"And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 8:11)
THE occasion of these words was the faith of the centurion, who said, verse 8, "Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof, but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed." It is said, Jesus marveled, and said to them that followed him, "Verily I have not found so great faith, no not in Israel;" by which we perceive this man was a Gentile; and then in the eleventh verse he mentions the call of the Gentiles, and in the next verse the rejection of the Jews.
But the call of the Gentiles, and their spiritual privileges, is my subject. The majority of the people of the Jews were amazingly ignorant of this, notwithstanding it had long been predicted, even from the time of Noah, that "God shall enlarge Japhet, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem." (Gen. 9:27) When God called Abraham, he said, "I will make of thee a great nation, and bless him that blesseth thee, and curse him that curseth thee, and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed." (Gen. 12:2,3) These things, however, they saw not; but David was showed this when he saw the ascension of Christ, in Psalm 68:18, and says, after his ascending on high, leading captivity captive, and receiving gifts for men, (that is, the Holy Ghost, and the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost,) the gospel should spread far and wide; and when this joyful sound should go forth, called by him, in this Psalm, a mighty voice, that Ethiopia should soon stretch out her hands unto God, and that princes should come out of Egypt--he means such as God would exalt from their debased state under a sense of their sin, and set them among the princes of his people. Isaiah was showed this when he said, "and in that day there shall be a root of Jesse that shall stand for an ensign to the people, and to it shall the Gentiles seek, and his rest shall be glorious;" (Isa. 11:10) and again, "the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising." (Isa. 60:3)
The last prophet, Malachi, says, "from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same, my name shall be great among the Gentiles, and in every place, incense shall be offered to my name, and a pure offering, for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the Lord of hosts." (Mal. 1:11) These are the many that should come from the east and the west and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. And this blessing promised to Abraham was renewed to Jacob, (Gen. 28:14) where not only his natural seed is meant, but also his spiritual; for God is said not only to be their God, but the God of their seed also. Old Simeon takes it up:--"a light to lighten the Gentiles." (Luke 2:32) Paul, as well as Peter, who (to show the truth of these promises, and do away their natural prejudices) was first convinced by a vision, and then by a positive command, was sent to carry the first tidings to them of salvation. Paul goes into Arabia, Asia, and the Greek Islands, and to Rome, to bring these many predestinated sons and daughters from far, from the east, west, north and south. And this work has been carried on ever since the Jews' rejection, and will be continued till the fullness of the Gentiles be come in with the calling of the Jews, and so all Israel shall be saved. (Rom. 11:26) It is said, these many, ordained to eternal life, (Acts 13:48) shall come.
The next thing that shows the nature of this coming is the characters of these comers, set before us in the bible. For instance, "It shall come to pass in that day the great trumpet shall be blown [in allusion to the trumpet in Numbers 10, for the gathering of the assembly] and they shall come which are ready to perish," (Isa. 27:13) and also the outcasts; and until we are ready to perish, and think ourselves outcasts, we never come; but these things working within, make us feel our need of Christ to save us, and the promise is, "they shall come," and no obstruction from sin, self, or Satan shall finally hinder. This great trumpet is sounded by none but those who are moved by the Holy Spirit, which may be seen in Isaiah 55, who cries, "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters:" no man wants water to drink but he that is athirst; no man wants the water of life but he that is in the pit where there is no water, and is afraid he shall there die for want of that water of life. But when these poor and needy cry, and their tongues fail for thirst, the Lord will hear and show them the river of the water of life; and he that hath no money is to come; he that is stripped of his own merit, and sees and feels he has nothing, he shall come, not as the Pharisee with his many good things, but as the Publican, only confessing his sin and pleading for mercy.
Another character is that God meets as a bear bereaved of her whelps, and has rent the caul of his heart; "Come (say such), and let us return unto the Lord, for he hath torn and he will bind us up." And it is of no use here to try to patch up the old garment, nor can any healing be found in ourselves; we have no healing medicine, He only that has rent can bind up, and he that has smitten can alone heal and to him shall all such come. Again, "he that cometh to me shall never hunger;" then he must hunger before he comes; but then it is only those that shall be filled;--"he filleth the hungry with good things:" also "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink." Further, "and the Spirit and the bride say, Come; and let him that heareth say, Come, and whosoever will, let him come." (Rev. 22:17) By this we see we must be made willing: no objection lies against such but what arises from Satan or themselves, for the word is plain, "whosoever is willing, let him come," and He that makes them willing will show them the way. Therefore as such as these are to sit down with Abraham in the kingdom of God, the gospel reveals the way to this kingdom, and is called "the gospel of the kingdom." In this gospel Christ is called the wisdom of God, and the power of God, and this gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth in this Christ: also says Paul, "for therein is revealed the righteousness of God, from faith to faith;" therefore as faith comes by hearing, they shall be brought to hear the gospel of the kingdom.
These shall not only hear the gospel of this kingdom, but shall have the grace of the kingdom, or the kingdom of grace in their hearts. "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation, but the kingdom of God is within you." Again, this grace of the kingdom is likened to a grain of mustard seed, and also to leaven hid; and in the hearts of God's elect is the grace of the Spirit hid. The grace of fear, the grace of life, the grace of faith, and the grace of hope are all found in the sincere seeker after Christ; power also, in which this kingdom stands, is opposed to word only; righteousness, peace, joy; it is said to stand in these--but then these, righteousness, peace, and joy in the full sense and meaning of the words cannot be said to be enjoyed till we sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of God: and here, seeking and sitting down are to be distinguished, for none but a fool in divinity will deny that Abraham had, as soon as God called him, the grace of life, (for God calls and the dead hear)--the grace of fear, the grace of faith, and the grace of hope: under the influence of this grace of the Holy Spirit he went out, which is ascribed to faith, but where faith is, there is the other also.
This was the grace of the kingdom in its first influences; but you would not say he had yet found righteousness, peace, and joy, nor did he find these till God revealed his Son in him, which was when he said, "So shall thy seed be." To be short, Paul tells us Abraham worked not, but believed on him that justifies the ungodly, and that his faith was counted for righteousness, and tells us how, which was upon his believing on Christ as the promised seed, in whom Abraham himself, as well as all nations, must be blessed: even, says Paul, "as David describeth the blessedness of the man to whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered, and blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin." (Ps. 32:1,2) Now this blessing of Abraham was the same as that which comes on the Gentiles by the faith of Christ: when righteousness was imputed to him, he found righteousness; when his iniquities were forgiven, he found peace and joy in believing God was reconciled to him through the atoning blood of Christ--which he received by faith. And now I am (as Mr. H. says) more than sure that Abel also sat down at the table furnished by infinite Wisdom long before ever Abraham was called, and ate of the bread and drank of the wine which Wisdom had prepared; and this was sitting down, and also eating bread, in the kingdom of God, and to which he was led under the first influences of the grace of the kingdom.
In allusion to the above table furnished by Wisdom, the Saviour, in Matt. 22, calls it "a marriage feast;" and at another place, "a great supper, and bade many;" also unto all people a feast on mount Zion: to this feast all real seekers desire to come, nor can they sit down and feast till they are come to it so as to enjoy Christ in all his saving benefits, as the prodigal did when he came home; he found the covering robe; the shoes, peace, in the removing of sin, and in reconciliation with his Father; and the ring of eternal love; and all these he enjoyed, as Abraham had before, at the feast of a crucified Christ, and no doubt they were sitting, some of them, and feasting too, while there was music and dancing at his return. Solomon was not without some sight and knowledge of this; the spouse, at one place, sitting down under his shadow; here labor and toil were ended when she found him: as weary and heavy laden they come, but when once they get under his shadow, they sit down, and then comes the feast; "his fruit was sweet unto my taste." This is what I understand by sitting down in the kingdom of God in this world, in union of faith, with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; they all three being blessed in the same way and with the same blessings.
But we are not only to sit down with them here in the kingdom, in the unity of the faith of the Son of God, but also in the kingdom of glory; "we who have believed do enter into rest," (Heb. 4:3) which is sitting down as before said. But then, besides, there is a rest remaining for the people of God; (Heb. 4:9) the keeping of an eternal sabbath in the society of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God above. "Come ye blessed, inherit the kingdom," (Matt. 25:34) a sweet society will this be! The same faith they all had, the same experience of God's power in calling them, the same experience of Christ's blood that washed them from their sins, the same birth by the same Spirit, all clothed in the same robe, adorned with the same ornaments, decked with the same crown, and carrying the same palm; all their discourse of God's wonders of grace to them, and all join in the same song to him that sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb! Here there is no room for pride, they are all humble, holy and happy all monuments of God's mercy; the Father, Son, and Spirit, being equally concerned in bringing them out of their sinful state, through their manifold troubles, and safely to the eternal kingdom of glory.