Guest Writer Sabine Baring-Gould
“Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready; come to the marriage” (Matthew 22:4).
The kingdom of heaven has two meanings in this parable. It means, in the first place, the [Complete] Church. Into that the apostles and pastors of Christ invite men to enter, and many refuse. In the second place it means the Church Triumphant—eternal blessedness. And into that the pastors of Christ’s Church invite you continually, Sunday after Sunday, and many refuse.
Our subject today shall be the Heavenly Banquet, and the invitation to it.
When God created the world, He did so with a “Let there be.” He said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3)—and light was. “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters” (1:6), and it was so, at once. He said, “Let the waters be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear” (1:9) and, immediately, it was so. And it was the same throughout the work of the seven days of Creation. He spoke the word, and the world was made, and “all the host of heaven by the breath of His mouth” (Psalm 33:6).
But when man’s salvation was wrought it was otherwise. There was nothing instantaneous about that. Long ages passed before the time came for the Son of God to be born. The preparation was lengthy, there was delay. And when He came, there was no “Let there be,” and it was done; but there were thirty-three years spent on earth, and there were the laborious ministry, the sufferings, and the death. That was not all. Still more was done. The Son of God ascended into heaven after having spent forty days on earth after His resurrection, founding and framing His Church. Then He sent the Holy Spirit down on the Church He had made. Still all is not done. The Church has to battle with the world, to endure persecution, the blood of martyrs has to flow, and three hundred years to pass, before she emerges out of her hidden suffering life into light before the world.
That is not all. Still the work goes on. The sacraments are ministered, the Word of God is preached. Invitation to the banquet of heaven is given. Salvation is not yet come; the work goes on, and goes on slowly.
Look at yourselves, and see how slow the process is. You are baptized, and thereby made a member of Christ. Is all done? By no means, the work is only begun. You grow older, and your temptations grow stronger. Then comes Confirmation, the Holy Spirit is given to strengthen, the seal is put on the Baptismal Contract. Is all done? By no means, it is only progressing. The Holy Communion is given you. You partake of the sacred body and blood of Christ. Surely now all is complete, and salvation secured. No—by no means, not yet. All through life the work goes on. It is not done at death. It will not be done till the Judgement Day.
Why is this? Because man has free will, and can oppose and hinder the work of God. He can even bring it to nought.
When God made the world, it was done at His word (Psalm 33:6), for there was no opposition, no independent free will had to be taken account of; but in the salvation of man it is otherwise. Man has to be considered; he has a will which can turn all the good intentions of God from him, and make them of no avail. God cannot save man without his free consent. God’s grace cannot sanctify him without his cooperation with it. God can invite and attract, He cannot force. In the parable, the king sends out to entreat his subjects to come, and when they refuse, he punishes them; but he does not send his soldiers to drive them into his banqueting hall.
All that God can do is to invite (Revelation 22:17); but He invites most pressingly, and holds out every inducement that He possibly could.
God desires all men to be saved, He wills not the death of a sinner. “Christ,” says Paul, “died for all” (2 Corinthians 5:14, 15)—to reconcile all men to God. He hung on the cross for all, to save all who will come to Him (Hebrews 7:25) and be saved—He died “for us men and for our salvation” (Nicene Creed).
The Amalekites attacked the city of Ziklag, and took it, and burned it with fire, and departed, carrying away with them the two wives of David, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess, and Abigail, who had been the wife of Nabal the Carmelite. When David knew this, he fell into great distress, and he gathered an army and went to the place, and there he wept “till he had no more power to weep” (1 Samuel 30:4). And he pursued after the Amalekites with four hundred men, and he fell on them, and the battle raged four and twenty hours. “He smote them from twilight even to the evening of the next day” (30:17), and he recovered out of their hands his two wives.
Now, suppose that one of them, say Abigail, fell into low spirits, thinking that David did not love her, and would not bring her into his palace, and show her favor, one would say to her, “What is the meaning of this? Your sad spirits and gloomy doubts are proof of an unthankful spirit. Look at David. See a clear evidence that you are wrong. Look! he is covered with dust from the battle, he is so exhausted that he can scarce breathe. For you he fought, for you he exposed himself to great risk, for you he conquered. He has redeemed you out of the power of the enemy. See! he extends to you his hand, red with his blood shed for you. He holds out his hand to invite you to follow him, that he may bring you home in safety. Away with these wicked doubts and this black mistrust!”
I may say exactly the same to you. Do you want any token of the love of Christ? Any assurance of His goodwill toward you? Look at Him! See what He has done and suffered for you! For you He spent thirty-three years in struggle, for you He was exposed to the scoffs of the Jews, for you He was scourged, for you He was crucified. To you He extends His hand, red with His blood, to beckon you to follow Him, that where He is, there you may be also (John 14:3). He has shown you His love. What could He have done more? He has promised you heaven. He has assured you that He is gone there to prepare a place for you, that He may receive you to Himself. He tells you that there is the kingdom He has prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Could He make better promises?
But He can do no more. He cannot drive you into heaven. It is left to you, to your free will to decide. You can accept, or you can refuse. You can make use of the sacraments, the means He has provided for enabling you to gain the Kingdom, or you may turn your back on them. He will not drive you. All He will do is to invite, and say, “Come! for all things are now ready” (Luke 14:17).
“Come. Let him who hears say, Come. Let him who is athirst come. Whoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17).
Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Lee
Photo Credit: St Catherines Point Light, Isle of Wight, England
*Adapted from Sabine Baring-Gould [1834-1924], The Village Pulpit, Volume II. Trinity to Advent / A Complete Course of 66 Short Sermons, or Full Sermon Outlines for Each Sunday, and Some Chief Holy Days of the Christian Year (London: Skeffington & Son, 1886), sermon 57. Quotes, scriptural locations, photos, links, emendations added.