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The Gospel a Feast of Love.

by Isaac Williams

from Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays and Holy Days

throughout the Year, Vol. II. Whitsunday to All Saints' Day

Rivingtons, London, 1875, pp. 29-43.

Second part of Sermon XLIX. for the Second Sunday after Trinity.
(for the first part, on the Epistle..
And this is His commandment, That we should believe on the Name of 
His Son JESUS CHRIST, and love one another.I ST. JOHN iii. 23. 

...Now if we have so earnestly considered this striking Epistle from St. John, as to have made it our own by meditation and prayer, it follows that we must carry on the same train of thought, and this heart-thrilling lesson of love and goodness to the Gospel also.  It will necessarily be the case that we read the Gospel for the day with reference to it.  The light we derive from the one will naturally be cast on the other, whether we intend it or no.  Chiefly on this account in these Sermons we so often consider the Epistle and Gospel for the Sunday together, as enforcing one line of instruction, or illustrating but one and the same great truth.  Now the subject of the foregoing Epistle we have seen to be that of brotherly love, of the peace of Christ established in the heart by faith, and the Presence of the Comforter.  And one might well have supposed that all men would earnestly press after so inestimable a gift of God; and that as there is nothing in this world to be compared with love,—for “if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned,” (Song of Sol. viii. 7.)—and nothing so conducive to lasting joy of heart, surely, we might have thought, this loving appeal of St. John will not be in vain; and yet we see and know that it is so.  There is nothing more delightful to hear or read than all these accounts of Divine love which fill the Epistles of St. John,—of the love of God to us, and of our love which He seeks in return; and there is nothing more sad and melancholy than to lift up our eyes from these descriptions, and see what is going on in the world, where all this is acknowledged and known, and yet not realized nor accepted.  The Gospel then comes in to notice and explain this remarkable circumstance, as conveying by a parable a sort of prophetic account of this the reception of Christ’s kingdom by mankind.  The Christian religion is therein compared to a Great Supper.  What could be more expressive of fraternal love, and of that “gladness of heart” which is “better than corn and wine,” the rich abundance of God’s goodness which we are invited to partake of? and yet those that are invited, strange as it may seem, refuse to come.  But more than this, the parable in this day’s Gospel discloses to us, in the various secrets of men’s hearts, those causes which indispose them to the acceptance of God’s love. 

The occasion on which the parable was delivered was the following:—Our Lord was conversing at the table of a Pharisee, and had been speaking of that recompense which shall be at the resurrection of the just to those who hospitably entertain the poor, when one of the company, impressed with the wisdom of His words, said to Him, " Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the Kingdom of God.”  On which our Lord gave the following reply: 

A certain man made a great supper, and bade many.  It is as if He had said, the blessedness of which you speak is indeed great, but nevertheless it will not be received for all that.  It is truly like a rich feast made by the undeserved bounty of God graciously inviting all freely to partake of His goodness.  And he sent his servant at supper-time to say to them that were bidden, Come, for all things are now ready.  “At supper-time,” when the day of this world was now declining, taking upon Him “the form of a servant,” He came unto His own, and by the loving calls of His Gospel invites them into what He has called “the Kingdom of Heaven “—the acceptance of His grace; that washed, from the business and employments of the world, and dressed each in his best robe, the garment of salvation, and brightened with the oil of gladness, they may sit down with cheerful and thankful hearts and brotherly love at His table in His kingdom. 

And they all with one consent began to make excuse.  Though all differing from each other in their characters, their pursuits, and desires, yet they agreed at once in this, that they “all with one consent” declined the invitation; not openly and avowedly refused, but “began to make excuse “—to find reasons for satisfying themselves in such unaccountable rejection.  It is the history of mankind at all times, in the days of Noah or of Lot, or of the Son of Man,—the goodness of God, and man insensible of that goodness. 

The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it; I pray thee have me excused.  And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them; I pray thee have me excused.  And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.  Now these three excuses seem intended to express all the various influences which prevail in the world, and which prevent men from being conformed to that love of God and of our neighbour which St. John describes in his Epistle, or, in other words, from realizing the Kingdom of Heaven which is within us.  There is no mention of any crime, there is no notorious sin on which the judgment of God is pronounced.  The occasions of hindrance are matters innocent and perhaps necessary.  Nay, more; the invitation does not require that they should be relinquished.  The bountiful Friend Who so graciously invites them does not ask of one to forfeit the piece of ground he has bought, nor the other his yoke of oxen, nor the third to forsake his wife.  They might have kept all these and attended to them, without unthankfully refusing to come to this great supper.  But the rejection consists in this, that their hearts were occupied and filled with these pursuits. 

Surely, my brethren, He who delivered this parable knew what was in man; He knew us better than we know ourselves.  If any one of us were now suddenly to be taken ifi, and had but an hour to live, and were truly sensible of our condition, it is probable that we should see and understand the force of this parable much more fully than we now are able to do.  If as dying men about to appear in the presence of God, and to be loosed from all earthly temptations for evermore, we consider in what respects our heart is not and has not been right towards God, we should find the account in this parable.  Here wouldst thou find that “secret thing,” as Job says, on account of which “the consolations of God are small with thee,” and “thine heart doth carry thee away.”  (Job xv. 11, 12.)  Then wouldst thou hear God saying to thee, “I spake unto thee in thy prosperity; but thou saidst, I will not hear.  This hath been thy manner from thy youth.”  (Jer. xxii. 21.)  O, how easy does the love of God and of our brethren seem to us, when anything has for a time thoroughly shaken and shattered in pieces our trust in the world!  How welcome, how easy of acceptance, of what infinite price then appears the loving Gospel of God! but all these thoughts, before they ripen into practice, are again soon blotted out.  A little business, a little pleasure, a little worldly society, household cares or engagements, the prospect of gain, or some national or political excitement, cross the path and divert the thoughts.  But what is especially to be observed is, that all these excuses mentioned in the parable consist of considerations which are selfish; they are of self-interest, self-indulgence.  It is self taking the first place.  Nor indeed is there any harm in worldly or domestic business, except where it takes the first place in the heart.  Let God be first, and all things will be sanctified.  For indeed, occupations which are pursued for the good of our neighbour, or in the service of God, or for the humiliation of self, always dispose the heart to that love in which consists eternal life.  St. John, after his manner in this his Epistle, explains it all, “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.  And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof.”  (1 St. John ii. 15, 16.) 

So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things.  Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind.  As the Gospel is not made the object of choice when men are taken up with their own concerns, therefore in His great mercy God again opens wide the door, and sends another call into His Kingdom.  “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.”  (Rev. iii. 19.)  Under the pressure of affliction, sickness, or poverty, He would bring them unto Himself, and take them under the shelter of His wings.  While Scribes and Pharisees stand aloof, the Publicans and sinners press into His kingdom; and while the learned and the rich are unmoved, every form of distress and disease is eager to take hold of the hem of His garment.  When all is desolation around them’ they will listen to Him, and hear His voice.  And therefore the soul of the Christian, which depends on Christ, and finds its rest in Him, is thus described, “Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her Beloved?” (Song of So. viii. 5.)  Never hath any one yet known the love of Christ, but he that felt the world to be a wilderness.  His Gospel is described as fountains in the desert, as a table in the wilderness.  And therefore not only are we assured by the Spirit that “the Lord loveth whom He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth,” but we may observe that in the Gospels our Lord pronounces His blessing on the evils of this world, and His woe on its prosperities.  “Woe unto you that are rich; for ye have received your consolation.”  “Blessed be ye poor; for yours is the Kingdom of God.”  Surely these words contain that very invitation which in this place this parable speaks of—an invitation which is made to the infirm, despised, helpless beggars; to those who know themselves to be “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.”  (Rev. iii. 17.)  Again, it says, “the master of the house being angry.”  He is angry with men because they love death.  And when He would rescue them, His chastening visitations of mercy are as if He were displeased.  O blessed anger, which seems to speak to us so harshly that it may save us! and because we have rejected His kind invitations, from being so taken up with things present, He sends another call; and as it is through adversity and bereavement He speaks to us, there sounds something stern and severe in the tone.  But “His wrath endureth but the twinkling of an eye, and in His pleasure is life:' and we are able to say with thanksgiving, “Thou, O Lord, of very faithfulness hast caused me to be troubled.” 

“Blessed are they who are thus called to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb” (Rev. xix. 9.) that was slain.  And oh, may this call be not only by His Providence, but also by His grace constraining, that we may not neglect the call! 

And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room.  The Heavenly Feast differs from every earthly good in this, that it can afford no occasion for envy or ill-will, for there is enough for all.  His house is of “many mansions;” ample the room, and overflowing the table of His goodness; no one can interfere with another, nor by having more can make his brother’s share less.  On the contrary, the more we promote the goodness and everlasting happiness of other; the more we add to our own. 

And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.  For I say unto you, that none of those that were bidden shall taste of ray supper.  They have rejected His call and His day of visitation, and “He hath sworn in His wrath that they shall not enter into His rest.”  For “they have heard” His word, His gracious invitation of mercy, but “they go forth and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life" —the yoke of oxen, the farm, the wife in this parable— "and bring no fruit to perfection.”  If we look abroad upon the world we see that it is so, and that in these “the days of the Son of Man” they are taken up with buying and selling, planting and building, marrying and giving in marriage; pursuits indeed and callings in themselves harmless and allowable, but engrossing and transient; soon at an end, and of too absorbing interest while they last.  This is the aspect of things around us.  And yet we doubt not that under all this God’s Word returns not to Him void, the Kingdom of Heaven is being filled—in a manner for the most part unseen and unknown to us; the seven thousands hidden from mankind are known to God.  His grace invites, draws, constrains, compels, in nooks as it were and corners of this broad world, “the highways and the hedges.”  In the busy, many-peopled town and thronging streets, or beneath the secret hedge in the fields, there are they who hear the step and the voice of Him Who is seeking for His sheep; the voice of Him Who Himself brings His own invitation to the Great Supper, or stands and waits at the way-side house of Emmaus.  “I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.”  (Rev. iii. 20.) 

In conclusion we may observe, that when the Gospel is in Holy Scripture likened to a supper or a feast, it seems to contain a secret allusion to that great Feast of Love, the Body and Blood of Christ; and this tends very much to explain and add force to the figure, inasmuch as this Holy Sacrament is not only in itself our life, but as a lively exhibition and type may serve to teach us the whole character of our religion.  What inexpressible love to us beyond all our words and thoughts does it speak! what a constraining motive to brotherly love! for we are all thereby made to be One Bread and One Body.  Bread from that “grain of wheat” which died that it might “bring forth much fruit;” (St. John xii. 24.) and formed of that One Body Which was freely given in death for us, and now lives, and in living is our life.  How does this Sacrament of itself teach, promote, set forth, and carry out all that the Epistle and all that the Gospel for to-day expresses: viz, that “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (St. John xv. 13.) “and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” 

Oh that, partaking of this bread which came down from Heaven, and giveth life unto the world, we might meditate more on Christ’s death and Passion! that it might fill our hearts far more than it does or ever has done! Nothing will purge us like this Divine fire from sensual lusts; nothing will withdraw us from the desire of the eyes so much as setting before us this Divine image of Love itself; nothing will so humble us from the pride of life as dwelling more and more on that shame and sorrow of the Cross, the shame and sorrow which we have laid upon Him, and which He willingly took for our sakes.  It will tend beyond anything else to kill within us the love of this world, ambition, and covetousness; and if these selfish desires die within us we shall love others, because God loves both them and us.  This is the best return we can make to Christ for all His goodness; and so shall we be acceptable guests at the “Great Supper” which He hath provided.