by John Ritchie
The following pages contain the substance of Sunday evening addresses, delivered to audiences chiefly composed of young men and women entering upon the path of life.
Their object was, to set forth the necessity of early and definite conversion to God, with the blessedness, brightness and beauty of the Christian life, in union, communion and glory, with the Lord Jesus Christ, as unfolded in narrative, parable and prophecy, in these “Marriage Scenes” of the Sacred Word. During the period of their delivery there were many tokens of the Lord’s grace in opening and winning the hearts of young men and maidens to Himself, giving them the knowledge and the joy of His salvation, with a portion in Himself and His unsearchable riches, infinitely better than the best the world can give. They are now issued with the earnest desire that they may be yet more abundantly used in setting before those entering on life’s untrodden path, the glad tidings of a free and full salvation, which when received by faith, brings the believer into abiding union with Christ.
May the reader’s heart be wooed and won for Him, as was that of the writer, thirty-three years ago this day.
April 2nd, 1904.
1. Married unto Christ; or, The Wooing and Winning of the Soul
There is a peculiar charm in the way that Scripture appeals to the heart, in presenting the Gospel and the blessings it brings from God to men. The imagery used to present the great and eternal truths of salvation, with the position and portion of those who yield obedience to its call, is drawn from the daily things of human life. The birth of a son and heir, the finding of a lost and valued treasure, the wooing and winning of a bride, the joy and rejoicing of a marriage feast, are all used by the Spirit to describe that wonderful event, a sinner’s salvation, the greatest and most important epoch in a human life. Type and parable, simile and history, are used to tell what true conversion is, how it is brought about, and what its results are in time, and its final issue, eternity.
There is a bare-bones way of preaching, a dry and theological sort of Gospel, which gives those who hear it the idea that Christianity is a creed to be accepted, a cult to be mastered, a religion to become an adherent of, a something that has to be kept like a pledge and renewed like a covenant, generally in a legal and more or less solemn mood, which yields little pleasure to those who give themselves to it. I do not much wonder that people are throwing off the yoke of such a religion, and that year after year the complaint becomes louder that “the masses” do not give the attention their fathers did to orthodoxy and church affairs. Then worldly attractions have to be brought in, and the crowd “caught by guile” before they will come to hear anything bearing the name of God or Christ or Christianity. It is not my intention or my business to discuss the formalities and shams of what goes by the name of “religion.” I leave that to whomsoever it concerns. Mine is a happier and more congenial task, namely—to try and set forth the unsearchable riches and the exceeding loveliness of Christ; to exalt Him who is “fairer than the sons of men,” the “chiefest among ten thousand.” It is not religion, but Christ, that a sinner needs: Christ to save, Christ to satisfy. Permit me, then, O weary soul, unsatisfied and unsaved, to introduce you to One whose love is eternal and unchangeable, whose power is almighty and unlimited, who has saved and satisfied, wooed and won, thousands and tens of thousands of hearts once weary and restless as yours is now, and made them glad in Himself. Yes, blessed be God, “the Gospel of God concerning His Son Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:2) is not only a message of deliverance from hell and all its woes, but the revelation of the heart of God, the introduction to a present union with Christ, which, wherever it is known in living power, transfigures earthly life, even in its humblest sphere, and makes it effulgent with heavenly light and love, even “as the days of Heaven upon earth.”
This is an aspect of the Gospel that I confess I love and find great joy in unfolding. Young men and maidens, you want a present satisfying portion, do you not? You must have found, as others before you, that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, in the world that gives true satisfaction; that it has no abiding portion, no unfailing source of real pleasure. This is to be found in Christ and in Christ alone. All other love is subject to change and decay. Death at any moment may sever you from it; then your tears begin to flow, and you are left to mourn alone, bereft of all your joy. As a dear child, who had lost one playmate after another whom death had claimed, said in the day of her distress—“Can you tell me of one to love who will never die?” I am thankful to say I can. His name is Jesus, and He wants to be the Lover of your soul, the Object of your heart. Have you any room for Jesus?
Busy man of the world, careworn mother in the home, burdened toiler in the field or the factory, Christ is the One you need. He is the “very same Jesus” who dwelt at Nazareth, sailed across Gennesaret, fed the multitudes at Tiberias, wept at the grave in Bethany, a real Man, perfectly conversant with human life in all its sorrows, cares, and conflicts, yet withal the mighty God—mighty to save, able to succour, ready to help, ever near to bless all who are His, saved by grace, on the way to glory. Do you want to know this Jesus? The Gospel of the glory of the blessed God (1 Tim. 1:11, R.V.) as it is now being proclaimed, with the Holy Ghost sent down from Heaven, has as its object the winning of a people for Christ. There is no such thought in the purpose of God as the conversion of the world or the Christianizing of all nations by means of the Gospel preached in this present dispensation. This is not its object at all. God is giving a people to His Son, gathering a people “out of the world” (John 17:6), severed from all others by the Cross (Gal. 6:14), and united to Christ in Heaven by the Holy Ghost. Born and indwelt of the Spirit, new creatures in Christ, pilgrims through earth, citizens of Heaven; more acquainted with the New Jerusalem and its glories than with earth’s palaces and cities; more attracted by the power of heavenly things than with the world’s wealth and pleasure; more occupied with things above the sun than with the toys and trifles that occupy the attention and absorb the energies of the worldlings among which they dwell. Such is the Bible’s description of a Christian, of a soul wooed and won and married to Christ. Do you know any such among your acquaintances? Have you seen any who answer to this description? You may think them scarce, but I tell you they are here on earth, walking in and out among men every day, transacting life’s business, doing its daily round, in the enjoyment of these blessings, knowing, realising, and enjoying in their souls from day to day the power, the joy, the inexpressible delight of being married unto Christ, united to Him who is on yonder heavenly throne.
Permit me to briefly tell you how such a union is possible, how it may be formed, and, best of all, how you, your very self, may share it. Yes, mine shall be the joy of introducing you to the Son of God, the Bridegroom of the soul; then, like one of olden time who acted as the Bridegroom’s friend (John 3:29), I shall step aside and leave you alone with Him, to answer the great question—“Wilt thou go with this Man?” (Gen. 24:58). Never have you had such a momentous issue to face as this, never may you have the chance to face it again. How grand it will be for angels in their holy Heaven to hear wafted from your heart the joyful song—
“’Tis done, the great transaction’s done—
I am my Lord’s, and He is mine.”
Bridal relationships are much used by the Spirit to express the reality of the believer’s oneness with Christ. Jehovah’s covenant with His ancient people, Israel, is often described in the symbolic language of bridal relationship. “I am married unto you” (Jer. 3:14) was the word to them even in backsliding days. And the experiences of days to come, as the prophets Isaiah and Hosea sweetly tell, are described by the imagery of the wooing and wedding of earthly love—“As a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons marry thee; and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy son rejoice over thee” (Isa 62:5). And again—“I will betroth thee unto Me for ever. I will betroth thee unto Me in righteousness and in judgment, and in loving-kindness and in mercies” (Hos. 3:19).
The typical brides of Old Testament times—Eve, Rebekah, Rachel, Asenath, Zipporah, Ruth, and Abigail—each tell in part the story of the soul’s wooing and winning by the love of Christ, the leaving of all earthly and natural ties, the surrender of all that men of the world hold dear, for the better portion of union with the Son of God. Only, they fail, as all earthly foreshadowings fail, to tell the whole of what is involved in that wondrous, mystic, but real and eternal union, of the believer with Christ, for theirs is only for time, His for eternity; theirs is a union in the flesh, His in the spirit, for he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit (1 Cor. 6:17). Blessed union! Do you know it? Has it been consummated between you and the Lord Jesus Christ? Can you sing in truth—
“Ascended now in glory bright,
Still one with us Thou art;
Nor life nor death nor depth nor height
Thy saints and Thee can part.”
If not, then let me tell you how it may be. Let this be clear to all. To begin with, there is no child of Adam’s race born into this world in union with Christ. The loud-sounding theory of “the Fatherhood of God,” which makes every sinner a child of God, and ignores the need of being born again, has no foundation in Scripture. No more has the poetic, but utterly untruthful, figment of the union with Christ of all humanity on the ground of His incarnation. True it is that He became Man, that He lived and walked a real Man on this earth for over thirty years, and that He is at this moment a glorified Main on the throne of God. But in becoming Man, He did not link Himself with the human race as such, in the sense of “elevating humanity” or bringing the whole of Adam’s seed to God and Heaven. His humanity was different from all other men’s. He was “holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.” “In the likeness of sinful flesh,” indeed, but “in Him was no sin.” He was the “Holy One of God.” There was not, nor could be, any union with Him in incarnation, for men are sinners, unholy, corrupt, likened to lepers, put outside the camp, unfit for the presence of God or the companionship of His people. Will any dare to say that such are in union with the Holy Son of God? Never! As the corn of wheat, Jesus was alone (John 12:24); and only by death and resurrection did it become possible for any to be united to Him. Blessed be God, when a sinner, sinful and guilty, comes to the Cross, he there judicially dies; he becomes a crucified man; his sinful self, all that he was as a child of Adam comes to its end before God. He is no longer seen as a man in the flesh, a sinner in nature, but born from above, created anew in Christ, raised from the dead, sealed, anointed, and indwelt by the Spirit of God, he is joined unto Christ risen, “married unto Him who is raised from the dead that he may bring forth fruit unto God” (Rom. 7:4).
Responsibility comes in here, for the believing soul must abide in Christ (John 15:3) in order to actually bring forth fruit, but there must be life and union before there can be communion and fruitfulness. Let this be clear. A mistake on this point is a fatal error. The sinner must be saved by grace. The child of Adam must become a child of God by a new and heavenly birth before there can be any Christianity, any Christian experience, any union with Christ, or any communion with God. Apart from the new birth, man is an enemy of God, a child of wrath, a servant of sin. Have you learned this and acknowledged it before God?
Ordinances—such as Baptism and the Lord’s Supper—do not impart life or effect union with Christ. Yet there are thousands in this so-called “Christian land” who sincerely believe, because they have been taught it, that in their baptism they were made children of God and inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven, and that by their partaking of the bread and wine of the “Sacrament” they become “partakers of Christ.” But it is a delusion, as time, or, if not, eternity will show. There is not nor can be any Divine life in the soul, or any union with Christ apart from faith in Christ and the operation of the Holy Ghost.
So we read, “As many as received Him, to them gave He the right to become children of God even to them that believe on His name” (John 1:12, R.V.). “Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26). Such is the Divine record regarding this great fundamental truth, and woe be to that man who alters or obscures it. Have you known any such experience in your spiritual life? Have you a spiritual birthday to celebrate, a day to look back to on which you came to the Son of God and became one with Him. As one who knew it well has expressed it—
“He looked on me, I looked on Him,
And we were one for ever.”
But you may ask, as the Jewish ruler did, “How can these things be?” In all earthly unions there must be a wooing and a winning before there is wedding and a happy union. The bride must know and trust the bridegroom; there must be a reciprocated love. Love begets love; love manifested, love commended begets confidence and wins the heart. When Jacob toiled for Rachel, his love for her making the burden light and the years appear as days, she loved him in return, and was prepared to share his lowly estate and become his fellow-pilgrim. When Abraham’s servant presented to Rebekah the gifts of Isaac, and told the story of his father’s choice of her as the bride and co-heir of his son, her heart was so fully won for Isaac that she was ready to forget her people and cross the desert on the camel’s back to Isaac, whom having not seen she loved. She stood a stranger in the land of her birth the moment the love of Isaac won her heart And thus it is with the sinner won by the love of Christ. The experience of the new-born soul is well described in Robert Chapman’s hymn—
“The cords that bound my heart to earth
Were loosed by Jesus’ hand;
Before His cross I now am left
A stranger in the land.”
Love manifested on the cross, Love that died for its enemies, Love declared in the Gospel is the love that melts the heart. Has it melted yours? Can you look upon that dying Son of God, thorn-crowned, gory, buffeted and bleeding by the cruel scourge of man, smitten, stricken, and afflicted at the hand of God, wounded for sins not His own, the Sword of Justice sheathed in His heart for your transgressions, to save you from their righteous doom, silent and meek as a Lamb led to the slaughter, bearing your sin and shame to save you from an eternal hell, and remain unmoved, unmelted? Thousands have stood before that Cross, by faith gazing upon that bleeding Lamb, and the language of their hearts has been—
“Just as I am: Thy love, I own,
Has broken every barrier down.
Now to be Thine—yea, Thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come.”
The love of Christ believed, received, wins the heart. The Person of Christ known, trusted, becomes the Object of the soul. “We love Him because He first loved us,” becomes the language of the new-born saint. Things that once charmed lose their power: love, not law, becomes the motive; “the expulsive power of a new affection” causes things once gloried in to be expelled as “refuse”; old things practically pass away, and all things become new. What has effected all this? Not law but love; not duty but devotion; not religion but Christ. As the poet has it—
“What has stript the seeming beauty
Of the idols of the earth?
Not the sense of right and duty,
But the sight of Jesus’ worth;
Not the crushing of these idols,
With its bitter void and smart,
But the beaming of His beauty,
The unveiling of His heart.”
A dying Christ on Calvary breaks the links below, and cuts the cords that bind the heart to earth. A glorified Christ in Heaven forms new links above, and gathers the heart’s affection around Himself. Thus it was with Saul of Tarsus. Arrested on the Damascus road by a light from Heaven, above the brightness of the sun, while madly persecuting Christ and His saints, spoken to by the glorified Son of God, who then and there was revealed to and in him, from that hour he became His devoted follower. To him was revealed the mystery of the believer’s union with Christ—that mystic but real oneness of Christ and His own, expressed in the symbols of the Head and the members, the Bridegroom and the bride (Eph. 5:25-30). The Gospel of a dead and risen Christ, with the Holy Ghost sent down from Heaven, introduces the believing sinner to this wondrous place, and gives him the actual possession now, while yet in mortal flesh on earth, of these unspeakable blessings. The poor waddling knows nothing of them; he is occupied with trifles light as air while they are within his reach. As Bunyan aptly expresses it, he is like the man with the muck-rake, picking straws while the crown above his head is allowed to pass unheeded. O foolish worldling! Dupe of Satan, fool for eternity, to barter Christ and Heaven for toys and trifles, with an eternal hell at the end. How is it with you? I ask you to face the matter squarely. Are you Christ’s? Have you been converted? Is your heart detached from the world? Do you find your joy, your portion, in the Son of God? Apart from this there is no life, no union with Christ, no fruit unto God and no Heaven hereafter.
The results of union with Christ are many. Let me name a few. First, His Person is loved. He who was once as a “root out of a dry ground,” without form or comeliness, is now esteemed to be “altogether lovely.” For His sake, nothing is considered too great a sacrifice. This is not the legal giving up of a soul seeking to appease an offended God and earn salvation, but the constraining power of love giving its best to please its object. Floods and flames can not impede it; prison or stake will not deter it; such love is strong as death. Next, the Word of Christ is treasured. What He says is listened to with deepest interest. Every wish and word and commandment is observed, to be with haste obeyed. Like David’s three mighty men who broke through the Philistine ranks to draw from the well of Bethlehem a drink for their royal master, which he only expressed a longing to receive, so love not only keeps the Lord’s commandments, but listens to His words, the longing of His heart, and hastens to fulfil them. The Bible is loved, read, searched, meditated on, and treasured because it is His Book; He is its Author and its theme. To a worldling, it is dry and unpalatable; to a legalist, it is a manual of religion to be obeyed with the austerity of law; to the Christian, it is a daily counsellor. Its words are sweeter than honey, more precious than gold. You may find out what your relation to Christ is, from the way you treat His words. If you have no love for the words of Christ, you have good cause for questioning your relation to His Person. If you love the Lord, you will manifest it by your love for and delight in His Word. I have heard of a young lady who received a book as a birthday gift. She glanced at it, but threw it aside with its leaves uncut; she had no interest in it. By and bye she became acquainted with its author, was loved by him, and became his bride. With what interest she turned to the book then! How eagerly she read it, hung over its pages, and drank in its words. Love for Christ’s Person begets interest in His words, and moves the feet in swift obedience to His will.
The Lord’s people become the associates of the Christ-won soul. His worship and His service are the delight of His saints, and eagerly they long for the day to come when they shall see Him as He is, and be like Him, and with Him for ever in their eternal home. But there is no Heaven without Christ. The first, the chief, need of the sinner is to be converted, to be turned to the Son, to be acquainted with and united to Him.
Union with Christ in heavenly glory, the enjoyment of Christ and heavenly things, by the Holy Ghost indwelling the believer and making good to him what is his in Christ, causing him to “possess his possessions” (Obad. 17), living in the actual enjoyment of them here and now, is the only power known to me to lift the children of God above the present world and keep them separate from it. You cannot make yourself unworldly by force of resolution; you need a power mightier than your own to lift you up far above the world and make you superior to it. That is found in the Gospel. Its source is Christ glorified in Heaven; its streams are in the indwelling Spirit of God, whose office is to work mightily in all who believe, revealing the beauty and glory of Christ, and lifting up the heart of the believer to the enjoyment of things above. The heart thus fixed on Christ, satiated with heavenly enjoyment, has no desire for worldly things. As the full soul loatheth an honeycomb, so the Christ-filled heart despises earthly joys. They have no glory by reason of the glory that excelleth. As a farthing rushlight in the noonday sun only shows its black wick, so the toys and trifles, the wealth and pleasure, of the world have lost their beauty and charms to the heart that has tasted and is enjoying Christ and heavenly things.
Is this the Christianity you know and possess? It certainly is not the religion of the world, which is a weary round of meaningless ceremony and dry routine, divorced in most cases from all relation with daily life. God’s Christianity has its centre in a living, loving Person—and it is to Him that the Spirit of God would introduce you at this hour. The only open question—and it is you alone that can answer it—is, Are you willing here and now to receive the Son of God as your Saviour, Lover, Lord, and Portion? There is no question at all in regard to His desire to have you. He has manifested, expressed, and commended His love. He as sent forth His message, His invitation, His call. He has pledged His word and given His promise. “Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). All that is awanting to consummate the union is your answer, your heart’s decision, your soul’s choice. “Wilt thou go with this Man?”
2. A Prince’s Marriage; with Glimpses of the Invited Guests
(Read Matthew chap. 21:1-14, R.V.)
“A marriage feast for His Son” (v. 2, R.V.). What a contrast to what we find in the previous chapter, where, instead of reverencing the only and beloved Son who was sent into the vineyard (see chap. 21:37-38, with Mark 12:6), the wicked husbandman said—“This is the heir; come, let us kill Him” (v. 38). In the parable of the vineyard God is seen seeking fruit on the ground of righteousness, but there was none. Here, it is God opening the treasures of His grace and glory in honour of His own Son. Man gave him a crown of thorns and a cross of shame. This was the world’s real estimate of the worth of Christ. God crowned Him with glory and honour, and set Him at His own right hand in Heaven, thus reversing man’s verdict, while He told out His estimate of the worth and work of His Son.
The destiny of every man turns on what he thinks of Christ, and of the place he gives to Christ. Your present estimate of Christ will fix your place in Heaven or hell for eternity, my friend. Be clear, then, above and beyond all else, as to what place you are giving to Christ. God claims for Him the paramount place. He will not have less. You may—I suppose you do—give Christ some place and some part in your religion. You name His name, you call Him “the Saviour.” But many who do this mix up their own works and their own righteousness with His perfect work, and expect to be saved and go to Heaven on account of both combined. Well, I want to tell you this, before we go on to look at the beautiful yet intensely solemn Gospel parable before us, that no sinner ever yet did enter God’s Heaven by any such passport, and none ever will. There is only one name “given under Heaven among men whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12), and that one name is Jesus. All others are unknown in the courts of Heaven. You may have a good name of your own, a moral name, an honoured name, which will be handed down to posterity with something like a halo of glory around it, but it will never, no never, pass you within the gates of the New Jerusalem, the dwelling place of God and the Lamb. All who enter there have His name on their foreheads, His precious blood is their only plea. They all learned to sing on earth—
“His precious Name is all my boast,
His blood my only plea;
My password to the realms of bliss
Is—Jesus died for me.”
“A marriage feast”: not a funeral, but a season of joy and rejoicing. The Gospel is called “the Gospel of the glory of the blessed, or the happy of God” (1 Tim. 1:2, R.V.). It is God, in the fulness of His own joy, seeking others to share in what He has found in Christ. In the law, God was showing what He could claim and what was His due. In the Gospel, He is pouring out the riches of His grace. He is a giving God, and He gives according to His delight and joy in Christ. What a grand feast this King prepared! Why? Because it was in honour of His Son. The richness of the feast was just the expression of His love for, and the honours He bestowed upon, that Son. It was a feast worthy of Him. And what is the Gospel, and the salvation it brings, but a Gospel and a salvation worthy of Christ? Just imagine people saying that if they believed God’s Gospel and received His salvation they would become miserable and lose all their joy! Do people say that when they are invited to a marriage feast? No, I am sure they do not. They say, “We expect to have a grand time, a season of rejoicing”; and off they go to be happy. God knows how unsatisfied and destitute of real, lasting joy sinners are. He knows they cannot get anything to make them solidly happy in the world or in the service of the devil, so He has Himself provided at His own cost, what will satisfy every longing of the human heart. All this is in Christ, and He invites you, my friend, to come and have your fill, just as you are and now.
“He sent forth His servants to call them that were bidden to the marriage feast: and they would not come” (v. 4). In the East it is the habit to invite the guests a while before, and then at the time to go and call or bring to the feast those previously bidden. This we learn from the Book of Esther, chapter 5:8 with 6:14, when the king and Haman were bidden to Esther’s banquet, and then at the proper time called.
Dispensationally, the bidden guests were the seed of Abraham, the children of Israel, to whom pertained the adoption, the glory, and the covenants (Rom. 9:3). When the set time had come for the Bridegroom to appear, John the Baptist was sent forth to call the bidden guests to enter in. The twelve and the seventy continued the call to the house of Israel. “They would not come.” Pregnant and solemn words! Not even for the pleading of the King’s Son Himself had they an open ear. With bitter tears He had to turn from them with the lamentation on His lips, “How often would I have gathered thy children together as a hen doth gather her chickens beneath her wing, but ye would not” (Mat. 23:37). Are you pursuing the same course? Are you refusing the call that has so often rung in your ears? Remember, it will not always be heard. Many who once heard it as you do now are for ever beyond its reach. What they would give now to hear just once the sweet, familiar word—Come! But it is unknown in hell. Could I stand at the mouth of the pit of woe just for one brief hour and repeat the sweet word “Come,” what a stampede of millions of the damned there would be in response! But that can never be. Their doom is sealed, their destiny is fixed. There is no Gospel in hell. “Again He sent other servants” (v. 4). Not even the cross exhausted the mercy and grace of God. The death of Christ, which was the crowning proof of man’s hatred of God, became the channel through which God’s love could flow out toward him in righteousness.
“The very spear that pierced Thy side,
Drew forth the blood to save.”
The second call was fuller than the first: “Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come in to the marriage feast” (v. 5). This had its answer in the testimony of the apostles and other heralds of the Gospel after Pentecost, who were sent forth to tell of a dead and risen Christ, and a full and free salvation in His name. All had been prepared by God in boundless grace for sinful men.
With what earnestness and tenderness did Paul plead with his kindred according to the flesh! He carried his message to “the Jew first.” All this tells what God has done, what He has provided, and that last grand word, “All things are ready; come,” is the best and sweetest of all. There is nothing to do; all has been done. Nothing to bring; all has been provided. “All things”—not one thing left out by God. All are ready.
You do not know half your needs, but God, who knows them all fully, and His own requirements as well, has made all ready. So there is no need to wait, for you cannot add anything to the feast by waiting, and you can no longer with any show of sincerity say that you are “waiting God’s time,” for His time, His appointed hour, has struck; and I come to you in His name, and, armed with His authority, I bid you “Come.”
Turn we now to the other side of the picture. How do the invited guests treat the King’s message? How do you think they ought to have treated it? If you received an invitation from His Majesty the King to come and dine with him at Balmoral, you would catch the first express train that runs to Aberdeen, and thence to Ballater. A royal invitation is equivalent to a command from the Throne, and to ignore it or trifle with it would be regarded as an insult to Royalty. How was the King’s command received? “They made light of it.” Yes, the Royal invitation was set at nought, and the reason is not far to seek. They were pre-occupied. Something else, which, in their estimation, was of more importance, had the first place in their hearts, the uppermost in their thoughts. Is not that exactly how many are treating the Gospel? They make “light of it,” treat it and all it brings as of secondary importance. The world, money-making, pleasure-hunting, are reckoned of great importance. Time, talents, strength, are all eagerly devoted to these; but to God, eternity, salvation, none. “One went to his farm, another to his merchandise.” Nothing wrong in being a farmer or a merchant; but everything wrong if the business of life, the world, becomes your god, and causes you to lose your soul. Here we have the respectable worldling, moral, amiable, possibly religious, but without Christ. Take care you do not allow business, stocks, dollars, pounds, to so engross you that God’s Gospel and His Christ are shut out. “Business”—the god that so many worship—will be a poor comfort in a dying hour. If you come to Death’s dark flood unsaved, unprepared to meet God, because you had no time to think of such things, because of business, you will curse the very thing that now you worship and allow to claim your strength. “The remnant took his servants and entreated them spitefully, and slew them.” Real, open enemies of the Lord, opponents of His Gospel, persecutors and murderers of His saints. Of this class were the Jews who opposed the Gospel, slew Stephen, and persecuted the saints. Swift retribution fell upon them. He sent forth His armies and destroyed these murderers, and burned up their city (v. 7). As the weeping Saviour had foretold, not one stone was left upon another of the favoured city. Titus and the Roman armies—God’s executioners—razed it to the ground, and the people who cried, “His blood be on us and on our children,” are to this day a standing witness to the “severity” of God and His righteous judgment. Yet people say, “God is too merciful to punish His creatures, too loving to cast any into Hell.” Do not be deceived by this lie. The God who poured retribution upon a Christ-rejecting Jerusalem is the God with whom we have to do, and it is due to Christ that all who reject Him and refuse His salvation shall yet feel the fierceness of His wrath. “Flee from the wrath to come” therefore I warn you. But the Divine purpose cannot be foregone. God must and will honour His Son. The marriage-feast—or, as it might be more correctly given, the series of marriage-feasts—must proceed. If the invited guest will not come, others will. If Israel will not have the Gospel, it must go forth to the Gentiles. And this is just what it did. “Seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46) was the word of the apostle to the Jews who had refused his message.
The servants are sent out into the highways, the public thoroughfares, and from them are to gather as many as they find, bad and good (vv. 9-10). There was a ready response to the call found there. Yes, blessed be God, through Israel’s fall grace has come to those who are afar off, and there it has been welcomed. “Be it known, therefore, unto you that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it” (Acts 28:28). Have you heard and welcomed the Gospel call? Have you as a Gentile sinner obeyed the Divine command? Has the Gospel gathered you from your sins, your pleasures, your worldliness—in short, saved you from your life on the world’s highways, and made you a guest at God’s table, a sharer of His joy in His Son? Have you come to God’s mind about His Christ in taking your place in God’s great banquet-hall, and giving Christ the place God claims for Him? And, notice, the bad and the good (v, 10) were there. “There is none good” (Rom. 3:10) actually in God’s sight, but relatively there are still the outwardly good and the morally bad. Nicodemus and the Woman of Samaria were different outwardly; so were Lydia and the jailer of Philippi. Yet they were all saved with the “common salvation” (Jude 3). And if ever you are saved, it must be just in the same way, aristocrats and beggars alike. Zaacheus and Bartimeus met the same Jesus, the same day; both were saved by Him, and both followed Him, glorifying God. Perhaps you think you are one of the “good.” Well, the Lord here shows that He has provided salvation for you just as you are, and I do not, dare not, tell you, as some do, that there is none for the “good.” But I do say this, that there are no “reserved seats” for you or your class; you must take your place alongside Mary Magdalene, the dying robber, and him who says he is the “chief of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). This is just where many halt: where pride comes in, and where the devil sets his last trap to catch sinners on the way to Christ. Take care he does not trap you, and lead you to the pit by means of pride, the sin for which he himself was hurled from his first estate.
“The king came in to see the guests” (v. 11). Yes, he was interested in them, delighted to find that some had done honour to His Son. And what do you think makes God most glad and causes all Heaven to rejoice? Is it the rise and fall of empires, the blasts of the world’s trumpets, the mingled sounds of the world’s religions? No, none of these. It is the conversion of a sinner; the bringing of a soul to share His joy in Christ. How delighted the king must have been to see each guest dressed in the robe of his providing—as was the Eastern custom at such a feast—all honouring his son! But who is this in the midst of the joyful scene wearing a garment conspicuous by its difference from all the rest? See how it immediately catches the king’s eye. He knows it is not of his providing. Right up to the wearer he goes, and, taking him on the ground of his profession as an “honourer of his son,” he says, “Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless” (v. 12). Here we have the self-righteous, the formalist, the hypocrite. He appears before God in his own righteousness; and while professedly naming and honouring Christ, his religion is really a display of self from first to last. A Christless sinner’s religion, an unregenerate sinner’s profession, is all I, I, I. “I fast, I give, I possess” (Luke 18:12), was the Pharisee’s prayer. In this he sought to appear before God, but God would not have it. O the thousands of church members, communicants, religious professors who in garments of their own are presuming to appear before God as Christians, disciples of Christ, and all the time they possess no Christ. Like the provided robe at that marriage feast which that guest rejected, and wore his own garment—very likely, a fairly respectable one it had been, not a ragged coat worn by a beggar from the hedges—so respectable, reformed, religious sinners appear before God in their own morality or religion. They do not submit to God’s righteousness, but seek to establish their own, although the best of it is in God’s sight only as “filthy rags” (Isa. 64:5). And from that scene of holy joy and light the haughty Pharisee, who thus more deeply dishonoured the king and his son than those who openly refused the invitation, was hurled into the darkness, to weep his folly and gnash his teeth in rage at the one he once professed to own. Such must be the destiny and doom of the false professor, the Christ despiser, the grace rejecter. Thus the various ways in which men despise God’s Gospel pass before us. And the thing that hath been is that which shall be, for here as elsewhere “there is no new thing under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9). While the day of God’s grace, of the Gospel’s call, and of man’s salvation lasts, there will be the despiser, the rejecter, the neglecter, and the accepter of Christ. Let each ask solemnly, honestly, personally—What am I? Have I accepted God’s Son as my personal Saviour? This is the great question before which all else fades into insignificance. What will it profit you, O man of the world, sinner of the highways, how many thousands you possessed here, when you appear before God, a guilty Christless soul? You were too busy, too engrossed with the present world and its gains to give heed to God’s salvation. You “made light of it.” What a fool you will see yourself to be in the Judgment Day! Then the devil will gloat over the shrewd, clever, level-headed, successful business men, who have been lured on to his hell by the baits he has dangled before them! How small the “farm” and the “merchandise” will look in the light of eternity! A poor exchange for the soul lost to God and Christ and Heaven! Such will be the doom of the Christ-neglecter.
There are the avowed enemies of God, who spurn His message, abuse His servants, and wage open fight against the Lord of Heaven and earth. Concerning them it is said, “The King was wroth.” Ah, yes: that will come. This is a day of grace, and God is long-suffering with His enemies. He is giving them a long day of mercy, for He is not willing that any should perish. But it will not be always so. The “acceptable year of the Lord” will be followed by “the day of vengeance of our God” (Isa. 61:2), and when that day dawns His wrath will burn as an oven against His foes. Proud sinners will quake and tremble then! “The kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men and the chief captains, and every bondman and every freeman hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks and in the mountains” (Rev. 6:15). But there will be no escape, no hiding from God then. “The wrath of God” must be felt; just retribution for the rejection of His grace! The Christ-rejecter’s doom is theirs.
Last of all comes the self-righteous, proud professor, the Christ-despiser, to meet his doom. How terrible will that meeting be! His fair profession shrivelled up in the searching light of God! His mask of hypocrisy flung aside, revealing his real condition! His cloak of self-righteousness torn to shreds, disclosing the sham of his fair profession! What a moment! God and the sinner face to face at last! The day of grace for ever past: the long-predicted hour of judgment come at last. Unsaved one, I ask you, can you look forward without dread to that hour? It will come, as sure as God is God. You may make your count for that. But the day of grace is yet with us, the invitation of God is yet with us. The feast is still spread, and the word I bring to you this day is this—“Come, for all things are now ready.” There is yet salvation for you. It is not yet too late to say—
“Even now by faith I claim Him mine,
The risen Son of God.
Salvation by His death I find,
And cleansing through His blood.”
But you dare not, you must not, tarry. The sands of God’s day of grace are running out, the last seats in the marriage-hall are filling fast. As we sing—
“God’s house is filling fast—
‘Yet there is room!’
Some guest will be the last—
‘Yet there is room!’
Yes, soon salvation’s day
From you will pass away,
Then grace no more will say—
‘Yet there is room!’”
The deepest woe of hell, methinks, will be the galling thought that the sinner who, by his own folly, finds himself there will remember that he might have been in Heaven. That unmasked, proud professor in the outer darkness would ever remember that he could have been within the marriage-hall an honoured guest of the King, but his pride, his self-righteousness, his refusal of the provided robe, brought him where he is. O sad regret! O galling, endless remorse! Sinner, let it not be yours. You may yet escape it. You are yet within reach of the Gospel message. Yes, tonight you may enter in, for the word is yet to you, “Come, for all things are now ready.”
3. A Marriage in Cana of Galilee; or, Christ the Source of All
(Read John 2:11)
A marriage in Cana, with Jesus and His disciples as invited guests! In the marriage of the king’s son we see God giving honour to His Son, in grace providing salvation and true satisfaction for man, and inviting sinners to partake of both, with the varied ways in which men treat His grace, some scorning, some slighting, others receiving His invitation.
At this marriage in Cana of Galilee, Jesus is an invited guest. They had bidden Him to come to the marriage. Both are true of the believing sinner. He accepts God’s provided salvation, and goes to be His guest, receiving everything he needs for nothing, without money and without price. But it is equally true that the heart which has been opened by the grace of God has room in it for Jesus. You may easily find out in this way whether or not you have the grace of God in you, whether you have been converted. Have you any room for Jesus? Or is it true of you that in your heart there is—
“Room for pleasure, room for business,
But for Christ the crucified,
Not a place that He can enter
In the heart for which He died.”
“Jesus also was bidden and His disciples to the marriage” (v. 2, R.V.). Some of these disciples were just newly converted. Nathanael only the day before, and it is worth being remembered that he belonged to Cana of Galilee (John 21:2). It may be the bride or bridegroom was related to him, but in any case he would be there as one of the “disciples” of Jesus. It is always a healthy sign when one who has just been converted takes his place in association with Christ and His people at once, and lets it be seen whose side he is on, especially in the place to which he belongs, where everybody knows him. When Nathanael was seen by the villagers of Cana that day in company with “Jesus and His disciples,” he was a marked man. Everybody knew at once what had happened. They knew he had been converted; that he had become a follower of Christ. I wonder if this can be said of you by the people around your doors, who know you best and see you oftenest? Is it clear beyond all doubt by the company you keep that you belong to Christ? Or do you, while professing to be the Lord’s, keep close friendship with the ungodly, and stand aloof from the disciples of the Lord? Then I must tell you, as Paul did the Galatians, “I stand in doubt of you” (Gal. 5:14). In every genuine case of conversion what is said of the apostles is true—“Being let go, they went to their own company” (Acts 4:23). It was a day of gladness and joy at Cana, and the mother of Jesus was there as well. Mary was, therefore, a sociable being, and not a recluse, not a nun, as Romanists would make us believe, much less the “Queen of Heaven,” to whom prayers are to be offered. I think that sweet word spoken by Mary to the servants who were at the marriage that day should be put up in bold letters over all the Romish and ritualistic images and prints of “The Virgin” which are now being made so much of. “Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it” (v. 5). What a splendid advice! Would to God the thousands who make so much of Mary would listen to her words. “Whatsoever He saith”—not what the Church says, but what “He saith unto you, do it.” Is not that very clear and simple? She joins with all the rest of God’s witnesses in testifying of Christ and in pointing others to Him. It was here, in the highland village of Cana, nestling amid its rugged hills and limestone rocks, far away from the crowded cities, at the marriage of a humble villager who had made room for Him and His disciples, that the Lord wrought His first miracle or sign, “and manifested His glory.”
Only once again do we read of Jesus being at Cana. Then it was that He was sent for to come to the city of Capernaum and heal a nobleman’s dying son. That the two miracles wrought by the Lord are meant to he connected and looked at together John 4:46, 54, surely shows. Two very different scenes—one a marriage, the other a death-bed; one a day of gladness, the other a night of sorrow. But Jesus is invited to both, and He brings healing to the one and happiness to the other. You will want Jesus, my friend, in the hour of death, but I advise you to make room for Him now, if you would know the joy and true satisfaction of a Christian’s life. Christ is a good Friend to have all through life, as well as in the hour of death. It is having Christ and being with Christ that gives joy. His presence is the brightness of earth’s sunniest days, and apart from Christ there is no real satisfaction—no abiding joy.
Just at the time when it was most needed, the wine failed. Wine is the symbol of earthly joy. “Wine that maketh glad the heart” (Ps. 104:11). “The wine failed” (v. 3, R.V.). The number of guests was greater than the resources of the humble household. The demand was beyond the supply. It is always so in regard to the joys of earth. The cravings of the human heart are greater than the world can fill. Have you not found it so? Did you ever know one who found real, abiding satisfaction, a portion large enough to fill the heart, in the pleasures of the world? I am sure you never did. Solomon the king, who had everything that wealth could give, everything that the world could supply, declares that it was not enough—“The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing” (Eccl 1:8), and he who “withheld not his heart from any joy,” and had nothing kept back from him that his eyes desired, yet declares that it is “all vanity and vexation of spirit” (v. 7). And then he asks, “What can the man do that cometh after the king?” (v. 12). If Solomon with all his wealth and wisdom could not find on earth anything to really satisfy his heart, I am sure you need not try. But the writer of Ecclesiastes also wrote The Song of Songs, and there he triumphantly exclaims—“I sat down under His shadow with great delight, and His fruit was sweet to my taste” (chap. 2:2). What a change! Just what a soul experiences who comes to Jesus and finds in Him a portion for the heart. Do you know anything about it for yourself?
“The mother of Jesus saith unto Him, They have no wine!” As I look around me on the thousands of old and young who are panting for pleasure, seeking happiness, yearning for satisfaction in the various mazes of the world’s allurements, I say, “They have no wine”—nothing to truly satisfy. No matter whether you look at the splendour of the royal palace or to the squalor of the poor man’s dwelling—“They have no wine.” Apart from Christ there is none—“The world passeth away, and the lust thereof.” Yes, “passing away” is written on all that earth can give. It has no abiding joy, but in Him and with Him at God’s right hand there are “pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16:11). The reply that was given by the Lord Jesus shows that as on another occasion “He Himself knew what He would do” (John 6:6). “Mine hour is not yet come” tells that He has a time and a way of doing His own work. Sinners are allowed to feel their need before He steps in for their deliverance. Just as a drowning man must be left struggling in the water to exhaust his strength before he will be passive in the arms of his deliverer, so must the sinner be left to come to the end of his own strength and his own resources before the Lord saves and satisfies him. This is what keeps thousands from being saved. They are not poor enough, or weak enough, or bad enough for Christ. Their wine is not so completely exhausted as to make them take the place of beggars at Jesus’ feet. They think they can do something, that they are somebody, and that hinders Christ from making known His saving power to them. Some of you say you have been waiting for years, and that God’s time to save has not yet come. Well, to take you on your own ground, do you know why? Just because you are too rich, too self-righteous, too well satisfied with yourself to need a Saviour. But the day will come, either in life or at the hour of death, when you will find out that you are nothing but a blind and naked sinner, with nothing about you that God can accept. How terrible it must be for a sinner to find out for the first time that he is lost, undone, and condemned already, as he stands shivering on the brink of death’s dark river, without God or hope for eternity! But to the sinner who owns his guilt and need, and takes his place before God as a helpless, hopeless beggar, salvation, peace, and joy belong in a minute of time.
“Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind,
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need in Thee to find,
O, Lamb of God, I come.”
The “six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews,” show that this family at Cana was a strictly religious one. They rigidly observed the requirements of the ceremonial law (Matt. 20:2, Mark 7:3-4). But the water was not wine. It did not supply that which was lacking. Nor is religion Christ. Religious observances cannot save. They do not satisfy either God or man. Your religion, however devotedly you observe it, has not, I am certain, given you the knowledge of salvation or peace with God. You may be a strict Sabbatarian, you may observe to the very letter all the ordinances of your Church, but, tell me, have you the certainty in your soul that you are saved and on the way to Heaven? Is your conscience at rest and your heart satisfied, apart from the blood of Christ, which cleanseth from all sin, and gives the conscience rest, and the Person of Christ, who satisfies the heart?
“Fill the waterpots with water” (v. 7). Now is the appointed moment for the Lord of life and glory to exercise His power in grace, and to manifest His glory (v. 11). How striking is the contrast between law and grace, between the first miracle of Moses, the representative of law, and of Jesus, the revealer of grace! The first sign wrought by Moses in Egypt was to turn its water into blood, to bring judgment down from God. The first sign or miracle wrought by Jesus is to turn the water into wine, to bring joy and blessing into a world where they had failed. Sin brought death and judgment; redemption brought life, righteousness, and glory. Jesus did it all. He, the Son of God, alone is the Saviour. His own arm brought salvation. Salvation is of the Lord. Are you willing to let Him have the undivided glory of your salvation, or do you want a hand in it yourself? “ Water” is an emblem of the Word (Eph. 5:26). The Lord could have provided the wine alone and apart from any help of man, but He said to the servants, “Fill the waterpots”; and He says to all who serve Him now, “Preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:4). Fill up the minds, the thoughts, of all who will listen with God’s truth. Teach it to the children. Some day the hand of the Lord will turn it into wine.
“Draw out now” (v. 6) is the Lord’s next word. He provided it; they drew it out. Have you “drawn out” salvation from Christ? Do you remember the woman who stood in the crowd? She touched Him, and “virtue went out from Him.” The same word is rendered power: the power of God unto salvation, in Romans 1:18. It went forth from Him and healed her. Her “touch” of faith drew it out. Have you drawn salvation, eternal life, and lasting joy from Christ? All these are in Him for you, and the word is, “Draw now.” Now is the day of salvation. Wait not till tomorrow; tomorrow may be too late, tomorrow may be the day of damnation.
They drew. They bare it to the governor, and the governor called the bridegroom and said, “Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine: and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse, but thou hast kept the good wine until now” (v. 16). The world gives its best first: puts the largest figs on the top of the box, the finest apples on the top of the barrel. It has its fairest attractions for youth, little for old age. Plenty of flattery and friendship for the day of prosperity, but it leaves its votaries to languish alone if they fail in the race for fame. It gives its good wine in life, but has nothing for the hour of death. Blessed be God, it is not so with Him. “Better on before” is the song of the Heaven-bound pilgrim. “They go from strength to strength,” from “grace to grace,” from “glory to glory.” It is good to be saved and walking with God in mortal flesh on earth: it is “far better” to be absent from the body and present with the Lord, as millions of the ransomed saints are at this moment. It will be best of all to be with Christ, and like Christ in bodies of glory conformed to His image, far from sin and sorrow, in the resurrection glory, the eternal home of Christ and His redeemed. The best wine will come last. We do not read that it went done. No; the scene closes with the joy at its height, and thus we leave them, the evangelist only adding—“This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth His glory” (v. 11). Fain would I attract your heart, poor, unsatisfied child of the world, with the joy that Jesus brings, with the satisfaction, the solid, abiding enjoyment that is to be found in Him. I know the world cannot give it.
“The world has nothing left to give,
It has no new, no pure delight.”
No, none. All the devil’s new things are “played out” and stale; they do not satisfy. They are simply the old dishes garnished with new designs, which he used to deceive sinners thousands of years ago. “The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16), are his stock-in-trade. He used them in the garden of Eden to deceive Eve; he tried them on the Son of God in the wilderness, but failed to deceive Him with them; he uses them now to keep men and women from Christ. O beware of his subtle charms! He promises much: he is an adept at that trade. But God says he is a liar; he was so from the beginning; he will be so till the end. Yet, so clever is he, so well up in his art, that he “deceiveth the whole world” (Rev. 12:9, 20:10). Yes, clever statesmen, wise sages, mighty monarchs have all been deceived by him, and led down to the pit to a lost eternity, following after his baits.
Rowland Hill tells of a herd of swine following a man along the road. The quaint preacher’s curiosity was aroused. He had seen sheep following their shepherd, never swine. So he followed on until he came alongside the man who walked in front of the pigs, when lo! he discovered the secret of his success in leading them to the slaughter-house was that he carried a bag of beans under his arm, and dropped a bean now and again as he walked along. The hungry hogs jostled against each other, picking up the beans, and saw not where they were being led. The last bean was dropped; the great doors of the place of slaughter closed behind the whole herd: they were in the hands of their destroyer. And thus are worldlings led on to hell, picking up the devil’s beans: a ball tonight, a theatre tomorrow; a football match, a yacht race, an evening at the club; anything, everything to please though not to satisfy—but hell at the end of the path.
Blessed be God, there is another path and a better portion. Do you know how to enter it? Hear how this marriage at Cana ends. “His disciples believed on Him.” They saw His glory; they beheld His power; they drank of the wine that He had provided. Their hearts were won to Him. He is worthy of your trust, my friend: you will never find another like Jesus. You may pick many faults in His followers, but, tell me, do you know anything wrong with Him? Nay; He is “altogether lovely.” His enemies had to say, “I find no fault in this Man.” Can you trust yourself to Him? Are you afraid that He will fail you? You need not; thousands have come to Him when the wine of earth had failed, come to Him as beggars, having nothing, deserving nothing, and they got all that they desired, and more than they ever dreamt of. Blessed be God, He is the same Jesus still. In Him there is salvation, peace, and joy. Your need is your plea. There is no barrier: nor do you require to prescribe for yourself a weary round of religious duties as a course of preparation for the salvation that Jesus gives. There is nothing to pay, absolutely nothing. You are thrice welcome to it now and as you are. You will never be more so, not if you wait and work for years. All you need, all you want, is in Christ, and Christ is ready at the touch of faith to impart it to you. “Draw out now,” was the word of Jesus at the Cana marriage to the needy people; it is His word today to you. What say you then, O needy, thirsty soul? What is your decision to be? I see the look of want, the outward token of an unsatisfied heart, upon your countenance. I see the restless tossings of some who are ill at ease in their sins. The needy sinner and the saving, satisfying Saviour are here. I want to see them brought together. How delightful the service to introduce the sinner to the Saviour. Permit me, then, O weary and unsatisfied soul, to take your hand and guide you to Him. I know Him well enough to assure you of a hearty welcome! I vouch you this, that He will not turn you away empty. Come away, then, to Jesus.
“O, Christ He is the fountain,
The deep sweet well of love.”
“Draw out now.” Let the language of your innermost soul be, “Christ for me.” How sweet is the sound of a sinner’s confession of Christ in the Heavenly courts above! There is nothing on earth like it. Will you give them the joy of hearing your heart-choice confessed by your lips singing out—
“My heart is fixed, Eternal God,
Fixed on Thee;
And my immortal choice is made:
Christ for me.”
That moment there is a union formed between the soul and Christ, the beginning of a new relationship that neither time nor death can dissolve. Married unto Christ, joined unto the Lord, one spirit with Him for ever. Happy it is to take leave of the marriage scene in Cana, with the supply of earthly joy at its fullest, the good wine flowing in abundance, the glory of the Son of God manifesting itself, and the disciples believing on Him. It is the foreshadowing of a day yet to come, where all the ransomed of the Lord of every land and clime and colour, all the “disciples” of Jesus of every age and race shall be brought with songs of rejoicing to the Heavenly Hall, the bridal home, to drink the new wine of the kingdom with their Lord, amid the beams of His outshining glory. Nothing to mar the joy, nothing to dim the glory there; all as God and the Lamb would have it. The will of God perfectly done, the glory of Christ fully revealed; the blessing of the saints eternally secured. There, in the full knowledge of the depths from which we have been rescued, the hell from which grace has saved us, and the height to eternal bliss to which we have been brought—eternity stretching out before us, with its cloudless day of glory, we shall praise Him who hath done all things well. That glory, like the joy He provides, is eternal; it will never cease to shine forth, ever shedding forth fresh radiance, and drawing forth from the ransomed throng within the golden city, the home of glory, fresh bursts of holy song, and causing ten thousand times ten thousand hearts to say—“Thou hast kept the good wine until now.”
“Where no shade or stain can enter,
Or the gold be dim,
In that holiness unsullied
I shall walk with Him.
He and I in that bright glory
One deep joy shall share:
Mine to be for ever with Him,
His that I am there.”
4. A Marriage at Midnight, with the Story of Some who went out to Meet the Bridegroom
(Read Matthew 25:1-13)
That the parable of the ten virgins has a dispensational and future fulfilment I do not doubt. The opening word of the chapter—“Then”—seems very distinctly to connect it with the last parable of the foregoing chapter—that of the household servants—which, together with this parable of the ten virgins, and the one immediately following of the faithful and slothful servants, gives us a threefold view of the false and true side by side, as they existed then, and as they exist at this present time. The Kingdom of Heaven is not Heaven itself, nor is it the Church composed of all who have been born of God and united to Christ by the Holy Ghost throughout this dispensation, but the term embraces all who profess to own the Lord Jesus, and who profess His name during the time that He is absent from earth at God’s right hand. For you must remember that when you say “Lord Jesus,” and speak of that earth-rejected but Heaven-accepted One as your Lord, whether you mean it or not, you are virtually saying—“I am in the Kingdom of Heaven.” And God takes you at your word, and will deal with you not as a heathen who never heard the Saviour’s name, but as one who had greater privileges and greater responsibilities. O how solemn it will be for those who have heard the Gospel but never believed it, named the Saviour’s name but never received Him, to stand before the throne of judgment. It will be infinitely worse for you if you meet God a Christless soul than for the poor heathen to whom you have helped to send Bibles and missionaries.
“Deeper down than Tyre and Sidon
Shall the Christ-rejecter be.”
The parable gives us a picture of Christian profession, false and true; the characteristics and lineaments of each, and the end of the whole. God grant that each one may use it as a mirror in which to see his or her own condition, and be honest and straightforward in owning it, no matter what it may cost. It is not by any means a pleasant discovery for one to make, after, it may be, long years of Christian profession, that there is no life in the soul, no Christ in the heart, and no peace awaiting them in Heaven. But it is better to find it out now than in eternity. Better, infinitely better, to learn now your real condition in the sight of God, and to face the facts of the case, however ugly, than to live in a fool’s paradise all your life, assuming you are going to Heaven, and then in life’s last hours, when the last sands are running out, to find out you have never been born again, never been truly converted, but only an empty professor, whose place must be in the outer darkness for ever and ever. The matter is so solemn, so personal, and of so commanding and eternal importance, that I beg of you to look at this picture parable of it as given by the Son of God with all the attention and personal interest you can command.
“Ten virgins which took their lamps, and went out to meet the Bridegroom” (v. 1). In these three points they were all alike. They were all “virgins,” they had all lamps, and they all went out. “Ten virgins”—not the bride, be it observed, for the bride is the aggregate of the redeemed of the present age, the Church, the object of the love of Christ, for which He gave Himself a Saviour (Eph. 5:25). The figure of a company of virgins is different. The Apostle speaks of the Corinthians as being “espoused,” and he desires to present them as a chaste virgin to Christ (2 Cor. 11:2). They had gone out from the world, been severed by their profession of Christ’s name alike from Jew and Gentile, and had gone out to meet the Bridegroom. This is a true picture of what happened in the early days of Christianity. There was a people then in the world, yet apart from it, severed alike from the religion of Judaism and the idolatries of Paganism, who bore the name of Jesus and expected His return. Notice, it was the Bridegroom—not the King or the Judge—that they went forth to meet. It is not here the people of Israel welcoming their King with hosannas (compare Ps. 118:26 with Matt. 21:9, 23:39); nor is it the ungodly world going up to meet its appointed Judge (Acts 17:31), and to receive its righteous doom, but a company of expectant virgins awaiting a Bridegroom to go with Him to the marriage-hall and the joys of the wedding-feast. So you see the imagery of the parable exactly describes those who expect to enter upon the joys of heaven. Of course you expect to be there—I never yet met anyone who did not. But hoping to be in Heaven and having the title and the fitness to be there are very different things. All the ten virgins expected to enter with the Bridegroom; only half of them did so. Does this imply that half of those who profess to be going to Heaven will never enter there? Make sure work that you are not among those who are left without. I think you may easily test yourself now if you want to be sure about it.
“Five were wise”—or prudent—“and five were foolish.” Herein lay the difference. “The foolish took their lamps, but took no oil with them. But the wise took oil in their, vessels with their lamps.” Both took lamps, but the wise took oil in their vessels. The lamp is the emblem of profession, which the true and the false bear alike. But in the case of the unregenerate it is an empty profession; in the true believer it is a confession of what he professes. There is a striking similarity outwardly, yet a vast difference inwardly, between a professer and a confessor of Christ. A profession is something put on without; a confession is because of something possessed within. The foolish virgins represent the former: the wise the latter. Now, notice particularly wherein they were alike and wherein they differed. They both took lamps, and it appears they both had lighted lamps to start with. “But the wise took oil.” You see the difference. The word “took” is twice mentioned concerning the wise, only once concerning the foolish. Therein lay the first great distinction. It was not one that outsiders could discern. What a man would have seen had he been about that night was ten virgins, each with a lighted lamp in hand, standing apart from everybody else, waiting for a coming Bridegroom. He could see no difference; outwardly they were all alike. The point on which they differed was not apparent from without—not, at least, at the beginning. And it is just so in the ranks of Christian professors. All seem much alike. Just look around on a Sunday morning as the people crowd along to their respective churches. How much alike they are. They all carry a lamp of profession. They all own in some sense the same God, read the same Bible, and expect to reach the same Heaven. Yet to the eye of God, who sees the heart, what differences. Here is one who joined the Church, and “took” the lamp of profession, because his parents desired him to do so, as a protection from evil company and, vicious ways, but there has been no conversion to God. Another “took” his lamp because he considered it “respectable” to be connected with the Church of his fathers; and yet another because be has been taught that in some way not very clearly defined “the Church” is the ark of salvation in which he is to be borne to the better world beyond. But there has been no personal dealing with God, no individual conversion—in short, no “oil” The bright glare of profession, the apparent zeal in things religious, that for the moment occupies them is only the passing gleam of a dry wick which will not endure. A little testing will extinguish it. “But the wise took oil in their vessels.”
“Oil,” I have no doubt, is here, as elsewhere in Scripture (see Lev. 2:1 with Luke 1:35, Lev. 1:4 with Luke 4:18), an emblem of the Holy Spirit. Oil is needed to raise and sustain a proper light, and so the Holy Ghost alone can create and maintain a true confession of Christ. A man needs to be born of the Spirit (see John 3:5), and indwelt by the Spirit (see John 4:14), in order to “shine as a light” in the world (Phil. 2:12) for God. In the case of every sinner who has come to the Lord Jesus, and claimed Him as his personal and only Saviour, there has been this new and heavenly birth. A new life has been begotten within, and begins to shine without. And this new life within is strengthened, and this light which shines without is fed by the Holy Ghost, who indwells every believer. “The supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:19) is needed to maintain a decided testimony for God in a world where everything is against Him; it cannot be sustained in any other way. And one may have life without having much true testimony for God, because for such testimony watchfulness and diligence are needed. The Spirit of God dwells in all true believers, and will never leave them, even if they are unwatchful and unspiritual. They are sealed by Him unto the day of redemption, and He will never give them up, for they are the property of Christ, redeemed by His precious blood. But while they are safe, they can have no testimony for the Lord in the power of the Spirit if they walk carelessly or mix up with the unconverted. The Spirit in them becomes “grieved,” and ceases to be the strength of their life and the power of their testimony. Such believers become so like the world that no one can tell the difference. Do you know anybody in such a condition? These five wise virgins were, for the Evangelist says, “While the Bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.” Yes, wise and foolish alike. To the eye of men there was no difference between the empty professor and the grace-possessor. In the beginning, the palmy days of Christianity, true believers stood out distinct and clear from the unconverted. There was no mixing of the wise and foolish then. The people of God were a distinct and separate people. The Church, like a city, sat upon a hill, far above and entirely apart from the world, alike in its Paganism and its religion or Judaism. It is recorded of the early Christians that “of the rest durst no man join himself to them” (Acts 5:13). But as the hope of the Lord’s return lost its hold, and men began to say, “My Lord delayeth His coming,” then sleepy believers and Christless professors—of whom by the time of Constantine, when Christianity became fashionable, there were many—became friendly, and finally became amalgamated. They all slumbered and slept.” What a picture of the Church and the world for centuries! True to the letter, too, of much in our own day. Where is the line between the Church and the world, between the saved and the unsaved? Look in upon any average congregation of worshippers, and ask, Who are the saints and who are the sinners? They are all pretty much the same there on Sunday and at the bazaar or concert on Monday. Solemn, too, it is for the children of God. Many of these deluded souls, with their empty lamps of profession, might have been aroused, awakened, convicted and converted, had the saints of God not slept by their side. Fancy a religious professor not born again being by the side of Paul! He would soon have been told his condition, and either had to own it or flee from the truth. If the truth of God is preached faithfully, lovingly, honestly, sinners will be converted, and if they determine to reject Christ and go to hell, their blood will be on their own heads. But if you who are saved sleep beside them, you help the devil to deceive them, and thus bear them down to the pit. Awake! O ye sleeping saints of God who are asleep among the dead. You are helping the false professors among whom you mingle, unconverted Church members with whom you associate, unregenerate ministers to whom you listen, and by your recognition of them in their false position help to deceive, down to the lowest hell! This is terrible work for a Heaven-born and Heaven-bound saint! How will you face these deluded ones in the judgment! “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from among the dead, and Christ shall give thee light” (Eph. 5:14).
“At midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the Bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet Him” (v. 6). At the darkest, deadest, least-expected hour that cry rang out, and immediately there was a great stir among the sleeping virgins. For centuries there was nothing but darkness, sleep, and spiritual death. The cry was sounded in Reformation times, and what a stir it made. Never again has darkness so completely reigned, but oft has it been needful to renew the cry. What are revivals but the cry going forth afresh. It seems as if the Spirit of God raised up every now and again fresh instruments to sound an alarm throughout sleeping Christendom, to preach the Word in fresh power, to separate saints from sinners, and to cause the unconverted professors to look to the condition of their lamps. When the wise were awake, the foolish found out their true condition. So it is ever so. Some of you have unconverted parents, children, neighbours. If you were fully awake, really alive to eternal realities, busy trimming your lamps, then the unsaved around you would see the reality of Christianity and be aroused to examine themselves. A Christian wife who had been a backslider in a respectable and religious sort of a way got her conscience searched and her soul restored at a meeting where the Lord was speaking through His servants. She went home, dropped on her knees, and prayed for her unconverted husband—the first time she had done so since she married him, against the Lord’s commandment. She confessed her sin, and wept bitter tears before God. In mercy He aroused the unconverted man, and he was soon after saved. I do not tell you this as an encouragement for any child of God to enter into an unequal yoke with one who is unconverted. It is directly against the Lord’s command, and always brings untold sorrow and misery in its train. I mention this to show that when one who has been a backslider is aroused, restored and right with God, God may come in and work wonders of mercy through such He often does.
The foolish found out they had no oil. The dry wick had smouldered away, and they had to say, “Our lamps are going out” (v. 8, R.V.). Terrible discovery! At the supreme moment in which they were wanted they discovered that they had nothing but a dry torch, with no oil wherewith to raise a light to meet and welcome the coming Bridegroom. This will have its answer in a coming hour, when the unconverted professor will discern in the light of a new eternity that he has no Christ, no grace, no eternal life, no indwelling Spirit. How terrible must that discovery be at such an hour. Christian professor! I ask you to search yourself now. Leave it not till a dying hour, to a judgment day. Are you sure that you have been born again, that you have Christ? How and when did you begin your Christian life? Was it at the Cross, where you met your God, and had the matter of your sins righteously settled? Did you receive salvation and the knowledge of it there? Or did you “join the Church,” or “make a start for Heaven” on the strength of some vow, or resolution, or change of feeling, without having a personal meeting with the eternal God at all? If the latter, then I tell you you have “no oil” in your vessel, no grace in your soul, no Holy Spirit in your heart. Better far that you become aware of it now than when you stand trembling on the confines of a lost eternity. Their miserable begging petition, “Give us of your oil,” tells how utterly ignorant they were of the whole matter. It is just like the thousands who depend on their fellow-mortals to gain them a place in Heaven. A priest’s intervention, a parson’s prayer, a parent’s godliness—anything, everything, but Christ. The sinner who has been stripped of all human righteousness and led to Christ will always say—
“I ask no other sacrifice,
I seek no other plea;
It is enough that Jesus died
And rose again for me.”
“While they went to buy, the Bridegroom came.” Aroused at last, convinced at last of their need, they do the best they can in the circumstances, but it is too late. The bridegroom came while they were getting oil. “They that were ready went in with Him to the marriage, and the door was shut.” That door never opened again. They wailed their folly outside of it, but neither their cries nor tears could open it. The only response to their wail was the answer from within—“I know you not.” Such shall be the doom and the destiny of the Christless sinner, who has a religion, a name to live, a fair profession, but who has not personally been born of the Spirit of God. In days of flippant, easy-going religion, it is easy enough to have such a Christianity, but I warn you in the name of God of the folly of trusting in it for at the last it will fail, and before the searching eyes of the Holy Judge it will shrivel up and wither, leaving you exposed to the righteous judgment of God. The bitterest remorse of these five young women as they stood without in the darkness, just near enough the bridal hall to hear the music and its song, yet shut out from it for ever, would surely be that they might have formed part of that happy company. But they were not “ready” when the Bridegroom came. “They that were ready went in.” So will it be when Jesus comes. Some will go up from earth “in a moment, in the twinkling of en eye” and, in company with the Eternal Lover of their souls, enter the place prepared for them. They will be ready. Do you know how? The blood of Christ, once shed on the Cross, for ever accepted by God as an all-sufficient atonement for sin had made them clean from all their sins and fit for Heaven. In that blood they had long read their title clear to mansions in the skies. It was their title and their plea. They were born of the Spirit, born of God: that gave them capacity and meetness for the enjoyment of God’s holy Heaven. Thus were they “ready”: thus had they been made meet to shave the inheritance of the saints in light but, like the five who had no oil, unregenerate, Christless professors, who had companioned with true believers, taken part in what was popularly known as “Christian work,” sung hymns and been active religiously, but had no Christ in them, no new birth, eternal life, no indwelling Spirit, at at the coming of the Lord be shut out from Heaven and left for judgment. O the horrors of that hour! O the remorse, the tears, the wail of regret that grace had been rejected and Christ neglected! Thank God! there is yet time to be converted, time to get salvation, but not an hour to trifle, not a moment to spare. If you would be Christ’s, now is the time. “Behold, now is the day of salvation.”
“The Heavenly Bridegroom soon will come,
To claim His bride and take her home,
To dwell with Him on high.
Trim your lamps and be ready
For the midnight cry.
The midnight hour will soon be here,
The voice will sound distinct and clear,
And fill both earth and sky.
The Bridegroom comes, let no man doubt,
Alas! for those whose lamps are out,
They’ll find no oil to buy,
Who ready are shall enter in,
The marriage feast will then begin,
And every tear be dry.”
5. The Marriage of the Lamb
(Read Revelation 19:1-19)
The personal return of the Son of God from Heaven is the proximate hope of the Christian. Already saved by grace he awaits the glory to which he will be introduced at the coming of the Lord Jesus to receive His ransomed people to Himself, according to His promise (John 14:3). But it has been given to him of God to look far on beyond this event tight along the wondrous path of glory awaiting Christ and His people, to the eternal state. As the Apostle Peter says, “We, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Pet. 3:13). This is the goal to which the pathway of glory leads. The event described in these verses is a marked stage on that path, an event glorious beyond all description, which calls forth the repeated “Hallelujahs” of all the host of Heaven, and causes its multitudes to rejoice with unbounded joy. It is “The Marriage of the Lamb” the manifested union of Christ and His saints in glory, previous to their epiphany or manifestation to the world below. And what a scene it is! How it eclipses all earth’s days of splendour and rejoicing! Here is joy unmingled with sorrow; glory that knows no fading; the sinless, perfect joy of Heaven, in which all in common share. Do you ever think of Heaven as a place of supreme happiness, and of God Himself as the source of it all? I fear there are many do not. The devil has so completely succeeded in misrepresenting God to men, that the greater number, even of those who professedly call themselves Christians, think that to have much to do with God and His Son means an end of all happiness on earth. That is the devil’s lie, told to hide his own condition, and to help to keep his captives in his grasp. His chief business in this world for six thousand years has been to misrepresent God and deceive men, lest they turn to the Lord and thus escape from his power. The devil is the most miserable being in existence, for he knows in full his doom, and that there is no mercy or escape for him. He has filled earth with misery, and caused all the sorrow and woes in which men have lived and died throughout the ages. He has encompassed the ruin of men, of nations, of empires, dragging them down to be sharers of the misery and remorse of which he himself is the cause and the victim, inspiring them with the same hatred to God that burns in his bosom, so that they become like him in carrying on the same satanic work. Yes, the devil is thoroughly miserable, and ever will be. He promises happiness in his service, which is sin, but you may depend upon it, he has none to give; not an atom either for himself or for you. Do not be deceived, dear young men and women, by the tempting offers held forth by sin and Satan; they are all a hoax, all unreal. If you want true happiness, abiding joy, to last through life, to attend you in death, and to be your portion in eternity, you will find these only in God, in Christ, in the Gospel. All else is a sham. “The pleasures of sin” God says, are but “for a season”—poor enough at their best—then a hopeless death and a hapless eternity.
Notice for a moment where this scene of unbounded joy, this outburst of rejoicing in the Heaven of heavens, has its source. The Apostle tells us—“A Voice came out of the Throne.” Like the river of the water of life which we are told proceedeth out of the throne of God and of the Lamb” (chap. 22:2), this marriage of the Lamb, with all its accompanying joy and blessing, has its origin in God. He is “the blessed God” (1 Tim 1:10), or, as the word may be rendered, “the happy God” whose delights are in His Son and in the blessing of His creatures. This is the God of the Gospel, the God of salvation. Do you know God thus? I remember the time when I thought God was a hard, austere Being, difficult to appease, full of vengeance, seeking my destruction. But when, through grace, my eyes were opened to see Christ as the Saviour of sinners, my own personal Saviour, who died on the cross for my sins, I learned then and there that God is Love. Not that Jesus died to make God love sinners, but that God was the first to move, the first to love—“God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16). “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). Yes, God was the Originator of the sinner’s salvation, and the death of Christ is its procuring cause. The Gospel is “the Gospel of God concerning His Son” (Rom. 1:2). When a sinner believes this, his mind toward God is changed; and this is true repentance—“repentance toward God,” not penance to appease Him, or legal works to pacify His anger, but the heart turned to a God of love, a God who “commendeth His love toward us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Does he fear to meet God? Nay, he “joys in God” (Rom. 5:3), and the language of his heart is—“God, my exceeding joy” (Ps. 43:4). The converted sinner, who knows God and believes His love, delights to meet with God, and to sing—
“My God, the Spring of all my joys,
The Life of my delights;
The Glory of my brightest days,
The Comfort of my nights.”
It is Heaven begun to know God, and if you do not know Him thus, you do not know Him at all. This is not the first time that Heaven has manifested its joy in connection with Christ and the salvation, blessing, and glorification of sinners whom He came to redeem.
When the infant Saviour was born in Bethlehem of Judea, we are told that an angel from Heaven, a solitary messenger from these bright realms of glory from whence that Saviour had come, announced to a few humble shepherds who kept watch over their flocks on the plains beneath the village, “the good tidings of great joy” that a Saviour had been born. And the Evangelist adds—“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men” (Luke 2:10-14). Some one has said, “the host of Heaven broke bounds that morning,” so great was their joy in the prospect of Redemption, towards which Incarnation was a necessity.
Then again, when a sinner is converted, sought by the Son, awakened by the Spirit, welcomed by the Father, as the threefold parable of Luke 15 so fully sets it forth, “there is joy in Heaven over one sinner that repenteth.” And now in this wondrous scene, when Christ has gathered unto Himself from every clime and nation, from earth and grave and sea all His ransomed people, and presented them without spot or blemish in His own image, not one awanting, before the presence of His glory, presently to be manifested to a wondering world as His glorified Bride, there is this final outburst of Heaven’s triumphant joy, in response to the announcement which comes forth from the Throne of God—“Let us be glad and rejoice, for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready.” Need we wonder that the angel said to John, “Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb.”
May I ask, “Will you be in this scene of coming joy?” Do not turn away and say, “I cannot tell,” or, what is perhaps a more common way of evading this question, “No one can know till the Judgment Day!” Ah, if you leave it till then it will be too late, for as we read in the next chapter of this great, prophetic Book, unveiling the future of both saved and unsaved, of eternal glory and eternal woe, when the judgment throne is set, and the dead small and great stand before it, there is no salvation or grace made known to sinners; nothing but righteous, inflexible judgment according to their works they have wrought on earth. Do you think you will earn a place in Heaven by yours? The name by which the Lord Jesus is here announced on His marriage day is “the Lamb.” This reminds us of the Cross. It was as “the Lamb of God” that He died a sacrifice: that He was “sacrificed for us” (1 Cor. 5:7). It is as “the Lamb” that He is on the throne (Rev. 5:6), and there acknowledged by all Heaven as the only One worthy to open the Book, and as “the Lamb” He will reign. The only way of salvation for sinners is proclaimed by John on that memorable day when he said, “Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), and the only power of attraction to detach men’s hearts from earth and draw them to God and Heaven is found in that same blessed One, as we learn from John’s second testimony to Jesus the following day, When he said again, “Behold the Lamb of God,” and the two disciples, who had up till that hour acknowledged John as their master, were detached from him and drawn to Jesus. John was a model preacher, a true soul-winner. He preached away his disciples to Christ; and was content, yea, delighted, to “decrease,” to fade away like the star of morning before the rising sun, in order that Christ might be exalted and “increase.” And do you remember what this dear man’s testimony was when some came to him and told him that all his disciples were leaving him and going after Jesus, to Whom he had borne witness? It was a beautiful answer that he gave them, “He that hath the bride is the Bridegroom: but the friend of the Bridegroom, that standeth and heareth Him, rejoiceth greatly because of the Bridegroom’s voice. This my joy therefore is fulfilled” (John 3:29). Surely John was in the mind of Heaven when he uttered these memorable words. He had not only learned that Christ was to have a people, but he knew also how that people were to be brought out from the world and united to Him. Christ Himself lifted up was to be the Magnet by which they were to be gathered unto Him. O that all who seek to win souls to Christ would remember this. Christ preached, Christ exalted, Christ magnified is the great attraction, and in this day of Gospel grace the Spirit is here, to bear witness of Him (John 15:26), and to draw hearts to Him while He is lifted up. Have you been drawn to Christ? Ask yourselves individually that question? You may be drawn to hear preachers by their eloquence, or because they speak things smooth and pleasing to you. You may be drawn to religion because you like it, or because it is the custom, and it was taught you by your parents. You may be drawn to this or that Church or creed because you think it is the best, but unless you have been drawn to Christ; your heart won by Him, detached from the world and all its belongings, and made one with the Son of God, you are none of His, nor will you form any part of this glorified company who will be united to Him before all Heaven on that coming marriage day. I beseech you, be clear beyond all doubt as to this; it is the great question for you to face honestly, squarely in the sight of God. Have I been truly converted, turned to the Lord? Has my heart been won by His exceeding worth, His beauty, and do I esteem all that once I gloried in and boasted of as a sinner, a worldling, as dross? This was how Paul reckoned after he had a sight of Christ in glory, and the same is true in character and measure of all who are Christ’s now. The redeemed of the Lord, whatever else they differ in, express their appreciation of Christ in the same glowing terms—“He is altogether lovely,” and at the same time they lose taste for the things of the world. They have no glory now by reason of the glory that excelleth.
“It was the sight of Thy dear Cross
First weaned my heart from earthly things;
And taught me to esteem as dross
The mirth of fools and pride of kings.”
All who will form a part of “the Bride, the Lamb’s wife,” on that coming nuptial day will have individually and experimentally known, long before, while living in mortal flesh on earth, what it was to be “married unto Christ” (Rom. 7:4), as the Apostle speaks of that personal individual union “joined unto the Lord” (1 Cor. 6:17), vitally and spiritually one with Him. This is God’s Christianity. Alas for the Christianity that consists in forms and creeds and ceremonies! It is of no account in the sight of God, reckoned only as “dead works” No better is the nominal profession of evangelical religion, or even membership in a community where most are the true children of God. Nothing short of an individual reception by faith of the Son of God as a personal Saviour, and a joyful confession of Jesus Christ as Lord, brings salvation to the sinner and the sinner to Christ. Equally sure it is that this never fails. The moment faith receives the Saviour, the Saviour receives the sinner, and never casts him out (John 6:37). And as soon as faith sets to its seal that God is true (John 3:33), God puts His seal upon that believing one (Eph. 1:13) and never relaxes or removes it until the day of full redemption (Eph. 5:30). He becomes then and there a member of Christ (Eph. 5:29), and part of that Church which is His body, of which He is the glorified Head in Heaven. (Eph. 1:22; Col. 1:18). These are great and glorious realities, little heard of in our day, but of much account in the reckoning of Heaven and of faith. May God the Holy Ghost make them “living, bright realities” to all who are the possessors of them, and use this feeble testimony concerning them to set you who are still “without Christ,” and consequently strangers to their bliss, alonging after them.
Having thus sought briefly to make plain what gives individual title and fitness for a share in this blessed company, let us now for a moment look at those who compose it as they now appear in their bridal garb before all Heaven, to be acknowledged as “the Bride, the Lamb’s wife.” There is evidently a distinction of persons recognised on that day, for we read of “The Bride, the Lamb’s wife,” of those who are “called to the marriage supper,” and although the latter are said to be “blessed,” they are manifestly different in position and rank from the Bride herself. At every marriage there are the bride and the bridegroom, the friends, and the guests invited. So in this heavenly scene. Some are “called” to participate in its joy: “bidden to the marriage supper” (v. 9, R.V.): all inhabitants of the Heavens, all in full sympathy with the mind of God on this occasion, yet standing in varied relations to God and His Christ. This we learn also from Hebrews 12:22-23, where “the spirits of just men made perfect,” “an innumerable host of angels, the general assembly,” and “Church of the first-born ones,” tell of varied ranks or families in the heavenly host above. These all have their place in the glory and share the joy of this marriage scene. But the eye of John is especially directed to “the Bride, the Lamb’s wife,” who is the central object, and stands “ready,” arrayed in the spotless raiment of her wedding day. And what is this? Let the Apostle tell us. “And it was given unto her that she should array herself in fine linen, bright and pure, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of saints” (v. 8, R.V.). Do you ask, Is this their title to Heaven? Nay, in nowise. The only title by which any sinner can ever enter Heaven is found in the precious blood of Christ. This is fully owned in an earlier chapter, where the risen and glorified saints, who have been brought and seated around the throne, proclaim the worthiness of the Lamb, and own that they have been redeemed by His blood (Rev. 5:9). This is their title, and they gladly, fully own it. They had each come to Him on earth as sinners, and been loosed from their sins “in His own blood,” as their song is in Revelation 1:5. They had renounced their own righteousness, which they had learned to be but “as filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6), and fled to Christ whom God had made unto them “wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). Their thanks had long before gone up to God the Father in the days of their earthly life, who had “made them meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light” (Col. 1:12). Yes, the title of all the saints in every age is found in the blood of the Lamb, and their meetness or capability to enter on the enjoyment of God and heavenly things in the new nature they received on the day that they were “born of God.” The language of their hears is well expressed in the fine old Gospel song some of us have long delighted to sing—
“Soon as my all I ventured
On the atoning blood,
The Holy Spirit entered,
And I was born of God.”
Do you expect to be in Heaven? Then this must be your title and this your fitness. Nothing else will take you there.
What, then, are these bridal garments, this bright and fair attire in which the Bride of the Lamb stands arrayed on this her marriage day, and to which the wondering and admiring eyes of all the heavenly host are directed? I believe the Word of God supplies the answer, and it is briefly this—After the Lord has gathered unto Himself from grave and earth and sea His sleeping and His waking saints, He will present them to the Father in the home of love, the place He tells us He has gone to prepare, and to which He will first conduct His saints after receiving them unto Himself. I delight to think of this. Before the public glories of the throne and the kingdom, or even the glory of this marriage day, there is the family scene, the Father’s House, the home of love, where the Lord will first make His people feel at home in their new and heavenly surroundings. No exile ever reached the home of his boyhood without finding some empty chair, some familiar face awanting, but on this great foregathering of the children of God on the resurrection morning no son or daughter will be awanting there, for all are brought safely home.
“‘Home!’ O how soft and sweet
It falls upon the heart;
Home, where the children meet,
And never, never part.”
Later, the glorified saints will be manifested before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10), where all that grace has wrought in them as the children of God and through them as the servants of Jesus Christ upon earth, will be manifested, acknowledged, and rewarded as Heaven has seen and approved of it. Now it shines out in all its peerless purity and brightness in the light of Heaven, fair fruit of sovereign grace and of the Spirit’s work, little regarded and less recognised amid the dull shadows of time and earth. Many of these very graces had been misunderstood and, it may be, condemned by men; now they are fully owned in Heaven. Some had suffered shame and rejection, others bonds and death, because they clung to a rejected Christ and held fast His Truth in a world where He had been rejected and His claims disowned. For this they were mocked and hated and accounted fools. Now the Lord whose name they loved, rewards them from His beema, and acknowledges openly what He long before had given them, the secret witness of their being well pleasing unto Him. Now others see heaven’s estimate of these, and as it has been given unto her, the Bride of the Lamb appears in these garments on her marriage morning. Fair recompense this, for the shame and the ribald jest of earthly days! Rich reward for contumely and loss for Christ! May the prospect nerve you, dear young believer, youthful workers for Christ, soldiers and warriors of the Lord, to stand fire, bravely facing the foe. It was the knowledge of this and the respect that they had for this recompense of reward that enabled saints and sufferers and martyrs to endure.
Now “the Lamb” in whom they trusted, to whom they clung, for whom they suffered, openly acknowledges them as His Bride, the sharer of His glory and His throne. Thrice happy Bride! her cup of joy is full. But who can tell the joy of the Bridegroom? Here is “the joy that was set before Him” (Heb. 12:2), for which He endured the cross, despising the shame. Now He sees of the travail of His soul, the fruit of His untold sorrows on Calvary! This is “the day of His espousals” and of “the gladness of His heart,” and Heaven is celebrating the event in a way worthy of it. There is no shade on the gold; all is as God would have it. Grace has won its triumph.
Two further glances are given to John and to us of this glorified Bride, in association with her heavenly Bridegroom, one millennial, the other eternal, ere the book closes. First, she appears under the figure of a city, the holy Jerusalem, which is seen coming down out of Heaven, having the glory of God, taking up its place over the purged earth, as the dispenser of blessing to, and the expression of heavenly rule and government of the nations, who now acknowledge the once rejected Nazarene as their rightful King. His Bride, who once shared His rejection, now shares His glory; once she bore the brand of the Cross; now, in closest association with Him, she bears the glory, for He will not have it without her.
“Thou, too, shalt reign, He will not wear
His crown of joy alone;
And earth His royal Bride shall see
Beside Him on the throne.”
To Him she is the Bride, to earth the city, in whose light the peaceful nations walk, and whose healing leaves they gladly welcome. Later still, in connection with the new heavens and the new earth, when the thousand years of millennial glory have ended, the last outburst of satanic rage expended itself, the impenitent been sent with the devil who deceived them to the lake of fire, she appears in all her unsullied beauty, still “as a bride adorned for her husband” (chap. 21:2), no wrinkles on her brow, no stain on her garments, in the freshness of immortal youth, and thus she passes into the eternal state to spend the long, glad, and sinless eternity for ever with the Lord.
Happy, thrice happy, are these who can look onward to that day and say through grace—“I will be there.” See that you are of that company, that you have title and fitness for the place. Have you? Do you want to be sure of it? You may. There is no hard condition, for His own last sweet word to sinners in this Book, before He closes it for ever, is this— “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17).