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The New Zealand Evangelist

On The Parable Of The Talents. — (Math. xxv. 14—30.)

page 181

On The Parable Of The Talents.
(Math. xxv. 14—30.)

It seems to me that the great mass of mankind have very confused notions on this remarkable parable of our Saviour. They consider it addressed to those only, who, in the common acceptation of the word, possess talents; that is, a natural aptitude,—improved often by cultivation, or adventitious circumstances—of excelling in some one or more branches of knowledge, science, or art. This opinion is quite correct so far as it goes, but it is a very partial view of the question. It pre-supposes that talents are withheld from all those who do not spontaneously evince their possession: and if this is not made apparent, a man has no occasion to make himself uneasy about improving a gift, which has, in reality, not been given to him.

I should like this partial, and therefore erroneous, view of our Lord's meaning, to be done away with. Because it is not only dangerous in itself, but directly tends to encourage mental idleness, and page 182 inertness in ourselves; and indifference, and selfishness, in regard to others.

The Talents to which our Lord obviously alludes, are of a most comprehensive nature. They regard not only the seen and palpable endowments of wealth, power, eloquence, and a general aptitude to do certain things well; but the term likewise embraces those powers of mind, in fact, which are more or less given to man as an immortal being. All men, save idiots, participate in this divine gift; but like the precious vein of ore in an unworked mine, it must be called into light, by the industry and exertions of its possessor. It is not sufficient that he has had the elements of education, which is only the means, towards the end. It is, in fact, the means only by which he is to break up the rough ground—and it is only by pursuing the mental labour that the ore is slowly brought to the surface. We see this process going on every day; and, if we are parents, under our own eyes; our children's intellect expands, almost with every lesson we teach them; evidently showing, that the natural tendency of the human mind is to enlarge its powers. We encourage this up to a certain age, and then, because we are thought to have finished their education or because they themselves cannot devote so much time to its further prosecution, we consider they have no occasion to study more. We send them into the world, and they soon learn to consider all mental culture as useless and unnecessary. We let the intellectual faculties lie waste or dormant, and then they persuade themselves they have not been entrusted with even “one talent.”

To this almost universal error, we may trace all the frivolity, the common place, the lightnesss, the insipidity, which characterises the daily conversation of what the world calls “good society.” And this low standard of intellect is so universal, that even those who would break through it, find it useless to resist the stream. They must adapt their subjects of conversation to the tastes and comprehension of page 183 those around them, or they must address themselves to listless and unattending ears. Thus the world conspires to foster our own delusion, that we may “hide in the earth” the most noble and exalted gift which God has given to man.

Far different, however, is the reality. The human mind, indeed, is limited in its range: because it is at present confined to the knowledge of such things as are “seen, and temporal.” But how vast are those limits over which it is yet allowed to explore! And who can tell that he himself has reached those limits, which his own amount of talent places within his power of grasping? Were the life of man protracted to as many centuries, as the Psalmist** has “measured out” his years, the time would all be too short to make him acquainted with a tenth part of that knowledge which he might draw from “the things which are seen,” though temporal. Practically, therefore, the mind is all but unconfined by any limits; and, if it be well regulated, all its acquirements may be turned both to the glory of God, and to the happiness, the welfare, and the improvement of his fellow creatures. Can it be said that we have reached the final point of any one of the natural sciences; of any one of the arts; or of the embellishments of life? Certainly not. Every year brings to light something new; something that is unrecorded; or something, which, though it might have been known, before the records of history, is yet unknown to the present generation. To the latter, the saying of the wisest of men, that “there is nothing new under the sun,” should alone be considered as referring. Because, to apply the words in a more extended sense, would be to contradict the very nature of the human mind, and repress it from all exertion.

Let no one therefore presume to say he has been gifted with no talent, and allege this as an excuse, for real intellectual sloth. Our Creator has given, although in different degrees, talent to all his page 184 national creatures. For he has given an improveable mind, without which, talent cannot exist.

Talent, in its most extended sense, is so diversified, that there is ample room for its unlimited exercise, under all its varied forms. We have hitherto spoken of it as regards the intellectual faculties. But it extends over the whole range of the imitative arts, both useful and ornamental, and no less over the social intercourses of life. In each of these we find men who have distinguished themselves in their own circle, where they are called “clever, ingenious, or agreeable.” In reference to the last of the forms under which the “one talent,” only, may be traced, how often do we remark that some one has a “talent” for conciliation—for smoothing difficulties —for negociating—for “making things agreeable “— for conversation, instructing, speaking, or writing—and a hundred different things, which, each in its way,—contributes to promote or create peace and happiness and good will in the great bulk of mankind? These are all gifts, and so far as they are used rightly, are inestimable gifts of God, * which we are commanded, in the parable of our Saviour, to use and to increase. If we fold them up, as it were, “in a napkin,” we must suffer the penalty of our indolence, for most assuredly we shall be called to some account, for throwing such gifts away.

In stating thus much, it must not be supposed that we hold the opinion that every one has the power of reaching the same point of advancement. This would be to contend that all are gifted with the same degree of intellect, which is manifestly contrary both to the intimation of the parable, and to our own experience. All that we contend for, is this, that no one, under favourable circumstances, can possibly know the limits of his own powers of mind, until he has thouroughly tried them in that page 185 particular thing which he feels most adapted for by nature.

Having now considered the case of such as in the Parable are stated to have had but one talent given them, we shall next consider those to whom many have been entrusted.

Hawkeshead, 11th November, 1849.

** The Psalmist measured out the “years of man.”—Byron.

* “Every good and every perfect gift cometh down from the Father of Lights.”