The Lord ' s teaching on the right use of earthly possessions with regard to the prospect of another world, in the form of the two parables of the unjust steward, and Dives and Lazarus.
And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness . Then, with his usual solemn formula, "I say unto you," the Lord gave out his moral interpretation of the parable. His words were addressed to possessors of various degrees of wealth. "You will soon have to give up all your worldly goods; be prudent in time, make some real friends out of the mammon of unrighteousness; by means of that money entrusted to your care, do good to others who are in need." The mammon of unrighteousness. This word "mammon" does not denote, as some have supposed, the name of a deity, the god of wealth or money, but it signifies "money" itself. It is a Syriac or Aramaic term. The words, "of unrighteousness," are added because in so many eases the getting of money is tainted with unrighteousness in some form or other; and, when possessed, it so often hardens the heart, as the Lord himself said in another place ( Luke 18:25 ), that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. "What the steward of my story," said the Master, "did to men of his world, see that you with your money do toward those who belong to your world." That, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations . So that when you shall be dismissed from being stewards of God's possessions, that is, when ye shall die, "when ye suffer the last eclipse and bankruptcy of life," that then others, your friends, may receive you (welcome you) into everlasting dwellings. The majority of the older authorities here, instead of" when ye fail," read, "when it (money) shall fail you" (by the event of your death). The sense of the passage, however, remains the same, whichever reading be adopted. But now a deeply interesting question arises—When the Lord speaks of friends receiving us after death into eternal homes, to what friends is he alluding? Great expositors, Ewald and Meyer, for instance, tell us that he means the angels. But the plain sense of the parable points, not to angels, but to poor, weak, suffering persons whom we have helped here; these, then, must be the friends who will receive us, or welcome us, in the world to come. A further query suggests itself— How will these be able to receive us? To such a question no definite reply can be given. We know too little of the awful mysteries of that world to be able even to hazard a surmise as to the help or the comfort which grateful, blessed spirits will be able to show to their brethren the newly arrived, when they receive them. His word here must suffice us; well will it be for us, if one day we practically discover the holy secret for ourselves. Godet has a weighty note with which he concludes his exposition of this difficult but most instructive parable: "There is no thought more fitted than that of this parable, on the one hand to undermine the idea of merit belonging to alms-giving (what merit could be got out of that which is another's? and is not all money, are not all goods out of which we bestow our alms, God's?); and on the other, to encourage us in the practice of that virtue which assures us of friends and protectors for the grave moment of our passing into the world to come." One beautiful and exquisitely comforting thought is shrined in this playful and yet intensely solemn utterance of Jesus. The eternal tents, the "many mansions," as John calls them, will have among their occupants, it is certain, many a one whose life on earth was hard and sorrowful. These are now enjoying bliss indescribable, these poor Lazaruses, to whom this world was so sad, so dreary a habitation. And perhaps a portion of their blessedness consists in this power, to which the Lord makes allusion here, of assisting others—the helped here becoming the helpers there. Although the teaching of Christ and his chosen servants here and elsewhere shows us distinctly that no merit can attach to almsgiving, seeing that our alms are only given out of property entrusted to us for a short time by God for this and other similar purposes, yet the same authoritative teaching informs us that God has regard to almsdeeds done in the true spirit of love, in determining our eternal destiny. Thus a message direct from heaven informs the Roman legionary Cornelius that his prayers and alms were come up for a memorial before God. Paul writes to Timothy to charge the Ephesus Christians "that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life." In the parable of Lazarus and Dives we shall find this principle yet more clearly illustrated. These are only a few out of the many passages where this generosity and almsgiving is commended to the believer with peculiar earnestness.
The unjust steward.
Whereas the three preceding parables were spoken to the Pharisees, this is spoken to the disciples. It is not quite certain whether all the parables were uttered at or about the same time; but the use of the word "also" ( Luke 16:1 ) suggests that they were. Anyhow, the saying before us has reference to a different kind of wasting from that of the younger son—a wasting against which the followers of Jesus are solemnly warned. We are called to listen to the Master as he indicates temptations and enforces duties within the special circle of discipleship. This parable is a saying hard to be understood. Many explanations have been given. A very learned commentator, appalled by the difficulties connected with the interpretation, abandoned the attempt, declaring that the solution of the problem is impossible. And truly, if we canvassed all the schemes of exposition which have been proposed, all the inferences which have been founded on clauses, and all the speculations which have been raised, we should find "no end in wandering mazes lost." Let our aim be less ambitious; let us try to get hold of some plain, practical instruction which shall help us to be better disciples of Jesus Christ. The outline of the story is simple. The dramatis personae are not numerous. A wealthy landowner has a steward who, in the management of his estates, possesses a large discretionary power. He is informed that this steward has, not stolen or wrongfully applied, but by neglect or want of skill has squandered, the estate entrusted to him. He is called to account and is dismissed peremptorily. Now comes into view the adroitness of the man. He wishes to have some friends who can do him a good turn when he is out of a situation; and so, before news of his dismissal reaches any, while it is supposed that he has full power, he calls together those who are in arrears of rent or are otherwise indebted to his lord. We can imagine the trembling with which they obey the summons. How bland and smiling is the factor! What kind inquiries as to wife and children and belongings! And then, "By the way, what is the amount of your obligation?" Two specimens are given. One person owes a hundred measures of oil. "Take your pen," says the factor, "score out the hundred, and make it fifty." Another owes a hundred measures of wheat. "Take your pen, write down eighty." All retire charmed, loud in the steward's praise. Had he not secured a warm place in their regard? When told of his downfall, would not they all cry, "Shame!" and speak of him as the tenants' friend, and welcome him to their houses? The point of the lesson which Christ would teach is this—separate the energy from the dishonesty, the foresight from the fraud, and as he, for his own wrong ends, was wise and calculating, so, for your right ends, practise a wisdom like his, though nobler than his: "Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, that when ye die, or fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations." Now, without puzzling ourselves over the details of the parable, consider the lessons inculcated as to
I. CHRISTIAN RESPONSIBILITY . In the relation of the steward to the rich man we have a foreshadowing of the relation in which we stand to God. "Steward" is the word which indicates this relation. To every one of us is given a charge of goods whose Owner is God. Our own constitution—physical, mental, moral—is a trust; all our endowments—talents, powers of whatsoever kind—are a property of which we are farmers; and he who thinks that he can do as he likes with these, that he can dissipate his substance by intemperance, or alienate his strength from higher ends, is false to his Maker and false to himself. So with regard to all our influence—direct and indirect—it is a power delegated to us by the Almighty, and to be realized under the sense of the account to be rendered to him. Money, relationships, social positions,—all are items of the estate over which we are set. Do we all realize this as we should? Do we not sadly forget this fact of stewardship? Christ speaks of "the mammon of unrighteousness." Here is an explanation which has been given. "The ears of Jesus must have been repeatedly shocked by the kind of rashness by which men speak, without hesitation, of ' my fortune,' ' my land,' ' my house.' He who felt keenly the dependence of man on God perceived that there was in this feeling of property a sort of usurpation, a forgetfulness of the real owner; in hearing such language he seemed to see the tenant changing into the master." Ah! does he not hear such language every day? Is it not in the air? Is it not in our own feeling? Are we not, in many ways, changing the tenant into the master, the steward into the owner? taking the goods, and using them without giving praise to him whose they are? Would that the answer given to the first question in an old Catechism were written into the texture of every life—"Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever."
II. Connected with Christian stewardship is THE TRUTH OF CHRISTIAN ADMINISTRATION . And may it not be said that this is a truth far too little studied and practised? When we hear of depressions of trade, of hard, dull times, we may well reflect on the saying of the Prophet Haggai ( Haggai 1:5 , Haggai 1:6 ), "Consider your ways. Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages, earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes." In regard to Christian objects, is there not much to learn from such tact and prudence as the steward's in the parable? Do we not need them much in the conduct of benevolent enterprises? Competition may be healthy; but a competition which, in a limited area, or on mere windmills, spends a force which should be far more diffusive, is not only not healthy, it is a loss and a scandal. Is not this the kind of competition which is too prevalent in ecclesiastical and in charitable spheres? Otherwise must we not confess that, through our want of inventiveness or wisdom in management, our want of skill to turn opportunities to the best advantage, of the sagacity which is exercised in worldly matters, we lay ourselves open to the reproach, "The children of this age are wiser in their generation than the children of light" (verse 8)? Realize that, whether there is much or little, faithfulness is demanded of the steward—such a disposal or investment of all wealth as that the Lord's interests are farthered. To each of us is given the charge, "So allocate the mammon of unrighteousness, the uncertain, unstable wealth which you possess, that it shall not hinder, but help you to the everlasting habitations." How many does that mammon hinder! How few of us so use our money as to advance not only Christ's cause but our own holiness! But should it not be rendered a means of spiritual gain? It is concerning this fidelity to God in the laying out of the perishable riches that Christ hints that they in whom it abounds will not want the friendly welcome when the tent of this tabernacle is dissolved, and the spirit passes into the everlasting habitations.
III. A word as to CHRISTIAN SERVICE . This mammon, which was meant to be an instrument for the accomplishment of our stewardship, is apt to assume the bearing of a master. At first it is the slave, the most obedient, until, by constant trafficking with it and by taking it into the region of our affections, it becomes our love; and when it is the love of a man, the consideration which to him is first, the supreme point of his interest, then it ascends from the kitchen into the parlour, and claims the self as its own. This mammon-rule, mammon-worship, is one of the most distinct features of the day, and few of us know how deep is its mark in our souls. Here is the choice—this mammon, or Christ with the thorn-crowned brow; this mammon, or God himself. One or other we may serve; Christ insists we cannot serve both (verse 13). "That usurping lord has a will so different from God's will, gives commands so opposite to his, that occasion must speedily arise when one or other will have to be slighted, despised, and disobeyed, if the other be regarded, honoured, and served. God, for instance, will command a scattering, when mammon will urge to a further keeping and gathering; God will require spending on others, when mammon or the world will urge a spending on one's own lusts. Therefore, the two Lords having characters so different and giving commands so opposite, it will be impossible to reconcile their services: one must be despised if the other is held to; the only faithfulness to the one is to break with the other; 'ye cannot serve God and mammon.'" "Choose ye this day whom ye will serve. There is to be no playing at religion. A saintly voice has thus interpreted the election: may the "amen' to his words arise from our souls! O God, thou sweetness ineffable, make bitter for me all carnal comfort which draws me away from the love of eternal things, and in evil manner allures me to itself by the view of some present delightsome good. Let me not be overcome, O Lord, by flesh and blood. Let not the world and the brief glory thereof deceive me. Let not the devil and his subtle fraud supplant me. Give me strength to resist, patience to endure, and constancy to persevere. Give me, instead of all the comforts of the world, the most sweet unction of thy Holy Spirit and the love of thy blessed Name."
Cleverness and sagacity.
There is a wide difference between worldly cleverness and spiritual sagacity; of these two acquisitions, the former is to be questioned if not avoided, the latter to be desired and attained. Christ's teaching here will be entirely misunderstood if we fail to discriminate between them.
I. THE EMPLOYER 'S COMMENDATION OF HIS STEWARD 'S CLEVERNESS . " His lord" (not our Lord) commended the unjust steward because he had acted "shrewdly" (not "wisely") ( Luke 16:8 ). What does this commendation amount to? It cannot be a justification of his action upon the whole,—that idea cannot be entertained, for this action on the steward's part was wholly adverse to the employer's interests. It was simply a compliment paid to his keenness; it was equivalent to saying, "You are a very clever fellow, a very sharp man of the world; you know how to look after your own temporal affairs;" only that, and nothing more than that, is meant.
II. OUR LORD 'S COMMENDATION OF SPIRITUAL SAGACITY .
1 . Jesus Christ could not possibly praise cleverness when devoid of honesty. He could not do that for two reasons.
2 . Jesus does praise sagacity in connection with integrity. He would like the "children of light" to show as much forethought, ingenuity, capacity, in their sphere as the "children of this world" show in theirs. He counsels them, for instance, to put out their money to good purpose, so as to secure much better results than it is often made to yield. Make friends with it, he suggests. What better thing can we buy than friendship? Not, indeed, that the very best fellowship is to be bought like goods over the counter or like shares in the market; but by interesting ourselves in our fellow-men, by knowing their necessities and by generously ministering to them, we can win the gratitude, the blessing, the benediction, the prayers of those we have served and succoured. And how good is this! What will personal comforts, bodily gratifications, luxuries in dress and furniture, any visible grandeurs, weigh against this? Nay, more, our Lord suggests, we may make even money go further than this; it may yield results that will pass the border. It, itself, and all the worldly advantages it secures, we know that we must leave behind: but if by its means we make friends with those who are "of the household of faith," we relieve them in their distress, help them in their emergencies, strengthen them as they pass along the rough road of life,—then even poor perishable gold and silver will be the means of helping us to a fuller, sweeter, gladder welcome when our feet touch the other shore of the river that runs between earth and heaven. This is true sagacity as compared with a shallow shrewdness. It is to make such of our possessions, and of all our resources of every kind, that they will yield us not only a passing gratification of the lower kind, but rather a real satisfaction of the nobler order, and even lay up in store for us a "treasure in the heavens," enlarging the blessedness which is beyond the grave.
Money as a means of grace.
The previous chapter was spoken against the pride of the Pharisaic party, who were too exclusive to welcome publicans and sinners to the same feast of privilege as themselves. The parable now before us was spoken against their covetousness. It will be found that, as the graces are to be found and grow together, so do the vices of mankind. The idolatry of wealth goes hand-in-hand with pride. In warning his disciples, however, against the vice, our Lord inculcates positive truth, and brings out in his parables the important fact that money may either be a means of grace to men, or a temptation and a snare. The first parable, about the unjust steward, shows us one who was wise in time in the use of money; the second parable, about the rich man and Lazarus, shows us one who became wise when it was too late and his doom was sealed. The story need be no moral difficulty to us. The all-important point is the deprivation of his stewardship. It was taken from him on the ground of injustice of some kind. In view of his exodus from the stewardship, he prudently makes his lord's debtors his debtors too, by largely reducing their liabilities. Having thus made friends with them all, he awaits his dismissal with confidence, and expects befriendment when out of his situation. It is his prudence, not his motives, that our Lord commends. Now, to our Lord's spiritual eye, this was a beautiful representation of what a soul may do in prospect of dismissal from his earthly stewardship at death. He may take the money he happens to possess, and, feeling that it is not his own absolutely, but God's, and that he is only a steward of it, he can use it liberally, making the troubles of his brethren lighter, so that, having laid them under obligations to him, he can calculate with certainty upon their cordial sympathy in the world beyond the grave. A prudent outlay may make hosts of friends among the immortals beyond; in a word, money may be utilized as a very important means of grace.
I. MAMMON IS A BAD MASTER . ( Luke 16:13 .) We start with this thought as a kind of background to the more comforting teaching which our Lord here emphasizes. The soul that is enslaved by mammon becomes miserable. Is not this implied in the term "miser," which designates the slave of money? The poor slave is kept grinding away, amassing more and more, and yet never getting any benefit from all the lust of gold. Nothing seems more foolish and insane than the race for riches; nothing more ruinous than the snares into which the runners fall. When life's end comes and the accumulated hoard has to be left behind, the condition of the soul is pitiful indeed.
II. ON THE OTHER HAND , MONEY MAY BE MADE A VERY USEFUL SERVANT . ( Luke 16:1-9 .) For nothing is gained by denying that money is a great power. How much it can accomplish! Every department of enterprise regards money as the " one thing needful." So powerful is it, that people by the use of it may become thoroughly hated, as many selfish speculators and covetous people are every day. On the other hand, it may be so wisely laid out as to increase our friends to troops. A judicious use of money can gather friends around us by the thousand. It may serve us by increasing our list of friends.
III. MONEY CAN BE USED BY US TO SERVE GOD . ( Luke 16:10-12 .) This is the gist of Christ's teaching in the parable before us; and we never use money aright until we have got this idea driven home of serving God by it. And to emphasize this, let us notice:
1 . Money is God ' s, and we are never more than stewards of it. This truth underlies the whole parable. The very rich man who has the steward is God. We are all his stewards, faithful or unfaithful, as the case may be, in our use of his money. It is never ours apart from God; it is ours only as his stewards. Other things are held far more surely—for example, education, thoughts, culture. They enter our being and become ours, we have reason to believe, for evermore. But money is only ours for a time—a loan from God to be put out to a proper use.
2 . We are faithful in our stewardship when we give ungrudingly to those who are in real need. God gives us "enough and to spare " for the purpose of laying the needy under obligation. In this way we transmute our money into gratitude. The gratitude of the assisted is better than the money, for it abides and can be enjoyed when money cannot.
3 . God guarantees the gratitude and the reward. Some of the recipients may turn out to be ungrateful, but "he that giveth unto the poor lendeth unto the Lord," and "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." We are, therefore, sure of the highest recognition when for the Lord's sake we help our fellows.
IV. THE TRULY GENEROUS AND LIBERAL SOUL HAS A WELCOME AWAITING HIM IN THE ETERNAL TABERNACLES . ( Luke 16:9 .) The expression, "eternal tabernacles," to adopt the Revised Version, seems to indicate everlasting progress to be realized in the next life. We shall be moving onwards even there to higher and higher attainment. Those we have befriended here will receive us into their eternal tents. There will be recognition and fellowship and its accompanying progress. What a judicious outlay to have all this awaiting us in the world to come! What a means of grace money may thus become] and what a help to glory] Let the so-called unjust steward, then, admonish us to make the most of our capital on earth, that we may have the best heavenly return from it when we have left the money behind us for ever.—R.M.E.