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... I have not kept. If we were to understand these words literally, then what is told of might be without either blame or loss. For if, as seems to have been the case, the speaker's neglect of her own vineyard was forced upon her in order that she might keep the vineyards of others, then no fault attached to her. She could not help herself; she was made to work for others. She might grieve, as it is plain she did, to see her own fair vineyard neglected, and, in consequence, overgrown with weeds, and all prospect of fruit gone; but no blame belonged to her, though there might be loss. And it is quite comprehensible that there might be neither blame nor loss, although her own vineyard was neglected. For it might be far more profitable to cultivate the vineyards of others than one's own; and if so, why should there be blame, and how could there be loss? But when we come to the spiritual suggestions of our text, when we look upon it as telling of those whose office and duty it is to cultivate the vineyard of the soul, then the conduct told of here can never be without blame and loss both; blame to the vineyard keeper who kept not his own whilst keeping others, and loss both to him and them. For -
I. MEN'S SOULS ARE GOD'S VINEYARDS. They were created to bring forth fruit for his glory, and for the strengthening, cheering, and every way helping of the souls of their fellows. For this purpose, also, were they redeemed, and for this end are they supplied with manifold Divine gifts - the influences of the Holy Spirit, the aid which the Church, the Scriptures, and the ministers of Christ are appointed to render. Now, such -
II. PASTORS ARE THE KEEPERS OF THESE VINEYARDS. They are to watch over them continually. They are to cultivate them with all diligent care. They are to aim ever to render help to those committed to their care in the formation of that character, and in the exercise of those graces which God regards and rejoices in as fruit. They are to remember always that the vineyards are for fruit, and that whatever else they may yield, if they yield not this, their work has failed. Now, this verse suggests that -
III. THERE IS A GREAT PERIL WHICH BESETS THESE KEEPERS OF THE VINEYARDS. It is this, that whilst keeping the vineyards of others, their own they should not keep. Now, that this is a very real peril is evident from:
1. Their own confessions. The words of our text are a confession, and a sorrowful one. And they have been adopted by such vineyard keepers again and again. Before God, on their knees, they have owned how marred and faulty their work has been, owing to the ill-prepared condition of their own souls. Pastors, teachers, and all who toil for Christ, in striving to tell of him to their fellow men, and to persuade them to come to him, have mourned - oh, how often! - that their lips have outrun their hearts; that they have uttered words to which their hearts often gave but faint response. They have declared truths which, alas! they have failed to realize. They have spoken of the love of Christ, and had but little consciousness of it within them. As we read the biographies of such men, or as, in the confidence of friendship, they confess how it has been with them, or as we think over our own experiences, who is there of us that may not make the confession of the text cur own? It is the perpetual struggle of the right-minded servant of God to maintain the balance between the spoken words and the inward thought; and the struggle is never easy, but often the reverse. These facts show how real the peril is.
2. And it is evidently possible to be guilty of that which is here said. For words and work are both external to us, and they can be assumed and adopted even when there is but little or even no spiritual reality behind them. A man can drill himself into saying or doing almost anything. He can become official, perfunctory, and a mere actor in the way of expressing sentiments in which his soul has no share. This is a dreadful possibility, from which may God graciously deliver us all! And our Lord, and the Scriptures generally, declare and denounce such conduct. God says to the wicked in the fiftieth psalm, "What hast thou to do to declare my statutes?" It is certain, therefore, that wicked men can do this and have done it. Our Lord utters his awful warning to those who say "Lord, Lord," prophesy in his name, and in his name do many wonderful works, to whom at the last he will say, "I never knew you. Yes, God's Word is very plain as to the possibility of this sin and its fearful results.
3. And it is without excuse. There is no need for it. No amount of busy activity in keeping the vineyards of others need hinder our duly keeping our own. On the contrary, diligent care here will help us mightily when we strive to do good to others and to keep their vineyards. For when we remember that it is the spirit which breathes through what we say or do, rather than the words and deeds themselves, which more than aught besides influences our fellow men, it is evident that the right cultivation of our own spiritual life is of unspeakable importance. As one has said, A holy minister is a mighty instrument in God's hand for the conversion and sanctification of souls." Therefore whatever of time and energy we give to the keeping of our own vineyard is the very best preparation and aid in keeping the vineyards of others. Moreover:
4. Not to give this is fatal to our work. There is nothing men detect so soon or despise so much as unreality, want of sincerity. The words may be true and well ordered, and lit up with fine imagination and beautiful illustration; be very interesting to hear, and command rapt attention; but if they be lacking in the indispensable quality of sincerity, they will be nothing but words after all, and will have no real effect. Religion must be a reality to ourselves, or we shall never persuade others to become religious men. "Si vis me flere dolendum est." And not to be thus real ourselves is:
5. Most perilous for our own souls. Being so busy in keeping others' vineyards, caring for the interests of others' souls, what can we lack? Must it not be well with us? And people praise and flatter us, and count us to be all we should be: what wonder, then, that we should be deceived? And all the while the holy truths we tell of, like the heated iron that the blacksmith handles, affect us less and less; we scarcely feel them though we talk so fluently about them. And we have already referred to Scripture which make plain the mind of God on this matter. "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination unto the Lord." Such is the perpetual language of the Word of God. May he help us to remember it, and that always!
IV. BUT IT IS A PERIL INTO WHICH THEY NEED NOT FALL. For Christ, who called us to keep and cultivate the vineyards, our own and others', which he has entrusted to our charge, will help us therein if continually we look to him. Without him, indeed, we can do nothing; but with him what cannot we do? Therefore, see to it that our souls are committed to him, that day by day we do our all unto him. Only let us abide in him, and then all our outer service will be the natural product of our inner life; not mere fruit fastened on, but fruit grown, produced naturally by our life. And so shall we find that the inner and the outer act and react one upon the other for the mutual good of each. So, whilst we keep the vineyards of others, our own vineyard will also be kept. - 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.