Matthew 20:1. For the kingdom of heaven, &c. The manner in which the following parable is here introduced, (and it is the same in the original,) evidently shows that it was spoken in illustration of the sentence with which the preceding chapter concludes, and from which, therefore, it ought not to have been disjoined. The primary scope of this parable seems to be, to show that many of the Jews would be rejected for their disobedience to the gospel call, and many of the Gentiles accepted in consequence of their obeying it. The secondary, That, of the Gentiles, many who were first converted would be the last and lowest in the kingdom of glory, and many of those who were last converted, would be first and highest therein. The parable seems, also, to have a third intention, namely, to show that those Gentiles who should obey the gospel, whether sooner or later, should be admitted to privileges equal to those conferred on the believing Jews. The kingdom of heaven is like a householder That is, the manner of God’s proceeding in his kingdom resembles that of a householder, or master of a family, in the management of his vineyard. Which went out early in the morning Namely, at six, called by the Romans and Jews the first hour. From thence reckoning unto the evening, they called what is nine with us the third hour; twelve, the sixth; three in the afternoon, the ninth; and five, the eleventh. To hire labourers into his vineyard At the time when the vintage was to be gathered in. As the householder here represents Christ, so the vineyard signifies his church, in which, as in a vineyard, much work is to be done, for which labourers are wanted. With respect to the different hours here mentioned, by early in the morning, or the first hour, some of the ancient fathers understood the ages preceding the flood, in which Adam and Eve, Abel, Enoch, Noah, and probably some others, were called. By the third hour they understood the patriarchal ages succeeding the flood; and by the sixth hour, the times of Moses and the promulgation of the law, and of the establishment of the Jewish Church; by the ninth hour, the times of the prophets; and by the eleventh, those of the Messiah and the calling of the Gentiles. But Dr. Whitby justly objects that, as this parable is intended to illustrate the kingdom of heaven, or the gospel dispensation, and the state of things in the gospel church, that exposition of the fathers cannot be the true one. He therefore explains the first call, early in the morning, of the earliest days of Christ’s preaching, preceded by that of John the Baptist; that of the third hour, as referring to the mission of the apostles) when they were first sent forth to preach in Judea. By the call of the sixth hour, he understands their preaching after the ascension of Christ and the descent of the Holy Ghost, when the church was in its meridian glory; by that of the ninth hour, the preaching of the same apostles to the dispersed Jews in their synagogues, in different parts of the world; and that of the eleventh hour, to the calling of the Gentiles. This exposition, if it do not imply too great a nicety of distinction, seems very plausible, and might probably be intended, partly at least, by our Lord. But others of the ancient fathers, comparing human life to a day, considered the parable as referring also to the several periods of the life of man, namely, to those called and obeying the call in childhood, in youth, in middle age, in declining years, and in old age; and doubtless the parable is capable of, and probably was intended to receive, such an application.
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