ABUNDANCE OR POVERTY BY R.

HEBER

ST. MATTHEW, xxv. 29. Unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance ; but from him that hath not) shall be taken away even that which he hath. WITH this aweful declaration our Saviour ends the parable of the talents, in which, as it is told by St. Matthew, He describes Himself as a master who, on leaving His family for a time, gives to his different servants their different tasks to perform ; and who, on His return, exa mines into their behaviour during His absence, rewarding the diligence of some, and punishing the neglect of others. " The kingdom of Hea ven," He tells us, " is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents ; unto another, two ; and unto another, one ; to every man according unto his several ability ; and straightway took his journey. Then he, that had received the five talents, went and traded with the same ; and

202 SERMON XLV. 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. 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 the other five talents, and saith unto him, 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. He also, that had received two talents, came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents : behold, I have gained two other talents beside 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. Then he, which had re ceived the one talent, came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping

where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed ; and I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth : lo, there thou hast that is thine. His Lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knowest that I reap where I sowed not,

THIRTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY. 203 and gather where I have not strawed : Thou oughtest, therefore, to have put my money to the exchangers ; and then, at my coming, I should have received mine own with usury. Take, therefore, the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance, but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath : And cast ye the unprofitable servant into utter darkness : there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." The substance of the same parable is related by St. Luke, with some other circumstances which serve to explain the manner in "which Christ described the nobleman (as he is there called) to have disposed of his property, a manner, indeed, not uncommon at that time and in those countries. It is, probably, well known to most of you that, in the dominions of the emperor of Rome, and the lands which the Romans had conquered, a great part of the property of wealthy and powerful persons con sisted in slaves. Free servants were, in compa rison, very unusual ; almost all the business of families being done by those who were bought for money, and might be sold again ; whom the Scriptures call " bond men and bond women ;" because they were, in reality, as much their ^ master's property as his horses, and were too

204 SERMON XLV. often treated with even less humanity and ten derness. Of these unfortunate persons, however, all were not employed in the labours of the field, or of the household. Many of the most inge nious were brought up to different trades, which they exercised for their master's benefit ; ac counting to him for all the profits which they received ; and receiving from him, in return, such a share as he thought proper, to supply

their food and clothing, and to reward their diligence and honesty. Thus it is, at present, in Russia, where a man's wealth is reckoned, not so much by the number of his acres, as by that of his servants, or slaves, whose labour and industry he commands : and I was told of one of the principal goldsmiths in Petersburg!], who, notwithstanding the extensive trade which he carried on, and the number of workmen whom he employed, was still a slave, and accounted to his master for all his earnings. It is plain, however, that such slaves as these, to enable them to make their ingenuity and industry profitable either to themselves or their lords, would require sums of money to set them up in their different ways of life ; and we need not, therefore, think it strange to hear of a nobleman, on going into a distant land, ad vancing such sums as five talents, that is, about 1250/., to one of his servants, two talents to

THIRTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY. 205 another, and one to a third, " to each man according to his several ability," in the hope of receiving back a far greater sum at his return ; and with the intention of rewarding liberally, or of punishing severely, each man according to his diligence, or to his want of care. We need not think it strange, that a kind and just master should bestow on the person whom he found most trustworthy, one talent by way of encou ragement ; that he should take this talent away from that slave who, from fear, or idleness, or malice, had made no proper use of the property entrusted to him ; and that this unprofitable servant should be shut out, in darkness, and confinement from the feast and rejoicings with which his lord's return was celebrated. The story, then, if it were understood of an earthly master only, was one which might have happened any day in those times and countries ; but, as it was told by our LORD, by way of com parison to His Kingdom, and in order to show forth and explain His dealings with the children of men, it conveys to us, as it did to those who first heard it, a solemn and most important lesson, in which there are several circumstances which seem to require a separate and attentive consideration. In the first place, the Kingdom of Heaven (that is, Christ's government of the world, as Saviour, Teacher, and Judge) is likened unto a man who called his own servants

206 SERMON XLV. and delivered unto them his goods : the ser vants, or slaves, were his own property, and so were the goods, which he entrusted to their care, No one man among them could say, that he had any thing of his own. His very arms and legs, his strength and health were, according to the laws of that country, his master's property, who had bought him with a price, and to whom belonged, to dispose of as he pleased, not only the five talents, and the two, and the one, but whatever advantage the skill and industry of his bondmen could make of the sums en trusted to them. But how much more truly, how much more entirely, how much more humbly ought we to look on ourselves as the servants of Christ, as bought by Him with a price which the wealth of ten thousand worlds could not equal, - - His own most precious blood ? How much more are we bound to look on everything, which we possess, as pro'ceeding from God alone, as God's goods which we are to employ in His service, and to His glory, of our use of which we are one day to render a strict account ; and which, though lent us for a time to enjoy, are no more our own, than the sun is ours, which shines on us, and warms us ? And can we be proud of possessions like these, which, though we claim them, belong to another? Can we be lifted up in heart, against our fellow-servants, to whom God has

THIRTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY. 207 given a less share of outward advantages, but who are, in their nature, and in the eyes of their Maker, equal with ourselves ? Can we (God be merciful to us!) can we be lifted up and talk of our own merits, our own wisdom, our own wealth and power, in the sight of that God to whom all these belong, and from whom we have them all ? I can conceive it possible, that a man may be drawn away by his lusts, and yet remain a Christian. I can suppose it possible, that he may be terrified from his duty by worldly dangers, and yet remain in his heart a Christian. But a Christian the proud man cannot be, since, in order to be proud, he must have first forgotten all which Christ has taught him of himself, his condition, and his duties. But, secondly, not only is pride shut out by a due consideration of the present parable ; dis

content and murmuring are also shown to be most unreasonable. To the different servants, indeed, their Lord entrusted very different sums of money. One had five talents ; another, had two ; and another, only one. And who does not perceive that this is a lively image and repre sentation of that unequal distribution of the powers of body and mind, of wealth and poverty, of rank and servitude, of prosperity and disap pointment, which, in the present world, so con tinually exercises the faith, the submission, and the patience of those who see others possess

208 SERMON XLV. advantages which are denied to themselves ? But let us examine whether any of the servants in the parable had any just reason for envying their companions, or murmuring against their Lord. Were their companions to blame ; did they deserve their hatred or ill-will for accepting or using the favours which a bountiful master gave them ? Our Master, which is in Heaven, gives us all. The richest man in the world has nothing but what God has seen fit to entrust him with. Promotion cometh not by man's disposal ; and who is our fellow-servant, that we should murmur against him ? Or shall we murmur against the Giver of all good things, because He bestows the advantages of this life in a manner, of which we do not exactly ap prove ? God forbid ! May not a man do that which he will with his own ? Might not the nobleman, in the parable, divide his own goods, to his own servants, in such proportions as pleased him ? Or, the prerogative which we willingly allow to weak and partial man, shall we deny to the All- wise, the All-just, the Allgracious? The master, in the parable, you may further take notice, is said not to have bestowed his treasure at hazard, or without some certain rule of prudence and fitness. He divided his goods, among his servants, to trade with them, not equally, indeed, but " to every man according to his several ability," according

THIRTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY. 209 to the skill and opportunity, which every man possessed, of employing more or less money to advantage. What I have already observed, con cerning the different trades, in which the slaves of ancient times were brought up, will explain the needfulness of such a difference. The

goldsmith, for instance, or the linen-draper, would require a larger capital, than the person who had been brought up as a carpenter or a blacksmith ; a sum of money, which was neces sary for the success of the one, would be, to the other, only an encumbrance or a temptation ; and no master in his senses would place the same trust in an idle, or drunken, or stupid slave, as he placed in one whose abilities and integrity were well known to him. The noble man, we may be sure, would give to each of his servants the task for which he thought him best suited ; and can we doubt that God is, at least, as wise ; at least, as reasonable ; at least as kind and considerate, in His distribution to every man of his lot in life, and the duties which He expects from him ? We may, in our present state of blindness and ignorance, be tempted to fancy that we might have been better placed in life ; that we might, in the situation which our neighbour holds, have been happier or more useful than he is, or than we now are. But God knows best yea God knoweth all things ; and it is surely not too VOL. II. P

210 SERMON XLV. much for Him to ask, that we should not mur mur against a Providence which we cannot understand ; that we should recollect, that though we may not have all which we desire, we have each of us, far more than we deserve : and that it is better to employ our one talent well, than to complain that we have not more committed to us. More might be a snare ; more might be a burthen. But if we use, what we have, to God's glory, and to our own increase in holiness, the time will come when to him that hath shall be given, and he shall have more abundantly, more if God sees it good for him, of worldly blessings and advantages, more, beyond a doubt, ten thousand fold-more of glory and happiness, when our Lord shall come home, having received His kingdom, and when they, who have been "faithful in a very little," shall enter with Him into His joy. For this is the third lesson which we may learn from the parable of the talents ; the necessity, I mean, of active exertion in good works, diligent endeavours after holiness, and, more particularly, an unceasing attention to those particular duties, which belong to that state of life, to which it has pleased God to

call us. What others possess is nothing to us : but, of what we ourselves possess, be it much or little, we must one day give a strict account ; and though much will not be ex-

THIRTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY. pected from those, who have received little ; yet that little, well employed, will bring us back a blessed harvest of recompense ; and, if neglected in idleness, will draw down on us a heavy curse hereafter. We cannot plead having received no talents ; every man has some duties in his power ; some way, in which he may glorify God, and do good to his fellow creatures, by comfort, if not by alms ; by patience and gentleness, if not by active help ; by good example and by prayer, if not by learned advice or by powerful pro tection. We cannot plead ignorance of God's will and expectations. We know, that He expects all His gifts to be employed, and im proved, to the uttermost ; that He expects to reap where He did not sow, and gather where He did not strew. We cannot doubt His power to reward our diligence ; or to punish our idleness ; why then do we bury His good gifts in the earth ; why pass through life like a dream, eating, sleeping, and taking our plea sure, without caring for the poor, without leaving one trace in our path which may tell those which come after, that a Christian has journeyed that way in his passage to his final inheritance? While we have time, let us do good unto all men j behold the night cometh, when no man can work ! Above all, however, if mere idleness and

SERMON XLV. neglect of duty is a crime so great in God's sight, and one which He will punish so heavily ; if the means of blessing are to be withdrawn from those who make no use of them ; and if the servant in the parable were cast into dark ness, merely because he was unprofitable, of how much sorer punishment are those servants worthy, who waste and abuse the talents en trusted to them, to purposes the most hateful in the sight of God ? Where shall they be found, in that dreadful hour, who have made their wealth ,the means of oppression ; their power,

the instrument of cruelty ; their wit and wisdom, the ornaments of blasphemy and wicked counsel and false doctrine ; their beauty, the enticement to others to do evil ; their strength, an occasion of lewdness, of drunkenness, and of violence ? O think of this, ye that work wickedness ; and do Thou, O blessed Lord, give to each of us a godly sorrow, a lively faith, and a sure and lasting repentance, that we may cease from the works of darkness, and occupy ourselves in the labours of light and love, so that, when Thou shall return again to reckon with Thy servants, our lot may be with those whom Thou shalt call to partake of Thy glory !

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