The Posthumous Works of the Late Right
Reverend John Henry Hobart, D.D.
Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of New-York.
New-York: Swords, Stanford, and Co., 1832.
(Republished with permission from the
Project Canterbury Website)
Parable of the Marriage Feast.
And he sent
forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they
would not come. Matthew xxii. 3.
Thus contemptuously was the invitation of the king rejected, who made a
marriage festival for his son; in which parabolic history is conveyed much
The mode of conveying religious and moral truths by parables, which are
similitudes drawn from the objects of nature, or from civil and social
institutions, was frequently practised by our blessed Lord. It is a mode of
instruction founded in the reason and nature of things; for from the
peculiar character of spiritual truths, we cannot receive the full and clear
knowledge of them, except by analogy with those things which are the objects
of our sense and consciousness. The parabolic mode of instruction was also
prompted by a regard to the genius of the people among whom our Lord dwelt,
which led to the use of highly figurative language; and at all periods, and
among all people, it is gratifying to the imagination, and peculiarly
calculated forcibly and permanently to impress the heart. Especially where
the object is to convey reproof, or to enforce unwelcome or irritating
truths, parables afford an opportunity of indirectly, yet effectually,
[94/95] answering these purposes, without alarming the prejudices or
immediately exciting the resentment of the persons accused or opposed.
For all these reasons, but especially for the last, our Saviour so
frequently spake by parables. His mission was to a disobedient and
gainsaying people--a people blinded by their prejudices and enslaved by
their vices. These prejudices and vices were deeply opposed to the pure and
self-denying spirit of that kingdom which he came to establish; and to have
combated them by direct attack would have so strongly awakened the pride of
the Jews and enkindled their resentment, as not only to have precluded all
hope of his instructions and reproofs making any impression on their hearts,
but to have exposed him to persecution, and prematurely, "before his hour
was come," endangered his life. [St. John vii. 30.] Hence it became a
dictate of prudence to veil his reproofs and unwelcome instructions under
the pleasing garb of allegory; thus exciting the imagination and awakening
the attention, and before prejudice or resentment could be roused,
impressing the understanding and gaining the heart.
On one of these delicate and unpleasant occasions was the parable
delivered which I mean now to set before you.
The immediate object of our Saviour was to reprove the Jews for their
incredulity, to impress on them their guilt and ingratitude in rejecting the
exalted blessings of that dispensation of mercy which he came to proclaim,
to denounce the awful judgments which would overtake them for their sin in
rejecting him who came to save them, and for [95/96] persecuting unto death
the messengers of his salvation. It was his object to proclaim to them the
determination of their almighty Sovereign to exclude them from the
privileges of his chosen people on account of their unbelief, and to receive
the believing Gentiles as his covenant people, and thus finally to teach
them that their being "called" to be the peculiar people of the Most High
would be of no avail to them; on the contrary, would only enhance their
guilt and their condemnation) unless they exercised those holy and obedient
dispositions and virtues which would qualify them for being finally "chosen"
to everlasting life.
These were most important and solemn, but, to the Jews, most unwelcome
truths, calculated to mortify their pride and to excite their deadly
resentment. Our Lord, therefore, chose to convey them through the medium of
an appropriate allegory, which softened without weakening their force.
"The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king which made a marriage
for his son."
By the kingdom of heaven in this passage, and many other parts of
Scripture, is meant, not the final kingdom of bliss eternal in the heavens,
but the preparatory kingdom of God on earth, the Gospel dispensation. Thus,
John the Baptist announced the introduction of this dispensation in the
solemn call--"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven," the kingdom of the Messiah
on earth, the Gospel dispensation, "is at hand." This dispensation, on
account of its rich and exalted blessings, and of the joy which these
blessings are calculated to inspire, is very properly compared to a feast
made [96/97] by a king on the most felicitous occasion that could
occur--"the marriage of his son."
"And he sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the
wedding: but they would not come."
The invitation was renewed in terms the most courteous and pressing.
"He sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden,
Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and
all things are ready: come unto the marriage."
One would suppose that the perverse incredulity which rejected the former
invitation, would be subdued by this generous and affectionate renewal of
"They made light of it, and went their way, one to his farm, and another
to his merchandise."
And to complete their criminality,
"The remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew
Astonishing as was their conduct, it was an exact exhibition of the
crimes of the Jews. Their forefathers had turned a deaf ear to the voice of
the prophets, seeking to reclaim them from their corrupt and idolatrous ways
to the fear, the service, and the favour of the living God. Reluctant to
execute upon them the fierceness of his just anger, God sent forth his
messenger, John the Baptist, to warn them of his judgments, and to invite
them to prepare for that dispensation of mercy which the long expected
Messiah was to proclaim. By him, the hope of his people Israel, did the Lord
their God unfold to the Jews the rich blessings of his grace, [97/98] and
invite them to come unto him and be saved. The apostles whom this blessed
Redeemer sent forth to his lost sheep of the house of Israel, renewed the
gracious invitation, and urged it by every motive that could alarm their
fears or animate their hopes; but "they made light of it"--"they would not
come." Blinded by their prejudices, and enslaved by their corrupt passions,
they preferred the sensual gratifications of the world to the pure and
heavenly blessings of the Redeemer's kingdom. The invitations of mercy,
instead of awakening their gratitude, kindled the resentment and malice of
their hearts. They took the messengers who bore from their heavenly
Sovereign the overtures of peace, and "treated them spitefully, and slew
them." The faithful warnings of the Baptist they disregarded, and he finally
paid for his fidelity the forfeit of his life. The Lord of glory, who came
to save them, they loaded with insults, and they terminated his career of
benevolence in the horrors of an ignominious death. The fury that thus drank
the blood of the Master, pursued his servants. And the apostles, who sought
to bring their blind and unhappy countrymen to participate of the blessings
of redeeming mercy, were assailed by cruel mockings and scourgings, and
finally persecuted unto death.
The judgments inflicted on this guilty people are awfully displayed in
the next verse of the parable.
"When the king heard thereof, he was wroth; and he sent forth his armies,
and destroyed those murderers, and burnt up their city." [Matt. xxii. 7.]
In the awful fulfilment of this denunciation, [98/99] Jerusalem was
"trodden under foot;" "one stone" of that obdurate city which had "killed
the prophets, and stoned those who were sent unto her, was not left upon
another;" [Matt. xxiii. 37.] and all its guilty inhabitants, after
encountering the horrors of famine, "fell by the sword" of invading armies.
The invitation to the Gospel feast, thus rejected by the Jews, was
addressed to the Gentiles.
"They who were bidden were not worthy. The king therefore said to his
servants, Go ye into the highways and hedges, and as many as ye shall find,
bid to the marriage. So those servants went to the highways, and gathered
all as many as they could find, both good and bad: and the wedding was
furnished with guests." [Matt. xxii. 8, 9, 10.]
It was perfectly consistent with Eastern hospitality, to invite the
stranger and the pilgrim to share in the pleasures of their feasts. And thus
does the parable denote the calling of the Gentiles. They who, in a
spiritual sense, were journeying along the highways and hedges, "aliens from
the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenant of promise," [Eph.
ii. 12.] were called to partake of those Gospel privileges which the Jews
contemptuously rejected. The merciful invitation was restrained by no
exceptions; all, "both good and bad," were invited to the Gospel feast; "the
sick," as well as they who were comparatively "whole;" "publicans and
sinners," as well as they who were comparatively righteous, were called to
partake of the blessings of salvation. The call was that of the evangelical
prophet--"Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that
hath no money, [99/100] come ye, buy and eat." And the merciful invitation
was not addressed in vain to insensible hearts, "for many came from the east
and from the west, from the north and from the south, and sat down with
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of God;" while they, for whom
these blessings were primarily designed, "the children of the kingdom," the
unbelieving Jews, were finally "shut out."
But shall we conclude from the gracious extension of the invitation to
all, both "good and bad," that no qualifications were required in these
guests at the heavenly banquet, and that, therefore, the salvation of the
Gospel is unconditional, and bestowed on all, whatever may be their
character and conduct? A conclusion so erroneous and dangerous, is
effectually repelled by the parable; for
"When the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man who had not
on a wedding garment."
It was the custom in the East to come to the marriage banquet in a
splendid garment, and to appear without one was considered as a mark of
great disrespect to the master of the feast. But it may be asked, with what
justice could the guest in the parable, who is represented as hastily called
from the highways and hedges, be censured for appearing without a wedding
garment, to procure which, he had not the time, even if he possessed the
means? It was customary at these entertainments for the master of the feast,
in all cases, to provide a wedding garment for the less opulent of his
guests; and if elevated by rank and great wealth, [100/101] to furnish with
these garments all his guests indiscriminately. The man, therefore, who
appeared at the feast in this parable without the customary garment, had
really no excuse; and when censured for doing so, we are told he was
The insult of which he was therefore guilty towards the master of the
feast, whose hospitality he was partaking, drew forth the sentence,
"Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer
darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Cast this guest, who is guilty of the gross indignity of rejecting the
wedding garment prepared for him, from the light and splendour of the scene
which he disgraces by his presence, into the darkness of the highway from
which he was called.
Here we behold, under a striking similitude, the fearful doom of those
professing Christians who think they shall enjoy the blessings of Christ's
heavenly kingdom, of his everlasting festival of love, while they are
destitute of those graces and virtues, that purity and righteousness, which
are often, in the figurative language of Scripture, styled the "wedding
garment"--"the white raiment of the saints." For
"Many are called, but few are chosen."
Many are called to the Gospel feast--many are invited to partake of its
blessings, and all are offered, through the influences of the Holy Spirit,
that righteousness which alone can qualify them to partake of these
blessings--"but few are chosen;" comparatively few study to make their
calling and election sure; to acquire, through the power of [101/102] divine
grace, those holy dispositions and virtues which alone can render them meet
to be admitted to the marriage supper of the Lamb, to partake of the
felicities of heaven.
This parable contains much important instruction.
1. It affords a lively display of the mercy and goodness of God, in
providing for the blessings of redemption.
What scenes more joyous than those of a marriage, where rank and
splendour unite to inspire the most dignified festivity? What more grateful
and exhilarating on this joyful occasion, than a feast, where every luxury
that generous wealth can bestow, excites and gratifies the senses? Behold
the striking similitude by which are denoted the goodness and the mercy of
God in providing the blessings of redemption. For man, blind, and guilty,
and miserable, who was wandering in the high way that leads to destruction,
and exiled through sin from the comforts of God's favour, a feast is
prepared. The almighty Sovereign, whom, by his wilful transgressions, he has
insulted and offended, in the fulness of infinite love provides for him the
richest blessings. The offender against the Majesty of heaven, he is offered
a free and full pardon. The slave of error and of prejudice, whose corrupt
reason enveloped him with the darkest shades of idolatry and superstition,
he sees the light of the divine glory in the face of Jesus Christ. His soul
held in bondage by sin, he is offered a translation into the glorious
liberty of the sons of God. His bosom agitated by passions fierce as the
whirlwind, he is presented with that peace of God which passeth all
understanding. He, who sprung from the [102/103] dust, is descending to the
dust again, and may say to corruption, Thou art my father, and to the worm,
thou art my brother and my sister, beholds prepared for him a garment of
immortality, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. And he,
whose guilty soul, the bottomless pit opens to receive, may look, as his
destined abode, to the courts of heaven, to that city of the living God,
where are joy and gladness, and from which sorrow and sighing flee far away.
2. The merciful and gracious God who prepares for his offending creatures
blessings so exalted, urges their acceptance of these blessings by the most
powerful and persuasive methods.
He sent his only Son into the world, that, moved by this astonishing
instance of love, guilty man might be induced to accept the salvation which,
through the sufferings and death of this glorious personage, is wrought for
him. The word of inspiration, affording a lively display of all those
blessings which God has prepared for those that love him, abounds with the
most animating calls, the most urgent and tender entreaties to accept these
blessings. By the admonitions of conscience, by the dispensations of his
providence, by the secret suggestions of his Holy Spirit, by the service of
the church in her ministry, sacraments, and ordinances, does that
compassionate God, who willeth not the death of a sinner, urge and entreat
him to turn from those sinful pursuits that terminate in shame, remorse, and
misery, and to partake of those permanent and exalted joys which flow from
him, who is the fountain of life and felicity. The voice of their almighty
Sovereign is constantly addressed to sinful men--"All things are ready."
Blessings are pre[103/104]pared for you, as transcendent in the enjoyment
which they afford, as they are lasting in duration; the light of divine
truth, the pardon of sin, peace of conscience, the comforts of the Holy
Ghost, the joys of the divine favour, a resurrection to glory, ineffable
bliss in the kingdom of heaven above, these are the blessings which court
your acceptance. Come then and "drink of the waters of life;" eat ye that
which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Come, celebrate
with angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven, that celestial
festival, the joys of which are pure, transporting, and eternal.
In what manner is this gracious invitation regarded among men? The
parable before us affords the astonishing, the melancholy information--"They
make light of it;" they make light of the overtures of mercy from the God of
heaven; they make light of the tender invitations of his eternal Son. "They
go, one to his farm, and another to his merchandise"--they prefer the
sensual pursuits and pleasures which too often corrupt the heart, and fill
it with shame and remorse--pursuits which often terminate in vanity and
vexation of spirit--pleasures which, in a few years, will vanish in the
darkness of the grave, and which, for a day or an hour they cannot call
their own, to those pure joys of a good conscience, those rich consolations
of the divine favour, those pleasures in the presence of their God and
Saviour which never fade. Contemning that great salvation revealed in the
Gospel, they too, like the unbelieving Jews of old, "trample under foot the
Son of God, crucify him afresh, and put him to an open shame." [Heb. x. 29.]
 These despisers of God may behold in the parable under
consideration, the awful vengeance which will overtake them. They may behold
it in the denunciations of that parable executed upon the unbelieving Jews
and upon impenitent Jerusalem. Alas! the awful fury which burst upon
Jerusalem and overwhelmed the Jews, is a sure but a feeble emblem of the
vengeance preparing for those who despise or neglect the mercy and grace of
God. A great and terrible day is coming, when the sun shall be turned into
blackness, and the moon into blood; when the elements shall melt with
fervent heat; when the heavens shall depart as a scroll; when the earth
shall be burnt up; and when, in the midst of these scenes of terror, the
Judge of the world shall appear in the glory of his Father, and with his
holy angels, to take vengeance on those who believe not God and obey not his
Gospel. Such a day is predicted; such a coming of the Son of man is
foretold; such awful scenes are unfolded in the oracles of truth. When this
day comes; when the Son of man thus appears; when the last judgment takes
place, which decides for ever the happiness or misery of the myriads of
mankind; oh! how will all who now live unmindful of their God and Saviour,
neglecting or contemning his mercy and his grace, bewail their guilt and
their folly--bewail, but too late--their tears and their cries will be those
of endless agony and despair; for God hath pronounced, the "worm dieth not,"
"the fire is not quenched."
But this instructive parable does not only denounce vengeance against
those who reject the counsel of God for their salvation; it unfolds also the
awful destiny of nominal Christians; of those [105/106] who hold the truth
in unrighteousness; who hope they shall be admitted to the celestial
festival of their Lord in his kingdom on high, though they are destitute of
the wedding garment, the righteousness of the saints; who found their title
to heaven on their being called by the name of Christ, and on their calling
him, Lord, Lord, while they are destitute of his spirit, his meek and holy
graces, and neglect to do the things which he commands. Nominal professors
of Christianity! you may read your destiny in the doom pronounced on the man
in the parable, who appeared at the marriage .supper, not having on the
wedding garment--"Cast him into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and
gnashing of teeth." [Matt. xxii. 13.] This will be the destiny of the unholy
professors of the Christian name; excluded from the light, and peace, and
glory of heaven, and consigned to darkness everlasting. Oh! that unsound and
nominal Christians, alarmed by the consideration of the tremendous destiny
which awaits them, would instantly renounce their false hopes, and not give
rest to their souls, until, by prayer and watchfulness, and the faithful use
of the means of grace, they are adorned with that evangelical righteousness
which only can make them acceptable guests at the heavenly supper of their
Finally, Christian brethren, the concluding moral of this interesting
parable should sink deep into cut hearts.
"Many are called, but few are chosen." [Matt. xxii. 14.] Many are called
by the word, the Spirit, and the providence of God, by the ministry and
ordinances [106/107] of his holy church, to the privileges and blessings of
the Gospel. But, alas! few, comparatively few, walk worthy of their holy
vocation--comparatively few improve the grace freely given to them, to the
renewal of their minds, to their establishment in holiness and virtue, to
their living righteously, soberly, and godly in the world. And therefore,
though "many be called" to the marriage supper of the Lamb, though many are
admitted to the privileges of Christ's church on earth, "few are chosen" to
sit down with him at this holy and blissful festival: and banished from the
presence of their Lord, with whom is light, and peace, and felicity, their
portion is in outer darkness--darkness for ever the darkness of despair.
My brethren, let it be our supreme care to avoid this tremendous destiny.
Let us earnestly implore him who is the Lord of all power and might, to
endue our souls with that righteousness which only can render us meet for
his presence. And to our earnest supplications let us add our zealous and
unremitting endeavours to adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all
things; so that when our Lord cometh to unite to himself, in the ties of
celestial and endless fellowship, the church of the redeemed; when the
awakening invitation is heard from the host of heaven--"Be glad and rejoice,
for the marriage of the Lamb is come;" we shall be found worthy to enter in
and celebrate with him the everlasting festival of love and of joy.