Spiritual Meaning of
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THE UNJUST STEWARD
There was a certain rich man, who had a steward; and the same was accused to him that he had wasted his goods. And he called him, and said to him, How is it that I hear this of you? give an account of your stewardship; for you may be no longer steward. Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my Lord takes away from me the stewardship; I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. So he called every one of his Lord's debtors to him, and said to the first, How much owe you to my Lord? And he said, an hundred measures of oil. And he said to him, Take your bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty. Then said lie to another, And how much owe you? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said to him, Take your bill, and write fourscore. 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. And I say to you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when you fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations. 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. If therefore you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another man's, who shall give you that which is your own?
A certain rich man means the Lord himself, as to His Divine Humanity, who is called a rich man, as being the bountiful source of all divine wisdom, truth, and knowledge.
Under the name of steward is described the whole human race, so called from the reception, by each man, of heavenly truth, or knowledge, from God; for such is the case with every one who is born into the world, that he has no truth, or knowledge, but what he derives from another, and, therefore, properly, he is only a receiver of truth, whilst the Lord Himself is the only Real Proprietor; consequently, at his best estate, he is only a steward, whilst the Lord Himself is the only proper Master.
It was said of this steward that he was accused to his master that he had wasted his goods. The accusation, here spoken of, relates to a state of temptation, or trial, on which occasion man is called to recollection and serious thought concerning his past life, and especially concerning the foods which have been entrusted to him by his heavenly Father, and the use which he has made of those goods. Such a state of trial, or temptation, is always attended by infestations from wicked disorderly spirits, who endeavour to oppress the conscience of man, by aggravating the guilt of his crimes, or of all the disorders of his life, that they may thus separate him from the Divine Mercy, by suggesting the idea that he has sinned beyond the possibility of forgiveness.
All the knowledges of heavenly truth, together with the affection by which they are received, are called goods, and really are goods, and the only goods which properly deserve the name, because they alone tend to lead man to the possession of eternal life and happiness, by effecting his conjunction with the Divine Source of life and happiness. And these goods are said to be wasted, when man either neglects to use them aright, or by abuse, perverts and rejects them, since in such case the knowledges of truth, even though they had been imparted, and received with affection, are finally taken away from him, since it is an eternal law that man shall have no more knowledge in his understanding than what he is faithful to the practice of, by rendering it subservient to the purification of his will, and the removal thereby of all disorderly love, which separates between him and the Divine Fountain of peace. This, therefore, was the accusation here presented to the mind of the accused steward, that he had frustrated all the purposes of the heavenly knowledge which he had received, and thus made that knowledge void, and of none effect to himself, by not forming his life and love in agreement with its heavenly dictates.
It is written in the parable, that the Lord called him and said to him.
The Almighty is said to call man by every dictate of truth manifested in his understanding, and to say to him, when that dictate affects the man's will, so as to excite his affection and attention. The two expressions, therefore, are used, as is common in other parts of the Holy Scripture, for the purpose of pointing out distinctly the two principles of the divine love and wisdom of God, and also the two principles of will and understanding in man adapted to their reception. It is therefore said, He called him and said to him, to show, first, that the Almighty regards man from his divine love and divine wisdom conjointly; and to show, secondly, that in the present instance the accused steward was made sensible of the effect of the divine influence both in his will and in his understanding.
The language of the Divine Dictate, in the present case, is thus expressed, How is it that I hear this of you? give an account of your stewardship; for you may be no longer steward.
In all states of trial, or temptation, when man is accused by evil spirits in his own conscience, of having been unfaithful to the knowledge communicated to him by his Heavenly Father, there is an internal dictate of heavenly truth leading man to explore the causes of his unfaithfulness, which are necessary to be known before they can be removed. What, therefore, here appears in the letter, in the form of a severe charge, is otherwise in the real spirit and meaning of the words, since according to their internal sense they contain nothing but a dictate of the purest mercy, disposing man to consideration, thus to sincere repentance and newness of life, by discovering to him the hidden sources of his former unfaithfulness and disobedience.
The words, Give an account of your stewardship, like the foregoing, in their literal sense, sound like words of censure and of severity, when yet, in their internal and real sense, they are again expressions of the purest mercy, because in that sense they have a tendency again to lead man to recollection, and to take account, in his own mind and life, of the use which he has made of those heavenly goods, which have been entrusted to his care by his Divine Lord and Master. Give an account of your stewardship, is thus a merciful call to every man to explore the hidden principles of his conduct, and thus to ascertain in his own mind in what instances he has been faithful, and in what unfaithful, to divine requirements.
But it is added, You may be no longer steward. These words, again, are apparently words of judgement and of terror, thus of severity and incrimination, when yet, in themselves, they are words of the most compassionate mercy, like the foregoing. For by the sentence of apparent condemnation, here delivered, the accused person was intended to be brought into a state of deeper humiliation and contrition, under a feeling sense of his misconduct in the use of his master's goods, and thus of his unworthiness to be entrusted any longer with the administration of those goods.
It is written afterwards, that then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my Lord takes away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig: to beg I am ashamed. I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.
The words, what shall I do, were intended to express a state of internal thought, because it is written, he said within himself; for thought is of two kinds, external and internal, and man is said to think externally, when he thinks only under the influence of self-love and the love of the world, thus under the influence of his external man; but he is said to think internally, when he thinks under the influence of spiritual love, which is the love of God and of his neighbour, thus under the influence of the spirit of that love in his internal man. The accused person, therefore, in the parable, in consequence of the accusations brought against him, and of the spiritual trial thence resulting, was now brought to a state of interior thought, by which he was led to exercise that wisdom which his Lord afterwards commended. From this state of interior thought, therefore, he asks himself the significant question, what shall I do? in other words, what methods shall I take to deliver myself from my present trial, and to guard against the consequences of the accusation brought, against me? What those methods are, appears from the following verse in the parable.
It has been already seen, that the stewardship has relation to the important trust of the eternal truth committed to every one's care, that he may acquire thence the blessing of everlasting life, through the pure love of God and of his neighbour. This stewardship, then, is said to be taken away, when man either perverts or rejects the eternal truth; and it is also said to be taken away, as in the present instance, when man ceases to be led merely by the knowledge of truth in his understanding, in consequence of having attained to that spirit of love and charity to which the truth was intended to lead him; for when this is the case, man is no longer denominated a steward, but rather a friend and child of his Heavenly Father, by reason of his having attained to the great end and design of his stewardship. And that the accused person in the parable had attained to this end, is evident from the words which follow, I cannot dig: to beg I am ashamed. For these words are manifestly words of humiliation and self-abasement, which tempers of mind are sure symptoms that man is no longer under the influence of selfish and worldly love, but of heavenly and spiritual love.
The digging, here spoken of, is a natural term, which like all other natural terms adopted in the Sacred Scriptures, is expressive of a spiritual idea, and the spiritual idea intended to be expressed by it, is that of inquiry or investigation of truth, since, as the natural man digs in the earth, for the purpose of examining its contents, and discovering its treasures, in like manner the spiritual man is said to dig: in his own understanding, to the intent that he may there examine and finally discover the treasures of the eternal truth which are therein concealed. This, therefore, was the first mark of his humiliation and abasement, that he felt himself unable to examine and explore the mysteries of the eternal wisdom; and the second mark of the same heavenly temper is expressed in these words, to beg I am ashamed; by which words is denoted his further inability to apply for spiritual blessings, as is the case with all in a state of trial and temptation, when it appears that heaven is shut against them, and that their prayers for divine favour and acceptance are not heard.
It has been already shown what is meant by being put out of the stewardship, namely, that it denotes a state when man is led no longer of truth, and acts no longer under its influence, but begins to be led of the spirit of heavenly good of love and charity, to which all truth points, and to which it is intended to conduct its happy receiver. Here, therefore, may be seen clearly what is further to be understood by being received into their houses. For the term house is an expression used in the Sacred Scriptures to denote the interiors of the human mind, together with the ruling principle which prevails there. In the present case, therefore, it is applied to denote the principle of heavenly love and charity, which was to succeed in the place of truth, and to which the man was to be introduced by the state of trial and temptation above mentioned.
The substance of the above resolution is expressed in these words, So he called every one of his Lord's debtors to him, and said to the first, How much owe you to my Lord?
This denotes a further state of self-examination, consisting in an exploration of the debt which he owed to his Lord. It is said, every one of his Lord's debtors, as if there were many, (whereas we find afterwards that mention is made only of two) to teach us this lesson of the divine wisdom, that the debts which man owes to his God relate principally to his will and to his understanding, and that these, therefore, are the principles which stand chiefly indebted to the Almighty, the will being created to receive all the good things of his love, whilst the understanding is created to receive all the good things of His wisdom. It is, therefore, on this ground principally that man is a debtor to his Merciful Creator, because all things belonging to him, such as his joys, delights, and happiness, have respect to one or other of the above principles. The question, then, how much owe you to my Lord? involves in it an important inquiry respecting every good influence which man has received at any time from his Heavenly Father, and also respecting all the knowledge of heavenly truth which has at any time been imparted to him in an external way through the senses. For the real case is, that every pure delight manifested in the mind of man is from above, or from a source out of himself; in like manner every genuine truth, or knowledge, imparted through the senses, and elevated into the understanding of man, is also from above, and derived from a source out of himself. Until man, however, is brought into a state of recollection and of serious self-examination, he is never able to make this discovery, consequently he makes no return of the immense blessing which he receives everyday from a Divine Hand. The important question, then, How much owe you to my Lord? was intended to lead man out of this dreadful state of thoughtlessness and ingratitude to his Divine Benefactor, and to conduct him further to the pure and eternal joy arising from a humble and grateful acknowledgement of divine mercies and favours.
The debt and its payment, which are the principle subjects of this parable, are next described. And he said to him, Take your bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty. Then said he to another, And how much owe you? and he said, A hundred measures of wheat. And he said to him, Take your bill, and write fourscore.
The debt is here expressed by two distinct terms, a hundred measures of oil, and a hundred measures of wheat, because the expression, a hundred measures of oil, has more relation to the good things of celestial love stored up in the human will, whilst the other expression, a hundred measures of wheat, has more relation to the good things of heavenly wisdom, or truth, stored up in the human understanding. For every man, from the first moment of his birth, to the last moment of his existence here below, is perpetually receiving from God these precious gifts in his will and in his understanding, whether he is aware of it or not; and these gifts are described in the Sacred Scriptures under figurative terms, taken from the most valuable and beneficial subjects of natural life, as in the present instance from oil and wheat. Accordingly, we find that both oil and wheat are used, under the Jewish law, to express spiritual blessings, which are the blessings of heavenly love and wisdom, to which all spiritual things have reference. In the prophetic writings also the same figurative language, we find, is perpetually adopted, insomuch that there is no subject in the visible creation, which is not regarded in this, its representative character, and thus introduced to express some spiritual grace, or virtue, to which it corresponds.
It is said in both cases that the measure was a hundred, because a hundred is a term applied in the Scriptures throughout to denote what is complete and full, and, therefore, it is here applied by our Lord to the measures of oil and of wheat here spoken of, inasmuch as these measures are in every sense full and complete with every individual, since every individual, as was above observed, is continually receiving those inestimable gifts from the Father of Mercies.
The discharge of the debt is expressed by what is said in one case, Take your bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty; and in the other case, Take your bill, and write fourscore. The true meaning of this discharge cannot be clearly and fully comprehended but from a right understanding of the signification of numbers, as they are applied in the Word throughout, and particularly of the numbers fifty and fourscore, which are here applied in the parable. For that numbers have a spiritual signification is evident from the application of them in every part of the Sacred Scriptures. Thus it must be obvious to the most careless reader, that the numbers two, three, five, seven, ten, twelve, and twenty, are applied according to some spiritual idea, and can only be understood in reference to that idea. On the same ground, the numbers fifty and fourscore are here applied in the parable, because the number fifty, like the number a hundred, of which it is the half, denotes what is full and complete, and, therefore, is here used by our blessed Lord to denote a full and complete discharge of the debt; and the number fourscore, like the number forty, of which it is the double, denotes a state of trial and temptation, as is plain from our Lord's temptation in the wilderness, the duration of which was forty days, and also from the sojourning of the children of Israel in the wilderness, the duration of which was forty years. The discharge of the debt, therefore, is described by these numbers, to denote, that when, by self-examination and serious exploration of the interiors of his own mind, man is fully convinced of the immense debt which he owes to his Merciful Creator, and is brought into the humble and grateful desire of paying it, the Almighty is pleased to accept this conviction and desire as a full discharge of the debt, but yet with the condition, that man shall pass through the several states of trial and purification necessary to wean him from his natural self-love, that so he may finally be brought into the humble, thankful acknowledgement, that all the gifts which he has received, both in his will and in his understanding; in other words, all the good things of love and charity, together with all the blessings of wisdom and knowledge, are the perpetual gifts of a gracious and indulgent Mercy, without which he would have no sense whatever either of goodness or of wisdom, consequently, no sense of true happiness either here or hereafter.
It is written, that 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.
The action, in this case, is only apparently unjust, whilst viewed according to the sense of the letter; but in reality it was just, and must be deemed just, when viewed according to the spiritual sense of the parable; because in agreement with that sense it is the operation of the divine wisdom in man, leading him to the full acknowledgement of the immense debt which he owes to his merciful Creator, and to the adoption of such measures as were necessary for its discharge. The Lord, therefore, does not commend the steward for his injustice, because he had not really been guilty of any act of injustice, but he commends him, because he had done wisely; in other words, because he had done what heavenly wisdom dictated as proper to be done under his circumstances.
Moreover, it can never be true, that the children of this world are in reality wiser than the children of light. The children of this world are such as are intent on securing the apparent goods of this world, in which attempt they exercise a prudence, in some respects apparently superior to the prudence exercised by the children of light in the attainment of their object. The Lord, therefore, would teach us, by the above words, to imitate the prudence and circumspection of the natural man in his concerns, on all occasions, relative to the concerns of the spiritual man. Thus the spiritual man should suffer himself to be instructed by the natural man, and to apply the prudential methods by which he secures his temporal interests, as a rule for the regulation of conduct in regard to the security of the higher interests of eternity. It is according to this view, that the dumb ass, speaking with man's voice, reproves the madness of the prophet (Numb. 22:22-31; 2 Pet. 2:16), because the dumb ass is a figure of the scientific principle of the natural man, or of the wisdom of the children of this world; whilst the prophet is a figure equally striking of the wisdom of the spiritual man, who may be, and is intended to be, improved and perfected by an attention to the prudence and circumspection of the lower principles of scientific knowledge.
The words, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that when you fail, they may receive you, into everlasting habitations, cannot be understood until it be first known what is meant by the mammon of unrighteousness, and what by making friends of that mammon. Now the mammon of unrighteousness may be understood in two senses; first, as relating to worldly wealth, for by mammon is meant wealth, or riches; and, secondly, as relating to spiritual wealth, or the riches of the mind, or spirit; and in both these senses the precept, which inculcates the duty of making to ourselves friends of it, is most important. For, in regard to the natural sense of the term mammon, it is of the greatest concern to man to make natural wealth his friend, and not his enemy, and this blessed effect is produced whenever man applies his natural wealth to the beneficent purposes for which it is given him by his merciful Creator, such as the purposes of providing for the comforts, and promoting the happiness of all those with whom he is connected in civil society. But the duty is still more interesting, when regarded in its application to spiritual wealth, or to the riches of the mind, spirit, of man; which riches consist in the knowledges of what is good and of what is true, as communicated in the revelation of the Most High. For that such knowledges are to be regarded in the light of spiritual wealth, is evident from our Lord's other parables, where he compares them, in one instance, with pounds, and, in another instance, with talents, that is to say, with money. It is remarkable, too, that there is the most exact agreement between this spiritual money, or riches, and natural wealth, since natural wealth, we know, is for the purpose of procuring the comforts and necessaries of natural life, and is of no use whatsoever unless it be so applied. This is exactly the case, too, with the knowledges of what is good and true, which are here spiritually understood by the mammon of unrighteousness, since, if those knowledges are not applied to the purpose of procuring the comforts and necessaries of spiritual life, they likewise are of no manner of use or service whatsoever.
Here, therefore, it may be seen what is meant, in this latter sense, by making to ourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness. For if the knowledges of what is good and true are not applied to the blessed purposes for which they are given, namely, to promote our purification and regeneration, by replenishing us more and more with the love of God and of our neighbour, and by thus delivering us from the deadly evils of selfish and worldly love, they then become our greatest enemies, being the cause of all our condemnation and misery. On the other hand, if we are careful to apply those knowledges according to the above purposes for which they were given, they then become our best friends, because they are the mediums, under the Divine Providence, of opening to us the gates of heaven, and of introducing us into the societies of the ever blessed, by first purifying our hearts and lives from all our natural evils, and restoring in us the blessed, image of the divine love, wisdom, purity, and peace. It is an eternal law, therefore, stamped on the above knowledges, that they must become either man's greatest friends, or greatest enemies; since if man forms his life in agreement with them, they promote his eternal salvation; whereas if he is careless in the application of them, they then as certainly increase his condemnation, according as it is written, He that knew his Lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to His will, shall be beaten with many blows.
The meaning of the concluding words, That when you fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations, is plain, from what has been already said of the mammon of unrighteousness, and of the duty off making to ourselves friends of that mammon. For in the application of this mammon, according to its natural sense, as relating to worldly wealth, it is evident that this wealth may be rendered instrumental, under the Divine Providence, in securing to man an everlasting habitation in the Kingdom of Heaven, provided that he applies it in agreement with the purposes and counsels of the Most High. The same is true, likewise, concerning the above mammon as understood according to its spiritual sense, since it has been already seen, that by the knowledges of what is good and true, if man be faithful in their application, he attains to purification from his natural evils, and also to a participation of the divine spirit of heavenly love and wisdom; consequently, he is received into an everlasting habitation, since every advancement in purification of life, through the admittance of heavenly and eternal principles of holy love and wisdom, is ever attended with the blessed effect of introducing man into heavenly societies, inasmuch as there is every reason to believe, that man's progress in the regeneration is a progress also into the mansions of bliss and purity, and into association with the angelic inhabitants of those mansions, according as it is written, The angel of the Lord camps round about them that fear Him, and delivers them; and, again, He shall give, his angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.
It is written, further, 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.
To be faithful in that which is least, is to be faithful to the first manifestation of heavenly truth, or knowledge, in the mind, which is then called the least; because at that time, like the grain of mustard-seed, it is the least of all seeds, but presently, in proportion as man becomes faithful to it, by renouncing the evils which it makes manifest, it becomes much; in other words, it becomes a great tree, so that, as it is written in another parable, the birds of heaven lodge in the branches of it.
To be unjust in the least, here means not to be faithful to the first manifestations of heavenly truth in the understanding; in other words, not to renounce and depart from those natural evils which the truth so manifested points out as mischievous and destructive. And he who is thus unjust in the least, must, of course, be unjust also in much, because he not only destroys in himself the first manifestation of heavenly truth, or knowledge, but, likewise, all the products, or fruits, intended by that manifestation, that is to say, all the graces and virtues of heavenly love and life, and thus all the blessings and comforts of the heavenly kingdom.
It is added, If therefore you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?
By the true riches is to be understood internal truth, or truth internally received, and thus in connection with its good, that is to say, with Jesus Christ, His life, His love, and His kingdom. Jesus Christ, therefore, would teach us by the above significant question, that this internal truth will never be communicated to us, only in the degree in which we are faithful to external truth, or to truth externally received, as all truth is in its first manifestation. Hence, Jesus Christ would lead us to consider the vast importance of being faithful to the first impressions of heavenly truth imparted through the senses, since without such faithfulness it is impossible ever to attain to the blessing of internal truth, and thus to conjunction of life and and love with our Heavenly Father.
It is, lastly, added, If you have not been faithful in that which is another man's, who shall give you that which is your own?
All truth, at its first manifestation in the human mind, is said to be another man's, because he to whom it is manifested has not as yet made it his own, by incorporating it into his life, or love, and thus admitting it, not on the authority of another only, but on its own authority, by being made sensible in his own mind of its divine origin, and of the divine blessing to which it conducts, and with which it is in connection. When Jesus Christ, therefore, proposes the question on this occasion, Who shall give you that which is your own? He meant to teach us this important lesson, that heavenly truth can never be fully incorporated into our lives, only so far as we love it, and delight in it, and thus make it our own. He would, therefore, teach us, further, that truth is not our own, merely because we assent to it with our understanding, and confirm its external evidences, since if it goes no further than our understanding it is in such case another man's, and not properly our possession. But it becomes our own by living according to it, and thus seeing and holding it in connection with that Divine Being from whom it continually proceeds, and with all that host of beings and of blessings to which it was intended to conduct us.
We learn from this parable the very interesting wisdom to know how to conduct ourselves when we are brought into trial or temptation, concerning our Heavenly Father's goods which He has entrusted to our cave, but which we have wasted. We learn further the very important wisdom of being faithful to the first manifestations of truth in our own mind and conscience, by renouncing those natural evils which the truth was intended both to make manifest and to control. We are instructed yet further, that we can never hope to attain all the blessings proffered to our acceptance by the Eternal Truth, only so far as we make it our own, by incorporating it fully into our life and love. Let us resolve, therefore, in future, whenever we are called to account respecting our stewardship, to enter into a serious examination of ourselves, concerning the use we have made of that knowledge which has been imparted to us by our Heavenly Father, that so we may no longer be called a waster of His goods, but, by making friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, may finally be received into the everlasting habitations of rest and peace, reserved for all those who have been faithful in that which is least, and who have thus attained to the true riches; also for those who have been faithful in that which is another man's, and thus have had imparted to them that which is their own. Amen.