Look not on me, because I am black, because the sun has looked on me: my mother's children were angry with me…
They made me the keeper of the vineyards... kept. Text a sorrowful confession, but it is not the most sorrowful of all. That will come from those who cannot say even as much as is said here. For there was, we may readily suppose, the keeping of the vineyards of others, though the speaker's own was not kept. But the confession suggests sin of a deeper dye, a condition of things more sad than this. Let us speak of it first, and consider -
I. THOSE WHO KEEP NEITHER - the vineyards of others nor their own. We take (see previous homily) the vineyard to represent the soul of man. Now, we are all of us, and some especially, appointed to keep the vineyards of others - to watch and tend the spiritual interests of those entrusted to our care; such as our children, our class, our congregation. And all of us, not merely some, are appointed to keep our own vineyard, to care for our own souls. Now, our text speaks of those who did fulfil one part of this duty - they kept the vineyards of others, though they did not keep their own. But partial failure is less terrible than entire failure. And it is of this we speak; of those who keep neither the souls of others nor their own, who neglect both alike. Deplorable is it for those for whom they were appointed to care. What chance have such neglected ones? The mightiest influence that can possibly bear upon them - I speak especially of our children - the influence of parental love and care to train their souls for God, is kept back. What wonder that in such neglected vineyards "ill weeds grow apace"? But yet more deplorable will it be for those thus guilty to such neglect. What will they say when at the last great day it is asked of them what they have done with the vineyards they were appointed to keep? And of course such persons, as a rule, keep not their own vineyards. The same indifference to spiritual things which made them neglect the vineyards of others makes them neglect their own. They have no hunger after God, no thirst for the living water which Christ alone can give. They care not for any of these things. And so the rank undergrowth which the world, the flesh, and sin propagate, spreads over all their spiritual being, and over that of those whom they were appointed to keep. Godless parents have godless children; they have not sought that it should be otherwise. And the teacher who knows not Christ for himself will never persuade his class to yield themselves to Christ. And the unholy minister - ah! what will his congregation be? Oh, dreadful will it be for those who have kept neither the vineyards of those others that have been entrusted to them, nor their own. But our text tells especially of -
II. THOSE WHO HAVE KEPT BUT ONE. They have kept the vineyards of others, but not their own. Or it might have been, for it often is, the other way - They might have kept their own, but not others. Let us speak of these first. There are many of them. They think only about their own poor wretched souls, and how they can make them secure. For this they keep up certain religious habits and do many things. But it is all self-contained; it is mere selfishness, for it all centres in the man's own soul. This is the sin of the Church today. Its members are so busy keeping each their own vineyards that they care but very little indeed for those of others. But such selfishness brings with it its own proper punishment, as it ought to and cannot but do. "The liberal man deviseth liberal things, and by liberal things he shall stand." But the churlish common Christianity of our day fails to devise liberal things, and therefore does not stand. For is it standing high in men's esteem? Is its odour fragrant; its name, like his of whom we read in ver. 8, as "perfume poured forth"? And does it stand strongly, firmly on its faith? Is not that faith faltering in many places? and do not many fall away, and that daily? If we would have our own vineyard yield large luscious fruit to our Lord, care for the vineyards of others as well as our own.
2. But the text tells chiefly of those who kept others and not their own. Of this we have spoken already in the former homily. Therefore we come to speak of that most desirable and blessed condition which is found in -
III. THOSE WHO KEEP BOTH - the vineyards of others and their own. Yes, the one we should do, but the other we should not leave undone. Certainly begin with your own. It may be an awful peril to begin with others. But having committed your own soul into Christ's blessed keeping, and found him your very Lord and Saviour, now go straight away and try and persuade others to do just what you have done. Then you shall find fulfilled for you that parable of reward which all nature is full of. See that running brook. How merrily it prattles over the pebbles that form its bed, as it speeds away to render up its little tribute to the larger river, which will bear it on to the great and wide sea at last! The miry pond hard by the brook sneers at it, and says, "You haven't got so much water that you can afford to let it all run away in that wasteful fashion; you should take care of what you have got as I do." But the brook took no heed, and went on singing merrily just as before. And the hot summer came round at last, when, lo! the pond was dried up almost to its last puddle; but the brook went on as before, bright and clear and merry, sparkling and dancing along its appointed way. And we all know the reason why. The brook gave up its strength to the river, and that to the sea; but the sea gave back in vapour all that she had received, and so the fountains from which the brook flowed forth were filled again, and the brook was glad and not sorry that she had given her strength to others, for now her waters had not failed like those of the pond, but were renewed to her day by day. And so, when the water of life flows into our souls, if we let it flow out again to bless the souls of others, be sure that he who first gave us of this grace will give us yet more grace, and we shall find that there is that which scattereth and yet increaseth. The life of the merry healthful child spends itself in the vigorous activity of which it never seems to tire; but that active exercise replenishes the child's life, and it makes increase in strength daily. So, then, as to the vineyards of your own soul and those of others, resolve and pray that you may not be found amongst those who keep neither. Pray, too, that you be not so unhappy as to be a keeper of but one, and especially if that one be not your own. But let this last condition of which we have been telling be yours. Keep your own vineyard and your brother's too. - S.C.
Parallel VersesKJV: Look not upon me, because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me: my mother's children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept.