J. A. Trench.
Article 23 of 55 from 'Truth for Believers' Volume 2.
Man is set forth in the unjust steward, who, failing in every aspect of his responsibility, has been proved to be no exception to the rule, when entrusted with the stewardship of his lord's goods. He wasted them, and must lose his position as steward. But the goods lie over in his hands for the present; and the point of the parable is the prudent, if unscrupulous, use he makes of this his opportunity, in view of the future.
There were these debtors of his lord's; he will reduce his master's claim upon them, by half in one case, by a fifth in another, and so make friends of them for his own prospective advantage, when put out of the stewardship. "And the lord" mark, not the Lord Jesus, but the lord of the steward in the parable "commended the unjust steward because he had done wisely [or rather 'prudently,' a word more suited to worldly wisdom]: for the children of this world are in their generation more prudent than the children of light." So much for the parable; now for the application. (Ver. 9) "And I say unto you, make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that when ye fail [that is, when ye die] they may receive you" — or rather, for it is a common usage of Luke's (see Luke 12:20; Luke 6:38, 44; Luke 23:31) — "ye maybe received into everlasting habitations."
But why is it called "the mammon of unrighteousness"? Because all accumulation of property in one man's hand, more than in another's, belongs to man's fallen state in this world, since sin entered into it — a condition of unrighteousness. Hence in verse 11 the Lord speaks of it as "unrighteous mammon." But can what is thus solemnly characterised be possibly fit to be turned to profitable account by the Christian? It can; he can use it in view of where he looks to find his eternal home. It is "that which is least" (vers. 9-10) in the estimate of God. But how many have found the possession of wealth the most crucial test. Only by all the grace revealed in Luke 15 can any of us know "how to abound" — ("to be abased" is not so testing) — and be faithful in it. Possessions here wind themselves round the heart, and give man a false place among his fellows, ministering to his pride, and shutting out God. Hence (ver. 13) it is impossible to make both God and mammon the object of the heart — impossible to make the best of both worlds; either one or the other, but not both. Grace teaches us to sacrifice the one in view of the other, the present in full view of the eternal.
"If, therefore, ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man's, who shall give you that which is your own?" And herein lies what is so important as to possessions here, in the moral bearing of the parable. They are not our own. They are "that which is another man's" — the master's goods, according to the parable, which happen to lie over in our hands before our stewardship has been finally taken away. If looked upon as our own we might be tempted to spend them upon ourselves, or hoard them up — heaping treasure together in the last days, as James 5:3 says. But seen to be wholly "another man's," we can afford to be liberal in our use of them, and to lavish them on every interest of His, in view of that scene where we shall receive our own things. All we have here is His, then, to be used in view of eternity; our own things lie there with Him, where we look to be received, when our earthly course is closed. It is only by such an estimate of money, to speak plainly, that we can be delivered from the influence of what governs so powerfully the heart of man.
Not that in any way faithfulness here, gives or enters into a title to be received there. This is found alone in the grace that receiveth sinners, and first has to seek them (Luke 15:4-10), that there might be any to be received (vers. 11-24). And what a reception! But the same grace thus known and bestowed, produces a character suited to itself in the objects of the grace: that having been faithful in that which was another's, we may receive our own things in His blessed presence for ever. It is to be observed that, so far from any condoning of the steward's dishonesty, he is given the title of "the unjust steward" (ver. 8); and that when verses 10-12 apply the instruction of the parable to the disciples, it is not prudence, but faithfulness, in the disposal of earthly things that the Lord commends.
I conclude by noting that the connection of the Lord's teaching in these chapters 14 - 16 is very apparent, not only as we have seen in the revelation of grace, and its objects and effects; but also in the unbelief that in Luke 14 refuses the invitation of grace and is exemplified in Luke 15 in the unbroken, self-righteous, elder son, who is able to pretend that he never "transgressed at any time thy commandment," because, in fact, he had reduced its righteous claims, like the unjust steward, in order to prosper, it may be, in this world, as the rich man in the last parable in Luke 16, but only to find his end in a hell of torments. It is the same character of proud unbelief that runs all through.