We have here the parable of the guests invited to the wedding-feast. In this it is said (Matt. 22:1), Jesus answered, not to what his opposers said (for they were put to silence), but to what they thought, when they were wishing for an opportunity to lay hands on him, Matt. 21:46. Note, Christ knows how to answer men’s thoughts, for he is a Discerner of them. Or, He answered, that is, he continued his discourse to the same purport; for this parable represents the gospel offer, and the entertainment it meets with, as the former, but under another similitude. The parable of the vineyard represents the sin of the rulers that persecuted the prophets; it shows also the sin of the people, who generally neglected the message, while their great ones were persecuting the messengers.
I. Gospel preparations are here represented by a feast which a king made at the marriage of his son; such is the kingdom of heaven, such the provision made for precious souls, in and by the new covenant. The King is God, a great King, King of kings. Now,
1. Here is a marriage made for his son, Christ is the Bridegroom, the church is the bride; the gospel-day is the day of his espousals, Song 3:11. Behold by faith the church of the first-born, that are written in heaven, and were given to Christ by him whose they were; and in them you see the bride, the Lamb’s wife, Rev. 21:9. The gospel covenant is a marriage covenant betwixt Christ and believers, and it is a marriage of God’s making. This branch of the similitude is only mentioned, and not prosecuted here.
2. Here is a dinner prepared for this marriage, Matt. 22:4. All the privileges of church-membership, and all the blessings of the new covenant, pardon of sin, the favour of God, peace of conscience, the promises of the gospel, and all the riches contained in them, access to the throne of grace, the comforts of the Spirit, and a well-grounded hope of eternal life. These are the preparations for this feast, a heaven upon earth now, and a heaven in heaven shortly. God has prepared it in his counsel, in his covenant. It is a dinner, denoting present privileges in the midst of our day, beside the supper at night in glory.
(1.) It is a feast. Gospel preparations were prophesied of as a feast (Isa. 25:6), a feast of fat things, and were typified by the many festivals of the ceremonial law (1 Cor. 5:8); Let us keep the feast. A feast is a good day (Est. 8:17); so is the gospel; it is a continual feast. Oxen and fatlings are killed for this feast; no niceties, but substantial food; enough, and enough of the best. The day of a feast is a day of slaughter, or sacrifice, Jas. 5:5. Gospel preparations are all founded in the death of Christ, his sacrifice of himself. A feast was made for love, it is a reconciliation feast, a token of God’s goodwill toward men. It was made for laughter (Eccl. 10:19), it is a rejoicing feast. It was made for fulness; the design of the gospel was to fill every hungry soul with good things. It was made for fellowship, to maintain an intercourse between heaven and earth. We are sent for to the banquet of wine, that we may tell what is our petition, and what is our request.
(2.) It is a wedding feast. Wedding feasts are usually rich, free, and joyful. The first miracle Christ wrought, was, to make plentiful provision for a wedding feast (John 2:7); and surely then he will not be wanting in provision for his own wedding feast, when the marriage of the Lamb is come, and the bride hath made herself ready, a victorious triumphant feast, Rev. 19:7, 17, 18.
(3.) It is a royal wedding feast; it is the feast of a king (1 Sam. 25:36), at the marriage, not of a servant, but of a son; and then, if ever, he will, like Ahasuerus, show the riches of his glorious kingdom, Est. 1:4. The provision made for believers in the covenant of grace, is not such as worthless worms, like us, had any reason to expect, but such as it becomes the King of glory to give. He gives like himself; for he gives himself to be to them El shaddai—a God that is enough, a feast indeed for a soul.
II. Gospel calls and offers are represented by an invitation to this feast. Those that make a feast will have guests to grace the feast with. God’s guests are the children of men. Lord, what is man, that he should be thus dignified! The guests that were first invited were the Jews; wherever the gospel is preached, this invitation is given; ministers are the servants that are sent to invite, Prov. 9:4, 5.
Now, 1. The guests are called, bidden to the wedding. All that are within hearing of the joyful sound of the gospel, to them is the word of this invitation sent. The servants that bring the invitation do not set down their names in a paper; there is no occasion for that, since none are excluded but those that exclude themselves. Those that are bidden to the dinner are bidden to the wedding; for all that partake of gospel privileges are to give a due and respectful attendance on the Lord Jesus, as the faithful friends and humble servants of the Bridegroom. They are bidden to the wedding, that they may go forth to meet the bridegroom; for it is the Father’s will that all men should honour the Son.
2. The guests are called upon; for in the gospel there are not only gracious proposals made, but gracious persuasives. We persuade men, we beseech them in Christ’s stead, 2 Cor. 5:11, 20. See how much Christ’s heart is set upon the happiness of poor souls! He not only provides for them, in consideration of their want, but sends to them, in consideration of their weakness and forgetfulness. When the invited guests were slack in coming, the king sent forth other servants, Matt. 22:4. When the prophets of the Old Testament prevailed not, nor John the Baptist, nor Christ himself, who told them the entertainment was almost ready (the kingdom of God was at hand), the apostles and ministers of the gospel were sent after Christ’s resurrection, to tell them it was come, it was quite ready; and to persuade them to accept the offer. One would think it had been enough to give men an intimation that they had leave to come, and should be welcome; that, during the solemnity of the wedding, the king kept open house; but, because the natural man discerns not, and therefore desires not, the things of the Spirit of God, we are pressed to accept the call by the most powerful inducements, drawn with the cords of a man, and all the bonds of love. If the repetition of the call will move us, Behold, the Spirit saith, Come; and the bride saith, Come; let him that heareth say, Come; let him that is athirst come, Rev. 22:17. If the reason of the call will work upon us, Behold, the dinner is prepared, the oxen and fatlings are killed, and all things are ready; the Father is ready to accept of us, the Son to intercede for us, the Spirit to sanctify us; pardon is ready; peace is ready, comfort is ready; the promises are ready, as wells of living water for supply; ordinances are ready, as golden pipes for conveyance; angels are ready to attend us, creatures are ready to be in league with us, providences are ready to work for our good, and heaven, at last, is ready to receive us; it is a kingdom prepared, ready to be revealed in the last time. Isa. all this ready; and shall we be unready? Isa. all this preparation made for us; and is there any room to doubt of our welcome, if we come in a right manner? Come, therefore, O come to the marriage; we beseech you, receive not all this grace of God in vain, 2 Cor. 6:1.
III. The cold treatment which the gospel of Christ often meets with among the children of men, represented by the cold treatment that this message met with and the hot treatment that the messengers met with, in both which the king himself and the royal bridegroom are affronted. This reflects primarily upon the Jews, who rejected the counsel of God against themselves; but it looks further, to the contempt that would, by many in all ages, be put upon, and the opposition that would be given to, the gospel of Christ.
1. The message was basely slighted (Matt. 22:3); They would not come. Note, The reason why sinners come not to Christ and salvation by him is, not because they cannot, but because they will not (John 5:40); Ye will not come to me. This will aggravate the misery of sinners, that they might have had happiness for the coming for, but it was their own act and deed to refuse it. I would, and ye would not. But this was not all (Matt. 22:5); they made light of it; they thought it not worth coming for; thought the messengers made more ado than needs; let them magnify the preparations ever so much, they could feast as well at home. Note, Making light of Christ, and of the great salvation wrought out by him, is the damning sin of the world. Amelesantes—They were careless. Note, Multitudes perish eternally through mere carelessness, who have not any direct aversion, but a prevailing indifference, to the matters of their souls, and an unconcernedness about them.
And the reason why they made light of the marriage feast was, because they had other things that they minded more, and had more mind to; they went their ways, one to his farm, and another to his merchandise. Note, The business and profit of worldly employments prove to many a great hindrance in closing with Christ: none turn their back on the feast, but with some plausible excuse or other, Luke 14:18. The country people have their farms to look after, about which there is always something or other to do; the town’s people must tend their shops, and be constant upon the exchange; they must buy, and sell, and get gain. It is true, that both farmers and merchants must be diligent in their business but not so as to keep them from making religion their main business. Licitis perimus omnes—These lawful things undo us, when they are unlawfully managed, when we are so careful and troubled about many things as to neglect the one thing needful. Observe, Both the city and the country have their temptations, the merchandise in the one, and the farms in the other; so that, whatever we have of the world in our hands, our care must be to keep it out of our hearts, lest it come between us and Christ.
2. The messengers were basely abused; The remnant, or the rest of them, that is, those who did not go the farms, or merchandise, were neither husbandmen nor tradesmen, but ecclesiastics, the scribes, and Pharisees, and chief priests; these were the persecutors, these took the servants, and treated them spitefully, and slew them. This, in the parable, is unaccountable, never any could be so rude and barbarous as this, to servants that came to invite them to a feast; but, in the application of the parable, it was matter of fact; they whose feet should have been beautiful, because they brought the glad tidings of the solemn feasts (Nah. 1:15), were treated as the offscouring of all things, 1 Cor. 4:13. The prophets and John the Baptist had been thus abused already, and the apostles and ministers of Christ must count upon the same. The Jews were, either directly or indirectly, agents in most of the persecutions of the first preachers of the gospel; witness the history of the Acts, that is, the sufferings of the apostles.
IV. The utter ruin that was coming upon the Jewish church and nation is here represented by the revenge which the king, in wrath, took on these insolent recusants (Matt. 22:7); He was wroth. The Jews, who had been the people of God’s love and blessing, by rejecting the gospel became the generation of his wrath and curse. Wrath came upon them to the uttermost, 1 Thess. 2:16. Now observe here,
1. What was the crying sin that brought the ruin; it was their being murderers. He does not say, he destroyed those despisers of his call, but those murderers of his servants; as if God were more jealous for the lives of his ministers than for the honour of his gospel; he that toucheth them, toucheth the apple of his eye. Note, Persecution of Christ’s faithful ministers fills the measure of guilt more than any thing. Filling Jerusalem with innocent blood was that sin of Manasseh which the Lord would not pardon, 2 Kgs. 24:4.
2. What was the ruin itself, that was coming; He sent forth his armies. The Roman armies were his armies, of his raising, of his sending against the people of his wrath; and he gave them a charge to tread them down, Isa. 10:6. God is the Lord of men’s host, and makes what use he pleases of them, to serve his own purposes, though they mean not so, neither doth their heart think so, Isa. 10:7. See Mic. 4:11, 12. His armies destroyed those murderers, and burnt up their city. This points out very plainly the destruction of the Jews, and the burning of Jerusalem, by the Romans, forty years after this. No age ever saw a greater desolation than that, nor more of the direful effects of fire and sword. Though Jerusalem had been a holy city, the city that God had chosen, to put his name there, beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth; yet that city being now become a harlot, righteousness being no longer lodged in it, but murderers, the worst of murderers (as the prophet speaks, Isa. 1:21), judgment came upon it, and ruin without remedy; and it is set forth for an example to all that should oppose Christ and his gospel. It was the Lord’s doing, to avenge the quarrel of his covenant.
V. The replenishing of the church again, by the bringing in of the Gentiles, is here represented by the furnishing of the feast with guests out of the high-ways, Matt. 22:8-10.
Here is, 1. The complaint of the master of the feast concerning those that were first bidden (Matt. 22:8), The wedding is ready, the covenant of grace ready to be sealed, a church ready to be founded; but they which were bidden, that is, the Jews, to whom pertained the covenant and the promises, by which they were of old invited to the feast of fat things, they were not worthy, they were utterly unworthy, and, by their contempt of Christ, had forfeited all the privileges they were invited to. Note, It is not owing to God, that sinners perish, but to themselves. Thus, when Israel of old was within sight of Canaan, the land of promise was ready, the milk and honey ready, but their unbelief and murmuring, and contempt of that pleasant land, shut them out, and their carcases were left to perish in the wilderness; and these things happened to them for ensamples. See 1 Cor. 10:11; Heb. 3:16-4:1.
2. The commission he gave to the servants, to invite other guests. The inhabitants of the city (Matt. 22:7) had refused; Go into the high-ways then; into the way of the Gentiles, which at first they were to decline, Matt. 10:5. Thus by the fall of the Jews salvation is come to the Gentiles, Rom. 11:11, 12; Eph. 3:8. Note, Christ will have a kingdom in the world, though many reject the grace, and resist the power, of that kingdom. Though Israel be not gathered, he will be glorious. The offer of Christ and salvation to the Gentiles was, (1.) Unlooked for and unexpected; such a surprise as it would be to wayfaring men upon the road to be met with an invitation to a wedding feast. The Jews had notice of the gospel, long before, and expected the Messiah and his kingdom; but to the Gentiles it was all new, what they had never heard of before (Acts 17:19, 20), and, consequently, what they could not conceive of as belonging to them. See Isa. 65:1, 2. (2.) It was universal and undistinguishing; Go, and bid as many as you find. The highways are public places, and there Wisdom cries, Prov. 1:20. “Ask them that go by the way, ask any body (Job 21:29), high and low, rich and poor, bond and free, young and old, Jew and Gentile; tell them all, that they shall be welcome to gospel-privileges upon gospel-terms; whoever will, let him come, without exception.”
3. The success of this second invitation; if some will not come, others will (Matt. 22:10); They gathered together all, as many as they found. The servants obeyed their orders. Jonah was sent into the high-ways, but was so tender of the honour of his country, that he avoided the errand; but Christ’s apostles, though Jews, preferred the service of Christ before their respect to their nation; and St. Paul, though sorrowing for the Jews, yet magnifies his office as the apostle of Gentiles. They gathered together all. The design of the gospel is, (1.) To gather souls together; not the nation of the Jews only, but all the children of God who were scattered abroad (John 11:52), the other sheep that were not of that fold, John 10:16. They were gathered into one body, one family, one corporation. (2.) To gather them together to the wedding-feast, to pay their respect to Christ, and to partake of the privileges of the new covenant. Where the dole is, there will the poor be gathered together.
Now the guests that were gathered were, [1.] A multitude, all, as many as they found; so many, that the guest-chamber was filled. The sealed ones of the Jews were numbered, but those of other nations were without number, a very great multitude, Rev. 7:9. See Isa. 60:4, 8. [2.] A mixed multitude, both bad and good; some that before their conversion were sober and well-inclined, as the devout Greeks (Acts 17:4) and Cornelius; others that had run to an excess of riot, as the Corinthians (1 Cor. 6:11); Such were some of you; or, some that after their conversion proved bad, that turned not to the Lord with all their heart, but feignedly; others that were upright and sincere, and proved of the right class. Ministers, in casting the net of the gospel, enclose both good fish and bad; but the Lord knows them that are his.
VI. The case of hypocrites, who are in the church, but not of it, who have a name to live, but are not alive indeed, is represented by the guest that had not on a wedding garment; one of the bad that were gathered in. Those come short of salvation by Christ, not only who refuse to take upon them the profession of religion, but who are not sound at heart in that profession. Concerning this hypocrite observe,
1. His discovery, how he was found out, Matt. 22:11.
(1.) The king came in to see the guests, to bid those welcome who came prepared, and to turn those out who came otherwise. Note, The God of heaven takes particular notice of those who profess religion, and have a place and name in the visible church. Our Lord Jesus walks among the golden candlesticks and therefore knows their works. See Rev. 2:1, 2; Song 7:12. Let this be a warning to us against hypocrisy, that disguises will shortly be stripped off, and every man will appear in his own colours; and an encouragement to us in our sincerity, that God is a witness to it.
Observe, This hypocrite was never discovered to be without a wedding garment, till the king himself came in to see the guests. Note, It is God’s prerogative to know who are sound at heart in their profession, and who are not. We may be deceived in men, either one way or other; but He cannot. The day of judgment will be the great discovering day, when all the guests will be presented to the King: then he will separate between the precious and the vile (Matt. 25:32), the secrets of all hearts will then be made manifest, and we shall infallibly discern between the righteous and the wicked, which now it is not easy to do. It concerns all the guests, to prepare for the scrutiny, and to consider how they will pass the piercing eye of the heart-searching God.
(2.) As soon as he came in, he presently espied the hypocrite; He saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment; though but one, he soon had his eye upon him; there is no hope of being hid in a crowd from the arrests of divine justice; he had not on a wedding garment; he was not dressed as became a nuptial solemnity; he had not his best clothes on. Note, Many come to the wedding feast without a wedding garment. If the gospel be the wedding feast, then the wedding garment is a frame of heart, and a course of life agreeable to the gospel and our profession of it, worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called (Eph. 4:1), as becomes the gospel of Christ, Phil. 1:27. The righteousness of saints, their real holiness and sanctification, and Christ, made Righteousness to them, is the clean linen, Rev. 19:8. This man was not naked, or in rags; some raiment he had, but not a wedding garment. Those, and those only, who put on the Lord Jesus, that have a Christian temper of mind, and are adorned with Christian graces, who live by faith in Christ, and to whom he is all in all, have the wedding garment.
2. His trial (Matt. 22:12); and here we may observe,
(1.) How he was arraigned (Matt. 22:12); Friend, how camest thou in hither, not having a wedding garment? A startling question to one that was priding himself in the place he securely possessed at the feast. Friend! That was a cutting word; a seeming friend, a pretended friend, a friend in profession, under manifold ties and obligations to be a friend. Note, There are many in the church who are false friends to Jesus Christ, who say that they love him while their hearts are not with him. How camest thou in hither? He does not chide the servants for letting him in (the wedding garment is an inward thing, ministers must go according to that which falls within their cognizance); but he checks his presumption in crowding in, when he knew that his heart was not upright; “How durst thou claim a share in gospel benefits, when thou hadst no regard to gospel rules? What has thou to do to declare my statutes?” Ps. 50:16, 17. Such are spots in the feast, dishonour the bridegroom, affront the company, and disgrace themselves; and therefore, How camest thou in hither? Note, The day is coming, when hypocrites will be called to an account for all their presumptuous intrusion into gospel ordinances, and usurpation of gospel privileges. Who hath required this at your hand? Isa. 1:12. Despised sabbaths and abused sacraments must be reckoned for, and judgment taken out upon an action of waste against all those who received the grace of God in vain. “How camest thou to the Lord’s table, at such a time, unhumbled and unsanctified? What brought thee to sit before God’s prophets, as his people do, when thy heart went after thy covetousness? How camest thou in? Not by the door, but some other way, as a thief and a robber. It was a tortuous entry, a possession without colour of a title.” Note, It is good for those that have a place in the church, often to put it to themselves, “How came I in hither? Have I a wedding-garment?” If we would thus judge ourselves, we should not be judged.
(2.) How he was convicted; he was speechless: ephimothe—he was muzzled (so the word is used, 1 Cor. 9:9); the man stood mute, upon his arraignment, being convicted and condemned by his own conscience. They who live within the church, and die without Christ, will not have one word to say for themselves in the judgment of the great day, they will be without excuse; should they plead, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, as they do, Luke 13:26; that is to plead guilty; for the crime they are charged with, is thrusting themselves into the presence of Christ, and to his table, before they were called. They who never heard a word of this wedding feast will have more to say for themselves; their sin will be more excusable, and their condemnation more tolerable, than theirs who came to the feast without the wedding garment, and so sin against the clearest light and dearest love.
3. His sentence (Matt. 22:13); Bind him hand and foot, etc.
(1.) He is ordered to be pinioned, as condemned malefactors are, to be manacled and shackled. Those that will not work and walk as they should, may expect to be bound hand and foot. There is a binding in this world by the servants, the ministers, whose suspending of persons that walk disorderly, to the scandal of religion, is called binding of them, Matt. 18:18. “Bind them up from partaking of special ordinances, and the peculiar privileges of their church-membership; bind them over to the righteous judgment of god.” In the day of judgment, hypocrites will be bound; the angels shall bind up these tares in bundles for the fire, Matt. 13:41. Damned sinners are bound hand and foot by an irreversible sentence; this signifies the same with the fixing of the great gulf; they can neither resist nor outrun their punishment.
(2.) He is ordered to be carried off from the wedding feast; Take him away. When the wickedness of hypocrites appears, they are to be taken away from the communion of the faithful, to be cut of as withered branches. This bespeaks the punishment of loss in the other world; they shall be taken away from the king, from the kingdom, from the wedding feast, Depart from me, ye cursed. It will aggravate their misery, that (like the unbelieving lord, 2 Kgs. 7:2), they shall see all this plenty with their eyes, but shall not taste of it. Note, Those that walk unworthy of their Christianity, forfeit all the happiness they presumptuously laid claim to, and complimented themselves with a groundless expectation of.
(3.) He is ordered into a doleful dungeon; Cast him into utter darkness. Our Saviour here insensibly slides out of this parable into that which it intimates—the damnation of hypocrites in the other world. Hell is utter darkness, it is darkness out of heaven, the land of light; or it is extreme darkness, darkness to the last degree, without the least ray or spark of light, or hope of it, like that of Egypt; darkness which might be felt; the blackness of darkness, as darkness itself, Job 10:22. Note, Hypocrites go by the light of the gospel itself down to utter darkness; and hell will be hell indeed to such, a condemnation more intolerable; there shall be weeping, and gnashing of teeth. This our Saviour often uses as part of the description of hell-torments, which are hereby represented, not so much by the misery itself, as by the resentment sinners will have of it; there shall be weeping, an expression of great sorrow and anguish; not a gush of tears, which gives present ease, but constant weeping, which is constant torment; and the gnashing of teeth is an expression of the greatest rage and indignation; they will be like a wild bull in a net, full of the fury of the Lord, Isa. 51:20; Isa. 8:21, 22. Let us therefore hear and fear.
Lastly, The parable is concluded with that remarkable saying which we had before (Matt. 20:16), Many are called, but few are chosen, Matt. 22:14. Of the many that are called to the wedding feast, if you set aside all those as unchosen that make light of it, and avowedly prefer other things before it; if then you set aside all that make a profession of religion, but the temper of whose spirits and the tenour of whose conversation are a constant contradiction to it; if you set aside all the profane, and all the hypocritical, you will find that they are few, very few, that are chosen; many called to the wedding feast, but few chosen to the wedding garment, that is, to salvation, by sanctification of the Spirit. This is the strait gate, and narrow way, which few find.