Verses 1–18

We mistake if we imagine that the design of Christ’s doctrine and holy religion was either to amuse us with notions of divine mysteries or to entertain us with notions of divine mercies. No, the divine revelation of both these in the gospel is intended to engage and quicken us to the practice of Christian duties, and, as much as any one thing, to the duty of beneficence and doing good to those who stand in need of any thing that either we have or can do for them. This our Saviour is here pressing us to, by reminding us that we are but stewards of the manifold grace of God; and since we have in divers instances been unfaithful, and have forfeited the favour of our Lord, it is our wisdom to think how we may, some other way, make what we have in the world turn to a good account. 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 death and the grave. If we would act wisely, we must be diligent and industrious to employ our riches in the acts of piety and charity, in order to promote our future and eternal welfare, as worldly men are in laying them out to the greatest temporal profit, in making to themselves friends with them, and securing other secular interests. So Dr. Clarke. Now let us consider,

I. The parable itself, in which all the children of men are represented as stewards of what they have in this world, and we are but stewards. Whatever we have, the property of it is God’s; we have only the use of it, and that according to the direction of our great Lord, and for his honour. Rabbi Kimchi, quoted by Dr. Lightfoot, says, “This world is a house; heaven the roof; the stars the lights; the earth, with its fruits, a table spread; the Master of the house is the holy and blessed God; man is the steward, into whose hands the goods of this house are delivered; if he behave himself well, he shall find favour in the eyes of his Lord; if not, he shall be turned out of his stewardship.” Now,

1. Here is the dishonesty of this steward. He wasted his lord’s goods, embezzled them, misapplied them, or through carelessness suffered them to be lost and damaged; and for this he was accused to his lord, Luke 16:1. We are all liable to the same charge. We have not made a due improvement of what God has entrusted us with in this world, but have perverted his purpose; and, that we may not be for this judged of our Lord, it concerns us to judge ourselves.

2. His discharge out of his place. His lord called for him, and said, “How is it that I hear this of thee? I expected better things from thee.” He speaks as one sorry to find himself disappointed in him, and under a necessity of dismissing him from his service: it troubles him to hear it; but the steward cannot deny it, and therefore there is no remedy, he must make up his accounts; and be gone in a little time, Luke 16:2. Now this is designed to teach us, (1.) That we must all of us shortly be discharged from our stewardship in this world; we must not always enjoy those things which we now enjoy. Death will come, and dismiss us from our stewardship, will deprive us of the abilities and opportunities we now have of doing good, and others will come in our places and have the same. (2.) That our discharge from our stewardship at death is just, and what we have deserved, for we have wasted our Lord’s goods, and thereby forfeited our trust, so that we cannot complain of any wrong done us. (3.) That when our stewardship is taken from us we must give an account of it to our Lord: After death the judgment. We are fairly warned both of our discharge and our account, and ought to be frequently thinking of them.

3. His after-wisdom. Now he began to consider, What shall I do? Luke 16:3. He would have done well to have considered this before he had so foolishly thrown himself out of a good place by his unfaithfulness; but it is better to consider late than never. Note, Since we have all received notice that we must shortly be turned out of our stewardship, we are concerned to consider what we shall do then. He must live; which way shall he have a livelihood? (1.) He knows that he has not such a degree of industry in him as to get his living by work: “I cannot dig; I cannot earn by bread by my labour.” But why can he not dig? It does not appear that he is either old or lame; but the truth is, he is lazy. His cannot is a will not; it is not a natural but a moral disability that he labours under; if his master, when he turned him out of the stewardship, had continued him in his service as a labourer, and set a task-master over him, he would have made him dig. He cannot dig, for he was never used to it. Now this intimates that we cannot get a livelihood for our souls by any labour for this world, nor indeed do any thing to purpose for our souls by any ability of our own. (2.) He knows that he has not such a degree of humility as to get his bread by begging: To beg I am ashamed. This was the language of his pride, as the former of his slothfulness. Those whom God, in his providence, has disabled to help themselves, should not be ashamed to ask relief of others. This steward had more reason to be ashamed of cheating his master than of begging his bread. (3.) He therefore determines to make friends of his lord’s debtors, or his tenants that were behind with their rent, and had given notes under their hands for it: “I am resolved what to do, Luke 16:4. My lord turns me out of his house. I have none of my own to go to. I am acquainted with my lord’s tenants, have done them many a good turn, and now I will do them one more, which will so oblige them that they will bid me welcome to their houses, and the best entertainment they afford; and so long as I live, at least till I can better dispose of myself, I will quarter upon them, and go from one good house to another.” Now the way he would take to make them his friends was by striking off a considerable part of their debt to his lord, and giving it in his accounts so much less than it was. Accordingly, he sent for one, who owed his lord a hundred measures of oil (in that commodity he paid his rent): Take thy bill, said he, here it is, and sit down quickly, and write fifty (Luke 16:6); so he reduced his debt to the one half. Observe, he was in haste to have it done: “Sit down quickly, and do it, lest we be taken treating, and suspected.” He took another, who owed his lord a hundred measures of wheat, and from his bill he cut off a fifth part, and bade him write fourscore (Luke 16:7); probably he did the like by others, abating more or less according as he expected kindness from them. See here what uncertain things our worldly possessions are; they are most so to those who have most of them, who devolve upon others all the care concerning them, and so put it into their power to cheat them, because they will not trouble themselves to see with their own eyes. See also what treachery is to be found even among those in whom trust is reposed. How hard is it to find one that confidence can be reposed in! Let God be true, but every man a liar. Though this steward is turned out for dealing dishonestly, yet still he does so. So rare is it for men to mend of a fault, though they smart for it.

4. The approbation of this: The lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely, Luke 16:8. It may be meant of his lord, the lord of that servant, who, though he could not but be angry at his knavery, yet was pleased with his ingenuity and policy for himself; but, taking it so, the latter part of the verse must be the words of our Lord, and therefore I think the whole is meant of him. Christ did, as it were, say, “Now commend me to such a man as this, that knows how to do well for himself, how to improve a present opportunity, and how to provide for a future necessity.” He does not commend him because he had done falsely to his master, but because he had done wisely for himself. Yet perhaps herein he did well for his master too, and but justly with the tenants. He knew what hard bargains he had set them, so that they could not pay their rent, but, having been screwed up by his rigour, were thrown behindhand, and they and their families were likely to go to ruin; in consideration of this, he now, at going off, did as he ought to do both in justice and charity, not only easing them of part of their arrears, but abating their rent for the future. How much owest thou? may mean, “What rent dost thou sit upon? Come, I will set thee an easier bargain, and yet no easier than what thou oughtest to have.” He had been all for his lord, but now he begins to consider the tenants, that he might have their favour when he had lost his lord’s. The abating of their rent would be a lasting kindness, and more likely to engage them than abating their arrears only. Now this forecast of his, for a comfortable subsistence in this world, shames our improvidence for another world: The children of this world, who choose and have their portions in it, are wiser for their generation, act more considerately, and better consult their worldly interest and advantage, than the children of light, who enjoy the gospel, in their generation, that is, in the concerns of their souls and eternity. Note, (1.) The wisdom of worldly people in the concerns of this world is to be imitated by us in the concerns of our souls: it is their principle to improve their opportunities, to do that first which is most needful, in summer and harvest to lay up for winter, to take a good bargain when it is offered them, to trust the faithful and not the false. O that we were thus wise in our spiritual affairs! (2.) The children of light are commonly outdone by the children of this world. Not that the children of this world are truly wise; it is only in their generation. But in that they are wiser than the children of light in theirs; for, though we are told that we must shortly be turned out of our stewardship, yet we do not provide as we were to be here always and as if there were not another life after this, and are not so solicitous as this steward was to provide for hereafter. Though as children of the light, that light to which life and immortality are brought by the gospel, we cannot but see another world before us, yet we do not prepare for it, do not send our best effects and best affections thither, as we should.

II. The application of this parable, and the inferences drawn from it (Luke 16:9): “I say unto you, you my disciples” (for to them this parable is directed, Luke 16:1), “though you have but little in this world, consider how you may do good with that little.” Observe,

1. What it is that our Lord Jesus here exhorts us to; to provide for our comfortable reception to the happiness of another world, by making good use of our possessions and enjoyments in this world: “Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, as the steward with his lord’s goods made his lord’s tenants his friends.” It is the wisdom of the men of this world so to manage their money as that they may have the benefit of it hereafter, and not for the present only; therefore they put it out to interest, buy land with it, put it into this or the other fund. Now we should learn of them to make use of our money so as that we may be the better for it hereafter in another world, as they do in hopes to be the better for it hereafter in this world; so cast it upon the waters as that we may find it again after many days, Eccl. 11:1. And in our case, though whatever we have are our Lord’s goods, yet, as long as we dispose of them among our Lord’s tenants and for their advantage, it is so far from being reckoned a wrong to our Lord, that it is a duty to him as well as policy for ourselves. Note, (1.) The things of this world are the mammon of unrighteousness, or the false mammon, not only because often got by fraud and unrighteousness, but because those who trust to it for satisfaction and happiness will certainly be deceived; for riches are perishing things, and will disappoint those that raise their expectations from them. (2.) Though this mammon of unrighteousness is not to be trusted to for a happiness, yet it may and must be made use of in subserviency to our pursuit of that which is our happiness. Though we cannot find true satisfaction in it, yet we may make to ourselves friends with it, not by way of purchase or merit, but recommendation; so we may make God and Christ our friends, the good angels and saints our friends, and the poor our friends; and it is a desirable thing to be befriended in the account and state to come. (3.) At death we must all fail, hotan eklipetewhen ye suffer an eclipse. Death eclipses us. A tradesman is said to fail when he becomes a bankrupt. We must all thus fail shortly; death shuts up the shop, seals up the hand. Our comforts and enjoyments on earth will all fail us; flesh and heart fail. (4.) It ought to be our great concern to make it sure to ourselves, that when we fail at death we may be received into everlasting habitations in heaven. The habitations in heaven are everlasting, not made with hands, but eternal, 2 Cor. 5:1. Christ is gone before, to prepare a place for those that are his, and is there ready to receive them; the bosom of Abraham is ready to receive them, and, when a guard of angels carries them thither, a choir of angels is ready to receive them there. The poor saints that are gone before to glory will receive those that in this world distributed to their necessities. (5.) This is a good reason why we should use what we have in the world for the honour of God and the good of our brethren, that thus we may with them lay up in store a good bond, a good security, a good foundation for the time to come, for an eternity to come. See 1 Tim. 6:17-19, which explains this here.

2. With what arguments he presses this exhortation to abound in works of piety and charity.

(1.) If we do not make a right use of the gifts of God’s providence, how can we expect from him those present and future comforts which are the gifts of his spiritual grace? Our Saviour here compares these, and shows that though our faithful use of the things of this world cannot be thought to merit any favour at the hand of God, yet our unfaithfulness in the use of them may be justly reckoned a forfeiture of that grace which is necessary to bring us to glory, and that is it which our Saviour here shows, Luke 16:10-14.

[1.] The riches of this world are the less; grace and glory are the greater. Now if we be unfaithful in the less, if we use the things of this world to other purposes than those for which they were given us, it may justly be feared that we should be so in the gifts of God’s grace, that we should receive them also in vain, and therefore they will be denied us: He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much. He that serves God, and does good, with his money, will serve God, and do good, with the more noble and valuable talents of wisdom and grace, and spiritual gifts, and the earnests of heaven; but he that buries the one talent of this world’s wealth will never improve the five talents of spiritual riches. God withholds his grace from covetous worldly people more than we are aware of. [2.] The riches of this world are deceitful and uncertain; they are the unrighteous mammon, which is hastening from us apace, and, if we would make any advantage of it, we must bestir ourselves quickly; if we do not, how can we expect to be entrusted with spiritual riches, which are the only true riches? Luke 16:11. Let us be convinced of this, that those are truly rich, and very rich, who are rich in faith, and rich towards God, rich in Christ, in the promises, and in the earnests of heaven; and therefore let us lay up our treasure in them, expect our portion from them, and mind them in the first place, the kingdom of God and the righteousness thereof, and then, if other things be added to us, use them in ordine ad spiritualia—with a spiritual reference, so that by using them well we may take the faster hold of the true riches, and may be qualified to receive yet more grace from God; for God giveth to a man that is good in his sight, that is, to a free-hearted charitable man, wisdom, and knowledge, and joy (Eccl. 2:26); that is, to a man that is faithful in the unrighteous mammon, he gives the true riches. [3.] The riches of this world are another man’s. They are ta allotria, not our own; for they are foreign to the soul and its nature and interest. They are not our own; for they are God’s; his title to them is prior and superior to ours; the property remains in him, we are but usufructuaries. They are another man’s; we have them from others; we use them for others, and what good has the owner from his goods that increase, save the beholding of them with his eyes, while still they are increased that eat them; and we must shortly leave them to others, and we know not to whom? But spiritual and eternal riches are our own (they enter into the soul that becomes possessed of them) and inseparably; they are a good part that will never be taken away from us. If we make Christ our own, and the promises our own, and heaven our own, we have that which we may truly call our own. But how can we expect God should enrich us with these if we do not serve him with our worldly possessions, of which we are but stewards?

(2.) We have no other way to prove ourselves the servants of God than by giving up ourselves so entirely to his service as to make mammon, that is, all our worldly gain, serviceable to us in his service (Luke 16:13): No servant can serve two masters, whose commands are so inconsistent as those of God and mammon are. If a man will love the world, and hold to that, it cannot be but he will hate God and despise him. He will make all his pretensions of religion truckle to his secular interests and designs, and the things of God shall be made to help him in serving and seeking the world. But, on the other hand, if a man will love God, and adhere to him, he will comparatively hate the world (whenever God and the world come in competition) and will despise it, and make all his business and success in the world some way or other conducive to his furtherance in the business of religion; and the things of the world shall be made to help him in serving God and working out his salvation. The matter is here laid plainly before us: Ye cannot serve God and mammon. So divided are their interests that their services can never be compounded. If therefore we be determined to serve God, we must disclaim and abjure the service of the world.

3. We are here told what entertainment this doctrine of Christ met with among the Pharisees, and what rebuke he gave them.

(1.) They wickedly ridiculed him, Luke 16:14. The Pharisees, who were covetous, heard all these things, and could not contradict him, but they derided him. Let us consider this, [1.] As their sin, and the fruit of their covetousness, which was their reigning sin, their own iniquity. Note, Many that make a great profession of religion, have much knowledge, and abound in the exercise of devotion, are yet ruined by the love of the world; nor does any thing harden the heart more against the word of Christ. These covetous Pharisees could not bear to have that touched, which was their Delilah, their darling lust; for this they derided him, exemykterizon autonthey snuffled up their noses at him, or blew their noses on him. It is an expression of the utmost scorn and disdain imaginable; the word of the Lord was to them a reproach, Jer. 6:10. They laughed at him for going so contrary to the opinion and way of the world, for endeavouring to recover them from a sin which they were resolved to hold fast. Note, It is common for those to make a jest of the word of God who are resolved that they will not be ruled by it; but they will find at last that it cannot be turned off so. [2.] As his suffering. Our Lord Jesus endured not only the contradiction of sinners, but their contempt; they had him in derision all the day. He that spoke as never man spoke was bantered and ridiculed, that his faithful ministers, whose preaching is unjustly derided, may not be disheartened at it. It is no disgrace to a man to be laughed at, but to deserve to be laughed at. Christ’s apostles were mocked, and no wonder; the disciple is not greater than his Lord.

(2.) He justly reproved them; not for deriding him (he knew how to despise the shame), but for deceiving themselves with the shows and colours of piety, when they were strangers to the power of it, Luke 16:15. Here is,

[1.] Their specious outside; nay, it was a splendid one. First, They justified themselves before men; they denied whatever ill was laid to their charge, even by Christ himself. They claimed to be looked upon as men of singular sanctity and devotion, and justified themselves in that claim: “You are they that do that, so as none ever did, that make it your business to court the opinion of men, and, right or wrong, will justify yourselves before the world; you are notorious for this.” Secondly, They were highly esteemed among men. Men did not only acquit them from any blame they were under, but applauded them, and had them in veneration, not only as good men, but as the best of men. Their sentiments were esteemed as oracles, their directions as laws, and their practices as inviolable prescriptions.

[2.] Their odious inside, which was under the eye of God: “He knows your heart, and it is in his sight an abomination; for it is full of all manner of wickedness.” Note, First, It is folly to justify ourselves before men, and to think this enough to bear us out, and bring us off, in the judgment of the great day, that men know no ill of us; for God, who knows our hearts, knows that ill of us which no one else can know. This ought to check our value for ourselves, and our confidence in ourselves, that God knows our hearts, and how much deceit is there, for we have reason to abase and distrust ourselves. Secondly, It is folly to judge of persons and things by the opinion of men concerning them, and to go down with the stream of vulgar estimate; for that which is highly esteemed among men, who judge according to outward appearance, is perhaps an abomination in the sight of God, who sees things as they are, and whose judgment, we are sure, is according to truth. On the contrary, there are those whom men despise and condemn who yet are accepted and approved of God, 2 Cor. 10:18.

(3.) He turned from them to the publicans and sinners, as more likely to be wrought upon by his gospel than those covetous conceited Pharisees (Luke 16:16): “The law and the prophets were indeed until John; the Old-Testament dispensation, which was confined to you Jews, continued till John Baptist appeared, and you seemed to have the monopoly of righteousness and salvation; and you are puffed up with this, and this gains you esteem among men, that you are students in the law and the prophets; but since John Baptist appeared the kingdom of God is preached, a New-Testament dispensation, which does not value men at all for their being doctors of the law, but every man presses into the gospel kingdom, Gentiles as well as Jews, and no man thinks himself bound in good manners to let his betters go before him into it, or to stay till the rulers and the Pharisees have led him that way. It is not so much a political national constitution as the Jewish economy was, when salvation was of the Jews; but it is made a particular personal concern, and therefore every man that is convinced he has a soul to save, and an eternity to provide for, thrusts to get in, lest he should come short by trifling and complimenting.” Some give this sense of it; they derided Christ or speaking in contempt of riches, for, thought they, were there not many promises of riches and other temporal good things in the law and the prophets? And were not many of the best of God’s servants very rich, as Abraham and David? “It is true,” saith Christ, “so it was, but now that the kingdom of God is begun to be preached things take a new turn; now blessed are the poor, and the mourners, and the persecuted.” The Pharisees, to requite the people for their high opinion of them, allowed them in a cheap, easy, formal religion. “But,” saith Christ, “now that the gospel is preached the eyes of the people are opened, and as they cannot now have a veneration for the Pharisees, as they have had, so they cannot content themselves with such an indifferency in religion as they have been trained up in, but they press with a holy violence into the kingdom of God.” Note, Those that would go to heaven must take pains, must strive against the stream, must press against the crowd that are going the contrary way.

(4.) Yet still he protests against any design to invalidate the law (Luke 16:17): It is easier for heaven and earth to pass, pareltheinto pass by, to pass away, though the foundations of the earth and the pillars of heaven are so firmly established, than for one tittle of the law to fail. The moral law is confirmed and ratified, and not one tittle of that fails; the duties enjoined by it are duties still; the sins forbidden by it are sins still. Nay, the precepts of it are explained and enforced by the gospel, and made to appear more spiritual. The ceremonial law is perfected in the gospel colours; not one tittle of that fails, for it is found printed off in the gospel, where, though the force of it is as a law taken off, yet the figure of it as a type shines very brightly, witness the epistle to the Hebrews. There were some things which were connived at by the law, for the preventing of greater mischiefs, the permission of which the gospel has indeed taken away, but without any detriment or disparagement to the law, for it has thereby reduced them to the primitive intention of the law, as in the case of divorce (Luke 16:18), which we had before, Matt. 5:32; 19:9. Christ will not allow divorces, for his gospel is intended to strike at the bitter root of men’s corrupt appetites and passions, to kill them, and pluck them up; and therefore they must not be so far indulged as that permission did indulge them, for the more they are indulged the more impetuous and headstrong they grow.