Sermon 664. Early And Late
DELIVERED ON SUNDAY MORNING, DECEMBER 10, 1865, BY C. H. SPURGEON, AT THE METROPOLITAN TABERNACLE, NEWINGTON.
"For the kingdom of Hea ven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard... Andhe went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace... Again he went out about the sixth andthe ninth hour and did likewise. And about theeleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, 'Why have you been standing here idle all day?'"
Matthew 20:1,3, 5, 6.
WE have frequently observed that we do not think it right to neglect the context of Scripture. We have no right to tear passagesof Scripture from their context and make them to mean what they were not intended to teach. And therefore I have, in the readinggiven you, according to my ability, whatI think to be the immediate design of the present parable. It is a rebuke to those who fall into a legal spirit and begincalculating as to what their reward ought to be in a kingdom where the legal spirit is entirely out of place since its rewardis not of debt, but of DivineGrace. I think I may now, without any violation of propriety, dwell upon one very distinct fact in connection with the parable.It is not right to violate the drift of the parable, but having already observed it and made it as clear as we can, we believethat we are now authorizedto make use of one of the main circumstances mentioned in it.
This morning I intend to call your attention to the fact that the laborers were hired at different periods of the day, bywhich doubtless we are taught that God sends His servants into His vineyard at different times and seasons. Some are calledin early youth and others are not led to enter intothe service of the Master until declining years have brought them almost to the eventide of life. I must, however, ask youto remember that they were all called-by the mention of which the Savior would teach us that no man comes into the kingdomof Heaven of himself. Withoutexception, every laborer for Jesus has been called in one sense or another and he would not have come without being so called.They are all called.
Were a man what he should be, he would need no pressing and invitation to come to the Gospel of Christ. But since human natureis perverted and men put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter, darkness for light and light for darkness, man needs to becalled by the outward word. He needs to beinvited, persuaded and entreated. He needs, to use the strong expression of the Apostle Paul, to be told that as thoughGod did beseech him by us, we should pray him, in Christ's place, to be reconciled to God. No, further than this, althoughsome men come to work in a legal spiritin the vineyard through this common call of the Gospel, yet no man in spirit and in truth comes to Christ without a furthercall, namely, the effectual call of God's Holy Spirit.
The general call is given by the minister-it is all that he can give. If the preacher attempts to give the particular callas some of my hyper-Calvinistic Brethren do-confining the Gospel command to a certain character and trying to be, themselves,the discoverers of God's elect and tomake that particular which is always universal-if the preacher acts thus and virtually endeavors to give the particularcall-he makes a sorry mess of it and usually fails altogether to preach the Gospel of glad tidings to the sons of men.
But when man is content to do what he can do, namely, preach the commandment, "that we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,"and that, "God commands all men everywhere to repent," then there comes with the general call to the chosen of God a particularand special call which none hut the Holy Spiritcan give, but which He gives so effectually that all who hear it become willing in the day of God's power and turn withfull purpose of heart unto the Lord! In what sense is it true that many are called but few chosen if none are to be calledby the preaching of the Word but thosewho are chosen? There are two callings-the one is general to all who hear of Jesus and many who are thus called are notchosen. The other is personal and peculiar to the elect-"for whom He did predestinate, them He also called."
To return to our point. All in the vineyard are in some sense called. There is not a solitary exception to this rule in theentire Christian Church. The doctrine of freewill has not a single specimen to show to prove itself. There is not a sheepin all the flock that came back to the shepherdunsought. There is not a single piece of money which leaped again into the woman's purse-she swept the house to find it-no,I will go further and say there is not even a single prodigal son in the entire family who did ever say, "I will arise andgo unto my Father," tillfirst the Father's Grace, veiling itself in the afflicting Providence of a mighty famine, had taught the prodigal the miserableresults of sin as he fed the swine and gladly would have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat, but couldnot do so.
I want you to notice another fact before I come to the subject now in hand, and that is that all those who are called aresaid to have been hired. Of course in a parable no word is to be construed harshly-we are to give the meaning according tothe drift. But still, I think we may say thatthere is this likeness between hiring a servant and the engagement of a soul to Christ-a man hired has no right to serveanother-he serves the master who has hired him. When a soul is called by Grace into the service of the Lord Jesus Christ,he cries, "O Lord, otherlords have had dominion over me, but now You only will I serve." He plucks off the yoke of sin, its pleasure, its custom,and he puts upon him that yoke of which the Master says it is easy, and he bears that burden which Jesus tells us is light.
A hired servant must not work for another-he works for his master. And so a man who is called by Grace lives not for any sinisterobject or motive, but to his Master only. A hired servant, again, does not work on his own account-he is not his own master.And, "you are not your own, youare bought with a price." Henceforth, though he calls no man "Master" on earth, yet he remembers that one is his Masterin Heaven, to whom all his service is due. There is a compact between the hired man and his master and there is a solemn compactof spirit between the trueBeliever and his Lord. We have devoted ourselves to His service. We have given up all liberty of self-will, and thereforeour will is at the government of our Lord and all our powers and passions are to be, we hope will be, through God's Grace,obedient to Him who has hired us intothe vineyard.
Now the word "hired" was used in order to bring in the idea of reward. It was used to suit Peter's view of the case. It wasused in order that his legal question of, "What shall we have, therefore?" might be clearly brought out and its folly shownin the light of that Sovereign Grace which does asit wills with His own. Yet for all that, Believers are hired in an evangelical sense-they do not serve God for nothing-theyshall not work without a reward. "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life." We shall have our rewardfor what we do for theMaster and though it is not wages in the sense of debt, yet verily I say unto you there shall not be a single true-heartedworker for God who shall not receive of his Master most blessed wages of Grace in the day when He comes to take account ofHis servants.
Now to the point-the master calls these hired servants of his at different hours of the day. And, in the second place, distinguishingGrace shines forth in each case and is illustrated and made more manifest in its varieties of glorious compassion and loving-kindnessby the different hours atwhich the chosen ones are called.
I. ALL ARE NOT CALLED BY GRACE AT THE SAME TIME. Some, according to the parable, are called early in the morning. Thrice happyare these! The earliest period at which a child may be called by Divine Grace would be difficult for us positively to define.Because children are not all the same agementally, though their physical age may be the same, we dare not limit the Holy One of Israel as to the chosen period ofoperation. As far as our observation, Grace works upon some little ones at the very dawn of moral consciousness. There are,no doubt, precocious children whoseintellect and affections are very much developed and very deeply sanctified even so early as two or three years of age.
Such children usually are intended by the Master to be taken Home at once. There are interesting biographies extant, whichprove that holiness may bloom and ripen in the youngest heart and many anecdotes are treasured up in such collections as "Janeway'sToken for Children," of children whom Imight call infants with strict propriety, out of whose mouth God ordained praise and did, through them, quiet the enemyand the avenger.
Little prattlers, whose tongues it would have been supposed could only have talked of toys, have been able to speak with anapparent profundity of knowledge of spiritual, and especially of heavenly things. It is certain that some have worked theirday's work for the Master in their mother's arms.They have spoken of the Savior in tones which have melted a mother's heart and gone to a father's conscience and then theyhave been taken home. "Whom the gods love die young," said the heathen, and doubtless it is no small privilege to be so soonadmitted into Glory. Only shown onearth and then snatched away to Heaven-too precious to be left below!
Precious child, how dear were you to the good God who sent you here and then took you Home! Fair rose bud, yet in the perfectionof your young beauty taken to be worn by the Savior on His bosom! How can we mourn your translation to the skies?-
"No bitter tears for you are shed, Blossom of being seen and gone! With flowers alone we strew your bed, O blest departed one! Whose all of life, a rosy ray, Blushed into da wn and passed away."
"Early in the morning," would also include those who have passed the first hour of the day, but who have not yet wasted thesecond opening hour. I mean those hopeful lads and girls who, perhaps, would rather I should call them youths-those who havereached their teens-have overleapedinfancy and childhood and are growing up in the heyday and vigor of youth. Youngsters still more at home in the playgroundthan in the work field-fitter, as Satan tells them-to be sporting in the marketplace than busy in the vineyard. Such as these,to the praise ofDivine love, are often hired by the landowner.
It is worth while to warn some of our Brethren who seem to be exceedingly dubious of boyish and girlish piety-to warn themagainst indulging harsh and suspicious doubts. We have remarked, and I think those who have watched our membership carefullywill have remarked it, too, that among allthe slips and falls which have caused us sorrow, we have had but little sorrow from those who were added to us as boys andgirls. There are those preaching the Gospel this day with acceptance and power whom these hands baptized into Jesus Christvery early in their boyhood, andthere are among us honored servants of God who have served this Church well, who, while they were yet at school, were joyfulfollowers of the Lord Jesus Christ!
With our earliest intellects some of us got an understanding of the things of the Kingdom of God. Our Bible was our child'sprimer, our spelling book-the guide of our youth and the joy of our earliest years. We thank God that there are Timothys stillamong us and those not few and farbetween! And young Samuels, who, being brought as infants to the Lord's House, have from that day forth worn the linen ephodand served, after their fashion, as priests unto God, serving Him with all their hearts! Happy those who are called earlyin the morning! They have peculiarreasons for blessing and praising God-
"Grace is a plant, wherever it grows, Of pure and heavenly root. But fairest in the youngest shows, And yields the sweetestfruit."
Let us spend a minute in thinking of their happy case who are saved in boyhood. Early in the morning the dew still twinkleson the leaves, the maiden blush of dawn remains and reveals an opening beauty which is lost to those who rise not to see thebirth of day. There is a beauty about early pietywhich is indescribably charming and unutterably lovely in freshness and radiance. We remark in childhood an artless simplicity,a child-like confidence which is seen nowhere else. There may be less of knowing, but there is more of loving. There may beless of reasoning, but there ismore of simply believing upon the authority of Revelation. There may be less of deep-rootedness, but there is certainlymore of perfume, beauty and emerald verdure!
If I must choose that part of the Christian life in which there is the most joy, next to the land Beulah, which I must setfirst and foremost by reason of its lying so near to Canaan, I think I would prefer that tract of Christian experience whichlies toward the rising sun which is sown withorient pearls of love and cheered with the delicious music of the birds of hope. Early in the morning, when we have justrisen from slumber, work is easy. Our occupation in the vineyard is a cheerful exercise rather than a toil such as those findwho bear the burden and heat of theday. The young Christian is not oppressed with the cares and troubles of the world as others are-he has nothing else todo but to serve his God.
He is free from the embarrassments which surround so many of us and prevent our doing good when we would consecrate ourselveswholly to it. The lad has nothing to think of but his Lord. There are his books and his lessons, but he can be fervent ofspirit in the midst of them. There are thecompanions of his childhood, but in guilelessness and simplicity he may be of service to them and to God through them. Giveme, I say, if I would have an auspicious time to work for Jesus-give me the blessed morning hours when my heart is boundinglightest and joy's puresunbeams tremble on my path-when my glowing breast lacks no ardor and my happy spirit wears no chain of care!
One would prefer early conversion because such persons have not learned to stand idle in the marketplace. A fellow, you know,who has been for hours standing with his hands in his pockets, talking with drunken men and so on, is not worth much at theeleventh hour! No, even by the middle of the dayit has become so natural to him to prop the walls that he is not likely to take to work very readily. Begin early with yoursouls! Break in the colts while they are young and they are likely to take well to the collar. There are no workers like thosewho commenced work while theywere yet children.
What a promise of a long day there is for young Believers! The sun has just risen and he has to travel to his zenith and todescend again. There is ample room and time enough, though none to spare. If God, in His Providence, permits it so to happen,that youngster yonder has twelve hours' workbefore him-what may he not accomplish? For a grand and glorious life, early piety, if not essential, is certainly a verygreat advantage! To give those first days to Jesus will spare us many sad regrets, prevent us acquiring many evil habits,and enable us to achieve goodsuccess through the Holy Spirit's blessing. It is well to begin to fly while yet the wings are strong, for if we live longin sin the wings may be broken and then they will flap wearily through the rest of our days, even when Divine Grace shallcall us.
Let it be the desire of parents here to have their children converted as children! And oh, may God cast that desire into thehearts of some of you young people that are here this morning-that before you reach one-and-twenty, before you are calledmen-you may be perfect men in ChristJesus-that while you are yet children you may be children of God! May you, as "newborn babes, receive the sincere milk ofthe Word," and the Lord grant that you may "grow thereby." Happy, happy, happy souls, whom the Master, thus by distinguishingGrace, brings "early in themorning!"
The landowner went out again at the third hour. This may represent the period in which we have mounted above being childrenand youths and are entitled to be called men. Suppose we settle the first hour as extending over the earliest seven or eightyears of age? Then the second hour runs on fromthat to twenty-one or thereabouts. And then we have a good length of time between twenty and thirty and onwards to reckonas the third and fourth and fifth hours. There are some whom Divine Grace renews at the third hour. This is late! One-and-twentyis grievously late, when youconsider how much of early joy is now impossible-how much of sinful habit has now been acquired-how many opportunities forusefulness are now gone past recall.
A quarter of the day has flown away forever when we reach the third hour. It is the best quarter of the day, too, that hasgone past recall. The first meal of the day is over-that blessed breaking of the fast with Christ is no more possible. A veryprecious meal is that, when the Savior givesus the morning portion, the manna which melts when the sun is up. Blessed is the child's feeding upon Jesus-truly, I rememberwhen I was awakened like Elijah from under the juniper tree and fed on such dainty fare that to this day the flavor abideswith me! The man ofone-and-twenty has lost that first meal, breakfast is all over. Christ will say to him as He will to some others, "Comeand dine," and that is precious-but the daintiest meal is over, the first early enjoyment-the first early rapture can neverbe known.
I have no doubt there are many here who think that to be converted at one-and-twenty is very soon-but why one-and-twenty yearsgiven to Satan? Why a fourth of man's existence devoted to evil? Besides, it may not be a fourth-it may be one half-no, inhow many cases it is the wholeof life! The sun goes down before it is yet noon and the idler in the marketplace has no hope of ever being a worker inthe vineyard! Death, who comes when God wills, and gives us no notice, may cut down the flower before it has fully opened.
"In the morning it is like grass that grows up, in the evening it is cut down and withers." It is late, it is sadly late!It is a sad thing to have lost those bright days in which the mind was least engaged, in which it was the most susceptibleof forming godly habits. It is a sad thing to havelearned so much of sin as one may have learned by one-and-twenty! It is a sad thing to have seen so much of iniquity, tohave treasured up in one's memory so much defilement. Twenty years with God-one might have been in such a time a good scholarin the kingdom! But twentyyears in the world one begins to be like scarlet that has been lying in the dye till it is stained through and through.It is late, but we thank God that it is not too late. No, it is not too late even for the grandest of purposes.
Not only is this period of life not too late for salvation, but it is not too late to do much for Jesus Christ! Some of us,when we were one-and-twenty, had finished five years of Christian ministry and had been the means of bringing many souls tothe Cross of Christ. But if others are led by Graceto begin then, why there is a good period still remaining if God, in Providence, spares our lives. The young man is nowin all his strength and vigor, his bones are full of marrow and his heart is full of fire. We ought to have acquired a gooddegree of education and be prepared toacquire more. Now he is just in the time when he should work.
His plans of life are not settled as yet. He is probably not married. As yet there are no children about him to have beeninjured by his ill example. He has an opportunity of rearing up a household in the fear of God. He is commencing business.He has an opportunity of so conducting that businessthat there may never need to be a time when he shall have to tack about and steer another course. He may, if called by God'sGrace at twenty-one, begin an honorable career in which there needs not be an angle or a curve. He may go straight to theharbor's mouth! He may steer andmark upon the sea of life one shining furrow which shall reach in a direct line, from the present moment, straight to thelights of Heaven! He may reach it with his sail full and a priceless cargo on board to the praise of the glory of Divine Grace!It is late-it is very latein some respects-but oh, it is not too late to serve the Master well and to win a crown of great reward, the gift of Divinelove.
There is abundance of work to do for us who are in this third, fourth, and fifth hour of the day. In fact, I suppose the Churchmust look to us for its most active work. After this period and the next, a man frequently becomes rather a recipient fromthe Church than a donor to it in the matter ofactivity. Its fresh blood, its energy, its warmth of heart, its ready action, must, to a great extent, come from the youngmen who are converted. Oh, you of twenty-one, I would to God that you were all born from Heaven! You maidens, in your earlybeauty-may the Master in Hisinfinite mercy bring you in! Oh, could you know the sweetness of His love you would not need persuading! Could you understandthe joy of true religion you would not want entreating! There is more hallowed mirth enjoyed in secret with the Lord JesusChrist than in all the merrimentthe world can yield.
One ounce of Christ's love is better than a ton of the world's flatteries. The world offers bubbles with fair hues, brightto look upon, but vanishing at a breath. But Christ gives real treasure, enduring as eternity. The world's gold is all basemoney-it glitters, but it is not precious.There may be less glitter about the things of God, but there is a "solid joy and lasting pleasure," which, "none but Zion'schildren know." May the Master come this morning to your hearts and by my simple words may He call you at the third hour ofthe day into the vineyard!
The landowner's kindness was not exhausted, and therefore he went out at the sixth hour. We find him going into the marketat high noon. Half the day was over. Who is going to employ a man and give him a whole day's wages when twelve o'clock hascome? He will not do too much if you hire him atsix-what will he do if you engage him at twelve? Half a day's work! That is a poor thing to seek or to offer. The Master,however, seeks and accepts it. He promises, "Whatever is right, I will give you." And there are some found who at the sixthhour enter into the vineyardand, being saved by Grace, begin their work for Jesus.
This may represent the period of life in which man is supposed to be in his prime-when he is past forty and onward. This issadly late, very sadly late. Sadly late in a great many respects-not only because there is so little time left, but becauseso very much of energy and zeal andforce-which should have been given to God, has been wasted. It has, to some extent, been used to fight against God. Fortyyears of hardness of heart! That is a long time for Divine patience. Forty years of sin! That is a long season for conscienceto mourn over. "Forty yearslong was I grieved with this generation," said God. In the wilderness they hardened their hearts all that time. And He sworein His wrath that they should not enter into His rest.
What a blessing for you of forty and unconverted, that He has not sworn so terrible an oath concerning you-that still Hislong-suffering lingers, still His patience bears with you, still does He say to you-"Go, work, My son. Go work this day inMy vineyard." It is sadly late, because ithas become more than natural to you to walk in the way of sin. You will have so much to contend with in the future as theresult of the past. Putting the ship of the soul about is not such easy work as turning a vessel by her helm-only a Divinehand can steer a soul upon thetack of Divine Grace. You will need much Grace to conquer those corruptions which have had forty years to take root in you!You have a tenant in your house who is in possession, and you will find that possession to be nine points of the law-it willbe a hard ejectment for youto effect-so hard, indeed, that only a "stronger than he" can cast him out.
To your dying day the recollection of evil things which you heard during these forty years of unregeneracy will stick to you.You will hear the echoes of an old song just when you are trying to pray. Some deed which you regret and mourn over will cometo check you just when you are about to say,"Abba, Father," with an unstammering tongue. It is late, it is very, very late, this sixth hour, but it is not too late!It is not too late for some of the richest enjoyments-you can yet dine with Jesus! He can yet manifest Himself to you as Hedoes not to the world. You mayhave yet much time to serve Him.
It is not too late to be distinguished among His servants. Take John Newton-he was called in the middle of the day, but JohnNewton left his mark in God's vineyard-a mark that will never be forgotten! I suppose Paul could not have been much less thanof that age when he was called bySovereign Grace. No, the most of the Apostles were probably very little short of this age when Mercy met with them-stillthey did a glorious day's work. If saved by Grace in middle life, my Brother, you must work harder! You must let the timepast suffice you to have workedthe will of the flesh and now you must redeem the time, because the days are evil. Why, a man converted at forty shouldgo double quick march to Heaven-there should not be a moment lost!
Work the engine at high pressure and give two strokes for every one that might be given by younger men and younger minds.Seek, in Divine strength, to do twice as much in the time, since you have only half the time to do a life's work. I know youwish to win crowns for Christ. Then be up and doing,Beloved. You are saved by Grace and by Grace alone. You pant to honor Christ because of His free love to you-cannot youendeavor to honor Him as much in the remnant which remains as others do in the whole length of their life? You may, by zealand prudence, and discretion andperfect consecration yet serve the Master well.
The landowner went out at the ninth hour, at three o'clock in the afternoon. Nobody thinks of engaging day-laborers at threeo'clock in the afternoon! A day's work to be done from three till six! It shows you that this Gospel hiring is nothing likea legal hiring-it must be all ofGrace-or a man would not think of doing such a thing. Well now, three o'clock in the afternoon, that is from sixty to seventy.The prime of life has gone. It is late, it is sadly late, very sadly late. It is late because all the powers of the man arenow weak. His memorybegins to fail. He thinks his judgment better than ever it was, but probably that is only his own opinion. Most of the facultieslose their edge in old age. He has acquired experience, but still there is no fool like an old fool.
A man who has not been taught by Divine Grace learns very little of any value in the school of Providence. Sixty thousandyears would not make a man wise if Divine Grace did not teach him. Now think of it, is it not late? Here is the man-if heis converted now-what is there left of him?He is just a candle end. He may give a little light, but it is almost like a snuff burning in the socket. All those sixtyyears, seventy years-have been spent-where? Cover it all up. Let us go backward as Noah's sons did and cover it all up. Andoh, may almighty Gracecover it, too! The fact is terribly appalling-sixty, seventy years spent in the service of Satan! Oh what good the man mighthave done! Had he but served his God as he served the world, what good he might have done!
He has made a fortune, has he? How rich he might have been in faith by this time. He has built a house! Yes, but how he mighthave helped to build the Church. The man has been playing at card-houses. He has been like boys by the seashore building castlesof sand which must all come down, and mustcome down very soon, too, for I hear the surges of the dread tide of Death-it is rolling in even now! Those teeth whichhave fallen out, those pains and rheumatics and so on, all show that this is not his rest. The tabernacle is beginning tocrumble about the man and thewarning is loud which reminds him that he must soon be gone and leave his wealth and his house!
And so, if this is all, in the end it will turn out that he has done nothing-he has piled up shadows, heaped together thickclay and that is all he has done-when he might, if he had believed in Jesus, have done so much for God and for the souls ofmen! What evil habits he has acquired!What can you ever make of this man? If he is saved, it will be so as by fire. He is called and he shall enter Heaven, butoh, how little can he do for the Master, and what strong corruptions will he have to wrestle with, and what an inward conflicteven till he gets to Heaven! It islate, it is very late, but oh, blessed be God! It is not too late!
We have had within these walls persons who have long passed the prime of their days who have come forward and said, "We willcast in our lot with you because the Lord is with you." We have heard their joyous story of how the old man has become a babe,and how he that was hoary with years has beenborn again into the kingdom of Christ! It is not too late! Did the devil say so? The gate is shutting-I can hear it gratingon the hinges-but it is not shut! The sun is going down, but he is not lost beneath the horizon yet. And if the Master callsyou, only run fasterbecause it is so! And when you are saved, serve Him with all your might amid strength because you have so little time toglorify Him here on earth and short space in which to show your sense of deep indebtedness to His surpassing love.
The day is nearly over, it has come to the eleventh hour, five o'clock! The men have been looking at their watches to seewhether it will not soon be six. They are longing to hear the clock strike. They hope the day's work will soon close. Look!The landlord goes out into the marketplace amongthose hulking fellows who are still loitering there and he pitches upon some and asks them, "Why have you been standinghere idle all day? Go and work! And whatever is right I will give you."
At the eleventh hour they come in-half-ashamed to come-hardly liking the others to see them. They are ashamed to begin workso late. Still they did steal in somewhere. And there were generous laborers who looked over the tops of the vines and saidto them, "Glad to see you, Friends!Glad to see you, however late." There were a few, I dare say, among the laborers, at least there are if this is the vineyard,who would even stop their work and begin to sing and praise God to think that their fellows had been brought in at the eleventhhour! Now the eleventh hourmust be looked upon as any period of life which is past threescore years and ten-how late it may extend I cannot tell.
There is an authentic instance of a man converted to God at the age of a hundred and four, during the last Irish revival,who walked some distance to make a confession of his faith in Jesus Christ. And I recollect a case of one converted in Americaby a sermon which he had heard, I think,eighty-one years previously! He was fifteen when he heard Mr. Flavell at the end of a discourse, instead of pronouncingthe blessing, say, "I cannot bless you. How can I bless those who do not love the Lord Jesus Christ? 'If any man love notthe Lord Jesus Christ let him be AnathemaMaranatha.' " And eighty-one years or more afterwards that solemn sentence came to the man's recollection when he was livingin America and God blessed it to his conversion!
There have been some to whom the eleventh hour has been the very hour of death. Some, I say, but how many or how few is notfor me to know. There is one instance we know in Scripture, it was the dying thief. There is but one. God, however, in Hisabundant mercy can do as He wills to the praise ofthe glory of His Grace and at the eleventh hour He can call His chosen. It is very late, it is very very, very late, itis sorrowfully late, it is dolefully late-but it is not too late- and if the Master calls you, come! Though an hundred yearsof sin should make yourfeet heavy so that your steps are painfully limping-if He calls you it is late but not too late, and therefore come!
Have you ever thought of how the thief worked for his Lord? It was not a fine place for working, hanging on a cross, dying,just at the eleventh hour. But he did a deal of work in the few minutes. Observe what he did. First, he confessed Christ-heacknowledged Him to be Lord, confessed Himbefore men. In the second place, he justified Christ-"This Man has done nothing amiss." In the next place he worshippedthe Lord Jesus, calling Him, "Lord." He even began to preach, for he rebuked his fellow sinner! He told him that he shouldnot revile One who was sounrighteously condemned. He offered a petition which has become a very model of prayer-"Lord, remember me when You comeinto Your kingdom."
At any rate, I wish I could say of myself what I can say of the thief-he did all he could. I cannot say that of myself. Iam afraid I cannot say it of any of you. I do not know anything the thief could have done on the cross which he did not do.As soon as ever he was called, he seems to haveworked in the vineyard to the utmost extent of his ability. And so let me say to you, if you should be called at the eleventhhour, my dear Hearer, though you are well-stricken in years and aged, yet for Jesus Christ's sake out of great love for allthe great things which He hasdone for you, go your way and praise Him with all your might!
II. My time has gone and I wanted to have shown that DISTINGUISHING GRACE SHONE RESPLENDENTLY IN EVERY INSTANCE. Those calledin the early morning have delightful reason for admiring Sovereign Grace, for they are spared the ills and sins of life. Imust content myself, however, by repeatingconcerning them the lines of Ralph Erskine-
"In hea venly choirs a question rose, That stirred-up strife will never close- What rank of all the ransomed race, Owes highest praise to Sovereign Grace? Babes there caught from womb and breast, Claimed right to sing above the rest; Because they found the happy shore, They never saw nor sought before."
What distinguishing Grace is that which called us when we were young! Here is electing love! "When Ephraim was a child, thenI loved him and called My son out of Egypt." Some of us, in time and in eternity, will have to utter a special song of thankfulnessto the love which took us in our days offolly and simplicity and conducted us into the family of God. It was not because we were better disposed children than others,or because there was naturally anything good about us-we were willful, heady and high-minded, proud, wayward and disobedientas other childrenare-and yet Mercy separated us from the rest and we shall never cease to adore its sovereignty!
Look at the Grace which calls the man at the age of twenty, when the passions are hot, when there is strong temptation toplunge into the vices and the so-called pleasures of life. To be delivered from the charms of sin when the world's cheek isruddy, when it wears its best attire and to be taughtto prefer the reproach of Christ to all the riches of Egypt-this is mighty Grace for which God shall have our sweetest song!
To be called of the Lord at forty, in the prime of life! This is a wonderful instance of Divine power for worldliness is hardto overcome and worldliness is the sin of middle age. With a family about you, with much business, with the world eating intoyou as does a canker, it is a wonder that Godshould, in His mercy, have visited you then and made you a regenerate soul! You are a miracle of Divine Grace and you willhave to feel it and to praise God for it in time and eternity!
Sixty, again. "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? If so, then you who are accustomed to do evilmay learn to do well." And yet you have learned-you have had a blessed Schoolmaster who sweetly taught you and you have learnedto do well. Though your vessel had begun torot in the waters of the Black Sea of sin, you have got a new Owner and you will run up a new flag and you will sail roundthe Cape of Good Hope to the islands of the Blessed, in the Land of the Hereafter!
But what shall I say of you that are called when you are aged? Ah, you will have to love much, for you have had much forgiven.I do not know that you may be in thankfulness a whit behind those of us who are called in our early youth. We have much tobless God for and so have you. We are at oneextreme and you are at the other. We would love much because we have been spared much sinning and you must love much becauseyou have been delivered from much sinning. Not to go through the fire is a theme for song-but to traverse the flame and notbe burned!-to walk thefurnace and to be delivered from its vehement fire! Oh, how you should find words with which to express your gratitude!
Called early or called late. Called at midday or called at early noon, let us together, since we have been called by Gracealone, ascribe it all to the Lord Jesus! And moved by the mighty constraints of His love, let us work with body, soul andspirit-work for Him till we can work nolonger-and then praise Him in the rest of Glory! I pray you, Brethren, suffer no idleness to creep over you. If you havesought to extend the Redeemer's kingdom, do it more. Give more, talk more of Christ, pray more, labor more!
I often receive the kind advice, "Do less." I cannot do less. Do less? Why, better rot altogether than live the ingloriouslife of doing less than our utmost for God! We shall, none of us, I am afraid, kill ourselves with working too hard for Jesus-itwere such a blessed act of suicide thatif there is a sin that is venial, it would certainly be that! I am not afraid that you are likely to perpetrate such anenormity! Work for the Master! Labor for the Master! We must spend and be spent, and wear ourselves out for Him! Make no reservefor the flesh to fulfill the lustsof it! And oh, how happy shall we be if we may be privileged to finish the work and hear Him say, "Well done, good and faithfulservant, enter into the joy of your Lord."
May the Lord bless you for Christ's sake. Amen.
[This sermon was originally titled, Early and Late, Or Horae Gratiae]. PORTION OF SCRIPTURE READ BEFORE SERMON-Matthew 19:27-20:29.