By A.C. Dixon
I. THE GOSPEL IS A FEAST PREPARED.
We have not to make ready a single dish. All that we need comes to us freely through Jesus Christ. If we are guilty and plead for pardon, we .are forgiven upon His merit. If polluted, we plead for cleansing, the blood of Christ washes away every stain. Are we at unrest? "He is our peace." Peace has been already made; and what we need is to accept this peace and enter upon its enjoyment.
A friend of mine went into the mountains of North Carolina, to spend a few weeks of summer vacation, in the hope that he might get away from the mail, the whistle of the locomotive, and everything that reminded him of work. With much difficulty he climbed; a high mountain and descended on.. the other side, into a country covered with a dense forest. He thought, to be sure, no one lived in this out-of-the-way place; but what was his surprise to find in the center of these woods a little cottage, surrounded by several acres of cultivated ground. On his approach the door was shut, the window closed, and he saw at a glance that the inmates did not intend to admit him. After much pleading, however, the door was opened, and he learned that two men had been living there for three years. They had deserted from the Confederate Army and had gone to this out-of-the-way place, built their cottage, cleared their land, and made up their minds to keep out of the reach of the conscripting officer. They were delighted to learn that the war had been, over more than two years, and they were glad to return to their homes. Now, peace had been in existence two years, but these men did not know it, and hence did not enjoy peace. As sown as they learned of peace, they began to enter upon its enjoyment.
Soldiers having refused to surrender after peace had been declared, might have continued to wage a guerilla warfare against the Government. Such are those who, having heard of the peace which Christ has made, refuse to accept it, while they continue their warfare of unbelief.
We have not to keep peace; it keeps us. "The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."
When a country is bothered with keeping the peace, it is a time of toil and unrest, which may end in revolution. When a country is kept by peace-peace reigning like a queen-it is a time of rest, prosperity and progress. We cannot insist too strongly that the peace of God and all other graces come to us as a gift through Jesus Christ.
II. THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH IS TO MAKE DEFINITE GOD'S GENERAL INVITATION TO THE FEAST.
The man who made this supper sent his servants to "bid them that were bidden," to invite the invited. His invitation had gone out some time before; and now that the time for feasting had arrived, the servants made personal and special this general invitation. The general invitation of " whosoever will" has gone out to mankind. It is our mission to seek the invited and make direct and personal this invitation of God.
A gentleman sat in my congregation one afternoon, distressed about his sins, anxious for salvation. He remained for the inquiry meeting. A young convert, who had never done such a thing before in her life, went to his side and opened the Bible, put her finger upon a promise that had given her comfort, and asked him to read it. As he read, the light came into his mind and the way of life was clear. He accepted Christ and rejoiced. Now, that young convert's mission was to make the promise definite and. personal; and her mission is ours. The Pastor proclaims the Gospel on Sunday. In the nature of the case the proclamation must be more or less general. Let each member of the Church feel that he is commissioned in the after-meeting, in the home, in the personal intercourse with friends, to make definite this general proclamation o£ peace.
III. IT IS DIFFICULT TO MAKE AN EXCUSE FOR NOT BECOMING A CHRISTIAN.
" They all with one consent began to make excuse." They had no excuse in hand; it had to be made; and, after an excuse for not doing right is made, it is not worth the making. Nearly all excuses are lies guarded; at the heart of them is falsehood. Their object is to cover the real reason.
The reason why these men did not come to the feast was that they did not want to come. A man comes to you to borrow a hundred pound's. The reason you do not wish to lend it is that you fear he will not repay you. But in giving an excuse, lest you offend him, if you are not careful, you will tell two or three lies in the attempt.
Let us look a moment at the excuses of these men. One had bought a piece of ground, and he said: "I must needs go and see it." Now that was a lie. He had bought the ground, and there was no immediate need of his going to see it. The need of seeing came before buying.
If he had said, " I have bought the ground, and will go and -see it," he might have told the truth. But when he said, "I must go," he spoke falsely. In attempting to make our excuses good, we are apt to over-shoot the mark and make them false upon their face.
The second man said: " I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them." There is a lie in the word "prove." The proving should have taken place before the buying, and his emphacising the fact that now he must try them after he had bought them shows the weakness of his excuse.
The third said:" I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come." The lie of this excuse is in the word "therefore." He had married a wife, and, therefore, he ought to have come. It was a time of festivity with him. He and his bride might have come to enjoy the delightful occasion. But when he gives his marrying as a reason for not coming to a feast, his excuse is false.
But with what politeness two of these men cover up their flimsy excuses! " I pray thee have me excused'." " I pray thee." It is very difficult to reach men who make excuses and parry you off with politeness. You tell them that it is time for them to be Christians. They treat you kindly. They are courtesy itself; they would not violate a law of good manners. They simply refuse to come, and their very gentlemanly bearing puts you at a disadvantage with them.
The last man, who has married a wife, seems to think that he has a little better excuse than the rest, and he can afford not to be polite, so he blurts out gruffly, " Therefore I cannot come." He does not say, " I pray thee, excuse me." He cares not whether you excuse him or not. He is not coming; that is the end of the matter. But this gruff and discourteous reply carried in it more hopefulness than the smooth-flowing and courteous response of the other men. The man who flatly refuses may be led to flatly accept; while the man who is polite in his refusal is apt to continue in that course, which he himself admires.
IV. GOD ACCEPTS WITH INDIGNATION A BAD EXCUSE AND PASSES MEN BY.
" Being angry, he 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." "Pass by those men who are able to buy land and oxen and marry wives, and go out for those who are too poor to buy land and oxen, or too low and mean for anybody to marry them. Go out into -the street and tell every man you meet that the feast is spread, and the Master is waiting for the guests." " Lord, it is done as thou halt commanded, and yet there is room." " Go now into the highways, out beyond the walls where the gypsies camp, and there you will find some poor creatures without a roof, curled up under the hedges for a night's repose; tell them that there is a place at my table even for them. If they are reluctant to come, you must compel them by earnest persuasion. Do not take an excuse from them, for their need is so great that after your entreaty they will yield and come!)
What God does we sometimes feel constrained to do. We must pass by the good, moral man, and seek the outcast. We must pass by those who, we think, would make the best members of the Church, and go with our invitation to the very refuse of Society. Sad to say, we must. sometimes pass by our very children while we go out after others not related to us by fleshly ties.
Work like this demands that we love people-not classes or kindred merely love like Christ, who. so loved the world) that He gave Himself for it.
The great question in commerce is as to the refuse. A silk manufacturer made little profit in business until he invented a machine that utilized the refuse of his factory, and since then he has made an annual income of over a hundred thousand pounds. The Standard Oil Company have a large income as the result of their utilizing the refuse of their refineries.
Formerly it was cast out to be burned or buried ; but chemical processes were discovered by which this unsightly refuse could be transformed into valuable commercial products.
As with commerce, the great question of the day, social, political and religious, is concerning the refuse of Society. What shall we do with the masses of our great cities, untouched by the Church, careless of the law, hungry and despairing? Can the Gospel do anything for them? We believe that it is the sovereign remedy, and when the polite and refined refuse to accept our message, let us pass by them down into the highways and hedges, and tell those who are worse off that. there is a feast for them which God has prepared. And out of this refuse there will come forth an income to God which we cannot calculate.