Click here to learn more!
THE LOST SHEEP
Luke 15:3-7. 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.
THERE is nothing more injurious to ourselves or others than prejudice. While it operates as a bar to our own improvement, it leads us to put a perverse construction on every thing we see or hear: it will extract matter for censure even from the most innocent or laudable actions. The malignity of it cannot be seen in more striking colours than in the conduct of the Pharisees towards our Lord: he conversed familiarly with the most abandoned sinners for their good; such condescension ought to have been regarded with the highest approbation, but it provoked only the spleen and malice of the haughty Pharisees. Our Lord however took the best method of silencing their murmurs. By appealing to their own consciences he forced them to condemn themselves.
We shall consider,
The scope of the parable is not so much to mark the resemblance between a sinner and a lost sheep, as between our Lord and a faithful shepherd—
The parallel between them will appear, if we consider,
A shepherd’s concern for his sheep when lost—
[Though a man had ninety-nine others, he would not be indifferent about the loss of one. If he missed one, he would immediately begin to make inquiries about it: he would not expect it ever to trace back its steps unto the fold again. If he gained intelligence respecting it, he would go in quest of it: leaving the rest in the pasture [Note: The Jews called all ground which was not arable, The wilderness.], he would seek diligently till he found it: and the more it was in danger of being devoured by wolves, the more assiduously would he exert himself for its recovery. Such is the conduct of our Lord towards our ruined race. We all are fitly compared to sheep wandering from the fold [Note: Isaiah 53:6.]. Never do we think of “returning to the great Shepherd of our souls,” though every moment exposed to the assaults of a devouring lion [Note: 1 Peter 5:8.]. Our compassionate Shepherd came from heaven itself to seek us. His solicitude for us is well delineated by an inspired prophet [Note: Ezekiel 34:11-16.]—. He moreover sends his servants into every part of the world. By his word and Spirit he endeavours to apprehend us: nor does he account any labour too great, if he may but succeed at last. Though he has myriads in his fold above, he cannot endure to lose one; nor, while so much as one of his sheep is wandering from him, will he relax his endeavours to bring it back.]
His joy over it when recovered—
[When a shepherd has found his lost sheep, he seizes it with his crook: the more it struggles for liberty, the more he labours to secure it: rather than lose it again, he brings it back upon his shoulders: exulting in his success, he announces it to every one he meets, and receives with pleasure the congratulations of his friends. Do we not here also see the benevolence of our blessed Lord? Having apprehended us by his grace, he overcomes our resistance: having prospered in his labour, he regrets not the pains he has bestowed: he is satisfied with all the travail of his soul when he beholds us safe. With joy he brings us to the society of his peculiar people, and calls on them also to rejoice together with him. This is beautifully described by the pen of inspiration [Note: Zephaniah 3:17.]—, and gloriously realized in every quarter of the globe.]
Our Lord himself elucidates the parable by suggesting,
The improvement of it—
Nothing could be more pertinent than this parable to the occasion on which it was delivered—
“Repentance” is properly represented as the return of the soul to God—
[While we remain impenitent we are afar off from God: we wander further and further from the path of life. But in repentance we are made to see our guilt and danger: we gladly embrace the mercy offered to us in the Gospel, and give up ourselves to God to be governed by his will, and be saved by his grace.]
Hence the repentance of sinners becomes a matter of joy to all the holy angels—
[Whether the glorified saints take any interest in our welfare we know not; but we are sure that angels are not unconcerned spectators of us [Note: Hebrews 1:14.]: they greatly delight both in God’s glory, and our good. The perseverance of established saints is a permanent source of happiness to them: but the conversion of a sinner fills them with more abundant joy [Note: They who need no repentance, are those, who having been converted to God, need not μετανοίαν, an entire change of mind, but only to be confirmed in their present views, and to be rendered conformable to them.]. The more desperate his condition had appeared, the more exquisite is the delight they feel in his recovery [Note: So Jacob on account of his son Joseph, Genesis 45:26-28; Genesis 46:30.]. Even “in the presence of God” himself they are attracted by this sight: not all the glory of the godhead can divert their attention from it; nor all the felicity of heaven indispose them for rejoicing in it. However strange this idea may seem, it is truly scriptural. Nothing can be plainer than the affirmation in the text [Note: See also ver. 10.]; nor can we doubt it without greatly dishonouring the character of Christ [Note: “The faithful witness.” Revelation 1:5.].]
In this view the repentance of men should excite joy in us also—
[This, though not expressed, is evidently implied in the words of our text. The chief scope of the parable was to reprove the envious spirit of the Pharisees. And what could so forcibly condemn it as the contrast here exhibited? Does Christ rejoice at the return of a sinner, and shall we repine? Do all the angels in heaven exult at such a sight, and shall we make it an occasion of offence? Are we then indeed better judges of what is good than they? or do we well to oppose what they so desire to see accomplished? Let us take heed lest we be found at last to have “fought against God:” let us rather encourage others both by precept and example: let us adore our Saviour for his condescension and grace toward sinful man; and let that, which was urged as an objection against him, be the greatest commendation of him to our souls [Note: ver. 2.].]
[While some are turning unto God, others are striving to draw them back. But let those, who have scoffed at religion, confess their folly; and those, who have discouraged repentance in others, repent of their iniquity. On the other hand, let the humble penitent go to God with confidence. Who can read this parable and doubt Christ’s willingness to save him? If there were but one penitent amongst us all, the angels would rejoice over him. How then would they shout for joy if we all began to implore mercy! Our past iniquities would rather enhance than diminish their glorying on our account [Note: Not because they take pleasure in sin, but because they regard us as brands plucked out of the fire.]. Let not those therefore, whose cases appear most hopeless, despond: let them forbear to trample any longer on the Saviour’s love: let it be their ambition to give joy to those whom they have so often grieved. Thus also shall they join in the general chorus at the last day, and ascribe the “glory to him who loved them, and gave himself for them [Note: Revelation 1:5-6.].”]
THE LOST PIECE OF SILVER
Luke 15:8-10. 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.
THERE is nothing in which we are so deeply interested as the extent and riches of the Redeemer’s grace. His familiar converse with publicans and sinners affords the richest encouragement to us, when we are bowed down under a sense of guilt. His condescension towards them indeed excited only disgust in the proud Pharisees; but Jesus was the more careful to vindicate the conduct which they condemned, and in repeated parables assured them, that it was the joy of his heart to save even the vilest of mankind. The parable of the lost piece of money very nearly resembles that which precedes it: nevertheless it suggests many useful thoughts which are appropriate to itself. Its import may be unfolded under the following observations:
There are none so worthless but the Lord is deeply concerned about them—
The woman expressed very great anxiety about the piece of silver she had lost—
[The piece of silver was but of very trifling value in itself [Note: About sevenpence halfpenny.]: yet she felt much solicitude about it in her mind; nor was she content to lose it, notwithstanding she had several others left.]
Thus is our blessed Lord concerned about the souls of men—
[In some points of view the soul is undoubtedly of great value, nor can the whole world itself be put in competition with it: but to Jesus the souls of men are not of the smallest importance. If they were righteous, their goodness could not extend to him [Note: Psalms 16:2.]: they could never profit him, nor add to his happiness [Note: Job 22:2-3.]. If all that ever existed were annihilated, he would suffer no loss: if men were necessary to his honour or happiness, he could create millions in an instant. But the souls of men are inexpressibly vile and guilty in his sight: till they have been washed in his blood, they are exposed to his wrath and indignation; nor is it any thing but his marvellous compassion that preserves them from everlasting destruction [Note: Lamentations 3:22.]. Nevertheless he is greatly concerned about the loss even of one amongst them. Though he has myriads that are now safely lodged in his hands, he cannot rest satisfied about those that are yet in danger. By the prophets he expressed his deep regret for those that were in a perishing condition [Note: Jeremiah 13:27. Hosea 11:8.]: in the days of his flesh he wept over the most abandoned of the human race [Note: Luke 19:41.]: and to this hour he is grieved at the thought of any dying in their sins [Note: 2 Peter 3:9.].]
Nor is his concern for them expressed only by inactive wishes:
There are no exertions, however great, which he will not use for their recovery—
The woman is represented as doing every thing which could be devised for the recovery of her lost piece of silver—
[She instantly lighted a candle, that she might search in every dark corner of her house. She moreover swept her house, that, if it were hid under any dirt or rubbish, she might find it: nor did she relax her endeavours till they were crowned with success. What more could she have done if the lost money had been of the greatest value?]
Thus our Lord uses all possible means for the recovery of lost souls—
[Were we lying in utter darkness? he has brought the light of his Gospel: this light he has sent into all the darkest corners of the earth [Note: Isaiah 9:2.]. In the days of his flesh he used all diligence himself: since that time he has commissioned his servants to go into all the world. He has enjoined them to “be instant in their work, in season and out of season:” he has even threatened that, if one perish through their negligence, he will “require his blood at their hands:” he has moreover sent his Spirit to aid them in their endeavours, and to search the very inmost recesses of our benighted souls. However fruitless their exertions may have been, they are never to give up any for lost, as long as there is a possibility of their being found. May he not well say, “What could I have done more for them than I have done [Note: Isaiah 5:4.]?” If he appeals to us about the conduct of a woman who had lost her money, how much more may he appeal to us respecting his own conduct?]
When his labours are successful, then his kindness appears in its brightest colours—
There is nothing so pleasing to him as the recovery of one from his lost state—
The woman is represented as inviting all her neighbours to rejoice with her—
[The cause of her joy seems very inadequate to such expressions of it: but women, being conversant mainly with domestic matters, are apt to be affected with small things. Her whole property also being small, she may be supposed to feel the more at the recovery of that part which had been in danger; and the circumstance of its having been lost would render the subsequent possession of it more pleasant.]
Thus our Lord and all the angels in heaven rejoice over a repenting sinner—
[This is the main scope of this parable, as well as of that which precedes, and that which follows it; hence it is strongly marked in every one of the parables: we must not therefore omit it, or think the repetition of it tedious. Our Lord well knew the misery of a soul that perishes in sin: the angels too are doubtless well informed on this subject. Were it never to be sensible of its loss, there would be the less reason to regret it: but, if not put among the treasures of God, it must be for over miserable. To prevent this is the joy and delight of our blessed Saviour. For this he came down from heaven, assumed our nature, and died upon the cross: for this he is dispensing to us continually his word and Spirit. The effecting of this is the consummation of all his wishes and purposes: hence, however inadequate a cause of joy this may seem, he accounts it his highest honour and happiness. He is “satisfied with the travail of his soul,” when one that was lost is found; and all the angels that surround his throne rejoice together with him. As all hell is moved with triumph at the condemnation of one sinner [Note: Isaiah 14:9-10.], so does all heaven exult in the elevation of one to happiness and glory.]
How strange is it that men should have so little regard to their own souls!
[The generality of men are as careless of their souls as if they were of no value. But should we disregard that which the Son of God seeks with so much anxiety? Should we be so indifferent about our own happiness, when all the angels of heaven would shout for joy at the prospect of it? Let us never be satisfied with being immersed in darkness and wickedness — — — Let us rather be ambitious to have a place among the Lord’s treasures — — — And let us be thankful that, though lost, we are not yet gone beyond recovery.]
How blessed are the effects of a faithful administration of the Gospel!
[It is by the Gospel that Jesus comes to search for lost sinners. If indeed it be delivered only in a general way, it will scarcely ever prove effectual for men’s salvation: it is only the close application of the word, that will ever reach the conscience: but, when faithfully preached, and accompanied with God’s Spirit, it will find out men in their darkest recesses. O that God may now make use of it to sweep away the rubbish under which we have lain! — — — and that we may be found of him, ere he “sweep us away with the besom of destruction!”]
What reason have we to adore the condescension and grace of Christ!
[If he did not seek for us we should lie in our sins to all eternity, and when found at the last day, that word would be verified in us [Note: Jeremiah 6:30.]— What kindness then is it in him to use such means for our recovery! — — — Let us never forget what obligations we owe to him. Let us acknowledge ourselves his, that he may do with us as he will. He will then keep us that we may not fall from him any more [Note: John 10:28. 1 Peter 1:5.], and will lodge us safely in his coffers amidst the treasures he has been collecting from the foundation of the world [Note: Ephesians 1:10; Ephesians 1:14.Malachi 3:17; Malachi 3:17.].]
ANGELS REJOICE OVER PENITENTS
Luke 15:10. I say unto you, There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.
HOWEVER paradoxical the observation may appear, man is really an enemy to his own happiness. He loves sin, which is the source of all misery: and hates repentance, which is the only remedy for that misery. He cannot persuade himself that that which he professes to seek after, is to be found in penitence and self-denial. But, had we no other proof of the blessedness which attaches to true repentance, it were sufficient to know, upon the authority of Jesus Christ himself, that the very angels in heaven rejoice over any sinner in whom this good work is begun.
We will take occasion from our text to shew you,
What is that repentance which causes joy in heaven—
It is not every kind or degree of repentance that produces this effect: none but that which is effectual to the sinner’s salvation, will excite these benevolent emotions in the breasts of angels. It consists in,
Sorrow for sin—
[This is absolutely necessary. If sin be not our burthen and grief, we have not the smallest spark of true repentance. There is a great difference indeed between the sorrow of the world, and that which is caused by a sense of sin. But in this there must be an agreement, that sin must lie as a heavy burthen upon the soul; and under a sense of it we must experience brokenness of heart and contrition: for it is “the broken and contrite heart, and that only, which God will not despise.”]
Hatred of sin—
[Many will be sorry that they have brought themselves to shame and trouble, when they have no aversion to the sins which they have committed. Many also will hate sin in others, when they do not hate it in themselves. When David, for instance, was totally unhumbled for his own enormous wickedness, he was so indignant against the man who was supposed to have taken the poor man’s lamb, that he would have had him put to death for his offence. And Jehu was extremely zealous against the idolatry of Ahab, while yet he was very indulgent to his own crimes. But if we are truly penitent, we shall hate our own sins more than any; and shall be disposed to seek their utter destruction, even though they be dear as a right hand, or a right eye. It will teach us to say with David, “I hate every false way.”]
A lothing of oneself on account of sin—
[Sin is a disorder that defiles and debases the whole soul. That is no exaggerated description of the prophet, who says of us, that “from the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in us, but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores.” Now we may conceive in a measure, what lothing we should feel if we saw a person full of sores and ulcers: and such is the disgust which a view of our own souls should create within us. This is repeatedly mentioned as the experience of the Lord’s people, even after that God is pacified towards them [Note: Ezekiel 20:43; Ezekiel 16:63.]: and every one who really knows himself, will exclaim with Job, “Behold, I am vile, I repent, and abhor myself in dust and ashes [Note: Job 40:4; Job 42:6.].”]
A fleeing to Christ from the guilt and power of sin—
[As long as we retain a hope of healing our own souls, we have not that “repentance which is unto life:” we evidently have low thoughts of sin, both of its guilt and power. We must be brought to an utter despair of washing away our sin by our tears, or of breaking its force by our resolutions. We must see that there is no hope for us but in the atoning blood of Christ, and in his all-sufficient grace: and we must rely simply on him, saying, “In the Lord have I righteousness and strength [Note: Isaiah 45:24.].”]
The importance of this to man is obvious: but it is not so clear,
Why the angels take so deep an interest in it—
Whether the spirits of departed men have any knowledge of what passes in this world, may well be doubted: but it is certain that the angels are intimately connected with mankind, and take a lively interest in the things relating to them. They view the return of a penitent with peculiar delight;
Because it tends so greatly to the benefit of man—
[The angels cannot but be apprised of the misery into which the once happy, but now apostate, spirits are fallen: and they know that a participation of that misery is reserved for impenitent sinners. Whether they feel any pity towards a sinner in the midst of his rebellion, we cannot say: but we apprehend, that they rather look upon him with holy indignation, and stand ready to execute any judgment that God may see fit to inflict upon him [Note: Acts 12:23.]. But their benevolent hearts rejoice, if they see any one fleeing from the impending judgments, and setting his face in good earnest towards the heavenly kingdom. They congratulate him in their minds, and exult in the thought of having him to all eternity a partner of their joys.]
Because it opens fresh scope for the exercise of their own love—
[It is essential to benevolence to delight in opportunities of exerting itself for the benefit of the objects beloved. Now, as soon as ever a sinner repents and becomes an “heir of salvation, angels are sent forth to minister unto him.” “They encamp round about him” for the purpose. If they behold him turning out of the path of duty, as Balaam; or lingering in a place of danger, as Lot; or in any respect likely to “dash his foot against a stone;” they will lend him their friendly aid in such a way as shall tend most to his eternal welfare. How they act upon us, we are not told: but of their agency there can be no doubt. It is highly probable that they are busily employed in counteracting the devices of those wicked spirits, who are ever seeking to destroy us. In a dying hour, we are sure they encompass the bed of a true penitent, and watch for the dismission of his spirit from its house of clay, in order that they may bear it in triumph to the realms of bliss. Nor are their labours of love then terminated: for in the day of judgment they will gather together the saints wheresoever they were scattered, in order to present them before the throne of their Judge, and expedite the final completion of their happiness. These offices being so congenial with their own feelings, they rejoice in every thing that affords them an opportunity to perform them.]
Because it brings the highest glory to God—
[The contemplation of the Divine glory is doubtless the highest source of their felicity. Now in the return of a penitent sinner they behold all the persons of the Godhead shining forth in the brightest splendour. They behold all the wisdom and power and grace of the Father glorified, whenever his eternal counsels respecting the salvation of a soul are accomplished. They behold the infinite virtue of the Son’s atonement, whenever the iniquities of a repenting prodigal are blotted out. They behold the wonderful “love of the Holy Spirit, and the invincible efficacy of his operations, when a creature, once bearing the impress of Satan himself, is transformed into the image of his God. When they had first a clear prospect of these things at the incarnation of our Lord, they sang, “Glory to God in the highest;” and every fresh manifestation of this mercy has filled them with additional and increasing joy.]
To the impenitent—
[Think what painful reflections your state suggests to those benevolent spirits; ‘There are those infatuated people, laden with sins; on the brink of eternity; followed with overtures of mercy; assured that if they die in their present state they must perish for ever; and yet continuing impenitent! What a miracle of mercy it is that God does not instantly cut them down, and assign them the portion they deserve!’ Think too how the evil angels are exulting over you; ‘There they are; we have them fast in our chains; we shall soon have them as partners of our misery; then how shall we triumph over our God! Yes; the Father’s counsels with respect to them will all be frustrated; the blood of Christ will have been shed in vain; the Spirit’s operations will have been successfully resisted: though we shall be in hell ourselves, we will enjoy our triumphs even there; for we shall have robbed man of his happiness, and God of his glory.’ O brethren, consider whether ye are willing to afford such a triumph to your bitterest enemy: and beg of Jesus, who is “exalted to give repentance and remission of sins,” that he will bestow these blessings upon you.]
To the penitent—
[Let others deride or condemn your change, we will congratulate you upon it [Note: Psalms 126:3.]. The angels would feel no joy at your acquiring a large estate: No; “if a beggar were elevated from a dunghill to a throne,” they would not account it worth one single thought. But if the poorest or vilest person in the universe repent, it fills them with unfeigned joy. They have not so much joy in the very presence of God, but it is capable of being augmented by such a sight as this. Nor is it a day of Pentecost alone that attracts their attention. Even a solitary instance of conversion is sufficient to exhilarate their souls. Go on then, my brethren, sowing in tears; and you shall ere long, in conjunction with the holy angels, reap a harvest of eternal joy.]
THE PRODIGAL SON
Luke 15:23-24. 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.
THE willingness of God to receive sinners is abundantly declared in Scripture; but in no place is it so amply, or so beautifully described as in the parable before us. The reference which the parable has to the Jews and Gentiles will be more properly noticed, when we come to consider the conduct of the elder brother: at present we may view it as a lively representation of a sinner’s return to God. The text leads our attention to three points (which are also the three distinguishing parts of the parable) namely, the Prodigal’s departure from his father, his return to him, and his reception with him.
He went from his father’s house, little thinking of the ruin he should bring upon himself—
[The occasion of his departure was, that he hated the restraint of his father’s presence, and longed for independence, that he might gratify his own inclinations. Hence he desired his father to divide him his portion. But little did he think to what extent his passions would carry him. Scarcely had he received his portion, before he left his father, and departed to a distant country, where his actions would pass unnoticed. Having thus thrown the reins upon the neck of his appetites, he was carried on with irresistible impetuosity. From one degree of sin to another he rushed forward without restraint; nor stopped till he had wasted his substance in riotous living. At last he began to feel the consequences of his folly: he was reduced to a state of extreme wretchedness; yet he determined to do any thing rather than return to his father. Though a Jew, he submitted for hire to the ignominious employment of feeding swine: his wages however, there being a grievous famine in the land, would not procure him even necessary subsistence. In vain did he attempt to fill his belly with the husks intended for the swine. In vain did he solicit assistance from those who had known him in his more prosperous days. “No man,” either from gratitude or compassion, “gave him” any relief.]
Such is the departure of sinners from the presence of their God—
[They have experienced the restraints of education, but have sighed for liberty and independence. With their growing years, they increasingly abuse the mercies which God has bestowed upon them. Their reason, their time, and other talents, they employ in the service of sin. Though they do not all run to the same excess of riot, they live equally at a distance from God. At last perhaps they begin to feel the misery which their neglect of him has brought upon them. His providence too concurs with his grace to make a deeper wound in their conscience: but they try any carnal expedients rather than return to God, nor can ever be prevailed on to turn unto him, till they have fully proved the insufficiency of the creature to afford them help. Whatever they may think of themselves in such a state, they are really “dead” and “lost.”]
But the Prodigal was not gone beyond recovery, as is evident from,
During his departure he had been as a person destitute of reason. At last however, “coming to himself” he thought of his father’s house.
The various steps of his return are worthy of notice—
[He first reflected on the folly and madness of his former ways, and on the incomparably happier state of those who lived under his father’s roof, and whom perhaps he once despised for submitting to such restraints. He then resolved that he would return to his father, and implore his forgiveness: having formed the purpose, he instantly arose to carry it into execution, and set off, destitute as he was, to obtain, if possible, the lowest office among his father’s domestics.]
These exactly describe the steps of a sinner’s return to God—
[He first begins to see how madly and wickedly he has acted. He feels that he has reduced himself to a wretched and perishing condition. He considers how happy are those once despised people, who enjoy the favour of his heavenly Father, and how happy he himself should be, if he might but obtain the meanest place in his family. With these views he determines to abase himself as a vile, self-ruined creature. There are no terms so humiliating, but he finds them suited to his case. He is rather fearful of not humbling himself sufficiently, than of aggravating his sin too much. He resolves that he will go to a throne of grace and ask for mercy; nor will he wait for any more convenient season, lest he should perish before the hoped-for season arrive. He is ashamed indeed to go in so mean and destitute a condition; but he despairs of ever going in any other way. He therefore breaks through all the engagements he has made with sin and Satan, and goes, with all his guilt upon him, to his God and Saviour. He now perhaps may be deemed mad by his former companions; but he should rather be considered as now “coming to himself.”]
The effect of the Prodigal’s repentance appears in,
His father, it seems, was wishfully looking out for him; and, on his first appearance, ran to testify his good-will towards him—
[The sight of his returning child caused the father’s bowels to yearn over him; nor would he suffer an upbraiding word to escape his lips. When the Prodigal began his confession, the father interrupted him with kisses; and not only would not hear the whole of his confession, but would not even hurt his feelings by saying that he forgave him. He ordered the best robe, with shoes and a ring, to be instantly put upon him, and killed the fatted calf in order to celebrate the joyful occasion.]
What a delightful representation does this give us of the reception which penitents find with God!
[God longs for their salvation even while they are at a distance from him. He notices with joy the first approaches of their souls towards him. Instead of frowning on the prodigal, he receives him with joy. Instead of upbraiding him with his folly, he seals upon his soul a sense of pardon. He arrays him in robes of righteousness and garments of salvation. He adorns him in a manner suited to the relation into which he is brought. He provides for his future comfortable and upright conversation. He rejoices over him as recovered from the dead, and makes it an occasion of festivity to all the angels in heaven. Thus do even the vilest sinners find their hopes, not only realized, but far exceeded. They come for pardon, and obtain joy; for deliverance from hell, and get a title to heaven. Their utmost ambition is to be regarded as the meanest of God’s servants; and they are exalted to all the honours and happiness of his beloved children.]
[Who would not wish to resemble this Prodigal in his reception with his father? But, in order to it, we must resemble him in his penitence and contrition. Let none think that, because they have been more moral than the Prodigal, they do not need to repent like him. All of us without exception have walked after the imagination of our own hearts, without any love to God’s presence, or regard for his authority. Let all of us then cry for mercy, as miserable sinners. The more vile we are in our own eyes, the more acceptable shall we be to God. Some perhaps may fear to return, because they have been so exceeding vile: but let none imagine that they have gone beyond the reach of mercy: the promise of acceptance extends to all without exception [Note: John 7:37.]. “There is bread enough and to spare” for all that will go to God. Let all then accept the Saviour’s invitation [Note: Matthew 11:28.]. Let us this day afford an occasion of joy to all the hosts of heaven; then shall we ourselves be soon made partakers of their joy, and dwell, as dear children, in our Father’s house for ever and ever.]
THE PRODIGAL’S ELDER BROTHER
Luke 15:28. And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and entreated him.
IT is an undeniable fact, that many who have lived a profligate life are received afterwards to God’s favour; and that many who have been externally moral are excluded from it. But this ought not to be a stumbling-block to us, since there will always be found a corresponding difference of character in the persons rejected or received. The Prodigal had been abandoned; but was renewed in the spirit of his mind: the elder brother had been moral; but was proud, envious, discontented, querulous. The character of the latter well deserves a distinct consideration. We shall notice,
The disposition of the elder brother—
Some think that he was intended to represent a pious character; and doubtless there have been good men, who too nearly resembled him [Note: John 3:10; John 4:1; John 4:9. Acts 11:2-3.]: and, on this supposition, his father’s address to him will have no difficulty [Note: ver. 31.]. But the parable in this case would not have been suitable to the occasion [Note: ver. 1–3.]: yea, it would rather have tended to mislead the Pharisees, and to foster the conceit they had of their own piety. His character rather represents that of the murmuring Pharisees, as that of the Prodigal does of the repenting Publicans. It might indeed have some further reference to the Jews and Gentiles [Note: Acts 13:42; Acts 13:44-45; Acts 22:21-23.]: but it admirably portrays the character of Pharisees in every age. The two things noticed in the text especially demand our attention:
His displeasure at the reception of the Prodigal—
[On being informed of his brother’s reception, “he was angry.” When entreated by his father to join in the festivity, he began to boast of his own blameless and meritorious conduct. He complained that sufficient respect had not been paid to his services; he rehearsed with envious triumph and malicious exaggeration the misconduct of the Prodigal; and disdained to acknowledge him as a brother, whom his father had received and entertained as a son. How strongly does this exhibit the disposition and conduct of modern Pharisees! It affords them pain rather than pleasure to hear of the conversion of notorious sinners. When urged to embrace the salvation offered in the Gospel, they deny that they are in danger of perishing, or that they have ever merited the wrath of God: when told that their own righteousness can never justify them before God, they complain that their works are undervalued, and that all inducement to perform them is taken away. The recital of a penitent’s joy fills them with envious rage and malignant jealousy: they take occasion from his former misconduct to represent his change as mere hypocrisy; and, instead of regarding him with brotherly affection, they pour contempt upon him as a weak deluded enthusiast [Note: With what bitter contempt and sarcastic virulence, will they sometimes exclaim, That is one of your saints!].]
His unwillingness to participate in the happiness provided for him—
[The invitations given to him by his father were rejected with disdain. As the feast was not made in honour of him, he could find no pleasure in partaking of it. Thus it is with Pharisees in every age. When we invite them to come to the feast provided in the Gospel, they put us off with excuses. However rich the feast, or sublime the joy, they have no appetite for it, no desire after it. If we were to tell them that their own good works should be the objects of admiration and applause, they would be delighted with the idea, and eagerly embrace the honour offered them: but when they find that all the praise is to be given “to God and to the Lamb,” they have no ear for such music, no taste for such employment.]
Having seen the disposition of the elder brother, let us notice,
The conduct of the father as contrasted with it—
Nothing can be more odious than the character we have seen; or more amiable than that which we are going to contemplate. Behold,
[How justly might the father have closed the conference on the first refusal, and given orders for the final exclusion of this insolent complainant! But, as he had borne with the Prodigal in his departure, so now he bears with the pride and obstinacy of his envious brother. And how long has he exercised his patience towards us! Times without number has he entreated us to accept of mercy; yet his invitations have, in many instances, excited nothing but disgust: still however, with much long-suffering, he continues to strive with us by his word and Spirit.]
[He did not send a servant, but went out himself to entreat his son; and, instead of controverting, as he might well have done, the statement of his son, he argued with him on his own principles [Note: This gives the proper clew to the difficulties in ver. 31. The Pharisees had access to God at all times; and all the privileges they could desire were enjoyed by them (see Romans 9:4.) so that, whatever favour might be shewn to others, they could lose nothing, nor could have any reason to complain.]. He affectionately reminded him, that if no such feast had been made for him, there had not been any thing withheld from him that he had desired: that the favour shewn to the Prodigal did not proceed from any undue partiality, but from the peculiar circumstances of his return; and that nothing would be more gratifying to him, than to have both his sons partakers of the same happiness. He shewed him further, that there was a meetness and propriety in the joy manifested on that occasion; and that he, as a “brother” ought to join in it with his whole heart. Such is the condescension which we also have experienced at God’s hands. How has he argued with us to overcome our reluctance, and laboured to convince us, when he might justly have left us to our own obstinate resolves!]
[The love shewn by him to the returning Prodigal excites our admiration; but that was no less which was manifested to his ungracious brother: the solicitude expressed was not at all inferior to the joy. And is he not shewing to us also the same parental tenderness? Is he not as unwilling to give us up to our own delusions? Yes, his language to us is precisely that which he used to Israel of old [Note: Hosea 11:8.]—]
Surely then this subject may teach us,
The evil and danger of self-righteousness—
[Self-righteousness is a more complicated evil than is generally imagined. It not unfrequently is accompanied with pride, envy, discontent, and a thousand other evil tempers reigning in the bosom; and it always involves in it a high conceit of ourselves, a supercilious contempt of others, and a rooted aversion to the Gospel method of salvation [Note: Luke 18:11.]: moreover, if persevered in, it will infallibly leave us self-excluded from the kingdom of heaven. Let us pause then, and solemnly examine whether we be not under its dominion? Let us inquire whether we more resemble this elder brother or the repenting Prodigal? and, instead of justifying ourselves before God, let us thankfully accept his proferred mercy.]
The blessedness of true penitents—
[While the elder brother was agitated with evil tempers, the Prodigal was filled with peace: and while the elder brother was self-excluded from the scenes of bliss, the Prodigal had “meat to eat which the world knows not of,”and “joy with which the stranger intermeddleth not.” Such is the harvest which all shall reap who sow in tears. Who that compares the state of the two brothers would not prefer that of the penitent, even in this life? And how much more will its superiority appear, when the happiness of admission to the Father’s house, and the misery of exclusion from it, will be consummated! Let us then, if we determine (as we must) in favour of the Prodigal, go instantly, and prostrate ourselves before our offended God.]
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Luke 15". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany