By J.C. Ryle
Jesus answered and spoke again in parables to them, saying, "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a certain king, who made a marriage feast for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the marriage feast, but they would not come. Again he sent out other servants, saying, 'Tell those who are invited, "Behold, I have made ready my dinner. My oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the marriage feast!"' But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his merchandise, and the rest grabbed his servants, and treated them shamefully, and killed them. When the king heard that, he was angry, and sent his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.
"Then he said to his servants, 'The wedding is ready, but those who were invited weren't worthy. Go therefore to the intersections of the highways, and as many as you may find, invite to the marriage feast.' Those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together as many as they found, both bad and good. The wedding was filled with guests. But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man who didn't have on wedding clothing, and he said to him, 'Friend, how did you come in here not wearing wedding clothing?' He was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, 'Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and throw him into the outer darkness; where the weeping and grinding of teeth will be.' For many are called, but few chosen."
The parable related in these verses is one of very wide signification. In its first application it unquestionably points to the Jews. But we may not confine it to them. It contains heart-searching lessons for all among whom the Gospel is preached. It is a spiritual picture which speaks to us this day, if we have an ear to hear. The remark of Olshausen is wise and true, "parables are like many-sided precious stones, cut so as to cast luster in more than one direction."
Let us observe, in the first place, that the salvation of the Gospel is compared to a marriage feast. The Lord Jesus tells us that "a certain king made a marriage feast for his son."
There is in the Gospel a complete provision for all the needs of man's soul. There is a supply of everything that can be required to relieve spiritual hunger and spiritual thirst. Pardon, peace with God, lively hope in this world, glory in the world to come, are set before us in rich abundance. It is "a feast of fat things." All this provision is owing to the love of the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord. He offers to take us into union with Himself--to restore us to the family of God as dear children--to clothe us with His own righteousness--to give us a place in His kingdom, and to present us faultless before His Father's throne at the last day. The Gospel, in short, is an offer of food to the hungry--joy to the mourner--a home to the outcast--a loving friend to the lost. It is glad tidings. God offers, through His dear Son, to be at peace with sinful man. Let us not forget this--"In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins." (1 John 4:10.)
Let us observe, in the second place, that the invitations of the Gospel are wide, full, broad, and unlimited. The Lord Jesus tells us in the parable, that the king's servants said to those who were bidden, "all things are ready. Come to the marriage feast!"
There is nothing lacking on God's part for the salvation of sinners' souls. No one will ever be able to say at last that it was God's fault, if he is not saved. 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. Let this also never be forgotten. Let us not quibble and split hairs upon this point. God will be found clear of the blood of all lost souls. The Gospel always speaks of sinners as responsible and accountable beings. The Gospel places an open door before all mankind. No one is excluded from the range of its offers. Though efficient only to believers, those offers are sufficient for all the world. Though few enter the strait gate, all are invited to come in.
Let us observe, in the third place, that the salvation of the Gospel is rejected by many to whom it is offered. The Lord Jesus tells us, that those whom the king's servants invited to the wedding, "made light of it, and went their ways."
There are thousands of hearers of the Gospel who derive from it no benefit whatever. They listen to it Sunday after Sunday, and year after year, and do not believe to the saving of the soul. They feel no special need of the Gospel. They see no special beauty in it. They do not perhaps hate it, or oppose it, or scoff at it, but they do not receive it into their hearts. They like other things far better. Their money, their lands--their business, or their pleasures, are all far more interesting subjects to them than their souls. It is an dreadful state of mind to be in, but awfully common. Let us search our own hearts, and take heed that it is not our own. Open sin may kill its thousands; but indifference and neglect of the Gospel kill their tens of thousands. Multitudes will find themselves in hell, not so much because they openly broke the ten commandments, as because they made light of the gospel. Christ died for them on the cross, but they neglected Him.
Let us observe, in the last place, that all false professors of religion will be detected, exposed, and eternally condemned at the last day. The Lord Jesus tells us, that when the wedding was at last furnished with guests, the king came in to see them, and "saw a man who didn't have on wedding-clothing." He asked him how he came in there without one, and he received no reply. And he then commanded the servants to "bind him hand and foot and take him away."
There will always be some false professors in the Church of Christ, as long as the world stands. In this parable, as Quesnel says, "One single castaway represents all the rest." It is impossible to read the hearts of men. Deceivers and hypocrites will never be entirely excluded from the ranks of those who call themselves Christians. So long as a man professes subjection to the Gospel, and lives an outwardly correct life, we dare not say positively that he is not clothed in the righteousness of Christ.
But there will be no deception at the last day. The unerring eye of God will discern who are His own people, and who are not. Nothing but true faith shall abide the fire of His judgment. All spurious Christianity shall be weighed in the balance and found lacking. None but true believers shall sit down at the marriage supper of the Lamb. It shall avail the hypocrite nothing that he has been a loud talker about religion, and had the reputation of being an eminent Christian among men. His triumphing shall be but for a moment. He shall be stripped of all his borrowed plumage, and stand naked and shivering before the bar of God, speechless, self-condemned, hopeless, and helpless. He shall be cast into outer darkness with shame, and reap according as he has sown. Well may our Lord say, "there shall be weeping and grinding of teeth."
Let us learn wisdom from the solemn pictures of this parable, and give diligence to make our calling and election sure. We ourselves are among those to whom the word is spoken, "All things are ready, come to the marriage feast." Let us see that we refuse not him that speaks. Let us not sleep as others do, but watch and be sober. Time hastens on. The King will soon come in to see the guests. Have we or have we not got on the wedding garment? Have we put on Christ? That is the grand question that arises out of this parable. May we never rest until we can give a satisfactory answer! May those heart-searching words daily ring in our ears, "Many are called, but few are chosen!"
Then the Pharisees went and took counsel how they might entrap him in his talk. They sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are honest, and teach the way of God in truth, no matter who you teach, for you aren't partial to anyone. Tell us therefore, what do you think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?"
But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, "Why do you test me, you hypocrites? Show me the tax money."
They brought to him a denarius.
He asked them, "Whose is this image and inscription?"
They said to him, "Caesar's."
Then he said to them, "Give therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."
When they heard it, they marveled, and left him, and went away.
We see in this passage the first of a series of subtle attacks, which were made on our Lord during the last days of His earthly ministry. His deadly foes, the Pharisees, saw the influence which He was obtaining, both by His miracles and by His preaching. They were determined by some means to silence Him, or put Him to death. They therefore endeavored to "entrap him in his talk." They sent forth "their disciples with the Herodians," to test Him with a hard question. They wished to entice Him into saying something which might serve as a handle for an accusation against Him. Their scheme, we are told in these verses, entirely failed. They took nothing by their movement, and retreated in confusion.
The first thing which demands our attention in these verses, is the flattering language with which our Lord was accosted by His enemies. "Teacher," they said, "we know that you are honest, and teach the way of God in truth, no matter who you teach, for you aren't partial to anyone." How well these Pharisees and Herodians talked! What smooth and honeyed words were these! They thought, no doubt, that by good words and fair speeches they would throw our Lord off His guard. It might truly be said of them, "his mouth was smooth as butter, but his heart was war. His words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords." (Psalm 55:21.)
It becomes all professing Christians to be much on their guard against FLATTERY. We mistake greatly if we suppose that persecution and hard usage are the only weapons in Satan's armory. That crafty foe has other engines for doing us mischief, which he knows well how to work. He knows how to poison souls by the world's seductive kindness, when he cannot frighten them by the fiery dart and the sword. Let us not be ignorant of his devices. By peace he destroys many.
We are only too apt to forget this truth. We overlook the many examples which God has given us in Scripture for our learning. What brought about the ruin of Samson? Not the armies of the Philistines, but the pretended love of a Philistine woman. What led to Solomon's backsliding? Not the strength of outward enemies, but the blandishment of his numerous wives. What was the cause of king Hezekiah's greatest mistake? Not the sword of Sennacherib, or the threats of Rabshakeh, but the flattery of the Babylonian ambassadors. Let us remember these things, and be on our guard. Peace often ruins nations more than war. Sweet things occasion far more sicknesses than bitter. The sun makes the traveler cast off his protective garments far sooner than the north wind. Let us beware of the flatterer. Satan is never so dangerous as when he appears as an angel of light. The world is never so dangerous to the Christian as when it smiles. When Judas betrayed his Lord, it was with a kiss. The believer that is proof against the world's frown does well. But he that is proof against its flattery does better.
The second thing that demands our attention in these verses, is the marvelous wisdom of the reply which our Lord made to His enemies. The Pharisees and Herodians asked whether it was lawful to give tribute to Caesar or not. They doubtless thought, that they had put a question which our Lord could not answer without giving them an advantage. Had He simply replied that it was lawful to pay tribute, they would have denounced Him to the people as one who dishonored the privileges of Israel, and considered the children of Abraham no longer free, but subjects to a foreign power. Had He, on the other hand, replied that it was not lawful to pay tribute, they would have denounced Him to the Romans as a mover of sedition, and a rebel against Caesar, who refused to pay his taxes. But our Lord's conduct completely baffled them. He demanded to see the tribute-money. He asks them whose head is on that coin. They reply, Caesar's. They acknowledge that Caesar has some authority over them, by using money bearing his image and superscription, since he that coins the current money is ruler of the land where that money is current. And at once they receive an irresistibly conclusive answer to their question--"Give therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."
The principle laid down in these well-known words is one of deep importance. There is one obedience owing by every Christian to the civil government under which he lives, in all matters which are temporal, and not purely spiritual. He may not approve of every requirement of that civil government. But he must submit to the laws of the commonwealth, so long as those laws are unrepealed. He must "give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's." There is another obedience which the Christian owes to the God of the Bible in all matters which are purely spiritual. No temporal loss, no civil disability, no displeasure of the powers that be, must ever tempt him to do things which the Scripture plainly forbids. His position may be very trying. He may have to suffer much for his conscience sake. But he must never fly in the face of unmistakable requirements of Scripture. If Caesar coins a new Gospel, he is not to be obeyed. We must "give to God the things that are God's."
The subject unquestionably is one of great difficulty and delicacy. It is certain that the church must not swallow up the state. It is no less certain that the state must not swallow up the church. On no point, perhaps, have conscientious men been so much tried. On no point have good men disagreed so much, as in solving the problem, "where the things of Caesar end, and the things of God begin." The civil power, on the one side, has often encroached terribly on the rights of conscience--as the English puritans found to their cost in the unhappy time of the Stuarts. The spiritual power, on the other side, has often pushed its claims to an extravagant extent, so as to take Caesar's scepter out of his hands--as it did when the church of Rome trampled on our own English king John. In order to have a right judgment in all questions of this kind, every true Christian should constantly pray for wisdom from above. The man whose eye is single, and who daily seeks for grace, and practical common sense, will never be allowed greatly to err.
On that day Sadducees (those who say that there is no resurrection) came to him. They asked him, saying, "Teacher, Moses said, 'If a man dies, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up children for his brother.' Now there were with us seven brothers. The first married and died, and having no children left his wife to his brother. In like manner the second also, and the third, to the seventh. After them all, the woman died. In the resurrection therefore, whose wife will she be of the seven? For they all had her."
But Jesus answered them, "You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like God's angels in heaven. But concerning the resurrection of the dead, haven't you read that which was spoken to you by God, saying,'I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?' God is not the God of the dead, but of the living."
When the multitudes heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.
This passage describes a conversation between our Lord Jesus Christ and the Sadducees. These unhappy men, who said that there was "no resurrection," attempted, like the Pharisees and Herodians, to perplex our Lord with hard questions. Like them, they hoped "to entangle Him in His talk," and to injure His reputation among the people. Like them, they were completely baffled.
Let us observe, in the first place, that absurd skeptical objections to Bible truths are ancient things. The Sadducees wished to show the absurdity of the doctrine of the resurrection and the life to come. They therefore came to our Lord with a story which was probably invented for the occasion. They told him that a certain woman had married seven brothers in succession, who had all died and left no children. They then asked "whose wife" this woman would be in the next world, when all rose again. The object of the question was plain and transparent. They meant, in reality, to bring the whole doctrine of a resurrection into contempt, They meant to insinuate, that there must needs be confusion, and strife, and unseemly disorder, if, after death, men and women were to live again.
It must never surprise us, if we meet with like objections against the doctrines of Scripture, and especially against those doctrines which concern another world. There never probably will be lacking "unreasonable men," who will "intrude" into things unseen, and make imaginary difficulties their excuse for unbelief. 'Supposed cases' are one of the favorite strongholds in which an unbelieving mind loves to entrench itself. Such a mind will often set up a shadow of its own imagining, and fight with it, as if it was a truth. Such a mind will often refuse to look at the overwhelming mass of plain evidence by which Christianity is supported, and will fasten down on some one single difficulty, which it fancies is unanswerable.
The talk and arguments of people of this character should never shake our faith for a moment. For one thing, we should remember that there must needs be deep and dark things in a religion which comes from God, and that a child may put questions which the greatest philosopher cannot answer. For another thing, we should remember, that there are countless truths in the Bible, which are clear, and unmistakable. Let us first attend them, believe them, and obey them. So doing, we need not doubt that many a thing now unintelligible to us will yet be made plain. So doing, we may be sure that "what we know not now we shall know hereafter."
Let us observe, in the second place, what a remarkable text our Lord brings forward, in proof of the reality of a life to come. He places before the Sadducees the words which God spoke to Moses in the bush--"I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." (Exod. 3:6.) He adds the comment, "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." At the time when Moses heard these words, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had been dead and buried many years. Two centuries had passed away since Jacob, the last of the three, was carried to his tomb. And yet God spoke of them as being still His people, and of Himself as being still their God. He said not, "I was their God," but "I am."
Perhaps we are often tempted to doubt the truth of a resurrection, and a life to come. But, unhappily, it is easy to hold truths theoretically, and yet not realize them practically. There are few of us who would not find it good to meditate on the mighty verity which our Lord here unfolds, and to give it a prominent place in our thoughts. Let us settle it in our minds, that the dead are in one sense still alive. From our eyes they have passed away, and their place knows them no more. But in the eyes of God they live, and will one day come forth from their graves to receive an everlasting sentence. There is no such thing as annihilation. The idea is a miserable delusion. The sun, moon, and stars--the solid mountains, and deep sea, will one day come to nothing. But the weakest babe of the poorest man shall live for evermore, in another world. May we never forget this! Happy is he who can say from his heart the words of the Nicene Creed, "I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come."
Let us observe, in the last place, the account which our Lord gives of the state of men and women after the resurrection. He silences the fancied objections of the Sadducees, by showing that they entirely mistook the true character of the resurrection state. They took it for granted that it must needs be a gross, carnal existence, like that of mankind upon earth. Our Lord tells those who in the next world we may have a real material body, and yet a body of very different constitution, and different necessities, from that which we have now. He speaks only of the saved, be it remembered. He omits all mention of the lost. He says, "In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven."
We know but little of the life to come in heaven. Perhaps our clearest ideas of it are drawn from considering what it will not be, rather than what it will be. It is a state in which we shall hunger no more, nor thirst any more. Sickness, pain, and disease, will not be known. Wasting, old age, and death will have no place. Marriages, births, and a constant succession of inhabitants, will be no more needed. They who are once admitted into heaven shall dwell there for evermore. And, to pass from negatives to positives, one thing we are told plainly--we shall be "as the angels of God." Like them, we shall serve God perfectly, unhesitatingly, and unweariedly. Like them, we shall ever be in God's presence. Like them, we shall ever delight to do His will. Like them, we shall give all glory to the Lamb. These are deep things. But they are all true.
Are we ready for this life? Would we enjoy it, if admitted to take part in it? Is the company of God, and the service of God pleasant to us now? Is the occupation of angels one in which we would delight? These are solemn questions. Our hearts must be heavenly on earth, while we live, if we hope to go to heaven when we rise again in another world. (Coloss. 3:1-4.)
But the Pharisees, when they heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, testing him."Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?"
Jesus said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. A second likewise is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, "What do you think of the Christ? Whose son is he?"
They said to him, "The son of David."
He said to them, "How then does David in the Spirit call him Lord, saying, 'the Lord said to my Lord, sit on my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet?' If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?"
No one was able to answer him a word, neither did any man dare ask him any more questions from that day forth.
In the beginning of this passage we find our Lord replying to the question of a certain lawyer, who asked him which was "the greatest commandment of the law?" That question was asked in no friendly spirit. But we have reason to be thankful that it was asked at all. It drew from our Lord an answer full of precious instruction. Thus we see how good may come out of evil.
Let us mark what an admirable summary these verses contain of our duty towards God and our neighbor. Jesus says, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." He says again, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." And He adds, "The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."
How simple are these two rules, and yet how comprehensive! How soon the words are repeated, and yet how much they contain! How humbling and condemning they are! How much they prove our daily need of mercy and the precious blood of atonement! Happy would it be for the world, if these rules were more known and more practiced!
Love is the grand secret of true obedience to GOD. When we feel towards Him as children feel towards a dear father, we shall delight to do His will. We shall not find His commandments grievous, and work for Him like slaves under fear of the lash. We shall take pleasure in trying to keep His laws, and mourn when we transgress them. None work so well as those who work out of love. The fear of punishment, or the desire of reward, are principles of far less power. They do the will of God best, who do it from the heart. Would we train children right? Let us teach them to love God.
Love is the grand secret of right behavior towards our FELLOW MEN. He who loves his neighbor will scorn to do him any willful injury, either in person, property, or character. But he will not rest there. He will desire in every way to do him good. He will strive to promote his comfort and happiness in every way. He will endeavor to lighten his sorrows, and increase his joys. When a man loves us, we feel confidence in him. We know that he will never intentionally do us harm, and that in every time of need he will be our friend. Would we teach children to behave aright towards others? Let us teach them to love everybody as themselves, and do to others as they would have others do to them.
But how shall we obtain this love towards GOD? It is no natural feeling. We are born in sin, and, as sinners, are afraid of God. How then can we love Him? We can never really love Him until we are at peace with Him through Christ. When we feel our sins forgiven, and ourselves reconciled to our holy Maker, then, and not until then, we shall love Him and have the spirit of adoption. Faith in Christ is the true spring of love to God. They love most who feel most forgiven. "We love him because he first loved us." (1 John 4:19.)
And how shall we obtain this love towards our NEIGHBOR? This is also no natural feeling. We are born selfish, hateful, and hating one another. (Titus 3:3.) We shall never love our fellow man aright until our hearts are changed by the Holy Spirit. We must be born again. We must put off the old man, and put on the new, and receive the mind that was in Christ Jesus. Then, and not until then, our cold hearts will know true God-like love towards all. "The fruit of the Spirit is love." (Galat. 5:22.)
Let these things sink down into our hearts. There is much vague talk in these latter days about love and charity. Men profess to admire them and desire to see them increased, and yet hate the principles which alone can produce them. Let us stand fast in the old paths. We cannot have fruits and flowers without roots. We cannot have love to God and man without faith in Christ, and without regeneration. The way to spread true love in the world, is to teach the atonement of Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit.
The concluding portion of the passage, contains a question put to the Pharisees by our Lord. After answering with perfect wisdom the inquiries of His adversaries, He at last asks them, "What do you think of the Christ? Whose Son is He?" They reply at once, "the son of David." He then asks them to explain, why David in the book of Psalms calls Him Lord. (Psalm. 110:1.) "If David then calls him Lord, how is he his son?" At once His enemies were put to silence. "No one was able to answer him a word." The Scribes and Pharisees no doubt were familiar with the Psalm He quoted, but they could not explain its application. It could only be explained by conceding the pre-existence and divinity of the Messiah. This the Pharisees would not concede. Their only idea of Messiah was, that He was to be a man like one of themselves. Their ignorance of the Scriptures, of which they pretended to know more than others, and their low, carnal view of the true nature of Christ, were thus exposed at one and the same time. Well may Matthew say, by the Holy Spirit, "neither did any man dare ask him any more questions from that day forth!"
Let us not leave these verses without making a practical use of our Lord's solemn question, "What do you think of Christ?" What do we think of His person, and His offices? What do we think of His life, and what of His death for us on the cross? What do we think of His resurrection, ascension, and intercession at the right hand of God? Have we tasted that He is gracious? Have we laid hold on Him by faith? Have we found by experience that He is precious to our souls? Can we truly say He is my Redeemer, and my Savior, my Shepherd, and my Friend?
These are serious inquiries. May we never rest until we can give a satisfactory answer to them. It will not profit us to read about Christ, if we are not joined to Him by living faith. Once more then let us test our religion by this question; "What do we think of Christ?"