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The Labourers in the Vineyard.
I. This parable is directed against a wrong temper and spirit of mind, which was notably manifested among the Jews, but one against which all men in possession of spiritual privileges have need to be, and herein are, warned; this warning being primarily addressed not to them, but to the Apostles, as the foremost workers in the Christian Church, the earliest called to labour in the Lord's vineyard, "the first" both in time and in toil and pains. They had seen the rich young man go sorrowful away, unable to abide the proof by which the Lord had mercifully revealed to him how strong were the bands by which the world was holding him still. They (for Peter here, as so often, is spokesman for all) would fain know what their reward should be, who had done this very thing from which he had shrunk, and forsaken all for the Gospel's sake. The Lord answers them first and fully, that they and as many as should do the same for His sake should reap an abundant reward.
II. But for all this the question, "What shall we have?" was not a right one; it put their relation to their Lord on a wrong footing. There was a tendency in it to bring their obedience to a calculation of so much work, so much reward. There lurked, too, a certain self-complacency in it. In this parable the Apostles are taught that, however long-continued their work, abundant their labours, yet without charity to their brethren, and humility before God, they are nothing; that pride and a self-complacent estimate of their work, like the fly in the precious ointment, would spoil the work, however great it might be, since that work stands only in humility, and from first they would fall to last. The lesson taught to Peter, and through him to us all, is that the first may be altogether last; that those who stand foremost as chief in labour, yet if they forget that the reward is of grace and not of works, and begin to boast and exalt themselves above their fellow-labourers, may altogether lose the things which they have wrought; while those who seem last may yet, by keeping their humility, be acknowledged first and foremost in the day of God.
R. C. Trench, Notes on the Parables, p. 168.
References: Matthew 20:1-40.20.16 . A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, p. 272; Ibid., Parabolic Teaching of Christ, p. 183; R. Calderwood, The Parables of our Lord, p. 291; G. Calthrop, Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., pp. 55, 496; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 82; W. Sanday, Expositor, 1st series, vol. iii., p. 81; F. T. Hill, Ibid., p. 427; Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. iii., p. 72.Matthew 20:3 , Matthew 20:4 . Spurgeon, My Sermon Notes: Gospels and Acts, p. 114.
I. If we would hear, surely we might rather say that God calls us, at all times, in all places; by all things, persons, deeds, words; by night and by day, all our lives long, than dare to say for ourselves before God's all-searching eye: "No man hath heard us." For so it is when persons have heard the first call; everything calls them when the heart is awake; every, the lowest, whisper calls it. The world is one great mirror. As we are who look into it or on it, so it is to us. It gives us back ourselves. It speaks to us the language of our own hearts; our inmost self is the key to all. The heart where God dwelleth is in all things called anew by God. His blessed presence draws it by its sweetness; or His seeming absence may, by the very void, absorb it yet more, by the vehemence of longing, into Himself.
II. He bids us "Go work in My vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you." He promises not to us, as to those first labourers, a certain hire. Even while He would wholly restore us to His mercy He would keep us in the humility of penitents. He seems to tells us thus: that we have forfeited our claim, that we must labour on in faith and hope and confiding trust, making no bargains, as it were, with Him, looking for nothing again but what He of His free bounty will give us. This is our very hope and trust and gladness in our toil, that we labour not with any calculating spirit, or to set up for ourselves any claim with God; the rewards of desert were finite; the reward of grace infinite, even Himself, who hath said, "I am thine exceeding great reward."
III. He calleth thee now: He calleth thee, that in death He may again call thee to place thee near Himself: He calleth thee that He may save thee from the pit where His voice is not heard, to place thee above the stars, with cherubim and seraphim, there to sing everlastingly, "Holy, holy, holy." Such is the hire which God offereth thee. What were it, could Satan offer thee not this earth only, but countless worlds? Things out of God may take thee up; nought but God can fill thee. He calleth thee, "Son, give Me thine heart;" and He will give thee His own all-encompassing, unencompassed love
E. B. Pusey, Sermons for the Church's Seasons, p. 133.
References: Matthew 20:6 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xvi., p. 26; H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, The Life of Duty, vol. i., p. 106; J. Keble, Sermons for the Church Year, vol. iii., p. 85.Matthew 20:8 . Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 357. Matthew 20:9 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 108. Matthew 20:9-40.20.11 . Ibid., vol. iv., p. 86. Matthew 20:10 . Homiletic Quarterly, vol. v., p. 473; vol. viii., p. 133.Matthew 20:11-40.20.15 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. vii., p. 105; S. Cox, Expositions, vol. iv., p. 208. Matthew 20:15 . A. W. Hare, The Alton Sermons, p. 239; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ii., No. 77. Matthew 20:16 . S. Cox, Expository Essays and Discourses, pp. 239, 251; J. Keble, Sermons for the Christian Year, vol. iii., Philippians 1:10 , Philippians 1:21 ; C. Girdlestone, A Course of Sermons, vol. i., p. 205.Matthew 20:17-40.20.28 . A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, p. 282.Matthew 20:17-40.20.34 . Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. iii., p. 81.
(with Mark 10:35-41.10.40 )
I. Comparing St. Matthew's and St. Mark's accounts, we see that it was the mother and sons together who made the request. It is a homely human picture of ambition hers for them and herself in them; theirs for themselves though with an eagerness, stimulated it may be by the desire to delight and elevate her. The childlike simplicity with which the request is made, in evident unconsciousness of its deep and solemn connections, is very notable and attractive. They wanted the promise beforehand. They wanted, as it might seem, to surprise Him into granting their request, as a confiding child may seek, half in earnest, half in sport, to entrap a tender and indulgent parent. They knew not what they asked, but there is a charm, there is even something of example, in the freedom of their asking.
II. There is no favouritism, no partiality, no promotion by interest in the kingdom of Christ. There is no caprice in the placing of the highest and lowest in it. The answer to the question, to whom the precedence in the kingdom shall be given, is one and the same with that to the question for whom the kingdom of heaven is prepared. The inheritance belongs to a certain character, so does the precedence; every single citizen of the heavenly Jerusalem has his place prepared for him, not only for what, but by what he is. There is a character now forming amid the turmoil and conflict of this lower world, for which eternal precedence is prepared by the necessary self-executing law of spiritual life in which the will that is, the character of the Father of spirits is reflected. The nearest to Christ in His glory will be those who are nearest Him in action and character.
III. This incident as a whole contains no condemnation of ambition. There is an ambition which belongs to the true disciple, which exercises the Christian virtues and does Christ's work in the world. It is an ambition not for place, but for character. It aspires not to have, but to be; and to be that it may work, that it may serve, that it may impart even of its very self. If it be the case that many of us are wanting in this ambition, if aspiration after the closest possible nearness to Christ, under the sense that nearness means likeness, be almost unknown to us, if we are satisfied with the hope of freedom from suffering and enjoyment of happiness, this will go far to account for the insufficient power of Christianity to leaven society, as well as for the poverty of individual Christian life.
W. Romanes, Oxford and Cambridge Journal, March 2nd, 1882.
Reference: Matthew 20:20-40.20.28 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 11.
(with Luke 9:38 )
These are two examples of intercessory prayer. All the principles on which we explain or defend prayer, as the communing in Christ's spirit of submission, refer also to those prayers which we offer for others.
I. Take first the prayer of Salome for her sons. There were two entirely false conceptions lying at the root of her prayer. (1) She was wrong as to the nature of the kingdom of their Lord. She thought of it as an earthly kingdom, like that of David. (2) She was mistaken, also, as to the principles of Divine election and reward in Christ's kingdom. She evidently thought that places of high honour the right and left hand of some real throne were to be bestowed according to some caprice of favouritism. And her idea of prayer was, that it could win something of this kind from the Lord.
It may have seemed to the mother at the moment as if her prayer had been refused. It was not granted according to her own narrow, fatal estimate of what she desired for her sons. It was granted with a fulness and a power that she did not conceive then, but which may have dawned upon her as, with Mary, she stood beside the cross on Calvary. The opportunity of serving and suffering for Christ was given them. That was the only way the prayer could be granted. St. James was the first Apostle Martyr and St. John the last.
II. There were petitions for others offered to Christ while on earth of a different kind to those which Salome presented for her sons prayers that were answered and granted by the Lord just as they were prayed.
In that other instance of a parent's prayer, given in St. Luke 9:38 , it was, indeed, for a child to be delivered only from bodily infirmity; but yet as we fondly believe that all Christ's healing of bodily diseases has a sacramental significance, and points to the deeper healing of the sickness of the soul, we may trust that He will ever thus still answer our prayers for others.
T. T. Shore, Some Difficulties of Belief, p. 61.
Reference: Matthew 20:21 , Matthew 20:22 . F. W. Macdonald, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxii., p. 200.
Even these great Apostles whom, from the ardent glow of their impetuous love, our Lord calls "Sons of Thunder," were, before the descent of the Holy Ghost, deceived in two ways. (1) They thought that our Lord would bestow by favour the glories of His kingdom and nearness to Himself. (2) They were mistaken as to themselves, and their own power to endure that hardness through which they were to enter into eternal bliss. In a word, they knew fully neither their master nor themselves.
I. The last thing in heaven or earth, which man by nature desires to know, is that which most concerns him: himself, his very self. Man will interest himself about all things around him. He will be curious to know the news of the day, what is passing in other countries, or perhaps the works of God, the courses of the stars or of the winds, the history of past ages, the structure of the world or even of the human mind, or the evil of his neighbour. One thing, unless touched by the grace of God, he will not wish to know nay, he will strive to forget, to bury it amid the knowledge of the things which he knows the state of his own soul.
II. If we know not ourselves we cannot know God, nor love God, nor become like Him. If we know not what is so nigh to us as our own souls, made in His image, how can we know Him who made them, who made, and who fills heaven and earth? If we understand not the least how can we understand the Infinite?
III. Men think that they know themselves because they are themselves. And yet of others we are all ready to think that they do not know themselves. Surely, if many so saw their own faults as others see them, they would be at more pains, by God's grace, to subdue them. Thou must examine thyself not by the examples of those around thee, nor by the maxims of the world; not heeding the praise which men give thee, but by the light of God's endowments.
E. B. Pusey, Selected Occasional Sermons, p. 61.
References: Matthew 20:22 . J. E. Vaux, Sermon Notes, 3rd series, p. 70; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xvii., p. 18; R. W. Evans, Parochial Sermons, vol. iii., p. 173.
Law and Prayer.
To think that nothing can be too good for their children is an amiable weakness few mothers can resist. Salome had heard Christ discourse of a kingdom which He was about to establish. There would be places and preferments at His disposal, and who so lit to possess them as her own sons? A little forwardness in asking might secure a prize, and so she said to Jesus, "Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on Thy right hand, the other on the left, in Thy kingdom." Our Lord answers, "To sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of My Father." In other words, our Lord says, "It is Mine to give to these, but it is not Mine to give without regard to the will of My Father; not Mine to give to any who may ask for it, but who have not the proper preparation."
I. From these words of our Lord we get a principle, which the students of physical phenomena are perpetually asserting as though it were their peculiar discovery, that the Almighty has chosen to proceed in His dealings with His creatures according to a regular and uniform order; that He does not break this order, or interfere with this method, or give up His will, simply because a frail foolish mortal may ask Him to do so. The text reveals to us a law or regular method of Divine action, and by consequence that there are things which do not belong to the region of prayer.
II. The question is not of God's omnipotence, but of His will. The existence of God being granted, every man, whether he be a Christian or not, makes no doubt that God can do whatsoever pleaseth Him. In our ignorance we often make the mistake which was made by Salome, and ask for that which may not be ours. If our ignorance be our misfortune and not our fault, He who looks "with larger, other eyes than ours," to make allowance for us all, will not treat us sternly because we have made a child's blunder. But when, by one way or another, from the Bible, or from the world around us, we have discovered God's purpose and will, then we do not ask Him to change it, but to help us to bear or to fulfil it. Until we clearly and distinctly know what God's good pleasure is concerning us, it remains our soothing and hopeful privilege to tell Him everything, our secret wishes and desires, the things we so much long for.
III. Prayer is not a mere piece of mental machinery for obtaining some temporal advantage for which material appliances are insufficient. The kingdom of heaven is not a mere union-house, from which the idle and the improvident, and indeed all comers, may get a passing relief. Prayer is the communion of the soul with God, its repose upon infinite love. In a new joy as well as in a blinding reverse, in the weariness and rustiness of too often repeated pleasures, in the gnawing dissatisfaction of conscious failure, and on the high places of success, to poor humble people as well as the solitary great ones of earth, there comes the need of prayer and the crying for God: "O God, Thou art my God: early will I seek Thee. My soul thirsteth for Thee, my flesh also longeth after Thee: in a barren and dry land, where no water is."
W. Page Roberts, Law and God, p. 14.
I. These words contain, first, the principle that some will be nearer Christ than others in the heavenly kingdom. The words of our Lord do not merely imply, by the absence of all hint, that these men's petition was impossible, the existence of degrees among the subjects of His heavenly kingdom, but articulately affirm that such variety is provided for by the preparation of the Father. Does not the very idea of an endless progress in that kingdom involve this variety in degree? We do not think of men passing into the heavens and being perfected by a bound, so that there shall be no growth. And if they each grow through all the ages, and are ever coming nearer and nearer to Christ, that seems necessarily to lead to the thought that this endless progress, carried on in every spirit, places them at different points of approximation to the one centre. "Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us," is the law for the incompleteness of earth: "Having then gifts differing according to the glory that is given to us," will be the law for the perfection of the heavens.
II. These words rightly understood assert the truth that Christ is the Giver of each of these various degrees of glory and blessedness. To deny or to doubt that Christ is the Giver of the blessedness, whatsoever the blessedness may be, that fills the hearts and souls of the redeemed, is to destroy His whole work, to destroy all the relations upon which our hopes rest, and to introduce confusion and contradiction into the whole matter. There is nothing within the compass of God's love to bestow of which Christ is not the Giver. He is the Giver of heaven and everything else which the soul requires.
III. The words lead us to the further thought, that these glorious places are not given to mere wishing, nor by mere arbitrary will. Christ could not, if He would, take a man to His right hand whose heart was not the home of simple trust and thankful love, whose nature and desires were unprepared for that blessed world.
IV. These glorious places are given as the result of a Divine preparation. "To them for whom it is prepared of My Father." There is a twofold Divine preparation of the heavens for men. (1) One is from of old, in the eternal counsel of the Divine love. (2) The other is the realization of that eternal purpose in time through the work of Jesus Christ our Lord.
A. Maclaren, Sermons preached in Manchester, 3rd series, p. 351.
References: Matthew 20:24 . F. W. Robertson, The Human Race and Other Sermons, p. 31; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvii., p. 20. Matthew 20:25-40.20.27 . J. M. Wilson, Ibid., vol. xxxi., p. 72.
I. These words have something to tell us of the nature of true greatness. Though Christ does not ignore intellects, or even riches, He yet regards these things, and all things like these, as but instruments; and he is, in the gospel sense of the word, the greatest who uses all such gifts or possessions in the service of mankind. If this view of the case be correct, one or two inferences of importance follow from it. (1) It is evident that he who wins this greatness does not win it at the expense of others. (2) It follows, further, that we may win this greatness anywhere. (3) It follows, thirdly, that this greatness is satisfying to its possessor.
II. The text has something to say to us, in the next place, about the model of true greatness. "Even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." In one point of view the greatness of God is that of service. All things depend on Him. He holds the planets in their orbits. He rules the changing year. The highest of all is the servant of all. But striking as the nobleness and the divinity of service appear, when we look thus at the universal ministry of God, we have a more impressive illustration of the same thing in the mission and work of the Lord Jesus. In creation and providence God lays nothing aside. But in redemption it was different. To deliver man from the guilt and power of sin it was needed that the Son of God should become a man, and, after a life of obedience, should submit to a death of shame; and there was sacrifice. When that was done Jehovah rendered the highest service to humanity and gave a pattern of the loftiest greatness.
III. This text has something to say to us about the motive to true greatness. We are to seek it for the sake of Him who gave Himself for us. Jesus does not say in so many words, "Serve one another, because I have served you;" but still the reference which He makes to His death, as an example, brings before every Christian's mind the magnitude of the obligation under which Christ has laid him.
W. M. Taylor, Contrary Winds and Other Sermons, p. 215:
I. The answer of our Lord is entirely at variance with the law of the children of this world. Greatness in this world is universally sought by exalting a man's self; more wealth, more power, more esteem among men, a grander display and more profuse luxuries these are landmarks in the world's path to greatness. And no wonder, for the world is naturally selfish, and all its practice, however varnished over by civilization and religion, is but refined selfishness still. It is not only unwittingly that the world acts counter to our Saviour's rule, but deliberately and habitually.
II. "Even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister," etc. This example is of immense importance. If it had not existed, it might have been said, The rule is metaphorical, to be understood figuratively; it means that a humble spirit is the way to advancement in Christ's kingdom, not that any outward conduct showing humiliation is required. Jesus Christ would be chief among us, and He became our servant. Ye who are ambitious look upon Him, He recognises your upward impulse. It is a noble endeavour, to rise. Eminence is a legitimate object; "forward," a watchword worthy of the Christian soldier. But let it be well understood what this eminence is; towards what this forward endeavour is to be directed. The Saviour of sinners is your pattern. Like that Saviour become a servant.
III. Let it be with each of us a subject of serious inquiry whether our religion will stand this test; whether we are making ourselves the servants of others for their good, after the pattern of Christ, or are spending our labours in self-advancement. To become the servants of all, for their temporal and spiritual welfare, may be accounted worldly folly, but it will be heavenly wisdom. And when the world has passed away and man's final state arrives, our object will not have passed, but will then be first gained: to reach Him after whom we have been striving, to awake up after His long-sought likeness, and be satisfied.
H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. i., p. 51.
The Meekness of God.
Here is a text that speaks home at once and with ease. It runs on our levels; it speaks in a language understood of all.
I. Everyone knows the arrogance and the insolence of the kings of the Gentiles who exercise lordship over their fellows. And it is in delightful and enticing contrast to this that we turn to greet, with heart and soul, the sweet coming of Him, the human-hearted, the tender Master of all loving-kindness, and all patience, and all goodness, and all long-suffering the Son of Man. The Son of Man came to minister. He had seen an opportunity of giving, of helping, and so He came.
II. Of giving what? Himself. His service was to be utterly unstinted. He would go the whole length with it. He saw that we should demand from Him all that He had; that we should use up His very life; that we should never let Him stop, or stay, or rest, while we saw a chance of draining His succouring stores. And yet He came; even His life He would lay down for our profit. He came as the good Giver, as the Shepherd who giveth His life for the sheep.
III. And it is this, His character, which draws us under the sway of His gracious lordship. This is the allurement of Christ, by which His sheep are drawn after His feet; how can they resist the call of One who serves them so loyally? Every sound of His voice has in it the ring of that true-hearted devotion which would lay down life itself to save them from harm. And yet it is just this winning charm of which we miss often the true force. For do we not associate it entirely with what we call the humanity of the Lord? But that winning grace has in it the potency of God Himself. It is the manifestation of the Word, the revelation of what God is in Himself. If Jesus, the Man, is tender and meek, then God, the Word, is meek and tender; God, the Word, is sympathetic, and gentle, and humble, and forgiving, and loyal, and loving, and true. It is God, the Word, who cannot restrain Himself for love of us, and comes with overwhelming compassion to seek and save the lost; God, the Eternal Word, who longs to win the heart of publican and sinner. The Son of Man is the Son of God; and, therefore, we know and thank God for it, that it is the blessed nature of the Son Himself, in His eternal substance, which found its true and congenial delight in coming, not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.
H. Scott Holland, Logic and Life, p. 227.
References: Matthew 20:28 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv., No. 181; J. Davies, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 317; W. G. Blaikie, Glimpses of the Inner Life of our Lord, p. 97; G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 42, Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xix., p. 210; A. Scott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvii., p. 339; Three Hundred Outlines on the New Testament, p. 27; W. H. Murray, The Fruits of the Spirit, p. 441.
(with Luke 19:3 ; Mark 2:4 ; Luke 8:45 )
Crowds around Christ. Crowds gathered daily around Jesus Christ. He was thronged, pressed, almost persecuted, by the ever-accumulating multitudes. It is evident that this was not always, if it was ever, an advantage. The crowd was rather hindersome than helpful.
I. What of the crowds around Jesus Christ today? Who are they, and what is their social effect? There is a crowd (1) of nominal followers; (2) of bigots; (3) of controversialists; (4) of ceremonialists.
II. See how difficult it is for a simple-minded and earnest inquirer to find his way to Jesus Christ through such throngs. (1) As a question of mere time, they make it difficult. (2) They distract the inquirer's thoughts. (3) They chill the inquirer's ove.
III. Against this set the glorious fact that there is no crowd, how dense or turbulent soever, through which an earnest inquirer may not find his way. There is a way to the Master seek and thou shalt find; the Master, not the crowd, must redeem and pardon the sons of men.
Parker, City Temple, vol. i., p. 193.
Reference: Matthew 20:31 . W. F. Hook, Sermons on the Miracles, vol. ii., p. 194.
The narrative, of which these words form a part, tends to illustrate in a remarkable manner the nature of true prayer; and to show us His mind respecting it, to whom or through whom all Christian prayer is made.
I. "What will ye that I should do unto you?" The question was asked for a twofold reason. Christ will have the suppliant in prayer aware of the depth and the nature of his own need; and He will have the same suppliant grasp by faith the power and will to grant his prayer which reside in Him to whom he addresses it. To them who never seek Him, or seek Him but little, His power seems but an idea; but to them that seek Him daily, and commune with Him without ceasing in the craving language of the asking heart, His power is a great stream of strength flowing into them secret, but well recognized; calm, but mighty, supplying their empty places and fortifying all the accesses of sin; and His love is the constant watchful tenderness of a Friend who knows the depth of their wants a bright face ever bent over them, full of fatherly pity and of unfathomable wisdom. And in order to this real and definite sense of God's daily power and love in answering prayer, prayer must be a real and definite thing also.
II. If we would pray aright we must live in the constant habit of self-examination. We must also know Him with whom we have to do. We pray to, not a God of the imagination, not a God whose being and attributes we have reasoned out for ourselves, but a manifested God. When the Christian says, "Have mercy on us, miserable sinners," he expresses not only the heavy burden of his own heart in the description of himself, but the reliance of his faith on Him that died for him and is now at the right hand of God in His nature, exalted as a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance and forgiveness of sins. If then we would pray aright, we must know Christ with a personal and appropriating faith. When the Lord says, "What wilt thou that I should do unto thee?" the longing after more of His likeness, the yearnings of our hearts for holiness and love and truth, these will be the eager and ready reply; and no such prayer shall be sent up without fetching down the gracious answer, "According to your faith, so be it done unto you."
H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. ii., p. 146.
References: Matthew 21:1-40.21.9 . J. Vaughan, Children's Sermons, vol. ii., p. 18. Matthew 21:1-40.21.11 . Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., pp. 242, 471.Matthew 21:1-40.21.13 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 287. Matthew 21:1-40.21.16 . Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. iii., p. 90. Matthew 21:1-40.21.17 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 263.
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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Matthew 20". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent