1Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ 3″The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— 4I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ 5″So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6” ‘Eight hundred gallons[a] of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’ 7″Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ ” ‘A thousand bushels[b] of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ 8″The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 9I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. 10″Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? (LUKE XVI. 1-12.)
Good men, working for their spiritual future, should exhibit as much wisdom in administration, as is shown by worldly men, working for their worldly future.
THE LITERAL SENSE.
Viewed superficially, this parable has been thought to encourage fraud, But no such idea can be drawn from a careful and logical consideration of the text. A parable is not intended to be true by mere comparison, but by correspondence, which is a comparison of spiritual and natural counterparts. In the literal sense, the parable presents the case of a shrewd man, who made a prompt and worldly-wise use of his opportunities. He found himself in a critical position, and he exhibited forethought, readiness and determination, in providing for himself, so that, when discharged from his position, he would have security for the future. And the literal moral of the parable is clear enough, i.. e., that spiritual men ought to show equal executive ability, in escaping from impending spiritual dangers, and in providing for themselves, future spiritual protection and abiding-place.
THE SPIRITUAL SENSE.
And, in the spiritual sense, there is an exact meaning, by correspondence, as we shall see, as we proceed in the explanation. The Lord, in speaking to the natural-minded man, thus leaves a natural inference that he must make a good use of his natural riches, for the future life; and, to the spiritual man, He gives an intelligent direction for the rational conduct of spiritual life. The parable represents a state of temptation.
To the natural man, provision for the future means the accumulation of worldly things; but, to the spiritual man, it means growth in character; for a man spiritually provides for the future, by outgrowing his evils, and growing into goodness.
When the spiritual man finds himself in spiritual trouble, by neglect of the interests of his spiritual Master, he provides for the future, by making friends of those natural and spiritual principles which will always feed him, and provide for him a future home.
THE MAN, AND THE STEWARD.
In the parable, “the rich man ” is the Lord, the Divine Man; not merely because all things in the universe are His, but also, and primarily, because all goodness and truth are His. He is Goodness, itself, Truth, itself and Life, itself. In a general sense, the steward is the Church, dispensing the Lord’s spiritual wealth. And in a limited sense, each individual man, as a Church in the least form, is a steward of the Lord, having charge of the Lord’s good and truth.
WASTING THE GOODS.
The steward was reported to the Lord as wasting his goods. These spiritual goods are the riches of spiritual life, the knowledges of good and truth, the principles of spiritual life, committed to men, for wise use. These spiritual goods are wasted by the man who neglects them, and who lives carelessly, making pious professions, without practising the truth. And the Church, collectively, wastes the Lord’s goods, when it teaches false doctrine, encouraging a careless life. And, through the whole history of the Church, the Lord has called it to account, for the abuse of its stewardship; collectively, through the holy Word, and individually, through the conscience of the man.
CALLED TO ACCOUNT.
Naturally, when a man sees his great responsibility to the Lord, his conscience is moved. He sees that, in states of temptation, he is inclined to pervert his knowledges of good and truth, and to use them for selfish and worldly purposes. Then he is led to self-examination, to see what use he has made of his Master’s goods. And the evil spirits who aretempting him, urge him to think that he has sinned beyond possibility of redemption, and that he must lose his spiritual home. But the Lord acts upon the man, through what there is of good and truth remaining in him, and leads him to arouse himself to a sense of his need of reformation.
And, in the judgment, the Lord’s truth calls every man, and every Church, to render an account of its stewardship. And every Church that fails to teach vital truths, finally hears the condemnation, “Thou mayest be no longer steward.” So there have been several general Churches, or dispensations, varying in character. But, in the promised New-Jerusalem, there will be the final and enduring Church, teaching the Lord’s truth from His open Word, in its literal and spiritual meanings.
THE INWARD THOUGHT.
When the man sees how he has wasted the Lord’s spiritual riches of truth, he says, “ within himself,” “What shall I do?” This is his inward thought, moved by his conscience. What shall I do, to free myself from my natural tendencies to evil? I fear that my neglect of spiritual riches will lead to my loss of them.
“I cannot dig;” literally, “I have not strength to dig.” Men who are not used to manual labor, do not feel able to do it, habitually. But, spiritually, to dig is to search into things, to learn their profound principles; to study and to inquire. As a man digs into the earth, to examine its contents, or to plant something, or to build something, so the spiritual man mentally seeks to penetrate beyond the surface of doctrines, and of the letter of the Word: he digs into these things, that he may see what is in their depths; that he may discover their treasures, or find room for further growth, or build up some better life.
The man, in temptation, exclaims, “I have not strength to dig,” because he feels unable to procure his own mental and spiritual living, by his own investigations. He knows that he must depend on the Lord for truth; and that if his neglect of the Lord’s truth, and the abuse of it, should result in his loss of truth, he cannot recover truth by any effort of his own, apart from the Lord’s revelation.
“To beg, I am ashamed ;” i. e., he feels that he cannot go to the Lord, asking for the truth, when he has already had the truth, and has abused and neglected it. He is scarcely willing, as yet, to make a full confession of his utter helplessness, and to beg for Divine mercy and assistance. He is in temptation. Evil spirits, infesting his mind, keep him in despair.
WHAT HE WILL DO.
But he resolves what he shall do, when “put out of his stewardship ; i. e., when he finds himself deprived “of the riches of knowledge, by his neglect and abuse of them. In all these states of thought, the Lord is watching over the man, allowing him to come into humility and contrition, so that he may permit himself to be led into higher states of life. The man feels that he will be an outcast; and he seeks some way of providing for a future home.
The action of the unrighteous steward is simply representative, representing the mind, in its efforts to provide an eternal mental home in the Lord’s good and true principles.
THE HOUSE, ETC.
The steward wished to be received into the houses of the debtors, etc. The house of every man’s spirit in his will, in his inward mind. In a good sense, when a man, by means of temptation, sees his own unworthiness, and fears spiritual death, and is led to repent and to reform, he is led out of the mental condition of a mere steward of other men’s goods, a mere learner and thinker of truths, and is led into the more advanced condition of a lover of good, as one of the family, These are representative things, not seen in the mere letter of the parable. When truth ceases to be the ruling principle of a man’s mind, and love takes its place, he is then no longer a mere steward, but is one of the family.
CALLING THE DEBTORS.
The steward called the debtors. Literally, these debtors may have been merchants, receiving goods from the rich man’s farm, or tenants, paying their rent in shares of the crop. Spiritually, every man is a debtor to the Lord. The natural man is forced to acknowledge his debt to the Lord ; but the spiritual man loves to acknowledge it. No man can fully pay his debt to the Lord. But he can fully acknowledge his debt, and keep the Lord’s commandments.
The debtors to the Lord are our will and our understanding, in which we live. And so we find, in the parable, many debtors implied, but two, only, particularly mentioned; because all our spiritual debts are of two kinds, debts of the will and of the understanding; i. e., of the affectional life and of the intellectual life. The oil, warm and smooth, represents the things of our affections, which we call the good of love; while the wheat represents what we call the good of truth, the practical good of intellectual life. And the question, “How much owest thou?” is an inquiry of conscience, as to what we owe to our Lord, of the blessings of our twofold life; what good affections and true thoughts of our actual life are derived from the Lord.
One debtor acknowledges a debt of one hundred pleasures of oil; and another, one hundred measures of wheat. Olive oil and wheat were the staple products of the Holy Land. So they are, representatively, as love and wisdom, the staple products of our spiritual life. One hundred is a general number, meaning all, or in general, a fulness. And, to acknowledge a debt of one hundred measures of oil, and of wheat, is to acknowledge that we owe to the Lord, all our goodness and all our practical truth.
THE BILL, ETC.
To take the bill, and to sit down, quickly, and write down a certain number, means to define our indebtedness to the Lord, in exact terms, so that we shall comprehend our relation to our Lord. Sitting is a somewhat fixed position, relating to the state of the will. And we write down our debt, in our hearts, when we desire and love to acknowledge it.
Numbers represent states and conditions of our mental life. One hundred represents what is full and complete. Fifty, when contrasted with one hundred, represents what is sufficient. No man can fully pay his debt to the Lord; but he can, now, let the dead past go, and begin a new career of goodness. He can do all that can be done to pay his debts in the future, by acknowledging them, and by ceasing from evil, and keeping the Lord’s commandments. He cannot pay one hundred measures of oil; but he can pay fifty; i. e., he can do all that can now be done, to atone for the past, and to keep the future in good order.
And the Lord will accept this, as sufficient; because no man can go back and undo the past, and remake it. If the man will now sit down in the truth, and write on his heart an acknowledgment of his debts to the Lord, and will keep the commandments, he will write his debt in his book of life also; and from this he shall be judged. And, if he lives a new career, his life will not be in the old career. And the past half of his debt will be cancelled,
And no man can go back, and practise all the neglected truth of the past : he must improve the living present, and thus make the future. He cannot pay his one hundred measures of wheat, But, in temptation, he can endure, when tempted to deny and neglect the truth. And thus he can pay his present debt, as far as possibly observing and following the truth, now and henceforth, in temptation and in prosperity.
Four score, or eighty, represents temptation ; because it is twice forty; and forty represents a state of temptation, as we see by its use in the Scriptures. There were forty days of flood; the Israelites were forty years in the wilderness ; Jesus was forty days in the desert, tempted of the devil, etc. Thus, to pay eighty measures of wheat, is to stand by the truth, in temptations, even double temptations, which attack both the affections and the thoughts. It is to live by the Lord’s Word, in all things of the daily life. These things are all that we can do, to pay our debt to the Lord. As to the past, we may well cry, “Enter not into judgment with Thy servant, for, in Thy sight, no man living shall be justified.”
COMMENDING THE STEWARD.
“And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely.” It was not Jesus who commended, but the rich man, the lord or master of the steward. And, in using the steward as a representative, Jesus did not act without Divine reason. It was necessary to use some case in which the man was brought into fear of loss of his place, through his own neglect; and, therefore, no good and righteous steward would have afforded the necessary elements for the parable. But Jesus did not countenance the steward’s unrighteousness, his fraud, his sin. He simply used the case to illustrate the man’s forethought, prudence, worldly wisdom, prompt resolution, and executive ability; his readiness to meet a sudden emergency, and to provide for the future.
The word used in the ordinary translation is “wisely ;” but this is not a good translation. We associate a moral goodness with the idea of wisdom: but it is not so with this Greek word: it means worldly-wise, prudent, as a wise policy, the prudence of the serpent. Now, these characteristics of prudence, etc., are commendable, as traits of character, even when they are used for a bad purpose. Industry, carefulness, promptness, punctuality, foresight, economy, resolution, executive ability, are to be admired, in any man, as traits of character. And we think of them, as apart from the spiritual character of the man.
So, in correspondence, we think of certain traits, apart from the general character. For instance, the keen far-sightedness of the eagle corresponds to the mental breadth and keenness of vision of the spiritual man. We consider the eagle, in this case, simply as to his keen sight, and not as to his fierceness, as a bird of prey. So, the rich man commended the steward, from the steward’s own standpoint: he did well for himself; he showed ability to escape from a serious dilemma.
WISER IN THEIR GENERATION.
And Jesus called the attention of His disciples to the fact that worldly men show more energy and wisdom, of their kind, and provide for themselves more prudently, than spiritual men are apt to do, while in the physical world, “For the children of this world are, in their generation [literally, ‘for their generation‘] wiser than the children of light.” The children of the world are the worldly-minded, who live for this world. And the children of light are those who have been born again, into the world of spiritual light, the light of heavenly truth.
All states of human life are outbirths, generated by our ruling-love. The worldly man is a merely natural-minded generation. Everything in his character is generated by his love of the world. And so he lives for the world, only: he concentrates all his energy upon worldly things. And no wonder that he is more cunning, in his generation, than the spiritual man is in the world : for the spiritual man places his real life and energy in the inward world of spiritual life. “The serpent was more subtle than any [other] beast of the field.” The senses, signified by the serpent, are wise in their generation; i. e., in outward things, and for the sensuous life; but for this, only. Serpents are more cunning than lambs or doves. And ” wls can see better than eagles, in the dark.”
Thus, in the parable, our Lord teaches us, practically, that we should be as ready and able to look after our spiritual interests, as worldly men are to look after their worldly interests. And so, on sending out His disciples, He said to them, “Be ye, therefore, prudent as serpents, and harmless as doves.” Our opportunities, our associations with each other, and all the circumstances of our life, might be made far more profitable to our spiritual life than we generally make them to be. And, in both natural and spiritual things, men of the church may well learn a lesson from the energy and tact of the men of the world.
MAKING FRIENDS WITH MAMMON.
And, in the concluding part of the parable, we notice that what the Lord commends is not mere activity, but faithfulness to the matter in hand. When the Lord says, ” Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness,” He teaches us to use this world wisely, prudently, with prompt energy, skill and common sense, in order that we may make the things of this world act as friends to our spiritual life, and not as enemies, This world becomes our enemy, spiritually, when we love it for itself alone, forgetting heavenly principles; but it becomes our friend, when we secure the right use of it, as a training-school for heaven. Money and mental wealth will the “the mammon of unrighteousness” to us, if abused. But the same things, when wisely used, for spiritual life, cease to be unrighteous; but they will be friends, who will help to receive us into the mansions of heaven, because they will help to prepare us for heaven, in co-operation with the spiritual riches of heavenly truth.
When we “fail,” is when we die; when this world fails longer to provide for us; and also when, spiritually, we see that the things of the world fail to satisfy the higher longings of the human soul.
Our Lord said, “He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in much; and he that is unjust in the least, is unjust in much :” because a man works from a certain principle of life, and that principle shows itself in the quality of its action, whatever may be the quantity of the act. “A good tree bringeth forth good fruit.” “A good man, out of the good treasure of his heart, bringeth forth good things.”
LEAST AND MUCH.
The” least” things are the beginnings of spiritual life: and, if a man is faithful to these, they will grow to be ” much.” Again, natural things are “least,” and spiritual things are much :” and he who is faithful in natural things is faithful in spiritual things, for the same inward principle actuates him in both. A man who is dishonest to men is dishonest to the Lord. And a man who does not keep the commandments literally, does not keep them spiritually. “If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you heavenly things?”
“If, therefore, ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches ?” For, when we are unfaithful, the world becomes unrighteous to us; i. e., we love it, and act in it, unrighteously. And, when this is so, how can we expect to attain the higher life of heaven? If we will not be faithful to the letter of our Lord’s Word, and of His commandments, how can we expect Him to trust us with the true riches of the inward and spiritual truth, that lies hidden from worldly eyes, in the profound depth of the spiritual meaning?
When we neglect, or abuse, the truth, it dies out of our hearts and understandings, and remains in our memory, only; and then it does not govern our affection and thought, nor come into our daily life. And then, though it is our Lord’s truth, it is not ours: we have not made it ours. ” And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who shall give you that which is your own.“
So, in the parable of “The Talents,” the man who hid the one talent entrusted to him by his Lord, had even that one taken from him, and given to the man who had the ten talents. Thus, the truth that we will not use, we must lose. And the truth which we will not be faithful to, because it is the Lord’s, we cannot make our own, But it would be our own, if we would make it so, by incorporating it into our life.
THE WORK OF LIFE.
Thus, in this parable, our Lord teaches us to have one well-defined purpose in life; i. e., to be regenerated; and to bend all our energies to that great work, doing all we can to use the world as a friend and servant of the Lord. Thus we shall do all we can to pay our debt to our Lord, in and by our daily life. And then, inasmuch as we sincerely do good to the least of men, we shall do it to the Lord.
We can take part in the world’s affairs, using common sense, skill, and energy, in performing uses; but not working in a merely worldly spirit. We can use the world as a friend to heaven, and not as an enemy; bravely and energetically, and with prudence and executive ability, following every truth that we know, And then, when natural things fail to satisfy our open spirits, the higher aspects of heavenly truths will “receive [us] into everlasting habitations.”
Author: Edward Craig Mitchell 1887