HH Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
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?–Matthew 20:6
Staying outside the Kingdom to the Last
By the eleventh-hour man I mean the man who at five o’clock is still outside the Kingdom, and one would notice first that in the parable there is no hint of this man being bad. There was another eleventh-hour man, who had taken to evil courses on the highway. He had left home, and broken his mother’s heart, and we see him at last hanging on a cross. But this first man was a much more usual type, haunting the marketplace in search of work, not forgetful of his wife and children. If you want the prodigal, go to the far country. If you want the brigand, take the road to Jericho. Our Lord, in that most masterly way of His, has always a fitting background for His characters. And this man, against the back ground of the market-place, stands for the ordinary, well-intentioned person–yet at the eleventh hour he is still outside the Kingdom.
Not without Excuse
One notes, too, that he was not without excuse. It is so like our Lord to touch on that. When the man was asked why he was standing there, he could truly say that nobody had hired him. That this excuse was not entirely valid is, I think, embodied in the parable. For at the third hour and at the sixth and ninth hours the householder had been out looking for workers. Now had this man been tremendously in earnest he would have thrown himself in the employer’s way; but there is not a hint that he did that. Probably at nine o’clock, he was in bed; men out of work are prone to oversleep. At twelve o’clock he would be having dinner, and at three enjoying his siesta. But the beautiful thing is that, though this be true, the Master sees, and is at pains to show us, that this man was not without excuse. There are men outside at the eleventh hour who are without excuse. Deaf to every call, they have resisted the inviting Spirit. But there are others who are different from that, and one of the charming things about our Lord is that He finds room for that suggestion in His story. Such may have sat under a sapless ministry or had the Gospel presented in repellent ways. They may have been plunged, when little more than boys, into dubious or soul-destroying businesses. Someone they loved, who made a great profession, may have proved (long years ago) a whited sepulchre–and at the eleventh hour, they are still outside the Kingdom.
The Lord Still Calls at the Eleventh Hour
Now the wonderfully hopeful thing is this, that this man was called at the eleventh hour, for the eleventh hour (as Bible students know) is an hour when nothing ever happens. With the exception of this single parable, I am not aware that the eleventh hour is mentioned from the Book of Genesis to Revelation. The third hour is a great hour of Scripture, for then (according to St. Mark) our Lord was crucified. And the sixth and ninth are both great hours of Scripture, and all three are Jewish hours of prayer. But the eleventh hour is an hour unchronicled–it is an hour when nothing ever happens–and it was just then that this man was called. Nobody had ever heard of such a thing. Nobody ever expected such a thing. The oldest frequenter of the market-place had never known anyone to call at five o’clock. And yet that is what happened in the story and our blessed Lord would never have told the story if it could not happen now–and to you.
God Is an Extraordinary Employer
For this employer is an extraordinary person. It is that which Jesus is eager to impress on us. Had the employer been thinking of nothing but his grapes, he would never have acted in this amazing fashion. What! to hire men when the work day is closing, and to pay them with an insane extravagance? Whoever heard of a businessman like that! Such conduct in an employer is unthinkable. And then our Lord would smile and flash a glance at them, and say, “Children, that is exactly what I am driving at, for remember that My householder is God.” “My ways are not your ways, neither are My thoughts your thoughts.” This is an extraordinary householder because God is an extraordinary God, giving His only begotten Son to die for us, waiting and watching and yearning for the prodigal, putting a ring on his hand and shoes upon his feet, when in the evening he comes home.
He Got More Than He Ever Dreamed Of
And then this eleventh-hour man got far more than he had ever dreamed of. It was almost incredible, but it was true. The men who came at break of the day were bargainers. They began by driving a bargain with the master. They said, “Let us settle the wages question first,” and he settled it, and gave them what they bargained for. But the eleventh-hour man did not drive a bargain; filled with gratitude, he left things to the Master, and he got more than he had ever dreamed of. That is the kind of faith which God delights in, not the conditional faith that drives a bargain, not the faith that says, “If Thou wilt do so-and-so for me, I will do so-and-so for Thee”; but the faith, born of a wondering gratitude that leaves all issues in the Master’s hands, perfectly certain that His name is Love. Think of the amazement of the eleventh-hour man when the whole penny was lying in his hand. “What! all this for me? All this for me?” Yes: “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).