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Bible Commentaries

Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible

Matthew 20

 

 

Verses 1-7

Matthew 20:1-2. 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. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.

The kingdom of heaven is all of grace, and so is the service connected with it. Let this be remembered in the exposition of this parable. The call to work, the ability, and the reward, are all on the principle of grace, and not upon that of merit. This was no common man that is an householder, and his going out to hire labourers into his vineyard was not after the usual manner of men, for they will have a full day’s work for a full day’s wage. This householder considered the labourers rather than himself. He was up before the dew was gone from the grass, and found labourers, and sent them into the vineyard. It was a choice privilege to be allowed to begin holy service so early in the morning. They agreed with the householder, and went to work on his terms. They might well be content, since they were promised a full day’s hire, and were sure to get it: a penny a day represented the usual and accepted wage. The householder and the labourers agreed upon the amount; and this is the point which has to be noted further on. Young believers have a blessed prospect: they may well be happy to do good work, in a good place, for a good Master, and on good terms.

Matthew 20:3-4. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.

Hating indolence, and grieving that he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, he hired more workers about the third hour. They would make only three-quarters of a day; but it was for their good to cease from loafing at the street-corner. These are like persons whose childhood is past, but who are not yet old. They are favored to have a good part of their day of life available for hallowed service. To these the good householder said, “Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you.” He pointed to those already in the field, and said, “Go ye also;” and he promised them not a definite sum, as he did those whom he first hired, but he said, “Whatsoever is right I will give you.” They went their way to their labour, for they did not wish to remain idlers; and as right-minded men, they could not quarrel with the householder’s agreement to give them whatsoever was right. Oh, that those around us, who are in their rising manhood, would at once take up their tools, and begin to serve the great Lord!

Matthew 20:5. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.

Had it been altogether and alone a business transaction, the householder would have waited to begin a new day, and would not have given a whole day’s wage for a fraction of a day’s work. The entire matter was alone of grace; and, therefore, when half the day was gone, about the sixth hour, he called in labourers. Men of forty and fifty are bidden to enter the vineyard. Yes, and about the ninth hour, men were engaged. At sixty, the Lord calls a number by his grace! It is wrong to assert that men are not saved after forty; we know to the contrary, and could mention instances. God in the greatness of his love calls into his service men from whom the exuberance of useful vigor has departed; he accepts the waning hours of their day. He has work for the weak as well as for the strong. He allows none to labour for him without the reward of grace, even though they have spent their best days in sin. This is no encouragement to procrastination; but it should induce old sinners to seek the Lord at once.

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

The day was nearly over: only a single hour remained; yet about the eleventh hour he went out. The generous householder was willing to take on more workmen, and give them hire, though the sun was going down. He found a group lingering at the loafers’ corner — standing idle. He wished to clear the whole town of sluggards, so he said to them, “Why stand ye here all the day idle?” His question to them may be read by making each word in its turn emphatic, and then it yields a fullness of meaning. Why are ye idle? What is the good of it? Why stand ye here idle where all are busy? Why all the day idle? Will not a shorter space suffice? Why are ye idle? You have need to work, you are able to do it, and you should set about it at once. Why is any one of us remaining idle towards God? Has nothing yet had power to engage us in sacred service? Can we dare to say, “No man hath hired us”? Nearly seventy years of age, and yet unsaved! Let us bestir ourselves. It is time that we went, without delay, to hill the weeds, and prune the vines, and do something for our Lord in his vineyard. What but rich grace could lead him to take on the eleven o’clock lingerers? Yet he invites them as earnestly as those who came in the morning, and he will as surely give them their reward.


Verses 1-16

Matthew 20:1-2. 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. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.

That was the usual wage of the time, the daily pay of a Roman soldier.

Matthew 20:3-4. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, And said unto them; go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.

You notice that the first labourers made a bargain with the householder, he agreed with them for a penny a day, and then sent them into his vineyard. So our Lord seemed to say to Peter, “If you are going to make a bargain concerning your service, you Will not find it pay. You are saying, ‘We have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?’” That spirit will not do; Christ is not to be served by hirelings. The moment the idea comes in that we deserve to have anything at his hands, we spoil all our service; and those who might be first come to be last if they once get that notion into their heads. This parable shows that it is so.

Matthew 20:5-9. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. 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. So when 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. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.

This was the. gift of grace, through the generosity of the employer.

Matthew 20:10-12. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.

See. They put forth their claim on the ground of deserving, so they had what they had bargained for, but they had no more. They were engaged first, but because they had the hireling spirit they were put last.

Matthew 20:13-15. But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?

God will have us know that, in dealing with us when we are his servants, he is under no obligation to us. If he chooses to give a reward, the reward is not of debt, but of his sovereign grace. We are bound to serve him by the fact that he is our Creator, altogether apart from any reward; and we must not talk of dealing with him on terms of reward; it is too high a style for us, poor worms, to assume in the presence of Almighty God. If we do talk so, he will soon put us clown into our right place.

Matthew 20:16. So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.

This exposition consisted of readings from Matthew 19:13-30; and Matthew 20:1-16.


Verses 1-28

Matthew 20:1-2. 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. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.

It was a fair wage. It was for fair and healthful work which they were to do in the vineyard. They were happy men to be hired so early in the morning. Never do those that serve Christ reject him; and though in this parable some are represented as finding fault with their wages, yet Christ’s true servants do not so. Their only request is, “Dismiss me not thy service, Lord.” They feel it to be reward enough to be permitted to go on working. Indeed, this is one way in which we get our wages during the day. If we keep one precept, God gives us grace to keep another. If we perform one duty, God gives us the privilege to perform another. So we are paid well. We work in the work. We say not “for the work,” for we are unprofitable servants. Yet is there the penny a day.

Matthew 20:3. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,

It was bad for them to be standing there. No good is learnt by idlers in idle company. Idle men together kindle a fire that burns like the flames of hell.

Matthew 20:4-5. And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.

Much more out of charity than out of any good that he could get from them. Especially was this manifest, when it got towards the latter end of the day. So late, so very late, it was but little they could do. Yet for their good he bade them come in.

Matthew 20:6. And about the eleventh hour--

Why, then, surely the day was over. They were ready to put away their tools and go home. But--

Matthew 20:6. He went out, and find others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle?

“Why?” Can you give a reason for it? Why stand ye here in the market-place, where men come together on purpose to be hired? Why stand ye here, ye able-bodied ones that still might work? Why stand ye here all the day? That ye should be idle a little while is bad enough. Why stand ye here all the day, and why stand ye here all the day idle, when there is so much work to be done, and such a wage to receive for it?

Matthew 20:7. 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.

And so the great householder was glad when he had emptied the marketplace of the idlers, and brought in from early morning, even till set of sun, so many that should be at work — happily at work there. I wonder whether there are any here early in the morning of life who have not yet come into the vineyard. If so, the Master calls you. Are you in middle life? Have you reached the sixth hour, and are you not enlisted in his service? Again the Master calls you. And if you have reached the eleventh hour, where are you? Decrepit — leaning on your staff — leaning downward to your grave; yet if you are not called now, now he calleth you and bids you, even at this late hour, come into the vineyard.

Matthew 20:8-9. So when 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. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.

And when souls come to Christ, however late it is, they have the same joy, the same matchless, perfect peace, the same salvation even, as those who have come while yet they are young. True, they have lost many days, many hours of happy service. They have permitted the sun to decline, and have wasted much time; but yet the Master gives them the same life within them, the same adoption into the family of God, the same blessing.

Matthew 20:10. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny.

Why, there are some of us that have now been in Christ’s vineyard ever since we were boys, but we must not think that we shall receive, or can have, more than those who have just come in. I have heard people say, “Why, here are these people just lately converted, and they are singing and rejoicing; and there some of the old people that have been following the Lord for years, and do not seem to have half the joy. No, no; that is true. It is the old story of the elder brother and the prodigal, over again. But do not — do not let us repeat that for ever and ever. Do not let us get off of the lines of free, rich, sovereign grace, and begin to think that there is some desert in us, some merit in us. Oh! my brothers, I will be glad enough to sit at the feet of the meanest child of God, if I am but to be humored in the family — glad enough to have the same salvation which the dying thief obtained, though at the last moment only he looked to Christ. Yet there is this spirit that will grow up — that some who have been longer in the work ought certainly to have more joy, more of everything, than those that have just come in. See the answer to it.

Matthew 20:11-16. 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 unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. But he answered one of them. and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil. because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.

The great principle of election in divine sovereignty will crop up, not in one place, but in many. God will have us know that he is Master, and that in the kingdom of grace he will have mercy on whom he will have mercy, and in the distribution of that grace he will give according to his own good pleasure; and the moment we begin to murmur or set up claims he answers us at once with, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with my own?” Yet that unevangelical spirit, that ungospel spirit of fancying that we have some Sort of claim or right will crone in, and it must be sternly repressed. It is of grace — of grace alone — of grace to begin with, of grace to go on with, of grace to close with: and human merit must not be allowed to put a single finger anywhere. “Where is boasting, then?” says the Apostle. “It is excluded.” It is shut out — the door shut in its face. It must not come in. If you and I serve God throughout a long life, we shall certainly have much greater happiness in life than those can have who come to Christ only at the last. But, as far as the gospel blessing is concerned, which Christ gives, it is the same salvation which the newly-born Christian enjoys as that which the most advanced believer is now enjoying. It is to every man the penny, hearing the King’s own impress.

Matthew 20:17-20. And Jesus going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples apart in, the way, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death. And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again. Then came to him the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him.

Then, in the most inopportune time in all the world, when Jesus was talking of being mocked and crucified, and put to death, here comes Mistress Zebedee with an ambitious request about her sons

Matthew 20:21. And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.

He is thinking of a cross, and they are dreaming of a crown. He is speaking of being mocked and put to death, and they have ideas of royalty, that they want to have the chief place in the coming kingdom. Oh! how like ourselves. Our Master thinks of how he can condescend, and we are thinking of how people ought to respect us, and treat us better than they do. Oh! the selfishness that there is in us. May our Master’s example help to stay it.

Matthew 20:22-24. But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drank of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able. And he said unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give. but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father. And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren

Thus showing that they were exactly like them, “For,” said they, “look at these two — these James and John — they want to have the preference over us. We will not have it.” It was exactly the same spirit in each one —ambition in them all for priority of honour. Ah! dear friends, it often happens that when we are so intense in our condemnation of others, it is only because we fall into the same sin. Some, I have no doubt whatever, hate the Pope because they have the essence of popery in themselves. Two of a trade will never agree; and one man is very angry with another because he is so angry; and one is quite indignant that another should be so proud. He is not proud. He is proud to say he is humble — he is; therein proving how proud he is. Oh! that those beams in our eyes could be got out. Then the motes in our brothers’ eyes would probably no more be seen.

Matthew 20:25-28. But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.


Verses 29-34

Matthew 20:29-30. And as they departed from Jericho, a great multitude followed him. And, behold, two blind men sitting by the way side when they heard that Jesus passed by, cried out, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou son of David

On Jericho a curse had rested, but the presence of Jesus brought it a blessing. We suppose he must needs go through Jericho as once before he must needs go through Samaria. Our Lord departed from Jericho, and a vast crowd attended him; for his fame had spread far and wide. Nothing striking is noted concerning his doings till two beggars come upon the scene. Mercy needs misery to give it an occasion to work. Behold, two blind men sitting by the way side. They could not behold Jesus, but we are asked to behold them. They had taken up a hopeful position, by the way side, for there they would be likely to hear any good news, and there they would be seen by the compassionate. They had ears if they had not eyes and they used their hearing well. On enquiry, they learned that Jesus passed by, and believing that he could restore their sight, they grew earnest in prayer to him: they cried out. Their plea was pity: “Have mercy on us.” Their appeal was to the royal heart of Jesus: “O Lord, thou son of David.” Our Lord’s sermon was interrupted by the repeated outcries of these two blind beggars of Jericho; but this never displeased him; neither would true preachers of the gospel be disconcerted if some of their hearers were to cry out with similar eagerness for salvation.

Matthew 20:31. And the multitude rebuked them, because they should hold their peace: but they cried the more, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou son of David.

The crowd desired to hear Jesus, but could not do so because of the shouts of the blind men: therefore the multitude rebuked them. Did they upbraid them for ill manners, or for noise, or for harshness of tone, or for selfishly wishing to monopolize Jesus? It is always easy to find a stick when you wish to beat a dog. The people wanted them to be quiet, and hold their peace, and found plenty of arguments why they should do so. This was all very well for those who were in possession of their faculties; but men who have lost their sight cannot be quieted if there is an opportunity of obtaining sight; and as that opportunity was rapidly passing away from these poor men, they became vehement in their earnestness. Unhindered by the threats of the crowd, they cried the more. Some men are urged onward by all attempts to pull them back. When we are seeking the Lord, we shall be wise to make every hindrance into a stimulus. We may well bear rebukes and rebuffs when our great aim is to obtain mercy from Jesus. Unvarying was the blind beggars’ cry: “Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou Son of David!” Variety of words they had no time to study. Having asked for what they needed, in words which leaped from their hearts, they repeated their prayer and their plea, and it was no vain repetition.

Matthew 20:32. And Jesus stood still, and called them, and said, What will ye that I shall do unto you?

Jesus stood still. At the voice of prayer, the Sun of righteousness paused in his progress. Believing cries can hold the Son of God by the feet. He called them: and this because they had called him. What comfort that call yielded them! We are not told that they came to him: there is no need to tell us that. They were at his feet as soon as the words were uttered. How sadly blind are those who, being called a thousand times by the voice of mercy, yet refuse to come! Our Lord enlightened minds as well as eyes, and so he would have the blind men intelligently feel and express their needs. He puts to them the personal enquiry: “What will ye that I shall do unto you?” It was not a hard question, yet it is one which many an attendant at our places of worship would find it difficult to answer. You say you “wish to be saved”: what do you mean by those words?

Matthew 20:33. They say unto him, Lord, that our eyes may be opened.

Just so. They needed no time for second thoughts. Oh, that our people were as quick to pray, “Lord, that our eyes may be opened”! They went straight to the point. There is not a word to spare in their explanatory prayer. No book was wanted, no form of words, the desire clothed itself in simple, natural, earnest speech.

Matthew 20:34. So Jesus had compassion on them, and touched their eyes: and immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed him.

So, that is, since they thus stated their desire, and had so great a need Jesus had compassion on them, pitying their loneliness in the dark, their deprivation of enjoyment, their loss of power to follow a handicraft, and their consequent, poverty. He touched their eyes. What hands were those which undertook such lowly fellowship with human flesh, and wrought such deeds of power! Immediately their eyes received sight. Only a touch and light entered. Time is not necessary to the cures of Jesus. Proof of their sight was at once forthcoming, for they followed him. We best use our spiritual sight when we look to Jesus, and keep close to his heel. Oh, that the reader, if he be spiritually blind, may ask for the touch of Jesus, and receive it at once, for immediately he will receive sight! An inward light will in an instant shine forth upon the soul, and the spiritual world will become apparent to the enlightened mind. The Son of David still lives, and still opens the eyes of the blind. He still hears the humble prayer of those who know their blindness and their poverty. If the reader fears that he, too, is spiritually blind, let him cry unto the Lord at this very instant, and he will see what he shall see, and he will for ever bless the hand which gave sight to the eyes of his soul.

This exposition consisted of readings from Matthew 9:27-35; and Matthew 20:29-34.

 


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Bibliography Information
Spurgeon, Charle Haddon. "Commentary on Matthew 20:4". "Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/spe/matthew-20.html. 2011.

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