Christ's Object Lessons
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 22: Saying and Doing
Based on Mat. 21:23-32
"A certain man had two sons; and he came to the
first, and said, Son, go work today in my vineyard.
He answered and said, I will not; but afterward he
repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said
likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir; and went
not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father?
They say unto him, The first."
The parable of the two sons teaches that words are
of no value unless they are accompanied
with appropriate deeds.
Review and Herald Publ. Assoc.
In the sermon on the mount Christ said, "Not every
one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the
kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father
which is in heaven." Matt. 7:21. The test of sincerity is
not in words, but in deeds. Christ does not say to any man,
What say ye more than others? but, "What do ye more than
others?" Matt. 5:47. Full of meaning are His words, "If
ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." John
13:17. Words are of no value unless they are accompanied
with appropriate deeds. This is the lesson taught in the
parable of the two sons.
This parable was spoken at Christ's last visit to Jerusalem [p. 273] before His death. He had driven out the buyers and
sellers from the temple. His voice had spoken to their
hearts with the power of God. Amazed and terrified, they
had obeyed His command without excuse or resistance.
When their terror was abated, the priests and elders,
returning to the temple, had found Christ healing the sick
and the dying. They had heard the voice of rejoicing and
the song of praise. In the temple itself the children who
had been restored to health were waving palm branches
and singing hosannas to the Son of David. Baby voices
were lisping the praises of the mighty Healer. Yet with the
priests and elders all this did not suffice to overcome their
prejudice and jealousy.
The next day, as Christ was teaching in the temple, the
chief priests and elders of the people came to Him and said,
"By what authority doest Thou these things? and who gave
Thee this authority?"
The priests and elders had had unmistakable evidence of
Christ's power. In His cleansing of the temple they had
seen Heaven's authority flashing from His face. They
could not resist the power by which He spoke. Again in
His wonderful deeds of healing He had answered their
question. He had given evidence of His authority which
could not be controverted. But it was not evidence that was
wanted. The priests and elders were anxious for Jesus to
proclaim Himself the Messiah that they might misapply
His words and stir up the people against Him. They wished
to destroy His influence and to put Him to death.
Jesus knew that if they could not recognize God in
Him or see in His works the evidence of His divine
character, they would not believe His own testimony that He
was the Christ. In His answer He evades the issue they
hope to bring about and turns the condemnation upon
themselves. [p. 274] "I also will ask you one thing," He said, "which if ye
tell Me, I in like wise will tell you by what authority I
do these things. The baptism of John, whence was it?
from heaven, or of men?"
The priests and rulers were perplexed. "They reasoned
with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven, He
will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him? But
if we shall say, Of men, we fear the people; for all hold
John as a prophet. And they answered Jesus, and said, We
can not tell. And He said unto them, Neither tell I you
by what authority I do these things."
"We can not tell." This answer was a falsehood. But
the priests saw the position they were in, and falsified in
order to screen themselves. John the Baptist had come
bearing witness of the One whose authority they were now
questioning. He had pointed Him out, saying, "Behold
the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world."
John 1:29. He had baptized Him, and after the baptism,
as Christ was praying, the heavens were opened, and the
Spirit of God like a dove rested upon Him, while a voice
from heaven was heard saying, "This is My beloved Son, in
whom I am well pleased." Matt. 3:17.
Remembering how John had repeated the prophecies
concerning the Messiah, remembering the scene at the
baptism of Jesus, the priests and rulers dared not say that
John's baptism was from heaven. If they acknowledged
John to be a prophet, as they believed him to be, how could
they deny his testimony that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son
of God? And they could not say that John's baptism was of
men, because of the people, who believed John to be a
prophet. So they said, "We can not tell."
Then Christ gave the parable of the father and the two
sons. When the father went to the first son, saying, "Go [p. 275] work today in my vineyard," the son promptly answered,
"I will not." He refused to obey, and gave himself up to
wicked ways and associations. But afterward he repented,
and obeyed the call.
The father went to the second son with the same
command, "Go work today in my vineyard." This son
made reply, "I go, sir," but he went not.
In this parable the father represents God, the vineyard
the church. By the two sons are represented two classes of [p. 276] people. The son who refused to obey the command, saying,
"I will not," represented those who were living in open
transgression, who made no profession of piety, who openly
refused to come under the yoke of restraint and obedience
which the law of God imposes. But many of these afterward
repented and obeyed the call of God. When the gospel
came to them in the message of John the Baptist, "Repent
ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," they repented,
and confessed their sins. (Matt. 3:2.)
In the son who said, "I go, sir," and went not, the
character of the Pharisees was revealed. Like this son, the
Jewish leaders were impenitent and self-sufficient. The
religious life of the Jewish nation had become a pretense.
When the law was proclaimed on Mount Sinai by the voice
of God, all the people pledged themselves to obey. They
said, "I go, sir," but they went not. When Christ came in
person to set before them the principles of the law, they
rejected Him. Christ had given the Jewish leaders of His
day abundant evidence of His authority and divine power,
but although they were convinced, they would not accept the
evidence. Christ had shown them that they continued
to disbelieve because they had not the spirit which leads
to obedience. He had declared to them, "Ye made the
commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. . . .
In vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the
commandments of men." Matt. 15:6, 9.
In the company before Christ there were scribes and
Pharisees, priests and rulers, and after giving the parable of
the two sons, Christ addressed to His hearers the question,
"Whether of them twain did the will of his father?"
Forgetting themselves, the Pharisees answered, "The first."
This they said without realizing that they were pronouncing
sentence against themselves. Then there fell from Christ's
lips the denunciation, "Verily I say unto you, That the [p. 277] publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before
you. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness,
and ye believed him not; but the publicans and the harlots
believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not
afterward, that ye might believe him."
John the Baptist came preaching truth, and by his
preaching sinners were convicted and converted. These
would go into the kingdom of heaven before the ones who
in self-righteousness resisted the solemn warning. The
publicans and harlots were ignorant, but these learned men
knew the way of truth. Yet they refused to walk in the
path which leads to the Paradise of God. The truth that
should have been to them a savor of life unto life became
a savor of death unto death. Open sinners who loathed
themselves had received baptism at the hands of John; but
these teachers were hypocrites. Their own stubborn hearts
were the obstacle to their receiving the truth. They resisted
the conviction of the Spirit of God. They refused obedience
to God's commandments.
Christ did not say to them, Ye cannot enter the kingdom
of heaven; but He showed that the obstacle which prevented
them from entering was of their own creating. The door
was still open to these Jewish leaders; the invitation was [p. 278] still held out. Christ longed to see them convicted and
The priests and elders of Israel spent their lives in
religious ceremonies, which they regarded as too sacred to be
connected with secular business. Therefore their lives were
supposed to be wholly religious. But they performed their
ceremonies to be seen by men that they might be thought
by the world to be pious and devoted. While professing to
obey they refused to render obedience to God. They were
not doers of the truth which they professed to teach.
Christ declared John the Baptist to be one of the greatest
of the prophets, and He showed His hearers that they had
had sufficient evidence that John was a messenger from
God. The words of the preacher in the wilderness were
with power. He bore his message unflinchingly, rebuking
the sins of priests and rulers, and enjoining upon them the
works of the kingdom of heaven. He pointed out to them
their sinful disregard of their Father's authority in refusing
to do the work appointed them. He made no compromise
with sin, and many were turned from their unrighteousness.
Had the profession of the Jewish leaders been genuine,
they would have received John's testimony and accepted
Jesus as the Messiah. But they did not show the fruits of
repentance and righteousness. The very ones whom they
despised were pressing into the kingdom of God before them.
In the parable the son who said, "I go, sir," represented
himself as faithful and obedient; but time proved that his
profession was not real. He had no true love for his father.
So the Pharisees prided themselves on their holiness, but
when tested, it was found wanting. When it was for their
interest to do so, they made the requirements of the law
very exacting; but when obedience was required from themselves,
by cunning sophistries they reasoned away the force
of God's precepts. Of them Christ declared, "Do not ye [p. 279] after their works; for they say, and do not." Matt. 23:3.
They had no true love for God or man. God called them to
be co-workers with Him in blessing the world; but while in
profession they accepted the call, in action they refused
obedience. They trusted to self, and prided themselves
on their goodness; but they set the commands of God at
defiance. They refused to do the work which God had
appointed them, and because of their transgression the Lord
was about to divorce Himself from the disobedient nation.
Self-righteousness is not true righteousness, and those
who cling to it will be left to take the consequences of
holding a fatal deception. Many today claim to obey the
commandments of God, but they have not the love of God
in their hearts to flow forth to others. Christ calls them
to unite with Him in His work for the saving of the
world, but they content themselves with saying, "I go,
sir." They do not go. They do not co-operate with those
who are doing God's service. They are idlers. Like the
unfaithful son, they make false promises to God. In taking
upon themselves the solemn covenant of the church they
have pledged themselves to receive and obey the word of
God, to give themselves to God's service, but they do not
do this. In profession they claim to be sons of God, but in
life and character they deny the relationship. They do not
surrender the will to God. They are living a lie.
The promise of obedience they appear to fulfill when this
involves no sacrifice; but when self-denial and self-sacrifice
are required, when they see the cross to be lifted, they draw
back. Thus the conviction of duty wears away, and known
transgression of God's commandments becomes habit. The
ear may hear God's word, but the spiritual perceptive
powers have departed. The heart is hardened, the
Do not think that because you do not manifest decided [p. 280] hostility to Christ you are doing Him service. We thus
deceive our own souls. By withholding that which God
has given us to use in His service, be it time or means
or any other of His entrusted gifts, we work against Him.
Satan uses the listless, sleepy indolence of professed
Christians to strengthen his forces and win souls to his side.
Many, who think that though they are doing no actual work
for Christ, they are yet on His side, are enabling the enemy
to pre-occupy ground and gain advantages. By their failure
to be diligent workers for the Master, by leaving duties
undone and words unspoken, they have allowed Satan to
gain control of souls who might have been won for Christ.
We can never be saved in indolence and inactivity.
There is no such thing as a truly converted person living
a helpless, useless life. It is not possible for us to drift into
heaven. No sluggard can enter there. If we do not strive
to gain an entrance into the kingdom, if we do not seek
earnestly to learn what constitutes its laws, we are not fitted
for a part in it. Those who refuse to co-operate with
God on earth would not co-operate with Him in heaven.
It would not be safe to take them to heaven.
There is more hope for publicans and sinners than for
those who know the word of God but refuse to obey it.
He who sees himself a sinner with no cloak for his sin, who
knows that he is corrupting soul, body, and spirit before
God, becomes alarmed lest he be eternally separated from
the kingdom of heaven. He realizes his diseased condition,
and seeks healing from the great Physician who has said,
"Him that cometh to Me, I will in no wise cast out."
John 6:37. These souls the Lord can use as workers in His
The son who for a time refused obedience to his father's
command was not condemned by Christ; and neither was
he commended. The class who act the part of the first [p. 281] son in refusing obedience deserve no credit for holding this
position. Their frankness is not to be regarded as a virtue.
Sanctified by truth and holiness, it would make men bold
witnesses for Christ; but used as it is by the sinner,
it is insulting and defiant, and approaches to blasphemy.
The fact that a man is not a hypocrite does not make him
any the less really a sinner. When the appeals of the Holy
Spirit come to the heart, our only safety lies in responding
to them without delay. When the call comes, "Go work
today in My vineyard," do not refuse the invitation. "Today
if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts."
Heb. 4:7. It is unsafe to delay obedience. You may never
hear the invitation again.
And let none flatter themselves that sins cherished for
a time can easily be given up by and by. This is not so.
Every sin cherished weakens the character and strengthens
habit; and physical, mental, and moral depravity is the
result. You may repent of the wrong you have done, and
set your feet in right paths; but the mold of your mind
and your familiarity with evil will make it difficult for you
to distinguish between right and wrong. Through the
wrong habits formed, Satan will assail you again and again.
In the command, "Go work today in My vineyard," the
test of sincerity is brought to every soul. Will there be
deeds as well as words? Will the one called put to use
all the knowledge he has, working faithfully, disinterestedly,
for the Owner of the vineyard?
The apostle Peter instructs us as to the plan on which
we must work. "Grace and peace be multiplied unto you,"
he says, "through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our
Lord, according as His divine power hath given unto us all
things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the
knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue:
whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious [p. 282] promises; that by these ye might be partakers of the divine
nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world
"And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your
faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge
temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience
godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to
brotherly kindness charity." 2 Peter 1:2-7.
If you cultivate faithfully the vineyard of your soul, God
is making you a laborer together with Himself. And you
will have a work to do not only for yourself, but for others.
In representing the church as the vineyard, Christ does not
teach that we are to restrict our sympathies and labors to
our own numbers. The Lord's vineyard is to be enlarged.
In all parts of the earth He desires it to be extended. As
we receive the instruction and grace of God, we should
impart to others a knowledge of how to care for the
precious plants. Thus we may extend the vineyard of the
Lord. God is watching for evidence of our faith, love, and
patience. He looks to see if we are using every spiritual
advantage to become skillful workers in His vineyard on
earth, that we may enter the Paradise of God, that Eden
home from which Adam and Eve were excluded by transgression.
God stands toward His people in the relation of a father,
and He has a father's claim to our faithful service.
Consider the life of Christ. Standing at the head of humanity,
serving His Father, He is an example of what every son
should and may be. The obedience that Christ rendered
God requires from human beings today. He served His
Father with love, in willingness and freedom. "I delight to
do Thy will, O My God," He declared; "yea, Thy law is
within My heart." Ps. 40:8. Christ counted no sacrifice
too great, no toil too hard, in order to accomplish the work
which He came to do. At the age of twelve He said, "Wist [p. 283] ye not that I must be about My Father's business?" Luke
2:49. He had heard the call, and had taken up the work.
"My meat," He said, "is to do the will of Him that sent
Me, and to finish His work." John 4:34.
Thus we are to serve God. He only serves who acts up
to the highest standard of obedience. All who would be
sons and daughters of God must prove themselves
co-workers with God and Christ and the heavenly angels.
This is the test for every soul. Of those who faithfully
serve Him the Lord says, "They shall be Mine. . . in that
day when I make up My jewels; and I will spare them, as a
man spareth his own son that serveth him." Mal. 3:17.
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copy of this enlightening book about the parables of Christ.
God's great object in the working out of His
providences is to try men, to give them opportunity to develop
character. Thus He proves whether they are obedient or
disobedient to His commands. Good works do not purchase
the love of God, but they reveal that we possess that love.
If we surrender the will to God, we shall not work in order
to earn God's love. His love as a free gift will be received
into the soul, and from love to Him we shall delight to
obey His commandments.
There are only two classes in the world today, and
only two classes will be recognized in the judgment—those
who violate God's law and those who obey it. Christ gives
the test by which to prove our loyalty or disloyalty. "If
ye love Me," He says, "keep My commandments. . . .
He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it
is that loveth Me. And he that loveth Me shall be loved of
My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself
to him. . . . He that loveth Me not keepeth not My sayings;
and the word which ye hear is not Mine, but the
Father's which sent Me." "If ye keep My commandments,
ye shall abide in My love; even as I have kept My Father's
commandments, and abide in His love." John 14:15-24;
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"The Lord's Vineyard"