The Banquet and what some of the guests had to say
Every proper marriage has its banquet. There is usually that hour of good will when all who assemble bestow their best wishes and their smiles on those who now stand in a new and life-long relationship to one another.
Now the Heavenly Marriage has also its feast. The Bride in the Song says, ‘He brought me to the banqueting house.’ This is the feast that God had prepared for His guests before the world was.
When we look forward to welcoming to our homes our dearest friends we begin to prepare for their coming before they arrive. The season of happy fellowship we warmly anticipate. And so God, before He called any of His people to His marriage supper, had His table furnished, and the blessings set in order for His guests. Nothing is lacking of what we need or what we desire.
‘My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.’ When we come into a state of grace, and when we enter the upper world of glory He welcomes us in these words, ‘Come, for all things are now ready.’ All these spiritual blessings are stored up for us in Christ. Our salvation here and our glory afterwards are enjoyed and reserved in Him.
The joys and blessings of this feast are not therefore something unknown, remote and reserved in Heaven. In a state of grace we get our daily portion here of what we hope to enjoy in a fuller measure by and by. The Bride is spoken of as having ‘honey and milk under her tongue.’ These were the choice blessings of Canaan; and yet while still journeying through the desert she is refreshed and sustained by Heaven’s own nourishment.
The love of Christ, which is sweeter than honey, is in her heart; and the ‘sincere milk of the word’ is the secret of her strength. The prophet Isaiah speaks of God’s feast as consisting of ‘fat things full of marrow; of wines on the lees well refined.’ Among men, the more ancient the vintage, the better its quality and the sweeter its flavour, But what shall we say of that love which is ‘better than wine’ and which was not only in God from everlasting, but which comes to us ‘well refined’ through the sufferings and death of our Lord.
The language of true Christian experience is always the same. ‘The Lord is the portion of my soul.’ ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good’. There is an assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, and a constant supply of grace till we reach the end of life’s road.
Those who have tried to express in words the joy associated with God’s feast have found themselves almost embarrassed and silenced. It is ‘joy unspeakable and full of glory’. They know, as by instinct, that it is something which belongs to another world, and which impoverished nature here could not bestow. True believers who enjoy, in some measure, the love and presence of Christ in their heart know how wonderful such an enjoyment is.
We knew of some who wished for death rather than lose that inconceivably blissful ‘something’’ which, sometimes, and quite unlooked for, had entered their soul and which left them amazed that they could experience such a depth of happiness.
If Heaven is this state of bliss made constant and unending, no wonder though the Holy Spirit should use words the meaning of which we cannot now comprehend: ‘For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him’ (Is. 64).
With such ‘tastes’ of God’s love there is also an apprehension of the glory of Him from Whose fullness such enjoyments come. When Jonathan tasted of the honey which lay in the wood his eyes cleared and his vision returned. With life comes light. With the enjoyment of God comes an insight into His glory. Taste, and then see. Rebecca, for example, not only enjoyed tokens of her husband’s riches, but her ears were also charmed by the story of his dignity and greatness.
And in the Gospel those who received out of Christ’s fullness and ‘grace for grace’ were those who also beheld His glory, ‘the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.’
The three supreme notes of the Everlasting Gospel are - Who Christ is, what Christ did, and what Christ gives. He is infinitely glorious. He died to save us. And He gives Himself as our eternal portion. This is the message God blesses in winning souls. As Abraham’s servant made his master’s dignity, kindness and wealth his only theme, the theme of every true herald of God is the glory of Christ, His great love in dying for us and the spiritual blessings which He is willing to bestow on all who come to Him.
The Bride herself ever dwells on the loveliness of her Lord. It is her voice we also hear on the last page of the Bible. ‘The Spirit and the Bride say, Come’. Everywhere she informs us that to taste of His feast brings with it a disclosure of His own surpassing glory, and that His life is the light of men.
Such insights and enjoyments as we here mention belong to a very real world. Those who live in conscious communion with God are, in fact, much nearer to reality than those who exist on the circumference of life, distracted and deceived by the Enemy whose aim is to keep them in that state of impoverishment and estrangement from God forever.
No serious student of the Christian life, from whatever angle he deals with the subject, can deny that spiritual love, joy and peace in God are aspects of ultimate reality deeper and more solid than anything belonging to this present world. But as the Christian life can only be understood from the inside, we cannot hope to convince those who are without that its satisfactions are such as we describe. Only those who are guests at Christ’s table know how good is the banquet. And no one who sat ever at this feast would exchange it for another; for here we have all that the heart can desire - and much more.
In terms of strict reason the outsider is, in fact, incapable of judging the true quality and nature of the Christian life. It is a life of which he knows nothing. It is a world which is spiritually beyond his reach and knowledge. To the mere ‘natural man’ its claims are not only unintelligible but ‘foolishness.’ But the foolishness is all on his side.
On the other hand, a true believer in the Lord is able to make a just comparison between the old life and the new. He knows both worlds. He has lived in and to some extent has explored both. His judgment should, therefore, command our respect, if not our acceptance.
The younger son of Christ’s parable, for example, could make a just evaluation of the old life and the new. We know that once he had tasted of the feast with which his father had celebrated his home-coming he no longer desired to go back to the pigs, the prostitutes and the dung hill of his old degenerate days.
But who would accept his views of the Christian life while he still lived a spiritual bankrupt in the ‘far country’? And yet how often have we heard of men and women without any spiritual existence or Christian perception or experience passing judgment on God’s feast as if they had tasted every dish on His table!
Right down through its long history the Church of Christ has been blessed with men and women whose voice on this subject we ought to hear. In many instances these were people of material wealth, of incomparable intellectual gifts and of the highest culture and the brightest earthly prospects. Some of these were also of the highest moral and ‘religious’ attainments.
They had been offered and given the best that this world could provide. But it was only when they had tasted of God’s love and salvation that they realised how emaciated were their souls, and how empty were the ‘cisterns’ out of which they had tried to satisfy the spiritual void within their hearts. And, if we refuse to hear such, it simply means that deep irrational prejudices fester within our minds that close them against all reasonable conviction.
In the life of Moses, for example, we are confronted with a man whose stature, opportunities and background are perhaps the most colourful and impressive in history. He knew both worlds intimately. He knew the world of human grandeur at its best, and he knew the better life of personal devotion to God.
There was a moment in his life when he was asked to choose between these two. And he chose to serve God in preference to all the riches, honours and pleasures of an earthly kingdom. This he did, not when he was an unthinking youth, or an old man whose mental powers were in decline. He made his decision not in an hour of ‘overt emotionalism’ which modern psychology insists is necessary for religious experience.
He was not motivated by frustration. He was not an unfulfilled man who had tried and failed. He stood at the height of his powers, with his foot only two steps from the throne. He could have indulged all his natural desires. By one word he could have inherited the vast riches of a great kingdom.
Nothing was withheld from him. But his answer was decisive, final and irrevocable. ‘By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.”
Moses did this because he had a deep spiritual appreciation of that other world, the blessings of which are abiding and whose riches, honours and rewards are everlasting and unfading. By faith he saw another King and another country He tasted of the inconceivable joy of communion with God.
Therefore he bade an everlasting farewell to the inferior offers of this mortal life. He chose to serve Christ’s Bride in her garments of suffering and to become her son, rather than enjoy the easy indulgent smile of Pharaoh’s daughter - with all the transient gifts and comforts of this world.
Many years after his departure from Egypt, and after years of suffering in ‘the great and terrible wilderness,’ he met a friend to whom he offered the rich aid enduring rewards reserved for those who truly follow God. ‘We are journeying unto the place of which the Lord said, I will give it to you: come thou with us, and we will do thee good: for the Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel.’
These words show that he never once looked back. There was never any regret on his part for his choice. For that reason he died with the word ‘Happy’ on his lips. He went to Heaven along the road of self-denial, and bearing the Cross of his Lord.
History provides us with an even more impressive story of disillusionment and discovery. It is the story of a famous king. This mans wealth had passed all the limits of calculation. His reign coincided with a period of great political tranquility. His sky was without a cloud.
He had access to every form of pleasure. On his shoulders rested every honour and royal dignity which this world could confer. God had also endowed him with special wisdom and rare aptitudes of mind. Nothing escaped his observation, and his proverbial philosophy reflects a penetrating and comprehensive survey of the total sum and value of ‘all things under the sun.’
But the more he searched, the deeper his disillusionment became. He discovered that, in all that he had and in all that he saw there was nothing that could give him spiritual repose and inner happiness. All was ‘vanity and vexation of spirit!’ This was the cry of despair of the wealthiest and wisest of men.
But God changed his dirge of despair into a superlative song. The day he found Christ his soul emerged out of its shroud into a state of joy and inner peace. ‘I sat down under His shadow with great delight, and His fruit was sweet to my taste.’ This was ‘the Song of Songs’ of King Solomon after he had tasted of God’s feast and had seen the loveliness of the Son of God.
God has so ordered it that in every age men should give their testimony in favour of the infinite superiority of God’s grace to every other blessing. Are not Augustine, Pascal, Calvin, John Howe, Madame Guyon and C. S. Lewis - to mention but a few - incomparable intellectual and spiritual persons who have reported well of God’s good land, the fruit of which imparts eternal life to those who believe?
I know that some of these testimonies reach us over the void of many centuries. They belong to the more ‘primitive’ ages before science had evolved the many social and domestic ‘comforts’ of our times. But our age of material welfare is also the sin-sick age of violence and despair. The age of technical ‘progress’ and knowledge is become the age of fear and discontent.
Modern man needs God, as did those men of other days. Indeed, the so-called modem man of today will be the ancient man of tomorrow. Fundamentally, he is the same in every age - a sinner in need of God.
Not many years ago, for example, a famous doctor closed his door in Harley Street in London and went out into the great world of humanity to preach the ‘good news’ which had so richly blessed his own life. He had discovered that the Gospel and not a progressive and highly valued medical science, held the secret of spiritual healing and eternal life. His colleagues looked upon him as a rising star in the medical world. When someone expressed his surprise that he should give up the bright prospects which lay before him he said:
‘By following Christ and becoming a preacher I have gained everything and lost nothing.’ This man had discovered that Christ and His Gospel are the answer to our deeper spiritual needs, and to the perilous trends of the world of today.
On a different level is the story which I am now reading of a young woman who had danced her way towards the floodlights in the world of entertainment. The cheap honours and empty applause of the world she served dazzled her eyes. But the further she travelled along that garish, noisy road the deeper became her despair.
The cry of her empty heart reached the ear of God, Who came and blessed her with forgiveness and peace. It was when she received this gift of eternal life that she realised that what had eluded her all her days was, by faith in Christ, now settled in her heart.
This then is the voice and witness of all true Christians. Those who are ‘inside’ know. The rest don’t. This is the universal testimony of all who have tasted that the Lord is gracious. His guests never go elsewhere. They never want to leave His Home. And they never shall.
‘Who with abundance of good things
Doth satisfy thy mouth,
So that even as the eagle’s age
Renewed is thy youth.’