A Lesson On Gratitude
Sermon preached by Pastor Alan Redpath in The Moody Church on Sunday, June 1, 1958.
What a difference it makes in life when we not only talk about thanks giving, but when thanks giving issues in thanks living!
For our meditation we are to consider Luke 17:11–19—the story of ten lepers. Though the Bible has many themes that run through it, and many chords assist in playing the great overtures of redemption, there is only one major theme that runs through it all—that of man’s relationship to God: a relationship which was broken long, long ago by rebellion, which God has done everything to restore in the person of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, and which in experience we may know in all its wonderful saving, sanctifying, delivering, satisfying power if we face the simple condition.
There are three great words in the Bible that describe different areas of experience in which every one of us must live; not that we live in them all at the same time. In fact, we only live in one of them at a time, and everyone who is reading this is living in one or other of these three areas of experience, and they are all illustrated in this story.
The first is a very solemn, almost terrifying word—the area of CONDEMNATION. The second, the area of JUSTIFICATION; the third, the area of SANCTIFICATION. And everybody is living in one or the other of these three experiences. Therefore, God has something to say from His Word not only to a few, but I trust to all. Certainly to all who have ears to listen and to hear the Word of God.
In Luke 17:12 we read, “As Jesus entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers which stood afar off.” Leprosy, all through the story of God’s Word, is the most dramatic and realistic picture of sin in the human heart. It is that because of its character: it was unclean. Each one of these men stood and cried, “Unclean!” It is a picture of sin because of its cure: there was no possibility of healing in those days. The only cure was cleansing, and the cure of leprosy demanded the intervention and the pronouncement of cleansing by the high priest. This was a spiritual matter. Leprosy is also a picture of sin because of the awfulness of its consequences: these ten men stood “afar off.”
Here then is our picture of the area of CONDEMNATION. Unclean. Incurable. Far off from God. That is the condition of every man and woman except there has been in your life a crisis in which God in Jesus Christ has intervened and brought you into a living relationship with Himself. But you say to me, “I don’t feel any of those things.” Well, you may not feel them, but that does not alter the truth of the fact. Let me remind you of some familiar words which explain this word “condemnation.” In John 3, the writer says, “God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth in him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already…and this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.”
Condemnation is not merely a fact of history but a fact that has been underlined by the personal choice of every one of us. The issue at stake decides not merely your happiness in this life, for nobody can be utterly, basically, deeply happy if they are not right with God. For the thing that distinguishes a man from an animal is that man is made for the enjoyment of God and to enjoy Him every day. This thing, therefore which not merely decides your personal happiness, but also decides your destiny in the life beyond, is your personal relationship to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. This is not something that is automatic, or that is established by your birth in a so-called Christian land. It is established in a moment of crisis when you reverse the choice, and instead of preferring darkness to light, you prefer the will of God, and desire above all to be adjusted to God rightly in the Lord Jesus. At that moment you step from condemnation into forgiveness and life. But this area of condemnation, of uncleanness, of incurableness, of a distance that is far removed from God is the experience of everyone today unless there has been a personal crisis in your life in which your own way has been yielded up to the will of God.
I cannot measure the distance of a man without God from his Creator. It is certainly not measurable by geography, and cannot be stated in miles. It is something that is measured in affinity, in desire, in appetite, in likeness. For instance, you may have two people who live under the same roof, such as husband and wife, but there may be complete estrangement and dislike, and there may be no living relationship. They may be geographically very close to each other, but spiritually poles apart. It is possible for somebody to be in The Moody Church and geographically to be very close to the Word of God, to be under the influence of the Spirit of God through music and message, but spiritually to be afar off.
The test of life is appetite; what, therefore, is your desire, your ambition; your personal greatest longing today? If you were to answer that question honestly, you would soon discover whether or not you are living in the realm of condemnation. For the man who lives in condemnation before God, out of adjustment with God and Jesus Christ, gives himself away every time by his appetites, his desires and his ambition. If you do not like the preacher declaring that you are incurable and afar off, test the statement by your appetite. Do you care for the things of God? Do you delight in His Word? Do you love to pray? Do you love the fellowship of His people? Is your delight in the law of your God? Do you love Him? Can you say, “My Jesus I love Thee, I know Thou art mine?” That is the test of life and spiritual experience.
Ten lepers, and they stood afar off in various stages, no doubt, of wistfulness, indifference, desire, defeat, remorse and bitterness, with various frames of mind and attitude, but they all stood in helpless condition afar off and cried, “Unclean!”
Our second word of experience—JUSTIFICATION. “When he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed” (v. 14). In order that the full impact of this story may grip our minds, let me paint you an imaginary picture of a scene which might well have taken place, shall we say, five years after this New Testament incident. Here are two men, and they meet casually in the market place of an Eastern town. Look at them well. One of them stands erect, holds himself straight—healthy, strong, fit. The other, twisted, deformed, marked, with face and hands pitted and scarred. You look at him with a sense of horror. You know that leprosy, though the contagion has gone, nevertheless the disease is still there. It only needs a casual glance for you to tell that this man has been once in the grip of this dread disease, and though now the malignancy is gone and he is no longer an active leper, nevertheless, he bears the marks of it in his life.
You go a little closer to the other man and if you examine him with close scrutiny, you find certain places; perhaps his beard is a little tougher than the rest, on his face and hands maybe in one or two places there are slight marks. And after a careful examination, you would know that he too has been a leper, but to all intents and purposes he is set free. As they talk together the conversation runs like this: The strong man looks at this poor fellow and he says to him, “Seen you before somewhere, haven’t I?” And there is no look of recognition from that woeful countenance. “Tell me,” he said, “have you ever met Jesus?” “Oh, yes, I did once, have you?” “Of course I have. Tell me,” he adds, “were you one of ten of us? Nine of you were Jews—and you were kind enough to ask a Samaritan, a stranger like me, to join you. And we agreed together that we would go and see if Jesus would cleanse us. Do you remember that?” “Oh, yes, I remember that well, but I don’t recognize you. You weren’t one of us, were you?” “Oh, yes, I was! I was the Samaritan!” “But you don’t look as if you had ever been a leper.” “Ah, that’s the greatest story of my life.” “Oh, I remember. When we were on our way back, you suddenly stopped and turned round in your tracks and said you must go and thank Him. And we said goodbye to you and we haven’t seen you since. And you went back?” “Yes, I went back and I fell at His feet and with a heart that was melted and with a life that was just poured out in gratitude, I just fell in worship and thanksgiving and adoration, and I told Him with all my heart that I loved Him. And then He turned to me and He said, ‘Thy faith hath made thee whole.’” “Oh, if only I had gone back!” Nine were cleansed. One was made whole. Nine negatively were saved from the disease. One was made positively whole and healthy and strong, and delivered from every trace of its grip. Nine knew that this dreadful thing which kept them back and kept them at a distance and no longer need they call, “Unclean.” One not merely walked and talked with others, but he was set free and he was so transformed that his own wife wouldn’t have known him. In the company of his friends he was utterly transformed and different. “As they went,” says verse 14, “they were cleansed.” But says the 19th verse “Jesus said to the stranger, Go thy way, thy faith hath made thee whole.” Here then is the negative and positive aspect of Christian experience. Here on the one hand is justification, and on the other hand sanctification. Here is a man saved from the dreadful disease of sin, who is no longer at a distance, and whose relationship with God is established. Negatively, he is saved from death and the penalty of sin: he is justified. But here is another man and he is not only saved negatively from sin’s penalty; but positively he is made holy: delivered, and saved.
Rock of ages cleft for me
Let me hide myself in Thee,
Let the water and the blood
From thy riven side which flowed
Be of sin the double cure
Save me from its guilt and power.
What does our Lord say about this? When He saw them, He said unto them, “Go! Show yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass that as they went they were cleansed.” How may this relationship with God be established and this distance from the great Shepherd of your soul be removed, so that you can enter into the experience of a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ? “As they went, they were cleansed.” Jesus said to them, “Go! Show yourselves to the priests,” and only a cleansed leper was allowed to do that. It is as much as saying upon the authority of His statement that the moment they cried for mercy (and this was all they could do) He said, “Right! Go and show yourselves to the priests,” and that meant that at that moment they were clean. Without any strange emotional feeling, without any evidence at all that they were ever any different, only conscious of the disease upon them they obeyed the words that Jesus spoke to them and went their way, and lo and behold the miracle was accomplished and they were cleansed! In other words they simply fulfilled the verse of the lovely hymn that we often sing:
Trust and obey for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
How is a man justified with God and how is the relationship established? “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). A man is made right with God, not through his own merit, or effort, or religion, or indeed through anything he deserves, because he only deserves hell; but a man is made right with God by the undeserved kindness of Jesus Christ our Lord on the basis of what He did for all of us on the Cross of Calvary. He is justified by grace. But more still: “Being now justified by his blood” Romans 5:9, he is justified by blood. There is nothing that I may do that I may get right with God. I may do so without costing me a thing as the free gift of God’s grace, but it has cost Him blood and sweat and toil and tears. It has cost Him Calvary. I am justified freely by His blood. Not upon my merit, but upon His do I depend.
Nothing can for sin atone, nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Naught of good that I have done, nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Still more: “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). He is justified by faith. That is our side of the transaction and to you who live in the area of condemnation, I say that the grace of God and the power of the blood of Jesus are prepared today to meet your faith, and as you believe the Word of God without any evidence whatsoever you are cleansed.
What a tremendous thing it is that we who were one time afar off have been made nigh by His blood! (Ephesians 2:13). What did we say the state of the condemned soul is? It is unclean, incurable, at a distance. What is the state of a justified soul? Cleansed from every whit of sin. Cured from it, and made nigh by the blood of Jesus. Are you a Christian? Has the relationship been established? Even so, that is not enough. When a fellow falls in love with a girl and they get married, that is not the end but just the beginning. Do you mean to tell me that any man or woman is satisfied simply with attending the service, signing the marriage register and receiving the certificate, and then the relationship has been established? How utterly insufficient and inadequate that would be! The relationship that has been established is established for our enjoyment.
So, therefore, we have another word here: “SANCTIFICATION.” It is possible to be clean, but not made whole; to be saved from the guilt of our sins, but to know nothing of deliverance from the power of them. It is possible for a man to have life, but not life more abundant, for a man to be on the right side of Calvary, but on the wrong side of Pentecost. We can be satisfied with having been put right with God, and with a relationship that is established and secure by the merit of the blood of the Cross, but to have no more. “Saved,” says the apostle, “as by fire.” It is possible to know that, and yet to know nothing of a life that has been made whole, that is lived under the authority of the Saviour, and has been made healthy, strong and delivered.
In its primary meaning the word “sanctification” means “To be set apart,” but it also means “to be made holy.” “For your sakes,” said the Lord Jesus. “I sanctify myself” (John 17:19). “I set myself apart, I give myself utterly to the task of your full salvation. I give myself for this one supreme thing to bring you faultless into the presence of the Father’s glory with exceeding joy. To that end I sanctify myself, I give myself to you for it.”
Today the Christian church is afraid of cults and creeds, holiness and dogma and doctrine, and is confused, therefore, in its experience, baffled in its powerlessness, and defeated in its responsibility to the world. We may know something of justification, but mighty little of what it means to be made whole, and yet the Lord Jesus says…and, oh, that His voice might pierce to the depths of your soul…”For your sake I set myself apart. What are you doing for Me?” This is the positive side of salvation. The woman of Samaria, as recorded in John 4, was converted and her immoral life ceased; she was justified, but five minutes later she became a missionary and her life of sin became a life of service and surrender. That strange little fellow who collected income tax, (and therefore, was disliked by everybody!) Zacchaeus, sat up in a tree, and came down with such a shock when the Lord Jesus called him and he was justified, but a moment later he was saying, “If I have taken anything by false accusation, I restore it four fold. The half of my goods I give to the poor.” That was the end of greed, and the entrance of generosity, for the man was yielded. I know that justification and sanctification are two truths that positionally are one, that in the sight of heaven the moment a man establishes that relationship then he is set apart in the mind of God for His service. But supposing the man does not respond and yield, or come back to Calvary and say thank you? You have a wasted life, a worldly Christian, a defeated and immoral life. Yes! A miserable existence. No happiness, no joy, no reality, but just one of these people that are called “nominal” Christians that are the menace of the Christian faith and always have been.
But this Samaritan, we are told, fell down on his face at Jesus’ feet. Sanctification, this third area of experience, though it may be yours at the moment when the relationship of God is established, only begins to be real and to grow and become a reality when that very thing has happened to you, and without any reservation you have fallen on your face at the feet of your adorable Lord, and handed over everything to Him. You are His. And I want to say with utter sincerity that there is no substitute in the Christian life whatsoever for just that. It is not then trying to be holy; it is not even power to be holy. No! It is something even more wonderful: it is the imparting of His holiness, the Divine nature coming in all fullness into the life. He has been there from the moment of conversion, but has been denied operation, and power, and resisted time and time again by worldly nominal Christians.
We pray that the Spirit would come, and that we may have His blessing upon us, but what we need is not power to be holy but the imparting of His holiness into the life. We need to be set free in answer to our utter, complete surrender to the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus. That is the kind of gratitude that knits the heart to the Lord Jesus in such a precious intimate lovely bond of union and fellowship such as so many even professing Christians today know so little about.
Our story began with ten men standing afar off crying, “Unclean!” Then we saw nine men cleansed and justified but bearing the marks of it all the rest of their lives. Anybody could tell the kind of people they had been, for they were still marked and pitted by their sin. But the story ends with one man not standing afar off, but on his face at the feet of Jesus in worship and surrender, and from that moment he has gone out with a radiance and holiness, a healthiness and a deliverance that is the portion of all who are prepared for the same step in their lives.
Lord Jesus, I long to be perfectly whole,
I want Thee forever to live in my soul;
Break down every idol, cast out ever foe,
Now wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.
Which area of experience are you living in today? Condemnation, justification or sanctification? This service began with a number of people in The Moody Church, some perhaps in one area, some in another, and some in the third. How is it going to end? You can answer that question, and may grace be given you to answer it in the will of God that it may not only be that you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the relationship has been established and you have accepted His Word and believed it, but above all you have surrendered and yielded your life to the Lordship of the King of kings and He has made you whole. The marks of the past life have gone and the effect of years spent in sin have been removed, and though the potential of evil is still within you, yet, thank God, the power of it is broken by the blood and by the Holy Spirit.