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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Matthew 25". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ sbc/ matthew-25.html.
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Matthew 25". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
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The kingdom of Heaven has a strange fulness of meaning in the Scriptures, and must be understood to signify something quite different from the company of those who may call themselves saints, or may truly be saints, in any particular age. These last are "the children of the kingdom," but do not define its limits. It is a state; as real and complex as earthly commonwealths; it is the government of a King over masses of various character and worth.
I. The Creator is already the rightful King of all the human beings in the world. This may seem to many a superfluous truism; but there is a theology which leads to the impression that the revolted world had been abandoned by its sovereign, and was made over by him to the prince of evil, to govern and torment at his will. God has never renounced His rights, has never ceased to treat the devil as an usurper; prophets have never ceased to prophesy that the tyrant would be driven from his usurped dominion, and that the reign of the true King would be restored. God sent His Son to declare His forgotten Name, and to recover His lost sway over human hearts.
II. Christ was the newest King. He claimed an empire over a world which He had saved by suffering, and redeemed by a bloody death. Christ was the oldest King. The races over which He sought to establish a spiritual empire had been His from the first hour of their birth. The kingdom which He establishes by the proclamation of His Name as King and His right of rule is but the resurrection in a diviner, a transfigured, form of the most ancient reign of God over all His worlds. The essential character of the Kingdom of Christ is spiritual; it subsists in the personal conscious relation of the individual soul to Him, its Redeemer and its Lord. But it cannot forget the older, universal reign of God over creation which sin had spoiled; it yearns to re-establish it, and claims, in right of that elder kingdom, vast multitudes as its subjects who have not yet accepted its conditions and vowed fealty to its King. A consideration of the parables of the seed-field, the net, the virgins, the servants, will show that within the broad circle of the kingdom of Heaven are to be found men of all classes and characters lovers of Christ and haters of Christ, faithful servants and false, wise bridemaidens and foolish to an extent which it appears to me can only be explained upon the supposition that wherever the Gospel of the kingdom is proclaimed Christ considers that His kingdom is set up, and that men enter into new and more solemn relations of responsibility, through knowing the name, character, and claims of the one true King.
J. Baldwin Brown, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ix., p. 65.
The Work of the Kingdom of Heaven.
I. Every member of the community in this Christian land sustains most solemn and pregnant relations to Christ, belongs to Him by the most sacred of obligations, and wrongs Him of His own by refusing to heed His voice and obey His word. That poor ragged beggar who runs before you to sweep the specks of mud out of the crossing, or hangs outside the door while you take your noonday meal, is mixed up with you inextricably in the great system of the Gospel dispensation; he has new relations, responsibilities, and destinies, because that Gospel which makes you a man, a partaker of the Divine nature, has come here. Regard him tenderly, regard him reverently; for such an one Christ died, and to such an one Christ is opening His arms and crying: "Come hither, and I will give thee rest." The outcasts in a Christian country are Christ's poor.
II. With such, the kingdom of Heaven has specially concerned itself in all countries and in all ages of the Gospel dispensation. Up to the dispensation of the kingdom of Heaven there had been a constant drawing off of the wise and earnest from the poor, ignorant, and depraved, who were left pitilessly by the pagan system to their hopeless lot. Under the "kingdom" there has been a constant drawing up of the poor, ignorant, and depraved into the higher brotherhoods of humanity; and class after class, stratum after stratum of the lower levels of manhood have been built in with the finest, to the strengthening of the unity and the embellishment of the beauty of the temple of the Church.
III. The great instrument of Christ in raising them, the organ of administration and government in His Kingdom, is the loving voice and the helping hand of the Church. I regard the spiritual men and women in England as His government and administration in His kingdom; by whose wise efforts His subjects are to be instructed, elevated, purified, and brought to submit personally, with free, willing hearts, to His loving rule. Wherever He proclaims His Kingdom He makes provision for its complete subjection to Himself. Christ has agencies at His command, and under His control, for the work of the Kingdom, for making a complete conquest wherever He has proclaimed His name; and these agencies have one feature in common they are all living souls, and use only a man's instruments: eye, voice, and hand.
J. Baldwin Brown, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ix., p. 88.
Reference: Matthew 25:1 Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iv., p. 138.
I. The main difficulty of interpretation in this parable is to understand what is meant by the wise and foolish virgins respectively; and also what is meant by the "taking oil in their vessels with their lamps." In the meaning of those expressions lies the key to the passage. It seems of very inferior importance to determine why the precise number ten should be specified; and why there should be an exactly equal division into five wise and five foolish. Ten persons in Jewish usage were regarded as forming a company. It was our Lord's intention, as I take it, simply to indicate that there was a division; that amongst the persons represented by the term "virgins," there was such an essential difference of character, as led to an ultimate difference of destiny. Some interpreters have imagined that we are to understand the ten virgins to be, all of them, genuine and sincere followers of the Lord Jesus Christ; but that a certain proportion through ignorance or carelessness or want of watchfulness or blamable misreading of the statements of Holy Writ have suffered themselves to lapse into a state of unreadiness for the coming of Christ; that this their unreadiness is punished by a temporary exclusion from the best and choicest blessings into which the Lord will introduce His waiting people; but that inasmuch as they have really the root of the matter in them, are really subjects of the converting grace of God, they will, though excluded from the primary privilege, enter at last into the happiness of the eternal kingdom. This view, however, it appears to me, is not contained in the passage before us; our Saviour says to the foolish virgins: "I know you not."
II. The company of ten virgins represents the body of professing Christians, just such as are found assembled together on the Lord's Day in the Lord's house. By the fact of uniting for public worship, they all carry the lamp of outward profession. But there was a difference in the company. Five were wise and five were foolish. All carried the lamp, the symbol of outward profession; but only a certain number carried oil in their vessels, the symbol of the inward spiritual life. The wise virgins are those who, being united by a living faith to the living Saviour, have access to a fountain of grace, which shall never fail. The foolish are those who have no such close and intimate relation to the Saviour. They may be able to give definitions, and to discourse upon doctrines; but their faith is dead, being without works. They have merely the lamp of outward profession, without the oil of the inward spiritual life.
G. Calthrop, Pulpit Recollections, p. 222.
Reference: Matthew 25:1-10 . Parker, Cavendish Pulpit, p. 85.
Here is one of the larger and grander pictures in this gallery of various glory. It is sublime in its ample outline, and exquisitely tender in its details. It is charged with many precious lessons, which flow freely at the gentlest touch; and it is cruel to put it to the torture, to compel it to give meaning which it never received from its Author.
I. I think no symbolic significance should be attributed to the virgins, as such, in the interpretation of the parable: It is when they take their lamps and go forth to meet the Bridegroom that they first acquire a spiritual significance. The whole group represent that portion of any community who hear the Gospel, accept its terms, and profess to be the disciples of Christ.
II. "To meet the Bridegroom," the parable and the discourse which precedes it bear upon Christ's Second Coming and the attitude which becomes His disciples in prospect of that decisive event. They who have been washed in His blood love His appearing. When the cry was heard all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. When life is closing behind, and eternity opening before us, we are all aroused. Every one who has a lamp hastens then to examine its condition and stimulate its flame; all who have borne Christ's Name search themselves to see whether they are ready for His presence. There is no visible distinction at this stage between those who have only a name that they love, and those who have attained also the new nature; all bestir themselves to examine the ground of their hope, and the state of their preparation.
III. At this point the decisive difference which existed in secret long before, emerges into view. The foolish virgins, having no oil in separate vessels, could not keep the flame of their lamps any longer alive. Both classes had a profession; the formalists had a profession and nothing more. How fondly the empty, in such a crisis, lean on the full! Alas! even the full is but a little vessel filled by Christ. That vessel is not a spring; the saved sinner is not a saviour of sinners. If you neglect the Son of God while He stands at the door and knocks, in vain will you apply to a godly neighbour, after the day of grace is done.
IV. The foolish virgins went away after midnight to seek a supply of oil; but we are not informed whether or not they obtained it. The omission is significant; this word of Jesus gives no encouragement to delay in the matter of the soul's salvation; not a ray of hope is permitted to burst through the gloom that shrouds these hapless wanderers. The sole lesson of the parable is a simple sublime warning that sinners should close with Christ now, lest they should be left to invoke His Name in vain at the hour of their departure.
W. Arnot, The Parables of Our Lord, p. 282.
I. The Bridegroom. He represents our Lord Jesus Christ, the Divine Head and loving Husband of that Church which is His Bride the union which faith forms between Him and His people being represented as a marriage. It is one of love; for though a wealthy marriage to the Bride, it is, on her part as well as on His, one of endearment. "We love Him because He first loved us." It is one which grim death shall never dissolve and leave Christ's Church a mourning widow.
II. The Virgins. They stand here as the representatives of the visible Church of every Church and congregation of professing Christians a picture, then, which should fill many of us with alarm, and set all to the task of examining the foundation of their hopes, in the view of death and judgment.
III. The Sleep of the Virgins. The scene is one of repose no sounds but measured breathing; and by the lamps dimly burning ten forms are seen stretched out in various attitudes, but all locked in the arms of sleep. How unlike sentinels; watchers; persons watching a Bridegroom's arrival, and ready at any moment for the call to go forth to meet Him! They sleep like infants who have nothing to do or care for; or like sons of toil at the close of day, when their day's work is done. (1) The sleep of the wise virgins may indicate that peace which they are invited and entitled to enjoy, who have sound scriptural, indubitable evidence in their hearts and lives, that justified by faith they are at peace with God and so, as St. Paul says, may "be careful for nothing." If that is what is meant by their sleeping, let those whom they represent sleep on and take their rest. (2) By the sleeping, as well of the wise as of the foolish, our Lord perhaps teaches what the best will be readiest to admit that even God's people are not so watchful as they ought to be and would be, were they constantly to live under the feeling that they know neither the day nor the hour when the Son of Man cometh.
IV. The Suddenness of the Bridegroom's Coming. Night is the most common period for dying. It is most frequently at what is called the turn of the night that, in those rooms whose lighted windows contrast with darkened streets, and within whose walls spectators watch through their tears the last throes of expiring nature, the cry arises: "Behold, the Bridegroom cometh!" In various ways it belongs, if I may say so, to the chapter of accidents, whether our death may not be as sudden and unexpected as the coming of the Bridegroom here, or as the Second Advent, in which our Lord shall appear with the surprise of a thief in the night. What may happen any day, it is certainly wise to be prepared for every day.
T. Guthrie, The Parables in the Light of the Present Day, p. 33.
The parable of the Ten Virgins is one spoken by our Lord towards the close of His public ministry, when, with the Cross only a little in advance, He gave utterance to the most solemn warnings concerning His coming again in glory and might.
I. (ver. 1) The general significance of the opening description is so plain as hardly to admit of diversity of opinion. The characteristics of those belonging to Christ's Church are expectations of Christ's coming in glory, dedication to the duty of giving Him a joyous welcome, and preparation for such a welcome. The Church on the earth is a testimony concerning a great future, a witness to the promise of Christ's reappearance, with throngs of attendants, as a bridegroom in the midst of his marriage rejoicings. This expectation is professed by all who declare themselves disciples of the Lord Jesus. That the lighted lamp does not mean spiritual life in the soul seems clearly proved by many considerations. The use of these lighted lamps is restricted to a special season, and has its significance determined by this fact. The lamps are naturally accompaniments on account of the need for going out in the darkness of night. They were to add to the expected effect of the welcome only on account of the darkness. Again, the lamp is a merely external accession to be used for a time and then laid aside. The lamp or light is outward profession of personal expectation of the coming of the Lord.
II. (vers. 2-4) As the virgins came forth they appeared a united band, sharing in the same expectations, interested in the same great event. But there were marked differences in their preparations. There was folly as well as wisdom apparent a true preparedness on the part of some, but partial preparation in the case of others, really preparing for disappointment.
III. (ver. 5) Our Saviour places before our view a threefold representation of human history as connected with His mission of mercy and love: (1) The period of busy preparation in prospect of His coming; (2) the sleep of death, traces of previous profession and activity lying around the resting-place; (3) the coming of our Lord in glory.
IV. (ver. 9) It is thus that the Lord sketches the crisis, which He anticipates with certainty, and of which He has always spoken with utmost solemnity. The preparation of the lifetime is the measure of preparedness at the resurrection. At whatever time the Lord may come, mere profession cannot endure. This will first be recognized by the men themselves who have made the profession, and on that ground alone have cherished the hope of sharing in the rejoicing. It will be recognized by themselves even before it is condemned by the Lord; arising from the dead they shall find their profession itself ready to expire.
V. (vers. 11, 12) Interpretation here requires that due weight be given to what is unsaid as well as to what is spoken. On the foolish virgins' part there is the absence of confession while there is the utterance of entreaty. On the Bridegroom's part there is no expression of His own will or determination, but a declaration of fact as to the relation of the suppliants to Himself. These features in the parable are full of meaning. Receiving such instruction as we have here, we are standing beyond the region where profession of friendship is of value, whether sincere or insincere. We are on the threshold of the scene of rejoicing, where friendship is tested by precious intercourse, where the gladness is that of reunion, and the festal company are united to their Lord by a thousand ties of cherished association. To have been known unto the Lord, and have had the relationship of friends in former times, is security for admission here; to have been a stranger to Him, with no prior fellowship, is to make admission impossible.
H. Calderwood, The Parables of Our Lord, p. 383.
The Ten Virgins.
I. God's children are wise; the rest are foolish. (1) They see things as they truly are. (2) They do not rest in knowledge. (3) They live for eternity. (4) They are like God.
II. The wise and foolish are alike in many things. (1) They enjoy the same ordinances. (2) They use the same speech. (3) They utter the same prayers. (4) They have the same outward behaviour.
III. There is a difference. Professors are often striven with by the Spirit still. (1) They are not taught by the Spirit. (2) They are not dwelt in by the Spirit.
R. M. McCheyne, Additional Remains, p. 455.
References: Matthew 25:1-13 . Homiletic Magazine, vol. vii., p. 225; A. Mursell, Calls to the Cross, p. 224; Christian World Pulpit, vol. v., p. 179; A. B. Bruce, Parabolic Teaching of Christ, p. 496; M. Dods, The Parables, p. 235; W. M. Taylor, Parables of Our Saviour, p. 164.Matthew 25:1-30 . Contemporary Pulpit, vol. viii., p. 179. Matthew 25:3 . Christian World Pulpit, vol. xii., p. 286. Matthew 25:4 . R. W. Evans, Parochial Sermons, vol. ii., p. 219.
Maiden Spirits waiting for Happy Life.
I. Men are always discussing questions of time how long the world has lasted, or will last; the day of judgment, questions of futurity in one shape or another; in fact, putting off getting their thoughts away from the present, which contains for them all that is to come. There are three remarkable parables which turn on this unwillingness of man to live in the present, because the future seems far off. They are all spoken by our Blessed Lord in His solemn prophecy concerning the last day, when He is warning us that there are many last days, many waves and tides of judgment fulfilled, all belonging to the same great ocean of judgment. The first parable deals with men in power who think their Lord is out of the way, and misuse their power. The second, of the ten virgins, deals with the enthusiasm and love which sleeps, because the end is not soon. The third deals with the lack of purpose and unwilling heart, the slackness, which will not work when the Master's eye is away. The kernel of all is, that there seems to be delay, that this causes false security, and that an unexpected presence brings to an end the delusion.
II. In the parable of the Ten Virgins we see a happy company of the young, waiting for a happy festival of life, full of love and joy. The Bridegroom is coming, and they are the friends of the Bride. The picture, drawn of life, is bright and triumphant, full of excitement and hope and eager longing; and aft this happiness is to come soon. The lamps imply that all the external agencies necessary were given them; all the outward means of grace, teaching and teachers, religious training, sacraments, Scriptures every outward and visible means by which inward and spiritual grace is conferred; whilst the oil is the inner truth of life, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the real qualities which are kept alive by outward good.
III. So this happy company wait for a happier end. Whether we are stewards in authority, or maiden spirits waiting for a happy triumph of good, or traders set to work with toil and risk, it is all the same: the great Lord tarries long in our opinion, because we know not that an everlasting presence of judgment and life is on us, whether we see it or whether we do not.
E. Thring, Uppingham Sermons, vol. ii., p. 1.
Noble Dreams are True.
I. Our Lord puts before us the unflinching truth when He tells us that all slumbered and slept. The mere enthusiasm and youthful fire does always in all cases die out. When the weary delays and monotonous evils of life come, all that freshness of spirit and untried grandeur of thought, goes. Day after day disappointment and petty trials dim the brightness of early hope; and if there is nothing gained before this takes place, nothing is left. All sleep good and evil alike. And how striking a picture this is of what we see and feel daily; time drags heavily; nothing great happens; the Bridegroom tarries; every crisis is a sort of coming of the Bridegroom; but there is no crisis. The very coldness of night tends to sleep; the want of light tends to sleep; the tiresomeness tends to sleep; and personal comfort and a certain unwillingness to move naturally comes after the bright activity, and watchful eagerness, and restless longings, of the young earnest life as yet untried.
II. Then comes the great warning of the parable, the dividing line. The dull, tiresome hours pass on, and all seem equally off their guard; when, all of a sudden, an unexpected crisis bursts on these sleepers, and the sleepy hours. The sleepers are called on to act; and all start up and look about to prepare for action! Then is seen the difference between those whose lamps were only lighted for immediate use and show and a little display in the sight of men, and those who have a reserve store of energy and secret power, which they have got together, quietly and patiently, and hidden away out of sight. The deadness of monotonous days does not destroy the collecting power, the storing-up power, the inward gathering of strength, even though it does destroy the freshness of spirit. This is a great truth, this fact of dreary waiting trying the heart, but not in any way destroying the working power, even though all sleep. It is not the high hope of youth, the bridal promise, the happy dream of noble life, that is untrue and false in grain; it is the letting go the hope, the promise, the dream, that stamps the dreamer as fool. He who hopes for the Bridegroom is wise; he who gives up his hope is the fool. The dreamer is true.
E. Thring, Uppingham Sermons, vol. ii., p. 6.
I. The Tarrying of the Bridegroom. Its reasons: (1) He is not willing that any should perish; (2) to fill up the number of His elect; (3) to try the graces of His people.
II. The Sleep of the Virgins. "They all slumbered and slept." (1) How Christians sleep. The eyes begin to shut; the ear does not hear Christ knocking; the sleeper dreams of idols and vain fancies. (2) How hypocrites sleep. They lose all their convictions; they lose their joy in Divine things; they give over prayer.
III. The Coming of the Bridegroom. The time was midnight. We know neither the day nor the hour when the Son of Man cometh.
R. M. McCheyne, Additional Remains, p. 460.
References: Matthew 25:5 . Expositor, 1st series, vol. ix., p. 67; J. M. Neale, Sermons in a Religious House, 2nd series, vol. ii., p. 608; Contemporary Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 114.
The Duty of Watchfulness.
I. The ten virgins represent the people of the Lord, awakened by the Spirit, separate from the world, looking for His coming. But among these there is a wide distinction. Some were wise, prudent, circumspect; others were foolish, improvident, unthrifty. And in what was this shown? The improvident, although they took their lamps, did not take with them oil, whereby those lamps might be fed. The prudent took oil in their vessels with their lamps. And wise, indeed, is that Christian who goes and does likewise; to whom all means and opportunities of grace are precious; who does not say, within himself, "Once the Lord's, always the Lord's," but prays and strives and presses onwards that he may be found in Him at His coming.
II. "While the Bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept." This is said, not with blame expressed or implied, but merely as a matter of fact. Their waiting was a state of slumber dreams were their realities their real state and interests forgotten. And what is the life of God's people in this world what is their waiting for the coming of their Lord but a slumbering and a sleeping? We have, indeed, through all these long ages during which the Bridegroom has tarried, been slumbering and sleeping; weak in faith, wavering in hope, cold in love; timid and slothful for Christ, and earnest only for self and the world.
III. The cry was made, and "all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps." Ready to meet Him none were; the lamps of all wanted trimming. Life cannot ever be kept up to the tension of its most solemn requirements; but happy they, who have that within, or have access to that above, which will, when the hour comes, repair the wasted oil. And so was it with the wise virgins. Their store of oil fed their lamps, and they were speedily bright for their work. Not so, however, with those others, once equally earnest with them. "The foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out."
IV. "The Bridegroom cometh:" Once for all this cry shall be made to the whole Church. But once also it is made to each of Christ's people. To them especially does this parable speak. The Bridegroom is tarrying; years are passing; you are dreaming your dreams, slumbering and sleeping, as compared to what men in earnest should be doing. But this is true of us all; my question is another: "Have you oil in your vessels with your lamps?"
H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. ii., p. 93.
Reference: Matthew 25:6 . F. O. Morris, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvi., p. 214.
Mark here: .
I. The Discovery. "Our lamps are gone out." (1) There is no indwelling grace. Their lamps went out because they had no oil. They burned for a while, as a dry wick will do, often with a great blaze, but soon the flame decays, and it goes out for want of oil. This is the case with hypocrites. They have no spring of gracious oil within their hearts. (2) They have to appear before Christ. It is an easy thing to appear a Christian before men. "Man looks only on the outward appearance, but God looketh on the heart."
II. The Anxious Application. "Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out." (1) Hypocrites will then see the difference between them and the godly. (2) They will see what a happy thing it is to have oil in their lamps. (3) They will apply to the godly.
III. The Disappointment: "Not so, lest there be not enough for us and you." (1) It is not in their power to give grace. (2) They have none to spare. The righteous scarcely are saved.
R. M. McCheyne, Additional Remains, p. 465.
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 recognize them when they appear. He has a spiritual instinct, which will enable him to detect the forerunners of his Lord in the events which are taking place upon the earth.
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. Behold! He cometh, and His reward is with him, to give to every man according as his work shall be. The time of sowing is over; the time of reaping has come. As the great final coming of Christ was typified and prefigured by His coming in judgment against the devoted city of Jerusalem, so there occurs in our own individual experiences events which foreshadow the Advent, and warn us to keep our loins girt about, and our lamps burning. There are, in our histories, smaller, subordinate, preparatory advents of our Lord. The Lord comes to us in many a crisis of our lives, in times of great deliverances, in times of heavy calamity, in times of overwhelming sorrow, in times of mental and spiritual conflict, when we are tossed with doubt, and seem not to find a ray of light to lead us out of the thick darkness in which we are well-nigh overwhelmed. Such periods are doubtless intended to be periods of close, rigorous, scrutinising self-examination. It is meant that we should arise and trim our lamps. 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; when the actors crowd in upon the scene, and the procession of events, whose character none can misunderstand, begins to come rapidly into view, and the tramp of the advancing multitude is distinctly heard, we can easily understand that then even 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. The day of the Lord the sifting, searching, scrutinizing day of the Lord is a terrible thing; and serious, solemn thought will become him who is about to enter, though ever so well prepared, into the presence of the all-wise and all-holy God.
G. Calthrop, Pulpit Recollections, p. 234.
I. Our parable teaches that, however long and deeply a man may sleep, he is sure to awake at last. "Then." Is it not true that to every soul comes the time when God calls calls plainly, audibly, loudly, "Then"? (1) There are epochs in an age when all things seem to call to arise and trim the lamps; and when the Bridegroom seems so near. There are times when events in an age seem to muster so rapidly; when iniquity abounds and love waxes cold; and when voices and events seem in the air, saying, "Be watchful and strengthen the things which remain and may be ready to die." (2) Healthiest lives need warning. They all arose I notice then that holiest souls have fears, need vigilance, and must use means.
II. Instrumentality. We are taught that however excellent an instrument a lamp may be, it is only an instrument. No lamp is its own end, and the profession of Christianity is not its own end, and none of the means employed by God are their own end. Lamps are to give light, and for progress, and duty, and comfort. "Their lamps." There is (1) Faith. Faith is a lamp, and yet faith may not save. It may be wanting in the love which purifies the heart, and it may be the gift of logic, and not the gift of God an intellectual apprehension, and nothing more. Arise and trim this lamp. (2) Knowledge. Knowledge is only instrumental. A creed about Christianity will not do. A philosophy of Christianity will not do. Deeper, deeper "I know whom I have believed." (3) There is experience. This lamp needs the oil. What is experience without it? It has no evidence, cold, dead, a memory without a light or flower. Therefore do you trim this lamp.
III. Every privilege brings duties; to every necessary act there is a responsibility. "They all arose and trimmed their lamps; they had all slept. From few things are we more in danger than from sleep. There is a state of the soul, spiritually so called. It is when we fall into the arms of indifference and carelessness; it is when the too fatal rest calls us, when spirits tempt us with their unhallowed opiates. Therefore, let us trim our lamps let us go from analysis to duty. Consideration calls to discretion. Consider the time how brief. We have no time to sleep. You have a lamp to trim a soul, a faith. Immortality is entrusted to you. What vigilance is needed!
E. Paxton Hood, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxix., p. 43.
I. "Our lamps are gone out." The horror of the cry; all that is compressed in it; what secrets of slovenly lives which only half suspected their own slovenliness. Numbers of dying people are uttering it daily; if it could be heard and understood, it would surely crush all creatures into silence, it is so thrilling, so significant, a whole, boundless eternity echoing it so wildly.
II. You see they had got lamps: they had been at the pains to buy oil: once their lamps were not out.
III. They had been watching and wakeful nearly all their lives.
IV. And now they did not go away go after the world they only slept: i.e. they took things easily; it was troublesome to be always on their guard; they relaxed the wakefulness of prayer; they let their consciences get indistinct. But the good slept also; yes! and even they ran a hideous risk; but before that they had repented, they had done much, they had not merely trusted to faith, to feelings, and to outward devotions. The midnight cry takes all by surprise.
V. Haste to bring oil; the Bridegroom comes; the doors are shut. "Lord, Lord, open to us." All is still; no voice from within. He spake once, and He confirmed it with His Amen, the gentler positiveness of which had been heard by the lake-side, and on the green hill, and in the cornfield, and in the Temple court. Oh those shut doors! how fair, how beautiful is all within those doors a land of golden light, of purest happiness, of everlasting life. "Lord, Lord, open to us!" Oh, foolish, foolish virgins, those doors will never open more!
F. W. Faber, Preacher's Lantern, vol. i., p. 142.
References: Matthew 25:8 . F. W. Farrar, In the Days of Thy Youth, p. 41; H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Waterside Mission Sermons, No. 25; H. P. Hughes, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvi., p. 410; J. Jackson, Church Sermons, vol. ii., p. 241.
I. The Description of the Closing-up of the Final Chance. The shut door is the token of the passing away of the latest chance of entry. No one's penitence, no one's prayer, no one's groaning shall any more open it. This sentence tells of the close, the irrevocable close, of one stage of man's being; the shutting-off the great chance of life, as the several chances of infancy and youth were shut off before. That shutting of the everlasting door, it is but the consummation of a line of providences which has been continued from man's birth; it is but God doing what God has always done. God hastens on men's steps from one stage of life to another, each stage coloured and influenced by what went before; each, when past, to be lived again no more. The hand of the clock points to the hour, and lo! at that moment the door is shut.
II. But there is yet another truth symbolled in the shut door. It is the final and complete severance between good and evil, between those who serve God and those who serve Him not, which we read here. Between the lost and the blessed is the impenetrable barrier the iron door, which, once shut, none may open; like the pillar of fire and cloud, brilliant on the one side with gold and jewels to the saved shadowing the lost, on the other, in intolerable gloom. Now in this total and entire separation of the good and the bad, a vast deal is again taught us. Here upon earth the righteous and the unrighteous, the faithful and the unfaithful, are intermingled; the holy exercising an unconscious but certain influence upon the unholy. The wicked if once bidden to depart away from the presence of God, away from the company of saints, away into a world of their own, must, by very reason of their separation from holier beings, themselves year after year sink into a deeper and deeper pit of rebellion and hatred. And this is the second truth which the text intimates. The entire cutting off of the host of the wicked from the presence of the just, the leaving them without, to act upon each other apart from every purer influence, and so to drift farther and farther away from holiness and God; this is the consummation dimly hinted in the words which, even as we read them carelessly, sound big with despair: "And the door was shut."
J. R. Woodford, Sermons on Subjects from the New Testament, p. 14.
I. The exclusion from the marriage supper of the Lamb of the foreign and disturbing element of sin. The higher the degree of spirituality, the greater is the abhorrence and hatred of evil: and the grief at prevailing corruption is one distinguishing mark of the true people of Christ. It is impossible for the Christian to be satisfied with the world as it is. Therefore it is that the believer looketh to the coming of his Lord, which is to introduce a new order, and bring in the new heavens and new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. What we wish for is, not to be unclothed, but to be clothed upon; to have the sin purged out of us, and the new spiritual bodies imparted to us; to see a new order and a new harmony springing up around us, at the coming of the Lord. Such meaning, then, I find in the words: "And the door was shut."
II. The perfect security of the true believer. Not only are the foolish virgins shut out, but the wise are shut in. I hold the perfect ultimate security of every true believer; of every one who being born again of the Spirit has been made a new creature in Christ Jesus. But, at the same time, this is a fact not always revealed to every regenerate man. And those who grasp it at times, to their great comfort, are oftentimes found to lose it at others. Perhaps the number of those persons, who enjoy the full, unclouded, unbroken sunshine of a perfect assurance of salvation is comparatively small. But with the coming of Christ comes the sense of perfect security; of a condition unalterable; unassailable, eternal. The door is shut upon the wise virgins and so shall they ever be with the Lord.
III. The weary period of watching is over when Christ comes, and the period of unalloyed happiness begins. They went in with Him to the marriage. The Church now is in the condition of a wife absent from her husband. She receives tokens of his affection. He sends her messages from afar; assurance of his love; promises of his coming; but she has not himself and she longs for the time when the weary waiting and watching shall be over. This is the position of the Church of Christ watching now for the Heavenly Bridegroom, expecting His advent, and assured of His love; and yet not able to enter into the fulness of her joy until He Himself arrives, and takes her to His heavenly home.
G. Calthrop, Pulpit Recollections, p. 247.
References: Matthew 25:10 . Spurgeon, My Sermon Notes: Gospels and Acts, p. 50; J. M. Neale, Sermons for Children, p. 127; H. P. Liddon, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiv., p. 353; see also Advent Sermons, vol. ii., p. 192; J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 6th series, p. 184.
I. Who are ready? All are not ready. This parable shows that all who make a profession of being Christ's are not ready. The foolish virgins appeared to be ready. They had their robe, their lamp, their wick and flame; yet they were not ready. (1) Those who have the wedding garment. The wedding garment is the righteousness of God the skirt of Jesus cast over the soul the imputed righteousness. This is the first part of readiness to meet the Heavenly Bridegroom. Do not mistake. It is not ( a ) a knowledge of this righteousness; ( b ) a desire to have this righteousness; ( c ) the having it once put over us, and then something else afterwards; ( a ) this fine linen must be granted unto us for ever. (2) Those who have the new heart. Can two walk together except they be agreed? It is impossible that two souls can be happy together if they love opposite things. (3) Those whose lamps are trimmed. While the wise virgins slept they were not ready. True, they had the wedding garment and the oil in their vessels; but their lamp was dim, their eyes were closed; but when they heard the cry they arose and trimmed their lamps, and now they are ready to meet and enter with the Bridegroom.
II. The reward of those who were ready. "They went in with Him to the marriage." (1) Christ will own them. Christ will take them in before His Father and say: "Behold, I and the children whom Thou hast given Me." (2) Saints shall be with Christ. "Went in with Him."
III. The fate of hypocrites "the door was shut." The door of Christ stands wide open a long time, but shuts at last. When Christ comes the door will be shut. Enter in at the strait gate.
R. M. McCheyne, Additional Remains, p. 470.
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. In some cases, of course, that period is death. In other cases, again (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. But there is a third period, after which all spiritual change becomes impossible; and that is 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. "Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of Man cometh."
II. Note, in the next place, 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 in 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. It is the cry of those who wish to be delivered from the punishment of sin; but who have no sense of its pollution no longing to be liberated from its burden no desire to be set free from its power.
G. Calthrop, Pulpit Recollections, p. 261.
References: Matthew 25:11 . Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 254.Matthew 25:13 . R. W. Forrest, Ibid., vol. i., p. 81; New Manual of Sunday School Addresses, p. 204.
At the very opening of this parable we shall encounter a thought which touches on the saddest and most irritating problem that our century has tried to solve; that of the origin of inequalities. Jesus here unhesitatingly attributes it to God. He compares God to a master who divides unequally his goods. He does not say (1) that the master loves those least to whom he gives least. (2) He does not say that the master acts capriciously; on the contrary, he gives it to be understood that He acts in His wisdom, since each of the servants receives: "according to his several ability." (3) He does not say that this unequality lasts beyond the time of trial, that is to say, beyond the present life. The two faithful servants who had received different shares obtain the same reward and they enter into the joy of their master. But, these reserves made, let us acknowledge that Jesus Christ says clearly that the master gave to one, five talents; to another, two; to the other, one.
I. That which Jesus Christ says, Nature equally says. Absolute equality in no way exists in Nature, for absolute equality, if you consider it, would be uniformity; now there is nothing less uniform than the works of God.
II. Not only is this inequality a fact, but it is besides a social bond between men, it obliges them to trust to each other, because it is the affirmation of their mutual dependence.
III. What should we do before this fact? Accept it so far as it does not wound the conscience. Accept it in seeking to lessen it, to smooth down its asperities; but accept it at length, humbly, manfully, without murmuring. You are poor; you are a workman; you serve; you are not among those who are called the privileged ones of this world; you have not ten talents only one talent. What does it matter? Are you the less loved by God for that? Are you less a man, a child of God, an immortal soul? Look at your life in its true greatness, in the light of eternity; say that if you serve, Jesus, the Son of God, the King of souls, served and suffered; say that His hands, before being raised to bless humanity, were hardened by holding the instruments of labour; say that our true nobility, our true dignity, we owe to those children of the people who are called Peter, Andrew, Philip and James; and that since Christ has saved humanity in serving and suffering for it, there is no solid greatness and lasting glory but that which is gained in serving and giving up oneself.
E. Bersier, Sermons, 1st series, p. 1.
In the case of the unprofitable servant as it emerges in the latter portion of the parable, three points demand our attention separately and successively the Reason, the Nature, and the Reward of his unfaithfulness.
I. The reason of his unfaithfulness, as explained by himself is, "I knew thee that thou art an hard man," etc. The parable represents at once, with rich personal effect and strict logical exactness, the legal relation of sinful men to a righteous God, apart from the peace that comes through the Gospel. While you think of the Judge recording now your thoughts, words, and actions, in order to render unto you what you deserve at the great day you cannot love Him, and you do not like to retain the knowledge of Him in you mind. Whatever your ears may hear, or your lips may speak, you know God only as the disturber of your joy in life, and the inexorable exacter of impossible penalties at last. The natural and necessary, as well as actual, result of this knowledge or conception of the master, is the utter idleness of the servant.
II. As to its nature, the disobedience was not active but passive; he did not positively injure his master's property, he simply failed to turn it to profitable account. The terror of this servant was too lively to admit of his enjoying a debauch purchased by the treasure which had been placed under his charge. Fear is a powerful motive in certain directions and for certain effects; it makes itself felt in the heart, and leaves its mark on the life of a man; unfruitfulness includes both those that bear bad fruit and those that bear no fruit. The idleness of the servant, who knew his master only as a hard man, reproves all except those who obey the Lord whom they love, and love the Lord whom they obey.
III. The reward of unfaithfulness is: "Take the talent from him and cast him out." In both parts the sentence of condemnation corresponds to its opposite in the reception of those who had been faithful to their trust. These retain their employed gifts; from him the unused talent is taken away. These are received into their master's favour; he is cast out of his master's sight. The stumbling-block at the outset that turned the unfaithful servant aside was his conception of his lord as a hard master; it is the experience of the master's love that impels the servant forward in the path of duty. When we know God in Christ we know Him reconciled to ourselves. Christ, therefore, is the way; by Him we go in to the Father for acceptance, and by Him we go out for needful work upon the world.
W. Arnot, The Parables of Our Lord, p. 299.
Different Talents yielding Equal Rewards.
I. In interpreting the introductory portion of this parable the word "talents" must be taken as including all that fits a man for God's service as well what belongs to his own nature as what is external to himself. The "ability" is a gift from God as well as the goods. When considering what we possess as fitting us for doing the will of God, each one may hear the question, "What hast thou that thou didst not receive?" All that a man is and has must be included among God's gifts, to be made account of when the working season here is over. Talents, means, and opportunities must all be reckoned as Divinely supplied. When so regarded there is great diversity among the disciples.
II. In the picture of the meeting-time and reckoning, the truth lying nearest, full of encouragement while we are in the present work, is, that results proportionate to opportunities will fill each servant with satisfaction on the great and solemn occasion when he renders account of his earthly life. Our responsibilities are fixed for us; what they are is discovered to us by each day of service as it comes; to meet daily obligations, by a day of faithful work, is to do the part our Master requires of us, and thus prepare for ourselves a harvest of joy on the day of His coming. The joy of the faithful servant has its counterpart in the joy of his Master. Our Lord's gladness is as His servants', and His servants' is as their Lord's; His joy finds its objects in their work, with its abiding results. As He manifests and expresses this joy it awakens new gladness in their hearts; their joy is thenceforth embraced in His. To long-tested faithfulness our Lord appoints enlarged service and greater rewards. Devotedness in this world introduces to enlarged opportunities in the next world. In the heavenly kingdom, where righteousness reigns in man, extended favour comes from God, life is progressive in ever-increasing ratio.
III. (vers. 24-30). The parable closes with a vivid and impressive representation of unfaithfulness on a servant's part and the consequent displeasure of his master. That the man who received the single talent is taken to represent unfaithfulness in God's service is a significant fact. Remembering the principle of distribution acted upon by the master, the smallness of the trust committed to the third servant was in accordance with the judgment formed of him. We are thus guided to the state of his character first and only afterwards to the extent of ability. The result shows that it is character, not restricted ability, which determines the form and direction of life. Common faithfulness has common approval; unfaithfulness must meet its condemnation. The test is found in the state of the heart, not in the extent of the possessions. Hard thoughts of God will find their condemnation when brought to the test of Divine requirements. It will then appear that God did not seek to reap where He had not sown; that He did not expect of any one that which He had not Himself provided in means and opportunity. He shall ask no more than that He receive His own with its produce. Before that demand, hard thoughts shall recoil on the mind which cherished them. The rules of Divine judgment now become apparent in two distinct forms. (1) The unemployed talent is transferred to one who will use it well. There are many Divinely given talents which so belong to personal existence, that we cannot think of them being transferred to others. In view of this, it will be remarked, that our Lord has taken external possessions as affording illustrations of the truth proclaimed. He that hath not in the form of produce shall have taken from him even that which for a season he has been allowed to hold as a possession committed to his trust. (2) The unfaithful servant is himself cast out from the presence of the Lord.
H. Calderwood, The Parables of Our Lord, p. 404.
References: Matthew 25:14 . Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxviii., p. 4; Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. iii., p. 133.Matthew 25:14-16 . J. Crofts, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xv., p. 15.Matthew 25:14-27 . E. M. Goulburn, Thoughts on Personal Religion, p. 340. Matthew 25:14-30 . Christian World Pulpit, vol. v., p. 180; Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 387; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iii., p. 483; W. M. Taylor, Parables of Our Saviour, p. 180. Matthew 25:15 . J. M. Neale, Sermons for Children, p. 9; M. Dods, The Parables, p. 257.
The Servants at Work.
I. It is the great law of labour which the Gospel affirms here, in the example of those two men doubling the talents they had received. The first gift of God is multiplied in their skilful and faithful hands. What is the nature of the labour of the industry of these faithful servants? Must we understand by it simply putting into activity natural gifts, physical strength, the intellect, the material resources which each man brings into this world? And did Jesus simply wish to give here a lesson upon order, upon economy, upon a good understanding of human life, as any Jewish Rabbi might have done had he judged, strange thing, that his compatriots had not their minds wakeful enough on this point, and that it was necessary to inculcate the spirit of calculation, and what might be called the genius for business? Such an explanation makes us smile. The ancient Church did not admit it. By the talents which are here spoken of, are usually understood all the graces purely spiritual which Jesus, Head of the Church, distributed to all its members, but in an unequal manner. This second explanation is worth infinitely more than the first, and yet it also is insufficient; the parable has a wider sense. The talents signify all graces which come to us from God, spiritual and natural gifts, graces of the soul or temporal benefits. All can be sanctified, all can be consecrated to God, all can be multiplied in Christian hands.
II. The essential, the most urgent, thing is not to do works of piety, works which can be counted, and which can be arranged under such and such a title. The essential, the most urgent, thing is to give our hearts to God in such a way that God once possessing them we serve Him wherever we go, and in whatever sphere we act. If such be the nature of the labour which God demands, what man is there who will dare to say that he cannot multiply for the service of God the gifts he has received? Nothing is excluded from His kingdom, nothing except sin. As long as the sun shines on your horizon; as long as the Gospel, that sun of the soul, gives you light; as long as you have a breath of light there is time to hope, there is time to begin again, there is time to count on Him who restores, who regenerates, who transforms the desert into a garden, and who causes water even to burst forth from a rock. "If any man be in Christ," says St. Paul, "... old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God."
E. Bersier, Sermons, p. 11.
Reference: Matthew 25:18 . R. Thomas, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 209.
The Account to be rendered.
I. Is not the servant who had received least a type of the insignificant of the earth, of the immerse mass of those who are commonly called the proletaires the disinherited of here below? Why does Jesus show him alone to be guilty, alone justly punished, whilst an approbation without reserve is given to those who have received much, and who only have been faithful? Is it thus, then, that things go on? Should the Divine lesson have been directed to that side? Is it not rather the rich and powerful of this world who should be made to hear it? Is it not the representative of the poor who should inherit the talents of the unfaithful man? And instead of those pitiless words: "To every one that hath shall be given," words which seem to justify and cover all the usurpations of force, should it not be written: "To every one that hath not shall be given"? To this painful question how shall we reply? Very simply. The reproach is addressed to Jesus. Well, do you know any one who loved the poor as Jesus did? Doubtless Jesus knew the miserable abuse which the powerful of this world would make of their power, the rich of their riches, and all privileged ones of their privileges. But He knew also that other seeds of hatred and death ingratitude, discouragement, despair, anger, and blasphemy would germinate in other spheres, and they are what He shows at work in the soul of the unfaithful, indolent, and mutinous servant.
II. Mediocrity has its temptations, and Jesus lets us know them here. They are (1) envy, (2) ingratitude, (3) contempt of duty, (4) the impiety which blasphemes.
III. The greatest things done in the Church have been the work of those who had only one talent. We judge otherwise, I know; we see at a distance only high summits, only resounding names and prominent works. Look nearer. There, where only these were, nothing has lasted. That which constituted the form and the immovable weft of the Church in its greatest epochs were the obscure Christians, the heroes of silent love, the thousands of unknown ones whose names fill the martyrology of the first centuries; yes, it is the common soldiers who win the victory in the great battles of God.
E. Bersier, Sermons, p. 23.
Fidelity and Recompense.
I. The teaching of this parable, although addressed at first to the disciples, is not to be limited to them, nor to any who, like them, are charged with the fulfilment of a special duty; it is teaching for us all. It implies a common responsibility for the use of talents which have been universally distributed, although not in equal measure. Talents have been given to us, and they are neither to be hoarded in fruitless avarice nor squandered in unprofitable waste. They are to be laid out, used for God, and so laid out that in wonderful usury they may double themselves in their returns, bringing for this blessed service the gold of holy character and the precious stones gathered from the world's dark mines, and gathered by our hands, to sparkle in the Redeemer's crown.
II. The second thought which I wish to put before you is that this responsibility is all-pervading, it extends to the whole man and to the whole life. It takes in the uncounted trifles, "the thoughts of the heart," the subtle and delicate springs of action, the things done in secret as well as the prominence of characters and circumstance; the tremendous issues of our lives, our crisis, the things which come with observation, and flaunt and flower before the eyes of men. With God the motive determines the value of the action. He takes no account of the great things in man's life as great things, nor of small things because of their smallness. He taketh pleasure in great and small equally when they are worthily done done from the same all-pervading, habitual, and almost unconscious desire to make His will the law. It is in the single-hearted obedience, in the fulness of the loyal love, that He rejoices even with exceeding joy.
III. The recompense of fidelity. Faithfulness, though it may have embraced but a little, is not suffered to go without its reward. It is inseparable from the idea of responsibility, and its consequent idea of judgment, that there should be the sanctions of reward and penalty, the rendering to every man according to his deeds. God is certainly not less righteous than man; and if we, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto those who serve us faithfully, how much more shall He in whom eternal justice and infinite compassion blend, both praise and recompense the service which is done for Him! 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. Morley Punshon, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 104; see also Sermons at Union Chapel, Islington, p. 191.
Before us is a servant of Jesus Christ, and we have to consider: (1) His Character, (2) his Conduct, (3) his Reward..
I. His Character. "Good and faithful;" good, personally virtuous, and efficient as a servant. (1) A good and faithful servant accepts his position as a servant, with all that is included in that position. He is not striving for something else. (2) A good and faithful servant bears the work and burden of his servitude. He does not shirk. (3) A good and faithful servant renders service with hearty goodwill. (4) A good and faithful servant is obedient to his master. His will is in subjection. (5) A good and faithful servant has his master's interest ever before him. No eyeservice. (6) A good and faithful servant is profitable to his master.
II. The Conduct upon which this character is based. "Thou hast been faithful over a few things," over the five talents delivered to him by his master. The inner character is the source of action; the outer character is the impression made by our actions. Every man has a double character; a character within and without. A few things were given to the servant before us five talents that he might trade with them and make them more. And this was sufficient as a basis of character; it justified the words "good and faithful."
III. The Commendation and Reward. (1) This is real commendation, not a commendation of self false, deceitful, delusive; but commendation by another, without flattering or hypocrisy; not in ignorance or prejudice, but with sound judgment and perfect knowledge. (2) This is full and complete commendation, Full as to manner and spirit. Full as to source. It is a "Well done!" from Him who doeth all things well. Full as to substance and meaning. What can be added to it? And full as to influence and effect. It is a "Well done!" that will inspire the doer with will to do, and with power to do, for ever and ever. (3) This is a useful commendation. It qualifies him to whom it is addressed to do something more, something better, something higher.
S. Martin, Comfort in Trouble, p. 215.
Fidelity and Dominion.
I. All human endowment and its largest results are small, measured by the standards of God's kingdom. To the holder of the five talents, as to the holder of the two, it is said: "Thou hast been faithful over a few things. " Human endowment and human performance, the few things, get their significance from their relation to the many things the great, thronging facts and principles and laws of the kingdom of God. Obedience, responsibility, duty, work, love, trust all that makes up Christian life here are sides and manifestations of the unseen spiritual universe. The man who is administering a moral trust, discharging duties, improving gifts, is within the circumference of that kingdom which spans eternity and the universe; and it is that part which gives a meaning and value to his few things.
II. Work and accomplishment, in themselves, are trivial because they do not involve mastery. Look at our Lord's words: "Good servant, thou has been faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many things." The word is habitually used of putting in a position of authority or mastery. Good and faithful people are constantly tempted to identify success with accomplishment, and to think that they fail because they cannot do what they set out to do. But you observe that God gives no promise of mastery for this world. He sets upon true and good work, not the seal of accomplishment, which is a thing of today, but the great moral seal of the eternal heavenly kingdom, which is faithfulness.
III. And yet the parable very clearly shows us that faithfulness is on the direct line of mastery. "Thou hast been faithful, therefore I will make thee ruler." Fidelity tends and leads up to mastery.
IV. Fidelity to the few things carries with it the promise of fidelity to the many.
V. The parable fixes our attention less upon the work than upon the worker; or, perhaps, we might better say, upon the work through the worker. The satisfaction of the master lies, not in the fact that his five talents have grown into ten, but in that the increase is due to his servant's faithfulness. In God's eyes the best and highest result of work is a good worker. It is faithfulness, not amount, which links the talent to the joy of the Lord, the few things to the many.
M. R. Vincent, God and Bread, p. 117.
These are two or three reasons which make it easy for us to see this duty from a wrong point of view, and to miss its very great and sacred importance. The first is, that it is to many, perhaps to most, a very distasteful one. It is a positive, not a negative, duty; it requires you to do, not only to abstain; and it requires you to do heartily, to put some life and spirit into what you do and if the duty be against the grain this calls for a considerable effort. And again, it is a duty from whose exactions we are never free, which wakes with us in the morning, and pursues us even when we are weary at night. But there is another and a more respectable reason why we undervalue it. Our own experience tells us that there are blacker sins than idleness, and that there are more delicate and heavenly forms of goodness than industry, forms of goodness more penetrating, more rare, which more manifestly have their reward not here but in the sight of the Father in heaven. Consider some reasons for the high and sacred importance which attaches to the duty of industry, of hearty, manly activity in the daily work of life which God appoints us.
I. And first, its high importance rests on the fact that it is so plain a duty. You cannot doubt that it is a duty. What can be the meaning of the parables which speak of us all as servants set to work for a master, who will return to take account, each with talents to be used, and by using to be increased for his service, if we may grow idle and let our powers dwindle instead of growing without blame?
II. It is a duty which is the Divine remedy and safeguard against an infinite amount of evil. If you would flee from evil, fill up the empty hour, the vacant, listless mind. Be a man, set to work, look life in the face, think what you are going to do and to be. There is no time for dreaming, for tampering with forbidden thoughts, for childish follies and boyish extravagances.
III. A third and last reason. It is a duty, with a far-reaching purpose and reward. I am not speaking at this moment of the more tangible secondary purposes which all can understand. They vary to different lives. But for all these are the great moral purposes. Now is the time when, more than ever, the habits of your life must be formed. The great Taskmaster gives us our faculties to one five talents, to another two, to another only one; but the five may become one, and the one may become five. Happy is that faithful servant whom his Lord when He comes shall find honestly working at the task he set him.
E. C. Wickham, Wellington College Sermon, p. 67.
References: Matthew 25:21 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi., No. 1541; T. Keble, Sermons from Easter to Ascension Day, pp. 108, 118; J. M. Neale, Sermons in Sackville College, p. 301; R. Norton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiii., p. 182; H. Allon, Ibid., vol. xxvi., p. 17; G. Matheson, Expositor, 2nd series, vol. vi., p. 204.Matthew 25:22 , Matthew 25:23 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv., No. 175; S. G. Matthews, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvi., p. 214.Matthew 25:23 . F. W. Farrar, In the Days of Thy Youth, p. 61.
I. These are very remarkable words. Observe how positively the man speaks: "I knew thee that thou art an hard man." He is quite sure of it, and has no fear of being contradicted even when advancing the plea to his lord himself. Indeed it is his excuse, his hope of acquittal. He trusts to it for safety, so sure is he of his ground. And, indeed, we may easily see, even from the parable itself, much grounds for the charge. Why should the man toil and work with money which was not his own, and vex himself with anxious cares at a master's command? Was not the command hard from this point of view. Might he not well say "I knew thee that thou art an hard man," as day by day he worked and was weary, and faint and full of care? The very force of his answer as a warning seems to lie in the truth of this low reasoning as far as it went. Let the man forget his duty as a slave trusted by his absent master, and start with this mean low opinion, and every after-step would be most logically convincing. But observe, the work though done at his master's command would have been done for himself. His great generous lord entrusted his servants with what seemed to be work for him, but was, indeed, a training in honour and power for them. The niggard spirit, with its low logic could not understand that; but could see clearly the hardships and pain of the work, and refused to work and so lost his own gains, the glorious gains that might have been his.
II. Yet he ought to have done his master's work at all events. The right and wrong of it was not his business. The man was a slave, his business was to obey, and his lord answered him on his own grounds. He was bound to obey as a slave and justly condemned for not doing so. Once begin in a wrong spirit, and every step you take will bring you a more and more certain knowledge that your low, mean thoughts are right. No power of argument could make people walking in a mist believe in a bright sun overhead; they must get upon higher ground to feel it; every step below would but confirm their cold knowledge. So it is with our spirits; we must rise into a higher world of love and honour and faith, living with Christ, looking to His glorious example, following Him in trustful love. Then we shall learn the happiness of His commands; then we shall feel that it is for our own sakes that they are given to enrich and ennoble us.
E. Thring, Uppingham Sermons, vol. i., p. 1.
Of all the powers of which men easily think that they are wholly or almost destitute, and so from whose exercise they think themselves excused, the one most commonly alleged, I think, is the religious power, the whole spiritual faculty in general. The reason why many people are not Christians is that they misrepresent Christianity to themselves, that they have not conceived its simplicity. Am I right when I believe that there is in every man the power to take it in this simplicity, and make it his new life? I do believe so, fully, and for various reasons.
I. The first reason of all is one that is no reason except to him who is already a believer, but surely to him it must come very strongly. It does seem to me that no man can really seem to himself to be living a spiritual life, and not hold with all his heart as a possibility, and long to see realised as a fact, the spiritual life in every soul of every son of man. If I truly thought that there was any one man who really was, as so many men have told me that they were, incapable of spirituality, I should lose my whole faith in the capacity of spirituality in any man.
II. And then, another reason why we have a right to believe that there is in every man a capacity for fundamental and essential Christianity, lies in the fact that the activities of such a Christianity really demand only those powers which in ordinary human life we all hold to be absolutely universal.
III. If thus the spiritual life is something not strange in its essence, but familiar; if its working force consists of the simplest and most fundamental of the powers of humanity brought into contact with, and filled full of, a Divine influence, then another thing which we see continually is not strange. There are certain experiences in every human life which have their power just in this, that they break through the elaborate surface, and get down to the simplest thoughts and emotions of the human heart. And if that heart, laid open, is inevitably, universally spiritual, what does it prove but this, that when the simplest base of any man's life is reached, when the ground above it is torn off by an earthquake, or melted bare by the sunshine of happiness, there is the capacity of spirituality, the soil in which the spiritual seed must grow?
IV. When Jesus Christ, the typal man, appeared, He was not only one who hungered and thirsted, who loved and hated, who dreaded and hoped, who suffered and enjoyed, but He was one whose nature leaped beyond the mere material and grasped the spiritual. To believe in the Incarnation, really to understand Christ, and yet to think that we or any other men in all the world are essentially incapable of spiritual living, is an impossibility.
Phillips Brooks, Sermons, p. 138.
References: Matthew 25:24 , Matthew 25:25 . J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 6th series, p. 177; Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. ii., p. 181.Matthew 25:28 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. viii., p. 107.
Talents improved are multiplied; talents misimproved are resumed by their owner. Apply this principle of the Divine government: (1) To personal endowments; (2) to providential advantages; (3) to religious privileges; (4) to spiritual blessings; (5) to opportunities of Christian work.
G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines of Sermons, p. 372.
References: Matthew 25:29 . R. Heber, Parish Sermons, vol. i., p. 165.Matthew 25:30 . J. Natt, Plain Sermons, p. 384; S. Greg, A Layman's Legacy, p. 135.
I. When we turn to the Book of God in order to learn what particulars are revealed to us respecting the awful coming of the Lord, the first thing which strikes us is its suddenness. When it will be we know not; where it will be we know not. It must suffice for us that it will be as sudden as the lightning flash; and that, wherever in the round world it is, we shall be there, as certainly as the eagles gather to the fallen carcase.
II. There shall be only two companies the saved and the lost. No middle place; no place for those who might hope to find themselves average people neither particularly faithful, nor particularly unfaithful; only two companies with a mighty chasm between them the lowest of the blessed company of those that are received inexpressibly more blessed than the first of those that are excluded.
III. "Inasmuch as ye did it not unto one of the least of these,... ye did it not unto Me." What an astonishing, what an awful Scripture this is! Can we not conceive how, when we stand before that judgment-seat, our consciences will be full of all manner of sad recollections of sin remembering how we have broken this and that commandment, hoping that this and that palliation may be admitted for our forgiveness, and behold, even before the question of our actual offences committed is opened at all, behold we are condemned for our omissions! Christ was with us, among us, always with us in His poor people, and we did not do all we could for them when we had time.
IV. The judgment will be very different from an earthly judgment. There will be no witnesses, no counsellors, no examination. There will be no selection of particular charges against us, then for the first time to be brought up, proved, and punished. Nothing at all like that. The judgment is going on now, every day and every hour our hearts lie open before God, and as we obey or disobey, as we pray or refrain from praying, as we utter bad words or good ones, as we let our thoughts run to sin, or check them and turn them towards God and heaven, the judgment gathers round them. If we are living carelessly, and thinking little about God and Christ, the shadows of judgment are deepening round about us. If we die so not repenting of our sins, nor turning to God in faith the final judgment will only pronounce what will have settled itself before, what is, indeed, settling itself every day: settling itself for good or evil every day that we live.
G. Moberly, Plain Sermons at Brighton, p. 304.
References: Matthew 25:31 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. v., p. 272.Matthew 25:31 , Matthew 25:32 . New Outlines on the New Testament, p. 16; E. Blencowe, Plain Sermons to a Country Congregation, vol. ii., p. 41.Matthew 25:31-36 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xii., No. 671.Matthew 25:31-46 . H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xix., p. 122.
The Final Separation.
I. Its Author. (1) His ability. (2) His prerogative.
II. Its Nature. (1) Its exactness. (2) Its completeness. (3) Its consequences in respect to place and employment and interest.
III. Its Principle. (1) On the ground of character. (2) The test of character is the state of mind and heart toward the Redeemer. (3) The evidence of a right state of mind and heart toward the Redeemer is the treatment of His people.
G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines of Sermons, p. 335.
Reference: Matthew 25:32 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxi., No. 1234.
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. A revelation, that is an unveiling, a drawing away of a veil which was before their eyes, and hiding from them a Divine and most blessed fact, of which they had been unaware. 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! Sinful they are as a whole. Sinning, it may be without law, but perishing without law. For 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. May He not fulfil His own words to them, and go forth and seek such souls, and lay them on His shoulder and bring them home, saying to His Church on earth, and to His Church in heaven: "Rejoice with Me; for I have found My sheep which was lost"?
III. How shall we know Christ's sheep when we see them? How, but by the very test which Christ has laid down, it seems to me, in this very parable? Is there in one of them the high instincts even the desire to do a merciful act? Let us watch for that: and when in the most brutal man or woman we see any touch of nobleness, justice, benevolence, pity, tenderness in one word, any touch, however momentary, of unselfishness let us spring at that, knowing that there is the soul we seek; there is a lost sheep of Christ; there is Christ Himself; working unknown upon a human soul; there is a soul ready for the Gospel, and not far from the kingdom of God.
C. Kingsley, All Saints' Day and Other Sermons, p. 347.
The Judgment of the Nations.
Perhaps we are justified in saying that we have, in connection with these words, the most vivid description of the last judgment to be found in the Holy Bible. We learn from them that, though good works cannot merit heaven, it is a solemn fact that God Himself has made the practice of good works the condition on which He will ultimately confer the rewards of heaven. At the general judgment men are to be rewarded, not according to their faith, or according to their feelings, or according to their professions, but according to their works.
I. Let it not be said that this doctrine involves the idea that man, by the practice of good works, may make God his debtor. Not so. As the present salvation of a sinner depends upon his exercising faith in Jesus Christ not because the exercise of faith in Jesus Christ merits such a gift, but because God, in His sovereignty, has been pleased to appoint the exercise of faith in Jesus Christ as the condition upon which the gift will be given; so a man's reward in heaven depends upon a man's own good works on earth not because the good works merit the reward, but because God has been pleased to make the practice of good works the condition on which the reward shall be ultimately granted.
II. "Come, ye blessed of My Father." The very word implies that the righteous are to be where Christ their Saviour is. The two are to live for ever in the glorious heaven. Do not overlook the word inherit. Heaven is an inheritance. It belongs not to strangers and aliens, but to children. God does not give it arbitrarily to whom, in His Divine despotism, He likes, chooses, but only to sons and daughters children. It is God's great patrimony, given to none except to members of God's great family. And then, finally, there is another word in the 34th verse, "Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you. " Heaven is not a world which by accident was once emptied, and therefore was fixed upon to receive the righteous and be their final home. Not so. It is a place prepared for them, designed and made for them purposely; and, therefore, perfectly adapted to make them happy. It is a great residence which God has built as the eternal home of His great family a residence in the decoration of which God lavished all His wealth and employed all His attributes, prerogatives, and powers. There is brightness in every eye happiness in every smile. Then the purest joy keeps endless festival and revels with unmolested freedom. There shall be no more curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb is in it. His servants shall serve Him, and His Name is written on their foreheads.
L. H. Tyerman, Penny Pulpit, No. 896, new series.
References: Matthew 25:34 , Matthew 25:35 . J. Keble, Sermons on Various Occasions, p. 100. Matthew 25:35 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxx., No. 1757; Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxv., p. 39. Matthew 25:36-43 . J. Macpherson, Expositor, 3rd series, vol. v., p. 461.
The Humility of the Saints.
The kingdom of heaven this is what Christ came to introduce to introduce into active co-operation with us poor men. He brought down out of that far place this fund of eternal and victorious forces. He put at our disposal and under our manipulation the whole resources of the Divine house. He brought heaven into activity here on earth, and we who are made members of that kingdom become media through which its energies penetrate and work, expand and make entries.
I. And this will perhaps explain the peculiar stress laid upon two Christian excellences Humility and Thanksgiving. Humility, the rare gift of the saints, is sometimes, I believe, supposed to be a sort of compulsory lie, as if we were required to glorify God by pretending that we are not so good as we really are. But the professed humility of the saints is nothing more than the natural and normal, and true and healthy, outcome of the conditions under which we belong to the kingdom of heaven; for these conditions imply that we, so far as we rightly correspond to them, do but make ourselves channels through which the powers of God can operate, vehicles through which they may extend their boundaries. Our Christian excellence just lies in admitting Christ. Saintliness is the energy and glory of God become active in a man. It is the display of God's grace through a human personality, and if so, it cannot help being overwhelmed with humility. The grace of this humility is the measure of the saintliness, for the more complete this self-surrender, then the more vigorously flows through it the splendour of God's fulness.
II. And then Thanksgiving. The saint has a spiritual microscope, and through it he can see at least fragments of the mysterious subtilties that operate at His bidding all that delicate world of miracle that is ever at His service. How, then, can he ever thank God enough? This only is his desire to be ever giving thanks; and every touch of holiness in him is a new wonder to him a new miracle worked by God; and to recount his own labours is to recount God's successes; and all such recounting, such rehearsal, is itself a thanksgiving. In so glorying he can glory in the Lord glory because all things are his. Paul and Apollos and Cephas, and the world and life and death, and things present and things to come all are his and he glories in it. He gives thanks to God, for herein is his Father glorified who is in heaven.
H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxx., p. 234.
References: Matthew 25:37-39 . Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxx., p. 234.Matthew 25:40 . J. H. Hollowell, Ibid., vol. xviii., p. 89; T. R. Evans, Ibid., vol. xxiv., p. 337. Matthew 25:40-45 . R. Veitch, Ibid., vol. xxix., p. 259. Matthew 25:41 . H. N. Grimley, The Temple of Humanity, p. 203; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. ii., p. 381.Matthew 25:44 . J. H. Evans, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 121.
The Great Reality.
I. The moment any heart thoroughly admits a great reality, and takes anything, whether truly or falsely, as a great reality, for that man all life is another thing from what it was before. And all the various opinions, delusions, and mistakes in the world, however numerous, matter no more to one who has a reality than the darkness of a forest to a man on a broad road through it. Such a reality is death. Every one of us in a few years will have left behind him earth, and all belonging to earth. How many doubts would vanish if men began early on the simple plan of trying and testing their doubts and temptations by the great certainty, death, and measuring their lives by the after-death eye? A plain, broad road would show itself amongst the tangle and the wilderness of opinions.
II. Human life in effect, our Lord says in the text, is the way one man treats another. It is the quiet everyday habit of making life more easy to our fellow-creatures that our Blessed Lord judges to be Divine. This is what the calm after-death eye will consider to be real. The service of God has only one primary meaning the service of God is man making others happy. No man is religious who does not strive to make others happy. The prevailing passion of daily life should be: Where is anyone weak and in trouble can I help him? The heart ought to leap to the side of the weak, not to the side of the strong. The heart ought to have a dim feeling that everyone in pain or need is, as it were, Christ on the Cross, and a dread lest the strong, if the strong inflict the pain, are Pilate and Herod with their soldiers. The great realities of the world to come only recognise the principle of making others happy. And I am inclined to think that anyone who takes this into his heart as his reality will not get entangled if he begins early, or feel any difficulty in finding how to do it.
E. Thring, Uppingham Sermons, vol. i., p. 185.
Judgment by Works.
These words spake the Saviour and Judge of all mankind, intimating the unending bliss or woe of the world to come. And surely these words should be enough to stop the mouths of all reverent people. Is it not enough that Christ hath spoken? Shall poor blind mortals undertake to gainsay His statement?
I. You remember the exact ground on which the Great Judge, rehearsing that future scene, bases this tremendous separation for eternity. It is on our treatment of Himself in the daily needs of His suffering humanity that all is made to depend. "Inasmuch as ye did it unto... the least of these My brethren, ye did it unto Me." What romance there is in these familiar words! More than in all "Arabian Nights" and fairy tales put together. Suppose that as we went home today, we passed by one sitting on the roadside, one that was starved in body, tattered in clothes, shivering with cold, left all alone in the wide world; suppose that as he sat there crouched together, his face buried in his hands, there was yet a nameless dignity about his form, a glory which came and went about his head, which made us know that it was Christ. How would it cut us to the heart that we should sit by warm fires and fare of the best, while He was out there in cold and misery! Ah, we say to ourselves, but that never happens in real life! Yes it does, very often; and if it never happens to us, it is only because we choose to forget that whatever kindness we show, for His sake, to the least of His brethren, we are showing, in reality to Him.
II. It is evident from the Epistles, and from the Gospels too, that we may not ever deserve or earn anything by our works, that after all done, we must be unprofitable servants, and hope for mercy only; and it is evident from the Gospels, and from the Epistles too, that we shall never enter the kingdom of Heaven unless our righteousness exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees, even in that department which was peculiarly their own the careful fulfilment, namely, of the law. Going on these two principles, then, we shall be safe on both sides, having good works, but not trusting in them; serving Christ with might and main, yet looking to be rewarded, not of our merit but of His mercy; thus, and thus only, shall we be safe in the last day.
R. Wintereotham, Sermons and Expositions, p. 164.
I. Man's conscience, until he deadens it and most when the uncompromising reality of thoughts of death silences all voices of self-deceit 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 worse 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, and of God in that voice, was dragging you. Fear not to look at it. For narrow though the bridge be which spans its lurid flames, that bridge is sure to those whom it upholds; for it is the Cross of Christ, and Christ Himself will stretch forth His hand to lead thee safely over it.
E. B. Pusey, Selected Occasional Sermons, p. 245.
References: Matthew 25:46 . H. W. Beecher, Plymouth Pulpit Sermons, 5th series, p. 99; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iv., p. 166; T. Birkett Dover, A Lent Manual, p. 91.Matthew 25:0 Clergyman's Magazine, vol. i., p. 289. Matthew 26:1-5 . Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. iii., p. 186. Matthew 26:3 . A. P. Stanley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. i., p. 344.