by Octavius Winslow

The Banquet

"You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies." Psalm 23:5

"You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies." Psalm 23:5

How soon is true and simple faith crowned with its reward! The first and exultant refrain of our song had scarcely died upon the ear- "I shall not want"- before another and still more jubilant one ravishes the soul. "You prepare a table before one in the presence of my enemies." God, when He gives faith in Himself- in His love to promise, in His faithfulness to fulfil, in His power to perform- seldom keeps the believing, waiting soul in long and anxious suspense. It is true He may, in some instances, test the sincerity, exercise the faith, and prove the love of His suppliant child by causing the 'vision awhile to tarry;' but sooner or later it comes, and the faith that trusted, and the prayer that petitioned, and the hope that expected, and the patience that waited, meet their due reward- never a whit less, but oftener far beyond the utmost limit of the request- from "Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us."

Sheep without nourishment, would be as incongruous as a flock without a shepherd. The very relation Christ sustains to you, is a pledge that your needs shall all be met. The existence of a table- the table emblematic of an appropriate and ample banquet- a banquet, too, where famine and foes prevail- is a demonstrative proof of the power and expectation of faith- "I shall not lack." It is no little comfort to be well and divinely assured that, in whatever part of the wilderness your lot may be cast- however weary and pressing your need, numerous and potent your enemies- yet there the Shepherd has prepared a table of the most appropriate and costly viands, and invites you to partake- He Himself presiding at the banquet.

Shall we remind you of the table of His Providence- provided for you in the face of your enemies- which, though the least, does not the less exhibit the thoughtful, tender care the Lord takes of His own? He will have us as much live a life of dependence upon Him as the God of providence, as the God of grace. Jesus has taught us to pray- "Give us this day our daily bread." Nowhere did our Lord speak lightly of our temporal need, or discourage the prayer of those that petitioned for its supply. It is not likely that He who made the body- Himself a partaker of its nature and its infirmities, often pinched with hunger and parched with thirst- would speak lightly of its needs, or fail to meet them when they occurred. No lesson did He more frequently or emphatically inculcate than that of a humble dependence upon God's regard of our temporal necessities. His simple, yet inimitable, illustration of the 'sparrow' and the 'lily,' were designed to impress us with the duty and the happiness of seeking from God's hand the loaf that should enrich and adorn our daily board. "Do not be anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, With what shall we be clothed? Your Heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things." And are you not a living witness of God's providential care? Has He not hitherto prepared a table for you in the wilderness, and in the sight of all your foes? And when faith has been sharply tried- like the Shunamite widow, nothing in the house but a handful of meal- and unbelief- your greatest enemy- has tauntingly asked, "Where is now your God?"- has not He who fed the five thousand in the wilderness with five small loaves and two fishes, as marvelously, and almost as miraculously, appeared on your behalf, sending an ample supply at a time, and with an affluence which has filled you with amazement-extorting the praiseful acknowledgment- "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies." Oh that every meal were as a sacrament, uplifting the heart to the Source of all our mercies, in grateful and devout acknowledgment of His daily providential care- in everything giving thanks! Is this your invariable habit, my reader, when you take your place at the table God has furnished with the bounties of His providence? is His hand recognized, and His goodness acknowledged, and His blessing invoked? Oh let not yours be an atheist's, but a Christian's table, where God is always acknowledged, and Christ is often a welcomed guest!

It is possible that these pages may find you straitened and tried in your temporal circumstances. Your income is, perhaps, inadequate- your supplies are failing- your demands multiplying- and your heart fails you for fear. Forget not that He who hears the raven's cry- feeds the sparrow- clothes the lily, is your Father and Benefactor, and that He knows your needs, and has promised, and is able, to supply it. And now, "have faith in God." Cry unto Him mightily; trust His word implicitly; wait His time and way patiently; and sooner or later the promise will be fulfilled- "Your bread and your water shall be sure;" "and truly you shall be fed!" Be it so that you have nearly come to the end of your supplies- that there is nothing in the house but the poor widow's portion- "a little meal and a pot of oil;" He who sent Elisha the prophet at the moment of her need, and more than met it, will appear in His wonder-working providence for you; and help shall come from a quarter you least expected, and at a time when you looked not for it, even though He work a miracle to accomplish it- multiplying the few loaves, and so blessing the barrel of meal and the cruse of oil, that they cease not. We lose much blessing and God much honor, by not more simply and implicitly living upon His providential care. It is an old and familiar aphorism, that "they who watch God's providence shall never lack a providence to watch." The simple meaning of which is- that they who see God's goodness in all their temporal supplies- who recognize His superintending and molding hand, ordering and shaping all the events- the most minute of their personal history- shall never be left without some marked and unmistakable evidence of God's care and bountifulness in providing for their temporal need, and His wisdom and faithfulness in ordering and directing all their worldly concerns. Be, then, a close student of God's providence. Seek a dislodgment from your mind of that atheism which would exclude God from the government of the world, but what is a far worse species of practical atheism- from the events and circumstances of our individual history. The terms 'chance', 'accident', 'contingency', as they are employed by the world in connection with the events of human life, should be entirely expunged from the Christian's vocabulary. They belong solely to the dictionary of the atheist, and should never pass the lips of the believer. It is the privilege of the believing mind to do with God in the most infinitesimal incident of individual life. Tossed amid the waves of second causes, faith often loses its anchorage on God in dark and mysterious calamities; and the believing and devout mind, thus for the moment loosed from its divine fastening, drifts away amid the breakers and the shoals of doubt and perplexity; and but for the restraining power and the restoring grace of the Divine Shepherd would become an utter wreck.

But a richer table is, the Banquet of His Grace. In nothing is the broad line of distinction more clearly drawn between the Church and the world than in the provision God has made for His own people. The blessings of Providence with which He favors us- though covenant mercies, as all our blessings are- yet are shared in common with an ungodly world-  for He makes the sun of His goodness to shine upon the evil and the good. But the saints of God have infinitely more than this. There is another table, at which only His own people sit- the Family Table, around which cluster the adopted children of His love. "I have food to eat," said Jesus, "of which you know nothing." And in the same language may the children of God address the poor worldling, feeding upon wind, and starving upon husks- "We are fed and nourished with bread to which you are an utter stranger." What a rich banquet is the gospel of Christ: a "feast of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined."

To this banquet our Lord referred when He compared His Gospel to a "great supper," to which the poor and the needy and the penniless were bidden. How divine, costly, and precious this Banquet! Well may it be called- "the glorious Gospel of the blessed God." Next to God's unspeakable gift of His beloved Son, is the glorious gospel of His grace which makes Him known. What a banquet for poor sinners! How rich and varied its viands!- the full pardon of our sins- the free acceptance of our persons- our gracious adoption into God's family- and our joint heirship to the inheritance of glory. "Blessed are the people who know the joyful sound" of this full and free gospel! Alas! how few hear it- and when heard, how few know it! It is a jubilant sound- but to thousands, within its reach, it possesses no music, attraction, or charm.

How many religious professors, contemplating a change of abode, make the existence of a faithful, evangelical ministry the very last consideration in their search! Health- society- and scenery are points of attraction which take precedence of all religious questions; and a purely-preached Gospel is the very last- if at all considered- that awakens a moment's thought or enquiry! Like Lot, the situation is chosen because pleasant to the eye and well watered; and like him, we have lived to rue the choice that involved us in such worldliness,
temptation, and sin. Oh, in solemn consideration of the souls of your family, your domestics, and your own- and with death and Eternity before you- pitch your earthly tent on no spot where a famine of the bread and water of life exists! Avoid as you would a plague-smitten spot the place where soul-destroying doctrine, and God-dishonoring worship, have superseded an evangelical and faithful ministry of God's word, and a spiritual and devout worship of God's name. See well to it, that both the preaching of the truth and the rendering of the service are profitable to you and glorifying to Him!

A present salvation is an essential element of this Gospel Banquet thus provided for us in the wilderness. For the lack of a more simple recognition of this aspect of the gospel, many of God's people are deprived of much blessing. If saved at all-we are saved now. The believer is as entirely pardoned- as completely justified- as fully adopted at the present moment, as he will be when glorified. "By
grace you are saved." "Accepted in the Beloved." "You are complete in Him." Could any truth be expressed in terms more strong, or placed in light more lucid? Oh marvellous banquet, that meets and satisfies all the requirements of the soul! Come to it with what infirmity- with what need- with what sorrow- with what frame you may, there is a place and a viand for you; a loving welcome, and a most free meal. "You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies."

And what a divine and rich banquet is God's word! Here is a table furnished with "all pleasant fruits," -the costliest and the richest God can give, for the instruction and nourishment of His own life in the soul. Here are doctrines for establishment; precepts, for guidance; promises, for comfort; and hopes which scatter the shadow of death, and light the soul's path to glory with an effulgence shining more and more unto the perfect day. Be a firm believer- a prayerful student- and an uncompromising defender of God's word.

This Divine table stands in the presence of many enemies. It is assailed on every hand. Never was there a time when the word of God was more universally, virulently, and insidiously attacked than the present. It behooves, therefore, the true believer in Scripture to grasp firmly this "Rod and Staff" of the Divine Shepherd; and thus armed and strengthened, to "contend earnestly" against the prevalent atheism and infidelity of the age, "for the faith once delivered to the saints."

We must not conclude this chapter on the Banquet of the Flock without a passing allusion to the Lord's Supper- not the least table of spiritual nourishment provided by the Shepherd in the presence of our enemies. We have, in the preceding pages, already alluded to this; but the subject at the present moment has assumed so important an aspect, we make no apology for returning to it again. As the present work is designed to be of a spiritual and experimental, rather than of a theologically controversial character, we pass by those views of the Lord's Supper by which its nature is perverted, and its simplicity and efficacy are destroyed. All that we can venture to premise on that head briefly is the declaration that, the Lord's Supper is not- as the Romanists maintain- a sacrifice, but simply and only the commemoration of a sacrifice; and that, consequently, those who officiate as 'celebrants' are not 'Priests'- in an official or sacerdotal sense of the term- but ministers only, possessing no authority whatever to change the elements into any other than their original nature, and no power whatever to impart to them any other than their appointed efficacy. How explicit and clear the words of 'consecration'-  "Who made there (by His one oblation of Himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world." Here- in the very terms by which the officiating minister invokes the Divine blessing, and presents hearty thanks to Almighty God, in connection with the simple, yet most expressive symbols- is the entire exclusion of all idea of a corporeal presence- the offering of a sacrifice, or the office of a sacrificing priest. Neither of these pretensions have the shadow of a shade of existence in the original institution of the sacrament. The words of our Lord, when He instituted this Holy Supper, are as explicit and lucid as they are simple and touching. "And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." The figurative meaning of our Lord- "This is my body", "This is my blood "-is explained by similar passages, and admits of no more literal interpretation than the metaphorical language which He employed on another occasion, when He said- "I am the Door." The argument of Zwingle, in the famous Marburg Conference on the Lord's Supper, that "a body cannot be without place; and that the body of Christ, being in heaven, could not be at the same time in the bread," holds as strongly now as it did then; and if reasonably and dispassionately weighed, would produce the same rational impression on all thoughtful minds as it did upon those of that learned Conference, presided over by "that pious hero and Christian Prince, the Landgrave." The Lord of His mercy grant that we may never hear in this Protestant land the echo of the shouts which then rang through the streets of Switzerland- "Down with a God of bread! a baker God!"

And yet, while avoiding the Sacramentarian theory of the Lord's Supper, let us not run into an opposite extreme, and be betrayed into light and indifferent views either of its nature, its object, or its blessing. There is great danger of turning the back upon one of the most significant institutions, and one of the richest means of grace, the Divine, Redeeming Shepherd has provided for the sheep of His pasture. There are three aspects in which the devout mind may contemplate it. The first is, retrospective. It is the remembrance, or a memorial of a fact the most stupendous, of a transaction the most noble, in the history of the universe- Christ dying for our sins! And, when humbly and believingly we approach this table, how should our fondest thoughts wing back to the scenes of Gethsemane and Calvary, and muse awhile amid the soul-sorrow and blood-sweat of the one, and the lingering sufferings and the torturing death of the other! Oh, forget not, my soul, what it cost your Lord to furnish this table for you in the wilderness!
"It cost Him death to save our souls;
To buy our souls, it cost His own;
And all the unknown joys He gives
Were bought with agonies unknown."

The Lord's Supper is a banquet of present enjoyment. Who can adequately describe the refreshment and strength which flows through this channel, "as often as we eat this bread, and drink this cup?" We re-produce the experience, and re-echo the exultant language of the church of old- "I sat down under His shadow with great delight, and His fruit was sweet to my taste. He brought me to the banqueting house, and His banner over me was love." We come believingly to the Lord's Supper, weary and jaded and we find sweet repose; we come sorrowful and depressed- and we find joy and uplifting; we come languid and cold- and we retire with hearts burning within us as He communed with us by the way. Revived- refreshed- invigorated by the spiritual nourishment thus received- we go forth to service and to conflict, to duty and to suffering, as the bridegroom out of his chamber, and as a giant refreshed with new wine.

There is also a prospective aspect of the Lord's Supper- it points to the future Advent and glory of the Lord, with all His saints. "As often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, you do show the Lord's death until he comes." Like the two arms of the cross of Jesus, the one pointing to the types and shadows of the past- the other, to the realities and glories of the future- this divine banquet directs our thoughts and anticipations to the Second Coming of our Lord- "that blessed hope, and glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ." How marvelously do the cross and the crown meet in this ordinance- the dark, cold shade of the one, and the splendid radiance and warm glow of the other; thus falling in blended hues upon this holy Banquet of love!

The cross of Jesus, deep and dark as was its shadow, was never designed to eclipse the crown of Jesus, bright and resplendent with its glory. "We look for the Savior"- a Personal Savior- who will come to wake the holy dead, and translate the righteous living- the waking and the rapture of both contemporaneous: "For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." Thus the sacrament of the Lord's Supper- as often and wherever we observe it- with the morning light, or in the evening shade- amid the public services of the sanctuary, or the more private and solemn scenes of the sick and dying chamber- teaches us to keep in memory the sacrificial death, and to anticipate the coming glory, of our Divine and adorable Redeemer. My soul! draw near the Holy Table of your Lord- with the humility of contrition- the simplicity of faith- the fervor of love- and the anticipation of hope. Hesitate not to take your place at this family feast, this banquet of love, since all the merit that provided the feast, and all the worthiness that supplies your plea, and all the fitness that warrants your approach is in Him who prepared the table- who is, spiritually, the substance of the feast- who bids you 'do this in remembrance of Him' -and whose gracious welcome meets you upon the threshold- "Eat, O friend, and drink; yes, drink abundantly, O beloved."

But oh what a table awaits us in heaven! From the banquet of grace below- which often strengthened and refreshed us in the wilderness, when weary and faint- we pass to the banquet of glory above, and sit down with apostles, prophets, and martyrs, and all the ransomed, whom no man can number- Jesus Himself coming forth to serve us. And what a Banquet will that be! How costly, how precious
its materials! The beatific sight of the glorified Redeemer- reunion with departed saints- the new song before the throne- unmingled happiness- perfect holiness- and eternity perpetuating all! "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away."

Truly, when our Lord comes, and the wicked shall be summoned to judgment, will this Table be spread 'in the presence of all our enemies'- devils and men! Those who hated and persecuted the saints on earth- who maligned, slandered, and tortured them- will now gnash their teeth and gnaw their tongues with rage, when they see the objects of their malice and the victims of their torture sitting down with "the glorious company of the apostles, and the goodly fellowship of the prophets, and the noble army of martyrs," in the kingdom of their Father, and they themselves forever shut out! My soul, live and labor, suffer and die, looking for this blessed hope! "And He says unto me, Write, Blessed are those who are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb." Blessed are they now- yet more blessed when the Lord comes to re-unite them to their risen and glorified body. Lament not, then, the holy dead! They are done with toil and sorrow, with suffering and sin, and are with Christ now, and Christ will bring them with Him when He comes in glory, "to be admired by His saints, and adored in all those who believe."

"High in yonder realms of light,
Far above these lower skies,
Fair and exquisitely bright,
Heaven's unfailing mansions rise
Built of pure and massy gold,
Strong and durable are they,
Decked with gems of worth untold,
Subjected to no decay.
"Glad within those blest abodes
Dwell the enraptured saints above,
Where no anxious care corrodes,
Happy in Emmanuel's love!
Once indeed, like us below,
Pilgrims in this vale of tears,
Torturing pain and heavy woe,
Gloomy doubts, distressing fears;
"These, alas! full well they knew,
Sad companions of their way,
Oft' on them the tempest blew,
Through the long, the cheerless day!
Often their vileness they deplored,
Wills perverse, and hearts untrue,
Grieved they could not love their Lord,
Love Him as they longed to do.
"Oft' the big unbidden tear,
Stealing down the furrowed cheek,
Told, in eloquence sincere,
Tales of woe that could not speak;
But, these days of weeping over,
Past this scene of toil and pain,
They shall feel distress no more,
Never, never, weep again!
"'Mid the chorus of the skies,
'Mid the angelic lyres above,
Hark! their songs melodious rise,
Songs of praise to Jesus' love!
Happy spirits! you are fled
Where no grief can entrance find;
Lulled to rest the aching head,
Soothed the anguish of the mind!
"All is tranquil and serene,
Calm and undisturbed repose;
There no cloud can intervene,
There no angry tempest blows;
Every tear is wiped away,
Sighs no more shall heave the breast;
Night is lost in endless day
Sorrow- in ETERNAL REST!"