on Matthew 20 :16
So the last shall be first, and the first last - The Gentiles, who have been long without the true God, shall now enjoy all the privileges of the new covenant; and the Jews, who have enjoyed these from the beginning, shall now be dispossessed of them; for, because they here rejected the Lord, he also hath rejected them.
Many are called, etc. - This clause is wanting in BL, one other, and in the Coptic and Sahidic versions. Bishop Pearce thinks it is an interpolation from Matthew 22:14. The simple meaning seems to be: As those who did not come at the invitation of the householder to work in the vineyard did not receive the denarius, or wages, so those who do not obey the call of the Gospel, and believe in Christ Jesus, shall not inherit eternal life.
This place seems to refer to the ancient Roman custom of recruiting their armies. Among this celebrated people, no one was forced to serve his country in a military capacity; and it was the highest honor to be deemed worthy of thus serving it. The youth were instructed, almost from their cradle, in military exercises. The Campus Martius was the grand field in which they were disciplined: there, they accustomed themselves to leaping, running, wrestling, bearing burdens, fencing, throwing the javelin, etc., and when, through these violent exercises, they were all besmeared with dust and sweat, in order to refresh themselves, they swam twice or thrice across the Tyber! Rome might at any time have recruited her armies by volunteers from such a mass of well-educated, hardy soldiers; but she thought proper, to use the words of the Abbe Mably, that the honor of being chosen to serve in the wars should be the reward of the accomplishments shown by the citizens in the Campus Martius, that the soldier should have a reputation to save; and that the regard paid him, in choosing him to serve, should be the pledge of his fidelity and zeal to discharge his duty. The age of serving in the army was from seventeen to forty-five, and the manner in which they were chosen was the following: -
After the creation of consuls, they every year named twenty-four military tribunes, part of whom must have served five years at least, and the rest eleven. When they had divided among them the command of the four legions to be formed, the consuls summoned to the capitol, or Campus Martius, all the citizens who, by their age, were obliged to bear arms. They drew up by tribes, and lots were drawn to determine in what order every tribe should present its soldiers. That which was the first in order chose the four citizens who were judged the most proper to serve in the war; and the six tribunes who commanded the first legion chose one of these four, whom they liked best. The tribunes of the second and third likewise made their choice one after another; and he that remained entered into the fourth legion. A new tribe presented other four soldiers, and the second legion chose first. The third and fourth legions had the same advantage in their turns. In this manner, each tribe successively chose four soldiers, till the legions were complete. They next proceeded to the creation of subaltern officers, whom the tribunes chose from among the soldiers of the greatest reputation. When the legions were thus completed, the citizens who had been called, but not chosen, returned to their respective employments, and served their country in other capacities. None can suppose that these were deemed useless, or that, because not now chosen to serve their country in the field, they were proscribed from the rights and privileges of citizens, much less destroyed, because others were found better qualified to serve their country at the post of honor and danger. Thus many are called by the preaching of the Gospel, but few are found who use their advantages in such a way as to become extensively useful in the Church - and many in the Church militant behave so ill as never to be admitted into the Church triumphant. But what a mercy that those who appear now to be rejected may be called in another muster, enrolled, serve in the field, or work in the vineyard? How many millions does the long-suffering of God lead to repentance!
on Matthew 20 :16
So the last shall be first ... - This is the moral or scope of the parable. "To teach this it was spoken." Many that, in the order of time, are brought last into the kingdom, shall be first in the rewards. Higher proportionate rewards shall be given to them than to others. "To all justice shall be done." To all to whom the rewards of heaven are promised they shall be given. Nothing shall be withheld that was promised. If, among this number who are called into the kingdom, I choose to raise some to stations of distinguished usefulness, and to confer on them special talents and higher rewards, I injure no other one. They shall enter heaven, as was promised. If, amid the multitude of Christians, I choose to signalize such men as Paul, and Martyn, and Brainerd, and Spencer, and Summerfield - to appoint some of them to short labor but to wide usefulness, and raise them to signal rewards, I injure not the great multitude of others who live long lives less useful and less rewarded. All shall reach heaven, and all shall receive what I promise to the faithful.
Many be called, but few chosen - The meaning of this, in this connection, I take to be simply this: "Many are called into my kingdom; they come and labor as I command them; many of them are comparatively unknown and obscure; yet they are real Christians, and shall all receive the proper reward. A few I have chosen for higher stations in the church. I have endowed them with apostolic gifts or with superior talents, and suited them for wider usefulness. They may not be as long in the vineyard as others; their race may be sooner run; but I have chosen to honor them in this manner, and I have a right to do it. I injure no one, and have a right to do what I will with my own." Thus explained, this parable has no reference to the call of the Gentiles, nor to the call of aged sinners, nor to the call of sinners out of the church at all. It is simply designed to teach that in the church, among the multitudes who will be saved, Christ makes a difference. He makes some more useful than others, without regard to the time which they serve, and he will reward them accordingly. The parable teaches one truth, and but one; and where Jesus has explained it, we have no right to add to it, and say that it teaches anything else. It adds to the reason for this interpretation, that Christ was conversing about the rewards that should be given to his followers, and not about the numbers that should be called, or about the doctrine of election. See Matthew 19:27-29.
on Matthew 20 :16
20:16 So the last shall be first, and the first last - Not only with regard to the Jews and Gentiles, but in a thousand other instances. For many are called - All who hear the Gospel; but few chosen - Only those who obey it. Mt 19:30; 22:14.