EXTERNAL AND INTERNAL EVILS.
28″What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ 29″ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. 30″Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. 31″Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “The first,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him. (MATTHEW XXI, 28-32.)
The hypocrite is even worse than the open sinner. For the hypocrite is inwardly bad, though outwardly appearing to be good. He knows what is good, and yet does evil. But the open sinner, though he does wrong in outward act, may be moved to reconsider his doings, and to repent, and to amend his conduct.
The parable is closely connected with the preceding context. After Jesus had cast the mercenary traders out of the temple, the chief priests and elders of the people came to Him, and demanded His authority for his action. Then Jesus confused them, with a question as to the authority of John, the Baptist. And, in their baffled and confused state, He spoke to them three parables, which form a connected group; that is, the parable of our text, followed by the parable of the Wicked Husbandmen, and that of the Marriage of the King’s Son.
In these three parables, the Lord showed the chief priests and elders, and the Pharisees, their own evil condition. In the first, He exhibited their hypocrisy; in the second, their intended malicious treatment of Himself, as a Saviour; and, in the third, their miserable end, because of their rejection of His Divine influence.
THE TWO SONS.
“A man had two sons.” This” man” is the Lord, the Divine Man. And the” two sons” are two classes of men. The Lord, in His teachings, often speaks of two men, or two women, to bring in pointed contrast the two classes of men, the good and the evil; or, in some cases, the spiritual-minded and the natural-minded; or, again, the repenting and the unrepenting.
THE LORD’S COMING AND SAYING.
That the man ” came to” his two sons, refers to the coming of the Lord, Himself, in the Divine Humanity. The “coming” is an operation of the Divine Love, in adapting its manifestations to human conditions.
And the man “said” certain things to his sons. “Saying” is the operation of the Divine Wisdom, in teaching men the truth. Thus, “came” refers to the Divine action upon the will of the man; and “said” refers to the Lord’s action upon the understanding of the man. “Came and said” indicate the combined action of the Lord upon the man’s will, or heart, and his understanding, or intellect.
The Lord always “comes” when He “says,” or speaks, anything to a man. He does not coldly teach men, from a distance, and thus leave men in doubt, or indifference, because of the lack of any moving of their affections. Whenever the light of truth, like a ray of sunlight, comes to man’s intellect, that ray always carries, within it, the warmth of the Divine Love, ready to move the affections of every heart that is open to the truth. Coldness and indifference, where they exist, are always on the part of the man.
The lord “came” to the first son, and “said,” “Son, go work, to-day, in my vineyard.” In an extended sense, the Lord’s vineyard is the Church. But, in a personal sense, the individual vineyard is the understanding of the man, the intellect, in which the work of truth is done, and by which the affections are enlightened and trained. That which especially characterizes man, as distinguished from the lower animals, is his rationality, his ability to think, spiritually and naturally. Changes in a man’s character are made by means of his rational understanding of the principles of truth, applied to his conduct.
Thus the Lord’s vineyard is in the man’s mind, in his understanding. As the light of truth comes to the man, it is the man’s duty to hear, to understand, and to carry out, that truth; and his work is to oppose every evil feeling, and every false thought, and every sinful act, and to encourage every good feeling, true thought, and useful act.
And the Lord always directs men to work “to-day,” because to-day spiritually means man’s present condition. And every work must be begun, and carried on, when we see its need. For, if we did not go to work now, in our present state of life, we should not be able to change our character and state.
In every mental state, it is the work which is done in that state, that induces the next state of feeling and thought. The only way to rise to higher conditions, is to work upon ourselves, as we are, and thus prepare ourselves to rise to better states. So, all the commandments of our Lord are in the present tense; they are all to be applied now. Whenever a man is able to understand a Divine commandment that commandment speaks to him, now; and it says to him: “Go work, to-day.”
The moment we comprehend a spiritual principle, we are in condition to apply that principle to our daily life. It speaks to every man, each in his degree of enlightenment; and each man can obey the principle, as he understands it And his obedience to his present understanding of the principle is the means of rising to higher and profounder comprehension of it.
THE ETERNAL DAY.
In another sense, “to-day” denotes forever, because, if a man is regenerate, his day extends through eternity. “For there is no night there,” in the heavenly condition. Thus, in working to-day, we are not to suppose that we shall soon be done with all the necessary work. We must work” while it is day.” And to the regenerate man, it is always day. But, while, in our earthly life, we must labour against evil inclinations, yet, in heaven, work will not be hard labor, but only delightful activity.
Therefore, when we begin to work in the Lord’s vineyard, (either in the extended sense, of the Church, or in the individual sense, of our own intellect and life,) we must enter upon our work with the understanding that it is to be carried on at once, and forever, and until it ceases to be irksome, and comes to be delightful.
THE GENERAL MEANING.
In a general sense, the Lord’s object, in the parable, was to exhibit the conditions of two classes of men, the Gentiles and the Jews; and, of course, at the same Lime, to display the real conditions of all men, in all times, whose characteristics should be similar.
The first son was, in the beginning, rebellious, but he afterwards repented, and obeyed his father. The second son promised to obey, but secretly disobeyed.
THE HISTORICAL APPLICATION.
Historically, the first son represented the Gentiles who outwardly disobeyed the Lord, because they did not understand His teaching; but when they were brought to understand the Lord, they obeyed Him.
The second son represented the Jews, who, while acknowledging their allegiance to the Divine Word, and having the written Word in their keeping, still only pretended to keep, its literal precepts, while, as to its spirit, they actually hated it, and opposed it, in their hearts.
WILL AND UNDERSTANDING.
In the Gentiles, as in the first son, the will was better than the understanding; but, in the Jews, as in the second son, the understanding was better than the will. The first son was in need of intelligence; but the second son was in want of sincerity of heart. The second son was a hypocrite, making false professions, and profaning the letter of the Word. But those who do not. understand the Word cannot profane it ; and, therefore, they are more easily brought to repentance, by the opening of their intelligence. Thus the first son, in the general sense, represents those who, as Gentiles, do not understand their duty, but who obey the truth, when they understand it. But the second son represents those who, like the Jews, have the Word, and understand its precepts of life, but are not, in heart, disposed to do their duty.
Each of these classes is called to work in the Lord’s vineyard; i. e., to be regenerated : to plant and cultivate the seeds of truth, in their understanding, and in their daily life. The first son said what he should not have said, but he did what he should have done. And, as saying is from the understanding, and doing is from the will, thus we see that representatively, his trouble was with his understanding. But the second son said what was right, but he did what was wrong; and so his trouble was with his will. He was enlightened, but hypocritical.
And how powerfully this parable rebuked the self-righteous priests and Pharisees, by contrasting their enlightened hypocrisy with the better condition of the ignorant, but well-disposed Gentiles.
The Gentiles are those who, in thought, oppose the Divine will, and the leadings of Providence, but who, inwardly, do not really oppose what they believe to be good and true. And when they are enlightened, and come to act from their real will, they do right. Not knowing the real meaning of the Divine Word, they have many thoughts and ideas which are not in agreement with it. But, when they rationally see the truth of the Word, they follow its teachings.
Any intelligent and observing New-Churchman can see that this is the condition of many men, at the present time, who are not connected with any church.
The exaltation of faith above charity; the teaching of the false and superficial doctrines of “Justification by Faith Alone,” and the” Vicarious Atonement;” have so emptied men’s minds of the pure light of heavenly truth, that many men are put in a false position before the world. Thinking men, in opposing irrational and superficial dogmas, which ascribe to the God of Love a most unlovely character, are generally forced to appear before the world as opposing the Lord’s Church; while the fact is, that they are opposing wrong presentations of truth, false doctrines, which have placed the Lord, and His Church, in a false light before men. These men are Gentiles, who oppose, not the true God, nor the real Church, hut only the false gods, and the corrupted Church, held up before their view.
And, of course, as the Church became corrupted, and the Lord’s Word falsified, men became more and more ignorant; and in opposing what they did not understand, they also opposed much that was really good and true. And further enlightenment in genuine truth, will reach their deeper will, and lead them to repentance and reformation. And this is the work of the New-Church, to teach genuine truth; to open the Divine Word in its inward and spiritual meaning; and thus to enlighten men, and to restore them to the Lord, and to His Church. And those who have been intellectually mistaken, but well-disposed, (though, like
the first son in the parable, they seem rebellious against the new truth,) when the light reaches their rationality, will repent, and go to work in the Lord’s vineyard.
But those who, having the Lord’s Word, are inwardly, disposed to evil, will not accept the new truth. The clearer the truth, the more they will practically oppose it, as the Jews did to Jesus; the more He spoke against their evils, the less they desired to repent, and the more they plotted to destroy Him.
When the Lord had spoken the parable, He asked the chief-priests and elders, “whether of the twain did the will of his father?” And they, of course, had to answer, “The first.”
The Lord has given every man the rational ability to see the practical truth of His Word. Of course, men need instruction, for enlightenment. But when they are properly instructed in plain truth, if they are well-disposed towards the truth, they will repent, and go to work, to live by the truth.
Now, there is another sense, in which the parable is very practical. There are two sides to human character, the internal and the external, the spiritual and the natural. In the regenerate man, these two sides act together, as one; for the inward and outward characters are in harmony, both being good and true. And so, in the confirmedly evil character, the inward and the outward phases of character are in agreement; for both are evil and false.
And yet the evil man may put on an appearance of outward goodness. He may keep the letter of the Divine law, in outward act, while he breaks the spirit of the law, in his secret intentions. His mere external is better than his internal; his outward conduct is better than his heart. But there are others, whose internal is better than their external. They are regenerating, but they have not yet brought their, external mind under control. Such a man will have some inward disposition to be good, and to do right, while, at the same time, his natural mind will be full of hereditary inclinations to evil. He will be a double character ; not like the hypocrite, with intentional duplicity, but with a sincere doubleness. That is when he feels and thinks in and from his inward consciousness, in his spirit, he will be disposed to love and do what is good, true and useful. But, when he goes down into his outward, natural mind, and feels and thinks from his hereditary inclinations to evils, he will be opposed to what is good. He is, as it were, two different men, at different times. Everyone who is trying to be regenerated has experienced these different conditions of mind.
THE TWO CLASSES.
Now, the parable brings up the question of the conditions of these two classes of men; first, those who, in outward life, break the letter of the Divine law, and yet who repent and amend their lives, and are regenerated; and second, those who, while outwardly pretending to keep the law, are, in spirit, opposed to the spirit of the truth, and who are not willing to repent, nor to amend their lives.
And the parable teaches us that outward infirmities of character, though evil, are not so profoundly and fixedly evil, as a corrupt disposition of the will, even when the latter is joined with an apparently orderly outward life. In the first case, the internal is better than the external and the internal will finally control the external; but, in the second case, the external is better than the internal and therefore, the external is hypocritical, not being from the heart.
In the first case, heaven and hell are struggling for the mastery of the man; but, in the second case, hell is in full control; and the orderly external is merely assumed to deceive, as the wolf puts on the clothing of the sheep.
In the first son, the “remains:; or states of good, stored up in the man’s inward mind, by the Lord, were not closed up by evils of the will; and so, by these” remains,” the Lord could operate, to bring the man to repentance. But, in the case of the second son, his evils of the heart voluntarily made his own by life, had choked his “remains ” and defeated the Divine influence.
The first son repented; and, with repentance, and a new heart, came a new life. But with the second son; there was no repentance, no new heart, and hence no new life. The second son was as a “whited sepulchre,” appearing well, outside, but, within, full of death and corruption. “Not everyone that saith unto Me, Lord Lord shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of My Father who is in heaven.”
The first son is one who speaks against the Son of Man, or the letter of the Word, or external truth; but the second son is one who speaks against the Holy Spirit, the interior truth, the spirit of the Word.
JOHN AND JESUS.
Jesus said to the chief priests and elders, “Verily I say unto you, that the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of heaven before you. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not; but the publicans and the harlots believed him; and ye, when ye had seen, repented not afterwards, that ye might believe him.”
John the Baptist represented the Word in the letter, calling men to repentance in the conduct, The baptism of John was Jewish baptism, not Christian; it called men to return to the law, as taught in the letter of the Word, and by the prophets of Israel.
But the baptism of Jesus was more interior; it reached beyond the conduct and the external, and taught repentance as to motives, as to the will and understanding, lying within the conduct. Those Jews who received John, and who amended their conduct, thus formed a base on which to build up a new character, in the baptism of Jesus. Thus John prepared the way for Jesus. But those who did not receive John, and did not amend their lives by the Jewish standard, the external, did not receive Jesus. For the man who will not reform his life, has no base to support regeneration. But even those who were in gross external disorder, if they heeded the call of John, or the letter of the Word, could come to regeneration, at the call of Jesus.
THE PUBLICANS AND HARLOTS.
The publicans were the collectors of the Roman revenue, when the Jews were under subjection to the Romans. And, naturally, the publicans were hated and despised by the Jews. Matthew was a publican. Publicans represented the Gentiles. Harlots, being in sin, represent those who love falses, These persons were not always hardened offenders. but, often, were young women, who had fallen into outward acts of sin, without knowing, or reflecting upon, the iniquity of such a life, And, at the preaching of John the Baptist, many, both of the publicans and of the harlots, repented, and amended their conduct. They went into the kingdom of God; i. e., they reformed their lives, and thus became able to receive spiritual truth, and to be regenerated.
THE PHARISEES, ETC.
But even the repentance and amendment of the despised and outcast publicans and harlots, did not induce the hardened and hypocritical priests and Pharisees to repent, or sincerely to amend their lives. So. in our minds, if we are inwardly evil, when we see the operation of the truth upon others, or see what it would do for us, we shall not make any effort to repent. Jesus spoke of the Scribes and Pharisees as those who “say, and do not.” “This people draweth nigh unto Me with their mouth, and honoreth Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.”
The Pharisees were wearing broad phylacteries, and making long prayers in public places, and offering many sacrifices, and yet inwardly, they were full of evil, and of malignant anger towards the Lord. “Wo unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint, and anise, and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith; these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone,” Of such a man the Lord says, “Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.”.
The great obstacle to repentance, in the Pharisee, in his self-righteousness. By an outwardly orderly life, he hides his real and profound evils, even from himself. External evils are more superficial, and more readily seen, So it is easier for an open sinner to see his sins, and to repent, than for a pretended saint. Contempt of others and self-righteousness, harden the heart against both God and man, and close the mind against the higher aspects of truth.
Thus, for instance, a hasty temper, though bad, is less evil than a malignant disposition, which, under a smooth external, hides deadly hatred, envy and revenge.
Sometimes the Lord allows a man to fall into actual and gross sins, in order that he may see himself to be a sinner, and may repent, and be regenerated; when, without outward acts of known sin, the man might fall into the greater sin of self-righteousness.
But, both the sons in the parable needed repentance. And so did the Gentiles and the Jews, and the publicans and harlots, and the Pharisees and priests. Let no man pride himself in the fact that he is an open sinner, and not a hypocrite. Every man needs to repent. Because a man is not a hypocrite is no proof that he is not full of other evils; because he is not tending towards the worst hell, is no evidence that his evils are not carrying in some hell.
Publicans and harlots did not go into heaven because they were not hypocrites, but because they repented, and ceased to do evil, in any way. Sincerity is not enough, without regeneration. Sincere sinners are neither hypocrites nor angels. But they are not working in the Lord’s vineyard. And He calls them to work, by repentance and reformation; to learn the truth, to love it, and to do it.
There is, in the parable, a good warning to impulsive persons, who speak from their external thought, without reflecting. They often feel rebellious and say, ” I will not,” when they really will. And if they would only acquire the habit of inwardly thinking before speaking, they would see that they would finally conquer their external thoughts and feelings, and would act from better inward feelings and thoughts. Let them remember that they need repentance. Let them keep the door of their mouth while their external minds arc rebellious, And then they will be able to change their external ways.
OUR OWN WORK.
There is no other part of the Lord’s vineyard in which it is so important for us to work, as that which is included in our own minds. Here we can help to do the Lord’s work better than anyone else can do it for us. When we love good and truth, inwardly, and practice them in our outward life, then our Lord’s will shall be done on the earth of our natural man, as it is done in the heaven of our regenerating spirit,
Author: Edward Craig Mitchell 1887