The Return of the Seventy-Two
17 The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” 18 And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:17-20
“We learn, from this passage, how ready Christians are to be puffed up with success. It is written, that the seventy returned from their first mission with joy, ‘saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name.’
There was much false fire in that joy. There was evidently self-satisfaction in that report of achievements. The whole tenor of the passage leads us to this conclusion.
The remarkable expression which our Lord uses about Satan’s fall from heaven, was most probably meant to be a caution. He read the hearts of the young and inexperienced soldiers before Him.
He saw how much they were lifted up by their first victory. He wisely checks them in their undue exultation. He warns them against pride.
The lesson is one which all who work for Christ should mark and remember. Success is what all faithful laborers in the Gospel field desire.
The minister at home and the missionary abroad, the district visitor and the city missionary, the tract distributor and the Sunday-school teacher, all alike long for success. All long to see Satan’s kingdom pulled down, and souls converted to God.
We cannot wonder. The desire is right and good. Let it, however, never be forgotten, that the time of success is a time of danger to the Christian’s soul. The very hearts that are depressed when all things seem against them are often unduly exalted in the day of prosperity.
Few men are like Samson, and can kill a lion without telling others of it. (Judges 14:6.) No wonder that St. Paul says of a bishop, that he ought not to be ‘a novice, lest being lifted up with pride, he fall into the condemnation of the devil.’ (1 Tim. 3:6.)
Most of Christ’s laborers probably have as much success as their souls can bear. Let us pray much for humility, and especially for humility in our days of peace and success.
When everything around us seems to prosper, and all our plans work well,—when family trials and sicknesses are kept from us, and the course of our worldly affairs runs smooth,—when our daily crosses are light, and all within and without like a morning without clouds,—then, then is the time when our souls are in danger!
Then is the time when we have need to be doubly watchful over our own hearts. Then is the time when seeds of evil are sown within us by the devil, which may one day astound us by their growth and strength.
There are few Christians who can carry a full cup with a steady hand. There are few whose souls prosper in their days of uninterrupted success.
We are all inclined to sacrifice to our net, and burn incense to our own drag. (Hab. 1:16.) We are ready to think that our own might and our own wisdom have procured us the victory.
The caution of the passage before us ought never to be forgotten. In the midst of our triumphs, let us cry earnestly, ‘Lord, clothe us with humility.'”
–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1879), 1: 358-360. Ryle is commenting on Luke 10:17-20.