Yet The Dogs Eat of the Crumbs

Sacramental Meditation IX

By John Willison, Practical Works (London: Blackie & Son, 1844), 254-5; minimally edited.

“And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table” (Mt 15:27)

This woman was a Canaanite, and lived among heathens, yet she had greater knowledge and faith of the Messiah than most of the Jews. Her faith, humility, patience, and resolution, amidst the greatest discouragements, are here recorded for a pattern and encouragement to desponding believers in all ages.

This woman was so sensible of her misery, that she addresses Christ with great earnestness for help. She doth not speak calmly or coldly to Christ, but she cried unto Him, and followed Him with her cries, vv. 22, 23. Surely, if I were duly affected with my spiritual wants and miseries, I would speak to God in no other language than that of cries and tears. Oh what cause have I to bewail my coldness and indifference in prayer, and the little sense I have of my dangers and necessities, which are great beyond expression!

This woman, notwithstanding her great earnestness and strong faith, met with very great trials and discouragements in her addresses to Christ.

1. Her first trial is Christ’s silence to her, when crying to Him for mercy, v. 23, “He answered her not a word.” Strange! Not a word from a meek and merciful Saviour, that never put a poor sinner, seeking mercy, away from Him before; but still invited all to come to Him for it. That is a sore temptation. “When I cry and shout, he shutteth out my prayer” (Lam 2:8). Believers are apt to think that God shuts out their prayers in wrath, when it is not so. Christ heard this woman, accepted her, was pleased with her, and strengthened her to hold on in prayer, though He did not immediately answer her. He entertained her with silence to draw her on to be more importunate, and to try her faith, patience, and perseverance, and thereby to teach us to be followers of those who through faith and patience do now inherit the promises. Christ keeps the door bolted for a time, that we may knock the harder. “Ask… seek… knock” (Mt 7:7). The choicest mercies come to us after the greatest wrestlings. Likewise I see here, that there is love in Christ’s heart, to wrestling souls, even when frowns appear in His looks; wherefore let me take encouragement from Him, though He slay me, yet to trust in Him.

2. Another sore trial the woman met with, was the answer Christ gave to His disciples when interceding for her, whereby He seems to exclude her out of His commission. Ver. 24, “I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The Jews were called sheep, but the Gentiles dogs. The Jews were indeed to have the first offer of Christ’s grace and purchase. Though the woman might have taken Christ’s words as a plain repulse, yet she studies to put the best sense on them she can, and continues her importunity. Which teaches us never to leave the Throne of Grace for any discouragement.

3. She gets a repulse yet more sharp than the two former, even after she had come close up to Him, and fallen down at His feet, saying, “Lord, help me.” Then Christ ranks her among the dogs, these that were without the covenant, profane and unclean. Now, one might think she is cut off by that word, and will insist no more after it. Nay, she takes hold of that word of reproach, and pleads upon it in the text. “Truth, Lord, I am a dog,” vile and unworthy; yet let me humbly ask the dog’s room and privilege, even to creep beneath the children’s table, and gather some crumbs of mercy. Oh how much is contained here for our instruction and imitation.

a. What cause have we, O Lord, to bless Thy goodness, that we Gentiles, of dogs are now become children, and allowed to come to Thy Table! And, at the same time to fear Thy justice, since the Jews, of children, are now become dogs, and shut out as unclean! If they were cut off who crucified Thee in Thy low estate, what may we expect, if by our sins, we crucify Thee in Thy glory? Let us not be high-minded, but fear.

b. Christ puts the strongest faith of His people upon the sharpest trial. He thinks fit, for His own glory, where He gives much grace to try grace much.

c. Those who are most eminent in faith are most humble; this woman was so. Oh how humbly did she plead with Christ! She threw herself on the ground, lay low at His feet, and from the dust, cried for help; she claimed nothing, only begged for mercy. And when Christ spurned her from His feet, calling her a dog, she doth not murmur nor complain of His harsh carriage, but humbly takes with the charge; “Truth, Lord,” thou dost not miscall me, nor call me so bad as I am; “I am a dog,” a most vile and unworthy creature, and have no right to the children’s bread, and must starve if Thou hast not mercy upon me. She can bear the worst frown or chastisement from Christ, only she cannot bear being excluded from His mercy and grace; she would have some token of it, though never so small. She claims not a Benjamin’s meal, nor a child’s portion, only let her have a dog’s crumb. Lord, I take patiently the stripe from thee; give me but a crumb after it, and I will go away satisfied. Surely the more humble any supplicant is at a throne of grace, He comes still the better speed; for the “Lord resists the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.”

d. God’s usual method of dispensing His mercy and grace to sinners, is first to cast them down before He raises them up. “We must first see ourselves to be as dogs, “less than the least of all God’s mercies,” before we are fit to be dignified with the privileges of children.

e. When unbelief draws dismal conclusions from everything, and tempts us to quit our grips and hopes, upon any dark dispensation, and to say with that wicked king, 2 Kings 6: 33, “This evil is of the Lord. What, should I wait for the Lord any longer?” Behold, faith is a valiant and importunate grace, it puts the best construction upon all Christ’s actions; it is sharp-sighted, to see and take hold of all advantages to strengthen itself, and finds encouragement even in that which is discouraging. That which seemed to cut off this believing woman’s hope, she improves it as a ground of hope, and an argument in prayer, “Truth, Lord, yet the dogs eat of the crumb…” Even the worthless dogs belonging to the family, and though they may not feast with children at the table, they may creep under it and gather crumbs that would be swept to the door; this will not wrong the children. Let me stand in relation to Christ, though in the meanest station, even that of His dog; I will be thankful for it, or for anything, if He do not turn me out of the house.

f. When our discouragements are greatest, we should learn from this woman, never to give over the exercise of faith and prayer; but to look on all our disappointments in the success of prayer, as excitements to greater earnestness. Faith will not set limits to the Holy One; though speedy answers be not given to our prayer, it becomes us to wait God’s time, who is the best Judge of the fittest season. “He that believeth will not make haste.”

g. A resolute adhering to Christ by faith under trials, is most pleasing and acceptable to Him; as when we persevere in the use of means when success is small, when we depend upon His promise, and look to His power; when under the darkest dispensations we watch over our hearts and steps, that they do not decline from His ways, as these, in Psalm 44:17,18. And glory to Him, that gives us such encouragement for this resolute adherence to Him, as the mercifulness of His nature, and His faithfulness, which assure us, there is more good-will in His heart, than is visible in His dealings; and that His providence will never give His word the lie. He gives in secret strength to His people to adhere to Him, when He seems most opposite to them, as He did to this woman. He loves to bring about His people’s mercies by means improbable and contrary, to glorify His wisdom. He delights to bring light out of darkness.

h. Great will the reward at last be of the believer’s faith, humility, and perseverance in prayer; for saith Christ at length, v. 28, “O woman, great is thy faith; be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” Ω