Matthew Poole's Commentary
And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods.Luke 16:1-13 The parable of the unjust steward.
Luke 16:14-18 Christ reproveth the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, who
were covetous, and derided him.
Luke 16:19-31 The parable of the rich man and Lazarus the beggar.
Ver. 1-8. Hierom of old thought this parable was very obscure; and Julian and other apostates, together with some of the heathen philosophers, took occasion from it to reproach the doctrine of Christ, as teaching and commanding acts of unrighteousness. But there will appear no such difficulty in it, nor cause of reproach to Christ and his doctrine from it, if we consider what I have before hinted, that it is no more necessary to a parable that all the actions in it supposed be just and honest, than that all the parts of it be true in matter of fact, whether past or possible to be; for a parable is not designed to inform us in a matter of fact, but to describe to us our duty, under a fictitious representation: nor doth every part of a parable point at some correspondent duty to be done by us; but the main scope for which it is brought is principally to be attended to by us, and other pieces of duty which may be hinted to us, are to be judged of and proved not from the parable, but from other texts of holy writ where they are inculcated. The main things in which our Saviour seemeth desirous by this parable to instruct us, are,
1. That we are but stewards of the good things God lends us, and must give an account to our Master of them.
2. That being no more than stewards intrusted with some of our Master’s goods for a time, it is our highest prudence, while we have them in our trust, to make such a use of them as may be for our advantage when we give up our account.
Thus we shall hear our Lord in the following verses expounding his own meaning. To this purpose he supposed a rich man to have a steward, and to have received some accusation against him, as if he embezzled his master’s goods committed to his trust. Upon which he calleth him to account, and tells him that he should be his steward no longer. He supposes this steward to be one who had no other means of livelihood and subsistence than what his place afforded him, a than not used to labour, and too proud to beg. At length he fixed his resolution, to send for his master’s debtors, and to abate their obligations, making them debtors to his master for much less than indeed they were; by this means he probably hoped, that when he was turned off from his master he should be received by them. He supposes his master to have heard of it, and to have commended him, not for his honesty, but for his wit in providing for the time to come. What was knavery in this steward, is honest enough in those who are the stewards of our heavenly Lord’s goods, suppose riches, honours, parts, health, life, or any outward accommodation, viz. to use our Lord’s goods for the best profit and advantage to ourselves, during such time as we are intrusted with them. For though an earthly lord and his steward have particular divided interests, and he that maketh use of his lord’s goods for his own best advantage cannot at the same time make use of them for the best advantage of his master, yet the case is different betwixt our heavenly Lord and us. It hath pleased God so to twist the interest of his glory with our highest good, that no man can better use his Master’s goods for the advantage of his glory, than he who best useth them for the highest good, profit, and advantage to himself; nor doth any man better use them for his own interest, than he who best useth them for God’s glory. So as here the parable halteth, by reason of the disparity betwixt the things that are compared. And though the unjust steward could not be commended for the honesty, but only for the policy, of his action, yet we who are stewards of the gifts of God, in doing the like, that is, making use of our Master’s goods for our own best profit and advantage, may act not only wisely, but also honestly; and indeed Christ in this parable blames men for not doing so:
The children of this world (saith he) are wiser in their generation than the children of light. By the children of this world, he meaneth such as this steward was, men who regard not eternity or the concerns of their immortal souls, but only regard the things of this life, what they shall eat, or drink, or put on. By
the children of light, he meaneth such as live under the light of the gospel, and receive the common illumination of the gospel; though if we yet understand it more strictly, of those who are
translated out of darkness into marvellous light, it is too true, they are not so wise, and politic, and industrious for heaven, as worldly men are to obtain their ends in getting the world. He saith,
the men of this world are wiser in their generation, that is, in their kind, as to those things about which they exercise their wit and policy, than the children of God.
And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.See Poole on "Luke 16:1"
Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed.See Poole on "Luke 16:1"
I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.See Poole on "Luke 16:1"
So he called every one of his lord's debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord?Ver. 5 See Poole on "Luke 16:1"
And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty.See Poole on "Luke 16:1"
Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore.Ver. 7 See Poole on "Luke 16:1"
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.See Poole on "Luke 16:1"
And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.That by mammon here is meant riches is universally agreed, but whether it originally be a Chaldaic, or Syriac, or Punic word is not so well agreed. The Chaldee paraphrast useth it, Hosea 5:11; but the Hebrew there is quite otherwise, (according to our translation), he willingly walked after the commandment. But if the notion of those be true, that some of those nations had an idol called Mammon, whom they made the god of riches, answering the Grecian Plutus, it fairly interprets the Chaldee paraphrast. They followed the command for idolatry, for such was Jeroboam’s commandment, mentioned in that text, and from thence it might be that the Syrians and Punics called riches mammon. We have the word in the New Testament four times, thrice in this chapter, once Matthew 6:24. It is called the mammon of unrighteousness, by a Hebraism; it is as much as, the unrighteous mammon: by which we must not understand ill gotten goods, (for God hateth robbery for a burnt offering), we must restore such goods, not make friends of them; but riches are so called, because of the manifold temptations to sin which arise from them, upon which account they are also called deceitful. But others think that it is so called in opposition to the true riches, mentioned Luke 16:11. So that the mammon of unrighteousness is the mammon of falsehood, or hurtful riches, riches of hurtfulness (adicia sometimes signifies hurt or wrong, and adicein, laedere, nocere). Of these riches, which are no true riches, and which deceive the soul, and do hurt and mischief to a soul, exposing it to temptation, Christ commands us to make friends; either,
1. To make God our friend, not by meriting from him any thing by our disposal of them, but by obedience to his will in our distribution of them. Or:
2. To make poor Christians our friends, so as we may have their prayers. So that, when ye fail, when you die, when you fail of any more comfort from them, they may receive you into everlasting habitations; the holy Trinity, or the blessed angels, (whose work it is, as we shall hear, to carry souls into Abraham’s bosom), may receive you into heaven.
He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.This is a usual sentence, (our Saviour made use of many such), as to which kind of speeches it is not necessary they should be universally true, it is sufficient if they generally be so. Besides that, our Saviour plainly speaketh here according to the common opinion and judgment of men. Men ordinarily judge that he who is faithful in a little thing, of no high concern or moment, will be faithful in what is of a higher concern, or greater moment; and if they have found a person unfaithful in a small thing, they will conclude that he will he so in a greater, and not trust him: though sometimes it falls out otherwise, that one who is faithful enough in some trifling things, prove unfaithful in a greater trust, where unfaithfulness will turn more to his profit; and on the contrary, he that is untruthful in a little thing, may prove more faithful in a greater; but none will trust to that: and that is our Saviour’s design, to teach us that God will do by us as we in the like case do by our servants or neighbours.
If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?This verse now opposeth the unrighteous mammon to the true riches, which would strongly incline one to think, that by the mammon of unrighteousness, before mentioned, our Saviour meant only false and deceitful riches. By the true riches I cannot think is meant the gospel, which indeed is said to be committed to trust of the ministers, but not of all Christians. I had rather interpret it of special, effectual grace, which is of all other the true riches: and so it teacheth us this great truth, That God is justified in the denial of his special grace to those who do not make a due use of his common gifts and grace; and indeed here will lie men’s damnation, because they do not make a just use of that common grace which they have, and might make a better use of it than they do. If they would be faithful in that, God would not deny them 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?Let it be questioned whether allotrion might not have been translated foreign as well as another man’s, for so interpreters expound that phrase: If you have not been faithful in things that are without you, which are little, compared with things that are within us. Yet riches are indeed properly not ours, we are but the stewards of them, and part of them are other men’s, and only trusted into our hands, to dispense to them according to our Master’s order. Grace is our own, especially justifying and sanctifying grace; because it is given us of God solely for our own use and advantage. We use to say, That those who have been, bad servants seldom prove good masters. In the trust of our riches we are but servants; God will not give out of his special saving grace to those that abuse the trust of his common gifts and grace.
No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.See Poole on "Matthew 6:24".
And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him.Concerning the Pharisees’ covetousness we have often heard before; and indeed they were so from this principle, that none but the rich were happy and blessed, and that all poor people were cursed, John 7:49; in opposition to whom some think that our Saviour, Luke 6:20, blessed the poor. The promises relating to the Old Testament, and made to the Jews, were generally of temporal blessings, though under them spiritual mercies were also understood. As hypocrites can never endure to have their beloved lusts touched, and persons that have drank in an error have no patience to hear it contradicted; so the Pharisees had no patience to hear that doctrine, which crossed what they had taught, and struck at their darling lusts.
They derided him: the word used signifieth a deriding with the highest degree of scorn and contempt.
And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.By justifying here is to be understood either an appearing before men as just, and strict observers of the law, or a predicating of themselves as just: You (saith our Saviour) make a fine show, and great brags amongst men; but God’s eye goeth deeper, he knoweth the heart, what pride, and covetousness, and hypocrisy lodge there. Men do not know your hearts, but God knoweth them. All is not gold by God’s touchstone that glitters in man’s eyes. Nay, many things which are highly esteemed amongst men, as matters of great devotion and piety and merit, and which they applaud others for, are in the sight of God no better than abominations. This highly obliges all not to make their estimate of things, from the value and estimate which men put upon them; not every thing, but many things which are highly esteemed amongst men are abomination in the sight of God.
The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.We had the sum of these words: See Poole on "Matthew 11:12" and See Poole on "Matthew 11:13". The connection of these words in this place seems to be this: Do not think it strange that I preach some doctrines to you which seem new to you, though indeed they are no other than was before contained in the precepts of the Old Testament; for the law and the prophets, the preaching of them, held but till John, since whose time the gospel hath been preached, which gives you a clearer light into the will of God than you had before; and it pleaseth God to give it a great acceptation in the world, though you reject it;
every man presseth, that is, many press, into it; so as God will not want a people, though you mock and deride the gospel, instead of embracing of it, as you ought to do.
And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.Neither do you scandalize me, as if I came to teach a new doctrine, contrary to the law and the prophets. I tell you the quite contrary; heaven and earth shall pass away, before one tittle of the law shall pass. Your vain interpretations of the law shall be destroyed, or amended, but the law of my Father shall remain as a certain rule of life to his people until the world shall have an end.
Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.See Poole on "Matthew 5:32", where this is expounded; also, See Poole on "Matthew 19:9", and See Poole on "Mark 10:11".
There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:Ver. 19-22. It is a question of no great concern for us to be resolved about, whether this be a history, or narrative of matter of fact, or a parable. Those that contend on either side have probable arguments for their opinion, and it may be they best judge who determine it to be neither the one nor the other, but a profitable discourse, that hath in it something of both. Our chief concern is to consider what our Lord by it designed to instruct us in. And certainly those do not judge amiss who think that this discourse hath a great reference to what went before, Luke 16:9,10, where our Saviour had been exhorting his hearers to make themselves
friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, as also to the Pharisees deriding him for his doctrine, Luke 16:14; our Lord by this discourse letting them know the danger of covetousness and uncharitableness, and also letting them know that what is highly esteemed among men may be abomination in the sight of God. He telleth them there was a certain rich man, who lived in great plenty and splendour; his clothing was purple and fine linen, that is, exceeding costly and splendid; his fare, or diet, was delicate and sumptuous, and that every day, from whence may easily be concluded, that if he had had a heart thereunto, he might have spared something for the poor. Nor were the objects of his charity far off.
There was a certain beggar named Lazarus, poor enough, for he was full of sores, and would have been glad of the offal of the rich man’s table; but the dogs were more charitable than their master; we read of nothing which the rich man gave him, but
the dogs came and licked his sores. What was the end of this? The beggar died, and he was by the angels carried into the bosom of Abraham, that is, into heaven; some will have the phrase signify, one of the chiefest mansions in heaven. Abraham was the father of believers, and an hospitable person while he lived upon the earth. Lazarus is expressed to have been conveyed to him. There are many things discoursed by men of wit and learning about this Abraham’s bosom, but the best centre here, that by it is meant heaven: and from hence two great points are proved:
1. That the soul is capable of an existence separated from the body, and therefore is not, as some atheists dream, a mere affection of that, and an accident, but a distinct spiritual subsistence.
2. That the souls of the good, when they depart from their bodies, immediately pass into an eternal state of blessedness.
And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,See Poole on "Luke 16:19"
And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.See Poole on "Luke 16:19"
And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;See Poole on "Luke 16:19"
And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.Ver. 23,24. Kai en tw adh, And in hell. The world hath been filled with disputes about the true signification of the word adhv, which is here translated hell. The most probably true notion of it is, that it signifies, the state of the dead, both of the dead body, and so it often signifieth the grave, and of the departed soul. A very learned man saith, that if he mistakes not, this is the only text in Scripture in which by it is to be understood the place of torments. The Hebrew word which is translated by this, far more often signifying the place of the blessed, whither the saints and patriarchs went when they died, than the place whither sinners went; but Luke 16:24 makes it appear, that here it signifies hell, properly so called, as it imports the place of the damned. We must understand our Saviour in this whole diatupwsiv to speak to us figuratively, that by things which we understand we might comprehend spiritual things. Heaven and hell are at too great a distance for souls in each to discourse one with another: neither have souls any eyes to lift up. We are by this taught:
1. That as the souls of good men, when they leave their bodies, go into a state of eternal bliss, where are Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and enjoy a felicity which we are not able to express, but is set out to us under the notion of Abraham’s bosom, to let us know that it is a place of rest, and communion with saints, and the same felicity which Abraham the friend of God doth enjoy: so the souls of wicked men, when they leave their bodies, shall go into a place of torments, the greatness of which being such as we are not able to conceive, they are expressed to us under the notion of being tormented by fire.
2. That it will be a great part of the misery of damned souls, to understand those to be in a state of happiness whom they in this life have scorned, despised, and abused, and, it may be, have been instruments to hasten them to those blessed mansions.
3. That there will come a time when the proudest sinners will be glad of the help of the meanest saints, if they could obtain it. Father Abraham, ( saith the rich man), send Lazarus, that Lazarus whom when alive I suffered to lie at my gate full of sores, and would not relieve.
4. That the state of the damned will be void of the least degrees of comfort and satisfaction. The rich man desireth but a cooling of his tongue with so much water as could be brought upon the tip of Lazarus’s finger.
5. That the tongue is a member, the abuse of which will in another life lie very heavy upon lost souls.
And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.See Poole on "Luke 16:19"
But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.Ver. 25,26. We must still remember, that all these things are spoken in a figure. The
great gulf here mentioned, to be fixed between heaven and hell, is too wide for persons on opposite sides of it to be heard communicating their minds each to other. All that our Saviour designs to let us know is, that the circumstances of damned souls are such, that, if it were possible, they would beg the help and assistance of the meanest saints, whom they have in this life most scorned, despised, or abused; but as they will have no such opportunities as to crave any thing at their hands, so if they had, they could not receive the least relief from them; their state is determined, they are fixed for eternity, and there can be no change of their condition for the better. Abraham is here brought in calling this man
Son, either as lineally descended from him, or being a member of that church of which he was the father. It will add to the torments of the damned, to hear and consider the former means and advantages they have been under for salvation, if they have descended from godly parents, or have been members of the church of Christ.
That in thy lifetime thou receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things. The good things which the rich man received were no more the cause of his damnation, than the evil things which Lazarus met with were the cause of his salvation; but the rich man’s ill use of the former, and Lazarus’s good improvement of the latter, through the grace of God bestowed on him. Though it be not ordinary with God to give the same persons the upper and the nether springs, yet he sometimes doth it, of which Abraham, and Lot, and Job, and David, and Isaac, and Jacob, and Joseph of Arimathea, are some instances. But the term thy signifies the error of this rich man; he looked upon the good things of this life as his portion, those were the things which be set his heart upon, and let his heart run out to the neglecting the good things of another life. Lazarus received evil things, God gave him a mean, afflicted portion in this life; but he was found patient, and glorifying of God by a quiet and believing submission to his will under them; now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. So then it seemeth that departed souls do not sleep, as some have dreamed; if they did, they could neither have been capable of comfort or torment.
And besides all this, there is a great gulf fixed, &c.; the meaning of which is no more than,
1. That the state of souls upon their separation from the bodies of men and women is determined and fixed. As the tree falls, so it lieth.
2. That there is no commerce, or intercourse, between glorified and damned souls. The papists passage from purgatory to heaven is a new found way, or rather a new fancied one. If purgatory be (as they pretend) a place where souls are tormented, it may be wondered how they should pass over this gulf: it seemeth Abraham did not know the way, St. Peter knew as little; this is one of his pretended vicar’s new discoveries, but it is no wisdom in any souls to trust to this passage, of which Abraham knew as little as he did of our prayers passing to them, or to God for them, for there is casma mega esthrigmenon, a great gulf established.
And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.See Poole on "Luke 16:25"
Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house:Ver. 27,28. Him that the rich man would not hear, when he lay at his gate full of sores, exhorting him to do good and to distribute, to give alms of all that he had, and to make himself friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, he would now have restored to the earth again, his soul before the general resurrection reunited to His body, that he might go unto his father’s house, and give them warning, that they might not come into the misery which he felt. But is there any charity in hell? Is there any there that wish well to souls upon earth? Or rather, are not damned souls, like persons infected with the plague, desirous that others might be made as miserable as themselves? A grave and acute author saith, he prayeth not for them, but for himself, that he might not be the note miserable by the company of those who upon the earth were his near relations, and dear unto him. But we must remember that our Saviour here speaketh all in a figure, and that which our Saviour by these expressions designs to instruct us in is no more than this, That although atheistical and proud and haughty souls in this life make a mock at hell, and at the wrath of God to be revealed after this life, and despise the poor servants of God, who by their doctrine, or holy life and example, would teach them better things, yet they shall find the fire of hell so hot, the wrath of God so terrible and intolerable, that if you could imagine that souls under those miseries could have the least dram of charity and good nature left it, them, though they apprehend themselves past all hopes of recovery to a better state, yet they would beg that some of those faithful ministers, or godly people, whom they have rejected, despised, and abused, might be sent to every friend they have in the world, to warn them from doing as they have done, and running the hazard of those torments they feel for doing of such things. The papists, who idly go about from hence to prove a sense in departed souls of the state of their friends that are yet alive upon the earth, can derive very little comfort from that speculation out of this text; which if it could prove any thing of that nature could prove no more than that damned souls have such a sense, and might by the same argument also evince their charity. But figurative expressions must not be so closely applied. I have showed what I judge to be the true instruction from this passage.
For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.See Poole on "Luke 16:27"
Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.Christ here represents to us the genius of wicked and carnal men, that would be converted by revelations and some extraordinary signs; if they could see one risen from the dead, then they would believe the resurrection; if they could see a glorified saint, or hear or see a damned soul, then they would believe a heaven and a hell: he here brings in Abraham saying,
They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. God will have men believe the propositions of His word, and live up to the rule of life prescribed there, and not expect to have their curiosity satisfied by needless and extraordinary revelations. But is there then no need of the gospel to bring men to heaven? Doubtless there is, but that is included in Moses and the prophets, who all prophesied of Christ, though more darkly than he is revealed in the New Testament.
Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me, John 5:39,46, Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me: now they at that time had no Scriptures to search but those of Moses and the prophets; for the New Testament was not at that time written.
And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.Ver. 30,31. How vain is man in his imaginations: We are prone all of us to think after the rate that this rich man is here brought in speaking; that although persons be deaf to the sound of the word, yet some sensible evidence of the wrath of God would make a change in their hearts and lives. There is no such thing. There is not, possibly, in all the book of God a text that more speaks the desperate hardness of a sinner’s heart than this, nor a text which looks more dreadfully upon persons sitting under the means of grace, reading and hearing the word of God, and yet find not their hearts so affected with the reading and hearing of it, as thereby to be brought to repentance, and faith, and such holiness of life as it requireth. If it were possible that such men and women should see one come out of the bottomless pit, tearing his hair, and wringing his hands, and gnashing his teeth, and bewailing his misery, and begging of them to be wise by his example, telling them for what sins he is made so miserable, and with tears and highest expressions of passion beseeching them that while they have time they would leave off those courses, acquaint themselves with God, and be at peace, that thereby good might come unto them, they would not yet believe nor repent; nor would this have any further effect upon them, than a little passion, till they could get the din out of their ears. For though sensible evidence be the highest advantage in the world to moral persuasion, yet these things are under no Divine appointment to such an effect. Henceforth let us wonder no more that a drunkard sees his companion drop down dead before him, yet presently cries again, Fill the glass; that hundreds of sinners are daily hurried down to hell in their wickedness, and yet their companions take no warning. In a fight at sea or land hundreds drop, yet their companions do not fly, but are held up by their stomachs and passion, and their ears are made deaf by the noise of the drums and trumpets. So in the world hundreds of sinners drop down daily into the pit, yet the rest of their companions tumble their companions into their graves, and never consider the work of the Lord, nor consider the operation of his hands, till they also like sheep be laid in the grave, and death comes to feed upon them, and hell to devour them also. This now to those that duly consider not things, and in particular do not consider this text, seemeth strange and amazing. But it is no more to be wondered at than that hundreds read and hear the word of God, and are not by it converted and changed. It is not to be expected that any providence of God should work upon those souls any saving change, upon whom the word doth not work. That is the ordinance of God, with which the Holy Spirit joins itself, which alone can produce this change. If God works not this change thus, he will work it by nothing else; though he sometimes maketh use of such providences towards souls to whom he intends good, to make them observe and attend to the word better, in order to so blessed an effect.
And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.See Poole on "Luke 16:30"