Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
Now will I sing to my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill:The Return to Christ's Love (Good Friday)
Consider the return made to that love of our Redeemer; the return made by the multitudes—the return made by His enemies—the return made by His special and familiar friends, and, lastly, the return made by the world which He has redeemed.
I. What was the Return Made by the Multitudes?—the multitudes who had seen His mighty works, who had been for the time so struck and impressed by His words. When they saw Him in the hands of His enemies they changed their minds about Him, and were ready to believe those who told them that He was a false Prophet and an impostor. It was they—these foolish, thoughtless, ungrateful multitudes—who were made the instruments of His Crucifixion.
II. What was the Return Made by His Enemies for that sincere and unfeigned love that sought to open their eyes, and hold them back from the wickedness on which they were bent—that love which, if it could not alarm their consciences by the awful vision of the truth which it had disclosed to them, was yet ready to forgive them, ready to die for them? From these there was only one return to be expected. For the truth which He had told them they paid Him back with a double and intenser hatred. For the way in which He had proved His own innocence, and goodness, and wisdom, against their plausible and ensnaring attempts to find it at fault, they resolved all the more that the holier and more unblameable He appeared, the more obstinately would they refuse to acknowledge Him, the more certainly should He perish.
III. But what Return for His Love was Made by those Friends on whom He had lavished the treasures of a love and tenderness without example? Where were they, and what were they doing, when the hour came to try their faithfulness, their constancy, their promises of standing by Him to the last? 'Then all the disciples forsook Him, and fled.' At the first approach of danger all their brave speeches were forgotten. All the great things which they would dare in His company, and for His sake, shrink into selfishness and panic fright. In the Apostles we but see the reflection of our own doings towards our Master.
IV. How has the World Repaid the Love by which it was Redeemed?—It has bowed before Him. It has accepted His Gospel. It has made His Cross the most honourable of its emblems and badges, and placed it, sparkling with jewels, on the crowns of kings. But was this outward earthly honour what Christ sought in return for His love to men? What He suffered for was to make men better. And how has the world learnt the lesson? Is the face of it changed since His coming? Have those multitudes, for whom He died, left off their sins? Think of that dreadful truth, the wickedness of the world: think of the hardness and boldness of the bad, the weakness and imperfection of the good. And, according as we are able to take in the vastness and depth of the fact itself, we shall be able to measure the return which mankind has made to that infinite love of Christ, which stooped from heaven as low as to shame and death, to raise up the souls of His creatures from their self-chosen misery and sin.
V. What Return are we, Personally, Making to our Redeemer's Love?—We know the only return He cares for—a life which helps, so far as it goes, to make this world really His kingdom—a life which follows Him, trying to reproduce in its own course some shadow of His love, His tenderness, His godliness, His humility, His mercy, His hatred of sin, His courage for the truth—a life in which He lives again in the souls of His servants and followers—a life in which the Cross is set up, for our pride, our unkindness, our selfishness, to be nailed to—a life in which we are neither ashamed, nor afraid, to have our portion, to risk our all, with Christ.
—R. W. Church, Village Sermons (2nd Series), p. 122.
Reference.—V. 3, 4.—R. Waddy Moss, The Discipline of the Soul, p. 105.
Wild Flowers—The Thyme and the Daisy
The one, scented as with incense—medicinal—and in all gentle and humble ways, useful. The other, scentless—helpless for ministry to the body; infinitely dear as the bringer of light, ruby, white, and gold; the three colours of the Day, with no hue of shade in it.... Now in these two families you have typically Use opposed to Beauty in wildness; it is their wildness which is their virtue;—that the thyme is sweet where it is unthought of, and the daisies red, where the foot despises them; while, in other orders, wildness is their crime,—'Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?' But in all of them you must distinguish between the pure wildness of flowers and their distress. It may not be our duty to tame them; but it must be, to relieve.
—Ruskin, Proserpina, ch. vii., §§ 1, 3.
References.—V. 8.—D. Graham, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxx. 1906, p. 135. H. R. Heywood, Sermons and Addresses, p. 163. V. 8-24.—V. S. S. Coles, Advent Meditations on Isaiah I.-XII. p. 39. V. 8-30.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Isaiah I.-XLVIII. p. 13. V. 18.—Spur-geon, Sermons, vol. xxxi. No. 1821. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Lessons for Daily Life, p. 12. W. W. Battersball, Interpretations of Life and Religion, p. 155. V. 18, 19.—H. Hensley Henson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lviii. 1900, p. 394.
Perversions of Conscience
I. We are all liable to call evil good, and good evil. Not intentionally, of course, but from ignorance. A pure and enlightened conscience is indeed a moral instrument of extraordinary delicacy and precision. It is an open window which transmits the very light of God Himself. In the very act of obeying that light we are brought nearer to Him whom conscience reveals to us as the All Holy and the All Pure. But all men's consciences are not pure and enlightened. In every one of us the moral sense needs to be educated before it can reflect with any accuracy the holy law of God.
Jesus, the Saviour of the world, 'came to His own, and His own received Him not'. The men among whom He went about doing good, called His good evil, and loved their own darkness better than His God-given light.
II. What, then, is the lesson from it?
The moral of Christ's rejection by the Jews is not that conscience was dead in them. On the contrary, conscience was alive, it was active, energetic, but its judgments were strangely perverted by prejudice and party spirit. Even though we may demur to the commonly received notion that it was our sin that nailed Christ to the cross, it was certainly the sin of human beings like ourselves—a sin of which average human nature is not incapable. The obstinate blindness, the furious animosity of those Jews of old, are among the mainsprings of action which the average man among us recognizes in the world around him, and finds slumbering in the depths of his own heart.
Does not our own experience teach us how hard it is to do even common justice to those who do not adopt our shibboleths, and whose teaching and action we think to be mischievous? So inextricable is the moral confusion that sets in when men once let their passions and their prejudices decide for them, instead of that dry light of conscience which judges men and things according to the eternal standards of heavenly truth. Considerations of this kind should help us to appreciate and to account for the atrocious calumnies that were levelled at our Lord by the Jewish authorities of His day.
III. There is truth of a certain sort in the most malignant caricature. Malice, as a rule, does not invent; it finds it easier to distort and to pervert some recognizable features of the person whom it is desirable to write down. Hence it was that the libels upon Jesus found a certain currency, and they were even adopted by men who ought to have known better, had not the light that was in them been obscured by darkness. For when His enemies taxed Jesus with being a Sabbath-breaker, when they called Him a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber, the friend of publicans and sinners; when they accused Him of deceiving the people; when they taunted Him with being a Samaritan, these were not so much malignant lies as slanders, in the sense in which moral caricatures are always slanders.
As taunts those words died eighteen hundred years ago. But as a deep moral lesson, and as a striking illustration of the blinding, perverting power of hatred and prejudice, they are alive, and they speak to us this very day.
—J. W. Shepard, Light and Life, p. 38.
References.—V. 20.—J. Addison Alexander, The Gospel of Jesus Christ, p. 668. VI.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxix. No. 2304. A. B. Davidson, The Called of God, p. 187.
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 winepress 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?
And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down:
And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.
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.
Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth!
In mine ears said the LORD of hosts, Of a truth many houses shall be desolate, even great and fair, without inhabitant.
Yea, ten acres of vineyard shall yield one bath, and the seed of an homer shall yield an ephah.
Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them!
And the harp, and the viol, the tabret, and pipe, and wine, are in their feasts: but they regard not the work of the LORD, neither consider the operation of his hands.
Therefore my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge: and their honourable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst.
Therefore hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure: and their glory, and their multitude, and their pomp, and he that rejoiceth, shall descend into it.
And the mean man shall be brought down, and the mighty man shall be humbled, and the eyes of the lofty shall be humbled:
But the LORD of hosts shall be exalted in judgment, and God that is holy shall be sanctified in righteousness.
Then shall the lambs feed after their manner, and the waste places of the fat ones shall strangers eat.
Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope:
That say, Let him make speed, and hasten his work, that we may see it: and let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw nigh and come, that we may know it!
Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!
Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink:
Which justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him!
Therefore as the fire devoureth the stubble, and the flame consumeth the chaff, so their root shall be as rottenness, and their blossom shall go up as dust: because they have cast away the law of the LORD of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.
Therefore is the anger of the LORD kindled against his people, and he hath stretched forth his hand against them, and hath smitten them: and the hills did tremble, and their carcases were torn in the midst of the streets. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.
And he will lift up an ensign to the nations from far, and will hiss unto them from the end of the earth: and, behold, they shall come with speed swiftly:
None shall be weary nor stumble among them; none shall slumber nor sleep; neither shall the girdle of their loins be loosed, nor the latchet of their shoes be broken:
Whose arrows are sharp, and all their bows bent, their horses' hoofs shall be counted like flint, and their wheels like a whirlwind:
Their roaring shall be like a lion, they shall roar like young lions: yea, they shall roar, and lay hold of the prey, and shall carry it away safe, and none shall deliver it.
And in that day they shall roar against them like the roaring of the sea: and if one look unto the land, behold darkness and sorrow, and the light is darkened in the heavens thereof.