We have often been requested to give our views on this parable, and we have sometimes ventured to give such views as we have had on the subject; but we have never pretended to have any special light upon this subject, nor do we now feel competent to the undertaking. We have always found it difficult to explain satisfactorily to our own mind any of the parables contained in the sacred volume, excepting so far as their obvious intention may be inferred from the subjects and circumstances on which they were spoken. God has been pleased to open his mouth in parables and to utter dark sayings of old (Psa. 78:2), and it was the practice of our Redeemer in the days of his flesh to use parables, and without a parable spake he not unto the multitude. (Matt. 13:34) “And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speaketh thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive.” (Matt. 13:10-14)
Herein is the wisdom, purpose, and pleasure of God displayed in hiding these things from the wise and prudent of this world, and in revealing them unto babes in his kingdom; that no man shall glory in his presence; but he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. The very parables which involve the instructions of Christ in impenetrable darkness to the multitude are employed by the Spirit to illustrate the same things to those unto whom it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom. A parable is in itself simply a similitude, or a supposed case, used to illustrate a reality. And these similitudes and comparisons are so chosen and used by infinite wisdom, as to secure the great design of God, both in concealing the things of the Spirit from the carnal, and in instructing his disciples. Thus, like the cloud which attended Israel in the wilderness, it afforded light and protection to them, while it was darkness to their enemies.
The parable now to be considered is given, with several others of like import, for the special admonition of the disciples, as it was not addressed to the multitude, as there were none present but disciples, who had asked him certain questions privately, as he sat with them on the mount of Olives, and was therefore spoken to them for their exclusive benefit. (See Chapter 24:3.)
The subject on which these parables were spoken must be understood in order to know their design and application. Our Lord had been personally with these disciples from the time they were called to be his servants, but now he was soon to go into a far country, or to suffer, and die upon the cross, and then arise from the dead and ascend up into heaven, which from earth is a far country; but he was also to return again in due time. One of the three questions which they had asked him was, “What shall be the sign of thy coming?” To this he had replied, “Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the good man of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of man cometh. Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods. But, and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; And shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he booketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 24:42-44; 46-51.)
From all these preceding admonitions in the twenty-fourth chapter we may safely infer that the three parables in the twenty-fifth chapter were used by our Lord to solemnly impress his disciples with an understanding of the importance of their obligation to obey him as their divine Master, and especially when he should go to his Father, and they see him no more in the flesh. For although he was about to go away, he had assured them he would come to them again, and as a Master, who had an undisputed right to their service; he would hold them to a rigid account of their stewardship, at his coming. Now speaking of the time of his coming to reckon with them, he says, “Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins,” etc. That is, at the time of his coming, which time they did not know for it should be as a thief in the night. The wise virgins represent the faithful servants, who shall be prepared for the coming of their lord, as they were with lamps trimmed and burning at the coming of the bridegroom, and the foolish virgins represent the wicked and slothful servants which had concluded their lord delayed his coming, and were carelessly mingling with the drunken. And in applying the parable of the virgins, he adds this parable of the talents, saying, “For the kingdom of heaven is as a man traveling into a far country,” etc. These italicized words are supplied by our translators. Should we omit them, the text will read, “For, as a man traveling into a far country, called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another, one; to every man according to his several ability, and straightway took his journey.” If we have understood the foregoing correctly, Christ alludes to himself as the Lord, or Master of the servants, and to his being about to leave them, as stewards, in charge of his goods. The servants are said to be his own servants, and he invests them with talent, or talents, according to their respective ability. The talents and the ability of all the servants of our Lord Jesus Christ are furnished them by him. He is their Lord and Master; all that they have and all they are, are his property, and they are not their own, hence he has a right to direct and control them, and to discriminate in the amount of talents and responsibility. And certainly Christ has done this; when he took his journey in his ascension: “When he ascended up on high, he gave some apostles, and some prophets; and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” There is a diversity of gifts, but all by the same spirit, and this diversity is set forth in our parable as five, two, and one talents. Having thus commissioned his own servants, straitway he took his journey. The very last interview he held with his disciples he breathed upon them and said, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost;” and bid them, “Go, teach all nations,” etc., “And straitway a cloud received him out of their sight.” But an angel informed them that he would return again in like manner as they had seen him go up into heaven; all of which seems to agree perfectly with the import of this parable. But when he should so return he did not tell them; but bid them watch - for it should be like a thief in the night, or at least at a time when the unruly servants would least expect his return. The servant which had five, and he who had two talents improved them, and received the approbation of their lord at his coming, and were welcomed into the joy of their lord. This was not, however, as a reward of merit, for they being servants, as we have before said, with all their ability and talents, belonged to and were the property of their master. This idea is expressly stated - these were his own servants, hence their service belonged to him; but as a gracious act, he made them partakers of his joy. Thus Paul, while disclaiming all merit, says, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” The crown is a gift, not a debt, or payment for service rendered; and as to Paul, so also to all who love the appearing of Christ.
Thus far perhaps, our views of the parable may seem sufficiently clear to the sister who asked, and others, but the more difficult part of the subject remains to be discussed, or elucidated. The wicked and slothful servant also had a talent and did not improve it, and it is taken from him and given to him that had ten talents, and he is cast into outer darkness, and there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The supposed difficulty will be obviated when we consider the difference between servants of the Lord and the children of God. Christ not only is the everlasting Father of that seed which God has said shall serve him and be counted to him for a generation, but he is also their Master, their Owner, their Lord, and their King. In all the parables and figures as in every express declaration of the scriptures where God’s people are brought to view in the relationship of children, their vital and indissoluble union and joint heirship with him is distinctly expressed, and they can no more fail of their inheritance of glory than Christ can fail of the glory which he had with his Father before the world began. But when the disciples are presented in the relation of servants, their relative duties, obligations, and punishment for delinquencies are implied. The servant abideth not in the house forever, but the son abideth ever. The discipline of the servant and that of a son, until the son becomes of age, maybe alike, but the privilege and certain inheritance of the two are widely different. As it is said, “A seed shall serve him,” etc. (Psa. 22:30). We infer that all the seed, or children of God, are called into the service of Christ, to obey his commands, walk in his precepts, and keep his judgments, and in doing this they are servants, as well as sons. But we presume Christ has servants which are not sons; or at least not manifest as sons. A servant of Christ is equivalent to a disciple, and a disciple of Christ is one who serves, and obeys whatsoever he commands them. But Christ himself has said, “And whosoever doth not bear his cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27) But he does not say they cannot be his children. To be a child depends wholly on relationship; but to be a servant, on allegiance and service. “His servants ye are to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey.”
The difference will more clearly appear by considering the disciples, or servants of Jesus to whom this parable was originally spoken. They were all certainly the servants of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he said he was their Master. But of at least one of them we presume it will not be contended that he was a son. Judas Iscariot was a disciple. Jesus called to him twelve disciples, whom he named apostles, and Judas was one of that number. And according to the sense of this parable, he received a talent - or a part of the ministry. “And in those days Peter stood in the midst of the disciples, and said, Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost, by the mouth of David, spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus. For he was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry.” “For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein; and, his bishoprick let another take.” (Acts 1:15-17, 20)
Now should we suppose Judas to have been a servant, or disciple, as he is really called, and this ministry to be the goods divided among the servants, and Judas to have received one talent, and Paul to have received five, and as he labored more abundantly than all the servants, to have gained the other five; the one talent was ultimately taken from Judas, and given to Paul, for Paul was called to take the bishoprick vacated by Judas, and Paul, as we have shown, did finish his course with joy, and the ministry which he had received, and had entered into the joy of his Lord, to wear the crown of righteousness which the righteous Judge has given to him; and Judas is fallen, and goes to his own place where there is darkness, weeping, and gnashing of teeth. The case of Judas among the disciples - his wickedness, and punishment, answers well to the servant who was cast out into outer darkness.
But not only Judas among the apostles, but there were multitudes of disciples who called Jesus Master, who could not endure his doctrine, and turned away and walked no more with him.
But as we have presented some servants who give no evidence of being sons, before we close we will enquire if there be not some sons or children who are not, strictly speaking, servants or disciples? Are there not some, yea, many, who have passed from death unto life, have tasted the good word of life and of the joys of the world to come; - who have seen themselves poor, guilty, lost and perishing sinners, justly condemned by the righteous law of God; who in their extremity cried out, “Lord, save or I perish,” who have felt the joy of pardoned sins, unto whom Jesus has been revealed as their Savior, the chiefest among ten thousand, and altogether lovely, who have never taken up their cross and followed their Lord and Master in baptism, or any of his ordinances? If there are such, and we believe we know of many, they certainly are children, for they were born again, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God - can they be disciples? Jesus says they cannot; and if they do not obey him, how can they be his servants? “A son honoreth his father, and a servant his master; if then I be a father, where is mine honor? and if I be a master, where is my fear, saith the Lord of hosts?” (Mal. 1:6) But how is it that a son who loves his father should withhold the honor due by obeying and serving him? How is it set forth in the parable? The undutiful servant says, “I knew thee, that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strewed; and I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth.” In the application of the admonition presented in this subject, let us enquire whether there be not some of God’s children who are reasoning as did the slothful servant, and saying their Lord’s requirements are hard and unreasonable? If he requires me to come out and improve my talent, by public profession of his name, and obedience to his command, he would reap where he has not sown. If he would sow more plentifully, that is, if he would relieve me of all my doubts and fears, and give me more light, joy, and comfort, more zeal and strength, and remove this troublesome cross out of my way, and give me a full assurance that my pathway shall be smooth and pleasant, then I would not think it hard that he should have my service.
Not only are there multitudes of this class of delinquents, but also among those who have publicly espoused his cause, there may be found those who say, “If the Lord would give me a greater gift so that I could speak like some who have five times the amount of talent that I have, I would lift up my voice as a witness for God and truth; but as it is, why should I show my ignorance by exhibiting my one talent, and so perhaps bring down on me the scorn and reproach of the enemy?” And among the ministers of the word there may be some who say, “Alas! for me. The Lord requires me to preach his gospel that he has sowed so sparingly. I know so little, and am surrounded by so many hindrances which the Lord could, if it were his pleasure, so easily remove. My time and attention is so closely occupied to know how to answer the questions, What shall I eat? What shall I drink? And where withal shall I be clothed? How can I neglect my farm or merchandise, or whatever my worldly occupation may be, without injustice to myself and to my family?” Thus the earth of our carnal reasoning, and the affairs of the world, may bury up, to some extent, if not altogether, the talent. But let us be assured, if we are the Lord’s children, we shall be saved, yet so as by fire; and as his servants, we shall feel his chastening scourge, and go into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Of course, we do not mean that God’s children shall finally fail of their inheritance in glory; for God is faithful, he will not deny himself; but he is also righteous, and he will visit our transgressions with his rod, and our disobedience and slothfulness with many stripes.
When Israel for their disobedience and idolatry were sent down into Babylon, then some of them wept when they remembered Zion; it was to them a place of darkness - of weeping - and lamentation; while there was also, on the part of their adversaries, gnashing of teeth. The tumults which now prevail in the world, the wars and rumors of wars which agitate the nations of the earth, and especially our own beloved States, should admonish us that God’s righteous judgments are abroad; that the day of reckoning is at hand; that our Lord cometh in an hour when transgressors think not. And the prophet saith he cometh suddenly to his temple. But who shall abide the day of his coming, and who shall stand when he appeareth?
Whatever our ability or opportunity may be, our Lord has given us the full amount of talent that he requires us to improve. He will reap no more than he has sown, he will not gather what he has not strewed. He will not require of us the improvement of talents given to others. Where much is given, much will be required, and where little is given, but little will be required. If any of us cannot reap, perhaps we can bind some of the sheaves. Let us be active, for the harvest is great and the laborers are few.
November 15, 1861.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 5
Pages 82 – 90