MANY CALLED, FEW CHOSEN
Mr. S. Delves
Easter Monday afternoon 30th March 1959
“For many are called, but few are chosen.” Matt. 22, 14.
These few words occur at the end of the parable of the marriage feast; in fact, the parable itself is intended to illustrate the principle of this text, that, of the many who were called to that feast, but few were so chosen of God to be ultimately partakers of it. So, if I am to be helped to expound the text, I must seek to expound the parable.
First, let us consider the nature of this marriage. We read that the kingdom of heaven is “like unto a certain king which made a marriage for his son;” and connected with the marriage there was this feast. Then we shall consider the call, “for many are called;” they were called to this feast. There are different receptions and different reactions that this call provoked in those who heard it. Also we may notice, for this comes most into the subject, the case of the man without a wedding garment, who is not to be considered as an isolated case, but as a representative of those who purport to respond to the call, and yet come presumptuously to the feast. Then, as we may be helped, to see how in the truth of these things, the feast, the call and the different reactions to it, the Lord is fulfilling His own sovereign and eternal purposes, that though many are called few are chosen. The parable itself is most solemn, most instructive and very searching. If I expound it rightly, it will be seen that everyone of us in this building appears in some character in this parable. It is very extensive in the intention and scope of it. Everyone who comes under the sound and preaching of the word, if it is preached faithfully, and answers to the scriptural character of a gospel ministry, comes within the scope of this parable. We may not see very clearly where we come in, but we do. If the Lord is pleased to give the word an application to us, then we shall see, in that application, how we stand with regard to these discerning and solemn things.
“Many are called.” What are they called to? They are called to this marriage, and the feast that is represented as commemorating it. There is no doubt that this marriage feast represents the gospel. The gospel is much set forth in the Word of God under this figure, and a very suitable figure it is. As it is written in Proverbs:
“Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars: she hath killed her beasts, she hath mingled her wine; she hath also furnished her table. She hath sent forth her maidens;
she crieth upon the highest places of the city. Come eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled.” Proverbs 9, 1-3 & 5. The prophet Isaiah writes “And in this mountain shall the Lord of Hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined.” Isaiah 25, 6. Now the gospel, in the truth and blessing of it, may be considered as furnishing a most blessed feast to poor, hungry, spiritually starving souls. It may be compared to a feast very beautifully, because of the fulness of it. There was no scarcity at this marriageÂ—there was abundance. So there is really a blessed fulness, an infinite fulness, in the gospel, because it is a divine gospel. There is such a fulness of grace, mercy, pardon, love, life, a fulness of everything to meet the need, to satisfy the soul, to enrich the heart. I do not know how highly enough to extol this blessed gospel in this aspect of it. The King of kings has made this blessed feast for poor sinners. This feast is the very best that heaven can provide, all that heaven can provide is provided for the poorest, weakest and most worthless of sinners. Eternal wisdom has designed it, eternal love has supplied it; it is all in the gospel; it is all in Jesus Christ. The gospel not only, by the blessing of God, saves the soul that is brought to receive it in faith, it feeds it as well. There is food in the gospel, as well as salvation. There is that which not only quickens the soul, but nourishes it afterwards. It is a blessed feast altogether is the gospel.
It bears this character also to indicate the freeness of it. Here are the gospel terms: “Ho! everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money come ye, buy and eat; yea come buy wine and milk, without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which satisfieth not.” Isaiah 55, 1 & 2. “Without money,” without merit, and “without price;” without any human goodness. These are the gospel terms. Isn’t it wonderful? Heaven’s bestÂ—”without money and without price.”
It might be said that these are easy terms. Don’t be so sure about that. The terms are certainly easy; but who is in such a case as to have nothing to pay, so impoverishedÂ—and to feel it? To have no money, to be spiritually bankrupt? To be brought low enough to come on these terms, having nothing, because everything has been taken away, that they might have supposed themselves to have had? They are brought to see that whatever worthiness they might have had is really filthy in the sight of God. Who is brought to this?
“Stripped of all their fancied meetness
To approach the dread I AM,
They are led to see all fitness
Cent’ring in the worthy Lamb.”
The terms are easy if we are once brought low enough to come on those terms.
Not only is the gospel represented in this figure of a feast to indicate the fulness and freeness of it, but also to imply its richness.
“O bring no price. God’s grace is free
To Mary Magdalene and me.”
Natural figures are abundant in the Word of God to illustrate heavenly truths, so there is nothing incompatible in our using them. A marriage feast is something above the ordinary every-day meal. There is a richness in the food above the ordinary provision of life. This feast is a marriage feast, and the richness of its provision is a heavenly richness. There is a richness in the gospelÂ— there is indeed! There is nothing in this world like it. You who have tasted believingly and feelingly the blessedness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, who have felt anything of the love of God, the forgiveness of sin, peace in Jesus Christ, and His favour in the soul, will know that one taste of this makes all earthly joys insipidÂ—it really does! To you who have not known what the gospel is, I say, there is a heavenly richness in it. If anyone doubts that, and thinks this is just imagination, it only proves they have never tasted this heavenly provision.
This is a feast in connection with a marriage. “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king who made a marriage for his son.” This represents the union of Jesus Christ and the Church. It represents ultimately, the consummation of the union there is between Christ and the Church, a union that is comparable to a marriage union. He is the Bridegroom, the heavenly Bridegroom joined to His earthly Bride. This union was eternally purposed in the heart of God, that He would make a marriage for His Son;
that from all the hosts and multitudes of men that should spring from the first Adam, the Lord would choose out a people to be in union with His only Begotten Son. That this union might be considered accomplished, the Son of God took the nature of a Bridegroom, came into this world to be one with her. Because of the infinite disparity of natures between the Heavenly Bridegroom and His earthly bride, this marriage would have been impossible, therefore the Son of God took the nature of the bride and came into this world as her Bridegroom. As the bride was in a sinful condition, He laid down His life for her redemption. He paid the debt for her, freed her from it by His own blood, sanctified her by His pure and blessed holiness. This marriage will be consummated at the end of this dispensation. That which is written in the book of Revelation will come to pass, “The marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready.” Rev. 19, 7. Ultimately, all this will be accomplished that is set forth in the parable. But that is not yet. What is now proceeding and has been going on all through this dispensation is the call of men to the marriage.
Many are called to this marriage, that is, to partake of this heavenly blessing of the gospel feast. How are we to understand this? It is very clear from this text that the call extended farther than to those whom God had chosen to be partakers of the feast,
otherwise how could many be called, and in comparison with the many, few be chosen? There is no doubt a general call in the gospel. It seems abundantly clear in the Scriptures in many cases, both in the Old Testament and in the New. “To you, O man, I call: and my voice is to the sons of man.” Proverbs 8, 4. It is indiscriminate in this matter: to men as men. “But my voice is to the sons of man.”
The first call of the gospel was addressed to the Jews during the ministry of Jesus Christ. The disciples were forbidden to go outside that nation; they were not even to go into the villages of the Samaritans; but after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that restriction was removed, and they were commanded to go into all the world and preach the Gospel. In the sacred, inscrutable purposes of God, the Jews were not, as a body, effectually wrought upon by the gospel word. Indeed, they responded, exactly as those in the parable, they made light of it; and in the end ‘the remnant took His servants, treated them spitefully and slew them.”
The first persecution against the Church of God by the Jews, brought upon them, about forty years after this parable was told, that dreadful siege of Jerusalem, which occurred when the Romans destroyed their city utterly, temple and all. They were the armies that the Lord used in judgment to destroy Jerusalem, and scatter the people to the four corners of the earth.
We see that the same reactions to the gospel are still evident. Let me remind you of what I said just now that the call of the gospel is a general call. These servants were to call all to the marriage feast. They were not to ascertain first whether those that were called were in such a state of mind as to respond to it. If they were only to call those who were already graciously prepared to respond to the call, none would have come in but those who were chosen. If any soul is effectually awakened, spiritually quickened into life, given repentance toward God, and convinced of their lost condition by the Spirit of God, it is evident that person is chosen. In this parable many were to be called who never came at all. The servants did not do wrong in calling them, though they never came.
Some, we read, made light of it; they treated it with scorn. They felt no respect, no regard for the gospel, nor the gospel messengers. Their carnal minds were so taken up with the things of this life, nothing took any effect upon them but the gains and interests of this world. The fields and merchandise were the attractions. When they were called away from them to holy and heavenly things, they made light of it. Their guilt was very great. Consider what they make light of! They make light of Jesus Christ; they make light of His precious blood; they make light of His redeeming love; they make light of His sacred word. Earthly things have a great hold on the carnal mind, such a hold that nothing but the almighty and gracious power of God will overcome it. Most men’s
minds are utterly bound up with farm and merchandise, no heart or mind for anything holy and heavenly. They make light of it. T’hey may go on making light of it for years. It does not necesarily follow that they express themselves scornfully about it; that they treat the gospel with amusement; but when it comes to the comparison, it is the field and merchandise. It is all on that side. The thing is solemn, weighty. Which is most with you? Which is heaviest on your spirit? Which exercises your mind most solemnly, the gospel or the field and merchandise? The feast of the Gospel, or the gratification of the desires of the flesh and mind? Which is
light? Which is weighty?
Then there was the enmity of the others. With some the gospel stirs up enmity. The natural mind is at enmity with God: sin has alienated it from God. With many that enmity is more or less latent until they come into contact with the word of truth, or it comes into contact with them- Then it stirs up enmity. The heart rises with indignation against the gospel and those who minister it. There is a very great deal of enmity against the gospel. The heart is still as alienated from God as ever it was. But still the servants were right in proclaiming the word to all those who rejected it. The servants were not responsible for the reactions of those who heard the word. They would have been responsible if they had not faithfully proclaimed the gospel.
The question may be raised, if only those who are chosen will ever really respond to the word of the gospel, why should there be any general call, if only few are chosen? One reason certainly is that all men shall be without excuse: all those who come under the sound of the word shall be without excuse in these matters. Suppose the gospel excluded all except those whom God had chosen. What would the answer be? We were excluded by the word. We were shut out by it. There was never any door opened to us. We had no right to come. If we were not called, it would have been presumption to have come; so it would have been in this parable, if they were not called. None will ever truly come to the gospel feast apart from the effectual operation of the grace of God in their hearts, none but those who are chosen. The gospel call leaves all without excuse for making light of it.
There is a difficulty which arises with regard to the doctrine of election and God’s sovereign predestination of men unto salvation. People will have it that this doctrine means that all who are unable to know their predestination are left out. They feel it shuts them out ;they are not chosen, therefore their case is utterly hopeless. Ah! but “many are called”, mark, ‘many are called”. What of that? So that the position is just this. Where there is a response to the call, that is sovereign grace; where there is a rejection of it, that is man’s unbelief, the opposition of his heart to the truth;
the guilt lies at his own door.
But there is another consideration in this, why many should be called,
when but few are chosen. If the gospel call is thus indiscriminate, how and when would the line be drawn, so that one
could know whether they are called or not? Because of the work of grace in the heart. But when it is not so deep, definite and clear, someone may very much doubt whether they are in such a state of grace or not, and if the call of the gospel is to them. They may say, ‘I believe this is for the people of God, but I do not know that I am one of them. If the Lord would make it clear to me that I am one of those whom He has chosen to salvation, I should know where I stood.’ That is not how God will have it, that men should respond to the call on the grounds that they are chosen and predestinated. He does not put it like that in His Word. Besides, gospel truths put in the wrong place cause confusion; put in the right place give much instruction. The gospel does not put predestination between the sinner and the gospel. No! what the Word of God puts between the sinner and the gospel is this call. If the call, by the grace of God, is made effectual in the heart, and there is a coming, a gracious reception into this gospel feast, and a partaking of the blessings of it, then you can bring in predestination. O the wonder of God’s election that He has chosen a people from the foundation of the world! Put the truth of the Word in the right order, then everything is straight and clear. There is nothing to cause confusion to a poor soul who desires to enjoy gospel blessings, who comes on God’s free terms.
Many are called to repentance. One might say, “I do not know whether I really and truly repent.” Ask God to give you the repentance that Jesus Christ is exalted to give. The Word calls all men everywhere to repent. The grace of God works repentance through
that word, causing it so to act upon the heart and conscience as to bring forth repentance.
Another reason why many should be called when but few are chosen, is that God will make the general call personally effectual by His Holy Spirit; then it becomes not a general but a personal call. It is the work of the Spirit of God in the gospel to make the Word effectual. Men never respond of themselves, apart from the grace of God. The sovereignty of God is in it, in making the call effectual to those whom He has chosen. “Many are called, but few are chosen.”
Of the many who are called few, really, are brought savingly, humbly and believingly to respond. Those who are not chosen will make light of it. That is their sin. Some rise up in enmity against it; that is their guilt. Those whom God has chosen will feel the power of the Word in their souls; the truth will lay hold of them. They will be brought to the gospel feast. Everyone here before me this afternoon should consider themselves as being under the general call of the Word. You are in a solemn position in these matters, because in some way or other you will react to the gospel call. You ought to consider this. It is not just a question of hearing the gospel again and again, and expressing your own feelings about it. What is the response of your heart to it? I tell my people at home sometimes, ‘While I am preaching. God is looking at your
hearts. Just as your heart reacts to the gospel, so it appears in God’s sight.” The Lord’s servants are in a solemn position. If they preach the truth faithfully and affectionally, and it is made light of, or there is a spirit of enmity against their message, then there is a woe on their hearers. But if, by the grace of God, the Word works effectually to their call, if it brings repentance, and they acknowledge the truth believingly, if the word meets their case, if the Spirit of God gives them to feel they are in a hungry, desolate, miserable condition, the gospel becomes a joyful sound. “Blessed are the people who know the joyful sound.” Then there is a blessing on the Lord’s servants who are the means of preaching the gospel with life and power to the souls of their hearers.
All this is going on, my friends, and it will go on from generation to generation, until the end of this dispensation, “For many are called, but few are chosen.”