THE TRANSIENCE OF THE TRUTH
One of the most solemn of all facts is the transience of the truth. There is in the library of the Bible Society a book that no living man can read. It is the complete Bible translated by John Eliot into the language of a tribe of North American Indians and published in 1663. The translator is dead, those he laboured for are dead, and the language they spoke is dead. But it is infinitely more solemn that truth can pass from the living, and a Bible that has left our homes and hearts can become the infinite joy of souls on the other side of the world.
Our Lord had just spoken of giving to those too poor to, give back, for thou shalt be recompensed in the resurrection of the just(Luke 14: 14) - the first resurrection ; and this immediately prompts a hearer to exclaim:- "Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God." Our Lord then frames a parable to bring out the fearful urgency, the transient opportunity, the irrevocable loss that hinges on our attitude to the Supper: the Supper which, for the believer, is the Kingdom now at the doors *; for the unbeliever, the free gift of the Eternal Kingdom. And how great a supper it is that is offered to all humanity ! It is great, because God laid the table : it is great, because the Bread on the table is the Son of God come down from heaven: it is great, because the soul goes in the strength of that meat for all eternity : it is great because all races, all ages, all ranks are pouring in through the open doors.
[*The bridal robe for the Marriage Supper of the Lamb is, not the imputed righteousness of Christ, but " the righteous acts of the saints" themselves (Rev. xix. 8) : therefore the believer's invitation is not for acceptance merely, but a summons to righteousness for the Kingdom.]
The invitation is a broadcast, unconditional, instantaneous. "He bade many; and he sent forth his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, "Come ; for all things are now ready." A host alone decides who shall be his guests: he will not invite any guest he does not want : therefore the moment God's truth reaches us, since the invitation is free, unconditional, instantaneous, the highest glories coming are ours, in offer, on the spot.
Now the Lord unveils the hearts of many that are faced with the urgency and costliness of the invitation in a marvellous revelation of the human heart. "And they all with one consent" - rejection of the truth, in whole or in part, is the only unanimous thing we shall ever meet in the world - "began to make excuse." The startling thing about the excuses is their excellence ; and it is their excellence that makes them so deadly. The bought field, the purchased oxen, the married wife are business and domestic obligations which are, in themselves, perfectly right : the decision is a critical balance of values. Duties can be so done as to be made hostile to God: they can be made absorptions that exclude the highest. It is a very startling word of our Lord that harlots are entering the Kingdom before moralists. Robert Hall once wrote ‘God’ on a slip of paper, and handed it to a friend, saying, - "You can read that?" "Yes," his friend replied. He then covered the word with a golden sovereign, and asked, - "Can you read it now?" Paul has perfectly countered the excuses for ever, and in doing so expresses the heart of the Christian Faith. "This I say, brethren, the time is shortened, that henceforth those that have wives be as though they had none ; .and those that weep, as though they wept not; and those that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not ; and those that buy, as though they possessed not"(1 Cor. 7: 29).
The critical truth now dawns. The servant reports, in prayer, the dearth of response: what, then, will God do? close the hall, cancel the supper, suppress the invitations? or will He mark the seats as reserved for those first invited, and re-issue the invitations to them? The answer is like lightning:- "Then the master of the house being angry" - God is hurt when we refuse His truth - "said, Go out quickly" - for every hour the time shortens, and the Banquet is nearer - "and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame." It is exactly paralleled by God's response to Israel in the wilderness:- "As I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest"(Heb. iii. 11). * "Go QUICKLY" : for the truth flies on wings; it has got to find hearts in which it can dwell ; and it is speeding into all lands and among all races; and whoever drops his crown, somebody else picks it up. The awful fact is that rejected truth disappears, together with the blessing it brings. "I say unto you, that none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper." Vast multitudes unanimously decline: the invitation to the Banquet is heard, but definitely turned down : on all such souls the Host locks the door for ever.
[* The wrath is on the people of God, both in the type and in the antitype, for the Apostle adds, " Let us therefore give diligence to enter into that rest, that none [of us] fall after the same example of disobedience "(Heb. 4: 11).]
For now we see the underlying principle in the transfer of invitations. "Constrain them to come in, THAT MY HOUSE MAY BE FILLED." A vast multitude must be gathered for a vast multitude of seats : not a throne will be empty, not a crown unworn, not a line in the Lamb's Book of Life vacant : the world is to be prolonged, and the race preserved, until the seats are full. This necessity rules the situation absolutely. "And the servant said, Lord, what thou didst command is done, and yet there is room. And the lord said, Go out into the highways and the hedges" - go further afield, where the gypsy tribes of the world bivouac. It is not because they are outcast that these are saved, but although they are outcast : the first invited were just as welcome: it is because the Hall must be filled. Beyond, there are always accepting guests: if not the higher ranks, then the lower ; if not the city, then the nation ; if not the nation, then the world.
So the summary of our commission, in face of falling conversions and withering churches, is simply a joyous and hopeful intensification, a wide-flung enlargement of our operations. We are to go forth to still needier souls, with fresh and more urgent appeals: turning our backs on those who make excuse, we appeal to the blind that can see no field to buy; to the lame, who can drive no plough; to the maimed, who have no home. And the urgency deepens. To the first class it is simply said that the meal is ready : the second class - weaker, feebler souls - are to be brought in, as you would support a cripple across the threshold : the final class are to be compelled, even as Lot left Sodom under the compelling hands of Angels.
The strongest statement of all is reserved for the final invitation. "CONSTRAIN them" - use all the moral and persuasive power that you can master - "to come in"; for even when so ‘constrained’, only those who ‘come,’ and come voluntarily, will ever be accepted as guests. Compelled by the terrors of the Law; compelled by the fleeting brevity of the invitation; compelled by the Christ-like life:- the truth is to be put so convincingly, so winsomely, so practically, so forcibly that the seats are filled. With all seats filled, all invitations cease.
So our golden opportunity reveals itself. Paul is able to say at the end(1 Tim. 4: 7) :- "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith" ; the Christian Faith in its entirety, the whole revelation of God : it has lodged and dwelt in heart and life, and passes with the faithful servant into the unseen. At the close of the first century Justin Martyr said:- "There is not a nation, Greek or Barbarian or of any other name, even those who wander in tribes or live in tents, among whom prayers and thanks-givings are not offered to the Father and Creator of the Universe in the Name of the Crucified Jesus." Yet not one spot on earth has kept that Faith throughout the centuries since. But there are individuals who will be able to repeat in the death-hour - "I have kept the faith:" it has ruled my heart, filled my mouth, worked my hands, guided my feet: "HENCEFORTH THERE IS LAID UP FOR ME THE CROWN."