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now when they had seen this, they were not warned, but persisted in their pride; acknowledging God's claim to their obedience in words, but entirely denying it in deeds ; therefore our Lord warns them that those whom they looked upon as outcasts, having been brought to repentance by the preaching of John, were now entering before them the kingdom of heaven ; that is, were receiving the blessing of the gospel, Life eternal through Christ the Lord of life. He did not say, that they, the Scribes and Pharisees should be shut out. The penitent sinners were entering before them, but the door was still open to them, they might still follow if they would.
Let the parable of the two sons, and the instructive explanation of the Saviour be treasured up by all for their warning and encouragement.
The self-righteous will always find the penitent sinner entering the kingdom of heaven before them. “The same lesson is taught us in all Scripture, that there is no such fault as counting that we have no fault."
The Lord's hearers would no doubt have been glad that He should have stopped here ; but He will not let them go. He will fully teach them how to answer their own question—“Who gave thee authority to do these things ? ” and the answer they would be forced to make would, if they dealt truly, be full of condemnation of themselves. He said
MATTHEW xxi. 33, 34. “Hear another parable : There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a wine-press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country : and when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it."
Or, as St. Mark and St. Luke more correctly say, of (that is, a part of) the fruit of the vineyard ; for the manner of letting land in those countries is that the tenant, instead of paying his landlord in money, is bound to deliver to him a fixed share of the produce of the land.* This seems a very fair method of settling the rights of both parties ; but there is constantly arising from it violent disputes, in which the landlord is generally the loser. Thus the parable related nothing very improbable when Jesus proceeded to say, that
LUKE X. 10–12. “The husbandmen beat the servants and sent them away empty. And again he sent another servant : and they beat him also, and entreated him shamefully, and sent him away empty. And again he sent a third : and they wounded him also, and cast him out.”
Thus far the parable only gives a very strong example of what from time to time might happen ; the disputes between tenants and landlord being sometimes so violent as to make the ill-treatment of the servants sent to collect their master's share of the fruits of the vineyard, not very unlikely; but our Saviour finishes it in an unexpected manner.
Verses 13-15. “Then said the Lord of the vineyard, What shall I do? I will send my son : it may be they will reverence him, when they see him. But when the husbandmen saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, This is the heir: come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may
So they cast him out of the vineyard, and killed * It is thus that lands are generally let in Italy to this day, as well as in the
† See Chardin, Voyage en Perse, quoted by Trench, p. 201.
him. What therefore shall the lord of the vineyard do unto them?”
MATTHEW xxi. 41. “ They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in due season.”
Those who made this reply either did not perceive the drift of the parable, or affected not to see it; and they at once passed the only sentence that common justice, and indeed common sense, could pass upon a murder so atrocious.
But there were some among the listeners who understood the meaning of our Lord, and shuddered at the condemnation, which had so naturally followed.
LUKE X. 16. “ And when they heard it, they said, God forbid !”
Nothing seems so simple or so plain as to judge of sin, as it deserves, wben we see it in others. It is when we are forced to acknowledge it in ourselves, that we cry, God forbid that its punishment should fall on us.' And this is just the feeling that should lead us to Christ the only Deliverer.
Now let us for a moment glance back at the parable, and see if there is any thing in it, the meaning of which we can miss. Nothing can be more plain than that the Lord Jesus, under the figure of a vineyard, pictured His Church, which at first He gave into the care of the Jews, who were the busbandmen in the parable. He hedged it about with all the laws and customs which He gave them, to keep them separate from the nations round, a people peculiar to Himself. By the wine-press and tower in the midst, are set forth all the religious ordinances and advantages that were arranged for the benefit of the church, to enable it to render such obedience and good works as were due to the Lord who established it. In the servants who, from time to time, were sent to receive the fruit of the vineyard, we see the different prophets raised up by God among His people; and we read their exact history in the treatment received by the servants in the parable from the rebellious husbandmen, for which of the prophets did not the Jews shamefully misuse ? * Thus far was matter of history ; the events declared in the latter part of the parable were yet to come ; but the Lord Jesus, the son of the lord of the vineyard, had now come to his vineyard. The husbandmen were already murmuring against him; they were already opposing their own pretensions to His. They had already said—“Come, let us kill him.” + They vainly hoped to secure to themselves His inheritance, the church of God, of which they considered themselves to be the rulers, and as it were, the proprietors. The hour was not yet come, but it was already present to the mind of Jesus, when they should “cast him out of the vineyard, and kill him," condemn Him in the full council of their Sanhedrim, or Jewish senate; and having delivered him into the hands of the Gentiles, lead him away without the walls of the holy city, which was the representation of the Jewish church, and put him to death on Calvary.
This crime being fully in their desires, was, as it were, fully accomplished. All its guilt should be required at their hands, and upon that generation should come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel, unto the blood of Zecharias son of Baracbias, whom (their fathers) slew, between the temple and the altar.” “All these things should come upon this generation,” because they were about to fill up the measure of the guilt of their fathers, by putting to death the Son of God, the Lord of the vineyard. I
We shall do well to observe, that in this, as in many other parables, the whole history of the Jewish nation from the beginning, is comprehended in that of one generation. Nations are treated as individual men. This is also observable in all the writings of the prophets ; and it ought to arouse to diligent watchfulness and exertion each lover of his country, for it is the character of the men of each generation that affects for good or evil the entire fate of a nation.
† John xi. 53.
* Matthew xxiii. 30-37.
How great is the destiny of a Christian ! The Lord God, the King of heaven and earth, has taken His vineyard out of the hands of those wicked husbandmen, against whom He has sent His armies, and miserably destroyed them; and He has entrusted its care into our hands. Let us beware how we neglect to render to Him the fruits that are His due, in good . season. He has not left us ignorant of what these fruits may be. Let us study with faithful hearts, the charge left by His Son to His followers, and then compare with it our objects and designs in life.
Prayer. O God, our Father, and our Lord, thou hast entrusted to each of us a corner of thy vineyard; thou hast given us all that is needful to aid us in our work. In thy word thou dost teach us what thou dost require of us : but Oh ! our God, confess with shame and grief that we have not done our part; or it could not so often be, that when thou dost look, that thy vineyard should bring forth grapes, behold, it brings forth wild grapes.* Which of us, O God, has laboured as he ought to have done? We mourn for the guilt and misery that is around us; for the crimes that from time to time alarm us, when brought to light and punishment. We weep in private that children and friends fear thee not ; that instead of rendering to thee the fruits of thy religion, they bring forth the wild grapes of self-will and self-indulgence : but Oh! have we not cause in these things to be self-condemned? Have we, each
* Isaiah k 1--7.