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XII.

MATTHEW XXII.

Long patience had the Saviour. Once again He spoke to the Pharisees a warning parable. It is the last He ever addressed to them, and may be called the funeral knell of the Jewish church, that is to say, of the Mosaic Dispensation, which was breaking up in their hands.

The death-bell that tolls for a departing soul, has in it a solemn note of warning to the living. To all who hear it, it seems to say, “Be ye also ready.” So it is with this parable. It passes on from the mournful story of the death-struggle of the Jewish church, to a solemn warning of the Church of Christ, which was about to take its place. It is the knell of the parent, speaking to the heart of his heir, warning him in the very moment of succession, to prepare for the hour when he also must be called to judgment. Such is the parable which we are about to read, and it is this which makes the difference between it, and one so extremely like it spoken at an earlier time, that, but for this difference, we might believe that the two were one.* They are one in part, even as the Jewish church is one with the church of Christ ; but in the first parable in the 14th chapter of St. Luke, the call of the Jewish church, its history, and its fate are given, and there it ends; while in the second (which we are about to read,) the church of Christ is admitted to the feast expressly called, the Marriage of the King's Son, and then follows a solemn warning to all who obey the call of Christ, not rashly and unprepared, to come, but with thankful humility, carefully to put on that righteousness which He both gives, and requires of those who would dwell with Him, in His Father's kingdom.

* Luke xiv. 16.

Let us examine the parable. It is written :

MATTHEW xxii. 1–6. " And Jesus answered and spake unto them by parables, and said, The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which 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 merchandize ; and the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them.

The difference between this parable, and that spoken by Jesus at an earlier time, when the Pharisees had not so decidedly declared themselves his enemies, is seen in the very first line. In that parable according to St. Luke xiv. 16, the feast was said to be given simply by the master of a family, and no particular reason for it beyond his own good-will is mentioned; but in this parable, he who gives the feast is a king, and the occasion of it is the marriage of his son ; if we search the Scriptures, we shall find that in them the Church is continually called the Bride of Christ. The reason for this is plain, a man's Bride is dearer to him than all the world besides, and the marriage vow promises protecting love on the part of the Bridegroom, and loving obedience on the part of the Bride; therefore the marriage of the King's son pictures to us Christ's choosing and taking to Himself those who love Him and desire to obey Him. In order to see the force of the parable, we must understand how a marriage is conducted in the present day in the East where the manners and customs are not like ours, continually changing with the times. That which is done now in such matters in the East, was done long ago; and we find in the books of the Old Testament, descriptions of customs, which are exactly the same as those of the present day. Marriages in the East, are still made as they were then, for the parties, much more than by them; and when the pair is betrothed, invitations are sent forth to the marriage-feast, which is more or less magnificent according to the rank and fortune of the Bridegroom. To refuse such an invitation is looked upon as an intended affront; and if it is a king who gives the feast, no man would dare to be absent without being prepared to defend himself from the vengeance which would be sure to fall upon him; for these festivals serve the purpose of numbering the followers the king can depend upon, as well as of doing honour to the marriage. Feasts are often, in fact, great gatherings of the vassals of the king,* and their refusal to come is a known sign of rebellion.

It is the custom to this day, when all things are ready, to send again to the invited guests to summon them to the feast, which generally lasts seven, sometimes fourteen days.

Towards the end, is the most splendid part of the feast, when the Bride is brought home with great rejoicing to the house of her husband. These customs will explain to us the first part of the parable, which we have already read. It is evident that those who ill-treated the king's messengers, did so knowing that they should themselves be treated as rebels, because they had refused to enrol themselves among those who flocked to his palace as his friends. When “they took them, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them,” they merely themselves

* Trench, in a note upon this parable, says, that there are many reasons to suppose, that the feast recorded in the Book of Esther, is the same as the great gathering which Xerxes (the Ahasuerus of Scripture) made, that he might know, the extent of his power, when he was planning his Greek expedition. Herodotus describes this gathering in its political light; while the sacred historian simply describes it as a great feast, which by bringing about the disgrace of Queen Vashti, and the advancement of Esther in her place, had a great influence over the fate of the Jewish nation.

began the war which they knew must be immediately declared against them. They refused to be the king's friends, therefore they showed themselves to be his enemies. Those who made light of the king's invitation, despised, and those who ill-treated his messengers, hated him. Alas! do not both these classes too truly represent thousands who in all ages have either turned with indifference from God's ambassadors, or with anger and persecution upon them.

It scarce needs to tell the meaning of this first part of the. parable; for it is most plain that God is the king, who, in the calling of His people out of a sinful world, prepared a marriage for his son.

This figure runs through the whole of Scripture. It is carried on from the betrothal even to the bringing home of the bride, at the end of all things, in a splendid description of the purified and completed church which in the last book of the Bible prophetic of the time still to come, is called “the Bride, the Lamb's wife, the new Jerusalem, the holy city, descending out of heaven from God.* It is so called to show us that the Church of Christ is one with that early church first planted by God in Jerusalem. Since the world began, God has been, and still is, continually preparing for this the marriage of His Son. The completed Church is called His Bride, but it is under the figure of the guests who are invited to the marriage that we are shown the manner, and the motive of the call to each follower of Christ, to show himself to be His. Let us keep the Royal Eastern marriage in mind, and we shall well understand this. Oh glorious goodness of our God, who would make us sharers in the happiness prepared for His Son, “ before the foundation of the world ! Oh wondrous and mighty plan that links the destiny of man with the completion of the glory of God! Who that thinks of this can turn away with coldness, or resist with violence ?

Revelation xxi,

[Read again from the 1st verse when the number is divided.]

Verse 7. But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city."

These words were a prophecy soon to be fulfilled. They were the death-knell of the Jewish church. Fast follows the calling of its beirs, the Church of Christ immediately to be gathered from the highways and byways of the Gentile nations.

Verses 8–10. Then saith he 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 highways, and gathered together all, as many as they found, both bad and good : and the wedding was furnished with guests.

As the seventh verse declares the wrath of God, the great King, for the treatment His prophets and servants had met with, from the beginning even down to that day; and foretels the speedy march of the Roman armies on Jerusalem to avenge them, by the utter destruction of “those murderers” and “their city; "--so the verses that follow* foretel the sending out of the Apostles, and of holy men commissioned by them, to sound the invitation to the Christian Festival, by preaching the glad tidings of the gospel of peace, among the heathen. That which the Jews had rejected, the Gentiles gladly accepted. Speedily were “ gathered together all, as many as they found, both bad and good : and the wedding was furnished with guests." Thus was established the Christian Church. The manner of it, as we read in the book of Acts, is an exact fulfilment of this part of the parable. The invitation of the Gospel

* The 8th, 9th, and 10th.

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