Gratitude to God — A Manifest Fruit of Saving Faith

“Were there not ten cleansed?  But where are the nine?
There are not found that returned to give glory to God,
save this stranger.”  And He said unto him:
“Arise, go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole.” 

—Luke 17:17-19

It has been said that gratitude or thankfulness is a uniquely human emotion; and yet, when we look about in this sin-defiled and depraved world, we see precious little of it in evidence anywhere!  For man by nature refuses to credit anyone but himself for the advantages he enjoys, and boasts of his own self-sufficiency, saying, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:17).  “I don’t NEED anybody!  And I don’t OWE anybody either!”  Among sinful men, true gratitude suffers all but annihilation at the hands of its chief enemy: Selfishness —and all the other “self”-concepts which feed it— self-interest, self-reliance, self-concern, and self-righteousness.  For selfishness is a fruit of man’s sinful flesh which serves Satan in his evil design to destroy the whole human race forever!  Yes, selfishness is a vicious form of idolatry in which man makes himself his own god.  Paul writes to the Romans (1:20b-22) that those who elevate themselves to that lofty pedestal “are without excuse, because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations; and their foolish heart was darkened.  Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools!”

On the other hand, those who by God’s grace recognize in themselves, “that is, in [their] flesh, …no good thing” (Romans 7:18) that could merit His favor and gain them His blessings, those who rely not on themselves but on Jesus Christ and on His precious blood and perfect righteousness for salvation, such “converted” souls “have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts,” the Bible says (Galatians 5:24), and by God’s grace now “live…unto Him which died for them and rose again” (II Corinthians 5:15).  And they cry out with the Apostle in humble gratitude for their salvation:  “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable Gift!” (II Corinthians 9:15).

Indeed, we see in Jesus’ encounter with the ten lepers, all of whom He miraculously healed in the very same way, that only one of them was thankful to the Savior and showed gratitude to God, which Jesus Himself identified as a manifest fruit of saving faith.  Still today, it is painfully obvious that true gratitude to God is sorely lacking among many who enjoy His blessings in abundance but thanklessly take them for granted.  But, by the grace of God, as was the case with the tenth leper, gratitude is clearly evident in those who trust in Jesus and sincerely appreciate God’s mercy and grace to poor, undeserving sinners.

The leprosy of which the ten were healed is still today a serious and dreaded, chronic and highly infectious disease; and, in spite of the great progress of medical science in arresting it, leprosy is still very common in many parts of the world; and its scars and effects cannot be reversed.  If not caught in the very early stages, leprosy wastes and deforms parts of the body, particularly the extremities and facial features, so that fingers and toes, ears and noses begin to decay on the body and finally fall off.  In an untreated patient, the deterioration progresses, affecting also the voice; and the person eventually dies a horrible death.  —The disease was so dreaded in early times that the Lord Himself commanded lepers to be quarantined and to identify themselves to others “afar off” already by crying “Unclean, unclean!”  These Old Testament laws and restrictions are recorded in Leviticus chapters 13 and 14.

Ten such lepers met Jesus “as He entered into a certain village, …and they lifted up their voices and said, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’”  In their hopeless condition, they turned to Jesus, whose wondrous miracles of healing had become the talk of the country; and they begged His compassion and help.  Whether their cry was one of faith in Him as the Messiah of God we are not told —for NINE of them at any rate.  Only the tenth leper was identified by Jesus Himself as having “faith” in Him.  But Jesus did not always make faith a pre-condition for helping people, as so many of the charismatics do today.  For we know that the chief purpose of His miracles was to show that He was truly the Son of God and the Savior of the world, “to the intent [they] may believe” on Him (John 11:15).

And so, “when He saw them, He said unto them, ‘Go show yourselves unto the priests,’” [in other words, ‘Go to the priests in accordance with God’s regulation in Leviticus 14, and have them re-examine your condition.’]  “And it came to pass that, as they went, they were cleansed.”  They no doubt believed in Jesus’ ability to heal them because they didn’t argue with His order, neither did they demand immediate healing BEFORE going to the priests.  And “as they went,” as they turned and started out on their way to see the priests, the dreaded disease suddenly disappeared, and they were completely healed!  It was as if they had never had the horrible plague and suffered its damaging deformities in the first place!!

And yet, in spite of this miraculous cure of the incurable, yes, in spite of the fact that Jesus had, in a very real sense, given back life to the “walking dead,” ONLY ONE OUT OF THE TEN turned back to thank Him —a Samaritan of all people!  “And Jesus answering said, ‘Were there not ten cleansed?  But where are the nine??  There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger!’” this “alien from the commonwealth of Israel and stranger from the covenants of promise,” as Paul describes those who are outside the kingdom of God’s grace (Ephesians 2:12).

What about those nine?  Why didn’t they return to thank the Savior??  They were Jews, who had been received into the kingdom of God’s grace by the Old Testament sacrament of circumcision; they were heirs of the promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the promise of the Savior to come!  They were members of the true visible church at that time, the custodian of the Oracles of God (Romans 3:2), “Moses and the Prophets” (Luke 16:29, 31), the Messianic Gospel of salvation!  How was it that they, of all people, showed no gratitude whatever for the Lord’s gracious blessings —yea, even for this highly visible and obviously beneficial blessing of healing??

Those nine were just like their forefathers down through the whole Old Testament, who received the Lord’s blessings in abundance, blessings both temporal and spiritual, but showed no appreciation for them whatever!  The Children of Israel were, by and large, selfish and ungrateful —good at receiving, at taking, and at insisting on God’s gifts, but oh so neglectful in rendering Him due thanks for His mercy!!  Instead of opening their mouths to praise Him, they murmured and complained, flagrantly disobeyed His Commandments, and spurned His longsuffering mercy and grace to them!  And the Lord had to tell them through His Prophet Isaiah, “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib; but Israel doth not know!  My people doth not consider!” (Isaiah 1:3).  But the saddest fact of all was that they had rejected Him and His grace, as the writer to the Hebrews tells us, particularly in chapter 4, and that their callous ingratitude was just an outward sign of their unbelief (v. 11; cf. also 3:19)!  For the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:21 calls unthankfulness a heathen trait, certainly not characteristic of Christians!

And right here is where you and I have to take a good look at ourselves to see how much we appreciate God’s manifold blessings to us!  For aren’t we unthankful and ungrateful too??  Don’t we often receive not only His temporal but particularly His spiritual blessings to us without rendering Him due thanks and praise??  O, let us be warned by the ingratitude of those nine ungrateful lepers!  For anyone who is deliberately thankless and inappreciative of the Lord’s blessings, especially of His gift of forgiveness of sins, life and salvation, such a person is no Christian!!  But even though we find ourselves, in the weakness of our sinful flesh, not as grateful as we should be, not as thankful as we ought to be for God’s “unspeakable Gift” of Christ, our Savior, and the truth of His precious Word, we dare not despair; but we should rather make appropriate use of the time of grace remaining to us by sincerely repenting of our ingratitude and indifference toward His merciful and gracious blessings, and by “tak[ing] heed, lest [we] fall” (I Corinthians 10:12) into the soul-destroying pathways of selfishness, self-righteousness, and pride and callously forget our need for a Savior and who that Savior is!

But now, as our positive example of truly Christian gratitude and thanksgiving, let us examine the actions of the tenth leper who was healed by Jesus to see how gratitude to God is clearly evident in those who trust in Him and sincerely appreciate His mercy and grace to poor undeserving sinners.  The tenth leper, “when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving His thanks; and he was a Samaritan.”

As we noted before, this Samaritan was a spiritual “stranger,” deprived of the full truth of God’s Word in a heterodox communion and thus held back from the full enjoyment of the Lord’s blessings.  And yet, by the “fortunate inconsistency” that there can indeed be true believers in heterodox churches, people who by God’s grace personally reject the soul-destroying errors of the false prophets who are their teachers and cling in faith to Jesus —yes, by the smallest vestige of the pure Gospel, the Holy Spirit of God had worked faith in the Samaritan’s heart, faith which Jesus Himself acknowledged, saying:  “Arise, go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole.”

And, though weak and poorly nourished, his was a living faith, which showed itself in the fruit of true gratitude to his dear Savior —gratitude not only of the heart, but of the lips and actions.  For he first of all “turned back,” went out-of-his-way, as it were, and took special time and effort to show his deep appreciation to Jesus for His blessings.  This in itself is an example to us, who often find ourselves so “busy” that we seem to have no time for Jesus, no time to turn away from our daily routine to serve Him and His dear church in ways which both we and others can SEE!  —And then, with his newly-restored and strengthened vocal cords, he glorified God “with a loud voice.”  He didn’t just mumble and sing his praises halfheartedly, as even some Christians do in the hymns, liturgy and prayers of the divine services of God’s House; but he was so joyful, so thankful, so overflowing with gratitude to God, that he just couldn’t keep quiet!  And the Lord’s Psalmist exhorts us to do the same in our worship of praise and thanksgiving, saying: “O sing unto the Lord a new song, for He hath done marvelous things! …Make a joyful noise unto the Lord all the earth!  Make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise!” (Psalm 98).

Think of it, we New Testament Christians have so much to be thankful for in the fulfillment of all God’s promises to us, for our election to eternal life, for our conversion to faith by the Holy Ghost through the precious Means of Grace, for our preservation in the faith, and for our sanctification of life, all by those same means!  —And don’t forget all the advantages we have as members of our precious Conference, which the poor Samaritan lacked, our advantages as members of an orthodox fellowship:  God’s Word in its truth and purity, both in doctrine and in practice; pastors who nourish us diligently and faithfully in that Word and “watch for [our] souls” (Hebrews 13:17),  the Holy Sacraments administered according to Christ’s own institution; and the “good and pleasant” (Psalm 133:1) fellowship we enjoy with likeminded brethren, kept in the true “unity of the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:3)!  These are blessings of priceless value, blessings to get excited about and to be thankful for!  —People scream and yell in delight and shout for joy at the chance to play games on television for mere money and earthly prizes!  Can we do LESS out of gratitude for treasures that endure forever??

And this Samaritan also “fell down on his face at [Jesus’] feet giving Him thanks.”  He threw himself down before Jesus as His willing and humble servant, ready to back up his words with deeds of loving and grateful service.  There is also where you and I should take this tenth leper for our example, abounding more and more in our cheerful willingness, in our eagerness even, to back up our “thanksgiving” with “thanksliving” in deeds of Christian personal service to our Savior and His dear church —not only when things NEED to be done, but also in volunteering our time, effort, possessions, facilities, and energies to be of grateful service routinely to Him and to one another —so that more than one-out-of-ten of us is an obviously-grateful recipient of His blessings!  And let us perform that service “not with eye-service as men-pleasers,” Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:6, “but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart,” out of gratitude to Him who first loved us, gave Himself a ransom for our sins, saved us by His grace and cleansed us from the leprosy of our sins with His holy, precious blood, and made us heirs with Him of everlasting life in heaven.  Should we not therefore also sing with “gusto” in the words of the hymnwriter, exhorting one another to grateful thanksgiving for His abiding blessings:

Now thank we all our God
with hearts and hands and voices,
who wondrous things hath done,
in whom His world rejoices!
Who from our mother’s arms
hath blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today!

   (TLH 36, 1)

—-D. T. M.