(Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity.)
Luke xvii.17, 18. Were there not ten cleansed, but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger.
No men, one would have thought, had more reason to thank God than those nine lepers. Afflicted with a filthy and tormenting disease, hopelessly incurable, at least in those days, they were cut off from family and friends, cut off from all mankind; forced to leave their homes, and wander away; forbidden to enter the houses of men, or the churches of God; forbidden, for fear of infection, to go near any human being; keeping no company but that of wretched lepers like themselves, and forced to get their living by begging; by standing (as the Gospel says) afar off, and praying the passers-by to throw them a coin.
In this wretched state, in which they had been certain of living and dying miserably, they met the Lord: and suddenly, instantly, beyond all hope or expectation, they found themselves cured, restored to their families, their homes, their power of working, their rights as citizens; restored to all that makes life worth having, and that freely, and in a moment. If such a blessing had come to us, should we have thought any thanks too great! Would not our whole lives have been too short to bless God for his great mercy? Should we have gone away, like those nine, without a word of thanks to God, or even to the man who had healed us? What stupidity, hardhearted- ness, ingratitude of those nine, never to have even thanked the Lord for their restoration to health and happiness.
Ay, so we think. Yet those nine lepers were men of like passions with ourselves; and what they did, we perhaps might do in their place. It is very humbling to think so: but the Bible is a humbling book: and, therefore, a wholesome book, profitable for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. And I am very much afraid that when the Bible tells us that nine out of ten of those lepers were ungrateful to God, it tells us that nine out of ten of us are ungrateful likewise.
Ungrateful to God? I fear so; and more ungrateful, I fear, than those ten lepers. For which of the two is better off, the man who loses a good thing, and then gets it back again; or the man who never loses it at all, but enjoys it all his life? Surely the man who never loses it at all. And which of the two has more cause to thank God? Those lepers had been through a very miserable time; they had had great affliction; and that, they might feel, was a set- off against their good fortune in recovering their health. They had bad years to balance their good ones. But we -- how many of us have had nothing but good years? Oh consider, consider the history of the average of us. How we grow up tolerably healthy, tolerably comfortable, in a free country, under just laws, with the power of earning our livelihood, and the certainty of keeping what we earn. Famine we know nothing of in this happy land; war, and the horrors of war, we knew nothing of -- God grant we never may. In health, safety and prosperity most of us grow up; forced, it is true, to work hard: but that, too, is a blessing; for what better thing for a man, soul and body, than to be forced to work hard? In health, safety and prosperity; leaving children behind us, to prosper as we have done. And how many of us give God the glory, or Christ the thanks?
But if these be our bodily blessings, what are our spiritual blessings? Has not God given us his only-begotten son Jesus Christ? Has he not baptised us into his Church? Has he not forgiven our sins? Has he not revealed to us that he is our Father, and we his children? Has he not given us the absolutely inestimable blessing of his commandments? Of knowing what the right thing to be done is, that we may do it and live for ever; that treasure of which not only Solomon, but the wise men of old held, that to know what was right was a more precious possession than rubies and fine gold, and all the wealth of Ind? Has he not given us the hope of a joyful immortality, of everlasting life after death, not only with those whom we have loved and lost, but with God himself?
And how many of us give God the glory, and Christ the thanks? Do we not copy those nine lepers, and just shew ourselves to the priest? -- Come to church on the Sunday, because it is the custom; people expect it of us; and God, we understand, expects it too: but where is the gratitude? Where is the giving of glory to God for all his goodness? Which are we most like? Children of God, looking up to our Father in heaven, and saying, at every fresh blessing, Father, I thank thee. Truly thou knowest my necessities before I ask, and my ignorance in asking? -- Or, like the stalled ox, which eats, and eats, and eats, and never thanks the hand which feeds him?
We are too comfortable, I think, at times. We are so much accustomed to be blest by God, that we take his blessings as matters of course, and feel them no more than we do the air we breathe.
The wise man says --
Our torments may by length of time become
and I am sure our blessings may. They say that people who endure continual pain and misery, get at length hardly to feel it. And so, on the other hand, people who have continual prosperity get at length hardly to feel that. God forgive us! My friends, when I say this to you, I say it to myself. If I blame you, I blame myself. If I warn you, I warn myself. We most of us need warning in these comfortable times; for I believe that it is this very unrighteousness of ours which brings many of our losses and troubles on us. If we are so dull that we will not know the value of a thing when we have got it, then God teaches us the value of it by taking it from us. He teaches us the value of health by making us feel sickness; he teaches us the value of wealth by making us feel poverty. I do not say it is always so. God forbid. There are those who suffer bitter afflictions, not because they have sinned, but that, like the poor blind man, the glory of God may be made manifest in them. There are those too who suffer no sorrow at all, even though they feel, in their thoughtful moments, that they deserve it. And miserable enough should we all be, if God punished us every time we were ungrateful to him. If he dealt with us after our sins, and rewarded us according to our iniquities, where should we be this day?
But still, I cannot but believe that if we do go on in prosperity, careless and unthankful, we are running into danger; we are likely to bring down on ourselves some sorrow or anxiety which will teach us, which at least is meant to teach us -- from whom all good things come; and to know that the Lord has given, when the Lord has taken away.
God grant that when that lesson is sent to us we may learn it. Learn it, perhaps, at once, and in a moment, we cannot. Weak flesh and blood cannot enter into the kingdom of God, and see that he is ruling us, and all things, in love and justice; and our eyes are, as it were, dimmed with our tears, so that we cannot see God's handwriting upon the wall against us. But at length, when the first burst of sorrow is past, we may learn it; and, like righteous Job, justify God; saying, -- The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord. If we do that, and give God the glory, it may be with us, after all, as it was with Job, when God gave him back sevenfold for all that he had taken away, wealth and prosperity, sons and daughters. For God doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men out of spite. His punishments are not revenge, but correction; and, as a father, he chastises his children, not to harm, but to bless them.
And God grant that if that day, too, comes -- if after sorrow comes joy, if after storm comes sunshine -- we may not forget God afresh in our prosperity, nor go our ways like those dull-hearted Jews, after they were cleansed from their leprosy: but, like the Samaritan, return, and give glory to God, who gives, and delights in giving; and only takes away, that he may lift up our souls to him, in whom we live, and move, and have our being: and so, knowing who we are, and where we are, may live in God, and by God, and for God, in this life, and for ever.