In our Lord's parable, it is by trading that the talents are increased. Talents are capacities. They are given to us as possibilities only, requiring to be developed. In a hand there may be the artist's or the musician's skill — but it must be brought out, and the only way to do this is by long and diligent practice. In a brain there may he the gift of the poet, the inventor, the merchant — but it has to be called out, and there is no way to do this but by using the talent in its small beginnings, until it grows unto full vigor.
The same is true of spiritual talents. We are taught that we should grow in grace — that is, in all the beautiful qualities which belong to the Christly character.
Take patience, for example. If we would grow in this grace we must begin at once to practice patience in everything. It is a lesson, or an art, which has to be learned — it is not bestowed upon us complete, as a gift.
Take kindness. Every Christian has the capacity for kindness — but there must be long practice of this grace before it will grow into its truest and best.
Take sympathy, of which there is such need in all Christian service. There is an impression that anybody can sympathize. Almost anybody can feel sorry with one who is in distress — but this is only a small part of the sympathy which is truly helpful. To sympathize is to be able to enter deeply and intensely into the experience of others, and then to add the strength of one's own life to make them braver and stronger, to help them to be victorious. Wise sympathy is the outcome only of experience.
Thus the only way to grow in the graces and virtues of the Christian life, is to exercise those graces by keeping them at work.
The same is true of Christian activity in all its forms. It is not easy at first to take part in a religious meeting, to speak or to offer prayer; and usually one does not begin very fluently or in a way to be particularly edifying to others. But if the beginner continues faithfully and persistently to exercise his grace, striving always to improve, he is at length able to speak or to pray, not only with ease — but with profit to his fellow-worshipers.
It is not easy at first to confess Christ before the world. The fear of ridicule is a heavy cross to bear. The atmosphere of the school, or the street, or the playground, or the place of business, is so different from that of the church, that what was a delight and a joy in the congenial fellowship seems almost impossible among those who are unfriendly. But here, too, the gentle grace grows strong and vigorous in patient and habitual practice, until by and by the timid young Christian is known everywhere as a quiet — but faithful, consistent friend of Jesus Christ.
In every good thing we can learn to do we have to start as a mere beginner. Everything has to he learned in personal experience. We can do nothing well at first — nothing that is worthwhile. Hence it is that Christian work is the best means of grace — indeed, it is the only means of developing for much usefulness, the graces and the powers which exist in larger or smaller measure in every Christian life.
Many good people read the account of the man with the one talent, who wrapped it up in a napkin, and suppose that the application is to those who live in sin and reject Christ. Really, however, the lesson is for everyone who does not put his talent to work that it may grow. There are thousands of talents wrapped up and hidden away in the hearts and hands and heads of church members — gifts, capacities for usefulness and service, which never come to anything because they are never exercised.
This teaching is startling when it is remembered that we must give account of our talents and capacities, not merely returning them unwasted — but bringing them back developed to their full power. It is still more startling when we know that capacities unused by us, are lost altogether at last.
We will never make anything worth while of our life unless we take hold earnestly of Christian duties and activities. Devotion has its place. We bend over our Bible, we see visions of heavenly beauty, and hear promptings to services of love. We bow in prayer, and are drawn into enrapt communion with Christ, and find great joy in his love. We attend the church, and our hearts are warmed into a glow as we listen to the preacher's stirring words. We sit at the Lord's table, and as we remember the love of Christ and its devotion unto death for us we sing:
"Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all!"
All this is right and proper. But if we allow such feelings and emotions to fade out without ripening into action, we have received only harm and not good. Every young Christian should promptly and eagerly enter upon some line of Christian service, beginning at once to follow Christ in work for the good of others. We all owe this to our Master, and to our fellow-men, and, besides, it is in this way only that we can grow into strong and useful Christians.