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Love and Joy in the Spirit.

by Isaac Williams

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

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

Rivingtons, London, 1875.

Sermon LXVII. for the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity.
 Eph. v. 15-21.    St. Matt. xxii. 1-14.
And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man
which had not on a wedding garment.ST. MATT. xxii. 11.

LET us first shortly notice the Epistle by itself, and we may afterwards further consider the same in connexion with the Gospel. See then, says St. Paul to the Ephesians, that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. That is, take heed that ye walk with all carefulness towards those that are without, as they who have the Spirit of wisdom, and therefore, in dangerous days, obtaining good from occasions in themselves evil; delivered from evil in evil days, and by the loss of temporal advantages, procuring opportunities for eternal gain. (So St. Aug. vol. v. pp. 133, 489; and St. Chrys. ad loc.) Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. This wisdom will give you to know what the will of God is, and by obedience will become a light to guide you in the way of peace. And thence will spring forth in the heart joy and thanksgiving, as he adds: And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs; singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord. Nor is this joy of heart to depend on outward blessings, but to exist under all the evils of this world; “always and for all things” is the heart of a Christian to be thus filled with thanksgiving; as it is here described. Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father, in the .Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. And to this the Apostle adds, Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. For there is no true thankfulness to God without the spirit of obedience to man; it is the same temper in both; the peace which passeth all understanding combines both. And so St. Paul, in like manner, in his Epistle to the Colossians passes from one to another; thanksgiving to God and submission to one another in godly fear. Walking as in a dark night are they to be ever looking around, yet singing withal in melody of heart, as free from care, and casting away fear. 

To this short and beautiful passage for the Epistle is attached a Gospel of the very deepest interest. When this parable of the marriage of the king’s son was delivered by our Lord, it was all throughout one great prophecy; but from that time to this it has been in course of fulfilment, so that now one point only remains to be accomplished, and that is the coming in of the king to see the guests. At the time when our Lord spake, the Sacrifice was not slain for the feast, the dinner was not prepared. The king had not sent forth his armies to destroy the murderers and burn up their city; neither had they gathered into his house the bad and good of every kind, and filled the room. But all these things have since been in the course of accomplishment. So that, at this time, the world sees two great miracles going on, the one of darkness, the other of light, like night and day proceeding together; the darkness is that of the Jews, those murderers whose city has been burnt up, wandering all over the world, which are unto this day in gross darkness, such as “may be felt,” being shut out of the light of the marriage festival; but Christians are admitted into that light, both bad and good, so that the wedding is furnished with guests; and now we are waiting for the manifestation and appearance of the King to see the guests, His great Advent. 

Jesus said, The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto a certain king, who made a marriage for his son; and sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding; and they would not come. Again, 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. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise: and the remnant took his servants; and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. But when the king heard thereof, the king who had been so gracious unto them, pressing upon them his invitation with so much loving-kindness—he was wroth; and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murdurers, and burned up their city. 

Now such has been the history of the Jews. it is here expressed with what earnestness God sent unto them; and it surely must have occurred to us in reading the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, with what pressing anxiety our Lord sent His invitation to “the lost sheep of the house. of Israel,” as also through His Apostles after His death. It was to the synagogue He first went; for the Jews He wrought His miracles, and hung about their cities as loath to leave them; hung over them with affectionate earnestness, and never moved from them but when by persecution forced to do so. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not.” To them He sent forth His twelve Apostles; to them the seventy disciples. And after His death they would not leave Jerusalem and Judea till they were compelled by violence. Throughout the world in every city it was to the Jews and to the synagogue that St. Paul himself first resorted; though he was ordained to be the Apostle of the Gentiles more especially. It was not till all this was done, that the King sent forth His armies and burned up their city. And now they wander in all the world as witnesses to the truth of this parable, unwilling witnesses, bearing the signs of His wrath, “the wrath of the Lamb ;“ made like Apostles to declare throughout the earth the truth of that Christ Whom they would deny; not indeed as evangelists whose feet are beautiful with good tidings, but as they whose feet “ stumble on the dark mountains,” overtaken with thick and “gross darkness.” 

Another point to be observed in this account is this, that our Lord represents those Jews as refusing His Gospel for the very same reasons why mankind in all ages, and Christians now, refuse to listen to the warnings and the gracious invitations of God. They were taken up with other things, “they went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise.” As in the days of Noah 
and of Lot, and of the Son of Man, “they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; and knew not,” till the time of their visitation came upon them. Thus, in this respect also, the history of the Jews continues to be a warning to ourselves. 

Such, my brethren, is one half of the parable; they were of the darkness, and the darkness overtook them; “but ye are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief; ye are all the children of the light and the children of the day; we are not of the night, nor of darkness.” 

Let us then now consider the other half of the parable, or rather, I may say, of the prophecy as it then was, and of the history as it now is, except the last part, which only yet remains to be fulfilled. 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. So those servants went out into the high-ways, and gathered together all, as many as they found, both bad and good; and the wedding was furnished with guests. This is now already fulfilled, that Gospel which the Jews rejected has been received by the Gentiles; the net east into the sea has gathered of every kind, and is now being drawn to the shore. One thing only remains, the coming in of the King, Who is as yet absent from the table to which He has invited so many. And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding-garment. And he saith unto him, Friend, how earnest thou in hither, not having a wedding-garment? And he was speechless. He was at once self-condemned by his own conscience. And here it must, I think, occur to us as remarkable in this striking description, that the man himself did not seem to consider that he was not as he should be, nor did it seem to be noticed by those around him. In this respect it is very like the presence of Judas Iscariot at the Last Supper. That the traitor should have been there at that time, knowing what was in his heart and what he was about to do, that he should have sat as one unconcerned at that solemn feast of Love, that occasion of Divine tenderness and sorrow, in the very presence of his all-seeing Lord; and that too quite unsuspected by his fellow-disciples, is one of the most mysterious and startling incidents of that memorable night. And here at the presence of the King, the circumstance in some degree resembles it; there is one sitting down at the table as if unconscious of where he was, until by a word he is all of a sudden, as by an unexpected burst of light upon his soul, made known to himself and to others; so as to be altogether without excuse. 

Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Far many are called, but few are chosen. These last awful words at the close of the parable, seem to warn us that although one only is spoken of as not having on the wedding garment, yet that one is intended to represent the case of all Christians who are not in heart suitable to their high calling. The one is put to represent in a close individual manner, so as to bring the sad warning home to the conscience of each, the many which having been called are not chosen. 

But what is meant by the wedding garment Now here we must observe that acceptance at the last day is described through Scripture in a variety of ways. In one case, it is having made the most of the talents entrusted by the Master; in another, bearing seed an hundred-fold; in another, having lamps burning at the Judge’s coming; in another, it is according to works of mercy done to the poor and afflicted; in another, it is having faith in. Christ, or calling upon His Name; in another, it is having charity or the love of God; in another, it is the knowledge of God, in which is eternal life; in another, it is walking by the Spirit, having the fruits of the Spirit, and the Spirit witnessing with our spirit that we are the children of God; being dead with Christ in this world, that we may live with Him. Now all these express in a different way, or express by different things, that which renders us accepted of God in Christ at the last; but the wedding garment is something different again from all these. And what does it signify? It may indeed be well said that it signifies charity; or, that it is faith; or, that fine linen of the Bride which is the righteousness of saints; or, having put on Christ, and being clothed with His righteousness; or, being “clothed with humility;” all which is very true. But we want to explain it more particularly, according to the figure. Surely it must refer to something that renders a man an acceptable guest at a wedding, and the absence of which would render his presence unsuitable at such a place, so that he were better away. This marriage garment is well explained of Christian joy of heart, “the fruit of the Spirit is joy ;“ and we may add, delight at the presence of the Bridegroom; for this it is which occasions this gladness of heart. It is, in short, what St. Paul mentions as another requisite for receiving the crown. The Lord, the righteous Judge, shall at that day give a crown of righteousness, not to me only, but “unto all them also that love His appearing.” To love His appearing, to look forward to it, and rejoice in His presence with spiritual joy, this must be the wedding garment of the soul The same temper, pervading our every-day life, would be shown in what the Collect expresses by cheerfulness, “that being ready in body and soul we may cheerfully accomplish” His will. 

But no description can more fully explain it than the latter part of the short Epistle for to-day. After injunctions of walking with care and wisdom, St. Paul says, Be not drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit, and then speaks of singing with each other and unto God, full of thanksgiving at all times, and that thanksgiving accompanied with mutual submission. In this passage, being drunk with wine is put as the opposite to the presence of the gracious Comforter. Thus in other places the Gospel is represented as the good wine, which the heavenly Bridegroom hath kept to the last, the joy of the Holy Spirit, which is far better than all those low and poor joys which this world can give. In like manner the Psalmist, “Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased.” (Ps. iv. 7.) it is a joy with which the stranger intermeddleth not, (Prov. xiv. 10.) which the world understands not. Thus when the Holy Spirit was first given, some said in mockery, “these men are filled with new wine" (Acts ii. 13.). This indeed, it might be said, is the new wine meet for the marriage supper of the Lamb; the Lamb Which hath shed for us His Blood, and purchased thereby for us the gifts of the Spirit. This then leads us to understand the wedding garment of the accepted guest, the clothing of the spirit, the raiment of light within. “He bath given unto them,” says the evangelical Prophet, “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” (Isa. lxi. 3.) “The garment of praise,” it is called, for such joy in the heart must need be accompanied with songs of thanksgiving; even as when Paul and Silas were in prison at midnight, and with their feet in the stocks, yet was their heart so full of gladness, that they broke forth into singing; and the foundations of the prison were shaken with the sound. And so St. Paul here, after speaking of being “filled with the Spirit,” proceeds to the subject of psalms and hymns, by which that fulness of heart seeks for utterance. 

At a festival worldly men in sympathy with each other, and in fever and madness of heart, pour forth songs which are indeed not unto God, but often unto the prince of this world, which worketh in the children of disobedience. They are filled with his spirit. “The end of that mirth is heaviness,” and there is a sting behind which “biteth like an adder,” the never-dying worm. But at that “feast of good things,” to which the Gospel is so often likened, may the Spirit, as it is so beautifully expressed, “make melody in the heart to the Full of harmony, and joy, and peace, it sings to God. The darkness of the night but adds to that light within; the prison bars bind not that perfect freedom of heart which breaks forth in psalms of thanksgiving. 

At the marriage supper then of the Lamb, they are filled not with wine, but with the Spirit; they are clothed with the garment of praise, making melody in the heart; and they are, as St. Paul describes, full of meekness also towards each other, as knowing into Whose presence they are come. “When thou art bidden to a wedding,” say our Lord, “sit down at the lowest place. That when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher.” 

Is it, therefore, necessary for all Christians to have spiritual joy in Christ It certainly is so. But this will mostly be the case in tribulations of all kinds. Joy will always be found in all bearing of the Cross. Thus the Prophet says, “Glorify ye the Lord in the fires.” And to this he adds, “From the uttermost part of the earth have we heard songs, even glory to the righteous. But I said, My leanness, my leanness, woe unto me!" (Isa. xxiv. 16.) That is, that when men shall rejoice through the world in the glad tidings of the Gospel, saying, “Let us be glad and rejoice, for the marriage of the Lamb is many a humble soul will say, Whence is this joy to me?  I am cast down, dry, and barren of heart. To this it must be said, “Are the consolations of God small with thee?  Is there any secret thing with thee?"  (Job xv. 11.) St. Paul says, “See that ye walk circumspectly,” before, he adds, “be filled with the Spirit.” Is there not some sin that holds thee back?  Rest not, strive more earnestly, give not over till you have obtained from God joy and comfort, a stronger sense of pardon and peace. You are no fit guest at the marriage feast till you have obtained it. Have you not some pride of heart to be mortified?  Something within you that resists the will of God?  If you prayed to God more, you would feel more conscious of His presence; and if you loved Him more, you would rejoice more in His presence. 

Look to God’s word, and look to your own heart and life. Consider whether they agree together; are they as suitable to God’s commands as they should be?  Lift up the faint hands, and strengthen the feeble knees. Pray more, through the whole night of your trouble wrestle with God; let Him not depart from you without a blessing. You may depend upon it He is glad to be thus constrained by you. Your hands and your feet are now free. Let your hands be lifted up in prayer; let your feet hasten on His service. If you do not this now, when the Master of the Feast shall appear you will be bound hand and foot, and no longer able to do anything. Labour now for the light of His countenance within the heart, for if you have it not, bearing witness with your spirit that you are the child of God, you will then be shut out for ever from that light into outer darkness, where will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

It is very true we are not to depend upon sensible emotions; and there is great fear of our being deceived into a false peace, and presumptuous confidence. But most are content to go on with a sort of indifference; never knowing what the joy of heart is, which the Spirit gives; and, therefore, not troubled at the loss of it. But joy and peace should keep watch in the heart; should watch against everything that destroys them; then it will be found of how much importance many an idle word, or evil thought, or dishonest action may be, for this joy will not return till they are repented of.