HH Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.–Matthew 25:21
Faithfulness, a Test of Character
One might dwell for a long time upon this parable without exhausting its message or its meaning. It is like a sea in which men fish for pearls, and in which every diver has some new reward. These parables are terribly practical, yet in their suggestion they are boundless. Again and again, do we return to them, only to be amazed at their significance?
I want to center your thoughts on one theme–upon the fact of faithfulness, and to speak to you for a little while on that; and my prayer is that as I dwell on that subject and show you one or two of the bearings of it, we may all be moved to cry, “Please God, I shall be more faithful in the days ahead.”
What is our Lord’s doctrine of fidelity as we find it in this parable before us? Let me endeavour to present it to you. In the first place what impresses me is this, that our Lord makes faithfulness a test of character.
These men in the parable are sifted out, and the cause that separates them is faithfulness. It is not a case of having great abilities or of being dowered with the gift of genius. It is not along such lines there is a cleavage, with the one servant here and the other there. The touchstone of character is faithfulness; by that, they stand, through lack of that they fall; the men go to their blessing or their curse, and the basis of it is fidelity.
To show you that this is a leading thought with Jesus, I might ask you to recall His praise of John the Baptist. For what was the distinguishing feature of John’s character? It was his fidelity to God and duty. “What went you out into the wilderness to see: A reed shaken by the wind”–a man swayed to this side and that with every breath that blew upon his soul? A true poet that he was, Christ saw the contrast between that reed bowing to every gale and the figure of the Baptist by the river standing four-square to every wind that blew. That is the glory and the strength of John. Nothing could ever move him from his duty. In desert and dungeon, the Baptist was magnificently true. I want you to note that it was such a character, conspicuous above all else in faithfulness, that won from our Lord that so majestic praise when He called John the greatest born of women.
According to the measurements of Jesus, then, we are face to face here with a test of character. It is in faithfulness that men are great; it is in unfaithfulness that they are weak. When the morning breaks and we get our welcome, it will never be, “Well done, thou brilliant servant.” The highest praise even for all the talents will be, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
But, after all, when we think of the world’s great men, when we get to know them intimately in their lives, there is perhaps nothing so arresting as the fidelity which we discover there. When we are young we are ready to imagine that the great man must be free from common burdens; we think he has no need to plod as we do and face the weary drudgery daily; we picture him lighthearted and inspired, moving with ease where our poor feet are bleeding. Ah! in such terms we dream about the great in the days when we know little of them, but as knowledge widens we see how false that is.
We see that at the back of everything is will. We come to see how every gift is squandered if it is not clinched with quiet fidelity until at last we dimly recognise that the very keystone of the arch of genius is something different from all the gifts and that something is called fidelity.
Examples of Faithfulness
One of the critics of Shakespeare, Professor Bradley, insists upon the faithfulness of Shakespeare. It is the fidelity of Shakespeare, in a mind of extraordinary power, he says, that has really made Shakespeare what he is. I turn to Sir Walter Scott, and the same thing meets me there. It is written on every page of his journal. If there ever was a man who was faithful unto death, faithful to honour, to duty, to work, and I shall say, to God, it was that hero who so loved his country and died beside the murmur of the Tweed.
My point is that one mark of all the greatest is a fidelity which is sublime. No gifts, no brilliance, no genius can release a man from being faithful. Not in the things we do but how we do them, not in fame but infidelity, is the true test of a man’s work, according to the teaching of our Lord.
Faithfulness–a Result of Courage
In the second place, our Lord recognises that faithfulness calls for courage. It is significant that the man who hid his talent said to his lord, “I was afraid.” In trading there was a certain risk, as in all commerce, I suppose there is a certain risk, and the man with the one talent was unfaithful because he had not the courage for that venture. It was far easier to wrap his talent up than to give it out to the traffic of the market. I dare say he slept a deal more comfortable than the others, who tossed with their anxieties; but God has not sent us into this stirring world just to sleep comfortably and wake with ease. He has sent us to work and to carry to the market every power that He has dowered us with. It is only in doing that that we are faithful; it is only in taking the risk which that involves. And when our Lord makes the servant say, “I was afraid,” and bury his talent without using it, He indicates in His own exquisite way that in faithfulness there is the element of courage.
As our life advances, we come to see clearly that our Lord is right. To be faithful in one’s duty, whether for the layman or for the minister, may come to be the finest of heroism. In youth, we are hardly awakened to that fact. When we are young it seems easy to be faithful, for youth is a time of generous enthusiasm and a heavenly disregard for the world’s judgment. But the outlook alters when we get a little older; we grow more cautious, more prudent, more worldly wise until to be quietly and gladly faithful is only possible when the heart is brave.
When Thomas Carlyle, with no prospect of a settled income, received the offer of the editorship of a London magazine, it was an honourable offer; it required competence. A man less sure of a mission would have jumped at it; but Carlyle, faithful to his trust, refused it, and only a brave man would have done that.
It is a brave thing when morning after morning a man goes cheerfully to his unpleasant duty, and it is a brave thing when a daughter year after year nurses an aged mother, or toils for a motherless family. It is a brave thing when a wife is faithful to a husband when he has ceased to be a man and plays the brute. Yes, there is nothing spectacular in that long fortitude: the world will never hear it and applaud, but I think that Jesus understands its courage and will not forget the reward when He returns.
The Rewards of Faithfulness
In the third place, observe that our Lord makes faithfulness the road to power. “Because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee a ruler over many things.” Now, we must remember God’s rewards are never arbitrary like the prizes boys get for running races. God’s rewards grow out of the struggle that we wage, as the fruit of the autumn grows from the flower of spring. All the rewards that we shall ever gain are with us in their rudiments, just as the doom that waits for some in eternity is germinating in their heart this very hour.
You see, then, in the light of that, why Christ associates faithfulness and rule, “Because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things.” It is because one is the outflow of the other, as is the brook among the heather in the spring. It is because, as the flower blossoms from the bud, influence blossoms from fidelity.
There are many pathways to power in this world, some of which may lie far away from us. There is wealth, there is a social influence, there is charming manner; all these make a man powerful enough, but the power that an earnest heart will covet most is not an authority that is external; it is the influence that radiates from the heart to hearten those who struggle by our side. That is the rule, I take it, of which Jesus speaks here. That is the power which is so much worth possessing, and having it makes a man’s life worth living. Now our Lord here shows that the road to it is not to be feverishly anxious to do good, but rather to be faithful in the least.
Do you think Abraham had an eye for power when he obeyed God’s call to leave his home? Do you think that Moses dreamed of majesty when he loyally accepted his great task? Moses and Abraham were sublimely faithful, passionately bent on being loyal, and all the power in the lives of men has sprung from their fidelity to God.
Now if you believe in Christ at all, I want you to believe in that. I want you to believe that your life is bound to show if you are day by day faithful in the least. Seekest thou great things for yourself? Seek them not; study to be quiet and to do your work on your own path, and follow it to the end. Men will be helped toward the feet of God by you, and there is not one of us who does not have an audience.
The Joy of Faithfulness and the Sorrow of Unfaithfulness
Then I want you to observe, Christ associates faithfulness with joy. To the faithful servant came this benediction: “Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” It is not success and joy, it is not fame and joy; it is not these that are joined in our Lord’s teaching, but faithfulness and joy. These are the bride and bridegroom and the mystical marriage of our Lord.
Then look at the doom of the unfaithful servant; it is outer darkness and wailing and gnashing of teeth. I trust none will take these words of the parable as a correct description of a material hell. A man who is unfaithful is always moving rightwards. He has been false to the light God gave him for his journey; and the man who has been unfaithful, when the day is done, what can he look for but remorse and tears?
Here are two men engaged in the same work, both of them intelligent and skilful craftsmen. One is careless and scamps his work, while the other does it with his heart and soul. Is the work easier for the man who does it negligently? Is he happier when the bell rings in the evening? I tell you that every nightfall, had he but eyes to see it, he might detect the shadow of the outer darkness. It is only the faithful workman who has joy, no matter how hard and laborious his work be; he understands, when he lays down his tools, why Christ associates faithfulness with gladness.
Or here are two young men starting in life with bright ideas and dreams of a great future. And one holds fast his ideas through failure and toil; the other is overcome and barters them. He may be very prosperous indeed and an honourable citizen, but all his prosperity will never compensate him for having ceased to walk in the direction of his dreams. He has gained much, but he has lost himself, and the bitter note is that he knows it. He sees things in their proper values now and would give half the world to begin again. He understands the meaning of those words, perhaps the most solemn that were ever spoken, “What shall it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Lord, keep our young men from that successful tragedy. We wish to live no less than well, therefore to be faithful, whatever our trust be, no matter how hard and wearisome the toil along that road is, if the words of Christ mean anything, the song of triumph will echo by and by.