The kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. Matthew xxv. 14.
THE parabolic mode of instruction pursued by our blessed Lord, is founded in nature. It is difficult to convey a forcible idea of intellectual and moral truths but by the aid of similitude; thus figuratively represented, they appear with greater clearness to the understanding, and more forcibly interest the imagination and the heart. The symbolical style, therefore, connected with the constitution of human nature, has prevailed among mankind in every age and country. It was, however, particularly prevalent in the Eastern nations, where the circumstances of climate, of the face of the country, and of the state of society, were highly favourable to the excitement and the indulgence of a strong and lively imagination.
In these considerations we shall find a cause for the figurative mode of instruction adopted by our Saviour. But he had other reasons for the employment of it. The symbolical style, though aiding our conception of religious and moral truths--in order to produce this effect, requiring some attention on the part of those to whom it is addressed [449/450]--was a trial of the docility of his hearers; whether "seeing, they would see, and hearing, they would hear, and would understand;" that is, whether they would exercise that honest and patient attention which was necessary to the full comprehension of the truths delivered, or would wilfully close their ears to the voice of instruction. The mission of our Saviour also was to a "disobedient and gainsaying people." Their glaring errors were to be corrected; their gross vices were to be reproved. This was a business requiring the utmost delicacy and management, lest the provocation of resentment should lead to personal insult, or should wholly defeat the object of his reproof--the conviction of the offenders. It was therefore a dictate of prudence to soften the severity of his reproofs, by concealing them under the veil of similitude, or allegory.
For all these reasons we find our blessed Lord so often conveying his instructions in the form of parables.
My text is the commencement of a parable, in which our Saviour represents the dispensation of his spiritual blessings to mankind, the improvement which they make of them, and the awards which he will finally assign them, under the similitude of a man who, travelling into a far country, intrusts his servants with a particular proportion of his property; and on his return, requires from them an account of the improvement which they have made of their trust, and gives them their sentence according to their deserts.
In the verse preceding the text, our Saviour had delivered the caution--"Watch, for ye know neither the day nor the hour when the Son of [450/451] cometh." He then enforces this caution by the parable of which my text is the commencement:--"The kingdom of heaven," or, omitting these words, which are not in the original--"He," that is, the Son of man, whose coming was spoken of in the preceding verse--"He is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants and delivered unto them his goods." Jesus Christ, the Lord of all things, head of all things to his church, has ascended into heaven; but thence, from the throne of dominion, he distributes his gifts and graces to his disciples on earth. "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." Jesus Christ, the Lord of hie disciples, does not distribute to them equally his gifts and graces; according to their several ability, to their natural capacity of improving them, or to the stations of importance or difficulty in which they may be placed, does he proportion his spiritual favours.
The improvement which these servants made of the trust committed to them, is recorded in the ensuing verses:--"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." The sincere disciples of Christ, mindful of their obligations to their Lord and Master, and of the account which they are to render to him, will zealously and faithfully improve the spiritual trust which they have received; while the negligent and slothful Christian, like the faithless servant in the parable, hides [451/452] his talent in the earth--neglects to improve the grace which he has received, to his own salvation and to the honour of his Master. But a day of account is coming. "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 besides them five talents more." Happy the Christian who, like this faithful servant, can thus address his Saviour and Judge: 'Lord, the five talents of grace thou hast given me, I have improved, and they are become five talents more!' Happy the Christian who thus improves his spiritual privileges! for, like the faithful servant in the parable, "his Lord will say 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." Nor will the improvement of inferior talents go without its reward. For "he also that had received two talents came, and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents besides 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."
The unprofitable servant, who, instead of improving the talent committed to him, had hid it in the earth, now comes to render his account. "Then he which had received the one talent came, and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art a hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strewed: and I was afraid, [452/453] and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine." Our indignation is roused at this insolent plea, by which this slothful servant excuses his shameful neglect to improve the trust committed to him. But his plea is that whereby professing Christians sometimes seek to extenuate or to defend their neglect of their Master's service, urging that it is unreasonable and severe. Mark the reprimand which the servant in the parable receives from his lord. "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 strewed; thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury." Thou wicked and slothful servant, admitting thy representation of me as a hard master, reaping where I have not sowed, and gathering where I have not strewed, to be just, it should have led thee to be the more diligent in improving a trust, of which thou didst expect I would exact so severe an account. Thou shouldst have put my money to the exchangers, that, at my coming, I might have received mine own "with usury," with improvement, with lawful increase; this being the idea annexed to the word "usury" in the sacred writings. And in like manner, thou. wicked and slothful Christian, who dost not improve the grace and spiritual privileges intrusted to thee by thy Lord, because thou dost consider him as a hard Master, thy very excuse proves thy folly as well as thy guilt. For if thy Lord and Saviour "reaps where he does not sow, and gathers where he has not strewed," if he rigorously exacts that to which he has no just claim, surely [453/454] thou mayest expect he will require from thee that to which he has a just claim--an improvement of the trust committed to thee, a return for the privileges he has conferred upon thee. The just sentence pronounced upon the faithless servant, will be pronounced upon thee. "Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents." The spiritual blessings which we fail to improve, shall be taken from us, and given unto them who will improve these blessings to their own good, and to the honour and glory of their gracious Benefactor. "For unto every one that hath," that improves the talents or the grace bestowed upon him, "shall be given," more abundant grace shall be conferred; "but from him that hath not," that fails to improve his spiritual privileges, "shall be taken away even that which he hath," the blessings which he neglects shall be taken away. Alas! deplorable is the condition to w4hich the unprofitable receivers of the grace of God are consigned! "And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Brethren, this parable concerns us all; the instructions which it contains are deeply important.
God gives grace sufficient to all men to enable them to serve him; this grace, however, is not given equally to all, but in different degrees, according to their respective capacities and circumstances.
He requires of all men an improvement of the grace given, in proportion to the measure which they have received.
The pretext for negligence in his service, that he exacts what men are unable to perform, is unfounded and unreasonable.
 An account must be rendered by all men to God, of the improvement which they have made of the talents and the grace given them.
God will finally assign to men various degrees of happiness or misery, according to their respective deserts.
These are the particulars which embrace all the instruction contained in the text, and on which I now proceed to remark.
1. God gives grace sufficient to all men to enable them to serve him; this grace, however, is not given equally to all, but in different degrees, according to their respective capacities and circumstances.
The Parent of all men, he wishes "all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth." Gracious and merciful to his offending creatures, he is "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." But so dependent is human nature on God, the Sovereign of his creatures and the Author of every good and perfect gift; so great is the weakness and corruption of nature, that we are "not sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God." "It is God who worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure." If therefore he "will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth;" if he is "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance;" he certainly does not withhold from them the grace which, if they diligently improve it, will "lead them into truth, and bring them to repentance. If grace sufficient to work out their salvation be not conferred upon all men, then God is a respecter of persons; then he [455/456] wishes all men to be saved, and yet withholds the grace necessary to enable them to work out their, salvation; then he wishes all men to come to the knowledge of the truth, and yet confers not the grace which only can lead them to it; then he is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance, and yet he does not bestow on all that grace, without which repentance is impossible, and their destruction inevitable; then he is indeed "a hard Master, reaping where he has not sown, and gathering where he has not strewed," exacting of all men to serve him under the awful sanctions of everlasting happiness or everlasting misery, and yet not conferring on all the grace without which it is impossible to serve him.--These conclusions, so contrary to Scripture, so abhorrent to every dictate of goodness and justice, and so dishonourable to God, the gracious Father of his creatures, will result from the denial of the truth, that God gives to all men grace sufficient to enable them to serve him. We reject, then, every doctrine that is contrary to this truth, every doctrine which would confine that grace which bring-eth salvation to all men, to a portion of mankind who exclusively partake of this most precious gift of heaven. God is a righteous Master, who delivers to all his servants (and all men are the servants of this their gracious Master in heaven) his goods--his heavenly grace--that treasure intrusted to us as his stewards, and which "we are to occupy," to improve, until he come and demand an account of our stewardship. "Of his fulness we have all received; and grace for grace; according to the measure of the gift of Christ." But though this grace be given in a sufficient, it [456/457] is not given in an equal degree to all men. The standard by which it is apportioned is, their ability to improve it. For thus, in the parable, the lord of the servants "gave unto one five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability." There are various ranks of beings in the creation of God; and among these ranks there are various grades in their respective capacities. The unnumbered hosts of angelic spirits that surround the throne of the Eternal, are not equal in their perfections and power. There is the seraph, who worships near the throne; and there is the ministering spirit, who waits at humbler distance to do the pleasure of the great Creator. Man, though little lower than the angels, is still inferior to them; and among men there is the greatest variety in their natural powers. This distinction of rank and capacity among the intelligent creatures of God, serves to make manifest his works, "to show forth his wisdom, his power, and his glory." And that he thus gives to all severally as he pleaseth, is no infringement on his goodness or his justice, provided he gives to all a capacity for happiness, and the means of attaining it; and finally deals with them according to the improvement which they make of the trust reposed in them. Thus, to different men he assigns different capacities of serving him; and according to this standard does he dispense to them his grace, "to each man according to his several ability." But,
2. He requires of all men an improvement of the grace given, in proportion to the measure which they have received.
 This is the second observation which I deduced from the parable.
God, in justice, can claim the improvement of the talents and the grace bestowed upon us; and this improvement is necessary to make these gifts conducive to his glory, to the good of others, and to our own salvation. As all our natural powers are derived from God, he may justly demand that we employ them in his service. The free gift of his grace in Christ Jesus he has bestowed upon us, and he may justly demand that this inestimable gift should not remain unimproved. We have all a work assigned us, for which the grace of God is superadded to our natural powers--the promotion of the glory of God, the happiness of others, and our own salvation. These are the important ends for which the Judge of all requires from us the improvement of our natural powers and advantages, and of his heavenly grace. But he does not demand the same improvement from all. From him that had received only two talents, he requires that two more be added to them; while he that had received five talents, is required to increase them to five talents more; and the merciful Judge of all would have accepted him that had received but the one talent, had he only added to it one talent more. Thus, then, our improvement is expected to be in proportion to the natural powers which we have received, to the advantages which we enjoy, and the measure of spiritual grace vouchsafed us. You will therefore perceive the truth of the third observation deducible from the parable, viz. that,
3. The pretext for negligence in the service of God, that he exacts what men are unable to form, is unfounded and unreasonable.
 The unprofitable servant in the parable excused his neglect to improve the talent committed to him, by the plea, "Lord, thou art a hard master, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strewed." Does the Christian hide his talent in the earth, and excuse his sloth and negligence by the same plea? It is a plea that will utterly fail him. God, willing that all men should be saved, has given to all men, through his mercy in Jesus Christ, the grace to serve him acceptably. He has eminently crowned us with his spiritual favours. He has given us the knowledge of that Saviour, through whose blood we may receive the remission of our sins. He has given us his holy word, to be a light unto our feet and a lamp unto our path. He instructs, he warns, he encourages, he comforts us by the ministry of that holy church into which we are called, and by which we are to be prepared for final happiness in his heavenly kingdom. Incorporated into this church by baptism, and ratifying our vows, we have received of the fulness of its divine Head that measure of grace suited to our abilities and our station, by which we are enabled to work out our salvation. And dost thou, O Christian! hide in the earth the precious talent thus intrusted to thee? Art thou unprofitable under all these means of grace? or, art thou worse than unprofitable?--dost thou turn the grace of God into lasciviousness, and disregarding the spiritual blessings bestowed upon thee, continue in thy sins? And is it thy excuse for this sloth, this negligence, this obstinate continuance in sin, that thy Lord is "a hard Master, reaping where he has not sown, and gathering where he has not strewed?" Blush, [459/460] O Christian! at this unfounded plea; blush at thy ungrateful return to that gracious Master, who has distinguished thee with the means of grace, and with the hope of glory. Slothful and unprofitable Christian! tremble at thy guilt. For,
4. An account must be rendered by all men to God, of the improvement which they have made of the talents and the grace given them.
This was the fourth observation founded on the parable.
God hath not bestowed upon us high natural endowments and the inestimable treasures of his grace, and allowed us to neglect them. He requires us to improve them according to the measure which we have received. If we have received five talents, he requires us to add to them five talents more; if we have received two talents, he requires us to add to them two talents more; and even the one talent is to be returned to him with increase. Nor are these requisitions of which he will fail to require from us an account. "The Lord of these servants cometh and reckoneth with them." "God hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness." Then we shall have to render him an account of the improvement which we have made of the talents bestowed upon us;--we shall have to render an account to him, who will come in the glory of his Father and his holy angels; before the brightness of whose presence the sun will be darkened, and the moon withdraw her light; before the greatness of whose majesty the heavens will depart, and the earth be removed; and before the terrors of whose justice the nations of the world shall quake, and devils in [460/461] the dominions of darkness tremble. We shall have to render an account to him who hath searched our hearts, who hath spied out all our ways; we shall have to render an account to him of all our thoughts, all our words, all our actions; and we shall have to render this account before the hosts of heaven, and before all mankind assembled with us to receive their doom.
Brethren, if we have hid our talent in the earth, if we are not prepared for his coming, have we not cause to tremble at the declaration--"The Lord of these servants cometh and reckoneth with them?" But if we have diligently improved the talents committed to us, we may then lift up our heads, for our redemption draweth nigh.
5. The Judge of all will assign to mankind various degrees of happiness or misery, according to their respective deserts.
This is the concluding reflection resulting from the parable.
The just shall then be rewarded with an entrance into the joy of their Lord; and their joy shall be in proportion to the talents committed to them, and to the improvement which they have made. For thus is the award of the Judge represented in this very parable, as recorded by St. Luke:--To him that had received ten pounds, arid had made them ten pounds more, was committed authority over ten cities; and to him that had received five pounds, and had made them five pounds more, was committed authority over five cities. The rewards of the just will be proportionable to the talents bestowed, and to the improvement of them; to the grace which they had received, and to the service [461/462] which they had rendered. This is the dictate of reason, this is the rule of justice. In our Father's house are many mansions. One star differeth from another star in glory; so also shall it be at the resurrection of the just.
But as to the unprofitable servant--what is the doom pronounced upon him? "Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." The same rule, of justice which assigns different degrees of happiness in heaven to the just, will also allot different degrees of misery in hell to the wicked, according to the measure of their guilt. But, alas! hell, in its lightest caverns, is still a place of torment; outer darkness covers it--the worm in it ceases not to gnaw--the fire in it is not quenched; no sounds issue from it but the sounds of despair--weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, for ever--for ever.
Brethren, what an awful sanction does the concluding representation of this parable afford to the moral which it contains! They who improve the talents committed to them, are admitted to the joy of their Lord; while the slothful and unprofitable are cast into outer darkness. Bring home, then, this awful scene to your own bosoms; bear it constantly in remembrance. You are stewards, to whom your Lord and Master hath intrusted his goods--the gifts of nature, of Providence, and of grace--in such proportion as his infinite wisdom judged best. To some of you he hath given five, to others two talents, and to others one. He is not "a hard Master, reaping where he has not sowed, and gathering where he has not strewed;" he win not require from you a service which he [462/463] hath not enabled you to perform, nor will he disproportion his rewards to your labours. If humble the talents of nature or of grace given you, sedulously improve them, and you shall not go without your reward. If more distinguished your natural endowments or spiritual gifts, greater will be your responsibility, more will be required of you; and greater also will be your reward. Your Lord will come and reckon with you. Hide not, then, your talent in the earth; sink not into sloth and negligence in your spiritual concerns; receive not the grace of God in vain; neglect not the business of your salvation. Remember, O remember the doom of the unprofitable servant--outer darkness, weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth, for ever--for ever. Diligently, then, improve the talents committed to you; devote every endowment of nature, every acquirement of industry, every blessing of Providence, every spiritual gift, to the glory of God, to the good of mankind, to the salvation of your own soul. Your labour in the Lord shall not be in vain. In the day when he comes to reckon with his servants, he will cover with the robe of his righteousness the infirmities which you have sought to overcome, the sins which you have humbly confessed: he will bring forth to the plaudits of men and angels, your humble piety, your exertions for his glory, your deeds of beneficence, your patience, your adversity, your zealous discharge of duly, neither seduced by the applauses of the world, nor shaken by its censures: to the plaudits of men and angels he will unite his own--"Well done, good and faithful servants, enter ye into the joy of your Lord."