Prof. Hanko is professor of Church History and New Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
“For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.”
Esteemed colleagues, students, members of the School Committee, and fellow saints:
As I was pondering these words of our Lord in preparation for convocation, what Jesus says here began to frighten me. After all, we have received of the Lord so very much; and Jesus emphasizes that for that very reason much is also required. That is a sobering thought as we look over our own place in Christ’s church.
As is clear from the context, the Lord is speaking of His second coming at the end of time. He is, as so often, stressing that His coming will be unexpected: He will come as a thief in the night. And because of the unexpected nature of His coming, it is incumbent upon His people that they live in a state of constant watchfulness and prayer.
To impress this calling upon the minds of His people, the Lord tells a parable. A man who is lord of vast estates departs from his household for a time. Prior to his departure he commits his household and the responsibility for its care to his servants. The time of his return, however, is not known, and this very uncertainty must serve as incentive to the servants to be faithful over that which the lord has entrusted to them.
But there are two kinds of servants. Some are faithful, and of them the Lord says, “Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching” (Luke 12:37). But some become convinced that the lord delays his coming and begin to beat the menservants and maidservants, to eat and drink, and to be drunken (Luke 12:45). A terrible punishment awaits them.
However, these unfaithful servants are again distinguished among themselves. The principle of distinction is the amount of knowledge of the lords will which they possess; and on the basis of that amount of knowledge which they possess, they are also punished: “And that servant, which knew his lords will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes” (Luke 12:47, 48a).
In connection with this parable, Jesus lays down the fundamental principle of the kingdom of heaven which we consider tonight: “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.”
It is evident that the Lord is speaking of His kingdom. In Luke 12:31, 32 he says, “But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you. Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
This kingdom is the heavenly kingdom which shall be realized in the new heavens and the new earth when Christ comes again. It is well to emphasize this in our day, for one of the great errors of today’s church is to make this kingdom of Christ an earthly kingdom realized here in this present history. But it is emphatically heavenly because it is the kingdom of God, perfectly established when the full purpose of God’s counsel is reached. It is a kingdom, therefore, of righteousness, established in the blood of the cross and through the power of the resurrection and ascension of Christ at God’s right hand.
Over that kingdom Christ rules as sovereign. His sovereignty is far greater than the sovereignty of any earthly monarch no matter how total and complete that monarch’s rule may be. Christ not only determines who are to be the citizens of that kingdom, but He makes His own citizens by the power of His shed blood. He rules over their lives totally and completely, assigning to each his place in that kingdom and giving to each his calling. Christ is so sovereign that all that happens within that kingdom comes to pass by His will. And outside the borders of that kingdom even the wicked who war against His kingdom are, under His sovereignty, pawns in His hand to serve the good of His kingdom. Christ rules over it, protects it, fights its battles, gains the victory for it, and leads the hosts of His citizens from victory to victory as the mighty Captain of their salvation.
But that kingdom, though it is to be finally established in all its perfection in heaven, is manifested on earth. And, while the manifestation of that kingdom of earth embraces the whole life and calling of God’s people as citizens of that kingdom, it is particularly manifested in the church. The church and the kingdom are not the same. The church is the body of Christ; the kingdom is the sphere of Christ’s absolute rule of grace.
Yet, the two are inseparably related to each other. Through the church the gospel of the kingdom is preached. And that gospel of the kingdom is the power by which the citizens of the kingdom are called out of the kingdom of darkness into citizenship in the kingdom of God’s dear Son. By that gospel the citizens of the kingdom are brought into humble worship and service of their great King. Through the power of that gospel the kingdom is preserved and protected against all the forces of the kingdom of darkness. And, constantly strengthened by the preaching, the citizens of the kingdom go forth in the service of Christ to do all the work of the kingdom.
But the King is gone from the earth. He has traveled into heaven. And while He is absent He entrusts those who remain upon the earth with the work of the kingdom and church.
Within that church and kingdom the Lord has given a place to us as Protestant Reformed Churches. It is not a large place, but it is an important one. It is a small place, not only in comparison with that great multitude of redeemed who are already in heaven in the company of just men made perfect, but it is even a small place in comparison with the church of Christ which is now on earth. Yet, He has given us this place. And in that place the Lord has given us “much.” The “much” which He has given to us is very great. It is, in fact, so great that this “much’ is most probably “more” than He has given to any other church in the world. And that is what makes this text so frightening.
What is that “much” which the King of the church has given us?
First of all, in general, it is a great heritage of the truth. This heritage of the truth goes back to the very beginning of the New Testament era and includes in it the great creeds of the ancient church. It includes the glorious truths of sovereign grace as set forth by Augustine, the bishop of Hippo in the middle of the fifth century.
But even more than that, it includes the great truths of the Protestant Reformation: the three great “solas” which God restored to the church through the Reformers. “Sola Scriptura.” Scripture alone is the one authority for all of faith and all of life. “Sola Fidei.” It is by faith alone that we are justified, for our righteousness is only in the perfect work of Christ on the cross, and never in our works. “Sola gratia.” It is by grace, sovereign, unmerited, particular grace, that we are saved. And that great heritage is the priceless heritage for which countless saints have bled and died and which has been the treasure of the church since that time till today.
Yet, at the same time, that heritage of the truth includes that which is uniquely Protestant Reformed. This too must be mentioned, for it is that heritage entrusted to us through God’s work in our spiritual fathers by whose labors our own denomination was formed. It is a heritage not separate from that which comes down to us from bygone ages; it is a heritage of the great application of the truths of sovereign grace to two particular aspects of our confession and calling. It is the heritage of the truth of sovereign grace .as it applies to the “doctrine of God’s everlasting covenant of grace which He establishes with His people through Christ; and it is the truth of sovereign grace as it applies to the truth of the antithesis—that great principle which determines all the walk and calling of God’s people here in the world.
Based on that heritage, so distinctively ours, God has given us much more. He has given us pulpits occupied by ministers who faithfully preach and teach that heritage and who devote their lives and strength to the work of the church. He has given us faithful men who hold the offices of elders and deacons. It ought to give us pause that throughout the years of existence we have not lacked men of God, men of integrity, men of courage and zeal, who have been qualified by the King of the church to do this work upon which the welfare of the church depends. He has given us covenant homes and covenant schools staffed by dedicated teachers who devote their lives to the education of the seed of the covenant. And last, but not least, he has given us, now for over sixty years, our own Seminary where young men have been trained for the ministry in our churches. From that Seminary have come the men who have preached the gospel of the kingdom both in the established church and in the mission fields where the Lord has directed us. That Seminary has stood through good times and bad, working without interruption in the tasks of the church. And because of that Seminary our churches have not lacked faithful men who have gone forth into the church to feed the sheep of Christ.
All these gifts have been given by grace. In so many ways we have been and are unworthy of them. He has not given us this great “much” because we have done anything to deserve it. Quite the opposite is true. It is humbling and frightening to think of how we have forfeited all claim to such a great favor. But freely and graciously, with sovereign love, the great King has bestowed upon us this marvelous “much.”
Yet, to whomsoever much is given, from him much shall be required.
What is the “much” that is required?
It ought, I think, to be obvious first of all that, most basically, what the King requires of those to whom much is given is faithfulness. If the great “much” which we have been given is especially that one heritage of the faith, then faithfulness is above all what is required. And faithfulness, in turn, requires that we hold fast to what we have received, know it, understand it, love and cherish it, commit it faithfully to generations yet to come, and take that treasure and develop it further. Yes, also this latter. For the riches of the knowledge of God in Christ which are our salvation are glorious treasures of the Scriptures which are an inexhaustible mine of the truth.
But to be faithful in that way is also to have a deep appreciation for that heritage. We always, as is true of the church of all ages, are in peril of forgetting it. Or, which is worse, we are in danger of becoming so accustomed to it that we begin to take it for granted and fail to realize its worth. It we do not appreciate the “much” which God has given, we make ourselves unworthy of keeping it, and the “much” that we receive can and will be taken away. One does not give a priceless diamond to a two-year old child, for the child does not and cannot appreciate its worth. One does not entrust the keeping of a costly piece of fragile crystal to a small boy with a muddy face who can hold nothing safely in his hands except perhaps a football. A church can make herself unworthy of being the beneficiary of a great treasure. God sent in judgment upon the nation of Israel a famine of the Word because Israel no longer considered it the priceless treasure it was. Thankful appreciation is always the key to faithfulness. And such thankful appreciation is humble recognition that what we receive is given in grace.
And so, because this is Seminary convocation, we can apply this very directly.
In the constant work of the Seminary, “much” is required of our people. It is required of our people that they hold fast to that truth which is and must be taught in the Seminary if we are to be faithful together. The d Seminary cannot remain faithful except in constant connection with the people of God in the churches. The Seminary is not “ours,” or the Synod’s; it is your Seminary. It belongs to God’s people. It is their school, their institution. It is the place which God has given to them to train young men.
It is often said, “As goes the Seminary, so go the churches.” And this is true, for history teaches us that heresy comes into the churches most often through the doors of the Seminary. But the opposite is also true. It is a great evil, in theological education in our country, that the Seminary is separated from the life of the churches. This spells its destruction. The Seminary must remain your school. To you it is accountable; you must expect from it and see to it that from its halls come men of God whose feet are beautiful upon the mountains to preach the gospel of peace.
The “much” that is required of you includes also the obligation to send to Seminary your sons. This is the “much” that is required of congregations and God’s people in their covenant homes.
We all know that God calls to the ministry and that, apart from that call, there is no man who can labor in this glorious task. But that truth does not negate the responsibility which Christ demands when He tells us that, having given us much, He also requires much.
There is sacrifice involved. No congregation, if it is selfish and self-centered, likes to give up its gifted and godly sons. No family, if it knows anything of the travail of the ministry, likes to see its sons in the cutting edge of the conflict of faith. But it is part of that great “much” which the King requires. It is required of you that you send us your sons.
And that same “much” includes your constant prayers: the prayers of pastors in the pulpits, the prayers of fathers at the dinner table with their children, the prayers of saints whose heart is with the cause of Christ and His church. Without your prayers which carry the Seminary on wings to the throne of grace, our work is impossible.
“Much” is required of professors. And to you tonight also I bring this sharp word of your King. To you much has been given brethren; from you much is required. It is an awesome calling indeed which falls upon us, for from this institution will come, in these days before our King returns, those who will labor in the ministry of the Word. To you especially is entrusted this great treasure of the heritage of the truth. To you is committed that glorious body of doctrine which countless saints before you have confessed. And belonging to the “much” that is required is surely this, that you (and I) be faithful to it, that we study it and learn it, that we commit it to faithful men who will be able to teach others, and that we develop it in order that the faith of generations yet unborn may stand in that tradition of the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
And “much” is required of our students. I am not speaking now especially of the much work—the reading, the studying, the mastery of material, the writing of papers, the producing of acceptable tests, etc. which keep you busy; although I hope and pray that our Seminary never becomes academically deficient. But I am speaking of the fact that you too are the heirs of this great heritage. You are here to be prepared, not only intellectually but also spiritually, for the calling to bring the Word of the truth to the church and to the mission fields of Christ. Indeed, much is required of you.
The contrast of the Lord’s words is sharp: Wicked servants and faithful servants. Wicked servants shall be beaten. Faithful servants shall be blessed: “Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them” (Luke 12:37).
But secondly, the contrast is between those who have received little and those who have received much. From those who have received little, little is required. From those who received much, much is required.
It is this fear of punishment upon unfaithful servants and this longing hope of blessedness promised by the Lord which serves as the incentive to pursue our work with diligence and to give heed humbly to the “much” required.
The reward is the reward of grace. Our Belgic Confession, in beautiful words, describes this reward of grace as the crown with which God crowns His own gifts. It is all of grace. The calling is of grace, for it is a privilege to labor in the service of the King. The faithfulness required of laborers is given of grace. The reward of blessedness is of grace.
If we could not believe that, we would despair. Better it is then to lock the doors of the Seminary and board up the churches, for the “much” that the King requires is too much. It can come from grace and grace alone.
And that is why our work must be performed in complete dependence upon our King. We will not trust in men. We will not put our confidence in princes. We will not hope in the arm of flesh or in the promises of men. We will not rely upon chariots and horses. That will be futile and vain. Our trust and hope is in our King. To Him we look for all we need. From His hand we expect all things. Relying upon Him and confident of the unfailing faithfulness of His promises, we commit ourselves and all our needs to His gracious and sovereign care. He is, the sovereign King. From Him comes our all. Trusting in Him, all shall be well.