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Sermon Podcast | Audio | Video : Christian Books : LECTURE XIV. MATTHEW xxii. 14.

The Christian Life by Thomas Arnold


MATTHEW xxii.14.

For many are called, but few are chosen.

The truth here expressed is one of the most solemn in the world, and would be one of the most overwhelming to us, if habit had not, in a manner, blunted our painful perception of it. There is contained in it matter of thought more than we could exhaust, and deeper than we could ever fathom. But on this I will not attempt to enter. I will rather take that view of the text which concerns us here; I will see in how many senses it is true, and with what feeling we should regard it.

|Many are called, but few are chosen.| The direct application of this was to the parable of those invited to the supper; in which it had been related, how a great multitude had been invited, but how one among them -- and the application as well as the fact in human life, require that this one should be taken only as a specimen of a great number -- had been found unworthy to enjoy the feast prepared for them. They had not on the wedding garment; they had not done their part to fit themselves for the offered blessing: therefore they were called, but not chosen. God had willed to do them good, but they would not; and therefore, though he had called them at the beginning, he, in the end, cast them out.

We have to do, then, not with an arbitrary call and an arbitrary choice, as if God called many in mockery, meaning to choose out of them only a few, and making his choice independently of any exertion of theirs. The picture is very different; it is a gracious call to us all, to come and receive the blessing; it is a reluctant casting out the greatest part of us, because we would not try to render ourselves fit for it.

I said, that we would take the words of the text in reference to ourselves, for here, too, it is true, that many are called, but few are chosen. It is a large number of you, which I see before me; and if we add to it all those who, within my memory, have sat in the same places before you, we shall have a number very considerable indeed. All these have been called; they have been sent here to enjoy the same advantages with each other; and those advantages have been put within their reach. They have entered into a great society which, on the one hand, might raise them forward, or, on the other, depress them. There has been a sufficient field for emulation: there have been examples and instructions for good; there have been results of credit and of real improvement made attainable to them, which might have lasted all their lives long. To this, they have been all, in their turns, called; and out of those so called, have all, or nearly all, been chosen? I am not speaking of those, who, I trust, would be a very small number, to whom the trial has failed utterly, who could look back on their stay here with no feelings but those of shame. But would there not be a very large number, to whom their stay here has been a loss, compared with what it might have been; who have reaped but a very small part of those advantages to which they had been at first called? Are there not too many who must look back on a part, at least, of their time here as wasted; on the seeds of bad habits sown, which, if conquered by after-care, yet, for a long time, were injurious to them? Are there not too many who carry away from here, instead of good notions, to be ripened and improved, evil notions, to be weeded out and destroyed? Are there not, in short, a great number who, after having had a great advantage put within their reach, and purchased for them by their friends, at a great expense, have made such insufficient use of their opportunities, to say nothing stronger, as to make it a question afterwards, whether it might not have been better for them had they never come here at all?

Thus far I have been speaking of what are called the advantages of this place in our common language. That argument, which Butler has so nobly handled, in one of the greatest works in our language, the resemblance, namely, between the course of things earthly and that of things spiritual, is one which we should never fail to notice. We can discern the type, as it were, of the highest truth of our Lord's sayings in the experience of our common life in worldly things. When he tells us, speaking of things spiritual, that |many are called, but few are chosen;| that |whoso hath, to him shall be given; but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath,| -- although the highest truth contained in these words be yet, in part, matter of faith, for we have not yet seen the end of God's dealings with us: yet what we do see, the evident truth of the words, that is, in respect to God's dealings with us in the course of his earthly providence, may reasonably assure us of their truth no less in respect to those dealings of God which as yet are future. I began, therefore, with reminding you of the truth of the words of the text with regard to worldly advantages; that even here, on this small scale, the general law holds good; that more things are provided for us than we will consent to use; that, in short, |many are called, but few are chosen.|

But it were ill done to limit our view to this: we are called to much more than worldly advantages; and what if here, too, we add one more example to confirm our Lord's words, that |many are called, but few chosen?| Now here, as I said, it is very true that God's choice is as yet not a matter of sight or of certainty to us; we cannot yet say of ourselves, or of any other set of living men, that |few are chosen.| But though the full truth is not yet revealed, still, as there is a type of it in our worldly experience, so there is also a higher type, an earnest, of it in our spiritual experience: there is a sense, and that a very true and a very important one, in which we can say already, say now, actually, in the life that now is; say, even in the early stage of it, that some are, and some are not, |chosen.|

We have all been called, in a Christian sense, inasmuch as we have been all introduced into Christ's church by Baptism; and a very large proportion of us have been called again, many of us not very long since, at our Confirmation. We have been thus called to enter into Christ's kingdom: we have been called to lead a life of holiness and happiness from this time forth even for ever. Nothing can be stronger than the language in which the Scripture speaks of the nature of our high calling: |All things,| says St. Paul to the Corinthians, |all things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Peter, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come, all are yours; and ye are Christ's, and Christ is God's.| Now, if this be the prize to which we are called, who are they who are also chosen to it? In the first and most complete sense, no doubt, those who have entered into their rest; who are in no more danger, however slight; with whom the struggle is altogether past, and the victory securely won. These are entered within the veil, whither we can as yet penetrate only in hope. But hope, in its highest degree, differs little from assurance; and even, as we descend lower and lower, still, where hope is clearly predominant, there is, if not assurance, yet a great encouragement; and the Scripture, which delights to carry encouragement to the highest pitch to those who are following God, allows of our saying of even these that they are God's chosen. It gives them, as it were, the title beforehand, to make them feel how doubly miserable it must be not only not to obtain it, but to forfeit it after it had been already ours. So then, there are senses in which we may say that some are chosen now; although, strictly speaking, the term can by us be applied, in its full sense, to those only who are passed beyond the reach of evil.

Those, then, we may call chosen, who, having heard their call, have turned to obey it, and have gone on following it. Those we may call chosen, -- I do not say chosen irrevocably, but chosen now; chosen so that we may be very thankful to God on their behalf, and they thankful for themselves, -- who, since their Confirmation, or since a period more remote, have kept God before their face, and tried to do His will. Those are, in the same way, chosen, who having found in themselves the sin which did most easily beset them, have struggled with it, and wholly, or in a great measure, have overcome it. Thus, they are chosen, who, having lived either in the frequent practice of selfish, extravagance, or of falsehood, or of idleness, or of excess in eating and drinking, have turned away from these things, and, for Christ's sake, have renounced them. They are chosen, I think, in yet a higher sense, who, having found their besetting sin to be, not so much any one particular fault, as a general ungodly carelessness, a lightness which for ever hindered them from serving God, have struggled with this most fatal enemy; and, even in youth, and health, and happiness, have learnt what it is to be sober-minded, what it is to think. Now, such as these have, in a manner, entered into their inheritance; they are not merely called, but chosen. God and spiritual things are not mere names to them, they are a reality. Such persons have tasted of the promises; they have known the pleasure -- and what pleasure is comparable to it? -- of feeling the bonds of evil passion or evil habit unwound from about their spirit; they have learnt what is that glorious liberty of being able to abstain from the things which we condemn, to do the things which we approve. They have felt true sense of power succeed to that of weakness. It is a delightful thing, after a long illness, after long helplessness, when our legs have been unable to support our weight, when our arms could lift nothing, our hands grasp nothing, when it was an effort to raise our head from the pillow, and it tired us even to speak in a whisper, -- it is a delightful thing to feel every member restored to its proper strength; to find that exercise of limb, of voice, of body, which had been so long a pain, become now a source of perpetual pleasure. This is delightful; it pays for many an hour of previous weakness. But it is infinitely more delightful to feel the change from weakness to strength in our souls; to feel the languor of selfishness changed for the vigour of benevolence; to feel thought, hope, faith, love, which before were lying, as it were, in helplessness, now bounding in vigorous activity; to find the soul, which had been so long stretched as upon the sick bed of this earth, now able to stand upright, and looking and moving steadily towards heaven.

These are chosen; and they to whom this description does in no degree apply, they are not chosen. They are not chosen in any sense, they are called only. And, now, what is the proportion between the one and the other; are there as many chosen as there have been many called? Or do Christ's words apply in our case no less than in others; that though they who are called are many, yet they who are chosen are few?

This I dare not answer; there is a good as well as an evil which is unseen to the world at large, unseen even by all but those who watch us most nearly and most narrowly. All we can say is, that there are too many, who we must fear are not chosen; there are too few, of whom we can feel sure that they are. Yet hope is a wiser feeling than its opposite; it were as wrong as it would be miserable to abandon it. How gladly would we hope the best things of all those whom we saw this morning at Christ's holy table! How gladly would we believe of all such, that they were more than called merely; that they had listened to the call: that they had obeyed it; that they had already gained some Christian victories; that they were, in some sense, not called only, but chosen. But this we may say; that hope which we so long to entertain, that hope too happy to be at once indulged in, you may authorize us to feel it; you may convert it into confidence. Do you ask how? By going on steadily in good, by advancing from good to better, by not letting impressions fade with time. Now, with many of you, your confirmation is little more than three months distant; when we next meet at Christ's table, it will have passed by nearly half-a-year. It may be, that, in that added interval, it will have lost much of its force; that, from various causes, evil may have abounded in you more than good; that then shame, or a willing surrender of yourselves to carelessness, will keep away from Christ's Communion, many who have this day joined in it. But, if this were not to be so; if those, whom we have seen with joy this day communicating with us in the pledges of Christian fellowship, should continue to do so steadily; if, in the meantime, traits shall appear in you in other things that our hope was well founded; if the hatred of evil and the love of good were to be clearly manifest in you; if by signs not to be mistaken by those who watch earnestly for them, we might be assured that your part was taken, that you were striving with us in that service of our common Master, in which we would fain live and die; if evil was clearly lessened among us -- not laughed at, but discouraged and put down; if instead of those turning away, who have now been with us at Christ's table, others, who have now turned away, should then be added to the number; then we should say, not doubtingly, that you were chosen: that you had tasted of the good things of Christ; that the good work of God was clearly begun in you. We might not, indeed, be without care, either for you or for ourselves: God forbid, that, in that sense, any of us should deem that we were chosen, until the grave has put us beyond temptation. But how happy were it to think of you as Christ's chosen, in that sense which should be a constant encouragement to us all: to think of you as going on towards God; to think of you as living to him daily; to think of you as on his side against all his enemies; to think of you as led by his Spirit, as living members of his holy and glorious Church, -- militant now, in heaven triumphant!

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