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It has often been observed that the three persons specified in the parable as offering their excuses refused to come on no distinctly sinful grounds. One excused himself because he had to look after his landed property; a second excused himself because he had to attend to the business of his farm; a third had just entered into that state which was “ ordained of God in the time of man's innocency,” and is actually used by the Holy Ghost as a figure “ representing the union betwixt Christ and His Church.”
So that none of these people are kept away by what we call actual sin. There is, of course, a desperately sinful state of heart towards God, taking God to be figured by the man who makes the feast, but they are not open sinners.
Their excuses were not for a moment accepted by the giver of the supper. He was angry, but He was determined that His feast should not be thrown away. The tables would hold a certain number, and that number must be brought in. So first He sends to the streets and lanes for the poor, the maimed, the halt, and the blind; and when these were not sufficient, He sends to the highways and hedges, and apparently to these last something like violent urgency was to be used : “ Compel them to come in.”
Now, when these incidents are divested of their clothing of Scripture language, and put
into the language of modern life, I think you will allow that they are sufficiently startlingat least we should certainly think them to be so, if we were not so exceedingly familiar with Scripture metaphor.
For the first invited guests are evidently what are now called the respectable classes ; the
poor and maimed may be taken to be what are called the respectable poor ; and who then are the people in the highways and hedges ?-evidently the vagabonds, the street beggars, the tramps, the waifs and strays of society—what are called in magazines and newspapers “the dangerous classes." So the parable is simply this. A man, evidently a rich and great man, makes a great entertainment, invites his very respectable neighbours, such as those who dwell in the suburbs and squares, and on their refusal, fills his house, first with the indigent poor—those who dwell in the lanes; and when these are not enough, then fills it up with the refuse of the common lodging-houses.
A moment's consideration will convince you that this is no exaggeration. It is literally the circumstance described in the parable.
It is, as I said, when thus put, very startling, and was evidently intended to be so; and is startling and strange because it is evidently intended to teach us some hard lessons—some lessons that require some incidents very much out of the common way to impress us.
The first may be this: that mere respectability without godliness is no passport to the eternal good things of the Gospel.
A man may be thoroughly respectable, well to do, unexceptionable in demeanour—a good and perhaps useful member of this world's society, a business man, a family man, and yet be all his life long refusing the calls of God. Thorough respectability as regards this world, and deep-rooted ungodliness, may be united in the same man.
A second is this: that those who, from their position in Christian society, and their knowledge and their education, one would suppose to be marked out by God to be the pillars and ornaments of His Church, are perpetually disappointing the expectations, not only of man but of God. God Incarnate looks to find fruit on them, as He once did on the fig-tree, and finds none, whilst God's elect are found, unexpectedly found, amongst those from whom man hopes nothing
A third and a very consoling lesson is this: that heaven will at last be full.
It must be so. It was said of Jesus Christ, its King, in prophecy, that “He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied;" and, I say it with all reverence, it will take much to satisfy His soul. The Apostle in vision saw an innumerable multitude, which no man could number, standing round about the throne.
God's house will be filled, but by whom? Ah, my brethren, by whom? by whom? Wonderful and unspeakable mystery! “I was found of them that sought me not. I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me”—by such the places in His house may be filled and the prophet proceeds: “All the day long have I stretched forth my hands to a disobedient and gainsaying people.”
Wonderful mystery that of God's election ! That God has a number of souls innumerable to us, but which He knows. And it ought to be a consoling mystery to think that God's purposes of mercy will not in the long run be thwarted. His house will be filled—but by whom? By those who accept, and take and realize, and enjoy the promises, the truths, the Eucharists of the Gospel
Deep, very deep, the mystery that those who seem to be so fit, and who are so early called, should lose, and those so unfit in the eyes of men should gain-deep mystery; but this is no mystery, that all God's invitations are real; so that when He says to you, my brethren, “ Come, for all things are now ready,” you may depend upon
it that He means it.
LOST AND FOUND.
Sr. LUKE xv. 6. “Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.”
It is important to remember that the Saviour gave utterance to this parable in order to silence the murmurings of the Pharisees and Scribes, who were offended because He received sinners. “All the publicans and sinners," it is said, “drew near to Him," and the Saviour not only welcomed them, but graciously condescended to encourage them by sitting down to meat with them. The Pharisees were offended at this, and then the Lord spake, in order to remove their prejudices, and, if it were possible, to lead them on to better things, the parable of the " Lost sheep," and then the parable of the “Lost piece of silver."
It is important, I say, to remember the occasion, which called forth these precious words, that they were spoken in answer to some who objected against our Lord, that He went out of His way to welcome these publicans and sinners, because this may the more vividly impress upon us the fact that He means Himself when He