M A T T H E W. CHAP. XX. 1-16
The Labourers in the Vineyard.
1 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. 2 And when he had agreed
with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
3 And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in
the marketplace, 4 And said unto them; Go ye also into the
vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their
way. 5 Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and
did likewise. 6 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? 7 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. 8 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. 9
And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received
every man a penny. 10 But when the first came, they supposed
that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man
a penny. 11 And when they had received it, they murmured against
the goodman of the house, 12 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. 13 But he answered one of them,
and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for
a penny? 14 Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give
unto this last, even as unto thee. 15 Is it not lawful for
me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?
16 So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called,
but few chosen.
This parable of the labourers in the
vineyard is intended,
I. To represent to us the kingdom of
heaven (v. 1), that is, the way and method of the gospel dispensation.
The laws of that kingdom are not wrapt up in parables, but plainly set
down, as in the sermon upon the mount; but the mysteries of that kingdom
are delivered in parables, in sacraments, as here and ch. xiii. The duties
of Christianity are more necessary to be known than the notions of it;
and yet the notions of it are more necessary to be illustrated than the
duties of it; which is that which parables are designed for.
II. In particular, to represent to us
that concerning the kingdom of heaven, which he had said in the close of
the foregoing chapter, that many that are first shall be last, and the
last, first; with which this parable is connected; that truth, having in
it a seeming contradiction, needed further explication.
Nothing was more a mystery in the gospel
dispensation than the rejection of the Jews and the calling in of the Gentiles;
so the apostle speaks of it (Eph. iii. 3-6); that the Gentiles should be
fellow-heirs: nor was any thing more provoking to the Jews than the intimation
of it. Now this seems to be the principal scope of this parable, to show
that the Jews should be first called into the vineyard, and many of them
should come at the call; but, at length, the gospel should be preached
to the Gentiles, and they should receive it, and be admitted to equal privileges
and advantages with the Jews; should be fellow-citizens with the saints,
which the Jews, even those of them that believed, would be very much disgusted
at, but without reason.
But the parable may be applied more
generally, and shows us, 1. That God is debtor to no man; a great truth,
which the contents in our Bible give as the scope of this parable. 2. That
many who begin last, and promise little in religion, sometimes, by the
blessing of God, arrive at greater attainments in knowledge, grace, and
usefulness, than others whose entrance was more early, and who promised
fairer. Though Cushi gets the start of Ahimaaz, yet Ahimaaz, choosing the
way of the plain, outruns Cushi. John is swifter of foot, and comes first
to the sepulchre: but Peter has more courage, and goes first into it. Thus
many that are last shall be first. Some make it a caution to the disciples,
who had boasted of their timely and zealous embracing of Christ; they had
left all, to follow him; but let them look to it, that they keep up their
zeal; let them press forward and persevere; else their good beginnings
will avail them little; they that seemed to be first, would be last. Sometimes
those that are converted later in their lives, outstrip those that are
converted earlier. Paul was as one born out of due time, yet came not behind
the chiefest of the apostles, and outdid those that were in Christ before
him. Something of affinity there is between this parable and that of the
prodigal son, where he that returned from his wandering, was as dear to
his father as he was, that never went astray; first and last alike. 3.
That the recompence of reward will be given to the saints, not according
to the time of their conversion, but according to the preparations for
it by grace in this world; not according to the seniority (Gen. xliii.
33), but according to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.
Christ had promised the apostles, who followed him in the regeneration,
at the beginning of the gospel dispensation, great glory (ch. xix. 28);
but he now tells them that those who are in like manner faithful to him,
even in the latter end of the world, shall have the same reward, shall
sit with Christ on his throne, as well as the apostles, Rev. ii. 26-iii.
21. Sufferers for Christ in the latter days, shall have the same reward
with the martyrs and confessors of the primitive times, though they are
more celebrated; and faithful ministers now, the same with the first fathers.
We have two things in the parable; the
agreement with the labourers, and the account with them.
(1.) Here is the agreement made with
the labourers (v. 1-7); and here it will be asked, as usual,
[1.] Who hires them? A man that is a
householder. God is the great Householder, whose we are, and whom we serve;
as a householder, he has work that he will have to be done, and servants
that he will have to be doing; he has a great family in heaven and earth,
which is named from Jesus Christ (Eph. iii. 15), which he is Owner and
Ruler of. God hires labourers, not because he needs them or their services
(for, if we be righteous, what do we unto him?), but as some charitable
generous householders keep poor men to work, in kindness to them, to save
them from idleness and poverty, and pay them for working for themselves.
[2.] Whence they are hired? Out of the
market-place, where, till they are hired into God's service, they stand
idle (v. 3), all the day idle (v. 6). Note, First, The soul of man stands
ready to be hired into some service or other; it was (as all the creatures
were) created to work, and is either a servant to iniquity, or a servant
to righteousness, Rom. vi. 19. The devil, by his temptations, is hiring
labourers into his field, to feed swine. God, by his gospel, is hiring
labourers into his vineyard, to dress it, and keep it, paradise-work. We
are put to our choice; for hired we must be (Josh. xxiv. 15); Choose ye
this day whom ye will serve. Secondly, Till we are hired into the service
of God, we are standing all the day idle; a sinful state, though a state
of drudgery to Satan, may really be called a state of idleness; sinners
are doing nothing, nothing to the purpose, nothing of the great work they
were sent into the world about, nothing that will pass well in the account.
Thirdly, The gospel call is given to those that stand idle in the market-place.
The market-place is a place of concourse, and there Wisdom cries (Prov.
i. 20, 21); it is a place of sport, there the children are playing (ch.
xi. 16); and the gospel calls us from vanity to seriousness; it is a place
of business, of noise and hurry; and from that we are called to retire.
"Come, come from this market-place."
[3.] What are they hired to do? To labour
in his vineyard. Note, First, The church is God's vineyard; it is of his
planting, watering, and fencing; and the fruits of it must be to his honour
and praise. Secondly, We are all called upon to be labourers in this vineyard.
The work of religion is vineyard-work, pruning, dressing, digging, watering,
fencing, weeding. We have each of us our own vineyard to keep, our own
soul; and it is God's and to be kept and dressed for him. In this work
we must not be slothful, not loiterers, but labourers, working, and working
out our own salvation. Work for God will not admit of trifling. A man may
go idle to hell; but he that will go to heaven, must be busy.
[4.] What shall be their wages? He promises,
First, A penny, v. 2. The Roman penny was, in our money, of the value of
a sevenpence half-penny, a day's wages for a day's work, and the wages
sufficient for a day's maintenance. This doth not prove that the reward
of our obedience to God is of works, or of debt (no, it is of grace, free
grace, Rom. iv. 4), or that there is any proportion between our services
and heaven's glories; no, when we have done all, we are unprofitable servants;
but it is to signify that there is a reward set before us, and a sufficient
one. Secondly, Whatsoever is right, v. 4-7. Note, God will be sure not
to be behind-hand with any for the service they do him: never any lost
by working for God. The crown set before us is a crown of righteousness,
which the righteous Judge shall give.
[5.] For what term are they hired? For
a day. It is but a day's work that is here done. The time of life is the
day, in which we must work the works of him that sent us into the world.
It is a short time; the reward is for eternity, the work is but for a day;
man is said to accomplish, as a hireling, his day, Job xiv. 6. This should
quicken us to expedition and diligence in our work, that we have but a
little time to work in, and the night is hastening on, when no man can
work; and if our great work be undone when our day is done, we are undone
for ever. It should also encourage us in reference to the hardships and
difficulties of our work, that it is but for a day; the approaching shadow,
which the servant earnestly desireth, will bring with it both rest, and
the reward of our work, Job vii. 2. Hold out, faith, and patience, yet
a little while.
[6.] Notice is taken of the several
hours of the day, at which the labourers were hired. The apostles were
sent forth at the first and third hour of the gospel day; they had a first
and a second mission, while Christ was on earth, and their business was
to call in the Jews; after Christ's ascension, about the sixth and ninth
hour, they went out again on the same errand, preaching the gospel to the
Jews only, to them in Judea first, and afterward to them of the dispersion;
but, at length, as it were about the eleventh hour, they called the Gentiles
to the same work and privilege with the Jews, and told them that in Christ
Jesus there should be no difference made between Jew and Greek.
But this may be, and commonly is, applied
to the several ages of life, in which souls are converted to Christ. The
common call is promiscuous, to come and work in the vineyard; but the effectual
call is particular, and it is then effectual when we come at the call.
First, Some are effectually called,
and begin to work in the vineyard when they are very young; are sent in
early in the morning, whose tender years are seasoned with grace, and the
remembrance of their Creator. John the Baptist was sanctified from the
womb, and therefore great (Luke i. 15); Timothy from a child (2 Tim. iii.
15); Obadiah feared the Lord from his youth. Those that have such a journey
to go, had need set out betimes, the sooner the better.
Secondly, Others are savingly wrought
upon in middle age; Go work in the vineyard, at the third, sixth, or ninth
hour. The power of divine grace is magnified in the conversion of some,
when they are in the midst of their pleasures and worldly pursuits, as
Paul. God has work for all ages; no time amiss to turn to God; none can
say, "It is all in good time;" for, whatever hour of the day it is with
us, the time past of our life may suffice that we have served sin; Go ye
also into the vineyard. God turns away none that are willing to be hired,
for yet there is room.
Thirdly, Others are hired into the vineyard
in old age, at the eleventh hour, when the day of life is far spent, and
there is but one hour of the twelve remaining. None are hired at the twelfth
hour; when life is done, opportunity is done; but "while there is life,
there is hope." 1. There is hope for old sinners; for if, in sincerity,
they turn to God, they shall doubtless be accepted; true repentance is
never too late. And, 2. There is hope of old sinners, that they may be
brought to true repentance; nothing is too hard for Almighty grace to do,
it can change the Ethiopian's skin, and the leopard's spots; can set those
to work, who have contracted a habit of idleness. Nicodemus may be born
again when he is old, and the old man may be put off, which is corrupt.
Yet let none, upon this presumption,
put off their repentance till they are old. These were sent into the vineyard,
it is true, at the eleventh hour; but nobody had hired them, or offered
to hire them, before. The Gentiles came in at the eleventh hour, but it
was because the gospel had not been before preached to them. Those that
have had gospel offers made them at the third, or sixth hour, and have
resisted and refused them, will not have that to say for themselves at
the eleventh hour, that these had; No man has hired us; nor can they be
sure that any man will hire them at the ninth or eleventh hour; and therefore
not to discourage any, but to awaken all, be it remembered, that now is
the accepted time; if we will hear his voice, it must be to-day.
(2.) Here is the account with the
[1.] When the account was taken; when
the evening was come, then, as usual, the day-labourers were called and
paid. Note, Evening time is the reckoning time; the particular account
must be given up in the evening of our life; for after death cometh the
judgment. Faithful labourers shall receive their reward when they die;
it is deferred till then, that they may wait with patience for it, but
no longer; for God will observe his own rule, The hire of the labourers
shall not abide with thee all night, until the morning. See Deut. xxiv.
15. When Paul, that faithful labourer, departs, he is with Christ presently.
The payment shall not be wholly deferred till the morning of the resurrection;
but then, in the evening of the world, will be the general account, when
every one shall receive according to the things done in the body. When
time ends, and with it the world of work and opportunity, then the state
of retribution commences; then call the labourers, and give them their
hire. Ministers call them into the vineyard, to do their work; death calls
them out of the vineyard, to receive their penny: and those to whom the
call into the vineyard is effectual, the call out of it will be joyful.
Observe, They did not come for their pay till they were called; we must
with patience wait God's time for our rest and recompence; go by our master's
clock. The last trumpet, at the great day, shall call the labourers, 1
Thess. iv. 16. Then shalt thou call, saith the good and faithful servant,
and I will answer. In calling the labourers, they must begin from the last,
and so to the first. Let not those that come in at the eleventh hour, be
put behind the rest, but, lest they should be discouraged, call them first.
At the great day, though the dead in Christ shall rise first, yet they
which are alive and remain, on whom the ends of the world (the eleventh
hour of its day) comes, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds;
no preference shall be given to seniority, but every man shall stand in
his own lot at the end of the days.
[2.] What the account was; and in that
First, The general pay (v. 9, 10); They
received every man a penny. Note, All that by patient continuance in well-doing,
seek for glory, honour, and immortality, shall undoubtedly obtain eternal
life (Rom. ii. 7), not as wages for the value of their work, but as the
gift of God. Though there be degrees of glory in heaven, yet it will be
to all a complete happiness. They that come from the east and west, and
so come in late, that are picked up out of the highways and the hedges,
shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, at the same feast, ch. vii.
11. In heaven, every vessel will be full, brimful, though every vessel
is not alike large and capacious. In the distribution of future joys, as
it was in the gathering of the manna, he that shall gather much, will have
nothing over, and he that shall gather little, will have no lack, Exod.
xvi. 18. Those whom Christ fed miraculously, though of different sizes,
men, women, and children, did all eat, and were filled.
The giving of a whole day's wages to
those that had not done the tenth part of a day's work, is designed to
show that God distributes his rewards by grace and sovereignty, and not
of debt. The best of the labourers, and those that begin soonest, having
so many empty spaces in their time, and their works not being filled up
before God, may truly be said to labour in the vineyard scarcely one hour
of their twelve; but because we are under grace, and not under the law,
even such defective services, done in sincerity, shall not only be accepted,
but by free grace richly rewarded. Compare Luke xvii. 7, 8, with Luke xii.
Secondly, The particular pleading with
those that were offended with this distribution in gavel-kind. The circumstances
of this serve to adorn the parable; but the general scope is plain, that
the last shall be first. We have here,
1. The offence taken (v. 11, 12); They
murmured at the good man of the house; not that there is, or can be, any
discontent or murmuring in heaven, for that is both guilt and grief, and
in heaven there is neither; but there may be, and often are, discontent
and murmuring concerning heaven and heavenly things, while they are in
prospect and promise in this world. This signifies the jealousy which the
Jews were provoked to by the admission of the Gentiles into the kingdom
of heaven. As the elder brother, in the parable of the prodigal, repined
at the reception of his younger brother, and complained of his father's
generosity to him; so these labourers quarrelled with their master, and
found fault, not because they had not enough, so much as because others
were made equal with them. They boast, as the prodigal's elder brother
did, of their good services; We have borne the burthen and heat of the
day; that was the most they could make of it. Sinners are said to labour
in the very fire (Hab. ii. 13), whereas God's servants, at the worst, do
but labour in the sun; not in the heat of the iron furnace, but only in
the heat of the day. Now these last have worked but one hour, and that
too in the cool of the day; and yet thou hast made them equal with us.
The Gentiles, who are newly called in, have as much of the privileges of
the kingdom of the Messiah as the Jews have, who have so long been labouring
in the vineyard of the Old-Testament church, under the yoke of the ceremonial
law, in expectation of that kingdom. Note, There is a great proneness in
us to think that we have too little, and other too much, of the tokens
of God's favour; and that we do too much, and others too little, in the
work of God. Very apt we all are to undervalue the deserts of others, and
to overvalue our own. Perhaps, Christ here gives an intimation to Peter,
not to boast too much, as he seemed to do, of his having left all to follow
Christ; as if, because he and the rest of them had borne the burthen and
heat of the day thus, they must have a heaven by themselves. It is hard
for those that do or suffer more than ordinary for God, not to be elevated
too much with the thought of it, and to expect to merit by it. Blessed
Paul guarded against this, when, though the chief of the apostles, he owned
himself to be nothing, to be less than the least of all saints.
2. The offence removed. Three things
the master of the house urges, in answer to this ill-natured surmise.
(1.) That the complainant had no reason
at all to say he had any wrong done to him, v. 13, 14. Here he asserts
his own justice; Friend, I do thee no wrong. He calls him friend, for in
reasoning with others we should use soft words and hard arguments; if our
inferiors are peevish and provoking, yet we should not thereby be put into
a passion, but speak calmly to them. [1.] It is incontestably true, that
God can do no wrong. This is the prerogative of the King of kings. Is there
unrighteousness with God? The apostle startles at the thought of it; God
forbid! Rom. iii. 5, 6. His word should silence all our murmurings, that,
whatever God does to us, or withholds from us, he does us no wrong. [2.]
If God gives that grace to others, which he denies to us, it is kindness
to them, but no injustice to us; and bounty to another, while it is no
injustice to us, we ought not to find fault with. Because it is free grace,
that is given to those that have it, boasting is for ever excluded; and
because it is free grace, that is withheld from those that have it not,
murmuring is for ever excluded. Thus shall every mouth be stopped, and
all flesh be silent before God.
To convince the murmurer that he did
no wrong, he refers him to the bargain: "Didst not thou agree with me for
a penny? And if thou hast what thou didst agree for, thou hast no reason
to cry out of wrong; thou shalt have what we agreed for." Though God is
a debtor to none, yet he is graciously pleased to make himself a debtor
by his own promise, for the benefit of which, through Christ, believers
agree with him, and he will stand to his part of the agreement. Note, It
is good for us often to consider what it was that we agreed with God for.
First, Carnal worldlings agree with God for their penny in this world;
they choose their portion in this life (Ps. xvii. 14); in these things
they are willing to have their reward (ch. vi. 2, 5), their consolation
(Luke vi. 24), their good things (Luke xvi. 25); and with these they shall
be put off, shall be cut off from spiritual and eternal blessings; and
herein God does them no wrong; they have what they chose, the penny they
agreed for; so shall their doom be, themselves have decided it; it is conclusive
against them. Secondly, Obedient believers agree with God for their penny
in the other world, and they must remember that they have so agreed. Didst
not thou agree to take God's word for it? Thou didst; and wilt thou go
and agree with the world? Didst not thou agree to take up with heaven as
thy portion, thy all, and to take up with nothing short of it? And wilt
thou seek for a happiness in the creature, or think from thence to make
up the deficiencies of thy happiness in God?
He therefore, 1. Ties him to his bargain
(v. 14); Take that thine is, and go thy way. If we understand it of that
which is ours by debt or absolute propriety, it would be a dreadful word;
we are all undone, if we be put off with that only which we can call our
own. The highest creature must go away into nothing, if he must go away
with that only which is his own: but if we understand it of that which
is ours by gift, the free gift of God, it teaches us to be content with
such things as we have. Instead of repining that we have no more, let us
take what we have, and be thankful. If God be better in any respect to
others than to us, yet we have no reason to complain while he is so much
better to us than we deserve, in giving us our penny, though we are unprofitable
servants. 2. He tells him that those he envied should fare as well as he
did; "I will give unto this last, even as unto thee; I am resolved I will."
Note, The unchangeableness of God's purposes in dispensing his gifts should
silence our murmurings. If he will do it, it is not for us to gainsay;
for he is in one mind, and who can turn him? Neither giveth he an account
of any of his matters; nor is it fit he should.
(2.) He had no reason to quarrel with
the master; for what he gave was absolutely his own, v. 15. As before he
asserted his justice, so here his sovereignty; Is it not lawful for me
to do what I will with my own? Note, [1.] God is the Owner of all good;
his propriety in it is absolute, sovereign, and unlimited. [2.] He may
therefore give or withhold his blessings, as he pleases. What we have,
is not our own, and therefore it is not lawful for us to do what we will
with it; but what God has, is his own; and this will justify him, First,
In all the disposals of his providence; when God takes from us that which
was dear to us, and which we could ill spare, we must silence our discontents
with this; May he not do what he will with his own? Abstulit, sed et dedit--He
hath taken away; but he originally gave. It is not for such depending creatures
as we are to quarrel with our Sovereign. Secondly, In all the dispensations
of his grace, God gives or withholds the means of grace, and the Spirit
of grace, as he pleases. Not but that there is a counsel in every will
of God, and what seems to us to be done arbitrarily, will appear at length
to have been done wisely, and for holy ends. But this is enough to silence
all murmurs and objectors, that God is sovereign Lord of all, and may do
what he will with his own. We are in his hand, as clay in the hands of
a potter; and it is not for us to prescribe to him, or strive with him.
(3.) He had no reason to envy his fellow
servant, or to grudge at him; or to be angry that he came into the vineyard
no sooner; for he was not sooner called; he had no reason to be angry that
the master had given him wages for the whole day, when he had idled away
the greatest part of it; for Is thine eye evil, because I am good? See
[1.] The nature of envy; It is an evil
eye. The eye is often both the inlet and the outlet of this sin. Saul saw
that David prospered, and he eyed him, 1 Sam. xviii. 9, 15. It is an evil
eye, which is displeased at the good of others, and desires their hurt.
What can have more evil in it? It is grief to ourselves, anger to God,
and ill-will to our neighbour; and it is a sin that has neither pleasure,
profit, nor honour, in it; it is an evil, an only evil.
[2.] The aggravation of it; "It is because
I am good." Envy is unlikeness to God, who is good, and doeth good, and
delighteth in doing good; nay, it is an opposition and contradiction to
God; it is a dislike of his proceedings, and a displeasure at what he does,
and is pleased with. It is a direct violation of both the two great commandments
at once; both that of love to God, in whose will we should acquiesce, and
love to our neighbour, in whose welfare we should rejoice. Thus man's badness
takes occasion from God's goodness to be more exceedingly sinful.
Lastly, Here is the application of
the parable (v. 16), in that observation which occasioned it (ch. xix.
30); So the first shall be last, and the last first. There were many that
followed Christ now in the regeneration, when the gospel kingdom was first
set up, and these Jewish converts seemed to have got the start of others;
but Christ, to obviate and silence their boasting, here tells them,
1. That they might possibly be outstripped
by their successors in profession, and, though they were before others
in profession, might be found inferior to them in knowledge, grace, and
holiness. The Gentile church, which was as yet unborn, the Gentile world,
which as yet stood idle in the market-place, would produce greater numbers
of eminent, useful Christians, than were found among the Jews. More and
more excellent shall be the children of the desolate than those of the
married wife, Isa. liv. 1. Who knows but that the church, in its old age,
may be more fat and flourishing than ever, to show that the Lord is upright?
Though primitive Christianity had more of the purity and power of that
holy religion than is to be found in the degenerate age wherein we live,
yet what labourers may be sent into the vineyard in the eleventh hour of
the church's day, in the Philadelphian period, and what plentiful effusions
of the Spirit may then be, above what has been yet, who can tell?
2. That they had reason to fear, lest
they themselves should be found hypocrites at last; for many are called
but few chosen. This is applied to the Jews (ch. xxii. 14); it was so then,
it is too true still; many are called with a common call, that are not
chosen with a saving choice. All that are chosen from eternity, are effectually
called, in the fulness of time (Rom. viii. 30), so that in making our effectual
calling sure we make sure our election (2 Pet. i. 10); but it is not so
as to the outward call; many are called, and yet refuse (Prov. i. 24),
nay, as they are called to God, so they go from him (Hos. xi. 2, 7), by
which it appears that they were not chosen, for the election will obtain,
Rom. xi. 7. Note, There are but few chosen Christians, in comparison with
the many that are only called Christians; it therefore highly concerns
us to build our hope for heaven upon the rock of an eternal choice, and
not upon the sand of an external call; and we should fear lest we be found
but seeming Christians, and so should really come short; nay, lest we be
found blemished Christians, and so should seem to come short, Heb. iv.