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services of it; it is said he found them standing idle in the marketplace, (whither those that wanted employment used to go to be hired.) By which is signified the careless, thoughtless life, as to religion, which the world then lived; men being wholly taken up with low, earthly pursuits, how to buy and sell and get gain, to provide for their pleasures, and satisfy their sensual appetites, not having God in all their thoughts, or at best having very false and unworthy notions of him, and almost wholly given to idolatry. When the world was in this degenerate and truly deplorable state, then it was that God began to take pity on it, and to call some out of it into his vineyard, and teach them how to labour in it in such a manner as would be pleasing to him, that so in due time they might receive the promised reward.
After this, he went out again about the third, and then at the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. By the two first of which is represented the times of the Jewish church under Moses, the judges, and first kings, when that dispensation was brought to its meridian perfection, and God had amply rewarded the posterity of Abraham, whom he called more early into his vineyard, and fully made good all his promises to him, relating to the good land, which he said he would give him for a possession, and to his seed after him. And by the ninth hour is represented the time of the prophets, when that church began to decline, and the blessed days of the Messiah were approaching. And about the eleventh hour, towards the close of the Jewish economy, he went out and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? That is,
God then made a final and general invitation to all, both Jews and Gentiles, to leave their former vanities and evil courses, and unprofitable ceremonies, and jointly to come into that universal church which he sent his eternal Son to be the founder of: and by that question of his, Why stand ye here all the day idle ? together with the answer to it, Because no man hath hired us, I suppose is meant the Gentiles, being hitherto passed by, and not expressly called by God to labour in his vineyard, or to make a part of his church, (though, if they desired it, they might all along have been admitted into it;) but then he saith unto them, as expressly as to the Jews, Go ye also into the vineyard, and perform the duty that shall be required of you, and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. You also shall be incorporated into the church and people of God, and for your diligent and faithful service shall not fail of a suitable reward.
So when the even was come, the lord of the vineyard said unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first ; (which is a circumstance contrived the better to bring in what follows :) and when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured, &c. The true meaning of which I suppose to be this ; that when the fulness of time was come, in the last dispensation of God, the last call into his church or vineyard by Jesus Christ, who finished the great work of man's redemption upon the cross; the apostles having first preached the glad tidings of the gospel to the Jews, (who for the most part rejected them,) then called in the Gentiles, and proposed to them, for their encouragement, the same full reward that was promised to the Jews, upon their sincerely embracing the faith of Jesus, and submitting to his government: that henceforth God would be no respecter of persons; that no difference should be made between the people of Israel and other nations ; but whoever would believe in Christ, and repent, and be baptized, and fear God, and work righteousness, should be accepted of him, and receive the same gifts of the Holy Spirit, as we find they did, and have equal title to salvation.
This it was that caused such murmuring and discontent among the Jewish converts, that the Gentiles, who had laboured but one hour, should in all respects be made equal unto them who had borne the burden and heat of the day, and therefore deserved a proportionably greater reward. This raised their envy against the Gentile Christians, and put them upon endeavouring to make them submit likewise to the law of Moses; and was the occasion of those fierce contests between them 6, and of St. Paul's writing his excellent Epistle to the Galatians, which gives a full account of this matter.
But the answer which the lord of the vineyard made to the murmurers in the parable was enough to silence all objections and quarrels of this nature; for he said to one of them, for all, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a
Ephes. iii. 5. Gal. iii. 28. Matt. xxviii. 19. Mark xvi. 15, 16. Acts x. 34, 35, 44-45.
g Acts xv. BRAGGE, VOL. III.
penny ? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. As if our Lord, by this representation, had said; “ God hath
never failed in the performance of his promises to “ the Jewish nation, but hath rewarded their services “ to the full at all times, and even far beyond what
they could pretend to deserve. And now, they “ shall be admitted to an equal share with others in “ the privileges and recompenses of the gospel, upon “ such conditions as are proposed equally to all. “ But why they should expect greater favours than “ others, I can see no reason. And since no sinner
can possibly merit any thing at the hands of God, " but after he hath done all he can, is still an un
profitable servant; and the promise of any the “ least reward is of mere grace and favour; every “one ought humbly and thankfully to receive what “ God is pleased to promise him, as an encourage“ ment of his obedience, without repining that others, “ who have not, it may be, been so long in the vine
yard, have yet as much bestowed upon them; for, “ is it not lawful
for God to do what he will with “ his own ? Will you be so arrogant as to direct him “ how to dispose of his bounty ? Is your eye evil “ because God is good ? Are you so base as to envy “ those who partake of the same mercy as you do ; “ and grudge, because God is pleased to make others happy as well as you? This is vile indeed!”
So the first shall be last: those that were first called into the church of Christ, as the people of the Jews were, will be the last that will enter into ith, (though at length we are assured that happy time shall come,) and the last shall be first: those that
h Rom. xi. 25, 26.
were last invited to the Christian faith, as the Gentiles were, were the first that in any great numbers embraced that blessed offer; and of whom the Christian church did at first, and does now, chiefly consist. For though many be called, yet few are chosen : though the gospel was preached to the whole people of the Jews, yet few so sincerely embraced it as to be such as our Lord could reckon among the number of his chosen. And the same is true of the rest of the world too; vast multitudes, though they have heard the joyful sound of the gospel, yet stop their ears against it, and persist in their infidelity; and many of those that seem to believe, and have been baptized, and call themselves Christians, yet live at such a lewd, heathen rate, as is directly contrary to their profession, and will cause Christ to disown them at the great day of retribution, and for ever reject them, with these cutting words, Depart from me, I know ye not, ye workers of iniquity.
Having thus shewn the true meaning and design of this parable, which, as I said at the beginning, was to obviate the objection our Lord foresaw would be made by the Jews, against the Gentiles being received to an equal share with them in the rewards and privileges and blessings of the gospel; and to furnish his apostles with a sufficient answer to it: I shall now proceed to make some improvement of it to our practice.
I. And first, it gives us so full and clear an account of the great and unfeigned desire God has all along had, and still has, of the happiness of mankind, and the gracious methods he hath taken in order to it, as must needs excite the utmost admi