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ESSAY XXII. .
ON THE CHRISTIAN'S IMPROVEMENT OF HIS TALENTS.
When the humble penitent has obtained peace of conscience by faith in Christ, and enjoys a prevailing hope of eternal life; he will be disposed, in proportion as his views are distinct and consistent, to inquire seriously by what means he may most effectually glorify the God of his salvation, and do the greatest good to mankind, during the remainder of his days. For “the love of “ Christ,” in dying on the cross to deliver sinners from the wrath to come, and to purchase for them, everlasting felicity; and in calling him to partake of so inestimable a blessing; “ will constrain him “ to live no longer to himself, but to him who “ died for him and rose again.' This will induce him to consider very attentively what advantages or opportunities his situation affords, of promoting the honour of the Redeemer's name; the peace, purity and enlargement of his kingdom ; the comfort and edification of his people; and the welfare, temporal and eternal, of the human species. These opportunities and advantages are commonly called talents, from the parable which our Lord spoke on this subject;' and doubtless this portion of scripture, and that coincident with it,” relate entirely to the subject under consideration; and cannot reasonably be thought to point out the method of salvation, as if the improvement of natural powers or common grace could merit or procure special grace, as some have confusedly argued. For, indeed, special grace produces the inclination and disposition to use natural powers, and all other advantages, aright.
1 Matt. xxv. 14-30.
? Luke xix. 11-27.
There are various endowments and opportunities which may be improved to the best of purposes, but which wicked men employ in gratifying their base lusts, to the increase of their own guilt, and the injury of all around them ; and which formal professors of religion, who harbour hard thoughts of God and a secret dislike to his service, bury, as it were, in the earth. Of these the true disciple of Christ will avail himself: and, by occupying with the talent intrusted to him, he will become as “ the light of the world," and“ the “ salt of the earth.”! Every one has some measure of these advantages afforded him, according to the appointment of infinite wisdom; which also assigns to each person his station in the church and in the community: and, if a man profess the gospel, the use he makes of these advantages is one of the most decisive tests, by which the sincerity of that profession may be ascertained, and the degree of his grace estimated. But the improvement, and not the number of his talents, will be considered in the decision : " he that is faithful in that which is « least is faithful also in much :"3 and, whilst the servant to whom many talents have been intrusted
1 Matt, v. 13-16.
1 John iii. 17-20.
may be' more extensively useful, he that hath improved a very small portion will be equally favoured by his Lord. The poor widow's two mites may be more evidential of sincere love and fervent zeal, than the liberal donations of the affluent.
Every thing almost, which we are, or possess, or meet with, may be considered as a talent: for a good or a bad use may be made of all natural endowments or providential appointments : or they may remain unemployed, through inactivity and selfishness. Time, health, vigour of body, and the power of exertion, and ability to endure fatigue; the natural and acquired abilities of the mind, skill in any lawful art or science, and the capacity for close mental application ; the gift of speech, and that of speaking with fluency and propriety, and in a convincing, attractive, or persuasive manner; wealth, influence, or authority; a man's situation in the church, in the community, or in relative life; and the various occurrences which make way for him to attempt any thing of a beneficial tendency; these, and many others, that can scarcely be enumerated, are talents which the consistent Christian will improve to the glory of God and the benefit of mankind. Nay, this improvement procures an increase of talents, and gives a man an accession of influence, and an accumulating power of doing good : because it tends to establish his reputation for prudence, piety, integrity, sincerity, and disinterested benevolence; gradually forms him to an habitual readiness to engage in beneficent designs, and to conduct them in a gentle, obtrusive, and unassuming manner ; disposes others to regard him with increasing confidence and affection, and to approach him with satisfaction, and procures for him the countenance of many persons, whose assistance he can employ in accomplishing his own salutary purposes. For, as far as we are consistent in our views of our calling and business in the world, we shall, both in the concerns of our own salvation and in endeavouring to be useful, imitate the skilful mariner. who always keeps his port in mind, and gets forward in his voyage by making use of every wind, and availing himself to the utmost of every circumstance which arises from currents and tides, to accomplish his purpose. We shall, however, obtain a more distinct view of the subject, by selecting a specimen of these talents, and the improvement of which they are capable.
I. Power and authority constitute a most important trust, committed by the Great Ruler of the universe to some of the human race for the benefit of the whole. The scripture represents all power as originally derived from God; and all rulers as the ministers of his providence in governing the world ; who must render an account to him, both of the manner in which they acquired dominion, and the way in which they governed. Waving therefore all questions on these subjects, it suffices to say that too many, who in any way have exercised authority over their brethren, have made a very bad use of it. Ambition, vain-glory, lust of dominion, rapacity, caprice, envy, furious anger or dire revenge, superstition or impiety, have
often influenced them to employ the power intrusted to them, in exciting and waging bloody wars, destructive to their subjects as well as to foreigners ; in oppressing and burdening the poor; in favouring the exactions and oppressions which they ought to have restrained; in protecting and advancing the men whom they should have punished; in harrassing those whom it was their duty to protect; or in persecuting peaceable subjects for their religious opinions ; and thus augmenting, by
the miseries which they were exalted on purpose to remedy.
There have also been some who, as princes or magistrates, have upon the whole acted negatively well: they have not waged unnecessary wars, or molested their subjects by oppressions or persecutions; but have been peaceably contented with the splendour, dignity, and pleasures of their station, and left it to their servants to keep the machine of government in motion. They have indeed done far less mischief than some others : but they have not done the good incumbent on them ; nor prevented the evil which has been done, perhaps under the sanction of their names, and which they ought strenuously to have opposed ; so that they may be justly said to “ have buried their talent in - the earth.”
Other rulers and magistrates, from natural principles, have made in some measure, a salutary use of their authority. They have enacted good laws, and administered justice with a considerable degree of impartiality. They have taken care to preserve their country from foreign enemies; and yet have avoided war as far as they consistently