whit behind the very chiefest of the Apostles was first a persecutor. So the Lord repeats this warning word.




St. Matthew xx. 1-7.


For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.

This Parable, it must be remembered, was addressed to the Apostles, who at this time seemed rather disposed to exaggerate their services, and expected to be reckoned with and regarded "first" in the coming Kingdom of the Messiah.3 He had come from telling them that there were first which should be last, and last which should be first. This He illustrates by a parable, at whose end He repeats this saying, so salutary to the presumptuous, so encouraging to the penitent. We must regard the parable then as spoken to this end;

1 St. Luke xiii. 30.

2 St. Matt. xix. 27. 3 V. 21 below.

4 We may see also in the Parable a reference to the case of those Gentiles who were called late into the Lord's Vineyard, into the Church of God,


and who were regarded by the Jews in the bad spirit of these first-called labourers in the Parable; in the scornful spirit and grudging temper of that elder brother in another Parable against the repentant and returning Prodigal.


fixing our minds on its main scope, rather than on those particulars which are no more than a vehicle for this. The Kingdom of, or from, Heaven means here, as elsewhere, the Church of Christ. This is likened to a Vineyard; a field or farm where standard vines were cultivated, as is common in those parts. The "householder," the good-man or master of the house, the landlord or owner of the property,3 is God Himself. He is set forth to us under this figure, the proprietor, as we might say, of a farm, going out into the market-place to hire his labourers. For in the East the custom was for both master and man to resort to the marketplace, to hire or to be hired day by day. Here a master is represented as going out for this purpose five several times in one day; the first thing in the morning; then at the third hour, which corresponds to our nine of the clock; again at the sixth hour or mid-day; afterwards also at the ninth hour, or three in the afternoon; lastly at the eleventh hour, an hour before sunset, when the day was done. With the first lot of labourers he made a regular agreement. He hired them for the whole of the day, and they agreed to his terms, which were liberal. For the "penny" in the Parable represents a much larger sum than the coin which goes by that name among us. It was really, as it is in the language in which the New Testament was written, a denarius, a silver coin, equal to about eight pence of our money; which in that country and in those days would go a great deal farther than the same sum with us, and which was reckoned a fair day's wage for a fair day's work.

1 One difficulty, at least, in treating this Parable, will disappear if we bear in mind what is noticed by most of the commentators, but expressed perhaps by none better than by Gomarus, whom the rest chiefly follow and translate. He observes that in this similitude, as in others, there are certain things dissimilar; having respect not to the scope, but only to the filling up of the Parable. Such are the misconduct of the labourers after receiving their pay; their arroVOL II.

With regard to the rest of

gance, their murmuring, their envy; all which have no counterpart in the case of the labourers in the Lord's Vineyard at the last day.

2 V. 11.

3 V. 8.

"The denarius a day was the pay of a Roman soldier in Tiberius' time.... Tacitus, Annal. i. 17. Poly bius, ii. 15. . . . mentions that the charge for a day's entertainment in the inns in Cisalpine Gaul was half an as,=th of the denarius."-Alford,


the labourers, the master, it will be observed, made no regular agreement with them. He simply promised to give them what was right.



St. Matthew xx. 8-15.

So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, saying. These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?

At the end of the day, which represents the end of this life, the Proprietor of the Vineyard tells his Steward, his Bailiff, as we might say, or Overseer, to settle with the men in his presence. The last are called up first, and they receive, to their glad surprise, a whole day's pay for an hour's honest work. So with the rest in succession,-who received so much more than was their due, above all that they asked or thought, -until it came to the turn of the first, who thereupon supposed that they should have received more; more than they deserved, more than they had bargained for. Had they not known what was given to the rest, they had been well satisfied, and departed content with their wages. "Where there

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is no comparison, no envy." But now they cannot see another's good without grudging. Their eye was evil,2 that is, envious. No harm was done to them, but good was done to another. They complain not of their own loss (for loss there was none) but of another's gain. All this shows what manner of spirit they were of. And of this the Master, without irritation at their unreasonableness and uncharitableness and envy, convicts them, with the calm dignity of a judge; addressing himself to one, the most forward and presumptuous, for all the rest. If justice was their plea, let them know that in the course of justice they had no further claim, being already paid to the full. Did they imagine,*having quite forgotten the contract, and possessed with that unwarrantable notion of absolute equality with which the enemy of mankind has from the first puffed up the minds of men, that the others having been made equal to them, they would in one sense be made equal to the others; that as these had received, out of mere bounty, a day's pay for one hour's work, they must receive, in the same proportion, the pay of twelve days for the work of one?

1 Bacon in his essay on Envy has Some "curiosities" on this expression. 2 Prov. xxviii. 22; Ecclus. xiv 8; St. Mark vii. 22.

3 Good is used in v. 15 in its sense of liberal.

In referring to motives, &c. we seem to be treating the Parable as a reality. This must however be allowed us. The very nature of a Parable, embodying abstract truth in a concrete form, involves such treatment. This remark may disarm a possible criticism as to crediting imaginary characters with motives. Motives are the springs of action. The action often reveals the motive. We may remember Rousseau's whimsical objection to Fables on a kindred ground, and Cowper's playful but profound answer

"I shall not ask Jean Jacques Rousseau If birds confabulate or no;

"Tis clear that they were always able To hold converse, at least in fable."

5 Gen. iii. 5.

• Turbulent discontent, mutinous conduct, seems to have been a characteristic of the Jews, and of that time. St. Luke iii. 12-14. In the Acts of the Apostles we have frequent instances of this. From the reply (literally) Take up, we may suppose the rebel leader here to have contemptuously thrown down the coin tendered to him. There is an evident antithesis between "that thine is" and "mine own." (See the original phrases.) q. d. These are mine as entirely as that is thine. You have no more right to dictate to me what I shall do with my moneys, than I have to dictate to you how to lay out, each man, his one denarius.

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So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.

Leaving those points which, while necessary to the structure of the Parable, had no application to the case of the Apostles, (being but the scaffolding as it were of the building) the Lord repeats his instructive saying to these; striking again this key-note at the close of the harmony, and adding,— what should make them think more humbly of themselves,-that of the many called into His Church here, few (and these perhaps not always those of whom it might have been expected) would be found chosen hereafter for those chief places which they claimed as their own. Of the incidental lessons of the Parable we may note that this phrase "the eleventh hour" has become proverbial in our language; and it may be applied, together with those other periods of the Parable, by way of encouragement to those who at any period later than the first enter heartily into their Lord's service. But let us remember (for this is not to encourage us in putting off the work of repentance and amendment) none were hired at the twelfth hour. Then the day was done. "Therefore, brethren, take we heed betime, while the day of salvation lasteth; for the night cometh, when none can work." 3 As for us, we have been called or hired even from the first. None of us can say, if standing idle in the market-place of this world, "No man hath hired us."


1 This incidental lesson, among the other lessons, and besides the main lesson, is well brought out by Abp. Trench, who however very properly draws a distinction between an application and the application of a parable. It may be illustrated from The Christian Year (First Sunday after


"In his unerring sight who measures life by love."

And again Sunday next before Advent):

"But love too late can never glow."

2 St. John ix. 4; xi. 9.
3 Commination.

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