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another of the parables of our Lord, in which the kingdom of heaven is compared to a certain person, who previous to his departure for some distant region, left his property in charge with three servants. To one he gave five talents; to another two; and to a third one. They who received the five and the two talents, presented, on the return of their lord, double the amount confided to them: thus evincing, that they had been prudently and diligently employed during his absence. They were accordingly commended as good and faithful servants, and promised an abundant reward. But he who received the one talent, approached his master with this pitiful speech : “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 tbine.” Mark his lord's indignant reply: “ Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, 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.” With what point and energy are we here taught, that it is not enough merely to retain the talents with which God has entrusted us, so as to be able to return them to him, in the day of final settlement, in the same state in which they came into our hands! The precept of our divine Master is, “Occupy till I come.” He demands the improvement of the favours which he confers. We must not only avoid the deterioration of his gifts, but we must evince our gratitude for their possession, and our high estimation of their value, by employing them as instruments for the promotion of his glory.
Let us now return to the parable before us: “ And he called him, and said unto him, How is it, that 1 hear this
of thee? give an account of thy stewardship, for thou mayest be no longer steward.”'
The great practical truth inculcated in this verse, is that of human accountability. The very idea of our being the stewards of God, implies that we are responsible to him for the use that we make of the talents with which he has entrusted us. The truth is one which conscience forces us to admit. Every individual feels that he is a moral agent—the subject of reward and punishment. There is something within him which declares, in language too plain to be mistaken, too loud and imperious to be wholly unheeded, that he is amenable to a Being of infinite rectitude and purity, not only for his external deportment, but for the emotions which he cherishes in his heart, and the thoughts which he entertains in his mind. He has an innate conviction on this subject, which he vainly endeavours to eradicate from his moral system-a conviction which survives the ravages of sin, triumphs over the speculations of philosophy, and points the transgressor to the retributions of eternity.
The sacred Scriptures not only assert, with peculiar emphasis, the general truth of man's accountability, but they also inform us, that a period is approaching, in which the whole human family shall be arraigned for trial at the bar of God. They assure us, that a day has been appointed for judging the world in righteousness-a day in which the supreme Ruler of the universe shall be seated on his throne, and before him shall be assembled all the individuals of our race. Then the books shall be opened, and each one of us shall be tried according to the things written in those books. Every work shall be brought into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or bad. Nothing shall elude the scrutiny of our Maker. The untold history of the heart shall be submitted to the inspection, and published in the audience, of congregated millions. Sins committed in the deep gloom of midnight, and of which the authors would have blushed to think that even the stars of heaven were witnessing them, shall be exposed to the view of the universe, amid the blaze of ten thousand suns. Transgressors of every description and of every order—from the murderer of myriads, to the murderer of a solitary individual from the despot of a whole community, to the despot of a single family-from the plunderer of nations, to the convict whose first attempt at robbery consigned him to the gallows the calumniator, the adulterer, the blasphemer, the profaner of the Sabbath, the miser, the spendthrift, and the idler-however various their degrees of criminality-must all appear to receive their sentence and their doom at the judgment seat of Christ.
How solemn and impressive, dear hearers, is the truth to which we are endeavouring to direct your attention! We are now stewards. But we shall not always be so; or at least not in the same sense in which we are at present. A crisis awaits us, (and God only knows how near it may be,) in which we must surrender up our trust, and give in an account of our stewardship. Have we received from the Creator peculiar endowments of mind? or has Providence furnished us with ample opportunities for mental improvement? Then must we account for these advantages. Do we possess extensive wealth, or considerable influence in society? We must likewise ac- . count for these advantages. Are we parents? If so, we shall have a heavy account to render for the effect which our precepts, and especially our example, have had on the moral character and the eternal destiny of our children. Are we hearers of the gospel, and have we neglected the great salvation which it proffers to our acceptance?
Ah! who can conceive the reckoning which we shall have with our divine Lord, for the abuse of this inestimable privilege! Gladly, under such circumstances, would we exchange conditions with the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon—of Sodom and Gomorrah.
We proceed now to contemplate the conduct of the steward, on receiving the summons to deliver up his trust. We are told that he said within himself, “What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed.” After further reflection on his situation, he added—“1 am resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.” The expedient which he devised, is thus related by the Saviour: “So he call. ed every one of his lord's debtors unto him, and he said unto the first, How much owest thou onto my lord? And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty. Then said he unto another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore.” — The plain English of all this is, that the steward determined to provide for his support, after his dismission, by defrauding his employer. For this purpose, he called together his lord's debtors, or, as the original term might be rendered, tenants, and inquired of them the amount of their debts.
We may account for the circumstance of this matter being left to them for decision, by supposing that the debts in question, were their rents, which were to be paid in the produce of the soil they cultivated. To these tenants, the steward remitted a considerable part of what was due, entering into a settlement with them before he had been actually discharged from his stewardship, and while bis acts would consequently be binding on his master. Some have imagined, that by such conduct he merely made amends for his former injustice towards them. However this may have been, his object manifestly was to ingratiate himself with those whose debts he thus curtailed, so that after his dismission, he might have some title to their friendly offices.
We next read; “ The lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely.” Now, the first remark we have to offer on this passage, is, that it was not the Saviour who commended the unjust steward, but his employer. The objectors to the morality of the parable, have too frequently overlooked this important distinction. Again, we would observe, that the commendation bestowed upon the unjust steward, was a commendation, not of the fraud which he had committed, but simply of the prudence and sagacity which he had displayed, in planning for his own interests. It is expressly said, that his lord commended him “because he had done wisely.”
The remainder of the verse may be considered as the observation of Christ: “For the children of this world are in their generation”—(or, as a judicions translator renders the original, “in conducting their affairs”)—“ wiser than the children of light."
We perceive, then, that it was by no means the design of the Saviour, in the delivery of this parable, to counte: nance any species of injustice. He always enjoined upon his followers, the strictest integrity in their intercourse with one another, and in their dealings with the world at large. He laid down an admirable maxim for the regulation of their conduct, in all the various transactions of life, when he directed them to do to others, precisely as they would have others to do to them. We moreover know, that in his own example, he displayed the most rigid and scrupulous honesty; for an instance is