By J.C. Ryle
JESUS AT A PHARISEE'S HOUSE
Let us mark in this passage, how our Lord Jesus Christ accepted the hospitality of those who were not His disciples. We read that "He went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread." We cannot reasonably suppose that this Pharisee was a friend of Christ. It is more probable that he only did what was customary for a man in his position. He saw a stranger teaching religion, whom some regarded as a prophet, and he invited Him to eat at his table. The point that most concerns us, is this, that when the invitation was given it was accepted.
If we want to know how our Lord carried Himself at a Pharisee's table, we have only to read attentively the first twenty-four verses of this chapter. We shall find Him the same there that He was elsewhere, always about His Father's business. We shall see Him first defending the true observance of the Sabbath-day--then expounding the nature of true humility--then urging on His host the character of true hospitality--and finally delivering that most relevant and striking parable--the parable of the great supper. And all this is done in the most wise, and calm, and dignified manner. The words are all words in season. The speech is "always with grace, seasoned with salt." (Coloss. 4:6.) The perfection of our Lord's conduct appears on this, as on all other occasions. He always said the right thing, at the right time, and in the right way. He never forgot, for a moment, who He was and where He was.
The example of Christ in this passage deserves the close attention of all Christians, and specially of ministers of the Gospel. It throws strong light on some most difficult points--our communion with unconverted people--the extent to which we should carry it--the manner in which we should behave when we are with them. Our Lord has left us a pattern for our conduct in this chapter. It will be our wisdom to endeavor to walk in His steps.
We ought not to withdraw entirely from all communion with unconverted people. It would be cowardice and indolence to do so, even if it were possible. It would shut us out from many opportunities of doing good. But we ought to go into their society moderately, watchfully, and prayerfully, and with a firm resolution to carry our Master and our Master's business with us.
The house from which Christ is deliberately excluded is not the house at which Christians ought to receive hospitalities, and keep up intimacy. The extent to which we should carry our communion with the unconverted, is a point which each believer must settle for himself. Some can go much further than others in this direction, with advantage to their company, and without injury to themselves. "Every man has his proper gift." (1 Cor. 7:7.) There are two questions which we should often put to ourselves, in reference to this subject. "Do I, in company, spend all my time in light and worldly conversation? Or do I endeavor to follow, however feebly, the example of Christ?" The society in which we cannot answer these questions satisfactorily, is society from which we had better withdraw. So long as we go into company as Christ went to the Pharisee's house, we shall take no harm.
Let us mark, secondly, in this passage, how our Lord was watched by His enemies. We read that when He went to eat bread on the Sabbath day, in the house of a Pharisee, "they watched Him."
The circumstance here recorded, is only a type of what our Lord was constantly subjected to, all through His earthly ministry. The eyes of His enemies were continually observing Him. They watched for His halting, and waited eagerly for some word or deed on which they could lay hold and build an accusation. Yet they found none. Our blessed Lord was ever holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from evil. Perfect indeed must that life have been, in which the bitterest enemy could find no flaw, or blemish, or spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing!
He that desires to serve Christ must make up his mind to be "watched" and observed, no less than His Master. He must never forget that the eyes of the world are upon him, and that the wicked are looking narrowly at all his ways. Specially ought he to remember this when he goes into the society of the unconverted. If he makes a slip there, in word or deed, and acts inconsistently, be may rest assured it will not be forgotten.
Let us endeavor to live daily as in the sight of a holy God. So living, it will matter little how much we are "watched" by an ill-natured and malicious world. Let us exercise ourselves to have a conscience void of offence toward God and man, and to do nothing which can give occasion to the Lord's enemies to blaspheme. The thing is possible. By the grace of God it can be done. The haters of Daniel were obliged to confess, "we shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his God." (Dan. 6:5.)
Let us mark, lastly, in this passage, how our Lord asserts the lawfulness of doing works of mercy on the Sabbath day. We read that he healed a man who had the dropsy on the Sabbath day, and then said to the lawyers and Pharisees, "Which of you shall have an donkey or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?" This was a home-thrust, which could not be fended off. It is written, "They could not answer Him."
The qualification which our Lord here puts on the requirements of the fourth commandment, is evidently founded on Scripture, reason, and common sense. The Sabbath was made for man, for his benefit, not for his injury, for his advantage, not for his hurt. The interpretation of God's law respecting the Sabbath was never intended to be strained so far as to interfere with charity, kindness, and the real needs of human nature. All such interpretations only defeat their own end. They require that which fallen man cannot perform, and thus bring the whole commandment into disrepute. Our Lord saw this clearly, and labored throughout His ministry to restore this precious part of God's law to its just position.
The principle which our Lord lays down about Sabbath observance needs carefully fencing with cautions. The right to do works of necessity and mercy is fearfully abused in these latter days. Thousands of Christians appear to have trampled down the hedge, and burst the bounds entirely with respect to this holy day. They seem to forget that though our Lord repeatedly explains the requirements of the fourth commandment, He never struck it out of the law of God, or said that it was not binding on Christians at all.
Can any one say that Sunday traveling, except on very rare emergencies, is a work of mercy? Will any one tell us that Sunday trading, Sunday dinner parties, Sunday excursion-trains on railways, Sunday deliveries of letters and newspapers, are works of mercy? Have servants, and shop-men, and engine-drivers, and coachmen, and clerks, and porters, no souls? Do they not need rest for their bodies and time for their souls, like other men? These are serious questions, and ought to make many people think.
Whatever others do, let us resolve to "keep the Sabbath holy." God has a controversy with the churches about Sabbath desecration. It is a sin of which the cry goes up to heaven, and will be reckoned for one day. Let us wash our hands of this sin, and have nothing to do with it. If others are determined to rob God, and take possession of the Lord's day for their own selfish ends, let us not be partakers in their sins.
PLACES OF HONOR
Let us learn from these verses the value of humility. This is a lesson which our Lord teaches in two ways. Firstly, He advises those who are bidden to a wedding to "sit down in the lowest place." Secondly, He backs up His advice by declaring a great principle, which frequently fell from His lips--"Whoever exalts himself shall be abased, and he that humbles himself shall be exalted."
Humility may well be called the queen of the Christian graces. To know our own sinfulness and weakness, and to feel our need of Christ, is the very beginning of saving religion. It is a grace which has always been the distinguishing feature in the character of the holiest saints in every age. Abraham, and Moses, and Job, and David, and Daniel, and Paul, were all eminently humble men. Above all, it is a grace within the reach of every true Christian. All have not money to give away. All have not time and opportunities for working directly for Christ. All have not gifts of speech, and tact, and knowledge, in order to do good in the world. But all converted men should labor to adorn the doctrine they profess by humility. If they can do nothing else, they can strive to be humble.
Would we know the root and spring of humility? One word describes it. The root of humility is right knowledge. The man who really knows himself and his own heart--who knows God and His infinite majesty and holiness--who knows Christ, and the price at which he was redeemed--that man will never be a proud man. He will count himself, like Jacob, unworthy of the least of all God's mercies. He will say of himself, like Job, "I am vile." He will cry, like Paul, "I am chief of sinners." (Genes. 32:10; Job 40:4; 1 Tim. 1:15.) He will think anything good enough for him. In lowliness of mind be will esteem every one else to be better than himself. (Philip. 2:3.) Ignorance--nothing but sheer ignorance--ignorance of self, of God, and of Christ, is the real secret of pride. From that miserable self-ignorance may we daily pray to be delivered! He is the wise man who knows himself--and he who knows himself, will find nothing within to make him proud.
Let us learn, secondly, from these verses, the duty of caring for the poor. Our Lord teaches this lesson in a peculiar manner. He tells the Pharisee who invited Him to his feast, that, when he made "a dinner or a supper," he ought not to "call his friends," or relatives, or rich neighbors. On the contrary, He says, "When you make a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind."
The precept contained in these words must evidently be interpreted with considerable limitation. It is certain that our Lord did not intend to forbid men showing any hospitality to their relatives and friends. It is certain that He did not mean to encourage a useless and profuse expenditure of money in giving to the poor. To interpret the passage in this manner would make it contradict other plain Scriptures. Such interpretations cannot possibly be correct.
But when we have said this, we must not forget that the passage contains a deep and important lesson. We must be careful that we do not limit and qualify that lesson until we have pared it down and refined it into nothing at all. The lesson of the passage is plain and distinct. The Lord Jesus would have us care for our poorer brethren, and help them according to our power. He would have us know that it is a solemn duty never to neglect the poor, but to aid them and relieve them in their time of need.
Let the lesson of this passage sink down deeply into our hearts. "The poor shall never cease out of the land." (Deut. 15:11.) A little help conferred upon the poor judiciously and in season, will often add immensely to their happiness, and take away immensely from their cares, and promote good feeling between class and class in society. This help it is the will of Christ that all His people who have the means should he willing and ready to bestow. That stingy, calculating spirit, which leads some people to talk of "the work-house," and condemn all charity to the poor, is exceedingly opposed to the mind of Christ. It is not for nothing that our Lord declares that He will say to the wicked in the day of judgment, "I was an hungry and you gave me no food--I was thirsty and you gave me no drink." It is not for nothing that Paul writes to the Galatians, "All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do." (Matt. 25:42. Gal. 2:10.)
Let us learn, lastly, from these verses, the great importance of looking forward to the resurrection of the dead. This lesson stands out in a striking manner in the language used by our Lord on the subject of showing charity to the poor. He says to the Pharisee who entertained Him, "The poor cannot repay you--you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just."
There is a resurrection after death. Let this never be forgotten. The life that we live here in the flesh is not all. The visible world around us is not the only world with which we have to do. All is not over when the last breath is drawn, and men and women are carried to their long home in the grave. The trumpet shall one day sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible. All that are in the graves shall hear Christ's voice and come forth--those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of damnation. This is one of the great foundation truths of the Christian religion. Let us cling to it firmly, and never let it go.
Let us strive to live like men who believe in a resurrection and a life to come, and desire to be always ready for another world. So living, we shall look forward to death with calmness. We shall feel that there remains some better portion for us beyond the grave. So living, we shall take patiently all that we have to bear in this world. Trial, losses, disappointments, ingratitude, will affect us little. We shall not look for our reward here. We shall feel that all will be rectified one day, and that the Judge of all the earth will do right. (Gen. 18:25.)
But how can we bear the thought of a resurrection? What shall enable us to look forward to a world to come without alarm? Nothing can do it, but faith in Christ. Believing on Him, we have nothing to fear. Our sins will not appear against us. The demands of God's law will be found completely satisfied. We shall stand firm in the great day, and none shall lay anything to our charge. (Rom. 8:33.) Worldly men like Felix, may well tremble when they think of a resurrection. But believers, like Paul, may rejoice.
PARABLE OF THE GREAT BANQUET
The verses before us contain one of our Lord's most instructive parables. It was spoken in consequence of a remark made by one who was sitting at table with Him in a Pharisee's house. "Blessed," said this man, "is he that shall eat the feast in the kingdom of God." The object of this remark we are left to conjecture. It is likely that he who made it was one of that class of people who wish to go to heaven, and like to hear good things talked of, but never get any further. Our Lord takes occasion to remind him and all the company, by means of the parable of the great supper, that men may have the kingdom of God offered to them, and yet may willingly neglect it, and be lost forever.
We are taught, firstly, in this parable, that God has made a great provision for the salvation of men's souls. This is the meaning of the words, "a certain man made a great banquet, and invited many." This is the Gospel.
The Gospel contains a full supply of everything that sinners need in order to be saved. We are all naturally starving, empty, helpless, and ready to perish. Forgiveness of all sin, and peace with God, justification of the person, and sanctification of the heart--grace by the way, and glory in the end--are the gracious provision which God has prepared for the wants of our souls. There is nothing that sin-laden hearts can wish, or weary consciences require, which is not spread before men in rich abundance in Christ. Christ, in one word, is the sum and substance of the "great supper." "I am the bread of life." "Him that comes unto me shall never hunger, and he that believes on me shall never thirst." "My flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed." "He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood, has eternal life." (John 6:35-55, 56.)
We are taught, secondly, in this parable, that the offers and invitations of the Gospel are most broad and liberal. We read that he who made the supper "sent his servant at the time of the banquet to say to those who were invited, Come for all things are now ready."
There is nothing lacking on God's part for the salvation of man. If man is not saved, the fault is not on God's side. The Father is ready to receive all who come to Him by Christ. The Son is ready to cleanse all from their sins who apply to Him by faith. The Spirit is ready to come to all who ask for Him. There is an infinite willingness in God to save man, if man is only willing to be saved.
There is the fullest warrant for sinners to draw near to God by Christ. The word "Come," is addressed to all without exception. Are men laboring and heavy-laden? "Come unto me," says Jesus, "and I will give you rest." Are men thirsting? "If any man thirst," says Jesus, "let him come unto me and drink." Are men poor and hungry? "Come," says Jesus, "buy wine and milk without money and without price." No man shall ever be able to say that he had no encouragement to seek salvation. That word of the Lord shall silence every objector--"Him that comes to me, I will in no wise cast out."
We are taught, thirdly, in this parable, that many who receive Gospel invitations refuse to accept them. We read that when the servant announced that all things were ready, those who were invited "all with one consent began to make excuse." One had one trivial excuse, and another had another. In one point only all were agreed--they would not come.
We have in this part of the parable a vivid picture of the reception which the Gospel is continually meeting with wherever it is proclaimed. Thousands are continually doing what the parable describes. They are invited to come to Christ, and they will not come. It is not ignorance of religion that ruins most men's souls. It is lack of will to use knowledge; or love of this present world. It is not open profligacy that fills hell. It is excessive attention to things which in themselves are lawful. It is not avowed dislike to the Gospel which is so much to be feared. It is that procrastinating, excuse-making spirit, which is always ready with a reason why Christ cannot be served today. Let the words of our Lord on this subject sink down into our hearts. Infidelity and immorality, no doubt, slay their thousands. But decent, plausible, smooth-spoken excuses slay their tens of thousands. No excuse can justify a man in refusing God's invitation, and not coming to Christ.
We are taught, lastly, in this parable, that God earnestly desires the salvation of souls, and would have all means used to procure acceptance for His Gospel. We read that when those who were first invited to the supper refused the invitation, "the master of the house said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets, and bring in here the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind." We read that when this was done, and there was yet room, "the master said unto his servant, Go out into the high ways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled."
The meaning of these words can admit of little dispute. They surely justify us in asserting the exceeding love and compassion of God towards sinners. His patience is inexhaustible. If some will not receive the truth, He will have others invited in their stead. His pity for the lost is no pretended and imaginary thing. He is infinitely willing to save souls. Above all, the words justify every preacher and teacher of the Gospel in employing all possible means to awaken sinners, and turn them from their sins. If they will not come to us in public, we must visit them in private. If they will not attend our preaching in the congregation, we must be ready to preach from house to house.
We must even not be ashamed to use a gentle violence. We must be instant in season, out of season. (2 Tim. 4:2.) We must deal with many an unconverted man, as one who is half-asleep, half out of his mind, and not fully conscious of the state he is in. We must press the Gospel on his notice again and again. We must cry aloud and spare not. We must deal with him as we would with a man about to commit suicide. We must try to snatch him as a brand from the burning. We must say, "I cannot--I will not--I dare not let you go on ruining your own soul." The men of the world may not understand such earnest dealing. They may sneer at all zeal and fervor in religion as fanaticism. But the "man of God," who desires to do the work of an evangelist, will heed little what the world says. He will remember the words of our parable. He will "compel men to come in."
Let us leave this parable with serious self-inquiry. It ought to speak to us in the present day. To us this invitation of the Gospel is addressed as well as to the Jews. To us the Lord is saying constantly, "Come unto the supper--Come unto me." Have we accepted His invitation? Or are we practically saying, "I cannot come." If we die without having come to Christ, we had better never have been born.
THE COST OF BEING A DISCIPLE
We learn, firstly, from this passage, that true Christians must be ready, if need be, to give up everything for Christ's sake. This is a lesson which is taught in very remarkable language. Our Lord says, "If any man come to me, and hate not his father and mother, and wife and children, and brethren and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple."
This expression must doubtless be interpreted with some qualification. We must never explain any text of Scripture in such a manner as to make it contradict another. Our Lord did not mean us to understand that it is the duty of Christians to hate their relatives. This would have been to contradict the fifth commandment. He only meant that those who follow Him must love Him with a deeper love even than their nearest and dearest relatives, or their own lives. He did not mean that it is an essential part of Christianity to quarrel with our relatives and friends. But He did mean that if the claims of our relatives and the claims of Christ come into collision, the claims of relatives must give way. We must choose rather to displease those we love most upon earth, than to displease Him who died for us on the cross.
The demand which our Lord makes upon us here is peculiarly stringent and heart-searching. Yet it is a wise and a necessary one. Experience shows, both in the church at home, and in the mission-field abroad, that the greatest foes to a man's soul are sometimes those of his own house. It sometimes happens that the greatest hindrance in the way of an awakened conscience, is the opposition of relatives and friends. Ungodly fathers cannot bear to see their sons "taking up new views" of religion. Worldly mothers are vexed to see their daughters unwilling to enter into the gaieties of the world. A collision of opinion takes place frequently, as soon as grace enters into a family. And then comes the time when the true Christian must remember the spirit of our Lord's words in this passage. He must be willing to offend his family, rather than offend Christ.
The line of duty in such cases is doubtless very painful. It is a heavy cross to disagree with those we love, and especially about spiritual things. But if this cross be laid upon us, we must remember that firmness and decision are true kindness. It can never be true love to relatives to do wrong, in order to please them. And, best of all, firmness accompanied by gentleness and consistency, in the long run of life, often brings its own reward. Thousands of Christians will bless God at the last day, that they had relatives and friends who chose to displease them rather than Christ. That very decision was the first thing that made them think seriously, and led finally to the conversion of their souls.
We learn secondly, from this passage, that those who are thinking of following Christ should be warned to "count the cost." This is a lesson which was intended for the multitudes who followed our Lord without thought and consideration, and was enforced by examples drawn from building and from war. It is a lesson which will be found useful in every age of the church.
It costs something to be a true Christian. Let that never be forgotten. To be a mere nominal Christian, and go to church, is cheap and easy work. But to hear Christ's voice, and follow Christ, and believe in Christ, and confess Christ, requires much self-denial. It will cost us our sins, and our self-righteousness, and our ease, and our worldliness. All--all must be given up. We must fight an enemy who comes against us with twenty thousand followers. We must build a tower in troublous times. Our Lord Jesus Christ would have us thoroughly understand this. He bids us "count the cost."
Now, why did our Lord use this language? Did He wish to discourage men from becoming His disciples? Did He mean to make the gate of life appear more narrow than it is? It is not difficult to find an answer to these questions. Our Lord spoke as He did to prevent men following Him lightly and inconsiderately, from mere carnal feeling or temporary excitement, who in time of temptation would fall away. He knew that nothing does so much harm to the cause of true religion as backsliding, and that nothing causes so much backsliding as enlisting disciples without letting them know what they take in hand. He had no desire to swell the number of His followers by admitting soldiers who would fail in the hour of need. For this reason He raises a warning voice. He bids all who think of taking service with Him count the cost before they begin.
Well would it be for the Church and the world if the ministers of Christ would always remember their Master's conduct in this passage. Often--far too often--people are built up in self-deception, and encouraged to think they are converted when in reality they are not converted at all. Feelings are supposed to be faith. Convictions are supposed to be grace. These things ought not so to be. By all means let us encourage the first beginnings of religion in a soul. But never let us urge people forward without telling them what true Christianity entails. Never let us hide from them the battle and the toil. Let us say to them "come with us"--but let us also say, "count the cost."
We learn, lastly, from this passage, how miserable is the condition of backsliders and apostates. This is a lesson which is intimately connected with the preceding one. The necessity of "counting the cost" is enforced by a picture of the consequences of neglecting to do so. The man who has once made a profession of religion, but has afterwards gone back from it, is like salt which has "lost its savor." Such salt is comparatively useless. "It is neither fit for the land, nor fit for the ash-heap--but men cast it out." Yet the state of that salt is a lively emblem of the state of a backslider. No wonder that our Lord said, "He that has ears to hear let him hear."
The truth which our Lord brings out in this place is very painful, but very useful and needful to be known. No man, be it remembered, is in so dangerous a state as he who has once known the truth and professed to love it, and has afterwards fallen away from his profession, and gone back to the world. You can tell such a man nothing that he does not know. You can show him no doctrine that he has not heard. He has not sinned in ignorance like many. He has gone away from Christ with his eyes open. He has sinned against a known, and not an unknown God. His case is well near desperate. All things are possible with God. Yet it is written, "It is impossible for those who were once enlightened--if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance." (Heb. 6:4-6.)
Let us ponder these things well. The subject is one which is not sufficiently considered. Let us never be afraid of beginning to serve Christ. But let us begin seriously, thoughtfully, and with a due consideration of the step we take. And having once begun, let us pray for grace that we may persevere, and never fall away.