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Parable of the ten virgins. (Peculiar to St. Matthew.) This parable, as a continuation of the teaching of the last chapter, sets forth the necessity of having and retaining grace unto the end, in order to be able to welcome the advent of Christ. The duty of watchfulness and preparation for the great day is, of course, implied and set forth (Matthew 25:13); but the point is that the oil of God's grace alone enables the soul to meet the bridegroom joyfully, without dismay. The usual marriage customs of the Jews are well known. On the appointed day, the bridegroom, accompanied by his friends, proceeded to the bride's house, and thence escorted her, with her attendant maidens and friends, to his own or his parents' home. In the parable, however, the proceedings are somewhat different. Here the bridegroom is not in the town, but somewhere at a distance, so that, though the day is settled, the exact hour of his arrival is uncertain. He will come in the course of the night, and the virgins who are to meet him have assembled in the house where the wedding is to take place. They wait for the summons to go forth and meet the bridegroom and conduct him to the bridal place; and when the signal is given that he is approaching, they set forth on the road, each bearing her lamp (Edersheim).
Then. The time refers to the hour of the Lord's advent (Matthew 24:50, Matthew 24:51), and the parousia of the Son of man (Matthew 24:36, etc.). Shall the kingdom of heaven be likened. At the time named something analogous to the coming story shall happen in the Church, in the gospel dispensation. Ten virgins. Ten is the number of perfection; such a number of persons was required to form a synagogue, and to be present at any office, ceremony, or formal benediction. Talmudic authorities affirm that the lamps used in bridal processions were usually ten. The "virgins" here are the friends of the bride, who are arranged to sally forth to meet the bridegroom as soon as his approach is signalled. "The Church, in her aggregate and ideal unity, is the bride; the members of the Church, as individually called, are guests; in their separation from the world, and expectation of the Lord's coming, they are his virgins" (Lange). The bride herself is not named in the parable, as she is not needed for illustration, and the virgins occupy her place. These virgins represent believers divided into two sections; evidently they are all supposed to hold the true faith, and to be pure and undefiled followers of the Lord (2 Corinthians 11:2; Revelation 14:4), to be waiting for his coming, and to love his appearing; but some fail for lack of grace or of perseverance, as is shown further on. Their lamps (ταÌς λαμπαìδας αὐτῶν, better ἑαυτῶν, their own lamps). They all made separate and personal, independent preparation for the meeting. These lamps (for they were not torches) were, as Dr. Edersheim notes, hollow cups or saucers, with a round receptacle for the wick, which was fed with pitch or oil. They were on these occasions fastened to a long wooden pole, and borne aloft in the procession. Went forth. This does not refer to the final going forth to meet the bridegroom on the road (Matthew 25:6), as it is absurd to suppose that they all fell asleep by the wayside, with their lamps in their hands (Matthew 25:5), and, as a fact, only five went out at last; but it doubtless intimates that they left their own homes to unite in duly celebrating the wedding. To meet the bridegroom. An evident interpolation adds, "and the bride," which the authorized Vulgate unhappily confirms, reading, exierunt obviam sponso et sponsae. In this case the scene refers to the bridegroom's return in company with his bride. But this is a misconception, as no mention is made of the bride anywhere in the genuine text. The bridegroom comes to fetch home the bride; and these maidens, her friends, assembled in her house to be ready to escort him thither (cf. 1 Macc. 9:37). The wedding seems to take place at the bride'e house, as Judges 14:10.
Five of them were wise (φροìνιμοι, Matthew 24:45), and five were foolish. The best uncials (א, B, C, D, L) invert the clauses, in agreement with the order in Matthew 25:3, Matthew 25:4. So the Vulgate. In this case the idea would be that the foolish were a more prominent and noticeable class than the others. All the virgins were outwardly the same, were provided with the same lamps, prepared to perform the same office; the difference in their characters is proved by the result. Their folly is seen in the fact that at the time of action they were unable to do the part which a little care and forethought would have enabled them to perform successfully.
They that were foolish (αἱìτινες μωραιì)… took no oil with them. It has been doubted whether they brought no oil of their own at all, trusting to get their lamps filled by others, or whether they neglected to bring an additional supply to replenish them when exhausted. The latter seems most likely to be the sense intended; as the spiritual aspect of the parable places both classes in exactly the same position at starting, and we know from other sources that, the oil reservoirs being very small, it was the custom to carry another vessel from which to refill them. Some good manuscripts commence the verse with "for," thus making the verse justify the epithets applied to the virgins.
In their vessels. These were the flasks or vases carried by the maidens to replenish the oil in the lamps as occasion demanded. The contrast between the two classes seems to lie in the foresight of the one and the negligent carelessness of the other. It has been common from early times to find in the lamps the symbol of faith, in the oil the good works that proceed therefrom. The wise virgins exercise their faith in charity and good works; the foolish profess, indeed, the faith of Christ but carry it not out to the production of the good works in which God ordained that they should walk (Ephesians 2:10). But this exposition, time honored though it is, surely does not meet the requirements of the parable. What one wants is an interpretation which shall show how it is that the want of oil and its sudden failure debar one from meeting the bridegroom. If the oil be good works, and the believer has gone on doing these until the Lord's advent is signalled, why should he fail at the last? How comes it that in a moment he leaves off doing his duty, and making his calling and election sure? These are questions which the patristic and mediaeval explanation leaves unsolved. I doubt not that the right solution is to be found in regarding the oil as symbolical of the Holy Spirit, or the graces of God. This is a truly scriptural notion, as declared by the use of this substance in holy rites. Accepting this view, we should say that the ten virgins had so far alike taken and used the grace of God, but that they differed in this—that, while the wise maintained the supply of grace by constant recourse to the means thereof, the foolish were satisfied with their spiritual state once for all, and took no pains to keep their spiritual life healthful and active by the renewal of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. They retained the outward show and form of faith, but neglected the true inward life of faith; they had the appearance without the reality.
While the bridegroom tarried (Matthew 24:48). We may suppose that all had lighted their lamps at first, in expectation of being immediately called to meet the bridegroom. But he came not. The advent of Christ was not to be as speedy as the disciples imagined. No one could divine when it would take place. As St. Augustine says, "Latet ultimus dies, ut observetur omnis dies." See here a figure of each Christian's probation. They all slumbered (ἐνυìσταξαν) and slept (ἐκαìθευδον) The first verb implies the nodding and napping of persons sitting up at night; the second means "they began to sleep," actually. All, wise and foolish, did this; so in itself it was not sinful, it was only natural. To such drowsiness the best of Christians are liable. The bow cannot be kept always strung; "Neque semper arcum tendit Apollo." Having made all preparations, the virgins ceased for a while to think of the bridegroom's coming. The Fathers take this sleep to be an image of death, the awaking to be the resurrection, when the difference between the two classes is known and displayed. But this would imply that all the faithful will be dead when the Lord comes, which is contrary to 1 Thessalonians 4:17. Nor, on the other hand, is it conceivable that they whose lamps are kept burning till the day of death will be unprovided when the Lord comes.
At midnight. When sleep is deepest and awaking most unwelcome. The Lord will come "as a thief in the night" (Matthew 24:42-40.24.44; 1 Thessalonians 5:2). There was a cry made (γεìγονεν, hath been made). The cry comes either from the watchers or from the advancing company. We are told by the apostle (1 Thessalonians 4:16) that "the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God." The suddenness of the event is indicated by the tense of the verb—"there hath been," "there is," a cry. The bridegroom cometh! The best manuscripts omit the verb, which omission makes the expression more graphic. The bridegroom is Christ; he comes now to judge, to punish and reward; and Christians have to meet him, and show how their duties have been performed, and how their personal preparation has been made.
Trimmed their lamps. The trimming consisted in removing the charred portion of the wick, and raising the wick itself by means of a pointed wire which was fastened by a chain to each lamp. These operations would be followed by the replenishment of the vase with oil from the vessel carried for what purpose. In a spiritual sense the dormant grace has to be revived at the awful summons. It had, indeed, come upon all unexpectedly at the moment; but while one party was ready to meet the emergency, the other was wholly unprepared. The foolish, indeed, got their wicks ready to light, when they suddenly discovered that they had no oil in their lamps, and remembered that they had brought no further supply with them.
The foolish said unto the wise. They apply to their prudent companions for aid at this crisis. They recognize now the superior wisdom of the others, and would fain have their assistance to hide their own deficiencies. Are gone out (σβεìνυνται, are going out). The lamps, fresh trimmed, had burned for a few moments, and then, having no oil, soon waned and died out. Spiritually speaking, the idea of these people seems to have been that the merits of others could supply their lack, or that there was a general store of grace to which they could have recourse, and which would serve instead of individual personal preparation. See here a terrible warning against delay in the matter of the soul, or against trusting to a death bed repentance.
Not so; lest there be not enough (μηìποτε οὐ μησῃ, haply it will not suffice). Edersheim renders, "Not at all—it will never suffice for us and you," in order to give the force of the double negation. In Aristotle, μηìποτε is often equivalent to "perhaps," e.g. 'Eth. Nic.,' 10.1. 3. "Even so they failed," says St. Chrysostom, "and neither the humanity of those of whom they begged, nor the easiness of their request, nor their necessity and want, made them obtain their petition. And what do we learn from hence? That no man can protect us there if we are betrayed by our works; not because he will not, but because he cannot. For these, too, take refuge in the impossibility. This the blessed Abraham also indicated, saying, 'Between us and you there is a great gulf,'so that not even when willing is it permitted them to pass it." But (probably spurious) go ye rather to them that sell. The answer is not harsh, and the advice is not ironical or unkind. The wise cannot of themselves supply the lack. They have no superabundant store of grace to communicate to others; at best even they are unprofitable servants; the righteous shall scarcely be saved; so they direct their companions to the only source where effectual grace may be obtained. They that sell are the ministers and stewards of Christ's mysteries, who dispense the means of grace. These are said to be bought, as the treasure hid in the field or the pearl of great price is bought (Matthew 13:44-40.13.46). Divine grace can always be procured by those who will pay the price thereof; and the price is faith and prayer and earnestness,—nothing more, nothing less (Isaiah 55:1; Revelation 3:18). But the time is short; delay is fatal; hence the counsel so urgently given, "Go ye," etc. Buy for yourselves. This is important. Every one must bear his own burden. The grace must be their own; what is required of those who would meet the Bridegroom without shame and fear is personal preparation, personal faith and holiness. We shall be judged individually; our Christian virtues must be entirely our own, wrought in us by the grace of God, with which we have humbly and thankfully cooperated. It is curious that some ancient and modern commentators see in this part of the parable, only an ornamental detail without special signification.
While they went to buy. They followed the advice given them. Whether they were successful or not is left untold; the issue would have been the same in either case; their return would have been too late. The opportunity they had had was not properly used; when preparation was comparatively easy they had neglected to make it; they had been once converted, so to speak, and rested in that fact, and thought it sufficient for all time, omitting to seek for daily supplies of grace, and now they find themselves miserably deceived. There is a certain wilful forgetfulness and negligence which can never be remedied on this side the grave. They that were ready. The five wise virgins who had made provision for the meeting, had renewed the grace of God in their hearts, and kept it alive by diligence and perseverance, according to the apostle's counsel (2 Peter 1:4-61.1.8). Went in with him to the marriage. They not only duly met the bridegroom on his way, but accompanied him into the joyful scene, the bridal feast, the type of all spiritual happiness (Revelation 19:9). "This world," says 'Pirke Aboth,' "is like the vestibule, the world to come is like the dining chamber: prepare thyself in the vestibule, that thou mayest be able to enter into the dining chamber." Well says the Son of Sirach, "Let nothing hinder thee to pay thy vow in due time, and defer not until death to be justified" (Ecclesiasticus 18:22). The door was shut (Luke 13:25). It is customary in the East, at great entertainments, to close the doors when all the guests are assembled. So at our universities, during the dinner hour, the gates of the colleges are always shut. Scott, in 'Old Mortality' (ch. 8. note), remarks that this custom was rigorously observed in Scotland. When the door is shut in the parable, there is no more entrance for any one. Trench quotes St. Augustine's saying, "Non inimicus intrat, nec amicus exit." Christ is the door by which our prayers reach God; through him alone they prevail; when this is closed the access to the heavenly throne is barred.
Lord, Lord, open to us. They apply to the bridegroom himself as now taking the direction of affairs. So when Christ the spiritual Bridegroom comes, he rules over all. Here, as elsewhere in the parable, the great spiritual reality shines through the earthly delineation. Whether the five foolish ones obtained oil or not at this late hour matters nothing; they were too late to do that which they had to do, too late to join in the bridal procession, and thus procure admission to the festival. Their piteous cry is not answered as they hoped. It is too late to ask for mercy when it is the time of vengeance. In this present state of grace we have the comforting injunction, "Knock, and it shall be opened unto you;" in the day of retribution the door is shut, and no knocking will unclose its barred portal. True it is that "not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father."
I know you not. They had not been in the bridal company, nor joined in the festive procession, so the bridegroom could only answer from within that he had no knowledge of them. What is meant spiritually by this rejection is doubtful. This is not a solitary instance of the use of the expression. In the sermon on the mount Christ declared that his sentence on those that professed, but practised not, would be, "I never knew you: depart from me!" (Matthew 7:23). He is said to know those whom he approves and acknowledges to be his (see John 10:14). God says of Abraham, "I know him" (Genesis 18:19) and of Moses, "I know thee by name" (Exodus 33:12). To be known of God is a higher blessing than to know God (Galatians 4:9). Many think that the words of our text imply utter reprobation. So Nosgen; and Chrysostom writes, "When he hath said this, nothing else but hell is left, and that intolerable punishment; or rather, this word is more grievous even than hell. This word he speaks also to them that work iniquity." But we must observe that in the present ease we have not the terrible addition, "Depart from me!" The sentence of exclusion from Christ's presence is not equivalent to that in Matthew 25:41, which dooms souls to the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. These five virgins had received the grace of God, and used it well for a time, and only failed at the last for lack of care and watchfulness. They had still some love for the Lord, still desired to serve him; it is not conceivable that they should suffer the same punishment as the utterly godless and profane, whose wickedness was perfect and Satanic. Doubtless they were punished; but as there are degrees of happiness in heaven, so there may be gradation of pains and penalties for those debarred from its blessings (see 1 Corinthians 3:15). But it is not improbable that the exclusion in the first place refers to the deprivation of participation in Messiah's future kingdom, whatever that may be, according to the vision in Revelation 20:1-66.20.15., and that the proceedings at the final judgment are not here intended.
Watch therefore. This is the lesson which the Lord draws from the parable, as elsewhere he gives the same warning, e.g. Luke 12:35, repeated by the apostle (1 Thessalonians 5:2, 1 Thessalonians 5:6). Ye know neither the day nor the hour [wherein the Son of man cometh]. The words in brackets are omitted by the earlier uncials, the Vulgate, Syriac, etc., and are to be regarded as an exegetical interpolation (comp. Matthew 24:42). Tertullian well says, "Ut pendula expectatione solicitude fidei probetur, semper diem observans, dum semper ignorat, quotidie timens quod quotidie sperat" ('De Anima,' 33). It remains to observe that, mystically, Christ is the Bridegroom, who celebrates his nuptials with his bride the Church, and comes to conduct her to heaven; those who are ready will accompany him and enter into the joy of their Lord; those who have not made their calling sure will be shut out.
Parable of the talents. (Peculiar to St. Matthew.) Following on the lesson of watchfulness and inward personal preparation just given, this parable enforces the necessity of external work and man's accountability to God for the due use of the special endowments which he has received. The former was concerned chiefly with the contemplative life, the waiting virgins; this chiefly with the active, the working servant; though, in fact, both states combine more or less in the good Christian, and the perfect disciple will unite in himself the characteristics of John and Peter, Mary and Martha. St. Luke (Luke 19:11-42.19.27) has recorded a somewhat analogous parable spoken by Christ on leaving the house of Zacchaeus, known as the parable of the pounds; and some critics have deemed that the two accounts relate to the same saying altered in some details, which are to be accounted for on the hypothesis that St. Luke has combined with our parable another on the rebellious citizens. That there are great resemblances between the two cannot be disputed, but the discrepancies are too marked to allow us to assume the unity of the two utterances. Christ often repeats himself, using the same figure, or illustration, or expression to enforce different truths or different phases of the same truth, as hero he may have desired more emphatically to impress on the disciples their special responsibilities. The variations in the two parables are briefly these: The scene and occasion are different; this was spoken to the disciples, that to the multitude; in one the lord is a noble who was to receive a kingdom, in the other he is simply a landowner; here his absence is a matter of local space, there it is a matter of time; the servants are ten in the one case, and three in the other; ill one we have pounds spoken of, in the other talents; in St. Luke each servant has the same sum delivered to him, in St. Matthew the amount is divided into talents, five, two, and one; in the "pounds" the servants show differing faithfulness with the same gifts, in the "talents" two of them display the same faithfulness with differing gifts; here the idle servant hides his money in a napkin, there he buries it in the earth; the conclusions also of the parables vary. Their object is not identical: the parable in our text illustrates the truth that we shall be judged according to that which we have received; the parable in St. Luke shows, to use Trench's words, that "as men differ in fidelity, in zeal, in labour, so will they differ in the amount of their spiritual gain." The latter treats of the use of gifts common to all, whether bodily, mental, or spiritual, such as one faith, one baptism, reason, conscience, sacraments, the Word of God; the former is concerned with the exercise of endowments which have been bestowed according to the recipient's capacity and his ability to make use of them,—the question being, how he has employed his powers, opportunities, and circumstances, the particular advantages, examples, and means of grace given to him.
For the kingdom of heaven is as a man The opening sentence in the original is anacoluthic, and our translators have supplied what they supposed to be wanting. The Greek has only, For just as a man, etc.; Vulgate, sicut enim homo. The other member of the comparison is not expressed. The Revised Version gives," It is as when a man." They who receive the possible interpolation at the end of Matthew 25:13 would simply render, "For he (the Son of man) is as a man." The Authorized Version plainly affords the intended meaning in the words of the usual preface to such parables (Matthew 25:1; Matthew 13:24, Matthew 13:31, etc.). The conjunction "for" carries us back to the Lord's solemn injunction, introducing a new illustration of the necessity of watchfulness. Travelling into a far country (ἀποδημῶν, leaving home). Here our Lord, being about to withdraw his bodily presence from the earth and to ascend into heaven, represents himself as a man going into another country, and first putting his affairs in order and issuing instructions to his servants (comp. Matthew 21:3;Matthew 5:1-40.5.48). Who called his own (τουους) servants. The sentence literally is, As a man … called his own bond servants. Those who specially belonged to him—a figure of all Christians, members of Christ, doing him service as their Master. Delivered unto them his goods (ταÌ ὑπαìρχοντα αὐτοῦ, his possessions). This was not an absolute gift, as we see from subsequent proceedings, and from the well known relation of master and slave. The latter, generally speaking, could possess no property, but he was often employed to administer his master's property for his lord's advantage, or was set up in business on capital advanced by his owner, paying him all or a certain share of the profits. The money still was not the slave's, and legally all that a slave acquired by whatsoever means belonged to his master, though custom had sanctioned a more equitable distribution. The "goods" delivered unto the lord's servants represent the special privileges accorded to them—differences of character, opportunities, education, etc., which they do not share in common with all men. This is one point, as above remarked, in which this parable varies from that of the "pounds." In both cases the gifts are figured by money—a medium current and intelligible everywhere on earth.
Unto one he gave five talents. The talent of silver (taking silver as worth a little over 5s. an ounce) was nearly equivalent to £400 of our money. It is from the use of the word "talents" in this parable that we moderns have derived its common meaning of natural gifts and endowments. The three principal slaves receive a certain amount of property to use for their master's profit. To every man. To all is given some grace or faculty which they have to employ to the glory of God. "Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ "(Ephesians 4:7). No one can justly say he is neglected in this distribution. Whatever natural powers, etc., we possess, and the opportunities of exercising and improving them, are the gift of God, and are delivered to us to be put out to interest. According to his several ability (καταÌ τηαν δυìναμιν). The master apportioned his gifts in accordance with his knowledge of the slaves' capacity for business, and the probability of their rightly employing much or little capital. So God distributes his endowments, not to all alike, but in such proportions as men are able to bear and to profit by. The infinite variety in men's dispositions, intellects, will. opportunities, position, and so on, are all taken into account, and modify and condition their responsibility. Straightway took his journey (ἀπεδηìμησεν εὐθεìως). Immediately after the distribution he departed, leaving each slave, uncontrolled and undirected, to use the property assigned to him. So God gives us free will at the same time that he sets before us opportunities of showing our faithfulness. The Lord may be referring primarily to the apostles whom he left immediately after he had bestowed upon them authority and commission. The Revised Version, Westcott and Hort, Nosgen, and others transfer the adverb "straightway" to the beginning of the next verse (omitting δεÌ in that verse). It is supposed to be superfluous here. The Vulgate accords with the Received Text; and there seems to be no sufficient reason for accentuating the first slave's activity above that of the second, who was equally faithful.
Went. The one who had received the five talents, the mark of the greatest trust, lost no time, but betook himself to business with zeal and energy. Traded with the same (εἰργαìσατο ἐν αὐτοῖς, made gain with them). The verb is applied to husbandry or any work by which profit is obtained. A special method of increasing the allotted sum is mentioned in Matthew 25:27; but here the term is general, and implies only that the slave used the money in some business which would prove to his master's advantage. In other words, he exercised his faculties and powers in his master's service and with a view to his master's interests. Made [them] other five talents. The addition "them" is unnecessary. He doubled his principal—"made" being equivalent to "gained." In the parable of the "pounds" we find the same sum increased in different proportions; here we have different sums multiplied in the same proportion.
Likewise, etc. The second servant made an equally good use of his smaller capital. It matters not whether our endowments are large or little, we have to use them all in the Lord's service. "To whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required" (Luke 12:48); and vice versa, to whomsoever less is committed, of him less shall be required. The burden is proportioned to the shoulder. We continually observe what to us seem anomalies in the distribution of gifts, but faith sees the hand of God dividing to each severally as he will, and we are confident that God will take account at last not only of the man's ability, but also of his opportunities of exercising the same. "He also" is omitted by Tischendorf, Westcott and Herr, and others.
He that had received one (τοÌ ἑìν, the one talent). Limited opportunities do not condone neglect. This third servant was as much bound to put out to interest his little capital as the first was his larger means. Went; went away. He too was not altogether idle; he in some sort exerted himself, not indeed actually in evil (as the servant in Matthew 24:48, Matthew 24:49), but yet not practically in his lord's service. Hid his lord's money. He thought the amount so small, or his master so rich, that it was of no consequence what was done with it; it was not worth the trouble of traffic. So, like all Easterns, he buried the little treasure in the ground, to keep it safe till his lord should ask tot it. recognizing that it was not his own to treat as he liked, but that it still belonged to him who had entrusted it to his care. The man had some special grace, but he never exercised it, never let it shine before men, or bring forth the fruit of good works.
After a long time. The interval between Christ's ascension and his second advent (Matthew 25:5) is long in men's view, though Christ can say, "Lo, I come quickly" (Revelation 3:11, etc.). And reckoneth with them (Matthew 18:23). The opportunity of labouring for Christ in the earthly life is ended at death; but the reckoning is reserved for the parousia—the coming of the Lord. The matter in the parable is concerned with the past actions of the servants of Christ (Matthew 25:14); about the final judgment of the rest of the world nothing is here expressly said, though certain inferences must be drawn from analogous proceedings.
He that had received [the] five talents. The slaves appear in the same order as they had come to receive the deposits. The first comes joyfully, showing boldness in his day of judgment (1 John 2:17), because he has dealt faithfully and diligently, and prospered in his labours. Thou deliveredst unto me. He rightly acknowledges that all he had came from his lord, and that it was his duty and his pleasure to increase the deposit for his master's benefit. The long delay had not made him careless and negligent; rather, he had used the time profitably, and thereby added greatly to his gains. I have gained beside them (ἐπ αὐτοῖς). The two last words are omitted by Westcott and Hort, Tischendorf, and the Revised Version. If they are not genuine, they are, at any rate, implied in the account of the transaction. The Vulgate has, Alia quinque superlucratus sum. The good servant says, Behold, as if he pointed with joy to the augmented wealth of his master. He does not speak boastfully; he does not praise himself for his success; he had simply done his best with the means entrusted to him, and he can speak of the result with real pleasure. So in a religious sense the obligation to improve talents is even more imperative. "The manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one to profit withal" (1 Corinthians 12:7). The grace which he receives he must employ for his own sanctification, as a member of Christ, for the edification of others, for the interests of God's Church; such work will show that he is worthy of his Lord's trust and faithful in his stewardship.
Well done (εὖ), thou good and faithful servant. He is praised, not for success, but for being "good," i.e. kind and merciful and honest in exercising the trust for others' benefit; and "faithful," true to his master's interests, not idle or inactive, but keeping one object always before him, steadily aiming at fidelity. Some regard the words as a commendation of the servant's works and faith, but this is not the primary meaning according to the context. Over a few things. The sum entrusted to him was considerable in itself, but little compared with the riches of his lord, and little in comparison of the reward bestowed upon him. The Greek here is ἐπιÌ ὀλιìγα, the accusative case denoting "extending over," or "as regards." I will make thee ruler (σε καταστηìσω, I will set thee, Matthew 24:45) over many things; ἐπιÌ πολλῶν, the genitive implying fixed authority over. From being a slave he is raised to the position of master. He is treated according to the principle in Luke 16:10, "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much." The spiritual import of this reward is hard to understand, if it is wished to assign to it a definite meaning. It seems to intimate that in the other world Christ's most honoured and faithful followers will have some special work to do for him in guiding and ruling the Church (see on Matthew 19:28; and comp. Luke 19:17, etc.). Enter thou into the joy of thy lord. Here is seen a marked contrast between the hard life of the slave and the happiness of the master. Literalists find here only a suggestion that the lord invites the servant to attend the feast by which his return home was celebrated. Certainly, the word translated "joy" (χαραÌ) may possibly be rendered "feast," as the LXX. translate mishteh in Esther 9:17, and a slave's elevation to his master's table would imply or involve his manumission. On the earthly side of the transaction, this and his extended and more dignified office would be sufficient reward for his fidelity. The spiritual signification of the sentence has been variously interpreted. Some find in it only an explanation of the former part of the award, "I will make thee ruler over many things," conveying no further accession of beatitude. But surely this is an inadequate conception of the guerdon. There are plainly two parts to this. One is advancement to more important position; the second is participation in the fulness of joy which the Lord's presence ensures (Psalms 16:11; Psalms 21:6), which, possessed entirely by himself, he communicates to his faithful. This comprises all blessedness. And it is noted that the joy is not said to enter into us. That indeed, though a blessing unspeakable, would be an inferior boon, as Augustine says; but we enter into the joy, when it is not measured by our capacity for receiving it, but absorbs us, envelops us, becomes our atmosphere, our life. Commentators quote Leighton's beautiful remark, "It is but little that we can receive here, some drops of joy that enter into us; but there we shall enter into joy, as vessels put into a sea of happiness."
That had received [the] two talents. This man, who had received a less sum, had been as faithful as the first, and comes with equal confidence and joyfulness to render his account, because he had been true and diligent in furthering his lord's interests to the best of his means and faculties. He had, it seems, less capacity, but had used it to the full.
Enter thou, etc. Both these servants had doubled their capital, and the lord commends and rewards them both in the same terms. The point is that each had done his best according to his ability. Their different talents, greater or less, had been profitably employed, and so far the two were equal. Fidelity in a smaller sphere of labour may be of greater importance than in a larger area; and seemingly insignificant duties well performed may be of incalculable spiritual advantage to one's self and to others. Differences in talents make no distinctions in rewards, if the utmost is made of them. "If there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not" (2 Corinthians 8:12).
He which had received the one talent. The rest of the parable is concerned with the case of this unprofitable servant. Usually, those who have most privileges neglect or misuse them or some of them; here the man apparently least favoured is taken as the type of the useless and wicked disciple, because his task was easiest, his responsibility less, his neglect most inexcusable. He has heard the words of his two fellow servants, and the great reward which their faithful service has received; he comes with no joy and confidence to render his account; he feels fully how unsatisfactory it is, and beans at once to defend his conduct by proclaiming his view of his lord's character. I know thee that thou art an hard (σκληροÌς) man. He chooses to conceive of his lord as harsh, stern, churlish in nature, one without love, who taxes men above their powers, and makes no allowance for imperfect service, however honest. He dares to call this impudent fiction knowledge. Thus men regard God, not as he is, but according to their own perverted views; they read their own character into their conception of him; as the Lord says, in Psalms 50:21, "Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself." Reaping where thou hast not sown (thou sowedst not), and gathering where thou hast not strawed (ὁìθεν οὐ διεσκοìρπισας, whence thou scatteredst not). This is a proverbial saying, implying a desire of obtaining results without sufficient means. The last verb is interpreted either of sowing or winnowing; the latter seems to be correct here, thus avoiding tautology. It is used by the Septuagint in this sense in Ezekiel 5:2, as the rendering of the Hebrew verb zarah (Edersheim). So the phrase here signifies gathering corn from a floor where thou didst not winnow. The slave virtually brings a twofold charge against his master, viz. that he enriched himself by others' toil; and that he expected gain from quarters where he had bestowed no labour.
I was afraid. He took as certain the conception which he had formed of his master's character, as harsh, exacting, and unsympathizing, and therefore feared to speculate with his money, or to put it to any use whereby it might be lost or diminished. This is his excuse for negligence. He endeavours to cast the fault from his own shoulders to those of his superior. So evil men persuade themselves that God asks from them more than they can perform, and content themselves by doing nothing; or they consider that their powers and means are their own, to use or not as they like, and that no one can call them to account for the way in which they treat them. Hid thy talent in the earth (see on Matthew 25:18). Put it away for safety, that it might come to no harm, and not be employed for evil purposes. He recognizes not any duty owed to the giver in the possession of the money, nor the responsibility for work which it imposed. Lo, there thou hast that is thine; lo! thou hast thy own. This is sheer insolence; as if he had said, "You cannot complain; I have not stolen or lost your precious money; here it is intact, just as I received it." What a perverse mistaken view of his own position and of God's nature! The talent was given to him, not to bury, but to use and improve for his lord's profit. Hidden away, it was wasted. The time, too, during which he had the talent in his possession was wasted; he had not honestly used it in his master's service, or laboured, as he was bound to do. He ought to have had much more to show than the original endowment. To vaunt that, if he had done no good, at least he had done no harm, is condemnation. He might not thus shirk his responsibility. His answer only aggravated his fault.
Thou wicked and slothful servant. In marked contrast with the commendation, "good and faithful," its Matthew 25:21, Matthew 25:23. He was "wicked," in that he calumniated his master, who really seems to have been ready to acknowledge the least service done to him, and never looked for results beyond a man's ability and opportunities; and he was "slothful," in that he made no effort to improve the one talent entrusted to him. Thou knewest (ἠìδεις), etc. Out of his own mouth he judges him (Luke 19:22). He repeats the slave's words, in which he expressed his notion of his lord's character and practice, and deduces therefrom the inconsistency of his action, without deigning to defend himself from the calumny, except, perhaps, by the use of ἠìδεις, which gives a hypothetical notion to the assumed knowledge. "You knew, you say." Some editors place a mark of interrogation at the end of the clause, which seems unnecessary.
Thou oughtest therefore, etc. Your conception of my character ought to have made you more diligent and scrupulous; and if you were really afraid to rust any risks with my money or invest it in any hazardous speculation, there were many ordinary and safe methods of employing it which would have yielded some profit, and some of these you would have adopted had you been faithful and earnest. The return might have been trifling in amount, but the lord shows that he is not grasping and harsh by being willing to accept even this in token of the servant's labour. To have put (βαλειìν). The term means to have thrown the money, as it were, on the banker's table. This would have been less trouble than digging a hole to bury it. Exchangers; τραπεζιìταις: numulariis; bankers. In St. Luke (Luke 19:23) we find ἐπιÌ τραìπεζαν, with the same meaning. These money changers or bankers (for the business seems always to have combined the two branches) were a numerous class in Palestine, and wherever the Jewish community was established. They received deposits at interest, and engaged in transactions such as are usual in modern times. With usury (συÌν τοìκῳ, with interest). At one time, law had forbidden usurious transactions between Israelites, though the Gentile was left to the mercy of his creditor (Deuteronomy 23:19, Deuteronomy 23:20); but later such limitations were not observed. The rate of interest varied from four to forty per cent. The spiritual interpretation of this feature of the parable has most unnecessarily exercised the ingenuity of commentators. Some see in the bankers an adumbration of the religious societies and charitable institutions, by means of which persons can indirectly do some work for Christ, though unable personally to undertake such enterprises. Olshausen and Trench regard them as the stronger characters who, by example and guidance, lead the timid and hesitating to employ their gifts aright. But it is more reasonable to consider this detail of the parable as supplementary to its chief purpose, and not to be pressed in the interpretation. The Lord is simply concerned to show that all talents, great or small, must be used in his service according to opportunities; and that, whether the return be large or little, it is equally acceptable, if it show a willing mind and real fidelity in the agent. In illustration he uses two cases which yield most pro.fit, and one which produces the least. Nothing can he inferred hence concerning the morality of usury. Christ draws his picture from the world as he finds it, pronouncing no opinion on its ethical bearing.
The sentence on the unprofitable servant follows. It is to be observed that he is punished, not for fraud, theft, malversation, but for omission. He had left undone that which he ought to have done. Take therefore the talent from him. The forfeiture of the talent was just and natural. It was given to him for a special purpose; he had not carried this out; therefore it could be his no longer. A limb unused loses its powers; grace unemployed is withdrawn. God's Spirit will not always strive with man. There comes a time when, if wilfully resisted and not exercised, it ceases to inspire and to influence. Well may we pray, "Take not thy Holy Spirit from us!" Give it, etc. This is done on the principle stated in the next verse and Matthew 13:12. God's work must be done; his gifts are not lost; they are transferred to another who has proved himself worthy of such a charge. As the servant who had the ten talents lied already brought in his account and had received his reward, it seems, at first, difficult to understand how additional work and responsibility should be given to him. But it is the blessedness of Christ's servants that they rejoice in a new trust received, in added opportunities of serving him, whether in this life or in the life to come, and all the increase which they make is their own eternally and augments their joy.
Unto every one that hath … abundance (Matthew 13:12). So we have seen in the first part of the parable. The proverb says, "Money makes money;" a man who has capital finds various means of increasing it; it grows as it is judiciously employed. Thus the grace of God, duly stirred up and exercised, receives continual accession, "grace for grace" (John 1:16). The Christian's spiritual forces are developed by being properly directed; Providence puts in his way added opportunities, and as he uses these he is more and more strengthened and replenished. From him that hath not (ἀποÌ δεÌ τοῦ μηÌ ἐìχοντος). So the Received Text, probably from Luke 19:26; the best manuscripts and editions read, τοῦ δεÌ μηÌ ἐìχοντος, but as to him that hath nat; this, followed by ἀπ αὐτοῦ at the end of the verse, is less tautological than the other reading. To "have not," in accordance with the context, signifies to possess nothing of any consequence, to be comparatively destitute, in the world's estimate of riches. Shall be taken away even that which he hath; even that which he hath shall be taken away from him. The Vulgate, following some few manuscripts, has, Et quod videtur habere auferetur ab eo, from Luke 8:18. The poor unpractical man shall lose even the little which he possessed. So the spiritually unprofitable shall be punished by utter deprivation of the grace which was given for his advancement in holiness. If applied to the special circumstances of the time and of the persons to whom it was addressed, the parable would teach that the disciples who recognized and duly employed the riches of the doctrine and powers delivered unto them would receive further revelations; but that the people who spurned the offered salvation and neglected the gracious opportunity would forfeit the blessing, and be condemned.
Cast ye the unprofitable servant into [the] outer darkness (Matthew 8:12). The parable merges into the real. The 'matter represented bursts through the veil under which it was delivered, and stands forth plainly and awfully. The command is issued to the ministers of the Lord's vengeance, whether earthly or angelic. The slave was truly unprofitable, as he advanced neither his master's interests nor his own, which were bound up with the other. While the faithful servants enter into the joy of the Lord, he is rejected from his presence, expelled from the kingdom of heaven, banished we know not whither. And why? Not for great ill doing, sacrilege, crime, offence against the common laws of God and man; but for neglect, idleness, omission of duty. This is a very fearful thought. Men endeavour to screen themselves from blame by minimizing their talents, ability, opportunities; this parable unveils the flimsiness of this pretence, shows that all have responsibilities, and are answerable for the use they make of the graces and faculties, be they never so small, which they possess. Spiritual indolence is as serious a sin as active wickedness, and meets with similar punishment, Our Lord's account of the last judgment terribly confirms this truth (Matthew 25:42-40.25.45). There shall be [the] weeping and [the] gnashing of teeth (Matthew 24:51). "There," viz. in the outer darkness. The remembrance of lost opportunities, wasted graces, bartered privileges, will fill the mind of the banished with terrible remorse, and make existence a very hell; and what more shall be added? Some of the Fathers have recorded a gnomic saying derived from this parable, if not an utterance of our Lord himself, "Be ye approved bankers."
The final judgment on all the nations. (Peculiar to St. Matthew.) Before entering upon the exposition of this majestic section, which is a prophecy, not a parable, we have to settle the preliminary question as to who are the subjects of the judgment here so graphically and fearfully delineated. Are they only the heathen, or Christians, or all mankind without exception? The Lord's present utterance is plainly the development of the account of the parousia in Matthew 24:30, Matthew 24:3. There those that are gathered are "the elect," nothing being said concerning the rest of mankind; here we have the forecast completed, both righteous and unrighteous receiving their sentence. "All the nations" usually represent all Gentiles distinguished from the Jews. But there is nothing to indicate separate judgment for the Jew and Gentile. Equally unlikely is the notion that the transaction is confined to the heathen, whether the opinion is grounded on a supposed extension of the mercies of Christ to those ignorant of him, but having lived according to the laws of natural religion; or whether it assumes as certain that believers will not be judged at all (an erroneous deduction from John 5:24). It seems, on the one hand, incongruous that persons who have never heard of Christ should be addressed as "blessed of my Father," etc., Matthew 24:34 : and it seems, on the other hand, monstrous that such, having failed through ignorance and lack of teaching, should be condemned to awful punishment. That Christians alone are the persons who are thus assembled for judgment is not likely. Is there, then, to be no inquisition held on the life and Character of non-Christians? Are they wholly to escape the great assize? If not, where else does Christ refer to their case? What reason can be given for the exclusion of this great majority from the account of the proceedings at the last day? It appears, on the whole, to be safest to consider "all the nations" as meaning the whole race of men, who, dead and living, small and great, Jew and Gentile, shall stand before God to be judged according to their works (Revelation 20:11-66.20.13). This is not a parable, but a statement of future proceedings by him who himself shall conduct them. It is not a full account of details, but an indication of the kind of criteria which shall govern the verdicts given.
When (ὁìταν δεÌ, but when). The particle, unnoticed in the Authorized Version, indicates the distinction between this section and the preceding parables, the latter exemplifying the judgment specially on Christians, this setting forth the judgment on the whole world. Son of man. With his glorified body, such as he was seen at his Transfiguration (Acts 1:11). In his glory. The term occurs twice in this verse, as elsewhere (Matthew 16:27; Matthew 19:28; Matthew 24:30, where see notes) denoting that then his humiliation will have passed away, and he will appear as he is. All the holy angels with him. "Holy" is probably a transcriber's addition, which has crept into the later text. The Vulgate omits it. At this time all the family of heaven and earth shall be assembled (Matthew 16:27; Deuteronomy 33:2). Of angels and men none shall be wanting. "Omnes angeli, omnes nationes. Quanta celebritas!" (Bengel). Then shall he sit, etc. He shall take his seat as Judge on his glorious throne trey. Matthew 20:11), surrounded by the angels and the saints (Jud Matthew 1:14; Revelation 19:14). Observe, this was spoken three days before his death (comp. Matthew 26:53, Matthew 26:64).
Shall be gathered (Matthew 24:31). The angels shall gather them, the dead being first raised to life. All (ταÌ, the) nations. Not the heathen only, but all mankind (see preliminary note). The criteria upon which the judgment proceeds, in the following verses, seem to imply that all men have the opportunity of receiving or rejecting the gospel. How this can apply to those who died before the incarnation of Christ and the consequent evangelization of the world, we know not, though we may believe that, ere the end comes, Christ will have been preached in every quarter of the globe. That some process of enlightenment goes on in the unseen world we learn from the mysterious passage, 1 Peter 3:18-60.3.20; but we have no reason to suppose that probation is extended to the other life, or that souls will there have the offer of accepting or repelling the claims of Jesus (but see Philippians 2:10; 1 Peter 4:6). By describing mankind as "all the nations," Christ shows the minute particularity of the judgment, which will enter into distinctions of country, race, etc., and while it is universal will be strictly impartial. He is the Shepherd of all mankind, whether considered as sheep or goats, and can therefore distinguish and class them perfectly. Those who have never heard of Christ (if such there shall be) can be tried only by the standard of natural religion (Romans 1:20). Shall separate them (αὐτουÌς). Individuals of all the nations. Hitherto good and bad had been mingled together, often indistinguishable by man's eye or judgment; now an eternal distinction is made by an unerring hand (Matthew 13:49). The ideals already found in Ezekiel 34:17, "Behold, I judge between cattle and cattle, between the rams and the he goats." As a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats. The flocks of sheep and goats generally keep together during the day (Genesis 30:33), but are separated at night or when being driven. The Syrian goat is usually black. The Lord delights in employing simple pastoral illustrations in his teaching.
The sheep on his right hand. The sheep are the type of the docile, the profitable, the innocent, the good (see Romans 2:7, Romans 2:10). The right hand is the place of favour and honour. The goats (ἐριìφια, kids) on the left. The diminutive is here used for the goats, to convey an impression of their worthlessness. Compare κυναìρια, "whelps," in the conversation of our Lord with the Syro-Phoenician woman (Matthew 15:26, Matthew 15:27). They are the type of the unruly, the proud (Isaiah 14:9, Hebrew), the unprofitable, the evil (see Romans 2:8, Romans 2:9). This judicial distinction between the right and left hands is found in classical writers. Thus Plato, 'De Republica,' 10.13, tells of what a certain man, who revived after a cataleptic attack, saw when his soul left his body. he came to a mysterious place, where were two chasms in the earth, and two openings in the heavens opposite to them, and the judges of the dead sat between these. And when they gave judgment, they commanded the just to go on the right hand, and upwards through the heavens; but the unjust they sent to the left, and downwards; and both the just and unjust had upon them the marks of what they had done in the body. So Virgil makes the Elysian Fields to lie on the right of the palace of Dis, and the penal Tartarus on the left ('AEn.,' 6.540, etc.).
Then. When the division is made, the sentences are pronounced. At death a separation between good and evil is in some sort made, as we learn by the parable of Dives and Lazarus; but the final award is not given till the great day. The King. He who had called himself the Son of man, here for the first and only time in Scripture names himself the King (comp. Matthew 27:11). He, the Messiah, takes his throne and reigns, King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16), Lord of both the dead and the living (Romans 14:9). Unto them on his right hand. He speaks first to them, as more worthy than the others, and as he loves to reward better than to punish. How the sight and hearing of this first sentence must awake the remorse of the reprobate! Come. He calls them to be by his side, to share his kingdom and glory (John 12:26). Ancient commentators have tenderly expanded this invitation, conceiving it addressed individually to patriarch, prophet, apostle, martyr, saint; others have paraphrased it in affecting terms: "Come from darkness to light, from bondage to the liberty of God's children, from about to perpetual rest, from war to peace, from death to life, from the company of the evil to the fellowship of angels, from conflict to triumph, from daily temptation and trial to stable and eternal felicity." Ye blessed of (equivalent to by) my Father. So διδακτοιÌ τοῦ Θεοῦ, "taught of [i.e. by] God" (John 6:45). They were beloved by God, and were to be rewarded by the gift of eternal life. This was their blessing (Ephesians 1:3). Nothing is said about election or predestination, as if they were saved because they were blessed by the Father. There is a sense in which this is true; but they were rewarded, not because of their election, but because they used the grace given to them, and cooperated with the Holy Spirit which they received. Inherit (κληρονομηìσατε, receive as your lot). "Of what honour, of what blessedness, are these words I lie said not—Take, but Inherit, as one's own, as your Father's, as yours, as due to you from the first. 'For, before you were,'saith he, 'these things had been prepared, and made ready for you, forasmuch as I knew you would be such as you are '" (St. Chrysostom, in loc.). Christians are by baptism made in heritors of the kingdom of heaven, gifted with heavenly citizenship, which, duly used, leads to eternal glory. "If children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:17). From the foundation of the world (ἀποÌ καταβολῆς κοìσμου, a constitutione mundi). In other passages we have, "before (προÌ) the foundation of the world" (John 17:24; Ephesians 1:4). The two expressions virtually correspond, implying God's eternal purpose, "who willeth that all men should be saved, and come unto the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4).
For. Jesus here gives the reason which influences him in conferring this great boon on "the sheep" of his flock. He instances certain works of mercy which they performed during their earthly pilgrimage, as examples of the kind of acts which he deems worthy of eternal reward. It is not that he regards no other with favour, but these six works, as they show the temper and virtue of the door, are taken as the type of those which are approved. They are proofs of self-denial, pity, sympathy, charity; they demonstrate that the doer has something of God in him, that according to his lights he possesses and has exercised the supreme grace of love. The Lord confined himself to one detail; he does not disparage other requirements necessary for salvation, as faith, prayer, sacraments, chastity, truth, honesty; but he looks on one particular class of works as the great result of all the aids and provocatives offered by his Spirit, and herein sets forth the principle by which judgment is guided, and which can be applied universally. The Judge asks not what we have felt or thought, but what we have done or left undone in our dealings with others. "It is plain," says Bishop Bull ('Harm. Ap.,' diss. 1.5. 4), "that our works are considered as the very things on account of which (by the merciful covenant of God through Christ) eternal lifo is given us." He quotes Vossius ('De Bon. Op.,' 10): "It is asked whether a reward is promised to works as signs of faith? Now, we conceive they say too much who suppose it promised to works as deserving it, and that they say too little who think it promised to them only as signs of faith. For there are many passages of Scripture where it is shown that our works, in the business of salvation, are regarded as indispensably requisite, or as a primary condition, to which the reward of eternal life is inseparably connected." I was an hungred, equivalent to "very hungry" (Matthew 12:1). Christ enumerates the chief of what are called the corporal works of mercy, omitting burial of the dead (see on Matthew 25:36). We may note here an argument a fortiori: if such simple acts (comp. Matthew 10:42) meet with so great a reward, what shall he the portion of those who are enabled to rise to more perfect obedience and higher degrees of devotion and self-sacrifice? Ye took me in (συνηγαìγεσε με) i.e. into your houses, received me with hospitality, or as one of your own family. We have instances of such hospitality in Genesis 18:3; Judges 19:20, Judges 19:21; and of this use of the verb συναìγειν in 2 Samuel 11:27, Septuagint. Why Christ speaks of himself as receiving these ministrations is explained in verse 40.
Ye visited me. The visitation of the sick has become a common term among us. It implies properly going to see, though other ideas are connoted. Ye came unto me. It was easier in those days to visit friends in prison than it is at the present time. Good men, if they could not obtain release of prisoners, might comfort and sympathize with them. The seven corporal works of mercy which antiquity has endorsed have been preserved in the mnemonic line, "Visito, poto, cibo, redimo, tego, colligo, condo. All these might be performed by non-Christians who professed the fear of God and followed the guidance of conscience. God never leaves himself without witness; his Spirit strives with man, and in the absence of higher and completer revelation, to be wholly guided by these inner motions is to work out salvation, as far as circumstances allow, and in a certain restricted sense. In a universal judgment regard is had to this consideration. "In return for what do they receive such things? For the covering of a roof, for a garment, for bread, for cold water, for visiting, for going into the prison. For indeed in every case it is for what is needed; and sometimes not even for that. For surely the sick and he that is in bonds seek not for this only, but the one to be loosed, the other to be delivered from his infirmity. But he, being gracious, requires only what is within our power, or rather even less than what is within our power, leaving to us to exert our generosity in doing more" (St. Chrysostom, in loc.).
Shall the righteous answer him. The righteous are those on the right hand, those who have passed through earthly probation, and have come forth holy and pure. Their reply (which is given before the Lord's explanation) is contained in three verses, which recapitulate the deeds specified by the Lord, with some slight variation in the wording. When saw we thee, etc.? If this reply is conceived as spoken by the followers of Christ, who most be supposed to know what he had said (Matthew 10:40-40.10.42, "He that receiveth you receiveth me," etc.), it must be considered as expressive, not so much of surprise, as profound humility, which had never hitherto realized the grand idea. They had done so little, they had rendered him no service personally, they were unworthy so to do—how could they merit such a reward? If the answer is taken as given by non-Christians, it shows ignorance of the high value of their service, and astonishment that, in following the dictates of conscience and charity, they had unwittingly had the supreme honour of serving Christ. Mediaeval legends have exemplified the identity of Christ and his suffering members by telling how saints have seen him in those whom they relieved. Such stories are told of Saints Augustine, Christopher, Martin, and others. And fed thee (ἐθρεìψαμεν). Instead of "gave me to eat" (Matthew 25:35). Sick or in prison, and came unto thee. Instead of "sick, and ye visited me; in prison," etc. The Lord could not more emphatically have recommended works of mercy as having the highest value in his estimation. "There is a mystery in many of the actions of men, which needs the interpretation of the Master" (Morison).
The King shall answer. The royal Judge condescends to explain the meaning of the seeming paradox. Inasmuch as; ἐφ ὁìσον, rendered in the Vulgate quamdiu, rather, quatenus, in which sense the phrase is found also in Romans 11:13. Unto one of the least of these my brethren. That is, not the apostles, nor specially but all the afflicted who have fellowship with Christ in his sufferings and Any such he is not ashamed to call his brethren. Ye have done (ye did) it unto me. The Lord so perfectly identifies himself with the human family, whose nature he assumed, that he made their sorrows sufferings his own (Isaiah 53:4; Isaiah 63:9; Matthew 8:17), he suffered with the sufferers; his perfect sympathy placed him in their position; in all their affliction he was afflicted From this identification it follows that he regards that which is done to others as done to himself. Thus he could expostulate the persecutor, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" And we have the amazing revelation that he receives with the same graciousness the pious workings of natural religion in the case of those who know no better.
Unto them on the left hand. The sentence on these is comprised in Matthew 25:41-40.25.45. It is conveyed in terms parallel to that on the righteous; but how infinite the difference! Depart from me! Not "Come!" (Matthew 25:34). What a world of misery is contained in this word, "Depart"! As the light of God's countenance is happiness, so banishment from his presence is utter woe. What it implies we know not; we will not attempt to imagine. God preserve us from ever knowing! Ye cursed. He had called the righteous, "blessed of my Father;" he does not term these, "cursed of my Father," because God willeth not the death of a sinner. "Not he laid the curse upon them, but their own works" (St. Chrysostom, in loc.). It was no part of God's design that any of his creatures should suffer this misery. "God made not death, neither hath he pleasure in the destruction of the living. For he created all things, that they might have their being …but ungodly men with their words and works called death unto them" (Wis. 1:13, etc.). Into everlasting fire (τοÌ πῦρ τοÌ αἰωìνιον, the fire which is even lasting). To the poignant regret for the loss of happiness and of the presence of God there is added physical anguish, expressed metaphorically by the term "fire." This is called everlasting, and however in these days of compromise we may seek to minimize or modify the attribute, it was so understood by our Lord's hearers (see below on Matthew 25:46). Prepared for the devil and his angels. This region or sphere of torment was not, as the kingdom of the righteous, prepared for man originally; it was particularly designed (τοÌ ἡτοιμασμεìνον) for Satan and his myrmidons (see 2 Peter 2:4, 2 Peter 2:9), and will not be perfected till the last judgment (Revelation 20:10). There is no hint of its being remedial or corrective; and what it is to the devil it must be to those who share it with him. It is man's own doing that he is unfit for the company of saints and angels, and, having made himself like unto the evil spirits by rebellion and hatred of good, he must consort with them and share their doom. It seems as though there were no proper place for man's punishment; there is no book of death corresponding to the book of life (Revelation 20:12, etc.); the wicked are in an anomalous state, and, shut out by their own action from their proper inheritance, fall into the society of demons. How to reconcile this destiny, which seems inconceivably terrible, with God's mercy, love, and justice, has always proved a stumbling block to free thinkers. It is, indeed, a mystery which we cannot understand, and which Christ has purposely left unexplained. We can only bow the head and say, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25).
Matthew 25:42, Matthew 25:43
The Lord gives the ground of the sentence, which proceeds on the same terms as the former one. The crimes for which these souls are punished are those of omission and negligence; they failed to per form the most elementary duties of charity and brotherly love which conscience and natural religion enjoin; they had lived utterly selfish and unprofitable lives. If sins of omission are thus punished, we may infer that positive transgressions shall meet with still heavier retribution.
Then shall they also answer [him]. Not in words, for at that time objection and expostulation would not be allowed, but in thought, "standing at the judgment seat, yet ceasing not to sin." There is a certain self-confidence in their reply, very different from the humility and misgiving of the righteous. When saw we thee, etc.? They put all these neglected duties in a careless summary. They had never thought of Christ in the matter: were they to be condemned for this? Some had never even heard of Christ, never been taught faith in him: was this their fault? This is the line which their self-justification took; there was nothing of love, nothing of humility.
Inasmuch as, etc. The Judge at once disallows all such pleas. He exacts nothing which any good man, Christian or not, might not have done. As before, identifying himself with the human race, he shows that, in neglecting to perform acts of mercifulness and charity to the afflicted, they disregarded him, despised him. dishonoured him. One of the least of these. He adds not "brethren," as above (Matthew 25:40), because the evil acknowledge no such brotherhood; they live for self alone, they own not their real relation to the whole family of man.
Shall go away. Bengel notes that the King will first address the righteous in the audience of the unrighteous, but these last will be dismissed to their place of punishment before the others actually receive their reward. Thus the evil will see nothing of the life eternal, while the good will be bold the vengeance inflicted on the others (Matthew 13:49). Into everlasting punishment (εἰς κοìλασιν αἰωìνιον)… life eternal (everlasting, ζωηνιον). The same term is used in both places, and ought to have been so translated. The word κοìλασις in strict classical usage denotes punishment inflicted for the correction and improvement of the offender, τιμωριìΑ being employed to signify punishment in satisfaction of outraged justice, or to revenge an injury. But it is open to doubt whether the former term is to be taken in its strictest sense in the New Testament. A ceaseless controversy rests on the meaning of αἰωìνιος, some contending that it signifies "everlasting," and nothing else; others that its sense is modified by the idea to which it is attached; and others again that it ought to be rendered by "aeonian," to which is given an indeterminate signification governed by our conception of the duration expressed by men. This is not the place to discuss this perplexing question, nor shall I attempt to dogmatize upon the problem. Suffice it to make these few observations. On the one hand, taking the literal sense of our Lord's words, and the meaning which his hearers would attach to them, we must believe that the risen life and the second death are equally everlasting (see Judith 16:17; Ecclesiasticus 7:17; 4 Macc. 12:12). And if it is thought that eternity of punishment is incompatible with love and benevolence, and inequitable as the penalty of offences committed in time, it must be remembered that eternity of reward is infinitely beyond all human claims, and bears no proportion to the merits of the recipient. Nor may we reason from our conception of the nature and attributes of God; how these attributes work harmoniously together, though seemingly opposed, we cannot presume to determine. The consequences of sin even in this world are often irretrievable, as are some human punishments. We have no reason to suppose that punishment is inflicted only for the correction of the criminal (see on Matthew 25:41), nor is it possible to conceive how this result could be effected by condemning him to the society of devils. Further, we have to regard the heinousness of sin in God's sight, remembering the infinite price paid for its expiation. And lastly, the doctrine does not depend upon this passage only, but is supported by many other statements in both the Old and New Testaments: e.g. Isaiah 66:24; Daniel 12:2; Mark 9:44, Mark 9:46, Mark 9:48; Revelation 21:8. Such are some of the chief arguments in favour of the everlasting nature of future punishment. On the other hand, we have to remark that our Lord is here not concerned with teaching this doctrine of eternity; he assumes the authorized view of the matter, and draws his awful lesson from that view. It is certainly true that the meaning of αἰωìνιος is not fixed and uniform; it is conditioned by the term to which it appertains. No one would say that "everlasting" was applied to God and to a mountain in the same sense; and though it seems incongruous to find a difference of meaning in the same sentence, yet there may be reasons for distinguishing the signification of the qualifying adjective in the terms "eternal life" and "eternal punishment." God, indeed, cannot draw back from his promise, but he may be more merciful than the tenor of his threats seems to imply. It is possible that "aeonian" may denote merely indefinite duration without the connotation of never ending. Such like are the pleas brought forward to lessen the plain enunciation of the awful truth. For myself I do not see any escape from the import of the statement, nor any hope of amelioration in the ease of the lest, when relegated to the scene of their penal existence (see on Matthew 18:8, Matthew 18:9). But I set no bounds to the Divine mercy and wisdom; and God may see a mode of reconciling his strict justice with his desire of man's salvation, which our finite understanding cannot grasp. All we can say here is that infinite misery and infinite happiness are set before us, and that God has thus shown the two ends without reserve or possible modification, in order that we may be aroused to shun the one and to win the other. "From thy wrath, and from ever lasting damnation, good Lord, deliver us."
The parable of the ten virgins.
I. THEY GO FORTH.
1. The kingdom of heaven. Here, as elsewhere, that kingdom is the visible Church. But the present parable seems to relate to a part only of the kingdom, a portion of the Church. There may possibly be no spiritual significance in the word "virgins." Like the number ten, perhaps a common number at such times, it may belong merely to the structure, the imagery of the parable; young unmarried women were and are usually attendants of the bride (comp. Psalms 45:14). But these virgins all alike took their lamps; all alike went forth to meet the Bridegroom; all too had oil in their lamps, though not all had a store of oil in their vessels also. Then all were something more than nominal Christians; all had, in some sense, come out of the world, and had gone to meet the Bridegroom. There are no hypocrites in the parable, no openly wicked and disobedient men. This consideration gives it a very awful meaning; it is not enough to have been once awakened, there is need of constant persevering watchfulness. The parable embodies and enforces the lesson of the last chapter, "Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come." The virgins all had lamps; the lamp seems to represent the outward Christian life of worship and obedience which is seen by the eye of men. They all had oil in their lamps; the oil is the Holy Spirit of God. They all went forth to meet the Bridegroom. The Bridegroom, of course, is Christ; he had come from heaven to fetch home his bride the Church. Lange well remarks, in his commentary, "As it respects the relations of the virgins to the bride, we must bear in mind the analogy of the marriage supper of the king's son and his guests. The Church, in her aggregate and ideal unity, is the bride; the members of the Church, as individually called, are guests; in their separation from the world, and expectation of Christ's coming, they are his virgins." The bride is not mentioned in this parable. It describes not the Church as a whole, but its individual members; not all its members, but those only who have been once awakened, who have at least begun to come after Christ, and have made some progress, more or less, in the way of godliness. In the visible Church the evil are ever mingled with the good, and among those who seem to be good there are always some whose "goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away." So among these virgins who all went forth to meet the Bridegroom, there were five wise, but the remaining five were foolish.
2. The differences which exist among its citizens. All the virgins took their lamps; all the lamps were burning as they went forth. Outwardly there was no observable difference among them; but the foolish took no oil with them; the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. It is not enough to have been "once enlightened;" we may not dare put our trust in the grace once given in holy baptism, or in what may seem to have been the change of repentance and conversion. The foolish virgins went forth to meet the Bridegroom. They had their lamps; and the lamps were not empty or dark, they were burning, they had oil in them. Then even the foolish were using the means of grace, they had been made "partakers of the Holy Ghost" (Hebrews 6:4), they seemed to be living Christian lives, they had made some real progress. But they took no oil with them; they acted as if the lamps, once lighted, would burn on forever; they had no store of oil for future use. They had "the washing of regeneration;" they delighted in their past experience, and trusted in it as if they had all that was needed for their spiritual life. They had not "the renewing of the Holy Ghost." Their lamps burned brightly for a time; all seemed well, but they had not brought their vessels, flasks of oil, to supply their lamps. Perhaps the vessels were cumbrous, heavy to carry; plain, too, not striking in appearance; they made no show like the burning lamp. These virgins were like the seed that was sown upon the rock. They heard the Word, and at once received it with joy, but they had no root. They were wanting in perseverance, in watchfulness. They did not keep in their minds the thought that, though the Bridegroom might come at any moment, yet he might long delay; that there was need of daily preparation, of constant watchfulness, for his coming. The wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. They knew that it was not safe to trust to the grace of their baptism, to a flush of excitement, to past experience, however precious; they counted not themselves to have apprehended; they forgot what was behind, and ever reached forth unto those things which were before; they sought in persevering prayer and daily self-denials, and the constant faithful use of the appointed means of grace for "the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ." The Spirit is the holy oil, the oil with which the Lord himself was anointed ("God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost," Acts 10:38), the "unction from the Holy One," which is given to all his faithful servants; that anointing abideth in them, and teacheth them (1 John 2:27) because they "stir up the Gift of God that is in them," not quenching the Spirit, as careless slothful Christians do, but treasuring in their hearts that sacred Gift, striving always to grow in grace, to walk in the Spirit, to mind the things of the Spirit, to be filled with the Spirit, to increase in the Holy Spirit more and more. We must treasure the sacred oil, the Divine anointing; we must seek for its daily renewing. We shall not seek in vain if we seek in persevering prayer. "My Father will give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him."
3. The protracted absence of the King. The Bridegroom tarried. The end was not yet; the second advent was not so near at hand as was almost universally expected in the early Church. The Bridegroom tarried; the time of waiting was long—longer much than men had thought. The first excitement passed away, some had left their first love, the love of most was growing cold. Drowsiness seized the virgins in their watch; first they bowed their heads in slumber, then they were all sleeping. So it is now. Many true Christian souls have been gathered to their fathers, to the countless multitude of the departed, since this parable was spoken; through the grace of the Lord Jesus they have been laid to sleep in the quiet rest of Paradise. In another sense those who are now living upon the earth slumber and sleep in the eye of God; the vigilance of the most earnest is but as sleep compared with that constant and intent watchfulness which is the ideal of the Christian life. We ought to live as men waiting for their Lord, our loins ever girded, our lamps ever burning, in daily expectation of his coming, in constant readiness to meet him. Alas! we slumber and sleep; we forget the first fervour of our conversion; our religious exercises are performed as a matter of routine, sometimes almost unconsciously, without energy, without that deep and awful sense of their immense importance which ought to fill the heart of every Christian. The shades of difference among Christians are innumerable: some are utterly careless; some rouse themselves from time to time to thought and real effort; some try by the power of faith and prayer to keep themselves in the love of God, and to love the appearing of the Saviour. But none realize to the full the tremendous necessity of watchfulness; none live in that fixed attention, in that constant looking unto Jesus, in that full preparedness, in that daily and hourly anticipation of the Saviour's coming, which we should regard as the true Christian frame of mind, to which we should strive to approximate nearer and nearer, in all humility and self-distrust, not counting ourselves to have attained, but ever pressing forward. Alas! as the Lord looks upon the Churches, they all in various degrees are seen to slumber and sleep.
II. THE KING IS AT HAND.
1. The midnight cry. It came suddenly, in the dead of night. The long expected Bridegroom was coming now, coming in his glory, coming with all his angel train to take unto himself his chosen bride. So one day the Lord will come with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; so now the hour of death cometh upon us one by one, when we are not looking for it, when we are sleeping, engaged in this world's business or amusement, thinking nothing of the awful change which is at hand. Suddenly we seem to hear a cry—a cry that thrills through our hearts, "Prepare to meet thy God!"
2. The awakening. Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. All heard the midnight cry; all prepared to meet the Bridegroom. When death is at hand, when the thought of the Lord's speedy coming is borne with power into the soul, a man looks into his own heart. We must remember that this parable relates only to Christians who have led in various degrees a religious life. Men who have never felt religious impressions, who are without any spiritual experience, are often so hardened by the deceitfulness of sin that they slumber on, dying as they lived, without the sense of sin, without the fear of God, and never waking till they pass out of this world into his most awful presence. But those who have been believers in any real sense must hear that solemn cry. They ask themselves, they are forced to ask whether they will or no—What is their religion? Is it true? is it real? is it deep? They all want their repentance deepened, their faith confirmed, their love to God increased, kindled to a holier affection, to a more trustful confidence. All the virgins trimmed their lamps, they all sought to prepare themselves to meet the bridegroom. But there was a difference. The foolish virgins felt now the want of those vessels which they had heedlessly left—the want of that oil which they had neglected to provide. When they awoke to a sense of the Bridegroom's near approach, they found, alas! that their lamps were going out; there was still a faint, flickering flame; but it was dying, almost gone, and, alas! they had no oil to replenish the empty lamp. So dying men feel when they are not ready; they feel that their religion has not been deep and real; it has been too much a thing of words and outward forms, with some excitement of the feelings now and then; but it has taken no deep hold upon the character, it has not sunk into the heart. They felt some interest in religion once; they made a little progress; it was enough to give them some comfort under ordinary circumstances; but ah! not enough to support them now in the presence of the king of terrors; it is weak, it fails them at the last; their lamp is being quenched, they have almost quenched the Spirit by their spiritual indolence. (The Greek word here rendered "going out" and that translated "quench" in 1 Thessalonians 5:19 are the same.) In their distress they send for the clergyman, for some Christian friend; but ah! it is little that they can do. "There is not enough," the wise virgins answered, "for us and for you." Each man must have that sacred oil in his own vessel, in his own heart and character. He must have bought it too; it must be bought of him who sells without money and without price. "I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire,…and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed;… and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see." The precious oil must be bought with prayer, with strong, persevering, faithful prayer; it must be treasured in the heart; it must so fill the character that by the grace of God it becomes our own, our very own, and cannot be taken from us. One man cannot give that holy oil to another—only God can give it; one man cannot save another's soul only God can save us. The wise virgins did all that they could for their companions—they bade them go to them that sell. All that we can do is to point the sinner to Christ: "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!" Sinners must come to him in their need; they must buy of him as he counsels them, and that for themselves. Others cannot buy the precious oil for them; it must be bought with their own prayers, their own crying and tears.
3. The coming of the Bridegroom. The warning was short; there was little time to prepare; very soon the Bridegroom came. Then they that were ready went in with him to the marriage, and the door was shut. The wise virgins were ready; they had been slumbering, but they had oil in their vessels. Christian men may be taken unawares; death may come suddenly upon them; the Lord may come suddenly; but, if they have been living in faith and prayer, they will be able, so to speak, to put themselves at once into an attitude of devotion. Such men are filled with the Spirit; the Spirit is there, ready to make intercession for them with groanings that cannot be uttered. They can rouse themselves at once into preparedness; they are ready to say their "Nunc dimittis," for they have been waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and their eyes have seen the salvation of the Lord. The wise virgins were ready; they went in with the Bridegroom to the marriage.
4. The door was shut. It is open now; penitent sinners may enter; penitent sinners have entered in multitudes—David and Peter, and she who had sinned much, to whom much was forgiven. It is open to all who are ready, who are cleansed by the purifying influences of the blessed Spirit, by the pervading virtue of the sacred oil, from the defilement of sin. But the time will come when it must be shut; it was shut to those foolish virgins when they returned. They had not found the oil, we may be sure; but they cried in their despair, "Lord, Lord, open to us!" Alas! it was too late. He answered, "I know you not." The Lord knoweth those that are his; he knows them every one. "I know mine own, as the Father knoweth me." He knows them with the knowledge of Divine love, of intimate affectionate communion. He knoweth not thus those who have lived without persevering prayer, who have left their first love, who have not kept themselves in the love of Cod, building themselves up on their most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost. "I know you not," he said. The words are not so dreadful as the awful condemnation of the slothful servant in the next parable, or of those that were set on the left hand in the prophecy of the judgment; it may be, we cannot tell, that they denote a milder doom. But this is a subject involved in the very deepest mystery. It is enough for us if we feel the exceeding awfulness of those words, "The door was shut," and take into our hearts the solemn warning of the Lord, "Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh." It must be very dreadful to be found unprepared, even if the lamp is not quite gone out, even if it had been burning brightly once. Very dreadful it must be to pray, "Lord, Lord, open to us!" and to obtain no answer save those awful words, "I know you not;" dreadful exceedingly, even if those words do not imply the extremest condemnation; still more dreadful—dreadful beyond the reach of thought, if they do mean perpetual exclusion from the presence of God in the great outer darkness. Therefore watch—watch and pray always.
1. It is not enough to belong to the visible Church. We must grow in grace.
2. We must pray daily for the renewing of the Holy Ghost.
3. We must examine ourselves daily, not leave self-examination to the hour of sickness and approaching death.
4. The Lord cometh suddenly; therefore watch.
The parable of the talents.
I. THE MASTER AND HIS SERVANTS.
1. The Master's departure. This parable is the complement of the last. The two together cover both sides of the Christian life—the contemplative and the active. The burning lamp represents the life of faith and worship kindled by the presence of the Holy Spirit. The trading represents the outward life of active work for Christ. Under all ordinary circumstances the two must be combined. A living faith cannot exist in the heart without manifesting itself in outward work; while active work for Christ's sake springs from that living faith, and loses all its worth and beauty if it becomes dissociated from faith and love. The two elements must coexist in all Christians; but they may be combined in different proportions, so that some are mainly men of action, others mainly men of contemplation. In large measure we must be both. We must keep the lamp of zeal and faith ever burning, and we must work for Christ. Christ himself was the man travelling into a far country. He was about to depart out of this world unto the Father. The parable relates primarily to the apostles, to whom it was spoken; then to the ministers of God's Holy Word and sacraments, who are his servants, who must work for him in his Church; then to all Christians, for all belong to Christ, being bought with his blood, and all have work to do for him. The Master was about to depart. He called his own servants. We must remember that those servants were not like servants now, as free as their masters. They were slaves, bought with their master's money; they belonged to him; their time, strength, ability, all were his.
2. The Master's goods. He delivered his goods to his servants; they were to trade with them. Slaves often earned money for their masters in various trades or professions. He entrusted large sums to them—five talents to one, three to another, one to a third. Here we notice one of the leading distinctions between this and the cognate parable in Luke 19:12-42.19.17. There each of the ten servants received the same sum, a pound, a mina; here the sums entrusted to the servants differ greatly. The two parables supplement one another. That in St. Luke teaches that the necessary means of grace are given in like measure to all the servants of the King. They show various degrees of zeal and diligence in the use of them. The rewards of the great day will vary according to those varying degrees of faithfulness. The parable of the talents teaches a somewhat different lesson. "There are diversities of gifts" (1 Corinthians 12:4); "God hath set some in the Church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers;" "But all these worketh one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will." The talents must represent first and chiefly spiritual gifts, such as those first granted on the great Day of Pentecost, the gifts necessary for the apostles of Christ, and m various degrees for those who have been called to continue the apostles' work. Those gifts are not given to all God's servants alike. The gifts of the Spirit differ; there are great differences in energy, zeal, strength of character, spiritual eloquence. "The Spirit divideth to every man severally as he will," according to the needs of the Church, according to the capacity of the individual servant. But, secondarily, the talents must also signify all the good gifts of God—health, time, intellectual powers, earthly riches, station, influence; these and such-like are his gifts, entrusted to us for a while, to be used, not for our own enjoyment, but for his service. They are bestowed in widely different measure. Each man's responsibility varies according to the greatness of the gifts entrusted to him.
3. The use made of them. Straightway (according to what seems to be the best arrangement of the text) he who had received five talents went and traded with them. He lost no time; he felt the greatness of his trust, and set to work at once to do his best for his lord. He was successful; he made other five talents. The second servant was equally industrious, and in proportion equally successful; each gained cent per cent; each did his master's work faithfully. The third digged in the earth and hid his lord's money. He knew that the profit of his trading would not be his own; he did not care to labour for his lord. He represents those who neglect spiritual gifts, who do not stir up the gift of God that is in them, who quench the Spirit; and secondarily, those who use the good things of this world simply for themselves, not for the glory of God and the good of their fellow men. The talent was bidden in the earth; buried amid worldly cares and worldly amusements. The unhappy man had received the grace of God in vain; he had wasted his earthly means upon his own selfish pleasures.
II. THE RECKONING.
1. The first servant. The lord cometh after a long time (another hint that the second advent was not to be expected immediately), and reckoneth with his servants. The first, to whom five talents had been entrusted, had gained other five talents. He brings them; he attributes his gains entirely to his lord's original gifts; "Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents." He had worked; but it was the lord who had enabled him to work, who bad given him the means. He represents the few highly gifted and eminently faithful Christians, such as St. Paul, who could say, "By the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all; yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me." The Lord recognized his diligence: "Well done," he said, in those precious words which thrill through the Christian's heart, filling him with high and blessed hope, "Well done, good and faithful servant." It is that highest praise, the praise of God, which the Christian should desire with all his heart and soul, heeding not the praise of men. He shall have that crowning praise who hath been faithful here, who ever regards himself as the Lord's servant, set here to work for God; who regards his powers, his means, whatever they may be, as his Lord's money, to be used in his Lord's service. Those gifts are "few things." Even the five talents, the great personal gifts, the vast means of doing good, which have been bestowed on some of the Lord's servants, are "few things," very small indeed compared with the glory and the blessedness reserved for the faithful. For those faithful ones shall be admitted into "the joy of their Lord," the Lord's own joy, the joy that was set before him, for which he endured the cross, despising the shame. They shall sit with him in his throne; for he hath given them the glory which was given him of the Father. Heart of man cannot tell the entrancing rapture of that holiest joy.
2. The second servant. He too had done his best. His gains were less than those of the first servant, but he was not so richly endowed. He had been equally faithful; he had made the best use of his humbler gifts; he was as good and holy and noble-hearted a man as his more highly gifted brother. He is welcomed with the same high praise; he receives the like reward. It is faithfulness, not gifts, which will be considered in the great day. Many men of mean capacities and poor endowments will be among the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. "Many that are first shall be last, and the last shall be first."
3. The third servant. He lingered to the last; his conscience was uneasy. But he could not escape his master's eye; he must render his account. He comes at length, but not in humility and self-abasement, confessing his sinful negligence; he comes with false excuses, trying to shift the blame from himself upon his lord. He knew, he said, that his master was a hard man, harsh and exacting; he required from his servants more than they could render, more than he had enabled them to render. He feared him; he would not trade with his talent, lest in the risks and uncertainties of business he should lose some portion of it; but he had kept it safe: there it was. His master, he implied, had no right to ask for more. So men argue, or pretend to argue, now. They will not work for the glory of God or for the good of souls. The real reason is sloth, selfish sloth; they will work only for themselves. But, like the slothful servant, they have their excuses; they are unequal, they say, to the work to which God's providence seems to call them; God's demands are so large, so deep reaching; he requires more than weak human nature can give, more than ought to be expected of them. They shrink from undertaking religious work, lest by failure in that work they incur the wrath of God and bring themselves into danger. So they do nothing for God. They own that they had hidden the talent, the grace once given to them, but at any rate they had not wasted it in riotous living or lost it by misfortunes in trade. They were flee from gross offences. Their lives had been at least decent and respectable. Neither are they unbelievers; they own that the talent belonged to their Lord; he had given it them, and they would restore it. "There thou hast that is thine." They are no worse than others, they say, no worse than they have always been. They will not see that this excuse is false, that negative obedience is not sufficient. They are God's servants; they belong to him; their time, health, strength, money, intellect, are not their own; all these things are God's gifts, lent to them for a while; they must give an account of their use of them at the great day of reckoning.
4. The judgment. "Thou wicked and slothful servant." Those most awful words put into the clearest light the solemn truth that more than freedom from gross offences is needful for salvation. The slothful servant was wicked, for he had defrauded his lord; he had not given him that service which was his bounden duty; he had lived as if he were his own master, and had only himself to please. He was wicked, too, because he made these miserable excuses; because, instead of confessing his sin, he slandered his lord. The lord repeats the servant's words in righteous indignation; he judges him out of his own mouth. If he had been such as the servant falsely said, fear, if not love, should have urged the man to do his duty. If he had feared the risks of trading, at least he should have put his lord's money to the exchangers. The returns would have been small compared with the gains of the faithful servants; but even those small returns would have shown that the servant had taken some care of his lord's interests. The Lord seems to imply that those small returns would have been accepted. Any real work for Christ is better than spiritual sloth. Some Christians are abundant in their labours; all must work if they would be saved; if they have not the energy of a St. Paul, they must help those who are foremost in Christian work with their alms and with their prayers. They must at the least show their interest in their Master's cause in this way, if they are incapable of more active exertion. And work they must, every one, in accordance with their powers. "Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required;" but he also to whom little is given must use that little in his Master's service. The smallness of our gifts is no excuse for sloth. The most ignorant, the very poorest, can do something for their Lord. They may do much, for the value of the work is measured by its proportion to the worker's powers. The second servant received the same reward as the first, though his earnings were in themselves far less. The poor widow's two mites were more precious in the sight of God than the costly offerings of the rich. He that doth not use his talent must lose it. God's gifts cannot be neglected with impunity. The Gift of God, if not stirred up by constant use, will be taken away. It will be given to those who have worked faithfully. Others will step into the places of the unfaithful, will do the work which they have neglected, and obtain the reward which might have been theirs if they had done their duty. For it is a law of God's kingdom that "unto every one that hath shall be given" He giveth more grace—grace for grace. Grace is ours when it is used; then it is wrought into the character; then we have it. "And to him that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundantly. But from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath." He hath, and yet he hath not. God had given him that grace without which we can do nothing, but he hath not made it his own by diligent use. It must be taken from him in the righteous judgment of God. The grace of God cannot lie dormant in the heart. If it is not valued, if it is not used, it must be taken away. But the loss of the talent was not the only punishment. We hear again those dreadful words which the Lord had uttered twice already (Matthew 8:12; Matthew 24:51), which he repeated, we may be sure, in mercy, to warn us of the sinner's doom, "Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
1. We are all God's servants; all alike have a work to do for him; all must do it.
2. All that we have is his, whether external gifts, or personal endowments, or gifts of the Spirit; all must be used in his service.
3. The joy of our Lord is blessed beyond the power of thought. Then work for Christ; it is faithful work, not apparent success, which determines the reward.
4. The condemnation of the slothful servant is awful exceedingly. Then work while there is time.
The last judgment.
I. THE JUDGE.
1. His glory. The Lord was sitting on the Mount of Olives, looking sadly back upon the holy city and the temple which he had finally left. He had been rejected by the hierarchy of the chosen nation; the shadow of the cross was falling on him; in three days would come the awful agony and the tremendous sacrifice. He knew all this with the clear calm knowledge of Divine omniscience; but his thoughts dwelt, that Tuesday afternoon, not on his own sufferings now so near, but on the great results of his incarnation and atonement which were to be manifested in the far-distant future, the salvation of his chosen, and, alas! the condemnation of the impenitent. With the cross in near prospect, he speaks of himself as the King—the king of all nations; the Son of man indeed, still in our human nature, for the two whole and perfect natures, the Godhead and the manhood, once joined together in the one Person of Christ, were never thenceforth to be divided; but coming in his glory, himself in that body of glory of which a passing glimpse had been vouchsafed to the three most favoured apostles on the Mount of the Transfiguration, surrounded by the holy angels, his attendants and ministers. Then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory, that great white throne which St. John saw in that awful vision of the great day which was revealed to him for our instruction and warning. No human words could describe the glory of the Judge. St. John could only say that from his face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.
2. The gathering of all nations before him. The parables of the virgins and the talents are parables of judgment; but they deal with a portion only of the tremendous subject. Judgment, St. Peter says, "must begin at the house of God." These two parables embrace in their range only Christian people, those who have gone forth to meet the heavenly Bridegroom, and the immediate servants of the Lord. The first parable represents the judgment of the inner life of the soul; the second, the judgment of the outward life of obedience or idleness. Each parable reveals to us one of the many aspects of that tremendous assize. Now parable passes into prophecy. A wider scene is opened out—the judgment of the whole world. Our thoughts are no longer to be concentrated on a portion only of the vast multitude. All nations are gathered together before the Son of man; quick and dead alike; all the countless millions that have been born unto the world from the Creation to the great day; every one from Adam the first man to the new-born babe all, summoned by the voice of the archangel and the trump of God, gathered together by the attendant angels, all shall stand before the Judge. His eye will range over those countless hosts. He knows the whole history of each individual. The books of which we read in the Revelation represent the infinite knowledge of God. "The dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works." The Judge will divide the thronging crowds with unerring accuracy, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats. The division will be as easy to the Almighty Judge; the differences, often almost invisible to us, as clearly marked in his sight. "He shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left."
II. THE BLESSED.
1. The welcome. The Lord describes himself as the heavenly King. He knew that in three days the mocking title, "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews," would be set above his head as he hung dying on the cross. But he knew also, in his inmost consciousness, that he was indeed King of kings and Lord of lords. The kingdom of heaven was his by right. It was he who should hereafter open that kingdom to the blessed: "Come, ye blessed of my Father," he will say. Come; for it is his will that his chosen should be with him to behold his glory, and to share his glory. Come; for their salvation is his joy, the joy for which he endured the cross. He bringeth home rejoicing the sheep that once was lost. He saith unto his friends, "Rejoice with me." Come; for he loveth them with an everlasting love, a love stronger than death. He calls them blessed, "Ye blessed of my Father;" for the Father had pronounced them blessed. He had chosen them by his electing grace; he had given them to the only begotten Son; they were "elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ." He bids them take possession of the kingdom—the kingdom of glory, that glory which passeth all that eye hath seen, or ear hath heard, or that hath entered into the heart of man. That kingdom had been prepared for them from the foundation of the world; even before the world was (Ephesians 1:4), God knew, in the fulness of his Divine omniscience, each elected spirit, and predestinated each to be conformed to the image of his Son. The kingdom had long been theirs in the purpose of God; now it was to be theirs in possession.
2. The ground of the welcome. They had loved the Lord; they had tended him (he said) in distress and sorrow; they had laid him, the Lord God Almighty, under obligations by their love and tenderness. He would reward them now. The righteous are bewildered with that wondrous welcome. It is a joy almost too great for them to bear—a sweetness so penetrating that the heart well nigh faints in the intensity of its rapture. They knew that nothing they had done could deserve that unutterable blessedness now opened to their view. They can see, as they look back on their past lives, no deeds so good and holy as the Lord had said. They had learned of him the grace of humility, those of them who were Christians; those who had not heard the gospel (for surely many heathen men will be among the number of the blessed) had shown the law of love written in their hearts, and were a law unto themselves, doing by nature things contained in the Law (Romans 2:14, Romans 2:15). None of them fully understood the preciousness of acts of unselfish love. They felt their own shortcomings; in their self-abasement they had ever thought themselves the chief of sinners. But the King now shows to them the meaning of their deeds of love. Charity, that chiefest of graces, springs out of faith. It looks to Christ, and rests in Christ as its ultimate centre. It is so, in some sense, even with the good deeds of heathen men; for Christ is the Saviour of all men. Christ died for all men; and all who in truth and earnestness seek after God, consciously or unconsciously, follow Christ. "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body." The judgment will be, as Holy Scripture says in many places, according unto works; but those works spring out of faith, and derive their whole spiritual value from the faith and love which prompted them. The Lord, in this place, speaks of one class only of holy deeds. He does not exclude other Christian graces, other forms of obedience. All will, we may be sure, be taken into account in the judgment. But in this prophecy, as in many of his parables, the Lord takes one aspect of God's dealings with mankind. He insists on that one aspect, and impresses it forcibly upon his hearers. One important truth is best driven home by being presented alone; other balancing truths can be taught on other occasions. We must study the Scriptures as a whole. One part explains another; one part suggests the necessary qualifications for the interpretation of another.
III. THE LOST.
1. The condemnation. "Depart from me, ye cursed." Very awful and tremendous words. All the more so as coming from his mouth who bade all men, "Come unto me;" who came not into the world "to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved." He had loved those lost souls; he had called them again and again; he had wept over their hardness and unbelief. But they would not come unto him that they might have life. They resisted the Holy Ghost; they closed their eyes in wilful blindness; they persevered in disobedience till their heart was hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, and there was no more hope of amendment. Now they must depart from him whom in life they would not hear; they must depart, and that into the eternal fire prepared (not for them; it was not the will of God that any should perish; he willeth that all men should be saved) "for the devil and his angels." They had loved darkness rather than light; they must dwell in the great outer darkness away from the light of God's presence. They had listened to the tempting voice of Satan; they must share his doom.
2. The ground of condemnation. They had done no good; they had lived only for themselves. They had seen sorrow and distress and poverty all around them; they had shown no love, no pity, no sympathy. And in neglecting the poor, the afflicted, they had neglected Christ the Lord. For the poor are his representatives. "He that hath pity on the poor lendeth to the Lord;" and he that careth not for the poor careth not for Christ, who is present in his poor, who bids us love one another as he hath loved us. They who have no pity on the poor would not have ministered to the Lord if they had lived when he had not where to lay his head, when holy women ministered to him of their substance. And these shall go away into eternal punishment. They are not accused of any crime—of theft, or murder, or impurity; but they were without love, and he that loveth not knoweth not God who is love, and cannot enter into heaven which is the home of love. It is a most solemn thought that this tremendous condemnation was incurred, not by crime, not by actual sin, but by neglect of duty, by selfishness and want of love. Let us rouse ourselves to a sense of the danger of selfishness; let us covet earnestly the best gifts, especially that highest gift of love. "The righteous shall go into life eternal." It is love, the Lord saith, which is the mark of the blessed; "charity never faileth."
1. The Lord is at hand. He shall sit on the throne of his glory. On which side shall we be set—on the right hand or on the left?
2. "Come, ye blessed." There is no joy so intense, so rapturous; may it be ours!
3. Then follow after charity.
4. "Depart from me, ye cursed." There is no misery so awful; God in his mercy save us from it!
5. Then follow Christ the Lord; love the brethren; imitate the example of the King.
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY
The ten virgins.
I. CHRIST INVITES HIS CHURCH TO SHARE HIS JOY. Here is a festal occasion, and the joy and splendour of it will not be complete unless the virgin friends of the bride go forth to meet the bridegroom with their lamps illuminating the gay scene. More than once is the gospel gladness compared to that of a wedding. Under such an image the service and the warfare of life are for the moment forgotten, and its bright, glad side is brought to light. This too is to be seen in the kingdom of heaven, and its happiness is to be shared by Christ's people.
II. WE NEED PREPARATION TO PARTICIPATE IN THE JOY OF OUR LORD. The virgins must not only be in wedding array, they must have their lamps trimmed and fed for the illuminated procession. The wise virgins were thoughtful enough to take oil for the further supply of their lamps. The preparation of these lamps was a preliminary work. The soul must be prepared to enter into Christ's joy by kindling the flame of devotion, and by providing the oil of grace to feed this flame. If there is no grace on earth there can be no glory in heaven.
III. IT IS POSSIBLE TO MAKE INADEQUATE PREPARATION. The foolish virgins had their lamps and lit them. There must have been some oil in them. But there was no further supply. If the bridegroom had not tarried, all would have been well. It was his delay that was so fatal. The foolish virgins are like the rocky ground on which the seed sprang up quickly, but on which the green plant only endured for a short time. They represent persons of brief, temporary religious experience. These people have no stores of grace to fall back on. Time reveals their shallowness. We may have grace to live passably for a short time, but the requisite is to endure to the end; to be shining in the light of God whenever Christ shall come.
IV. DILIGENCE IN THE FUTURE CANNOT ATONE FOR NEGLIGENCE IN THE PAST. Seeing that their lamps are going out, the foolish virgins apply for help from their wise sisters. But these virgins are too prudent to part with any of their precious oil. Their conduct strikes us as selfish. But it is human, and as such it is a warning against neglecting God's grace and trusting to the tender mercies of our fellow creatures. Moreover, in the spiritual region we cannot transfer grace. The wise virgins recommend an impossible course, in ignorance, or as a rebuke, or to relieve themselves of the unpleasant importunity of the other five. The course is impossible. The shops are shut at night. Lost opportunities never return.
V. CHRIST MUST DISOWN THOSE WHO WERE ONCE HIS PEOPLE IF THEY HAVE CEASED TO POSSESS HIS GRACE. In their dismay and bewilderment, the foolish virgins clamour for admission to the wedding feast, even though they have not their lamps, for "the bridegroom is so sweet." But they are refused. Does the conduct of the bridegroom seem harsh, the punishment too severe? Let us observe that all things are in proportion. If the offence is slight—only forgetting to fill vessels with oil, so also is the penalty—only to miss a family festival. Translate this into the spiritual realm, and both sides become proportionately aggravated. The offence is negligence as to the exhaustion of grace; the penalty, exclusion from the joy of Christ. Each is negative; each is serious.
VI. CHRISTIANS NEED TO CULTIVATE A WATCHFUL SPIRIT. The ten virgins must be all Christians, for they all belong to the intimate circle of friends, and they all have lamps alight at first. The fault of the foolish ones is negligence, carelessness, caused, one would say, by comparative indifference. It is well to be always watchful; but if, like all the ten, we sometimes sleep, at least let us see that we have provided for coming need.—W.F.A.
The parable of the talents.
This parable is naturally associated with that of the ten virgins. In both we have the time for preparation, the crisis of judgment, the differences of conduct, and subsequent results. But this second parable treats of higher responsibilities and graver issues. Here we have a specific trust; the duty is more than watching, it is diligent working; and the rewards and punishments are proportionately greater. We pass from the joys of the kingdom and the possibility of missing them, to the serious duties of the kingdom and the great honours and heavy penalties that follow obedience and negligence.
I. THE TALENTS ENTRUSTED.
1. The significance of the talents. This parable has given a secondary meaning to the very word "talent" in the literature of Christendom—a meaning which has come to supersede its original application, so that a talent with us is not a sum of money, but a power or faculty, and a talented person is a person highly endowed with natural gifts. In the large use of the word by our Lord the talent is anything that gives scope and facility for service—intellect, wealth, position, etc.
2. The variety of the talent. Some are more richly endowed than others. Nothing is mere false to nature than the doctrinaire theory of equality. There is the greatest possible inequality, not only in the distribution of property—which is often owing to man's injustice, but in the providential bestowal of personal gifts.
3. The trust of the talents. The owner takes a journey into another country, and leaves his property with his servants. God is not really absent, but his presence is not apparent, and he leaves scope and freedom for the right use of what he has entrusted to men.
II. THE SERVANTS' CONDUCT.
1. The diligent servants. Two do their best with what is committed to their charge, and work equally well, each just doubling his capital.
(1) God expects active service, and not merely negative innocence.
(2) Our powers and faculties are not our own; they are to be used for God.
(3) These gifts grow with use, and to ourselves the natural and the chief result of diligent service is the enlargement of our own powers.
(4) The best service must be proportionate to our natural gifts. The man with two talents can only make two more, not five; yet be works as well as his more gifted companion.
2. The slothful servant. This man had but one talent. If he had possessed more he might have been inspired to some enthusiasm.
(1) There is a temptation to neglect small gifts.
(2) It is wicked to be slothful.
(3) Inability is no excuse for indolence, because all have some powers for service.
III. THE FINAL ACCOUNT. This must be rendered. The owner will return to his estate, though he may be long absent. God will call all his servants to account for the use they make of their powers and opportunities.
1. The reward of fidelity.
(1) This is for faithfulness in service, not merely in keeping what is committed to us.
(2) It takes the form of a larger trust.
2. The punishment of indolence. The idle man has his excuse, but it is a false one. The Master does not reap where he has not sown; for he gave the talents which were to be the seed of more wealth.
(1) Neglected gifts are withdrawn. If we will not use our faculties, we shall lose them.
(2) The indolent servant is east into darkness and despair. He might have done well. Not positive sin alone, but neglect to do our duty in God's service, will be heavily punished.—W.F.A.
Good and faithful servants.
We cannot but be struck with the cheerful tone of these generous words. They encourage us to look to the brighter side of Christian life and work. This is not all failure. It is largely fruitful and acceptable to God.
I. THERE ARE GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANTS OF GOD. No age in the history of the Church has been without such people. Even when the five talented men are scarce, men of two talents have abounded, and have proved their fidelity by their fruitful industry. It is well for us to be on the look out for these worthy servants of God, that we may recognize and honour them. They are the salt of the earth; they show us that God has not left himself without witness. It is especially pleasing to see men of the greatest endowments laying all their gifts out in the service of God. A truly Christian statesman or a poet of leading rank presents to us an inspiring sight of faithful service in high places. But the service may be equally true in the humblest walks of life. There is no reason why the man of one talent should not be as faithful as the man of five talents.
II. GOD GENEROUSLY RECOGNIZES THE MERITS OF HIS TRUE SERVANTS. Here we read of unstinted praise lavished upon them. It is true that no men have absolute merit with God, that all of us are sinful, and that all our good work is marred with evil. Any good in the work we have done is only accomplished by means of the grace of God, and therefore we must say, "Not unto us, but unto thy Name be the glory." Yes; the glory is all God's. Still there is room for effort and fidelity. God acknowledges these qualities, and when he sees them he rejoices over them. In his great judgment he will generously acknowledge them.
III. THE GROUNDS OF DIVINE REWARDS ARE IN THE CHARACTER OF THE SERVICE RENDERED. These are not found in the amount of work considered by itself. God does not give men wages. Nor does the system of payment by "piece work" obtain in the kingdom of heaven. God's method is to take account of character, of motive, of the way in which a person makes use of what is entrusted to him. Thus they who produce most results will not be honoured more than those people whose efforts result in less visible effects, but who are equally faithful with their smaller gifts. Still there is a sort of "payment by results." God looks for fruit. Fidelity cannot be sterile. The faithful servant will certainly have something to show for his efforts, though it may not be all he hoped for, or anything like what men demanded of him.
IV. GOD REWARDS HIS GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANTS BY COMMITTING A LARGE MINISTRY TO THEIR CHARGE. Instead of talents, these servants are to have cities. Fidelity in small things proves the character and trains the powers, and so prepares for service in large things. Now, this enlarged service is the best reward that can be offered to the diligent servant. Such a man does not desire to be released from responsibility. The paradise of idleness would be no heaven to him. He has a reward which would be a purgatory to the indolent man. Here lies the way to the joy of the Lord. They share God's joy who serve in God's kingdom, and the joy is greatest when the service is most full.—W.F.A.
The Divine law of increase.
Jesus Christ here enunciates a deep and far-reaching principle. It is one which at first sight may strike us as harsh and even as unjust; yet a little consideration should reveal its absolute equity. So great and important a law cannot be without its serious lessons of warning and encouragement.
I. THE SCORE OF THE LAW.
1. In external nature. We not only see the survival of the fittest, but its propagation and extension. Those plants and animals which are most suited to their circumstances not only flourish best; they multiply greatly. Moreover, it is just in them that we are to look for the appearance of new and more advantageous modifications of structure.
2. In our bodily life. The athlete strengthens his muscles with exercise. The musical ear becomes more musical by listening to music. On the other hand, the muscle of the feeble invalid who is not strong enough to take exercise dwindles away, and the senses that are not used become dull and blind.
3. In our mental faculties. The powerful intellect of the thinker grows stronger by his thinking, while the feeble intellect of the dullard becomes weaker by neglect.
4. In spiritual experience. The life of communion with God grows deeper and larger the more truly it is lived.
5. In Christian work. This is what our Lord had especially in mind when be proclaimed his great law. It is by working for God that we grow strong in God. Thus if there is a rivalry between the contemplative and the active life in religion, our Lord would seem to favour the latter as the more fruitful in good to the Christian himself.
II. THE JUSTICE OF THE LAW. A similar principle seems to be at work among human affairs where it issues in most hard and cruel results, and where it certainly appears to be unjust. Thus the capitalist is enabled to enlarge his business, while the poor tradesman who needs an increase much more is not able to go forward at all. Great houses tend to monopolize commerce which once divided itself among many shops, and the larger the business is the more people flock to it and add still more to its gigantic proportions. Thus the successful man wins favour, while the failing man who wants it much more fails to get it. All this looks unfair. We must recognize, however, that it only deals with the external life. That earthly means should lent to earthly results is natural. But there are higher regions where the injustice is counteracted. The successful man of the world may be a dismal failure in his higher life. Here the law works justly. It is right that a man's future should grow out of his present conduct. In the parable of the talents it is not the mere possession of the talents, but the use of them, that determines the retributive treatment. The man of five talents is not rewarded because he holds the five, but because he multiplies them. It is the second five acquired by his own industry, not the first five received as a gift, that occasions his further honour and enrichment. God will give more according to what we have attained in our own spiritual life. In this there is no injustice, but much more than justice, for we could not claim the increase. It is added by God's great bounty in graciously rewarding faithful service.—W.F.A.
The judgment of the nations.
The two earlier parables of judgment refer to those who are in confessed relationship with God. The parable of the ten virgins represents the relationship of friendship,—that of people who would share in the joys of God's home, as friends at a wedding feast; the parable of the talents represents a less intimate relationship,—that of service; the talents are committed to their proprietor's "own servants." Now the scene changes, and we are brought out to the larger world of the nations; the judgment of those who do not know Christ as their Friend or consciously serve him as their Master is here typified. To Jews this would mean the judgment of the Gentiles; to Christians it represents the judgment of the heathen, with those, also, who live in Christendom, but who do not give their adherence to any of the Churches.
I. CHRIST WILL JUDGE THE WORLD.
1. There will be a judgment of the world. This is not to be confined to the Church; it will not be only for those who acknowledge Christ. We cannot escape from it by ignoring the rule of Christ. The most heedless and careless, the most worldly and unspiritual, the most sceptical and materialistic, will be brought before the bar of the universal judgment.
2. This judgment will be in the hands of Christ. It will be conducted by the "Son of man," who, even when acting as a Judge, is to be regarded as a Shepherd dividing his flocks. Therefore the judgment will be conducted with humanity and with sympathy, with the discrimination of knowledge gained in experience.
II. THE JUDGMENT OF CHRIST WILL RESULT IN A TWOFOLD DIVISION.
1. There will be two classes. All are not condemned; but all are not approved. Even Jesus with all his graciousness must reprobate what is wrong. His gospel is not a security of salvation for the sinful impenitent.
2. There will be but two. These are the main divisions. All characters tend either downward or upward. We are all either in the narrow way or in the broad way—either sheep or goats.
3. These classes will be separated. At present they are united. There will be a revelation and a division, and each man will then go to his own place.
III. THE GROUND OF JUDGMENT WILL BE MEN'S CONDUCT TOWARDS OTHER PEOPLE. It will not be a profession of religion, nor a creed, nor a performance of acts of worship. Christ looks chiefly to conduct in the world. He takes what is done to one of his brethren as the test. This is just the same as if it were done to him, because he is so perfectly sympathetic, that he feels what is done to his brother exactly as though it were done to himself. The rule is for the judgment of the heathen and those outside the Church of Christ. More is expected of Christ's own confessed followers—lamps well supplied with oil of grace, and faithful use of entrusted talents. But such people cannot be excused from what is expected even of the heathen. We can all best serve Christ by ministering to his brethren. This is what he most cares for.
IV. THE JUDGMENT WILL RESULT IN BLESSEDNESS AND PUNISHMENT.
1. There is the joy of the kingdom for the sheep on the right hand. It is remarkable to see that the kingdom was prepared for such from the foundation of the world. From the first its blessings were for many who are not in any visible Church, for many who do not know themselves to be Christians.
2. There is punishment for the goats on the left hand. The hard and selfish are those who receive this punishment. They will not escape it because of their ignorance or their refusal to recognize Christ. It will be unbearably awful.—W.F.A.
The eternal future.
This is a fearful subject, and one from which we naturally shrink. Yet if Christ spoke of it he must desire us to study his words; if what he said was true, we can only neglect it at our peril. The difficulty is to take his words just for what he meant them to teach us, without over-weighting them with the fantastic horrors of the mediaeval imagination, and also without diminishing their force when we have set them free from those monkish accretions.
I. THE DREADFUL DOOM.
1. This is called punishment. The word in the Greek is not the strongest term that could have been employed, viz. one that stands for vengeance. It is a word that generally signifies chastisement, i.e. remedial punishment. But whether such an idea was in the mind of our Lord it is impossible for us to say, especially as he did not speak in Greek, but used the less definite Aramaic language. It is sufficient to know that his language plainly teaches
(1) that there will be suffering in the future for those who are hard and selfish in this life; and
(2) that this suffering will be justly apportioned according to character. Of its nature Jesus says little, but his dreadful words about "wailing and gnashing of teeth" show that it must be very severe—a suffering to be avoided by all means as a fearful evil.
2. This is to be eternal. The adjective is indefinite; though it is frequently used for what is everlasting, it is not always so employed, and a stronger term, which plainly means "endless," is not applied to future punishment. We can infer nothing positively from the usage of the word in regard to the question of the possible termination of future punishment. On the one hand, it cannot be said that it forbids all hope; on the other, it must be affirmed that it offers no hope. It presents a dark prospect stretching out into the ages of the future, and it shows no gleam of light beyond it. It is not wise for us to dogmatize on what God has left thus veiled.
II. THE GLORIOUS REWARD.
1. It is personal. Life is not a possession like money or lands, which can be detached and valued separately. It is in ourselves. God's best gift is within the soul.
2. It is positive. Here is more than rest after toil and peace after storm. A gift of actual energy is suggested to us. Life has its powers and faculties. This life of God is more than existence in the future, for St. John tells us that some men on earth have it, and that others have it not (1 John 5:12). While its full development is for the future, it begins here and now. It is the life of God in the soul, the powers and energies of the spiritual nature. The prospect of such a life teaches us that we do not yet know what it is to live; the future will unfold possibilities not yet even dreamed of.
3. This too is to be eternal. Its endurance rests on a better foundation than the endurance of the punishment, though the same adjective is used for both states, for it rests on the everlasting love of God. Still the word "eternal" in its vast vagueness points to the life growing and expanding in the future ages, so far on that we cannot trace its remotest future. That is the glorious future of "the righteous;" and "the righteous" are just those who minister to their needy fellow men.—W.F.A.
HOMILIES BY MARCUS DODS
Parable of the ten virgins.
This parable illustrates chiefly these three things: the meaning of our Lord's command to watch; its reason; and the means of fulfilling it.
I. IT SHOWS US THAT IT DOES NOT MEAN, BE ALWAYS ON THE WATCH, BUT, BE ALWAYS PREPARED. The fisherman's wife who spends her time on the pier head watching for the boats cannot be so well prepared to give her husband a comfortable reception as the woman who is busy about her household work, and only now and again turns a longing look seaward. Our life is to bear evidence that one of the things we take into account is the approach of our Lord.
II. IT ILLUSTRATES ALSO THE REASON OF THE COMMAND. NO one can tell when the second great interruption of the world's even course is to take place. It may be nearer than some expect; or it may be more distant. The virgins who neglected to carry oil were those who expected the bridegroom would soon appear. It is your baseless supposition that the Lord will not come quickly that betrays you into carelessness. If any one feels that this comes to no more than an appeal to fear, it can only be said in reply that the expectation of Christ's coming does not give rise only to fear, but also to hope; that it braces the Christian energies, and, in accordance with human nature, quickens the spiritual life. The expectation of Christ's coming becomes merged in the sense of his presence.
III. IT SHOWS US HOW WE ARE TO PREPARE FOR MEETING THE LORD. The lamps of the virgins were meant to add brilliancy to the scene. They were in keeping with it. Everything in us that heartily welcomes Christ's presence, and heartily rises to do him honour, everything that will seem a suitable accompaniment in the triumph of a holy Redeemer, is a preparation for Christ's coming.
Passing, however, to some detail brought before us in the parable, we are at once brought race to face with the warning that all who may at one time show preparedness for Christ's presence do not in the end show the same. The folly of the foolish virgins consisted in this—that they lit their lamps, but made no provision for feeding them: the flame was to all appearance satisfactory, but the source of it was defective. They are a warning to all who are tempted to make conversion everything, edification nothing; who can remember the time when they had very serious thoughts and very solemn resolutions, but have made no earnest effort, and are making none, to maintain within themselves the life they once began. The wise are those who recognize that they must have within them that which shall enable them to endure to the end; not only impressions, right impulses, tender feelings, but ineradicable beliefs and principles which will at all times produce all right impulse and feeling, and bring us into contact with Christ and with things unseen. Another hint may be accepted from this part of the parable—that there must be regard paid both to the outward and inward life. On the one hand, if you do not renew your supply of grace, if you do not carefully see to the condition of your own spirit, your good works will soon become less frequent, less sincere, and less lovely, your flame will burn low. But on the other hand, if you tend only the life of your own soul, if you are not letting your light shine before and upon men, then you will soon find it impossible to receive oil, your internal life, the graces of your own spirit, will languish and stagnate. If you are to be prepared to meet your Lord, the vessel of oil is not enough without the burning lamp, nor the lamp merely lighted and with no supply of oil. This being the distinction between the wise and foolish virgins, that which brings it to light is that the bridegroom did not come while all the lamps were burning, and that during his delay they all slumbered and slept. This seems to mean no more than that all having made such preparation as they judged sufficient, calmly and securely waited the approach of the bridegroom. But the security which is excusable and the repose which is necessary in one condition is in another utter madness. It is one thing to turn away your attention from the Person and coming of Christ when you have made sure you are prepared to meet him, and altogether another thing to turn your attention to other things in mere thoughtless security. But we may learn from the slumber of the wise as well as from the rash sleep of the foolish. There is a kind of sleep in which the sense of hearing at least is on the alert, and takes note of the one sound it waits for. Whatever necessary occupation turns our direct attention from the approach of our Lord, there should still be an openness of sense in his direction, an inwrought though latent expectation of his coming, a consciousness which but a whisper will arouse. "At midnight the cry is heard, Behold the bridegroom cometh!" And now the difference between the really and apparently prepared is manifested. This sudden and appalling reversal of their hopes, this mingling at a marriage feast of exultant joy and the most melancholy and calamitous ruin, seems intended to fix in our minds an idea opposite to, and that should extirpate, the idle fancy that things somehow will come all right, that there is no real need of all this urgent warning and watching. Men cannot believe that out of a life that may be jested or trifled away consequences so lasting and so awful can possibly flow. You may defer all seriousness, all thought of God, all trying of your hope and security till the coming of your Lord, but further you cannot defer it, then it will be made manifest that this life has momentous issues. Then it is not an easy, lazy turning to one's neighbour for help that will do any good. Those who are ready pass in to the marriage, and "the door is shut." A new thing it is for that door to be shut. So long has it stood open, thrown wide back, that we forget there is a door that can shut that entrance. But the time comes when whosoever will shall not be saved, when it will be vain pointing men to the door, when whosoever is outside there remains. The great lesson our Lord himself draws from the parable is that since we know not the day nor the hour of his coming, our only safety is to watch through them all. And for those who have found in Christ salvation and life, the expectation of his speedy coming can only be grateful and stimulating. It is this which occupies the future; whenever you look in that direction it is the Person of Christ that meets the eye. He teaches us to look forward from the sorest day of our lives to that certain day when we shall meet and enjoy himself, and enter into that joy that is satisfying his ample nature. From the saddest, darkest night he bids us watch for that morning that shall more surely rise upon us than tomorrow's sun.—D.
The parable of the talents.
There are three parables which illustrate the relation of work and wages in the kingdom of heaven—the labourers in the vineyard, the pounds, and the talents. What this parable chiefly illustrates is that men are rewarded, not solely in proportion to the quantity of work produced, but that their ability and the means at their disposal are taken into account. And in order that this life be a fair field for the test of fidelity, two or three things are requisite, and these are noted in the parable.
I. What is committed to our trust is no trifle, but the goods of our Lord—all he has on earth—whatever can produce on earth the fruit he himself wrought for and died for. There is no interest of his carried forward without the labour of men; if his servants cease to work, his cause on earth is at an end.
II. The Master distributes his goods "according to the several ability" of his servants. Each gets what each can conveniently and effectively handle, and no one is expected to produce results out of proportion to his ability and his means.
III. It is only "after a long time that the Lord of those servants cometh and reckoneth with them." They are not summoned to a reckoning while yet embarrassed by the novelty of their position; they have time to consider, to wait opportunities, to try experiments. The wise have time to lay up great gains, and even the foolish to have learnt wisdom.
It is not without significance that the servant who did nothing at all for his master was he who had received but one talent. This is the peculiar temptation of the man who has little ability. By showing no interest in that situation in life that God has seen fit he should fill, he would have us believe he is qualified for a higher. You are in the same condemnation when you refuse to do anything because you cannot do a great deal; when you refuse to help where you cannot lead; when you hesitate about aiding in some work because those with whom you would be associated in it do it better and show better in the doing of it than yourself. This miserable fear of being mediocre, how many a good work has it prevented or crippled! The insolence of this man's words is not intentional. He reads off correctly his own state of mind, and fancies that his conduct is appropriate and innocent. All wrongness of conduct is at bottom based on a wrong view of God. Nothing so conduces to right action as right thoughts about God. If we think, with this servant, that God is hard, grudging to give, never really delighting in our efforts after good, and that whatever we attempt in our life he will coldly weigh and scorn, then manifestly we have no heart to labour for him. But this view of God is unpardonably wrong, for the very heartiness with which the other servants were greeted refutes it. Moreover, the action flowing from it is inconsistent. If the Master is so slow to recognize sincere effort, so oppressive in his exactions, why did you not at least put your money into the hands of men who would have found a use for it and paid you a good interest? There are numberless ways in which the most slenderly equipped among us can fulfil the suggestion here given. There is no lack of great works going on for our Lord to which we may safely attach ourselves, and in which our talent is rather invested for us than left to our o/on discretion. The parable does not acknowledge any servants who have absolutely nothing. There is something to be done which precisely you can do, something by doing which you will please him whose pleasure in you will fill your nature with gladness; it is given to you to increase your Lord's goods. See, then, that you be not burying your talent. Money is made for circulation; so is grace. Yet some men might as well have no grace for all the good it does; it is carefully wrapped up, as if encounter with the world would fret its edges and lower its value. What, then, is the result of this? The great law is enforced, "To him that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath." And in the kingdom of Christ this law is self-acting, as it is also in our own bodies and in all matters physical. The muscle that is unused dwindles and disappears; no one needs to come and remove it; want of use removes it. So it is with every faculty—bodily, mental, or spiritual. Yet how many think they can retain just so much godliness and no more! How many think they are hitting the right mean between over-righteousness and worldliness! This is proof that there is something radically wrong in their notion of the kingdom and work of Christ. You cannot possibly have just so much grace and no more; it must grow, or it will die. The reward is as certain, and provided for by the same great law, as the punishment. Beginning with such grace as you have, there lies before you the possibility of indefinite increase, if you do what you have power to do—resolutely crush out what you know to be your weaknesses and faults, and seek to have your whole life gathered up into some ascertained and intelligible connection with Christ. This increase of grace is itself the reward, or at any rate the essential part of it. The talents gained are left in the hands that gained them, and wider opportunities for their use afforded. The faithful servant of Christ is always entering upon his reward, and entrance into heaven only marks the point at which his Lord expresses his approval, and raises him to a position of acknowledged trustworthiness, the position of one who has acquired an interest in the work, whose joy is his Lord's joy—joy in advancing man's best interests, joy in the sight of others made righteously happy. There can be no reward more certain, for it begins here. No one need tell you there is no heaven; the kingdom of heaven is within you. It is also the best you could picture to yourself. The reward a person in sickness receives for careful attention to every prescription of his physician is that he becomes healthy. If you ask—What is it that makes life worth living, which we can set before us as our sufficient reward and aim? the answer can only be that we have the hope of becoming satisfactory persons, of becoming perfect as our Father is perfect, who needs no reward, but delights in being and doing good, who loves, and is therefore blessed.—D.
No human imagination avails to grasp the conception of the judgment of a world—the great white throne, the voice of the archangel, the generations of all time gathering from all quarters. There is one feature of the judgment which is here and elsewhere made prominent—that Christ himself is to be Judge. The Father hath given him authority to execute judgment also, "because he is the Son of man." Jesus Christ is that Person through whom God has seen fit to transact with men from the first, and it will be so to the end. It is in the Person of Christ that God has been accepted or rejected of men; and it is fit that in this Person also men be accepted or rejected of God. We shall be judged by One who can read our soul with his own human knowledge of men and their ways. There are only two points in this great subject which will now be taken up:
(1) the duration of the doom pronounced;
(2) the grounds on which it proceeds.
I. Round these words of our Lord a sea of controversy has continually raged. In every generation there are numbers who explicitly declare that they cannot believe in the everlasting punishment of any of their fellow creatures. And although many do so from mere thoughtlessness, in others it arises from the feeling that it would be inconsistent with their own expectation of happiness, and with their best ideas of God. Men of feeble imagination, to whom the doctrine is little more than a form of words, have little temptation to rebel against it. But there are others to whom it makes life an intolerable misery; and rather than resign all mental comfort and happiness, they resign their belief in eternal punishment. But belief is not to be determined by our wish, but by Scripture and reason. If we turn to our Lord's teaching, and try to make out whether he taught universal restoration, the distinct conclusion seems to be that he did not. His words here are a fair sample of his teaching on this point, and apparently he meant by them to convey the impression which every simple-minded, unbiassed reader receives from them, that the duration of the punishment of the lost equalled the duration of the blessedness of the saved. The word translated "everlasting" in the one clause and "eternal" in the other is the same in both clauses. And though this is scarcely the place to discuss the meaning of a Greek word, so much has been said of the proper translation of the word being "age long," that it is necessary to guard against the accepting of such an account as sufficient. Even in its first original sense there is prominent the idea of enduring to the end, of permanence. So that in the course of time it became the commonest term to express that which lasts, in opposition to that which passes away. It occurs everywhere in the Epistle to the Hebrews, the purpose of which Epistle is to bring out the enduring, permanent, absolute, final, eternal nature of the Christian religion in opposition to the temporary, transient nature of the Old Testament dispensation. Plato falls into almost the very language of Paul, and says of the heavens and the earth that these visible things are temporal, but the unseen is eternal, abides; and in saying this he uses the word used here. But no doubt besides its application to what is absolutely eternal, as to God himself, the word may legitimately be applied to epochs long but not eternal. But unquestionably it conveys the idea that what is spoken of will last so long as its subject lasts unless something is said to the contrary. The bliss promised and the punishment threatened would be understood to last so tong as the subject of them lasts unless an explicit intimation were given that it would not be so. But so far from this, the New Testament everywhere implies that the state of things introduced by Christ and his work is a final and permanent stare, suitably described by the word that is applied to God himself when he is called Eternal. It is to be noted also that the Jews of our Lord's time certainly believed in a final judgment and irreversible doom; and it is not to be believed that our Lord should have used the very figures and language used by them if he had had any new doctrine to publish regarding the future.
II. The grounds on which the final separation proceeds must commend themselves to the most blunted conscience. The friends of mankind are to share the destiny of the great Friend of our race, the haters of mankind are to partake with the great enemy. At first sight the duties taken account of seem the easiest. But the spirit of Christ is that which induced him to pity us and come down for our help, and it is this spirit of love which is fundamental. The man who is like him in this will one day be like him in all else. "Love is of God," and will still be recognized by God as belonging to him. It is worthy of observation that those who were rewarded for these deeds of charity were not aware that in doing them they had been serving Christ. His explanation of this to them reminds us of the device of Eastern princes of wandering through their dominions in disguise, that they may learn the feeling of their subjects. So does Christ even now dwell incognito among his own, in the habit of the poor and sick and oppressed; and, asking help from one and another, he finds who they are who have listened to his commandment that we should love one another, and who they are who are fulfilling his work of mercy upon earth. And this identification of himself with all that is base and wretched has its basis in the substantial facts of his earthly life. His life was spent for the relief of men, but it was merely part of the fulfilment of an eternal purpose. He is no less desirous of relieving the miseries of this present age than he was of relieving those who were around him upon earth. And as we would think gratefully and lovingly of one who in our absence cared for some brother or parent, wife or child, who stood in need of help, so does Christ think highly of him who considers and cares for any weak brother of his for whom he died, and whom when he comes he will claim for his own. Are you prepared for this judgment? We are not asked what we have felt, or thought, or believed, but what we have done. It is conduct which shows if you are of the spirit of Christ, capable of enjoying what he counts a blessed life. His aim was the only right aim, the only aim which in the judgment will be taken account of. Every one who tries this finds it is radical, that it involves regeneration, that he cannot adopt it as his real aim in life without giving himself up to God..—D.
HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD
Amongst the great truths taught in this parable we notice these.
I. THAT RELIGION ADMITS OF NO NEUTRALITY.
1. In either things men may be indifferent.
(1) Thus in questions of science: one dogmatist may assert that gravitation is the effect of attraction as a property in matter. Another may bold attraction in matter to be a mechanical absurdity. It is of little consequence should a third person suspend his judgment. The cosmos will not go to pieces because he cannot determine how its elements are kept together.
(2) So in questions of politics: some may stoutly contend that a liberal policy is the least revolutionary and safest for the commonwealth. Others may as stoutly oppose this view. A third party may see difficulties on either band, and be unable to come to any conclusion. The world will not wait for him to make up his mind.
2. But the relations of existence forbid neutrality in religion.
(1) Here the Divine claims upon the individual are urgent. To neglect these is to treat the Almighty with contempt. Such an offence is the reverse of trifling. Negligence here is damnable.
(2) Here also are urgent human claims. Every man is his brother's keeper, responsible to God for his influence upon his brother.
(3) We are responsible also to ourselves. Every man has to live with his own conscience. His eternal happiness or misery depends upon the opinion his companion has of him. He is made respectable and happy, or otherwise, according to the nature of his relation to the question of religion.
(4) If God forsake the sinner, Satan will compel him. Neutrality, therefore, is out of the question. We can only vanquish Satan by the help of God. Our possibilities are infinitely grand or mean. To be a son of God, what more glorious! To be a serf of Satan, what more despicable!
II. THAT UNBELIEF IS THE PARALYZER OF RELIGIOUS ENERGY.
1. The world appeals vividly to sense.
(1) Hence in the Bridegroom's absence there is a disposition to slumber. The glitter and whirl of the world's excitement drowns and stupefies the spiritual sense.
(2) Faith is the counteractant. It acts by what Dr. Chalmers calls "the expulsive power of a new affection." Realizing vividly the superior glories of the spiritual world, we gain the victory over the world of sense.
2. The foolish sleep without oil in their vessels.
(1) Some foolish ones have no lamps, no profession of religion. These are the people outside the Churches. They are the people of the world. Many of these go to sleep pluming themselves upon being "better than many of those who do profess."
(2) Others go to sleep because they have lamps—because they are professors, though they have no oil in their vessels, no grace of God in their hearts. How many trust for salvation to their Church membership rather than to Christ! Useless is the oil-less lamp.
3. Even the wise are found sleeping.
(1) Some think "sleep" here means death. This, however, scarcely comports with the grand inference and application of the argument, "Watch." The exhortation surely comes too late to the dead.
(2) Is there not a sense in which the Churches generally are asleep—the wise as well as the foolish? Are not Christians, taken generally, far too worldly? How little of holy scorn do we feel for the pleasures of the vain and frivolous! Is there not also a culpable supineness in relation to the condition of the world perishing around us? What excitement would there be in a ship's crew while a man overboard remained unrescued! What excitement in a crowd while an inmate of a house on fire remained unsaved! Where is our faith in the perishing condition of the world of sinners, and in the saving efficacy of the Redeemer's blood? Are we not paralyzed by our unbelief?
III. THAT RELIGIOUS EXCITEMENT KINDLES AS THE WORLD FADES.
1. All examinee themselves at the judgment.
(1) That will be the "midnight," viz. of the world. The sun shall be darkened.
(2) Then shall the midnight "cry" be raised. It will be discerned in the crash of the thunders; in the growling of the earthquakes; in the roar of the fire of the great conflagration; in the ever-aggravating vibrations of the trump of God.
(3) All will then be raised from their graves. "Then all those virgins arose." The unjust as well as the just will respond to that voice, and come forth from their graves.
2. All examine themselves in dying.
(1) The hour of dying is the midnight of life. The world then recedes from the senses, or, which is the same, the senses are closing upon the world.
(2) The midnight cry is then heard in the thunderings of the Law and in the terrors of the Lord. The echoes are awakened in the conscience. The death rattle in the throat is a solemn alarm.
(3) In such a crisis all the virgins are astir. The wise are excited to look to their lamps and their oil. Happy are they when they find the grace that can sustain and nourish the light of a good profession. The foolish look with consternation upon their oil-less vessels.
IV. THAT ETERNITY EXPOSES THE REFUGES OF FOLLY.
1. Trusting to works of supererogation.
(1) These were invented about the end of the twelfth century. It is founded upon what the papists call "counsels of perfection," or rules which do not bind under the penalty of sin, but are only useful in carrying men to a greater degree of perfection than is necessary to salvation. This dogma is repugnant to Holy Scripture (cf. Matthew 5:48; Philippians 2:12). In due time the popes, to give colour to their doctrine of indulgences, claimed to have the custody of the fund of the superabundant merits of Christ and of his saints, and enriched their coffers by the sale of these.
(2) Could there be a prophetic irony in the advice of the wise virgins to the foolish, "Go ye to them that sell"? The irony is terrible when taken in connection with the sequel, that when they returned with the oil so procured it availed them nothing.
2. Trusting to the infallible final perseverance of the saints.
(1) The lamps of the foolish virgins once had light, else they could not have "gone out."
(2) Their lamps went out while they slept. Imperceptibly the oil of grace was consumed, while no effort was made to replenish the store.
(3) The sequel is that they find themselves shut out.
3. Trusting to the opportunities of' the future.
(1) While the Bridegroom tarried, the foolish virgins slept without making any provision of oil for their lamps. Lo here the very spirit of procrastination.
(2) When the alarm of the presence of the Bridegroom rouses them, they make a desperate rush to prepare for him; but all now is unavailing. The procession is formed without them, and they are shut out in the darkness.
(3) importunity now comes too late. It was all over with the antediluvian procrastinators when the door of the ark was shut.
(4) The moral, then, is—Watch. Watch, because the time is uncertain. Watch, because the event is sure.—J.A.M.
This, like the preceding parable, refers immediately to the professed followers of Christ. It probably has a special, though certainly not exclusive, application to ministers and those distinguished by office in the Churches. We have to consider—
I. THE TALENTS.
1. These are not the natural faculties.
(1) In the possession of these there is no difference of "one," "two," and "five." The Caucasian has no attribute that is not also possessed by the Hottentot. The premier enjoys no attribute that is not also enjoyed by the peasant.
(2) Were the talents our natural faculties, then would the privation of them amount to the extinction of our being. But the unprofitable servant survives his privation of his talent, to be punished for his slothfulness.
(3) The talents must not be confounded with the agents to whom they are entrusted for use. But the natural faculties go to constitute the agents.
2. They are the gifts of grace and providence.
(1) Foremost amongst these is the royal gift of the Holy Spirit. The lord travelling into the far country is Christ after his Passion ascending into the heavens. Thence he sent the baptism of his Spirit (see Ephesians 4:8). This great Gift is distributed into
(a) the ordinary;
(b) the extraordinary.
There is a manifestation of the Spirit given to every man to profit withal.
(2) Whatever in the order of Providence may increase our influence.
(b) Social status.
(a) Ordinances of the gospel—Bibles, sabbaths, ministers.
(b) Circumstances of Providence, or occurrences called accidents.
Every moment has its grace; every grace has its employment; every employment is for eternity. Note: A talent of silver is worth £350. All Christ's gifts are rich and valuable. They are the purchase of his precious blood.
II. THEIR CUSTODY.
1. God gives them diversely.
(1) To one he gives "five," to another "two," to another "one." This is arbitrary, of his own spontaneity, without consulting with the recipient. This he has an absolute right to do.
(2) Yet is his arbitrariness guided by wisdom. He gives "to each according to his several ability." He trusts us up to the limit of our own ability. Five talents would be too much for this man; one would be too little for this. God, who distributes, knows.
(3) Justice also is conspicuous in the distribution. No one is pressed beyond his powers. Who can say that the difference between the greatest and the least in the matter of opportunity is more than five to one? Plato, in his laws, allowed no man to possess an income of more than five times that of the poorest. This might be feasible with an adequate levelling up.
(4) No man has any right to complain that he has more or less than another. He that has much should not despise him that has little. He that has little should not envy him that has more. The man who improves his gifts, however small, will surely obtain the kingdom.
2. He gives them to be improved.
(1) Every gift and grace of God is capable of improvement.
(a) To the comfort and salvation of the recipient.
(b) For the benefit of his race.
(c) For the glory of his Maker.
(2) No talent must be buried. "Money is like manure, good for nothing in the heap; but it must be spread" (Bacon; see also Ecclesiastes 6:1, Ecclesiastes 6:2; James 5:3). That many Christians are too slothful to be useful is a melancholy fact. So perseveringly should we serve as not to outlive our character and our usefulness.
(3) Much more must no talent be abused. Yet to bury is to abuse. He who digs to hide his talent puts himself to more trouble to abuse God's mercy than it would cost him to improve that mercy unto his salvation.
III. THE RECKONING.
1. The diligent are rewarded.
(1) They can render their account with joy. For with the talents they had received "they went and traded." Note: A true Christian is a spiritual tradesman (see Proverbs 3:15; Mat 3:1-17 :45). Those who diligently improve their talents will have boldness in the day of judgment (see 1 John 2:28; 1 John 4:17).
(2) They receive commendation. They are praised for their goodness and faithfulness. If there be no merit, there is yet a rewardableness in our good deeds. They are promised a promotion. "I will set thee over many things." If the few things be "five talents," what must be the "many things," equivalent to "five cities," equivalent to "an hundredfold"! The servant over the few things is to be made ruler over many things. Note: Heaven is a place of order and government.
(3) They receive glory. "Enter into the joy of thy Lord." Christ, for the joy that was before him, endured the cross. That joy was the glorification of his humanity, both body and soul. It is also the glorification of the members of his Church, which is his mystical body and soul. This joy will fill the capacity of every member, whether he be a man of five talents or of two. Heightened capacity will still have perfect enjoyment. Christ's servants are all princes. The crown (2 Timothy 4:8), the throne (Revelation 3:21), the kingdom (Matthew 25:34).
2. The indolent are punished.
(1) They are reproached. "Wicked and slothful" is opposed to "good and faithful." Faithfulness rather than success is approved, and so is faithlessness rather than failure reproved. Note: The servant who had least entrusted to him is here represented as the unfaithful one, perhaps to impress upon us that we must not make the smallness of our gifts a pretext for indolence.
(2) The slothful servant, justifying himself on the ground of his master's severity, expresses the views of the Author of all good that are taken by carnal minds. How awfully depraved is he that can charge his crimes upon his Maker! Note: The parable puts a weak excuse into the mouth of the slothful servant, to show that for neglect there is no apology.
(3) Hard thoughts of God beget fear (Matthew 25:24, Matthew 25:25). Note the spirit of the slave. By refraining from expressing displeasure at the injustice of the slothful servant, our Lord teaches that the duty of serving him is incumbent even on the natural man.
(4) The indolent are deprived of their gifts and graces. "Take the talent from him." From the faithless minister, from the faithless Church member. "For from him that hath not even that which he hath shall be taken away." "He who hath this or that, and makes no use of it, may not improperly be said both to have it and not to have it" (Aristotle). Only what we use well becomes crystallized into a good character.
(5) The unprofitable are relegated to wrath (Matthew 25:30). "Unprofitableness and omission of duty is damnable; unfaithfulness in us, who are but stewards and servants. To do no harm is praise fit for a stone, not for a man" (Baxter). "Cast ye out the unprofitable servant."
(a) "Into outer darkness." All outside heaven is darkness in eternity.
(b) "There shall be weeping," etc.; misery.—J.A.M.
The great assize.
It has been well observed by Dr. Doddridge that our Lord here proceeds to speak of the great day of retribution, in a description which is one of the noblest instances of the true sublime anywhere to be found. Portions of the description are undoubtedly parabolic, the intention evidently being to give prominence to certain important principles; but otherwise it is a solemn anticipation of what will one day become history. We may consider—
I. THE ARRANGEMENT OF THE COURT. And conspicuous here is:
1. The appearance of the Judge.
(1) "The Son of man." Under this title the Lord comes to us as the Divine Word or Truth made flesh, and so accommodated to our apprehension. In this quality God reveals himself as our Redeemer and Saviour; and in this quality he will appear as our Judge. Accordingly, we learn, "Neither hath the Father"—the Godhead as distinct from the manhood—"judged any man, but he hath given all judgment unto the Son." Again, "And because he is the Son of man" (cf. John 5:22, John 5:27; Acts 17:3!; Romans 2:16).
(2) But it is the "Son of man in his glory." He came to redeem us in his humiliation. In his second advent his humanity will be beatified. This was anticipated in the vision of the Transfiguration (see John 1:14). The Deity of the Son of man will then be more gloriously visible.
(3) "And all his angels with him." Angels rather shade than enhance the glory of the Lord. They are the "clouds" in which elsewhere the Son of man is described as coming (see Daniel 7:13; ch. 24:30; 26:64; Revelation 1:7). They come to moderate the effect of that face, the fire of which will kindle the final conflagration (cf. 2 Peter 3:7; Revelation 20:11).
(4) "Then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory," or "glorious throne." Agreeably to this he speaks as "the King" (Matthew 25:34). Surely it is impossible, in the light of this Scripture, were there no other, to doubt the proper Deity of our blessed Lord.
2. The vast assembly.
(1) "And before him were gathered all the nations." Though the particular illustration which follows has reference to those only from among them who had heard the gospel, yet these words imply that the whole human race will congregate there (see Acts 17:31). Witness, then, all the men from every clime, and all the generations of the ages.
(2) Such a congregation presupposes a general resurrection. Elsewhere we are taught that this will take place (cf. Daniel 12:2; John 5:28, John 5:29). So the dead, small and great, stand before the throne Revelation 20:12).
(3) Added to the vast aggregate of humanity, "all the angels" are present. This doubtless brings prominently before us the holy angels; but their presence suggests also that of the fallen. And we read further on of the "everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (verse 34). They were probably the first judged. They were the first in transgression, the first cursed, and so likewise the first doomed (see Revelation 20:1-66.20.3).
3. The solemn discrimination.
(1) All nations are assembled before the King for his inspection. The process of the inspection is not here described; but elsewhere we are assured that "every one of us shall give account of himself unto God" (Romans 14:12). Neither is time here specified which the inspection may occupy. It will probably extend throughout the great period of a thousand years described by John (see Revelation 20:1-66.20.15.).
(2) The discrimination eventuates in separation (verse 32). The sheep is the symbol of peaceableness and innocency. The goat, on the contrary, a quarrelsome, lascivious, and ill-scented creature, describes the impure. The sheep pass to the "right hand," a position which, according to the rabbins, expresses approbation and eminence. The goats pass to the "left," which, they say, expresses disapprobation and rejection. The Romans recognized a similar distinction (see 'AEn.,' 6:540).
(3) The angels will be employed as instruments in this great service (see Mat 13:1-58 :80, Matthew 13:39-40.13.43). Note: Men who can agree in matters of worldly business, and even in matters of morals, will yet separate when they come to the higher plane of religion. The spirituality of the future state is the touchstone.
II. THE AWARD OF THE RIGHTEOUS.
1. They are commended.
(1) Because they showed kindness to the disciples of Christ They gave meat to the hungry, drink to the thirsty; clothing to the naked; hospitality to the stranger; attention to the sick; encouragement to the prisoner.
(2) Because they did all this from the pure motive of love to Jesus. So he takes it home. "I was hungry," etc.; "ye did it unto me." What dignity does this stamp upon the lowliest offices and acts (see Ephesians 6:5-49.6.7; Colossians 3:17; Hebrews 6:10)]
(3) Therefore are they greeted as "blessed of the Father." Such acts of kindness evince them to be the children of that blessed Father who "maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust" (see Matthew 5:43 Matthew 5:48). "It is more blessed to give than to receive." It is more God-like.
2. They are promoted.
(1) "Come, ye blessed [children] of my Father;" come nearer to me, the "Son of man," the" King" of glory. "My brethren" (verse 40). Jesus never directly calls his disciples his brethren until after his resurrection. Jesus glorified is more nearly related to the men regenerated than Jesus unglorified to men unregenerated. It is when the Lord is glorified in us that we become truly those whom he acknowledges as his brethren. Yet is there a becoming reverence which prevents the disciple from speaking thus familiarly of the Lord. Even James does not presume to call himself "the Lord's brother," neither does Jude, who distinguishes himself rather as "the brother of James" (of. James 1:1; Jud James 1:1).
(2) "Inherit the kingdom." This implies the crown (2 Timothy 4:8); the throne (Revelation 3:21); the sceptre (Revelation 2:26, Revelation 2:27).
(3) "Prepared for you from the foundation of the world," viz. in the terms of the everlasting covenant which promises rewards to the obedience of faith. "For you," viz. who have done the works which prove the genuineness of faith. Note: The disavowal by the righteous of the virtue ascribed to them is designed to show the absence of all idea of merit from true righteousness. The good do good for its own sake—for the Lord's sake who is goodness itself.
(4) All this is summed up as "eternal life." This is union with Christ, who is that Life (see 1 John 5:12, 1 John 5:20).
III. THE DOOM OF THE WICKED.
1. They are convicted.
(1) They are impeached with want of sympathy with Christ. "Ye gave me no meat," etc. They would not consider Christ in his disciples.
(2) Special pleading will be of no avail before the judgment seat of Christ. "When saw we thee," etc.? Sinners are more ready to lay claim to virtues to which they have no right, than to confess the evils of which they are guilty. But they will get their answer. "Forasmuch," etc. Note: Virtue cannot receive the slightest wound of which Jesus does not instantly feel the smart (see Acts 9:4, Acts 9:5).
(3) The offences here alleged are negative. This does not say that positive wickedness shall escape. The murderer, the adulterer, the thief, the liar, the blasphemer,—every sinner will have his sinfulness brought home to him.
2. They are degraded.
(1) "Depart from me"—from your last hope of mercy and salvation. "Ye cursed." In departing from me whom you refused to accept as your Curse bearer (הול)), bear now your own deserved execration.
(2) Depart "into eternal fire." This is afterwards described as "eternal punishment." Hell is that horrid centre in which all the lines of sin and misery meet. The Greek word construed "eternal" is to be understood in the New Testament, not so much in the light of its etymology as in that of its usage. When applied to the world, it has no limit except the duration of the world (see Romans 16:25, Revised Version; Jud Romans 1:7). When applied to the world to come, it has no limit.
(3) "Prepared for the devil and his angels." Note: There is a ringleader among devils. "What must be the nature and misery of a confinement with those powerful, active, sagacious beings, whose minds are all malice, fraud, and cruelty, and whose endless being is a succession of rage, revenge, and despair?" (Dwight).
(4) "And these shall go away," etc. Those who refused to accept the invitation to "come," will have to obey the order to "go." "Every word has a terror in it, like that of the trumpet of Mount Sinai, waxing louder and louder" (Henry).—J.A.M.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
Signs of wisdom and of folly in the Christian life.
"And five of them were wise, and five were foolish." We should not confuse the word "foolish" with the word "wicked." Some were thoughtless, heedless of possibilities; they lived in the present, and could not anticipate. Life is full of emergencies, and he is wise who prepares for all that he can imagine may come. Our Lord frequently impressed the importance of forethought in the Christian life. He had immediately before been counselling his disciples to be "always ready." It is that point he now further illustrates in these three parables of the chapter, showing that the true readiness includes
(1) maintenance of the personal religious life;
(2) full response to all Christian obligations; and
(3) kindly relations with all around us.
In the parable of the "virgins," we are taught that the wise Christian provides for the maintenance of the soul's life, but the foolish Christian is content to live on the experiences of today.
I. WISE CHRISTIAN LIVING. Strain of some kind is sure to come in every Christian life. It may take forms of affliction, persecution, temptation; but our Lord intimates that nothing will ever really test and try us so much as "mere continuance." This is his point in the teachings of the last time. Everybody was anticipating speedy consummations. He says, "the end is not yet." The bridegroom is certainly coming, but there may be long waiting times before he comes. Wise disciples provide for the strain of "patient continuing in well doing." And the provision they make is soul nourishment. They keep the oil stores replenished; they keep the soul's light brightly shining, and then they are ready for all circumstances, prepared for all delay and for all strain. That is the secret of Christian wisdom, "Keep thy soul with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life." What are the soul stores from which the soul's light may be kept replenished, should be felly illustrated.
II. FOOLISH CHRISTIAN LIVING. There is both a wrong and a right concern for the "morrow." It is wrong to worry over it; it is right to anticipate and prepare for it. It is foolish merely to enjoy the present. Dods says, "The foolish virgins are a warning to all who are tempted to make conversion everything, edification nothing; who cultivate religion for a season, and then think they have done enough; who were religious once, can remember the time when they had very serious thoughts and very solemn resolutions, but who have made no earnest effort, and are making none, to maintain within themselves the life they once began." Christian folly is neglecting personal soul culture.—R.T.
The provision for Christian emergencies.
"The wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps." Some think that torches of tow, steeped in oil, and fastened to the end of sticks, may be meant. Wetstein quotes the following from Rabbi Solomo: "It was the custom in the land of Ishmael to bring the bride from the house of her father to that of her husband in the night time; and there were about tea staffs; upon the top of each was a brazen dish, containing rags, oil, and pitch, and this being kindled formed blazing torches, which were carried before the bride." The lights were intended to make brightness and joyousness for the marriage procession, and the possession of a lighted lamp was a sort of guarantee, a sort of ticket, of admission to the feast. Oil from the store vessel poured into the dish would revive the flame when the cry of the "bridegroom coming" was heard. "Oil in the vessel" was the virgins' provision against all contingency. Whatever happened, with oil in the vessel with the lamp they could keep the light alive. The foolish virgins went carelessly on their journey, satisfied with this—their lamps were burning, and not troubling themselves to think how long they would burn, and what they would do when the flame began to flicker. It is not enough to have oil in the lamp.
I. THE "OIL OF DIVINE GRACE" IS THE PROVISION WE NEED. That figure of speech gathers up several things.
1. A personal experience of dealing with God.
2. Cultivated habits of communion with God.
3. A cherished sense of dependence on God.
4. Well-established views of Divine truth.
5. Gathered stores of Divine promises and comfortings.
All such things at belong to the personal and private life of godliness. But this is only the one side. There is another and even more important side. The "oil of grace" really represents the indwelling Spirit, who is ready to inspire us to every good word and work. That Spirit is wish all who are in earnest and. dependent. When his grace seems exhausted, he "giveth more grace," and so our lamp is ever supplied, and the light ever kept brightly burning.
II. THE "OIL OF GRACE" CAN BE OBTAINED. In times of emergency we can use means—attend services, etc., and in a way, buy and obtain. The difficulty is that we cannot often get the grace in time for the emergency.
III. THE "OIL OF GRACE" SHOULD BE A CONSTANT POSSESSION; a store ever being replenished. See Zechariah's figure of the living olive branches ever dropping fresh oil into the bowl.—R.T.
The warning of the shut door.
We need not push the meaning of our Lord's figure to extremes. The shut door properly belongs to the picture he is painting. It is just what actually did happen in such cases. Those not actually in the procession were excluded when the house was reached. "Those virgins had failed in that which could alone give them a claim to admission. Professing to be bridesmaids, they had not been in the bridal procession, and so, in truth and righteousness, he could only answer from within, "Verily I say unto you, I know you not." This, not only in punishment, but in the right order of things. We have a way of shirting everything away to the mysterious "day of judgment." But our Lord is not thinking of that; he was thinking of the opportunities that come to men in the course of Christian living. The warning is a general one. All things are in limitation. Nothing but comes to an ending. That ending is always uncertain. So we must be ready foreverything, and take full advantage of it while we have it. Van Lennep explains the shutting of the door in a way that suggests our present point: "While they went to purchase oil, the procession moved to the house of the bridegroom. The door was then shut, in order to avoid the danger arising from violent men, who might make an irruption, rob, and carry off costly garments, jewellery, and even the bride herself!"
I. THERE IS THE "SHUT DOOR" OF RELIGIOUS PRIVILEGE. Illustrate by special times of "mission" or "revival." It we do not respond while the mission is in progress, presently the door is shut, the mission is closed, and we are left out in the cold. Or take a valued and honoured ministry. If we fail to yield to gracious persuasions, presently the lips are sealed in death—the "door is shut."
II. THERE IS THE "SHUT DOOR" OF RELIGIOUS DISCIPLINE. This sets the truth in relation to Christian professors. Dispensations of providence bring Divine correctings and chastisings. If we do not respond, the affliction passes, the door of disciplinary opportunity is shut; and we are left outside, unsanctified.
III. THERE IS THE "SHUT DOOR" OF RELIGIOUS DUTIES. Christ carries on his work of grace in us, partly, by the duties he calls us to perform. They are duties belonging to his service, but they are also agencies used in carrying on his work. If we shrink from doing them, our opportunity is taken away, given to others, and, for us, the "door is shut."—R.T.
Christ's relation to our talent trusts.
Eastern workpeople were mostly what we should call slaves. They were provided for by their masters, and their profit belonged to their master.
I. CHRIST'S TALENT TRUSTS. This parable is true of ordinary endowments; the common gifts and abilities of men. We are to see it in the Christian light. All our gifts, powers, and possessions are trusts, not ours to hold, only ours to use; and concerning the use of them all God will surely inquire one day. Fix thought on the special gift to us. Our talent is the one thing we can do better than others. It is the precise thing that we are sent into the world to do. No servant of Christ is without his talent. What may it be? Teach, give, sing, pray, write, visit, preach, sympathize. It is the one thing in relation to which we have the "consciousness of power." How can we know what our talent trust is? Let us put ourselves simply into God's hands, cherishing a loving readiness to do his will; then let us take and do the duty that lies before us, and our gift and power will surely be revealed to us.
II. CHRIST'S APPORTIONMENT OF HIS TALENT TRUSTS. Masters know their servants, and give trusts accordingly. What a good thing for us it is that we have not to choose what our talent trusts shall be! There are two things for him who apportions our trusts to decide.
1. He must make the trust match the capacity. He must not give ten where there is only capacity for dealing with five; or five where there is capacity for dealing with ten. If he has given you ten, he knows you can put the ten to good use, and you must try.
2. The various trusts must cover all the work that he wants done. So we cannot wonder if some forms of service are lowly forms—in business, home, society, or Church. Lowly gifts are needful. Lowly offices are important. The use of Christ-entrusted gifts, anywhere, or in anything, makes the sphere and the work beautiful. "One talent" represents the lowly gifts. Just the very power you have Christ wants for his kingdom. Men may call your gift nothing, and so may you in dreary times. But the Lord Jesus never undervalues any of the trusts he commits to his people. And you should never undervalue your trust until your Master does.
III. CHRIST'S EXPECTATIONS CONCERNING HIS TALENT TRUSTS. He looks for two things, as gain by trading.
1. Service by the use of them. We are to benefit others by the use of our gifts, and this will be accounted service rendered to our Lord.
2. Culture by the use of them. We are to get personal benefit, as putting the talents to use develops our powers. The finest and best moral qualities, the most sturdy and most sensitive spiritual graces, are won by indirect culture, through the expenditure and use of our faculties and gifts. Work, spend, give, thereby you shall gain power for higher service; thereby you shall "meeten for the inheritance."
IV. CHRIST'S JUDGMENT OF THOSE WHO RECEIVE HIS TALENT TRUSTS.
1. The judgment is the same for all trusts. There is not one principle of judgment for the ten talent man, and another principle for the one talent man.
2. The judgment is based on the quality of the work, not on mere results. He who makes his one talent into two may really be more faithful than he who makes his five talents into ten.
3. The judgment is severe on those who never tried to do anything with their talent. Those who have small powers are tempted to despise and neglect them.
V. THE REWARDS CHRIST GIVES ARE SIMPLY OTHER AND LARGER TRUSTS. Illustrate by the successful general, who would think it no reward to be pensioned off. The only honour be cares for is some higher and nobler trust. We should cultivate the thought of heaven as the "higher service." Doing well what we do, we shall have more to do for Christ; and that will be our best possible reward. Appeal: Are you Christ's servant? Then you have your talent trust. What are you doing with it? What will you say to him when he comes again? And what will he say to you?—R.T.
The moral value of our responsibilities.
Several distinct lines of thought open out from this parable.
1. The diversity of the talents with which men are entrusted.
2. The common responsibility of all before God, be their talents few or many.
3. The certainty found in the very nature of a trust, that a reckoning day must come.
4. The true apprehension of life is gained by treating it as a stewardship.
5. The apparent insignificance of a man's talent can never excuse its neglect. The point to which attention is now more especially directed is, that God works out a gracious purpose in moral character by putting men under responsibilities. In the case our Lord brings before us, no doubt the lord wanted his property cared for during his absence; but, beyond and above that, he wanted his servants tested and cultured, by meeting responsibilities, into a faithfulness which he could recognize and reward when he returned.
I. OUR RESPONSIBILITIES. Life is full of such from its beginning to its end. See the Divine idea in the two heads of the human race. The first Adam trusted with the garden, and trusted to leave alone the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The second Adam trusted with the work of redemption. Show
(1) that we train our children by giving them responsibilities, expecting them to do things.
(2) Youth begins to feel the gravity of life, and, laying hold of life responsibilities, cultures manhood.
(3) The progress of life is ever developing new trusts, through business, family, social, and religious relations.
Illustrate by a few special cases, such as:
(1) A man waking suddenly to the consciousness of some particular gift.
(2) A girl changed into a thoughtful, self-controlled woman by becoming a wife and a mother.
(3) A man fully accepting the religious life. He is no true man—he is but a child still—who has not discovered and felt his life burden.
II. OUR RESPONSE TO OUR RESPONSIBILITIES. This our Lord so skilfully illustrates in three specimen instances. We can properly respond, because they are only given up to the measure of our ability. We should be crushed if they were too much for our strength. We can respond by opening our whole natures to accept them, as the flowers open to the sunshine. It is a beginning of good thus to lift ourselves up to meet responsibilities. We begin to feel what possibilities are in us. The true conception of the angel is not with folded wings standing, but with poised wing ready to fly. Waiting to meet his trust. From some points of view all human trusts seem little. Estimate their moral influence, and no one of them can be thought little.—R.T.
Complaining of others when we ourselves are in the wrong.
This is familiar enough to all who have the management of families. The child in a temper is always ready to complain of his mother's temper. The child who has done wrong is quick to make out that somebody else was in fault. The same thing is found in business and social relations. Servants complain of masters. One class of society complains of another class. More than half the sorrows of humanity would be removed if men would only look at home, and set themselves upon the correction of their own faults, the remedying of their own failings. In this parable nothing can be plainer than the fact that this man with one talent had been wilfully neglecting what he knew to be his duty. It was duty he could do; duty he ought to do. But when the day of reckoning came, he tried to hide his shame by complaining of his master, and calling him hard names. How that excused him nobody can see.
I. IN MAN IS AN INVETERATE DISPOSITION TO RESIST THE CONVICTION OF SIN. It is the hardest thing we ever try to do, to say, "I am wrong." It is the hardest thing we ever undertake, to persuade another to say he was wrong. A man will set himself upon all sorts of guileful schemes, and readily yield to all kinds of self-delusions, rather than admit himself to be in the wrong. The man who has the quickest and keenest sense of sin in others is often utterly dull to any sense of his own sin.
1. It is this which partly explains the general conception of the devil. He is a convenient "other one" outside ourselves, on whom we can shift all responsibility for the sins which we ourselves plan and commit.
2. It is this that accounts for the gracious promise of the Holy Ghost as the "Convincer of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment."
3. This disposition is strengthened by every successful act of stifling conviction.
4. The disposition is even to be found in Christian people, and may be illustrated in relation to specific Christian sins. The one talent man represents a disciple.
II. THE COMMONEST SIGN OF RESISTANCE IS COMPLAINING OF OTHERS.
1. This turns our thoughts away from ourselves. It is not safe for a wilful man to have his eye turned inward. He shrinks from. reading over his own story. He likes to hear about other people's faults; and will dwell with much satisfaction upon his disabilities and lack of opportunities. Men are so hard, and men deal so hardly by him. If a man speaks harshly of others, it is well to suspect him of being guilty of the fault he condemns.
2. This turns other people's thoughts away from us. See in the parable. The master is searching out the wilfulness of the one talent man. But he seems to say, "Think about yourself, and then you will leave me alone."—R.T.
The law of rewards.
Trust comes to the trustworthy. Opportunities are taken away from those who fail to use them. "Men, here on earth, give to him that hath, and faithful work is rewarded by openings of a higher kind." "Non-user tends to invalidate legal right. A muscle that is not exercised tends to degenerate and lose its power." Dods calls this verse, "the law of spiritual capital." "However little grace we seem to have to begin with, it is this we must invest, and so nurse it into size and strength. Each time we use the grace we have, by responding to the demands made upon it, it returns to us increased. Our capital grows by an inevitable law." "The unused talent passes from the servant who would not use it to the man who will. A landlord has two farms lying together: the one is admirably managed, the other is left almost to itself, with the least possible management, and becomes the talk of the whole country for poor crops and untidiness. No one asks what the landlord will do when the leases are out. It is a matter of course that he dismisses the careless tenant, and puts his farm into the hands of the skilful and diligent farmer." "Give it unto him that hath ten talents."
I. THE REWARD OF FAITHFULNESS IS INCREASED TRUST. We need to correct our common idea that reward is something to possess; the truest and best reward is something to use. He who is faithful in least things does not want a present; his reward is the trust of higher things. Life is full of this idea. The faithful are always in selection for the higher service, and are finding in that higher service their satisfying reward. But there is something deeper than that. He who is faithful gets his real reward in that development of power which fits him for higher trusts. A man's reward is what he becomes, not merely what he gets. What, then, is our final reward in heaven? Not possessions, but higher service. Think deeper, and we see that it is not even higher service, it is the cultured condition which fits us for undertaking the higher service. Heaven is our ennobled selves, and the work God finds for the ennobled to do.
II. THE REWARD OF FAITHLESSNESS IS REMOVED TRUST. And that this is distinctly Divine judgment will be felt by all who estimate the honour of being trusted and used. God's severest judgment on the unfaithful is his taking their trusts away. He will not honour them by permitting them to bear responsibilities. There can be no heaven for such as fail to put their earth pounds to noble uses. For God to say to a man, "I will not trust you," is far worse woe than to apportion him the "outer darkness, the weeping, and the gnashing of teeth."—R.T.
The Son of man exercising judgment.
The advent of Messiah was, in the Jewish mind, associated with general judgment. The people looked forward with dread to the Messianic era. There are some who can regard the passage commencing with this verse as descriptive. Others regard it as parabolic, with the scenery taken from men's ideas of the afterlife. It is difficult to follow the passage as descriptive, because human thought and human language are incapable of dealing with actual events beyond the earthly sphere. What we may find in it is an indication of what Christ makes the basis of his judgment of men. There are two things which may reasonably surprise us.
I. OUR JUDGE IS THE "SON OF MAN." It may be said that God is our Judge. But that brings in the element of fear. It seems to us that he must have an absolute and awful standard, and tested by it there will be no chance at all for any of us. "If thou wert strict to mark iniquity, who should stand?" But the God who judges us is revealed to us as the "Son of man," and then confidence takes the place of fear. The Son of man is one of us; he has passed through our experience, he knows us. And what we feel is that, if abstract justice needs to be qualified by a consideration of circumstances, he can safely so qualify it. This point may be illustrated by our familiar distinction between "justice" and "equity." "Justice" is precisely and exactly what the law lays down; and that is what we, rightly or wrongly, expect from God. "Equity" is that law applied with due consideration of relations between man and man, or of special human infirmity. And that is what we expect from the "Son of man"—from One "in all points tempted like as we are." Christ in no sense relieves the august solemnity of judgment, but he makes us fully, freely, lovingly, willing to accept his appraisement.
II. OUR JUDGE USES AN UNEXPECTED BASIS or JUDGMENT. We should be puzzled with it if the parable dealt with the world and sinners. It pictures the judgment of Christ's disciples. Eastern flocks are made up of sheep and goats, but all are the shepherd's property and care. Christ seems to propose judging on a basis of mere humanity or charitableness. But he goes deeper than that. The charity of which he speaks is the most satisfactory revelation of character, and it is character, not action, that is the basis of his judgment.—R.T.
Christ's acceptance of vicarious service.
What is striking and suggestive is, that our Lord should make no reference to the cultured and. sanctified personal life of his disciples, but fix attention on their service to others, their sympathies, generosities, and charities. At first it may seem as if his praise rested on their good works; but soon we come to see that what our Lord accepts is the best indication of character, and precisely of Christly character. There is a sort of goodness which is only sentimental. Thai goodness is always self-centred and self-sphered. That goodness Christ neither approves nor accepts. That goodness is essentially un-Christly. There is a goodness which finds expression in serving others for Christ's sake; serving others because we have not Christ to serve. That goodness is principle. That goodness is Christ-likeness. "Even Christ pleased not himself;" "I am among you as he that serveth."
I. VICARIOUS SERVICE IS SERVING OTHERS. To mutual service humanity is called. To the special service of all distressed; disabled, and suffering ones, the Christian humanity is called. This "serving others" becomes an absolutely efficient and sufficient test of the Christ-spirit in us. Christ was good; but we know it because he "went about doing good." Over his whole life shines the glory of something done to relieve, and comfort, and raise, and save his fellow men.
II. VICARIOUS SERVICE IS SERVING CHRIST THROUGH SERVING OTHERS. It is not mere neighbourliness, sympathy, or charity, that is here commended. These, standing alone, are not the conditions of acceptance with Christ. He was speaking to his own disciples. The basis of acceptance for them was their love to him and trust in him. But they could not show such love directly to Jesus. Perhaps it would have been easier for them if they could. We are all put under this strain. We cannot minister to Jesus himself; will we minister to him vicariously, through his suffering brethren? When he comes for his reckoning, it is of this our Lord will take account; and if he finds we have been, consciously, vicarious ministrants, he will say, "Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto me." Charity, for Christ's sake, is acceptable.
III. VICARIOUS SERVICE OF CHRIST, THROUGH THE SERVICE OF OTHERS, PROVES IN THE END TO BE THE BEST SERVICE OF OURSELVES. For we "enter the joy of our Lord." But this point needs to be presented with great care, lest self-seeking considerations, entering in, should spoil the Christly service.—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Matthew 25". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany