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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Luke 15

Verse 2


‘This Man receiveth sinners.’

Luke 15:2

Among the many devices of the Enemy, against which the Christian has to be put upon his guard, one of the most dangerous is that of making mistakes as to right and wrong. No sooner does Satan find that we begin to resist open temptations than he seeks to make us go wrong through deception. Especially is this the case with humble and penitent souls, men who are sorry for what they have done wrong and are wishing to do right, but are afraid of themselves and hardly dare consider themselves Christians at all. And, perhaps, the thing above all others that Satan sets himself to deceive them about is that which they most need—the help and comfort of Holy Communion.

Let us consider some of those points of connection between the blessings of Holy Communion and the condition and needs of the penitent. That there is such a connection we all know. Our Prayer Book, our Communion Service, brings it into special prominence.

I. Who are they that are invited to Holy Communion?—‘Ye that do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins …’ This is its Invitation. And then, when we accept the Invitation and draw near to the Holy Mysteries, how, and in what words, do we accept it? We reply, ‘We do earnestly repent, and are heartily sorry,’ etc. So, then, the Invitation is sent forth to the penitent, and it is the penitent who accepts it. It is only as penitent men and women that we venture to accept it. There must, therefore, be some special connection between the Holy Communion and penitence. What follows then? Clearly this:—

II. That it is a tremendous mistake to imagine that Holy Communion is intended to be kept back as the peculiar privilege of the advanced Christian.

III. That it is intended for the comfort of the penitent.

IV. That none, not even the best of men, the purest and the holiest, can ever approach this Holy Feast except in the character of a penitent.—It is only those who in this life wear the robe of penitence who will wear the wedding garment of Christ’s righteousness at the marriage supper of the Lamb hereafter.

Thus, then, our Communion Service makes it clear and certain that Holy Communion is for the penitent, and the penitent for the Holy Communion. Here we have an application of our text, ‘This Man receiveth sinners.’


‘Let me tell you how Charles Simeon lost the burden of his sin by casting it in faith on the Redeemer, and how he found, to his endless comfort, that Christ receives sinners. When he was a young man of about twenty, at Cambridge, he was for some months in great distress about his soul, which, as he says, might well have continued for years; but, as he tells us himself, “in Easter week, as I was reading Bishop Wilson on the Lord’s Supper, I met with an expression to this effect: ‘That the Jews knew what they did when they transferred their sin to the head of their offering.’ The thought rushed into my mind: What! May I transfer all my guilt to another? Has God provided an Offering for me, that I may lay my sins on His head? Then, God willing, I will not bear them on my own soul one moment longer. Accordingly I sought to lay my sins on the sacred head of Jesus; and on the Wednesday began to have a hope of mercy; on the Thursday that hope increased; on the Friday and Saturday it became more strong; and on the Sunday morning (Easter Day) I awoke early with these words upon my heart and lips, ‘Jesus Christ is risen to-day; Hallelujah! Hallelujah!’ From that hour peace flowed in rich abundance into my soul; and at the Lord’s Table in our chapel I had the sweetest access to God through my Blessed Saviour.”’



‘This Man receiveth sinners.’ I rejoice to know my Saviour was Man. God is so great and holy that I should fear Him, stained as I am with sin. But the Face of Jesus Christ gives me confidence and joy.

I. He receives them into His heart to be forgiven.—If you have read the Pilgrim’s Progress you will remember that when Christian got to the ‘wicket-gate’ he said, ‘Here is a poor burdened sinner. I am come from the City of Destruction, but am going to Mount Zion, that I may be delivered from the wrath to come. I would therefore, sir, since I am informed that by this gate is the way thither, know if you are willing to let me in?’ Then Christ answered, ‘I am willing with all My heart,’ and with that He opened the gate. Yes, indeed, with all His heart of untold love Jesus receives sinners. So willing is He that, as George Whitfield said, ‘He even receives the devil’s castaways!’

II. He receives them into His school to be trained.—He educates them, and teaches them by His Spirit. He opens their understanding to understand the Scriptures. He is so patient, so loving, so gentle.

III. He receives them into His home.—‘In My Father’s house are many mansions’ (many abiding-places). ‘I go to prepare a place for you’ (John 14:2). He knows how we shrink from death and the world beyond the grave; therefore He calls it home. His Apostle assures all believers when they are absent from the body they are ‘at home with the Lord’ (2 Corinthians 5:8, R.V.). No one fears going home. And every Christian may say, ‘I am going home; I am going home.’

—Rev. F. Harper.


‘He will receive the rich—Joseph of Arimathea, an example.

He will receive the poor—Lazarus, the beggar, an example.

He will receive the learned—Dionysius, the Areopagite, an example.

He will receive physicians—Luke, an example.

He will receive soldiers—the Roman centurion, an example.

He will receive fishermen—Peter, etc., examples.

He will receive extortioners—Zacchæus, an example.

He will receive tax-gathers—publicans, examples.

He will receive thieves—the dying robber, an example.

He will receive harlots—the woman who was a sinner, an example.

He will receive adulterers—the woman of Samaria, an example.

He will receive persecutors and murderers—Saul, an example.

He will receive persons possessed of devils—many examples.

He will receive backsliders—Peter, an example.

He will receive persons in trade—Lydia, a seller of purple, an example.

He will receive statesmen and courtiers—the eunuch of Ethiopia, an example.

He will receive families—that of Bethany, an example.

He will receive whole multitudes—those at the day of Pentecost, an example.’

Verse 4


‘What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?’

Luke 15:4

It was along this plain and among these ‘wildernesses’ that our Blessed Saviour was most likely now travelling. And, perhaps, while the scribes and Pharisees were making their unkind murmurs. He could even then lift up His eyes, and see the hillside dotted over with the sheep and lambs (for it was spring-time) cropping the tender grass under the watchful care of the shepherd. And then He turned to those proud men who would have Him cast out the publicans and sinners when they came to Him, and spake this parable unto them. And Jesus bade them learn that as the heaven is high above the earth, as the eternal love of God is greater and more glorious than the selfish interests of a mere human shepherd, so certain it is that He could never cease to care for His wandering sheep, and they, the shepherds of Israel, would never be like Him until they learned to love and to seek out those erring men whom they were calling ‘publicans and sinners.’

I. The Shepherd.—We should have known, even if He had not told us, that by the shepherd in the parable He means Himself, the Shepherd of the fold of God, the Shepherd and the Bishop of the souls of men, the Guide and Guardian of mankind. And by the sheep He must mean His helpless creatures, who cannot live without Him, who ‘live and move and have their being’ in Him, each separate, single one of whom is ‘as much His care as if beside nor man nor angel lived in heaven or earth.’ He tends them all. He loves them all.

II. Who are these ninety and nine who never went astray?—The witness of your own hearts, the voice of that conscience by which God speaks within you. If your conscience does bear witness that you ‘lack nothing’—if you have never for one moment swerved from the obedience and love of a child of God’s family—if you can lift up your head and say, ‘I am perfect, even as my Father which is in heaven is perfect’—then learn what you can from this part of the parable, for it is your own.

III. The wandering sheep.—But, if not, if your conscience tells you of many shortcomings and misdoings, if you feel that you have been trying to be your own shepherd, setting up your own will against God’s will, and so have been wandering away into desert places, solitary and sad and unsatisfied, then, brethren, you must turn your thoughts away from these ninety and nine which went not astray. Whatever this part of the parable may mean, the lesson is not now for you. You must look at something else. You must fix your eyes upon that other sheep, the one which is wandering away into the dry and sandy waste, away from the fold, away from the shepherd’s care, away from the rest of the flock, in loneliness and solitude, in danger and peril, in weakness and misery. In all this you must see the image of yourself. Jesus spoke these words in order that you might claim them for your own. There is not one single person who has not a right to say to himself, ‘I, even I, am that one sheep which was lost; the Chief Shepherd has come forth and is seeking me, even me.’

IV. God Himself is seeking you.—You have wandered from the fold, but you bear the Shepherd’s mark. He would have you return to the fold you have left. He seeks for you ‘as for hid treasure.’ He has chosen you to be ‘holy and without blame before Him in love.’ He has chosen you, and think not that He will leave you to yourself, until you have become entirely His own. Think not that the Good Shepherd can go forth to seek His wandering sheep, and then go back to the fold without having found it. You may have forgotten Him, but He can never forget you; you may be one thing to-day and another to-morrow, but His love is unchangeable, His ways are everlasting. You may wander far into the desert, but He knoweth the way that you take—He can never cease to seek for you, if haply you may feel after Him and find Him, for He is not far from every one of you.

Verse 6


‘Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.’

Luke 15:6

A beautiful sight to see the shepherd in Palestine sitting amid his flock, or walking with his staff, while in long line his sheep follow him. Christ’s own words are the best comment on His own parable: ‘I am the Good Shepherd, and I know My sheep,’ etc. The early Christians chose this image as the symbol of their Lord. They carved Christ upon their gems, they painted Him in their catacombs, they gave Him the central place in the glittering mosaics of their basilicas—as the Good Shepherd with the rescued sheep upon His shoulders.

I. One long search.—Let us never forget that the whole drama of Redemption—the Incarnation, the Ministry, the Cross, the Resurrection, the Ascension—what was it all but one long search for the lost sheep and carrying it home rejoicing? The whole race of man was the lost sheep until Christ found it. All we like sheep had gone astray.

All the souls that are were forfeit once,

And He Who might the vantage best have took

Found out the remedy.

II. Let us learn three brief and simple lessons.

(a) Let us all be pitiful. As for sin, indeed, we cannot hate it too much. It is the adder which is ever stinging our race to death, and we ought, every one of us, to do all we can to crush its head. But for the sinner—the poor, bitten, poisoned victim, if we be like Christ we shall feel nothing but compassion.

(b) Let none despair. None has sinned too deeply to be forgiven. Often, indeed, it is too late to avert the earthly consequences of misdoing. But whatever sin you have committed, if you will but repent of it, if you will but come to Christ with the burden of it, there is heavenly medicine, there is lustral water at the wicket-gate.

(c) Think noble thoughts of God, even the thoughts which again and again He has taught us respecting Himself. If there be joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons who need no repentance, what shall there be over myriads and the multitudes which no man can number?

Dean Farrar.


(1) ‘And all through the mountains, thunder-riven,

And up from the rocky steep,

There rose a cry to the gate of heaven,

“Rejoice, I have found my sheep!”

And the angels echoed around the throne:

“Rejoice, for the Lord brings back His own!”’

(2) ‘You cannot share His joy without wishing to share His work. That is the practical point. If you really care about Christ’s enthusiasm for lost and unhappy people, you will do what you can for them yourself. He shows you the methods of God’s hand. He sees God is not a great law standing outside the human race, and so to speak pulling in first one and then another without any intervention of man. God uses man, and looks to man to save his fellow-man. God works through human means, not because He cannot do the work by himself, not because He does not care, but because He wants to maintain His connection with man, because He cannot bear not to have man as a sharer of His joy, because, like a true father, He wants to stir up His children to help one another, and so to promote that real family union by which they feel that He and they are really one. And when the work is done He wants them to feel that rare power of fellowship with His joy, that power that brings them into such intimate communion with man. “Rejoice with Me,” He cries, “for I have found My sheep which was lost.”’

Verses 6-9


‘Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep … [and] the piece which I had lost.’

Luke 15:6-9

We have here two beautiful pictures. Though the lesson to be learned from each is the same—God’s love in seeking for lost souls—yet there is a difference between them in regard to the thing lost. The one shows the folly of sin. How foolish of the sheep to leave the good pasturage, and the shepherd’s care, for the barren wastes of the desert (Proverbs 5:23)! The other describes the lost condition of the sinner. If the piece of money is not sought for, it will never be restored to its owner’s possession (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). Consider each—

I. The lost sheep (Luke 15:4-6).—This is a figure of frequent occurrence in Scripture (Isaiah 53:6; Psalms 119:176), and it aptly represents the soul of man. Once astray, a sheep cannot find its way home like other animals (Ezekiel 34:5-6). It is found in unlikely places, not in the foot-tracks of the sheep. The woman of Samaria, the thief on the cross, the jailer of Philippi. Its liability to wander makes certain treatment necessary. It must be watched and guarded (Matthew 26:41; John 17:11-12). But how aptly is Jesus represented in search for the lost one! It must be one acquainted with the ways of the sheep (Hebrews 2:17-18). It must be one of strength, to endure hardship (Psalms 89:19). It must be one who would risk his life (John 10:11).

II. The lost piece of money (Luke 15:8-9).—What is it like? Once bright, and stamped with the king’s image; like man made in the likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Now it is lost—covered with dust, and hidden from sight. So man through sin. The image of God is no longer to be seen in him (Romans 3:23; Psalms 14:2-3). What does the owner of the lost piece of money do? She lights a candle (John 1:4-5; John 1:9). She sweeps the house, clearing away all the dust that has gathered round the lost money (Isaiah 40:3-5; John 16:8). She seeks diligently till she finds it (Ezekiel 34:12; John 11:52; Ephesians 2:17). Thus does God seek the soul of man—calling, justifying, glorifying—till it is restored to the image of the King (Romans 8:29-30; Hebrews 1:3).

Bishop Rowley Hill.


‘Is there no one that you can help into a better life? Do you know nobody whose self-respect you might help to restore? Do you know no man whose self-vice, self-indulgence, is crushing him to a brute, you might help him to cast off if you held out your hand? Men do not always want to be wicked—no man does. Sometimes men grow ashamed of sin. They see visions of purity and strength which, while they torture them with remorse, make them glow with hope. They try to turn over a new leaf, however feebly. It is everything at that hour if there is some one who has the insight to see and the heart to help. Are we on the look-out for such? Do we try to help them? There is nothing, no preaching, and no advice, and nothing else in the world goes home to men like the touch of human brotherhood.’

Verse 8


‘Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it.’

Luke 15:8

Dust flying, confusion reigning, a woman, with a lighted candle, searching in the dark corners of the house—it is a strange picture certainly. But it is one of the most striking that the Divine Artist ever painted.

I. The lost coin.—Observe, this coin was dropped, not ‘in the depths of the unfathomed sea,’ not in the highway of the world without, not on some wild and trackless moor, but in the house. Within the house it surely might be found: recovery was not hopeless. And what house is here intended but the Church.

(a) This coin upon the floor was useless. Current coin of the realm is intended to be used. Even so, Christian, if you are living in worldliness and self-indulgence, you are dead while you live—dead, at least, to usefulness.

(b) Further observe, that this piece of silver was without doubt defaced. Do men take knowledge of us that we have been with Jesus? Or has contact with the world obliterated all traces of the Divine likeness in our souls?

(c) Notice, again, that this coin was dishonoured. There it lay, amid dirt and rubbish, trodden under foot. If your destiny is so high, you will not be suffered to slumber thus. If you are a saint indeed, and yet are fallen in this world’s dust, Christ’s broom and candle are not far off your soul.

II. The search.—There are two parts in this process, both of which are instructive.

(a) The first thing to be done was to light a candle. You can find nothing in the dark. ‘At that time, saith the Lord, I will search Jerusalem [not Babylon] with candles, and will punish the men that are settled on the lees: that say in their heart, The Lord will not do good, neither will He do evil’ (Zephaniah 1:12). Well, if it be so, better be judged now than condemned hereafter. Let us have no part dark, no wicked way, no unmortified lust, no secret pride, no long-cherished grudge, no shrinking from the cross, no love of filthy lucre.

(b) The candle, however, is not the only instrument that the Holy Spirit used. A broom is needed. Christ must sweep as well as illumine. We know the first effect of the use of the broom. The dust flies in clouds. The first effect of the approach of God’s Spirit to the soul with broom and candle is always to raise the dust. Don’t imagine it can be otherwise. God’s plan is not to cover over evil, but to bring it to the surface and get rid of it. What though the dust does fly; cannot the Great Housekeeper cleanse it? Has He no recipe to lay the dust? He has an unfailing remedy—‘No wound has the soul that Christ’s blood cannot cure.’

Rev. E. W. Moore.



This is a parable of the love of God. God represents Himself as missing one soul. God would show to us that each soul is precious. Each one was separately created; each one has a place designed for it in the universal temple; each one not filling that place leaves a blank. The eye of love misses it, and therefore the hand of love seeks it.

I. God’s love lights a lamp of revelation in the world.—Though you may care little about your lost soul, God cares for it much. God has lit His candle—the candle of Divine revelation, and He is throwing its illumination upon you. We wonder you come here to church if you do not intend to be shone upon. There is that in you which cries out for God—which you cannot persuade to rest out of God’s light. Many a man feels without knowing what he wants. The Divine Master interprets. You want God’s love. Hinder not, thwart not God’s search for your soul. But love herself might light the candle, and yet the lost coin not be found under the long accumulation of dirt—of easily besetting sins and long-indulged habits. So the parable goes on to speak of a sweeping. It is a homely figure—beneath the dignity of this pulpit, some might say, only that here Christ has gone before.

II. The love of God sweeps the house, which is the man.—Is not this the real meaning of that sickness, that bereavement, that disappointment, which seemed to you so casual, or so wanton, or so cruel? The love of God had failed in its illumination. You suffered the dust of earth to lie thick upon you—perhaps the amiable dust of kindly sentiment, of satisfied affection, or perhaps the ugly dust of eager grasping, of over-mastering passion; and so evading the illumination you necessitated the sweeping. It was the love of God still. And now there comes into the very life’s life a stir and an agitation which cannot be disregarded. Now begin all manner of questionings from which previously you were free. While you cared not for God you took God for granted. All is confusion, added difficulty and conflict; you are passing now from death unto life, not passed. The love of God is at work, and will seek diligently till He find.

III. This seeking is unto finding.—Love will not stay till she finds. Help her, brethren, every one, in her gracious, her wonderful work. Help the joy of angels. Kick not against the goad. It drives till you will let it lead. Then all is peace, ‘quietness, and assurance for ever.’ To find the lost soul is not easy. The whole work of sanctification is wrapped up in it. Every thought has to be brought into captivity: every habit uncoined and re-nicked.

—Dean Vaughan.

Verse 10


‘I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.’

Luke 15:10

We are to speak of sin.

I. What do we mean by sin?—There is first of all the philosophic definition of sin; that sin is the serviceable and necessary foil of goodness, that sin is the whetstone on which the axe of goodness is ground. Doubtless there is truth in this view, though not the whole truth. Almighty God is seated above the water floods, be the earth never so unquiet. He is always bringing the good out of the evil. God, we must believe, always overrules the errors, and sins, and mistakes of mankind for good. We can never, however, take that view of sin as a whole, because we look at the Cross of Jesus. When we look at the Cross of Jesus Christ, we see that sin is the hateful and appalling antithesis of all goodness, not merely the necessary factor of its evolution.

II. There is in human life no more instructive study than of the education of the human race in the idea of sin.—It is there of course in the natural man; you will find it amongst the heathen. Then you turn to that wonderful nation, the elect people of God, which was entrusted with the supreme duty of preserving the religious idea for the rest of mankind. You will find accordingly, when you study the Old Testament, an extraordinary deepening in the whole idea of sin, but especially a deepening in the sense of its gravity. Then we turn to the Christian revelation. The Christian revelation gathers up within it all that is true of the Jewish revelation, with these added points of gravity. In Christ is revealed the model life, and the revelation of the model life reveals the gravity of sin, and in Christ upon the Cross is revealed the appalling nature of sin; for if the Cross is the measure of the love of God, the Cross is no less the measure of the sinfulness of sin. So we see it all gathered up into the Sinless Sufferer, into the ideal Penitent, into the broken heart of Jesus, as He uttered that cry, as the expression of what sin really is, in the eyes of the All Holy God: ‘My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me.’ And this education in the gravity of the idea of sin goes on still. God is always educating His children individually in the idea of sin, and I mention this because some people are unnecessarily distressed because, as they seem to progress in the spiritual life, they also seem to be more and more conscious of sin. It is obvious that it must be so.

III. Let us turn to the great divisions of sin.—There are, as you know, two great divisions: there is racial sin, or, as theologians call it, original sin: and there is actual sin.

(a) There is racial sin.—Do we not all know that very often the citadel is betrayed before ever the assault from outside has taken place? Do we not all know that there is no need to struggle to be evil? Let yourself go. Strive no longer. Let the stream carry you down, and you will easily fall into the abyss. Do we not know that the very word ‘virtue’ expresses it; that if we are to persist, it means a hard battle right to the end, lest we be swept off our feet as the stream rushes by. There is a tendency to sin within. There is racial sin.

(b) There is actual sin—that appalling revelation of the evil we actually commit. Sin against God, sin against man, sin against ourselves, sins of omission, sins of commission. Sins when we turn within the innermost shrine of our being, and there is the awful unveiling of the sins of thought, and of what we might be but for the grace of God

IV. The penalty of sin.—I am absolutely convinced, after twenty-five years’ ministry to those who have been burdened with the weight of their sin, and indeed from one’s own inner experience of sin, that sin carries with it its own nemesis. I do not mean that nemesis always overtakes the sinner in this life; but it does so, so frequently, that we may infer that, sooner or later, either here or hereafter, it will do so. The nemesis is in the sin.

V. One point of practical application.—Inasmuch as sin can only be cured by its discovery, there is no duty more incumbent upon all God’s people than the duty of careful self-examination.

Rev. G. F. Holden.


‘When we hear St. Paul say, “I am the chief of sinners,” we begin to wonder what can be our own position, and we also begin to wonder whether the great Apostle is not using hyperbolical language. Not at all. St. Paul is expressing exactly what he meant and felt. He had drawn so near to the ideal standard of our Lord Himself that his whole sense of sin had become deepened. So also we get sometimes in the phrases of God’s servants remarks about sin which sound almost unreal, if not revolting. If ever there was a saint of God; if ever there was one man on whom the Cross was laid all through his life; if ever there was one whose whole heart and mind and soul were dedicated to Almighty God, it was surely Dr. Pusey; and yet we find him saying this: “I am scarred and seamed all over with sin, so that I am a monster unto myself. I can feel only of myself like one covered with leprosy from head to foot.” What is the real meaning of such language as this? It is just this: that as we progress in holiness, as we draw nearer to God, so our whole standard is altered, and we begin to see the truth about sin.’

Verse 11


‘A certain man had two sons.’

Luke 15:11

Let us apply the parable to our own times and our own land. There is no need to dwell on the attitude of the Eternal Parent. He has not changed. But what of the two sons among us to-day?

I. The younger son’s position.—In this wealthy and nominally Christian country there is a grievously large portion of the community which, whether viewed from a social or from a religious standpoint, is in the position of the Prodigal Son. Three characteristics in the parable graphically depict that position.

(a) He is in a far country. The gap which separates the upper and middle classes from the poor, the destitute, the outcast, is very wide and very deep. The rich are more and more living together in special parts of the towns, in favoured suburbs, in pleasant watering-places and country localities. The poor herd together in their ever-growing thousands, as near as possible to their places of work.

(b) He wastes his substance in riotous living. It has been stated that gambling among the rich is on the decrease. Certainly the enormous sums once staked on horses are rarely known now, while heavy gambling at lotteries and cards and other play has somewhat lessened. But among the poor it is not so. Here gambling has undoubtedly grown. Women and even boys indulge in it. But it is in strong drink that the most ruinous waste occurs.

(c) He suffers want, and companies with swine.—Never has there been a wealthier nation than ours. Yet multitudes of our people live in abject poverty. London is the richest city in the world; yet in London in 1888 more than one out of every five deaths was in a charitable institution, and it has been estimated that not less than one out of every four of our London population dies dependent on charity. Mr. C. Booth has made a careful calculation that 32.1 per cent, or nearly one-third of Londoners, are either paupers or fighting a hand-to-mouth battle for life.

Now let us see—

II. The elder brother’s attitude.—There are two things about him which specially strike us.

(a) His position of privilege. ‘Son, thou art ever with me,’ says the father, ‘and all that I have is thine.’ These words must be allowed their full meaning. They must not be watered down. How great is our position of privilege in comparison with that of many of our brothers! We have had opportunities of growth in every good way. Our environment, our training, the countless circumstances which mould body and mind so powerfully in youth, were all in our favour. Different, indeed, have been the opportunities of many of society’s prodigals. The younger son in the parable doubtless lost his privileges by his own fault. It was by his own reckless and headstrong will that he left his home and went into the far country. But these were both there.

(b) His lack of love. It does not seem fanciful to point out that we have no mention of the elder brother ever trying to prevent the younger from taking that ruinous journey. We do not read that he ever started to find him and tried to persuade him to return. He does not seem to have had any solicitude about his absence; for when, broken and contrite, he returned, the elder brother found fault with the father’s joyful celebration of the event. He will not even call him ‘my brother,’ but styles him ‘this thy son.’ He makes a statement about his having companied with harlots, for which, so far as we know, he had no proof. And he refused, though we trust he did not persist in his refusal, to come in to the festal board and greet his brother.

Do you say this is a picture of lamentable selfishness—a selfishness absolutely unnatural and reprehensible in its callous indifference? But does not this same sin lie with accusing weight at the door of the Christian Church? Yea, more, does it not strike home to the consciences of Christians here, renewed men, with a mighty power of convincing truth, ‘Thou art the man’?

Rev. C. H. R. Harper.


‘What Louis Kossuth, the Hungarian patriot, said, is true, “If the doctrines of Christianity that are found in the New Testament could be applied to human society, the solution of the social problem would be got at.”’

Verse 17


‘He came to himself.’

Luke 15:17

I. Let us follow the sinner in his rebellion.—Mark that—

(a) Sin is vicious in principle.

(b) Sin is ruinous in operation.

(c) Sin is ever multiplying its destructive issues.

II. Let us watch the sinner in his repentance.—There are four elements of repentance here requiring analysis.

(a) Reflection. ‘And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare!’ Sin creates a sort of moral insanity. While spurred by appetite and in the race after indulgence, the mind is actuated by a species of frenzy. ‘I perish with hunger!’ There is the memory of a better past in that exclamation. This same recalling of bright hours bows the spirit into the dust.

(b) Resolution. ‘I will arise and go to my father.’ He no sooner discerns his hapless state than he determines to leave it. You are to imagine him prostrate, brooding in indecision or despair. But he will lie no longer in inaction. He protests, ‘I will arise,’ and he rises.

(c) Recognition of guilt. His resolution, while unenfeebled by hesitation, was not formed in insensibility to his evil. He sees most distinctly the relation of sin towards God and towards himself.

(d) Return to God. His was no empty vow.

II. Let us behold the sinner in his restoration.

(a) Notice God’s recognition of the earliest beginnings of penitence. ‘When he was yet a great way off, his father saw him.’ He had not seen his father, but ‘his father saw him.’ Unconsciously to the son, the love of the father has been drawing him all the way. If he had lost the image of his father from his memory he would never have attempted to return.

(b) Observe God’s welcome to the repenting.

(c) Now turn to behold how God lavishes His affection on the accepted penitent. The father is not going to treat his son as a ‘hired servant.’ God’s forgiveness must must be Godlike. God’s love is always greater in experience than in our most sanguine wishes and brightest hopes.

(d) Listen to God’s exhortation to His universe to share His joy. ‘Bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat and be merry.’ A feast betokens gladness among all nations. The occasion is great, and great is to be the exultation. ‘Let us eat and rejoice.’

The father does not ask his household to be glad and he himself remain only a spectator of the universal delight. It is ‘Let us eat and rejoice.’

It is God’s own joy that He would have His creatures share and proclaim.

—Archbishop Alexander.

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Luke 15". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.