Equally dangerous and disastrous is that interpretation which has made the parable of the laborers in the vineyard teach salvation by works
Equally dangerous and disastrous is that interpretation which has made the parable of the laborers in the vineyard teach salvation by works. Since the parable affords a notable example of the importance of heeding the setting, we will offer a few remarks thereon. After the rich young ruler’s refusal to leave all and follow Christ, and His seeking to impress upon His disciples the solemn warning of that sad spectacle, Peter said,
“Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed Thee; what shall we have therefore?” (Matthew 19:22-27).
The Lord returned a twofold answer: the first part, as the question was legitimate, declaring that both here and hereafter there should be abundant reward to those who followed Him (vv. 28, 29). In the second part our Lord searched Peter’s heart, intimating that behind his inquiry was a wrong spirit—a carnal ambition which He had so often to rebuke in the apostles: shown in their disputes as to which of them should be greatest in the kingdom and which should have the chief seats therein. There was a mercenary spirit at work in them which considered they had claim to higher wages than others: since they were the first to leave all and follow Christ, thereby magnifying their own importance and laying Him under obligations. Hence the parable of Matthew 20:1-15, is preceded by the words. “But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first,” and followed by similar words.
Since there be no room to doubt that the parable of the laborers in the vineyard was designed to illustrate the words in Matthew 19:30, and 20:16, it is clear that it was never intended to teach the way of salvation— to interpret it so is entirely to miss its scope. The Lord’s object was manifestly to impress upon His disciples that, unless they mortified the same, the evils of the heart were of such a character as to rob the earliest and most prolonged external devotion of all value, and that the latest and briefest service unto Him would, by reason of the absence of self-assertion, be deemed worthy in His sight of receiving reward equal to the former. Moreover, He would have them know that He would do what He would with His own—they must not dictate the terms of service. It has been justly observed by Trench in his notes on this parable that an “agreement was made by the first hired laborers (20:2) before they entered upon their labor—exactly the agreement which Peter wished to make: “what shall we have?”—while those subsequently engaged went in a simpler spirit, trusting that whatever was right and equitable the householder would give them.”
Arthur W. Pink-Interpretation of the Scriptures