GIVE an account of thy stewardship as to thy talents. We all vary in natural gifts and in acquirements; one has the tongue of eloquence, another the pen of a ready writer, and a third the artistic eye that discerns beauty; but, whichever of these we may have, they belong to God, and ought to be used in His service. Some have only such gifts as qualify them to earn their daily bread by manual labor; they have but little mental power, yet for that little they must give an account, and also for the physical strength with which God has blessed them. There is no person without a talent of some sort or other, no one without some form of power either given by nature or acquired by education. We are all endowed in some degree or other, and we must each one give an account for that talent. What an account must some give, who have been endowed with ten talents, but have wasted them all! What must be the account rendered by a Napoleon? What must be the reckoning given in by a Voltaire, with all the splendor of his intellect laid at the feet of Satan, and desecrated to the damnation of mankind? Yet, while you think of these great ones of the earth, do not forget yourselves. What has been your special gift? You can speak well enough in some companies; have you ever spoken for Christ? You can write well, you judge that you have no mean gift in that direction; has your pen never written a line that will bring your fellow men to the service of the Savior? What! having ten talents, are they all wrapped up in napkins, or all used for self; and none employed for God, for holiness, for truth, for righteousness? How sternly does the command come, “Give an account of thy stewardship;” yet I am afraid that we cannot any of us give an account of talents without fear and trembling.
Give an account of thy substance. We vary greatly as to temporal circumstances. I suppose there are a few to whom God has entrusted great wealth, more to whom He has given considerable substance, and that to most He has given somewhat more than is absolutely necessary for actual wants; but whether it is much or little, we must give an account for it all. I do not know what some rich professors will have to say concerning that which they give to the cause of God. It is no tithe of their substance; nay, it is, as it were, but the cheese-parings, and the candle — ends, and these they only give for the sake of appearance, because it would not look respectable if they were altogether to withhold them. The church’s coffers could never be so empty as they are if it were not that some of the stewards in the church are not faithful to their trust. It is very sad to think of some of the great men in our own country, who have incomes which, in a single month, would furnish a competent support for an entire family during their whole lives. I wonder what sort of reckoning theirs will be when they have to give an account of hundreds of thousands or even millions of pounds. With some of them, all that they can say will be, “So much lost on the race-course, so much spent upon a paramour, so much paid for diamonds, so much squandered in this form of waste, and so much in that.” But for the poor and needy, who are perishing in our streets, the multitudes who crave even necessary bread, some of them have done nothing at all. There are grand exceptions, names that shall live as long as philanthropy is prized amongst mankind; but the exceptions are so terribly few, that when the rich men of England are indicted at the bar of God, as they certainly will be, the account of their stewardship will be a truly terrible one. Yet what are you, and what am I, to judge thus, if we cannot say that we have been faithful with our little? I ask if you have, and I pray you to make a reckoning in your mind now of your stewardship of the gold, or the silver, or the copper with which God has entrusted you.
We must give an account of our influence. Everybody has some kind of influence. The mother who never leaves the nursery has a wondrous influence over those little children of hers, though no neighbor feels the force of her influence, and no one but her own little ones is affected by her faithfulness. And who knows but that she is pressing to her bosom, perhaps a Whitefield, who will thunder out the gospel through the length and breadth of the land; or perhaps, on the other hand, an infidel, whose dreadful blasphemies shall ruin multitudes? There is an influence that the mother has for which she must give, an account to God. And the father’s influence, — oh! fathers, you cannot shake off your obligations to your children by sending them to school, whether to a Sunday school or a boarding-school, They are your children, and you must give an account of your stewardship concerning your own offspring. Ay, and even the nursegirl, though she seems of small note in the commonwealth, yet she also has an influence over her little charge, which she must use for Christ. Not only he who thrills a senate with his oratory, but he also who speaks a word from the carpenter’s bench, each has his influence, and each must use it, and give an account of it; not merely the man who, by refusing to lend his millions, could prevent the horrors of war, but the man who with a smile might help to laugh at sin, or with a word of rebuke might show that he abhorred it. There is no one of you without influence, and I ask you now how you have used it. Has it always been on the side of the Lord? “Give an account of thy stewardship,” for that influence will not always last.
We might consider other things that God has entrusted to us, but time would fail; so I remind you that the account which you will have to render, and which I ask you to render now, is not an account concerning other people. Oh, how nice it would be if we had to do that, would it not? With what gusto some would undertake the task if they had to give in a report upon other people’s characters! How easily each of us can play the detective upon our fellows! How ready we are to say of this man, “Oh, yes! he gives away a good deal of money, but it is only out of ostentation,” or of that woman, “Yes, she appears to be a Christian, but you do not know her private life,” or of that minister of the gospel, “Yes, he is very zealous; but he makes a good thing out of his ministry.” We like thus to reckon up our fellow-creatures, and our arithmetic is wonderfully accurate — at least, so we think; but when other people cast us up according to the same rule, the arithmetic seems terribly out of order, and we cannot believe it to be right. Ah! but at the great judgment we shall not be asked to give an account for others, neither will I ask any of you now to be thinking about the conduct of others. What if others are worse than you are, does that make you the better, or the less guilty? What if others are not all they seem to be, perhaps neither are you; at any rate, their hypocrisy shall not make your pretense to be true. Judge yourselves, that ye be not judged. Let each thrust the lancet into his own wound, and see to the affairs of his own soul, for each one must give account of himself to God.
Remember, too, that you are not called upon to give an account to others, Alas! there are many who seem to live only that they may win the esteem of their fellows. There is somebody to whom we look up; if we do but have that somebody’s smile, we think all is well. Perhaps some here are brokenhearted because that smile has vanished, and they have been misjudged and unjustly condemned. It is a small matter to be judged of man’s judgment; and who is he that judges another man’s servant? To his own master the servant shall stand or fall, and not to this inter- loping judge.
Remember, also, that the account to be rendered will be from every man, personally concerning himself; and whatever another man’s account may be, it will not affect him.
It was a maxim of Pythagoras that each of his disciples should, every eventide, give in a record of the actions of the day. I think it is well to do so; for we cannot too often take a retrospect. Sit down a while, pilgrim; sit down a while. Here is the milestone marked with the end of another year; sit down upon it, put thine hand to thy brow and think, and lay thine hand upon thy heart, and search and see what is there. There are no persons who so dislike to look into their account-books as those who are insolvent.
Those who keep no books, when they come before the court, are understood to be rogues of the first water; and men who keep no mental memoranda of the past, and bring up no recollections with regard to their sins, having tried to forget them all, may depend upon it that they are deceiving themselves. If you dare not search your hearts, I am afraid there is a reason for that fear, and that above all others you ought to be diligent in this search.
It may be that some may live for years, and yet be no longer stewards. A preacher may be laid aside, his voice gone, his mental faculties weakened, — he is “no longer steward.” One is thankful to have further opportunities of serving the Lord, and trying to bring sinners to the Savior. Work for God while you can! It is one of the bitterest regrets a man can know, to lie on his bed, to be unable to speak, and to think to himself, “I wish I could preach that sermon over again. I did not drive that nail home with all the force I ought to have used; I have not been earnest enough in pleading with sinners, I have not wrestled even to agony over the salvation of their souls.” It may be possible that you and I may have twenty or thirty years of being laid aside from active service; then let us work while we can, ere the night cometh when no man can work. Let us seize the our of the lifeboat, and row out over the stormy sea, seeking to snatch the drowning ones from yonder wreck, for the time may come when our strong right arm shall be palsied, and when we can do no more.
Yes, and rich professors may have to give an account of their stewardship, and be no longer stewards. There were some of that kind when the financial panic came; though they had much before the crash, they had nothing left afterwards, so they could be no longer stewards of the wealth that had been taken from them. It must be a cause of deep regret to men in that position if they cannot give a good account of their stewardship, because they have done but little good with their wealth while they had it; and think you, to whom God has given great possessions, how soon He may take them from you, for riches abide not for ever. Behold, they take to themselves wings, and fly away. I know of no better way of clipping their wings than by giving generously to the cause of God, and using in His service all that you can. It would be a subject for continual regret to you if you came down to poverty, not so much that you had descended it, the social scale, for that you could bear, if it came by mere misfortune through the providence of God; but if you felt, “I did not do what I should have done when I had wealth,” — that would be the arrow which would pierce you to the heart. It may be so with some; at any rate, I feel that there are some who are poor because God will not lend His money where He knows that it will be locked up, and not put out to good interest in His cause.
What little you have is all hidden away, so the Lord will not trust you with more; He sees you are not fit to be one of His stewards. There are some, on the other hand, whom God has entrusted with much because He sees that they use it wisely in promoting the interests of His kingdom.
But, after all, to every man, whether he be rich or whether he be in the office of the ministry, there may be a close of his stewardship before he dies. The mother has her little children swept away one after another; this is the message to her, “Thou mayest be no longer steward.” The teacher has his class scattered, or he is himself unable to go to the school; the word to him also is, “Thou mayest be no longer steward.” The man who went to his work, who might have spoken to his fellow workman, is removed, perhaps to another land, or he is placed in a position where his mouth is shut; now he can be no longer steward. Use all opportunities while you have them, catch them on the wing, serve God while you can to-day! Let each golden moment have its pressing service rendered unto God, lest it should be said to thee, “Thou mayest be no longer steward.”
But we shall soon be no longer stewards in another sense. The hour must come for us to die. We have constant reminders that those who have served God faithfully cannot abide with us for ever. One or another, whom we have loved and honored, gives in his account, and passes to rest. So will it be in turn with the pastor, with the deacons, and with the elders. Do not put away the thought of that day, my fellow-workers, as though you were immortal. It may come to us on a sudden; no grey hairs may cover our heads, but while we are yet in the full strength of manly vigor, you or I may be called to give in our account. What think ye? Could you gather up your feet in the bed, and look into eternity without feeling the cold sweat of fear stand upon your brow? Could you face the great judgment seat, and say, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith”? Oh! God be praised if we are able to say that! What monuments of mercy will you and I be if we are able to say this at the close of our service, and to hear our Lord say: — “ Well done, good and faithful servant; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”