The Entrusted Talents.
"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. 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. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money. After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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: and I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine. 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: thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. 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. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." -- MATT. xxv.14-30.

The owner of a large property has occasion to leave the country for a time and reside in a foreign land. His possessions, consisting of "his own servants" and "his goods," must necessarily be left in the country, and naturally he considers how he may so dispose of them during the interval that they may yield to him the largest profit at his return. Two distinct principles were open to his choice corresponding to the methods of day's-wages and piece-work in modern social economics; he might either confide to his servants generally the management of his estate, and give them wages according to time, or give each a certain amount of capital, to be exclusively at his own disposal, promising to reward him according to his diligence and success. The latter method is obviously the one which contains a spring within itself constantly urging to diligence. With a set of slaves who are ignorant, degraded, and suspicious, this plan would not be practicable, but if the men possess a certain amount of moral principle, self-reliance, and intelligence, it is safest and best.

The master accordingly, counting on the good-will and honesty of his dependants, frankly entrusts each with a certain amount of capital, graduated according to their capacity for business. Nothing is said in the record regarding the terms of the compact, but it is implied that these were clearly understood between the parties. The money was given in order that it might be laid out to the best advantage, primarily for the owner's interest, and secondarily for the due remuneration of the faithful servant. This practice was carried to a great extent among the Romans; the owner of a skilful slave could make a greater profit by giving scope to the man's energies than by confining him forcibly to menial occupation.

It is by no means necessary to determine the precise character of the bond which united the servant to his master in this case. The circumstances of the parable will suit equally the supposition of absolute right on the part of the master and a voluntary contract between him and his servant for a limited time. Whatever may have been the amount of service due to the master at the time of his departure, -- whether the whole life and energy of a slave, or a limited quantity of work from a servant, -- that service was his property, and he desired to turn it to the best account.

Two of the servants traded with the capital entrusted to their charge and doubled it ere the master returned; one from a morbid dread of his master's severity, coupled with indolence in his personal habits, hid the money in the ground, thereby deliberately sacrificing his master's profit in order that himself might incur no risk. The two who had successfully traded were commended and rewarded; the one who allowed his talent to lie idle was condemned and punished for his unfruitfulness, although no positive dishonesty was laid to his charge.[54]

[54] For the relation between the talents and the pounds, see the exposition of the latter parable, -- the last of the series.

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We are now ready to proceed with the exposition. The proprietor who went abroad represents Christ at the close of his ministry on earth leaving his disciples and ascending to heaven. His continued presence spiritually with his people is not inconsistent with this representation, for our parable deals with the bodily and the visible. His own servants, whom he called, like the ten virgins who went out to meet the bridegroom, represent the whole number of those who are called by his name and seem to be his disciples. The delivery of the master's goods to these servants intimates that the Lord gives to every member of the visible Church all his faculties and opportunities.

In this distribution different amounts are consigned to different persons. Here the representation obviously accords with the fact: of time, of intellect, of health, of learning, of wealth, scarcely any two persons possess a precisely equal portion. There is a clause here generally overlooked by expositors, but which must be intended to express some feature of importance, -- "to every one according to his several ability." We can easily understand it as it occurs in the story: the master, at the moment of his departure, graduated his gifts according to the abilities and acquirements of the servants that he might not throw a great responsibility on a weak man, or leave a man of vigour only half employed. What doctrine does this feature represent? Probably that, while all the gifts that a man possesses are bestowed by God, some, such as bodily constitution and mental capacity are conferred by God as governor of the world; while others are subsequently conferred by the Lord Jesus as the king and head of the Church. I am inclined to understand these latter gifts by the goods which the master bestowed on the eve of his departure; these gifts are in some way proportioned to the faculties of the receiver, so that one may not be oppressed and another left with inadequate occupation.

The one who received most and the one who received a medium amount of gifts and opportunities proved both faithful, and both faithful alike. Although the first did absolutely more for Christ and the world than the second, both were equally diligent and faithful according to their means. Examples both of the likeness and the difference occur by hundreds day by day before our eyes. A disciple with greater and a disciple with smaller endowments labour in the Lord's work with equal love, but the amount of fruit is greater where greater gifts and graces have been received and employed. We shall learn soon how the two cases are treated at the master's return, but in the meantime we have observed what the two cases are.

The servant who had received one talent went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money. The meaning of his conduct and its result we shall discover more fully when we reach the record of the reckoning; at present, and in general, we may understand that this man made no effort to serve his lord, but devoted himself exclusively to one aim, -- that he might be able to stand at last on the plea that he had at least done his lord no harm.

These three examples are obviously given in order to cover all cases: they represent an indefinite and all but infinite variety in the measure of the gifts.

Two are represented to have been diligent and only one indolent, but no information is thereby given regarding the proportions of mankind in general or within the Church who shall be found faithful in the great day. Two cases were required in order to show that, where the diligence of the workers is equal, the result may, in quantity, be unequal; and a third case was required to show that, besides some who lack the power to do much, there are some who lack the will to do anything at all; the numbers have no other meaning.

Another very important question is suggested here, -- What is meant by the representation that the person who possessed only one talent became unfaithful, rather than the person who possessed two, or the person who possessed five? It is precisely analogous to the representation contained in another parable that one man, and not ten or twenty, came to the marriage-feast without a marriage garment. Most certainly it does not mean that those who have few talents are more liable to be unfaithful than those who have many; and yet something is gained by making the servant who had received one talent rather than the servant who had received five, the example of unfaithfulness. It does not mean, If you have only one talent you will be unfaithful; but it does mean, Although you have only one talent, you will be condemned for unfaithfulness if you do not employ it. The lesson is much more emphatically given than if the servant who received five talents had proved unfaithful. Much of the master's property was entrusted to him: if he had permitted it to lie waste, and been punished accordingly, it might have been supposed that the essence of the guilt lay in the largeness of the loss. As it is faithfulness, without regard to the amount of capital at stake, that determines the sentence of approval; so it is unfaithfulness, without regard to the amount involved, that determines the sentence of condemnation. He who has least is bound to serve the Lord with what he has; and if he serve the Lord faithfully with little, he will be honoured and rewarded, while those who had greater gifts, but less diligence, will be cast out.

Every one possesses some talents. He who has bestowed them expects that we shall diligently improve them. He has departed, but he desires that we should act as in his presence. In this respect he is never absent -- "Lo, I am with you alway." Now is the time for laying out our gifts in the Lord's service; for it will be too late to begin, in terror, when he comes to judgment.

"After a long time the Lord of those servants cometh and reckoneth with them" (ver.19). The time is not long in the account of the Lord himself: his latest warning to the Church is, "Behold I come quickly;" and with him a thousand years are as one day. Nor is the time long to ungodly men; for in such an hour as they think not, the Son of man cometh. At whatever time he comes, he comes too soon for them who would give all the world, if it were theirs, that he should not come at all. But to the true disciples of Christ, especially in times of persecution, the period of his absence has often appeared long: they have often borrowed the unbeliever's cry, "Where is the promise of his coming?" and used it with a new significance. But to saints and sinners, whether they long for his presence or loathe it, he certainly will come at length.

The two who had received from their Lord unequal gifts, and had laid them out with equal faithfulness, give in their account with joy. They are equally approved; and either is rewarded with the fruit of his own diligence.

The case of the unfaithful one, in accordance with the obvious design of the parable, is given with much greater fulness of detail than those of the faithful two. Permitting our comment on this point to mould itself after the proportions of the text, we shall look more narrowly into this man's character and conduct. All the more willingly shall we devote the most of our attention to the darker side of the picture, that the evangelical obedience of the faithful servants may be most distinctly seen in the dark mirror of the opposite unfruitfulness.

In the case of the unprofitable servant, as it emerges in the latter portion of the parable, three points demand our attention separately and successively, -- the Reason, the Nature, and the Reward of his unfaithfulness.

1. The reason of his unfaithfulness, as explained by himself, is, "I knew thee that thou art an hard man," &c. The naive confession of this man is a very interesting feature of the story, and a very precious lesson to us regarding the deep things of God. Through this opening light is thrown at once upon the spring of continued disobedience in human hearts, and upon the nature of the remedy which the ailment needs.

Some persons take much pains to extol a good life at the expense of the mysteries of grace. They know not that they are endeavouring to break the upper links of a chain, while themselves are suspended on the lower. All the value of service rendered by intellectual and moral beings depends on the thoughts of God which they entertain; and the thoughts which they entertain of God depend on the attitude in which he presents himself to them -- that is, upon the revelation of the Father in the person and work of the Son.

Obviously the conception which this man had formed of his master's character, was the direct efficient cause of his unprofitable idleness. The picture, at this point, represents a human heart secretly conscious of guilt, not reconciled through the Gospel, and dreading the wrath of the righteous Judge. When one is at peace with God in the Redeemer, perfect love casteth out fear; but here, in the absence of this reconciliation, perfect fear casteth out love. Love is the fulfilling of the law; and without love there can, in God's sight, be no obedience. Thus, by a few links which can neither be obscured nor broken, active obedience is bound to faith in Christ. Where faith in the Mediator is wanting, God, as shown in a guilty conscience, is dreaded as an enemy; and such fear produces no obedience. You might as well sow stones in your field, and expect them to produce bread.

It is not necessary to examine in detail the continuation of the unfaithful servant's answer. When he had taken his ground on a sullen plea of not guilty which threw the blame upon his Lord, it was natural that he should endeavour to justify himself and fortify his position by specific averments of hard treatment; but the essence of his answer lies all in his first words, "I knew thee hard." The meaning cannot be mistaken here. These words do not make known to us what the master's character really was: the only thing which they determine is the servant's conception of the master's character. The servant's conduct is, in point of fact, regulated not by what the master absolutely is, but by what he is in the belief and regard of the servant.

The parable represents at once, with rich pictorial effect and strict logical exactness, the legal relation of sinful men to a righteous God, apart from the peace that comes through the Gospel. While you think of the Judge, recording now your thoughts, words, and actions, in order to render unto you what you deserve in the great day, you cannot love him, and you do not like to retain the knowledge of him in your mind. The Bible calls him good, and perhaps your lips have pronounced him good in your prayers and hymns; but what you really know of him in your heart is his hardness. This hard measure expected, haunts you like a spectre, and casts a dark shadow over your path. Whatever your ears may hear or your lips may speak, you know God only as the disturber of your joy in life, and the inexorable exactor of impossible penalties at last.

The natural and necessary, as well as actual result of this knowledge or conception of the master, is the utter idleness of the servant. Tell a criminal in chains that by his own hands he must remove yonder mountain into the sea in the space of one year, on pain of death when the year is done, and the certain result will be that the wretched man will permit the appointed time to expire without removing a single atom of its mass; but on the other hand, let it be gently intimated to some emancipated slaves that their service in removing earth from that mountain to the sea will please their deliverer, and forthwith they will carry with all their might, their burden meanwhile being their delight, because they have thereby an opportunity of serving the Lord that bought them. Thus the idleness of one servant is explained, and the activity of others.

2. As to its nature, the disobedience was not active but passive; he did not positively injure his master's property; he simply failed to turn it to profitable account. The terror of this servant was too lively to admit of his enjoying a debauch purchased by the treasure which had been placed under his charge. Fear is a powerful motive in certain directions and for certain effects; it makes itself felt in the heart, and leaves its mark on the life of a man. Like frost it has power to arrest the stream of energy, and fix it cold, stiff, motionless; only love can, like the sun of summer, break the chains and set the prisoner free to run his race rejoicing.

The passive character of the servant's fault greatly extends the sphere of the lesson, and increases the weight of its rebuke. If only positive activity in evil had been condemned, a multitude of the unfaithful would have escaped, or at least would have thought themselves exempted from the indictment. The bearers of poisonous fruit constitute a comparatively small class in the vegetable creation; the plants that bear no good fruit are much more numerous. Unfruitfulness includes both those that bear bad fruit and those that bear no fruit. The idleness of the servant who knew his master only as a hard man, reproves all except those who obey the Lord whom they love, and love the Lord whom they obey.

3. The reward of unfaithfulness is, "Take the talent from him and cast him out." In both parts the sentence of condemnation corresponds to its opposite in the reception of those who had been faithful to their trust. These retain their employed gifts; from him the unused talent is taken away. These are received into their master's favour; he is cast out of his master's sight.

It is worthy of remark that the execution of the sentence begins in time, and in its first stages lies within the reach of our observation. The portion of the sentence, moreover, which is inflicted in our sight, comes through the regular operation of law. The disuse of any personal faculty, surely, though gradually, takes the faculty away. Those who explain away the positive doctrines and facts of the Gospel, delight in representing that God does everything by the instrumentality of law. It is superstition, they say, to suppose that he will put forth his hand to arrest the mighty machinery of nature, with a view either to punish your guilt or reward your obedience. Here at least we can meet them on their own ground, and accept their rule. Let any member of the body, or any faculty of the mind lie dormant for a time, and by the very fact, its power is diminished or destroyed. It is a law of life that a talent becomes feeble in proportion as it has been left in idleness. It is not only true in point of fact that when we do not diligently lay out our gifts, the Giver recalls them; it is further true, that he recalls them in our sight by the silent operation of an inexorable law.

To waste life in the hope of getting all made right by an energetic repentance at the close, is a very foolish and mischievous species of superstition; it is the exercise of a very strong faith, without any promise from God on which it may lean. You seem to expect that God will arrest the operation of his own laws in order to afford you every facility for living in sin. In the Scriptures we read of an interference with the natural laws -- the sun standing still -- in order that the enemies of the Lord and his people might be destroyed; but you expect a greater miracle; -- you expect the Omnipotent to arrest the operation of his own laws, in order that his enemies may prosper now and escape at last. You expect that Jesus will work a miracle not to cast out the unclean spirit, but to maintain him in possession of a human heart. The disuse of the talent takes the talent away; this is the law of the kingdom; and it will not be changed in order to encourage the sinner in his sin.

"For unto every one that hath shall be given," &c. Obviously from the whole circumstances of the case, "to have" in this connection, means to possess and use aright. He who received only one talent was distinguished from him who received five, not by not having, but by not using. The law announced here is that they who employ well what they have, shall retain it all and receive more in addition; whereas they who do not rightly employ what they have, will be deprived of that which they possess but do not use.

Fearing lest I should darken counsel by words without knowledge, I leave the positive penal infliction, which takes effect beyond the precincts of this life, without one word of comment, in the short and solemn words of the Scripture, "Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

The sentence "Take it from him," goes before the sentence, "Cast him out." A sinner is given over to himself, before he is given up to judgment. The first prepares the way for the second death; the process is now going on by which the destiny is decided. Now is the accepted time; now either salvation or condemnation is wrought out.

See the process and the path of death; the steps are few and well marked. I knew thee hard, and I hid thy talent; take it from him, and cast him out. The corresponding steps on the other side are, I tasted thy tender mercy, and lovingly laid thy talent out; give the faithful servant more, and lead him into the joy of his Lord.

The stumbling-block at the outset that turned the unfaithful servant aside was his conception of the Lord as a hard master: it is the experience of the master's love that impels the servant forward in the path of duty. When we know God in Christ, we know him reconciled to ourselves. Christ, therefore, is the way; by him we go in to the Father for acceptance, and by him we go out for needful work upon the world. Without me ye can get nothing from God; "Without me ye can do nothing" for God.

xiii the ten virgins
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