From a Michigan reader I received a letter in which a brother poses a problem of interpretation which arose in the context of a discussion about Key ’73 evangelism. But this reader asks me to formulate his question. Evidently the language of Luke 14:21-23 was quoted in support of mass evangelism and even of door to door evangelism. And my correspondent felt that this was not the idea of the parable in Luke 14, but was unable at the moment to furnish the proper interpretation. So the question comes down to this: does this passage teach that we are literally to go out into the streets and lanes of the city and into the highways and hedges of the country to evangelize? And if not, what is the significance of the passage?
First of all, a word or two about the connection of this question with Key ’73 evangelism. For one thing, our objection is not to evangelism as such. True evangelization is the calling and duty of the church ofJesus Christ in the midst of the world. The denial of this would be tantamount to a denial of the very nature of the church. Moreover, the church is called to proclaim the gospel promiscuously, that is, to all, elect and reprobate, to whom God in His good pleasure sends the gospel. However: 1) The gospel which must be proclaimed must be the gospel of the Scriptures, not the pseudo-gospel of Arminianism, of offer-theology, and of crusade-evangelism that is so widespread today. The church is called to proclaim promiscuously a particular promise. 2) As has been so admirably explained by Rev. Engelsma in his recent lecture on Key ’73, the ecumenistic evangelism of Key ’73 is not true evangelism. 3) It is not the calling of Tom, Dick, and Harry to be little evangelists. Thechurch is called to proclaim the gospel, and does so through her God-ordained and officially called ministers.
In the second place, a word about the interpretation of parables. Not only must one be careful to discern the particular point of comparison and lesson in each parable; but one must also guard against interpreting the figurative language of the parables literally, or even mixing elements of the literal and of the figurative. Thus, for example, everyone recognizes (from the Lord’s own interpretation) that the Parable of the Sower is not about literal farmers, literal seed, literal soil, but about the preaching of the Word and about the different kinds of hearers of the Word. So also here, in the Parable of the Great Supper, everyone recognizes that this parable does not intend to teach about a literal, earthly supper and about being bidden to that supper. All recognize that it has to do with the call of the gospel to the “feast” of the kingdom of heaven. But then, to be consistent, one must not switch to a literal interpretation of the streets and lanes of the city, the highways and hedges of the country, nor even the poor, the maimed, the halt, and the blind that are mentioned in this context. To press these details literally and to their extreme will only result in reducing the whole matter of preaching the gospel to absurdity. I would certainly not advise anyone to preach the gospel on Interstate 80 or Interstate 96 where the cars go whizzing past at 70 or 80 miles per hour. Nor would I advise one to preach the gospel literally in the hedges—not if he expects to have hearers. This is simply not the point of the whole parable.
In the third place, a few words concerning the significance of the Parable of the Great Supper:
1) In general, this parable is by no means the same as the Parable of the Wedding Feast of the King’s Son inMatthew 22. The reader may compare the two. And indeed, the two have certain likenesses, and in certain respects are also complementary. But they are not to be identified.
2) The supper prepared is the fulness of blessing in the kingdom of God in the new dispensation. It denotes the supreme blessing of the covenant-fellowship of God, together with all the blessings implied in that fellowship: the forgiveness of sin, righteousness, adoption unto children and heirs, sanctification, the nourishment of faith and hope and love—all the spiritual blessings of the kingdom. These had been promised all through the old dispensation, but they were not “ready.” Now, in the new dispensation, they are ready, prepared by God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, ready in Christ.
3) To come to the supper implies that we long for God’s fellowship and love and favor, desire it and seek it above anything else—as is clearly implied in the contrast of those in the parable who “all with one consent began to make excuse” and who placed their own things before the importance of coming to the supper. And it implies, therefore, that we are sorry for sin and that we hunger and thirst after righteousness, that we sincerely put away from us every evil way, every sin that we love, all of self and of our own interests, that we seek our all in the finished work of God in Christ.
4) Notice, further, that the servant is sent out to call them that were bidden. Here you have the call of the gospel, the external preaching of the gospel. And this call comes, first of all, to them “that were bidden,” that is, in general, to the Jews, who had the Word of God and to whom the gospel must always be preached first. Bear in mind, in this connection, that historically the point of the parable is that of the new dispensation, when “all things are ready.” Note, too, that this call cannot be declined without great loss: “none of those men that were bidden shall taste of my supper.” But note also that in the light of Scripture this call is more than a mere, kind invitation. It is a command, implying a solemn obligation; and to refuse this commandbrings the penalty of death. This is sharply emphasized in the Parable of the Wedding Feast of the King’s Son in Matthew 22. And note, further, that this is very definitely the outward call of the gospel—the call which reaches many, while few are chosen. For it is plain from this parable, too, that not all who are called actually come. (Again, compare the parable in Matthew 22, where the Lord specifically concludes with the words, “For many are called, but few are chosen.”)
5) A three-fold distinction is made among them that are called to the supper. In the first place, there are those who were bidden. This denotes, we said, the Jews, in general. But more particularly it points to the chief priests and elders, the scribes and Pharisees, who considered themselves to be the elite in Israel, in distinction from the common people, who “knew not the law” and who were “accursed.” They were in their own estimation the ones who were called to the feast and who had a proper place at the supper. They were the children of Abraham, who claimed knowledge of and loyalty to Moses—in their own estimation. But when Jesus came in the fulness of time, and when the supper was all prepared, they “all with one consent began to make excuse.” And, by the way, do not overlook the fact that the Lord Jesus spoke this parable at “the house of one of the Chief Pharisees” and “on the Sabbath day” when they “watched him”—evidently to see whether He would heal on the Sabbath day (vss. 1-5)—and when they were all concerned about choosing out the chief places at this dinner! In the second place, there are those who are called by the servant from the streets and lanes of the city: the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. These represent, in distinction from the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees, “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” of the city, the theocracy. They are the spiritually sick, the spiritually needy, the despised and the outcast, who should enter into the kingdom of God rather than the “wise and prudent.” And, in the third place, there are those who are called from the highways and hedges, outside the city. These denote the Gentiles, the heathen, who in historical order arecalled last.
6) Finally, note the purpose and effect. On the one hand, none of those that were bidden shall taste of the supper. On the other hand, the house must be filled with guests. This certainly does not denote, in the light of the rest of Scripture, that the filling of God’s house is haphazard or that God first intended that certain men should be guests and that when this failed, by “hook or crook” somehow He would fill His house with guests at the supper of the kingdom. But it emphasizes that the Lord surely fulfills His purpose of filling His house through the preaching of the gospel—all, of course, according to His purpose of election, which certainly cannot be frustrated by those who disobey the gospel. And, in the second place, it emphasizes that to reject the call of the gospel is indeed a heinous sin, which incurs the fierce anger of God and which can only have the dire result that those who reject it have no place at the supper of the kingdom, no part in the fellowship of God’s covenant and in the blessings of the feast that is ready.
I hope that I have shed some light on my questioner’s problem; and if I have missed his point, he is welcome to call again.