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THE MYSTERIES OF THE KINGDOM,
THE TWO SONS.
St. MATTHEW, xxi., v. 28–32.—"But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to-day in my vineyard. He answered and said I will not; but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go sir, and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father ? They say unto him, the first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not; but the publicans and the harlots believed him ; and, ye when ye had seen it, repented not afterwards, that ye might believe him."
This was the first of those most instructive parables spoken by our blessed Lord on the last six days of his ministry. A very remarkable change came over his public conduct during that week. Before-time he had retired as much as possible from public gaze. We frequently find him saying when he had performed some miracle of mercy, “See thou tell no man.” We find him straightly charging his disciples that they should not tell any one that he was Christ. But here he reverses his conduct. He had ridden into Jerusalem, presenting himself with that expressive symbolical action of riding upon an ass, as the Prince of Peace; not upon the horse of war, that he might take possession of his kingdom by force; but as the Prince of Peace, saying to Jerusalem, “Behold thy king cometh unto thee, lowly and riding upon an ass. He entered into the temple, and assumed authority in and over the temple, driving out the money-changers, and assuming the power to cleanse it. The Scribes and the Pharisees, the men in authority, had come to him, and asked him, By what authority doest thou these things? They had a right to ask that question, because they had a divine care of the temple. But they should have been in a fit state to ask it. Jesus publicly convicted them of ignorance, and he did so in such a way as they could not take hold on his words, for he extorted the confession from their own mouths. If they questioned him as to his authority, which they had a right to do, it was their duty to have questioned John the Baptist about his. Jesus therefore asked them, was John's baptism from Heaven or of men? They confessed that they could not tell; not that they had no opinion about him, but they dared not tell. They had rejected the message of John after the people had accepted that message, and therefore they, to avoid an apparently greater danger, confessed their ignorance and said, we cannot tell. Our Lord therefore convicted them out of their own mouths of inability to tell whether a man professing to be from God was from God or not. If they were unable in the one case, they might be unable in the other, and therefore he says to them, "Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things."
To illustrate their real position he gave them the parable which I have just read. They assumed authority in the temple over the Lord's people; they took to themselves the credit of being especially the favoured ones; especially the righteous ones; those that were doing God's service, and had the care of God's house. They despised the publicans and the harlots, yea even the common people. Christ gives them this parable. A certain man had two sons, and the one was asked to do his father's work; and refused, with disrespect to his father, but he afterwards went and did it. The other promised, and respectfully promised, for we find the compellation sir here, I go sir, but having made that promise he went not. Again our Lord convicts them out of their own mouths, by asking Whether of them twain did the will of his father? The one that in words refused, and afterwards felt his sin, and went and did the work, or the one who in words promised, and afterwards did not perform that promise. They answered, The one that did the work. Jesus said, “The Publicans and the Harlots go into the Kingdom of God before you." The two sons here do not refer to the Jew and Gentile, but to two classes amongst the same people. In this we have no reasonable hesitation, because our Lord himself defines the two classes. The Publicans and the Harlots are one class; and the Scribes and the Pharisees are the other. They had already marked out their own characters with regard to John the Baptist. The Publicans and the Harlots had heard the words of John, and had obeyed them; many of them repented, and went and did their Heavenly Father's work. The Scribes and the Pharisees heard
the same words, but heeded them not, they did not repent, and they did not do their Heavenly Father's work. Jesus said, John came unto you
of righteousness, and
believed him not; but the Publicans and the Harlots believed him, and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterwards, that ye might believe. They were especially the preachers of righteousness; they could tithe, mint, anise, and cummin, and appear beautiful outwardly to man; they could be very strict in the letter of the law of God, and yet they were not in the way of righteousness. A preacher of real righteousness came and they did not hear him. That which is imitation cannot amalgamate with that which is reality—the one is empty,—the other is solid,—the one is only in appearance,—the other is in reality. Here were two preachers of righteousness in the kingdom at the same time,-the Pharisaic preacher of righteousness, very strict in outward observances,—the Divine messenger of righteousness, who stood, a messenger of God, suddenly appearing from the desert, clothed as he was in a raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins ; unaccompanied by any miracles, for his message needed no miraculous attestation. It was a message that had already a witness in the conscience of every man, and all he needed was to stand in the midst of that people, and cry, Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand! The righteousness of John the Baptist began at the right end, Repent! That is not, do penance; but, change your mind. If you would be really righteous, change your minds, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand; change your minds for the Prince of Peace and Holiness is coming.—Repent! It was a terrible voice that went into the conscience of every man; that for a time
brought down some of the Pharisees and the Sadducees to his baptism, coming along with the Publicans and Harlots to the preacher of true righteousness that they might submit to his baptism. That terrible voice, had its response
also in the Pharisee's conscience for a little while; yet it was only a superficial admission that it gained there They did indeed listen for a while; they said I go sir ; but they did not do the work given to them by their Heavenly Father. They heard the word for a little while; but they were men who were righteous in their own eyes, and therefore they knew not the need of the righteousness that begins at repentance, and goes on to the production of fruits meet for repentance. Therefore they formed the class of character of which our Saviour speaks here in the 32nd verse, saying, “ For John came in the way of righteousness,” but they who thought themselves especially the guardians of salvation, uprightness, and righteousness, believed him not; they rejected the counsel of God against themselves, and they did not do that which this divinely commissioned mes. senger called upon them to do; they rejected that counsel to their own ruin. Now the Publicans and the Harlots were in a different state, they were not preachers of righteousness, nor practisers of righteousness. They could not deceive themselves with an imitation of religion, for they had not made a profession of religion. They were extortioners, and unjust, and adulterers, and therefore their consciences could not deceive them. They might indeed live in a dormant state of conscience for a while, they might live in a careless state for a while ; they might live in forgetfulness of God, and in the breach of his commandments; but it could only be the lull of a false calm; it could only be the voice of a slug