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Parable of the labourers in the vineyard. (Peculiar to St. Matthew.)
For. The following parable is intended to illustrate the apophthegm at the end of the last chapter, which is repeated almost in the same words at the close, "Many that are first," etc., and "The last shall be first," etc. It taught the apostles a lesson in answer to Peter's question (Matthew 19:27), "What shall we have therefore?" and the primary lesson was that the reward of the kingdom is not of debt, but of grace. There are many difficulties in the parable, which may be better noticed after we have expounded its literal bearing and details. The kingdom of heaven is like. That is, what happens in the kingdom of heaven is parallel to the case of a householder, etc. The kingdom of heaven is the Church of Christ, whether militant on earth (when the labourers are hired) or triumphant in heaven (when the reward is bestowed). We may refer to Matthew 13:24, Matthew 13:45, where an analogous comparison is found. Early in the morning (ἁìμα πρωιì); i.e. at the end of the last night watch (see on Matthew 13:3), wishing to secure labourers, who at vintage time were probably in great request. Vineyard. The Church is elsewhere so called by our Lord (Matthew 21:28, Matthew 21:33, etc.), and in the Old Testament (see Psalms 80:8; Isaiah 5:1; Jeremiah 12:10).
When he had agreed with the labourers. With those first hired he makes a special agreement for the pay of the day's work; with the others he acts differently. For a penny a day (ἐκ ηηναριìου τηραν). The denarius (always translated "a penny" in our version) was a silver coin about equal in value to the French franc, but of course in its buying capacities worth in those days a great deal more. We learn from Tacitus ('Annal.,' 1.17) that it was the usual pay of a Roman soldier. It was equivalent to the Greek drachma, which Tobit (5:14) offered to Azarias as daily wages. Our rendering of "a penny" conveys a very erroneous impression to unlearned hearers, both in this passage and in other places where it occurs.
The third hour. It seems that at this time the Jews divided the day, reckoned between sunrise and sunset, into twelve equal parts, the length of these divisions varying according to the season. The day in Palestine at longest consisted of fourteen European hours twelve minutes, and at shortest of nine hours forty-eight minutes, so that the difference between the longest and shortest division of the so called Jewish "hour" was twenty-two minutes. It is usual to consider the Hebrew day as lasting from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., the sixth hour corresponding to our noon, the first hour being 7 o'clock and the third 9 a.m. This estimate, though not absolutely correct, is near enough to the fact to serve all expository purposes. The four periods mentioned in the parable are quarters of the working day, in which a proportional part of the day's wages might be earned. Standing idle in the marketplace. The Greek agora, the Roman forum, and the Eastern marketplace, was the usual place where idlers and expectant labourers gathered together. Such a scene may often nowadays be witnessed in Oriental cities, and indeed at our own docks, and in many of our small country towns. It must be supposed that the labourers now hired either were not present when the householder first went forth, or that they had then rejected his offer, but now thought better of it. And so, in the case of the others later on.
Ye also; implying that he had already set some to work at fixed wages. Whatsoever is right (διìκαιον); just and fair. He offers these no definite sum as remuneration, assuring them only that he will deal equitably with them; i.e. doubtless, according to their view, that he will give them three quarters of a day's wages, paying them pro rata. But at the end he treats them much more generously. Lightfoot notes that the Talmudists had tracts on the payment and regulation of labourers, and in their canons distinguished between being hired for a day and for some hours. They went their way, quite satisfied to leave their remuneration to the householder, with whom probably they were acquainted.
Sixth and ninth hour. At midday and 3 p.m., which would give respectively about half a day's and a quarter of a day's work.
The eleventh hour; the hour before sunset, say about 5 p.m., leaving only one hour for work, when it would be most unusual to engage labourers. Idle. The word is omitted in some manuscripts. There is some reproach in the master's question. Where were they earlier in the day, when he was hiring labourers for his vineyard? Why were they not in the marketplace, like their comrades, looking out for employment? Such questions, like many, others in the parable, are left unanswered. We see from the universal use of the term, "the eleventh hour," to express the close of the day of grace, how widely has prevailed the interpretation of the parable which applies it to the various stages of the life of the individual. (See on this below.)
No man hath hired us. A poor excuse, because, had they been at their post earlier, work would have been offered them. Go ye also into the vineyard. The householder accepts the excuse, and, now that they are desiring to labour, engages them as the others, promising to give them what is fair. Their present willingness seems to compensate for their previous tardiness. The clause, "whatsoever is right," etc., is omitted by some good manuscripts, the Vulgate, and other versions. Thus no mention of reward is made to these—they were satisfied by being employed at all.
When even was come. According to Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 24:15), a hired labourer was to be paid his wages at sunset, i.e. at the twelfth hour. Steward. The lord himself is said to have hired the labourers, but he commits the payment of them to his steward, as his representative, to whom such matters of detail were entrusted. From the last. Those last hired were first to receive their hire (τοÌν μισθοìν), that which it had been agreed to pay them, in one case "a penny," in the others "that which was just." Why the last are rewarded first is one of the difficulties of the parable. To say that this is done because in their one hour's work they did more than all the rest, is a solution which is supported by nothing in the story itself. It should, in the primary interpretation, rather be conceived as depending on the lord's good pleasure.
They received every man a penny. The steward, of course, was acting according to his master's instructions (though nothing is said of any previous orders on the subject) when he thus bounteously remunerated those that had been hired at the eleventh hour. Some commentators have endeavoured to show that the "penny" allotted to each set differed greatly in value; but this is an unwarrantable conjecture, and it is indispensable to the purport of the parable that the wages should be alike to all.
They supposed that they should have received more. The text varies between πλεῖον (plus, Vulgate) and πλειìονα, the former implying "a greater sum" than the stated hire, the latter hinting indefinitely at "more" things, more in number. Seeing the liberal payment given to the others, they expected some increase in the wages offered to themselves, or an additional remuneration of some kind.
They murmured. They complained aloud of the injustice to which, as they thought, they were subjected. This is one of those traits in the parable which, whatever its spiritual meaning may be, is most natural and life like.
These last have wrought but one hour; μιìαν ὡìραν ἐπσιìησαν: una hora fecerunt (Vulgate); have spent but one hour (Revised Version). The verb ποιεῖν is used with nouns of time in the sense of "spend," "pass," as in Ruth 2:19; Acts 15:33, etc. They speak of the late workers contemptuously (οὑτοι οἱἐìσχατοι), "these fellows who are last." They do not allow that they laboured—they "made" one hour nominally. Equal unto us. Bengel notes, "Envy does not demand more for itself, but wishes that others should have less." Their complaint is that others who have worked less are not docked of their wages in due proportion. Burden and heat of the day; τοì βαìρος τῆς ἡμεìρας καιÌ τοÌν καυìσωνα: the burden of the day and the scorching heat (Revised Version). The latter word is used for the hot dry wind which, blowing from the east, was fatal to vegetation and prejudicial to human comfort, if not to life. The remonstrance of these men may be compared with that of the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:29, Luke 15:30). They how somewhat of the spirit of the apostles when they asked, "What shall we have therefore?" (Matthew 19:27).
He answered one of them. The Lord condescended to show, not to all the labourers, but to one of them—the ringleader probably—the futility of the ground of his murmur. Christ often explains himself to his friends, while he refuses further elucidation to enemies and the hardened. Friend (ἑταῖρε). Not a term of affection, or special good will, but one of indifference, addressed to an inferior. It was the word used to Judas (Matthew 26:50) when he came to betray his Lord, "Friend, wherefore art thou come?" I do thee no wrong. The labourer had really nothing to complain of in strict justice; he had received the full amount of the stipulated wages. But he very naturally felt that he had not been fairly dealt with. He would say to himself, "If one hour's work, and that in the cool of the evening, is deemed worth a penny, surely a whole day's labour, in the full heat of the sun, ought to deserve a higher remuneration." The difficulty here must be felt by every one. Nor is the master's solution perfect; it would scarcely commend itself to the dissatisfied murmurer. And doubtless it is not intended to be complete.
Take that thine is; thine own. Take your agreed wages, and go; there is nothing more to be said. I will (θεìλω δεì) give; but it is my will to give. The lord defends his conduct on the ground that such is his will and pleasure. By it he injures nobody, he benefits many; who should presume to censure him?
With mine own; ἐν τοῖς ἐμοῖς: in the case of what is mine own. These words are omitted by the Vulgate, which has, Aut (ἠÌ) non licet mihi quod volo facere? Is thine eye evil? The evil eye is here expressive of envy, as Proverbs 28:22. The Latin word invidia, Cicero informs us ('Tusc. Disp..' Proverbs 3:9), "ductum est a nimis intuendo fortunam alterius." For nimis Bentley conjectures limis, "with sidelong glances." The idea is the same, envy being indicated by the look of the eye. Good; generous. Why should you view with disfavour my liberality? The master says no more; he gives no further account of his determination.
So the last, etc. The parable concludes with the saying with which it began (Matthew 19:30), but with some inversion in the order of the words. There it was, "Many first shall be last; and last first;" here it is, The last shall be first, and the first last. The circumstances of the parable necessitate this change. The last called were first paid, and were equal to the first in recompense; the first were behind the others in time of payment, and in the spirit with which they received their wages; they were also treated with less generosity than the others. For many be called … chosen (Matthew 22:14). This clause is omitted by א, B, and other manuscripts; but it has good authority, and is most probably genuine. It is added in explanation or justification of the preceding statement. From not seeing its applicability, and regarding it as opposing the intention of the parable, some transcribers and some editors have expunged it from the text. But it would seem that Christ takes occasion from the particular case in the parable to make a general statement, that not all who are called would receive reward; because many would not answer the call, or would nullify it by their conduct; not, as Theophylact says, that salvation is limited, but men's efforts to obtain it are feeble or negative. In other words, many outwardly members of the kingdom of God are unworthy of, and shall not share in, its spiritual blessings. Chosen. Many, that is virtually all, are chosen; but there is an election within the election, and they only who are of this inner circle shall be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.
The interpretation of the parable.—As in all parables, so here, we are to regard the general scope, and not lay too much stress on details, which often, while adding to the vividness of the picture, contribute nothing to its spiritual side. The explanation of this difficult parable has greatly exercised the minds of commentators in all ages of the Church, and various have been the views with which its bearing has been regarded. We may, however, select two expositions which seem to embody most of the suggestions advanced, and are in themselves most reasonable. The first considers it as of individual application—the call of God coming to the soul at different ages of life. Thus the householder is God, the marketplace the world, the vineyard the visible Church, the labourers are men who have to do their work therein, the steward is Christ, who superintends and rewards the faithful workers. The hours of the day represent the various periods of men's life at which they hear and answer God's call to a closer walk with him, when, as modern theology terms it, they are converted. Some, at the first hour, from their very infancy, live a pure and holy life; some at the third hour, in early youth, begin to serve God effectually; others at midday, in full maturity; others at the ninth hour, when old age is creeping on them; and lastly others obey the call only at the eleventh hour, at the very approach of death. And all who have laboured at all, without regard to the length of service, receive the "penny," i.e. not some indefinite temporal benefit, but eternal life, which in a general sense (without considering the difference of degrees which shall exist) is the same for all. The apparent unfairness of this recompense, if we take a merely human view of the transaction, is obvious. They who have lived a life of holiness, and they who have given to God only the dregs of their ill-spent days, receive the same salvation. The difficulty is removed in two ways. We may say that the capacity for receiving and enjoying the reward depends ca the recipient, and that what to one would be infinite bliss and satisfaction, to another would offer far inferior enjoyment. Or we may take refuge in the mysteriousness of God's arrangements, and hold that the considerations in accordance with which God apportions his rewards are known only to him, and are truly, and are intended to be, beyond human understanding. Further, if the hours represent the stages of human life at which Christians are called, surely, to make the parable concinnous, they ought to be the same persons who are invited on each occasion, not different ones. We should be told, not that the householder found others wanting work, and sent all thus found into the vineyard; but that some of those called at the various hours refused the work and scoffed at his offer, while others after a time accepted it, and at the approach of the night all the idle remnant consented to labour, thankful at last to win wages for little trouble. But the parable says nothing of all this, and would need much alteration to make it speak so. There is another difficulty which has to be met, if the above interpretation is adopted. How are we to explain the murmuring of the discontented labourers? There can be no envy and displeasure in heaven. It is not conceivable that any who have obtained the gift of eternal life should be dissatisfied with their reward or jealous of others. This is not a mere accessory which is outside the spirit of the story, and adds no item to its mystical signification; it is really the leading feature, and the householder's own interference and reproof are based entirely on this behaviour of the first called. If the "penny" signifies eternal life, and the labourers are all the called, there is no satisfactory explanation of this part of the parable. The murmur is heard after the reception of the reward, and is censured accordingly; these things could not be found in the Church triumphant; none can murmur there; if they did feel envy and discontent, they would not be worthy of a place in the kingdom. Therefore another interpretation must be advanced which will allow the proper importance to this detail of the parable. The only one that does this is that which gives a national, not simply an individual, bearing to the story. According to this exposition, it applies to the calling of the Jews and the Gentiles, though there are still particulars which do not entirely or without some violence suit the application. The "penny" which all receive is the favour of God, the privileges that crown and reward the members of his kingdom. God's ancient people were first called to work in his vineyard. The various hours of the day cannot be accurately explained. Many interpreters follow St. Gregory in defining the first hour as extending from Adam to Noah, the third from Noah to Abraham, the sixth from Abraham to Moses, the ninth from Moses to the coming of Christ, the eleventh from the coming of Christ to the end of the world. During all the day, up to the eleventh hour, the call was confined to the Jews and their progenitors; in the eleventh hour the Gentiles are called, and, accepting the call, receive the same privileges as the Jews. It is better to forego any attempt to interpret the various hours and the various sets of labourers definitely, except to observe that the first called, with whom a covenant was made, plainly represent the Jews, the people called under the covenant of works, who were to be rewarded according to their service; the other workers are not paid stipulated wages; they receive ("I will give") reward of free grace in accordance with God's inscrutable appointment. That the Jews murmured at the admission of the Gentiles to the kingdom of God and the Father's favour, we are taught in many places. The discontent of the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son is a case in point. So in Acts 13:45, Acts 13:46, the Jews are filled with envy that the Word should be spoken to and accepted by heathens, and St. Paul (1 Thessalonians 2:16) complains that the Jews forbade him and his fellow apostles "to speak to the Gentiles, that they might be saved." Our Lord looks forward to and prepares his disciples for this envious and ungenerous behaviour, as he continually teaches that the gospel is for all men everywhere, confined to no people or country, but free as the air of heaven or the light of the all-fostering sun. These Gentiles are the last in time, but by their willing service and obedience in the faith are made first; while God's ancient people, once the first, become by their jealousy and hatred of others the last. "There (ἐκεῖ) shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God" (Luke 13:28, Luke 13:29). This momentous change in the relation of the peculiar people to the rest of the world was thus foretold and prepared for. And the lesson ends with the mournful fact, read by the eye of the Omniscient, that though virtually all the Jews were called, yet but a small remnant will accept the gospel—the elect of grace, a little flock. By this parable, regarded in its primary application as a reply to Peter's question (Matthew 19:27), "What shall we have therefore?" the apostles are warned that they are not to expect as their due something supereminent over those called later than themselves; that the reward is not of merit, but of free grace. This last thought pervades the whole similitude, and must be borne carefully in mind, whether we take the individual, or the national, or any other mixed interpretation.
Third and fuller prediction of Jesus'sufferings and death. (Mark 10:32-34; Luke 18:31-34.)
Going up. This is the usual expression for travelling to the capital, and was particularly appropriate to a journey to Jerusalem, which was set among hills. This last journey of the Redeemer was indeed a steep ascent, the end of which was Calvary. Took (παρεìλαβε, took to himself)… apart (κατ ἰδιìαν). He was accompanied by many followers, but what he had now to impart was not intended to be divulged to all, but was reserved for the chosen twelve. The mass could not have heard it without offence. In the way. The Vulgate omits these words. The Revised Version, on good authority, alters the received order, reading, and in the way he said unto them. Thus Christ prepared the apostles for the coming time of trial, after they had shown fuller faith in his Godhead.
Behold. This exclamation would seem to indicate that the events predicted were very near at hand, as it were, already in sight. Shall be betrayed; παραδοθηìσεται: shall be delivered; the same word as in the next verse. God "spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all" (Romans 8:32). The special agent of this betrayal is not here named. Of his future crime, Judas, one of the twelve, had probably no thought, the devil not having yet put it into his heart. The chief priests (see on Matthew 16:21). Shall condemn him. This was the act of the Sanhedrin, who could doom, but could not execute (John 18:31). The announcement of his death and resurrection had already been made at least twice before—once after Peter's great confession (Matthew 16:21), and again at the Transfiguration.
The Gentiles. Pilate and the Romans (Matthew 27:2). This fact would show the treatment he was to expect, and the death he was to die. To mock, and to scourge (see Matthew 27:26, Matthew 27:28-30). To crucify. This is the first time that Jesus distinctly announced his death by crucifixion. The fact of his death he had impressed upon his apostles, but the mode had. not been mentioned; such an unexpected, awful, and ignomiuious close was incredible. and needed special preparation ere it could be received as true. Intimations, indeed, of such a death had been given darkly, when his disciples were told that they must take up the cross and follow him, or when he spoke of being "lifted up" like the serpent in the wilderness (John 3:14); but his words were not understood; they fell upon ears prejudiced to a certain erroneous conviction, which events alone could eradicate. He shall rise again (see on Matthew 16:21). It seems to us almost incredible that, after all that Christ said here and elsewhere, his resurrection should have come upon his followers as a surprise which they could not believe without tangible proof. But when we read of their dulness and unbelief; we are constrained to admire the candour and sincerity of narrators, who record such facts to their discredit without evasion or apology. As St. Luke says, "They understood none of these things; and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken."
Ambitious request of the mother of the sons of Zebedee. (Mark 10:35-45.)
Then. The incident seems to have arisen from the promise of the twelve thrones in Matthew 19:28, and is significant as showing how utterly misunderstood was the true nature of the Messianic kingdom. The mother of Zebedee's children. The mother of James and John was named Salome; she had left her husband Zebedee (Mark 1:20) in Galilee (unless, as is more probable from the terms in which she is introduced, he was now dead), and followed Jesus in the band of holy women who attended on him and ministered to him of their substance. Some have thought that she was the sister of the Virgin Mary, so interpreting John 19:25. St. Mark makes the two apostles present their own request; and doubtless they put their mother forward, coming with her to the presence of Jesus, and using her agency in this somewhat delicate matter. Our evangelist was present on the occasion, and his precision may be relied on in this detail. Worshipping him. Making the customary prostration before a superior. A certain thing (τι). She did not at first make any definite request, but endeavoured to get Jesus to promise to grant her what she asked. According to St. Mark, the sons say plainly, "We would that thou shouldest do for us whatever we shall desire." Thus Bathsheba addressed David. "I desire one small petition of thee; I pray thee, say me not nay" (1 Kings 2:20). Salome is plainly intending to ask some great thing.
What wilt thou. Jesus will make no unconditional promise; he compels her to formulate her petition. Grant; εἰπεì: command. These my two sons. She points to them, as they stood or knelt behind her. May sit … in thy kingdom. The right and left hand would be the places occupied by those next to the sovereign in dignity and consideration. There is here no thought of St. Peter's pre-eminence. The petition was urged at this moment, because it was felt that a great crisis was at hand. This visit to Jerusalem must have momentous results; here Jesus was about to set up his throne; now was the moment to secure the highest places in his court. He had announced his death; he had also announced his glory; they balanced one declaration against the other, and seized on that which was most consonant to their national prejudices and their own ambitious views. Probably they interpreted the unintelligible resurrection to mean the establishment of the kingdom of Messiah (Luke 19:11). If this was imminent, no time was to be lost in making their claims known. So thought the "sons of thunder," and acted with energy and haste.
Ye know not what ye ask. Jesus addresses, not the mother, but the two brothers who had prompted and virtually made the request. They indeed merited a rebuke for their preposterous demand; but the Saviour deals mildly with them. They had spoken ignorantly, perhaps fancying that some favour might be shown to them on the ground of their relationship to the Virgin Mary, or because of their nearness to Jesus, and certainly not in the least realizing the nature of the kingdom, the qualifications of its inheritors, or the difficulties that have to be surmounted by those who would win eminent positions therein. Things that we deem most desirable would often be the very worst for our spiritual progress; and in praying for really good things, we are apt to forget to count the cost we must pay for their attainment. Jesus sets before the ambitious brethren the obstacles that would meet them. Are ye able to drink of the cup? Joy and sorrow, blessing and affliction, in Holy Scripture are often denoted under the metaphor of a cup (comp. Psalms 11:6; Psalms 23:5; Isaiah 51:17; Jeremiah 25:15). Here the cup signifies the internal, mental, and spiritual sufferings which Christ endured (Matthew 26:39, Matthew 26:42). That I shall drink of; ὁÌ ἐγωÌ μεìλλω πιìνειν: which I am about to drink; or am purposing to drink. Christ expresses his voluntary intention of suffering bitterly, and asks if they are prepared to do the same. To he baptized, etc. The baptism is significant of the external pains and persecutions, in the sea of which he was to be sunk (comp. Psalms 69:2, Psalms 69:15). The cup and the baptism adumbrate the two sacraments by which we are made one with Christ. Many of the best manuscripts, the Vulgate and other versions, omit this last clause, and the corresponding one in the following verse; and many modern editors, with the Revised Version, expunge it also. It is supposed to have been introduced from the parallel passage in St. Mark. There it is undoubtedly genuine; so we have good warrant to believe that our Lord spoke the words, whether St. Matthew really reported them or not. We are able. They came forward now and answered in simplicity, not understanding that to which they pledged themselves. They loved their Master, they knew that trials awaited him, and they were willing to share his lot. Ere long they were put to the proof, and in the end came out victorious.
Ye shall indeed drink, etc. Jesus accepts their venture of faith, and prophesies its fulfilment. St. James first shared in Christ's baptism of blood, being murdered by Herod (Acts 12:2). He was a martyr in will and deed. St. John did not, indeed, undergo a violent death, but he stood by the cross and felt his Master's sufferings; he lived a long life of persecution, banishment, and distress; he saw all his companions drop off one by one, till in extreme old age he was left solitary, with nothing to comfort him but the memory of vanished years, and the hope of an eternal future. Truly he was a martyr in will, if not in deed. The story that he was cast into a cauldron of boiling oil by Nero's command, and that, coming forth unhurt, he was afterwards banished to Patmos, is one which, except as regards the banishment, has not. been accepted by modern criticism. The event is mentioned by Tertullian ('De Praescript.,' 36.), Jerome ('Adv. Jovin.,' 1.26; and 'Comm. in Matthew' Matthew 20:27), and is commemorated in the Church Calendar on May 6, under the title of "S. Joh. ante Port. Lat.;" but it appears to have been a legend that first appeared in Tertullian's work, and was copied from him by other writers without examination. Is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom (ἀλλ οἶς) it is prepared. The Authorized Version inserts δοθηìσεται; the Revised," But it is for them for whom it hath been prepared." The Vulgate has, Non est meum dare vobis, sed quibus paratum est a Patre meo. Probably ἀλλαÌ here is equivalent to εἰ μηÌ, as in Matthew 17:8 and Mark 9:8, and means "except," "unless." The Lord does not mean that he was not able to give it, if so he thought fit, or that the boon was solely at his Father's bestowal, not his (which he might have said, speaking in his human nature). What he affirms is this: The prize is awarded, not by favour or on any earthly considerations, but by absolute justice, and only to those who prove themselves worthy to receive it. Christ assigns to the Father the revelation of mysteries and the election to eternal life (see Matthew 11:26; Matthew 16:17). It is prepared; it hath been prepared (Matthew 25:34), according to certain impartial laws ordained by God, who is no respecter of persons. "The throne," says St. Bernard, "is the price of toils, not a grace granted to ambition; a reward of righteousness, not the concession of a request."
Were moved with indignation against (περιì); concerning. "The ambition of one creates envy in others who partake of the same feeling" (I. Williams). The displeasure of the ten arose from their sharing in the ambitious desires which had prompted the request of the brothers. Peter does not appear prominently here, as guarding the position which Romanists assign to him.
Called them unto him. The two had stood apart when they made their request, but the ten had overheard it, or judged of its nature from Christ's answer and their own feelings. Jesus now gathers them all round him, and gives them a lesson which they all needed, first, concerning worldly greatness and pre-eminence, and secondly (Matthew 20:26), concerning Christian greatness and pre-eminence. Ye know. He appeals to common experience. Exercise dominion over them; i.e. over the Gentiles. Κατακυριευìουσιν, lord it over—significant of an absolute and oppressive domination. Exercise authority upon them; i.e. over the Gentiles (κατεξουσιαìξουσιν); use authority harshly and severely. The heathen, when they are raised to pre-eminence, employ their power cruelly and in order to gain their own ends and purposes, and aspire to superiority only with such objects in view. Such ambition is essentially a heathen passion, and wholly alien from the spirit of Christ.
It shall not be so among you. There is good authority for reading "is" instead of "shall be." The new order of things was already prepared. In Messiah's kingdom a contrary rule holds good. There the governors rule solely for the good of the flock, with no self-seeking, and serving no private interests. Whosoever will be (ὁÌς ἐαÌν θεìλη … γενεìσθαι: whosoever would fain become) great among you … minister (διαìκονος). Taking for granted that there will be ranks and gradations of office in the Church, Christ lays down the rule that men become governors therein in order that they may serve their brethren, be the ministers of those who are subject to them. So the pope, in his official documents, with a verbally proper humility, terms himself, "Servus servorum Dei."
Whosoever will be (θεìλῃ … εἶναι) chief (first, πρῶτος)… servant (bondservant, δοῦλος). The characteristic of the Christian ruler should be humility. Christ enforces the teaching of the previous verse more emphatically by altering the terms in which it was stated. "Great" now becomes "first;" "minister," "slave." Of these two last words the former would imply rather occasional service, to meet some temporary call; the latter, the regular business of a slave bound to his master at all times. We do not gather from this passage that the Christian minister, called by God, is to take his doctrine from his congregation, or to be directed by them in his labours; but he is to devote time, talents, faculties, to the good of his flock, to spend and be spent in their service, to let no private interests or pursuits interfere with his manifold duties to those whom he oversees. The same sentiment is found in Matthew 23:11.
Even as. Christ adduces his own example as a pattern of profound humility. To minister. By his incarnation Christ assumed the lowliest life of man. He took upon himself the form of a servant, and was ever active in ministering to others' wants, going about doing good, healing the sick, cleansing lepers, casting out demons; always accessible, sympathetic, merciful; never weary of teaching, however fatigued in body; a servant to the race which he came to save. A ransom for many; λυìτρον ἀντιÌ πολλῶν: instead of many. The crowning example of his humility is that he gave his life as a ransom for the souls of men. This is the atonement, the sacrificial act, which (as the Mosaic sacrifices did in a partial and temporary manner) reconciled God and man. Whatever may be the way in which this atonement acts on the Divine mind, the expression here shows that it was vicarious and propitiatory, energizing, not by example, as an effort of superhuman self-denial, courage, and patience, but by an inherent power, as mysterious as it is efficacious. We can only say that, being the act of one who is God, its effects must necessarily be incomprehensible and infinite. The difficulties that beset this doctrine are increased by the fact that Jesus himself says little about the atoning nature of his sufferings and death—a topic which would not at this time have been properly received by friends or enemies, the former refusing to credit his approaching death, the latter being totally unable to conceive how such death could supersede Jewish sacrifices and reconcile the whole world to God (Sadler). Christ certainly died for all, as St. Paul says, "He gave himself a ransom for all (ἀντιìλυτρον ὑπεÌρ παìντων)" (1 Timothy 2:6), but all do not accept the offered salvation; hence arise the two expressions, "all" and "many," referring to the same object; "not," as an old Father says, "that salvation is limited, but men's efforts to obtain it are limited." The same expression was used by our Lord at the Last Supper, when he said, "This is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matthew 26:28). A comparison of the passages in which the death of Christ is connected with the salvation of men would show a similar interchange of terms, depending on the view which the writer is taking of the doctrine, whether an objective one or a subjective. In the former case we may cite Romans 5:15; 2Co 5:14; 1 Timothy 2:6; 1 John 2:2; in the latter, Romans 3:25, Romans 3:26; Ephesians 5:2.
Healing of two blind men at Jericho. (Mark 10:46-52; Luke 18:35-43.) The miracle narrated in this passage is common to the three synoptists, but with some remarkable differences, not one of them agreeing altogether in details. St. Matthew speaks of two blind men, St. Luke and St. Mark of one only, and the latter mentions this one by name as Bartimaeus. St. Matthew and St. Mark make the miracle performed as Jesus quitted Jericho; St. Luke assigns it to the approach to the city. Thus the number of the cured and the locality of the miracle are alike variously stated. It is an easy solution to say, with St. Augustine, Lightfoot, and Greswell, that two, or perhaps three, distinct facts are here related; and it is not absolutely impossible. though altogether improbable, that in the same locality, under identical circumstances, like sufferers made the same request, and received the same relief in the same manner. But we are not driven to this extravagant hypothesis; and the unity of the narrative can be preserved without doing violence to the language of the writers. As to the number of the blind men, we have seen the same discrepancy in the case of the demoniacs at Gadara solved by supposing that one of the two was the more remarkable and better known than the other. Hence, in this incident, the tradition followed by some of the synoptists preserved the memory of this one alone, who may have become known in the Christian community as a devoted follower of Jesus, the other passing into obscurity and being heard of no more. Another hypothesis is that a single blind man first addressed Christ as he entered Jericho, but was not cured at that time. Jesus passed that night in the city at the house of Zacchreus (Luke 19:1-10); and on the morrow, when leaving Jericho, was again entreated by the blind man, who meantime had been joined by a companion, and healed them both. There are other solutions offered, e.g. that there were two Jerichos—an old and a new town—and that one blind man was healed as they entered one city, dud the other as they left the other; or that the term rendered "was come nigh" (Luke 18:35) might mean "was nigh," and might therefore apply to one who was leaving as well as to one entering the city. But we weary ourselves in vain in seeking to harmonize every little detail in the Gospel narratives. No two, much less three, independent witnesses would give an identical account of an incident, especially one which reached some of them only by hearsay. Inspiration extends not to petty circumstances, and the credibility of the gospel depends not on the rectification of such minutiae.
Jericho. The Lord was on his way to Jerusalem to meet the death which he was willing to undergo, and to win the victory which he was by this path to accomplish. His route lay through Jericho, as the march of his forerunner Joshua had led. Joshua had set forth to conquer the promised land; Jesus sets forth to win his promised inheritance by the sword of the Spirit. "The upland pastures of Peraea were now behind them," says Dr. Geikie, speaking of the approach to Jericho ('The Life of Christ,' 2.384), "and the road led down to the sunken channel of the Jordan, and the 'divine district' of Jericho. This small but rich plain was the most luxuriant spot in Palestine. Sloping gently upwards from the level of the Dead Sea, 1350 feet under the Mediterranean, to the stern background of the hills of Quarantana, it had the climate of Lower Egypt, and displayed the vegetation of the tropics. Its fig trees were pre-eminently famous; it was unique in its growth of palms of various kinds: its crops of dates were a proverb; the balsam plant, which grew principally here, furnished a costly perfume, and was in great repute for healing wounds; maize yielded a double harvest; wheat ripened a whole month earlier than in Galilee, and innumerable bees found a paradise in the many aromatic flowers and plants, not a few unknown elsewhere, which filled the air with odours and the landscape with beauty. Rising like an amphitheatre from amidst this luxuriant scene, lay Jericho, the chief place east of Jerusalem, at seven or eight miles distant from the Jordan, on swelling slopes, seven hundred feet above the bed of the river, from which its gardens and groves, thickly interspersed with mansions, and covering seventy furlongs from north to south, and twenty from east to west, were divided by a strip of wilderness. The town had had an eventful history. Once the stronghold of the Canaanites, it was still, in the days of Christ, surrounded by towers and castles. A great stone aqueduct of eleven arches brought a copious supply of water to the city, and the Roman military road ran through it. The houses themselves, however, though showy, were not substantial, but were built mostly of sun-dried bricks, like those of Egypt; so that now, as in the similar case of Babylon, Nineveh, or Egypt, after long desolation, hardly a trace of them remains." A great multitude. A vast crowd of pilgrims, bound for Jerusalem to keep the Passover, accompanied Jesus and his disciples. The number of people that this great festival attracted to the central place of worship seems to us incredibly large. Josephus ('Bell. Jud.,' 6.9. 3) reckons them at three millions. Doubtless our Lord was followed by many of those whom he had benefited, and others whom he had won by his teaching; and these, at any rate, would witness the ensuing miracle.
Two blind men. St. Matthew is doubtless accurate in this statement. Tradition might easily drop one of the sufferers in the course of time, but it is not likely to have multiplied one into two. These sufferers had heard of the miracles of healing performed by Jesus in his various circuits, and especially of the late cure at Jerusalem of one born blind, and they were ready to believe in his power and to profit by his mercy. Heard. The beggars (Mark 10:46), debarred from sight, had their attention aroused by the tread of numerous feet, and the voices of the excited crowd, and naturally asked the bystanders to tell them what it all meant. When they heard that Jesus was there, the hope of relief immediately rushed into their mind. Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou Son of David! "O Lord" is only the usual respectful address of an inferior to one in higher station; but to call on Jesus as "Son of David" was virtually to acknowledge him to be the Messiah, who, as old prophets foretold, was to open the eyes of the blind (Isaiah 29:18; Isaiah 35:5). The same cry had been raised by the blind men who were cured earlier in the ministry (Matthew 9:27), and by the Syro-Phoenician woman (Matthew 15:22, where see note), How these men had learned the truth we know not; they could not see or read for themselves; their faith must have come by hearing, and the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit.
Rebuked them, because (ἱìνα, in order that) they should hold their peace. The motive of the crowd, in thus silencing the blind men, has been explained in two ways—either they grudged that Christ should be addressed by the high title of "Son of David;" or they desired to spare him unseemly importunity and unreasonable interruption in his journey. As the multitude show no signs of hostility at this time, the latter suggestion seems most probable. They cried the more. The attempted check only made them more earnest in their entreaty. The opportunity now offered might never present itself again. The officious interference of unsympathizing bystanders was at once brushed aside. They could attract Christ's attention only by their passionate cry, and this they continued to utter with renewed energy. Faith resists opposition and triumphs over all impediments.
Jesus stood still. He acknowledged the title of "Son of David," and, as the blind men could not follow him, he stopped his progress; their perseverance won his acceptance; he was ready to listen to their appeal and to grant their request. Called them. The gracious summons left them in no doubt as to the happy issue of their prayer. St. Mark speaks of the joyful alacrity with which the blind man obeyed the call; how he "cast away his garment, sprang up, and came to Jesus." What will ye that I shall do unto you? The Lord knew the desire of their hearts, but he wished to draw forth the public confession of their needs, and the distinct blessing which they craved, that all the bystanders might acknowledge the miracle, and the sufferers themselves might be incited more vehemently to urge their plea, and thus become more worthy of relief. So God knows all our necessities before we ask, but he will have our prayers, that we may cooperate with him in the work which he purposes to accomplish.
That our eyes may be opened. So another blind man said, when asked the same question (Mark 10:51). They had at first asked vaguely for mercy, now they prayed definitely for sight—an example to all to make their supplications for particular graces and mercies, and not to be content with general terms which do not describe their special wants.
Touched their eyes. Only St. Matthew mentions this action of our Lord; but in all other cases of the cure of blindness the healing touch of the Man accompanied the word of the God, and Christ did not now depart from his usual practice. Thus, as we have noticed before, he connected the cure with himself. He proved that his flesh taken unto the Godhead was life-giving, remedial, efficacious; and he confirmed the faith of the sufferers and bystanders by showing that there was no deceit or collusion. The other synoptists give Christ's assurance to the men, that the restoration of their sight was the reward of faith—a faith exhibited by the invocation of Jesus as "Son of David," by continued importunity amid surrounding difficulties, by confidence in his power and willingness to heal brought to a point by Christ's question, "What will ye that I shall do unto you?" They followed him. A fact only less remarkable than the miracle that led to it. The impulse of a grateful heart drew them along the road which the Saviour travelled. They may have accompanied him to Jerusalem, and joined the applauding multitude which escorted him to the holy city, and employed their new power of sight in observing that wonderful spectacle which the next few days afforded. One, at any rate, of these men, Bartimaeus, seems to have become known in the early Church as a devoted follower of Christ, and hence his name is recorded for all time in the sacred narrative.
Parable of the labourers in the vineyard.
I. THE HIRING.
1. The connection. The parable is very closely connected with the last four verses of Matthew 19:1-30. It is plainly intended to illustrate our Lord's saying in Matthew 19:30, "Many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first." St. Peter's question in Matthew 19:27 contained an element of error. The Lord had promised a great reward to his faithful servants, and he would give it. It was their due, in a sense; but not as a debt, not as of merit ("the gift of God is eternal life"), but only of promise, because God, in the free bounty of his sovereign grace, has given unto us "exceeding great and precious promises." God will remember his holy promise; he is faithful. But his people must understand that the rewards of his kingdom are his to give—to give according to his own will. His will is not arbitrary; it is holy and just and good. He cannot deny himself; the determinations of his wilt must always be in accordance with his own infinite goodness, love, wisdom, justice. His people must learn to say, "Thy will be done." They must trust absolutely and wholly in his love and bounty. They must not prescribe their own reward. They must not venture to estimate it upon the basis of so much reward for so much work. They must not make jealous comparisons of themselves with others. Each Christian man must do his duty, not grudgingly, nor of necessity, but out of love, in simple trustfulness. God is faithful.
2. The first hiring. The householder went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. The Householder is God; the vineyard is his kingdom; the labourers are men called by him to do his work. The parable was addressed to the apostles, and was part of the answer to St. Peter's question; so it would seem that, in the first and strictest meaning, the labourers first called must be the apostles themselves. The householder went out early in the morning; the Lord came forth from heaven; it was to hire labourers, to send forth men to carry on the great work which he himself began. He agreed with them for a penny a day. The penny must mean the prize of the high calling—that treasure in heaven which the Lord had offered to the young ruler, that eternal life which he promised to all who deny themselves for his Name's sake. The labourers hired later in the day must, on this theory, be the holy men (such as St. Stephen, St. Paul, and others) who were called to the work after the twelve, but still in the apostolic times. Those called at the eleventh hour will be Gentile Christians called later yet to the work, such as the fellow labourers of St. Paul. The context seems to suggest this explanation as the first and most obvious meaning of the parable. But it may be fairly understood also of the Jews, God's ancient people, who were first called into covenant with God; and of the Gentiles, called in the last times into a covenant of grace. And, again, the parable illustrates in a touching and striking manner the dealings of God with individual souls; some are called in childhood like Samuel, some in middle life, some in advanced age. They differ indefinitely from one another in early training, in talents, in opportunities. But all have their appointed work; all have the like blessed hope to cheer them on in their daily task. Each must do his best according to his powers, according to the time allowed him. All must trust in God. He is gracious and merciful, just and large in his generous bounty. But he is sovereign in the exercise of his goodness. None may presume to murmur; envies and jealousies are excluded from the kingdom of heaven. The last shall be first. St. Paul, the last of all, the least of the apostles in his own sight, laboured more abundantly than they all. "Yet not I," he says, "but the grace of God which was with me." That is the true Christian temper, which ascribes all its energy and all its labours to the assisting grace of God, which never murmurs, which gladly recognizes the goodness, the work of others, which rejoices with them that do rejoice, in the successes of others, in the praises, the honours, the rewards bestowed upon them.
3. The intermediate hirings. Again the householder went out when nearly a quarter of the working day was gone; there were others standing idle in the marketplace; he bade them go and work in his vineyard. Me made no definite agreement with them, as he bad done with the first hired labourers; they were satisfied with his promise to give whatever was right, and they went their way. Again at noon, and again when only a quarter of the working hours remained, he did the like. All went, none refused; none tried to bargain with the householder; none asked, "What shall we have therefore?" We must not stand idle when God calls us to work for him. We must go at once whenever we hear that gracious call, whether it be early or late, whatever be our circumstances and employments; all other work is but idleness in his sight, compared with the great work, the work which God has given us to do. We must trust him implicitly. We have the blessed word of Holy Scripture, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." It is enough for us.
4. The last hiring. The day was now nearly ended; only one hour remained. For the last time the householder went into the marketplace. God, in his long suffering mercy, calls us again and again, at different periods of our lives, in different ways. He is "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." The marketplace is the world; it is a bustling, noisy scene; yet, alas! many stand there all the day idle. Their idleness may be laborious idleness. There was one who said on his death bed, "Heu! vitam perdidi laboriose nihil agendo." Their life may be restless, eager in the pursuit of pleasure or riches, filled every hour with this or that engagement, this or that amusement. Yet, if the great end of life be neglected, all is but a laborious doing nothing; for nothing real is gained. "Man walketh in a vain shadow," if he is not working for God; this life, with all its varied occupations, is no better than idle play', if it has no conscious relation to the life beyond the grave. Men think that they are working hard when, in the eye of God, they are standing idle all the day, for they are not working out their own salvation, the only work that is real, earnest, abiding. God doth not leave such idlers to perish. He calls them again and again, by his Word, by his ministers, by his providence. He calls then at the eleventh hour, "Why stand ye here all the day idle?" "The night cometh, wherein no man can work," and the work to be done before nightfall is of momentous importance. They that then stood idle gave a reason for their idleness, "Because no man hath hired us." The excuse was true in the mouth of those Gentile fellow labourers who were gathered into the Church late in the apostolic times. God "in times past," said St. Paul (Acts 14:16), "suffered all nations to walk in their own ways" (comp. also Acts 17:30 and Romans 11:1-36.). They had not been called into the Church, the kingdom of heaven. It can be true only in a very partial sense of Christians now. Men do not heed the call; the loud noise and bustle of the world drown the still small voice of the blessed Spirit. Their deafness is wilful; the voice comes again and again; they will not listen, and it becomes fainter and less distinct. Sometimes it is unheeded to the end; sometimes at last it swells into a trumpet note, and rouses the thoughtless to repentance. Yet, alas! even in Christian countries there are many, brought up among evil surroundings, in all the misery of godless training and wicked examples, without instruction, without the means of grace; of whom (it sometimes seems to us, when we face sadly and helplessly these perplexing problems of life) those words may still be said, "No man hath hired us." But God, we know, is not willing that any should perish; we may not doubt but that in some way his voice makes itself heard even to such as these, if not earlier, yet at the eleventh hour, as life is drawing near to its close. "Go ye also into the vineyard," the householder, said, though so short a time for work was left. No stipulation was made; perhaps, in this case, the reward was not even mentioned; the promise of giving whatsoever was right is omitted here in some of the most ancient manuscripts, which the Revised Version follows. The men trusted the householder implicitly; they went even at that late hour into the vineyard. There was yet work to be done; and, if there was work, there was hope. They went, they worked; and, we shall find, their trust was not in vain.
II. THE RESULT.
1. The reward. When even was come, the lord of the vineyard said unto his steward, "Call the labourers, and give them their hire." Christ himself is the Steward, as a Son over his own house (Hebrews 3:6). All power is given unto him; it is he who will say to the redeemed, "Come, ye blessed of my Father; inherit the kingdom prepared for you." The steward called the labourers; he began, as his lord had bidden him, with the last hired. They had wrought but one hour, and that without any definite agreement. They knew not what to expect; they had done their best, it seems; but the time was short, very short. What could they look for? They came in doubt and anxiety. But they received every man a penny—the full day's wages. They were, we may be sure, full of joy and gratitude; it was far more than they had expected. They had not earned it, they knew; it was of grace, a free gift, a proof of the generous bounty of the lord of the vineyard. The rewards of heaven are not calculated by the methods of earth. Men called late into Christ's service might rank with the first chosen twelve. Paul the persecutor would sit on one of the twelve thrones; Judas the apostle would forfeit his place in the apostolic hierarchy. Gentiles would be called into the kingdom on an equal footing with God's ancient people. Throughout the history of the Church it would happen again and again that men called late in life, sometimes on the very bed of death, would receive the full reward. Work is not always measured by time; life itself is not measured by time. A short life has sometimes far more of real living, more of deep spiritual energy, and even sometimes of outward work, than a very long life spent without earnest purpose ("He being made perfect in a short time, fulfilled a long time," Wis. 4:13). We may well believe that in the dying hours of the penitent thief there was concentrated a depth of repentance, an intensity of love, an energy of victorious faith, which he marked and rewarded who measures life, not by time, not by outward work, but by faith and love. The labourers were called in order from the last unto the first. All received the like reward—the penny, covenanted to the first called, given, it seems, without covenant to those sent later into the vineyard. The parable contemplates a portion only of God's dealings with mankind; its point of view does not extend to the disobedient, mentioned elsewhere, who went not to the vineyard. Here all the labourers had worked, and all received their hire. But that reward, though in itself the same, varies according to the spiritual capacity of the receiver. Eternal life is promised to all the blessed; God himself is their Portion. Yet we read of ten cities and of five (Luke 19:17, Luke 19:19). There will be first and last, greatest and leash in the kingdom of God; all the stars shine in the heavens, but one star differeth from another star in glory. All the blessed will, by the grace of God, be admitted into the exceeding great rapture of the beatific vision. That vision of love and glory will fill every heart with unutterable gladness; the saints will be changed into the same image from glory to glory, drawn ever nearer, received into an ever-closer nearness, an ever-deepening blessedness, increasing in proportion to the powers, the love, the fervour, the devotion of each glorified spirit. All will receive the blessed promise, eternal life; the realization of that promise will depend in some measure on the capacities of the receiver. All will be blessed. Holy Scripture seems to teach that there will be degrees of blessedness in heaven, as there are degrees of holiness on earth.
2. The murmurs. The first-hired labourers had borne the burden and heat of the day; they now received the covenanted reward. It was their just due according to the original agreement. But they murmured, not because they had received too little, but because others, as they thought, had received too much. These last had wrought but one hour, and yet the good man of the house had made them equal to those who had worked from morning until evening. The Jews showed this narrow spirit of unworthy jealousy towards the Gentiles; we see it throughout the New Testament. It was this that caused the rejection of our Lord at Nazareth (Luke 4:25-29). It was this that excited the fierce wrath of the Jews against St. Paul (Acts 22:21, Acts 22:22). They were God's chosen people; the adoption was theirs, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the Law, and the service of God, and the promises (Romans 9:4). They could not endure the thought that the despised Gentiles were to be admitted to an equality of privileges. St. Peter had just showed something of this spirit in his question, "Behold, we have left all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?" The primary intention of the parable was, it seems, to teach him and his brother apostles that the rewards of God's kingdom are not of debt, but of grace; and to rebuke that desire of pre-eminence, those jealousies and rivalries, which we meet with so often in the history of the apostles, and, alas! in the whole history of the Church. There must be no jealousies in the kingdom of God. Each Christian must learn of him "who is meek and lowly in heart" the great grace of humility; we must all learn "in lowliness of mind to esteem others better than ourselves." We must learn this great lesson now; for murmurers have no place in the kingdom of glory. Heaven is the home of love; no jarring notes of envy or discontent may disturb its Divine harmonies. It is the home of blessedness; there can be no complaints in heaven; for, if there are degrees of blessedness, yet each redeemed soul is blessed to the full extent of its capacities, and is disturbed by no unsatisfied longings. Then if we apply the parable to the circumstances of individual Christians, and understand the penny as meaning the unspeakable gift—Christ now, eternal life hereafter—we must regard this portion as belonging to the scenery, so to speak, of the parable, to its setting, as conveying a warning of what might happen on earth, not a prophecy of what will happen hereafter. On earth the murmurers receive the penny; they have worked for it. There is no intimation in the parable that they worked less strenuously than those called later; it would not be just to withhold it, though they marred their industry by their envy and ill temper. In the world to come such men would lose their reward; in this world they knew not how to value it. The reward offered was the gift of Christ, Christ himself, Christ present to his people's hearts; but, alas! though they seemed to begin well, they envied others who afterwards outstripped them in the Christian race; and that envy of the progress, of the successes, of the rewards of others marred their own religious service, destroyed the value of their work, poisoned and killed out of their hearts the holy life of faith and love. To such heaven would be no heaven if they were allowed to enter there, for to the unloving there can be no joy in the love of heaven. "He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love."
3. The reply of the householder. "Friend," he said. The Greek word is not one which implies affection or friendship, but only knowledge and companionship; it is used by the king in the parable to the man who had not on a wedding garment, and by our Lord in addressing Judas at Gethsemane. The man had received the penny; the payment was according to the agreement; he had no right to more. The apostles would receive the promised reward; but they ought not to seek great things for themselves; they ought not to desire pre-eminence; they ought to trust the bounty and the justice of God. They ought not to boast of what they had done; they ought not to say, "Behold, we have left all, and followed thee;" but rather, as St. Paul said afterwards, "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day." Implicit faith in God's justice and love is the proper attitude of the Christian soul. His will is sovereign; he distributeth to every man severally as he will; but it is not arbitrary; it is holy and just and good. He knows, as none else can know, all the circumstances, all the surroundings, all the temptations, all the advantages and disadvantages, which must be taken into consideration in any accurate estimate of character. Without this knowledge it is impossible to weigh one man against another, or to balance the relative preponderance of good or evil in each. We cannot have this knowledge. God has it; we must trust his ruling. We must not dare to complain if others, whom we regarded as our inferiors, are put above us or on an equality with us. God has his reasons; he doeth all things well. Perhaps the householder in the parable knew that any addition to the stipulated reward was not deserved; perhaps he knew that it would be misused, that it would in some way do harm rather than good. God, who knows all things, certainly acts always for the best. The Lord is loving unto every man. He maketh all things work together for good to them that love him. This is enough for us to know. We must learn the blessed grace of humility, the holy lesson of contentment. Murmuring there must not be; it shows at once the unworthiness of the murmurers. Envy is an evil thing; it comes from the evil one; it has no place in the kingdom of heaven, for the law of that kingdom is love.
4. The conclusion. The Lord sums up the parable in the words which he had used before (Matthew 19:30). The parable was intended to illustrate their meaning. He now repeats them, "So the last shall be first, and the first last." He does not mean that it will be so in all cases; but that the fact of being first called, or first in other senses, first in station, first in the esteem of men, or even first in outward works, will not necessarily save a man from being last at the end. "Many that are first shall be last." The first hired in the parable were last in several respects. They received their reward last; that reward was least in proportion to the time of service; and they were last in good feeling. All the rest were contented; they only were dissatisfied and ungrateful. Then the first places in the kingdom are for those who are first in humility, first in self-abasement, who are willing to be last of all and the servants of all; who recognize their own sinfulness, their unworthiness of the least of God's mercies; who, far from putting forward a claim to pre-eminence, are content to take the lowest place. Such men may seem last in the eyes of men; they may have been called late in life; they may be very inferior to others in showy qualities; but they are first now in the sight of God; they will be first one day in the sight of men and angels. If the last clause of Matthew 19:16 is genuine in this place, it cannot be taken in the same sense as in Matthew 22:14. There the guest who had not on a wedding garment was called indeed to the marriage, but not chosen unto life eternal; he was cast into outer darkness. Here all receive the reward; but few are chosen out, as pre-eminent in holiness, for the highest places in God's kingdom, to sit on the right and left of the King, or to occupy the twelve thrones of the rulers of the spiritual Israel. God gives these highest distinctions to whom he will, to the lowliest and the most self-denying. But there is no room for ambition in the kingdom of heaven; all the faithful must be content, all will be content with the place assigned to them, for the very lowest place there is a prize unspeakably glorious, blessed above all that we can ask or think.
1. God's rewards are of grace, not of debt.
2. Christians must be humble and thankful, not jealous of others.
3. The very lowest place in God's kingdom is far higher than the best of us deserves.
4. We must obey the calling of God. He has work forevery one of us; let us earnestly try to do it.
5. Let us not despair if we are called at the eleventh hour. Only let us do our best. The last may be first.
Predictions of the Passion.
I. JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM.
1. The Lord. He was going up now for the last time to the holy city. His work in Galilee, in Peraea, was over; it seemed to have ended in disappointment, His popularity was not what it had been; his enemies had to a large extent succeeded (or seemed to have succeeded) in undermining his influence. He was "a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." A few days of thankless labour awaited him at Jerusalem, and then the awful cross. He knew it all. We cannot discern the secrets of the future; God has mercifully shrouded them in darkness. The shadow of the cross fell along the whole life of the Lord. And now he knew that his hour was come, that he should depart out of this world unto the Father. The thought gave an awful dignity to his mien, a Divine majesty to his figure, a strange stateliness to every gesture (Mark 10:32). He was going to meet his death. He saw it plain before him in all its circumstances of shame and anguish; but he shrank not. He went forwards with a sweet and holy calmness, with a more than heroic courage, which shone through his features and illumined those clear holy eyes with a light that spoke of heaven.
2. The disciples. The Lord went before them, leading them to the fearful conflict. They followed in silent awe; they watched the Lord's demeanour; they had never before seen such a strange high glory of steadfast resolve even on that blessed face, and they were amazed, terror-stricken. They regarded him with the deepest reverence—reverence not diminished by familiar intercourse, but constantly increasing; and now, it seems, they feared to intrude upon his meditations; but they were troubled and anxious. They felt that some momentous crisis was at hand. The Lord cared for them. He was not so absorbed in the intense contemplation of his coming sufferings as to forget his followers. He is our great Example. We think that the excitement caused by the expectation of great joy or great sorrow is an excuse for the neglect of our ordinary duties. It was not so with Christ our Lord. "Having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end." He took them apart in the way. He would in his loving tenderness prepare them for the dreadful trial. Twice already he had predicted his death, but they seemed unable to take it into their minds; he would tell them a third time, more plainly now, in greater detail. And so he took them apart. Perhaps the roads were crowded; there were multitudes going up to the Passover. He would not tell them the dreadful secret within the reach of unsympathizing cars; they would best hear it alone, where none were present save those most deeply concerned the blessed Master, and the little company who so dearly loved him. Mark the tender delicacy of his dealings with them.
II. WHAT WAS TO BE EXPECTED.
1. The betrayal. "Behold, we go up to Jerusalem," the Lord said. It was a glad thought commonly. "I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord. Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem." And they were now going up to the Passover. It may be that the disciples, like other Jews, were looking forward to that great festival with feelings of joy; and very probably they were cherishing the hope that their Master would then manifest himself openly as the Messiah, that he would be welcomed as the great King, the Deliverer that was to come. He was to be manifested, but upon the cross; he was to reign, but from the tree. He told them calmly of the double betrayal that was coming, He should be betrayed (he did not say by whom; they could not bear yet to hear that) unto the chief priests and scribes. They would not acknowledge him as the Christ (as perhaps the disciples were hoping); they would condemn him to death, and betray him to the Gentiles. His own disciple would betray him to the priests; his own nation, nay, the priests, who knew where the Christ should be born (Matthew 2:4), one of whom "prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation" (John 11:51), would betray him to the Gentiles.
2. The manner of his death. He told them very plainly now. It would be the act of the Gentiles, but the guilt would rest mainly with the Jews (John 19:11). He predicted the harrowing details of his Passion; he would be mocked, scourged, crucified, he had mentioned the cross already (Matthew 10:38; Matthew 16:24), but it was in figurative language; the spiritual cross of self-denial was to be the test of his true disciples. Now he told them plainly what it was that was to give a new meaning to the hated word, and make it another name for the holiest and loftiest self-sacrifice. He himself was to die upon the cross, not in figure, but in reality, he, the Christ, the Son of the living God, he whom the three chosen apostles had seen glorious with the radiance of heaven, he was to die that death which hitherto had been regarded as of all things horrible the most horrible, of all things ignominious the most intensely shameful. Yet the future was not all dark; he was to rise again the third day. He had raised others already from the dead: he himself would rise, for he is the Resurrection and the Life; it was not possible that he could be holden of the grave. It was now the third warning; yet, St. Luke tells us, the apostles "understood none of these things; and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken." It seems strange; but is it not much the same now? In spite of warnings, men will not understand that their own death is at hand; they think all men mortal but themselves; they will not speak of death; they carefully avoid the subject. Christ teaches us a different lesson. We should often think of death, we should often speak of it, of our own coming death, and that calmly, with the Christian's hope of a blessed resurrection.
1. Mark the awe and reverence with which the apostles regarded the Lord, though they loved him so well. Reverence becomes the true Christian.
2. How often, when we look for joy, there comes great sorrow! Let us be prepared.
3. Think much of the cross of the Lord Jesus; it cannot be too much in the Christian's thoughts.
Salome and her sons.
I. THEIR CONVERSATION WITH CHRIST.
1. The request. Salome was one of the Lord's most faithful followers; she was present at the cross; perhaps she was his mother's sister. Her sons had been admitted into the innermost circle of the apostles; they with Peter were the three nearest to the Lord. But even the chosen three could not receive the Lord's predictions of his death. Their hearts were so preoccupied with thoughts of the kingdom, the twelve thrones, the coming glories, that they seemed quite unable to take the thought of the cross into their minds. They had seen the grandeur of the Transfiguration; like Peter, they recoiled in horror from the prospect of the cross. They could not think that that height of glory and that depth of shame could meet in one Person; they could not believe it at all; and, as men do still, or try to do, they put away such distressing thoughts. And now Salome came, doing lowly reverence to Jesus as to the King Messiah, and making her request. She prayed, not for herself, but with a mother's love for her sons, that they might sit, the one on the Lord's right hand, the other on the left, in his kingdom.
2. The Lord's reply. "Ye know not what ye ask." They thought of an earthly kingdom. He knew what they would not know, though he had told them thrice. Salome would soon see, one at least of her sons would see, the Lord not sitting on a royal throne, but hanging on the cross. They would see on the right hand and on the left not two great officers, two ministers of state, but two crucified malefactors. We often know not what we ask when we seek in our folly great things for ourselves. We do not know the future; we do not know ourselves. The best prayer is the Lord's own prayer, "Not my will, but thine, be done." "Not my will." We wish for this or that honour, this or that post of pre-eminence for ourselves, for our children, for those nearest and dearest to us. We know not what we ask; we do not rightly estimate our own powers; we do not think of the dangers and temptations which lie before us, the envies and the jealousies which we provoke. Ambition is rash always; most perilous is its rashness when it aspires to the highest places in the Church. "Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of?" None can tread safely in those places save those who can drink of the Saviour's cup; none can endure those tremendous responsibilities save those who have been baptized with his baptism. And that cup is the cup of self-denial, and that baptism is the baptism of blood, the blood of Jesus Christ which cleanseth from all sin, which maketh those only white and clean who have come out of great tribulation, the spiritual tribulation of contrition and self-abasement, if not the outward tribulation of suffering for the sake of Christ. "We are able," said the sons of Zebedee. They were true and faithful; it was not a mere vulgar ambition which prompted them; they were devoted, heart and soul, to the service of their Lord. They were ready to follow him through danger and through suffering, though now they failed to understand the meaning of that kingdom which was so much in their thoughts. The Lord recognized their truth and loyalty; they had the high courage which they professed; they should be united very closely with him by the sacraments of suffering and martyrdom in deed or in will. But those highest places in the kingdom of glory were not to be given by partial love, at the request of mother or of sons; they were to be bestowed according to the eternal election of God the Father upon those who were nearest to the Lord in lowliness and entire self-sacrifice. Let us pray for the holy courage of the sons of Zebedee. "We are able." It is a noble word if it issues out of a true and real faith, if it is uttered in humility and dependence upon Christ; it is a pure and holy word when it is spoken by Christ's faithful followers. "I can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth me." Otherwise it is presumptuous and profane. "Without me, ye can do nothing."
II. THE TEN APOSTLES.
1. Their indignation. Salome and her sons had, it seems, approached the Lord privately, without the knowledge of the other apostles. When they heard of the request that had been made they were much displeased. The two had sought pre-eminence over the rest, even over Peter. Peter does not, as at other times, put himself prominently forward; possibly the twice-repeated warning of our Lord, "Many that are first shall be last," kept him back. The displeasure of the ten was natural, but it was wrong. They had forgotten the lessons of the eighteenth chapter; they still harboured those unworthy jealousies which ought to have no place among the disciples of Christ.
2. The Lord's warning.
(1) The commandment. The Church must not imitate the world. The rulers of the nations lord it over them; but (as St. Peter wrote afterwards, echoing, it seems, the Saviour's word) Christian presbyters must not lord it over the charge allotted to them. The way to true greatness is lowly service. He is greatest in the Christian ministry who realizes most the meaning of the word "minister," as St. Paul understood its meaning and illustrated it in his life. He is greatest who stands waiting day and night on Christ, who follows him most closely in self-denying ministrations. He will be first in the great day who is willing now to be the last of all, who regards himself as the servant of Christ, and as the servant of all men for Christ's sake; as St. Paul made himself the servant of all that he might gain the more. He will be chief then, who, though his labours may be abundant, like the labours of St. Paul, yet, like St. Paul, owns himself to be the least of all, seeking no pre-eminence over others, but simply and unaffectedly attributing all that is good in himself or in his work to the grace of God: "Yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me."
(2) The great Example. The Lord does not only teach; he illustrates his teaching by his life; especially when he gives the most difficult lessons, he calls our attention to his own example. He bids us become the servants of all; he took upon him the form of a servant. He bids us minister to others; he came not to be ministered unto, but to minister. He came from heaven, from his true home, to this lower earth of ours, and that not to display the glory of his majesty, not to be ministered unto as Messiah the King. Angels did minister unto him, so did holy women and others; but that was occasional, incidental. The purpose of his coming was to minister—to minister to the deep wants of humanity, to the cravings of those who hungered after God, to the mortal sickness of countless dying souls. He came to feed the hungry with the Bread of life, which is himself; to cleanse the sin defiled with the fountain opened for sin and for iniquity, which is his precious blood; to heal the broken hearted, to give rest to all that labour and are heavy laden,—for he is the great Physician; he is our Peace, the only Rest of the weary soul. He came to minister; those who would be nearest him in his glory must be nearest him in his ministry. His ministers must imitate him who was "a Minister of the circumcision for the truth of God." But he came to do more than to minister—he came to do that one great deed which stands alone in the world's history, which none could do save only the Son of God, who became for our sake the Son of man. He came to give his life a ransom for many. He gave it; it was his free gift, a spontaneous act of mysterious love and bounty, generous above the reach of human thought. What he gave was his life—that human life which he hath taken into his Divine Person. That human life was pure and holy; the one only human life that came not under the curse of the Law. "The soul [the life] that sinneth it shall die." He needed not to die; but in his generous love he gave that pure and holy life as a ransom for the many sinful lives. He gave "himself for us an offering and a sacrifice unto God" (Ephesians 5:2). The ransom was given to God. The atonement belongs to the region of very high and sacred mysteries; its reasons, its necessity, its wide-reaching and awful meaning, are high above us. Human words are inadequate to express it; human illustrations at the best are partial and incomplete; human thought cannot grasp it in its fulness. It becomes us to speak of these high mysteries with reverence and solemn reticence. "God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few." But thus much we know for certain, and that from the Lord's own lips, his death was a sacrifice, and it was vicarious. He gave his life a ransom for many, in their place, in their stead. Such is the only possible meaning of the words; he took upon him our punishment, he suffered in our stead, blessed be his holy Name! One died for many; but that One was God, God and Man in one Person, infinite in love and power, as that sacrifice was infinite in preciousness. For many, and yet for all, as St. Paul says, when he repeats the precious words (1 Timothy 1:6); for all who will believe and come to him in faith; for he is the Saviour of the world, "the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world."
1. Seek not great things for yourselves, for your children; pray for humility.
2. Try more and more to work into your heart that holiest prayer, "Not my will, but thine, be done."
3. Abase yourselves. The lowliest here shall be the highest there.
The two blind men.
I. JERICHO. The Lord had come to Jericho, the famous city of the palm trees, the first city taken by Joshua in his career of conquest. Now in Jericho a greater Joshua opened the eyes of the blind, and brought the good news of peace and reconciliation with God to the house of the publican; and from Jericho he went up to the holy city to meet a mightier foe than any who ever fell before the sword of Joshua—to triumph over sin and Satan by the power of the most holy cross.
II. THE MIRACLE.
1. The prayer. Two blind men sat by the wayside. One was Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus. He was well known in Jericho; he had sat there begging long, perhaps for years. They heard the multitude pass by; they asked what was the meaning of the crowd, the tramp of many feet. It was Jesus, they were told—Jesus of Nazareth. They had heard of him; every one had heard of him. He had given sight to the blind; nay, he had opened the eyes of one who was born blind. They begged for the like mercy now: "Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou Son of David!"
2. The rebuke of the multitude. There was a brief revival of the Lord's popularity; men hoped that he would at last openly announce himself as the Messiah, and claim the throne of David. A vast multitude attended him in his royal progress. The crowds, absorbed in great expectations, cared not for the blind beggars. They were disturbed by their cries; perhaps they thought that the interruption would annoy the King. They rebuked them, that they should hold their peace; but they cried the more, saying, "Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou Son of David!" Christians meet sometimes with similar difficulties now, when they first wake to the sense of their spiritual blindness, when they first begin to follow Christ in earnest supplication. Others, who are content with a mere formal religion, find fault with their earnestness; it is felt by the indifferent and apathetic as a reproof to themselves. They must not be discouraged; they must cry the more, "Have mercy on us, O Lord!" The Lord will listen; the Lord will save.
3. The Lord's compassion. He heard the cry of the supplicants through the noise of the multitude; it arrested his attention. He stood stilt and called them. He could think of the wretched even now, surrounded as he was by an applauding crowd, on his way to his last dread conflict, the shadow of death gathering round him. He will listen to us when we pray. He seems, perhaps, to be passing by; but the cry of earnest supplication will detain him. Only let us pray, as the blind men prayed, with all intensity of entreaty, not ceasing till be hears us, and stands still and calls us. He is passing by; a crowd of worshippers follow, gazing on him in adoration. He will listen to those who feel the misery of spiritual blindness, and weep for their want of faith. Only let them persevere in their prayer, "Lord, increase our faith," lest he pass on out of the reach of their cries.
4. The answer. "What will ye," he said, "that I should do unto you?" "Lord," they said, "that our eyes may be opened." At once the Lord had mercy. He touched their eyes, and immediately they received their sight, and followed him. His touch hath still its ancient power; still he can open the eyes of the blind; and still they who with eyes opened by his touch look up upon the Lord, must follow him on the way that leadeth to the cross.
1. The Lord opened the eyes of the blind; he will open our eyes if we come to him in faith.
2. We must not heed the objections which men make to religious earnestness. We need Christ; we must find him.
3. The Lord is ever passing by, ever ready to hear the prayer of strong desire.
4. His touch can shed the light of heaven upon our souls. Shine into our hearts, O Lord!
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY
The labourers in the vineyard.
This parable is closely connected with our Lord's remarks in describing the rewards of the kingdom, and it may have been intended to convey a mild rebuke, or at least a gentle warning, to St. Peter, who had asked," What then shall we have?" The apostles are to receive great rewards. But those who, like St. Peter, were called first, are not to assume that they will have any more than those who came in later.
I. CHRIST SEEKS LABOURERS FOR HIS VINEYARD. There is work to be done in winning the world for Christ, and in training the Church that its fruit may be brought forth in abundance. For this work our Lord requires labourers. His servants are not to be satisfied with receiving his grace. That grace is given for the express purpose of its being used in his service. Christ calls us that we may serve him.
II. CHRIST OFFERS A FAIR REWARD FOR LABOUR. The so called "penny" was evidently the regular wages of the ordinary day labourer. Although Christ might exact service on royal authority, he does not put forth this authority. He accepts each laborer on the man's free consent, and he offers him all that he could ask for. We talk of the sacrifice and toils of a Christian life. We should be honest to reckon up its gains on the other side.
III. CHRIST HIRES LABORERS AT THE VARIOUS HOURS. The Church did not start fully equipped. By degrees the requisite forces have been drawn into the service of the kingdom. Those late hired may represent various classes.
1. The later called apostles. St. Peter will not have pre-eminence because he was called earlier than St. Jude. When St. Paul came his case would be obviously met here. And yet the parallel is not exact, because the later apostles did not have a shorter season of work.
2. The Gentiles. These were called later than the Jews; but they were not assigned an inferior place in the kingdom.
3. The heathen. Even today; at the eleventh hour, some nations are being called in.
4. The aged. One who did not receive the gospel in youth will not necessarily be lower than one who had the privilege of knowing it in his early days.
IV. CHRIST REWARDS IN AN UNEXPECTED MANNER. Here we have a description of an equality of payment. Elsewhere there is an idea of diversity, e.g. Luke 19:24-26. Each representation has its own lesson. In the case before us we learn that the final division may not be at all according to our expectation. The obscure may be on a level with the eminent—the Gentiles with the Jews, the new mission Churches of India and China with the old Christian Churches of Europe.
V. CHRIST HAS A RIGHT TO DEAL GENEROUSLY AFTER HE HAS ACTED JUSTLY. The payment looked unfair. But no one could complain, because every one had what he had agreed to take, and because no one had less than fair wages. Beyond this the householder was free to be as generous as he pleased in the disposal of his own property. Still, one can quite understand the dissatistaction. People are hurt when generosity does not seem to be equal and fair. It should be noted, however, that the later comers had excused themselves on the plea that no man had hired them. Possibly they were as willing to work all day as those who had done so. Now, Christ judges by the heart and the intentions.—W.F.A.
A great reversal.
This is an often-repeated saying of our Lord's; perhaps he uttered it more often than anything else—a fact which shows its importance and also the difficulty people have in believing it and acting on it. We are not to suppose that there is a Nemesis that mocks at good fortune and delights in reversing it. Prosperity is not punished as such, for it is not in itself an evil thing. God is gracious and generous. He would not torment his children with needless disappointments. Let us, then, look for the causes of the great reversal.
I. GOD DOES NOT JUDGE MEN BY THEIR WORLDLY POSITION. He does not punish rank. He takes no account of it, except in so far as it brings with it obligations, etc. We see men in honour because of their riches or their success. Such things mean nothing to God. He only looks at the naked characters of the men themselves. These are all that he puts in his scales. If these are found wanting, they are condemned, and no riches or honours can be thrown in as "make weights." On the other hand, poor, obscure, oppressed, misunderstood, or persecuted people suffer nothing whatever in God's judgment on account of those circumstances which bring on them the contempt of the world. If they have real worth they are understood and appreciated in heaven.
II. WORLDLY PRE-EMINENCE DOES NOT USUALLY SPRING FROM THOSE GRACES OF CHARACTER WHICH GOD VALUES. Sometimes, indeed, it is the reward of real merit. But too often it comes from most inferior qualities. The accident of birth confers the highest honours and the greatest wealth by the artificial law of primogeniture. Successful scheming and good fortune bring a man money and influence. A Napoleon forces his way to the head of Europe by the exercise of enormous mind and will powers at the expense of every moral consideration.
III. THERE IS A TENDENCY IN WORLDLY PRE-EMINENCE TO INJURE THE BETTER QUALITIES OF THE SOUL. Christ spoke of the difficulty of rich men in entering the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:23). Other forms of pre-eminence besides that of wealth also have their difficulties. One great hindrance to spiritual progress is pride, and high rank fosters pride. Self-will is incompatible with spiritual excellence, and the great and exalted are tempted to indulge self-will. Lowliness and obedience, unselfishness and a spirit of serving, are the qualities which Christ honours. It is very difficult to cultivate these graces in high places—difficult, but possible to those who seek the help of God—as we see in a Margaret of Navarre and a Cardinal Contarini.
IV. ULTIMATELY GOD WILL TREAT ALL ACCORDING TO THEIR TRUE CHARACTERS. The irony of judgment will be terrible, just because it will be just. At the great revelation the fictitious glory of worldly pre-eminence will fade and all its tawdry tinsel will be shown in hideous distinctness. Then true worth will shine as the sun bursting forth from the clouds. That day is coming. Therefore let not the favoured boast of their temporary exaltation; and let not the lowly and oppressed despair. There will be a great reversal.—W.F.A.
A mother's ambition.
In St. Mark we are only told that the two sons of Zebedee came, asking for the first places in the kingdom. St. Matthew's account shows that the request originated with their mother. It is natural that a mother should dream of a great future for her children. The mother's ambition is an inspiration for her training of them. In the present instance it seemed to overstep the bounds of modesty. Yet when we consider all the circumstances, we shall see that there was something really grand about it.
I. THE DARING REQUEST.
1. Its selfishness. This is the first thing that strikes any reader of the narrative. On a mother's part it is not so selfish, however, as if the two brothers had come alone. Yet there is a family selfishness. Moreover, the brothers shared in their mother's request.
2. Its naturalness. These two disciples belonged to the most intimate group of the friends of Jesus. Possibly the request was only that there might be a continuance in heaven of the privilege already accorded on earth. We know that one of the brothers, St. John, sat on the right hand of Jesus on earth (John 13:25); it is not at all unlikely that St. James sat on the other side of the Master. If so, the request is for the continuance of a present privilege. Will Jesus, when in glory, abandon his old friends? or will he own the fishermen and honour them in proportion to their present privileges?
3. Its faith. This daring request was made just after Christ had spoken of his approaching death. The gloomy prospect might have checked the hopes of the most ardent. Nevertheless, Zebedee's wife is sure that Christ will triumph and reign in his glorious kingdom. In full view of the greatest approaching disaster, she speaks of the division of the spoil after the ultimate victory. Here is a marvel of faith!
II. THE SEARCHING QUESTION. Jesus answers the request with a question. Only they can receive the heavenly privileges who attain to them in the right way. Are the two brothers prepared for this?
1. Prayer is often offered in ignorance of what it involves. These simple people had little conception of the road to greatness in the kingdom of heaven. We may seem to be uttering most harmless requests, yet we know not what we ask. Therefore prayer should be submissive. It is well to leave our prayers to God's discriminating judgment.
2. They who would reign with Christ must suffer with him. It is vain to think of sharing the final victory if we will not share the previous conflict. The two brothers assent to the condition. In doing so they atone for much of the selfishness of their request. They had their grand destiny of suffering. St. James drank of Christ's cup in being the first martyr apostle; St. John in enduring longest, and in suffering exile and other hardships for his Lord's sake. There is no escaping this condition, although it may assume various forms.
3. The ultimate destiny of souls is with God alone. It is not for Christ to settle on grounds of friendship or favour. It belongs to the awful and mysterious counsels of God. Here we see the secondary rank of the Son compared with his Father. Yet the main lesson is not one concerning the nature of the Trinity. It is to teach us to renounce even the highest selfish ambition. That cannot help us. The future is with God.—W.F.A.
The daring request of the mother of Zebedee's children roused the jealousy of the other disciples. This was natural, and quite in accordance with the customs of the world. Nevertheless, Christ disapproved of the feeling. It showed something of the same selfish ambition that the two brothers had displayed.
I. WORLDLY DIFFERENCES OF RANK ARE NOT TO BE ALLOWED IN THE CHURCH OF CHRIST.
1. The necessity of this rule. It springs from the essential characteristics of Christianity.
(1) Brotherhood. In Christ rich and poor, high and low, are brothers, members of one family. We are to call no man master in the Church, because we are all brethren. No institution of man is more democratic than the Church of Christ—when it realizes his idea.
(2) The supremacy of Christ. One is our Master, even Christ (Matthew 23:8). For a man to exercise lordship is to usurp the kingly office of Christ. Not only is he supreme; he deals directly with every soul in his kingdom.
(3) The worthlessness of external pre-eminence. Christ cares for nothing of this sort. Of titles and offices he takes no account. Character and conduct are the only things that he observes and judges us by and character and conduct are quite independent of official position and nominal rank.
2. The application of this rule. It has been and it is now so grievously neglected and outraged that we ought to expose the wrong with a reformer's courage.
(1) In hierarchical pretensions. The papal claims are here out of court. Therefore the friends of the papacy do not favour the reading of the New Testament by the people. But all domineering priestliness is equally excluded.
(2) In worldly position. Differences of rank that have nothing to do with ecclesiastical order are also quite out of place in the Church. They may have their use in the world. But they cannot confer any privileges in spiritual and religious matters.
II. CHRISTIAN GREATNESS IS GREATNESS OF SERVICE. It is not hierarchical power and dignity. It is not secular wealth and titles. It is a purely moral greatness—the result of conduct. They stand highest in the kingdom of heaven who best serve their brethren.
1. The grounds of this greatness.
(1) It is Christ-like. They will be most honoured by Christ who best resemble him; they will come nearest to him in rank who follow him most closely in conduct. Christ was the servant of all.
(2) It is inherently excellent. God honours Christ himself for this very reason. He humbled himself and took on him the form of a servant—"Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him" (Philippians 2:9). To serve is to manifest energy in unselfishness and kindness—the best of all things witnessed on earth.
2. The pursuit of this greatness. The words, "and whosoever would become great among you shall be your servant," are not the threat of a punishment for ambition. They are an indication of the way to true greatness. This is not, like worldly greatness, reserved for the privileged. It is within the reach of all. If any wish to approach the honours coveted for the brothers James and John, the way is open. It is to be first in service, to excel in self-sacrificing toil for the good of others.—W.F.A.
Christ the Servant and the Ransom.
The immediate application of these words is to confirm the previous assertion of the nature of true greatness in the kingdom of heaven. But they are so intensely significant that they claim our attention on their own account.
I. CHRIST THE SERVANT. This startling conjunction of titles is suggested even in the Old Testament, in the latter part of Isaiah. Jesus realizes the singular prophecy in deeper humility and self-denial. In the prophet the Messiah is the "Servant of the Lord." In the life of Jesus we see him as this, but also as the Servant of man. Consider the negative and Positive aspects of this wonderful fact.
1. Its negative aspect. Christ did not come to be ministered unto. He did not ask for a prince's courtly rights; he did not expect them. He came in lowly guise. Although a few obscure friends delighted to give him the means of support in their gratitude, the great world's ministry of honour was never his.
2. Its positive aspect. Jesus came to minister. Service was an object of his life, not an accident that came upon him with surprise. He speaks of his coming into the world as though this had been deliberately fixed and the service of man part of its great purpose. Here we see the humility, the unselfishness, the love, and the practical spirit of our Lord. In this ministry
(1) he deserves our adoring gratitude;
(2) he invites our trustful confidence,—for it is on our behalf; and
(3) he is the example for our diligent imitation.
II. CHRIST THE RANSOM. Here is a great thought flashing out of the darkness that broods over the cross. Previously, Jesus had spoken of his approaching death; now he suddenly reveals the purpose of it. It was more than a necessity resulting from faithful living, more than a martyrdom. It was the paying of a ransom.
1. The price paid. Jesus gave his life. He came for the express purpose of doing so. One object of his birth was that he might be able to die. It is to be observed that our attention is always directed more to the fact of Christ's death than to the pain he suffered—to his cross rather than to his Passion, though doubtless both were of value in the great redeeming work. "The wages of sin is death." Jesus tasted death forevery man. He gave all he could give—his very life blood.
2. The liberty effected. Men ransom from captivity. What was the captivity from which Christ brought liberty? Origen and other Fathers regarded it as bondage to Satan, and they thought the ransom was actually paid to the devil. This is a coarse way of regarding a great truth. The ransom could not have been paid to the devil, because Christ fought the prince of evil as a deadly foe; he did not bargain with the fiend.]But he came to deliver from the power of Satan, i.e. from sin, and that object involved his death. He died to save us from sin. We must not press the analogy of the ransom further.
3. The people freed. The ransom is for "many." It is a harsh, ungenerous criticism that would fix on the apparent limitation of the word "many"—many rather than all. There is no such antithesis here. The many saved are contrasted with the one Saviour. His life blood is so valuable a ransom that it purchases, not the liberation of one or two captives of sin only, but a large multitude—the host of the redeemed.—W.F.A.
The blind men of Jericho.
Jesus is now at Jericho on his last journey to Jerusalem. When he visited the sacred city a few months before, he cured a blind man, and the miracle led to an important investigation and vindication of the powers of Christ (John 9:1-41.). It is likely that the fame of it reached to Jericho, and that this inspired the faith and hope of the blind beggars. Let us follow them through the course of the incident.
I. THEIR HELPLESS CONDITION.
1. These afflicted men were "sitting." They could but grope about when they attempted to walk. The glad activities of life were not for them. They sat apart in their misery.
2. They were "by the wayside." St. Mark tells us that one of them, at least, was begging (Mark 10:46). While the throng of country pilgrims passed by on their way to the Passover, a harvest of charity might be reaped. Yet at best this was a wretched way of gaining a livelihood.
3. They were together. St. Mark only tells us of one man—Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46). Probably he was the more energetic and the better known of the two. Yet his obscure friend is with him. Sufferers can sympathize with their brothers in suffering. The more active and confident should bring their diffident friends to Christ.
II. THEIR PRAYER OF FAITH.
1. They acknowledged Christ. They named him "Son of David." Thus they anticipated the hosannas of Palm Sunday. Perhaps they helped to inspire those hosannas.
2. They cried for mercy. Mercy was all they could seek, for they could not afford to pay an oculist's fees. When we come to Christ the richest among us must approach him as beggars. The only plea of the sinner is in the mercy of his Saviour.
III. THEIR TRYING DISCOURAGEMENT,
1. The multitude rebuked them—as the disciples rebuked the Persian mothers (Matthew 19:13). Their eager cries were irritating. They were but beggars; any one could take it upon him to reprimand such humble creatures. They who would come to Christ are sometimes discouraged by the servants of Christ.
2. Jesus did not respond immediately.
(1) Perhaps he did not hear.
(2) Perhaps he was occupied with some important teaching.
(3) Perhaps he would try the faith of the poor men. The answer to prayer is sometimes delayed.
IV. THEIR UNDAUNTED PERSEVERANCE. Now is their opportunity. Soon Jesus will have passed, and it will be too late for them to seek his aid. Yet great is their need. So eagerly do they long for sight, that no discouragement of impertinent strangers shall hinder them. It is the persevering faith of such men as these that conquers in the end—like the perseverance of the Syro-Phoenician woman.
V. THEIR CLEAR DECISION.
1. Jesus asked what he should do for them. This shows willingness to help. But he must have a clear statement of need. Perhaps he spoke with a smile of amusement at the intensity of their eager cry. As though there were any doubt as to what they needed! His question will calm them.
2. They answered promptly and without hesitations. They know what they want. We should know what we want from Christ.
VI. THEIR PERFECT HEALING.
1. It sprang from the compassion of Christ. The blind men asked for mercy. They got more—deep sympathy. This is the root and source of Christ's saving grace.
2. It was immediate. There was delay in finding Christ; there was no delay when he was found.
3. It was just the thing required. They asked for sight, and they received it. We do not always get exactly what we seek for, but if we seek aright we get its better equivalent.—W.F.A.
HOMILIES BY MARCUS DODS
The labourers in the vineyard.
This parable is one from which we are liable to draw some erroneous inferences unless we mentally hold it in strict connection with the circumstances in which it was originally spoken. When the rich young man turned away sorrowful, our Lord, sympathizing with the severity of his temptation, said, "Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven." Peter, seeing that he thus appreciated the difficulty of giving up property and detaching one's self from the world, suggests that those who overcome that difficulty are peculiarly meritorious. "Behold," he says, "we have left all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?" But in so speaking, Peter revealed precisely that disposition which most thoroughly vitiates all service for Christ—the disposition to bargain, to work for a clearly defined reward, and not for the sake of the work itself, and in generous faith in the justice and liberality of the Master. Read in this light, it is obvious that the parable directs attention to the fact that, in estimating the value of work, we must take into consideration, not only the time we have spent upon it or the amount we have got through, but the motive that has entered into it. An hour of trustful, loving service is of greater value to God than a lifetime of calculating industry and sell-deceiving zeal. While men are applauding the great workers who ostentatiously wipe the sweat from their brows and pant so that you can hear them across the whole field, God is regarding an unnoticed worker, who feels he is doing little, who is ashamed that any one should see his work, who regrets he can do no more, who could not name a coin small enough to reward him, but who is perfectly well assured that the Master he serves is well worth serving. It is thus that the last becomes first, and the first last. That we are meant to see this difference of spirit in the workers is obvious from the terms of their engagement. Those hired early in the day agree to work for the penny. At four or five in the morning no man in the market engages without making his own terms, and striking hands with his hirer as his equal. If he thinks one master's pay too little, he waits for a better offer; he is not going to work all day to oblige a neighbouring proprietor, but to make a good wage for himself. But in the evening the tables are turned—the masters have it all their own way. Possibly these men were the proudest in the morning, and missed their chance; but now pride gives place to hunger and anxious thoughts of the coming night. In no condition to bargain, they go, glad to get work on any terms, not knowing what they are to get, but trusting and grateful; the others went proud, self-confident, mercenary. This prepares us for the striking scene which ensued at the close of the day. Those who had barely got their work begun were first paid, and were paid a full day's wage. There must, of course, have been a reason for this; it was not mere caprice, but was the result and expression of some just law. It could not be that these late-hired labourers had done as much in their one hour as the others in twelve; for the others are conscious of having done their work well. We are thrown back, therefore, for the explanation on the hint given in the hiring, namely, that the men who bargained are paid according to their bargain; while the men who trusted got far more than they could have dared to bargain for. The principle is more easily understood, because we ourselves so commonly act upon it. It is work done with some human feeling in it that you delight in; that of the man who works not for you, but for his wage, is the work of a hireling, with whom you are quits when you pay him what he contracted to receive. Our Lord does not affirm, however, that all the last shall be first, and the first last, but only that many shall exemplify this reversal. "Many are called, but few chosen."
I. IT IS THE FACT THAT MANY WHO ARK FIRST IN MAN'S ESTEEM ARE LAST IN GOD'S RECKONING. We see plainly enough that many who are most diligent in the Lord's vineyard have a complacency, a consciousness that they are the good workers, which does not at all resemble the humble, trustful, self-ignoring spirit of these late-hired labourers. Perhaps they have once in their life made a great sacrifice as Peter had done, or perhaps they have quickly apprehended the duty peculiar to their own generation, whether it be caring for the sick, aiding the poor, or carrying the gospel to the masses, or subscribing liberally to Church objects. Or perhaps they do the work, not for the sake of the vineyard, but for their own sake—either that they may advance their own spiritual state, or win a good reputation, or maintain in their own minds the impression that they are indubitably good labourers. Now, if you deduct all who are working in one or other of these ways, you will come to the conclusion that "many are called, but few chosen;" many working hard, spending and being spent, and yet withal few choice workers, few who appeal to the Lord's heart and draw out his affectionate response by their lowly, unexpectant service.
II. MANY FIRST, BUT NOT ALL THE FIRST, SHALL BE LAST. Some at least of the best-known workers in the vineyard, some who entered it early, and never left it, for an hour, some who scarcely once straightened their hacks from toil and dropped asleep as they came to the end of their task, knowing nothing but God's work their whole life through, have also wrought in no bargaining spirit, but passed as humble a judgment on their work as the least of their fellow labourers on theirs.
III. AND THERE ARE SOME LAST WHO REMAIN LAST. Not all who do little do it well; not all who enter the vineyard late enter it humbled. Mercenariness is not confined to those who have some small excuse for it. Late entrance into the vineyard is to be on every account deprecated, and receives no encouragement from this parable rightly read. Do not think of the work of Christ as a mere extra, which can at any convenient time be added to your other work. It covers the whole of our life. All outside his vineyard is idleness.
This parable may be viewed as the great Physician's prescription for envy in whatever sphere it is manifested, and may be applied in two ways.
1. Every man of us has as much at least as he deserves. Were God to say, "Take that thine is," in the strictness of just and exact retribution, which of us would willingly stand upon our right?
2. The second is found in these words, "Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?" You are none the less because another is greater. You are what God sees best to make you, and what the other is he is of God's goodness. It is at God's expense, not at yours, that any man is blessed. But the teaching special to this parable is that our Lord measures our work, not solely by the amount done, nor by the skill we show in doing it, but by the spirit we are of in the doing of it. Many of us are called. Many of us are in the vineyard, and have long been so. In what spirit have we laboured?—D.
Salome's petition for Zebedee's sons.
This strange petition must have operated in a twofold way upon our Lord. On the one hand, it must have made it more clear than ever to his mind that nothing but his death and departure from this earth could dissipate the hopes of an earthly kingdom cherished by even the best of his followers. On the other hand, it gave him a most melancholy exhibition of the kind of men whom he must leave behind him to found his Church. Yet in our Lord's reply there is no trace of anger, of contempt, or even of disappointment, but only of tenderness. It is the language of a father to his child, who begs to be allowed to go with him on a perilous expedition. No man can by any possibility make this life easy to himself and yet find himself next to Christ in all that constitutes the glory of his character and work. Nothing daunted, the two brothers promptly declare that what Jesus can endure they also can endure. They were prepared for any risks such as they considered were inevitable in a popular rising; they had made up their minds to follow their Master to the end. Our Lord's answer might seem to imply that; it is possible for men to share his experience here, and yet not be with him eternally. Manifestly this is an impossible meaning. What our Lord meant was merely to direct the thoughts of his disciples to the fact that he was not an arbitrary Prince who might rule as he pleased, advancing his own favourites to high posts, and bestowing large rewards on those he loved, but was rather the Administrator of an inflexibly righteous and impartial government, in which all things were regulated according to fixed law. He has in his gift all that is worth working for; but all he has he must give to those who in the judgment of the Supreme (that is really) are worthy of them. No doubt he was exceptionally attached to James and John; all that friend can ask of friend he was delighted to give; but he could not reverse moral law and upset moral order in their favour. We argue as these men did: "Christ loves us; all will be well. He wishes to honour us; we shall be honoured." We refuse to consider that in God's government high position simply means high character, and nearness to Christ is but another name for likeness to Christ. A father may desire nothing more earnestly than that his two sons take their places in life at his right hand and at his left; but he knows perfectly well that this can only be if his sons fall in with certain conditions. So Christ cannot promote you irrespective of what you are. Our neglect of this law appears in our prayers. Character has an organic integrity and a consecutive growth as a tree has. But we ask God to give us fruit without either branch, blossom, or time. We wish ability to accomplish certain objects before we have the fundamental graces out of which that ability can alone spring. When we are suddenly put to shame through our lack of Christian temper, courage, or charity, we as suddenly ask Christ for the grace we need, apparently supposing that we have just to give the order and put on the ready made habit. In such a case we might hear our Lord's voice saying to us, "Ye know not what ye ask. These things I can give only to those who are prepared for them, and for whom they are prepared." Can you endure all that is required for the formation of these habits? You ask for humility: do you consider that in doing so you pray for humiliation, for failure, mortified vanity, disappointed hopes, the reproach of men, and the feeling that you are worthy of darker accusations than any that men can bring against you? You ask to be useful in the world: but can you drink of Christ's cup? can you take your stand by his side, abandoning your own pleasure and profit for the sake of the ungrateful? And yet he does not daunt you with impracticable requirements, he would not discourage you from high aims, but would have you count the cost, so that, understanding something of the difficulties before you, your resolve to succeed may become more determined and eager, your prayer more real and urgent. In our prayers we are sometimes too general. Through indifference or want of thought, we pray in general terms for blessings which are recognized by all as the proper subjects of prayer. The fault of the sons of Zebedee lay in an opposite direction; and yet with all this definiteness of naming the precise posts they aspired to in the new kingdom, they had not been at pains to fathom the real purport of their request. We also have sometimes the appearance of definite knowledge without the reality. But our Lord takes occasion further to tell his disciples (verses 25-28) that greatness in his kingdom consists not in getting service, but in doing service; not in having servants, but in being servants. In the kingdom of Christ the throne was really the cross; it was that deepest humiliation and most devoted service of men which gave Christ his tree power over us all. The greatness he won for himself, and to which he invites us, is power to do without the things we naturally crave; to forego worldly honour and the applause of men, to hold comfort and ease very cheap, and to make nothing of money and possessions; it is power to put ourselves at the disposal of a good cause, and to be of service to those who need our service.—D.
"Ye know not what ye ask." If some one were to say to us, as we rose from our knees or after public worship, "What is it that you now expect to receive? Of all the blessings men have been known to receive at the hand of God, which have you been asking for?" should we not frequently be forced to own, "I know not what I asked"? We seem to expect little more than that somehow our tone may be elevated and the temper of our spirits improved by our worship. But communion with God can never supersede simple prayer; so long as we are encompassed with infirmities we must ask God's help, and when we do so we should know what it is we ask. There are four ways in which the text pointedly rebukes us.
I. WHEN WE UTTER THE LANGUAGE OF PRAYER WITHOUT ATTACHING. ANY MEANING TO IT. We do not dream of waiting for an answer, because we have no desire to receive one. Aim at such definiteness that if, when you say, "Forgive me my sins," God were to say," What sin?" you would be able without hesitation to name those transgressions that are written on your conscience. Be as sure what you have to complain of as when you go to consult your physician.
II. WHEN WE PRAY FOR SOME DEFINITE BLESSING WHICH WE DESIRE, NOT SO MUCH FROM A PERSONAL APPRECIATION OF ITS WORTH, AS FROM THE KNOWLEDGE THAT IT IS ONE OF THE THINGS GOD IS MOST READY TO GIVE. These sons of Zebedee named the precise boon on which their hearts were set, and yet what could they have told you of the real purport of their request—of the requirements of the position they aspired to? No one who prays can acquit himself of this very charge. Take so common a request as that for the Holy Spirit: have you thought that you were inviting a Person, and that Person absolutely holy and almighty, to dwell within you? We are to covet earnestly God's best gifts, but we are to limit ourselves by his promises, and to learn the meaning of these promises as far as we can. By asking such things as we know our need of, even though they be less valuable than some other gifts, we may be led on to richer blessings than we looked for.
III. WHEN WE PRAY FOR WHAT IS IN ITSELF GOOD, BUT TO US WOULD BE EVIL. If God, who sees the effect these things would have upon you, were to translate your prayer, it might be, "I beseech thee grant me complete delight in this world, and forgetfulness of thee; I pray thee humble me no more, but grant me of thy mercy vanity and pride of life; I pray thee increase to me the cares of this life, so that I may not be disposed to worship thee nor to remember my own need of thee. Send me no more chastening and discipline, remove from me all restraints and crosses, and graciously suffer me so to fall away from thee, that I may be in danger of everlasting woe." Yet this is not a reason for restraining prayer, but for laying each of our petitions before God with an accompanying resignation of our will to his.
IV. WHEN WE PRAY FOR SOME GOOD THING WITHOUT TAKING ACCOUNT OF WHAT WE MUST DO AND SUFFER IN ORDER TO OBTAIN IT. Many of the gifts we ask at God's hand are such qualities of soul as can only be produced by long and painful processes. You ask for humility: do you know that herein you ask for failure, disappointed hopes, mortified vanity, the reproach of men, and the feeling that you are worthy of deeper accusations than any they can bring against you? You ask to be like Christ: but can you drink of his cup, and be baptized with his baptism? These words of your Lord are not spoken to dishearten you, to discourage you from high aims; but he would have you pray with deliberation, with a mind made up, with a devoted and solemn apprehension of the difficulties before you.
Two remedies may be suggested for this evil of vagueness and ignorance in prayer, the first connected with the form, the second with the matter, of prayer.
1. It seems to have been the practice of the devout in all ages to use the voice in their private devotions. Where it is possible, speech is a great help to an orderly method of thinking. Besides, so long as we merely think, we fall into the idea that it is only a frame of our own spirits we have to do with; and speech, the ordinary mode of realizing another's presence, enables us at once to realize the presence of God.
2. The great remedy against ignorance in prayer is to be found in meditation. And no man will ever make much of meditation who does not make much of the Word of God. Realize that this is not just a book to read, but a voice speaking to you, that it has a Person behind it addressing you. This, without any mystic influence, but on the most natural principles, works a change in our devotions. This gives us a real communion with God.—D.
HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD
The astonishment of precedence.
The text of this parable is found in the last verse of the preceding chapter. The words are repeated as the conclusion of its argument (Matthew 20:16). Hence the critics say the last verse of Matthew 19:1-30 ought to have been the first of Matthew 20:1-34. Yet the last verse of Matthew 19:1-30 is evidently connected with Christ's discourse upon the case of the ruler. Note—
I. THAT PRECEDENCE IS ASTONISHED IN GOD'S GIFTS AND CALLINGS.
1. The Jews were the people of ancient privilege.
(1) Theirs was the "adoption." Nationally they were separated from all the peoples of the earth, and adopted by God as his peculiar treasure.
(2) Theirs was the "glory." In the pillar of cloud. In the cherubim.
(3) Theirs were the "covenants." The first from Sinai—the Law. The second from Zion—the gospel (cf. Isaiah 2:3; Luke 24:47).
(4) Theirs was the "service of God." For ages "Jerusalem was the place where men ought to worship." Levitical rites were instituted and sanctioned against all Gentile abominations.
(5) Theirs were the "promises," viz. on which the covenants were established. They were given to the fathers, and renewed and amplified by the ministry of the prophets. By these God, "rising up early," went into the marketplace to hire labourers for his vineyard (cf. Jeremiah 7:25). As the day of their visitation wore on, the prophets invited the people at the third, sixth, and ninth hours.
(6) Theirs were the "fathers." They were sprung from Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. They were "beloved for the fathers'sakes."
(7) Theirs was "Christ, as concerning the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever" (Romans 9:4, Romans 9:5).
2. Their presumption upon their precedence was rebuked
(1) They believed themselves by it secured against rejection. They overlooked the conditions of their promises. They missed the lessons of their history. They filled up the measure of their iniquity in rejecting Christ.
(a) In his Person.
(b) In his gospel offer of salvation.
Then Christ rejected them. Their place and nation were taken away by the Romans; and they have ever since suffered in captivity.
(2) That the Gentiles should become "fellow heirs" with them so as to leave no difference (cf. Acts 15:1, Acts 15:9; Ephesians 3:3-6), was a mystery they would not comprehend. Their anger at the mercy of God to the Gentiles is expressed in the murmuring and evil eye of the labourers first called, against the lord of the vineyard, for his goodness to those called at the eleventh hour. Note: The labourers first called bargained (verse 13) for hire in the spirit of the Law; and the murmur was in keeping with the spirit of the bargain. Those afterwards called worked in faith and love, viz. in the spirit of the gospel (cf. Romans 4:4, Romans 4:5). God is now taking out of all nations "a people for his Name."
(3) The Christian Churches were first formed among the believing Jews, but since the destruction of Jerusalem, these have become absorbed in the Gentile Churches afterwards founded.
(4) Amongst the Gentile nations there is one destined in the order of providence to stand out in contrast to the rejected Jewish nation (see ch. 21:43). Can Britain be that distinguished nation?
II. THAT PRECEDENCE IS ASTONISHED IN GOD'S RECKONINGS.
1. Consider the lessons of the marketplace.
(1) All sinners are "idle," or do nothing to purpose, before God calls them to work in his vineyard. Those who desire to labour in his cause should be found in the marketplace where the Master seeks his labourers—in the appointed means of grace. God does not commonly find his labourers in the slums of the city. Another master finds his willing slaves in the walks of wickedness (see Joshua 24:15).
(3) Some are called in the morning of their days, as the Baptist and Timothy (see Luke 1:15; 2 Timothy 3:15). Some in the meridian of life. Nicodemus may be born again when he is old.
(4) Let not the sinner plead to his destraction the mercy of the "eleventh hour." Can the pleader say, with the men in the parable, "No man hath hired us"? The thief on the cross was a singular and extraordinary example, and may be in his conversion accounted with the miracle of the rending rocks and opening graves.
2. Consider the lessons of the vineyard.
(1) There is work in the Church forevery qualified labourer. All are qualified by accepting the Householder's conditions.
(2) The work is pleasant. We are called into the vineyard of the Church to weed and dress, to plant and water, to fence and train. The training of living growths is not dull work. The production and maturing of immortal fruits for the service and glory of a gracious Master is inspiring service.
(3) The time for vineyard work is short. One day, at most, to be followed by the "night in which no man can work." The eleventh hour of life may be earlier or later. It was early to Thomas Spencer, Henry Martyn, Kirk White, Robert McCheyne.
(4) Every labourer has his hire.
3. Consider the lessons of the reckoning.
(1) God gives to every one his right under the agreement he has made with him (see Romans 3:5, Romans 3:6). The heavenly reward will be given to all who seek it in God's way, without reference to time or accidents. Further than this we must not insist upon the equality of wages (see Luke 19:12; 1 Corinthians 3:8).
(2) God exercises a free and sovereign grace beyond his engagements of promise. It would be sad for the best of us were he to limit us to our merits. Then the highest creature must go away into nothing; the wicked into misery.
(3) The goodness of God will astonish some who have come in late to find themselves preferred before others who have laboured long. Some who followed Christ when first he preached afterwards became offended and walked no more with him. Paul was as one chosen out of due time, yet he came not behind the chiefest of the apostles, and took the throne forfeited by Iscariot.
(4) Many who occupy the first rank here for culture, standing, and influence, will there be last. Galilaeans, in these respects inferior to the scribes and priests, were chosen to be the inspired teachers of the gospel. The lowest will in many cases be preferred to the self-righteous Pharisee (see Matthew 8:11, Matthew 8:12; Matthew 21:31, Matthew 21:32; Luke 7:29, Luke 7:30; Luke 13:28-30). The disciples evidently thought the advantages of the rich in favour of salvation were such that if they should fail, there could be little hope for the poor; but were "astonished exceedingly" to hear the teaching of Christ (see Matthew 19:23-26). John Newton said, "When I get to heaven I shall see three wonders. The first will be to see many persons there whom I did not expect to see; the second will be to miss many whom I did expect to see; the greatest wonder of all will be to find myself there."—J.A.M.
The roads are now crowded with people journeying to Jerusalem to celebrate there the great annual Feast of the Passover (see Deuteronomy 16:1-7). Jesus separated his disciples from the crowd, probably by retiring into some sylvan shade to rest, that he might discourse to them privately of his approaching Passion. His discourse evinces—
I. A DIVINE FOREKNOWLEDGE.
1. It anticipated his betrayal.
(1) He was able to read its history in that of Ahithophel (cf. 2 Samuel 15:12; Psalms 41:9; Psalms 55:12, Psalms 55:14, Psalms 55:20; John 13:18).
(2) As yet he had not named Judas; but, had Judas already meditated his infamous act, what must have been his feelings when Jesus now said in his hearing, "And the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests and scribes"? No disciple of Christ can apostatize from him unwarned.
2. It anticipated the malignity of the rulers.
(1) Delivery "unto the chief priests and scribes" is a periphrasis for the Sanhedrin, which sat at "Jerusalem" (see Luke 13:33).
(2) The corporate conscience is proverbially elastic; yet who but God could have foreseen that the Sanhedrin would agree to condemn Jesus to death?
(3) The Sanhedrin might "condemn" to death under the Mosaic Law, but the Romans had deprived it of the power to carry out the sentence (see Joh 17:1-26 :31). In this note a symptom of the departure of the sceptre or magistracy from Judah, which was to be preceded by the coming of Shiloh (see Genesis 49:10).
3. It anticipated the violence of the Romans.
(1) This is now the third time that Jesus clearly predicted his sufferings (cf. Matthew 16:21; Matthew 17:22, Matthew 17:23). But here, for the first time, the part the Gentiles were to take in that tragedy is indicated. It was meet that the Saviour of a sinful world should suffer from the combined malice of Jew and Gentile (see Ephesians 2:16).
(2) "And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock." This was done by Herod and his Roman soldiers (see Luke 23:11).
(3) "And to scourge." This was done by Pilate (see John 19:1). And his soldiers followed up the scourging with many dreadful insults.
(4) "And to crucify." The punishment of the cross was Roman, not Jewish. It was, originally considered, more probable that Jesus should be privately slain or stoned to death in a tumult, as was Stephen. And when he was delivered back to the Jews by Pilate, with permission to judge him according to their Law, it is wonderful that he was not stoned. The foreknowledge that saw it otherwise was manifestly Divine. How little did those cruel actors know that they were offering up the great Sacrifice for the world's salvation! How does God make the wrath of man to praise him!
4. It anticipated his resurrection from the dead.
(1) No fact, originally considered, could be more unlikely than this; yet it is circumstantially predicted, and fulfilled to the letter.
(2) This element in the prediction was assuring to himself. The joy of its anticipation sustained him in his preparatory sufferings. In it he was "straightway glorified" (cf. John 13:31, John 13:32; Hebrews 12:2).
(3) It was also assuring to the disciples. When they heard of his approaching sufferings they were "amazed" and "afraid" (Mark 10:32), and the more so as they "understood none of these things" (Luke 18:34). Yet afterwards they remembered them as most memorable things.
II. A DIVINE PREDESTINATION.
1. Jesus could have avoided his sufferings.
(1) He was not surprised into them. He foresaw them all. Every thorn of his crown was fully in his vision.
(2) He could have avoided Jerusalem. His boldness in going up there amazed his affrighted disciples (Mark 10:32).
(3) At Jerusalem, were he so minded, he might have had "twelve legions of angels," any of which could have frustrated the purposes of the Jews and the resources of the Romans.
2. But he resolutely faced them.
(1) Because he would fulfil all righteousness. He must therefore keep the Passover; and he must go to Jerusalem to keep it (see Deuteronomy 12:5). The moral here is that consequences must never be considered in competition with the will of God,
(2) Because he would fulfil all benevolence. He went up to that Passover that he might himself become the world's salvation.
(3) This the multitude could not see. Note: The action of Jesus was allegorical, when he separated his disciples from the crowd on their way to the legal Passover, that he might unfold to them the mysteries of his Passion. The spirit of the Law is a special revelation.
(4) What the disciples had heard they were in due time to testify. Not yet; events were not ripe. Hence also their separation from the crowd on the road (cf. Matthew 10:27; Matthew 17:9).
(5) The Scriptures must be fulfilled (cf. Luke 18:31). The Divine power of Jesus in fulfilling the predictions uttered by him is as conspicuous and real as the Divine prescience which prompted their utterance.
1. It is good to converse with Jesus in the way.
2. It is good to anticipate so as to become familiar with our dying.
3. It is good to connect with our meditation upon death the matter of our resurrection.—J.A.M.
Distinction in the kingdom.
In the company of Jesus and his twelve apostles, as they went up to Jerusalem to the Passover, were probably other disciples, their relatives and friends. For here is "the mother of the sons of Zebedee," who came "worshipping, and asking a certain thing" of Jesus. The reply and discourse following show—
I. THAT DISTINCTION IN THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST IS NOT THE DISTINCTION OF LORDSHIP.
1. This is the distinction of earthly kingdoms.
(1) "The princes of the Gentiles lord it over them." They have titles, insignia, robes, retinues, and ceremonies, to invest them with an air of superiority. The spirit of the world is ostentation, vanity and pride.
(2) "Their great ones exercise authority over them." Their distinction is more than pageantry. They wield power civil and military. This they often use tyrannically.
(3) "They are called benefactors" (see Luke 22:25). Their patronage is courted. Their favours are applauded. They are worshipped and imitated by courtiers, sycophants, and slaves.
2. Christians sometimes mistake it for the distinction of Christ's kingdom.
(1) These, however, are imperfect Christians, as the apostles were before the Day of Pentecost. The sons of Zebedee were evidently of this way of thinking when they sought places of distinction. For degrees of dignity in Eastern customs were denoted by proximity to the throne (see 1 Kings 2:19; Psalms 44:9). They still cling to the notion of an earthly monarchy. Note: To desire to be preferred before a brother is to reflect upon him. Their fellow disciples were no less vulgarly ambitious. Ambition was the source of their indignation against the sons of Salome.
(2) Christ discerns the subtle pride that eludes the vision of its subject. On an earlier occasion Jesus rebuked James and John, and said, "Ye know not what, manner of spirit ye are of" (see Luke 9:55). Here again, "Ye know not what ye ask." Ye know not the true quality of my kingdom (see 1 Peter 5:8). Neither know ye what is pre-required. "Are ye able," etc.? (verse 22). We know not what we ask when we desire the glory of the crown without the grace to bear the cross.
(3) Ambition may too much presume upon influence. The mother of the sons of Zebedee was probably a near relative of our Lord; some think she was the daughter of Cleophas or Alphaeus, and sister or cousin-german to Mary. They availed themselves, therefore, of their mother's influence. They may have encouraged their ambition also by the favours they had already enjoyed. Jesus had called them "sons of thunder"; and with Peter they were on three occasions specially favoured. Yet were none so reproved as these. Whom Christ best loves he most reproves (see Revelation 3:19).
(4) In the reproof there is still recognition of distinction proper to the kingdom of Christ. He refers to his kingdom of glory what they understood of a kingdom of the earth. He had already promised to his apostles the distinction of the twelve thrones. There is a "measure of stature" both of grace and glory (Ephesians 4:13).
(5) The whole passage may be taken as a prophetic allusion to and condemnation of that spirit of domination which so early manifested itself in the Apostasy (see 2 Thessalonians 2:4).
II. THAT DISTINCTION IN THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST IS THE DISTINCTION OF SERVICE.
1. The service of suffering.
(1) This is implied in the question, "Are ye able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?" Christ obtained not his crown by wars and. victories, but by shame and death. Very different from the sons of Zebedee were those whom our Lord was first to have on his right hand and on his left (see Matthew 27:38).
(2) "We are able." This was the language of self-confidence; its vanity was soon made manifest (see Matthew 26:31, Matthew 26:56). Christ did not rebuke that self-confidence then; he left the rebuking to events. History has its admonitions as well as its revenges.
(3) "My cup indeed ye shall drink." Here note the spirit of prophecy. James suffered martyrdom from Herod (see Acts 12:2). John was banished to Patmos (see Revelation 1:9). Both sympathized with Jesus in his suffering. Religion, if worth anything, is worth everything; and if worth everything, then it is worth suffering for. "Christ will have us know the worst, that we may make the best of our way to heaven" (Henry).
(4) Yet did not this drinking of the Redeemer's cup of necessity entitle the sons of Salerno to the distinction corresponding to that which they had sought. The other apostles shared with them in the suffering. So did the noble army of the martyrs. The lowest place in heaven is a full recompense for the greatest sufferings on earth.
(5) For the more worthy the higher distinctions are reserved. And who but God can distinguish the most worthy? Obedience is perfected in suffering. So was the obedience of Christ perfected (see Hebrews 2:10). So is that of his followers (see James 1:4). Who but God can distinguish among the perfected? But Christ is God (cf. John 17:2).
2. The service of ministry.
(1) The theory of this service is here propounded (verse 27). The minister of Christ must not lord it over God's heritage (1 Peter 5:3). Even Paul the apostle disclaims dominion over the private Christian's faith (2 Corinthians 1:24). Christians should serve one another for mutual edification (see Romans 14:19; Romans 15:2; 1 Corinthians 9:19; 1 Peter 5:5). In such loving service lies the truest dignity.
(2) The practice of this service is encouraged by the most illustrious example (verse 28). Jesus in his youth and early manhood appears to have been familiar with labour. The years of his public ministry were years of self-sacrificing toil for the good. of others. This also was the end for which he died.
(3) Note here especially that Jesus speaks of himself as a piacular Victim. This is the first instance in which he is reported by this evangelist to have done so; though John shows that he had done so earlier both publicly and privately (see John 3:14, John 3:15; John 6:51). The sacrificial nature of the death of Christ was shadowed forth in sacrifices from the beginning (see Genesis 4:4; Genesis 8:20; Genesis 22:7, Genesis 22:8). In after times it was yet more largely and significantly prefigured in the Mosaic ritual (see Le John 17:11; Hebrews 9:1-28.). Still later it was foretold by the prophets (see Isaiah 53:1-12; Daniel 9:26). Then by the Baptist (see John 1:29). By Jesus himself. Ever since it is the fundamental truth of the gospel preached.
(4) Wakefield's translation, viz. "a ransom instead of many," teaches that Christ's one sacrifice once offered was to supersede the many sacrifices of typical anticipation.
(5) By his dying "for many" we must not infer that he did not die for all, for that would be to contradict other Scriptures (see Ezekiel 18:23; Ezekiel 33:11; 1 Timothy 2:4-6). The One for "many" sets forth the infinite nobility of the One.—J.A.M.
Community and unity.
Journeying to Jerusalem to the Passover, Jesus, with his apostles and other disciples following, was also followed by a crowd. This grew into "a great multitude" as he moved out from the populous town of Jericho. In the scene here described we may study—
I. COMMUNITY IN VARIOUS PHASES.
1. We see it here in excitement.
(1) "A great multitude." In numbers there is a strange sympathy. This occasions the panics which frequently occur in crowds. They are also subject to fits of passion—sometimes generous, sometimes violent, often insane. We should beware of the spirit of the crowd.
(2) The presence of Jesus was the occasion of this excitement. The multitude "followed him." Christ is followed from various motives. Some follow him from love: his apostles and disciples were moved by this holy inspiration. Some follow him from curiosity: the mixed multitude had heard of his character, claims, teaching, and miracles. Many still follow him for the loaves and fishes.
2. We see it here also in suffering.
(1) "Two blind men"—Bartimaeus and a companion in affliction. Friendships spring of community in suffering. The multitude who enjoyed their vision had little sympathy with those who were deprived of it.
(2) They are sitting by the wayside, viz. in company, and for the same purpose, viz. to beg. The privation of sight reduced them to this dependence. Sufferings bring with them entailments of suffering. Partnerships come with the entailments.
(3) But privations have their compensations. These blind companions had the use of their ears. Blind persons generally enjoy acute hearing and sensitive touch. We do well, when we meditate upon our afflictions, to meditate also upon our mercies.
3. And we see it in contention.
(1) The blind men cried to Jesus for mercy. Affliction has a voice to Christ.
(2) But "the multitude rebuked them, that they should hold their peace." Probably they thought the cry for mercy was an appeal for alms, and that the blind men might be troublesome to Jesus. Men too readily judge of Christ by themselves. The multitude will ever rebuke those who cry after the Son of David.
(3) But the blind men "cried out the more." So must all who would not come short of a moral cure. We must never heed the counsel that would keep us from Christ. When a true sense of misery urges, neither men nor devils can stop the cry for mercy.
(4) In the prayer of these men we note:
(a) Importunity. The stream of fervency, if stopped, will rise and swell the higher.
(b) Humility. They sought not gold, but "mercy." The cry for mercy disclaims all merit (see Psalms 130:7; Hebrews 4:16).
(c) Faith. They called Jesus "Lord" (see 1 Corinthians 12:3). They identified the Messiah (cf. Matthew 12:23; Matthew 21:9; Matthew 22:44).
(d) Persistency (see Luke 18:1). Now or never: Jesus is passing; will soon have passed. Christ did not return to Jericho. "Now is the accepted time."
(e) Here was that concurrence in prayer which is especially pleasing to Christ (see Matthew 18:19).
II. UNITY IN VARIOUS CONTRASTS.
1. One leading many.
(1) "A great multitude followed him." Note here the ascendency of a great character.
(2) Note here also the subordination of the physical to the spiritual. The multitude, as compared with Christ, were as an aggregation of physical units.
2. One compassionating suffering.
(1) "Jesus stood still." His standing rebuked and silenced the thoughtless clatter of the unsympathizing throng. Wherever there is suffering there the Blessed One stands.
(2) He "called" to the blind. What a contrast to the multitude who would have silenced their cry to him for mercy! Jesus invites those whom the world repulses.
(3) The one condition of mercy, viz. to those who are prepared for it, is—Ask. "What will ye that I should do for you?" Like as the waterman in a boat who hooks the shore does not so much draw the shore to him as himself to the shore, so do we in prayer draw ourselves to the mercy of the Lord.
3. One wonder-worker.
(1) The blind men raised their voices, not to inquire who was with Jesus, but to cry to him for mercy.
(2) What a sequel (see Matthew 20:33, Matthew 20:34)!
(3) Spiritual blindness is ignorance of the truth. Many who say, "We see" are spiritually blind (see John 9:41). Blindness of heart is a disease of which the patient too seldom complains. This too can be cured only by the one great Light of the world.
(4) Christ is the one Illuminator of eternity. "Earthly blindness may be berne; it is but for a day; but who could bear to be blind through eternity?" (Beecher).
(5) Attendance upon Christ evinces the condition of spiritual illumination. Bartimaeus and his companion now "followed," now only requiring the one great spiritual Guide. No longer are they dependent upon alms. Religion has the premise of the life that now is, as well as that which is to come. It fulfils that promise by opening the eyes of its subjects.—J.A.M.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
Fair labour agreements.
Van Lennep describes the Eastern customs to which our Lord alludes in this parable. "During the whole season when vineyards may be dug, the common workmen go very early in the morning to the sook, or marketplace of the village or city, where comestibles are sold. While 'waiting to be hired,' they take their morning cup of coffee, and eat a morsel of bread. The owners of vineyards come to the place and engage the number of labourers they need. These immediately go to the vineyard, and work there until a little while before the sun sets, which, according to Oriental time, is twelve o'clock, so that the 'eleventh hour' means one hour before sunset. We have often seen men standing in the marketplace through the entire day without finding employment, and have repeatedly engaged them ourselves at noon for half a day's job, and later for one or two hours' work in our garden. In such a case the price has to be particularly bargained for, but it is more often left to the generosity of the employer to give what bakshish he feels disposed." There is now a very grave danger, of which we need to be on our guard. Men are talking as if our Lord made himself an authority on social questions. The truth is, that he distinctly refused to bear any relation to social, political, and legal disputes. He revealed unknown or hidden truths to men; he resettled the great principles of morals; he quickened men with a new and Divine life; but he refused to guide in detail the applications of the principles he taught. In this parable, which seems to deal with the questions of capital and labour, the thing our Lord teaches is that every man is a free man, but if, voluntarily, he enters into engagements, he must loyally keep his engagements.
I. THE MAN WHO HAS WORK TO OFFER MUST KEEP HIS ENGAGEMENTS. Religion does not need to come in and say that he who wants work done must offer fair terms for the doing of it. Common humanity and honesty demand that. No man has any right to "go beyond," "take advantage of," or "defraud" his neighbour in anything.
II. THE MAN WHO HAS SKILL TO DO THE WORK MUST KEEP HIS ENGAGEMENTS. If he agrees for a penny a day, nothing can happen to make that unfair. He may make a new bargain tomorrow, but he must carry through his bargain today. Strikes are very often sinful repudiations of agreements.—R.T.
The eleventh hour a type of old age.
This treatment illustrates the suggestiveness of Scripture figures. They start thought on lines that lead away from their immediate connections.
I. AT THE ELEVENTH HOUR THERE IS STILL WORK TO BE DONE. Froude says, "Beautiful is old age—beautiful as the slow dropping mellow autumn of a rich and glorious summer. In the old man Nature has fulfilled her work; she loads him with her blessings; she fills him with the fruits of a well spent life; and, surrounded by his children and his children's children, she rocks him away to a grave, to which he is followed with blessings. God forbid we should not call it beautiful! If old age were only beautiful, it would be a power we could ill afford to lose. For all beauty is akin to truth, and all truth is akin to God; and so all beauty is a shadow of him, a message from him, a help towards him. This sin-filled world wants all the truth, all the love, all the beauty it can get, in order to dispel the darkness, the hate, and the ugliness of its evil. We become as the things on which we look, and God keeps old men and women among us in order that we may see, and feel, and be lifted higher by their grace. The aged are kept among us because of the work they can do. One thing—they can check our hurry. Young folk want everything at once. The aged seem to say, "Quietly. One thing at a time. Good things are worth waiting for." And they are kept in order to link together the generations. What a world it would be if the people came and went in complete generations, and there was no blending of one with the other, so that experience might tone ardour! And the aged among us witness for God. They tell us of the God who "fed them all their life long; the God who redeemed them from evil."
II. AT THE ELEVENTH HOUR GOD DOES CALL MEN TO HIS SERVICE. He proves the riches of his grace in the conversion of old men and old women. A marvel of grace, indeed, when all the long ten hours of the day of life have been spent in the service of self, A saved old man is the witness that God can "save unto the uttermost."
III. AT THE ELEVENTH HOUR IS AN ALMOST HOPELESS TIME FOR BEGINNING A LIFE WORK. It is unsuitable for any beginnings. The sun is in the wrong quarter of the heavens. "The night cometh when no man can work." And the ability is low. The "eleventh hour" is time to be weary, and go to the long rest.—R.T.
The social difficulty of the workless.
Civilization works cruelly for some classes of society. It improves the condition of the few; it multiplies the miseries of the many. One thing it does—gathers great masses of people into the cities, where the demand for workers must be limited, and the thousands must be "workless." Scatter the people over the land, and every man can find work which will provide him with a simple living. Mass the people in a few centres, and, as they cannot earn by work, all they can do is prey on one another, either in the bad sense of criminality, or in the very doubtful sense of scheming to take all advantage of philanthropy and charity.
I. THE WORKLESS WHO CANNOT WORK.
1. These include persons born into disability—blind, deaf and dumb, lame, weak in intellect, etc. Of such it is only necessary to say that they are society's charge; and society is hound to provide for all who are physically incapable of work. This is simple citizen duty, society duty; it is the claim of the human brotherhood.
2. These include persons who are able to work, but cannot find work to do. They divide into:
(1) Skilled workmen, whose trade has gone out of fashion or has left the country.
(2) Unskilled workmen, labourers, only a limited number of whom can ever be required in one district.
(3) Workmen whose trade is hopelessly overstocked, such as clerks, who can do nothing but write and sum. These workless classes make the great social problem of the day. Some would say that the Church of Christ must solve the problem. But it is not her mission; nor has she, in any sense, capacity for so doing. It belongs to national government. It is a society evil, with which society must deal. And in some way the nation must find out how to turn the stream of population that has long set strongly toward the great cities, and make it flow back upon the land. Village industrial centres provide the only hope for the million workless ones among us.
II. THE WORKLESS WHO WILL NOT WORK. "If a man will not work, neither shall he eat." We might reasonably desire that legislation should deal rigorously with all such. Every man who can work and will not should lose his right of personal liberty, should be treated as a lunatic, cared for by the state, and kept from all chance of propagating his miserable species.—R.T.
Generosity may go beyond agreement.
Business men are often misunderstood, because, while they are sometimes nobly generous, they are also strict and precise in carrying out, and in requiring to be carried out, all business engagements. A man does no wrong to his fellow man who has made precise terms with him, if he deals fairly with the man who has made no terms with him. In this case the sum agreed was one penny for a day's labour, and because the half-day man received a penny, the whole-day man set up a claim to more than a penny.
I. EVERY MAN HAS A RIGHT TO MAKE TERMS. Society is based on the principle that every man is absolutely free to buy or to sell. There is the open market for goods, and there is the open market for physical power, and the open market for cultured skill. There should be no sort of restrictions on free purchase and sale. Combinations to raise prices are perilous, whether they belong to capitalist or workman, to buyer or seller. They are, at the best, necessities of over civilization, which has disturbed all natural relations. The man who has money to put to use has precisely as great a right to make the best terms he can as the workman who has a cunning right hand to sell. If social relations were more simple and natural, it would be possible for the man with money, the man with brains, and the man with hands, to meet and negotiate their conditions of mutual service, making fair and honourable terms for each. All combinations are unhealthy interferences with the markets that should be absolutely open and free to everybody.
II. EVERY MAN HIS A RIGHT TO BE GENEROUS. If a man pleases, he may accept less work for his money from some. If a man pleases, he may pay for his work more than he agreed. If a man pleases, he may pay for doing nothing. But no man has any claim upon his brother's generosity. It ceases to be generosity if he has claim upon it. This needs to be vigorously asserted in our day, because a confused notion is growing up that the poor have claims on a distribution of the money of the rich. A man has a right to be generous, and an equal right to be ungenerous. He is only noble and Christly as he uses well his right to be generous.—R.T.
Anticipations of betrayal.
It is not often set out prominently that the chief ingredient in our Lord's sorrowful anticipations was his betrayal by one of his disciples. There is no greater distress comes to us in life than the unfaithfulness of trusted friends. The psalmist wails in this way (Psa 4:1-8 :12-14): "For it was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it... but it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance." The dealings of our Lord with Judas need careful study. Our Lord had to act so as not to interfere with Providence. The fact that he knew what would happen must not be used to prevent it from happening; and yet that knowledge filled him with anxiety concerning Judas, and constrained him to make attempts to influence the man who, on the road of his covetousness, was fast hastening to his crime.
I. ANTICIPATIONS OF BETRAYAL TESTED THE LORD JESUS. Even that was in the Father's will for him. There could hardly he anything in his cup of woe more bitter. Probably Judas had been chosen an apostle because of his business capacity. Our Lord had trusted him. His face was familiar to him. He had grown interested in Judas, and it was hard indeed to think he would, one day soon, turn traitor. Our Lord would not have been fairly tested by all forms of human anxiety if he had not known failing, forsaking friends. Could he take up, and bear, this yoke of the Father? Knowing it was coming, could he go on, quietly, steadily, in the path of duty? Could he bear to have Judas close beside him day by day? This gives us a deep sense of the reality and severity of our Lord's struggle to preserve a perfect, Son-like obedience and submission. Even here he won and held his triumph.
II. ANTICIPATIONS OF BETRAYAL TESTED THE DISCIPLES. It must have led to heart-searching inquiries. Some, no doubt, felt our Lord's words more than the others. Some would think it only a melancholy mood that the Master was in. Some would feel quite certain that the words would never apply to them. What did Judas think about the possible betrayal? We know well. The man who is deteriorating, as Judas was, becomes insensible to such suggestions. None could have been more positive than Judas in denying that the term "traitor" could ever apply to him. But Judas was the betrayer.—R.T.
It is certainly surprising to find James and John presenting such a request as this. We cannot but think that they ought to have known their Lord better. If any of the apostolic company had insight of their Master's spiritual mission, it surely was the first group, which included James and John. Perhaps Matthew lets the light in when he explains that they were prompted by their mother. "Then came to him the mother of Zebedee's children with her sons worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him." If it was her idea, we can understand it. Woman-like, she was practical; she understood only the material aspect of Messiah's mission; and she had not come into such association with Christ as served to correct and spiritualize her ideas; and she knew the value of forethought, of "taking time by the forelock," and so she schemed to secure an early promise of the best places in the new kingdom for her sons. A motherly mother indeed!
I. WORTHY MOTHERLY AMBITIONS. Illustrate how directly the great men, in all the various spheres of life, have been dependent on their mothers. Explain the ambition in the heart of every Jewish mother to become the mother of Messiah. A possible poet, artist, thought leader, statesman, age reformer, hero, is in every child that lies on woman's bosom; and she is a poor mother who does not look into her child's face, and dream for him high position and ennobling influence in the days of unfolded manhood. But ambitions are not worthy that rest with worldly success. True motherhood is more anxious that the child shall be worthy of success, than that he should win success. Character alone is the worthy ambition. Mothers aim at nobility and piety.
II. MISTAKES MOTHERLY AMBITIONS. These are illustrated in the passage before us. This mother wanted office, rank, and wealth. In these days motherhood often aims at imperfect and unworthy things. Illustrate by the modern despising of trade, and pressing of the sons into overstocked professions; despising of retail trade, and pressing into overstocked wholesale commerce; or by anxiety to secure advantageous marriage settlements. A child's material well being is a proper subject of motherly concern; but moral and spiritual character and health ought always to be held as the supreme things.—R.T.
"Ye know not what ye ask." That is, you have not thought seriously about it; have not looked it welt round, so as to be quite sure what your petition means and involves. One is a little surprised to find James and John acting so impulsively. It is the sort of thing that better suits Peter. "Boanerges" is a strange name for John; perhaps it was specially adapted to James, the elder brother. This James seems to have been somewhat of a zealot, and he paid the penalty by becoming the first apostolic martyr.
I. AN INCONSIDERATE PRAYER. Evidently these men had no higher idea of Christ's mission than that he had come to found a temporal kingdom. They asked an impossible thing, simply because they did not know how impossible it was. If they had spiritually entered into the teachings of Jesus, they never could have asked it. Their prayer lacked "humility" because it lacked "thought." Prayer is a serious thing. It is the approach of the erring creature to the All-holy, if All-merciful, One; it can never be undertaken lightly. "Put off thy shoes from off thy feet; the place whereon thou standest is holy ground." We should "take with us words," carefully chosen, when we "turn unto the Lord." Prayer may lose tone by its frequency, and become unduly familiar. So often we go to God with nothing special to say. We go because it is time to go; the hour of prayer has struck. Distinguish between
(1) acts of adoration;
(2) acts of communion;
(3) acts of petition;
(4) acts of intercession.
Our daily spiritual converse with God is only in a conventional sense called "prayer;" for there need not be any element of petition in it. How many of our prayers would have been offered, if we had seriously thought about them beforehand? Thought takes in what may be right for us to ask, and what we may suppose God can give.
II. DIVINE TREATMENT OF INCONSIDERATE PRAYER. Jesus answered kindly, but firmly. James and John were wrong, and must be shown that they were wrong. Our Lord endeavoured to quicken thought, and so help James and John to correct their own mistake. And their great mistake was that they had misapprehended his royalty. He was to be King of the obedient, who would be willing to suffer for their obedience. If they had known what they asked, they, would have seen that they asked a special share with Christ in his sufferings.—R.T.
"They say unto him, We are able." The words of our Lord "come to us as spoken in a tone of infinite tenderness and sadness. That nearness to him in his glory could be obtained only by an equal nearness in suffering. Had they counted the cost of that nearness? There was enough to lead them to see in their Master's words an intimation of some great suffering about to fall on him, and this is, indeed, implied in the very form of their answer. 'We are able,'say they, in the tone of those who have been challenged and accept the challenge. That their insight into the great mystery of the Passion went but a little way as compared with their Master's, lies, of course, in the very nature of the case" (Dean Plumptre). Over a Greek temple was placed the inscription, "Know thyself;" but every man finds that to be the very hardest work ever given him to do.
I. A MAN IS EVER INCLINED TO EXAGGERATE HIS OWN EXCELLENCES. Vigorous as he may be in criticizing the virtues of others, a man is weak at self-criticism. There is a fondness for his own things which prevents his appraising them aright. He judges others by a standard, but, unfortunately, the standard is his own attainment. It is only when he is willing to take Christ as the standard of moral excellence that he discovers the imperfection of his self-estimates. "Let another praise thee, and not thine own self."
II. A MAN IS EVER INCLINED TO EXAGGERATE HIS OWN DEFICIENCIES. They loom large to the sincere man, because they are his; he knows them so well, and he feels so keenly the difficulties and troubles into which they bring him. "Who can understand his errors?" There are some types of religious thought which exaggerate the sense of deficiency, frailty, and sin; and make forced and manufactured confession a sign of piety. There is as much real pride in exaggerating deficiencies as in exaggerating excellences. He must be taught of God who would know his own sinfulness aright.
III. A MAN IS EVER INCLINED TO EXAGGERATE HIS OWN ABILITIES. Because, while he can form a good idea of the ability, he cannot estimate the demand that is made on the ability. It may seem a big ability, but it may be very small as seen in its relation to the claims coming on it; as in this case of James and John.—R.T.
The moral greatness of service.
There was nothing more characteristic of the teaching of Jesus, perhaps we may even say, nothing more novel in his teaching, than his reversion of the common notions of service. All the world over, and all the ages through, the ordinary man has seen dignity in "being served," and has seen a kind of indignity in "serving." This has come about in two ways.
1. Through the exaggerated importance given to self. A man has come to be of more interest to himself than his brother can ever be to him. Yet God made man male and female in order to prevent this egoism, and start man upon working the altruistic principle, each finding his or her own best blessing in caring for the other. Christianity is the recovery of the primary altruistic principle, and the mastery of that egoism which has proved the prolific parent of all the vices.
2. Through the absorbing interest of appearances; of material things—state, wealth, luxury, show of greatness. True greatness lies in character; let us once see this clearly and receive it fully, and then the kindliness and thoughtfulness which sweetly blend with humility, and ever make us ready to serve, will seem to be surpassingly valuable. The moral greatness of service may he seen if we consider—
I. IT IS THE HIGHEST AND NOBLEST VIEW WE CAN GET OF GOD. Thoughts of majesty, dignity, authority, are properly encouraged; but we must have felt, as the psalm writers felt, that only when we conceive of God as the all-ministering One do we bow in fullest reverence of love before him. "The eyes of all wait on thee. Thou givest them their meat in due season."
II. IT IS THE INFINITE ATTRACTION OF THE LORD JESUS. The charm of Christ would be gone forever if any one could show us that he ever got anything for himself. "He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister." He was among us as "One that serveth." His character is the ideal character; his life was the ideal life; but its glory lies in its self-denying service—its all-ruling "altruism."
III. IT IS THE UNIVERSALLY ADMIRABLE THING IN GOOD MEN. The man who lives to get is despised. The man who lives to give and serve is commended. Christ has affected the standard of moral greatness. We are no longer dazzled by appearances. Service to our human brother is now the only true nobility.—R.T.
Importunity revealing character.
Eastern beggars are very clamorous and persistent. But there seems to have been something unusual in the energy and determination of these blind men. They had their opportunity, and they made the best possible use of it. There are many cases which indicate that our Lord was a keen and skilful observer of character. The actions, movements, expressions, and words of men and women revealed to him the measure of their receptivity for that double blessing—temporal and spiritual—which he was prepared to bestow. One of the most striking instances is the response he made to those four friends who carried the paralyzed man, and broke up the house roof in order to get him into the presence of Jesus. Reading character in their act, "seeing their faith," Jesus gave the sufferer a higher blessing than they sought, but included with it what they asked.
I. IMPORTUNITY REVEALS WILL. Many of the gravest troubles of life have their real cause in "weakness of will." Men cannot decide. If they decide, they cannot do anything with their decisions. No doubt many sufferers lost Christ's healing because they were too weak of will to seek him or cry to him. The man who can keep on is the man who has made a firm resolve; who means something; who has an end before him. This "weakness of will power" may be a natural infirmity; but it is largely remediable by skilful educational influences; and yet to this precise work, "strengthening the will power," how few parents, and how few teachers, bend careful attention! The world yields its treasures to those who show they have wills, by keeping on, fixing firm hold; and refusing to let go. Illustrate Jacob, "I will not let thee go, except thou bless me."
II. IMPORTUNITY REVEALS FAITH. This leads in the more familiar way of treating such incidents as this of the text. What Jesus noticed in such cases was "faith." If these men had not believed that he could heal them, and if their faith had not blended with hope that he would heal them, they would have been repressed by the rebukers, and would have ceased to cry. The man in earnest is the man of faith, who is open to receive.—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Matthew 20". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent