Luke 16

These parables were spoken to the Pharisees but the one that opens this chapter was spoken to the disciples. They were instructed by it as to the position in which men find themselves before God, and the behaviour that befits them in that position. We are stewards, and have been unfaithful in our stewardship. The steward was accused to his master that he had "wasted his goods." This phrase gives us a link with the previous parable, for the younger son had "wasted his substance with riotous living." All that we possess has reached us from the hand of God, so that if we squander upon ourselves that which we may have, we are really wasting our Master's goods.

The unfaithful steward found himself under notice to quit, whereupon he resolved he would use certain opportunities, still within his reach in the present, with a view to his advantage in the future. Verse 8 is the close of the parable. The steward was unjust-the Lord plainly calls him so-yet his lord could not but commend the subtle wisdom with which he had acted, in spite of it being to his own detriment. In matters of worldly shrewdness the children of this age excel the children of God.

Verses 9-13 are the application of the parable to us all. Earthly possessions, money and the like, are "the mammon of unrighteousness," because they are the things in which man's unrighteousness is mostly displayed, though in themselves they are not intrinsically unrighteous. We are to use the mammon in such a way as to lay up "a good foundation against the time to come" (see 1 Tim. 6: 17-19), or as our verse says, "when it fails ye may be received into the eternal tabernacles" (New Trans.).

Verse 9 therefore shows that we-are to act upon the principle so wisely adopted by the steward; verse 10 shows that we are to wholly differ from him in this, that what he did in unfaithfulness we are to do in all good fidelity. The "unrighteous mammon," which men struggle to obtain so earnestly, and often so dishonestly, is after all "that which is least." It is not properly ours at all but "another man's," inasmuch as "the earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof." But there is "the true" mammon, which the Lord speaks of as, "that which is your own." If we truly realize that our own things are those which we have in Christ, we shall use all that we have in this life-money, time, opportunities, mental powers-with a view to our Master's interests. At all events, we cannot serve two masters. Either God or mammon will dominate us. Let us see to it that God dominates us.

Though all this was said to the disciples, there were Pharisees listening and they openly mocked Him. To their covetous minds such teaching was ridiculous. They were great sticklers for the law, and the law had never stipulated things like these. The Lord's answer to them was twofold. First, they were all for that which was outward before the eyes of men, merely concerning themselves with that which men esteemed. They ignored the God who is concerned with the state of men's hearts, and whose thoughts are wholly opposed to men's. Ultimately God's thoughts will be established and men's thoughts overthrown.

But second, the law in which they boasted was being superseded by the kingdom of God. The law had stipulated the things necessary for man's life on earth, and the prophets had predicted God's coming kingdom on earth. The time of the visible, world-wide kingdom was not yet, but nevertheless it was being introduced in another form by preaching, and already in this spiritual form men were beginning to press into it. The Pharisees were blind to all this, and were staying outside. But, though the law was being superseded in this way, not one tittle of it was going to fail. In its own domain it stands in all its majesty. It is "holy, just and good," and its moral enactments still remain. The particular enactment which the Lord emphasized in verse 18, was no doubt a tremendous thrust at the Pharisees, who were very slack in such matters, while busily occupied with their tithes of mint and anise and cummin.

This home-thrust was followed by the tremendous parable of verses 19-31, if indeed it is a parable. The Lord uses a few figurative expressions such as "Abraham's bosom," but He relates it all as fact. Verses 19-22 relate very ordinary facts of this life ending in death and burial, and there for us the curtain drops. As we begin verse 23 the Lord lifts the curtain and brings into our view the things which lie beyond.

The rich man acted on precisely the opposite principle to the steward at the beginning of the chapter. All that he had he used for selfish, present enjoyment and he left the future to care for itself. The Lord is not inveighing against riches, but against man's selfish use of riches without God. The rich man was all for the present, all for this world; God's kingdom was nothing to him.

The word Jesus used for "hell" here is hades; not the lake of fire, but the unseen world of the departed. He therefore shows us that even that is for the unsaved a place of torment. Four times over does He state that hades is a place of torment.

He also shows that once the soul enters hades no change is possible. The "great gulf" is "fixed." No transference from torment to blessedness is possible. No "larger hope" is here.

The rich man became quite evangelistic in hell. He desired his brethren to have a supernatural visitation to stop them reaching that awful place. The Lord shows us that no such supernatural event, were it possible, would stop people, if they are not stopped by the Word of God.

Today God is appealing to men by the New Testament as well as by Moses and the prophets, and in the New Testament is the record of the One who rose from the dead. If men reject the Bible, which is the full Word of God for today, nothing will persuade them, and they will reach the place of torment.

Oh, that a God-given conviction of this may possess us! Then, the "love of God our Saviour toward man" also possessing our hearts, we should be full of zeal for the souls of men. We should be more like Joseph Alleine, one of the devoted men ejected from their livings under the Act of Uniformity, who was said to be, "insatiably greedy of the conversion of precious souls!" And we should have the zeal for the souls of men while still it is the accepted time and the day of salvation.