God's Gift of Grace – Sermon by S. P. Long

Salvation by faith in the Old Testament days; salvation by faith in the days of Christ; salvation by faith in the days of the Reformation; salvation by faith in Christ this morning; salvation by faith in Christ to the end of the world! God never changes His plan of salvation. The Old Testament Christians were saved by faith in the coming Christ; the thief on the cross was saved by faith in the present Christ; the apostles and all the followers in the Christian era were saved by faith in the crucified Christ. And so, my friends, the penny never changes. The gift of God’s grace is too precious ever to change – too perfect.

downloadAlso by Rev. S.P. Long

Septuagesima. God’s Gift Of Grace.

Matt. 20:1-16. For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a householder, which went out early in the morning to hire laborers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the laborers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the market place, and said unto them: ‘Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you.’ And they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. 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 said unto them, ‘Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.’ So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, ‘Call the laborers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first.’ And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they received it, they murmured against the good man of the house, saying: ‘These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.’ But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I do thee no wrong; didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is and go thy way; I will give unto this last even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil because I am good?’ So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.”

Sanctify us, O Lord, through Thy truth; Thy Word is Truth. Amen.

Beloved in Christ:

This day we enter upon the Easter cycle of the Church year. The Church of old was wise in calling the next three Sundays by the Latin names: Septuagesima, Sexagesinia and Quinquagesima. These terms, as some of you may understand, tell us clearly that it is about seventy days; and next Sunday, it is about sixty days; and the following Sunday, just about fifty days until Easter. This may not mean very much to some people, but to others it does. Some people are too late for Sunday-school because they do not think about getting ready until just time for Sunday-school; some people are too late for church because they do not think about church until it is just time to be in church; and some people will never reach heaven because they do not think about it in time. A Christian should think about Easter long before Easter comes, and, consequently, we begin this morning in the Church year, to think of the great Christ who is to die and rise again, and of the labor that we should do in His great vineyard.

What is salvation worth? This young lawyer of whom we read, who came to the Savior asking the question: “What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” certainly did not understand the value of salvation. He asked the same question that thousands of people are asking today, expecting to reach heaven by their own goodness, and the question of the moralist is the question of that young man, who thinks he does not need to be a church member; it is the question of every man who expects to get to heaven by his own acts instead of by the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ, and all the time he is asking the question, “What good thing can I do that I may inherit eternal life?” Why, the real truth of it is, you can do nothing, and in order to open this young lawyer’s eyes, the Savior tries him on his own basis. He says, “You are thinking of earning your own salvation – keep the commandments; keep the first, the second, the third, the fourth – all of them.” “Why,” says the young lawyer, “these things have I kept from my youth up. What shall I do?” That is just where the young lawyer made the mistake. He thought he had been keeping those commandments when he had not. The sum and substance of the second table of the law is, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and yet this young lawyer was wealthy, and was not willing to love his neighbor as himself, and give his wealth to the poor; but Jesus said, in order to try him: “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, and follow Me.” But the young man went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. He did not know what salvation is worth, or he never would have talked about what he could do to inherit life eternal.

The disciples themselves did not know what salvation is worth. When the Savior turned around and told them that it is going to be a very hard thing for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, they came to Him with the question, “Who then can be saved?” I used to think that was a wonderfully hard saying of Jesus, that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, but the older I grow, and the more I see how people are clinging to their wealth instead of to God, the more I am convinced that it is a hard thing for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. If these disciples had understood what salvation is worth, they would never have put the question, “Who then can be saved?”

Peter, himself one of the apostles, did not understand what it is worth. After the disciples had asked, “Who then can be saved?” – after the lawyer had gone away sorrowful, then proud Peter arises – humble in himself in many ways, but nevertheless thinking of what he had done – and said, “What shall come to us for all that we have left? We have forsaken all and followed Thee. What shall we get for all this?” You see what he was after was a high position in heaven above for what he had done, and it was necessary for the Savior to teach honest but mistaken Peter that he himself did not know yet what salvation is worth.

And, dear friends, I am glad to say today, that no man on earth knows what salvation is worth. God only knows it, but if every man did know, only partially, what salvation is worth, he would not live one minute without it. The truth of it is that salvation is the gift of grace, and therefore the Lord gave this beautiful parable showing

God's Gift Of Grace.

I. This Gift of Grace is too great not to reach every man on earth.

Every man on earth should be called. The last words of our text are: “For many be called, but few chosen.” How many called? All shall be called. A parable, as you well know, is something that is plain, and well understood, in order to explain something that is higher and not so easily understood. The Savior therefore tells us that the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a householder, which went out early in the morning to hire laborers into his vineyard. We find in this parable that he went out in the early morning hour; the third hour, or at nine o’clock; he went out again at the sixth hour, or noon; again the ninth hour, or three o’clock in the afternoon, and the eleventh hour, or five o’clock in the afternoon. In other words, He wants everybody to be called into the vineyard of our God. This parable shows us what the kingdom of heaven is like. In other words, the gift of God’s grace is so valuable that no one shall be overlooked on earth, in the periods of time, or in the periods of life.

1. In the periods of time.

There never was a time that God did not send His call out to the world to save every man. When Adam and Eve committed their first sin, and thereby were guilty of eternal death, before that day’s sun went down, God went to them and promised them a Savior, in order that they might receive the call, and that was the first hour in the history of the world.

When time passed on, and the world got very wicked, He went out in the third hour and called again, in the days of Noah. For one hundred and twenty years He called, and called, and called for sinners to repent, but they would not repent, they would not cling to the true and living God, and so the flood came. The people laughed at the idea of a flood on the hills and on the dry ground, but when the waters rained for one night, for ten nights, for fifteen days, twenty days and nights, thirty days and nights, forty days and nights, and the people began to climb to the highest mountains and to the highest hills, and the waters rose fifteen cubits above the highest point on earth, when the last man went down, they learned the great truth that when God calls, He means it. And the sea shells that today are found on the top of the highest mountains in the world, make scientists tell the same story that God’s Word told – there was a universal flood. And when those eight souls stepped out of the ark and bowed around the altar of God, the whole world knew God, and it is not God’s fault today if a single man is not called into the vineyard of the Master. That was the third hour.

Time passed on, and the Savior came, and the clock of time struck twelve. It is universally conceded today that the days of Christ, and the place of His birth, are the center of all history. Twelve o’clock in the history of the world, when the Star of the East came to Bethlehem’s crib. Then it was that God sent out His twelve apostles and said to all the world, “Come into God’s vineyard.”

Time passed on; many did not come. The dark ages came and God still had the world in view. A miner’s son was converted to the true and living God, led to the Bible tied to a chain, in the library at Erfurt, opened up that Book and found the Word of Life, nailed the ninety-five theses on the door of Wittenberg Church, and from that time to this, we have heard the call of the ninth hour: “Come into the vineyard of God.”

There never has been such a missionary movement as there was in the last century, and we are approaching the last hour, and God knows, but I do not, it may be that we are in the eleventh hour now in the history of the world. When we study history carefully, and the Book of Revelation carefully, we do know this, that whether the end of the world is thousands of years in the future, or nearer, we are approaching the eleventh hour. We are approaching the time when God shall take all things in hand.

2. But I believe, my dear friends, that this parable refers more to the periods of life, than it does to the periods of the history of the world.

This same householder went out in the first hour, the third hour, the sixth hour, the ninth hour and the eleventh hour, and called laborers into his vineyard. You have all those hours in your own life.

The moment a little child is born into the world, God wants it. If He had not wanted the child He would not have said: “Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” If God had not wanted the little infants in the Church, He would not have had them circumcised at the age of eight days in the Old Testament Church; if He had not wanted the little children in the Church, He would not have taken one of them in His hands and said: “He that offendeth one of these little ones, which believe in Me, it were better for him that a mill stone were hanged about his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” If God had not wanted the little children in the Church, He would not have said: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” It has been tried in many an assembly, and the test has been given time and again, that those who had been Christians from their childhood, should please stand up; those who became Christians in middle life; and those who became Christians in old age, and every time you will find that the great masses arise when the invitation comes to those who were children of God from infancy. They are the people who have been in God’s vineyard the most.

Some people neglect their children. They are willing to spend money for clothing; they are willing to spend money for music and for education; they are willing to do anything to spend money for their enjoyment and for everything that pertains alone to this life, but they are not willing to bring them to the God who gave them, and to bring them into the vineyard and keep them there. What is to be done with those children? If their fathers will not do their duty, and if their mothers will not do their duty, God will send some man to them to give them the call in the third hour to come into the vineyard of God. today I send the call to every young boy and to every young girl in this house, in the third hour of your life, to come to the Lord God and in His vineyard – do not stand out and be idle.

Some, however, will not even come in the third hour, and some are never called in the third hour, but God still loves their souls, and in the sixth hour, or the middle of life, He comes and calls, and calls. It may be that I have some sitting before me this morning who are twenty-five or thirty years of age, not yet baptized; who have not yet given their hearts to God; who are not yet members of the great body of the Lord Jesus Christ. Oh! it is now noon. It is noon, and at noon the sun begins to go down. I call upon you this morning: Why stand you idle, outside of the vineyard of your God?

And there are some who even have gray hairs on their heads; some who are living in the afternoon of life; some who are going down with the sun setting in the western horizon, and I send the call to you at three o’clock, or in the ninth hour, – Tell me, how long are you going to stand outside of God’s vineyard?

It may be that I have some one sitting before me who is hearing his last sermon; it may be that I have some one sitting before me who has reached the last week of his life, or the last year of his life. It is now five o’clock in the afternoon – it is now the eleventh hour and God calls, and says, “Come into My vineyard, and I will give you what is right.” “Many were called, but few chosen.”

II. God’s gift of grace is not only too great that any should not be called, but it is too perfect ever to be changed.

1. You will notice that when this man went out in the early morning, he met a laborer, and he said, “Go into my vineyard and I will give you a penny.”

He went out in the third hour and said to the man, “Go into my vineyard and I will give you what is right”; he went out at the noon hour, and said to the laborer, “I will give you what is right”; he sent the men in at the ninth hour, and the eleventh hour and said, “Go and labor, and when night comes, I will give you what is right.” Then when the evening came, he called the steward and said, “Settle with the laborers, beginning with the last; settle with every one of them, giving each one a penny” – each one a penny. It made no difference whether they went into the vineyard the first hour, or the last, there was no change made in the amount they received. No more than a penny, and no less than a penny. What is this penny? Some have said this penny represents the means of grace, the Word of God and the holy sacraments; but, dear friends, this is impossible. The call is the Word of God; the call is the means of grace. We do not receive the means of grace at the end of life and at the judgment; we receive the means of grace now, while the call is coming, so the penny could not mean the means of grace. What is it, my friends, that never changes? What is it that was just the same in the days of Adam as it will be when the last child is born into the world? I will tell you what it is. It is this gift of grace – Salvation! Always the same, by faith in Jesus Christ. How were men saved in the days of Noah? How were men saved in the days of Abraham – in the days of David – in the days of Daniel – how were men saved in the four hundred years between the Old Testament and the New? There never was a day in the history of the world that a man could be saved any other way than through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and when God gives a man anything, it is salvation. Salvation by faith in the Old Testament days; salvation by faith in the days of Christ; salvation by faith in the days of the Reformation; salvation by faith in Christ this morning; salvation by faith in Christ to the end of the world! God never changes His plan of salvation. The Old Testament Christians were saved by faith in the coming Christ; the thief on the cross was saved by faith in the present Christ; the apostles and all the followers in the Christian era were saved by faith in the crucified Christ. And so, my friends, the penny never changes. The gift of God’s grace is too precious ever to change – too perfect.

III. The gift of God’s grace cannot be earned.

That is the mistake the lawyer made – he wanted to earn his salvation. You cannot do it. It was the mistake of these men who labored all day. When the settlement was made and they saw that the last man received a penny, they wanted more than a penny. They murmured against the goodman; they wanted something more, because, they said, “We have borne the burden and heat of the day.” The mistake they made was that they did not know the value of salvation; they did not know that the grace of God cannot be earned at all. Those men who had worked from early morning until late at night – or, in other words, from their early childhood until they died – had not earned one thing toward salvation. Salvation is not a thing that you and I can earn. Jesus Christ said that your soul was worth more than all the world, and when you remember that nothing could pay for that soul of yours but God Himself, Incarnate, dying on Calvary, then you will begin to see the foolishness of trying to get to heaven or earning your salvation by your own works or power. Those laborers did not stop to think that their very power of labor was a gift from heaven; they did not stop to think that hundreds and thousands of others, who would gladly have borne the heat of the day, could not bear it, because God had not given them the strength; and when you and I have toiled in God’s vineyard all our lives, and are still singing, “Grace, ‘tis a charming sound,” we are saved alone by grace. You cannot earn salvation.

Inasmuch as these men who had labored all day could not earn salvation, those who labored only one hour could earn no less. If those who labored all day earned nothing, how could the man earn any less who worked an hour. Therefore, if you are saved when you are eighty years of age, you are saved by the same grace that I was saved by in my first year. No more than a penny, and no less. It cannot be earned; it is a gift. That is the reason this good man of the house said, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil because I am good?” Because God has been merciful enough to save my soul and yours, are we going to murmur and grumble? Some one may say this penny cannot mean salvation, just because they murmured and grumbled. My dear friends, it is just what Christians are doing today; it is what Peter did; Peter murmured; it is what thousands of people are doing today – murmuring all the time because God is not giving them something for the wonderful services they are doing; and when we have done all, we have done nothing but simply show our thankfulness.

IV. God’s Gift of Grace is too merciful to leave us unthankful.

These men who labored all day were unthankful. They received their penny, and God gave them the health and strength to do their labor, and yet they murmured. God had mercy enough for them to tell them to go on and keep what was their own, but they did not even deserve the penny. Oh! when we know what salvation is worth, and that God has given it to us out of pure mercy, we ought to work, and work, and work, as if we intended to earn heaven. My friends, there is no danger of any man doing too much in God’s kingdom. Look at the Apostle Paul, who fought the battles of life as no man has fought them since, who toiled day and night for the salvation of the world, in every possible way, and yet, when it was all done, he took his pen and wrote down once and forever the words that shall stand until the heavens fall: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” – And today, dear friends, whoever you are, get into God’s vineyard just as early as you can, and work, and work, and work, until you die, as if your very faith depended on that work; nevertheless, be thankful, and be so thankful that you will come to God, not with your works, but as a poor, lost, condemned sinner, saying, from the bottom of your heart: “In my hands no price I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling.” When you have done all you can, count it nothing, but simply thank God for salvation. I tell you, when people will not work in the church; when they will not work in the vineyard of our God, it is because they are unthankful, and do not appreciate what God has done for them. When I stop to think that God has laid down His life for this poor sinner, how can I work enough to show my thankfulness to my God. Then why, lazy drones, stand around all your lives and do nothing? Why not get out into God’s vineyard and do something – do it with all your might, and then say finally, at the settlement: “O God, all I ask of Thee is Thy mercy – Thy mercy – Thy mercy!”

V. My last thought on this subject is that God’s Gift of Grace is too precious to be lost.

Too precious to be lost, either by the first or by the last. “So the last shall be first and the first last.” The gift of God’s grace is salvation. Salvation means that no difference how you succeed in this life, your life is a success. The Psalmist sang of the godly man that, “Whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. Sometimes it looks as though some godly people were not prospering; when those who are faithful to their God have worked hard for years, and years, and lose all they have in a day; or when those who have been especially faithful to their God are lying upon their beds of sickness and pain for years and years, sometimes it looks as if they were not prospering; but remember, my friends, before we had this beautiful temple in which we worship this morning, this furniture stood in the planks, and in the boards, in the joists and in the trees, and the axe had to cut and fell the trees, and the saw had to rip the logs and the plane had to smooth up all this timber, until we have a splendid building here. Do not forget that when a man lives in this world, whether the knife is on him or not, whether he is going through trials or not, if he comes out at death, saved by grace, he has prospered every step of his life; and, on the other hand, if he comes out at the end of life, lost – lost forever – his whole life has been but the beginning of an eternal failure. Therefore I come to you with this message this morning, that the gift of God’s grace is too valuable for the first to lose; too valuable for the last to lose.

The promise of a Savior was given to the first man, and the last man that is born shall see Him come. Some one will have to be born last, just as one was created first. The first man created, Adam, saw his God, talked with his God, had the Savior promised to him, lived nine hundred and thirty years and taught his children to offer sacrifice, teaching us that he was a religious man and a believer in the Savior. When the last child shall be born, I do not know. It may be when the gates of heaven are thrown open and the Son of God and all His angels start to come here to earth; but when the last child shall be born and dedicated to God, and the Savior comes, it will receive its penny in the eleventh hour, and it shall receive it first, and all the rest that have been born, from Adam down to the last child, shall receive their wages, and Adam will come in last, – “And so the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” Amen.

Prayer.

We pray Thee, our Heavenly Father, that Thou wilt this morning, reach down with Thy hand of mercy and bless this message of truth in the heart of every hearer. We pray Thee that Thou, Thyself, wilt take hold of every soul and lead them all into that Church which Thou hast purchased with Thine own blood; we pray Thee that Thou, Thyself, wilt go out this morning and invite all the people in all the world, in each hour of life, to come into Thy vineyard, and work, for the evening is coming, and the night shall soon be here, when all labor shall cease. We pray Thee, O God, that Thou wilt give us a desire, a burning desire, to serve Thee with all our power, and with all Thy power given to us, the rest of our lives, and may all that we do be but an act of thanksgiving for Thy great grace and Thy great mercy. Hear our prayer for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

– Long, S.P. The great gospel; an address to theological graduates, lectures on the gospels for the church year, and “that remarkable lodge sermon.” Lutheran Book Concern, Columbus, OH, 1904. Lutheran Library edition to be released in 2018.


© 2018. All rights reserved.