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the age of each individual, at which this call is ac
It is not true that the labourers
cepted by them.*
* To render our argument more intelligible, we shall briefly state what we conceive to be the true explanation of the parable. In the verses preceding the parable, Peter had stated the whole amount of the surrender that he and his fellow disciples had made by the act of following after Jesus; and it is evident, that they all looked forward to some great temporal remuneration-some share in the glories of the Israelitish monarchy—some place of splendour or distinction under that new government, which they imagined was to be set up in the world ; and they never conceived any thing else, than that in this altered state of things, the people of their own country were to be raised to high pre-emi. nence among the nations which had oppressed and degraded them. It was in the face of this expectation, that our Saviour uttered a sentence, which we meet oftener than once among his recorded sayings in the New Testament, “ Many that are first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” The Israelites, whom God distinguished at an early period of the world, by a revelation of himself, were first invited in the doing of his will (which is fitly enough represented by working in his vineyard) to the possession of his favour, and the enjoyment of his rewards. This offer to work in that peculiar vineyard, where God assigned to them a performance, and bestowed on them a recompense, was made to Abraham and to his descendants at a very early period in history; and a succession of prophets and righteous men were sent to renew the offer, and the communications from God to the world, followed the stream of ages, down to the time of the utter. ance of this parable. And a few years afterwards, the same offers, and the same invitations, were addressed to another people; and at this late period, at this eleventh hour, the men of those countries which had never before been visited by any authoritative call from heaven, had this call lifted up in their hearing, and many Gentiles accepted that everlasting life, of which the Jews counted themselves unworthy. And as to the people of Israel, who valued themselves so much on their privileges-who had turned all the revelations, by which their ancestors had been honoured, into a matter of distinction and of vain security-who had ever been in the habit of eyeing the profane Gentiles with all that contempt which is laid upon outcasts, this parable received its fulfilment at the time when these Gentiles, by their acceptance of the Saviour, were exalted to an equal place among the chiefest favourites of God; and these Jews, by their refusal of him, had their name rooted out from among the nations
and those first and foremost in all the privileges of religion, are now become the last. Now this we conceive to be the real design of the parable. It was designed to reconcile the minds of the disciples to that part of the economy of God, which was most offensive to their hopes and to their prejudices. It asserted the sovereignty of the Supreme Being in the work of dispensing his calls and his favours among the people whom he had formed. It furnished a most decisive and silencing reproof to the Jews, who were filled with envy against the Gentiles; and who, even those of them that embraced the Christian profession, made an obstinate struggle against the admission of those Gentiles into the church on equal terms with themselves.
who began to work in the vineyard on the first hour of the day, denote those Christians who began to remember their Creator, and to render the obedience of the faith unto his Gospel with their first and earliest education. It is not true, that they who entered into this service on the third hour of the day, denote those Christians, who after a boyhood of thoughtless unconcern about the things of eternity, are arrested in the season of youth, by a visitation of seriousness, and betake themselves to the faith and the following of the Saviour who died for them. It is not true, that they who were hired on the sixth and ninth hours, denote those Christians, who, after having spent the prime of their youthful vigour in alienation from God, and perhaps run out some mad career of guilt and profligacy, put on their Christianity along with the decencies of their sober and established manhood. Neither is it true, that the labourers of the eleventh hour, the men who had stood all day idle, represent those aged converts who have put off their repentance to the last those men who have renounced the world when they could not help it-those men who have put on Christianity, but not till they had put on their wrinkles—those men who have run the varied stages of depravity, from the frivolous unconcern of
a boy, and the appalling enormities of misled and misguided youth, and the deep and determined worldliness of middle age, and the clinging avarice of him, who, while with slow and tottering footsteps he descends the hill of life, has a heart more obstinately set than ever on all its interests, and all its sordid accumulations, but who, when death taps at the door, awakens from his dream, and thinks it now time to shake away his idolatrous affections from the mammon of unrighteousness.
Such are the men who, after having taken their full swing of all that the world could offer, and of all that they could enjoy of it, defer the whole work of preparation for eternity to old age, and for the hire of the labourers of the eleventh hour, do all that they can in the way of sighs, and sorrows, and expiations of penitential acknowledgment. What ! will we offer to liken such men to those who sought the Lord early, and who found him? that he who repents when old, is at all to be compared to him, who bore the whole heat and burden of a life devoted throughout all its stages to the glory and the remembrance of the Creator? Who, from a child, trembled at the word of the Lord, and aspired after a conformity to all his ways? Who, when a young man, fulfilled that most appropriate injunction of the apostle, “ Be thou strong?" Who fought it with manly determination against all the enemies of principle by which he was surrounded, and spurned the enticements of vicious acquaintances away from him; and nobly stood it out, even though unsupported and alone, against the unhallowed contempt of a whole multitude of scorners; and with intrepid
Will we say
defiance to all the assaults of ridicule, maintained a firmness, which no wile could seduce from the posts of vigilance; and cleared his unfaltering way through all the allurements of a perverse and crooked generation. Who, even in the midst of a most withering atmosphere on every side of him, kept all his purposes unbroken, and all his delicacies untainted. Who, with the rigour of self-command, combined the softening lustre which a pure and amiable modesty sheds over the moral complexion of him who abhors that which is evil, and cleaves to that which is good, with all the energy of a holy determination. Can that be a true interpretation, which levels this youth of promise and of accomplishment, with his equal in years, who is now prosecuting every guilty indulgence, and crowne the audacity of his rebellion by the mad presumption, that ere he dies, he shall be able to propitiate that God, on the authority of all whose calls, and all whose remonstrances he is now trampling? Or follow each of them to the evening of their earthly pilgrimage-will you say that the penitent of the eleventh hour, is at all to be likened to him who has given the whole of his existence to the work and the labour of Christianity? to him who, after a morving of life adorned with all the gracefulness we have attempted to describe, sustains through the whole of his subsequent history such a high and ever brightening example, that his path is like the shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day; and every year he lives, the graces of an advancing sanctification form into a richer assemblage of all that is pure, and lovely, and honourable, and of good report; and when old age comes, it brings none of the turbulence or alarm of an unfinished preparation along with it—but he meets death with the quiet assurance of a man who is in readiness, and hails his message as a friendly intimation; and as he lived in the splendour of ever-increasing acquirements, so he dies in all the radiance of anticipated glory.
This interpretation of the parable cannot be sustained ; and we think, that, out of its own mouth, a condemnation may be stamped upon it.
Mark this peculiarity. The labourers of the eleventh hour are not men who got the offer before, but men who for the first time received a call to work in the vineyard; and they may therefore well represent the people of a country, who, for the first time, received the overtures of the Gospel. The answer they gave to the question, Why stand you so long idle ? was, that no man had hired them. We do not read of any of the labourers of the third, or sixth, or ninth hours, refusing the call at these times, and afterwards rendering a compliance with the evening.call, and getting the penny for which they declined the offer of working several hours, but afterwards agreed, when the proposal was made, that they should work one hour only. They had a very good answer to give, in excuse for their idle
They never had been called before. And the oldest men of a Pagan country have the very same answer to give, on the first arrival of Christian missionaries amongst them. But we have no part nor lot in this parable.
We have it not in our power to offer any such apology. There is not one of us who can excuse the impenitency of the past, on the plea that no man had called us.
This is a