The Great Supper

by Rev. Samuel Rutherford,
a Preparation Sermon, before the communion, at Kirkmabreck, in Galloway, in the year 1634
published by Rev. Andrew A Bonar, Glasgow, 1876 (reproduced in;
minimally updated and edited by JJ Lim

Part 2 of 3

Then said He unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many; and sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready, &c

Luke 14:16, 17, &c

[The scope of Parable of the Great Banquet, in Rutherford’s own words, is “to show ‘that few obey the gospel of Christ,’ set down under the similitude of a man who made a great supper, and invited many, who, notwithstanding of that, refused to come.”  In this rather magnificent communion sermon on it, Rutherford divides the parable into four part: (1) The Preparation for the Banquet; (2) The invitation Sent Out; (3) The Refusal by the Invited Guests; and (4) the Response of the Lord of the Banquet.” We read the first two parts in the first instalment. In this second instalment, we shall consider the refusal.]


3. The Refusal

 “And they all with one consent began to make excuse.”—Reason would hold the opinion, that, when the Lord makes a great Supper for the world, they would all be glad to come, and take a meal from Him; and that they would all run, striving who might be foremost at the table, and nearest the Lord’s hand! No, but it is not so here; for there be three sorts of men, who all with one consent refuse to come. The first says, I have bought a farm: the second, I have bought five yoke of oxen: and the third says, I have married a wife. Honour holds away the first; riches and profit, the second; and pleasure and lust, the third. It has been so since the beginning. God and the world have aye been at holding and drawing for men’s soul; God draws and the world holds fast. Here be the world’s three gods: honour, profit, and pleasure. This is their trinity, their Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. John, in his first Epistle, chapter 2, sets down the doctrine of the world’s trinity. In that place he is forbidding men to love the world, and gives good reason for it. Says he, verse 16, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh,” that is, inordinate pleasure, “and the lust of the eyes,” that is, covetousness, “and the pride of life,” that is, honour, “is not of the Father, but is of the world.” “And they all with one consent” says the Lord, “refused” I would have you to consider two things: (1) The refusal of the guests; (2) The number of recusants.

a. The Refusal of the Guests

For the first, “All with one consent began to -make excuse”—Indeed, it seems wonderful that, amongst the three sorts of people, not one of them will leave so much as an ox for Christ! May not the Lord bring them all in to the Supper whom He calls? I answer, He may do that; “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Mt 22:14). But we must here consider one of the deepest mysteries of God’s counsel. There is a twofold calling: (1) There is one external, or outward, whereby God calls men who obey not: here many are called to the Supper, but few come; and (2) There is an inward calling, whereof the Apostle speaks, Romans 8:30, “Moreover, whom He did predestinate, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified.” First, if you look at God’s outward calling, in respect of the word and sacraments. This calling finds men hand and foot in Satan’s chains, and looses them not; for God has bound them. He bids them loose themselves, as they are obliged to do; because obedience is a debt that reprobates, in so far as they are God’s creatures, are owing to Him. And why should not the great Creator and Lord of the universe crave dyvours1 and bankrupts, although, by their own fault, they have nothing wherewith to pay?

And, therefore, unto both such as are effectually called, and such as obtain not grace to obey, the Lord is crying, dyvour, pay thy debt or else go to prison. God, not having elected them to salvation, and finding them in the state of sin, and so only slaves and bastards (for the Cautioner, Christ, will not pay every bastard’s debt), He leaves them with this, Either pay or die; and they willingly lie still, and love to live, and die in Satan’s arms.

But secondly, there is an inward calling, whereby God, not only by His word, cries and shouts to waken up sleeping sinners: but also by His Spirit inwardly breathes the life of God into them, and sets them upon their feet. Those are said to be given of the Father to the Son; the Son receives and keeps them: and this is a wonderful calling. The Father craves the debt of obedience from us, and says, “Pay, and obey My calling, as ye are obliged to do;” and in comes the Son, by His Spirit, and slips the sum into our hand, even the price of obedience, and says, Because My name is in the contract betwixt the Father and you, I will give you to pay my Father withal; and, so long as I have, you shall not want. So that, although the elect be dyvours, yet they are their Father’s dyvours; and have a good Friend that pays for them.

In this calling there is a great mystery. God is both calling and answering in our hearts. In a good sense, this calling is God’s calling upon His own Spirit in us, and we returning an answer by that same Spirit which dwelleth in us—the Father crying, Come to the Supper, My elect people; and the Son, by His Spirit answering in our hearts, My Father, behold we are coming. In the Word of God, this calling is called a knocking at the door of our hearts for access to come in and sup with us. And, indeed, at one time the Lord is without knocking for admittance, and at another time He is within opening the door—without knocking, and within drawing. You will find Scripture for this, Acts 14:14, Paul is preaching to Lydia’s heart: now, behold, there is God without calling and knocking by the word; and behold, in the same verse it is said, “The Lord opened the heart of Lydia, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.” God be thanked, God craves and pays for us. While God is crying, Open, His one arm is without the door knocking, and the other arm is within drawing the bolt, and preparing a lodging for Himself. God is His own harbinger, He makes His own bed, dresses His own supper, sweeps His own lodging, and does all when He comes. He has nothing of us but bare house-room: all the furniture is His own: He brings all with Him. The ground and reason of this inward calling and sweet election thus run equally together. Election is the King’s letters and decreet, ordaining such persons, by their names, to the kingdom of God; and effectual calling is [apprehension]2 and imprisonment, following upon these same letters, whereby such as are in Christ’s Roll and Register Book, are called by the word to grace and glory. And, when they [refuse]3 the King’s charge, the Father draws them, and the Son bears them in His then He rides upon the white horse of the gospel, and shoots the arrow of the irresistible word of God into the hearts of God’s elect, so that they must obey and become the Lord’s prisoners, His conquered, ransomed, and bought ones by virtue of the Father’s decreet4. Thus the Son has caption against the elect. The Father gives them to the Son, and He will not want them (SS 2:14). He draws His church (Jn 6:44). The Spirit of the Father draws us to the Son; for that Christ has of the Father by gift, and that He has by good right paid for. It is no riot for Him to break both doors and windows in the soul to get His own. He has law upon His side, and a sufficient decreet passed and subscribed by His Father’s hand. And the doctrine that arises from this is, the inward working of the Spirit, will not bring us to the King’s Supper. Here are many called, but they excuse themselves that they cannot come, because of other employments. This should teach us to hang upon the word, but withal to look beyond the word, and with the use of the word, call for the inward grace of the Spirit. It is not the bottle of the physician that heals the sick, but the medicine in the bottle. The word and sacraments are but empty bottles, except the Lord fill them with His virtue; and without this secret virtue we shall set our mouth to an empty bottle, and draw in wind, to the hurt of our souls and stomachs, which shall prove the savour of death unto death, and not the wine of God’s refreshing grace. Our Lord, speaking to the woman of Samaria, says two sundry times (Jn 4), that it is He who gives the water of life. Now, indeed, in the word and sacraments is the well of life; and since that well is opened up in the house of David, good reason that He be found of His own, and that He be steward of His own heart’s blood, and only have the key at His own girdle. And for what cause else is the [church] said to lie within the two arms of Christ? (SS 2). How can she then fall into a swoon for hunger, or faint when she is in the house of wine, where she may be cheered up with the comforts of His word? Yes, indeed, even there at the fountain head she will die, except the Lord hold the cup of spiritual refreshment to her mouth. This was experienced in Ezekiel’s day by the dry bones, chapter 37, where he says, the Lord caused him to prophesy; then bone came to bone, and sinews upon the bones, and flesh upon the sinews; then to prophesy to fetch spirit and breath that they might live. So the word without the Spirit is a blank charter, without our name written in it, without a seal, and without a subscription. The sacrament without the Spirit is no better than a piece of naked wax without seals of land.

b. The Number of Recusants

The Second point is, the number of recusants. “They all with one consent began to make excuse” says the Lord.

Hence, observe,

1. The number who follow an ill course are the greatest (Gen 6:12). In Ahab’s days, there was only one honest, Micaiah, while there was four hundred [scoundrels]5. Abraham durst not give his word that there would be five righteous persons in five great cities. Against the Lord and Jeremiah, are kings, princes, priests, and people: there is a whole parliament, the three Estates of the land (Jer 1:18). Desolate truth stands her alone; she has a thin court (Mt 27:21). Men would say, Sin has not such a throng court now as it had in the days of Christ; for now men, because of their oxen and their land, come to Christ’s Supper. This is soon said. If we mean only eating and drinking, that proves nothing to justify our age; for Judas came that way; and if the devil himself had a true body, he might come to the Lord’s table in that way. But how many in this [church] leave their hearts at home, when they come to the table of the Lord. Try your consciences here.

2. It condemns the religion of our time. “We live as our neighbours,” say many. Many have a custom of swearing. Will you do so, then? I say, these men take upon credit, and believe as the world does. Company is good, but company in hell is small comfort. Men vow Christ to be their husband, just as kings woo their queens; for they only hear of them by report, and see their pictures, and upon that marriage passes betwixt them: so the men of our age hear of Christ by report. They paint a heaven in their own head, and a faith of their own, and run as a beast after the drove. But a man who would serve Christ as he should do, must indeed be a mocking stock to the world, and a wonder to many (Ps 71:7). But think nothing to be counted, with Marius, a good man, all except one thing, that is, he is a Christian. Their answer is not a flat denial of God, and a disgraceful speaking of the Supper; but they all form a reason, every one, and desire to be excused. What is the meaning of the excuse I pray? You tell God that you love Him, you love His Supper, you love to be in His company; but say, “I pray Thee have me excused;” I cannot but love my land, my five yoke of oxen, and my wife, better than Thee. But if men knew Christ, they would say, Woe be to that farm, woe be to that ox, and woe be to that pleasure, that holds Christ and me asunder so long. However, they refuse to come to the Supper, yet they give a fair excuse to the Lord, and pray him to excuse them.

3. There is no sin we commit, if it were even to the treading of the blood of the New Covenant under foot, but we put a mask on it. The devil has taught men to baptize their sin with a new name, lest it should appear rightful. The murdering of the Son of God is done by an assembly of [church]-men, under a fair pretence: “We have a law, and by that law He ought to die.” Idolatry is called humble kneeling. Satan is a coiner of false money, and upon his reprobate coin he puts the King of heaven’s stamp. Herod’s killing is sold for worshipping; killing of the saints is called good service to God. The devil comes to none and says, “I am the devil, hear my counsel, and I shall draw you to hell.” No, he is not such a fool; he changes himself into an angel of light. Blessed are they who, in the wisdom of God’s Spirit, can pull the mask off the devil and sin; see the devil to be the devil, and sin to be sin. If God’s commandment be uppermost, it is no hard matter to discern sin. If God command a duty, no excuse in the world should cover thy disobedience. Alas! What excuse can men have for staying from the kingdom of heaven? for refusing of Jesus Christ crucified? How can Satan run so far into men’s hearts, as to make them say in God’s face, “Excuse me, Lord, I cannot come to heaven! Excuse me, I cannot believe in Christ, because I have other business to do!” What horrible ingratitude is here? God offers a heavenly inheritance for a few acres of land, but they refuse God, and neglect the offer of Christ.

Now here is the first excuse.

I have bought five yoke of oxen.”—O, merciful God! shall an acre of land, or an ox, be laid in the balance with Christ? Woe be to them. Oh! how many Esaus be there in the world, who sell their heavenly inheritance for a mess of pottage. Since the day that Adam did eat of the forbidden tree, the taste of our souls is so corrupt, that we call sweet sour, and put sour for sweet. Jesus Christ is like the white of an egg, tasteless in the world’s mouth. Give to Balaam the King of Moab’s gold, and for all his broad words, he seeks not another heaven. Let Jeroboam keep the kingdom, he cares not for God’s worship; but for fear the people revolt, he will not let them go to Jerusalem to worship, as God had commanded, but will have them to worship a god of gold nearer hand. And so it is now in our [church], give men a piece of ground and five yoke of oxen, and they will consent to any religion, either Arminianism or Popery. Give the soldiers Christ’s coat, and they seek no more, they will shed His blood, and take away His life. A drink of Jacob’s well is better to the woman of Samaria, than Christ, the water of life, or heaven. Her heaven is in the [bottom]6 of Jacob’s well, “Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; from whence then hast thou that living water?” (John 4:11). A sow is better to the Gadarenes than Jesus Christ. Christ has lost [favour]7 in men’s hearts, He is worn out of fashion and request. The heaven we would have is a heaven we would see with our eyes, and catch with our hands. What is it, I pray you, that keeps the first rank of people from heaven? Not a kingdom nor a broad inheritance, that would seem something; but a piece of ground, one village, a little room that keeps only ten oxen! O, Lord God, say they, if Christ could be bought for money. But He is worth much money. It is a dangerous thing once to let the world into the heart: if you be in love with, and wedded to the world, then bid adieu to Christ. The world is like a great fire, if a cold man stands at a reasonable distance, it warms and comforts him; but if he go into the midst of it, it burns him. Men who have an indifferent hold of the world, and stand at a proper distance from it, are benefited thereby; but those who cast themselves into the midst of it, are thereby swallowed up, and for ever lost. Oh! but poor worldlings get but a [paltry]8 heaven. In Luke 16, it is described, in the person of the rich glutton, who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day. Is that their heaven? meat and clothes! Indeed it is. Servants get no land, that is ordained for sons; but they get a present hire, and more they seek not. Poor men, they get five yoke of oxen, and a little farm. God knows that is but a pitiful portion!

He begins again here, “I have bought a farm, and I must needs go and see it.”—He says not, I must needs use it, enjoy it, live upon it, take my pleasure, and delight in it: but “I must needs go and see it.”

Doctrine. All that men have in the world is indeed but a sight. Ecclesiastes 5:2, “When goods increase, they are increased that eat them, and what good is there to the owners thereof, save the beholding of them with their eyes?” When the devil would have bargained with Christ, He let Him see all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, in the twinkling of an eye; but more he could not do. He could not put Christ in the peaceable possession of them. All the glory of the world wins never into the soul! It stands at the door, nay, it stands at these two utmost windows of the soul: before the two eyes, and comes no further. Mark the fool’s words, “Soul, take thine ease, thou hast much goods laid up for many years” (Lk 12:19). Every word here is like the fool who speaks them. Blind liar, they are not laid up for the soul; for all his full barns and gold could never fill the soul. The poor soul did but look out at the two windows—the eyes—and see them. Then, I counsel you, since you must go to the market and buy, spend not your money on a sight; buy something that may be seen, heard, and felt. Buy Jesus Christ; you may see Him, hear Him, and feel Him; rub souls with Him, and enjoy Him; rest upon Him, and make your moan to Him. You can never make the world your own, but you must leave all at the mouth of the grave, and creep in like a naked worm that leaves a knot of lime at the mouth of their hole when they creep into the earth. But you may take Christ into the grave with you! You may take Him up to heaven with you! You may take Him to back you, and speak for you in the last day of judgment!

I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it. I have bought a yoke of oxen, and I must go and try them.”—But these fools are bad merchants; the first should have seen the ground before he bought it; the last should have tried the oxen before he bought them. They first buy, and then try; but Solomon’s virtuous woman (Proverbs 31:16), first “considers a field,” and then “buys it.” Thus fools first buy their land, and their oxen, and then go to see them.

Doctrine. The foolish worldlings buy the world before ever they take a good sight of it. The devil is a deceitful merchant; he would not give Christ a good hearty sight of the kingdoms of the world before He bought it; he showed them to Him in a short glance, in the twinkling of an eye. Like a deceitful merchant who has no will to open up his wares that are adulterate before the sun. For the devil knows if a man saw the world, the griefs, the miseries, and the wrath of God, that hang over such as give themselves up to the love of the world, he would never come speed. But the devil’s bargains are blind bargains; he sells by guess, and the fools of the world buy by guess and hearsays. So, indeed, he hides the end. O that men would look to the inner side of ambition, covetousness, and love of the world, they would not then forget Abner’s word to Joab, “Will it not be bitterness in the latter end?” (2 Sam 2:26).

The devil causes us to buy sin before we see our merchandise. Judas bought an ill conscience before he saw the halter. The young man (Prov 7:21-27) sees the strange woman before he sees her dwelling-place, which is the entry of hell. Foolish souls take on the debt of sin, spend, and take aye on more till the term day come, and then God puts an account into their hands, that they must read and plead with watery eyes.

I have married a wife and I therefore cannot come”—The third person in the world’s trinity is inordinate lust. And this, indeed, you may gather from the words, is the mightiest god of the three: the other two had business which they must do, but he who worships the third god, says, “I cannot come.” The other two, in a pretended humility, said, “I pray thee have me excused.” The third absolutely said, “I cannot come,” and never a word of “I pray thee have me excused.” [Therefore], we see pleasure is a more dangerous temptation than either honour or profit. Beware then of the love of pleasure and inordinate lust. The thing that makes men hunt after honour and profit is pleasure, self-love, and pleasing of themselves. Men seek profit for pleasure; so that pleasure is the devil’s common bait, that he puts upon all his hooks. And even in the sin against the Holy Ghost, which to nature itself is the most thorny faced sin, yet Satan puts upon it the face of pleasure. For in a sort of hellish pleasing of themselves, they spit upon the face of the well favoured and beautiful Son of God. And therefore Solomon, speaking of the adulterous woman, (Prov 7) uses many forcible words, expressing the power of this temptation; she led the young man as an ox to the slaughter, until a dart struck through his liver. She wounds many, she slays strong men. And if you ask where pleasure lodges? The same Solomon, in the last verse of that chapter will tell you; she chambers in the way to hell, in the very mouth of the grave, the throat and entry of hell; there is pleasure’s dwelling house. I may well say pleasure is the devil’s sportsman, and his broker, who sells and buys, and makes the price for him; and goes through the world, and suits souls in marriage to him. This should teach us to strive for mortification; for when the apostle speaks of this sin, the lust of the flesh, that which is to be done against it is, that it should be taken to the cross and crucified. The eyes, the ears, and heart of the old man must be nailed to Christ’s cross. We shall never get the victory over this temptation except we be dead men to the world; and the nails that pierced Christ go through the heart, soul, and body of the man of sin. Offer to dead men, kingdoms, jewels, and much gold; it were but a ploughing of the sand, they will neither see nor hear your offer. Mortified Joseph was crucified to the lust of the flesh; says he, “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Gen 39:9). He being a dead man to that could not get it done. Blessed are they who are weaned from the love of the world.

…to be continued

  1. i.e. “men in debt.” ↩︎
  2. Orig. “comprisement.” ↩︎
  3. Orig. “force.” ↩︎
  4. I.e. A judicial writ ordering the arrest of a person. ↩︎
  5. Orig. “lowns.” ↩︎
  6. Orig. “ground.” ↩︎
  7. Orig. “court.” ↩︎
  8. Orig. “silly.” ↩︎