Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
The parable of the ten virgins, five of whom were wise, and five foolish, Mat 25:1-12. The necessity of being constantly prepared to appear before God, Mat 25:13. The parable of the talents, vv. 14-30. The manner in which God shall deal with the righteous and the wicked in the judgment of the great day, vv. 31-46.
Then shall the kingdom of heaven - The state of Jews and professing Christians - the state of the visible Church at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, and in the day of judgment: for the parable appears to relate to both those periods. And particularly at the time in which Christ shall come to judge the world, it shall appear what kind of reception his Gospel has met with. This parable, or something very like it, is found in the Jewish records: so in a treatise entitled Reshith Chocmah, the beginning of wisdom, we read thus: "Our wise men of blessed memory say, Repent whilst thou hast strength to do it, whilst thy lamp burns, and thy oil is not extinguished; for if thy lamp be gone out, thy oil will profit thee nothing." Our doctors add, in Medrash: "The holy blessed God said to Israel, My sons, repent whilst the gates of repentance stand open; for I receive a gift at present, but when I shall sit in judgment, in the age to come, I will receive none." Another parable, mentioned by Kimchi, on Isa 65:13. "Rabbi Yuchanan, the son of Zachai, spoke a parable concerning a king, who invited his servants, but set them no time to come: the prudent and wary among them adorned themselves and, standing at the door of the king's house, said, Is any thing wanting in the house of the king? (i.e. Is there any work to be done?) But the foolish ones that were among them went away, and working said, When shall the feast be in which there is no labor? Suddenly the king sought out his servants: those who were adorned entered in, and they who were still polluted entered in also. The king was glad when he met the prudent, but he was angry when he met the foolish: he said, Let the prudent sit down and eat - let the others stand and look on." Rabbi Eliezer said, "Turn to God one day before your death." His disciples said, "How can a man know the day of his death?" He answered them, "Therefore you should turn to God to-day, perhaps you may die to-morrow; thus every day will be employed in returning." See Kimchi in Isa 65:13.
Virgins - Denoting the purity of the Christian doctrine and character. In this parable, the bridegroom is generally understood to mean Jesus Christ. The feast, that state of felicity to which he has promised to raise his genuine followers. The wise, or prudent, and foolish virgins, those who truly enjoy, and those who only profess the purity and holiness of his religion. The oil, the grace and salvation of God, or that faith which works by love. The vessel, the heart in which this oil is contained. The lamp, the profession of enjoying the burning and shining light of the Gospel of Christ. Going forth; the whole of their sojourning upon earth.
Five of them were wise - Or, provident, φρονιμοι - they took care to make a proper provision beforehand, and left nothing to be done in the last moment.
Five were foolish - Μωροι, which might be translated careless, is generally rendered foolish; but this does not agree so well with φρονιμοι, provident, or prudent, in the first clause, which is the proper meaning of the word. Μωρος in the Etymologicon, is thus defined, μη ὁρᾶ το δεον, he who sees not what is proper or necessary. These did not see that it was necessary to have oil in their vessels, (the salvation of God in their souls), as well as a burning lamp of religious profession, Mat 25:3, Mat 25:4.
Took oil in their vessels - They not only had a sufficiency of oil in their lamps, but they carried a vessel with oil to recruit their lamps, when it should be found expedient. This the foolish or improvident neglected to do: hence, when the oil that was in their lamps burned out, they had none to pour into the lamp to maintain the flame.
The bridegroom tarried - The coming of the bridegroom to an individual may imply his death: his coming to the world - the final judgment. The delay - the time from a man's birth till his death, in the first case; in the second, the time from the beginning to the end of the world.
Slumbered and slept - Or, ενυϚαξαν και εκαθευδον, they became drowsy and fell asleep. As sleep is frequently used in the sacred writings for death, so drowsiness, which precedes sleep, may be considered as pointing out the decays of the constitution, and the sicknesses which precede death. The other explanations which are given of this place must be unsatisfactory to every man who is not warped by some point in his creed, which must be supported at every expense. Carelessness disposed them to drowsiness, drowsiness to sleep, deep sleep, which rendered them as unconscious of their danger as they were before inattentive to their duty. The Anglo-Saxon has hit the meaning of the original well - of which my old MS. Bible gives a literal version, in the English of the 14th century: forsothe-alle nappeden and sleptyn.
At midnight there was a cry - The Jewish weddings were generally celebrated in the night; yet they usually began at the rising of the evening star; but in this case there was a more than ordinary delay.
Behold, the bridegroom cometh - What an awful thing to be summoned to appear before the Judge of quick and dead! The following is an affecting relation, and fas est ab hoste doceri. "When Rabbi Jochanan ben Zachai was sick, his disciples came to visit him; and when he saw them he began to weep. They say to him, Rabbi! the light of Israel, the right hand pillar, the strong hammer, wherefore dost thou weep? He answered them, If they were carrying me before a king of flesh and blood, who is here today, and to-morrow in the grave; who, if he were angry with me, his anger would not last for ever: if he put me in prison, his prison would not be everlasting; if he condemned me to death, that death would not be eternal; whom I could soothe with words or bribe with riches; yet even in these circumstances I should weep. But now I am going before the King of kings, the holy and the blessed God, who liveth and endureth for ever and for ever; who, if he be angry with me, his anger will last for ever; if he put me in prison, his bondage will be everlasting; if he condemn me to death, that death will be eternal; whom I cannot soothe with words nor bribe with riches: when, farther, there are before me two ways, the one to hell and the other to paradise, and I know not in which they are carrying me, shall I not weep?" Talmud Beracoth, fol. 29.
Trimmed their lamps - Εκοσμησαν, adorned them. I have seen some of the eastern lamps or lanthorns, the body of which was a skeleton of wood and threads, covered with a very thin transparent membrane, or very fine gauze, and decorated with flowers painted on it. It is probable that the nuptial lamps were highly decorated in this way; though the act mentioned here may mean no more than preparing the lamps for burning.
The following account of the celebration of a wedding in Persia, taken from the Zend Avesta, vol. ii. p. 558, etc., may cast some light on this place.
"The day appointed for the marriage, about five o'clock in the evening, the bridegroom comes to the house of the bride, where the mobed, or priest, pronounces for the first time the nuptial benediction. He then brings her to his own house, gives her some refreshment, and afterwards the assembly of her relatives and friends reconduct her to her father's house. When she arrives, the mobed repeats the nuptial benediction, which is generally done about Midnight; immediately after, the bride, accompanied with a part of her attending troop, (the rest having returned to their own homes), is reconducted to the house of her husband, where she generally arrives about three o'clock in the morning. Nothing can be more brilliant than these nuptial solemnities in India. Sometimes the assembly consists of not less than two thousand persons, all richly dressed in gold and silver tissue; the friends and relatives of the bride, encompassed with their domestics, are all mounted on horses richly harnessed. The goods, wardrobe, and even the bed of the bride, are carried in triumph. The husband, richly mounted and magnificently dressed, is accompanied by his friends and relatives, the friends of the bride following him in covered carriages. At intervals, during the procession, guns and rockets are fired, and the spectacle is rendered grand beyond description, by a prodigious number of Lighted Torches, and by the Sound of a multitude of musical instruments."
There are certain preparations which most persons believe they must make at the approach of death; but, alas! it is often too late. The lamp is defiled, the light almost out, and the oil expended; and what adorning is a wretched sinner, struggling in the agonies of death, capable of preparing for his guilty soul!
Our lamps are gone out - Σβεννυνται, are going out. So then it is evident that they were once lighted. They had once hearts illuminated and warmed by faith and love; but they had backslidden from the salvation of God, and now they are excluded from heaven, because, through their carelessness, they have let the light that was in them become darkness, and have not applied in time for a fresh supply of the salvation of God.
A Jewish rabbin supposes God addressing man thus: - I give thee my lamp, give thou me thy lamp; if thou keep my lamp I will keep thy lamp; but if thou extinguish my lamp I will extinguish thy lamp. That is, I give thee my Word and testimonies to be a light unto thy feet and a lanthorn to thy steps, to guide thee safely through life; give me thy Soul and all its concerns, that I may defend and save thee from all evil: keep my Word, walk in my ways, and I will keep thy Soul that nothing shall injure it; but if thou trample under foot my laws, I will cast thy soul into outer darkness.
Lest there be not enough for us and you - These had all been companions in the Christian course, and there was a time when they might have been helpful to each other; but that time is now past for ever - none has a particle of grace to spare, not even to help the soul of the dearest relative! The grace which every man receives is just enough to save his own soul; he has no merits to bequeath to the Church; no work of supererogation which can be placed to the account of another.
Go ye rather to them that sell, and buy - By leaving out the particle δε, but, (on the indisputable authority of ABDGHKS, and HV, of Matthai, with sixteen others, the Armenian, Vulgate, and all the Itala but one), and transposing a very little the members of the sentence, the sense is more advantageously represented, and the reading smoother: Rather go to them that sell, and buy for yourselves, lest there be not enough for us and you. Beza, Mill, Bengel, and Griesbach, approve of the omission of the particle δε.
While they went to buy, the bridegroom came - What a dismal thing it is, not to discover the emptiness of one's heart of all that is good, till it is too late to make any successful application for relief! God alone knows how many are thus deceived.
And they that were ready - They who were prepared - who had not only a burning lamp of an evangelical profession, but had oil in their vessels, the faith that works by love in their hearts, and their lives adorned with all the fruits of the Spirit.
The door was shut - Sinners on a death-bed too often meet with those deceitful merchants, who promise them salvation for a price which is of no value in the sight of God. Come unto me, says Jesus, and buy: there is no salvation but through his blood - no hope for the sinner but that which is founded upon his sacrifice and death. The door was shut - dreadful and fatal words! No hope remains. Nothing but death can shut this door; but death may surprise us in our sins, and then despair is our only portion.
Afterwards came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord - Earnest prayer, when used in time, may do much good: but it appears, from this parable, that there may come a time when prayer even to Jesus may be too late! - viz. when the door is shut - when death has separated the body and the soul.
I know you not - As if he had said, Ye are not of my company - ye were neither with the bride nor the bridegroom: ye slept while the others were in procession. I do not acknowledge you for my disciples - ye are not like him who is love - ye refused to receive his grace - ye sinned it away when ye had it; now you are necessarily excluded from that kingdom where nothing but love and purity can dwell.
Watch therefore - If to watch be to employ ourselves chiefly about the business of our salvation, alas! how few of those who are called Christians are there who do watch! How many who slumber! How many who are asleep! How many seized with a lethargy! How many quite dead!
Wherein the Son of man cometh - These words are omitted by many excellent MSS., most of the versions, and several of the fathers. Griesbach has left them out of the text: Grotius, Hammond, Mill, and Bengel, approve of the omission.
Called his own servants - God never makes the children of men proprietors of his goods. They are formed by his power, and upheld by his bounty; and they hold their lives and their goods, as in many of our ancient tenures, quamdiu domino placuerit - at the will of their Lord.
Unto one he gave five talents - to every man according to his several ability - The duties men are called to perform are suited to their situations, and the talents they receive. The good that any man has he has received from God, as also the ability to improve that good. God's graces and temporal mercies are suited to the power which a man has of improving them. To give eminent gifts to persons incapable of properly improving them, would be only to lead into a snare. The talent which each man has suits his own state best; and it is only pride and insanity which lead him to desire and envy the graces and talents of another. Five talents would be too much for some men: one talent would be too little. He who receives much, must make proportionate improvement; and, from him who has received little, the improvement only of that little will be required. As five talents, in one case, are sufficient to answer the purpose for which they were given; so also are two and one.
The man who improves the grace he has received, however small, will as surely get to the kingdom of God, as he who has received most from his master, and improved all.
There is a parable something like this in Sohar Chadash, fol. 47: "A certain king gave a deposit to three of his servants: the first kept it; the second lost it; the third spoiled one part of it, and gave the rest to another to keep. After some time, the king came and demanded the deposit. Him who had preserved it, the king praised, and made him governor of his house. Him who had lost it, he delivered to utter destruction, so that both his name and his possessions were blotted out. To the third, who had spoiled a part and given the rest to another to keep, the king said, Keep him, and let him not go out of my house, till we see what the other shall do to whom he has entrusted a part: if he shall make a proper use of it, this man shall be restored to liberty; if not, he also shall be punished." See Schoettgen. I have had already occasion to remark how greatly every Jewish parable is improved that comes through the hands of Christ.
In this parable of our Lord, four things may be considered: -
I. The master who distributes the talents.
II. The servants who improved their talents.
III. The servant who buried his talent. And
IV. His punishment.
I. The master who distributes the talents.
1. The master's kindness. The servants had nothing - deserved nothing - had no claim on their master, yet he, in his Kindness, delivers unto them his goods, not for his advantage, but for their comfort and salvation.
2. The master distributes these goods diversely; - giving to one five, to another, two, and to another one. No person can complain that he has been forgotten; the master gives to each. None can complain of the diversity of the gifts; it is the master who has done it. The master has an absolute right over his own goods, and the servants cannot find fault with the distribution. He who has little should not envy him who has received much, for he has the greater labor, and the greater account to give. He who has much should not despise him who has little, for the sovereign master has made the distinction; and his little, suited to the ability which God has given him, and fitted to the place in which God's providence has fixed him, is sufficiently calculated to answer the purpose of the master, in the salvation of the servant's soul.
3. The master distributes his talents with Wisdom. He gave to each according to his several ability, i.e. to the power he had to improve what was given. It would not be just to make a servant responsible for what he is naturally incapable of managing; and it would not be proper to give more than could be improved. The powers which men have, God has given; and as he best knows the extent of these powers, so he suits his graces and blessings to them in the most wise, and effectual way. Though he may make one vessel for honor, (i.e. a more honorable place or office), and another for dishonor, (a less honorable office), yet both are for the master's use - both are appointed and capacitated to show forth his glory.
II. The servants who improved their talents.
These persons are termed δουλοι, slaves, such as were the property of the master, who might dispose of them as he pleased. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded, Mat 25:16.
1. The work was speedily begun - as soon as the master gave the talents and departed, so soon they began to labor. There is not a moment to be lost - every moment has its grace, and every grace has its employment, and every thing is to be done for eternity.
2. The work was perseveringly carried on; after a long time the lord of those servants cometh, Mat 25:19. The master was long before he returned, but they did not relax. The longer time, the greater improvement. God gives every man just time enough to live, in this world, to glorify his Maker, and to get his soul saved. Many begin well, and continue faithful for a time - but how few persevere to the end! Are there none who seem to have outlived their glory, their character, their usefulness?
3. Their work was crowned with success. They doubled the sum which they had received. Every grace of God is capable of great improvement. Jesus himself, the pure, immaculate Jesus, grew in wisdom and favor with God, Luk 2:52.
4. They were ready to give in a joyful account when their master came and called for them.
1st. They come without delay: they expected his coming; and it was with an eye to this that they continued their labor - they endured as seeing him who is invisible.
2dly. They come without fear; the master before whom they appear has always loved them, and given them the fullest proofs of his affection for them: his love to them has begotten in them love to him; and their obedience to his orders sprung from the love they bore to him. He that loveth me, says Jesus, will keep my words.
3d. They render up their accounts without confusion: he who received five brought five others; and he who had received two brought two more: nothing was to be done when their master called; all their business was fully prepared.
4th. They gave up every thing to their master, without attempting to appropriate any thing. Their ability was his, the talents his, and the continued power to improve them, his. All is of God, and all must be returned to him.
5. Their recompense from their gracious master.
1st. They receive praise. Well done, good and faithful servants, Mat 25:21. What a glorious thing to have the approbation of God, and the testimony of a good conscience! They were good, pure and upright within - faithful, using to God's glory the blessings he had given.
2d. They receive gracious promises. Ye have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much. These promises refer not only to a future glory, but to an increase of God's grace and mercy here; for the more faithfully a man improves what God has already given him, the more he shall have from his gracious Master: for he giveth more grace, till he fills the faithful soul with his own fullness.
3d. They receive Glory. Enter into the joy of your Lord. As ye were partakers of my nature on earth, be ye sharers of my glory in heaven. The joy, the happiness wherewith I am happy, shall be your eternal portion! O, what is all we can do, all we can suffer, even the most lingering and cruel martyrdom, in comparison of this unbounded, eternal joy!
III. Of the servant who buried his talent.
He that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his Lord's money, Mat 25:18.
1. See the ingratitude of this servant. His master gave him a talent, capable of being improved to his own present and eternal advantage; but he slights the mercy of his lord.
2. See his idleness. Rather than exert himself to improve what he has received, he goes and hides it.
3. See his gross error. He Digs to hide it - puts himself to more trouble to render the mercy of God to him of none effect, than he would have had in combating and conquering the world, the devil, and the flesh.
4. See his injustice. He takes his master's money, and neither improves nor designs to improve it, even while he is living on and consuming that bounty which would have been sufficient for a faithful servant. How much of this useless lumber is to be found in the Church of Christ! But suppose the man be a preacher - what a terrible account will he have to give to God - consuming the provision made for a faithful pastor, and so burying, or misusing his talent, as to do no good, to immortal souls!
5. Hear the absurdity of his reasoning. Lord, I knew thee that thou art a hard (or avaricious) man, reaping where thou hast not sown, etc., Mat 25:24. See this meaning of σκληρος proved by Kypke. The wicked excuse of this faithless servant confuted itself and condemned him. Nevertheless it is on this very model that sinners in general seek to justify themselves; and the conclusion turns always against them. I knew thee to be a hard man. How awfully deceived and deeply depraved must that person be, who not only attempts to excuse his follies, but to charge his crimes on God himself!
I was afraid - Why? Because thou wert an enemy to thy soul, and to thy God. - I was afraid - of what? that he would require more than he did give. How could this be? Did he not give thee the talent freely, to show thee his benevolence? And did he not suit it to thy ability, that he might show thee his wisdom, justice, and goodness, in not making thee responsible for more than thou couldst improve?
IV. Behold the awful punishment of this faithless servant.
1. He is reproached. Thou wicked and slothful servant! Wicked - in thy heart: slothful - in thy work. Thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not. Thou art condemned by thy own mouth - whose is the unemployed talent? Did I not give thee this? And did I require the improvement of two when I gave thee but one? - Thou knowest I did not.
2. He is stripped of what he possessed. Take - the talent from him. O terrible word! - Remove the candlestick from that slothful, worldly-minded Church: take away the inspirations of the Holy Spirit from that lukewarm, Christless Christian, who only lives to resist them and render them of none effect. Dispossess that base, man-pleasing minister of his ministerial gifts; let his silver become brass, and his fine gold, dross. He loved the present world more than the eternal world, and the praise of men more than the approbation of God. Take away the talent from him!
3. He is punished with an everlasting separation from God and the glory of his power. Cast forth the unprofitable servant, Mat 25:30. Let him have nothing but darkness, who refused to walk in the light: let him have nothing but misery - weeping and gnashing of teeth, who has refused the happiness which God provided for him.
Reader, if the careless virgin, and the unprofitable servant, against whom no flagrant iniquity is charged, be punished with an outer darkness, with a hell of fire: of what sorer punishment must he be judged worthy, who is a murderer, an adulterer, a fornicator, a blasphemer, a thief, a liar, or in any respect an open violater of the laws of God? The careless virgins, and the unprofitable servants, were saints in comparison of millions, who are, notwithstanding, dreaming of an endless heaven, when fitted only for an endless hell!
With usury - Συν τοκω, with its produce - not usury; for that is unlawful interest, more than the money can properly produce.
Unto every one that hath shall be given - See on Mat 13:12 (note).
Weeping and gnashing of teeth - See on Mat 8:12 (note), a note necessary for the illustration of this, and the foregoing parable.
When the Son of man shall come - This must be understood of Christ's coming at the last day, to judge mankind: though all the preceding part of the chapter may be applied also to the destruction of Jerusalem.
Holy angels - The word αγιοι is omitted by many excellent manuscripts, versions, and fathers. Mill and Bengel approve of the omission, and Griesbach has left it out of the text. It is supposed by some that our Lord will have other angels (messengers) with him in that day, besides the holy ones. The evil angels may be in attendance to take, as their prey, those who shall be found on his left hand.
The throne of his glory - That glorious throne on which his glorified human nature is seated, at the right hand of the Father.
All nations - Literally, all the nations - all the Gentile world; the Jews are necessarily included, but they were spoken of in a particular manner in the preceding chapter.
He shall separate them - Set each kind apart by themselves.
As a shepherd divideth, etc. - It does not appear that sheep and goats were ever penned or housed together, though they might feed in the same pasture; yet even this was not done but in separate flocks; so Virgil, Eclog. vii. v. 2.
Compulerantque greges Corydon et Thyrsis in unum;
Thyrsis Oves, Corydon distentas lacte
"Thyrsis and Corydon drove their flocks together:
Thyrsin his sheep; and Corydon his goats, their udders distended with milk."
These two shepherds had distinct flocks, which fed in the same pasture, but separately; and they are only now driven together, for the convenience of the two shepherds, during the time of their musical contest.
He shall set the sheep, etc. - The right hand signifies, among the rabbins, approbation and eminence: the left hand, rejection, and disapprobation. Hence in Sohar Chadash it is said, "The right hand is given, the left also is given - to the Israelites and the Gentiles are given paradise and hell - this world, and the world to come." The right and left were emblematical of endless beatitude and endless misery among the Romans. Hence Virgil: -
Hic locus est, partes ubi se via findit in ambas,
Dextera, quae Ditis magni sub moenia tendit:
Hac iter Elysium nobis; at laeva malorum
Exercet poenas, et ad impia Tartara mittit
Aen. vi. 540
Here in two ample roads the way divides,
The right direct, our destined journey guides,
By Pluto's palace, to the Elysian plains;
The left to Tartarus, where bound in chains
Loud howl the damn'd in everlasting pains.
Of the good and faithful servants he approves, and therefore exalts them to his glory; of the slothful and wicked he disapproves, and casts them into hell.
Sheep, which have ever been considered as the emblems of mildness, simplicity, patience, and usefulness, represent here the genuine disciples of Christ.
Goats, which are naturally quarrelsome, lascivious, and excessively ill-scented, were considered as the symbols of riotous, profane, and impure men. They here represent all who have lived and died in their sins. See Eze 34:17, and Zac 10:3.
Ye blessed of my Father - This is the king's address to his followers; and contains the reason why they were found in the practice of all righteousness, and were now brought to this state of glory - they were blessed - came as children, and received the benediction of the Father, and became, and continued to be, members of the heavenly family.
Inherit - The inheritance is only for the children of the family - if sons, then heirs, Gal 4:7, but not otherwise. The sons only shall enjoy the father's estate.
Prepared for you - That is, the kingdom of glory is designed for such as you - you who have received the blessing of the Father, and were holy, harmless, undefiled, and separated from sinners.
From the foundation of the world - It was God's purpose and determination to admit none into his heaven but those who were made partakers of his holiness, Heb 12:14. The rabbins say, Seven things were created before the foundation of the world.
1. The law.
5. The throne of God.
6. The temple; and
7. The name of the Messiah.
I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat - Every thing which is done to a follower of Christ, whether it be good or evil, he considers as done to himself, see Mat 25:40; Act 9:4, Act 9:5; Heb 6:10. Of all the fruits of the Spirit, none are mentioned here but those that spring from love, or mercy; because these give men the nearest conformity to God. Jesus had said, Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy; and he here shows how this promise shall be fulfilled. The rabbins say: "As often as a poor man presents himself at thy door, the holy blessed God stands at his right hand: if thou give him alms, know that he who stands at his right hand will give thee a reward. But if thou give him not alms, he who stands at his right hand will punish thee." Vaiyikra Rabba, s. 34, fol. 178.
A stranger, and ye took me in - Συνηγαγετε με, ye entertained me: Kypke has fully proved that this is the meaning of the original. Literally, συναγειν signifies to gather together. Strangers are sometimes so destitute as to be ready to perish for lack of food and raiment: a supply of these things keeps their souls and bodies together, which were about to be separated through lack of the necessaries of life. The word may also allude to a provision made for a poor family, which were scattered abroad, perhaps begging their bread, and who by the ministry of benevolent people are collected, relieved, and put in a way of getting their bread. O blessed work! to be the instruments of preserving human life, and bringing comfort and peace into the habitations of the wretched!
While writing this, (Nov. 13, 1798), I hear the bells loudly ringing in commemoration of the birth-day of E. Colson, Esq., a native of this city, (Bristol), who spent a long life and an immense fortune in relieving the miseries of the distressed. His works still praise him in the gates; his name is revered, and his birth-day held sacred, among the inhabitants. Who has heard the bells ring in commemoration of the birth of any deceased hero or king? Of so much more value, in the sight even of the multitude, is a life of public usefulness than one of worldly glory or secular state. But how high must such a person rank in the sight of God, who, when Christ in his representatives was hungry, gave him food; when thirsty, gave him drink; when naked clothed him; when sick and in prison, visited him! Thou blessed of my Father! come. Thou hast been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, and now thou shalt eternally enjoy the true riches.
The Supreme God is represented in the Bhagvat Geeta as addressing mankind, when he had just formed them, thus: "Those who dress their meat but for themselves, eat the bread of sin." Geeta, p. 46.
I was sick, and ye visited me - Relieving the strangers, and visiting the sick, were in high estimation among the Jews. One of their sayings on this head is worthy of notice: "He who neglects to visit the sick is like him who has shed blood." That is, as he has neglected, when it was in his power, to preserve life, he is as guilty in the sight of the Lord as he is who has committed murder. See Kypke in loco.
Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, etc. - This barbarous expression, an hungered, should be banished out of the text, wheresoever it occurs, and the simple word hungry substituted for it. Whatever is done for Christ's sake, is done through Christ's grace; and he who does the work attributes to Jesus both the will and the power by which the work was done, and seeks and expects the kingdom of heaven not as a reward, but as a gift of pure unmerited mercy. Yet, while workers together with his grace, God attributes to them that which they do through his influence, as if they had done it independently of him. God has a right to form what estimate he pleases of the works wrought through himself: but man is never safe except when he attributes all to his Maker.
Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren - The meanest follower of Christ is acknowledged by him as his brother! What infinite condescension! Those, whom many would scorn to set with the dogs of their flock, are brothers and sisters of the blessed Jesus, and shall soon be set among the princes of his people.
Depart from me, ye cursed - Or, Ye cursed! depart. - These words are the address of the king to the sinners; and contain the reason why they are to be separated from blessedness: Ye are cursed, because ye have sinned, and would not come unto me that ye might have life. - No work of piety has proceeded from your hand, because the carnal mind, which is enmity against me, reigned in your heart; and ye would not have me to reign over you. Depart! this includes what some have termed the punishment of loss or privation. Ye cannot, ye, shall not be united to me - Depart! O terrible word! and yet a worse is to come.
Into everlasting fire - This is the punishment of sense. Ye shall not only be separated from me, but ye shall be tormented, awfully, everlastingly tormented in that place of separation.
Prepared for the devil and his angels - The devil and his angels sinned before the creation of the world, and the place of torment was then prepared for them: it never was designed for human souls; but as the wicked are partakers with the devil and his angels in their iniquities, in their rebellion against God, so it is right that they should be sharers with them in their punishment. We see here, plainly, why sinners are destroyed, not because there was no salvation for them, but because they neglected to receive good, and do good. As they received not the Christ who was offered to them, so they could not do the work of righteousness which was required of them. They are cursed, because they refused to be blessed; and they are damned, because they refused to be saved.
I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat - I put it in your power to do good, and ye would not. A variety of occasions offered themselves to you, but ye neglected them all, so that my blessings in your hands, not being improved, according to my order, became a curse to you.
I was a stranger - If men were sure that Jesus Christ was actually somewhere in the land, in great personal distress, hungry, thirsty, naked, and confined, they would doubtless run unto and relieve him. Now Christ assures us that a man who is hungry, thirsty, naked, etc., is his representative, and that whatever we do to such a one he will consider as done to himself; yet this testimony of Christ is not regarded! Well, he will be just when he judges, and righteous when he punishes.
Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, etc. - It is want of faith which in general produces hard-heartedness to the poor. The man who only sees with eyes of flesh is never likely to discover Christ in the person of a man destitute of the necessaries of life. Some pretend not to know the distressed; because they have no desire to relieve them; but we find that this ignorance will not avail them at the bar of God.
And these shall go away into everlasting punishment - No appeal, no remedy, to all eternity! No end to the punishment of those whose final impenitence manifests in them an eternal will and desire to sin. By dying in a settled opposition to God, they cast themselves into a necessity of continuing in an eternal aversion from him.
But some are of opinion that this punishment shall have an end: this is as likely as that the glory of the righteous shall have an end: for the same word is used to express the duration of the punishment, κολασιν αιωνιον, as is used to express the duration of the state of glory: ζωην αιωνιον. I have seen the best things that have been written in favor of the final redemption of damned spirits; but I never saw an answer to the argument against that doctrine, drawn from this verse, but what sound learning and criticism should be ashamed to acknowledge. The original word αιων is certainly to be taken here in its proper grammatical sense, continued being, αιειων, Never Ending. Some have gone a middle way, and think that the wicked shall be annihilated. This, I think, is contrary to the text; if they go into punishment, they continue to exist; for that which ceases to be, ceases to suffer. See the note on Gen 21:33, where the whole subject is explained.
A very good improvement of the parable of the wise and foolish virgins is made by Salvian, a very pious writer of the fifth century, (Epist. ad. Ecclus. Cath. lib. ii)., the substance of which, in Mr. Bulkley's translation, is as follows: -
Ego unum scio, etc. "One thing I know, that the lamps of the foolish virgins are said to have gone out for want of the oil of good works; but thou, whoever thou art, thinkest that thou hast oil in abundance, and so did they; for, if they had not believed themselves to have had it, they would have provided themselves with it; for since afterwards, as the Lord says, they would gladly have borrowed, and sought it so eagerly, no doubt they would have done so before, had they not been deceived by the confidence of having it. Thou thinkest thyself wise, and these did not imagine themselves to be foolish: thou thinkest that thy lamp has light, and they lost their light because they thought they should have it. For why did they prepare their lamps if they did not think they should be lighted? In a word, their lamps, I suppose, must have afforded some degree of light; for since we read of their being afraid that their lamps should go out, they certainly had something which they feared would be extinguished. Nor was it a groundless fear; their lamps did go out, and that pure light of virginity which appeared profited them nothing, for want of a supply of oil. From whence we understand that what is but a little, is in a manner nothing. You have therefore need of a lamp plentifully filled, that your light may be lasting. And if those which we light up here for a short time so soon fail, unless copiously supplied with oil, how much must thou stand in need of that thy lamp may shine to eternity?"
This writer was a priest of Marseilles, in 430. He bewailed the profligacy of his times so much, and so pathetically, that he has been styled the Jeremiah of the fifth century. Were he still upon earth, he would find equal reason to deplore the wickedness and carelessness of mankind.
From what our Lord has here said, we may see that God indispensably requires of every man to bring forth good fruit; and that a fruitless tree shall be inevitably cut down, and cast into the fire. Let it be also remarked that God does not here impute to his own children the good works which Jesus Christ did for them. No! Christ's feeding the multitudes in Judea will not be imputed to them, while persons in their own neighborhood are perishing through want, and they have wherewithal to relieve them. He gives them a power that they may glorify his name by it and have, in their own souls, the continued satisfaction which arises from succouring the distressed. Let it be farther remarked, that Christ does not say here that they have purchased the eternal life by these good deeds. No! for the power to work, and the means of working, came both from God. They first had redemption through his blood, and then his Spirit worked in them to will and to do. They were therefore only workers together with him, and could not be said, in any sense of the word, to purchase God's glory, with his own property. But though God works in them, and by them, he does not obey for them. The works of piety and mercy They perform, under the influence and by the aid of his grace. Thus God preserves the freedom of the human soul, and secures his own glory at the same time. Let it be remarked, farther, that the punishment inflicted on the foolish virgins, the slothful servant, and the cursed who are separated from God, was not because of their personal crimes; but because they were not good, and were not useful in the world. Their lives do not appear to have been stained with crimes, - but they were not adorned with virtues. They are sent to hell because they did no good. They were not renewed in the image of God; and hence did not bring forth fruit to his glory. If these harmless people are sent to perdition, what must the end be of the wicked and profligate!