Trading for an Absent Lord – "Occupy till I come"

Notes of an address in 1911 on the parable of the pounds (Luke 19:20-27)

An educated Hindu visited a missionary in India, and said to him, "We have found you Christians out. You are not as good as your Book." As I read that story it arrested me, and I asked myself the question, "If the Hindu came to that conclusion after watching the life of a devoted missionary, what would he say if he could see us in the homelands?"

If he had the opportunity of comparing our lives with the Book we read and profess to prize, would he not have to lay a double emphasis upon the blunt charge? Undoubtedly he would.

The Book speaks of "joy unspeakable and full of glory: " how much of that do Christians know? It assures us that we may be more than conquerors through Him that loved us; but is this the life that we are living? In it we find the Christian life described as one of devoted, joyful, self-sacrificing service. Are our lives this? Alas! we have to confess that there is a sad disparity between the Book and the lives we live.

I venture to suggest that one reason for this, perhaps the chiefest, is that we have but feebly realized that we are the servants of an absent Lord; the privileges and the responsibilities of this position have not fully laid hold of our souls, and in consequence we live too much to ourselves, which means a joyless and barren existence.

We are not our own; we have been sought in marvellous love, and purchased at a great price; we have been lifted by divine grace out of death into life and that with a high purpose in view, part of which purpose is that we might live to Him, our absent Lord, who died and rose again for us; but until we come under the domination of this fact our lives will remain common-place and ineffective, they will not be as good as the Book.

No True Service without Salvation

This responsibility of which I speak is disclosed for us in the parable of the pounds, and it should be observed that it was while they heard "these things" (v. 11) that the Lord propounded the parable to the people. "These things" are found in the tenth verse. "The Son of Man is come to seek and save that which was lost." It is as on this gracious mission that the Lord is revealed to us in the Gospel of Luke. The first words recorded in that Gospel, as having fallen from His blessed lips, are "Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?" That business was to seek and save the lost. This becomes most evident to us as we read through the Gospel, and we find in it that the contempt and hatred of the leaders of the Jews was manifested because of this one thing. In chapter 5 they complain that He ate and drank with publican and sinners; in chapter 7 they deride Him as being a friend of publicans and sinners; in chapter 15 they murmur because "this man receives sinners;" and in chapter 19 they again murmur because "He was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner." But He heeded not the derision of the Pharisees, for He loved the lost and sinful with a great love, and in order to fulfil His mission towards them the Spirit of the Lord was upon Him, and most beautiful were His feet upon the mountains as He brought good tidings and published peace to these guilt-burdened souls. But if He came to seek and save the lost, it was that He might send them out when found and saved to do business for Him during His absence, even as He did His Father's business when here.

This is the life's business of every saved person; it cannot be rightly undertaken apart from the knowledge of Christ as Saviour, for without this we were still captives, needing deliverance, and so not free to serve Him; moreover, the one motive for service, His love to us, were also lacking if He were not known as Saviour. It is when we think of what He has done to save us, and of the strength of the love that moved Him to do it, that we are constrained, by this same love, to live to Him.

Let us rightly consider this matter: He came to seek and save us; for this He gave Himself; yea, suffered the unspeakable anguish of Calvary, and passed into the darkness of death, in order to accomplish this purpose of immortal love. The only right answer that we can give to Him for this, is to yield ourselves to Him as His bond-servants for ever. He knew that when we rightly understood His love to us we should desire to do this; that it would be a positive luxury to us to serve Him: to do business for Him while He is away, and until He comes again; and knowing this He has given to each of us a "pound."

"But His citizens hated Him"

But our service is in the world that hates Him. Let us not attempt to disguise or reason away this sad fact; the citizens of it said, "We will not have this man to reign over us;" and that decision has never been reversed. We must face this in order to gauge our position with regard to the world. It hates the One who loves us; and we are called to do business for Him in it. If it hates Him, and we are true to Him, it will hate us too, and in it, as His representatives, trading for Him, we shall be confronted by opposition, and have to endure tribulation. Time will not permit us to turn to the many passages of unchanging truth to prove this, so one must suffice: "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said to you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you … He that hateth Me hateth My Father also … They hated Me without a cause" (John 15:18-25).

It is useless to plead that the world has improved since then: it may have become more adept at veneering the surface of things, and have made more stringent laws for the more effectual restraint of the fierce passions of men for the common peace, for it loves its own (John 15:19); but it is still the world that hated and rejected Christ; and if we have not experienced its hatred and contempt it is because we have not been faithful to Him.

The world heaped shame and contempt upon our Lord, it had no crown for His sacred brow save one of thorns, and in its estimation He had merited a malefactor's cross; may we never be guilty of the treason of seeking ease and honour where He was rejected and despised.

"He called His ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds"

Two things thus far are clear, namely, the Son of Man came to save us, that we might serve Him; and the place of our service is in the world where He is hated. It is important now to see that He has also committed to us the wherewithal for our service. He has given to each of His servants a pound with which to trade. It is not here a question of talents as in Matthew 25, where one received more than another, but one pound to each servant.

You may be very small in your own eyes, and scarcely able to claim the place of a servant at all, but to you has the pound been given, as well as to those who appear great and gifted, and you are responsible to be active with it even as they are. I suggest that the pound represents the way in which God is presented to us in the Gospel of Luke, as glorious in His grace. The knowledge of this is given to us; it has shone into our hearts from the face of Jesus Christ. "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of us" (2 Cor. 4:6-7).

What a golden pound is this! What a precious treasure to bear about with us — the knowledge of God! Christian, consider it well. As you rise in the morning you can say, "I know God. He has been revealed to me in the glory of His grace, by the Lord Jesus Christ. I go out, carrying this priceless treasure in my heart, into the world that does not know Him, to put it into circulation for the glory of Christ — not to keep it hidden within my own consciousness, but to let it shine forth, to pass it on to others, that they may be enriched as I have been, and that this treasure may increase in the earth."

We may tell men that we know a God whose compassion is without limit; that never a cry to Him for pity has been or shall be refused so long as this day of grace shall last. We may tell them that the heart of God is moved because of their distress, and that His mercy leaps forth to meet them in their misery. We may tell them this, for we ourselves have proved the truth of it: we are living witnesses to the incomparable grace of our God.

Would not such a thought if constantly present with us add a dignity to our lives? Would it not make us feel that here was something to live for? Would it not make us diligent to hold forth the word of life, and to shine as lights in the world (Phil. 2:15-16)?

This is our matchless privilege, but it is also our responsibility; our Lord has the right to command us, and it is that we might attend to His business that He has saved us. We cannot, we must not, ignore this. I knew a Christian man who said he did not want to learn much truth, because light increased responsibility, and he had enough already. But we cannot treat the matter in that way, for our responsibility abides, and the day is coming when our Lord will call us to account as to how much we have gained by trading with this pound.

Evidently, then, this is the chief business of our lives. We are not here, in the first place, to be mechanics, shop-keepers, or professional men, to guide the house or rear the children, much less to live lives of selfish ease; but to trade for our absent Lord. Our very lives are His, as well as the pound that He has delivered to us. We may be able to put the pound out to the best rate of interest as we follow our business, and guide the home, rubbing shoulders with men in the affairs of this life. But this will only be as, in these things, we serve the Lord Christ. It may be, on the other hand, that He would have some of us to carry the pound with us, in diligent labour for Him, into the streets and lanes of the city; or into the highways and hedges where the fallen and lost stray and sin and hide; or it may be His will that others should go far afield to heathen lands: in these things He must direct and command, it is ours to obey, to serve, and to trade.

"Occupy till I come"

I have heard of some who claimed to have retired from the ministry; but here is a ministry from which none have the right to retire, even if they had the wish; for to each of His servants — to you and me and all others — He has said, "Occupy till I come." These are solemn words for our consideration, and especially so when we remember how much of the past time has been wasted in selfish pursuits, how much of it is lost time; but they are also words that should act as a powerful tonic for our souls for the future, for they tell us that our Lord is coming again, and of what He expects from us meanwhile. Yes He is coming again; we shall see Him whom, having not seen, we love; and what will that mean to us?

"If here on earth the thoughts of Jesus' love
  Lift our poor hearts this weary world above;
If even here the taste of heavenly springs
  So cheers the spirit that the pilgrim sings:

What will it be to see Him?

What will the sunshine of His glory prove?
  What the unmingled fullness of His love?
What hallelujahs will His presence raise?
  What but one loud eternal burst of praise!"

The Day of Reckoning

When He comes His servants will be called to Him, to whom He had given the money, that He may know how much every man has gained by trading; and as we think of this side of His coming serious and solemn thoughts possess us, for we must feel how poorly we have used our opportunities.

Yet there is here encouragement for us, for we find that one servant had gained ten pounds by his trading, and why should we not be like him? Ten seems to stand in the Scriptures for the measure of the Lord's demands from men (see Ten Commandments), and we may conclude that there is grace with our Lord for us to enable us to render a full return to Him in that which He has committed to us; if there is any failure, it is on our side. But everything, be it much or little, will be rightly appraised by Him, and nothing shall lose its reward that has been done for Him.

A Servant who knew not the Lord

But one servant hid his pound in a napkin; it was an encumbrance to him, something, perhaps, of which he was ashamed — for the gospel of God is folly in the eyes of the wise ones of the earth — so he put it out of sight, his own as well as that of his fellows, and if he did any business at all he did it with his own base coin, and for his own enrichment.

He was servant by profession, and in name only; he did not know the Master, his own confession proves this, though he imagined that he did know Him when he said, "I knew that Thou wert an austere Man."

Is the Lord an austere Man, a hard Master, reaping where He has never sown, and demanding where He has never given? Who amongst all of us who know Him will give Him such a character? Nay, we have other things to say of Him; we have proved Him to be exactly the reverse of this. We can bear testimony to the fact that the tenderest heart in the universe beats in the bosom of our Lord Jesus. We have seen no frowns on His brow, neither have we heard hard words from His lips. Our service has been poor and faulty, often we have thought more of ourselves in it than we did of the Master whom we serve. But this has not changed Him; His tender pity has not failed, and our very blunders have become the opportunities for manifestation of a grace that is as constant as it is free. Knowing Him as we do, we must conclude that the man who spoke as the servant spoke knew Him not. He was a "wicked servant," who had not appreciated the pound entrusted to him, nor loved the Master who gave it.

There are such today. We do well to test ourselves. Do we know the Lord? If we do, we love Him. Do we appreciate the pound entrusted to us? If we do we are trading with it.

But time is short. Let us fling ourselves in full and unreserved surrender at the feet of Christ; let us there confess the failure of the past, and seek grace and power to fill up the future for Himself alone. His giving is always greater than our asking; and as we receive from Him, we can trade for Him, and the world will not be stumbled by the grave inconsistencies that often lie between us and our Book.