Bible Commentaries
Matthew 20

Simeon's Horae HomileticaeHorae Homileticae

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Verses 6-7


Matthew 20:6-7. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.

THERE is a manifest sovereignty observable in the dispensations of God’s grace to man. His ways are often unsearchable to us, and even extremely contrary to our natural expectations. Moral persons are often left to perish in their sins, while the most immoral have been made illustrious monuments of divine mercy. And the richest rewards have in many instances been bestowed on those, who, according to human apprehensions, appeared the least likely to receive them. A moral and exemplary youth had deliberately renounced all hopes of an interest in Christ, that he might retain his worldly possessions [Note: Matthew 19:21-22.]. Our Lord, in his improvement of this event, declared that many, who, like him, seemed to he first in respect to spiritual advantages, would prove last in respect to the benefit derived from them. But none have any right to murmur against God, seeing that he may dispense his blessings as he will. To illustrate this truth our Lord delivered the parable before us [Note: Compare Mat 19:30 with 20:16.].

The part of it just read, suggests to us many important observations:


The Gospel provides for men a daily and laborious employment—

We need not speak of a Christian’s work in general. We shall confine ourselves to the figure of a labourer in a vineyard—
[A labourer must first clear his ground from briers and noxious weeds; he must then dig up the earth, and endeavour to fertilize it with manure [Note: Luke 13:8.]. After that he must carefully select his plants, and put them into the ground; he has then to water them, and to prune the luxuriant branches [Note: John 15:2.]; and finally, he must keep up the fences that nothing enter to destroy them [Note: Isaiah 5:2-6; Isaiah 27:3.]. If the Christian’s duties accord not with his in respect of order, yet they are the same in substance; he must root out of his soul all earthly, sensual, and devilish affections. If his open gross sins be not mortified, no heavenly plant can grow within him; he must dig deep into the recesses of his heart, and not be satisfied with a slight and superficial work. Without much meditation, and diligent self-examination, he can never know the desperate wickedness and deceitfulness of his own heart; nor must he expect fruit from the unimproved energy of the natural soil. He must get his soul ameliorated and enriched with the grace of God; he must apply to his Lord for plants of heavenly growth: above all he must be careful to possess “the plant of renown [Note: Ezekiel 34:29. This certainly refers to Christ. See Ezekiel 34:23-24, of that chapter.].” Without this, no other valuable plant will ever thrive [Note: “Christ must dwell in our hearts by faith.” “Christ in us is the hope of glory.” “Without him we can do nothing;” “through him, all things.”]; with this, humility, meekness, love, &c. will spring up, and flourish. Nor must he forget to water these plants with his prayers and tears. However fruitful he be, he will find reason enough to weep for his unfruitfulness; he will also find many luxuriant branches which require to be pruned. Lastly, he must remember that his adversary will be glad to spoil his labour; he must therefore fence every good desire with constant watchfulness [Note: Ephesians 6:12; Ephesians 6:16; Ephesians 6:18.]. This, it must be confessed, is a difficult and laborious task. It cannot be performed without much diligence and self-denial: but he who prescribes the duty will assist us to perform it [Note: Romans 8:26.]: and, as it is fit, he informs us of our work before he hires us into his service.]

Had the Gospel its full effect upon us, it would lead us to fulfil these duties as cheerfully as Adam wrought in cultivating the garden of Eden.


However long we may have been idle hitherto, it now calls us to begin our labour—

The parable in its primary sense relates to the Jews and Gentiles—
[The patriarchs, together with Moses, the prophets, John Baptist, and Christ himself, had sought in their successive ages to engage the Jews in their proper work. Thus the Jews had been called, as it were, at the third, sixth, and ninth hours. The Gentiles, who had hitherto been overlooked, were now to be invited at the eleventh hour.]
But it may also be applied to individuals of every description—
[The occasion on which it was spoken relates equally to all [Note: Matthew 19:29.]; and persons of different ages or circumstances may fitly represent the different hours. Some, like Samuel and Timothy, enter into the service of their God in very early life [Note: The hours are reckoned from six in the morning, that is, from sun-rise to sun-set; so that the third hour is early in the day.]: happy indeed are they; and thankful should they be for the grace that inclined their hearts. Others have attained a considerable age before they begin their appointed work. What reason have they to bless God for having subdued their reluctant spirits! But many are now arrived at “the eleventh hour.” All who are far advanced in life are certainly of this description; they too, who are weak and sickly, are probably drawing to the close of their day: yea, there may be some whose day of grace is nearly terminated, while they are yet in full vigour both of body and mind. Surely all such persons may well conceive themselves to be addressed in the text.]

To us then is the invitation of the Gospel now sent—
[The Saviour’s voice to every one of us is, “Go into my vineyard.” He justly expostulates with us, “Why stand ye here all the day idle?” Nor can any of us offer that excuse that might be justly urged by the Gentiles. We have received numberless calls to enter into the service of our God [Note: Romans 10:21.]. If we delay therefore any longer we shall be utterly without excuse. We know indeed that they, who dislike God’s service, will find pleas enough for declining it [Note: ‘I must attend to my worldly business; I have a family to provide for,’ &c.]. But have we provided an excuse that will be accepted in the day of judgment? If so, we may go on securely in our career of sin: but if not, let us not, by hardening our hearts, provoke God finally to exclude us [Note: Hebrews 3:7-11.]. It is in vain to urge, that we are incapable of performing the work assigned us. To the weakest person upon earth God will assuredly fulfil that promise [Note: Deuteronomy 33:25.]—If indeed we attempt to serve him in our own strength, we must expect to fail; nor, if we only engage occasionally in his work, can we hope to succeed. Every intermission renders our task so much the more difficult. A vineyard long neglected will afford more trouble to the labourer; but if we regularly persevere in duty, our labour will be light and easy [Note: Matthew 11:30.]. Let us then be thankful that the invitation is sent us at this late hour; and let the account once given of the Jews now be realized amongst us [Note: Luke 16:16.]—]

That this invitation may not be slighted as others have been, we observe,


To every one that will labour in earnest, the Gospel promises a suitable reward—

We must not suppose that the same reward will be given to all persons—
[The Jews had borne the burthen of the ceremonial law; and the Gentiles, though delivered from that yoke, are made fully equal with them. This is the circumstance referred to in the parable, and which so offended the Jews [Note: Matthew 20:11; Matthew 20:15.]. But to us there will be given a recompence according to our works [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:10.]. Not that the reward will be bestowed for any merit that is in us [Note: Romans 3:27; Romans 4:4-5; Romans 11:6.]. The happiness of heaven will be altogether the gift of God for Christ’s sake [Note: Romans 6:23.]: nevertheless God of his infinite goodness will reward us in proportion to our labour [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:8.].]

To every one will be given “whatsoever is right,” and equitable—
[If none shall have room to boast, so none shall have reason to repine. The lowest degrees of happiness shall infinitely exceed any thing we could claim. Every vessel too shall be full; though all have not the same dimensions. The word of God is pledged that not the smallest service shall be unrewarded [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:58. Matthew 10:42.]. We may rest assured therefore that we shall find his promise true [Note: Proverbs 11:18.].]


To loiterers—

[What readiness would you not shew if a great earthly recompence were tendered you! And will you draw back when all the glory of heaven is offered you? Would the devils and damned spirits regard the overtures of mercy as you have done? O think, how soon “the night is coming in which no man can work!” Think, how awful will be the doom of the wicked and slothful servant! and instantly begin the Lord’s work, that you may at last receive his wages.]


To labourers—

[Ye serve the best of masters, and have the most honourable of all employments. Doubtless ye see but too much reason to lament your unprofitableness. But God is not extreme to mark what is omitted or done amiss. If ye really make it “your meat to do his will,” be of good cheer; the evening, when your labours will end, is fast approaching: then shall you be called into the presence of your Lord and Master; nor shall the least or most unworthy of you all be overlooked by him. Be not weary then of well-doing, for you shall all reap in due season [Note: Galatians 6:9.]. To every one of you shall those delightful words be addressed [Note: Matthew 25:21.]—]

Bibliographical Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Matthew 20". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. 1832.