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THE UNPROFITABLE SERVANT.
St. Mart. xxv. 26.
“I was afraid : and went and hid thy talent in the earth.”
It seems, on consideration, of great importance toward the right understanding and application of many, or per. haps I may say, of most of the parables of our blessed Lord, that we regard them as prophecies, or rather as prophetic warning, valuable indeed to Christians in every age of the church, but especially to us of these later days. For as time goes on, and seems in a manner to take us on farther from the source of evangelical light and truth, the “word of prophecy,” according to its nature, still grows clearer, and becomes, as St. Peter expresses, more and more sure ; sure, that is, to us, both to encourage and to guide us in this “ dark place.'
For, I suppose, we, looking back on the history of the Christian world for many centuries past, and witnessing its condition at the present day, in this and other nations, are able to perceive the force of many of our Savior's prophetic discourses, and especially of his parables, more clearly even than many of those disciples to whom they were originally addressed.
At all events, the warnings contained in these parables could not have touched the consciences of the first Christians more closely than they must ours, so far at least as we have a serious sense of our real condition, and of the state of Christ's church militant here on earth.
To the first Christians it was a prophecy that the gos: pel of their Savior should be as good corn scattered in a field, of which only a small proportion falls into good ground and brings forth fruit,
To us this is matter of history, observation, and ex. perience.
To the first Christians it was a prophecy that tares should spring up among the good corn, and that the servants would be impatiently anxious to make the separation, sooner than their Master would think well.
How this prophecy has been fulfilled, the history of the Christian world, in past and present times, may well bear witness.
To the first Christians it was a prophecy that the Christian faith should be as a grain of mustard-seed springing up into a great tree. We are able to imagine from what we already know, that at no distant day the earth shall be filled with at least the knowledge of the glory of the Lord.
And to refer to one more only of our Lord's parables ; to the first Christians it was a prophecy that persons who had received, and who knew that they had received, from their Lord and Master talents and advantages, more or less valuable, to be accounted for, would nevertheless deliberately set them aside as worthy of no care or regard at all, and as though they should never be called to account respecting them,
That things should be so in the Christian church, the Omniscient and Holy Jesus expressly foretold. That things have been and are so, we must, alas! all of us see and confess, if at least we will not be wilfully blind, and regardless of the prospect which is spread before us.
The last parable, as it seems, which the Savior of mankind delivered while on earth, was the following :
“A man travelling 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 an. other one, to every one acoording to his several ability: and straightway took his journey. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made other five talents. And he that had received the two, he also gained other two. But he that had received the one went and digged in the earth, and hid his Lord's money ;" did not misspend it, but merely hid it.
“ After a long time, the Lord of those servants cometh and reckoneth with them. And so he that had received the five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord thou deliveredst unto me five talents, behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. His Lord said unto him, Well done, thou 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.
“ And he also that had received the two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.' Here we observe that he which had made the best use of his two talents was welcomed by his Lord in exactly the same gracious words as he who had the five. Lord said unto him, Well done, thou 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.
“ Then he that had received the one talent, came, and said,” in a bold unhesitating manner, “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, and I went and hid thy talent in the earth h; lo, there thou hast that is thine.” I have spent none of it. I have made no use of it, either good or bad. Take it again as thou gavest me. I now owe thee nothing.
We may well believe that among many other prophetic warnings of the greatest value implied in this parable, this is one, that as Christians we are in danger, through pride and indolence, of neglecting to turn to account God's common mercies and privileges; yet deceiving ourselves and others all the while with a pretence of humility and unworthiness, and extreme fear and awe of the Divine perfections.
It may seem that the servant in the parable was secretly displeased that while of his fellow-servants, some had five talents, and others two, he should be only entrusted with one. So he made up his mind that it was not worth taking any trouble about; that if he should try any scheme of improvement and not succeed, his master, whom he chose to call without reason, “a hard man,” would be very angry, so it would be safer to go at once and bury the talent in the earth, taking all chances for the consequences.
Thus, I say, does our merciful Savior warn us to make the most of whatever talents are intrusted to us, however small, and in the world's opinion, contemptible, and not with a pretence of fear and humility, to encourage secretly the fatal kindred dispositions to indolence and pride ; ever remembering the end denounced against him, who is here designated not as proud, or envious, or disobedient, all of which doubtless he was, but as an “unprofitable servant,” one who did not try to make the most of what was intrusted to his charge.
We observe then, that this man, when he was called to account, for the manner in which he had employed his talent, endeavored to excuse himself, by alleging the fear and awe he had for his Master. “I was afraid (says he), so I went and hid thy talent in the earth.” As much as to say, if I had five talents intrusted to me, or even two, I might have accomplished something worth laying before thee, but with only one poor talent I was afraid of attempting anything, for I was sure I should fail.
Here, I say, seems to be set before us a solemn warning against cherishing any unworthy fear, or rather pretence of fear, which would keep us back in our several stations, from turning whatever talents our merciful God may intrust us with, to the intended account.
People very often think what they would do if they were placed in a more influential situation, if they were more wealthy, or more clever, or more learned, or in any respect more skilful, or were naturally better tempered, or had been blest with more vigorous health, or more even spirits.
I say, feeling our deficiency, as almost all must in some one or more of these respects, we are in danger of cloaking our indolence or our vanity under the disguise of humility, and because we know we cannot succeed so well as some others, to profess ourselves afraid
to attempt anything in the special service of our Lord and Master.
For instance, the poor widow in the gospel, who when many that were rich cast in much to the offerings of God, threw in two mites, being all she had, and for that had the distinguished honor of being commended by her Savior and Judge himself, I say, if this poor widow had been of the disposition of the servant in the parable, she might and would have said, I was afraid to give so little, so I gave nothing. And so doubtless it is to this day, persons are often afraid to subscribe small sums even to purposes which it is their duty to support, and which they highly approve; they are afraid (they say) they shall do more harm than good to the cause, and get laughed at instead of thanked, and so forth. Now if we look a little more closely into our motives on these occasions, we shall generally find a lurking spirit of vanity, or perhaps of covetousness, which deceives us under the cloak of fear and humility.
Or again, though it be not so generally considered, yet without question there is one precious talent, gift, and privilege, within the reach of us all of this country, which the majority of persons nevertheless, in the spirit of a vain and false fear bury in the earth, and this is the privilege of church-membership, with its accompanying graces and duties.
Thus many persons think, or at least speak and act as if they thought, that the question of church unity was no concern of theirs, very proper for the clergy and learned men, but quite above the reach of the generality of Christians.
Many are afraid of committing themselves by overstrictness (as they call it) in some particular instance, because they are fearful (that say they shall bring disgrace on religion by not being consistent in other respects.
On this plea many persons, among other things, are unwilling to begin or keep on with the sacred duty of family prayers; many refuse or decline to kneel down when they are in this house of God, and on the same