The Reward of Grace
This chapter is based on
the following verses:
Matt. 19:16-30; 20:1-16; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30
THE truth of God's free grace had been
almost lost sight of by the Jews. The rabbis taught that God's favor must be earned. The
reward of the righteous they hoped to gain by their own works. Thus their worship was
prompted by a grasping, mercenary spirit. From this spirit even the disciples of Christ
were not wholly free, and the Saviour sought every opportunity of showing them their
error. Just before He gave the parable of the laborers, an event occurred that opened the
way for Him to present the right principles.
As He was walking by the way,
a young ruler came running to Him, and kneeling, reverently saluted Him. "Good
Master," he said, "what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal
The ruler had addressed
Christ merely as an honored rabbi, not discerning in Him the Son of God. The Saviour said,
"Why callest thou Me good? There is none good but one, that is, God." On what
ground do you call Me
good? God is the one good. If you recognize Me as such, you must
receive Me as His Son and representative.
"If thou wilt enter into
life," He added, "keep the commandments." The character of God is expressed
in His law; and in order for you to be in harmony with God, the principles of His law must
be the spring of your every action.
Christ does not lessen the
claims of the law. In unmistakable language He presents obedience to it as the condition
of eternal life--the same condition that was required of Adam before his fall. The Lord
expects no less of the soul now than He expected of man in Paradise, perfect obedience,
unblemished righteousness. The requirement under the covenant of grace is just as broad as
the requirement made in Eden--harmony with God's law, which is holy, just, and good.
To the words, "Keep the
commandments," the young man answered, "Which?" He supposed that some
ceremonial precept was meant, but Christ was speaking of the law given from Sinai. He
mentioned several commandments from the second table of the Decalogue, then summed them
all up in the precept, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."
The young man answered
without hesitation, "All these things have I kept from my youth up; what lack I
yet?" His conception of the law was external and superficial. Judged by a human
standard, he had preserved an unblemished character. To a great degree his outward life
had been free from guilt; he verily thought that his obedience had been without a flaw.
Yet he had a secret fear that all was not right between his soul and God. This prompted
the question, "What lack I yet?"
"If thou wilt be
perfect," Christ said, "go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and
thou shalt have treasure
in heaven, and come and follow Me. But when the young man heard
that saying, he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions."
The lover of self is a
transgressor of the law. This Jesus desired to reveal to the young man, and He gave him a
test that would make manifest the selfishness of his heart. He showed him the plague spot
in his character. The young man desired no further enlightenment. He had cherished an idol
in the soul; the world was his god. He professed to have kept the commandments, but he was
destitute of the principle which is the very spirit and life of them all. He did not
possess true love for God or man. This want was the want of everything that would qualify
him to enter the kingdom of heaven. In his love of self and worldly gain he was out of
harmony with the principles of heaven.
When this young ruler came to
Jesus, his sincerity and
earnestness won the Saviour's heart. He "beholding him loved
him." In this young man He saw one who might do service as a preacher of
righteousness. He would have received this talented and noble youth as readily as He
received the poor fishermen who followed Him. Had the young man devoted his ability to the
work of saving souls, he might have become a diligent and successful laborer for Christ.
But first he must accept the
conditions of discipleship. He must give himself unreservedly to God. At the Saviour's
call, John, Peter, Matthew, and their companions "left all, rose up, and followed
Him." Luke 5:28. The same consecration was required of the young ruler. And in this
Christ did not ask a greater sacrifice than He Himself had made. "He was rich, yet
for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich." 2 Cor.
8:9. The young man had only to follow where Christ led the way.
Christ looked upon the young
man and longed after his soul. He longed to send him forth as a messenger of blessing to
men. In the place of that which He called upon him to surrender, Christ offered him the
privilege of companionship with Himself. "Follow Me," He said. This privilege
had been counted a joy by Peter, James, and John. The young man himself looked upon Christ
with admiration. His heart was drawn toward the Saviour. But he was not ready to accept
the Saviour's principle of self-sacrifice. He chose his riches before Jesus. He wanted
eternal life, but would not receive into the soul that unselfish love which alone is life,
and with a sorrowful heart he turned away from Christ.
As the young man turned away,
Jesus said to His disciples, "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the
kingdom of God." These words astonished the
disciples. They had been taught to look
upon the rich as the favorites of heaven; worldly power and riches they themselves hoped
to receive in the Messiah's kingdom; if the rich were to fail of entering the kingdom,
what hope could there be for the rest of men?
"Jesus answereth again,
and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into
the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a
rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. And they were astonished out of measure."
Now they realized that they themselves were included in the solemn warning. In the light
of the Saviour's words, their own secret longing for power and riches was revealed. With
misgivings for themselves they exclaimed, "Who then can be saved?"
"Jesus looking upon them
saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are
A rich man, as such, cannot
enter heaven. His wealth gives him no title to the inheritance of the saints in light. It
is only through the unmerited grace of Christ that any man can find entrance into the city
To the rich no less than to
the poor are the words of the Holy Spirit spoken, "Ye are not your own; for ye are
bought with a price." 1 Cor. 6:19, 20. When men believe this, their possessions will
be held as a trust, to be used as God shall direct, for the saving of the lost, and the
comfort of the suffering and the poor. With man this is impossible, for the heart clings
to its earthly treasure. The soul that is bound in service to mammon is deaf to the cry of
human need. But with God all things are possible. By beholding the matchless love of
Christ, the selfish heart will be melted and subdued. The rich man will be led, as was
Saul the Pharisee, to say, "What things were gain
to me, those I counted loss for
Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge
of Christ Jesus my Lord." Phil. 3:7, 8. Then they will not count anything their own.
They will joy to regard themselves as stewards of the manifold grace of God, and for His
sake servants of all men.
Peter was the first to rally
from the secret conviction wrought by the Saviour's words. He thought with satisfaction of
what he and his brethren had given up for Christ. "Behold," he said, "we
have forsaken all, and followed Thee." Remembering the conditional promise to the
young ruler, "Thou shalt have treasure in heaven," he now asked what he and his
companions were to receive as a reward for their sacrifices.
The Saviour's answer thrilled
the hearts of those Galilean fishermen. It pictured honors that fulfilled their highest
dreams: "Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed Me, in the regeneration
when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve
thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." And He added, "There is no man
that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children,
or lands, for My sake, and the gospel's, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this
time, houses, and brethren, and
sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with
persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life."
But Peter's question,
"What shall we have therefore?" had revealed a spirit that uncorrected would
unfit the disciples to be messengers for Christ; for it was the spirit of a hireling.
While they had been attracted by the love of Jesus, the disciples were not wholly free
from Pharisaism. They still worked with the thought of meriting a reward in proportion to
their labor. They cherished a spirit of self-exaltation and self-complacency, and made
comparisons among themselves. When one of them failed in any particular, the others
indulged feelings of superiority.
Lest the disciples should
lose sight of the principles of the gospel, Christ related to them a parable illustrating
the manner in which God deals with His servants, and the spirit in which He desires them
to labor for Him.
"The kingdom of
heaven," He said, "is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out
early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard." It was the custom for men
seeking employment to wait in the market places, and thither the employers went to find
servants. The man in the parable is represented as going out at different hours to engage
workmen. Those who are hired at the earliest hours agree to work for a stated sum; those
hired later leave their wages to the discretion of the householder.
"So when even was come,
the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their
hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the
eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed
that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny."
The householder's dealing
with the workers in his
vineyard represents God's dealing with the human family. It is
contrary to the customs that prevail among men. In worldly business, compensation is given
according to the work accomplished. The laborer expects to be paid only that which he
earns. But in the parable, Christ was illustrating the principles of His kingdom--a
kingdom not of this world. He is not controlled by any human standard. The Lord says,
"My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways. . . . For as the
heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts
than your thoughts." Isa. 55:8, 9.
In the parable the first
laborers agreed to work for a stipulated sum, and they received the amount specified,
nothing more. Those later hired believed the master's promise, "Whatsoever is right,
that shall ye receive." They showed their confidence in him by asking no question in
regard to wages. They trusted to his justice and equity. They were rewarded, not according
to the amount of their labor, but according to the generosity of his purpose.
So God desires us to trust in
Him who justifieth the ungodly. His reward is given not according to our merit but
according to His own purpose, "which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord." Eph.
3:11. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy
He saved us." Titus 3:5. And for those who trust in Him He will do "exceeding
abundantly above all that we ask or think." Eph. 3:20.
Not the amount of labor
performed or its visible results but the spirit in which the work is done makes it of
value with God. Those who came into the vineyard at the eleventh hour were thankful for an
opportunity to work. Their hearts were full of gratitude to the one who had accepted them;
and when at the close of the day the householder paid them for a full day's work, they
greatly surprised. They knew they had not earned such wages. And the kindness
expressed in the countenance of their employer filled them with joy. They never forgot the
goodness of the householder or the generous compensation they had received. Thus it is
with the sinner who, knowing his unworthiness, has entered the Master's vineyard at the
eleventh hour. His time of service seems so short, he feels that he is undeserving of
reward; but he is filled with joy that God has accepted him at all. He works with a
humble, trusting spirit, thankful for the privilege of being a co-worker with Christ. This
spirit God delights to honor.
The Lord desires us to rest
in Him without a question as to our measure of reward. When Christ abides in the soul, the
thought of reward is not uppermost. This is not the motive that actuates our service. It
is true that in a subordinate sense we should have respect to the recompense of reward.
God desires us to appreciate His promised blessings. But He would not have us eager for
rewards nor feel that for every duty we must receive compensation. We should not be so
anxious to gain the
reward as to do what is right, irrespective of all gain. Love to God
and to our fellow men should be our motive.
This parable does not excuse
those who hear the first call to labor but who neglect to enter the Lord's vineyard. When
the householder went to the market place at the eleventh hour and found men unemployed he
said, "Why stand ye here all the day idle?" The answer was, "Because no man
hath hired us." None of those called later in the day were there in the morning. They
had not refused the call. Those who refuse and afterward repent, do well to repent; but it
is not safe to trifle with the first call of mercy.
When the laborers in the
vineyard received "every man a penny," those who had begun work early in the day
were offended. Had they not worked for twelve hours? they reasoned, and was it not right
that they should receive more than those who had worked for only one hour in the cooler
part of the day? "These last have wrought but one hour," they said, "and
thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day."
householder replied to one of them, "I do thee no wrong; didst not thou agree with me
for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way; I will give unto this last, even as unto
thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because
I am good?
"So the last shall be
first, and the first last; for many be called, but few chosen."
The first laborers of the
parable represent those who, because of their services, claim preference above others.
They take up their work in a self-gratulatory spirit, and do not bring into it self-denial
and sacrifice. They may have professed to serve God all their lives; they may have been
foremost in enduring hardship, privation, and trial, and they therefore think themselves
entitled to a large reward. They think more of the reward than of the privilege of being
servants of Christ. In their view their labors and sacrifices entitle them to receive
honor above others, and because this claim is not recognized, they are offended. Did they
bring into their work a loving, trusting spirit, they would continue to be first; but
their querulous, complaining disposition is un-Christlike, and proves them to be
untrustworthy. It reveals their desire for self-advancement, their distrust of God, and
their jealous, grudging spirit toward their brethren. The Lord's goodness and liberality
is to them only an occasion of murmuring. Thus they show that there is no connection
between their souls and God. They do not know the joy of co-operation with the Master
There is nothing more
offensive to God than this narrow, self-caring spirit. He cannot work with any who
manifest these attributes. They are insensible to the working of His Spirit.
The Jews had been first
called into the Lord's vineyard, and because of this they were proud and self-righteous.
Their long years of service they regarded as entitling them to receive a larger reward
than others. Nothing was more exasperating to them than an intimation that the Gentiles
were to be admitted to equal privileges with themselves in the things of God.
Christ warned the disciples
who had been first called to follow Him, lest the same evil should be cherished among
them. He saw that the weakness, the curse of the church, would be a spirit of
self-righteousness. Men would think they could do something toward earning a place in the
kingdom of heaven. They would imagine that when they had made certain advancement, the
Lord would come in to
help them. Thus there would be an abundance of self and little of
Jesus. Many who had made a little advancement would be puffed up and think themselves
superior to others. They would be eager for flattery, jealous if not thought most
important. Against this danger Christ seeks to guard His disciples.
All boasting of merit in
ourselves is out of place. "Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the
mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that
glorieth, glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth Me, that I am the Lord which
exercise loving kindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I
delight, saith the Lord." Jer. 9:23, 24.
The reward is not of works,
lest any man should boast; but it is all of grace. "What shall we say then that
Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified
by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture?
Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that
worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but
believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for
righteousness." Rom. 4:1-5. Therefore there is no occasion for one to glory over
another or to grudge against another. No one is privileged above another, nor can anyone
claim the reward as a right.
The first and the last are to
be sharers in the great, eternal reward, and the first should gladly welcome the last. He
who grudges the reward to another forgets that he himself is saved by grace alone. The
parable of the laborers rebukes all jealousy and suspicion. Love rejoices in the truth and
institutes no envious comparisons. He who possesses love compares only the loveliness of
Christ and his own imperfect character.
This parable is a warning to
all laborers, however long their service, however abundant their labors, that without love
to their brethren, without humility before God, they are nothing. There is no religion in
the enthronement of self. He who makes self-glorification his aim will find himself
destitute of that grace which alone can make him efficient in Christ's service. Whenever
pride and self-complacency are indulged, the work is marred.
It is not the length of time
we labor but our willingness and fidelity in the work that makes it acceptable to God. In
all our service a full surrender of self is demanded. The smallest duty done in sincerity
and self-forgetfulness is more pleasing to God than the greatest work when marred with
self-seeking. He looks to see how much of the spirit of Christ we cherish, and how much of
the likeness of Christ our work reveals. He regards more the love and faithfulness with
which we work than the amount we do.
Only when selfishness is
dead, when strife for supremacy is banished, when gratitude fills the heart, and love
makes fragrant the life--it is only then that Christ is abiding in the soul, and we are
recognized as laborers together with God.
However trying their labor,
the true workers do not regard it as drudgery. They are ready to spend and to be
but it is a cheerful work, done with a glad heart. Joy in God is expressed through Jesus
Christ. Their joy is the joy set before Christ--"to do the will of Him that sent Me,
and to finish His work." John 4:34. They are in co-operation with the Lord of glory.
This thought sweetens all toil, it braces the will, it nerves the spirit for whatever may
befall. Working with unselfish heart, ennobled by being partakers of Christ's sufferings,
sharing His sympathies, and co-operating with Him in His labor, they help to swell the
tide of His joy and bring honor and praise to His exalted name.
This is the spirit of all
true service for God. Through a lack of this spirit, many who appear to be first will
become last, while those who possess it, though accounted last, will become first.
There are many who have given
themselves to Christ, yet who see no opportunity of doing a large work or making great
sacrifices in His service. These may find comfort in the thought that it is not
necessarily the martyr's self-surrender which is most acceptable to God; it may not be the
missionary who has daily faced danger and death that stands highest in heaven's records.
The Christian who is such in his private life, in the daily surrender of self, in
sincerity of purpose and purity of thought, in meekness under provocation, in faith and
piety, in fidelity in that which is least, the one who in the home life represents the
character of Christ--such a one may in the sight of God be more precious than even the
world-renowned missionary or martyr.
Oh, how different are the
standards by which God and men measure character. God sees many temptations resisted of
which the world and even near friends never know--temptations in the home, in the heart.
He sees the soul's humility in view of its own weakness; the
sincere repentance over even
a thought that is evil. He sees the wholehearted devotion to His service. He has noted the
hours of hard battle with self--battle that won the victory. All this God and angels know.
A book of remembrance is written before Him for them that fear the Lord and that think
upon His name.
Not in our learning, not in
our position, not in our numbers or entrusted talents, not in the will of man, is to be
found the secret of success. Feeling our inefficiency we are to contemplate Christ, and
through Him who is the strength of all strength, the thought of all thought, the willing
and obedient will gain victory after victory.
And however short our service
or humble our work, if in simple faith we follow Christ, we shall not be disappointed of
the reward. That which even the greatest and wisest cannot earn, the weakest and most
humble may receive. Heaven's golden gate opens not to the self-exalted. It is not lifted
up to the proud in spirit. But the everlasting portals will open wide to the trembling
touch of a little child. Blessed will be the recompense of grace to those who have wrought
for God in the simplicity of faith and love.