Page images
PDF

oned his neighbour. Now had his charity been strong, been real, he could have felt no want of any such information; his own heart would have informed him. As occasions arose, as misery and distress came in his way, as the powerful help and succor was possessed by him, he would have been ready to stretch out his hand, to have given way to his compassion, without nicely deliberating whether the object before him wanting his aid, was, or was not, the neighbour whom he was commanded to love.

Secondly ; whatever difficulties and distinctions we are perplexed with in our own cases, we can generally determine, both readily and rightly, in the cases that apply to others. When this beautiful narrative was related to the lawyer, and the question upon it pointed home to his conscience, ‘Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neigbour to him that fell among the thieves?” the lawyer had no doubt at all about the answer. “He that showed mercy on him.’ When another man was concerned, the case was clear. When the precept of loving his neighbour was to be obeyed by himself, and at his own expense, he was then at a loss to know who his neighbour was ; to ascertain, that is, the limits, the extent, the measure, the objects of the obligation.

Thirdly and lastly, we have here, as upon many other occasions, great reason to admire the wisdom with which our blessed Lord spake, the manner and the excellency of his teaching. It is extremely material to observe, that this parable was not merely made by our Lord, or prepared beforehand in the manner of a set discourse, but, from the nature of the case, was conceived at the moment. The occasion was sudden and unexpected ; a certain lawyer stood up, and started the question. It was, therefore, our Lord’s divine promptness and presence of mind that enabled him, without study, without notice, to deliver a wiser, and more exquisite, and more complete solution of the question, than any study or learning could have produced. This was agreeable to his constant method ; he gave to every incident, every discourse, to what happened before his eyes, to what passed in his conversation, a turn so as to draw from it a lesson of perpetual use. Not merely the lawyer was to go away answered, but his disciples instructed; his disciples in all ages of the world. As much, therefore, are we who read this beautiful passage in his scriptures, as they who heard the word from his lips, obliged to attend to it in our minds and thoughts, and to observe it in our lives and practice.

LI.

PARABLE OF THE TALENTs.

MATTHEw XXV. 19.

After a long time, the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.

YoU cannot but know that these words are the conclusion of the parable of the talents; in which parable God’s final dealings with mankind are set forth under the similitude of a master, who, setting out upon a distant journey, delivered talents, to some more, and to some fewer, to his several servants, and, upon his return required from each a separate account of his management; that upon those who had managed what was committed to them with diligence and success he bestowed high, yet proportionable rewards; that one who, though he had not spent or wasted, yet had hidden and totally neglected his talent, and had made no use of it whatever, he not only dismissed without reward, but sentenced him for his neglect to a grievous punishment. Now every thing in the New Testament which discloses the rules and principles according to which God will be pleased to judge us at the last, is of extreme importance, because they are what we must stand or fall by, and because they are what we ought to regulate our choice and behaviour by, whilst we have the matter in our power. Therefore this parable, as well as those others concerning the delivery of the talents, for it is given by the evangelists and was repeated by our Saviour in two or three different forms, is amongst the passages of Scripture deserving our most serious attention. The points to be well considered are, what is meant by talents, and what is meant by improving and by neglecting, and by abusing them; for these points being understood, the application of the parable to our respective cases and conditions will be sufficiently plain. By talents, then, are meant any powers or faculties by which we can do good. Every such power or faculty which we find ourselves possessed of is a talent delivered to us by God, and therefore a talent, for the use, the abuse, the neglect of which, as the parable expresses it, our Lord will reckon with us. One principal thing, and the most difficult thing to be comprehended on the subject, is, that every man, the most common and ordinary person, hath his talent, for the exercise of which

he will have to account. I say this is less easy of comprehension, because, whenever we talk of talents, we are in the habit of considering only great talents, or extraordinary endowments and advantages. We are very ready to allow, and we think that is what the parable means, that those who have superior gifts, those who are blessed with quick abilities, or with favors of fortune above the common lot of mankind, ought to employ these rightly; and that if they do not so, they are highly and justly censurable; but we do not see how this relates to us, who make no pretensions to uncommon endowments of any kind, who are not in stations to possess much power of doing either good or evil. This way of thinking makes nine out of ten regard the parable of the talents as what does not at all concern them. I will endeavour therefore, as I proceed, to show you, that when the proper and true notion of moral talents is entertained, they are such things as, in a great degree, are given to every one, and what therefore every one will in the same degree-be responsible for. I have said, and I repeat it, that every power and faculty by which, according as we use it, we may do good, and by which, according as we misuse it, we may do harm, is a talent within the sense and rule of the parable. This definition extends the parable to all, notwithstanding there may be, and there is, much diversity, both in kind and degree, of the powers and faculties of different men; yet I believe that there are some of every station in whom their talents do not subsist in a sufficient degree to make the possessors responsible. To see this satisfactorily, as well indeed as the full drift and extent of the parable, we may reflect, that the gifts which we are to account for, and which, according as we employ them, may be instruments of good or of evil, are either the faculties of the body, the faculties of the mind, or the advantages of situation. With respect to the body, it is a great fault that few set such value as they ought upon the blessings of health, strength, soundness, and activity. Those who possess them are, for the most part, those who never knew the want of them; or else they would be sensible how graciously they were dealt with by their Maker, when he formed them with a vigorous constitution of body. A healthy constitution is a talent, and a talent from God. Now this talent is used as it ought to be when we employ it, and get our own living, in that station of life into which it hath pleased God to call us; when we labor homestly and faithfully, according to our portion of strength and activity, for

the maintenance of our families. This is the natural and intended use of the talent; therefore it may and ought to be an encouraging reflection to the industrious husbandman at his plough, the industrious weaver at his loom, the artificer at his work, the tradesman in his shop, that he is then and there using the precious gift of bodily health and strength in the way in which his Maker intended they should be used, and that when his Master comes to reckon for the gift he can render his account. Health, strength, and activity are talents; lawful industry is the use of those talents. There will be occasions for using them still more meritoriously, when we can put forth our exertion to help a neighbour, to do a good or a kind turn by means of our bodily activity, without desiring or hoping to be paid for it. I do allow that such exertions can only be occasional ; but the readiness and the disposition to lend our assistance when the occasions do arise, is both a duty and a virtue. To save, for instance, a man from a shipwreck, can happen but seldom, but that disposition which would make a man exert or endanger himself when it did happen, may be constant; the disposition resides in a good man constantly, though the occasions which call it forth arise only incidentally. The talent is meglected, when men suffer their bodily strength and activity to rust in sloth and idleness, and thereby become a useless burden to society ; when men have not taught themselves any useful art, or do not exercise what they profess, with such regularity as to be faithful to the expectations of those who employ them, and so manage to throw themselves out of employment, and then make that a pretence for leading an idle life. Such men find poverty, unpitied poverty, the common consequence of their conduct, or if they be preserved from that, they find the uncomfortableness of an insignificant existence; but what I wish them to find is, that they are laying up a precious talent in a napkin, that their Lord will come and reckon with them, that they will have no sufficient account to render of their talent, none of its improvement, none of its application. But this talent of bodily health and strength may be worse than neglected, it may be abused ; and this is the case when it is employed to carry men into lewd, drunken, or vicious courses. To see a young man, blessed by his Maker with the gifts of health, strength, and activity, blessings which no money can purchase, blessings, which, if they could be purchased, thousands would lay down their fortunes as the price ; to see him using the strength and goodness of his constitution, and at a time of life when both are in perfection, only in pursuit of debauchery and intemperance, and making the firmness of his health only a reason for plunging deeper and continuing longer in these courses, is to witness a most wicked abuse of the Creator's kindness. It is the height and extremity of ingratitude, It is not simply neglecting a precious talent, but it is wilfully consuming and destroying it. Besides every other aggravation that attends this course of life, it is chargeable with the guilt of throwing away the bounty of Providence. What has not such an one to fear, when his Lord shall demand an account of his gifts : But, secondly, we have other faculties than those of the body; we have endowments of mind to account for. And by endowments of mind I do not mean great parts, great abilities, because if the parable related to these alone, it would concern very few ; though it be true, no doubt, that such parts and such abilities, when they do occur, cast upon the owner of them corresponding obligation to exert and exercise them properly. They are given, not to outshine others with, but to do good to others. I here rather intend that which, thanks be to God, is conferred upon most of us, a right and sound mind; and I desire it may never be forgotten that this is a gift, properly so called; and moreover, that it is not less a gift because it is bestowed upon others as well as upon us; and being likewise a gift, by the use of which we can do good, it is a talent in the sense of the parable. The capacity of learning is a talent. They therefore who, with sufficient capacity, learn nothing, no useful art, occupation, or knowledge, from being either too idle to take the necessary pains, or too dissipated to give the necessary attention, or submit to the necessary confinement, grievously neglect their talent. They who, being masters of some useful art, do not exercise it to the benefit of mankind, also grievously neglect their talent. They who feel in themselves a particular turn to some one art or science, a peculiar facility in acquiring it, and a prospect of attaining to eminence and excellence, do very well to cultivate their talent in that way in which they can hope to be most serviceable; not, however, imagining that their parts place them above their regular calling, at least till they have provided themselves with something better. But faculties of mind are abused when our whole ingenuity is turned to contrive and execute mischief, or compass unlawful, ends, with more subtlety and success than the generality of men could do; and it is lamentable to see men of good parts, not only make this bad use of their parts, but boast of so doing, and value themselves upon the extraordinary skill and

« PreviousContinue »