God Calleth Thee.
Septuagesima. St. Matthew 20: 6, 7.
"And about the eleventh hour, He went out and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto Him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive."
THE parables of our Blessed Lord, as indeed all Holy Scripture, have manifold meanings, so that we cannot say, because it means this, it does not mean that, or because it means that, it does not mean this. For all its meanings are parts of His One Meaning, Who spake it, Whose Wisdom, as Himself, is Infinite. Rather, the several meanings which we see, are like the colours of His Bow of Mercy, one hue differing from another, yet all, portions of His One Light, unfolded from It, returning into It, seen separately, yet really inseparable; shewn us apart, that gazing upon them, one by one, we may see what, as a whole, we could not look upon; each reflecting to us some Attribute of His Mercy or His Love. And of these several meanings, two are every where very marked and plain; what relates to the Church as a whole, or to each single soul in it. And in the whole teaching of a parable, some will belong most to the Church, some to the single soul; as in the Psalms which prophecy of our Lord Himself, some parts belong mostly to Himself, the Head; some, in Him, to us His Members.
The two great meanings of the parable of to-day's Gospel comprise, the one, the whole race of mankind, who have been called by God, from Abel to the end, the other, single souls, one by one. And of these, the larger, the Church, in fact enfolds the other, the history of her single members. The history of God's Dealings with the whole Body is repeated in each single soul. He loves and cares for each single soul, as He doth the whole race of men and Angels. Parts then of the parable belong equally to both; others more especially to the one or to the other. Thus, in both, by amazing Condescension, Almighty God, the Maker of Heaven and earth, vouchsafes to call Himself a Householder, Father of one great family, watching over them, giving them their appointed tasks, promising them their rewards. In both, the Vineyard is His One Church, wherein each, teacher and taught, has his own allotted office, every member, which, "according to the Grace that is given" it of God, performeth that office aright, first or last, is God's instrument to His Own Glory and the well-being of the whole. Every one who, by that Grace, cleanseth his own soul from the weeds of sin, is as really and truly a labourer in it, after his measure, as St. Paul, who, by the Grace that was given him, brought Jew and Greek to "obedience to the faith." And the Reward is in both the same, "the penny" which bore the Image of the King Who giveth it. And what then is this Reward, but that whereof St. John speaketh, "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him. "It is the Likeness of God Himself, traced now faintly upon the believing soul, on those whom He maketh sons of God, yet then given fully, when they shall behold Him "face to face, "and receive and reflect that Unspeakable Glory whereon they shall be admitted to gaze in love.
Other words in the Parable denote different objects, as they are applied to the Church or to the individual soul, yet with the same general meaning. In the one, "the day "is the whole of time, which, long as it is to us, is briefer than a day, in the never-beginning, never-ending Eternity of God; and the hours of that one day, are the different times in which Almighty God, from the morning of the Creation, in Adam, Abraham, Moses, and at the eleventh hour, even "these last days" (as Holy Scripture calls them,) has through His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, called, and still is calling mankind, ourselves, to serve Him. In the other, the day is the whole of life, which is given us for this one end, "to work the works of God, before the night cometh, when no man can work;" and the several hours of the day, are those several seasons of life, in which persons are more especially called, or hear His Call, "Follow Me;" "Son, go work in My Vineyard" i. e. in thine own soul.
Parts, again, of the Parable, although true of both the whole Church and one single soul, have their fuller meaning, as to the one or the other. Thus those words "We have borne the burden and heat of the day "can be said more fully of souls, who have given the spring-tide also of life, their first and best, to God, and ever borne His yoke upon them, although they are true also of the faithful in those elder generations, before Christ came in the Flesh, in that the law was a heavier burthen to them, and they had not so much the Fulness of the Refreshing, Abiding, Indwelling Presence of Christ to sustain them. On the other hand, the excuse of those who stood idle, "Because no man hath hired us," is more fully true of those to whom the Gospel of Christ was, or is, for the first time preached, than it can be of us. We must know full well of ourselves, that we have been oftentimes called, re-called, re-re-called. We were called at our Baptism, by instruction in our childhood, through Parents or God's Ministers, by the prayers we were taught, our Confirmation, our first Communion, the early drawings of our inmost souls, terrors, warnings, hopes, deaths of others or of those beloved, our own sickness, God's Pleadings in our consciences, the emptiness and weariness of things present, thoughts of Eternity and Judgment to come, the loathsomeness of sin, the beauty of holiness, the bright light in others, the innocence of children, the sweepings by of time, thoughts of the blissful Company of Heaven, or of the dreadful fellowship of devils.
If we would hear, surely we might rather say, that God calls us, at all times, in all places, by all things, persons, deeds, words, by night and by day, all our lives long, than dare to say for ourselves before God's All-Searching Eye, "No man hath hired us." For so it is; when persons have heard the first Call, every thing calls them. When the heart is awake, every, the lowest, whisper calls it. When it is alive to God, every Work of God, every Gift of God, every Grace of God, in it or in others, every thing done for or against God, every forgetfulness of God, every coarse or idle word it hears, every hard or thoughtless look it sees, calls it anew to God. For when that one thought, "Heaven or Hell for ever," for ever the Blissful Presence, or the loss of the Face of God, Everlasting Love or everlasting hate, is, by God's Holy Spirit, wrought into the soul, every thing may bring it back and forth in us; every thing of sense or spirit may call us out of and above this world of sense, up to its Maker, the Father of all spirits and all flesh, our God.
The world is one great mirror. As we are who look into it or on it, so is it to us. It gives us back ourselves. It speaks to us the language of our own hearts. Such as we are, so doth it speak to us of pleasure, gain, honour, vanity, worldly happiness, or of everlasting rest and peace, out of itself, in God. Our inmost self is the key to all. Our ruling thought or passion, the thought or love, that is, which has the mastery of us, and governs us, and occupies our soul, is touched by every thing around us. In grief, all things alike, the most joyous or the most sorrowful, suggest to the mourner thoughts of grief; yea, joyous sounds and sights speak mostly, most heavily to it of its own heaviness, or of the absence of the lost object of its love. Self-love sees every thing as it bears on self; love of- pleasure or of gain looks on all, as it may minister to its pleasure or gain, or to envy those which have what it has not. The heart where God dwelleth, is by all things called anew to God; His Blessed Presence draws it by Its Sweetness: or His seeming Absence by the very void, may absorb it yet more, by the very vehemence of longing, into Himself.
It matters not what things are. Things like or things unlike; things Divine or things devilish; the obedience, order, growth, harmony, beauty of nature, or the disobedience, disorder, decay, discord of man, and the loathsomeness of sin; sounds of harmony, which echo, as it were, the Choirs of Heaven, or sounds of discord, hatred, blasphemy, bad words uttered by the tongue, which "is set on fire of hell;" things good, by their loveliness, or things bad, by their dreadfulness, draw the soul upward to God, or drive it onward, lest, like them, it lose Him,
Every thing preaches Eternity to the awakened soul. All love of gain it sees, preaches of Him, the True Riches; all disquiet "about many things," of Him, our Only Rest; all seeking after pleasure, of Him, the Ever-Flowing Torrent of Pleasure; all sickness of soul and body, of Him, our soul's Only Health; all things passing, of Him Who Alone abideth. Perhaps no place may more preach to the soul the vanity of all things beneath the sun, and the Verity of Him, the Eternal Verity, Whose and of Whom are all things, as the vast solitude of this great, crowded, tumultuous city, [London] "full of stirs," where "all things are full of labour; man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the car filled with hearing," where well-nigh all countenances or motions are full of eagerness, anxiety; all bent on something, seeking, but finding not, because they are seeking all things out of God, all but Himself, except when, here and there, they at last become very emptiness, because they know no more what to seek or find, but have lost themselves.
But, chiefly, we know, Brethren, in our inmost selves, that whether we have obeyed the Call, first or last, or, if any are even yet disobeying it or hearing it listlessly, obeying it for awhile in solemn seasons, and then forgetting it, or thinking they obey it when untcmpted, and then anon, when the temptation comes, ever anew disobeying, we know that we have been called manifoldly, perhaps our whole lives through. All perhaps can recollect when, in their childhood, some Sermon or deep Scripture words touched them, or some grave look or word of parents; or they felt ill at ease, or their soul yearned for something better than this world's poor fleeting vanities; or they felt that within them, not made for this world, which could not rest in it, but soared up and up, as though it would find Him from Whom it came, Whose it is; or they were affrighted within themselves, at thoughts of Judgment; or they were inwardly-bidden not to put off turning to God with their whole heart. God adapts His Calls to each several soul. He calleth gently or in Awe; in Love or in some form of displeasure; quickening or checking us; within or without, directly or indirectly, in the secret chambers of the heart or "in the chief place of concourse," "in the openings of the gates," "in the city," "Wisdom," that is Himself, "uttereth Her Words," "How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity, and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge? Turn you at My Reproof; behold, I will pour out My Spirit unto you, I will make known My Words unto you." All things stand at His Command; all hearts are in His Hand, Who made them, and for Whom He made them; all things may be the channels of His Holy Inspirations; all times may be seasons of His Grace; all words may convey His Voice to the soul. As "all things work together for good to them that love1" Him, so may and do all things call us to love Him. All things have, in turn, called to our souls; all, nature, the world, grace or sin, shame at our folly and our very misery, have repeated His Words in our ears, "Why stand ye all the day idle?"
And yet, if any have neglected or but half heard these manifold Calls, what could we say when some louder Call struck through our inmost soul, and we saw perhaps our whole task not only unbegun, but so marred and tangled that we scarce knew where to begin it? What, when we find our whole vineyard not only implanted with the choice Vine of God, and bearing no fruit of Grace to Him, but, like the vineyard of the slothful, overgrown with the briars and thorns of our sins; the stone wall, wherewith God fenced it in, broken down, so that the foxes of the desert, even the wily spirits of evil, spoiled, at will, the clusters which we should have borne to God! Well has it been, and only of the Mercy of God, Who withheld the tempter, and gave not our life into his hands, that "the boar out of the wood" did not "root it up," and "the wild beast of the field devour it!m How could we, when awakened, by the Voice of God, to survey in His Aweful Presence, this waste we had made in His Vineyard, our own souls, and to answer His searching question "Why stand ye here all the day idle?" how could we dare to say, "Because no man hath hired us?"
There is, indeed, a very false and soul-destroying way, in which men do so answer, and cast their own sins and evil upon Him Who made not sin, the All-Good God; as though the fault was not in themselves who obeyed not the Call, but (it is sad to repeat such words) with God Who called not loud enough (so to speak) and constrained them not to hear. And so people "stand all the day idle," awaiting what they speak of, as an "effectual Call," a Call which, without any effort of their own will to hearken or to follow it, should at once remove them from the power of Satan unto God. Truly of the Grace of God alone is it, that any Call is "effectual; "yet these would be saved without their own wills, without the trouble of even yielding their own wills to the tide of God's Grace. And so they say they are not "called," because they have no heart to answer. As though their whole state of mind were not one unceasing Call of God to them to turn to Him; as if all doubt about our state were not God's Merciful Call to come with our whole hearts to Him, in Whom Alone is safety; all our restlessness one Call to Him, in Whom Alone is Rest! What further Call can there be for us, if we know that Heaven and Hell are both awaiting- us, before our feet, and that to come to Christ is our only Refuge, to obey Christ, our only sure Hope, to seek after Christ, the only way to find Him, and He hath said, "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." If we will not ask, how should we have? If we do ask, then, as God is True, we shall have.
And yet there must be some way in which those words shall be true of individuals also; and their meaning may be this, not that we have not oftentimes been called, not that we can plead for ourselves, that "no man hath called us," but that when, at last, we do obey God's Voice, He, of His Infinite Mercy, doth regard us as though we had never been called before; He passeth by all our neglects of His former Calls, and looks upon us now, only as we desire to be, obeying Him, labouring for Him. As though, when that Aweful Voice thrilled through us, "Why stand ye here all the day idle?" He would temper it with Words of Comfort; "Be it that ye have not yet been called, I forget and blot out all your past 'sins, negligences, ignorances;' ye are called now; ye hear the Call now; 'go ye also into the Vineyard;' it is the eleventh hour; 'the night cometh, when no man can work;' work now for Me earnestly, as ye have heretofore been negligent, or have laboured for the wind, or have even toiled in sin, and 'whatsoever is right that shall ye receive.'" And like to this does He speak, in that other Parable of His Vineyard, of the son, who when bidden "Go work in My Vineyard," said shamelessly to his Heavenly Father "I will not; hut afterwards he repented and went." What saith He of him? Does He upbraid him? Does He call his sin to remembrance? Doubtless the son never forgot so grievous a word, said to so Good a Father. But what saith the Father, our Lord? "Whether of them twain did the Will of his Father?" What? all blotten out? all forgotten? that bold, hard word and act, "I will not," quite effaced, and nothing remembered but that he afterwards "went?" nothing said of him, but that he "did the Will of his Father?" Well may we scarce believe for joy, Brethren; well may we be amazed at the Flood of the Divine Mercy, which seems to be poured in upon us, sweeping away all the defilements of the soul in our past lives, blotting out of His Memory all those bitter, painful memories over which we sorrow, and which, for love of Him, we would from our inmost hearts had never been.
And this is what God says elsewhere, "None of his sins that he hath committed shall be mentioned unto him: he hath done that which is lawful and right; he shall surely live."
To count on this beforehand, were indeed to sin with a high hand, and make God's Mercy minister to sin, and bring-on ourselves damnation. Yet God does hear that deepest desire of our hearts, when we would return to Him, that we might, as it were, begin anew, be separated, in a degree, from our former selves, be new labourers, new called, new men, anew placed in His Vineyard, to serve Him, with "a new heart and a new spirit. P" He looks not on what we have been, but what we are, or desire to be; not on the decay of the past, but on the newness of heart which He gives us; not on our marrings of His Work, but "on the Face of His Christ,"1" in Whom He would recreate us, "in Whom He is Well pleased."
And so He bids us, as it were, anew, "Go, work in My Vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you." He promises not to us, as to those first labourers, a certain hire. Even while He would wholly restore us, in His Mercy, He would keep in us the humility of penitents. He scemeth to tell us thus, that we have forfeited our claim, that we must labour on in faith, and hope, and confiding trust, making no bargains, as it were, with Him, looking for nothing again, but what He of His Free Bounty will give us. But so will He give us, not what we could dare to ask or think, but "what is right; "not "right" with regard to us, or any poor claims or demerits of ours, but right in His Sight, Whose "Mercy is over all His Works, "right for Him Who "doth what He will with His Own," Who is not stinted to any measures of proportion, but giveth us out of the Largeness of His Love; not what is "right" for us, but for Him in Whose Right we receive what we deserve not, even His, Who gave up that which was His Right by Nature, and "emptied Himself," that, what is His Right, we might receive. This is our very hope, and trust, and gladness in our toil, that we labour, not with any calculating spirit, or to set up for ourselves any claim with God; the rewards of desert were finite; the Reward of Grace is Infinite, even Himself, Who hath said, "I am thine Exceeding Great Reward."
Yet, often as He calleth us, He calleth us by an ever present Call. He goeth indeed far beyond His Promise in His Word, or His Deeds even, when He Himself dwelt among us. Then we hear not of a second Call. We hear no more even of one whom Jesus once loved, who had done much for duty to God, but who, when called nearer to Him, and to higher fellowship with Christ, the sharing of His Poverty and His Cross, though "sorrowful," still went away from Him. We hear nothing of labourers, who, being called, refused; we are not told that those called at the eleventh hour had been before called, at the third, sixth, ninth, and had refused; or that any who drew back, having been called, were again called. Much less is an eleventh hour promised to those who refuse to hear now. "Now is the Day of Salvation." There is a last hour of Grace to the soul; no one knows when! We must never despair of it for others; we must ever act ourselves, as if it were our last now. We know not what we may not forfeit, when we hold back from any Call to greater strictness, or deeper inwardness, or to sit looser to the world, or part with its hopes or pleasures, or draw closer to our Redeemer's Side or to His Cross. We know not whether we may not forfeit all, even our own souls. It is thought to have been shown to one dear to our Lord, where she would have been in Hell, had she not obeyed the Drawings of His Grace. We risk all. Obey we, though trembling, and we know not what future Calls may not be wrapped up in that one Call, what Store of Grace may not lie, pledged to us, in that one Grace; what Treasures of the Love of God may not be opened to us, by receiving into our souls that Love, wherewith He now draw-eth us. Draw we back, and we know not into what depth of unlove, nay, into what depth of sin and Hell we might not sink! For what may not be comprised in that one Word, "If any man draw back, My Soul shall have no Pleasure in him?"
And so now, in the Vestibule of this Solemn Season, the deepest Season of Grace in the whole year, in which we would, day by day, fast with our Lord, that, what is to us the medicine of sin or the token of unworthiness, may by His Holy and Meritorious Fasting, be sanctified, the Church tells us anew the blessedness of obeying His Call. He calleth us apart from the world, to live with Him, at least in the stillness of the heart, and subdued affections, and chastened will, and a lowly hatred of ourselves, and humble faith, and penitent love, that so we may, at the close, die with Him, be buried with Him, rise with Him, ascend with Him, yea, He again descend to us, that He may dwell in us by His Spirit. He Who accepteth the "cup of cold water" given to His, in His Own Name, calleth us to these petty self-denials, to hallow them by His Grace. He calleth us to deny the body, that He may feed the soul; to retire, for a time, from the pleasures of the world, that He may speak to it "good Words and comfortable Words;" to think how we may empty our souls of vanities, that He may fill us with His Goodness. He calls us to deny ourselves, that, for our decayed selves, He may give us Himself.
If we have held back aforetime, let us not hold back now; if we have stood still, now "run we so, that we may obtain." If we have for ten, twenty, thirty, forty, years, yea, to the very eleventh hour, "stood all the day idle," go we now at last into His Vineyard. If any have even left His Vineyard, having been called to it, yet now, at last, in the Name of God, and in His Grace and Strength, return. He could make even the last first. No degrees of acceptance are closed by any degree of past forgetfulness, so thou labour now. We cannot undo the past, but God can, and will efface it. We cannot recover our lost hours, wherein we stood idle, but God can crowd into this last hour, in His Will and Good Pleasure, the duties of a whole life. If we turn with our whole hearts, He can make us equal to those who have "borne the burthen and heat of the day." To think of offering to Him the dregs of life, or any thing short of all we have or are, our souls and bodies, our time and being, beforehand, is robbery, thanklessness, withdrawal from Him, keeping back part of the Price of His Blood. To offer to Him the very dregs of life, when it is all we have to offer; to offer our decayed, defiled, lifeless selves, to be His, when all the earliest and best is gone, is an acceptable gift to Him, Who bade, "Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost;" is what He vouchsafes to call His Own sacrifice. "The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, shalt Thou not despise. "God, Who calleth us, Himself giveth us the strength to obey His Call. Life is short, the way long. Yet He Himself, Who calleth us to strike more and more into the narrow way, will be, Himself, the Way to us. He Who is with us now to call us, will be ever Present with us, in all whereto He calleth us. "The gifts and calling of God are without repentance." "All in His Purpose and Love, every degree of Grace and Glory, lies wrapped up in His next Call. All Abraham's giant faith and obedience lay in that first Call. All St. Paul's good course and the Life of Christ within him, lay in those first words, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" All Eternity of Bliss and the Love of God will, through His Grace, forecoming, accompanying, following, lie in one strong, earnest, undivided, giving of thy whole self to God, to do in thee, through thee, with thee, His Gracious, Loving, Will. For He Who "loved His own, loveth them unto the end."
He calleth thee now; He calleth thee, that in death He may again call thee, to place thee near Himself; He calleth thee, that He may save thee from the pit where His Voice is not heard, to place thee above the stars, with Cherubim and Seraphim, there to sing everlastingly, "Holy, Holy, Holy." He calleth thee, that He may retrace on thee the Image which the Ever-Blessed Trinity deigned to trace on the soul of man, when of him They vouchsafed to counsel, "Let us make man in Our Image, after Our Likeness;" which, defaced by the fall, They, in Baptism, retraced upon thee, when Their All-Holy Name was again pronounced over thee; which thou, by every spot of wilful sin, hast anew defaced, perhaps well nigh effaced.
No outward Gift is it, for which He calleth thee, which He hath promised thee. He calleth thee to Himself, that He may give Himself unto thee. He calleth thee to give up all which is not He, that He may give thee all which HE is. He calleth thee to give thee His Likeness. What? Yes! to make thee like Himself, like God! This is the One Gift of Eternity, "we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as HE IS." Like Whom? We may well ask. "Like Him." Imagine to yourself All Which God is. Thou dost not yet know, what He has in store for thy nothingness. For it hath "not entered into the heart of man, to conceive the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him." This only we know, that He Himself will be our Portion. He Himself hath said, "Son, all that I have is thine." All the treasures of the Wisdom, and Goodness, and Sweetness, and Power, and Knowledge, and Holiness, and Love of God. He saith, "All that I have is thine. "He giveth it to thee, not to be held as an outward thing; not to have, as it were, created knowledge, or wisdom, or love. This were a small thing for the Love of God. But God will be Himself All in all. Thou shalt know with His Knowledge, be wise with His Wisdom, be holy with His Holiness. For the Blessed shall be like Him, because they shall see Him; and they shall see Him, because He shall have cleansed their hearts to see Him; and, being like Him, they shall be fitted to receive Him: and He, the Fountain of all Good, shall overstream them with the Torrent of His Pleasure, and enfold them and fill them with His Love, and irradiate them with His Light. Their being shall be His Being, and they shall be themselves, only to be not themselves, only that there may be beings, to be ever filled with the Thrilling, Pure, Holy, Exstatic Love of God. They shall be out of themselves in the Absorbing Love of God, and God, in His Boundless Love, shall dwell in them.
Such is the Hire which God offereth thee. What were it, could Satan offer thee not this earth only, but countless worlds? Things out of God may take thee up; nought but God can fill thee. For this He calleth thee. Give diligence at last "to make thy Calling and Election sure." He calleth thee, "Son, give Me thine heart;" and He will give thee His, His Own All-encompassing, Unencompassed Love. Will ye withhold any longer what He asketh, when He will "withhold" nothing of His Own Almighty Goodness from thee, if thou, through His Grace, "live a Godly life?" Were it not bliss enough in itself to lead "a Godly life," a life according to God? For it is the First-fruit of His Love, to live through God. But now He giveth thee "Grace for grace," Love for love; He giveth thee Love, that He may open to thee the whole Treasure of His Love. He giveth thee Himself, in measure here, that He may give thee Himself, without measure, without pause, without end, one Everlasting, Unminished, Unchanging Joy. He Who dwelleth in the Bosom of the Father, He Who left His Father's Bosom to become Man, and die for thee, He Who hath ascended up where He was before, hath said, "Where I am, there shall also My servant be." Lord, give us grace to love Thee, to serve Thee, die to ourselves and live to Thee, that we may die in Thee, and live in Thee and with Thee, everlastingly. Amen.