The Marriage Feast (Matt. xxii. 1-13). -- This parable was spoken by Jesus soon after he had uttered the parable of the vineyard considered in the last chapter. It was addressed to the same people, that is, "the chief priests and Pharisees," who "perceiving" his parables were aimed at them, "sought to lay hands on him." We must remember this in our understanding of it. We shall blunder if we seek the key in circumstances not before the mind of Christ. The great fact of the situation was the hostile attitude of the priests, who ought to have been foremost in the recognition and exposition of the truth (Mal. ii. 7). He had indicated the divine estimation and the ultimate consequences of this attitude in the parable of a vineyard held by unfaithful keepers. Now he changes the figure and increases the light. Israel's leaders are no longer vine dressers, who usurp the proprietor's rights, but men who have received an invitation which they despise, and who abuse and ill-treat and even kill the messengers who convey it to them. The invitation is from the highest quarter -- the court of a king. It relates to the most interesting occasion that could arise -- the marriage of the King's Son.
It scarcely requires saying that the King is God, and that the King's Son is Christ, and that the marriage purposed for Christ is that consummation of his work at his coming, which is expressly described in the last of the apostolic writings under the figure of a marriage-: "The marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready; and to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white" (Rev. xix. 7, 8). The union to Christ in glory of those who have been prepared for him in previous generations of probation is fitly likened to a marriage.
The aptness of the comparison is obscured by the common view that salvation is a thing of individual detail, going on daily with the supposed passage of each supposed soul to glory when the righteous die. When the truth of man's mortality is seen, and death is recognised as a temporary victory over the Lord's people, this obscurity vanishes, and the beauty of the parable shines out. The righteous are to be "glorified together" (Rom. viii. 17) "at the appearing of Christ" (2 Tim. iv. 1). They will be presented, a multitudinous bride, to the Lord at His return. Their union will be formally, ceremonially proclaimed and practically consummated in the assimilation of their nature to his (Phil. iii. 21; 1 Jno. iii. 2). Thus will be developed the true com-une -- (together, one), the only true commune the world is ever destined to see -- the only one it requires -- the only one adequate to its needs -- an organised community of immortals developed by probation, and installed by divine right in possession of the earth and all power therein -- under one head, the King's son, "King of Kings and Lord of Lords."
This is the goal of the divine plan upon the earth, It is the object that has been in view in all the divine measures that have been taken in the ages of the past. God "sent forth his servants" "at sundry times and in divers manners" to invite men to this purposed wedding. Christ's parable is to illustrate how it was received in his day at the hands of Israel's leaders and their followers, and the consequences that came of their treatment of it. The bearers of the invitation were Christ and his apostles. They delivered it to "many," -- only a few of whom appreciated it at its true value -- so few that they are not represented in the first stage of the parable. The common attitude was that represented. "They made light of it and went their ways" -- each to his own particular hobby. They did worse. They persecuted and destroyed the Lord Jesus and his apostles. The ultimate sequel was terrible. "The king was wrath, and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burnt up their city." Let the awful particulars of the destruction of Jerusalem furnished by Josephus bear witness to the fulfilment of this.
Before things reached this terrible end, a minor but very important result sprang from Israel's rejection of the marriage invitation. It is one that specially effects us as part of the Gentile community to whom the invitation has come. Paul gives expression to it thus: "Through their fall, salvation is come unto the Gentiles" (Rom. xi. 11). The form in which it appears in the parable is in almost remarkable coincidence with these words: "Then saith he (the king) to his servants, the wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find bid to the marriage." This part of the parable has its interpretation in the work of the apostles as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. Peter, as Christ appointed, took the foremost part in this, as in other matters. As he said in the Apostolic conference (Acts xv. 7): "God made choice among us that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the Gospel and believe."
The persistent opposition of the Jews to the apostolic work, from its very outstart, was the proximate cause of this. Paul gives expression to it in his own case: "It was necessary that the Word of God should first have been spoken to you, but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles" (Acts xiii. 46). Thus the invitation, originally addressed to Israel alone, was extended to the occupants of the Gentile highways. For eighteen centuries it has been almost confined to the Gentiles, and with the lapse of time and the prevalence of corruption, it has come to be very much misapprehended by them. They think it a wholesale, cheap, and easy affair. They have long lost the idea of the way being narrow and the gate straight. They have long forgotten that "God at the first did visit the Gentiles," not to convert the world by preaching, but "to take aut of them a people for His Name" (Acts xv. 14). They have settled into the most inveterate complacency with regard to their position. They imagine they are all the Lord's people, in total forgetfulness of the words of Christ, that it is "not everyone that saith Lord, Lord, but he that doeth the will of the Father, that shall enter the kingdom." Well, there will be a wonderful disenchantment on this subject when Christ returns. The parable teaches what he elsewhere plainly declared: "Many shall come to me in that day and shall say, Lord, have we not preached in thy name, and in thy name done many wonderful works? but I will profess unto them, I never knew you, depart from me ye that work iniquity."
What the parable has to teach on this point, it does by one case. It tells us first of the gathering of the motley congregation of guests from the highways. The "servants went out into the highways and gathered together all, as many as they found, both bad and good, and the wedding was furnished with guests." The apostles did their work: the result will be seen in the immense multitude gathered into Christ's presence for judgment in the day of his appearing. "And when the King came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment." This man,questioned on the subject, is speechless, and ordered to he expelled "into the outer darkness, where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Christ adds a comment, which supplies the sense in which he used the parable: "For many are called but few are chosen." The parable, as instancing only one man rejected, might seem to teach the reverse of this, that many are called and nearly all chosen; but we must take the meaning as here interpreted by Christ, and illustrated by his plainer teaching elsewhere. The call is to all who come within range of the invitation: first, the Jews; secondly, the Gentiles But the choice is from those who respond to the call, on the principle of preparedness for what they are called to. The man not accepted was dismissed because he had not on a wedding garment. He might have pleaded the free invitation he had received on the highways; but the objection to his want of fit vesture shows that preparation on this head was expected as a matter of course from those accepting the invitation. The meaning of the wedding garment is supplied by Rev. xix.: "To her (the bride) was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness (or righteous actions) of the saints." This is in harmony with every teaching of the word and every reasonable consideration in the case: that a man's acceptance of the Gospel will not be counted for righteousness unless it bring forth compliance with the will of Christ as expressed in his commandments.
The parable was spoken in Jerusalem during his last presence there before his crucifixion. He had spoken it in another form while on his progress through Galilee, before "setting his face to go up to Jerusalem" (Luke xiv. 16, in connection with Luke xviii 31). Critics have assumed that the two versions are accounts of the same utterance, and they have not failed to point out the differences between them as discrediting inspiration. The criticism is as groundless as most of the similar efforts to undermine the authority of the Scriptures. It is inevitable that during the incessant teaching activity of three years and a half, Jesus should frequently repeat parables and precepts, not always in the same forms, whence most easily arises the so-called "discrepancy" between three or four separate accounts which are in themselves absolutely consistent.
The parable as spoken in Galilee makes the king "a man," who gives a supper, instead of a wedding feast; and sends out one servant instead of a number. It also gives the excuses of the invited guests which are in detail omitted in the Jerusalem parable. The principal difference is in the instruction given to the servant by the master on the refusal of the guests being reported to him. He was to go "into the streets and lanes of the city" and bring together "the poor and the maimed and the halt and the blind." The servant does as commanded, and returning, says, "Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room." He is then ordered to "go out into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled." This feature is a noticeable one, not as a difference but as a supplemental item in the divine programme. The order of invitation according to the Galilee parable is, 1st, selected guests who refuse; 2nd, the people in the streets and lanes, many of whom come; 3rd, wayfarers on the highways outside of the town, and even loungers about the hedges.
An order something like this is visible in the apostolic operations: 1. "It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you (Jews)" (Acts xiii. 46). 2. "The salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and they will hear it" (Acts xxviii. 28). 3. (Nearly a.d. 100, when the Apostles were all in their graves except John), "The Spirit and the Bride say, come,.... whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely" (Rev. xxii. 17). The highways-and-hedges operation continues to the very coming of the Lord, and embraces "those who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord." It acts upon the figuratively "poor and maimed, and halt and blind." This explains why it is that the Gospel is not received among the wise and noble of the world, but is confined to such as are of no standing or account, even as it was in the days of Jesus. The cultured and the well-to-do are too much pre-occupied with their own self-comforting devices to have room for the ways of God. The lowly classes are not much better off in this respect, but among them are here and there to be found such as are small in their own eyes, and prepared in an honest and glad heart to "receive the Kingdom of God as little children."
The Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matt. xxv. 1-12). -- This is the last and perhaps the most interesting of the parables. A knowledge of the truth, as distinguished from orthodox theology, is peculiarly necessary to the understanding of it. It cannot be made to fit with the scheme of things that sends men away to heaven or hell when they die. It is only intelligible in the light of the doctrine that the return of Christ to the earth is necessary to the renewed life and glorification of his people. This doctrine is the key-note supplied in its very first word -- "Then": This is a question of time, for the apprehension of which we are thrown back on what goes before.
"Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins," extorts the question -- when? The answer of the context is free from all obscurity. "The Lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, and shall cut him asunder (that is, cut him off), and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Then -- when the Lord returns. Having in view the actual nature of the coming of the Lord, it becomes easy to see the bearings of the parable in all directions. At the crisis of his approach, the members of his house (all of them) are like "ten virgins which look their lamps and went forth to meet the bridegroom." There is nothing in the number ten except that it was the usual number of bridesmaids that took part in the marriage ceremony as practised in the country. They performed a part unknown to Western customs. Their business was to meet the bridegroom on his way to fetch the bride from her father's house. They had to go so far on the road and wait. The arrival of the bridegroom was usually at night, requiring the use of lamps, and the hour was uncertain, almost always causing waiting. If the waiting was long, the lamps were liable to go out unless they had brought a supply of oil besides what the lamp contained; and any one with an unlit lamp was considered by the etiquette of the country as much unfit to take part in the ceremony as any one would be in our country who should omit appropriate attire.
In what way the household of Christ at the era of his return are like virgins who have gone out to meet the bridegroom, Will be instantly appreciated by everyone who knows the truth. It is the very peculiarity of their position that they have "gone forth" "to wait for" Christ -- speaking now of no modern people or institution, though there are such. It is profitable to look at the matter from the apostolic point of view only. The writings of the apostles define the matter in a way to be trusted. They tell us that the saints have "come out from among" the people of the world who know not God (2 Cor. vi. 17); that they are a peculiar people (1 Pet. ii. 9) whose part it is "to wait for the Son of God from heaven" (1 Thess. i. 10) who, "to them that look for him, shall appear the second time without sin unto salvation" (Heb. ix. 28). However many or few may be truly answerable to this description in the 19th century, this is the characteristic attitude of the house of Christ ever since he parted with the disciples on the summit of the Mount of Olives 1850 years ago. They have one and all "gone forth to meet the bridegroom."
And as with any average company of bridesmaids, so with these; half have been wise and half foolish, half at a rough estimation. The folly of the foolish virgins consisted in not taking a supply of oil for the replenishing of the lamp. "But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps." The corresponding wisdom and folly of the antitypical virgins it is not difficult to understand, when we discern the nature of the light by which they wait in the darkness for the coming of the bridegroom. The light is the understanding of the truth in the love thereof. The oil that feeds this light is the word. Those who light their lamps and go forth, but take no supply of oil in their vessels, are those who are delighted with the truth at their first reception of it, but do not keep up their interest afterwards, by the reading of the Word of God in which it has its source, and attending the assemblies of the brethren which have been enjoined for edification. The word is the oil, which, being combusted in the mind, sheds forth light, as Jesus commands ("Let your light shine"). To "let the word of Christ dwell in us richly" as Paul exhorts, is to keep oil in the vessel with the lamp. As in the natural, so in the spiritual; combustion involves consumption. The life of faith and obedience uses up the motive power which the mind furnishes in the memory of the word. If this is not renewed by reading and prayer, the oil fails and the lamp by-and-bye will go out.
"While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept." This cannot mean spiritual sleeping, for spiritual sleeping would mean that they were all foolish together. In what other sense has the House of Christ slept in his absence? In the sense in which Christ is "the first fruits of them that slept." They have all died, speaking of them generally. It is true there will be some "who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord;" but the number of such is so insignificant in relation to "the multitude that no man can number" that they are not taken into account in the rough presentation of the subject in a parable. As regards the apostles and the whole generation of disciples contemporary with the parable (those who in a special sense "went forth to meet the bridegroom"), absolutely all of them "slumbered and slept." They all went to their graves, and now "sleep in Jesus," waiting the awakening proclamation next referred to in the parable.
"At midnight, there was a cry made, Behold the bridegroom cometh, go ye out to meet him!" Midnight is just before morning begins. In relation to the coming of Christ, it is the darkest hour of the night that prevails during his absence. We are in such an hour at present, when misapplied science is fast banishing all faith from the earth, and when nothing seems more childish and chimerical than the expectation that Christ will return. At such an hour as this -- the appointed Gentile periods having some of them run out, and others nearly so -- the cry is raised, "Behold the bridegroom cometh." It is a cry that awakes the sleeping virgins; therefore it is not a human movement of any kind. Some have imagined that the resuscitation in our age of the doctrine of the second advent is the midnight cry. It is evidently something much more powerful than this that is meant, for the sleeping virgins, wise and foolish, all arise. They all awake from their long sleep. They come forth from their graves by the resurrection power put forth at this period. What power is this? It is the power of Christ which he has received "over all flesh" (John xvii. 2); a power in response to which, in the form of command, as at Lazarus' tomb, the dead "come forth" (John v. 29; xi. 43). But by what instrumentality is this command made effectual? The parable shows the bridegroom on his way, and a herald proclamation going before him. Who are the bearers of this herald proclamation? Jesus answers in saying, "He shall send forth his angels with a trumpet and a great voice, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds" (Matt. xxiv. 31). The angels, then, who have had to do with Christ's own resurrection, have to do with that of his sleeping servants. By his authority and power they wake these from their long sleep (but a moment to them), and summon them to a meeting with the bridegroom. They all "rise and trim their lamps." Never so earnestly was this done by them before; furbishing up memory, reviewing the ways of their probation, fixing their minds on the truth, casting themselves in prayer on the Father's mercy. The foolish who went to sleep with empty vessels find them still in that state (for every one will rise at the resurrection in the spiritual state in which death overtakes them). Dismayed now at their poverty-stricken state, they throw themselves upon the sympathy and support of their more spiritually-minded brethren and sisters. "Give us of your oil." Nay; too late. The most spiritually minded will have enough to do to sustain themselves at such a crisis. The time has passed for looking to others or helping others. All will have to look to themselves till the dread judgment seat is past. "Go rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves." All will be so real and natural at the resurrection, and there may even be such time and deliberation in the proceedings, that it may even appear practicable to still do something to remedy spiritual poverty. But all the response the wise can make to the frantic appeals of the foolish is to do the best they can for themselves while as yet they are not in the Lord's presence. "While they went to buy, the bridegroom came and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage." It is impossible to assign the exact counterpart to every detail in a parable, because a parable is only a rough imagining of general features. But it is possible there may even be place for something like this. There may be an attempt on the part of the self-condemned during the interval between emergence from the grave and appearance at the judgment seat, to make good their shortcoming case. And while so engaged, the actual summons to Christ's presence may arrive to the others assembled, and these may be accepted, and the others afterwards arrive to find the door of the kingdom closed against unavailing cries of "Lord, Lord, open unto us." The dramatic details of the resurrection era are not revealed, but some of them may be shadowed in such a parable as this. The general object of the parable is plain: to provoke habitual preparedness for the Lord's return on the part of all who call him Lord. This is the application he gives it himself: "Watch, therefore; for ye know neither the day nor the hour when the Son of Man cometh."