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The servant who received but one talent represents those Christians who enjoyed but few advantages for their own improvement, or the benefit of others. The conduct of the servant in hiding his master's talent, and afterwards restoring it to him without being used, was intended to point out the disposition which some Christians might feel, to neglect the advantages they possess, and to offer excuses for their negligence, when called to account. The reply of the master shows how groundless their pretences are; that their conduct originated in slothfulness, and that therefore they are deservediy punished. There is a considerable resemblance between it and the parable of the housholder, who, having planted a vineyard, let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country, Matt. xxi. 33. The design of it is to show that a return would be expected from all Christians, in proportion to their advantages, and particularly that something would be expected from those who had received the fewest. The only instance of negligence occurs in the case of the servant who had received one talent; but we are not to infer hence that those who receive little are less inclined to improve it than those who receive much: the same instance of negligence was as likely to occur in any of the preceding cases.
1. We learn from this parable, in general, that a return will be expected from every Christian, in proportion to his advantages; and that, as his improvement of them has been, SO will be his reward: for although the day of reckoning here referred to seems to have been the virtual, and not the personal, coming of Christ, for the destruction of the Jewish state; yet the same principles of justice or equity, observed by Christ in passing sentence upon his disciples at that time, will, no doubt, be observed on the day of final judgment: for the rules of justice are eternal and unchangeable.
In the first place, then, let those who have received many talents remember, that much will be expected from them. Has God furnished you with superior understandings to the rest of mankind, or with more knowledge? He expects that you will take advantage of these benefits, not merely by promoting your own personal iinprovement in virtue and happiness, but likewise by promoting the good of others, by communicating to the world useful information; teaching them what may correct hurtful prejudices, or whatever may tend, in any way, to alleviate the miseries and advance the happiness of human life; particularly the important principles of religion, which are the best foundation of comfort and of true excellence. Have you a larger portion than your brethren of the good things of this life? Has Providence given you abundance? Larger returns of gratitude and thankfulness are expected from you, than from those who have been less favoured. The gifts of divine bounty are not to be all spent upon yourselves, or your immediate relatives: you are required to expend more than others in doing good; in relieving the wants of the poor; in paying for the instruction of the ignorant. If you have more time than is necessary to provide for the support of yourselves and your families, devote it to the service of the public: employ it in encouraging useful undertakings. Are you fur, nished with more power and authority than your brethren? Exert yourselves with greater zeal in doing justice to the weak and friendless; in restraining the oppression of the great; in preserving the peace and order of society. In whatever way you are distinguished by the bountiful hand of Providence, remember that this distinction brings with it additional duties.
2. Let not those who have received but little imagine that nothing will be expected from them. Are you but scantily furnished with the conveniences of life? Do you possess little knowledge, and less power? Say not that it is the business of those who are more highly favoured by Providence than yourselves, to attend to the improvement of their own minds, and study to promote the good of others: for something is expected from all, and from each in proportion to his circumstances. There is a sphere, in which even you may be useful, although it may be contracted: there are some who may be benefited by your services, and whose virtue and happiness depend upon the instructions and warnings which you may give them. Perform the duties of your station, however humble it may be, with diligence and fidelity; knowing that an account will be demanded of one talent, as well as of five; and remember, for your encouragement, that if you are faithful in a little, you will be entrusted with more.
Let all remember, whatever their station may be, whether placed in a higher or lower post, whether entrusted with few or with many talents, the doom of the unprofitable servant, who had made no use of his talents. They may learn from it that it is not sufficient excellence for a Christian, that he do no harm; it is sufficient ground to condemn him at the tribunal of Christ if he have done no good; if he have been merely useless and unprofitable. Let every man who wishes to avoid this doom seriously consider, what means of doing good to himself or others Providence has furnished him with; and let him employ them, with unceasing diligence, for this purpose.
Matthew xxv. 31. to the end. 31. 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.
In the two parables of the ten virgins and of the talents, given in the preceding part of this chapter, Jesus has been exhorting his disciples to watchfulness and diligence, from the consideration that the time of his coming for the destruction of the Jewish state was uncertain, and that when he came, a return would be expected from each of his disciples, according to the advantages which he had enjoyed; and that from him who had received least, something would be looked for. In this place he makes a transition from the subject of which he had been treating in this and the preceding chapter, his coming for the destruction of Jerusalem, to his appearance for judging the world at the last day; and his design seems to have been to encourage his disciples to a faithful discharge of their office, as preachers of the gospel, by representing men as rewarded or punished, according as they received or rejected them and their message.
On this occasion, his language and representations have much of the parable in them; being a feigned narrative, to illustrate a momentous subject, and to adapt it to the conceptions of his disciples. As kings, when they transact important business, are seated upon thrones, and surrounded by their ministers; so Christ, when he comes to judge the world, is represented as seated upon a throne, and attended by angels. This throne is called the throne of his glory, because he will then enter upon the most honourable and glorious part of his office, that of judging the world.
32. 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.
In the former verse Christ compares himself to a king; here, to a shepherd: for as a shepherd classes his flock, according to their nature and value, placing the sheep, the more useful part of them, by themselves, on one side; and on the other, the goats, the less valuable; so Christ, at the day of judgment, will separate good men from the wicked. The comparing of good men to sheep, and bad men to goats, is not entirely new: for we find the figure used by the prophet Ezekiel (xxxiv. 17.) and likewise by Zechariah (x. 3.) The persons assembled before the judge are said to be all nations, which must include Jews and Gentiles, the living and the dead; but it may be asked, in what place can so great a multitude be assembled, so that they shall be able to see their judge and each other? On account of this difficulty, it has been supposed that the representation here given is not to be understood literally, and that nothing more is intended, than that a separation shall then take place between the righteous and the wicked.
33. And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, in the most honourable place; but the goats on the left.
34. 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.
In this language there seems to be an allusion to that addressed by God to the children of Israel, when about to enter Canaan: for as that was a kingdom under God, the head and governor of the children of Israel, the inheritance of Christians in a future life is called by the same name: as the Israelites who observed the law of Moses were pronounced blessed of God, (See Deut. xxviii. 2, &c.); so those who observe the terms of the new covenant are said to be blessed of the Father: as the land of Canaan was designed for the children of Israel, from a very early period of time, and promised to their ancestor Abraham; so the new inheritance of Christians is said to have been prepared for them from the foundation of the world. This last cir. cumstance is introduced to show the great value of the inheritance; for the object which men keep in view for a long time, they esteem of great importance: we have next the ground upon which it is bestowed upon them: it was on account of their hospitality and kindness to the first preachers of the gospel, which was a proof