THE LAWS OF THE KINGDOM
‘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.’
This is a parable concerning the laws and customs of the Kingdom of Heaven; that is, the spiritual and eternal laws by which God governs men. Infinite bounty and generosity! but if that bounty be despised and insulted, or outraged by wanton cruelty, then, for the benefit of the rest of mankind, awful severity! The king intended to treat these men as his guests and friends. They take the king’s messengers, and treat them spitefully, and kill them.
I. The king’s indignation.—Then there arises in that king a noble indignation. We do not read that the king sentimentalised over these rebels, and said, ‘After all, this evil, like all evil, is only a lower form of good.’ But that ‘He sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.’ The king was very angry, as he had a right to be. Let us lay that to heart, and tremble, from the very worst of us all to the very best of us. There is an anger in God as long as sin and wrong exist in any corner of the universe.
II. Our responsibility.—Yet the same law of God may be the messenger of his anger to the bad, while it is the messenger of His love to the good. For God has not only no passions, but no parts; and therefore His anger and His love are not different, but the same, and His love is His anger, and His anger His love. Under God’s anger or under God’s love we must be, whether we will or not. We cannot flee from His presence. On us, and on us alone, it depends whether the eternal and unchangeable God shall be to us a consuming fire, or light and life and bliss for evermore. Men do not believe that God punishes sin and wrong-doing either in this world or in the world to come. But the first law of that kingdom is that wrong-doing will be punished, and right-doing rewarded, in this life, every day and all day long.
III. What will the end be?—‘And what will ye do in the end thereof?’ asks Jeremiah. The prophets prophesied falsely, and the people loved to have their consciences drugged by the news that they might live bad lives and yet die good deaths. What the Jews did in the end thereof you may read in the book of the prophet Jeremiah. They did nothing; with their morality their manhood was gone. Sin had borne its certain fruit of anarchy and decrepitude. The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ill-doing of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness, knowing what is true and what is right, yet telling lies and doing wrong. Let us lay this to heart with seriousness and godly fear; for so we shall look up with reverence, and yet with hope, to Christ the ascended King, to whom all power is given in heaven and earth; for ever asking Him for His Holy Spirit to put into our minds good desires, and to enable us to bring these desires to good effect.
‘What is the figurative meaning of coming to Christ? It means that as penitents we should approach Him by prayer; that from Him we should seek the grace of His Spirit to amend our lives; that we should realise the need and value of His Intercession, and strive to become meet for it by working as carefully, strictly, and diligently as if all depended on ourselves; it is to love Him, and to show that we do so by keeping His commandments; it is to strengthen our communion with Him by sacraments, and all other means of grace which He has appointed, so as to make Him in all things our Ruler and Guide, and to make His will our own. This it is to come to Christ.’
‘All things are ready.’
It is so pleasant to turn from the narrownesses, and the littlenesses, and the sluggishnesses of man, and get out into the largeness, and the freeness, of God’s anticipating, waiting love,—‘all things are ready.’ The readiness of God rests upon an eternal counsel, a finished work, and a free grace.
I. The eternal counsel.—Nothing ever takes life, or form, or being, in this visible universe, but that it existed first, invisible, in the mind of God. The Lamb that bled on Calvary was but ‘the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world.’ Every soul, called, and drawn out, and saved, was a soul ‘chosen in Christ before the world was.’
II. The finished work.—We shall see the truth standing stronger still in the finished work of Christ. When Christ declared, ‘It is finished,’ your salvation was so exquisitely complete, that not only does it need no addition, but it cannot bear it, or be capable of an addition; to add is to destroy.
III. The free grace.—The love of God is in itself an object which we have no power to grasp. There are many beautiful interpositions in providence, but none can fairly represent God’s love, that is so very deep, so vastly large. Therefore, God has given one manifestation, that of His only begotten Son, ‘that we might live through Him.’ God is waiting, and has been waiting so very long, for your poor, unwilling soul. His language is, ‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ etc.
—The Rev. James Vaughan.
‘The Father is ready to love and receive; the Son is ready to pardon and cleanse guilt away; the Spirit is ready to sanctify and renew; angels are ready to rejoice over the returning sinner; grace is ready to assist him; the Bible is ready to instruct him; heaven is ready to be his everlasting home. One thing only is needful, and that is,—the sinner must be ready and willing himself.’
THE INVITATION IGNORED
‘Come unto the marriage. But they made light of it.’
I. Invitation not compulsion.—It is God Who invites us. There are some who say, Why does not God compel us to come? The reason is not far to seek. Were we obliged to accept the invitation, where would be that which is so delightful to God, that which He so desires, namely, the offering of a free heart?
II. Making light of it.—What is it which is the great hindrance to the spread of the Gospel? Is it opposition? No, there is very little of that. ‘They make light of the great truths of God, heaven and hell, death and judgment. Many of them have very high ideas of duty, and they do it. But about the Gospel invitation, the worship of the Church, the life of devotion, the study of the Scriptures, the use of the Sacraments, they make light of these things. They do not oppose them; quite the reverse. In all probability they come to church on Sundays. But if a man is content to go through a mere routine form, he is setting up something which is instead of that personal relation between the soul and God which is alone worthy of being called a religion, which is the soul’s response to the invitation, ‘Come unto the Marriage.’ The Church, which is the Body of Christ, exists for the purpose of cementing that union betwixt Christ and each one of the members of the Church for which Christ became incarnate. It is this which men make light of.
III. One more appeal.—God is giving us this message and this invitation. He has given it to us again and again in our lives. He gives it to us again to-day. Shall we make light of it still? The thirst of Jesus Christ was for souls, and never will He be satisfied until He receives from each one of us, in answer to this bitter cry, ‘I thirst!’ the heart which He so desires.
Canon R. R. Bristow.
TRIFLING WITH RELIGION
Opposition is not the worst thing to which truth or even love can be subjected. Rejection is not the worst thing. But slight, contempt, indifference are the worst things.
I. The sin of trifling.—Trifling is the sin of Christendom. It is your sin. Is it a fact (a) That the Son of God has visited this earth? (b) That you are a sinner, and that no sin can ever live with God? (c) That the justice of God requires the punishment of sin? (d) That there is a way open to you by which you may be forgiven? (e) That if you loved God, you must be holy? (f) That death is in the air? Then, why make light of it?
II. Why do people so trifle with the greatnesses of their existence, with these grand things of the Almighty? Chiefly for three reasons:
(a) They are pre-occupied, their hearts, their time, their thoughts are already full. ‘The farm and the merchandise’ claim attention.
(b) The near looks larger than the distant. Death, heaven, judgment seem so far away.
(c) There is not personality enough; the whole thing is so general and so abstract.
III. What is the remedy?
(a) Occupy the ground early with Christ, and the things of Christ.
(b) Stretch out the telescope of faith. Do not be always looking down into the valley—gaze on the snow mountains!
(c) And thirdly, take your religion out of the coldnesses of abstraction, and let it be as if you were the only one He calls—as if you were the only one for whom He died.
This, if you do, you will never ‘make light’ again of holy things.
The Rev. James Vaughan.
THE WEDDING GARMENT
‘Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment?’
What does this wedding garment mean? Every student of the Word of God knows that it is another term for the Lord Jesus Christ. St. Paul says, ‘Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ,’ that is the wedding garment, and without it there is no sitting down at the wedding feast. Observe the points about this garment.
I. The garment of grace.—In John 1 we read ‘He’ was full of grace and truth. If I put Him on then I have a very graceful garment; if I live Christ, what greater grace can possibly be seen in my whole life?
II. The garment of atonement.—You cannot be a Christian without recognising the Atonement of Christ. You are one with God through faith in Him.
III. The garment of righteousness.—Righteousness is rightness, that which is right. Christ’s righteousness is His rightness, so that if I am clothed with Him I am all right. Whatever rightness belongs to Him belongs to every person who trusts Him.
IV. The garment of mediation.—See 1 Timothy 2:5. Trusting in Him, resting on His mediation, we are accepted, we are perfect.
V. The garment of emancipation.—There is no power to break from any sin in any man or woman. The power lies in Christ. He is the Emancipator of this world, and those who are set free by Him are set free indeed. If I put Him on, if He is mine by simple faith, I am delivered by His power from the power of sin.
VI. The garment of truth.—Not merely the truth of His appearances and sayings, not merely the truth that He was the interpretation of all Old Testament times, but was Himself the Truth, all truth being embodied in Him, and no truth apart from Him.
VII. How it may be obtained.—If I would have this wedding garment I must earnestly accept it and definitely decide on it.
The Rev. W. R. Mowll.
CLAD IN THE GARMENT
‘For many are called, but few are chosen.’
These words have no reference to ‘election.’ The guest neglected to put on the wedding garment, and so while ‘called,’ he was not chosen.
I. The marriage garment.—By universal consent, ‘the marriage garment’ represents the spiritual robe in which we must all appear before God, without which we cannot be owned and accepted; and this spiritual robe is the righteousness of Christ. (See Psalms 45; Isaiah 61; Romans 3; Romans 13)
II. What follows putting on the robe.—What of necessity must be the character of a man who has put on that robe?
(a) He must be a humble man, for the beauty is a borrowed beauty.
(b) He must have confidence. He may take of the Master’s bounties of that feast without fear.
(c) He must be joyous. It is a feast. It is the very intention and condition of the gift—mirth and gladness.
(d) He must be a loving man. Is not it a feast of love? One unloving thought would be out of place.
(e) He must have Christ within him. He will take something himself of the character of the robe he wears. He cannot look at that robe, and not think of Him to whom he owes it all.
III. The distinction between those who are only ‘called,’ and those who are ‘chosen,’ is simply this—the one had not put on the wedding garment, and the other had. The election all turns upon one point:—‘Have you on the wedding garment?’
The Rev. James Vaughan.
SELECTION AND ELECTION
One of the chief causes which govern evolution is selection. It is often called natural selection. I prefer to leave out the ‘natural.’ You must not think for a moment that this selection is in any way opposed to Christianity. It is the Christian doctrine, only with a letter changed. Christians believe in election; scientific people believe in selection. The idea in both cases is the same, that it pleases the Almighty God, of the many forms of life that He creates, to select those that are suited for the purpose for which they are created, or, to put it in a scientific phrase, that are suitable to their environment. That is the universal principle. Your scientific man will show it to you in almost every branch of nature.
I. The principle in the parable.—Many people were to be called, but only certain people were to be chosen. The selection goes on further than that. There comes into that feast some one without the marriage garment, and he is cast out, our Lord teaching His disciples to expect that even among that number some will be selected and some refused. The word ‘chosen’ is the word which will take us through the whole of religion.
II. The principle in history.—Looking back into history, we find the same principle written very large on it. The offer has been repeated to great nations that they should become great instruments of God for doing His work, and constantly they have been found unsuited for their environment. They have not been selected, and therefore have been destroyed.
III. The principle in government.—I need not remind you that we who speak so easily about empire now are only one of many, but those who have gone before us have found the weight of empire too heavy for them. The thought of selection makes one very prudent when one speaks about the greatness of England. England is called to rule over a fifth of the world. Can we say that she is chosen? She is on her trial.
IV. The principle in our own lives.—Has it any individual application? ‘Many are called, but few are chosen.’ We see it all around. We see the advance marked by the destruction of the unfit. It is only the fittest that remain, and it is only those souls that shall be fit for the great purpose for which they were created, the praise and honour of God, who shall be selected to remain to eternity.
—The Rev. Lord William Cecil.
‘Render therefore unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.’
These words were an answer to the Herodians and Phariseees, and their question had not been an honest one. They asked it ‘tempting Him.’
I. An adroit answer.—Our Lord’s words are put in the oracular form which Eastern wisdom loved, which seems at first glance to state a truism, to lend itself equally to opposite interpretations. It was an escape from a skilfully laid trap. ‘They marvelled and left Him, and went their way.’
II. Its purpose.—But it cannot have been related by the evangelists as an instance only of adroitness in baffling human wit and malignity. The question would be asked in after days, in some form or other, by humble souls eager for guidance in real difficulties. The answer must have been meant for them too. Should they give tribute to Cæsar or not? The world as they lived in it was in the hands of heathen rulers. How were Christians to live with such a society?
III. The two claims do not clash.—The sting of the question lies in the false views which men have taken of the meaning of our Lord’s words, as though He had meant to distinguish two provinces, two claims. So men in age after age have set the claims of temporal power against those of spiritual, Emperor against Pope, State against Church, and matters of thought and truth against orthodoxy, science against theology. The point of our Lord’s answer was to heal and reconcile. The two claims, He implied, did not exclude one another. It was possible, it was a duty, to satisfy both: ‘To Cæsar what is Cæsar’s, and to God what is God’s.’ The two did not clash, for when they met, one was but a department of the other. What is Cæsar’s really is what God has given to Cæsar, and in satisfying that claim to the very largest extent, we are satisfying, so far, that larger claim which exists on all our heart and life. Social life, civil life, has the fullest claim on us, and this must be frankly, thoroughly met and discharged. This, so far as we are ruled; but in a self-governed country every citizen is also in part a ruler, he has some voice, actual and potential, some influence in a larger sphere or a smaller, in determining the course of government. There, too, he must give to Cæsar what is Cæsar’s, and also ‘To God that which is God’s.’ The claim of God is the very ground of the legitimate claim of Cæsar.
IV. God’s claim.—Does God’s claim, then, in no way limit the rights of earthly rule, or the motives of earthly politics? Surely it does. But what is God’s claim? Not that something should be reserved for Him, but that everything should be viewed as His—our heart, our life, ourselves, our politics as well as our religion, the world as well as the Church, things temporal as well as things eternal.
‘I remember a gentleman in business in London saying to me: “Well, you know, I ought to be converted. I promise directly I get £30,000 to retire and give up the world.” He got his £30,000—but God would not take his heart. After having retired for fifteen years, he could not say that he was a converted man. He wished it; but God will not be dictated to. If you will have the world, have it, but remember there is nothing else. If you will have God, you may have the world too, you may walk upon the very waves of this world’s troubles. God can make all things work together for good if you trust Him out and out.’
GOD AND MY NEIGHBOUR
‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’
Modern love is inadequate to modern needs. Why?
I. The inspiration of true love.—The answer lies in the text. Note the order in which the commandments are given. The first, the great command, is ‘Love God,’ the second is ‘Love your neighbour.’ That order cannot be reversed. It is in the love of God men find out how to love their neighbour. Moses alone in the desert discovered a new name of God. As Moses bowed in reverence before this new revelation of God, he set himself to serve his neighbours. Isaiah in the Temple felt God as the Holy One hating iniquity; in the strength of that knowledge Isaiah turned to his neighbours and preached. Jesus came and revealed God under His last new name of ‘Love,’ and, in the strength of that knowledge, men like St. Paul and the apostles were able to give themselves for others. Why is modern love so often inadequate? The answer is, that modern men have not found God, they have not bowed in reverence before His character, His name; they have not felt His love, and so their love is neither original nor fresh. The preacher to-day is the successor of the prophet. The preacher to-day has simply to declare the presence of God in the midst of the people.
II. The hindrance to true love.—If the mass of men became conscious of God, they would love one another with another sort of love. They are not conscious of God because they are trivially-minded. It is not sin so much as triviality which hides God. Trivially-minded men go on ignorant of God, absorbed in the trifles of the day, satisfied with all that is visible and passing. They count their business, their position, their holiday, their appearance, their schemes as the important things. These absorb their thoughts. Triviality hides God, triviality is the modern equivalent word for worldliness.
(1) ‘Mazzini, alone—as he tells us in his autobiography—with the two greatest things in nature, the sky and the sea, felt the presence of God, whose will was the redemption of Italy. Mazzini, in the strength of that knowledge, gave himself to serve his neighbours; he planned a revolt, he bound together the aspirations of the young, he held aloft an honourable ideal, he encouraged, he rebuked, he restrained. Mazzini’s love, like that of his predecessor Rienzi, who took memories for hopes, was not a copy of other men’s love. He did not repeat in the nineteenth century the ways of a previous century. He came as a man with a mission. He did what he was bound to do.’
(2) ‘A woman, in one of Ibsen’s plays, has kept her dolls through her married life. She has talked of them, thought of them, cared for them, and they have absorbed her nature. Death has swept over her home, and taken her children; temptation threatens her husband; she gives no heed, she does not realise the great fact, she is so taken up with her dolls. Thus it is with the trivially-minded.’
THE CENTRAL COMMANDMENT
One of the most prevailing questions in all the schools, one of the favourite discussions by which each great rabbi was tested, was just this, ‘Which is the first, which is the great, which is the central commandment of the law?’ We know the answer, love to God, love to our neighbour.
I. Love the core of conduct.—Far from love being a vague, unreal, shadowy, remote thing, it is the very core and heart of conduct. It is to build up a law, and we are to ask ourselves, ‘Do I speak more truth because I love God? Am I more honest, more sincere, because I love God? Am I more thankful, more unselfish, more kindly, more pleasant, more gay, more helpful, because I love God? If I love God it must make me so at each point, in each tiny detail of my life—in the workshop, in the street, at home.
II. Love the centre of thought and worship.—And so of our thought and our worship. We think so often, of course, that loving God would excuse us from thinking very exactly about Him. We are always saying, ‘If only you love God, what does a creed matter?’ Nevertheless, our Lord to the Jews said exactly the opposite. He said, ‘If you love God you will take care how you think about Him.’
III. The pointed question.—There is one thing we ask of everybody, and that is, ‘Do you love God and love your neighbour?’ That is the sole question before men. On that hangs the whole of the law and the whole of the prophets. All the revelation of God, and all the great dispensation of Christ, all His death on the cross mean only one thing, that men should love God more and love their neighbours better.
—Canon H. Scott Holland.
‘There are Christians who fear to bring their minds to bear upon their religion lest their hearts should lose their hold upon it. Surely there is something terrible in that. Surely it implies a terrible misgiving and distrust about their faith. They fear to think lest they should cease to love. But really it ought to be out of the heart of their thinking-power that their deepest love is born. There is a love with most imperfect knowledge. The highest love which man can ever have for God must still live in the company of a knowledge which is so partial that, looked at against the perfect lights, it will appear like darkness. But yet it still is true that the deeper is the knowledge the greater becomes the possibility of love. They always have loved God best, they are loving God best to-day, who gaze upon Him with wide-open eyes; who, conscious of their ignorance and weakness, more conscious of it the more they try to know, yet do try with all the powers He has given them, to understand all that they possibly can of Him and of His ways.’
THE QUESTION OF QUESTIONS
‘What think ye of Christ?’
This is the question of questions—‘What think ye of Christ?’ Seven things.
I. He is exceptional in the spiritual world.—In the Gospels we come to this entirely exceptional fact—a perfectly holy Man Who proclaims that He is so. The law of the spiritual order is that the holiest men are ever the most conscious of their own sinfulness. We ‘think’ Christ is unique and without parallel.
II. He has endowed us with benefits unparalleled.—Christ’s loving influence is yearly sending forth missionaries to the most abject tribes upon the earth, supplies a constant motive for tending the sick, and becomes a power in daily life. ‘I will give thee rest.’
III. He is the firstborn from the dead.—It is impossible to account for the existence of the Church without a belief in the Resurrection on the part of the primitive witnesses, and it is impossible to account for that belief without it being founded on reality. Faith did not create the Resurrection; the Resurrection created faith.
IV. He had an exceptional origin.—He is the Son of God.
V. He is Christ the Lord.—‘The Word was God.’
VI. He is the wisdom of God.—Beginning with that which was plainest and most obvious, we have now reached the highest conception of Christ—the Personal Word and Wisdom of God.
VII. He is Very Man.—‘My delights are with the sons of men.’ In this is our hope.
THOUGHTS ON CHRIST
Everyone calling himself a Christian is bound to have some distinct idea respecting the Being on Whom he declares that his salvation depends.
I. What think ye of the nature and person of Christ?—The union of the Manhood and the Godhead is the real and only answer to the question with which our Lord silenced the Pharisees: ‘If David called Him “Lord,” how is He, then, His Son?’
II. What think ye of the work of Christ?—He was (a) a perfect Pattern; (b) a Brother; (c) a Teacher; (d) a Substitute Man; (e) a Representative Man.
III. What think ye of His service?—Ought we not to serve Him, as He has served us? If you really love Christ, where is the service which shows it?
—The Rev. James Vaughan.
PROPHET, PRIEST, AND KING
If we would think rightly of Christ, besides thinking of Him as the Son of God and the Son of Man, we must—
I. Learn of Him as Prophet.—He is a Teacher as well as a Saviour. Remember what the Voice from Heaven said (St. Matthew 17:5). Listen to Him as He teaches on the mountain and by the sea and from the Cross and after He rose from the dead. Let His Words be authoritative and final to you.
II. Trust in Him as Priest.—Trust in His perfect work of atonement on earth and His perfect work of intercession in Heaven.
III. Obey Him as King.—‘Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it.’ Serve Him. Obey Him. All other kingdoms come to an end. His is an everlasting kingdom.
—The Rev. F. Harper.
‘The great Mosque at Damascus was once a Christian Church. But on that Mosque could still be read an old Greek inscription—“Thy Kingdom, O Christ, is a Kingdom of all ages, and Thy dominion from generation to generation.” In 1893 the Mosque was almost destroyed by fire, but the inscription remained intact.’
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE QUESTION
The importance of this question will be seen from the following considerations:—
I. Christ’s life.—Christ’s life is the keystone of the arch upon which Christianity rests. In this respect our holy religion differs from all other religions in the world. Take Moses, Confucius, Bram, Buddha, and Mohammed out of their respective religious systems, and those systems will still stand. How different with Christianity! Take Christ out of Christianity, and how little is left! The life, the power, are gone! Round His birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and return in glory, are grouped all the great doctrines of the Christian faith; and apart from Christ that faith ceases altogether to be a religion.
II. Christ’s claims.—His claims are stupendous. All other teachers of mankind have claimed to reveal but a portion of the truth concerning God. He alone claims to give us a full and final revelation of the Divine Being. He is the very centre of His own teaching.
III. Christ’s work.—He solves the great problems of life. He brought life and immortality to light in the Gospel. Christ has robbed death of its sting and taken its terror from the grave. And He alone has told us of the love of God for sinful man, and how He yearns to save and bless him.
The question demands a solution. If left unanswered now, it will meet us again at the Throne of God. It is also a personal question—“What think ye of Christ?”
The Rev. Hugh Falloon.
‘These things are present things; they are not history; they are not tales of days gone by; they are not something far away in the distance from us; they are here; they are present facts; they are close: a real, living Saviour is at this moment all this, and much more, than I can say. Accept His work; but, much more, love His person; love His person. Receive Him as your own personal friend. Do not let it be only what He has done for you, but what He is to you. Commune with Him—a Brother at your side. Lean upon an Arm that is yours every morning. Take Him into the closenesses of your heart. And He will be to you what He has been to thousands and tens of thousands before you—very “precious.”’
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Matthew 22". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany