Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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; Matthew 3:45). 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 (vers. 24, 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 (ver. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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" (ver. 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, 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 (ver. 34). They were probably the first judged. They were the first in transgression, the first cursed, and so likewise the first doomed (see Revelation 20:1-3).
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.).
(2) The discrimination eventuates in separation (ver. 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 Matthew 13:80, 39-43). 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 6:5-7; 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 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" (ver. 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 (cf. Matthew 28:10; John 13:1, margin Revised Version; 20:17). 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" (cf. James 1:1; Jude 1:1).
(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, 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, 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 (אלוה), 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; Jude 1:7). When applied to the world to come, it has no limit (see Mark 9:43; see also Isaiah 33:14; Daniel 12:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; Revelation 14:11; Revelation 20:10).
(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.
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.
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.
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.