The Parable of the Talents

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. (MAT 25:29)

The Parable of the Talents is a story about judgments. Cold, hard, definitive judgments.

We live in a culture and environment that teaches us to shy away from making judgments and instead encourages us to find the good in everything and everybody no matter what foolish choice they have made. Sometimes we are required to twist ourselves into intellectual and moral knots to do so. Certainly it is wrong to be “judgmental” if by that we mean setting our own behavior as the standard and judging all others by comparison to self.

Some have taken the Lord’s own words, “Judge not that you be not judged” out of context and used them to support the idea that there is no standard of truth, there is no standard of behavior, that we should leave everyone in freedom to act and live as they please. But that’s only the first half of the sentence! It continues, “for with what judgment you judge, you will be judged” It is not that we are not to make judgments, but that we are to judge ourselves and each other justly. The only way to judge justly, is to judge everyone according to a common standard, and that standard is set out by God Himself in the Ten Commandments. The two stones, the one telling us how to love God and the other telling us how to love the neighbor, are the two essential ideas of religion and life upon which the rest of the Word, and civilization itself, is built.

There is a caution for us mortal and fallible human beings when making judgments, of course. While in the world we cannot judge either our own internal states or the internal states of others because they are hidden from us. It is only proper for us to judge others by their outward behavior. We are permitted to presume that a person’s internal states are reflected in their external behavior provided that we remember that this works for both good and bad behavior, that if a person always acts in a kind and courteous way, it is probably a reflection of their good character. However the angels can see the internal states, and after death, we are judged not only by our external appearance, or fruits but also by that which was hidden.

Our focus today is on the judgment that each of us faces when we lay aside the earthly body and enter the spiritual world. The very first thing we must understand about the parable of the talents is that this is not about what we call “talents” – inborn skills in certain areas. In scripture, a “talent” is a measure of weight that was sometimes applied to precious metals, and therefore, in this context, it is a sum of money, and that is the leading idea that defines the representation. we are to think of the “talents” of the parable as sums of money which represent the goods and truths which the Lord gives to every person during the course of his life.

The goods are the goods which we call “remains.” The truths are from the world, from reason, and from the Word. Everyone receives these to some degree during their life. It is also true that although everyone receives these goods and truths from the Lord, they are not received in equal quantities by everyone. If they were, there would be no point to caring for our children, there would be no point in having New Church Schools, there would be no point in having schools at all – it would all be entirely in the hands of the Lord.

The result of millions of years of human choice is that people are born into an incredible variety of conditions. There are people who live in abject poverty and yet find comfort in their faith and raise their children in simple dignity to be useful, honorable adults. There are people in the same circumstances who live in anger and resentment and teach their children to hate. There are wealthy people who use their riches to uplift through the support of churches, civic organizations, and the arts, and there are wealthy people who use their riches to gain power over others.

Every home is different. There are differing degrees of love and instruction and differing degrees of neglect and anger. We are, to a degree, a product of the circumstances into which we are born, just as we are also a product of the hereditary inclinations that are passed to us from our parents – and all these things are totally beyond our control. All we can do is respond to them, learn from them, and use our own freedom and reason to improve ourselves and prepare ourselves for heaven.

This is why it is said that the master gave 5, 2, and 1 talents to the three men. It is a symbol of the different kinds of natural and spiritual circumstances in which people live. The man with five was very fortunate, and represents those people who have sufficient wealth, education, and spiritual resources to live well, and the good sense to share their bounty with others. The men with less were relatively less fortunate. But the point of the parable is not the fact that there are different gifts, but what the men do with what gifts they have.

The conclusion of the parable seems odd, and perhaps a little unjust. It certainly puts an interesting twist to the concept of redistribution of wealth! The parable concludes with those who “have” getting more. And those who have not, losing even that which they have – a teaching that is borne out in a number of other New Testament passages and incidents.

In order to understand and to see the perfect justice in this we have to lift our minds above the things of the world, the concepts of money and wealth that tend to anchor us down to worldly concepts, and remember that this is a parable about the preparation for spiritual life. A person’s eternal home in the spiritual world is determined by the ruling love. Simple obedience to the Word will lead a person to eternal life in the Natural heaven. A love of truth and the neighbor will lead to the Spiritual heaven. A love of good and the Lord leads to the Celestial heaven.

With great variety as to uses, affections, and background, we prepare for heaven through self-examination, repentance, and reformation, and the Lord then Regenerates us. It is a process that is never completed in this world. So no matter how “good” we may be, there yet remains some evil. And evils are not permitted into heaven, so they must be removed before you can move from the world of spirits to your final home in heaven itself. If our ruling love is good, the evils are either removed or made quiescent through vastations and we are then free to be useful and acquire all good and truth of heaven: “To them that have, more shall be given.”

But what if we don’t prepare for heaven? What if we love evil, and twisting truth into falsities to hide our evils? Then all good is taken away, because it does not correspond to the ruling love.

The point of the parable is clear. No matter under what circumstances we are born and live the Lord provides the opportunities for us to learn truth and do good. If we respond by learning truth and doing good, at the time of death, all impediments to this life of good will be removed and new pleasures and skills will be added. But if we do not respond by learning truth and doing good, at the time of death, even that little good which we do have will be taken away: For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. (MAT 25:29) Amen.

First Lesson: MAT 25:14-30

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. “And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. “Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. “And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. “But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money. “After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them. “So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.’ “His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ “He also who had received two talents came and said, ‘Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.’ “His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ “Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. ‘And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.’ “But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. ‘Therefore you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. ‘Therefore take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. ‘For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. ‘And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Second Lesson: HH 349

All who have acquired intelligence and wisdom in the world are received in heaven and become angels, each in accordance with the quality and degree of his intelligence and wisdom. For whatever a man acquires in the world abides, and he takes it with him after death; and it is further increased and filled out, but within and not beyond the degree of his affection and desire for truth and its good, those with but little affection and desire receiving but little, and yet as much as they are capable of receiving within that degree; while those with much affection and desire receive much.

Copyright © 1982 – 2005 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 27, 2009


Making Just Judgements

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, August 10, 2008

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the same measure you use, it will be measured back to you. (MAT 7:1,2)

Does it make sense to “Judge not?”

SS 51:5 The Lord says, Judge not, that ye be not judged; for with what judgement ye judge ye shall be judged (Matt. vii. 1, 2; Luke vi. 37). Without doctrine this might be cited to confirm the notion that it is not to be said of what is evil that it is evil, thus that an evil person is not to be judged to be evil; yet according to doctrine it is lawful to judge, but justly; for the Lord says, Judge righteous judgment (John vii. 24).

Could human society function without making judgements?

Who benefits if we do not judge?

Those who are in evil!

Are we being “Judgmental” or are we calling evil “evil”?

Judge BEHAVIOUR not internal states

What you DID was wrong

NOT you are bad!

Such a distinction applies especially to children

They may do wicked things — even kill

But until the age of rationality, they are not held spiritually accountable for them

While a person lives in the natural world, his eternal fate is undetermined.

Because while he yet lives, he makes choices

Those choices, made in freedom, modify the vessel of life

The Lord’s life is received according to the structure of the vessel. Therefore the quality of the life changes from moment to moment. The organic changes only cease once the person finally and completely leaves the natural body. Then, the character is fixed, and the Lord can begin the process of revealing the true character by removing those things which do not belong to it through instruction, and vastations.

How do you make judgements?

The angels in heaven are able to make judgements about particular acts, although they cannot make any judgements about the eventual lot of the individual.

CL 453: I have met many who in the world had lived outwardly like others, dressing finely, faring sumptuously, doing business for gain like other men, attending dramatic performances, joking about amatory matters as if from lust, besides other like things; yet in some, the angels condemned these things as evils of sin, and in some they did not account them as evils; and the latter they declared guiltless, and the former guilty. To the question why they did so, when yet the men had done the same things, they answered that they view all men from their purpose, intention or end, and make distinctions accordingly; thus, that those whom the end excuses or condemns, they excuse or condemn, for all in heaven have good as an end, and all in hell have evil as an end; and that this and nothing else is meant by the Lord’s words, Judge not that ye be not condemned (MAT 7:1)

We may THINK that we know another’s purpose or intent — but we are usually wrong. What we usually do is put our own feelings and opinions in the mouths of others, and we view their actions on the basis of how they affect us, not on whether they are consistent with the other’s character, or if they are useful to society at large. We really believe that the universe revolves around us and our own needs.

Therefore by their fruits you will know them. (MAT 7:20) Those we don’t know well we have to judge from their public behaviour, but private behaviour is a much better indicator. That is how we are to examine ourselves — to see what kinds of things we think and do when we are by ourselves and not worried about what others might think.

HH 471: That man will be judged and rewarded according to his deeds and works is declared in many passages in the Word, some of which I will here quote:-

I will give to every one according to his works (REV 2:23)

I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God; and the books were opened and the dead were judged out of the things that were written in the books according to their works. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and hell gave up those that were in them, and they were judged every one according to their works (REV 20:12,13).

Not every one that says unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of the heavens; but he that does the will of My Father who is in the heavens (MAT 7:21).

In foretelling the last judgement the Lord recounts nothing but works, teaching that those that have done good works will enter into eternal life, and those that have done evil works will enter into damnation. It is clear that works and deeds constitute the outward life of man, and that the quality of his inward life is made evident in them – But with the humble acknowledgement that you could be wrong.

Judgements are absolutely essential

The hells want to prevent us from judging and identifying them

By permitting evil we show our love for it, not the person

But when we judge we must judge justly, limiting ourselves to an opinion about their behaviour in the world.

What is not lawful, is judgment as to the quality of the interior mind or soul within man, thus as to what his spiritual state is and hence his lot after death. This is known to the Lord only; nor does the Lord reveal it until after death, and this in order that what a man does he may do from freedom, and that thereby good or evil may be from him and so in him, and he thus live for himself and be himself forever. A general judgment such as: If in internals you are what you appear to be in externals you will be saved or condemned, is allowed; but a particular judgment such as, You are such in internals and therefore will be saved or condemned, is not allowed. It is judgment of man’s spiritual life or of the internal life of his soul that is meant by the imputation here treated of. What man knows who is a whoremonger at heart? and who a consort at heart? Yet it is the thoughts of the heart, being the purposes of the will, that judge every man. (CL 523) AMEN.

First Lesson: EXO 2:11-14

(EXO 2:11-14) Now it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out to his brethren and looked at their burdens. And he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren. {12} So he looked this way and that way, and when he saw no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. {13} And when he went out the second day, behold, two Hebrew men were fighting, and he said to the one who did the wrong, “Why are you striking your companion?” {14} Then he said, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” So Moses feared and said, “Surely this thing is known!”

Second Lesson: AE 629:13, 14

[13] “To mete” and “to measure” signifies to define and determine what a thing is, also to explore it, because ” measure” signifies what a thing is, or quality.

That this is the signification of “measure” can be seen from the following passages. In Matthew:- Judge not that ye be not condemned, for with what judgment ye judge ye shall be judged, and with what measure ye measure it shall be measured to you (vii. 1,2).

In Luke :- Judge not that ye be not judged; condemn not that ye be not condemned; remit and it shall be remitted to you; give and it shall be given to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, shall they give into your bosom; for with what measure ye measure they shall measure to you again (vi. 37, 38).

This may be seen explained in the work on Heaven and Hell (n.349).

And in Mark:- With what measure ye measure it shall be measured to you again; and to you that hear, more shall be added. Whosoever hath, to him shall be given; but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath (iv. 24, 25).

[14] Thus charity towards the neighbor, or the spiritual affection of truth and good, is described, namely, that in the measure and after the manner that any one is in such charity or in such affection in the world, so he comes into it after death.

That we should not think evil of good and truth is meant by the words, “Judge not that ye be not judged, and condemn not that ye be not condemned;” to think evil of what is evil and false is permitted to every one, but not of good and truth, for these in the spiritual sense are the neighbor.

Because it is charity toward the neighbor that is meant it is added, “Remit and it shall be remitted to you, give and it shall be given unto you.”

That the spiritual affection, which is called charity, will continue after death according to its measure and quality, is meant by “With what measure ye measure it shall be measured to you again;” and that this measure and quality will be infilled to eternity is meant by “to you that hear a measure shall be added,” also by “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, shall be given into your bosom,” “measure” here meaning the measure and quality of affection or charity, which will be increased to eternity within or according to its degree in the world (see as above in the work on Heaven and Hell, n. 349).

That this will come to pass with those who practice charity is meant by “to you that hear more shall be added,” “those that hear” signifying those who obey and do. That “to love the neighbor” is to love what is true and good, likewise what is sincere and just, may be seen in The Doctrine of the New Jerusalem (n. 84-106). That no other thought or judgment is here meant than concerning the spiritual life of another can be seen from this, that it is permissible to every one to think about the moral and civil life of another, and to judge of it; without such thought and judgment concerning others no civil society could subsist; therefore “not to judge and condemn” signifies not to think evil of the neighbor spiritually understood, that is, of his faith and love, which belong to man’s spiritual life, for these lie concealed in his interiors, and therefore are unknown to anyone except the Lord alone. Amen.

Copyright © 1982 – 2008 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 27, 2009