Mat . Then shall the kingdom of heaven.—The three parables of this chapter appear here as in closest sequence to the great discourse of chap. 24, and are as its natural conclusion (Plumptre). Ten virgins which took their lamps.—According to Rabbinical authority, such lamps carried on the top of staves were frequently used, while ten is the number always mentioned in connection with public solemnities (Edersheim). To meet the bridegroom.—The usual Jewish custom was for the "friends of the bridegroom" to conduct the bride to her husband's home; and when the procession arrived, the bridegroom went forth to lead the bride across the threshold. The imagery of the parable, however, implies that the bridegroom himself went to fetch his bride, perhaps from a great distance, while a group of maidens await his return, ready to welcome him in Oriental fashion with lamps and flambeaux (Carr).
Mat . Slumbered, nodded, and then slept.—The idea intended is, that they did not continue merely nodding; but, falling into deep sleep, they continued sleeping (Morison).
Mat . Wherein the Son of man cometh.—Omitted in R.V. The evidence against the genuineness of these words is decisive (Brown).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mat
Watchfulness.—The first word of this passage connects it with the preceding one in the matter of time. "Then"—at the season just spoken of—when there are reasons for believing that the Saviour is near, but when it is as impossible as ever, for all that, to fix the hour and day of His coming—that is the season referred to here. The last words of the passage show us that its great lesson is also connected with that fact (Mat ). We may look at the parable it contains, therefore, as probably intended on the one band to explain more clearly, and, on the other, to enforce more strongly, that lesson itself.
I. The duty explained.—What is exactly meant by this "watching" thus twice impressed on us here (Mat ; Mat 25:13)? Let this parable teach us. In it those professing to "watch" are represented to us under the figure of "ten virgins," who, knowing that the bridegroom was expected shortly, but not knowing when exactly, "took their lamps"—after the usual custom of marriage feasts—and "went forth to meet him." Of these, it is added that "five were wise" and "five were foolish." In other words, therefore, that five of them were watching in a way that was wise and sensible, and five in a way that was not. Where did the difference lie? We can see, on the one hand, where it did not. It did not turn, e.g., on the question of sleep (Mat 25:5). By "watching," therefore, we are not to understand something beyond the power of man to accomplish—such as being always, as it were, on the stretch, and always, as it were, having the attention consciously fixed on that which was looked for. Neither, we see, does "watching" necessarily mean being always ready for it in look. It was, essential, indeed, that this should be so by the time of its occurrence. All "lamps" had to be "trimmed and burning" by the time the bridegroom "appeared." But it was not necessary that they should be in this condition whilst those who carried them were only waiting his approach; or even that they should be so when the announcement of it was first heard in the streets. Both foolish and wise, on the contrary, are described as "arising and trimming their lamps" when that message falls on their ears (Mat 25:7). "Watching" wisely, therefore, we may say, does not mean openly professing to watch at all seasons and times. On the other hand, it is not difficult to see what is the positive side of this case. What was required was the power of getting ready the moment the necessity for it arose. Some of these watchers had previously taken the measures necessary for this. They had "oil in their vessels"; and so, soon, in their "lamps"; and so, therefore, with a little care and attention, and no great consumption of time, had these burning and bright. Such, of course, were the "wise." On the other hand, there were those who are said to have taken "no oil" in their vessels. These, of course, were the "foolish"—foolish indeed—for they were not able to get ready when the cry of the bridegroom was heard. They could only attempt it, indeed, by leaving their posts; they had no other resource (Mat 25:8-9). This, therefore, was being unwatchful in the sense of our text—being, viz., unpreparable—if we may use such a word.
II. The duty enforced.—This being the thing meant, why is it asked? Rather, perhaps, why should it be done? Three reasons are given. First, because of the simplicity of its nature. Few things could well be easier of accomplishment than the precaution enjoined. The foolish virgins, as well as the wise ones, had the requisite "vessels" for the purpose. It was always as open to them, also, as it was to the others—according to the parable (Mat )—to obtain the requisite "oil." All else that was needed, on any one's part, was the requisite forethought and care. Who could object to being called upon for so little as that? Who ought not, rather, to be full of alacrity in complying therewith (cf. 2Ki 5:13)? Next, because of the importance of observing it. Though thus utterly simple, the precaution in question was by no means to be despised on that ground. On the contrary, like the operation of breathing and the act of partaking of food, it was just one of those exceedingly simple things which are absolutely essential to life. The thing required of the watchers of the parable was to be ready for going in with the bridegroom when he appeared (Mat 25:10). Those without oil in their vessels could not be so prepared in the nature of things. Watchers of this kind, therefore, were no watchers at all in the eyes of the bridegroom. Virgins without lamps at all shone as brightly, and were as useful as they. And all else that they had done simply came to nothing with this precaution left out. Lastly, and most, because of the consequences of neglecting it. These follow, on the one hand, as a matter of reason. What is to be thought of any who deliberately neglect a precaution at once so easy and essential? Of their earnestness? Their sincerity? Their obedience? Their faith? Why should such despisers be allowed afterwards, as it were, to purge their contempt? Would it be fair to others—would it be consistent with rule—would it be right in itself—to allow such to come in? Is it easy, indeed, to believe of such pretended watchers that they are even fit to come in? The very contrary, at any rate, is that which is taught us when we consider this point, on the other hand, as a matter of revelation. What the bridegroom is here represented as saying to these late ones when they ask to come in amounts fully to this: "Verily I say unto you, I know you not" (Mat 25:12). In other words, You have never really been mine; you have only seemed to be such.
Two things seem to come out clearly, in conclusion, as to the watchfulness enjoined on us here.
1. It is to be sought for in the spirit of man.—It is not a thing of the lip—nor yet of the look—nor yet, again, of the limbs. It is that, instead, on which, in secret, all these externalities turn. It is a thing of the heart. There are those who are "looking for and hasting unto" the day of the Saviour (see also 2Ti ). There are those, in other words, who have that within them which will make them able to welcome Christ when He comes. The true watcher—the man who has "oil" in his vessel—is a man who (at least) seeks this above all!
2. It is to be sought for from the Spirit of God.—Nothing was more foolish in these foolish ones than their ignorance of this truth. None but the most infatuated could have said to their fellows, "Give us of your oil." "The anointing from the Holy One" (1Jn ) must not be sought from any one else. No one who so seeks it has truly tasted it yet!
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Mat . Miscellaneous lessons from the parable.
1. The foolish virgins are a warning to all who are tempted to make conversion everything, edification nothing; who cultivate religion for a season and then think they have done enough. The wise are those who recognise that they must have within them that which shall enable them to endure to the end—not only impressions, right impulses, tender feelings, but ineradicable beliefs and principles which will at all times produce all right impulse and feeling.
2. There must be regard paid both to the outward and inward life. The vessel of oil is not enough without the burning lamp; nor the lamp merely lighted and with no supply of oil.
3. That which brings to light the distinction between the wise and foolish virgins is that the bridegroom did not come while all the lamps were yet burning, and that during his delay they all slumbered and slept. This seems to mean no more than that all, having made such preparation as they judged sufficient, "calmly and securely waited the approach of the bridegroom." But the security which is excusable, and the repose which is necessary, to one condition, is in another utter madness. Unconstrained mirth, eager pursuit of business, is one thing in the man who has just examined his books and made arrangements to meet all claims, but it is quite another thing in him who has made no such arrangements and does not know whether he can meet his engagements.
4. We may learn from the slumber of the wise, as well as from the rash sleep of the foolish. There is a kind of sleep in which the sense of hearing, at least, is on the alert, and when by a skilful discrimination, unattainable when awake, the sense takes note only of the one sound it waits for, so that the sound of a distant and watched-for footstep arouses to the keenest watchfulness. If you look on these weary, slumbering virgins, you see the lamps firmly grasped, and when you try to unclasp the slumbering but faithful fingers, every faculty is at once on the alert. So should it be with us; whatever necessary occupation, whatever necessary saturation of our minds with the thoughts of this world's property, turns our direct attention from the approach of our Lord, there should still be an openness of sense in His direction.
5. While they are thus all slumbering, and when their sleep is deepest, when the fatigue of watching is most felt, when things are stillest, and men count upon a few hours' quiet and deliverance from care, "at midnight" the cry is heard, "Behold, the bridegroom cometh!" And now the difference between the really and apparently prepared is manifested. There is something terrible in the security of the foolish, maintained up to the last. They, too, arise and trim their lamps; even though there is nothing but a quenched, foul wick, yet they seem to think still that matters are not so bad. They have but to ask oil of their pleasant companions. Not yet are they aware that their fate is already sealed. And this sudden and appalling reversal of their hopes, this mingling at a marriage-feast of exultant joy and the most melancholy and calamitous ruin, seems intended to fix in our minds an idea opposite to, and that should extirpate the idle fancy that things somehow will come all right; that there is no real need of all this urgent warning and watching; that in a world governed by a good and loving God, and where things are going on now pretty tolerably and so very prosaically, there cannot occur those startling, unnatural, desolating events predicted in God's Word.
6. In these words ("the door was shut") one seems to hear the decisive, final doom of the lost. The time comes when whosoever will shall not be saved; when it will be vain pointing men to the door; when whosoever is outside, there remains.
7. It is foolishness, not wickedness, that is represented in these virgins—that is to say, in those who are represented by them. The wise man is he who shapes his conduct in accordance with the truth of things and with actual facts; the foolish man is he who shuts his eyes to what he does not wish to see, and fancies that somehow, though he can't tell how, things will go all right with him. He is, in fact, like the ostrich who buries his head in the sand and fancies he has escaped, because he has shut his eyes to what is hostile.—M. Dods, D.D.
The lesson of the parable.—Some expositors torment themselves greatly in explaining the lamps, and the vessels, and the oil; but the simple and genuine meaning of the whole is just this, that it is not enough to have a lively zeal for a while. We must have in addition a perseverance that never tires.—John Calvin.
Mat . The midnight summons.—
I. "At midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh." What does this mean? It means, I think, that the indications of the approach of the Second Advent have become so striking and so numerous, that they cannot possibly be misinterpreted or mistaken. The Christian may not, indeed, be able to tell you precisely what these signs may be, but he will be ready to recognise them when they appear.
II. But, in addition to the cry, there is a summons—"Go ye out to meet him." What does this mean? It means, Go forth to receive the recompense of your doings. As the great final coming of Christ was typified and prefigured by His coming in judgment against the devoted city of Jerusalem, so there occur in our own individual experiences events which foreshadow the Advent, and warn us to keep our loins girt about, and our lamps burning. And we can easily understand that, when the end draws nigh; when the signs of the Second Advent, hitherto disregarded, hang in the heavens with the menacing glare of an unmistakable portent; the true child of God, who has watched and waited for the coming of his Lord, will cast a glance over his spiritual condition, and begin to trim his lamp.—G. Calthrop, M.A.
Mat . The foolish virgins excluded.—I. In the words, "the door was shut," considered in reference to those persons who are represented by the "foolish virgins," we have the intimation of a most solemn truth: that to all whose hearts are not truly given to God—to all who are not united to Christ by a living, saving faith—there comes a period after which change is impossible.—
1. In some cases that period is death.
2. In other cases (though these, we trust, are exceedingly few), there seems too much reason to believe that the day of hopeless, irretrievable hardness comes before the termination of the natural life.
3. The Second Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ. To this period especially the parable refers. As the Lord finds us, so we remain for ever.
II. Note, not only the fruitless appeal of the virgins—"Lord, Lord, open to us," but also the reason assigned for their utter rejection: "Verily, I say unto you, I know you not." It is not, then, merely that they have come a moment or two too late,—but it is that their coming late proves that there is an estrangement of heart which separates them from the Saviour. It might seem somewhat hard that the difference of a few minutes more, or a few minutes less, should make all the tremendous difference between an eternity of bliss and an eternity of woe. But the fact is, that in the approach of the foolish virgins after the door was shut, we have a sure indication that that preparation of the heart is lacking in them, which alone could fit them for the enjoyment of the presence of the Lord. They cry, "Lord, Lord, open to us." But why? Not because their hearts are at one with their Master, and they cannot be happy if they are separated from Him whom they love. No; but because they shrink from the outer darkness of the exclusion, and the reproach of conscience to which they find themselves condemned.—Ibid.
Mat . The foolish virgins.—
I. Their neglect.
II. Their unreadiness.
III. Their irretrievable loss.—S. A. Tipple.
Mat . For the kingdom of heaven, etc.—See R.V. Servants.—Slaves. Delivered unto them his goods.—The outward framework of the parable lies in the Eastern way of dealing with property in the absence of the owner. Two courses were open as an approximation to what we call investment. The more primitive and patriarchal way was for the absentee to make his slaves his agents. They were to till his land and sell the produce, or to use the money which he left with them as capital in trading. In such cases there was, of course, often an understanding that they should receive part of the profits, but being their master's slaves, there was no formal contract. The other course was to take advantage of the banking, money-changing, money-lending system, of which the Phœnicians were the inventors, and which at the time was in full operation throughout the Roman empire. The bankers received money on deposit and paid interest on it, and then lent it at a higher percentage, or employed it in trade, or (as did the publicani at Rome) in farming the revenues of a province. This was therefore the natural resource, as investment in stocks or companies is with us, for those who had not energy to engage in business (Plumptre).
Mat . Talents.—Value uncertain.—See note on chap. Mat 18:24.
Mat . An hard man.—The word "hard" points to stiffness of character (Plumptre). Reaping where thou hast not sown.—The sense is obvious: "I knew thou wast one whom it was impossible to serve, one whom nothing would please; exacting what was impracticable, and dissatisfied with what was attainable" (Brown). But Dr. Morison paraphrases thus: "Not only reaping thine own fields, and leaving no gleanings for the poor behind, but unscrupulously passing the boundary line that separates thy fields from the fields of thy neighbours, and thrusting thy sickle, whenever thou hast an opportunity, into their standing corn. Sir, thou art so hard as to be not only ungenerous, but positively unjust." Gathering where thou hast not strawed.—Where thou didst not scatter (R.V.). Gathering into the garner from another's threshing-floor, where thou bast not winnowed (Meyer).
Mat . Thou knewest that I reap, etc.—We must suppose the infusion of such tones as would express the most indignant querying or amazement (Morison).
Mat . Exchangers.—Bankers (R.V.). Literally, "to those who stand at tables," because the bankers had tables before them (Carr). Usury.—Of old just meant interest, and was an unexceptionable term. It denoted the commission that was given for the use of borrowed money (Morison).
Mat . Unto every one that hath, etc.—See note on chap. Mat 13:12.
Mat . Outer darkness, etc.—See note on chap. Mat 8:12.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mat
Diligence.—There is one striking point of resemblance between this portion of Scripture and that which goes before it. Both speak in the same awful way of what follows "the end" (cf. Mat with Mat 24:51). There is one striking point of difference also. Nothing is said here, as so often before (Mat 24:36; Mat 24:42; Mat 24:44; Mat 24:50; Mat 25:13), of the uncertainty of the exact time of "the end." Accordingly, it is not so much watchfulness in waiting for the end, as diligence in preparing for it, that seems insisted on here. "The end being such as it is, do you work meanwhile as men ought to work with such an issue in view." How this should be done is then shown us by showing us, first, How Christ and His church are really related meanwhile; secondly, How some men fancy they are; and thirdly, What this proves of themselves.
I. The real relation (during the Saviour's absence) between Himself and His church.—It is one on His part, in the first place, of absolute sovereignty and authority. God has appointed Him to be "Head over all." Therefore, especially so "to His church" (Eph ). Sooner or later, "all" must bow before Him (Php 2:10). His "people" are expected to acknowledge this now. They are not only His servants—they are "His own servants" (Mat 25:14)—known to be His. His by creation—His by redemption—His by inheritance, too. His very "bondmen," in short. In consequence of this, the relation, on their part, is one of corresponding honour and responsibility. This sovereign Lord puts these His servants into a position of trust. He puts "His goods" in their charge (Mat 25:14). He does so, which is very much more, during His own absence from home (ibid., and end of 15). Also, He does this with a marked amount of discrimination and care. Nothing whatever is laid on any servant beyond his power to discharge. He is too good a Master to desire anything else; too wise to do it. "To every man according to his several ability"; some more, some less; none more than enough (Mat 25:15; cf. Rev 2:24; Joh 16:12, etc.). Hence, therefore, the relation is one involving, next, a solemn day of account. It may be "a long time" before their Master comes back. That is a question with which they have little to do. Matters much too deep for their consideration have to determine that point. What they may be sure of is, that, when He does come, it will be with that object in view. What more befitting, indeed, on both sides of the case, when he who trusts meets those whom he has trusted, than that they should go into the case? And hence, once more, if the issue be favourable, a day of special triumph and joy. The confidence that has been responded to loyally is treated with greater confidence still. The honour that has been honourably dealt with is crowned with more honour still (Mat 25:21; Mat 25:23). How vividly the parable puts this before us! Most of all, perhaps, in the words with which, in all such cases, the Master's recognition concludes. "Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord." Hitherto thou hast found joy in serving Me faithfully. Find it now in taking thy place by My side. What faithful "bondman" can even imagine anything better than this?
II. What is thought about this same relation by some—by some, even, who yet regard themselves as loyal servants and true. One such only—as though even one such were more than enough—is pourtrayed to us here. His thoughts are shown us, on the one hand, by that which he did. Receiving, as he had, only a fractional part—one-half in one case and one-fifth in the other—of the amount received by his fellow-servants, he did not make use even of that which he had. Instead of this, he simply treated it as though it were wholly his own, and not "his lord's money" at all (see Mat ). A line of action significant, of course, of equal hate and mistrust. "I wish that the trust had never been mine. I desire to forget it as far as I can. In any case, let it be out of my sight." This evil servant's thoughts are shown us, on the other hand, and that even more forcibly, by that which he said. See from his words, for example, what he thought of his master, and his relation to himself—viz., as a "hard master" and an unjust one, asking more than he ought (Mat 25:24); and not only so, but as being so much in the habit of doing so, that nothing better was to be looked for at his hands (Mat 25:25). What he thought, on the other hand, of his relation to his master, and of what was due in consequence from himself: "Lo, there thou hast that is thine." In other words, "Thou expectedst me to increase the deposit. I consider that I ought to be thanked for not making it less."
III. What all this proves about such.—How it shows, first, what such "servants" are. How wicked in action!—really "robbing" their Lord, because preventing Him from obtaining what was really His due, and what, also, He would have otherwise gained (Mat, where observe expression σὺν τόκῳ, and cf. 1Co 9:7). How wicked in heart!—their secret slothfulness being really in contempt of their Lord's interests and welfare and will, and due, in fact, to bitter dislike of Himself. How it shows, next, what kind of treatment such servants must expect to receive—how they must expect to be classed, on the one hand, with open transgressors and opponents, and to share the same doom (beginning Mat 25:30; Mat 13:41-42). Also, how awful a doom that is! What terrible loss in it, on the one side (Mat 25:28-29)! What terrible pain on the other (end of Mat 25:30)! And yet, for all that, having a certain awful symmetry and proportion about it! Can even the worst fate be too bad for those who thus, practically, charge unrighteousness upon God?
From these considerations observe:—
1. How serious a thing it is for those who name the name of the Saviour not to be "abounding" in His work. What blindness of judgment, what perversion of will, what blasphemous thoughts, what an awful end, it implies! "She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth."
2. How great a privilege it is for us to be permitted to do anything for Him! To be trusted by Him at all, being such as we are! To have the opportunity, in any manner, of "adorning" His "doctrine"! To be enabled to do so in any degree! And to have the prospect of hearing the least done in this way fully acknowledged at last! Is not this the utmost that any faithful "bondservant" can really desire? Or any prince, indeed, for the matter of that?
3. How wise it is to seek for the guidance of Christ Himself on this point! "Lord, what wouldest Thou have me to do? The direction of our "diligence" is not less important than either its zeal or amount.
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Mat . The talents.—This parable illustrates the great principle which regulates the distribution of rewards and punishments in the kingdom of God—the principle that men shall be judged according to the means at their disposal.
1. The "talents" represent everything over and above natural ability, by which men can advance the interests of the kingdom; position, opportunities, and especially the measure of grace given to each man. All the interests of Christ upon earth are entrusted to His people. And every servant of His is endowed with means enough to accomplish his own share in Christ's work.
2. In order that the judgment may be fair, the reckoning is not made until "after a long time." We are not called upon to show fruit before autumn. The Lord does not quickly return in a captious spirit, but delays till the wise have had time to lay up great gains, and even the foolish to have learnt wisdom. So with ourselves; we cannot complain if strict account be taken at the end, because we really have time to learn how to serve our Lord. We have time to repair bad beginnings, to take thought, to make up in some degree for lost time.
3. It is not without significance that the servant who did nothing at all for his master was he who had received but one talent. No doubt those who have great ability are liable to temptations of their own; they may be more ambitious, and may find it difficult to serve their Master with means which they see would bring in to themselves profits of a kind they covet. But such men are, at all events, not tempted to bury their talent. This is the peculiar temptation of the man who has little ability, and sullenly retires from a service in which he cannot shine and play a conspicuous part.
4. The insolence of this man's words is not intentional. He reads off correctly his own state of mind, and fancies that his conduct was appropriate and innocent. All wrongness of conduct is, at bottom, based on a wrong view of God.
5. But this view of God is unpardonably narrow, and the action flowing from it is, after all, inconsistent. It is unpardonably wrong, and the very heartiness with which these other servants were greeted refutes it. You hear the hearty "Well done!" ringing through the whole palace—there is no hesitating scrutiny, no reminding them they had, after all, merely done what it was their duty to do. Not at all—it is the genial, generous outburst of a man who likes to praise, and hates to find people at fault.
6. There are numberless ways in which the most slenderly equipped among us can fulfil the suggestion here given, and put our talent to the exchangers, into the hands of men who can use it. There is no lack of great works going on for our Lord to which we may safely attach ourselves, and in which our talent is rather used by the leaders of the work, invested for us, than left to our own discretion.
7. The law which is exhibited in this parabolic representation is also explicitly announced in the words: "For unto every one that hath," etc. This may be called the law of spiritual capital.—M. Dods, D.D.
The relation between this parable and the preceding one.—The first represents the church as waiting, the second as working, for her Lord; the first shows the necessity of a constant supply of inward grace, the second the need of unremitting outward activity; the teaching of the first is, "Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life"; of the second, "Do good as ye have opportunity;" "Be faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life." The parable of the Virgins comes appropriately before that of the Talents, inasmuch as a Christian's inner life should be his first care, the outer life being wholly dependent on it. "Keep thy heart with all diligence" is the first command, "Do thy work with all diligence" the second. The first parable calls aloud to every member of the church "Be wise"; the second follows it with another call, as urgent as the first, "Be faithful."—J. M. Gibson, D.D.
Is this another version of the parable of the Pounds (Luk )?—It is a strange instance of superficial reading that it should ever have been supposed to be but another version of Luke's parable of the pounds. The very resemblances of the two are meant to give force to their differences, which are fundamental. They are the converse of each other; that of the pounds teaching that men who have the same gifts entrusted to them may make a widely different use of these, and will be rewarded differently, in strictly graduated proportion to their unlike diligence. The lesson of the parable before us, on the other hand, is that men with dissimilar gifts may employ them with equal diligence; and that, if they do, their reward shall be the same, however great the endowments of one, and slender those of another. A reader who has missed that distinction must be very shortsighted, or sworn to make out a case against the Gospels.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Mat . Industry.—I. Its high importance rests on the fact that it is so plain a duty.
II. It is a duty which is the Divine remedy and safeguard against an infinite amount of evil.
III. It is a duty, with a far-reaching purpose and reward.—E. C. Wickham.
Business.—The busiest are the happiest. "Employment so certainly produces cheerfulness," says Bishop Hall, "that I have known a man come home in high spirits from a funeral because he had the management of it." "Work is the salt of life."—Thwing.
Mat . Omitting small duties.—He who waits to do a great deal at once will never do anything.—S. Johnson.
God can bring large results from small beginnings.—You may count the apples on a tree, but you can never count the trees in an apple. You may count the acorns on an oak, but not the oaks in an acorn. Let no one despise the day of small powers. The clock that will not strike one shall not strike twelve.—Dr. Hurlbut.
Mat . Personal responsibility.—
I. Nature and extent of responsibility.—
1. Proportioned to natural endowments.
2. Its extent determined by possessions.
3. Affected by our relations in life.
4. Is equal to our opportunities.
II. Reckoning with the faithful servant.—
1. Talents the gift of God.
2. Immediate and faithful improvement.
3. Happy account rendered.
4. Approved and rewarded.
III. Reckoning with the unfaithful servant.—
1. His false reasoning.
2. No improvement of the talent.
3. Account rendered with shame and guilt.
4. He was dispossessed and punished.—Homiletic Review.
Mat . Fidelity and recompense.—The teaching of this parable is for us all.
I. It implies a common responsibility for the use of talents which have been universally distributed, although not in equal measure.
II. This responsibility is all-pervading; it extends to the whole man and to the whole life.
III. The recompense of fidelity.—Faithfulness is rewarded:
1. By increased power—every duty performed makes future duty easier.
2. By increased responsibility—found faithful in a farthing, the man is made "ruler over many things." And this is God's law of recompense, to reward work well done by more and greater work.—W. M. Punshon, LL.D.
Mat . The joy of the Lord.—I. The character.—
1. A servant.
2. A good servant.
3. A faithful servant.
4. A diligent servant.
5. A persevering servant.
II. The reward.—
1. The joy of rest.
2. The joy of conquest.
3. The joy of home.
4. The joy of society.
5. The joy of discovery.
6. The joy of his Lord. Joy
(4) arising from the vision and fruition of his Lord,
(5) issuing in the glory of his Lord.
7. Proportionate joy, (Luk, etc.).
8. Uninterrupted joy.
9. Eternal joy.—D. in Wesley Banner.
The faithful servant's reward.—"Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord." The words are almost too strong for the framework of the parable. A human master would hardly use such language to his slaves. But here, as yet more in the parable that follows, the reality breaks through the symbol, and we hear the voice of the Divine Master speaking to His servants and He bids them share His joy, for that joy also had its source (as He told them but a few hours later) in loyal and faithful service, in having "kept His Father's commandments" (Joh ).—E. H. Plumptre, D.D.
Mat . Small capabilities.—I. God gives to some but small capabilities.
II. The purpose which is served in this unequal distribution of gifts.
1. Variety is one great characteristic of God's workmanship.
2. The work for one to do requires the exercise of five talents, the work for another the exercise of only two, and for another the exercise of only one.
III. We must account to God for the use of our two talents, or for the exercise of our one talent, as much as others must account for the exercise of their five talents.
IV. When two talents are faithfully used there is the same commendation and reward as when five talents are faithfully used.—S. G. Matthews, B.A.
Mat . The joy of the Lord.—I. The state of the blessed is a state of joy.—Not only because all tears shall then be wiped away, but all the springs of comfort shall be opened to them, and the fountains of joy broken up; where there is the vision and fruition of God, a perfection of holiness, and the society of the blessed, there cannot but be a fulness of joy.
II. This joy is the joy of our Lord—the joy which He Himself has purchased and provided for them—the joy of the redeemed, bought with the sorrow of the Redeemer; it is the joy which He Himself is in the possession of, and which He had His eye upon when He endured the cross, and despised the shame; it is the joy which He Himself is the fountain and centre of; it is the joy of our Lord, for it is joy in the Lord, who is our exceeding joy.
III. Glorified saints shall enter into this joy; that is, shall have a full and complete possession of it. Here the joy of the Lord enters into His saints, in the earnest of the Spirit; shortly they shall enter into it, and shall be in it to eternity, as in their element.—M. Henry.
Mat . Trifling with talents.—The unprofitable servant.—
I. His character.
II. His condemnation.—Wickedness does not consist in gross sins only. Negative evil is as much a sin as positive, and the sins are more dangerous.
1. Because there is less hope of reformation.—They are mostly fixed with self-conceit.
2. Because they are most numerous.—Every moment unemployed for God is a sin.
3. Because they are hardest to repair.—A lost opportunity never returns.
III. His sentence.—
3. A greater loss, for he had to give up what he had.—B. in Homilist.
Slothfulness linked with a desire to be honest.—There was in this man some sense of right governed by the principle of honesty. But this was not strong enough to conquer the prevailing passion of his life—namely, his sloth-fulness.
I. His honesty is seen in the fact that he considers himself responsible to his master for the talent that had been given him.—If he did not seek to improve his talent, he evidently desired to give it back having the same value as when he got it. This man is the type of the person whom we all know—the easy-going, the inoffensive, and the well-meaning man. He is one who does not care to be troubled much about any religious duty, however pressing it may be. He will place no obstacle in the way of others to do good, but he himself will not move one foot in that direction.
II. His honesty can be seen also in the care that he took not to lose his talent.—He was too fond of ease, idleness had too great a charm for him, to think of making any use of his talent. He wanted to go to heaven, but he would take no yoke, he would bear no burden.
III. Thus far the honesty of this man's conscience has exerted some influence over his life; but the influence has been that of fear, and not of love.—If our religion be a religion of fear merely, it will be barren as this man's was.
IV. This man unwittingly condemns himself in giving in his account.—And so will every man who sins in a similar manner condemn himself, for the excuse framed to shield his slothfulness can never be a valid one.
V. This man is reproved and condemned, not for being a robber, blasphemer, or unbeliever, but for doing nothing.—Slothfulness in spiritual matters is a sin in the sight of God.—W. Collins Davies, B.A.
Mat . When the Son of man shall come, etc.—The paragraph, Mat 25:31-46, is not a parable, as some, inclusive of Townsend and Olshausen, have supposed, but a prophecy. It is a prophecy, however, which is largely imbued with parabolic and dramatic symbolisms; and which, consequently, requires for its interpretation the careful discrimination of substance and form, essence and accident (Morison). His glory.—His personal glory. The throne of His glory.—The glory of His judicial authority (Brown).
Mat . All nations.—Either
(1) all the nations of the world, including the Jews; or
(2) all the Gentiles. The almost invariable use of τὰ ἔθνη to signify the Gentiles; the unconsciousness of service to Christ shown by just and unjust alike; the simplicity of the standard proposed by the Judge, favour the second interpretation. On the other hand, the special warning to the Apostles, and to the Jewish race, in the previous parts of the discourse render it probable that Jews and Christians are not excluded from this picture of the judgment. The unconsciousness of the judged may be referred, not to ignorance of Christ, but to unconsciousness that in relieving the distressed they were actually relieving Christ. The simplicity of the standard may be intended to include what is called "natural" religion, as well as revealed religion. The nations are judged by a standard of justice which all recognise. Read Rom ; Rom 2:9-16 (Carr). As a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats.—The sheep and goats are always seen together under the same shepherd and in company; yet they never trespass on the domain of each other.… When folded together at night they may always be seen gathered in distinct groups; and so, round the wells they appear instinctively to classify themselves apart, as they wait for the troughs to be filled (Tristram). The goat was not in evil repute in the East, as contrasted with the sheep; on the contrary, the he-goat was a symbol of dignity, so that the point of analogy is merely the separation between the sheep and the goats (Carr).
Mat . Ye cursed.—Through their own fault penetrated by the curse of God (Lange).
Mat . Everlasting punishment … life eternal.—Eternal punishment … eternal life (R.V.). The two adjectives represent one and the same Greek word, αἰώνιος, and we ought, therefore, to have the same word in both clauses in the English. Of the two words "eternal" is philologically preferable, as being traceably connected with the Greek, the Latin æternus being derived from ætas, and that from ævum, which, in its turn, is but another form of the Greek αἰὼν (æon) (Plumptre).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Mat
The end itself.—Respice finem. Look to the end. Call no man happy till death. Children and fools should not be allowed to see half-done deeds. All these express what, on a far grander scale, is expressed in this passage. Its whole structure is eschatological in the highest degree. The Son of man has come in His glory; all the holy angels are with Him; all nations are assembled before Him; all the ages of Time are over; nothing remains but to pass sentence on all. What do we learn from it all? Principally, that the end of all things will show all things in a light of its own. This is shown, first, in the view it gives of men's lives; secondly, in the view it gives of men's motives.
I. The view it gives of men's lives.—To us, now, there appear to be many differences—many in number and in importance as well—between one man's life and another's. To us, even the same life appears at times to differ much from itself. "The end" will show us that each individual life should be regarded rather as one. As we, then, "look back" upon it, we shall see this to be true. In much the same way soldiers both see and reckon when the day of battle is over. Either the enemy's position has been captured, or it stands where it did. Either we are in possession of it, or we are not. If not the former, then, whatever the vicissitudes of the interim—not only so, but whatever, also, its gains—the day has been one of defeat. That is its character as a whole. Very similar to this will it be with us all when the individual battle of life is seen in the "perspective" of its end. All other differences and passing distinctions will be lost, then, in this one. All other dissimilarities between man and man will be obliterated in this. The mere "accidents" of comparative wealth and personal advantages and reputation and dignity, will be seen, then, to be such. Did the man succeed, or did he fail, in that which was all-important to his destiny? Did he win the day, or did he lose it, from his point of view as a soldier? That is the distinction—the only distinction—which will be of any weight then. The present parable expresses this with singular force. Its whole final issue is made to depend on the single word "not." There are those who "did." There are those who "did not" (cf. 34-36, 42, 43). Nothing whatever, in distinguishing between them, is mentioned beside of an external description.
II. The view it gives of men's motives.—Why will so much be then made of that outward difference of which we have spoken? Because of the still greater inward difference which it betokens. This is easily seen, on the one hand, in a general way. Why is it that some succeed, and others do not, in the battle referred to? That some "do," and others "do not," the things mentioned by Christ? The answer is to be found, in part, in the respective state of their hearts. One man has chosen the will of God before everything else. The other has chosen something else—be this what it may—in its stead. Naturally, therefore, this latter man has not succeeded in doing God's will. How should he, indeed, if he has only desired it, at best, with part of his heart? Equally naturally, therefore, the other man has been (at least) in the way of success, and has won the day, in short, because, in comparison with the former man, he has given his heart to that task. This is, therefore, one great secret which will be brought out thus at the "end." The man who did not win will be shown, then, to have never really, because never fully, intended to win. But there is another secret, and that a deeper one, which will be brought out at that time. There is, if we may call it so, a highly specialised way of proving the point we are on. On one thing, as it were, above all other things, God has set the stamp of His will; and that is that the fulness of honour should be paid by all to His Son. This will of His has been proclaimed, on the one hand, in heaven above. "Worship Him, all ye gods" (Psa ; Heb 1:6). This, therefore, by implication, is what we are taught to pray for on earth (Mat 6:10). Also, and that as expressly as may be, by Jesus Himself (Joh 5:23). Yet this is just the point, again, as a matter of fact, in which men are most opposed to God's will; as is shown by the way in which they treat the representatives of Christ in the world (see Act 9:5; Psa 105:15, Jerome's translation—Nolite tangere meos Christos"); and as is also implied, on both sides, with great clearness here in Mat 25:40; Mat 25:45. Not, however, that this truth is now seen as it should be on either side of the case. Neither those who do minister, nor those who refuse to minister, to these persons are aware now of the extent to which they are influenced in their conduct by what they discover and perceive in these persons of the image of Christ, and so, therefore, of the will of Him whom Christ alone can fully, and does fully, set forth (Joh 14:8-9). That, on the contrary, is what the day which "declares" all things will alone fully make known; and will make known, also, in such a way as to be an astonishment then unto all (Mat 25:37-39; Mat 25:44), and so, therefore, "reveal" to all men the true character of their lives, and the full extent to which they were opposed to or in harmony with the will of God as declared to men in His Son. "Ye did it to Me." "Ye did it not to Me." That is the summary of the whole. That is what will be shown, then, of the thoughts of us all. Utterly unperceived by most, and only dimly seen by any, before the time of the end, this is one of the first things which the end itself will make at once permanently and undeniably clear.
These things may prepare us, therefore, for what we read finally here about the character of the "end"; how it is marked:—
1. By the idea of separation.—Men will be shown then to have been either with God or else against God, in that which was nearest His heart. How inevitable, therefore, in the "day" which is to put all things right, that such as these should be "divided" asunder (Mat )! How fitting, also, that what is said to them respectively should be the words "come" and "depart" (Mat 25:34; Mat 25:41). And how necessary, once more, that the issues following these should be things as far apart as they can be! Even as far as between a throne (Mat 25:34), on the one hand, and a prison-house (Mat 25:46) on the other.
2. By the idea of duration.—On this most solemn of subjects there seem to be two things to be equally shunned. Over-pressing the language employed, on the one hand. Wresting it, on the other. That the idea of duration is emphatically present cannot be denied (Mat ). That there is nothing in the nature of what is told us, and nothing also in the way in which it is told us, to suggest the idea of termination, seems equally plain. May it not be wisest to leave the subject in that negative form? Even so, it is awful enough!
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Mat . The general judgment.—The following are the prominent dogmatic points.
I. Christ is the Judge of the world.—Cf. Act ; Act 17:31.
II. The judgment shall be exercised by Him upon all mankind.—The general resurrection is included, so that all nations may be assembled.
III. The standard of judgment will be the question, how they reputed and dealt with Christ in the world; how they regulated their conduct toward Him in His own person, and in His unseen life in humanity as the Logos; how, therefore, they honoured or dishonoured the Divine in themselves and in their fellow men; how they showed christological piety in christological humanity; or how, in short, they behaved toward Christ in the widest sense of the word.
IV. The demand of the judgment will be the fruit of faith in Christian love of men, or human love of Christ. Thus not merely
(1) doctrinal faith, or
(2) external works without a root of faith, or
(3) merely individual evidences of good. But decided goodness in its maturity and consistency, as it acknowledged Christ or felt after Him, in all His concealments, with longing anticipations.
V. The specific form of the requirement will be the requirement of the fruit of mercy and compassion; for the foundation of redemption is grace, and faith in redeeming grace must ripen into the fruits of compassion. Sanctified mercy, however, is only a concrete expression for perfected holiness generally, or the sanctification of Christ in the life.
VI. The finished fruit of faith and disposition is identical with the man himself, ripe for judgment.
VII. The judgment appears to be already internally decided by the relation which men have assumed toward Christ, or the character which they have borne; but it is published openly by the separation of those who are unlike, and the gathering together of all who are like; it is continued in the sentence which illustrates the judgment by words, and confirms it by the extorted confession of conscience; it is consummated by the fact of the one company inheriting the kingdom, and the other departing to the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
VIII. This perfected separation implies also the total change of the earth; on the one side the view opens upon the finished kingdom of God; on the other the view opens upon hell, now unsealed for the lost.
IX. The time of the judgment is the final and critical period in which all preparatory judgments are consummated.
1. The judgments of human history in this world.
2. The judgments in Hades in the other world. See Luk .
3. The great judgments which will begin at the manifestation of Christ.—J. P. Lange, D.D.
Mat . The glory of Christ in the judgment.—He will be glorious:—
I. In His power.
II. In His omniscience.
III. In His righteousness.
IV. In His grace.—Niemann.
Mat . The twofold classification.—"I can understand what is to become of the sheep, and I can understand what is to become of the goats; but how are the alpacas to be dealt with?" These words, quoted by a writer in The Nineteenth Century, touch one of the difficulties of the last judgment that has probably occurred at some time or other to most of us. The alpaca is a half-domesticated animal that is pastured in large flocks on the upper ranges of the Andes in Chili and Peru. It has long, lustrous hair, and in many respects is not unlike the sheep. An untravelled Eastern shepherd would probably call it a sheep. At the same time it possesses some of the characteristics of the goat. After all, however, it is neither sheep nor goat, but a species of small camel. By the "alpaca" I suppose the writer meant the man who has admirable and attractive social qualities, but who seems to be almost destitute of religious interest and sympathy and leaning. We do meet with that type of man at times. Now the question arises, Is there a nondescript type in character, corresponding to the alpaca in animal life—a type for which the classification set up in the text provides no appropriate place? A little reflection will enable us to see that Christ's twofold classification—rigid, narrow, unsympathetic, as some men may pronounce it—is sufficiently comprehensive to embrace all stages, and growths, and varieties, of human character.
I. A man cannot live out his span of destiny upon earth, be it long or short, without acquiring for himself clear moral determination in one direction or another.—All supposed alpacas, upon careful examination, will be found to be either slightly-disguised sheep or slightly-disguised goats. High, unselfish, deep-rooted, inward morality is one with the most exalted religion. "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least," etc. The working out of that principle will scarcely leave you room for the alpaca, the unspiritual moralist, the irreproachable worldling, the man who is too good for the left hand, and not quite qualified to take a place on the right.
II. The elements that make and keep a man right in his earthly relationships are essentially one with the elements that make and keep a man right in his heavenly relationships.—The same qualities that will harmonise a man with the demands of his fellow-men will harmonise him likewise with the law and character of the great God. Faith, love, reverence, justice, rectitude, enthusiasm for goodness, steadfast longing and striving to bring benediction into the lives we touch and sway—these are the things needed to make a man all he should be in his relations with his fellow-man, and these are the things needed no less to make a man all he should be in his relations with his God and Father, and Saviour and King.
III. These moral and religious distinctions exist amongst those whose education in spiritual things has been superficial and defective.—The man who has the minimum of religious knowledge may sometimes be a latent Christian. And the other side of the lesson is equally true, a side enforced in the closing sentences of the Sermon on the Mount,—the man who has the maximum of religious knowledge may be a Christian in nobody's judgment but his own.—T. G. Selby.
Mat . Will the final Assize be held on faith or on character?—As a matter of fact, the best public mind under all religions has judged by character, and has done so with a keen sense of justice and a conviction of paramount authority. When the individual has to form an estimate of his neighbour in critical circumstances, he ignores his opinions and weighs his virtues. No one, for instance, would leave his wife and children to a trustee because he happened to be a Trinitarian, but only because his friend was a true man before God. It is a working principle of life that judgment goes by character, and if in the end it should go by faith, it might be in keeping with some higher justice we know not here; but it would cover our moral sense with confusion and add another to the unintentional wrongs men have endured, in this world, at their fellows' hands. It were useless to argue about a matter of which we know nothing, and where speculation is vain. We must simply accept the words of Jesus, and it is an unspeakable relief to find our Master crowning His teaching on character with the scene of the Last Judgment. The prophecy of conscience will not be put to shame, nor the continuity of this life be broken. When the parabolic form is reduced and the accidental details laid aside, it remains that the Book of Judgment is the Sermon on the Mount, and that each soul is tried by its likeness to the Judge Himself. Jesus has prepared the world for a startling surprise, but it will not be the contradiction of our present moral experience; it will be the revelation of our present hidden character.—John Watson, M.A.
Mat . The surprise of the righteous.—
I. The special peculiarity of the persons of whom our Lord here speaks, is that they did not know, that they had no suspicion, that in showing kindness to men, they were showing kindness to Christ. "Lord," they answer, "when saw we Thee?" It is a revelation to them, in the strictest and deepest sense of the word. But who are they? I think we must agree with some of the best commentators, that they are persons who, till the Day of Judgment, have never heard of Christ; but who then, for the first time, as Dean Alford says, "are overwhelmed with the sight of the grace which has been working in upon them and the glory which is now their blessed portion."
II. If this be the true meaning of our Lord's words, what comfort and hope they may give us, when we think, as we are bound to think, if we have a true humanity in us, of the hundreds of millions of heathens now alive, and of the thousands of millions of heathens who have lived and died! The wages of sin are death, and can be nothing else. But may not Christ have His elect among them? May not His Spirit be working in some of them? They are Christ's lost sheep, but they are still His sheep who hear His voice.
III. How shall we know Christ's sheep when we see them? How, but by the very test which Christ has laid down in this very parable?—C. Kingsley, M.A.
Mat . The public adoption.—The Romans had two forms of adoption: one private, the other public. One was at home in the adopter's house. This was the agreement and union between the adopter and the adopted. The other form was in public, in the forum, where, in presence of the people, the adopter took the adopted for his son and heir. Thus God by His Spirit, when we believe in Jesus, receives us and seals us as His children. The public adoption is to come. "We wait for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of the body." When, at the resurrection of the just, Jesus will say, "Come, ye blessed children of My Father," etc. our adoption shall be manifested.—C. Graham.
Mat . Christ the Interpreter of conduct.—It is not simply the idea of modesty that is expressed. Something profounder is suggested. There is a mystery in many of the actions of men which needs the interpretation of the Master.—J. Morison, D.D.
Mat . Our suffering brethren.—Some four days before these words were spoken, one of our Lord's adherents had attempted to set up a rivalry betwixt the claims of his Master and those of the poor, when a warm-hearted woman, moved with gratitude, broke over the feet of Jesus costly spikenard. Judas thought that better use could have been found for the money had it been given in charity. It was then, and it is still, a very false sentiment which would attempt to make competing claims out of what is due to God's worship on the one hand and to the service of suffering humanity on the other. Such an unseemly competition as this has no real existence. Edward Irving had it engraved on the silver plate of his congregation that when the offerings of the people no longer sufficed for the wants of God's poor ones, the sacred vessels were to be melted down to supply the deficiency. And he was right; it is the mind of the Master. Christ has expressly transferred to the honest and suffering poor His own claims on the devotion of His people.
I. Our suffering brothers are to us in the room of Christ.—Why does Christ thus find His true representatives in men who suffer? It is not a question very easy to answer. If He meant these words to be strictly confined to the pious, then that would be enough—we should not need to inquire further; but I am not at all satisfied that we are entitled to limit His words so narrowly. Am I to ask, "Is this poor creature a Christian?" before I relieve him for Christ's sake? Or does Jesus not care to reward your kindness if you show it to the unbeliever? We must try to understand on what ground it is that the great Lord of men, the Saviour and Friend of all men, identifies Himself with every human being, and with those human beings most of all who are afflicted.
1. He chose to be Himself a sufferer, poor, and "acquainted with grief"; and, I suppose, the recollection of His own straitened lot will teach Him to care most for those who are in like case.
2. Our Saviour's design in coming here at all was to be a healer, a rescuer, a comforter for mankind.—He is the ideal Man, the representative Sufferer for all mankind. "Do it to any of them, you do it unto Me."
II. The advantage of this arrangement.—
1. To Christ's people.—More or less in the case of every Christian who fairly comes within the spell of it, the love of Christ has become the master passion, and the most effective and enduring of all inducements known to human history. Now consider how great the misfortune would have been if Jesus, after evoking, creating such a tremendous force as this, had not yoked it to any practical service or utility. Like all wasted religion of enthusiasm, it must have spent itself in a mischievous asceticism or a mischievous fanaticism. Christ does not bid you spend your strength in building cathedrals, or chanting Te Deums. No; you may quite lawfully do all that if you like, and more, in His honour; but if you really want to please Him, then His directions are very simple. He bids you feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and heal the sick.
2. To the afflicted members of the race.—Are you surprised that Christ should champion so magnificently the classes whom society is wont to hustle out of sight? I am not: it is just like Him! But it surprises me exceedingly that the very classes for whom He claims everything that He might have claimed for Himself are grown in a large measure to forget Christ and to despise His name.—J. O. Dykes, D.D.
Mat . Everlasting punishment.—I. Man's conscience, until he deadens it. speaks out clearly, that punishment is the due reward of our deeds.—But of what duration? All knowledge as to eternity must come from the Eternal, whose it is. It is a common formula of those who venture to object anything to God's revelation—it is inconceivable that God should visit passing acts of sin with an eternity of misery. But who so revealed to us that sin ceases in the evil, when life ceases? Never do men abandon sin, except by receiving God's converting grace. To sin on is nature. It grows, deepens, hardens, becomes more malignant, more ingrained, more a part of man's self until the hour of death. Why, unless changed even then by the grace of God, should it change in eternity?
II. Unchangeableness may be, for what we know, one of the laws of eternity.—We know that it shall be of the blessed. Heaven could not be heaven unless they were fixed in good. And it may be an equal law of our moral nature that those who reject God in time, even to the end, will, by a continuance of that same fixed will, reject Him everlastingly.
III. Place alone does not make heaven or hell.—Hell, with the love of God, were as heaven: without the love of God, it may be, it seems even probable, that heaven would be the worst hell. As we see in Satan, the sinner, even apart from God's judgments on sin, carries about within him his own hell.
IV. Never will you know anything of the depth of sin, or of the deeper depth of the love of Christ or of God, until you not only believe in the abstract, but accustom yourselves to think of that awful doom, to which each wilful rejection of God's voice in your conscience, was dragging you.—E. B. Pusey, D.D.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Matthew 25". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany