Luke 16


The parable of the unjust steward, 1-8.

Christ applies this to his hearers, 9-13.

The pharisees take offence, 14.

Our Lord reproves them, and shows the immutability of the law,


Counsels against divorce, 18.

The story of the rich man and the beggar, commonly called

Dives and Lazarus, 10-31.


Verse 1. A steward] οικονομος, from οικος, a house, or

οικια, a family, and νεμω, I administer; one who

superintends domestic concerns, and ministers to the support of

the family, having the products of the field, business, &c., put

into his hands for this very purpose. See Clarke on Lu 8:3.

There is a parable very like this in Rab. Dav. Kimchi's comment

on Isaiah, Isa 40:21: "The whole world may be considered as a

house builded up: heaven is its roof; the stars its lamps;

and the fruits of the earth, the table spread. The owner and

builder of this house is the holy blessed God; and man is the

steward, into whose hands all the business of the house is

committed. If he considers in his heart that the master of the

house is always over him, and keeps his eye upon his work; and if,

in consequence, he act wisely, he shall find favour in the eyes of

the master of the house: but if the master find wickedness in him,

he will remove him, min pakidato, from his STEWARDSHIP.

The foolish steward doth not think of this: for as his eyes do not

see the master of the house, he saith in his heart, 'I will eat

and drink what I find in this house, and will take my pleasure in

it; nor shall I be careful whether there be a Lord over this house

or not.' When the Lord of the house marks this, he will come and

expel him from the house, speedily and with great anger. Therefore

it is written, He bringeth the princes to nothing." As is usual,

our Lord has greatly improved this parable, and made it in every

circumstance more striking and impressive. Both in the Jewish and

Christian edition, it has great beauties.

Wasted his goods.] Had been profuse and profligate; and had

embezzled his master's substance.

Verse 2. Give an account of thy, &c.] Produce thy books of

receipts and disbursements, that I may see whether the accusation

against thee be true or false. The original may be translated,

Give up the business, τονλογον, of the stewardship.

Verse 3. I cannot dig] He could not submit to become a common

day-labourer, which was both a severe and base employment: To beg

I am ashamed. And as these were the only honest ways left him to

procure a morsel of bread, and he would not submit to either, he

found he must continue the system of knavery, in order to provide

for his idleness and luxury, or else starve. Wo to the man who

gets his bread in this way! The curse of the Lord must be on his

head, and on his heart; in his basket, and is his store.

Verse 4. They may receive me] That is, the debtors and tenants,

who paid their debts and rents, not in money, but in kind; such as

wheat, oil, and other produce of their lands.

Verse 6. A hundred measures of oil.] εκατονβατους, A hundred

baths. The bath was the largest measure of capacity among the

Hebrews, except the homer, of which it was the tenth part: see

Eze 45:11, 14. It is equal to the

ephah, i.e. to seven gallons and a half of our measure.

Take thy bill] Thy account-τογραμμα. The writing in which

the debt was specified, together with the obligation to pay so

much, at such and such times. This appears to have been in the

hand-writing of the debtor, and probably signed by the steward:

and this precluded imposition on each part. To prevent all

appearance of forgery in this case, he is desired to write it over

again, and to cancel the old engagement. In carrying on a running

account with a tradesman, it is common among the Hindoos for the

buyer to receive from the hands of the seller a daily account of

the things received; and according to this account, written on a

slip of paper, and which remains in the hands of the buyer, the

person is paid.

Verse 7. A hundred measures of wheat.] εκατονκορους, a

hundred cors. κορος, from the Hebrew cor, was the largest

measure of capacity among the Hebrews, whether for solids or

liquids. As the bath was equal to the ephah, so the cor was

equal to the homer. It contained about seventy-five gallons and

five pints English. For the same reason for which I preserve the

names of the ancient coins, I preserve the names of the ancient

measures. What idea can a mere English reader have of the word

measure in this and the preceding verse, when the original words

are not only totally different, but the quantity is as seven to

seventy-five? The original terms should be immediately inserted

in the text, and the contents inserted in the margin. The present

marginal reading is incorrect. I follow Bishop Cumberland's

weights and measures. See Clarke on Lu 15:8.

In the preceding relation, I have no doubt our Lord alluded to a

custom frequent in the Asiatic countries: a custom which still

prevails, as the following account, taken from Capt. Hadley's

Hindostan Dialogues, sufficiently proves. A person thus addresses

the captain: "Your Sirkar's deputy, whilst his master was gone to

Calcutta, established a court of justice.

"Having searched for a good many debtors and their creditors, he

learned the accounts of their bonds.

"He then made an agreement with them to get the bonds out of the

bondsmen's hands for half the debt, if they would give him one


"Thus, any debtor for a hundred rupees, having given fifty to

the creditor, and twenty-five to this knave, got his bond for

seventy-five rupees.

"Having seized and flogged 125 bondholders, he has in this

manner determined their loans, and he has done this business in

your name." Hadley's Gram. Dialogues, p. 79. 5th edit. 1801.

Verse 8. The lord commended] Viz. the master of this unjust

steward. He spoke highly of the address and cunning of his

iniquitous servant. He had, on his own principles, made a very

prudent provision for his support; but his master no more approved

of his conduct in this, than he did in his wasting his substance

before. From the ambiguous and improper manner in which this is

expressed in the common English translation, it has been supposed

that our blessed Lord commended the conduct of this wicked man:

but the word κυριος, there translated lord, simply means the

master of the unjust steward.

The children of this world] Such as mind worldly things only,

without regarding God or their souls. A phrase by which the Jews

always designate the Gentiles.

Children of light.] Such as are illuminated by the Spirit of

God, and regard worldly things only as far as they may subserve

the great purposes of their salvation, and become the instruments

of good to others. But ordinarily the former evidence more

carefulness and prudence, in providing for the support and comfort

of this life, than the latter do in providing for another world.

Verse 9. The mammon of unrighteousness] μαμωνατηςαδικιας

-literally, the mammon, or riches, of injustice. Riches promise

MUCH, and perform NOTHING: they excite hope and confidence, and

deceive both: in making a man depend on them for happiness, they

rob him of the salvation of God and of eternal glory. For these

reasons, they are represented as unjust and deceitful.

See Clarke on Mt 6:24,

where this is more particularly explained. It is

evident that this must be the meaning of the words, because the

false or deceitful riches, here, are put in opposition to the true

riches, Lu 16:11; i.e. those Divine graces and blessings which

promise all good, and give what they promise; never deceiving the

expectation of any man. To insinuate that, if a man have acquired

riches by unjust means, he is to sanctify them, and provide

himself a passport to the kingdom of God, by giving them to the

poor, is a most horrid and blasphemous perversion of our Lord's

words. Ill gotten gain must be restored to the proper owners: if

they are dead, then to their successors.

When ye fail] That is, when ye die. The Septuagint use the word

εκλειπειν in this very sense, Jer 42:17, 22.

See Clarke on Ge 25:8. So does Josephus, War, chap. iv. 1, 9.

They may receive you] That is, say some, the angels. Others, the

poor whom ye have relieved will welcome you into glory. It does

not appear that the poor are meant: 1. Because those who have

relieved them may die a long time before them; and therefore they

could not be in heaven to receive them on their arrival. 2. Many

poor persons may be relieved, who will live and die in their sins,

and consequently never enter into heaven themselves. The

expression seems to be a mere Hebraism:-they may receive you, for

ye shall be received; i.e. God shall admit you, if you make a

faithful use of his gifts and graces. He who does not make a

faithful use of what he has received from his Maker has no reason

to hope for eternal felicity. See Mt 25:33; and, for similar

Hebraisms, consult in the original, Lu 6:38; 12:20;

Re 12:6; 16:15.

Verse 10. He that is faithful in that which is least, &c.] He

who has the genuine principles of fidelity in him will make a

point of conscience of carefully attending to even the smallest

things; and it is by habituating himself to act uprightly in

little things that he acquires the gracious habit of acting with

propriety fidelity, honour, and conscience, in matters of the

greatest concern. On the contrary, he who does not act uprightly

in small matters will seldom feel himself bound to pay much

attention to the dictates of honour and conscience, in cases of

high importance. Can we reasonably expect that a man who is

continually falling by little things has power to resist

temptations to great evils?

Verse 12. That which is another man's] Or rather another's, τω

αλλοτριω. That is, worldly riches, called another's: 1. Because

they belong to God, and he has not designed that they should be

any man's portion. 2. Because they are continually changing their

possessors, being in the way of commerce, and in providence

going from one to another. This property of worldly goods is often

referred to by both sacred and profane writers. See a fine passage

in Horace, Sat. l. ii. s. 2. v. 129.

Nam propriae telluris herum natura neque illum,

Nec me, nec quemquam statuit.

Nature will no perpetual heir assign,

Nor make the farm his property, or mine.


And the following in one of our own poets:-

"Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;

'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands."

That which is your own?] Grace and glory, which God has

particularly designed for you; which are the only proper

satisfying portion for the soul, and which no man can enjoy in

their plenitude, unless he be faithful to the first small motions

and influences of the Divine Spirit.

Verse 13. No servant can serve two masters] The heart will be

either wholly taken up with God, or wholly engrossed with the

world. See Clarke on Mt 6:24.

Verse 14. They derided him] Or rather, They treated him with the

utmost contempt. So we may translate the original words

εξεμυκτηριζοναυτον, which literally signifies, in illum

emunxerunt-but must not be translated into English, unless, to

come a little near it, we say, they turned up their noses at him;

and why! Because they were lovers of money, and he showed them

that all such were in danger of perdition. As they were wedded to

this life, and not concerned for the other, they considered him

one of the most absurd and foolish of men, and worthy only of the

most sovereign contempt, because he taught that spiritual and

eternal things should be preferred before the riches of the

universe. And how many thousands are there of the very same

sentiment to the present day!

Verse 15. Ye-justify yourselves] Ye declare yourselves to be

just. Ye endeavour to make it appear to men that ye can still feel

an insatiable thirst after the present world, and yet secure the

blessings of another; that ye can reconcile God and mammon,-and

serve two masters with equal zeal and affection; but God knoweth

your hearts,-and he knoweth that ye are alive to the world, and

dead to God and goodness. Therefore, howsoever ye may be

esteemed among men, ye are an abomination before him.

See Clarke on Lu 7:29.

Verse 16. The law and the prophets were until John] The law and

the prophets continued to be the sole teachers till John came, who

first began to proclaim the glad tidings of the kingdom of God:

and now, he who wishes to be made a partaker of the blessings of

that kingdom must rush speedily into it; as there will be but a

short time before an utter destruction shall fall upon this

ungodly race. They who wish to be saved must imitate those who

take a city by storm-rush into it, without delay, as the Romans

are about to do into Jerusalem. See also Clarke on "Mt 11:12".

Verse 17. For heaven and earth to pass]

See Clarke on Mt 5:17; "Mt 5:18".

Verse 18. Putteth away (or divorceth) his wife] See on

Mt 5:31, 32; 19:9, 10; Mr 10:12; where the question concerning

divorce is considered at large. These verses, from the 13th to the

18th Lu 16:13-18 inclusive, appear to be part of our Lord's

sermon on the mount; and stand in a much better connection there

than they do here; unless we suppose our Lord delivered the same

discourse at different times and places, which is very probable.

Verse 19. There was a certain rich man] In the Scholia of some

MSS. the name of this person is said to be Ninive. This account of

the rich man and Lazarus is either a parable or a real

history. If it be a parable, it is what may be: if it be a

history, it is that which has been. Either a man may live as is

here described, and go to perdition when he dies; or, some have

lived in this way, and are now suffering the torments of an

eternal fire. The account is equally instructive in whichsoever of

these lights it is viewed. Let us carefully observe all the

circumstances offered hereto our notice, and we shall see-I. The

CRIME of this man; and II. His PUNISHMENT.

1. There was a certain rich man in Jerusalem. Provided this be a

real history, there is no doubt our Lord could have mentioned his

name; but, as this might have given great offence, he chose to

suppress it. His being rich is, in Christ's account, the first

part of his sin. To this circumstance our Lord adds nothing: he

does not say that he was born to a large estate; or that he

acquired one by improper methods; or that he was haughty or

insolent in the possession of it. Yet here is the first degree

of his reprobation-he got all he could, and kept all to


2. He was clothed with purple and fine linen. Purple was a very

precious and costly stuff; but our Lord does not say that in the

use of it he exceeded the bounds of his income, nor of his rank in

life; nor is it said that he used his superb dress to be an agent

to his crimes, by corrupting the hearts of others. Yet our Lord

lays this down as a second cause of his perdition.

3. He fared sumptuously every day. Now let it be observed that

the law of Moses, under which this man lived, forbade nothing on

this point, but excess in eating and drinking; indeed, it seems as

if a person was authorized to taste the sweets of an abundance,

which that law promised as a reward of fidelity. Besides, this

rich man is not accused of having eaten food which was prohibited

by the law, or of having neglected the abstinences and fasts

prescribed by it. It is true, he is said to have feasted

sumptuously every day; but our Lord does not intimate that this

was carried to excess, or that it ministered to debauch. He is not

accused of licentious discourse, of gaming, of frequenting any

thing like our modern plays, balls, masquerades, or other impure

and unholy assemblies; of speaking an irreverent word against

Divine revelation, or the ordinances of God. ln a word, his

probity is not attacked, nor is he accused of any of those

crimes which pervert the soul or injure civil society. As Christ

has described this man, does he appear culpable? What are his

crimes? Why, 1. He was rich. 2. He was finely clothed. And 3. He

feasted well. No other evil is spoken of him. In comparison of

thousands, he was not only blameless, but he was a virtuous man.

4. But it is intimated by many that "he was an uncharitable,

hard-hearted, unfeeling wretch." Yet of this there is not a word

spoken by Christ. Let us consider all the circumstances, and we

shall see that our blessed Lord has not represented this man as a

monster of inhumanity, but merely as an indolent man, who sought

and had his portion in this life, and was not at all concerned

about another.

Therefore we do not find that when Abraham addressed him on the

cause of his reprobation, Lu 16:25, that he reproached him with

hard-heartedness, saying, "Lazarus was hungry, and thou gavest him

no meat; he was thirsty, and thou gavest him no drink, &c.;" but

he said simply, Son, remember that thou didst receive thy good

things in thy lifetime, Lu 16:25. "Thou hast sought thy

consolation upon the earth, thou hast borne no cross, mortified no

desire of the flesh, received not the salvation God had provided

for thee; thou didst not belong to the people of God upon earth,

and thou canst not dwell with them in glory."

There are few who consider that it is a crime for those called

Christians to live without Christ, when their lives are not

stained with transgression. If Christianity only required men to

live without gross outward sin, paganism could furnish us with

many bright examples of this sort. But the religion of Christ

requires a conformity, not only in a man's conduct, to the

principles of the Gospel; but also a conformity in his heart to

the spirit and mind of Christ.

Verse 20. There was a certain beggar named Lazarus] His name is

mentioned, because his character was good, and his end glorious;

and because it is the purpose of God that the righteous shall be

had in everlasting remembrance. Lazarus, is a contraction of

the word Eliezar, which signifies the help or assistance

of God-a name properly given to a man who was both poor and

afflicted, and had no help but that which came from heaven.

Verse 21. And desiring to be fed with the crumbs] And it is

likely this desire was complied with, for it is not intimated that

he spurned away the poor man from the gate, or that his suit was

rejected. And as we find, Lu 16:24, that the rich man desired

that Lazarus should be sent with a little water to him, it is a

strong intimation that he considered him under some kind of

obligation to him; for, had he refused him a few crumbs in his

lifetime, it is not reasonable to suppose that he would now have

requested such a favour from him; nor does Abraham glance at any

such uncharitable conduct on the part of the rich man.

We may now observe,

II. In what the punishment of this man consisted.

1. Lazarus dies and is carried into Abraham's bosom. By the

phrase, Abraham's bosom, an allusion is made to the custom at

Jewish feasts, when three persons reclining on their left elbows

on a couch, the person whose head came near the breast of the

other, was said to lie in his bosom. So it is said of the beloved

disciple, Joh 13:25.

Abraham's bosom was a phrase used among the Jews to signify the

paradise of God. See Josephus's account of the Maccabees, chap.


Verse 22. The rich man also died, and was buried] There is no

mention of this latter circumstance in the case of Lazarus; he was

buried, no doubt-necessity required this; but he had the burial of

a pauper, while the pomp and pride of the other followed him to

the tomb. But what a difference in these burials, if we take in

the reading of my old MS. BIBLE, which is supported by several

versions: forsothe the riche man is deed: and is buried in

helle. And this is also the reading of the Anglo-saxon,: [A.S.],

and was in hell buried. In some MSS. the point has been wanting

after εταφη, he was buried; and the following και, and,

removed and set before επαρας he lifted up: so that the passage

reads thus: The rich man died also, and was buried in hell; and

lifting up his eyes, being in torment, he saw, &c. But let us view

the circumstances of this man's punishment.

Scarcely had he entered the place of his punishment, when he

lifted up his eyes on high; and what must his surprise be, to see

himself separated from God, and to feel himself tormented in that

flame! Neither himself, nor friends, ever suspected that the way

in which he walked could have led to such a perdition.

1. And seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom,

Lu 16:23. He sees Lazarus clothed with glory and

immortality-this is the first circumstance in his punishment. What

a contrast! What a desire does he feel to resemble him, and what

rage and despair because he is not like him? We may safely

conclude that the view which damned souls have, in the gulf of

perdition, of the happiness of the blessed, and the conviction

that they themselves might have eternally enjoyed this felicity,

from which, through their own fault, they are eternally excluded,

will form no mean part of the punishment of the lost.

2. The presence of a good to which they never had any right, and

of which they are now deprived, affects the miserable less than

the presence of that to which they had a right, and of which they

are now deprived. Even in hell, a damned spirit must abhor the

evil by which he is tormented, and desire that good that would

free him from his torment. If a lost soul could be reconciled to

its torment, and to its situation, then, of course, its punishment

must cease to be such. An eternal desire to escape from evil, and

an eternal desire to be united with the supreme good, the

gratification of which is for ever impossible, must make a second

circumstance in the misery of the lost.

3. Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good

things, Lu 16:25. The

remembrance of the good things possessed in life, and now to be

enjoyed no more for ever, together with the remembrance of grace

offered or abused, will form a third circumstance in the perdition

of the ungodly. Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime, &c.

4. The torments which a soul endures in the hell of fire will

form, through all eternity, a continual present source of

indescribable wo. Actual torment in the flames of the bottomless

pit forms a fourth circumstance in the punishment of the lost. I

am tormented in this flame, Lu 16:24.

5. The known impossibility of ever escaping from this place of

torment, or to have any alleviation of one's misery in it, forms a

fifth circumstance in the punishment of ungodly men. Besides all

this, between us and you there is a great gulf, Lu 16:26. The

eternal purpose of God, formed on the principles of eternal

reason, separates the persons, and the places of abode, of the

righteous and the wicked, so that there can be no intercourse:

They who wish to pass over hence to you, cannot; neither can

they pass over, who would come from you hither. A happy spirit

cannot go from heaven to alleviate their miseries; nor can any of

them escape from the place of their confinement, to enter among

the blessed. There may be a discovery from hell of the paradise of

the blessed; but there can be no intercourse nor connection.

6. The iniquitous conduct of relatives and friends, who have

been perverted by the bad example of those who are lost, is a

source of present punishment to them; and if they come also to the

same place of torment, must be, to those who mere the instruments

of bringing them thither, an eternal source of anguish. Send

Lazarus to my father's family, for I have five brothers, that he

may earnestly testify (διαμαρτυρηται) to them, that they come not

to this place of torment. These brothers had probably been

influenced by his example to content themselves with an earthly

portion, and to neglect their immortal souls. Those who have been

instruments of bringing others into hell shall suffer the deeper

perdition on that account.

Verse 29. They have Moses and the prophets] This plainly

supposes they were all Jewish believers: they had these writings

in their hands, but they did not permit them to influence their


Verse 30. If one went to them from the dead, &c.] Many are

desirous to see an inhabitant of the other world, and converse

with him, in order to know what passes there. Make way! Here is a

damned soul, which Jesus Christ has evoked from the hell of fire!

Hear him! Hear him tell of his torments! Hear him utter his

regrets! "But we cannot see him." No: God has, in his mercy,

spared you for the present this punishment. How could you bear the

sight of this damned spirit? Your very nature would fail at the

appearance. Jesus keeps him as it were behind the curtain, and

holds a conversation with him in your hearing, which you have

neither faith nor courage sufficient to hold with him yourselves.

Verse 31. If they hear not Moses, &c.] This answer of Abraham

contains two remarkable propositions. 1. That the sacred writings

contain such proofs of a Divine origin, that though all the dead

were to arise, to convince an unbeliever of the truths therein

declared, the conviction could not be greater, nor the proof more

evident, of the divinity and truth of these sacred records, than

that which themselves afford. 2. That to escape eternal perdition,

and get at last into eternal glory, a man is to receive the

testimonies of God, and to walk according to their dictates. And

these two things show the sufficiency and perfection of the sacred

writings. What influence could the personal appearance of a spirit

have on an unbelieving and corrupted heart? None, except to

terrify it for the moment, and afterwards to leave it ten thousand

reasons for uncertainty and doubt. Christ caused this to be

exemplified, in the most literal manner, by raising Lazarus from

the dead. And did this convince the unbelieving Jews? No. They

were so much the more enraged; and from that moment conspired both

the death of Lazarus and of Christ! Faith is satisfied with such

proofs as God is pleased to afford! Infidelity never has enow. See

a Sermon on this subject, by the author of this work.

To make the parable of the unjust steward still more profitable,

let every man consider:-

1. That God is his master, and the author of all the good he

enjoys, whether it be spiritual or temporal.

2. That every man is only a steward, not a proprietor of those


3. That all must give an account to God, how they have used or

abused the blessings with which they have been entrusted.

4. That the goods which God has entrusted to our care are goods

of body and soul: goods of nature and grace: of birth

and education: His word, Spirit, and ordinances: goods of life,

health, genius, strength, dignity, riches; and even poverty itself

is often a blessing from the hand of God.

5. That all these may be improved to God's honour, our good, and

our neighbour's edification and comfort.

6. That the time is coming in which we shall be called to an

account before God, concerning the use we have made of the good

things with which he has entrusted us.

7. That we may, even now, be accused before our Maker, of the

awful crime of wasting our Lord's substance.

8. That if this crime can be proved against us, we are in

immediate danger of being deprived of all the blessings which we

have thus abused, and of being separated from God and the glory of

his power for ever.

9. That on hearing of the danger to which we are exposed, though

we cannot dig to purchase salvation, yet we must beg, incessantly

beg, at the throne of grace for mercy to pardon all that is


10. That not a moment is to be lost: the arrest of death may

have gone out against us; and this very night-hour-minute, our

souls may be required of us. Let us therefore learn wisdom from

the prudent despatch which a worldly-minded man would use to

retrieve his ruinous circumstances; and watch and pray, and use

the little spark of the Divine light which yet remains, but which

is ready to die, that we may escape the gulf of perdition, and

obtain some humble place in the heaven of glory. Our wants are

pressing; God calls loudly; and eternity is at hand!

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