The Village Pulpit, Volume II/Sermon LIV
17th Sunday after Trinity.
S. Luke, xiv. 2.
"Whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted."
INTRODUCTION.—Both Isaiah, Ezekiel, and the apostle John saw in vision the glory of Heaven and the throne of God, and near it four beasts, "full of eyes, within and without." That is to say the beasts saw all that was within them as well as all that was outside them. Most of us here on earth are very different. We are full of eyes without, we see everything that is going on among our neighbours, and a great deal which is not there also, but we have no eyes for seeing anything within, and we know nothing of ourselves, our own faults, and our own errors.
We see every wrong thing done by a neighbour, we have eyes for this, but we see no wrong done by ourselves, we have no eyes for that. We see all the weakness of others, we have eyes for this, but we see none of our own weakness, we have no eyes for that. We see all the folly of others, we have eyes for this, but for our own stupid acts and words we are blind, we have no eyes for that. It would be better if we were well supplied with eyes within, instead of so many eyes without. It would be better for our neighbours, and it would be better for ourselves. In to-day's Gospel we hear of the chief Pharisees watching Christ. They had eyes for that. They watched Him to find occasion against Him. But that they were hypocrites and perverters of the law, they knew not. They had no eyes for this.
SUBJECT.—The first shall be last, and the last first, says our Lord. That is, those who have eyes without only, for the rest of the world, who see themselves as perfect, and have no eyes for their own defects, shall find themselves hereafter at the foot of the ladder, and those who have eyes within, seeing their own weakness, shortcomings, falls, who have therefore been humble, and esteemed others more highly than themselves, these will be exalted to the top of the ladder.
I. Most men value themselves more highly than they have any right, and value themselves very often for those things which are not their own, they take the honour paid to their possessions, as though due to themselves.
This fable is related by an ancient writer. An ass once had the golden image of the Goddess Isis set on his back, and he was led through the streets of a city in Egypt. Then the Egyptians fell down on their faces and worshipped, and raised their hands in supplication. The ass was puffed up with pride, and began to prick up his ears and prance. Then the driver brought down his stick upon his back, and said, "You ass! the honour is given not to you, but to what you bear." There is many a man who is no less elated by his position, or by some good fortune that falls to him, than this ass. The man of wealth holds up his head and expects every one to bow to him; he thinks a great deal of himself, and he finds that a great many persons cringe to him and flatter him. "Man! the honour is given, not to you, but to the gold you carry." It may be the same with office, or title; respect is given to the magistrate, or the nobleman, or the general, or the captain, or the poor-law officer, or the policeman, and he thinks much of himself accordingly. "Man! the honour is given not to you, but to the title or office, or authority you carry." And there is many a woman who puts on new and gay clothes, a new bonnet, or a new gown, in the highest fashion, and she sails into church with her chin in the air, and a flutter in her heart, knowing that all eyes are upon her. "Woman! all are admiring—not you,—but the clothes you carry."
Whatever it be that we have, which others have not, it should not elate, but humble us, for a talent entails a responsibility. He that has gold has to answer to God what use he makes of it. "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of Heaven." He that has office and authority is under great responsibility to discharge his duties in his office, and exercise the authority entrusted to him well. It was the fact that he was a man in authority which made the Centurion humble, and brought on him the commendation of Christ. "Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldest enter under my roof; neither thought I myself worthy to come unto Thee, for I am a man set under authority, having under me, soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it." He that has intellectual gifts must be humble, not proud, because of them, for he is answerable for the use he makes of them.
II. God is very likely to humble those who set too high a price on themselves; and better that He should bring them down to a just appreciation of their own selves, in this world, than hereafter.
King Nebuchadnezzar had a vision. He saw a great image, the head was of gold, the breast and arms of silver, the belly and thighs of brass, the legs of iron, and the feet of clay. He called Daniel to interpret his dream to him, and Daniel said, "Thou, O King, art a King of kings, for the God of Heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory—thou art this head of gold." Then the prophet went on to speak of other great nations, and how that all would be involved in a common ruin, a little stone out of the mountain would roll down on the feet of clay and break them, and then the great image, golden head, and silver breast, and brazen body, and iron legs, would all go to pieces—they rested on an infirm footing, fragile clay.
King Nebuchadnezzar, however, thought only of himself as the golden head. Golden head must have golden breast, and a golden breast must have a golden trunk, and golden trunk golden legs, and golden legs must rest on feet of gold. That will stand, and that will represent me better than this patchwork affair of which I dreamed. So he set him up the golden image in the plain of Dura. That represented himself as he regarded himself, the image seen in vision represented him as he was in reality, as God saw him. What followed? God smote him and he went mad. He was driven out as a wild beast into the fields, as a raving madman, and thus he remained till his senses returned, and he acknowledged with humility, that his prosperity did rest on a fragile footing, and that God knew better what he was worth than did he himself.
Now apply this to yourselves. No doubt that each of you has his excellence. One has got a head of gold, another a heart of gold. One has the strength and endurance of iron, another has means, plenty of silver, each has something of which he can boast; but take care not to make golden images of yourselves and set them up, and expect every one to bow down before them and take you at your own estimation. God will humble you. The feet are of clay, and the proud statues will fall some day. Therefore try to see yourselves as you really are, "Let him that exalteth himself take heed lest he fall." "Be clothed with humility," is the exhortation of S. Peter, "for God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time." And S. James says, "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up."