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either to have expected, or to have received, the offer and enjoyment of his civilities, instead of those for whom they were first intended.
It turns, therefore, on the exhibition of this anomaly—which though not to have been anticipated beforehand, yet being an anomaly of conduct, must still be resolvable into the usual moral motives which influence the conduct of men in generalwhy they, to whom an invitation of this kind had been previously given, and who, by having accepted of it, were under a previous engagement to attend at the proper time of the solemnity, when that period arrived should spontaneously have failed of their word: and they, to whom no such invitation had ever been given, and who were under the bond of no promise to attend upon the summons should spontaneously have accepted the offer of it, as soon as made.
The guests of the second and the third orders, respectively, had given no promise to come to the supper, before the time, like those of the first; and therefore could have broken no promise by refusing to come to it, at the time, as those of the first had done. Compliance with the invitation on their part was consequently free, or purely the effect of a grateful sense of the distinction and kindness which were designed to be conferred upon them by it; unenforced at least, by any regard over and above, to the sanctity of their own good faith. Hence as the odium of refusal would have been less on their part, so the merit of acceptance ought to be considered greater, than it would have been on the part of the others; and the willing attention displayed by them to a proposal, which they were free to
have rejected, is contrasted the more strongly with the aversion shewn by the others, to obey a summons, which they were not at liberty to disregard.
And as the acceptance of the same thing is as universal on the one hand as its rejection on the other, there must, we may presume, have been something in it as agreeable to the guests of the two last orders, as offensive and distasteful to those of the first. What this was, must doubtless be sought for in the circumstances of their own situation at the time, combined with the nature of the overture itself. Their own situation was that of poor, and impotent, and destitute, if not of strangers and unknown, as well as houseless and in want. The offer made to them was the offer of food, and clothing, and shelter; of an hospitable entertainment, and a friendly welcome; enhanced too, by coming from one so much their superior, and being pressed upon them of his own accord, with an urgent, importunate vehemence, which though it had for its object their good and not his own, would allow of no denial, and listen to no excuse. An offer made under such circumstances, could not fail to be acceptable; and when the first embarrassment arising from the novelty of their situation, and the consciousness of their own unworthiness to become the subjects of so much honour, and the objects of so much condescension, should once have been removed, we may justly suppose it would be gladly and thankfully embraced.
The nature of the occasion which produced this parable, proves it to be one of those that relate to the kingdom of God, or its equivalent designation,
the kingdom of heaven; and what is more, to the mysteries or secret truths, connected with the future history of that kingdom. It is true, no such express comparison to the kingdom of heaven is premised to this, as to many others which possess a similar reference; but as the remark which preceded and produced it, directly concerned the kingdom of God, the parable which replied to that observation, may be reasonably supposed to concern it also.
The author of this observation, who is described simply as one of those that were sitting at meat with our Lord at the time, was much more probably an indifferent person of the company present, than one of our Lord's disciples. There is equal reason to suppose that his observation was immediately produced by the last words of our Lord's previous discourse, relating to entertainments of charity, given to the poor and needy; the return of which could not be made by the subjects of such obligations themselves, but if made at all, must be made by some one else in their stead. If this return, however, was to be made by any one else in their stead, it must be by God, who accepts and rewards all acts of charity done to the poor, as done to himself; and if to be made by God, it must be in another state of being—not in the present life; and if to be made in the life to come, it must be in the resurrection of the just; which may well be supposed the same thing, as to be made in the kingdom of God: and if such returns are to be made in kind then, as entertainments given with a view to be requited in the present life, are returned in kind here, they might be described under the particular image
of eating bread, or sitting at meat, in the kingdom of God.
The observation however, addressed to our Saviour, was a plain, direct remark; the answer which takes it up and replies to it, is couched in the form of a parabolic narrative. This alone would be sufficient to imply, that though the subject of the answer might be the same in general with that of the remark which preceded it, and both might be intimately connected with some truth or other concerning the kingdom of God, yet more was intended to be conveyed by the reply, in reference to this subject, than it would have been advisable to state openly at the time.
Whether the observation in question was designed simply to declare a certain opinion of the speaker ; or to ascertain the opinion of our Lord, and to elicit from him some expression either of assent or dissent, in reference to the point in question; the truth of the proposition, Blessed is he, or shall be he, who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God-was scarcely to be disputed. But who were they to whom that happiness was to befall? This question is a natural result of the preceding assertion; and in proportion to the greater truth of that assertion in the abstract, the more concerning in practice does the solution of this question become. The greater, the more certain, is the happiness of all who shall enter into the kingdom of God in general; the more important, the more interesting it must be to know for whom that happiness is reserved in particular.
The true decision of this secondary question on the spot, might have forestalled disclosures which at that time would have been premature; and per
haps not only new and unexpected to the audience of our Lord, but offensive and unpalatable. It may be presumed that the parable was designed to meet this particular difficulty; and admitting to its fullest extent the truth of the original assertion, Blessed shall be he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God-to answer the collateral question arising out of it—so much more interesting in each individual's case-for whom that blessedness was in store, without shocking the existing prejudices of the hearers, or anticipating the effect of future revelations, or even the light which time itself should in the end throw upon its solution.
The historical moral of the narrative, or that which resulted from the joint tendency of its several particulars, was easy to be collected, and has been already stated. Its parabolic or figurative import remains yet to be explained: with which view I shall begin by endeavouring to ascertain the allegorical or parabolic meaning of that which is the foundation of the whole transaction; the image of the supper. The true sense of this fundamental image being once determined, on the principle of analogy it will serve as an easy clue to the interpretation of the rest of the parable.
I observe, then, that the idea of the solemnization of some banquet in general, which there is no reason to suppose may not be a supper in particular, enters either implicitly or actually into other passages in the gospel-narrative of the discourses of our Saviour, before the time of this present parable; which though not strictly parables themselves, yet being figurative or allegorical throughout, partake of the nature of parables, and may fitly be