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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 21

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Verses 1-11

Matthew 21:1-11

And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Beth-phage.

Sixth Sunday in Lent

It presents an illustration of the relation of Christ to the religious feeling of mankind. We are religious beings. Our very nature is grained with sensibilities for the sacred and the Divine. This scene shows how it is affected by Christ.

1. He rouses it to activity. The multitude was deeply moved. Not merely patriotism or earthly emotion, but earnest spiritual feeling. From Jesus streamed all this awakening power.

2. He inspires it with gladness. There was holy rejoicing. There is a moral awakening which has no joy in it. The natural man is afraid of God. Jesus takes away these terrors.

3. He also encourages the expression of religious emotions and convictions. Christ would have His people speak their joys.

An earnest of the Saviour’s glorious kinghood. The symptoms of glorious consummation are visible in the scene before us.

1. We here see the world serving Him. He commands both men and beasts, and causes them to obey His will.

2. We see here the whole multitude of His disciples filled with joyous exultation. All sorrows were for the hour quite swallowed up in the abounding blessedness.

3. We here see the most unlikely prophecies touching His kinghood fulfilled to the very letter.

4. The sorrowful hopelessness of Christ’s enemies when He begins to let His royal majesty forth.

The text suggests important ideas touching Christ’s perpetual coming to his church.

1. He comes with the illuminations of His Spirit.

2. He comes to His Church except when it is made impossible by the unbelief of men.

3. The way to enjoy Him in His Church is clearly indicated. We must welcome Him as the Son of God.

As Jesus entered into Jerusalem, so he striveth now for entrance into every heart.

1. He approaches all of us as He approached the holy city. He comes to us as a King, as the promised One.

2. But for His coming to be a blessing we must do as did the happy ones in the text.

3. Great is the blessedness of those who thus receive the Lord Jesus.

This entry of the saviour into the holy city calls up our public entry into the spiritual city, of which Jerusalem was a type. Christ entered to be condemned; we to be absolved: He to die; we to live.

1. Like His yours is a triumphal entry.

2. Like His, however, your entry is not full triumph yet.

3. It needs to be marked with meekness and courage.

4. It shall soon be crowned with everlasting victory. (J. A. Seiss.)

The triumphal entry into Jerusalem

By thus riding through the streets in state Christ claimed to be a king. This claim had been kept in the background till now; but in the hour of deep humiliation He makes an open claim. He was a spiritual King, therefore He went not to the palace temporal, but to the palace spiritual; He rides to the temple.

What sort of a king he might have been if he had pleased, and what sort of a king he might be now, if he willed it If Christ chose He might make His Church rich and powerful, and religion magnificent; but He does not care for this world’s glory.

What kind of a king he is, and what kind of a king he claimed to be. Different from other kingdoms.

1. It is a kingdom in which the disciples are courtiers. Here discipleship is the highest degree.

2. It is a kingdom m which the king’s laws are none of them written upon paper; they are written upon the heart.

3. It was a kingdom in which riches were no part whatever of its glory. It was poverty’s own temple.

4. It was a kingdom without armed force.

5. It was a strange kingdom because it was without any pomp.

6. He came to establish a kingdom without taxations. All its gifts are of love.

7. It was a kingdom in which all creatures were considered.

8. It was a kingdom of joy.

The practical objects of this kingdom.

1. That the whole city was moved. Everybody had something to say about it. Some would say that “the whole thing was contemptible.” Many say that the kingdom of Christ is ridiculous. They want more pomp. Others in Jerusalem were no doubt filled with curiosity. Some looked on with envy. Some were moved to rejoice. Christ is sure to make a stir.

2. That Christ went to the temple. He drives out selfishness, and purifies religion.

3. He held a grand levee, of all whom He had healed and blessed. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Another royal procession

That the lord Jesus has even now bright and glorious days of special manifestation in his church

1. They usually occur after the Lord has visited His beloved and quickened them. He came into Jerusalem after He had raised Lazarus from the dead.

2. When His disciples were obedient to Him. He told His disciples to go and they went. Disobedience hinders the advance of the gospel.

3. Another indication of glory-days will be found in the prompt and cheerful obedience which His disciples will make.

4. The glory of Christ is seen when He is publicly proclaimed as king. We must desire the blessings of the gospel to be widely made known and extended.

5. On such days, one part of the glory consists in many going forth to meet Christ. Pray that there may come a great wave of religious thought over the minds of people.

6. Another sign is prevailing enthusiasm.

7. There was inquiry.

8. His enemies were quiet. Such are the marks of the glorious days of Christ.

That on these glory-days of Jesus Christ in his church like honours are paid to him now as then.

1. He is at this time as loudly praised and as greatly rejoiced in among His people as He was then.

2. He received then as now homage from all kinds of people.

3. The little ones were conspicuous.

Christ executes the same deeds as he did then.

1. Compassion for souls is prominent. He wept over the city.

2. Judgment. “Now they are hid from thine eyes.”

3. He purged the temple.

4. He healed the sick who came to Him, in the temple.

5. His foes were all confounded.

When Christ came into Jerusalem, all was not gold that glittered. “Hosanna” was changed into “Crucify.” When hearts are impressed with the gospel, we must not expect all to be steadfast to Christ. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

An exciting inquiry

“Who is this?”

What will stir london? A reigning Saviour riding in triumph. The shout of a king is not in the Church; the ancient glory has departed. The world cares little about the Church so long as Christ does not reign in her palaces.

We must be able to answer the question. “Be ready always to give an answer,” etc. You must have a knowledge of Jesus Christ. The answer should be clear and distinct. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

True and counterfeit enthusiasm

To-day, as long ago, Jesus Christ is the true object of the enthusiasm of mankind.

There may be outward devotion to Christ while the heart remains a stranger to His nature, His claims, and His love. What are our religious protestations worth?

Beware of regarding emotional excitement as identical with religious feelings and states of mind and heart. The religion of some people exhausts itself in hallelujahs; they possess no constant principle. (J. R. Bailey.)

Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem

A sorrowing Saviour and a rejoicing multitude.

A firm Saviour and a fickle multitude. Why was this multitude so fickle?

1. Because they had no true and deep understanding of what they were shouting about on Sunday.

2. Because an influence from a different quarter and of a different kind was brought to bear upon them on Friday.

The Saviour advancing to the most glorious deed of all history. The multitude advancing to the most atrocious deed of all history.

1. Here is a word of caution.

2. Here is a word of exhortation. (W. Jones.)

Entire consecration

The Lord has need of you.

1. Your prayers.

2. Your praises.

3. Your talents.

4. He may need your most cherished one, that which your heart holds fastest.

Nature’s replies to this claim.

1. Unbelief denies the claim.

2. Weakness hesitates till the opportunity is past.

3. Simulation seems to do it, but does not.

4. Selfishness hugs her own.

5. How much affliction passes over a man before he is willing to comply with the just demands of his Creator. (J Vaughan, M. A.)

Christ’s entry into the world

Who comes? No temporal deliverer. A Divine King. The Son of God. God the Son. Upon the doctrine of Christ’s divinity depend the truth of His teaching, the perfection of His example, and the infinite value of His sacrifice.

To whom does he come?

1. To a world needing a:Redeemer.

2. To humanity wanting a Ruler.

3. To individual souls seeking a king. To be “thy King,” He must reign in thy heart, over thy thoughts and affections. The will must be surrendered to Him.

In what manner does he come?

1. Meek.

2. Lowly. Twin graces are these. We need them. Pride was the principle of our ruin. Through pride Adam fell. Pride is a false imitation of God-the imitation of His independency; but He has said, “My glory will I not give to another.” The two deepest movements of the human soul are desire and anger; meekness and lowliness are the correctives of both.

How ought we to prepare to receive him? We must go forth to meet Him-

(1) by a holy desire and longing for His presence;

(2) by putting away our sinful habits and desires;

(3) by imitating His virtues;

(4) by obeying His laws;

(5) by praying for a loving, forgiving spirit.

Blessed Jesus, reign within us; cast down every imagination and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of Thyself, and bring every thought into captivity to Thy holy will. Reign within us, till Thou hast put every enemy, every movement of our corrupt nature or the remnants of it, under Thy feet. Reign within us by Thy grace here, and so transform us that we may become like unto Thee in Thy glory hereafter! (W. H. Hutchings, M. A.)

Popular attractions

Here is a multitude:

(1) Attracted by marvellous intelligence;

(2):Following the example of the few;

(3) Rendering regal honour to the son of a carpenter;

(4) Looking for material aggrandisement;

(5) In a little while exchanging “Hosanna” for “ Crucify Him.” (F. Wagstaff.)

The lowly errand

This history as it regards our Lord. Christ really prophesied, and events proved His prophecy truth. There is accuracy of detail, most wonderful. There was miracle as well as prophecy; miracle wrought upon mind; poor men were made willing to give up their property at the bidding of strangers. A striking exhibition of power appropriate as striking. It taught the disciples that Christ’s presence was not necessary to His guardianship, that He could act on their enemies as well from a distance as when near; that His knowledge and power extended to minute and mean things.

The conduct of the disciples. They obeyed the command without hesitation. It seemed a wild errand; looked like robbery, improbable of result. We should do well to imitate their obedience; a readiness to fill the lower offices. We are active enough in great enterprises, but have no taste for the humbler duties. All employment for Christ is noble.

The conduct of the owners of the ass and the colt, We do not know the circumstances and character of these men. Whatever their acquaintance with Christ they acted as stewards of their property; not as proprietors. It will be a new era in the Church when to show that “ the Lord hath need” of this or that thing shall suffice to secure its cheerful bestowment. It is thus with children and friends, “The Lord hath need of them.” In a thousand ways God is saying that He has need of our time, talents, property. Let us yield cheerfully.

1. The vast honour given to humble individuals in that they were allowed to contribute to the progress of the Saviour when accomplishing an ancient prediction. We may all do something towards the sublime consummation for which the Church prays.

2. When He comes in triumph He will acknowledge the services rendered Him. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

The Lord’s need

He speaks as a man of need. He who could see all things and foretell all things confesses to His personal necessity. The head that carried all knowledge had not where to sleep, of its own right and title. And again in that very self-same sentence He used a word which throws the term need into striking contrast-Lord. Such strange mixture do we find in the talk of this Man. Lord and need in the same sentence. He does not give up His royalty because of His necessity, nor does His royalty and lordship save Him from need. And yet what need could lie have who had but to express the wish and it was instantly complied with? It was a sweet necessity, it was the pain of that hunger which had wherewith to satisfy itself. (Dr. Parker.)

Fulfilment of prophecy

A prophecy may be said to be fulfilled four ways.

When the self-same thing comes to pass which was literally delivered in the prophecy.

When the thing allegorically signified is fulfilled.

When as neither the thing literally nor allegorically meant, but some other like is done.

When as it is daily more and more fulfilled. (John Boys.)

Clothes to tread on

Plutarch mentions it as a circumstance of respect shown to Cato the Younger upon a particular occasion by the soldiery, that they laid their garments for him to tread upon as he marched. (C. Bulkey.)

The city moved

The silence and obscurity of Christ never troubles the world; He may be an underling, without any stir; but if He do but put forth Himself never so little to bear the least sway amongst men, now their blood is up, the whole city is moved. Neither is it otherwise in the private economy of the soul. O Saviour, while Thou dost, as it were, hide Thyself, and lie still in the heart, and takest all terms contentedly from us, we entertain Thee with no other than a friendly welcome; but when Thou once beginnest to ruffle with our corruptions, and to exercise Thy spiritual power in the subjugation of our vile affections, now all is in a secret uproar, all the angles of the heart are moved. (Bishop Hall.)

Christ a King

When Mr. Dawson was preaching in South Lambeth on the offices of Christ, he presented Him as prophet, and priest, and then as the King of Saints. He marshalled patriarchs, kings, prophets, and apostles, martyrs and confessors of every age and clime, to place the insignia of royalty upon the head of the King of Kings. The audience were wrought up to the highest pitch of excitement, and, as if waiting to hear the anthem peal out the coronation hymn, the preacher commenced singing “ All hail the power of Jesus’ Name.’: The audience, rising as one man, sang the hymn as perhaps it was never sung before. (Foster.)

Verses 12-14

Matthew 21:12-14

And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold.

The purification of the temple

This act shows the mind of Jesus concerning the reverence which is due to the house of God. He regarded it not so much as the temple of the Jews as the temple of God; He revered it more than they did. Their reverence was formal, pompous, selfish; His was spiritual, looking with solemn eyes on the meaning of its name, and the holiness of its purpose. It was sacred to the holiest hopes of man. The place where human souls held communion with the Father cannot be common.

The purification of the temple seems to be a striking intimation of the great purpose of His ministry, to purify God’s worship everywhere, in the outward and inward temple, in the house, the heart, the life.

We may behold in this act of our Saviour one of the primary expressions of the universal and impartial philanthropy of His gospel; that noble principle which, regardless of prejudice or artificial distinction, gathers in the whole family into one equal brotherhood, one worshipping assembly, under the roof of one undivided sanctuary. The desecrated portion was the court of the Gentiles. All is holy. The rights of Gentiles are to Jesus as sacred as those of the Jews. The temple was His Father’s house. (F. W. P. Greenwood, D. D.)

Thieves in the temple

What is that which we must labour to destroy? What weeds be those which we must endeavour to root out? We read here, that our Saviour did cast buyers and sellers out of the temple, terming them “thieves.” For although to buy and sell be actions in themselves lawful and honest, yet the time and place, with other circumstances, may so change their quality, that he which buyeth shall be as one that robbeth, and he that selleth as one that stealeth. They bought and sold in the temple; this Christ condemneth. Yet behold what a beautiful colour they had set upon their wicked practices, to make them seem allowable before men! For of the judgment of God they made no account. It is written in the law (Deuteronomy 14:23-26). Under the pretence of providing that, according to this law, men which dwelt far off might always, at their coming to the temple, have sacrifices there, and offerings in a readiness to present before the Lord; their covetous humour fed itself upon the people without all fear of God, without any reverence at all of His sanctuary. May they not justly be termed “thieves,” who, pretending thus to serve the Lord in His sacrifices, robbed and spoiled Him in His saints? No doubt Jerusalem, had she known the things which belonged to her peace, would have blessed the hour wherein the Lord of the house came to ease that holy place of so intolerable burthens, to rid His temple of so noisome filth. (Archbishop Sandys.)

Den of thieves

An expression that was probably used by our Lord in allusion to the rocky caves and dens in the mountainous parts of Judaea, which were often the receptacles of thieves and robbers. (C. Bulkley.)

The temple of God

The relation we have by the Evangelist of the way in which the Lord came outwardly to His temple may suggest to us His coming to the temple of the human heart; for we are told the soul of every Christian is a temple. The stones of the temple on Mount Moriah were common stones till they were consecrated for God’s house and service. So the talents, the capabilities, the powers, and, above all, the affections, become by conversion and regeneration a dwelling-place for Jesus. He refines and purifies them, and the figure of the legal consecration becomes in the gospel scheme a real and vital holiness. Let us recollect that the sheep and oxen, the doves, and the tables of the money-changers, were all in themselves needful and right. It was bringing these things even into the outer court of the temple that defiled it. So it is with the temple of the heart. How does selfishness, how do selfish schemes gradually creep into Christian hearts-nay, how do they sometimes at last find a footing in the inmost shrine! The Christian whose heart has once been purged from his old sins is not in a position of absolute security because he is in Christ, but only if he abide in Christ, and is bringing forth really good fruit. The Lord’s choicest earthly blessings misused become, if not idols, yet like the doves, not occupying the right place. And our Lord’s action warns those who, on whatever pretext, use His outward visible Church for unholy purposes. (R. Barclay.)

Cherished evils

I recollect when in Pompeii I saw, in what two thousand years ago was a large and splendid house, a shrine or temple where the Lares and Penates were placed; and its shape and form are still in existence, in professedly Christian lands, under a Christian guise. Is there not sometimes something which has a resemblance to this in Christian hearts, or in Christian families-relics of the old nature, things not quite sanctioned by our conscience, dispositions of mind not quite in accordance with the mind that was in Christ Jesus, which have nevertheless been entertained until we are almost unconscious of our danger? (R. Barclay.)

Christ cleansing the temple

We have a similar record to this in each of the four Gospels.

The place at which this event occurred. Jesus went into the temple of God.

1. The appliances and construction of the temple in our Lord’s time indicated a process of development in the system of Judaism.

2. It was into the capacious court of the Gentiles that our Lord entered, and in which He found these desecrations. That the Jew should have done this, marked a want of reverence and a proper spiritual feeling with regard to God’s worship that was most strange when contrasted with all the holy traditions of that sacred place.

The time and the significance of this occurrence. The chronology of the first three Gospels differ considerably from that of the fourth. I have no hesitation in saying that this act was done twice-that it did occur at the beginning and at the end of His ministry. I can see a considerable difference in the circumstances at each period. We may interpret the first doing of this act, as recorded by John, as done almost exclusively, certainly pre-eminently, as Jesus the prophet-as a reformer, as one belonging to the old dispensation, and speaking -in the spirit of it. But at the end of His ministry the act had a deeper significance and a wider meaning: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” That which is polluted and degenerate, let it pass away. Let a new age come. Let a new dispensation be established, and let all the nations of the earth be welcomed, etc. He did this second action more emphatically in His character as Messiah. In each separate act there was a deep significance, and both teach their peculiar lessons.

Some of the general lessons of instruction which we may gather from them. (T. Binney.)

The cleansing of the temple

Jesus Christ

(1) did not connive at abuses for the sake of securing popular favour;

(2) did not allow abuses to be continued on the ground that the circumstances were temporary; He knew the temple would soon be destroyed;

(3) showed that man’s convenience was to be subordinated to God’s right;

(4) showed in this, as in all other cases, that the right one is morally stronger than the wicked many. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Varied worshippers

The temple itself is full of vacant worship. It resounds with rash vows and babbling voices. It is the house of God; but man has made it a nest of triflers, a fair of vanity, a den of thieves. Some come to it as reckless and irreverent as if they were stepping into a neighbour’s house. Some come to it, and feel as if they had laid the Most High under obligation, because they bring a sheaf of corn or a pair of pigeons; whilst they never listen to God’s word, nor strive after that obedience which is better than sacrifice. Some come and rattle over empty forms of devotions, as if they would be heard because of their much speaking. And some, in a fit of fervour, utter vows which they forget to pay; and, when reminded of their promise, they protest that there must be some mistake; they repudiate the vow, and say it was an error. (Dr. J. Hamilton.)

A worshipping spirit

It was said of Sir William Cecil, sometime Lord Treasurer of England, that when he went to bed he would throw off his gown and say, “Lie there, Lord Treasurer,” as bidding adieu to all State affairs, that he might the more quietly repose himself: so when we go to any religious duty, we should say, “Lie by, world; lie by, all secular cares, all household affairs, all pleasures, all traffic, all thoughts of gain; lie by all; adieu all!”

The blind and the lame;-physical infirmities typical of moral defects

It demands but little acquaintance with Holy Scripture to be aware that either of these two forms of bodily ailment is the common, as well as the obvious emblem of a corresponding moral defect (Isaiah 42:7; Isaiah 9:2; Isaiah 35:6). To these two classes of cures Christ Himself refers as evidence of His Messiahship (Matthew 11:4-5). A subject is thus set before us in which we find our place without difficulty. We are reminded of our own great spiritual infirmities; of our need of His Almighty aid who poured the light of day on sightless eyes, and gave those ankle-bones strength which before were powerless in Israel.

For surely the life of many of us-Our own life, in too many respects, is the life of the blind. We grope our way in self-reliance, and we often lose it. We stumble and fall. We feel after, and we find not; we reach forth, and we grasp not.

1. We read God’s Holy Word, yet we see nothing, or very little, of the many wonders which it contains. The veil is upon our hearts while we read.

2. We look abroad on the Miracles of Love which surround our dwelling; we look within, on the mystery of Divine goodness in which we live and move and have our being; yet we recognize little or nothing of the hand of God either within or without us.

Who, again, does not see in the helplessness of the lame a lively type of his own condition which, so far from “running in the way of God’s commandments,” knows not how to “walk with God” for a single hour?

1. Reluctant to begin what we know to be holy.

2. Unwilling to persevere in good courses begun.

3. Sluggish in spiritual growth.

4. Remiss in prayer, regarding it as a task instead of a recreation. (J. W. Burgon, D. D.)

Verses 15-16

Matthew 21:15-16

The children crying in the temple.

The blessedness of children’s piety

It is upon the child that this sarcastic question still falls. Some hardly think the children can be converted. The Saviour’s answer is splendid when He said, “Have you never read?” Never caught the inner sense, never read so as to understand, etc.

Children are capable of very deep piety,

1. They are capable of that early grace with which true religion usually begins-a deep repentance.

2. No one who has seen converted children will ever doubt their capacity for faith, in some respects greater than that of the adult. Their faith is more easy, vivid, effective.

3. When they come to love our Lord, they do love.

4. I have noticed in children other virtues-courage, patience, great understanding of the fear of God.

Children are capable of rendering, in the hands of God, good service.

1. They convey healing messages to those about them. The little maid who waited upon Naaman’s wife. Often guide blind souls to the light. Often guide strong men to some great action.

2. They serve the Lord wonderfully by their prayers.

The children’s piety and the children’s service are peculiarly glorifying to God.

1. Nothing seems to me to glorify God so much as His condescension when He takes a little child and instructs it, and manifests Himself to the child. And what power is there in the conversion of a child. If you have any doubt try it yourself.

2. They glorify God because they do so rebuke His enemies. Who can see what some of us have seen in children, and not feel ashamed we have lived so long, and yet never yielded to the Redeemer’s love?

3. They sometimes rebuke God’s own people and so glorify Him. Those who have never made confession of faith, etc. Sunday-school teachers, you are engaged in a most blessed work-persevere. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Children and missions

It is not well to overlook the influence of children, or to neglect them in making our efforts for the universal diffusion of the gospel. Let us:

Ascertain what is requisite in children if they would promote the cause of Jesus. That they should have

(1) a correct knowledge of the state of the heathen;

(2) just views of the gospel as adapted to save them;

(3) right conceptions of the value of immortal souls;

(4) experimental knowledge of the love of Christ.

What children may do for carrying on the blessed cause of Jesus in the world. They can-

(1) contribute of their means;

(2) collect from others;

(3) pray for God’s blessing to attend their efforts and give success;

(4) some children might seek gifts and talents for missionary work.

What should induce children thus to feel and word in the cause of Christ?

1. Gratitude to God for His goodness to them.

2. God’s command.

3. Their own happiness. (J. Burns, LL. D.)

Christ’s praise shouted by children in the temple

The doctrine of the text. Christ here refers to a composition of David in which he exalts the excellence of God’s power. In this verse He illustrates His power by giving an instance of it, that God makes the weakest of His creatures instruments who were able to subdue the greatest powers of the world.

1. The sovereignty of God.

2. The sufficiency of God’s strength.

3. The perfection of praise.

The circumstances connected with the text. Our Lord was making His last entry into Jerusalem.

1. A token of love.

2. A sign of hatred.

(1) God is never more glorified than in the religion of the young.

(2) All who acknowledge Christ are bound to promote this well-pleasing tribute to the glory of God. (W. Harrison, M. A.)

The children’s Divine Friend

The memorable events in the text.

1. The Saviour’s wonders. The wonders wrought by Christ were diversified in character, comprehensive in extent, and adapted to the circumstances of the times. The scene of the miracles is the temple of God. On the one part, He cast out (Matthew 21:12-13); and on the other, He healed (Matthew 21:14). What could have been better timed than following up the miracle of majesty with that of mercy?

2. The children’s praises.

(1) The object of the praise, “The Son of David.”

(2) The character of the praise.

(3) The parties engaged in rendering the praise.

The offence occasioned.

1. The persons who were the subjects of this uneasiness.

2. The height to which their anger rose.

3. The way in which their displeasure was manifested.

The concise but satisfactory vindication.

The ample instruction derivable from the scenes and wonders that distinguish this eventful season.

1. They show the Saviour in the true dignity and glory of His character.

2. They show the glorious triumphs of the reign of grace, in the perfecting of the praise of babes.

3. Encouragement to parents to bring their children to Jesus and to His temple. (J. Gray.)

God glorified in little children

God is glorious in the smallest as in the greatest of His works; the least flower awakens admiration in an equal degree with suns.

It is to the glory of God that there is such a state as that of infancy and childhood. The infant mind is spread out to receive the impress of Christ. He has perfected praise in forming a period of human existence so capable of right impression.

God glorifies himself in little children by often making them powerful instruments of good to others. These will not defraud Him of praise.

God again perfects his praise in children in making them capable of receiving and reflecting the image of Christ.

It is to the praise and glory of God that infants and children are so much the objects of his care.

But especially does God glorify Himself in the removal of so many little children at an early age.

But it is especially in the assurances that the souls of departed children are happy in heaven, that God’s name is to be glorified. (W. H. Lewis, D. D.)

Children glorify God by being useful to others

Often, too, have little ones been the messengers of strength and consolation to believers. In one of the darkest periods of the Reformation, when Luther, Melancthon, and others were assembled under great dejection of spirit, to consult upon what should be done, Melancthon retired from the council in the deepest depression of spirit, but in a few moments returned again with a countenance beaming with confidence and joy; and when all were surprised at the change, he told them that he had just seen a sight which assured- him of success-he had seen some little children engaged in prayer for the Reformation, whom their mothers, who were assembled for the same purpose, had brought together, and he was assured such prayers would be heard of God. Courage in the needful hour, for the greatest work ever accomplished by uninspired men, was thus breathed into the soul through infants’ prayers. (W. H. Lewis, D. D.)

Children in the temple praising the Redeemer

1. We see here that real piety is not confined to men of years or learning.

2. That religion in its main substance is adapted to the capacity of the young.

3. From the example before us we learn that great benefit may accrue to youth, from a stated attendance on Divine institutions. Public worship is as much an ordinance of God under the gospel, as was the Passover under the Law. The example of Jews bringing their children to the temple reproves the neglect of many Christians.

4. The young are under special obligations to acknowledge and praise the Redeemer. True religion will operate in pious affections and exercises of heart toward Christ.

5. That youthful piety is peculiarly pleasing to Christ. (J. Lathrop, D. D.)

Witnessing children

The children see, whilst others are blind. They see what scribe and priest, with all their learning, see not-the Son of David. Pride does not hinder their sight. There is fitness between the mind of youth and the truth as it is in Jesus.

The children SING, although others are silent.

The children receive the blessing which others lose. (J. M. L.)

Christ’s encouragement and vindication of young disciples

The children’s acclamation. “Hosannah to the Son of David.” This considered as the language

(1) of faith and trust in Christ;

(2) of desire and good will;

(3) of praise;

(4) of triumphant joy. Remarks-

1. Behold the power of God’s grace on young people!

2. How lovely and delightful is it to see such effects of it upon them!

3. How should this awaken a concern for the youth of our day!

The offence taken at these acclamations.

1. The persons who took the offence.

2. The matter of their offence.

3. The reasons of it.


1. Behold the necessity of a supernatural work upon the heart to bring it over to Christ!

2. How vile a part do they act, who go about to discountenance and destroy the good dispositions of young people toward Christ and religion.

3. Let not any young people be discouraged by what others may do or say, to turn them aside from Christ and His ways.

Our Lord’s vindication of those young ones in what they were doing.

1. He took notice of them.

2. The high account He made of what they did.

3. The reproof He gave to the chief priests and scribes for objecting against it.


1. That it should be our great concern to own and honour Christ.

2. That the earlier we begin to own and honour Him, the more God’s praise is thereby advanced.

3. That He will own and honour the young ones, who are brought to own and honour Him. (John Guyse.)

Children’s piety

How much better is it to see boys and girls showing a serious concern about Christ, about an interest in His favour and love, and in the benefits of His redemption, and about His honour and glory; and to see our sons and daughters preferring Him to all things else, and devoting themselves to His service; than to see them lavish away the sprightly parts of life in lightness and vanity, in rudeness and wickedness, and in thoughtless neglect, not to say contempt, of God and our Saviour, of religion, and everything that relates to their own real and eternal welfare! (John Guyse.)

Praise and help from children

In describing his early persecutions in Moorfields, Whitefield says: “Several little boys and girls, who were fond of sitting round me on the pulpit while I preached, and handed to me people’s notes-though they were often pelted with eggs, dirt, etc., thrown at me-never once gave way, but, on the contrary, every time I was struck, turned up their weeping eyes, and seemed to wish they could receive the blows for me. God made them, in their tender years, great and living martyrs for Him.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Little things do the perfecting

How frequently are small things those which perfect anything! For instance: it is the bloom of the plum which perfects it, the scent in the flower, the cut of the nostril, or the dimples in a countenance, the short strings in a harp, the delicate finishing touches in a picture. What perfects a fireside but the children ]inks? what perfects a cathedral choir but the children’s notes? and what perfects God’s praise but the “mouth of babes and sucklings”? (W. J. BoIton.)

Children capable of deep repentance

I cannot help remembering when the Lord dealt with me as a child. If there was a child who knew the power of sin I did. Tenderly cared for, and kept from all sorts of evil company, yet there seemed in me as if the great deeps within my nature were broken up in vast masses of sin and rebellion against God. I have met with hundreds of persons every day in riper years who I am sure never felt the hundredth part of what I felt when I was as a child, under God’s Spirit, feeling a hatred of myself because I had not lived to God and loved and served Him. I am sure I speak here what I do know, and testify what I have seen in scores of children, that their repentance has been true, thorough, deep, intelligent, and lasting, and they have known their way to the foot of the cross, and seen the great sacrifice, and have wept all the more to think they should have offended against love so infinite which redeemed them and made them free. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Children capable of a high degree of faith

For there seems to me to be something so chaste and beautiful, like the early dew glistening in the rising sun-light, about this blessed faith of the children. They may teach some of us how to believe in God. There is a story of a child who went to a prayer meeting summoned that they might pray for rain, and she took her umbrella with her. We pray, but we do not take our umbrellas. That is the very essence of faith-to expect a blessing and to be prepared for it. Children often in that way show to us that faith is not to be a show-thing, a pious thing to talk about, but a thing to act upon in ordinary concerns of everyday life. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Courage in children

We don’t always look for that in children, yet have they shown it. The martyr Laurence, who was burnt at Colchester, was so tortured in gaol that he had to be carried to the stake in a chair, and all the grown-up people, afraid that they might he burnt too, forsook him. But a child came up and said, “Lord, strengthen Thy servant.” When one was burnt in Smithfield a boy was seen going home after the burning. Some one said, “Boy, why were you there?” He said, “Sir, I went to learn the way.’ It may be said, “Oh, that was in the old days.” But they are children like ours. A friend once said to the widow of a martyr, “Will you not urge your boy to forsake his faith? … I have had many children,” she said, “but I never had one so well bestowed as this dear boy, though he is to be burnt to death.” He cheered his elder companion, and stood back to back with him in the flames. They have taken their fair share of suffering in martyr days. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Children understated the fear of God

It has been my pleasure lately to admit to the church a large number of little children, and I can say of each of them as I have talked with them-and I put many rather difficult questions to them about the things of God-and whenever the question has been vital, there has never been any hesitancy as to the answer. I had years ago a good brother who felt it necessary to put questions to young children which I did not like. He asked one child, “Have you given your heart to the Lord?” The little boy said, “Yes, sir.” “Oh,” my friend said, “you see his ignorance.” I said, “Has the Lord given you a new heart?” “Yes, sir, the Lord Jesus gave me a new heart when I believed in Him, and I know it was a good one.” My friend was shut up, and he did not ask any more questions of children for a great time. Perhaps what they know is truer wisdom sometimes than what the elders know. I read some time ago that the Jews permit children to read the Scriptures when they are five years old, but not the Talmud till they are fifteen. God help me to keep on reading the Scriptures and never get to the Talmud at all. Some will get so old that it is all Talmud with them-very little Bible. With the children there is no Talmud; they just keep to the smooth road. What they know is worth the knowing, whereas much that we know is worse than nothing, and it would be a great blessing if we forget it. Children can be quick in understanding in the fear of the Lord. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Children are capable of great service

I heard of a little child whose father was wont to curse and swear, and when the father was indulging in some horrible language she went behind the door. The father said, “What are you doing there? Come out.” Her eyes were red with weeping. “What are you crying for?” “Because, dear father, I could not bear to hear you talk like that.” “Well, you shall never hear me talk like that again.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

A child’s simple trust

A little girl, who had long nursed a sick sister, was getting worn out. One morning, as she trudged along to procure medicine, she thought how hard it was to be always waiting on the invalid when the other children were at play, and when she thought also how likely it was her sister would die, between weariness and grief she began to weep bitterly. But a sudden thought crossed her mind. The verse came to her memory, “I know, O Lord, that Thy judgments are right, and that Thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me.” Day and night henceforward she never wearied in her attendance on the invalid. Her cheerful countenance did more good than the medicines; and ere long she had her reward, for her sister recovered.

A boy’s prayer

An American writer says, “A boy, thirteen years of age, who attended one of our mission Sunday schools, was hopefully converted. His father was a dissipated, wicked man, who kept a drinking saloon, and thus not only got drunk himself, but caused others to do so. This dear boy asked his Sunday-school teacher what he should do, for his father would make him wait on the customers, handing out the poison to them; and if he had not better leave home. His teacher told him not to leave home, but begin at once to pray for his father, and she would pray for him, and for his father too; and they both commenced to pray for that father. In a few weeks he left off drinking, and soon after left off selling, too, and went to to work earn an honest living; ‘for,’ said he, with tears running down his face, ‘something has bean the matter with my dear boy for sometime; and the other day I heard a noise in the room where he sleeps; it was a kind of a mournful noise, and I listened; and don’t you think he was praying for me! He prayed that I would quit selling-for I had quit drinking some time before; and I felt I was doing wrong, and I have quit it all; and the next time you have a meeting I am coming with my boy.’”

The weak made to perfect the praise of God

We do not wonder to see a man of strong constitution, who eats his bread heartily, and sleeps soundly, live; but for a crazy body, full of ailments and infirmities, to be so patched and shored up by the physician’s art, that he stands to old age, this begets some wonder in the beholders. It may be thou art a poor trembling soul, thy faith is weak, and thy assaults from Satan strong, thy corruptions stirring and active, and thy mortifying strength little, so that in thy opinion they rather gain ground on thy grace than give ground to it; ever and anon thou art ready to think thou shalt be cast as a wreck upon the devil’s shore: and yet to this day thy grace lives, though full of leaks; now is it not worth the stepping aside to see this strange sight? A broken ship with masts and hull rent and torn, thus towed along by Almighty power, through an angry sea, and armadas of sins and devils, safely into His harbour. To see a poor dilling or rush candle in the face of the boisterous winds and not blown out: in a word, to see a weak stripling in grace held up in God’s arms till he beats the devil craven: this God is doing in upholding thee; thou art one of these babes, out of whose mouth God is perfecting His praise, by ordaining such strength for thee, that thou, a babe in grace, shalt yet foil a giant in wrath and power. (W. Gurnal.)

Verse 17

Matthew 21:17

And he lodged there.

The value of domestic happiness

Domestic life like all other external goods, is not necessarily, and of itself, but only under certain conditions, in particular circumstances, a real advantage, and a source of true felicity. Only there where wisdom and virtue dwell, where intelligent well-meaning persons live together, only there dwell peace, satisfaction, and joy. Wherever domestic happiness is found, it shows us persons who are connected together by real, intrinsic love and friendship, who live entirely by each other, and who seek their happiness, their honour, and their force, in the mutual union of their hearts. Domestic happiness supposes a taste for truth, for nature, for graceful simplicity, for serene repose, as they are in contrast with error and art, studied and forced pleasures, and the more ostentatious and poignant diversions.

1. The comfort of domestic life is the most agreeable relief from the burden and heat of the day and its frequently tiresome business.

2. The happiness of domestic life is quiet, peaceful self-enjoyment; a self-enjoyment that is multiplied and ennobled by the intimate participation in all the concernments of this trusty society.

3. The happiness of domestic life is the delightful, free, and intimate association between harmonious and mutually loving souls.

4. The happiness of domestic life is inexhaustible. It renews itself daily, it multiplies itself without end.

5. The happiness of domestic life compensates the want of any other; but no other can compensate the want of that.

6. The enjoyment of domestic happiness is always not less edifying and useful than pleasant.

7. To the enjoyment of domestic happiness, no troublesome, no expensive preparatory provisions and arrangements are needful.

8. The enjoyment of it is never attended by satiety or disgust, by sorrow or remorse.

9. The happiness of domestic life is restricted to no class of men. It is attached neither to station, nor to opulence, nor to elevation and power; confined neither to the palace nor to the cottage. (C. J. Zollikofer.)

The delights of home

If you would enjoy pleasure, innocent, pure, daily-renewing, never disgracing, never cloying; delights worthy of the man and the Christian, seek them not at a distance from you, since they lie at home; seek them not in things which are not in your power; but in what is more your own; seek them in the happiness of domestic life. If you may venture to expect them anywhere, it is certainly there they must be found! (C. J. Zollikofer.)

Verses 17-21

Matthew 21:17-21

And when he saw a fig-tree in the way, He came to it, and found nothing thereon.

The barren fig-tree

The destruction of this tree was not an act of injustice. People find it difficult to understand the propriety of punishing an inanimate object for defects which are only possible in higher existences. They argue that, since the fig-tree did not possess freewill, but was simply obeying the law of its kind, our Lord’s act was capricious. But observe-

1. The supposed force of this objection is due to our treating a metaphorical expression as if it were the language of reality. We speak of “doing justice” to a picture, when we mean justice to the artist who painted it. The picture itself cannot possibly be treated justly or unjustly, although we may form a true or a false estimate of its merits. Justice and injustice pre-suppose rights to be respected or violated; and rights belong only to a person. In the vegetable world there is no such thing as personality: and no such thing as “rights.” To talk, therefore, of “injustice” in blasting or cutting down a tree, is good English if we are in the realms of poetry, but nonsense if in those of moral truth. The tree is there to be made the most of by man. No one has yet maintained that in using it to furnish our houses, or-brighten our hearths, we sin against any law of natural justice. Surely, then, if by its sudden destruction the tree can do more, much more, than minister to our bodily comfort-if in its way it can be made to teach us a moral lesson of the first importance-there is no room for any question of injustice. What is merely material must always be subordinated to the moral and spiritual; and if a tree can be made, by its destruction, to illustrate a moral or spiritual truth, a high honour is put upon it, a noble work given it to do.

There was no unusual severity in this act. The truest mercy always sacrifices the lower to the higher. It is not more cruel to destroy a plant in order to teach a great moral truth, than to destroy a plant in order to eat it. If by its destruction the plant does our soul a service there is quite as good a reason for putting it to some sort of distress, in the process of destroying it, as there is if it is wanted to support our bodies. (Canon Liddon.)

Parabolic and prophetic elements in the destruction of the fig-tree

This incident is, from first to last, an acted parable. It would, perhaps, be truer to say, that it is an acted prophecy. In the East action was, and still is, often a more vivid and effective way of communicating truth than language. When a prophet of Israel sat in sackcloth, with dust on his head, by the side of the road along which the royal chariot would pass, his action was a much more powerful rebuke to the monarch for neglect of duty than a sermon would have been-even though it had an introduction, three arguments, and a conclusion. The East as I have said, is traditionally the home of eloquent action; but in all countries and ages-human action is a kind of human language, and it is often much more impressive than words which fall upon the ear. In our intercourse with each other, and in our worship of God, action expresses thought and feeling in a condensed way which often could only be put into very cumbrous and awkward language; and our Lord on this occasion was teaching-teaching in the main by action. He was acting a parable, and no objection can be urged against His action to which teaching by parable-that is to say, by putting forward an imaginary story as if it were literally true-is not always open. What, then, was the lesson which on this occasion He desired to teach? Was it simply the shame and guilt in every responsible creature of God’s hand, of moral unfruitfulness? Did He cause the tree to wither because it was the symbol of nations and of men who do nothing for His glory and nothing for their fellows? That He does punish such unfruitfulness is certain: but this is not the lesson He would teach us here. The time of figs was not yet. To use figurative language, the tree did net sin by not producing figs at a time of the year when they could only have been produced in the open air by what we call a freak of nature, or, rather, in despite of her ordinary rules. The tree was a symbol of that which, in man, is worse sin than a merely fruitless life. It had leaves, you will observe, though it had no fruit. That was the distinction of this particular tree among its fellows ranged along the road, with their bare, leafless, unpromising branches. They held out hopes of nothing beyond what met the eye. This tree, with its abundant leaves, gave promise of fruit that might be well-nigh ripe; and thus it was a symbol of moral or of religious pretentiousness. Not simply as unfruitful, but because, being unfruitful, it was covered with leaves, it was a fitting symbol of that want of correspondence between profession and practice-between claims and reality-between the surface appearances of life and its real direction and purpose-which our Lord condemned so often and so sternly in the men of His time. And, as representing this, it was condemned too. (Canon Liddon.)

Application of this acted parable

The fig-tree represented immediately, we cannot doubt, in our Lord’s intention. The actual state of the Jewish people. The heathen nations, judged from a Divine point of view, were barren enough. Israel was barren also, but then Israel was also pretentious and false. Israel was covered with leaves. The letter of the law-the memories, the sepulchres of the prophets-the ancient sacrifices-the accredited teachers-all were in high consideration. Israel was, to all appearance, profoundly religious. But the searching eye of our Lord found no fruit upon this tree beneath the leaves-no true soul-controlling belief even in the promises of the Messiah, of which they made so much-no true sense of their obligation and of their incapacity to please God. The tree by the roadside was a visible symbol of the moral condition of Israel as it presented ‘itself to the eye of Christ, and there was no longer any reason for suspending the judgment which had been foretold in the Saviour’s parable: “No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever.” If humanity needed light, strength, peace, consolations, Israel could no longer give them. Israel was hereafter to be a blasted and withered tree on the wayside of history.

The parable applies with equal force TO nations or to churches in Christendom which make great pretensions and do little or nothing of real value to mankind. For a time the tree waves its leaves in the wind. It lives on, sustained by the traditional habits and reverence of ages. Men admire the symbol of so many blessings-of so much activity and life. There is nothing to raise a question as to the true state of the case. But, at His own time, Christ passes along the highway-passes to inquire and to judge: some unforeseen calamity, some public anxiety, some shock to general confidence, lifts the leaves of that tree and discovers its real fruitlessnes.

To every individual Christian this parable is full of warning. The religious activity of the human soul may be divided, roughly, into leaves and fruit-showy forms of religious activity and interest on the one side, and the direct produce of religious conviction on the other. It is much easier to grow leaves than to grow fruit; and many a man’s life veils the absence of fruit by the abundance of leaves. To take an interest in religious questions and discussions is better than to be totally indifferent to them; but mere acquaintance with, and interest in, such proves nothing as to the condition of the conscience-the real tenor of the heart-the deepest movements of the inmost life-the soul’s state before God and its prospects for eternity. An anxious question for all is, whether the foliage of our Christian life is the covering of fruit beneath that is ripening for heaven, or only a thing of precocious and unnatural growth which has drained away the tree’s best sap before its time, and made good fruit almost impossible. No show of leaves, no fervour of language, no glow of feeling, no splendour of outward achievements for Christ’s cause and kingdom, will compensate, in His sight, for the absence of the fruits of the spirit. (Canon Liddon.)

Promise and performance

This parable from history teaches us the worthlessness of religious promises that are never fulfilled, and the guilt of appearing to be fruit-bearers when the eye of God sees nothing but leaves. There is no sin in promises. Cherry-trees must issue their white and fragrant “ promissory-notes” in May, or there would be no payment in delicious fruit at the end of the allotted sixty days. God makes precious promises to us; and a converted heart is only in the line of duty when it makes a solemn promise or covenant to the church and its head, Christ Jesus. There is no sin in a church-covenant honestly made. The sin is in breaking it. How full of leaves was the plausible fig-tree on the way to Bethany! How profuse of promises is many a young professor as he stands up laden with the foliage on which the dew-drops of hope are glistening! How much his pastor expects from him. He makes no reserve when he covenants to consecrate himself, all that he is, and all that he has, to the service of his Redeemer. For a time the glossy leaves of profession make a fair show. But when the novelty of the new position has worn off, and the times of reaction come, then the yoke begins to gall the conscience, and every religious duty becomes an irksome drudgery. The cross loses its charm; prayer loses its power; the Word of God ceases to attract; the very name of Jesus no longer possesses a charm; and church-membership has become a hateful mask, which its owner is ashamed to wear, and yet afraid to fling away. Before the world the fig-tree still bears leaves; but beneath them is utter barrenness. (T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)

Cursing of the fruitless fig-tree

The doom of things which do not meet the wants of the time.

The terrific prospect of meeting a disappointed Christ.

The perfect dominion of the spiritual over the material.

The vast possibilities of undoubting prayer. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The fig-tree cursed

The fig-tree flourishing.

1. Its nature, not a common thistle, from which men do not think to gather figs (Matthew 7:16). But a fruit-bearing tree.

2. Its situation. By the wayside, provoking attention, and inviting inspection. Such human trees are often more anxious to be noticed than the really fruitful.

3. Its appearance. Covered with leaves. Therefore (Matthew 21:19) fruit might be reasonably expected. It made a fair show and a bold promise. Do we in any wise resemble this tree?

The fig-tree examined.

1. The Lord was hungry-He needed fruit. He needs our fruitfulness.

2. It was seasonable as respects the tree. It outrivalled and surpassed the rest in forwardness-its time of figs had come.

3. It was carefully conducted; not a casual and distant glance. He knew without going, but went to show His care and awaken thought.

The fig-tree withered.

1. Its leaves did not save it. Profession without reality there may be; but there will not long be reality without profession.

2. The Lord cursed it to show how hypocrisy deserves to be treated. By such the world is apt to be deceived, touching the nature of religion. Many have the form of godliness who deny the power. Their end is nigh.

3. Those who persevere in hypocrisy may be bereft of the power of producing fruit. Hypocritical and perfunctory habits destroy this power. Thus spiritual life withers away.


1. To be thankful that we are fruit-trees, not thistles.

2. To be anxious to be fruitful fruit-trees (Galatians 5:22; Ephesians 5:9).

3. It is time for fruit directly the leaves begin to spring. With us now. (J. C. Gray.)

Self-forgetfulness of Christ

Our Lord’s work lay chiefly in the city; thither, therefore, He repairs betimes, and forgot, for haste, to take His breakfast, as it may seem, for ere He came to the city He was hungry, though it was but a step thither. A good man’s heart is where his calling is: such an one when he, is visiting friends or so, is like a fish in the air; whereunto if it leap for recreation or necessity, yet it soon returns to its own element. (John Trapp.)

A fruitful profession

It is said of Rev. Dr. Franklin that he had a passion for fruitfulness. His signet-ring had, for a device, a fruit-bearing tree, with the motto from Psalms 1:3. And when near his end, being asked by his son and pastoral successor for some word of condensed wisdom to be treasured up as a remembrance and a prompter, he breathed into his ear the word, “Fruitful.”

The hunger of Christ

Thou, that givest food to all things living, art Thyself hungry. Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, kept not so poor a house but that Thou mightest have eaten something at Bethany. Whether Thy haste outran Thine appetite, or whether on purpose Thou forbearest repast, to give opportunity to Thine ensuing miracle, I neither ask nor resolve. This was not the first time that Thou wast hungry. As Thou wouldst be a man, so Thou wouldst suffer those infirmities that belong to humanity. Thou earnest to be our High Priest; it was Thy act and intention, not only to intercede for Thy people, but to transfer unto Thyself, as their sins, so their weaknesses and complaints. But what shall we say to this Thine early hunger? The morning, as it is privileged from excess, so from need; the stomach is not wont to rise with the body. Surely, as Thy occasions were, no season was exempted from Thy want. Thou hadst spent the day before in the holy labour of Thy reformation: after a supperless departure, Thou spentest the night in prayer: no meal refreshed Thy toil. What do we think much, to forbear a morsel, or to break a sleep for Thee, who didst thus neglect Thyself for us? (Bishop Hall.)

Withering of the fruitless fig-tree

The occurrence which the evangelist describes.

1. The Saviour’s hunger.

2. The disappointment He met with.

3. The doom He pronounced.

The comment made upon it by the disciples. “How soon is the fig-tree withered away,” etc.

1. When this exclamation was uttered.

2. The feeling with which it was uttered.

The reply which this remark called forth from our Lord.

1. A wonderful assertion. “If ye have faith,” etc.

2. An encouraging promise. “And all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer,” etc. (Expository Outlines.)


It is no good sign when all the sap goes up the leaves, and is spent that way; nor in a Christian, when all his grace shoots up into woods, a verbal goodness; no reality at all. (Adams.)


When the Interpreter had done, he takes them out into his garden again, and led them to a tree, whose inside was all rotten and gone, and yet it grew and had leaves. Then said Mercy, “What means this? This tree,” said he, “whose outside is fair, and whose inside is rotten, is it to which many may be compared that are in the garden of God; who with their mouths speak high in behalf of God, but in deed will do nothing for Him; whose leaves are fair, but their heart good for nothing but to be tinder to the devil’s tinder-box. (Bunyan.)


Our profession without practice is but hypocritical, making us resemble the stony ground which brought forth a green blade, but no fruit to due maturity; like the fig-tree, which, having leaves but no figs, was accursed; like the tree in the garden, which cumbering the ground with its fruitless presence, was threatened to be cut down; like glow-worms, which have some lustre but no heat-seeing such professors shine with some light of knowledge, but without all warmth of Christian charity. (Downame.)

Verse 22

Matthew 21:22

And all things whatsoever ye ask in prayer believing.

Faith in prayer

Alexander the Great had a famous but indigent philosopher in his court. This adept in science was once particularly straitened in his circumstances. To whom should he apply, but to his patron, the conqueror of the world. He no sooner made his request than it was granted. Alexander gave him a commission to receive of his treasury whatever he wanted. He immediately demanded, in his sovereign’s name, ten thousand pounds. The treasurer, surprised at so large a demand, refused to comply; but waited upon the king, and told him of the request, remarking how unreasonable he thought the petition, and how exorbitant the sum. Alexander heard him with patience; but, as soon as he had ended his remonstrance, replied, “Let the money be instantly paid. I am delighted with this philosopher’s way of thinking; he has done me a singular honour; by the largeness of his request he shows the high idea he has conceived both of my superior wealth and my royal munificence.” We cannot honour God more than by believing what He says, and acting upon that faith in all our requests at His throne.

Prayer based on God’s promise

Prayer is the bow, the promise is the arrow; faith is the hand which draws the bow, and sends the arrow with the heart’s message to heaven. The bow without the arrow is of no use, and the arrow without the bow is of little worth, and both without the strength of the hand are to no purpose. Neither the promise without prayer, nor prayer without the promise, nor both without faith avail the Christian anything. What was said of the Israelites, “They could not enter in, because of unbelief,” the same may be said of many of our prayers; they cannot enter heaven, because they are not put up in faith. (Slater.)

Literal answer to prayer

Some fifty years ago, one bitter January night, the inhabitants of the old town of Schleswig were thrown into the greatest distress and terror. A hostile army was marching down upon them, and new and fearful reports of the conduct of the lawless soldiery were hourly reaching the place. In one large, commodious cottage dwelt an aged woman with her widow daughter and a grandson. While all hearts quaked with fear, this saintly soul passed her time in crying cut to God that He would “build a wall of defence round about them,” quoting the words of an ancient hymn. Her grandson asked why she prayed for a thing so entirely impossible as that God should build a wall about their house, which should hide it; but she explained that her meaning only was that God should protect them in whatever way seemed to Him best. At midnight the dreaded tramp was heard, and the enemy came pouring in at every avenue, filling the houses to overflowing. But, while most fearful sounds were heard on every side, not even a knock came to their door; at which they were greatly surprised. The morning light cleared up the mystery; for, just beyond the house, the drifted snow had reared such a massive wall that it was impossible to get over it to them. “There!” said the good woman, triumphantly; “do you not see, my son, that God could raise up a wall around us?”

The influence of believing prayer has a good analogy in the daguerrotype

By means of this process the features of natural objects are thrown upon a sensitive sheet through a lens and leave their impression upon that sheet. So when the character of God is, by means of prayer, brought to bear upon the mind of the believer-the mind being rendered sensitive by the Holy Spirit-it impresses there the Divine image. In this manner the image of Christ is formed in the soul, the existence of which the Scriptures represent as inspiring the believer with the hope of glory. (Walker.)

The true theory of Christian prayer as the Object, the Medium, the Agent

This theory has its analogy in the worship of the Jewish economy, and in the worship of all religions. It is also in analogy with the general practice in petitioning or asking as between people and their rulers, children and parents, servants and masters. The principle involved in this doctrine of Christian worship has its illustrations in science. Let one suffice. An astronomer, for instance, has an impression that there is in a certain part of the heavens a star which he wants to discover. Now what is comprehended in his discovery of this star? The first necessary condition is the spirit of the science. This gives him the impression. By the influences of this spirit he has resort to the use of his glass. He relies on this as being sufficient for his purpose. He adjusts his glass between himself and the heavens. For days or weeks he may be in search of the star. At last his glass brings the object of his search to his sight. Observe the process of this discovery. Through the telescope, by the spirit of astronomy in him, he has found the star. Had he possessed the spirit without the glass, he could not have found the star; or had he possessed the glass without the spirit moving him to use it, he would not have found it. And observe, even with the spirit and the glass looking at the star, after its discovery, he sees not the star itself, but only its reflection through the glass. Thus no one prays without the spirit of prayer; and even with the spirit of prayer, he cannot come to God but through the Mediator, Jesus; and then as he comes through Jesus he only speaks to God through Him, and receives answers through Him. God and Christ without the Spirit are incomplete. The Spirit and Christ without God are insufficient. But God as the Object whom we seek, Christ as the Mediator through whom we seek, and the Spirit as the Agent by whom we seek, complete the scheme of prayer. (J. Bate.)

Object and nature of true prayer

The object of prayer.

The nature of it.

The obligations we are under to pray.

The great importance of faith in this holy exercise. Prayer is the unfeigned language of the heart. What we ask in prayer should be according to the Divine will. We must ask all in the name and for the sake of Jesus Christ. (John Townsend.)

Believing prayer

The word believing is the key to any difficulty in accepting this declaration literally. We cannot believe whatever we please. It is only the Spirit of God who can enable a man to believe that God will answer his prayer. Then He will grant the petition. Here it is necessary to notice that faith in Christ as your Saviour is one thing, while faith in the favourable answer of a particular prayer is another and distinct thing. You may have a firm faith in your Saviour, and yet not be able to “ ask in faith, nothing wavering,” when you offer up a particular petition, because you are not sure that it is according to the will of God. When God has absolutely promised any blessing, you ought to believe without doubting that the answer is certain. But we are wanted to pray in other cases when we have no specific promise to plead. “In all things make your requests known unto God.” Your child may be dying; you pray for it; but have no specific promise that it will recover. Yet, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible,” etc. But there is no promise that this kind of faith will be given. It may please God for the best of reasons to withhold it. Jesus Christ is God; He is King of Kings; He governs the universe. We must be in training with Him before we can be blessed. To this infinite spiritual Power and Presence we are invited to pray. By sense we perceive the visible world; by faith, the invisible. To our completeness faith is not less necessary than sight. It is even more necessary; for a blind man, by faith, may live a glorious life even on earth, where his bodily eyes are closed. And do we not all see in our dreams, when we are asleep, things far more beautiful than we ever see when we are awake? This is significant, surely. Every time we go to sleep we enter upon the confines of a spiritual world which our outward eyes cannot see. When we dream, we are consciously moving in a border-land, a wonder-land, where we see with other eyes than those of our visible bodies. So faith is a kind of spiritual vision. As Christians “ we walk by faith, not by sight” merely. Moreover, faith is an inspiration and a power. It is mighty through God to the pulling down of our enemy’s strongholds. Faith in God-faith in Christ as God-faith in the promises-faith in the efficacy of prayer-this it is that enables the joyful disciple to look down upon the distinctions which the world values most, as a full-grown man looks upon the painted toys of little children. Faith is not superstition. Faith in the invisible part of the Divine scheme, is the God-given function of every healthy soul. This implies confidence in God as the Hearer and Answerer of prayer-the God of truth whose promises not one word can fail. When He gives a petitioner faith in the success of His petition, then there can be no doubt but that He intends to answer. (J. Aberigh-Mackay, M. A.)

Verses 28-32

Matthew 21:28-32

A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to-day.

Christian sonship and service

Christian sonship furnishes the best possible motives for Christian service.

It furnishes the best possible facilities for Christian service.

It makes Christian service imperative. (A. H. Stoate.)

A bad promise well broken; a good promise sacrificed

Those who openly and above board reject the Christian religion, I like a positive man, and not one half and half. If he turns he will be positive in the other direction. Break the infatuation now. Repent and go.

Those who have been promising to become Christians, but all the time breaking their promises. When did you first promise? In sickness; in time of religious awakening. (Dr. Talmage.)

Determined sinners have repented

Let it be recorded of you as was recorded of this young man in the text. He said: “I will not, but afterward he repented and went.” Let me tell you, my brothers, that there have been men just as much set against religion as you are, and yet they surrendered to Christ. Do you know the story of John Bunyan, declaring that he would not go into the kingdom of God with an oath so horrid that even the abandoned people in the street tried to hush him up, and yet, in a little while dreaming a dream of heaven so sweet that the mere recital of it has enchanted all Christendom? Mr. Madden went to scoff at John Wesley while he preached, and the mere announcement of the text: “Prepare to meet thy God,” converted him. Only a few months ago, in New York City, a man in indignation leaped with both feet upon the Bible, so did he hate it; yet in a few weeks after, he held that very Bible on his lap reading with tearful eyes the glorious promises. Some time ago, when we were worshipping in the Academy of Music, there came in three young men and three young ladies, evidently to make sport of the religious solemnities. In the early part of the services, they wrote notes, and laughed, and jeered. In the midst of the sermon, they bowed their heads. At the close of the services, all six rose up with tearful eyes, begging for the prayers of God’s people. Oh, it is a mighty gospel, charged with the invitations and the condemnations of hell. (Dr. Talmage.)

Address to young men

What God looks for in all of us-work.

1. Inward.

2. Outward.

The danger of a fallacious promise is greater than the danger of a hasty refusal. The son who said, “I go, sir,” was the one who went not. (Dean Vaughan.)

The two sons

1. Our Lord does not intend to approve of the conduct of the first son in every respect, “I will not.” True there was no hypocrisy about him; still he was disobedient with all his frankness. Some seem to imagine they will be forgiven for being sinners because they have never pretended to be saints. Is a man less the enemy of God because he is outspoken?

2. That our Lord does not approve of this son’s conduct as a whole, as if it were the only proper way of meeting God’s commune! It was well that he repented; but would have been better if he had not refused. It is best to save the reflection of a wasted past.

3. Our Lord does not design to condemn the making of a promise to God when that is done sincerely and performed earnestly.

The nature of the command which God makes on every one to whom the gospel calls. “Go work,” etc.

1. The test of sincerity is in deeds. Words are valuable only as the expression of an inward spirit. Works are the manifestation of our love to God; not the means of procuring His love for us.

2. The peculiar nature of the work by which our love and life are to be manifested, “Go work in my vineyard.” Cultivate all the fruits of the Spirit.

3. The promptitude of the obedience which is required-“to-day.”

4. The tender nature of the appeal which God makes” son.” Sonship is not incompatible with service. It only transmutes that service into joy.

The danger of making an insincere confession of God. To the chief priests and scribes our Lord said, “The publicans and harlots go into the kingdom before you.” Their difficulties were subjective. The insincere state of soul makes it harder for priests to enter the kingdom of heaven than for harlots to repent of their sins. Besides self-complacency which is produced by insincerity, there is also a hardening influence connected with it. It dims the moral perceptions.

In this parable Christ meant to encourage sinners of the vilest description to repent and believe the gospel. “The publicans and harlots enter the kingdom.” “Let the wicked forsake his way,” etc. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Swift tongue; slow foot

The first characteristic of the swift tongue and slow foot is unbelief. “I go, sir.” Notions constitute their religion; there is no operative faith. No mere notion will ever affect a character.

Another characteristic of the swift tongue and slow foot is indifference. Truth must be interesting to us to be impressive.

Another impediment is in the manifoldness of intellectual objects-wit, learning, and imagination may impede the man who says, “I go, sir.” His attention may be diverted from the main object; he is wise, but not unto salvation.

Every man has one load to carry which retards him in his journey. One besetting sin.

Religion will only become the law of life when it too becomes a ruling passion. “Oh, how love I Thy law,” etc. This will unite our connections to our actions. (E. Paxton Hood.)

Occasional goodness

Some people seem to take out their religion once a week to give it an airing; or, it is like a ticket taken at a station, put into the pocket until the end of the journey. Visit Versailles, near Paris; all its magnificent fountains on the week day are dry and repulsive, grass-grown, weed-covered. Visit them on the Sabbath day (on which day I beg to say I have never seen them) and they are tossing all their glorious waters high in the air; every Neptune, triton, or nymph flashing forth in the splendour of the magnificent water shower-a fair sad picture of Sabbath religion. How different from the flowing river, always pouring its musical, fertile, and irrigating stream! Some faiths are technical, temporary, and occasional; they are like the waterworks, or the fountain on a fete day; then the bolts are turned, and the fountains cease to play. On certain great occasions, or in certain public forms, we are saying, “I go, sir,” and the largest portion of other times is showing that we go not. We enter not, because of unbelief. (E. Paxton Hood.)

A hasty refusal and a wise retractation

The important command issued. The nature of the work to which the gospel calls. It is extensive, important, arduous, delightful, profitable. It may be divided into-

1. That which respects God.

2. That which regards ourselves.

3. That which concerns others.

The hasty refusal given. “I will not.”

1. The natural aversion of the heart.

2. The sinful love of ease.

3. Their occupation in other pursuits.

The wise retraction made.

1. The change stated

(1) Its nature, “He repented.”

(2) Its fruit, “And went.”

(3) Its period. “Afterward.”

2. The wisdom it evinces. It is wise to retract: refusal is

(1) Against your best interests.

(2) Betrays the greatest ingratitude to God.

(3) Issues in eternal ruin.


1. Those who have complied with the command.

2. Those who are refusing.

3. Those who have complied only in profession. (E. Temple)

Truth to rule the life must awaken personal interest

All truth is true, but what if it be uninteresting? it becomes unimpressive and useless. Truth we apprehend to be necessary to our well-being; what a difference if I should strike a man on the shoulder, and say, “The three angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles;” or if I should say to him, “Your house is on fire!” “Your child has just been run over and killed!” Truth is truth; but if men are not interested in it, it will not influence the life. What a difference there is between furniture in the lumber-room, or auctioneer’s shop, and furniture in the household room! It is not enough that we apprehend truth to be good and valuable, if it do not influence the will and the affections. (E. Temple.)

Man organized with a principle of instantaneity

We have received, happily, a constitution which is adapted to the exigencies of human life. Men’s minds do not act as printer’s types do, every letter being selected, and every sentence being spelt out, and, when it is stamped, being stamped complete. Men, on the other hand, are so organized that they have in every part of their nature an element of what may be called instantaneity-the instantaneous effusion of feeling; the immediate perception of what is best or not best; a recognition of what is good or what is bad, what is right or what is wrong, what is safe or what is dangerous-instantaneousness of purpose. This element or principle of instantaneity of course varies. The dull and lethargic are slow; the intermediate are faster than this extreme, and less rapid than the other extreme; and the more finely organized, the higher, natures have it so that it flashes and plays without any perceptible pause between the impulses and the result. But all have it; without it life would be impossible. When men walk the very body has it. If a man should be obliged, as one that is just getting out from an attack of inflammatory rheumatism, or as one who is in the last stages of lumbago (and I speak feelingly), to pick his way as he walks, and think, “That brick is set a little sidewise,” and to calculate and say, “How many inches must I lift my foot, to step over it?” how long do you think it would take him to walk from Brooklyn to New York? Going and coming back would consume almost the whole day, and the errands of life would be neglected. But a man in health is not obliged to do this. The foot itself does the calculating. The foot sees without your thinking or seeing. It rises and lowers of its own accord. You instinctively avoid the slough. You leap the little gulfs. You know the best way to accommodate your whole body to the ten thousand varying conditions of matter. The law of gravitation, of light, of heat, of magnetism, of liquidity or solidity, of things sharp or blunt-all these the body, without any care on your part, attends to. No man walks into a mortar-bed. No man stumbles over a sand-heap. Men jump, not on iron fences, but on featherbeds; and having jumped, they never get up and say, “Ah! what if we had not thought of that! How lucky it was!” Suppose a man were obliged, for all the operations of the body, to have a little monitor in his mind that should be on the look-out for him, and he should say, “If I lift my hand so and so, or do so and so with it, I shall have rheumatism in the shoulder, and therefore I won’t do it?” What if such calculation as that had to be made before every movement of the body? (H. W. Beecher.)

The benefit of momentary illumination

When, after long, long days of sailing during which no reckoning has been taken by the lost mariner, there opens, for half an hour, a rift in the cloud, he gets a view of the sun, and instantly he takes an observation; and then the cloud shuts again. Ah! but he has had an observation. The days are dark, and the storm continues; but he has had an observation, and that is of great advantage. But how much better it would have been if the storm had cleared away and given him a calm sea and an unobscured sky! Yet a momentary observation was better than nothing. (H. W. Beecher.)

Culture the faint impulse to a nobler life

Therefore I say to every man in my presence: Do not neglect the impulses to a nobler life. Do not put them away from you. Do not prove dishonest and tricky with any of those movements in yourself which indicate that the germ of Divine life is in you. “A child is drowned! a child is drowned!” this is the cry that goes through the whole village; and the mother, well-nigh bereft of reason, dashes wildly out as they are bearing the limp, helpless body, with long streaming hair, by her door. The physician is sped for, and the neighbours are there. “She’s dead! she’s dead! she’s dead i “ cries the mother, “she’s dead! she’s dead! she’s dead! My only child! my only child! my only child!” They would comfort her, and they say, “Oh, do not be so despondent do not be so despondent.” “Dead! dead! Those eyes will never see me again. She’s dead! she’s dead!” And still the workers will not give over. But at last they say, “Yes, she is dead.” Then, with a strange fantasy of opposition, the mother cries again, “She is not dead; she cannot be dead; she shall not be dead.” And she lays hands upon her, and says, “I know she is not dead.” And she gazes in anguish, until a little quiver is seen upon the lip, “Oh, my God! she is not dead.” The eyes do not see, the ears do not hear, the hands do not move, the heart cannot be felt; but there is that little quiver of the lip. “There’s life there! there’s life there! there’s life there!” Yes, there is life there; and now they come again, and remedies are applied, and the still form quickens, and the mother’s faith is rewarded, and she takes the living child back to her bosom. O thou that hast in thee but the quiver of the lip, but the trembling of the eye, but the faintest pulsation of the heart, God, thine Everlasting Father, beholds it; and He will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax, till He bring forth judgment unto victory. There is victory for you; there is hope for you; there is salvation for you. Oh, despise not the striving of the Spirit. Begin, accept, hold fast, and thou shalt be saved. (H. W. Beecher.)

Say well and do well

Work of God in world not done ver. His vineyard still needs digging and tending, pruning and cultivating.

Every man has a mission from God. Cannot discharge himself of responsibility by openly professing not to obey. God’s claim proportionate to our ability and opportunity.

This mission is “work.” God says, “Come,” before He says, “Go;” “Love Me,” before “ Work for Me.” He seeks not enforced toil of slaves, but cheerful obedience of sons. God’s vineyard is not a playground in which to take our ease.

The scene of this “work” is God’s vineyard. We are to make our own lives, and those of our fellows, as faithful as we can. For what spiritual sphere then does this figure stand?

1. Our own hearts.

2. Our own households.

3. Scenes of daily life.

4. Church and its institutions.

Wherever you can labour for God, that is the part of the vineyard to which He calls you. And whatever you can do for Him, that is the work He bids you do.

The “work” is pressing and urgent-to be done “to-day.”

How men treat the command.

1. Some profess to obey, but really disobey. Still call themselves Christians. Would shrink from renouncing their profession. Not hypocrites. When they said they would go, they meant it. But imperceptibly religion has dwindled down with them from its grand and beautiful reality to a mere soul-saving apparatus.

2. Others refuse at first, but afterwards obey. No justification here of first refusal. The son who repented and went is approved, not wholly, but by contrast with his brother. Nor could even he do all his father bade. For already the sun had climbed high into the heavens, and part of the precious day was gone. We cannot recall misused past. Waste no longer the golden hours. (J. R. Bailey.)

Work for God

We are all ready to say that work for God is a noble thing. What we need is to see that we ourselves may all do work for God if we try. There are some who complain that they can do nothing. “I am wearing away my life in business; I have to toil for my family; my life is frittered away in such trifling every-day tasks. I, at least, shall have nothing to show in the end for my life.” Nay, but that very commonplace work of yours is work for God. It must be clone; you have to do it; and, therefore, God Himself, who placed you where you are, gave you that work to do.

Offer each day’s week to God. Ask Him to help you to do it well and diligently, because it is His. Make your daily act of self-dedication.

Be on the watch for opportunities. Make it your aim and desire to be gathering with God, rooting up evil where you can, fostering the growth of good where possible; shedding the light around you which may win souls to safety.

Be content to do little things well Your work for God may consist wholly in very little things. The poor lone woman whose home was on the cliff in the dangerous coast, knew of bat one good thing she could do. She could keep her little candle burning in her window to warn off those who came near the danger. It was but a little thing; it may have cheered a few, it may even have saved one or two. Who doubts but that her little loving effort was a glorious brightness in the Master’s sight? (N. H. Parr, M. A.)

Promptness in work

We should aim at being too active to stagnate, too busy to freeze. We should endeavour to be like Cromwell, who not only struck while the iron was hot, but made it hot by striking-like the missionary who said, “If there be happiness on earth, it is in labouring in the service of Christ-like the blessed Redeemer Himself, whose meat and drink it was to do the will of God. The vineyard must be cultivated; and the command is that we enter it and work. (Christian Treasury.)

He repented: change of mind for the better unusual

There are but few who turn and do their duty after having once refused. Men will be as big as their words, though they die for it, lest they should be accounted inconsistent. These are niggardly of their reputation, but prodigal of their souls. (John Trapp.)

The two sons; a contrast

The rude but obedient son:

1. What he said, “I will not.” This very rude, very unfilial. A reasonable request unreasonably rejected.

2. What he did, “repented.” Thought of his father’s kindness, and his duty. Did not go and tell his father he was sorry for what lie had said, but by his conduct proved his sorrow. This is true repentance.

The polite but inobedient son.

1. What he said, “I go, sir.” This right, pleasing to the father, becoming in a son.

2. What he did, “went not.” His obedience mere profession and words, not real. “Leaves,” but not fruit. Learn: Many, like rude, son, have said they would not serve God, but afterwards have repented. You have said the former; have you done the latter? Many, like the polite son, have shown the promise of goodness that you have never kept. Will you keep it now, by working to-day in the vineyard? (The Hive.)

Profession and practice.

Dissect the characters here contrasted. The second well-meaning, good-intentioned, emotional, shallow, flippant, great in promising. The first, rude, dissolute, hardened, profligate.

Review their conduct. The second saying, not doing; the father’s disappointment; men by action seem to say, “I go,” but remain where they are. The first became thoughtful, wondered that such a son as he should be asked by the father to do anything: “repented and went.”

Enforce the inquiry. Obeying God lies in doing His will, not in mere empty promises of amendment. (Anon.)

The parable of the two sons

As holding forth the command of God to his creatures. His command is distinguished by three characters.

1. It is affectionate, “My son.”

2. It is practical, “Work.”

3. It is urgent, “To-day.”

the manner in which it is regarded.

1. One proves better than he promises.

2. One promises better than he proves. Are you saying, “I will not “? What nonsense, what madness! Are you saying, “I go, sir.” Beware of insincerity. (W. Jay.)

The manner of the address.

1. It denotes authority.

2. It is the voice of affection.

The general requisition which is made-“Go work.”

1. There are difficulties which must be conquered.

2. There are duties which must be performed.

3. The great design of heaven cannot be accomplished without labour.

The scene allotted for labour.

1. You are to be regulated in all your labours by your Father’s revealed will.

2. Cultivation is suggested by the text.

The promptitude of attention is required.

1. GO work today.

2. To-morrow may be too late.

3. The responsibility which is attached to the use of present advantages.

4. There is a great danger of losing religious impressions.

5. What effect has the command in the text produced upon you?

6. Encouragement to labour.

7. You will not be left to yourselves. (R. Winter, D. D.)

The two sons

Who promised not, and went not. Did not promise, but rudely refused. This wrong. He repented. How many refuse who never repent! To be inconsistent with rash vows and wicked resolutions is the highest consistency-what many call consistency is often only stubbornness and hardness of heart. What induced this repentance? The great goodness of his father; his own ingratitude; the importance of the work. Have we ever thought of these things? Without repenting.

Who promised, and went not. Very ready with words-right words too. Spoken to obtain present rest-to put the father off, a c. How many patronize religion, and speak fair! How many intend to be religious! How long and how often have we promised thus! Do we ever intend to keep our word? When?

Who obeyed. The first. To one of the two classes represented by these sons we very likely belong. We have all been called to work. We have met the call either by a bold refusal, or by a fair promise. How have we ended? May God give us grace to do His will. (J. C. Gray.)

Our work

The vineyard.

1. This vineyard is the property of God.

2. The cultivation of this vineyard is committed to the Church.

3. The Church has neglected her duty in reference to this vineyard.

The work.

The workmen. Their qualifications:

1. Ardent piety.

2. Fixed religious principles.

3. Accurate information.

4. A liberal spirit.

5. Prayer. (T. Raffles, D. D.)

The two sons

1. The argument of the appeal lay upon the sonship.

2. A call to grace is a call to work.

3. There is the instantaneousness of the obedience, “To-day.”

The reception, “I will not.” Why that son will not work in his father’s vineyard.

1. He did not really know or love his father.

2. He liked the imaginary independence which he felt in being his own master outside.

3. Doubtless the labour inside contrasted unfavourably in his mind with the gaiety outside.

4. The urgency of the demand little suited his desultory and procrastinating mind.

5. Perhaps some foolish windings of entangled thought had got into his mind, “I can’t command my will.” But he changed and went. His Father’s will was still echoing in his heart. The vineyard appeared in happier aspect. His sentiments towards His Father changed.

When he went he probably proved himself a better worker than if he went at first. This parable teaches-

1. That there is a free will in you for which you are responsible.

2. God’s patience is perfectly marvellous.

3. The garden of the Lord, His Church, is ready for you.

4. God and angels are working there.

5. Many are now working there in liberty and gladness who once said, “I will not.” (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

The moral nature injured by the stimulation of unfulfilled, impulse

Then what was the matter with them? Why did they act so? It was because they were under the influence of an exterior pressure. While there was a mind interpreting there the truth to them, they accepted it; but, the moment that influence ceased to be exerted upon them, they fell back into themselves. There was no root of that thing in them. At the first opportunity, all their under-nature worked again, just as it had worked before. That is the reason why so many persons listen, resolve, feebly try, and fail miserably. So that I sometimes think going to church hurts people. I know that going to church hurts some people. There are persons who go into church, and are stimulated and lifted up, and then they go out again, and fall back into their own old nature, and act just as if they had not been stimulated; and they go in again, and are stimulated and lifted up again, and then they go out, and fall back again. Their nature accommodates itself to the different circumstances, and they get used to them. Being lifted up and lowered, lifted up and lowered, the operative capacity of their sensibilities is lost out, and they get into sort of medium condition, in which they remain all the rest of their lives, no longer competent to carry out any generous impulse which they may have. A moral enamel comes over them; so that, though they feel somewhat, there is a disconnection between feeling and willing-between feeling as a moral emotion, and willing organized as a power of action-between transient feeling and the embodiment of feeling into character, which is the great end and drift of education in human life. This power of turning a momentary emotion to a permanent benefit they have lost; and when they have lost that, they have lost all nerve. (H. W. Beecher.)

Aids to weak impulses

Where persons have good impulses, but are feeble in carrying them out, we see the wisdom of the Divine ordination of business, of society, of the family, and of the Church; for there are persons who are like pea-vines that need to be staked, in order that they may stand up. They have not strength enough to support themselves. If they had not something to lean upon they would be beaten to the ground by every rain. Many and many feeble nature has power to stand in alliance with a stronger nature, and to climb on a stronger nature, and so to be saved instead of being lost. Even the household does that for the individual which he could not do for himself. So it comes to pass that persons are not only virtuous, but high-minded when at home, who, when public duty takes them to Washington or Albany, sink into the mire. About nine men in every ten cannot afford to leave home. Their coarseness, their temper, their passions, which at home are restrained by duty, by love, by various influences, spring forth when they are abroad. The restraints from vice and the inspiration of excellence being taken away, having no root in themselves, they fall. (H. W. Beecher.)

Impulsive goodness may conceal craft

When a farmer wants to catch wild turkeys, building his pen in the woods, and digging his trench, he strews corn along. He must be a miser who would grudge enough corn to catch a dozen turkeys; and crafty men must be mean and selfish indeed if they cannot spare enough disinterestedness to catch you with. And so they bait themselves with good nature, with jollity, and with wit; and people say of them, oftentimes, “Now that man has a great deal that is good about him.” Yes, it is about him. There are men of whom it is said, “Oh, well, a man had better look out for him in the end, but still he has ver?’ good qualities.” He is a pleasant fellow; but under all his pleasantness there is craft. I have seen mosquitoes. They are very delicately organized creatures. They have beautiful wings, looked at through the microscope; they sing a very sweet tenor; and if you notice how they sit down on you nothing is more graceful. Lighting, they hush their song; and it is not until they have found the right place that they commence sucking your blood. And there are men in the world that are just like them. Blood is what they want. That is the reason of their gauzy flight and their singing about you. Since it is blood they want they take the way to get it. (H. W. Beecher.)

A resurrection of dead resolutions

If men are afraid to go by graveyards, for fear that here and there some sheeted ghost will peer over the wall and chatter at them, what would they think if, out of every sepulchre, there should come up a peering, gibbering ghost, and the yard should be full of pallid spectres? Who would go past it under such circumstances? And if God Almighty should give resurrection to all the times in which you have most solemnly entertained and enfranchised noble resolutions, and then buried them ignominiously; if He should call up to your memory all the virtues, all the soul-fruits, which have been drawn out of you by the Sun of Righteousness, and which you have trampled under foot, who of you could stand in your own presence, or in the presence of any congregation. (H. W. Beecher.)

The two sons

The case which is here presented.

1. An important command.

(1) What is required-work.

(2) The sphere of labour.

(3) The period specified.

2. The manner in which it was treated.

(1) A rude refusal, followed by an agreeable change.

(2) A ready and respectful assent, but the promise so promptly made was shamefully broken.

The application which is here made.

1. The question proposed, “Whether of them twain,” etc. Far preferable to be a late penitent than a confirmed formalist.

2. The startling truth declared, “Publicans and harlots go into the kingdom of heaven before you.” How fearless and faithful his address.

3. The solemn charge substantiated, “For John came unto you in the way of righteousness,” etc. (Expository Outlines.)

The parable of the two sons

Show you whence it is that some persons do make present promises touching future faith and holiness. They make these present promises from these common convictions and illuminations of the Word and Spirit of God.

1. These may be convinced by the law of God that sin is a great evil.

2. They may see that if they die in this condition they are undone for ever.

3. They may make these promises from the nature of an accusing conscience.

4. They may be the effect of sin, affliction, or judgment.

Why do these promises seldom end in real performances?

1. It is from the grand agent that stirs them up to make these promises, which is the devil. Satan cares not what promises sinners make to become good, if he can hinder them from closing in with Christ at present.

2. Present promises and resolutions touching future faith seldom end in real performance.

(1) Because it is they design to be wicked at the present.

(2) Because they have but a partial work upon their hearts, their hearts are divided, though their judgments be enlightened their wills are not bowed.

(3) Because they are made in opposition to the Divine command, “To-day.” God will not assist a man to perform such promises that are made in contempt of His authority.

(4) Because such promises are made only in the strength of the creatures. (B. Keach.)

Immediate obedience wise

Because moral indisposition to close with Christ may be more increased to-morrow than it is to-day; sin is of a hardening nature; if a man, as soon as taken sick, looks out for, or sends for a physician, there may be more hopes he may be cured, than if he should neglect any means until this distemper hath got greater power, and his natural strength is wasted. It is easier to break a colt and bring him to the saddle, than it is an old horse that runs wild in the wilderness; a young plant is sooner plucked up than an old tree. To speak after the manner of men, all know that these things are so, though it is true God can as soon subject the rebellious will of an old sinner as one that is young; yet since this is the Lord’s time, viz., even to-day, from what I have said, you may learn wisdom. (B. Keach.)

Christian diligence

An eminent divine was suffering under chronic disease, and consulted three physicians. They declared, on being questioned by the sick man, that his disease would be followed by death in a shorter or longer time, according to the manner in which he lived; but they unanimously advised him to give up his office, because, in his situation, mental agitation would be fatal to him. “If,” inquired the divine, “I give myself up to repose, how long, gentlemen, will you guarantee my life? Probably six years, “answered the doctors. “And if I continue in office? Three years at most.” “Your servant, gentlemen,” he replied, “I should prefer living two or three years in doing some good, to living six years in idleness.”

Work for Jesus

The character under which it calls us.

The service to which the Lord calls us, “Go work.”

The time, “To-day.”

The place where the Lord calls us to work, “In my vineyard.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Lost opportunities

A dying soldier, who had enlisted as a Christian, but had for three years, though a man of uprightness and integrity, done nothing to make known the name of Christ, said, “I die as a Christian; and I die contented; but oh, if I could have died as Christian worker! … I am peaceful and assured in view of death,” he said again, “but I am not joyful and glad; those three lost years keep coming back upon me.” Then, lying a moment quiet with closed eyes, he added, “Chaplain, do you suppose we shall be able to forget anything after death? If so, I should like to forget those three years!”

Opportunities neglected

A prisoner is under sentence of death. The fatal hour of execution is concealed from him, but he is told that if before it strikes he petitions the governor, his life will be spared. He says, “I’ll send to-morrow,” and when to-morrow comes he says again, “Oh, there’s time enough yet; I’ll wait a little longer.” Suddenly his dungeon doors open, and behold the sheriff and the executioners!” Oh, wait, and I’ll sign the petition.” “No,” they say, “the clock has struck; it’s too late-you must die.” The opportunity has been lost. “You are almost through this world,” said a chaplain to a soldier, once a Sabbath scholar, who was in the last stages of disease. “Am I?” said he. “Yes, and I hope you are ready for the next.” “No, I am not-not ready, not ready.” “Well, my dear friend, Jesus is all ready, and waiting right here. Come, now. Shall I pray? … Oh, no, no; it is too late, too late! I ought to have come long ago.” And then he told the chaplain, as calmly as he could, of the time when he was “ almost a Christian,” and decided to let it pass till another winter. “That was the time, I might have come then, why didn’t I? why didn’t I?” and, pulling the blanket over his face, he sobbed aloud. It was in vain that the visitor sought to reason him out of his horrid despair, he only motioned him away, crying, “Don’t talk to me any more-it’s too late, I can’t bear it.”

General drift of the parable

As a whole, this parable shows us how God is served by men, and shows us especially that though there are greater and less degrees of disobedience and impenitence, there is no such thing as consistent uniform obedience. The best that God gets from earth is the obedience of repentance. Men must still, each for himself, try their own way, and only when this is found to be quite foolish and hurtful and hopeless, do they try God’s way. No one can take God’s word for it that such and such are the things to be done; such and such others to be avoided. We must for ourselves know good and evil, we must be as gods making choice between the good that sin brings and its evil, and if then God’s judgment about sin tallies with our own we accept it. Such a thing as simple, perpetual acceptance of God’s commands from first to last is not to be found; and repentance, though certainly to be rejoiced over, is, after all, only the second-best thing. Apology, however sincere, is at all times a very poor substitute for conduct that needs none. And yet you will often see that a man considers that a graceful apology, whether to God or men, more than repairs the wrong he has done. It is, no doubt, right to be convinced we have been wrong; it is right to turn in to God’s vineyard, even though it be after refusing to do so; but that complacency should mingle with our repentance is surely a triumph of duplicity. To make our very confession of total unprofitableness matter of self-gratulation is surely the extreme of even religious self-deception. (Marcus Dods. D.D.)

The necessity of work

The vineyard yields us spontaneous fruit. Man must work, and he must work in the line of God’s laws-observing the demands of the plant, supplying the conditions of atmosphere and soil-or else no rich vintage will gladden the hills or reward his toil. And so in the culture of the soul. It is not through rest, but through action-not in seclusion, but by brave labour ant in the open field, under the noontide and under the dew-that its powers are to be developed and its highest possibilities attained. You must not suppose, however, that in insisting upon the great truth that the proper issue and the proof of a real Christianity are in action and work, in the doing by each one of us of his Father’s business in the world, I would put dishonour upon the subjective side of the religious life. This, too, with its seasons of retirement, of quiet meditation, of self-recollection, of communion with God who is the Fountain of all power, is necessary. Nay, more than this: it is the condition precedent and absolutely essential to the highest life and best action of the soul. It is here in the life of the soul as in the life of the material universe. Nature has her seasons of apparent rest when she gathers her energies in secret chambers and in silent ways. But these gathered energies only reveal their value and reach their proper end when they pass out into action and clothe the world with bloom and fruit and beauty for the use and service of men. And this great truth, like every other great moral and spiritual truth, finds illustration in the life of Christ. He retires again and again from the multitude to the secret oratories of the desert and the mountain-top. ]But the full meaning and purpose of His retirement are made manifest when He comes forth again, with all His spiritual energies refreshed, to labour and suffer more devotedly for men, and so to do His Father’s work in the world. The danger against which I would warn you is the belief that Christianity is simply a doctrine or a sentiment. It is these; but above all it is, as the fruition of these, a life and a work. What the world needs to-day, but what, alas! our saintliness not seldom fails to give, is this living, loving, labouring piety. What in this hour our religion lacks especially is red blood. It wants, in place of its too often sickly complexion-the paleness, as it were, of the cloisters-the rich tan of a vigorous health, which comes only from brave and devoted labour under all the changing skies. And so the command comes to you and to me, “Son, daughter, go out and work.” It bids us leave our shaded hermit-caves in the valley, come down from our high peaks of mere religious sentiment or rhapsody, and go, each one of us, to his own proper field along the hot and stony hillsides of our life, toiling there with energy and patience and devotion until the whole landscape shall hang thick with the burdened vines. (W. Rudder, D. D.)

God’s vineyard everywhere

Am I wrong in saying that when this command reaches us, the common interpretation of it is that we are thus bidden to enter upon distinctly religious exercises and observances, and that the command goes no further? Church, prayers, sacraments, spiritual exercises-these cover and limit the vineyard of God. And then the assumption is that as this enclosure is God’s vineyard, so, on the other hand, the so-called world and the life in the world are each man’s personal property, to do with as seems to him best. When, e.g., you go to-morrow from the services of to-day, or from the devotions of your closets, to your evils or to your pleasures, you leave one territory and enter upon another. But there is no such separation or distinction in the command. God, be assured, does not limit His vineyard by the boundaries of Church or sacrament or prayer. He sends out His voice into the very thick of the crowd to-morrow, and that voice follows you wherever you may be, in the street or the office or the study, in the counting-house or the workshop, on the large and public arena or in any narrowest corner where some poor woman endures and labours patiently for love and God’s dear sake. Here is my vineyard; here work out your salvation; here, amid these seemingly most unfavourable conditions, gather sweetness and beauty, strength and glory into your souls; here prove yourselves true sons and daughters of God, and know that in all your ways, the hardest and darkest, your steps are directed by a Father’s care, and over all is His unsleeping love. How this truth brightens and ennobles all our life-lightening labour and sorrow by love and the consciousness of being loved, and changing the meanest drudgeries to worship and praise! (W. Rudder, D. D.)


“To-day!” It is our privilege, our opportunity, our responsibility. “To-day!” It is the flower of all the past, it contains within itself all the possibilities of the future. And this priceless treasure is in the hands of every one of us, the poorest and the humblest. But, “tomorrow!” It stands behind the curtain of the midnight, under the seal of all the stars. The richest man in all this rich England, who owns vast landed estates, who owns rich ships coming homeward across all the tossing seas, owns not one second of to-morrow. (W. Rudder, D. D.)

Religious profession

The second son gives his answer in the one word “I,” as if he meant, “Oh! you need have no doubt about me. I am ready. I am at your service. My brother is a shameless fellow, but as for me you have only to command me.” This son takes it for granted he is the dutiful son; he puts no pressure on himself to secure obedience; he is conscious of no necessity to guard against temptations to forgetfulness, indolence, selfishness. He takes for granted that no deficiency will be found in him, and his complacency is his ruin. We all know this kind of man: the tradesman to whom you give elaborate instructions, and who assures you he will send an article precisely to your mind, but actually sends you what is quite useless for your purposes; the friend who bids you leave the matter to him, but who has no sooner turned the corner of the street than he meets some one whose conversation puts you and your affairs quite out of his mind. If promising had been all that was wanted no community could have been more godly than Jerusalem. These priests and elders spent their lives in professing to be God’s people. Their day was filled with religious services. They had no secular business at all; they were identified with religion; their whole life was a proclamation that they were God’s servants, and a profession of their willingness to obey. And yet they failed to do the one thing they were there to do-to prepare for and receive the Messiah. Their whole profession collapsed like a burst bubble; they were proved to be shams, to be dealing in mere words with no idea of realities. (Marcus Doris, D. D.)

Ready to promise, but slow to perform

Hypocrites purpose oft, and promise fair to do better, but drive off and fail in the performance; their morning cloud is soon dispersed, their early dew is quickly dried up, their heartless essays come to nothing. The philosopher liked not such as are always about to live better, but never begin. A divine complains that the goodness of many is like the softness of a plum, soon crushed; but their wickedness is like the stone in the plum, hard and inflexible. (John Trapp.)

Doing God’s will

This is plain; for what was the will of the father, but that they should do the work He had set them to do? This the latter did not. The father’s will was not only that the son should give him a cap and a knee and compliment him, but that he should go to work in the vineyard. It is the least part of God’s will that men should give Him good words, be a little complimental and ceremonious toward Him; but that they should repent and believe and obey His Gospel. This some publicans and harlots did; the generality of the Pharisees refused. It is a hard thing to convince a moral, righteous, civil man, that he lacks anything to salvation; and hence it is that profane persons many times repent, believe, and are saved, when others perish in their impentitency and unbelief because they think they have no need of repentance, or any further righteousness than they are possessed of. (Matthew Pool.)

Go, work to-day

Work and give, for the night cometh:-A missionary in the West Indies having called on the people for a little help in spreading the gospel, a negro came forward, and putting his hand in one pocket pulled out some silver, saying, “That for me, massa;” and another parcel from another pocket, “That’s for my wife, massa;” and another still, making in all upwards of twelve dollars, “That’s for my child, masse.” “When asked if he was not giving too much, he said, “God’s work must be done, masse, and I may be dead.” Let us do and let us give what we can. God’s work must be done, and we may be dead!

Well-wishing not well-doing

The second son appears the more amiable at first than the other, though he was worse. The first son seems to have been one of those men who are rough externally, with a good heart inwardly, who speak rudely, but make it up in activity afterwards. Their tongue is hard, hasty, perverse; but their heart rebukes the hardness of the tongue, and rises up to repair by kindness the rude utterance. The second son was one of those compliant creatures who promise everything and perform nothing. They are subjects of universal impressibility. They feel the slightest influence, and yield to it a certain way, but only in a certain degree, and that this side of any profit. They never convert impressions to ideas. They never ripen impulses to purposes. They never change emotions to principles, nor principles to fixed habits. They cry easily, they love easily, they give up easily, they fall back easily, but like an aspen leaf that is moving the whole day, they are at the same place at night as in the morning. They quiver but do not change, and for ever moving, and for ever stationary. A large class of men, in every community, are drawn to the church who are of this kind, and may be called well-wishers to religion, but not well-doers in religion. (H. Ward Beecher.)

Wishing and willing

To wish and to will are very different things. There are a thousand men who wish where there is one who wills. Wishing is but a faint state of desire. Willing is a state of the reason, and of the affections, and of the will, in activity, to secure what one desires. A man may wish and yet reject all the steps and instruments by which that wish can be carried into effect. No man wills until he has made up his mind not only to have the end, but to have all the steps intermediately by which that end is to be secured. Doing requires concentration of purpose. Doing has both hands and feet, and uses them. Wishing has neither, or else, having them, puts neither of them to use. (H. Ward Beecher.)

A mist of well- wishing

As a cloud of silvery mist drops down over a ship and shuts it in, so that it cannot go any further, but casts anchor and waits, so conscience, when it begins to be troublous, is shut down in the midst of this silvery mist of well-wishing. So that a well-wisher is one of those persons who bid fair to wear out the influence of appeals of the gospel in the sanctuary. His temperament is one that lasts better and longer than any other. (H. Ward Beecher.)

Self-conceit in morals

The corruptions of the passions are more likely to be healed than is spiritual conceit. The passage teaches, not the safety of passional corruption, but the danger of self-righteousness. A man in the almost hopeless state of passional corruption may recover; but for the recovery of a man that is in the hopeless state of spiritual corruption and conceit, there is scarcely a chance. The value and excellence of the photographer’s plate which is hidden within the camera does not consist in what it is, but upon its susceptibility when the object-glass of the camera is open to that light which streams upon it. If it is unprepared, and is like the common glass, all beauty might sit before it, and no change would be produced by the streaming of light. The glass might be as good in the first case as in the second, with the exception that, when it is prepared, the photographer’s glass reveals the impression of beauty made upon it by the light. The criterion of hopefulness in a man, then, is not that he has gone so high in moral excellence. A man’s hopefulness consists in the fact that eternal life is the gift of God. It consists in the mixing, as it were, the Divine nature with ours, and the breathing into us of the spirit of God’s love. The criterion of hopefulness is the openness of a man’s soul to the Divine influence, and its susceptibility under the Divine shining. (H. Ward Beecher.)

Basilar and coronal corruption

Corruptions through the passions, or through the moral sentiments. At the recent great flood at Albany, where those warehouses were undermined and thrown down, one man was in the base and the other in the attic. The man at the base, being right where the danger was, saw the pressure and the wearing, and heard the grinding. He saw brick after brick, and stone after stone ground out by the sawing ice. And seeing and knowing these things, as the danger came on he could flee; but the man in his office in the attic neither saw the danger nor believed that there was any danger, and went on summing up his profits, and laying out his plans. Which of these men had the best chance of escape, the man at the bottom who saw the danger, or the man at the top who saw nothing and heard nothing? (H. Ward Beecher.)

Our most real danger

Do not think that your danger lies in outbreaking sin. In some cases the danger lies there; but in some cases the danger lies in an intense spiritual conceit; in an arrogant morality, in an overweening estimate of your own goodness and safety. You do not feel that you need a physician, and therefore you will die in your sins. You do not feel that you need a Deliverer, and therefore Christ is nothing to you. You are not conscious that you need bread, and therefore the bread of life is not brought to you. You say, “I am not blind-I see; I am not naked-I am clothed; I am not hungry-I am fed; “ and yet you are blind, and naked, and hungry; and so you will perish, though there is salvation proffered to such as you are. (H. Ward Beecher.)

Obedience forced and natural

Compel yourself to all duties now, and soon you will like the duties that are now distasteful. The man that is drawn out of the water hall-drowned can only be restored by artificial respiration, but if this is persevered in the natural breathing at last begins, and the functions of healthy unforced respiration super-cedes the artificial means. And thus God educates us to ease and naturalness in all duty. Under cover of the outward conduct the new spirit grows and grows to such strength, that at last it maintains the outward conduct as its natural fruit. (Marcus Dods.)

Small value of promises

Says Socrates to his friends, in the Phaedo, “If you take care of yourselves everything will go well with you, whether you make me any promises about the matter or not: but if hereafter you shall neglect, and be unwilling to govern yourselves by the rules I have laid down, though you make me ever so many promises, you will be never the better for them.”

Doing is obedience

The question is, What have you done ’ The passer-by, who saw the one son stripped and hard at work under the sun among the vines, while the other lounged whimperingly on the road, telling people what an admirable man his father was, and what a pleasure it was to work for him, and how much he hoped the vintage would be abundant-I say, the passer-by would not have the slightest difficulty in forming a judgment of the two sons. Do not believe in)our purpose to serve God better until you do serve Him better. Give no credit to yourself for anything which is not actually accomplished. (Marcus Dods.)

Two sons

It is important to observe the historical connections of our Lord’s teachings, because all His words had immediate applications, and through, and by means of the first references, the deeper and the more general are found. This parable was spoken during the last visit to Jerusalem, when Scribes and Pharisees were seeking to find accusation against Him. He baffled them, and even humiliated them by putting searching questions to them. Here the son who refused and repented represents the Publican class; and the son who promised and neglected represents the Pharisee class. Whatever men’s professions may be, the test of what they will do presently comes to them. Profession alone is without moral value; profession may indeed lout a man at disadvantage in entering God’s kingdom. The openly ungodly man may be more readily humbled than the man who is fenced about with self-righteousness. The general truth suggested may be thus stated:

This is a world of change. That seems to be a sad thing. It really is a most hopeful, a most merciful thing. The unchangeable will never do for us while we are sinners.

We may change for the worse, as one of these sons did. Illustrate from David, Judas, Demas, etc.

We may change for the better, as the other son did. Very sad is young manhood stained with vice; but there may be a change. Very sad is manhood disgraced with self-indulgence; but there may be a change. The most wilful may repent and obey. There is no security in mere profession. There is no hopelessness in present refusal. We can turn, repent, and live. This, for us, Almighty Grace can do. (R. Tuck.)

Verses 33-41

Matthew 21:33-41

There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard.

The wicked husbandmen

A representation of the jewish church as regards its privileges and obligations. “There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, etc.

1. The comparison employed. Palestine abounded in vineyards. This was planted; there was not one on the spot previously. He had to expend capital to bring it under cultivation.

2. The engagement entered into-“Let it out to husbandmen.”

3. The returns anticipated-“Receive the fruits of it.”

Their unprincipled disposition and the monstrous brutality they manifested.

1. The messengers sent to them, and the manner in which they were treated.

2. The crowning act of clemency on the one hand, and of cruelty on the other.

The awful retribution with which their abominable conduct was at length visited.

1. A striking prediction quoted-“Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the Scriptures,” etc.

2. The important inference declared-“Therefore I say unto you, the kingdom of God shall be taken from you,” etc.

3. A solemn warning uttered-“And whosoever shall fall on this stone,” etc. (Expository Outlines.)

The wicked husbandmen

1. The greatest privilege a man can enjoy is to have the kingdom of God entrusted to him.

2. The greatest sin a man can commit is to reject Christ.

3. The darkest doom is that of those who are guilty of this greatest sin. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

The wicked husbandmen

Their mercies.

1. They were in the vineyard-Israel-and in no heathen land. No small mercy that we live in a Christian country.

2. They were husbandmen-men of office and influence, entrusted with an honourable work under a wise and good master. A great mercy to be not only in the vineyard, but called to work for God there.

3. They were paid for their work.

4. Though unfaithful, they had been long borne with. Divine forbearance a great mercy.

5. Special messengers were sent to them from time to time to stimulate and encourage them, etc.

Their conduct.

1. They neglected their work.

2. They missed the purport of their office, which was spiritual.

3. They had killed the messengers.

4. At last they filled up the measure of their iniquity by killing the heir. Being servants, they had come to regard themselves as the owners and lords of God’s heritage. Under their husbandry the vineyard had become a scene of moral ruin.

Their punishment.

1. God, though merciful, was not unobservant of their conduct.

2. He had often inflicted minor and temporal punishments on themselves and the nation.

3. Now they were to be wholly extinguished.

4. The punishment was unexpected; they despised its cause.

5. It was complete. They lost their place and nation, and were scattered abroad.


1. To consider and value God’s mercies (Psalms 106:12-14; Romans 12:1).

2. To study our reception and use of them.

3. To reflect specially on the greatest of all (2 Corinthians 9:15).

4. To remember that we too must give account. (J. C. Gray.)

The Son of God must be reverenced

What is said of Israel may be said of men in all ages-“It might have been presumed that they would treat kindly the Son of God.” From

(1) the divinity and glory of His nature;

(2) the perfect excellence of His character as a man;

(3) the reasonableness of His claims;

(4) the condescending kindness of His intentions;

(5) His known ability to save;

(6) His ability to destroy as well as to save;

(7) their necessities.


1. The sinner’s final ruin is unnecessary.

2. His ruin will be self-induced.

3. Wanton. (D. A. Clark, A. M.)

The figure of letting out the vineyard

Show what “letting out” doth imply or denote.

1. Negatively. This letting the vineyard doth not denote that any people have a lease sealed to them of their church state, church ordinances, and church privileges: no, all are but tenants at will. We hold all our spiritual privileges at the will and pleasure of the Lord of hosts, who may give us warning and turn us out of all when He pleaseth. And it doth not imply that any people buy and pay for any spiritual blessings and good things which they possess; no, we have all freely, church and church privileges, the gospel, ordinances, and promises, without money and without price. We have no rent, no tribute to pay, but the tribute of praise, thanksgiving, and fruitfulness unto God.

2. Negatively.

a. Letting denotes God’s entrusting a people with the great blessing of the legal Church.
b. Letting implies that a Church, the Word of God, and ordinances, are not man’s own proper or natural right or inheritance. We are but stewards entrusted with these things,
c. Letting out to husbandmen signifies a mighty trust is committed to such.

d. Letting out implies that if men do not bring forth unto God that holy fruit which He expecteth, they must be called to an account for it.

To whom may the Church or vineyard of Christ be said to be let?

1. Principally to the pastors, teachers, and such who are, or ought to be, helps of government.

2. In some sense it may be said to be let also to every member; for every member is a hired servant of Christ, and all have their proper work appointed by Him.

3. In a remote sense it is let to all that accept the invitations of the gospel.

What fruit is it that God expecteth?

1. The fruit of faith and conversion.

2. The fruit of good works.

3. Fruits good in quality anal quantity.

4. Fruit according to the cost and pains God hath been at.

5. Fruit according to the time of the vineyard being planted.

6. Fruit in due season.

7. Fruit according to gifts and grace received.

8. Fruit according to the places and stations wherein God hath set us. (Benj. Keach.)

Verse 42

Matthew 21:42

The stone which the builders rejected.

Redemption a marvellous work

It is God’s work.

1. Contrary to intentions or acts of the builders.

2. No one else competent to perform it.

It is a marvellous work.

1. From extent of agency employed.

2. Divine attributes displayed.

3. Demerit of its objects.

4. Number and extent of its benefits-

(a) wrath removed;

(b) reconciliation and peace;

(c) access to God;

(d) adoption;

(e) sanctified nature;

(f) eternal life. Learn-

(1) this work challenges our trust;

(2) requires thought;

(3) Demands unceasing praise. (Preacher’s Portfolio.)

It will grind him to powder:-Penalty of unbelief

I remember, away up in a lonely Highland valley, where beneath a tall black cliff, all weather-worn and cracked and seamed, there lies at the foot, resting on the green sward that creeps round its base, a huge rock that has fallen from the face of the precipice. A shepherd was passing beneath it, and suddenly, when the finger of God’s will touched it, and rent it from its bed in the everlasting rock, it came down, leaping and bounding from pinnacle to pinnacle, and it fell; and the man who was beneath it is there now! “It will grind him to powder.’”… Therefore I say to you, since all that stand against Him shall become “as the chaff of the summer threshing-floor,” and be swept utterly away, make Him the foundation on which you build, and when the storm sweeps away every refuge of lies you will be safe and serene, builded upon the Rock of Ages. (Dr. McLaren)

Judgment and mercy

The greatest judgment which can ever befall a people is taking the kingdom of God from them. The kingdom of God was taken by the Jews themselves for some peculiar and temporal blessings which those who enjoyed it had above all other people. It was taken by our Saviour for a clearer manifestation of the will of God to the world, and the consequence of that in the hearts of good men, and all the spiritual blessings which do attend it. So that the taking away the kingdom of God from them must needs be the heaviest judgment which could befall a people, since it implies in it the taking away all the greatest temporal and spiritual blessings. Jews make the kingdom of God to consist

(1) in deliverance of them from their enemies;

(2) in the flourishing of their state, or that polity which God established among them;

(3) in the solemn worship of Him at the temple.

All these were taken away. Take the kingdom of God in the sense our Saviour meant-the power of the gospel-and the judgment is yet more evident.

1. It is acknowledged by the Jews themselves that these great calamities have happened to them for some extraordinary sins.

2. The sin ought to be looked on as so much greater by how much heavier and longer this punishment hath been than any inflicted on them before.

3. The Jews have not suffered these calamities for the same sins for which they suffered before.

4. It must be some sin which their fathers committed, and which continues yet unrepented of by them to this day.

There were these remarkable forerunners of desolation in the Jewish state which I am afraid we are too much concerned in.

1. A strange degeneracy of all sorts of men from the virtues of their ancestors.

2. A general stupidity and inapprehensiveness of common danger.

3. An atheistical contempt of religion.

4. Spiritual pride.

The greatest mercy that can ever be vouchsafed to a nation is God’s giving His kingdom to it. (Bishop Stilligfleet.)

The head stone of the corner

The Jews were the first builders to whom God gave the privilege to build His Church. Three things the corner-stone is to the builder’s work-

1. The structure ranges up to the corner-stone. All else is below, that it may be high; all ministers to it. Abase yourself that Christ may be exalted.

2. The whole fabric holds up the head of the corner to the view of men that it may be admired. Take care that the aspect which your religion wears to every man is not yourself, but Christ.

3. Let Christ, as the stone does the corner, bind everything. He is the one cementing all that is true. Whatever is in Christ, though it be repugnant to your feelings, do not send it away from you. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

The stone of stumbling

The two clauses of the text figuratively point to two different classes of operation-in the one case the stone is represented as passive, lying quiet; in the other, it has got motion. In the one case, it is a self-inflicted, remedial injury; in the other, it is total and judicial.

Every man has some kind of connection with Christ. The gospel must influence every man somehow; it is an element in our present civilization. Christ does something to every one of us. He is either the rock on which I build or a stone of stumbling.

The immediate issue of rejection of him is loss and maiming-“Whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken.” The positive harm. No man ever yet passively rejected Christ; there is always a slight struggle with right before living away. So that every man who rejects Christ wounds his own conscience, hardens his own heart, makes himself a worse man. By the natural result of his unbelief his nature “ shall be broken.” I need not dwell on the negative evil results of unbelief; we fail to possess the great Jove of God by which only we are made what we ought to be. Not only by the act of rejection of Christ do we maim ourselves, but also all attempts of opposition to the gospel as a system stand self-convicted-“Whosoever falls on this stone shall be broken.”

The ultimate issue of unbelief is irremediable destruction when Christ begins to move. The former clause has spoken about the passive operation of unbelief whilst the gospel is being preached; this about the active agency of Christ, “It shall grind him to powder.” (A. McLaren, D. D.)

Verses 45-46

Matthew 21:45-46

They feared the multitude, because they took Him for a prophet.

The adaptation of the gospel to the circumstances of the poor

“The multitude” were pleased with Christ and took Him for a prophet. The pleasure which our text indicates may be referred to wrong motives; they were glad to see others humbled and rebuked. We often repine at the superiority of those above us, and are gratified when any wound is inflicted on their vanity. Not that Christ desired by artful means to gain the favour of the inferior orders. Often in theological controversy men applaud not from love of the truth, but because some one has been repulsed. We take the supposition that the pleasure of the multitude, in part at least, was produced by the general tenor of Christ’s preaching, and not by a triumphant exposure of the sins of their rulers. Let us examine into the causes from which it came to pass that discourses which were distasteful to the great amongst the Jews found acceptance with the multitude. No doubt reasons could be derived from the peculiar circumstances of the Jewish nation; their expectation of a temporal prince, which was stronger in the higher classes than in the lower. Had the lower classes been left to themselves, it is probable that the Christ who healed their sick would have been accepted. But this is true of our own day-the multitudes, as distinguished from others, have an interest in hearing the gospel. It gains a hold on them which makes them “take Christ for a prophet.” Here it is that the Almighty has introduced one of those counterpoises which cause good and evil to be distributed with considerable equality notwithstanding the marked difference in human conditions. Wealth and learning are great advantages viewed in reference to the present life; but in regard to the other life the circumstances of their life facilitate their eternal good. The poor man has little to attach him to earth; the rich is surrounded by things that fascinate him, also there are prejudices against the gospel peculiar to the rich which the illiterate cannot share. The gospel sets the poor amongst princes; the rich and great cling to artificial distinctions. The poverty of Christ was an offence to the rich; it was an attraction to the poor. The gospel cannot reach the heart without supernatural power of the Holy Spirit; but if we take the doctrines of Christianity-the mediatorial work-imputation of righteousness-we might contend that the common people are in a better position than others to admit them. In the outcasts of society there is not found that haughty self-reliance; the gospel is more welcome to them. The Bible seems to have been composed with express reference to the poor. But we must not overlook the fact that those who took Christ for a prophet finally rejected and crucified Him. “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only.” (H. Melvill, B. D.)

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Matthew 21". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/matthew-21.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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