Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
by J.C. Ryle
John Charles Ryle
"And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live." -Luke 10:25-28
We should notice in this passage — the solemn question which was addressed to our Lord Jesus Christ. We are told that a certain lawyer asked Him, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" The motive of this man was evidently not right. He only asked this question to "test" our Lord, and to provoke Him to say something on which His enemies might lay hold of. Yet the question he propounded was undoubtedly one of the deepest importance.
It is a question which deserves the principal attention of every man, woman, and child on earth. We are all sinners — dying sinners, and sinners going to be judged after death. "How shall our sins be pardoned? With what shall we come before God? How shall we escape the damnation of Hell? Where shall we flee from the wrath to come? What must we do to be saved?" These are inquiries which people of every rank ought to put to themselves — and never rest until they find an answer.
It is a question which unhappily few care to consider. Thousands are constantly inquiring, "What shall we eat? What shall we drink? With what shall we be clothed? How can we get money? How can we enjoy ourselves? How can we prosper in the world?"
Few, very few — will ever give a moment's thought to the salvation of their souls. They hate the subject. It makes them uncomfortable. They turn from it and put it away. Faithful and true is that saying of our Lord's, "Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads unto destruction — and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life — and only a few find it." (Matthew 7:13-14.)
Let us not be ashamed of putting the lawyer's question to our own souls. Let us rather ponder it, think about it — and never be content until it fills the first place in our minds. Let us seek to have the witness of the Spirit within us — that we repent truly of sin, that we have a living faith in God's mercy through Christ, and that we are really walking with God. This is the character of the heirs of eternal life. These are those who shall one day receive the kingdom prepared for the children of God.
We should notice, secondly, in this passage — the high honor which our Lord Jesus Christ places on the Bible. He refers the lawyer at once to the Scriptures, as the only rule of faith and practice. He does not say in reply to his question, "What does the Jewish Church say about eternal life? What do the Scribes, and Pharisees, and priests think? What is taught on the subject in the traditions of the elders?"
He takes a far simpler and more direct course. He sends his questioner at once to the writings of the Old Testament, "What is written in the Law? What do you read there?"
Let the principle contained in these words, be one of the foundation principles of our Christianity. Let the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible, be the rule of our faith and practice. Holding this principle, we travel upon the king's highway. The road may sometimes seem narrow, and our faith may be severely tried — but we shall not be allowed greatly to err. Departing from this principle, we enter on a pathless wilderness. There is no telling what we may be led to believe or do. Forever let us bear this in mind. Here let us cast anchor. Here let us abide.
It matters nothing who says a thing in religion — whether an ancient father, or a modern bishop, or a learned theologian.
Is it in the Bible? Can it be proved by the Bible? If not, then it is not to be believed.
It matters nothing how beautiful and clever sermons or religious books may appear. Are they in the smallest degree contrary to Scripture? If they are, they are rubbish and poison, and guides of no value!
What does the Scripture say? This is the only rule, and measure, and gauge of religious truth. "To the law and to the testimony," says Isaiah, "if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." (Isaiah 8:20.)
We should notice, lastly, in this passage — the clear knowledge of duty to God and man, which the Jews in our Lord's time possessed. We read that the lawyer said, in reply to our Lord's question, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." That was well spoken. A clearer description of daily practical duty could not be given by the most thoroughly instructed Christian in the present day. Let not this be forgotten.
The words of the lawyer are very instructive in two points of view. They throw a strong light on two subjects, about which many mistakes abound.
For one thing, they show us how great were the privileges of religious knowledge which the Jews enjoyed under the Old Testament — compared to the heathen world. A nation which possessed such principles of duty as those now before us — was immeasurably in advance of Greece and Rome.
For another thing, the lawyer's words show us how much clear head-knowledge a person may possess, while his heart is full of wickedness! Here is a man who talks of loving God with all his soul, and loving his neighbor as himself — while he is actually "tempting" Christ, and trying to do Him harm, and, anxious to justify himself and make himself out a charitable man!
Let us ever beware of this kind of religion. Clear knowledge of the head, when accompanied by determined impenitence of heart — is a most dangerous state of soul. "If you know these things," says Jesus, "happy are you if you do them." (John 13:17.)
Let us not forget, in leaving this passage, to apply the high standard of duty which it contains, to our own hearts, and to prove our own selves. Do we love God with all our heart, and soul, and strength, and mind? Do we love our neighbor as ourselves? Where is the person that could say with perfect truth, "I do?" Where is the man that ought not to lay his hand on his mouth, when he hears these questions? Truly we are all guilty in this matter! The best of us, however holy we may be, come far short of perfection. Passages like this, should teach us our need of Christ's blood and righteousness. To Him we must go — if we would ever stand with boldness at the bar of God. From Him we must seek grace — that the love of God and man may become ruling principles of our lives. In Him we must abide — that we may not forget our principles, and that we may show the world that by them we desire to live.
But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor? And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his clothing, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. 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, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatever you spend more, when I come again, I will repay you. Which now of these three, think you, was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He who showed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do you likewise.
These words contain the well-known parable of the good Samaritan. In order to understand the drift of this parable, we must carefully remember the occasion on which it was spoken. It was spoken in reply to the question of a certain lawyer, who asked, "who is my neighbor?" Our Lord Jesus Christ answers that question by telling the story we have just read — and winds up the narrative by an appeal to the lawyer's conscience. Let these things not be forgotten. The object of the parable is to show the nature of true charity and brotherly love. To lose sight of this object, and search for deep allegories in the parable — is to trifle with Scripture, and deprive our souls of most valuable lessons.
We are taught, first, in this parable — how rare and uncommon true brotherly love is. This is a lesson which stands out prominently on the face of the narrative before our eyes. Our Lord tells us of a traveler who fell among thieves, and was left naked, wounded, and half dead on the road. He then tells us of a priest and a Levite, who, one after the other, came traveling that way, and saw the poor wounded man — but gave him no help. Both were men, who from their religious office and profession, ought to have been ready and willing to do good to one in distress. But both, in succession, were too selfish, or too unfeeling to offer the slightest assistance. They doubtless reasoned with themselves — that they knew nothing of the wounded traveler — that he had perhaps got into trouble by his own misconduct — that they had no time to stop to help him — and that they had enough to do to mind their own business, without troubling themselves with strangers. And the result was, that one after the other — they both "passed by on the other side."
We have in this striking description, an exact picture of what is continually going on in the world. Selfishness is the leading characteristic of the great majority of mankind. That cheap charity which costs nothing more than a trifling contribution, is common enough. But that self-sacrificing kindness of heart, which cares not what trouble is entailed, so long as good can be done — is a grace which is rarely met with. There are still thousands in trouble who can find no friend or helper. And there are still hundreds of "priests and Levites" who see them — but "pass by on the other side."
Let us beware of expecting much from the kindness of man. If we do — then we shall certainly be disappointed. The longer we live, the more clearly we shall see that few people care for others — except from self-serving motives — and that unselfish, pure brotherly love, is as scarce as diamonds and rubies! How thankful we ought to be that the Lord Jesus Christ is not like man! His kindness and love are unfailing. He never disappoints any of His friends. Happy are those who have learned to say, "My soul, wait only upon God — my expectation is from Him." (Psalm 62:5.)
We are taught, secondly, in this parable — who they are to whom we should show kindness, and whom we are to love as neighbors. We are told that the only person who helped the wounded traveler, of whom we are reading, was a certain Samaritan. This man was one of a nation who had "no dealings" with the Jews. (John 4:9.) He might have excused himself by saying that the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was through the Jewish territory — and that cases of distress ought to be cared for by the Jews. But he does nothing of the sort. He sees a man stripped of his clothing, and lying half dead. He asks no questions, but at once has compassion on him. He makes no difficulties or excuses, but at once gives aid. And our Lord says to us, "Go and do likewise!"
Now, if these words mean anything, a Christian ought to be ready to show kindness and brotherly love to every one who is in need. Our kindness must not merely extend to our families, and friends, and relations. We must love all men, and be kind to all — whenever occasion requires. We must beware of an excessive strictness in scrutinizing the past lives of those who need our aid. Are they in real trouble? Are they in real distress? Do they really need help? Then, according to the teaching of this parable — we ought to be ready to assist them.
We should regard the whole world as our parish — and the whole race of mankind as our neighbors. We should seek to be the friend of every one who is oppressed, or neglected, or afflicted, or sick, or in prison, or poor, or an orphan, or a heathen, or a slave, or starving, or dying. We should exhibit such world-wide friendship — no doubt, wisely, discreetly, and with good sense — but of such friendship we never need be ashamed. The ungodly may sneer at it as foolish and fanaticism. But we need not mind that. To be friendly to all men in this way, is to show something of the mind that was in Christ.
We are taught, lastly, in this parable — after what manner, and to what extent we are to show kindness and love to others. We are told that the Samaritan's compassion towards the wounded traveler was not confined to feelings and passive impressions. He took much trouble to give him help. He acted — as well as felt. He spared no pains or expense in befriending him. The man was a stranger to him — nevertheless he went to him, bound up his wounds, set him on his own donkey, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
Nor was this all. On the next day he gave the host of the inn money, saying, "Take care of him, and whatever more you spend on him — I will repay you when I come back." And our Lord says to each of us, "Go and do likewise."
The lesson of this part of the parable is plain and unmistakable. The kindness of a Christian towards others should not be in word and in tongue only — but in deed and in truth. His love should be a practical love — a love which entails on him self-sacrifice and self-denial, both in money, and time, and trouble. His charity should be seen not merely in his talking, but his acting — not merely in his profession, but in his practice. He should think it no misspent time to work as hard in doing good to those who need help — as others work in trying to get money for themselves. He should not be ashamed to toil as much to make the misery of this world rather smaller — as those toil who hunt or fish all day long. He should have a ready ear for every tale of sorrow, and a ready hand to help every one in affliction — so long as he has the power. The world may not understand such brotherly love. The returns of gratitude which such love meets with, may be few and small. But to show such brotherly love, is to walk in the steps of Christ — and to reduce the parable of the good Samaritan to practice.
And now let us leave the parable with grave thoughts and deep searchings of heart. How few Christians seem to remember that such a parable was ever written! What an enormous amount of stinginess, and selfishness, and suspicion there is to be seen in the Church — even among people who believe the gospel and go to the Lord's table! How seldom do we see a man who is really kind, and feeling, and generous, and liberal and good-natured — except to himself and his family! Yet the Lord Jesus Christ spoke the parable of the good Samaritan, and meant it to be remembered.
What are we ourselves? Let us not forget to put that question to our hearts. What are we doing, each in our own station, to prove that this mighty parable is one of the rules of our daily life? What are we doing for the heathen — at home and abroad? What are we doing to help those who are troubled in mind, body, or estate? There are many such in this world. There are always some near our own door. What are we doing for them? Anything — or nothing at all? May God help us to answer these questions! The world would be a happier world — if there was more practical Christianity.