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Nazareth Revisited


The Parables.


Parable of the Talents. -- This parable Jesus spoke on two separate recorded occasions, and in two different forms -- first, when in Jericho on the way to Jerusalem for the last time (Luke xix. 1-11); and next, after his arrival in Jerusalem and his presence there for some days (Matt. xxv. 14: in connection with chap. xxiv. 10). On the first occasion, he employed "pounds" as the subject of trust; on the second, "talents," and he varied the number entrusted to the servants -- one time from the other, and also the decisions upon the accounts rendered, thus giving rise to one of those cases of so-called "discrepancy" on which some men so easily, so flippantly, and so entirely without real cause, found objections to the wholly-inspired character of the apostolic narratives. That Jesus, employing the same parable on two different occasions, should vary it in some of its features, is not only consistent with divine intelligence, but its necessary result. It is a very limited and wooden kind of intellect that adheres exactly to the same words and forms when having to repeat a matter.

The parable is very well known, and easy to understand when the first principles of the truth are apprehended.

When Jesus repeated the parable in Jerusalem in discoursing privately with his own disciples, he substituted "talents" for "pounds," and gave "five" and "two" to the first and second instead of one. This was accompanied by a change in the central character of the parable from a nobleman going on a political journey, to a simple traveller leaving domestics in charge of his affairs in his absence. The reason of the change may be found in the difference of the audience to which the one and the other was addressed. But whatever the cause of the difference, the fact of the difference creates no difficulty when the separateness of the occasion is recognised. The teaching is the same, and the teaching is manifest when once the mind is cleared of the ideas implanted by early theological education. Recognising death as a reality, and the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead, as essential to renewed life and the reaping of the moral issues of the present life, we easily see Christ in "the nobleman," and "the man travelling into a far country." He has "gone into heaven." He has been "a long time" there. His absence is connected with the "receiving of a kingdom." For the Father's invitation to Him was "Sit thou at my right hand till I make thine enemies Thy footstool," that is, till the time come for that to be done. When it comes, then the decree is, "The Lord (Yahweh, the eternal Father) shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion. Rule thou in the midst of thine enemies." The upshot is exhibited in the well known words: "The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and he shall reign for ever." The particular kingdom he is to receive as the basis of all these operations is the kingdom of David (now fallen), as said the angel Gabriel to Mary: "The Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David;" and the prophet Isaiah, "On the throne of David and his kingdom," and many others to a like purport.

Christ having departed into the far country to receive this kingdom -- that is, to be invested with its title and authority and power, as against the opposition of the Jews and their rulers, who said, "We will not have this man to reign over us," -- he presently returns to assert his right, and to "take to himself his great power." That he would so return he plainly teaches by this parable; for if he be the nobleman departed, he must return to fulfil the part. It is what he several times said to his disciples he would do, in language which, from its association with the fact of his departure, leaves open no other meaning. "If I go away, I will come again." "I will see you again and your hearts shall rejoice." "This same Jesus shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go" (Acts i. 10).

When he returns in the personal sense required by the whole current of apostolic teaching, the judging of the servants falls into natural order. He is held forward in apostolic teaching as the judge and awarder of the final issues of life. He was particular to enjoin his apostles to make this prominent. So Peter says: "He commanded us to preach unto the people and to testify that it is he which is ordained of God to be the judge of the living and of the dead" (Acts x. 42). What they were commanded to do, the apostles did. In their writings, nothing is more explicit than their declaration that "we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ," that at his hands "we may receive according to what we have done" (2 Cor. v. 10). This judging is to be "at his appearing and his kingdom" (2 Tim. iv. 1).

The parable is in exact agreement with these apostolic attestations, and with all their attestations on the subject. They tell us that the judging is to be "according to our works." This is the one thing that is most conspicuous in the parable. With what other object could Christ have introduced servants of various degrees of administrative success obtaining recompense in these varying degrees -- ten talents, ten cities; four talents, four cities; no talents, no recognition at all? On the practical application of this in the resurrection, the parable may be taken as a revelation. Our status in the Kingdom will depend upon our attainments in probation. This is a question of capacity imparted in the first instance. All men differ: some have much more native gift than others: some, five talents; some, two; some, one. It is not the number of talents that is the rule of judgment, but the use of them. Increase by faithful use -- this is the rule of acceptance. The holder of the one talent would have found equal favour with the others if it had been put out to use. The words of the judge show this. His offence was his sloth and indifference to the charge committed to him, such as it was. Fie did not turn what he had to account. Had he done so, he would have entered equally with the others into the joy of his Lord.

But though the number of the talents is not the rule of acceptance, it is the measure of the position to which that acceptance admits. The parable shows this; and the principle is reasonable, and is affirmed in the Scriptures in many ways. It is recognised that fruitfulness is in "some thirty fold, some sixty fold, and some an hundred fold," and it is plainly declared that "every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour" (1 Cor. iii. 8). It is on this principle that "the wise shall shine as the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars for ever and ever." It is a principle distinctly foreshadowed in the organization of David's worthies. There were a "first three," and those who "attained not unto the first three," and so on in the list downwards. The degree of rank was determined by achievement. All more or less did meritorious things under circumstances of difficulty; but the greatness and the difficulty of some deeds exceeded that of others (2 Sam. xxiii. 8-39). When Jesus says "he will give to every man according as his work shall be" (Rev. xxii. 12), we see the same thing.

Thus his judgment has two operations. While it decrees total rejection and death in the case of the class represented by the unprofitable servant (of whom it is said, "Cast out the unprofitable servant into outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth"), it distributes differing measures of reward and distinction among those servants who, in differing degrees, are found faithful to the trusts severally reposed. It is therefore no mere flight of the imagination that looks forward in the light of this parable to the time when the accepted servants of Christ, reigning with him, will hold different positions of honour and power according to the parts they have performed in this cloudy and dark day. Some will be heads of villages while some are rulers of towns, and some, groups of towns, and others governors of districts and provinces, and some even heads of kingdoms. All will be satisfied and all glorious, but all will not be of equal rank and honour. The degree in which one of these stars will differ from another star in glory will be the Lord's sovereign determination. It will therefore not be open to question, or fruitful of envy; for every one admitted will be so much a lover of the Lord as to be ready to rejoice in all the Lord's appointments, even if they involved his own exclusion. The dreadfulness will belong to those who, in the first establishment of these things, are permitted to see what they have lost, and doomed to a place in that distracted crowd which will depart with "weeping and wailing, and gnashing of teeth," to be seen no more for ever.

The Master of the House. -- Jesus said (Mark xiii. 34) he was "like a man taking a far journey, who left his house and gave authority to his servants and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch." He added "Watch ye therefore, for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning, lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you (who now listen), I say unto all, Watch." This falls into the explanation of the parable of the talents and the pounds, only that is intended to bear not so much on how the servants should be dealt with on the master's return, as on the need for their constant readiness on account of the uncertainty of the time of his return. The applicability of this has been direct to every generation of believers since Christ's departure, notwithstanding its special realization in that one that is actually contemporary with his appearing. Always having in view that there is no conscious interval in death, and that the occurrence of death is an incalculable eventuality, there has always existed, and will to the last moment exist, a need for daily circumspection and readiness for the coming of the Lord. There never can be a time when a man can reasonably feel that the coming of the Lord is a remote contingency. It never can be more remote from a man's consciousness than the day of his death, and because this may be any day, the shadow of the Lord's coming is over every hour of a man's present life. We are actually in the position sketched in this parable. We are exactly like servants who do not know when the master's wheels may roll up to the door. It is therefore no artificial or superfluous exhortation the Lord delivers when he says "Be ye also ready, for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of Man cometh."

The Two Sons. -- "A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work today in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise: and he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not" (Matt. xxi. 28). The question which Jesus put to "the chief priests and elders of the people" immediately after he had uttered this parable, shows the meaning of it "Whether of them twain did the will of his father?" They answered, the first. He immediately made this application of it. "The publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you." On what principle? On the principle supplied in the answer they had given -- that the man who did what was required of him was the right doer, even if in the first instance he made great show in the contrary direction. The publicans and the harlots by their profession were such as refused to perform the commands of righteousness: but as a matter of fact, they "repented at the preaching of John the Baptist," whom the Scribes and Pharisees rejected. These Scribes and Pharisees made a great show of willingness to submit to the divine requirements, but as a matter of fact, while promising obedience, they did not yield it, and their long prayers and religious performances did not make up for their disobedience. They were in the position of the son, who said, "I go, sir," but went not. The parable has a valuable modern application. There is much talk of the lips: much piety. Where is the doing of what God has commanded? There is very little of it. No wonder. The state of things is so corrupt that the very theology of the people almost kills incentive to righteous action. They are taught that they can do nothing to please God; that all that is needful is to believe that Christ died for them. "Only believe," that is enough, say they. As for doing, they are to "cast their deadly doing down -- down at Jesus' feet" Jesus "did it all, long, long ago." As for them, they are "miserable sinners," who constantly do the things they ought not to do, and leave undone the things they ought to do. In clear and dignified contradiction to this demoralising travesty of the apostolic doctrine of justification by faith, stands the words of Jesus: "He that doeth the will of my Father, the same is my mother and sister and brother," -- a doctrine he could not have placed in a clearer light than by this parable of the son who was approved even after rebelliousness of speech, because he did the things that were required of him How reasonable and beautiful is the doctrine. Action is the very essence of character. If a man's actions are always evil, of what acceptance with God or man can the finest speeches find? They are as a fine cloak over a grinning skeleton. The man who talks finely and acts badly is not inaccurately known in all the world as a hypocrite, and a knave whose basenesses are rendered all the more hideous for being tricked out in the garb of a fine wordy profession.

The Parable of the Vineyard (Matt. xxi. 33-41). In this parable, we are informed that the Pharisees "perceived that he spake of them." If they saw through it on its first utterance, it ought not to be difficult for us to understand it after having had it so long in our hands. And, indeed, it is most easy when the history to which it relates is known and understood.

It condenses Israel's history into a single view. God forming them into a nation is set forth under the figure of a man planting a vineyard. The man who plants a vineyard for himself does so that he may have pleasure from it. It is not merely that the vineyard may exist. The human view is that a nation exists for itself, and that its end is served if it prosper and is happy. But here is another and a higher view -- one that does not appeal to patriotic sympathies, but which is nevertheless the true one, conformity or non-conformity to which will ultimately determine all questions of national well-being. "God, in whose hand thy breath is, thou hast not glorified:" this was Daniel's complaint against Belshazzar. It is the true indictment against all nations, and is the cause of the judgment that is coming on all nations. Israel was especially formed for the purpose and pleasure of God. "This people have I formed for myself" (Isaiah xliii. 21), "that they might be unto me for a name, and for a praise, and for a glory" before all people of the earth (Jer. xiii. 11).

The planting of a vine is a frequent figure of Israel's national incorporation. It was not used for the first time when Jesus spoke this parable. So early as in David, we read "Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt. Thou hast cast out the heathen and planted it. Thou preparedst room before it, and didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land" (Psa. lxxx. 8). In Isaiah, it is the theme of a song, "Now will I sing to my well-beloved, a song of my well-beloved, touching his vineyard. My beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill, and he fenced it and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine.... The vineyard of the Lard of Hosts is the House of Israel" (Is. v. 7). For God's pleasure, and the well-being of the men composing it, this national vineyard existed. Had it answered its end, nothing but the purest prosperity would have attended it. God was "waiting over them to do them good." Moses put it thus plainly to them: "It shall come to pass if ye hearken to these judgments and keep and do them, that the Lord thy God ... will love thee and bless thee and multiply thee: he will also bless the fruit of thy womb and the fruit of thy land, thy corn and thy wine and thine oil, the increase of thy kine and the flocks of thy sheep, in the land which he sware unto thy fathers to give thee. Thou shalt be blessed above all people: there shall not be male or female barren among you or among your cattle.... What doth the Lord thy God require of thee but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him and to serve the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul?" (Deut. vii. 12-14; x. 12).

Having planted the vineyard, the proprietor sent messengers to receive of the fruit. That is, God raised up prophets in the midst of Israel, to bring them to the obedience which he required, and to that service and praise in which he delighted. With what result everyone acquainted with Israel's history knows. There is no sadder chapter in the whole story of human confusion upon earth than this -- that a nation, divinely founded, constituted, and guided, should, in all their generations, have turned against and killed the messengers divinely sent to them to keep them in the right way. It is a fact which painfully appears in the detail of Israel's history, and is thus concisely and graphically summarised at the close of the Divine record: "The chief of the priests and the people transgressed very much after all the abominations of the heathen, and polluted the house of the Lord which he had hallowed in Jerusalem. And the Lord God of their fathers sent to them by His messengers, rising up betimes and sending, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised His words, and misused His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people till there was no remedy" (2 Chron. xxxvi. 14-16). This is, in fact, the state of things parabolically exhibited in this story of the vineyard.

Israel's long career of insubordination culminated in the rejection and crucifixion of the Son of God himself. Judgment was not long delayed after this. The account of public events during a.d. 30 -- 70 (vulgar era), written by Josephus, is the historic illustration of the process of that "miserable destruction" which, in fulfilment of the words of Jesus, slowly came on them as the result of their disobedience. The vineyard, by that process, was taken from the order of "husbandmen" then in possession. Of that vineyard, Jesus is here exhibited as "the heir." He has not since that time come into possession, but he must do so as the heir. He indicates such an event in sanctioning the statement that it will be "given unto others." The Gospel of the Kingdom enables us to recognise in those "others," the Lord Jesus and his brethren in the day of his glory at his return, as he says, "When the son of man shall come in his glory and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit on the throne of his glory" (Matt. xxv. 31).

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