<< TAKING THE LOWEST SEATS. >>
7When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8"When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, 'Give this man your seat.' Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, 'Friend, move up to a better place.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. 11For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (LUKE XIV. 7-11.)
THE PRINCIPLE STATED.
Divine Truth sets the regenerate mind in heavenly order. In this order, all the principles of human life are arranged in accordance with their spiritual quality. The Lord is loved first, and as the highest; and the neighbor is loved as ourselves. And this practically means that, in all the life of the regenerate man, in his heart, in his understanding, and in his conduct, the Lord's principles of love and wisdom, of good and truth, are exalted to the highest place, as the elements of spiritual life in the human soul; and that, in the application of these principles, the interests, the rights, and the desires, of our neighbors, are as carefully guarded and served as our own. That is, we submit ourselves, in heart, thought, and conduct, to the guidance of the Lord's heavenly principles.
In such a life, we do not regard persons, but principles; and we love what is good, and think what is true, and do what is right, towards all persons. Good men exalt the Lord, and love their neighbors, as children of the Lord; and, in this exalted state of love, they are exalted in character. But he who supremely loves himself loves evil, and does not love the Lord or the neighbor. And, in his intentional exalting of his own self-love, he forms in himself an evil character, and abases, or debases, himself. But the good man humbles himself by submitting himself to the government of heavenly principles; and, in doing so, he opens his heart and life to the blessings of heaven, which then flow into him, and form a heaven in his mind and life.
THE LITERAL SENSE.
The literal sense of the parable is understood in connection with Oriental customs. At Oriental feasts, when a guest enters the room, he first salutes the house. Then, carefully he looks over the company assembled, and, giving due consideration to other guests yet to arrive, he estimates what position he shall take, at the table, according to his rank, and according to his connection with the occasion of the feast. We readily notice that, in such a case, there is every opportunity for a self-seeking man to thrust himself forward, beyond the position to which his actual rank, or merits, entitle him. The scribes and Pharisees were especially inclined to push themselves into too great prominence.
After the guests are seated, the host, or master of the house, enters the room, salutes his guests, and takes his place at the head of the table. Looking along the table, he expects to find each guest in his appropriate place, according to his rank, or his personal connection with the occasion. And if the host sees any guest in a place below that to which his rank entitles him, the host addresses the guest, and says,
"Friend, come up higher;" at the same time pointing to the place which he is expected to take. And if that place has been filled, already, the man who occupies it must vacate it, and must, of course, rest under the inference that he has claimed too much for himself.
And, in fact, it is the privilege of the host to honor any one or more of the guests, at his own table, and to place them in a position as high as he pleases to select for them. Therefore, it is best for a guest to be modest, and to take a humble place, and to wait until the host shall call him to come up higher.
Self-praise belongs to a very external state of mind, And the world's experience has originated the maxim, "Self-praise is no recommendation." But immature minds are, at times, so engrossed with their recent discovery of their own developing abilities, that they become forgetful of the abilities, rights and needs of others.
Few things are more disgusting than a confirmed habit of conceited self-assertion. It originates in self-love. And it contains, within it, a feeling of contempt for others. Hence it flourishes in unbalanced, and immature, and selfish minds. But, experience and mental growth gradually lift worthy persons out of such a state.
Therefore, while a certain amount of self-assertion and conceit are to be expected in a youth, and while these unamiable characteristics are often especially observable in the early stages of strong characters, yet, in the process of regeneration, they give place to better qualities And so, a conceited self-assertion, which is not especially deplorable in a very young man, becomes an intolerable weakness, and a serious blemish, in the character of a man of mature age.
Looking at the literal sense, only, the parable would seem to savor considerably of worldly policy. From it, a foolish man might feel justified in humbling himself outwardly, and temporarily, in order that he might be exalted, afterwards. To take a low seat, for fear we should be put down from a higher seat, though politic, is not a virtuous act. Spiritual-minded men do not pretend to humble themselves, for the sake of being exalted by others, as the Pharisees made broad their phylacteries, and prayed in the streets, to be seen of men.
The parable was given to teach the principle of humility, But how shall the principle of humility begin to take hold of a self-seeking man? Only by teaching him to set his conduct in order. And he will do this from whatever motive controls his mind. But every step towards order, and into order, gives him an opportunity to come more fully under the influence of order. Thus, men begin, often; from selfish motives, and finally end in regeneration.
For instance; men cease sinning, in act, because they fear hell; and it requires a long course of Divine leading and teaching, before they arrive at the higher state, of shunning evils because they hate the hells, and love heaven. The Lord leads us through many things that are not good and useful, but which are necessary steps in our progress out of evil, into good. There is a wilderness between our mental Egypt and our mental Canaan; and in. that wilderness, there are hunger and drought, and wars and pestilence, and flying serpents and giant enemies.
THE SPIRITUAL SENSE. THE FEAST.
Spiritually, to be bidden, or invited, to a marriage-feast, is to be instructed in truth, which suggests some good principle of life, which we can love and practise, and in which our good affections can be married to our true thoughts. And thus we can be lifted up into a high state of regeneration.
But, when we are invited to a spiritual feast, a feast of good principles, we must not expect that we shall attain, at once, the highest condition, and secure the greatest good. We may be beginners, only. And the principle from which we go to the feast may not be the highest and most interior principle.
FAITH AND LOVE.
At first, we act from faith, rather than from the higher principle of love. For love is more interior than faith, and the life of love is of a higher quality than the life of faith. Salvation is not by " faith alone," but by love, faith and obedience. It is necessary for us to begin our journey of regeneration by simple obedience to revealed truth. And the life of obedience develops, in us, a faith in the truth. But, far beyond this state of faith, is the higher and holier state of love, love of the good that is in the principle in which we have faith.
But, in our earlier stages of mental progress, much of our work is done in faith. And, at the time, and while in that state, we imagine that faith is the highest principle. And, in placing ourselves at the Lord's table, we imagine that our faith places us in the seats of honor, near to the Lord, But, as our Lord draws nearer to us, He teaches us that love is the "more honorable man," to whom our faith must give place, at the feast of the spirit. The fatal mistake of the First Christian Church was in exalting faith above love, and thus in proclaiming the false doctrine of " Salvation by Faith alone," which corrupted the Church, in doctrine and in life.
The Lord is the host, who invites both our faith and our love. But, while we are placing our faith in the highest position in our thought, our Lord, sitting with us at His table, at the feast of the spirit, comes to us, and says, "Give this man place." Our Lord has called our intellect, our understanding; to feast on the Divine Truth. And thus our faith in the truth takes its place at the feast.
But the Lord has also invited our will, our heart, to this spiritual feast. At first, our will, with its love; is modest : it takes its place in a lowly seat. And our faith asserts its supposed superiority. But, at the call of our Lord, we have the fact revealed to us, that our love, which is in our regenerating will or heart, is a "more honorable man " than our faith, which is in our regenerating understanding.
In the presence of the Lord, and at His feasts, love outranks faith. And so our Lord says, to our faith, "Give this man place." And, to our love, He says, "Friend, go up higher;" take your proper place, as the leading principle of spiritual life, at the head of the table, and nearest to your Lord. And then we feel a sense of shame, in having long exalted faith above love.
In our greater enlightenment, we see that, in our Lord's creation, there is order and system, It is so in our bodies, and in our minds. In every department of our life, there is gradation, from inmost to outmost, and from highest to lowest. Each affection, and each thought, has its assigned place, in the order of life. And if this order is not preserved, our mental health is disturbed. Physically and mentally the head is above the feet.
Reflecting upon the truth, a man sees that he is merely a vessel, receptive of life from the Lord; and that he has no cause to exalt himself: for he is no more than a tree, or a stone, except from the life that flows into him from the Lord. And the more a man sees these truths, and understands the source of his life, and humbly considers his own nothingness apart from the Lord, the more the Lord can flow in, and fill him with heavenly life, exalting his character, and bringing him into closer union with his Lord, as the source of all life.
Thus, the more humble a man is, the more the Lord can say to him, "Friend, go up higher," nearer to the Lord in character, and more fully in His kingdom. But, on the other hand, the more a man exalts himself, the less he turns to the Lord, and the less he can receive from the Lord. For he is not a friend to the Lord, For the Lord says, "Ye are My friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you."
GOING UP HIGHER.
When the guest was called to "Go up higher," it is said, "then shalt thou have worship [literally, glory, or honor,J with them that sit at meat with thee." The heavenly marriage-feast is a feast whose guests are the heavenly affections and thoughts of the regenerate will and understanding, whom the Lord has called to His table. They all eat of the same spiritual bread, or good, and drink of the same spiritual wine, or truth.
And, in the company of the Lord's invited guests, the honored guest has glory with those who sit at meat with him, i. e., the ruling-love, drawing nearest to the Lord, is accepted by all the heavenly principles of the regenerate mind, as the guest to be placed in the position of honor, at the table of the Lord, where they sup with Him, and He with them.
Our association with the Lord, and our worship of Him, are profound according to the profundity of our acknowledgment that we, of ourselves, are nothing. Self-love, by exalting the mere man in his own esteem, actually abases, or debases, him, in character, and places him In the hells. To humble himself before the Lord, means, practically, to submit himself to the government of Divine principles. Hence, the greater our humility, the greater will be our conjunction with the Lord.
Those who are living in the principle of love, are more humble than those who are characterized by faith : celestial angels are in greater humility than spiritual angels. And the power of the angel, from the Lord, is greater, the more fully he acknowledges that, of himself he is nothing, and that, without the Lord, he “can do nothing." Of course, humility means inward humility of spirit. Outward humility is only the outward expression of the inward feeling; and, without the inward spirit, the outward form is but a dead body.
The humble man kneels, in prayer, not because he imagines that kneeling will make him any better, or excuse his evils, but because he inwardly feels the spirit of humility; and this spiritual feeling expresses itself, by correspondence, in the bended knee and the bowed head.
Humility is the means by which men are withheld from their natural tendencies to evil; for; as the man acknowledges himself to be nothing, and looks to the Lord, and obeys the Lord, the Lord can lead and guide him, and teach him, and also protect him, not only from the assaults of evils, but also from his own natural tendencies to evil. But the self-loving, self-exalting man, rejects the Lord's guidance and protection, and casts himself into the hands of evil spirits, and indulges his own tendencies to evil.
HUMILITY AND CHARACTER.
True humility is not fear of punishment, but hatred of evil. Genuine humility is in exact proportion to the elevation of the man's character ; and, hence, it is greatest in the highest angels. Humility is not a gushing sentiment, but an abiding principle of life. It is not mourning over our past sins, but ceasing to commit sins, and living in the good and truth of heaven.
Humility is a virtue, because the good man sees and knows his faults. But the man who sees no faults in himself is sure to be full of glaring faults, although he is priding himself on his goodness. Humility is cheerful submission to the Divine Will, And it is shown in obedience to the Lord's commandments.
The history of the human race is a history of the gradual decline of humility, and of its restoration by the Lord, at His first and second comings. The Most Ancient Church was the most humble, because its people most fully understood their own nothingness, apart from the Lord.
The serpent that induced the fall of man, was the natural senses, in their cold-blooded, crawling life, leading men to exalt themselves, and their sensuous life, and thus to forget their spiritual life. The fall of man was a result of evil. But the Lord has always sought to lift men up, again, into spirituality of life. Exalting self is exalting evil above good, and falsity above truth, in our affections and thoughts. But he who humbles self and puts his external life in its right place, as the servant of the spirit, thereby opens himself to the exalting- influences of heavenly good and truth.
HUMILIATION VS. HUMILITY.
There is a certain kind or humiliation, which is compulsory, when a man finds himself less worthy than others, and when he feels a bitter sense of his inferiority; and, perhaps, envies those who excel him in character or station. But this is not humility, True humility leads a man to look upon his superiors without envy, and upon his inferiors without contempt.
When he sees goodness in others, he thanks the Lord for such goodness. And when others see goodness in him, he seeks to live in such a way as to lead other men to praise the Lord, and not himself knowing that his goodness is from the Lord. Genuine humility is meekness of spirit. "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth;" i, e., they shall gain control of their natural mind, which is the earth of the mind, as distinguished from the spirit, or the heaven of the mind. “The meek will He guide in judgment, and the meek will He teach His way." "What doth the Lord require of thee, but to love mercy, and to do justly, and to walk humbly with thy God?"
The self-asserting- man lives in the hells, as to his spirit; but the meek and humble man lives in heaven. Humility does not imply a sad countenance, or a subdued manner, but a well-disposed heart, and a good life. How different is the ordinary life on earth from the life in heaven.
Here, men are struggling for precedence, each trying to get all he can from others. There, each is doing all he can for others; and he finds his happiness in serving. And every man must come into this condition of mind, before he can be in heaven. Naturally we are selfish, and desire the praise of others. We love to have what, cunningly, we call encouragement, but what is, actually, praise.
THE PRACTICAL MEANING.
The meaning of the parable is clear enough for our practical use. Every truth of the Lord calls us to draw nearer to our Lord; to come out of our selfishness, and to allow our Lord to form, in our minds, a heavenly marriage of good affections with true thoughts; to feast with the Lord, in His presence; to put down all evil, false and sinful things, and to come into a childlike innocence and simplicity; and thus to allow our Lord to exalt us to higher and higher conditions of spiritual character. "Whosoever, therefore, shall humble himself, as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven."
Author: Edward Craig Mitchell 1887