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The latter part of 
Sermon XIII. The Meekness and Gentleness of Christ
by Isaac Williams 
(From Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels for The Sundays and Holy Days

throughout the Year, Volume I. Advent to Tuesday in Whitsun Week,

Rivingtons, London, 1875)

Let us now proceed to this interesting narrative in the Gospel.  It was shortly after our Lord’s Baptism, when St. John the Baptist, on the banks of the Jordan, had pointed Him out to some of his disciples as the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world.  In consequence, St. Andrew and St. Peter, Philip and Nathaniel, together with another, which was probably St. John,  were now attaching themselves to Him as His disciples, when the scene of the narrative is changed from Judaea to Galilee.  And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  And both Jesus was called, and His disciples, to the marriage, i.e. those who were afterwards solemnly called to be “his disciples,” and had now accompanied Him home from where John was baptizing.  Cana was a small village not far from Nazareth.  “The mother of Jesus was there,” but Joseph is no more mentioned, and therefore it is supposed that he had died after the occurrence described in the gospel for last Sunday, which was eighteen years before.  We may observe, from more than one place in the Gospels and especially from some of our Lord’s parables, that a marriage feast was then much thought of, the greatest of domestic festivities; but it would appear, from what is next mentioned, that this occasion was among poor people.  It has always been supposed, and, indeed, is mentioned by St. Augustin, that our Lord thus intended to give His own divine sanction to the institution of marriage, as there shall arise in the last days some, as St. Paul says, “forbidding to marry.”  Thus, in our own Marriage Service, it is said, “which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with His presence, and first miracle that He wrought in Cana of Galilee.”

And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto Him, They have no wine.  This was surely a matter of distress, and indicates the poverty of the family, that they had not wherewithal to entertain the guests which they had invited.  And the Blessed Virgin, who pondered and weighed things in her mind, had no doubt, in faith perceived that the time was now near at hand for our Lord's miraculous manifestation of Himself.  Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. That is to say, that the working of miracles is according to His Godhead, not according to that manhood which He had received from a human mother.  Nor in the Divine mission which He had received from the Father, was He to be controlled or influenced by a parent to whom He had been subject according to the flesh.  And for this manifestation of Himself by miracles the “hour was not yet” fully arrived, although it was just about to be.  But notwithstanding this, the mercies of God are so wont to overflow beyond their own appointed bounds, and the Virgin Mother had so well known our Lord’s gracious condescension on every occasion of need, that she did not consider these words as a refusal of her request.  But as she asked in faith, so she in faith received.  For God often hears and answers even when He appears at first to decline.  His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.  She felt assured of that which we find in every page of the Gospels, that the union of obedience with faith is necessary for any miracle to be wrought, or that we should receive anything from God.  And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, on account of those frequent washings which they performed before eating bread, or returning from the market and the like;  containing two or three firkins apiece.  Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim.  And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it.  When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was. For the governor of the feast, the person according to custom appointed to preside in the chief place, and one it is supposed for that purpose of a priestly office, was probably not aware of the want of wine, and therefore ignorant of the means by which it was procured.   But the servants which drew the water knew.  They who had acted in faith and obedience were given to witness this manifestation of hidden Godhead.  The governor of the feast called the bridegroom,  And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.  That is to say, he thus unconsciously bore testimony to the miracle, not only to the reality of the wine into which the water was thus converted, but to its being more excellent than common wine.  Thus the servants and the disciples who were present were confirmed in the fact of this miracle, thus wrought by the word of Christ.  The governor spake as one in authority, and his words were attended to as such.

But it is impossible to pass over these remarkable words, thus spoken by the governor of the feast, without perceiving that they contain a great deal more, not only than the governor himself meant, but also more than the mere confirmation of the miracle.  Perhaps as bearing a sacred office he spake, like Caiaphas, things divine which he knew not of.  St. John, in his Gospel, is always wont to mention such things, and to leave us to ponder on the hidden meanings they contain.  Before entering therefore into the more practical lesson which this Gospel for the day teaches us, I may just allude to the mystery which it has always been supposed to contain.  Our Lord’s presence at this marriage was not only the sanction of marriage as the appointment of God, but set forth also that “great mystery” which St. Paul tells us it is made to signify [Eph 5. 23-32], that strict spiritual union which is betwixt Christ and His Church.  Our Lord Himself had now left His Father [Gen. 2:24] in Heaven, and had come to be united to that Bride which He was about to purchase with His own Blood, to nourish and cherish as His own flesh; bone of His bone, and flesh of His flesh.  It is she who is taken out of His own side by means of the two sacraments, the Water and the Blood, as He is laid in the deep sleep of death.  It is He Who is throughout the Scriptures spoken of under the figure of the Bridegroom.  This marriage at Cana of Galilee is but a representation of that great mystery; and the bridegroom who was then present was therefore but a type or symbol of our Lord Himself; and words spoken to that man were treasured up and by the Spirit brought to the remembrance afterwards of the inspired Evangelist.  Among mankind, and in all things pertaining to man and this world, the good is first set forth, and afterwards that which is worse; but it is not so with the things of God.  He always keeps the good till the last.  “But thou hast kept the good wine until now.”  Wine, and the good wine, and the new wine, are often put in Holy Scripture for the Blood of Christ, and therefore more generally for His Gospel.  As our Lord Himself says, the “new wine put into old bottles,” i.e. received into the old man, withered and decayed, will “burst the bottles” and be lost.  And no man used to the old wine “straightway desireth new,” for he saith that “the old is better;” –in both cases by the “new wine” signifying His Gospel.  Thus therefore was it now.  The heavenly, the spiritual Bridegroom, Who was then present, and was about to appear, though they knew Him not,--He had kept the good wine till the last.  He had given them the Law and carnal ordinances, but He had kept the gracious dispensation of His Gospel till now.  It is therefore in itself impossible to conceive anything more engaging and beautiful, more divinely expressive, than was this the opening of our Blessed Lord’s Gospel by means of this His first miracle at the marriage feast.  It was He Himself, the Great Creator and Preserver of all, Who, unseen and unheeded, had been performing this miracle ever since the creation of the world, when in the ways of His natural Providence He converts the dews and the rains of Heaven into the juice of the grape, thus converting water into wine; it is He Who now appears as the Son of man and works this same miracle, showing that He Who is about to die for us as man, is no other than He Who made us as God.  And as He changes water into wine, thereby to set forth the great sacrament of His atoning Blood: so does He convert this occasion of an ordinary marriage festival into a spiritual symbol of His own Incarnation, and His mysterious union with us in the flesh.

But what is the more ordinary and simple instruction, which the circumstance is calculated to teach by our Lord’s appearing at this marriage, and thus acting in the first manifestation of His glory?  For it is added,  This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.  But when they believed in His Divine mission, and looked up to Him in faith on account of this evidence of the miracle, they did not of course understand at that time all this depth of Divine wisdom which the whole of that occasion contained, but they looked to all His words and His actions to be instructed by them.  The whole of our Lord’s example in what He was doing was no doubt for their practical instruction.  They were to be transformed in all their own hearts and lives by Him, by His Divine power, and saving aid and guidance, and they looked to all that He said and did, although they knew not as yet the hidden things of God.  And no doubt to us likewise our Lord’s example is full of practical teaching in the same manner.  Now if we are to ask what is the lesson which the Gospel for last week contained, it might be said in one word to be Humility.  In like manner it might be said that the subject of the Gospel for this week is Love.

Now there have been in the world many teachers of wisdom—some among heathen philosophers truly virtuous and good, according to the light given unto them, and often speaking such words of wisdom as none but God Himself could have taught them.  Many, again, commissioned and inspired of God, prophets and holy men of old, and Apostles afterwards, and Saints in the Church;--all these labouring in various ways to bring men to the knowledge of God and of Christ.  But I know of nothing among them that in any way partakes of the character of this incident, which takes so prominent a place in our Lord’s history.  This appears to be quite different from anything recorded of them, on account of that wonderful Divine love which pervades it—such loving condescension to the common ways of life; and not only that, but to such occasions as might be thought out of the reach of religion and the religious teacher, raising and sanctifying them by the presence and influence of Divine meekness and love, showing us that God is Himself present in such, that He must be considered and remembered as present; and indeed, were He not so, then such things ought not and must not be at all.  If they are to be, God must be in them; and He may, and indeed delights and loves, in merciful condescension, to be in them; “to beautify,” as our Prayer Book well expresses it, and to consecrate “by His presence.”

But this is not all; it is in wonderful meekness as man also that He instructs us.  He was there, not yet as one in authority, nor as a Divine teacher, for He does not appear to be as yet known as such, except to those few persons, afterwards His disciples, to whom John the Baptist had pointed Him out a few days before.  He was probably there only as the son of the carpenter in a neighbouring village.  And how humble was the occasion of the miracle?  It was not like those cases of distress which afterwards occurred, of limbs lost and paralyzed, of sick and dying persons and the afflictions of their relatives and friends, or of hearts overcome with the sense of sin; but it was one of those trivial circumstances which nothing but the tenderness of meek and gentle lovingkindness would have attended to.  To have been there at all was, humanly speaking, not to have been expected of One so holy, and a Teacher of God so wise and good: but, when there, to have sympathized in such little wants, this was even much more than the former.  It was the perfecting of this example of condescending meekness.  Again, among mankind it is a great proof of charity, it is a blessed and Divine work, to sympathize with the afflicted, to have a fellow-feeling with others in their afflictions, and to endeavour to alleviate them.  But it is often more difficult to sympathize also with those that are happy and prosperous, so as to be anxious to make up for anything wanting in their comfort.  This, indeed, is not at all difficult when we ourselves have a part in such things; for the world itself, in such cases, is very forward to rejoice and have its own share in the joys of others.  But when we ourselves are entirely of another sort in our feelings,--so that our hearts being elsewhere, their joys are of a far different kind to ours,--yet still, even then, not only to take part in the greater distresses of others, but even in those little things as may be needful to make up their little satisfactions, this is a charity beyond that which is commonly to be met with among men; nay, among religious teachers, and even great saints of God.  We may see something like it in the love of a mother to her children, for that is the greatest instance of maternal love that we know of, when she takes part in their innocent joys.  Such maternal love is only an image of the love of God for His creatures.  And it may be that this differs from all that we read of, because it is not human but Divine love.

But still, as a lesson to ourselves, it is not unlike many of our Lord’s own commands to us, Who, while He says, “Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly,” says also, “Be ye merciful, even as your Father in Heaven is merciful.”  We are to imitate not only Christ in meekness, but also at the same time to imitate God in mercy; to look to the Divine goodness over all His creatures, for our own pattern of loving-kindness.  Thus I was going to observe, many of His particular injunctions to us are of this character, implying a consideration of little wants on little occasions.  Thus of the goodness of God our Lord says, “Ask, and it shall be given you.  For every one that asketh receiveth.”  It makes no exception; however trivial the matter may be, we may have recourse to God, and He will grant what we ask.  In like manner He says to us, “Give to him that asketh thee.”  “Whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.”  “Despise not these little ones.”  “Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only, in the name of a disciple, Verily, I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.”  Thus does our Lord give us injunctions respecting such matters as may meet us at every turn; such actions as might commonly be called those of good nature, are by Him sanctified when done for the love of God.  But even from His commands let us turn again to our Lord Himself, and to His example.  This was the opening of His Gospel.  Thus did He begin His Ministry, and there was something in it ever throughout so much of this character of most tender and gracious condescension, that His enemies said of Him, “a wine-bibber; a friend of publicans and sinners.”  Thus could they speak of the “Man of Sorrows.”  Yea, even of Himself did He say, “the Son of man is come eating and drinking;” though His knees were weak through fasting,. and tears were His meat day and night.  For as the rays of the sun are not polluted, however unclean may be the places on which they fall, neither could He be harmed by any example of men in such societies; but He could hallow, and alleviate, and cheer, and make them better by His Presence.  Among mankind a proud man would not condescend to such little wants; an envious man could not so sympathize in the joys of others; a religious teacher would not so meet men in the unguarded intercourse of such occasions; one who was not dead to the world, could not, perhaps, do so without temptation to evil.  Some men have practised severe and mortified lives themselves, but cannot look on what is innocent and lawful in the domestic and social life of others without much bitterness.  Alas, how weak we all are!  As crippled and infirm persons, half withered and dried up by old age or infirmities, are brought out to be placed in the warmth of the sun, so do we all need to be warmed and enlivened in our cold and barren hearts by the influence of this Divine example.