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LUKE xvi. 8, 9. And the lord commended the unjust steward, be
cause he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the 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.
THE parable of the unjust steward is generally considered to be of difficult interpretation, and has given occasion to frequent obloquy among sceptical writers. Much of the difficulty, however, may be removed by inquiry into the occasion on which it was delivered, and by carefully comparing the expressions contained in the parable, with the observations grounded upon it by our Lord himself; observations, which afford the only certain clue to its real intent, and effectually preclude any misconstruction to which it might otherwise be liable.
The persons to whom it appears to have
been more immediately addressed were the Pharisees ; " who," says the Evangelist,“ were “ covetous,” and “ when they heard all these
things,” (that is, the parable, and our Lord's observations upon it,)“ derided him.” They were conscious, probably, that it was directed against them in particular, as persons intent upon “laying up for themselves treasures
upon earth,” and regardless of those “ trea“ sures in heaven," which our Lord had emphatically exhorted his disciples to be chiefly desirous of obtaining. In the character of the unjust steward is pourtrayed a man of a worldly spirit, unrestrained by any sense of duty in the pursuit of temporal gain, trusting in uncertain riches, and bent upon securing to himself present enjoyment, at whatever sacrifice of integrity. That such persons could not become His faithful disciples, nor steadfastly adhere to Him as their Lord and Master, is a lesson distinctly conveyed in the parable, which the Pharisees could hardly fail to discern.
When, therefore, it is said that “the “ lord"—not our blessed Saviour himself, but the lord, or rich man, in the parable“ commended the unjust steward,” because “ he had done wisely:" the question immediately presents itself, What was this commendation, and what was this wisdom? Was the commendation serious, or ironical ? Was the wisdom delusive, or real? Now, the commendation itself marks the iniquity of him to whom it is applied, by calling him unjust ; and therefore can hardly convey any other meaning than that of a sarcastic admiration of the man's shrewdness and sagacity in providing against immediate ruin, though by an act of dishonesty greatly aggravating his previous offence. For the same reason, the expression, that “ he had done wisely,” can mean nothing more than that he had shewn much ingenuity and forecast, in securing to himself a reception among those who were to become partners in his iniquity, on his dismissal from the service of his lord. This is confirmed also by our Lord's observation, that “ the children of this world are in their
a Luke xvi. 14.
generation wiser than the children of light.” The children of this world are they whose hopes and expectations are limited to this present life, and extend no further. The children of light are they who look forward to a future state of eternal reward or punishment, as the main object of regard. The unjust steward was one of the former description, and acted “wisely in his generation,”
conformably with his own sordid views and principles, in securing to himself the
possession of that mammon, which, whether justly or unjustly acquired, had entirely engrossed his affections. Covertly also, our Lord, in this observation, may be supposed to have glanced at the Pharisees, as “ children of this
world,” who proved themselves similarly “ wise in their generation,” by rejecting Him; since his kingdom was not of this world, nor did he come to bestow temporal honours and emoluments; but forewarned his disciples that through much tribulation they must enter into the kingdom of heaven. So long as this disposition predominated among them, they could not become his faithful followers; and they acted consistently, in seeking every opportunity to thwart his purpose, in heaping injuries upon him, and leaguing with others to bring his ministry into contempt.
But our Lord subjoins to this observation an exhortation of more general importance, and such as gives to the main incident in the parable a weight and significancy peculiarly characteristic of his mode of communicating spiritual instruction:-“ 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.” Here the contrast is strongly marked between the commendation given to the unjust steward, and that which will be bestowed hereafter upon the just and faithful at the tribunal of their eternal and omniscient Judge. The policy of the former is nevertheless still kept in view, as the groundwork of the admonition engrafted upon the parable ; that policy being more or less exemplified in all who concern themselves only with the things of this present life. If they fail in one respect, they endeavour to secure their object in some other way, and are fertile in expedients for the attainment of the end in view. This end they steadfastly pursue; and seldom are induced by difficulties, or even by disappointments, to abandon it; but persevere in their course with unabated ardour. Hence our Lord takes occasion to shew the advantage that might be derived by persons of a better disposition, from being no less sedulous in the pursuit of spiritual and everlasting treasures, than the others usually are in the pursuit of such as are precarious in their tenure, perishable in their nature, and comparatively of short and momentary duration ;—the whole force of which admonition consists in contrasting temporal with eternal possessions, and the means ne