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Gladly would they cast in their lot with those whom they formerly disliked and despised, but it cannot be. It is in vain that they call the Master of the house, "Lord, Lord,” when they did not the things which he said. He shall say to them, "I know you not whence ye are.' "* He who knoweth all things cannot be ignorant of any part of their history. The word "know," is here used in the particular sense of knowing with a knowledge of approbation, and so as to acknowledge them as his friends. Thus, the Psalmist says, "I will not know a wicked person;" and of the Lord it is said, "The Lord knoweth the way of the righteous;" "He hath respect unto the lowly, but the proud he knoweth afar off; the Lord knoweth them that are his:" and, man love God, the same is known of him."
Verse 26: "Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets." These things were literally true of many in the days of Christ's tabernacling on earth. Many were honoured by being in company with him at table, and still more were miraculously fed by him, and enjoyed the benefit of his public teaching in their cities and villages. These privileges they are here represented as pleading, by way of argument for their admission into heaven; and yet their abuse of them was a great aggravation of their guilt, and the strongest reason for their exclusion. The nature of a parable does not warrant us to infer that any thing exactly similar to the master rising and shutting the door, and the excluded holding the dialogue with him, will literally take place; but the general meaning of the whole is obvious; and, in the plea which the impenitent are here represented as putting in, we have a very instructive specimen and exposure of the false grounds on which many unconverted persons flatter themselves that they will be admitted into heaven at last. Thus, some of them, doubtless, flatter themselves that they are Christians, and will be acknowledged as such by Christ at the great day, because they have eaten and drunk, as it were, in his presence, at the Lord's supper: whereas, they were eating and drinking condemnation to themselves, not discerning the Lord's body." Others, again, are ready to flatter themselves that all will be well with them, because of their having enjoyed the best opportunities of being taught from
* Οὐκ οἶδα ὑμας ποθεν ἐστε, seems to be for Οὐκ οἶδα ποθεν ὑμεῖς ἐστε. So, in Herodotus, lib. iv., Où A.Cunv sidores óxov yns sin, Non noverant ubi terrarum Libya esset.
the Word, and by the faithful ministers of Christ, and because of the profession of religion they have made; forgetting that privileges abused are guilt incurred, and professions insincere are solemn mockery. No pleas of this kind will be sustained. "What wilt thou say," asks Jeremiah, “when he shall punish thee?" and each of us will do well to ask of himself, with Job, "What then shall I do when God riseth up? and, when he visiteth, what shall I answer him?" After the door is shut, sinners may knock and plead as they may, but it will be too late. To all their entreaties the Master of the house will reply as at first. They may knock and cry "But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence " and he will even add the awful words, " Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity." It is the will of Christ that his people should be with him where he is, that they may behold his glory. Among the various descriptions of their state, it is said, "So shall they ever be with the Lord." The presence of Christ, or the being with Christ, is one of the chief sources of happiness in heaven. So, on the other hand, absence from the Lord is one of the principal ingredients in the misery of the damned. They "that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power." In the account of the judgment, in the 25th chapter of Matthew, we read that the Judge shall say unto them, " Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." The reason of their exclusion and banishment is declared to be, that they are "workers of iniquity" -given up to the love and practice of sin, on account of which the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience.
"There," or in that place, "shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth," or, extreme anguish," when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out." By all the prophets in the kingdom of God, we are to understand all the believing and holy prophets, and these only; for these are the words of our Lord himself, Many will say unto me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity." But this implies that, generally speaking,
the prophets were holy men, and got to heaven. As for the three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, their salvation is here and elsewhere positively asserted. From this, too, it is sufficiently plain, not merely that the happiness of the saints in heaven will arise, in part, from their society with each other, but that particular saints will be known to each other, and known not as so many beings without reference to what they were before, and exactly like each other, but as the same persons they were before-known by the distinctive characteristics which marked them below, though freed from all imperfection. What an inexhaustible source of instructive and delightful communication must this supply? We are here told, however, on the other hand, that the admission into heaven, and consequent happiness of the saints, which will be actually seen by the wicked at the last day, and which will be habitually present to their thoughts, will be a heavy aggravation of their misery, in the way of contrast with their own painful exclusion. So, in that other parable, the torment of the rich man was increased when he saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom." The "horn" of the good man "shall be exalted with honour,” says the Psalmist,* "the wicked shall see it and be grieved, he shall gnash with his teeth, and melt away; the desire of the wicked shall perish." The representation of the excluded sinners as 66 weeping and gnashing their teeth," is very awful, and must operate, through the fears of every reasonable and thoughtful man, as a powerful inducement to flee from the coming wrath, and to strive to enter in at the strait gate.
"And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God." Let not the ungodly and careless imagine, that because they were refused admittance, heaven will be destitute of inhabitants. Let them not assume consequence to themselves, as if their multitude being absent heaven would be empty, and the Lord of glory want a sufficient number of adoring and happy attendants. There are many mansions in his Father's house, and they shall be all filled. "He will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Keep not back; bring my sons from afar, and my daughters from the ends of the earth." This is ever fulfilling, and will, in due time, receive a still more glorious accomplishment; and, though the sight, or the thought of * Ps. cxii. 10.
this, may fill his enemies with grief and envy, it refreshes and delights the souls of his friends.
Let us not overlook, however, what our Lord subjoins, "And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last." Neither the admission, nor the exclusion, shall always correspond with what first appearances might lead men to suppose; for, some, who seemed to bid fair, shall be shut out, while others, who were once very unpromising, shall enter; and, comparing believers. with one another, the degree of glory to which they shall be advanced shall be, in some cases, different from what former circumstances seemed to indicate. Our Lord, in this saying, which he uttered on several occasions, seems to have referred more immediately to the rejection of the gospel by the great body of the Jews, who were first in point of privileges, and to its reception by many of the Gentiles, who were last in point of privileges. In the case of the Roman centurion,* Jesus said, "I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And I say unto you, that many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven; but the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness." The words, however, admit of a much more general application. It might be shown, at great length, how these words shall hold true-how there are last who shall be first, and there are first who shall be last, in respect of mental endowments-in respect of worldly prosperity-in respect of religious privileges-in respect of external decency-in respect of profession, and in respect of the time of their being effectually called. But we must be contented with the mere enunciation of these particulars, which, indeed, is enough of itself to open up a wide field of profitable meditation.
Briefly, in conclusion, let us learn, from our Lord's conduct on this occasion, to give such a turn to speculative questions, when they are started, as may tend to edification.
Let us mark the authority of this passage in favour of strictness in religion. There is, indeed, a spurious strictness about trifles, which neglects the weightier matters of the law, and which is worthless; but there is a proper and commendable strictness in adhering faithfully to all the duties of religion, which is required by the command to enter in by the strait gate. Let who may call it preciseness, but let us be steady to our principles and to our duty.
Let us neither over-rate nor under-rate the difficulties which lie in our way to heaven. But let us view them exactly as they are, that we may neither be inactive nor disheartened.
Let us remember, that whatever these difficulties may be, they must be overcome, else we are undone. Necessity will make the sluggard toil, and the coward fight; but what necessity is equal to this?
Let us carefully improve the present season. If we knock now, it shall be opened unto us; but we shall knock too late after the door is finally shut.
Let us not trust in Church privileges. Let us not say, "The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are we;" but let us so improve the means of grace here, that we may be prepared for glory hereafter.
Let us realize to our minds the separation which will take place when men shall either be admitted into heaven, or cast off for ever; and, in doing so, let us follow the one party in the path of faith and holiness to glory; and let us sedulously avoid the course of the other, saying, each of us, my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united."
As we are among the very first in point of privileges, let us not be the last in point of improvement. Much having been given to us, much will be required of us.
Finally, while we give ourselves diligently to the business of salvation, let us look for success in the way of dependence on divine grace implored by prayer. This alone can enable us to overcome the difficulties which lie in our way; and this will enable us to do so effectually. May the Lord stand with us, and strengthen us. May the Lord "deliver us from every evil work, and preserve us unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."