(1.) They have a great work to do now. Their Master leaves them, to receive his kingdom, and, at parting, he gives each of them a pound, which the margin of our common bibles tells us amounts in our money to three pounds and half a crown; this signifies the same thing with the talents in the parable that is parallel to this (Mt. 25), all the gifts with which Christ’s apostles were endued, and the advantages and capacities which they had of serving the interests of Christ in the world, and others, both ministers and Christians, like them in a lower degree. But perhaps it is in the parable thus represented to make them the more humble; their honour in this world is only that of traders, and that not of first-rate merchants, who have vast stocks to begin upon, but that of poor traders, who must take a great deal of care and pains to make any thing of what they have. He gave these pounds to his servants, not to buy rich liveries, much less robes, and a splendid equipage, for themselves to appear in, as they expected, but with this charge: Occupy till I come. Or, as it might much better be translated, Trade till I come, Pragmateusasthe— Be busy. So the word properly signifies. “You are sent forth to preach the gospel, to set up a church for Christ in the world, to bring the nations to the obedience of faith, and to build them up in it. You shall receive power to do this, for you shall be filled with the Holy Ghost,” Acts 1:8. When Christ breathed on the eleven disciples, saying, Receive ye the Holy Ghost, then he delivered them ten pounds. “Now,” saith he, “mind your business, and make a business of it; set about it in good earnest, and stick to it. Lay out yourselves to do all the good you can to the souls of men, and to gather them in to Christ.” Note, [1.] All Christians have business to do for Christ in this world, and ministers especially; the former were not baptized, nor the latter ordained, to be idle. [2.] Those that are called to business for Christ he furnishes with gifts necessary for their business; and, on the other hand, from those to whom he gives power he expects service. He delivers the pounds with this charge, Go work, go trade. The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal, 1 Co. 12:7. And as every one has received the gift, so let him minister the same, 1 Pt. 4:10. [3.] We must continue to mind our business till our Master comes, whatever difficulties or oppositions we may meet with in it; those only that endure to the end shall be saved.
(2.) They have a great account to make shortly. These servants are called to him, to show what use they made of the gifts they were dignified with, what service they had done for Christ, and what good to the souls of men, that he might know what every man had gained by trading. Note,
[1.] They that trade diligently and faithfully in the service of Christ shall be gainers. We cannot say so of the business of the world; many a labouring tradesman has been a loser; but those that trade for Christ shall be gainers; though Israel be not gathered, yet they will be glorious.
[2.] The conversion of souls is the winning of them; every true convert is clear gain to Jesus Christ. Ministers are but factors for him, and to him they must give account what fish they have enclosed in the gospel-net, what guests they have prevailed with to come to the wedding-supper; that is, what they have gained by trading. Now observe,
First, The good account which was given by some of the servants, and the master’s approbation of them. Two such are instanced, v. 16, 19. 1. They had both made considerable improvements, but not both alike; one had gained ten pounds by his trading, and another five. Those that are diligent and faithful in serving Christ are commonly blessed in being made blessings to the places where they live. They shall see the travail of their soul, and not labour in vain. And yet all that are alike faithful are not alike successful. And perhaps, though they were both faithful, it is intimated that one of them took more pains, and applied himself more closely to his business, than the other, and sped accordingly. Blessed Paul was surely this servant that gained ten pounds, double to what any of the rest did, for he laboured more abundantly than they all, and fully preached the gospel of Christ. 2. They both acknowledged their obligations to their Master for entrusting them with these abilities and opportunities to do him service: Lord, it is not my industry, but thy pound, that has gained ten pounds. Note, God must have all the glory of all our gains; not unto us, but unto him, must be the praise, Ps. 115:1. Paul, who gained the ten pounds, acknowledges, “I laboured, yet not I. By the grace of God, I am what I am, and do what I do; and his grace was not in vain,” 1 Co. 15:10. He will not speak of what he had done, but of what God had done by him, Rom. 15:18. 3. They were both commended for their fidelity and industry: Well done, thou good servant, v. 17. And to the other he said likewise, v. 19. Note, They who do that which is good shall have praise of the same. Do well, and Christ will say to thee, Well done: and, if he says Well done, the matter is not great who says otherwise. See Gen. 4:7. 4. They were preferred in proportion to the improvement they had made: “Because thou hast been faithful in a very little, and didst not say, ’As good sit still as go to trade with one pound, what can one do with so small a stock?’ but didst humbly and honestly apply thyself to the improvement of that, have thou authority over ten cities.” Note, Those are in a fair way to rise who are content to begin low. He that has used the office of a deacon well purchaseth to himself a good degree, 1 Tim. 3:13. Two things are hereby promised the apostles:—(1.) That when they have taken pains to plant many churches they shall have the satisfaction and honour of presiding in them, and governing among them; they shall have great respect paid them, and have a great interest in the love and esteem of good Christians. He that keepeth the fig-tree shall eat the fruit thereof; and he that laboureth in the word and doctrine shall be counted worthy of double honour. (2.) That, when they have served their generation, according to the will of Christ, though they pass through this world despised and trampled upon, and perhaps pass out of it under disgrace and persecution as the apostles did, yet in the other world they shall reign as kings with Christ, shall sit with him on his throne, shall have power over the nations, Rev. 2:26. The happiness of heaven will be a much greater advancement to a good minister or Christian than it would be to a poor tradesman, that with much ado had cleared ten pounds, to be made governor of ten cities. He that had gained but five pounds had dominion over five cities. This intimates that there are degrees of glory in heaven; every vessel will be alike full, but not alike large. And the degrees of glory there will be according to the degrees of usefulness here.
Secondly, The bad account that was given by one of them, and the sentence passed upon him for his slothfulness and unfaithfulness, v. 20, etc. 1. He owned that he had not traded with the pound with which he had been entrusted (v. 20): “Lord, behold, here is thy pound; it is true, I have not made it more, but withal I have not made it less; I have kept it safely laid up in a napkin.” This represents the carelessness of those who have gifts, but never lay out themselves to do good with them. It is all one to them whether the interests of Christ’s kingdom sink or swim, go backward or forward; for their parts, they will take no care about it, no pains, be at no expenses, run no hazard. Those are the servants that lay up their pound in a napkin who think it enough to say that they have done no hurt in the world, but did no good. 2. He justified himself in his omission, with a plea that made the matter worse and not better (v. 21): I feared thee, because thou art an austere man, rigid and severe, anthroµpos austeµros ei. Austere is the Greed word itself: a sharp man: Thou takest up that which thou laidst not down. He thought that his master put a hardship upon his servants when he required and expected the improvement of their pounds, and that it was reaping where he did not sow; whereas really it was reaping where he had sown, and, as the husbandman, expecting in proportion to what he had sown. He had no reason to fear his master’s austerity, nor blame his expectations, but this was a mere sham, a frivolous groundless excuse for his idleness, which there was no manner of colour for. Note, The pleas of slothful professors, when they come to be examined, will be found more to their shame than in their justification. 3. His excuse is turned upon him: Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant, v. 22. He will be condemned by his crime, but self-condemned by his plea. “If thou didst look upon it as hard that I should expect the profit of thy trading, which would have been the greater profit, yet, if thou hadst had any regard to my interest, thou mightest have put my money into the bank, into some of the funds, that I might have had, not only my own, but my own with usury, which, though a less advantage, would have been some.” If he durst not trade for fear of losing the principal, and so being made accountable to his lord for it though it was lost, which he pretends, yet that would be no excuse for his not setting it out to interest, where it would be sure. Note, Whatever may be the pretences of slothful professors, in excuse of their slothfulness, the true reason of it is a reigning indifference to the interests of Christ and his kingdom, and their coldness therein. They care not whether religion gets around or loses ground, so they can but live at ease. 4. His pound is taken from him, v. 24. It is fit that those should lose their gifts who will not use them, and that those who have dealt falsely should be no longer trusted. Those who will not serve their Master with what he bestows upon them, why should they be suffered to serve themselves with it? Take from him the pound. 5. It is given to him that had the ten pounds. When this was objected against by the standers-by, because he had so much already (Lord, he has ten pounds, v. 25), it is answered (v. 26), Unto every one that hath shall be given. It is the rule of justice, (1.) That those should be most encouraged who have been most industrious, and that those who have laid out themselves most to do good should have their opportunities of doing good enlarged, and be put into a higher and more extensive sphere of usefulness. To him that hath gotten shall more be given, that he may be in a capacity to get more. (2.) That those who have their gifts, as if they had them not, who have them to no purpose, who do no good with them, should be deprived of them. To those who endeavour to increase the grace they have, God will impart more; those who neglect it, and suffer it to decline, can expect no other than that God should do so too. This needful warning Christ gives to his disciples, lest, while they were gaping for honours on earth, they should neglect their business, and so come short of their happiness in heaven.
3. Another thing they expected was, that, when the kingdom of God should appear, the body of the Jewish nation would immediately fall in with it, and submit to it, and all their aversions to Christ and his gospel would immediately vanish; but Christ tells them that, after his departure, the generality of them would persist in their obstinacy and rebellion, and it would be their ruin. This is shown here,
(1.) In the message which his citizens sent after him, v. 14. They not only opposed him, while he was in obscurity; but, when he was gone into glory, to be invested in his kingdom, then they continued their enmity to him, protested against his dominion, and said, We will not have this man to reign over us. [1.] This was fulfilled in the prevailing infidelity of the Jews after the ascension of Christ, and the setting up of the gospel kingdom. They would not submit their necks to his yoke, nor touch the top of his golden sceptre. They said, Let us break his bands in sunder, Ps. 2:1-3; Acts 4:26. [2.] It speaks the language of all unbelievers; they could be content that Christ should save them, but they will not have him to reign over them; whereas Christ is a Saviour to those only to whom he is a prince, and who are willing to obey him.
(2.) In the sentence passed upon them at his return: Those mine enemies bring hither, v. 27. When his faithful subjects are preferred and rewarded, then he will take vengeance on his enemies, and particularly on the Jewish nation, the doom of which is here read. When Christ had set up his gospel kingdom, and thereby put reputation upon the gospel ministry, then he comes to reckon with the Jews; then it is remembered against them that they had particularly disclaimed and protested against his kingly office, when they said, We have no king but Caesar, nor would own him for their king. They appealed to Caesar, and to Caesar they shall go; Caesar shall be their ruin. Then the kingdom of God appeared when vengeance was taken on those irreconcileable enemies to Christ and his government; they were brought forth and slain before him. Never was so much slaughter made in any war as in the wars of the Jews. That nation lived to see Christianity victorious in the Gentile world, in spite of their enmity and opposition to it, and then it was taken away as dross. The wrath of Christ came upon them to the uttermost (1 Th. 2:15, 16), and their destruction redounded very much to the honour of Christ and the peace of the church. But this is applicable to all others who persist in their infidelity, and will undoubtedly perish in it. Note, [1.] Utter ruin will certainly be the portion of all Christ’s enemies; in the day of vengeance they shall all be brought forth, and slain before him. Bring them hither, to be made a spectacle to saints and angels; see Jos. 10:22, 24. Bring them hither, that they may see the glory and happiness of Christ and his followers, whom they hated and persecuted. Bring them hither, to have their frivolous pleas overruled, and to receive sentence according to their merits. Bring them, and slay them before me, as Agag before Samuel. The Saviour whom they have slighted will stand by and see them slain, and not interpose on their behalf. [2.] Those that will not have Christ to reign over them shall be reputed and dealt with as his enemies. We are ready to think that none are Christ’s enemies but persecutors of Christianity, or scoffers at least; but you see that those will be accounted so that dislike the terms of salvation, will not submit to Christ’s yoke, but will be their own masters. Note, Whoever will not be ruled by the grace of Christ will inevitably be ruined by the wrath of Christ.