ON THE PARABLE OF THE LABOURERS IN THE VINEYARD. ST. MATT. XX.
For Septuagesima Sunday
Consider first, that on this day we enter upon a time of devotion and penance in the way of preparation for the solemn fast of Lent, and therefore we are called upon by the church, both in the Epistle and in the Gospel of this Sunday, to begin, now at least, to be quite in earnest in the great concerns of our soul. In the Epistle, we are put in mind by St. Paul (1 Cor. ix. and x.) that we are all here running in a race, in which we must push forward, with all our power, or we shall lose the prize; that we are engaged in a conflict, for an incorruptible crown, which is not to be obtained without much labour and self-denial. That if we are not in earnest, notwithstanding all the distinguished favours we have received and daily receive from God, we shall be in great danger of being excluded, like the Israelites, from the true land of promise. In the parable of the Gospel we are put in mind that we have but one business in this world, which is here represented under the figure of labouring in the vineyard of our Lord; that in this labour we are to spend the short day of our mortal life, and by persevering till night in this labour, we are to secure to our souls the wages of a happy eternity. O let us attend well, that we may learn these great lessons!
Consider 2ndly, in the parable of this day’s Gospel, the infinite goodness of God, manifested to us in that perpetual attention of his, in every age, since the beginning of the world, and in every part of the life of man, by which we are invited by his divine graces and calls, to go out and to hire and to send labourers into his vineyard. And after all, what need has he of our labour, or of what service can we be to him? or what can we give him, which he does not first give to us? Why then does he press us to labour in his vineyard? O! ’tis his pure goodness and love, that he may make us for ever happy by our serving him here, and enjoying him hereafter. But what then is the meaning of this vineyard of our Lord? and what is this labour that he calls for at our hands? ‘The vineyard of the Lord of Hosts,’ said the prophet Isaias, (v. 7) ‘is the house of Israel,’ that is, the people of God. Yes, our own souls are the vineyard we are commanded to cultivate – no one can be excused from his share in this labour; every one must at least take care of one. To labour here to the purpose, we must in the first place root out the poisonous weed of sinful habits, and cut up all the thorns and briars of our vices and passions, and then we must plant in their stead the good plant of Christian virtues, and bring them on, by proper care, till they are capable of bringing forth fruit that may answer the expectation of the great Lord and Master of the vineyard, and be agreeable to him. O how happy shall we be, if by our labours, and his blessing, we so cultivate this little part of the Lord’s vineyard that falls to our share, as to engage him to come to us and recreate himself there with us!
Consider 3rdly, Christian souls, how early in the morning your good God invited you to work in his vineyard, by the early knowledge he gave you of himself, and of the end for which he brought you into the world, and how frequently he has pressed you ever since, by his repeated graces and calls, in every part of your life, to oblige you to set about this work in good earnest. But can you say you have yet begun? May he not justly reproach you, as he did those whom he found standing in the market-place, at the eleventh hour: ‘why stand you here all the day idle?’ Alas! are you not idle, when you are doing nothing to the purpose? And has not your whole life hitherto been spent in doing nothing to your purpose? Nothing to answer the great end, the only business, for which you were made? Have you not then been truly idle all the day, that is all the time of your life? O begin now at least to labour – perhaps this is your last hour, your day is far spent, the night is coming on ‘when no man can work.’ John ix. 4. Work therefore now, whilst you have time, lest being surprised by the night, you may have no more time to work in, and so starve for eternity.
Conclude to make good use of this fresh summons, by which you are called upon this day, by God and his Church, to go and labour in the vineyard of your souls; lest otherwise, by not corresponding with the call, and receiving the grace of God in vain, you verify in yourselves that sentence with which our Lord concludes the parable of this Sunday, ‘Many are called, but few are chosen.’