We have in this Chapter our Lord's account of an unjust Steward; and Christ's Observation upon the History. The Relation, also, of the Rich Man and Lazarus.
(1) And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him, that he had wasted his goods. (2) And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward. (3) Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig, to beg I am ashamed. (4) I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. (5) So he called everyone of his lord's debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord? (6) And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty. (7) Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? and he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore. (8) And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. (9) And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations. (10) He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least, is unjust also in much. (11) If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? (12) And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man's, who shall give you that which is your own? (13) No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other; ye cannot serve God and mammon.
I differ from all writers who class this account here given, of an unjust steward, among the parables of Christ. To me, I confess, it differs altogether from the plan and design of all our Lord's parables, and cannot, I think, be explained upon any principles whatever in relation to God, as the certain rich man here spoken of, or any of the Lord's stewards. I am led to conclude, that it is a real history, which Jesus knew, and from which the Lord took occasion to raise instructions of profit to his people.
The certain rich man cannot mean God, for though he, and he only is rich; and all mankind are, in a certain sense his stewards; yet his servants, who are the stewards of the mysteries, are anointed with the Holy Ghost, and as such, are faithful. 1 Corinthians 4:1-2. And although it may be said that Judas is an exception, yet none of the characters given in the history of this unjust steward, answer to him. But it is highly probable, that both the rich man and this unjust steward, were men of this world; for the servant, acting with the worldly policy he did, and the master commending that policy, very strongly prove that they were both under the sole influence of worldly motives; but Christ's stewards are not of this world. John 17:16.
The mistake in supposing that God is the rich man intended to be set forth, perhaps arose from the general scope of our Lord's parables on this ground; and also from supposing, that when Jesus said the Lord commended the unjust steward, he meant God the Father, or himself the Lord Jesus Christ. But not to observe how impossible this could be, from causes too plain to insist upon, if the Reader will read the whole attentively, he will find that it is the steward's Lord which commended him for his worldly wisdom, in providing an home to go to, when he was turned out of his, and not the Lord Jesus. What shall I do? (said the steward,) for my Lord taketh away from me the stewardship. It is the same Lord Which is said to commend him, and that for his policy.
And that this is the case, is still farther evident from our Lord's words which follow, where Jesus speaks to his disciples by way of making improvement from this history. He speaks in the first person when speaking of himself; but when speaking of the Lord of this steward, he speaks of him in the third person. I say unto you (saith Christ) make to yourself friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, etc. Whereas, when Jesus summed up the close of this man's history, he said of him: And the Lord (that is the Lord of this unworthy servant) commended the unjust steward because he had done wisely. And here ends the relation of the history; for the next words are Christ's first observation upon it: For the children of this world are, in their generation, wiser than the children of light. A strong, but melancholy truth: and the children of light, to their sorrow, but too fully know it; for while men of the world are up and alive to every worldly artifice and contrivance, like this unjust steward, the children of God are cold, and lifeless, and barren in their grand concerns. And the reason is plain. Instead of walking by faith, we are too much engaged by sight. We are more flesh than spirit; have more of nature than grace. Lord, increase our faith!
But the most difficult part of this subject remains yet to be considered; for when our Lord adds, And I say unto you, make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, that when ye fail they may receive you into everlasting habitations. Certainly it requires much wisdom from the Lord, and much attention to Christ's expressions, to have a clear apprehension of his meaning. Some have supposed our Lord recommends, that by being generous to the poor, in the wise use of riches, which is the mammon of this world, that we should make to ourselves friends from those acts of mercy. But this would be like the Pharisees indeed, to seek God's favor by good deeds, and to bolster up the mind with pride, instead of lowering the soul in humility. Christ never preached a doctrine of this kind, but the reverse. Neither are the friends which Jesus exhorts his disciples to make, the poor whom they relieved by their bounty; for their good wishes go but a little way towards the soul's salvation; and they have no habitations, much less everlasting habitations, to receive their benefactors into, when they need them. I am free to confess, that no small difficulty lies in our way to enter into the full sense of our Lord's meaning; while I venture to believe, that the friends the Lord Jesus recommends his disciples to make, in order that they may be received, when they themselves fail, into everlasting habitations, cannot possibly mean that their wise use of riches will procure them. But amidst all the difficulty in explaining this passage, I conceive some light may be thrown upon it, from considering the drift of our Lord in the whole discourse.
It should be considered, that our Lord had been shewing how an unjust man, by worldly policy, contrived to get some men like himself to take him into their houses, when his Lord turned him out of his. Now (saith Jesus) as this man made himself friends of a worldly nature, do you seek to make to yourselves friends in grace. And as none but God can provide you with a perfect security of this kind, seek the Lord's friendship, detached from (for so the word may be rendered), that is, while you are in the midst of the mammon of un righteousness; and from the body of sin and death you carry about with you, and from the remains of indwelling sin which is in you, and in all the world around you, that when ye fail, as that all things out of Christ must shortly fail, they may receive you; that is, God, in covenant in Christ, may receive you into everlasting habitations. If this sense be admitted, the doctrine is agreeable to the whole tenor of the Gospel. And then, from the same kind of reasoning, the proverbial expressions which follow in the succeeding verses, may be explained on the same principles.
(14) And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things, and they derided him. (15) And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men, is abomination in the sight of God.
It was very natural to expect the hatred of the Pharisees would be called forth from our Lord's discourse. Pulling down to the ground the haughty pretensions of such men to divine favor, could not but excite their bitterest displeasure. And, Reader! what is it now? Let a real child of God venture to call in question the apparent zeal of the present day, and whisper only his doubts in the same words as Jesus hath here used: that what is highly esteemed among men, is abomination in the sight of God, and it will be well if he escapes as Jesus then did, with the derision only and scorn of the self-righteous Pharisee.
(16) The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it. (17) And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than one tittle of the law to fail. (18) Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband, committeth adultery.
The last of those verses hath been very fully considered in the subject, Mark 10:1, etc. And the first of them in the doctrine, hath been also somewhat noticed, Matthew 11:12. But on this subject I would take occasion in this place to add, that the pressing into the kingdom of God could never be meant by our Lord as intimating an holy pressure. That multitudes flocked to hear John preach, and so they did to hear Christ, is true; but this, for the most part, was mere curiosity, and, as Jesus told them, for the loaves and fishes. John 6:26. The kingdom of heaven suffering violence, means more, a persecution from the world than from the haste which mere sermon followers run to hear them, or from the earnest petitions of truly-awakened souls, who seek acceptance in Christ. And our Lord evidently in this place, as well as in the parallel one of Matthew, meant to say, that while his sheep knew his voice, and followed him, and he gave to them eternal life, the great mass of the Christ-despising age he was going in and out among, only pressed upon him to hear, but not to regard. See Matthew 11:16-26, and note.
(19) There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: (20) And there was a certain beggar, named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate full of sores, (21) And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. (22) And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died, and was buried: (23) And in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom: (24) And he cried, and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue: for I am tormented in this flame. (25) But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy life-time, receivedst thy good things; and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. (26) And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed; so that they which would pass from hence to you, cannot: neither can they pass to us that would come from thence. (27) Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: (28) For I have five brethren: that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. (29) Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. (30) And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. (31) And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one arose from the dead.
We have here a most interesting relation, given by our Lord under the similitude of a parable, in a wonderful contrast between a rich man clothed in Tyrian purple, and a poor man as miserably wretched in respect to this world's good, as the possibility of the human state could admit. Yet, notwithstanding these outward circumstances, the poor man is shewn to have been a child of God, and an heir of the kingdom, while the rich man was found to have been a child of the devil, and an heir of hell. The circumstances of both are drawn by Christ in the most striking and finished manner; and the improvements the Lord intended from the representation to the Church, are too plain to need a comment.
Everything in the picture of the poor man but one feature corresponds to Christ himself; and were it not for that one striking particularity, we might be led to conclude that the Lord Jesus is the Lazarus of the parable. But that one wholly precludes such an application; for though the Lord Jesus was poor indeed, yet not a beggar: for had he been so, be could not have answered the law, which suffered no beggar in Israel. But in every other sense, the humbled and debased state of Christ was in correspondence to Lazarus. He was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities. His death, his ascension to glory, and the rejection of his name and Messiahship, brought on the awful judgments which followed. But on these points we need not enlarge in this parable.
The awful close to the rich man's luxury, and the cries uttered by him in hell, are strongly marked. And the total impossibility of any recovery from thence, is not only read here, but through all the word of God. There can be no change without grace in the heart; and where there is no grace, there is no salvation. See an equally awful account, Psalms 49:6-14.
Reader! in beholding the character of this unjust steward, let us learn to seek from God grace, that we may be found faithful. And let us, in putting the question to our own hearts, which he put to everyone of his Lord's debtors, do the reverse of what he recommended, and instead of lessening our account, learn to discover that they far exceed our own views of them. Oh! thou blessed Lord! I owe thee more in nature, providence, and grace, than any calculation can number. So much so, O Lord! that I am insolvent forever. But, Lord! let thy grace still exceed even my unworthiness. Oh! grant that I may be received into thine everlasting habitations!
Blessed Jesus! cause me to learn, in the history of this rich glutton, how short-lived all pamperings of the flesh are; and what an awful close terminates the career of all who live without God, and without Christ, in the world. And let me be content to be as Lazarus, poor, if need be, here below, if rich in faith, and an heir of the kingdom. Be thou, dear Lord! my portion, and then all is well. Every state sanctified in Christ is, and must be, blessed. Lord! grant that I may exercise an holy jealousy in all; and by making thee what God the Father hath made thee, both Alpha and Omega; my Lord may be the first in all my desires, and the close of all my joys; for then in life and death, both here and hereafter, Jesus will be my everlasting portion.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Luke 16". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany