HAD we been with our Lord on the Mount of Olives that day, this parable would have ended far differently from the way we would have expected it to end. As we heard the servant with the five talents introduced, and then the servant with the two talents, and then the servant with the one talent, we would have felt sure that some very severe things were soon to be said about the greatly gifted among men, and the continually prosperous. All our sympathies would have been with that under-estimated and overlooked servant who had only one talent entrusted to him. And at the beginning of this parable we would have felt sure that before it closed the Divine Preacher would take the side of the despised and untalented servant, and would say some of His severest things about the rich, and about the great, and about those who were full of all manner of prosperity. But we would have been disappointed in our expectations. We would soon have seen that our Lord's thoughts are not our thoughts about such men and such matters. The talented and the privileged and the prosperous in life are always the few and not the many. It is the untalented and the unsuccessful and the obscure and the overlooked who are always the multitude. And it is to the multitude, and to the peculiar temptations of the multitude in the matter now in hand, that our Lord here speaks.
The servant with the one talent started on his stewardship with a great grudge at his master. He is a hard master, said that sullen servant in his heart. At any rate, he has been a hard master to me. He felt himself to be as good a man and as deserving as any of his fellow-servants, and he may very well have been in the right in so thinking and in so saying. And here was he treated in this hard and cruel manner. No wonder he was soured at his heart with the treatment he had got. No wonder that he took up his one talent with a scowl, and cast it into a hole of the earth with disgust, saying as he did so that a harder or a more unjust master no honest servant ever had. Those five talents, and those two talents, and then that one talent, all rankled in his heart, till he was the most embittered and resentful and rebellious of men.
When Ouranius first entered holy orders he had a great haughtiness in his temper. The rudeness, ill-nature, or perverse behaviour, of any of his flock used at first to betray Ouranius into impatience. At his first coming to his little village, it was as disagreeable to him as a prison, and every day seemed too tedious to be endured in so retired a place. He thought his parish was too full of poor and mean people, that were none of them fit for the conversation of a gentleman. This put him upon a close application to his studies. He kept much at home, writ notes upon Homer and Plautus, and sometimes thought it hard to be called to pray by any poor body's bedside when he was just in the midst of one of Homer's battles. The slothful servant was the father of Ouranius.
This servant who hid his talent in the earth was the father of that young Highland minister also who hid his sermon in the snow. His history was this. A city congregation was looking out for a colleague and successor to their old minister. They had heard of a preacher of great promise in a remote locality, but before they would commit themselves to him they sent four of their number to hear him in his own pulpit. It was mid-winter and a great snowstorm came on that Saturday night. The ambitious and not unfaithful young minister had his sermon all ready, but as there would be a small congregation that snowy morning he would not throw away his whole week's work on such a handful, and so he left his sermon at home. When he entered the pulpit it was too late now when he saw a seatful of city-looking men in the far end of the empty church. And the explanation he stammered out to them did not mend matters. Till it is to be feared that his Master's prophecy at the end of this parable was, some of it, fulfilled in that manse that Sabbath night. He had for long been ambitious of the city, and he had a sharp punishment that day for despising his small congregation; for hiding his talent at home because there would not be enough people to appreciate it.
This servant who hid his lord's money was the father also of all those ministers among us who will not do their ordained work because they have so little to do. Their field is so small that it is not worth their pains taking off their coat to gather out the stones, and to weed out the thorns, and to plough up the fallow ground, and to sow in their too small pulpit and pastorate the seed or the kingdom of heaven. If they had as large a field as that five-talented fellow-servant of theirs; if they had a city pulpit; if they had a people or education and intelligence, they would prepare for the Sabbath in a very different fashion from what they do. But as it is, what is the use? He was the father of all those probationers also who stand idle till they are settled. Once they are settled and married they will lay out their days, and read the best, and rise in the morning, and preach every Sabbath to the top of their ability. You will see if they will not. But a probationer with an unsettled mind cannot work in that way. He is here today and there tomorrow, and he has no heart to tackle a serious task of any kind. Indeed what can he do but wait on and on for a call? With all those drawbacks, two probationers rise up before me who had another father than this wicked and slothful servant. The one of them did this among other things all his probationer time. When he preached in a vacancy, or for a friend, as he was preaching it, for the first time he found out the faults of his sermon. He found out the loose links that were in it; the want of a beginning and a middle and an end there was in it; the want of order and proportion there was in it; the want of march, and of progress, and of coming to a head there was in it; and the many other faults of all kinds there were in it. And on Monday morning the first thing he did, while the shame and the pain of his bad work were still in his heart, he rose and took his sermon to pieces, re-arranged it in the light of yesterday, re-wrote it from beginning to end, and preached it again next Sabbath, a completely new creation, and a conscientious, a living, and a life-giving, message. Newman re-wrote all his sermons three times over, and one of his best-written books he re-wrote five times. And that probationer did that again and again and again till he not only made his first sermons perfect, but, better than that, by that fidelity and by that labour he worked his whole mind into a methodicalness, and into an order, and into a clearness, and into a consecutiveness, and into other high qualities, that have all combined to make him one of the foremost preachers of our day. The other probationer who rises up before me executed editorial and other work during that same period of his life: work which stands on all our shelves a quarry of resource to us, and a monument of honour to him. And at the same time he began to lay up those immense stores of reading and writing that make his every sentence today a model of fulness, and clearness, and finish.
The unprofitable servant was the father of Clemens, and Fervidus, and Eugenia also. For Clemens is always proposing to himself what he would do if he had a great estate. He would outdo all the charitable men that have gone before him; he would retire from the world; he would have no equipage; he would allow himself only necessaries, in order that widows and orphans, the sick and the distressed, might find relief out of his estate. Come to thy senses, Clemens. Do not talk what thou wouldst do if thou wert an angel, but consider what thou canst do as thou art a man. Make the best use of thy present state. Remember the poor widow's mite, Clemens. You will find Clemens in the Law gallery also. Fervidus, again, is only sorry that he is not in holy orders. He is often thinking what reformation he would make in the world if he was a priest or a bishop. He would then have devoted himself wholly to God and religion, and have had no other care but how to save souls. But do not believe yourself, Fervidus. For why do you neglect as you do those whose priest and bishop you already are? You hire a coachman to carry you to church, and to sit in the street with his horses whilst you are attending divine service. You never ask him how he supplies the loss of divine service, or what means he takes to preserve himself in a state of piety. And so on, Fervidus, through all your un-Christian life. Eugenia, again, is a good young woman, full of pious dispositions. She is intending if ever she has a family to be the best mistress of it that ever was. Her house shall be a school of religion, and her children and servants shall be brought up in the strictest practice of piety. She will spend her time in a very different manner from the rest of the world. It may be so, Eugenia. The piety of your mind makes one think that you intend all this with sincerity. But you are not yet the head of a family, and perhaps never may be. But, Eugenia, you have now one maid. She dresses you for church, you ask her for what you want, and then you leave her to have as little religion as she pleases. You turn her away, you hire another, she also comes, and after a time goes. You need not stay, Eugenia, to be so extraordinary a person. The opportunity is now in your own hands. Your lady's maid is your family at present. She is under your care. Be now that religious governess that you intend to be. Teach her the catechism, hear her read and exhort her to pray. Take her with you to church, and spare no pains to make her as holy and devout as yourself. When you do this much good in your present state, then you are already that extraordinary person you intend to be. And, till you thus live up to your present state, there is but little hope that the altering of your state will alter your way of life. Eugenia also, you will all see, is one of his daughters who said: If I had had five talents committed to me, or even two, I would have traded with the same and made them other five talents and other two.
But let Eugenia be done at once and for ever with such a father. Let Eugenia be born again till she has her Father in heaven, not in name only, but in deed and in truth. Come out this week to Fountainbridge, Eugenia. In our mission district in Fountainbridge you will find a prepared scope for all your talents of every number and of every kind. There are hundreds of girls out there who sorely need just such a friend as you could be to them. They need above everything else an elder sister and a more talented sister just like you. Solitary girls in lodgings have a hard fight of it to keep their heads above water. Poor girls starved to death for want of some one to love them, and befriend them, and counsel them, and encourage them in virtue and godliness. You may not have many talents, you may not be rich, you may not be very clever, or very far on yourself in the best things, but you are better off, a thousand times, than those poor sisters of yours out there. And you can speak to them, and know their names, and tell them your name, and go sometimes to see them. At your very poorest and very least talented you can teach two or three neglected children for an hour every Sabbath day. You can take them down to the water-side on a Saturday. You can take them home to a little tea-party every week or two. You can give them little books to read, and make them tell you what they have read, and better and better books as they grow up. Good books for children are so cheap nowadays that you do not need to be rich in order to have a delightful little library provided for every poor girl's lodgings, and for every Sabbath-school child's mother's house. Come out and make a beginning with your one talent this very week. We are all making a beginning again this very week in that famous old field so well known to your forefathers and foremothers in such noble work. Let Clemens, and Fervidus, and Eugenia all come. Let the five-talented, and the two-talented, and the one-talented, and the no-talented at all, come. For there is a field for all in Fountainbridge, and many a Well done, good and faithful servant! will before long be purchased there again, as in days gone by. Come away then, O servant of God with the one talent! Come and light a lamp, like Samuel. Come and keep a door, like David. Come and give two mites, like the poor widow. Come and give a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple. For,
Little drops of water,Little grains of sand,Make the mighty oceanAnd the pleasant land.Little deeds of kindness,Little words of love,Help to make earth happy,Like the heaven above.