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§ 182. Monitions of Christ to the Apostles in regard to Prudence in their Ministry.—(1.) The Wisdom of Serpents and Harmlessness of Doves. (Matt., x., 16.)—(2.) The Parable of the Unjust Steward (Luke, xvi., 1-13.)—(3.) “Make to yourselves friends of the Mammon of Unrighteousness,” &c.


To this period, in which Christ conversed with his disciples in regard to their first missionary tour, and gave them cautions for their future and more difficult labours, doubtless belong many advices of the same tenor, found in different places in the Gospels. We, therefore, join together several sayings of this kind here; if not chronologically at least according to the substantial connexion.

As he sent the disciples forth like defenceless sheep among wolves, he bade them, in the struggles through which they must pass, to combine childlike innocence and purity of heart, symbolized by the harmless dove, with prudence and sagacity, whose symbol was the serpent.496496   Paul, who frequently alludes to Christ’s sayings, does so several times to this one, Rom., xvi., 19; 1 Cor., xiv., 20. I place the passage in this connexion as better adapted to it than to the first Apostolical missionary journey. 274They were, indeed, to labour as organs of the Divine Spirit, and to be furnished with Divine powers for their ministry; but he did not wish them, on that account, to neglect all proper human means for overcoming the difficulties they should meet with, but rather to apply that wisdom which knows how to use circumstances prudently. No such rule would have been given had he expected his kingdom soon to be established by a sudden interference of Omnipotence; it was prescribed in view of a gradual developement by the use of means provided in the general course of nature.

Yet the attempt to exercise prudence for the kingdom of God might (he taught) easily beguile them from purity and simplicity of heart. The wisdom of the serpent was, therefore, limited by the innocence of the dove; their prudence was to be defined by purity. They were to use none but pure and truthful means for the advancement of the holy objects of the kingdom. On the other hand, the combination of wisdom with innocence showed that the childlike simplicity of discipleship was perfectly consistent with the culture and use of the understanding, and with a judicious share in the manifold and diversified relations of life; the one thing needful was, that purity should inspire their wisdom. Here, as always, Christ brings into their higher unity things which elsewhere oppose and contradict each other.


The parable of the Unjust Steward illustrates this combination of simplicity with prudence.497497   It is to be noted that this parable, according to Luke, xvi., 1, was addressed to the disciples, even though we apply the word to the larger circle of disciples, and not specifically to the Apostles. We need not suppose, from v. 14, that it was directed against the avarice of the Pharisees. We find the main point of comparison not, as some do, in the proper management of earthly possessions, but in the words emphasized by Christ himself: “The children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light” (v. 8). The children of the world, using more wisdom than the children of light, often succeed in carrying out their purposes against the latter; as, on the other hand, the children of light fail of ends connected with the Divine kingdom, because they lack wisdom in the choice of the means. That wisdom, therefore, which characterizes the children of the world is to be recommended to the children of light. This is the main thought; the proper use of earthly goods, subordinating every thing to the kingdom of God, is a minor one. Keeping this in view, the difficulties of the parable vanish; the special feature in it which forms a stumbling block to some will be found precisely adapted to this thought, and necessary to its illustration.

The example of the unjust steward is to be imitated, not in regard to 275the disposition that impelled him, but to his undivided attention to every thing which could serve as a means to his ends. As the children of the world aim steadily at their selfish objects, and, with ever-watchful prudence, seize upon all the means necessary to secure them, so the children of light are to keep constantly before their eyes the relations of life to the Divine kingdom, and to press every thing into their service in its behalf. It is, indeed, a difficult task to combine the singleness of aim and simplicity of heart which the Gospel requires with that shrewd sagacity which can bend all earthly things to its holy purposes. Yet if the aim to serve God’s kingdom be the ruling power of one’s life, and all the manifold interests of life are made subordinate thereto; if the holy decision be once made and never swerved from, it will bring forth, as one of its necessary fruits, this true sagacity and moral presence of mind. It is precisely this connexion of prudence with a single, steadfast aim, though a bad one, that is illustrated in the conduct of the unjust steward. A bad man was necessarily chosen for the example; its very object was to show how much the children of light might do for the kingdom of God, if they would, in this respect, imitate the children of the world.


The subordinate point of the parable is the special application of this prudence to the use of earthly goods. We must take care, in interpreting the verses which follow, not to lose sight of the parable itself. As the unjust steward secures the favour of the debtors by gratuities, in order to make sure of a home for himself when his office is taken away; so the children of light, by the right use of earthly possessions, are to make for themselves friends who will receive them into everlasting mansions when they are called away from this life.

It is plain that charities to the pious are meant here, as none can “receive into everlasting habitations” unless they themselves dwell there. But it would be inconsistent with Christ’s general teaching to suppose that he meant to say that pious souls in heaven would have the power to receive those who had done kindness to them on earth into a share of their blessedness; or that the merely outward act of almsgiving to the pious could atone for past sins and secure eternal joy. The persons addressed are presupposed as already “children of light;” and they are required to manifest their inward feelings in outward acts. The active love of Christians is to show itself such, in the use of earthly goods, by sharing them with fellow-Christians. “Fit yourselves, by your labours of love, to become fellow-inmates of the heavenly mansions with those whose wants you have willingly alleviated during their earthly wayfaring.” The form of expression is adapted to the parable; there the debtors of the rich man were made friends by the 276unjust steward to secure a home on earth; here the pious poor are made friends by the Christian to secure an eternal mansion in heaven.

Christ annexes to this application of the parable certain directions for the use of property by the children of God. He designates worldly goods μαμμωνᾶς τῆς ἀδικίας, ἄδικος μαμμωνᾶς; because they are usually unjustly obtained, and employed in the service of the devil, who is, and will be, the ruler of this world (and thus called κοσμοκράτωρ) until the consummation of the kingdom of God. And this evil mammon is contrasted with the true riches, which cannot be possessed except by the children of light.498498   The antithesis of ἄδικον and ἀληθινόν, in v. 11, might lead us to interpret the first as “what is, in itself, not good;” but the phrase μαμμωνᾶς τῆς ἀδικίας, and the implied allusion to the parable, favour the sense given in the text. The wealth of this world belongs to the children of this world, who devote it to the service of Evil; it is another man’s, and not the Christian’s own; while he dwells in a world of strangers, he knows of higher riches, of which the worldling is totally ignorant.499499   Here is illustrated the difference between the Ebionitish idea of worldly goods and the true Christian view. According to the first, Satan is Lord and Master of this world in a physical sense; and the possession of property, beyond the bare necessaries, is considered as sinful in itself, as sharing in a domain which ought to be left exclusively to the servants of Satan. According to the latter, earthly goods are not the true riches, which the Christian alone can possess, and shall possess forever, in greater and greater fulness; they belong to Satan in the same sense as the whole world belongs to him. But as the world, from a kingdom of Satan, is to become the kingdom of God, so worldly goods are to be employed by the children of light to advance the latter, with a wisdom (illustrated in the parable) not to be surpassed by the wisdom of the world. It is to be remarked that Christ, instead of presenting the principle in its abstract generality, applied it specifically to acts of benevolence; the disciples, at that period, had no opportunity of employing their property to further the other objects of the kingdom of God, such as have been abundantly furnished in the later course of its developement. Cf. De Wette, Matt., xix., 21.

The summary, then, of precepts annexed to the parable by Christ, and illustrating its import, is as follows (v. 10-13): “Be faithful in managing your earthly property, that you may be found worthy to be intrusted with the higher riches. ‘He that is faithful in the least, is faithful also in much;’ the fidelity which is proved by the right use of wealth may be trusted with the riches of the kingdom. The latter will be granted in proportion to the former. ‘But he that is unjust in the least, will be unjust also in much.’ Who will trust you with the true riches, if you misapply the unrighteous mammon? ‘And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who shall give you that which is your own?’ Who will give you that which properly belongs to your higher nature, if you mismanaged what was not your own, but only intrusted to you?”

The concluding thought is: “No servant can serve two masters at once, the servant, in the strictest sense, being wholly dependent upon the master, and, in fact, his instrument; so no man can have two masters 277spiritually; the one only who rules the whole life is the master.” No man’s life can depend, at the same time, upon both God and Mammon. To find one’s true good in Mammon, and to serve God as Master, these things are incompatible. The true child of God applies his earthly wealth to His service, and therein proves himself a faithful servant; regarding it not as a good in itself, but only in its bearing upon the kingdom of God—the highest good.

It is clear that this passage (placed out of its connexion in Matt., vi., 24) stands properly here, closely joined to the parable; and, indeed, requisite to set the idea of the parable in its proper light. The principal scope of the latter, as we have seen, is to show the connexion between wisdom and a steadfast aim of life; and the passage in question (v. 13) contains precisely the same thought; as it teaches that we cannot rightly use our earthly goods unless we make our choice decidedly between God and the world, and then, with undivided aim, refer all things to the one Master to whom we have consecrated our whole life.

Thus the parable illustrates the precept, “Be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” It exhibits the unjust steward as a model of serpent wisdom, which, imitated by Christians, becomes the wisdom of innocence. The concluding words of Christ, above explained (v. 13), teach that the true simplicity, i. e., singleness of aim, generates that controlling presence of mind which is the element of wisdom. What, at a later period, was the chief source of Paul’s Apostolical wisdom but this, that his heart was not divided between God and the world; that he had but one aim, and served but one Master?

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