SERVANTS READY AND UNREADY
BY DAVID MARTIN PANTON, M.A.
Dr. R. A. Torrey, in language of admirable lucidity and force, expresses the urgent need of readiness for the advent; though it is doubtful if the good Doctor (like countless other Christians) sees the far-reaching implications of his own words. He says :- " 'Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man' (Luke 21: 36). According to this passage there is only one way in which we can be prepared for the coming of the Lord when He appears, that is, through much prayer. The coming again of Jesus is a subject that is awakening much interest and much discussion in our day; but it is one thing to be interested in the Lord's return, and to talk about it, and quite another thing to be prepared for it. We live in an atmosphere that has a constant tendency to unfit us for Christ's coming. The world tends to draw us down by its gratification’s, and by its cares. There is only one way by which we can rise triumphant above these things - by constant watching unto prayer, that is, by sleeplessness unto prayer. 'Watch' in this passage is the same strong word used in Eph. 6: 18, and 'always' the same strong phrase 'in every season.' The man who spends little time in prayer, who is not steadfast and constant in prayer, will not be ready for the Lord when He comes. But we may be ready. How? Pray! Pray! Pray!" *
[* How to Pray, P. 25. Put in our Saviour's language, and in respect not to preparedness but to removal, it is not wheat which is reaped, but ripe wheat; not stalks, but grain: "when the FRUIT IS RIPE, immediately he putteth forth the sickle, because the harvest" - the end of the Age (Matt. 13: 30) - "is come" (Mark 4: 29).]
a tremendous question, momentous for us all, arises, and (as ever) is voiced by
Peter; for within earshot of our Lord were Apostles, disciples, and a great
multitude: and Peter says - "Lord, speakest thou
this parable" - of the burgled house (verse
39) - "unto us or even unto all?"
(Luke 12: 41). Whose house,
Lord, is liable to be broken through?* Is the unready servant a disciple, or one of the
unbelieving multitude? is he regenerate, or
unregenerate? is it a saved man who is here required
to be watchful, or an unsaved?** The Lord, not answering directly,
counters, so as by another question to compel us to answer the question
ourselves. "Who then" -
for this will answer your question, Peter - "is
the faithful and wise STEWARD" - a steward is a specially
commissioned servant - "whom his lord"
- therefore he is no stranger but an engaged servant - "shall set over his household?" - the
[* "The essential difficulty which occasioned Peter's question could only apply to the last-mentioned and doubtful threatening of verses, 39 & 40. He deems the threatening of instant judgement too strong for disciples who had been once made true believers." (Stier).
** It is difficult to see how the dead could be told to 'watch'; nor could the unsaved be told to 'make ready' in a context where there is no summons to faith in Christ, and where genuine discipleship is assumed as already possessed.
*** Still more germane is the future sense - "shall set" - as expressive of rulers of the Church from Pentecost onward, some of whom would, whether ready or unready, actually confront the Advent.]
Our Lord, having so countered Peter's question as to show that even apostles are embraced in the warning - and the Holy Spirit, recording it, adds His witness that it is disciples whom our Lord is addressing (verse 22) - now drops the figure of a steward, and broadens out the principle to cover all disciples;* and Jesus, knowing that His disciples needed no convincing that the inconceivably splendid rewards He had named (verse 37) were for themselves if faithful, now discloses that so are the penalties that are threatened. The Steward's case He turns into a Church-wide application. "And that servant" - 'servant' is one of the favourite self-descriptions of the Apostles in their Letters (Phil. 1: 1, 2; 2 Pet. 1: 1; Jude 1, - "which knew his Lord's will" - this is true only of children of God: the unsaved know neither God nor His will - "and MADE NOT READY" - who prepared not what was necessary to receive his Master according to His wishes (Godet) - "nor did according to his will" - did not shape all action by the known revelations of Christ - "shall be beaten with many stripes; but he that knew not" - for honest ignorance can extenuate - "shall be beaten" - for, nevertheless, ignorance in a child of God is culpable - "with few stripes" - for as exactly as reward is graded, so exactly is chastisement. Thus the Lord embraces in the parable the whole Church; for as the Apostles are included at one end, so also is the last Steward to be found by the returning Lord at the other - a proof past denial that the entire Church is swept into the Lord's strong and solemn words.
[* "Every believer is a 'servant of God,' and must watch for the coming of the Lord. Accordingly, Jesus so answers the question that in a full and literal sense he applies what was said to the disciples as the representatives of those called to be instructors in the Church. In the next place, however, he transfers it to all 'servants'." (Olshausen).]
For let us pause for a moment to ponder a singularly conclusive fact. The principles of righteousness compel an exact and comprehensive equipoise. The Lord had said (verse 37) - "Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall come and serve them"; - no utterance, it has been said, holds before the faithful so rich and ravishing a reward (Lange); but of the unfaithful steward He says - "He shall cut him asunder, and appoint his portion with the unfaithful" R.V.* - a mortal mutilation already actually experienced, among the regenerate, by Ananias and Sapphire, and those deceased through misuse of the Lord's Table (1 Cor. 11: 30). Thus reward and penalty are balanced one against the other in an indivisible system of recompense: either award is stated as impossible for the same steward: it is wholly impossible to mutilate the justice, accepting one recompense and rejecting the other: if we deny the penalty, we must abandon the reward; and if we expect the reward, we must equally acknowledge the peril.** It is a studied antithesis between faithfulness and unfaithfulness, not between regeneration and un-regeneration; and whether we take the 'stripes' as figurative of Tribulation sorrows, or as literal infliction’s at the Judgement Seat, the closely-knit balanced statement of our Lord makes it certain that it is a punishment which falls strictly within the area of the Church.***
[* (See Greek word ) 'those who cannot be trusted' (Godet): it is obvious that the word here are those who have been unfaithful (Stier). "Liddell and Scott give its first meaning as - not to be trusted; not trusty, faithless, 'Hypocrite' (Matt. 24: 51) - a man whose creed exceeds his practice - our Lord uses both of believers (Matt. 7: 5) and of unbelievers (Matt 23: 27).
** A negative proof is also of great force. If the Steward, together with the evil servants, in the Pounds and Talents, are unregenerate men, we are confronted with the inexplicable fact that on the unfaithful regenerate servant our Lord is totally silent: the servant who has failed in his trust (and the existence of such will hardly be denied) is, in that case, conspicuously absent from all parable and prophecy: dealing, as He does, with the judgement of every class, for this class and its judgement the Lord (if we make this assumption) gives no revelation whatever.
*** "No proper recompense can be held out, as a motive to the performance of a certain duty, without involving, over and above, the assurance of a proper punishment, as a dissuasive from its non-performance." (Greswell).]
Our Lord finally enforces the solemn lesson by revealing its controlling principle. "And to whomsoever much is given" - so far from the principle applying less to a child of God, or not at all, penalty is a recoil in inverse ratio - "of him shall much be required" - in fidelity, in watchfulness, in activity, in sanctity: "and to whom they commit much" - that is, commissioned servants, abounding in talents, in opportunities, in influence, in gifts - "of him they will ask" - in the day of reckoning - "THE MORE"; a principle which works also among the lost; for where nations have been most gospelled, there also they are most damned (Matt. 10: 15). But it applies not least to the Church. The greatest prerogatives bring the greatest responsibilities (Lange): Christ shows that the more highly favoured disciples must be visited with severer punishment (Calvin): if ye, my servants and stewards, should prove unfaithful, your punishment shall be all the more severe on account of the graces and gifts which ye have received (Stier). So the unprepared servant has stripes, few or many; but the untrustworthy steward, as more responsible, is cut asunder.
For the Lord reveals the inmost heart of the unfaithful Steward - "that evil servant shall say in his heart"; and what he reveals is not fundamental unbelief - "I will not have this Man to reign over me" (Luke 19: 14); but [ Millennial and] Advent unbelief - "My lord" - a confession of faith - "delayeth his coming." Moreover, most remarkably, it is an excommunicating sin (1 Cor. 5: 11) into which he falls - "To be drunken" (verse 45) - but for which either he is too powerful, or the Church too corrupt, for action to be taken. "The first cause," as Greswell says, "of the mal-administration of the power entrusted to the servant in the absence of his master is traced to the forgetfulness of the fact of responsibility; that is, to the presumptive assurance that the time when any personal account for his conduct was to be exacted by his master, if it was ever to arrive, was still distant; and that the immediate liberty or freedom from restraint might be used with the consciousness of safety and impunity." *
[* How far a believer, by general holiness, can
be 'making ready' without accepting the Second
Advent at all - or at least an Advent contingently approximate - is a problem
that must be left to the Lord; neither 'watching'
nor 'waiting,' it is manifestly a most dangerous
experiment, and an experiment being made by a vast section of the regenerate in
all the Churches. Even the evil
servant never denied the Advent: all he said was - "My Lord delayeth his coming." How
much bolder IS THE
beyond dreams is the alternative vision. "The
reward which is proposed in Scripture to Christians is an elevation TO A
SHARE OF THE [MILLENNIAL]