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would not be found unworthy of it at last; and the Jews were selected to be the people of God, and placed in possession of his church upon earth, because they were the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and might be presumed to be the heirs also of the faith and obedience of those patriarchs, which recommended them to the Divine approbation and selection, as the exclusive depositaries of illustrious privileges, present or to come, and as the appointed vehicles in the transmission of them to future generations.
The acceptance of an invitation given before the time, laid those who had received it under a specific obligation to attend at the time of the feast; and the original selection of the Jews to be the people of Gọd, the possessors and congregation of his church, for the time being, on earth, was founded on a mutual covenant between God and themselves, which bound them to the performance of every thing which God might require from them in that relation, and as a necessary consequence of it: and among the consequences of this relation none could be so natural and so necessary as this, that they who were already the people of God, and the congregation of the visible church, while its limits were confined to a single community, should yet endeavour to preserve that relation, and do all that depended upon themselves to that effect—though others besides them, might become his people also, and the pale of the church might be enlarged, to comprehend the rest of mankind, as well as them.
There was an interval of greater or less duration
between the time of the first promulgation, and first acceptance, of the invitation to the future feast, and the time of the mission of the servants of the king at a certain period in the æconomy of the preparations for its celebration; and there was an interval of equally definite and ascertainable length, (as was shewn in the consideration of the last parable,) between the first establishment of the church on earth, by the choice of the Jews as the people of God, and by their settlement in Canaan in that capacity, and that period in the subsequent history of the economy of this church, which was marked and defined by the appearance of the first of the prophets of the ancient dispensation. The object of the mission of these servants at the time in question, was to remind the guests before invited, of their existing engagement, and to announce to them that the time of fulfilling it was come : and the object of the ministry of the prophets, was to remind the Jews of their original covenant, to reinforce its existing obligations, and, above all things, to act as the precursors of the Messiah_by holding out new terms of acceptance, inculcating the efficacy of repentance, and assimilating the genius of the law long before, to the spirit of Christianity, afterwards to be revealed. The mission of the servants then, for the first time, to the guests, was a cardinal point in the economy of the preparations for the celebration of the feast; and the institution of the order of the prophets, was a cardinal point in the economy of the visible church, in its progress to the end and design of its being, through the several stages of its existence among the Jews first, and among Christians afterwards k.
k The difficulty which might be raised, at this particu ar pe. The mission of the first class of servants failed of its object with respect to the guests; and the mission of the prophets, as was shewn more at large in treating of the last parable, failed of its object with respect to the Jews. Yet the failure of this first mission was not considered final, for it was followed by a second ; and though the ministry of the prophets of the old dispensation, in their order of time, had failed of its proper object with respect to the Jews, yet the ministry of the prophets, for the attainment of that purpose, was succeeded in due time by that of the apostles. The good-will of the
riod in the interpretation of the parable, from supposing the first order of messengers there alluded to, to be the order of the prophets among the Jews, and the time of their mission to coincide with the period fixed for the celebration of the feast, though the dispensation of the Gospel itself, strictly speaking, could not be said yet to have begun; would not be peculiar to the present parable, but would apply with equal force to the parable of the great supper. The proper solution of this difficulty, in reference to that parable, was pointed out vol. iii. p. 491, and it is equally suitable to explain it at present. Taking that explanation along with him, the reader will readily perceive and admit, that the first promulgation of Judaism was virtually the promulgation of Christianity, and the first promulgation of either was virtually the consummation of both ; that the visible church, under all the forms and circumstances of its existence at different times, has always been one and the same—and even as established in Judæa, and confined to the Jews, it is not to be distinguished from the same church as extending over all the earth, and comprehending the rest of mankind; and as its first foundation among the Jews, so every subsequent change or modification in its construction, while still confined to them, was preliminary to the same result; and the nearer it brought the character of Judaism for the time, to the character of the Gospelso much the more completely was it the anticipation of the same church, as hereafter to exist among Christians.
king towards the first order of guests, and his reluctance to dispossess them of a privilege which he had always intended for them, and had virtually bestowed on them already, was shewn by the renewal of his overture to them, notwithstanding their refusal of it once ; and the continued regard of God for his ancient people, and his desire to preserve them in the possession of their peculiar relation to himself, and to his church on earth, notwithstanding all they had done to forfeit his favour, and the rejection of his offers of pardon and peace, made them, in time past, by the prophets—were displayed in the offer of Christianity first of all to them—the acceptance of which would have produced this effect, and kept the Jews in possession of their ancient privileges. Yet the failure of the first mission of the servants prepared the way for the failure of the second; and the same people, who had neither duly observed the conditions of their original covenant, nor been converted by the preaching of the prophets, were not likely, perhaps, to listen to the apostles.
It appeared to be implied that the servants who came upon the second mission, though standing in the same relation to the master of the household, and having the same office to discharge in respect to his guests, as the former—were persons of greater dignity and superior authority, than they : and though the messengers of the first class should denote the prophets, and those of the second, the apostles—and though the office both of the prophets and of the apostles, in fulfilling the purposes of God with respect to the ceconomy of his church upon earth, should be allowed to be the same; yet our Saviour has assured us that the least in the kingdom of heaven was greater than the chief of the prophets?; the humblest instrument in the dispensation of the Gospel, served an office which rendered him more illustrious than the greatest of the ministers in the proper dispensation of the Law. The personal relation of the apostles to Jesus Christ, the office which they fulfilled, and the character which they represented, in founding, governing, and providing for the continuance of the Christian church; the demonstrations of power and cooperation frorn on high, which accompanied them, wheresoever they went; the supernatural gifts so plentifully bestowed upon them, for their own share of the work of their ministry, and as freely communicated by them to others—tongues, miracles of every kind and degree -prophesy, revelations, inspired eloquence, the word of knowledge, the word of wisdom-these were the credentials of a Christian Evangelist, at the outset of the work of preaching the Gospel — which attested the divinity of his commission, and gave him a dignity and authority, taken altogether unexampled and unprecedented, in any other instance of like kind, before.
The argument on which these messengers were instructed to insist, in addition to the weight of their character and personal influence, was derived specially from the kind intentions of the king, as the author of the feast, towards those whom he was inviting as his guests; a kindness of intention declared by the splendour, the amplitude, the suffi
' Matt. xi. 11 : Luke vii. 28. Vide my Dissertations, vol. ii. Diss. v. 164.