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Bible Commentaries

J. C. Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels

Matthew 25

Verses 14-30

THE parable of the talents which we have now read is near akin to that of the ten virgins. Both direct our minds to the same important event, the second advent of Jesus Christ. Both bring before us the same persons, the members of the professing Church of Christ. The virgins and the servants are one and the same people,—but the same people regarded from a different point, and viewed on different sides. The practical lesson of each parable is the main point of difference. Vigilance is the key note of the first parable, diligence that of the second. The story of the virgins calls on the Church to watch, the story of the talents calls on the Church to work.

We learn, in the first place, from this parable, that all professing Christians have received something from God. We are all God’s "servants." We have all "talents" entrusted to our charge.

The word "talents" is an expression that has been curiously turned aside from its original meaning. It is generally applied to none but people of remarkable ability or gifts. They are called "talented" people. Such an use of the expression is a mere modern invention. In the sense in which our Lord used the word in this parable, it applies to all baptized persons without distinction. We have all talents in God’s sight. We are all talented people.

Anything whereby we may glorify God is a talent. Our gifts, our influence, our money, our knowledge, our health, our strength, our time, our senses, our reason, our intellect, our memory, our affections, our privileges as members of Christ’s Church, our advantages as possessors of the Bible,—all, all are talents. Whence came these things? What hand bestowed them? Why are we what we are? Why are we not the worms that crawl on the earth? There is only one answer to these questions. All that we have is a loan from God. We are God’s stewards. We are God’s debtors. Let this thought sink deeply into our hearts.

We learn in the second place, that many make a bad use of the privileges and mercies they receive from God. We are told in the parable of one who "digged in the earth and hid his Lord’s money." That man represents a large class of mankind.

To hide our talent is to neglect opportunities of glorifying God, when we have them. The Bible-despiser, the prayer-neglecter, and the Sabbath-breaker,—the unbelieving, the sensual, and the earthly-minded,—the trifler, the thoughtless, and the pleasure-seeker,—the money-lover, the covetous, and the self-indulgent,—all, all are alike burying their Lord’s money in the ground. They have all light that they do not use. They might all be better than they are. But they are all daily robbing God. He has lent them much and they make Him no return. The words of Daniel to Belshazzar, are strictly applicable to every unconverted person: "the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified." (Daniel 5:23.)

We learn in the third place, that all professing Christians must one day have a reckoning with God. The parable tells us that "after a long time the lord of those servants came, and reckoned with them."

There is a judgment before us all. Words have no meaning in the Bible, if there is none. It is mere trifling with Scripture to deny it. There is a judgment before us according to our works, certain, strict, and unavoidable. High or low, rich or poor, learned or unlearned, we shall all have to stand at the bar of God and to receive our eternal sentence. There will be no escape. Concealment will be impossible. We and God must at last meet face to face. We shall have to render an account of every privilege that was granted to us, and of every ray of light that we enjoyed. We shall find that we are dealt with as accountable and responsible creatures, and that to whomsoever much is given, of them much will be required. Let us remember this every day we live. Let us "judge ourselves that we be not condemned of the Lord."

We learn, in the fourth place, that true Christians will receive an abundant reward in the great day of reckoning. The parable tells us that the servants who had used their Lord’s money well, were commended as "good and faithful," and told to "enter into the joy of their Lord."

These words are full of comfort to all believers, and may well fill us with wonder and surprise. The best of Christians is a poor frail creature, and needs the blood of atonement every day that he lives. But the least and lowest of believers will find that he is counted among Christ’s servants, and that his labor has not been in vain in the Lord. He will discover to his amazement, that his Master’s eye saw more beauty in his efforts to please Him, than he ever saw himself. He will find that every hour spent in Christ’s service, and every word spoken on Christ’s behalf, has been written in a book of remembrance. Let believers remember these things and take courage.—The cross may be heavy now, but the glorious reward shall make amends for all. Well says Leighton, "Here some drops of joy enter into us, but there we shall enter into joy."

We learn in the last place, that all unfruitful members of Christ’s Church will be condemned and cast away in the day of judgment. The parable tells us that the servant who buried his master’s money, was condemned as "wicked," "slothful," and "unprofitable," and cast into "outer darkness." And our Lord adds the solemn words, "there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

There will be no excuse for an unconverted Christian at the last day. The reasons with which he now pretends to satisfy himself will prove useless and vain. The Judge of all the earth will be found to have done right. The ruin of the lost soul will be found to be his own fault. Those words of our Lord, "thou knewest," are words that ought to ring loudly in many a man’s ears, and prick him to the heart. Thousands are living at this day without Christ and without conversion, and yet pretending that they cannot help it. And all this time they know in their own conscience that they are guilty. They are burying their talent. They are not doing what they can. Happy are they who find this out betimes. It will all come out at the last day.

Let us leave this parable with a solemn determination, by God’s grace, never to be content with a profession of Christianity without practice. Let us not only talk about religion, but act. Let us not only feel the importance of religion, but do something too. We are not told that the unprofitable servant was a murderer, or a thief, or even a waster of his Lord’s money. But he did nothing,—and this was his ruin. Let us beware of a do-nothing Christianity. Such Christianity does not come from the Spirit of God. "To do no harm," says Baxter, "is the praise of a stone, not of a man."

Verses 31-46

IN these verses our Lord Jesus Christ describes the judgment-day, and some of its leading circumstances. There are few passages in the whole Bible more solemn and heart-searching than this. May we read it with the deep and serious attention which it deserves.

Let us mark in the first place, who will be the Judge in the last day. We read that it will be "the Son of Man," Jesus Christ Himself.

That same Jesus who was born in the manger of Bethlehem, and took upon Him the form of a servant,—who was despised and rejected of men, and often had not where to lay His head,—who was condemned by the princes of this world, beaten, scourged, and nailed to the cross,—that same Jesus shall Himself judge the world, when He comes in His glory. To Him the Father hath committed all judgment. (John 5:22.) To Him at last every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that He is Lord. (Philippians 2:10-11.)

Let believers think of this, and take comfort. He that sits upon the throne in that great and dreadful day will be their Saviour, their Shepherd, their High Priest, their elder Brother, their Friend. When they see Him, they will have no cause to be alarmed.

Let unconverted people think of this, and be afraid. Their judge will be that very Christ, whose Gospel they now despise, and whose gracious invitations they refuse to hear. How great will be their confusion at last, if they go on in unbelief and die in their sins! To be condemned in the day of judgment by any one would be awful. But to be condemned by Him who would have saved them will be awful indeed. Well may the Psalmist say, "Kiss the Son lest he be angry." (Psalms 2:12.)

Let us mark, in the second place, who will be judged in the last day. We read that before Christ "shall be gathered all nations."

All that have ever lived shall one day give account of themselves at the bar of Christ. All must obey the summons of the great King, and come forward to receive their sentence. Those who would not come to worship Christ on earth, will find they must come to His great assize, when He returns to judge the world.

All that are judged will be divided into two great classes. There will no longer be any distinction between kings and subjects, or masters and servants, or dissenters and churchmen. There will be no mention of ranks and denominations, for the former things will have passed away. Grace or no grace, conversion or unconversion, faith or no faith, will be the only distinctions at the last day. All that are found in Christ will be placed among the sheep at His right hand. All that are not found in Christ will be placed among the goats at His left. Well says Sherlock, "Our separations will avail us nothing, unless we take care to be found in the number of Christ’s sheep, when He comes to judgment."

Let us mark, in the third place, in what manner the judgment will be conducted in the last day. We read of several striking particulars on this point. Let us see what they are.

The last judgment will be a judgment according to evidence. The works of men are the witnesses which will be brought forward, and above all their works of charity. The question to be ascertained will not merely be what we said, but what we did,—not merely what we professed, but what we practiced. Our works unquestionably will not justify us. We are justified by faith without the deeds of the law. But the truth of our faith will be tested by our lives. Faith which has not works is dead, being alone. (James 2:20.)

The last judgment will be a judgment that will bring joy to all true believers. They will hear those precious words, "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom." They will be owned and confessed by their Master before His Father and the holy angels. They shall find that the wages He gives to His faithful servants are nothing less than "a kingdom." The least, and lowest, and poorest of the family of God, shall have a crown of glory, and be a king.

The last judgment will be a judgment that will bring confusion on all unconverted people. They will hear those awful words, "Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire." They will be disowned by the great Head of the Church before the assembled world. They will find that as they would sow to the flesh, so of the flesh they must reap corruption. They would not hear Christ, when He said "Come unto me, and I will give you rest," and now they must hear Him say, "Depart, into everlasting fire." They would not carry his cross, and so they can have no place in his kingdom.

The last judgment will be a judgment that will strikingly bring out the characters both of the lost and saved. They on the right hand, who are Christ’s sheep, will still be "clothed with humility." They will marvel to hear any work of theirs brought forward and commended.—They on the left hand, who are not Christ’s, will still be blind and self-righteous. They will not be sensible of any neglect of Christ, "Lord," they say, "when saw we thee,—and did not minister unto thee?" Let this thought sink down into our hearts. Characters on earth will prove an everlasting possession in the world to come. With the same heart that men die, with that heart they will rise again.

Let us mark, in the last place, what will be the final results of the judgment day. We are told this in words that ought never to be forgotten, "the wicked shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal."

The state of things after the judgment is changeless and without end. The misery of the lost, and the blessedness of the saved, are both alike forever. Let no man deceive us on this point. It is clearly revealed in Scripture. The eternity of God, and heaven, and hell, all stand on the same foundation. As surely as God is eternal, so surely is heaven an endless day without night, and hell an endless night without day.

Who shall describe the blessedness of eternal life? It passes the power of man to conceive. It can only be measured by contrast and comparison. An eternal rest, after warfare and conflict,—the eternal company of saints, after buffeting with an evil world,—an eternally glorious and painless body, after struggling with weakness and infirmity,—an eternal sight of Jesus face to face, after only hearing and believing,—all this is blessedness indeed. And yet the half of it remains untold.

Who shall describe the misery of eternal punishment? It is something utterly indescribable and inconceivable. The eternal pain of body,—the eternal sting of an accusing conscience,—the eternal society of none but the wicked, the devil and his angels,—the eternal remembrance of opportunities neglected and Christ despised,—the eternal prospect of a weary, hopeless future—all this is misery indeed. It is enough to make our ears tingle, and our blood run cold. And yet this picture is nothing, compared to the reality.

Let us close these verses with serious self-inquiry. Let us ask ourselves on which side of Christ we are likely to be at the last day. Shall we be on the right hand, or shall we be on the left? Happy is he who never rests till he can give a satisfactory answer to this question.

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Bibliographical Information
Ryle, J. C. "Commentary on Matthew 25". "J. C. Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ryl/matthew-25.html.