Matthew 25
Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible
Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.
Chapter 25

This chapter continues and concludes our Saviour’s discourse, which began in the foregoing chapter, concerning his second coming and the end of the world. This was his farewell sermon of caution, as that, Jn. 14:15, 16, was of comfort to his disciples; and they had need of both in a world of so much temptation and trouble as this is. The application of that discourse, was, Watch therefore, and be ye also ready. Now, in prosecution of these serious awakening cautions, in this chapter we have three parables, the scope of which is the same—to quicken us all with the utmost care and diligence to get ready for Christ’s second coming, which, in all his farewells to his church, mention was made of, as in that before he died (Jn. 14:2), in that at his ascension (Acts 1:11), and in that at the shutting up of the canon of the scriptures, Rev. 22:20. Now it concerns us to prepare for Christ’s coming; I. That we may then be ready to attend upon him; and this is shown in the parable of the ten virgins (v. 1–13). II. That we may then be ready to give u our account to him; and this is shown in the parable of the three servants (v. 14–30). III. That we may then be ready to receive from him our final sentence, and that it may be to eternal life; and this is shown in a more plain description of the process of the last judgment (v. 31–46). These are things of awful consideration, because of everlasting concern to every one of us.

Verses 1-13


I. That in general which is to be illustrated is, the kingdom of heaven, the state of things under the gospel, the external kingdom of Christ, and the administration and success of it. Some of Christ’s parables had shown us what it is like now in the present reception of it, as ch. 13. This tells us what it shall be like, when the mystery of God shall be finished, and that kingdom delivered up to the Father. The administration of Christ’s government, towards the ready and the unready in the great day, may be illustrated by this similitude; or the kingdom is put for the subjects of the kingdom. The professors of Christianity shall then be likened to these ten virgins, and shall be thus distinguished.

II. That by which it is illustrated, is, a marriage solemnity. It was a custom sometimes used among the Jews on that occasion, that the bridegroom came, attended with his friends, late in the night, to the house of the bride, where she expected him, attended with her bride-maids; who, upon notice given of the bridegrooms’ approach, were to go out with lamps in their hands, to light him into the house with ceremony and formality, in order to the celebrating of the nuptials with great mirth. And some think that on these occasions they had usually ten virgins; for the Jews never held a synagogue, circumcised, kept the passover, or contracted marriage, but ten persons at least were present. Boaz, when he married Ruth, had ten witnesses, Ruth 4:2. Now in this parable,

1. The Bridegroom is our Lord Jesus Christ; he is so represented in the 45th Psalm, Solomon’s Song, and often in the New Testament. It bespeaks his singular and superlative love to, and his faithful and inviolable covenant with, his spouse the church. Believers are now betrothed to Christ (Hos. 2:19); but the solemnizing of the marriage is reserved for the great day, when the bride, the Lamb’s wife, will have made herself completely ready, Rev. 19:7, 9.

2. The virgins are the professors of religion, members of the church; but here represented as her companions (Ps. 45:14), as elsewhere her children (Isa. 54:1), her ornaments, Isa. 49:18. They that follow the Lamb, are said to be virgins (Rev. 14:4); this denotes their beauty and purity; they are to be presented as chaste virgins to Christ, 2 Co. 11:2. The bridegroom is a king; so these virgins are maids of honour, virgins without number (Cant. 6:8), yet here said to be ten.

3. The office of these virgins is to meet the bridegroom, which is as much their happiness as their duty. They come to wait upon the bridegroom when he appears, and in the mean time to wait for him. See here the nature of Christianity. As Christians, we profess ourselves to be, (1.) Attendants upon Christ, to do him honour, as the glorious Bridegroom, to be to him for a name and a praise, especially then when he shall come to be glorified in his saints. We must follow him as honorary servants do their masters, Jn. 12:26. Hold up the name, and hold forth the praise of the exalted Jesus; this is our business. (2.) Expectants of Christ, and of his second coming. As Christians, we profess, not only to believe and look for, but to love and long for, the appearing of Christ, and to act in our whole conversation with a regard to it. The second coming of Christ is the centre in which all the lines of our religion meet, and to which the whole of the divine life hath a constant reference and tendency.

4. Their chief concern is to have lights in their hands, when they attend the bridegroom, thus to do him honour and do him service. Note, Christians are children of light. The gospel is light, and they who receive it must not only be enlightened by it themselves, but must shine as lights, must hold it forth, Phil. 2:15, 16. This in general.

Now concerning these ten virgins, we may observe,

(1.) Their different character, with the proof and evidence of it.

[1.] Their character was that five were wise, and five foolish (v. 2); and wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness; so saith Solomon, a competent judge, Eccl. 2:13. Note, Those of the same profession and denomination among men, may yet be of characters vastly different in the sight of God. Sincere Christians are the wise virgins, and hypocrites the foolish ones, as in another parable they are represented by wise and foolish builders. Note, Those are wise or foolish indeed, that are so in the affairs of their souls. True religion is true wisdom; sin is folly, but especially the sin of hypocrisy, for those are the greatest fools, that are wise in their own conceit, and those the worst of sinners, that feign themselves just men. Some observe from the equal number of the wise and foolish, what a charitable decorum (it is Archbishop Tillotson’s expression) Christ observes, as if he would hope that the number of true believers was nearly equal to that of hypocrites, or, at least, would teach us to hope the best concerning those that profess religion, and to think of them with a bias to the charitable side. Though, in judging of ourselves, we ought to remember that the gate is strait, and few find it; yet, in judging of others, we ought to remember that the Captain of our salvation brings many sons to glory.

[2.] The evidence of this character was in the very thing which they were to attend to; by that they are judged of.

First, It was the folly of the foolish virgins, that they took their lamps, and took no oil with them, v. 3. They had just the oil enough to make their lamps burn for the present, to make a show with, as if they intended to meet the bridegroom; but no cruse or bottle of oil with them for a recruit if the bridegroom tarried; thus hypocrites,

1. They have no principle within. They have a lamp of profession in their hands, but have not in their hearts that stock of sound knowledge, rooted dispositions, and settled resolutions, which is necessary to carry them through the services and trials of the present state. They act under the influence of external inducements, but are void of spiritual life; like a tradesman, that sets up without a stock, or the seed on the stony ground, that wanted root.

2. They have no prospect of, nor make provision for, what is to come. They took lamps for a present show, but not oil for after use. This incogitancy is the ruin of many professors; all their care is to recommend themselves to their neighbours, whom they now converse with, not to approve themselves to Christ, whom they must hereafter appear before; as if any thing will serve, provide it will but serve for the present. Tell them of things not seen as yet, and you are like Lot to his sons-in-law, as one that mocked. They do not provide for hereafter, as the ant does, nor lay up for the time to come, 1 Tim. 6:19.

Secondly, It was the wisdom of the wise virgins, that they took oil in their vessels with their lamps, v. 4. They had a good principle within, which would maintain and keep up their profession. 1. The heart is the vessel, which it is our wisdom to get furnished; for, out of a good treasure there, good things must be brought; but if that root be rottenness, the blossom will be dust. 2. Grace is the oil which we must have in this vessel; in the tabernacle there was constant provision made of oil for the light, Ex. 35:14. Our light must shine before men in good works, but this cannot be, or not long, unless there be a fixed active principle in the heart, of faith in Christ, and love to God and our brethren, from which we must act in every thing we do in religion, with an eye to what is before us. They that took oil in their vessels, did it upon supposition that perhaps the bridegroom might tarry. Note, In looking forward it is good to prepare for the worst, to lay in for a long siege. But remember that this oil which keeps the lamps burning, is derived to the candlestick from Jesus Christ, the great and good Olive, by the golden pipes of the ordinances, as it is represented in that vision (Zec. 4:2, 3, 12), which is explained Jn. 1:16, Of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.

(2.) Their common fault, during the bridegroom’s delay; They all slumbered and slept, v. 5. Observe here,

[1.] The bridegroom tarried, that is, he did not come out so soon as they expected. What we look for as certain, we are apt to think is very near; many in the apostles’ times imagined that the day of the Lord was at hand, but it is not so. Christ, as to us, seems to tarry, and yet really does not, Hab. 2:3. There is good reason for the Bridegroom’s tarrying; there are many intermediate counsels and purposes to be accomplished, the elect must all be called in, God’s patience must be manifested, and the saints’ patience tried, the harvest of the earth must be ripened, and so must the harvest of heaven too. But though Christ tarry past our time, he will not tarry past the due time.

[2.] While he tarried, those that waited for him, grew careless, and forgot what they were attending; They all slumbered and slept; as if they had given over looking for him; for when the Son of man cometh, he will not find faith, Lu. 18:8. Those that inferred the suddenness of it from its certainty, when that answered not their expectation, were apt from the delay to infer its uncertainty. The wise virgins slumbered, and the foolish slept; so some distinguish it; however, they were both faulty. The wise virgins kept their lamps burning, but did not keep themselves awake. Note, Too many good Christians, when they have been long in profession, grow remiss in their preparations for Christ’s second coming; they intermit their care, abate their zeal, their graces are not lively, nor their works found perfect before God; and though all love be not lost, yet the first love is left. If it was hard to the disciples to watch with Christ an hour, much more to watch with him an age. I sleep, saith the spouse, but my heart wakes, Observe, First, They slumbered, and then they slept. Note, One degree of carelessness and remissness makes way for another. Those that allow themselves in slumbering, will scarcely keep themselves from sleeping; therefore dread the beginning of spiritual decays; Venienti occurrite morbo—Attend to the first symptoms of disease. The ancients generally understood the virgins’ slumbering and sleeping of their dying; they all died, wise and foolish (Ps. 49:10), before judgment-day. So Ferus, Antequam veniat sponsus omnibus obdormiscendum est, hoc est, moriendum—Before the Bridegroom come, all must sleep, that is, die. So Calvin. But I think it is rather to be taken as we have opened it.

(3.) The surprising summons given them, to attend the bridegroom (v. 6); At midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh. Note, [1.] Though Christ tarry long, he will come at last; though he seem slow, he is sure. In his first coming, he was thought long by those that waited for the consolation of Israel; yet in the fulness of time he came; so his second coming, though long deferred, is not forgotten; his enemies shall find, to their cost, that forbearance is no acquittance; and his friends shall find, to their comfort, that the vision is for an appointed time, and at the end it shall speak, and not lie. The year of the redeemed is fixed, and it will come. [2.] Christ’s coming will be at our midnight, when we least look for him, and are most disposed to take our rest. His coming for the relief and comfort of his people, often is when the good intended seems to be at the greatest distance; and his coming to reckon with his enemies, is when they put the evil day furthest from them. It was at midnight that the first-born of Egypt were destroyed, and Israel delivered, Ex. 12:29. Death often comes when it is least expected; the soul is required this night, Lu. 12:20. Christ will come when he pleases, to show his sovereignty, and will not let us know when, to teach us our duty. [3.] When Christ comes, we must go forth to meet him. As Christians we are bound to attend all the motions of the Lord Jesus, and meet him in all his out-goings. When he comes to us at death, we must go forth out of the body, out of the world, to meet him with affections and workings of soul suitable to the discoveries we then expect him to make of himself. Go ye forth to meet him, is a call to those who are habitually prepared, to be actually ready. [4.] The notice given of Christ’s approach, and the call to meet him, will be awakening; There was a cry made. His first coming was not with any observation at all, nor did they say, Lo, here is Christ, or Lo, he is there; he was in the world, and the world knew him not; but his second coming will be with the observation of all the world; Every eye shall see him. There will be a cry from heaven, for he shall descend with a shout, Arise, ye dead, and come to judgment; and a cry from the earth too, a cry to rocks and mountains, Rev. 6:16.

(4.) The address they all made to answer this summons (v. 7); They all arose, and trimmed their lamps, snuffed them and supplied them with oil and went about with all expedition to put themselves in a posture to receive the bridegroom. Now, [1.] This, in the wise virgins, bespeaks an actual preparation for the Bridegroom’s coming. Note, even those that are best prepared for death, have, upon the immediate arrests of it, work to do, to get themselves actually ready, that they may be found in peace (2 Pt. 3:14), found doing (ch. 24:46), and not found naked, 2 Co. 5:3. It will be a day of search and enquiry; and it concerns us to think how we shall then be found. When we see the day approaching, we must address ourselves to our dying work with all seriousness, renewing our repentance for sin, our consent to the covenant, our farewells to the world; and our souls must be carried out toward God in suitable breathings. [2.] In the foolish virgins, it denotes a vain confidence, and conceit of the goodness of their state, and their readiness for another world. Note, Even counterfeit graces will serve a man to make a show of when he comes to die, as well as they have done all his life long; the hypocrite’s hopes blaze when they are just expiring, like a lightening before death.

(5.) The distress which the foolish virgins were in, for want of oil, v. 8, 9. This bespeaks, [1.] The apprehensions which some hypocrites have of the misery of their state, even on this side death, when God opens their eyes to see their folly, and themselves perishing with a lie in their right hand. Or, however, [2.] The real misery of their state on the other side death, and in the judgment; how far their fair, but false, profession of religion will be from availing them any thing in the great day; see what comes of it.

First, Their lamps are gone out. The lamps of hypocrites often go out in this life; when they who have begun in the spirit, end in the flesh, and the hypocrisy breaks out in an open apostasy, 2 Pt. 2:20. The profession withers, and the credit of it is lost; the hopes fail, and the comfort of them is gone; how often is the candle of the wicked thus put out? Job 21:17. Yet many a hypocrite keeps up his credit, and the comfort of his profession, such as it is, to the last; but what is it when God taketh away his soul? Job 27:8. If his candle be not put out before him, it is put out with him, Job 18:5, 6. He shall lie down in sorrow, Isa. 50:11. The gains of a hypocritical profession will not follow a man to judgment, ch. 7:22, 23. The lamps are gone out, when the hypocrite’s hope proves like the spider’s web (Job 8:11, etc.), and like the giving up of the ghost (Job 11:20), like Absalom’s mule that left him in the oak.

For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.
Verses 14-30

We have here the parable of the talents committed to three servants; this implies that we are in a state of work and business, as the former implies that we are in a state of expectancy. That showed the necessity of habitual preparation, this of actual diligence in our present work and service. In that we were stirred up to do well for our own souls; in this to lay out ourselves for the glory of God and the good of others.

In this parable, 1. The Master is Christ, who is the absolute Owner and Proprietor of all persons and things, and in a special manner of his church; into his hands all things are delivered. 2. The servants are Christians, his own servants, so they are called; born in his house, bought with his money, devoted to his praise, and employed in his work. It is probable that ministers are specially intended here, who are more immediately attending on him, and sent by him. St. Paul often calls himself a servant of Jesus Christ. See 2 Tim. 2:24.

We have three things, in general, in this parable.

I. The trust committed to these servants; Their master delivered to them his goods: having appointed them to work (for Christ keeps no servants to be idle), he left them something to work upon. Note, 1. Christ’s servants have and receive their all from him; for they are of themselves worth nothing, nor have any thing they can call their own but sin. 2. Our receiving from Christ is in order to our working for him. Our privileges are intended to find us with business. The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. 3. Whatever we receive to be made use of for Christ, still the property is vested in him; we are but tenants upon his land, stewards of his manifold grace, 1 Pt. 4:10. Now observe here,

(1.) On what occasion this trust was committed to these servants: The master was travelling into a far country. This is explained, Eph. 4:8. When he ascended on high, he gave gifts to men. Note, [1.] When Christ went to heaven, he was as a man travelling into a far country; that is, he went with a purpose to be away a great while. [2.] When he went, he took care to furnish his church with all things necessary for it during his personal absence. For, and in consideration of, his departure, he committed to his church truths, laws, promises and powers; these were the parakatatheµkeµ—the great depositum (as it is called, 1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:14), the good thing that is committed to us; and he sent his Spirit to enable his servants to teach and profess those truths, to press and observe those laws, to improve and apply those promises, and to exercise and employ those powers, ordinary or extraordinary. Thus Christ, at his ascension, left his goods to his church.

(2.) In what proportion this trust was committed. [1.] He gave talents; a talent of silver is computed to be in our money three hundred and fifty-three pounds eleven shillings and ten pence halfpenny; so the learned Bishop Cumberland. Note, Christ’s gifts are rich and valuable, the purchases of his blood inestimable, and none of them mean. [2.] He gave to some more, to others less; to one five talents, to another two, to another one; to every one according to his several ability. When Divine Providence has made a difference in men’s ability, as to mind, body, estate, relation, and interest, divine grace dispenses spiritual gifts accordingly, but still the ability itself is from him. Observe, First, Every one had some one talent at least, and that is not a despicable stock for a poor servant to begin with. A soul of our own is the one talent we are every one of us entrusted with, and it will find us with work. Hoc nempe ab homine exigiture, ut prosit hominibus; si fieri potest, multis; si minus, paucis; si minus, proximis, si minus, sibi: nam cum se utilem caeteris efficit, commune agit negotium. Et si quis bene de se meretur, hoc ipso aliis prodest quod aliis profuturum parat—It is the duty of a man to render himself beneficial to those around him; to a great number if possible; but if this is denied him, to a few; to his intimate connections; or, at least, to himself. He that is useful to others, may be reckoned a common good. And whoever entitles himself to his own approbation, is serviceable to others, as forming himself to those habits which will result in their favour. Seneca de Otio Sapient. Secondly, All had not alike, for they had not all alike abilities and opportunities. God is a free Agent, dividing to every man severally as he will; some are cut out for service in one kind, others in another, as the members of the natural body. When the householder had thus settled his affairs, he straightway took his journey. Our Lord Jesus, when he had given commandments to his apostles, as one in haste to be gone, went to heaven.

II. The different management and improvement of this trust, which we have an account of, v. 16–18.

1. Two of the servants did well.

(1.) They were diligent and faithful; They went, and traded; they put the money they were entrusted with, to the use for which it was intended—laid it out in goods, and made returns of it; as soon as ever their master was gone, they immediately applied themselves to their business. Those that have so much work to do, as every Christian has, need to set about it quickly, and lose not time. They went, and traded. Note, A true Christian is a spiritual tradesman. Trades are called mysteries, and without controversy great is the mystery of godliness; it is a manufacture trade; there is something to be done by upon our own hearts, and for the good of others. It is a merchant-trade; things of less value to us are parted with for things of greater value; wisdom’s merchandize, Prov. 3:15; Mt. 13:45. A tradesman is one who, having made his trade his choice, and taken pains to learn it, makes it his business to follow it, lays out all he has for the advancement of it, makes all other affairs bend to it, and lives upon the gain of it. Thus does a true Christian act in the work of religion; we have no stock of our own to trade with, but trade as factors with our master’s stock. The endowments of the mind—reason, wit, learning, must be used in subserviency to religion; the enjoyments of the world—estate, credit, interest, power, preferment, must be improved for the honour of Christ. The ordinances of the gospel, and our opportunities of attending them, bibles, ministers, sabbaths, sacraments, must be improved for the end for which they were instituted, and communion with God kept up by them, and the gifts and graces of the Spirit must be exercised; and this is trading with our talents.

(2.) They were successful; they doubled their stock, and in a little time made cent. per cent. of it: he that had five talents, soon made them other five. Trading with our talents is not alway successful with others, but, however, it shall be so to ourselves, Isa. 49:4. Note, The hand of the diligent makes rich in graces, and comforts, and treasures of good works. There is a great deal to be got by industry in religion.

Observe, The returns were in proportion to the receivings. [1.] From those to whom God hath given five talents, he expects the improvement of five, and to reap plentifully where he sows plentifully. The greater gifts any have, the more pains they ought to take, as those must that have a large stock to manage. [2.] From those to whom he has given but two talents, he expects only the improvement of two, which may encourage those who are placed in a lower and narrower sphere of usefulness; if they lay out themselves to do good according to the best of their capacity and opportunity, they shall be accepted, though they do not so much good as others.

2. The third did ill (v. 18); He that had received one talent, went, and hid his lord’s money. Though the parable represents but one in three unfaithful, yet in a history that answers this parable, we find the disproportion quite the other way, when ten lepers were cleansed, nine of ten hid the talent, and only one returned to give thanks, Lu. 17:17, 18. The unfaithful servant was he that had but one talent: doubtless there are many that have five talents, and bury them all; great abilities, great advantages, and yet do no good with them: but Christ would hint to us, (1.) That if he that had but one talent, be reckoned with thus for burying that one, much more will they be accounted offenders, that have more, that have many, and bury them. If he that was but of small capacity, was cast into utter darkness because he did not improve what he had as he might have done, of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, that tramples underfoot the greatest advantages? (2.) That those who have least to do for God, frequently do least of what they have to do. Some make it an excuse for their laziness, that they have not the opportunities of serving God that others have; and because they have not wherewithal to do what they say they would, they will not do what we are sure they can, and so sit down and do nothing; it is really an aggravation of their sloth, that when they have but one talent to take care about, they neglect that one.

He digged in the earth, and hid the talent, for fear it should be stolen; he did not misspend or misemploy it, did not embezzle it or squander it away, but he hid it. Money is like manure (so my Lord Bacon used to say,) good for nothing in the heap, but it must be spread; yet it is an evil which we have often seen under the sun, treasure heaped together (Jam. 5:3; Eccl. 6:1, 2), which does good to nobody; and so it is in spiritual gifts; many have them, and make no use of them for the end for which they were given them. Those that have estates, and do not lay them out in works of piety and charity; that have power and interest, and do not with it promote religion in the places where they live; ministers that have capacities and opportunities of doing good, but do not stir up the gift that is in them, are those slothful servants that seek their own things more than Christ’s.

He hid his lord’s money; had it been his own, he might have done as he pleased; but, whatever abilities and advantages we have, they are not our own, we are but stewards of them, and must give account to our Lord, whose goods they are. It was an aggravation of his slothfulness, that his fellow-servants were busy and successful in trading, and their zeal should have provoked his. Are others active, and shall we be idle?

III. The account of this improvement, v. 19. 1. The account is deferred; it is not till after a long time that they are reckoned with; not that the master neglects his affairs, or that God is slack concerning his promise (2 Pt. 3:9); no, he is ready to judge (1 Pt. 4:5); but every thing must be done in its time and order. 2. Yet the day of account comes at last; The lord of those servants reckoneth with them. Note, The stewards of the manifold grace of God must shortly give account of their stewardship. We must all be reckoned with—what good we have got to our own souls, and what good we have done to others by the advantages we have enjoyed. See Rom. 14:10, 11. Now here is,

(1.) The good account of the faithful servants; and here observe,

[1.] The servants giving up the account (v. 20, 22); "Lord, thou deliveredst to me five talents, and to me two; behold, I have gained five talents, and I two talents more."

First, Christ’s faithful servants acknowledge with thankfulness his vouchsafements to them; Lord, thou deliveredst to me such and such things. Note, 1. It is good to keep a particular account of our receivings from God, to remember what we have received, that we may know what is expected from us, and may render according to the benefit. 2. We must never look upon our improvements but with a general mention of God’s favour to us, of the honour he has put upon us, in entrusting us with his goods, and of that grace which is the spring and fountain of all the good that is in us or is done by us. For the truth is, the more we do for God, the more we are indebted to him for making use of us, and enabling us, for his service.

Secondly, They produce, as an evidence of their faithfulness, what they have gained. Note, God’s good stewards have something to show for their diligence; Show me thy faith by thy works. He that is a good man, let him show it, Jam. 3:13. If we be careful in our spiritual trade, it will soon be seen by us, and our works will follow us, Rev. 14:13. Not that the saints will in the great day make mention of their own good deeds; no, Christ will do that for them (v. 35); but it intimates that they who faithfully improve their talents, shall have boldness in the day of Christ, 1 Jn. 2:28–4:17. And it is observable that he who had but two talents, gave up his account as cheerfully as he who had five; for our comfort, in the day of account, will be according to our faithfulness, not according to our usefulness; our sincerity, not our success; according to the uprightness of our hearts, not according to the degree of our opportunities.

[2.] The master’s acceptance and approbation of their account, v. 21, 23.

First, He commended them; Well done, good and faithful servant. Note, The diligence and integrity of those who approve themselves the good and faithful servants of Jesus Christ, will certainly be found to praise, and honour, and glory, at his appearing, 1 Pt. 1:7. Those that own and honour God now, he will own and honour shortly. 1. Their persons will be accepted; Thou good and faithful servant. He that knows the integrity of his servants now, will witness to it in the great day; and they that are found faithful, shall be called so. Perhaps they were censured by men, as righteous overmuch; but Christ will give them their just characters, of good and faithful. 2. Their performances will be accepted; Well done. Christ will call those, and those only, good servants, that have done well; for it is by patient continuance in well-doing that we seek for this glory and honour; and if we seek, we shall find; if we do that which is good, and do it well, we shall have praise of the same. Some masters are so morose, that they will not commend their servants, though they do their work ever so well; it is thought enough not to chide: but Christ will commend his servants that do well; whether their praise be of men or not, it is of him; and if we have the good word of our Master, the matter is not great what our fellow-servants say of us; if he saith, Well done, we are happy, and it should then be a small thing to us to be judged of men’s judgment; as, on the contrary, not he who commendeth himself, or whom his neighbours commend, is approved, but whom the Lord commends.

Secondly, He rewards them. The faithful servants of Christ shall not be put off with bare commendation; no, all their work and labour of love shall be rewarded.

Now this reward is here expressed two ways.

1. In one expression agreeable to the parable; Thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things. It is usual in the courts of princes, and families of great men, to advance those to higher offices, that have been faithful in lower. Note, Christ is a master that will prefer his servants who acquit themselves well. Christ has honour in store for those that honour him—a crown (2 Tim. 4:8), a throne (Rev. 3:21), a kingdom, ch. 25:34. Here they are beggars; in heaven they shall be rulers. The upright shall have dominion: Christ’s servants are all princes.

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
Verses 31-46

We have here a description of the process of the last judgment in the great day. There are some passages in it that are parabolical; as the separating between the sheep and the goats, and the dialogues between the judge and the persons judged: but there is no thread of similitude carried through the discourse, and therefore it is rather to be called a draught or delineation of the final judgment, than a parable; it is, as it were, the explanation of the former parables. And here we have,

I. The placing of the judge upon the judgment-seat (v. 31); When the Son of man shall come. Observe here,

1. That there is a judgment to come, in which every man shall be sentenced to a state of everlasting happiness, or misery, in the world of recompence or retribution, according to what he did in this world of trial and probation, which is to be judged of by the rule of the everlasting gospel.

2. The administration of the judgment of the great day is committed to the Son of man; for by him God will judge the world (Acts 17:31), and to him all judgment is committed, and therefore the judgment of that day, which is the centre of all. Here, as elsewhere, when the last judgment is spoken of, Christ is called the son of man, because he is to judge the sons of men (and, being himself of the same nature, he is the more unexceptionable); and because his wonderful condescension to take upon him our nature, and to become the son of man, will be recompensed by this exaltation in that day, and an honour put upon the human nature.

3. Christ’s appearing to judge the world will be splendid and glorious. Agrippa and Bernice came to the judgment-seat with great pomp (Acts 25:23); but that was (as the original word is) great fancy. Christ will come to the judgment-seat in real glory: the Sun of righteousness shall then shine in his meridian lustre, and the Prince of the kings of the earth shall show the riches of his glorious kingdom, and the honours of his excellent majesty; and all the world shall see what the saints only do now believe—that he is the brightness of his Father’s glory. He shall come not only in the glory of his Father, but in his own glory, as mediator: his first coming was under a black cloud of obscurity; his second will be in a bright cloud of glory. The assurance Christ gave his disciples of his future glory, might help to take off the offence of the cross, and his approaching disgrace and suffering.

4. When Christ comes in his glory to judge the world, he will bring all his holy angels with him. This glorious person will have a glorious retinue, his holy myriads, who will be not only his attendants, but ministers of his justice; they shall come with him both for state and service. They must come to call the court (1 Th. 4:16), to gather the elect (ch. 24:31), to bundle the tares (ch. 13:40), to be witnesses of the saints’ glory (Lu. 12:8), and of sinners’ misery, Rev. 14:10.

5. He will then sit upon the throne of his glory. He is now set down with the Father upon his throne; and it is a throne of grace, to which we may come boldly; it is a throne of government, the throne of his father David; he is a priest upon that throne: but then he will sit upon the throne of glory, the throne of judgment. See Dan. 7:9, 10. Solomon’s throne, though there was not its like in any kingdom, was but a dunghill to it. Christ, in the days of his flesh, was arraigned as a prisoner at the bar; but at his second coming, he will sit as a judge upon the bench.

II. The appearing of all the children of men before him (v. 32); Before him shall be gathered all nations. Note, The judgment of the great day will be a general judgment. All must be summoned before Christ’s tribunal; all of every age of the world, from the beginning to the end of time; all of every place on earth, even from the remotest corners of the world, most obscure, and distant from each other; all nations, all those nations of men that are made of one blood, to dwell on all the face of the earth.

III. The distinction that will then be made between the precious and the vile; He shall separate them one from another, as the tares and wheat are separated at the harvest, the good fish and the bad at the shore, the corn and chaff in the floor. Wicked and godly here dwell together in the same kingdoms, cities, churches, families, and are not certainly distinguishable one from another; such are the infirmities of saints, such the hypocrisies of sinners, and one event to both: but in that day they will be separated, and parted for ever; Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, Mal. 3:18. They cannot separate themselves one from another in this world (1 Co. 5:10), nor can any one else separate them (ch. 13:29); but the Lord knows them that are his, and he can separate them. This separation will be so exact, that the most inconsiderable saints shall not be lost in the crowd of sinners, nor the most plausible sinner hid in the crowd of saints (Ps. 1:5), but every one shall go to his own place. This is compared to a shepherd’s dividing between the sheep and the goats; it is taken from Eze. 34:17, Behold, I judge between cattle and cattle. Note, 1. Jesus Christ is the great Shepherd; he now feeds his flock like a shepherd, and will shortly distinguish between those that are his, and those that are not, as Laban divided his sheep from Jacob’s, and set three days’ journey between them, Gen. 30:35, 36. 2. The godly are like sheep—innocent, mild, patient, useful: the wicked are like goats, a baser kind of animal, unsavoury and unruly. The sheep and goats are here feeding all day in the same pasture, but will be coted at night in different folds. Being thus divided, he will set the sheep on his right hand, and the goats on his left, v. 33. Christ puts honour upon the godly, as we show respect to those we set on our right hand; but the wicked shall rise to everlasting shame, Dan. 12:2. It is not said that he shall put the rich on his right hand, and the poor on his left; the learned and noble on his right hand, and unlearned and despised on his left; but the godly on his right hand, and the wicked on his left. All other divisions and subdivisions will then be abolished; but the great distinction of men into saints and sinners, sanctified and unsanctified, will remain for ever, and men’s eternal state will be determined by it. The wicked took up with left-handed blessings, riches and honour, and so shall their doom be.

IV. The process of the judgement concerning each of these.

1. Concerning the godly, on the right hand. Their cause must be first despatched, that they may be assessors with Christ in the judgement of the wicked, whose misery will be aggravated by their seeing Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, admitted into the kingdom of heaven, Lu. 13:28. Observe here,

(1.) The glory conferred upon them; the sentence by which they shall be not only acquitted, but preferred and rewarded (v. 34); The king shall say unto them. He that was the Shepherd (which bespeaks the care and tenderness wherewith he will make this disquisition), is here the King, which bespeaks the authority wherewith he will then pronounce the sentence: where the word of this King is, there is power. Here are two things in this sentence:

[1.] The acknowledging of the saints to be the blessed of the Lord; Come, ye blessed of my Father. First, He pronounces them blessed; and his saying they are blessed, makes them so. The law curses them for their many discontinuances; but Christ having redeemed them from the curse of the law, and purchased a blessing for them, commands a blessing on them. Secondly, Blessed of his Father; reproached and cursed by the world, but blessed of God. As the Spirit glorifies the Son (Jn. 16:14), so the Son glorifies the Father by referring the salvation of the saints to him as the First Cause; all our blessings in heavenly things flow to us from God, as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Eph. 1:3. Thirdly, He calls them to come: this come is, in effect, "Welcome, ten thousand welcomes, to the blessings of my father; come to me, come to be for ever with me; you that followed me bearing the cross, now come along with me wearing the crown. The blessed of my Father are the beloved of my soul, that have been too long at a distance from me; come, now, come into my bosom, come into my arms, come into my dearest embraces!" O with what joy will this fill the hearts of the saints in that day! We now come boldly to the throne of grace, but we shall then come boldly to the throne of glory; and this word holds out the golden sceptre, with an assurance that our requests shall be granted to more than the half of the kingdom. Now the Spirit saith, Come, in the word; and the bride saith, Come, in prayer; and the result hereof is a sweet communion: but the perfection of bliss will be, when the King shall say, Come.

[2.] The admission of the saints into the blessedness and kingdom of the Father; Inherit the kingdom prepared for you.

First, the happiness they shall be possessed of is very rich; we are told what it is by him who had reason to know it, having purchased it for them, and possessed it himself.

1. It is a kingdom; which is reckoned the most valuable possession on earth, and includes the greatest wealth and honour. Those that inherit kingdoms, wear all the glories of the crown, enjoy all the pleasures of the court, and command the peculiar treasures of the provinces; yet this is but a faint resemblance of the felicities of the saints in heaven. They that here are beggars, prisoners, accounted as the off-scouring of all things, shall then inherit a kingdom, Ps. 113:7; Rev. 2:26, 27.

2. It is a kingdom prepared: the happiness must needs be great, for it is the product of the divine counsels. Note, There is great preparation made for the entertainment of the saints in the kingdom of glory. The Father designed it for them in his thoughts of love, and provided it for them in the greatness of his wisdom and power. The Son purchased it for them, and is entered as the fore-runner to prepare a place, Jn. 14:2. And the blessed Spirit, in preparing them for the kingdom, in effect, is preparing it for them.

3. It is prepared for them. This bespeaks, (1.) The suitableness of this happiness; it is in all points adapted to the nature of a soul, and to the new nature of a a sanctified soul. (2.) Their property and interest in it. It is prepared on purpose for them; not only for such as you, but for you, you by name, you personally and particularly, who were chosen to salvation through sanctification.

4. It is prepared from the foundation of the world. This happiness was designed for the saints, and they for it, before time began, from all eternity, Eph. 1:4. The end, which is last in execution, is first in intention. Infinite Wisdom had an eye to the eternal glorification of the saints, from the first founding of the creation: All things are for your sakes, 2 Co. 4:15. Or, it denotes the preparation of the place of this happiness, which is to be the seat and habitation of the blessed, in the very beginning of the work of creation, Gen. 1:1. There in the heaven of heavens the morning stars were singing together, when the foundations of the earth were fastened, Job 38:4-7.

Secondly, The tenure by which they shall hold and possess it is very good, they shall come and inherit it. What we come to by inheritance, is not got by any procurement of our own, but purely, as the lawyers express it, by the act of God. It is God that makes heirs, heirs of heaven. We come to an inheritance by virtue of our sonship, our adoption; if children, then heirs. A title by inheritance is the sweetest and surest title; it alludes to possessions in the land of Canaan, which passed by inheritance, and would not be alienated longer than to the year of Jubilee. Thus is the heavenly inheritance indefeasible, and unalienable. Saints, in this world, are as heirs under age, tutored and governed till the time appointed of the Father (Gal. 4:1, 2); and then they shall be put in full possession of that which now through grace they have a title to; Come, and inherit it.

(2.) The ground of this (v. 35, 36), For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat. We cannot hence infer that any good words of ours merit the happiness of heaven, by any intrinsic worth or excellency in them: our goodness extends not unto God; but it is plain that Jesus Christ will judge the world by the same rule by which he governs it, and therefore will reward those that have been obedient to that law; and mention will be made of their obedience, not as their title, but as their evidence of an interest in Christ, and his purchase. This happiness will be adjudged to obedient believers, not upon a quantum meruit—an estimate of merit, which supposes a proportion between the work and the reward, but upon the promise of God purchased by Jesus Christ, and the benefit of it secured under certain provisos and limitations; and it is the purchase and promise that give the title, the obedience is only the qualification of the person designed. An estate made by deed or will upon condition, when the condition is performed according to the true intent of the donor or testator, becomes absolute; and then, though the title be built purely upon the deed or will, yet the performing of the condition must be given in evidence: and so it comes in here; for Christ is the Author of eternal salvation to those only that obey him, and who patiently continue in well doing.

Now the good works here mentioned are such as we commonly call works of charity to the poor: not but that many will be found on the right hand who never were in a capacity to feed the hungry, or clothe the naked, but were themselves fed and clothed by the charity of others; but one instance of sincere obedience is put for all the rest, and it teaches us this in general, that faith working by love is all in all in Christianity; Show me thy faith by thy works; and nothing will abound to a good account hereafter, but the fruits of righteousness in a good conversation now. The good works here described imply three things, which must be found in all that are saved.

[1.] Self-denial, and contempt of the world; reckoning the things of the world no further good things, than as we are enabled to do good with them: and those who have not wherewithal to do good, must show the same disposition, by being contentedly and cheerfully poor. Those are fit for heaven that are mortified to the earth.

[2.] Love to our brethren; which is the second great commandment, the fulfilling of the law, and an excellent preparative for the world of everlasting love. We must give proof of this love by our readiness to do good, and to communicate; good wishes are but mockeries without good works, Jam. 2:15, 16; 1 Jn. 3:17. Those that have not to give, must show the same disposition some other way.

Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible by Matthew Henry [1706]

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