Luke 10:37
Great Texts of the Bible
The Good Samaritan

And Jesus said unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.—Luke 10:37.

The story of the good Samaritan is one of our Lord’s greatest and most typical parables. It is so simple that a child can read its meaning; yet it is in truth a treatise on practical ethics more profound in thought and more powerful in effect than any other in the world. Is it too much to say that in these few verses there is contained the essential truth of man’s relations with his fellow-men? Our very familiarity with the parable blinds us to the greatness of its mingled simplicity and depth and—let us add—to the greatness of the claim which it makes upon us.1 [Note: Archbishop C. G. Lang, The Parables of Jesus, 123.]

As we grow older and as things change around us, the old becomes ever new. We look upon the record from a different point of sight, and the parts group themselves together in new combinations. We look upon it in a new light, and what perhaps we had not noticed before grows radiant with unexpected brightness. It is so with the parable now before us. I suppose that we can never read it thoughtfully without finding some fresh power in it to meet new circumstances; and at the same time the central truths of the Divine narrative always rise sharp and clear before us to crown each special lesson which it supplies.2 [Note: Bishop B. F. Westcott, Village Sermons, 342.]

In order to understand the parable we must first of all understand the question with which the lawyer came to Jesus and His reply. Then will follow the truths taught in the parable itself. When we understand the parable we shall see the meaning and feel the force of the exhortation contained in the text.


The First Question and its Answer

The lawyer put two questions to Christ. The first question he came for the purpose of asking, the second he found himself compelled to ask.

1. Christ was in Capernaum. And while He was there a certain lawyer stood up and tempted Him, saying, “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” This lawyer was not a lawyer in our acceptation of the name; he was a man versed in the precepts and ceremonies of the Mosaic law, and also in the commandments and traditions with which meddling priests and scribes had thickly incrusted that law until it became a burden too heavy to be borne. He stood up before the Saviour to tempt Him. The word clearly shows—for its meaning is always a bad one in the New Testament—that his aim was not to elicit truth but to lay a trap for Christ, to entangle Him in His talk. He was a type of the captious critic, whom you can still find in every street and lane of the city. Nothing could be more solemn and profound than his question; and nothing more unseemly and self-defeating than the spirit in which it was propounded.

He who came to sneer may have departed to pray. Many an incautious seeker has found more than he really sought. The light of conviction has broken in upon men who were not even honest in their doubt. Paul was never more furious against Jesus than on the day of his conversion. More than one scoffer has gone to church to ridicule his wife’s religion and has gone home to beseech his wife’s God for mercy. One of the most remarkable preachers of early Methodism was converted at a meeting which he attended solely for the purpose of breaking it up. He meant to drive out the preacher, but the truth hooked in his soul. Contest against truth is never hopeful. The keenest blade is soft metal against the “sword of the Spirit.” God is a terrible antagonist. So, however bitter or cynical the spirit of this lawyer may have been, I am confident he carried away in his soul the barb of conviction.1 [Note: G. C. Peck, Vision and Task, 259.]

(1) The question is one which has been asked many times, springing to the heart and to the lips of many people, distressed, perhaps, by the consciousness of wrong, or lifted up perhaps to catch, as it were, the faint murmurs of some more beautiful world in some more beautiful time; or perhaps in the hour in which, conscious of the transitoriness of this life and the hateful persistence of material things, we have asked whether it is possible for us to take hold of some abiding vitality which will remain with us among the perishing things of this world.

The answer of Christ was in the form of a question, the best form in most cases where the motive of the inquirer lacks genuineness and reality. “What is written in the law? how readest thou?” Here was a lawyer, who read the law, studied the law, expounded the law, and he was sent to the law for an answer to his query. “How readest thou?” There seems to have been no hesitation in his reply. With wonderful coolness he gives the condensed summary and essence of the moral law, “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.”

(2) The man’s question was far too urgent and important to be dealt with merely by describing what would be intellectually in harmony with the question at issue, and therefore Jesus Christ immediately made an appeal to the man’s conscience. He said: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God”; then said Jesus Christ: “That is right; this do, go on doing this, and thou shalt live.” That is the appeal to the conscience.

When we were leaving Liverpool, after my father’s death, I went with my mother, as she wished to bid “Good-bye” to Dr. McNeile. As we were leaving, my mother mentioned that I was to be ordained before long. “Oh!” he said, “I wish I had known that.” Then, coming near to me, he laid his hand upon my shoulder, and he said, “At first you will think that you can do everything, then you will be tempted to think that you can do nothing; but don’t let yourself be cast down: you will learn that you can do what God has for you to do.”1 [Note: Bishop Boyd Carpenter, Some Pages of My Life, 117.]

2. Christ has touched the man’s conscience; He has pricked the side of his moral sense, and you will see the indication of that in a moment. What is the refuge—the almost continuous refuge—of those whose consciences are just slightly disturbed? The refuge usually is a resort to a dialectical argument, and therefore the man immediately begins to enter into an argument. He wishes now to raise a side-issue, and he asks: “Who is my neighbour?”

(1) Here is a question which might be debated for days, for years, and yet not be fully answered, for it was exactly one of those questions which were so dear to those who in the Jewish world were anxious to make out that the privileges of Israel still existed. It is written: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour”; but “if all the Gentiles should fall into the sea you are not bound to draw them forth, for these are not thy neighbours”—that was the idea of the Jew. Therefore the question of what was the line of demarcation, the line of locality, or blood, or personality, or geographical or racial claim that constituted the difference between the man who was a neighbour and the man who was not a neighbour—those were the little dialectical questions which delighted the Jewish mind; and so the man, feeling that Christ has winged a shaft right into his conscience, begins immediately to turn the flank of the argument, as it were, and to enter upon a dialectical discussion. It is the refuge of the stricken conscience which wishes to evade that which is brought straight before the moral sense. This is the next step. When Jesus Christ perceives that He has stricken this man’s conscience, and that he does not realize that the real difficulty of his life is that he has had magnificent theories which as yet have not been fully translated into action, then, knowing that the man’s conscience is awake, He begins to strike for the man’s heart.

(2) In answer to his second question, “Who is my neighbour?” Christ told him the parable of the good Samaritan. Now consider the deep principle of human conduct—we might almost call it the philosophy of life—which the parable contains. We discover the clue to it when we notice that the parable does not answer the lawyer’s question. The question was: “Who is my neighbour?” The parable tells what it is to be neighbourly. It seems to be a case of logical non sequitur. In fact, it is a case of the truth which is deeper than logic. Our Lord could not teach the truth by answering the question. For the question itself was wrong; it revealed a wrong temperament of mind. It was facing not truth but fundamental error; to follow it would therefore have been to lose the truth. The lawyer, steeped in all the traditions and instincts of his class, wanted our Lord to give him a clear and precise definition of his neighbour; to mark him out, and set him apart from the general mass of mankind. But definition means limitation. If our Lord had said, “This man is your neighbour,” the inference in the lawyer’s mind would have been, “Then that other is not my neighbour; I need not concern myself with him; I can pass him by.” But this conclusion would have been the very error which Jesus came to banish. He could put the man right only by declining to answer the question; by taking him to a wholly different standpoint, and making him start there, namely—“Be in your own spirit neighbourly, and then every man will be your neighbour.”

In our religious and moral difficulties we throw out some question as a sort of challenge, persuading ourselves that it is really decisive. Often it remains unanswered. We are disappointed, discomfited. Under such failure of their self-chosen test questions, men often give up their faith or surrender their moral struggle. But, apart from the petulance, the impetuosity, or the effort to “justify oneself” which a little honest self-scrutiny would often discover in our questions, and which are sufficient to deprive them of any right to an answer, God’s wisdom may see that they spring from a wrong attitude of mind, that they are not facing the line of truth, and therefore may refuse to answer them. But all the while in some other way, at the moment perhaps not discerned, He may be leading us to the truth. While our mind remains a blank as to that particular difficulty which we thought of such crucial importance, He may be bringing some other truth before us, or shaping our lives by some special experience, so that after a time we shall find, perhaps without knowing how, that that old question has been answered in some other way, or has been proved futile or superfluous.1 [Note: C. G. Lang.]

There are, who darkling and alone,

Would wish the weary night were gone,

Though dawning day should only show

The secret of their unknown woe;

Who pray for sharpest throbs of pain

To ease them of doubt’s galling chain:

“Only disperse the cloud,” they cry,

“And if our fate be death, give light and let us die.”

Unwise I deem them, Lord, unmeet

To profit by Thy chastenings sweet,

For Thou wouldst have us linger still

Upon the verge of good or ill,

That on Thy guiding hand unseen

Our individual hearts may lean,

And this our frail and foundering bark

Glide in the narrow wake of Thy beloved ark,

So be it, Lord; I know it best,

Though not as yet this wayward breast

Beat quite in answer to Thy voice;

Yet surely I have made my choice:

I know not yet the promised bliss,

Know not if I shall win or miss;

So doubting, rather let me die,

Than close with aught beside, to last eternally.1 [Note: John Keble, The Christian Year.]


The Lessons of the Parable

The road from Jerusalem to Jericho, which nature has blasted with sterility, Christ has refreshed with a tale of the most delicious humanity. That tale, if regarded merely as a picture of the time—as painting with a few strokes its most marked forms of character, and distributing their genuine colours over its peculiar prejudices, vices and miseries, possesses inimitable beauty. There is the Priest, whom we are accustomed to see amid the stir of Jerusalem—the very model of pompous piety, the master of sanctimonious ceremonies, beating his breast in the market-place, and stretching forth his hands at the corners of the streets, the scrupulous adviser of the people’s conscience. We are invited to see him on the solitary ride. His back turned to the metropolis, he is a saint no more; he performs no charities among the hills; delivered from the public eye, he breaks loose from the moralities of life and the reverence of God. There is the Levite, a kind of menial of the sacerdotal order, whose conduct towards “him that fell among thieves” is true to his usual mimicry of the priests, with whose interests his own are interwoven, and whose habits and hypocrisy he copies to the life. And there is the Samaritan—half foreigner, half apostate, and more wholly outcast than if he had been idolater downright—the object of irritating historical recollection, the living memorial of captivity and schism, the centre of a hate both national and religious. With no office, or dignified caste, like the others, to protect him from peril by their sanctity, but traversing a hostile country, he stops to bind the wounds of a stranger.

No one has made the “Good Samaritan” so real to the soul’s eye as Watts in his picture of that name. It ceases to be a parable; it becomes a vivid incident of daily life. The naked, dead-alive condition of the Jew who had fallen among thieves, clinging with a despairing grip to the supporting arm of the stranger who has come at the last extremity to his help; the benevolent face of that stranger and alien—so full of pity, so capable to save, so prompt to interpose, could not possibly have been presented in a more graphic way; while the lonely, desolate region, half-way between Jerusalem and Jericho, is depicted with a magic touch which adds immensely to the pathos of the scene. The whole story is seen as by a lightning flash, and it makes its appeal to the heart in a manner which cannot be resisted. “Go, and do thou likewise” is felt with irresistible power by every one who gazes upon that moving sight, and the selfishness that would make one pass by on the other side, and disclaim all connexion with a human brother in distress, whose creed and conditions of life are different from ours, becomes impossible.1 [Note: Hugh Macmillan, Life-Work of George Frederic Watts, 163.]

A Priest and Levite both passed by,

Sent out perchance, to vainly try

To do some good, in fashion high,

Upon the road to Jericho.

But praises of Jerusalem

A wounded sinner would condemn.

This fallen soul was not for them,

Nor journeys down to Jericho.

Their words he would not understand,

Their solemn priestly reprimand.

He needed but a helping hand

Upon the road to Jericho.

So both passed by on the other side.

But soon, a man who dare not chide

Came by, then stopped to save and guide

This traveller to Jericho.

He helped him up; he cheered him on;

He bound his bruises one by one;

And ere the daylight quite was gone

Their backs were turned to Jericho.

And still the good Samaritan,

With friendly words, as man to man,

And deeds which mercy far outran,

Stayed him who’d go to Jericho.

Oh, more than ritualistic power,

To guard and help in danger’s hour,

When clouds of sin and trouble lower

Upon the road to Jericho,

Is th’ good Samaritan’s command.

And may we all well understand

The value of this friendly hand,

Should we go down to Jericho.1 [Note: M. A. B. Evans, The Moonlight Sonata, 45.]

1. Religious profession and service have no necessary connexion with real goodness.—This lesson gleams through the whole narrative. Here, for example, we have two Jews, both of them occupying official positions in the Temple worship and service, and yet neither of them possessed of the common sympathies of humanity, but both of them capable of seeing a fellow-mortal in suffering, extreme and possibly fatal, without devising for him any succour. Where should pity have been found if not in a priest of the Most High God? What did his very priesthood signify? In what had it its birth? Was he not a symbolic mediator between God and men? Had he not to deal with a service which culminated in a mercy-seat? A true priesthood implies a compassionate and forgiving God. A true priest was taken from among the people that he might have compassion on the ignorant and on them that were out of the way. As the representative of Him who pities the distressed, and whose tender mercies are over all His works, it was natural to expect that he would have succoured the pillaged and bleeding traveller. But it is clear that men may have much to do with religious service and have nothing to do with religion.

The deadening influence of mere officialism was so keenly felt and feared by the Apostle Paul that he roused into activity every energy of his nature that he might vanquish it. He was an apostle, but he was fearful lest he should forget that he was a man. He had to blow the trumpet, and summon others to the battle with self and sin, but he was apprehensive lest he should neglect his own soul; and hence, with stirring earnestness and subduing pathos, he says, “I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”1 [Note: E. Mellor, The Hem of Christ’s Garment, 185.]

Professor D. B. Towner, who was associated with Mr. Moody for the last fourteen years of his life, says: “After his meetings in Oakland, Cal., in the spring of 1899, when I accompanied him as a singer, we took the train for Santa Cruz. We were hardly seated when in came a party of young men, one of whom was considerably under the influence of liquor and very badly bruised, with one eye completely closed and terribly discoloured. He at once recognized Mr. Moody, and began to sing hymns and talk very loudly for his benefit. Mr. Moody caught up his bag and said, ‘Towner, let us get out of this.’ When I reminded him that the other car was full, he settled down, protesting that the company should not allow a drunken man to insult the whole car in such a manner. Presently the conductor came, and Mr. Moody called his attention to the poor fellow in the rear of the car. The conductor attended to his duty, and when he reached the young man he said a few words to him in a low voice, and the fellow followed him into the baggage car, where he bathed his eye and bound it up with his handkerchief, after which the young man soon fell asleep. Mr. Moody sat musing for a time, and then said, ‘Towner, that is an awful rebuke to me. I preached against Pharisaism last night to a crowd, and exhorted them to imitate the Good Samaritan; and now this morning God has given me an opportunity to practise what I preached, and I find I have both feet in the shoes of the priest and Levite.’ He was reticent all the way to Santa Cruz, but he told the incident that night to the audience, confessing his humiliation.”2 [Note: W. R. Moody, The Life of Dwight L. Moody, 439.]

2. Men may be neighbours though of different religious beliefs.—Our Lord does not say that to be neighbourly a man must be of the Jewish religion, or of the Samaritan religion, or of any other religion. The Priest and the Levite were very religious; but, in spite of their religion, they were grossly unneighbourly. Notwithstanding their high religious rank, they were as cold and heartless as the most blatant infidel could be. On the other hand, the Samaritan was neighbourly, not because he was a religious man, but right in the teeth of his religious teaching. The best Samaritan lover of God, according to his creed, was the best Samaritan hater of the religion of his neighbours in Judæa; just as among ourselves, the most approved Protestant is by some thought to be the most bitter anti-Catholic demonstrator.

A clergyman wrote to me, “I am a Calvinist; belief in the Incarnation appears to me indispensable to salvation, and to my recognition of any one as a child of God. But I confess that the enormous difficulty of at least apparent facts staggers me; one of the most perfect characters I know is an aged Unitarian lady; but then are there not most exemplary people to be found who deny all Christianity in every shape and form? The more I think of it the more perplexed I am.”1 [Note: J. Martineau, National Duties, 184.]

Some time ago, dismasted and waterlogged on the boundless sea, a barque had drifted about, until it was one thousand miles from any land, and all hope of relief had died out from the minds of her starving crew. The cry, “A ship! a ship!” roused the dying energies of the men, and at once shawls and shirts on the ends of oars and boat-hooks were waved as signals of distress. The stranger vessel changed her course and bore down upon the miserable wreck. The wretched sufferers tried with united voice to send a cry of welcome over the waves, and when they recognized their country’s flag they rejoiced at the sure prospect of relief. We cannot realize what they felt as help drew near, after having for days anticipated an awful death, but still less can we imagine their awful revulsion of feeling, and the howl of despair which rent the air, when the vessel, sailing near enough to see the ghastly wretches in their destitute condition, stayed in its course, tacked about, and sailed away, leaving them to their fate. Nor was this all; the same thing had been done by another vessel previously, which also bore their country’s flag and colours. So they endured the tortures of Tantalus, and abandoned themselves to despair. When death had thinned their numbers, and all were laid helpless, suddenly, by God’s pity, a Norwegian vessel sailed across their path. Compassion filled the hearts of the foreign sailors, and tender succour was afforded them. Nor was it until the last survivor had been carried on board the ship that they left the wreck to drift away, a derelict coffin, with its unburied dead.2 [Note: W. J. Townsend.]

3. Need is the measure of neighbourliness.—Max Müller said that to the Greek every man not speaking Greek was a barbarian; to the Jew every man not circumcised was a Gentile; to the Muhammadan every man not believing in the prophet of Arabia was an infidel. “It was Christianity that struck the word ‘barbarian’ from the dictionaries of mankind and replaced it with the word ‘brother.’ ” Under the influence of the teaching and spirit of Christ we are coming to see that all men everywhere are neighbours, and that it is open to us to do something to help the wounded pilgrim on life’s highway.

Longfellow spoke of his feelings at a banquet when so many were in the outer darkness and in direst need. He spoke of the poverty-stricken millions who challenge our wine and bread; and impeach us all as traitors, the living and the dead.

And whenever I sit at the banquet,

Where the feast and song are high,

Amid the mirth, and the music

I can hear that awful cry.

And hollow and haggard faces,

Look into the lighted hall,

And wasted hands are extended

To catch the crumbs that fall.

For within there is light and plenty,

And odours fill the air;

And without there is cold and darkness,

And hunger and despair.1 [Note: A. McLean, Where the Book Speaks, 83.]

We cannot read John Woolman’s Journal without seeing how—to use his own quaint and beautiful phraseology—he was “baptized into a feeling sense of all conditions.” His sympathies knew neither barrier nor boundary. His devotion braced itself to the expenditure of any energy and the endurance of any sacrifice. Wherever he discovered a weary and oppressed man or woman, he recognized his neighbour and his brother. Whatever he could do for these forlorn and broken travellers, lying wounded by the wayside of life and forgotten by the majority who passed by, was done cheerfully, unpretentiously, graciously. “In Pharais,” Fiona Macleod tells as—and Pharais is Celtic for Paradise—“there are no tears shed, though in the remotest part of it there is a grey pool, the weeping of all the world, fed everlastingly by the myriad eyes that every moment are somewhere wet with sorrow, or agony, or vain regret, or vain desire. And those who go there stoop, and touch their eyelids with that grey water, and it is as balm to them, and they go healed of their too great joy; and their songs thereafter are the sweetest that are sung in the ways of Pharais.” This was the paradise in which John Woolman sojourned through all his fifty years of life. He was always stooping and touching his eyelids with the grey water. His pity overleaped the fences and trammels which hem ours in.1 [Note: Alexander Smellie, in Introduction to The Journal of John Woolman, xxiii.]

(1) Martineau denies that we are bound to be neighbourly to those who are in need. He says, “We are under no obligation to love as ourselves the selfish, the malignant, the depraved. Such are not our neighbours, but occupy the same position with respect to us as the Priest and the Levite in the parable, from whom, it is plain, Jesus withheld the appellation. That Christian morality is hostile to personal resentment, that it softens the irritations of natural passion by the memory of our common nature and common immortality, that it so lifts the eye above the little orbit of our earthly life that we may serenely study its seeming disorders, that it so enfolds us in consciousness of universal providence that nothing can seem totally deranged in the affairs of men, is perfectly true; but it does not stifle, it rather quickens our moral indignation and aversion against wrong; and while it disposes us to patient and practical exertion for the debased, while it creates for us new moral obligations towards them, which no other religion ever recognized, it yet renders the sentiment of interior affection for them more unattainable than ever. In spite of all the refinements of a sentimental morality, it is impossible to separate in our regard the agent and the act; disgust at intemperance is disgust at the intemperate; aversion to hypocrisy is aversion to the hypocrite; indignation at tyranny is indignation at the tyrant. That honour, which, for the sake of our universal Father, is due to all men, that respect which, in consideration of its great futurity, is to be rendered to every human soul, and that promptitude of beneficent effort which, in hope of abating misery, must be ready for every occasion, are never to be withheld from natures the most lost; but emotion of love like that which springs upward to God, the affection which even our self-respect must not be permitted to exceed, is too holy to be squandered on any but those who bear on them the signature of Divine approval.”1 [Note: J. Martineau, National Duties, 183.]

(2) But on the other hand let us hear what Dr. Whyte has to say: “It has been said of Goethe that, like this Priest and this Levite, he kept well out of sight of stripped and wounded and half-dead men. I hope it is not true of that great intellectual man. At any rate it is not true of Jesus Christ. For He comes and He goes up and down all the bloody passes of human life, actually looking for wounded and half-dead men, and for none else, till He may well bear the name of The one and only entirely Good and True Samaritan. They are here to whom He has said it and done it. ‘When I passed by thee, and saw thee wounded and half-dead, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live. Now when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold, thy time was a time of love. Then washed I thee with water, and I anointed thee with oil.’ And we ourselves are the proof of it.”2 [Note: A. Whyte, Our Lord’s Characters, 237.]

O Christ the Life, look on me where I lie

Ready to die:

O Good Samaritan, nay, pass not by.

O Christ, my Life, pour in Thine oil and wine

To keep me Thine;

Me ever Thine, and Thee for ever mine.

Watch by Thy saints and sinners, watch by all

Thy great and small:

Once Thou didst call us all,—O Lord, recall.

Think how Thy saints love sinners, how they pray

And hope alway,

And thereby grow more like Thee day by day.

O Saint of saints, if those with prayer and vow

Succour us now.…

It was not they died for us, it was Thou.3 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti, Verses, 207.]

4. Neighbourliness means sacrifice.—It is not difficult to imagine that the priest who passed the wounded man so heartlessly might say to himself, “Poor man! he has been roughly handled by some highwaymen, but he has not long to live now, that is clear, and he might as well die where he is as anywhere else.” Or he might say: “Ah! this is a pitiable case; but really it is not the place for any man to linger in; and if I encumber myself with the care of him, the robbers, who may even now be hiding beneath some bush or behind some rock, may swoop like vultures down on me, and make of me another victim.” Or he might say: “I am anxious to get home, and if I charge myself with the duty of taking this poor man to Jericho, it will greatly retard my progress.” All of which means that he would have been neighbour to him that fell among thieves if it had cost him nothing—if it had left untouched his time, his comfort, and his ease. And there are thousands who would be neighbours on the same easy conditions, but such is not the spirit which our Saviour commends. The man who would be a follower of the good Samaritan must be one who is endowed with the spirit of sacrifice.

January 23rd, 1827.—Slept ill, not having been abroad these eight days. Then a dead sleep in the morning, and when the awakening comes, a strong feeling how well I could dispense with it for once and forever. This passes away, however, as better and more dutiful thoughts arise in my mind. I know not if my imagination has flagged; probably it has; but at least my powers of labour have not diminished during the last melancholy week.… Wrote till twelve a.m., finishing half of what I call a good day’s work—ten pages of print, or rather twelve. Then walked in Princes Street pleasure-ground with Good Samaritan James Skene, the only one among my numerous friends who can properly be termed amicus curarum mearum, others being too busy or too gay, and several being estranged by habit.1 [Note: Journal of Sir Walter Scott, 90.]


The Exhortation

Now look more narrowly at the words of the text. Their exposition is the story which precedes, with its circumstances and its lessons.

“And Jesus said unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.” This is the only human example commended to us. In what the Samaritan did our Lord saw no flaw. The Samaritan is for all times the model neighbour. What was it in the conduct of the Samaritan that won from our Lord this unique eulogium? It was the all-round love of a neighbour. He gave time, service, money’s worth, money. He gave everything. He kept back nothing. He grudged nothing. The Samaritan’s benevolence was all-rounded. He by the wayside had no further claim upon the Samaritan than this—he was a man.

1. Thus we have, first of all, an encouragement to a life of service like the Samaritan’s. Consider the character of this service.

(1) It is unselfish.—There is a compassion which is selfish; and it is very common. Its motive sometimes is the indulgence of sentiment. The sentiment of compassion like other natural emotions craves satisfaction. It is really selfish when its primary motive is to satisfy itself rather than the need of its recipient. The charity which relieves itself by giving an alms to any beggar who asks, without thought or care for his real need, which does not consider that that alms may be a means of encouraging thriftlessness and imposture, may be thus a cruel wrong both to the beggar himself and to the really deserving poor; the charity which, moved by some sentimental appeal, takes no trouble to see whether that appeal is true to facts, or likely to do more harm than good—this charity is fundamentally false; it is a form of self-indulgence. Or, again, the motive may be one’s own spiritual good. To give an alms as a means of relieving one’s conscience, or of acquiring credit in the eyes of God, is really a selfish act. It is not admirable, it is merely pitiable, to see the crowds of beggars at some church door in Italy, maintained in beggary rather than lifted out of it, encouraged to trade in the apparatus of misery, by the alms of the faithful. True charity, true neighbourliness, considers first not the indulgence of sentiment or the satisfaction of conscience, but the true need of the poor. And it has come to pass, through the abuse of charity, that the true need of the poor is often best served by withholding, not giving, the heedless and casual dole.

It is simply and sternly impossible for the English public, at this moment, to understand any thoughtful writing,—so incapable of thought has it become in its insanity of avarice. Happily, our disease is, as yet, little worse than this incapacity of thought; it is not corruption of the inner nature; we ring true still when anything strikes home to us; and though the idea that everything should “pay” has infected our every purpose so deeply, that even when we would play the Good Samaritan, we never take out our twopence and give them to the host without saying, “When I come again thou shalt give me fourpence,” there is a capacity of noble passion left in our heart’s core.1 [Note: Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies (Works, i. 31).]

(2) It is thorough.—The service of the good Samaritan was thoroughgoing. We modern Samaritans reflect that the inn stands hard by, where this patient can get every attention, and that it must be his own fault if he does not go there; so we ride on with the comforting conclusion that “so much is being done for people of that class.” The ancient Samaritan did not pause to think whether he would soil his hands or stain his saddle. He understood that the rights of property must give way before the claims of necessity. His beast was “his own” no longer; for the time being it belonged to the man who was half dead. Here is the Christian law of possession. The thieves had said, “All thine is ours,” and had snatched it violently. The Samaritan says, “All mine is thine,” and yields it generously; because—as Philip Sidney said when he gave up his cup of cold water to the dying soldier—“Thy necessity is greater than mine.”

“Some years ago I lay ill in San Francisco, an obscure journalist, quite friendless. Stevenson, who knew me slightly, came to my bedside and said, “I suppose you are like all of us, you don’t keep your money. Now, if a little loan, as between one man of letters and another—eh?” This to a lad writing rubbish for a vulgar sheet in California!”2 [Note: Quoted from The Times by Graham Balfour in Life of R. L. Stevenson, ii. 40.]

(3) It is personal.—The service which the Samaritan rendered was personal. He himself bound up the wounds, himself set the stranger on his own beast, himself brought him to the inn and took care of him. Charity is always incomplete unless it involves this element of personal service. We have become too much accustomed to acting the neighbour by deputy. We give money: we leave it to others to give personal service. Of course, to a large extent this is a necessity of modern life; and we can keep even this second-hand charity at least in touch with true principles if we take pains to follow our money with personal interest and sympathy. But we must never be satisfied with this. No amount of subscriptions can compensate for this want of the touch of person with person; of heart reaching heart; of will encouraging and strengthening will. Each one of us ought to be able to think at once of some individual or family in the ranks of the poor, the sick, the distressed, whom by personal thought and care and act we are trying to comfort and cheer and raise.

“What is to be done for the unsaved masses?” Mr. Moody asked while in Sheffield. In answering his own inquiry, he said that he had found a spiritual famine in England such as he had never dreamed of. “Here, for instance, in this town of Sheffield,” he said, “I am told that there are one hundred and fifty thousand people who not only never go near a place of worship, but for whom there is actually no church accommodation provided, even if they were willing to take advantage of it. It seems to me, if there be upon God’s earth one blacker sight than these thousands of Christless and graceless souls, it is the thousands of dead and slumbering Christians living in their very midst, rubbing shoulders with them every day upon the streets, and never so much as lifting up a little finger to warn them of death and eternity and judgment to come. Talk of being sickened at the sight of the world’s degradation, ah! let those of us who are Christian hide our faces because of our own, and pray God to deliver us from the guilt of the world’s blood. I believe that if there is one thing which pierces the Master’s heart with unutterable grief, it is not the world’s iniquity but the Church’s indifference.” He then argued that every Christian man and woman should feel that the question was not one for ministers and elders and deacons alone, but for them as well. “It is not enough,” he said, “to give alms; personal service is necessary. I may hire a man to do some work, but I can never hire a man to do my work. Alone before God I must answer for that, and so must we all.”1 [Note: W. R. Moody, The Life of Dwight L. Moody, 195.]

2. Lay emphasis on the necessity of doing—“go, and do thou likewise.” Which of us has never allowed sensibility of feeling to pass muster with his conscience in the place of merciful action? The glow which warms our hearts when we are roused by a tale of oppression, or shed a tear over another’s woe, is so like the comfort of a self-approving conscience when a duty has been done that we need reminding roughly that in Heaven’s chancery fine feeling counts for nothing; that it is precious only so far as it leads to noble action; that the sensibility which ends where it began makes inaction more inexcusable; that

Faith’s meanest deed more favour wears

Where lives and hearts are weighed

Than keenest feelings, choicest prayers,

Which bloom their hour and fade.

Action is the test of feelings. The pity raised in us by the sight of suffering must pass into the prompt energy which relieves it before we can claim a place in that noble army typified by the Good Samaritan.

Shall I tell you what I saw the other day? It made me laugh, and yet it made me sad. I saw, in one of your parks, a poor little ragged boy, who was evidently hungry, and who was anxious to appeal successfully to the pity of the public. He was met by a tall, lean, clean man, who set his long, bony fingers together stiffly and impressively, and lectured the child in very suitable language. I overheard him say, “This is not proper. You ought to have been at school; you should not be prowling about here in this way; there are places provided for such as you, and I earnestly advise you to get away from this course of life.” Every word he said was grammatically correct, and socially very true. As he was delivering his frosty lecture to the poor lad, there came a boy—a school-boy hastening to school—who was carrying a large lump of bread and butter in his hand, while he was eating as only school-boys can eat; and when he saw the poor ragged child, he pulled his bread and butter in two, put one half into the boy’s hand, and went on. “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.” That boy who gave his bread and butter away will stand a better chance than the ninety-nine legally upright, who apparently need no repentance!1 [Note: Joseph Parker.]

3. Finally lay stress on the example—“go, and do thou likewise”—for here lies the moral of the whole. School and train the sensibility and tenderness of heart which God has given to you into the practice of active mercy towards those who stand in need of it! Do, by ready and ungrudging bounty if God has blessed you with affluence; in any case by active kindness towards the sick and sorrowing and helpless who shall cross your path, strive in some small measure to pay back to Christ His own unspeakable compassion upon you! For the one prevision of earth’s final judgment let fall by Him in talk with His disciples measures acceptance or rejection, weal or woe, the right hand or the left, not by Godward consciousness, integrity of conduct, purity of life, but solely by the loving succour extended to the wounded on life’s way, to the suffering, the needy, the forlorn, imaged in whom He saw, and commanded them to see, Himself.

This day last year Livingstone died—a Scotchman and a Christian, loving God and his neighbour, in the heart of Africa. “Go thou and do likewise!”—Mackay’s Diary, Berlin, May 4th, 1874.1 [Note: Mackay of Uganda, 10.]

Have you had a kindness shown?

Pass it on;

’Twas not given for thee alone,

Pass it on;

Let it travel down the years,

Let it wipe another’s tears,

Till in heav’n the deed appears—

Pass it on.

Did you hear the loving word?

Pass it on;

Like the singing of a bird?

Pass it on;

Let its music live and grow,

Let it cheer another’s woe;

You have reaped what others sow,

Pass it on.

’Twas the sunshine of a smile,

Pass it on;

Staying but a little while!

Pass it on;

April beam, the little thing,

Still it makes the flow’rs of spring,

Makes the silent birds to sing—

Pass it on.

Have you found the heav’nly light?

Pass it on;

Souls are groping in the night,

Daylight gone;

Hold thy lighted lamp on high,

Be a star in some one’s sky,

He may live who else would die—

Pass it on.

Be not selfish in thy greed,

Pass it on;

Look upon thy brother’s need,

Pass it on;

Live for self, you live in vain;

Live for Christ, you live again;

Live for Him, with Him you reign—

Pass it on.

The Good Samaritan


Ashley (J. M.), A Promptuary for Preachers, i. 201.

Blunt (J. J.), Plain Sermons, ii. 40.

Bourdillon (F.), The Parables of our Lord, 136.

Burrell (D. J.), The Gospel of Gladness, 212.

Crookall (L.), Topics in the Tropics, 8.

Darlow (T. H.), The Upward Calling, 262.

Gray (W. H.), Our Divine Shepherd, 291.

Hill (J. E.), Queen Charity, 171.

Hodgson (A. P.), Thoughts for the King’s Children, 53.

Hyde (T. D.), Sermon-Pictures, i. 287.

Jeffrey (J.), The Personal Ministry of the Son of Man, 121.

Johnson (G. B.), The Beautiful Life of Christ, 33.

Lang (C. G.), The Parables of Jesus, 123.

McLean (A.), Where the Book Speaks, 77.

Macnicol (D. C.), Some Memories, 48.

Martineau (J.), National Duties, 173.

Mellor (E.), The Hem of Christ’s Garment, 177.

Meyer (F. B.), The Soul’s Pure Intention, 191.

Paget (F.), Studies in the Christian Character, 221.

Parker (J.), The Gospel of Jesus Christ, 88.

Peck (G. C.), Vision and Task, 259.

Pulsford (J.), Loyalty to Christ, ii. 32.

Smith (J.), Short Studies: The Gospels, 16.

Snell (B. J.), Sermons on Immortality, 79.

Townsend (W. J.), in The Parables of Jesus, 287.

Tuckwell (W.), Nuggets from the Bible Mine, 154.

Walker (G. S.), The Pictures of the Divine Artist, 105.

Webster (F. S.), My Lord and I, 110.

Westcott (B. F.), Village Sermons, 343.

Whyte (A.), Our Lord’s Characters, 231.

Wilmot-Buxton (H. J.), By Word and Deed, ii. 114.

Christian World Pulpit, xxxviii. 305 (F. W. Farrar); xxxix. 173 (F. O. Morris); xl. 76 (F. C. Hill); li. 52 (J. Bush); liv. 145 (H. Scott Holland); 212 (R. F. Horton).

Contemporary Pulpit, 2nd Ser., iv. 95 (T. Guthrie).

Guardian, July 15, 1910, p. 982 (W. Boyd Carpenter).

Preacher’s Magazine, xxiii. 161 (W. J. C. Pike).

The Great Texts of the Bible - James Hastings

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bible Hub
Luke 7:50
Top of Page
Top of Page