The parable of the pounds.
The parable of the pounds.
This parable closely resembles that reported in Matthew 25:14-30 . The two are undoubtedly different, but they have much in common. We cannot rightly understand each without balancing it by the other. Certainly we realize the full effect of their application when, to borrow an expressive figure, we look on them "as twin parables, resembling one of those trees whose main trunk separates just above the earth into two equal towering stems." Thus connecting them, let us extract a portion of the instruction conveyed, our topics these:
I. Observe the two principles which run in parallel lines as THE PRINCIPLES OF GOD 'S DISTRIBUTION OF ENDOWMENTS .
1 . The parable of the talents suggests an inequality in the gifts or faculties with which God enriches men: one gets five talents, another two, and another one. And this description is entirely consistent with fact. It is true as to even the commonest things; it is true as to higher qualities of intellect and will. There is no dead level. There are hills and plains; there are gardens and deserts in man's world as well as in the physical universe. God takes fact into account. He distributes according to ability; he imposes responsibility according to ability. He does not demand that the one with two talents make the ten—only the four. Let the vessel, according to its possibilities, be full; the smaller vessel is not required to hold the amount of the larger. One farm may not be as extensive as another, but it is still a farm. Cultivate to the measure of the farm; make full use of the capital such as it is. "What but this, O man, does the Lord thy God require of thee?"
2 . But observe the teaching in the parable of the pounds. If talents are unequally bestowed, remember every one has his pound. The pound was of very small value as compared with the talent—£3 or a little more as compared with £160. The ten servants get each one pound—the same sum in every case. We have varying capacity, but we have all some capacity—"a little knowledge, a little love, a little experience, a little money, a little favour with men, a little conscience, a little pity, a little time, a little opportunity.'' We have one mina, one pound. Work, my brother, with thy pound, rather with the pound that the Lord has given thee. It may be increased tenfold, and the gain is ( Matthew 25:17 ) a city for every added pound—a blessing in possession, and rule, wholly unmerited by, yet graciously corresponding to, the servant's faithfulness.
II. WHAT MEANS THE OCCUPYING OR TRADING WHICH THE LORD ENJOINS ON ALL TO WHOM HE GIVES HIS GOODS ? Let it be remembered that, in the olden time, the relation between master and servant was different from that in our time. It is not usual to leave sums of money to the servant to be put out by him in his master's behalf when he takes a journey into the far country. But it was a common practice to make such arrangements as allowed the slave to transact business, either on condition of paying a yearly sum to his master, or on the footing of a man with so much of another's wealth committed to his charge to be invested for the other's benefit. To this custom our Lord feints. "Occupy [or, 'trade '] till I come." The two persons opposed are the trader and the idler; and the striking feature is that the idler is denounced as "the slothful and wicked servant." All start with some advantages; they are not persons just hired; they have been in his service, they know his character, and they know what he wants. The one who does not trade is lying when he excuses himself; his slothfulness ( Matthew 25:22 ) is sheer wickedness. The point of the exhortation can very readily be apprehended. God wants his interest, as the merchant wants his. How is this interest to be gained? The purpose and destination of life must be kept steadily in view—
"Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end and way;
But to act that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day."
Recollect that the self in each of us connects with two factors—God who made us; and our brother, whose good is to be as sacred to us as our own. We cannot be making increase unless we are true to him whose we are, and to every one who is near us; unless both God and man are benefited, and benefited the more the greater our means and ability are. Consider how we can best lay out our influence, whatever that may be; how we can best use our time; how we can get the best percentage for whatever capacity, whatever force, we possess. As it is essential to a prosperous business that there be a good administration, reflect how we are administering the affairs with which, in one sphere or another, we are entrusted—in a word, on what plan, with what aim, and by what methods, our life is being fulfilled. Give two men five pounds each; in the hands of the one they may remain five pounds neither more nor less, or they will gradually melt away; the other will spend the sum wisely, will so invest it that it will increase to him tenfold. We have read the story of the successful merchant of Bristol—the beginning of whose merchant life was the horseshoe that he picked up one day on his way to school, and carried for three miles and sold to the blacksmith for a penny. That penny was the foundation of a business pronounced, after his death, the largest in the West of England, turning nearer millions than thousands in the course of the year. All was the result of the judicious use of that which he had. In our Christian life and service this is the lesson which we most need to learn. Is there not comfort in the thought that, whilst the talents increase only twice, the pounds increase ten times? The more ordinary gifts which we all have, when faithfully applied, are capable of indefinite increase. We cannot keep unless we add; and it is God's law that to him who, thus adding, has, much is given. In spiritual, as in every other kind of commerce, much always tends to the making of more. The trader and the idler! Notice, neither the talent nor the pound is absolutely lost. It is not a spendthrift who is held up to contempt. It is the awfully careful man. It is the one who hoards. "There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth … and it tendeth to poverty." Here is the one who withholds. And a distinction is delicately hinted at. The pound is carefully wrapped in the napkin; the man intends to do something with it when the convenient season comes; in the mean time it is safe in the napkin. But the talent is not in a napkin; it is hidden in the earth—"a precious thing," as it has been said, "made worthless because abandoned to be useless. And within how many a man's earthiness is there a talent hidden and wasted?" Take that thought home—the Master's antipathy to the idler. Who of us, in these harvest-days of God, is standing all the day idle?
III. Consider THE DEALING OF THE LORD WITH HIS SERVANTS . That is very striking and solemn as it is set before us in both the parables, especially the one as to the talents. In that of the pounds we are told only that the unused, napkin-hidden, pound is taken from the unprofitable servant and given to the one who has ten pounds. "Lord," his hearers exclaim, "he hath ten pounds" ( Matthew 25:25 ). The thriftiest, the most diligent, will get the addition. Why not? He has proved himself the ablest, the one who has given the most abundant guarantee that it will not be wasted. But in that of the talents the judgment is, "Let the unfaithful be bound hand and foot, and cast into the outer darkness." The wasted life, the life that has buried its force in mere earthiness, is that for which the outer darkness is reserved. The soul consigns itself to an unspeakable loneliness that, by indolence and engrossment with what is perishing, loses the grace of God. Abiding alone is the second death—the outer darkness. Most noteworthy are the scathing sentences to the poor trembling idler! How he stammers out his lame and impotent excuses ( Matthew 25:20 , Matthew 25:21 )! The very words are sent back. The mouth is the witness against the man. He might have known, should have known, if he had done right would have known, that his excuse was a falsehood. Hard thoughts of the Lord are certain if the Lord's work is shirked. The man would not be foolish if he were not wicked. O man, woman, with thy pound kept, but not traded with, who shall abide the day of his coming? who shall stand when he appeareth? Very different are the sentences on the nine who have been faithful, who have seen in their pound the Lord's pound, and traded with it for him. Humbly, joyfully, the first and the second meet the Master's eye ( Matthew 25:16 , Matthew 25:18 ). What is the award? It is so gracious ( Matthew 25:17 ): "Thou hast been faithful in a very little. " To faithful service, rule is given. The one who can best serve is the one who can best rule.
"Strive, man, to win that glory;
Toil, man, to gain that light;
Send hope before to grasp it,
Till hope be lost in sight."
Probation and award.
Jesus Christ here invites us to do two things.
I. TO TREAT THIS LIFE AS A TIME OF SACRED OPPORTUNITY . The "nobleman" of the parable gave to his servants a certain sum, of which they were to make good use during his absence. His charge was this: "Occupy till I come."
1 . The time of the nobleman's absence stands for our mortal life. Whether it be long or short, our present life is a period during which we have to be preparing for another of far greater consequence. It is a probationary period, that on which the larger and more serious future depends. This is in harmony with our experience; for one part of our life is a preparation for another, and the nature of the succeeding period depends upon the character of that which precedes it—childhood for youth, youth for young manhood, etc.
2 . The "pound" of the parable stands for God-given opportunity—for the constitutional capacity with which we are endowed; for the favouring circumstances and facilities by which we are surrounded; for the Christian privileges with which we are blessed.
3 . The smallness of our endowment affords no escape from responsibility. Only "one pound." It seems a very small sum for a nobleman to give in charge; but clearly it was large enough for a righteous requirement. No plea could be found in the littleness of the sum; it is not even urged. No man is entitled to say that his human spirit is worth nothing to God, his life worth nothing to the cause of righteousness; only God knows how valuable one human spirit, one earthly life, is.
4 . No slavish timidity will excuse the most faint-hearted ( Luke 19:21 , Luke 19:22 ). Our God is not a Being from whose service we have to turn because we shrink from his severity ( Psalms 103:8-14 ; Isaiah 40:29 ; Isaiah 57:16 ; 2 Corinthians 8:12 ).
II. TO LOOK FORWARD TO A DAY OF ACCOUNT AND OF AWARD .
1 . There will be a day of judgment. The nobleman will return and call his servants before him ( Luke 19:15 ). This may stand for some one great day, or we may still better look upon it as the day, when our earthly life terminates, and when we shall, as individual souls, stand before the Judge.
2 . God will require of us the use we have made of our opportunity; what we have gained; what we have done in the direction
(3) of magnifying the Name of our Divine Lord.
3 . He will express his Divine judgment concerning us—his warm approval of those who have been most faithful ( Luke 19:17 ); his acceptance of those who have not been unfaithful ( Luke 19:19 ); his displeasure with the unworthy ( Luke 19:22 ). We are to look for the clearly and fully expressed decision of Jesus Christ upon the character of our life-work, upon the comparative excellency or faultiness of our Christian life.
4 . He will determine the measure of our award by the degree of our fidelity (see Luke 19:17 , Luke 19:19 ). The more faithful and devoted the life on earth, the larger the recompense, the brighter the crown, the broader the sphere, in the heavenly kingdom. The doctrine of Matthew 20:14 , Matthew 20:15 does not contradict this; it simply teaches that those to whom God gives a smaller share of bounty and of grace are not to complain because there are those to whom he grants a larger one. God is righteous, and he not only will not forget our work and labour of love ( Hebrews 6:10 ), but he will not allow those of his servants who have devoted their powers to his cause with the greatest energy, constancy, and self-sacrifice to miss the most generous and gracious recognition at his loving hand.—C.
The law of spiritual increase.
Here we have one of those paradoxes of Jesus Christ into the heart of which many have failed to find their way. Why, it is asked, should one who has have more? will he not have too much? Why should he who has but little lose the little he has? will he not be still worse off than ever? Where is the wisdom, where the righteousness of this course? This criticism arises from a pure misunderstanding of Christ's meaning. We shall see what he meant if we consider—
I. THE VIEW CHRIST TOOK OF POSSESSION . When may a man be said to have anything? When he has legal documents to prove that it belongs to him? Or when it is securely locked up in a box or buried in the earth? Not at all. It is when he is using it, when he is turning it to account, when he is making it answer the purpose for which it exists. If a man lets an object rust in disuse, remain unemployed, he has it not, virtually and practically. It is not his at all; it does him no good, renders him no service, is to him as if it were not; he has it not, in truth. This accords perfectly with Christ's usage in Matthew 25:1-46 . There the men who put out their talents had them; the man who hid his latent had it not. He who does not make use of that which is at his command only "seemeth to have" (or thinketh he has) it ( Luke 8:18 ). It is use that really constitutes possession. This is not a mere fancy or conceit; it is the language of truth, it is the verdict of experience. The miser does not really possess his gold; it answers to him none of the ends which make it the valuable thing it is. He might as well own as many counters. He seems to have (thinks he has)money, but in truth he has it not. It is thus with men of great intellectual capacity which they do not employ; their faculties, unused, are of no value to themselves or to others; they might as well be non-existent. According to the wise and true usage of the great Teacher, we have the things we use; those we use not we have not. Now we can understand—
II. THE DIVINE LAW OF INCREASE AND DECLINE . For this is not a mere action done on one particular occasion; there is nothing exceptional or arbitrary about it. It is a Divine method invariably adopted; a Divine principle running through the whole economy; a Divine law with illustrations on every hand. It affects us at every turn of our life, in every part of our nature. It applies to us considered:
1 . Physically. The muscle that is used is developed; that which is neglected shrinks, and in time becomes wholly powerless. To him that has is given; from him that hath not is taken away.
2 . Mentally. The boy who cultivates his intellectual capacities becomes mentally strong; every acquisition of knowledge is an increase of power; the more he knows the better he can learn: to him that has is given. But the boy who does not study, but wastes his youth in idleness, not only does not acquire knowledge; he loses the faculty of acquisition: from him that has not is taken away that (capacity) which he has.
3 . Spiritually.
The law of capital in Christ's kingdom.
Zacchaeus's conversion and all the stir on leaving Jericho led many in the crowd to imagine that Christ was immediately to assume a visible kingdom. To remove misapprehension, therefore, he proceeds to tell them a parable which would at once rouse them to the necessity of working instead of indulging in lackadaisical waiting. Comparing himself to a nobleman who is going into a far country to receive a kingdom and to return, he compares his disciples to servants left to make the best of what is entrusted to them. The worldly minded as distinct from the servants are called his citizens, whose spirit is manifested in the message transmitted to him, "We will not have this man to reign over us." Then the return of the crowned king is to be celebrated by the distribution of rewards and punishments as the case may be. Out of this significant parable we may learn the following lessons.
I. IT IS IN HEAVEN , AND NOT ON EARTH , OUR LORD IS TO RECEIVE HIS KINGDOM . This is the great mistake many have made about Christ's kingdom and reign. They localize head-quarters on earth instead of in heaven. It is not by a democratic vote, by a plebiscite, our Lord is to receive his kingdom, but by donation from the Father. When he went away by death, resurrection, and ascension, therefore, it was to receive a kingdom that he might return crowned. Hence we are to regard him as now reigning over his mediatorial kingdom. He is on the throne. His government is administered from the heavenly places.
II. IT IS PERILOUS TO REFUSE TO ACKNOWLEDGE HIS PRESENT REIGN . The citizens that hate the absent King will be slain before him when he returns for judgment. Hostility, enmity, to Christ, if continued, must lead to utter discomfiture at last. Rebellion of spirit is, therefore, to be diligently uprooted if we would have any share in Christ's kingdom. It is at our peril if we refuse his loving and righteous reign.
III. CHRIST 'S SERVANTS LIVE UNDER A LAW OF CAPITAL IN HIS KINGDOM . In this parable we have "pounds," and not "talents," referred to. The question is, therefore, of some equal endowment which all receive in common, not of unequal endowment distributed in sovereign wisdom. In the parable of the talents, given in another Gospel, we have equal diligence exhibited in the use of unequal endowments; and the reward is righteously equalized in the completed kingdom. Here, on the other hand, we have an unequal use of equal endowments, with the unequal reward attached in proportion to the diligence. We discern in the arrangement, therefore, that law of increase which has been denominated the law of capital. But first we have to settle the signification of the pounds. We shall not be far astray if, with Godet, we regard them as indicating those donations of Divine grace which are offered to the Lord's servants, we may suppose, in equal measure. These endowments are put to use in some cases, utterly neglected in others. It will be found at last that the law of capital has obtained in the Lord's arrangements. One man, by judicious use of what the Lord has given, finds his grace growing tenfold, so that by the time the Lord returns he is ready to undertake the government of ten cities. Another man, by diligence, but not so persevering as the former, finds his graces growing fivefold, so that in the final arrangement he is equal to the oversight of five cities. A third is represented as making no use whatever of his endowment, under the impression that the Lord is a grasping speculator, who wants to make the most he can out of men. He ventures to return his trust just as it was. He finds, however, that his selfish idleness is visited with utter ruin. He has the misused endowment recalled and made over to the better trader. " To him that hath shall be given." Accumulated capital tends to increase in proper hands, and it is right it should do so. It follows, then, from this law of capital as thus applied:
1 . That we should use diligently every means to increase our Christian graces. Sanctification should be our life-work, and all action, meditation, prayer, should be utilized for the one great object of becoming the best servants of our Master our circumstances admit of.
2 . We shall find ourselves thereby becoming rulers of men. It is wonderful the influence exercised by consecrated lives. It is easy understanding how we may become kings and priests unto God the Father. As consecrated by his grace, we begin immediately to influence others for good and to reign.
3 . The influence on earth will have its counterpart in the reign enjoyed by us in heaven. For heaven will be the home of order. It will be no happy, musical mob. It will be a great society, with recognized kings of men, under the gracious authority, of course, of him who is "King of kings, and Lord of lords," Influence, character, all that is gracious, is destined to be continued and to abide. Those who have done men most good, and made the most of their opportunities here, shall be rewarded with corresponding influence in the well-ordered commonwealth above.
4 . Wrong views of Christ ' s character may also be perpetuated, with their corresponding judgments. The pitiful servant who thought his Master austere, hard, grasping, was only attributing his own hard character to his superior. He failed to understand him. So is it with some souls. They insist on misunderstanding God, and the result is that their misunderstanding continues and is its own punishment. How important, therefore, that we should have correct views of God our Saviour! It will save us from misuse of his gifts and graces, and from the doom awaiting all faithless souls.—R.M.E.