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Finally, Let me beseech you all to improve this delightful parable in its great outline and general bearing. Meditate closely, and often, on the humiliating view of your natural condition, represented by that of the prodigal in his distance from his father's house; on the nature and necessity of repentance unto life, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, set forth in the prodigal's return; on the astonishing grace displayed in his reception; and on the very unbecoming conduct of the elder brother. Have you returned to the Lord, or not? If you have, you have felt the evil of the state of sin and distance-you have humbled yourselves before him-you have cast yourselves on his free mercy, in his own appointed way of faith in the Redeemer-you have obtained filial dispositions, and you love his house and his people. If so, go not astray again; wander not away any more from the security and blissfulness of his presence. Seek your portion and your happiness, not away from him, but in him, and with him, saying, with the Psalmist, "The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance, and of my cup: maintainest my lot. The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage."-" Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart fail: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever."
If you have not returned to the Lord, but are afar off from him in open profligacy, or in secret unbelief and carelessness, be entreated now to turn and live. Do not continue madly in the career of vice which you cannot but know to be destructive; neither wrap yourselves up in the cloak of sullenness, obstinacy, and self-righteousness, for that would also be fatal. If any of you feel that you ought to return to your heavenly Father, and are desirous to return, but afraid that he will reject you, remember the parable of the prodigal son, and make haste and fall down before the Lord, and he will receive you graciously, and love you freely. He will in no wise cast you out, but will welcome you home to himself. "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." The Lord enable you so to do. May he bless our meditations on this parable, to his own glory and our good; and to his name be praise. Amen.
LUKE XVI. 1-8.
"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. 2. 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. 3. 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. 4. I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. 5. So he called every one of his lord's debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much ovest thou unto my lord? 6. And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty. 7. 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. 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.”
IT is, without doubt, to those who have been brought under the influence of the gospel that the Christian is chiefly to look for an edifying example; yet, it is possible for him to confine his attention too exclusively to them, and thus to overlook the useful lessons he might learn from men of the world, and forget that he should be willing to be taught even by an enemy. He is not, indeed, to adopt the motives and principles on which such men act, nor is he to propose to himself the same ultimate end with them; but, their manner of proceeding, on these motives and principles, towards the attainment of their end, is, in some respects, deserving of his careful attention and imitation. While he is to be most observant of the way of the pious, and while he cannot but assign to it the palm of superiority, on the whole, he is not superciliously to contemn every thing else, as being in no degree worthy of his regard, because it is destitute of spirituality; but he is to have his eyes open, and his mind attentive to all that is passing around him, knowing that there is nothing from which he may not draw instruction, when rightly interpreted. The Word of God, at times, sends him even to the irrational animals for instruc
tion. It guards him against ingratitude and inconsideration, by the example of the beasts of the stall-"The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib; but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider:" and it directs him to learn diligence from the ant-"Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways and be wise." No wonder, then, that it should occasionally refer him to the conduct of human beings still estranged from God. It guards him against instability, by the rooted attachment of the heathen to their idols-"Pass over the isles of Chittim and see, and send unto Kedar, and consider diligently, and see if there be such a thing. Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit." As for this parable of the unjust steward now before us, its leading object is to call on the Christian to observe and to improve the example of worldly men.
This parable furnishes one of the strongest exemplifications of the necessity of the rule of interpretation which we have repeatedly noticed, namely, that parables are not to be run too close, but to be explained, some of them, almost solely, and the rest of them chiefly, according to their leading idea, otherwise gross errors would be deduced from them. Thus, an inconsiderate and partial view of the character of the elder brother, in the parable of the prodigal son, might encourage self-righteousness; and an inconsiderate and partial view of this parable might encourage injustice. The scope of this parable is to teach, that when men of the world misapply so much ability, diligence, and perseverance, in the pursuit of their earthly, and, perhaps, positively sinful objects, Christians ought rightly to apply, at least as much wisdom, diligence, and perseverance in the pursuit of their all-important and holy object-the salvation of their souls. If we keep it constantly in view, that this is the intention of the parable, and rest satisfied with this, various difficulties and objections will be prevented, which would otherwise arise, and abundant room will still remain for much useful instruction.
"There was a certain rich man who had a steward." According to the most judicious interpretation, these words, and of course the rest of the parable, are to be understood literally, and in the very sense which they, at the first hearing, convey. We may, indeed, take occasion, from the parable, to speak of God as the master, and man as his steward; but that is an accommodation of its words, and not an
exact explication of the meaning which Jesus intended it to bear. We are just to suppose an earthly master having a servant, as here stated, who conducts himself as is afterwards described; from all which our Lord gives a lesson to his own disciples, on the way in which they should, but too often do not, prosecute their everlasting interests. This steward, or confidential servant, to whom his master had delegated high authority, and whom he had intrusted with the management of his house and lands, and all his worldly affairs, was charged, and but too justly, with having wasted his goods, by mismanagement and extravagance. The unfaithful man went on, in this course, unsuspected, and secure for a season; but, if he flattered himself that he would never be discovered and punished, his expectation was foolish, and proved to be vain. As soon as his master was informed how he was going on, he sent for him, and said to him, with sharpness, "How is it that I hear this of thee?" What is this that I hear? Can this be true? I had expected better things. "Give" me 66 an account of thy stewardship"-produce thy receipts and disbursements, and explain fully thy whole management: "for thou mayest be no longer steward" -thou canst not continue to hold this important office, unless all these points be cleared up to my satisfaction.
The steward knew well that it was quite impossible for him to render any satisfactory account of his affairs; his conscience already condemned him; and, despairing of being able to retain his situation, he only thought of what he could do for himself next. He was brought to his wit's end; and he anxiously revolved, in his own mind, the question as to what expedient he should now betake himself. He could not look for any favour from him whom he had already so deeply injured; nor could he reasonably expect to procure any desirable new situation, after being thus turned away for misconduct. Only two honest ways of obtaining the necessaries of life now remained for him; the one was to labour, and the other was to beg. "He could not"—that is, he was not able, he was not strong enough,* to "dig," or to work in any way as a day labourer. He may have been naturally feeble; or, more probably, the habits of ease and self-indulgence in which he had been long accustomed to live, had rendered him unfit for labour. If this was only the excuse of sloth, it was very improper. "The desire of the slothful killeth him; for his hands refuse to labour," says Solomon. * Οὐκ ἰσχύω.
Every man who needs to do so, and is at all able, should work for his bread, either with his head or with his hands. "When we were with you," writes Paul to the Thessalonians, "this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busy bodies. Now, them that are such we command and exhort, by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread."-" I cannot dig," said he; "to beg, I am ashamed." It is, certainly, a very shameful thing in persons to beg, when there is any other lawful way in which they can obtain the necessaries of life; and there are not a few who go about in that way needlessly, and who, therefore, ought to be ashamed of it. It would be well, were Christian liberality always so extensive and prompt, as to prevent, in every case, the necessity of begging. But, where that is not so, and where there is a real necessity for begging, it becomes a duty, and therefore, the poor people have then no occasion to be ashamed to beg. It is better to beg than to starve, and far better to beg than to steal. Those who have the things which are needful for the body, should be thankful that they are thereby placed beyond the reach of one temptation to dishonesty. Agur was aware of the danger, both of want and of great wealth, and, therefore, he prayed, "Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me; lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain."
After some consideration, the steward, instead of bringing down his mind completely to his altered condition, and becoming willing to adopt any plan, however humbling, by which he could honestly obtain a livelihood, fixed on the iniquitous expedient of endeavouring to secure the future good-will and services of his master's debtors, by relieving them from the obligation of part of their debt; hoping that, when he should be put out of his office, they would thus be disposed to receive him into their houses, and to assist him in various ways. Having resolved on this scheme, he immediately carried it into execution. He sent for his master's debtors, and negotiated, on the principle above mentioned, with every one of them who would avail himself of so dishonest an advantage. Finding, for example, that one debtor owed 66 an hundred measures," or baths,* "of oil, he said * A bath contained 7 gallons, and was the same as an ephah.