Look not on me, because I am black, because the sun has looked on me: my mother's children were angry with me…
If you consider the bride in the nuptial song to be the Jewish nation, then the text is a confession, that while witnessing for God against other nations — idolatrous nations — the children of Abraham had not considered their own ways. If you take the bride to be the Church of Christ, then the text is a confession that while she has attended to her mission in the world, she has forgotten her duty to herself. If the bride be the individual subject of Messiah's kingdom, then the text is an acknowledgment that benevolent work has supplanted personal spiritual cultivation. The heart of a Christian is redeemed by the Saviour for God, and redeemed unto God; and that heart is taken possession of by the Holy Ghost that it may bring forth fruit unto God. Now, the keeping of that heart by God Himself is essential to prosperity and well-being; but there is a something also which God requires us to do, and that something is to co-operate with His ministrations and with His care of us. The husbandman breaks up the clods of the field; he casts in the seed; he treats the soil as the soil demands; but when he has done his best and his utmost, Providence has to do very much. Unless rain fall and the sun shine, unless the Source of life give life, and sustain life, the husbandman will be a sower, but he will never be a reaper. Just so is it with the heart of a Christian. There are certain things which God does for us, and then God saith to us, "Now work out your own salvation With fear and trembling." You see, therefore, the point to which I want your attention.
I. WHAT IS THIS COMPLAINT? "Mine own vineyard have I not kept." The spiritual nature of a godly man is here supposed to be likened to a vineyard; and it is like to a vineyard in several respects. In the first place it is a soil in which things are planted and sown; in which things spring up and wither; in which things grow and are cut down; in which things bear fruit and are barren; in which things live and die. In the next place it is a sphere affording full scope for exertion, vigilance and skill. In the third place judicious labour secures profit and reward. And in the last place neglect makes evil fertile, and brings miserable barrenness of good. In a self-neglected spirit you will find such things as these — first there is culpable and mischievous ignorance; also, undigested information; words about things, without. the ideas of things; or the ideas of things not connected or classified. You will also find injurious prejudices, false judgments, vain imaginations, irregular emotions, an evil conscience, corrupt motives supposed to be right motives, restlessness, self-deception, falsity of profession, and a constant going back from good and from true positions which the individual has gained. Such an one will,not be like the man who said, "I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection." He will have no idea of self-crucifixion, or of self-mortification. You will not discover in such an one power in prayer. You will not observe in such a case judicious and successful work. You may find such an one busy; but-you will not witness in this case judicious and successful labour. Neither will you find profit from Divine ordinances — rest of soul or peace of mind. The witness of the Spirit with such a man will not be distinct and clear; nor will you behold in this case the choicest fruits of righteousness. "Mine own vineyard have I not kept."
II. THE CAUSE AND THE OCCASION OF THE EVIL COMPLAINED OF. You know the distinction between the cause and the occasion. It is possible to keep others' vineyards, and, at the same time, to take care of our own. The two things are compatible. We are quite sure they may be done together, because God requires us to do them both. The cause of self-neglect, therefore, is not in the vineyard-keeping for others; it must be in the character of the individual concerned. But where in the individual concerned? It may be in false views of a state of salvation, and of our personal obligations. Many persons who are exceedingly particular about doctrine, and who tithe their mint, and anise, and cummin, as respects doctrinal statements, are often horridly careless with reference to practice: and yet if there be not religious practice in those who embrace religious truths, tell me in what is the advantage of holding true doctrine? The cause of neglecting our own vineyards is to be found also in excess of zeal for the welfare of others. It is to be found in false amiability and accessibility to others. It is to be found in a strong taste for the excitement of caring for others; and in the vanity which prefers the position of keeper of the vineyard to the quiet condition of attending to one's own vineyard. These few remarks will show the cause — now for the occasion. "They made me." "They." A great deal of religious and benevolent work is done evidently as unto man, and not as unto God. You ask me for proof of this — I give it you instantly. The proof is here. If the leader or associate of some benevolent religious workers offend them, they will throw the work up directly. What does this prove? It proves that they have been Working for man, and not for God. If men work simply for gratitude, if they are kind to each other simply expecting thankfulness, they will be invariably disappointed. And it is not the prospect of thankfulness from others that should ever bind you to doing good to men. Never look even for gratitude, but do good to another for the sake of the blessed God. And then it matters very little what the man you serve may be, how he may change, either towards you or towards others, you will be able to cleave to him, not for his own sake, but for his God's sake. We neglect our own vineyards because others call us away, and we obey. We become engrossed. We become too ardent, We are keeping the vineyards of others, just, perhaps, that it may be said that we are keeping their vineyards, and that we may have the praise of the fruit of the vineyard, or that we may please those who are connected with the vineyard. The occasion of self-neglect may be suggested in these words: "They made me keeper of the vineyards.
(S. Martin, M. A.)
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.