“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.’
“So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.’ And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’ But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’ So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.” (Matt 20:1-6)
“This parable is confessedly one of the most difficult of the New Testament Scriptures. Here are men hired, some at six o'clock in the morning, some at nine o'clock, some at noon; some at three o'clock in the afternoon, some even at five; and yet at six o'clock, when they come to be paid off, they all receive the same wage. Instinctively we feel that that is not fair; we feel that those who had borne the burden and heat of the day should have been better paid than those who entered the vineyard only in the cool of the evening. As we read this parable we instinctively sympathize, do we not, with those who had borne the heat and burden of the day. It puzzles us as it puzzled them, to know why those who had worked only a single hour in the cool of the evening should be put on the same level with the weary men who had labored through the oppressive heat of the day, and had borne the brunt of the toil. It ought to puzzle us; for next to the quality of love there is nothing in us that is more evidently of God than that deep sense of justice which resents whatever is unfair and inequitable.
Nor is the wrong done to-our sense of justice at all mended, when, to vindicate his conduct, "the householder" begins to talk of his right to do' what he will with his own, and to declare that it is his will and pleasure to put the last on an equality with, or even before, the first. Indeed, to conceive of God as saying, "May I not do as I will with mine own?" or "Simply because it pleases me to do so, I will give unto these last even as unto the first?" -such a conception of Him is but a new shock to our sense of justice, to our faith in the equity of His rule. Like Abraham of old, we believe that the God of all the earth cannot but do right. We have been taught to conceive of Him as actuated by love, not by caprice; as rewarding our service according to a law divinely just, and not according to the uncertain impulses of an arbitrary self-will; and we are at a loss to know how to attribute such conduct, or defense of His conduct, to the God whom we believe to be absolutely just and full of grace.
There are some people, doubtless, who are not perplexed by the householder's conduct, and his defense of it. Those who find a key to the inequalities of life and providence, in what they are pleased; to call "Divine Sovereignty," those who believe that of His own will God has elected a few to be saved and doomed the great majority of our race to be eternally tormented, and who believe that He is as truly glorified in the damnation of the many as in the salvation of the few such, of course, find no difficulty in this parable. A penny more or less means nothing to them.
But we who believe that God loves ALL men and that Christ died for ALL men, and not merely for the few-we cannot hear this naked assertion of the Divine Sovereignty without perplexity and amazement. We believe not only in God's sovereign power, but in the fact that that power never has nor ever can be exercised except in accordance with justice and love.
To hear Him say, "I shall do as I will with mine own" or "I shall bestow the rewards of my grace as I please," cuts our deepest convictions against the grain. "He cannot be less just than we are," we say, "He must be far more just; and therefore there must be a meaning in the words which we have not yet fathomed, a meaning which, when once we find' it, will be seen to be in harmony with our loftiest, conceptions of His character." We fully believe that there is such a meaning, and it will be our endeavor in this study so to bring it out as to solve the difficulties which this parable presents.
Continued with next post.
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