Here is another discourse of our Saviour’s, in which he spiritualizes the feast he was invited to, which is another way of keeping up good discourse in the midst of common actions.
I. The occasion of the discourse was given by one of the guests, who, when Christ was giving rules about feasting, said to him, Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God (Luke 14:15), which, some tell us, was a saying commonly used among the rabbin.
1. But with what design does this man bring it in here? (1.) Perhaps this man, observing that Christ reproved first the guests and then the master of the house, fearing he should put the company out of humour, started this, to divert the discourse to something else. Or, (2.) Admiring the good rules of humility and charity which Christ had now given, but despairing to see them lived up to in the present degenerate state of things, he longs for the kingdom of God, when these and other good laws shall prevail, and pronounces them blessed who shall have a place in that kingdom. Or, (3.) Christ having mentioned the resurrection of the just, as a recompence for acts of charity to the poor, he here confirms what he said, “Yea, Lord, they that shall be recompensed in the resurrection of the just, shall eat bread in the kingdom, and that is a greater recompence than being reinvited to the table of the greatest man on earth.” Or, (4.) Observing Christ to be silent, after he had given the foregoing lessons, he was willing to draw him in again to further discourse, so wonderfully well-pleased was he with what he said; and he knew nothing more likely to engage him than to mention the kingdom of God. Note, Even those that are not of ability to carry on good discourse themselves ought to put in a word now and then, to countenance it, and help it forward.
2. Now what this man said was a plain and acknowledged truth, and it was quoted very appositely now that they were sitting at meat; for we should take occasion from common things to think and speak of those heavenly and spiritual things which in scripture are compared to them, for that is one end of borrowing similitudes from them. And it will be good for us, when we are receiving the gifts of God’s providence, to pass through them to the consideration of the gifts of his grace, those better things. This thought will be very seasonable when we are partaking of bodily refreshments: Blessed are they that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God. (1.) In the kingdom of grace, in the kingdom of the Messiah, which was expected now shortly to be set up. Christ promised his disciples that they should eat and drink with him in his kingdom. They that partake of the Lord’s supper eat bread in the kingdom of God. (2.) In the kingdom of glory, at the resurrection. The happiness of heaven is an everlasting feast; blessed are they that shall sit down at that table, whence they shall rise no more.
II. The parable which our Lord Jesus put forth upon this occasion, Luke 14:16 Christ joins with the good man in what he said: “It is very true, Blessed are they that shall partake of the privileges of the Messiah’s kingdom. But who are they that shall enjoy that privilege? You Jews, who think to have the monopoly of it, will generally reject it, and the Gentiles will be the greatest sharers in it.” This he shows by a parable, for, if he had spoken it plainly, the Pharisees would not have borne it. Now in the parable we may observe,
1. The free grace and mercy of God, shining in the gospel of Christ; it appears,
(1.) In the rich provision he has made for poor souls, for their nourishment, refreshment, and entertainment (Luke 14:16): A certain man made a great supper. There is that in Christ and the grace of the gospel which will be food and a feast for the soul of man that knows its own capacities, for the soul of a sinner that knows its own necessities and miseries. It is called a supper, because in those countries supper time was the chief feasting time, when the business of the day was over. The manifestation of gospel grace to the world was the evening of the world’s day; and the fruition of the fulness of that grace in heaven is reserved for the evening of our day.
(2.) In gracious invitation given us to come and partake of this provision. Here is, [1.] A general invitation given: He bade many. Christ invited the whole nation and people of the Jews to partake of the benefits of his gospel. There is provision enough for as many as come; it was prophesied of as a feast for all people, Isa. 25:6. Christ in the gospel, as he keeps a good house, so he keeps an open house. [2.] A particular memorandum given, when the supper time was at hand; the servant was sent round to put them in mind of it: Come, for all things are now ready. When the Spirit was poured out, and the gospel church planted, those who before were invited were more closely pressed to come in presently: Now all things are ready, the full discovery of the gospel mystery is now made, all the ordinances of the gospel are now instituted, the society of Christians is now incorporated, and, which crowns all, the Holy Ghost is now given. This is the call now given to us: “All things are now ready, now is the accepted time; it is now, and has not been long; it is now, and will not be long; it is a season of grace that will be soon over, and therefore come now; do not delay; accept the invitation; believe yourselves welcome; eat, O friends; drink, yea drink abundantly, O beloved.”
2. The cold entertainment which the grace of the gospel meets with. The invited guests declined coming. They did not say flatly and plainly that they would not come, but they all with one consent began to make excuse, Luke 14:18. One would have expected that they should all with one consent have come to a good supper, when they were so kindly invited to it: who would have refused such an invitation? Yet, on the contrary, they all found out some pretence or other to shift off their attendance. This bespeaks the general neglect of the Jewish nation to close with Christ, and accept of the offers of his grace, and the contempt they put upon the invitation. It also intimates the backwardness there is in most people to close with the gospel call. They cannot for shame avow their refusal, but they desire to be excused: they all ato mias, some supply horas, all straightway, they could give an answer extempore, and needed not to study for it, had not to seek for an excuse. Others supply gnomes, they were unanimous in it; with one voice. (1.) Here were two that were purchasers, who were in such haste to go and see their purchases that they could not find time to go to this supper. One had purchased land; he had bought a piece of ground, which was represented to him to be a good bargain, and he must needs to and see whether it was so or no; and therefore I pray thee have me excused. His heart was so much upon the enlarging of his estate that he could neither be civil to his friend nor kind to himself. Note, Those that have their hearts full of the world, and fond of laying house to house and field to field, have their ears deaf to the gospel invitation. But what a frivolous excuse was this! He might have deferred going to see his piece of ground till the next day, and have found it in the same place and plight it was now in, if he had so pleased. Another had purchased stock for his land. “I have bought five yoke of oxen for the plough, and I must just now go and prove them, must go and try whether they be fit for my purpose; and therefore excuse me for this time.” The former intimates that inordinate complacency in the world, this the inordinate care and concern about the world, which keep people from Christ and his grace; both intimate a preference given to the body above the soul, and to the things of time above those of eternity. Note, It is very criminal, when we are called to any duty, to make excuses for our neglect of it: it is a sign that there are convictions that it is duty, but no inclination to it. These things here, that were the matter of the excuses, were, [1.] Little things, and of small concern. It had better become them to have said, “I am invited to eat bread in the kingdom of God, and therefore must be excused from going to see the ground or the oxen.” [2.] Lawful things. Note, Things lawful in themselves, when the heart is too much set upon them, prove fatal hindrances in religion—Licitus perimus omnes. It is a hard matter so to manage our worldly affairs that they may not divert us from spiritual pursuits; and this ought to be our great care. (2.) Here was one that was newly married, and could not leave his wife to go out to supper, no, not for once (Luke 14:30): I have married a wife, and therefore, in short, I cannot come. He pretends that he cannot, when the truth is he will not. Thus many pretend inability for the duties of religion when really they have an aversion to them. He has married a wife. It is true, he that married was excused by the law from going to war for the first year (Deut. 24:5), but would that excuse him from going up to the feasts of the Lord, which all the males were yearly to attend? Much less will it excuse from the gospel feast, of which the other were but types. Note, Our affection to our relations often proves a hindrance to us in our duty to God. Adam’s excuse was, The woman that thou gavest me persuaded me to eat; this here was, The woman persuaded me not to eat. He might have gone and taken his wife along with him; they would both have been welcome.
3. The account which was brought to the master of the feast of the affront put upon him by his friends whom he had invited, who now showed how little they valued him (Luke 14:21): That servant came, and showed his lord these things, told him with surprise that he was likely to sup alone, for the guests that were invited, though they had had timely notice a good while before, that they might order their affairs accordingly, yet were now engaged in some other business. He made the matter neither better nor worse, but related it just as it was. Note, Ministers must give account of the success of their ministry. They must do it now at the throne of grace. If they see of the travail of their soul, they must go to God with their thanks; if they labour in vain, they must go to God with their complaints. They will do it hereafter at the judgment-seat of Christ: they shall be produced as witnesses against those who persist and perish in their unbelief, to prove that they were fairly invited; and for those who accepted the call, Behold, I and the children thou hast given me. The apostle urges this as a reason why people should give ear to the word of God sent them by his ministers; for they watch for your souls, as those that must give account, Heb. 13:17.
4. The master’s just resentment of this affront: He was angry, Luke 14:21. Note, The ingratitude of those that slight gospel offers, and the contempt they put upon the God of heaven thereby, are a very great provocation to him, and justly so. Abused mercy turns into the greatest wrath. The doom he passed upon them was, None of the men that were bidden shall taste of my supper. This was like the doom passed upon the ungrateful Israel, when they despised the pleasant land: God swore in his wrath that they should not enter into his rest. Note, Grace despised is grace forfeited, like Esau’s birthright. They that will not have Christ when they may shall not have him when they would. Even those that were bidden, if they slight the invitation, shall be forbidden; when the door is shut, the foolish virgins will be denied entrance.
5. The care that was taken to furnish the table with guests, as well as meat. “Go” (saith he to the servants), “go first into the streets and lanes of the city, and invite, not the merchants that are going from the custom-house, nor the tradesmen that are shutting up their shops; they will desire to be excused (one is going to his counting-house to cast up his books, another to the tavern to drink a bottle with his friend); but, that you may invite those that will be glad to come, bring in hither the poor and the maimed, the halt and the blind; pick up the common beggars.” The servants object not that it will be a disparagement to the master and his house to have such guests at his table; for they know his mind, and they soon gather an abundance of such guests: Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded. Many of the Jews are brought in, not of the scribes and Pharisees, such as Christ was now at dinner with, who thought themselves most likely to be guests at the Messiah’s table, but the publicans and sinners; these are the poor and the maimed. But yet there is room for more guests, and provision enough for them all. “Go, then, secondly, into the highways and hedges. Go out into the country, and pick up the vagrants, or those that are returning now in the evening from their work in the field, from hedging and ditching there, and compel them to come in, not by force of arms, but by force of arguments. Be earnest with them; for in this case it will be necessary to convince them that the invitation is sincere and not a banter; they will be shy and modest, and will hardly believe that they shall be welcome, and therefore be importunate with them and do not leave them till you have prevailed with them.” This refers to the calling of the Gentiles, to whom the apostles were to turn when the Jews refused the offer, and with them the church was filled. Now observe here, (1.) The provision made for precious souls in the gospel of Christ shall appear not to have been made in vain; for, if some reject it, yet others will thankfully accept the offer of it. Christ comforts himself with this, that, though Israel be not gathered, yet he shall be glorious, as a light to the Gentiles, Isa. 49:5, 6. God will have a church in the world, though there are those that are unchurched; for the unbelief of man shall not make the promise of God of no effect. (2.) Those that are very poor and low in the world shall be as welcome to Christ as the rich and great; nay, and many times the gospel has greatest success among those that labour under worldly disadvantages, as the poor, and bodily infirmities, as the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. Christ here plainly refers to what he had said just before, in direction to us, to invite to our tables the poor and maimed, the lame and blind, Luke 14:13. For consideration for the countenance which Christ’s gospel gives to the poor should engage us to be charitable to them. His condescensions and compassions towards them should engage ours. (3.) Many times the gospel has the greatest success among those that are least likely to have the benefit of it, and whose submission to it was least expected. The publicans and harlots went into the kingdom of God before the scribes and Pharisees; so the last shall be first, and the first last. Let us not be confident concerning those that are most forward, nor despair of those that are least promising. (4.) Christ’s ministers must be both very expeditious and very importunate in inviting to the gospel feast: “Go out quickly (Luke 14:21); lose not time, because all things are now ready. Call to them to come to-day, while it is called to-day; and compel them to come in, by accosting them kindly, and drawing them with the cords of a man and the bands of love.” Nothing can be more absurd than fetching an argument hence for compelling men’s consciences, nay, for compelling men against their consciences, in matters of religion: “You shall receive the Lord’s supper, or you shall be fined and imprisoned, and ruined in your estate.” Certainly nothing like this was the compulsion here meant, but only that of reason and love; for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal. (5.) Though many have been brought in to partake of the benefits of the gospel, yet still there is room for more; for the riches of Christ are unsearchable and inexhaustible; there is in him enough for all, and enough for each; and the gospel excludes none that do not exclude themselves. (6.) Christ’s house, though it be large, shall at last be filled; it will be so when the number of the elect is completed, and as many as were given him are brought to him.