"And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come."—Luke xix. 137
HE Evangelist is careful to note the occasion for this remarkable parable. It was spoken in order to damp down the excited hopes of Christ's followers and of the crowd, occasioned by our Lord's final journey to Jerusalem. They "thought that the Kingdom of God should immediately appear "; that at last this Messiah was about to make a dash for temporal sovereignty, such as would meet their desires. He tells them this story which so significantly, though in veiled fashion, yet very clearly to a seeing eye, asserts His dignity, foretells His departure, hints at the long period of His absence, and prescribes the tasks of His servants.
"A certain nobleman," or, as th6 word literally rendered would be, a "well-born man "—there speaks the veiled consciousness of Divine Sonship—" went into a far country," therefore on a long journey, "to receive for himself a kingdom," as successive members of the Herod family had been accustomed to do, going to Rome, to get confirmation of their authority, " and to return." And he left behind him, says the narrative, two sets of people, servants to work and rebellious citizens.
I have nothing to do with the latter class this morning, but I wish to turn to the imagery of my task as suggesting the work of the servants whilst the Master is gone.
Now we are to observe that the word "occupy," in our Authorized Version, is by no means—now, at all events—an adequate representation of the original. A compound form of the same word is rightly rendered in the fifteenth verse, "gain by trading"; and unquestionably the Revised Version gives the true meaning when, instead of "occupy," it reads "trade ye herewith till I come." The metaphor, then, is that of men to whom has been entrusted a capital not their own, and who are sent to do their best with it.
I.—Note, then, first, the stock-in-trade.
Now you will remember that there is another parable, so singularly like this one that superficial readers, and some readers who ought not to have been superficial, have gone the length of supposing that the two are simply versions of one. I mean the parable of the pounds in Matthew's Gospel. But there are, along with the resemblances of the two, several important points of difference, which enter into the very structure and significance of each, and contain the key to their interpretation. The two points of difference are the magnitude of the gift bestowed, and the fact that in the one parable the gift varies in each case, and in the other is identical in all. In our story the men get a pound a piece; in the other story they get a varying number of talents, beginning with ten, and tapering down to one. Now, then, these two points, the smallness of the stock and its uniformit}'', are essential features in the significance of this parable.
What is there that all Christian men have in common? The answer may be, as often has been supposed, salvation, grace, or the like; but it is only very partially true that all Christian men have an equal measure of such gifts, for these vary indefinitely, according to the faith and receptivity of the possessor. But there is something which all Christian people have equally, though they do not all make the same use of it, and that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the message of salvation, the great truths of His mission, character, and work. And that, as I take it—the Word, or, to use a more frequent phrase, the Gospel—is the "pound" which every real Christian has equally. Remember Paul's word, which is only another phase of the same thought, where he speaks about "that good deposit committed to our trust." And remember also his frequent expressions, such as " I was put in trust of the Gospel," "the Gospel was committed to my charge," as to a steward, and I think you will see the meaning of the emblem. All Christians have the same gift committed to their charge.
But then, is it not very strange that, if that be at all the significance of the figure, our Lord should select a very small amount as representing it? A talent, whether it was a talent of gold or of silver— which may be questionable—was an immense sum. A pound was worth about six pounds of our English money, a very small amount for a man to set up in business with; or for an aspirant to a throne to give to his servants. Pretenders to crowns not yet won are not usually very flush of money, and the smallness of the gift may be part of the propriety of the narrative.
But how can we think that Jesus Christ would have represented the gift of His Word as a little stockin-trade with which to go out? Well! fling yourself back to the time. Think of these forlorn men, left by their Master, and standing there face to face with an antagonistic world, with its treasures of poetry, philosophy, eloquence, literature, with its banded antagonisms, with its dead weight of indifference, What have they to meet all these with? One unlettered message, "to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness." By the side of the wealth that was stored in that wonderful literature of Greece, what was the disciples' stock-in-trade? Nothing but one poor word; and with that word they shook the world. The "pound," small as it seemed was more than all the wealth hived in the treasurehouses of the poets and orators and philosophers of Greece, and than the might of Rome. It was a little gift, but it was sufficient. The gladiator was sent into the arena to face the lions unarmed, and with a poor rod in his hand, but he conquered. The foolishness of preaching was more than a match for the gathered wisdom of the world.
The servants had but their pound; they had to be contented, therefore, with dealing in a very small way. Little economies, and hard work, and slow savings had to be the rule of their trade. There are men in Manchester to-day who began with the traditional halfcrown, and have made it the basis of a large fortune. Christ sent His Church into the world with a similar slender endowment, judged from the world's point of view. All of us have that gift. Let us see that we are not ashamed of it. David's five smooth stones out of the brook-bed, lodged in a rude leather sling, with a bit of string tied at the two ends of it, are fit to whiz into the forehead of any Goliath and lay him flat upon the plain. The Lord went to seek a kingdom, and all that He had to leave to His servants was one poor pound. That is their stock-in-trade.
II.—Now, secondly, notice the trading.
"Trade ye herewith." That is a distinct and definite command. It covers, no doubt, the whole area of life, and goes down to its depths as well. In this trading is, I suppose, included the whole of the outward life, which is to be shaped by the principles and motives contained in the message of the Gospel. Thus to live is our business in the world. These men got their gift, not only to live upon it—of course they had to do that too—but to do the best they could with it by their faithfulness and their diligence. It remains for ever true that wheresoever men do honestly and conscientiously, and with a fixed and continuous determination, apply the principles of Christianity to their daily life, in great or small things, their grasp of the principles and motives is increased, and the "pound" becomes more in their hands, though they add nothing to it, but only penetrate deeper into its significance and its value.
i But whilst thus the Christian life, influenced and dominated by Christian motives and principles drawn from the Gospel, is the general meaning of this trading, there is one special direction in which, as I think, the stress of the parable is meant to go, and that is, the diffusion by the servants of the King of the message of His love. I take it that, whilst the whole sweep of Christian life may be included in the commandment, manifestly the main idea that lies in it is—spread the Word which you have received, and become apostles and missionaries of the truth that has been entrusted to your charge. This trading is laid as an obligation upon all Christians, by the fact of possession, by the consideration of the purpose for which the pound is given, and by the distinct and definite command of the Lord Himself.
It is laid upon us as an obligation by the fact of possession. That is true about all our gifts. It is most true about all our convictions. It is truest of all about our religious convictions. For a man may have many opinions which bring with them no obligation to diffuse them, and there may be many thoughts and beliefs in my heart which do not knock at the door of my lips and demand expression in proportion to the depth of my own personal conviction. But no man, who really has, in his heart, lodged deep and hidden, the Word of God, can be dumb. "Thy Word have I hid in my heart "says the Psalmist; and then again, he says, "I have not hid Thy righteousness from before the great congregation." If there is a deep personal possession of that Gospel for ourselves, there cannot fail to result therefrom the sense of obligation, and of impulse and necessity to impart it. The "pound" burns a hole in your pockets, according to the old saying, unless you take it out and trade with it. And I, for my part, venture to say that I look, if not with suspicion, at least with profound conviction of its shallowness, at the Christianity of any man who feels nothing of the obligation which it lays upon him to communicate it to others.
The obligation results from the very purpose of the gift. The king gave these men their pound each, not that they might live upon it, but that, living upon it, their life and their stock might both be used for the increase of his wealth. You vety much mistake your own importance in the world, and in Christ's Kingdom, if you think that you were saved—if you are saved—only in order that you might be safe. You were saved for that, but also in order that, through you, other people might be saved.
Now, Christians, have you realized that? And do you work it out in your life? The purpose of the pound is trading; and you will not be acquitted of unfaithfulness and embezzlement if, when the audit day comes, you say, " The pound? the Gospel? Oh! I lived upon it." Yes! but did you use the life that you drew from it for the purpose of spreading that great Name?
The obligation rises from the distinct commands of the Master, which commandments are not grievous. Oh! brethren, if we had more deeply communed with the Lord who is love, we should better understand that His commandments, which are the expressions of His will, are prerogatives and privileges. There are many of us, I am sure, who think, "Well! It is a Christian man's duty to do something for the spread of the Gospel. It is a heavy burden. I wish I could diminish it. I will do as little of it as is consistent with a reputable position, and as little as my conscience will let me off with "!" To me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach amongst the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ." It is privilege, honour, may be a source of joy, and will be a source of glory in the heavens, if we faithfully do the work.
The metaphor on which I am now speaking suggests also the way in which the work has to be done. Make a business of it. That is one plain conclusion from the imagery of our text. If once we could get it into our heads and consciences that it is quite as much our business in life to communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it is to go to our daily occupation, the whole Church and the world would be blessed and revolutionized. Make a business of it. - There are here and there men who do recognize this as their duty. I do not mean men like me, who make a profession of it, nor others who make a trade of it. That is entirely a different thing. I mean men who may be merchants, or shopkeepers, women who may be in any circumstance of life, but who recognize that the main thing for which they are in the world is the fuller reception of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in all its quickening and impelling power, into their own natures; and consequently the completer raying out of it from themselves into a darkened world. Make a business of it, realize it as your task. The Church has been playing at it, and a great many of us have not even been doing that much.
We need a far more serious devotion of ourselves to the task than characterizes most of us. Bring the common virtues and qualities, which you know to be essential to success in any walk of life to bear upon this your highest Christian duty,—common sense, adaptation of means to ends, persistence, diligence, looking out for opportunities to open new markets; and all the other qualities which you honour so highly in Portland Street and Mosley Street. You have another region in which they may profitably be applied, and that is, the doing of Christ's work in the world. But if you have such a huge millwheel to drive that the sluice and the lade need to be of such dimensions that they divert all the water from the stream, except one little miserable trickle amongst the stones, no wonder that the progress of the Christian Church, in the hands of such unfaithful servants, is the miserably slow thing that it is. Make your business the spread of Christ's name, and do it as you do your business. III.—Lastly, note the audit.
"Till I come," or, as another reading has it, more difficult but very significant, "whilst I am coming "; as if the coming of the Lord was in progress all through the ages of His absence, and He was drawing ever nearer and nearer. Which of these two may be the accurate reading does not much affect my present purpose. The point is that there comes a time when the head of the concern goes round to all the branch agencies and gets the books, and sees what has been done in his absence, and allots results accordingly.
Mark that the servants tell their own story. That is a solemn thought that, however we may cover up our idleness to-day, and whatever excuses we may have for not doing the Master's will, in the matter of diffusing His name throughout the world, there comes a time when all these will melt away, and the man himself will accurately know and accurately narrate what his life has really been, and what the upshot of it all has come to. "So, then, every one of us shall give account of himself to God."
Note that there turn out to be varieties in the profits. The one pound makes ten pounds, five pounds, no pounds. If these varieties in profits (which, I suppose, may be put into modern language as varying measures of what is so often misunderstood and sought in questionable "ways—success) have resulted from varying circumstances, over which the man has no control, they will not be taken into account in the final award. What Christ rewards is not success, but diligence. And if we are set to work in a little corner, the man who fills half a continent with his fame, and whose eloquence and spiritual power has revivified a dying Church or generation, will get no more than us little men in the far-off corners who did their best where God had put them. It is not variety of results, except in so far as that variety is determined by variety of consecration and diligence, that makes a variation in the issue. But in so far as there is this variety in diligence, it does make a difference. I wish that belief held a larger place than it does in the minds and in the preaching of the Church of this day. We are far too much accustomed to think of the salvation of the soul and the reward of a future life as being one dead level, whereas, in fact, it is full of inequalities of height, and some peaks tower above the lower ones. There is such a thing as salvation by fire, and such a thing as salvation in fulness. It is not all the same, brethren, and it will not be all the same for you and me in that future life, whether we have traded with our pound or hidden it in a napkin; and whether our diligence has made our pound into ten or only into five.
What may be hidden beneath the wonderful words of the promise, with which the audit closes, is more than any of us can guess. "Have thou authority over ten cities." At all events, that means an all but infinitely higher sphere and form of service granted to the diligent traders. 'Here, if I might stick by the metaphors of my text, we keep a little shop in a back street with a very small stock-in-trade in the little window, and very slender profits in the till. Yonder we shall be His viceroys and lieutenants; and somehow or other share in the possession and the administration of His royalty.
Or, if I might put it into the grand rolling words of John Milton, "They undoubtedly, that by their labours, counsels, and prayers have been earnest for the common good of religion and their country, shall, above the inferior orders of the blessed, receive the regal addition of principalities, powers, and thrones into their glorious titles."