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Our Lord begins this chapter with the parable of the rich man's steward, who being called upon by his master to give up his accounts, in order to his being discharged from his office, casts about with himself what course he had best take to provide for his subsistence, when he should be turned out of his employment: at last he resolves upon this course; that he will go to his lord's debtors, and take a favorable account of them, writing down fifty for an hundred, that by this means he might oblige them to be kind to him in his necessity; this is the sum of the parable.
Now the scope and design of it is this: To exhort all men that are intrusted by God here with estates, honors, and authority, to make use of all these unto spiritual ends, the glory of God, and the benefit of others; for we are not proprietors and owners, but stewards only, of the manifold gifts of God, and must be accountable unto him for all at last; but in the mean time to use, employ, and improve our Lord's goods to the best advantage for ourselves, while we are entrusted with them; this is the scope of the parable.
Now the observations from it are these:
1. That all persons, even the highest and greatest of persons, are but stewards of the good things of God.
2. That our stewardship must and shall have an end; we shall not be always, no, we shall not be long, stewards.
3. That when we are put out of our stewardship, we must give an account of our carriage therein; and the greater our trust was, the heavier will our reckoning be.
4. That therefore it will be our highest prudence, while we are entrusted with our master's goods, so to use and improve them, as may make most for our comfort and advantage, when we give up our account.
Wisely, that is, discreetly, according to the wisdom of the men of this world, whose concern is only for the good things of this life. Christ commends him not absolutely, as a fit example to be followed in wasting his master's goods, but comparatively, as being worthy to be so far imitated by the children of light, as to take the same care to secure heaven as others do to get the world. Christ commends him no farther than we do a person, when we say, such a one is a shrewd man for the world: In a word, the steward is here commended, nor for his dishonesty, but for his policy, shrewdness, and sagacity, having done cunningly for himself, though knavishly for his master; from whence our Saviour draws this conclusion, That the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.
Hence note, that the generality of men are not so wise and provident for the soul, and the concernments of another world, as worldly men are for the interests and concerns of this life. It is seldom seen, that good men are so wise for the concerns of their souls, as worldy men are for their worldy interests.
Here our Saviour makes application of the forgoing parable to his disciples.
1. The title given by our Saviour to wealth and riches, he calls it Mammon and Mammon of unrighteousness: Mammon was the name given by the heathens to the god of riches; the mammon of unrighteousness, is riches unrighteously gotten.
2. The advice given by our Saviour to the men of wealth: Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that is, make God your friend by a charitable distribution, that he may bless you; make the poor your friends, that they may unitedly engage their prayers for you; make your own consciences your friends, that they may not reproach and shame you, sting and torment you.
Observe, 3. The argument used to excite the rich to this improvement of their wealth: That when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations. When ye fail, that is, when you died, and your riches fail you, and can stand you in no farther stead, They may receive you; What they? Some understand it of the Holy Trinity, others of the blessed angels, whose office it is to convey the charitable and good man's soul to heaven, it's eternal habitation. Some understand it of riches themselves. They may receive you; that is, your estates, laid out for God in works of piety and charity, may ever before you into heaven, and open the gates of eternal life for you, not in a way of merit, but in a way of means.
Lastly, They may receive you: Some understand it of the poor themselves, whose bowels our charity has refreshed, that they will welcome us to heaven, and receive us with joyful acclamations into the eternal mansions, which are prepared for the merciful.
Others say the words, They may receive you, are impersonally put for, that you may be received into heaven when you die. This is to imitate the wise merchant in sending over our money into another country by bills of exchange.
Our blessed Saviour having declared to his followers, in the foregoing verses, the great advantage they shall reap by a charitable distribution of temporal good things, he acquaints them in these verses with the great detriment and disadvantage that will redound to them if they do otherwise.
1. If they be not faithful in rightly employing temporal riches, they must not expect that God will entrust them with spiritual and heavenly, which are the true riches. God will deal with his servants, as we deal with ours, never trust them with much, whom we find unfaithful in a little.
2. If they be not faithful in the improvement of these outward things, which God entrusts them with but for a time, and must shortly leave them to others; how can they expect, that God should give them those spiritual good things, which shall never be taken away from them to whom they are given.
Where note, 1. That the riches we have are called not our own, but another man's' If we have not been faithful in that which is another man's. Because God has not made us proprietors, but dispensers; not owners, but stewards of these things; we have them for others, and must leave them to others; we are only trustees for the poor; if much be put into our hands, it is to dispense to others according to our Master's orders; let us be faithful then in that which is another man's; that is, with what God puts into our hand for the benefit of others.
Note, 2. That though our gifts are not our own; yet grace or spiritual goods are our own: others may have all the benefit of our gifts, but we shall have the benefit and comfort of our own grace; this treasure we cannot leave to others, and it shall never be taken away from ourselves.
Note, 3. That God is just, and will be eternally justified in denying his special grace to those, who do not make use of his common gifts. Would men be faithful in improving a little, God would entrust them with more; did they not abuse the trust of his common gifts, he would not deny them the treasure of his saving grace, called here, The true riches.
Observe here, a twofold master spoken of, God and the world. God is our Master by creation, preservation, and redemption; he has appointed us our work, and secured us our wages; the world is become our master by intrusion, usurpation, and a general estimation; too many esteeming it as their chief good, and delighting in it as their chief joy.
Observe, 2. That no man can serve these two masters, who are of contrary interests, and issue out contrary commands. When two masters are subordinate, and in their commands subservient to each other, the difficulty of serving both is not great; but where commands interfere, and interests clash, it is impossible: no man can serve God and the world, but he may serve God with the world; we may be served of riches, and yet serve God; but we cannot serve riches, but we must disserve God; we cannot serve God and the world both, and seek them as our chief good and ultimate end, because no man can divide his heart between God and the world.
Learn hence, that to love the world as our chief good, to seek it as our highest interest, and to serve it as our chief commander, cannot stand with the love and service which we bear and owe to God our Maker. The world's slaves, while such, can be none of God's freemen.
The Pharisees were notoriously addicted to the sin of covetousness, accounting no man happy but them that were rich: and because the promises made to the Jews were generally, (though not only) of temporal blessings, they looked upon poverty as a curse, and esteemed the poor accursed, John 7:49 The Pharisees hearing their covetousness reproved, and the doctrine of charity and alms preached and enforced by our Saviour, they derided him in the shamefulest manner, with the highest degree of contempt and scorn, wringing the nose, and making mouths at him, as the original word seems to import.
1. That sinners grow very angry and impatient under the ministry of the word, when they hear their darling sin, their beloved lust, struck at, and sharply reproved.
2. That covetous men who make wealth their idol, when they hear the doctrine of an holy comtempt for the world preached, and the great duty of alms giving urged and enforced, they make it the matter of their contempt and derision: The Pharisees heard and derided him.
Here our Saviour sharply reproves the Pharisees for their horrible pride, their self-justification, and vain affectation of the opinion and esteem of others; as if Christ had said, "You bear up yourselves, and take a pride in this, that men know no ill by you, that no man can say, 'Black is your eye;' but God can see that black is your heart. You think that because you glory in your own excellences, God glories in you too; but whoever is highly esteemed by you, is abominated by God."
Learn, that no man ought to think himself approved of God barely because he is approved by himself; for all who justify themselves upon the goodness of their works are not good.
Our Saviour in these words gives the Pharisees to understand that their contempt of his person and doctrine was the more inexcusable, because they lived in and under the clearest light of the gospel: the preaching of the law and the prophets continued but until John the Baptist came among you; since which time the gospel has been clearly preached both by him and myself unto you; and it has pleased God to give my doctrine great acceptation in the world. Though you Pharisees reject it, yet every one, that is, very many, press into it; so that the doctrine which you mock, the holy doctrine of the gospel, others will embrace. Yet lest, while Christ spoke thus highly of the gospel, the Pharisees should reproach him as a destroyer of the law, he shows that the obligation of the moral law was of eternal force, and that heaven and earth should sooner pass, than the obligation of the law cease; which yet the Pharisees most shamefully violated, particularly the seventh commandment, which they brake by permitting and practising divorces, upon upon unjustifiable grounds.
Learn hence, that the moral law, in all the branches of it, which is summarily comprehended in the ten commandments, is an eternal rule of life and manners, which is to stand in force as long as the world stands, and the frame of heaven and earth endures.
Our Saviour in his parabolical history of Dives and Lazarus, instructs us concerning the right use of riches, which is to capacitate us to do good to others; declaring that in the life to come, the pious poor man shall be eternally happy, while the unmerciful rich man shall be intolerably miserable.
Here observe, 1. The different state and condition of good and bad men in the other world, from what they are in this; here the wicked prosper, grow rich and great, and the good and virtuous are in calamity, suffer poverty and, distress, which has staggered many men, yea, the best of men, in the belief of a divine providence.
Observe, 2. That our Saviour did not consure the rich man for being rich, but for being sensual; not for wearing costly apparel, and keeping a plentiful table, (which if managed according to men's qualities and estates, is a commendable virtue,) but his sensuality and luxury, and forgetting to feed the hungry with the superfluities of his table; these are the things for which he is censured.
From whence we may learn, that pride and luxury, intemperance and sensuality, are such abuses of worldly riches, as worldly men are very prone and incident to. Rich men too often make their back and their belly their god; sacrificing and devoting all they have to the service of those idols.
Observe, 3. That a poor and mean condition is the lot of many good men, nay, perhaps of the most in this world. That a man may be poor and miserable in this world, and yet be very dear to God: the grace of sanctification is sometimes bestowed most eminently, where the gifts of providence have been dispensed most sparingly; consequently from the present state of men in this world, we can make no judgment of their future condition in the world to come.
Observe here, 1. That our Saviour represents all men, both good and bad, passing immediately out of this life into a state of happiness or misery; Lazarus died, and was carried by angels into Abraham's bosom.
1. That the souls of men survive in sensibility and activity, after the dissolution of their bodies, and do not sleep with the body until the day of the resurrection.
2. That all holy souls, and amongst the rest the godly poor, are instantly, after death, conveyed by angels to their place of rest and blessedness. The rich man also died: this is added to let us know that riches, for all men's confidence in them, will not deliver from death; the rich man might be surfeited by faring deliciously every day, while Lazarus was famished.
And was buried: here is no mention of Lazarus's burial, probably he had none, but was flung out of the way into some hole or pit; or if he had a burial, a very mean one, which is past over in silence: all the advantage which a rich man has by a great estate after he is dead, is only to have a pompous funeral, which yet signifies nothing to him, because he is not sensible of it. And in hell he lifted up his eyes, etc. He feels at once both his own misery, and sensibly perceives Lazarus's happiness.
Thence note, that the souls of wicked men, while their bodies lie in the grave, are in the state of the greatest misery, which is aggravated by the sense they have at the same time of the saints' happiness. For probably the blessed shall see the torments of the damned, and the damned probably shall see the glory of the blessed.
Observe here, 1. The place where the rich man suffers, it is in hell: the souls of wicked men, when they leave their bodies, do certainly go into a place of torment, which is not only beyond expression, but our apprehension also; Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive, those dreadful things which God hath prepared for them that hate him.
Observe, 2. The sin for which he suffers: it is the sin of unmercifulness.
Thence learn, that uncharitableness and unmercifulness to the poor, is a very great sin, and such a sin as alone, and without any other guilt, is sufficient to ruin a man forever; there is found in this sin great impiety towards God, and great inhumanity towards our own nature.
Observe, 3. The nature and quality of his sufferings; they are exceedingly painful, and void of the least degree of comfort; not a drop of water is granted to cool an inflamed tongue.
Learn thence, that the least refreshments are impatiently desired by the damned souls in hell, but righteously denied and withheld from them: a drop of water was desired, but not granted. No cup of water, no bowls of wine in hell; there is but one full cup in hell, and that is the cup of God's wrath, without any mixture of mercy or pity. That throat will be forever parched with thirst then, which is drenched and drowned with excess now: the songs of the drunkard here, will be turned into howlings and lamentations there.
Observe, 1. The title given to the rich man by father Abraham, Son. He does not revile him, though a very bad man: if we revile the good, we are unjust, they deserve it not; if we revile the bad, we are unwise, we shall get nothing by it: a wise man knows not what it is to give bad language.
Observe, 2. The admonition given, Remember that thou in thy life-time receivedst thy good things: thy good things in which thou placed all thy happiness; thy good things which thou looked upon thyself as the proprietor, and not as the dispenser of; now remember what thou had and what thou abused.
1. That the outward blessings which are afforded to wicked men on earth, will be sadly remembered in hell: Son, remember that thou in thy life-time receivedst thy good things.
2. That no man ought to measure his happiness hereafter by his temporal felicity here: we may receive our good things here, and yet be tormented hereafter.
3. That no man ought to be excessively troubled if he meets with hardship here, because those for whom God designs good things hereafter, may have their evil things here: Son, thou hadst thy good things, and also Lazarus evil things.
4. The word ( remember) implies that human souls, in their state of separation, do exercise memory, thought, and reflection on the past occurences and actions of their lives; and, consequently, that they do not sleep or fall into a state of insensibility and inactivity at death until the resurrection.
The meaning is, that there neither is, nor can be, any commerce or interaction between glorified saints and damned sinners; but the state of souls at death is unalterably fixed and stated.
Learn, that the miserable condition of damned souls in the next world, and the blessed condition of glorified souls is unchangeably and unalterably such: the power of God is irresistible, and the will of God is invariable, the oath of God is immutable; I have sworn that they never shall enter into my rest.
Here the rich man is represented as retaining even in hell some tenderness for his relations on earth; yet others think, that the kindness intended, was rather to himself than to his relations; fearing that their sinning by his example should be an aggravation of his own torments.
Note thence, that the presence of sinful relations and companions in hell, may be supposed to make a considerable addition to the miseries of the damned: the sight of those whom they have sinned with, is a fresh revival of their own guilt; all the circumstances of their past and profligate lives are upon this occasion continually in their remembrance.
Note farther, this miserable wretch is convinced that he could not get out of hell, therefore he desires that no friend of his might come in. He knew well enough, that if they were once there, they would come out no more. Indeed, God will at the great day send forth his writ to the graves to bring out the bodies of the wicked that are shut up there; and will send out his writ to hell, to bring forth the spirits that are shut in there; but it is in order to this, that both soul and body together may receive an eternal sentence for an everlasting imprisonment with the devil and his angels, and there will be no more opening for ever.
That is, they have the inspired writings of Moses and the prophets, which sufficiently declare the mind and will of God to mankind, and therefore it is unreasonable to expect any farther revelation.
Learn thence, that a standing revelation of God is evidence sufficient for divine things: it is a more certain way of conveyance, and more secured from imposture.
Secondly, that there is a sufficient evidence that Moses and the prophets, or the writings of the holy scriptures, are of divine authority, and therefore to be read and heard, to be believed and assented to: They have Moses, etc.
As if he had said, they have always had Moses and the prophets in their hands, but yet their hearts remain impenitent; but if a special messenger be sent to them from the dead, this will not fail to awaken them, and bring them to repentance.
Learn hence, how prone we are to dislike God's method and means which he has appointed for reclaiming us from our sins, and imagine some methods of our own would be more successful. The scriptures read, the word preached, the sacraments administered; these are the ordinary means which the wisdom of God has appointed for men's conviction; and if we think a messenger from the dead would be a more conducible means, the next verse will confute us, and thoroughly satisfy us, that whom the scripture convinces not, probably nothing will; for thus it follows:
A very awakening text this is, which speaks dreadfully to persons sitting all their days under the ministry of the gospel, and yet find not their understandings enlightened, their judgments convinced, their wills subdued, and their lives reformded by it. Were it possible for such persons to see one come from the dead, yea, from the damned, with the flames of hell about his ears, wringing his hands, and gnashing his teeth, bewailing his misery, and beseeching them to take warning by his example, and in time to acquaint themselves with God, and be at peace; all this would have no farther effect upon them, than to move their passions a little for the present, while the dreadful sound is in their ears: the ordinances of God and not his providences, are the instituted and appointed means for men's conversion and salvation.
Note then, 1. That no visions or apparitions, no new revelations concerning eternal rewards and punishments, are to be expected from the other world, in order to men's conversion and salvation.
Note, 2. That the word of God dispensed to us, and the ordinary means of grace enjoyed by us, are more conducible and effectual means to persuade men to repentance, than if one should arise from the dead, and preach unto us. A messenger from the dead cannot bring with him either a more necessary doctrine, or a more certain and infallible doctrine, nor bring with him better arguments for our conviction, than what the scriptures do propound for our consideration; nor can we expect a greater co-operation of the Holy Spirit, or a greater concurrence of divine power, to render a message from the dead more effectual, than does ordinarily attend the ministry of the word.
Henceforward then, let us not wonder, if when a drunkard drops down dead upon the spot, the companions say one to another, Drink on; if sinners daily tumble one another into the grave, without considering the operation of God's hand; this, to those that consider this text, will not seem strange; For if they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be converted, though hundreds of sinners before their eyes drop down dead: nay, if they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Luke 16". Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26