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not that they may remain wicked and miserable forever, but that they may be converted, brought to the knowledge of the truth, and made holy and happy. He prays God to bless the wicked, for he sees that the good are sufficiently blessed in being made good.
Let us learn from the parable before us, to guard against the odious spirit of envy; to cultivate the meek and forgiving spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ; and to govern our actions by that rigid rule of impartiality which distinguishes the divine administration.
Parable of the Two Sons.
MATT. XXI. 28-31.
"A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to-day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not; but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir; and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.”
THIS parable is preceded in the narrative of the evangelist, by an account of an interview which took place between our Lord, and the chief priests and the elders. They came unto him with these questions, "by what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?" ver. 23. To this Jesus said, "I also will ask you one thing, which if ye tell me, I in like wise will tell you by what authority I do these things," ver. 24. The
question which Jesus asked them was as follows: "The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men ?" This inquiry threw them into a dilemma, and they could not readily determine what answer to return. "And they reasoned with themselves, saying, if we shall say, from heaven, he will say unto us, why did ye not then believe him? But, if we shall say of men, we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet." The dishonesty of these priests and elders is remarkable. They either believed that the mission of John was of divine authority, or they did not, and whatever their opinion was, they might have answered the question readily and honestly. But it seems not to have occurred to them, that it was best to give a direct and sincere answer. They began immediately to inquire how an answer would affect themselves; and after weighing the result, first on the one side, and then on the other, they came to the conclusion that it was expedient to utter a falsehood, and declare that they could not tell. "And they answered Jesus, and said, we cannot tell." Jesus then declares, “neither tell I you by what authority I do these things." Ver. 27.
After this conversation had taken place, Jesus immediately embraced the opportunity to propose to them the parable now before us. Although disposed to ask questions, they had shown themselves unwilling to answer a simple question which had been just put to them in turn; whereupon Jesus resolved to put a question to them which it was probable they would answer, and in answering which he foresaw they would condemn themselves. "But what think ye?" said he; i. e. give me your opinion on the subject I am about to lay before you. "A certain man had two sons; and he came to the
first and said, son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not; but afterward he repented and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir, and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father?" They did not find any difficulty in answering this question, but with great readiness replied, that the son who said he would not, but afterwards repented and went into his father's vineyard, did the will of his father; i. e. he did that which was the more acceptable in the sight of his father. Jesus adds, "verily I say unto you, that the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you."
From these circumstances it appears evident, that the priests and elders were represented by the son who said to his father, "I go, sir, and went not."
The publicans and harlots were represented by the son who said, "I will not, but afterwards repented and went."
The design of this parable was to show, that those who appear the most ready to do their duty, are not always the most faithful in performing it; and, on the other hand, that those who make no professions of obedience, do sometimes perform it more readily and faithfully than others.
The priests and the elders professed to be the people of God; they alleged that they were his children, and that they were ready to do his will; but it was notoriously manifest that they had not done it. Like the son who said, I will, but did not, so they had declared that they would obey God, but had failed altogether in this respect. The priests and elders were a peculiarly religious people in their own estimation: they attended to all the duties of religion, such as praying, fasting, paying
tythes and making proselytes; but the commands of God they did not obey. By their professions they said they would obey, but their conduct evinced that they would not. They said, "if they had lived in the days of their fathers, they would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets;" Matt. xxiii. 30, but Jesus told them that they proved themselves the sons of those who killed the prophets: They had persecuted John; they had persecuted Christ; and they had proved abundantly, that their professions were not to be depended on; for, as the Saviour remarked, Matt. xxiii. 3, "they say and do not."
The conduct of the publicans and harlots was directly contrary to that of the priests and elders. They professed nothing, and made no pretensions to religion. They were like the son, who said he would not go and labor in the vineyard of his father. He did not give any encouragement that the least service might be expected of him; neither did they put forth any indications that they would be likely to embrace the religion of Jesus Christ. They however did give attention to the instructions of Jesus, and turned to God; and hence Jesus said to the priests and elders, "the publicans and harlots believed him :" i. e. they regarded what John had said concerning the Messiah. Here then the case is fairly before the reader. The priests and elders were professedly a religious people, and claimed to be regardful of the commands of God; but notwithstanding this they opposed the religion which God sent Jesus into the world to establish. On the other hand, the publicans and harlots laid no claim to be considered religious, and from their characters, the world in general would have concluded them the last who should be con
verted to the religion of Christ; but like the son who said he would not, but afterwards repented and went, they, against all their former indications, were among the first to enter the kingdom of the gospel. "The publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you." Ver. 31.
There can be no question that what is here stated was a fact. This class of people became exceedingly fond of the society of Jesus, and listened to his instructions with great delight. Matthew himself had been a publican. They eat and drank with Christ, and he was contemptuously styled by the Pharisees, the friend of publicans and sinners. Despised as they were by the leading religious people of the age, accustomed to reproach and contumely, they rejoiced to find their cause espoused by the great teacher at from God. His doctrine met, and satisfied their desires, and they received it with joy. "The common people heard him gladly," Mark xii. 37. For the proud, the censorious, the self-righteous-those who thought they I had gained heaven by their own exertions, and who anticipated with fondness the joyful day when they should see those they despised suffering the fierce displeasure of God-for such the benevolent, impartial religion of Jesus had no charins. Such people always opposed Christ when he was on earth; and in every age since, those of a kindred disposition have hated his doctrine. These are the reasons why the publicans and harlots entered the kingdom of God before the professedly religious Scribes and Pharisees. We learn from this what class of people it is, among whom, it may be expected, at the present day, the doctrine of the impartial Saviour shall flourish in its purity.