Golden Text:—"A faithful man shallabound with blessings."— Prov. 28:20.
THE PARABLE of the pounds was uttered on the way to Jerusalem, the parable of the talents about five days later, on the Tuesday preceding our Lord's crucifixion, if Matthew's account is in consecutive order. The two parables, although similar in many respects, are different. One pound was given to each servant by a nobleman going into a far country to be invested with his kingly authority, and the servants each increased his trust in varying degrees. The parable of the talents now before us is different in that one received five talents, another two, another one—corresponding to the varying conditions of the Lord's people, mentally, morally, physically, socially, etc. Since one pound apiece was given it follows that the pounds could not represent talents, opportunities, which are very dissimilar. The pound must therefore represent something that is common to all of the Lord's people.
The holy Spirit is common to all the Lord's people, but not in the same measure, since each must receive it according to his capacity; therefore the holy Spirit could not be represented by the pound. The Word of God is common to all of the Lord's people, but a natural ability to understand the Word of God is not the same in all the consecrated; hence the pound could not represent the Word of God, the divine revelation. One thing, and only one, we believe, is common to all of the Lord's people in every sense of the word, and that is justification. Justification is a gift of God through faith in the precious blood, and is common to every one accepted of the Lord. It compensates for his weaknesses and blemishes, whether they be few or many; it therefore in the most absolute sense represents the one important blessing of God bestowed upon his people. Upon the use of that "pound," that blessing, that entrusted gift, depends the Master's reward in the end. The proper use of it is an investment of it in the Lord's service in a full, hearty consecration of time, influence and all to the service of the Lord. Any failure to use our justification will signify a complete loss of everything hoped for in respect to the Kingdom blessings and privileges of this, Gospel age. By justification our powers, however humble, are made acceptable to the Lord as though we were perfect. And every service we are able to render has its merit or value in our justification. We are not forgetting that we previously (Dec. 1, 1900) applied these pounds as signifying the holy Spirit, etc., common to all of God's people. We still hold to that application with the limitation that the holy Spirit is reckoned to us only on the basis of our justification. Thus it is through our justification that we are complete in him who is the Head of the New Creation and partakers of his holiness of spirit.
THE PARABLE OF THE TALENTS
Our lesson today deals especially with the talents, which undoubtedly represent the opportunities and privileges of those consecrated servants of the Lord who throughout this Gospel age are accepted as followers of Jesus and laborers in the vineyard. It should be noticed that in no way the parable relates to the world, but merely to the Church. While the world has certain talents, privileges, opportunities, these are not at the disposal of the household, because the world by wisdom knows not God, is blind to his gracious offer that they may become his servants, co-laborers together with his Son. True, the world should recognize that it is bought with a price, even the precious blood of Christ, and that it would be a reasonable service to lay down time, talent, energy, influence in the service of the Redeemer. But the world is blind and cannot realize the situation at present. Its opportunity will come by and by, when the darkness shall have rolled away and the Sun of Righteousness shall shine forth to fully illuminate the situation and cause the knowledge of the Lord to fill the earth.
There are various valuable lessons taught by this parable, and one of these is respecting the character of the Church's judgment. It is admitted that those who have become the Lord's bond-servants are possessors of various talents, powers, privileges and opportunities, some more and some less, and it is admitted that these were entrusted to them as the Lord's, and they were made the Lord's stewards after that they had recognized him and accepted him as their Master and consecrated themselves to his service. It should be clearly seen then just where the responsibility begins which will terminate when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
True, whatsoever a man sows he will reap. Every noble desire or effort will bring reward, every wrong course a measure of punishment in the present life, even before we come into the attitude of the Lord's consecrated ones—"bond-servants." This is true not only of the consecrated but of the whole world, but the parable does not take in the world nor the affairs of the Church up to the time they became the Lord's servants. It merely deals with them subsequently—as the servants. It shows that in the day of reckoning the Lord will ignore the affairs of our lives which preceded our consecration, and will merely deal with, reckon with, judge us, according to our use or misuse of our consecrated time, influence, talents, etc.
To realize these things clearly and distinctly should mean to every one of us renewed zeal and energy, and carefulness that the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts, and so far as possible all of life's conduct, might testify to our faithfulness in the use of talents and opportunities entrusted to us, and might bring us the Master's approval when our trial time shall come. As the Apostle declares, "Judgment [trial, testing] must begin at the house of God [the Church]." (I Pet. 4:17.) This, the parable before us shows, will be in the end of this Gospel age. This trial of the Church at its conclusion will demonstrate who are the Lord's elect, who shall be associated with Jesus in the great work of the future age, the Millennial age, namely, the judging of the world——the giving of the world a trial or test to demonstrate whether or not under favorable conditions and with clear knowledge they would be obedient to the Lord or disobedient—that the obedient might be blessed with everlasting life in perfection and the wilfully disobedient be utterly destroyed from amongst the people.—Acts 3:23.
OUR VARYING TALENTS
We sometimes hear the claim made that all men are born free and equal, but there could be no greater mistake than this. Men are indeed born free so far as liberty of thought, will or intention are concerned, the only limitation being their knowledge or lack of it. But they are not born physically free, mentally free nor morally free. There is an incumbrance, a mortgage of sin and death, upon the whole human family which has descended from father Adam. This mortgage is called the curse. Some bear a larger share of it than others by heredity, environment. The original image and likeness of God has thus been marred, measurably effaced. If we assume that Adam as a perfect man had ten talents, it would be quite appropriate to say that not one of his posterity today, after six thousand years of falling, had more than five talents, and the majority much less, two talents and one talent. It is safe to estimate the mass of mankind as one-talented by nature. These talents which we possess by nature were transferred and became the Lord's when we accepted him, gave him our hearts, consecrated our all to his service.
A "talent" represented 3,000 shekels of silver, and the shekels in turn were the great and the small, representing in value in our money one thousand dollars or two thousand dollars. In the parable the servants are represented as trading with these, that is, working with them, using them. They were left free to exercise their best abilities with merely the general regulation that these were for use, and that their faithfulness would be represented in the results they would secure from using them. So it is with the Lord's consecrated people; we are not specially hampered by directions as to how we shall use our consecrated talents, powers, privileges, opportunities. The Lord has a great work for the future, and is less interested in what results we shall obtain from the use of our present talents than in the demonstration of our loyalty and zeal. The parable admits that our talents at present are inferior, not great in the sight of our Master, and that he seeks to see our diligence, our faithfulness to him and his cause.
TWO VIEWS, BOTH TRUE
We may view these talents and their use from two different standpoints, and both will be true. (1) Our natural talents may be considered, first, as representing wealth, influence, intellectual power, education and public utterance. The person possessed of all of these we might consider to be very richly endowed indeed, a five-talented person; very few are in this class. They possess grand opportunities and proportionately great responsibilities. With the proper zeal in the use of these talents such individuals would be a power for good in the body of Christ, the Church. The two-talented man might have intellectual power and the gift of public utterance, but be without education, wealth, influence, and correspondingly his ability would be less. Or he might have wealth and influence and lack the other qualities, or possess mental power and education and lack the talent of public utterance, influence and wealth. The one-talented man might have wealth or education or influence, but lacking the other qualities would be more or less handicapped. With the majority of the people, however, these matters might be considered slightly different: as, for instance, the one talent might be understood to represent a small degree of wealth, influence, education, mental caliber and public ability; the two-talented man might represent twice as much; the five-talented man five times as much. Viewed from this standpoint the use of our talents in the Lord's service should be increasing daily, and each one of his servants should be able to honor him more and serve his cause better in every sense of the word each day, each year.
(2) These talents may be viewed from the standpoint of our spiritual qualities, meekness, gentleness, patience, brotherly kindness, love. All of the Lord's people come short in these graces of the Spirit because of our fallen inheritance; because we are born in sin, shapen in iniquity; because selfishness in all of its concomitant parts, arrogance, rudeness, unkindness, impatience, have in large measure obliterated the opposite qualities, which are the likeness of God. Hence some that are naturally much impaired and very selfish, in whom the various fruits of the Spirit are naturally much dwarfed, might be considered as those possessing only the one talent of spiritual power and Godlikeness; others, possessing more, would correspond to the man of two talents, and others possessing this quality still more would be five talented. From this view of the talents, the object of each of the Lord's servants should be to increase these fruits and graces of the Spirit in his own heart and life, and thus, by gaining the victory over selfishness and sin, to be more and more a copy of God's dear Son, and more and more prepared for cooperation with the King in the Kingdom for the blessing and instruction of the world.
(3) The Lord has so arranged the matter that our talents, viewed from the two standpoints foregoing, in large measure combine. The person possessing the largest number of talents, abilities, opportunities, should be the person best qualified to rule his own spirit and to bring its every power into submission to the will of God, and to cultivate to the highest degree the fruits and graces of the Spirit. The Lord will doubtless measure us according to both of these standpoints, but we may be sure that eventually the chiefest of all gifts and blessings and talents in the Lord's sight is love—"Love is the principal thing." It will be only in proportion as love of God and for our fellow men shall have guided the use of our talents, whatever they may be, that they will be acceptable in the Lord's sight at all.
RECKONING WITH THE SERVANTS
In this parable the Lord clearly taught his disciples not to expect the end of the Gospel age very soon, for the statement is, "After a long time the Lord of those servants cometh and reckoneth with them." It was doubtless best everyway that the exact time for the ending of the Gospel age and the beginning of the Millennial age should not be made known until now that we are in this reckoning time. In the verse just preceding this lesson our Lord had cautioned his disciples to be faithful and to remember that they would not know the exact time of his return. But surely all of the servants will know of the Master's return at the time mentioned in this parable, after he has arrived and has begun to reckon with them. To our understanding this period of time was reached in A.D. 1878, and all of these servants of the Gospel age have been rendering their accounts since. First were the apostles and they who fell asleep in Christ throughout the Gospel age, because it is written that we which are alive and remain should not hinder, prevent, or take precedence of them that had fallen asleep. From our standpoint, then, the apostles and others of the Church have already passed the inspection that is here described, or rather the judgment of the Church is in progress and the decisions and rewards will not be given until the last members shall have passed beyond the vail to render their accounts; and this we understand will be accomplished some time before October, 1914—quite possibly sooner.
We are not to understand from the parable that all who have five talents will use them wisely, effectively, and hear the "Well done," nor that this will be the case with all who have two talents, nor that the greater number who possess but the one talent will all fail to use it. On the contrary, the parable is so arranged as to emphasize the responsibility of even those of the Lord's servants who have the smallest natural ability, whose consecrated powers are the most insignificant. If the one-talented man misusing his was disapproved, it goes without saying that the two-talented or five-talented would be even more reprehensible in the sight of their Lord. It goes without saying also that if the five-talented man succeeded and received a blessing and commendation and reward, the one-talented man succeeding would receive an equal blessing of approval and a proportionate share of the good things provided by the Master for the faithful.
FAITHFULNESS DOUBLY REWARDED
The parable shows the Master beginning with the more influential and rewarding faithfulness (1) with a share in his favor, the "joys of the Lord," and (2) with a rulership or control of larger blessings and opportunities and talents. This statement briefly outlines what is elsewhere more elaborately set forth, namely, that the chief blessing upon the Church will be the manifesting to them of divine favor and love as represented in the glory, honor and immortality with which they would be clothed upon when received into the divine presence as participators in the First Resurrection. If this were all the blessing how rich it would be! How wonderful the thought that for faithfulness for a few short years in so reasonable a service—the service of him who loved us and bought us with his own precious blood—we should be counted worthy of such great dignity, honor and blessing everlastingly! The second or additional blessing is the honor of the Kingdom, the dominion, the privilege and opportunity of being participators with our Lord Jesus in the glorious work of uplifting the world of mankind out of present sin-and-death conditions. How forceful is the statement, "Faithful over a few things, ruler over many things." How abundantly the Lord does reward all of our little efforts in the service of truth and righteousness—in his service—whatever our talents, few or many.
HID TALENT IN THE EARTH
The one-talent man of the parable is represented as being strictly honest; he had not wasted the talent, he had not used it in ministering to the flesh, in riotous living of any kind. He had kept it safe, and seemed to feel that his Lord would commend him and say, While you have not brought me any return I appreciate the fact that you exercised great care with the talent entrusted to you, and hid it and kept it safely, and that now you are able to return it. But not so. The Master was angry with him and said, "Thou wicked and slothful servant." The point of this reproof lies in the fact that these servants represented only the consecrated and not the world—in the fact that every consecrated child of God in his consecration vow has agreed to spend and to be spent in the Master's service, whatever his talents, whatever his power.
This man was admitted to the Lord's family, made partaker of the holy Spirit and granted a relationship in the body of Christ only because of this consecration to do and to serve, to use, to spend, to be spent. Hence conduct that would not be reprehensible on the part of the world is a violation of his covenant on the part of this servant. Correspondingly a punishment is meted out to him—his talent, his opportunity, his privilege, whatever it was, shall be utterly taken from him, and he shall be permitted to go into the time of trouble with which this age will end—"There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth"—there will be sorrow, disappointment, chagrin, in every sense of the word. The parable does not carry the matter further to show us the result of this time of trouble upon this class of servants, unfaithful to their vows of consecration, but other Scriptures show us that this is a numerous class, "a great company," who in the time of trouble will be awakened from their dreamy stupor to realize that they have been seriously at fault, and to earnestly, tearfully, painfully, repent and obtain divine forgiveness and ultimately "come up out of great tribulation, having washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." (Rev. 7.) They will be before the throne, whereas the faithful servants will be in the throne; they will have palm branches because ultimately victorious, but those in the throne, the more faithful, will wear the crowns.
It will be noticed that there are two grades of faithfulness: the servant who hid his Lord's talent in the earth was faithful in that he did not waste or squander it riotously, sinfully, viciously. He did not repudiate his Master either, for he still acknowledged himself as his servant and the talent as not his own. The higher faithfulness that in the parable was rewarded went beyond this and represented earnest, self-sacrificing zeal in the Master's cause. These in the parable are the same that are represented by the Lord through the Prophet, saying, "Gather together my saints unto me, those who have made a covenant with me by sacrifice." (Psa. 50:5.) "They shall be mine, saith the Lord, in that day when I come to make up my jewels." (Mal. 3:17.) This jewel class must all be sacrificers. This is their covenant with the Lord—that they will sacrifice, that they will use their talents, opportunities, privileges, favors, zealously in his service, in the service of his household, in the service of his cause, to the honor of his name.
After entering into this covenant with him any other course of conduct would be properly, as in the parable, designated wicked and slothful. From this viewpoint it is to be feared that the class represented by this unfaithful servant is a large one, a great company. While still our term for rendering our accounts is future, while still the opportunity for using our time and influence and all in the Lord's service is with us, how it behooves every one who has made the covenant by sacrifice to be vigilant, energetic, that he may ultimately hear the Master's precious words, "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joys of thy Lord. Thou hast been faithful in a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things."
A father illustrated this principle to his child at the seashore by laying a silver dollar upon the beach within reach of the incoming waves. Soon the sands were covering it and it was out of sight: then before he allowed the child to dig it up he said, "Everything valuable that we allow to lie unused is soon buried by the tide of life as this dollar has been by the tide of the ocean." This is a good illustration: It is not necessary that we dig into the earth to bury the talent; if we simply allow it to lie unused it will soon be out of sight.
RECEIVE THINE OWN WITH INTEREST
The words interest and usury once had the same meaning, but in our day this has changed, and interest is that payment for the use of money which is deemed just and reasonable, while usury signifies an unjust and extortionate charge of interest, the result of taking advantage of some one's trouble or necessity. Usury, therefore, in our present use of the term, implies extortion, and is everywhere reprehensible. The Lord's people are everywhere warned that they shall not be extortioners or unjust. The loaning of money upon a reasonable rate of interest may at times be of advantage both to borrower and lender. Nevertheless the Lord's injunction to his people is along the lines of lending rather than borrowing—especially in opposition to borrowing where no security of value is given.
The Lord uses this illustration of interest, increase, usufruct, to represent the increase which would under his providential guidance naturally and reasonably result from our proper exercise of the talents consecrated to his service. We may be sure that his arrangements are wise, and that whoever is not slothful in business but fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, will find his talents increasing to his own pleasure and profit and to the Master's honor.
ONE TALENT FAITHFULLY USED
When we remember that the large majority of the Lord's people are of necessity one talented, we feel especial interest in a little verse by John L. Shorey, which illustrates a faithful one-talented person. We quote it as follows:—
"He couldn't sing and he couldn't play, He couldn't speak, and he couldn't pray, He'd try to read, but break right down, Then sadly grieve at smile or frown. While some with talents five began, He started out with only one. 'With this,' he said, 'I'll do my best, And trust the Lord to do the rest.' His trembling hand and tearful eye Gave forth a world of sympathy, When all alone with one distressed, He whispered words that calmed that breast.
"And little children learned to know, When grieved and troubled, where to go. He loved the birds, the flowers, the trees, And, loving him, his friends loved these. His homely features lost each trace Of homeliness, and in his face There beamed a kind and tender light That made surrounding features bright, When illness came he smiled at fears, And bade his friends to dry their tears; He said, 'Good-bye,' and all confess He made of life a grand success."