“Give an account of thy stewardship.” – Luke xvi. 2.
WE have been requested to offer some remarks on the words quoted above. These words were spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ to his disciples, and are a part of one of those parables which he spake, as it was written of him, that he “should open his mouth in parables and utter dark sayings.” The parable from which the words under consideration are copied, is one of a cluster of parables which Jesus took occasion to put forth when the pharisees murmured because he received publicans and sinners, and associated with them; the first three of which were addressed to the murmuring pharisees, viz: The lost sheep with joy returned to the fold; the lost piece of money found, and the prodigal son returned to his father’s house; on each occasion producing great joy instead of murmuring. Next follows the parable of the unjust steward, and this with several in succession were spoken to his disciples in the hearing of the pharisees.
In the preceding parable, the lost sheep, the lost money, and the prodigal son, represented the lost sheep of the house of Israel, unto whom the 1iessiah was sent, and unto whom he sent the primitive pioneers of the doctrine of salvation by grace, including these poor lost publicans and sinners. These were originally a part of Israel, but like the lost sheep had strayed away from the government of the house of David, and become lost sheep; like the piece of money they were lost, and could not be reckoned among the doers of the law, and like the prodigal son, they had been prodigal of their privileges – had spent all, were reduced to poverty, wretchedness, and extreme distress. These parables are given to show that Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost. He came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
In the parable of the steward, we understand the certain rich man to represent the notion of the Jews, or the government of Judah. This portion of Israel had not revolted from, nor become lost to the house of David; but the ten tribes had, like the younger brother, taken their portion and gone into a far country; and at the time our Lord spake this parable, were hired out to a citizen of that country (the Romans) to feed swine, (gather tax from the Jews to support the Roman government) and had wasted their inheritance in Israel, &c. While the revolted tribes were reduced to poverty, the Jews remained in their original estate, as Jews, and boasted that they were rich. The law and the prophets were with them: “They have Moses and the prophets;” the ark and the temple – the priesthood and the service of the worldly sanctuary; and were apparently clothed in purple, and fared sumptuously every day. But this rich man had in his bosom an unjust steward. The character of this steward answered well to the condition of these murmuring pharisees and scribes, who occupied the place of stewards in teaching and expounding the law, and in dealing out to the household those things which were under their charge. But they had acted the part of an unjust steward, and were accused of wasting the goods, (making void the law of God by their own traditions) were accused by Moses in whom they trusted. The day of reckoning had overtaken them, and they were summoned to prepare their accounts, for they could no longer hold the stewardship. Being thus notified to render an account of his stewardship and give up the office, his wisdom, not his honesty, was commended by his lord; for like the scribes and pharisees, whom he represented, he was an unjust steward, and his course in making prevision for himself by defrauding his lord, was well calculated to illustrate the wisdom of the scribes and pharisees, in regard to those who are debtors to the law. As the unjust steward said unto that debtor who owed his lord a hundred measures of oil, Take thy bill and sit down quickly and write fifty, and to him that was indebted a hundred measures of wheat, write four-score, so these scribes had dealt with the debtors to the law, requiring them to be very exact in minor matters, tithing of mint, &c., but remitting the weightier matters of the kingdom. Several examples of this kind are given by our Lord; the fol!owing for instance: “Then the pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with unwashed hands? He answered and said unto them, Well hath Isaiah prophesied of you, hypocrites: as it is written, This people honoreth me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Howbeit, in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandments of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots, and cups, and many other such like things ye do. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandments of God, that ye may keep your own traditions; for Moses said, Honor thy father and thy mother, and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death; but ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is corban, that is to say, a gift, by ‘whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me: he shall be free, and ye suffer him no more to do aught for his father or his mother; making the word of God of none effect, through your tradition which ye have delivered; and many such things do ye.” – Mark vii. 5-13. But the unjust steward, when about to lose his stewardship, made provision for himself, that when he should be destitute, the debtors of his lord might receive him into favor, and It was in reference to this, that his lord said he had done wisely. The pharisees and scribes were, at the time this parable was spoken, about to be removed from their stewardship, the temple worship to be abolished, and the Jews as a nation to be scattered abroad; and their wisdom was displayed in making friends of the rulers of the Gentiles and in sending forth their foreign missionaries to make proselytes to their faith, by modifying the requirements of the law and suffering the Gentiles to sit down and write their bill as they saw fit. This ancient order of pharisees and scribes was to give place to a more modern order of their brethren, which extends, we can all witness, down to the present time. Our modern pharisees and scribes are received and largely remunerated by the children of this world, by a corresponding system of craftiness, by accommodating their doctrines to the bills which men have made out for themselves, saying for u hundred measures, fifty, or four-score. Pharisees of the present day who profess to be stewards, or expounders of the law, say for instance to sinners, How much owest thou the law? If the poor debtor reply, I have transgressed the precept, and am under the sentence of death, I owe my life; our modern crafty scribes and pharisees will tell that debtor to set down quickly and alter his bill to the amount which he feels able and willing to pay. If the law demands your life, alter the bill, and make it require only your obedience, or your efforts to obey. If the word of God requires that you shall be slain by the law, and made alive by grace, through the quickening operation of the Holy Ghost, the bill is so altered as to place the whole settlement in the power and inclination of the delinquent. As the ancient stewards made void the law of God by traditions, so do those of our day teach for doctrines the commandments of men, the devices and inventions of men. But as the day of the Lord has overtaken the ancient order of scribes and pharisees, so shall the day of retribution come upon those mockers of the last times, who have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for a reward, and have perished in the gainsayings of Kore, for their judgment now of a long time lingereth not and their damnation slumbereth not.
We can detect but one point of discrepance between the case of the unjust steward and the modern arminian clergy, viz: The steward was ashamed to beg; but his brethren of modern date have with shame shook hands and parted; they in all other respects very correctly copy the traits of the unjust steward; they are equally averse to digging, or laboring with their hands for an honest subsistence; equally artful in scheming, and in handling the word of God deceitfully.
Some have found it difficult to understand the useful lesson of practical instruction which our Lord directed his primitive disciples to learn from this subject, when he commanded them to make to themselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness. He certainly did not direct them to copy the example of the unjust and wicked steward, for that would be in opposition to every principle of true religion. But he told them that the children of this world were, in their generation, wiser than the children of light. They have none of the wisdom that cometh from above, but that wisdom which is peculiar to the children of this world, and which is opposed to the wisdom of God. The wisdom of this world is exemplified in the case of the unjust steward. The children of the kingdom of Christ have no occasion for that kind of wisdom, but still they are exhorted to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But if they lack wisdom, instead of seeking that which is from beneath, they are directed to ask it of God, who giveth liberally and upbraideth not. By the mammon of unrighteousness, we understand worldly riches, earthly possessions, &c. Some of the disciples of Jesus undoubtedly held some of this kind of mammon, which could be of service to them but a little while at the most, as, in consequence of their profession of faith in Christ, they were cast out of the synagogue, viewed as outlaws, no longer entitled to protection, persecuted and scattered far away from their houses and homes. As freeholders they were about to fail, and as stewards of good things bestowed on them in providence it was proper that they should make such disposition of their estates before they were confiscated, as should render them availing when they should be driven out by persecution. It is believed that the disciples who sold their possessions after the day of pentecost, and laid the money down at the apostles’ feet, acted in accordance with the instruction of this parable, and when they failed, or were reduced to want, poverty and distress, this common fund supplied the poor saints in general.
We certainly are not at liberty to suppose that our Lord commended the dishonesty or injustice of the unjust steward as an example for his disciples to imitate; but rather for them to profit by the lesson of instruction taught in the parable, and make to themselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness by making such disposition of their property, which was subject to confiscation, as to secure a fund out of which the common necessities of the saints should be relieved.
Whether the foregoing views will be satisfactory to our inquiring friend, or to others, we cannot say; but if any have clearer views, let them speak out. What we have written on the subject has been off-hand, and without much time for reflection.
New Vernon, N.Y.,
November 15, 1843
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 2
Pages 353 – 358