Ellen G. White Writings

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The Signs of the Times

November 20, 1884

The Right Use of Talents

By Mrs. E. G. White

A short time before Jesus entered Gethsemane to bear the sins of the world, he gave the memorable discourse recorded in the Matthew 24:1 and Matthew 25:1, including the parable of the talents, given in chap. 25: 14-30. He was a partaker of our human nature, and was wearied with the work of the day. The Pharisees had pressed him into speaking on various subjects, while they watched his words, hoping to seize upon something whereby they might condemn him and vindicate themselves in their cruel purpose toward him; and he had exhausted his strength by prolonging his words of prediction and warning. His own words were, “I must work the works of him that sent me while it is day; the night cometh, when no man can work.”

The parable of the talents has a relation to that of the ten virgins, which preceded it. In the parable of the virgins, Jesus had presented events connected with his second coming, showing the duty of being in readiness, and waiting and watching for that great event; and in the parable of the talents he brought before his disciples in the most impressive manner the solemn, sacred duty of unselfish, vigilant labor in the cause of God. Jesus would teach us that it is not by a life of quiet, prayerful meditation alone that Christian character is perfected; something more is needed to give us a fitness for his second appearing. Neither does religion consist altogether in work; it is not necessary to be always busy, loaded down with cares and responsibilities, so that the cultivation of personal piety is neglected. Paul's exhortation to Timothy was to the point: “Take heed to thyself,” and then “to the doctrine.” Keep thyself in the love and fear of God, and then preach the word with all diligence. We are to be, “not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.”

There are many whose religion consists in activities. They want to be engaged in, and have the credit of doing, some great work while the little graces that go to make up a lovely Christian character are entirely overlooked. The busy, bustling service, which gives the impression that one is doing some wonderful work, is not acceptable to God. It is a Jehu spirit, which says, “Come, see my zeal for the Lord.” It is gratifying to self; it feeds a self-complacent feeling; but all the while the soul may be defiled with the plague-spot of unsubdued, uncontrolled selfishness.

Jesus says, “I know thy works.” It is indeed true that all our works are passing in review before God; then how careful should we be to have them such as will bear inspection,—honest, pure, and holy. We should be particular in self-examination, making sure that we have the oil of grace in our vessel with our lamps. We should maintain a living connection with God, that no Satanic spirit may be allowed to have a moulding influence upon our experience and mar our work. The Christian must represent Jesus by both being good and doing good. Then there will be a fragrance about the life, a loveliness of character, which will reveal the fact that he is a child of God, an heir of Heaven.

The soul must be surrendered to God, submitted to be purified and made fit for the indwelling of his Holy Spirit. Unless the fountain be cleansed, the stream which issues from it will be impure; but if the fountain be pure, it cannot send forth bitter water. It is by cultivating meekness and lowliness, by performing kindly, thoughtful acts for others when no human eye can see and no human praise stimulate, by hiding self in Jesus, and letting his gentleness appear in the home-life, by exercising patience when provoked, giving a soft answer when tempted to be harsh, overbearing, and vindictive, that we leave the unmistakable impression on the minds of our children that father and mother are Christians. To be a Christian is to be Christlike,—to learn of him daily, to work as he worked, to deny self as he denied himself. Jesus lived not to please himself, and his disciples must follow his example.

To every one Jesus has left a work to do, there is no one who can plead that he is excused. Every Christian is to be a worker with Christ; but those to whom he has intrusted large means and abilities have the greater responsibilities, and Satan will tempt these in various ways to neglect their sacred trust. In the parable, Jesus carries his hearers forward to the general Judgment, when every man's case will be decided according to his faithfulness in the work left for him to do. Men are justified by faith, but judged and rewarded according to their works.

The Master bestows his gifts according to the varied capacities of his servants. In the parable we read: “Unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.” To every one of us is committed some talent to be improved by use. The goods of Heaven are intrusted to our keeping, not to be hoarded or idolized, but to be wisely employed in the service of Christ. We are to place the highest value upon the talents committed to our trust, and to trade even with pence and farthings. Our opportunities may seem small; but if we are diligent, the blessing of God will rest on our efforts. He admits no idlers in his vineyard. All will be held responsible, from those in the highest positions to those in the most lowly; and of all he expects returns corresponding to the gifts bestowed.

Every man is responsible for the use he makes of his time, his talents, and his possessions; for they are not his own. In the parable we are represented as trading on borrowed capital. Our relation to God is that of borrowers; to our fellow-men, that of owners. God is the giver of all our benefits. Not only has he the right of ownership in ourselves and all that we have, but he alone can give wisdom to so guide us that we shall make no mistake in using our powers according to his purposes. Yet how few there are who consider that they must render an account to God for the use they make of every faculty. How often men act as though their time and their possessions were their own, to be used as best pleased themselves.

No honest, faithful laborer will rest content while neglecting to use his tact, skill, and inventive powers to advance the interests of his employer. If to successfully carry on the various enterprises connected with worldly business, aptness, careful thought, education, and discipline are required, how much more essential that these qualities be used in the service of the Lord, in advancing his cause in the earth; and as the faculties are exercised in this direction, their power is increased, so that each succeeding day we shall be able to do better work for God and humanity.

The power of speech is one of God's good gifts to man. In the day of final accounts, we shall find that the tongue was a power for good or a power for evil. It is often used in making hard speeches, in speaking words that descend like a desolating hail upon tender plants. There is much dishonesty, much exaggeration, in the use of the tongue. All these things come under the head of idle words; and for every idle word that men utter, they must give an account at the bar of God.

There are many whose conversation is apt and appropriate where their own interests are concerned, who never think of their obligation to use precious talent in winning souls to Christ. But the power of speech is a sacred trust to be improved to exalt the plan of redemption and magnify its Author, to speak words of comfort to the discouraged and desponding, to speak kind and pleasant words that shall be as a refreshing draught to those who are thirsting for sympathy and love. Our conversation should not be upon our own disappointments and trials, but upon the love of Jesus and the better home in Heaven. Dear reader, let your conversation be honest. Use sound speech which cannot be condemned, that it may minister grace and knowledge to the hearer.

The gift of writing is a talent from God; but in many cases this too has been perverted so that it has become an active agent in promoting evil. Many who profess to be children of God write to their friends in an extravagant, jesting strain, perhaps even turning serious subjects into sport and ridicule. Every communication is registered in Heaven; a copy is imprinted on the books above, with the result of these productions; and in the day of Judgment, what shame will cover those who have written or spoken idle, mischievous words. But if the love of Jesus is in the heart, the letters will breathe his spirit. Out of the treasure-house of such a heart will be brought forth good, precious things, edifying the one with whom you communicate.

The Master has given directions, “Occupy till I come.” He is the great proprietor, and has a right to investigate every transaction, and approve or condemn; he has a right to rebuke, to encourage, to counsel, or to expel. The Lord's work requires careful thought and the highest intellect. He will not inquire how successful you have been in gathering means to hoard, or that you may excel your neighbors in property, and gather attention to yourself while excluding God from your hearts and homes. He will inquire, What have you done to advance my cause with the talents I lent you? What have you done for me in the person of the poor, the afflicted, the orphan, and the fatherless? I was sick, poor, hungry, and destitute of clothing; what did you do for me with my intrusted means? How was the time I lent you employed? How did you use your pen, your voice, your money, your influence? I made you the depositary of a precious trust by opening before you the thrilling truths heralding my second coming. What have you done with the light and knowledge I gave you to make men wise unto salvation?

Our Lord has gone away to receive his kingdom; but he will prepare mansions for us, and then will come to take us to himself. In his absence he has given us the privilege of being co-laborers with him in the work of preparing souls to enter those mansions of light and glory. It was not that we might lead a life of worldly pleasure and extravagance that he left the royal courts of Heaven, clothing his divinity with humanity, and becoming poor that we through his poverty might be made rich. He did this that we might follow his example of self-denial for others.

Each one of us is building upon the true foundation, wood, hay, and stubble, to be consumed in the last great conflagration, and our life-work be lost, or we are building upon that foundation, gold, silver, and precious stones, which will never perish, but shine the brighter amid the devouring elements that will try every man's work. Any unfaithfulness in spiritual and eternal things here will result in loss throughout endless ages. Those who lead a Christless life, who exclude Jesus from heart, home, and business, who leave him out of their counsels, and trust to their own heart, and rely on their own judgment, are unfaithful servants, and will receive the reward which their works have merited.

At his coming the Master will call his servants, and reckon with them. The parable certainly teaches that good works will be rewarded according to the motive that prompted them; that skill and intellect used in the service of God will prove a success, and will be rewarded according to the fidelity of the worker. Those who have had an eye single to the glory of God will have the richest reward. Selfishness, indolence, worldliness, pride, covetousness, and human ambition will appear in their true and hateful character, as the works of Satan; while every work done from love to Jesus, with a sincere desire to glorify him, will appear as the height of human excellence and wisdom.

With the consciousness that they have done only their duty, and merit no reward, the faithful stewards will present the talents they have gained through use. They bring sheaves. With their money and talents they have been instrumental in bringing honor to Jesus; through his blessing attending their efforts, they have been able to benefit others. They present to their Lord both principal and interest; but it is with a sense of humility. An eternal weight of glory is awarded them; but they receive it as a free gift.

But to those who hide their Lord's talents in the earth, Jesus will say, “Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant.... Wherefore gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury? And he said unto them that stood by, Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds.”

Take from him the opportunities for usefulness which he has failed to improve. I have no confidence in him; he will not do faithful work for me. He has misused my gifts, perverted my talents. Had he traded in my interest upon the capital I intrusted to him, he would now reap eternal life; but he has lived selfishly; his life-work has been a failure. And now he comes unrolling a napkin, and telling me I have my own. He brings no interest. Take the talent from him, for he is no longer worthy of it, and give it to him that has ten talents; for to him that hath shall be given, and from him that has no returns to make, even that which I intrusted to him shall be taken away. And he shall suffer eternal loss. “Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

I present these thoughts before the laymen in the church, that they may awaken to a sense of their responsibility. What are you doing, dear reader, with your intrusted talents? If you are burying them in the world, do so no longer. Work for Jesus; put your entire interest into his cause. Self-flattery and self-deception would make you believe that you are doing about right; but how does your life compare with that of Jesus when he was in this world? Jesus has done everything for you; he withheld not even himself. Now show zeal and earnestness in putting all your powers to work for him, and you will receive as your reward the gift of eternal life.

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