Ellen G. White Writings

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The Signs of the Times

February 6, 1896

Lawful to do Good on the Sabbath

By Mrs. E. G. White

“And it came to pass, as he went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread on the Sabbath day, that they watched him. And, behold, there was a certain man before him which had the dropsy.”

Jesus had been invited to the house of this chief Pharisee, and he had accepted the invitation in order that, as his custom was, he might sow seeds of truth in his conversation at the table. There were many who through this means had been privileged to become acquainted with Christ. He met them on familiar terms, and disclosed truth to their minds. They were convicted of the truth not only by what he said, but by the purity and elevated nobility of his character. The occasions when men met with him at the homes of their countrymen were not to be forgotten; but even after his humiliation, his trial, rejection, condemnation, and crucifixion, after his resurrection, when he came forth from the tomb a triumphant conqueror, men would remember the words which he had spoken at the times when they had shared with him the hospitality of the people.

The Pharisee who had invited Christ to his house on this occasion was a ruler in Israel, a member of the Sanhedrin, a man of repute and influence. Jesus had not accepted his invitation for the purpose of gratifying his appetite, or to furnish himself with an hour of amusement; but he had accepted it for the purpose of representing the character of God. He was to bear witness of the truth, and (as far as possible) to leave the impress of his own divine image upon human souls. He was the Teacher sent of God, the Light of the world, who had risen to shed divine rays of light upon all who were in the darkness of error. He was the Revelation of God, and was to speak words that the Holy Spirit should afterward bring to their remembrance.

Christians may safely accept invitations to dinners where a promiscuous company shall gather, if they will but follow the example of Christ, and act from the same motives as did our Saviour. Their influence will be on the right side if they speak words that will impress with divine truth those who are assembled, and thus sow seed unto eternal life.

But the Pharisees had not invited Christ for the sake of hearing of eternal things. Filled with jealousy and envy, he and his guests had laid plans by which they hoped to bring Christ into disfavor. The man with the dropsy who sat before Christ had been purposely chosen as a means by which to bring Christ under condemnation. The suffering man was placed directly before Christ, “and they watched him” to see whether he would violate their traditions and heal the man on the Sabbath day, in order that they might find occasion to condemn him to death. They knew that Christ always expressed sympathy for human woe, and that he ever exercised his power to relieve suffering humanity. Jesus read their hearts as an open book. They had no need to tell him what were their thoughts. He forestalled all their arguments, and revealed the fact that he read their questionings and purposes. “And Jesus answering spake unto the lawyers and Pharisees, and saying, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath day?” If he had healed the man without closing the mouths of his accusers, they would at once have charged him with Sabbath breaking. He asked this question before the guests in order that these men might not venture to take the position that it was not lawful. They would have been obliged to answer, if they answered honestly, “The law does not forbid the work that relieves the suffering of man or beast on the Sabbath day.” Jesus gave them an opportunity to disclose their sentiments, and to point out the ground of their objection to his works of mercy. But “they held their peace.” They were wise enough to see that this was the best policy. They knew that their Guest understood the law perfectly, and that he was able to make plain their misrepresentations and to unveil their subterfuges before those who were present. And he took the man with the dropsy, “and healed him, and let him go.”

But, notwithstanding their silence, Jesus knew that the Pharisees were planning in their minds just how they might fasten guilt upon him. And he “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?” When he asked them. “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath day?” the record says. “They held their peace.” And when he presented his argument, “they could not answer him again to these things.” But, although they could not answer him, they were none the less displeased because their scheme to condemn him had called forth their own condemnation. They knew that it was the practice of their people to save the life of a dumb creature, even if it required attention on the Sabbath day. They felt it in accordance with the Sabbath commandment to lead their ox or their ass to water, and why was it not altogether proper to relieve human suffering on the Sabbath?

Christ had spoken in a calm, convincing manner. By restoring the sick man to health he had given evidence that in him was life. By the lessons he had given, by the miracle he had performed, he had answered the question as to whether it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath day. He showed the fallacy of the arguments of the scribes and Pharisees which they had advanced on several occasions previous to this in accusing him of violating the Sabbath in healing the sick and relieving the suffering. They were constrained to keep silent, for they could find no argument by which to answer the Lord Jesus which would not place them in a most unfavorable light. The reasoning that they had used when among themselves had seemed very conclusive, and they had leavened the minds of many who were present by the subtlety of their arguments. But now, before they could present their arguments, Christ had answered them, and they were left helpless; for all recognized that Christ had spoken words of truth and righteousness.

Christ understood how to act in a calm, intelligent manner, and to bring to naught their plans to bring him into condemnation. The words of the Lord were as sharp arrows that went to the mark, and wounded the hearts of his accusers. Every time Christ addressed the people, whether his audience was large or small, his words took saving effect upon the souls of some of his hearers. No message that ever fell from the lips of Christ was to be lost. Every word he spoke placed a new responsibility upon those who heard it. Ministers who are giving the last message of mercy to the world, who are presenting the truth in sincerity, who are relying upon God for strength, need never fear that their efforts are in vain. No one can say that the arrow of truth has not sped to the mark, and pierced the souls of those who are listening. Although no human eye could see the flight of the arrow of truth, although no human ear heard the cry of the wounded soul, yet the truth has silently cut its way to the heart. God has spoken to the soul, and in the day of final account God's minister will stand with the trophies of redeeming grace to give honor unto Christ, to whom honor is due. God, who seeth in secret, will openly reward those who have declared the truth in his name.

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