He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly,
and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? Micah —vi. 8.
And the Lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely:
for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. —Luke xvi. 8.
IN the first of these texts it is stated, What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Thy God! And in the second we read that the Lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely; or, as we may as well state now at the commencement of our observations, according to the correct translation, because he had acted prudently! In the first passage the Lord sets before us that which the ancients well called the center and soul of every virtue, the essence of all Divine works, the Divine principle of justice. They called it the center and soul of every virtue, because if there be not justice as the ground for everything else, it will be found that however fair a virtue may seem, it will be hollow and rotten within. It was not only a perception of the ancient Greeks that justice is the very soul of all goodness, but it is likewise the constant doctrine of the Sacred Volume. Unhappily that does not appear so completely throughout the Bible as it would if the word justice had been rendered from the original biblical languages directly as it is. It occurs frequently in them, but generally it is covered by the word righteousness. Righteousness, in the English Bible, is always the representative of the word justice; righteous, is always the word which renders the word just.
It has been an unhappy thing for religion that righteousness, with its derivatives, has gradually, like many other words, been altered in its use and signification. The word itself speaks directly enough its meaning;–righteousness really is rightness, fitness, uprightness in all things. This is righteousness, and it is absolutely the same as justice; but in the ordinary language of the people, nay, in the ordinary teaching of religion, people do not think of justice when they speak of righteousness; they think of religiousness, of piety, of attention to the services and observances of religion. And hence it is that the Word, though it speaks everywhere of the great aim of religion, which is to make man just as our text says, What doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly?–of the aim of religion, to make man right; to regenerate him, to bring him up to that state in which he loves to be right and to do right as the supreme object of his life, is less powerful to make men just than it would otherwise be. Although the Word of God incessantly brings this before us as very gem of Christian life, people generally overlook this great object, and think its only aim is to make a man religious, and to get him into heaven.
Hence, when we read in the Sacred Volume, Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, we do ordinarily conceive the idea, blessed are they that hunger and thirst after being right, but it rather suggests the thought, blessed are they that hunger and thirst after being pious. To be pious is, undoubtedly, a good thing; but only when justice is in the heart of our piety. All prayers, all praises, all religious observances that have not in them the earnest desire to be good and do brood, are rather odious in the sight of God than well-pleasing to Him. Cease to do evil learn to do well. Be constantly aiming to become more and more like your blessed Lord and Savior, who is the very fountain of justice and righteousness. When this is the case, then will you pray, not simply to escape punishment and to get happiness; but you will pray to become heavenly, pray to become right-minded, pray to overcome every evil and falsity within you. What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly!
In the Sacred Volume there are constantly declarations that show the essential character of the Divine principle of justice; and it is a sad thing that the tone of religion is often so much lowered that the great aim by which religion is oftentimes recommended to people is, that it manages to get them to heaven, without their being just. With this the religion of the Word of God has nothing to do; it absolutely repudiates everything of the kind. The aim of the Word of God is to make a bad man become a good man. Whereas he had loved what was iniquitous, he must love what is good; whereas he had loved what was false, he must be elevated to love what is true; whereas he was a pestilent troubler of the happiness of others, to bring him into the loving desire to do all the good he can, and to promote the Lord’s kingdom in every act of life. What doth the Lord require of thee, the prophet puts it, but to do justly! Not to do justly in the may of simply executing what is hard; but to do justice lovingly, to strive from the spirit of good-will to be righteous, and to spread the principles of right. Light is sown for the righteous, the Psalmist says; that is, light is sown for the just; and gladness for the upright in heart. Blessed are they that do his commandments. Blessed are they. If men would aim, from love to the Lord Jesus, at overcoming all that is impure and corrupt in their own hearts, they would find a blessing there directly. Religion would not be as it so often is, a thing of fear, and terror, and cringing. Religious men would find heaven descending into themselves. Blessed are they. Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. And he who prayerfully follows the Divine Savior, he who years to become a better man, strives to love the Lord with all his heart, and his neighbors as himself, will find that heaven will diffuse itself into him, and form in him a little paradise. Blessed are they that do his commandments.
Justice and judgment are the habitation of his throne.–Ps. lxxxix., 14. The Lord’s throne is heaven. Thus saith the Lord, Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool.–Isa. lxvi., 1. We are taught by the declaration that justice is the habitation of the Lord’s throne, that HEAVEN is the land of perfect justice–the land of perfect law. Justice is love clothing itself with law Love can only accomplish its blessed ends by orderly and wise arrangements. Such are the laws, such are the arrangements of heaven.
In this world the same laws exist, but they are opposed, avoided, and perverted in ten thousand ways, hence the ten thousand forms of sorrow. Here justice asserts itself in the woes which come from violated right, and in the pangs of conscience, and the agonies of remorse when wrong has been done.
But in heaven justice reigns as love to the Lord, joyously yielding Him the whole heart with its glowing thanksgiving, adoration, and obedience; the whole atmosphere is an atmosphere of love. Justice reigns in heaven as the ministration of right, of good-will, and of all the manifestations of affection, of beauty, and of use justice reigns in forms of grace, loveliness, and perfection unknown on earth. Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man to conceive the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them to us by his Spirit.–1 Cor. ii., 9. Heaven will repel the impure as light repels the owl. True religion is the embodiment of justice; it insists that God’s will should be done on earth as it is done in heaven. Through repentance, faith, and love, true religion regenerates man, and makes him fit for heaven by making him heavenly, loving, and just.
But the question then comes–how does it happen that the Lord Jesus, on one occasion, commended the man who had not done justly? How did it come to pass that there should be such an anomaly as that He should commend the unjust steward because he had acted prudently. Let us now, endeavor to see this Divine lesson in the light intended by the Lord. Let us regard the parable in its entire range, and I trust we shall find that in every part of it most edifying and consolatory lessons will appear.
We should never forget that the parables of our Lord–and in fact all His teachings–have their chief application to spiritual things, and not to things of earth. My words, He says, are spirit, and they are life.
The parable commences by stating that a certain rich man had a steward who was reported to him as having wasted his substance. This certain rich man is that Glorious Being who is, properly speaking, the only rich man in the whole universe,–the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the eternal Divine Man. He is described very beautifully by one of the apostles, who said, Though rich, yet for oar sakes he became poor.
It is only by may of ordinary speech that any human being can be called rich, because, as the apostle Paul said What have we that we have not received? The angels, who receive the most, have the deepest sense of their own nothingness and the grandest feeling of the Divine richness; hence, the Lord commences the parable by placing before us Himself, the Great Savior, our Glorious God, our Heavenly Father, and Eternal Friend, as the Author of all things, and especially of our regeneration. He is the rich man how rich, words fail altogether to convey! He is the Lord of this world, and of all worlds–of soul and body, of all that is natural, and of all that is spiritual, within and around man. From Him we receive all the blessings of time–every breath we draw, every faculty of our organization, from head to foot. there is not a wonder of mercy and love–and our bodies and souls are full of them–but what we have from this Glorious Father. We are every moment sustained by Him. How rich is he? Why this world, with all its nations and multitudes, with its kingdoms, animal, vegetable, and mineral thronged with astonishing and beautiful objects, and with all its spheres of love and mercy within, is but as a grain of sand, when we think of the universe which owes the Creator for its Lord. How rich is He? Why, astronomers tell us that a universe as large as all the worlds put together connected with all the suns we see as so many glittering stars on a brilliant night, that all these stars–those suns and worlds put together, when seen from the depths of distant space, would only seem like a handbreadth in the sky, and the sky is in every handbreadth full of these wondrous bodies. The glorious rich man, then, who is spoken of here, is the Lord of innumerable worlds; He is the King of kings, He is the Lord of lords; yet so high as He is, The high and lofty one who inhabiteth eternity, the one to whom all angels bow, and whose behests are done by suns and systems throughout the universe–this glorious rich man is Jesus, our God and Savior who cares as much for every one of us as if He had no other charge in the universe, no myriads of myriads of angels to claim His care, but only just one of us to love. This is the rich man of the parable.
Who is the steward? Who is not a steward? God imparts to us our varied faculties, powers, and possessions that we may minister to one another.
They are His goods. He gives us, as stewards, the powers of speech, the powers of thought, the activities of the body, all the talents we possess, all the thousand ministrations of love, kindness, and usefulness; they are all the gifts of our Heavenly Father, in whom we live, and move, and have our being, in order that we may use them for Him. Who, then, is not a steward? What talents have you? what powers have you? what capability of benefiting men, either in soul or body, that is not the gift of our Lord to you? He regards you as His steward. And how true it is; has it not been true with every one of us, as well as; with this steward in the parable, when it was reported he had wasted his masters goods! Have we not wasted our masters goods? Have we not neglected opportunities, misused powers, used our wealth, our treasures of mind, body, and talent in a variety of ways that have not only been useless, but pernicious? From babyhood until now we have enjoyed a thousand treasures of wealth; for such is the lot even of the present! How grand is the wealth which is comprised in the gift to every man:–the wealth of life, the wealth of thought, the wealth of talent, the air we breathe, the glorious sky that pours forth its continual beauties, the lovely things of earth, the air, the fruits, and flowers, given in such plenty to all may, there are advantages in some respects possessed by the poorest over the wealthiest. By means of the grand faculty of sight the many can observe the beauties of the carpeted earth upon which men walk, without the anxiety of spending money to take care of them. The Divine Mercy provides that the rich fields of blessing should be enjoyed by is all, and His wish is that they should be more and more, a thousand times enjoyed. Such is the rich man, the great proprietor of this glorious universe before us, and such are we. We have wasted–how often!–that little treasure-house in every one of us that was given us for God Himself to dwell in. Behold I stand at the door and knock. If any man will open the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with me. How often have we kept Him out of this little house! how often have we neglected this Glorious God and Savior, who desires to bless us always! He wishes to sup with us, to feast with us, to interchange, as it were, joys with us; that we should give Him joy by accepting Him to make us happy.
God is happy when man is blest. There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth. Yet we might have had no avenue into our souls, no little palace for our God; we might have had no thoughts of Divine things, no power of thinking as angels think, nor of loving as angels love,we have wasted them; we wasted also those lower talents and powers, both of mind and body, which ought only to be employed in a virtuous life. It is reported to our Lord that we have wasted His goods in riotous living. The truth is so. The Lord discerns everything.
The Gospel here is the description of what happens when the soul begins to feel that there has been a report against it. When a man begins to be concerned about his eternal condition, when he begins to enquire in himself, and conscience brings home Divine Truth to his condition. At such times a man asks himself, for what am I living? How have I spent my past life? What bearing has it had upon my future condition? Am I, who was made to live for ever, just like a thing that perishes, like an animal that devours its meat, and lies down and cares for nothing until the pangs of hunger awake it again? Have I been living thus? I, who was born for a nobler and higher existence, for grander, that is, for celestial things? There are everlasting habitations. Have I, as the heir of an immortal kingdom, been claiming the wealth of this glorious inheritance, or have I been wasting my goods? Such is the state represented by the stewards consciousness that there are accusations against him. Evil spirits take great pleasure in bringing these charges home to a mans conscience; they would gladly dishearten him altogether. They are called in the Sacred Volume, the accusers of the brethren. Angels do not accuse man; they excuse. Evil spirits accuse and condemn. They seek to throw a man into despair. This steward is represented as saying, I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. I feel helpless to earn wealth for myself, even to think; I am thoroughly ashamed. God be merciful, he cries, to me a sinner! I cannot do anything else. I can only mourn. I sink down, and feel how thoroughly I am worthless, and how much I have wasted. But after a little time, when this feeling of discouragement and despair has somewhat softened, the messengers of heaven come, and they say, Yes, you can do something better than this. Call up your masters debtors; take some steps for a better life; explore yourself. The steward having at first declared that be could not do anything, then says, I know what I will do; not simply what he will think, but what he will do. He calls every one of his masters debtors. But when they came, there were only two–one that owed oil, and one that owed wheat. They represent the two grand faculties in the human soul–the will and the understanding. The will which is made for the reception of Divine love, represented by the oil, is the grand faculty, the grand debtor of our Heavenly Father in every one of us. This chief part of man, the faculty into which God’s love ought to descend like holy oil inducing us to love what He loves, is the first debtor. The second faculty is the intellect, which is for the reception of truth. It is represented here as the receiver of the wheat; because wheat, in the Word of God represents truth when introduced as knowledge into the human mind. It is the wheat that the Lord speaks of in the Gospel which the sower went out to sow, and which was received into various kinds of ground. The seed is the Word of God. When we receive the gifts of our Lord rightly, although we are debtors, yet He is pleased to give us constantly an ever-increasing supply. He only accounts us debtors when we do not use His blessings rightly. The whole universe consists of His debtors. Angels will be more and more His debtors throughout eternity. He is more pleased the more we take; nay, not only so, but He pays us for having it. Don’t you remember the parable of the talents, where the man that had used two, got other two; the man that had five, got other five. In the wonderful intercourse that is carried on between God and His loving creatures, they get all the blessing. You remember when Josephs brethren were sent into Egypt, they got all the wheat they went for, and their money also, which they found again in their sacks. It is just so with us in all our dealings with the Lord. When we come to church to praise the Lord, because we have received mercies from Him before, it is His opportunity of imbuing us with fresh mercies and blessings. But when a man does not use His mercies, or perverts them to a bad use, then the Lord accounts him a debtor,–he has not put his goods; of which he was appointed steward, to their true purposes.
He can only be a debtor in these two classes of things: things of goodness, and things of truth. All mans faculties have relation to these; therefore, there are only two debtors.
And the steward said to the first, What owest thou to my Lord? And the debtor answered, A hundred measures of oil; or, as it might be rendered from the original, a hundred baths of oil. The bath was a liquid measure among the Hebrews, containing over seven gallons. And to the other, How much owest thou–a hundred measures (or a hundred cors) of wheat? The cor contained about sixteen gallons. The hundred, which is it complete number, is to represent all that we receive from the Lord; it is not that in spiritual things it is to signify any particular measure, but only to express the whole. You will find one hundred, one thousand, and ten sometimes, used in that sense. Therefore by the hundred measures of oil and the hundred measures of wheat are meant our entire indebtedness for all we have received, both of goodness and truth. We owe the Lord for all.
Oil, we have said, is the symbol in the Sacred Scriptures, of heavenly love, because that has precisely the same effect on the soul that oil has on the body: oil softens it, soothes it, heals it. It is represented oftentimes in the Sacred Word, in such passages as this in Psalm xxiii., where David says, Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over, the words evidently signify,–thou hast filled my heart with love. I am altogether receptive of celestial blessing and joy.
In Isaiah lxxii., 2, it is said, The Lord will comfort those that mourn in Zion; he will give them the oil of joy for mourning, and the garments of praise for the spirit of heaviness. It is this blessed oil which, when it descends into the heart, softens all its asperity, and sweetens all our intercourse with each other. At all times when we deal harshly, it is a little oil we want;–the Lord gives it, but we waste it. If we pray to the Lord, oil will come down into the heart. Whenever we are disposed to exercise animosity, and be bitter, let us just try this blessed healing balsam from the King of kings, and it will be found that it blesses, like mercy, him that gives, and him that takes. It is, then, heavenly love in all its applications, from the earliest dawn of life to the latest age, that is represented by the hundred measures of oil.
The wheat, as I said, is representative, in the Sacred Scriptures, of truth, especially of the truths which teach charity and goodness. It is a seed. It is that clearly which the Divine Word represents by wheat, Psalm lxxxi., 15. If the haters of the Lord would have submitted themselves to Him, He would have fed them with the finest of the wheat, and with honey out of the rock He would have satisfied them. It is that same kind of wheat of which it is said, in Matthew xiii., speaking of the Lord coming to human minds. That which fell upon good ground is he that heareth the Word and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth some a hundred fold, some sixty some thirty; where a hundred represents the same as here, the full giving out of instruction, and a full reception of Divine Truth from the Lord. Here, then, to teach us that all we have, either of truth or love, is given from the Lord our Heavenly Father, the debtors are described as both receiving these full measures and of acknowledging such reception.
The steward said, Take thy bill and write fifty, in relation to the oil; and Take thy bill and write eighty, in relation to the wheat. If a hundred that had been received implied all that the Lord imparts during the whole of life, and a great part of life had been already wasted, there could only be an acknowledgment now of that which should be received in future, of that which could still be rightly used. The sacred lesson depicts the determination of him who feels that he has wasted his time. He has wasted his powers, and he cannot pay in full. He is not what he ought to have been, but he is determined that he will now seek to apply his Lord’s goods aright. Now he will acknowledge and rightly use the fifty that remain, or the eighty that he still has. He will do the best under the circumstances. This is what our Heavenly Father is pleased to commend.
O, how many have supposed that God is a being strict to mark and swift to punish! But this parable and many others are given for the purpose of teaching that it is not so. Divine Love is desirous always of receiving man when he is willing to come, and helping him to do better for the future. With infinite tenderness, Mercy says, Come, now, if you cannot pay one hundred, pay what you can. And when man determines that henceforward he will pay what he can, he will use the fifty, he will use the eighty, he will use every opportunity that he has in the remainder of his time wisely in his masters service, the Lord commands the unjust steward, and says he has acted prudently.
I mentioned that the word prudently is here what is rendered wisely, because it is so in the original language, and it is properly so. Where a person begins first of all to endeavor to live for heaven, he has not yet got up to that state of heavenly perception and heavenly usefulness which the Lord calls wisdom. Wisdom means the highest kind of interior thought; it is the flame which shines from heavenly fire. The Word never calls a man a wise man until he has passed above mere knowledge, and above the intelligence which comes from reasoning When goodness has become his highest nature and loving law, and he says, Yea, yes, without hesitation to all that is right, and Nay, nay, to all that is wrong, without listening to selfish persuasions at all, he is called wise. He that heareth my words and doeth them, the Lord says, I will tell you to whom he is like; he is like a wise man which built his house upon a rock. Here, because the steward represents the soul malting its first efforts to do right, it is called prudent. In time perhaps, but not yet, he will be accounted wise.
It is a wonderful thing of infinite mercy and love, that the Lord will commend us while we are yet very imperfect, when we are striving to improve. He takes us by the hand and gives us truth and love, and calls on heaven to rejoice with us, and He does all this because of His infinite affliction. This, then, is meant, when it is said that He commended the unjust steward; the man who had hitherto been unjust, but now determines to use rightly all that remains of what he has and is.
And so with the Divine blessings which follow. 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 mammon of unrighteousness means all that we have acquired while we were in an unrighteous state. Mammon is the Hebrew word for riches, translated into Greek, and thence into English. When we are converted, and come to the Lord Jesus Christ we have got acquisitions more or less. It may be, we have not very much earthly wealth, hut we have life, we have talents, we have knowledge; especially the knowledge of the Word of God.
These have been acquired and possessed while our motives have been selfish and corrupt. They are our mammon of unrighteousness. Our spiritual riches are frequently our tormentors for a time; they am as enemies like Elijah was to Ahab, because we are in states in which they will not let us rest. The Lord says, Make friends of them, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of up righteousness, use them for a heavenly purpose. Do as they tell you; throw away your evils, that all heavenly virtues maybe brought down within you. When the Lord calls you to forsake your sins and follow after righteousness, do it. Let heavenly things be all applied to a heavenly purpose, then they will form heaven within you; they will form principles of hope, of faith, of love, of innocence, and peace in which you can dwell. They will receive you into everlasting habitations–they make everlasting habitations for you. When we make a new heart and right spirit within us, we make a little heaven within our own souls in harmony with the laws and the bliss of the grand heaven of the angels. When outward things fail and die, the brightness, and blessedness of these inner riches will come forth with a power and splendor over increasing, both on earth and in heaven. Make to yourselves friends of what once was the mammon of up righteousness. These friends will go with you to the bed of death; they will be with you in the resurrection and at judgment; and they will rejoice with you in heaven.
Author: Jonathan Bayley—Scripture Paradoxes -Their True Explanation (1868)