THIS parable of the laborers in the vineyard, recorded in the twentieth chapter of Matthew, applies, we think, in direct connection with the conversation of Jesus and his disciples recorded in the nineteenth chapter. The beginning of the twentieth chapter is not the beginning of a new theme, but a continuation of the subject discoursed upon by Jesus in the chapter before. Let us glance at some things in the nineteenth chapter, that we may better arrive at the connection which furnishes a setting for this parable of the laborers in the vineyard. A rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked him: “What good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” Jesus called his attention to the commandments of the law, but the young man said he had kept all these things from his youth up, “what lack I yet?” Then Jesus said, “Go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me.” This young man then went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Turning to his disciples, Jesus then told them that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. This so astonished the disciples that they asked him, “Who then can be saved?” The reply of Jesus was, “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” Now, the fact that Jesus had told this young man to sell all his goods and come follow him (Jesus), and that he should have treasure in heaven, caused Peter to wonder what would be his reward, seeing he, too, had left all and followed Jesus. The natural mind in Peter told him he ought to have some reward for leaving all and following Jesus. The natural mind loves to be paid for all it does. Therefore Peter’s thought was something like this: If Jesus promises this young man treasure in heaven when he has sold all his goods and given to the poor, surely we twelve who have been now following him some time, and have left all our goods, should’ receive some compensation for the deprivations we have suffered. This thought of Peter’s was shown in the manner he talked with Jesus: “Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee: what shall we have therefore?” Jesus then said: “Ye which have followed me, in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.” Here Jesus plainly told them that not simply were they twelve men to receive an hundredfold and to I have everlasting life, but that “every one” leaving all for Jesus’ name should receive an hundredfold and inherit everlasting life. Every child of God saved by grace finds that the name of Jesus compels his separation from the world. It is not a question as to whether God’s people want to be separate from the world or not, the very work of grace in their hearts brings about this separation, so that God’s people, while in the world, are not of it. Every child of God, whatever be his or her place in the body, is what he is by the grace of God, and all boasting is excluded, so that one cannot lord it over another, or set himself up above his brethren. Jesus followed this conversation in the nineteenth chapter of Matthew with the parable in the twentieth chapter, and the parable simply illustrates what Jesus has already said to them. Jesus showed the disciples that even though they had been with him all through his ministry, and had suffered persecution with him, thus bearing the burden in the heat of the day, yet they were not on that account to expect any greater reward or. pay than some humbler child and servant of God who might be called into the vineyard at a later time. Peter, though called to be an apostle of the Lamb, and given wonderful liberty to preach the gospel when Pentecost had fully come, was after all nothing but a sinner saved by grace, and thus no greater in himself than the thief on the cross, who also was a sinner saved by grace. Even though Peter had left all and followed Jesus, was that any credit to Peter? Peter had not done it in his own strength or according to his own will. Why, then, should he expect pay for what he had not and could not have done of himself? If grace had brought about this renunciation in Peter, and it was grace that had done it, then surely grace deserved the credit, and not Peter. It was carnal for Peter to say, “We have forsaken all, and followed thee: what shall we have therefore?” And Jesus told him and the eleven that though they were ordained to occupy thrones of judgment in the “regeneration, yet every one that likewise was called to leave aught for the name of Jesus should receive an hundredfold in the gospel kingdom, so that these twelve were not to be able to boast over the least one in all the body of Christ. Jesus likens the kingdom of heaven to a man that was an householder who went out early in the morning to hire laborers into his vineyard, and when he had agreed with the laborers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. Afterward, this same householder went out at the third,sixth and ninth hours of the day and sent other laborers into his vineyard, promising them not a penny, but “whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.” Now, Jesus speaks of himself here as a householder, and how beautiful that is. Jesus’ house is the church, and he rules all things in his church, which is his house. Jesus, the spiritual householder, calls the laborers and sends them to work in his vineyard. The first laborers were hired very early in the morning and promised a penny. These first laborers are the twelve disciples whom Jesus called to follow him almost immediately upon the beginning of his public ministry; thus they were called very early in the morning of that day which Jesus spoke of as follows: “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is yet day: the night cometh when no man can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Thus it was day while Jesus was in the world performing the work of salvation. It was early in this day of Jesus in the world when he called the twelve and promised them a penny; that is, that they should sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. The others whom Jesus called during his ministry here were not promised thrones of judgment, but all the children of God are promised that whatsoever Jesus deems it best for each member of his family to have, that shall they have. In the end of the day all received the same, a penny. This does not mean that in the end all became apostles. No, but it takes the same grace to cause one to believe and walk in the apostles’ doctrine as it did to enable them to teach it. It is just as much a gift when one cleaves with all his heart to what Peter preached, as it was a gift that enabled Peter to preach it, and in the end all the laborers in the vineyard, no matter how long they had labored, were on the same plane and footing: all were what they were by divine calling, and not by any voluntary act of their own. Whether, like the twelve disciples, they had been with Jesus all through the heat of the day, or whether, like the thief on the cross, they came in at the eleventh hour, Jesus was the reward of each. He is his own reward, and each child of God finds full and perfect satisfaction in being with Jesus and clothed in his likeness. All owe their being and their labor to what Jesus has made them by his grace, and not to what they have made themselves. Now, it is particularly of those who came into the vineyard at the eleventh hour that we desire to write. The householder came into the market place at the eleventh hour and asked these, “Why stand ye here all the day idle?” Their answer was very simple: “Because no man hath hired us.” How could they go before they were sent? They could not send themselves, could they? They could not force themselves into any vineyard, could not compel some man to employ their services. The question of the householder to these men was not a rebuke because they were idle, it was not a hint that should have been at work long before. No, it was none of this. The question of the householder simply brought out the reason why they were not working: “Because no man hath hired us.” Surely they could not work unless they were engaged by the householder and sent by him into his vineyard. They had no right to enter his vineyard without being sent by him. Now, we have said before that this householder is Jesus. Jesus calls whom he will to labor in his vineyard, and none can labor in that vineyard until he calls them and sends them. They cannot but remain idle in this matter until the householder appears to them. Did any one ever hear of a vineyard hiring its own workmen? No, but the owner of the vineyard, the householder, must look after his vineyard and send into it laborers to dress and keep the vines. Just so Jesus the householder must care. for his vineyard, the church. The church does not go out and hire laborers to come to her. She has no more power to do this than grapevines to get themselves looked after. The husbandman calls and sends into his church such laborers as he pleases to look after her. It is one characteristic of the true church of Jesus that she has never been able to manufacture her own ministers, but has ever been dependent upon the Lord Jesus to send his laborers into her. Until he does this, she must and does remain idle, waiting upon him. Also, the men whom Jesus chooses to labor in his vineyard have no power to send themselves, but must wait for the householder, Jesus, to find them and send them. For this reason, then, these eleventh hour servants remained idle in the market place; no man had yet hired them, been able to bring his little children into we do it? We have seen some members and they could not do else but remain where they were until the householder found them and sent them to the work. No school, college or any institution of men can turn out laborers for Jesus’ vineyard. The church has no source of supply but in Jesus her head. Sometimes the Old Baptists get very anxious about who will preach to them when the ministers they have are gone, and often some restless spirit among them gets to advocating things we ought to do in order to keep ourselves from dying out. Will you please tell us what a grapevine can do to keep itself alive? Nothing. No more can God’s people do anything of themselves. All their strength and all their keeping is in Jesus. He is their life and the health of their countenance. Often we get discouraged when we see the few laborers that are being called and sent into the vineyard, and when we see, perhaps, the members of the churches passing away and few coming in, yet what can we do about it? God is the only one who has ever been able to call and qualify a man to preach his gospel, and he has never disclosed to man the secret as to how he does it. How, then, shall we go about making preachers? Also, Jesus is the only one who has ever the visible organization of the church, and he has never handed over to us his power of doing that. How, then, shall who have been brought into the church through persuasion of men, perhaps the pastor of the church, but such never make good, reliable, sound Baptists, and more often these are inclined to bring in false doctrines among us, and tear up the peace of the militant body. It is always best to wait for the Lord to send his laborers into the vineyard, and not try to do it ourselves. The old ark may look pretty shaky sometimes, but any effort on our part to steady it always results in condemnation. Whenever you try to mix grace with works there is sure to be death in the pot, and it makes God’s little children sick. All our fruit must come from Jesus. He is the vine, we are the branches, and no branch can bring forth fruit except it abide in the vine. Without Jesus we can do nothing. We can work out our own salvation with fear and trembling only as God works in us to will and to do according to his good pleasure. They that wait upon the Lord are the only ones to whom is promised the renewing of strength. It is good to patiently wait upon the Lord, to stand still and see his salvation. Zion is a quiet habitation, her name is, “The Lord is there.” He is to her a place of broad rivers and streams, wherein goeth no galley with oars, neither does gallant ship pass thereby. These eleventh hour laborers just as much filled their place in the vineyard as those sent into it early in the day. It takes just as much grace to labor in Christ’s vineyard one day as it does a thousand days. Then why should Peter and the eleven expect any more reward for having left all and followed Jesus than any other child of God who might also be called in their order and measure to also forsake all for Jesus’ sake? To all the reward is the same. It is not reckoned of debt, but of grace. Jesus is as much the reward of these that came in at the eleventh hour as he is the reward of those who labored all day. None of them labored except by the calling and authority of the householder, therefore wherein was the right of the all-day laborers any more than the eleventh hour ones? When Paul shall stand before the face of God in glory, all he can say, notwithstanding his valiant fight as an apostle of the Lamb, shall be, I am a sinner saved by grace. This is the same song, no more and no less, that every child of God shall sing, whether his days here have been many or few, whether his labor has been long or short. There are no bigs and littles in the church of our God, but all are one in him, sinners all saved by grace, and if any one seems to have more ability to labor than another here in the vineyard, that ability is not of self, but of grace.
We have written upon this subject by request, and do not know that we have gotten at the kernel of the parable at all, but we hope, at least, we have stirred up the minds of God’s people to think of these grand things. The SIGNS never has had, and never will have, any use for any other salvation than that which is by grace through the Lord Jesus Christ by the mercy of God the Father. L.
Elder H. H. Lefferts
Signs of the Times
Volume 84, No. 21.
November 1, 1916