The Marriage of the King's Son;
The Great Banquet
William Bacon Stevens, 1857
"The kingdom of Heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.
"Then he sent some more servants and said, 'Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet!'
"But they paid no attention and went off — one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
"Then he said to his servants, 'The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.' So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.
"But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 'Friend,' he asked, 'how did you get in here without wedding clothes?' The man was speechless.
"Then the king told the attendants, 'Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are invited, but few are chosen."
"A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready.'
"But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, 'I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.'
"Another said, 'I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I'm on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.'
"Still another said, 'I just got married, so I can't come.'
"The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.'
"'Sir,' the servant said, 'what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.'
"Then the master told his servant, 'Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.'"
We have placed these two parables together, because, though uttered at different times, and designed originally for different purposes — they have such a general unity of structure, similitude, and interpretation, that for all practical purposes they may be regarded and unfolded as one.
It is peculiarly interesting to observe the rich and attractive drapery in which our Lord clothes His doctrines. He presents before the mental eye that which is usually full of joy, "a great banquet;" that which is overflowing with gladness, "a marriage banquet." And, that the attractions might be heightened by the splendor of wealth and the pomp of station, He introduces royalty itself — a King preparing a bridal entertainment "for his son" — thus taking the highest banquet of earth, to shadow forth "the marriage supper of the Lamb" in Heaven.
No people were more accustomed to make weddings occasions of festivity, than the Orientals; for they celebrated the nuptials of sons and daughters with a display and magnificence equal to their rank or wealth, extending the festivities over several days: hence the Greek word used here by Matthew, and translated "marriage," is put in the plural number, because these feasts continued a succession of days: as we learn from the direction of Laban to Jacob, "Fulfill her week;" or keep her usual marriage feast. And it is recorded of Sampson, that at his marriage he "made a feast seven days; for so used the young men to do." And the Rabbis inform us, that this seven days of feasting was "a matter of indispensable obligation upon all married men."
It was customary also to celebrate the inauguration of kings and sovereigns with feasts, similar to the wedding banquets; for on the day on which they assumed the government of the land to which they were appointed, the kings or rulers were considered as affianced or solemnly united to their country — which is therefore compared to a bride.
When Jesus Christ, therefore, was to enter upon His mediatorial reign, God made a marriage feast at the espousals of His Son with the Church, and set out the banquet with the fat things of the Gospel of His grace. And in this comparison there is much propriety; for both the old and new covenants are several times spoken of by Prophets and Apostles, as marriage contracts between God and His people. Indeed, of all human relationship, this is the most frequently and the most elaborately used, to express the oneness, intimacy, and affection that exists between Christ and the Church.
John introduces this figure with great effect in his description of the future glory of the Church: "And I heard," says he, "what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear. (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)" "Blessed are those who are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb."
Well might there be "a feast of fat things on God's holy mountain," when His only begotten Son was espoused to the Church; when he took His earthly Zion to His bosom as His bride, and gave to her the dowry of the Holy Spirit.
When the banquet spoken of in the parables was prepared, the servants, in both cases, were sent out to those who had been previously "bidden," with the message, "Come, for all things are now ready!" in accordance with the oriental usage, by which the guests to a feast were twice called; first, invited some time before, that they might prepare themselves; and secondly, summoned a short time previous to the banquet, that they might be there promptly.
Thus were the Jews, to whom these parables were addressed, twice bidden to the Gospel feast; first, by the prophets, long before; and again, by Christ's apostles and disciples, saying, in the name of their Lord and King, "Behold, I have prepared my dinner. My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet!" The message was urgent, ample, and seasonable — and we would have supposed that it would at once have been responded to with alacrity and gladness.
On the contrary, however, they to whom the message came "made light of it," and "all, with one consent, began to make excuses," pleading the most trivial affairs as a reason for slighting both the entertainer and the entertainment.
What though one had "bought a piece of ground?" the ground was not a perishable, movable thing, that "he must needs go and see it" now. It would lie in the same situation and have the same quality of soil tomorrow, that it had today.
What though another had "bought five yoke of oxen?" he could test their strength and quality tomorrow as well as now; and it was not necessary therefore that he should neglect the banquet to "go and prove them."
What though another had "married a wife?" that could not be plead in excuse for such unjustifiable neglect; for his wife was not given to him to enjoy only today, to be removed tomorrow — but was his for a lifetime, and hence he could the more easily spare a portion of time now, to the calls of his lord and master.
There was neither validity nor force in any of these excuses; and to the contempt and refusal of some, was added insult and murder by others; "for rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them;" which thing was true of the Jews, who evil-treated and slew, by cruel deaths, nearly all the Apostles of our Lord.
These insults to his servants, and murders of his messengers, the king hears of with anger — but he lays aside his revenge until the feast is over.
Resolved that the wedding and the banquet which had been prepared should be "furnished with guests," though those who were first bidden were unworthy, servants are "sent out into the highways, the streets and lanes of the city," who "gathered together all, as many as they found," "the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind;" and thus "the wedding banquet was furnished with guests."
This circumstance has been thought by some, unacquainted with oriental manners, unnatural and improbable; but ancient and modern writers unite to attest its truthfulness. Dr. Pococke, a distinguished Eastern traveler, says that "an Arab prince will often dine in the street, before his door, and call to all that pass, even to beggars — to come and sit down to his table." And to this day, in several parts of Asia, it is as common for a rich man or prince to give a feast to the poor, the maimed, and the blind, as it is in Europe or America for gentlemen to entertain those of their own rank or order.
Thus were the Gentiles, "the maimed, the halt, the poor, and the blind," as the Jews esteemed them, called to the Gospel feast, when their despisers, the Israelites, had haughtily rejected the repeated invitations; for Christ had just before declared, "many shall come from the east and from the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of God; but the children of the kingdom shall be cast out!"
As there was still "room," after many had been gathered out of the streets and the lanes, the servant was commanded, "Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in — that my house may be filled."
Much and injurious stress has been laid upon the word "compel," as though it were constraint under physical fear or force. The word, it is true, may admit of that interpretation — but it cannot mean here anything more than that moral compulsion which results from the stress of argument and the force of personal appeal. Because the one servant to whom was given the direction, "compel them to come in," could not by his personal power force, against their will, a sufficient number of people to occupy the seats of so great a banquet. It therefore means, an internal constraint, through the pressure of powerful motives.
The invited guests having taken their places, the feast proceeds. A circumstance, however, is brought out in the parable of the Marriage Banquet, which is of too much practical importance to be overlooked. It is said, "But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 'Friend,' he asked, 'how did you get in here without wedding clothes?' The man was speechless!" In all large oriental weddings, the guests were expected to appear in particular robes, generally white, which were furnished by the master of the feast. This is an ancient custom, for we find instances mentioned by Homer, and it is also alluded to by other classical writers.
We may, therefore, naturally enough suppose that this king, having invited guests to his feast from the highways and hedges, would order his servants to see them all properly clad out of his own wardrobe, that they might be not only cleanly in their apparel — but also, being dressed alike, might all feel themselves on one level, and thus avoid those distinctions which difference of garments so often makes.
Not to have a wedding garment was, therefore, a mark of disrespect to the host, to the feast, and to the guests. Indulging these feelings of hatred, and manifesting them by an open refusal to appear in the prescribed dress, it is not to be wondered at that, when confronted with the king and questioned by him as to his appearance, the man should be "speechless," — that conscious guilt should muzzle his mouth with shame, for his conduct manifested a state of mind and heart worthy of punishment; nor was it long delayed, for the incensed king ordered his servants to "bind him hand and foot, and cast him into outer darkness," beyond the glare and lights of the halls and courts; where, instead of pleasure and delight, he would have "wailing and gnashing of teeth" — the fruits of a bitter but unavailing sorrow.
This wedding garment is, by some, regarded as faith; by others, a holy life — but Calvin well says, "It is needlessly contended, whether the wedding garment is faith or a pious and holy life; because, neither can faith be separated from good works, nor are good works practicable without faith. Christ, however, only meant that we must so comply with the call of our Lord, as to be renewed in spirit, after his image, remaining constantly in union with him, that the old man, with his defilements, must be put off, and the new life diligently applied to, by which means our garment might become suitable to our honorable calling.
In his Epistle to the Romans, Paul urges us "put on the Lord Jesus Christ." This we are to do after having cast off the works of darkness" — those deeds and thoughts and feelings which belong to us in our carnal and benighted state. These are the defiled garments of our depraved nature; but when, through the grace given unto us, we cast these away and come to Christ, his language is, "Take away the filthy garment from him; behold, I have caused your iniquity to pass from you, and I will clothe you with change of clothing!" And that change of clothing is the wedding garment of Christ's righteousness — seamless and spotless, which he gives to each believer, and in which alone he can appear with acceptance before the Great King. Thus arrayed, the devout soul can sing with the Prophet, "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God: for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness!"
We have reason to fear, however, that many who sit at the earthly table of the Lord's House — are aptly represented by the man "was not wearing the wedding garment." They have heard the invitation, they have gone in to the banquet — but they went in the soiled and earth-stained garments of their own morality, and never sought "to be clothed" with that robe of righteousness which Christ bestows upon all who come to him in true penitence and faith.
The eye of man cannot tell whether we are thus arrayed or not — but when "the King comes in to see the guests," all shall be revealed; for, in the language of the Prophet Zephaniah, "The Lord has prepared a sacrifice, he has bid his guests; and it shall come to pass in the day of the Lord's sacrifice, that I will punish the princes and the king's children, and all such as are clothed with strange apparel." And what a startling question will that be, which the Lord shall then put, "Friend," a seeming friend, because a nominal companion, "how did you come in" — the Church and at my table, "not having on the wedding garment?"
You cannot say that you did not need it, for God distinctly says, "Without holiness, no man shall see the Lord." You cannot say that it was not offered to you; for it is freely bestowed, yes, even pressed upon your acceptance by the ministers of Christ. You cannot say that it will make no difference whether I have one on or not, for it is emphatically stated, that you can only secure the favor of God, by being thus robed in the garment of salvation. To the stern interrogation of our Lord you, like the man in the parable, will be "speechless!" Your mouth will be muzzled with shame, and your face covered with confusion — and you shall be cast out into outer darkness, beyond the light and glory of Heaven, into the blackness of eternal sorrow! And there you will be left to spend eternal ages, writhing under the wrath of an angry God!
Have we this wedding garment? The hour is not far distant when the King will "come in to see the guests" — are we prepared to meet his all-searching gaze, by having put on Christ, as "our wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption?" Or have we been so careless, or hypocritical, or unbelieving, as to neglect this sole garment of salvation, and thus procure for ourselves eternal banishment from the presence of God?
Ascending now from particular incidents to general inferences — we remark that these parables illustrate three important points, namely:
1. the freeness and fullness of the Gospel feast;
2. the perverseness of the human heart in making light of, and declining its invitations;
3. the righteous vengeance which will overtake all impugners of God's grace and mercy.
First, the freeness and fullness of the Gospel feast.The Gospel offers everything for our spiritual needs and appetites, and leaves unsatisfied no craving of the soul. Are we weak in the faith, of feeble knees, and stammering tongues, "babes in Christ?" Here is found "the sincere milk of the Word, that we may grow thereby." Are we strong and masculine in our spiritual energies and capabilities, with our "senses exercised to discern both good and evil?" Here is to be had "the strong meat" of doctrines and mysteries. Are we crying out with one of old, "My leanness! my leanness!" Here is that bread of life, and wine of grace — that will make us muscular and robust in spiritual health. Are we "hungering and thirsting after righteousness?" Our souls "shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness" — every holy appetite shall be appeased, for at the table of the Lord are found those memorials of dying love, of which whoever eats in faith, does, in the language of the martyr Latimer, "Eat with the mouth of his soul, and drink with the stomach of his soul, the body of Christ." This is bringing us to a more than angels' banquet, and feeding us on more than angels' food!
And to this "feast of fat things," which God has spread upon His holy mountain, the Church — all are invited. God has sent out His servants, His ministers, to summon all to this marriage supper of the Lamb, and the invitation runs in these words: "Ho, everyone who thirsts, come you to the waters, and he who has no money, come; yes, buy wine and milk, without money and without price!" "Come, for all things are ready!" "And the Spirit and the Bride say, Come, and whoever will, let him come, and take of the water of life freely!" For the assurance of the Bridegroom is, "Him that comes unto me I will never cast out." Nothing can be more full and free — than the invitations of grace! God's ministers are commissioned to go into all the world, to call men everywhere to repentance, to offer . . .
pardon to the guiltiest,
peace to the most rebellious,
mercy to the scarlet-dyed transgressor!
These free offers are made without any prerequisites on our part of worth or merit. We are not to work out one part of our salvation — and expect Christ to do the rest. He must save us wholly — or not at all. All that is required of us is, to feel our sinfulness and our need of a Savior, and to take him as our sole Redeemer. He will work in and with us, to do the rest.
These free offers of grace are made in good faith on the part of God. He "is not a man that he should lie." He is not a deceiver, promising much — and fulfilling little. "Has he said it — and shall He not do it? Has he spoken — and shall it not come to pass?" "Heaven and earth," he says, "shall pass away — but my word shall never pass away." So that we may rely with the most implicit trust in the free salvation offered to us by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
These offers of grace are also as full as they are free. They cover all sins, for "the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin." They extend to all our spiritual needs, for Christ Jesus "is of God made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." They leave nothing to be supplied by human means or merit, for we "are complete" in Christ." They open to us full and unending glories in the world to come, for, once there, we "shall go no more out forever."
Secondly. The perverseness of the human heart in making light of, and declining Gospel invitations.We might suppose that offers of mercy thus free and full would be accepted with delight, and that sin-burdened men would hasten to embrace the salvation offered "without money and without price;" but our experience teaches just the reverse, for it is at this point, that the perverseness and depravity of the human mind manifest themselves, in making light of and declining these invitations.
Of the great majority of those to whom the Gospel invitation come, may it be said, that they either "make light of it," or else "with one consent begin to make excuse." That which is the most pressing need of their souls for time and for eternity, that which involves the highest interests of their moral natures — is made to occupy a subordinate place, or, too often, no place at all; while the farm, the merchandise, the cares of the family, things fleeting in themselves and comparatively of small value — are permitted to take an all-absorbing precedence. This is virtually saying that God's estimate of the soul and sin and salvation is wrong — and ours is right. And thus, acting according to the counsel of our own minds and the deceitfulness of our own hearts — we reject the overtures of grace, and continue on in sin and unbelief. Such a charge may shock the sensibilities of some, and they may deny that they are guilty of making light of the invitations of grace, or of excusing themselves from attendance on the Gospel feast.
It is true that you may not have made a mock of the truth, or openly scoffed at the ministers of God, or laughed at the ordinances of the Church; you may, on the contrary, regard the Bible with profound respect, and reverence His servants and His sanctuary with many kindly demonstrations. When the Sabbath bell rings out its call to prayer, you may bend your head in worship. When the organ peal fills the vaulted roof, you may lift up your voice in the swelling chant. When the ambassador for Jesus proclaims the truths of salvation, you may listen as unto a very lovely song of one that has a pleasant voice, and can play well upon an instrument." So that throughout your external conduct, there shall be visible no impropriety of word or deed. And yet, after all this, you may be fully obnoxious to the charge of the text.
We can illustrate this proposition by a single supposable case: You are sick; a physician has been called in, and after due examination of your symptoms, he has left certain prescriptions, which he assures you will relieve your disease. Your common sense, your experience, your judgment, confirm his words; but, in spite of all this, you refuse to follow his directions. You do not laugh at them, the matter is too serious; you do not scoff at them, for your reason tells you that they are proper remedials; but you do not take the required medicines. On repeating his visit, the physician finds you no better; and learning that you had refused to take his prescriptions, he tells you that he is sorry that you "made light" of them. "Oh, no, sir," you reply, "I did not make light of them — I did not laugh at them or turn them into derision — I doubt not that they are very valuable." "But," interrupts the physician, "did you follow my directions?" "Why, no, sir, I did not." "And does not this simple refusal to do as I directed," he might say, "show that you make light of them — that you do not prize them? Is it not treating me with the most practical levity and slight?"
The Great Physician of Souls has come to you and found you languishing under the disease of sin. "Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness — only wounds and welts and open sores!" He comes to you with the Balm of Gilead, and tells you what will cure your dreadful malady. His prescriptions commend themselves to your reason, judgment, and conscience. You will die unless you conform to His directions; yet day after day you hesitate, you put off compliance, refusing to take that which will make you spiritually sound and healthful in the sight of God. Is not this making light of Christ in a manner insulting to Him and ruinous to your own soul?
Nothing can be plainer than the proposition, that we make light of that which is worthy of being received, and which it is important for us to receive, when we do not receive it into good and honest hearts. What more worthy of our reception, than the offers of grace in Christ Jesus? What more important to our eternal interests? Yet, not accepting them, not providing for our souls' highest needs — we are in very truth making light of them, to the peril of our souls.
Should you, however, instead of silently neglecting Christ, attempt with much honeyed plausibility to excuse yourself from His service, pleading your daily cares and domestic duties in extenuation — your condition would not be much better.
Excuse yourself! To whom? to God your Creator for not obeying Him! to Christ your Redeemer for not loving Him! to the Holy Spirit the Sanctifier for doing despite unto His offered Grace!
Excuse yourself! From what? from the service of God! from union with Christ! from the renewing of the Holy Spirit! from peace of mind! from joy of heart! from hope of Heaven! from eternal life!
Excuse yourself! For what? for a few days' continuance in sin! for the fear of sneering friends! for the dread of coming out from the world! for lack of moral courage to acknowledge yourself as a sinner, needing salvation, and seeking it where only it can be found, at the foot of the cross! How will such conduct appear in a dying hour — when the vanities of the world are dissolving, and the realities of eternity rising into view? How will it appear at the judgment seat of Christ, before those open books, and that great white throne, and the once rejected Savior, then sitting there in His divine glory? God inviting — and man making light of the invitation! This is a wonder hitherto unheard of in the moral universe.
Thirdly, we notice the righteous vengeance which will overtake those who make light of the invitation, and excuse themselves from the feast.
In the parable of the Marriage of the King's Son, it is said, that when the king heard of the rejection of his invitation, "The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city!" This is an evident allusion to the fate that befell Jerusalem, where these very things came to pass. In the parable of the Great Supper, the master of the feast declared, "None of these men that were bidden, shall taste of my banquet;" while he who neglected to put on the wedding garment was "cast into outer darkness!" All these are figurative illustrations of God's wrath against the deliberate and wanton rejecters of the Lord Jesus; and they indicate the positive determination of the Most High, that He "will not in anyway clear the guilty."
As a God of holiness, He must, by the very necessities of His nature, punish sin as long as sin exists. This punishment of sin must also be commensurate with the greatness of the sin. And though, in one sense, all sins are great, because committed against a great God, and because they are violations of a great law; yet there is a grade in transgressions, rising in degrees of guilt from the simplest thought of evil — to the sin against the Holy Spirit, which, our Lord says, shall never be forgiven.
We cannot classify our sins, because we do not know their real malignity or influence. Yet we can easily see that transgressions such as are implied in making light of Christ, and refusing the overtures of grace, must be very grievous, and must evoke severe vengeance. And what we thus argue on principles of ordinary reason, the Bible declares, by setting forth in language of the most vivid and decided kind — the greatness and the woe, of those who thus draw upon themselves swift destruction.
But we turn from the consideration of these mournful yet impressive truths, to listen for a moment to a voice which speaks to us in one of the parables, uttering the sweet invitation, "Come, for all things are now ready!" It is the voice of mercy, speaking from the very throne of God. It is a voice calling to each sin-stricken heart in tones of comfort — for it is full of promise, hope, and joy. It tells us that "all things are now ready" on Earth. The incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ — by which atonement was made for sin, and death and the grave stripped of their victories — have taken place, and their blessed results are now ready to be applied to the hearts and consciences of men. The Church on earth is ready to embrace you; the earthly ministers of Christ are waiting to receive you; the ordinances of grace are ready for your participation; so that in every particular we can say, "all things" on earth "are ready — come unto the marriage banquet!"
This blessed voice also tells us, "Come, for all things are now ready" in Heaven. Christ has swung open to us its long-closed door; and, having gone before to prepare the way, has fitted up those mansions in His Father's house, destined for the occupation of believers. Everything is prepared in Heaven:
angels wait there to receive us;
the spirits of the just watch for our coming;
the gates of pearl are opened to admit us;
the harp, and crown, and robe, and palm-branch are made ready for our use;
the marriage banquet is already spread out beneath the sunless sky of glory;
so that, in every particular, we can say, "all things" in Heaven "are ready, come unto the marriage."
And with this invitation there is also coupled the assurance, "and yet there is room!" There is room in the Church for more disciples. There is room in the mercy of God for the very chief of sinners. There is room in the blood-filled Fountain of Salvation for multitudes more of the vile and the degraded. There is room in the grace of the Holy Spirit for all classes, ages, sexes, stations, climates, and kindred.
There is room in Heaven — the number of its inhabitants is not yet completed; its "many mansions" are not yet all occupied; its wardrobe of wedding garments is not yet exhausted.
And not only room in Heaven — but welcomes; and not only welcomes — but anthems of joy, as one after another shall come from the North and from the South, from the East and from the West, and sit down, with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, to the marriage banquet of the Lamb.
If we perish now, after this full and free provision, the fault is all our own — for God still says to us in His holy Word, "Come, for all things are ready!" Come, for "yet there is room!"