Luke 16:8
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.
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(8) And the lord commended . . .—The “lord” is, of course, the rich man of the parable, the steward’s master. He too, in the outer framework of the story, is one of the children of this world, and he admires the sharpness and quickness of the steward’s action. In the interpretation of the story, we trace once more the grave, half-veiled indignation, more keenly incisive than if the veil had been withdrawn, which so often appears in this phase of our Lord’s teaching. If this world were all, there would be a wisdom worthy of praise when a Church or its teachers adapted themselves to men’s passions or interests at the expense of Truth. That which makes such action hateful is that by so doing the children of light transform themselves into the children of this world.

The unjust steward.—Literally, the steward of unrighteousness, St. Luke using the half-Hebrew idiom of a genitive of the characteristic attribute. (Comp. the “mammon of unrighteousness” in Luke 16:9, and the “unjust judge” of Luke 18:6, where the same idiom is used.)

The children of this world are in their generation wiser . . .—Better, for their generation, with a view, i.e., to their own advantages and interests, and those of others like them.

Wiser than the children of light.—The word for “wise” is that used by our Lord in “wise as serpents” (see Notes on Matthew 10:16). In “children of light” (literally, sons of light), though usage has made the Hebrew idiom familiar, we have another example of the genitive of characteristic attribute. We may note the recurrence of the phrase (with the variation of the Greek word for “children” instead of “sons”) in Ephesians 5:8 as another instance of the way in which the phraseology of St. Paul was influenced by that of the words of the Lord Jesus collected by his fellow-labourer. “Children of light” are those in whom light is the prevailing element of their life, and they are necessarily also children of God; for “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1John 1:5).

It must be left to the thoughtful reader to judge how far this exposition of the parable is coherent and satisfying in itself, and in harmony with the general teaching of our Lord. Those who will may compare it, apart from the real or imagined authority of this or that name, with the other interpretations which find in it a lesson (1) to the publicans (like that of Luke 3:13) to exact no more than that which is appointed them; or (2) to all Christians to be as lenient in dealing with their “debtors” as the steward was with his master’s; or (3) a simple example of quickness and prudence in things temporal, which Christians are to reproduce, mutatis mutandis, in dealing with things eternal; or (4) which hold, as the main point of the parable, that the steward’s master was ignorant of his fraudulent collusion with the debtors; or (5) find in the call to give an account of his stewardship nothing but the approach of death; or (6) teach that the master is Mammon, and that the disciples were accused by the Pharisees of wasting his goods when they became followers of Christ; or (7) that the steward stands for the publicans as a class, and then for all Christians generally; or (8) for Judas Iscariot; or (9) for Pontius Pilate; or (10) for our Lord Himself; or (11) for St. Paul; or (12) for an example of the true penitent; or (13) for the devil. The wild diversity of interpretations which this list partially represents, should make any commentator more or less distrustful of what seems to him an adequate and complete exposition; and it may well be, even after an exposition as full as the conditions of the case seem to render possible, that there are side-lights in the parable which are yet unnoticed, and further applications which, as being founded on real analogies, might be instructive and legitimate.



Luke 16:8

The parable of which these words are the close is remarkable in that it proposes a piece of deliberate roguery as, in some sort, a pattern for Christian people. The steward’s conduct was neither more nor less than rascality, and yet, says Christ, ‘Do like that!’ The explanation is to be found mainly in the consideration that what was faithless sacrifice of his master’s interests, on the part of the steward, is, in regard to the Christian man’s use of earthly gifts, the right employment of the possessions which have been entrusted to him. But there is another vindication of the singular selection of such conduct as an example, in the consideration that what is praised is not the dishonesty, but the foresight, realisation of the facts of the case, promptitude, wisdom of various kinds exhibited by the steward. And so says our Lord-shutting out the consideration of ends, and looking only for a moment at means,-the world can teach the Church a great many lessons; and it would be well for the Church if its members lived in the fashion in which the men of the world do. There is eulogium here, a recognition of splendid qualities, prostituted to low purposes; a recognition of wisdom in the adaptation of means to an end; and a limitation of the recognition, because it is only in their generation that ‘the children of this world are wiser than the children of light.’

I. So we may look, first, at these two classes, which our Lord opposes here to one another.

‘The children of this world’ would have, for their natural antithesis, the children of another world. The ‘children of light’ would have, for their natural antithesis, ‘the children of darkness.’ But our Lord so orders His words as to suggest a double antithesis, one member of which has to be supplied in each case, and He would teach us that whoever the children of this world may be, they are ‘children of darkness’; and that the ‘children of light’ are so, just because they are the children of another world than this. Thus He limits His praise, because it is the sons of darkness that, in a certain sense, are wiser than the enlightened ones. And that is what makes the wonder and the inconsistency to which our Lord is pointing. We can understand a man being a consistent, thorough-paced fool all through. But men whose folly is so dashed and streaked with wisdom, and others whose wisdom is so spotted and blurred with folly, are the extraordinary paradoxes which experience of life presents to us.

The children of this world are of darkness; the children of light are the children of another world. Now I need not spend more than a sentence or two in further explaining these two antitheses. I do not intend to vindicate them, or to vindicate our Lord’s distinct classification of men into these two halves. What does He mean by the children of this world? The old Hebrew idiom, the children of so-and-so, simply suggests persons who are so fully possessed and saturated with a given quality, or who belong so entirely to a given person, as that they are spoken of as if they stood to it, or to him, in the relation of children to their parents. And a child of this world is a man whose whole thoughts, aims, and objects of life are limited and conditioned by this material present. But the word which is employed here, translated rightly enough ‘world,’ is not the same as that which is often used, especially in John’s writings, for the same idea. Although it conveys a similar idea, still it is different. The characteristic quality of the visible and material world which is set forth by the expression here employed is its transiency. ‘The children of this epoch’ rather than ‘of this world’ is the meaning of the phrase. And it suggests, not so much the inadequacy of the material to satisfy the spiritual, as the absurdity of a man fixing his hopes and limiting his aims and life-purpose within the bounds of what is destined to fade and perish. Fleeting wealth, fleeting honours, mortal loves, wisdom, and studies that pass away with the passing away of the material; these, however elevating some of them may be, however sweet some of them may be, however needful all of them are in their places, are not the things to which a man can safely lash his being, or entrust his happiness, or wisely devote his life. And therefore the men who, ignoring the fact that they live and the world passes, make themselves its slaves, and itself their object, are convicted by the very fact of the disproportion between the duration of themselves and of that which is their aim, of being children of the darkness.

Then we come to the other antithesis. The children of light are so in the measure in which their lives are not dependent exclusively upon, nor directed solely towards, the present order and condition of things. If there be a this, then there is a that. If there be an age which is qualified as being present, then that implies that there is an age or epoch which is yet to come. And that coming ‘age’ should regulate the whole of our relations to that age which at present is. For life is continuous, and the coming epoch is the outcome of the present. As truly as ‘the child is father of the man,’ so truly is Eternity the offspring of Time, and that which we are to-day determines that which we shall be through the ages. He that recognises the relations of the present and the future, who sees the small, limited things of the moment running out into the dim eternity beyond, and the track unbroken across the gulfs of death and the broad expanse of countless years, and who therefore orders the little things here so as to secure the great things yonder, he, and only he, who has made time the ‘lackey to eternity,’ and in his pursuit of the things seen and temporal, regards them always in the light of things unseen and eternal, is a child of light.

II. The second consideration suggested here is the limited and relative wisdom of the fools.

The children of this world, who are the children of darkness, and who at bottom are thoroughly unwise, considered relatively, ‘are wiser than the children of light.’ The steward is the example. ‘A rogue is always’-as one of our thinkers puts it-’a roundabout fool.’ He would have been a much wiser man if he had been an honester one; and, instead of tampering with his lord’s goods, had faithfully administered them.

But, shutting out the consideration of the moral quality of his action, look how much there was in it that was wise, prudent, and worthy of praise. There were courage, fertility of resource, a clear insight into what was the right thing to do. There was a wise adaptation of means to an end. There was promptitude in carrying out the wise means that suggested themselves to him. The design was bad. Granted. We are not talking about goodness, but about cleverness. So, very significantly, in the parable the person cheated cannot help saying that the cheat was a clever one. The ‘lord,’ although he had suffered by it, ‘commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely.’

Did you never know in Manchester some piece of sharp practice, about which people said, ‘Ah, well, he is a clever fellow,’ and all but condoned the immorality for the sake of the smartness? The lord and the steward belong to the same level of character; and vulpine sagacity, astuteness, and qualities which ensure success in material things seem to both of them to be of the highest value. ‘The children of this world, in their generation’-but only in it-are wiser than the children of light.’

Now I draw a very simple, practical lesson, and it is just this, that if Christian men, in their Christian lives, would practise the virtues that the world practises, in pursuit of its shabby aims and ends, their whole Christian character would be revolutionised. Why, a boy will spend more pains in learning to whistle than half of you do in trying to cultivate your Christian character. The secret of success religiously is precisely the same as the secret of success in ordinary things. Look at the splendid qualities that go to the making of a successful housebreaker. Audacity, resource, secrecy, promptitude, persistence, skill of hand, and a hundred others, are put into play before a man can break into your back kitchen and steal your goods. Look at the qualities that go to the making of a successful amuser of people. Men will spend endless time and pains, and devote concentration, persistence, self-denial, diligence, to learning how to play upon some instrument, how to swing upon a trapeze, how to twist themselves into abnormal contortions. Jugglers and fiddlers, and circus-riders and dancers, and people of that sort spend far more time upon efforts to perfect themselves in their profession, than ninety-nine out of every hundred professing Christians do to make themselves true followers of Jesus Christ. They know that nothing is to be got without working for it, and there is nothing to be got in the Christian life without working for it any more than in any other.

Shut out the end for a moment, and look at the means. From the ranks of criminals, of amusers, and of the purely worldly men of business that we come in contact with every day, we may get lessons that ought to bring a blush to all our cheeks, when we think to ourselves how a wealth of intellectual and moral qualities and virtues, such as we do not bring to bear on our Christian lives, are by these men employed in regard of their infinitely smaller pursuits.

Oh, brethren! we ought to be our own rebukes, for it is not only other people who show forth in other fields of life the virtues that would make so much better Christians of us, if we used them in ours, but that we ourselves carry within ourselves the condemning contrast. Look at your daily life! Do you give anything like the effort to grow in the knowledge of your Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, that you do to make or maintain your position in the world? When you are working side by side with the children of this world for the same objects, you keep step with them, and are known to be diligent in business as they are. When you pass into the church, what do you do there? Are we not ice in one half of our lives, and fire in the other? We may well lay to heart these solemn words of our Lord, and take shame when we think that not only do the unwise, who choose the world as their portion, put us to shame in their self-denial, their earnestness, their absorption, their clear insight into facts, their swiftness in availing themselves of every opportunity, their persistence and their perseverance, but that we rebuke ourselves because of the difference between the earnestness with which we follow the things that are of this world, and the languor of our pursuit after the things that are unseen and eternal.

Of course the reasons for the contrast are easy enough to apprehend, and I do not need to spend time upon them. The objects that so have power to stimulate and to lash men into energy, continuously through their lives, lie at hand, and a candle near will dim the sunshine beyond. These objects appeal to sense, and such make a deeper impression than things that are shown to the mind, as every picture-book may prove to us. And we, in regard to the aims of our Christian life, have to make a continual effort to bring and keep them before us, or they are crowded out by the intrusive vulgarities and dazzling brilliances of the present. And so it comes to pass that the men who hunt after trifles that are to perish set examples to the men who say that they are pursuing eternal realities. ‘Go to the ant, thou sluggard, consider her ways and be wise.’ Go to the men of the world, thou Christian, and do not let it be said that the devil’s scholars are more studious and earnest than Christ’s disciples.

III. Lastly, note the conclusive folly of the partially wise.

‘In their generation,’ says Christ; and that is all that can be said, The circle runs round its 360 degrees, and these people take a segment of it, say forty-five degrees, and all the rest is as non-existent. If I am to call a man a wise man out and out, there are two things that I shall have to be satisfied about concerning him. The one is, what is he aiming at? and the other, how does he aim at it? In regard to the means, the men of the world bear the bell, and carry away the supremacy. Let in the thought of the end, and things change. Two questions reduce all the world’s wisdom to stark, staring insanity. The first question is, ‘What are you doing it for?’ And the second question is, ‘And suppose you get it, what then?’ Nothing that cannot pass the barrier of these two questions satisfactorily is other than madness, if taken to be the aim of a man’s life. You have to look at the end, and the whole circumference of the circle of the human being, before you serve out the epithets of ‘wise’ and ‘foolish.’

I need not dwell on the manifest folly of men who give their lives to aims and ends of which I have already said that they are disproportioned to the capacity of the pursuer. Look at yourselves, brothers; these hearts of yours that need an infinite love for their satisfaction, these active spirits of yours that can never be at rest in creatural perfection; these troubled consciences of yours that stir and moan inarticulately over unperceived wounds until they are healed by Christ. How can any man with a heart and a will, and a progressive spirit and intellect, find what he needs in anything beneath the stars? ‘Whose image and superscription hath it? They say unto Him, Caesar’s’; we say ‘God’s.’ ‘Render unto God the things that are God’s.’ The man who makes anything but God his end and aim is relatively wise and absolutely foolish.

Let me remind you too, that the same sentence of folly passes, if we consider the disproportion between the duration of the objects and of him who makes them his aim. You live, and if you are a wise man, your treasures will be of the kind that last as long as you. ‘They call their lands after their own name; they think that their houses shall continue for ever. They go down into the dust. Their glory shall not descend after them,’ and, therefore, ‘this, their way, is their folly.’

Brethren, all that I would say may be gathered into two words. Let there be a proportion between your aims and your capacity. That signifies, let God be your end. And let there be a correspondence between your end and your means. That signifies, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.’ Or else, when everything comes to be squared up and settled, the epitaph on your gravestone will deservedly be; ‘Thou fool !’Luke 16:8-9. And the lord — Rather, his lord, or master, for it is Jesus, and not the evangelist, who speaks this, as is plain from both the structure of the parable itself, and from the application which Jesus makes of it in the next verse; commended the unjust steward, because he had acted wisely — Or, prudently for himself, as φρωνιμως here signifies. Properly, indeed, his master commended neither the actor nor the action; but solely the provident care about his future interest which the action displayed; a care worthy the imitation of those who have in view a nobler futurity, eternal life. And the commendation is here mentioned by our Lord, merely in order that he might recommend that precaution to our imitation. For, though the dishonesty of such a servant was detestable, yet his foresight, care, and contrivance about the interests of this life, deserve to be imitated by us, with regard to the more important concerns of another. For the children of this world — Those who seek no other portion than the things of this world; are wiser than the children of light — Not absolutely, for they are, one and all, egregious fools, and must be accounted such by all who believe there is a life to come, a life of unspeakable and eternal happiness or misery; but they are more consistent with themselves; they are truer to their principles; they more steadily pursue their end; they are wiser in their generation: that is, in their own way, and for this present life, than the children of God are, with respect to the life that is future and eternal. The latter, though enlightened by God to see where their true happiness lies, seldom appear so thoughtful and active in the great concerns of religion, as worldly men are in pursuit of the momentary and precarious possessions of this world. Make yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness — Be good stewards even of the lowest talents wherewith God hath intrusted you, and particularly of your property. Make yourselves friends of this, by doing all possible good with it, particularly to the children of God. Mammon means riches, or money, which is here termed mammon of unrighteousness, or of deceit, or unfaithfulness, as αδικιας may be rendered, because of the manner in which it is either used or employed; or on account of its being so apt to fail the expectation of the owners; in which view it is opposed to true riches: Luke 16:11. The phrase is plainly a Hebraism, as οικονομος της αδικιας, steward of unrighteousness, or unfaithfulness, Luke 16:8; and, κριτης της αδικιας, judge of unrighteousness, Luke 18:6, which two last expressions our translators have, with perfect fidelity, changed into the unjust steward, and the unjust judge: if they had taken the same liberty in many other places: they would have made the Scriptures plainer than they now appear to be to an English reader. It is justly observed by Dr. Doddridge here, that “nothing can be more contrary to the whole genius of the Christian religion, than to imagine that our Lord would exhort men to lay out their ill-gotten goods in works of charity, when justice so evidently required they should make restitution to the utmost of their abilities.” That when ye fail — When your flesh and heart fail; when this earthly tabernacle is dissolved, those of them who are gone before, may receive, may welcome you into everlasting habitations — And you may for ever enjoy the reward of your pious charity and love, in the friendship of all those truly worthy persons who have been relieved by it. Or, this expression, they may receive you, may be a mere Hebraism for, ye shall be received, namely, by God, if you make a right use of his gifts. Here, as it were, our Lord, with great propriety, suggests the thoughts of death as an antidote against covetousness, an unreasonable passion, to which, however, many on the very borders of the grave are wretchedly enslaved. Upon the whole, the true scope of this parable is, to teach those who have their views extended to eternity, to be as active and prudent in their schemes for the life to come as the children of this world are for the present; and particularly to do all the good to others in their power; a duty highly incumbent on those especially whose business it is to reclaim sinners, not only because sinners are in themselves fit objects of charity, as well as saints, but because charitable offices done to them, may have a happy tendency to promote their conversion. “That this was the lesson which Jesus designed particularly to inculcate by this parable, is evident from the application of it; and his advice therein is worthy of the most serious attention; the best use we can make of our riches being undoubtedly to employ them in promoting the salvation of others. For if we use our abilities and interest in bringing sinners to God, if we spend our money in this excellent service, we shall conciliate the good-will of all heavenly beings, who greatly rejoice at the conversion of sinners, as was represented in the preceding parables; so that, with open arms, they will receive us into the mansions of felicity. And therefore, while self-seekers shall have their possessions, and honours, and estates torn from them, with the utmost reluctancy, at death, they who have devoted themselves, and all that they had, to the service of God, shall find their consumed estates to be greatly increased, and their neglected honours abundantly repaired, in the love and friendship of the inhabitants of heaven, and in the happiness of the world to come, and shall rejoice in having disposed of their wealth to such an advantage.” — Macknight.16:1-12 Whatever we have, the property of it is God's; we have only the use of it, according to the direction of our great Lord, and for his honour. This steward wasted his lord's goods. And we are all liable to the same charge; we have not made due improvement of what God has trusted us with. The steward cannot deny it; he must make up his accounts, and be gone. This may teach us that death will come, and deprive us of the opportunities we now have. The steward will make friends of his lord's debtors or tenants, by striking off a considerable part of their debt to his lord. The lord referred to in this parable commended not the fraud, but the policy of the steward. In that respect alone is it so noticed. Worldly men, in the choice of their object, are foolish; but in their activity, and perseverance, they are often wiser than believers. The unjust steward is not set before us as an example in cheating his master, or to justify any dishonesty, but to point out the careful ways of worldly men. It would be well if the children of light would learn wisdom from the men of the world, and would as earnestly pursue their better object. The true riches signify spiritual blessings; and if a man spends upon himself, or hoards up what God has trusted to him, as to outward things, what evidence can he have, that he is an heir of God through Christ? The riches of this world are deceitful and uncertain. Let us be convinced that those are truly rich, and very rich, who are rich in faith, and rich toward God, rich in Christ, in the promises; let us then lay up our treasure in heaven, and expect our portion from thence.The lord commended - Praised, or expressed admiration at his wisdom. These are not the words of Jesus, as commending him, but a part of the narrative or parable. His "master" commended him - saw that he was wise and considerate, though he was dishonest.

The unjust steward - It is not said that his master commended him because he was "unjust," but because he was "wise." This is the only thing in his conduct of which there is any approbation expressed, and this approbation was expressed by "his master." This passage cannot be brought, therefore, to prove that Jesus meant to commend his dishonesty. It was a commendation of his "shrewdness or forethought;" but the master could no more "approve" of his conduct as a moral act than he could the first act of cheating him.

The children of this world - Those who are "devoted" to this world; who live for this world only; who are careful only to obtain property, and to provide for their temporal necessities. It does not mean that they are especially wicked and profligate, but only that they are "worldly," and anxious about earthly things. See Matthew 13:22; 2 Timothy 4:10.

Are wiser - More prudent, cunning, and anxious about their particular business. They show more skill, study more plans, contrive more ways to provide for themselves, than the children of light do to promote the interests of religion.

In their generation - Some have thought that this means "in their manner of living, or in managing their affairs." The word "generation" sometimes denotes the manner of life, Genesis 6:9; Genesis 37:2. Others suppose that it means "toward or among the people of their own age." They are more prudent and wise than Christians in regard to the people of their own time; they turn their connection with them to good account, and make it subserve their worldly interests, while Christians fail much more to use the world in such a manner as to subserve their spiritual interests.

Children of light - Those who have been enlightened from above - who are Christians. This may be considered as the application of the parable. It does not mean that it is more wise to be a worldly man than to be a child of light, but that those who "are" worldly show much prudence in providing for themselves; seize occasions for making good bargains; are active and industrious; try to turn everything to the best account, and thus exert themselves to the utmost to advance their interests; while Christians often suffer opportunities of doing good to pass unimproved; are less steady, firm, and anxious about eternal things, and thus show less wisdom. Alas! this is too true; and we cannot but reflect here how different the world would be if all Christians were as anxious, and diligent, and prudent in religious matters as others are in worldly things.

8. the lord—evidently the steward's lord, so called in Lu 16:3, 5.

commended, &c.—not for his "injustice," but "because he had done wisely," or prudently; with commendable foresight and skilful adaptation of means to end.

children of this world—so Lu 20:34; compare Ps 17:14 ("their portion in this life"); Php 3:19 ("mind earthly things"); Ps 4:6, 7.

their generation—or "for their generation"—that is, for the purposes of the "world" they are "of." The greater wisdom (or shrewdness) of the one, in adaptation of means to ends, and in energetic, determined prosecution of them, is none of it for God and eternity—a region they were never in, an atmosphere they never breathed, an undiscovered world, an unborn existence to them—but all for the purposes of their own grovelling and fleeting generation.

children of light—(so Joh 12:36; Eph 5:8; 1Th 5:5). Yet this is only "as night-birds see better in the dark than those of the day owls than eagles" [Cajetan and Trench]. But we may learn lessons from them, as our Lord now shows, and "be wise as serpents."

See Poole on "Luke 16:1" And the Lord commended the unjust steward,.... Not the Lord Jesus Christ, who delivered this parable, as the Syriac version seems to suggest, rendering it, "our Lord"; but the Lord of the steward, or "God", as the Ethiopic version reads: not that he commended him for the fact he did, or the injustice of it for this is contrary to his nature and perfections; but for his craft and cunning in providing himself a maintenance for time to come: for he is on that account branded as an "unjust steward", as he was, in wasting his Lord's goods; putting false glosses on the Scriptures; doing damage both to the souls and worldly estates of men: and in neglecting and despising lawful and honest ways of living, by digging or begging, asking favours at the hand of God, and doing good works; and in falsifying accounts; breaking the least of the commandments, and teaching men so to do; and in corrupting others, making proselytes twofold more the children of hell than himself; and in being liberal with another's property, to wrong objects, and for a wrong end. It was not therefore because he had done justly to his Lord, or right to others, that he is commended; but

became he had done wisely for himself: the wit, and not the goodness of the man is commended; which, in the language and sense of the Jews, may be thus expressed (p):

"because a man, , "does good" for himself with "mammon" which is not his own.''

For the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light: by "the children of this world" may be meant the Israelites, who belonged to the Jewish nation and church, called the "world", and "this world", 1 Corinthians 10:11 especially the princes of it, the ecclesiastical doctors and rulers: and who also were the men of this present world; in general they were such who were, as they were born into the world; in their sins, in the pollution, and under the guilt of them; were carnal, in the flesh, or unregenerate, and in darkness and blindness: they were such as were not only in the world, but of it; they belonged to it, having never been called out of it; and were under the influence of the God of it; and were taken with the things of it, its riches, honours, and pleasures; and had their portion in it, and were of worldly spirits; all which agrees with the Scribes and Pharisees; see Psalm 17:14 and Aben Ezra on it, who has the very phrase here used: , a "man of the world", is sometimes (q) distinguished from a scholar, or a wise man; but , "the children of the world", as they frequently intend the inhabitants of the world (r), are sometimes distinguished from , "a son of the world to come" (s); and from "the children of faith" (t), the same as "the children of light" here; by whom are meant the children of the Gospel dispensation; or persons enlightened by the Spirit and grace of God, to see the sinfulness of sin, and their wretched state my nature; the insufficiency of their own righteousness to justify them before God; the way of life, righteousness, and salvation by Christ; who see that the several parts of salvation, and the whole, are of grace; have some light into the Scriptures of truth, and doctrines of the Gospel; and some glimpse of heaven, and the unseen glories of another world, though attended with much darkness in the present state: and who shall enjoy the light of glory. Now, the men of the world, or carnal men, are, generally speaking, wiser than these; not in things spiritual, but in things natural, in the affairs of life, in worldly matters. The phrase seems to answer to "generations" used in Genesis 6:9 "these are the generations of Noah", &c. and "the generations of Jacob"; by which are meant, not the genealogies of them, but their affairs; what befell them in life: as so the Jewish writers (u) explain the phrase by "the things which happened" unto them in this world, in the course of their pilgrimage: or they are wise, , "for their own generation": for the temporal good of their posterity, than saints are for the spiritual good of theirs: or they are wiser for the time that is to come in this life, than good men are concerning themselves for the time to come in the other world: or they are wiser, and more prudent in disposing of their worldly substance for their own secular good, and that of their offspring, than men of spiritual light and knowledge are, in disposing of their worldly substance for the glory of God, the interest of Christ, the honour of religion, their own spiritual good, and that of their posterity.

(p) T. Bab. Yebamot, fol. 121. 1.((q) T. Bab Bava Netzia, fol. 27. 2.((r) Zohar in Exod. fol. 26. 2. & 58. 3, 4. Tzeror Hammor, fol. 99. 3. & 101. 2. & 102. 4. (s) Zohar in Exod. fol. 59. 4. (t) Zohar in Num. fol. 50. 4. (u) Aben Ezra in Gen. vi. 9. & xxxvii. 2. Sol. Urbin Obel Moed, fol. 85. 1.

And the lord commended {a} the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the {b} children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.

(a) This parable does not approve the steward's evil dealing, for it was definitely theft: but parables are set forth to show a thing in a secret way, and as it were, to present the truth by means of an allegory, even though it may not be exact: so that by this parable Christ means to teach us that worldly men are more clever in the affairs of this world than the children of God are diligent for everlasting life.

(b) Men that are given to this present life, contrary to whom are the children of light: Paul calls the former carnal and the latter spiritual.

Luke 16:8. Ὁ κύριος] not Jesus (Erasmus, Luther, Pred.; Weizsäcker also, p. 213 f.), but, as is proved by Luke 16:9, the master of the steward, to whom the measure taken by the latter had become known.

τὸν οἰκονόμ. τῆς ἀδικ.] ἀδικ. is a genitive of quality (see on Luke 2:14), the unrighteous steward; of such a quality he had shown himself in his service, as well by the waste in general as specially by his proceeding with the debtors.[190] The dogmatic idea (Schulz) is out of place in the context. Schleiermacher and Bornemann (comp. also Paulus) construe τῆς ἀδικίας with ἐπῄνεσεν iniquitatis causa. Grammatically correct (Dion. Hal. Rhet. xiv.; Joseph. Antt. xii. 4. 5; Bernhardy, p. 152; Kühner, II. p. 192; Bornemann, Schol. p. 98), but here it is in contradiction with the parallel expression: ἐκ τοῦ μαμωνᾶ τῆς ἀδικίας, Luke 16:9. Comp. also ὁ κριτὴς τῆς ἀδικίας, Luke 18:6. And it is not the ἀδικία, but the prudence, that is the subject of the praise,[191] as is shown from the analogy of Luke 16:9. τῆς ἀδικίας is intended to make it clear that the master praised the steward even in spite of his dishonest behaviour, because he had dealt prudently. In the dishonest man he praised “his procedure, so well advised and to the purpose, with the property that still remained under his control” (Schulz, p. 103), even although from a moral point of view this prudence was only the wisdom of the serpent (Matthew 10:16), so that he was not the πιστὸς οἰκονόμος ὁ φρόνιμος (Luke 12:42), but only φρόνιμος, who had hit on the practical savoir faire.

ὅτι οἱ υἱοὶ κ.τ.λ.] Immediately after the words φρονίμως ἐποίησεν, Jesus adds a general maxim,[192] in justification of the predicate used (φρονίμως). Consequently: “Et merito quidem illius prudentiam laudavit, nam quod prudentiam quidem attinet, filii hujus saeculi, etc.,” Maldonatus. Francke erroneously says (compare the “perhaps,” etc., of de Wette) that ὍΤΙ ΟἹ ΥἹΣῚ Κ.Τ.Λ. refers to the ἘΠῄΝΕΣΕΝ Ὁ ΚΎΡΙΟς. This the context forbids by the correlation of ΦΡΟΝΊΜΩς and ΦΡΟΝΙΜΏΤΕΡΟΙ. The sons (see on Matthew 8:12) of this generation (עוֹלָם הַזֶּה, see on Matthew 12:32) are those who belong in their moral nature and endeavour to the period of the world prior to the Messianic times, not men who are aspiring after the ΒΑΣΙΛΕΊΑ ΤΟῦ ΘΕΟῦ ΚΑῚ ΤῊΝ ΔΙΚΑΙΟΣΎΝΗΝ ΑὐΤΟῦ (Matthew 6:33). Comp. Luke 20:34. See examples of the Rabbinical בני עלמא in Schoettgen, Hor. p. 298, and Wetstein. The sons of light are those who, withdrawn from temporal interests, have devoted themselves wholly to the divine ἈΛΉΘΕΙΑ revealed by Christ, and are enlightened and governed by it, John 12:36; 1 Thessalonians 5:5; Ephesians 5:8. The former are more prudent than the latter, not absolutely, but εἰς τὴν γενεὰν τὴν ἑαυτῶν, in reference to their own generation, i.e. in relation to their own kindred, if they have to do with those who, like themselves, are children of this world, as that steward was so prudent in reference to the debtors. The whole body of the children of the world—a category of like-minded men—is described as a generation, a clan of connections; and how appropriately, since they appear precisely as ΥἹΟΊ! Observe, moreover, the marked prominence of ΤῊΝ ἙΑΥΤῶΝ, which includes the contrasted saying that that higher degree of prudence is not exercised, if they have to deal with others who are not of their own kind. With unerring sagacity they know, as is shown by that steward in his dealing with the debtors, how, in their relations to companions of their own stamp, to turn the advantage of the latter to their own proper advantage. On the other hand, in relation to the children of light, they are not in a condition for such prudent measures, because these are not available for the immoral adjustment of the selfish ends of those men, as was the case with those debtors who by their own dishonesty were serviceable to the dishonest sagacity of the steward by the falsification of their bonds.[193] Kuinoel and Paulus, following older commentators, explain: in relation to their contemporaries. But how unmeaning would be this addition, and how neglected would be the emphatic τὴν ἑαυτῶν! Grotius, in opposition to the words themselves, explains: “in rebus suis;” Wieseler: for the duration of their life, for the brief time of their earthly existence; Hölbe: in their own manner, according to their own fashion. Comp. Schulz, Lange, and others: after their kind; de Wette, Eylau: in their sphere of life.

Moreover, εἰς τ. γεν. κ.τ.λ. is not to be referred to both classes of men (Kuinoel, Olshausen, de Wette, Baumgarten-Crusius, Brauns, and others), but merely to the υἱοὺς τ. κόσμ. τ. (comp. Dettinger, as above, p. 60 f.), as the words themselves require it as well as the sense; for the prudence of the children of light in general, not merely in their relation to those like them, is surpassed by that prudence which the children of the world know how to apply εἰς τὴν γενεὰν τὴν ἑαυτῶν. On such wisdom the latter concentrate and use their effort, whereas the children of light can pursue only holy purposes with moral means, and consequently (as sons of wisdom) must necessarily fall behind in the worldly prudence, in which morality is of no account. As, however, He also from them (κἀγὼ ὑμῖν) requires prudence, Jesus says,

[190] The expression τῆς ἀδικίας contains the judgment of Jesus on the conduct of the οἰκονόμος, vv. 5–7, which, nevertheless, the master praised with reference to the prudence employed. Hence τῆς ἀδικίας is decidedly opposed to the assumption that the steward was honest, and it is only a device springing from necessity to which Hölbe clings, that the faithful steward is called οἰκον. τῆς ἀδικίας only in the sense of his calumniators.

[191] We may imagine the master calling out to the steward from his own worldly standpoint something like this: Truly thou hast accomplished a prudent stroke! Thy practical wisdom is worthy of all honour! Comp. Terent. Heaut. iii. 2. 26. But to conclude that the steward remained in his service, is altogether opposed to the teaching of the parable (in opposition to Baumgarten-Crusius, Hölbe).

[192] Not a piece of irony upon the Pharisees (Zyro), as Brauns also assumes, understanding by the children of this world the publicans, who were contemned as children of the world; and by the children of light, the Pharisees, as the educated children of light. So also Hölbe. Extorted by an erroneous interpretation of the whole parable. Textually the children of the world could only be those to whom the steward belonged by virtue of his unrighteous dealing (τῆς ἀδικίας).

[193] εἰς is therefore to be taken in the sprite usual sense of: in reference to, but not to be twisted into: after the manner, or after the measure (Lahmeyer), and to be explained from the mode of expression: τελεῖν ἐς Ἕλληνας, and the like (see Saupp, ad Xen. Mem. vi. 2. 37).Luke 16:8-13. Application of the parable. There is room for doubt whether Luke 16:8 should form part of the parable (or at least as far as φρονίμως ἐποίησεν), or the beginning of the application. In the one case ὁ κύριος refers to the master of the steward, in the other to Jesus, who is often in narrative called Lord in Lk.’s Gospel. On the whole I now incline to the latter view (compare my Parabolic Teaching of Christ). It sins rather against natural probability to suppose the steward’s master acquainted with his new misconduct. The steward in his final statement, of course, put as fair a face as possible on matters, presenting what looked like a true account, so as to make it appear he was being unjustly dismissed, or even to induce the master to cancel his purpose to dismiss. And those who had got the benefit of his sharp practice were not likely to tell upon him. The master therefore may be supposed to be in the dark; it is the speaker of the parable who is in the secret. He praises the steward of iniquity, not for his iniquity (so Schleiermacher), but for his prudence in spite of iniquity. His unrighteousness is not glozed over, on the contrary it is strongly asserted: hence the phrase τὸν ο. τῆς ἀδικίας, which is stronger than τ. ο. τὸν ἄδικον. Yet however bad he still acted wisely for himself in providing friends against the evil day. What follows—ὅτι οἱ υἱοὶ, etc.—applies the moral to the disciples = go ye and do likewise, with an implied hint that in this respect they are apt to come short. The counsel would be immoral if in the spiritual sphere it were impossible to imitate the steward’s prudence while keeping clear of his iniquity. In other words, it must be possible to make friends against the evil day by unobjectionable actions. The mere fact that the lesson of prudence is drawn from the life of an unprincipled man is no difficulty to any one who understands the nature of parabolic instruction. The comparison between men of the world and the “sons of light” explains and apologises for the procedure. If you want to know what prudent attention to self-interest means it is to men of the world you must look. Of course they show their wisdom suo more, in relation to men of their own kind, and in reference to worldly matters (this the sense of εἰς τ. γενεὰν, etc.). Show ye your wisdom in your way and in reference to your peculiar generation (εἰς τ. γενεὰν, etc., applicable to both parties) with equal zeal.8. the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely] The lord is of course only the landlord of the parable. The word phronimos does not mean ‘wisely’ (a word which is used in a higher sense), but prudently. The tricky cleverness, by which the steward had endeavoured at once to escape detection, and to secure friends who would help him in his need, was exactly what an Oriental landlord would admire as clever, even though he saw through it. And the last act of the steward had been so far honest that for the first time he charged to the debtors the correct amount, while he doubtless represented the diminution as due to his kindly influence with his lord. The lesson to us is analogous skill and prudence, but spiritually employed. This is the sole point which the parable is meant to illustrate. The childish criticism of the Emperor Julian that it taught cheating (!) is refuted by the intention of parables to teach lessons of heavenly wisdom by even the ‘imperfections’ of earth. There is then no greater difficulty in the Parable of the Unjust Steward than in that of the Unjust Judge, or the Importunate Friend. The fraud of this “steward of injustice” is neither excused nor palliated; the lesson is drawn from his worldly prudence in supplying himself with friends for the day of need,—which we are to do by wise and holy use of earthly gifts.

in their generation wiser than the children of light] Rather, the sons of this age are more prudent than the sons of the light towards or as regards their own generation; i.e. they make better use of their earthly opportunities for their own lifetime than the sons of the light (John 12:36; Ephesians 5:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:5) do for their lifetime; or even than the sons of light do of their heavenly opportunities for eternity. The zeal and alacrity of the “devil’s martyrs” may be imitated even by God’s servants.Luke 16:8. Ἐπῄνεσεν) Not merely did He ratify the measure adopted by the steward, but He approved of and praised it.—ὁ κύριος, the Lord) of the steward: see Luke 16:3; Luke 16:5.—τὸν οἰκονόμον τῆς ἀδικίας, the steward of injustice [i.e. Hebraicè, the unjust steward]) The steward is called unjust, not merely on account of the original squandering away of his master’s goods, but also on account of his newly-adopted plan, whereby he intercepted fifty baths (measures) of oil and twenty cori,[168] and bestowed them on the debtors, though the property did not belong to him but to another, viz. his master, in order that he might provide for himself. Compare with one another verses 4 and 9, in both of which ἵνα, ὅταν, in order that, when, occur [and mutually correspond]. Furthermore, from this injustice of the steward the mammon of injustice (unrighteousness) himself takes his denomination, Luke 16:9; in the same way as a little after the term unjust is first said of the man, and from him subsequently the term is applied to the mammon, Luke 16:10 [“He that is unjust,” ἌΔΙΚΟς], 11 [“in the unjust” or “unrighteous mammon”]. Moreover, the steward was unjust, not towards the debtors of his master, but towards his master himself: therefore man is regarded as “unjust,” who does not use mammon precisely for the advantage of God, so to speak, but for that of his own self. That injustice is either of a kind, coarse, nefarious, and calculated to accumulate punishment on him: such as is described in the verses after this parable, 10, 11; or else, softening the expression injustice by the parable [to accord with its qualified meaning in the parable], it is of a kind refined, noble, and inoffensive. For as the term just is used according to the aspect of it presented in Isaiah 49:24 [“Shall the lawful captive delivered” or “the captivity of the just—be taken from the mighty”], so is injustice here used.[169] To wit, those goods, which are denoted by the term mammon are the goods of another (“another man’s,” ἐν τῷ ἀλλοτρίω, Luke 16:12), in the same sense as spiritual and eternal goods on the other hand (on the opposite side) are our own (τὸ ὑμέτερον, Luke 16:12, “that which is your own”). Moreover, whosoever seeks and derives his own advantage from the goods of another is so far unjust. Therefore, it is admirable indulgence, and as it were an exceeding degree of connivance, that God concedes to us, nay even advises us, that we should acquire friends for ourselves by means of His goods. He would have the just right of demanding, that we who are His stewards should dispense His goods precisely and exclusively to His advantage, so to speak, so as not to derive any benefit from them ourselves; whereas, as it is, He wishes that we should, with a noble exercise of the discretion given us, blend with the consideration of His interest, or substitute for it, a regard to our own interest. So God waives His just right, exhibiting thereby great condescension, to which the case is similar of which Romans 3:4 treats; where see the note. When we, right or wrong, i.e. indefatigably[170] receive and embrace the right so waived by God, we incur the charge of injustice, but an injustice of such a kind as is not only not censured itself, but is even regarded as combined with praiseworthy prudence. O how much more unjust as also more imprudent are they, who in the case of the goods of God seek solely their own self-indulgence. All injustice is no doubt a sin against God; and so the injustice, which is ascribed to mammon, might be taken in the bad sense which is the ordinary one: as Lightfoot, who compares the case of Zaccheus [who restored the goods which he had wrongfully taken and in this sense made friends of the mammon of unrighteousness], shows the phraseology ממון שקר, to be most common. But at the same time in this passage the injustice lay in the very act itself of the steward, whereby he acquired friends for himself; and that act drives us to adopt the recondite meaning of injustice given above.[171] Moreover it is a frequent catachresis [not strictly proper use of a word] often combining at once sweetness and grandeur, whereby a term for a thing which is not good is, notwithstanding, used in a good sense, there being extant no other more appropriate term. For instance we have ἄλογον (strictly absurd, unreasonable) in the catachrestic sense, that which is not calculated upon: ἀχάριστον (ungrateful) catachrestically, that for which no sufficiently great thanks can be returned: So also, ἐξέστημεν (“we are beside ourselves” with Christian zeal and love) καταναρκᾶν, and ἐσύλησα, 2 Corinthians 5:13; 2 Corinthians 11:8 [“I robbed other churches, taking wages of them,” etc., “When I was in want I was chargeable (burdensome) to no man”]; and what comes nearer in point to the present case, διὰ κενῆς, Job 2:3; Job 9:17 [without cause]; 2 Kings 2:10, ἐσκλήρυνας αἰτήσασθαι [“Thou hast asked a hard thing;” strictly, σκληρύνω would imply a hardening of the heart]: Jeremiah 49:12 or 11, οὐ νόμος:[172] ΒΙΑΣΤΑΙ [in a good sense] ἉΡΠΆΖΟΥΣΙΝ in Matthew 11:21 : ἈΝΑΊΔΕΙΑ (importunity in a good cause) in Luke 11:8. If this interpretation be thought too far-fetched, the ‘Mammon’ may be supposed to be called unjust, because it does not justly admit of the appellation ‘goods’—ὍΤΙ, since) Jesus adds to the parable the reason for which the steward obtained such high commendation for prudence.—οἱ υἱοὶ) The sons of this world [“the children of this world”] (ch. Luke 20:34), are those who make this world, covered over as it is with thick darkness, and the world’s goods their chief aim: the children [sons] of light (1 Thessalonians 5:5; Ephesians 5:8), are they who though living in this world yet seek those goods of the light which the Father of lights bestows, Jam 1:17. This is a sublime sentiment, most worthy to come from the Divine lips of Jesus Christ.—ΦΡΟΝΙΜΏΤΕΡΟΙ, more prudent) The comparative is here used, and that in a not strict and a diminishing sense: For the prudence of the world does not deserve to be called prudence in the positive. The force of the comparative is already in the ὙΠῈΡ [ΤΟῪς ΥἹΟῪς ΤΟῦ ΦΩΤΌς] ὙΠῈΡ) Above. The sons of the light do not exceedingly care for this world. On this account the sons of this world easily excel them, and carry off from them the commendation (ἘΠῄΝΕΣΕΝ) of superiority in this respect; nor do the sons of the light always in very deed (in their actual conduct) evince as much prudence and vigilance even in spiritual matters [as the sons of the world evince in temporal matters]. See Matthew 25:5. They hardly have as much carefulness as is needed; the worldly have more than is necessary. [Hardly any son of the light would expend either fifty baths of oil or twenty cori of wheat, in order that he might gain for himself the favour of a certain (any particular) saint; but the men of this world at times acquire for themselves a friend or a patron at an enormous cost.—V. g.]—ΕἸς ΤῊΝ ΓΕΝΕᾺΝ, in respect to their generation) εἰς, in respect to, is a qualifying limitation. [In truth, even the smallest spark of the more sublime prudence is more excellent than the highest degree of worldly prudence. For the latter, whether you have regard to the affairs of politics, or of war, or merchandise, or literature, or works of art, etc., sets before it an object which is continually fleeting and transitory: Whereas, the former aims at reaching the farthest goal, which alone is of the greatest moment, however ordinarily treated as secondary and utterly neglected it be by the men of the world.—V. g.] The fruit of worldly prudence is brought to its termination in not many years. The antithesis to εἰς τὴν γενεὰν is αἰωνιους in Luke 16:9, everlasting habitations.

[168] Also translated in Engl. Vers. measures. But the Cor, Ezekiel 45:14, which the Hellenists write κόρος, is the same as the ancient homer חמר (a heap), the largest measure of dry goods. The Ephah is the tenth of this: and the bath in liquids answers to the ephah in dry goods.—E. and T.

[169] That is, not in the sense of what is positively unjust, but in the negative sense of God not insisting on that which is His rightful claim, viz. supreme Lordship over earthly goods, so that His interest solely, and man’s not at all, should be looked to: as in 2 Corinthians 12:13, Paul, when he did not avail himself of his rightful claim of maintenance from the Corinthians, says to them, “Forgive me this wrongἀδικίαν, the non-exercise of my right.—E. and T.

[170] ‘Improbe;’ Beng. refers to the double sense of improbum, that which is not our strict right, and that which is bold and excessively persevering. The same double sense holds good of the ἀδικιά here.—E. and T.

[171] And this sense alone gets over the difficulty, which there is in any other view, viz. that God commended the injustice of the steward.—E. and T.

[172] “They whose judgment was not to drink.” See Biel’s Thesaurus, νόμος being there משפט.—E. and T.Verse 8. - And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely. This, again, is a detail which has little bearing on the main teaching. It is a graphic and sarcastic eulogy which a good-humoured man of the world would pronounce upon a brilliant and skilful, although unprincipled, action, and it completes the story as a story. It seems evident that the intentions of the steward in regard to the debtors were carried out, and that they were really indebted to him for the release of a part of their indebtedness, and that the owner of the property did not dispute the arrangement entered into by his steward when in office. For the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. This was a melancholy and sorrowful reflection. It seems to say, "I have been painting, indeed, from the life. See, the children of this world, men and women whose ends and aims are bounded by the horizon of this world, who only live for this life, how much more painstaking and skilful are they in their working for the perishable things of this world than are the children of light in their noble toiling after the things of the life to come. The former appear even more in earnest in their search after what they desire than do the latter. There is underlying the Lord's deep and sorrowful reflection here, a mournful regret over one feature that is, alas! characteristic of well-nigh all religious life - the unkindness which religious professors so often show to one another. One great division of Christianity despises, almost hates, the other; sect detests sect; a very slight difference in religious opinion bars the way to all friendship, often to even kindly feeling. With truth Godet remarks here "that the children of this world use every means for their own interest to strengthen the bonds which unite them to their contemporaries of the same stamp, but, on the other hand, the children of light neglect this natural measure of prudence; they forget to use God's goods to form bonds of love to the contemporaries who might one day give them a full recompense, when they themselves shall want everything, and these shall have abundance." The lord

Of the steward. Rev., properly, "his lord."


Admiring his shrewdness, though he himself was defrauded.

Unjust steward

Lit., steward of injustice. See on forgetful hearer, James 1:25; and compare words of grace, Luke 4:22; unjust judge, Luke 18:6; son of his love, Colossians 1:13; lust of uncleanness, 2 Peter 2:10. The idiom is a Hebrew one. The phrase expresses Jesus' judgment on what the steward's master praised.

Wisely (φρονίμως)

See on Matthew 10:16. Wyc., prudently. I would suggest shrewdly, though in the modern sense of sagaciously, since the earlier sense of shrewd was malicious, or wicked. Plato says: "All knowledge separated from righteousness and other virtue appears to be cunning and not wisdom." In Matthew 7:24-26, it is applied to the sagacious man who built his house on the rock, opposed to the foolish (μωρός) man who built on the sand. "It is a middle term, not bringing out prominently the moral characteristics, either good or evil, of the action to which it is applied, but recognizing in it a skilful adaptation of the means to the end - affirming nothing in the way of moral approbation or disapprobation, either of means or end, but leaving their worth to be determined by other considerations" (Trench, "Parables").

In their generation (εἰς τὴν γενεὰν τὴν ἑαυτῶν)

The A. V. misses the point, following Wyc. Lit., in reference to their own generation; i.e., the body of the children of this world to which they belong, and are kindred. They are shrewd in dealing with their own kind; since, as is shown in the parable, where the debtors were accomplices of the steward they are all alike unscrupulous. Tynd., in their kind.

Than the children of light

Lit., sons of the light. The men of the world make their intercourse with one another more profitable than the sons of light do their intercourse with their own kind. The latter "forget to use God's goods to form bonds of love to the contemporaries who share their character" (Godet); forget to "make friends of the mammon," etc.

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