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The Vineyard and Husbandmen.
1 And he began to speak unto them by parables. A certain man planted a vineyard, and set a hedge about it, and digged a place for the winefat, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country. 2 And at the season he sent to the husbandmen a servant, that he might receive from the husbandmen of the fruit of the vineyard. 3 And they caught him, and beat him, and sent him away empty. 4 And again he sent unto them another servant; and at him they cast stones, and wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully handled. 5 And again he sent another; and him they killed, and many others; beating some, and killing some. 6 Having yet therefore one son, his wellbeloved, he sent him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son. 7 But those husbandmen said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours. 8 And they took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard. 9 What shall therefore the lord of the vineyard do? he will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others. 10 And have ye not read this scripture; The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner: 11 This was the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? 12 And they sought to lay hold on him, but feared the people: for they knew that he had spoken the parable against them: and they left him, and went their way.
Christ had formerly in parables showed how he designed to set up the gospel church; now he begins in parables to show how he would lay aside the Jewish church, which it might have been grafted into the stock of, but was built upon the ruins of. This parable we had just as we have it here, Matt. xxi. 33. We may observe here,
I. They that enjoy the privileges of the visible church, have a vineyard let out to them, which is capable of great improvement, and from the occupiers of which rent is justly expected. When God showed his word unto Jacob, his statutes and judgments unto Israel (Ps. cxlvii. 19), when he set up his temple among them, his priesthood, and his ordinances, then he let out to them the vineyard he had planted; which he hedged, and in which he built a tower, v. 1. Members of the church are God's tenants, and they have both a good Landlord and a good bargain, and may live well upon it, if it be not their own fault.
II. Those whom God lets out his vineyard to, he sends his servants to, to put them in mind of his just expectations from them, v. 2. He was not hasty in his demands, nor high, for he did not send for the rent till they could make it, at the season; nor did he put them to the trouble of making money of it, but was willing to take it in specie.
III. It is sad to think what base usage God's faithful ministers have met with, in all ages, from those that have enjoyed the privileges of the church, and have not brought forth fruit answerable. The Old-Testament prophets were persecuted even by those that went under the name of the Old-Testament church. They beat them, and sent them empty away (v. 3); that was bad: they wounded them, and sent them away shamefully entreated (v. 4); that was worse: nay, at length, they came to such a pitch of wickedness, that they killed them, v. 5.
IV. It was no wonder if those who abused the prophets, abused Christ himself. God did at length send them his Son, his well-beloved; it was therefore so much the greater kindness in him to send him; as in Jacob to send Joseph to visit his brethren, Gen. xxxvii. 14. And it might be expected that he whom their Master loved, they also should respect and love (v. 6); "They will reverence my son, and, in reverence to him, will pay their rent." But, instead of reverencing him because he was the son and heir, they therefore hated him, v. 7. Because Christ, in calling to repentance and reformation, made his demands with more authority than the prophets had done, they were the more enraged against him, and determined to put him to death, that they might engross all church power to themselves, and that all the respect and obedience of the people might be paid to them only; "The inheritance shall be ours, we will be lords paramount, and bear all the sway." There is an inheritance, which, if they had duly reverenced the Son, might have been theirs, a heavenly inheritance; but they slighted that, and would have their inheritance in the wealth, and pomp, and powers, of this world. So they took him, and killed him; they had not done it yet, but they would do it in a little time; and they cast him out of the vineyard, they refused to admit his gospel when he was gone; it would by no means agree with their scheme, and so they threw it out with disdain and detestation.
V. For such sinful and shameful doings nothing can be expected but a fearful doom (v. 9); What shall therefore the Lord of the vineyard do? It is easy to say what, for nothing could be done more provoking.
1. He will come, and destroy the husbandmen, whom he would have saved. When they only denied the fruit, he did not distrain upon them for rent, nor disseize them and dispossess them for non-payment; but when they killed his servants, and his Son, he determined to destroy them; and this was fulfilled when Jerusalem was laid waste, and the Jewish nation extirpated and made a desolation.
2. He will give the vineyards to others. If he have not the rent from them, he will have it from another people, for God will be no loser by any. This was fulfilled in the taking in of the Gentiles, and the abundance of fruit which the gospel brought forth in all the world, Col. i. 6. If some from whom we expected well, prove bad, it doth not follow but that others will be better. Christ encouraged himself with this in his undertaking; Though Israel be not gathered, not gathered to him, but gathered against him, yet shall I be glorious (Isa. xlix. 5, 6), as a Light to lighten the Gentiles.
3. Their opposition to Christ's exaltation shall be no obstruction to it (v. 10, 11); The stone which the builders rejected, notwithstanding that, is become the Head of the corner, is highly advanced as the Head-stone, and of necessary use and influence as the Corner-stone. God will set Christ as his King, upon his holy hill of Zion, in spite of their project, who would break his bands asunder. And all the world shall see and own this to be the Lord's doing, in justice to the Jews, and in compassion to the Gentiles. The exaltation of Christ was the Lord's doing, and it is his doing to exalt him in our hearts, and to set up his throne there; and if it be done, it cannot but be marvellous in our eyes.
Now what effect had this parable upon the chief priests and scribes, whose conviction was designed by it? They knew he spoke this parable against them, v. 12. They could not but see their own faces in the glass of it; and one would think it showed them their sin so very heinous, and their ruin so certain and great, that it should have frightened them into a compliance with Christ and his gospel, should have prevailed to bring them to repentance, at least to make them desist from their malicious purpose against him: but, instead of that, (1.) They sought to lay hold on him, and make him their prisoner immediately, and so to fulfil what he had just now said they would do to him, v. 8. (2.) Nothing restrained them from it but the awe they stood in of the people; they did not reverence Christ, nor had an fear of God before their eyes, but were afraid, if they should publicly lay hold on Christ, the mob would rise, and lay hold on them, and rescue them. (3.) They left him, and went their way; if they could not do hurt to him, they resolved he should not do good to them, and therefore they got out of the hearing of his powerful preaching, lest they should be converted and healed. Note, If men's prejudices be not conquered by the evidence of truth, they are but confirmed; and if the corruptions of the heart be not subdued by faithful reproofs, they are but enraged and exasperated. If the gospel be not a savour of life unto life, it will be a savour of death unto death.