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The Lord is here teaching by Parables. Here are three contained in this Chapter; namely, the Lost Sheep, the Lost Piece of Money, and the Prodigal Son.
Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.
The imagination can hardly form to itself a more striking portrait than what those verses represent. Figure to yourself, Reader, a company of poor, despised outcasts of society, in a body, of publicans and sinners, drawing nigh, with looks of hope and desire to Christ, as if to say, Can there be mercy for us? And on the other side of the representation, look at the proud, disdainful, self-righteous Pharisees and Scribes withdrawing from the Lord, with countenances of the most sovereign contempt, as if Jesus and his company should pollute their holiness. This man (say they) receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. Precious Jesus! Well is it for me that thou dost; for what must have become of me had this not been the case? How truly lovely doth the Son of God appear by such marvellous condescension! And what can more endear Christ to his people?
And he spake this parable unto them, saying, What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.
The grace of heaven, in the reception of sinners, is proclaimed in every part of the Bible. Here it is eminently illustrated by our Lord himself, under the similitude of the most beautiful parables, I would not, methinks, strain Scripture into the most distant idea of anything fanciful; neither suppose what was never intended; but I cannot help observing, that, according to my views, the Lord Jesus intended, by the three striking parables in this chapter, more immediately to set forth and represent the office work and character of each glorious person of the Godhead, as they have manifested their love, and grace, and mercy, to our fallen nature. It is a well-known and fully-allowed truth, in the doctrine of the pure faith, once delivered to the saints, that our salvation is the joint work, resulting from the joint love and mercy of the whole persons of the Godhead; each glorious person concurring, cooperating in the work. It is a blessed subject to trace the subject in all: and here, if I mistake not, the Lord Jesus, by a beautiful parable, sets it forth.
The first parable in the chapter is contained in the verses just read, in which Christ himself is represented in his well-known character and office-work of a shepherd. The Lord represents his Church as one sheep of an hundred: and the Church, in point of bulk, compared to the whole creation of God, is but as one world to many. Hence called a little flock, Luke 12:32 . Sometimes called a beautiful flock, Jeremiah 13:20 . The flock of slaughter, Zechariah 11:4-7 . Jesus himself calls it one flock, and of which there is but one shepherd, John 10:16 ; Song of Solomon 6:9 . And the Lord Jesus hath a variety of names, all descriptive of him, as the Shepherd of his people. Jehovah's Shepherd, Zechariah 13:7 . One Shepherd, Ezekiel 34:23 . The good Shepherd, John 10:11 . The great Shepherd, Hebrews 13:20 . The chief Shepherd, 1 Peter 5:4 . And as in this chapter, so in others, and particularly in the writings of Ezekiel, a whole chapter is made use of in describing the Lord seeking out his sheep, and bringing them home from wandering, when scattered upon the mountains, and upon the face of the earth, Ezekiel 34:0 .
The joy of the shepherd, when taking home his lost sheep, affords a most delightful representation of Jesus, in manifesting: that his happiness is blended with that of his redeemed; and that he cannot enlarge his grace and mercy to any of his wanderers in bringing them home, without glorifying himself in their salvation. And the joy of his neighbours and friends, probably meaning angels and the inhabitants of heaven, is also a beautiful testimony how much the whole pure creation of God take part in the Redeemer's triumphs. And as it is said, that at creation, the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy: so at redemption, the multitude before the throne are represented as singing their hallelujahs to God and the Lamb. Job 38:7 ; Revelation 7:9-10 , etc.
Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.
Here, if I do not err, is represented, under the similitude of a lost piece of money, our lost estate by nature. And, without torturing the figure, may be not unaptly supposed; by the lighting of a candle, and sweeping the house until it be found, is represented the blessed office of God the Holy Ghost, in enlightening, regenerating, and renewing grace. Our whole nature, when first formed in the image of God, had the pure impression. But in the Adam-apostacy, like a lost piece of money, the image was marred. It is the work of God the Spirit to restore: and this is effectually done, when, by illuminating grace, he commandeth the light to shine in the heart to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6 . And the same blessed effects are said to follow upon this occasion of recovery, as in the former. Holy joy breaks forth afresh in the streets of the new Jerusalem, with more rapture, on every instance of a sinner raised from the Adam-fall to the image of God in Christ, than over the unchanging state of the elect angels, who never fell, and therefore needed no repentance.
And he said, A certain man had two sons: And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.
In this parable we have the same blessed doctrine read to us, by way of magnifying the riches of grace, as in the two former. And if those before may be supposed, without violence to the subject, to represent the office character of Christ and the Holy Ghost, we may, with equal safety, conjecture that here is particularly represented the clemency and grace of God the Father, who is the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort.
The certain man here spoken of, can mean no other than God the Father; for although, properly speaking, it was neither the person of the Father, nor the person of the Holy Ghost, which took the nature of manhood, yet it should be considered, that this is but a parable, and therefore, to answer the purposes of the similitude intended from it, the Lord Jesus so represents God the Father.
The two sons are very generally supposed to be meant, by Christ, as the two branches of the Church, the elder as the Jew, and the younger as the Gentile. I cannot conceive that this was our Lord's design; indeed it is not correct. The Jew is not elder, for, strictly and properly speaking, both Jew and Gentile form but one Church; and this Church was given to Christ, and the Church chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. See Psalms 2:0 ; Ephesians 1:4 ; Proverbs 8:22-36 ; Isaiah 49:6 ; Ephesians 3:5-11 . I rather think, that by the two sons, one always living in the house, and the other departing, are meant the elder living in the constant use of ordinances, without any saving effect; and the younger living without ordinances, and without hope, and without God in the world, till brought home, and made nigh, by the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:12-13 .
I must not allow myself to swell the pages of my Poor Man's Commentary with enlarging, by many observations, on this most beautiful and highly-finished parable; but otherwise, here is enough to call up the most awakened feelings of the mind. Indeed, they are already called up, as the several parts of the parable arise to our view in our Lord's own precious words. I shall only beg to point out what our Lord might be supposed to mean in some of the terms and characters made use of, by way of illustrating the Lord's great design. The younger son, in the ruined state of our Adam - nature, when brought to penury, and joining himself to a citizen of that country, is finely described. Ruined sinners, unawakened by grace, will join themselves to anything and everything, rather than return to God. There never was, there never can be, in any son or daughter of Adam, the least disposition to seek God, before that God first seeks us. The wandering strayed sheep will wander and stray forever, if not brought home. So true is the Apostle's words: If we love him, it is because he first loved us.
By this citizen, I understand a man of this world; not a citizen of the saints and of the household of God. Ephesians 2:19 . The text saith, a citizen of that country; that is, this country, this world, a man of the world, under whatever character he be considered; whether a professor, a minister of the letter and not of the spirit. A poor miserable sinner, like this prodigal, when all his substance is spent, and he finds himself in want, will join himself to any person or congregation, with a view to ease his misery; for in this un-awakened state he yet knows not the Lord. And as this citizen sent him into the field to feed the swine, and he would fain have filled his belly with the husks, which the swine did eat, and no man gave to him, so the sinner is sent by such into the field of his labors to feed as swine feed on husks, that is, the shell and carcass of religion, outside things, an attempted reform of life and manners, which never did nor never can bring real comfort to the soul And though the poor wretch would fain have satisfied himself with these things, yet he could not. And no man gave them to him. No services, no ministry of this kind, can satisfy a soul whom the Lord, by sharp soul afflictions, is preparing for himself.
Reader! I beseech you pause a moment over this view of the subject. Whether I have or have not fully explained it, yet depend upon it, this part of the parable is not the least beautiful and striking, if considered in this light. And who shall calculate the number of precious souls, that from day today continue under their bondage frames, while joining themselves to such citizens of this country, and who can send them nowhere for soul satisfaction but into the fields of their ignorance, that they may feed with the swine on the mere husks of Pharisaical righteousness? And when he came to himself; that is, when grace first entered his soul; for all before this, he had been but in the frenzy of a ruined state, and unconscious both of his cause of misery and the means of cure. Like Ephraim, grey hairs were upon him, but he knew it not. The spots of death were covering him, and he ignorant of any disease.
I detain the Reader at this part of the parable just to remark, that the first awakening of a sinner, like this prodigal, dead in trespasses and sins, is, as far as it concerns the personal mercy vouchsafed the sinner, to his own apprehension, one of the greatest, if not the very greatest, act ever to be shewn a child of God to all eternity. For all the alter stages of grace is but a progressive going on, from grace to glory, and in heaven itself, from one degree of glory to another. But until this quickening of the soul by God the Holy Ghost is done, there is no real spiritual life formed in the soul. And notwithstanding that soul is given of God the Father to the Son, before all worlds, and God the Son hath betrothed the person of this gift of the Father to himself, from everlasting, yet until God the Spirit hath graciously wrought his sovereign work also, and brought forth the soul into actual life of union with Christ, there is no possibility of any one act of spiritual life, or of spiritual enjoyment in the soul. So that this great, this vast, this momentous work of regeneration, is, to the personal joy of the poor sinner, the greatest work ever to be received in time or to all eternity. For it is lifting the sinner over the gulph, which, without passing, would separate forever. It is passing from death to life; from nothing to everything; from the service and kingdom of Satan to the glorious liberty of the sons of God. Reader! what saith your personal experience to these things? Hath such an act of sovereign grace passed upon you? Are you born again?
I must not enlarge on the several features of the parable in what remains to be noticed. Our Lord's own words need no explanation. The son's return, the father's reception of him, the joy of his house and family upon the occasion, are all very blessedly shewn. And the clothing him with the robe of salvation, putting on the ring of marriage, and the feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace; all these, in illusion to the mercies of redemption, are too plain to need enlargement. See another beautiful representation of the same grace and mercy, Jeremiah 31:18 , etc. But if I may trespass one moment longer, it shall be to observe, what, perhaps, at first view, may not be so immediately plain to every Reader; I mean concerning the unjust and unreasonable anger of the elder brother. And this view of the character, according to our Lord's description of him if there were no other, would form a sufficient discovery to know who Christ meant. For surely one should think none but the devil himself could envy the mercy and grace shewn to a poor sinner. And yet we find the Scribes and Pharisees were indignant beyond measure at our Lord's favourable reception of poor sinners. This man (said they) receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. And who is it now that takes most offence at the free and full preaching of the Gospel? Not the world at large; for the pleasurable part of the world, the busy part of the world, the high in rank of the world, all these are, for the most part, like Gallio, they care not for such things. But it is the self-righteous Pharisee, like the elder brother in the parable, who wishes to be no further obliged to Christ than according to his view is barely necessary. This is the character which takes most offence at the preaching of a free and full Gospel; and, like the brother whom the Lord Jesus describes, takes the confidence to say, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither at any time transgressed I thy command. Of all the awful deceptions of the human mind, this, perhaps, is the greatest: and it is worthy the most serious consideration, that against such Christ expresseth himself most angry. Matthew 23:0 , throughout.
I must detain the Reader yet further to explain my view of the father's answer to the elder son, when he said to him, Son! thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. What can be supposed is meant by this? I apprehend, nothing more than the portion of worldly goods which came to him by lot, as it is said before, that when the younger son went away, he divided unto them his 1iving. Hence, all that he had of this world's portion, like another Esau, was his, the fatness of the earth, and his dwelling therein; for these things he chiefly desired. Genesis 27:39 . Here is not a word said of spiritual things, no gracious manifestations, no awakenings from sin, and conversions of the heart to God, through the Spirit; but simple outward privileges and sensual gratifications. The father calls him son. Yes; so he was in nature, but not by adoption and grace. See Luke 16:25 . Oh! the felicity of one like the younger brother, brought home by a saving conversion of the heart to God. In all such cases, it is indeed very might, right, and our bounden duty, that the whole redeemed creation of God should make merry and be glad, when thus a brother, who was dead, is alive again, who was lost, and is found.
Reader! let us not hastily pass away from the review of this most blessed chapter, but ponder over again and again the sweet and gracious contents. And as from divine teaching in the Scriptures of eternal truth, we discover that the whole three persons in the Godhead have mercifully concurred in the salvation of the Church, let us delight upon any and every occasion, to behold an illustration of their joint grace and favor, whenever the word sets forth their office-work, as manifested to the souls of the Lord's people.
Precious Lord Jesus! do we not behold thee in that lovely and endearing representation thou hast here drawn of the tender and affectionate shepherd? Surely the fold, the Church, is thine, both by the Father's gift, thine own purchase, and the conquest of thine Holy Spirit. And when one of thy little ones wander from thee, wilt thou not seek it on the mountains, until thou shalt find it? and when thou hast found it, wilt thou not bring it home, as here described, on thy shoulders, rejoicing? Is it not Jesus' joy, as well as the happiness of his redeemed, when this is done? Blessed be my Lord, my Shepherd, who, when in the Adam-nature of my fallen state, I had wandered on the dark mountains, Jesus sought me out, and found me; and hath not only brought me home, but now watches over me for good, and feeds me, and sustains me, and causeth me to lie down in green pastures.
And no less, thou Holy and eternal Spirit, God the Holy Ghost, do I pray for grace from thee: to look up to thee, and bless thy Almighty Name, that when, like a piece of lost money, I was fallen in the nature of sin, thou didst, by thy sweeping judgments and enlightening grace, find me, and restore me to the image of God in Christ. Spirit of Truth! do thou lead me into all truth!
And oh! thou Father of mercies, and God of all comfort! Receive me, Lord, as the father in the parable did his returning prodigal. I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost. But thou, in thy rich mercy, hast received me; and by thy grace in me, caused me to return. Thy bowels of love yearned over me in my lost estate, for thy mercy endureth forever. And now, Lord! through thy grace, I shall go out no more. Thou hast killed for me indeed the fatted calf, and clothed me with the robe of Christ's righteousness. Oh! for grace to live to thy glory, daily crying out with the Apostle, Now thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift!
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Luke 15". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29