NO. 737: TWO PARABLES FOR THE NEW YEAR

by Epiphany Bible Students


No. 737

“Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High: And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.” (Psa. 50:14-15) “The Lord will give strength unto his people; the Lord will bless his people with peace.” (Psa. 29:11)

The dawn of a new year is properly a time for solemn reflection. In retrospect how abundant is the cause for thanksgiving. We who have been blessed with the knowledge of Divine Truth have cause for deepest gratitude. How great was the favor which revealed the hope of everlasting life as justified, human sons of God – of full Restitution to the Divine favor and likeness first possessed by Father Adam. Great was the invitation to give Him our hearts in consecration, to receive a new human heart to love truth and righteousness and to serve Him.

In addition to these blessings of hope and promise is the blessed realization that though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, as the Psalmist aptly represents the present life, our blessed Shepherd’s rod and staff have been our comfort and our safeguard. (Psa. 23:4) The friendly crook of the Shepherd’s staff has often kept us from wandering astray. At such times we have recalled the comforting words: “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.” (Heb. 12:5-8)

Spiritually, we have feasted on the bounties of Divine favor. In temporal matters we have assurance that all things work together for good to them that love God, under whatever circum­stances we have been placed. (Rom. 8:28) We have realized that godliness with contentment is great gain, thus we can and do most heartily “offer unto God thanksgiving.” Let us render unto Him, not only the praise of our lips, but also the incense of truly consecrated lives throughout the coming year.

OUR TALENTS AND THEIR USE

How shall we pay our vows? In the Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30), the Lord illustrated very clearly how we are expected to pay our vows of consecration to the Most High. He says: “For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straight­way took his journey.” In those times a talent represented a sum of money, but the thought of the parable is that these talents represent not only financial means, but also natural aptitudes, social advantages, education, etc.

The parable represents the entire Gospel Age from the time when our Lord ascended on High, going to the “far country” – 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 narrative shows that the servants do not represent merely nominal Christians, 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 ability.”

Those who merely 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. (Eph. 2:11-13) But after they have learned of the grace of God in Christ and of the provision made in Him for the covering of past sins and present blemishes, if they then rejoice to accept Him as their Savior, they thereby take the first step toward God, being thus justified by faith. They have peace with God respecting their former sins and the condemnation they realize they are under. (Rom. 5:1-3) They have not yet become servants of God, but they are in that attitude of mind where the Lord would be willing to accept them as His servants. Accordingly, the Apostle invites them, saying: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” (Rom. 12:1)

The believer thus lays in consecration at the Lord’s feet his life, his time, his influence, together with whatever property or mental endowments he may possess – all for the Lord, to be used in joyful service for the glory of our King. At this point the Scriptures represent him to be begotten again by the Holy Spirit to newness of life, newness of aim, newness of purpose. “Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Cor. 5:17) It is such New Creatures that God recognizes as His servants, consecrated to His service; and it is this class which is represented in the parable. To these servants He gives various talents to be used by them.[1]

These talents are the very talents which they possessed before consecration, and which in consecration they laid at the Lord’s feet. These He now entrusts 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 ability, in influence, in opportunity or in wealth. However, each is responsible for exactly the amount thus entrusted to his stewardship, plus whatever increase he may be able to achieve. His love for his Master and his loyalty as a servant are to be tested by the degree of effort he will exercise in the use of these talents, opportunities, etc. under his care.

Although the parable depicts the faithfulness of those having five talents and 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 a person having but one talent to be faithful, and equally possible for those having two or more talents to be unfaithful. Indeed those possessing the most talents are as likely to be among the unfaithful as are those who have but one talent. It is not unreasonable to suppose that the majority of those consecrated to the Lord have possessed only one talent.

In 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 consecrate them­selves, placing their natural talents at His disposal. The Scriptures state: “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.” (1 Cor. 1:26) “Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?” (Jas. 2:5)

The parable then refers to our Lord’s Second Advent, and indicates that then His first work will be with the Church, not with the world: “After a long time the Lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.” (Matt. 25:19) The words of St. Peter agree with this: “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God.” (1 Pet. 4:17) In this we have positive assurance that the servants of the parable are not worldly people who have no part in this matter, and who are not in any sense of the word stewards of the grace of God. It is true the Lord causes His sun to shine upon both the just and the unjust, and His rain to fall upon good and bad alike. However, He recognizes none as His servants except those who have come to Him in the appointed way: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6)

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 never was since there was a nation.” (Dan. 12:1)

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. (1 Cor. 15:42-44) 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 is that they will differ in the degree of glory received as “one star differeth from another star in glory.” (1 Cor. 15:41) If this thought is not directly corroborated by the Parable of the Talents, it is by the corresponding Parable of the Pounds, discussed later.

THE TALENT HID IN THE EARTH

We come now to the distinctive feature of the Parable of the Talents. The servant who had but one talent entrusted to him hid it in the earth. 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 affairs such as business, pleasure, society, etc., to the neglect of the stewardship and in repudiation of the original consecration. In excusing himself for not having made better use of it, he reveals that his heart was filled with fear instead of with love for his Lord; for he thought of his Lord as unjust, hard, unmerciful, and unloving. (Matt. 25:24-25) His theology was bad! 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.

Perhaps consideration of this parable may help some who are now in this attitude, prompting them to take their talent out of its earthly investment and apply it with redoubled energy and zeal according to their original covenant, hoping in the mercy of God for forgiveness of their previous laxness. By His grace they may yet hear His words: “Well done, good and faithful servant . . . enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” (Matt. 25:23)

If you, dear brother or sister, are not in the place of this unfaithful servant, you may 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.

The punishment outlined in the parable for this class of unfaithful servants is certainly severe, although there is nothing that suggests the unscriptural concept of eternal torment. 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 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 casting out: “And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 25:30) To be thrust into the outer darkness of the world is to lose whatever light, privilege and appreciation of spiritual matters that was previously enjoyed. The “weeping and gnashing of teeth” illustrates a further feature of the punishment. The unfaithful servants will share in the great Time of Trouble with which this Gospel Age is to end – the time of anarchy and confusion which the Lord declared His faithful people will be accounted worthy to escape. (Luke 21:36)

The parable merely mentions the punishment of the unfaithful servant without showing what the result will be – how he will be disciplined by the tribulations through which he will pass. But the great Teacher who spoke the parable later sent a message to His people explaining how the unfaithful servants may through their tribulations be enabled to some extent to recover their standing and obtain a share in the Divine blessing – although not in the Bride class. (Rev. 7:9-17) We see that their severe experiences will work with many of them such a change that they will gladly praise 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. (Rev. 3:21) 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.

The Scriptures do not guarantee, however, that all of the spirit-begotten consecrated will be either in the Throne or before the Throne. The Scriptures bring to our attention still another class who sin willfully, who “fall away.” (Heb. 6:4-8; Heb. 10:26-27) The Apostle states: “There is a sin unto death” (1 John 5:16) – 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 willful 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 we possess to “show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” (1 Pet. 2:9) 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 make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet. 1:8-11)

THE PARABLE OF THE POUNDS

We should not confuse the Parable of the Talents with the Parable of the Pounds. (Luke 19:11-27) They may seem similar but they teach different lessons. In the Parable of the Talents the amount given to each of the servants was different, whereas in the Parable of the Pounds each servant received the same amount – one pound. The Parable of the Pounds therefore illustrates something that is the same for all members of the servant class.

The object of the parable is clearly stated. The Lord and His disciples were approaching Jerusalem where shortly He was to be crucified. Because the disciples had supposed that the Messianic Kingdom would immediately be established in power and great honor, this parable was intended to inform them that in fact a long period of time would elapse before the Kingdom would be established. (Luke 19:11)

The disciples knew that the kings of Palestine were appointed by the Roman Emperor, and were aware that recently one of the Herods had gone to Rome seeking an appointment to a kingdom. Some who hated him sent a message to Rome, discrediting him and declaring their preference for another king. Jesus used this event to illustrate His own case: He was the Appointee for the Messianic Kingdom of the world. He would go to Heaven itself and there appear in the presence of the Heavenly Father, the Emperor of the universe. He would be invested by the Father with the ruling authority, and later return to earth and exercise His dominion, but while He was away His opponents would be in control. This was exactly according to Old Testament prophecy: “Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen [the nations] for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.” (Psa. 2:8)

During the interim of the Master’s absence, He has committed to His disciples, His servants, something that is symbolized by the one pound left to each of the servants of the parable. They have full liberty to use their best judgment and to show their love and their zeal in His service. At His return, all these servants will be reckoned with, and the degree of their zeal and productivity as servants will be manifested by the results, and the rewards given them will be proportionate.

The parable distinguishes between these consecrated servants of God and the masses of the people. It shows that nothing is committed to the masses and that no judgment or reward, is made in their case at the return of the Master as King. The pounds are given only to His servants and they only are held responsible for them.

In considering what is symbolized, by the pound, we must keep in mind that the same amount was given to each. There is but one thing we can think of that is given to all of the Lord’s people in exactly the same measure. Their financial circum­stances, natural abilities and opportunities are not alike. None of these varied talents pertain to this Parable of the Pounds.

The pound is the same to all: it represents justification. The one thing the Redeemer does for all who become His followers is to justify them freely from all things, leaving them all on an even footing. Justification makes up for the deficiencies of each individual in proportion as he by nature falls short of perfection, the Divine standard.

All who in the present time become children of God, servants of God, followers of Christ, must receive from the Lord the pound, the free forgiveness of sins – justification – as a basis for this relationship. Justification gives them standing with God, and whatever they may do or endeavor to do will be to their credit. Because all are equally qualified by justification, the results will show the degree of loving zeal controlling each servant. Those who love much will serve much. Those who love little will neglect to use their opportunities. As one servant in the parable gained ten pounds, so such noble characters as St. Peter, St. Paul, St. John and others, sacrificed themselves over and over again in the Divine service. In their zeal they counted all earthly things but as loss that they might be pleasing to their Lord Jesus Christ. (Phil. 3:8) Those who have gladly spent themselves most zealously in the service of the Lord are to have the highest rewards, as represented by the Lord’s words, “Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities.” (Luke 19:17)

Another servant in the parable reported a gain of five pounds. He had not done as well as the first, but he had done well. He had been faithful, although less faithful than the first. He also received his master’s commendation but the reward was less; he received dominion over five cities. This will mean a less influential place in the Messianic Kingdom.

Then in the parable another came saying, “Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin: For I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow.” (Luke 19:20-21) The master in the parable still addressed this one as a servant, but as a “wicked servant,” who knew his master’s will, who had undertaken his service, but who had been found unfaithful in it. (Luke 19:22) Had he not professed to be a servant, he would have received no pound and would have had no responsibility for it. He should have made use of his privilege and opportunity. He should have lived for his master. He should have made at least some use of the pound entrusted to him, so that he would have had some results to show.

This servant represents a class who enter into a covenant with the Lord to be His servants and receive justification at His hands, but fail to sacrifice as they covenanted to do. They endeavor to maintain their justification and live justly and honorably, but do not sacrifice themselves. They are glad to be able to say they have lost nothing but they are really afraid to use their opportunity, their privilege, realizing the Lord would be expecting a considerable return from the amount given them.

This class is the same as that represented by the unfaithful servant of the Parable of the Talents. It is also represented by the foolish virgins in the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins. (Matt. 25:1-13) They will not be lost, in the worst sense of that word, although they will indeed lose the great prize of the High Calling. Because they still remain servants and have a love for righteousness, they will be saved so as by fire; that is, through tribulations. They will ultimately gain everlasting life on the spirit plane, but will be quite inferior to the Bride class. They seem to be represented in the Scriptures as the virgins, the Bride’s companions who follow her. (Psa. 45:14)

The fear expressed by this servant reminds us of the Apostle’s words when he declares that Christ at His Second Coming will deliver those who all their lifetime were subject to bondage through fear of death. (Heb. 2:15) The consecration of the Lord’s servants is unto death, and those who fear death are fearful of performing their covenant vow. They will not be worthy of the Lord’s approval as faithful servants. Nevertheless, we are told there are many vessels in the King’s house, some to more honor and some to less honor. (2 Tim. 2:20-21)

SLAYING THE ENEMIES

The Parable of the Pounds shows that Messiah will only deal with the world, and especially with His enemies, after He has first dealt with His own servants at His Second Coming. After dealing with his servants upon his return, the nobleman in the parable states: “But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.” (Luke 19:27) This teaching of the parable is borne out by numerous Scriptures. When Jesus prayed on the night before His crucifixion, He said: “I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me.” (John 17:9) Thus we see the work of the Gospel Age as outlined by our Lord is merely for the selection, testing, and proving of His servants, with the object of determining which will be found worthy of association with Him in the great Millennial Kingdom, the work of which will be to bless and uplift all mankind.

The second Psalm points out that the Redeemer will not ask for the world (He will not pray for it) until He is ready to establish His Kingdom at His Second Advent, His Church having first been gathered to glory. Then He will ask for “the heathen,” by which is meant all who are out of fellowship with God. Messiah will deal forcefully with them: “Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” (Psa. 2:9) As other scriptures show, this means that the inaugu­ration of Messiah’s Kingdom will bring a great Time of Trouble, symbolically portrayed as fire or fiery judgments. (2 Thess. 1:7-8) Everything contrary to the Divine standard of justice will be shaken and eventually destroyed.

At first we might think these words show the King of Glory to be ferocious and unsym­pa­thetic with His enemies, contrary to His admonition to love our enemies and to do good to them. This will indeed be His policy; but He will do the greatest good for His enemies in bringing upon them just punishments (perhaps in the form of shame, notoriety, contempt) for their wrong actions, making them aware of their true condition and showing them their Restitution privileges. The Lord wounds that He may heal. We read, “When thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.” (Isa. 26:9) The judgements will be especially severe in the beginning, but only upon those deserving them. All who learn righteousness, coming into harmony with the King of kings and Lord of lords, will gradually be uplifted to human perfection.

We are not to forget that in dealing with His faithful servants during this age the Lord has permitted fiery trials to try and instruct them. It should not be a wonder to us therefore that fiery judgments upon the world are the Master’s design, not for the world’s injury, but for its blessing. In Revelation the Lord is represented in glorious majesty with a sword proceeding out of His mouth smiting the nations. (Rev. 19:15) Blessed smiting! We might feel that the sooner it begins, the better for the world; yet we remember that God’s time is best for everything.

As companion parables, the Parable of the Pounds and the Parable of the Talents illustrate from different standpoints the responsibilities of the stewardship of God’s people. Dearly beloved, let us have for our watchword during the year the word devotion; and let each of us write upon his heart the gracious promise: “The Lord will give strength unto his people.” Let us be faithfully His people, and let us earnestly desire and faithfully use the strength promised. “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised.)” (Heb. 10:23)

If you lack the strength to use faithfully your talent or your pound, the fault is yours, not God’s. You either have not His service closely enough at heart or else do not make use of the strength He provides. The Lord will give strength to His trusting, faithful servants, those who are using to His praise their justification and the talents consecrated to their Master, however many or few their talents may be.

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This paper is based on various writings of Pastor Russell, primarily Pastor Russell’s Sermons, pages 507-515 and Reprints 1281 and 5492.

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ANNOUNCEMENT

The date of our Lord’s Memorial is March 19, 2019 after six p.m.

[1] While both parables discussed in this article relate to the spirit begotten Church class (the door to this High Calling we believe to be closed), they provide valuable lessons for the Youthful Worthies who make the same kind of consecration: “Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for one of your own country.” (Lev. 24:22) They are not on trial for life but for faith and obedience and the reward of a “better resurrection.” If unfaithful they also risk being thrust into “outer darkness” with the world, and may ultimately lose their class standing.