1:6. "Look not upon me, because I am black--because the sun has looked upon me. My mother's children were angry with me. They made me the keeper of the vineyards--but my own vineyard I have not kept."
The Church appears low in the valley of self-renunciation. This spot is often visited by true faith, and most precious lessons are received. In this school we learn to view our natural estate with just abhorrence, and to exult more fervently in the righteousness of Christ. Thus we sink in humility, that we may soar in rejoicing love. We sternly hate ourselves, that we may more adore our Lord. The truth is realized, "He that humbles himself shall be exalted."
Thus the Church again presents herself in the garb of degradation. She appears as a peasant injured and despised by relatives--dishonored by those whose love was naturally her due- driven from domestic comfort- compelled to the drudgery of degraded work- exposed to the disfiguring effects of sultry weather, and thus conscious that her appearance could excite no feelings of attraction. As such she shuns man's observation, and piteously cries, "Look not upon me, because I am black." There was nothing in her on which the eye could rest complacently. She therefore shrinks from notice.
Obvious are the lessons of this picture. They teach us the vileness of our state by nature. Let us be wise, and open our eyes to the humiliating truth. What is our best righteousness? View it in the light of Scripture. It is full of faults and blemishes, hideousness pervades its every part. It is a filthy rag. Shall we present our own performances for acceptance before our omniscient God? At best they are the abominable thing which His holiness abhors. Let us rather cry, Away with such pleas, away with them. "Look not upon me, because I am black." "Enter not into judgment with Your servant, O Lord, for in Your sight shall no man living be justified."
If God should mark what is done amiss, who shall stand? The believer feels that in himself he is thus loathsome. From the sole of the foot to the crown of the head there is nothing in himself but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores. The sunburnt peasant, toiling in the vineyard beneath the midday rays, is the image of his wretched state.
This view of self is most profitable when it drives us to abhor self-righteousness, and to wash our thoughts and words and works in the fountain of Christ's all-cleansing blood. Then with what delight is the precious truth clasped, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Each child of man who mournfully exclaims, "Look not upon me, because I am black," is led to the rapturous joy of adding, "But I am lovely. God's eye beholds me bright in the righteousness of Christ."
But self-complacency may not rest in an 'enlightened mind'. Consciousness of shortcomings and defects must ever keep us lowly in shame. The Church adds, "My own vineyard I have not kept." Where is the day which testifies not of indolence and careless walk? Our souls are a neglected vineyard. Briers and weeds are not diligently plucked up. Fences are not carefully repaired. Gaps are left, through which the wild beasts of the forest may enter and spread ruin. We sit with folded hands, while much work on all sides demands industrious toil. Who will not confess, "The good that I would, I do not." Hence the prayer is prompted, 'Do not remember my countless omissions.' Hence we are led to put all our trust in the finished work of Christ, and to confess, "By grace are we saved through faith; and that not of ourselves--it is the gift of God--not of works, lest any man should boast." Holy Spirit, bless this emblem to our souls' good!