The Wedding Garment!
William Nicholson, 1862
"But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding garment. 'Friend,' he asked, 'how did you get in here without a wedding garment?' The man was speechless.
Then the king told the attendants, 'Bind him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!'" Matthew 22:11-13
The Parable exhibits the riches of God's grace in providing for the spiritual needs of men.
It is called a feast; and the description of the preparation, verse 4, indicates the substantiality and suitability of the feast. Gospel preparations were prophesied of as a feast, Isaiah 25:6. These preparations are all founded on the death of Christ — the sacrifice of himself. In him there is a fullness of those spiritual blessings which sinners require — a sufficiency to fill every hungry soul with good things. The provision is such as vile sinners had no reason to expect; but such as it becomes the King of glory to give. He gives like himself — he gives even himself to be the El-shaddai to them — a God that is enough — a rich, full, and glorious feast for the soul.
The blessings of the Gospel were designed to be enjoyed in fellowship. Hence people were called from "the highways," etc. The great Gospel trumpet is blown, and those who are ready to perish, may come into the banqueting house, and eat the hidden manna, and drink the wine of the kingdom — they are "blessed with all spiritual blessings!"
However, all are not Israel who are called Israel — all are not acceptable guests who pretend to be. None can be accepted without a Wedding Garment. It is awful to attempt to impose upon God. In all ages some have entered the church who had no business there. Hence the text.
I. The Wedding Garment.
The expression alludes to the custom of Eastern Sovereigns to confer a robe of office for admission to their presence. On the marriage of a king's son, this was especially the case. The Eastern monarchs having large wardrobes for presents, and for such purposes were capable of meeting all such exigencies. The wedding dresses were of the most magnificent kind, and the basest person would resent with indignation, an unsuitable appearance on such a momentous occasion.
On these circumstances, Christ has founded the instructive parable, showing the folly of depending for salvation on our own righteousness, "filthy rags," and rejecting those robes of righteousness "washed and made clean in the blood of the Lamb."
If the Gospel is the wedding feast, then the wedding garment must be that spiritual attire necessary for true fellowship with saints on earth, and with them and Christ in Heaven.
1. It implies a conviction of the necessity of partaking of the feast, and of having on this wedding garment as a qualification for such a participation.
2. It implies compliance with all the terms proposed by the master of the feast. The penitent sinner responds to the invitation — he comes to the feast — he casts aside his filthy garments — he is clothed afresh — the wedding garment is put on by faith — and he esteems it as infinitely superior to his former clothing.
This transformation is effected by:
(1.) Justification, by which he is delivered from guilt and condemnation. Romans 5:1; 8:1. The law has no charge against him — he is free — and God now regards him as innocent. Romans 3:25, 26; 5:9, 10; and therefore he triumphs. Romans 8:33, 34.
(2.) This transformation is also effected by regeneration. Born again — renewed in the spirit of the mind — putting off the old man. Ephesians 4:22-24. Hence he walks worthy of his calling, as befits the Gospel of Christ. Philippians 1:27
This state of justification, the Scriptures frequently represent as a garment. "I put on righteousness as my clothing." Job. 29:14. "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness." Isaiah 61:19. David thus describes the splendor and privileges of God's church: "The King's daughter is all glorious within; her clothing is of wrought gold. She shall be brought unto the King in clothing of needlework," etc. Psalm 45:13, 14. When the Prodigal returned, his Father said, "Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him." To the lukewarm church of Laodicea, Christ said, "I counsel you to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that you may be rich, and white clothing that you may be clothed, that the shame," etc. Rev. 3:18. The church triumphant are so described. "After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes." Revelation 7:9. This will distinguish the final and eternal marriage of the Lamb with the church, his bride.
Such is the "Wedding Garment." What a glorious robe! It was purchased by a great price — the Savior's blood — and constitutes the sinner acceptable to God.
Remember that this "wedding garment" distinguishes the true Christian from the false professor. It is not mere outward conduct that is implied; for this would be discovered by the guests as well as by the King. It is the inward state of the heart — the disposition towards God. "The Kingdom of God comes not with observation," etc. "He is not a Jew who is one outwardly," etc.
II. The Solemn Inspection and Scrutiny.
1. This inspection and scrutiny was performed by the King. "When the King came in to see," etc. Imagine you see the banquet — all the guests are assembled — all are anticipating great enjoyment — it is now announced the King is approaching — all are anticipating his approbation. The door opens — he enters — and his approving eye passes from one guest to another until it fixes upon one who, in an essential point, differs from the rest — he is not clothed as the occasion requires, and as custom prescribes. The King regards him as an intruder — he disgraces the entertainment — he has no business there.
The King of Heaven scrutinizes the Church now, and he will especially at the day of judgment. What a solemn scrutiny! "I am he who searches the heart!" Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account!" "I know the things that come to your mind, yes, every one of them." "He walks among the seven golden candlesticks — his eyes are as a flame of fire."
The eye of Omniscience fixes upon us, and there is no deceiving him. We may impose upon man, but not upon God — therefore let no one attempt to deceive him — he sees you now — investigates you now.
Let us beware of judging one another, leaving the matter to him, whose judgment is according to truth. As in the parable, no one judged the robeless man, but let the matter wait until the arrival of the King. It is the province of the King to detect the hypocrite. In the procedure of the Almighty, mercy rejoices against judgment. Why, therefore, do you judge your brother — for we shall all stand at the judgment seat of Christ?
2. This investigation was personal. The assembly was not scrutinized as a whole; that scrutiny more immediately concerned each individual. The "wedding garment" of my friend — my brother — my father, etc., will not avail for me. That robe must cover my immortal spirit. Though I had patriarchs and martyrs, etc., for my ancestors — though I belong to the holiest nation, sect, church, or family — it will avail me nothing. My own deeds — my own state here on earth, will decide my eternal destiny. The eye of the King will fix upon me — the soul is transparent to him even now.
III. The Detection.
The result of the scrutiny was the discovery of the man "without a wedding garment."
Not all who appear desirous of enjoying the feast, have on the wedding garment. The parable indeed describes but one such intruder; this, however, must not be applied too closely. It does not intimate a rare occurrence; but that, though there were but few, they could not on that account escape detection; nay, were there only one, he would surely be detected by the piercing eye of God. What a spectacle! How distinct from the rest!
Why do not people avail themselves of this spiritual attire?
1. It is frequently the result of ignorance. They know not the nature of Christ's kingdom, and they rush in with a mind not prepared to conform to his laws, etc.
2. It is frequently the result of pride. Even as the man in the parable might think his own clothing superior to the prepared robe, so sinners will not part with their good works, as they call them — they will not (like the Jews) submit to the soul-humbling.
3. It is sometimes the result of impure motives. The wedding garment is lost sight of by those who enter the Church to promote their trade — to gain a companion for life — to gain official honor, etc.; and these motives, which are paramount to them, cause them to rush into the Church without the requisite spiritual garb. Awful infatuation!
4. It frequently arises from carelessness. The mind is full of the world — trade, pleasures, etc. etc. The wedding garment is not properly estimated — they think not of eternity.
IV. The Solemn Trial.
Having intruded, he promised himself much pleasure; but his hopes were fatally disappointed. He was awakened by an inquiry from a quarter he did not expect, "Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?" How great his surprise and terror at the discovery of his situation! The question at once revealed his guilt, and called upon him for a reason.
1. His trial was public. Before all the guests and attendants. So the trial of the sinner and the hypocrite will be before "all nations," the whole world assembled, thousands of angels, etc.
2. The title with which he was addressed was heart-rending, very cutting; "Friend!" An apparent friend — a pretended friend — a professing friend — but in reality an enemy!
3. He was put on his own defense. "Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?" What can you say in your defense? Did you not know that you were required to have on a wedding garment, and that to come without one was an insult to the King? Did you imagine that your conduct would not be discovered and punished ?" Give an account of your conduct, etc.
So will it be at the last day. "Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?" How could you call yourself a Christian, when you would not submit to my laws, or believe in my Son as your ransom? Did you imagine I could be deceived — that I would be mocked with the lips, while your heart was far from me? Did you come to insult the entertainment and the entertainer? Did you prefer your own clothing to mine? Did you imagine that because neither the guests nor the servants resisted your intrusion, tnat there was nothing to dread from me?
4. He was convicted and overwhelmed with shame. "He was speechless!" The original means, he was gagged, muzzled. The man stood mute — his guilty conscience stopped his mouth. He was exposed, confounded — had nothing to say.
Those who live within the Church, and die without Christ, will not have one word to say for themselves when God shall examine them.
They will have no excuse. the garment was freely offered to them, "Hearken to me, you that are stout-hearted." "O Jerusalem, will you be made clean?" The Spirit and the Bride say come!" etc.
5. The Dreadful Sentence. "Bind him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!"
1. He is ordered to be bound or manacled as a condemned malefactor. He is reduced to a helpless state. The angels at the end of the world will be commissioned to gather out of the kingdom, all things that offend, and to bind them in bundles. The sinner cannot deliver himself — all resistance will be in vain.
2. He is ordered to be removed from the place of entertainment. "Take him away." He has seen the rich entertainment provided, but let him not partake. O the loss the sinner will sustain at last! Take him away from the King — from the kingdom — from the feast of immortal pleasure. All those splendid realities will be forfeited.
3. The punishment to be inflicted. "Bind him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!"
The Jewish marriages were performed in the night season, amid superb illumination; the outer darkness means, therefore, the darkness outside of the festal hall; rendered still more gloomy to the person who was suddenly thrust out into it from such a profusion of light.
Hell is utter darkness — it is darkness outside of Heaven. Hell is the land of light — blackness of darkness — chains of darkness. All such expressions denote the future abode of the wicked.
The consequence of this is "weeping and gnashing of teeth." Weeping is expressive of great sorrow and anguish. Gnashing of teeth is expressive of the greatest torment and indignation. The retrospect of their life of folly and infatuation will cause this; and the terrible interminable future will cause them to gnash their teeth!
1. Have we on this wedding garment?
2. Be thankful that it may yet be obtained.
3. Be not deceived with mere profession, or formal worship.
4. Those who have on the wedding garment now will soon come to the heavenly banquet, and the Redeemer's banner over them will be love.