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Work in God's Vineyard
This fragment of the parable is itself a parable. With the main scope of the parable I am not concerned. I desire to separate from the rest of the parable just these five words: 'No man hath hired us'.
I. God's Care. The text shows us that there is a God Who concerns Himself about us. That is the teaching of Jesus Christ as contrasted with the cold creed of the Deist who would have us believe that God created the world and peopled it with mankind, but needs it no longer. We are told by Jesus Christ of a God Who looks upon us with a gaze as keen as it is merciful, a God Who knows what we are, a God Who knows by what precise steps of ascent or descent we have reached our present standing-place, a God Who comes in, as it were, day by day to notice and to question nay, who rather does not need to come in, for He is here here in necessity of a Divine omnipresence.
II. God's Call. God has a work going on everywhere. The work for which He employs men is the work of man's moral culture. He has to form in man a Godlike character. All His redeemed are the workmen. The work which God permits to every man is a twofold work.
a. Each Individual Soul is a Vineyard, and he has charge of it the weeding and tending of that heart out of which issues the life. He must free the soil from noisome and deadly weeds, he must plant it with the choicest vine, he must subject it to God's watering, he must seek for it evermore the dew of His blessing, the rain of His Grace, the sunshine of His countenance.
b. Life Itself is a Vineyard the life of a man as it is lived amongst his fellows. The life of the family in which each one of us is a son, a brother, a daughter, a sister here is a sheltered spot of the vineyard in which God bids us work, and in which many stand in God's sight all the day idle. I think that the lazy selfishness of many a young man in his home life, though he is active enough in a wider sphere, is neither creditable to himself nor to the Christian name he bears. There must of necessity be great variety in the work to be done by each in the vineyard of life, but amidst all this variety there is unity. Go where you may, you cannot escape the call to be God's workman. God bids a clergyman go into the vineyard, but the call to him is not substantially different from the call to any other man. God calls the soldier, the lawyer, the business man to work in his vineyard. Neither is sex any restriction. God calls the woman in her many duties to work in His vineyard. God bids us set before ourselves in youth as in age this one object so to live as to make others better, so to live as to make God known.
III. What Answer are We Making? We are here some of us in the early morning of life, and some have reached the eleventh hour. Still the same call, patient and long-suffering, is in all our ears. Honestly, are we really at work in God's vineyard, or are we in God's sight still standing idle? The selfish life is an idle life, and this is the point I wish specially to emphasize. Are we saying in reply to God's question, 'Because no man hath hired us'? The parable speaks of the heat and burden of the day. That burden is not avoided, that burning sun is not escaped by those who stand idle. For each of us life will have its load. The toils, cares, and sorrows of life are not lightened, but rather multiplied, by living for ourselves. Yet the scorching sun will beat upon those equally within or without the vineyard. Only there will be this difference. Shall we have a friend constant in life and changeless in eternity, or shall we be living and dying by ourselves? Even to the longest life comes an evening which is both a sunset and a dawn.
References. XX. 6, 7. H. Scott Holland, Church Times, vol. xlii. 1899, p. 347; see also, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. 1899, p. 193. C. Herbert, ibid. vol. lxiii. 1903, p. 93. XX. 7. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon-Sketches, p. 65. A. Legge, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. 1897, p. 138.
We are not sent into this world to stand idle all the day long, but to go forth to our work and to our labour until the evening. Until the evening, not in the evening only of our life, but serving God from our youth, and not waiting till our years fail us... The end is the proof of the matter. That evening will be the trial; when the heat, and fever, and noise of the noontide are over, and the light fades, and the prospect saddens, and the shades lengthen, and the busy world is still.
References. XX. 8. Bishop A. Pearson, Sermons for the People (2nd Series), vol. ii. p. 161. XX. 9. R. Collyer, Where the Spirit Dwelleth, p. 37. XX. 13. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year (2nd Series), vol. i. p. 113. XX. 13-16. A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, part iv. p. 191. XX. 14. J. Baldwin Brown, Misread Passages of Scripture, p. 25. A. W. Potts, School Sermons, p. 29. W. J. Butler, Sermons for Working Men, The Oxford Sermon Library, vol. ii. p. 99. J. H. Jellett, The Elder Son, p. 43. XX. 15. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ii. No. 77. W. Cunningham, Church Times, vol. xxxii. 1894, p. 642. S. Cox, Expositions, p. 208. H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv. 1899, p. 65. F. E. Paget, Sermons for Special Occasions, p. 181. R. Flint, Sermons and Addresses, p. 241.
Many Called, But Few Chosen
Few are choice: such surely is the thought of our text. There are such distinctions among the adherents of the Kingdom. It does not follow that because all are enrolled in the same service they are all either equally efficient or equally worthy. Some wear their: loyalty with a difference. They are the élite of the Christian society, the flower and chivalry of the band; whose number, unhappily, is soon counted. Consider then this outer Christian circle how wide it is: and this inner Christian circle how select it is: also how one may hope to pass from the one within the other.
I. This outer circle consider how large it is. 'Many,' says our Lord, 'are called.' By which it is evident that He means not merely privileged to hear God's merciful invitation addressed to them, but inwardly drawn to obey it as well. He is thinking of the Kingdom's bona fide servants, who wear the genuine livery and render a service which will be rewarded in its measure one day; and of such He says that they are 'many'.
II. Nevertheless it remains true that amongst the many few are 'choice'. The inner circle is select-always. They are 'choice'; that is, they are men chosen or picked out of the Christian band. You. note in them a selectness, a refinement, and a Christian grace, which put them in a category quite different from the ordinary, and merit for them the name of Christ's 'chosen' or 'choice' disciples.
1. For example, there is what may be termed the unworldly type. Very often such a man is more thoughtful than other men more prone to meditation than they, and loving no exercise more than to place himself in the presence of God, and brood there over the deep things of existence.
2. There is what you may call the more especially Christian type. That is to say, there are Christians of whom it is in a peculiar degree true that Jesus Christ is the Alpha and Omega of their lives.
3. There is what you may call the filial type. I mean the Christians whose grand endeavour manifestly is to live here the life of a son of God.
III. The means by which any of us may hope to pass from the outer to the inner circle of Christ's followers.
1. First, it is a thing never to be forgotten that the makings of a saint are in every Christian. Sometimes it is supposed that it is only specially favoured natures that may dare to aspire so high. Nature may give some men the start, but grace duly improved must surpass nature in the long run.
2. And again remember that the scene in which a believer is to attain all this is just the life the very ordinary and commonplace life, as a rule he already has. You know the other misgiving that haunts men here. No sooner do they waken to the high aims God sets before them than they are apt to sigh for better opportunities of realizing them. We may be sure that if there had been another life in which we would have been more favourably placed for parting with our old nature for the image of the heavenly, He would have given us that life, for He is God and can give nothing but the best.
A. Martin, Winning the Soul, p. 117.
References. XX. 16. B. Wilberforce, Feeling After Him, p. 171. Henry Alford, Sermons on Christian Doctrine, p. 134. J. Fraser, Parochial and other Sermons, p. 105. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxvii. No. 2221. XX. 17-19. Ibid. vol. xxxvii. No. 2212. XX. 20-23. R. Rainy, Sojourning with God, p. 80. F. D. Huntington, Christian Believing and Living, p. 232.
Nearly all the evils in the Church have arisen from bishops desiring power more than light They want authority, not outlook.
References. XX. 21, 22. A. F. Winnington Ingram, Church Times, vol. lii. 1904, p. 145. See also Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxvi. 1904, p. 105.
'Words are given prodigally,' says F. W. Robertson in a letter, 'and sacrificial acts must toil for years to cover the space which a single fervid promise has stretched itself over.'
'It has for many generations been an Italian error,' says Agostino in Mr. Meredith's Vittoria, 'to imagine a positive blood relationship not to say maternity itself existing between intentions and deeds.'
The Ventures of Faith
Success and reward everlasting they will have, who persevere unto the end. Doubt we cannot, that the ventures of all Christ's servants must be returned to them at the Last Day with abundant increase. This is a true saying, He returns far more than we lend to Him, and without fail. But I am speaking of individuals, of ourselves one by one. No one among us knows for certain that he himself will persevere; yet every one among us, to give himself even a chance of success at all, must make a venture. As regards individuals, then, it is quite true, that all of us must for certain make ventures for heaven, yet without the certainty of success through them. This, indeed, is the very meaning of the word 'venture'; for that is a strange venture which has nothing in it of fear, risk, danger, anxiety, uncertainty. Yes; so it certainly is; and in this consists the excellence and nobleness of faith; this is the very reason why faith is singled out from other graces, and honoured as the especial means of our justification, because its presence implies that we have the heart to make a venture.
The Old Age of St. John the Divine
[St. John] had to bear a length of years in loneliness, exile, and weakness. He had to experience the dreariness of being solitary, when those whom he loved had been summoned away. He had to live in his own thoughts, without familiar friend, with those only about him who belonged to a younger generation. Of him were demanded by his gracious Lord, as pledges of his faith, all his eye loved and his heart held converse with. He was as a man moving his goods into a far country, who at intervals and by portions send them before him, till his present abode is wellnigh unfurnished. He sent forward his friends on their journey, while he stayed himself behind, that there might be those in heaven to have thoughts of him, to look out for him, and receive him when his Lord should call. He sent before him, also, other still more voluntary pledges and ventures of his faith, a self-denying walk, a zealous maintenance of the truth, fasting and prayers, labours of love, a virgin life, buffetings from the heathen, persecution, and banishment. Well might so great a saint say, at the end of his days 'Come, Lord Jesus!' as those who are weary of the night, and wait for the morning. All his thoughts, all his contemplations, desires, and hopes, were stored in the invisible world; and death, when it came, brought back to him the sight of what he had worshipped, what he had loved, what he had held intercourse with, in years long past away. Then, when again brought into the presence of what he had lost, how would remembrance revive, and familiar thoughts long buried come to life! Who shall dare to describe the blessedness of those who find all their pledges safe returned to them, all their ventures abundantly and beyond measure satisfied?
J. H. Newman.
References. XX. 22. E. B. Pusey, Parochial Sermons, vol. ii. p. 98. G. W. Herbert, Notes of Sermons, p. 234. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Holy-Tide Teaching, p. 143. J. M. Neale, Sermons for Some Feast Days in the Christian Year, p. 204; see also, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iv. p. 136. A. Fleming, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxvi. 1904, p. 294. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for Saints' Days, p. 150. XX. 22, 23. Bristow Wilson, The Communion of Saints, p. 180.
Next the Throne
The seats by Christ's side.
There is distinctly, in the words of my text, the principle of diversity of degree corresponding to what we call rank, and that diversity depends upon, and is, diversity in closeness to Jesus Christ. All shall be close to Him, and all shall be every moment getting closer, but there shall be diversity in the proximity, and some shall sit on the right hand and on the left.
Of course we start with the conception of equality. All get the penny in the parable. All 'sit down with Him on the throne,' which is the apex of the universe. But perfection does not exclude growth. Equality does not exclude variety, and perfection is not inconsistent with progress, and if there be progress there must necessarily be diversity of stages. Such diversity is a necessary result of the very conception of the future, as being the retribution for the present.
Nor let us forget, in reference to this diversity, that we are taught in the context to discharge from our minds, in connexion with it, all earthly ideas of superiority, wherein the excellency of the one is the inferiority of the others, and preeminence for A means degradation for all the rest of the alphabet.
II. The law of precedence in the kingdom.
It belongs to them 'for whom it is prepared of My Father'. The language is strongly metaphorical.
The seats are prepared, first, for those that have drunk most deeply of Christ's cup.
The measure in which we Christian people incorporate Jesus Christ into ourselves here will determine all our future.
The context gives a second condition of that preeminence. It falls to those who most fully imitate His life and death of service and sacrifice. Unselfish service for His sake is the only path.
These words about the preparation by the Father further suggest the certainty that these seats thus prepared shall be ours if we adhere to the conditions.
III. My text speaks of Jesus Christ as, under the aforesaid laws and restrictions, the Giver of the precedence.
To take the words before us as being an unconditional disclaimer, on His part, of His authority to give heavenly places would be to run counter to the whole tenor of Scripture. For His disclaimer must necessarily be interpreted with reference to the conceptions to which it is the answer. And these conceptions were that He could give the kingdom, and preeminence in it, as a pure piece of partiality, and arbitrary favouritism, with regard to fitness. The gift is surely from His hand, for if the hand had not been pierced with the nails it never had been able to give the crown. And all that we hope for in the future, or possess in the present, is alike the purchase of His blood and the result of His great sacrifice.
A. Maclaren, The Unchanging Christ, p. 24.
The Cross and the Throne (For St. James the Apostle's Bay)
The incident recorded in the Gospel is a familiar one in the life of St. James and his brother St. John. Salome, their mother, was evidently jealous of the sons of Jonas, the late neighbours and partners of her own sons; and as she, like all other mothers, loved her own above all others, she yielded to the temptation to desire from Christ that they should occupy the most exalted position in His kingdom (Mark 10:35-37 ).
I. But She Asked for a Wrong Thing; and St. James and St. John did wrong when they prevailed upon their mother to intercede with Christ for them. Ambition is a salutary stimulus if free from selfishness; but when it is allied to selfishness, it is a passion charged with pride, envy, and covetousness, and most injurious to the soul. Christ declared His emphatic disapprobation of such selfish ambition. 'If any man,' said He, 'will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow Me.' The cross, therefore, must be borne ere the throne be occupied. And this St. James and St. John found out in their after-experience; they were both baptized with the baptism of Christ, and drained the same cup of suffering. This toned down their ambition, chastened their spirit, and sanctified their life.
II. The Martyrdom of St. James. In the forty-fourth year of our Lord, about the time of the Passover, St. James was accused by some of the Jews to Herod, who, to conciliate them, ordered his apprehension, and condemned him to death. On his way to execution, it is said that St. James performed a miracle of healing upon a paralytic, by which one Josias a principal witness against the Apostle was so affected that he fell at his feet and implored his pardon. Surprised at this sudden change, St. James raised him up and embraced him; and after he had imprinted a kiss on his cheek, he saluted him, saying, 'Peace be to thee, my brother'. This return of good for evil, of love for hate, so wrought on Josias that he there and then declared that he was, too, a believer in Christ This bold confession led to his condemnation also; and he was beheaded at the same time and place as St. James. St. James had thus the great honour of being the proto-martyr of the Apostles, as St. Stephen had that of being the proto-martyr of the Church. Such was his preeminence at last; and now his desire is gratified he sits with Christ in His throne.
From the Foundation
This is part of Christ's answer to the mother of Zebedee's children. It was a little family gathering; they had made it all up among themselves. There are many toy-makers. They thought it would be well if the kingdom of heaven could be in some way divided amongst the family. Some people's notion of heaven never gets beyond some family arrangement. They are themselves little, and can only do with little notions. We think that God is living from hand to mouth, inventing a new policy for every day, introducing surprises into the economy of His kingdom. Jesus Christ rebukes that foolish and truly atheistic notion, for there is no God in it, and He says in effect, The kingdom is already apportioned; the right-hand seat and the left-hand seat are already reserved. God does nothing by surprise and offhand and at the bidding of human suggestion; from the foundation every seat was settled.
I. 'From the foundation;' and where is the foundation? It is in the thought of God, in the purpose of the Eternal, away beyond all the little candle-stars, away where no comet has ever been seen by mortal vision, away to the everlasting, the unbeginning, the inconceivable, the ineffable that wondrous position that we want to define by polysyllables, and cannot.
Now Jesus Christ was with the Father from the foundation; He was part of the foundation; yea, He was an essential element in the foundation; He was before all things, and by Him all things consist, and by Him all things will be judged. When there were no fountains abounding with water He faced the Eternal Love. So when He speaks thus to the mother of Zebedee's children He does not renounce His majesty, He uses His limitation that He may help her beyond her own. All things, according to the teaching of Christ, have been settled from the foundation, part of the Divine purpose, part of the Divine nature, wondrous, ineffable things, before even dreams began or poetry fashioned a harp.
II. See how the Incarnation is defined. Let us reverently paraphrase the music of the Son of God: Lord, I have come to do Thy will in the prepared body; I have come to show the world something of what the world could never see, the glory I had with Thee before the world was.
This was the purpose of the Incarnation, to show all men and women in all ages that everything was in the purpose of God and will be settled according to the Divine purpose; and as for the front seats and the back seats and the intermediate seats, woman, man, mother of ambitious sons, all these things were settled from the foundation.
III. And then see how it not only defines the Incarnation, but how it interprets the great ministry of providence. How many things are settled for us, if we would only believe it, and how many prayers are answered which are never offered except by some Divine intent which is a great mystery in the heart of every man. We have the most of things without asking for them. There are some things it would be absurd to ask for. We owe all the greatest things to prayers we never uttered and never can utter, and would de-Christianize ourselves if we attempted to utter them. We live in the greater prayer.
The only happiness is consonance with God, unity with that which was from the foundation I mean the foundation below the foundation, the base below the base, the other base that makes the superficial base a possible term in geometry or economy.
Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. iv. p. 127.
There was never wedge of gold that did not first pass the fire; there was never pure grain that did not undergo the flail. Let who will, hope to walk upon roses and violets to the throne of heaven: O Saviour, let me trace Thee by the track of Thy blood, and by Thy red steps follow Thee to Thine eternal rest and happiness.
References. XX. 23. J. Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. iv. p. 127. E. L. Hull, Sermons Preached at King's Lynn, (3rd Series), p. 58. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew XVIII.-XXVIII. p. 56; see also Sermons Preached in Manchester (3rd Series), p. 351. XX. 25 R. F. Horton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxx. 1906, p. 225. XX. 25, 26. J. Clifford, ibid. vol. xliii. 1893, p. 280.
The great cry with everybody is get on, get on! just as if the world were travelling post. How astonished people will be, when they arrive in heaven, to find the angels, who are so much wiser, laying no schemes to be made archangels!
It is a beautiful and salutary arrangement which we seldom reflect on as we ought, that, as a rule, men can only become rich and great by supplying some want of their fellow-men, by doing some work for others which others need and are willing to pay for, be that work moral guidance or material provision. We cannot rise to command except by stooping to serve; we cannot obtain conspicuous station among men or power over them without in some way or other rendering ourselves useful or necessary to them.
W. Rathbone Greg, Literary and Social Judgments, p. 486.
Greatness By Service
I. Christ stood forth before men, and said, 'Behold I am among you as He that serveth'. St. Paul singled out this as the characteristic feature of his Divine Master that, though He was in the form of God, He emptied Himself of all honour and glory, and took upon Him the form of a slave.
Yet, in spite of Christ and His Apostles, in spite of the influence of the Church as a moral force, the idea still survives in many quarters that to serve others in a menial or subordinate capacity is degrading, while to be served by others is an honourable and dignified estate.
We commonly speak of our Lord's 'human ministry'. But do we reflect that the word 'ministry' simply means service, the doing of helpful, assisting work, and that a large space of Christ's time was spent in healing the sick and the suffering (which was reckoned in those days to be the work of a slave), and more generally in surrendering His own personal freedom for the sake of bearing the burdens of the obscure and friendless.
II. Service, however lowly, when willingly rendered in the spirit of sympathetic concern for others' good, exalts the doer. But the service must cost the doer of it something. It is best and rarest when the heart's blood is distilled into it: it is worth most when combined with careful thought and intelligence.
True service, such as confers greatness, is the ripe fruit of a long discipline of the impulses and the emotions, carried on through many stages, and only perfected after many ambitious failures. Doing good and being good are indissolubly united, being the active and the passive sides of the Christian character. And, like all beautiful things, both are arduous.
III. No one not even the best of us who feels the call to minister to others' good, and nobly ventures along that difficult path, can be sure that success will attend his efforts. But no one who does this in sincerity and humbleness can make of his life half so dismal a failure as he who is always demanding from others the willing service that he never thinks of repaying.
J. W. Shepard, Light and Life, p. 254.
References. XX. 27. Henry Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. i. p. 51. XX. 27, 28. Lyman Abbott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. 1896, p. 226.
The Servant-lord and His Servants
I. Let us look first at the perfect life of service of the Servant-Lord.
In order to appreciate the significance of that life of service, we must take into account the introductory words, 'The Son of Man came'. They declare His pre-existence, His voluntary entrance into the conditions of humanity, and His denuding Himself of 'the glory which He had with the Father before the world was'. We shall never understand the Servant-Christ until we understand that He is the Eternal Son of the Father. His service began when He laid aside, not the garments of earth, but the vesture of the heavens, and girded Himself not with the cincture woven in man's looms, but with the flesh of our humanity, 'and being found in fashion as a man,' bowed Himself to enter into the conditions of earth. It was much that His hands should heal, that His lips should comfort, that His heart should bleed with sympathy for sorrow. But it was more that He had hands to touch, lips to speak to human hearts, and the heart of a man and a brother to feel with us as well as for us.
But then, passing beyond this, we may dwell upon the features, familiar as they are, of that wonderful life of self-oblivious and self-sacrificing ministration to others.
1. The life of Jesus Christ is self-forgetting love made visible. The source from which his ministrations have flowed is the pure source of a perfect love,
2. No taint of bye-ends was in that service; no sidelong glances at possible advantages of influence, or reputation, or the like, which so often deform men's philanthropies and services to one another. Like the clear sea, weedless and stainless, that laves the marble steps of the palaces of Venice, the deep ocean of Christ's service to man was pure to the depths throughout.
3. That perfect ministry of the Servant-Lord was rendered with strange spontaneity and cheerfulness. On His cross He had leisure to turn from His own physical sufferings and the weight of a world's sin, which lay upon Him, to look at the penitent by His side, and He ended His life in the ministry of mercy to a brigand. And thus cheerfully, and always without a thought of self, 'He came to minister'.
4. Think, too, of the sweep of His ministrations. They took in all men; they were equally open to enemies and to friends, to mockers and to sympathizers. Think of the variety of the gifts which He brought in his ministry caring for body and for soul; alleviating sorrow, binding up wounds, purifying hearts; dealing with sin, the fountain, and with miseries, its waters, with equal helpfulness and equal love.
5. And think of how that ministry was always ministration by a Lord. For there is nothing to me more remarkable in the Gospel narrative than the way in which, side by side, there lie in Christ's life the two elements, so difficult to harmonize in fact, and so impossible to have been harmonized in a legend, the consciousness of authority and the humility of a servant.
6. That ministration was a service that never shrank from stern rebuke. For it is not service but cruelty to sympathize with the sinner, and say nothing in condemnation of his sin. And yet no sternness is blessed which is not plainly prompted by desire to help.
II. Secondly, note the service that should be modelled on His.
There is no ground on which we can rest greatness or superiority in Christ's kingdom except this ground of service. The servant who serves for love is highest in the hierarchy of heaven, If we are ever to be near the right and the left of the Master in His kingdom, there is one way, and only one way to get it, and that is to make self abdicate its authority as the centre of our lives, and to enthrone there Christ, and for His sake all our brethren. Be ambitious to be first, but, remember, Noblesse oblige . He that is first must be last.
A. Maclaren, Christ's Musts, p. 55.
This was one of the three texts which Dean Colet quoted in addressing Wolsey at his installation as Cardinal in Westminster Abbey. The others were, 'He who is least among you shall be greatest in the kingdom of heaven,' and 'He who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted'.
References. XX. 28. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv. No. 181. C. J. Ridgeway, The King and His Kingdom, p. 50; see also Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. 1897, p. 285. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew XVIII.-XXVIII. pp. 71, 80. Hugh Black, Christ's Service of Love, p. 23. W. H. Murray, The Fruits of the Spirit, p. 441. H. Scott Holland, Logic and Life, p. 227. XX. 29-34. Archbishop Trench, Notes on the Miracles of Our Lord, p. 351. J. Laidlaw, The Miracles of Our Lord, p. 323. XX. 32. Henry Alford, Quebec Gospel Sermons, vol. iii. p. 146. XX. 34. J. Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. v. p. 98.
Seeing and Following
Here is the greatest of all prayers: 'Lord, that our eyes may be opened '. We can do nothing until that great miracle is worked. It is just there that God comes in; after that, certain consequences will happily flow, but those consequences are impossible until a certain miracle has been wrought. 'Lord, that our eyes may be opened.' We have eyes, but the very possession of them is a trouble to us, because it is a continual mockery; our very eyes seem to be groping after the light, and cannot find it. 'Lord, that our eyes may be opened.' It is the inclusive prayer. Give us our eyesight, and then we may learn how to do certain little things at least for ourselves; but we cannot do them until our eyes are opened, and there is only one power that can open them: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us!
I. Prayer is educational. Always pray for the thing you need, and let the things you want stand on one side. To want is one thing, to need is another. Mere want cannot pray; true need can do nothing but pray, it must cry. If we have this great faculty of discernment, we can make some little progress.
II. They 'received' sight. Why did not they give themselves sight? Notice that word 'received'. It was through no power of their own; they had often rubbed their eyes, they had often touched their sightless eyeballs, but they had not that touch that would enable the eyes to receive the morning; they could only receive the kiss of the sun, not its smile. And we must make this a spiritual faculty, as it was a physical fact in the instance before us. We have nothing that we have not received. Is that so? Yes; and until you realize it you have no religion. True religion is an impossibility to your experience until you know that you are receivers and not originators. We are miracles of grace. The Apostle says, 'What hast thou that thou hast not received?' Art thou an eloquent man? thou art not eloquent of thyself, but thine eloquence explains some great act of reception.
III. And here is the right use of faculty 'they followed Him'. 'They received sight, and they followed Him.' That is the kind of action which we call the true profession of Christianity. It is not nominal profession, it is not an offhand profession, but they followed Him. Why, they could see His footprints then. The joy of putting my feet into the very print on the ground made by Christ! Now that is impossible literally, but it signifies what is possible namely, the spiritual following of Christ, the keeping on the road He trod, the doing of the things He did, the entrance into the very spirit of redeeming love.
Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. v. p. 98.
If pardon be, even for a moment, severed from a moral process of renovation, if these two are not made to stand in organic and vital connexion with one another, that door is opened through which mischief will rush.
W. E. Gladstone.
References. XXI. 1-3. A. G. Mortimer, One Hundred Miniature Sermons, vol. i. p. 1. XXI. 1-5. J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Prophets, vol. ii. p. 208. XXI. 1-16. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew XVIII.-XXVIII. p. 89. XXI. 2, 3. Jesse Brett, The Soul's Escape, p. 77. XXI. 3. H. P. Liddon, Passion-Tide Sermons, p. 167. J. M. Neale, Sermons for the Church's Year, vol. ii. p. 80. XXI. 4. C. Kingsley, Sermons on National Subjects, p. 1. XXI. 4, 5. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew XVIII.-XXVIII. p. 97. Harvey Goodwin, Parish Sermons, p. 275. C. A. Berry, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. 1894, p. 273. XXI. 5. J. Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. v. p. 279. C. J. Ridgeway, The King and His Kingdom, p. 50. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year (2nd Series), vol. i. p. 183. C. Kingsley, Sermons on National Subjects, p. 306. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vii. No. 405; vol. xviii. No. 1038. XXI. 7, 8, 9. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, vol. i. p. 249.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Matthew 20". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
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