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Bible Commentaries
Luke 15

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

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Verses 1-32

Luke 15:1 . Then drew near all the publicans and sinners to hear him. The pharisees were so intoxicated with ideas of their own righteousness, as to regard all such characters as excluded from the covenant of Sinai, which provided no atonement on the altar for their sins, though atonements were made for the foulest offenders by the beasts slain without the camp. When it was objected, that there was an atonement for David’s sin, they replied, that men in war leave their wives. This argument is very immoral; for who deserves protection more than the man who stakes his life for the protection of his country? Certainly, not the pharisees grown fat with fasting and feasting.

Luke 15:2 . This man receiveth sinners. Matthew and Zaccheus, as publicans were unclean; yet Jesus ate at their houses. The penitent harlot, and the leper were also unclean; yet Jesus touched the latter, and suffered the former to kiss his feet. These were breaches of jewish tradition, and the Lord set himself to rescue the glory of the law from the deformities of vain traditions. Jesus still receives sinners, provided they be penitent, and bring forth the required fruits. However great, however old, however complicated, and however provoking they may have been in their sins, he pardons, he feasts, and rejoices over them on their return.

Luke 15:7 . Likewise joy shall be in heaven, before God, as the phrase imports, over one sinner that repenteth. The holy angels, our guardians, ascend the ladder, and tell their joys in celestial society, of a sinner, all but lost and hopeless, now converted to the Lord, and saved from eternal pain and misery. The holy angels know how to appreciate the value of immortal spirits better than men, beclouded with error, and covered with sin.

This is the only text which the papists can cite in defence of the invocation of saints, and of image-worship. And certainly, it is quite irrelevant. The shepherd and his flock make a local case, the association of angels in religious assemblies is also a local case, so is the assembly of angels in heaven; but the worship of a saint, and at one hour in all the congregations of the earth, gives onmipresence to that saint; or rather, the honour due to God alone, who will not give his glory to graven images. The enlightened christian must abhor such titular worship, as the highest insult we can offer to Him who fills the heavens and the earth. The Saviour’s intercession needs no auxiliaries. Ninety and nine just persons which need no repentance. This is a certain number put for an uncertain, a common form of speaking. Ambrose, Hilary, and Chrysostom expound the ninety nine sheep of angels, and the one lost sheep of Adam and his children. But the jews divide just persons into two classes, those whose lives were never spotted with gross immorality, and those who have repented of their sins. Now, it is assuredly better to be preserved by a religious education, than to be carried away with all the sins of the age, and then to repent. In this view, some men may glory before sinners, but not before God. There is however peculiar joy attendant on the conversion of a great sinner, because, had the self- righteous been exposed to his temptations, and captivated by his sins, it is to be doubted whether they would nobly have risen above the gloom and fetters of their crimes. His conversion is therefore one of the highest trophies of grace, and the sweetest theme of angelic song.

Luke 15:8 . Either, what woman having ten (drachmas) pieces of silver. Our grammarians require us to say, or what woman, “either” being now obsolete. Our version both here and in Matthew 5:33, follows the Gothic, which reads,

Unte ni magt ain tagi hueit aiththau suart gataujan. Thou not canst one hair white either black make.

Luke 15:9 . I have found the piece which I had lost. If a woman will use her utmost efforts to find a lost coin, how much more diligent should we be to find the eternal riches; or if we have lost but one grace of the christian temper, whether our comfort, our confidence, or our patience, we should never rest till we find it again.

Luke 15:16 . He would fain have filled his belly with the husks. Dr. Campbell here improves the reading. “He was fain to fill his belly with husks which the swine did eat, for no man had given him ought.”

Luke 15:29 . Lo, these many years do I serve thee. The elder brother, being here his own eulogist, the more strikingly represents the pharisees, against whose uncharitable maxims this parable has a direct and powerful bearing. They rejected the joy of angels in the conversion of sinners to God.


The parable of the prodigal son is allowed to be one of the most beautiful pieces of composition which the walks of literature can boast. The subject is well chosen, the characters and incidents are all interesting, and the narration, unfolding with simplicity, is everywhere clothed with appropriate beauties of diction. The fathers concur in saying that the elder brother represented the self-righteous jews; and the prodigal, the gentiles and the publicans and sinners converted to Christ.

This parable furnishes a series of profitable remarks. This young man’s misery began, we see, by disobedience to his father. Being of age, and impatient of restraint, he demanded his patrimony, which custom authorized him to ask on the ground of establishment in life. In this he consulted his own pleasure, and not his father’s choice.

He embarked in wild and ill-advised schemes of life. He boasted of the fortune he could realize by going with the caravans to India, or elsewhere. He never once distrusted his own weakness, or weighed the disasters of his enterprize.

The next most fatal step to ruin was bad company. He rioted in taverns, and wantoned with harlots. High in sentiment, and scorning controul, he felt the reins for once in his own hand, and ran the full career of vice. This was liberty, and liberty unrestrained!

When his money was done, his friends were gone. His fellow-drunkards were not disposed to return the treat, his harlots must seek other lovers, and his landlady ordered him out of her house. There is no real love among the wicked, all their friendship is founded on pleasure and interest. When these exist no more, as vermin forsake an empty barn, so the profligate forsake their dearest friends. The charity that never faileth is the offspring of heaven; it flourishes in the church, and is nowhere to be found but in the breast of virtuous men.

Though the prodigal had wasted his fortune, he still retained his pride. Every one advised him to return to his country, but a sullen hauteur said in his heart, shall I go home in poverty who boasted of returning with wealth? Shall I become the pun and scorn of all my equals, who thought to raise myself above them all? No, never. I will sooner die as a dog, unknown and unlamented, in a foreign land. So he hired himself to a citizen of that country, who finding him ignorant of husbandry and labour, sent him to feed his swine.

Poverty and want are, in the order of providence, happily calculated to reduce the profligate to recollection and repentance. While this young man drank water instead of wine, and while he was surrounded with company more harmless, and in reality more honourable than those he had lost, reason returned; and drawing the just parallel between humiliation at home and misery abroad, he formed the laudable design to cast himself at his father’s feet.

We may farther remark that we have here also the portrait of a youth who first despises a religious education, and then forsakes his father’s God. The prodigal, in asking his patrimony, has demanded of providence the free use of life, of time, and talents, to run the downward road to ruin.

Wicked men never stop in their career, till God frown upon them by the terrors of his word, or the corrections of his rod. He punishes voluptuousness with famine, waste with want, and vice with disease. Hence the chastisements of heaven are among the greatest favours bestowed on the world; their true design is to bring us to the place where we ought to be.

Genuine conversion is the effect of divine light and conviction. When the prodigal came to himself, he began to reflect on the privileges he had forfeited, and the mercies he had abused. It is the grand secret of preaching, and of visiting the sick, to help the wicked to think for themselves. When a man is self-convicted, he has no appeal but to the mercyseat.

True conversion elevates a soul above the trammels and charms of sin. I will arise and go unto my father. His servants are infinitely happy: they have heaven in their heart, they have support in their affliction, and a glorious liberty in his service. I will arise and go unto my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight. Many groan in their misery, but have not the resolution to rise. Grace, on the contrary, clothes itself with the glory of true repentance, and utters a full confession of guilt in the ears of heaven. Conscience pours all its anguish into the bosom of God, and suppuration heals the wound.

The reception of the penitent prodigal affords the highest encouragement for the worst of sinners to follow his example. The circumstances are painted in a beauty too consummate for comment. The father saw him afar off he ran to meet and embrace him he clothed him in the best apparel, and feasted him with the utmost joy on his return. What sinner can read this and remain in taverns, or herd among the swine in rags and shame. Who would stay among demons, while angels await to sing of his conversion. Rise, sinner, rise; yes, once for all arise, and cast thy guilty soul on the clemency of the best of fathers.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Luke 15". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/luke-15.html. 1835.
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