THE ELEVENTH HOUR

 

ByD. M. PANTON.

 

God the Holy Ghost has gone forth down all the ages of history, again and again summoning labourers into the vast vineyard of God. In the dawn of the world "He went out early in the morning" (Matt. 20: 1), and brought in the pre-Flood hosts of saints, of whom - except a thin line of Patriarchs - we know nothing and have no revelation. He went forth again to Jacobís children in Egypt, and brought in the great host culminating in Solomon and the Temple, including the marvellous Prophets; and workers arose in their myriads down to the very coming of Messiah. Then at Pentecost, and again at the Reformation - perhaps the third and sixth hour calls - the summons came to which the whole of our modern Church is the response. And now, as we are in the shadows of the Eleventh Hour, we stand on the threshold of the final call. "Doth not wisdom cry? where the paths meet, she standeth unto you, 0 men, I call; and my voice is to the sons of men" (Prov. 8: 4).

 

Work

 

Thus work waits, and waits for all. "The kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a householder that went out to hire labourers" (Matt. 20: 1). Dredging, ditching, building, staking; planting, watering, weeding, pruning: a vineyard on the mountainside is an apt parable of strenuous work. Savages far off in inaccessible forests, who are yet to be stars in the Redeemer's crown; little children in hundreds of thousands, at present totally unconscious of Christ, who are to be standard-bearers of the Cross in coming years; monstrous errors to be fought with the naked sword of the Word of God; Scripture to be unfolded to the gaze of an astonished Church; characters to be built up before the sight of all men out of the elements of Christ: vast, exhaustless, accomplishable, divine, the work waits. Therefore the Spirit moves amongst all ranks and classes, seeking labourers; not one willing worker is refused: the call goes out into all lands, all races, all ages, all souls.

 

The Eleventh Hour

 

So naturally our thoughts turn to the eleventh hour, which manifestly is our hour today - only sixty minutes before the midnight cry - "Behold, the bridegroom cometh". Even Scientists believe the race is reaching its last hour. On the covers of three successive issues of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists appeared the outline of a portion of a clock. In June 1947 the hands of their clock were set at eight minutes to twelve. Twenty-nine months later they set the hands at four minutes to twelve. From October 1949 to March 1950 the hands of the clock moved one minute and they now stand at three minutes to twelve. "About the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing: and he saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle?" That man has missed the whole purpose of life who is not at work for God. He may be the busiest man on earth; but all life is idleness if it has no conscious labour for the life beyond: all labour that has no Christ in it is one immense miscarriage. "Alas" - as one man said on his death bed - "how laboriously I have spent all life in doing nothing." So the Holy Spirit argues with the soul. "Why stand ye here all the day idle?" Your whole life is only one day, one little day: why idle away even your last hour? Every man has, in his own wonderful composition, every tool for doing the work of God; and the call carries with it all the power needed to obey: why then stand idle?

 

A Missed Call

 

It is a very pathetic response which is made in the marketplace. "They say unto him, Because no man has hired us." They were unemployed, not unemployables; they were not habitual loiterers, or chronic wasters: they are waiting in the marketplace for hire that never comes. Somehow the call has missed them all these years. Some men are called in the morning of their life, like Timothy: some in its meridian, like Paul: some in their sunset, like Nicodemus - "Can a man be born again," he cries, "when he is old?" The call has never reached their ears. A godless home and a churchless youth; no shock of grace to awaken or arouse; religious teachers that never told them the truth, for these teachers never know the [whole] truth: somehow they had never come face to face with the Lord of the Vineyard.

 

The Last Hour

 

Now what a joy it is to tell such souls that it is just for them - the loving, tender, gracious command of our Lord. "Go YE ALSO into the vineyard." It is a marvel of grace, but just like our Lord Jesus that He is willing to accept the last hour in His gracious and golden service. Abounding goodness calls at the eleventh hour; and momentous work can be done in the last minutes before the sunset of a wasted life. God is calling us at all times and in all places; by day and by night; by accidents, by Scriptures, by hopes, by fears: most of all - we hear the call in the fellowship of God's own people, where He finds far the most of His labourers: until the most wonderful call - the call up to the Throne of God.

 

Work Now

 

Now we close with that sunset scene. It is five o'clock, the hour before sunset; and as all labourers had, by the Law of Moses, to be paid before sunset (Deut. 24: 15), less than one hour remains. The Eleventh Hour, named only here in the whole Bible, is an uncertain hour, a slippery hour, a difficult hour, a blessed hour. It is naturally a rare hour for living; it is grace to an unusual degree - the call reaching the ears before the ears are dead; and it is, necessarily, the last invitation of grace. At the twelfth hour there is no call, for all the work is finished. "The night cometh, when no man can work." "Because I have called, and ye refused, I will laugh in the day of your calamity, and mock when your fear cometh" (Proverbs 1: 24).

 

Facing the Hour

 

So we do well to face our eleventh hour. When Sir Robert Matheson, Registrar General for Ireland, was a young man he was going through Scotland with his father, and at a station some delay arose. To pass away the time he entered a nearby graveyard. Led by curiosity, he moved the weeds from a tombstone and found the startling inscription:-"Here lies the body of Robert Matheson" - his own name. This was God's arrow of conviction to him. Ever after, like Saul of Tarsus, Robert Matheson determined to know nothing among man "save Jesus Christ and Him crucified". Our Lord closes with a wonderful word. "There are LAST that shall be FIRST." Infinite possibilities lie within our last hour.

 

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