Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, March 5th, 2024
the Third Week of Lent
There are 26 days til Easter!
Partner with StudyLight.org as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries
Matthew 20

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors

Verses 1-16

Matthew 20:1-16

For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard:

The labourers in the vineyard


This story is on the face of it improbable. It is unusual for an employer to give as much remuneration to those who have wrought one hour as to those who have wrought nine or twelve. The householder was a peculiar character, and had his own way of doing things, and did not care how people regarded him. He must be such an one if he is to represent God and His dealing with men. “My thoughts are not your thoughts,” etc. God’s kingdom is not of this world.

2. The act of the householder seems to be unjust. Some think that the late-comers did as-much work in one hour as the others in nine; others that the late-comers were paid with a brass denarius, the others with a silver one, or with a gold one; so they say one heaven for all, yet of varied glory. But if the early workers had a gold denarius they would not have complained. We have to admit the inequality of the treatment; it is explained by the spirit of the workers, of which earthly employers take no thought.

3. The difficulty of finding spiritual analogues for each of the particulars in the parable. The grumbling workers are to be taken as the impersonations of an evil principle that often exists in Christian hearts; they correspond to the elder brother in the parable. There is much of the hireling disposition even in true disciples. Work in this spirit, however great it may seem, is small in the sight of God. The “perfect” and the “chosen” labour for love. The first bargained with the householder; the last trusted to his generosity without question. To those late he was better than they expected. To the hireling He shows Himself a hirer; to the trustful worthy of confidence. The bargainers are filled with dissatisfaction, the confiding ones with joy. The parable teaches a change of place between the first and the last; not unusual. There will be first who shall remain first.

4. This view does not approve late coming into the vineyard. Service is not determined by duration, but by spirit, Motive gives character to work. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

The worth of work determined by the spirituality of its motive

The Church is composed, indeed, of those who have confessed Christ; but it is a society, existing for certain purposes, and, as such, it has its machinery for the carrying out of these purposes, like any other society that has been formed in the world. Now, the keeping of any part of that machinery in motion is in itself no more a spiritual work than the carrying-on of any other machinery; and if it is not done with a spiritual motive, then, even though it be done for the Church, it is not spiritual work such as God can value and reward. Thus, in a missionary society, the great object is spiritual; but it has to be sustained and carried on like any other business society; its books have to be kept like those of any commercial firm, and he who keeps them is not in that doing a spiritual work, any more than a bookkeeper in a mercantile house is doing a spiritual work. The mercantile bookkeeper may make his work spiritual by doing it as unto the Lord; but the missionary bookkeeper will make his secular if he does it simply for his wages, and as work. So, again, in the office of the ministry, there is much in common with ordinal” departments of life. It gratifies literary tastes; it affords opportunities for study; it has associated with it a certain honour and esteem in the eyes of others; it furnishes occasions for the thrill that every real orator feels in the delivery of a message to his fellow-men, and the like. Now, if a man is in the ministry simply for these kinds of enjoyment, there is no more spirituality in his work, than there is in that of the litterateur, or the political orator. Theirs may be spiritual, indeed, if they are doing it out of love to God; but his must be merely secular if he does it only from such motives as have place in ordinary literature or eloquence. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

God Himself the best reward

Beautiful exceedingly in this connection is the story-mythical, no doubt, in form, but probably true in substance-that is told concerning Thomas Aquinas. Worshipping one day in the chapel in which he was accustomed to perform his devotions, it is said that the Saviour thus addressed him: “Thomas, thou hast written much and well concerning Me. What reward shall I give thee for thy work? “ Whereupon he answered, “Nihil misi te, Domine,”-“Nothing but Thyself, O Lord!” And in very deed He is Himself the best of all His gifts. He is Himself the “ exceeding great reward “ of all His people. Let the spirit of the angelic Doctor, as enshrined in this simple story, fill our hearts, and there will be no room within us for the hireling’s selfishness. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Christian condition and Christian character

The eleventh-hour workmen are made to feel that envy is worse than idleness. One exposition is that this parable refers to complete Christians, the reckoning at nightfall being taken for entrance into the bliss of heaven. Such would not be serious complainers; would not be sent away with humiliating rebuke; they would not regard eternal life as a compensation for work done. Some say that its design is to show that the judgment of Christian character does not depend on the length of service, but on its energy and spirit. This inadmissible; nothing is said of the one-hour servants working with more energy or a better spirit. Some imagine that our Lord teaches here that all souls in heaven will be equally rewarded. Inadmissible; though every labourer take his penny, some take it grudgingly and others cheerfully, some with envy and others with charity. Some among the ancient Fathers suggest that Christ alluded by the several hours of the working day, to the great periods in the world’s religious progress. Adam, Noah, Moses, and the Prophets endured the burden and heat of the world’s great day. No exclusive application to the Jews; Adam, Noah, etc., were not murmurers at the end; their earthly service did not last to the gathering of the nations about the cross. Again it has been said that these hours of the day stand for the different stages in men’s lives when they make answer to the call of God. This fails as regards the judgment, when last converts serving one hour will not enjoy equal reward with life-long Christians. The word “Christian” is used in two senses. This is a “Christian” land:

1. This is the Christianity of condition It is the visible Christian estate or kingdom that Christ has set up on the earth; it is a state of salvation. The heathen are outside this.

2. There is the Christianity of character; not of provision, but of possession. We get it by the channel of a living faith. Thus “ many are called, few are chosen.” “Give all diligence to make your calling and election sure.” The call of Christ is impartial. The night-fall is not death or judgment; but simply the end of one period of labour, of one test of character-the one ultimate reckoning lying still far in the future. The early and late workers have alike the promised penny, the common and open privilege of the gospel and Church. But have you turned the Christianity of condition and privilege into the personal Christianity of choice and character? The length of time you have been in the Church is now of little consequence; all that is over. Are you Christ’s men? What are your feelings toward the brother-souls that live and work near you? The parable strikes a blow at the notion that any works of ours are profitable, to t rod, or even to our salvation. The quality, not the performance, is the accepted thing, the heart of faith and love, not any self-complacent operations. (Bishop Huntington.)

Septuagesima Sunday

Grace, in its movements toward man.

1. There is the constitution of a vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-7).

2. Having constituted a vineyard, the next movement of Divine grace is to call and engage men as labourers in it.

3. Divine grace purposes to make active servants and labourers of men. Toil does not save men without effort; a variety of work.

4. Nor is it a bootless service to which grace calls men. The householder has wages for every labourer. Godliness is profitable (1 Timothy 4:8).

Thy conduct of men towards it. All were idlers at the commencement; man has endowments for work which ought to be employed. Some prefer idleness and continue in it. Many have entered the vineyard, but are not all satisfactory labourers. Some however are good and faithful servants.

1. Let us learn to admire the glorious beneficence of God.

2. There is something for us to do.

3. Let us move forward and see how it will be with us when the bustle of this world is over, and the Lord of the vineyard sends His steward to settle up our earthly accounts. (J. A. Seiss, D. D.)

Diversity of reward imaged in nature

I suppose we have all noticed the curious diversity of the seeds we sow in the spring. There are some that shoot out and grow up days before the others from the same paper, sown in the same bed, and that seemed exactly like the rest. It is so with a number of fruit trees in a young orchard. Each tree may get an equal care, and appear to have the same natural advantages, but one will spring out into an early fruitfulness, while another holds back, summer after summer, and perhaps, only when the husbandman begins to despair of its ever doing any good, it bears fruit. (R. Collyer.)

The labourers in the vineyard

May we not then draw from this parable the lesson, that God takes into account not only the work we do, but also our opportunities. He does not allow us to be discredited with Him for not doing what we could not do, if only we show the disposition to do it. (A M. Ludlow, D. D.)

Similarity of reward not equality

So, then, we do the work without any reference to the reward. You who came to Christ full fifty years ago will have your penny-as well the dying thief that had to bring yesternight only one foot out of hell. Will you, then, be placed on equal terms? It never can be so. Can a man of fine capacity and mind go along any road and have as the result of his walking only that which the common clodhopper has, who “ thought the moon no bigger than his father’s shield, and the visual line that girt him round the world’s extreme? “ Have they both equal enjoyment out of the same circumstances? It is impossible. The walk to the philosopher is a walk in church, a climbing up the altar stairs. He sees angels, he hears voices, he is touched by reverences, he is in the presence and sanctuary of God. Yet the road the same, the day the same-the road through a garden, the day the queenliest in all the summer train, yet in that walk one man found Heaven, the other only a convenient road to a place to sleep in. (Dr. Parker.)

The vineyard labourers

Idling. Men who needed work. Whom work and its rewards would benefit. Waiting according to custom to be hired. Important to be where the call of the Master may meet us. There are many idlers in the world.

Calling. God calls men to work for Him in His vineyard. Some in early life-Josiah, etc. He continues to call up to the eleventh hour. This call He sends in various ways. He confers a great honour by calling. The honour of working for Him is a sufficient reward. Very sinful to refuse to obey (Proverbs 1:24). There will be a last call-we know not how soon-may be now.

Working. He calls to work.

1. For ourselves. To secure and work out our salvation. Follow after holiness, etc.

2. For others. We must do good, as well as get good. This work brings comfort to the worker.

Paying. God will be no man’s debtor. He will give what He has promised, More than we deserve, more than the most sanguine expect. Learn-

1. All living without working for God, is but idling.

2. Now that God calls us to work, let us not refuse.

3. Our best works will not deserve heaven.

4. We all need the work of Divine grace in our souls. (J C. Gray.)

God’s sovereign grace

Certainly it is sovereign grace alone which leads the Lord God to engage such sorry labourers as we are. Let us inquire-

How may the Lord be said to go out?

1. The impulse of grace comes, before we think of stirring to go to Him.

2. In times of revival, He goes forth by the power of His Spirit, and many are brought in.

3. There are times of personal visitation with most men, when they are specially moved to holy things.

What is the hour here mentioned? It represents the period between twenty-five and thirty-five years of age, or thereabouts.

1. The dew of youth’s earliest and best morning hour is gone.

2. Habits of idleness have been formed by standing in the marketplace so long. Harder to begin at third hour than first. Loiterers are usually spoiled by their loafing ways.

3. Satan is ready with temptation to lure them to his service.

4. Their sun may go down suddenly, for life is uncertain. Many a day of life has closed at its third hour.

5. Fair opportunity for work yet remains; but it will speedily pass away as the hours steal round.

6. As yet the noblest of all work has not been commenced; for only by working for Christ can life be made sublime.

What were they doing to whom he spoke? Standing idle.

1. Many are altogether idling in a literal sense; mere loafers with nothing to do.

2. Many are idle with laborious business-industrious triflers, wearied with toils which accomplish nothing of real worth.

3. Many are idle because of constant indecision.

4. Many are idle though full of sanguine intentions.

What work would the Lord have them do? He would have them work by day in His vineyard.

1. The work is such as many of the best of men enjoy.

2. The work is proper and fit for you.

3. For that work the Lord will find you tools and strength.

4. You shall work with your Lord, and so be ennobled.

5. Your work shall be growingly pleasant to you

6. It shall be graciously rewarded at the last.

What did they do in answer to his call? “Went their way.” May you, who are in a similar time of the day, imitate them!

1. They went at once. Immediate service.

2. They worked with a will.

3. They never left the service, but remained till night.

4. They received the full reward at the day’s end. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Slothfulness condemned

A work supposed.

(1) Its object one of supreme importance;

(2) Proposed by highest authority;

(3) Requires long, steady, earnest application;

(4) Certain of ultimate success.

A state condemned-idleness.

(1) By limited time-a day;

(2) By analogy of worldly employments;

(3) By certainty of future reckoning.

A question urged: Why?

(1) Aversion to work;

(2) Indifference;

(3) Indecision;

(4) Procrastination. (J. C. Gray.)

The world a market-place

The ordinary walks of life are as a market-place to men whose highest aim is to buy and sell and get gain.

Outside this market-place is a vineyard, which the great Owner of the world and Proprietor of human life would have cultivated.

All hiring, and looking out for hire, is but a profitless idling till the Master calls to a higher work.

Call a man to labour when He will, He will give what He pleases of His own at the end of life’s day. (J. C. Gray.)


Idleness rebuked.

Service required.

Toil rewarded.

Discontent manifested.

Murmuring silenced.

Administration vindicated. (M. Braithwaite.)

There is a householder who has a vineyard. The householder-Jesus. The vineyard is the Church.

The householder calls labourers into his vineyard at different hours in the day.

In the evening the labourers are called to receive their reward.

The early labourers murmur against the householder.

The householder defends his conduct; and expostulates with the murmurers.

The parable concludes with an awful inference to the Jewish nation. (J. Edmonson.)

Work and wages

The Church of God is brought before us as a place of work. By no means the ordinary idea. Members, not workers.

There is much work to be done, and many kinds of work, and, therefore, that there is room and need for many workers of many kinds.

That no work shall be left without wages.

That the wages are not proportioned to the work. (Anon.)

Called to work.

1. Who calls?

2. Who are called?

3. When called?

Humility in work. Shown in obedience, hearty service, thankful spirit.

Reward for work. To the first. To the last. (G. M. Taft.)

The labourers in the vineyard

Our attention is called to an examination of the parable.

1. God hires labourers into his vineyard.

2. At different periods has God made Himself known to the children of men.

3. They labour until the evening arrives.

Enforce the truths which considered as a whole this parable was intended to teach.

1. That the rewards of Christianity being rewards of grace, and not of works, are regulated only by the beneficent will of Him who is debtor to no man; and that such conduct is consistent with strict equity.

2. To expose the hypocrisy of some professors of religion, and remind us of the frailty which attaches even to those whose sincerity cannot be doubted.

3. To remind us of the real dignity of the work, independently of the reward annexed to it.

4. To warn us of the period to our exertions, and the hour of final reckoning-

(1) Payment;

(2) Disappointment;

(3) Gladness.

5. To instruct us in the temper of real Christianity. (J. Styles, D. D.)

Love makes labour light

Two young girls were going to a neighbouring town, each carrying on her head a heavy basket of fruit to sell. One of them was murmuring and fretting all the way, and complaining of the weight of her basket. The other went along smiling and singing, and seeming to be very happy. At last the first got out of patience with her companion, and said, “How can you go on so merry and joyful? your basket is-as heavy as mine, and I know you are not a bit stronger than I am. I don’t understand it.” “Oh,” said the other, “it’s easy enough to understand. I have a certain little plant which I put on the top of my load, and it makes it so light I hardly feel it.” “Indeed! that must be a very precious little plant. I wish I could lighten my load with it. Where does it grow? Tell me. What do you call it?” “It grows wherever you plant it, and give it a chance to take root, and there’s no knowing the relief it gives. Its name is, love, the love of Jesus. I have found out that Jesus loved me so much that He died to save my soul. This makes me love Him. Whatever I do, whether it be carrying this basket or anything else, I think to myself, I am doing this for Jesus, to show that I love Him, and this makes everything easy and pleasant.” (Bible Jewels.)

Disadvantage of Envy

The benevolent have the advantage of the envious, even in this present life; for the envious is tormented not only by all the ill that befalls himself, but by all the good that happens to another; whereas the benevolent man is the better prepared to bear his own calamities unruffled, from the complacency and serenity he has secured from contemplating the prosperity of all around him. (Colton.)

Hired late in the day

By these labourers that were hired long after the morning, we are to understand men in whom nothing appeared that should dispose any person to have a favourable opinion of them, or who were at least destitute of anything truly good, whilst others made a figure in the Church.

Speak of old sinners that need conversion.

1. There are some who have never thought seriously about the state of their souls; or their serious thoughts, if ever any obtained possession of their minds, have left no impression.

2. There are some who entertain a groundless opinion of the goodness of their state.

3. There are some who live in suspense about their condition.

4. There are some too well enlightened to flatter themselves with groundless hopes.

Show that old sinners may be converted.

1. God deals with them, by the gospel, as well as with sinners who are yet in the days of their youth.

2. The long-suffering of the Lord is salvation to sinners. God spares long, to give space for obtaining pardon and salvation.

3. From the grace of God bestowed upon transgressors in former days, it appears, that there is mercy with him for old transgressors.

Consider the encouragement given to old sinners to repent. The gracious reward promised to those who enter into the vineyard at the eleventh hour, must have a powerful effect upon all who believe the promises of our Lord Jesus Christ. (George Lawson,)

The festive evening time

The reward which the Lord will ultimately grant to His servants.

It is not arbitrary, but in accordance with the strictest justice.

1. He rewards only His labourers.

2. He rewards all His labourers.

3. He gives the same reward to all His labourers as such. The equality of the penny a figure of the equality of God’s justice.

It is not limited, but free and rich, according to the fulness of His love.

It is not a mysterious and silent fate, but the ways of wisdom, which justify themselves. (J. P. Lange, D. D.)

God a good paymaster

Consider His payments.

An easy conscience.

The comfort we have in doing something for Jesus.

The reward in watching first buddings of conviction in a soul.

The joy of success.

The final entrance into the joy of our Lord. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Hiring labourers in the East

The most conspicuous building in Hamadan is the Mesjid Jumah, a large mosque, now falling into decay, and before it a meidan, or square, which serves as a market-place. Here we observed, every morning before the sun rose, that a numerous body of peasants were collected with spades in their hands, waiting, as they informed me, to be hired for the day to work in the surrounding fields. This custom forcibly struck us as a most happy illustration of our Saviour’s parable of the labourers in the vineyard; particularly when, passing by the same place late in the day, we still found others standing idle, and remembered His words, “Why stand ye here all the day idle?” as most applicable to their situation; for in putting the very same question to them, they answered us, “Because no man hath hired us.” (Mr. Morier.)

Daring the whole season when vineyards may be dug, the common workmen to very early in the morning to the Sock, or market-place of the village or city, where comestibles are sold. While waiting to be hired, they take their morning cup of coffee, and eat a morsel of bread. The owners of vineyards come to the place and engage the number of labourers they need. These immediately go to the vineyard and work there until a little while before the sun sets, which, according to Oriental time, is twelve o’clock, so that the “ eleventh hour” means one hour before sunset. We have often seen men stand in the market-place through the entire day without finding employment, and have repeatedly engaged them ourselves at noon for half a day’s job, and later for one or two hours’ work in our garden. In such a case the price has to be particularly bargained for, but it is more often left to the generosity of the employer to give whatever backshish he feels disposed. (Van Lennep.)

God’s bounty to those who trust

He promises not to us, as to those first labourers, a certain hire. Even while He would wholly restore us in His mercy, He would keep in us the humility of penitents. He seemeth to tell 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. But so will He give us, not what we could dare to ask or think, but “what is right;” not” right “ with regard to us, or any poor claims or demerits of ours, but right in His sight whose mercy is over all His works, right for Him who doth what He will with His own, Who is not stinted to any measure of proportion, but giving us out of the largeness of His love; not what is “right “ for us, but for Him in whose right we receive what we deserve not, even His, Who gave up that which was His right by nature, and emptied Himself, that, what is His right, we might receive. 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 is infinite, even Himself, Who hath said, “I am thine exceeding great reward.” (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)

God’s persevering activity

See how actively the householder employs himself. His loving heart is so comprehensive that He cannot have enough labourers in His vineyard-not enough souls with which He can, as it wore, share the joy and the glory of the extension of His kingdom. How many a human being who has been troubled at having missed the first appearance of the householder at daybreak, now rejoices at being called into the vineyard before the sun is too high in the heavens. He does not think first of stipulating about his hire; the word of the Lord, “Whatsoever is right, I will give you,” is even more than he requires, and at the sixth hour he joyfully enters into his work in the Lord’s vineyard. It has been painful to him to stand idle; to gaze for half a day upon that which is intended for working, and yet to be unable to work at it. (R. Rothe, D. D.)


If we, with the eye of God, could look down upon the proceedings of this life, how startled we should be at the host of idlers in the midst of the turmoil of life. The Lord sees clearly that which our merely human understanding can also perceive, that there is only one activity upon earth which is really activity, because it produces a real result-activity for the kingdom of God and in His service. Every other effort of human strength, if it has not a decided reference to the kingdom of God, and finds in its source as well as its aim, is only a busy idleness, a sad and mournful unreality, with which the prince of this world detains in its prison those who have fallen into its unhappy slavery. Every other activity which does not build, only destroys, and the more noble the power is which calls it forth, the more destructive is its working, until at last it destroys itself. (R. Rothe, D. D.)

Never too late for God’s grace

An old sailor, who was very ragged, and whose white head spoke the lapse of many years, was leaning against a post in conversation with another sailor. A member of the Bethel Union spoke to them, and particularly invited the old man to attend the prayer-meeting. His companion, after hearing the nature of the invitation, said, “Thomas, go in! Come! come, man! go into the meeting; it won’t hurt you.” “Puh! puh!” cried the old seaman, “I should not know what to do with myself. I never go to church or prayer-meetings; besides, I am too old. I am upwards of seventy, and I am very wicked, and have always been so; it is too late for me to begin, it is of no use; all is over with me, I must go to the devil.” After a moment’s pause, the member, looking with pity upon the old veteran, answered, “You are the very man the prayer-meeting is held for.” “How so?” (with much surprise). “Because Jesus Christ came into the world to save the chief of sinners. When young, I suppose, you were tempted to think it would be time enough to be religious when you came to be old?” “Ah I that I did,” replied the sailor. “Now you are old you say it is too late. Listen no longer to these suggestions; come with me: no time is to be lost, for Jesus is waiting to save you, poor sinner, or He would have sent you to that place where hope never comes, before this; your sins deserve it.” His companion then said, “Thomas, go to the prayer-meeting. You have need, at your time of life, to prepare to die.” He went, and attended regularly, and with the best results. Some time after he was asked, “Well, my aged friend, do you think you are too much in years to be saved? too old in sin for the blood of Christ to cleanse you? No, sir,” said he; “I bless God, I do feel a hope, a blessed hope, which I would not give up for worlds; a hope which encourages me to think that God will be merciful to me, and pardon me, old sinner as I am.”

The grudging spirit

It was now plain that the early-hired labourer had little interest in the work, and that it was no satisfaction to him to have been able to do twelve times as much as the last hired. He had the hireling’s spirit, and had been longing for the shadow and counting his wages all day long. English sailors have been known to be filled with pity for their comrades whose ships only hove in sight in time to see the enemy’s flag run down, or to fire the last shot in a long day’s engagement. They have so pitied them for having no share in the excitement and glory of the day, that they would willingly give them as a compensation their own pay and prize money. And the true follower of Christ, who has listened to the earliest call of his Master, and has revelled in the glory of serving Him throughout life, will from the bottom of his heart pity the man who has only late in life recognized the glory of His service, and has had barely time to pick up his tools when the dusk of evening fails upon him. It is impossible that a man whose chief desire was to advance his Master’s work, should envy another labourer who had done much less than himself. The very fact that a man envies another his reward, is enough of itself to convict him of self-seeking in His service. (M. Dods, D. D.)

Unto this last

The work to which all were called; and in which the first bore the heat, etc.

The reason of the idleness of those who were called at the eleventh hour.

The Lord’s justification of His ways. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)

Mine own

We have here:

The assertion of the absolute proprietorship. Both the whole world and every man belong to God. They are His

(1) by creation;

(2) by providence;

(3) by grace.

A vindication of final decisions based on this absolute right.

A censure pronounced on all criticisms adverse to these decisions. (J. C. Gray.)

The evil eye

1. I have been good in that I hired you at all.

2. Hired you before you had shown what you could do.

3. I now give you all I promised, without criticising your work.

4. In being good to others I do not wrong you.

Learn, if one should say-“Since I shall be no better off in the end than those who began late to work for God, and I may therefore delay,” he should reflect that this hour may be his eleventh. (J. C. Gray.)

Waiting to be called

So, then, when I see a young man slow and backward, and in a poor place, whose soul I know would expand in the sunshine of prosperity and fill a better place: or a woman, waiting with her unfulfilled life in her heart, willing to give it in any high, pure fashion to the Lord, if He will but come and take it; or a preacher, with a mighty power to preach somewhere in his nature, if he could only find the clue to it; or a man who has waited through his lifetime for the Lord to show him the true church, the place where he can feel that the religious heart of him is at rest;-if in these things or in any of them, I feel I have found my place, and am doing my work, I must feel very tenderly, and judge very generously, all the waiters in all these ways; must call up this picture of the faces so wistful in the old market-place, watching for the coming of the Lord: “Who has made me to differ, who has called me at the first hour, why do I succeed where others fail? “ It is the gift of God; it is not of works, lest any man should boast. It is the difference between the seed the husbandman, for his own good reason, will leave dark and still in the granary, and the seed he sows which can spring at once to the sun and the sweet airs of the summer. It is the difference in the home, in our conduct towards our children, when we know it is best to let one go forward in the school and keep another backward. (R. Collyer.)

The call of nations

This is true, finally of our country. England and Germany begin in the early morning, and in the wild woods of Britain and Gaul, to earn their penny; and it is their lot for long centuries to toil, winning, as they can, this and that from the wilderness,-trial by jury, Magna Charta, free speech, free press, free pulpit,-and when many hours are past, and much hard work is done, a voice comes to a new nation, and tells of a new world, and says, “Go work there;” and when the old world looks up, the new is abreast of those nations that have borne the burden and heat of the day, and will have its penny. And in this new world itself, there are men living here in Chicago, who can remember very well when our great prairies lifted their faces wistfully to the sun, and cried, “No man hath hired us; “ when our streets, now so full of life, sounded only to the voice of the mighty waters and the cry of the savage. Now the whole civilized world has to come and see what has been done. Not many years more will pass, we who live here believe, before this new worker will be abreast of the oldest, and will win her penny. (R. Collyer.)

Reward given during work as well as after it is done

I think the most heart-whole man I ever knew, was a man who had waited and watched, breaking stones through all weathers on the cold shoulder of a Yorkshire hill, and he could hardly see the stones he had to break he was so sand blind. His wife was dead and all his children; his hut was open to the sky, and to the steel-cold stars in winter; but when once one said to comfort him, “Brother, you will soon be in heaven!” he cried out in his rapture, “I have been there this ten years!” And so when at last the angel came to take him, he was not unclothed, but clothed upon; mortality was swallowed up of life. (R. Collyer.)

Disinterested service

Christ nowhere offers us heaven as a price for good behaviour, as foolish parents, or rather wicked parents, lure their children to obey with sweetmeats and toys. It is in no such sense as this that He engages to be a Rewarder of them that seek Him. The very passage just quoted discredits such a thought; for it says, “If ye love them that love you, what reward have ye?” There must be spontaneous service. The heart must go into it, uncalculating and ungrudging. You must love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, and bless them that curse you, and lend, hoping for nothing again. Then you will be the children of the Highest; and, precisely because you expected no reward at all, verily your reward shall be great. There is a striking legend of saintly old Bishop Ivo, who walked with God, and saw through the self-seeking religionists of his time, and longed for larger faith. He describes himself as meeting one day, a figure in the form of a woman, of a sad, earnest aspect, like some prophetess of God, who carried a vessel of fire in one hand, and of water in the other. He asked her what these things were for. She answered, the tire is to burn up Paradise, the water is to quench Hell-that men may henceforth serve their Maker, not from the selfish hope of the one, nor from the selfish fear of the other, but for love of Himself alone. God does not consume paradise, nor quench hell. He keeps the fountains of sweet and living waters leaping and flowing in the one; He keeps the awful fires of the other burning. But surely all this promise and penalty do not mean that we are to stop in their discipline, and calculate the price of our obedience. Oh, no! not while the glorious voice of the apostle rings out over the centuries: “The love of Christ constraineth me; I count all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Him.” Not while the Saviour says to the aspiring heart of the world, “Be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect;” hoping for nothing again. (Bishop Huntingdon.)

The thought of reward does not enter into the higher aspects of service

The reward is in doing them; in the inevitable feeling that goes along with them, far enough from being set about as the end, but interwoven with them by the gracious bounty that ever surprises faithful souls. With all these true acts and emotions of the really spiritually minded man, it is precisely as it is with any of those acts of common life that the heart goes most into. You cannot speak of any rewards for the love that is the bond of a true marriage, without insulting those to whom you speak. You cannot connect the notion of compensation, pay, with the affection that twines a child’s arms about the mother’s neck, or that keeps her waiting in vigils that outwatch the patient stars, over the child’s pain or sin, without profaning that affection. You cannot associate the prospect of a reward with the heroic humanity which keeps the friendly vessels hanging close, many days and nights, in the frightful companionship of a common peril, to take off the passengers of the imperilled and sinking ship; nor with any generous and brave rescue or sacrifice. Now, to any spiritual estimate, the services of daily piety are as full of the charm and fascination and glory of self-forgetting devotion as any of these. Christ is nearer than wife or husband. The Father in heaven is more real, and infinitely holier and tenderer, than the human mother. All fellow-souls in moral misery or sin need help more urgently than the shipwrecked company. And so, if our piety is real, like Christ’s piety, it must be just as self-oblivious, as hearty, as spontaneous and free, as that. And then it will leave a more unspeakable, glorious, infinite reward. (Bishop Huntingdon.)

Cheerfulness in work

“Are you not wearying for the heavenly rest?” said Whitefield to an old minister. “No, certainly not:” he replied. “Why not?” was the surprised rejoinder. “Why, my good brother,” said the aged saint, “if you were to send your servant into the fields to do a certain portion of work for you, and promised to give him rest and refreshment in the evening, what would you say if you found him languid and discontented in the middle of the day, and murmuring, ‘Would to God it were evening’? Would you not bid him be up and doing, and finish his work, and then go home and enjoy the promised rest? Just so does God require of you and me, that, instead of looking for Saturday night, we do our day’s work in the day.” The eleventh, hour:-

The time mentioned may represent an advanced period of human life.

Men are to be found in this period, inattentive to the concerns of true religion.

They who are found inattentive in this period, are involved in peculiar perils. Hardness of heart, etc.

Divine grace sometimes displays itself, by making this period to be one of true and saving conversion. (J. Parsons.)

Conversion postponed to old age

Many men put off their conversion, and at twenty send religion afore them to thirty; then post it off to forty, and yet not pleased to overtake it, they promise it entertainment at threescore. At last death comes, and he allows not one hour. In youth men resolve to afford themselves the time of age to serve God: in age they shuffle it off to sickness; when sickness comes, care to dispose their goods, lothness to die, hope to escape, martyrs that good thought, and their resolution still keeps before them. If we have but the lease of a farm for one-and-twenty years, we make use of the time, and gather profit. But in this precious farm of time we are so bad husbands that our lease comes out before we are one pennyworth of grace the richer by it. (T. Adams.)

Verse 6

Matthew 20:6

Why stand ye here all the day idle?

Spiritual idleness

The evil censured. Spiritual idleness. Often accompanied with great secular activity, and a flaming profession. Consists in neglect-of life’s mission; the souls salvation and sanctification (Philippians 2:12-13); works for the spiritual benefit of others seeking in order to save them that are lost (1 Corinthians 10:24). This neglect is highly criminal.

1. As injurious to one’s self. Deteriorates the moral nature.

2. As injurious to others.

3. As disobedience to the Divine summons, “Go work,” etc. Christ came to do the Father’s will, and summons us to follow Him.

The continuance and aggravation of the evil. “All the day idle,” etc. Youth, manhood, age. The reproach increases with the passing months and years.

1. When so much work for yourself and others ought to have been done.

2. When others have been so long labouring.

3. When there has been so much time and opportunity-“eleventh hour”-“market place.”

4. When the working day is drawing to a dose.

The excuses offered for the evil. “Why stand ye?” asks the Master, and what are the usual replies?-

1. We have not been invited by the minister, etc. Don’t wait for such invitations-offer)-our services-“I must work,” etc.

2. We lack the necessary qualifications, etc.

3. We lack opportunity, etc.

4. We give money, etc. This will not be accepted by the Master as a substitute for personal service. You cannot do this work by proxy. Work for Christ is personal, and cannot be delegated to others, etc.

The motives go abandon the evil.

1. The urgency of the work.

2. The activity of Satan and his emissaries.

3. The honour and pleasure of active service. Work in which the Son of Man was employed when on earth. No less happy than honourable.

4. The assurance of Divine help. May be difficulties you fear to meet, but God will strengthen and direct, etc.

5. The brevity of life’s golden opportunity. Difficulty increases with delay. You will get accustomed to idleness and it will become chronic. Whether early or late in the day, begin Now.

6. The promise of reward. Present; future-in and for. “Whatsoever is right that shall ye receive.” “They that turn,” etc. (Alfred Tucker.)

Standing idle

The text contains-

An implication-That there is work to be done.

1. Knowledge to acquire-of God, self, etc.

2. Blessing, to secure. Pardon, etc.

3. Duties to discharge. Notwithstanding, many are idle.

An expostulation. Why stand ye who are active, rational, responsible, rewardable creatures? Why stand ye here idle? Here on a theatre of action. In this the day of your probation. In this state of uncertainty. Why stand ye? Standing not working.

An inquiry? “Why?” Some are idle because they have no work. Some do not like the master. Some do not love the work. Some imagine themselves unable to work. Some do not like the wages. Some no man hath hired. Does not the Bible, memory, and conscience supply instances in which He would have hired you, but you were unwilling to have your old Master and desert His work, etc. (W. Atherton.)

Idleness deteriorates the moral nature

Here lies what was once a bar of iron, but the joint action of air and water has reduced it to a bar of rust. It has now no strength, and consequently no value. To how many varied and useful purposes it might have been put some years ago and in its work have found its strength, beauty, and preservation; but it is too late now; it will soon be blended with the earth upon which it passively lies, a striking emblem of the man who through sloth and love of ease refuses to face the hammer and anvil of active life and honest work; who flies from the purifying tire of life’s adversities, and who will fight no battle for truth and the higher interests of his soul. (Anon.)

Lazy Christians

A lazy Christian shall always want four things, viz., comfort, content, confidence, and assurance. God hath made separation between joy and idleness, between assurance and laziness, and therefore it is impossible for thee to bring these together. (T. Brooks.)

A busy man is troubled but with one devil, but the idle man with a thousand. (Anon.)

Idleness a sin

Idleness is a sin, for it involves disobedience to Christ’s command, “Go into My vineyard and work.” It is a sin, for it shows an utter want of sympathy with the Master, “who went about doing good,” and who expected His followers “to do good to all as they have opportunity.” It is a sin, for it indicates a selfish love of ease; and a Divine woe is pronounced on all who are at “ease in Zion.” It is a sin, for it reveals a callous heart, insensible to the woes of a lost world. Every idler in the church is a sinner, for to him that “knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” Alas! how many sinners are found in Zion, and what must be their doom when the Master cometh to judge the unfaithful servants who have hid their talent in place of using it! (W. Durant.)

Busy about nothing

The bee and the butterfly are both busy creatures; there is an activity that ends in nothing; there are lives that store no honey,

Working and rusting

Two ploughshares were once made by the same blacksmith, in the same smithy, from the same kind of iron, and they were bought by the same farmer. He took them home; one he took into instant employment, but he left the other unemployed for twelve months in a barn, till the poor thing got covered with rust: at last the farmer had occasion for another ploughshare, so he drew it forth from its laziness and obscurity, and sent it into the field, where it met its old fellowploughshare. “Why,” said the lazy one, “what has kept you so bright? I declare I am quite ashamed to be seen.” “Ah!” said the bright ploughshare, “it is labour and exercise that has kept me bright. Your rest and idleness has been injurious to you; but when you have been driven a few times through the earth, you will lose your rust and become beautiful and bright too.” (Blind Amos.)

Busy idleness

There is such a thing as laborious idleness. Busy? So was the shepherd on the Alps, mentioned by Dugald Stewart, who spent fifteen years of life learning to balance a pole on his chin: and the philosopher sagely remarks how much good, had they been directed to a noble object, this diligence and perseverance would have accomplished. Busy’: So have I seen the miller’s wheel, which went round and round: but idly, grinding no corn. Busy? So, in a way, was the Russian who, facing the winter’s cold, nor regarding the cost of massive slabs brought at great labour from frozen lake and river, built him an icy palace, within whose glittering, translucent wails, wrapped in furs and shining in jewels, rank and beauty held their revelry.’, and the bowl and the laugh and the song went round. But width soft breath, and other music, and opening buds, spring returned; and then before the eves that had gazed with wonder on the crystal walls of that fairy palace as they gleamed by night with a thousand lights, or flashed with the radiance of gems in the bright sunshine, it dissolved, nor left “a rack behind;” its pleasures, “vanity;” its expense, “vexation of spirit.” Busy? be, in a way, are the children who, when the tide is at the ebb, with merry laughter and rosy cheeks and nimble hands build a castle of the moist sea sand-the thoughtless urchins, types of lovers of pleasure and of the world so intent on their work as not to see how the treacherous, silent tide has crept around them, not merely to sap and undermine, and with one rude blow of her billow demolish the work of their hands, but to cut off their retreat to the distant shore, and drown their frantic screams and cries for help in the roar of its remorseless waves. From a death-bed, where all he toiled and sinned and sorrowed for is slipping from his grasp, fading from his view, such will his life seem to the busiest worldling; he spends his strength for naught, and his labour for that which profiteth not. With an eye that pities because it foresees our miserable doom, God calls us from such busy trifling, from a life of laborious idleness, to a service which is as pleasant as it is profitable, as graceful as it is dutiful, saying, Work out your salvation-Work while it is called to-day, seeing that the night cometh when no man can work. (Dr. Guthrie.)

Standings idle

Have you never thought with extreme sadness of the many men and women upon our earth whose lives are useless? Have you never reflected upon the millions of people who waste in nothingness their thoughts, affections, energies, all their powers, which frivolity dissipates as the sand of the desert absorbs the water which is sent upon it from the sky? These beings pass onward, without even asking themselves toward what end they journey, or for what reason they were placed here below. (Eugene Bersier.)

Activity out of Christ vain

All activity out of Christ, all labour that is not labour in His Church, is in His sight a “standing idle.” (Archbishop Trench.)

Proverbs on idleness

Evil thoughts intrude in an unemployed mind as naturally as worms are generated in a stagnant pool. No pains, no gains. No sweat, no sweet. No mill, no meal. An idle brain is the devil’s workshop. He that would eat the kernel, must crack the nut.

Idleness unprofitable

It would be thought a hard government that should tax its people one-tenth part of their time, to be employed in its service; but idleness taxes many of us much more. Sloth, by bringing on disease, absolutely shortens life. Sloth, like rust, consumes faster than labour wears: while the used key is always bright. How much more time than is necessary do we spend in sleep, forgetting that the sleeping fox catches no poultry, and there will be sleeping enough in the grave! (Franklin.)

Work for all in God’s vineyard

A good minister, now in heaven, once preached to iris congregation a powerful sermon founded upon the words, “Why stand ye here all the day idle?” The sermon did good to many, among whom was a lady who went to the minister the next day, and said, “Doctor, I want a spade.” We should be happy to put spades into the hands of all our idle friends. There are Sunday-school spades. Mission-room spades, Tract-distribution spades, Sick-visitation spades, etc.. etc. Who will apply for them?


Idleness was one of the sins of Sodom, and it is often the forerunner of temporal and eternal ruin. No evil is more common, though none is more dangerous.

To whom the charge of idleness is applicable.

1. It will in a certain sense apply to all unconverted men, who with respect to the highest interests of life, may be said to be always idle.

a. They are content to do nothing at all for God; nothing that He approves, nothing that He will accept,
b. They do nothing for their own souls, any more than for the glory of God.
c. They do nothing for their generation, according to the will of God.
d. They do nothing to any good purpose, or that will turn to account another day.

2. It will apply in too many instances, even to Christians themselves, of whom there are but few who can be applauded for their diligence and fidelity.

Point out the inexcusableness of such conduct.

1. The talents committed to our trust require to be occupied and must be finally accounted for.

2. The want of a capacity to labour in the Lord’s vineyard cannot be pleaded with success.

3. We are placed in a situation where our services are expected and required.

4. We have lost too much time already. (B. Beddome.)

Labourers not loiterers

Jacob saw the angels, some ascending, others descending, but none standing still. God hath made Behemoth to play in the water, not so men; they must be doing, that will keep in with God. (John Trapp.)

The inexcusable idleness

Why? The vineyard is so spacious.

The reward is so liberal.

The Master is so kind.

The hour of working is so short. (J. T. Van Osberzee, D. D.)

Satan’s work and wages

While the Lord of heaven is employing various means and instruments to engage labourers into His vineyard, Satan is going through the earth, with the pleasures of sin in one hand, and the allurements of the world in the other, to engage poor deluded souls into his thorny wilderness. Would you startle if we could now summon forward the Prince of Hell, and say, “Well, Devil, and what wilt thou give?” Listen. Hear that hoarse murmur from the pit: “I will find them work that they love. It shall please their senses, gratify their appetites, indulge their passions, and delight their grossly carnal hearts. Every one shall find the pleasure for which he lusts, his own besetting sin; the swine shall have husks and mire.” “And what more? I will exempt them from the persecutions of religion, the contempt of the world, the reproach of the cross of Christ, from the irksome discharge of duty, and the gloomy services of piety.” “Go on. What more?” “I will keep them in the fashion; lind them abundance of associates: for wide is my gate, broad is my way, and many there are that enter therein.” “But what will be their food? The chaff of worldly pleasure and deceitfulness of sin, producing disappointment and dissatisfaction.” “What their drink? … The gall of hitter reflections, tormenting passions, reproaches of reason, and dread anticipations.” “Where do they rest?” “Nowhere. Like a troubled sea, they cannot rest. They lie down in sorrow.” “But what wages, Devil, wilt thou give? … Darkness, outer-darkness, blackness of darkness.” A bad master, hard disgraceful work, and tremendous wages! Why stand ye here all the day idle? Set to work. Have you sinned? now repent. Are you in the world? come out and be separate. Have you time? use it. Powers? employ them. A Bible? read it. A throne of grace? fall down before it. Is there a God? serve Him. A Saviour? believe in him. (W. Atherton.)

Divine sovereignty

Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? We shall divide God’s gifts into five classes:-

Gifts temporal. What a difference in men personally; one is born like Saul, head and shoulders taller than the rest; another like Zaccheus. So in mental gifts; what a difference exists! The differences of men’s conditions in this world. God is ruler and shall He not do as He will with His own. Bless God that thou hast more than others, and thank Him also that He has given thee less than others; for thou hast a higher burden.

Gifts saving.

1. The fallen angels not redeemed.

2. Note, again, God chose the Israelitish race and left the Gentiles for years in darkness.

3. Why is it that God has sent His word to us, while a multitude of people are still without it.

4. Why do some listen to the truth and others not. Salvation is of the Lord alone.

Gifts honourable.

1. One man hath the gift of knowledge, another hath little.

2. Office.

3. Utterance.

Gifts of usefulness.

Gift comfortable. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Verse 16

Matthew 20:16

So the last shall be first, and the first last.

The elect Christians

It is not a question of calling, but of moving from second to first place, or falling back from first to second place. There is a disparity between those who are in the kingdom of heaven. This seen in Bible history. There is a difference between Abraham and Lot. Look at several passages of Scripture. In Exodus 20:4, we read that Pharaoh’s chosen captains were drowned in the Red Sea. This does not mean that they were favoured captains, but that they had distinguished themselves by their bravery (Judges 20:15-16). Of the 26,000 Benjaminites who drew the sword, there were 700 chosen men, left-handed. All the 26,000 men called to be soldiers, but there were 700 men who, in addition to the first calling, were called again as a chosen band, not independent of any fitness in themselves, but because there was fitness in them-they could sling a stone at a hair and not miss. (G. F. Pentecost.)

Nature’s chosen are few

Before we go to the Scriptures let us look at some analogies around us. In the White Mountains there are many peaks, but there is one which towers above the others. It is the choice, the elect peak. There are many organists in the world, but here and there is one who has such mastery over the instrument that all who hear him recognize him as a choice organist. All the others are organists; but here we have the best, the choice players. There are many business-men, but now and then we see one who, by singleness of aim, by untiring devotion to his affairs, rises above all other business-men. He is the chosen one from among all. In the orchard are many apples. Some are full, rounded, beautiful in colour. These are the ones that find their way, by wonderful unanimity, to the top of the barrel at Washington Market; but the gnarled, worm-eaten, sour apple is an apple just as much as the pippin and bellflower. These latter are among apples the chosen ones. I think it will be found eventually that all Christians are the called ones, and that the elect are those who from among Christians are selected for the higher positions in the kingdom of grace. (G. F. Pentecost.)

Order reversed

Sir Thomas Browne, in his “Christian Morals,” bids himself look contentedly upon the scattered differences of things, and not expect equality in lustre, dignity, or perfection, in regions or persons here below, where large numbers must be content to stand like lacteus or nebulous stars, little taken notice of, or dim in their generations. All which, he goes on to say, may be contentedly allowable in the affairs and ends of this world, and in suspension unto what will be in the order of things hereafter, and She new system of mankind which will be in the world to come; when “ the last may be the first, and the first the last; when Lazarus may sit above Caesar, and the just obscure on earth shall shine like the sun in heaven, when personations shall cease, and histrionism of happiness be over; when reality shall rule, and all shall be as they shall be for ever.” Divine is the voice, as divine the strain, which Dante hears and records in “Il Paradiso.”

“But lo! of those
Who call, ‘Christ, Christ,’ there shall be many found,
In judgment, farther off from Him by far,
Than such to whom His name was never known.”

Leslie, the painter, tells of his hearing the preference expressed by Rogers for seats in churches without pews, opposed by a gentleman who preferred pews, and said, “If there were seats only, I might find myself sitting by my coachman.” Rogers replied, “And perhaps you may be glad to find yourself beside him in the next world.” (F. Jacox.)

The reversal of human judgment

Such is the solemn sentence which Scripture has inscribed on the curtain which hangs clown before the judgment seat. The secrets of the tribunal are guarded, and yet a finger points which seems to say, “Beyond, in this direction, behind this veil, things are different from what you will have looked for.” Suppose, that any supernatural judge should appear in the world now, and it is evident that the scene he would create would be one to startle us; we should not soon be used to it; it would look strange; it would shock and appal; and that from no other cause than simply its reductions; that it presented characters stripped bare, denuded of what was irrelevant to goodness, and only with their moral substance left. The judge would take no cognisance of a rich imagination, power of language, poetical gifts, anal the like, in themselves, as parts of goodness, any more than he would of riches and prosperity; and the moral residuum left would appear perhaps a bare result. The first look of Divine justice would strike us as injustice; it would be too pure justice for us; we should be long in reconciling ourselves to it. Justice would appear, like the painter’s gaunt skeleton of emblematic meaning, to be stalking through the world, smiting with attenuation luxuriating forms of virtue. Forms, changed from what we knew, would meet us, strange unaccustomed forms, and we should have to ask them who they were: “You were flourishing but a short while ago, what has happened to you now?” And the answer, if it spoke the truth, would be-“Nothing, except that now, much which lately counted as goodness, counts as such no longer; we are tried by a new moral measure, out of which we issue different men; gifts which have figured as goodness remain as gifts, but cease to be goodness.” Thus would the large sweep made of human canonisations act like blight or volcanic fire upon some rich landscape, converting the luxury of nature into a dried-up scene of bare stems and scorched vegetation. (J. B. Mozeley, D. D.)

Calling and election

Noah preached the coming flood to the old world for a hundred years; but only eight souls were saved thereby. To the cities of the plain, Lot preached; but only three souls were chosen from them. Six hundred thousand men, besides women and children, passed through the Red Sea; but only two entered the promised land. Gideon went to fight the Midianites with thirty-two thousand men; but only three hundred were allowed to participate in the victory. These are types of the “many called, but few chosen.”

Called … chosen

The expression is supposed to refer to the manner in which the ancients selected men for recruiting their armies. The honour of being chosen was esteemed the reward of superiority; and, among the Romans, was as follows:-The consuls summoned to the capital, or the Campus Martius, all citizens capable of bearing arms, between the ages of seventeen and forty-five. They drew up by tribes, and lots were drawn to determine in what order every tribe should present its soldiers. That which was the first order chose the first four citizens who were judged the most proper to serve in the war; and the six tribunes who commanded the first legion selected the one of these four whom they liked best. The tribunes of the second and third legions likewise made their choice one after another; and he who remained entered into the fourth legion. A new tribe presented other four soldiers, and the second legion chose four. The third and fourth legions had the same advantage in their turns. In this manner each tribe successively appointed four soldiers, till the legions were complete. They next proceeded to the creation of subaltern officers whom the tribunes chose from among the soldiers of the greatest reputation. When the legions were thus completed, the citizens who had been called, but not chosen, returned to their respective employments, and served their country in other capacities. (Townsend.)

That God in communicating His benefits to men, acts in a sovereign manner, making the last first, and the first last.

That in bestowing His rewards on mankind, God does not render unto men according to the amount of the means they participate, but the use they make of them.

That the bestowment of rewards on this principle is most expressive of the goodness and justice of God. (Sketches.)

Conversation between St. Anthony and the cobbler

We [Bishop Latimer] read a pretty story of St. Anthony, who, being in the wilderness, led there a very hard and straight life, insomuch that none at that time did the like; to whom came a voice from heaven, saying, “Anthony, thou art not so perfect as is a cobbler that dwelleth at Alexandria.” Anthony, hearing this, rose up forthwith, and took his staff, and went till he came to Alexandria, where he found the cobbler. The cobbler was astonished to see so reverend a father come to his house. Then Anthony said unto him, “Come, and tell me thy whole conversation, and how thou spendest thy time?” “Sir,” said the cobbler, “as for me, good works have I none, for my life is but simple and slender. I am but a poor cobbler. In the morning, when I rise, I pray for the whole city wherein I dwell, especially for all such neighbours and poor friends as I have; after I set me at my labour, where I spend the whole day m getting my living; and I keep me from all falsehood, for I hate nothing so much as I do deceitfulness; wherefore, when I make to any man a promise, I keep it and perform it truly. And thus I spend my time poorly with my wife and children, whom I teach and instruct, as far as my wit will serve me, to fear and dread God. And this is the sum of my simple life.” In this story you see how God loveth those that follow their vocation, and live uprightly, without any falsehood in their dealing. Anthony was a great holy man; yet this cobbler was as much esteemed before God as he.

Verse 17

Matthew 20:17

And Jesus going up to Jerusalem took the twelve disciples apart in the way.

A Palm Sunday discourse

Year by year let us go up to Jerusalem on the Palm Sunday with Christ.

1. Some go up without any special interest.

2. Others are moved by curiosity.

3. There are those who hate Him and His servants.

4. Some who believe in Christ but fear the world.

5. Some are in dark despair thinking that the cause of religion is about to perish because of organized opposition.

6. Others, a faithful few, like the small group around the cross. (M. Dix, D. D.)

Christ coming to Jerusalem

What an approach! The cities are the strongholds of the world-Babylon-Nineveh-Tyre, the centre of commerce. To none of these could our God have come expecting a joyous reception. They were of the world. But He came to Jerusalem, the city of God, the centre of true religion; a beautiful city for situation, renowned for its great age and greater history. It was a consecrated city, above whose roofs arose, day by day, clouds of smoke from the morning and evening sacrifice; an awful city, in which God had, from time to time, appeared. It held for awhile the place of the throne of the living God! It is to this city Jesus approaches. Surely to Him the gates will open and He will be greeted with songs of joy. (M. Dix, D. D.)

Going up to Jerusalem

Who shall hereafter “ have right to the tree of life, and enter in through the gates into the city” (Psalms 24:3 and Revelation 22:14). Those whose conduct shows that they are going up to Jerusalem. This may be said to imply-

A growth and an advancement in those things which are good. Those who “go up” to the heavenly Jerusalem gradually increase in holiness by a diligent use of the appointed means.

Another evidence that we are “ going up to Jerusalem” is love to God.

If our faces are indeed turned to Jerusalem, like travellers who have a long journey to accomplish, we shall be most anxious to lay aside any unnecessary weight, and to overcome the corrupting influence of our besetting sins. We cannot be going up to Jerusalem if our affections are rooted in the earth; we must be conscious that our course is turned thitherward. Why this loitering by the way. Let us refresh our souls with spiritual food. Let the world offer what attractions it may, our purpose is firmly fixed “to go up to Jerusalem.” (J. H. Norton.)

Jesus betrayed and condemned

The language of the text is the testimony of our great Prophet concerning His own sufferings. You see it is a prophecy; the event had not yet taken place.

1. His suffering was substitutional.

2. Acceptable.

3. Covenanted.

The hands employed.

1. The ruthless traitor.

2. The infidel priesthood.

3. The far-famed literary men.

The end accomplished. “They shall condemn Him to death.” (J. Irons.)

How the faithfulness of Christ toward His disciples appears in the announcement of His impending sufferings.

It is seen in the gradual manner in which He makes the fact known. From the first He had intimated that His path was one of suffering; but, while putting an end to their spurious hopes, He had never said anything to cast them down.

He now set it before them in all its terrors. He dealt candidly with them. Return was still possible for them, though, from their former decision, He no longer asked them whether they would forsake Him.

He placed before their view the promise awaiting them at the end, thus establishing and encouraging them by this blessed prospect. (J. P. Lange, D. D.)

Why Christ saw His cross afar off

1. It was predetermined from the beginning, and He saw it everywhere throughout His course.

2. From the first He prepared for it, and experienced its bitterness in many preliminary trials.

3. It was the harbinger of His exaltation, and ever and anon He anticipated His coming glory. (J. P. Lange, D. D.)

Communion with Jesus

The party-Jesus and His disciples. The great Head of the Church and His members.

1. Their interests were mutual.

2. They are a united company.

3. They were distinct from the world.

4. Are you of the party?

Their union and communion-Jesus took the twelve disciples apart.

1. We sometimes try to take Christ apart, it is better that Christ should take us.

2. This communion has love for its origin.

3. He would not have them associated with the world, He was about to touch on matters He wished His disciples to know.

4. He not only invites His Church apart as an act of love, but every grace of His Holy Spirit’s implanting is then called into exercise.

5. He took them apart to talk about the atonement.

Mark now the travelling itself-“going up to Jerusalem.” Ours is not a stand-still religion. We have no continuing city. We are in company with Jesus.

1. Decision is implied.

2. Progress is implied.

3. There was expectation as they journeyed.

4. Jesus was going up to Jerusalem for the accomplishment of redemption; and we must go to the Jerusalem above in order to fully enjoy them. (J. Irons.)

Christ’s sufferings and ours

What are all our sufferings to His? And yet we think ourselves undone if but touched, and in setting forth our calamities we add, we multiply, we rise in our discourse, like him in the poet, “I am thrice miserable, nay, ten, twenty, an hundred, a thousand times unhappy.” And yet all our sufferings are but as the slivers and chips of that cross upon which Christ, nay, many Christians, have suffered. In the time of Adrian the emperor ten thousand martyrs are said to have been crucified in the Mount of Ararat, crowned with thorns, and thrust into the sides with sharp darts, after the example of the Lord’s passion. (John Trapp.)

The resurrection of Christ

He wraps up the gall of the passion in the honey of the resurrection. (Lapide.)

The saddest yet happiest event in human history

Our Lord’s last journey to Jerusalem. The prediction of the sufferings of Christ a great evidence

(1) of His prophetical character;

(2) of His willingness, as a Priest, to offer Himself a sacrifice for sin;

(3) of His confident expectation of victory as a King. (J. P. Lange, D. D.)

The sufferings of Christ

As the precious stone called the carbuncle to look at is like a hot burning coal of fire, shining exceeding brightly, the which feeleth no fire, neither is it molten, changed, or mollified therewith; if thou shalt take it, and close it fast in a ring of lead, and cast it into the fire, thou shalt see the lead molten and consume before thy face, but the carbuncle remaining sound and perfect without blemish as before, for the fire worketh upon the lead, but upon the carbuncle it cannot work; even so Christ, our Saviour, being in the hot, scorching fire of His torments, suffered and died as He was man, but as He was God He neither suffered nor died. The fire of His afflictions wrought, then, upon His manhood, but His Divinity and Godhead continued perfect and utterly untouched. (Cawdray.)

Crucifixion of Christ

The cross was the perfect manifestation of

(1) the guilt of the world;

(2) the love of Christ;

(3) His obedience;

(4) the grace of God. (J. P. Lange, D. D.)

Christ’s sufferings were foreseen

As astronomers know when none others think of it, that travelling through the heavens the vast shadow is progressing towards the sun which ere long shall clothe it and hide it, so Christ knew that the great darkness which was to overwhelm Him was approaching. (Beecher.)

Christ’s resurrection

His resurrection was necessary to His being believed in as a Saviour. As Christ by His death paid down a satisfaction for sin, so it was necessary that it should be declared to the world by such arguments as might found a rational belief of it, so that men’s unbelief should be rendered inexcusable. But how could the world believe that He fully had satisfied for sin so long as they saw death, the known wages of sin, maintain its full force and power over Him, holding Him like an obnoxious person in captivity? When a man is once imprisoned for debt none can conclude the debt either paid by him or forgiven to him but by the release of his person. Who could believe Christ to have been a God and a Saviour while He was hanging upon the tree? A dying, crucified God, a Saviour of the world who could not save Himself would have been exploded by the universal consent of reason as a horrible paradox and absurdity. (R. South.)

Verses 20-28

Matthew 20:20-28

Then came to Him the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons.

Nearest to Christ

Christ does not put aside the granting of places at His right and left hand as not being within His province, but states the principles and conditions on which He does make such a grant. Again, our Lord does not put aside the prayer of His apostles as if they were seeking an impossible thing. He does not say, “You are asking what cannot be.” He does say, “There are men for whom it is prepared of My Father.” He does not condemn the prayer as indicating a wrong state of mind. He did not rebuke their passion for reward. They should have the reward if they fulfilled the conditions.

The principle, that some will be nearer Christ than others in that heavenly kingdom. Varied degrees of reward are prepared by God. They asked for earth; Christ answered for heaven. Heaven is a place the corporeality of our future life is essential to the perfection of it. Christ will wear for ever a human frame. That involves locality, circumstances, external occupations. But if we stop there we have no true idea of the glory that makes the blessedness. For what is heaven? Likeness to God! Love, purity, fellowship with Him; the condition of the soul. Hence heaven can be no dead level. All will be like Jesus; this does not exclude infinite variety. Perfect bliss belongs to each; but the capacity to receive may differ. Does not the idea of endless progress involve that variety in degree. There are those for whom it is prepared of His Father, that they shall sit in special nearness to Him.

These words rightly understood assert the truth, which, at first sight, our English rendering seems to make them contradict, viz., That Christ is the giver to each of these various degrees of glory and blessedness. “It is not mine to give, save to them for whom it is prepared.” Then it is thine to give it to them. To deny this is to destroy all the foundations upon which our hopes rest. There is nothing within the compass of God’s love to bestow of which Christ is not the Giver. We read that He is the Judge of the whole earth. He clothes in white robes. Christ is the bestower of the royalties of heaven.

These glorious places are not given to mere wishing, nor by here arbitrary will, but a piece of favouritism. There are conditions which must precede such elevation. Some people imagine the desire enough. Our wishes are meant to impel us to the appropriate forms of energy, by which they can be realized. When a pauper becomes a millionaire by wishing that he were rich, when ignorance becomes learning by standing in a library and wishing that all the contents of the books were in its head, there will be seine hope that the gates of heaven will fly open to your desire. Does your wish lead you to the conditions’: Some of heaven’s characteristics attract you. You wish to escape punishment for sin; you would like rest after toil; do you wish to be pure? The happiness draws you? does the holiness? Would it be joyful to be near Christ?

These glorious places are given as the result of a divine preparation. The Divine Father and Son have unity of will and work in this respect. There is a twofold preparation.

1. That is the eternal counsel of the Divine love “prepared for you before the foundation of the world.”

2. The realization of that counsel in time. His death and entrance into heaven made ready for us the eternal mansions. Faith in Christ alone, the measure of our faith, and growing Christ-likeness here will be the measure of our glory hereafter. (Dr. McLaren.)

Nearness to Christ in heaven

As in the heavens there be planets that roll nearer and nearer the central sun, and others that circle further out from its rays, yet each keeps its course, and makes music as it moves, as well as planets whose broader disc can receive and reflect more of the light than the smaller sister spheres, and yet each blazes over its whole surface, and is full to its very rim with white light; so round that throne the spirits of the just made perfect shall circle in order and peace-every one blessed, every one perfect, every one like Christ to begin with, and becoming like through every moment of the eternities. Each perfected soul looking in his brother’s shall see there another phase of the one perfectness that blesses and adorns him too, and all taken together shall make up, in so far as finite creatures can make up, the reflection and manifestation of the fulness of Christ. “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. (Dr. McLaren.)

Nearness to Christ in heaven not mere favouritism

Nor can such a place be given by mere arbitrary will. Christ could not, if He would, take a man to His fight hand whose heart was not the home of simple trust and thankful love, whose nature and desires were unprepared for that blessed world. It would be like taking one of those creatures-if there be such-that live on the planet whose orbit is furthest from the sun, accustomed to cold, organized for darkness, and carrying it to that great central blaze, with all its fierce flames and tongues of fiery gas that shoot up a thousand miles in a moment. It would crumble and disappear before its blackness could be seen against the blaze. (Dr. McLaren.)

The Divine preparation of heaven for men

As one who precedes a mighty host, provides and prepares rest for their weariness, and food for their hunger, in some city on their line of march, and having made all things ready, is:. at the gates to welcome their travel-stained ranks when they arrive, and guide them to their repose; so He has gone before, our forerunner, to order all things for us there. It may be that unless Christ were in heaven, our brother as well as our Lord, it were no place for mortals. It may be that we need to Lave His glorified bodily presence in order that it should be possible for human spirits to bear the light, and be at home with God. Be that as it may, this we know, that the Father prepares a place for us by the eternal counsel of His love, and by the all-sufficient work of Christ, by whom we have access to the Father. And as His work is the Father’s preparation of the place for us by the Son, the issue of His work is the Father’s preparation of us for the place, through the Son by the Spirit. “He that hath wrought us for the self-same thing is God.” (Dr. McLaren.)

Divine rewards

Zebedee’s two sons are following Christ, but following half unconsciously for a personal reward. Christ’s answer is not for these seekers of office only, not for place-hunters in our day only, but for all men who would think of being Christians for a compensation, in whatever form we give that compensation shape. Christ’s answer introduces the doctrine of Divine rewards. Is not one of the main reasons why Christian faith exercises such an imperfect power among men that, they misapprehend the sort of advantage they may expect to get from it?

There appear to be three principal desires which direct attention to religious truth-

1. A want of personal comfort.

2. The want of moral guidance, or a rule to act by, and is of a much higher grade than the first.

3. The want of giving and loving-of giving to the Lord what the soul feels belongs to Him-affection and gratitude, etc. It is a spiritual aspiration. It does not stop to inquire about advantages. It is the desire of a harmonious and affectionate union with God in the reconciling and forgiving spirit of the Saviour.

These three different wants spring up from different places or faculties in our nature.

1. The first comes from a mixture of natural instinct and shrewdness-self-interest.

2. The second comes from the region of the conscience. It refers to a law, etc.

obedience as, obedience-duty as duty; second only to the life of love.

3. The third originates in the soul-its love, trust, gratitude. This is the Christian religion. Out of these three fountains flow three sorts of religious life, as distinct from one another as their sources are.

The rewards God promises to those that diligently seek him, depend, in each case, on the motive and spirit in which we serve him.

1. Religion will never yield its true rewards to those who seek it for the sake of its rewards.

2. If sought to obtain relief from sorrow, etc., God may lead the soul on, through this half-selfish state, into serving Him for some more disinterested affection. But such will fail of any glorious reward.

3. God will reward every man “according to his works”-in the-line of his works, in the kind of them-love for love, etc.

(1) In this honourable quality man’s Christian service is not disconnected from his best acts in other lines of life. Legitimate in Christianity. Its universal sentiment is love. All its apparatus is to educate us to that mark. This is the distinctive ministry, which the Christian revelation brings: in Christ this is embodied.

(2) The same principle must be applied to die desire of going to heaven as a motive to religious endeavour.

(3) We come up at last to those acts of true religion which are done in the faith of the heart; and here we reach the highest view of the Divine rewards, simply because God has made these to be their own reward. They are rewards in kind. They are large just according to the spirituality of our lives, the zeal of our worship, the strength of our faith. They are interior, not visible. They are incidental, not sought. They are of nobleness rather than of happiness. He rewards us sometimes only by setting us to the performance of larger and harder tasks, etc. When he would give His greatest reward, He gives Himself, the Holy Spirit, in His Son. The brave and lofty hymn of Francis Xavier: “My God, I love Thee, not because,” etc. Of our Christian religion the badge is a cross-even as self-forgetfulness is the spirit, love is the motive, disinterestedness is the principle, faith is the inmost spring. (Bishop Huntingdon, D. D.)

Can ye drink of My cup?-

Christ had cup and a baptism.

1. Christ had a cup. This cup contained the death which, as our Redeemer, He had to die. Its ingredients were, all that He suffered. The time during which He drank it-His lifetime.

2. Christ had a baptism. The baptism of the text was alluded to, when He said, “I have a baptism,” etc. It anointed Him and set Him apart to His priestly and kingly offices.

Believers partake of the cup and the baptism of Christ.

1. In many particulars, the cup and baptism of Christ were His own-and peculiar.

2. Yet the experience of believers sufficiently exhausts these words. Scripture testimony. The events of Providence.

3. The sufferings of believers, a cup. Because, punishment by the world. Because, death to the flesh.

4. The sufferings of believers a baptism. Because, they are purigying. Because, they are qualifying.

5. The sufferings of believers are the cup and the baptism of Christ. In many particulars-the same. They are inflicted on Christ-in believers. They are acknowledged by Christ.

6. That, which to Christ and His people is but a cup, is to the wicked an exhaustless ocean.

The offices and honours of Christ’s kingdom are distributed by himself.

1. As the cup and baptism of Christ were succeeded by glory to Him, so they are to His people.

2. Some of the moral glory of heaven visible even amid the sufferings of earth.

3. The sufferings endured here prepare and fit for the high employments of heaven.

4. The fitness having been acquired, the dignities are given by Christ. He bestows that which He purchased.

5. This fulfils the promise, “He shall see of the travail of His soul,” etc.

Christ gives the honours and dignities of his kingdom to those for whom they have been appointed of the father.

1. This brings out the place occupied by Christ in the arrangements of the plan of redemption.

2. It brings to light the original source of redemption.

3. It shows the perfect security of the believer.

4. It illustrates the order of God’s procedure.

5. It furnishes a proof of the unchangeableness of God.


1. If you are believers, you shall drink of Christ’s cup, and be baptized with His baptism.

2. But you shall not suffer till prepared-fitness for suffering provokes persecution.

3. Your sufferings shall be-

(1) Limited-a cup.

(2) Purifying-a baptism.

(3) Joyous-Christ’s.

(4) Honourable-a crown. (J. Stewart.)


Ambition is an instinct of our nature, and capable of good. The request of Zebedee was right, though no doubt mixed with ignorance. Jesus did not reprove her desire, but stated the stern conditions upon which such honours were to be attained. Court and pray for great things.

1. In your inner life and personal character.

2. Take a high estimate of the work you have to do for God in this world.

3. Do not think it wrong to strive for a high place in heaven. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

Salome’s petition for her two


It had reference to a glorious temporal kingdom. This request showed some faith in Jesus, for He had announced His death. We must not indulge dreams of worldly honour.

The answer which Jesus gave to this unseasonable request-

1. Our Lord declared their ignorance.

2. As Jesus knew they meant the end without the means, He asked them about their fidelity.

3. They answered as men of courage without hesitation or delay.

4. The final answer Jesus gave to their ambitious prayer.

5. The highest place in heaven is most to love God. (B. W. Noel, M. A.)

Christ’s answer to Salome’s petition

“While admitting the potency of the prayer of faith, it is not to be supposed that every petition which may be presented will be complied with:-

1. God in His Providence ordinarily acts within fixed laws, and with these He rarely dispenses. A high place in the kingdom of the future will not be an arbitrary gift, but the result of the course pursued here.

2. The important thing for us is attention to our duty, and leave the rest to Providence.

3. No envious speculations can assist our progress heavenward. (H. B. Moffat, M. A.)

Ignorant requests

Ye know not

(1) of what sort My kingdom is-viz., a spiritual and heavenly one, not carnal and earthly;

(2) because ye are asking for the triumph before the victory;

(3) because ye suppose that this kingdom is given by right of blood to those who seek it, whereas it is given only to those who deserve and strive. (Lapide.)

Right and wrong prayers

A prayer for things not lawful begs nothing hut a denial. The saints have their prayers out, either in money or money’s worth, provided they bring lawful petitions and honest hearts. (John Trapp.)

Was there ever a more unseasonable request, than for them to be suitors for great places to Him, when He had but now told them He was going to be spit upon, scourged, condemned, crucified? Yet there was this good in it; they by it discovered a faith in Him, that notwithstanding all this He should be exalted and have a kingdom. But how carnal are our conceptions of spiritual and heavenly things, till we are taught by God a right notion of them! (Matthew Pool.)

Men sometimes know not what they ask

These two disciples sought the place of the two malefactors.

They requested, so to speak, something which had only existence in their own imagination (worldly honours in the kingdom of Christ).

They sought something which, in its higher import, had already been given away-perhaps to themselves, perhaps to others-viz., special degrees of election. (J. P. Lange, D. D.)

Like Master, like servant

Christ, like a good and wise physician, first drank the draught Himself which He was preparing for His own. He underwent His passion and death, and so He became immortal and impassible; thus teaching His own how they might confidently drink the draught which produces soundness and life. (St. Bernard.)

The Church sphere

It shall not be so among you. The Church and the world have different spheres. As every other association or body, so the Church has its appropriate organization, corresponding to its nature. The plant would die if it were subject to the conditions of the crystal; the animal, if to those of the plant; man, if to those of the animal; and the Church, if to those of the world. Or rather, the plant has burst through the conditions of the crystal, and passed beyond it, etc.; and the kingdom of heaven through the conditions and forms of this world. (J. P. Lange, D. D.)

Ye know not what ye ask

There is a heathen story which tells that once a man asked for this gift-not to die; and it was granted to him by the Fates. He was to live on for ever. But he had forgotten to ask that his youth and health and strength might last for ever also; and so he lived on till age and its infirmities and weakness were weighing him down, and his life grew to be a weariness and a burden to him. Existence (for it could hardly be called life)was one long torment to him; and then he wished to die. He wished to die, and could not. He had asked for a thing which he was totally unfit to enjoy, but he had to take the consequences of it when it was once given. It was a curse to him, not a blessing.

The law of rank and position in God’s kingdom

The notion of rank in the world is like a pyramid; the higher you go up, the fewer are there who have to serve those above them, and who are served more than these underneath them. All who are under serve those who are above, until you come to the apex, and there stands some one who has to do no service, but whom all the others have to serve. Something like that is the notion of position-of social standing and rank. And if it be so in an intellectual way, even-to say nothing of mere bodily service-if any man works to a position that others shall all look up to him and that he may have to look up to nobody, he has just put himself precisely into the same condition as the people of whom our Lord speaks-as those who exercise dominion and authority, and really he thinks it a fine thing to be served. But it is not so in the kingdom of heaven. The figure there is entirely reversed. As you may see a pyramid reflected in the water, just so, in a reversed way altogether, is the thing to be found in the kingdom of God. It is in this way: the Sen of Man lies at the inverted apex of the pyramid; He upholds, and serves, and ministers unto all, and they who would be high in His kingdom must go near to Him at the bottom, to uphold and minister to all that they may or can uphold and minister unto. There is no other law of precedence, no other law of rank and position in God’s kingdom. And, mind, that is the kingdom. The other kingdom passes away-it is a transitory, ephemeral, passing, bad thing, and away it must go. It is only there on sufferance, because in the mind of God even that which is bad ministers to that which is good; and when the new kingdom is built the old kingdom shall pass away. But the man who seeks this rank of which I have spoken, must be honest to follow it. It will not do to say, “I want to be great, and therefore I will serve.” A man will not get at it so. He may begin so, but he will soon find that that will not do. He must seek it for the truth’s sake, for the love of his fellows, for the worship of God, for the delight in what is good. (Geo. Macdonald, M. A.)

Place-seeking parents

Mothers should be cautious about seeking places of honour for their sons. Doing this, they seldom know what they ask. They may be seeking the ruin of their children. It is not posts of honour that secure happiness or salvation As the purest and loveliest streams often flow in the retired grove, far from the thundering cataract or the stormy ocean, so is the sweet peace of the soul; it dwells oftenest far from the bustle of public life, and the storms and tempests of ambition. (A. Barnes, D. D.)

Ambition insatiable

Ambition is like the sea which swallows a]l the rivers and is none the fuller; or like the grave whose insatiable maw for ever craves for the bodies of men. It is not like an amphora, which being full receives no more, but its fulness swells it till a still greater vacuum is formed. In all probability Napoleon never longed for a sceptre till he had gained a batton, nor dreamed of being Emperor of Europe till he had gained the crown of France. Caligula, with the world at his feet, was mad with a longing for the moon, and could he have gained it, the imperial lunatic would have coveted the sun. It is in vain to feed a fire which grows the more vivacious the more it is supplied with fuel; he who lives to satisfy his ambition has before him the labour of Sisyphus, who rolled up hill an ever rebounding stone, and the task of the daughters of Danaus, who are condemned for ever to attempt to till a bottomless vessel with buckets full of holes. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Verses 26-28

Matthew 20:26-28

And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:

True greatness

Greatness a word often used, and people’s ideas of it differ much.

Some regard it as consisting in wealth, social position, physical strength. Christ places it in service, springing from love in the heart. Man’s true greatness must be in himself.

1. The importance of a true ideal of life.

2. This true ideal can be realized by every one of us. No life need be a failure. (C. O. Bridgman, D. D.)

Greatness measured by service

Greatness is to be measured by service. No man lives or dies to himself. Florence Nightingale moved other women most when she herself went to minister on battle fields.

The greater men are in intellect and culture, the more imperative it is that they become leaders and helpers. If a man has power to do good and refuses, he is not guiltless.

Those who thus labour for the good of their fellow-men are the greatest. Love is the greatest power on the earth. (G. Anderson, D. D.)

Basis of true greatness

1. Our Lord does not condemn the spirit of ambition, but simply aims to point out the basis of real greatness. He regarded His disciples, in a certain sense, as kings, but He would have them establish their regal right in a different manner from the princes of this world.

2. In how many scriptural promises do we find this principle recognized. They that turn many to righteousness “ shall shine as the stars for ever and ever:’ St. Paul says, “There is laid up for me a crown of righteousness,” etc.

3. Rank in the kingdom of heaven will be measured by humility. Condescension is the measure of exaltation. The way up to the glory of the Exalted One is through humble, self-denying love. (R. W. Clark, D. D.)

The greatness of being useful

Yet what has the patriot made himself but the servant of his countrymen: It was in order to the ministering to the well-being of thousands, that he threw himself into the breach, and challenged tyranny to the battle. It was for the sake of securing the rights of those who trod the same soil with himself, that he arose as the champion of the wretched and injured. The case is the same with the philosopher as with the patriot. Accordingly, he who labours in the mine of truth, and presents to the world the results of his investigations, furnishes his fellow-men with new principles on which to act in the business of life, and thus equips them for fresh enterprises, and instructs them how to add to the sum total of happiness. We need not exemplify this in particular instances. You are all aware how scientific research is turned to account in everyday life, and how the very lowest of our people enjoy, in one way or another, the fruits of discoveries which are due to the marvellous sagacity, and the repeated experiments, of those who rank foremost in the annals of philosophy. And thus it is evident that the man who is great in science, is great in the power of serving his fellow-men, and that it is this latter greatness which insures him their applauses. If his discoveries were of no benefit to the many; if they opened no means by which enjoyments might be multiplied, toil diminished, or danger averted; his name would be known only within a limited circle, and there would be nothing that approached to a general recognition of superiority. The individual again who gains renown as a statesman, who serves his country in the senate as the warrior in the field, is the minister to all classes, so that the very lowest have the profit of his toils. And in proportion as the service wore the aspect of selfishness, would the tribute of applause be diminished: we should be less and less disposed to allow, that, in making himself a servant, he had made himself great, if we had increasing cause to think that his main design was the serving himself. But there is no room for suspicions of this class, when the exhibition is that of a fine Christian philanthropy, leading a man to give his assiduity to the sick-beds of the poor, or the prisons of the criminal. Accordingly, when an individual is manifestly and strongly actuated by this philanthropy, there is an almost universal consent in awarding him the appellation of great: even those who would be amongst the last to imitate are amongst the first to applaud. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

Pride destroys the best elements of character

The rebel against lawful authority cannot be truly great: the slave of his own passions cannot be truly great: the idolater of his own powers cannot be truly great. And the proud man is this rebel, this slave, this idolater; for pride spurns at the Divine dominion, gives vigour to depraved affections, and exaggerates all our powers. What, then, can be more accurate than that pride destroys the chief elements of which a great character is compounded, so that it must be to direct a man in the way to eminence, to prescribe that he be “clothed with humility?” (H. Melvill, B. D.)

Christ our Redeemer because our servant

But if Christ thus made Himself servant to the human race, it is this very fact which is to draw to Him finally universal homage. Had He not been their servant, He could not have been their Redeemer; and, if not their Redeemer, then at His name would not every knee have bowed, “of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth.” Thus He illustrates His own precept: He became great through redeeming; but since lie redeemed through making Himself the minister to a lost world, lie became great through becoming a servant. (H. Melvill, B. D. )

Verse 28

Matthew 20:28

Even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto.

A Divine mission

The son of man. Humility combined with dignity. Man was the offender, man must suffer the penalty. Not a fictitious manhood, but real like our own. This ought to attract us to Him, for He is akin in nature and sympathy.

He came. The errand unique as the Person who undertook it. He came voluntarily on an errand of mercy.

Not to be ministered unto, but to minister. He had not a selfish thought in His soul. Does He want servants? Thousands of angels are His chariot. He served in the workshop, home, amongst His disciples. As the Son of Man in heaven he continues a kind of service to His people.

And to give his life. We have no lives to give. They are forfeited to Divine justice. His death was voluntary. Christ did not come into the world merely to be an example, or merely to reveal the Godhead. His sacrifice was substitutionary.

A ransom. Every male person among the Jews belonged to God, and must be redeemed. The price was the ransom. Jesus redeems us from the curse of the law.

For many. The word “for” has a vicarious meaning. “He gave His life instead of many.”

1. Man is not redeemed from the bondage of his sins without a price. -No one goes free by the naked mercy of God.

2. That price must be a life. Not merely a character. The question has been asked, “Who receives the ransom?” Not Satan. Satan has no rights. It was paid to the Great Judge. This is a mystical way of speaking. The sufferings of Christ vindicate the law and render mercy possible.

3. What is the result of this? Man is redeemed. He is no longer a slave. Did Jesus Christ redeem you? (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The Saviour’s character, life, and death

His character Christ Divine. This being premised we can bring forward two satisfactory reasons why He called Himself the Son of Man.

1. Because He would gradually develop Himself.

2. Because our concern with Him principally lies in His assuming human nature.

His life. “Came not to be ministered unto,” etc. This fills us with astonishment, when we remember the place from which He descended. Our Saviour could derive nothing from external appendages.

1. Admire His condescension.

2. Resemble Him therein,

His death.

1. Consider Him as a ransom.

2. It was intentional.

3. It was voluntary.

4. It regards the personal esteem He has for His people.

5. We see here where a poor burdened conscience can alone find relief.

6. Let the love of Christ strike your minds.

7. If He has ransomed you, you are not your own. (W. Jay.)

A ministering Christ

The negative object of Christ’s coming-“Not to be ministered unto.”

The positive object of his coming-“To minister,” etc.

1. The scenes of His private life. Christ a carpenter.

2. The scenes of His public life. Wearisome toils. Lesson-

(1) Be clothed with humility;

(2) Gratitude to Christ for His love;

(3) Repentance. (H. L. Nicholson, B. A.)

Christ the servant and the Saviour of His people

The service he rendered to man by his life.

1. He came not to be ministered unto as regards His external authority. He might have excited the admiration of the world by His outward show; but He was poor.

2. He came to minister as regarded instruction.

The blessing he effected for man by his death.

1. The blessing procured.

2. The means by which this blessing was procured. “He gave His life,” etc.

3. The number for whom this blessing was procured. (J. Sibree.)

True greatness the result of personal service

The patriot is great, but he has served his country. The philosopher by the force of his genius has enlarged the sphere of human knowledge, thus of the greatest use to mankind. The same true in religion. Christ was not introducing a strange precept when He said that the men who are the most eminent in life are the most literally the servants of the public.

1. The greatness thus derived from usefulness may be augmented or decreased by the meanest of those you employ.

2. The touching reference of our Lord to His own case. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

Christian humility

He is the most lovely professor, who is the most lowly professor. As incense smells the sweetest when beaten the smallest, so saints look fairest when they lie lowest. Arrogance in the soul resembles the spleen in the body, which grows most, while other parts are decaying. God will not suffer such a weed to grow in His garden, without taking some course to root it up. (Archbishop Secker.)

Christ stooping to save

The mother, wan and pale with incessant vigils by the bedside of a sick child;-the fireman, maimed for life in bravely rescuing the inmates of a blazing house;-the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae;-Howard, dying of fever caught in dungeons where he was fulfilling his noble purpose of succouring the oppressed and remembering the forgotten;-the Moravian missionaries, who voluntarily incarcerated themselves in an African leper-house (from which regress into the healthy world was impossible, and escape only to be ejected through the gates of death), in order that they might preach the glad tidings to the lepers,-all these, and many other glorious instances of self-devotion, do but faintly shadow forth the love of Him who laid aside Divine glory, and humbled Himself to the death of the cross.

Verses 29-34

Matthew 20:29-34

And, behold, two blind men sitting by the way side, when they heard that Jesus passed by.

Jesus of Nazareth passing by

The time of this transaction was critical. He never was to come that way again. It was necessary for these blind men to be by the way while Jesus was passing. Had they been elsewhere they could not have received their sight. They caught the first sound of the approaching Saviour. Some men are too buried in their merchandize to know that He is passing. It is not enough to sit idly by the way side. These men made no demands but for mercy.

1. Their earnestness. They felt their need.

2. The difference between the unfeeling multitude and the compassionate Saviour. Put thine ear to the gospel and listen. “He calleth thee.” (E. Griffin, D. D.)

Spiritual blindness

Men are blinded by reason of sin. They do not see the truths of religion.

It is proper in this state of blindness to call upon Jesus to open our eyes. If we ever see, it will be by the grace of God. God is the fountain of light, and those in darkness should seek Him.

Present opportunities should be improved. This was the first time that Jesus had been in Jericho, and it was the last time He would be there. He was passing through it on His way to Jerusalem. So He passes among us by His ordinances. While He is near we should seek Him.

When people rebuke us, and laugh at us, it should not deter us from calling on the Saviour.

The persevering of cry of those who seek the Saviour aright will not be in vain.

Sinners must “rise” and come to Jesus. Cast away everything that hinders their confine.

Faith is the only channel through which we shall receive mercy.

They who are restored to sight should follow Jesus. Wherever He leads-always-none else. He cannot lead astray. He can enlighten our goings through all our pilgrimage. (A. Barnes, D. D.)

The blind taught to see

Mr. MacGregor, in his recent “Voyage,” gives a most interesting account of Mr. Mott’s mission to the blind and lame at Beirut. He says, “Only in February last that poor blind fellow who sits on the form there was utterly ignorant. See how his delicate fingers run over the raised types of his Bible, and he reads aloud and blesses God in his heart for the precious news, and for those who gave him the avenue for truth to his heart. ‘Jesus Christ will be the first person I shall ever see,’ he says, ‘for my eyes will be opened in heaven.’ Thus even this man becomes a missionary … At the annual examination of this school, one of the scholars said, I am a little blind boy. Once I could see; but then I fell asleep-a long, long sleep. I thought I should never wake. And I slept till a kind gentleman called Mr. Mott came and opened my eyes-not these eyes,’ pointing to his sightless eyeballs, ‘but these,’ lifting up his tiny fingers-‘these eyes; and oh! they see such sweet words of Jesus, and how He loved the blind.’”

Hearing of Christ

Happy it was for these two blind beggars that, though blind, they were not deaf. They had heard of Christ by the hearing of the ear, but that satisfied them not, unless their eyes also might see Him. They waylay, therefore, the Lord of Light, who gives them upon their suit both sight and light, irradiates both organ and object, cures them of both outward and inward ophthalmies at once … Few such knowing blind beggars nowadays. They are commonly more blind in mind than body, loose and lawless vagrants; such as are neither of any church or commonwealth; but as the baser sort of people in Swethland, who do always break the Sabbath, saying, that it is only for gentlemen to sanctify it; or rather, as the poor Brazilians, who are said to be without any government, law, or religion. (John Trapp.)


men:-Here we have-

Such persons making the best of their opportunities-Christ was passing by.

One class of such failing to sympathise with another-the multitude rebuked.

Founding their appeal on the right ground-mercy.

Presenting a right condition of will” what will ye,” as if all things were placed at the disposal of the right will. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Keep in the way of blessing

Be still in the King’s highway, in the use of the means, for though the natural use of the means and God’s saving grace have no connection, yet there is far less a connection betwixt that grace and the neglect of means. The poor beggar, that needs an alms from the king, goes to the king’s highway, where he passes; and surely he is nearer to his purpose than if he should go to the top of a mountain where the king never comes; so, be you still in the use of means, in the Lord’s way. (Erskine.)

A wise use of the means of salvation

Those that wait upon the Lord in the use of the means and ordinances, they hereby spread their sails, and are ready for the Spirit’s motions which bloweth where it listeth. There is more hope of these than of such who lie aground, neglecting the means of grace, which are both as sail and tackling. The two blind men could not open their own eyes; that was beyond their power, but they could get into the way where Jesus passed, and they could cry to Him for sight, who only could recover it. Those that are diligent in the use of means and ordinances, may sit in the way where Jesus passes by, who uses not to reject those that cry unto Him. (Clarkson.)

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Matthew 20". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/matthew-20.html. 1905-1909. New York.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile