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CHAPTER XXVIII

THE VINEYARDS

THE Master’s words were so plain and simple, that the poor and untaught could understand them, but they were also deep and wise, so that only those could understand who were taught by God.

And the Master so often spoke of homely things, using them as figures and pictures of the things of God, that the workmen in the town, and the labourers in the fields, had as it were a great picture-book all around them, with signs and symbols that reminded them of the things of God.

“You know how it is,” the Master said, “when a man works in the vineyards. He has a long day’s work to do, but he must needs in the middle of it have his dinner, and a little while to rest.

“If he is to work, he must eat. And the food enters into every part of his body, for it turns to flesh, and blood, and bones, and marrow, and then it is used up again by the labour the man has to do, so that he has to eat afresh, in order that he may return to his work.

“And even thus should the godly man do. When he is an hungered and athirst after the heavenly food, he should for a while rest from his work, and feed upon the Lord, but it should be in order that he should render again according to the grace given him, and labour the more that fruit should abound for God.

“Thus in receiving and in giving, in rest and in labour, if all is from God, and for God, the godly man grows and increases, and becomes transformed into the likeness of the Lord.

“O children, where such people are to be found, it were well worth while to feed them with precious pearls, and with gold and silver, if such things could be turned to food. It were well worth while to set apart for them the best of all that the earth can give. But yet these men of God are poor, and have none of these things; they depend on God alone, and trust in Him only.

“And truly were you thus to live upon the Lord, and trust in Him, the Father in Heaven would well provide for you. Yes, even if you were shut up inside a rock, where none could reach you.

“The vines in the vineyard, children, are like these men. Look at the vine stumps, they are black, and hard, and they look dry and barren. And if you did not know they were vines, you would think, ‘that wood is good for nothing but firewood.’

“But in that dry barren stump there are hidden the living veins, and the noble strength of the vine. And the strength and sweetness shall one day flow forth from it, and the fruit of it shall be fairer and richer than the fruit of all the fruit-trees besides.

“And so it is with those beloved saints, who are hidden and unseen, because they are dwelling in God at all places and all times. They may seem to you like useless wood, black, and dry, and good for nothing. They are humble, lowly people, they are small, and you esteem them not. They do not speak fine words, nor do great works, nor win for themselves honour amongst religious men. But there are living veins in these small and despised people, and the life that flows therein is God himself.

“And look, dear children, at the vine-dresser, when he is cutting and pruning the vines. You may learn a lesson from him. If he did not cut off the useless branches, they would spoil the sweetness of the fruit.

“How many useless branches do you need to cut off? All that is not according to the Lord must be cut off, down to the very stem.

“But stop, stay your knife for a while — what is it you are going to cut away? You must see to that.

“If the vine-dresser had not learnt his work, he would cut off the good branches instead of the bad, and woefully spoil his vineyard.

“So you see people who leave their sins and their evil desires untouched, cut away at poor nature, and spoil the vineyard of God. Nature is that which God has made, and is in itself good and fair. And when the time of fruit is come, they will find how much good fruit they have spoiled.”

And the Master reminded them further, that the vines are not left to grow here and there, and everywhere, but they are tied down to a strong prop. And that the Lord Jesus is the prop and strength of His people.

“And when weeds grow up that would keep the sun from shining upon the fruitful branches, the vine-dresser roots them up, great and small.

“And then,” he said, “the great sun draws up the moisture from the earth, and it flows through the veins, a living power, and the tender grapes are seen. And still the Sun of Glory shines down, and the sweet, and glad, and pleasant fruit is drawn forth from the branches, and is fair to see, and fragrant, so that toads and snakes, who love not this sweet odour, flee far away and are seen no more.

“So does the old serpent flee, when the vines with their tender grapes give a good smell, in the summer time of God. and the glorious sun shines forth with yet greater might, and the fruit ripens, and the sweetness fills it.

“O children, the Sun of Glory shines with a glow that is far beyond the brightness of all the suns in Heaven, and fills, and sweetens, and ripens the men who abide in His shining.

“And as the grapes ripen, the vine-dresser cuts off every leaf that would come between the sunshine and the fruit. And thus as these men of God abide in the glory of His presence, all outward forms and symbols fall away, the images of the saints, and the penances and the prayers; all outside things drop off and are no more, and they are lost in the glory and in the sweetness of God.”

“The prayers?”

“Yes, dear children. There are prayers that come between the soul and God. Do not rich people come to you, and give to you, poor, misled, weak children as you are, fourpence, or sixpence, and ask you to make so many prayers, or say so many paternosters in return?

“Of this merchandise, I leave it to God in His eternity to tell you the worth. But one thing I say to you, turn away from all things, and from yourselves also, and look to God Himself. No one can do this or understand what I mean, but by the Holy Ghost. Prayer is the ascent of the heart to God. And know, that as a farthing to 100,000 golden pieces, so is all prayer repeated by the lips, to one inward prayer whereby the spirit sinks itself into the depths of the heart of God.

“If you join to this, prayer with the lips, it is well, for two are better than one. But whether you speak with your lips or not, lead your heart forth into the wilderness, where you are alone with God, as Moses led the flocks and herds out of the land of Egypt.

“Prayer with the lips, is but as chaff to the goodly wheat. My cap and my clothes are used by me, but they are not myself. And one moment’s prayer in the spirit, is worth all the penances, and words, and works, and forms, that began in Adam’s days, and go on to the day of the judgment of God.

“Men who pray thus, receive all things in return from God for they pray to the Father for the Son as the Son has prayed for them. They pray for Him that His precious work, His bitter suffering, may bring forth fruit abundantly, and that He may receive the fulness of adoration and praise.

“And do not think that you have to do with God more when you are praying, than at other times.

“‘What,’ you say, ‘am I to think all employments of equal value?’

“No, dear child. No one can doubt that praying is a better thing than cooking or that thinking of the Lord is better than spinning. But you should still, I repeat, have to do with God as much at one time as at another, for your heart should be ever with Him. You find people who seem to themselves, to be full of love to God, when they are sitting in their rooms, or in a church, or doing some holy work. But when that comes to an end, they take leave of God, till such a time comes round again.

“Be assured of this, you do not know God in truth, and have no true peace, if you are depending on times and places.

“Such people go to church in the morning, and hurry back to the church when they have a spare moment, just as if there were no God in the street, or in their homes, but as though He were only to be found in the church.

“If this is the case with you, be sure you will find God nowhere. Such people are always on the move — now doing a good work, now saying a prayer, sometimes to God, sometimes to a saint, and thus they hurry on from one thing to another, and have no rest, and never know the living God.

“Remember that whatever God gives you to do, from moment to moment, that is the very best thing you could possibly be doing, and you little know where and when the Lord will meet you.

“He who does not seek and find God everywhere, and in everything, finds Him nowhere and in nothing. And he who is not at the Lord’s service in everything, is at His service in nothing.

“People adorn the church with gold and silver, and the bells ring, and the choir sing, and the organ peals, all to the praise of God. I do not say anything against outward marks of praise. But it is a higher thing, far above all the rest when the heart gives thanks to God.

“It is far higher than all these things when a man feels that God is so great, and he is so small, that he cannot praise Him as He should be praised. This praise is higher praise than praise spoken, or sung, as it is said by one, ‘He speaks most worthily of God, who has so known the riches of His glory, that he is speechless before Him.’”

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