The Heavenly Work Folks, and Their Mystic Pay
- BEING THE SUBSTANCE OF TWO SERMONS, Preached at Cranbrook, in the Weald of Kent, on Sunday, Oct. 8, 1809, AND PUBLISHED AT THE REQUEST OF THE CHILDREN OF GOD IN THAT PLACE.
THE parable begins thus:- "For the kingdom of Heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard" ver. 1. By the kingdom of Heaven here is meant the Gospel of Christ, of which Christ himself is the sum an substance, as it treats of him and of his incarnation, and the end of his assuming human nature; namely, that he might, in our flesh, as the seed of the woman, destroy the Devil and his works, and by his obedience and death redeem us from all evil, and reinstate us in the favour and love of God; and, by virtue of his office, as King Mediator, obtain gifts for men, that God might once more dwell among them. The gifts of the Holy Spirit, the gift of divine love, and the blessing of eternal life, come to us through Christ's mediation; and in the receivers of these gifts God the Spirit dwells, and sets up a kingdom in their souls, which stands in power, in righteousness, peace, and joy. By these gifts does the King Mediator reign in Zion, and by these will he destroy the usurped empire of Satan, the tyranny of Sin, and the dominion of Death; ? grace shall reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.
Now, it is obvious to every one, that, in all countries, let that country be governed by the best prince in the world, yet the poor subjects of that prince are employed in some sort of labour or other in his dominions; and it is plain that the persons hired in this parable are all represented as being poor day-labouring men, and are sent to labour, though every one of these labourers is a subject of the King of kings and Lord of lords; yet the honour and dignity of the subject is not to destroy the toil of the labourer; for all the subjects of Christ's empire have something to do.
"And, when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into the vineyard," ver. 2. The Jewish church, in which these first labourers wrought, is, in the Old Testament, called "a vineyard;" and so it is in the New. "Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt, thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it. Thou preparedst room before it, and didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land. The hills were covered with the shadow of it, and the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars. She sent out her boughs unto the sea, and her branches unto the river. Why hast thou then broken down her hedges, so that all they which do pass by the way do pluck her? The boar out of the wood doth waste it, and the wild beast of the field doth devour it. Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts! look down from heaven, and behold and visit this vine, and the vineyard which thy right hand hath planted, and the branch that thou madest strong for thyself," Psalm lxxx. 8-15.
A vineyard is a chosen spot, planted with the choicest and most fruitful plants in the world. The Holy Land was the spot that God chose; the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was the vine that he planted in it; and the tribe of Judah and his seed was the branch that God made strong for himself; and we may say that he planted it a noble vine, wholly a right seed; but it turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto him, Jer. ii. 21; but God's election of the Jewish nation was but a typical election, and their adoption was a national adoption; for there was but a small, a very small, remnant among them, according to the election of grace, Isa. i. 9. Hence, for their idolatry and injustice, he threatens to destroy it: - "Now will I sing to my well-beloved a song of my beloved, touching his vineyard. My well-beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill; and he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a wine-press therein; and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes; and now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard! What could have been done more to my vineyard that I have not done in it? Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?" Isa. v. 1-4. The land of Promise is a hilly country, especially the land of Judah; and it was a fruitful land till God made it barren for the wickedness of them that dwelt therein. God fenced it with a partition wall that separated it from all other nations in the world. He gathered out of it the hard and impenitent Canaanites, and planted it with the genuine offspring of the faithful patriarchs: he revealed his covenant name to them in the promised Messiah, which name is a strong tower; and he set his prophets as watch-men in this tower, who stood in their wards whole nights, Isa. xxi. 8. He made a wine-press, the temple, where he expected their worship and obedience, and the wine of their love, and the choice clusters, which are the fruits of the Spirit, being called Clusters with blessings in them, Isa. lxv. 8; but, instead of this, their worship was paid to idols; and some who worshipped him gave him only bodily exercise, a drawing near to God with the mouth, and honouring him with the lip, while the heart was far from him; Hypocrisy reigned in their devotions, an injustice and Bribery in their courts; and, therefore, with the following judgments are they threatened: - "And now go to; I will tell go you what I will do to my vineyard; I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; I will take away my blessing, and smite it with a curse," Mal. iv. 6; and it shall become a prey to the sword of war, to Satan, sin, and death; and I will break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down. I will break down the middle wall of partition, and cast them off, and call in the Gentiles; "and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled," Luke, xxi. 24; - and I will lay it waste; it shall be overrun with blindness and ignorance, sin and iniquity; it shall not be pruned by reproofs of instruction, nor be digged by the convicting ministry of the Gospel; but there shall come briers and thorns, covetousness, worldly cares, and the deceitfullness of riches; and these only shall thrive, flourish, and grow in it. "And I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it." No cloud of witnesses shall drop the doctrine of my gospel, or distil the dew of my Spirit and my special grace upon it; for "I say unto you, that ye shall see me no more," says Christ, "until ye shall say, blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord," Matt xxiii. 39. The prophet adds to this, "For the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry" for the want of it, lsa. v. 5-7.
But that which completed the destruction of this vineyard was the wickedness of the husbandman that had the oversight of it, who filled up the measure of their iniquity by killing the proprietor and heir of it; and this our Lord foretells the scribes and pharisees; - "Hear another parable. There was a certain householder which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a wine-press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandman, and went into a far country; and, when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandman, that they might receive the fruits of it; and the husbandman took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants, more than the first; and they did unto them likewise: but last of all, he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son; but, when the husbandman saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance; and they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him," Matt. chap. xxi. Here we may see the difference between the voice of Envy and the voice of Conscience; and how the words of their mouth differed from the convictions of their heart. Before the populace they called the master of the house Beelzebub, and ascribed the power of his miracles to the Devil; but, among themselves, they said, " This is the heir" but the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts now is not national, provincial, nor parochial; but those individual persons that are chosen of God in Christ Jesus-these are the real vineyard of the Lord God of the Gentiles. "I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman." The scribes, priests, Levites, and pharisees, were the husbandmen of the other vineyard; but this vineyard has no husbandman but God himself; and all that he employs in it are no more than day-labourers; nor has it any keeper or waterer, in the strictest sense, but God only. "In that day sing ye unto her, A vineyard, of red wine. I, the Lord, do keep it: I will water it every moment; lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day," Isa. xxvii. 2, 3.
In this true vine there are two sorts of branches: one sort are charmed with the eloquence and novelty of the doctrine, especially the pathetic parts of it; and, having their warmest passions moved, they receive it with joy, and enter into a profession; but these having not the root of God's love to feed their joy, prove barren, and are taken away.
The other sort are made broken and contrite, tender and sore. Of these the Lord takes possession, binds up, and revives; and these, being rooted in the true vine by faith and love, have life in him, and he lives in them; and these bear fruit, and these the husbandman purges, that they may bring forth more fruit. - I shall now return to the parable.
And we may observe, first, That it is the householder himself that hires these labourers; even the apostles were not intrusted with this work. It was not they that spoke; but the Spirit of God that spoke in them. They went forth and wrought, but it was the Lord that wrought with them, confirming the word with signs, and giving testimony to the word of his grace by the power of his own Spirit.
First, He went out early ? at four or five o'clock in the morning of the gospel dispensation, he being the Sun of Righteousness, and carrying morning light and perfect day with him wherever he went.
2. And he went out about the third hour also, and saw others standing idle in the market-place. The market-place is this world, in which there is a great deal of business carried on, especially in buying and selling. Here Ahab sold himself to work wickedness; here Judas sold his master for thirty pieces of silver. Others have had their hearts so expanded as to wish to gain the whole world, without considering the vain profit, if they lose their own souls. Some, in this market, buy the truth, and will not sell it on any account; and, as the antediluvians and the inhabitants of Sodom went on buying and selling till the flood and the flames put a stop to trade, so shall it be stopped again, for good and all, when the Son of man cometh.
In this market-place the householder saw some standing idle. These appear to me to be indisposed, rather sickly, and not able to do much; for had they been strong, robust, and alive to sin, they would have been at work; for work they must who are taken captive by Satan at his will; and, if the life of God had been in them they would have abounded in the work of the Lord. However, the master set these to work as well as the others: Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you; and they went their way," ver. 4.
"Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise," ver. 5. Those that were sent into the vineyard in the morning wrought a whole day; those of the third hour, or nine o'clock, wrought three quarters of a day; those that went at the sixth hour went at noon, and made half a day of it; those that went in at the ninth hour went at three o'clock in the afternoon; these wrought but a quarter of a day.
"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," ver. 7. These were set to work at five o'clock in the afternoon. Now these different hours of the day seem to point out the different ages of the gospel, when it flourishes; or rather the different stages of men's lives, when they are called and converted to God. Man's life-time is man's day, and while it is day he must work, if ever he work at all. Death is man's night, and when this night cometh, no man can work, John ix. 4. Some, like Samuel, Jeremiah, and Josiah, are hired early in the morning; some, like Timothy, at twenty years of age; others at noon, when many of their years are past; and others, as Abraham, when upon the decline of life, represented at three in the afternoon; and some, like the thief on the cross, at five, when the evening was drawing on.
The question the master puts to these that were last hired is, "Why stand ye here all the day idle?" By which it appears that these were old men, and that their day of life was almost spent, and that the night of death was at hand with them; and therefore the master asks, "Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us." I wonder that the strong man armed (Luke, xi. 21), as Christ calls the devil, did not hire them; especially, if we consider that he offered the Saviour all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, if he would worship him: but the truth of the matter is, that these men, if they had been engaged, would have done the devil's cause more hurt than good; for they were wounded in their conscience, burdened with sin, distressed in their minds, and, like the poor woman's daughter, they were vexed with the devil, and therefore could not work, having no heart to it; and such mournful souls, being under awful alarms, are apt to disturb the strong man in his peaceable possessions, by disquieting the carnal repose of others. This seems to be the reason of their standing, almost all the day, idle, and of their not being hired; for, if ever sin sits heavy upon men, it is in their old age. These were all sent into the vineyard.
With the first that were hired Christ agreed for a penny a day; but all the others that were hired afterwards seem to take him at his word, confide in his promise, and trust to his honour; which promise is, That "whatsoever is right that shall ye receive; and they went their way."
"So when the even was come, the Lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first," ver."8. Now this is done in perfect conformity to the law, which law respects these labouring men, and the master that hires them: "At his day thou shalt give him his hire; neither shall the sun go down upon it, for he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it, lest he cry against thee unto the Lord, and it be sin unto thee, " Deut. xxiv. 15. This is the law of the labourer. They were to be paid before night: and so our labourers are to get their hire before the night of death comes on. As soon as it was earned it was due; and before the sun set it was to be paid: "the sun shall not go down upon it." Nor shall the Sun of Righteousness set, nor the midnight cry come on, till every one of the Lord's labourers have received their penny.
But, to be at some little degree of certainty about this penny, we must observe that this penny is not the great reward of inheritance which is above, for that comes in a moment, at the last trump, 1 Cor. xv. 52; but this is a running penny, or daily pay. Besides, eternity is not measured by the revolutions of the sun; for there is no night there, and, of course, all is day, not days.
These labourers were paid at six o'clock in the evening; but the great reward will not be fully given until the bridegroom comes, which will not be at six o'clock in the evening, but at twelve o'clock at night: "At midnight there was a great cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh." Besides, the midnight cry finishes the day of this world, and is the end of it; but the evening, when these labourers are paid, is the eve of certain mysterious days ? days of hard labour, which are peculiar to the people of God.
Add to this, The inheritance of the saints in light is called, an eternal weight of glory," 2 Cor. iv. 17, which such a trifle as a penny will by no means amount to, without greatly lessening or lowering both the sense and the contents of the apostle's noble, lofty and sublime expressions.
This penny is the pay that comes at the end of every day of hard labour; which labouring days are diverse and many; but the heavenly glory is a rest from all labour; and this glory is received after men are dead; but the recipients of this penny were all alive, and fit to go to work again, as soon as their murmuring spirits were crossed and cooled.
Again: these labourers were paid in the vineyard, which is the militant church upon earth; but the incorruptible inheritance will be received in the new heaven and new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
Futhermore: This penny is given by the instrumentality of a steward; but glory will be given by the Lord himself: he will quicken our mortal bodies, and fashion them like unto his own glorious body, in which no steward will be employed; it is the master only that can and will do this. Read Luke, xii. 37. Besides, glory is a crown for kings, not the penny of poor labourers.
Moreover, when this penny was paid, there were some that expected that they should receive more; which shews that they were not filled nor satisfied; which will not be the case when we receive the great reward; for then we shall be filled with joy, and with all the fullness of God.
Besides, there were some of these labourers who murmured against the good man of the house, and whose eye was evil because he was good; which shews that they were in a mortal state, with the old man of sin in them: an evil eye in heaven would make us stand in jeopardy; but these corruptible bodies shall put on incorruption, and these mortal bodies shall put on immortality; and then he that is perfect will be as his master, and no mere murmur at the good man, than the good man will murmur at us.
Christ will present the church to himself, a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle; and of course, there will be no carnality in the mind, no envy in the heart, nor evil in the eye.
But it may be objected, that these labourers were not all good men or faithful labourers, because some did not murmur; nor did they all expect more than others, though some did. To which I answer, They were paid in the same coin, and each received the same sum; which would not have been the case had there been any deceitful workers among them: for "what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?" 2 Cor. vi. 15. Judas is said to receive part of this ministry, namely, the title of an apostle, a power to work miracles, and the gift of utterance, Acts, i. 25; but these are no part of the true riches. It is said that a wise servant shall have rule over a son that causeth shame, and shall have part of the inheritance among the brethren, Prov. xvii. 2; but this man is not a son, but a servant; and the gift of every servant returns to the prince at the year of release; but the inheritance is the son's for ever. Read Ezek. xlvi. 17. It remains, then, that all these workmen were faithful labourers; for the coin and the sum was the same to all-they received every man a penny; and, as there were no deceitful workers among them, so I believe there was no adulterated coin in the pay that they received. I shall now endeavour to shew,
Some good men make this penny a day to be external privileges, promises, strength and grace sufficient for the day, to help us in every time of need, and eternal life at last: but the word grace has a very large and extensive meaning; and may be considered as in God, as in Christ, and in the Spirit; in God's ancient councils, in the covenant, in the promises, in the souls of saints, and in its perfection in glory; and to make this penny every thing, is to make it nothing.
I believe in my conscience that this penny is faith, and nothing else; and this will appear plain if we run the parallel between the labouring man's penny and the saint's faith.
1. The labouring man's pay is his livelihood; he is to live by his labour: ? "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground," Gen. iii. 19 ; and God has decreed and declared, that the just shall live by faith, Hab. ii. 4.
2. "If men will not work (says Paul) neither shall they eat," 2 Thess. iii. 10; and, "If ye will not believe (says the prophet) surely ye shall not be established," Isa. vii. 9.
3. If this poor labourer be a sober industrious man, and not burdened with a family, he may, and such often do, make a saving; and in time chance his silver pence into gold, and have something very considerable to supply his wants in his old age; and the more he saves the richer he is; and hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith? James, ii. 5. Yea, and Christ himself expressly calls faith gold: ? "I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich," Rev. iii. 18.
4. When the labourer receives his hire he sets off to the market town and shops, and gets his bread and his meat, or whatever eatable he wants. So the spiritually poor, that have long laboured and are heavy laden, when they obtain faith, and hear of bread enough in their Father's house, they set off after it, as the prodigal did; and when they come they find not only bread, but meat also - the fatted calf as well as the bread of life. "My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed; and he that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood hath eternal life; he that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him;" and this eating is explained to be believing; because faith in exercise is appropriating ? it receives, and brings in, and applies the benefits, so that the mind and conscience are fed, nourished, and satisfied with the sweet repast; and the dread of perishing with hunger is banished from the soul: "He that believeth on me hath everlasting life," John, vi. 40.
5. If a poor man be idle, and will not work to earn a penny, he may saunter about the market, and look at the victualling shops till his appetite be provoked to the highest; there can be no buying without money; so is an unbeliever under the Gospel: he may hear of the love of God, the death of Christ, the promises of the covenant, the blessing of grace, and the riches of glory; but these cannot profit him, not being mixed with faith in him that hears them, Heb. iv. 2.
6. The poor labourer not only procures food by his penny, but apparel also; and some, who are frugal and industrious, keep themselves very genteelly clad with their hire - while lazy drunken men wander about half naked: so is the soul of an unbeliever: he is poor and wretched, miserable, blind, and naked, Rev. iii. 17; while the believer is clothed from head to foot with the royal robe of an imputed righteousness, Isa. lxi. 10, which is unto and upon all them that believe, Rom. iii. 22.
7. If the poor labourer wants physic or medical assistance, his hire procures it for him; while many that are, given up to idleness lie sick and die in barns and under hedges. It is just so with the poor soul that is sick at heart, sick of sin, and sick of self-no spiritual cure without spiritual faith. Hence the great Physician often enquired of his patients after their faith when they came to him; saying, "Believest thou that I am able to do this?" and, if they answer, "Yea, Lord," - then he replied, "According to thy faith be it unto thee;" and the patient was made whole from that hour. We may be sick and sorrowful too; but there can be neither health nor cure without faith. "If ye believe not, ye shall die in your sins." Such must pine away in their sickness, and die in despair and sorrow; for the unbeliever is condemned already, and the wrath of God abideth on him; and the Judge of quick and dead declares that he that believeth not shall be damned.
8. The labourer secures himself an habitation also by his daily pay; there is no hiring houses, nor paying rent, without money. "So the Lord is our dwelling-place in all generations," says Moses. "Be thou my strong habitation, for an house of defence to save me," says David. "The name of the Lord is a strong tower," says Wisdom; "the righteous runneth in and are safe but without faith there is neither house, home, habitation, or shelter: "In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence, and his children shall have a place of refuge," Proverbs, xiv. 26; but without confidence no refuge.
How many do we see who refuse to labour, wandering about from place to place without house or home, exposed to the most inclement weather, suffering hunger and cold, and having no covering in the cold, nor home, or habitation they can call their own! So is the unbeliever: he is exposed to all the darts of Satan, and to all the arrows of Heaven; he has no hiding-place from the storm, nor covert from the tempest; and therefore "God shall rain upon the wicked snares, fire, and brimstone, and an horrible tempest. This shall be the portion of their cup," Psalm xi. 6; and the unbeliever shall be exposed quite naked to all these storms.
9. The industrious labourer procures all his household furniture with his hire, all necessary goods, utensils, and tools to work with; and so is the man of God by faith "thoroughly furnished unto all good works," 2 Tim. iii. 17; but without faith there can be neither grace nor truth, fear nor favour, life nor light, hope nor help, prayer nor praise; for he is dead in trespasses and sins, and the wrath of God abides upon him.
10. The blest and most valuable article that a poor labouring man procures by his hire, is a good bed. This is his resting-place; and, as God has appointed the day for labour, and the night for rest, so he says "The sleep of a labouring, man is sweet, whether he eat little or much," Eccl. v. 12, because he goes weary to it. So the believer obtains his rest by faith: "We that believe do enter into rest," Heb. iv. 3; and this rest is our green bed, Cant. 1. 16; and it is both a glorious and an eternal rest, and will be enjoyed in Heaven in its perfection. "The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart; and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come. He shall enter into peace: they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness," Isaiah, lvii. 1, 2. We often see poor industrious men, with their little cottages set off and set out with many useful things, and the bed bedecked with its checked curtains and patch work quilt, all needful and comfortable, while the idle and loose loiterer hath not where to lay his head, worse off than a merciful man's beast. So is the unbeliever; he is destitute both of bed and of rest; for "the wicked are like the troubled sea when it cannot rest," Isa. lvii. 20; yea, "the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever; and they have no rest day nor night," Rev. xiv. 11, no rest, neither in the day of this world, nor in the dark night of hell, in the world to come. Having run the parallel between the poor man's pay and the saint's faith, I shall now consider the image and superscription of the Lord's money.
The current coin of a country is known by the image and superscription that it bears. Hence we read, that when Christ's enemies intended to catch something from his mouth against the Roman emperor, that they might bring him under the secular power, they asked him, saying, "Tell us, therefore, what thinkest thou: Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Shew me the tribute money: and they brought unto him a penny; and he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him Ceasar's," Matt. xxii .17-21. The image is intended to be a likeness of the sovereign that reigns; and by this and the superscription is the current coin of a country known. The image of the Lord's penny is Love, for God is love; and the two images, I mean that of the earthly Adam and the image of the heavenly Adam, are declared in the law of God to be Love and Hatred (lovers of God and haters of God) are the only characters delineated in the whole ten commandments. Faith is the penny, and Love is the impress on it. Faith believes the love of God, and receives the love of God; and, as sure as the image always travels with the penny, so sure does genuine faith always work by love, Gal. v. 6; and, as the image on the coin distinguishes the currency of one country from another, so does love distinguish genuine faith from every thing else that bears that name; and, as money quite smooth, that has no image or superscription on it, passes doubtfully from hand to hand in trade, so the soundest confidence is attended with innumerable doubts and fears about many things, until the impression of love be received upon it; and then all doubts and fears are cast out and dispersed, for "Charity believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things," I Cor. xiii. 7.
I come now to consider the superscription of the Lord's penny. All coin is not sterling that passes current amongst us; we have a deal of counterfeit cash and base metal imposed upon us; some is made of brass, some of copper done over with silver, and some is made of what they call tutenag; and, as wicked men prepare and impose this base metal upon the trade, and traders of the country, so does the devil impose upon the churches of Christ a deal of his counterfeit coin, which, for a while, passes current, till it be discovered; and then it is stopped, and cried down. "A great company of the priests were obedient to the faith," Acts, vi. 7. "Thou seest, brother Saul, how many thousands of the Jews there are that believe, and they are all zealous of the law," Acts, xxi. 20. Some have got an historical faith, an assent to the truth respecting the mystery of the creation, of the patriarchs, of the prophets, &c. "King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest," Acts, xxvi. 27. Some take up with a momentary faith upon sight, which is the same as Arminian grace, very short-lived: while they see they believe; but when they lose sight, then their faith dies. "Many believed on his name when they saw the miracles which he did; but Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men," John, ii. 23, 24. Some have a temporary faith, which attends the motions of natural affections: "They on the rock are they which, when the hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away," Luke, viii. 13. The other faith died when they lost sight of the miracles; but this lived till temptations came on. Some have had a miraculous faith, which admits of no doubts: this will remove a mountain, but then it must be void of all staggering, Matt. xxi. 21: this is a gift, and the apostles had grace before this gift was bestowed upon them; grace was for themselves, gifts were for the confirmation of their mission, and for the benefit of others. Signs are not for them that believe, but for them that believe not. This miraculous faith is not essential to salvation; thousands have been saved who never had it, and many have had it who never will be saved: "Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you," Matt. vii. 22, 23. None of all this coin, abstractedly considered, has got the right image and superscription upon it, much less the bold and daring presumption of impostors and hypocrites; for, though these appear to be all faith, yet they have no wisdom. It is the fool that rages and is confident, Prov. xiv. 16. Faith purifies the heart, and makes wise to salvation; and, as a wise man's wisdom maketh his face to shine (Ecel. viii. 1), so the confidence of fools gives their face a gloom.
But now to the point in hand. Money bears the name both of the king and the country were it passes current; and so does it bears the name of God: "For what if some did not faith believe, shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?" Rom. iii. 3. Here it is expressly called "the faith of God." It was prepared and coined in heaven, and is one of the good and perfect gifts which comes down from the Father of Lights, and is the Lord's treasure, put into the hearts of God's children, to trade with and to live by: the just shall live by his faith.
And, as the coin of any one kingdom does not pass current in all kingdoms, no more does this. It passes in heaven for anything we want, and it goes current in the kingdom of Christ upon earth, but nowhere else; and on this account the word elect is added to the name of God in the superscription: "Paul, an apostle of Christ, according "to the faith of God's elect," Titus, i.1. Here is the whole superscription: first, the name of the sovereign, it is the faith of God. Here is also the kingdom, the subjects, or the people among whom this coin passes current, called the elect; it is the faith of God's elect.
This cash passes current in no other kingdom in all the world, but in the kingdom of God. In the east, we hear of the faith of true Mussulmen; in the west, of the Catholic faith; among the advocates for free-will, we hear of universal faith; and we often hear of the faith of nations; and, among hypocrites, we read of feigned faith; and among presumptuous impostors, we see raging confidence, or the full assurance of insolence: and, among the carnally secure, there is a faith that is dead, James, ii. 17. Thus it appears plain that this penny is faith; that this faith bears God's own name, called "the faith of God;" and that it bears God's image, which is love; Faith worketh by Love, and Charity believeth all things; and, lastly, That this coin is current only in the Lord's kingdom, and among his subjects, and is therefore called "the faith of God's elect" All other coin will be rejected by God as counterfeit, as sure as the faith of God is rejected as counterfeit by the men of this world.
And so it is written, "Behold, ye despisers, and wonder and perish; for I work a work in your days, a work which you shall in nowise believe, though a man declare it unto you," Acts, xiii. 41; and this was found to be true among the Jews; for when Paul confessed Christ, and bore testimony to him of Jerusalem, they all cried out, Away with such a fellow from the earth, for it is not fit that he should live, Acts, xxii. 22; and it was the same at Cesarea among the Gentiles; for as Paul thus spake for himself, "Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself: much learning doth make thee mad," Acts, xvi. 24. Any thing would pass current but real conversion to God, and living faith in Christ Jesus; and as God's faith is despised by men, so men's faith is despised by God, being corrupt both in the principle and in the object of it, such men being given up to strong delusions to believe a lie, 2 Thess. ii. 11. This faith is a delusion, and the object of it a lie.
I come now to show what the labour in the vineyard is, in which these workfolks were employed. The first work, doubtless, is planting; hence we often read of planting a vineyard. Jesus Christ is the true vine; and to bring the sinner off from his own stock, from trust in his own heart, from reliance on his own arm, from leaning to his own understanding, and from all confidence in the flesh, most certainly is the first branch of this labour; and, when sinners begin to discover themselves to be but the degenerate plant of a strange vine, whose grapes are wild, and whose clusters are bitter, and see also the bad soil they grow in, so as they feel the power of faith attend the word, and "the power, grace, and beauty of Christ set before them, the whole bent of the soul is after him, and faith goes at the head, attended with an innumerable train of desires and prayers, tears and longings, to obtain nearness to him and an interest in him; and, when once Faith takes hold, and is strong enough to maintain its hold, the soul finds life. and strength sensibly communicated to it, just as the sap of the vine is communicated to the branch. This is the main work, communion with Christ, in order to obtain life and power from Christ, to make us fruitful to God: "I am the Vine, ye are the branches; and as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, no more can ye, except ye abide in me;" and as sure as Christ admits the soul to nearness and access to him, so does faith embrace his dying love; and as faith gains ground it purifies the heart from sin. This removes the wretched evil that separates him from us; and when Love comes in it pulls down all our idols: and, as sure as faith gives the Lord a residence in us, or, as Paul says, Christ liveth in me, or dwells in the heart by faith, so sure does Love exalt him and crown him King without a competitor in the renewed affections; but it may be objected, It is God's work to plant, and not man's; for Christ declares that "every plant which my Heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up." All this is true; but the efficient cause does not always make void the instrumental cause. God employs labourers in this branch of his work: "Paul planted and Apollos watered; but God gave the increase."
2. The next branch of this labour is watering; but there are some clouds which have no rain. These are the sons of Death, called "the ministers of the letter;" and the letter killeth. These cannot water the Lord's vineyard, because they have not the water of life in them; nor can they be of use to any, but to those professors who are in the flesh, and make a fair shew in it, and who are satisfied with a name to live. If the cloud without water can move the passions and stir the bowels of corrupt nature, such bowels are refreshed; and such professors call this power,, and give it the name of "a watering time;" but those who receive the Lord's pay dare not walk nor work in this craftiness. They are supplied from a better fountain: "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink;" and, as the Scripture hath said, "Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." This water is a river, which has a living spring for its source, and is living water, and so distinguished from all other waters; and, as it flows out, it is intended for others. This water drops as the rain, and distils as the dew, in the ministry of the Spirit, while thirsty souls that are in Christ, and who have the mouth of faith, suck it in, and find its quickening influences; because it enlivens the soul, strengthens faith, and makes it grow: it encourages hope, and makes it take the faster bold; and it stirs up love, and joy, and peace; and all these are enjoyed in Christ the Head. Hence you read of faith in the Lord, hope in the Lord, joy in the Lord, and of peace in the Lord; and these are no inconsiderable parts of those fruits brought forth by those branches which abide in the vine.
3. The third part of this labour is digging. One branch of God's curse upon the Jewish vineyard is, That "it shall not be pruned nor digged," Isa. v. 6. This work is done by Christ. "All the churches shall know that I am he that searcheth the reins and the hearts." It may be said to be done by the ministry, when searching discourses are, delivered; and by believers themselves, when seriously engaged in self-examination; which work is necessary, as it leads us to discover the depth of man's fall, the sad crop of lusts and corruption that are within, the danger that these have exposed us to, the impossibility of salvation by works, the disproportion between us and the holy law of God, the necessity of the blood of Christ to purge us, and of the grace of God to subdue the remains of corruption, and how nearly allied the devil is to the sin of our nature, and what access he too often finds to his own allies: how needful it is to observe and watch against these! ? what danger these often bring us into, even so near to the great transgression as, to our view, nothing but words are wantiny to complete it! Such enmity and rebellion is conceived in the heart, that, if there was not a watch before the mouth to keep the door of the lips, the conception would come forth, and we fear all would be lost for ever: "Keep back thy servant from presumptuous sins, let them not have dominion over me; then I shall be upright, and innocent from the great transgression." This digging work serves to convince us of the need of momentary support, and of God's protecting power, of continual supplies of grace from the Lord's fullness, and of promised strength to assist us against the devil and sin. It serves also to exalt the grace of God, and his unparalleled condescension in taking up his residence in such polluted creatures, and teaches us to cleave to him when we see such formidable and innumerable foes, both within and without, against us; and it drives us to be the more earnest, fervent, and importunate with God for help in every time of need, our case being not a common one, not one in ten millions ever seeing themselves while in this world, in such a perilous state as those do who are enlightened by God himself. The reins of such instruct them in the night season; and such instruction contributes not a little towards a pure language, savouring, of the grace of God, and of his grace only. A true sight and sense of human depravity makes men more and more evangelical, both in spirit and principle; for they can glory in nothing, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; and the time will come when they that trust in the flesh, and glory in themselves, will find all their glorying vain. Having touched upon planting, watering, and digging I come now,
4. To manuring. Fruiting plants want dung. The Jewish church, which is called "a vineyard," is said to have a fig-tree in it; and this fig-tree in the vineyard seems to me to represent the priesthood in the different branches of the Levitical tribe. "He spake also another parable. A certain man had a fig-tree planted in his vineyard, and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he to the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig-tree, and find none; cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about and dung it; and if it bear fruit, well; and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down," Luke, xiii. 6-8. These three years seem to represent the term of our Lord's personal ministry, and the following time the ministry of the apostles: but all digging and dunging seem to be of no use; they hardened their hearts against all convictions, and despised the Lord and his grace; and, as the fig-tree was barren, so was the vineyard; for, if the priesthood be corrupted (Mal. ii. 8) the church must be corrupt; for a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit, Matt. vii. 18. Hence John, when he came, laid the axe to the root of the tree, Matt. iii. 10; and the Roman army was God's battle-axe to cut them all down together. Had this fig-tree been manured, the vineyard must have been manured also, for the fig-tree grew among the vines; the Lord says it was planted in the vineyard. The ministry of John, of Christ, and of all the apostles, was a most heart-searching ministry; but this digging was of no use to this barren fig-tree, nor to the barren vineyard; and Christ was full of grace and truth, and great grace was upon all the apostles: but these barren souls received no manure by any of these means; and the tree must be made good before the fruit can be good.
Branches in the living vine stand in much need of being often manured by the grace of Christ. Our perverse and stubborn wills want divine power to bring them into subjection and compliance with the will of God in his various and trying dispensation - we cannot submit and lie passive of ourselves. "Be still, and know that I am God," saith the Almighty; but I find a command will not do alone without grace; and this appears plain in the parable of the two sons - "He said to the first, Son, go work to-day in my vineyard: he answered and said, I will not; but afterward he repented and went," Matt. xxi. 28. The grace of repentance produced obedience, but the naked command did not.
Our treacherous memories often want refreshing, by having the same things repeated and impressed upon us, lest at any time we should let them slip, the enemy watching to take away the word out of the heart, in order to make us unfruitful.
Our understandings want fresh light, being often beclouded by the old veil, by spiritual desertions, and by dark and intricate providences. God promises that light shall be sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart; to make our path shine more and more unto perfect day.
Our judgments need repeated information and instruction, in order to make them sound, settled, and firm against the attacks of seducers, who lie in wait to deceive and beguile the souls of the simple. A sound judgment is a bulwark against those archers that bend their tongues for lies; and this also is promised to us and it comes by the Spirit of God, through the mediation of Christ Jesus: "The Lord is exalted, for he dwelleth on high; he hath filled Zion with judgment and righteousness; and Wisdom and Knowledge shall be the stability of thy times," Isa. xxxiii. 5, 6. Being thus furnished by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, a man can form a judgment of what he hears, and make a private judgment of his companions by their fruits. He sits in judgment often upon himself and his own state; he judges his own conduct, and, upon dubious and doubtful doctrines, providences, and circumstances, he is enabled to come to some satisfactory conclusions about them. "If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged," 1 Cor. xi. 31; and happy are they that are justified when they speak, and clear when they judge, Psalm li. 4.
The mind of man is often led astray by the sensuality that works in it; and, though purified by faith, yet it wants stirring up: as Peter says, "I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance," 2 Peter, iii. 1. When the Spirit of love, of power, an of a sound mind, favours us with his operations, life and peace are enjoyed: "My meditation of him shall be sweet," says the Psalmist: "I will be glad in the Lord," Psalm civ. 34. Christ came, that his people might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. Hence preaching the word, reading and meditation, prayer, praise, and thanksgiving; the communion of saints; watching the hand of God within, and the providence of broad in the God without; observing his judgments that appear abroad in the earth; the death of the saints; and the strange punishments of the workers of iniquity; these, and all these, have various effects upon them that love and fear God; and the good Spirit takes his advantages of these things, to gird up the loins of our minds, to make us watch and be sober, observant, and diligent. When Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead, great fear came upon all the churches; when the devil drove the seven sons of Sceva and some of the chief priests out of the house wounded and naked, for abusing the name of the Saviour, it was known to all the Jews and Greeks dwelling at Ephesus, and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified, Acts, xix. 16, 17; fear fell upon some, and others triumphed and exalted the Lord. The death of Herod made his flatterers tremble, and excited the gratitude of the saints. "When the wicked perish, there is shouting." When Justice overtook Haman, the days of Purim were kept; and when Elymas, the sorcerer, was struck blind, the deputy saw what was done, and believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord, Acts, xiii. 12. Under a frowning providence, Naomi changes her name to that of Marah; while, on the other hand, Jacob is overwhelmed with gratitude when he compares the staff with the two bands. The good Spirit works by all these things. All things are for the elect's sake: "Everywhere, and in all things," says Paul, "I am instructed," Phil. iv. 12; and by all these are the vines manured and made better. Add to this,
Every child of God knows that his peace, both with God and conscience, is often disturbed and interrupted, as was the case with the apostles and primitive saints. Hence every visit the Lord made to them was with "Peace be unto you;" and this was not an empty sound in their ears, but the calm of Heaven in their hearts; and hence also the apostolic salutation of "Grace unto you, and peace be multiplied," I Peter, i. 2. The common callings of men, the necessary business of this life, often make inroads into the quietude of heaven-born souls, besides the expected oppositions of the world, the flesh, and Satan; but the Lord still pays his visits to the city and children of Zion, that Peace may be within her walls, and Prosperity within her palaces.
Every grace also wants strengthening and encouragement; hence we read of "being strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man," Eph. iii. 16; for the Spirit puts forth his power in the grace which he produces in the soul. On this account we read of being strong in faith and of abounding in hope; and of faith growing exceedingly, and of the charity of every one of the Thessalonians toward each other abounding, 2 Thess. i. 3; and this growing and abounding Paul ascribes to the Spirit's might, animating and strengthening the inner man. Having dropped a few hints upon printing, watering, digging, and manuring the vineyard,
I come now to the work of pruning, or dressing the vines. That there is such a branch of labour is plain from the word of God; because the apostles and first Jewish ministers have a promise, that strangers should stand and feed their flocks, and the sons of the alien should be their ploughmen and their vine-dressers, Isaiah, lxi. 5; and one part of God's threatened vengeance to the Jewish vineyard is, That it should not be pruned nor digged, Isaiah, v. 6. The vine is different from most, if not from all, fruiting plants. The young shoots of some plants are two or three years old before they bear; the peach, the nectarine, &c. bear at one year old; the shoots they make one year are their fruiting wood the next: but not so the vine; his branch, leaves, and fruit, come forth from the bud altogether; hence they require more pruning than any other plant, to lighten them of the burden of wood they make, to strengthen the branches which are left for fruit, and that the shoots may come strong, and the fruit fine, and that a plenty of sap or life may be preserved to feed these fruitful branches, which a vine overloaded with wood could not maintain. God's good Spirit of grace is poured forth upon the soul at once, when light and life are given; and by these, which are from the Lord's fullness, is the soul joined to the Lord, and becomes one spirit with him: this is the union between the true vine and the branch; and "every branch in me that beareth fruit," saith the Lord, "my Father purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit." Every predominant corruption, struggling for mastery, if it gain an ascendancy, is sure to interrupt this union, and occasion a sensible suspension of the divine communications. Hence, as the knife is taken to the vine, so cutting reproofs and rebukes are often given to the most choice branches in Christ Jesus. Jehoshaphat was rebuked, both with words and a sense of God's wrath for indulging his corrupt affections to king Ahab: "And Jehu, the son of Hanani the seer, went out to meet him and said to king Jehoshaphat, Shouldst thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord? Therefore is wrath upon thee from before the Lord," 2 Chron. xix. 2. In the same way is David reproved by Nathan for his unlawful proceedings with Uriah, and informed that the sword should never depart from his house; and the conspiracy of Absalom was intended to whet the edge. Peter met with the same, for withstanding the Lord when he was on the way to his suffering. Much of this pruning work is done by the ministry of the word, which none know any thing of but God, and the conscience that seconds it. Sometimes this pruning work is carried on by God himself, by hiding his face; by keeping the soul at a distance; by leaving the mind to hang long in doubt; by suffering souls to be dry and straitened in prayer; by taking no notice of them under the word; by comforting others, but passing them by and their case; by contending with them; by frowning upon their purposes; by walking contrary to them; by increasing the number of their enemies that trouble them; by making their own countenance proclaim to others the barrenness of their souls; by suffering infidels to triumph, when believers lament and mourn, John, xvi. 20; by causing Satan's offspring to fare sumptuously every day, when the heirs of Promise would be glad of their crumbs, Luke, xvi. 20, 21; by keeping silence at the scoffer when he sets his mouth against the heavens, but chastening every morning those that reverence him; by suffering the fool to be at a loss where to bestow his fruits and his goods, and Paul to suffer hunger, cold, and nakedness; by smiting David for cutting off Saul's skirts, but sparing the rod when Saul murdered fourscore priests; counterbalancing at times a liberal heart with an empty pocket, and loading the covetous with a stock in hand for a thousand years to come; and exercising a good conscience, willing to live honestly, with a long and heavy burden of debt, as the poor widow who cried to Elisha, whose husband died in debt, which debt he had contracted with Ahab, in order to feed a hundred prophets, fifty in a cave, when Jezebel had slain all she could find, as the Jews relate; God suffering the best of men at times to be entangled with the worst of sinners, as Obadiah with king Ahab, Hannah with Peninnab, Jacob with Laban, Daniel with the princes of the provinces, Moses with Abiram and Dathan; and David, first with Saul, then with Joab, then with Abithophel, and last with Absalom; Jesus with Judas, and Paul with Alexander the coppersmith; and if any thing under Heaven will try flesh and blood to the quick, all the above thing will; they are sufficient to move the hair of the head, to make blood rankle in the veins, and vengeance to boil in the heart: but these things are intended to crucify us to the world, to curb our corrupt affections, to dissolve all union with the enemies of truth, to make our friendship with Christ and his family the sweeter, to make us prize and content ourselves with the more enduring substance, and to keep us looking out and longing for the inheritance above.
Moreover, crosses and trials, disappointments and mortifications, wounds and bruises, break the heart, and keep it broken; the spirit is meekened, softened, and made sore, tender, and contrite under them; and this is by no means a soil in which lusts and corruptions can flourish; and I may add, that although there are no joyous frames under this pruning work, but rather grievous ones; yet there is much life, keen sensations, and a most voracious appetite after the best provisions, great deadness to the world, and much energy in prayer: "By these things men live, and in all these things is the life of my spirit," said the good king, in Isaiah, xxxviii. 16. I shall now drop the pruning, and come
To the weeding, or keeping, the vineyard clean. How they did this I know not: whether it was done with what we call a hoe or a mattock, I cannot tell; but that this work must be done, and was done, is plain, by Solomon's observation of a vineyard, in which this work had been neglected: "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 broken down the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was Prov. xxiv. 30, 31; thorns and nettles had covered the very face of it, so that you could not tell what it was. It was thorns in our Lord's parable that choked the word sown in the thorny ground; which thorns our Lord calls "the cares of this world, and the deceitfullness of riches." Anxious cares are the fruits and effects of unbelief, distrusting the faithfulness of God to his promises; riches are the grand idol of corrupt affections, and corrupt affections the root of that evil the Lord tells us that there is a deal of deceit in these riches. They promise every earthly pleasure, and the abundance of all good things: they promise all medical assistance and attendance if sick; they are a security against all the fears of creditors, bumbailiffs, and prisons for debtors; they insinuate that the possessors are high in the divine favour, supposing gain to be godliness, that Providence has discriminated them; they promote greatness in the world; they prompt to an affected and feigned consequence; they cause many of the poor and needy to truckle, cringe, and make suit unto them; they command respect; and what the wise man says is too true, that the rich man's wealth is his strong city, and as an high wall in his own conceit, Prov. xviii. 11; but Paul says, "Many that have coveted them have erred from the faith, and have been seduced to trust in uncertain riches, instead of the living God;" for "they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition," I Tim. vi. 9. Wealth is a snare, and an ingredient by which the tempter works, as it procures plenty of fuel for every unhallowed fire that burns; and I know of no way of keeping these thorns and weeds under, but that of constant and fervent prayer to God; by keeping ourselves in the love of Christ, by a daily cross and by self-denial; mortifying, crossing, and denying the suits, cravings, and desires of our corrupt affections; this Paul calls crucifying. "They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts," Gal. v. 24. There is another branch of labour in the vineyard, which I do not rightly understand; but that there is such a work as keeping, and such a workman as a keeper, is plain from the Scriptures; for the Church complains, "They made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept," Cant. i. 6. These keepers seem to be a sort of watchmen, intended to preserve the fruit; because they are said to keep the fruit: "My vineyard, which is mine, is before me. Thou, 0 Solomon, must have a thousand, and those that keep the fruit thereof two hundred," Song viii. 12. These keepers seem to be employed to guard the fruit from thieves and from vermin, because the Church prays against these: "Take us the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vines, for our vines have tender grapes," Cant. ii. 15. The worst thieves in this world are the merit-mongers, who rob God of his sovereignty, and of the glory of his grace, and Jesus Christ of the glory of his finished salvation. False prophets are called foxes in the prophecies of Ezekiel, xiii. 4 i and they are called "foxes of the deserts," because they are barren of all that is good, as a desert is. The vines of our country, growing on the walls and on houses, and being enclosed in gardens, are not in danger of these vermin, as foxes and such like creatures; but vineyards planted in open fields are, being little, low, busby plants, supporting themselves upon their own stem, as our currant-trees and standard honeysuckles do; and these might be much annoyed by the foxes, for aught I know. But how can we take these? I know of no other way than by solemn appeals to conscience with the words of truth, so as to leave a lasting conviction on their minds; and after this, though they remain in heresy, and are subverted, and sin, yet they are condemned of themselves; and such are already taken and held in a snare: "A deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say is there not a lie in my right hand? Isa. xliv. 20. Thus God "taketh the wise in their own craftiness, and the counsel of the froward is carried headlong," Job, v. 13. I come now to the next general head, which is,
3. To shew who is the steward that is called upon to pay these labourers. By the steward here, I do not understand it to mean a divine person, either God the Father, God the Son, or God the Holy Spirit; for neither of these are ever called "stewards," that I know of; and it is safe to take no unwarranted liberty with the word of God; and especially in imposing an office or character upon the Lord which he hath not taken to himself. The priesthood among the Jews, or the whole body of priests, are called "a steward."
There was a certain man which had a steward, and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods; and he is ordered to give an account of his stewardship, for he is to be no longer steward, Luke, xvi. 1, 2; and we know that the whole body of Jewish priests and rulers were turned out of their office; and the apostles were put into it; and, according to Paul, they were stewards: "Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God," 1 Cor. iv. 1. The glorious mystery of three Divine Persons in the Godhead is made known to these stewards; they know the grace of Christ, the love of the Father, and the witness of the Spirit. The mystery of godliness, or of God manifest in the flesh the mystery of the union between Christ and the church; the mysteries of the empire of grace; and the mystery of changing the quick at the last day, are all revealed and made known to these stewards.
But I do not think that this honourable office is wholly confined to ministers, but even to any heaven-born soul who has a choice experience of grace; according to Peter, "Use hospitality one to another without grudging. As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God " I Peter, iv. 9, 10. By this it should seem that every soul that has received the gift of life, by the spirit of grace; and that has an experience of quickening, pardoning, and justifying grace; all who have obtained a good hope through grace, and the grace of faith and love; and who are enabled to refresh the bowels of others, may be called "stewards of the manifold grace of God:" but I believe that, primarily, ministers are intended, as appears by the following words of Christ: "Be ye therefore ready also; for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not. Then Peter said unto him, Lord, speakest thou this parable unto us, or even to all? And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his Lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his Lord, when he cometh, shall find so doing; of a truth I say unto you, That he will make him ruler over all that he hath," Luke, xii. 40-44. This honourable officer is first called "a steward," a faithful and wise steward; secondly, "a servant:" Blessed are those servants."
1. These are called "stewards of the mystery of God:" " God by revelation," says Paul, "made known unto me the mystery," Eph. iii. 3. This mystery was committed to Paul, as a faithful steward, that he should preach it to others, "to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery," Eph. iii. 9.
2. Paul was a steward of the manifold grace of God, which God himself put into his heart: "The grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love, which is in Christ Jesus," 1 Tim. i. 14; and this grace Paul preached to others, and others received it; for which Paul was thankful to God: "Ye are all partakers of my grace," Phil. i. 7.
3. These stewards seem to me to be the keepers of the Lord's wardrobe also; for when the prodigal returned to the household of faith, the Father said to his servants, "Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet, Luke, xv. 20. More servants than one are employed in dressing up this penitent: the word "servants" is in the plural. He that brought forth the best robe preached a discourse upon the righteousness of Christ, and free justification by the imputation of it; he that delivered a discourse upon the free, sovereign, and everlasting love of God, brought forth the ring; and he that preached peace and reconciliation with God, through the sacrifice and satisfaction of Christ, shod the prodigal's feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace, Eph. vi. 15. There is one thing to be remarked in this parable, and that is, that our texts and subjects do not come by chance, nor is left to our own will to choose what the subject shall be; there is a spirit within to guide the mind, and to incline and bend the will. The father told the servants what to bring forth; and he that shewed the prodigal his needs, and drew him to the household of faith, ordered the servants what they should bring forth out of his treasures, even things new and old, Matt xiii. 52; old, as Abel the first obtained them, but new to every soul that receives them. I have sometimes, formerly, heard ministers introduce their text thus: "The portion of God's word which I have chosen for our present consideration is so and so; which is what I never liked. "It is not you," says Christ, "that speak; but the Spirit of your Father that speaketh in you." If he is then the Speaker, it is not man that dictates to the Spirit; but the Spirit that dictates to man.
4. These stewards are to furnish the table, and to feed the household of faith; "Who then is that faithful and wise steward whom his Lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that servant,!" Luke, xii. 42.
According to these different accounts, these stewards are intrusted with the mysteries of God, and with his manifold grace; with the wardrobe also; and have orders to bring out the best robe, the ring, and the shoes; and in this last parable they are to furnish the table, and to give to each of the household a portion of meat in due season; and this work that servant did, which, in the parable of the Prodigal Son, is bid to bring in the fatted calf; that is, to preach Christ crucified, and to set forth his death, and the ends of it, as Paul did when he says, "Before whom Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you," Gal. iii. 1. The flesh and blood of Christ are meat and drink indeed; and the knowledge of him, when souls are fed with it, is eternal life to all believers. Some good men make Christ to be this steward, fearing, as I suppose, that too much honour should be given to the ministry, derogatory to the honour of Christ: but, if we consider what the Holy Spirit says in the Scriptures upon this head, that these servants are stewards or the mysteries of God, stewards of his manifold grace, and I may say stewards of the wardrobe also, and of the regalia, to bring forth the best robe, and the shoes, and even the ring; and are stewards of the household, to furnish and set out the table, and to give to each a portion of meat in due season, it appears strange to me that it should be too great a matter for these honoured servants to pay a penny to day-labouring men, when we see every day that a household steward pays the bills of a family and the land-steward, bailiff, or foreman, the labouring men. We have proved that this penny a day is faith; and that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God; and so we read that "many of them which heard the word believe; and the number of the men was about five thousand," Acts, iv-4. The jailor received faith from the word spoken by Paul; and the Ethiopian eunuch received his penny by Philip the same way, Acts, viii. 37.
But it is not every degree of faith in the heart that comes up to the meaning of my text. Faith may be communicated by the Spirit to the souls of sinners, and work long before it be discovered by others; and, indeed, sometimes it is hardly perceptible to the recipients themselves. A soul convinced, convicted, and quickened by the Holy Ghost, believes at once the justice of God, the holiness of the law, and the truth of divine revelation, and believes Christ to be the true and only Saviour of mankind; yea, and he may believe every thing else, except that of his own interest in these things; here is faith working, like seed sown in the field or garden; but then none but God and the convinced sinner know any thing about it; and how can others be moved to envy or jealousy at that which they do not see? Faith, whether weak or strong, seen or not seen, is the penny, but not the whole of it; because the image and superscription do not appear. When the whole penny is received, with its image and superscription, faith appears, love appears, joy appears, and the full assurance of faith appears; doubts and fears are fled, and all the treasure of the heart flows out at the mouth, and appears in the countenance, words, and actions; and this is plain from the parable; for as soon as the one-hour labourer received his penny, all the rest of the labourers saw it, and were provoked to envy at the sight of it; which is what they could not have seen if it had been concealed in the heart, as faith at the beginning generally is. Having offered a few thoughts upon the steward, I come now,
4. To shew what we are to understand by the last that was paid; and why the last was paid first. By the last, I understand here and there one whose conversion to God comes suddenly, and at an instant, when God in this sense cuts short his work in righteousness, as he will do in time to come, when a nation shall be born at once. The apostles, some of them at least, attended Christ's ministry three years; they continued with him in his temptations and he compares them but to women in labour when he left them, at his apprehension: but there were three poor souls paid by the master himself, and who received their penny before any of the apostles received theirs.
The first is the centurion; when he said "But speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. And when Jesus heard it he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily, I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel," Matt. viii. 10.
2. The Syrophenician woman, to whom Christ said, "O woman, great is thy faith? Be it unto thee even as thou wilt," Matt. xv.. 28; and what could the Lord say more? or what more could she expect? Had these words been spoken in our days, they would have been counted as leading to all manner of licentiousness; "Be it unto thee even as thou wilt!" "Then," says the meritmonger, "farewell all good works." No, not so. I have no doubt but this woman, at her return, vexed the devil by her faith as much as ever the devil had vexed her daughter. She was to have her will of the devil, and to do with him as she would; and I will be bold to say that she neither spared him nor his works.
3. The next soul that I consider as paid before the apostles was Mary Magdalene, out of whom seven devils were cast, and all her sins pardoned at once; faith purified her heart in an instant, and her faith wrought by love; and having much forgiven she loved much, because she was much beloved.
4. The thief upon the cross obtained his penny at once. He prayed, and was answered to his full satisfaction; and we read of no more complaints, desires, or cravings. Christ had promised, and he believed; and knew that Paradise was most assuredly his. How long these poor souls had laboured and toiled in the chains of their sins, and in their legal bondage, previous to this, I know not; but I have no doubt but their convictions and labour were sharp and severe, for the whole need not a physician, but the sick. If they had not been sick they would not have been healed; but healed they were, and received the penny too before any one of the apostles was paid; for neither of these received their penny till the day of Pentecost was fully come. The apostles attended the Lord's ministry nearly, if not quite, three years; and they waited fifty days afterwards before the glorious penny, in all its meaning, came. Not so Cornelius and the company that was with him; for when Peter, performing the office of a steward, was sent to pay the penny to him and his friends, it came at once: " And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter; because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost; for they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God," Acts, x. 45, 46. These poor souls obtained their pay in a much shorter time than the apostles did; and yet they received every man a penny; and this Peter owns when he is called to give an account of paying this penny to the Gentiles (compare Acts, xi. 16, 17, with Acts, xv. 8-10): "God, which knoweth the hearts (says Peter) bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us, and put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith." The apostles toiled three years before they were paid, and these seem to have wrought but a few hours; and yet Peter owns that the pay was the same: "God gave them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us at the beginning, and put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith."
Paul, when he was sent into the vineyard, had hard labour for some time, as he himself owns. "Remember," says he, "that, by the space of three years, I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears," Acts, xx. 31; but not so the gaoler, who cried out, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house; and they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house; and he rejoiced, believing in God, with all his house," Acts, chap. xvi. Here is the whole penny at once; here is faith, and the image also; faith wrought by love, and love casting out all fear and torment; there was a comfortable assurance, and this assurance of salvation filled them with joy: "Believe, and thou shalt be saved." The gaoler believed, and rejoiced in God's salvation.
The hardest labour in the vineyard is that of planting, or working out our salvation with fear and trembling; because, Satan, sin, conscience, law, and gospel, yea, God himself, seem to be against us. This is the strife at the strait gate; for they that come to Christ are sure to come labouring and heavy laden: but when the union with the true vine takes place, the soul finds rest; after this the yoke is easy, when compared to the yoke of the law; and the daily cross is light, when compared to the burden of unpardoned sin: but of this labour there is no rule, some labour longer than others do; and the soul-travail of some is much keener and sharper than that of others; but the penny is sure to come to all the children of Zion, sooner or later. Mary, the mother of our Lord, seems to have obtained it at her meeting with her cousin. She and Elizabeth received the penny together, Luke, i. 41. Zacharias, for his unbelief, laboured dumb nine months before he was paid, Luke, i. 67. These three the Lord paid himself by the Spirit: they did not receive their penny by the instrumentality of a steward; but the full assurance of faith, the love of God, the joy of the Holy Ghost, all of which are peculiar to the elect of God, are conspicuous enough in them all; and this is the penny with its image and superscription.
This penny is said to be daily pay; because all God's house-hold, and every righteous person in it, are to live by faith. "The just," says God, "shall live by his faith and all believers do so live as never to perish, or be lost or damned; yet there are certain seasons when this pay is received in a very conspicuous and glorious manner, as hath-been shewn; and we do receive it again and again. Some receive it but once, as the thief upon the cross; and good old Simeon was kept long waiting for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Ghost had informed him that he should not see Death till he had seen the Lord's Christ; and as soon as he caught him up into his arms the penny came, and he finished his course in the joy of it. Some I have known to receive it after all has been given up for lost, and they have given themselves over to desperation and death; and then it has come; and these have run about with it, glorying, and triumphing till they have provoked not a few to jealousy; and, by being so lavish, and so charmed with the penny as to depend more on the cash in hand than on the householder, this penny, like all other money in constant use, has worn smooth, so that the image and superscription were hardly perceptible. Such souls, by being purse-proud, like good Hezekiah, have been kept short, and brought into bondage and wrath again, as it is written, "But Hezekiah rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him, for his heart was lifted up; therefore, there was wrath upon him, and upon Judah and Jerusalem. Notwithstanding, Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of the Lord came not upon them in the days of Hezekiah," 2 Chron. xxxii. 25, 26. After this we read that Hezekiah prospered in all his works, and great honour was done him at his death; and indeed every fresh discovery of Christ Jesus, and every enlargement of heart, every breaking forth of light had love upon the soul, puts a new face upon the penny, and is a restamping the image and superscription; or, as Paul says, it changes us into the same image, from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord, I shalt now come to the next head, which is to shew,
4. Why the last were paid first, and the first last? It is intended to cross the self-will of man. Our character is, That we are self-willed 2 Peter, ii 10; and to teach us submission to the sovereign will of God: "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious;" and, therefore, salvation is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth; but of God that sheweth mercy. God worketh all things after the counsel of his own will; and this is a hard lesson to learn; and all God's family will find it so, if their corrupt nature is like mine.
2. It is intended to provoke us to jealousy; and jealousy is a most effectual antidote against ease, sloth, and carnal security. God hates lukewarmness, deadness, and idleness in our worship and warfare; and there is but little danger of this where the flames of jealousy are kindled: "The Lord shall go forth as a mighty man; he shall stir up jealousy, like a man of war," Isaiah, xlii. 13. The Lord, we see, stirs up this jealousy. Some are jealous of their own honour, as the persecuting Jews were; these God provoked to jealousy by them that were not a people, as they had provoked him to jealousy with that which was not God. They had moved him to anger with their vanities; and by the foolish nations of the Gentiles he angered them. The faithful are jealous of the Saviour's love, and cannot endure a rival in it, when themselves are deserted and neglected; as the spouse, when the daughters of Jerusalem were embraced while she sought him, but found him not; and called him, but he gave her no answer. There were a low sparks of this fire kindled in some of the apostles, when James and John, with their mother, sued for the right and left hand of Christ in his kingdom.
3. The last were paid first, to mortify an highly favoured principle, which is common to all mankind; I mean, some ground of boasting, which God will not suffer. How often does the prophet Isaiah detect this favourite idol! "The mean man shall be brought low; and the haughty shall be humbled, and the Lord only shall be exalted in that day." If the labourer that had wrought the whole day, and who had borne the heat and burden of it had been first paid, and his pay treble to any of the others, their labour and burden-bearing might have been considered partly as the procuring cause of the additional pay: but he that wrought but one hour was paid first, and he that laboured the whole day was paid last; and every one received a penny: - Where is boasting, then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay, but by the law of faith."
4. The last were paid first, to debase that legal self-righteous spirit, which is so deeply rooted in the souls of mankind, and has been ever since the fall; and which is so odious to God, that it sets the Pharisee further off from the kingdom of heaven than either the publican or the harlot. How desperately did this sour leaven work and ferment in the elder son when the prodigal received his penny! He charges God himself with injustice for embracing the prodigal, and neglecting to reward him according to his own merit: "Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I thy commandment at any time, and yet thou never gavest me a kid that I might make merry with my friends: but as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hath killed for him the fatted calf; and he was angry, and would not go in;" and, as God did not display his power to compel him to come in to the marriage-feast, he was left to the power of his own will; he would not come in, and he was left without, and given up to the day of future reckoning, to learn from Omniscience and the spirituality of God's law, what legal pride and human merit could do for him.
5. The last were paid first, to display and exalt the grace of God; to shew that salvation and glory are free, and not merited; and that they are God's gifts, and not man's wages; for if this penny, which is faith, and the image on it, which is God's love, and the superscription, which is the faith of God's elect, and eternal life, which is to all that believe, came upon the labourer that wrought but one hour, it could not be the reward of human merit, because there is not the least proportion between the labour and the pay; and indeed, to speak the truth, they worked from this penny, and not for it; for, when the master told these men to go into the vineyard, and they should receive whatsoever was right, it is said they went their way; which shews that they believed him, and the word that he had spoken unto them; and therefore went at his command; and what is this but the beginning of the wages which was felt in them before one stroke of labour was struck? It is the determination of the Almighty to exalt the grace of his dear Son. This he tells us both in the Old Testament and in the New. The temple in type and the church in truth, shall not be built by human power, nor by the might of worldly policy, but by the Spirit of the Lord of Hosts; that, as Zerubbabel had laid the foundation of the temple, and Christ the foundation of the church, the same hands should finish both; and he that founded it should bring forth the top-stone of it, crying Grace, grace, unto it. By grace are we saved who are in a militant state; and God displays the riches of his grace in glory by Christ Jesus in them who are already glorified; so that the last saint that shall be called is the last lively stone that shall finish the battlement; and when the Lord bringeth forth this stone it shall be with shoutings, "crying Grace, grace, unto it" Here is no voice of human merit, no voice of boasting; nor the voice of Self-Righteousness and Free-Will in all this universal shout; both the rearing-supper and the house-warming seem to reflect one united and harmonious shout, without jargon and without discord. "It shall be," says God, "with shootings, crying Grace, grace, unto it." I shall now come to shew,
5. What was the cause of their murmuring against the good man of the house. The cause was, That they conferred with flesh and blood, and consulted with carnal reason; and the conduct of the householder was most certainly contrary to the common customs of all civilized nations. What! make no difference between a man that works twelve hours and he that works but one? What! shall one man do all the work, and another be honoured by being first called to the pay-table, who has no more than just warmed himself at labour? The whole day's pay is received for one hour's work, and he is gone home, and to market; while we, the longest at labour, and the last paid, shall not be at market before the others are in bed! "I think that God hath set forth us, the apostles, last, as it were appointed to death; for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised," 1 Cor. iv. 9, 10. We are not ignorant of that root. All these things are according to the rules of reason, and human customs and reason are strong upon these heads; but they have no weight with the Sovereign Disposer of all grace. "Produce your cause, saith the Lord; bring forth your strong reasons saith the King of Jacob," Isaiah, xli. 21.
There is such a thing in man's corruptions as self-love: "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come; for men shall be lovers of their ownselves," 2 Tim. iii. 2. God has made a law against this evil: "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" Had this been the case here, there had been no murmuring about the penny: but this law is weak through the flesh, Rom. viii. 3: the law gives no power to subdue this evil; and therefore, the flesh rebels against it: and the best of men, at times, get into a legal self-righteous spirit; and this influence works not alone, self-love and self-pity are ingredients that always work with it; and under these influences every token for good to others is observed with a jealous eye, all their favours are grudged, and the very kindness of the Lord to them is highly resented: "These have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal with us." I believe there are but few of the Lord's family that are altogether ignorant of this leaven. Had these murmurers been at this time as Job was, when God let the beams of his glory discover the inmost recesses of his heart, and they, like him, had been abhorring themselves at the sight, and repenting in dust and ashes, they would have found that "to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet;" and self-debased sinners, who find any sweetness in their own mess, will not envy the five-fold mess of Benjamin.
Again: Some of God's chosen people have, while in a state of nature, been curbed, and kept much in by the reins of Providence; as Joseph, Samuel, and others; when, on the other hand, some have run to great excesses; as Mary Magdalene, Manasseh, and Peter. These moral characters have a deal of dross about them, and their own apparel cleaves close to them; and, if the convincing, and convicting work of the Spirit be not deep, sharp, and severe, their purging and stripping work goes slowly on; and when such see a notorious sinner come forth, and run away with the penny in an hour's time, then this murmuring begins, as in the following case: "Zaccheus, make haste, and come down; for to-day I must abide at thy house; and he made haste and came down, and received him joyfully; and Zaccheus stood, and said unto the Lord, Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and, if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him four-fold." This is all the licentiousness that the grace of God leads men to. "And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." Salvation came to this man in a minute, unsought, unimplored, and unexpected; and we have an account of his joy; and we may see the love of God that entered into his heart, by the love of money being driven out. This man received his penny at once; and what was the consequence of this? Why, when the others "saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner," Luke, xix. 7. Here we see the last in man's account paid first; and the other at the old trade; that is, murmuring at the good man of the house.
Once more: This murmuring often discovers itself in them that labour hard in the word and doctrine, and who meet with many temptations and persecutions by the way, who are much exercised in their souls, and who frequently go bound in the spirit, and are often straitened in the work, burdened with the care of many, having many to feed, and often in want themselves. Hence they complain, "We have borne the burden and heat of the day, and these have wrought but one hour; and thou hast made them equal with us." "While Peter spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them that heard the word; and they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter; because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost," Acts, x. 44, 45. "And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him, saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them; but Peter rehearsed the matter from the beginning and expounded it by order unto them," Acts, xi. 2-4. Peter's reply silenced the voice of murmuring but nothing but death will eradicate the cause of it. Those that bore the burden and heat of the day wanted a little room left for works of righteousness that they had done; but there is no room granted for boasting; and those that contended with Peter seem to be prejudiced in favour of their own countrymen; but God will be gracious to whom he will be gracious, and all obstructions must fall before his sovereign will. I come now to my last head, which is,
6. To shew that he who receives the wages agreed for is not injured. Observe here, that there were more than one labourer who complained and murmured. The words are in the plural: "And when they had received it, they murmured against the good man of the house, saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal with us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day." These murmurers seem to be so filled with fume and pet, that they quite forget themselves; for they call the Saviour by no title or character; neither Master, God, nor Lord; but only thou; "Thou hast made them equal with us." The character of the good man of the house comes not from the labourers, but from the Lord himself. "But he answered one of them." The Lord does not reply to all that complained; but to one of them, who, perhaps, was the ringleader, the most forward, and the most irritated. Had Jonah been among them, we might have cast the lot once more upon him. However, if this man had no appellation for the Lord, the Lord had one for him, which is that of friend: "Friend, I do thee no wrong." Now, are we to suppose that our Lord, when he calls this man friend, meant it in the same sense as he did to Judas, when he wished the Saviour all prosperity, and kissed him? Which kiss was to be the fatal sign by which Christ was to be distinguished to his murderers! to whom Christ replied, "Friend, wherefore art thou come?" Not that Christ was ignorant of the heart of Judas; for he asked him if he betrayed the Son of man with a kiss! But Judas coming with Hail, Master! and kissing him, he wished to have concealed his secret intention, and to be considered as a friend, and therefore the Lord called him what he wished him to appear to be; but this was not the case here, these labourers had wrought hard for the Lord, and in the Lord's vineyard, which is what hypocrites, impostors, and better men cannot do. Such may get into churches; but then they are nothing but thieves, robbers, wolves, and bears, while they remain there; and can do nothing else but harden sinners, embolden hypocrites, and starve the saints, being impostors and deceitful workers. But these labourers differed widely from such: for we read that the wayside hearers, the thorny ground, and the stony around, all apostatized; and those that stood the longest were scorched and withered away when the sun of persecution and temptation waxed hot: but this had not been the case with these labourers; they tell the Lord himself that they had borne the burden and heat of the day; they had endured persecution and temptation too, and were neither scorched nor withered. Besides, these men understood this sort of coin, the image of it, the superscription of it, and the real worth of it, which hypocrites and impostors know nothing of; nor was there any just ground for murmuring, seeing they all fared and shared alike; every one received a penny. All the offences took rise from a supposition; for when the one labourer received his penny, then they that came first to work supposed that they should receive more, which they did not. From all which, it appears that these men were the Lord's real friends. They had received the gospel of reconciliation; they were intrusted with the word of truth, the mysteries of the kingdom, and the grace of a God; and those that are intrusted with these treasures are not called servants, but friends; for bond-servants are neither acquainted nor intrusted with any such things as these. "Friend, I do thee no wrong." When the householder went out first to hire these labourers, the parable says, That when he had agreed with them for a penny a day, he sent them into the vineyard; and at pay-time, when this murmuring took place, he asks one of them, saying, "Didst thou not agree with me for a penny by which it appears that the agreement was mutual. The penny is promised to all the elect of God. "I will put my law in their minds, and as soon as they hear of me they shall obey me; and the isles shall wait for his law." This is the faith that is promised; and this is the penny in our Lord's parable. The image of this penny is promised also: "And the Lord thy God will circumcise thy heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live." This is the image of the penny; for faith that worketh by love is sure to be sterling; but all other faith is doubtful coin. The superscription of this penny is promised also. The superscription is "The Faith of God's Elect;" and Faith's hardest work is to fasten upon the true vine, and then to believe and embrace the love of God in Christ: then the promise is, That "mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands," Isaiah, lxv. 22. These things are all set forth in the ministry of the word, by all who preach the faith of Christ Jesus. They insist upon it, that without faith, God cannot be pleased; and that all works, except the work of faith and labour of love are rejected; and their commission authorizes them to assert, that he that believes not shall be damned. Poor miserable sinners hear these tidings, and are convinced of the truth of them, and wait at Wisdom's gate for this law; and they soon find themselves strengthened and encouraged in waiting upon God. These encouragements bring them to acquiesce and heartily to approve of salvation by grace, through faith in Christ, having made trial of an arm of flesh, and being tired out with trusting to that poor withered stick. Now, such souls, heartily approving, do agree for this penny a day; and they esteem the least grain of faith to be a most precious jewel. These are the Lord's proposals, which are held forth in the gospel to all poor and needy sinners; and they, on the other hand, are not slack in mentioning their terms also; often saying, when feeling their bondage, and the power of unbelief, and the fears and torment which attend a guilty conscience, "O that I could but believe! O that God would give me faith! I would not care how hard I fared, or how much I suffered, if I could but see my interest clear in Christ Jesus! if I could but be fully persuaded that he loved me, and gave himself for me!" Such protestations often pass through the lips of self-lost and self-condemned sinners, who watch and wait at Wisdom's gate; and the Omniscient Householder is not unacquainted with these vows and promises, as appears by Jer. ii. 20. Here we see what I think to be the mutual agreement; and, as Death in all its meaning is the sinner's most formidable enemy, including the curse and wrath of God and endless damnation in it, so life is the sinner's greatest blessing; and this life is in faith: it comes from the living saviour's fullness by the Spirit of life to us; and divine life is the quintessence of faith; for all sorts of faith, that has no works and motions in it, is dead, James, ii. 26. The life of faith, hope, and love, is the Holy Spirit; and the life of the Holy Spirit is in faith, in hope, and in love; and this is well expressed in the Common PrayerBook, which calls genuine faith a lively faith in God's mercy through Christ, attended with a thankful remembrance of his death, and living in charity with all men. This is the penny; and the Common Prayer-Book brings in charity also, which is the image of it; and, if we take in another passage from that book, we shall take in the superscription of this penny also. "I believe in God the Holy Ghost, who hath sanctified me and all the elect people of God." All sanctification is by faith, and all glorification is by love. Christ sanctified the people with his own blood, and faith purifies the heart with it. The offering up of the Gentiles is accepted, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost; and we receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Our glorification is chiefly in love: "According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love," Eph. i. 4. This is our holiness and our glorification before God in heaven. Now, all believers have life, more or less, and the just shall live by his faith; and this is his daily pay; and I am well persuaded that this penny does bring in some sweet morsel or other, on which the soul feeds, at the eve of every day of trouble that the saints of God wade through; sometimes it is done in communion with the saints, sometimes under the word, sometimes in prayer, and at other times by obtaining, promises, by smiling providences, by support under trials, and by deliverances out of troubles; nor do I believe that any one of these labourers that murmured were destitute of faith, or of the life of faith; but it was the early and the fresh pay that provoked them; and, as each of these received a penny, that is faith, and eternal life is already his portion that believes in Christ, it is plain that they had got all that the Lord promised, and all that their own protestations expressed, and by which they agreed; and therefore they could not be wronged; "Friend, I do thee no wrong:" but the murmuring was not about the penny, for every one received that: the image and superscription seem to me to be the chief cause of their murmuring; and, if I might publish or proclaim what I think, the following were the cause of their complaints: Some of these labourers were ministers, and such are often straitened in their spirit, and in the work of the Lord, and to see souls enlarged and brought out under their discourses, which have been delivered in chains. This has a tendency to provoke to jealousy, "lest that, by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway," 1 Cor. ix. 27.
When some have seen a poor soul delivered in a most glorious manner, and have thought that such an one appeared to bid fair to be useful in the ministry, or at least to be an ornamental pillar in the house of God, and, in the midst of all these pleasing hopes, such an one has been taken away by death, and, as it were, in his first love, this is no small trial to the saints and labourers, especially when persecutors abound; as was the case when Stephen was put to death, and died penny in hand; the Church knew the worth of him, and the loss of him was great; and devout men carried him to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.
It is a truth contained in the word of God, that day-labouring men were to be paid every evening, when their day's work was done; and it is as true that all believers are to live by the faith of be Son of God every day, and all their days; but that the Lord's labourers receive their penny at the eve of natural days does not appear, according to experience, to be matter of fact. There are many mysteries in the Lord's vineyard, which are called "the mysteries of the kingdom:" the saints are called to mysterious labour, and there is a mystery in their pay, and all the seven days of their week have also a mystery in them.
1. "As a shepherd seeketh out his flock, in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark days," Ezek. xxxiv. 12. These cloudy dismal days, are so called because of the many clouds that hang over the heads of poor self-lost sinners. "His sins as a cloud, and his transgressions as a thick cloud," Isa. xliv. 22, hang heavy over his head. "God holdeth back the face of his throne, and spreadeth his cloud upon it," Job, xxvi. 9; so that prayer seems not to pass through, which is a sore grief to the seeking soul; and such poor blind things often fall into bad hands, and, like the prodigal, join themselves to citizens of this country, which Peter calls "wells without water, and clouds without rain," and these help forward their calamity, There are but few of the Lord's people who are ignorant of this cloudy and dark day; nor are they insensible, nor is their soul-travail small, while this gathering work is going on. Souls must be made sick of the world, and of the men of it, sick of sin and of self too, before they be gathered to Christ, and united to him. Upon the close of this cloudy day comes the penny, Christ shines upon the soul, and makes "darkness light before him, and crooked things straight."
2. This brings on another day, and we may call it one of the best days we ever knew; but often it appears like the transport of the two disciples at Emmaus; and he was no sooner seen than gone. "And he said unto the disciples, The days will come when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it," Luke, xvii. 22. Here is a cloudy and dark day, and here is one of the days of the Son of man: a day much to be desired, and yet this day is denied; it is not to be seen, though much longed for.
3. There is a day of adversity: "In the day of adversity consider," Eccl. vii. 14. This is a day of trouble, when Satan and Corruption seem to carry all before them, when no Sun of Righteousness appears, and the soul, having tasted the sweetness of Christ, is the more tortured at the loss of him; as the disciples after his resurrection, when he paid them so man transient visits, and before they could gaze at him he was gone: but when the day of Pentecost was come, it was not as before; and so in our day of adversity when it is over.
4. The fourth day comes on; and we may call it "the wedding day," when the soul has a clearer sight and a more joyful embrace: Go forth, O ye daughters of Zion, and behold king Solomon with the crown wherewith his mother crowned him in the day of his espousals, and in the day of the gladness of his heart," Cant. iii. 11. This account expresses the sinner's going forth from his prison of darkness, bondage, and infidelity; and of a clear view of Christ, and of the soul's espousals to him; which is our wedding day, and a joyful one it is: "In the day of prosperity be joyful," Eccl. vii. 14. "This glorious day is often mentioned in holy writ, attended with the voice of Joy and the voice of Gladness, the voice of the Bridegroom and the voice of the Bride: but let these joyful days last as long as they may, there will be an eclipse upon them: "Truly, the light is sweet, and a Pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun: but if a man live many years and rejoice in them all, yet let him remember the days of darkness, for they shall be many", Eccl. xi. 7, 8. Spiritual desertions are common to God's children: the Lord often hides his face, and withdraws the light of his countenance; at which times the saint finds his evidences obscured; he sees not his signs nor his love-tokens: but this day of darkness is not to abide for ever, it has its evening as well as other days: "The morning cometh, and also the night," Isa. xxi. 12. This dismal and gloomy time, strictly speaking, is "not day nor night; but it shall come to pass that at evening it shall be light," Zech. xiv. 7. This mysterious time is not day with us; because our old vail has brought on an eclipse upon the Sun of Righteousness. Nor is it night in the worst sense; because we can see ourselves and our deformity, our corruptions and the vileness of them; and we can see that the Lord hath withdrawn himself, and is gone; and we can see our own wretchedness when we are left alone, though we see not the King's face; nor are we without our beacons in this cloudy day: Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God," Isaiah, 1. 10. We are not only to trust and stay ourselves upon God in these dark days; but to seek him earnestly by prayer, and by all other appointed means: "Seek him that maketh the seven stars and Orion, and turneth the shadow of death into the morning," Amos, v. 8.
Now, according to these accounts, there are cloudy and dark days, there are times of spiritual desertion. These days are often to return. "Let the believer," says the wise man," remember these days of darkness, for they shall be many."
There are days of trouble. These often return also: "Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me," Psalm 1. 15. To this day David alludes, when he says, "The Lord hear thee in the day of trouble; the name of the God of Jacob defend thee, send thee help from the sanctuary, and strengthen thee out of Zion," Psalm xx. 1, 2.
There are days of confinement, when the soul is shut up, and cannot come forth: "Bring my soul out of prison," says David, "that I may praise thy name."
And there are days of fasting also: "Can you make the children of the bridechamber fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast: but the days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days," Mark, ii, 19, 20. Now these are the days of hard labour, and these are days of heat and burden. Temptation, corruption, and the rage of enemies, are generally let loose on these days; and all these adversaries have got heat enough. With these the soul is burdened and bowed down, deserted of its best friend, and left to struggle with its own rebellion, enmity, and unbelief; and in these days no provision is allowed, the bridegroom is taken away, and the children of the bridechamber shall fast in those days; the Lord himself declares that they shall fast.
It appears to me that, at the close of these days, the steward is called to pay the labourers, and not at the eve of natural days; for we do not find our penny to come at such times. Furthermore, if we examine, we shall find that this penny, with its image and its superscription, is promised to those that labour and toil in these dark days, days of trouble, days of adversity, and fasting days; for so run the promises.
"He that followeth me shall not abide in darkness; but he shall have the light of life." There is the dark day; but he shall not abide in it, but shall have the light of life. There is the penny promised at the end of this dark day.
Again: "In the day of prosperity be joyful; but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other," Eccl. vii. 14. Here is the day of adversity, in which the heart knows its own bitterness; and this day has the penny at the end of it, which brings on a day of prosperity, in which no stranger intermeddleth with our joy. "God," says the wise man, "has set the one over against the other;" by which it appears that the day of adversity is sure, and so is the penny also.
Moreover, the day of trouble has got its penny at the end of it: "Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me." Now this deliverance is our salvation from that trouble: "Thus, saith the Lord, in an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee," Isa. xlix. 8. This salvation brings the penny with it; and receiving this we have something to spend: "I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me," says God; but, without faith and love, God can receive no glory from us.
There are also mourning days; when the soul is not only dark, but dead, dry, barren, and lean, rickety and inactive, cold and careless, and yet sees that all is wrong, and the best work apparently going back; no fervour, life, nor power; no liberty of soul or of speech; nothing is left but moping and "mourning all the day long," Psalm xxxviii. 6. But there is the penny at the end of this day: "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. Thy sun shall no more go down, neither shall thy moon withdraw itself; for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended," Isa. Ix. 20. At the end of these mourning days, God, like the sun, brings on light and heat; and under this light and heat Faith and Love are all alive, and the soul is sweetly enriched with both.
Fasting days also have the promised penny at the end of them: Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled." And again: "It shall come to pass in that day that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come that were ready to perish," Isaiah, xxvii. 13.
My reader sees these days of labour, and what they are; and he sees the promised pay at the eve of these days; and, as these days are variously expressed, so is the pay likewise. Hence we read that at the end of darkness comes light; at the end of trouble, deliverance; at the end of mourning comes comfort; at the end of adversity, prosperity; and at the end of fasting comes the feast: but still the penny is the same; for, let these days terminate in what way they may, whether in deliverance, in the light of God's countenance, in prosperity, in comfort, in feasting, in joy, or in fresh life, it is faith that brings all these things in; faith sees them, applies them, and feasts on them; for God fills us with joy and peace in believing. Moreover, all these deliverances, enlargements, comforts, revivals, renewings, and refreshings, are intended to feed, entertain, enrich, and banquet the soul: but without faith there can be no food or nourishment; for the just shall live by his faith, and that is the penny.
There is a day mentioned by Paul, the most perilous; the meaning of which seems more pregnant with sharpness and severity than any that I have hitherto taken notice of; we may call it "the day of the fiery trial." "According to the grace of God, which is given unto me (says Paul) as a wise master-builder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon; but let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon; for other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now, if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble, every man's work shall be made manifest; for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is," I Cor. iii. 10-13. Here is a day that is to declare and make manifest every man's work; and in this day, whatever this day is, every man's work is to be revealed by fire; and this fire is to try every man's work, of what sort it is. The foundation is one, and no other can be laid: but the materials mentioned are diverse, and badly matched: gold and wood, silver and hay, precious stones and stubble! Some good men think that diverse doctrines are meant by these things: gold, silver, precious stones, are sound wholesome truths; but wood, hay, stubble, set forth the doctrines of men, called "diverse and strange doctrines;" but the nominative leads us to the apostle's sense; for thus he begins the subject: "We are labourers together with God; ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building," 1 Cor. iii. 9; which shows that the Church is meant by God's building, and not doctrines; and his saints are the materials, and not words. Besides, every doctrine, promise, or truth, are in Christ, the Foundation, both Yea and Amen: he is the sum and substance of all divine revelation, the scriptures testify of him: so that to preach Christ in all his fullness, offices, undertakings, and finished works, is to declare the whole counsel of God, for Christ is all and in all, Col. iii. 11.
God hath founded Zion; and the poor of his people shall trust in it, Isaiah, xiv. 32. The foundation is for sinners to trust in. "Upon this rock (says Christ) will I build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
Now it is found to be matter of fact, that the days of fiery trial that come upon the saints, burn up or destroy false doctrines, which are supposed to be this hay and stubble; for there is not a lie, or damnable heresy, that the old serpent ever hatched, but the succeeding generation of vipers revise. Satan's posterity are sure to approve his sayings; and will till they go to the generation of their fathers, and find out in utter darkness what they never could see in the light. Hence it appears plain that different professors are meant by these different materials, and not doctrines.
There is nothing much more common in scripture than to call believers and their faith "gold:" "I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich," Rev. iii. 18. "That the trial of your faith being much more precious than gold that perisheth," 1 Pet. i. 7. Again: "I will make a man more precious than fine gold, even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir," Isaiah, xiii. 12. Again: "I will bring the third part through the fire: I will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried," Zech. xiii. 9. The apostle's gold and silver materials are purified believers, and nothing else; and this is plain from another account of the same apostle, where he says, "But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth, and some to honour and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified and meet for the masters use, and prepared unto every good work," 2 Tim. ii. 20, 21. These are Paul's choice materials of silver and gold, called vessels of honour;" and here are also a baser sort of vessels, called "wood" and "earth," which are vessels to dishonour. "Let a man," says Paul, "purge himself from these."
Another sort of choice materials that are proper for this foundation, are called "precious stones," which are dug out of the earth, and are cut and polished by the afflicting hand of God, and made transparent and brilliant by the Spirit of grace. These adorn the diadem of the Prince of Peace: "Thou shalt also be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of thy God," Isaiah, l xii. 3. Again: "And the Lord their God shall save them in that day as the flock of his people; for they shall be as the stones of a crown, lifted up as an ensign upon his land," Zech. ix. 16. "And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of Hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels," Mal. iii. 17. Here we have the apostle's precious materials of gold, silver, precious stones, which well befit such a choice and precious foundation as Christ is.
The other materials are hypocrites, plastered, daubed, and built up in the flesh, nursed in presumption, and swaddled in natural affections and dissembled love. These Paul calls "wood;" vessels of wood and vessels to dishonour being corrupt trees, called by the Lord "dry trees," Luke, xxiii, 31. The funeral pile of the city Jerusalem, when the wrath of God came upon the Jews to the uttermost, was made of these dry trees: "For Tophet is ordained of old; yea, for the king it is prepared; he hath made it deep and large: the pile thereof is fire and much wood; and the breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it," Isaiah, xxx. 33. This is the account of these wooden materials, called by Paul " vessels of wood" and "vessels to dishonour," being corrupt and dry trees, destitute of life and of fruit, and of course twice dead.
The trifling and vain materials which the apostle calls "hay," seems to be such as have had a verdant appearance in show; but whose profession was scorched and withered away, when persecution and temptation waxed hot, having no root in Christ to draw spiritual moisture from him. Let them all be confounded and turned back that hate Zion! "Let them be as the grass upon the house-tops, which withereth afore it groweth up, wherewith the mower filleth not his hand, nor he that bindeth sheaves his bosom!" Psalm cxxix. 5, 6, 7. This is the end of the hay.
The next kind of base and sordid materials is called "stubble:" which is the refuse of the harvest field, after the wheat is reaped, bound up, shocked, and gathered into the barn. To this the Jews were compared when the disciples of Christ were gathered out from among them: "For behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of Hosts; that it shall leave them neither root nor branch," Mal. iv. 1. These are Paul's vile materials, which the day of trial shall reveal and make manifest, and which the fire shall try and discover; and it is so obvious to common sense, that wood, hay, and stubble cannot stand the fire like gold, silver, or stones; nor is there any one thing in us, poor frail sinful creatures, that can endure the fiery trial; but if the incorruptable seed of divine grace, and the most mighty Spirit of God be in men, there is nothing too hard for the lord, nor for them that trust in the Lord. "Every man's work (says Paul) shall be made manifest." The fruits of every minister's labours, and the work of every professor, his obedience and his fruits; and also the work within him, on which he rests; his heart work, his fear, his repentance, his love, his hope, and his faith, withers momentary, historical, miraculous, temporary, feigned, presumptuous, or genuine; and sure I am that every convert that had not the broad seal of Heaven upon him, and that is not sealed up to the day of redemption, must wither, fade, and consume in this time of making manifest, Rev. ix. 4. The day that is to declare man's works, signifies the time when this trial is to come on, which is known to God, but not to us; as the time of Jerusalem's destruction was not known to any of the apostles. The fire that is to try every man's work is not invariably one and the self same trial; but it is some furnace of affliction, which is intended to try and make manifest who are the Lord's people, and who are not. The affliction of Job was his fiery trial, out of which he prophesied he should come forth as gold, and so he did. Saul's persecution of David was a fiery trial to him; and out of which he came with the sure mercies of God in his heart, and a crown royal upon his head. The sore temptation of Satan that fell upon Peter, was his trial; and the propitious look of the Saviour fetched him out, with a faith more precious than gold. The offering up of Isaac was the trial of Abraham, which terminated in a double blessing to his soul and the encomiums of Heaven on his faith. Persecution and temptation were the scorching sun that withered the crop that sprang up so quick upon the stony and thorny ground-hearers. Sometimes this fiery trial is a resisting unto blood; a fallen by the sword, by flame, by captivity, and by spoil; but "when they fall (says the prophet) they shall be holpen with a little help; and some of them of understanding shall fail to try them, to purge, and to make them white," Dan. xi. 33-35.
The war in which we are engaged, and that God has proclaimed "springs," from the implacable enmity which God has put between the two seeds which discovers itself by two opposite flames, which break out in each army, and which will burn to all eternity. This is foretold in ancient prophecy; "for every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood; but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire; for unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given " Isa. ix. 5. This fire raged in the days of old; of which David complains: "If it had not been the Lord, who was on our side when men rose up against us, then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us," Psalm cxxiv. 2, 3; but this fire never raged with so much fury as it did about the holy child Jesus. It began to smoke in the days of his flesh, as he himself declares; "Suppose ye that I am come to send peace upon earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather divisions. I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled?" Luke, xii. 49. The wrath and rage of Satan flamed sadly in the Jewish rabbies against Christ and his disciples; and when the apostles were baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire, a most holy flame was kindled up in them; and then the battle began to wax hot, or, as the prophet says, "The battle was with burning and fuel of fire." The fuel is sinners enflamed with wrath and rage, persecuting the saints. These God calls "smoking firebrands.", Isa. vii. 4. This is the fuel of fire, and these are the brands that, smoke against the Lord's heritage; and those that minister to God, are called "a flaming fire" also, Psalm civ. 4, because the spirit of Judgment and the spirit of Burning is in them; and these fires will never go out, the torments of hell will not destroy the wrath and rage of Christ's enemies, nor can many waters quench love, or any flood drown it, Song, viii. 7. We know that gold will endure the fire; and John tells us, that Faith is born of God, and that it overcomes the world; and that neither life nor death can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus; and we are informed that the purpose of God, according to election, stands not of works, but of him that calleth, Rom. ix. 11; and if these be the true sayings of God, the penny, the image of it, and the superscription also, are sure to all the seed; and it is promised, at the end of this day of trial, in which the saints are in heaviness, through manifold temptations, that "the trial of faith being more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise, and honour, and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ," 1 Peter, i. 7.
And whenever this penny is received, it is discovered by the life and lively exercise of it; and while Faith acts, the image and superscription are sure to shine with peculiar lustre; and as long as this lasts, better days are enjoyed; and we will call them holy days, for such they are in the best sense. The scriptures call them days of the Son of man; days of our espousals, or wedding days; days of prosperity; days of salvation; good days; feast days, or days of festivity, and jubilee days; and may God increase them, and lengthen them out, and let these days be neither few nor short, for in these days no menial drudgery nor dead works can be performed!
Having wriggled with much difficulty through these things, some poor self-lost sinner may wish to be informed which is the best way for one that is convinced of the sin of unbelief, and who labours under the bondage of it, to obtain this penny. To which I answer, Hear what the Lord says upon this head: "For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and I will bring you into your own land. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean; from all your filthiness and from all your idols will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh: and I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them," Ezek. xxxvi. 24-27. Here God promises to sprinkle clean water upon us, which is the Holy Spirit and his grace; then we are to be cleansed from all our filthiness and from all our idols, The atonement of Christ is our cleansing from sin, the Holy Spirit makes known the efficacy of it, testifies of Christ, and works faith in the soul to believe in him, which faith purifies the heart; and this is plain, for Christ declares, "If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins," John, viii. 24.
2. Here is a promise of cleansing us from all our idols. This is called by Moses "circumcising our heart to love God with all the heart and with all the soul, that we may live;" and this circumcision is nothing else but purging the conscience from sin, called "putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ;" and shedding abroad God's love in the heart is called "putting on charity;" and these two things complete our circumcision; that, having much forgiven, we may love much, Luke,vii.47; for nothing else but the pardoning love of God will ever cleanse us from our beloved idols; and this is called in Jer. xxxi. 33, putting the law in the mind, and writing it upon the heart, which is nothing else but faith and love. Here my reader sees what is promised to poor sensible sinners.
Now the way to obtain these you have in the same chapter:, "Thus saith the Lord God, I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel to do it for them," Ezek. xxxvi. 37. When the Spirit quickens a sinner, and makes him sensible of his need, he is to let his request be made known unto God; and he has the promise of God to encourage him to it: "Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee and thou shalt glorify me."
2. In order to obtain this penny, the labourers are ordered to go into the vineyard; that is, to quit the market-place, which is this world, and to attend places of worship, where the gospel is preached; for it was in the vineyard, and not in the market-place, that this penny was paid. It is not the mourners of the world, but the mourners in Zion, that shall be comforted; nor is it the labourers of the world, but those in the vineyard, that receive the Lord's money. This penny must be prayed for, and waited for; for so it is written: "He shall not fail nor be discouraged till he hath set judgment in the earth; and the isles shall wait for his law," Isa. xlii. 4. These two things the Lord declares: he will be inquired of, to do these things for them; and the isles shall wait for his law; and the sensible sinner that waits should attend to the word spoken; for "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God," Rom. x. 17. This is the penny which is set before the attentive hearer; and the soul that feels its need, and eagerly watches and waits in hope and expectation, though he meets with many disappointments and discouragements which often increase his fears, and occasion faintings, yet God does not suffer him to give over, but sends him some relief, that he may take heart, and go at it again: "He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength," Isa. xi. 29. But this is promised only to them that wait upon the Lord: "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength," Isa. xi. 31; and this the seeking soul often finds, for he is helped, strengthened, and encouraged, against his own misgivings and despondings, though the much needed penny be not come. What the poor sinner most dreads is, coming short, or failing of this heavenly hire; and that which promotes his fears is the sickness of his heart, which every disappointment increases. "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick," Prov. xiii. 12. and "a wounded spirit who can bear?" Prov. xviii. 14. But the promise of God stands sure; they shall not be disappointed, nor confounded, nor put to the blush, that obey his voice; for God himself declares That "they shall not be ashamed that wait for me," Isa. xlix. 23; and God sets the penny before none but them that wait upon him, and for him; and before the waiting soul it is set forth in all its worth, and with all the riches in it, both of grace and of glory, which shall attend the reception of it: "For since the beginning of the world, men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, besides thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him," Isa. lxiv. 4. All this, Paul tells us is revealed unto us by the Spirit; and we receive the promise of the Spirit through faith, Gal. iii. 14. This heavenly treasure that God promises to the waiting soul, is the descent of the Holy Ghost upon us as a Comforter; and when he comes as such, the full assurance of faith, our election of God, and God's everlasting love to us, are all made plain and clear; and this is the full reception of this penny, containing its image and superscription, which comes with all these appendages, and with all its invaluable riches, as "the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen," Heb. xi. 1.
The penny, abstractedly considered, may be felt working in the mind; and life, under the quickening influences of the Spirit, may be felt also, even by the soul that waits in hope and in expectation of this pay; but then he has no assurance, and of course no satisfaction. For instance, "Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors," Prov. viii.34. Such a soul is represented as hearing Christ; and, if he does, he must be one that feels a divine power, for in no other way can a man distinguish Christ's voice from that of a stranger, the excellency of the power being of God, and not of man; and what can that power be but life? "My word is Spirit, my word is life." And again: "The time cometh and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live." And again: "My sheep hear my voice, and I give unto them eternal life."
"Blessed is the man that heareth me." And what is this blessing? Why, it is life: "Upon mount Zion God commanded the blessing, even life, for evermore." But there is no blessing nor life without faith; for "they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham," and none else Gal. iii. 9; and "he that believeth on the Son hath life;" but no faith, no life; and, if no life, no blessing; but my reader must observe that it is one thing to hear a person speak, and another thing to see the person that speaks; so it is one thing to hear the voice of the Son of God alarming, awakening, quickening, and raising up a soul dead in trespasses and sins; and it is another thing to be so illuminated as to see the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing, in his wings. The former may give me a persuasion and life to feel my lost state, which will set me to labour, and keep me at work; yet I cannot believe my faith to be genuine till some degree of assurance, some love to God, and my election in Christ Jesus, appear; and when these come, the whole penny is received, and I am at the utmost certainty about the cash, the goodness of the coin, and of the life of glory which is promised to all that believe.
Thus have I offered a few thoughts upon these labourers, their work, and the steward also, the penny, the different days of labour that fall to the saints lot in the course of their pilgrimage, and the pay that is promised at the close of these days, the different evenings when this pay may be expected, the days of festivity, the holy-days, and the jubilee-days that succeed as long as this penny lasts; during which days of release no servile work can be done. I have also endeavoured to set forth the image and superscription of this holy coin, whereby it is distinguished from everything else that bears the name of Faith; and that this cash will not pass current in any country or kingdom but the heavenly country and in the kingdom of God. Having, moreover, endeavoured to shew the best way, or the means that God has appointed for us in order to obtain this penny.
There are but two things more remaining for me to touch upon. The first is, The best way to spend this money, or to lay it out to the best advantage; and
The best cabinet, coffer, or purse, to keep this penny in, in order to enjoy it for our own use and benefit. Some when they receive these blessed wages get negligent in their approaches to God; and in diligence, waiting, and watchfullness, they grow remiss; and, having had many friends in their times of need, some of whom have pitied them, while others have encouraged them; some have sympathized with and succoured them; others have prayed with them and for them; and some have travailed again and again in birth till Christ should be formed in them; while others have reproved them for their impatience, murmuring and rebellion. To these the labourer goes full in pocket, and round from house to house he travels; some rejoice and bless God for his happy deliverance; and glorify God in him; some are moved with envy, and murmur at the good man of the house, judging that their own penny never appeared with such a peculiar lustre as his; others have been so provoked to jealousy that the sight of it has appeared unbearable, and therefore, they (though Conscience condemns them for it) begin to strip him of the penny, or to pick his pocket, and make him as poor as themselves criticising upon every word, doubting and scrupling all that he says, calling in question the soundness of his faith, the reality of his love, and the genuineness of the work; telling him of the wayside and stony-ground hearers, how far they went; and suspecting the reality of his heavenly joys, which they call levity, lightness, froth, and dangerous flights; and urging the necessity of sobriety, solidity, gravity, solemnity, reverence, and perpetual fear: all which counsel is good (as Hushai said to Absalom); but not at this time, 2 Sam. xvii. 7. Our old friend the Doctor has been at all this work; and therefore he speaks "as one having authority, and not as the scribes." In this way the poor labourer's penny is often squandered away, and he is brought to beggary, and made sad, whom the Lord would not have made sad, Ezek. xiii. 22. Spending every penny as fast as it comes in, in this way, is not the best method of increasing the capital.
To tell others that fear God what he hath done for our souls is well; and to strengthen the weak hands by relating our own labour, and the perilous state that we were in, and to encourage them by our deliverance, is agreeable to Paul: "For this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all long-suffering, as a pattern to others who should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting," I Tim. i. 16; but even in this, wisdom and prudence should be attended to; that is, we should not sing joyful songs to them of a heavy heart, nor rejoice with them that mourn, nor mourn with them that rejoice; but to "weep with them that weep," says the apostle, and to "rejoice with them that do rejoice," is right. But I will shew my reader a more excellent way; for it appears to me that at the soul's espousals to Christ the quintessence of the Bride's love, the best of her joys, the sweetest fruits of her lips, and the warmest of her heavenly affections, should be lavished away upon the Bridegroom; from whose fullness all life, grace, and goodness come. The Spouse, upon this occasion, says, "let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits." "Call upon me in the time of trouble, I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me." And again: "This people have I formed for myself, they shall shew forth my praise." And again: "That they maybe called trees of righteousness, planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified;" and how unkind did the Lord take it in the nine lepers, who never returned to him! all the ten were healed; but only one returned to give thanks: Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? They are not found to return to give glory to God, save this stranger; and he said unto him "Arise, go thy way, thy faith hath saved thee." This poor soul, having received the penny, brought it back to the householder, whose cash it was, and presented himself to the Lord with the warmest love, gratitude, and thankfullness, for his deliverance and his cure; and these grateful acknowledgments were well accepted of the householder, and he was sent away with all his cash in hand: "Thy faith hath saved thee, go in peace."
I shall come now to shew my reader which is the best cabinet, coffer, or purse, to keep this money in. We are informed, by the apostle Paul, That "the end of the commandment is charity, out of a pure heart, a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned." Here we see the coffer at once; and that the seat of unfeigned faith is a good conscience: and charity, which is the image of this penny, requires a pure heart: this is the end of the commandment. Let my reader take notice of the following things:
1. That the Holy Ghost doth teach all the ambassadors of peace to commend themselves to this court; which, in my opinion, is the highest court, and the nearest to God of any court in all the world; and the court in which there is the least bribery, partiality or injustice done: "We commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God," 2 Cor. iv. 2. Into this court the word of life first enters; he received the word in an honest and good heart, and kept it, and brought forth fruit, Luke, viii. 15. To Conscience the appeals from heaven are first made, as to the Chief Magistrate, of the first court, and as to the most impartial and unbiased Judge, and the most loyal to the King of kings, in all this lower world; and yet even Conscience, for want of divine revelations is not only free from mal-administrations, until he be endured with power from on high. However, so it really is, that the ambassadors of heaven commend themselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God; and that, when the Holy Spirit comes with the word of life, it is into this court, which is sometimes called "the conscience," Acts, xxiii. 1; and sometimes "the heart," read I John, iii. 21. Hence, such an heart or conscience is said to be good and honest: the conscience is good, having received the Holy Ghost; and honest, by a power from above enabling him to magnify his office; after this no dead works can bribe him, or make him partial or dishonest to the trust reposed in him.
The life of God is first manifested in this court, which, in the poor awakened sinner, makes strange work, and appears to be some strange thing that has happened unto him; but when he begins to perceive and believe that it is God's work in him, he then labours to cherish it, and often fears lest it should die away and leave him in a dead insensible state; for in that case he is sure that his latter end would be worse with him than his beginning; and it is to such poor sinners that our Lord speaks in the following words, "The humble shall see this and be glad; and your hearts shall live that seek God," Psalm lxix. 32. This promise is intended to encourage them who are convinced and convicted by the word and their own conscience, and who have many fears that their convictions will die away; and then they should conclude that "it had been better for them if they had not known the way of righteousness, than after they have known, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them knowing in themselves the strength of their corruptions, the weakness of their own resolutions, the power of Satan, and the certainty of going back again if their convictions should die away. This makes them cleave to their burden, it makes even their bitter things sweet, and the smarting rod is preferred to ease in Zion and to such souls are those words spoken: they are not meant to those who have found the pearl of great price, nor to them who have received the penny, but to the seeking soul: "Your heart shall live that seek God."
It is to conscience that the first voice of good tidings from heaven comes, called "the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel," Heb. xii. 24; because it purges the conscience, and speaks pardon, peace, reconciliation, and friendship with God; it speaks also redemption from sin, from among men, from the law, from wrath, from death, hell, and the grave; and all these are good things, and better things than the blood of Abel, or of any one else.
But again: The sentence of justification by the Holy Ghost is first passed in this court; and a divine witness is borne to the truth of that sentence, "He that believeth hath the witness in himself," 1 John, v. 10. The Spirit bears witness with our spirit. And again: "My conscience beareth me witness in the Holy Ghost," Rom. i. 9. Here is a conscience purged from sin, from dead works, from the curse of the law, from wrath, and from all the reproaches of Satan, and furnished with the voice of the Lord's atonement, with the sentence of justification by the Spirit, with the cry of "Abba, Father;" and with the witness of the Holy Ghost, bearing witness with our own conscience that we are the children of God. Now, consider how great this man Conscience is; how great in office! and what supremacy and excellent magistracy is added to him by all these things! "The Lord is ascended on high, and hath filled Zion with judgment and righteousness."
But to return: As God has added this honour to this his chief magistrate upon earth, we must be subject to these higher powers; as Paul was when he said, "And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward man," Acts, xxiv. 16. This was Job's labour also: "My heart shall not reproach me so long, as I live," Job, xxvii. 6. And this is what David means, when he says, "Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still," Psalm iv. 4. Listen to all the charges, censures, reproofs, checks, complaints, deficiencies, desires, disquietudes, short comings, and imperfections, that rise up in the mind, which all come from the court of Conscience. Carry all these things to God by humble confession and prayer, and be earnest in it; and Conscience will embrace every return of prayer, and requite us for praying, and spread the sweet and mild tranquillity of his government throughout the whole soul, when he has no evil thing to say of us. This is what David means by taking counsel in his soul, having sorrow in his heart, Psalm xiii. 2; and by communing with our own heart, is meant listening to all the charges and complaints of Conscience. These we receive; and granting the request of this ruler by answers to our prayers, this is returning to Conscience our gains, and is communing with him, which is giving and receiving; and if these things be well attended to, we shall not incur the displeasure of this ruler; but by doing good we shall have praise of the same, for he is the minister of God for good, Rom. xiii. 3, 4, and attends on this very thing: "My rejoicing is this says Paul; "The testimony of my conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world," 2 Cor. i. 12; and we are informed that the appearance of the Judge himself will not affright us, if we have the credentials of this ruling Elder: "If our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God," 1 John, iii. 21. And again: "And now, little children, abide in him, that when he shall appear we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming," 1 John, ii. 28. The mystery of faith must be held in a pure conscience; and thus it appears that this court is the seat of divine mysteries: "Hold the mystery of faith in a pure conscience and in this the voice of Father, Son, and Spirit, are all heard, felt, and enjoyed; and it is also the best coffer for the Lord's penny, the image of it, and the superscription of it; "Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, a good conscience, and faith unfeigned:" it may therefore be the best cabinet to keep this penny in. Nothing can stagger faith so bad a sin; nothing can sully the image of this penny but unpurged guilt; and, as the great Householder delights in the work of faith and in the labour of love, if we keep these things, deal in them, trade with them, and live by them, I have no doubt but that when he appears the second time, in order to reckon with the servants, that they will say "Well done, good and faithful servant, thou hast been faithful over a few things; for I have received mine own with usury, and I will make thee ruler over many things."
The thoughts of unenlightened sinners are their own jury, and Conscience is God's deputy judge to all the heathen world; "for when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves, which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another," Rom. ii. 14, 15. "For as many as have sinned without law, shall also perish without law; and as many as have sinned in the law, shall be judged by the law," Rom. ii. 12. Now, consider what great work Conscience will have to do in the great day; and will not only be a witness against these, but will have a great hand in executing his own sentence. The worm that never dies, which you read of in Mark, ix. 44, and Isa. lxvi. 24, is nothing else but the rebukes of Conscience upon the perpetual reflections of sinners; and as sure as the sinner that transgresseth the law dies in his transgression, so sure will he rise under the sentence of the law; which sentence the Saviour will only repeat, saying, "Go, ye cursed;" and the sentence passed on a heathen by his own conscience will be approved and confirmed by the Judge of quick and dead. Conscience has been at times so highly approved and honoured in his office, even by the Lord the Judge, that he has been allowed to pass the decisive sentence when the Judge him-self has been standing by, and the sentence of Conscience has been immediately executed, even by the great Judge: "Friend, how camest thou in hither, not having a wedding-garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness, there shall be weeping, and gnashing of teeth," Matt. xxii. 12,13. Friend, how camest thou in hither, "not having a wedding-garment? This is all that the Judge said, which brought on the dreadful conviction; all the secret charges were proved, and the sentence passed by God's delegate within; and it is plain that the whole process was just, because the criminal was immediately ordered for execution. I have here mentioned the high office that Conscience has in the heathen world, the honour that is conferred upon him by the Holy Spirit in all the saints, the heavenly things that are committed to him, and treasured up, under the care of Conscience, the necessity of communion and fellowship with him; that is, listening to all his charges, complaints, and deficiencies, &c.; and, by prayer, endeavouring to remove his charges, redress his grievances, and satisfy all his demands, and to keep up fellowship with him, as having joint interest in the treasures of Heaven. I have also endeavoured to shew that unfeigned faith and charity are both to appear in office and in exercise out of a pure heart and a good conscience, which are one and the same thing; and of course this penny and its image cannot have a better coffer to keep it in.
Once more: The Old Testament tells us that "there is not a just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not," Eccl. vii 20; and the New Testament confirms the same: "In many things we offend all," James, iii. 2; but for this worst of all our evils there is provision made: a fountain is open for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, Zech. xiii. 1; "And, if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous," I John, ii. 1; and there is forgiveness with God through Christ, that he may be feared. The just man living interested in this provision, though he fall into temptation, trouble, trials, or into spiritual decays, yea, even seven times, he rises again, Prov. xxiv. 16; but the hypocrite and the impostor never fall but once; and the reason is, because they never stood but in their own opinion. If Conscience smite us, let it be a kindness; if he reprove us, it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break our head; therefore our prayer shall be for him in his calamity. Faithful are the wounds of this friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.