The Servants and the Pounds.
"And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear. He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come. But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us. And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading. Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds. And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities. And the second came, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained five pounds. And he said likewise to him, Be thou also over five cities. And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin: for I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow. And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow: wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury? And he said unto them that stood by, Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds. (And they said unto him, Lord, he hath ten pounds.) For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given: and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him. But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me." -- LUKE xix.11-27.

It is necessary at the outset to indicate the relation which subsists between this parable and that of the talents, (Matt. xxv). Although in many of their features they are the same, in others there is a decisive difference. Both show that the Lord bestows privileges on his servants, and demands faithfulness in return; and both show that the diligent are rewarded and the unprofitable condemned. But the one supposes a case, in which all the servants receive equal privileges, and shows that even those of them who are faithful, may be unequal as to the amount of their success; the other supposes a case in which unequal privileges are bestowed upon the servants, and shows that when unequal gifts are employed with equal diligence, the approval is equal in the day of account. Both alike exhibit the grand cardinal distinction between the faithful and the faithless; but in pointing out also the diversities that obtain among true disciples, they view the subject from opposite sides, each presenting that aspect of it which the other omits. The parable of the talents teaches that Christians differ from each other in the amount of gifts which they receive; and the parable of the pounds teaches that they differ from each other in the diligence which they display.[101]

[101] The man who cannot perceive, or will not own that these are two distinct cases, charged with different, though cognate lessons, is not fit to be an expositor of any writing, either sacred or profane. Enough for the critics who persist in the theory, that these two parables are different, and consequently incorrect, reports of one discourse spoken only once by the Lord; the conceit is not worthy of more minute refutation.

The incident connected with Zaccheus, although it occurred on the spot and at the moment, did not, I think, supply the occasion of this parable, and does not contain the key of its meaning. The Lord's interview with that interesting and earnest tax-farmer in the neighbourhood of Jericho rather constituted an episodical interruption to the continuity of his thought and the narrative of his journey. He had passed through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem for the last time. An expectation, intense in character though vague in outline, was spreading through the neighbourhood, that great events would emerge on his arrival at the capital. It was the crowd already on this account assembled that gave prominence to the case of Zaccheus. It is not from that episode that the parable springs; rather, when the interruption which it caused was over, the current of thought, displaced for a moment, returns to its former channel, and flows as it had flowed before. The crowd had assembled before the conversation with Zaccheus took place, and the cause of the excitement was the expectation that "the kingdom of God should immediately appear." It was on account of this expectation that the parable was spoken. The purpose of the Lord was to correct the popular impression in as far as it was erroneous, and to turn it to account in as far as it contained a basis of truth. They expected that Jesus was about to proclaim himself king, and occupy David's throne at Jerusalem: he teaches them by the parable that his kingdom is not of this world -- that he, the king, will depart from their sight for a while, and that it behoves his subjects to occupy their talents and opportunities till he return.

"A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return." His errand when he went abroad was not to seek a kingdom in another quarter of the world, but to obtain from a foreign power nomination to the sovereignty of his native land. In the first place, it is not probable that, after having become king of another country, he would return to reside where he was only a subject; but a much more decisive indication is given by the message which his fellow-citizens sent after him, "We will not have this man to reign over us." They do not interfere with his prospects in a foreign country; it is his sovereignty over themselves that they dread and deprecate. This outspoken repudiation of his government by his fellow-citizens makes it both certain and manifest that, though he sought investiture abroad, the kingdom which he expected to receive was in his own native land, and over his former fellow-citizens.

In those days both the Jews and other nations subject to the supremacy of Rome were familiar with the transaction which forms the basis of this parable. After the nobleman's departure, his countrymen, aware of his design, endeavoured to thwart it. With this view they sent a message, or rather an embassy ([Greek: presbeian]) after him; they commissioned some of their own number to appear along with him before the power paramount, and oppose his claim. It is a mistake to suppose that the protest of these citizens was addressed to the nobleman who sought to become their king; the deputies are instructed to address themselves not to him, but to the foreign power from whom he intends to seek investiture. They will appear at court along with him when his petition is presented, and plead that it may be rejected. Such debates were in point of fact held before the republican and imperial tribunals of Rome.[102]

[102] Herod and his son Archelaus had both in succession repaired personally to Rome to obtain their authority. Precisely similar scenes are enacted between the British government and the protected potentates of India; the agents for rival princes contend for regal rights in London, where the government of India is in the last resort controlled.

Before setting out on his journey "he called his ten servants," &c. These men were his servants or slaves. In different countries, and at different times, the bond of servitude has been indefinitely varied both in stringency and duration. In all probability these servants were the bondsmen of the nobleman, although law and practice might not accord to the owner a power so absolute as that with which we are too familiar in modern slavery. But the more nearly that the master's rights approached the point of absolute ownership of property, the more suitable becomes the picture to represent the relation that subsists between the redeeming Lord and his ransomed people.[103]

[103] It is altogether a mistake to conclude from the allusions made here and elsewhere in the Scriptures to the actually existing servitude of the times and places, that any modern system of slavery may claim the sanction of divine approval. It was the custom of Jesus to seize existing facts on the right and on the left as they lay around, and employ them as vehicles for conveying his meaning. Sometimes he so employed a good thing, and sometimes a bad thing, but by the mere fact of using a human act or habit as a metaphor, he pronounced no judgment regarding its moral character. It was enough for him that the thing was well known, and that it served as a letter with which he might indicate his mind. Printers make their types of any material that may be most suitable for the purpose, and most readily obtained; and with these types they multiply the Scriptures. They use a cheap mixture of lead and tin; and this base alloy serves their purpose better than more precious metals. Their only question in determining the choice of material is, Will it print our meaning clearly? Thus the Lord Jesus dealt with the habits which he found in society, and the events that were passing at the time. He selected and employed them with a regard not to their own intrinsic moral worth but to their fitness for expressing the idea which he meant to convey. No matter whether it be lead or gold; what he wanted was material suitable for types. A steward has no Scriptural warrant for cheating his master, because the trick of an astute agent is employed to print one of the parables; neither have men-stealers, men-sellers, and men-buyers any authority from the Bible to treat their fellow-men like cattle, because the relation of master and slave was employed by the Lord to express a conception in the course of his teaching.

This nobleman, desiring that no part of his property or capital should lie unproductive during his absence, made the best arrangement, of which the circumstances admitted, before he left the country. His method was the same as that which appears in the cognate parable, the entrusted talents, with the exception that in this case the master made all his servants equal. A mina, in value equal to about L2, 3s.6d., was entrusted to each man, with the intimation that, according to his diligence and faithfulness in the management of this capital, would be his reward when the owner should return.[104]

[104] For fuller notice of the methods adopted, see the exposition of the corresponding parable No. XIV.

Such is the arrangement which this nobleman made with those who are described as "his own servants," on the eve of his departure; but with his neighbours, who were free and independent, he had either neglected to seek, or failed to obtain, an understanding. Aware of his object, they sent after him a deputation of their own number, instructed to appear along with him at the imperial court, and oppose his request. They were not willing to become his subjects, and therefore endeavoured to prevent him from obtaining a regal title and despotic power.

Their opposition, however, had no other effect than to betray their enmity, and so expose them to the King's displeasure. His first act after he returned with supreme authority was to call his servants into his presence, and reward them according to their merits; and his second, to issue an order for the punishment of those who had opposed his elevation. The remaining portion of the scene is so similar to the corresponding parts of the cognate parable already expounded, that it is unnecessary to trace the narrative further; rather let us hasten now to ascertain and enforce the spiritual lesson from the whole.

While the Master was setting his face towards Jerusalem for the last time, a dim presentiment of coming change occupied his disciples. In their minds, the expectation of his kingdom had taken a wrong direction, and tended to put them off their guard. To correct their error, and bind them to patient watchfulness, he spoke this parable. Because they imagined he was about to assume kingly power, and give them places of temporal dignity on his right hand and on his left, he taught them by this similitude, that he must go away, and that they must remain behind, working and watching.

The nobleman represents the Lord himself. While he prosecuted his ministry on earth, he had not fully attained possession of the kingdom. The departure of the nobleman represents the exodus which the Lord soon afterwards accomplished at Jerusalem, comprising his death, resurrection, and ascension. In the parable, the power paramount who could withhold or bestow a kingdom is not named: it is intimated only that this transaction took place out of sight in a far country. When the Son of God ascended after his mediatorial work on earth was complete, all power was given to him in heaven and on earth. Beyond his disciples' sight he received the kingdom from the Father. Now he has right to rule supreme over that world, on which before he had not where to lay his head. He will come to this world again as its King, with power and great glory.

Two classes of persons are mentioned as having remained in the country while the prince was absent: -- these are his servants and his adversaries. In the material scene, there might be many who neither served nor opposed him; but these are not mentioned in the parable, because there are none to correspond with them on the spiritual side. There only two classes exist, -- those who serve Christ as the Lord that bought them, and those who, being at enmity with God, refuse to obey the Gospel of his Son.

The parable has not much to do with them that are without. At the beginning, it shortly indicates their rebellion, and at the close as shortly predicts their doom; but the circumstances, the character, the life, and the reward of the Lord's disciples are more expressly and more fully declared.

The master who owns them places some of his treasures at their disposal, and with the general injunction, "Occupy," goes out of their sight. The servants are those who, at least in profession, are the disciples of Christ, and the pounds are the faculties which they possess, and the opportunities which they enjoy. The place and age in which our lot has been cast, our early education, our bodily members and mental powers, our station in society and the circle of our homes, our money and our health, and, in addition, the graces of the Spirit, in whatever measure they may have been conferred, -- all that we are and have belongs to God. He is the owner, and we are tenants at will.

While a general law has been laid down to determine, in the main, the direction of our course, the details are left to our own discretion. One man may invest his master's capital in land, and another in merchandise, and both may be equally faithful, equally successful: so in various lines of effort, different disciples may, in diverse manners, but with equal faithfulness, serve the Lord. There is freedom in the choice of departments, provided always there be loyalty to the King.

In the relation between Christ and Christians, opposites meet without hostile collision. His ownership is absolute, and yet there is freedom in full. His lordship does not limit their liberty; their liberty does not infringe his rights. What a glorious liberty this earth-ball enjoys! How it careers along through space, threading its way through thronging worlds, and giving each a safe wide berth in the ocean of the infinite! Yet the sun holds the earth all the while in absolute and entire control. Like that glory in the visible heavens is the glory of the Everlasting Covenant. The largest liberty conceded to the sons of God consists with sovereignty complete and constant exercised over them by the Redeemer, who bought them with his blood. He is their owner, and yet they are free. The union of opposites is possible with God: "He is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working."

The sons serve; and yet they are sons. Ransomed men are instruments of a higher order, than other agencies through which the reign of Providence is administered. Although the Lord requires of his regenerated people as complete submission to his law, as he demands and obtains from the elements of nature and the brutes that perish, he does not require from them an equally uniform and mechanical routine. The streams that course over continents, and the tides that swell upon their shores, must render the same service every day; but these sons of God are not held to labour by a bridle so short and rigid. They are endowed with reason and will; they are set at liberty, and permitted to expatiate over a wider field. Their master goes out of sight, and trusts to a renewed, loving heart for the diligent outlay and faithful return of all the talents. The Gospel requires and generates not a legal, but an evangelical obedience.

When the king returns, or the servants are summoned one by one through death to meet their master, they are tried as to faithfulness and diligence in laying out their talents. Although ten were mentioned at the beginning, it is not necessary to report on more than three at the close. These are sufficient to show that some were diligent, and some slothful; and that among the diligent there were different measures of effort, success, and reward.

What hast thou that thou didst not receive? Occupy; occupy all, and occupy it all the time till the Giver come to claim his own. All that God gives us is given for use. There is much evil, moral and material, in the world. He who made it and saw it fall by sin, has its restoration and renewal much at heart. When he has gotten some of the fallen restored to favour and renewed in spirit, he endows them with various riches from his own treasury, that the capital wisely invested may yield a large return at his coming. Let each according to his means and opportunity lay himself and his talents out to leave the world better than he found it; -- to diminish the amount of sin and suffering, to feed hungry mouths, and cover naked backs, to enlighten dark minds and save perishing souls. It is a high calling to be fellow-workers with God, to be instruments of righteousness in his hands.

One, by trading with his pound gained ten, before the king returned, and another five. Both are equally approved, but unequally rewarded; each receives as his recompense all that he had won. Two principles which operate in the spiritual kingdom are symbolized here; one, that various degrees of efficiency and success obtain among the faithful disciples of Christ; another that reward in his kingdom springs from work and is proportioned to it.

The parable of the talents recorded by Matthew represented one fact in the history of the kingdom, that different persons receive differing gifts from the sovereign God: this parable, recorded by Luke, represents another fact in the history of the kingdom, that among those who possess equal gifts varieties occur in the skill and success with which the gifts are employed. The practical lesson from the former parable is, If with all your efforts you fall far behind your neighbour in the result of your labour, you need not on that account be cast down, for equal diligence will meet equal approval, whether it be applied to a large capital or a small; the lesson of the latter parable is, If others are obtaining greater results than you, strive to imitate and equal them, lest your opportunity not have having been fully occupied, you should obtain at last only a small reward. The first puts in a spring to keep the truly faithful from sinking into despondency because their talents are few; and the second puts in a spring to keep the indolent from lagging behind. The two together, one on this side and one on that, shut all up to diligence in the work of the Lord.

A glimpse is given here of the method in which rewards are bestowed upon faithful servants; each receives what he has won. The work of the saved in their Master's service measures in some way their recompense at their Master's side. In all cases the wages given, seeing they depend on the merits of the Mediator, must be immeasureably greater than the work done; but it would appear that the differences which shall obtain in heaven will bear some proportion to the productiveness of the service here: the whole continent will be elevated as by the immediate power of God: but certain points will stand out above others in the celestial landscape on account of great talents greatly used. How much a city is greater in value than a pound we cannot calculate exactly, but the difference represents the gain that all the true servants will make at the coming of the king. All the faithful are made great; but the greatest worker is the greatest winner when the accounts are closed. Hold on, disciples; every grace that grows into strength, through bearing and doing your Redeemer's will here, is a seed that will multiply your enjoyment manifold when you come to the inheritance. Nor is this a mercenary motive. A true Christian can never separate his interests from Christ: he serves his Lord in love to-day, and will discover at last that in serving his Lord, he has been enriching himself.

The case of the servant who allowed his pound to lie unused is not different from the corresponding case in the parable of the talents except in one thing; in this parable the pound which the indolent servant had permitted to lie idle is simply taken out of his hands, while, in the other parable, the unprofitable servant is cast into outer darkness.

The lesson, in as far as it is the same in both, is, that not only those who do positive wickedness, but those also who fail to do good, are counted guilty in God's sight. Inasmuch as in this parable no other punishment is inflicted on the indolent servant than the deprivation of his capital, it may possibly be intended to intimate that culpable unfaithfulness in a true believer may sometimes descend so far as to be undistinguishable by human eyes from the entire neglect of the unbelieving. There is, however, in all cases, a dividing line, although we may not be able to trace it -- "the Lord knoweth them that are his." Nor does this conception really weaken the motive to diligence; for if any one should slacken in his efforts to serve the Lord on the ground that a great degree of negligence, although it may diminish his reward, does not imperil his safety, this very thing would conclusively prove that he has no part in Christ. It is the nature of the new creature to be forgetting the things behind, and reaching forth to those that are before; when the leaning of a man's heart goes in the opposite direction -- that is, when he deliberately endeavours to make matters as pleasant as possible for himself, by escaping from all service to Christ, except as much as is necessary to carry him safe to heaven, he certainly has not yet been born again, and in this state shall not see the kingdom. He who sails along the sea of Christian profession, loving the neighbouring land of worldly indulgence, and therefore hugging the shore as closely as he thinks consistent with safety, will certainly make shipwreck. Ah! the ship that thus seeks the shore is drawn by the unseen power of a magnet-mountain -- drawn directly to her doom; he who is truly bound for the better land gives these treacherous headlands a wide berth.

The last lesson is the judgment pronounced and the punishment inflicted on the adversaries. They who will not submit to Christ the crucified will be crushed by Christ the king. Every eye shall see him; they also who pierced him. Meekly now he stands at the door and knocks; then he comes as the lightning comes.

One hope remains, -- one door stands wide open yet. His enemies must be slain, either now or then. The enemies of the Lord's reign in the present world are the evil desires that occupy a man's heart, and close it against its rightful sovereign; drag them forth and slay them before him, that he may enter and possess his own. Surrender his enemies into his hands to-day, and you will henceforth be among his friends; if sins be sheltered in the day of grace, the sinners will find no shelter in the day of judgment.

xxix the pharisee and the
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