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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
Matthew 25

 

 

Verse 1

TO MEET THE BRIDEGROOM

‘Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.’

Matthew 25:1

Amongst our Blessed Lord’s words of warning, this parable holds a very conspicuous place.

I. The virgins chosen.—They were chosen for the particular purpose, to swell the triumph of the bridal train. Is it not true that the choice has fallen upon us? The whole human race, by virtue of the Incarnation, has received this splendid vocation, but to us Christian men and women, to us Church people, there has come the personal, the individual call. Why is it that men are often so dissatisfied with their lot in life? It is simply because they forget their true calling, their true dignity.

II. All went forth.—They all went one way, there Was no difference between them. And is not that so with us? We have all set forth upon that journey. The priest at the altar, the layman in his office, the sinner that shuns the light, and the saint that illumines the world, have all gone forth to meet the Bridegroom. There is no turning back. How important it must be that we should be ready to meet Him when He comes? Are you?

III. They went forth in the night.—And so it is with us. We go forth to meet the Bridegroom, and it is through the night of toil and sorrow. It is true that the Church, reflecting the light of the Sun of Righteousness, guides us on our way and gives us light enough, light enough if only people will be satisfied to receive that light that Jesus Christ brought into the world and has left with His Church. Yet the light we have here is as nothing compared with that light that no man can approach unto, to which He has called us in His mercy.

—Dean W. C. Ingram.


Verse 8

LAMPS BURNING LOW

‘Our lamps are gone out.’

Matthew 25:8

We might more literally translate the words, ‘Give us of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ The appeal is for more oil for lamps that are burning low.

I. Signs of a flickering lamp.—What is it that causes the light that is in us to become darkness; and what are the signs that mark a flickering or extinguished lamp? We are not bidden to kindle our lamps ourselves, but only to trim them continually, and see that they burn brightly. Man is born with a sinful nature, but he is born with a light already in him—very faint, perhaps, a higher will, which tells him that to indulge that sinful nature would be sin. And this is true of all. In Holy Baptism a new light is kindled in each one of us; the Oil of Grace was given to feed it; and fresh stores were promised if we only seek for it. What, then, is our case? Is that lamp shining brightly?

II. In ‘ordinary’ Christians.—Look at the case of those who are commonly held to be good ordinary Christians. People who set before themselves a dull mediocrity never succeed in the world; and, in spiritual matters, those who are content with thinking that if they are not great saints, at least they are not great sinners, can never rise to a state of preparedness for their Lord. Such think their lamp only wants trimming. But there is no oil in it. Its light is almost out, and they are taking no trouble to replenish it. Theirs is a Sunday God. It is because their ‘lamps have gone out,’ because there is no more oil in them, no real living faith which must show itself.

III. In half-and-half people.—But there is a large number of people who have not yet let their lamp burn so low, but every day it burns less brightly, and every day the Advent of the Bridegroom is nearer. These are the half-and-half people who, in difficulty, never think of turning to the light within them to guide through the darkness, but turn at once to some one who they think is living a Christian life, as if a borrowed light would do. That is a sure sign that our own light is growing faint.

IV. Advent thoughts.—Advent bids you trim your lamps if they be yet burning; it bids you, if they are extinguished, to go, while there is yet time, and buy yourselves oil. He Who sells it bids you buy ‘without money and without price.’ Through a wicked or a careless life your lamp may be extinguished, the light may be rekindled by Him Who is the Light of the World.

Canon Aubrey L. Moore.


Verse 10

THE CLOSED DOOR

‘And the door was shut.’

Matthew 25:10

Very solemn tone in these words, even standing alone; this feeling increases when you see in what connection they occur. They are not words of ornament, but have their own meaning for the attentive soul.

I. Passing away of last chance.—The shut door is the token of this. No one’s penitence, prayers, or groanings shall any more open the door. The ‘shut door’ is not the fastening down of the bars of hell upon the lost, but it is the ceasing of all opportunity of amendment. What boyhood is to youth and youth to manhood, that is this life to the life beyond the grave. Our life here and hereafter is not two but one, and what we make ourselves in the last portion of our being before we die, that shall we find ourselves when we stand within the borders of eternity.

II. The final and complete severance between good and evil is also foreshadowed here. It is the great separation. Here upon earth the righteous and the unrighteous are intermingled. Once exiled from the Lord and His saints, what chance of amendment can there be in the pit? And if there can be no recovering unto holiness, how any admission unto heaven?

The words are big with despair.

—Bishop Woodford.

Illustration

‘It cannot be questioned but that practically, to each one of us, the moment of the Bridegroom’s coming is the approach of death—in whatsoever way that approach of death may be indicated to us—whether by the gradual increase of disease, till it reaches the point of hopeless danger, or by the rapid stroke of some visitation—it is the signal which gives the solemn note, “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet Him.” Rise, soul, rise: this is death; meet death! And as the parable is true, you cannot deny it, but that that moment will be to many persons the discovery of a secret which they never knew before, and they will find out for the first time that they are not prepared. Observe well who these persons are. They are persons who once stood in the Saviour’s train—they associated with His people—they wore His robes—they carried His lamps—they used ordinances—they said prayers—they liked forms, and at one time or other—this is the affecting part—at one time or other, their lamps had burnt; they had felt in a measure, the right feelings, and they had made their lights shine abroad; but now, it is all flickering, or dead.’


Verse 21

FOUND FAITHFUL

‘His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.’

Matthew 25:21

What we must learn from the saints is to persevere to the end in our struggle. The moral splendour of sanctity is wrapped up in faithfulness; that is the achievement of the saints. That may be yours. Faithfulness is so practical.

I. Faithful to conscience.—The still small voice within us says, ‘Do this; leave that.’ It is worth while, and the earlier the better, being faithful to conscience, for if you do, you are made ruler, not in eternity but now, ruler over an important power. He that wills to do the will of God shall know; being faithful to conscience you are led in the path of truth.

II. Faithful to the higher instincts of life.—They come, they go, like the brightness of a dream, like the voice of music, like the flash of the light. There are moments in the drawing-room, in the study, when there comes a voice, a light, an instinct, an inspiration. Oh! to follow it, cost what it may, to follow it with resolution and with power and beautiful desire, is to enter on that grand morality of the saints.

III. Faithful to principles.—Principles are truths that do not change, and the beauty of which you see in exalted movements. We have to use them when moments are not exalted, but when common life is upon you and you have to act upon, not what you feel, but what you know.

IV. Faithful to the faith.—The faith is the statement of eternal truth, mysterious, awful, saving, half understood, but always blessed; and if we cling to the Creed, and if we hold to the Lord’s Prayer, and if the Ten Commandments are our guide in moral difficulty, and if we kneel in early mornings before the Presence of the Sacramental gift of Christ; many of us because we have been faithful to the faith have been brought through the darkness into the light.

If you are not faithful to these things, what then? You are faithful to your intellect, faithful to your wishes, or faithful to your passions, but there comes a moment, yes, it is coming quickly, when the intellect and the passions and the wish, like robes of royalty that are no use on the skeleton of the king, when these are torn away and laid into nothingness and where are you yourself? It is worth while to be faithful to yourselves; to be true to one’s self it brings one right, for being true to one’s self is being true to God.

—Canon W. J. Knox Little.

Illustration

(1) ‘A story that riveted my attention when I was yet a boy, a story of that poor young prince of France who never was, although he was called, a king. And when his father died on the scaffold, and his mother in the street of execution was executed by a blind and blasphemous mob, and when that frail form, with the tenderness of a girl, died, her boy was left in the prison of the temple, in the hands of corruptors of his moral life; and they said, “We do not kill the Dauphin, but corrupt him, make him as bad and base and detestable as it is possible for us to make him.” They did; they poured into the poor boy’s ears the foulest language, they taught him to speak blasphemous phrases, they tried to fill his will with powers of corruption and weakness; but, so said the old historian that I read with enthusiasm when a boy, he turned upon them sometimes, sometimes when they tried to corrupt him, sprang to his feet, shook his fist in their faces and said, “But I was born to be a king.” And, my brother, when you are so tempted to fail in faithfulness in a few things, to conscience, to instinct, to the higher thoughts of the faith, to the Divine Friend, may you not in common truth and deep reality turn upon the tempter and say, “But I was born to be a king.”’

(2) ‘I remember the death-bed of a little boy, a sailor in the Navy. I remember hearing how when that sweet child of fifteen, having struggled up against the difficulties of disease for a week, at last lay down to die; how he called for a pencil and paper, and how with the cold sweat of death on that fair young brow, and with a trembling hand of dying in one who had been both strong and beautiful, he said, “I must write a letter to him who has been a father to me for these years”; it was a short letter, but it exists; it only said just this, and I can vouch for the truth of the story: “I have been faithful to what you told me; I have tried to do right; I have said my prayers.” O could you wish, my brother, my sister, that your boy could speak clearer than that on the edge of eternity? Interpret it, what does it mean? Faithful in a few things, he had been made ruler over many things, as you may be made. He had been made ruler not only over the issues of the heart in repentance, or the will and the intellect in faith, he had been made ruler of that which we dread, of that which is awful to us all; he had been made as you may be made if you are faithful, ruler of Death, of Death the Destroyer.’


Verse 24-25

THE DISUSED TALENT

‘Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: and I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth; lo, there thou hast that is thine.’

Matthew 25:24-25

I. The talent put away.—Why did the man put away his ‘talent’?

(a) The man took hard views of God. There is hardly an error in doctrine, or a wrongness in practice, which does not begin first where Adam and Eve began, in a false view of the character of God, and almost always, directly or indirectly, ending in a denial or low estimate of His love.

(b) The man received suspiciously; he viewed life darkly. ‘I was afraid’—simply and only afraid of God—‘I was afraid.’ Then fear did its own necessary work. It killed energy. But here comes out the fact that God will not take His own back again the same as He put it in your hands.

II. The talent improved.—Now gather from the picture of this man’s trangressions the converse of your duty—how you are to improve your ‘talent.’

(a) Take loving views of God. Feel Him to be your Father; accept and rest in your forgiveness. This is the spring which sets the whole machine in motion.

(b) Then be in earnest. The hiding of ‘the talent’ in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred is supineness, sheer idleness, want of effort.

(c) Above all be definite. Gather up a definite power to a definite point, and the point high enough—the centre of all things—the aim of angels, the desire of saints, the glory of God.

The Rev. James Vaughan.


Verse 29

THE PHILOSOPHY OF LIFE

‘Unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.’

Matthew 25:29

The words of the text, if we did not know by Whom they were spoken, would perhaps suggest to us rather a sad and half-cynical maxim of the world’s philosophy than the law by which grace is bestowed by God for man’s discipline and recovery from sin.

I. A law of nature.—They are plainly true, indeed, as far as this world and its interests are concerned. ‘Nothing succeeds like success’ is a familiar saying. To him that has, to him does the world give.

II. A law of Christ.—But what if we find it also to be a law of Christ? For it has higher authority than the sanction of human society. It is a law of the spiritual world, a law of grace. God reveals Himself to men by degrees only as they are able to respond to His grace. The higher gift is only given to those by whom the lower gift has been used. If the revelation which God has given us of Himself be treated as if it were a dead system, then the power of understanding even that which has been already revealed is enfeebled. The faculty which is not used is lost. Is it not still true that it is to disciples, to willing learners, and to them alone—not to a gaping and careless multitude—that the vision of the Kingdom of God is brought near? What is it but beginning at the wrong end to vex ourselves with hard questions as to difficult points of doctrine, when perhaps we have not made our own the simplest teaching of the Gospel of the love of God?

III. Practice as well as theory.—The Lord applied the words of the text, not only to the reception of spiritual truth, but to the use of opportunity in all the details of life. They concern practice as well as theory. They give us the law of revelation; they give us also the principle of the Divine rewards. The man who has but one talent does not as a rule despise it. But then he says, It is not easy to use it in common life. He does not like to debase the talent which is his by putting it to vulgar uses. And so at last—oh! bitter irony—it is taken from him, even that which he thinks he has. Refusal to use opportunity results in loss of power.

Dean Bernard.


Verse 30

NO NEUTRALITY

‘Cast ye the unprofitable servant.… gnashing of teeth.’

Matthew 25:30

The Advent warning, contained in parable of unprofitable servant, is directed against the sin of despised opportunities and a wasted life.

The smallest amount entrusted to the servant, but he must render account for all that. It is ‘his lord’s money.’ So with us; influence, position, talents, wealth are entrusted property—‘Occupy till I come.’

I. The root of the offence was in the hard thoughts of God and His service. The talent buried in the earth represents the justification of the deceived heart for its disobedience. All heart-rebellion begins in hard thoughts of the Divine Service. We wish to be our own master, our own Bible, our own law.

II. The charge of being unreasonable, which the servant brought against the master, was an aggravation of the offence. The sin among ourselves answering to this pretence of unprofitable servant is that, in regard to the great salvation, men shift blame of their deficiencies upon God, that He expects fruit at their hands which He does not give them the means of producing.

III. The positive wrong done to the master in the loss of interest which investment of the one talent would bring is the final aggravation of the offence. The modern equivalent is the excuse that means opportunities, and influences are too limited to do any good with. But parable teaches that the man has not lived whose services are too humble for Christ to accept. A mite cast into the treasury, a cup of cold water may be used. A life of quiet goodness will open to us a wider mission than we think of.

IV. ‘Take the talent from him’ is the consummation of a sentence which begins even in this life. The servant, because he was ‘unprofitable,’ is cast out. Let this warning sink deeply into all hearts. Apathy is sin. Unprofitableness is insult. To be neutral in the Christian warfare is to side with the foes of God.

Prebendary Daniel Moore.


Verse 34

THE CALL TO GLORY

‘Then shall the King say unto them on His right hand, Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’

Matthew 25:34

The parable, if parable indeed it be, sets Christ forth to us under three titles:—‘the Son of man,’—‘the Shepherd,’—and ‘the King.’ The selection is not arbitrary—nor is it without its intention and significancy. There is sympathy,—and service,—and sovereignty.

I. The King’s invitation.—As King of the kingdom which He is about to bestow, Christ says, ‘Come!’ Those who hear it then will scarcely need anything more—for it shows that they are to be near Him—near Him, to whom nearness has always been another word for all safety, and all peace, and all joy. When that word is said, we shall immediately draw close to the throne, and, in some way, take part with our Lord in the remainder of that very judgment. And when that grand court breaks up, and Christ moves away, we shall move with Him. And, from that moment, for ever and for ever, we shall ‘follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth.’

II. Why are we to come?—Because we are the ‘blessed of the Father.’ How true Christ is, in that word to His own mission! And every saint will well respond to the thought—‘Why am I at this right-hand? Why am I an invited one? Why all this privilege to me?’ Because God loved me—therefore He chose me. It was not what I did, but what I received; not my work, but His blessing.

III. The kingdom prepared.—The same thought runs on into the after-part of the sentence—‘Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’ In this life we are all minors, and therefore it is there is so much of a school character about all that happens to us in this world. It is all so, characteristically, discipline. Then the heir will be of age—his education will be done; and he will be ready to succeed to his ‘inheritance.’ Before ever the foundation of this earth was laid, that ‘inheritance’ has been ‘prepared.’ Christ Himself was fond of that thought. It rose the first to His mind when, to comfort His disciples’ heart, and His own, He selected the joyous topic, ‘I go to prepare a place for you.’ And if you place that passage by the side of this, I infer that from everlasting Christ was ‘preparing’ heaven for His people.

—The Rev. James Vaughan.


Verse 40

CHRIST IN HIS POOR

‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.’

Matthew 25:40

The ground of the judgment, you note, is the carrying out in this life the principles of active love. No mention is made of faith in Christ; but all that is done (or left undone) has its direct relation to Christ.

I. Brotherhood.—The great truth of the Brotherhood of men gripped the mind of the first believers; and well it might. They loved to call themselves brethren, and well they might. Often yielding allegiance to the faith at the expense of the snapping of all earthly ties of blood-relationship (fathers and mothers, wife and children left), they found the ‘manifold more’ in the wider bond of the spiritual family.

II. Equality.—From fraternity we glide into equality. About which latter, a word. In our relation with our God we are equal. But we may not reason from this that we are equal in our mutual relations with each other. Bring back the early Christian communism, it could not last longer than it has lasted. Make men equal to-morrow—‘let us all have one purse’—they would commence diverging the day after. What Christianity does is not to cancel the lowly lot, but to raise and adorn it. Our subject is not ‘no needy in Christ,’ but ‘Christ in the needy.’ Blessed Saviour, how dost Thou assert Thyself in Thy gracious condescension! Never a lowly act of love and help for one of Thy least ones, but is counted by Thee as done to Thyself.

III. Ministering to Christ.—Men’s chances of ministering to Christ were meagre and often missed. May it be given to us to fill up that which is behind. Something we—ay, the least moneyed of us—many do to turn these prisoners of despondency, perhaps of despair, into ‘Prisoners of Hope,’ pointing their drooping hearts to ‘the stronghold’ on which they have long ago turned their backs. Christ in these!

—Bishop Alfred Pearson.

Illustrations

(1) ‘A passage from The Heart of Midlothian has a distinct bearing on this passage in Matthew: “Alas! it is not when we sleep soft and wake merrily ourselves that we think on other peoples’ sufferings. Our hearts are waxed light within us then, and we are for righting our ain wrangs and fighting our ain battles. But when the hour of trouble comes to the mind or to the body … and when the hour of death comes, that comes to high and low … O, … then it isna what we hae dune for oursells, but what we hae dune for others, that we think on maist pleasantly.”’

(2) ‘O that we may feel now the truth that came too late to Amos Barton, in the story, as he stood beside the cold body of his sainted wife: “She was gone from him and he could never show his love for her any more, never make up for omissions in the past by showing future tenderness.” Oh, the bitterness of that midnight prostration upon the grave.… “Milly, Milly, dost thou hear me? I didn’t love thee enongh—I wasn’t tender enough to thee—but I think of it all now.” Yes, it is very touching and very sad. But how much more sad—sad beyond all sadness—to have to say at last, “O Saviour, I never did anything out of love to Thee.”’


Verse 46

ETERNAL PUNISHMENT

‘And these shall go away into everlasting punishment.’

Matthew 25:46

I. A fact.—The revelation of eternal punishment is a fact. Poor humanity has always tried to escape the logic of facts. I cannot see the possibility of evading the conclusion that in some sense of the term what is called eternal punishment is a part of the Christian Revelation (St. Mark 9:45; Revelation 14:10-11; Revelation 20:10).

II. A most difficult fact.—We go on from this to point out that it is not only a fact, but it is the most difficult fact in the Christian religion—quite the most difficult. In the region of abstract thought the subject is finally insoluble, because you get totally different conclusions as you approach the question from opposite standpoints. There is the attempt to solve the problem by the doctrines of Universalism and Conditional Immortality. But many cannot accept any such solution of the difficulty; and so in the region of abstract thought we leave it in that insoluble condition. Only, let us remember that in this respect it stands in a long series of insoluble truths that you must leave to God.

III. To be treated in relation to other facts.—Thirdly, it is a fact which must be treated in relation to other facts. Half the difficulty of the subject of eternal punishment springs from people considering this truth in isolation. All Christian truth is interdependent.

(a) You must treat it in relation to the fact of the existence of an intermediate slate between death and judgment.

(b) We must set it in relation to another fact—the fact of the possibilities of death. Who are we to judge what is going on in those moments of unconsciousness when the soul shows no kind or sort of consciousness of this life, but is perhaps awake to God?

(c) We put it alongside the fact of God’s unerring justice, and the fact that there is much more good than evil in the world.

(d) We also set this side by side with the fact of the Divine Law of excuse. We may not press it too far, but the saying is profoundly true, ‘that to know all is to pardon all.’

(e) So we set it side by side with that, and also side by side with the master thought of the Christian religion—the master thought of the Fatherhood of God. Whatever eternal punishment may be, it cannot conflict with the Fatherhood of God.

The Rev. G. F. Holden.

Illustrations

(1) ‘I know that revelations from saintly individuals are always to be received with a certain amount of reserve, but there is a beautiful revelation of one of God’s saints, where it is said our Lord revealed Himself to her, and told her that whenever a soul was dying on this earth, ere it passed, He revealed Himself in such entrancing love and rapture that it was hardly possible for it to resist Him.’

(2) ‘I cannot better conclude this subject than by giving you that wonderful passage of Faber’s which has comforted so many people who have had to look at this great question. He says: “God is infinitely merciful to every soul. No one ever is, or ever can be, lost by surprise, or trapped in his ignorance; and as to those who may be lost, I confidently believe that our Heavenly Father threw His arms around each created spirit and looked it full in the face with bright eyes of love in the darkness of its mortal life, and that of its own deliberate will and choice it would not have Him.”’

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Matthew 25:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/matthew-25.html. 1876.

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