Luke 18:1
And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint;
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(1) That men ought always to pray, and not to faint.—The latter of the two verbs is noticeable as being used in the New Testament by St. Luke and St. Paul only (2Corinthians 4:1; 2Corinthians 4:16; Galatians 6:9; 2Thessalonians 3:13). The whole verse is remarkable as being one of the few instances (Luke 18:9 being another) in which a parable is introduced by a distinct statement as to its drift and aim.



Luke 18:1 - Luke 18:14

The two parables in this passage are each prefaced by Luke’s explanation of their purpose. They are also connected by being both concerned with aspects of prayer. But the second was apparently not spoken at the same time as the first, but is put here by Luke as in an appropriate place.

I. The wearisome widow and the unrighteous judge.

The similarities and dissimilarities between this parable and that in Luke 11:5 - Luke 11:8 are equally instructive. Both take a very unlovely character as open to the influence of persistent entreaty; both strongly underscore the unworthiness and selfishness of the motive for yielding. Both expect the hearers to use common-sense enough to take the sleepy friend and the worried judge as contrasts to, not parables, of Him to whom Christians pray. But the judge is a much worse man than the owner of the loaves, and his denial of the justice which it was his office to dispense is a crime; the widow’s need is greater than the man’s, and the judge’s cynical soliloquy, in its unabashed avowal of caring for neither God nor man, and being guided only by regard to comfort, touches a deep depth of selfishness. The worse he was, the more emphatic is the exhortation to persistence. If the continual dropping of the widow’s plea could wear away such a stone as that, its like could wear away anything. Yes, and suppose that the judge were as righteous and as full of love and wish to help as this judge was of their opposites; suppose that instead of the cry being a weariness it was a delight; suppose, in short, that, to go back to Luke 11:1 - Luke 11:54, we ‘call on Him as Father who, without respect of persons, judgeth’: then our ‘continual coming’ will surely not be less effectual than hers was.

But we must note the spiritual experience supposed by the parable to belong to the Christian life. That forlorn figure of the widow, with all its suggestions of helplessness and oppression, is Christ’s picture of His Church left on earth without Him. And though of course it is a very incomplete representation, it is a true presentation of one side and aspect of the devout life on earth. ‘In the world ye shall have tribulation,’ and the truer His servants are to Him, and the more their hearts are with Christ in God, the more they will feel out of touch with the world, and the more it will instinctively be their ‘adversary.’ If the widow does not feel the world’s enmity, it will generally be because she is not a ‘widow indeed.’

And another notable fact of Christian experience underlies the parable; namely that the Church’s cry for protection from the adversary is often apparently unheard. In Luke 11:1 - Luke 11:54 the prayer was for supply of necessities, here it is for the specific blessing of protection from the adversary. Whether that is referred to the needs of the Church or of the individual, it is true that usually the help sought is long delayed. It is not only ‘souls under the altar’ that have to cry ‘How long, O Lord, dost Thou not avenge?’ One thinks of years of persecution for whole communities, or of long, weary days of harassment and suffering for individuals, of multitudes of prayers and groans sent up into a heaven that, for all the answers sent down, might as well be empty, and one feels it hard to hold by the faith that ‘verily, there is a God that’ heareth.

We have all had times when our faith has staggered, and we have found no answer to our heart’s question: ‘Why tarry the wheels of His chariot?’ Many of us have felt what Mary and Martha felt when ‘Jesus abode still two days in the place where He was’ after He had received their message, in which they had been so sure of His coming at once when He heard that ‘he whom Thou lovest is sick,’ that they did not ask Him to come. The delays of God’s help are a constant feature in His providence, and, as Jesus says here, they are but too likely to take the life out of faith.

But over against these we have to place Jesus’ triumphant assurance here: ‘He will avenge them speedily.’ Yes, the longest delay may yet be ‘right early,’ for heaven’s clock does not beat at the same rate as our little chronometers. God is ‘the God of patience,’ and He has waited for millenniums for the establishment of His kingdom on earth; His ‘own elect’ may learn long-suffering from Him, and need to take to heart the old exhortation, ‘If the vision tarry, wait for it, for it will surely come, and will not tarry.’ Yes, God’s delays are not delays, but are for our profit that we may always pray and not faint, and may keep alight the flame of the sure hope that the Son of man cometh, and that in His coming all adversaries shall be destroyed, and the widow, no longer a widow, but the bride, go in to the feast and forget her foes, and ‘the days of her mourning be ended.’

II. The Pharisee and the publican.

Luke’s label on this parable tells us that it was spoken to a group of the very people who were personated in it by the Pharisee. One can fancy their faces as they listened, and how they would love the speaker! Their two characteristics are self-righteousness and depreciation of every one else, which is the natural result of such trust in self. The self-adulation was absolute, the contempt was all-embracing, for the Revised Version rightly renders ‘set all others at nought.’ That may sound exaggerated, but the way to judge of moral characteristics is to take them in their fullest development and to see what they lead to then. The two pictures heighten each other. The one needs many strokes to bring out the features, the other needs but one. Self-righteousness takes many shapes, penitence has but one emotion to express, one cry to utter.

Every word in the Pharisee’s prayer is reeking with self-complacency. Even the expression ‘prayed with himself’ is significant, for it suggests that the prayer was less addressed to God than to himself, and also that his words could scarcely be spoken in the hearing of others, both because of their arrogant self-praise and of their insolent calumnies of ‘all the rest.’ It was not prayer to God, but soliloquy in his own praise, and it was in equal parts adulation of himself and slander of other men. So it never went higher than the inner roof of the temple court, and was, in a very fatal sense, ‘to himself.’

God is complimented with being named formally at first, and in the first two words, ‘I thank thee,’ but that is only formal introduction, and in all the rest of his prayer there is not a trace of praying. Such a self-satisfied gentleman had no need to ask for anything, so he brought no petitions. He uses the conventional language of thanksgiving, but his real meaning is to praise himself to God, not to thank God for himself. God is named once. All the rest is I, I, I. He had no longing for communion, no aspiration, no emotion.

His conception of righteousness was mean and shallow. And as St. Bernard notes, he was not so much thankful for being righteous as for being alone in his goodness. No doubt he was warranted in disclaiming gross sins, but he was glad to be free from them, not because they were sins, but because they were vulgar. He had no right to fling mud either on ‘all the rest’ or on ‘this publican,’ and if he had been really praying or giving thanks he would have had enough to think of in God and himself without casting sidelong and depreciatory glances at his neighbours. He who truly prays ‘sees no man any more,’ or if he does, sees men only as subjects for intercession, not for contempt. The Pharisee’s notion of righteousness was primarily negative, as consisting in abstinence from flagrant sins, and, in so far as it was positive, it dealt entirely with ceremonial acts. Such a starved and surface conception of righteousness is essential to self-righteousness, for no man who sees the law of duty in its depth and inwardness can flatter himself that he has kept it. To fast twice a week and to give tithes of all that one acquired were acts of supererogation, and are proudly recounted as if God should feel much indebted to the doer for paying Him more than was required. The Pharisee makes no petitions. He states his claims, and tacitly expects that God will meet them.

Few words are needed to paint the publican; for his estimate of himself is simple and one, and what he wants from God is one thing, and one only. His attitude expresses his emotions, for he does not venture to go near the shining example of all respectability and righteousness, nor to lift his eyes to heaven. Like the penitent psalmist, his iniquities have taken hold on him, so that he is ‘not able to look up.’ Keen consciousness of sin, true sorrow for sin, earnest desire to shake off the burden of sin, lowly trust in God’s pardoning mercy, are all crowded into his brief petition. The arrow thus feathered goes straight up to the throne; the Pharisee’s prayer cannot rise above his own lips.

Jesus does not leave His hearers to apply the ‘parable,’ but drives its application home to them, since He knew how keen a thrust was needed to pierce the triple breastplate of self-righteousness. The publican was ‘justified’; that is, accounted as righteous. In the judgment of heaven, which is the judgment of truth, sin forsaken is sin passed away. The Pharisee condensed his contempt into ‘this publican’; Jesus takes up the ‘this’ and turns it into a distinction, when He says, ‘this man went down to his house justified.’ God’s condemnation of the Pharisee and acceptance of the publican are no anomalous aberration of divine justice, for it is a universal law, which has abundant exemplifications, that he that exalteth himself is likely to be humbled, and he that humbles himself to be exalted. Daily life does not always yield examples thereof, but in the inner life and as concerns our relations to God, that law is absolutely and always true.

Luke 18:1. And he spake, &c. — Ελεγε δε και παραβολην αυτοις. He also spake a parable to them. The particle δε, here used, plainly implies, that this parable has a relation to the preceding discourse, of which indeed it is a continuation, but which is improperly interrupted by the division of the chapters. There is in it, and in the following parable, a particular reference to the distress and trouble they were soon to meet with from their persecutors, which would render the duties of prayer, patience, and perseverance peculiarly seasonable. That men ought always to pray — At all times, on all occasions, or frequently, (as the word παντοτε, here rendered always, signifies, John 18:20,) and not to faint — Under their trials, not to despond, or yield to evils, as εκκακειν, here used, signifies, so as to be wearied out by them, and cease from prayer, as unavailing to procure relief. It frequently happens, that after men have prayed for any particular blessing, they desist, because God does not immediately grant them their petition. To show the evil of this, and to recommend importunity and perseverance in prayer especially when we are in pursuit of any spiritual mercy or mercies, relating either to ourselves, our friends, or the church of God, the present parable is introduced. As delivered on this occasion, it seems to have been principally designed to inspire the disciples with earnestness and perseverance in their prayers for the coming of the Son of man to destroy the Jewish constitution, notwithstanding God should long defer the accomplishment of their desire. For this event is represented, not only here, but in several other passages of Scripture, as a thing exceedingly to be wished for in those days. The reason was, the Jews in every country were their bitterest persecutors, and the chief opposers of Christianity. See Luke 21:28; Hebrews 10:25; James 5:7; 1 Peter 4:7. Independent of this, however, in the course of his ministry, our Lord often recommended frequency, earnestness, and perseverance in prayer, not because God is, or can be, ever tired out with our importunity; but because it is both an expression and exercise of our firm belief of, and confidence in, his power and goodness, without which it would not be fit for God to bestow his blessings upon us, nor would we be capable of receiving and using them. See on Matthew 7:7-11; Luke 11:5-8. Of continual praying, see on 1 Thessalonians 5:17.

18:1-8 All God's people are praying people. Here earnest steadiness in prayer for spiritual mercies is taught. The widow's earnestness prevailed even with the unjust judge: she might fear lest it should set him more against her; but our earnest prayer is pleasing to our God. Even to the end there will still be ground for the same complaint of weakness of faith.A parable - See the notes at Matthew 13:3.

To this end - To show this.

Always - At all times. That is, we must not neglect regular stated seasons of prayer; we must seize on occasions of remarkable providences as afflictions or signal blessings to seek God in prayer; we must "always" maintain a spirit of prayer, or be in a proper frame to lift up our hearts to God for his blessing, and we must not grow weary though our prayer seems not to be answered.

Not to faint - Not to grow weary or give over. The parable is designed to teach us that, though our prayers should long appear to be unanswered, we should persevere, and not grow weary in supplication to God.


Lu 18:1-8. Parable of the Importunate Widow.

1-5. always—Compare Lu 18:7, "night and day."

faint—lose heart, or slacken.Luke 18:1-8 The parable of the unjust judge and the importunate widow.

Luke 18:9-14 The parable of the Pharisee and publican.

Luke 18:15-17 Christ’s tenderness to the little children that were

brought unto him.

Luke 18:18-23 He teacheth a ruler how to attain eternal life.

Luke 18:24-27 He showeth how hard it is for the rich to enter into

the kingdom of God,

Luke 18:28-30 promises rewards to those who have foregone aught

for the gospel’s sake,

Luke 18:31-34 foretells his own death and resurrection,

Luke 18:35-43 and giveth sight to a blind man.

This duty of praying always is inculcated to us several times in the Epistles, as may appear from those texts quoted in the margin, which we must not interpret as an obligation upon us to be always upon our knees praying; for thus our obedience to it would be inconsistent with our obedience to other precepts of God, relating both to religious duties and civil actions, neither was Christ himself always praying: but it either, first, lets us know, that there is no time in which we may not pray; as we may pray in all places, every where lifting up holy hands without doubting, ( as the apostle saith, 1 1 Timothy 2:8), so we must pray at any time. Or, secondly, it is as much as, pray frequently and ordinarily; as Solomon’s servants are said by the queen of Sheba to stand always, that is, ordinarily and frequently, before him, 1 Kings 10:8; and the Jews are said always to have resisted the Spirit of God, Acts 7:51; that is, very often, for they did it not in every individual act of their lives. Or else, in every part of time; knitting the morning and evening (the general parts of our time) together by prayer. Thus the morning and evening sacrifice is called the continual burnt offering, Exodus 29:42 Nehemiah 10:33. Or, as it is in Ephesians 6:18, en panti cairw, in every season, whenever the providence of God offers us a fair season and opportunity for prayer. Or mentally praying always, intermixing good and pious ejaculations with our most earthly and sublunary occasions. Or, having our hearts at all times ready for prayer, having the fire always on the altar, (as was required under the old law), though the sacrifice be not always offering.

And not to faint, which is the same with that, Ephesians 6:18, watching thereunto with all perseverance; and Colossians 4:2, Continue in prayer, and watch in the same. Not fainting either by reason of God’s delay to give us the things we ask of him, or through laziness, and remission of our duty, before our life doth determine. This is now what our Saviour designs to teach us in this parable which followeth.

And he spoke a parable unto them,.... To his own disciples, as the Ethiopic version reads, in order to encourage them to prayer, with perseverance in it; since such sore times of trial and affliction were coming upon the Jews, of which he had spoken in the preceding chapter; and such times more especially call for prayer; see Psalm 50:15

to this end, that men ought always to pray. This is opposed to them, who pray not at all, or have left off prayer before God, or who pray only in distress; and suggests, that a man should pray as often as he has an opportunity; should be constant and assiduous at the throne of grace, and continue putting up his requests to God, though he does not presently return an answer:

and not to faint; by reason of afflictions, temptations, desertions, and delays in answering prayer; and prayer itself is an admirable antidote against fainting under afflictive providences: it is with the Jews an affirmative precept that a man should pray, , "every day" (k); it was usual with them to pray three times a day; see Psalm 55:17 there is no set time fixed by Christ; men should be always praying. This is not to be understood, that a man should be always actually engaged in the work of prayer; that he should be continually either in his closet, in private devotion to God, or attending exercises of more public prayer, with the saints; for there are other religious exercises to be performed, besides prayer; and besides, there are many civil affairs of life, it is every man's indispensable duty to regard: nor does our Lord mean in the least to break in upon, or interrupt the natural and civil duties of life; but his meaning is, that a man should persevere in prayer, and not leave off, or be dejected, because he has not an immediate answer; and this is clear from the following case.

(k) Maimon. Hilch. Tephilla, c. 1. sect. 1.

And {1} he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to {a} faint;

(1) God will have us to continue in prayer, not to weary us, but to exercise us; therefore we must fight against impatience so that a long delay does not cause us to quit our praying.

(a) Yield to afflictions and adversities as those do who have lost heart.

Luke 18:1. What Jesus has hitherto said of His Parousia was of such weighty and everlastingly decisive concern for His disciples, that it was calculated to stimulate them to unremitting prayer, that they might become partakers of the ἐκδίκησις which the Parousia was to bring to them (Luke 18:7). Hence (without the omission of any intervening dialogue, Schleiermacher, Olshausen) now follows the parable of the widow and the unjust judge, peculiar to Luke, and its application (Luke 18:1-8). This parable is no addition inserted without a motive (Köstlin, Holtzmann), nor is it taken from the Logia; but it comes from the source of the account of the journey. Weizsäcker alleges that it must have been a later growth, annexed by Luke to his source of the narrative of the journey; that the judge is the heathen magistracy; the widow, the church bereaved after the departure of Christ; her adversary, the hostile Judaism. Here also (comp. on Luke 15:11, Luke 16:1; Luke 16:19) is a transferring of later relations to an early period without sufficient reason.

πρός] in reference to.

πάντοτε] It is not the continual disposition of prayer (“as the breath of the inner man,” Olshausen) that is meant, but the constant actual prayer, in respect of which, however, πάντοτε is not to be pressed, but to be taken in a popularly hyperbolical sense. Comp. Luke 18:7; 1 Thessalonians 1:10.

ἐκκακεῖν] to become discouraged, not: in their vocation (Schleiermacher), but, according to the context: in their prayers. As to the form ἐκκ., for which Lachm. has ἐγκ. (and Tischendorf: ἐνκ.), which, although here preponderatingly attested, is to be regarded as an improvement, see on 2 Corinthians 4:1.

Luke 18:1-8. The unjust judge, in Lk. only.

Luke 18:1-8. The Duty of Urgent Prayer. The Unjust Judge.

1. that men ought always to pray] Rather, that they ought always to pray, since the true reading adds abrovs. It is only here and in Luke 18:9 that the explanation or point of a parable is given before the parable itself. Both parables are peculiar to St Luke. The duty inculcated is rather urgent prayer (as in Luke 11:5-13) than that spirit of unflagging prayer which is elsewhere enforced, Luke 21:36; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; Ephesians 6:18. “Prayer is the soids sincere desire Uttered, or unexpressed.”

and not to faint] The word used is a late word meaning to give in through cowardice, or give up from faint-heartedness. It is a Pauline word, 2 Corinthians 4:1; 2 Corinthians 4:16; Galatians 6:9.

Luke 18:1. Δὲ καὶ, moreover also) as regards the preparation for those things about to come to pass. Comp. Luke 18:8.—πρὸς τὸ) that is to say, as concerns that all-important subject, prayer.—πάντοτε, always) night and day; Luke 18:7.—προσεύχεσθαι, to pray) Two parables treat of prayer: the one here, in Luke 18:1, et seqq.; and the second in Luke 18:9, et seqq. The first teaches us to unlearn (overcome, lay aside) indolent faintness; the second, to unlearn confidence in ourselves: two extremes deserving to be noted. For the words, ἐγκακεῖν, to be faint or indolent, and πεποιθότας ἐφʼ ἑαυτοῖς, i.e. self-confidence, in a bad sense, are mutually opposed, Luke 18:1; Luke 18:9; even as confidence or trust, in a good sense, 2 Corinthians 3:4 (πεποίθησιν ἔχομεν διὰ τοῦ Χριστοῦ πρὸς τὸν Θεόν), and to faint, 2 Corinthians 4:1 (οὐκ ἐγκακοῦμεν), Eph. 3 12, 13, are mutually opposed.—μὴ ἐγκακεῖν,[195] not to faint) The cry of the elect (τῶν βοώντων), Luke 18:7, is in consonance with this not-fainting. An example in point occurs, Luke 18:39 [the blind man near Jericho].

[195] ABDLΔ so write the word; and not ἐκκακεῖν, as Rec. Text.—E. and T.

Verses 1-14. - The Lord speaks the two parables on prayer - the importunate widow, and the Pharisee and publican. Verse 1. - And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint. The formnla ἕλεγε δὲ καί, literally, "and he spake also," calls attention to the fact that the parable-teaching immediately to follow was a continuation of what had preceded. Indeed, the connection between the first of the two parables, which urges restless continued prayer, and the picture which the Lord had just drawn of men's state of utter forgetfulness of God, is obvious. "The Son of man has been rejected; he has gone from view; the masses are plunged in gross worldliness; men of God are become as rare as, in the days of Abraham, they were in Sodom. What, then, is the position of the Church? That of a widow whose only weapon is incessant prayer. It is only by means of this intense concentration that faith will be preserved. But such is precisely the disposition which Jesus fears may not be found even in the Church at his return" (Godet). Luke 18:1To the end that men ought (πρὸς τὸ δεῖν)

Lit., with reference to its being necessary always to pray, etc.

Faint (ἐγκακεῖν)

To turn coward or lose heart.

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