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Luke 15:1. Publicans and sinners.—I.e., tax-gatherers, odious to the whole nation on account of their occupation and their unscrupulousness in carrying it on, and persons from whom the religiously minded held aloof because of their gross and sensual life. The parables imply that they came to Jesus because they were penitent—a fact which should have led the Pharisees to rejoicing rather than to murmuring.
Luke 15:2. Murmured.—I.e., among themselves. Receiveth sinners, etc.—An important and affecting testimony to Christ’s attitude towards the sinful; He admits them into the circle of disciples, and treats them as now worthy, because of their penitence, of fellowship with Him.
Luke 15:4. What man.—The word is emphatic. Christ appeals to ordinary human feelings—pity for the lost, desire to recover a valuable possession, and parental solicitude (in the three parables respectively)—as explaining and justifying His conduct. An hundred sheep.—This parable illustrates the Divine compassion, as the loss of one out of a hundred would be no great matter to the owner. The wilderness.—I.e., the plains on which sheep were pastured. Until he find it.—Persistent and careful search (cf. Ezekiel 34:6-11 ff.).
Luke 15:5. Not mere self-interest, but love and pity, explain the gentleness with which the shepherd treats the sheep when he finds it (cf. Isaiah 40:1-2). “No blows are given for the straying—no hard words; mercy to the lost one—and joy within himself—are the shepherd’s feelings; the sheep is weary with long wanderings—he gives it rest” (Alford).
Luke 15:6. When he cometh home, etc.—The joy is so great that it needs to be imparted. Those who have fellow-feeling with the shepherd, who are animated by the compassion he manifested, rejoice with him; so would the Pharisees and scribes have done, when they saw sinners recovered from the error of their ways, if they had partaken of the spirit of Christ.
Luke 15:7. Joy in heaven.—A glimpse into the unseen world (cf. Matthew 18:10). Just persons.—The reference is to those who thought themselves righteous, and who had never been guilty of the conduct figuratively represented by the straying of the sheep. The truly penitent enter into a more blessed condition than that of those who have never risen above a higher standard of conduct than that of mere legal obedience.
Luke 15:8. Ten pieces of silver.—This parable illustrates the preciousness of the human soul. The loss of one out of ten is a much more serious one than that in the preceding parable. Perhaps the ten coins were a set worn as an ornament, according to the custom of Eastern women. The piece of money specified is the Greek drachma (worth about 8d.), and equal to the Roman penny (denarius). Light a candle.—Rather, “a lamp” (R.V.). The houses in the East were commonly without windows.
Luke 15:9. Which I had lost.—Observe the difference between this and “which was lost” in Luke 15:6. In the one case the bewildered animal wanders away, in the other the piece of silver is an inanimate thing, unconscious of its own value and loss. A certain fitness in the comparison to a coin arises from the latter bearing the image and superscription of a king. So, too, the soul though lying in the dust, and unaware of its miserable state, bears traces upon it of Him in whose image it was made and to whom it belongs.
Luke 15:10. In the presence of the angels.—And shared by them, as is implied in the words “Rejoice with me.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luke 15:1-10
The Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin.—These parables illustrate the fact that a more active interest in any possession is aroused by the very circumstance that it is lost. The sheep that is lost is not on that account disregarded by the shepherd, but receives for the time greater attention than those that remain in the fold. The piece of money that has gone a-missing becomes on that very account of greater immediate importance to the woman than all she has safe in her jar in the cupboard. So it is with God. The very circumstance that men have strayed from Him evokes in Him a more manifest and active solicitude in their behalf.
I. God suffers loss in every sinner that departs from Him.—To the Pharisaic mind this was a new light on the character of God. The Pharisee himself trusted little to tenderness, much to rigid law. Naturally he thought of God also as standing upon His rights, enforcing His will by compulsion, and with equanimity punishing and driving into permanent exile those who had strayed from Him. It is a revelation to them to hear that the lostness of the sinful is God’s loss; that God suffers more than the sinner in the separation. For God loves the sinner, and this love is wounded, whereas the sinner has no love for God that can be wounded by separation. It is God who suffers, and not the heartless sinner, who, without a thought of the wounds he is inflicting, goes his own wretched way, and courts the destruction which Christ died to save him from. All the broken-heartedness of parents who, year by year, watch the failure of their efforts to lead some misguided child to well-doing; all the crushing anguish of wives who see their husbands slowly hardening in vice and sinking out of the reach of their love; all the varied misery that love must endure in this sinful world;—is after all but the reflection of what Infinite Love suffers in sympathy with every sinner who spurns it and chooses death. Look at the sorrow of God in Christ, and say whether the loss which God suffers in your separation from Him is true or feigned.
II. The very fact of our being lost excites action of a specially tender kind towards us.—God does not console Himself for our loss by the fellowship of those who have constantly loved Him. He does not call new creatures into being to fill up the blank we have made by straying from Him. He would rather restore the most abandoned sinner than blot him from his place to substitute an archangel. So long as things go smoothly, and men by nature love God, and seek to do His will, there is no anxiety, no meeting of emergencies by unexpected effort, hidden resources, costly sacrifice. But when sin brings into view all that is tragic, and when utter destruction seems to be man’s appointed destiny, there is called into exercise the deepest tenderness, the utmost power of the Divine nature. This appears in—
(1) the spontaneity of the search God institutes for the lost. The shepherd, missing one of his flock, straightway goes in search of it. He does not expect that it will seek him; he goes after it. He knows the recovery of the sheep depends wholly on himself, and he prepares for trouble, provocation, risk. And so God is as truly before-hand with the sinner as the shepherd with the sheep. The initiative is God’s, and all that you desire to do in the way of return to righteousness is prompted by Him. He has already sufficiently shown that He is alive to the emergency and that no trouble is too great, no sacrifice too great, while there is a possibility of saving the human soul.
(2) God’s search is also persistent. The woman of the parable sweeps out every dusty corner; she shakes out every article of clothing; she lifts boxes that have not been lifted for years; she carefully searches drawers where she knows the coin cannot be; she reads the face of every one who has come near her house for a month; she exhausts every possibility of finding her piece of money. And so God makes diligent search. He leaves no stone unturned. With active, intelligent, unwearied search, He strives to win the sinner to purity and love. Christ astonished men on earth by the company into which He found His way, and by the affection with which spoke to low and worthless people; and so does He still, by means less observable, but equally efficient, seek to win men to the recognition of His love, and of all the good He makes possible.
III. The exceeding joy consequent on the restoration of the sinner.—The joy is greater than that over “the just which need no repentance,” because the effort to bring it about has been greater, and because for a time the result has been in suspense. So that when the end is attained there is a sense of clear gain. The value of the unfallen soul may intrinsically be greater than the value of the redeemed; but the joy is proportioned, not to the value of the article, but to the amount of the anxiety that has been spent upon it. To the sinner, then, these parables say, It is your unspeakably happy privilege to give God joy. There is no joy comparable to the joy of successful love; of love, that is to say, not only recognised and returned, but which succeeds in making the object of it as happy as it desires, and does so after many repulses and misunderstandings and hazards. This is God’s greatest joy. When God succeeds in securing the happiness—the inward purity and rectitude, and therefore the happiness—of any one who has been estranged from Him, there is joy in heaven. What can more worthily give joy to intelligent beings than the increase of goodness? This joy we have it in our power to give to God.—Dods.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luke 15:1-10
Luke 15:1-2. Christ in Society.—It is astonishing how often we read of Jesus being at feasts. He began His ministry by attending a wedding. Matthew made Him a feast, and He went and sat down among the publican’s motley guests. He invited Himself to the house of Zacchæus, another publican. Indeed, His eating with this class of persons came to be notorious. But He repeatedly dined with Pharisees as well. There was no fear of Him, in any company, obscuring His testimony for God. In these occasions of table-talk He dignified life, and embraced golden opportunities of doing good. You will be surprised to find how many of His words are spoken to His fellow-guests at meals. Some of His most priceless sayings, which are now the watchwords of His religion, were uttered in these commonplace circumstances.—Stalker.
Receiving Sinners.—We are indebted to the Pharisees for this testimony to our Lord, and His way with men. He takes His text from their lips. They would make Him a sinner because He seeks to save such sinners as they have never thought of saving. They would have it understood that He prefers such sinners; that these form the best material out of which His disciples and apostles can be made. And much preaching founded upon this course of action of our Lord has tended, unintentionally, to give a similar impression in these and other times, as if the best preparations for conversion and a holy life were a gross and degraded life! No mistake could be greater. He nowhere teaches that reckless and open vice is the best way to meet Him, or the best prior education for His disciples.—D. McColl.
Publicans attracted to Jesus.—The tax-gatherers were the home heathen of Palestine, and none were more scorned than they. These and other outcasts were drawn to Jesus. They kept far from other religious teachers, but somehow they could not help being drawn to Him. He had a magnet-like power over them. Just as the swallow is drawn to the sunny south, as the flower turns to the sun, and the chicken to the mother bird, so great sinners, shunning others, turned to Jesus in the days of His flesh. But the most decent and religious people murmured scornfully. To defend Himself and shame them Jesus spoke the three parables of grace in this precious chapter.—Wells.
It is an Epitome of the Gospel.—Originally, it was the saying of foes, not of friends. In this cavil there spoke for once the commonly suppressed voice of a self-ignorant and self-flattering world. The world exactly inverts the judgment of God and heaven. God hates the sin, yet loves the sinner; the world casts out the sinner, but will eat and drink with the sin.
I. The world’s definition of “sinners.”—Those who have transgressed the world’s morals. The world has its tariff of sins, and its register of sinners. The solemn saying of the Old Testament is forgotten by the religious world, “By Him actions are weighed.” Weighed, not counted. Weighed, rather than measured.
III. They meant, This man loves the company of the wicked.—“A man is known by the company he keeps.” A taunt which found no sanction from His judges. Pilate and Herod agreed as to His innocence. The taunt has had no acceptance with posterity.
IV. The words are true in their amplitude, and in their grandeur.—Christ refuses none. With what mind on their part? With what view on His? Not resolving to continue in their sins. Not to bid them sin on. He takes them to forgive, to heal, to help, to go and sin no more. Christ receives no man except to rid him of his sin, and because that is his desire.—Vaughan.
Jesus Christ ignoring Social Distinctions.—In reference to the various classes of Palestinian society Jesus was not the slave of custom or class. He broke through them in obedience to the requirements of “judgment, mercy, and faith.” Scribe and Pharisee stood aloof from Him. Publican and sinner drew near. But His “whosoever will” was equally for all. There was to be no respect of persons. Just as gladly would He have ministered in the fellowship and ministries of the faith to Pharisee as to publican. He often did, and does so still. Barriers are self-erected. Beneath all social accidents were souls. And these, in their priceless value, would survive earthly distinctions. He traversed social distinctions in the interest of that higher society which might, without clashing with them, be inclusive of all. In so acting He ran counter to the principles and narrow-minded, cold hearted practice of exclusionists. In His love for man, He aroused the hostile opposition and criticism of certain men. Custom, indeed, is not to be violated for the sake of singularity. But the example of Christ justifies the doing of it for the sake of the great things of “judgment, mercy, and faith.”—Campbell.
Luke 15:1. Holiness United with Love.—That which attracted publicans and sinners to Jesus was holiness, united with love; they were repelled by the haughtiness of the Pharisees. Goodness appeared to them in a guise they had never before known or even dreamed of.
“To hear Him.”—Not merely to see His miracles. The motive that drew them was of a spiritual character, and contrasted strikingly with that of many who came to the Saviour. Hence, He “received” them, welcomed them, and opened up to them the treasures of Divine love.
It was precisely these who felt they had no means to build the tower, no forces to meet the opposing king; and hence they sought resources from One who manifested power, and through Him desired “conditions of peace.”
The humble hear and learn; they find the grace of God in the word issuing from the lips of Jesus. The proud murmur and condemn; their dark understandings would fain quench the love of God where it shines most brightly.
Luke 15:2. “Murmured.”—A twofold ground of offence:
1. Jesus receives persons of evil name and repute.
2. He allows Himself to be received by them, and consents to sit at their tables.
“This man receiveth.”—They were scandalised at His procedure, and insinuated—on the principle that a man is known by the company he keeps—that He must have some secret sympathy with their character. But what a truth of unspeakable preciousness do their lips, as on other occasions, unconsciously utter!—Brown.
A Culpable Pride.—There is truth in the Pharisaic principle of abstaining from intercourse with sinful and defiled men, if it proceed from anxiety to avoid being tempted by their sins. In them, however, it was the result of haughty feeling which made them keep at a distance from such unfortunate men, even when their minds showed an inclination towards something better.—Olshausen.
Christ Eating with Sinners.—The words were meant as a reproach. 1. How much Christianity has done to change the prevailing estimate of men and things! It is no reproach now for a teacher or minister of religion to seek out the sinful. Such conduct is understood now, thanks to the gospel.
2. Still, we are cruel in our treatment of sinners in private and common life. How severely do we judge when we ourselves are not at the bar. To “receive sinners and eat with them” is still a crime in Christendom. And, of course, in some senses it would be a crime. To prefer by choice the company of the immoral: this would be a just reproach—no virtue, but the very contrary. All depends upon the motive. If we would imitate Jesus in His treatment of sinners, let us imitate Him by His grace in His principle and in His motive.
3. He was not the friend of the sin, but the friend of the sinner. He would not leave the sinner in his sin. Not to embolden them in evil, but to win them for good. So the friend of the sinner must, to be Christlike, be the foe of the sin.—Vaughan.
Luke 15:4-10. The Lost One Sought.—The twin parables have much in common. They both exhibit the seeking love of God. Jesus shames the Pharisees for their pride and holding aloof. He gives them two short parables.
I. The lost one.—The two pictures of outdoor and indoor life were very familiar to His hearers. It is a figure of all, even of the Pharisees, if they had only known it.
II. Who seeks it.—The seeking Shepherd is a common figure in Church windows and in sacred pictures. Jesus is still seeking the lost,—by His Spirit, in His Church, through His people.
III. How He seeks it.—The Incarnation. The earthly life. The atoning death. The Church, too, holds up the candle of the Word. Joy fills His heart at the discovery and restoration of even one wandering sheep, one lost coin.—Watson.
Christ’s Sympathy for Sinners.
I. A yearning sympathy.
II. An active sympathy.
III. A tender sympathy.
IV. A joyful sympathy.
The Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin.
I. Love sorrowing.
II. Love seeking.
III. Love rejoicing.
1. The value of the soul.
2. God does not need to be made willing to save you.
3. Here is unsurpassed encouragement for every penitent.—Wells.
God’s Love for the Lost.
I. The loss.
II. The finding.
III. The rejoicing.—Taylor.
The Persistence of Thwarted Love.—I. But first let me say a word or two about the more general thought brought out in both these clauses—of the Shepherd’s search. Now, beautiful and heart-touching as that picture is, of the Shepherd away amongst the barren mountains searching minutely in every ravine and thicket, it wants a little explanation in order to be brought into correspondence with the fact which it expresses. For His search for His lost property is not in ignorance of where it is, and His finding of it is not His discovery of His sheep, but its discovery of its Shepherd. We have to remember wherein consists the loss before we can understand wherein consists the search. Now, if we ask ourselves that question first, we get a flood of light on the whole matter. The great hundredth Psalm, according to its true rendering, says, “It is He that hath made us, and we are His; … we are … the sheep of His pasture.” But God’s true possession of man is not simply the possession inherent in the act of creation. For there is only one way in which spirit can own spirit, or heart can possess heart, and that is through the voluntary yielding and love of the one to the other. So Jesus Christ, who, in all His seeking after us men, is the voice and hand of Almighty Love, does not count that He has found a man until the man has learned to love Him. For He loses us when we are alienated from Him, when we cease to trust Him. Therefore the search which, as being Christ’s is God’s in Christ, is for love, for trust, for obedience. If, then, the Shepherd’s seeking is but a tender metaphor for the whole aggregate of the ways by which the love that is Divine and human in Jesus Christ moves round about our closed hearts, seeking for an entrance, then, surely the first and chiefest of them, which has its appeal to each of us as directly as to any man that ever lived, is that great mystery that Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God, left the ninety and nine that were safe on the high pastures of the mountains of God, and came down among us, out into the wilderness “to seek and to save that which was lost.” And, that method of winning—I was going to say, of earning—our love comes straight in its appeal to every single soul on the face of the earth. Do not say that thou wert not in Christ’s heart and mind when He willed to be born and willed to die. He seeks us by every record of that mighty love that died for us, even when it is being spoken poorly, and with many limitations and imperfections. And here, in our midst, that unseen Form is passing along and speaking to our hearts, and the Shepherd is seeking His sheep. He seeks each of us by the inner voices and emotions in our hearts and minds, by those strange whisperings which sometimes we hear, by the suddenly upstarting convictions of duty and truth which sometimes, without manifest occasion, flash across our hearts. He is seeking us by our unrest, by our yearnings after we know not what, by our dim dissatisfaction, which insists upon making itself felt in the midst of joys and delights, and which the world fails to satisfy as much as it fails to interpret. He seeks us by the discipline of life, for I believe that Christ is the active providence of God, and that the hands that were pierced on the Cross do move the wheels of the history of the world, and mould the destinies of individual spirits.
II. And now, in the second place, a word about the search that is thwarted. “If so be that He find.” That is an awful if, when we think of what lies below it. The thing seems an absurdity when it is uttered, and yet it is a grim fact in every life—viz., that Christ’s effort can fail, and be thwarted. Not that His search is perfunctory or careless, but that we shroud ourselves in darkness through which that love can find no way. God appeals to us, and says, “What more could have been done to My vineyard that I have not done unto it?” His hands are clean, and the infinite love of Christ is free from all blame, and it all lies at our own doors. I must not dwell upon the various reasons which lead so many men among us—as, alas! the utmost charity cannot but see that there are—to turn away from Christ’s appeals, and to be unwilling to “have this Man” either “to reign over them” or to save them. One great reason is because you do not believe that you need Him. Some of us think we are in the flock when we are not. Some of us have no inclination for the sweet pastures that He provides, and would rather stay where we are. We do not need to do anything to put Him away. It is a very easy matter to turn away from the Shepherd’s voice. “I called, and ye refused. I stretched out My hands, and no man regarded.” That is all! That is what you do, and that is enough.
III. So, lastly, the thwarted search prolonged. “Till He find!” That is a wonderful and a merciful word. It indicates the infinitude of Christ’s patient forgiveness and perseverance. We tire of searching. “Can a mother forget” or abandon the seeking after a lost child? Yes! if it has gone on for so long as to show that further search is hopeless, she will go home and nurse her sorrow in her heart. For that is another thing that this word “till” preaches to us—viz., the possibility of bringing back those who have gone farthest away and have been longest away. The world has a great deal to say about incurable cases of moral obliquity and deformity. Christ knows nothing about “incurable cases.”—Maclaren.
“That which was lost.”—None of these parables is meant to set forth with completeness either what wanderers have to do to go back to God, or what God has done to bring wanderers back to Himself. If this had been remembered, many misconceptions would have been avoided. They were meant to show us that a human instinct which prizes things lost, because they are lost, has something corresponding to it in the Divine nature, and so to vindicate the conduct of Christ.
I. The varying causes of loss.—The sheep, the coin, the son—each was lost. But in each case, the reason for the loss was different. The sheep was heedless. It was lost through heedlessness. Many men live just so, and, all unwitting, wander from the right road. How considerate of our Saviour to put this explanation of men’s condition in the foreground. In the second parable, the drachma did not lose itself, but, by the law of gravitation, rolled into a dark corner. It had no power of resistance. So there are people who are things rather than persons, so entirely have they given up their wills and so absolutely do they let themselves be determined by circumstances. There are masses of men who have no power to resist temptation. This thought lightens the darkness of much of the world’s sin. The third parable is a picture. The other two are parabolical representations; this is the thing itself. The exercise of self-will, impatience of control—these are causes of loss that underlie the others, and which make for every one of us the sinfulness of sin. It is rebellion, and it is rebellion against a Father’s love. There is the individual choice in each case, desiring a separation, and kicking against control.
II. The varying proportions of loss and possession.—A hundred, ten, two. One per cent, ten per cent, fifty per cent; a trifle—more serious—heart-breaking. The ascending proportion suggests increasing pains and anxiety. There is something in human nature which makes anything that is lost precious by reason of its loss. Its absolute value may be little: its relative worth is great. Divine love goes after, not the greatest world, but the lost world.
III. The varying glimpses we have here into God’s claims upon us and His heart.—Ownership describes His relation to us in the first two parables: love is the word that describes it in the third. It is a most blessed and heart-melting thought that God accounts Himself to have lost something when a man goes away from Him. God prizes us, is glad to have us, feels a sense of incompleteness in His possessions when men depart from Him. Think of the greatness of the love into which the ownership is merged, as measured by the infinite price which He has paid to bring us back. Let it lead us all to say, “I will arise and go to my Father.—Ibid.
The Twin Parables.—These two parables are an inseparable pair. They are a double star; you cannot tell how much light comes from the one, or how much from the other.
I. Compare their structure.—
1. They are alike.—In each there is a loss, a seeking, a joyful finding.
2. They differ in the extent of the loss, the manner of the loss, and the toil of recovery.
II. Compare their teaching.—
1. They are alike in teaching the lesson as to the lost condition of the sinner, the willingness and power of God to save the sinner, and the importance with which God and angels regard each sinner’s salvation.
2. They give different views of the sinner. He is wayward, weak, and foolish, like a sheep. He is dead and helpless, like the tarnished coin. The shepherd represents Christ’s active and suffering work for man’s salvation; the woman’s work illustrates better the work of salvation in the soul itself—enlightening, cleansing, transforming work, necessary to fit it for close relationship with God.—Taylor.
Luke 15:1-7. The Lost Sheep.
I. The shepherd misses one when it has strayed from the flock.
II. He cared for the lost sheep. Although he possessed ninety and nine, he was not content to let one go.
III. He left the ninety and nine for the sake of the one that had wandered.
IV. When he finds it he does not punish and upbraid it.
V. He lays the sheep upon his shoulder.
VI. Far from being oppressed by the burden, he rejoices when he feels its weight upon his shoulder.
VII. He invites his neighbours to rejoice with him over his success.—Arnot.
Luke 15:4. The Bewildered, the Unconscious, and the Voluntary Sinner.—The parable of the Lost Sheep represents the stupid and bewildered sinner; that of the Lost Piece of Money, the sinner, unconscious of himself and of his own real worth; that of the Prodigal Son the conscious and voluntary sinner, the most aggravated case.—Alford.
“What man?”—Jesusappeals to those who had condemned His conduct, and asks whether they do not in the lower order of things usually manifest the pity which they blame in Him. “Does not a shepherd show compassion towards a sheep that has wandered from the fold? Shall not I much more show compassion to a poor, wandering sinner?” It is pity rather than self-interest that moves the shepherd, for the loss of one out of a hundred sheep would not be very serious. His kindly feelings are excited towards the sheep which has not the sense to find its way back to the fold, and which cannot defend itself against its enemies.
“In the wilderness.”—I.e., in the place of pasturage, where they were safe. The section of the nation who were faithful to the law and to religious duties, enjoyed means of grace which those who had openly broken with the covenant between God and His people had deprived themselves. They were in the place of pasturage, and if they made diligent use of their advantages, would certainly attain to salvation.—Godet.
The Office of the Shepherd was to Seek the Lost. It was the office of the shepherd to seek the lost sheep (Ezekiel 23:6; Ezekiel 23:11; Ezekiel 23:23), yet with this the Pharisees and scribes found fault.
Luke 15:5-6. Love Manifested.—The loving heart of the shepherd is manifested
(1) in the perseverance with which he seeks the wandering sheep;
(2) in his carrying the exhausted animal upon his own shoulders;
(3) in the joy with which he bears the burden;
(4) in his summoning his friends and neighbours to partake in his happiness.
Luke 15:5. “Found it.”—It is one by one, and not in masses, that souls are saved. Jesus saves the Samaritan woman by convincing of the depth of her need, and leading her to seek the Living Water; He saves Zacchæus by inviting him to receive Him into his house as his Guest and Redeemer. He saves Nicodemus by showing Him the necessity of being born again before he could enter into the kingdom of heaven; and He saves Mary Magdalene by delivering her from the power of seven evil spirits.
“On His shoulders.”—For He bare our sins in His own body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24; Isaiah 53:4-6; Hebrews 9:28).
Luke 15:6. “Rejoice with Me.”—It is a beautiful principle of our nature that deep feeling, either of sorrow or of joy, is almost too much for one to bear alone, and that there is a feeling of positive relief in having others to share it. This principle our Lord here proclaims to be in operation, even in the Divine procedure.—Brown.
Christ’s Joy in Finding the Lost.—Christ experienced a perfect rapture of delight when He found a lost sheep; witness His bearing at the well of Sychar, when His joy over the repentance of the woman of Samaria made Him forget hunger, insomuch that the disciples wondered if any man had given Him to eat. That joy, hoped for or experienced, made all His burdens light, made even the cross itself, abhorrent to His sentient nature, more than bearable. Therefore, in drawing the picture of a faithful Shepherd, He might with a good conscience put in this trait, “rejoicing.”—Bruce.
Luke 15:7. “I say unto you.”—Let us not, in this “I say unto you” miss a slight yet majestic intimation of the dignity of His person: “I who know, I who, when I tell you of heavenly things, tell you of Mine own (John 1:51; John 3:11), announce to you this.”—Trench.
“Joy shall be in heaven.”—We can scarcely avoid the thought that here the prospect of that joy hovered before His soul, which He, the Good Shepherd, was especially to taste when He, after finishing His conflict, should return into the celestial mansion of His Father, and should taste the joy prepared for Him.—Van Oosterzee.
“One sinner that repenteth.”—He does not joy over the sinner as a sinner, but over him repenting. He joys over his repentance, over the sinner ceasing to be a sinner.
Unity of the Kingdom of the Good.—The kingdom of the good thus appears as standing in mutual connection and loving unity, so that if one member rejoices, all members rejoice along with it. Heaven and earth are joined together by the bond of perfectness, love.—Olshausen.
“Need no repentance.”—The Pharisees, indeed, were not called to manifest a repentance like that of the publicans and sinners, for they had kept from gross vices; yet even in them a profound change of heart was needed. They murmured at that which caused great joy in heaven, and thereby showed how far they were from true communion with God.
Something Higher than Legal Righteousness.—The ninety and nine just persons are those who are righteous according to the legal standard, than which there is, however, something higher, even as there is something more inward. And unto this more blessed condition the truly penitent sinner is translated, so that his conversion is more a matter of rejoicing than the strict observance of the law by others.—Speaker’s Commentary.
Luke 15:8-10. The Lost Coin.—A totally distinct idea is conveyed by the parable of the Lost Piece of Silver from that in the parable of the Lost Sheep. Pity moves the Shepherd; self-interest moves the woman to patient search. And so Christ teaches that man has value in the sight of God. He is made in the image of God, he is destined for service, and therefore God has need of him.
I. The Owner of the silver piece as representing God.
1. Her anxiety to find. The coin, like the soul of man, is valuable in itself; it is one of a number, or set, and if it be lost the store is broken in upon, and if it be not found, another may get it, whose it is not.
2. Her diligence in seeking—light brought into dark places, defilement swept away.
3. Her success.
4. Her joyfulness.
II. The silver piece as representing the soul of man.
1. Its innate value.
2. Its unconsciousness of loss.
3. Its helplessness.
4. Its proper place in God’s keeping.
The parable teaches—
I. That man is lost.—
1. By ignorance of the truth.
2. By falling into vice.
3. By his own heedlessness.
II. That he may be found and restored to his true place and value.
III. That his recovery occasions joy.—
1. To himself.
2. To Christ.
3. To friends and neighbours.
4. To angels and to the spirits of the just made perfect.
Luke 15:8. “Ten pieces.”—The ten pieces of silver indicate in passing that the woman is not so rich as to be indifferent to the loss of even one piece; that is, one soul is estimated by the Spirit in the Church, not in the proportion which one piece would bear to the hoard of a man with millions, but in its proportion to the scanty store of such a woman as this.—Stier.
“Piece of silver.”—A drachma. Man, made in the image of God, and bearing a Divine superscription.
“Sweep the house.”—The parable referring originally to the Jewish people, the “house” may be taken as representing the Church; the lighting of the candle and the sweeping, as representing the Spirit’s giving light to the world, stirring up the dust of worldliness which conceals the sinner’s true worth, and so applying the truth that he is found.
Luke 15:10. “Joy in the presence of the angels.”
I. God rejoices over returning sinners, and that just because they were once lost.
II. God delights to have the inhabitants of heaven share in His gladness. “If the ‘sons of God’ shouted for joy and sang together at the first creation (Job 38:7), by how much better right when ‘a new creation’ had found place, in the birth of a soul into the light of everlasting life (Ephesians 3:10; 1 Peter 1:12)” (Trench).
Joy Shared with the Angels.—Note carefully the language here employed: “in the presence of the angels of God.” True to the idea of the parables, it is the Great Shepherd, the Great Owner Himself, whose properly the joy is over His own recovered property: but so vast and exuberant is it (Zephaniah 3:17), that, as if He could not keep it to Himself, He calleth His whole celestial family to rejoice with Him. In this sublime sense it is joy before or “in the presence of the angels”: they only catch the flying joy, sharing it with Him.—Brown.
An Unexpected Good.—The angels delight in beholding a continued and uninterrupted course of righteousness. But yet in the deliverance of a sinner God’s mercy shines out so brightly that Christ attributes to angels a greater joy in it, arising out of an unexpected good.
Divine Joy over Repenting Sinners.—Not joy among the angels, but joy in “the presence of the angels.” The joy of God Himself.
I. What is implied in sinners repenting?—There are many incorrect and superficial views on repentance. Sorrow in consequence of sin has nothing to do with repentance. A man may even dislike sin and not experience true repentance. Repentance is a change of mind and heart, leading a man to turn from sin and turn to God. There must be both changes—in mind and heart. Beliefs and sentiments in regard to spiritual things must be renounced, and others embraced in their stead. The affections must cease to be under a selfish or worldly bias, and become directed to God and the things of God. This experience is sweeter to God than even the songs of heaven.
II. What is implied in God rejoicing?—Absolutely there can be no accession to the happiness of the ever-blessed God, and yet there must be a real meaning in this language. This joy of God is the
(1) joy of manifested mercy. He “delighteth in mercy” and in every opportunity for its exercise.
(2) Joy of gratified benevolence. God is benevolent as well as merciful. He not only pardons, but crowns with blessing.
(3) Joy of recovered possession. Man was made for God—has wandered from God. The bringing back of the wanderer, the repairing of injury, the renewal of what has been defaced, the healing of the wounded—such a change the all-loving Father cannot look upon but with complacency and delight.—Alexander.
Luke 15:11. A certain man.—Our heavenly Father, since Christ never represents Himself thus. He always speaks of Himself as a Son, though often as a possessor, or lord. Two sons.—I.e., to represent the professedly religious and openly irreligious classes of men, whose presence led to the discourse. Both are Jews. The idea that the elder son represents the Jews and the younger the Gentiles seems foreign to the parable; for
(1) the Jew can scarcely be said to be the elder son, as the call of Abraham took place a couple of thousand years after the Creation, and
(2) the reception of the Gentiles into the kingdom of God was not yet plainly revealed. But in character the sons may be said to be representative of mankind, for we have in them examples of two great phases of alienation from God—the elder is blinded by his self-righteousness, the younger degraded by his unrighteousness.
Luke 15:12. The younger.—As the more thoughtless and easily deceived. Give me the portion, etc.—Not an unheard-of request, though it does not seem to have been customary among the Jews to do as here described. Something like it, however, occurs in the life of Abraham (Genesis 25:6). The law prescribed that two-thirds fell to the elder son (Deuteronomy 21:17). “In this case the father reserves to himself the power during his life over the portion of the first-born” (Luke 15:31) (Alford). The yielding to the request of the younger son strikingly sets forth the permission of free-will to man, and also the fact of God’s bestowing many gifts upon even the unthankful and disobedient. The request indicates a state of mind from which every kind of sin takes its rise—the desire to be independent of God and to enjoy a liberty which is just another name for licence. So was it with our first parents, who were attracted by the prospect of “being as gods, knowing good and evil.”
Luke 15:13. Not many days.—The purpose he had had in view was soon disclosed. Far country.—To be rid of all restraint. The distance to which he wanders suggests a likeness to the strayed sheep of the earlier parable (Luke 15:4); his manner of life in the far country recalls the condition of the silver piece lying in the dust (Luke 15:8). Wasted.—From this he gets his name of “the prodigal,” the waster (Latin, prodigus).
Luke 15:14. When he had spent all.—Probably very soon, as the course of sin is usually a brief one. Began.—This marks a crisis in his life. To be in want.—He had “spent his money for that which is not bread” (Isaiah 55:2). “This famine is the shepherd seeking his strayed sheep—the woman sweeping to find the lost. The famine, in the interpretation, is to be subjectively taken—he begins to feel the emptiness of soul which precedes either utter abandonment or true penitence” (Alford). In this figurative manner the weariness and disgust which naturally result from a sinful course are set forth.
Luke 15:15. Joined himself.—The word is a strong one—“he clave unto”—became a hanger-on—sponged upon another, and was forced to do dirty work. A citizen.—Rather, “one of the citizens” (R.V.) We may take this “citizen” as representing the tyrannous power of sin. The Prodigal had broken away from a loving father, and found himself in subjection to a hard task-master. To feed swine.—Doubly degrading—the task of a slave, and one intensely repulsive to a Jew. This represents the degradation at the end of a sinful course to which a man is subjected, as it were, against his will.
Luke 15:16. He would fain.—He craved and got his desire (cf. for similar use of the verb, chap. Luke 16:21). He was driven to assuage his hunger with what could scarcely be called food. Husks.—Not pods of some other fruit, but the fruit of the carob-tree, used for feeding domestic animals. No man gave.—I.e., anything else, anything better. It is absurd to imagine that it means “No man gave even husks to him.” He could provide himself with them, even if the swine were thereby stinted in their food. The desertion by those on whom he had wasted his substance, and whom he had probably reckoned as friends, is a very natural touch in the parable.
Luke 15:17. He came to himself.—Sin is in reality a being beside oneself: true life is that lived, not in gratification of self, but in subordination to God and in communion with God. Here we are evidently on a higher spiritual plane than in the two preceding parables; the whole process of loss and recovery is transacted within the soul of the Prodigal. It is of his own free-will that he wanders away; but then, his return is voluntary also. How many hired servants!—His own hard lot as a hired servant reminds him of the happier condition of those of the same class in his father’s house. And I.—Who am still a son, though an unworthy one.
Luke 15:18. I have sinned.—Perhaps rather, “I sinned”—referring not merely to the riotous life he had lately led, but to the initial act of leaving his father’s house (so in Luke 15:21). Against heaven and before thee.—In the spiritual interpretation these two are one and the same; it is the parabolical form that necessitates the double expression.
Luke 15:19. It is noticeable that he nowhere gives up his sonship. He uses the address “father,” and asks to be reinstated in his place as a son (though he confesses that he is unworthy of it). For even in the request which he thinks of proffering, but which he afterwards omits, he does not wish to become a hired servant, but to be made as one of the hired servants.
Luke 15:20. Arose and came.—Not always the usual course followed, but certainly the proper course—for the Prodigal is now an example of penitence. A great way off.—The idea is suggested by the father’s having been on the outlook for the son’s return, and of his having been animated by a love which made him quick-sighted to discern the distant figure of the penitent Prodigal. The running to welcome, and the touching signs of joy at the son’s return, correspond to the “seeking” in the other parables, for they strengthen the resolution of the penitent, which might not have been strong enough to enable him to carry through his purpose.
Luke 15:21. It is significant that he omits the request to be made “as a hired servant.” The love with which he was met awakens the filial spirit in all its intensity, and any such request would have been a kind of outrage.
Luke 15:22. Said to his servants.—His joy is too full to allow him to answer his son; he instantly issues orders to the servants to celebrate his return. Bring forth.—A better reading is, “Bring forth quickly” (R.V.). Best robe.—For him who came in rags. “Best.”—Lit., “first.” No reference to a dress he had formerly worn as a son—for it was as a son that he had left his father’s house. Ring, etc.—Signs of being a free man. Slaves wore no rings and went bare-footed.
Luke 15:23. The fatted calf.—Reserved for some special feast or anniversary. Let us eat and be merry.—Joy again alluded to as resulting from recovery of the lost, as in Luke 15:6; Luke 15:9. “Us”—including servants, as entering into the joy of their Lord (Matthew 25:21-22).
Luke 15:24. Was dead.—Cf. Revelation 3:1; Ephesians 5:14; Ephesians 2:1; Romans 6:13, for similar comparison of a state of impenitence to that of death.
Luke 15:25. Now, his elder son.—A reproof to the Pharisees and scribes. Some have wished the parable had closed with Luke 15:24. But the elder son is still a son and in need of repentance. In one respect he is, though less heinously guilty than his brother, in greater danger, because of the risk of self-deception. “As regards the penitent, this part of the parable sets forth the reception he meets with from his fellow-men, in contrast to that from his father” (Alford). In the field.—Probably working—part of the hard, but self-chosen service of which he complains in Luke 15:29. Music and dancing.—Surely this mention of appropriate signs of joy on such a solemn occasion should prove that these amusements are not necessarily worldly, or sinful, or unbecoming, for a Christian. Meant.—Lit., “might be.”
Luke 15:27. Safe and sound.—Lit., “in good health.” “A very prosaic rendering of the father’s enthusiastic and even poetical utterances” (Luke 15:24; Luke 15:32) (Speaker’s Commentary). No stress need, however, be laid upon this—the servant simply describes matters as they appear from his point of view.
Luke 15:28. Entreated him.—As Christ was now by this parable entreating the Pharisees and scribes.
Luke 15:29. Lo, these many years, etc.—He does not say “father,” and he speaks of his past service as having been like that of a slave. Neither transgressed.—The virtual boast of the Pharisaic party (cf. chap. Luke 18:11-12). Never gavest me a kid.—This answers to the younger son’s “give me” (Luke 15:12); a similar sin in both cases—a separation of their interests from the interests of their father. My friends.—Respectable people, very different from my brother’s disreputable associates. The “kid” is contrasted with “the fatted calf.”
Luke 15:30. Thy son.—He will not say “my brother.” Devoured thy living.—Implying blame to his father for giving him the means and opportunity for running riot. With harlots.—A detail implied, perhaps, in Luke 15:13, but out of place on his brother’s lips. Only the bitterest jealousy could have prompted the reproach. Killed for him.—“Making him not only my equal, but my superior,”
Luke 15:31. Son.—The father still affectionate even towards the self-righteous and uncharitable son. Ever with me.—No need for extraordinary joy in his case. All that I have.—Rather “all that is mine is thine” (R.V.). The younger son had wasted his share; all that the father had was the elder son’s. There is no impoverishment to the righteous in consequence of favour shown to sinners (cf. Matthew 20:14).
Luke 15:32. It was meet.—The form is general—“it was a right” thing—justifying the joy and leaving it still open for the elder son to join in it. Thy brother.—In contrast with the words “thy son” (Luke 15:30).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luke 15:11-32
The Prodigal Son.—In the parable of the Prodigal Son we have the most luminous statement anywhere to be found of the original development of evil in the soul of man, and also of the awakening of those better elements in the nature which prove the kinship between man and his Creator. The Prodigal, whose story is given with such detail, serves two purposes: I. In the first part of his career he is a warning—he is a typical sinner. II. In the second he is an example—he is a model penitent. In the representation of the headstrong, disobedient son we may recognise some of the lineaments of our own characters, and learn to hate the sins that defile us; while in the account of his penitence and humility we may see in what attitude of heart, and with what words upon our lips, we should return to our heavenly Father.
I. The typical sinner.—The germ of evil—the bitter root from which so much that is hurtful springs—is plainly disclosed to us here. It is self-will. The ill-disposed son resented his father’s authority, and wished to be free to do what he chose without being checked or remonstrated with—to feel, in short, that he was his own master. Of course, in the actual human story a good deal might be said in favour of his desire to live his life on his own responsibility. The condition of childhood and tutelage, in the natural course of things, lasts only for a time, and it is a mistake to prolong it unduly. A time comes when each individual must feel the responsibilities that belong to maturity of age, and when the continued exercise of an external control does more harm than good. And it is a test of the wisdom of a parent to know when to relax the yoke which it was a good thing for his children to bear in their youth. The desire of the younger son to leave his father’s house and to begin life on his own responsibility might have been a perfectly natural and healthy feeling, and might have been gratified with the full consent of his father, and with the best feelings on both sides. It is only when we consider the spiritual meaning of the parable that the heinousness of this son’s feelings and actions comes clearly into view. God is the father, man is the son. The rule of the Father is a spiritual one: His voice is the voice of conscience. The desire to escape from His control is wholly unjustifiable—it is the desire to put pleasure in the place of duty, to shake off the obedience which we as creatures owe to the law of God, and to defy all prohibitions that debar our taking those things that seem good and pleasant to the eye. Subjection to the will of God is the condition of our being and happiness: ruin and desolation follow upon a repudiation of that condition. And if we interpret the parable according to this principle, we may say that the fall of the younger son dates from the moment when he claimed his rights—when he separated his interests from the interests of his father—and not simply when, in the far country, he wasted his substance in riotous living. Morally he was as guilty the day he left his father’s house as he was at any subsequent period: all the evil was in germ in his heart which afterwards appeared in full maturity in his life. And our understanding this fact makes clear to us the many peremptory statements of the Word of God that all men, the respectable as well as the disreputable, are guilty before God. The fact of disobedience and depravity may be more apparent in some cases than in others, but that all are guilty is undeniable. For if the essence of sin lies in self-will, who can claim to be innocent? There are, of course, gross vices and disorderly habits into which we may never have fallen, but the root of them all is in that self-will which has often led us wrong, and self-righteous congratulations upon our comparative cleanliness are utterly out of place in view of that besmirched goodness which is all that the best of us have to boast of. The Prodigal being depicted by Christ as a typical sinner, we are to expect to find in him sin at its very worst, and it is very instructive to notice wherein the baseness of his conduct consists. In reading the parable, this is perhaps the last thing in it that we notice—if, indeed, it does not escape our notice altogether. We use the word “prodigal” glibly enough, and perhaps think of it as meaning one who “breaks out” into a very disorderly life, and goes on recklessly in the bad way. It has quite a different meaning. The Prodigal is the waster; and though the word is not found in the parable, it is derived from the phrase in Luke 15:13, “he wasted his substance in riotous living.” His prodigality is his sin: he begins by asking for a share of his father’s goods; he gets it, carries it off, and wastes it. It is true that he wastes it in riotous living, but no stress is laid on that circumstance. The elder brother, with a rancour which we can easily understand and excuse, insists upon the shamelessness of the vice into which the Prodigal had fallen; but even with him the essence of the fault he was unwilling to allow to be forgiven did not lie in it, but is expressed in the words, “he hath devoured thy living.” Nay, it is not the sensual life which the penitent accuses himself of, or which the manner of his punishment accuses him of, but the wasteful life. It is not said that he had become corrupt in soul, or that his health was shattered by his riotous courses, but that his waste brought him to want—that at last he would fain have filled his belly with husks, and could not. It is not said that he was struck with remorse for the consequencess of his evil passions, but only that he remembered that there was bread enough, and to spare, for the servants at home. Is prodigality, then, such a hateful thing that it should be branded as the lowest form of sin? Are there not worse vices than it? Scarcely, if we look at it aright. It is selfishness, pure and simple—the sin of an ignoble or undeveloped creature. Nothing baser can be found than the resolution to indulge self, whatever it may cost—heedless of how others may suffer, heedless of the loss involved, heedless of the voice of conscience, and of the law of God, and of the terrible sentence of condemnation which such conduct is bound to draw down upon itself. It is not without reason that Christ lays stress upon the Prodigality of the Prodigal as the essence of his baseness; for, compared with this utter and brutish selfishness, other forms of sin have a certain air of dignity and superiority. Evil passions are often the errors and backfalls of noble souls: they are often the perversion of feelings which, if they had been rightly curbed and directed, would have brought no shame with them. But the resolute determination to indulge self in spite of all checks of conscience and religion is the final gulf in which the sinner lands; or, to change the figure, it is the root from which everything that is mean, and foul, and corrupt, springs, and by which it is fed. And therefore it is that all vital religion begins with the breaking down of the stubborn will, and its subjection to the wise and holy will of God. The Prodigal, then, is the typical sinner, on whose tragical history all should look with sympathy and terror—with sympathy because he is akin to us, and with terror because we perceive the likeness between ourselves and him.
The model penitent.—We may see in him the model penitent, and learn in what attitude of soul, and with what words upon our lips, we should return to our heavenly Father. In the manner in which the better mind was awakened in him, he is not necessarily an example to us. It was when the sting of hunger, of absolute beggary, penetrated his soul that he returned to himself and thought, with scorn, of the evil courses that had brought him to that pass. But that is only one of many ways in which the voice of God makes itself heard. There are many other kinds of experience that lead to the wholesome change and repentance manifested by this penitent. A severe illness, the sudden death of a friend, an unexpected calamity, a word of warning, the discovery that an evil habit has taken strong hold of us,—in some one of these ways the attention may be directed to our spiritual danger, to the vast distance by which sin has separated us from God, to the loss and risk to which we are exposed by remaining away from Him and in rebellion against Him. But however it may be that we “come to ourselves,” we can find no better pattern of penitence in word and action than the Prodigal affords us in the later part of his history. We can be quite sure of this, for Christ of set purpose draws the picture to show both how true repentance expresses itself, and how it is received by the Almighty Father. Note—
1. The penitent Prodigal complains of no one but himself, and speaks of no unworthiness but his own. He says nothing against his evil companions—nothing against those who lured him on to fresh courses of vice—nothing against the citizen who left him to feed on husks—nothing of the false friends of whom no man gave unto him; above all, he has nothing to say of the corruption of human nature, or the corruption of things in general. He says that he himself is unworthy, as distinguished from honourable persons, and that he himself has sinned, as distinguished from righteous persons. An outsider might notice that he was weak, and had been led into sin by companions more hardened and corrupt than himself. But that is nothing to him. All he knows is that he was led because he was willing and eager to go, and he does not cast a stone at his associates because he knows he was as morally guilty as any of them. This is a mark of true penitence. Whenever you hear any one excusing himself or herself on the ground of bad companions prevailing over a disposition that was naturally good, you may surely conclude that the penitence is insincere, even if your suspicions that such is the case have not been aroused by the whining tone of voice in which the words are always uttered. There are no excuses that avail to cover guilt. No stress of temptation, no inexperience, no inherent weakness of the nature, no solicitation of evil companions—are worth mentioning. The sinner has no right to mention them, though the judge may take them into account. The fact remains, when all is said, that the sinner is responsible for his guilt, and his only resource is to make the manly, the simply true confession, “I have sinned; I am unworthy.” And that is the hard lesson to learn, and the beginning of faithful lessons. All right and fruitful humility, and purging of heart, is in that. Then too,
(2) another mark of true penitence is discernible in the shame of the Prodigal. He abases himself before his earthly father, as well as before God. That is well worth noticing. “It is easy to call yourself the chief of sinners, expecting every sinner round you to decline, or return the compliment; but learn to measure the real degrees of your own relative baseness, and to be ashamed, not only in heaven’s sight, but in man’s sight, and redemption is indeed begun.” Observe the phrase, “I have sinned against heaven”—against the great law of that, and “before thee”—visibly degraded before my human sire and guide, unworthy any more of being esteemed of his blood, and desirous only of taking the place I deserve among his servants. This element of shame is essential to true penitence, and often seems to be wanting in those who retail their religious experience, and describe the depth of depravity in which they were once sunk. If their statements are true, shame should seal their lips. Another mark
(3) of true penitence is the desire to be henceforward subject to authority; not simply to have the past wiped out, and to be at liberty to enter on another course of self-pleasing and freedom. The Prodigal had left a father’s house; he desires to come back to a master’s—“make me as one of thy hired servants.” This is the spirit in which he returns, though the actual request is not proffered. Redemption must begin in subjection, and in the recovery of the sense of fatherhood and authority; just as all ruin and desolation began in the loss of that sense. “The lost son began by claiming his rights. He is found when he resigns them. He is lost by flying from his father, when his father’s authority was only paternal: he is found by returning to his father, and desiring that his authority may be absolute, as over a hired stranger.” By all these marks—by humbly confessing our guilt, by feeling shame on account of it, and by sincerely desiring to be ruled and controlled by the will of God—is that true penitence to be recognised which will avail to open to us our Father’s house and our Father’s heart.
Wandering.—After the younger son had secured his portion of the family inheritance, he went out of his father’s house and “took his journey into a far country.” At last he was free! The old restrictions that had fettered his childhood and youth were thrown off; the old duties that had waited upon him and dogged his comings and goings these many years were cast aside and forgotten; the monotonous orderliness and subordination of the peaceful home was a thing of the past. Henceforth he was his own master, and the world was at his feet. It is this delusive sense of freedom which lends a kind of enchantment to the early stages of wrong-doing; which persuades a man that he is evidencing his strength; that he has ceased to be a child under a wiser care and guidance, and become old enough to see the world and learn something of life. There are few things more tragic than to hear young men talking about “seeing life,” when it is really death they are seeing. And when a man begins to talk much or loudly about being free, it means, as a rule, that he is enslaving himself. At the start, however, there is a delusive sense of freedom. It is no longer necessary to keep hours, obey rules, perform tasks; the world is before one, with its mysteries, its joys, and its vastness; the home, with its subordination and restriction, is behind. The young man has his portion in his wallet; his staff is in his hand; he has strength, freshness, youth; why should he not throw himself into the tumult of life, and test his power? And so the wanderings begin, and the father’s house grows dim and shadowy in a past that seems pallid and vague beside the rich, full present. There is no rest, it is true; but there is the variety of constant change. There is nothing by the way that satisfies; but expectation points on to new sensations and experiences. From city to city, from country to country, the ardent traveller makes his way. He has no plans; that is part of his emancipation; he is doing as he pleases. If he wishes to stay, he stays; if he feels impelled to go, he goes. He sees men about him who are tied to times and places by duties, and whose necks are bowed by yokes of care; he has no duties and cares. He has broken out of that venerable old prison in which so many good but commonplace people have locked themselves all their lives; he breathes the open air, and lives on the broad earth. If he wishes to pluck a certain fruit, the fact that it is forbidden gives it a higher flavour; if he is drawn to do a certain deed, the fact that it is sinful makes it more attractive. He is no longer a child in leading-strings, to be frightened by the bugaboos of law, duty, morality, God; he is a grown man, and he has put away those childish things. He is free! And all the time the father’s house, builded in purity, self-sacrifice, love, and service, grows dimmer against the horizon, until it dips below that faint, far line. He has exchanged it for the world, and henceforth the world is his home.—“The Outlook.”
Luke 15:17-19. The Prodigal Son.—This young man was like a good many young men of our own time and all times. He thought himself too wise to be longer guided by his father; he thought himself too strong to be longer governed at home. So he went away from home. When he loses his money, he loses his friends; for friends that are bought with money disappear when the money disappears. He had never learned a trade; he had never acquired the art of honest industry; he had never acquired the simple ability to give the community enough to make it worth while for the community to give him enough to live on. I think he must have acquired one virtue—patience—or he could not have taken care of swine. Perhaps he acquired honesty also, and would not even take the husks without permission. When he came to himself, he said, “What a fool I have been! Here I am, cold, houseless, friendless, starving, and in my father’s house the servants have enough, and more than enough. I will go back, and apply for a position as servant in my father’s household.” What I want you to see is that this whole course of this young man separating himself from his father was a course of folly, and the return to his father was a return to wisdom. It was when he came to himself that he said, “I will arise and go to my father.” Sin is madness. To say of a man that he is shrewd, but wicked, is a lie. No shrewd man is wicked; no wicked man is shrewd. Sin is short-sighted. To begin with, the man who disregards God’s laws is a foolish man. In one realm we all recognise that. No man would call a man wise who disregarded the laws of nature. We all understand that natural laws do operate, and no man can say, “I will act as though natural laws do not operate.” But when we get the natural laws that come closest to us, then we are more doubtful. Sanitary laws—those we think we can disregard. We cannot violate the law of gravitation, but we can violate the laws of health, and that will not hurt much! O fools and blind! The laws of God are immutable, eternal, unchanging; no man can disregard them. Has not science taught us even so much as that? And yet the world is full of men who disregard the moral laws. If the policeman tells us to halt, most of us are wise enough to halt; we do not attempt to brush him aside. But when God says, “Halt!” when God comes to a man who is going in the course that he knows is leading down to hell, and thinks he can turn around and go up-hill again, and God says in his conscience, “Stop! you are going in the wrong direction!” he brushes God aside and goes on. “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” But there are greater fools than he. There is the fool who says, “There is a God; but I am going to live as though there was not any; and there are thousands of them—tens of thousands of them.” But God is more than a Law-giver; he is a Life-giver; and when a man tries to live without God, he is trying to live without the source and reservoir of life. No man knows what life is. Science traces back phenomena to their origin; but when it gets to this question—What is life? no man can answer. Once, when a boy, starting at a brook that flowed through my grandfather’s place, I followed it up for miles and miles, until at last I came to its source, the little springs in the hills, and the little baby rivulets that, flowing together, formed the beginning of that brook. But the water in the hill that gave forth the springs was hidden from sight. I had gone as far as I could when I got to the original springs; but what lay behind the springs, the reservoir in the hill—that I could not see. So we have followed life back to its source, traced the life of man through the various forms of science back to the original germ, the very beginning; but there we are stopped. Where does this spring, this baby rivulet, come from, which, growing larger and larger, makes this stream of wondrous life, with all the diversified phenomena, in one nation? It is God. God is life, and all phenomena are the manifestation and the revelation of the Divine life that lives and moves in every living thing. Man can make almost everything but life; that he cannot make. All vital phenomena are the forth-putting of life—that is, the forth-putting of God Himself; and when a man undertakes to live without God, do you know what he is doing? He is trying to live without life. There is just so much God in you as there is life in you. If you have some little intellect, that intellect is of God; if you have some little affection, that affection is of God; if you have some little honesty, that honesty is of God. And if you come up to this point, and stop and say, “I will have no more of God,” you are saying, “I will have no more of life.” That is what the wise Hebrew prophet meant, “Whoso findeth Me, findeth life; whoever sinneth against Me, wrongeth his own life. And they that hate Me love death.” Oh, to live in this world that is all full of God, with God knocking at every door, God knocking at the heart, the brain, the eye, the ear, God knocking at every avenue of sense, every avenue of a man’s being, and then to say, “I will live without Him”! But how many there are that are doing it! All the desires that are in men, all their eager quest for wealth, all their strenuous pushing for power, all their outreachings for knowledge, all their aspirations and dreams of love and hope, all their desires to be in any respect greater than they are to-day, are the hungerings of a child after its father. The Law-giver and Life-giver, He is also the Love-giver. We have not sounded the depths of the meaning of the simple text, “God is love.” It is the very nature of the Divine to pour Himself out. He is not like Brahm—absorbed, silent, abstracted; He is for ever pouring Himself forth for the sake of others. He did not wake up one morning six thousand years ago, and say, “Go to, I will make a world.” No, no; He has always been living; the whole universe is full of the Fatherhood of God; the universe is infinite as God is infinite, and love is infinite as God is infinite; and it is the nature of God to be for ever pouring Himself out that others may share His life, that others may be created to be life-bearers, living souls. God is love. Then you may turn it about—Love is God. And all the forms of love that life makes us familiar with are utterances of God. And God is perpetually trying to tell us who He is and what He is, not merely through the broken utterances of preachers, scribes, and prophets, but through the eloquent voices of life. The babe looks up into its mother’s eyes, and says to the mother, “God is love.” The little boy nestles up to the mother’s breast, and falls asleep in her arms, and, filled by the love surging through her, is saying to her, “God is love.” The young man goes away from home, and in his home-sickness writes back to mother with the thirstings and the hungerings of love; and the thirstings, and the hungerings, and the home-sickness, are saying to him, “God is love.” To live as though there were no Law-giver, to live as though there were no Life-giver, to live as though there were no Love-giver, is also to live as though there were no Hope-giver. Do you know how full this nineteenth century is of despair? And do you know that all pessimism is atheistic, and all atheism is pessimistic? Man may have a certain measure of virtue without God; he may stand in the trenches, and fight bravely, and be willing to die, borne through the peril and the storm by his mere fatalism or his mere human courage, as a trained horse may stand in the battle till he is shot down. But no intelligent man can keep alive his hopes unless he keeps alive his faith in God. To be without God is to be without hope in the world. And the philosophy of Schopenhauer and Hartmann, and the gloom in Amiel and Allard, all bear the same witness: to be without God, without the sense of God, the knowledge of God, the faith in God, the assurance of God, is to be without hope. And, on the other hand, to be with Him is to be sure of hope, sure of the future. I am not certain what I can do. Are you certain what you can do? I am not certain what all good men put together can do. Are you certain what they can do? But I do know what God can do. God has undertaken to make out of this human race a family of children like Himself, bearing His image, loving Him with His love, and returning His life back to Him, and receiving it from Him again. I know that He who has undertaken to do this will do it. The earth, which feels the brooding spring, does so because it is turning its face to the sun. It could not feel the brooding spring if there were no sun; and humanity, when it feels within itself the brooding of hope, the beginning of that nearer and larger and better life which it anticipates, turns its face toward God, and takes this life and light from Him. You are not living without God, and cannot. When you get rid entirely of God, you will get rid entirely of life. When a man comes to himself, he turn his face toward God. It is so simple: first, to see in God the Law-giver, and obey your conscience, whatever it tells you to do or be; for it is God’s voice. Next, to see that life is ever larger and wider, and still larger and wider, and that it is from the God that is about you and would be within you. Then, to hear in all love-songs and love-voices the voice of God speaking to you, and to find God in every voice of love in all the world. And so, with your face toward God and your heart full of hope, to rejoice, as the strong man to run a race, because God is in you. For all that is noble, all that is worth having, all that is worth being, is God in you; and all you need to do is to open your eyes to see Him, and your ears to hear Him, and your hearts to take Him in, that your life may be His life.—Abbott.
Luke 15:11-32. The Prodigal and His Brother.—Most readers must sometimes have wished that this parable had closed with Luke 15:24, and left us rejoicing in the joy of the father over his regained and penitent son. The second part of the parable seems to jar with the first. The “elder brother” is a mere discord in its music and robs it of its natural and happy close. The oldest interpretation (naturally suggested by Luke 15:1-2) sees in the younger son a type of the publicans and sinners, and in his elder brother a type of the scribes and Pharisees. But this interpretation is not wide enough. We feel that our Lord is dealing, not with men, but with man; not with classes or nationalities, but with the entire race: and hence we demand an interpretation of His words that shall cover all classes and include the whole family of man. If the earliest interpreter saw in the younger son a type of the publicans, why may we not see in the publicans a type of all sinful but penitent men of every race? If they saw in the elder brother a type of the Pharisees, why may we not see in the Pharisees a type of all who trust in themselves that they are righteous, and despise others? Nay, more; if we can each find in ourselves that which identifies us with the prodigal but penitent son, may we not also each of us find in ourselves some traces of his narrow and self-righteous and unloving brother? This gives us an interpretation in which we can rest. Our Lord spoke to the publicans and the Pharisees, and in speaking to them He showed every man the publican and the Pharisee in his own breast. The great aim of His ministry was to convince men that they were the sons of God, and to impart to them a filial spirit. If we were set to define a good son, on what more essential points could we fix than these?
1. That his father’s service was his delight.
2. That on the mere prompting of love he at all times kept his father’s commandments.
3. That under all changes and temptations to distrust, he confided in his father’s wisdom and care. In all these characteristics of sonship the Prodigal was for a time frankly and glaringly deficient. So far from affectionately depending on his father’s bounty and love, he claimed what he called “his own portion of goods,” that he might expend it as he would. So far from rendering his father a free and willing obedience, he felt that he should never be free until he had escaped from his father’s control. So far from taking a delight in service, and finding no place so dear as home, and no society so congenial as that of the inmates of his home, he was persuaded that he should never taste real pleasure till he could break away from the restraints of his father’s service and follow the impulses of his own will. Here, then, we have the open and jovial sinner depicted to the very life. But is the elder son in any way a better son? Does he show a more filial spirit? Not a whit. Loving dependence, free obedience, glad and disinterested service, are the distinctive marks of sonship. He has not one of these. On his own showing, he is a servant rather than a son; his father is much more a master to him than a father. He dislikes the restraints to which he has submitted at least as much as the Prodigal who would not submit to them. His obedience is not free, but servile. He has been serving for wages, for reward, and he complains that his wages have been calculated on far too low a scale—that he has earned far more than he has received. Obviously, then, the elder son was as far away from his father’s heart and spirit as the younger son had been from his father’s home, and had sunk into a bondage from which it was still harder to redeem him. We must remember that in this parable we have the story of two prodigals, rather than of one; of two men, that is, who wandered away from God—who lost their standing as sons by losing the spirit of sons; and that the self-righteous censor of his brother, the cold and insolent critic of his father, although he had never left his house, had strayed even farther from God than the reckless Prodigal who, under all his sins and sinful impulses, had a son’s heart in him, and was at last drawn back by it to his father’s arms. The parable teaches that those who esteem themselves saints, because they busy themselves with religious dogmas and rules, may be made of harder and more impenetrable stuff than the transgressors whom they eye with sour suspicion and disdain. But it teaches us a lesson still more surprising than this. It teaches us that, let men be as bad as they may, and whether they show a wild, wilful, and wanton spirit, or a cautious, selfish, and mercenary spirit, or whether they are the slaves of impulse or of conventionalism, God is always a good Father to them all. The truth is that we may each of us only too easily find both these men in himself, and therefore God’s grace to the one should be as welcome and pathetic as His grace to the other. As there is some hope that even the Pharisee may become a penitent, so there is much danger that even the penitent may become a Pharisee—that when he is “converted” he may become as narrow, and hard, and bigoted as ever his brother was, and sit in judgment and condemn those who were “in Christ” long before he was, and who have done far more to serve Him. We may well rejoice, therefore, that our Father in heaven is good to both—that when we return to Him, He has compassion on us; and that, even when we are angry with Him, and will not go in, He is not angry with us, but comes out and entreats us, re-kindling a filial and fraternal spirit in us by His fatherly generosity and love.—Cox.
Luke 15:18. Going to the Father.—It is only necessary to remind you very briefly of the story of the Prodigal Son, from which this sentence is taken: how this younger son had grown weary of the restraints and the companionships at home; how he had demanded that the father should divide the estate while the father was still living; how the father had consented; how, a little while after that, the boy, still dissatisfied, had taken all and gone off into a far country. How long it took this prodigal son to come to himself, how long it took him to decide that he was foolish, and to make the resolve to arise and go back to his father, we do not know. But we know how the modern prodigal does; how long he cogitates; how many hindrances stand in his way. He has lived his worldly life, and at length grows dissatisfied, and begins to think that he will seek for satisfaction somewhere else. And first there comes to him a citizen of the far country, who says, “You are mistaken; you do not need to go outside this far country. It is true you have been a failure; you have lived with harlots; but you do not need to do that. There are very reputable women living in this country, there are very excellent men in this country; be temperate, be honest, be industrious; the carob-pods are not bad eating if you know how to cook them. And if you are frugal and honest—but not too honest—you may come in time to own herds of swine—yes, and employ a swineherd—who knows? You do not need religion; all you need is to be a reformed and reputable citizen of this far country.” Still he is not satisfied; still he thinks he will go and find this Father of his. Then Philosophy comes to him, clad in academic robes and with its book in hand. “My friend,” it says, “you are mistaken; there is not any Father, and there is not any home; your notion that once you were with your Father and at home is a dream; I have been on the highest hill hereabout, and I have swept the whole horizon, from north to south, and from east to west, with my spy-glass, and I cannot see any Father’s home nor any Father. It is true this far country is a poor one; nevertheless, there is nothing better; certainly you and I do not know of anything better. Do not waste your time in going after a Father who, for aught you know, has no existence.” Still this young man is not satisfied. He looks about for some wiser and better counsellor. And then the dogmatist comes, holding a Creed in one hand and a Bible in the other; and the dogmatist says, “These men are all wrong; this far country cannot satisfy you; carob-pods are poor eating; you do need a Father, and there is a Father; but you are mistaken in thinking you can find Him now; He is afar off, and you are in a far country, and you must wait until you die before you can see your Father. But I have a splendid definition of Him; it describes all His attributes, and gives a full account of His government: take that. Or, if you are not satisfied with that, here is a book which tells about Him; for He was once in this far country, and lived here with certain of His children, and this book tells what His children knew about Him: either take what His children have said He says, or take our definition. That is the very best you can do.” Still he is not satisfied, and he turns to find another counsellor at his side, clad in a long white robe, and with the cross upon his breast. This counsellor says, “They are all mistaken; the citizen of this country is mistaken—the world will never satisfy you; the agnostic is mistaken—there is a Father; the dogmatist is mistaken—you do not have to wait until you die. But still the Father is not here. You are in a far country, and you cannot get away from the confines of it; but the Father has sent the Church here to take His place; the Church is the vicegerent of the Father, the representative of the Father; the Church will tell you more or less infallibly what you ought to know, and more or less infallibly what you ought to do; the Church will hear the confession of your sins and will pronounce absolution, and so take from you the burden of your sins. Give up the idea that you can see your Father here, and take a Church.” Those are the four counsellors that stand at the side of every man who is wondering whether he can arise and go to his Father. Over against them all—citizen of the world, agnostic philosopher, dogmatist, ecclesiastic—I want to put before you the simple truth that you can go to your Father here and now. In the first place, it is certain that the far country will not satisfy you. It has never satisfied. You are immortal, and this world is transient. Suppose you do succeed—suppose you get all you desire. You are fond of study, and you get books and opportunity to study; you are fond of influence, and you get that; you are fond of the power that money gives you, and you get money and the power that money gives. What then? In ten, twenty, thirty, forty, or fifty years, the ship that never failed to touch at every door will touch at yours, and you will go on board and will leave your books, and your bonds, and your stocks, and your influence, all behind. You cannot take them with you What then? You are spiritual, and this world is earthly and terrestrial; how can you expect it will feed you? If a man is hungry, and you show him a picture, will a picture satisfy his stomach? How can you expect things will satisfy the hunger for reverence, for hope, for love—in one word, for God? You are more than a machine, more than an animal. The man who says to you, “Be honest, be true, be pure, be good, leave the harlots alone, lead an honest and temperate life and you will succeed,” gives you wise counsel; but if he tells you that that is enough, he is telling you a lie. Then there is that other counsellor, the agnostic. He tells you that there is no Father and there is no home—at all events, no Father and no home than we can know about. I affirm, on the contrary, that we can and do know the invisible and spiritual, directly and immediately. You have eyes to see the outward thing and you have ears to hear the outward voice, you have senses that deal with this world in which you live; use them, use them carefully, follow them whithersoever they lead, but do not think that you have no other sense and no other knowledge than that. You have also a power of vision that deals with the infinite and the eternal; you have in you an eye that can see the invisible, and an ear that can hear the inaudible. God is not a dream; the home is not a vision; and God and the home are not mere pictures which poets have painted out of their imagination; they are the reality which men of Divine vision have seen and presented to men of duller sight. The dogmatist comes to you with his Bible and his Creed, and he tells you that you cannot hope to see and know God here and now: meanwhile, take what the Creed and the Bible tell you. What do the Creed and Bible tell you? This: that God is a living God; that God is in the hearts of His children, inspiring them, talking with them. If to-day any man in the Church should say, “God does not hear prayer,” orthodox theology would condemn him. But the Bible does not more distinctly reveal the truth that God hears prayer than it does the truth that God speaks to man. It is imagined that this Bible remains to show that God was once upon the earth, though He has gone now; He did inspire Isaiah, but He inspires no one to-day; He did speak to prophets, but He speaks to no one now. No: God was in His world: God is in His world. If any man holds up the Creed, therefore, to you and says, “Take a definition of God, instead of God,” he is offering you what is not bread. The Creed is a definition of God; if it will help you to find Him, take it. The Bible is a guide-book to God; if it will guide you to Him, take it. But take it that it may guide you to Him; never take it in the place of Him. Enoch walks the world to-day, and God is with Him. I call you to God—not to a Creed, not to a book. And, finally, the ecclesiastic stands by your side; offers a Church—a Church as God’s representative in the world. Of course, I do not object to the Church, or I should not be a member of it. What I do object to is the statement that the Church is the representative of God in the world, as though God were not here Himself. If the Church has not God in the heart of it, the Church is nothing; it is a mere ethical institution. The very message, the very ministry, the very function of the Church is to say to the world, not, “We are a representative of God, we personate God,” but “We are the witness to a God who is in the heart of His children here and now.” So I call you to arise and go to your Father. I call the little children to go to their Father. They cannot understand the Creed; they need not. They cannot comprehend the Bible; they need not. They cannot comprehend theology; they need not. But a little child, better than most older people, can understand that God is in conscience and in love—in father-love and mother-love. I call you, young men, to arise and go to your Father. We should be glad to have you flocking into our church, but I do not call you to the Church; I wish I could meet you in the Sunday-school, studying the Bible, but I am not calling you to the Bible. I call on you to arise and go to your Father, and I declare to you that there is in you a power of vision, and that you can see Him face to face. Fathers and mothers, I call on you to go to your Father. How can you take this little child who is put into your hands and train Him for this life and beyond, unless you have a better, a wiser Friend than the minister or the school teacher? Old men that draw near to the confines of eternity, come, come to your Father. If the book will help you, take the book; if the Creed will help you, take the Creed; if the Church will help you, take the Church; but do not stop content with any one of them. Do not wait for death—God is here; do not think to look back across the centuries for Him; He who was there is here. “The far country,” says Augustine, “is forgetfulness of God.” You have come out of the far country when you have turned your thought, your inspiration, your love, to your Father, and forget Him no more.—L. Abbott.
Luke 15:18-19. Not Worthy to be called God’s Son.—The estimate which we have of ourselves depends upon the standard with which we compare ourselves. This man had formed a different measure of himself in his previous experience, because his standard had been different. He had thought himself a good fellow, and all his companions assured him that he was a good fellow. Liberal, generous-handed, flinging money right and left—measured by the harlots and drunkards, he was a good fellow. The judgment was not strong, so measured. When he ceased spending his money riotously, and had come to settle down to something like industry, and measured himself with the swineherds that were about him, he thought himself perhaps better than the average. Very likely he was. He was of a good family, and they very possibly looked up to him. Measuring himself by the swineherds with whom he was living, he was superior. But when he turned his thoughts backward, and compared himself with the father whose home he had abandoned, then he said, “I am no more worthy to be called thy son.” It was a new standard that he had adopted, and therefore a new judgment that he reached. This is the question I want to put before you: Are you worthy to be called God’s son? Lawyer—you are worthy to be called good lawyer; merchant—worthy to be called good merchant; friend—worthy to be called good friend;—all of it true. But now take this other standard: God’s son—are you worthy to be called God’s son? What does this phrase, “God’s son,” mean? How shall we apply the measurement? We will look across the centuries, and gaze for a few moments at the portrait of One who was called God’s Son; we will try to think how He lived, under what impulses, under what guidance, with what deeds; and then we will lay our lives alongside His life and ask ourselves, Are we worthy to be called God’s son? Eighteen centuries ago, then, this Man was born in the province of Rome. Man, you say? do you call Him Man? Yes, I call Him Man. Like ordinary men? Ah, that is just the question I want you to answer. I want you to put yourself beside Him, and see whether ordinary men are like this Man. But He was Man and Son of God, and we are men and sons of God. Are we worthy to be called sons of God? This is the very question. This Man comes out into life at thirty years of age with His purpose fully set. How He had formed it we do not know. He appears as unexpectedly and as surprisingly as Elijah in the Old-Testament and John the Baptist in the New-Testament time; but when He appears His purpose is fully set, His life is consecrated to one great, resplendent idea—to bring about the kingdom of God in the world—and from that purpose He never turned aside. With this consecrated, settled, resolute purpose went a great, inspiring, ardent, consuming love. I hardly know how we can apply the word “self-sacrifice” to Christ. There was no self to be sacrificed. He lived as a man that did not think of Himself. So ardent was He in His work that He went without His meals, and forgot to be hungry. How easily He puts aside the ordinary things for which we live, we all know, but other and subtler appeals also spoke to unheeding ears. The poet and the prophet long at times for solitude. Who has not sung to himself the psalmist’s song, “Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest!” And we may be sure that all the triumph of apparent popularity, and the jostling crowds, were more odious to Him than to any poet or prophet that ever walked the earth. The subtle temptations to the life of a recluse, the life of simple prayer and meditation, He put behind Him, as the grosser temptations that appeal to grosser men. The lark flies from the earth, and carries its song heavenward; but this Singer flew down to earth and went into the cage that He might sing to men who were encaged. Where pain, and gloom, and suffering, and sin were, there this Singer carried His song and His prayer. Sometimes, on the other hand, the poet and the prophet long for companionship. He grows utterly lonely; he wants some one to walk beside, some one at least that will understand him and commune with him. And so did this Man. And He gathered twelve about Him; the best He could find, nearest to Him in spirit and in purpose—and yet how far away! They could not understand Him. They could not understand Him, because they were not free from selfishness. When they sat about the Last Supper, they quarrelled for precedence. These were the men he had to depend on; these the very best; and yet how He lived for them, and loved them—through their misunderstandings, their narrownesses, their quarrels, their desertions, their denials! And yet this love of His was not a Puritan’s love. It was love, not conscience. He did not do the things of which He might have said, “I ought to do”; He did all the things that all the impulses of His nature moved Him to do; for all those impulses were to love and service. And so His heart was full of sympathy for men. Though they could not touch Him, yet He could touch them. He is walking the highway; the crowds are about Him; in the distance is heard the cry, “Room for the leper! room for the leper!” It was not enough to say, “Be well?”—He touched Him.
This love was shown in nothing so much, I think, as in His wrath. He could be angry—and He was at times. And when He was angry, how the men were afraid of Him! When He stood in the Temple courts, surrounded by the Pharisees, and launched out indignant denunciation against those that made long prayers for a pretence and devoured widows’ houses, He faced a crowd of angry men, but they dared not touch Him; there was a flashing in His eye, and a thunder in His voice, that held them back. With all this love, with all this sympathy, with all this loneliness at times, there was a wonderful purity. Perhaps you will think me irreverent, or, at least, unorthodox, if I say it—sometimes it seems to me that Paul understood human nature better than Jesus Christ did. Paul understood how the spirit and the flesh battle against each other. Paul understood how the animal is pulling the spirit down, and the spirit, shackled and bound, cannot emancipate itself. It was Paul who wrote, “For what I would, that I do not; but what I hate, that I do”; and Paul who wrote, “Wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of death?” But Christ says, “The prince of the world cometh, and hath nothing in Me.” With all this love, with all this purity, with all this service went a wonderful hopefulness. Jesus of Nazareth was the Optimist of the centuries. Coming forth at the time when the world was at it lowest moral ebb, when there had been no prophet in Palestine for centuries, when there was nothing but corruption, when there was no virtue and no true civilisation even in Rome, when literature there was well-nigh dead and moral life had died, this Man rang out His clarion note from pulpit to pulpit, and from valley to valley, and from hillside to hillside, “The kingdom of God is at hand!” And, inspiring all, the source of all this, He walked with God. “The words that I speak to you, I speak not of Myself; the Father doeth the works.” And He so walked with God that in His hours of loneliness He found in God His companionship, in God His Rest and His Refuge. Take this life and put it alongside your life, and then answer the question, “Am I worthy to be called my Father’s son?” In the coming days let this Presence go with you. If sometimes your will grows weak, let His strong Manhood nerve you to a better consecration; if sometimes the world, with its subtle temptations, comes in upon you, let His unselfish service drive out the motives that belong only to the far country; if sometimes you are discouraged and in despair, let His smile rest upon you and His strong words say to you, “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world”; if sometimes you look on another’s wrong with unblushing cheek, catch the tones of His voice, and let there be thunder in your heart against others’ iniquity; if sometimes the wrong upon yourself brings the blush of anger to your cheek, look on Him who looked on Peter with forgiving eyes, and be ashamed that your selfishness is angry, and not your love. Am I worthy to be called God’s son? What are you doing? You are trying to make bread out of stone—good bread, doubtless, for yourself, for your children perhaps, and for others; but this is not Christ’s work. And you—you are tempted to fly from the top of some great pinnacle and let all the world look on and clap and say, “Wonderful man he is!” This is not God’s work. And you—you are trying to do God’s work in the world, but the devil has stayed at your side and said, “Promise to follow me, and I will show you a better way to purify politics, cleanse the Church, set society right.” This also is not the work of God’s son. To be God’s son, it is at least this: To have a life wholly consecrated to God’s service; to have a heart wholly full of His unselfishness and self-forgetting love. Are you worthy to be called God’s son?—Ibid.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luke 15:11-32
Luke 15:11-32. The Two Brothers.—The point of this parable, as of the two preceding, is God’s joyful welcome to a returning sinner, in contrast with the angry jealousy of the Pharisees. That is the lesson of the story, and hence it is essentially a repetition of the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin.
I. But the conduct of the Pharisees, implied before, is now plainly held up to view.—For the elder son represents the Pharisee, and no one else. All other applications are beside the mark. The two verses which open the chapter vindicate this as the only correct interpretation. And so the elder son’s conduct is no episode, but an essential part of the parable, the statement, in fact, of what is half the lesson of all three parables. If it is objected that Christ could not speak of the unloving and unlovely Pharisees in the words “Son, thou art ever with me,” the answer is ready. Here, as often, Christ simply takes him at his own estimate for the moment, shows him thereby how unlovely he really is, and so makes manifest in the only possible way his need of repentance and restoration.
II. The younger son is the “publican and sinner,” the openly irreligious everywhere. His sin is not denied or palliated. It is drawn in imperishable colours. But Christ had a gospel for such. The Pharisees had none. They did not think God could forgive such. Not so, says Jesus, God goes after the lost, seeks diligently, welcomes back with great and generous joy.—Hastings.
Two Types of Sinners, and God’s Love for Them.
I. The outcast but penitent sinner.—
1. His home privileges.
2. His selfish and wicked life.
3. His misery and unrest.
4. His penitence.
II. How the father dealt with him.—
1. Readiness to receive.
2. Free and complete forgiveness.
3. Restoration to sonship and privileges.
III. The self-righteous and proud sinner.—1 Equally unworthy with his brother, for he was boastful, unbrotherly, unfilial—a picture of the Pharisees, and of the self-righteous generally.
IV. How the father dealt with him.—
1. Loving and gentle entreaty. No rebuke.
2. Still recognises him as a Song of Song of Solomon 3:0. Still offers him all the undeserved privileges of sonship.
V. Which of the two do we most resemble?—Taylor.
The Revelation of the Father.—The locus classicus for Christ’s teaching as to the revelation of the Father, the belief of which tends to make men become citizens of the kingdom, is the fifteenth chapter of Luke, and especially the parable of the Prodigal Son. There God appears as One who takes pleasure in the repentance of sinners, such as the reprobates of Jewish society, because in these penitents He sees prodigal children returning to their Father’s house. By these parabolic utterances Jesus said to all, however far from righteousness, God loves you as His children, no more worthy to be called sons, yet regarded as such; He deplores your departure from Him, and desires your return; and He will receive you graciously, when, taught wisdom by misery, you direct your footsteps homewards. It is not allegorising exegesis to take this meaning out of the parable. Jesus was on His defence for loving classes of men despised or despaired of, and His defence in part consisted in this, that His bearing toward the outcasts was that of the Divine Being. He loved them as a Brother; God loved them as a Father.—Bruce.
The Lost One’s Return.—Some have called this parable a gospel within a gospel. It is full of tender and loving teaching.
I. The son at home.
II. The son far from home.
III. The son at home again.—Watson.
The Lost Son.—
I. The son glad to leave home.—
1. The choice.
2. The parting.
3. The absence.
II. The son glad to return home.—
1. Thoughts of home.
2. The home ward journey.
3. The happy meeting.
III. The lessons of the story.—How like the ingratitude of many is the younger son’s conduct! How bitter the fruits of selfishness! How tender the Divine forgiveness!—Taylor.
A Parable of Two Sons.—
I. There are two ways in which people fall from their right attitude to God.—
1. Some men ignore God, or choose to forget Him.
2. Others dread God too much to revolt from Him, and do what they can to earn the Divine favour. The two varieties run down to the same identical root. In the one case you are an alien, in the other a slave; in neither a child. Both are proud and selfish. Neither is loving.
II. The methods by which our Father is for ever seeking to bring us into a childlike relation to Himself.—
1. Of God’s way with the prodigal.
2. With the legalist.—Dykes.
The Condition of Humanity.—Man, viewed as the object of the Saviour’s solicitude, is lost
(1) as a straying sheep is lost, through thoughtlessness;
(2) as a piece of money is lost to use, when its owner cannot find it;
(3) as a prodigal is lost, who in waywardness and self-will departs from his father’s house to a distant land, and there lives a life utterly diverse from that of the home he has left, and so living has no correspondence with his family, but is content to be as dead to them, and that they, in return, should be as dead to him. Such were the thoughts of Jesus concerning man when He described him as “lost.”—Bruce.
I. The Prodigal Son: his
II. The loving father:
1. His long waiting for his Song of Song of Solomon 2:0. The fervency and rapture of his joy on receiving him.
III. The relentless elder brother:
1. His moral correctness.
2. His severity and pride.
The Parable tells us—
I. Of man’s original estate, as a child in his father’s house, happy, and wanting nothing.
II. Of the misery that waits on sin, especially heavy in the cases of those who go to great excess in evil.
III. Of the true way in which to return to God.
IV. Of the Divine compassion that hastens to welcome the penitent.
V. Of the envy which some, even of God’s children, manifest at such great kindness being spent on such as have been grossly sinful.
VI. Of God’s forbearance towards our infirmities and unbecoming feelings.
I. The Prodigal’s departure.
II. His return.
III. The reception he meets with.
IV. The character and conduct of the elder brother.
Luke 15:11-24. The Prodigal.
I. His departure.—Multitudes tread this path. The way to death is thronged. The “seven devils” that hold the reins, and direct the course, urge myriads of “younger sons” to their ruin. Yet there is hope. There are two pieces of good news for every prodigal:
1. God is angry with you, not pleased. His anger is against your departing. Were He pleased when you go away, you could not expect Him to be pleased when you come back.
2. Christ Himself, by His word in this parable, makes a path for the prodigal’s return. Why did He paint this picture? To leave open a way from the “far country “to the Father’s home and bosom.
II. His return.—“He came to himself.” This suggestive word marks the turning-point. His conduct had been madness as well as sin. He makes self-discovery, and resolves to return. Worthless though he is, the father gladly receives the penitent prodigal. It is the history of one actual case. A story made by Christ, and so made as to serve a purpose. The purpose is to show how He receives even the chief of sinners. No conceivable degree of provocation closes His heart against him that cometh.—Arnot.
The Lost Son.—There is, perhaps, no page in the Bible which comes home so perfectly to the understanding of every human being as this. But, human as the story is, the parable is truly Divine. There are two distinct pictures, or compartments rather, in the one composition.
I. The prodigal’s progress.—Apostasy, profligacy, penalty. The picture is not overdrawn.
II. The penitent’s return and reception.—Reflection, resolution, return and reception, confession, restoration, rejoicing. Man’s redemption is a momentous event in the annals of God. He alone perfectly understands it, and most of all rejoices over it, for to Him our nature belongs, and He alone knows what it is worth. Other beings, however, including men themselves, are called to rejoice along with God in this. The mark of their nearness to God in spirit will be the degree in which they are taken up about human salvation—are concerned for it, and delight in its accomplishment.—Laidlaw.
Five Phases of Religious Experience.—Five scenes which correspond to the phases of religious experience through which the Prodigal Son passes:
1. Departure from home (Luke 15:1-13)—his sin.
2. His miserable plight (Luke 15:14-16)—his punishment.
3. His regrets (Luke 15:17-19)—his repentance.
4. His return (Luke 15:20-21)—his conversion.
5. His restoration to his place as a son and to his father’s favour (Luke 15:22-24)—his justification.
Luke 15:11. Grace and Faith.—In spite of the admirable manner in which Jesus had employed the two former figures, since they are borrowed from the world of nature, they do not fully serve His purpose. They do, indeed, to some extent, describe the feelings towards the sinner which fill the heart of God, but they do not set forth the part which the sinner himself plays in the drama of conversion. He needs to find a figure, borrowed from the moral sphere, and consequently from human life. Grace is represented in the first and second parables, grace and faith in the third (cf. Ephesians 2:8).—Godet.
A Definite Revelation of God’s Thoughts towards Us.—Jesus here drops the interrogative form which introduces the two preceding parables. He no longer appeals to his hearers to say what a shepherd, and what a woman, in the circumstances supposed, would probably do. He now reveals in definite terms the thoughts of God towards our sinful race.
Luke 15:11-12. Dissatisfaction.
I. Dissatisfaction implied in the demand of the son:
1. The cause of dissatisfaction, impatience of restraint.
2. The expression of dissatisfaction.
3. The guilt of dissatisfaction.
II. The effect shown, in the act of the father.
1. This act gives no sanction to the son’s demand as right.
2. This act allows freedom to a sinner to follow his own choice.
3. This act confers powers which might be used for spiritual profit.—Ritchie.
Luke 15:11-13. The Soul and its Sin.
I. Whence the soul’s sin springs—out of a desire for bad freedom.
II. Where sin places the soul.
III. That to which sin dooms—waste, shipwreck.
Luke 15:12. The Arrogant Claim.
I. The younger son comes to his father to demand his portion.
II. He lays claim to his portion as a debt, which he thinks his father owes him.
“The younger.”—It is scarcely by accident that the younger son is chosen to play the part of the prodigal. For it is for the young—to those who are innocent and unsuspicious, to those whose hearts are light, and who have had but little experience of the world’s ways—that the world’s temptations have the greatest charm, who are most likely to long for freedom, and least capable of avoiding the dangers it brings.
“Give me.”—Over against the Prodigal’s demand, “Give me my portion of goods,” is the children’s cry, “Give us day by day our daily bread”; they therein declaring that they wait upon God, and would fain be nourished from day to day by His hand.—Trench.
Weary of Home, Anxious to See the World.—Two things urge the younger son to make this request:
1. He is wearied of his father’s house.
2. The world abroad attracts him. So is it with the sinner. He desires to escape from the restraints of holiness and to be at liberty to please himself.
Experience Alone Can Cure.—The father sees that the moment has come in which the son can only be cured by experience, and he gives him up to his own will. This is the point to which the heathen had arrived at the epoch of judgment described by St. Paul (Romans 1:24-28)—that of “being given up to their own lusts.” A time comes when God ceases to strive against the inclinations of a perverse heart and lets it have its own way.—Godet.
I. Preparation for leaving his early home.—
1. The time of preparation.
2. The act of preparation.
II. Departure into a far country.—
1. The leaving his father’s house.
2. The journey into a far country.
III. Wasting his substance with riotous living.—
1. The substance wasted.
2. The substance wasted with riotous living.—Ritchie.
I. To sin is to depart from God.—The explanation of this action is:
1. Alienation of heart.
2. The allurements of evil.
3. The weakness of the nature.
4. The illusions of Satan.
II. All sinners that are carried away with the love of sin do actually leave God and depart.—
1. They do not know what is to be found in God.
2. They are at enmity with Him.
3. They are averse to His laws and government.
III. They go into a far country.—
1. This Prodigal set off immediately, as soon as he received his portion.
2. His father’s bountifulness did not render him dutiful.
3. The distance to which he wandered was not so much of place as of state.
4. All who are now the children of grace, and on the way to heaven, were once wanderers like him.—Jones.
“Not many days.”—For a little, therefore, he lingers in his father’s house after he has formed the resolution to depart and has liberty to do so. And so in the case of the sinner, apostasy of heart often precedes apostasy of life. It is by degrees, perhaps almost imperceptible at first, that he enters on the downward course. It begins in feeling before it manifests itself in action.
“A far country.”—An image of the sinner’s deep apostasy from God.
“Wasted.”—Lit. “scattered.” As lightly, swiftly, as “all had been gathered together” is all dissipated again.
The Riotous Spendthrift.
I. All sinners, when they have departed from God, are spendthrifts and great wasters.
1. All receive their portion of goods.
2. Unregenerate sinners consume these on their own lusts, the faculties of body and soul, and their earthly treasures.
II. They waste what they have received in riotous living.
1. They have cast off the government of God
2. They trample on His holy laws.
3. They put themselves under the government of the great adversary of God and man.—Jones.
I. His want, through famine in the land.—
1. The mighty famine in the land.
2. His want in the famine.
II. His work with a citizen of that country.—
1. His joining himself to a citizen.
2. His work with the citizen.
III. His wish for the husks, to relieve his hunger.
1. The desire for husks.
2. The desire unfulfilled.—Ritchie.
Luke 15:14-15. Sources of Misery.—
1. Abundance exchanged for destitution.
2. Freedom for servitude. Two sources of misery: inward griefs, outward sorrows.
I. The heart itself consumed by loathing, remorse, loneliness, and despair.
II. Outward calamities, such as the famine here specified, against which the heart, deprived of the consolations of religion, strives in vain.
Luke 15:14. “A mighty famine.”—External circumstances hasten the consequences of sin, and are used by God to lead to repentance. Thus the father seeks his son by so ordering events that he shall feel his real condition. In like manner, in the history of the prophet Jonah, the great storm and danger upon the sea are used to lead him to repent of his disobedience.
The Grievous Famine.
I. All things under the sun quickly decay and disappear.
II. Alienation from God leads to poverty, misery, and suffering, and these are intended to drive sinners from the far country back to their Father.
III. This Prodigal’s destitution.
1. He was stripped of the means of self-gratification.
2. He is convinced of the emptiness and vanity of all things under the sun.
3. He wants something which he has not, but does not know what he wants.—Jones.
A Wasted Life.
The affecting lines of Byron well illustrate this experience of the prodigal:—
“My days are in the yellow leaf;
The flowers, the fruits of love are gone;
The worm, the canker, and the grief,
Are mine alone.
The fire that on my bosom preys
Is lone as some volcanic isle;
No torch is kindled at its blaze—
A funeral pile!”
Luke 15:15-16. The Willing Slave.
I. It is with the strongest reluctance that sinners leave this far country.
1. They believe nothing of what they hear of the country where they live.
2. They believe nothing of what they hear of the Redeemer’s kingdom.
3. The far country is suitable to their sinful inclinations.
4. They have a deep-rooted enmity against God and holiness.
II. Deep conviction of sin leads to fear, but many are still very unwilling to return to their Father’s house.
1. They enter the service of a hard master.
2. They are set to poor and mean employments.
3. Their only liberty is to choose in what fields they will work.
4. They try various means to satisfy their cravings, yet all in vain.—Jones.
Luke 15:15. “Citizen.”—Notwithstanding all the Prodigal’s folly and sin, he did not become a citizen of that far country. He felt himself, while there, an exile from home; and when his misery becomes intolerable he does not sink into apathy and despair, but his thoughts return to his father and his father’s house.
“Sent him into his fields.”—The world and every one of its citizens is a hard master, in whose services the most pitiable wages are given; yea, not even food to eat. Well for every prodigal who is constrained to realise this and does realise it.—Stier.
Luke 15:16. Degradation.—He who would not, as a son, be treated liberally by his father is compelled to be the servant and bondslave of a foreign master; he who would not be ruled by God is compelled to serve the devil; he who would not abide in his father’s royal palace is sent to the field among hinds; he who would not dwell among brethren and princes is obliged to be the servant and companion of brutes; he who would not feed on the bread of angels petitions in his hunger for the husks of the swine.—Corn, a Lapide.
“Would fain.”—Between carnal and spiritual pleasures there is usually this difference: the first, when we are without them, excite in us strong desires; but after their possession they cloy and dissatisfy. It is quite the contrary with spiritual pleasures. We have a distaste for them as long as we are without them; but possession produces the desire of them, and the more largely we partake of them the greater is our appetite and hunger.—S. Gregory.
The Swine Cared For the Swineherd Neglected.—The swine were valuable; they would fetch a good price in the time of famine. They were cared for, but the wretched swineherd was left to look after himself. This was his return for squandering his living upon pretended friends!
Luke 15:17-20. The Soul and its Repentance.
I. Repentance is kind and right-minded thought about one’s self.
II. Repentance is dissatisfaction and regret.
III. Repentance is confession of sin.
IV. Repentance is also humility.
V. Repentance is also resolution toward the Father.
VI. Repentance is the actual movement of the soul toward the Father.
1. Recognition of sin.
2. Sorrow for sin.
3. Forsaking of sin.
I. His restoration to himself.—
1. He came to an understanding of what is true.
2. He came to a conscience of what is right.
3. He came to an affection for what is good.
4. He came to a will for what is holy.
II. His review of his condition.—
1. He expresses a bitter sense of present misery.
2. He expresses a deep conviction of his past folly.
3. He expresses a grateful remembrance of his father’s bounty.
4. He confesses a fervent desire for the joys of his early home.
The Solemn Pause.
I. Till now he was in a state of moral madness.
II. But the Prodigal is now come to himself—i.e., to his right senses.
1. He never before gave himself the trouble of thinking.
2. Now he begins to think seriously.
III. Two subjects fill his whole soul.
1. The happiness of those who enjoy such abundance in his father’s house.
2. His own starving condition in a distant land.—Jones.
“Came to himself.”—Words of deepest significance, saying, as they do, that to come to one’s self and to come to God are one and the same thing; that when we truly find ourselves we find Him, or, rather, having found Him, find also ourselves; for it is not man in union with God, who is raised above the true condition of humanity, but man separated from God, who has fallen out of and below that condition.—Trench.
One Not in His Right Mind.—For one who could so act—forsake such a father and desert such a home, to incur nothing but misery, insult, and the pangs of hunger—can only be spoken of as one not in his right mind.—Burgon.
A Change of Feeling.—He began by despising his father’s house and by longing to escape from it. Now he looks with disgust upon the country for which he had exchanged it, and desires to return home. He chooses what he had left; he leaves what he had chosen.
“How many!”—Behold the sad catastrophe of rash and thoughtless voluptuousness. It turns the man out into a strange country who might have lived happy in his father’s house; it makes a beggar of one that was rich; it changes the condition of a son into that of a slave; it compels him to feed filthy swine who disdained the dutiful service of a gracious father.—P. Chrysologus.
I. An earnest resolution to arise.—
1. He resolves to exert a will for deliverance.
2. He resolves to put forth activity in the right direction.
3. He resolves to set out in a new course.
4. He resolves to go to an expected end.
II. A true repentance of sin.—
1. The confession of sin.
2. The aggravations of sin confessed.
3. The unworthiness to be called the son of such a father.
4. The request to be made as a hired servant.
The Preparatory Address.
I. The sinner must come and confess his sins unto God, or never find mercy.
II. How this confession must be made.
1. It must be a true confession.
2. It must be such as the occasion requires.
3. In it there must be both faith and repentance.
III. What encouragement has the sinner to confess his sins unto God?
1. God is a Father.
2. His delight is salvation.
3. He has made ample provision for the redemption of the sinful.
4. He invites all to take advantage of it.—Jones.
Luke 15:18. “I will arise.”—He will “arise,” for he has till now been grovelling in the dust. He will “go,” for he is a very long way off. To his “father,” for at present he dwells among swine.
The Pious Resolution.
I. “I will arise.”
1. This is a most dangerous country to abide in.
2. It contains nothing to supply my numerous wants.
II. “I will go to my father.”
1. All things naturally draw towards home.
2. The Holy Spirit begins His work by creating hunger and thirst after righteousness and resolution to return to God.
3. Where there is life there is progress.
4. The sinner has nowhere to go at last for help and comfort but to his God.—Jones.
“Against heaven.”—He alone really confesses his sins who has regarded them mainly as sins against God—against a higher, heavenly order of things; and this is the best sign that a sinner has come to himself. Cf. Psalms 51:4 : “Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned and done this evil in Thy sight.”
“Before thee.”—“In respect of thee”—i.e., by wasting his substance and by occasioning him great unhappiness and some disgrace.
Luke 15:19. “Make me as one of thy hired servants.”—An ancient writer says, in commenting on this verse, “O, Lord Jesu! Preserve us from such husks as the swine did eat, and instead thereof, give unto us the true Bread; for Thou art steward in Thy Father’s house. As labourers, vouchsafe to hire us also, although arriving late; for Thou dost hire men, even at the eleventh hour,—and givest to all alike the same reward of life eternal.”
“Make me as one.”—He wishes that there may be no distinction between him and the least of the day-labourers, and promises thereby that he will diligently serve and be obedient as a day-labourer. He wishes to be released, at any price, from his wretched condition, and with deeds to prove the sincerity of his confession of sin.—Van Oosterzee.
Luke 15:20-24. The Soul and its Reception.
I. The reception of a longing and watching love.
II. A quick reception.
III. A reception of utmost welcome.
IV. A reception of larger answer to prayer than one dare hope for.
V. A reception of perfect reinstatement.
Luke 15:20. The Turning-Point.
I. “And he arose.”
1. He rises up and comes forth from the regions of the dead.
2. He cannot stay in the far country.
II. “And he came to his father.”
1. The sinner left God: now he returns to God.
2. He had nowhere else to go.
3. He came quite home.
4. He came without delay.
III. There are great difficulties in the sinner’s way to return to his Father.
1. His sins.
2. His vileness.
3. His hardness of heart. Yet there is a new and living way by which he may go.—Jones.
I. The return of the son.—
1. The setting out on the homeward way.
2. The progress in the new course.
3. The return to his father.
II. The welcome of the father.—
1. The father’s observation of his son afar off.
2. The father’s compassion on his son coming to his home.
3. The father’s welcome to his son returning to him.—Ritchie.
“Ran.”—The coming of the father to meet his son here figuratively exhibits the sending of the Son of God.—Von Gerlach.
“Ran.”—The return of the sinner is expressed by the word going (Luke 15:18), but God’s coming to the sinner by running. God makes greater haste to the sinner than the sinner does to God; God makes much of our first inclination, and would not have it fall to the ground.
“Kissed him.”—No cold, formal greeting—deosculatus est. He kissed him repeatedly and fervently—devoured him with kisses.
“One parable cannot exhaust the whole truth; but in this parable we may say that the Saviour and Mediator is concealed in the kiss which the father gives the son” (Riggenbach).
The Prodigal was utterly destitute of merit, even in his repentance. For it was not until he had exhausted every resource, and death stared him in the face that he resolved to return home. Yet he was received with ardent welcome, and without upbraiding. Thus is it with the sinner. Although we return to God only, as it were, when we cannot help coming, He receives us with open arms; He takes the sin away and does not cast it up to us.
Associates Left Behind.—The Prodigal leaves behind him the companions and instruments of his lusts. This is a distinctive feature of true repentance. In the act of fleeing to his father he leaves his associates, and his habits, and his tastes, behind; and conversely, as long as he clings to these he will not—he cannot—return to his father.—Arnot.
The Compassionate Father.
I. His father saw him:
1. God takes notice of the very beginning of the new creation in the soul.
2. He sets the greatest value on the least grace, for He sees how great it will be at the last.
II. The father had compassion on him and ran to meet him.
1. Compassion on his most miserable condition, and his deep distress of mind.
2. Runs to meet him, because of the great delight in seeing him returning home, and because he wished to succour and comfort him.
III. He fell on his neck and kissed him; in like manner God pities His enemies, but delights in those who come home to Him, who are members of Christ, and are led by His Spirit.
IV. In regeneration God and man meet; they meet in peace and love; and they meet to part no more for ever.—Jones.
Imperfect Contrition, and God’s Response to it.—The father’s kiss conveys and implies the assurance of forgiveness. In the rehabilitation of this outcast youth there are two stages—
(1) the human, and
(2) the Divine. The Divine must have necessary preference over the human. The son would not seem to have reached any very high plane of moral life and feeling when the father met him. He was hunger-hunted, that was all. That penitence? It looks more like scheming self-interest. The action has scarcely any strain of moral sentiment and aspiration in it whatsoever. He was moving on a comparatively ignoble level, but the level led by unmistakeable gradients that their father’s eye could follow into the far-off future up to something nobler and better at last. The first movements of the man’s mind before it has been transformed by the magic effusion of the father’s love cannot escape some strain of the old sordidness. If it is the wrath to come rather than the wretchedness he is leaving behind that excites his first movements toward home, his repentance is still open to the impeachment of self-interest. The father, however, saw the dip, and trend, and direction, in this pathway of imperfect motive. The soul is not noble in its first steps of penitential movement towards home. It is made so by the touch of God’s reconciling love.—Selby.
Luke 15:21. The Penitential Confession.
I. The Prodigal Son returns to his father’s house in a very different state of mind from that in which he left it.
II. We see here a penitent, approaching mercy’s door, confessing his sins and praying for pardon.
1. He comes as a true penitent.
2. He seeks for no excuse, and does not even use his penitence as a plea.
III. His deep distress, which is both unavoidable and beneficial.
IV. He dwells upon the magnitude and aggravations of his sins.
V. He manifests deep humility.—Jones.
The Prepared Speech only Half Said.—Why did he not say all he had intended? Because he was prevented from saying more by the kisses of his father, and the other tokens of his father’s love.
I. The confession of sin made.—
1. The confession is filial in its spirit.
2. The confession is personal in its character.
II. The aggravations of sin acknowledged.—
1. It is sin committed against sovereign authority.
2. It is sin committed in the face of fatherly love.
III. The conviction of unworthiness expressed.—
1. The sense of unworthiness altered.
2. The appeal to paternal compassion implied.—Ritchie.
Repentance of Fear and Repentance of Love.—There is a profound difference between the confession uttered by the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:21), and that which the depth of his misery had extorted from him (Luke 15:18-19). The latter was a cry of despair. Now distress has passed away, and the confession has become the cry of repentant love. The words are the same—“I have sinned”—but the tone in which they are uttered is different. Luther recognised the difference very clearly; and the repentance of love as distinguished from the repentance of fear was the true principle of the Reformation.—Godet.
Luke 15:22-24. Free and Complete Forgiveness.—The forgiveness granted is both freely given and complete in its character. It is not preceded by any humiliating penance, or period of probation, or any successive stages of restoration to favour. In an instant he is reinstated in the place, and invested with the dignity, of a son.
The Prodigal is not put through a preparatory discipline, lodged in some sad and dreary moral quarantine, till some of the loathsomeness and defilement of sin be worn off him. His rags are exchanged for princely clothing; a feast is prepared to relieve his hunger and thirst.
Christ here Teaches Two Great Lessons:—
I. That God receives and forgives a sinner who comes back repentant.
II. That He delights in the act of thus forgiving repentant sinners.
I. The robe of filial acceptance.—
1. The best robe—best for covering, endurance, and beauty.
2. The bringing forth of the best robe, the open exhibition and free offer of Jesus’ righteousness.
3. The putting on of the best robe.
II. The ring of filial distinction.—
1. This is a token of filial relation.
(2) This is a badge of filial privilege.
3. This is a pledge of filial inheritance.
III. The shoes for filial life.—
1. The shoes prepare for walking in the comfort of a Song of Song of Solomon 2:0. The shoes prepare for walking in the freedom of a Song of Song of Solomon 3:0. The shoes prepare for walking in the service of a son.—Ritchie.
“The best robe.”—Cf. Zechariah 3:4-5 : “And He answered and spake unto those that stood by, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him He said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment.… And they clothed him with garments.” See also Isaiah 61:10; Revelation 3:18.
“The best robe.”
I. When a sinner truly repents and turns to God, no mention is made of his past offences.
II. The father ordered his servants to clothe, adorn, and feed his starving Song of Song of Solomon 1:0. The children of men are the objects of God’s care and kindness.
2. He employs some servants to convey His gifts and blessings to His children.
III. The father ordered the best robe to be brought for him:
1. A mark of His love.
2. A meet dress for the company he was now to move in.
IV. A ring for his hand:
(1) as symbol of the covenant of everlasting union; and
(2) as an ornament.
V. And shoes for his feet; he must now walk in a new way, which he never knew before.—Jones.
I. The provision for joy in the penitent’s return.—
1. The bringing forth of Christ’s atoning sacrifice as the provision of joy.
2. The partaking of Christ’s atoning sacrifice as the substance of joy.
II. The grounds of joy over the penitent’s return.—
1. He was dead, and is alive again.
2. He was lost, and is found.—Ritchie.
Luke 15:23. The Richest Feast.
I. This feast is the great salvation by Christ crucified.
II. The children of grace feed and live on the provisions which their heavenly Father has treasured up for them in the fulness of Christ.
III. The benefits of actual feeding on the gospel feast are truly great and lasting:
(1) Believers thus come into closer union with Christ;
(2) into communion with Him;
(3) are transformed into His image;
(4) and grow in grace, and in meetness for heaven.—Jones.
I. Angels rejoice over the coming back of a sinner to God.
II. Believers rejoice over the return of a brother to their Father’s house, because he is a brother; because they themselves know the happiness of the saving change; because this change brings honour to their Saviour.
III. God rejoices over the restoration of a son to filial life and love.
IV. The penitent rejoices in the welcome to his Father’s heart and home—the joy of rescue, of acceptance, of a new nature, of communion, of possession and hope.—Ritchie.
“Dead … lost.”—The word “dead” describes the misery into which the Prodigal had sunk; “lost” describes the father’s experience of deprivation during his son’s absence. These two aspects of sin correspond to the representations in the two preceding parables: the son had strayed away (like the lost sheep), the father had lost something (as the woman had lost the piece of silver).
The Great Rejoicing.
I. The cause of the joy:
1. The penitent son as one alive from the dead.
2. As one lost who had been found.
II. The nature of the joy: universal, high, and eternal.—Jones.
Luke 15:25-32. Vindication of the Family Joy.
I. The elder brother’s anger at the Prodigal’s reception.—
1. The occasion of his anger.
2. The expression of his anger.
II. The father’s vindication of the family joy.—
1. The father’s forbearance with an unfilial spirit.
2. The reasons he alleges for the joy.
III. The lessons of truth here conveyed.—
1. God’s love to fallen men.
2. Christ’s condemnation of the self-righteous, of their pride and contempt for others.
3. The Divine welcome to great sinners.—Ritchie.
A Picture of the Legalistic, Grudging Pharisee.
I. Jealous discontent.
II. Unfair complaints.
III. A gentle answer.
Luke 15:25. “Was in the field.”—The vividness and beauty of the story is heightened by the fact that the elder son, at the return of his brother, is not in the house, but has spent the day in hard, slavish service, and now first returns home at eventime, when the feast was already in progress.
More Perilous Faults.—The elder son is still a son, nor are his faults intrinsically more heinous—though more perilous, because more likely to lead to self-deception—than those of the younger. Self-righteousness is sin as well as unrighteousness, and may be even a worse sin (Matthew 21:31-32); but God has provided for both sins a full sacrifice and a free forgiveness.—Farrar.
The Mirror Held Up to The Pharisees.—The Pharisees had said at Luke 15:7, at least in their hearts, “These ninety and nine just persons are ourselves, however!” And again, while hearing of the lost son, “This does not assuredly point to us!” Another mirror is now held up before them—“But here see yourselves!”—Stier.
Luke 15:27. “Safe and sound.”—How nice is the observance of all the lesser proprieties of the narrative! The father, in the midst of all his natural affection, is yet full of the moral significance of his son’s return—that he has come back another person from what he was when he went, or while he tarried in that far land; he sees into the deep of his joy that he is receiving him now indeed a son—once dead, but now alive; once lost to him, but now found alike by both. But the servant confines himself to the more external features of the case, to the fact that, after all he has gone through of excess and hardship, his father has yet received him safe and sound.—Trench.
Luke 15:28-32. The Father’s Condescension and Kindness.—Note
(1) the father’s condescension, and
(2) his kindness in dealing with the elder son. He does not send a servant, but goes himself. He entreats him to lay aside his displeasure and to come in to welcome home his brother and to partake of the feast. And notwithstanding his son’s boasting and rude attack, he continues composed and loving, and answers with meekness.—Foote.
Luke 15:28-30. An Unlovely Character.—Note
(1) the elder brother’s displeasure at the kind reception of his prodigal brother;
(2) his self-righteous pride;
(3) his ungracious complaint;
(4) his malicious exaggeration of his brother’s misdeeds, and his ignoring the change that had taken place in him; and
(5) his refusal to acknowledge him as his brother.
Luke 15:29-30. Two Complaints.—The elder son has two complaints to make:
1. He himself has been harshly treated.
2. His unworthy brother has been too kindly treated. The father replies to each of these charges in Luke 15:31-32.
Luke 15:29. “Do I serve thee.”—He thus shows that he was a slave. His father was regarded by him as a master—nay, as an unjust master—and he looks back upon his many years of ill-requited labours. Though in his father’s house, he has utterly lost the filial spirit, while his brother even when far away had retained some measure of it. He is, therefore, so to speak, the real and more entirely lost son.
No Confession of Shortcoming.—Observe that while the younger son confesses with no excuse, the elder son boasts with no confession. This at once proves his hollowness, for the confessions of the holiest are ever the most bitter.—Farrar.
“Never gavest me.”—He falls into the very sin which his brother committed when he said, “Give me the portion of goods that falleth to me.” He, too, is feeling that he does not truly possess what he possesses with his father, but that he must separate something off from his father’s stock before he can count it properly his own.—Trench.
Luke 15:30. “Thy son.”—Some such word as “precious”—“this thy precious son” would bring out the elder brother’s implied contempt still more clearly; while “this thy dear brother,” in Luke 15:32, would suggest the father’s affectionate reproof more adequately. Both words are implied in the tone of the two speeches.
Luke 15:31-32. The Privilege of Service.
I. Fidelity in service is a privilege, and not servitude.
II. A sinful life is a disaster, and not happiness to be envied. For the elder son contrasts his own hard and unremitting service with the careless and self-indulgent career of his younger brother. “He has enjoyed all the pleasures of sin, and now he enjoys all the happiness of salvation! I have never known anything but painful obedience to Thy commandments!”
Luke 15:31. “Son, thou art ever with me.”—Though the son does not say, “Father,” the father address him as “Son.” This sets forth God’s forbearing kindness toward the self-righteous and uncharitable.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Luke 15". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29