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It has been observed that intense cold will produce very much the same effect as fervent heat. The ring of iron that surrounds a wheel, being exposed to keen frosts during a long winter's night, will produce a sensation and an effect on a sensitive skin very much the same as that the same ring will produce, if heated in the fire when the smith takes it from the furnace to hammer it on the anvil. Intense cold and intense heat thus often produce, in a manner that might be easily explained, the same effect. But it is true in the realm of mind and heart, as well as in the region of matter, that opposites do often produce similar effects. Hatred and love have this in common, that the object of love and the object of hatred are equally in the thoughts of the person loving or hating. He that loves would not forget the object of his love, and he that hates cannot; and so the same result appears from the keenest hatred and the warmest love. The text illustrates this thought. Two classes are here described as following the steps of the Saviour and constantly attending them: those that were attracted to Him because they liked to hear His word; and those who hated Him and His word, and yet, under the spell of an irresistible fascination, could not forsake Him. The Pharisees and scribes were as constant in their attendance as the publicans and sinners who gathered together to hear Him.
I. Why did the publicans and sinners draw near to Christ? (1) First of all and this is the simplest thought because He did not frown them away. He did not scorn them, as the Pharisees and scribes did. He was willing to let them come near. (2) The publicans and sinners came near to Christ, not simply because He was willing to allow them to approach Him, but because they heard from Him words which they heard from no one else. They heard Him and marvelled; for He spake as one having authority, and not as the scribes. As it was with Christ, so must it be with the Christian Church, if she would be faithful to her Lord. If we have reached the time when publicans and sinners are afraid to come near us, we have need to look to ourselves and ask the reason.
II. Notice the fascination connected with envy and hatred and opposition that is indicated in this second verse. The Pharisees and scribes, noticing how the publicans came round Christ, murmured. They thought themselves the best people of the day. A very strict sect were they, very observant of all ecclesiastical order, very careful in their observance of the prescribed feasts, very exact in tithing all their property, making their prayers and keeping the feasts very duly. These people thought it a very hard thing, that this man should allow these unlettered, ignorant people to come so close to him. They said, "This man receiveth sinners and eateth with them." You see there is an intensified charge. It was bad enough to receive them, but it was ten times worse to sit down and eat with them. "That miserable collector of taxes, that apostate Jew, that man who is a badge of submission to Rome that he should come and be received and allowed to sit down at the same table; and that poor woman surely if this man were a prophet he would know what manner of woman it is that is touching him for she is a sinner." That is the spirit of the Pharisees and the scribes. Let us search ourselves, for that spirit is not yet cast out of the Christian Church.
J. Edmund, Penny Pulpit, new series, No. 543.
The crowds which gathered about our Lord in the course of His mission were eminently representative of the various phases of Jewish life and thought. They consisted of men drawn from all ranks and classes of society. Women and children and stained outcasts are at the least equally among His intimates with social magnates and learned men. There is no discriminating Shibboleth to sift the miscellaneous gathering. No eclectic followers are permitted to check free access to the Master. There is no "fencing of the tables" at which He sits; no rebuff for ignorance; no rejection of humility and wretchedness. The net is cast abroad and its sweep is undiscriminating and universal. Of all these types of society, that of the Pharisee is perhaps the most marked, and the characteristics of it have acquired most popular recognition. We may recognise several distinct ideas associated with it.
I. One is that of exclusiveness or spiritual pride. If there is one great practical lesson, before all others running through the teaching of Christ, and imparting a principle of radical change into the scheme of life, it is summed in these words, "The last shall be first and the first last." This doctrine is the first step in the organisation, so to say, of the kingdom of heaven. This is the first in order of all those paradoxes which constitute the sum of Christianity. It was this which, in the first centuries of its spread, was such an outrage upon society at large, such an enigma to the dispassionate observer, and, as Gibbon has justly observed, was one great element of its triumph. The outcast was no longer an outcast. The despised and rejected of men has become the very pattern of the noblest life. And herein lay the essential antagonism to the spirit which possessed the Pharisee. Exclusion was his ideal. He clung to it as his heaven-conferred heritage. Christ broke down the walls of partition. The kingdom of heaven came not to a favoured few, not to the elect or the predestinate, but to all.
II. Another note or characteristic of the Pharisaic type is formalism. Formalism may be explained as an exaggerated stress laid upon ceremonial, upon formularies, and upon ordinances as the elevation, in short, of the mechanism of life in comparison with the life itself. It is not to be supposed that all, or indeed the greater part of those in whom this tendency exists, are making an ostentatious display of righteousness, or are assuming a disguise to cloke their hidden propensities, nor yet that they are themselves conscious of the unsubstantial nature of the manifestations of their religious life. There are but few, I suppose, who do not at times succumb, out of sheer weariness, to the temptation to rest content with seeming instead of being, to substitute a mechanical goodness for genuineness of life, a conventional orthodoxy for the unquiet pursuit of reality. There is a petty and stagnant life, the backwater, so to say, of the enlarged activities and sympathies of the world (a kind of village existence), in which, from the absence of all scale, unessential things assume a factitious importance, and the activity, for want of a nobler outlet, finds vent in trifles. That there is a compatibility of genuine piety, and the most narrow formalism, is a fact which meets us at every turn. But in proportion as knowledge becomes complete, as darkness melts into light, in such proportion are the means and outward expression of life lost sight of, swallowed up in the complete freedom of life itself. This was the lesson of St. Paul to the Judaizers of Galatia. It is not the sacrament, he says; it is not circumcision which availeth aught, it is faith; not the form, but the essence; not the letter that killeth, but the spirit that giveth life life and liberty, unity of life beneath the multiplicity of forms. And in the recognition of this lies the Christian brotherhood, the veritable communion of saints. If we learn to recognise that this communion is not bounded by the limits of a sect, nor by outward forms, nor by articles of belief, nor by modes of government, but that it is a unity underlying the fragments of Christendom, we shall have been purged of the leaven of the Pharisee, we shall have been made meet to sit down with Christ in the company of publicans and sinners.
C. H. V. Daniel, Oxford and Cambridge Journal, Feb. 26th, 1880.
References: Luke 15:1 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiv., No. 809; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iii., p. 108; Ibid., vol. xv., p. 52.Luke 15:1-2 , Church of England Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 53.Luke 15:1-7 . H. Calderwood, The Parables, p. 18. Luke 15:1-10 . Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 201; Ibid., vol. xiii., p. 139; Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 370; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 346. Luke 15:1-32 . Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iv., p. 229. Luke 15:2 . T. T. Carter, Sermons, p. 63; Homilist, vol. vi., p. 356; T. Birkett Dover, A Lent Manual, p. 44; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv., No. 219; vol. xi., No. 665; Christian World Pulpit, vol. i., p. 239; G. Bainton, Ibid., vol. xvi., p. 250; J. Baird, The Hallowing of Our Common Life, p. 77. Luke 15:3-7 . A. B. Bruce, The Parabolic Teaching of Christ, p. 259. Luke 15:4 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 223.Luke 15:4 , Luke 15:5 . Ibid., vol. iv., p. 225.Luke 15:4-6 . Spurgeon, My Sermon Notes: Gospels and Acts, p. 101.Luke 15:4-7 . Ibid., Sermons, vol. xxx., No. 1801; S. A. Brooke, Church of England Pulpit, vol. i., p. 345; Homilist, new series, vol. 1, p. 359. Luke 15:5 . S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, vol. ii., p. 37. Luke 15:7 . J. E. Vaux, Sermon Notes, 3rd series, p. 8.
The Search of Love.
Three parables stand together in this chapter. The occasion of all is one and the same the murmuring of scribes and Pharisees against the Saviour, who would eat with sinners. And the general drift of all is the same the feeling of God towards repentant sinners, illustrated by man's feeling towards a possession lost and found. Thus far there is unity there is even identity in the three. But no two parables of our Lord are really identical, however like may be the incidents of one to those of another. And so it is here. There is a climax natural and real in the three losses in this chapter. In the first parable the owner of a hundred sheep loses one of them; in the second the owner of ten pieces of silver loses one of them; in the third the father of two sons loses one of them. Now, the second lost thing, though it is less valuable than the first, is to the owner more so. The third is a loss different in kind, and appealing yet more forcibly to the understanding and heart of mankind. There is a climax also in the thing signified. The sheep has strayed in its ignorance from the flock and the pasture. The son exiles himself of self-will and rebelliousness from the home and from the father. Between these two extremes of mere simplicity and utter wilfulness lies the insensate unconciousness of the lost coin.
I. The woman who has lost one of the ten pieces cannot acquiesce and rest in her loss. Little in itself, to her it is vital. She waits not for the light of day, but discovering her loss at night, by night she sets herself to repair it. She lights the lamp, sweeps the house, and seeks diligently till she finds it. It is a parable of the love of God. God represents Himself as missing one soul. Little is that soul in itself to the great God. But God would show to us that each one is precious. Each one was separately created; each one has a place designed for it in the universal temple; each one not filling that place leaves a blank. The eye of love misses it, and therefore the hand of love seeks it.
II. The parable goes on to speak of a sweeping. I know it is a homely figure too homely, perhaps, for some tastes beneath the dignity, some might say, of the pulpit; only that here Christ has gone before, has written it in His Book, and given it to me for a text. And how wonderful, however homely, is this figure! The love of God first lights up in the world this lamp of revelation, telling man what man could not know; for no man hath ascended up to heaven to read there, in the light of that world, the things that were and that are and that shall be. First this, the remembering that this light will never fall of itself upon the lost coin, the very loss of which lies in its being out of sight of the man himself. Then, secondly, the love of God sweeps sweeps, I say, the house, which is the man. You suffered the dust of earth to lie thick upon you perhaps the amiable dust of kindly sentiment, of satisfied affection; or perhaps the ugly dust of eager grasping, of predominant self, of overmastering passion; and so, evading the illumination, you necessitated the sweeping. It was the love of God still.
III. The love of God will seek diligently till it find. Marvellous word! Record at once of difficulty and perseverance. How much is repaired ere the finding be accomplished! To find the lost soul is not easy. The whole work of sanctification is wrapped up in it. Every thought has to be brought into captivity; every motive has to be elevated. Objects indifferent once, or distasteful, are to be made the aim of the life; and that holiness, which to fallen man is repugnant, must be cultivated for a purpose to fallen man repulsive that he may at last see God. This is the meaning of that diligent search by which love at last shall find; for without success love cannot live. Love cannot sleep till its object be accomplished. No toil is too great, may she but attain.
C. J. Vaughan, Penny Pulpit, new series, No. 832.
References: Luke 15:8 . Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 352; J. Keble, Sermons for Sundays after Trinity, part i., p. 84; Expository Sermons on the New Testament, p. 86.
The piece of silver whatever it was was great to the owner. And here lies the point in the analogy. A soul, an individual creature, an atom in God's universe, may be in itself a very insignificant thing, but it is great to God. This is its dignity. How great, how dear to God, no man can adequately judge, because no man is a creator, and no man is a redeemer. It needs absolutely to have created a thing, and absolutely to have redeemed a thing, before you can calculate what its worth would be to one who stood to it in those relations. Let us go with this woman in her quest. It is deliberate, painstaking, protracted, effectual.
I. First she lights a candle the well-known emblem in the Bible, of three things: first, the Spirit of God in a man's soul; second, the word of God; third, the consistent lives of ministers and other servants of God. And these three together make the great detective force, and so ultimately the great restorative power, which God uses in this world.
II. With the lighted candle, the woman went to sweep the house. In the parable of the shepherd, the sheep was gone out into the wilderness. Here, the lost one was still in the house. It seems to me more affecting to be a lost soul in the house, than to be a lost soul out in the wilderness. It is a great commotion and disturbance to sweep, but then it leads to cleanliness and order. So God's sweepings are severe things. But then it is only to brush away what had no right to be there. You will not presently complain, you will not regret the turmoil when the costly thing, that was almost hidden sparkles again in the. hand of its great Proprietor.
III. All the parables agree in the one blessed, crowning thought "till she find it." It is not a light achievement. Even with the lighted candle, and with the close sweeping, she had to seek diligently to go up and down, and do her work over and over again. But love the love she had for her lost treasure, carried her on, and she did not stop, she could not stop, till she found it.
J. Vaughan, Sermon preached Oct. 29th, 1865.
Man's Fall God's Loss.
I. The first division of the picture in this parable represents God as contemplating as a loss to Himself the state of sin into which man has fallen. God had a property of the heart in man's welfare: He had created him holy, like Himself. When sin waylaid man, cast him down, stripped him, and robbed him, and left him for dead, God was as one bereaved.
II. In the second part of the picture God is represented as making an effort for the recovery of man from the sin and misery into which he has fallen. God will not let His human treasure go without an effort to recover it a persistent effort to recover it. This is the chief and abounding meaning of the second part of the picture. This is the gospel which has been ringing clear above the world's sin and trouble for ages. There is no one point, as I understand the teaching of Christ, so urgently insisted upon in that teaching, and so much impressed upon the mind and heart of the world, as this idea of God seeking for His children. The more one seeks to look at this, the more one feels how true it is that the inflexible righteousness of God, that the infinite love of God, is full of a determination not to let His human treasure go without an effort to recover it. This is the key of history.
III. The third point is that, God and the good angels rejoice in heaven over the recovery of man. It is often represented that the angels rejoice, and they do; but the Father rejoices first, and with an alert and subtle sympathy the angels catch the influence of the Divine joy as the high mountain tops catch the early rays of the rising sun. God's heart is the centre of the joy. See who the separate parts of the picture answer to one another. There is the first, the householder weeping for her lost piece of money, then searching for the piece, then rejoicing over the recovery: that is to say, God contemplating man's sin as a personal loss, God putting forth effort for His creature's recovery, and God rejoicing over his recovery, and the empty place in His Divine heart filled again.
A. Hannay, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xii., p. 113.
References: Luke 15:8-10 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvii., No. 970; C. Stanford, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxv., p. 136; R. C. Trench, Notes on the Parables, p. 385; H. Calderwood, The Parables, p. 32; A. B. Bruce, The Parabolic Teaching of Christ, p. 274; G. Dawson, The Authentic Gospel, p. 27.
The Brightness of Penitence.
The ordinary law of sympathy "to weep with those that weep" is naturally suspended in this instance. When our weeping is for our sins, the angels are glad over us. For, indeed, then our sorrow is not the chief thing that happens to us, but only an accidental accompaniment of what is happening. Our word Repentance carries with it certainly a sorrowful sound, but the Greek original name for Repentance has not the least touch of sorrow in its associations, but signifies only that grand change of the mind, with its aims and thoughts, its reflections and its activities, which is the real essence of Repentance.
I. The angel, perhaps, could not sorrow in sympathy with a sorrow which was nothing but deserved retribution; but he rejoices with all the joy of his intense nature over the sorrow which works such a miracle. And this joy of the angels is not theirs only. It soon echoes back to earth again, and fills the heart of him who is repenting. He rejoices over his own sorrow.
II. Many kinds of necessary renunciation are accompanied by sorrowfulness, and make themselves felt with bitterness, but not so the renunciation of sin. True to human nature, the great artist draws his Antigone, as she passes to her death for what was no crime, sorrowing most acutely for the life and light she leaves behind her, for the wedded love and the love of children, and her aspirations for a diviner justice all unfulfilled. She would stoop to no baseness, but that did not make her joyous. She would die for her right, but sorrow is king over all and after all. Self-conquest is noble, but you must add something to self-conquest to make you joyful. The world is certainly not a home for immortal souls, but they that renounce it must have something else to look for before they can be happy. And what is this something else which gives life to self-conquest and glory to self-renunciation? It is Faith, the Faith which explains to you what you have found in exchange for that which you have given up; the Faith which assures you that your returning is not your own work, but that you have been loved and sought and found at last by a higher power and a more devoted being than you have known before.
Archbishop Benson, Boy Life: Sundays in Wellington College, p. 130.
The words are Christ's own; not those of prophet or priest, or excited orator, saying a poetic thing not to be construed literally. We must take the words as soberly true. There are beings somewhere, higher than men, a little higher, creatures of God Almighty, good and kind beings, who feel a real interest in our leaving off to do evil and beginning to do well.
I. The joy spoken of in the text is, broadly speaking, the triumph of right over wrong. A tide of true gladness spreads through the Paradise of God, when it is known there that a human being, who can make his choice, who must make his choice, between life and death, between good and evil, has chosen life and good. We are not surprised at all that the angels rejoice over one repenting sinner. We have witnessed, many times, the same sort of feeling here. Every good man and woman who comes to know of it is appreciably gladdened when old or young, who has been wrong, honestly determines and tries to be right. Not only is this the best reason why any of us should be glad: probably, in a little while, it will seem the only one. After all differences are forgotten, there will abide, as the one vital and eternal difference just right or wrong on God's side or no. And no human soul that is on the wrong side can ever be other than (in the long-run) miserable. We must be brought to God; or it can never be well with us, here or anywhere.
II. Notice several reasons for the rejoicing of the angels. When a sinner turns to God, here is the saving from utter destruction of a thing of inestimable value. (2) In a soul brought to God the angels behold a being capable of being infinitely happy or miserable, and all this for time without end, brought to the right side of the line between happiness and misery. (3) The angels, we may well believe, rejoice at the salvation of a sinner, because in that they see an exemplification of the successful working of the grand machinery of Redemption. As some special friend of some great inventor would watch with joy the triumph of the engine he had thought out, even so (comparing spiritual things with earthly) we can imagine the angels looking on with earnest interest at the grand instrumentality of Redemption at its work in this world, and gladdened whensoever another soul saved shows it is doing the work it was meant for.
A. K. H. B., From a Quiet Place, p. 154.
References: Luke 15:10 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv., No. 203 W. Cunningham, Sermons, p. 20; Homilist, new series, vol. iv. p. 600, Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 274; D. Moore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. i., p. 210; Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. i., p. 45; Todd, Lectures to Children, p. 20.
I. Of all God's cords the finest, and perhaps the strongest, is the cord of love. The true home of humanity is God God trusted, communed with, beloved, obeyed.
II. Far from home, humanity is still in the hand of God. Not only is it subject to His righteous and irresistible sovereignty, but it has a place in His deep and desirous compassion.
III. It would be rash to say that where the home is right the inmates never go wrong. Still, the promises to believers include their children, and the instances are anomalous and few where a hopeful outset ends in a worthless old age. In order to make your home the preparation for heaven, the first thing is to strengthen that cord of love by which you ought to hold your child, even as our heavenly Father holds His children.
J. Hamilton, Works, vol. ii., p. 261.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son. Regarding the son here as a type of man, and the father as a type of God, as He is seen in His Son and set forth in the Gospel, let us now study these, the two prominent figures in this beautiful parable, beginning with the prodigal.
I. His conduct. In the condition of the prodigal we have a picture of the misery into which sin, having estranged us from our heavenly Father, has plunged its wretched votaries. Type of the sinner who departs from God, and a beacon to such as feel irksome under the restraints of a pious home, he seeks happiness only to find misery: ambitious of an unhallowed liberty, he sinks into the condition of the basest slave.
II. His change of mind. Sin is here represented as a madness; and who acts so contrary to sound reason, his own interests and the reality of things, as a sinner? Happy such as through the Spirit of God, working by whatever means, have come to themselves, like the prodigal; and are seated, like the maniac who dwelt among the tombs, at the feet of Jesus clothed and in their right mind.
III. His distress. "I perish," he said, "with hunger."
IV. His belief. "Behind yonder blue hills, away in the dim distance, lies my father's house a house of many mansions, and such full supplies that the servants, even the hired servants, have bread enough and to spare."
V. His resolution. "I will arise and go to my father." Remove the prodigal, and setting conscience on the bench, let us take his place. No prodigal ever sinned against an earthly, as we have done against our heavenly Father. Well, therefore, may we go to Him, with the contrition of the prodigal in our hearts and his confession on our lips: "Father, I have sinned against heaven and in Thy sight." The Spirit of God helping us thus to go to God, be assured that the father, who, seeing his son afar off, ran to meet him, fell on his neck and kissed him, was but an image of Him who, not sparing His own Son, but giving Him up to death that we might live, invites and now waits your coming.
T. Guthrie, The Parables in the Light of the Present Day, p. 57.
I. How the father received his son. As soon as the wanderer is recognised, on flying feet the old man runs to meet him; and ere the son has time to speak a word, the father has him in his arms, presses him to his bosom, and covering his cheek with passionate kisses, lifts up his voice and weeps for joy. And this is God God as He is drawn by the hand and seen in the face of Him whom He sent to seek and save us, to bring us back, to open a way of reconciliation, the God who, unwilling that any should perish, invites and waits our coming.
II. How the father treated the prodigal. The ring he gave him signifies here the espousals between Christ and His Church; it may be the token of her marriage, the passport of those who are blessed to go to the marriage supper of the Lamb. (2) The naked foot was a sign of servitude. Therefore the order to put shoes on his feet was tantamount to the declaration from the father's lips that the prodigal was not to be regarded as a servant, but as a son; that to him belonged all the privileges and possessions of sonship; that he who had never lost his place in the father's heart was now to resume it at his table and in his house.
III. How the father rejoiced over the prodigal. Grief retires from observation; joy must have vent. In this parable, so true in all its parts to nature, this feature of joy stands beautifully out. To these servants the father had never told his grief; but now the prodigal is come back, and his heart is bursting with joy, he tells them of it. So God rejoices in His ransomed; and let them rejoice in Him. The sun that shines on you shall set, and summer streams shall freeze, and deepest wells go dry but not His love. His love is a stream that never freezes, a fountain that never fails, a sun that never sets in night, a shield that never breaks in fight: whom He loveth, He loveth to the end.
T. Guthrie, The Parables in the Light of the Present Day, p. 77.
References: Luke 15:11 . J. Keble, Sermons from Lent to Passiontide, p. 420; Homilist, new series, vol. ii., p. 50. Luke 15:11-13 . J. P. Gledstone, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xviii., p. 140; Ibid., vol. xxii., p. 78. Luke 15:11-24 . Homiletic Quarterly, vol. xiii., p. 199; Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 373; H. Batchelor, The Incarnation of God, p. 25.Luke 15:11-32 . H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xii., p. 268; Expositor, 1st series, vol. ix., p. 137; J. Oswald Dykes, Sermons, p. 234; R. C. Trench, Notes on the Parables, p. 390; H. Calderwood, The Parables, p. 48; A. B. Bruce, The Parabolic Teaching of Christ, p. 280. Luke 15:12 . Preacher's Monthly, vol ii., p. 253.
I. When principle is weak the far country is fatal. If any one is obliged to leave home not from love of idleness, not from love of pleasure, not from love of liberty, but on such business as brings young men to our large towns every day do not forget that God is here.
II. The portion of goods which fell to the prodigal must have been a handsome patrimony, and it would have been his wisdom to wait for it till the proper time. But with indecent haste he forestalled his reversion, and what he obtained so easily he quickly fooled away. Daily bread costs little, but dainties are dear, and are never so costly as when they are gifts from the devil.
J. Hamilton, Works, vol. ii., p. 287.
I. Pleasant as is the lot of our inheritance, it is well to remember that the thickets and steep places are haunted. Frightful ogres frequent them, and they are sure to sally forth on the heedless wanderer. The names of three of the best known are: The Lust of the Eye, the Lust of the Flesh, and the Pride of Life; or, as they are sometimes called Vanity, or the love of display; Sensuality, or the love of low pleasure; and the Affectation of Fashion, or the keeping-up of appearances.
II. If you would pass innocently through a difficult world keep within the rules. Let your life be open, your eye single, your walk in the broad light of day. To the great temptations the great antidote is not a limited income so much as a large self-denial.
J. Hamilton, Works, vol. ii., p. 300.
References: Luke 15:13 . J. Bainton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xix., p. 220; Ibid., vol. xxii., p. 220; Church of England Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 143.
I. All may be lost by one transgression. The heart of this young man died away from his home. That home ceased to be sacred: the father was no longer paramount. Grace was gone. Prayer was given up. Good feelings faded, and now that temptation and combustible corruption came together, he was soon set on fire of hell.
II. In the figurative language of the parable, there arose in the far country a mighty famine. Extravagance soon brings the "noble to ninepence," and in the far country it is not far that ninepence will go. But there may be so mighty a famine and so great, that even the noble will not buy the loaf of bread. Of all the paths which at life's outset invite the inexperienced traveller, the surest to pierce through with many sorrows is the path of sensual indulgence.
J. Hamilton, Works, vol. ii., p. 313.
Reference: Luke 15:14 . J. Keble, Sermons from Lent to Passiontide, p. 419.
I. Whether it be a natural nobleness, or an acquired refinement, the one, the direct gift of God; the other, an indirect creation of the Gospel it is seldom forfeited all at once. Step by step the downward path is trodden, till at last the prodigal's snatching tit-bits from the swine-trough shows how thorough is the transformation since he fell from his old estate.
II. If self-seeking can never be successful if separation from God is the death of the soul if carelessness about other's welfare, not to say misanthropy is misery, there can be little difficulty in deciding what is life and joy and peace. Love to Christ, harmony with God these are happiness.
J. Hamilton, Works, vol. ii., p. 325.
Reference: Luke 15:15 , Luke 15:16 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 373.
There are two tests to which we have a right to submit every new religion. There are two questions which we have a right, and which it is our duty, to put to every one who claims to come to us as a teacher from God. And these two questions are: (1) "What have you to tell us concerning the nature of God?" and, (2) "What have you to tell us concerning the nature of man?" Now, of these tests it is clear which is the simplest and most easy to apply: obviously the second. We do know the nature of man, or think we do. Of the Divine nature we are necessarily and naturally in comparative ignorance. We do know something of human life, and of its circumstances; and, therefore, he who tells us that concerning man's nature which we know to be untrue has lost his claim upon our attention when he goes on to tell us something concerning God.
I. Consider, in the light of this test, as regards its theory of humanity, the religion of the Bible. There is a theory concerning man's nature and condition on which the whole of this book, and all it professes to teach us, is based. I bring this religion to the test of one admitted and notorious fact in the nature and condition of man, in order to see how it explains that fact, and how it proposes to deal with it. The fact is the admitted and notorious fact of the exceptional unhappiness of man. Our Lord, in this parable, confronts Himself with this fact, as every teacher of the Gospel, or good news, must do if he is to win the attention of men. The hero of this story, the prodigal son, is, as you see, a sufferer; but he is more than that, he is an exceptional sufferer. All the other creatures described in the parable the lower servants of the father have bread and to spare; he alone suffers hunger. And more than that, he is a strangely exceptional sufferer, for he who suffers is infinitely superior to those who are happy. All animals that we know of, save man, seem to be subject to this twofold law. Each animal has its instincts, its desires, its appetites, and in the climate or element in which it exists there are corresponding objects of gratification for those appetites and those desires. Man is pained from two different sources one is the pain of satiety, and the other the pain of remorse. Give the man all the portion of goods that can fall to him, or that in his wildest dreams of covetousness or ambition he can desire for himself; when he has enjoyed these to the very full, and just because he has enjoyed them, there begins to be felt a famine in his enjoyment, and there does come the weariness of satiety into his heart and soul.
II. The Bible theory of man is this, that he is not his true self, that he is a creature not in his proper and true element. It tells us that it has been the curse and the disorganisation of the nature of man, that in the exercise of the strange and mysterious spiritual power free will, he has wandered away from the Father's home, and claimed the selfish and solitary possession of the goods that the Father lavished upon him; it tells us that the origin of all human sin and sorrow has been this, that he has said, "Give me the portion of goods that faileth to me. The Bible tells us that misery is the result of this vain effort of man to do in this world of God without the God who made him; that all his misery, his weariness, is but the sublime discontent of the soul that was made to rest in its God, and cannot rest in anything less than God.
III. Our religion is a historical religion. It bases itself upon one life in the past, it is ever renewing and revealing itself in many lives ever since that life was lived on earth. It bases itself on one life, and that life was a perfect life, the life of one who, all through His existence, as far as we know it, was a life unstained by impurity, a life unvexed and unharassed by sensual or evil impulses, it was a life that was passed in entire and complete obedience to the will of the Father. The life that He lived, that perfect life of obedience for which all its sorrow only came from without, and only came from the fact that all around Him were not like Him, equally obedient that life, He tells us, He can supernaturally give to us, "I am come that ye might have life, and that ye might have it more abundantly."
Archbishop Magee, Oxford and Cambridge Journal, Dec. 2nd, 1880.
We take the text as something to remind us that we have fallen far, but not hopelessly; that, great as is our present depression beneath the condition which our race was created, so great may yet be our rise; and that the very end and purpose of all Christ's work and suffering in this world, was to bring us back to our better selves; to restore us to the holiness, happiness, and peace, which man lost when man fell. Let us remember that the human race was itself when it was at its best. Man was himself before he fell. We were created in God's image, and our fall brought us into a state of sin and misery.
I. As for sin, you know there is a double burden there. Two things go to make the burden of our sinfulness: original sin, and the countless actual sins we have done. Our first parents had no inherited burden of guilt. They started fair. We do not. They had not to bear that load which all of us have to bear; that load which crushes down so many of our race, and which many a one has hardly a hope of escaping. Now, what we need as regards all this is to be brought back to our better self; brought back to where human nature was before it fell; and Christ, in His great atoning work, does that. He puts His redeemed ones so effectually in that condition, that they can never leave it again. Not the unstable and speedily lost purity of the days in Eden; but an enduring, an irrefragable holiness, never to be lost more.
II. The Fall brought us also into an estate of misery. And we remember from childhood the sad but too true tale of the items that make up human misery. Looking back, we discern a day when it was different. Once man walked in communion with God, and was free and happy in that communion. In his unfallen state, Adam would not have known what any one meant who had spoken to him of the wrath and curse of God; and least of all would he have been able to understand, till sad experience taught him, what is meant by the pangs of an accusing conscience what is meant by the burden of remorse. And now let us thankfully mark that the Redeemer takes away, even here, in part, and fully hereafter, each of these things that go to make the sum of the sorrow into which man came when he fell. The manifold ills and trials of life may still remain; but even in this world He lightens them, takes the worst sting from them; do but trust Him as we ought, and God will keep him in perfect peace "whose mind is stayed upon Himself," and even where these ills and cares are most heavily felt, the Holy Spirit makes them work together for the soul's true good.
A. K. H. B., Counsel and Comfort from a City Pulpit, p. 55.
The Hunger of the Soul.
The truth here expressed is this: that a life separated from God is a life of bitter hunger, or even of spiritual starvation.
I. Consider the true grounds of the fact stated; for as we discover how and for what reasons the life of sin must be a life of hunger, we shall see the more readily and clearly the force of those illustrations by which the fact is exhibited. The great principle that underlies the whole subject and all the facts pertaining to it is, that the soul is a creature that wants food, in order to its satisfaction, as truly as the body. No principle is more certain, and yet there is none so generally overlooked, or hidden from the sight of men. Our blessed Lord appears to have always the feeling that He has come down into a realm of hungry, famishing souls. You see this in the parable of the prodigal son, and that of the feast or supper. Hence, also, that very remarkable discourse in John vi., where He declares Himself as the living Bread that came down from heaven; that a man may eat thereof and not die. it is the grand endeavour of the Gospel to communicate God to men. They have undertaken to live without Him, and do not see that they are starving in the bitterness of their experiment. When Christ is received, He restores the consciousness of God, fills the soul with the Divine light, and sets it in that connection with God which is life eternal life.
II. Consider the necessary hunger of a state of sin, and the tokens by which it is indicated. A hungry herd of animals, waiting the time of their feeding, do not show their hunger more convincingly, by their impatient cries and eager looks and motions, than the human race do theirs, in the works, and ways, and tempers of their selfish life. I can only point out a few of these demonstrations. (1) The common endeavour to make the body receive double, so as to satisfy both itself and the soul too, with its pleasures. Hence the drunkenness, and high feasting, and crimes of excess. Men are hungry everywhere, and they compel the body to make a swine's heaven for the comfort of the godlike soul. (2) Again, we see the hunger of sin by the immense number of drudges there are in the world. It makes little difference generally whether men are poor or rich. Some terrible hunger is upon them, and it drives them madly forward, through burdens, and sacrifices, and toils that would be rank oppression put upon a slave. (3) Notice, again, how many contrive in one way and another, to get, if possible, some food of content for the soul that has a finer and more fit quality than the swine's food with which they so often overtask the body honour, power, admiration, flattery, society, literary accomplishments. The Spirit of God will sometimes show us, in an unwonted manner, the secret of these troubles, for He is the Interpreter of the soul's troubles. He comes to it whispering inwardly the awful secret of its pains "Without God and without hope in the world." He bids the swineherd look up from his sensual object and works, and remember his home and his Father; tells him of a great supper prepared, and that all things are now ready, and bids him come. Conscious of that deep poverty he is in; conscious of that immortal being whose deep wants have been so long denied; he hears a gentle voice of love saying, "I am that Bread of life... I am the living Bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this Bread, he shall live."
H. Bushnell, The New Life, p. 32.
References: Luke 15:17 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvii., No. 1000; J. Thain Davidson, Forewarned Forearmed, p. 247; J. Jacob, Church of England Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 63; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines of Sermons, p. 66; J. Keble, Sermons from Lent to Passiontide, p. 436; H. W. Beecher, Sermons, 3rd series, p. 473; W. Hay Aitken, Mission Sermons, vol. ii., p. 139; Ibid., 2nd series, p. 139. Luke 15:17-19 . J. Armstrong, Parochial Sermons, p. 220; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iv., p. 85.
I. Note the awaking or arising of the soul out of sheer worldliness into a condition of godliness. A life of worldliness is unmanly, for it falls short of that for which man's capacities plainly indicate that he was born. It is undutiful, for it withholds from the Father of our spirits the trust and love and gratitude we owe to Him It is perilous, for even if we make no account of the direct retributions of the great day of judgment, the spirit of the worldly man is being trained and moulded into a character which will be lasting as his being, and will render him for ever unfit for the society of God and His Holy One.
II. I will arise out of this condition of estrangement, and seek reconciliation with my Father. God is the Creator, we are His creatures. He is the King, we are His subjects. But above all He is the Father, we are His children. It is no longer a philosophic and wild speculation, but the most certain and of practical truths, that God and man are Father and child. But it is likewise a truth certified by many signs, and above all, by our own consciousness, that the tie between this Father and child has been somehow broken. That we do not trust, that we do not love, that we do not obey, we know too well. We are in a state of estrangement from our Father, and such a state must ever be both criminal and miserable. Its consequences, if not averted by a timely healing of the breach, must be eternally disastrous. Say, with the Son in the parable, "I have sinned." The Father whom you have wronged so grievously, whose deep displeasure you have incurred, has not ceased to love you. He sees the misery to which you have reduced yourselves; He waits and watches for the first sign of your awaking to a sense of your sin, and He will welcome you back to His home.
J. Kennedy, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ix., p. 289.
I. These words contain consolation. It is the prodigal who speaks them. None can say, "By some course of thought or action of mine, I have excluded myself from the right to use them." It is the prodigal son who speaks them. None can say, "I must make myself a son; I must establish my relationship to God before I claim the full sense and virtue of them."
II. These words contain every satisfaction which those want whose minds have been staggered with doubts as to whether the world is not left to the mercy of the power of evil. In the last century the Lisbon earthquake led Rousseau to write his letters on Optimism. He was nearly mad already. It would have driven him actually mad not to think that all things were somehow tending to good; that even the worst calamities befalling the innocent did not prove that theory to be false. The philosopher of Ferney answered him in the story of Candide. The notion "everything is for the best," applied to particulars, was exhibited as utterly ridiculous. Madame de Stael may have been right in describing this story as the grinning of an ape at the miseries of humanity. But there was much in it which the understandings, even the consciences, of men felt to be true. A general maxim or theory of the universe does not meet individual cases. It breaks down the moment the particular instance occurs to which we need that it should be applied. Whence comes our horror of such evils, our consciousness of something directly, absolutely, opposed to them? Did civilisation give these ideas? Do they constitute civilisation? Is not civilisation apart from them a name and a fiction, or else a synonym for the habits that weaken and impair manliness, courage, the reverence for women, sincerity, justice? Whence, then, are these? Is there not, must there not be a Father of spirits from whom they issue forth, in whom they dwell perfectly, absolutely? There is no experience so individual as that of moral evil; when we feel that we need such a God as Jesus Christ has revealed to us to be a Deliverer from that, we know that what is most blessed for the world is most blessed also for us.
F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. ii., p. 235.
I. Observe that the prodigal son said, "I am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants." We know that God's service is perfect freedom, not a servitude; but this is in the case of those who have long served Him; at first it is a kind of servitude, it is a task till our likings and tastes come to be in unison with those which God has sanctioned. We must begin religion with what looks like a form. Our fault will be, not in beginning it as a form, but in continuing it as a form; for it is our duty to be ever striving and praying to enter into the real spirit of our services; and in proportion as we understand them and love them they will cease to be a form and a task, and will be the real expression of our minds. Thus shall we gradually be changed in heart from servants to sons of Almighty God.
II. Consider the motives which actuate the repentant sinner in his endeavours to serve God. One of the most natural, and among the first that arise in the mind, is that of propitiating Him. When we are conscious to ourselves of having offended another, and wish to be forgiven, of course we look about for some means of setting ourselves right with Him. And this holds good when applied to the case of sinners desiring forgiveness from God. The marks of His mercy all around us are strong enough to inspire us with some general hope. Under these circumstances it is natural that the conscience-striken sinner should look round him for some atonement with which to meet his God. But now, turning to the parable of the prodigal son, we find nothing of this kind in it. The truth is, that our Saviour has shown us in all things a more perfect way than was ever before shown to man. The most noble repentance, the most decorous conduct in a conscious sinner, is an unconditional surrender of himself to God; not a bargaining, not a scheming to be received back again, but an instant surrender of himself in the first instance. God indeed meets us on the way with the tokens of His favour, and so He bears up human faith, which else would sink under the apprehension of meeting the Most High God; still, for our repentance to be Christian, there must be in it that generous temper of self-surrender, the acknowledgment that we are unworthy to be called any more His sons, the abstinence from all ambitious hopes of sitting on His right hand or His left, and the willingness to bear the heavy yoke of bond-servants, if He should put it upon us.
J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. iii., p. 90.
References: Luke 15:18 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii., No. 113; Ibid., Evening by Evening, p. 49; J. Kennedy, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ix., p. 288; Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 86; J. Vaughan, Sermons, 13th series, p. 29; Ibid., 9th series, p. 173.Luke 15:18 , Luke 15:19 . G. Moberly, Parochial Sermons, p. 73; R. Winterbotham, Sermons and Expositions, p. 212.
The Hunger of the Soul.
I. Why did God make it so natural for us all to grieve over the past, and to lament so bitterly for sin? One way of looking at the matter may be suggestive to us all. Does it not seem as if this same penitence and sorrow for misdoings were like to the pains of hunger in the body, which at once tells of weakness and waste and toil, and which at the same time prompts us to seek for refreshment and renewal of our fasting. But for the pangs of hunger urging us to eat, the human race would disappear infallibly; the pain that is so terrible is the very cause of our continuing to live. And such a pain is it which the remembrance of sin arouses; it, too, tells of a waste that has been going on within; the waste of blessings on the right hand and on the left; the waste of spiritual purity and faith and earnestness; the loss of spiritual strength and devotion; the want of strenuous zeal for truth; the wear and tear which the frivolities and vices of the world around us must infallibly produce upon us all; but it is a pain which God gives us, not it may be painful and no more, but that its painfulness may tell us of an evil state of things, and not suffer us to be content therewith.
II. Therefore, if on you there comes at times, as God grant there may:
"A sense of emptiness, without the sense
Of an abiding fulness anywhere;"
a sense of weariness and self-reproach as you see to how little purpose you have lived; a sense of pain and grief as you reflect how you have been mastered in the evil language and bad passions that tempt us all to wrong; then thank God for the pain and shame and penitence, and do not strive to check it, or forget it, or drive it off. Arise, and go to your Father, "and say unto Him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before Thee, and am no more worthy to be called Thy son."
A. Jessopp, Norwich School Sermons, p. 201.
A happy Meeting.
I. God is infinitely holy, and sin is His abhorrence. But the great sin is departure from the living God, and this never ceases till you return. And if you yourself long to be holy, it is in forgiveness that the fresh start, the new obedience, begins; if you would escape from the bondage of corruption, you must retreat into the home of God and gain the glorious liberty of His children.
II. The relation which the Most High sustains to His intelligent and accountable creatures is too comprehensive and too intimate to be perfectly imaged by any earthly tie; but in the relation which runs through this parable it finds its nearest equivalent. And what among ourselves is fatherhood? It is the relation which identifies greatness with littleness; it is the relation which lives in the loved one's joy or honour, and which is wounded in his grief or disgrace; which feels no pride like a son's promotion; which delights in being trusted, and which desires to be loved in return. Wonderful is parental affection, and wonderful the love of God. "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him."
J. Hamilton, Works, vol. ii., p. 351.
References: Luke 15:20 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xx., No. 1189; vol. x., No. 588; vol. iv., No. 176; J. Keble, Sermons from Lent to Passiontide, p. 442.Luke 15:21 . J. Vaughan, Sermons, 13th series, p. 29. Luke 15:22 . Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iii., p. 129; Christian World Pulpit, vol. viii., p. 99. Luke 15:22 , Luke 15:23 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xx., No. 1204.
I. The feast which here took place denotes "the joy of a forgiving God over a forgiven man, and the joy of a forgiven man in a forgiving God." The one is a gracious revelation, the other a blessed experience, and each reacts upon the other. To a forthgoing affectionate nature it is a joy to be trusted; to a holy nature it is a joy to create righteousness and arrest evil, and in the case of every soul that is saved such is the joy of God.
II. There is a Divine delicacy in the ways of God. He does not clog His Gospel with conditions, nor is the joy of forgiveness dashed by formal stipulations as to future conduct. He would have you be, not a hired servant, but a son. He will not vex you by repeating, too often, "Son, go!" Nevertheless, knowing as you do the will of your Father, and merely saying "I go, Sir," without stirring a step, can you wonder that He is grieved at His heart? Can you wonder if your consolations are small?
J. Hamilton, Works, vol. ii., p. 378.
References: Luke 15:24 . H. M. Butler, Harrow Sermons, p. 161; J. M. Neale, Sermons in a Religious House, 2nd series, vol. i., p. 1; Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. viii., p. 13.
We may see from this passage:
I. That the position of the elder son is preferable to that of the younger, because of the risk he escaped.
II. Because a life of continuous godliness is far easier than a life of godliness succeeding a life of sin.
III. Viewed as a whole, the life of the son who remained at home must yield far more pleasure to God than the life of the son who wanders and then returns.
E. Mellor, In the Footsteps of Heroes, p. 195.
References: Luke 15:25 . J. Burton, Christian Life and Truth, p. 398. Luke 15:25 , Luke 15:29 . D. Thomas, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 184 Luke 15:25-32 . G. Cross, Ibid., vol. xviii., p. 350; Homilist, vol. i., p. 342.
Contracted Views in Religion.
I. In the conduct of the father, there seemed, at first sight, an utter departure from the rules of fairness and justice. Here was a reprobate son received into his favour on the first stirrings of repentance. What was the use of serving him dutifully, if there were no difference in the end between the righteous and the wicked? The elder brother's case seemed a hard one; and that, even without supposing him to feel jealous, or to have unsuitable notions of his own importance and usefulness. Apply this to the case of religion, and it still holds good. At first sight, the reception of the penitent sinner seems to interfere with the reward of the faithful servant of God. The words of the text are the expression of an agitated mind, that fears lest it be cast back upon the wide world, to grope in the dark without a God to guide and encourage it in its course.
II. The condescending answer of the Father in the parable is most instructive. It sanctions the great truth which seemed in jeopardy, that it is not the same thing in the end to obey or to disobey, expressly telling us that the Christian penitent is not placed on the same footing with those who have consistently served God from the first. "Son, thou art ever with me; and all that I have is thine;" that is, "Why this sudden fear and distrust? Surely thou hast known me too long to suppose that thou canst lose by thy brother's gain. Thou art in my confidence. I do not make any outward display of kindness towards thee, for it is a thing to be taken for granted."
III. The elder brother had always lived at home; he had seen things go on one way, and, as was natural and right, got attached to them in that one way. But then, he could not conceive that they could possibly go on in any other way; when an occurrence took place for which he had hitherto met no precedent he lost himself, as being thrust suddenly out of the contracted circle in which he had hitherto walked. He was disconcerted and angry with his father. And so, in religion, we have need to watch against that narrowness of mind, to which we are tempted by the uniformity and tranquillity of God's providence towards us. Let us guard against discontent in any shape, and as we cannot help hearing what goes on in the world, let us guard, on hearing it, against all intemperate, uncharitable feelings towards those who differ from us, or oppose us.
J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. 111., p. 182.
Reference: Luke 15:29 . Homiletic Magazine, vol. xiv., p. 291.
What is the moral significance of the incident of the Elder Son?
I. It is, some writers tell us, to mark the contrast between the narrow, merciless heart of the self-righteous man, as compared with the comprehensive, all-forgiving love of our heavenly Father. He who had been most sinned against he whose the property had been which a profligate son had wasted was ready to forgive; the other, far less injured, had only words of discontent and anger for his father's large-hearted mercy. It is possible that this contrast was intended, but I am sure it is not the principal purpose of the incident.
II. To determine what that significance really is, let us consider in the first place what the series of parables would be without it. Let us suppose that this series ended with the loving even enthusiastic reception of the younger son a this father's house. Might not the thought then be suggested. "If it be true that a profligate who repents is more pleasing in the sight of God than one who has led a consistently virtuous life, is it not better that I should do as this young man did? "This was the thought which passed through the mind of the elder son. The father's reply seems to have been intended to correct an erroneous inference which might, not unnaturally, be drawn, and which the elder son did actually draw. It is in its tone rather soothing than reproachful, meant to correct a mistake, and so to remove the anger which this mistake had caused; but not, as far as I can see, condemning the anger as at all unreasonable under the mistake. The Author of these parables foresaw that men might draw from them the false but not unnatural inference, that God prefers deep sinfulness, followed by true repentance, to a continuance in welldoing. To prevent such a mistake, this very objection is put into the mouth of the elder son. And in the reply of the father is fixed the true position of the repentant sinner. He is received with forgiveness, with welcome, with joy; but he does not take, in the estimation of his heavenly Father, the place of him "who by patient continuance in welldoing seeks for glory and honour and immortality."
J. H. Jellett, The Elder Son and Other Sermons, p. 1.
References: Luke 15:31 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 375; Sermons from Lent to Passiontide, p. 451; J. Ferrier, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxii., p. 211; G. Matheson, Moments on the Mount, p. 115.Luke 15:32 . J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 10th series, p. 86. E. Cooper, Practical Sermons, vol. iii., p. 178. Luke 15:0 A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, p. 27; F. D. Maurice, The Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven, p. 233.Luke 16:1 . J. E. Vaux, Sermon Notes, 2nd series, p. 18. Luke 16:1-8 . H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xi., p. 346; Preacher's Monthly, vol. vii., p. 377; C. Kingsley, Town and Country Sermons, p. 356. Luke 16:1-9 . Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i, p. 345.Luke 16:1-10 . H. Calderwood, The Parables, p. 266; A. B. Bruce, The Parabolic Teaching of Christ, p. 355.Luke 16:1-12 . Homiletic Quarterly, p. 503; Ibid., vol. vi., p. 34; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 19; R. C. Trench, Notes on the Parables, p. 427.
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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Luke 15". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29