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks; and he was a Samaritan. This short description may well represent the state of mind required of a Christian; ever sensible of that great mercy which has healed him, and, as it were, “with a loud voice,” he “glorifies God,” by confession of his sins, and of the undeserved goodness of Christ. Thus “love, joy, peace,” fill his mind. And “he fell down on his face;” such is that humility which is the chief mark of a Christian mind, with his face to the earth, like that accepted publican who would not lift up his eyes to Heaven; and it is “at Jesus’ feet” he falls down, that is, in his humiliation ever worshipping Him Who is God and Man. This is the temper of mind which ever abounds with “long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness,” such as St. Paul has described in the Epistle as the fruits of the Spirit.

To this description of the returning leper it is added, “giving Him thanks ;“ and this indeed contains it all; his turning back, his glorifying God, his falling on his face, his worshipping at the feet of Jesus, all these were but outward signs, with which his whole demeanour and conduct expressed what his heart felt, namely, his giving Him thanks. And in like manner, all that is required of the most perfect Christian may be contained in this “giving Him thanks;” giving thanks, always in word and deed, to Christ, for His great deliverance and salvation. Is he compassionate and merciful, active in giving of alms, fervent in prayer, careful in practices of mortification and self-denial; does he labour to offer up his whole body as a living sacrifice to God, acceptable through Jesus Christ? All this is nothing else but a giving of thanks for his salvation. And therefore it is that love, joy, and peace are inseparable from every duty of a Christian, because his heart is the seat of thanksgiving. What more natural? what more easy? How much more so is this conduct of the thankful leper, than the miserable pride and forgetfulness of those who went their way and gave no thanks!

It is added, “and he was a Samaritan.” This also is not without much meaning, and the consideration of which ought to be very humbling to us, who have such means of grace, viz. that those who have least advantages are often the most lowly and thankful, and therefore the highest in God’s everlasting favour. The Great Day will surely make a wonderful disclosure in this respect, setting on high those who are now the least accounted of and esteemed; and putting down many who now seem to stand high in God’s favour, on account of the privileges of grace which they enjoy; being dry and barren within for want of thankfulness for great blessings, while some, whom they despise, are thankful even for the least crumbs that fall from the table of God; like this Samaritan, ever “prostrate, in mind and heart, at the feet of their Deliverer.” (Quesnel.) And therefore is it in manifold ways fulfilled that Christ “came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” “That,” as St. Bernard says, “the foes of Christ are of His own household ;“ that “the wounds” which He receives are “in the house of His friends.”

To this our Lord adds very memorable words, such as He would doubtless have us to consider unto the end of the world; and which may well ring in our ears and sound in our hearts at all times. And Jesus answering, i. e. calling their attention to it, said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger, this Samaritan,—an alien from the promises, and without the covenant and household of God. Our Lord speaks, if we may so say it, with a sort of mournful and painful wonder; and, indeed, it must appear to us a circumstance marvellous and almost incredible; such as we could not understand and scarcely believe, were it not that it is such an exact picture of our own hearts. Notwithstanding all the deceits we put upon ourselves we cannot but acknowledge it; although there is no truth in the world more sad and melancholy than this; in all our manifold deliverances from sickness and dangers and distresses, we may he full of faith, full of prayer, full of holy resolutions, when we feel God’s chastening hand pressing hard upon us; but when it is removed, this is all gone away and forgotten; the very feeling of thankfulness is hut as the morning cloud which passes away, as the morning cloud which catches a few gleams from the sun, and is radiant for a moment, or which lets fall, it may be, a few drops of tears; but, look again, and it is gone away and not found. And if this is the case, in all those little perils and escapes which happen to us in our daily life, alas! how much more is this the case in that to which I would this day apply the whole of this subject, viz. in our spiritual deliverance, once for all, out of the hands of our great enemy, and the little thankfulness it has produced in the whole of our Christian calling. For the whole perfection of the highest saint of God may be said to consist in nothing more than what is contained in this single word “thankfulness.” And all the condemnation of the unworthy Christians, at the last, who fall from their high calling, may be summed up in this: “They glorified Him not, neither were thankful.”

It is this consideration which renders the Epistle for to-day, in conjunction with the Gospel, as I said, so exceedingly awful in the lesson it conveys, for in the former St. Paul describes what the Christian must be as living by the Spirit, such as our own experience must tell us that scarce one Christian out of ten will be found to be; and then, in the Gospel, our Lord Himself, Who knew what is in man, has lifted up and left to us this sad note of warning, a warning which I would to God we could carry about us at all times, wherever we are and whatever we do, “Ten cleansed, one only found thankful.” Would that it might sound in our ears in all the gracious providences of God towards us, so that it might stir and alarm us into more diligence! “Out of ten one only found thankful!” Would that this warning might attend us in our daily business, reminding us of how much Christ has done for us, how little we do for Him! Would that it might occur to us again and again, in all our intercourse with the world, “Out of ten one only found thankful!” that it might fill us with a holy zeal and emulation not to be as other Christians are content to be! Would that the words might be with us here when we come to pray, “Out of ten one only found thankful,” and he was with his face to the ground, at the feet of Jesus! Would that, not at our prayers in church only, but at all times, we might be thus found, in lowliness of mind, as it were with our face to the earth, and in an holy peace, as at the feet of Jesus! I was as one dead, “nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” And when we hear a sermon, let us not be as the nine around, with wandering eyes, or curious ears, or thoughts occupied by the world, or with forgetful memories, but rather as con-sidering that God may therein be delivering a message to each of us, on which our life depends. Let us remember that so many, though healed by His Word, departed without His blessing. One only out of ten returned, and glorified God, and gave thanks.

And He said unto him, Arise, go thy way, thy faith hath made thee whole. “Arise:” according to the hu-miliation of himself in His sight is every one raised of God, exalting him who humbleth himself. “Go thy way,” let My peace be with thee in all thy ways; and remember, that it is thy faith only which hath made thee whole, and therefore faith alone can preserve and keep thee such;. this, thy deliverance, is a token of the power of faith in Me. By faith shalt thou a stranger be grafted into that living Stock, from which the natural branches, through unbelief, are broken off. And now, “thou standest by faith. Be not high-minded, but fear.” (Rom. xi. 20.)

Alas, my brethren, may not this incident express something of that mournful surprise and terrible wonder which will break upon us on the Day of Judgment, on beholding how few will be saved? May we not suppose that this sad truth, which He saw in the Spirit, may have been in our Lord’s mind when He said, “Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?” Where are they?