HH Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. –Matthew 20:1
The Divine Plan in the Ordering of Scripture Chapters
As we move through chapter nineteen of Matthew’s Gospel, we seem to breathe a different atmosphere than that of the twentieth. Yet the two chapters, though seemingly separated, stand in the closest connection with each other. In the former we meet with the rich young ruler and witness his sorrowful departure from the face of Christ; we hear, too, the question of Peter, “we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?” (Matthew 19:27). It is then that Jesus begins speaking about rewards of service. It is then, as if summing up the visible contrast between the rich young ruler and His poor disciples, that He says, “Many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first” (Matthew 19:30). And then, as though to show forth in a picture some of the mysteries He has been dealing with, He speaks the parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard.
God’s Kingdom Is Like a Vineyard
Note first, then, God’s kingdom is like a vineyard. It is an excellent exercise for all of us to recall the things that the Kingdom of God is like. It is equally good for us to gather together some of the Bible references to the vine. The vines of Palestine were famous for their growth, and for the immense clusters of grapes which they produced. We all remember that splendid bunch that the spies bore on the staff from the valley of Eshcol (Numbers 13:23). We cannot wonder, then, to find the vine and the vineyard among the most precious of the Bible metaphors. Israel is a vine brought out of Egypt and planted in the Land of Promise by the Lord (Psalm 80:8-10). To dwell under the vine is the choice emblem of domestic happiness (1 Kings 4:25). It is a vine which Jesus selects to typify the union between His disciples and Himself (John 15:1-6). And the vineyard becomes the figure of God’s kingdom. Long centuries before, Jeremiah had cried, “Many pastors have destroyed my vineyard” (Jeremiah 12:10); and now our Lord, who had very profoundly studied Jeremiah, presses the same emblem into His service. Can we give two or three of the clear likenesses that would make this metaphor a favourite with Jesus?
As the Vineyard Needs Workers, So Does God
Again, observe God’s anxiety for workers. Above the door of the tramway office in a certain city, there is written just now, “No men wanted: none need apply.” All posts are full; there is no call for hands; men may be very poor and very hungry, but there is no help for them there. But the householder whom we read of in our story had no such notice on his vineyard gate. His great concern was not to keep workers out, but somehow or anyhow to get them in. So we find him early in the morning going out to the marketplace to hire his men–how different a scene from the Kingstown Docks, for instance, where early in the morning the men are clamouring at the gates, and only a few out of the crowd are hired! And then at nine o’clock he is out again, and then in the height of noon, and then at three. These hours were the great hours of prayer in Jewry: was not this householder’s work a kind of prayer? And he has not done yet: he will make one more effort–an hour before sunset he is out again. It is clear that the great passion of the man is to get the idlers set to honest work. May we not say, with reverence and gratitude, that that is the passion of the Father of Jesus Christ? He has worked for all, and He wants all to come and serve Him. His finger never wrote, “No men need to apply.” Whenever any of our young people, then, get the opportunity of doing something kind, when the hour comes that they can make some little sacrifice, and help in any way the cause of Jesus, let them not say, “Bother!” or do it with a grudge; but just let them think that the Lord of the vineyard has come with this very bit of work for them to do.
Labourers Are Rewarded in God’s Vineyard
Note once more that God rewards all service. In the old times of feudal law in Scotland, there was many a man who laboured all his days and never got a penny of reward. In the Southern states, while slavery existed, the men and the women who did all the work dreamed often of the lash, but never of a wage. And in many a campaign, written of in our histories, the soldiers never saw their hire. But this householder was so careful of his word, that he began with the last comes in making an account; and none of his men got less than they expected, while the great majority of them got far more. All of which, I take it, is meant to teach us this–that all our service for Christ shall be rewarded. No worker shall ever get less than was agreed on; and the great multitude, to their own sweet surprise, shall be given more than they could ask or think. Now if it should seem to any of my readers that this is a mercenary view of spiritual things, I would bid them remember that even the choicest parable can only rudely embody the things of God. The reward of plucking grapes may be a penny–there is a kind of gulf between the two. But, spiritually, the wage of service is a new power to serve; and the reward of love is the ever-deepening capacity of loving, and the hire for all honest effort to know Jesus is to know Him at last as the chiefest among ten thousand.
God’s Measures of Rewards Differ from Ours
Lastly, observe God’s measures are not ours. Do not think that this parable is meant to teach us that the self-same reward is to be given to all. If that were so, what about the talents? It so happens that all the workers get the penny, but it is not on this that the stress of the story lies. Had the latest comers chanced to begin at dawn, we feel that the householder would have given them sixpence. He was delighted with them because of their earnest spirit. They came at once; they did not stop to haggle. He saw that their whole heart was in their work, and he really paid them according to their heart. Do we not learn, then, that God does not measure service by the length of time or anything external? God measures service by the motive of it, by the spirit that prompts it, by the secret heart. An hour with the heart in it for Jesus Christ is better and worthier than a heartless day. We really have not been serving well, if the first thing we do at sunset is to murmur (Matthew 20:11). “My son, give me thine heart?’ “Yes, Lord, we give it, and all these questions of the pence we leave with Thee!”