Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.
Verses 1-13. - Parable of the ten virgins. (Peculiar to St. Matthew.) This parable, as a continuation of the teaching of the last chapter, sets forth the necessity of having and retaining grace unto the end, in order to be able to welcome the advent of Christ. The duty of watchfulness and preparation for the great day is, of course, implied and set forth (ver. 13); but the point is that the oil of God's grace alone enables the soul to meet the bridegroom joyfully, without dismay. The usual marriage customs of the Jews are well known. On the appointed day, the bridegroom, accompanied by his friends, proceeded to the bride's house, and thence escorted her, with her attendant maidens and friends, to his own or his parents' home. In the parable, however, the proceedings are somewhat different. Here the bridegroom is not in the town, but somewhere at a distance, so that, though the day is settled, the exact hour of his arrival is uncertain. He will come in the course of the night, and the virgins who are to meet him have assembled in the house where the wedding is to take place. They wait for the smnmons to go forth and meet the bridegroom and conduct him to the bridal place; and when the signal is given that he is approaching, they set forth on the road, each bearing her lamp (Edersheim). Verse 1. - Then. The time refers to the hour of the Lord's advent (Matthew 24:50, 51), and the parousia of the Son of man (Matthew 24:36, etc.). Shall the kingdom of heaven be likened. At the time named something analogous to the coming story shall happen in the Church, in the gospel dispensation. Ten virgins. Ten is the number of perfection; such a number of persons was required to form a synagogue, and to be present at any office, ceremony, or formal benediction. Talmudic authorities affirm that the lamps used in bridal processions were usually ten. The "virgins" here are the friends of the bride, who are arranged to sally forth to meet the bridegroom as soon as his approach is signalled. "The Church, in her aggregate and ideal unity, is the bride; the members of the Church, as individually called, are guests; in their separation from the world, and expectation of the Lord's coming, they are his virgins" (Lange). The bride herself is not named in the parable, as she is not needed for illustration, and the virgins occupy her place. These virgins represent believers divided into two sections; evidently they are all supposed to hold the true faith, and to be pure and undefiled followers of the Lord (2 Corinthians 11:2; Revelation 14:4), to be waiting for his coming, and to love his appearing; but some fail for lack of grace or of perseverance, as is shown further on. Their lamps (τὰς λαμπάδας αὐτῶν, better ἑαυτῶν, their own lamps). They all made separate and personal, independent preparation for the meeting. These lamps (for they were not torches) were, as Dr. Edersheim notes, hollow cups or saucers, with a round receptacle for the wick, which was fed with pitch or oil. They were on these occasions fastened to a long wooden pole, and borne aloft in the procession. Went forth. This does not refer to the final going forth to meet the bridegroom on the road (ver. 6), as it is absurd to suppose that they all fell asleep by the wayside, with their lamps in their hands (ver. 5), and, as a fact, only five went out at last; but it doubtless intimates that they left their own homes to unite in duly celebrating the wedding. To meet the bridegroom. An evident interpolation adds, "and the bride," which the authorized Vulgate unhappily confirms, reading, exierunt obviam sponso et sponsae. In this case the scene refers to the bridegroom's return in company with his bride. But this is a misconception, as no mention is made of the bride anywhere in the genuine text. The bridegroom comes to fetch home the bride; and these maidens, her friends, assembled in her house to be ready to escort him thither (cf. 1 Macc. 9:37). The wedding seems to take place at the bride'e house, as Judges 14:10.
And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.
Verse 2. - Five of them were wise (φρόνιμοι, Matthew 24:45), and five were foolish. The best uncials (א, B, C, D, L) invert the clauses, in agreement with the order in vers. 3, 4. So the Vulgate. In this case the idea would be that the foolish were a more prominent and noticeable class than the others. All the virgins were outwardly the same, were provided with the same lamps, prepared to perform the same office; the difference in their characters is proved by the result. Their folly is seen in the fact that at the time of action they were unable to do the part which a little care and forethought would have enabled them to perform successfully.
They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:
Verse 3. - They that were foolish (αἵτινες μωραί)... took no oil with them. It has been doubted whether they brought no oil of their own at all, trusting to get their lamps filled by others, or whether they neglected to bring an additional supply to replenish them when exhausted. The latter seems most likely to be the sense intended; as the spiritual aspect of the parable places both classes in exactly the same position at starting, and we know from other sources that, the oil reservoirs being very small, it was the custom to carry another vessel from which to refill them. Some good manuscripts commence the verse with "for," thus making the verse justify the epithets applied to the virgins.
But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
Verse 4. - In their vessels. These were the flasks or vases carried by the maidens to replenish the oil in the lamps as occasion demanded. The contrast between the two classes seems to lie in the foresight of the one and the negligent carelessness of the other. It has been common from early times to find in the lamps the symbol of faith, in the oil the good works that proceed therefrom. The wise virgins exercise their faith in charity and good works; the foolish profess, indeed, the faith of Christ but carry it not out to the production of the good works in which God ordained that they should walk (Ephesians 2:10). But this exposition, time honored though it is, surely does not meet the requirements of the parable. What one wants is an interpretation which shall show how it is that the want of oil and its sudden failure debar one from meeting the bridegroom. If the oil be good works, and the believer has gone on doing these until the Lord's advent is signalled, why should he fail at the last? How comes it that in a moment he leaves off doing his duty, and making his calling and election sure? These are questions which the patristic and mediaeval explanation leaves unsolved. I doubt not that the right solution is to be found in regarding the oil as symbolical of the Holy Spirit, or the graces of God. This is a truly scriptural notion, as declared by the use of this substance in holy rites. Accepting this view, we should say that the ten virgins had so far alike taken and used the grace of God, but that they differed in this - that, while the wise maintained the supply of grace by constant recourse to the means thereof, the foolish were satisfied with their spiritual state once for all, and took no pains to keep their spiritual life healthful and active by the renewal of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. They retained the outward show and form of faith, but neglected the true inward life of faith; they had the appearance without the reality.
While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.
Verse 5. - While the bridegroom tarried (Matthew 24:48). We may suppose that all had lighted their lamps at first, in expectation of being immediately called to meet the bridegroom. But he came not. The advent of Christ was not to be as speedy as the disciples imagined. No one could divine when it would take place. As St. Augustine says, "Latet ultimus dies, ut observetur omnis dies." See here a figure of each Christian's probation. They all slumbered (ἐνύσταξαν) and slept (ἐκάθευδον) The first verb implies the nodding and napping of persons sitting up at night; the second means "they began to sleep," actually. All, wise and foolish, did this; so in itself it was not sinful, it was only natural. To such drowsiness the best of Christians are liable. The bow cannot be kept always strung; "Neque semper arcum tendit Apollo." Having made all preparations, the virgins ceased for a while to think of the bridegroom's coming. The Fathers take this sleep to be an image of death, the awaking to be the resurrection, when the difference between the two classes is known and displayed. But this would imply that all the faithful will be dead when the Lord comes, which is contrary to 1 Thessalonians 4:17. Nor, on the other hand, is it conceivable that they whose lamps are kept burning till the day of death will be unprovided when the Lord comes.
And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.
Verse 6. - At midnight. When sleep is deepest and awaking most unwelcome. The Lord will come "as a thief in the night" (Matthew 24:42-44; 1 Thessalonians 5:2). There was a cry made (γέγονεν, hath been made). The cry comes either from the watchers or from the advancing company. We are told by the apostle (1 Thessalonians 4:16) that "the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God." The suddenness of the event is indicated by the tense of the verb - "there hath been," "there is," a cry. The bridegroom cometh! The best manuscripts omit the verb, which omission makes the expression more graphic. The bridegroom is Christ; he comes now to judge, to punish and reward; and Christians have to meet him, and show how their duties have been performed, and how their personal preparation has been made.
Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.
Verse 7. - Trimmed their lamps. The trimming consisted in removing the charred portion of the wick, and raising the wick itself by means of a pointed wire which was fastened by a chain to each lamp. These operations would be followed by the replenishment of the vase with oil from the vessel carried for what purpose. In a spiritual sense the dormant grace has to be revived at the awful summons. It had, indeed, come upon all unexpectedly at the moment; but while one party was ready to meet the emergency, the other was wholly unprepared. The foolish, indeed, got their wicks ready to light, when they suddenly discovered that they had no oil in their lamps, and remembered that they had brought no further supply with them.
And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.
Verse 8. - The foolish said unto the wise. They apply to their prudent companions for aid at this crisis. They recognize now the superior wisdom of the others, and would fain have their assistance to hide their own deficiencies. Are gone out (σβένυνται, are going out). The lamps, fresh trimmed, had burned for a few moments, and then, having no oil, soon waned and died out. Spiritually speaking, the idea of these people seems to have been that the merits of others could supply their lack, or that there was a general store of grace to which they could have recourse, and which would serve instead of individual personal preparation. See here a terrible warning against delay in the matter of the soul, or against trusting to a death bed repentance.
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.
Verse 9. - Not so; lest there be not enough (μήποτε οὐ μὴ ἀρκέσῃ, haply it will not suffice). Edersheim renders, "Not at all - it will never suffice for us and you," in order to give the force of the double negation. In Aristotle, μήποτε is often equivalent to "perhaps," e.g. 'Eth. Nic.,' 10:1. 3. "Even so they failed," says St. Chrysostom, "and neither the humanity of those of whom they begged, nor the easiness of their request, nor their necessity and want, made them obtain their petition. And what do we learn from hence? That no man can protect us there if we are betrayed by our works; not because he will not, but because he cannot. For these, too, take refuge in the impossibility. This the blessed Abraham also indicated, saying, 'Between us and you there is a great gulf,' so that not even when willing is it permitted them to pass it." But (probably spurious) go ye rather to them that sell. The answer is not harsh, and the advice is not ironical or unkind. The wise cannot of themselves supply the lack. They have no superabundant store of grace to communicate to others; at best even they are unprofitable servants; the righteous shall scarcely be saved; so they direct their companions to the only source where effectual grace may be obtained. They that sell are the ministers and stewards of Christ's mysteries, who dispense the means of grace. These are said to be bought, as the treasure hid in the field or the pearl of great price is bought (Matthew 13:44-46). Divine grace can always be procured by those who will pay the price thereof; and the price is faith and prayer and earnestness, - nothing more, nothing less (Isaiah 55:1; Revelation 3:18). But the time is short; delay is fatal; hence the counsel so urgently given, "Go ye," etc. Buy for yourselves. This is important. Every one must bear his own burden. The grace must be their own; what is required of those who would meet the Bridegroom without shame and fear is personal preparation, personal faith and holiness. We shall be judged individually; our Christian virtues must be entirely our own, wrought in us by the grace of God, with which we have humbly and thankfully cooperated. It is curious that some ancient and modern commentators see in this part of the parable, only an ornamental detail without special signification.
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.
Verse 10. - While they went to buy. They followed the advice given them. Whether they were successful or not is left untold; the issue would have been the same in either case; their return would have been too late. The opportunity they had had was not properly used; when preparation was comparatively easy they had neglected to make it; they had been once converted, so to speak, and rested in that fact, and thought it sufficient for all time, omitting to seek for daily supplies of grace, and now they find themselves miserably deceived. There is a certain wilful forgetfulness and negligence which can never be remedied on this side the grave. They that were ready. The five wise virgins who had made provision for the meeting, had renewed the grace of God in their hearts, and kept it alive by diligence and perseverance, according to the apostle's counsel (2 Peter 1:4-8). Went in with him to the marriage (τοὺς γάμους, the marriage feast). They not only duly met the bridegroom on his way, but accompanied him into the joyful scene, the bridal feast, the type of all spiritual happiness (Revelation 19:9). "This world," says 'Pirke Aboth,' "is like the vestibule, the world to come is like the dining chamber: prepare thyself in the vestibule, that thou mayest be able to enter into the dining chamber." Well says the Son of Sirach, "Let nothing hinder thee to pay thy vow in due time, and defer not until death to be justified" (Ecclus. 18:22). The door was shut (Luke 13:25). It is customary in the East, at great entertainments, to close the doors when all the guests are assembled. So at our universities, during the dinner hour, the gates of the colleges are always shut. Scott, in 'Old Mortality' (ch. 8. note), remarks that this custom was rigorously observed in Scotland. When the door is shut in the parable, there is no more entrance for any one. Trench quotes St. Augustine's saying, "Non inimicus intrat, nec amicus exit." Christ is the door by which our prayers reach God; through him alone they prevail; when this is closed the access to the heavenly throne is barred.
Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.
Verse 11. - Lord, Lord, open to us. They apply to the bridegroom himself as now taking the direction of affairs. So when Christ the spiritual Bridegroom comes, he rules over all. Here, as elsewhere in the parable, the great spiritual reality shines through the earthly delineation. Whether the five foolish ones obtained oil or not at this late hour matters nothing; they were too late to do that which they had to do, too late to join in the bridal procession, and thus procure admission to the festival. Their piteous cry is not answered as they hoped. It is too late to ask for mercy when it is the time of vengeance. In this present state of grace we have the comforting injunction, "Knock, and it shall be opened unto you;" in the day of retribution the door is shut, and no knocking will unclose its barred portal. True it is that "not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father."
But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.
Verse 12. - I know you not. They had not been in the bridal company, nor joined in the festive procession, so the bridegroom could only answer from within that he had no knowledge of them. What is meant spiritually by this rejection is doubtful. This is not a solitary instance of the use of the expression. In the sermon on the mount Christ declared that his sentence on those that professed, but practised not, would be, "I never knew you: depart from me!" (Matthew 7:23). He is said to know those whom he approves and acknowledges to be his (see John 10:14). God says of Abraham, "I know him" (Genesis 18:19) and of Moses, "I know thee by name" (Exodus 33:12). To be known of God is a higher blessing than to know God (Galatians 4:9). Many think that the words of our text imply utter reprobation. So Nosgen; and Chrysostom writes, "When he hath said this, nothing else but hell is left, and that intolerable punishment; or rather, this word is more grievous even than hell. This word he speaks also to them that work iniquity." But we must observe that in the present ease we have not the terrible addition, "Depart from me!" The sentence of exclusion from Christ's presence is not equivalent to that in ver. 41, which dooms souls to the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. These five virgins had received the grace of God, and used it well for a time, and only failed at the last for lack of care and watchfulness. They had still some love for the Lord, still desired to serve him; it is not conceivable that they should suffer the same punishment as the utterly godless and profane, whose wickedness was perfect and Satanic. Doubtless they were punished; but as there are degrees of happiness in heaven, so there may be gradation of pains and penalties for those debarred from its blessings (see 1 Corinthians 3:15). But it is not improbable that the exclusion in the first place refers to the deprivation of participation in Messiah's future kingdom, whatever that may be, according to the vision in Revelation 20, and that the proceedings at the final judgment are not here intended.
Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.
Verse 13. - Watch therefore. This is the lesson which the Lord draws from the parable, as elsewhere he gives the same warning, e.g. Luke 12:35, repeated by the apostle (1 Thessalonians 5:2, 6). Ye know neither the day nor the hour [wherein the Son of man cometh]. The words in brackets are omitted by the earlier uncials, the Vulgate, Syriac, etc., and are to be regarded as an exegetical interpolation (comp. Matthew 24:42). Tertullian well says, "Ut pendula expectatione solicitude fidei probetur, semper diem observans, dum semper ignorat, quotidie timens quod quotidie sperat" ('De Anima,' 33). It remains to observe that, mystically, Christ is the Bridegroom, who celebrates his nuptials with his bride the Church, and comes to conduct her to heaven; those who are ready will accompany him and enter into the joy of their Lord; those who have not made their calling sure will be shut out.
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.
Verses 14-30. - Parable of the talents. (Peculiar to St. Matthew.) Following on the lesson of watchfulness and inward personal preparation just given, this parable enforces the necessity of external work and man's accountability to God for the due use of the special endowments which he has received. The former was concerned chiefly with the contemplative life, the waiting virgins; this chiefly with the active, the working servant; though, in fact, both states combine more or less in the good Christian, and the perfect disciple will unite in himself the characteristics of John and Peter, Mary and Martha. St. Luke (Luke 19:11-27) has recorded a somewhat analogous parable spoken by Christ on leaving the house of Zacchaeus, known as the parable of the pounds; and some critics have deemed that the two accounts relate to the same saying altered in some details, which are to be accounted for on the hypothesis that St. Luke has combined with our parable another on the rebellious citizens. That there are great resemblances between the two cannot be disputed, but the discrepancies are too marked to allow us to assume the unity of the two utterances. Christ often repeats himself, using the same figure, or illustration, or expression to enforce different truths or different phases of the same truth, as here he may have desired more emphatically to impress on the disciples their special responsibilities. The variations in the two parables are briefly these: The scene and occasion are different; this was spoken to the disciples, that to the multitude; in one the lord is a noble who was to receive a kingdom, in the other he is simply a landowner; here his absence is a matter of local space, there it is a matter of time; the servants are ten in the one case, and three in the other; ill one we have pounds spoken of, in the other talents; in St. Luke each servant has the same sum delivered to him, in St. Matthew the amount is divided into talents, five, two, and one; in the "pounds" the servants show differing faithfulness with the same gifts, in the "talents" two of them display the same faithfulness with differing gifts; here the idle servant hides his money in a napkin, there he buries it in the earth; the conclusions also of the parables vary. Their object is not identical: the parable in our text illustrates the truth that we shall be judged according to that which we have received; the parable in St. Luke shows, to use Trench's words, that "as men differ in fidelity, in zeal, in labour, so will they differ in the amount of their spiritual gain." The latter treats of the use of gifts common to all, whether bodily, mental, or spiritual, such as one faith, one baptism, reason, conscience, sacraments, the Word of God; the former is concerned with the exercise of endowments which have been bestowed according to the recipient's capacity and his ability to make use of them, - the question being, how he has employed his powers, opportunities, and circumstances, the particular advantages, examples, and means of grace given to him. Verse 14. - For the kingdom of heaven is as a man The opening sentence in the original is anacoluthic, and our translators have supplied what they supposed to be wanting. The Greek has only, For just as a man, etc.; Vulgate, sicut enim homo. The other member of the comparison is not expressed. The Revised Version gives," It is as when a man." They who receive the possible interpolation at the end of ver. 13 would simply render, "For he (the Son of man) is as a man." The Authorized Version plainly affords the intended meaning in the words of the usual preface to such parables (ver. 1; Matthew 13:24, 31, etc.). The conjunction "for" carries us back to the Lord's solemn injunction, introducing a new illustration of the necessity of watchfulness. Travelling into a far country (ἀποδημῶν, leaving home). Here our Lord, being about to withdraw his bodily presence from the earth and to ascend into heaven, represents himself as a man going into another country, and first putting his affairs in order and issuing instructions to his servants (comp. Matthew 21:3; 5). Who called his own (τοὺς ἰδίους) servants. The sentence literally is, As a man... called his own bond servants. Those who specially belonged to him - a figure of all Christians, members of Christ, doing him service as their Master. Delivered unto them his goods (τὰ ὑπάρχοντα αὐτοῦ, his possessions). This was not an absolute gift, as we see from subsequent proceedings, and from the well known relation of master and slave. The latter, generally speaking, could possess no property, but he was often employed to administer his master's property for his lord's advantage, or was set up in business on capital advanced by his owner, paying him all or a certain share of the profits. The money still was not the slave's, and legally all that a slave acquired by whatsoever means belonged to his master, though custom had sanctioned a more equitable distribution. The "goods" delivered unto the lord's servants represent the special privileges accorded to them - differences of character, opportunities, education, etc., which they do not share in common with all men. This is one point, as above remarked, in which this parable varies from that of the "pounds." In both cases the gifts are figured by money - a medium current and intelligible everywhere on earth.
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.
Verse 15. - Unto one he gave five talents. The talent of silver (taking silver as worth a little over 5s. an ounce) was nearly equivalent to £400 of our money. It is from the use of the word "talents" in this parable that we moderns have derived its common meaning of natural gifts and endowments. The three principal slaves receive a certain amount of property to use for their master's profit. To every man. To all is given some grace or faculty which they have to employ to the glory of God. "Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ "(Ephesians 4:7). No one can justly say he is neglected in this distribution. Whatever natural powers, etc., we possess, and the opportunities of exercising and improving them, are the gift of God, and are delivered to us to be put out to interest. According to his several ability (κατὰ τὴν ἰδίαν δύναμιν). The master apportioned his gifts in accordance with his knowledge of the slaves' capacity for business, and the probability of their rightly employing much or little capital. So God distributes his endowments, not to all alike, but in such proportions as men are able to bear and to profit by. The infinite variety in men's dispositions, intellects, will. opportunities, position, and so on, are all taken into account, and modify and condition their responsibility. Straightway took his journey (ἀπεδήμησεν εὐθέως). Immediately after the distribution he departed, leaving each slave, uncontrolled and undirected, to use the property assigned to him. So God gives us free will at the same time that he sets before us opportunities of showing our faithfulness. The Lord may be referring primarily to the apostles whom he left immediately after he had bestowed upon them authority and commission. The Revised Version, Westcott and Hort, Nosgen, and others transfer the adverb "straightway" to the beginning of the next verse (omitting δὲ in that verse). It is supposed to be superfluous here. The Vulgate accords with the Received Text; and there seems to be no sufficient reason for accentuating the first slave's activity above that of the second, who was equally faithful.
Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.
Verse 16. - Went. The one who had received the five talents, the mark of the greatest trust, lost no time, but betook himself to business with zeal and energy. Traded with the same (εἰργάσατο ἐν αὐτοῖς, made gain with them). The verb is applied to husbandry or any work by which profit is obtained. A special method of increasing the allotted sum is mentioned in ver. 27; but here the term is general, and implies only that the slave used the money in some business which would prove to his master's advantage. In other words, he exercised his faculties and powers in his master's service and with a view to his master's interests. Made [them] other five talents. The addition "them" is unnecessary. He doubled his principal - "made" being equivalent to "gained." In the parable of the "pounds" we find the same sum increased in different proportions; here we have different sums multiplied in the same proportion.
And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.
Verse 17. - Likewise, etc. The second servant made an equally good use of his smaller capital. It matters not whether our endowments are large or little, we have to use them all in the Lord's service. "To whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required" (Luke 12:48); and vice versa, to whomsoever less is committed, of him less shall be required. The burden is proportioned to the shoulder. We continually observe what to us seem anomalies in the distribution of gifts, but faith sees the hand of God dividing to each severally as he will, and we are confident that God will take account at last not only of the man's ability, but also of his opportunities of exercising the same. "He also" is omitted by Tischendorf, Westcott and Herr, and others.
But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money.
Verse 18. - He that had received one (τὸ ἕν, the one talent). Limited opportunities do not condone neglect. This third servant was as much bound to put out to interest his little capital as the first was his larger means. Went; went away. He too was not altogether idle; he in some sort exerted himself, not indeed actually in evil (as the servant in Matthew 24:48, 49), but yet not practically in his lord's service. Hid his lord's money. He thought the amount so small, or his master so rich, that it was of no consequence what was done with it; it was not worth the trouble of traffic. So, like all Easterns, he buried the little treasure in the ground, to keep it safe till his lord should ask tot it. recognizing that it was not his own to treat as he liked, but that it still belonged to him who had entrusted it to his care. The man had some special grace, but he never exercised it, never let it shine before men, or bring forth the fruit of good works.
After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.
Verse 19. - After a long time. The interval between Christ's ascension and his second advent (ver. 5) is long in men's view, though Christ can say, "Lo, I come quickly" (Revelation 3:11, etc.). And reckoneth with them (Matthew 18:23). The opportunity of labouring for Christ in the earthly life is ended at death; but the reckoning is reserved for the parousia - the coming of the Lord. The matter in the parable is concerned with the past actions of the servants of Christ (ver. 14); about the final judgment of the rest of the world nothing is here expressly said, though certain inferences must be drawn from analogous proceedings.
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.
Verse 20. - He that had received [the] five talents. The slaves appear in the same order as they had come to receive the deposits. The first comes joyfully, showing boldness in his day of judgment (1 John 2:17), because he has dealt faithfully and diligently, and prospered in his labours. Thou deliveredst unto me. He rightly acknowledges that all he had came from his lord, and that it was his duty and his pleasure to increase the deposit for his master's benefit. The long delay had not made him careless and negligent; rather, he had used the time profitably, and thereby added greatly to his gains. I have gained beside them (ἐπ αὐτοῖς). The two last words are omitted by Westcott and Hort, Tischendorf, and the Revised Version. If they are not genuine, they are, at any rate, implied in the account of the transaction. The Vulgate has, Alia quinque superlucratus sum. The good servant says, Behold, as if he pointed with joy to the augmented wealth of his master. He does not speak boastfully; he does not praise himself for his success; he had simply done his best with the means entrusted to him, and he can speak of the result with real pleasure (comp. 2 Corinthians 1:14; Philippians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:19). So in a religious sense the obligation to improve talents is even more imperative. "The manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one to profit withal" (1 Corinthians 12:7). The grace which he receives he must employ for his own sanctification, as a member of Christ, for the edification of others, for the interests of God's Church; such work will show that he is worthy of his Lord's trust and faithful in his stewardship.
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.
Verse 21. - Well done (εϋ), thou good and faithful servant. He is praised, not for success, but for being "good," i.e. kind and merciful and honest in exercising the trust for others' benefit; and "faithful," true to his master's interests, not idle or inactive, but keeping one object always before him, steadily aiming at fidelity. Some regard the words as a commendation of the servant's works and faith, but this is not the primary meaning according to the context. Over a few things. The sum entrusted to him was considerable in itself, but little compared with the riches of his lord, and little in comparison of the reward bestowed upon him. The Greek here is ἐπὶ ὀλίγα, the accusative case denoting "extending over," or "as regards." I will make thee ruler (σε καταστήσω, I will set thee, Matthew 24:45) over many things; ἐπὶ πολλῶν, the genitive implying fixed authority over. From being a slave he is raised to the position of master. He is treated according to the principle in Luke 16:10, "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much." The spiritual import of this reward is hard to understand, if it is wished to assign to it a definite meaning. It seems to intimate that in the other world Christ's most honoured and faithful followers will have some special work to do for him in guiding and ruling the Church (see on Matthew 19:28; and comp. Luke 19:17, etc.). Enter thou into the joy of thy lord. Here is seen a marked contrast between the hard life of the slave and the happiness of the master. Literalists find here only a suggestion that the lord invites the servant to attend the feast by which his return home was celebrated. Certainly, the word translated "joy" (χαρὰ) may possibly be rendered "feast," as the LXX. translate mishteh in Esther 9:17, and a slave's elevation to his master's table would imply or involve his manumission. On the earthly side of the transaction, this and his extended and more dignified office would be sufficient reward for his fidelity. The spiritual signification of the sentence has been variously interpreted. Some find in it only an explanation of the former part of the award, "I will make thee ruler over many things," conveying no further accession of beatitude. But surely this is an inadequate conception of the guerdon. There are plainly two parts to this. One is advancement to more important position; the second is participation in the fulness of joy which the Lord's presence ensures (Psalm 16:11; Psalm 21:6), which, possessed entirely by himself, he communicates to his faithful. This comprises all blessedness. And it is noted that the joy is not said to enter into us. That indeed, though a blessing unspeakable, would be an inferior boon, as Augustine says; but we enter into the joy, when it is not measured by our capacity for receiving it, but absorbs us, envelops us, becomes our atmosphere, our life. Commentators quote Leighton's beautiful remark, "It is but little that we can receive here, some drops of joy that enter into us; but there we shall enter into joy, as vessels put into a sea of happiness."
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.
Verse 22. - That had received [the] two talents. This man, who had received a less sum, had been as faithful as the first, and comes with equal confidence and joyfulness to render his account, because he had been true and diligent in furthering his lord's interests to the best of his means and faculties. He had, it seems, less capacity, but had used it to the full.
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.
Verse 23. - Enter thou, etc. Both these servants had doubled their capital, and the lord commends and rewards them both in the same terms. The point is that each had done his best according to his ability. Their different talents, greater or less, had been profitably employed, and so far the two were equal. Fidelity in a smaller sphere of labour may be of greater importance than in a larger area; and seemingly insignificant duties well performed may be of incalculable spiritual advantage to one's self and to others. Differences in talents make no distinctions in rewards, if the utmost is made of them. "If there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not" (2 Corinthians 8:12).
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:
Verse 24. - He which had received the one talent. The rest of the parable is concerned with the case of this unprofitable servant. Usually, those who have most privileges neglect or misuse them or some of them; here the man apparently least favoured is taken as the type of the useless and wicked disciple, because his task was easiest, his responsibility less, his neglect most inexcusable. He has heard the words of his two fellow servants, and the great reward which their faithful service has received; he comes with no joy and confidence to render his account; he feels fully how unsatisfactory it is, and beans at once to defend his conduct by proclaiming his view of his lord's character. I know thee that thou art an hard (σκληρὸς) man. He chooses to conceive of his lord as harsh, stern, churlish in nature, one without love, who taxes men above their powers, and makes no allowance for imperfect service, however honest. He dares to call this impudent fiction knowledge. Thus men regard God, not as he is, but according to their own perverted views; they read their own character into their conception of him; as the Lord says, in Psalm 50:21, "Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself." Reaping where thou hast not sown (thou sowedst not), and gathering where thou hast not strawed (ὅθεν οὐ διεσκόρπισας, whence thou scatteredst not). This is a proverbial saying, implying a desire of obtaining results without sufficient means. The last verb is interpreted either of sowing or winnowing; the latter seems to be correct here, thus avoiding tautology. It is used by the Septuagint in this sense in Ezekiel 5:2, as the rendering of the Hebrew verb zarah (Edersheim). So the phrase here signifies gathering corn from a floor where thou didst not winnow. The slave virtually brings a twofold charge against his master, viz. that he enriched himself by others' toil; and that he expected gain from quarters where he had bestowed no labour.
And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.
Verse 25. - I was afraid. He took as certain the conception which he had formed of his master's character, as harsh, exacting, and unsympathizing, and therefore feared to speculate with his money, or to put it to any use whereby it might be lost or diminished. This is his excuse for negligence. He endeavours to cast the fault from his own shoulders to those of his superior. So evil men persuade themselves that God asks from them more than they can perform, and content themselves by doing nothing; or they consider that their powers and means are their own, to use or not as they like, and that no one can call them to account for the way in which they treat them. Hid thy talent in the earth (see on ver. 18). Put it away for safety, that it might come to no harm, and not be employed for evil purposes. He recognizes not any duty owed to the giver in the possession of the money, nor the responsibility for work which it imposed. Lo, there thou hast that is thine; lo! thou hast thy own. This is sheer insolence; as if he had said, "You cannot complain; I have not stolen or lost your precious money; here it is intact, just as I received it." What a perverse mistaken view of his own position and of God's nature! The talent was given to him, not to bury, but to use and improve for his lord's profit. Hidden away, it was wasted. The time, too, during which he had the talent in his possession was wasted; he had not honestly used it in his master's service, or laboured, as he was bound to do. He ought to have had much more to show than the original endowment. To vaunt that, if he had done no good, at least he had done no harm, is condemnation. He might not thus shirk his responsibility. His answer only aggravated his fault.
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:
Verse 26. - Thou wicked and slothful servant. In marked contrast with the commendation, "good and faithful," its vers, 21, 23. He was "wicked," in that he calumniated his master, who really seems to have been ready to acknowledge the least service done to him, and never looked for results beyond a man's ability and opportunities; and he was "slothful," in that he made no effort to improve the one talent entrusted to him. Thou knewest (ἤδεις), etc. Out of his own mouth he judges him (Luke 19:22). He repeats the slave's words, in which he expressed his notion of his lord's character and practice, and deduces therefrom the inconsistency of his action, without deigning to defend himself from the calumny, except, perhaps, by the use of ἤδεις, which gives a hypothetical notion to the assumed knowledge. "You knew, you say." Some editors place a mark of interrogation at the end of the clause, which seems unnecessary.
Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.
Verse 27. - Thou oughtest therefore, etc. Your conception of my character ought to have made you more diligent and scrupulous; and if you were really afraid to rust any risks with my money or invest it in any hazardous speculation, there were many ordinary and safe methods of employing it which would have yielded some profit, and some of these you would have adopted had you been faithful and earnest. The return might have been trifling in amount, but the lord shows that he is not grasping and harsh by being willing to accept even this in token of the servant's labour. To have put (βαλείν). The term means to have thrown the money, as it were, on the banker's table. This would have been less trouble than digging a hole to bury it. Exchangers; τραπεζίταις: numulariis; bankers. In St. Luke (Luke 19:23) we find ἐπὶ τράπεζαν, with the same meaning. These money changers or bankers (for the business seems always to have combined the two branches) were a numerous class in Palestine, and wherever the Jewish community was established. They received deposits at interest, and engaged in transactions such as are usual in modern times. With usury (σὺν τόκῳ, with interest). At one time, law had forbidden usurious transactions between Israelites, though the Gentile was left to the mercy of his creditor (Deuteronomy 23:19, 20); but later such limitations were not observed. The rate of interest varied from four to forty per cent. The spiritual interpretation of this feature of the parable has most unnecessarily exercised the ingenuity of commentators. Some see in the bankers an adumbration of the religious societies and charitable institutions, by means of which persons can indirectly do some work for Christ, though unable personally to undertake such enterprises. Olshausen and Trench regard them as the stronger characters who, by example and guidance, lead the timid and hesitating to employ their gifts aright. But it is more reasonable to consider this detail of the parable as supplementary to its chief purpose, and not to be pressed in the interpretation. The Lord is simply concerned to show that all talents, great or small, must be used in his service according to opportunities; and that, whether the return be large or little, it is equally acceptable, if it show a willing mind and real fidelity in the agent. In illustration he uses two cases which yield most profit, and one which produces the least. Nothing can he inferred hence concerning the morality of usury. Christ draws his picture from the world as he finds it, pronouncing no opinion on its ethical bearing.
Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.
Verse 28. - The sentence on the unprofitable servant follows. It is to be observed that he is punished, not for fraud, theft, malversation, but for omission. He had left undone that which he ought to have done. Take therefore the talent from him. The forfeiture of the talent was just and natural. It was given to him for a special purpose; he had not carried this out; therefore it could be his no longer. A limb unused loses its powers; grace unemployed is withdrawn. God's Spirit will not always strive with man. There comes a time when, if wilfully resisted and not exercised, it ceases to inspire and to influence. Well may we pray, "Take not thy Holy Spirit from us!" Give it, etc. This is done on the principle stated in the next verse and Matthew 13:12. God's work must be done; his gifts are not lost; they are transferred to another who has proved himself worthy of such a charge. As the servant who had the ten talents lied already brought in his account and had received his reward, it seems, at first, difficult to understand how additional work and responsibility should be given to him. But it is the blessedness of Christ's servants that they rejoice in a new trust received, in added opportunities of serving him, whether in this life or in the life to come, and all the increase which they make is their own eternally and augments their joy.
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.
Verse 29. - Unto every one that hath... abundance (Matthew 13:12). So we have seen in the first part of the parable. The proverb says, "Money makes money;" a man who has capital finds various means of increasing it; it grows as it is judiciously employed. Thus the grace of God, duly stirred up and exercised, receives continual accession, "grace for grace" (John 1:16). The Christian's spiritual forces are developed by being properly directed; Providence puts in his way added opportunities, and as he uses these he is more and more strengthened and replenished. From him that hath not (ἀπὸ δὲ τοῦ μὴ ἔχοντος). So the Received Text, probably from Luke 19:26; the best manuscripts and editions read, τοῦ δὲ μὴ ἔχοντος, but as to him that hath nat; this, followed by ἀπ αὐτοῦ at the end of the verse, is less tautological than the other reading. To "have not," in accordance with the context, signifies to possess nothing of any consequence, to be comparatively destitute, in the world's estimate of riches. Shall be taken away even that which he hath; even that which he hath shall be taken away from him. The Vulgate, following some few manuscripts, has, Et quod videtur habere auferetur ab eo, from Luke 8:18. The poor unpractical man shall lose even the little which he possessed. So the spiritually unprofitable shall be punished by utter deprivation of the grace which was given for his advancement in holiness. If applied to the special circumstances of the time and of the persons to whom it was addressed, the parable would teach that the disciples who recognized and duly employed the riches of the doctrine and powers delivered unto them would receive further revelations; but that the people who spurned the offered salvation and neglected the gracious opportunity would forfeit the blessing, and be condemned.
And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Verse 30. - Cast ye the unprofitable servant into [the] outer darkness (Matthew 8:12). The parable merges into the real. The 'matter represented bursts through the veil under which it was delivered, and stands forth plainly and awfully. The command is issued to the ministers of the Lord's vengeance, whether earthly or angelic. The slave was truly unprofitable, as he advanced neither his master's interests nor his own, which were bound up with the other. While the faithful servants enter into the joy of the Lord, he is rejected from his presence, expelled from the kingdom of heaven, banished we know not whither. And why? Not for great ill doing, sacrilege, crime, offence against the common laws of God and man; but for neglect, idleness, omission of duty. This is a very fearful thought. Men endeavour to screen themselves from blame by minimizing their talents, ability, opportunities; this parable unveils the flimsiness of this pretence, shows that all have responsibilities, and are answerable for the use they make of the graces and faculties, be they never so small, which they possess. Spiritual indolence is as serious a sin as active wickedness, and meets with similar punishment, Our Lord's account of the last judgment terribly confirms this truth (vers. 42-45). There shall be [the] weeping and [the] gnashing of teeth (Matthew 24:51). "There," viz. in the outer darkness. The remembrance of lost opportunities, wasted graces, bartered privileges, will fill the mind of the banished with terrible remorse, and make existence a very hell; and what more shall be added? Some of the Fathers have recorded a gnomic saying derived from this parable, if not an utterance of our Lord himself, "Be ye approved bankers."
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:
Verses 31-46. - The final judgment on all the nations. (Peculiar to St. Matthew.) Before entering upon the exposition of this majestic section, which is a prophecy, not a parable, we have to settle the preliminary question as to who are the subjects of the judgment here so graphically and fearfully delineated. Are they only the heathen, or Christians, or all mankind without exception? The Lord's present utterance is plainly the development of the account of the parousia in Matthew 24:30, 3l. There those that are gathered are "the elect," nothing being said concerning the rest of mankind; here we have the forecast completed, both righteous and unrighteous receiving their sentence. "All the nations" usually represent all Gentiles distinguished from the Jews. But there is nothing to indicate separate judgment for the Jew and Gentile. Equally unlikely is the notion that the transaction is confined to the heathen, whether the opinion is grounded on a supposed extension of the mercies of Christ to those ignorant of him, but having lived according to the laws of natural religion; or whether it assumes as certain that believers will not be judged at all (an erroneous deduction from John 5:24). It seems, on the one hand, incongruous that persons who have never heard of Christ should be addressed as "blessed of my Father," etc., ver. 34: and it seems, on the other hand, monstrous that such, having failed through ignorance and lack of teaching, should be condemned to awful punishment. That Christians alone are the persons who are thus assembled for judgment is not likely. Is there, then, to be no inquisition held on the life and Character of non-Christians? Are they wholly to escape the great assize? If not, where else does Christ refer to their case? What reason can be given for the exclusion of this great majority from the account of the proceedings at the last day? It appears, on the whole, to be safest to consider "all the nations" as meaning the whole race of men, who, dead and living, small and great, Jew and Gentile, shall stand before God to be judged according to their works (Revelation 20:11-13). This is not a parable, but a statement of future proceedings by him who himself shall conduct them. It is not a full account of details, but an indication of the kind of criteria which shall govern the verdicts given. Verse 31. - When (ὅταν δὲ, but when). The particle, unnoticed in the Authorized Version, indicates the distinction between this section and the preceding parables, the latter exemplifying the judgment specially on Christians, this setting forth the judgment on the whole world. Son of man. With his glorified body, such as he was seen at his Transfiguration (Acts 1:11). In his glory. The term occurs twice in this verse, as elsewhere (Matthew 16:27; Matthew 19:28; Matthew 24:30, where see notes) denoting that then his humiliation will have passed away, and he will appear as he is. All the holy angels with him. "Holy" is probably a transcriber's addition, which has crept into the later text. The Vulgate omits it. At this time all the family of heaven and earth shall be assembled (Matthew 16:27; Deuteronomy 33:2). Of angels and men none shall be wanting. "Omnes angeli, omnes nationes. Quanta celebritas!" (Bengel). Then shall he sit, etc. He shall take his seat as Judge on his glorious throne trey. 20:11), surrounded by the angels and the saints (Jude 1:14; Revelation 19:14). Observe, this was spoken three days before his death (comp. Matthew 26:53, 64).
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:
Verse 32. - Shall be gathered (Matthew 24:31). The angels shall gather them, the dead being first raised to life. All (τὰ, the) nations. Not the heathen only, but all mankind (see preliminary note). The criteria upon which the judgment proceeds, in the following verses, seem to imply that all men have the opportunity of receiving or rejecting the gospel (Matthew 24:14; Mark 13:10; Romans 11:32). How this can apply to those who died before the incarnation of Christ and the consequent evangelization of the world, we know not, though we may believe that, ere the end comes, Christ will have been preached in every quarter of the globe. That some process of enlightenment goes on in the unseen world we learn from the mysterious passage, 1 Peter 3:18-20; but we have no reason to suppose that probation is extended to the other life, or that souls will there have the offer of accepting or repelling the claims of Jesus (but see Philippians 2:10; 1 Peter 4:6). By describing mankind as "all the nations," Christ shows the minute particularity of the judgment, which will enter into distinctions of country, race, etc., and while it is universal will be strictly impartial. He is the Shepherd of all mankind, whether considered as sheep or goats, and can therefore distinguish and class them perfectly. Those who have never heard of Christ (if such there shall be) can be tried only by the standard of natural religion (Romans 1:20). Shall separate them (αὐτοὺς). Individuals of all the nations. Hitherto good and bad had been mingled together, often indistinguishable by man's eye or judgment; now an eternal distinction is made by an unerring hand (Matthew 13:49). The ideals already found in Ezekiel 34:17, "Behold, I judge between cattle and cattle, between the rams and the he goats." As a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats. The flocks of sheep and goats generally keep together during the day (Genesis 30:33), but are separated at night or when being driven. The Syrian goat is usually black. The Lord delights in employing simple pastoral illustrations in his teaching.
And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
Verse 33. - The sheep on his right hand. The sheep are the type of the docile, the profitable, the innocent, the good (see Romans 2:7, 10). The right hand is the place of favour and honour (Genesis 48:17; Luke 1:11; Mark 16:5). The goats (ἐρίφια, kids) on the left. The diminutive is here used for the goats, to convey an impression of their worthlessness. Compare κυνάρια, "whelps," in the conversation of our Lord with the Syro-Phoenician woman (Matthew 15:26, 27). They are the type of the unruly, the proud (Isaiah 14:9, Hebrew), the unprofitable, the evil (see Romans 2:8, 9). This judicial distinction between the right and left hands is found in classical writers. Thus Plato, 'De Republica,' 10:13, tells of what a certain man, who revived after a cataleptic attack, saw when his soul left his body. he came to a mysterious place, where were two chasms in the earth, and two openings in the heavens opposite to them, and the judges of the dead sat between these. And when they gave judgment, they commanded the just to go on the right hand, and upwards through the heavens; but the unjust they sent to the left, and downwards; and both the just and unjust had upon them the marks of what they had done in the body. So Virgil makes the Elysian Fields to lie on the right of the palace of Dis, and the penal Tartarus on the left ('AEn.,' 6:540, etc.).
Then 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:
Verse 34. - Then. When the division is made, the sentences are pronounced. At death a separation between good and evil is in some sort made, as we learn by the parable of Dives and Lazarus; but the final award is not given till the great day. The King. He who had called himself the Son of man, here for the first and only time in Scripture names himself the King (comp. Matthew 27:11). He, the Messiah, takes his throne and reigns, King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16), Lord of both the dead and the living (Romans 14:9). Unto them on his right hand. He speaks first to them, as more worthy than the others, and as he loves to reward better than to punish. How the sight and hearing of this first sentence must awake the remorse of the reprobate! Come. He calls them to be by his side, to share his kingdom and glory (John 12:26). Ancient commentators have tenderly expanded this invitation, conceiving it addressed individually to patriarch, prophet, apostle, martyr, saint; others have paraphrased it in affecting terms: "Come from darkness to light, from bondage to the liberty of God's children, from about to perpetual rest, from war to peace, from death to life, from the company of the evil to the fellowship of angels, from conflict to triumph, from daily temptation and trial to stable and eternal felicity." Ye blessed of (equivalent to by) my Father. So διδακτοὶ τοῦ Θεοῦ, "taught of [i.e. by] God" (John 6:45). They were beloved by God, and were to be rewarded by the gift of eternal life. This was their blessing (Ephesians 1:3). Nothing is said about election or predestination, as if they were saved because they were blessed by the Father. There is a sense in which this is true; but they were rewarded, not because of their election, but because they used the grace given to them, and cooperated with the Holy Spirit which they received. Inherit (κληρονομήσατε, receive as your lot). "Of what honour, of what blessedness, are these words I lie said not - Take, but Inherit, as one's own, as your Father's, as yours, as due to you from the first. 'For, before you were,' saith he, 'these things had been prepared, and made ready for you, forasmuch as I knew you would be such as you are '" (St. Chrysostom, in loc.). Christians are by baptism made in heritors of the kingdom of heaven, gifted with heavenly citizenship, which, duly used, leads to eternal glory. "If children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:17). From the foundation of the world (ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου, a constitutione mundi). In other passages we have, "before (πρὸ) the foundation of the world" (John 17:24; Ephesians 1:4). The two expressions virtually correspond, implying God's eternal purpose, "who willeth that all men should be saved, and come unto the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4).
For 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:
Verse 35. - For. Jesus here gives the reason which influences him in conferring this great boon on "the sheep" of his flock. He instances certain works of mercy which they performed during their earthly pilgrimage, as examples of the kind of acts which he deems worthy of eternal reward. It is not that he regards no other with favour, but these six works, as they show the temper and virtue of the door, are taken as the type of those which are approved. They are proofs of self-denial, pity, sympathy, charity; they demonstrate that the doer has something of God in him, that according to his lights he possesses and has exercised the supreme grace of love. The Lord confined himself to one detail; he does not disparage other requirements necessary for salvation, as faith, prayer, sacraments, chastity, truth, honesty; but he looks on one particular class of works as the great result of all the aids and provocatives offered by his Spirit, and herein sets forth the principle by which judgment is guided, and which can be applied universally. The Judge asks not what we have felt or thought, but what we have done or left undone in our dealings with others. "It is plain," says Bishop Bull ('Harm. Ap.,' diss. 1:5. 4), "that our works are considered as the very things on account of which (by the merciful covenant of God through Christ) eternal lifo is given us." He quotes Vossius ('De Bon. Op.,' 10): "It is asked whether a reward is promised to works as signs of faith? Now, we conceive they say too much who suppose it promised to works as deserving it, and that they say too little who think it promised to them only as signs of faith. For there are many passages of Scripture where it is shown that our works, in the business of salvation, are regarded as indispensably requisite, or as a primary condition, to which the reward of eternal life is inseparably connected." I was an hungred, equivalent to "very hungry" (Matthew 12:1). Christ enumerates the chief of what are called the corporal works of mercy, omitting burial of the dead (see on ver. 36). We may note here an argument a fortiori: if such simple acts (comp. Matthew 10:42) meet with so great a reward, what shall he the portion of those who are enabled to rise to more perfect obedience and higher degrees of devotion and self-sacrifice? Ye took me in (συνηγάγεσε με) i.e. into your houses, received me with hospitality, or as one of your own family. We have instances of such hospitality in Genesis 18:3; Judges 19:20, 21; and of this use of the verb συνάγειν in 2 Samuel 11:27, Septuagint. Why Christ speaks of himself as receiving these ministrations is explained in ver. 40.
Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Verse 36. - Ye visited me. The visitation of the sick has become a common term among us. It implies properly going to see, though other ideas are connoted. Ye came unto me. It was easier in those days to visit friends in prison than it is at the present time. Good men, if they could not obtain release of prisoners, might comfort and sympathize with them. The seven corporal works of mercy which antiquity has endorsed have been preserved in the mnemonic line, "Visito, poto, cibo, redimo, tego, colligo, condo. All these might be performed by non-Christians who professed the fear of God and followed the guidance of conscience. God never leaves himself without witness; his Spirit strives with man, and in the absence of higher and completer revelation, to be wholly guided by these inner motions is to work out salvation, as far as circumstances allow, and in a certain restricted sense. In a universal judgment regard is had to this consideration. "In return for what do they receive such things? For the covering of a roof, for a garment, for bread, for cold water, for visiting, for going into the prison. For indeed in every case it is for what is needed; and sometimes not even for that. For surely the sick and he that is in bonds seek not for this only, but the one to be loosed, the other to be delivered from his infirmity. But he, being gracious, requires only what is within our power, or rather even less than what is within our power, leaving to us to exert our generosity in doing more" (St. Chrysostom, in loc.).
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
Verses 37-39. - Shall the righteous answer him. The righteous are those on the right hand, those who have passed through earthly probation, and have come forth holy and pure. Their reply (which is given before the Lord's explanation) is contained in three verses, which recapitulate the deeds specified by the Lord, with some slight variation in the wording. When saw we thee, etc.? If this reply is conceived as spoken by the followers of Christ, who most be supposed to know what he had said (ch. 10:40-42, "He that receiveth you receiveth me," etc.), it must be considered as expressive, not so much of surprise, as profound humility, which had never hitherto realized the grand idea. They had done so little, they had rendered him no service personally, they were unworthy so to do - how could they merit such a reward? If the answer is taken as given by non-Christians, it shows ignorance of the high value of their service, and astonishment that, in following the dictates of conscience and charity, they had unwittingly had the supreme honour of serving Christ. Mediaeval legends have exemplified the identity of Christ and his suffering members by telling how saints have seen him in those whom they relieved. Such stories are told of Saints Augustine, Christopher, Martin, and others. And fed thee (ἐθρέψαμεν). Instead of "gave me to eat" (ver. 35). Sick or in prison, and came unto thee. Instead of "sick, and ye visited me; in prison," etc. The Lord could not more emphatically have recommended works of mercy as having the highest value in his estimation. "There is a mystery in many of the actions of men, which needs the interpretation of the Master" (Morison).
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.
Verse 40. - The King shall answer. The royal Judge condescends to explain the meaning of the seeming paradox. Inasmuch as; ἐφ ὅσον, rendered in the Vulgate quamdiu, rather, quatenus, in which sense the phrase is found also in Romans 11:13. Unto one of the least of these my brethren. That is, not the apostles, nor specially but all the afflicted who have fellowship with Christ in his sufferings and Any such he is not ashamed to call his brethren. Ye have done (ye did) it unto me. The Lord so perfectly identifies himself with the human family, whose nature he assumed, that he made their sorrows sufferings his own (Isaiah 53:4; Isaiah 63:9; Matthew 8:17), he suffered with the sufferers; his perfect sympathy placed him in their position; in all their affliction he was afflicted From this identification it follows that he regards that which is done to others as done to himself. Thus he could expostulate the persecutor, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" And we have the amazing revelation that he receives with the same graciousness the pious workings of natural religion in the case of those who know no better.
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:
Verse 41. - Unto them on the left hand. The sentence on these is comprised in vers. 41-45. It is conveyed in terms parallel to that on the righteous; but how infinite the difference! Depart from me! Not "Come!" (ver. 34). What a world of misery is contained in this word, "Depart"! As the light of God's countenance is happiness, so banishment from his presence is utter woe. What it implies we know not; we will not attempt to imagine. God preserve us from ever knowing! Ye cursed. He had called the righteous, "blessed of my Father;" he does not term these, "cursed of my Father," because God willeth not the death of a sinner. "Not he laid the curse upon them, but their own works" (St. Chrysostom, in loc.). It was no part of God's design that any of his creatures should suffer this misery. "God made not death, neither hath he pleasure in the destruction of the living. For he created all things, that they might have their being...but ungodly men with their words and works called death unto them" (Wisd. 1:13, etc.). Into everlasting fire (τὸ πῦρ τὸ αἰώνιον, the fire which is even lasting). To the poignant regret for the loss of happiness and of the presence of God there is added physical anguish, expressed metaphorically by the term "fire." This is called everlasting, and however in these days of compromise we may seek to minimize or modify the attribute, it was so understood by our Lord's hearers (see below on ver. 46). Prepared for the devil and his angels. This region or sphere of torment was not, as the kingdom of the righteous, prepared for man originally; it was particularly designed (τὸ ἡτοιμασμένον) for Satan and his myrmidons (see 2 Peter 2:4, 9), and will not be perfected till the last judgment (Revelation 20:10). There is no hint of its being remedial or corrective; and what it is to the devil it must be to those who share it with him. It is man's own doing that he is unfit for the company of saints and angels, and, having made himself like unto the evil spirits by rebellion and hatred of good, he must consort with them and share their doom. It seems as though there were no proper place for man's punishment; there is no book of death corresponding to the book of life (Revelation 20:12, etc.); the wicked are in an anomalous state, and, shut out by their own action from their proper inheritance, fall into the society of demons. How to reconcile this destiny, which seems inconceivably terrible, with God's mercy, love, and justice, has always proved a stumbling block to free thinkers. It is, indeed, a mystery which we cannot understand, and which Christ has purposely left unexplained. We can only bow the head and say, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25).
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
Verses 42, 43. - The Lord gives the ground of the sentence, which proceeds on the same terms as the former one. The crimes for which these souls are punished are those of omission and negligence; they failed to per form the most elementary duties of charity and brotherly love which conscience and natural religion enjoin; they had lived utterly selfish and unprofitable lives. If sins of omission are thus punished, we may infer that positive transgressions shall meet with still heavier retribution.
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?
Verse 44. - Then shall they also answer [him]. Not in words, for at that time objection and expostulation would not be allowed, but in thought, "standing at the judgment seat, yet ceasing not to sin." There is a certain self-confidence in their reply, very different from the humility and misgiving of the righteous. When saw we thee, etc.? They put all these neglected duties in a careless summary. They had never thought of Christ in the matter: were they to be condemned for this? Some had never even heard of Christ, never been taught faith in him: was this their fault? This is the line which their self-justification took; there was nothing of love, nothing of humility.
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.
Verse 45. - Inasmuch as, etc. The Judge at once disallows all such pleas. He exacts nothing which any good man, Christian or not, might not have done. As before, identifying himself with the human race, he shows that, in neglecting to perform acts of mercifulness and charity to the afflicted, they disregarded him, despised him. dishonoured him. One of the least of these. He adds not "brethren," as above (ver. 40), because the evil acknowledge no such brotherhood; they live for self alone, they own not their real relation to the whole family of man.
And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
Verse 46. - Shall go away. Bengel notes that the King will first address the righteous in the audience of the unrighteous, but these last will be dismissed to their place of punishment before the others actually receive their reward. Thus the evil will see nothing of the life eternal, while the good will be bold the vengeance inflicted on the others (Matthew 13:49). Into everlasting punishment (εἰς κόλασιν αἰώνιον)... life eternal (everlasting, ζωὴν αἰώνιον). The same term is used in both places, and ought to have been so translated. The word κόλασις in strict classical usage denotes punishment inflicted for the correction and improvement of the offender, τιμωρίΑ being employed to signify punishment in satisfaction of outraged justice, or to revenge an injury. But it is open to doubt whether the former term is to be taken in its strictest sense in the New Testament. A ceaseless controversy rests on the meaning of αἰώνιος, some contending that it signifies "everlasting," and nothing else; others that its sense is modified by the idea to which it is attached; and others again that it ought to be rendered by "aeonian," to which is given an indeterminate signification governed by our conception of the duration expressed by men. This is not the place to discuss this perplexing question, nor shall I attempt to dogmatize upon the problem. Suffice it to make these few observations. On the one hand, taking the literal sense of our Lord's words, and the meaning which his hearers would attach to them, we must believe that the risen life and the second death are equally everlasting (see Judith 16:17; Ecclus. 7:17; 4 Macc. 12:12). And if it is thought that eternity of punishment is incompatible with love and benevolence, and inequitable as the penalty of offences committed in time, it must be remembered that eternity of reward is infinitely beyond all human claims, and bears no proportion to the merits of the recipient. Nor may we reason from our conception of the nature and attributes of God; how these attributes work harmoniously together, though seemingly opposed, we cannot presume to determine. The consequences of sin even in this world are often irretrievable, as are some human punishments. We have no reason to suppose that punishment is inflicted only for the correction of the criminal (see on ver. 41), nor is it possible to conceive how this result could be effected by condemning him to the society of devils. Further, we have to regard the heinousness of sin in God's sight, remembering the infinite price paid for its expiation. And lastly, the doctrine does not depend upon this passage only, but is supported by many other statements in both the Old and New Testaments: e.g. Isaiah 66:24; Daniel 12:2; Mark 9:44, 46, 48; Revelation 21:8. Such are some of the chief arguments in favour of the everlasting nature of future punishment. On the other hand, we have to remark that our Lord is here not concerned with teaching this doctrine of eternity; he assumes the authorized view of the matter, and draws his awful lesson from that view. It is certainly true that the meaning of αἰώνιος is not fixed and uniform; it is conditioned by the term to which it appertains. No one would say that "everlasting" was applied to God and to a mountain in the same sense; and though it seems incongruous to find a difference of meaning in the same sentence, yet there may be reasons for distinguishing the signification of the qualifying adjective in the terms "eternal life" and "eternal punishment." God, indeed, cannot draw back from his promise, but he may be more merciful than the tenor of his threats seems to imply. It is possible that "aeonian" may denote merely indefinite duration without the connotation of never ending. Such like are the pleas brought forward to lessen the plain enunciation of the awful truth. For myself I do not see any escape from the import of the statement, nor any hope of amelioration in the case of the lest, when relegated to the scene of their penal existence (see on Matthew 18:8, 9). But I set no bounds to the Divine mercy and wisdom; and God may see a mode of reconciling his strict justice with his desire of man's salvation, which our finite understanding cannot grasp. All we can say here is that infinite misery and infinite happiness are set before us, and that God has thus shown the two ends without reserve or possible modification, in order that we may be aroused to shun the one and to win the other. "From thy wrath, and from ever lasting damnation, good Lord, deliver us."