'He brought me into his banqueting house.'--The Song.
Emmanuel's feast-day in the Holy War excels in beauty and in eloquence everything I know in any other author on the Lord's Supper. The Song of Solomon stands alone when we sing that song mystically--that is to say, when we pour into it all the love of God to His Church in Israel and all Israel's love to God, and then all our Lord's love to us and all our love back again to Him in return. But outside of Holy Scripture I know nothing to compare for beauty, and for sweetness, and for quaintness, and for tenderness, and for rapture, with John Bunyan's account of the feast that Prince Emmanuel made for the town of Mansoul. With his very best pen John Bunyan tells us how upon a time Emmanuel made a feast in Mansoul, and how the townsfolk came to the castle to partake of His banquet, and how He feasted them on all manner of outlandish food--food that grew not in the fields of Mansoul; it was food that came down from heaven and from His Father's house. They drank also of the water that was made wine, and, altogether, they were very merry and at home with their Prince. There was music also all the time at the table, and man did eat angels' food, and had honey given him out of the rock. And then the table was entertained with some curious and delightful riddles that were made upon the King Himself, upon Emmanuel His Son, and upon His wars and doings with Mansoul; till, altogether, the state of transportation the people were in with their entertainment cannot be told by the very best of pens. Nor did He, when they returned to their places, send them empty away; for either they must have a ring, or a gold chain, or a bracelet, or a white stone or something; so dear was Mansoul to Him now, so lovely was Mansoul in His eyes. And, going and coming to the feast, O how graciously, how lovingly, how courteously, and how tenderly did this blessed Prince now carry it to the town of Mansoul! In all the streets, gardens, orchards, and other places where He came, to be sure the poor should have His blessing and benediction; yea, He would kiss them; and if they were ill, He would lay His hands on them and make them well. And was it not now something amazing to behold that in that very place where Diabolus had had his abode, the Prince of princes should now sit eating and drinking with all His mighty captains, and men of war, and trumpeters, and with the singing men and the singing women of His Father's court! Now did Mansoul's cup run over; now did her conduits run sweet wine; now did she eat the finest of the wheat, and now drink milk and honey out of the rock! Now she said, How great is His goodness, for ever since I found favour in His eyes, how honourable have I ever been!
1. Now, the beginning of it all was, and the best of it all was, that Emmanuel Himself made the feast. Mansoul did not feast her Deliverer; it was her Deliverer who feasted her. Mansoul, in good sooth, had nothing that she had not first and last received, and it was far more true and seemly and fit in every way that her Prince Himself should in His own way and at His own expense seal and celebrate the deliverance, the freedom, the life, the peace, and the joy of Mansoul. And, besides, what had Mansoul to set before her Prince; or, for the matter of that, before herself? Mansoul had nothing of herself. Mansoul was not sufficient of herself for a single day. And how, then, should she propose to feast a Prince? No, no! the thing was impossible. It was Emmanuel's feast from first to last. Just as it was at the Lord's table in this house this morning. You did not spread the table this morning for your Lord. You did not make ready for your Saviour and then invite Him in. He invited you. He said, This is My Body broken for you, and This is My Blood shed for you; drink ye all of it. And had any one challenged you at the fence door and asked you how one who could not pay his own debts or provide himself a proper meal even for a single day, could dare to sit down with such a company at such a feast as that, you would have told him that he had not seen half your hunger and your nakedness; but that it was just your very hunger and nakedness and homelessness that had brought you here; or, rather, it was all that that had moved the Master of the feast to send for you and to compel you to come here. There was nothing in your mind and in your mouth more all this day than just that this is the Lord's Supper, and that He had sent for you and had invited you, and had constrained and compelled you to come and partake of it. It was the Lord's Table to-day, and it will be still and still more His table on that great Communion-Day when all our earthly communions shall be accomplished and consummated in heaven.
2. All that Mansoul did in connection with that great feast was to prepare the place where Diabolus at one time had held his orgies and carried on his excesses. Her Prince, Emmanuel, did all the rest; but He left it to Mansoul to make the banqueting-room ready. When our Lord would keep His last passover with His disciples, He said to Peter and John, Go into the city, and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water, and he will show you a large upper room furnished and prepared. There is some reason to believe that that happy man had been expecting that message and had done his best to be ready for it. And now he was putting the last touch to his preparations by filling the water-pots of his house with fresh water; little thinking, happy man, that as long as the world lasts that water will be holy water in all men's eyes, and shall teach humility to all men's hearts. And, my brethren, you know that all you did all last week against to-day was just to prepare the room. For the room all last week and all this day was your own heart, and not and never this house of stone and lime made with men's hands. You swept the inner and upper room of your own heart. You swept it and garnished its walls and its floors as much as in you lay. He, whose the supper really was, told you that He would bring with Him what was to be eaten and drunken to-day, while you were to prepare the place. And, next to the very actual feast itself, and, sometimes, not next to it but equal to it, and even before it and better than it, were those busy household hours you spent, like the man with the pitcher, making the room ready. In plain English, you had a communion before the Communion as you prepared your hearts for the Communion. I shall not intrude into your secret places and secret seasons with Christ before His open reception of you to-day. But it is sure and certain that, just as you in secret entertained Him in your mother's house and in the chambers of her that bare you, just in that measure did He say to you openly before all the watchmen that go about the city and before all the daughters of Jerusalem, Eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved. Yes; do you not think that the man with the pitcher had his reward? He had his own thoughts as he furnished, till it was quite ready, his best upper room and carried in those pitchers of water, and handed down to his children in after days the perquisite-skin of the paschal lamb that had been supped on by our Lord and His disciples in his honoured house that night. Yes; was it not amazing to behold that in that very place where sometimes Diabolus had his abode, and had entertained his Diabolonians, the Prince of princes should sit eating and drinking with His friends? Was it not truly amazing?
3. Now, upon the feasting-day He feasted them with all manner of outlandish food--food that grew not in all the fields of Mansoul; it was food that came down with His Father's court. The fields of Mansoul yielded their own proper fruits, and fruits that were not to be despised. But they were not the proper fruits for that day, neither could they be placed upon that table. They are good enough fruits for their purpose, and as far as they go, and for so long as they last and are in their season. But our souls are such that they outlive their own best fruits; their hunger and their thirst outlast all that can be harvested in from their own fields. And thus it is that He who made Mansoul at first, and who has since redeemed her, has out of His own great goodness provided food convenient for her. He knows with what an outlandish life He has quickened Mansoul, and it is only the part of a faithful Creator to provide for His creature her proper nourishment. What is it? asked the children of Israel at one another when they saw a small round thing, as small as hoarfrost, upon the ground. For they wist not what it was. And Moses said, Gather of it every man according to his eating, an omer for every man, according to the number of your persons. And the house of Israel called the name thereof Manna, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey. He gave them of the corn of heaven to eat, and man did eat in the wilderness angels' food. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead; but this is the bread of which if any man eat he shall not die. And the bread that I will give is My Flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. And so outlandish, so supernatural, and so full of heavenly wonder and heavenly mystery was that bread, that the Jews strove among themselves over it, and could not understand it. But, by His goodness and His truth to us this day, we have again, to our spiritual nourishment and growth in grace, eaten the Flesh and drunk the Blood of the Son of God; a meat that, as He who Himself is that meat has said of it, is meat indeed and drink indeed--as, indeed, we have the witness in ourselves this day that it is. They drank also of the water that was made wine, and were very merry with Him all that day at His table. And all their mirth was the high mirth of heaven; it was a mirth and a gladness without sin, without satiety, and without remorse.
4. There was music also all the while at the table, and the musicians were not those of the country of Mansoul, but they were the masters of song come down from the court of the King. 'I love the Lord,' they sang in the supper room over the paschal lamb--'I love the Lord because He hath heard my voice and my supplication. Because He hath inclined His ear unto me, therefore will I call upon Him as long as I live. What shall I render to the Lord,' they challenged one another, 'for all His benefits towards me? I will take the cup of salvation, and will call upon the name of the Lord.' 'Sometimes imagine,' says a great devotional writer with a great imagination--'Sometimes imagine that you had been one of those that joined with our blessed Saviour as He sang an hymn. Strive to imagine to yourself with what majesty He looked. Fancy that you had stood by Him surrounded with His glory. Think how your heart would have been inflamed, and what ecstasies of joy you would have then felt when singing with the Son of God! Think again and again with what joy and devotion you would have then sung had this really been your happy state; and what a punishment you would have thought it to have then been silent. And let that teach you how to be affected with psalms and hymns of thanksgiving.' Yes; and it is no imagination; it was our own experience only this morning and afternoon to join in a music that was never made in this world, but which was as outlandish as was the meat which we ate while the music was being made.
'Bless, O my soul, the Lord thy God, And not forgetful be Of all His gracious benefits He hath bestow'd on thee.
Who with abundance of good things Doth satisfy thy mouth; So that, ev'n as the eagle's age, Renewed is thy youth.'
The 103rd Psalm was never made in this world. Musicians far other than those native to Mansoul made for us our Lord's-Table Psalm.
5. And then, the riddles that were made upon the King Himself, and upon Emmanuel His Son, and upon Emmanuel's wars and all His other doings with Mansoul. And when Emmanuel would expound some of those riddles Himself, oh! how they were lightened! They saw what they never saw! They could not have thought that such rarities could have been couched in so few and such ordinary words. Yea, they did gather that the things themselves were a kind of portraiture, and that, too, of Emmanuel Himself. This, they would say, this is the Lamb! this is the Sacrifice! this is the Rock! this is the Door! and this is the Way! with a great many other things. At Gaius's supper-table they sat up over their riddles and nuts and sweetmeats till the sun was in the sky. And it would be midnight and morning if I were to show you the answers to the half of the riddles. Take one, for an example, and let it be one of the best for the communion-day. 'In one rare quality of the orator,' says Hugh Miller, writing about his adored minister, Alexander Stewart of Cromarty, 'Mr. Stewart stood alone. Pope refers in his satires to a strange power of creating love and admiration by just "touching the brink of all we hate." Now, into this perilous, but singularly elective department, Mr. Stewart could enter with safety and at will. We heard him, scarce a twelvemonth since, deliver a discourse of singular power on the sin-offering as minutely described by the divine penman in Leviticus. He described the slaughtered animal--foul with dust and blood, its throat gashed across, its entrails laid open and steaming in its impurity to the sun--a vile and horrid thing, which no one could look on without disgust, nor touch without defilement. The picture appeared too vivid; its introduction too little in accordance with a just taste. But this pulpit-master knew what he was all the time doing. "And that," he said, as he pointed to the terrible picture, "that is SIN!" By one stroke the intended effect was produced, and the rising disgust and horror transferred from the revolting, material image to the great moral evil.' And, in like manner, This is the LAMB! we all said over the mystical riddle of the bread and the wine this morning. This is the SACRIFICE! This is the DOOR! This is EMMANUEL, GOD WITH US, and made sin for us!
6. In one of his finest chapters, Thomas A Kempis tells us in what way we are to communicate mystically: that is to say, how we are to keep on communicating at all times, and in all places, without the intervention of the consecrated sacramental elements. And John Bunyan, the sweetest and most spiritual of mystics, has all that, too, in this same supreme passage. Every day was a feast-day now, he tells us. So much so that when the elders and the townsmen did not come to Emmanuel, He would send in much plenty of provisions to them. Yea, such delicates would He send them, and therewith would so cover their tables, that whosoever saw it confessed that the like could not be seen in any other kingdom. That is to say, my fellow-communicants, there is nothing that we experienced and enjoyed in this house this day that we may not experience and enjoy again to-morrow and every day in our own house at home. All the mystics worth the noble name will tell you that all true communicating is always performed and experienced in the prepared heart, and never in any upper room, or church, or chapel, or new heaven, or new earth. The prepared heart of every worthy communicant is the true upper room; it is the true banqueting chamber; it is the true and the only house of wine. Our Father's House itself, with its supper-table covered with the new wine of the Kingdom--the best of it all will still be within you. Prepare yourselves within yourselves, then, O departing and dispersing communicants. Prepare, and keep yourselves always prepared. And as often as you so prepare yourselves your Prince will come to you every day, and will cat and drink with you, till He makes every day on earth a day of heaven already to you. See if He will not; for, again and again, He who keeps all His promises says that He will.
* LECTURE DELIVERED IN ST. GEORGE'S FREE CHURCH EDINBURGH