Studies in the Scriptures
Zion's Watch Tower
GOD’S UNPROFITABLE SERVANT PUNISHED
"Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."—# Mt 25:30
We who delight to be known as Christians, followers of Jesus, have heretofore been very careless in our study of God’s Word, and have thus been disrespectful to our Teacher, and have gotten ourselves into a world of trouble and confusion of thought which is driving many into unbelief. We must learn to be more critical in our reading of the Word of God. We must not assume so much, but must carefully note the Master’s exact statements, that we may be able to distinguish between His literal utterances and His parables, dark sayings, figures of speech and hyperboles.
Take, for instance, our text. How few have ever sought to weigh it and to draw proper inferences from it! The usual custom is to conclude that it refers to an eternity of torture into which the majority of our race enter at death; whereas no such conclusion would be a reasonable deduction from the narrative from which the text is taken.
It is part of a parable, every element of which is figurative.
Whoever reads the connection will perceive that the person or class mentioned as going into the outer darkness is not represented as going into death at all. Furthermore, the phrase "outer darkness" could not refer to such a place as is generally pictured by evangelists as the future abode of the non-elect; for that place is invariably said to be the very reverse of dark, and its inmates to be shut in—not cast out!
It should be noted that the person or class referred to in our text as cast into outer darkness, where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, is a Christian—not a worldling, not a stranger, alien, foreigner to the Divine
promises, but one of the Lord’s recognized followers.
The punishment comes upon him, not because of murder, theft or blasphemy, not through immoralities, but because of neglect of opportunities of service. Had he been guilty of gross sin, he would not have been recognized of God as a follower of Christ, regardless of any profession he might make to that effect. Having become a consecrated believer in the Lord, he had received a talent of privilege and opportunity in the Master’s service, and this he had neglected to use.
From this viewpoint many Christian people should be startled and thoroughly awakened by our text; for undoubtedly many are in the very position described in the parable. An investigation of the matter which comes close home to themselves will assist them in the exercise of common sense in the interpretation of this Scripture; whereas the general tendency seems to be to permit unreason to interpret such texts as these, which are always inferred to belong to the very grossest, immoral enemies of God and the principles of righteousness. The majority of people are much more merciful in thinking about matters which are applicable to themselves; for their love is not yet sufficiently developed to enable them to feel an equal interest in their neighbor—yea, in their enemies.
THE PARABLE AS A WHOLE
Let us examine the parable as a whole, in order that we may make no mistake in the application of any of its parts. (
.) It represents the entire Gospel Age—from the time when our Lord ascended on High, going to the far country, even Heaven itself. He left His interests in the hands of His servants—the Apostles and believers in general; and in their hands these interests have remained ever since. The whole narrative shows that not merely nominal Christians are meant by the servants, but true Christians—fully consecrated believers.
These alone have the talents belonging to the Lord in
their charge for use in His service, "every man according to his several abilities."
In olden times a talent represented a sum of money, an Attic talent being equivalent to $1,200 in our money.
Thus to one servant five talents were entrusted, representing $6,000; to another, two talents, representing $2,400; and to another one talent—$1,200. But while the matter is here stated merely from the financial point of view, all will agree that such a statement is only for convenience; and that the real thought in the parable is that these talents represent not only financial ability, but also social standing, education, mental equipments, etc.
THE TALENTS COMMITTED TO SOME
Those who hear the Lord’s voice calling them as sinners to repentance are not as yet His servants, nor are they entrusted with any of His talents. They are still strangers, aliens and foreigners, without God and having no hope. (
.) But after they have learned of the grace of God in Christ and of the provision made in Him for the covering of the sins that are past and of the blemishes which are present, then if they rejoicingly accept Him as their Savior they thereby take the first step toward God. Being thus justified by faith, they have peace with God as respects their former sins and the condemnation under which they realize that they had rested. (
But still they have not yet become servants of God. However, they are in that attitude of mind where the Lord would be willing to accept them as His servants; and hence the Apostle invites such, saying, "I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, and your reasonable service."—
In his consecration the believer thus lays at the Lord’s feet his life, his time, his influence, together with whatever property or mental endowment he may possess—all for the Lord, "to be used in joyful service for the glory of
our King." It is at this juncture that the Scriptures represent that we are begotten again by the Holy Spirit to newness of life, newness of aim, newness of purpose.
"Old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new." (
.) It is these New Creatures whom God recognizes as His servants, consecrated to His service; and it is this class which is represented in the parable under discussion. To these servants He gives various talents to be used by them.
Some one may ask, "What are these talents?" We reply, The very talents which they possessed before consecration, and which in consecration they laid at the Lord’s feet. These He now gives over to them, gives into their custody, thus making them rewards of their own time, influence, means, education, mental ability, etc.
From this viewpoint we can see how some have one talent, others two talents, and still others five talents; for no two of the Lord’s people are exactly alike in mentality, in influence, in opportunity or in wealth. Each, however, is responsible for exactly the amount thus entrusted to his stewardship, plus whatever increase he may be able to effect; and his love for his Master and his loyalty as a servant are to be tested by the degree of activity he will exercise in the use of these talents, opportunities, etc., under his care.
Although the parable represents the faithfulness of the one having the five talents and of the other having the two talents, and the unfaithfulness of the one having but one talent, this we are to understand is merely an illustration.
It is possible for the person having the one talent to be faithful, and equally possible for those having two or more talents to be unfaithful. Indeed, our experience has been rather along the line that those possessing the most talents are as likely to be amongst the unfaithful as are those who have but the one talent. It is not unreasonable to suppose that by far the majority of those consecrated to the Lord have possessed only one talent.
Hence the Lord’s statement of the parable is undoubtedly the most appropriate one, applicable to the larger proportion of His people who will prove derelict, unfaithful, in the use of their consecrated ability in His service.
As a matter of fact, the Lord tells us that not many of those who have money talents will accept His invitation at all. Not many of them will make consecration of themselves, so as to place their natural talents at His disposal or make it possible for them to become stewards of the same. The Scriptural statement, we remember, is that not many great, not many wise, not many learned, not many rich, not many noble, according to the course of this world, but rather the poor, rich in faith, hath God chosen to be heirs of the Kingdom.—
APPORTIONING REWARDS TO THE SERVANTS
"After a long time the Lord of those servants cometh and reckoneth with them." The reference here is undoubtedly to our Lord’s Second Advent, and indicates that then His first work will be with the Church, not with the world. To this agree the words of St. Peter: "Judgment must begin at the House of God." (
.) In this we have a most positive assurance that the servants of the parable are not worldly people at all, who have neither lot nor part in this matter, and who are not in any sense of the word stewards of the grace of God.
True, the Lord causes His sun to shine upon the just and the unjust, and His rain to fall upon good and bad alike.
But He recognizes none as His servants except those who have come to Him in the appointed way—"No man cometh unto the Father but by Me."—
If we have the right understanding of "the times and seasons" outlined in the Scriptures, we are now living in the very time of the Second Advent of Christ—the time during which He is reckoning with His servants, preparatory to assuming the Kingdom control of the world.
This transfer of the world to Immanuel’s Government will
be accomplished through the overthrow of present institutions—financial, political, social and religious—in "a Time of Trouble such as was not since there was a nation."—
This reckoning of course must include the resurrection change of all the faithful in Christ Jesus, mentioned in the Apostle Paul’s description of the First Resurrection.
.) Those who during this Gospel Age have been faithful to the Lord in the use of the talents committed to them are in line for the glory, honor and immortality of this First Resurrection, by which they will enter into the joy of their Lord. The Apostle’s statement respecting these—that they will differ in the degree of glory received "as star differeth from star in glory"—is corroborated, if not directly by this parable under consideration, at least by the corresponding parable of the pounds. (
.) There the stewards are specified in parabolic form: Our Lord declared that one of the faithful should have authority over ten cities, another over five, etc., in His Kingdom.
THE TALENT HID IN THE EARTH
But now comes the particular feature of the parable from which our text is taken. The servant who had but one talent entrusted to him hid it in the earth. In excusing himself for not having made better use of it, he intimates that his heart was filled with fear instead of with love for his Lord; for he thought of his Lord as unjust, hard, unmerciful, unloving, exacting. He had a bad theology.
Alas, how many Christian people are in a similar plight! Having a wrong conception of the Lord’s character and purposes, they are deterred from using in His service what talents they possess. Evidently this class is pictured most distinctly in this parable. The hiding of the talent in the earth is full of meaning. It implies that the opportunities and abilities consecrated to the Lord are being buried in earthly interests, earthly affairs—business
or pleasure, family or society or what not—to the neglect of the stewardship, and hence to that extent in the repudiation of the original consecration.
If you, my dear brother or sister, are not in the place of this unfaithful servant, you probably recognize the likeness of some of your fellow servants. They are not bad people; they are not wicked. They are moral, honest in their dealings with their fellow men—though not honest with the Lord in the use of their consecrated talents.
Now that you see the person or the class represented by the unfaithful servant in the parable, doubtless your love and your sympathy begin to exercise themselves toward these dear neighbors, friends and relatives. You begin to hope that in God’s mercy they are not to be sent to eternal torment because of their carelessness in respect to their consecration vow.
THE PUNISHMENT BAD ENOUGH, HOWEVER
Although there is nothing in the parable to indicate eternal torment for this class of unfaithful servants, nevertheless the punishment outlined is certainly bad enough, severe enough. Our hope is that this discourse may prove helpful to some who are now in this attitude, to the intent that before their earthly accounts are called for they may take their talent out of its earthly investment, and with redoubled energy and zeal apply it according to their original covenant, hoping in the mercy of God for forgiveness of their previous laxity; and that by His grace they may yet hear His words: "Well done, good and faithful servant; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."
The first part of the punishment meted to the unfaithful servant is the loss of the talent—the loss of the opportunity and privilege of service as a co-laborer with the Lord. This implies that the unfaithful one can have neither part nor lot in the Kingdom—cannot be accepted as a member of the glorified Body of Christ. His failure to use his consecrated talent signifies his failure to make his calling and election sure.
The second feature of the punishment is the being cast out from the light and from the privileges enjoyed by those who are the Lord’s faithful followers. To be thrust into the outer darkness of the world is to lose what light, privilege and appreciation of spiritual matters had been previously enjoyed. The third feature of the punishment is that the unfaithful servants shall share in the great Time of Trouble with which this Gospel Age is to end—the time of anarchy and confusion which the faithful class of the Lord’s people shall be accounted worthy to escape, as our Lord declared.—
THREE CLASSES OF CONSECRATED CHRISTIANS
The parable merely mentions the punishment of the unfaithful servant without showing what the result will be—how he will be exercised by the tribulations through which he will pass. But the great Teacher who spake the parable sent a message later on to His people in which He indicated just where all unfaithful servants may be found, and through their tribulations be enabled to some extent to recover their standing and obtain a share in the Divine blessing—although not in the Kingdom class. We refer to
. There we see the unfaithful servants after they have passed with weeping and gnashing of teeth through the great tribulation which marks the full end of the Age. We see that their severe experiences will work with many of them such a change that they will gladly acclaim their Lord, and rejoice to be servants in His Temple and before His Throne.
Faithfulness in the use of their talents would have given this class a place with their Lord in His Throne, even as He promised. (
.) But in His great mercy, while rejecting them from association in the Throne and while causing them to pass through merited tribulation for their unfaithfulness, He will nevertheless permit them to come up through that tribulation, washing their robes in the merit of His sacrifice. To those who
are rightly exercised by these experiences He will give the palm of victory, but not the crown; for this is reserved for the faithful servants alone.
But it is not our thought, nor that of the Scriptures, to guarantee that all of the consecrated shall be either in the Throne or before the Throne, shall be either crowned with our Lord as joint-heirs or else stand as servants with palms of victory in their hands. The Scriptures bring to our attention still another class amongst the truly consecrated, namely, such as are described in
. "There is a sin unto death"—the Second Death. But this sin is something beyond the sin of hiding the talent in the earth—neglecting the covenant made with the Lord. From that wilful sin unto death there is no hope of recovery, either in this Age or in that to come.
Let us arouse ourselves, dear fellow servants of the King of Glory. Let us use every talent that we possess to "show forth His praises who hath called us out of darkness into His marvelous light." Let us develop in our hearts more and more the graces of the Holy Spirit—meekness, gentleness, patience, brotherly kindness, love.
"For if these things be in you and abound, they will make you that ye shall be neither barren nor unfruitful in the service of the Lord; ... and so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."—
Take my will and make it Thine; It shall be no longer mine; Take my heart, it is Thine own; Thus in me Thyself enthrone.
Take my love, my God; I pour At Thy feet its treasure-store; Take myself—I wish to be Ever, only, all for Thee.