We have here the parable of the talents committed to three servants; this implies that we are in a state of work and business, as the former implies that we are in a state of expectancy. That showed the necessity of habitual preparation, this of actual diligence in our present work and service. In that we were stirred up to do well for our own souls; in this to lay out ourselves for the glory of God and the good of others.
In this parable, 1. The Master is Christ, who is the absolute Owner and Proprietor of all persons and things, and in a special manner of his church; into his hands all things are delivered. 2. The servants are Christians, his own servants, so they are called; born in his house, bought with his money, devoted to his praise, and employed in his work. It is probable that ministers are specially intended here, who are more immediately attending on him, and sent by him. St. Paul often calls himself a servant of Jesus Christ. See 2 Tim. 2:24.
We have three things, in general, in this parable.
I. The trust committed to these servants; Their master delivered to them his goods: having appointed them to work (for Christ keeps no servants to be idle), he left them something to work upon. Note, 1. Christ’s servants have and receive their all from him; for they are of themselves worth nothing, nor have any thing they can call their own but sin. 2. Our receiving from Christ is in order to our working for him. Our privileges are intended to find us with business. The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. 3. Whatever we receive to be made use of for Christ, still the property is vested in him; we are but tenants upon his land, stewards of his manifold grace, 1 Pet. 4:10. Now observe here,
(1.) On what occasion this trust was committed to these servants: The master was travelling into a far country. This is explained, Eph. 4:8. When he ascended on high, he gave gifts to men. Note, [1.] When Christ went to heaven, he was as a man travelling into a far country; that is, he went with a purpose to be away a great while. [2.] When he went, he took care to furnish his church with all things necessary for it during his personal absence. For, and in consideration of, his departure, he committed to his church truths, laws, promises and powers; these were the parakatatheke—the great depositum (as it is called, 1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:14), the good thing that is committed to us; and he sent his Spirit to enable his servants to teach and profess those truths, to press and observe those laws, to improve and apply those promises, and to exercise and employ those powers, ordinary or extraordinary. Thus Christ, at his ascension, left his goods to his church.
(2.) In what proportion this trust was committed. [1.] He gave talents; a talent of silver is computed to be in our money three hundred and fifty-three pounds eleven shillings and ten pence halfpenny; so the learned Bishop Cumberland. Note, Christ’s gifts are rich and valuable, the purchases of his blood inestimable, and none of them mean. [2.] He gave to some more, to others less; to one five talents, to another two, to another one; to every one according to his several ability. When Divine Providence has made a difference in men’s ability, as to mind, body, estate, relation, and interest, divine grace dispenses spiritual gifts accordingly, but still the ability itself is from him. Observe, First, Every one had some one talent at least, and that is not a despicable stock for a poor servant to begin with. A soul of our own is the one talent we are every one of us entrusted with, and it will find us with work. Hoc nempe ab homine exigiture, ut prosit hominibus; si fieri potest, multis; si minus, paucis; si minus, proximis, si minus, sibi: nam cum se utilem caeteris efficit, commune agit negotium. Et si quis bene de se meretur, hoc ipso aliis prodest quod aliis profuturum parat—It is the duty of a man to render himself beneficial to those around him; to a great number if possible; but if this is denied him, to a few; to his intimate connections; or, at least, to himself. He that is useful to others, may be reckoned a common good. And whoever entitles himself to his own approbation, is serviceable to others, as forming himself to those habits which will result in their favour. Seneca de Otio Sapient. Secondly, All had not alike, for they had not all alike abilities and opportunities. God is a free Agent, dividing to every man severally as he will; some are cut out for service in one kind, others in another, as the members of the natural body. When the householder had thus settled his affairs, he straightway took his journey. Our Lord Jesus, when he had given commandments to his apostles, as one in haste to be gone, went to heaven.
II. The different management and improvement of this trust, which we have an account of, Matt. 25:16-18.
1. Two of the servants did well.
(1.) They were diligent and faithful; They went, and traded; they put the money they were entrusted with, to the use for which it was intended—laid it out in goods, and made returns of it; as soon as ever their master was gone, they immediately applied themselves to their business. Those that have so much work to do, as every Christian has, need to set about it quickly, and lose not time. They went, and traded. Note, A true Christian is a spiritual tradesman. Trades are called mysteries, and without controversy great is the mystery of godliness; it is a manufacture trade; there is something to be done by upon our own hearts, and for the good of others. It is a merchant-trade; things of less value to us are parted with for things of greater value; wisdom’s merchandize, Prov. 3:15; Matt. 13:45. A tradesman is one who, having made his trade his choice, and taken pains to learn it, makes it his business to follow it, lays out all he has for the advancement of it, makes all other affairs bend to it, and lives upon the gain of it. Thus does a true Christian act in the work of religion; we have no stock of our own to trade with, but trade as factors with our master’s stock. The endowments of the mind—reason, wit, learning, must be used in subserviency to religion; the enjoyments of the world—estate, credit, interest, power, preferment, must be improved for the honour of Christ. The ordinances of the gospel, and our opportunities of attending them, bibles, ministers, sabbaths, sacraments, must be improved for the end for which they were instituted, and communion with God kept up by them, and the gifts and graces of the Spirit must be exercised; and this is trading with our talents.
(2.) They were successful; they doubled their stock, and in a little time made cent. per cent. of it: he that had five talents, soon made them other five. Trading with our talents is not alway successful with others, but, however, it shall be so to ourselves, Isa. 49:4. Note, The hand of the diligent makes rich in graces, and comforts, and treasures of good works. There is a great deal to be got by industry in religion.
Observe, The returns were in proportion to the receivings. [1.] From those to whom God hath given five talents, he expects the improvement of five, and to reap plentifully where he sows plentifully. The greater gifts any have, the more pains they ought to take, as those must that have a large stock to manage. [2.] From those to whom he has given but two talents, he expects only the improvement of two, which may encourage those who are placed in a lower and narrower sphere of usefulness; if they lay out themselves to do good according to the best of their capacity and opportunity, they shall be accepted, though they do not so much good as others.
2. The third did ill (Matt. 25:18); He that had received one talent, went, and hid his lord’s money. Though the parable represents but one in three unfaithful, yet in a history that answers this parable, we find the disproportion quite the other way, when ten lepers were cleansed, nine of ten hid the talent, and only one returned to give thanks, Luke 17:17, 18. The unfaithful servant was he that had but one talent: doubtless there are many that have five talents, and bury them all; great abilities, great advantages, and yet do no good with them: but Christ would hint to us, (1.) That if he that had but one talent, be reckoned with thus for burying that one, much more will they be accounted offenders, that have more, that have many, and bury them. If he that was but of small capacity, was cast into utter darkness because he did not improve what he had as he might have done, of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, that tramples underfoot the greatest advantages? (2.) That those who have least to do for God, frequently do least of what they have to do. Some make it an excuse for their laziness, that they have not the opportunities of serving God that others have; and because they have not wherewithal to do what they say they would, they will not do what we are sure they can, and so sit down and do nothing; it is really an aggravation of their sloth, that when they have but one talent to take care about, they neglect that one.
He digged in the earth, and hid the talent, for fear it should be stolen; he did not misspend or misemploy it, did not embezzle it or squander it away, but he hid it. Money is like manure (so my Lord Bacon used to say,) good for nothing in the heap, but it must be spread; yet it is an evil which we have often seen under the sun, treasure heaped together (Jas. 5:3; Eccl. 6:1, 2), which does good to nobody; and so it is in spiritual gifts; many have them, and make no use of them for the end for which they were given them. Those that have estates, and do not lay them out in works of piety and charity; that have power and interest, and do not with it promote religion in the places where they live; ministers that have capacities and opportunities of doing good, but do not stir up the gift that is in them, are those slothful servants that seek their own things more than Christ’s.
He hid his lord’s money; had it been his own, he might have done as he pleased; but, whatever abilities and advantages we have, they are not our own, we are but stewards of them, and must give account to our Lord, whose goods they are. It was an aggravation of his slothfulness, that his fellow-servants were busy and successful in trading, and their zeal should have provoked his. Are others active, and shall we be idle?
III. The account of this improvement, Matt. 25:19. 1. The account is deferred; it is not till after a long time that they are reckoned with; not that the master neglects his affairs, or that God is slack concerning his promise (2 Pet. 3:9); no, he is ready to judge (1 Pet. 4:5); but every thing must be done in its time and order. 2. Yet the day of account comes at last; The lord of those servants reckoneth with them. Note, The stewards of the manifold grace of God must shortly give account of their stewardship. We must all be reckoned with—what good we have got to our own souls, and what good we have done to others by the advantages we have enjoyed. See Rom. 14:10, 11. Now here is,
(1.) The good account of the faithful servants; and here observe,
[1.] The servants giving up the account (Matt. 25:20, 22); “Lord, thou deliveredst to me five talents, and to me two; behold, I have gained five talents, and I two talents more.”
First, Christ’s faithful servants acknowledge with thankfulness his vouchsafements to them; Lord, thou deliveredst to me such and such things. Note, 1. It is good to keep a particular account of our receivings from God, to remember what we have received, that we may know what is expected from us, and may render according to the benefit. 2. We must never look upon our improvements but with a general mention of God’s favour to us, of the honour he has put upon us, in entrusting us with his goods, and of that grace which is the spring and fountain of all the good that is in us or is done by us. For the truth is, the more we do for God, the more we are indebted to him for making use of us, and enabling us, for his service.
Secondly, They produce, as an evidence of their faithfulness, what they have gained. Note, God’s good stewards have something to show for their diligence; Show me thy faith by thy works. He that is a good man, let him show it, Jas. 3:13. If we be careful in our spiritual trade, it will soon be seen by us, and our works will follow us, Rev. 14:13. Not that the saints will in the great day make mention of their own good deeds; no, Christ will do that for them (Matt. 25:35); but it intimates that they who faithfully improve their talents, shall have boldness in the day of Christ, 1 John 2:28-4:17. And it is observable that he who had but two talents, gave up his account as cheerfully as he who had five; for our comfort, in the day of account, will be according to our faithfulness, not according to our usefulness; our sincerity, not our success; according to the uprightness of our hearts, not according to the degree of our opportunities.
[2.] The master’s acceptance and approbation of their account, Matt. 25:21, 23.
First, He commended them; Well done, good and faithful servant. Note, The diligence and integrity of those who approve themselves the good and faithful servants of Jesus Christ, will certainly be found to praise, and honour, and glory, at his appearing, 1 Pet. 1:7. Those that own and honour God now, he will own and honour shortly. 1. Their persons will be accepted; Thou good and faithful servant. He that knows the integrity of his servants now, will witness to it in the great day; and they that are found faithful, shall be called so. Perhaps they were censured by men, as righteous overmuch; but Christ will give them their just characters, of good and faithful. 2. Their performances will be accepted; Well done. Christ will call those, and those only, good servants, that have done well; for it is by patient continuance in well-doing that we seek for this glory and honour; and if we seek, we shall find; if we do that which is good, and do it well, we shall have praise of the same. Some masters are so morose, that they will not commend their servants, though they do their work ever so well; it is thought enough not to chide: but Christ will commend his servants that do well; whether their praise be of men or not, it is of him; and if we have the good word of our Master, the matter is not great what our fellow-servants say of us; if he saith, Well done, we are happy, and it should then be a small thing to us to be judged of men’s judgment; as, on the contrary, not he who commendeth himself, or whom his neighbours commend, is approved, but whom the Lord commends.
Secondly, He rewards them. The faithful servants of Christ shall not be put off with bare commendation; no, all their work and labour of love shall be rewarded.
Now this reward is here expressed two ways.
1. In one expression agreeable to the parable; Thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things. It is usual in the courts of princes, and families of great men, to advance those to higher offices, that have been faithful in lower. Note, Christ is a master that will prefer his servants who acquit themselves well. Christ has honour in store for those that honour him—a crown (2 Tim. 4:8), a throne (Rev. 3:21), a kingdom, Matt. 25:34. Here they are beggars; in heaven they shall be rulers. The upright shall have dominion: Christ’s servants are all princes.
Observe the disproportion between the work and the reward; there are but few things in which the saints are serviceable to the glory of God, but there are many things wherein they shall be glorified with God. What charge we receive from God, what work we do for God in this world, is but little, very little, compared with the joy set before us. Put together all our service, all our sufferings, all our improvements, all the good we do to others, all we get to ourselves, and they are but a few things, next to nothing, not worthy to be compared, not fit to be named the same day with the glory to be revealed.
2. In another expression, which slips out of the parable into the thing signified by it; Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord. Note, (1.) The state of the blessed is a state of joy, not only because all tears shall then be wiped away, but all the springs of comfort shall be opened to them, and the fountains of joy broken up. Where there are the vision and fruition of God, a perfection of holiness, and the society of the blessed, there cannot but be a fulness of joy. (2.) This joy is the joy of their Lord; the joy which he himself has purchased and provided for them; the joy of the redeemed, bought with the sorrow of the Redeemer. It is the joy which he himself is in the possession of, and which he had his eye upon when he endured the cross, and despised the shame, Heb. 12:2. It is the joy of which he himself is the fountain and centre. It is the joy of our Lord, for it is joy in the Lord, who is our exceeding joy. Abraham was not willing that the steward of his house, though faithful, should be his heir (Gen. 15:3); but Christ admits his faithful stewards into his own joy, to be joint-heirs with him. (3.) Glorified saints shall enter into this joy, shall have a full and complete possession of it, as the heir when he comes of age enters upon his estate, or as they that were ready, went in to the marriage feast. Here the joy of our Lord enters into the saints, in the earnest of the Spirit; shortly they shall enter into it, shall be in it to eternity, as in their element.
(2.) The bad account of the slothful servant. Observe,
[1.] His apology for himself, Matt. 25:24, 25. Though he had received but one talent, for that one he is called to account. The smallness of our receiving will not excuse us from a reckoning. None shall be called to an account for more than they have received; but for what we have, we must all account.
Observe, First, What he confides in. He comes to the account with a deal of assurance, relying on the plea he had to put in, that he was able to say, “Lo, there thou hast that is thine; if I have not made it more, as the others have done, yet this I can say, I have not made it less.” This, he thinks, may serve to bring him off, if not with praise, yet with safety.
Note, Many a one goes very securely to judgment, presuming upon the validity of a plea that will be overruled as vain and frivolous. Slothful professors, that are afraid of doing too much for God, yet hope to come off as well as those that take so much pains in religion. Thus the sluggard is wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason, Prov. 26:16. This servant thought that his account would pass well enough, because he could say, There thou hast that is thine. “Lord, I was no spendthrift of my estate, no prodigal of my time, no profaner of my sabbaths, no opposer of good ministers and good preaching; Lord, I never ridiculed my bible, nor set my wits to work to banter religion, nor abused my power to persecute any good man; I never drowned my parts, nor wasted God’s good creatures in drunkenness and gluttony, nor ever to my knowledge did I injury to any body.” Many that are called Christians, build great hopes for heaven upon their being able to make such an account; yet all this amounts to no more than there thou hast that is thine; as if no more were required, or could be expected.
Secondly, What he confesses. He owns the burying of his talent; I hid thy talent in the earth. He speaks as if that were no great fault; nay, as if he deserved praise for his prudence in putting it in a safe place, and running no hazards with it. Note, It is common for people to make a very light matter of that which will be their condemnation in the great day. Or, if he was conscious to himself that it was his fault, it intimates how easily slothful servants will be convicted in the judgment; there will need no great search for proof, for their own tongues shall fall upon them.
Thirdly, What he makes his excuse; I knew that thou were a hard man, and I was afraid. Good thought of God would beget love, and that love would make us diligent and faithful; but hard thoughts of God beget fear, and that fear makes us slothful and unfaithful. His excuse bespeaks.
1. The sentiments of an enemy; I knew thee, that thou art a hard man. This was like that wicked saying of the house of Israel, The way of the Lord is not equal, Ezek. 18:25. Thus his defence is his offence. The foolishness of man perverteth his way, and then, as if that would mend the matter, his heart fretteth against the Lord. This is covering the transgression, as Adam, who implicitly laid the fault on God himself; The woman which thou gavest me. Note, Carnal hearts are apt to conceive false and wicked opinions concerning God, and with them to harden themselves in their evil ways. Observe how confidently he speaks; I knew thee to be so. How could he know him to be so? What iniquity have we or our fathers found in him? Jer. 2:5. Wherein has he wearied us with his work, or deceived us in his wages? Mic. 6:3. Has he been a wilderness to us, or a land of darkness? Thus long God has governed the world, and may ask with more reason than Samuel himself could, Whom have I defrauded? or whom have I oppressed? Does not all the world know the contrary, that he is so far from being a hard master, that the earth is full of his goodness, so far from reaping where he sowed not, that he sows a great deal where he reaps nothing? For he causes the sun to shine, and his rain to fall, upon the evil and unthankful, and fills their hearts with food and gladness who say to the Almighty, Depart from us. This suggestion bespeaks the common reproach which wicked people cast upon God, as if all the blame of their sin and ruin lay at his door, for denying them his grace; whereas it is certain that never any who faithfully improved the common grace they had, perished for want of special grace; nor can any show what could in reason have been done more for an unfruitful vineyard than God has done in it. God does not demand brick, and deny straw; no, whatever is required in the covenant, is promised in the covenant; so that if we perish, it is owing to ourselves.
2. The spirit of a slave; I was afraid, This ill affection toward God arose from his false notions of him; and nothing is more unworthy of God, nor more hinders our duty to him, than slavish fear. This has bondage and torment, and is directly opposite to that entire love which the great commandment requires. Note, Hard thoughts of God drive us from, and cramp us in his service. Those who think it impossible to please him, and in vain to serve him, will do nothing to purpose in religion.
[2.] His Lord’s answer to this apology. His plea will stand him in no stead, it is overruled, nay, it is made to turn against him, and he is struck speechless with it; for here we have his conviction and his condemnation.
First, His conviction, Matt. 25:26, 27. Two things he is convicted of.
1. Slothfulness; Thou wicked and slothful servant. Note, Slothful servants are wicked servants, and will be reckoned with as such by their master, for he that is slothful in his work, and neglects the good that God has commanded, is brother to him that is a great waster, by doing the evil that God has forbidden, Prov. 18:9. He that is careless in God’s work, is near akin to him that is busy in the devil’s work. Satis est mali nihil fecisse boni—To do no good is to incur very serious blame. Omissions are sins, and must come into judgment; slothfulness makes way for wickedness; all become filthy, for there is none that doeth good, Ps. 14:3. When the house is empty, the unclean spirit takes possession. Those that are idle in the affairs of their souls, are not only idle, but something worse, 1 Tim. 5:13. When men sleep, the enemy sows tares.
2. Self-contradiction (Matt. 25:26, 27); Thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not: thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers. Note, The hard thoughts which sinners have of God, though false and unjust, will be so far from justifying their wickedness and slothfulness, that they will rather aggravate and add to their guilt. Three ways this may be taken; (1.) “Suppose I had been so hard a master, shouldest not thou therefore have been the more diligent and careful to please me, if not for love, yet for fear, and for that reason oughtest not thou to have minded thy work?” If our God is a consuming fire, in consideration of that let us study how to serve him. Or thus, (2.) “If thou didst think me to be a hard master, and therefore durst not trade with the money thyself, for fear of losing by it, and being made to stand to the loss, yet thou mightest have put it into the hands of the exchangers, or goldsmith, mightest have brought it into the bank, and then at my coming, if I could not have had the greater improvement, by trade and merchandize (as of the other talents), yet I might have had the less improvement, of bare interest, and should have received my own with usury;” which, it seems, was a common practice at that time, and not disallowed by our Saviour. Note, If we could not, or durst not, do what we would, yet that excuse will not serve, when it will be made to appear that we did not do what we could and durst. If we could not find in our hearts to venture upon more difficult and hazardous services, yet will that justify us in shrinking from those that were more safe and easy? Something is better than nothing; if we fail of showing our courage in bold enterprises, yet we must not fail to testify our good will in honest endeavours; and our Master will not despise the day of small things. Or thus, (3.) “Suppose I did reap where I sowed not, yet that is nothing to thee, for I had sowed upon thee, and the talent was my money which thou wast entrusted with, not only to keep, but to improve.” Note, In the day of account, wicked and slothful servants will be left quite without excuse; frivolous pleas will be overruled, and every mouth will be stopped; and those who now stand so much upon their own justification will not have one word to say for themselves.
Secondly, His condemnation. The slothful servant is sentenced.
1. To be deprived of his talent (Matt. 25:28, 29); Take therefore the talent from him. The talents were first disposed of by the Master, as an absolute Owner, but this was now disposed of by him as a Judge; he takes it from the unfaithful servant, to punish him, and gives it to him that was eminently faithful, to reward him. And the meaning of this part of the parable we have in the reason of the sentence (Matt. 25:29), To every one that hath shall be given. This may be applied, (1.) To the blessings of this life—worldly wealth and possessions. These we are entrusted with, to be used for the glory of God, and the good of those about us. Now he that hath these things, and useth them for these ends, he shall have abundance; perhaps abundance of the things themselves, at least, abundance of comfort in them, and of better things; but from him that hath not, that is, that hath these things as if he had them not, had not power to eat of them, or to do good with (Avaro deest, tam quod habet, quam quod non habet—The miser may be considered as destitute of what he has, as well as of what he has not), they shall be taken away. Solomon explains this, Prov. 11:24. There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, and it tendeth to poverty. Giving to the poor is trading with what we have, and the returns will be rich; it will multiply the meal in the barrel, and the oil in the cruse: but those that are sordid, and niggardly, and uncharitable, will find that those riches which are so got, perish by evil travail, Eccl. 5:13, 14. Sometimes Providence strangely transfers estates from those that do no good with them to those that do; they are gathered for him that will pity the poor, Prov. 28:8. See Prov. 13:22; Job 27:16, 17; Eccl. 2:26. (2.) We may apply it to the means of grace. They who are diligent in improving the opportunities they have, God will enlarge them, will set before them an open door (Rev. 3:8); but they who know not the day of their visitation, shall have the things that belong to their peace hid from their eyes. For proof of this, go see what God did to Shiloh, Jer. 7:12. (3.) We may apply it to the common gifts of the Spirit. He that hath these, and doeth good with them, shall have abundance; these gifts improve by exercise, and brighten by being used; the more we do, the more we may do, in religion; but those who stir not up the gift that is in them, who do not exert themselves according to their capacity, their gifts rust, and decay, and go out like a neglected fire. From his that hath not a living principle of grace in his soul, shall be taken away the common gifts which he hath, as the lamps of the foolish virgins went out for want of oil, Matt. 25:8. Thus the arm of the idle shepherd, which he had sluggishly folded up in his bosom, comes to be dried up, and his right eye, which he had carelessly or wilfully shut, becomes utterly darkened, as it is threatened, Zech. 11:17.
2. He is sentenced to be cast into outer darkness, Matt. 25:30. Here,
(1.) His character is that of an unprofitable servant. Note, Slothful servants will be reckoned with as unprofitable servants, who do nothing to the purpose of their coming into the world, nothing to answer the end of their birth or baptism, who are no way serviceable to the glory of God, the good of others, or the salvation of their own souls. A slothful servant is a withered member in the body, a barren tree in the vineyard, an idle drone in the hive, he is good for nothing. In one sense, we are all unprofitable servants (Luke 17:10); we cannot profit God, Job 22:2. But to others, and to ourselves, it is required that we be profitable; if we be not, Christ will not own us as his servants: it is not enough not to do hurt, but we must do good, must bring forth fruit, and though thereby God is not profited, yet he is glorified, John 15:8.
(2.) His doom is, to be cast into outer darkness. Here, as in what was said to the faithful servants, our Saviour slides insensibly out of the parable into the thing intended by it, and it serves as a key to the whole; for, outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, is, in Christ’s discourses, the common periphrasis of the miseries of the damned in hell. Their state is, [1.] Very dismal; it is outer darkness. Darkness is uncomfortable and frightful: it was one of the plagues of Egypt. In hell there are chains of darkness, 2 Pet. 2:4. In the dark no man can work, a fit punishment for a slothful servant. It is outer darkness, out from the light of heaven, out from the joy of their Lord, into which the faithful servants were admitted; out from the feast. Compare Matt. 8:12; 22:13. [2.] Very doleful; there is weeping, which bespeaks great sorrow, and gnashing of teeth, which bespeaks great vexation and indignation. This will be the portion of the slothful servant.