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The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity.
by the Rev. Prebendary Melville Scott, D.D.
from The Harmony of the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels.
A Devotional Exposition of the Continuous Teaching of the Church Throughout the Year,
S.P.C.K., London, 1902.
As the first half of the Trinity season brings before us the fundamental motives of the Christian life and the grace needed for its realisation, so the second half displays in detail the various aspects of the Christian character. In harmony with the Sermon on the Mount, our Church teaches first those passive graces which form the only solid foundation for future activity and usefulness, for, after insisting on love as the one great essential of “true and laudable service,” she brings before us the silent graces of purity (Fourteenth), singleness of heart (Fifteenth), patience in tribulation (Sixteenth), and, lastly, on the present Sunday, humility. The parallel with the Beatitudes is, of course, most obvious. 

The insistence of our Church upon humility is a very marked feature, and is not only constant in very many of the Collects, but is especially the theme of Sexagesima, Palm Sunday, and the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity. This last treats of humility towards God as seen in the character of S. Paul and in the prayer of the publican. We are to-day to learn the yet harder lesson of humility in our dealings with men, and that, while poverty of spirit towards God is needed for the Kingdom of Heaven, meekness alone can inherit the earth. Both Sundays, it will be noticed, conclude with the same words of our Saviour, “whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased,” which are true in both relations. 


Humility is a great Christian duty, and is here enforced by two cogent reasons. 

     A. Our Vocation as Christians demands it.  

Our highest duty is to “walk worthy of the vocation where-with we were called,” and this high calling must keep us humble. 

We can never be worthy of the grace of God as seen in our baptismal standing: 

“You were just weak earth I knew, 
     With much in you waste, with many a weed, 
     And plenty of passions run to seed; 
But a little good grain too: 
     And such as you were I took you for mine.” 
God took us “such as we were”; can we therefore be otherwise than humble? 

Lowly in himself, the Christian will be meek towards others, careful of offending others; he will shew long-suffering and forbearance when the offence seems against himself. Any pride or harshness is absolutely un-Christian. 
     B. The Unity of the Church demands it.  

The unity of the Church is a fact. S. Paul does not say that there ought to be one body, but that there is one body. To cut that body asunder is not to make two bodies any more than the sword of Solomon could make two children out of one. But the unity of the Church can only be realised in the bond of peace, just as the unity of husband and wife or the unity of a family can only be realised by forbearance and mutual love. In each case the unity is there, but it must be felt. Individual aims and opinions must be willingly sacrificed. The things which unite must be preferred to the things which separate. S. Paul gives seven claims of unity—one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father, over all in His dignity, through all by His providence, in all by His grace. 

These great unities once realised will make easy any degree of needful mutual subordination in the interests of unity, for whatever testifies to the one must be an argument for the other. 

As we are all members of one mystical body and have one Divine Spirit in us; as we have all one hope of our common home, one Lord and Master Whom we serve, one saving truth on which to feed and live; as we have all had the same baptismal water poured upon us, and the same cross impressed upon our brows; as we are all one Father’s children, Who is watching over us all, mingling ever with us all, and in us all by His Spirit, we must of necessity cultivate every grace of humility towards those who are so united with us in God. 


The part of the Gospel most nearly connected with the Sunday subject is towards the close, but it was the behaviour of the Pharisees in the earlier portion which gave rise to our Lord’s teaching on humility. 

     A.   An Example and a Warning.  

Christ would not refuse the invitation of a Pharisee, even if given with hostile intent. He answered objections by an appeal to conscience rather than by denunciation, with all meekness and long-suffering. 

In the Pharisees we see the unreasonableness of pride, how it is ready to condemn, slow to receive correction and to acknowledge error. All bigotry is rooted and grounded in pride, and is in danger of the unpardonable sin, for it refuses to repent, and is therefore incapable of forgiveness. 

     B.   A Parable of Humility.  

The aim of this parable or illustration is to show that pride defeats its own ends. He who claims the highest place will always find it claimed by others, and probably with greater justice. Pride is doomed to fail, if only because it must encounter the pride of others. It is hard to believe that the lowest place is nearest the front, but it is a fact of experience. 

     C.   The Law of Humility.  

Our Saviour not only shows humility to be our wisdom, but also our duty, for it is His law that whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased. 

These words are not to be understood to forbid:— 

     (1) The Desire of Approval.  
We do ill indeed if we merit contempt; rather by our attainments, the management of our affairs, our soundness of judgment, our weight of character and depth of principle we should seek to hold anything but a low place in the estimate of men who know how to estimate, and in that of God. 

     (2) The Claims of Self-respect.  
There is a certain conscious dignity not inconsistent with humility. There is no man who does not owe something to himself, and Christianity calls upon no one to cease to be a man. 

But this being granted, humility must be seen in the whole spirit and feeling of our natures. It must be based on the sense of our unworthiness before God, on our knowledge of ourselves, on the comparison of ourselves with others, of whom many surpass us in everything and all in something, on the fact that such lowliness is the invariable characteristic of true worth, and by it alone can we render ourselves endurable to persons whose regard and confidence are worth the having. 

We must also remember that we can only rise by humility and only sink by pride, for humility, comparing itself only with that which is above itself, must tend to rise, while pride, comparing itself with what is mean and low, is too self-satisfied to see the need of improvement. Such is our Saviour’s justification of the virtue which men call a vice, but which is rather that which makes all virtue possible. 


There is not at first sight any direct reference in this Collect to the Sunday subject until we refer to the connection between humility and grace as seen in the Third Sunday after Trinity (cf. 1 Peter v. 5), and also on the Eleventh Sunday, which teaches our human need of grace. Only the humble can pray the prayer of this Collect, in which we ask :— 

     A.   That God’s Grace may go Before Us. 

We need grace before us to prompt us with right desires, to make openings of usefulness, and so to guide us that we may be able to complete what we have begun. 

     B.   That God’s Grace may go Behind Us. 

We shall need grace behind us ever to urge us on, that we may not fall behind, to support us when we fail, to guard us from unseen enemies, and to bless our works with good results. 

If these petitions be granted, how safe will be the journey of the Chosen people out of Egypt, as with a pillar of fire before, and a pillar of cloud behind! Thus the whole Christian life will be a Mahanaim, and our whole temporal and spiritual journey shall be passed in the good works which God has prepared for us to walk in.