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The parable of the unjust steward. Christ reproveth the hypocrisy of the covetous Pharisees. The rich glutton, and Lazarus the beggar.
Anno Domini 31.
Luke 16:1. And he said also unto his disciples,— The maliciousness of the Pharisees, and the obstinacy with which they opposed every thing that was good, led our Saviour to expose their evil hearts and vile practices to public view. Wherefore, he did not content himself barely with justifying his receiving sinners, in order to convert them; but, while the scribes and Pharisees were present, he turned to his disciples, and spake the parable of the crafty steward, whom he proposed as an example of the dextrous improvement which worldly men make of such opportunities and advantages as fall in their way for advancing their interest. By this parable Jesus designed to excite his disciples to improve in like manner the advantages which they might enjoy, for advancing their own spiritual welfare; and particularly, to spend both their time and their money in promoting the conversion of sinners; which, of all the offices in their power, was the most acceptable to God, and the most beneficial to mankind.
Luke 16:3. I cannot dig;— Commentators have shewn that the word σκαπτειν, which we render to dig, signifies in general to cultivate the land, and especially to prepare it for seed, which was one of the most laborious parts of the husbandman's work; in which day-labourers were employed; and consequently most fit to be mentioned by this steward, who, having been used to a delicate and luxurious way of living, would naturallythink of such a change of life inthe most discouraging view. The expression ουκ ισχυω, I am not able, or strong enough to do it, has also a peculiar beauty in this view, which is lost in our translation, and in most others.
Luke 16:4. I am resolved— Anciently, stewards, besides taking care of their master's domestic affairs, gave leases of their lands, and settled the rent which each tenant was to pay; which is not an unusual mode in these days. Accordingly, the steward in the parable made use of this branch of his power to purchase the good-will of his lord's tenants. Having racked their rents in the leases which he had lately given, he now determined that they should have their possessions on the same terms as formerly. This interpretation of the parable may be gathered, not only from the nature of the thing, but from the proper sense of the words χρεωφειλετης and γραμμα, the one signifying any kind of debtor, and among the rest a tenant; and the other, any kind of obligatory writing, and among the rest a lease: besides, in this light, the favour which was done to the tenants was substantial, and laid them under lasting obligations: whereas, according to the common interpretation, the steward could not propose to reap so much benefit from any requital which the debtors would make to him for the sums forgiven them, as these sums were worth to himself; and therefore he might rather have exacted them, and put them in his own pocket.
Luke 16:5-6. So he called—his lord's debtors— Calling the tenants, he intimated his purpose; and whereas one by his bargain bound himself to pay yearly a hundred βατους, [from the Hebrew בתים, betim] baths of oil, each bath equal to seven gallons, four pints, and a half, English measure]—he let him have the land for fifty: and whereas another was to pay an hundred κορους, Luke 16:7. [from the Hebrew כור kur] homers of wheat, yearly, each homer being equal to eight bushels and a half, Winchester measure]—he gave him his lease at eighty; and altered the obligatorywritings accordingly. As this homer containedten ephahs, or baths, (Ezekiel 45:11; Ezekiel 45:14.) and each of these latter ten homers, (Exodus 16:36.)—twenty homers, which the steward allowed the tenant to deduct, would on this computation contain a hundred and seventy bushels of wheat, and might be as valuable as fifty baths, or about three hundred and seventy-eight gallons of oil; so that the obligation conferred on both these debtors might be equal. Dr. Doddridge is rather of a different opinion: he supposes that the bill here mentioned, was something equivalent to a note of hand, acknowledging the receipt of so much oil, and promising payment of it; the alteration of which plainly shews how much they are mistaken, who suppose that the steward did no wrong to his master in this affair, but only gave the debtors the value of what he set off out of his own stock: for, not to say how improbable it is that this bankrupt should be able or willing to make such a considerable present, it is plain that if he had intended it, he would have let the account remain unaltered; but by the exchange of bills, he craftily made each of the debtors an accomplice with himself in defrauding his lord, and thereby provided against a discovery.
Luke 16:8. And the lord— αυτου, his lord, is implied; for it is Jesus, and not the evangelist, who speaks this, as is plain both from the structure of the parable itself, and from the application which Jesus makes of it inthe next verse. By mentioning the commendation which the rich man bestowed upon his steward, our Lord does not mean to approve of the man's knavery, which is sufficiently branded by the epithet of unjust here given him by Jesus himself; neither was it designed to give countenance to the fraud of any person on any account whatever; nor to the conduct of those who are liberal out of other persons' goods. The wisdom of the steward in making himself friends, is that alone which is commended by his lord, and proposed by Jesus as worthy the imitation of his disciples,—not the method by which he made them: or if that be commended, it is commended only as wise, in relation to the plan that he had laid down; there being nothing more common among men than to commend the ingenuity shewn in a fraud, while they condemn the fraud itself. Sir D. Dalrymple observes, that "these debtors seem to have been coloni partiarii, who paid a portion of the fruit of the ground to the master. By lessening the charge of this proportion of fruits, the debtors were relieved. Or we may suppose, that the steward discharged the tenants of one half of the rent without receiving payment, and of consequence charged himselfwithit.Beingbankrupthimself,hemightbeindifferentwhatchargewasagainst him; while, by discharging the tenants, he did a friendly office to them. There is no reason for supposing that the master discovered this fraud; because the phrase he acted wisely, or prudently, may signify 'because he accounted well;' or that the master commended his accounts, because he had acted cautiously, so as to conceal his frauds." Upon the whole, the calumnies which Julian and Porphyry have thrown out against our Lord on account of this parable, are altogether groundless; its true scope being to teach those who have their views extended to eternity, to be as active and prudent in their schemes for the life to come, as the children of this world are for the present; and particularly to do to others all the good offices founded on gospel principles in their power—a duty highly incumbent on those whose business it is to reclaim sinners, not only because sinners are in themselves fit objects of charity as well as saints, but because charitable offices done to them, may have a happy tendency to promote their conversion: but we are to do good especially to those who are of the household of faith:—that this was the lesson which Jesus intended to inculcate by the parable, is evident from his application of it.
Luke 16:9. And I say unto you, &c.— Our Lord's advice is worthy of the most serious attention; the best use that we can make of our riches being to employ them in promoting the salvation of others. For, if we use our abilities and interest in bringing sinners to God, if we spend our money in this excellent service, we shall conciliate the good-will of all heavenly beings, who greatly rejoice at the conversion of sinners, as was represented in the preceding parables; so that with open arms they will receive us into the mansions of felicity. And therefore while self-seekers shall have their possessions, and honours, and estates, torn from them with the utmost reluctancy at death, they who have devoted themselves, and all that they have, perseveringly to the service of God, shall find their consumed estates to be greatly increased, and their neglected honours abundantly repaired, in the love and friendship of the inhabitants of heaven, and in the happiness of the world to come; and shall rejoice in having disposed of their wealth to such an advantage. Dr. Heylin, instead of the mammon of unrighteousness, reads the false mammon; and so in Luke 16:11. And he observes, that it is literally mammon of injustice: so in the preceding verse, the steward of injustice; and in ch. Luke 18:6 judge of injustice; all which may be rightly rendered, the unjust, or false judge,—false steward, and false mammon; for truth and justice, with their derivatives, are often convertible terms in scripture, and sometimes in modern language. That our Lord does not mean unrighteous, or ill-gotten, but false and uncertain riches, is plain from Luk 16:11 where unrighteous mammon is not opposed to righteous but to true. Nothing can be more contrary to the whole genius of the Christian religion, than to imagine that our Lord would exhort men to lay out their ill-gotten goods in works of charity, when justice so evidently required that they should make restitution to the utmost of their abilities. When ye fail, means when ye die; and it is with apparent propriety that our Lord suggests the thought of death, as an antidote against covetousness. Strange it is that so many, on the very borders of the grave, should be so wretchedly enslaved to that unreasonable passion! Mr. Henry observes on the expression Make to yourselves friends, that parables must not be forced beyond their primary intention; and therefore we must not hence infer, that any one can befriend us, if we lie under the displeasure of our Lord: but that in the general, we must so lay out what we have in works of piety and charity, as that we may meet it again with comfort on the other side of the grave. Instead of that they may receive you, some read, that they may make you be received.
Luke 16:10. He that is faithful, &c.— "If you make that use of your riches which I have been recommending, (which of course implies living faith, the grand principle of all good works) you shall be received into those everlasting habitations, where all the friends of goodness dwell; because by your fidelity in managing the small trust of temporal advantages committed to your care, you shew that you are capable of the much greater trust of heavenly honours and employments.Whereas, if you do not use your riches or temporal advantages for the glory of God, and the good of mankind, you shall be banished for ever from the abodes of the blessed; because, by behaving unfaithfullyin the small trust committed to you, you render yourselves both unworthy and incapable of a share in the everlasting inheritance."
Luke 16:11. The true riches?— The word riches is substituted by our translators, instead of mammon, which was the word that Christ intended, and which, for that reason, should find its place in the translation of this verse. Dr. Heylin renders it, If you have not been faithful in the false mammon, who will trust you with the true? See on Matthew 6:24.
Luke 16:12. That which is another man's,— Here, as in many of our Lord's discourses, the expression is so simple, and the sense so profound, that we need not wonder at its being overlooked. Our translation has supplied the word man without reason; for it is not man, but God, who is intended; to whom the riches and other advantages in our possession do properly belong; who has committed them to us only as stewards, to be laid out for the good of his family, and who may every moment call us to give an account of our management. The words that which is your own, do not signify that which is already our own, but that which is to be so: that, which, when it is conferred upon us, shall be wholly in our power, and perpetually in our possession; shall be so fully our own, that weshall never be called to account for the management of it. Our Lord's meaning therefore is, "If you have dared to be unfaithful in that which was only a trust committed to you by God for a short time, and of which you knew you were to give him an account; it is evident, that you are not fit to be entrusted by him with the riches of heaven,—these being treasures, which, ifhe bestowed them on you, would be so fully your own, that you would have them perpetually in your possession, and never be called to an account for your management of them." This verse is well expressed, though not exactly rendered in the version of 1729; If you have embezzled what another gave you in trust, how can he give you an estate in perpetuity? Probably our Lord may allude to a custom of rewarding faithful stewards, by giving them some part of the estates which they had managed.
Luke 16:13. No servant can serve, &c.— "Beware of indulging even the least degree of covetousness, for it is absolutely inconsistent with piety; insomuch that a man may as well undertake at one and the same time to serve two masters of contrary dispositions and opposite interests, as pretend to please God, while he is anxiously pursuing the world for its own sake." In this manner did our Lord recommend the true use of riches, power, knowledge, and the other advantages of the present life, from the consideration that they are not our own, but God's; that they are only committed to us, as stewards, to be employed for the honour of God, and the good of mankind; that we are accountable to the proprietor for the use we make of them, who will reward or punish us accordingly; and that every degree of covetousness is such a serving of mammon, as is really idolatry, and altogether inconsistent with the duty that we owe to God.
Luke 16:14. And they derided him.— The original word is very emphatical; εξεμυκτηριζον : "They mocked him by a scornful motion of the mouth and nose,"—as well as by what they spake to him. The word might be rendered they sneered. There was a gravity and dignity in our Lord's discourse, which, insolent as they were, would not permit them to laugh out; but by some scornful air they hinted to each other their mutual contempt.
Luke 16:16-18. The law and the prophets were until John:— Our Lord having in the preceding verse developed the specious and hypocritical pretences of the Pharisees, observes to them, with respect to his own conduct, which they blamed so much, that the law and the prophets, the dispensation which made a distinction between men, accountingsome clean and others unclean, continued till John came; and that from the commencement of his ministry, the kingdom of heaven, or gospel dispensation, was in some degree preached, which admitted all persons upon repentance, without distinction:—every man presseth into it, harlots, publicans, and sinners. Yet lest they might have imagined that in speaking thus, he lessened the authority of the law, (by which the distinction between clean and unclean things had been established,) he added, Luke 16:17. It is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than for one tittle of the law to fail."The ceremonial and typical law must befulfilled in me, as well as the law of innocence; and the moral in the righteousness of my followers (Matthew 5:17.): and to shew how far I am from allowing the least breach of the law, or countenancing impurity of life in my followers, I do absolutely condemn a practical tenet very common among you, and teach in contradiction to it, that whoever putteth away his wife. &c." Luke 16:18. These hypocrites, while they feigned a high veneration for the law, bytheir exact observation of lesser duties, violated on many occasions its greatest and mostsacredprecepts.Forexample,they defiled themselves with the pollutions of lust; though they were so scrupulous of touching things unclean, that they would not go into the company of publicans, lest they might have been polluted by them. Nor was this an accusation without grounds; for their lust discovered itself by their frequent divorces. They put away their wives as often as they took any disgust at them, or liked other women better.
Luke 16:19. There was a certain rich man,— The reasoning made use of by our Lord in the preceding verses was clear and unanswerable; but the Pharisees, stupified with the intoxication of sensual pleasures, were deaf to every argument, how cogent soever, if it was levelled against their lusts. As an illustration therefore and confirmation of his assertion, and that he might rouse them out of their lethargy, he made the thunder of the divine judgments to sound in their ears, by this very strong and affecting parable of the rich man and the beggar; very similar whereto isa parable which the Jews have in their Gemara. The original, which we render fared sumptuously every day, is very expressive, "He delighted himself, and cheered his heart with sumptuoussplendour and luxury every day." It is remarked by Archbishop Tillotson on this parable, that our Saviour calls the poor man by his proper name, but only speaks of the rich man under a general appellation:—"I cannot but take notice," says he, "of the decorum which our Saviour uses. He would not name any rich man, because that was invidious: he endeavours to make all men sensible of their duty, but he would provoke none by any peevish reflection: for nothing is more improper than to provoke those whom we intend to persuade. While a man's reason is calm and undisturbed, it is capable of truth fairly propounded; but if once we stir up men's passions, it is like muddying of the water;—they can discern nothing clearly afterwards."
Luke 16:20-21. A certain beggar, named Lazarus,— An exceedingly emphatic name; for it seems to be derived from עזר לא Laozer, which signifies a helpless person. Some have imagined, from the name of Lazarus and the particular detail of circumstances, that this was a history: but this must be a groundless supposition, as the incidents are plainly parabolical; and some ancient manuscripts, particularly that of Beza at Cambridge, have at the beginning,—and he spake unto them another parable. Some versions after the words, from the rich man's table, add and no man gave unto him; which Grotius thinks is intimated in his wishing to be fed with the crumbs which the dogs used to gather. If so, it was with singular propriety that he who denied a crumb, is represented as unable to obtain a drop.—But I should rather think that this gloss is ill-placed, since it appears more probable that the beggar used to lie at the rich man's door, as receiving alms from thence. The word moreover, at the end of Luk 16:21 should rather be rendered yea; for it is undoubtedly mentioned as an aggravating circumstance of the poor man's distress. "He lay at the rich man's gate," says St. Chrysostom, "that he might have no excuse, saying, 'I saw him not.' He was full of sores, that he might be to the rich man a spectacle of his own mortality, seeing, in the body of Lazarus, to what he himself was subject: and he is set forth as requesting food, not as complaining of his sores,—to shew the greatness of that poverty which so exceedingly pressed him, that he forgot his bodily pains."
Luke 16:22. Carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom:— The Jews assigned this office to angels, and no doubt with the utmost propriety; considering how suitable it is to their benevolent nature, and to the circumstances of a departed spirit. The Greeks assigned guides to the souls of the dead, to conduct them to their respective seats. The expression Abraham's bosom alludes to the way of representing the entertainments of heaven, by sharing a magnificent banquet with Abraham and the other patriarchs. Compare ch. Luk 22:30 and Matthew 8:11. Nothing can better describe the honour and happiness of Lazarus, who had been in so wretched a condition before at the rich man's gate, than telling us that he was placed next to Abraham the friend of God, and so lay in his bosom. See John 13:23.
Luke 16:23. In hell, &c.— In the unseen world, as we have frequently observed is the meaning of the Greek word αδης . Both the rich man and Lazarus were in hades, though in different regions of it.
Luke 16:24. Dip the tip of his finger, &c.— The Hebrews drank their wine mixed with water; and large quantities of water, on one occasion or other, were used at their feasts. See John 2:6. There seems therefore, in this petition, a proper allusion to that custom. It is observable, that the rich man speaks as knowing Lazarus, and as supposing, Luk 16:28 that his brethren also might know him, on his appearing to them.—And shall not Abraham's children, when they are in paradise, know each other?
Luke 16:25. Son, remember that thou, &c.— Is it not worthy of observation, that Abraham will not revile even a damned soul?—shall then living men revile one another?—He tells the rich man, that in his life-time he received his good things, &c. Now, fully to understand this, we should consider that our Saviour's principal view in this discourse evidently was, to warn men of the danger of that worldly-mindedness, neglect of religion, and intenseness upon pleasure and profit, which is not so much any one vice, as it is the foundation of all vices. It is that which makes men regardless of futurity, and not to have God in their thoughts. It is that deceitfulness of riches, ambition, and voluptuousness, and that care of things temporal, which stifle all notions of religion, choke the word, and render it unfruitful. It is that temper which exposes a man to every temptation, and makes him ready to sacrifice theinterests of truth, holiness, and virtue, whenever they come in competition with the good things of this life, on which his heart is entirely set. But see this matter fully set forth in the Inferences at the end of the notes on chap. 12:
Luke 16:26-29. And besides all this, &c.— "Ah poor creature! the time of mercy and hope is now over: God has fixed such a vast and unpassable distance between the happy and the miserable by an irreversible decree and sentence, that if any of us were ever so desirous to go and relieve you, it would be absolutely impossible to do it; and it is as impossible for any of your distressed company to come to us, and share in our joys, though they were ever so earnest in attempting it." So the state of every soul at death is unalterably fixed. Then the rich man, despairing of any comfort for himself, said to Abraham, "I entreat thee, by all the tenderness of a father, to shew me, at least, so much favour, as to dispatch Lazarus to my father's house, where I have five brethren still living, who are your offspring too, that he may acquaint them with the true state of things in the eternal world: let him tell them what a dreadful condition my sins have brought me into; and let him warn them of the danger of treading in my steps, lest they share with me in my plagues, and increase my guilt and torment for having drawn them into ruin by my example."So, though there is no compassion or charityamong the damned, yet they are in fearful expectation of growing miseries from the reproaches of their companions in iniquity who are still upon earth; and as their punishment is already more than they know how to bear, they would fain have every thing prevented, that might add still further to their distress. To this Abraham replied, "No request can be granted to you, who are under an irrevocable sentence of damnation: and as to what you ask for your brethren, it is unreasonable: God will not go out of his appointed and settled way, to humour you or them: they have sufficient notices and warnings in the writings of Moses and the prophets, which they may read as often as they please, and which are read and preached in the synagogues every sabbath-day: if therefore they would escape the torments of the damned, and obtain the blessedness of the righteous, let them attend to those instructions which God has already afforded them." So sinners in a state of eternal damnation will find no expedient to prevent their increasing calamities; and sinnersunder the means of grace upon earth must stand or fall according to their use or abuse of those means, having no room to expect that Godwill convert them by visions from or into the other world, or go out of his ordinary and instituted way to save them.
Luke 16:30-31. But if one went unto them, &c.— It is uncertain whether the rich man by "one from the dead," meant an apparition or a resurrection. His words are capable of either sense; yet the quality of the persons to whom this message was to be sent makes it more probable that he meant an apparition: for, without doubt, the character which Josephus gives us of the Jews in high life, namely, that they were generally Sadducees, was applicable to those brethren: so that, disbelieving the existence of souls in a separate state, nothing more was necessary, in the opinion of their brother, to convince them, than that they should see an apparition, or spirit, from the invisible world. But Abraham tells the rich man, that if they hearkened not to Moses and the prophets, neither would they be persuaded to a thorough repentance and conversion, though one should arise from the dead to visit them; that is, If they be so immersed in vice as to be careless of a future state, and inattentive to the evidences of it, which God has already afforded them by the ministration of Moses and the prophets, they would, for the same reason, reject all other means whatsoever, which God should make use of for their conviction and conversion; even though he should send one from the dead to preach to them. Bishop Atterbury has fully and excellently shewn the justice of Abraham's assertion here, in his Discourse on this text, which deserves an attentive perusal, and to which we refer our readers with great pleasure. See Atterb. vol. 2: Serm. 2. The impenitence of many who saw another Lazarus raised from the dead, Joh 11:46 and the wickedness of the soldiers who were eye-witnesses to the resurrection of Christ, and who yet that very day suffered themselves to be hired to bear a false testimony against it, Mat 28:14-15 are most affecting and astonishing illustrations of this truth; for each of those miracles was far more convincing, than such an apparition as is here referred to, would have been.
Inferences drawn from the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Luke 16:19-31. From this parable we are taught several important lessons, as,
1. That one may be great and renowned, and highly esteemed among men, who is entirely obscure and vulgar in the sight of God, nay, and an abomination unto him; (see Luke 16:15.) for what can be greater or better in the eyes of men, than to live adorned with all the splendour of wealth, luxury, and honours;—and more disgraceful in the sight of God, than to be polluted with sin, and fit only for the flames of hell? On the other hand, the parable teaches, that some who appear mean and despicable to the eyes of their fellows, are men of great worth, and highly beloved of God. Wealth, therefore, and power, and grandeur, are not to be coveted, neither is poverty to be dreaded; since that honour which is the chief charm of the one, and that reproach which is the bitterest sting of the other, are in the aggregate of things without foundation.
2. We are taught, secondly, from this parable, that the souls of men are immortal; that they subsist in a separate state after the dissolution of the body, and that they are rewarded or punished according to our actions in this life;—doctrines very necessary to be asserted in those days, as well as the present; when it was fashionable, as now, to believe the mortality of the soul, and to argue in defence of that pernicious error. It farther teaches, that the miseries of the poor who have lived righteously, and the happiness of the rich who have lived wickedly, end with this life; that the several stations in which they have lived, together with the past occurrences and actions of their lives are distinctly remembered and reflected on by them; that the remembrance of past pains and pleasures will not lessen, but rather increase the joys of the one, and the sorrows of the other; and consequently, that we make a very false judgment of each other's condition, when we think any man happy because he is rich, or miserable because he is poor.
3. We are also informed, that men shall be punished hereafter for their worldly-mindedness, and heedlessness with respect to religious matter; for being immersed in pleasures, and for not using their riches aright, as well as for crimes of a grosser nature. In which view, it affords a fit caution to all the great and rich, to beware of the rocks on which they are most apt to split. This great man, who fell into the flames of hell, is not charged with murder, adultery, injustice, oppression, or lying; he is not even charged with being remarkably uncharitable. Lazarus lay commonly at his gate, and got his maintenance there, such as it was, or he would not have been laid there daily; nor would the rich man have desired Abraham to send him with a drop of water to cool his tongue, had he not imagined that gratitude would prompt him to undertake the office with cheerfulness. The rich man's sin, therefore, was his living in luxury and pleasure: which made him, on the one hand, neglect religion, for the cultivating of which he had the best opportunities; and, on the other, cherish atheistical principles, particularly such as flow from believing the mortality of the soul. If so, all who resemble this person in his character, should take warning by his punishment; nor delude themselves with the thought, that because they live free from the more scandalous vices, they shall escape damnation.
But in particular, all who make it their chief business to procure the pleasures of sense, neglecting to form their minds by all the means of grace to a relish of spiritual and divine pleasures, may in this parable see their sad, but certain end. They shall be excluded for ever from the presence of God, as incapable of his joys, although they may have pursued their pleasures with no visible injury to any person. But if men not accused of injustice in getting riches, are thus punished for the bad use that they have made of them, what must be their misery, who both acquire them unjustly, and use them sinfully!—And as this parable admonishes the rich, so is it profitable for the instruction and comfort of the poor; for it teaches them the proper method of bringing their afflictions to a happy issue, and shews them that God will distribute the rewards and punishments of the life to come impartially, and without respect of persons.
4. This parable teaches us the greatness of the punishment of the damned, Luke 16:23. And in hell he lifted up his eyes, &c. In what manner the flames of hell operate upon the damned, ever tormenting without annihilating, we are not able at present to explain. Additionally to these will be the never-dying worm. If wicked men retain the passions, appetites, and desires which were predominant in them upon earth, as it is highly probable they will, (see Galatians 6:7.)—these desires being for ever deprived of their objects, it must occasion a misery, which they only can conceive, who have felt what it is to lose, without hope of recovery, that which they are most passionately fond of; and to be racked with the violence of desires, which, they are sensible, can never be gratified. Or, although the passions themselves should perish with their objects, a direful, eternal melancholy must necessarily ensue from the want of all desire and enjoyment, the misery of which is not to be conceived. In such a state, the bitter reflections which the damned will make on the happiness that they have lost, must raise in them a dreadful storm of self-condemnation, envy, and despair. Besides, their consciences, provoked by the evil actions of their lives, and now, as it were, let loose upon them, will prove more inexorable than ravening wolves; and the torment which they shall occasion, will, in respect of its perpetuity, be as if a never-dying worm was always consuming them. And this latter torment will probably be far more terrible than the other; for the misery arising from those agonizing reflections must be of the most intense kind: and as there is not any thing in that state to divert the thoughts of the damned from them, they must be uninterrupted also, not admitting of the least alleviation or refreshment!
5. It appears likewise from the parable before us, that men's states are unalterably fixed after death; so that it is in vain to hope for any end of their misery who are miserable, and unreasonable to fear any change of their prosperity who are happy.
Lastly, we may observe from this parable, that if the evidences of a future state already proposed, do not persuade men, they will not be persuaded by any extraordinary evidences which can be afforded, consistently with the freedom requisite to render them accountable for their actions. The truth is, we do not call the reality of a future state in question, either because it is not demonstrated by sufficient arguments, or because we are not able to comprehend them. Every man has within his own breast that which leadeth him to the acknowledgment of this grand, this fundamental doctrine of religion;—a certain foreboding of immortality, which it is not in his power ever to banish. But, being addicted to sin, on account of the present pleasures attending it, we vehemently wish that there were no future state; and in consequence of these wishes, we will not allow ourselves to weigh the arguments offered on its behalf; and so at length come to work ourselves into an actual disbelief of it. Or, if the truth proving too hard for us, should constrain our assent, the habit of yielding to our passions which we labour under, has influence sufficient to make us act contrary to our convictions. Wherefore, though the evidence of a future state was more clear and forcible than it is, men might hinder themselves from seeing it, just as they hinder themselves from seeing the evidence by which it is at present supported. In a word, the proofs of the soul's immortality have always, through the grace of God, been sufficient to persuade those who have any candour or desire after goodness; and to demand more is unreasonable, because, though it were given, it might prove ineffectual. If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead. Accordingly, Abraham's assertion is verified by daily experience: for they who look on all that the eternal Son of God (who actually rose from the dead) has said concerning the punishments of the damned, as so many idle tales, would pay little regard to any thing that could be told them, even by a person risen from the dead.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, To direct us in the right improvement of worldly wealth, we have,
1. The parable of the unjust steward. God is our master and lord: all who are entrusted with any of his gifts, are his stewards, and should improve them to his glory. This man was accused of waiting his master's goods; and how justly liable are we to the same charge? How often have we abused the substance that we have enjoyed, and the abilities we have been blest with, to God's dishonour? In consequence of his ill management, he is called to an account, and ordered to leave the service; and a terrible reckoning will that be for us, if, hurried away by death, we are called to God's bar, cut off in the midst of our sins, and banished for ever from his presence. Too lazy to dig for his maintenance, and too proud to beg, he resolves, by deeper frauds, to secure for himself a maintenance; and calling privately his lord's debtors, whose accounts were in his hands, he agreed with them to draw a new state of their debts, abating twenty measures of wheat to one, and fifty of oil to another; thus endeavouring to make them his friends, that, when he was dismissed from his lord's service, he might have their houses to receive him. See the Annotations for another explanation. Note; (1.) One step in sin always tends to lead on to farther abominations. (2.) Pride and laziness often drive men to the most wicked methods to supply their wants, unable to bear the labours of honest industry for a subsistence, or to submit to ask relief. (3.) They who trust too much to stewards, and seldom inspect their own accounts, will usually suffer for it.
2. The lord commended the unjust steward's conduct; not as truly laudable in itself, but as an instance of foresight, care, and contrivance, worthy of imitation in a better way; for the children of this world, such as this man was, who place their happiness in earth and a portion here below, are in their generation wiser, act more prudently, and shew greater industry to secure worldly advantages, than the children of light do to obtain the infinitely more momentous acquisitions of grace and glory. Let us go to them, therefore, to learn, and be ashamed to see ourselves outdone in diligence by those who pursue a perishing world, when we have at stake the interest of an immortal soul and an aweful eternity.
3. Christ applies the parable to his disciples. I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, employ your worldly goods in such a way, as shall be to your own advantage in the day of judgment; that when ye fail, and at death this perishing world is left behind with all its enjoyments they may receive you into everlasting habitations, they who have received the comfort of your bounty, God's poor saints, or God himself, who will reward such works of faith and labours of love to the faithful, with everlasting glory. Note; (1.) This world's wealth is called the mammon of unrighteousness, or of deceit, because usually it is abused to the vilest purposes, and too often gotten by unjust and deceitful means. (2.) The only way of turning those riches to our advantage, which others abuse to their ruin, is by employing them for the glory of God, and the good of our fellow-creatures; and then they will be blessings. (3.) At death all things here below fail us, nothing of our earthly affluence can go down with us to the grave: unless we have sent our treasures before us, they can then afford us no satisfaction. (4.) Our one great business here below, is to secure for ourselves the everlasting habitations; and though no money can purchase a mansion in glory, yet will they, who have laid out their talents in God's blessed service, find themselves hereafter repaid with the richest interest.
4. Our Lord enforces his exhortation by the following arguments, (1.) That a constant mis-improvement of the gifts of God's providence must effectually exclude us from the treasures of his grace and glory; for as a servant who is faithful in a little matter gains our confidence to be entrusted with more;—so where he is unjust in trifles, no prudent master would care to employ him in matters of greater importance. If therefore we be unfaithful in the abuse of worldly things, it cannot be thought we should make a better improvement of the nobler talents, the means of divine wisdom and grace; and therefore these true riches he will justly withhold from us; and if we have behaved as dishonest stewards in that which God has entrusted us with, and which is not our own but his, how can it be expected that we should possess that good part, the riches of glory, which most properly may be called our own, if once possessed, as being bestowed, not as a talent to be improved, but as an eternal inheritance? (2.) It is impossible to serve two matters, God and mammon, because, their demands being opposite and contradictory, so far as we love and serve the world, we must hate and disobey God: and, on the other hand, if we love and serve him, we must be dead to the world, and ready to forego all its honours, interests, pleasures, and esteem, whenever they stand in competition with his glory. God requires the heart; he cannot suffer a rival, nor will admit of an allowed partition: to attempt to reconcile the inconsistent services of God and mammon, is all that the devil asks to ensure our ruin.
5.The Pharisees were highly offended with truths which touched them so nearly. Their character was drawn in this unjust steward; and their covetous, worldly-minded hearts, under all their most plausible guise of religion, were the slaves of mammon: they treated him therefore with the greatest disdain and contempt. Note; (1.) The inordinate love of this world is the bane of many a fair professor. (2.) When the word of God presses the conscience hard, the obstinate sinner often affects to despise, and turn off with a laugh, what he feels himself unable to answer. (3.) If we be treated with insult and derision by those to whom we minister the Gospel, let us remember that Jesus our Master endured the like treatment before us.
6. Christ sharply rebukes their hypocrisy and worldly-mindedness. He despised their reviling, yet warns them of their ruin, that they might yet repent of their sins, before it was too late. Ye are they which justify yourselves before men, pretending the strictest piety and most scrupulous devotion; but God knoweth your hearts, that they are full of deadly poison, of pride, envy, covetousness, falsehood, and oppression: for that which is highly esteemed amongst men, these pompous shows of exterior sanctity, is abomination in the sight of God, who sees the odious principles which actuate your whole conduct, and abhors all your pretended services. Note; (1.) The most rigid services of mere formal religion, instead of justifying men before God, render them only the more abhorred. (2.) The opinion of the world is a very fallacious rule of judgment: usually the most admired characters in the eyes of men, are in the Divine regards an abomination; and they who are set up as patterns of piety, will be found in fact a sink of iniquity.
7. He turns to the poor publicans and sinners, whom the Pharisees despised, encouraging them to press into that kingdom which his grace had opened to them. The Old Testament dispensation was now at its close; the prophesies concerning the Messiah were about to receive their accomplishment; and the free grace of the gospel to be universally published through the world; when the distinction of Jew and Gentile should cease. Every sinner therefore, without exclusion of any, is welcome to the Saviour, and sure to find mercy, if he come to him. And these glad tidings engaged the hearts of many, whom the self-righteous Pharisees despised, to press into the Messiah's kingdom amidst all opposition. Note; They must strive against the world, who would enter into heaven.
8. He precludes an objection which his self-righteous enemies would be ready to start; that he meant to invalidate the authority of the divine law. No. The frame of heaven and earth shall sooner be dissolved, than one tittle of the law can fail; all the prophesies, types, and figures, must receive their accomplishment; the precepts, in their true spiritual meaning, were now more than ever explained by Christ's preaching, and magnified by his own obedience to them: and, far from admitting a laxer system of moral duty, this holy law must abide as the unchangeable rule of righteousness; and conformity to it would now be enforced by the strongest motives: as for instance, in the article of marriage: divorce, under the law of Moses, was permitted, to prevent greater evils; but under the gospel it is entirely prohibited, and marriage restored to its primitive institution, nothing being admitted as a plea for its dissolution, but unfaithfulness to the marriage-bed. Whoever therefore for any other cause putteth away his wife, and marries again, is an adulterer; as he is also, who shall marry her that is divorced. The gospel, wherever it is truly received, strikes at the root of corrupt affections, and engages us to walk, not after the flesh, but after the spirit.
2nd, The parable given us by our Lord, Luke 16:19, &c. seems to be particularly designed to rebuke the pride of the Jews, who, enriched with outward privileges, treated the poor Gentiles with disdain, as unworthy a place among the dogs of their flock; and yet there was grace in store for the poor diseased sinners whom they despised, while they themselves, through their unbelief and impenitence, would be rejected and ruined. It is also more generally applicable to what we see sadly verified every day, that rich epicures wallow in luxury, while God's dear children pine under want and hunger; whose end will be as it is here represented; where the veil is taken off from the world to come; and we behold the glories of the one, and the unutterable miseries of the other.
1. The state of a rich wicked man is set before us. There was a certain rich man, whose fortune enabled him to gratify every appetite: he appeared in the most splendid robes, equalling the majesty of princes, clothed in purple and fine linen, and his table was spread with every delicacy, he fared sumptuously every day. It may be said, where is the harm of this? he was born to his estate, and the expence was no more than he could afford. Admit the fact. The harm was not in the use, but the abuse, of the creatures of God. He lived a life of sensuality, and sat unconcerned about the miseries of others. And it is designed to teach us, (1.) That this world's riches are often given to those who know not God; and that his love and favour are never to be judged of by outward things. (2.) That wealth and affluence are dangerous to the soul, and, affording the means to gratify men's bestial appetites, often plunge them in perdition and destruction.
2. The state of a poor godly man. He is called Lazarus; and to the miseries of poverty was added the more afflicting portion of a nauseous disease: wanting a morsel of bread, overspread with ulcers, without even rags to cover them, unable to walk, he is carried to the rich man's gate, and laid on the cold ground, desiring to be fed, if but with the crumbs which fell from the table. We hear no complaints from him, no murmuring at his condition. Behold here the condition of a dear saint of God; and learn of him, (1.) Not to estimate a man's spiritual state by his afflictions: for it is often seen, that those whom the Lord most loveth, he is pleased most severely to exercise. (2.) Patient submission to God's providential chastisements is a gracious proof of our adoption.
3. Death at last came with a friendly hand to remove at once all the poor beggar's miseries. Emaciated with hunger and disease, worn down with pain and misery, he closed his eyes, and bid adieu to human wretchedness; seeking a refuge in the grave, where the wicked cease from troubling. We hear of no burial given him: perhaps some hole was dug to remove the nuisance out of the way; and, buried with the burial of an ass, not a friend perhaps followed the bier, not a tear was dropped over the grave: but he rests in peace; and now his eternal triumphs begin: attending angels, who minister for the heirs of salvation, and hover round their dying beds, received the departing spirit, and, on their wings mounting to the skies, shouted aloud, Lift up your heads, ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, that an heir of glory may come in. Led to his seat on high, admitted to the richest entertainments of that blest world, he is placed next to Abraham, and receives that distinguished honour of leaning on the patriarch's bosom. What a glorious prospect does this present! amidst all our present evils, how should such a hope support and comfort us! Death must be the farthest limits of the sufferings of a faithful soul; beyond the grave, all is happiness eternal, and bliss uninterrupted.
4. The rich man also died, and was buried. Probably his funeral was pompous, as his living was grand. A noble tomb received the corpse, and spices and perfumes made the clods of the valley sweet unto him; while perhaps charity wept on the monument, and the flattering marble proclaimed his munificence, liberality, and all the virtues that ever yet adorned man. How vain this pageantry! to which the body is now insensible: and the soul, alas! whither is it fled? In hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, the just punishment of his abused affluence: and now how changed are circumstances! He seeth with astonishment Abraham afar off, and Lazarus, the poor despised Lazarus, in his bosom, admitted to this state of high honour and dignity. Note; (1.) The misery of the wicked, and the happiness of the just, immediately commence at their death. (2.) Every sight which the damned behold, is aggravating; even the prospects of heaven can only torment them with the views of that glory, into which they must never enter.
5. In this fearful situation we have the rich man's request. He cried with eagerness and importunity, extorted by the pangs that he felt. How different from the songs of riot, that before echoed through his palace! Father Abraham, have mercy on me: perhaps in his cups he had ridiculed the old story of Abraham; or, it may be, he had depended upon his outward privileges as descended from him, but now found how vain were his expectations. Note; Many, who have never prayed before, may pray loud enough in hell, but pray in vain. His request seems small, Send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his danger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame: how is his proud crest fallen? He little thought once that he should be so reduced. Observe, (1.) His complaint. I am tormented in this flame. Damned sinners have nothing but wrath before them, which preys like fire upon their souls, as much as their bodies shall be tortured by the everlasting burnings. They who will not hear and fear, and do no more wickedly in this day of mercy, will then feel, when every pang will be embittered with despair. (2.) The day is near, when they who despised the people of God, will be glad to receive from them the least favours.
6. Abraham's answer is most confounding and upbraiding: for in the state of the damned no requests are granted, not even a drop of water to cool a flaming tongue. They who neglect the day of grace, have nothing before them but misery, without abasement, and without end. 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. (1.) He addresses him as a son, the remembrance of which relation aggravated the guilt of his degenerate conduct. Our abused privileges will increase the measure of our guilt. (2.) He bids him remember; for conscience then will be awake, and self-tormenting reflections embitter every pang. The sinner will remember every means of grace that he has trifled with, every call of God that he has slighted, every affliction which he has misimproved, every blessing that he has abused. (3.) He reminds him of the good things which he had received, and misapplied; unthankful for them; placing his happiness in them; and, as he reckoned these during life his chief good, he had his all in hand, and nothing to expect after death but wrath to the uttermost. (4.) He leads him to reflect on the evil things that Lazarus had received; which he had patiently borne. (5.) He bids him now observe how the tables are turned: he is comforted; the miseries of a faithful child of God, however sharp, are, comparatively speaking, light afflictions, which are but for a moment: death will put an end to every sorrow, and instantly his everlasting bliss will commence. But thou art tormented: the triumphing of the wicked is but for a moment; that can carry nothing with them into the grave; and the joys and delights, in which they placed all their happiness before, will only make the change more terrible, when they are driven into the everlasting burnings, where there is weeping, and wailing and gnashing of teeth. (6.) He leaves him without hope of mercy, or prospect of the least relief: for, besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, impassable on either side; so that they who would pass from hence to you cannot: if a glorified saint wished to afford the least relief to damned sinners, it would be in vain: not that he will ever feel such a desire, but will approve and applaud the justice of God in their eternal torments. Neither can they pass to us that would come from thence: when once the soul enters into the state of damnation, despair seals up the door of mercy; no gleam of hope is ever again afforded: the decree once gone forth, is irreversible; as the tree falleth, it must lie. How awful! how awakening the thought! Sinner, hear, and tremble. The door of mercy is not yet shut against thee. Oh flee quickly thither. Cry mightily to God, if yet there may be hope; in a moment it will be too late to knock, when the door shall be shut.
7. Again he prefers another request, but meets with a second repulse. Since he is doomed in despair to suffer himself, he cannot, without increasing horror, reflect on meeting his brethren in that place of torment, whom he probably had been greatly instrumental to ruin by his bad example and influence, and whose upbraidings he wished to prevent: for not love of their souls, but desire to prevent an increase of his own misery, seems to have dictated the request. Earnestly therefore does he intreat, that if Lazarus may not come to him, he may go to them, and prevent their eternal ruin, if he may not alleviate his torment. Note; They who have been tempters to others, and companions in sin, will shortly become mutual tormentors. Abraham denies the request: it is unnecessary. They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. They wanted not the means of conviction and conversion, if they did not obstinately harden their hearts. Note; The scriptures are the ordinary means that God employs to turn men's hearts. They who neglect to attend to these sacred oracles, are left to their own devices, and sealed up under wrath.
8. Once more he redoubles his plea, yet meets with no more success. In the state of the damned no prayers are answered; it is here alone that prayers can profit us. He replied, Nay, father Abraham; though they may pay no regard to Moses and the prophets, (too long, it may be, accustomed so treat all revelation with contempt) yet, if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent: such a messenger must needs carry conviction along with him, and compel them to turn from the error of their ways. So ready are foolish men to be requiring evidence which God is not pleased to give, and which, should he comply with their request, would still be utterly ineffectual: for, as Abraham declares, if they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead. Indeed it is impossible that they should. One from the dead could not speak with more authority and certainty than the scriptures. We should have much more reason there to suspect a delusion, than in the oracles of truth. And though we might perhaps be terrified with the apparition, our hearts could never be changed thereby, since the power of God alone can effect that. We should by degrees recover from the fright, or be laughed out of our fears, and our corruptions would soon get the better of our convictions. The word of God therefore is ordinarily the only and sufficient means that he is pleased to use: it is presumption in us to prescribe, and folly to desire any other. If we harden our hearts against the warnings therein contained, visits from the dead, yea, being dragged through the belly of hell itself, and sent back again to earth, would be utterly ineffectual to convert our souls. To the law, therefore, and the testimony. Isaiah 8:19-20.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Luke 16". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany