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Richard Chenevix Trench, D.D.
Chapter 25 from Notes on the Parables of our Lord.
(First Published 1841.)
LUKE xvi. 1-9.
No one, who has seriously considered, will underrate the difficulties of this parable,—difficulties which Cajetan found so insuperable that he gave up the matter in despair, affirming a solution of them impossible. It is nothing wonderful that it should have been the subject of manifold, and these the most curiously diverse, interpretations. I shall make no attempt to render a complete account of all of these; such would be an endless task ; but, as I go through the parable, shall note what parts of it those interpreters who have best right to be heard have considered its key-words, and the meanings which they have made the whole to render up; I shall at the same time briefly note what seem the weak and unsatisfactory points in those explanations which I reject. For myself, I will say at once that very many of its interpreters seem to me (if one may use a familiar expression) to have overrun their game. I am persuaded that we have here simply a parable of Christian prudence,—Christ exhorting us to use the world and the world’s good, so to speak, against the world, and for God. 

Having finished the parable of the Prodigal Son, He did not break off the conversation, but—probably after a short pause allowed, that His words might sink deeper into the hearts of His hearers,— resumed; not now, however, addressing the gainsayers any more, but those who heard Him gladly, ‘His disciples,’ as we are (ver. i) expressly told. We must not restrict this term to the Twelve (see Luke vi. 13); but as little make it embrace the whole multitude, hanging loosely on the Lord, although up to a certain point well affected to Him. By ‘His disciples’ we understand rather all whom His word had found in the deep of their spirit, and who, having left the world’s service, had taken service with Him. To these the parable  was addressed; for them, too, it was meant; since it is little probable that, as some explain, it was spoken to them, but at the Pharisees. These last, it is true, were also hearers of the Lord’s words (ver. 14), but the very mention of them as such forbids their being those to whom it was primarily addressed. Christ may have intended—most probably did intend—some of His shafts to glance off upon them, at whom yet they were not originally aimed. It will prove important, in relation to at least one explanation of the parable, that we keep in mind for whom first of all it was intended. 

‘There was a certain rich man, which had a steward,’—not a land-bailiff merely, but a ruler over all his goods, such as was Eliezer in the house of Abraham (Gen. xxiv. 2-12), and Joseph in the house of Potiphar (Gen. xxxix. 4). ‘And the same was accused unto him, that he had wasted his goods;’ or rather, ‘as wasting his goods;’ for it is no past scattering, but a present of which he is accused; and this, as we may certainly conclude, not through mere negligence, but himself deriving an unrighteous gain from the loss and wrong which his master’s property suffered under his hands. This of the lord needing that his steward’s misconduct should reach his ears through a third party, belongs to the earthly setting forth of the truth: yet it finds its parallel, Gen. xviii. 30, 31. There is no warrant whatever for assuming, as some have done, that the steward was calumniously accused; nor is any hint of this contained in the word which the Lord employs. Satan is the accuser of the brethren (Rev. xii. 9), called, therefore, by this name; but the things of which he accuses them may be only too true. Certain Chaldeans accused the Three Children, malignantly, indeed, but not falsely, of refusing to worship the golden image (Dan. iii. 8); Daniel himself is accused (still the same word in the Septuagint), and not calumniously, of having knelt and prayed to his God, in defiance of the edict of the king. (Dan. vi. 24). Those, therefore, who would clear altogether or in part the character of the steward can derive no assistance here.’  Indeed his own words (ver. 3) contain an implicit acknowledgment of his guilt; he who is so dishonest now will scarcely have been honest before; and assuredly we shall do him no wrong in taking for granted that the accusation, brought against him, very probably, by some enemy, and from malicious motives, was yet founded in truth. 

Hereupon his lord 'called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee?’ This is not an examination, but rather the expostulation of indignant surprise,—of thee, whom I had trusted so far, to whom I had committed so much.’ And then, the man not so much as attempting a defence, his destitution follows: ‘Give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.’  Those who, like Anseim, see in the parable the history of the rise, progress, and fruits of repentance, lay much stress upon this remonstrance, ‘How is it that I hear this of thee?’ It is, for them, the voice of God speaking to the sinner, bringing home to his conscience that he has had a stewardship, and has been abusing it; the threat, ‘thou mayest be no longer steward,’ being in like manner a bringing home to him, by sickness or by some other means, that he will soon be removed from his earthly stewardship, and have to render an account. The man feels that he cannot answer God one thing in a thousand; that, once removed hence, there will be no help for him anywhere; he cannot dig, for the night will have come, in which no man can work; and he will be ashamed to beg for that mercy, which he knows will then be refused. Consistently with this view, they see in the lowering of the bills, not a further and crowning act of unrighteousness, but the first act of his righteousness, the dealings of one who will now, while he has time, lay out the things in his power with no merely selfish aims but for the good of others, will scatter for God rather than for himself, seek to lay up in heaven and not on earth. The dishonesty they get over, either by giving this lowering of the bills altogether a mystical meaning, and so refusing to contemplate it in the letter at all, or in a way presently to be noticed. He is still called, they say, the ‘unjust steward’ (ver. 8), not because he continues such; but because of his former unrighteousness; and for the encouragement of penitents, who are thus reminded that, unrighteous and ungodly man as he had been beforetime, he obtained now praise and approval from his lord. He retained the title, as Matthew, the Apostle, retained that of ‘the publican’ (Matt. X. 3), in perpetual remembrance of the grace of God which had found him in that ignoble employment, and raised him to so high a dignity; as Zenas is still ‘the lawyer’ (Tit. iii. 13); Rahab ‘the harlot’ (Heb. xi. 31); Simon ‘the leper ‘ (Matt. xxvi. 6); not that such they were when receiving these designations, but that such they formerly had been. To all this it may be replied that there is nothing in the man’s counsels with himself that marks the smallest change of mind for the better, no acknowledgement of a trust abused, no desire expressed henceforward to be found faithful, but only an utterance of selfish anxiety concerning his future lot, of fear lest poverty and distress may come upon him; and the explanation from analogous instances, however ingenious, of his being still characterized (ver. 8) as the ‘unjust’ steward, is quite unsatisfactory; neither ‘publican’ nor ‘lawyer’ conveyed of necessity a sentence of moral reprobation. 

But now follow his counsels with himself; and first his confession of an utter inability anywhere to find help: his past softness of life has unfitted him for labour; ‘I cannot dig;’  his pride forbids him to sue for alms (Ecclus. xl. 28): ‘to beg I am ashamed.’ Yet this helplessness endures not long. He knows what he will do; and has rapidly conceived a plan whereby to make provision against that time of need and destitution which is now so near at hand. If his determination is not honest, it is at any rate promptly taken; and this—that he was not brought to a nonplus, but at once devised way of escape from his distresses—is a part of the skill for which he gets credit: ‘I am resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses,’ as one from whom they have received kindnesses, and who, therefore, may trust to find hospitable entertainment among them,—a miserable prospect, as the Son of Sirach declares (xxix. 22-28), yet better than utter destitution and want. 

Hereupon follows the collusive and fraudulent arrangement between him and his lord’s debtors. They owed, it seems, to the householder,—at least the two whose cases are instanced, and who are brought forward as representatives of many more,--just as but three servants are named out of the ten (Luke xix. 13), to whom pounds had been entrusted,—the ‘an hundred measures of oil,’ and the other ‘an hundred measures of wheat.’ It is not likely that these were tenants who paid their rents in kind, which rents were now by the steward lowered, and the leases or agreements tampered with:  the name ‘debtor’ seems to point another way. Again, the enormous amount” of the oil and the wheat, both costly articles (Prov. xxi. 17), makes it not less unlikely that they were poorer neighbours or dependants, whom the rich householder had supplied with means of living in the shape of food,—not, however, as a gift, but as a loan, taking from them an acknowledgment, and looking to be repaid, when they had the ability. Rather we might assume the foregoing transactions by which these men came into the relations of his debtors, to have been these,—that he, having large possessions, and therefore large incomings from the fruits of the earth, had sold, through his steward, a portion of such upon credit to these debtors,—merchants,  or other factors,—who had not as yet made their payments. They had given, however, their ‘bills’ or notes of hand, acknowledging the amount in which they were indebted to him. These, which had remained in the steward’s keeping, he now returns to hem,—'Take thy bill,’--bidding them to alter them, or to substitute others in their room, in which they confess themselves to have received much smaller amounts of oil and wheat than was actually the case, and consequently to be so much less in the rich man’s debt than they truly were. To one debtor he remits half, to another the fifth, of his debt; by these different proportions teaching us, say those who justify his conduct, and even some who do not, that charity should be no blind profuseness, exhibited without respect of the needs, greater or smaller, of those who are its objects, but exercised ever with consideration and discretion,—a sowing of the seed by the hand, and not an emptying of it out of the sack’s mouth. 

In this lowering of the bills, Vitringa finds the key of the parable; his interpretation deserving to be recorded, were it only for its exceeding ingenuity. The rich man is God, the steward the ecclesiastical leaders of the Jewish people, to whom was committed a dispensation of the mysteries of the kingdom. These were accused by the prophets, as by Ezekiel (xxxiv. 2), Malachi (ii. 8), and lastly by Christ Himself (Matt. ii. 3), that they neglected their stewardship, used the powers committed to them, not for the glory of God, but for purposes of self-exaltation and honour,—that they ‘wasted his goods.’ They feel the justice of this accusation, that they are not in their Lord’s grace, and only outwardly belong to His kingdom. Therefore they now seek to make themselves friends of others, of the debtors of their Lord, of sinful men; acting as though they still possessed authority in the things of His Kingdom. And the device by which they seek to win these friends is by lowering the standard of righteousness and obedience, inventing convenient glosses for the evading of the strictness of God’s law, allowing men to say, ‘It is a gift’ (Matt. xv. 5), suffering them to put away their wives on any slight excuse (Luke xxi. 18), and by various devices, ‘indulgences’ in the truest sense of the word, making slack the law of God (Matt. xxiii. i 6); thus obtaining for themselves favour and an interest with men, and, however God’s grace was withdrawn from them, still keeping their hold on the people, and retaining their advantages, their honours, and their peculiar privileges. In the casuistry of the Jesuits, as denounced by Pascal, we see a precisely similar attempt. This interpretation has one attraction, that it gives a distinct meaning to the lowering of the bills —‘Write fifty, write fourscore;’  which very few others do. The moral will then be no other than is commonly and rightly drawn from the parable: ‘Be prudent as are these children of the present world, but provide for yourselves not temporary friends, but everlasting habitations. They use heavenly things for earthly objects ; but do you reverse all this, and show how earthly things may be used for heavenly.’ 

With this interpretation very nearly agrees that of the writer of an elaborate article in a modern German Review.” He too conceives the parable intended for the Scribes and Pharisees—but to contain counsel for them—the unjust steward being set forth for them to copy; while Vitringa found their condemnation in it. They were the ministers of a dispensation now drawing to a close; and when in its room the kingdom of ‘Christ was set up, then their much-abused stewardship would be withdrawn from them. The parable exhorts them, in that brief period which should intervene between the announcement and actual execution of this purpose of God’s, to cultivate such a spirit as would alone give them an entrance ‘into everlasting habitations,’—the spirit, that is, which they so much lacked, of mildness and love and meekness toward all men, their fellow-sinners. This spirit, and the works which it would prompt, he affirms, are fitly set forth under the image of a remission of debts--and those, debts due to another, since it is against God that primarily every sin is committed. Such a spirit as this flows out of the recognition of our own guilt, which recognition the writer finds in the absence on the steward’s part of all attempts to justify or excuse himself. The same temper which would prompt them to these works of love and grace would fit them also for an entrance into the ‘everlasting habitations,’ the coming kingdom, which, unlike that dispensation now ready to vanish away, should never be moved. But how, it may be urged, shall this interpretation be reconciled with the words, ‘He said also unto His disciples,’ with which the Evangelist introduced the parable? It will then plainly be addressed not to them, but to the Scribes and Pharisees. 

With these new acts of unrighteousness this child of the present world filled up the short interval between his threatened and his actual dismissal from office. It is not said that he attempted to conceal these fraudulent arrangements, or that he called his lord’s debtors together secretly,--whether it was that he trusted they would keep counsel, being held together by a common interest and by the bands of a common iniquity,--or that he thus falsified the accounts, careless whether the transaction were blown abroad or not; as now a desperate man, with no character to lose; being at the same time confident that there would be no redress for his lord, when the written documents testified against him. More probably the thing was thus done openly and in the face of day, the arrangement being one which, from some cause or other, when once completed, could not be overturned. Were a secret transaction intended, the lord’s discovery of the fraud would hardly be passed over; and the steward would scarcely obtain for a contrivance so clumsy that it was presently detected, even the limited praise which actually he does obtain. Least of all would he obtain such praise, if it depended merely on the forbearance of his master, in the case of discovery, which the event will have proved must have been probable from the beginning. whether the arrangement should stand good or not. Such forbearance could not have been counted on, even though the words of the lord should lead us in the present instance to assume that he did allow the steward to reap the benefit of his dishonest scheming. 

But whether the transaction was clandestine or not, that it was fraudulent seems beyond a doubt. Such, on the face of it, it is; and all attempts to mitigate or explain away its dishonesty are hopeless.” It may be, and by some has been said, that this dishonesty is not of the essence of the parable, but an inconvenience arising from the inadequacy of earthly relationships to set forth divine. They must fail somewhere, and this is the weak side of the earthly relation between a steward and his lord, rendering it an imperfect type of the relation existing between men and God,—that in this latter relation, to use Hammond’s words, ‘the man hath liberty to use the wealth put into his hands so as may be most (not only for his master’s, but also) for his own advantage, namely, to his endless reward in heaven, which, though it were an injustice and falseness in a servant here on earth, who is altogether to consider his master’s profit, not his own, yet it is our duty and that which by the will and command of God we are obliged to do, in the execution of that steward’s office which the rich man holds under God: and is the only thing commended to us in this parable; which is so far from denominating him that makes this advantage of the treasure committed to him an unjust or unrighteous steward in the application, that it denominates him faithful (pistov) in the latter part of the parable, and him only false (adicov) that doth it not.’ In worldly things there is not, and there never can be, such absolute identity of interests between a master and a servant, that a servant, dealing wholly with reference to his own interests, would at the same time forward in the best manner his lord’s. But our interests as servants of a heavenly Lord, that is, our true interests, absolutely coincide in all things with his; so that when we administer the things committed to us for Him, then we lay them out also for ourselves, and when for ourselves, for our lasting and eternal gain, then also for Him. 

‘And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely.’ It is the lord of the steward, twice before in the parable called by this name (ver. 3, 5), who is here intended, and not Christ our Lord, who does not speak directly in His own person till ver. 9, the intermediate verse being the point of transition from the parable to the direct exhortation.’ The attempt to substitute ‘cunningly’ for ‘wisely,’ and so by limiting and lowering the commendation given, to evade the moral difficulty of the passage, cannot altogether be justified. ‘Wisely’ is not the happiest rendering, since wisdom is never in Scripture dissociated from moral goodness. But if more commendation is implied in ‘wisely’ than the original warrants, in ‘cunningly’ there is less; ‘prudently’ would best represent the original, and so in Wiclif’s Version it stood, though the word has disappeared from all our subsequent Versions. 

But concerning the praise itself, which cannot be explained away as mere admiration of the man’s cunning, it is true that none but a malignant, such as the apostate Julian, would make here a charge against the morality of the Scripture; or pretend, as he does, to believe that Jesus meant to commend an unrighteous action, and to propose it, in its unrighteousness, as a model for imitation. Still the praise has something perplexing in it; though more from the liability of the passage to abuse, unguarded as at first sight it appears, though it is not really so (for see ver. 11), than from its not being capable of a fair explanation. The explanation is this: the man’s deed has two aspects; one, that of its dishonesty, upon which it is most blame.. worthy; the other, of its prudence, its foresight, upon which, if not particularly praiseworthy, it yet offers a sufficient analogon to a Christian virtue,—one which should be abundantly, but is only too weakly found in most followers of Christ,—to draw from it an exhortation and rebuke to these; just as any other deeds of bold, bad men have a side, that namely of their boldness and decision, on which they rebuke the doings of the weak and vacillating good. There are ‘marytrs of the devil,’ who put to shame the saints of God; and running, as they do, with more alacrity to death than these to life,’ may be proposed to them for their emulation. We may disentangle a bad man’s energy from his ambition; and, contemplating them apart, may praise the one and condemn the other. Exactly so our Lord disengages here the steward’s dishonesty from his foresight:  the one can have only His earnest rebuke; the other may be usefully extolled for the provoking of His people to a like prudence; which yet should be at once a holy prudence, and a prudence employed about things of far higher and more lasting importance.” 

The next verse fully bears out this view of the Lord’s meaning: ‘For the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.’ We must find the same fault with ‘wiser’ here as with ‘wisely’ of the verse preceding; as ‘prudently’ should replace it there, so ‘more prudent’ here.  ‘The children of this world’ are the Psalmist’s men of the earth, those whose portion is here, and who look not beyond; who, born of the world’s spirit, order their lives by the world’s rule. The phrase occurs only here and at Luke xx. 34; ‘children of light’ he has in common with St. John (xii. 36) and St. Paul (i Thess. v. 5; Ephes. v. 8). The faithful are so called by this rather than any other of the many names of honour which are theirs; for thus their deeds, which are deeds of light, done in truth and sincerity, even as they are themselves sons of the day and of the light, are contrasted with the ‘works of darkness,’ the ‘hidden things of dishonesty,’ wrought by the children of this present world, and of which he who plays the foremost part here has just given a notable specimen. 

The declaration itself has been differently understood, according as the sentence has been differently completed. Some complete it thus: ‘The children of this world are wiser in their generation,’ namely, in worldly things, ‘than the children of light’ are in those same worldly things; that is, Earthly men are more prudent than spiritual men in earthly matters; these earthly are their element, their world; they are more at home in them; they give more thought, bestow more labour upon them, and therefore succeed in them better: though it be that this is only as owls see better than eagles—in the dark.  But it is hard to perceive how a general statement of this kind bears on the parable, which most are agreed urges upon the Christian, not prudence in earthly things by the example of the worldling’s prudence in the same, but rather, by the example of the worldling’s prudence in these things, urges upon him prudence in heavenly. 

Others, then, are nearer the truth, who complete the sentence thus:  The children of this world are wiser in their generation’ (in worldly matters) ‘than the children of light in theirs,’ that is, in heavenly matters; ‘the children of light’ being thus rebuked that they give not half the pains to win heaven which ‘the children of this world’ do to win earth,—that they are less provident in heavenly things than those are in earthly,—that the world is better served by its servants than God is by His. If, however, we would perfectly seize the meaning, we must see in the words, ‘in their generation,’ —or, rather, ‘unto’ or ‘toward their generation' --an allusion, often missed, to the debtors in the parable. They, the ready accomplices in the steward’s fraud, showed themselves men of the same generation as he was; they were all of one race, children of the ungodly world, and the Lord’s declaration is, that the men of this world make their intercourse with one another more profitable,—obtain more from it,—manage it better for their interests, such as those are, than do the children of light their intercourse with each other. For what opportunities, He would imply, are missed by these last, by those among them to whom a share of the earthly mammon is entrusted,—what opportunities of laying up treasure in heaven, of making to themselves friends for tile time to come by showing love to the poor saints, or generally of doing offices of kindness to the household of faith, to those of the same generation as themselves,—whom, notwithstanding this affinity, they yet make not, to the extent they might, receivers of benefits, to be returned hereafter a hundredfold into their own bosoms. 

His disciples shall not so miss their opportunities; but, after the example of him who bound to himself by benefits the men of his generation, bind those to themselves who, like themselves, were ‘children of light:’  ‘And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, that when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.’ This ‘mammon of unrighteousness'  has been sometimes explained as wealth unjustly gotten, by fraud or by violence, ‘treasures of wickedness’ (Prov. X. 2). The words so interpreted would be easily open to abuse, as though a man might compound with his conscience and with God, and by giving some small portion of alms out of unjustly acquired wealth make the rest clean unto him But plainly the first recommendation to the possessor of such would be to restore it to its rightful owners, as Zacchaeus, on his conversion, was resolved to do (Luke xix. 8); for ‘he that sacrificeth of a thing wrongfully gotten, his offering is ridiculous’ (Ecclus. xxxiv. 18; xxxv. 12), and out of such there could never be offered acceptable alms to Him who has said, ‘I hate robbery for burnt-offering.’ Only when this restoration is impossible, as must often happen, could it be lawfully bestowed upon the poor. Others understand by it not so much wealth by the present proprietor unjustly acquired as wealth which from the very nature of the world and the world’s business can scarcely ever have been gotten together without sin somewhere,—without something of the defilement of the world from which it was gathered clinging to it;—if not sin in the present possessor, yet in some of those, nearer or more remote, from or through whom he received it: which being so, he that inherits the wealth inherits also the obligation to make good the wrongs committed in the getting of it together. But the comparison with verse 12, where ‘unrighteous mammon,’ a phrase equivalent to ‘mammon of unrighteousness,’ is set against ‘true riches,’—these ‘true’ being evidently enduring goods, such as neither fade nor fail, makes far more likely that ‘mammon of unrighteousness’ is uncertain, unstable mammon, one man’s to-day, and another’s tomorrow; which if a man trust in, he is trusting in a lie, in that which sooner or later will betray his confidence. And ‘mammon of unrighteousness’ it may in a deeper sense be justly called, seeing that in all wealth a principle of evil is implied; for in a perfect state of society, in a realized kingdom of God upon earth, there would be no such thing as property belonging to one man more than another. In the moment of the Church’s first love, when that kingdom was for an instant realized, ‘all that believed were together, and had all things common’ (Acts iv. 3 2-35) ; and this existence of property has ever been so strongly felt as a witness for the selfishness of man, that in all ideas of a perfect commonwealth,—which, if perfect, must of course be a Church and a State in one,—from Plato’s down to the Socialists’, this of the community of goods has entered as a necessary condition. And thus, however the possessor of the wealth, or those who transmitted it to him, may have fairly acquired it, yet it is not less this ‘unrighteous mammon,’ witnessing in its very existence as one man’s, and not every man’s, for the selfishness of man,—for the absence of that highest love, which would make each man feel that whatever was his was every one’s, and would leave no room for a mine and thine in the world. With all this, we must never forget that the attempt prematurely to realize this or any other little fragment of the kingdom of God, apart from the rest,—the corruption and evil of man’s heart remaining unremoved, and being overlooked or denied,—has ever proved one of the most fruitful sources of worst mischiefs in the world. 

The words, ‘that when ye fail,’ are an euphemistic way of saying, ‘that when ye die.’ Many have shrunk from referring what follows, ‘they may receive you,’ to the friends who shall have been secured by aid of the unrighteous mammon; such reference seeming to them to ascribe too much to men and to their intercession, to imply a right on their parts who had received tile benefits, to introduce their benefactors ‘into everlasting habitations,’ and so to be trenching on the prerogative which is God’s alone. For some who have entertained these misgivings ‘they ‘ are the angels, as we find angels (ver. 22) carrying Lazarus into Abraham’s bosom; others understand that it is God and Christ who will ‘receive;’ while for others the phrase is impersonal (cf. xii. 11, 20; xxiii. 31); ‘they may receive you’ being equivalent to ‘you may be received.’ But if we look at this verse, not as containing an isolated doctrine, but in vital connexion with the parable of which it gives the moral, we shall at once perceive why this language is used, and the justification of its use. The reference to the debtors is plain; they, being made friends, were to receive the deposed steward into temporary habitations; and the phrase before us is an echo from the parable, the employment of which throws back light upon it, and at once fixes attention on, and explains its most important part. It is idle to press the words further, and against all analogy of faith to assert, on the strength of this single phrase, that even with God’s glorified saints, with any except Himself will reside power of their own to admit into the kingdom of heaven, but idle also to affirm that ‘they may receive you,’ in the second clause of the sentence, can refer to any other but the friends mentioned in the first—which no one, unless alarmed by the consequences which others might draw from the words, could for an instant call in question.’ The true parallel to this statement, at once explaining and guarding it, is evidently Matt. xxv. 34-40. The heavenly habitations being ‘everlasting,’ are tacitly contrasted with the temporary shelter which was all that the steward, the child of the present world, procured for himself with all his plotting and planning, his cunning and dishonesty,—also, it may be, with the temporary stewardship which every man exercises on earth, from which it is not long before he fails and is removed:—how important therefore, the word will imply, that he should make sure his entrance into a kingdom that shall not be moved.’ 

In the verses which follow (10-13), and which stand in vital coherence with the parable, it is very noteworthy that not prudence, but faithfulness, in the dispensation of things earthly is urged; putting far away any such perversion of the parable, as that the unfaithfulness of the steward could have found a shadow of favour with the Lord. The things earthly in which men may show their faithfulness and their fitness to be entrusted with a higher stewardship, are slightingly called ‘that which is least,’ as compared with those spiritual gifts and talents which are ‘much;’ they are termed ‘unrighteous,’ or deceitful ‘mammon,’ as set over against the heavenly riches of faith and love, which are ‘true’ and durable ‘riches;’ they are ‘that which is another man’s,’ by comparison with the heavenly goods, which when possessed are our own, a part of our very selves, being akin to our truest life. Thus the Lord at once casts a slight on the things worldly and temporal, and at the same time magnifies the importance of a right administration of them; since in the dispensing of these,—which He declares to be the least,—to be false and with no intrinsic worth,—to be alien from man’s essential being, He at the same time announces that a man may prove his fidelity, will show what is in him, and whether he may fitly be entrusted with a stewardship of durable riches in the kingdom of God.  And in ver. 13 he further states what the fidelity is, which in this stewardship is required: it is a choosing of God instead of mammon for our Lord. For in this world we are as servants from whom two masters are claiming allegiance: one is God, man’s rightful Lord; the other is this unrighteous mammon, given to be our servant, to be wielded by us in God’s interests, and in itself to be considered as slight, transient, and another’s; but which, in a sinful world, has erected itself into a lord, and now challenges obedience from us. This if we yield, we shall not any longer lay out according to God’s will that which He lent us to be merely a thing beneath us, but which we shall have allowed a will and voice of its own, and to speak to us in accents of command. We shall not any longer be stewards and servants of God; for that usurping lord has a will so different from His will, gives commands so opposite to His commands, that occasions must speedily arise when one will have to be despised and disobeyed, if the other be honoured and served; God, for instance, will command a scattering, when mammon will urge to a further heaping and gathering; God will require a laying out upon others, when mammon, or the world, a laying out upon ourselves. Therefore, these two lords having characters so different, and giving commands so contrary, it will be impossible to reconcile their services (Jam. iv. 4); 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.’ Such appears to me the connexion between ver. 13 and the two which go before, and between all these and the parable of which they are intended to supply the moral.