Sermon IX. Parable of the Marriage Feast. And he sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come. Matthew xxii. 3.
Thus contemptuously was the invitation of the king rejected, who made a marriage festival for his son; in which parabolic history is conveyed much important instruction.
The mode of conveying religious and moral truths by parables, which are similitudes drawn from the objects of nature, or from civil and social institutions, was frequently practised by our blessed Lord. It is a mode of instruction founded in the reason and nature of things; for from the peculiar character of spiritual truths, we cannot receive the full and clear knowledge of them, except by analogy with those things which are the objects of our sense and consciousness. The parabolic mode of instruction was also prompted by a regard to the genius of the people among whom our Lord dwelt, which led to the use of highly figurative language; and at all periods, and among all people, it is gratifying to the imagination, and peculiarly calculated forcibly and permanently to impress the heart. Especially where the object is to convey reproof, or to enforce unwelcome or irritating truths, parables afford an opportunity of indirectly, yet effectually, [94/95] answering these purposes, without alarming the prejudices or immediately exciting the resentment of the persons accused or opposed.
For all these reasons, but especially for the last, our Saviour so frequently spake by parables. His mission was to a disobedient and gainsaying people--a people blinded by their prejudices and enslaved by their vices. These prejudices and vices were deeply opposed to the pure and self-denying spirit of that kingdom which he came to establish; and to have combated them by direct attack would have so strongly awakened the pride of the Jews and enkindled their resentment, as not only to have precluded all hope of his instructions and reproofs making any impression on their hearts, but to have exposed him to persecution, and prematurely, "before his hour was come," endangered his life. [St. John vii. 30.] Hence it became a dictate of prudence to veil his reproofs and unwelcome instructions under the pleasing garb of allegory; thus exciting the imagination and awakening the attention, and before prejudice or resentment could be roused, impressing the understanding and gaining the heart.
On one of these delicate and unpleasant occasions was the parable delivered which I mean now to set before you.
The immediate object of our Saviour was to reprove the Jews for their incredulity, to impress on them their guilt and ingratitude in rejecting the exalted blessings of that dispensation of mercy which he came to proclaim, to denounce the awful judgments which would overtake them for their sin in rejecting him who came to save them, and for [95/96] persecuting unto death the messengers of his salvation. It was his object to proclaim to them the determination of their almighty Sovereign to exclude them from the privileges of his chosen people on account of their unbelief, and to receive the believing Gentiles as his covenant people, and thus finally to teach them that their being "called" to be the peculiar people of the Most High would be of no avail to them; on the contrary, would only enhance their guilt and their condemnation) unless they exercised those holy and obedient dispositions and virtues which would qualify them for being finally "chosen" to everlasting life.
These were most important and solemn, but, to the Jews, most unwelcome truths, calculated to mortify their pride and to excite their deadly resentment. Our Lord, therefore, chose to convey them through the medium of an appropriate allegory, which softened without weakening their force.
"The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king which made a marriage for his son."
By the kingdom of heaven in this passage, and many other parts of Scripture, is meant, not the final kingdom of bliss eternal in the heavens, but the preparatory kingdom of God on earth, the Gospel dispensation. Thus, John the Baptist announced the introduction of this dispensation in the solemn call--"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven," the kingdom of the Messiah on earth, the Gospel dispensation, "is at hand." This dispensation, on account of its rich and exalted blessings, and of the joy which these blessings are calculated to inspire, is very properly compared to a feast made [96/97] by a king on the most felicitous occasion that could occur--"the marriage of his son."
"And he sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: but they would not come."
The invitation was renewed in terms the most courteous and pressing.
"He sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage."
One would suppose that the perverse incredulity which rejected the former invitation, would be subdued by this generous and affectionate renewal of it; but
"They made light of it, and went their way, one to his farm, and another to his merchandise."
And to complete their criminality,
"The remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them."
Astonishing as was their conduct, it was an exact exhibition of the crimes of the Jews. Their forefathers had turned a deaf ear to the voice of the prophets, seeking to reclaim them from their corrupt and idolatrous ways to the fear, the service, and the favour of the living God. Reluctant to execute upon them the fierceness of his just anger, God sent forth his messenger, John the Baptist, to warn them of his judgments, and to invite them to prepare for that dispensation of mercy which the long expected Messiah was to proclaim. By him, the hope of his people Israel, did the Lord their God unfold to the Jews the rich blessings of his grace, [97/98] and invite them to come unto him and be saved. The apostles whom this blessed Redeemer sent forth to his lost sheep of the house of Israel, renewed the gracious invitation, and urged it by every motive that could alarm their fears or animate their hopes; but "they made light of it"--"they would not come." Blinded by their prejudices, and enslaved by their corrupt passions, they preferred the sensual gratifications of the world to the pure and heavenly blessings of the Redeemer's kingdom. The invitations of mercy, instead of awakening their gratitude, kindled the resentment and malice of their hearts. They took the messengers who bore from their heavenly Sovereign the overtures of peace, and "treated them spitefully, and slew them." The faithful warnings of the Baptist they disregarded, and he finally paid for his fidelity the forfeit of his life. The Lord of glory, who came to save them, they loaded with insults, and they terminated his career of benevolence in the horrors of an ignominious death. The fury that thus drank the blood of the Master, pursued his servants. And the apostles, who sought to bring their blind and unhappy countrymen to participate of the blessings of redeeming mercy, were assailed by cruel mockings and scourgings, and finally persecuted unto death.
The judgments inflicted on this guilty people are awfully displayed in the next verse of the parable.
"When the king heard thereof, he was wroth; and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burnt up their city." [Matt. xxii. 7.]
In the awful fulfilment of this denunciation, [98/99] Jerusalem was "trodden under foot;" "one stone" of that obdurate city which had "killed the prophets, and stoned those who were sent unto her, was not left upon another;" [Matt. xxiii. 37.] and all its guilty inhabitants, after encountering the horrors of famine, "fell by the sword" of invading armies.
The invitation to the Gospel feast, thus rejected by the Jews, was addressed to the Gentiles.
"They who were bidden were not worthy. The king therefore said to his servants, Go ye into the highways and hedges, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went to the highways, and gathered all as many as they could find, both good and bad: and the wedding was furnished with guests." [Matt. xxii. 8, 9, 10.]
It was perfectly consistent with Eastern hospitality, to invite the stranger and the pilgrim to share in the pleasures of their feasts. And thus does the parable denote the calling of the Gentiles. They who, in a spiritual sense, were journeying along the highways and hedges, "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenant of promise," [Eph. ii. 12.] were called to partake of those Gospel privileges which the Jews contemptuously rejected. The merciful invitation was restrained by no exceptions; all, "both good and bad," were invited to the Gospel feast; "the sick," as well as they who were comparatively "whole;" "publicans and sinners," as well as they who were comparatively righteous, were called to partake of the blessings of salvation. The call was that of the evangelical prophet--"Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money, [99/100] come ye, buy and eat." And the merciful invitation was not addressed in vain to insensible hearts, "for many came from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south, and sat down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of God;" while they, for whom these blessings were primarily designed, "the children of the kingdom," the unbelieving Jews, were finally "shut out."
But shall we conclude from the gracious extension of the invitation to all, both "good and bad," that no qualifications were required in these guests at the heavenly banquet, and that, therefore, the salvation of the Gospel is unconditional, and bestowed on all, whatever may be their character and conduct? A conclusion so erroneous and dangerous, is effectually repelled by the parable; for
"When the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man who had not on a wedding garment."
It was the custom in the East to come to the marriage banquet in a splendid garment, and to appear without one was considered as a mark of great disrespect to the master of the feast. But it may be asked, with what justice could the guest in the parable, who is represented as hastily called from the highways and hedges, be censured for appearing without a wedding garment, to procure which, he had not the time, even if he possessed the means? It was customary at these entertainments for the master of the feast, in all cases, to provide a wedding garment for the less opulent of his guests; and if elevated by rank and great wealth, [100/101] to furnish with these garments all his guests indiscriminately. The man, therefore, who appeared at the feast in this parable without the customary garment, had really no excuse; and when censured for doing so, we are told he was "speechless."
The insult of which he was therefore guilty towards the master of the feast, whose hospitality he was partaking, drew forth the sentence,
"Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Cast this guest, who is guilty of the gross indignity of rejecting the wedding garment prepared for him, from the light and splendour of the scene which he disgraces by his presence, into the darkness of the highway from which he was called.
Here we behold, under a striking similitude, the fearful doom of those professing Christians who think they shall enjoy the blessings of Christ's heavenly kingdom, of his everlasting festival of love, while they are destitute of those graces and virtues, that purity and righteousness, which are often, in the figurative language of Scripture, styled the "wedding garment"--"the white raiment of the saints." For
"Many are called, but few are chosen."
Many are called to the Gospel feast--many are invited to partake of its blessings, and all are offered, through the influences of the Holy Spirit, that righteousness which alone can qualify them to partake of these blessings--"but few are chosen;" comparatively few study to make their calling and election sure; to acquire, through the power of [101/102] divine grace, those holy dispositions and virtues which alone can render them meet to be admitted to the marriage supper of the Lamb, to partake of the felicities of heaven.
This parable contains much important instruction.
1. It affords a lively display of the mercy and goodness of God, in providing for the blessings of redemption.
What scenes more joyous than those of a marriage, where rank and splendour unite to inspire the most dignified festivity? What more grateful and exhilarating on this joyful occasion, than a feast, where every luxury that generous wealth can bestow, excites and gratifies the senses? Behold the striking similitude by which are denoted the goodness and the mercy of God in providing the blessings of redemption. For man, blind, and guilty, and miserable, who was wandering in the high way that leads to destruction, and exiled through sin from the comforts of God's favour, a feast is prepared. The almighty Sovereign, whom, by his wilful transgressions, he has insulted and offended, in the fulness of infinite love provides for him the richest blessings. The offender against the Majesty of heaven, he is offered a free and full pardon. The slave of error and of prejudice, whose corrupt reason enveloped him with the darkest shades of idolatry and superstition, he sees the light of the divine glory in the face of Jesus Christ. His soul held in bondage by sin, he is offered a translation into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. His bosom agitated by passions fierce as the whirlwind, he is presented with that peace of God which passeth all understanding. He, who sprung from the [102/103] dust, is descending to the dust again, and may say to corruption, Thou art my father, and to the worm, thou art my brother and my sister, beholds prepared for him a garment of immortality, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. And he, whose guilty soul, the bottomless pit opens to receive, may look, as his destined abode, to the courts of heaven, to that city of the living God, where are joy and gladness, and from which sorrow and sighing flee far away.
2. The merciful and gracious God who prepares for his offending creatures blessings so exalted, urges their acceptance of these blessings by the most powerful and persuasive methods.
He sent his only Son into the world, that, moved by this astonishing instance of love, guilty man might be induced to accept the salvation which, through the sufferings and death of this glorious personage, is wrought for him. The word of inspiration, affording a lively display of all those blessings which God has prepared for those that love him, abounds with the most animating calls, the most urgent and tender entreaties to accept these blessings. By the admonitions of conscience, by the dispensations of his providence, by the secret suggestions of his Holy Spirit, by the service of the church in her ministry, sacraments, and ordinances, does that compassionate God, who willeth not the death of a sinner, urge and entreat him to turn from those sinful pursuits that terminate in shame, remorse, and misery, and to partake of those permanent and exalted joys which flow from him, who is the fountain of life and felicity. The voice of their almighty Sovereign is constantly addressed to sinful men--"All things are ready." Blessings are pre[103/104]pared for you, as transcendent in the enjoyment which they afford, as they are lasting in duration; the light of divine truth, the pardon of sin, peace of conscience, the comforts of the Holy Ghost, the joys of the divine favour, a resurrection to glory, ineffable bliss in the kingdom of heaven above, these are the blessings which court your acceptance. Come then and "drink of the waters of life;" eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Come, celebrate with angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven, that celestial festival, the joys of which are pure, transporting, and eternal.
In what manner is this gracious invitation regarded among men? The parable before us affords the astonishing, the melancholy information--"They make light of it;" they make light of the overtures of mercy from the God of heaven; they make light of the tender invitations of his eternal Son. "They go, one to his farm, and another to his merchandise"--they prefer the sensual pursuits and pleasures which too often corrupt the heart, and fill it with shame and remorse--pursuits which often terminate in vanity and vexation of spirit--pleasures which, in a few years, will vanish in the darkness of the grave, and which, for a day or an hour they cannot call their own, to those pure joys of a good conscience, those rich consolations of the divine favour, those pleasures in the presence of their God and Saviour which never fade. Contemning that great salvation revealed in the Gospel, they too, like the unbelieving Jews of old, "trample under foot the Son of God, crucify him afresh, and put him to an open shame." [Heb. x. 29.]
 These despisers of God may behold in the parable under consideration, the awful vengeance which will overtake them. They may behold it in the denunciations of that parable executed upon the unbelieving Jews and upon impenitent Jerusalem. Alas! the awful fury which burst upon Jerusalem and overwhelmed the Jews, is a sure but a feeble emblem of the vengeance preparing for those who despise or neglect the mercy and grace of God. A great and terrible day is coming, when the sun shall be turned into blackness, and the moon into blood; when the elements shall melt with fervent heat; when the heavens shall depart as a scroll; when the earth shall be burnt up; and when, in the midst of these scenes of terror, the Judge of the world shall appear in the glory of his Father, and with his holy angels, to take vengeance on those who believe not God and obey not his Gospel. Such a day is predicted; such a coming of the Son of man is foretold; such awful scenes are unfolded in the oracles of truth. When this day comes; when the Son of man thus appears; when the last judgment takes place, which decides for ever the happiness or misery of the myriads of mankind; oh! how will all who now live unmindful of their God and Saviour, neglecting or contemning his mercy and his grace, bewail their guilt and their folly--bewail, but too late--their tears and their cries will be those of endless agony and despair; for God hath pronounced, the "worm dieth not," "the fire is not quenched."
But this instructive parable does not only denounce vengeance against those who reject the counsel of God for their salvation; it unfolds also the awful destiny of nominal Christians; of those [105/106] who hold the truth in unrighteousness; who hope they shall be admitted to the celestial festival of their Lord in his kingdom on high, though they are destitute of the wedding garment, the righteousness of the saints; who found their title to heaven on their being called by the name of Christ, and on their calling him, Lord, Lord, while they are destitute of his spirit, his meek and holy graces, and neglect to do the things which he commands. Nominal professors of Christianity! you may read your destiny in the doom pronounced on the man in the parable, who appeared at the marriage .supper, not having on the wedding garment--"Cast him into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." [Matt. xxii. 13.] This will be the destiny of the unholy professors of the Christian name; excluded from the light, and peace, and glory of heaven, and consigned to darkness everlasting. Oh! that unsound and nominal Christians, alarmed by the consideration of the tremendous destiny which awaits them, would instantly renounce their false hopes, and not give rest to their souls, until, by prayer and watchfulness, and the faithful use of the means of grace, they are adorned with that evangelical righteousness which only can make them acceptable guests at the heavenly supper of their Lord.
Finally, Christian brethren, the concluding moral of this interesting parable should sink deep into cut hearts.
"Many are called, but few are chosen." [Matt. xxii. 14.] Many are called by the word, the Spirit, and the providence of God, by the ministry and ordinances [106/107] of his holy church, to the privileges and blessings of the Gospel. But, alas! few, comparatively few, walk worthy of their holy vocation--comparatively few improve the grace freely given to them, to the renewal of their minds, to their establishment in holiness and virtue, to their living righteously, soberly, and godly in the world. And therefore, though "many be called" to the marriage supper of the Lamb, though many are admitted to the privileges of Christ's church on earth, "few are chosen" to sit down with him at this holy and blissful festival: and banished from the presence of their Lord, with whom is light, and peace, and felicity, their portion is in outer darkness--darkness for ever the darkness of despair.
My brethren, let it be our supreme care to avoid this tremendous destiny. Let us earnestly implore him who is the Lord of all power and might, to endue our souls with that righteousness which only can render us meet for his presence. And to our earnest supplications let us add our zealous and unremitting endeavours to adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things; so that when our Lord cometh to unite to himself, in the ties of celestial and endless fellowship, the church of the redeemed; when the awakening invitation is heard from the host of heaven--"Be glad and rejoice, for the marriage of the Lamb is come;" we shall be found worthy to enter in and celebrate with him the everlasting festival of love and of joy.