I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night comes, when no man can work.
Very instructive and very encouraging is the way in which, in this passage, our Divine Lord associates his people with himself. In assuming our nature he accepted the ordinary conditions of our life, its duties and its limitations. Generally speaking, what no man could do he would not do; what all men must submit to he would submit to also. Neither then nor now is he ashamed to call us brethren. As Son of man, he partakes both our nature and our lot. His Spirit and his language assure us of this. Accordingly, his experience is not merely something for us to admire; it is for us so to ponder that we may share it. He partakes our conflict that we may partake his victory. In the words of the text these principles are made manifest, in their application to the "work" which gives meaning to human life.
I. THE CHARACTER OF THE EARTHLY SERVICE. The works themselves to which Jesus here referred were special. By "works" he undoubtedly intended miracles, signs, wonders - such deeds of power and mercy as that which the condition of the blind man suggested that he should perform for his benefit. But our Lord often spoke of his "work" in a more general sense; and even here there is nothing exclusive of his spiritual ministry, to which this language certainly applies. This saying of Jesus casts light upon the character of the earthly service rendered by himself, and required of all his faithful disciples and followers.
1. Diligence is characteristic both of the Master and of his servants. No reader of the Gospels can fail to be impressed with the laboriousness of Christ's public life. There were times when he had no leisure even to eat; there never was a time when he neglected an opportunity of benevolence. Whether in teaching or in healing he was ever occupied, and occupied for purposes unselfish and brotherly.
2. His works were the proof of his obedience. Our Lord evidently lived a life of devotion to the Father who "sent" him. He did not his own will, but the Father's. It was his meat to do the will of him who sent him, and to finish his work. His advent, his ministry, his death, were all proofs of his obedience. Though a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered. How much more must subjection to the Father's will befit us, who are the creatures of his power, the subjects of his dominion! It gives dignity to our life to feel that we too are sent into the world by God - that we are his messengers, his servants, his children, bound to do his behests, and to live as accountable to him.
3. Obligation characterizes all true service. Even the Son of God could say, "I must." On his part there was no compulsion. He of his own accord undertook a life of consecration and self-denial. What he did he "must needs" do, for the fulfillment of the Divine purposes, for the satisfaction of the benevolent yearnings of his own heart, and for the salvation of mankind. In our case there is a stringent moral obligation to serve God. As creatures, we are bound to obey a righteous Maker; as redeemed, emancipated freedmen, we are bound to glorify a Divine Deliverer. We are not our own. The duty that binds us to service is indeed a duty sweetened by grateful love, but a duty it cannot cease to be.
II. THE LIMITATION OF THE EARTHLY SERVICE. Our Lord condescended to accept the natural limits of human life. The day is for labor. Christ's day was from the dawn at Bethlehem to the evening on Olivet. There are those of his followers whose day is even shorter than his. There are many whose day is far longer. But in the case of every one of us there are limits which we cannot pass over. There are the "twelve hours" of the day, to which we cannot add. From this language we learn that the day, the period for our work on earth, is:
1. A prescribed, unalterable period. We cannot add a cubit to our stature, a year to our life. There is "an appointed time" for man upon earth.
2. A period during which the light still shines upon our path. If a man walk in the day he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of the world. Christians are favored with the light of revelation - with the light of the Spirit given during the gospel dispensation. It is for them to walk and to work while the daylight lasts.
3. A period during which strength is unspent. The laborer toils until the lengthening shadows tell him that the day's work is approaching the close. He needs repose with evening, but until the evening his vigor enables him to continue his efforts. Whilst the Christian lives, God gives him power to serve. God is not a hard Taskmaster; his demands do not exceed his gifts. The voice from eternity that speaks with authority bids us "work while it is day."
III. THE SPECIAL MOTIVE TO THE EARTHLY SERVICE. "The night cometh, when no man can work." There has never been spoken by human lips anything more solemn, and at the same time more precious, than this. We all, when we think upon the matter, feel this declaration to be so indisputably true. Yet we are all prone to overlook, sometimes almost anxious to forget it.
1. Consider this reflection as bearing upon Christ himself. He knew that the end of his earthly life and ministry was near. But he knew also that much remained for him yet to do and to suffer. There was a work for him to accomplish whilst he was still in this world - a work which he must accomplish within the swiftly closing day, or not at all. His advanced and final lessons to his disciples, his last assertions of supernatural power, his crowning revelation of majestic meekness and patience, his mysterious sufferings, - these all had to be crowded into his last brief days. The cup had yet to be drained, the cross had yet to be borne. All must be finished before the twilight deepened into darkness. For the Father had given him all this to do; and he would leave undone nothing-that he had undertaken.
2. How powerfully does this reflection bear upon our own moral life! Every one of us who is alive to the real meaning of his existence, must feel, and does feel, that this short day of life is given us, not for pleasure, but for progress; not for ease, but for toil. If, through weakness and temptation, this feeling sometimes fails us, there is one effectual method of reviving it. "The night cometh!" Venit nox! There is much to be done that must be done before the sunset of life's day, if it is not to remain undone forever. Here or nowhere; now or never! That the future life will be a scene of service is not to be doubted. But earthly service must be rendered upon earth. Here the gospel must be embraced; here the new birth to spiritual realities must commence the life that is Divine. Now is the day of salvation. The earthly service must be rendered in this life. The voice comes, "Go, work today in my vineyard." Neglect or refuse to obey that summons, and that piece of work will remain undone. Yet the time is very short, and night is very near. Labor, before the hand be palsied. Give, before the substance be beyond control. Speak, before the tongue be forever silent. Do all as looking forward, onward, to the end.
APPLICATION. Let the laborious remember that not all labor is wise and blessed. Work for self, and such work will be consumed in the fire that shall try all things. But work for God shall stand; no power can destroy it. Let the indolent remember that time unredeemed can only witness against them at the last. Let the young remember that, if a lengthened day be given them, the greater will be their responsibility and the larger their opportunity of commending themselves as faithful laborers to the just and gracious Master. Let the aged remember that, near as is night for them, they have a witness yet to bear, and a memory of inspiration to leave behind. "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might." - T.
Parallel VersesKJV: I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.