Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.Matthew 25:1
The way by which a human soul born in sin becomes a kingdom of heaven, is the way of the New Birth, wherein God takes away our sin by the cleansing of the Precious Blood of Christ, and makes us by the power of His Holy Spirit partakers of the Divine nature.
I. God being the germ of every true human character, if we want to know that true human nature is, we must know first what is the character of God, Who is its ideal, and the root out of which it grows. That character is summed up by St. John in the phrase 'God is love,' and that love is the mutual love of the Three Blessed Persons of the Undivided Trinity.
God being what in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in all His works, we recognize Him to be, is the image in which you were formed, the type you are intended to grow up to. Nothing mean, sad, discouraging in all your experience, is what He made you for; as Christ was not made for the tortures of the Cross, but for the sacrifice, the love, the victory of the Cross.
We are not necessarily wrong in having joy of any created good. The wrongness begins only when we begin to be satisfied with any created good, and stop in that which is the mere sketch and faintest outline of good, instead of going on through it to God Who is the substance of all good.
II. And then God Himself, the Archetype, comes to you in the Word and Sacraments. And now the aspiration after holiness is no longer a vain longing; but your soul draws nigh to God, and is possessed by Him, and as you persevere in this prayer you learn how the dedicated soul may be conformed to God, and become God's kingdom.
III. But who ever practically reaches this glory? Is not the essence and abiding characteristic of human life vanity—misery? No, it has never been so absolutely. Every man bears within himself a reflection of the Divine goodness in his desire of good.
And consider that you feed upon God in the Sacraments, not in order to possess Him for yourself alone. You are to interpret, to reflect God to all who live round you.
This is the secret of the influence upon the human race of such a character as St. Francis of Assisi. In that homely, poor, and gentle lover we recognize the Eternal Love, and are kindled and inexpressibly cheered and enlightened.
Our salvation is not in knowing all the finest moral distinctions, but in God Himself, Who comes in all the radiancy of His holiness to live, and build His Kingdom in us.
—G. Congreve, The Parable of the Ten Virgins, p. 11.
The Expectancy of Faith (advent Season)
The typical company in the parable represents the vaster company of the kingdom of God, the number 'ten' being of no spiritual significance, but yet frequently used as denoting a typical company; the kingdom of God in the language of the Gospels meaning the visible Church of Christ. We understand therefore that these ten virgins are a representative company waiting for the coming of the heavenly Bridegroom, and looking forward to final beatitude in the home which our Lord has formed for His chosen ones.
There are two points to consider: expectancy, as a distinguishing mark of the life of the Church on earth; secondly, the going forth to meet the Messiah, as the chosen state of life of the individual members of His Church.
I. As to expectancy, our state should be a continual looking out for the dawn of the manifestation of Christ. The Christian mind is bent on the hope that we shall see the land that is far off, and follow in the triumphal march of the Bridegroom, and carry our standard safely in the midst of the glory and beauty of the mystical company.
II. These virgins were going forth to meet the Bridegroom. Under this idea is contained the whole life of the individual members of the Mystical Body. It is a 'going forth' to meet Him as He comes; true life is a going onward and upward, an animating quickening of the soul which has such expectancy. Our souls are gifted in various degrees, all lawful callings are part of a Divine purpose to be carried on in His kingdom. Our Lord would have them carried out with energy and skill and varied powers. For this purpose our gifts are infinitely various; but in one respect all are alike. The virgins all had one purpose: all were waiting for the coming of the Bridegroom; all were longing to see Him; and the image of the Bridegroom ever dwelt in their minds. And all who are faithful bear that image in their soul as a perpetual power, an ever-prompting influence. We are so made as to form visions in our minds, and these have great influence over us.
And such visions ever have practical teachings, telling us of duties to others; that each is but one of a company, with ever-constant calls of helpfulness, of relative duties, each demanding of us some effort for the forwarding of God's purpose, all and each acting together, even as He himself lived and lives for others, carrying on in heaven the work of love manifested on earth.
—T. T. Carter, The Spirit of Watchfulness, p. 8.
References.—XXV. 1.—Henry Alford, Advent Sermons, p. 99. H. Scott Holland, Logic and Life, p. 305. E. Fowle, Plain Preaching to Poor People (2nd Series), p. 129. W. Lee, University Sermons, p. 124. XXV. 1-12.—T. De Witt Talmage, Sermons, p. 24. Rayner Winterbotham, The Kingdom of Heaven, p. 25. XXV. 1-13.—T. Guthrie, Parables of Our Lord, p. 166. Cosmo Gordon Lang, Thoughts on Some of the Parables of Jesus, p. 83. R. Stewart, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxvii. 1890, p. 392. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Matthew XVIII.-XXVIII. p. 175. B. W. Maturin, Practical Studies on the Parables of Our Lord, p. 138. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlv. No. 2618, vol. xlv. No. 2642.
The Ten Virgins (advent)
I. Our Lord seems to be drawing attention to the combination of outward resemblances and inward differences in the lives of men: the similarity of circumstances which so often conceals dissimilarity of characters.
1. It is, for instance, an obvious fact that respectability often, indeed usually, tends to resemble goodness—all the virgins had their lamps burning. You cannot at first tell, or perhaps even at last tell, which are the really good men, and which are the merely respectable ones. Yet in spite of resemblances between them, there is really a distinction as vital as we can conceive. For respectability is simply a regard for appearances—a regard for man; goodness is a regard for realities—a regard for God.
2. In apparent weaknesses there is also very frequently a resemblance—'They all slumbered and slept'. So calm is apt to look very much like indifference. But these superficial judgments count for very little. Absence of noise may mean absence of water, the dry and parched channel; or it may mean the stillness, the silence of a tide which 'moving seems asleep, too full for sound or foam'.
But the teaching of our Lord is that 'whatsoever is covered shall be revealed'; that the secret distinctions of character, unobserved now, shall be made visible. In the parable of the Ten Virgins we see the truth illustrated.
II. It is not in quiet and untroubled times, when the lamp of life seems to burn gaily without any effort of our own, while in peace and security men 'slumber and sleep'—it is not in the 'seasons of calm weather' that the true man, the character of the man, is made manifest, but in the sudden awakening call—the midnight cries—the crises of life, that what has been 'hidden' is 'revealed'. These comings of the Bridegroom, these solemn crises, these revealing moments, are, according to our Lord, but the foreshadowing and premonition of one other greater than all; and the last judgment is to be the final revelation of character.
III. Take two practical thoughts suggested by the subject:—
1. The thought of the supreme value of character, and therefore the supreme value of the individual soul. One of our commonest dangers is that of always trying to judge men and women by groups or classes, i.e. by circumstances instead of character.
2. Though none may see the depths of our souls, yet there is One who even now is never deceived by appearances—One who knows the true drift and tendency of our lives, who beholds us not only as we are, but as we are becoming—as we are to be. He knows the Virgins who, even when they sleep, are ready.
—H. R. Gamble, The Ten Virgins, p. 3.
Goodness Not Good Enough
These five foolish virgins were in some sense friends of the Bridegroom. And they stand here not exactly as representative of the base, but of the good, although there was something seriously the matter with their goodness—that is the point.
The goodness that is not good enough! What is that? Let us say you have here five foolish virgins, and they shall stand for five distinct types of defective goodness.
I. Ecclesiasticism Without Righteousness.— There is one great type of a goodness that is not good enough—formalism without character.
II. Morality Without Godliness.—It is always an advantage for a man to be moral; but, beyond all, it is an infinite advantage for his morality to be founded upon the deep rock.
In South Africa they sometimes come across yellow diamonds. They are really diamonds, but no king would ever put one of them into his crown. And there is many a man Today who is a yellow diamond. His is the morality of the surface, the morality of society, the morality of etiquette, but he has not been transformed in mind and spirit, and he does not walk in the fear of God, and, therefore, God will never know him in the day when He makes up His jewels.
III. Sentiment Without Sacrifice.—Take care of your poetry, but mind it is the poetry of life. For, if at the last our religion has been imagination, romance, poetry, æstheticism, it is the goodness that is not good enough, it is the light that fails.
IV. Knowledge Without Obedience.—A man never knows enough until he has cried 'God be merciful to me a sinner'. A man never knows enough until he knows that he is a new creature in Christ Jesus. A man is not saved by what he knows, but by what he brings to bear on his daily life and action. Thank God for your knowledge. It is a golden lamp. But mind there is in it the oil of grace, the light of truth, and that your life is a life of obedience and sacrifice.
V. Enthusiasm Without Perseverance.—Goodness is a conviction, a passion, a habit. And the light that you want is the light that does not fail; the light that will burn steadily on through the years, and brightest at the last.
—W. L. Watkinson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxvii. 1905, p. 36.
References.—XXV. 2.—C. Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lviii. 1900, p. 385. C. Silvester Home, ibid. vol. lxviii. 1905, p. 187.
The Spirit of Preparation (advent Season)
Two great lines of thought are here brought before us:—
I. The Individuality of the Elect II. The Interior life of the Elect
I. The Individuality; the contrast between the company and the several virgin members of whom it is composed. The company has a life of its own, and moves on irrespective of its numbers, and is received into the open doors, following the Bridegroom, while yet certain members of that chosen company may have lost their place, not keeping true to the standard of the sacred fellowship.
Here we have the representation, first of the Mystical Body, as a whole; secondly, of the members of that Body. The greatest wonder that we can believe is the continual existence of the Church, advancing on, as the Ark upon the waters, unassailable, sustained by higher powers.
While this progress of the body continues ever, the individual, taken up into it may fail, as each is tried—each shaping his own destiny, each standing or falling as the higher life prevails or dies. This truth is shown in the parable, certain of the virgins failing to hold their place in the mystic company. And here is one of the greatest difficulties of faith, how to realize the separateness of each separate soul.
II. And all depends on the interior condition of the soul. All forms of external activity spring from the life growing within—each showing its principles in deeds and words, the centre of each life ever giving out the powers of the individual soul.
This truth appears in the parable as symbolized by the oil, which gives its power to the kindled lamp, for the oil is the inner source that feeds it. And this our Lord would bring out when He represents the foolish virgins as saying to the wise, 'Give us of your oil,' and the reply, 'Go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves'. For the interior life cannot be given by one individual to another.
Of the oil, some have thought that it means one, some another, virtue; some have interpreted it as the Holy Spirit Himself. We may rather suppose that it represents both the Giver and the Gift. We cannot separate them. The Spirit goes forth in His Gift, and the Gift can live only as it abides in the Giver. The true spirit in us is kindled by the Holy Spirit according to the calling of God, through His indwelling, and each soul has an individual destiny, a special history. And this individuality depends on the foundations of the life within; the issues of life and death depending on what passes for good or evil within each soul.
—T. T. Carter, The Spirit of Watchfulness.
Reference.—XXV. 2-4.—Henry Alford, Advent Sermons, p. 121.
Here lies the sole difference between the wise and the foolish: the wise had private additional store of oil hid away in their own little vessels, so that the lamp lighted for them may be trimmed and refilled by their own peculiar oil. The common inheritance of grace brought down to us by a catholic church—this is the beginning of salvation. But this cannot carry us through, unless deep in our own secret heart of hearts we have stored up the hidden oil of expectant love... the thoughtful, anxious, careful love, that does not rest in its own vague impulses and shallow fancies, but makes itself ready with given grace of God.
—Canon Scott Holland.
The Patient Waiting (advent Season)
There have been different interpretations of this verse. One ancient Father has spoken of it as 'the rest or repose of faith'.
Let us consider what we may thus learn as to the cause of the failure of the foolish virgins.
I. The repose of faith implies an imagery corresponding with one of the beautiful antiphons of the Advent season, where St. Paul refers to our mortal life as the night, 'The night is far spent, the day is at hand,' the night meaning this period of our mortal life.
Another passage in the Canticles explains more tersely the cause of the failure of the unready virgins. The Bride says, 'I sleep, but my heart waketh' Within the slumber and the depth of sleep there may yet be the awakened heart, the earnest preparation for anticipatory joy. The heart may be thus far awake in sleep, the throbbing fullness of the light glowing within the soul implying the repose of faith. The absence of oil in the foolish virgins showed the loss of this tendency of the soul.
II. There are, speaking generally, two causes of failure even among the faithful—the want of a true foundation, the want of forethought.
1. It is needful to look closely at the foundations of one's life to see how far one's will is moved in conformity with the Divine call; how far the stability of one's inward resolves rests on faith unfailing and love unquenched.
2. There is the difficulty of waiting—the need of patience. In a long illness, the first prostration seems not difficult to bear; let it continue, and the trial grows. It is the bearing of such continuous strain which is the test of patience. It is the same in all the trials of life, its burdens, its responsibilities—with the questions of doubt and hopelessness. The real character is shown by the way in which one endures a lengthened period of such trial. And for such endurance we need forethought.
III. We are told in this time of waiting to prepare to meet our God, to be patient, and to hope on, not to let the heart shrink back from what it has resolved We are fed with the food of immortality washed in the cleansing Blood. Our faithful prayer is never counted vain. We are surrounded with companions in the race, and each year sets before us examples with a halo of truest witness. But all will depend on the waking heart. We are all together, seemingly one, till the end comes, and then the distinction of one from another will be seen in that awful light.
—T. T. Carter, The Spirit of Watchfulness, p. 23.
Our Lord coming into the world taught us that the value of the human nature which He assumed is not the value of the bodily power, or of the bare intelligence, but primarily of the spirit, which loves and chooses the highest, which rules all the other powers, and presents them to God. So when the Divine Word took our nature, His first movement in it was the giving of its whole value to God by the offering of His will—the faculty of loving and choosing the highest.
I. Christ gives to each of His members, by the Sacraments, the virtue of His Sacrifice, of His free self-giving to the Father in love. By the Eternal Spirit He offered Himself, and He gives us the same power and means of offering ourselves; and this is the reason for the tarrying of the Bridegroom; He is giving us time to learn the one business of life—discipline to train the human heart and will in the exercise of the grace of Christ, in the virtue of Sacrifice, in the self-giving to God. Naturally every fallen soul lives in itself, for itself. God saves it by giving to it a new nature. Christ Incarnate comes to be in it a new principle, a new life. But the will of each Christian has to assimilate that principle—to give itself up to that new life; and that requires time—time to learn to exercise its new movements, methods, mysteries, powers.
II. God sows in us the seed of the life of His dear Son, and gives us opportunities of exerting it, so that it may grow in us. This heavenly life sets us on our feet looking up to heaven, giving us a new upward impulse, to start us on our way to heaven. And at our first movement in that way we find at once something that opposes—difficulties within and without. Sometimes it is perplexing to a Christian to conceive why his way to God should be made so thorny, so dry and bare of sympathies and encouragements; at last he learns that those difficulties are not obstacles at all, but the very way and the only way for him to God; for it is those difficulties that teach him to look to God Himself as his end—and to God, not to any created means, as his only power of attaining God.
III. Our relation to God in Christ is the basis of Christian discipline. Acts of common courtesy need never be left to unreality; when they are done for Christ's sake they become discipline, they purify us from the selfishness of fallen nature, and nourish in us the nature of Christ on the throne of God.
The testing of love by delay and disappointment is the supreme test. Every experience of weariness will awaken a loyal will to look up, expect, and prepare for the coming of the Bridegroom.
—G. Congreve, The Parable of the Ten Virgins, p. 88.
References.—XXV. 5.—J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in a Religious House, vol. ii. p. 608. XXV. 5-8.—C. G. Lang, Church Times, vol. liii. 1905, p. 183. XXV. 5-9.—Henry Alford, Advent Sermons, p. 143. XXV. 6.—Henry Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. ii. p. 93. Stopford A. Brooke, Short Sermons, p. 306. W. J. Knox-Little, Manchester Sermons, p. 105.
The Cry of the Awakened Soul
That is the cry of the awakened soul as it rises to understand at a time of great need that all the resources that God has given it are wasted and spent And the pathos of the cry is this, that many of these men in times of need call to their fellow-men, as the virgins in the parable did, thinking that out of the abundance of their lives their own wasted resources can be repaired.
I. The Cry.—In many ways that cry reaches our ears Today. The man looks up at his friend and he says, 'You with your certainty of hope, you with your simplicity, you with your assurance, give me of that assurance, of that simplicity '. Or another says, 'I think of my own life harassed with its anxieties, oppressed with all its perplexities, and I ask you to give me of your calmness, of your peace'. Or we think again of some man who holds the faith of Jesus Christ in a narrow, in a hard, in an unloving spirit, and he comes to us and says, 'Give me of that power, and of that zeal; my faith has no power, my ideal no driving force. For the oil of the Spirit is being spent.'
II. The Refusal.—The pathos of it all is this, that this cry of our fellow-men must meet with a simple and blank refusal. For the cry is not from the men who do not believe, who have not been taught They look up to the enthusiasm of Christ's Church, and they say, 'This we once had; can you not give it us back?' And our Lord says, and the experience of all life goes to show, that this cannot be done. 'Go and buy for yourselves.' The faith of Jesus Christ is not a thing which a man can believe on the word of a friend. The peace of Jesus Christ can never be gained by the mere infection of another's peace. Only as we buy these things for ourselves shall we find the peace of God 'which passeth all understanding,' the oil of the Spirit which never faileth.
III. What must the Church do?—And so in the face of this cry which reaches us from many quarters let us ask ourselves what the Church has got to do. We of the Church have got to make the light that God has given us glow with such clear and distinct force that men shall realize that what is possible for us is possible also for them. Our human nature is meant to be a lamp through which the light of the Spirit shall gleam upon the darkness of the earth—not the lurid light of passion or the chill disturbed flicker of selfishness, but the steady clear flame of the Holy Spirit What was it that stirred men as they watched the life of Jesus Christ on earth? It was a possibility which they had never suspected before—the possibility of a pure and untainted humanity through which, as from a lamp, streamed out the light of God. And I, too, must make my lamp so transcendently pure that the man whose faith is dying will say, 'That which you have, tell me where I can get it, so that I may get it for myself'.
References.—XXV. 8.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Matthew XVIII.-XXVIII. p. 181. J. Henderson, Sermons, p. 311. A. 6. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, vol. iv. p. 214.
All experienced wrestlers with fate and fortune know well that success has often, at the critical time, depended upon some very trifling advantage which the slightest diminution of power would have lost to them. No one knows the full immensity of the difference between having power enough to make a little headway against obstacles, and just falling short of the power which is necessary at the time. In every great intellectual career there are situations like that of a steamer with a storm-wind directly against her and an iron-bound coast behind. If the engines are strong enough to gain an inch an hour she is safe, but if they lose there is no hope.
—P. G. Hamerton, The Intellectual Life, p. 22.
Compare Tennyson's well-known song, 'Late, late so late,' in 'Guinevere'.
It is a matter of frequent remark, that bad systems are destroyed, not when they are at their worst, but when they are in the process of an attempted reform. Witness the French monarchy at the Revolution, compared with its state under Louis XV. The reason of this seems to be that the reform is forced on by a change in public opinion which goes forward at an accelerated rate, faster than the reform can be effected. If the improvement could be made freely from within, it might still be in time There is the same difference in the individual between a forced restitution which has no merit in it, and a genuine, spontaneous, repentance Some have concluded that it is better not to reform, since Providence and history seem against it; but the true lesson is, Reform in time; Providence and history have their 'Too late.'
—Dr. Ker, Thoughts for Heart and Life, p. 41.
References.—XXV. 10.—H. P. Liddon, Advent in St. Paul's, p. 460. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Matthew XVIII.-XXVIII. p. 189. XXV. 10-13.—Henry Alford, Advent Sermons, p. 166. XXV. 11.—C. Perren, Revival Sermons in Outline, p. 288. XXV. 11-13.—Gordon Calthrop, Penny Pulpit, vol. xii. No. 686, p. 161. XXV. 13.—Stopford A. Brooke, Short Sermons, p. 299. Phillips Brooks, The Law of Growth, p. 39. F. Y. Leggatt, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxx. 1906, p. 280.
The Use of Talents
Here is a parable of our blessed Lord's which has practically added a word to human language, and furnished a living protest against human self-sufficiency. A talented man is not so much the man who is largely equipped for self-display, as one to whom much is given, and of whom much will be required.
I. Notice that this parable, although tending to the same end, is different to the parable of the Virgins, wherewith it is closely associated. There, we are allowed to see certain difficulties which beset those who wait for their Lord; here, we have to consider the responsibilities of those who work for Him.
What a real lesson we should have learned if we could realize that life is a vocation, not a scramble for prizes, that we are called to God, not merely to work, that so much health, so much time, so much resource, so much wisdom, so much money, yes, so much ill-health, so much want of money, so to speak, so much distress, are all put into our hands by God for the development of His work. Then we should be able to understand that feeling which prompted Archbishop Benson to say to a friend, who was knocking off with his stick the luxuriant brambles which were running over the top of the green hedge in the country lane, 'Don't do that, it is breaking the third commandment'. For all the green things of the earth belong to God.
And we do well to notice that the talents as they came from God were unequally distributed; once more the good things of this life are not a rich prize in which all ought to have an equal share, but one work has to be done by many agents, each equipped for the particular department which falls to his lot. True it is that each man receives his endowment according to his capacity. Some of these inequalities of capacity came from God Himself, some are brought about by human neglect, for some the man is himself responsible.
II. We gather further from this parable that the talents which God distributes are not like precious curiosities to be kept in a museum and presented to Him again intact, but there is a mention of trading and bankers and interest, which all point to a continual and profitable investment of Divine endowments.
There are many bankers ready to trade with the five talents and the two, and to develop them and even to double them, but not in the currency of heaven, or in schemes which the Lord when He comes will recognize. It will be a sad thing, if we find that the intellect which was given us that we might develop the world for God, and prepare the way for Christ, has been spent in rearing up the love of self in self-advancement. It is so hard to remember God, and to balance this sense of proprietorship which belongs to 'My own,' with the sense of responsibility which belongs to 'His goods'. Hence we see the practical value of religion, to warn us and remind us of an absent Master.
III. But the main interest of the teaching of the parable centres after all on the man who had received one talent, and miserably failed in his duty of trading with it.
We all know the careless possessor of one talent, who absolutely does no good in the world, who eats and drinks and does his monotonous drudgery without life or interest, who comes into the world unknown, who passes through it unnoticed, and dies undesired, angry with God, grumbling at circumstances, dissatisfied with himself. What little work he has done has ended in this, in sullenness, in gloom, in selfishness, in sensuality, in despair: he has been engaged all his life in burying his one talent. And when his Lord comes he stands empty and barehanded before Him.
And yet what a gift it is, this one talent, which he so thanklessly misuses. What a privilege it is even to live at all, what a privilege to be a Christian, what a privilege to have opportunities of being useful to one single being in God's universe.
—W. C. E. Newbolt, Words of Exhortation, p. 181.
Illustration.—In building a great cathedral there is some master-mind, and then are employed variously endowed craftsmen, down to the day-labourer, all equally necessary to the completion of the design. We do not need artists to dig foundations, nor masons to do the work of carvers. Some have five talents, some have two, and some have one, but all work at one design.
—W. C. E. Newbolt, Words of Exhortation, p. 186.
Useful Mediocrity (The Parable of the Talents)
Taking a man's talents to represent the sum of his abilities, opportunities, and privileges, let us see what we can learn from a consideration of the character and work of the man who had two talents. The servants who had one and five talents bestowed upon them could doubtless teach us much; each is a typical and representative character. But it will suffice now if we limit our meditation to the servant who was entrusted with two talents. He is the man who stands between the highest and the lowest. He was not so liberally dealt with as the man above him with five talents; but on the other hand, he has twice as much granted to him as the man below him with only one talent. This servant with the two talents stands as the representative of the mediocre man, the man whose abilities and opportunities are neither so many as some others enjoy, nor so few as multitudes have to be contented with. Such a man's character and work are worthy of study.
I. The Numerousness of men with two talents. They constitute the majority of mankind. This is true as regards the possession of intellectual gifts. Men of distinct genius are few. Five talents in this respect have been granted but now and then, here and there. Shakespeare in literature, Raphael in art, Chrysostom in the pulpit, Newton in science, Edison in invention—such as these are five-talented men, and how rarely such brilliant stars appear in the crowded firmament of life!
For few may wield the power
Whose spells uplift or thrill;
The barrier, fixed yet fine,
We may not cross at will.
And on the other hand, among normal men and women, the one-talented are comparatively few.
So again in regard to opportunities. Take, for example, opportunities of influencing others. A few people have wide scope and weighty chances. The popular preacher who attracts a congregation numbered by thousands; the statesman who, when he speaks, addresses a listening empire; the successful writer whose books march out of publishers' establishments in battalions—such as these are men of five talents, so far as influence is concerned; and they are not a multitude. Contrasting with them are the people whose circle of associates is limited. The lonely settler in a new colony who scarce sees a neighbour's face once in a month; the sailor who can meet only the same dozen shipmates each day during a long voyage; the invalid imprisoned in the sickroom—all such have but one talent in the way of influence. But the mass of mankind come under none of these categories. They are ordinary human beings, meeting with and influencing an average number of people; in this respect they have two talents.
Take again the matter of advantages. We think naturally of the advantage of wealth, and the same truth holds good. Millionaires—men of five talents in regard to wealth—are rare. To most men Agur's desire has been granted; they have neither poverty nor riches. The great middle class, people of two talents in the matter of wealth, are the strength of the nation and of the Church. So in regard to the advantage of education. A small number are privileged to go through a university career, and not many nowadays are absolutely illiterate. Most people have just two talents, so far as educational advantages are concerned. And in every department and sphere of life the same truth can be demonstrated; two-talented men constitute by far the largest section of humanity.
II. The Temptations of the two-talented man. Now, to test and try his servants was the evident purpose of the 'lord' who distributed the talents; and the testing for the man with two talents would come both from the servant above him, with five talents, and the servant below him with one. The two-talented servant would be tempted to be envious of the man with five talents. And it is this temptation to envy and covetousness to which the mediocre man is always exposed. He is tempted to murmur as he looks around him: 'If only I had A's intellectual gifts, what would I not do! If only I had B's opportunities! If only I had C's wealth! In a word, if only I had five talents instead of these contemptible two—what a furore I would make in the world!' Now, all such cankering envy must be resolutely evicted from the mind of the two-talented man. The last commandment of the decalogue has an application for all who are thus moderately endowed. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's—talents
III. The Value of the man with two talents. Such verily are the backbone of the Church and society.
Let the army of the two-talented, therefore, do their duty and exercise their gifts, even if they are conscious that theirs are only mediocre powers; for it would be disastrous, indeed, if such withdrew from service and hid their Lord's money. 'Occupy till I come,' is the Master's word.
—Herbert Windross, The Life Victorious, p. 97.
References.—XXV. 14, 15.—Lyman Abbott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. 1896, p. 99. Eugene Bersier, Sermons, p. 1. B. W. Randolph, Church Times, vol. liv. 1905, p. 188. XXV. 14, 30.—C. Gordon Lang, Thoughts on Some of the Parables of Jesus, p. 103. B. W. Maturin, Practical Studies on the Parables of Our Lord, p. 156. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Matthew XVIII.-XXVIII. p. 195. G. Philip, Home in the World Beyond, p. 19. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlv. No. 2643. XXV. 16-18.—Eugene Bersier, Sermons, p. 11.
When Sir Philip Sidney was frittering away his powers in vain dreams and court life, his noble old friend, Languet, strove to recall him to the responsibilities of statesmanship for which he was so singularly fitted. 'Think not that God endowed you with parts so excellent to the end that you should let them rot in leisure. Rather hold firmly that He requires more from you than from those to whom He has been less liberal of talents.... Nature has adorned you with the richest gifts of mind and body; fortune with noble blood and wealth and splendid family connexions; and you from your first boyhood have cultivated your intellect by those studies which are most helpful to men in their struggle after virtue. Will you then refuse your energies to your country, when it demands them? Will you bury that distinguished talent God has given you?'
The more we advance in knowledge, the more we shall come to judge men in the spirit of the parable of the talents; that is by the net result of their lives, by their essential unselfishness, by the degree in which they employ and the objects to which they direct their capacities and opportunities.
—W. E. H. Lecky.
With all sublunary entities, this is the question of questions. What talent is born to you? How do you employ that?
References.—XXV. 19.—C. Gore, Church Times, vol. xlii. 1899, p. 693; see also Christian World Pulpit, vol. lviii. 1900, p. 371.
Compare the fifth chapter of Law's Serious Call.
The Fact of Faithfulness
According to the measurements of Jesus, we are face to face here with a test of character. It is in faithfulness that men are great; it is in unfaithfulness that they are weak.
One of the latest critics of Shakespeare, Professor Bradley, insists upon the faithfulness of Shakespeare. It is the fidelity of Shakespeare, in a mind of extraordinary power, he says, that has really made Shakespeare what he is.
I. Our Lord Recognizes that Faithfulness Calls for Courage.—It is significant that the man who hid his talent said to his lord, 'I was afraid'. In trading there was a certain risk, as in all commerce, I suppose there is a certain risk, and the man with the one talent was unfaithful because he had not the courage for that venture.
II. Our Lord Makes Faithfulness the Road to Power.—'Because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee a ruler over many things.' God's rewards grow out of the struggle that we wage, as the fruit of the autumn grows from the flower of spring. 'Because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things.' It is because one is the outflow of the other, as is the burn of the spring among the heather. It is because, as flower from the bud, influence blossoms from fidelity.
III. Christ Associates Faithfulness With Joy.— To the faithful servant came this benediction: 'Enter thou into the joy of Thy Lord'. It is not success and joy, it is not fame and joy; it is not these that are joined in our Lord's teaching, but faithfulness and joy. These are the bride and bridegroom and the marriage mystical of our Lord.
Then look at the doom of the unfaithful servant; it is outer darkness and wailing and gnashing of teeth. A man who is unfaithful is always moving night-wards. He has been false to the light God gave him for his journey; and the man who has been unfaithful, when the day is done, what can he look for but remorse and tears?
—G. H. Morrison, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxiv. p. 373.
The Gift of Rule
This is the word of Christ to the good and faithful servants who at last behold His face in righteousness. He does not say, 'I will give thee many things; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord'. The promise is, 'I will make thee ruler,' and the joy of our Lord is not in possessing, but in governing.
I. It must be premised that the New Jerusalem—that is, perfect blessedness—lies beyond death. With many social reformers all that is needed would seem to be a steady, universal bien-être, always to be dependent and relied upon. But this could only become happiness if the affections were deadened. Christianity quickens them for the very purpose of revealing man's true nature—of delivering him from a base serfdom to the actual and the material. Were it otherwise, his dignity would be ignobly misprized, for the measure of a man is the measure of an angel.
Over against mere possession Christ sets the great idea of rulership. Take leisure, for example. We are in the thick of a righteous movement for shorter hours. But suppose the day is reduced to half an hour, what profit is there if the man is not ruler over his leisure? Multitudes possess leisure; very few of them rule it. The idler wakens to wonder how his day is to be got through, and the answer often comes from beneath. The general dullness and listlessness of men with no occupation has passed into a proverb. Even generous natures often become selfish under this trial. It will be an evil day if working men learn to despise labour. The great safeguard for nearly all of us is to be found in almost unrelaxed industry. It is pernicious also to despise certain forms of labour. Utopia itself will need scavengers. But 'I will make thee ruler over leisure' is a great promise to be perfectly fulfilled on high, where endless service means endless rest.
II. What is to be sought is not possession but rulership, and that can be gained only by faithfulness over a few things.
'Faithful over a few things.' In a sense this describes truly the life which began in the manger and ended on the cross. It is still the schooling, and the only schooling, by which men learn to rule their own spirits and all kingdoms whose thrones they climb.
The fulfilment of the promise takes various forms. We are familiar with it in this life. We see men go on from strength to strength, receiving more and more, and remaining unmastered by their possession. But before Christ all earthly life, even the most victorious, is but a passage from a 'few things' to a 'few things'. The distinctions we make here may but pain Him; but 'if that life is life, this is but a breath'.
Inasmuch as no misdoing robs us of all, a man may begin faithfulness at the lowest point of poverty and shame, and be made ruler at last. Our God is the God of Resurrection, and He can revive men and nations of men from seemingly utter death.
—W. Robertson Nicoll, Ten Minute Sermons, p. 267.
What Is the Joy of Our Lord?
We know what His sorrow was. 'How often would I have gathered thy children... and ye would not.' What was His joy? When in the end He welcomes those who have been faithful to their trust, He says, 'Well done... enter thou into the joy of thy Lord'. His praise has been generously bestowed through the failures of this life, and even in the humblest judgment the redeemed soul ever passed on itself, it has not been without a trembling consciousness of His broader love. Nor have His people—even when they saw Him not—been left without joy, joy unspeakable and full of glory. But He speaks of a joy after death to which they had hitherto been strangers, a joy into which they would enter as into a home, and which would fold itself around them. It was to be His own joy. Anything He did not share would be nothing to them. How poor the promise would be, 'He that overcometh shall inherit all things,' if it ended there. The possession of many things leaves the heart empty; how should the possession of all things enrich it? But when it goes on, 'And I will be his God, and he shall be My son,' the words fall upon the soul like a shower of strength.
What then is that joy which is the last guerdon of the ransomed? He explains it Himself. 'I will make thee ruler over many things.' It is the joy of ruling. 'To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me on My throne.' In these and in many words like them, He answers a deep instinct and craving by imparting the sweet and wonderful secret of His purpose.
I. It was His own joy in the world. When He leant back upon God and communed with His own heart, He said, 'The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into His hand'. Power is the special gift of love, and He had received it 'Thou sayest that I am a king.' For a certain misnamed kingship He did not seek. He would have none of it. When they sought to make Him a king by force, He departed into a mountain Himself alone. Rank and rule in this world He rejected; He would suffer neither men, nor even His twelve legions of angels, to crown Him on an earthly throne. The only kingdom He cared to rule over was a kingdom of kings, and He gives His subjects the promise of a throne.
II. This joy of our Lord is reserved in its fullness for the other life. Here His people fight the battle within themselves. With the great simplicity of revelation, St. James tells us the source of all disquiet, from the meanest brawl to world-shaking war. 'From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of the lusts that war in your members?' The soul is peaceless till the will rules every other power, and till that will is Christ within. The true kings unto God have known this so well that they have hardly asked for any other dominion. And so they have often for the time been obscure, and apparently without influence. They have been thwarted and enclosed. As McLeod Campbell said of his friend A. J. Scott, 'How mysteriously God seemed to be at the same time increasing his light and withholding from placing it on a candlestick'. But our Lord said, 'Your time is always ready; My time is not yet come.'
III. The saints marvel when the kingdom comes to them. 'When saw we Thee an hungered, and gave Thee meat?' Yet in this way—the old and perfect way which Christ has taught His own—they arrive at their dominion. The meek shall inherit the earth. It must be so. Meekness wears everything else out, and is as meek at last in its triumph as when stripped and dispossessed. There is a magic in gentleness of which even the heathen dreamt when they imagined Osiris going forth to conquer the world, not with chariots and horses, but with music. Love which has not vaunted herself, has not sought her own; love which has borne all things, believed all things, hoped all things, must in the end inherit all things.
The saints shall reign with Christ and be partakers of His kingly joy. Little as they may dwell on it, the thought passes often through their hearts like a song in the night For the promise means that one day their light will be all clear; that it will be set on high till its last ray travels to its period; that there will be nothing to limit or obscure its force.
—W. Robertson Nicoll, Ten Minute Sermons, p. 145.
'My idea of heaven,' said Tennyson, 'is the perpetual ministry of one soul to another.' In his Christmas paper for 1711 (Spectator, No. 257), Addison closes a discussion on praise and fame with the reminder that God alone can fitly reward our virtues. Then he adds: 'Let the ambitious man therefore turn all his desire of fame this way; and, that he may prepare to himself a fame worthy of his ambition, let him consider that if he employs his abilities to the best advantage, the time will come when the Supreme Governor of the world, the great Judge of mankind, who sees every degree of perfection in others, and possesses all possible perfection in Himself, shall proclaim his work before men and angels, and pronounce to him in the presence of the whole creation that best and most significant of applauses: Well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter thou into thy Master's joy.'
Macaulay describes a conversation he once had with Lady Holland, in which the word talents was mentioned. 'I said that it had first appeared in theological writing, that it was a metaphor taken from the parable in the New Testament, that it had gradually passed from the vocabulary of Divinity into common use. I challenged her to find it in any classical writer on general subjects before the Restoration, or even before the year 1700. I believe that I might safely have gone down later. She seemed surprised by this theory, never having, so far as I could judge, heard of the parable of the Talents. I did not tell her, though I might have done so, that a person who professes to be a critic in the delicacies of the English language ought to have the Bible at his fingers' ends.'
References.—XXV. 21.—H. C. G. Moule, The Secret of the Presence, p. 194. J. H. Jowett, Meditations for Quiet Moments, p. 98. S. Martin, Comfort in Trouble, p. 215. J. Guinness Rogers, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xli. 1892, p. 65. G. G. Bradley, ibid. vol. lix. 1901, p. 68. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. i. p. 301. T. Sadler, Sunday Thoughts, p. 165; Ch. New, The Baptism of the Spirit, p. 289. M. R. Vincent, God and Bread, p. 117. XXV. 22, 23.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv. No. 175.
The Divine Acceptance
I. In every period or crisis of life the imperative claims of God, of righteousness, of truth, are forced upon us. God calls us in a way that can only be answered in self-dedication and earnest work. Obedience is shown as the salvation of life. In self-surrender we find God and live.
If our souls are awake, faithful, and loving, 'all that we experience is a communication' of God's will, which is His love for us, ever reaching out to draw us to Himself, to guide, to control us.
Life under the cheering control of this love of God is full of powers for work, for sacrifice, for learning; it is full of a deeply contenting encouragement at every turn, in every development of life; for God's approval becomes at once the reason and the reward of what we try to do, a fact that sustains courage, a felt benediction that will keep us calm and steadfast in days of conflict.
'Apart from Me ye can do nothing.' All that we do is a part of the mighty working of the Incarnate life of Jesus.
II. The call of God, obedience in self-dedication and in work, the sacrifice of self—we cannot understand these or be ready for them, they will seem but a mistake, an illusion, a folly, unless the reality of the Divine acceptance be, as it were, their interpretation, their sanction, their inspiration. In other words, the love of God must satisfy the soul that it claims, must inspire the obedience that it commands, it must prepare and accept the sacrifice that it requires, it must fill the life that is emptied for its sake. And it does all this. For love is constituted the beginning and the end, the law and the interpretation, the principle and the fulfilment of life in relation to God.
III. The great reality of love, to be felt and understood in all thought and work, through every act of faith and will, is the life of Jesus in us.
If thus you live, realizing manifoldly the life of the Christ in you, all you do will bear healthfully on the lives of others; from you they will learn their needed lessons of truth; through your influence will be ministered grace which they have scarcely learned to desire or to ask. Therefore act towards them in the consciousness of the love of God, reflect the light in which you live, by letting the peace and the love of God rule in your hearts always. Without this consciousness of relation to Him life must be a failure. With it, life is glad, fruitful and blessed.
—G. Brett, Fellowship With God, p. 44.
The noblest thing a man can do is first humbly to receive, and then to go amongst others and give. I've not been able to give much. It's because I have received so little. And if there is anything in which I would be inclined to contradict Him, it would be if I heard Him say, 'Well done, good and faithful servant'.
—Dr. John Duncan.
'Youth,' says Mr. Stevenson in his essay on Old Mortality, 'cannot bear to have come for so little, and to go again so wholly. He cannot bear, above all, in that brief scene, to be still idle, and by way of cure, neglects the little that he has to do. The parable of the talents is the brief epitome of youth. To believe in immortality is one thing, but it is first needful to believe in life.'
References.—XXV. 23.—H. E. Ryle, On Holy Scripture and Criticism, p. 139. Eugene Bersier, Sermons, p. 285.
Why the Talent Was Buried
I. Consider the slander here and the truth that contradicts it.
'I knew Thee that Thou art an hard man,' says he, 'reaping where Thou hast not sown' (and he was standing with the unused talent in his hand all the while), 'and gathering where Thou hast not strawed.' That is to say, deep down in many a heart, that has never said as much to itself, there lies this black drop of gall—a conception of the Divine character rather as demanding than as giving, a thought of Him as exacting.
It is not difficult to understand why such a thought of God should rise in a heart which has no delight in Him nor in His service. There is a side to the truth as to God's relations to man which gives a colour of plausibility to the slander. Grave and stringent requirements are made by the Divine law upon each of us; and our consciences tell us that they have not been kept. Therefore, we seek to persuade ourselves that they are too severe.
What is the truth that smites this slander to death? That God is perfect, pure, unmingled, infinite love. And what is love? The infinite desire to impart itself. The Cross of Christ is the answer to the slander, and the revelation of the giving God.
II. Mark here the fear that dogs such a thought, and the love that casts out the fear.
'I was afraid!' If a man is not a fool, his emotions follow his thoughts, and his thoughts ought to shape his emotions. And wherever there is the twilight of uncertainty upon the great lesson that the Cross of Jesus Christ has taught us, there there will be, however masked and however modified by other thoughts, deep in the human heart a perhaps unspoken but not, therefore, ineffectual dread of God. Some of you remember the awful words in one of Shakespeare's plays: 'Now I, to comfort him, bid him he should not think of God. I hoped there was no need to trouble himself with any such thoughts yet.' What does that teach us? 'I knew Thee that Thou art an hard man; and I was afraid.'
The only way to get perfect love that casts out fear is to be quite sure of the Father-love in heaven that begets it. And the only way to be sure of the Infinite love in the heavens that kindles some little spark of love in our hearts here is to go to Christ and learn the lesson that He reveals to us at His Cross.
III. Mark the torpor of fear and the activity of love. 'I was afraid, and I went and hid Thy talent in the earth.'
Fear paralyses service, cuts the nerves of activity, makes a man refuse obedience to God. Love moves to action, fear paralyses into indolence.
—A. Maclaren, The Unchanging Christ, p. 72.
References.—XXV. 24.—J. T. Parr, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. 1898, p. 185. XXV. 24, 25.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Matthew XVIII.-XXVIII. p. 205. T. G. Selby, The Holy Spirit and Christian Privilege, p. 251. Stopford A. Brooke, Short Sermons, p. 182. XXV. 24, 25, 26.—H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. l. 1896, p. 168. XXV. 24-27.—C. G. Lang, Church Times, vol. liii. 1905, p. 286.
You see I am dying, but I am not despondent; the Lord will set down that to my credit. I have bothered Him, the Most Gracious One, with jests only, never with moans and complaints!... Know this, not he is holy who hides himself from sin and lies calm. With cowardice you cannot defend yourself against sin; thus also says the parable of the Talents.
—Maxim Gorky, The Man who was Afraid, chap. xiii.
Better to try all things and find all empty, than to try nothing and leave your life a blank. To do this is to commit the sin of him who buried his talent in a napkin—despicable sluggard.
—Charlotte BrontË, Shirley, chap. xxiii.
One of Dr. Johnson's own prayers in early life, as he began the second volume of his Dictionary, was 'O God, who hast hitherto supported me, enable me to proceed in this labour, and in the whole task of my present state; that when I shall render up at the last day an account of the talent committed to me, I may receive pardon, for the sake of Jesus Christ.'
Unless the unsophisticated instincts of mankind are very far astray, our deepest gratitude is due not to the pure and sinless, but to the greatly daring and the strongly-doing—not to the monk in his convent or the ascetic on his pillar, but to the warrior in a good cause, to the adventurer in a grand enterprise, to the labourer in a noble work. 'I cannot' (says Milton) 'praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue that never sallies out and sees its adversary, but slinks out of the race where the immortal garland is to be run for—not without dust and heat.' A greater than Milton has comforted us by the assurance that much is forgiven to those who love much; that the active service of men (which is charity) covers a multitude of sins, and is more and loftier than creeds; and that the talent laid up in a white napkin and so scrupulously kept out of harm's way, reaps no praise and bears no fruit; while the talent that is made to fructify in commerce, in administration, or otherwise, earns wealth first and recompense and honour afterwards.
—W. Rathbone Greg.
References.—XXV. 25.—J. H. Jowett, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. 1894, p. 120. 'Plain Sermons' by contributors to the Tracts for the Times, vol. ii. p. 181.
The meaning of the parable, heard with ears unbesotted, is this: 'You, among hard and unjust men, yet suffer their claim to the return of what they never gave; you suffer them to reap, where they have not strawed. But to me the Just Lord of your life—whose is the breath in your nostrils, whose the fire in your blood, who gave you light and thought, and the fruit of earth and the dew of heaven—to me, of all this gift, will you return no fruit but only the dust of your bodies, and the wreck of your souls?'
—Ruskin, Fors Clavigera, LIII.
In R. L. Stevenson's address to the Samoan chiefs, on the occasion of the opening of the road they had made, out of gratitude to him, he referred to this parable of the Talents, asking them what they had done with their island, and reminding them that 'God has both sown and strawed for you here in Samoa; He has given you a rich soil, a splendid sun, copious rain; all is ready to your hand, half done, and I repeat to you that thing which is sure; if you do not occupy and use your country, others will. It will not continue to be yours and your children's if you occupy it for nothing. You and your children will in that case be cast out into outer darkness, where shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth; for that is the law of God, which passeth not away. I who speak to you have seen these things. I have seen them with my eyes, these judgments of God.' After referring to Ireland and Hawaii, the speaker went on to urge the use of their opportunities. 'Now is the time for the true champions of Samoa to stand forth. And who is the true champion of Samoa? It is not the man who blackens his face, and cuts down trees, and kills pigs and wounded men. It is the man who makes roads, who plants good trees, who gathers harvests, and is a profitable servant before the Lord, using and improving that great talent that has been given him in trust.'
References.—XXV. 27.—M. R. Vincent, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. 1897, p. 236. XXV. 28, 29.—H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. 1. 1896, p. 184.
The Law of the Life of Grace
'Unto him that hath, to him shall be given,' faith to the faithful, strength to the strong.
I. When the parable of the Sower had been spoken, it seemed that the listening multitude had not quite understood it. Their spiritual faculties were not developed as they might have been, had they been duly exercised on the revelation that had already been given. And so, although the kingdom of God was among them, they saw it not Nor were they forced to see it. For God reveals Himself to men by degrees only as they are able to respond to His grace. The higher gift is only given to those by whom the lower gift has been used.
Slowly must the secret be learnt, but it can be learnt still. 'To him that hath, to him is given.' Those who survive and profit by discipline are those by whom the discipline is gladly embraced. It is not only in the kingdom of nature, not only in the course of human society, that the adaptation of self to surroundings, the quick seizing of opportunity, the tenacious grasp of each new faculty as it is gained, are necessary conditions of growth, progress, survival; this is also true of the kingdom of grace.
If we find within ourselves no response to the higher truths of the Christian creeds, it may well be because we have not appropriated or lived by the plain words of Jesus Christ.
II. 'From strength to strength.' That is in our text too. For the Lord applied the words of the text, not only to the reception of spiritual truth, but to the use of opportunity in all the details of life. They concern practice as well as theory. The words follow the parable of the Sower; they also sum up the lesson of the parable of the Talents. There is such a thing as over-confidence in the spiritual life. But diffidence, too, may be a sin, if it be the source of neglect of duty. It was a saying of Archbishop Whately that the two things often go together. Most men are inclined to overestimate their own natural gifts, their talents, but at the same time to under-estimate their opportunities, their influence for good or for evil.
Use of opportunity brings increased power; its neglect ends in loss of power. That is the law of the spiritual as of the physical world; and the parable of the Talents seems to warn us that the consequences of such use or neglect are not confined to this side of the grave.
—J. H. Bernard, Via Domini, p. 251.
The Tenure of Truth
I. The first half of the verse asserts that unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance, or in other words that in the case of every man who has, his property shall not remain stationary, but certainly grow. As this is not a result that follows as a matter of course from the mere fact of possession, it is evident the solution of the saying depends on the sort of possession described by the word 'hath'. Everything is held by a tenure corresponding to itself.
It is evident we cannot be said to have made a truth our own till we have made it part of ourselves Otherwise it remains separate from us, and our connexion with it is uncertain and precarious. A man whose sincerity is assumed or put on, and not an integral portion of himself, may very probably put it off, and act deceitfully under the pressure of some passing temptation.
In order to bring about such an assimilation or fusion of one thing with another, there must be at least a potential likeness or congeniality of character between them. Religion is invested with a new character, because it is pervaded by a new purpose—its purpose being to bring us into sympathy with Christ, and to make that sympathy so powerful and complete that it shall bring our whole lives into unison with His.
The second characteristic of spiritual possession is that whatsoever a man has in this way he uses. This is plainly set forth in the parable to which my text is appended. The man who has the truth is the man who has made it one with himself, and gives evidence of this by acting it out or using it in his daily life. Anyone else has only the semblance of possession.
II. Consider the consequences that follow from this 'having' and 'not having' respectively.
It is a law of nature as well as of grace that whoever makes a thing work—that is, uses it according to its nature—will get out of it an ample compensation and reward for his pains. So then, if you have the truth it will multiply itself in your hands. Do not be disappointed that you cannot always measure your progress, nor see the store you have in hand growing visibly under your eyes. Disappointments are but the rough places in the road that leads on to fulfilment.
In the last words of the verse our Lord refers to a process which is exactly the reverse of that which I have been describing. It is the experience of the man who 'hath not,' or as St. Luke puts it, only 'seemeth to have,' and eventually loses his possession. This refers to those who have never received or used the truth, however familiar they may be with its terms. If you persist in refusing obedience to Christ now, you are surely rendering yourself less and less capable of ever yielding it at any time. The whole array of motions that act upon the will must gradually lose their intensity. Finally, you will become stiffened into a fixed posture of unbelief. Not that you will have openly dismissed the thought of redemption from your mind, or withdrawn your recognition of the Divinity of Christ, but you will have made yourself morally incapable of accepting Him and the vast revolution which that would imply over the whole region of inveterate habit.
—C. Moinet, The Great Alternative, p. 85.
References.—XXV. 29.—M. G. Glazebrook, Prospice, p. 11. A. MacRae, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxv. 1904, p. 69. XXV. 31, 32.—' Plain Sermons' by contributors to the Tracts for the Times, vol. ix. p. 157. B. F. Westcott, The Historic Faith, p. 87. XXV. 31, 33.—George Salmon, Gnosticism and Agnosticism, p. 311. H. J. Coleridge, The Return of the King, p. 302. XXV. 31-36.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xii. No. 671. XXV. 31-46.—R. W. Dale, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. 1895, p. 132. R. Winterbotham, The Kingdom of Heaven, p. 181. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Matthew XVIII.-XXVIII. p. 213.
'I've got a religion of my own,' says an American Methodist woman in Mr. Harold Frederic's Illumination, 'and it's got just one plank in it, and that is, that the time to separate the sheep from the goats is on Judgment Day, and that it can't be done a minute before.'
'That is a passage,' says Zachariah Coleman in The Revolution in Tanner's Lane, 'that I never could quite understand. I never, hardly, see a pure-breed, either of goat or sheep. I never see anybody who deserves to go straight to heaven or who deserves to go straight to hell. When the Judgment Day comes, it will be a difficult task.'
Reference.—XXV. 32.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxi. No. 1234.
Johnson: A man may have such a degree of hope as to keep him quiet. You see I am not quiet, from the vehemence with which I talk; but I do not despair. Mrs. Adams: You seem, sir, to forget the merits of our Redeemer. Johnson: Madam, I do not forget the merits of our Redeemer; but my Redeemer has said that He will set some on His right hand and some on His left.
—Boswell's Life of Johnson.
Every word full of life and joy. 'Come':—this is the holding forth of the golden sceptre to warrant our approach unto this glory. Come, now, as near as you will. This is not such a 'come' as we were wont to hear, 'Come, take up your cross, and follow Me'. Though that was sweet, yet this much more.
References.—XXV. 34.—J. Stalker, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. 1895, p. 81. F. E. Paget, The Living and the Dead, p. 325. XXV. 35.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxx. No. 1757. XXV. 37.—John Watson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxiv. 1903, p. 273.
Matthew 25:37; Matthew 25:44
The elect will be ignorant of their virtues, and the reprobate of the greatness of their crimes.
It is noticeable how Christian morals differ from the morals of Christ, that we continually hear, as if of a specially meritorious thing, of 'seeing Christ' in the poor. But Christ Himself represents the blessed as being extremely surprised when He identifies Himself with the poor. Clearly these 'blessed of the Father' had helped the poor for the poor's sake, not for any others' sake.
—F. P. Cobbe.
In Miriam's Schooling, Mr. Hale White describes how the heroine's brother fell ill in London lodgings, and required incessant nursing. 'To her surprise, her landlady instantly offered to share the duty with her. A rude, stout, hard person she was, who stood in the shop all day long, winter and summer, amidst the potatoes and firewood, with a woollen shawl round her neck and over her shoulders. A rude, stout, hard person, we say, was Mrs. Joll, fond of her beer, rather grimy, given to quarrel a little with her husband, could use strong language at times, had the defects which might be supposed to arise from constant traffic with the inhabitants of the Borough, and was utterly unintelligent so far as book learning went. Nevertheless, she was well read in departments more important perhaps than books in the conduct of human life, and in her there was the one thing needful—the one thing which, if ever there is to be a Judgment Day, will put her on the right hand; when all sorts of scientific people, religious people, students of poetry, people with exquisite emotions, will go on the left and be damned everlastingly.'
Compare also Dr. Guthrie's account of how 'John Pounds, a cobbler in Portsmouth, taking pity on the multitude of poor ragged children left by ministers and magistrates, and ladies and gentlemen, to go to ruin on the streets—how, like a good shepherd, he gathered in these wretched outcasts—how he had trained them to God and to the world; and how, while earning his daily bread by the sweat of his brow, he had rescued from misery and saved to society not less than five hundred of these children.... When the day comes when honour will be done to whom honour is due, I can fancy the crowd of those whose fame poets have sung, and to whose memory monuments have been raised, dividing like the wave, and, passing the great and the noble and the mighty of the land, this poor, obscure old man stepping forward and receiving the especial notice of Him who said, "Inasmuch as ye did it to one of the least of these, ye did it also to Me".'
The Solidarity of Man and God
It is frequently pointed out that the sense of sin is decreasing, and for this charge there is considerable evidence. Confession to God has not the former accent of self-abasement and of personal guilt. Side by side, however, with this decay in the consciousness of personal offence against God, there is a sense of obligation towards our neighbour which is distinctly in advance of anything known to our fathers.
I. Are we not apt to isolate these two moral facts—the decay of the sense of sin against God, and the increase of the sense of sin against man? At least, we forget to correlate them; we assume that there is no unity in the religious life. Ought we not to believe that God is within this creation so that one cannot separate any part of it from Him in whom every part lives and moves and has its being. Is not the hem of His garment within reach of us all? Can we injure a little child and not injure Him? Can we help a man in the straits of life and not help Him?
Ought we to hesitate which idea of God to accept as our working principle in life? Is not the distant God a mechanical conception, and an obsolete deism? Is not the indwelling God a convincing idea and the religion of Jesus? Within the sphere of Christian thought there is only one life, one love, one faith, one sin. We speak of the solidarity of man: since the Incarnation we should speak of the solidarity of man and God.
All service, as well as all injury, ends in God, and is done to God.
II. This truth should bring liberty to two opposite people, and the first is a believer, with a scrupulous conscience. There are Christians who are afraid of letting their heart go, and pouring forth their affection upon those they love, lest they should be giving to the creature what ought to be reserved for God. God is no watchful rival, demanding the lion's share of our heart. He is content if we love, for all the love we give to those whom we see we are giving to God whom we cannot see. And every stream of love finds its way at last into the eternal ocean of His heart from which first it rose.
This truth should also be liberty to the unbeliever with an honest mind. There are many persons in the land Today, and within the Church, who hesitate to call themselves Christians because, as they confess, they have not what they judge to be a right mind towards God. And yet this non-religious man, who has made no profession of faith, and counts himself unworthy to approach the Sacrament, may be the most loyal of husbands and the most self-sacrificing of fathers, as well as a charitable citizen and a reliable friend. But God—in this matter, if you please, a jealous and grasping Master—claims every act as done to Him. He has not known God, so my friend says, which is a serious loss of comfort. But there is something more important and decisive—God has known him, God is loving him, and in a day to come God is going to reward him.
—J. Watson (Ian Maclaren), The Inspiration of Our Faith, p. 286.
Illustration.—The truth that if you sin against man you sin against God is impressively stated in the most intense hymn of penitence ever written, the fifty-first Psalm. Whoever the writer was he had committed some great sin—a sin red with blood and black with lust. He was ashamed of himself and was broken-hearted. Some fellow-creature had suffered cruelly at his hands, but when he went to the root of the matter he realized that his sin had touched God Himself, and that no creature could be insulted without wounding its Creator. 'Against Thee,' he said, 'against Thee only have I sinned.' If this be true, then it follows on the other side that if any one helps a human being in body or in soul, that person has helped God. If only the Psalmist had dealt righteously by that man or that woman, he had been able to say, 'Thee only have I served'.
—J. Watson (Ian Maclaren), The Inspiration of Our Faith, p. 292.
One of the Least
Christ never despised little folks, little things, little occasions, little duties; Jesus never turned away from the small and the lame, the halt and the blind. Why was this? It was because He was Jesus. No man a mere man could have afforded to attend to us little creatures, persons of no consequence; it required God to stoop low enough to come down to us. The Deity is in the stoop, not in the grammar. He who holds a grammatical God has no God to hold. The Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ is in His pity, care, tears, mercy, His coming out after us in the dark times, in the stormy nights, sure that if we are to be found at all we must be found in the wilderness. That is His Deity; not some variable preposition or difficult word to construe with some other verbal difficulty.
I. When the Lord looks upon the services which people render, He often stops beside a cup of cold water, lifts it up, and smiles it into wine that makes glad the heart of God and man. That was all that the giver could give; being all that the giver could give, it became valuable, precious, priceless. Jesus Christ will not have it that any man can give Him anything except from the Cross, His own Cross, and the man's cross cut out of it; that is giving; the last bronze from the till—that is giving.
This alters our whole conception of Jesus Christ's thought, as we have misunderstood it. We thought He would be very careful about legions of stars, and He seems to be more careful of the poor man's one tallow candle that is set in the window on wintry nights to show the prodigal the way home. He will not allow that candle to sway in the storm; He guards it and keeps it steadily towards the window if mayhap the strayed girl or the prodigal boy may want to come home some night cold, and that candle is there, an evangel, a gospel, a luminous welcome.
II. All through the Bible there is a wonderful care of little things; God noticing them, God caring for them, and God bringing them to perfectness of meaning. Said Jesus Christ on one occasion the most remarkable thing out of the beatitudes, and it is the beatitude that crowns the rest, 'The very hairs of your head are all numbered'. That is greatness. 'He putteth my tears in His bottle;' that is condescension. 'None of his steps shall slide,' as if He numbered step by step all the going of His people. These are God's condescensions: sweeping the house diligently until He find the piece that was lost; leaving the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and going out after that which had strayed, and not returning until He had found it. This Shepherd undertakes no vain errands; He brings back the wanderer and completes the flock.
III. We must not make any mistake about this littleness. If we do little when we could do much, then the little goes for nothing. That is where your sixpence went! It was absolutely lost in ungrateful oblivion. Perhaps it was not wholly your blame, because you had the two coins in the same pocket, the half-sovereign and the half-shilling, and it was just by an accident that you took out the white one.
It may be so—may it, may it be so? If the little is all I can do, my Lord takes a few grass-blades as if I had brought Him a whole paradise. But if I could have brought Him rich flowers, and only plucked a weed out of the hedgerow, He will not take my gift. He who can stoop low will not stoop to be insulted when I offer Him a hedgerow weed when I might have given Him a garden of orchids.
—Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. II. p. 22.
No works shall find acceptance in that day
When all disguises shall be rent away
That square not truly with the Scripture plan,
Nor spring from love to God or love to man.
'If one looks at the way of the world,' said William Law, 'one would hardly think that Christians had ever read this part of Scripture (i.e. Matthew 25:31-46).
References.—XXV. 40.—A. F. Winnington Ingram, The Men Who Crucify Christ, p. 11. G. E. Ford, Religion in Common Life, p. 72. J. Service, Sermons, p. 216. E. Aldom French, God's Message Through Modern Doubt, p. 75. J. Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. ii. p. 22. J. Oswald Dykes, Christian, World Pulpit, vol. xli. 1892, p. 388. H. R. Heywood, Sermons and Addresses, p. 214.
Pere Pacheu writes on the words, 'Discedite a me, maledicti': 'Can this be the same Jesus who passed through the villages of Palestine, inviting the multitudes, by His miracles, by His doctrines, by His welcome which charmed men by its gentleness and touched them by its delicacy? Is this He who said, "Come unto Me and I will refresh you"? Is it He who said in presence of the hungry crowd, "I have pity on this multitude"? Yes, it is He. The hour of mercy is past; the earth and the heavens are silent, angels adore Him, millions of human beings are bent before His word, trembling with love or terror, like the tall ears of wheat which tremble in the wind of the plain, awaiting the reaper's scythe. "Depart," He says. How often did I invite you, how often did My word call you; in public, in the secret place of the heart, by the voice of My angels, by the voice of My priests, by the counsels, the exhortations, the examples, of your family, of your friends. I called you to the observance of the commandments, to the practice of prayer, to the festival of My sacraments—and you would not. You said no to conscience, you said no to your Christian friends, you said no to the Church.... Now, depart, discedite, go away?... At the court of Philip II nobles who were favoured with the attention of the prince had to suffer through it One of them, who was driven from the king's presence because he held loosely to the Church, died the same evening. But here. Maledicti! They are cursed by Justice and repelled by her, for they have broken her laws. Maledicti! They are cursed by Mercy, for they have despised her calls and her grace.'
—Psychologie des Mystiques Chrétiens, pp. 77-79 (1909).
References.—XXV. 41.—R. Winterbotham, Sermons and Expositions, p. 155. XXV. 44.—H. Harris, Short Sermons, p. 225. XXV. 46.—G. F. Holden, Church Times, vol. lvi. 1906, p. 815. R. Winterbotham, Sermons and Expositions, p. 164. R. J. Campbell, Sermons Addressed to Individuals, p. 129. W. Leighton Grane, Hard Sayings of Jesus Christ, p. 179. XXVI. 1-16.—J. Laidlaw, Studies in the Parables, p. 161. XXVI. 2.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xliii. No. 2522.
And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.
They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:
But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.
And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.
Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.
And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.
But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.
And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.
Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.
But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.
Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.
For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.
And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.
Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.
And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.
But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money.
After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.
And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.
His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.
His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:
And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.
His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:
Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.
Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.
For unto every one 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 cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.