Best Of The Wine At The Last Of The Feast
( Originally Published 1895 )
"Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine ; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse : but thou hast kept the good wine until now. "—John ii. 10.
IT is significant that Christ's first miracle was wrought in the midst of the quiet scenes of domes-tic joy, to add happiness to those by whom he was surrounded. t is not a sin to be glad. It is not wrong to be joyous and to be the cause of innocent joy to others. Nay, it is a duty. Christ in this first miracle puts the seal of Christianity's approval, with undoubted emphasis, upon the righteousness of joyous human fellowship. Nobody is more at home or adds more to the delight and gladness of domestic society than the Lord Jesus Christ. How greatly they blunder who shut Christ out of their fireside circle for fear he will throw a chill upon their home joys! No one in all the universe can add such sweetness to the association of the home, can bring to its enjoyments so rich a wine of content, as Jesus.
The subject which we are to study this evening has been discussed widely through all the Christian centuries. Mr. Spurgeon in a great sermon on this scripture, entitled " Satan's Banquet and Christ's," portrays, with that simple eloquence of which he was so great a master, the house of Satan as having four tables. First there is the table of the profligates--a gay table. The governor comes in. He has a bland smile and a robe of many colors. He brings the wine-cup of pleasure. The young man takes it, and sips at first cautiously. He does not intend to indulge much. But how sweet it is ! He drinks a deeper draught, the wine is hot in his veins. How blest is he! He drinks and drinks again, till his brain begins to reel with the sinful delight. This is the first course. Now with a leer the wily governor rises. His victim has had enough of the best wine. He brings in another, all flat and insipid—the cup of satiety. " Who bath woe? Who bath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine," figuratively and literally. The profligate soon discovers that all the rounds of pleasure end in satiety. " Give me something fresh," he cries; and gaiety itself grows flat and dull. The governor of the feast commands another liquor to be brought. This time the fiend bears the black goblet of suffering. He who rebels against the laws of God must often reap the harvest in his own body here. " The wages of sin is death." The last course remains—the grave. The profligate dies, and descends from disease to everlasting condemnation. Perhaps you have not been interested in this table, possibly the next will interest you more. Here it is, all clean and comely. The wine on it seems to have no intoxication in it. How contented are the guests ! t is the table of self-righteousness. Satan, like an angel of light, brings forth a golden goblet, containing the wine of self-satisfaction. This wine makes the drinker swell with self-important dignity. He is proud of his own morality. But when the cup is finished, it is replaced by that of discontent and unquietness of mind. As confidence is wanted, it is found wanting. This is removed, and the cup of dismay is brought in; How many a man who has been self-righteous all his life, at the last discovers that the basis of his hope is gone, that like the foolish builder in the gospel he has built his house upon the sand, -and when the storm .of old age or death comes upon it, it goes to pieces with a crash and is swept to eternal disaster. The next table is crowded with most honorable guests—kings, princes, generals, mayors, alder-men, congressmen, and great merchants. Satan brings in a flowing bowl, and says: "Young man, you are starting in business; get rich as fast as you can." The youth drinks and says : I have abundance now : my hopes are indeed realized." But next comes the nauseous cup of care. Riches canker his heart. After this comes the cup of avarice, which increases the burning thirst of which many have died, clutching their money-bags. Then there is the cup of loss, in which money and the satisfaction it once gave perish. And at last, like poor Dives, tormented in the flames, he cries in vain for a drop of water to, cool his parched tongue. Then there is a last table set up in a very secluded corner for secret sinners. Satan steps in noiselessly with the cup of secret sin. "Stolen waters are sweet," he whispers in their ears, but he is a liar from the beginning. After that he brings the wine of an unquiet con-science, next a massive bowl filled with a black mixture, called the fear of detection. This is quaffed by unwilling lips. Discovery is the last cup. " Be sure your sin will find you out," if not in this world, in the next.
We gladly turn from this dreadful house, with its ghastly cries of lost souls, to the house of the Savior. Here they all sit at one table in loving brotherhood. The noble, benignant, tender Christ is at the head of the table. Here the order is reversed. That which is hardest comes first—the bitter cup of conviction and repentance. But this is soon replaced by the goblet of forgiving love.
After it comes the cup of bliss, the feast of communion, the flowing bowl of joyous labor in fellow-ship with Christ, and finally the new wine of the kingdom, drank to the music of glorious song and shouts of everlasting victory in the paradise of God. Brother, sister, choose ye this day which feast you will attend.
We have presented to us in this scripture in very simple illustration the broad contrast there is between the world and Christ. The world gives the best wine first. It is so in trade. We make proverbs about it, such as " A new broom sweeps clean," " The best on the outside," or " He puts the best foot forward." It is also proverbial that the best bargains are to be found in the shop windows, the largest apples at the top of the barrel, the best bunches of raisins on the first layer of the box. It is so in society. The best clothes, the best behavior, the best mood, are expected to be worn there. t is so of worldly enjoyments. They never give such intoxicating enjoyment and de-light as at first. After a while they end in satiety and pain, suffering and disgust. This is true of the most popular social pleasures that are distinctly worldly. They are best first. They do not get better, but worse, and are often false to every promise made in the beginning, and what seemed to be an angel proves to be a demon that cruelly and savagely destroys. This is true of all things that are purely earthly. t is only the life that has in its purpose, its plan, its spirit, a kinship to Christ that gets stronger and richer by experience and time. The contrast is on every hand. t speaks from every street, it is the commonplace of human experience.
Sam Jones, the Southern evangelist, speaking out of the sad experience of his own youth, said that when he crossed the line of accountability, the devil took him by the hand and led him up into a large, capacious palace, adorned with all the pictures of earth; and he looked at the elegant furniture and beautiful carpets, and the devil said, "If you will be my servant, I will give you all this." He looked again and he thought, " Sure enough, there is something here I like—a chair of ease, an offer of contentment; here is everything I want." So he entered in and took possession. He walked out and came back, and lo, his chair of ease was gone forever. He returned another day and his sofa of contentment was gone, and he never felt contented afterward. Another day when he came back his table of pleasure had been taken away, and there was no more joy for him. The beautiful pictures followed them. One piece of furniture after another disappeared, until one day the carpets were all taken up and removed.
Even the windows and the doors were taken down, and there were only the bare floors and the bare walls, and all ease and comfort and content and pleasure and protection had disappeared, leaving only desolation, hopelessness, and ruin. " The wages of sin is death."
But, thank God, there is a life of trust and simple confidence that is wholesome and pure, that is not vanity, and that grows sweeter and richer with the years. How blessed it is to enter upon such a life in youth, before the nature is hardened and soiled by sin ! Youth is so full of the possibilities of education and enlargement. Its horizon is almost limitless, if the soul is given up to goodness. If a man wants to be a mechanic, or a merchant, or a physician, or a lawyer, or a minister, or a journalist, he begins in youth. It is essential to all high success in the trade or the profession that he shall take advantage of youth's glorious possibilities. How much more so if we want to make of life a tower -of strength for goodness, if we want to make strong the foundations of a lighthouse to shine abroad the light of the Lord Jesus Christ. Childhood is immeasurably more impressionable than youth, and in turn youth is far more easily impressed than manhood. As hot wax receives the impression of the stamp and retains it long, so the mind of the young may be stamped by the character of God and carry it always, a beneficent blessing to all who may read it. The young life is simple. It has not yet come to be complex. How different with the man who has come to middle age or passed it. He is no longer simply a son and a brother, a friend and a student; but he is possibly a husband and a father, with a thou-sand business cares and responsibilities. His life has branched out and become intricate. But if one comes to the Lord Jesus Christ in his youth and gives his very heart to him, every relation of life that he takes on is dictated and leavened with the gracious influence of the presence of Christ. Such a life will stand the test of time and eternity.
There used to be an old, battered safe standing on Broadway, New York, on which was this sign : "t stood the test, the contents were all saved." It had been in one of the hottest fires New York ever saw, but the old safe had carried its treasure safely through it all, and delivered every scrap of paper it contained unharmed to its owner. So you may put your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and know that he will be faithful, and bring you out safe in the end with everything committed to his care. No life is so safe as that which is guided and controlled by the Lord Jesus Christ.
A very interesting story is told of Professor Henry Drummond—a story which I doubt not has just the lesson that some one needs here tonight. He was staying with a lady whose coachman had signed the pledge, but afterward gave way to drink again. This lady said to the professor, " Now this man will drive you to the station; say a word to him if you can. He is a good sort of fellow, and really wants to reform ; but he is weak."
While they were driving to the station the professor tried to think how he could introduce the subject. Suddenly the horses were frightened and tried to run away. The driver held on to the reins and managed them well. The carriage swayed about, and the professor expected every moment to be upset, but after a little the man got the better of the team, and as he drew them up at the station, streaming with perspiration, he exclaimed : " I say, that was a close shave ! Our trap might have been smashed into matchwood, and you wouldn't have given any more addresses."
" Well," said Professor Drummond, " how was it that it did not happen?"
" Why," was the reply, "because I knew how to manage the horses."
" Now," said the professor, " look here, my friend, I will give you a bit of advice. Here's my train coming. I hear you have been signing the pledge and breaking out again. Now I want to give you a bit of advice. Throw the reins of your life to Jesus Christ." And he jumped down and got into the train.
The driver said afterward that it came upon him like a flash of lightning. He saw where he had made a mistake, and from that day he ceased to try to manipulate his own life, but gave the reins to Jesus Christ. Brother, can't you do that very thing to-night?
Remember, that no good thing can come to you until sin is abolished from your heart. So long as you go on making compromises with evil, there is no hope. Sin is an invader in your heart, it will bring you disaster all the time, and it must be smitten to the death if you are ever to have a noble and pure and happy soul.
It is said that the emperor of Annam has a large pool of water in the court in his palace in which he keeps his reserve treasure, to be touched only in case of absolute necessity. The money not intended for use is placed in the hollowed-out trunks of trees, which are thrown into the water. To keep away thieves and to prevent the emperor himself from being tempted to draw upon this reserve fund without sufficient cause, a number of crocodiles are kept in the water, their presence and the certainty of being eaten alive serving to insure the security of the royal treasure in a most effectual manner. When it becomes indispensable to draw upon this novel style of bank, the crocodiles have to be killed, but this can be done only with the emperor's permission, and after the matter has been duly approved by the minister of finance. So, my friend, the crocodiles of your selfishness and wicked habits and unholy desires must be smitten to the death if you are to enjoy the riches of a pure soul.
I present before you tonight this better life—a life that gets brighter and more glorious all the way through. We have seen that every path of evil gets worse and ends finally in the outer darkness. But I offer you a path of life that gets brighter and brighter unto the perfect day. Re-member the words of the psalmist, speaking about God's people, " Thou shalt hide them in the secret of thy presence from the pride of man : thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues." This word rendered "presence" means literally "face." So the psalmist is really saying, "Thou shalt hide them in the secret of thy face." How different from the hiding-place of those who trust in evil and Satan and sin. Where are they hiding tonight? In jails and penitentiaries and dungeons, in secret alleys and byways, in remorse and in fear, covering up their secret sins, shuddering for fear their sins will find them out, longing and praying that the darkness may cover them and hide them. That is the way of sin, it makes us long that the darkness may cover up our sin and hide it. But if you come to the feast of the Lord, and sit down with him in heavenly places in Jesus Christ, he will blot out your sins, and he will hide you from the storms of life in that glorious radiance of love that shines forth from his own benevolent face.
There is a wonderful metaphor in the book of Revelation about a woman, " clothed with the sun," and caught up into it from all her enemies to be safe there from every foe. So those who love the Lord Jesus Christ are surrounded by the glow of the Sun of Righteousness, they are clothed upon with light, and God fights their battles for them. The old Greek mythology declared that the radiant arrows of Apollo, shot forth from his far-reaching bow, wounded to death the monsters of the slime, and the unclean reptiles that crawled and reveled in darkness. So the light of God's face slays the repenting sinner's foes of every kind. O my brother, it is the most glorious privilege of my life to tell you that you may enter upon this glorious life here and now.
When Canon Wilberforce was in this country, he was dwelling one day in one of his addresses on the importance of the word "now," and related this incident. A miner having heard the gospel preached determined that, if the promised blessing of immediate salvation were true, he would not leave the presence of the minister who was declaring it, until he was sure of possessing it himself. He waited after the meeting to speak with the minister, and in his rude speech said : "Didn't ye say I could have the blessing now?" "Yes, my friend." "Then pray with me, for I'm not goin' away wi'out it." And they did pray, these two men, wrestling with God like Jacob at Peniel, until the miner heard the silent words from the still small voice of the Spirit that filled his heart with joy. "I've got it now!" he cried, his face reflecting the joy of his heart; " I've got it now !" The next day a terrible accident occurred at the mine. The minister was called to the scene, and among the dead and dying lay the quivering, almost breathless body of this man, who only the night before, big and brawny, came to him to know if salvation could really be had "now," for the asking. There was but a fleeting moment of recognition between the two ere the old miner's soul took flight, but in that moment he had time to say in response to the minister's sympathy, " Oh, I don't mind, for I've got it—I've got it—it's mine." "Today is the day of salvation; if ye hear his voice, harden not your hearts."