The Royal Marriage Feast.

"And Jesus answered, and spake unto them again by parables, and said, The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, and sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come. Again, 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. But they made light of it, and went their ways, out to his farm, another to his merchandise: and the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all, as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding-garment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding-garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen." -- MATT. xxii.1-14.

This parable stands connected both historically and logically with the two which immediately precede it: especially between the guests here invited to the feast and the husbandmen to whom the vineyard was entrusted, there is a close resemblance in privileges enjoyed, in perversity manifested, and in judgment incurred. Yet the lessons, though in some respects parallel, are to a great extent distinct; and though both traverse partially the same ground, the latter carries the argument some steps further forward than the former parable.

A question has arisen and been largely canvassed, on the relation between the parable and one[43] recorded in Luke xiv.16-24 regarding a certain man who made a great supper and bade many. Around this subject much useless and some mischievous debate has accumulated. The criticism which assumes that only one discourse on the subject was spoken by Jesus, and that consequently two reports of it differing from each other, cannot be both correct, is impertinent and trifling. It is a pedantic literalism contrary to experience and to common sense. It rests upon the assumption that a public Teacher who taught the common people daily, on the margin of the lake and in private dwellings, in the Temple at Jerusalem and in the sequestered villages around, never repeated with variations in one place the substance of a lesson which he had given in another. Even in the immense profusion of nature every plant is not in all its features different from all others; two individuals or species are found in some respects the same and in some respects different. The two walk together as far as they are going the same way, and separate when each approaches his own peculiar and specific terminus. This combination of identity and difference pervades creation; and you may observe the same characteristics in the scheme of Providence. Two men during a portion of their life-course suffer the same troubles and taste the same joys; but at a certain point in their progress their paths diverge, and they never meet again in a common experience. Look even to the history of any citizen whose life is public, and you will find that by speech, or writing, or act, he prosecutes his objects by a mixture of sameness and diversity. His address in the high court of the nation, and his address to his rustic constituents in a distant province, will be found in some features similar and in some different: yet the address in either case will be found an independent and consistent whole, corresponding to the character of the speaker and the circumstances of his audience.

[43] No. XXI. of this series.

This "Teacher sent from God" was wont in later lessons to walk sometimes over his own former footsteps, as far as that track best suited his purpose, and to diverge into a new path at the point where a diversity in the circumstances demanded a variety in the treatment. This is the method followed both in nature and revelation, -- the method both of God and of men.

"A certain king made a marriage for his son," the two important features here are the royal state of the father, and the specific designation of the supper as the nuptial feast of his son. It may be quite true, as some critics say, that because the greatest feasts were usually connected with marriages, the epithet "marriage" was sometimes applied to any sumptuous banquet; if in the Scriptures or elsewhere we should find a banquet denominated a marriage feast, while from the circumstances it appeared that no marriage had taken place, we should experience no difficulty in explaining the apparent incongruity. But in this case there is no reason for adopting the exceptional, and the strongest reason for retaining what is confessedly the ordinary and natural signification of the term. The conception of the Redeemer as the bridegroom, and his redeemed people as the bride, lies too deep in Scripture and protrudes too frequently from its surface to leave any doubt concerning the allusion in the parable. The feast, introduced into the story for the sake of its spiritual significance, is the marriage supper of the king's son.

The king sent forth his servants, not on this occasion to give the first invitation, but to warn those who had been previously invited that the time had come, and the preparations been completed. It is obviously assumed, and analogies are not wanting to justify the assumption, that those whom the king desired to honour were informed of that desire before the day of the feast, and that another message was sent to each, after everything was ready, requesting his immediate attendance in the palace of the king. This feature of the transaction is not explained or defended in the narrative; it is silently taken for granted as at least sufficiently common to be well understood.[44]

[44] I have witnessed a process closely analogous, in a small detached island of the Shetland group in which the message sent was an invitation, not figurative but literal, to come and hear the word of the kingdom. It had been previously intimated to the islanders that a minister of the Gospel from the south would preach to them on the occasion of his visit to the neighbouring mainland, as the largest island of the group is styled. When the minister and his friends succeeded at length in crossing the Channel, several children were dispatched as messengers in different directions to inform the people that public worship would immediately begin. In a very short time a congregation was assembled consisting of the whole population of the island.

This peculiarity of the invitation is important in connection with the severity of the punishment which was subsequently inflicted on the recusants. They did not repudiate the invitation when it was first addressed to them. By retaining it, and enjoying the advantage of being accounted the king's guests during the interval, they pledged themselves to attend the marriage festival, and honour their sovereign by their presence. Their abrupt refusal at the eleventh hour, after all was ready to receive them, partook of the nature both of breach of engagement and disloyalty. "They would not come."

A second message was sent, more specific and more urgent: but the men met the importunate kindness of the king with contemptuous mockery: "they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise." A portion of them carried their opposition beyond supercilious neglect into blood-thirsty enmity; "the remnant took his servants and entreated them spitefully and slew them."

"But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city." As far as appears from the narrative, those who affronted the king by neglect, and those who put his messengers to death, received the same punishment. Although the cruelty perpetrated by some of the conspirators was an aggravation of their guilt, the crime for which they suffered was one of which all alike were guilty, -- the crime of despising the king's invitation, and pouring contempt upon his authority.

The transaction may have had great political significance. It was a combination among the aristocracy to thwart the king and dictate to him a line of policy. They meant by their absence in mass to leave him without support, that he might be compelled to court them on their own terms. In such a case only two alternatives are open to the supreme magistrate: he must either submit to the aristocracy and buy them back at their own price, or supersede them by a bold appeal to the common people. Suppose that in this country the Lords should by compact refuse to attend Parliament, for the express purpose of extorting concessions in favour of themselves by bringing the process of legislation to a stand: the sovereign, in that case, must either submit to the terms of the refractory nobles, or by prerogative create a new peerage from the plebean ranks. Such, on a minute scale and in a simple form, was the course adopted by the king in this ancient oriental drama.

He destroyed their city: it was the king's own city, but he loathed it because of the rebellion of its inhabitants. He took no pleasure in its streets and palaces when their moral glory had departed. The loss of so much property was a small loss; the gain for the discipline of unborn generations was unspeakably great. The overthrow of the city in which the rebels dwelt would make children's children shudder at the thought of apostasy. The sacrifice of a material interest in order to afford sanction to moral laws is the highest wisdom of government, both human and divine. This principle was adopted on the largest scale after the first rebellion, when the earth was cursed for man's sake.

The king took his servants into his counsel. They had suffered in his cause, and he will not conceal from them what he is about to do. "Go ye therefore into the highways," -- the public places of resort, as well the city's streets as the roads that traverse the country, -- "and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage." In the first instance the invitation was limited to the class who had a prescriptive right to appear at court; when these by their perversity had excluded themselves, the king in his sovereignty extended the invitation generally to the common people, -- to persons who previously possessed no right of admission, but who obtained the right then and there by the free act of the sovereign.

The servants did as they were instructed. They understood and executed their commission according to its letter: they brought in "bad and good." As they were not instructed to institute an inquiry into the character or social position of the persons whom they should invite, they made no distinction; they swept the streets to fill the royal halls.

At this point the parable becomes logically complete, and its lesson may be exhibited apart from the addition regarding the wedding garment which immediately follows. It will be more convenient, accordingly, to prosecute the exposition of the earlier portion by itself, and leave the latter portion to be treated afterwards as substantially a separate lesson.

The parable, as far as we have hitherto read it, repeats and extends the warnings previously given regarding the spiritual privileges which the Jews enjoyed and abused, the judgments which had been and still would be poured out upon the nation, and the successful proclamation of the Gospel to the Gentiles, when the natural seed of Abraham should have in rebellious unbelief rejected the offers of their Lord.

The marriage festival made by the king in honour of his son, points manifestly to redemption completed in the incarnation, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ. Banquets had before this period been provided by the king, and enjoyed by the favoured circle of his guests; much advantage was possessed by the Jews over the Gentiles in every way, but especially in that to them were committed the oracles of God. But the feast depicted in this parable was the last and best; it was the way of salvation in its completed state. As the king made known his intention before it was carried into effect, and intimated to the guests that they would be summoned as soon as the preparations were complete; so a period of preparation, and promise, and expectation intervened between the incarnation and the sacrifice of Christ. To the Jewish commonwealth the promise was made in the birth of the babe at Bethlehem, and they were invited to be upon the watch for the moment when the kingdom should come in its power.

When the fulness of time had come, the Lord himself undertaking the work as well as assuming the form of a servant, carried to the chosen people the message, "Come, for all things are now ready." His immediate followers and their successors repeated and pressed the invitation. It is worthy of notice that the servants, when they went out with the commission of the king, did not announce the feast as a new thing, then for the first time made known; they spoke of it as that which was promised before, and actually offered them; they summoned those who had previously been fully informed that the feast was provided for their use. These favoured but unthankful people were not taken at their word; after the first refusal, another and more urgent invitation is sent. The successive reiterated mission of the servants to the class who were originally invited, may be understood to point to the ministry of the Lord and the seventy until the time of the crucifixion, and the second mission of the apostles after the Pentecost, and under the ministration of the spirit. Both invitations were neglected and rejected by the people to whom they were sent; Christ came unto his own, and his own received him not.

Significant are the differences in the treatment which the message and the messengers received from different classes within the privileged circle of the first invited. We learn here the solemn lesson that though there is much diversity in the degrees of aggravation with which men accompany their rejection of the Saviour, all who do not receive him perish in the same condemnation. At first no distinction is made between class and class of unbelievers; of all, and of all alike it is recorded, "they would not come." But when the offer became more pressing and more searching, a difference began to appear, not as yet the difference between the believing and the unbelieving, but a difference in the manner of refusing, and in the degrees of courage or of cowardice that accompanied the act. The greater number treated the message lightly, and preferred their own business to the life eternal which was offered to them in Christ; while a portion, not content with spurning away the offer, persecuted to the death the ambassadors who bore it. The fault of those who are first mentioned takes the form of indolent, frivolous neglect, rather than of active opposition. They were occupied with many other things, and therefore could not attend to this one; they were bent on prosecuting their own gains, and therefore set no value on God's favour.[45]

[45] A melancholy interest adheres to the contrast between man's heedlessness of God as expressed in this parable, [Greek: amelesantes], made light of it, did not care for it; and God's regard for men as expressed in 1 Peter v.7, [Greek: auto melei peri humon], he careth for you.

These two, ungodliness and worldliness, are always found in company; but it is sometimes difficult to determine which of the two goes first, and draws the other after it. You seldom meet a man who neglects this great salvation, and neglects also the gains and the pleasures of life. Those who forget God follow hard after another lord, although they may be unable to detect or unwilling to confess their own idolatry. No man can serve two masters; but every man practically serves one. It may not, however, be easy in any given case to discover whether a man pursues some particular pleasure because he is determined to abide far from Christ, or is kept far from Christ because his heart is pre-engaged to some worldly lust. In the case which the parable exhibits, this point has not been expressly determined. When the second and more urgent message arrived, demanding their immediate attendance on the king at the marriage of his son, those men departed in an opposite direction, each to his own business; but it remains an open question whether their hearts were first so glued to the farm and the merchandise, that they could not be persuaded to take from these engrossing pursuits as much time as would suffice to attend upon their sovereign; or whether there was first a determination to resist the sovereign's call, and that they then introduced the business as an excuse, and fled to it as a welcome occupation.

It may have been either or both; but in the circumstances I think it was primarily the latter of the two. In the hearts of those men lay a deep design against the authority of the king; but it would have involved serious risk to have flatly refused his reiterated invitation. They had actually incurred a grave responsibility, and they were disposed to lighten it somewhat by interposing a plausible excuse. Troubled, moreover, by the gravity of their step they were fain to seek refuge from reflection by plunging into the ordinary avocations of life. I think it was not an excessive zeal for agriculture and trade that really prevented them from attending on the king that day; but a consciousness of having conclusively offended the king that drove them for relief into agriculture and trade. On the spiritual side of the parable, in like manner, the excessive devotion to business which occupies some men, and leaves not a shred either of their hearts or lives for Christ, may be in many cases not a primary affection, but the secondary result of another and deeper passion. When Christ has often knocked at the door, and the inhabitant soul within has as often refused to open, there is no longer peace in the dwelling that has been barred against its Lord. He who has rejected the merciful offers of a merciful God, does not afterwards sit at ease; every sound that in moments of solitude falls upon his ear, seems the footstep of an angry God, returning to inflict deserved punishment. When one has distinctly heard the Saviour's call, and deliberately refused to comply with it, he thenceforth experiences a craving for company and employment. He cannot endure silence or solitude. When he stands still, he seems to hear the throbbings of his own conscience terrible as the ticking of the clock in the chamber of death. To be alone is unendurable, because it is to be with God. To escape from this fiery furnace, he hastens to plough in his field or sell in his shop. In such a case, the worldliness, even when it runs to the greatest excess, is not the primary passion, but a secondary refuge, -- the trees of the garden among which the fallen would fain hide from the Lord God.

But in some cases the disease may first approach by the other side: love of the world may be the earlier matured and more imperious passion. The farm and the merchandise may become the soul's first and fondest love; and that love possessing all the soul's faculties, may cast or keep out Christ and his redemption. If you suppose those invited guests to have been previously wedded to the idolatry of covetousness, worshipping gain in secret as their god, you can easily comprehend how they should grudge a day taken from traffic in order to honour their king; so in the interpretation of the parable, when riches or pleasures increase, and the possessor sets his heart upon them, he has already obtained his portion, and will not cast it away for Christ; he will mock the messengers who bring the distasteful proposal.

Among the invited guests, however, there is another class who treat the king's servants in another way. The first class made light of the message; the second murdered the messengers. It is intimated that while the bulk of those to whom the Gospel was preached, neglected the offer and busied themselves with earthly gains, some rose against the preachers and persecuted them unto the death. These last, however, seem to have been in point of numbers an inconsiderable minority, -- "the remnant entreated them spitefully and slew them."

There were persecutors in the earliest days of the Gospel, and there have been persecutors in every generation since. The Pharisees plotted that they might put Jesus to death: Saul of Tarsus at a later date was their willing tool in a desperate effort to quench the life of the infant Church in the blood of its members. After he was turned, and the mighty stream of his life compelled to flow like a river of water in the opposite direction, a constant succession of cruel men has been kept up in this restless, sin-stained world, whose life-work is to crucify Christ in his members. The unchanged, unrepenting hierarchy of Rome, successor not of Peter the apostle, but of Saul the persecutor, does yet all that it can and dare to treat spitefully and slay those servants of the king who invite them and the world to the marriage-supper of the King's Son.

But the crucifiers of Christ are not all shedders of human blood. Deadly enmity to the truth and its publishers may be manifested where stakes and fagots are out of fashion and inconvenient. The soul of the persecution which the parable represents lies in entreating spitefully the king's messengers, because they loathed the invitation, and were irritated by the urgency wherewith the servants, remembering their sovereign's command, felt themselves constrained to press it on every man they met. In our own day, it does not require extraordinary sagacity to perceive the same spirit in the relish and readiness with which certain classes catch up a cry against any one who, not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, has discharged his commission in full.

But when you add together both classes of open antagonists -- those who shed the blood of Christians, and those who merely calumniate them, you have only a very small company before you. On the one side I see a little flock, -- those who meekly receive Christ; on the other and opposite side I see also a little flock, -- those who loudly proclaim by word and deed, "We will not have this man to reign over us:" but there is a multitude, whom no man can number, in the midst, who neither accept the king's message nor persecute the servants of the king. The character of the company on either extreme is distinctly marked, and easily seen. Those have manifestly closed with Christ's offer, and are accepted through faith; these, on the other hand, have considered the offer, and proved their rejection of it by killing its bearers. But the multitude in the middle have not taken a decisive part; they have remained apparently in a state of equilibrium. As yet they have not indeed actually and personally closed with the Redeemer as their own; but neither on the other hand have they determined and proclaimed that they will not accept him. They have not moved to either side to take a decisive part for or against the Lord.[46] This feature of their condition and their history helps to deceive and so to destroy them. If the condition of the world and the law of God were such that all would be safe in the great day who did not blaspheme Christ's name, and mock his Gospel, and put to death his ministers, this multitude in the middle might remain where they are at ease. But this is not the state of the case; life and death for us depend on our knowing and not mistaking the state of the case here.

[46] These three different methods of treating the message were all exhibited simultaneously at Athens when Paul preached there: "Some mocked, others said, We will hear thee again of this matter.... Howbeit, certain men clave unto him and believed" (Acts xvii.32-34).

To all the multitude in the middle the word of a merciful and faithful God proclaims, In order to be saved, it is necessary that you should arise, and turn to the right hand, and join the company there who have gladly welcomed the Son of God as their Saviour; but, correspondingly, in order to be lost, it is not necessary that you should arise from your state of indifference, and join the scoffer's ranks. To be saved you must flee to the refuge; but to be lost, it is enough that you remain where you are.

In the Theocracy, the Hebrew nation were the hereditary nobles. It is said of them in the Scriptures that they are a people near unto God (Ps. cxlviii.14). They enjoyed a right of entry into the king's presence. Having, in virtue of their birth-right, a perennial invitation to the royal festivals, they needed only a message as a matter of course, demanding their presence when the feast was prepared. The Gospel of grace complete in Christ is obviously the feast to which the house of Israel were in the fulness of time specially summoned. When they refused to come to the banquet, the Provider was displeased, but not put about: the Omniscient knows his way. He never permits his purposes to be thwarted: He makes the wrath of man to praise himself, and the remainder of that wrath he restrains.

In the beginning of human life and of God's moral government on earth, the enemy seemed to triumph. Creation was thrown out of joint; the being made in God's image was defiled by sin. But although the garden of Eden was emptied, God was not left without a witness in the world: sin abounded, but grace did much more abound. In like manner, at a later stage of the divine administration when the favoured vine became barren, another was brought out of Egypt and planted in its stead. When Israel rejected Christ, God rejected Israel, and called another people to be his own. "We have Abraham to our father," said the Jewish leaders to the Baptist when his lessons began to gall them, "We have Abraham to our father," meaning thereby to intimate that they alone were the chosen people, and that failing them God would have no children on the earth. How did John answer this boast? "Think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father; for I say unto you that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham" (Matt. iii.9, 10).

Although those privileged Hebrews rejected him, Christ did not remain a king without subjects, a shepherd without a flock. In the exercise of the same sovereignty through which he chose Abraham at first, he passed over Abraham's degenerate posterity and called another family. This family was Abraham's seed, not by natural generation, but in the regeneration through faith. Of these stones he raised up children to Abraham, when the natural children of the family had through unbelief shut themselves out. "Go to the highways:" Christ commanded his apostles to begin at Jerusalem indeed, but he did not enjoin, -- did not permit them to continue holding out their hands to a disobedient and gainsaying people; the alternative was embodied in their commission, If the Jews do not receive you, go to the Gentiles.

It becomes us to stand in awe before these deep things of God: their fall became our rising. In the channel through which a running stream is directed upon a mill wheel the same turning of a valve that shuts the water out of one course throws it into another, that had previously been dry; thus the Jews by rejecting the counsel of God shut themselves out, and at the same moment opened a way whereby mercy might flow to us who were afar off.

The servants went out and did as they were bidden. Peter went to the house of Cornelius, and in that lane of the world's great city found a whole household willing to follow him to the feast his royal master had prepared. Soon thereafter Paul and Barnabas, Silas, Titus, Timothy, and others traversed the continents of Europe and Asia, bringing multitudes of neglected outcasts into the presence and the favour of the king.

"They brought in good and bad." This is a cardinal point in the method of divine mercy, and therefore it is articulately inserted in the picture. The scene is taken from life in the world; the conceptions accordingly, and the phraseology correspond with the circumstances. In society at large, and in every section of society such as the rich or the poor, two classes are found distinguished by their moral character, and in ordinary language designated the good and the bad. The thought and the style of ordinary life are adopted in the parable, and every reader understands easily what is meant. Every great community has its virtuous poor and its vicious poor. The invitations of the Gospel come to fallen human kind, and to all without respect either of persons or of characters. Apart from Christ and prior to regeneration the distinction between bad and good is only an earthly thing: in God's sight and in prospect of the judgment, there is none good, no not one. There are not two roads from earth to heaven: there is only one gate open, and by it all the saved enter. It is not the man's goodness that recommends him to God's favour: the worst is welcome through the blood of Christ, and the best is rejected if he approach by any other way. Nor does it follow thence that the Judge is indifferent to righteousness; that which the unreconciled offer to him as righteousness is in his sight sin; and the fact of offering it as a ground of justification aggravates the offerer's guilt.


We have here two parables in one. In their union and relations they resemble the two seed-stones which are sometimes found within one fruit, attached to each other, and wrapped in the same envelope, but possessing each its own separate organization, and its own independent germ of life. The parable of the prepared, offered, and rejected feast, and the parable of the wedding garment, although actually united in the Lord's ministry and the evangelic record, are in their own nature distinct, whether you consider the secular scenes delineated or the spiritual lessons which they convey.

When the wedding was furnished with guests the king came in to see them. The representation is in strict accordance with the relations of the parties and the customs of society both in ancient and modern times. When a citizen entertains his equals he must himself be first in the festal hall to welcome the guests as they successively arrive; but when a sovereign invites subjects to his palace he appears among them only when the company have all assembled.

The instant that he entered the festive hall the king saw there a man who had not on a wedding-garment. Although this is the turning point of the parable, it is represented with extreme brevity. The great central facts are recorded with the utmost distinctness, but all the surrounding circumstances are in silence assumed: no explanation is given, and the reason doubtless is that no explanation is needed. Some customs and allusions connected with the scene remain obscure to us, after all that modern research has done to illustrate them, but the lesson which our Lord intended to teach stands relieved in clearest light and sharpest outline, like distant mountain tops when the sun has newly set behind them. Some points regarding which we might desire information are left in the shade, but in as far as the story is necessary to unfold and perpetuate the spiritual lesson, it is accompanied with no doubt and with very little difficulty.

1. The wedding garment was something conspicuous and distinctive. As soon as the king entered the room he detected the single man who wanted it in a great company of guests.

2. It was not a necessary part of a man's clothing, but rather a significant badge of his loyalty. The primary use of the symbol was neither to keep the wearer warm nor to make him elegant, but to manifest his faithfulness.

3. The want of it was, and was understood to be, a decisive mark of disloyalty. The man who came to the feast without a wedding-garment endorsed substantially the act of those who had proudly refused to comply with the king's invitation. It was the same heart-disobedience accompanied by a hypocrisy that would fain commit the sin and yet escape the consequences.

4. The question whether a wedding-garment was proffered to every guest as he entered, out of the royal store, is attended with some difficulty. The preponderance of probability seems to lie with those who think that these decorations were freely distributed in the vestibule to every entrant, in some such way as certain badges are sometimes given to every one of a wedding party amongst ourselves in the present day. But the point is not of primary importance. From what is tacitly assumed in the narrative it may be held as demonstrated alternatively that either the king gave every guest the necessary garment, or it was such that every guest, even the poorest, could on the shortest warning easily obtain it for himself. Two silences become the two witnesses out of whose mouths this conclusion is established, -- the silence of the king as to the grounds of his sentence, and the silence of the culprit when judgment was pronounced. The judge does not give any reason why sentence should be executed, and the criminal does not give any reason why it should not. On both sides it is confessed and silently assumed that the guest had not, but might have had, the wedding-garment on. If there had been any hardship in the case the king would have vindicated his own procedure, and the condemned guest would not have remained speechless when he heard his doom.[47]

[47] "It should be assumed that the guests were not instantly hurried into the festal hall, but that an opportunity was afforded to them of changing their dress. This, however, is not expressly asserted in the narrative, but may be gathered from the term [Greek: ephimothe] (he was speechless) in ver.12; and must be understood on this account also, that, otherwise the sentence in ver.13 would stand exposed to the charge of injustice." -- Storr, de parabolis Christi, p.113.

From the circumstances in which that motley company was collected and introduced into the palace, we may safely conclude that no kind of clothing, however torn and mean, would have been counted a disqualification. Over the whole surface of the scene is spread the proof that nothing in the character or condition of the attire which a street porter or a field labourer might happen to wear, when he was intercepted on the highway by the king's messengers, and hurried away to the palace without an opportunity of visiting his own home, could possibly have been a ground of exclusion. When such persons in such circumstances were invited to the banquet, assuredly the king was prepared to welcome them, as far as dress was concerned, precisely as his servants had found them. No man forfeited his place at that table on account of any defect in the quality or condition of the clothing which he wore when he unexpectedly met the messengers and was suddenly hurried away to the feast. Thus far, treading on firm ground, we tread surely.

Alike from the facts of the case, from the analogy of others, and from the corresponding spiritual lesson as elsewhere declared in Scripture, we conclude with confidence that the wedding garment was a well understood distinctive badge, expressive generally of loyalty, and specifically constituting and declaring the wearer's fitness for sitting as a guest at the marriage supper of the king's son. In appearance it must have been conspicuous; but its value may not have been great. It was not the inherent worth of the material but the meaning of the symbol that bulked in the estimation of both the entertainer and his guests. It may from analogous cases be shown to be probable that a loyal heart could have easily extemporized the appropriate symbol out of any material that lay next at hand. Where there is a will there is a way. Italian patriots at the crisis of their conflict with multiform oppression, and while the strong yoke of the despot was still upon their necks, contrived to display their darling tricolor by a seemingly accidental arrangement of red, white, and green among the vegetables which they exhibited in the market or carried to their homes. Nay more, the loyalty of a loyal man may in certain circumstances be more emphatically expressed by a rude, extemporaneous symbol, hastily constructed of intractable materials, than by the most elaborate and leisurely products of the needle or the loom. In such cases, the will of the man is everything; the wealth of the man nothing. The meanest rag suddenly thrown across the shoulders, arranged so as unequivocally to express the wearer's faith may be a better evidence of loyalty than the richest silks of the East.[48]

[48] A custom connected with funerals, which prevails in some districts of England, if not in all, approaches closely in some of its essential features to that which occupies the most conspicuous place in this parable. A scarf of black silk, large, conspicuous, and expensive, yet constituting no part of the proper garments of the wearer, is given by the person who invites, and worn by every one who accepts the invitation. A single person without the badge in the procession would be instantly detected, and the omission would, in the circumstances, be taken as proof of disrespect.

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Let us now endeavour to appreciate and express the spiritual lesson. True to nature on the earthly sphere the parable represents the invitation, the assembling of the guests, and the entrance of the king, as three several and successive acts; but in the processes of the spiritual kingdom these three operations advance simultaneously. Some are in the act of hearing the invitation, -- some are accepting it and going to the feast, -- some are sitting at the table under the inspection of the king, -- all at the same moment. The process is like the habit of some species of fruit trees, on which flowers, green berries, and ripe fruit may be seen at the same time; the flowers of this season become the green berries of the next, and the green berries of this season become the ripened fruit of the next; and thus a constant succession is maintained. In like manner, as the generations pass, all the processes of Christ's kingdom are simultaneously carried forward.

The guests who have come at the call of the servants, and taken their places at the table of the king, are those who hear the Gospel and fall in with its terms, -- who adopt Christ's name and enrol themselves among his people, -- who hope in his mercy and commemorate his death. Herein they are broadly distinguished from those who made light of the message, and those who persecuted the messengers; but it is not yet certain whether they are forgiven and renewed. The profession which they have made distinguishes them from those Jews who refused the invitation, and those Gentiles who have not yet heard it; but among those who thus far comply with the call, another distinction must still be made. That goodly heap must be tossed up and winnowed yet again, that the chaff may be driven before the wind, and only the wheat gathered into the husbandman's garner.

As in the parable, we are not informed what were the shape, size, colour, or material of the wedding garment, but only that it was necessary that every guest should wear it; so we do not find here any specific doctrinal instruction as to the method of redemption and the decisive characteristics of believers. We learn from the parable that every sinner must simply comply with God's terms in order that he may be saved; and elsewhere in Scripture we are fully taught what these terms are. An abundant answer to the question, "What must I do to be saved?" is recorded by the Spirit: the only point regarding it which this parable teaches, is that a sinner must abandon his own method, and fall in with Christ's. The meaning of the man who sat at the feast without a wedding garment seems to have been, "I am my own master, and I shall work my own way to heaven:" the meaning of the men who meekly wore it was, "We are not our own; we are bought with a price; our righteousnesses are as filthy rags, but the Lord is our righteousness."

Thus the lesson of the parable concentrates itself at last upon a point; but that point is the turning-point of life or death to men. Is any one disposed to complain that it stakes all upon an opinion? It does, and why not? One man's opinion is that his own righteousness, especially when he has gotten time to improve it, may be safely presented in the judgment, and ought to satisfy the judge. Another man counts all his efforts vile, as lacking the vital element of love, and at God's command places his trust wholly in Christ his substitute: the first does deepest dishonour, the second gives highest glory to God. A man's opinion on a trifling subject, may be of trifling import; but a man's opinion -- his mind on how he may be just with God, is the greatest and most pregnant fact in creation. Opinion here is nothing less and nothing else than the attitude of a fallen creature towards his Maker and Judge: one opinion is the alienated heart of a rebel, another is the glad trustfulness of a dear child.

If the head of a Hebrew family, on the dread night of the Exodus, had said within himself, What shall I gain by sprinkling a lamb's blood upon my door-posts? Or, if a conspicuous mark be necessary, may not the blood of this animal suffice, that was killed for the use of my family in the ordinary way? If moved by some self-confident speculations regarding the constancy of nature, he had entered through the portals of the twilight into that awful night, he would have perished while his neighbours were preserved: not that a lamb's blood had power to save, but because this man refused to take God's way of being saved, and trusted in his own.[49]

[49] I do not attach much value to the question which has been much canvassed here, whether the wedding garment specifically signifies Faith or Charity, -- whether it points to what the saved get from God, or what they do in his service. To wear the garment at the feast means that the wearer takes God's way of salvation and not his own; to want it, means that the wanter takes his own way of salvation and not God's. This is the conclusion of the whole matter. If you suppose that the garment means evangelical obedience, you must assume that faith in Christ is the root on which obedience grows; if, on the other hand, you suppose that the garment means faith in Christ, you must assume that it is a living not a dead faith, -- a faith that will work by love and overcome the world.

The rest may be expressed in few words. He saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment. Here, first of all, it is not intimated that ordinarily there is only one hypocrite in a large company of professors: it is no part of the Lord's design in this parable to tell us whether the false members of the visible Church are many or few. The single point on which the Master has fixed his eye is the certainty that the false will be detected: the parable does not reveal their numbers, but it assures us that none of them shall escape in the crowd. If the representation had been that a large proportion, say a half or three-fourths of the guests, had been detected at the table without the appropriate symbol of loving loyalty to the king, the omniscience of the visitor, and the certainty of the criminal's doom would not have been so clearly and strongly expressed. That the king's eye instantly detects the undecorated guest, although he is only one in a multitude, is the most emphatic warning that could possibly be conveyed to the unbelieving. None who live without Christ in the world shall be permitted to glide into heaven with the crowd in the great day. The constancy of nature is sometimes wielded as a weapon of assault against revealed religion: it will one day strike a heavy blow on the other side. When a mixture of wheat and chaff is thrown up in the wind, the solid grains drop down on the spot, and the light chaff is driven away. You never expect, in such a case, that to please some fancy of yours, the solid grain will fly away on the wings of the blast, and the chaff drop down at your feet. The constancy of nature prevents. Well; by a law as constant and changeless -- a law of the same God, reigning over the world of spirit, "the wicked is driven away in his wickedness, but the righteous hath hope in his death" (Prov. xiv.32).

He was speechless. The judgment will be so conducted that the condemned will be compelled to own the justice of their sentence. Conscience, brought again into contact with God, will be awakened and restored to the exercise of its functions; like a mirror it will receive and repeat the decree of the Judge. Persecutors were wont to gag their victims while they burnt them; it was found necessary to put iron on the tongues of the witnesses, to make them silent while they suffered. No such clumsy device is needed in the assize which the righteous God will hold upon the world. Conscience swelling within will stifle the complaint of the guilty. The courage of the despiser will fail: the last poor comfort of the blasphemer, to hurl against the judgment seat the last despairing, defiant word, will be taken away. The history of the fact written by divine prescience before the time, makes no mention of what the condemned will say. The record simply runs, "These shall go away into everlasting punishment."

"Outer darkness:" tell us in detail what the condition the outcast will be, and what will be the constituents of their suffering? We cannot. Rome has impiously traded upon this weakness of humanity. She has parcelled out her purgatory, as we delineate this upper world on a map. This is the machinery whereby she is enabled to traffic in the souls of men. No; that condition lies in outer darkness; I cannot see through the veil, and tell the specific sufferings that lie beneath it. My Lord has told me that it is in outer darkness; but he has covered it from my sight. He hath done all things well. He often warns us that the wicked shall be cast away; but he never tells us the particulars of their torments. For teaching about this terror let me listen to his word; for safety from it, let me hide in his bosom.

xi the wicked husbandmen
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