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The parable of the ten virgins, and of the talents. Also the description of the last judgment.
Anno Domini 33.
Matthew 25:1. Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened, &c.— The particle then evidently points out the connection of the present parable with the latter part of the preceding chapter. Our Lord having mentioned the rewards and punishments of a future state, in order to animate his disciples to the rigorous discharge of their duty, it was easy and elegant to pass from that subject to the consideration of the general judgment, at which these rewards will be distributed in their utmost extent. And therefore, to rouse men in every age, he has given a striking representation of the last judgment, with its consequences, in three excellent parables. He had before frequently declared what would be the portion of all the workers of iniquity: but what will become of those who do no harm, though they do no good? Inoffensive, good sort of people? We have in the present chapter a clear and full answer to this important question. The first parable is that of the ten virgins, who waited to meet the bridegroom: Then shall the kingdom of heaven, &c. that is to say, "At the general judgment, the character, conduct, and lot of the subjects of the kingdom of heaven, (of the professors of the Gospel) may be represented by the character, conduct, and lot of virgins at a wedding." It seems, in those countries the bridegroom commonly brought home his bride in the evening; and that she might be received at his house in a suitable manner, his female friends, of the younger sort, were invited to come and wait with lamps,till some of his retinue, dispatched before the rest, brought word that he was at hand; on this they went forth with their lamps trimmed to welcome him, and conduct him with his bride into the house. And for this service they had the honour of being guests at the marriage-feast. Mr. Wynne conjectures that probably a wedding procession passing by, gave occasion to this parable;and the following account of the marriage ceremony at Aleppo, the capital of Syria, by a person who lately resided there, may possibly throw some light on the parable, as it alludes to the customs of those countries on that occasion. "On the appointed day in the afternoon, the bridegroom's relations go to the bride's house; and having supped there, they return to that of the bridegroom, who is by custom obliged to hide himself, or, at least, is not to be found without a seemingly strict search: when he is brought out dressed in his best cloaths, great noise and rejoicings are made upon finding him; and he and the bridesmen, being led several times round the courtyard in a noisy procession, are carried into a room. There he is dressed in his wedding cloaths, and led back into the court-yard. At midnight, or a few hours later, the relations, accompanied by all who are invited to the wedding, both men and women, return again to the bride's house in procession, each carrying a candle, and music playing before them. When they come to the door, it is shut against them. Then they knock and demand the bride, but are refused admittance: upon this ensues a mock fight, in which the bridegroom's party always prevails. The women then go to the bride's chamber, leading her out veiled; and in the like procession as above described, carry her to the bridegroom's house," See the notes on Psalms 45:0. Solomon's Song, and the Customs of the Jews and Indians compared, p. 41. &c.
Matthew 25:3-4. They that were foolish, &c.— Five of the virgins that waited for the bridegroom were so foolish, as to take only a little oil in their lamps, to serve their present occasion: but the other five, being more wise, knew that the coming of the bridegroom was uncertain; for which reason, besides filling their lamps at first, they prudentlytook a quantity of oil in their vessels to supply their lamps, that they might be in readiness to go forth at a moment's warning. See Mat 25:12 for an explanation of the parable.
Matthew 25:6. And at midnight there was a cry— Perhaps the tradition which St. Jerome mentions, wherein it was asserted that Christ would come to judgment at midnight, might be borrowed from this passage; though certainly it is absurd enough, since that can be the case only under one meridian.
Matthew 25:9. Saying, Not so, &c.— This, says Dr. Doddridge, seems merely an ornamental circumstance; and it is strange, that any popish writer should consider it as favouring their doctrine of a stock of merits in the church, founded on works of supererogation; since if it referred to them at all (which there is no reason to imagine) it would rather expose than encourage any dependance upon them.
Matthew 25:12. Verily—I know you not— This circumstance in the parable is perfectly consistent with the rest; for nothing intimated a personal acquaintance with them; and guests asking admittance with such a pretence, might have been multiplied beyond all reason and convenience: at least its significancy and application are very apparent and important. In this parable, by the kingdom of heaven is meant the Gospel kingdom—the kingdom of grace in its last dispensation, when it is about to be swallowed up in glory. By the tenvirgins are meant the complete and general number of all Christian professors; the visible church of God upon earth, mixed with good and bad. By their taking the lamps, and going forth to meet the bridegroom, is meant their taking upon them by baptism, and their leading their lives in, the outward profession of the Christian faith. By the bridegroom is meant the Lord Jesus, the divine and glorious bridegroom of his spouse, the church. By the foolish virgins are meant mere professors; Christians only in name, who have a lamp without oil, faith without love. By the wise virgins are meant real Christians, who to an outward profession join inward holiness; who have not only the form, but the power of godliness; faith which works by love; a life beautified by the fruits of the Holy Spirit, whose gifts and graces particularly are figured out to us by the oil. By the slumber and sleep of them all, wise as well as foolish, is meant death, the common lot of good and bad. By the midnight cry to go forth and meet the bridegroom, is meant the last aweful summons to judgment, the archangel's trumpet, and the voice of God: by the solicitude of the foolish virgins, the discovery which nominal professors will make, too late, of their want of holiness. By the reproof of the wise isshewn, the impossibility of transferring good works from one to another; and of consequence the absurdity of the popish doctrine of supererogation; since no man at that day will be found to have more than enough for himself. By the admission of the wise to the marriage-feast, is meant the happy entrance of faithful Christians into bliss eternal with their all-glorious bridegroom; and by the exclusion of the foolish, the everlasting banishment of the strangers to true holiness from that bliss. And as the parable represents the suddenness of Christ's coming, it shews both the folly and danger of delaying repentance to a death-bed, and powerfully enforces habitual watch-fulness, both in the acquisition and exercise of grace, upon all men in every age, from the uncertainty of life;—for the day of death is to each of us as the day of judgment. Accordingly, the application of the parable is, watch therefore, &c. Matthew 25:13.
Matthew 25:14. For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling— For He [the Son, Matthew 25:13.] is as a man, &c. The kingdom of heaven, added by our translators, appears to be repeated from the first verse; but the connection seems to require the version here given. See Luke 19:12. Instead of his goods, Dr. Heylin reads his effects.
Matthew 25:15. Unto one he gave five talents— See the note on Mat 25:30 and Prideaux's preface to his Connection, p. 20.
Matthew 25:21. Well done!— The original word Ευ, has a peculiar force and energy, far beyond what we can express in English. It was used by auditors or spectators in any public exercise, to express the highest applause, when any part had been excellently performed. By joy is here meant the place appointed for festivals and rejoicings, as is evident from Mat 25:30 where we read, that the wicked servant is cast into outer darkness, in opposition to the lights which illuminated the banqueting-room. Enter thou into the joy, &c. means, "share with me in the pleasures of my palace, and by sitting down at the entertainment which I have prepared, rejoice with me on account of my safe return." Grotius well observes upon the words over a few things, that even the obedience of Apostles and martyrs which they have manifested through grace, must appear trifling indeed, when compared with the exceeding weight of glory wherewith it shall be rewarded.
Matthew 25:24. Then he which had received the one talent came, &c.— This circumstance may intimate, probably, that we are accountable for the smallest advantages with which we are entrusted; but it cannot imply that they who have received much, will in general pass their accounts best; for it is too plain in fact, that most of those whose dignity, wealth, and genius give them the greatest opportunities of service, seem to forget they have either any Master in heaven to serve, or any future reckoning to expect; and many of them render themselves muchmore criminal than this wicked and slothful servant, who hid his talent in the earth. See Grotius and Doddridge. Where thou hast not strawed, might be rendered, where thou hast not scattered; that is to say, where thou hast not sown, by scattering the grain.
Matthew 25:25. Lo, there thou hast that is thine— Dr. Heylin renders this, see, you have your own,and it comes nearer to the emphatical beauty of the original, which strongly expresses the morose surly brevity of the slothful servant. The language is a lively picture of the mind, and an echo to the sense: 'Ιδε, εχεις το σον . Lo, thou hast that—thine. This is one instance among a thousand of the excellency of the sacred Scripture in this respect also. The next verse might be rendered more properly by interrogation, Knewest thou that, &c.? Dr. Whitby well observes, that when he said, Thou knewest, or knewest thou that I was an hard man, &c. this is no concession that the master was truly so, but an argument out of his own mouth to condemn him, for not acting suitably to his own hard conceptions of his lord. See Luke 19:22. Nor do these words thou oughtest to have put my money to the exchangers, &c. shew that Christ approved of usury; but only that he who thought so sordidly of his master, should have used his talent agreeably, that so he might have had his own with interest.
Matthew 25:28-29. Take therefore the talent from him— Thus Christ will strip graceless persons, whether ministers or people, of all the good things he bestowed upon them; and will confer signal blessings on them who are eminently faithful and diligent in the exercise of their gifts and graces, for his glory, and the good of his church. By having, Mat 25:29 is meant improving, or making a right use of a thing. See ch. Matthew 13:10-13. A man is said not to have what he does not make use of: Avaro tam deest quod habet, quam quod non habet: a covetous man is as destitute of what he has, as of what he has not. St. Chrysostome observes, that it availed not this slothful servant that he wasted not his Lord's talent; but this ruined him—that he returned it not improved with increase. See the Inferences.
Matthew 25:30. And cast ye the unprofitable servant, &c.— This punishment must have been greatly embittered to him by the happier lot of his fellow-servants, who were highly applauded for their diligence, and gladdened with the prospect of their reward. See on ch. Matthew 8:12.
In this parable, by the man travelling into a far country, is represented to us our Saviour, who is said to do so, either in reference to his ascent into heaven, or to that long-sufferance of his, whereby he waiteth for the fruit of our works. By his own servants are meant the subjects of his gospel kingdom, who are entrusted with his spiritual gifts and graces; and of necessity, by the goods or talents intrusted to them, must be meant, not only the gifts of nature, but of grace. By the servants who improved their lord's talents, are meant those who diligently labour to improve all the gifts of God, natural and spiritual, agreeable to the will of their heavenly Master, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord; while by the slothful servant, such are pictured out to us as live solely to themselves, without regard to the glory of God, or the good of mankind. "He who lives not solely to his own profit, (says Theophylact,) but whether he have prudence or riches, or power and authority with the great; or whatever influence and heart he hath, endeavours thereby to serve and be useful to others, this is the man who doubles that which is given him; but he who hides his talent, is the man who has regard solely to his own advantage, and not to that of others; and therefore is condemned. And whenever you see a man of good understanding and industrious, using his parts in the pursuit of worldly things, and earthly devices, of him you may say, that he hides his talent in the earth; to take an account whereof, the Master will one day come—the eternal judge of heaven and earth, whose future coming for that great purpose is figured out to us by the return of the lord of those servants, after a long time, to reckon with them. And as by the reward of the good and faithful servant the blessedness of all true Christians is shewn; so by the punishment of the wicked and slothful one, is declared to us the misery of all nominal and merely outward professors of thefaith and religion of Christ, who, on the day when, vested in terrible majesty, the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven, &c. (2 Thessalonians 1:7; 2 Thessalonians 1:12.) shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord."
Matthew 25:31-33. When the Son of man shall come, &c.— Our Saviour begins here his third parable, which is agreeable to the language of the Old Testament, in which good men are compared to sheep, on account of their harmlessness and usefulness, (See Psalms 23:0.) and the wicked men to goats, for the exorbitancy of their lusts. The allusion however is dropped almost at the entrance of the parable, the greatest part of this representation being expressed in terms perfectly simple; so that though the sense be profound, it is obvious: here the judgment of all nations, Gentiles as well as Christians, is described, and thepoints on which their trials are to proceed are known: they shall be acquitted or condemned, according as it shall then appear that they have performed or neglected works of love;—the duties which in Christians necessarily spring from thegreat principles of faith and piety, and which the heathens themselves were invited, through the blood of the covenant, to perform by the smaller measures of the secret influences of the spirit of God offered to them in that inferior dispensation under which they lived. But then we are not to understand this, as if such works were meritorious in either; for all who are acquitted at that day, whether under the Christian or Heathen dispensation, shall be acquitted solely on account of that redemption which is in Christ, as the meritorious cause. If we observe the correspondence between these words and chap. Mat 24:30-31 it will seem probable, that Christ intended to teach his disciples to conceive of his first coming to the destruction of Jerusalem, as a kind of emblem of his final appearance to judgment; and consequently we may be authorized in using some of the texts in the former chapter, when discoursing of that great and important day. Every reader must remark with what majesty and grandeur our Lord speaks of himself in this portion of Scripture, which is a noble instance of the true sublime, and paints the solemnities of the great, and final audit in the strongest manner. Instead of divideth, we may read separateth.
Matthew 25:34. Then shall the king say— The sentence passed upon the righteous, affords a noble motive to patience and continuance in well-doing. In the beginning of the parable our Lord calls himself the Son of Man only: but he now changes the appellation, taking the title of king with great propriety, when he is speaking of himself as exercising the highest act of kingly power; in passing final sentence upon all men as his subjects, whereby their state will be unalterably fixed for ever. And this title adds unutterable beauty to the condescending words that he is represented as speaking on this great occasion. One cannot imagine a more magnificent image than this before us—the assembled world, distinguished with such unerring penetration, and distributed into two grand classes, with as much ease as sheep and goats are ranged by a shepherd in different companies;—that assembled world waiting to receive their everlasting doom from the lips of Almighty andimpartial justice! The present state of good men is at best but a banishment from their native country;an exile in which they are frequently exposed to manifold temptations, to persecutions, to poverty, to reproach, and to innumerable other evils. But that they may bear all with unfainting courage and constancy, they are given to know by this sentence, that they are beloved and blessed of God, as his own children; and that there is no less than an eternal kingdom prepared for the faithful saints of God from the foundation or formation of the world, through that infinite prescience of Deity, whereby he foresees who will be faithful, and who will not. Well may such bear with the violence of their oppressors, knowing what an exceeding and eternal weight of glory awaits them.
Matthew 25:35-36. For I was an hungered, &c.— Or, I was hungry: and so Matthew 25:42. In Mat 25:36 instead of, And ye visited me, Heylin and Doddridge read, And ye looked after me: επισκεψασθε με, which signifies in general to take the oversight and care of any thing; an office which requires diligent inspection and attendance, Compare James 1:27. And it strongly intimates, that such an attendance on the poor in their illness, is a very acceptable charity, and is what many may have an opportunity of doing, who have very little money to spare. Our Lord's words may be thus paraphrased: "In the whole of your conduct you have imitated the goodness and benevolence of my Father; and therefore I now declare you blessed and beloved of him, and appoint you to inherit his kingdom. Moreover, that you may know how acceptable acts of kindness and charity, flowing from genuine love, (for the motive must be good,) are to me, I assure you that I reckon every thing of this sort as done to myself. It was I who was hungry and thirsty; a stranger, and naked, and sick, and in prison. It was I whom you clothed, and lodged and visited, and comforted; coming to condole with me in my sufferings, and to relieve my necessities in confinement and afflictions," See the next note.
Matthew 25:40. Verily I say—in as much, &c.— This is unspeakably astonishing! The united wisdom of angels could not have thought of any thing more proper to convey an idea of the warmth and strength of the divine benevolence to man, or offered a more constraining motive to charity, than that the Son of God should declare from the judgment-seat, in the presence of the whole assembled universe, that such good offices as are done to the afflicted through genuine love, are done to him. Having in the day of his flesh suffered injuries and afflictions unspeakable, he considers all the holydistressed members of his body, loves them tenderly, and is so much interested in their welfare, that when they are happy, he rejoices; when they are distressed he is grieved. In as much as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Wonderful condescension of the Son of God!
Astonishingstupidity of men! who neglect altogether or are persuaded with difficulty, to do good to Christ. What wonderful condescension, that the Son of God should call any of us his brethren! This happy relation arises from the manhood, which he still possesses in common with us. The faithful are with him, but in an infinitely inferior sense, sons of the same Father, after whose image they are formed through the influence of his Spirit working faith in them. It is this conformity of nature human and divine, which makes men Christ's brethren; for which reason, in whatever person it is to be found, he will acknowledge the relation, without regard to any circumstance whatever, that is out of the person's power. See Macknight. By these my brethren, Dr. Heylin also understands, the saints, who should come in Christ's train to judgment. See Mede's Works, p. 81 and Wetstein.
Matthew 25:41-46. Depart from me, ye cursed— What the wicked are here represented as answering, Mat 25:44 perhaps may only intimate that such will be the language of their hearts; which Christ perceiving, will reply to it, as in Matthew 25:45. But there is no necessity for supposing that they will actually plead thus; multitudes, no doubt, will remember, that they have only heard what reply will be made to such a plea. God grant that none who read it here, may be in the number of those to whom it will be made! in this parable the absolution of the righteous is represented as happening before the condemnation of the wicked, to shew that God takes greater delight in rewarding, than in punishing mankind. Moreover it is remarkable, that the fire of hell is here said to be prepared, not for the wicked, but for the devil and his angels; whereas the kingdom of heaven is said to be prepared expressly for the righteous. Perhaps our Lord by this designed to teach us, that God's original intention was to make men happy, and not to damn them. No sooner were we created, than a state of consummate felicity was formed for us. But the fire of hell was prepared for the devil and his angels, namely, after their fall; and because wicked men partake with devils, in their sin of rebellion against God, they are doomed to share with them in their punishment. Perhaps also the fire of hell is declared to be made for the devil and his angels, to intimate the greatness of themisery, to which men irreclaimably wicked shall be consigned. The punishment which they shall suffer is of the heaviest kind, being the punishment of devils. The condemnation of the wicked for having neglected to take pity on Christ's brethren, does not imply that he would have our works of charity confined to good men; or that he does not disapprove of inhumanity and cruelty towards those who are bad. The circumstance is formed only to shew more effectually, the niggardly, merciless, selfish disposition of the wicked: for if a person be hard-hearted to a saint, he will be so to a sinner: so that it was needless to mention their cruelty to such. The issue of the judgment, as it is represented in this parable, is aweful beyond description. These shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal. If the meaning of this short sentence were fully understood or duly considered, what an impression would it make upon the soul; everlasting punishment!—everlasting life! What is there which is not comprehended in these words; and how miserable are they, who dare to venture their souls on the supposition, that the important word in the original [αιωνιον] which is the same in both places, signifies a limited duration in either!
It may seem strange, that in this representation of the judgment, the equity should be said to turn, not upon the commission of crimes, but upon the performance of duties. The reason may be, that, generally speaking, men look upon the neglect of duties as a trivial affair, but dread the commission of crimes: and hence it comes to pass, that while they keep themselves clear of the latter, they are apt to find many excuses for the former. Wherefore, as there is not a more pernicious error respecting religion and morality than this, it was highly becoming the wisdom of Jesus, to give such an account of the judgment, as should be the most solemn caution possible against it.
But since the enquiry is said to turn wholly upon the performance of duties, it may seem more strange still, that the offices of charity are mentioned, and not a word spoken of any search made into men's conduct with regard to the duties of piety. To vindicate this part of the representation, let it be considered, that piety and love never can subsist separately: piety and its root, faith, always producing love andcharity; and love, wherever it subsists, necessarily pre-supposing piety. See on chap. Matthew 22:37, &c.
The connection between piety and charity will clearly appear, provided this dictate of enlightened reason and experience is attended to: namely, that no man can be truly benevolent and merciful without loving those dispositions. If so, he must love benevolence in God, that is, he must love God himself:—for piety, or the love of God, is nothing else but the regard that we cherish towards God, on account of his perfections; and, above all, on account of his love to us, manifested in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Piety and true charity being thus essentially connected together, to examine men's conduct with respect to either of thesegraces was sufficient. In the parable the inquiry is represented as turning upon the duties of charity; perhaps because in this branch of goodness there is less room for self-deceit than in the other. Hypocrites, by shewing much zeal in the externals of religion, oftentimes make specious pretensions of extraordinary piety, and uncommon heights of the love of God; while in the mean time they are altogether defective in charity; are covetous, unjust, rapacious, and proud; consequently really void of the love of God.
The case is otherwise with the love of man. None can assume the appearance of this grace, but by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, relieving the distressed, visiting the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and performing the other friendly offices of love, according to their abilities and respective stations in life. Charity therefore does not so easily admit of self-deceit. It is true, works of charity may proceed from other principles than the holy root of a pious benevolent disposition,—such as from vanity, or even from views of interest; but then it must be remembered, that an ordinaryhypocrisy will hardly engage men to undertake them in anyextensive degree. They are by far too weighty duties to be sustained by those hollow false principles which support bad men, and therefore are seldomer counterfeited in any large measure than acts of devotion.
This parable therefore teaches us, in the plainest manner, that pretensions to piety, however loud, will avail a man nothing at the bar of God, if he be deficient in works of charity. At the same time, taken in its true light, it gives no manreason to hope well either of himself, or of others, if they be wanting in their duty to God; even though they should not only be charitable but grateful also, and just,and temperate, and outwardly blameless in all their dealings with men. The reason of this is, the duty that we owe to God is no other than what is due to men, in the like circumstances, and which if we neglected, we should be unjust to them. It consists of dispositions and actions, the same in kind, but different in degree proportionably to the perfection of the ob
He who loves and admires holiness, justice, goodness, and truth in men, cannot but love these perfections in God; that is, he must love God: so likewise he that is truly grateful to an earthly benefactor, cannot be ungrateful to one, from whose bounty all the good things that he enjoys do flow. And since ingratitude in men consists in this, that the person obliged forgets the benefit he has received, never thinks of his benefactor, and is at no pains to make suitable returns; how can he acquit himself from the charge of ingratitude, who never thinks of God, nor of all the favours which he has received from him; has no sense of the obligations he lies under to him, and is not at the pains so much as to return him thanks; that is to say, wholly neglects the internal and external exercises of devotion. Since therefore the duty which we owe to God is the same in kind with that which men claimfrom us in like circumstances, it is unquestionable that true morality never can exist where there is no piety; and that for one to pretend to morality who is destitute of piety, is altogether ridiculous.
But if this parable gives persons no encouragement who are destitute of piety, although they make a fair shew of many moral virtues; it much less gives those any ground of hope, who are not only void of piety, but are faulty almost in every respect; unless it be that they have a lovely kind of tenderness and humanity in their disposition, which leads them on some occasions to do excellent acts of beneficence. For though there be nothing said of any enquiry made concerning the duties of justice, temperance, chastity, and fidelity, we are by no means on that account to fancy these virtues shall not be inquired afterat the judgment, and rewarded in the faithful; or that the contrary vices of falsehood, and fraud, and debauchery shall not be taken notice of and punished. Genuine holy love, frequently called charity, being the end of the commandment, so far as it respects our duty to men, is the higher branch, and therefore has for its supports justice, veracity, and the other social virtues; or rather is the fountain of them all: moreover, being connected with temperance, chastity, and self-government, it can never be without these attendant graces, the neglect of which is evidently a direct and gross breach of love. In a word, as among the vices, so among the graces and virtues, there is a natural affinity and close connection. They are somehow absolutely essential and necessary to each other, and so can in no case subsist separately. For which reason, if any of them be wanting, much more if so capital a virtue as the love of God be wanting, it is a sure proof that our charity, our justice, our temperance, or whatever other graces we may seem to have, are but the mimickry of those virtues, and not the virtues themselves. At the same time, it cannot be denied that the parable is formed so, as to give us the highest idea of works of charity; they are demanded at the judgment as the fruit of all the virtues, and loudly applauded wherever they are found flowing from right motives. On the other hand, hard-heartedness, cruelty, and uncharitableness, are branded with the blackest marks of infamy. And we may observe, in conclusion, that our Lord's declarations on this occasion, open a very wide field for the exercise of charity by the poor as well as by the rich.
Inferences.—The same great and important truth, that there is no such thing as negative goodness, is three times shewn in this chapter. In the parable of the virgins,—in the much plainer parable of the servants who had received the talents,—and in a direct declaration of the manner wherein our Lord will proceed at the last day. The several parts of these answer exactly to each other, only each rises above the preceding.
In the first parable we cannot fail to observe, that the virgins differ in no respect save one. They are called virgins; they all take lamps; they all go forth to meet the bridegroom; they all slumber and sleep; they are all awakened and arise, and prepare to trim their lamps. The great and only difference which so materially distinguishes them is,—with the foolish, the want of oil in their vessels; with the wise, the possession of that oil; and this is the only thing that can distinguish true and formal professors: each is called by the name of Christ; each is baptized, and made a candidate for immortality; each dies, and slumbers in the grave; and each will be awakened by the last trump. But then the material difference will be found: these shall hear, "Come ye blessed; for I was hungry, and ye gave me meat, &c. and thus proved your faith by your living, holy works of mercy and of love;"—while those shall hear, "Depart, ye cursed; for I was hungry, and ye gave me no meat, &c. professing my faith only, but destitute of that love and charity to your brethren, which is the sure characteristic of all my disciples."
How careful should we be to provide for this decisive day; to see that we bear not an empty lamp only; are not Christians merely in name, but Christians in heart and life! To this purpose we should labour to obtain the divine oil of the Spirit; carefully examining ourselves, whether we be in the faith,—whether we have redemption through the Blood of the covenant, even the forgiveness of sins? If we can answer these inquiries in the affirmative, to the glory of the grace of God, let us further examine, whether we love God more and more; whether we find the love of our neighbour more and more increased;—whether we find our love of holiness, and our desire to be dissolved, and to be with Christ, daily advancing and quickening into perfection? Thus should we be solicitous and careful in our inquiries after the supplies of grace; not content merely to stand still, to remain from year to year the same; but zealous through divine grace to pluck every evil from our hearts, and to implant there all the fair flowers of paradise, all the sweet graces and holy affections which make the soul indeed the kingdom of God, and transfuse an ineffable sweetness and happiness into our whole life and conversation. Giver of all good gifts! make us more than ordinarily zealous to increase in holiness and in all good works, that we may not only adorn the profession of our Lord and Saviour, but be found happily prepared, with our lamps trimmed and burning, when the blessed bridegroom calls, and gives us a glorious admission into his everlasting joy.
In the parable of the talents, our Saviour describes in a striking manner the judgment of his own servants,—his apostles, ministers, and all who are in eminent stations of life; shewing, that though they are not blessed indeed with equal advantages, yet all the gifts, whether of nature or of grace, which they have enjoyed, are bestowed on them for their Master's service, to whom they properly belong; and that they should be employed in promoting his interest, the interests of truth and righteousness, which he came to establish on earth:—he, who esteems the most holy and useful life to be the most praise-worthy, and will reward it accordingly.
The behaviour of a good man in an eminent station of life is fitly enough compared to a course of merchandize; for as merchants, by laying out their money in trade, receive it again with profit, so the servants of God, by occupying the abilities and opportunities which he has put into their hands, improve, strengthen, and increase them; and whatever success they have in this spiritual merchandize, their Master is pleased to consider it as his own, and to think himself enriched thereby, rejoicing infinitely in the happiness of his creatures. Can we have a fairer or more amiable view of the Deity?
The excuse which the slothful servant made for himself, truly expresses the thoughts of wicked men. They look on Christ as a hard tyrannical master, who rigorously exacts what he has no title to, and who punishes with unreasonable severity things that are no faults at all, or but small ones; and they regard his laws as so many infringements of their liberty, by which they are secluded from much innocent pleasure. But the answer which the Judge is said to have returned, demonstrates that all the excuses which wicked men can make for themselves, will avail them nothing at the great day; and truly, it is not to be imagined how any man can produce before God a reason sufficient to justify his neglect of doing good, and improving those talents which are entrusted to him solely for that purpose.
The crime and punishment of this idle servant ought to be attentively considered by all; especially by persons addicted to pleasure, who imagine that there is no harm in giving themselves up to sensual gratifications, provided thereby they do no injury to others: for the Judge of the world here solemnly declares, that to have done no harm, will be by no means a sufficient plea at his bar; that a life spent in amusements will be severely punished; that it is highly criminal to suffer the divine grace to lie buried in idleness; and that all God's servants must be actively good, exerting themselves to the utmost in promoting his interest, which is no other than the happiness of his creatures. By this indeed they acquire no merit; yet it is by this that they are qualified for the enjoyment of heaven, the gates of which Christ has set open by his blood.
But further we may reflect, that if the servant who hid his talent in a napkin was reckoned unfaithful to his trust, and punished accordingly, notwithstanding he delivered it up to his lord intire; what may they expect, who destroy the noble faculties bestowed on them, or use those temporal blessings as occasions of sin, which God intended as means for the exercise and improvements of grace? See more in the Reflections, and in the Inferences on Luke 19:0 and, for the latter part of this chapter, the note on the last verse.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, Though the parable contained in the first part of this chapter may, as connected with the former chapter, have a particular reference to the destruction of the Jewish people, who had slighted the gospel-salvation, and neglected their day of grace; yet it may be well understood as of more general import, and including a warning and caution to men in every age and place.
The parable itself is taken from a common custom in those days, when the bridegroom used to go in the evening attended by his friends, to the house of the bride, who, on hearing of his approach, went out with lights, accompanied by a number of virgins, her companions, to welcome his arrival, and conduct him to the entertainment provided on that occasion; and such shall be the state of the gospel-church at the coming of Christ, as we see represented in this parable. See the Critical Notes. We have,
1. The persons spoken of, the virgins, who went out with their lamps to meet the Bridegroom. The Bridegroom is the Lord Jesus, who condescends to call his church his spouse; and to honour every member of it with that near and exalted relation. The virgins are those professors of religion, who appear desirous to present themselves to Christ, in the comeliness, beauty, and simplicity, which his grace puts upon them: they go forth to meet him, found in his ways and ordinances here on earth, expecting his coming from heaven, and if they are Christians indeed, loving and looking for the day of his appearing.
2. The characters of the virgins. They were very different, as their actions shewed. Five of them were wise; and as an evidence of their foresight and prudence, they took care to be well provided with oil, that they might have enough, if they should continue long in waiting. These represent the faithful souls made wise unto salvation, whose hearts are truly supplied with the oil of divine grace, and have not only the light of profession, but the real experimental knowledge of Jesus Christ, possess a living principle, and partake of a divine nature: but five were foolish, who, though in appearance associated with the others, were unacquainted with the life-giving truths of the Gospel, professors, but not possessors of the grace which is in Jesus Christ; shining to others in a name to live, but really dead and dark in their own souls: they have lamps; but no oil with them, destitute of spiritual life; careful only to make a fair show in the flesh, and recommend themselves to their neighbours as Christians, without a single eye to Christ, and a real desire in simplicity and godly sincerity to approve themselves to him. And they are foolish indeed, who, thus deceiving others, most fatally deceive and destroy their own souls.
3. The bridegroom not coming so soon as they expected, they all slumbered and slept; but as their state was different when awake, it was different also when asleep,—at least with respect to their souls in the state of separate spirits.
4. At midnight, the cry of the bridegroom's approach startled them from their slumbers, and instantly they were summoned to meet him with their lamps: thus suddenly surprised are we often by death. But does our Lord delay? Is this moment yet our own? Awake then, thou that sleepest, prevent this dire alarm.
5. Instantly they arose, and began to trim their lamps. The wise trimmed their lamps which were then flaming with love, and welcomed their Redeemer, confidently expecting to be found of him in peace. The foolish too essayed to prepare, but alas! too late; their lamps were gone out, and no oil to be procured: in vain they seek to beg from their companions, or buy from others; they have lost the moment which cannot be regained. While there is life, indeed, the market is still open to the latest moment; they who come to Christ may buy pardon, grace, and peace, without money and without price: but when death closes the scene, the lamp of hope is for ever extinguished; and as the tree falleth, it must lie.
6. While the foolish virgins went in buy, the bridegroom came. Many on their death-beds express deep concern for their neglected souls, and think by some extraordinary acts of devotion and charity still to purchase heaven; mistaking the market, and spending their labours on that which satisfieth not. Christ alone can save a sinking soul, and to the last; they who in this day of trial come humbly and sincerely to him, never find it too late.—They that were ready went in with him to the marriage; all who are found justified through his infinite merit, and shining in the graces of his Spirit, are admitted to his eternal presence, and sit down with him in glory: and then the door was shut; they who are entered into the rest of the blessed, go out no more; and they who are once excluded, can never more gain admission: the great gulph is fixed, and despair has for ever barred the door of hope. Too late the foolish virgins came, importunately asking for admittance, but all entrance is refused them, and the Bridegroom utterly disowns them: verily I say unto you, I know you not; and woe to that sinner who is thus abandoned of God to his misery, and doomed never to enter into the rest which remains for the people of God.
7. The inference from the whole is, Watch therefore; the concerns of our souls are infinitely momentous, and will not admit of being trifled with; the time is short, eternity depends upon our improvement of it. We know neither the day nor the hour when we shall be summoned away; the sleeping virgins had a midnight call, and why not you or I? Watch therefore, that you may be always ready to go forth with joy to meet the Lord.
2nd, As a farther illustration of the method in which the Lord will deal with the visible members of his church, the parable immediately following the preceding is delivered. Christ is the great Master and Lord of all; we are all his servants in profession, and they especially who are put in trust with the Gospel: our great business therefore here below is, to make our profiting appear to the glory of our Lord. We are told,
1. Of the trust committed to the servants during their Master's absence. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one; to the least a very considerable sum. (1.) These talents refer to the gifts that he bestowed on his disciples after his ascension, qualifying them with extraordinary miraculous powers, and furnishing them with ability for the discharge of the arduous trust committed to them while he went up to heaven, being in the fulness of time again to return, and call his servants to an account for the improvement of that which he had committed to their care. (2.) The talents especially refer in general to all the gifts of grace, nature, and Providence, of which we are possessed, and which are lent us of the Lord, purely to serve the purposes of his glory, and promote the interests of his kingdom; and for them we must be accountable to him in the great day of his appearing. Some have more than others, God being sovereign in his gifts; and, as we deserve nothing from him, it is a mercy that we should be entrusted with the least talent. They, who by their station, abilities, or possessions, are entrusted with much, whose capital is large, and influence most extensive, have the more to answer for, and need give the greater diligence: but all have something; the meanest have one immortal soul to care for, infinitely more precious than millions of silver and gold.
2. The improvement that each made of the talents committed to them. Two of them immediately set themselves to work, and by their diligence doubled their capital. Thus faithful ministers and Christians, laying out themselves in the Redeemer's work and service, see the most abundant blessing attending their labours of love. Their own souls are enriched with knowledge and grace, while they are serving others; the church is edified and increased, and immortal souls are gained for Christ (in his account the richest treasure).—One of the servants, and he that had least, was negligent and careless, instead of making use of his talent, he went and hid it in the earth; representing herein the character of those, whether ministers or professors of religion, who make no improvement of their natural abilities, providential endowments or spiritual gifts; but are so buried in earthly-mindedness, and attention to this world's pursuits, that they have neither inclination nor leisure to serve the interests of Christ and of souls.
3. After a long time the Master of these servants came to reckon with them: for though the Lord Jesus waits long, he will assuredly come at last; and we must at his tribunal, every one of us, render up our account. Oh! that it may be with joy and not with sorrow!
(1.) The faithful servants with readiness appeared, and gave up their accounts, highly to their master's satisfaction, who failed not abundantly to reward their diligence. He that had five talents, had gained other five: he that had two, had doubled them: both therefore are received with approbation, and gloriously rewarded. Thus in the day of Christ, the faithful ministers and disciples of Jesus acknowledging the trust committed to them as a matter of grace, will produce full evidence of their diligence and profiting; and whether it be less or more of the gifts of grace, nature, or Providence which they have possessed, their Lord will graciously accept the improvement that they have made, will commend their fidelity, and abundantly reward them; exalting them to a throne of glory in his eternal kingdom, and admitting them into a participation of those unspeakable and never-ending joys which are at his right hand for evermore,—a reward indeed infinitely exceeding all their services. But as it was through grace that they received their talents, so it is of grace, not of debt, that they receive the recompense so far beyond all they could desire or deserve.
(2.) The slothful servant next appears, and fain would excuse his own negligence by the most unjust reflection upon his gracious Master; pretending apprehensions of his austerity and rigorous exaction, as if he expected to reap where he had neither manured the soil, nor sown the seed: producing therefore the talent, and pleading fear, he hopes his Lord will be satisfied with his own, and not disapprove his care in hiding it, that he might restore it intire at his return. Such are the sentiments, pleas, and excuses of the false and faithless disciple.
[1.] He has hard thoughts of God, and thinks his demands too rigorous and severe, desirous to lay the blame of his sins on him rather than himself. [2.] He is under the bondage of mere slavish fear; the little that he affects to do proceeds from that base principle alone; and where this only reigns, utterly void of genuine love, no acceptable service can be rendered to God. [3.] He depends for his acceptance with God on a negative religion, and thinks it very sufficient if he can plead that he has done no harm, has not been so bad as others, nor indulged in these excesses which they fell into; though he can produce neither the works of faith, nor the labours of love. [4.] He presumes on the validity of his plea, and sees not that there is a lie in his right hand.
(3.) Convicted out of his own mouth, judgment is pronounced upon him. His sloth and wickedness were evident; and to be idle in the service of God is highly criminal. His very excuse shewed self-contradiction; since, if he had so austere a person to deal with, at least he should have given the money into a banker's hands where it would have been equally safe, and borne lawful interest. Note; The sinner's excuses in the day of judgment will but prove his guilt more evident: if God were the hard master that he pretends, he ought to have been at more pains to please him, and more diligent to improve the measure of gifts or grace, however small, which was vouchsafed unto him. Justly therefore does sentence proceed, take the talent from him; for they who use not the gifts, means, and mercies, temporal or spiritual, which they enjoy, deserve to forfeit them; and give it unto him which hath ten talents; God thus graciously rewarding the fidelity and diligence of his servant with an increase of blessings, adding to the store that he had improved; while he often strips off even the profession of the hypocrites, and deprives them of the common gifts of nature, Providence, or gospel-privileges which they before enjoyed. Nor does the unprofitable servant's punishment rest in the mere loss of what he possessed, but in the sufferings to which he shall be doomed, when he is cast into outer darkness, where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Note; (1.) Hell is the place of the sinner's torment, and the direct expressions of human agony and distress can but faintly represent the miseries of that dismal mansion. (2.) If the slothful and unprofitable meet so fearful a doom, where will the extravagant and abandoned appear, who have squandered instead of hiding the talent, and abused it to the most immediate dishonour and injury of the Master that entrusted them therewith?
3rdly, Without a parable, our Lord proceeds to give a delineation of that awful process, which will be observed in the great day of final judgment: may it awaken our minds to prepare for it! We have,
1. The majesty of the eternal Judge displayed. The Son of Man, the incarnate Jesus, who once suffered on a cross, and is now exalted to the crown, all power being given him in heaven and in earth,—at his bar shall the nations be assembled, and every individual of the sons of Adam must then appear before him, to receive, according to the decisions of his justice, everlasting happiness, or eternal torment. In the glory of Deity, with the peculiar dignity of Mediator, shall he be revealed; the myriads of bright angelic hosts shall grace his train, and stand the ready ministers to execute his orders; while seated on a throne of glory, brighter than the sun when he goeth forth in his strength, every eye shall see him, and from his lips expect their irrevocable doom. Shall I be there? my soul, tremble at the thought, and give all diligence to be found of him in peace!
2. The all-discerning eye of Jesus, incapable of mistaking the true characters of men, shall now make the final separation. His sheep, who in faith unfeigned, and love without dissimulation, followed him the true Shepherd, shall, in distinguished honour, be placed high at his right hand: while the goats, the hypocrites and impenitent, whose hearts remain uncleansed from their native filthiness, who lived and died in sin unpardoned, shall be degraded to the left with shame, the prelude to their approaching fearful sentence. Reader, consider, where shall thy place be?
3. The faithful shall be received with the most endearing welcome. Then when he shall have made the separation, and no one spot remains among the glorious host, addressing himself with every endearment of voice and aspect, the King, whose word is with power, and his sentence unchangeable, shall say unto them, Come, ye who have followed me in the regeneration; come, to be for ever with me, to behold and partake of my glory, ye blessed children of my Father; honoured with this distinguished title; though despised, abhorred of men, precious to the God of heaven, blessed now with his eternal favour; come, inherit the kingdom, as joint-heirs with me, a kingdom which cannot be moved, eternal in the heavens; compared with which, all earthly grandeur vanishes, as the glow-worm before the meridian sun; a kingdom of never-fading glory, prepared from the foundation of the world by the power and grace of the Almighty, to crown the felicity of his faithful saints. With what rapture and delight, with what joy unspeakable and full of glory, will the faithful redeemed hear this address from the mouth of their adored Judge, of their beloved Lord! Oh! that my lot may be among these saints in light!
4. Christ mentions the evidences of their relation to him as his people, clearly shewn in the regard paid for his sake to their brethren in affliction and distress: the destitute, hungry, and naked, their hands were open to relieve; the sick were cheered by their presence and sweet counsel; and all the horrors of a prison kept them not from visiting the faithful there confined for the testimony of Jesus Christ, supporting their wants, and not ashamed of their bonds. Works of genuine charity these, which, though not meritorious, Jesus remembers, and in the riches of his grace is pleased to mention to their honour, as undoubted tokens of their faith unfeigned. (See the Critical Notes for a more enlarged view of this subject.) Surprised to hear their Lord make mention of their poor insignificant services, and with deep humility conscious how little they deserved it at his hands, the righteous were ready to question and disclaim the works attributed to them. They never saw, at least the most of them, their Lord in the flesh, and cannot hear, without some confusion, his declarations with regard to their duties; when they ever blushed to think how defective they had been: but the King from his throne shall answer, with the strongest assurances of his kind approbation of their conduct, that he regards what they did for the meanest of his disciples, whom in his infinite condescension he is pleased to call my brethren, as done unto himself. He interprets our practice by our principles. The least deed of charity, even a cup of cold water, when bestowed with a desire to his glory, and proceeding from love to him, shall be remembered. And in the least of his poor people Jesus is still present with us; and what we bestow to relieve their wants will be equally acceptable to him, as if we had visited him in the days of his flesh, and ministered to him of our substance. What an engagement and encouragement this, to every work and labour of love!
5. Sentence is passed on those at the left hand. With terror in his voice, and frowns of terrible ire, the Judge shall pronounce the unchangeable decree. Depart from me, ye objects of my abhorrence, whose guilt and impenitence provoke my indignation; be for ever banished from my presence, and therewith from all bliss, and ease, and happiness for ever. Depart, ye cursed, on whom my wrath eternally abides, and all the penalties of a broken law; vengeance shall pursue you to the bottomless pit, thither must ye be driven, into everlasting fire, to dwell in flames which never can be quenched; where an agonizing body adds to the misery of the tortured soul; and as intolerable as the torment is, so eternal shall be the suffering; no ray of hope shall ever cheer the horrid gloom: there is neither prospect of an end, nor remission of the torture, but black despair adds bitterness inexpressible to every pang which the damned feel: and this not originally designed for you, but prepared for the devil and his angels whom ye have chosen to imitate, whose service ye have devoted yourselves to, whose works ye have followed; and therefore with them must suffer; alike in sin, alike in punishment. With such companions to spend eternity, how terrible! In such torments to lie down how intolerable! O, sin, sin, what hast thou done!
6. The reason for the sentence is given, and the criminals' plea overruled. The instances of their guilt are produced, drawn from the omissions of those duties which the righteous practised, the sure evidence of the want of that faith which worketh by love. Engrossed with selfish considerations, negligent and at ease, they cared not for the distresses of the miserable, nor sought to alleviate them: were unconcerned what the faithful suffered for their Master's sake; and if at any time mere humanity, sensibility to distress, ostentation, or self-complacence opened their purses to the relief of indigence, their gifts never flowed from the divine principle of love to Jesus and his brethren, nor were directed to his glory alone; therefore they were as reprobate silver. They object indeed to the charge; and because they never saw Christ in the flesh, presume that they cannot be accused of thus neglecting him: but the plea is frivolous. Christ is one with every member of his church, suffers in them and with them; and every insult, slight, or neglect shewn to them, he reckons as done to himself. And this should comfort the despised and suffering servants of Jesus; he feels and takes a part in all their troubles; and let those who treat them with indignity, tremble. They may pretend, indeed, that they mean to discountenance and discourage a deluded sect, to ridicule or oppress a company of enthusiastic religionists, and the like; but men need well consider what they do, and whether they act clearly on the authority of their Bibles, and under the influence of fervent divine love; lest a persecuted Jesus should rise up terribly to avenge his own and his people's wrongs. If the doom of the negligent, the unmerciful, and uncharitable be so dreadful, what will be the case with the unjust, and the persecutors of God's people?
7. The sentence is no sooner pronounced than executed. These shall go away into everlasting punishment; there is no appeal from Christ's bar, nor escape from his judgment: the doom is irrevocable, the execution immediate. Driven from his presence, they are cast into the burning lake, and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever. But the righteous, who through his grace are approved as faithful, shall go into life eternal; to the enjoyment of God in his kingdom of glory; to partake of all the blessedness which the boundless love and power of an all-sufficient God can bestow on his glorified saints; their holiness and happiness consummated, and their bliss secured to eternity.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Matthew 25". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28