Home > Bible Study, J. C. Ryle, Matthew, S. Lewis Johnson > The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard: Salvation at Different Ages of Life

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard: Salvation at Different Ages of Life

May 23, 2011

How nice it would be, we often think, if everyone who was saved came to salvation at a young age, with a full life of service and opportunities for service.  It is easy enough to regret the lost years, no matter at what age God brings us to saving faith, and plenty has been said concerning the virtue of salvation among youth — even to statistics showing that the vast majority of believers are saved at a younger age, especially by college age, some before age 30, but then in ever decreasing numbers after that age.

The parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16), a great parable about God’s Sovereignty in Rewards, has application in this very issue: believers saved when they are young (hired the first hour), versus those saved at later hours in the day: the third hour, the sixth hour, the ninth hour, and even the 11th hour.  In this teaching — directly following Peter’s attitude of “we have left everything to follow you? What are we going to get out of this?” (Matt. 19:27) — our Lord makes clear that is the quality and not the quantity of our service that matters.  Also, that “many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

S. Lewis Johnson pointed out these issues, from the parable and its context.  He was saved as a businessman in his mid-twenties — and though he had already completed an undergraduate degree and embarked on a career in the insurance business, still God had other plans for the rest of his long life ahead.  Certainly God has mightily used some men who were saved as youths:  John MacArthur, for instance, and especially Charles Spurgeon.  Yet others were saved at even later ages and used mightily by God.  As SLJ pointed out, Scofield was saved at a relatively late age (36), a lawyer and alcoholic, and yet his Scofield Bible, for all its shortcomings, “was used of God in the lives of many, even in my life.”  Johnson also mentioned a man who had heard the preaching of John Flavel years before at age 17, yet was not brought to the Lord until 86 years later at the age of 103.  For three years he lived as a Christian; you can find his tombstone today.  It reads something like this:  “Here lies a babe three years old by grace, who died at age one hundred six by nature.”

From my own experience over the last few years, I consider several cases of salvation coming to older people: a man at church here, saved and baptized only a few years ago at about age 70; my late great-uncle’s second wife — who had remained single all her life, fully consumed in a feminist, career life until she married my great-uncle late in life — and also came to salvation then, past the age of 80.  Then an online friend saved in her early 50s, and her mom saved at age 87.

Or consider the case of the dying thief:

Now it’s not a very good place from which to carry out your Christian service hanging on a cross, but nevertheless, he did, and he did precisely that, because if you’ll remember, he gave testimony to the Lord Jesus Christ … and vindicated him by saying, “This man had done nothing amiss.”  He worshipped the Lord calling him Lord, and then gave us a magnificent prayer, “Remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom,” which has caused numerous interpreters to believe that at the moment of his death he probably understood more about theology than any man living at the time, including the apostles, because he saw the nature of the Messianic kingdom.  He saw that our Lord was the Messianic kingdom.  He knew that when he passed from this life, he would have life beyond the grave.  He knew that the greatest thing in life was not the stay here, but to go there.  He didn’t say, “Let me come down from the cross,” but he said, “remember me when you come in your kingdom.”  Now what a magnificent Christian service this man rendered at the last few moments of his life, and what tremendous quantity it had, because down through the years, men such as I have been proclaiming the gospel contained in the words of this magnificent servant of Jesus Christ, called at the eleventh hour to the service of the Lord.

Now, some closing thoughts from J.C. Ryle (from Holiness, chapter 17) about how we all do some good to other souls while here:

I believe that just as ‘no man lives unto himself’ (Rom. 14:7), so also no man is converted only for himself and that the conversion of one man or woman always leads on, in God’s wonderful providence, to the conversion of others. I do not say for a moment that all believers know it. I think it far more likely that many live and die in the faith, who are not aware that they have done good to any soul. But I believe the resurrection morning and the judgment day, when the secret history of all Christians is revealed, will prove that the full meaning of the promise before us has never failed. I doubt if there will be a believer who will not have been to someone or other a ‘river of living water,’ a channel through whom the Spirit has conveyed saving grace. Even the penitent thief, short as his time was after he repented, has been a source of blessing to thousands of souls!

  1. Sonja
    May 23, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    Hi Lynda! What a lovely post, thank you for writing it. 🙂

    I will sometimes wistfully wonder how different my life would have been if salvation came a lot earlier. But it didn’t. Lol, at least He didn’t wait until I was 103!

    Good thoughts on the thief — never really thought about him and the connection to the parable — it fits perfectly.

  2. May 24, 2011 at 9:07 am

    Hi Sonja,

    Thanks for commenting — yes, that story about a man saved at age 103 was pretty amazing! And these treasures from God’s word, such as the significance of the thief on the cross, are all the more reason to appreciate good, in-depth teachers, who point out some interesting things that might otherwise have been overlooked.


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