Christ spoke this parable against those who were resolved not to own his authority, though the evidence of it was ever so full and convincing; and it comes very seasonably to show that by questioning his authority they forfeited their own. Their disowning the lord of their vineyard was a defeasance of their lease of the vineyard, and giving up of all their title.
I. The parable has nothing added here to what we had before in Matthew and Mark. The scope of it is to show that the Jewish nation, by persecuting the prophets, and at length Christ himself, had provoked God to take away from them all their church privileges, and to abandon them to ruin. It teaches us, 1. That those who enjoy the privileges of the visible church are as tenants and farmers that have a vineyard to look after, and rent to pay for it. God, by setting up revealed religion and instituted orders in the world, hath planted a vineyard, which he lets out to those people among whom his tabernacle is, Luke 20:9. And they have vineyard-work to do, needful and constant work, but pleasant and profitable. Whereas man was, for sin, condemned to till the ground, they that have a place in the church are restored to that which was Adam’s work in innocency, to dress the garden, and to keep it; for the church is a paradise, and Christ the tree of life in it. They have also vineyard-fruits to present to the Lord of the vineyard. There are rents to be paid and services to be done, which, though bearing no proportion to the value of the premises, yet must be done and must be paid. 2. That the work of God’s ministers is to call upon those who enjoy the privileges of the church to bring forth fruit accordingly. They are God’s rent-gatherers, to put the husbandmen in mind of their arrears, or rather to put them in mind that they have a landlord who expects to hear from them, and to receive some acknowledgment of their dependence on him, and obligations to him, Luke 20:10. The Old-Testament prophets were sent on this errand to the Jewish church, to demand from them the duty and obedience they owed to God. 3. That it has often been the lot of God’s faithful servants to be wretchedly abused by his own tenants; they have been beaten and treated shamefully by those that resolved to send them empty away. They that are resolved not to do their duty to God cannot bear to be called upon to do it. Some of the best men in the world have had the hardest usage from it, for their best services. 4. That God sent his Son into the world to carry on the same work that the prophets were employed in, to gather the fruits of the vineyard for God; and one would have thought that he would have been reverenced and received. The prophets spoke as servants, Thus saith the Lord; but Christ as a Son, among his own, Verily, I say unto you. Putting such an honour as this upon them, to send him, one would have thought, should have won upon them. 5. That those who reject Christ’s ministers would reject Christ himself if he should come to them; for it has been tried, and found that the persecutors and murderers of his servants the prophets were the persecutors and murderers of himself. They said, This is the heir, come let us kill him. When they slew the servants, there were other servants sent. “But, if we can but be the death of the son, there is never another son to be sent, and then we shall be no longer molested with these demands; we may have a quiet possession of the vineyard for ourselves.” The scribes and Pharisees promised themselves that, if they could but get Christ out of the way, they should for ever ride masters in the Jewish church; and therefore they took the bold step, they cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 6. That the putting of Christ to death filled up the measure of the Jewish iniquity, and brought upon them ruin without remedy. No other could be expected than that God should destroy those wicked husbandmen. They began in not paying their rent, but then proceeded to beat and kill the servants, and at length their young Master himself. Note, Those that live in the neglect of their duty to God know not what degrees of sin and destruction they are running themselves into.
II. To the application of the parable is added here, which we had not before, their deprecation of the doom included in it (Luke 20:16): When they heart it, they said, God forbid, Me genoito—Let not this be done, so it should be read. Though they could not but own that for such a sin such a punishment was just, and what might be expected, yet they could not bear to hear of it. Note, It is an instance of the folly and stupidity of sinners that they proceed and persevere in their sinful ways though at the same time they have a foresight and dread of the destruction that is at the end of those ways. And see what a cheat they put themselves, to think to avoid it by a cold God forbid, when they do nothing towards the preventing of it; but will this make the threatening of no effect? No, they shall know whose word shall stand, God’s or theirs. Now observe what Christ said, in answer to this childish deprecation of their ruin. 1. He beheld them. This is taken notice of only by this evangelist, Luke 20:17. He looked upon them with pity and compassion, grieved to see them cheat themselves thus to their own ruin. He beheld them, to see if they would blush at their own folly, or if he could discern in their countenances any indication of relenting. 2. He referred them to the scripture: “What is this then that is written? How can you escape the judgment of God, when you cannot prevent the exaltation of him whom you despise and reject? The word of God hath said it, that the stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner.” The Lord Jesus will be exalted to the Father’s right hand. He has all judgment and all power committed to him; he is the corner-stone and top-stone of the church, and, if so, his enemies can expect no other than to be destroyed. Even those that slight him, that stumble at him, and are offended in him, shall be broken—it will be their ruin; but as to those that not only reject him, but hate and persecute him, as the Jews did, he will fall upon them and crush them to pieces—will grind them to powder. The condemnation of spiteful persecutors will be much sorer than that of careless unbelievers.
Lastly, We are told how the chief priests and scribes were exasperated by this parable (Luke 20:19): They perceived that he had spoken this parable against them; and so he had. A guilty conscience needs no accuser; but they, instead of yielding to the convictions of conscience, fell into a rage at him who awakened that sleeping lion in their bosoms, and sought to lay hands on him. Their corruptions rebelled against their convictions, and got the victory. And it was not because they had any fear of God or of his wrath before their eyes, but only because they feared the people, that they did not now fly in his face, and take him by the throat. They were just ready to make his words good: This is the heir, come let us kill him. Note, When the hearts of the sons of men are fully set in them to do evil, the fairest warnings both of the sin they are about to commit and of the consequences of it make no impression upon them. Christ tells them that instead of kissing the Son of God they would kill him, upon which they should have said, What, is thy servant a dog? But they do, in effect, say this: “And so we will; have at him now.” And, though they deprecate the punishment of the sin, in the next breath they are projecting the commission of it.