Home      Back to Trinity 17





The Sabbath of Christ Found in Meekness.

by Isaac Williams

from Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays and Holy Days

throughout the Year, Vol. II. Trinity Sunday to All Saints' Day 

Rivingtons, London, 1875.

Second part of Sermon LXIV. for the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity.
 Eph. iv. 1-6.    St. Luke xiv. 1-11.
I, therefore, the prisoner of the LORD, beseech you, that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness..EPH. iv. 1-2.
(for the first part, on the Epistle.
...Let us now, therefore, turn to the Great Physician of body and soul, to that gracious and blessed example which the Gospel for the day presents to us, in Him on Whom to gaze is itself our health, if only we look on Him with faith in His Godhead, and go out of ourselves to read wisdom “in the face of Jesus Christ.”

And it came to pass, says St. Luke, as Jesus went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread on the sabbath day, that they watched Him. Our Lord had taught the Jews that the only way of keeping the law was by love; the love of God and the love of man; and especially by the latter, as the outward evidence of the former, which He instances in the parable of the Good Samaritan. But our Lord’s custom was to teach by actions as much as by words, and therefore the day which may be said to represent the Law, the Holy Day of the Jews, the Sabbath, He appeared to select more especially for His works of mercy. For as love is the fulfilling of the law, in love is to be found that rest which the Sabbath signified, when man ceases from his own works in that faith which worketh by love, through the indwelling of God, Who worketh in us. Thus we find that in the synagogue, on the Sabbath Day, our Lord wrought His miracles of healing; and now, when the synagogue was over, and He had gone to the house of one of the rulers of the synagogue, it was evident to all that the same love and compassion was in His mind. If distress was there, He would alleviate it. And they “watched Him ;“ eyes of hatred and suspicion were cast upon Him. These with us are apt to dry up what little love we have; but it is not so with God.

And, behold, there was a certain man before Him which had the dropsy. And Jesus answering, or reverting to their thoughts, spake unto the Lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day? And they held their peace. And he took him and healed him, and let him go. Our Lord was at a feast, but He laid not aside for one moment that which was always in His mind, love and compassion for man. One in distress, or infirmity, or want, was to Him what the sight of a great man may be to us, something that immediately attracted His attention beyond others. Now here we are taught this great law of love, that we are on all occasions to think of those who most need our aid. And again, what a consolation to ourselves in our great need!  We are taught what God is, so full of wonderful compassion, that the fact of our needing His assistance is enough; He is watching, and waiting, and willing to aid us.

And now that our Lord had healed the man with the dropsy, He turns to a more subtle evil which was before Him, the swelling pride of these Pharisees. But as this is in the heart itself; which must first know its own disease, He gently leads them on to the knowledge of this their self-deceit or hypocrisy; for they, in their covetousness, would do the same for their beasts, which He as God had done in His love for His creatures. For if they had loved each other as they loved their, own property, they could not have looked on with such evil eyes. O blessed law of love, what infinite pains has our Lord taken to engrave thee on our hearts!

The man, made sound by His word, had departed in peace. There is an expressive pause, for the angry countenances that looked on are but the more embittered at the sight. He addressed them, therefore, again, And answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day? And they could not answer Him again to these things. They stood convicted by their own consciences.

Such was our Lord’s conduct at a feast; we have accounts of what He did when by the way, when in the synagogue, when in the temple, when in a ship, when He was with the multitudes, when with His disciples, when alone, for He was then always in prayer, when in a friend’s house, as with Martha and Mary; and here we have a description of what He was doing when He sat at meat in a Pharisee’s house, with many guests. Having healed the sick, He is now endeavouring to heal that. worse disease, from which flowed this great want of love. The evil spirit that possessed the body, and the diseases to which it is subject, are easily overcome; but that evil spirit of pride which possesses the souls of us all is lodged deeper. It is not against this outward covering of temporal life, but against the life which is in God it struggles. Wherever it dwells in any degree it stifles love. That old serpent in the heart strangles the dove. Wherever he is, the Spirit of God grieves and departs. It is to this then that we now behold the Great Physician directing His attention.

And he put forth a parable to those which were bidden, when He marked how they chose out the chief rooms. For not the Pharisees only, but all “love the uppermost seats.” Nor is there any more melancholy sight, more sad proof of the selfishness of which even Christians are guilty, than when many are gathered together, whether at a dinner, or in travelling, or at a show, or in business, where each endeavours to make himself more at ease, more at large, higher or better off than his neighbour. Nay, alas, does not this same spirit enter even into our very churches also?

“He put forth a parable,” it is said. Now a parable means a dark saying, something containing in it a deeper signification than the mere circumstances of the story itself; and here no doubt it means that what our Lord spake respecting persons sitting down at dinner He meant to apply to all the circumstances of our life, to the place which we assume to ourselves under that Gospel which is likened to a marriage feast.

He put forth a parable, saying unto them, When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, that is, to a great feast, for the wedding supper was with the Jews the chief occasion of such meetings, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him; and he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room. Take care, whatever you do, that you are not estimating yourself too highly, and above others; for if you do, be assured you will be found out, and covered with shame. For all things will find their place, all will be known. Your neighbour may, in God’s sight, be above you, and assuredly will be if you set yourself above him in your own mind. For real greatness depends on the knowledge men have of God; and the more knowledge men have of God the more humble they are.

But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that, when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee. Now if a person were literally to do this which our Blessed Lord commands, if he were to take the lowest place, with a view that he might be put up to the highest, and so gain more honour in the sight of all the guests, why surely this would not be humility and lowliness of mind, but it would be the worst kind of pride, together with hypocrisy and dissimulation. For indeed we ought to choose and love the lowest place out of lowliness of mind, and from the love of God and our neighbour; we ought to be most happy at being there left in the lowest place as best suited for us, and not from any secret desire of exaltation. Far from it. Such were more like the secret creeping up of a serpent, than that meekness and lowliness of heart which was in the Son of God. How, therefore, are we to explain this saying of Christ’s ? The parable is indeed an instance of His exceeding gentleness and meekness of wisdom. If at this feast, and on witnessing this struggle for precedence, among proud and ambitious men, He had said aloud, “Humble yourselves in the sight of God, and. He in due time will lift you up,” this would have seemed to them quite out of season, and unsuitable to the occasion; these worldly men would but have scorned, and been angry with their Divine Teacher. They would have been the worse rather than the better for such a warning, and therefore our Lord Himself has said to us, “Cast not your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot, and turn again and rend you.” They knew not that they were in the sight of the all-seeing God. They loved Him not, and honoured Him not. But He, in the meanwhile, was looking with tender pity and regard on their infirmities; He saw and knew full well the exceeding meanness and poverty of this their proud love of distinction. They knew not Him, but He knew them full well. He looked upon them as we might on little children, and only thought how He might best correct them in their childish follies. What He earnestly longed for in them was lowliness of mind, but how was He to produce this ? “Answer a fool according to his folly,” says the Divine wisdom, in the Book of Proverbs (xxvi. 5.); that is, you must meet him in his ignorance, and by that correct ‘him. And thus our Lord endeavoured to catch them, as it were, in the nets of their own pride. He saw how blind they were, and in their blindness wandering far out of the way, and. yet that they would. not accept His guiding hand, because they thought themselves wise and clear-sighted. It is, therefore, as if He had said, Now, you are all anxious for honour and distinction, I will therefore advise you which is the best course for you to adopt in order to obtain it. This advice the worst of them could not despise; but the better among them would be rendered thoughtful, would consider over what our Lord could mean, would remember His strange ex-pression, “If you are desirous of honour, sit down in the lowest place.” We cannot but suppose that among that company there must have been some who thus returned. home, pondering over and considering what the Divine Teacher, Who restored the dropsical man, could intend by this instruction. One thing was evident, that He wished them all to take the lowest place,—such was to be their conduct. But what was their motive to be? “That when the master of the feast cometh, he may say, ‘Go up higher;’ then shalt thou have worship in the sight of them that sit at meat with thee.” But when is this to be? Who is this master of the feast, who will know the right place for each? Does it allude to that table of which our Lord speaks on another occasion, when He says that they shall come from all parts of the world, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the Kingdom of Heaven. It was probably so understood, for it was apparently at this feast that afterwards, when our Lord exhorts him that invited him when he made a feast to invite the poor, one present exclaimed, “Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the Kingdom of God.” As if it were to that our Lord had directed their thoughts.

And He ends by comprising it all in this short sentence: For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.  Many are the forms of humility, or the ways in which it shows itself; which our Lord sets forth in different parables; on this occasion it is taking the lowest place at a feast; at another, it is one who in prayer stands afar off not daring to lift up his eyes to Heaven; in another, it is one who comes with the words, “Father, I am not worthy to be called Thy son, make me as one of Thine hired servants ;“ in another parable, it is one who loved much because he felt he had been forgiven much; in another, it is one who, even at the last Day, says with surprise, “Lord, when saw we Thee an hungered, and ministered unto Thee?” as if quite unconscious of any good in himself that should claim so great reward. Many also are the examples which set forth the same in different aspects, but this one expression embraces all.

There seems some great mystery on this subject of humility, as connected with our justification, with the atonement of Christ and our faith. Perhaps the less we say to explain it the less likely we shall be to fall into error; for it is one on which the most wise have fallen, but the meek will be guided aright in the way of peace. All that we know is, that there is nothing which our Blessed Lord has so laboured to inculcate upon us, as this one grace of humility; or rather, not as one grace, but as that without which there can be no grace whatever in the soul on which God looks with approbation. By His example, by His parables, by precepts and exhortations without number, He has declared to us the infinite importance of it. No words, therefore, can possibly express of what moment it is to each one of us that we labour after it.

Whatever other meaning this parable may have, of taking the lowest place at the wedding feast, we may be quite sure that it is rightly explained of the Lord’s table, at which they that hunger are filled. There can be no doubt that he will be the highest in God's favour who comes to that Divine Table with the most lowly mind, most deeply sensible of his own unworthiness.

If such lowliness is most becoming for the guests at a man’s table; if it is the most availing disposition in prayer to God; if feeling most the need of forgiveness it loves most; if it is most rich in pardon to enemies and compassions to all, there can be no time and no place where it is more needed, than when we come to the altar of God, to partake in the Body and Blood of Him Who humbled Himself from Heaven to earth for our sakes.