Pounds and Talents

William Bacon Stevens, 1857

Matthew 25:14-30
"The kingdom of Heaven is like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money.
"After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.' "His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'
"The man with the two talents also came. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.' "His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'
"Then the man who had received the one talent came. 'Master,' he said, 'I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.'
"His master replied, 'You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
"'Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!'" 

Luke 19:12-27
Jesus said: "A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten pounds. 'Occupy until I come,' he said.
"But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, 'We don't want this man to be our king.'
"He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.
"The first one came and said, 'Sir, your pound has earned ten more.' "'Well done, my good servant!' his master replied. 'Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.'
"The second came and said, 'Sir, your pound has earned five more.' "His master answered, 'You take charge of five cities.'
"Then another servant came and said, 'Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.' "His master replied, 'I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? Why then didn't you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?'
"Then he said to those standing by, 'Take his pound away from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds.' "'Sir,' they said, 'he already has ten!' "He replied, 'I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away. But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them bring them here and kill them in front of me!'" 


These parables are similar, without being identical. They were delivered on different occasions, and for different purposes; but though they have some points of divergence, they have many of convergence, and are sufficiently alike in parabolical structure and practical design to be treated under one head, as enforcing the one great truth pertaining to the trusts confided to us by God: "Occupy until I come!"

In the parable of the Pounds, spoken in the house of Zaccheus, and recorded by Luke, where it is said, "A certain nobleman went into a far country, to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return;" and of whom it is subsequently added, "but his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, "we will not have this man to reign over us;" there is evidently a historical allusion to the political condition of Judea under the Roman power.

But, while it had this historical basis, it had also a prophetic aspect; for that "nobleman" was Christ, "heir of all things," "the first-born of every creature." That "traveling into a far country," was the coming down of the Lord Jesus from Heaven to earth. That "kingdom" which he came "to receive," was the Church. That "calling his own servants, and delivering unto them his goods," was the selection of His Apostles and ministers, and the committing to them the "gifts" and "graces" which are the spiritual "pounds" and "talents" of the Church. That "taking his journey," in the one case, and that "return," in the other, was His ascension into Heaven. That "hatred" of "his citizens," and their sending "a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us," was the secret enmity and open opposition of the human heart against the spiritual reign of Jesus Christ.

In both of these parables, we find that certain moneys were given to certain servants.

The first bestows "talents:" giving to one "five talents," or about six thousand dollars; "to another two," or nearly twenty-four hundred dollars; "to another, one," or twelve hundred dollars.

The second gives to each of ten people a pound (mina), equivalent to twenty dollars.

In the first parable, our Lord was addressing His Apostles only, to whom had been specially entrusted large gifts, for the planting, erecting, teaching, governing of the Church; well expressed by the term "talents," as distinguished from those lower yet still important gifts, which pertain to private Christians, and which, when Jesus addressed His "disciples," He called by the humbler designation of "pounds." In both instances, however, the pounds and the talents were given to be improved and augmented, by such an occupancy or use as would increase the amount originally bestowed, and bring in large profits to the holder.

Years roll on; the several servants pursue different courses with their talents and pounds; until, "after a long time," as Matthew expresses it, "the lord of those servants comes and reckons with them;" or, as Luke says, the returned nobleman "commanded these servants to be called unto him to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much each man had gained by trading."

On presenting themselves before their respective lords, it is found, that some improve their means more than others. He to whom five talents had been given had "traded with the same, and made five more talents;" "likewise he who had received two, he also had gained another two."

One of those to whom one pound had been delivered came, "saying, Lord, your pound has gained ten pounds;" and another reported, "Lord, your pound has gained five pounds."

In the case of the recipient of the talents, there was simply a duplicating of the original sum received, evincing diligence and fidelity in the trust committed to them; but in the case of the pounds, the increase was vastly greater; instead of being twofold, it was, in one instance, tenfold, and in another, fivefold; and this, too, with less original capital, thereby showing a greater zeal in the lord's service, and deeper wisdom in business plans than those to whom had been committed the more valuable talents.

And as our Lord uttered no words without meaning, may not this be designed to show us, by a delicate yet truthful allusion, that not those alone who receive even two or five talents, the higher denomination of God's gifts, shall be rewarded with kingly munificence; but that those who rightly employ even the humbler trust of a single pound, may, by faithful effort, so improve the little, as to become a ruler over ten cities or over five cities; far outstripping, in real increase of grace and fruit, those to whom had been entrusted higher gifts and larger portions.

It is not those who have "talents," costly though they be, and minister as they may in the high places of the Church, admired, honored, blessed who will prove themselves the most active accumulators of the Divine blessing, or receive the most flattering plaudits. On the contrary, some humbler Christian, scarcely known even in the Church to which he belongs, some diligent cultivator of his single "pound," may, through prayer and faith and zeal, bring in from his small portion a larger revenue of glory to God and blessedness for souls, than the more richly endowed and more conspicuous possessor of his Lord's bounty.

The rewards bestowed upon these profitable servants, varied with their several degrees of fidelity. The possessor of five talents, whose industry had "gained five more talents," receives the approbation of his lord, and the assurance that he would make him "ruler over many things." The diligent improver of two talents obtains the same commendation, with the promise that as he "had been faithful over a few things," he would make him "ruler over many things." While both received the invitation "enter into the joy of your lord;" implying, according to Oriental usage, that the lord had celebrated his return by a sumptuous feast, to which these his servants had been invited, and by this invitation and participation of the feast, received freedom, and thus as "freedmen" were designated to rule over others.

The indefiniteness which attaches to the rewards in the parable of the talents, does not obtain in that of the pounds. Here all is distinct: for he whose pound had gained ten pounds, and he whose pound had multiplied to five, were severally made rulers over ten and five cities; in evident allusion to the custom formerly prevalent in the East, of assigning the government or revenues of a certain number of cities as rewards to meritorious officers, as Artaxerxes assigned several cities to Themistocles for his services in the cause of Persia; of which cities, Myus was to supply him with viands, Magnesia with bread, Lampsacus with wines.

The disproportion between fidelity in the use of a single pound of Hebrew money, and the reward consequent thereon, of being made a ruler over five or ten cities, cannot fail to arrest attention. And yet how beautifully does this apparent disproportion illustrate a marked feature of the Divine economy, whereby God rewards not deeds but motives; not results but principles. So here the principles of faithful zeal to the humblest trust is requited by transferring that lowly laborer to a broader field of action, where this principle, so fully tested in small matters, has now scope for noble and efficient development.

And a blessed thought it is, that we are not rewarded so much for the outward and visible ministrations of duty, as for the inward and spiritual principles which guide our souls, which principles indeed are not of our own getting but are implanted in us by the Holy Spirit. Hence it follows, that the humblest servant of God may attain to heights in glory, and reaches of power, far above what may be accorded to the more seemingly active and fruitful professor, because of the different principles which were the motive power in each.

In both parables, however, we find one instance of misimprovement of the money bestowed. The recipient of "one talent," after wrongfully accusing his lord as "a hard man," tells him, "I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the earth." And one of the receivers of the pound brings it back, saying, "Behold, here is your pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin;" at the same time laying grievous things to his charge. Their lord answers in both cases if you knew that I was an austere or hard man, "taking up what I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow" you should have put my money "into the bank," and then at my coming I would have received mine own with interest.

By pursuing such a course you would have lost nothing, even though I was such a one as you represent me to be; while my money, instead of lying idle, would have been gathering the usual percent of interest from those whose business it was to exchange the different coins of Eastern currency for the shekel of the temple; and who thus, upon their little tables or counters, carried on a profitable trade with "the strangers, Jews, and proselytes," who resorted to Jerusalem for business or devotion.

Unable to answer a word in extenuation of such neglect, they are both deprived of the sum originally placed in their keeping, and cast as "unprofitable servants" into outer darkness; or as enemies of their lord, are brought and slain before him. Such was the deserved end of those who could impugn the honesty, clemency, and goodness of their respective masters, as well as abuse, by not rightly employing, the trusts committed to their care. The bearing of these parables is very plain, and the truths they teach are very important.

God has committed to us certain interests which pertain to man as a moral and accountable being the present and future interests of the soul. These, like the ten pounds to the ten servants, are committed alike to all. But, though God has given a soul and a conscience, and the light of nature, to every child of Adam, and for the occupancy of which trust each will be called into judgment at the great day yet do we also learn, by the parable of the Talents, that, over and above these interests, which are common to all, there are special deposits of ability and grace made to some individuals, which bring them under heavier responsibility and demand of them peculiar fidelity and zeal.

Among these may be mentioned:

First, superior mental endowments. The varieties of mind are as great as the varieties of features and temperament; and while some people evidence so low a rationality, as to seem but one link removed from a high order of instinct others exhibit powers of intellect so gigantic, so noble, so elevated above the mass of minds, as to compel the homage of the world. Whenever God has bestowed these superior endowments, it has always been with the injunction, "Occupy until I come."

He did not bestow them merely to subserve individual aggrandizement, that the possessor might leave behind him the impress of his genius stamped upon the laws, literature, science, or institutions of the world; but to cultivate them to their utmost capacity, and put them to their highest efforts in advancing the glory of God and the salvation of souls. Not that all minds should occupy themselves solely on religious topics; not that all such mighty men of thought should preach the Gospel; but that the ultimate aim and tendency of all mental efforts, on whatever subject they may be occupied should be "to glorify our Father who is in Heaven."

We assert, without the fear of contradiction, that there is no department of solid learning which does not, if rightly cultivated, lead the mind directly or indirectly to God, and none which cannot directly or indirectly be made to augment his glory. All the lines of knowledge center in God; and the circle of sciences, as it is called, is but the earthly circumference of that wisdom which radiates from the Omniscient Mind. The more diligently, therefore, we follow up any one of these radii to its center the nearer do we get to God. Yet the vast majority of great-minded men cast off God and restrain prayer, and, in the selfish pursuit of personal honor, and the embalmment of fame, employ their powers rather against, than for, God; rather to the dishonor than the honor, of their Creator.

It is lamentable to observe, even with superficial eye, the enormous waste and misapplication of the human mind. See intellects of the highest order, bending almost angelic energies to the purpose of ministering to the amusement, the pride, the sensuality, the taste, the pomp of this fallen world! There has, for example, been more waste of mental strength in striving after the batons and ribbons and titles of military glory, than would suffice to convert the world to Christ. The intellect which has been lavished upon the drama, in writing and acting plays would, if concentrated on the advancement of Divine truth, have made the earth "a dwelling-place of righteousness."

What a glorious spectacle would earth present, could we behold all its noble intellects bowing, like the wise men from the East, at the feet of Jesus, and presenting unto him "the gold, frankincense, and myrrh" of their sanctified minds! For every mind, no matter how tall, how strong, how rich, which is not consecrated to Jesus is morally lost, and can never fulfill the purposes of its creation. An intellect, unbaptized by the blood of Christ, and unsanctified by the Holy Spirit, is an immortal curse! The curse may not come in this life but it will fasten upon it beyond the grave!

Ever keep in view the solemn fact, that God has given you minds to educate for eternity, and to be expended in his glory; that he has enjoined upon you, "Occupy until I come;" and that you can only fulfill the injunction by cultivating all your powers as under His eye, and for the bringing in of His kingdom.

As among the talents or pounds committed to our care, we mention, Secondly, superior means of personal, social, or civil influence. These may arise from birth, education, fortune, standing in society, or personal endowments. Through the operation of one or more of these, you come to be regarded with more respect or attention; your opinions are more esteemed; your views are sought for, your wishes consulted; and you find yourself wielding an influence more or less potent upon the circle around you.

Whatever enables you then to mold or guide the opinions and actions of your fellow men is a talent, a pound committed to you, with the injunction of the Divine Giver, "Occupy until I come;" and hence you are bound to make your influence healthful in all its operations, and beneficial wherever exerted.

God demands that this influence should be on His side; that all the advantages which He has conferred upon you should be used in His service, and not be selfishly employed in seeking personal or family aggrandizement and distinction. It is a lamentable fact that most of the influence which goes out from the educated, wealthy, and high-born classes is baneful and debasing. They are the leaders in all sinful fashions and worldly schemes but very rarely are they found doing the work of the Lord. Yet what a change would pass over society, if those who stand at the head-springs of social life and civil affairs directed their aim to the spiritual welfare of the souls of men, and put forth their influence under the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit! This is what God requires; this is the purpose for which He conferred these advantages, and for their proper use and occupancy, He will at the last day make rigid inquisition.

Thirdly: Wealth is another of the talents committed to the occupancy of some. As "we brought nothing into the world and can carry nothing out of it," it is evident that what financial means we have are the gift of God; and hence, we are exhorted in the Bible, "you shall remember the Lord your God for it is he who gives you power to get wealth." The property which we call ours, we hold only as tenants at will. God is the proprietor of all; we are but the stewards of His bounty, solemnly responsible to Him for the disbursement of that wealth, be it more or less. If now we squander it on our own selves or lusts or pleasures; if we withhold it from Christ, and refuse to use the Master's means for the Master's work. If when self calls we pour it out freely; but when God calls we dole it out with reluctance; are we not sinning against our own souls and a holy God?

There is much force in the word "occupy;" it means, literally, to trade, to negotiate, as in commerce or business; and so we are to trade or carry on a spiritual commerce with the wealth which God has given us. We are to put it out to the bankers those benevolent treasuries where we exchange dollars for Bibles, tracts, missionaries, Sunday-schools. We are to make investments in the Bank of Christian Enterprise, that we may gain the interest, the dividends of grace and love which He imparts to all who spend and are spent in His service.

We are to trade with our wealth in such ways that we may lay up treasures in Heaven; for every investment of worldly means, made in the cause of Christ, and for His sake will repay us, not only a large percentage of happiness here but be honored by our Lord with special grants of favor in the world to come.

We might indicate many other talents committed to our trust; but time allows of but one more specification, and that is, our religious privileges. Greater gifts than these, no man can receive. The pardon of God; the sacrifice of Christ; the renewing of the Holy Spirit; the revelation of the Divine will; the ministry of reconciliation; the Church of the living God; the ordinances of grace! Can we adequately comprehend the value of talents like these?

In the possession of them we are peculiarly distinguished, "the lines have fallen to us in pleasant places, and we have a goodly heritage." But for what purpose were these given? Have we sought the offered pardon? Have we been washed in the sacrificial blood of the Redeemer? Have we been sanctified by the Spirit of Holiness? Have we made God's Word a light to our feet and a lamp to our path? Have we been led by this ministry to "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world?" Have we united ourselves to this mystical body of Christ? Have we been nourished and strengthened by the sacraments of Christ's institution? Have we, in fine, so spiritually traded with these "unspeakable gifts," as, thereby, to make rich increase in grace and godliness? Are we diligently "occupying" them until we are called to "enter into the joy of our Lord?"

But the final reckoning is before us, and let us briefly mark its results.

Those who have traded with their pounds and talents, and duplicated or multiplied them, are commended with the plaudit, "Well done, good and faithful servants!" They are bidden to enter into the joy of their Lord, and are appointed to rule in the heavenly kingdom. They are made to sit "in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." They "are called unto the marriage-supper of the Lamb." They "judge angels." They are crowned and anointed "as kings and priests unto God."

On the other hand, those who despised their Lord, and wrapped their pound up "in a napkin," or buried their talent "in the earth" are "cast into outer darkness," and are visited with the pains and eternal woe! And the one great thought which, like a red-hot share, shall plough its furrows in their inmost souls, is, that they had talents committed to their trust; they had pounds, with which to trade; but, by their own obstinacy and sinfulness have willfully put themselves into that place of torment, "where their worm never dies, and their fire is never quenched."

And, lest any should think that, because they have moderate or common abilities, and are not among the gifted, the wealthy, the influential, therefore they will not be condemned our Savior has brought out very distinctly the fact that the misapplication of small abilities will meet with deserving punishment. Do not say, "Since so little is committed to my charge that it matters not how I administer that little. What signifies the little, whether it be done or left undone?" For God requires as much fidelity and zeal in those to whom little is given as in those to whom much is bestowed. The misimprovement of one talent, the hiding away of a one-pound ability will call out the judgment of God.

Remember, also, that, in both cases of delinquency, the servants did not waste or destroy the money given them they only allowed it to lie idle and unimproved. This was their sin; and the simple misimprovement of even one-pound abilities, the allowing to lie idle and unaccumulating but a single talent is a crime so great in the sight of God, who has entrusted us with these for the promotion of our salvation, and the advancement of His glory, that He will punish it with casting such spiritual idlers, such moral sluggards into outer darkness, "where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth."

Every motive that can influence human conduct, urges us to be faithful to the abilities and endowments which God has given us. The love that we should feel for the Giver, the value of the trusts committed to our care, the short time in which we are permitted to occupy them, the prolific increase which the right use of our pounds and talents will produce, the certainty of our Lord's return to inquire: "how much every man had gained by trading;" the fearful doom which awaits the neglecter and idler even of the smallest trust, and the magnificent rewards of glory, of praise, of authority, of sovereignty, which are promised to the diligent and the faithful all conspire to press upon us the duty of rightly occupying our several talents, until, gaining for our Lord a revenue of glory here by their spiritual increase He will say to each of us, at the last, "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord!"