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period, would be no less necessary, and no less acceptable to the Lord of the vineyard, than those who had preceded them, provided there was in the one the same faithful and diligent discharge of duty as in the other. In this respect, therefore, the last would be as the first, and the first as the last. Where the purpose and the effect of the labour, as well as the disposition of the labourers, were the same; the recompense also, through God's gracious favour, would be the same. And if to him by whom much had been done, much had also been given to enable him to do it; while to him whose labour was less arduous, less had been given to qualify him for the performance of it; no rule of equity could be violated by an equal requital of service. Perhaps, too, our Lord intended to admonish the Apostles, and, through them, the Christian world at large, that it is not in any case for man to claim, on the score of merit, a recompense beyond that which God hath covenanted to bestow. In this respect, both Jews and Gentiles, and all, as many as were called to the profession of the Gospel, stood on equal ground. None had whereof to boast before God. “ For all had sinned, “ and come short of the glory of God; being
justified freely by His grace, through the “ redemption that is in Christ Jesus f.” All, even in obeying the Gospel, were so far “un
profitable servants,” in that they had done no more than it was their duty to do.
It also behoved the Apostles to know (as a salutary antidote to any ambitious views they might entertain) that their station was one of no ordinary responsibility ; and that, notwithstanding its high eminence, (the highest, perhaps, that ever was filled by man,) it was possible for them to fall away, and to forfeit that recompense of which they were otherwise assured. Our Lord elsewhere admonishes them, that many, at the day of judgment, would say unto him, “ Lord, Lord, have
we not prophesied in Thy name, and in
Thy name cast out devils, and done many “ wondrous works? Then will I say “ them, I never knew you: depart from me,
ye workers of iniquity &.” Thus in another sense, “the last might be first, and the first “ last.” Even an Apostle might become a cast-away; and an unbeliever be converted to an Apostle. And to shew that it was no light hazard, to which they, as well as others, were exposed; it is added,
“ For many be called, but few chosen.” To Christians in
general, it is not enough to have had the offer f Rom. iii. 23, 24.
8 Matth. viii. 22, 23.
of the Gospel made and accepted, or to have been brought into the visible church of God, unless all diligence be given to make their calling and election sure; and how many may hereafter be found to have failed in this respect were a fearful subject of inquiry. But to the Apostles more especially, who betrayed so strong a desire to be regarded as chosen in a still higher sense; to become entitled to distinction and preeminence in their Lord's kingdom, this warning was necessary, that they might suffer no false notions of self-importance to interfere with the arduous work to which they were called. Our Lord, therefore, solicitous to check this rising spirit of ambition, says, in a subsequent part of this same discourse,
“ Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister: and “ whosoever will be chief among you, let him “ be your servant":"—which still further elucidates the saying, “ the last shall be first, 6 and the first last."
There are yet one or two other points of instruction to be drawn from this parable, which must not pass entirely unnoticed.
One design of it might be, to teach us that we are not to set up ourselves as competent judges of the Divine proceedings, either with
h Matth. xx. 26, 27. VOL. II.
regard to the times and seasons of spreading the Gospel, “ which the Father hath put in “ his own power i ;” or with regard to the comparative deserts of individuals, and the measure of recompense which God may see fit hereafter to confer
them. These are matters beyond the reach of human judgment. The general terms of the Christian covenant are clear and decisive; and the
general recompense which awaits all who shall fulfil those terms cannot be mistaken. The general fitness also of the several dispensations of revealed religion to the times and occasions in which they took place, may without much difficulty be perceived. But the appointment of special rewards to those who lived under one dispensation rather than another, or to different individuals living under the same dispensation, none but the all-seeing Judge can be competent to determine. The prophet shall have a prophet's reward; the righteous man, a righteous man's reward. Some may be made rulers over ten cities ; some, over five. And he that giveth a cup of water only in the name of a disciple shall in no wise lose his reward. But the adjustment of these matters is not within our province. At present it is wholly concealed from our view; and we are enjoined to “judge
i Acts i. 7.
nothing before the time, until the Lord “ come, who both will bring to light the “ hidden things of darkness, and will make “ manifest the counsels of the hearts; and “ then shall every man have praise of God k.” Nor does it concern any individual to know what degree of recompense others
obtain. It is sufficient that he is instructed how he himself may obtain an heavenly inheritance: and if he inquisitively ask, “ Lord, and what
shall this man do ?” he must expect the answer, “What is that to thee? Follow thou u me!"
The parable, however, incidentally suggests, that God never has, nor ever will be, in any period of the church, wanting, either to mankind at large, or to individuals, in providing for the spiritual exigencies of such as are willing to enter into his service. Both before and since the Christian revelation was vouchsafed, his good providence has been ever watchful to renew the call to mankind, by chosen messengers of his will, as occasion might require. Among the patriarchs were preachers of righteousness, who rejoiced themselves, and taught others to rejoice in the expectation of the Redeemer. The Di
k1 Cor. iv. 5.
I John xxi. 22.