reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: 25. And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth.'-MATT. xxv.24, 25.
That was a strangely insolent excuse for indolence. To charge an angry master to his face with grasping greed and injustice was certainly not the way to conciliate him. Such language is quite unnatural and incongruous until we remember the reality which the parable was meant to shadow -- viz., the answers for their deeds which men will give at Christ's judgment bar. Then we can understand how, by some irresistible necessity, this man was compelled, even at the risk of increasing the indignation of the master, to turn himself inside out, and to put into harsh, ugly words the half-conscious thoughts which had guided his life and caused his unfaithfulness. 'Every one of us shall give account of himself to God.' The unabashed impudence of such an excuse for idleness as this is but putting into vivid and impressive form this truth, that then a man's actions in their true character, and the ugly motives that underlie them, and which he did not always honestly confess to himself, will be clear before him. It will be as much of a surprise to the men themselves, in many cases, as it could be to listeners. Thus it becomes us to look well to the under side of our lives, the unspoken convictions and the unformulated motives which work all the more mightily upon us because, for the most part, they work in the dark. This is Christ's explanation of one very operative and fruitful cause of the refusal to serve Him.
I. I ask you, then, to consider, first, the slander here and the truth that contradicts it.
'I knew thee that thou art an hard man,' says he, 'reaping where them hast not sown' (and he was standing with the unused talent in his hand all the while), 'and gathering where thou hast not strawed.' That is to say, deep down in many a heart that has never said as much to itself, there lies this black drop of gall -- a conception of the divine character rather as demanding than as giving, a thought of Him as exacting. What He requires is more considered than what He bestows. So religion is thought to be mainly a matter of doing certain things and rendering up certain sacrifices, instead of being regarded, as it really is, as mainly a matter of receiving from God. Christ's authority makes me bold to say that this error underlies the lives of an immense number of nominal Christians, of people who think themselves very good and religious, as well as the lives of thousands who stand apart from religion altogether. And I want, not to drag down any curtain by my own hand, but to ask you to lift away the veil which hides the ugly thing in your hearts, and to put your own consciousness to the bar of your own conscience, and say whether it is not true that the uppermost thought about God, when you think about Him at all, is, 'Thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown.'
It is not difficult to understand why such a thought of God should rise in a heart which has no delight in Him nor in His service. There is a side of the truth as to God's relations to man which gives a colour of plausibility to the slander. Grave and stringent requirements are made by the divine law upon each of us; and our consciences tell us that they have not been kept. Therefore we seek to persuade ourselves that they are too severe. Then, further, we are, by reason of our own selfishness, almost incapable of rising to the conception of God's pure, perfect, disinterested love; and we are far too blind to the benefits that He pours upon us all every day of our lives. And so from all these reasons taken together, and some more besides, it comes about that, for some of us, the blessed sun in the heavens, the God of all mercy and love, has been darkened into a lurid orb shorn of all its beneficent beams, and hangs threatening there in our misty sky. 'I knew Thee that Thou art an hard man.' Ah! I am sure that if we would go down into the deep places of our own hearts, and ask ourselves what our real thought of God is, many of us would acknowledge that it is something like that.
Now turn to the other side. What is the truth that smites this slander to death? That God is perfect, pure, unmingled, infinite love. And what is love? The infinite desire to impart itself. His 'nature and property' is to be merciful, and you can no more stop God from giving than you can shut up the rays of the sun within itself. To be and to bestow are for Him one and the same thing. His love is an infinite longing to give, which passes over into perpetual acts of beneficence. He never reaps where He has not sown. Is there any place where He has not sown? Is there any heart on which there have been no seeds of goodness scattered from His rich hand? The calumniator in the text was speaking his slanders with that in his hand which should have stopped his mouth. He who complained that the hard master was asking for fruit of what He had not given would have had nothing at all, if he had not obtained the one talent from His hand. And there is no place in the whole wide universe of God where His love has not scattered its beneficent gifts. There are no fallow fields out of cultivation and unsown, in His great farm. He never asks where He has not given.
He never asks until after He has given. He begins with bestowing, and it is only after the vineyard has been planted on the very fruitful hill, and the hedge built round about it, and the winepress digged, and the tower erected, and miracles of long-suffering mercy and skilful patience have been lavished upon it, that then He looks that it should bring forth grapes. God's gifts precede His requirements. He ever sows before He reaps. More than that, He gives what He asks, helping us to render to Him the hearts that He desires. He, by His own merciful communications, makes it possible that we should lay at His feet the tribute of loving thanks. Just as a parent will give a child some money in order that the child may go and buy the giver a birthday present, so God gives to us hearts, and enriches them with many bestowments. He scatters round about us good from His hand, like drops of a fragrant perfume from a blazing torch, in order that we may catch them up and have some portion of the joy which is especially His own -- the joy of giving. It would be a poor affair if our sole relation to God were that of receiving. It would be a tyrannous affair if our sole relation to God were that of rendering up. But both relations are united, and if it be 'more blessed to give than to receive,' the Giver of all good does not leave us without the opportunity of entering in even to that superlative blessing. We have to come to Him and say, when we lay the gifts, either of our faculties or of our trust, of our riches or of our virtues, at His feet, 'All things come of Thee, and of Thine own have we given Thee.'
He asks for our sakes, and not for His own. 'If I were hungry I would not tell thee, for the cattle upon a thousand hills are Mine. Offer unto God praise, and pay thy vows unto the Most High.' It is blessed to us to render. He is none the richer for all our giving, as He is none the poorer for all His. Yet His giving to us is real, and our giving is real and a joy to Him. That is the truth lifted up against the slander of the natural heart. God is love, pure giving, unlimited and perpetual disposition to bestow. He gives all things before He asks for anything, and when He asks for anything it is that we may be blessed.
But you say, 'That is all very well -- where do you learn all that about God?' My answer is a very simple one. I learn it, and I believe there is no other place to learn it, at the Cross of Jesus Christ. If that be the very apex of the divine love and self-revelation; if, looking upon it, we understand God better than by any other means, then there can be no question but that instead of gathering where He has not strawed, and reaping where He has not sown, God is only, and always, and utterly, and to every man, infinite love that bestows itself. My heart says to me many a time, 'God's laws are hard, God's judgment is strict. God requires what you cannot give. Crouch before Him, and be afraid.' And my faith says, 'Get thee behind me, Satan!' 'He that spared not His own Son, ... how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?' The Cross of Christ is the answer to the slander, and the revelation of the giving God.
II. Secondly, mark here the fear that dogs such a thought, and the love that casts out the fear.
'I was afraid.' Yes, of course. If a man is not a fool, his emotions follow his thoughts, and his thoughts ought to shape his emotions. And wherever there is the twilight of uncertainty upon the great lesson that the Cross of Jesus Christ has taught us, there there will be, however masked and however modified by other thoughts, deep in the human heart, a perhaps unspoken, but not therefore ineffectual, dread of God. Just as the misconception of the divine character does influence many a life in which it has never been spoken articulately, and needs some steady observation of ourselves to be detected, so is it with this dread of Him. Carry the task of self-examination a little further, and ask yourselves whether there does not lie coiled in many of your hearts this dread of God, like a sleeping snake which only needs a little warmth to be awakened to sting. There are all the signs of it. There are many of you who have a distinct indisposition to be brought close up to the thought of Him. There are many of you who have a distinct sense of discomfort when you are pressed against the realities of the Christian religion. There are many of you who, though you cover it over with a shallow confidence, or endeavour to persuade yourselves into speculative doubts about the divine nature, or hide it from yourselves by indifference, yet know that all that is very thin ice, and that there is a great black pool down below -- -a dread at the heart, of a righteous Judge somewhere, with whom you have somewhat to do, that you cannot shake off. I do not want to appeal to fear, but it goes to one's heart to see the hundreds and thousands of people round about us who, just because they are afraid of God, will not think about Him, put away angrily and impatiently solemn words like these that I am trying to speak, and seek to surround themselves with some kind of a fool's paradise of indifference, and to shut their eyes to facts and realities. You do not confess it to yourselves. What kind of a thought must that be about your relation to God which you are afraid to speak? Some of you remember the awful words in one of Shakespeare's plays: 'Now I, to comfort him, bid him he should not think of God. I hoped there was no need to trouble himself with any such thoughts yet.' What does that teach us? 'I knew Thee that Thou art an hard man; and I was afraid.'
Dear friend, there are two religions in this world: there is the religion of fear, and there is the religion of love; and if you have not the one, you must have the other, if you have any at all. The only way to get perfect love that casts out fear is to be quite sure of the Father-love in heaven that begets it. And the only way to be sure of the infinite love in the heavens that kindles some little spark of love in our hearts here, is to go to Christ and learn the lesson that He reveals to us at His Cross. Love will annihilate the fear; or rather, if I may take such a figure, will set a light to the wreathing smoke that rises, and flash it all up into a ruddy flame. For the perfect love that casts out fear sublimes it into reverence and changes it into trust. Have you got that love, and did you get it at Christ's Cross?
III. Lastly, mark the torpor of fear and the activity of love. 'I was afraid, and I went and hid thy talent in the earth.'
Fear paralyses service, cuts the nerve of activity, makes a man refuse obedience to God. It was a very illogical thing of that indolent servant to say, 'I knew that you were so hard in exacting what was due to you that therefore I determined not to give it to you.' Is it more illogical and more absurd than what hundreds of men and women round about us do to-day, when they say, 'God's requirements are so great that I do not attempt to fulfil them'? One would have thought that he would have reasoned the other way, and said, 'Because I knew that Thy requirements were so great and severe, therefore I put myself with all my powers to my work.' Not so. Logical or illogical, the result remains, that that thought of God, that black drop of gall, in many a heart, stops the action of the hand. Fear is barren, or if it produces anything it is nothing to the purpose, and it brings gifts that not even God's love can accept, for there is no love in them. Fear is barren; Love is fruitful -- like the two mountains of Samaria, from one of which the rolling burden of the curses of the Law was thundered, and from the other of which the sweet words of promise and of blessing were chanted in musical response. On the one side are black rocks, without a blade of grass on them, the Mount of Cursing; on the other side are blushing grapes and vineyards, the Mount of Blessing. Love moves to action, fear paralyses into indolence. And the reason why such hosts of you do nothing for God is because your hearts have never been touched with the thorough conviction that He has done everything for you, and asks you but to love Him back again, and bring Him your hearts. These dark thoughts are like the frost which binds the ground in iron fetters, making all the little flowers that were beginning to push their heads into the light shrink back again. And love, when it comes, will come like the west wind and the sunshine of the Spring; and before its emancipating fingers the earth's fetters will be cast aside, and the white snowdrops and the yellow crocuses will show themselves above the ground. If you want your hearts to bear any fruit of noble living, and holy consecration, and pure deeds, then here is the process -- Begin with the knowledge and belief of 'the love which God hath to us'; learn that at the Cross, and let it silence your doubts, and send them back to their kennels, silenced. Then take the next step, and love Him back again. 'We love Him because He first loved us.' That love will be the productive principle of all glad obedience, and you will keep His commandments, and here upon earth find, as the faithful servant found, that talents used increase; and yonder will receive the eulogium from His lips whom to please is blessedness, by whom to be praised is heaven's glory, 'Well done! good and faithful servant.'