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His duty is, to promote, in the best possible manner, the interest of his employer. He is liable at any time to be called to an account for the manner in which he has transacted his business, and to be removed from his office at the pleasure of his employer.
One important design of the parable, of which the text is a part, is to teach that all men are God's stewards. The Bible declares, that the silver and the gold are his, and that he is, in the highest possible sense, the proprietor of the universe. Men are mere stewards, employed by him for the transaction of his business, and required to do all they do for his glory. Even their eating and drinking are to be done for his glory, i.e. that they may be strengthened for the best performance of his business.
That men are God's stewards, is evident, from the fact that God treats them as such, and removes them at his pleasure, and disposes of the property in their hands, which he could not do did he not consider them merely his agents, and not the owners of the property.
1. If men are God's stewards, they are bound to account to him for their time. God has created them, and keeps them alive, and their time is his. Reader, should you employ a steward, and pay him for his time, would you not expect him to employ that time in your service? Would you not consider it fraud and dishonesty, for him, while in your pay, to spend his time in idleness, or in promoting his private interests? Suppose he were often idle, that would be bad enough; but suppose that he wholly neglected your business, and that when called to an account and censured for not doing his duty, he should say, "Why, what have I done?" would you not suppose that for him to have done nothing, and let your business suffer, was great wickedness, for which he deserved to be punished?
Now, reader, you are God's steward, and if you are an unrepentant sinner, you have wholly neglected God's business, and have remained idle in his vineyard, or have been only attending to your own private interests; and now are you ready to ask what you have done? Are you not a knave, thus to neglect the business of your great employer, and go about your own private business, to the neglect of all that justice, and duty, and God require of you?
But suppose your steward should employ his time in opposing your interest, using your capital and time in driving at speculations directly opposed to the business for which he was employed? Would you not consider this great dishonesty? Would you not think it very ridiculous for him to account himself an honest man? Would you not suppose yourself obliged to call him to an account? And would you not account anyone a villain who should approve such conduct? Would you not think yourself bound to publish him abroad, that the world might know his character, and that you might clear yourself from the charge of upholding such a person?
How, then, shall God dispose of you, if you employ your time in opposing his interest, and use his capital in your hands to drive at speculations directly opposed to the business for which he has employed you? Are you not ashamed, then, to account yourself an honest man; and will not God consider himself under an obligation to call you to an account? Should he not do this, would not the omission be an evidence, on his part, of his approval of your abominable wickedness! Must he not feel himself constrained to make you a public example, that the universe may know how much he abhors your crimes!
2. Stewards are bound to give an account of their talents. By talents, I mean here, the powers of their minds. Suppose you should educate a man to be your steward, should support him during the time he was engaged in study, and be at all the expense of his education, and that then he should either neglect to employ his mind in your service, or should use the powers of his cultivated intellect for the promotion of his own interests; would you not consider this as fraud and villany? Now, God created your minds, and has been at the expense of your education, and has trained you up for his service; and do you either let your mind remain in idleness, or pervert the powers of your cultivated intellect, to the promotion of your own private interest, and then ask what you have done to deserve the wrath of God?
But suppose your steward should use his education in opposition to your interest, and use all the powers of his mind to destroy the very interest for which he was educated, and which he is employed to sustain; would you not look upon his conduct as marked with horrid guilt? And do you, sinner, employ the powers of your mind, and whatever education God may have given you, in opposing his interest--perverting his truth--scattering "fire- brands, arrows, and death" all around you, and think to escape his curse? Shall not the Almighty be avenged upon such a wretch?
3. A steward is bound to give an account for the influence he exerts upon mankind around him.
Suppose you should employ a steward, should educate him until he possessed great talents, should put a large capital into his hands, should exalt him high in society, and place him in circumstances to exert an immense influence in the commercial community, and that then he should refuse or neglect to exert this influence in promoting your interest; would you not consider this default a perpetual fraud practiced upon you?
But suppose he should exert all this influence against you, and array himself with all his weight of character, and talent, and influence, and even employ the capital with which he was intrusted, in opposing your
interest--what language, in your estimation, could then express your sense of his guilt?
Reader, whatever influence God has given you, if you are an unrepentant sinner, you are not only neglecting to use it for God, to build up his kingdom, but you are employing it in opposition to his interest and glory; and for this do you not deserve the damnation of hell? Perhaps you are rich, or learned, or have, on other accounts, great influence in society, and are refusing to use it to save the souls of men, but are bringing all your weight of character, and talents, and influence, and example, to drag all who are within the sphere of your influence down to the gates of hell.
4. You must give an account for the manner in which you use the property in your possession. Suppose your steward should refuse to employ the capital with which you intrusted him for the promotion of your interest, or suppose he were to account it his own, and to use it for his own private interest, or apply it to the gratification of his lusts, or the aggrandizement of his family; in bestowing large portions upon his daughters, or in ministering to the lusts and pride of his sons; while at the same time your business was suffering for the want of this very capital; or suppose that this steward held the purse-strings of your wealth, and that you had multitudes of other servants, whose necessities were to be supplied out of the means in his hands, and that their welfare, and even their lives, depended on these supplies; and yet this steward should minister to his own lusts, and those of
his family, and suffer those, your other servants, to perish--what would you think of such wickedness? You intrusted him with your money, and enjoined him to take care of your other servants, and through his neglect they were all dead men.
God's children, whom he commands you to love as you do yourself. God might, with perfect justice, have given his property to them instead of you. The world is full of poverty, desolation, and death; hundreds and millions are perishing, body and soul; God calls on you to exert yourself as his steward, for their salvation, to use all the property in your possession, so as to promote the greatest possible amount of happiness among your fellow-creatures. The Macedonian cry comes from the four winds of heaven, "Come over and help us;" come over and help us; and yet you refuse to help; you hoard up the wealth in your possession, live in luxury, and let your fellow-men go to hell. What language can describe your guilt?
But suppose your servant, when you called him to account, should say, "Have I not acquired this property by my own industry?" would you not answer, "You have employed my capital to do it, and my time, for which I have paid you; and the money you have gained is mine." So when God calls upon you to use the property in your possession for him, do you say it is yours, that you have obtained it by your own industry? Pray, whose time have you used, and whose talents and means? Did not God create you? Has He not sustained you? Has He not prospered you, and given you all his success? Yes, your time is his, your all is his, you have no right to say the wealth you have is yours; it is His, and you are bound to use it for His glory. You are a traitor to your trust if you do not so employ it.
If your clerk take only a little of your money, his character is gone, and he is branded as a villain. But sinners take not only a dollar or so, but all they can get, and use it for themselves. Don't you see that God would do wrong not to call you to account, and punish you for filling both your pockets with His money, and calling it your own. Professor of religion, if you are doing so don't call yourself Christian.
5. You must give an account for your soul. You have no right to go to hell. God has a right to your soul; your going to hell would injure the whole universe. It would injure hell, because it would increase its torments. It would injure heaven, because it would wrong it out of your services. Who shall take the harp in your place, in singing praises to God? Who shall contribute your share to the happiness of heaven?
Suppose you had a steward to whom you had given life, and educated him at great expense, and then he should wilfully throw that life away; has he a right thus to dispose of a life of so much value to you? Is it not as unjust as to rob you of the same amount of property in any thing else? God has made your soul, sustained and educated you, till you are now able to render him important service, and to glorify him for ever; and have you a right to go to hell, and throw away your soul, and thus rob God of your service? Have you a right to render hell more miserable, and heaven less happy, and thus injure God and all the universe?