Luke 14:23’s Compel Them To Come In Refers To Irresistible Grace
Posted by Job on March 27, 2011
Luke 14:16-24 reads
And when one of them that sat at meat with him heard these things, he said unto him, Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God. Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many: And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden , Come ; for all things are now ready. And they all with one consent began to make excuse . The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused . And another said , I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused. And another said , I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come .So that servant came , and shewed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. And the servant said , Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded , and yet there is room. And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in , that my house may be filled. For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.
As useful as was Augustine in combating the heresy of Pelagius, we must never forget that this fellow in many other respects oft labored to promote the political interests of the Roman Empire and its state religion, including but not limited to laying the groundwork for such endtimes views as preterism, amillennialism and postmillennialism because the Roman Empire wanted Christians to see it as the fulfilment of the kingdom of God, which make Christians far less likely to oppose it. The error of Augustine’s allowing the pulpit to be used to advance a state agenda was exposed when Catholicism later cast aside Augustine’s work against Pelagius and instead adopted what is clearly semi-Pelagianism when it suited its political interests. Contemporary pastors who wish to mix the doctrines of the holy God with the ambitions of the fallen state should take note.
But far more harmful than Augustine’s endtimes doctrines in service to the Roman state was his misappropriation of Luke 14:23. His wicked, evil use of this scripture was employed to justify a state doctrine that over the centuries caused the deaths of untold people by the sword, and kept scores of others in religious darkness with the threat of force. Though there were others before him and after him, it was Augustine who most effectively made the case that it was God’s will for the state to use the threat – and reality – of force to make membership in the state church compulsory. This made the ambitions of the state and the church shared, and allowed one to not only tolerate but promote any amount of corruption and wickedness from the other so long as it advanced the interests of both.
Augustine’s malevolent butchering of Luke 14:23 occurred during the time of the Donatist rebellion. Now history records the Donatists as heretics, a vicious smear which shows just how truthful the proverb “the winners get to write the history book” is. Any idea that the Donatists were heretics motivated primarily by political, nationalistic and ethnic/racial considerations to break from the Roman church in order to pursue strange doctrines was convincingly shattered by Leonard Verduin’s “The Refomers And Their Stepchildren”, and that so many church historians have disseminated Catholic propaganda regarding this sad incident is something that will have to be answered for by them.
The truth is that the Donatists should be considered to be as among the earliest Protestants. While it is true that some of their motivations were not entirely religious, it was clearly superior to what motivated the Anglicans (Episcopalians) to separate from Rome. Also, it is ridiculous to call them heretical based on doctrine because on most points the Donatists beliefs were similar to the Roman church from which they attempted to break, and where there were divergences, the Donatist position must be preferred. So, the only reason why history denounces the Donatists is because the Catholics call them so, and as the Donatist attempt to separate failed where other separatist efforts (the Eastern Catholic churches and the Protestant Reformation) succeeded, the unjust Catholic judgment against them stands.
So, during the time of the Donatist protest, even though the entity known as “the Catholic Church” was not yet fully formed in doctrine and organization, the Roman Empire had already started appointing “priests” for political and other reasons. Cronyism, nepotism, political payoffs and other forms corruption were oft used for the basis for selecting church officers, and this resulted in vain fellows with unsavory backgrounds and behaviour and questionable training – unqualified and unsuitable on many counts – being appointed as priests by the politico-ecclesiastical hegemony all over the empire, and the region of the Donatists (north Africa) was no different. When the practice of elevating unqualified individuals to the priesthood was challenged, the Catholic Church responded that the measure of qualifications of a priest is being ordained and appointed by the church, and not the spiritual or moral state of the church itself. When the sacraments (i.e. baptisms and the rite of communion) offered by priests who were deemed by those in a position to know (the parishioners that they were presiding over) to be unbelieving were challenged, the hierarchy took the position that the legitimacy of the sacraments were not a function of the priest who gave them, but rather of the church that ordained the priest. (This remains the position of the Roman Catholic Church to this day, and is used to retain any number of priests who exhibit severely aberrant doctrines and behaviour.)
The Donatists, then, took the “radical” position that church offices should be held only by those qualified to do so, and that ensuring this required that the officers be chosen by the local churches themselves. The Donatists stated that the baptisms performed by illegitimate priests were illegitimate, and had to be performed again. (Donatists were the original Anabaptists.) Further, Donatists held that the church must be “a church of saints, not sinners.” Now of course, this is not necessarily an unqualified defense of Donatists and Donatism. For example, they were still very much “Catholic” in doctrine and practice, believing in such abominations as a human priesthood, rites of penance, and the Eucharist.
The Roman church responded predictably to the Donatist protest: with brutal military action. They did not succeed in totally eradicating the movement. (That was accomplished by the Muslims in the 7th and 8th century.) But they did persecute the Donatists mightily, and as a result kept their ideas, influence and numbers within the empire to a minimum. So, while they did not succeed in wiping out the Donatists, they did accomplish their primary goal of preventing the widespread challenge of the authority of the Roman church, and please recall that challenging the authority of said church was the same as challenging the authority of the Roman empire.
However, some men of conscience did protest violent action being inflicted on other people who professed to be Christians, and also demanded to know what in the Bible justified compulsory church membership enforced by the state, especially since those who dissented did have strong Bible-based arguments on their side. Make no mistake: the Roman empire was being challenged on one front by the Donatist defection and another by their reaction to the former, and both fronts exposed the Roman church for the spiritual fraud that it was.
Into this crisis stepped Augustine. Now as a north African and one who so convincingly expounded such positions as justification by faith, one could have well expected Augustine to side with the Donatists. Instead, Augustine sided with those who paid his salary and elevated him to a position of prestige and power. In addition to siding with the imperial position concerning their right to appoint unregenerate officers and the legitimacy of sacraments administered by such officers, Augustine searched the scriptures to find something that would justify using murderous force to eliminate dissenting movements and thereby make church membership universal (save whom the church excommunicates!) with the sword. (Please note: this remains the goal of the Roman Catholic Church to this day … a global institution where everyone is a member … or else. In this way, the rule of Christ over the earth is accomplished through the church, and then Jesus Christ will return for the church.) And Augustine found Luke 14:23’s “And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in , that my house may be filled.” Of course, this grotesque misinterpretation and misapplication of a Biblical text was more than good enough for the Roman empire, because it suited the purposes that they already had anyway. It is similar to the true but sad tale of the woman who used Ephesians 4:22-24’s “take off the old man and put on the new man” to justify her desire to un-Biblically divorce her current husband and marry a new one without being considered an adulteress. In her rebellious heart, she had already determined that what she was doing was not only permissble, but the will of God, and merely needed a Bible text to misconstrue to justify it, and would not be deterred, even when her pastor informed her of that text’s correct meaning and application (and of the Biblical grounds for divorce and remarriage).
Augustine’s actual interpretation (eisegesis!) of Luke 14:23 is of little consequence, for it was used to arrived at an illegitimate meaning for an illegitimate intent in service to an illegitimate institution. Unless one agrees with – or is willing to in some context defend – the state using the threat of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction to compel membership in a “church” who regularly ordains and retains atheists, homosexuals, occultists and child molesters as its officers, then that could be taken for granted, and therefore there is no need to violate Proverbs 26:4 with regards to it. Instead, let us simply declare Augustine’s efforts to be thoroughly wrong and evil – with its use throughout history to justify many evils (including the magisterial church-state Reformers’ murderous actions against Anabaptists – whom the Reformers ironically politicized as Donatists! – Michael Servetus and others) as evidence of its great error – and move on to a proper interpretation.
In this parable, the “lord” is God the Father and the “servant” is “God the Holy Spirit.” It came to pass God the Father accomplished salvation (through the sending of His Son for atonement), and established the kingdom of heaven. (One does not have to reach far to arrive at this interpretation, because immediately prior to starting the parable, Jesus Christ stated “Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God“.) The establishment of the kingdom of heaven is the meaning of the reference to “for all things are now ready.” Now the Bible declares that salvation is for God’s called (or elect) but first the Jew and then the Gentile. (We should also realize that Matthew 20:16 and 22:14 state that “many are called but few are chosen.” While all election of God is unconditional, not all election of God is unto salvation, but rather only the election as “chosen.”) So, the initial call goes out to the original olive tree, the natural seed of Abraham; the Jews of Israel. Due to their faithless condition (as faith comes from God) because of their not at this time being chosen for salvation (the salvation of the Jews will not occur until after the fulness of the Gentiles comes in), the original branch (save a few) demurs and defers.
So, the mission then goes to the Gentiles, who having not known the special revelation of Yahweh because of their not being in the Jewish nation and therefore not having received or lived under the Sinai covenant or benefited from instruction of the law, the writings and the prophets, are spiritually “poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind.” These may have been the ones who for some reason were aware of their sinful condition and the benefits of the kingdom of heaven (i.e. they are Gentiles who have already attached themselves to Judaism to some degree – such as the God-fearers, the Ethiopian eunuch and the centurion Cornelius – but did not fully convert to Judaism, but were yet “within the city” based on their faith and partial observance) and immediately with gladness believed the gospel of Jesus Christ when they heard it. If one recalls the account of church growth in the early portions of Acts, there was indeed a pattern of angry Jewish rejection on the part of all but a few, but enthusiastic acceptance and rapid growth among the Gentiles that had already been praying to YHWH, fasting, giving alms, attending the synagogues and worshipping in the outer court of the temple.
But after adding the relatively few Jews who had been with Jesus Christ and witnessed His resurrection, the Jews who believed after Pentecost and thereafter, and the Judaism-observant Gentiles who received the gospel with very little effort because of possessing pre-existing faith (some theologians refer to those such as these who lived between the advent and passion of Jesus Christ and the destruction of the temple as “transitional period faithful” akin to Old Testament saints), there was still “room at the table.” That was when this famous case took place. The lord, again in this parable God the Father, told his servant, representing God the Holy Spirit, to go out of the city into the highways and hedges (meaning away from the confines of believing Jews and Gentiles who merely needed to transform their faith from an Old Testament one where Jesus Christ was concealed to a New Testament one where Jesus Christ was revealed) and into the realm of the faithless.
Now the faithless, due to their original sin condition (doctrine of total depravity) these folks were not going to come “to the supper”, or into the kingdom of heaven or participate in the marriage supper of the Lamb with His bride, willingly. Instead, these unwilling people first have to be given faith and converted. Who gives faith? The Holy Spirit, or the servant in this story. Make no mistake: faith does not come from or is not produced by man, but is a gift of the Holy Spirit, see 1 Corinthians 12:7-11. After the Holy Spirit gives the gift of faith in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit is the One who regenerates the sinner, see Titus 3:4-7. Make no mistake: this does not happen because the sinner wants it to. The sinner because of his total depravity is thoroughly unwilling, and thus comes into the kingdom not by way of a free will decision, but by God’s compulsion. God’s sheep, declared so before the foundation of the world, hear the voice of Jesus Christ and come when He calls, but Luke 14:23 reveals that a great many come because the Holy Spirit is the Staff that the Great Shepherd uses to pull them in with Its crook on their necks! This is the doctrine of irresistible grace, and gives support to the theory that the rider of the white horse of Revelation is not the anti-Christ, but instead is the Holy Spirit, and the conquering that the rider on the white horse goes about doing is not the nations, but of those called and chosen by God the Father from out among the nations to be the bride for God the Son.
So, in this parable you see 3 of the “5 points of Calvinism” (total depravity, unconditional election, irresistible grace) explicitly or nearly explicitly at work. Also, perseverance of the saints is implied, as those brought in by the Holy Spirit remain to fill the house and eat of the marriage supper of the Lamb; they do not fall away. Only limited atonement is missing, and this is only because this parable is not expressly Christological, but instead deals primarily with the decree and election of the God the Father and the work of drawing in and regenerating of the Holy Spirit. So, in telling this parable, there was the Second Person of the Holy Trinity describing the role of the First and the Third Persons of the Holy Trinity in salvation, to the point that though the Third Person of the Trinity is the servant of the First, the Third Person is still sovereign in salvation because men do not have the option of saying no to the Holy Spirit! Those that the Holy Spirit compels must come, because the Holy Spirit is God, and God is Sovereign! Soli Deo Gloria!
Now the compulsion of the Holy Spirit is by no means limited to Gentiles. Instead, Romans 11 is clear that sometime after the Gentile mission is complete, all Israel will be saved. The Jews are currently “not in the house” or “even in the city” but like the Gentiles are faithless, but at the return of Jesus Christ will be drawn and regenerated by the Holy Spirit according to the election and decree of God the Father, and at that time the olive tree will be complete, with the original branches together with the grafted in formerly wild branches.
So, the compulsion of Luke 14:23 is not the servants of the state forcing church membership with the threat of the sword. Instead, it is the Servant of God conquering those captive to original sin and therefore because of their fallen natures and corrupt wills are unable to come to God, and for that matter do not even have a true desire to. (At the very most, they may have a desire for morals, ethics, religion, cultural conformity, tradition, pleasing the expectations of others, to assuage their guilty consciences, to avoid the lake of fire, or to receive the benefits of heaven. It is those things that man can come to and decide for himself of, and not truly of God, and indeed lest we forget a multitude of false religions offers all those things also.) Jesus Christ has bound the strong man and led his captivity captive, so now the Holy Spirit is free to go and spoil his goods. So against the false teachings and applications of Augustine, this is the true meaning and intent of the passage and in its correct context.
Thus, please know that membership in any church cannot save you (even if it is a legitimate New Testament local congregation headed by Jesus Christ) and neither can being the beneficiary of any sacrament, ordinance or ritual. Instead, only membership in the true church will save you, and membership in that church is only granted to those who are saved by the Holy Spirit by faith in Jesus Christ that is granted by that same Holy Spirit. If this does not describe you, then you are currently separated from God, at enmity with God, and the Bible states that all those who are found in that status on judgment day will receive an eternal punishment in the lake of fire. Do not let the doctrines of election, predestination and irresistible grace cause unnecessary confusion. Just as God’s sovereignty in salvation is a truth clearly set forth in the Bible, so is the responsibility of man to believe the gospel and submit Himself to Jesus Christ as his Lord. They are two truths that are not in conflict with each other, but are both true in their own right and work together in ways that are beyond our understanding to give God the glory. God is glorified both by being sovereign over salvation and by seeing those formerly trapped in original sin do what was impossible for them prior become possible with God (see Matthew 19:25-26’s “When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed , saying , Who then can be saved ? But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.”, and over against not only their own sinful natures but also the desires and machinations of Satan.
So make no mistake, those chosen by God have as their duty to make their calling and election sure. If you have not done so, I entreat and implore you to do it, do it quickly, indeed do it today, and moreover right now!