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ing God. Tremble, then, at the view of the gulf which is opened before you. Look with horror upon the precipice, on the brink of which you are now standing. Say not that your life is a life of plea. sure, and your death a death of triumph; that God is to be discarded, religion despised, and the soul neglected ; for on thy conscience now, on thy countenance in the day of judgment, and on the gates of hell forever, shall this sentence be written : The way of transgressors is hard. From all of which we may learn,
1. The evil of sin. Let not any imagine that this way is rendered any harder than it ought to be, through the undue severity of God. His love, forbearance, and long-suffering towards sinners, clearly prove the contrary; also the strong measures which he adopts to bring about their salvation, and the ready and gracious manner in which he receives those of them who return to him with a godly sorrow, furnish additional proofs that the Most High is not unnecessarily severe. Nor could the exercise of undue severity towards transgressors be easily conceived. Reflect on the heinous nature of sin: against whom is it committed ? Against the greatest, the wisest, the kindest, and the best Being in the universe! And by whom is it committed ? By one who has derived his being and all his comforts and advantages from him, and the very end of whose existence is to resemble and enjoy him forever. And under what circumstances is it committed ? Even at the very moment, when all his thoughts and acts towards us are those of unmerited love and good will. Could any treatment of beings so abominable, be too severe? In what way could Jehovah make his love of order, his spotless purity, his inviolable truth, his inflexible justice, and, in short, his infinite perfection appear, were he not to visit the ingratitude and baseness, the levity and incorrigibleness of transgressors, with unspeakable, interminable, and intolerable sufferings beyond the grave? These are the just demerits of sin ; and every impenitent transgressor will be called to endure tribulation and anguish, lamentation and wo, for ever and ever.
2. If such are the evils to which transgressors are exposed, what a blind infatuation they must be laboring under to reject the offers of mercy. Truly, if men were conscious of their danger in an nuconverted state, they could no more sleep than could a man in a house that was on fire; or than could a shipwrecked sailor on a plank, by which he was making his escape to land. O, fellow-sinner, I pray you to consider the shortness and uncertainty of time! Consider, how every day's continuance in sin operates to grieve the Holy Spirit of God, to harden your own hearts, to confirm your evil habits, to accumulate your load of guilt, and to augment the misery that awaits you. As long as you live in sin, you must be miserable here ; and if you die impenitent, you will certainly be damned hereafter. O, then, will you delay to turn unto your God? Will you delay a single hour? What if your soul should be required of
you this very night, and your doom be fixed without a hope or a possibility of change forever? I beseech you to-day, while it is called to-day, harden not your hearts, but repent and turn yourselves from all your transgressions ; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.
Expostulation with those who neglect the work of God.
• Why stand ye here all the day idle ?”—Matt. xx., 6.
The case of the rich young man, who turned away from Christ on account of his love of worldly possessions, gave occasion to our Lord to observe that many, who, like that young man, are first
in the enjoyment of outward advantages, and in the appearances of 1 piety and virtue, should be last in the esteem of God, and be found
the most wanting in the day of judgment; and that the last in external advantages, and who are rejected by such as judge according to outward appearances, shall be the first, or the highest, in the divine favor, in that day. In illustration of this doctrine, our Lord delivered the parable recorded in this chapter, in which he represents the proceedings of God in his kingdom under the figure of a house holder, who went out at different periods of the day, to hire laborers into his vineyard.
In the first place, he went out early in the morning, or about six o'clock, called by the Romans and Jews the first hour of the day, when he engaged some at the usual price of a day's labor; and then, at the third hour, which would be, as we reckon time, at nine o'clock in the morning, when, finding others unemployed, he engaged them on a promise that they should receive whatever was right Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, or, as we reckon time, at noon and at three in the afternoon, and did likewise. Finally, about the eleventh hour, or at five o'clock in the afternoon, when there was but one hour remaining before sunset, he went out, and finding others standing idle, he expostulated with them in the language of our text, Why stand ye here all the day idle? These he also sends into the vineyard on the same general assurance, that he would give them what was just and reasonable.
The different hours of the day, at which the house holder is represented as going out and hiring laborers into his vineyard, when applied to those who live under the gospel age, may be considered as referring to the several periods of human life, as that of childhood, youth, middle age, the decline of life, and old age. Thus
some, like Samuel and Josiah, are called into the service of God in their earliest days. Others are led to forsake the paths of sin and folly, and to remember their Creator in the days of their youth. Many, again, are not induced to obey the call of the gospel
, till they attain to manhood, or even to an advanced age. Finally, some, having spent almost all their days in vanity and sin, do not enter into the vineyard till nearly the close of life, when, at this advanced age, through the mercy and grace of God, they exhibit the fruits of true repentance, and genuine faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. All, however, who really obey the gospel call, enter into this spiritual vineyard, and labor till the close of the day, will, undoubtedly, obtain eternal life; not, indeed, as the wages due to their work, but as the gift of God. The wages of sin is death ; but the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. The reward which the laborer receives is the reward of grace, and not of debt. And if by grace, then it is no more of works ; otherwise grace is no more grace. Even those who enter into this spiritual vineyard and labor diligently, are said to be unprofitable servants ; none can, therefore, claim any thing as a reward of merit. In the further illustration of these words, we propose to show,
I. That Christianity is a work which must be performed. Why stand ye here all the day idle? These words are addressed to the irreligious portion of mankind ; they, therefore, imply that true Ohristians, instead of standing idle, are at work in the vineyard of God. All the metaphors which are employed in the Bible, to illustrate the Christian character and conduct, uniformly represent him as actively, diligently, and perseveringly engaged for God. Sometimes he is described as a warrior, fighting the good fight of faith; at other times, he is represented as running the race set before him, in which he strains every nerve, and puts forth all his energies. It is intimated in our text, that he is a laborer working in the vineyard of God, where he plucks up every pestiferous weed, and cultivates the plants of grace.
The gospel calls the sinner to the great work of salvation: Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God which worketh in you, both to will and to do of his own good pleasure. The heart of a sinner, to use the sublime metaphor of the text, resembles an uncultivated wilderness. Here Satan has bis pathway, and here he sows the pestiferous seeds which produce briers, and thorns, and brambles, and every foul and noxious plant. Here the wild beasts of the forest roam, and the birds of prey build their nests. It is the habitation of dragons, and a court for owls. Here the satyr cries to his fellow, and screech-owl finds herself a place of rest. The sun pours its warm and genial rays upon it without producing any fruits of righteousness, and the dews of heaven descend, year after year, without generating fertility. Such is the condition of that soil, God has committed to the sinner for bis cultivation. It resembles the field of the slothful, de
scribed by Solomon : I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; and, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face of it, and the stone wall thereof was broken down. Then I saw, and considered it : I looked upon it, and received instruction. Such is the sublime imagery employed by the Sacred Oracles to illustrate the miserable state of the sinner. O fellow-sinners, you are in a ruined condition—your souls are pining away in your iniquities—there is a burden of guilt on you that will sink you—there is a swarm of living lusts preying upon you that will devour you. The gospel is calling upon you to consider your ways, and to engage in the great work of salvation before it is too late.
Jesus Christ is calling upon you to enter into this vineyard, overgrown with thorns and brambles, to convert it into the garden of the Lord. You must shake off that spirit of indolence which has paralized all the energies of the soul, and gird yourselves for labor. You must pluck up every noxious plant,
and not suffer one root of bitterness to remain in the ground. You must seize the gospel plough of conviction, and thoroughly break up the fallow ground, by the exercise of true penitence. You must build a hedge round about it of imperious resolutions, that will resist every encroachment, and protect it from every bird of prey, and every devouring beast of the forest. When the soil is suitably prepared, and the vineyard properly protected, you should sow the seed of light, life, and glory. And God will command the dews of heaven to descend upon it, and the genial rays of the sun to invigorate it. Instead of the thorn, shall come up the fir-tree; and instead of the briar, shall come up the myrtle-tree ; it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off. The wilderness shall bud and blossom as the rose, and the desert land shall become the garden of the Lord. Then will God fulfil to you that sublime promise : I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Labanon. His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive-tree, and his smell as Lebanon. They that dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine : the scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon.
Indeed, the work to which sinners are called by the gospel, is a great and comprehensive work. It commences in a due preparation of heart for the reception of the divine mercy, by the exercise of godly sorrow for sin, and proceeds by an unreserved dedication of the whole man, body and soul, to the service of God. It is the work of practical godliness, styled in the Scriptures, the work of righteousness, and the labor of love. The Christian is a laborer, and he labors in a manifest and uniform course of obedience to all the commandments of God. The Christian is not left to choose the ground he will occupy, or the plants he will cultivate ; he must labor in the vineyard of God, and he must bring forth the fruits of
righteousness, or he cannot reap in mercy. In other words, he must render such obedience as God demands—he must comply with the institutions of the gospel as they are laid down in the Holy Scriptures, if he would render an acceptable service to God. But we pass to remark,
II. That this is a work in which the sinner manifests much reluctance to engage. Why stand ye here all the day idle ? This language certainly implies that the sinner prefers idleness to labor, sin to holiness. Sinners do not engage in this work,
b Because it is a work to which, of all others, they in their hearts feel the most opposed. The carnal mind, says the Apostle, is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So, then, they that are in the flesh cannot please God. All unregenerate men are in the flesh, and under the influence of this carnal mind, which is the very principle of rebellion in the soul. This carnal mind refuses submission and obedience to God, and ex. cites hatred and rebellion against him. It is earthly, sensual, and devilish, and minds the things of the flesh—it has no relish for spiritual and heavenly exercises. While the sinner is under the influence of the carnal mind, he would rather do anything than to go and work in God's vineyard. The prodigal son would rather go and feed swine, than to go back to his father's house, till he came to himself. To put off the old man with his deeds, and crucify the flesh with its lusts, is like cutting off a right hand, or plucking out a right eye. And this is the first act a sinner is directed to perform, and it is a most painful and distressing exercise; therefore, sinners dislike to engage in it.
2. Sinners dislike to go and work in God's vineyard, because of their prevailing love to carnal ease. Spiritual sloth is so sweet a sin, that the carnal heart is always in love with it. How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggurd ? when will thou arise out of thy sleep? Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep : so shall thy poverty come as one that traveleth, and thy want as an armed man. The sinner lies upon the bed of sloth, and would not miss of heaven if desiring and wishing would carry him there; but if these will not he must indeed miss of it, for he cannot leave the embrace of his dear ease. Fighting, running, wrestling, striving, praying, taking heaven by violence, are exercises for which his indolent soul has no relish. He lies upon the bed of sloth, and suffers the roots of bitterness to spring up and grow till his vineyard is overrun with thorns, and nettles cover the face of it. He sleeps away his golden moments, till ruin, irrecoverable ruin, overtakes him.
3. Sinners neglect to go and work in God's vineyard, because Satan furnishes them with constant employment.
Ye are of your father ihe devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. When the call of the gospel comes to sinners, Satan does to them as Pharaoh did to the Israelites-doubles their tasks; so that they always have