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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
Luke 15

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1-2

Luke 15:1-2

This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them

Christ’s influence with the masses

The masses were drawn to Christ’s teachings.

I. THE REASONS FOR THIS ADMIRATION.

1. All lack of affectation--no parade of greatness, no false assumption of humility. His manner was what beauty is to the landscape, what the sublime, majestic repose of the ocean is to the ocean’s greatness. His manner ever reflected the moral grandeur of His being.

2. The originality of His methods.

3. The grandeur and claims of His doctrines.

4. The authority with which He spoke.

5. The adaptation of style and matter to the people.

6. His profound earnestness.

7. His scathing denunciation of the hypocrisy of the ruling sects.

II. THE EFFORTS OF THE SCRIBES AND PHARISEES TO UNDO THIS INFLUENCE. Not because they loved men, but because of caste, of pride, and cold-hearted selfishness.

III. CHRIST’S MANNER OF MEETING THIS OPPOSITION. He takes every opportunity to overcome their prejudice, and enlighten their minds, seeking to impress upon them the superior glories of the new disport sation. (W. E.McKay.)

Christ receiving sinners

I. THE DESCRIPTION OF SINNERS CHRIST WILL RECEIVE.

1. Sinners of all ages.

2. Sinners of all stations.

3. Sinners of all degrees.

II. INTO WHAT JESUS RECEIVES SINNERS.

1. Into His forgiving grace and favour.

2. Into His family.

3. Into His heaven.

III. THE WAY AND MANNER IN WHICH CHRIST RECEIVES SINNERS.

1. In the way of acknowledgment and confession.

2. In the way of repentance, or turning from sin.

3. In the way of humility and faith.

Now as to the manner:

1. Most freely.

2. Most tenderly.

3. Most readily.

Application:

1. The subject is one to which every believer’s heart responds.

2. The subject is full of encouragement to the inquiring sinner.

3. The subject is limited to the present life. Here only He receives. (J. Burns, D. D.)

This man receiveth sinners

These words were originally spoken as a reproach against our Lord. When we repeat them it is with widely different feelings. They are to us a message of joy--nay, the only true grounds of joy and hope to man.

I. THE PERSONS REFERRED TO. “This man”: “sinners.”

1. The contrast in its most general aspect. They--“sinners”--evildoers, violators of God’s law. He--“holy; separate from sinners.”

2. Take the outward life of both. His--faultless, beneficent. Theirs--the reverse.

3. Consider the spirit of His life, and of theirs. Perfect love and confidence in God; perfect love and devotion to the good of man. They, governed by selfishness; destitute of faith; living under influence of impulse, passion, etc.

II. THE RELATION EXPRESSED BETWEEN THESE TWO CLASSES OF PERSONS.

1. What should you expect? A man is known by his companions. Like seeks like.

2. Yet, He receiveth sinners.

3. And all this He does

(2) readily;

III. WHAT IS OUR INTEREST IN THIS SUBJECT?

1. To some, none. But why, and how? Are they not sinners? How, then, can they be saved? Is there another who can thus receive?

2. Do you fear to come? Why? Consider His words of invitation and promise. Consider His acts of welcome and beneficence.

3. Are we received? See that you never abandon His protection. (W. R. Clark, M. A.)

Christ receiving sinners

I. WHO IT IS THAT RECEIVETH SINNERS?

1. “This man.” That Christ was “man,” may easily be shown from the united and ample testimony of Scripture. Revelation makes no attempt to conceal this fact. It treats it as a matter that is necessary to be known, and as fully and readily to be believed, as His essential and eternal divinity. Godhead without manhood could have effected no atonement for the world’s transgression.

2. But “this man” was Divine, He was God “manifested in the flesh,” combined all the glory of the Deity with all the weakness of man--all the infirmities of the creature--with acts and attributes splendid and incomprehensible! He was frail as flesh, yet omnipotent as God. Thus was our nature infinitely enriched, though sin had beggared it of all worth.

3. “This man” gave to the universe the most amiable, attractive, and stupendous manifestation of the Deity ever witnessed, a “manifestation” altogether different from any which had been previously afforded. Here was no throne of sapphire, no city of pearl, no retinue of celestials, no blaze of unapproachable brightness, no footpath on the firmament, no chariot rolling “on the wings of the wind,” and studded with the stars of the skies. The majestic symbols of the presence and power of the Infinite were kept back, and here was man in weakness, destitution, reproach, suffering, and death. “This man” showed how low the Deity could stoop, how much the Deity could love, how infinitely the Deity could redeem, with what frail and broken things the Deity could rebuild His moral universe.

II. HOW THIS MAN RECEIVETH SINNERS.

1. He “received” them universally; His arms of love are ready to embrace all.

2. “Christ received sinners “without upbraiding them on account of their sins.

3. Observe the delightful and blessed certainty that “sinners” have of being “received” by Him.

III. WHAT DOES CHRIST’S RECEPTION OF SINNERS COMPREHEND? To what are they received? The world receives its votaries, but only to oppress them with its vexations and vanities. Satan receives sinners, but only to slavery and wretchedness. Doth Christ receive them? It is--

1. To a state of reconciliation with Himself; He casts around them His Divine complacency, makes and calls them “His friends.”

2. Christ “receives sinners” into a state of holiness. He sanctifies all the powers of the intellect, all the affections of the heart, and all the actions of the life.

3. Christ “receives” them under the special protection and guidance of His providence. They rest under the pavilion of the Almighty Redeemer, are encircled as with a wall of fire, and fenced round and defended by the angels of glory.

4. Christ “receives” them into the full immunities of His kingdom of grace. In that kingdom “all things are theirs.”

5. Christ “receives the sinners” He thus sanctifies and blesses into heaven. This is the last and greatest gift of God in Christ. This will perfect every holy principle and every religious joy. (E. Horton.)

Jesus receiving sinners

I. THE WORDS, AS THEY WERE INTENDED, CONTAIN A FALSE AND MALICIOUS CALUMNY. “This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.” The fact itself was undeniable: but what interpretation did the Pharisees wish to put upon it?

1. They meant to insinuate that the followers of Jesus consisted chiefly of worthless and disreputable characters; and this was false.

2. These murmurers meant to insinuate, further, that Jesus loved the company of sinners for its own sake; and this again was false.

3. Or, perhaps, they meant to insinuate, that those whom He favourably received continued sinners still; and this was as false as the rest.

II. THE SAME WORDS UNDESIGNEDLY EXPRESS A MOST GLORIOUS TRUTH. They truly describe--

1. The persons on whose behalf the Son of Man is interested--“This man receiveth sinners.”

2. The regard which He shows toward them--He “receiveth them, and eateth with them.”

Christ receiving sinners

I. THE IMPIOUS CALUMNY INTENDED. You all know that the proverb has been accepted in all ages, and clothed in all languages, “A man may be ever known by his associates.” Tell me his friendships, and I will tell you his nature, for according to his companionships must be his character. Now these Pharisees would force home this proverb upon the holy Saviour. Could He come forth from that Father’s bosom, could He have just stepped into this naughty world out of that world of holy love, and not be the Friend of publicans and sinners?--ay, the very best Friend they ever had, for He came to seek and to save the chief, as He said most feelingly who had not been a publican and a sinner, but a Pharisee and a sinner. This shall be to eternity His praise and glory. But then it is said, or it is thought, by some Pharisees and scribes, that such a reception of the sinner is a patronage of his sin--that such a gospel of free grace has a perilous tendency to release man from moral duty; that if good works do not enter into the ground of the sinner’s salvation, no obligation remains for the performance of them by the man--just as these Pharisees implied that receiving sinners was to be a patron of their sin. Refute this error whenever it shows itself, as the Lord refuted the slander of the scribes--by the revealed mind of God. I mean by the pure word of Scripture; on the one hand saying, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according unto His mercy He saved us”; and on the other hand affirming “That faith should work by love.”

II. THE PRECIOUS TRUTH ASSERTED. The eater never did bring forth such sweetness as when this testimony was extorted from wicked men. Why this revelation of the Father’s will? My brethren, the great foundation of all Divine revelation, from the forfeiture of Paradise downward through all its prophecies, and through all its promises, the great foundation of all revelation lies in this little fact, “God receives sinners.” Open your Bible, read through the Scripture; it gives you the character of God. Surely the errand of the beloved Son must be in harmony with that character. Listen! hear the declaration of your Father’s mind: “I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord.” Listen to the exhortations of your Father’s love: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let Him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” Listen to the proclamation of His own name: “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” Hear His promise: “I have blotted out as a thick cloud thy transgressions, and as a cloud thy sins: return unto Me; for I have redeemed thee.” Hear His remonstrance: “How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? Mine heart is turned within Me, My repentings are kindled together. I will not execute the fierceness of Mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim; for I am God, and not man.” Oh! declarations, expostulations, proclamations, promises, remonstrances, surely these must have their sign and seal in Him, of whom it was said, “See Him, and you see the Father”; of whom it could be said, “The voice of those human lips is the very echo of the voice of God.” (J. P. Eyre, M. A.)

The approachableness of Jesus

I. First let us PROVE THE APPROACHABLENESS OF CHRIST, though it really needs no proof, for it is a fact which lies upon the surface of His life.

1. You may see it conspicuously in His offices. Our Lord Jesus is said to be the Mediator between God and man. Now, observe, that the office of mediator implies at once that he should be approachable. Another of His offices is that of priest. The priest was the true brother of the people, chosen from among themselves, at all times to be approached; living in their midst, in the very centre of the camp, ready to make intercession for the sinful and the sorrowful. So is it with our Lord. You may be separated from all of human kind, justly and righteously, by your iniquities, but you are not separated from that great Friend of sinners who at this very time is willing that publicans and sinners should draw near unto Him. As a third office let me mention that the Lord Jesus is our Saviour; but I see not how He can be a Saviour unless He can be approached by those who need to be saved.

2. Consider a few of His names and titles. Frequently Jesus is called the “Lamb.” I do not suppose there is any one here who was ever afraid of a lamb; that little girl yonder, if she saw a lamb, would not be frightened. Every child seems almost instinctively to long to put its hand on the head of a lamb. O that you might come and put your hand on the head of Christ, the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. Again, you find

Him called a Shepherd: no one is afraid of a shepherd. Timid, foolish, and wandering though you may be, there is nothing in the Good Shepherd to drive you away from Him, but everything to entice you to come to Him. Then again, He is called our Brother, and one always feels that he may approach his brother. I have no thought of trouble or distress which I would hesitate to communicate to my brother, because he is so good and kind. Brethren, you can come to the good elder Brother at all hours; and when He blames you for coming, let me know. He is called, too, a Friend; but He would be a very unfriendly friend who could not be approached by those He professed to love. If my friend puts a hedge around himself, and holds himself so very dignified that I may not speak with him, I would rather be without his friendship; but if he be a genuine friend, and I stand at his door knocking, he will say, “Come in, and welcome; what can I do for you?” Such a friend is Jesus Christ. He is to be met with by all needy, seeking hearts.

3. There is room enough for enlargement here, but I have no time to say more, therefore I will give you another plea. Recollect His person. The person of our Lord Jesus Christ proclaims this truth with a trumpet voice. I say His person, because He is man, born of woman, bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh.

4. If this suffice not, let me here remind you of the language of Christ. He proclaims His approachability in such words as these, “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

5. The old proverb truly saith that “actions speak louder than words,” and therefore let us review the general ways and manners of the Redeemer. Yon may gather that He is the most approachable of persons from the actions of His life. He was always very busy, and busy about the most important of matters, and yet He never shut the door in the face of any applicant. Not once was He harsh and repulsive. His whole life proves the truth of the prophecy, “The bruised reed He will not break, and the stocking flax He will not quench.”

6. But, if you want the crowning argument, look yonder. The man who has lived a life of service, at last dies a felon’s death! The cross of Christ should be the centre to which all hearts are drawn, the focus of desire, the pivot of hope, the anchorage of faith. Surely, you need not be afraid to come to Him who went to Calvary for sinners.

II. I now shall proceed, with as great brevity as I can command, TO ILLUSTRATE THIS GREAT TRUTH.

1. I illustrate it by the way which Christ opens up for sinners to Himself The coming to Jesus which saves the soul is a simple reliance on Him.

2. Thitruth is further illustrated by the help which He gives to coming sinners, in order to bring them near to Himself. He it is who first makes them coming sinners.

3. I might further illustrate this to the children of God, by reminding you of the way in which you now commune with your Lord. How easy it is for you to reach His ear and His heart! A prayer, a sigh, a tear, a groan, will admit you into the King’s chambers.

4. The approachableness of Christ may also be seen in the fact of His receiving the poor offerings of His people.

5. The ordinances wear upon their forefront the impress of an ever approachable Saviour. Baptism in outward type sets forth our fellowship with Him in His death, burial, and resurrection-what can be nearer than this? The Lord’s supper in visible symbol invites us to eat His flesh and drink His blood: this reveals to us most clearly how welcome we are to the most intimate intercourse with Jesus.

III. In the third place, we come TO ENFORCE THIS TRUTH or, as the old Puritans used to say, improve it.

1. The first enforcement I give is this: let those of us who are working for the Master in soul-winning, try to be be like Christ in this matter, and not be, as some are apt to be, proud, stuck-up, distant, or formal.

2. There is this to be said to you who are unconverted--if Jesus Christ be so approachable, oh I how I wish, how I wish that you would approach Him. There are no bolts upon His doors, no barred iron gates to pass, no big dogs to keep you back. If Christ be so approachable by all needy ones, then needy one, come and welcome. Come just now!

3. The last word is--if Jesus be such a Saviour as we have described Him, let saints and sinners join to praise Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Open house for all comers

I. JESUS RECEIVING SINNERS.

1. This was and is a great fact--our Lord received, and still receiveth sinners. A philosopher wrote over the door of his academy, “He that is not learned, let him not enter here”; but Jesus speaketh by Wisdom in the Proverbs, and says “Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither: as for him that wanteth understanding, let him eat of My bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled” (Proverbs 9:4-5). He receives sinners as His disciples, companions, friends. “This man receiveth sinners”; not, however, that they may remain sinners, but to pardon their sins, to justify their persons, to cleanse their hearts by the Holy Spirit.

2. I want your attention to another thought--namely, the consistency of this fact. It is a most consistent and proper thing that this man should receive sinners. If you and I reflect awhile we shall remember that the types which were set forth concerning Christ all seem to teach us that He must receive sinners. One of the earliest types of the Saviour was Noah’s ark, by which a certain company not only of men but also of the lowest animals were preserved from perishing by water, and were floated out of the old world into the new. Moreover, the Master has been pleased to take to Himself one or two titles which imply that He came to receive sinners. He takes the title of Physician, but as He told these very Pharisees a little while before, “The whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick.” There is no practice for the physician in a neighbourhood where every man is well.

3. Observe the condescension of this fact. This man, who towers above all other men, holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners--this man receiveth sinners.

4. Notice the certainty of this fact.

5. Do observe the unqualified sense in which the sentence is put, “This man receiveth sinners.” But how? What sort of sinners? How are they to feel? How are they to come? Not a word is said about their coming, or their preparation, but simply, “This man receiveth sinners.” One man came on his bed--indeed, he did not come, but was brought by other people; Jesus received him all the same for that.

II. Now, I wanted to have spoken upon the second head, but I have not had sufficient forethought to store up the time, so we must only say of that just this: that Jesus Christ having once received sinners, enters into the most familiar and endearing intercourse with them that is possible. HE FEASTS WITH THEM--their joys are His joys, their work for God is His work for God. He feasts with them at their table, and they with Him at His table; and He does this wherever the table is spread. It may be in a garret, or in a cellar; in a wilderness, or on a mountain; He still eateth with them. This He does now in the ordinances and means of grace by His Spirit; and this He will do in the fulness of glory, when He takes these sinners up to dwell with Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

An appeal to sinners

Many a true word has been spoken in jest, and many a true word has been spoken in slander. Now the scribes and Pharisees wished to slander Christ; but in so doing they outstripped their intentions, and bestowed upon Him a title of renown,

1. First, then, THE DOCTRINE. The doctrine is, not that Christ receiveth everybody but that He “receiveth sinners.” Christ receives not the self-righteous, not the good, not the whole-hearted, not those who dream that they do not need a Saviour, but the broken in spirit, the contrite in heart--those who are ready to confess that they have broken God’s laws, and have merited His displeasure. Now, let us remark, that there is a very wise distinction on the part of God, that He hath been pleased thus to choose and call sinners to repentance, and not others. For this reason, none but these ever do come to Him. There has never been such a miracle as a self-righteous man coming to Christ for mercy; none but those who want a Saviour ever did come, and therefore it would be useless for Him to say that He would receive any but those who most assuredly will come. And mark, again, none but those can come; no man can come to Christ until he truly knows himself to be a sinner. The self-righteous man cannot come to Christ; for what is implied in coming to Christ? Repentance, trust in His mercy, and the denial of all confidence in one’s self. His very self-righteousness fetters his foot, so that he cannot come; palsies his arm, so that he cannot take hold of Christ; and blinds his eye, so that he cannot see the Saviour. Yet another reason: if these people, who are not sinners, would come to Christ, Christ would get no glory from them. When the physician openeth his door for those who are sick, let me go there full of health; he can win no honour from me, because he cannot exert his skill upon me. The benevolent man may distribute all his wealth to the poor; but let some one go to him who has abundance, and he shall win no esteem from him for feeding the hungry, or for clothing the naked, since the applicant is neither hungry nor naked. A great sinner brings great glory to Christ when he is saved.

II. Now, then, THE ENCOURAGEMENT. If this Man receiveth sinners, poor sin-sick sinner, what a sweet word this is for thee I Sure, then, He will not reject thee. Come, let me encourage thee this night to come to my Master, to receive His great atonement, and to be clothed with all His righteousness. Mark, those whom I address are the bona fide, real, actual sinners, not the complimentary sinners, not those who say they are sinners by way of pacifying, as they suppose, the religionists of the day; but I speak to those who feel their lost, ruined, hopeless condition. Come, because He has said He will receive you. I know your fears; we all felt them once, when we were coming to Christ. Doth not this suffice thee? Then here is another reason. I am sure “this Man receiveth sinners,” because He has received many, many before you. See, there is Mercy’s door; mark how many have been to it; you can almost hear the knocks upon the door now, like echoes of the past. You may remember how many wayworn travellers have called there for rest, how many famished souls have applied there for bread. Go, knock at Mercy’s door, and ask the porter this question, “ Was there ever one applied to the door that was refused?” I can assure you of the answer: “No, not one.”

III. Now the last point is AN EXHORTATION. If it be true that Christ came only to save sinners, my beloved hearers, labour, strive, agonize, to get a sense in your souls of your own sinnership. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Christ receives all

In the New Testament the Lord seems to have selected some of every kind and class to show that He will receive all.

1. He will receive the rich--Joseph of Arimathea.

2. The poor--Lazarus the beggar.

3. The learned--Dionysius the Areopagite.

4. Physicians--Luke.

5. Soldiers--the Roman centurion.

6. Fishermen--the apostles.

7. Extortioners--Zaccheus.

8. Tax-gatherers--Matthew.

9. Thieves--the dying robber.

10. Harlots--the woman who was a sinner.

11. Adulterers--the woman of Samaria.

12. Persecutors and murderers--Paul.

13. Back sliders--Peter.

14. Persons in trade--Lydia.

15. Statesmen and courtiers--the eunuch of Ethiopia.

16. Families--that at Bethany.

17. Whole multitudes--those on Day of Pentecost. (Van Doren.)

Christ’s treatment of sinners

There are two classes of sins. There are some sins by which man crushes, wounds, malevolently injures his brother man: those sins which speak of a bad, tyrannical, and selfish heart. Christ met those with denunciation. Thorn are other sins by which a man injures himself. There is a life of reckless indulgence; there is a career of yielding to ungovernable propensities, which most surely conducts to wretchedness and ruin, but makes a man an object of compassion rather than of condemnation. The reception which sinners of this class met from Christ was marked by strange and pitying mercy. There was no maudlin sentiment on His lips. He called sin sin, and guilt guilt. But yet there were sins which His lips scourged, and others over which, containing in themselves their own scourge, His heart bled. That which was melancholy, and marred, and miserable in this world, was more congenial to the heart of Christ than that which was proudly happy. It was in the midst of a triumph, and all the pride of a procession, that He paused to weep over ruined Jerusalem. And if we ask the reason why the character of Christ was marked by this melancholy condescension, it is that He was in the midst of a world of ruins, and there was nothing there to gladden, but very much to touch with grief. He was here to restore that which was broken down and crumbling into decay. An enthusiastic antiquarian, standing amidst the fragments of an ancient temple surrounded by dust and moss, broken pillar, and defaced architrave, with magnificent projects in his mind of restoring all this to former majesty, to draw out to light from mere rubbish the ruined glories, and therefore stooping down amongst the dank ivy and the rank nettles; such was Christ amidst the wreck of human nature. He was striving to lift it out of its degradation. He was searching out in revolting places that which had fallen down, that He might build it up again in fair proportions a holy temple to the Lord. Therefore He laboured among the guilty; therefore He was the companion of outcasts; therefore He spoke tenderly and lovingly to those whom society counted undone. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

Christ’s demeanour towards sinners

The heathen philosopher Seneca made a practice of dining with his slaves, and when challenged for an innovation so directly in the teeth of all customary proprieties and so offensive to the Roman mind, he defended himself by saying that he dined with some because they were worthy of his esteem, and with others that they might become so. The action and its defence was alike admirable, and read a salutary lesson to the aristocrats of Rome. But it was even a greater shock to the Pharisees, and if possible even more unaccountable, that Jesus should prefer the society of notorious sinners to their own irreproachable manners and decorous conversation. They could not understand why a teacher of holy life, instead of frowning upon the notoriously profligate, should show a preference for their society. Our Lord’s explanation is ample and thorough. He devotes, therefore, the three parables recorded in this chapter to this purpose. It is perhaps worth remarking that on one point He felt that no explanation was required. Even the Pharisees did not suspect Him of any sympathy with sin. These critics of His conduct had not failed to remark that in His presence the daring profanity and audacious license of wicked men were tamed. Those who so narrowly criticized our Lord’s conduct might have seen its reasonableness had they been able to look at it from another point of view. With equal surprise they might have exclaimed: “Sinners receive this Man and eat with Him.” These dissolute and lawless characters could themselves have explained the change. They were attracted to Jesus, because together with unmistakable sanctity, and even somehow appearing as the chief feature of His sanctity, there was an understanding of the sinner’s position and a hopefulness about him which threw a hitherto unknown spell over them. Separate from sinners, as they had never before felt any one to be, He seemed to come closer to their heart by far than any other had come. He had a heart open to all their troubles. He saw them through and through, and yet showed no loathing, no scorn, no astonishment, no perplexity, no weariness. Instead of meeting them with upbraiding and showing them all they had lost, He gave them immediate entrance into His own pure, deep, efficient love, and gladdened their hearts with a sense of what they yet had in Him. Therefore men whose seared conscience felt no other touch, who had a ready scoff for every other form of holiness, admitted this new power and yielded to it. The contrast between this new attitude of a holy person towards the sinner and that to which men had commonly been accustomed has been finely described in the following words: “He who thought most seriously of the disease held it to be curable; while those who thought less seriously of it pronounced it incurable. Those who loved their race a little made war to the knife against its enemies and oppressors; lie who loved it so much as to die for it made overtures of peace to them. The half-just judge punished the convicted criminal; the thoroughly just judge offered him forgiveness. Perfect justice here appears to take the very course which would be taken by injustice.” It is this, then, that calls for explanation. And it is explained by our Lord in three parables, each of which illustrates the fact that a more active interest in any possession is arroused by the very circumstance that it is lost.

I. The first point, then, suggested by these parables is THAT GOD SUFFERS LOSS IN EVERY SINNER THAT DEPARTS FROM HIM. This was what the Pharisees had wholly left out of account, that God loves men and mourns over every ill that befalls them. And this is what we find it so hard to believe.

II. Secondly, these parables suggest THAT THE VERY FACT OF OUR BEING LOST EXCITES ACTION OF A SPECIALLY TENDER KIND TOWARD US. God does not console Himself for our loss by the fellowship of those who have constantly loved Him. He does not call new creatures into being, and so fill up the blank we have made by straying from Him. He is not a Sovereign who has no personal knowledge of His subjects, nor an employer of labour who can always get a fresh hand to fill an emptied post: He is rather a Shepherd who knows His sheep one by one, a Father who loves His children individually. He would rather restore the most abandoned sinner than blot him from his place to substitute an archangel. Love is personal and settles upon individuals. It is not all the same to God if some other person is saved while you are not. These parables thus bring us face to face with the most significant and fertile of all realities--God’s love for us. This love encompasses you whether you will or no. Love cannot remain indifferent or quiescent. Interference of a direct and special kind becomes necessary. The normal relations being disturbed, and man becoming helpless by the disturbance, it falls to God to restore matters. A new set of ideas and dealings are brought into play. So long as things go smoothly and men by nature love God and seek to do His will, there is no anxiety, no meeting of emergencies by unexpected effort, hidden resources, costly sacrifice. But when sin brings into view all that is tragic, and when utter destruction seems to be man’s appointed destiny, there is called into exercise the deepest tenderness, the utmost power of the Divine nature. Here where the profoundest feeling of God is concerned, where His connection with His own children is threatened, Divinity is stirred to its utmost. This appears, among other things, in the spontaneity and persistence of the search God institutes for the lost.

III. The third point illustrated by these parables is THE EXCEEDING JOY CONSEQUENT ON THE RESTORATION OF THE SINNER. “Joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth more than over ninety and nine just persons which need no repentance.” The joy is greater, because the effort to bring it about has been greater, and because for a time the result has been in suspense, so that when the end is attained there is a sense of clear gain. The joy of success is proportioned to the difficulty, the doubtfulness of attaining it. All the hazards and sacrifices of the search are repaid by the recovery of the lost. The value of the unfallen soul may intrinsically be greater than the value of the redeemed; but the joy is proportioned, not to the value of the article, but to the amount of anxiety that has been spent upon it. (M. Dods, D. D.)

The devil’s castaways received by Christ

“Mr. Whitfield,” said Lady Huntingdon, “these ladies have been preferring a very heavy charge against you. They say that in your sermon last night you made use of this expression: “So ready is Christ to receive sinners who come to Him, that He is willing to receive the devil’s castaways.” Mr. Whitfield pleaded guilty to the charge, and told them of the following circumstance. “A wretched woman came to me this morning, and said: ‘ Sir, I was passing the door of your chapel, and hearing the voice of some one preaching, I did what I have never been in the habit of doing, I went in I and one of the first things I heard you say was that Jesus would receive willingly the devil’s castaways. Sir, I have been in the town for many years, and am so worn out in his service, that I may with truth be called one of the devil’s castaways. Do you think that Jesus would receive me? “I,” said Mr. Whitfield, “assured her that there was not a doubt of it, if she was willing to go to Him.” From the sequel it appeared that this was a case of true conversion, and Lady Huntingdon was assured that the woman left a very charming testimony behind her, that though her sins had been of a crimson hue, the atoning blood of Christ had washed them white as snow.

Publicans and sinners drawn to Christ; or, the wisdom of gentleness

Rigorous courses hath ordinarily produced sad effects. Thou seest that those drops that fall easily upon the corn ripen and fill the ear, but the stormy showers that fall with violence beat the stalks down fiat upon the earth, which being once laid, are afterwards kept down without hope of recovery through weeds’ embracements. Have you never known any that have been sent faulty to the jail who have returned flagitious and vile? (N. Rogers.)

The worst capable of much

White paper is made of dunghill rags. God can so work the heart of the vilest wretch with beating and purifying as it shall be fit to write His laws upon. (N. Rogers.)

Murmuring

Murmuring is a sin betwixt secret backbiting and open railing; a smothered malice which can neither utterly be concealed, nor dare openly be vented. Remedies against this evil: First, keep thy heart from pride, envy, passion, for from hence flows murmuring, malignity, whispering. Seldom do we murmur at those below us, but above us. (N. Rogers.)


Verses 1-32

Verses 3-7

Luke 15:3-7

What man of you, having an hundred sheep

Lost, sought, found

The three parables in this chapter fall into two sections, each setting forth separately one-half of a great truth, and both in combination exhibiting the whole.

1. The first two parables illustrate conversion on its Divine side. Christ had to seek these lost publicans and sinners in order to find them.

2. The third parable illustrates conversion on its human side, and was intended to imply that these publicans and sinners would never have been received by Christ unless they had sought Him.

3. The three parables combined illustrate conversion on both its Divine and human sides, and, consequently, the complete truth: God seeking man, and man seeking God; and the twofold search rewarded, by God and man finding each other.

I. Lost.

1. In the first parable the loss falls mainly on what is lost. By sin

2. In the second parable the loss is sustained exclusively by the owner, and is considerable. One out of ten pieces.

3. In the third parable we have a double loss. The nature and extent of the loss reach their climax here. Of two sons the father loses one--the loss of one-half as against the loss of one-tenth or one-hundredth. The son has only one father; and losing him he loses all.

II. SOUGHT.

1. In the first two parables the seekers are DIVINE. Let us endeavour to trace them.

(a) the self-sacrificing seeker;

(b) the persevering seeker.

2. The seeker in the last parable is HUMAN, and it is just here that all experience, and the plan of salvation laid down in Scripture, would lead us to expect to find him, and exactly as here portrayed. Now we see where the other parables have been leading us, and to understand that their help is imperatively required. For notice--

III. FOUND.

1. Notice the finding. The shepherd finds the sheep, the woman the piece of silver, the father and the son each other. Christ has found the sinner and done what He, as the Good Shepherd, alone could do, opened and revealed the way back to God, encouraged the sinner to return, and provided the basis of reconciliation. The Holy Spirit has found the sinner and done what He, as the careful and painstaking Seeker, alone could do, wrought conviction and repentance. The sinner now does what neither Christ nor the Holy Spirit can do for him, but, with the help of both, finds the Father, to the peace and joy of his soul. The train of evangelical thought is now complete, and this trinity of parables made to illustrate the work of the Blessed Trinity in converting the sinner from the error of his way.

2. Notice the finding as it is regarded by heaven and earth.

Lost and found

I. The CIRCUMSTANCES.

1. The scene.

2. The classes that were attracted by Jesus (Luke 15:1).

3. The classes that were not drawn to Jesus (Luke 15:2). Reputable and scrupulous, but fault-finding, narrow-minded, and bigoted.

II. THE TWO PARABLES.

1. Characteristics common to both.

2. Characteristics peculiar to each.

Lessons:

1. Character is tested by sentiment and sympathy.

2. The real condition of mankind is revealed in these parables--Lost.

3. The nature of Christ’s mission is here shown--To save.

4. The twofold method of salvation is here seen.

5. The universal sympathy and gladness over the salvation of souls is beautifully suggested.

6. How does our character stand this test? (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)

Lost and found

I. THE SINNER LOST.

II. THE SINNER VALUED AND PITIED.

III. THE SINNER SOUGHT.

IV. THE SINNER FOUND AND RESCUED.

V. THE SINNER RESTORED AND SAVED.

VI. THE SINNER SAVED THE OCCASION OF HEAVENLY REJOICING. Conclusion:

1. Let the restored and saved give thanks to their Deliverer.

2. Let the spiritually lost accept, in penitence and faith, the tender and proffered ministrations of Christ, (J. R. Thomson, M. A.)

Third Sunday after Trinity

I. NOTICE THE PICTURE THESE PARABLES PRESENT OF THE ORIGINAL PLAN AND ESTATE OF THE UNIVERSE. There was once a time when God was pleased with all that He had made, and when all His creatures were happy m Him. The universe was once one blessed flock, with the Lord as their Shepherd, all blessed in those sequestered realms which knew no blight or tumult of sinful disorder, and where everything was pervaded with innocence, tranquillity, and peace. A wilderness is not necessarily a desolate and empty place. Any wide, grassy plain, hidden away from the common world, and undisturbed in its quiet, would satisfy the Scriptural use of the word. Such were the favourite pasture-grounds of the Orientals, and such was the universe of holy beings ere sin had made its disturbing inroads upon it. The starry plains were peopled only with unfallen creatures, secure, tranquil, and joyous in the smiles of their Maker. All rational beings were but one flock, and their shepherd was God. And the condition of man answered to this picture. He was as a new piece of silver, bright, precious, and bearing upon him the image and superscription of the Almighty. There was no darkness in his understanding, no perverseness in his heart, no fears, no regrets, no sighs, no pains, no dimness.

II. BUT THIS BEAUTIFUL SCENE WAS SOON SUCCEEDED BY ANOTHER. A cloud arose upon the sweet morning of our world. One of the happy flock disappeared from its fellowship with its comrades. It was lost; wide-wandering from the Lord, in a world that smoked with curses and wretchedness.

III. NOTICE, THEN, THE MOVEMENTS OF DIVINE COMPASSION FOR THE RECOVERY OF THE LOST. There was but one of a hundred gone. Ninety-and-nine remained. But precious in the eye of God is even one soul. It is a jewel capable of adding to the glory and grandeur of heaven. It is a radiant and living offshoot of Deity, capacitated to live and shine though stars should languish and expire. Though abused, prostituted, starved, and ruined by sin, it may still be made a part of the immortal intellect, heart and life of the universe. And its calamities are not of such a sort but that infinite Wisdom and Goodness has resources by which God can be just, and yet receive it again into His favour, the more interesting for ever because of this disaster. A plan of operation for its recovery has accordingly been instituted. And wonderful are the steps of the heavenly expedient. The Shepherd Himself goes after the lost sheep. He does not merely send servants to find it. He comes Himself. In this going forth is involved the incarnation and earthly life of the Lord Jesus Christ, and His whole providence in the Church, and through His word and sacraments. Or, to use the other figure, He lighteth a candle and personally searches every dark corner that He may come upon the lost piece which cannot help itself. This candle is the illuminating Word, which He causeth to shine around and upon us; and the sweeping which He does is the stir of His providence and Spirit, moving to touch the hearts of the unfortunate lost. In paradise already this candle was lit, when God gave promise of a coming Saviour; and all through and in His Church, in every age, this sweeping has been going on, and always for the finding of souls, and the bringing of them to light and salvation. With a thousand influences He plies men. He sends them the Word of His gospel. He stirs about their dark resting-places. He disturbs their guilty repose. He deprives them of their impure attachments. He makes them realize the evil and bitterness of departing from God. He takes hold upon them by the powers of His grace. He taketh up every willing one, to strengthen him with His help, and to beautify him with the sanctification of His Spirit.

IV. NOTICE ALSO THE RESULT. The lost sheep is restored. The piece of silver is recovered. Or, exchanging the imagery of the parables for literal terms, the sinner is completely changed--returned from his alienated and lost condition--made a true penitent. This is the direct object of all the arrangements and ministrations of grace.

V. AND WHEREVER THIS OCCURS THERE IS JOY. It is the end of gracious interference achieved. It is the fruit of the travail of the Saviour’s soul realized. It is the aim of God’s most wonderful works accomplished. And everything is full of gladness. “There is joy in heaven”; and the implication is that it is joy throughout heaven, from centre to circumference--joy on the throne, and joy in those who serve under it--joy in the heart of God, and among all the hosts of God--joy for Christ’s sake, for the penitent’s sake, for heaven’s sake--joy that a broken link has been repaired in the holy creation of God--joy that another precious jewel has been added to the crown of redeeming love--joy that there is born another tenant for the mansions of glory--joy that another symptom has transpired of the ultimate recovery of all the downtrodden fields of creation which sin has overrun. (J. A. Seiss, D. D.)

The parable of the lost sheep

I. In the first place, I call attention to this observation: THE ONE SUBJECT OF THOUGHT to the man who had lost his sheep. This sets forth to us the one thought of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, when He sees a man lost to holiness and happiness by wandering into sin. The shepherd, on looking over his little flock of one hundred, can only count ninety-nine. This one idea possesses him: “a sheep is lost!” This agitates his mind more and more--“a sheep is lost.” It masters his every faculty. He cannot eat bread; he cannot return to his home; he cannot rest while one sheep is lost. To a tender heart a lost sheep is a painful subject of thought. It is a sheep, and therefore utterly defenceless now that it has left its defender. And a sheep is of all creatures the most senseless, and the most shiftless. What is it which makes the Great Shepherd lay so much to His heart the loss of one of His flock: What is it that makes Him agitated as He reflects upon that supposition--“if He lose one of them”?

1. I think it is, first, because of His property in it. The parable does not so much speak of a hired shepherd, but of a shepherd proprietor. “What man of you having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them.” The sheep are Christ’s, first, because He chose them from before the foundations of the world--“Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you.” His, next, because the Father gave them to Him. How He dwells upon that fact in His great prayer in John 17:1-26.: “Thine they were, and Thou gavest them Me”; “Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am.” We are the Lord’s own flock, furthermore, by His purchase of us; He says, “I lay down My life for the sheep.” This thought, therefore, presses upon Him, “One of My sheep is lost.”

2. Secondly, He has yet another reason for this all-absorbing thought--namely, His great compassion for His lost sheep. The wandering of a soul causes Jesus deep sorrow; He cannot bear the thought of its perishing. Such is the love and tenderness of His heart that He cannot bear that one of His own should be in jeopardy.

3. Moreover, the man in the parable had a third relation to the sheep, which made him possessed with the one thought of its being lost--he was a shepherd to it. It was his own sheep, and he had therefore for that very reason become its shepherd; and he say to himself, “If I lose one of them my shepherd-work will be ill-done.” What dishonour it would be to a shepherd to lose one of his sheep!

II. Now we come to the second point, and observe THE ONE OBJECT OF SEARCH. This sheep lies on the shepherd’s heart, and he must at once set out to look for it.

1. Observe here that it is a definite search. The shepherd goes after the sheep, and after nothing else; and he has the one particular sheep in his mind’s eye.

2. An all-absorbing search.

3. An active search.

4. A persevering search.

III. Now, we must pass on very briefly to notice a third point. We have had one subject of thought and one object of search; now we have ONE BURDEN OF LOVE. When the seeking is ended, then the saving appears--“When he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.” Splendid action this! How beautifully the parable sets forth the whole of salvation. Some of the old writers delight to put it thus: in His incarnation He came after the lost sheep; in His life He continued to seek it; in His death He laid it upon His shoulders; in His resurrection He bore it on its way, and in His ascension He brought it home rejoicing. Our Lord’s career is a course of soul-winning, a life laid out for His people; and in it you may trace the whole process of salvation. But now, see, the shepherd finds the sheep, and he layeth it on his shoulders.

1. It is an uplifting action, raising the fallen one from the earth whereon he hath strayed. It is as though he took the sheep just as it was, without a word of rebuke, without delay or hesitancy, and lifted it out of the slough or the briars into a place of safely.

2. This laying on the shoulders was an appropriating act. He seemed to say, “You are my sheep, and therefore I lay you on my shoulders.”

3. More condescending still is another view of this act: it was a deed of service to the sheep. The sheep is uppermost, the weight of the sheep is upon the shepherd. The sheep rides, the shepherd is the burden-bearer. The sheep rests, the shepherd labours. “I am among you as he that serveth,” said our Lord long ago.

4. It was a rest-giving act, very likely needful to the sheep which could go no further, and was faint and weary. It was a full rest to the poor creature if it could have understood it, to feel itself upon its shepherd’s shoulders, irresistibly carried back to safety. What a rest it is to you and to me to know that we are borne along by the eternal power and Godhead of the Lord Jesus Christ I

IV. We close by noticing one more matter, which is--THE ONE SOURCE OF JOY. This man who had lost his sheep is filled with joy, but his sheep is the sole source of it. His sheep has so taken up all his thought, and so commanded all his faculties, that as he found all his care centred upon it, so he now finds all his joy flowing from it. I invite you to notice the first mention of joy we get here: “When he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.” “That is a great load for you, shepherd!” Joyfully he answers, “I am glad to have it on my shoulders.” The mother does not say when she has found her lost child, “This is a heavy load.” No; she presses it to her bosom. She does not mind how heavy it is; it is a dear burden to her.

She is rejoiced to bear it once again. “He layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.” Remember that text, “Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Last and found

I. THE SINNER’S CONDITION--“Lost.” The stray sheep and the missing silver are the emblems of every unrenewed soul. But men refuse to lie under this imputation. In what do we differ from those whom you call Christians? they ask. We are as upright, honest, and generous as they. How are we lost? In what did the lost sheep of the parable differ from tim ninety and nine in the fold? Not in appearance, but in condition. It was lost because it had wandered away from the shepherd. The missing piece of silver was coin of the realm, as well as the nine safe in the purse; but it was lost because it was out of its owner’s reach. Sinners are lost, not because they are unlike other men, but because they are out of right relations to God.

II. THE SINNER’S FRIEND. The fact that God makes any attempt to save lost men proves that He is the sinner’s Friend. What has He to gain by the reclamation of the missing? He is not so poor that our restoration will greatly enrich Him. In comparison with the infinite expanse of His universe, this world is but a bubble of foam on the crest of an ocean surge. He has no lack of worshippers and servants. But these parables teach that there is still more of Divine affection in this search after the lost.

III. THE SINNER’S RESCUE. God’s plan of salvation is not a failure. It cost largely to make the redemption of the soul possible. Before the shepherd could come within reach of his wandering sheep, he must bruise and weary himself with his rough travel. Before God could lay the hand of help and healing on any man, the God-man must be despised and rejected, scourged, mocked, crucified. But none of these things stop the way; over them all and through them all the compassionate God presses on after His lost world “until He find it.”

IV. THE SINNER’S RETURN. “Rejoice with me.” “Joy in the presence,” etc. How happens it that there is such a contrast between the indifference of earth and the ecstasy of heaven? We here see things as they are in themselves; those yonder look at them in their relations. The conversion of a soul is not an isolated matter. It inevitably affects the character and condition of multitudes. (E. S. Attwood.)

The lost sheep

I. THE LOST SHEEP--THE SINNER.

1. Both act in the same manner.

2. Both share the same fate.

II. THE GOOD SHEPHERD--JESUS CHRIST.

1. He possesses a numerous flock, as Creator and as Redeemer of mankind.

2. However numerous the flock may be, He is aware of every loss He sustains.

3. He leaves the ninety-nine in the desert.

5. And when He has found the sheep, when the Sinner does not refuse to seize the hand extended towards him--

(1) He lays it upon His shoulders, facilitating the beginning of conversion by imparting abundant graces, so that the sinner is rather carried than proceeds himself.

Parable of the lost sheep

I. THE ENDANGERED WANDERER. Man has wandered--

1. From the authority of God.

2. From the family of God.

3. In the way of peril and death.

4. The sinner would wander endlessly, but for the intervention of Divine grace.

II. THE KINDLY SHEPHERD.

1. He compassionated man in his fallen and ruined condition.

2. He actually came to seek the wanderer.

3. When found He restores him.

III. THE JOYOUS RESULTS.

1. The Shepherd rejoices in the attainment of His gracious purposes.

2. Angels rejoice.

3. The restored wanderer rejoices.

4. All spiritual persons acquainted with the sinner’s restoration rejoice. (J. Burns, D. D.)

The lost sheep brought home

I. THE SINNER’S NATURAL CONDITION.

1. In want.

2. In danger.

3. Helpless.

II. THE CONDUCT OF CHRIST TOWARDS THE SINNER.

1. He misses him.

2. He seeks him.

3. He finds him.

4. He bears him home.

III. THE FEELING WITH WHICH THE GREAT SHEPHERD OF THE CHURCH CARRIES ON THIS BLESSED WORK. Not pity, compassion, kindness, nor yet love; but joy, and joy overflowing: joy so great that the Divine mind cannot hold it, but must call upon the whole creation to come and share its abundance. (C. Bradley, M. A.)

The lost sheep

This is one of those parables which, by its simplicity, presents the full tenderness of the gospel message to mankind, gathered, as it were, into a strong focus of emphasis.

I. THE HIGH ESTIMATE ENTERTAINED, ON THE PART OF JEHOVAH, OF THE SOUL OF MAN. In the narrative of the sheep, the shepherd is represented as thinking with greater anxiety of the one straying from his flock, than of the ninety-nine who are safe under his eye. He feels sure of them, and quits them without apprehension, intent rather upon the restoration of the one than upon the preservation of the many. We are not to presume that Christ withdraws His care and His regard from His own people in His anxiety to add more to His fold. He has never left His true disciples comfort less; but “the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost,” abides with them alway. But the Saviour, when He spoke this parable, wanted to show that His heart was large enough to love, and His fold was wide enough to hold, both the flock already gathered and the sheep which had wandered away.

II. Look, secondly, at an expansion of the same idea in THE TENDERNESS OF THE SHEPHERD IN BRINGING BACK THE SHEEP THAT WAS LOST. It was passing kind to bring it back at all; but what a depth of kindness is there in the manner of that bringing back! “When he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders.” Oh, my friends, what touching tenderness is here! a tenderness “passing the love of woman.” Have you not often seen a mother chase a wayward child, and when she overtakes it, seize it with a petulant clutch, and almost drag it back to the door of the cottage, chiding and sometimes chastising it the whole way? But there is no upbraiding here. The wanderer has no excuse. He has been ungrateful; he has broken down the fences which love had built for his security; he has despised the guardianship which would have shielded him, he has been obdurate under the mildness which would have gently governed him; he has quarrelled with the fare which sovereign bounty had provided him. But there are none of these things flung sternly in his teeth. There is no anger in the Shepherd’s eye. It is all pity.

III. Now look at THE GREATNESS AND COMPLETENESS OF THE RESTORATION. “I have found that which was lost.” “Found” and “lost,” these are the two contrasting words, and their meaning is unspeakable. What a losing! What a finding! It is a rescue from perdition. Not a mere human estimate of being lost, but God’s estimate. And there is a difference between the two ideas as vast and wide as the difference between the finite and the infinite. We deem it no small thing to lose the valuable purchase of years of anxiety and toil; but what must be Christ’s estimate of His own loss, when He feels that He has lost the purchase of His blood, His pleading, and His prayers; that human infatuation has actually torn itself away from the embrace of Calvary; and that the coinage of the Cross--the wealth that poured, stamped with a Saviour’s crown of thorns, from Mercy’s mint--is cast aside for nought! And what must be the sinner’s estimate of his own perdition, when from its darkest depths he feels its cruellest curse, and has only light enough to see to count the priceless sum at which his soul was bought, but which he has contemned, and scorned, and flung away!

IV. THE REJOICINGS WHICH GREET THE SHEPHERD’S RETURN WITH HIS SHEEP. His heart is too full to keep the gladness to himself. There is such chainless ecstasy thrilling in his soul that he must have all his friends about him to help him in his triumphant celebration. “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.” What condescension is there in this sympathy! Oh could we but gauge the satisfaction with which Jesus will look upon “the travail of His soul,” then we should know something of the depth of the love with which He loves us. But the ocean is too wide for our gaze to see the further shore, it is too deep for our poor plummet to fathom. We cannot know the bitterness of the cup He drank to the foul dregs; we cannot feel the agony which the sleeping disciples might not watch, when the drops of blood were sweat upon the ground; we cannot tell the galling stab of nail and thorn and spear, nor lift the weight of the rough, crushing cross. No; we cannot understand the huge encyclopaedia of Calvary, nor study to the full profundity of its melting lore the lexicon of dying love; and so we cannot measure out the joy with which the purchase of that death will be received, and the trophies of that tragedy be counted up. But we shall be allowed to share in it! Not only shall we be rejoiced ever, but we shall rejoice over others. (A. Mursell.)

The last sheep

Never forget that the whole drama of Redemption--the Incarnation, the Ministry, the Cross, the Resurrection, the Ascension--was all but one long search for the lost sheep, and carrying it homerejoicing. The whole race of man was the lost sheep until Christ found it. All we like sheep had gone astray.

“All the souls that are were forfeit once,

And He who might the vantage best have took,

Found out the remedy.”

Other sheep were His--millions of spiritual creatures thronging the heaven of heavens. But here was this atom-world, floating on the infinite bosom of the bright and boundless air, the ruined habitation of a fallen race. To this poor ruined atom-world He came down all these steps of the infinite descent. Why? Because God is love.

I. LET US ALL BE PITIFUL. As for sin, indeed, we cannot hate it too much. But for the sinner we should feel nothing but compassion.

II. LET NONE DESPAIR. None has sinned too deeply to be forgiven. Come to Christ with your burden. There is heavenly medicine; there is lustral water at the wicket gate.

III. THINK NOBLE THOUGHTS OF GOD. (Archdeacon Farrar.)

The lost sheep

I. There is, first, GOD’S YEARNING OVER THE SINNER. Usually, in depicting a lost sinner, we dwell on the miseries which he has brought upon himself, and the blessings which he himself has forfeited. But this and the succeeding parables differ from the ordinary representations of the subject, in that they set before us the loss which God has sustained in the wandering and rebellion of His children. This view of the matter may well give careless sinners food for serious reflection. You are God’s. By virtue of your very creaturehood you belong to Him. Your hearts, your lives, your service, ought all to be given to Him; but they are not, and this is no mere thing of indifference to Him. He misses you. He, on whom the universe hangs, and who might well be excused if He had no concern for you, misses your love. He hungers for your affection. Yea, He has used means of the most costly character to find you out, and to bring you back. Why will you continue to disregard Him?

II. But, in the second place, we have here set before us THE SINNER’S OWN HELPLESSNESS. He is like a lost sheep. Now, while, as we have seen, this means that God has lost him, we must not forget that, on the other side of it, the analogy also bears that the sinner has lost himself. There are few more helpless creatures than a wandered sheep. It is, comparatively speaking, an easy thing to convince the sinner of his guilt, but it is a hard matter to get him to own his helplessness. He will persist in attempting his own deliverance. He will seek to satisfy God’s law for himself, and to find his own way back to happiness. The sheep will run to the shepherd when he appears, and welcome him as its helper, looking up in dumb gratitude into his face. But the sinner, in this respect more stupid even than the sheep, too often runs from the Shepherd and will have none of His assistance.

III. We have here, in the third place, THE MEANS USED FOR THE SINNER’S RECOVERY. All the way from heaven to Calvary Jesus came to seek lost sinners. He was going after that which was lost when He sat by the well of Sychar, and conversed with the woman of Samaria; when He called Matthew in His toll-booth, and when He summoned Zaccheus from the branch of the sycamore-tree whereon he was perched. He was going after that which was lost when He shed forth His Spirit upon Pentecost, and inspired His servants to proclaim His truth with power; and He is still going after that which is lost in the events of His providence, whereby He rouses the careless to reflection; in the searching words of His earnest ministers, who statedly declare His love, and speak home to the hearts of their fellow-men; and in the strivings of His spirit, whereby, often when they can give no account of the matter, men’s minds are strangely turned in the direction of salvation. But we must hasten on to describe the finding. When, it may be asked, is a sinner found by Christ? The answer is, When, on his side, the sinner finds Christ. What is seen in heaven is Christ laying His loving hand upon the sinner, sad the angels hear Him, saying--“I have found that which was lost”; but what is seen on earth, is the sinner laying his believing hand on Christ, and men hear him crying--“I have found my Deliverer. I will go with Him, for salvation is with Him.” But these are not two distinct things--they are involved the one in the other, so that you cannot take the one from the other without destroying both. But there is yet another aspect of this finding which must in nowise be lost sight of. I mean the tenderness of the shepherd.

IV. THE JOY MANIFESTED BY GOD OVER THE SINNER’S RETURN. The home-coming here can hardly be identical with the finding of the lost one. It must rather, I think, be understood of the introduction of the saved one into heaven, by Jesus, at the last. Yet the joy over him is not delayed till then, though at that moment it becomes higher than before. Let me illustrate. You have lost your child, and one of the most trusted members of your family has set out in search of her. He is long away, and weary days and weeks you wait for news. At length, however, there comes from the great city a telegram from the seeker, saying that he has found his sister, and that he is making arrangements for bringing her home as soon as possible. Of course, the mere receipt of this message gives you joy; but when at length your loved one is brought home, that joy is intensified, and you call together your friends to celebrate with you her return. Now, your gladness at the receipt of the telegram corresponds to the joy in heaven over the sinner’s repentance, while your higher joy at the home-coming of your child is symbolical of the gladness which will be caused by the entrance into heaven of each new ransomed spirit. Nor need we wonder at this joy it is over a successful enterprise. It is over the deliverance of another soul from ruin. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

The Good Shepherd in three positions

Let us behold our great Shepherd--

I. IN THE SEARCH “Until He find it.”

1. No rejoicing is on His countenance. He is anxious for the lost.

2. No hesitation is in His mind. Despite roughness of way, length of time, or darkness of night, He still pursues His lost one.

3. No anger is in His heart. The many wanderings of the sheep cost Him dear, but He counts them as nothing, so that He may but find it.

4. No pausing because of weariness. Love makes Him forget Himself, and causes Him to renew His strength.

5. No giving up the search. His varied nonsuccesses do not compel Him to return defeated. Such must our searches after others be. We must labour after each soul until we find it.

II. AT THE CAPTURE. “When He hath found it.” Mark the Shepherd when the sheep is at last within reach.

1. Wanderer held. How firm the grip! How hearty! How entire!

2. Weight borne. No chiding, smiting, driving; but a lift, a self-loading, an easing of the wanderer.

3. Distance travelled. Every step is for the Shepherd. He must tread painfully all that length of road over which the sheep had wandered so wantonly. The sheep is carried back with no suffering on its own part.

4. Shepherd rejoicing to bear the burden. The sheep is so dear that its weight is a load of love. The Shepherd is so good that He finds joy in His own toil.

5. Sheep rejoicing, too. Surely it is glad to be found of the Shepherd, and so to have its wanderings ended, its weariness rested, its distance removed, its perfect restoration secured.

III. IN THE HOME-BRINGING. “When He cometh home.”

1. Heaven is home to Christ.

2. Jesus must carry us all the way there.

3. The Shepherd’s mission for lost souls is known in glory, and watched with holy sympathy: in this all heavenly ones are “his friends and neighbours.”

4. Jesus loves others to rejoice with Him over the accomplishment of His design. “He called together His friends.” See how they crowd around Him! What a meeting!

5. Repentance is also regarded as our being brought home (see verse 7).

6. One sinner can make all heaven glad: (see verses 7, 10). (C. H.Spurgeon.)

Saving the lost

The sinner is set forth in the parable as a silly, wandering sheep. And it suggests what is true--that sin is not always a matter of premeditation. Sin is oftentimes an ignorance, a misunderstanding, a darkness of mind. A young man does not at eighteen say, “Now I will waste my time and squander my money, ruin my health, and hurt as many by my influence as I can.” That is not the way the thing is done. It would not be true to so represent it, any more than it would have been true for Christ to have represented the sheep as getting together in one corner of the fold, and saying, “Now let us get out and run off into the woods, and get bitten by wolves, and be killed.” Neither sheep nor men act in that way. Men wander off--they get led astray--they get farther away from virtue than they ever expected to be--they are lost before they know it. Looking at him from one point of view, the sinner is to be condemned; looking at him from another, he is to be pitied. In this latter light it is that the parable presents him to us. My friends, let us catch the spirit of the Saviour, as we go in and out among men. Men are like ice. You can melt them sooner by being warm toward them, by centring the rays of a great, earnest, glowing love upon them, than by going at them with hammers of threat and warning, and trying to beat them down and pulverize them. Sandstone kind of men can be treated in that way; but when you hit a man in that style made of granite, the hammer recoils, to the injury of the palm that held it. June is better than December to quicken life and growth in the natural world; and if you want people to blossom and get fruitful spiritually, pour around them the warm, genial atmosphere of God’s penetrative and stimulative love. My people, refresh your memories to-day with the real object of Christ’s incarnation. He did not come to publish certain sublime truths, He did not come to found a Church, to build up a religious hierarchy, to introduce habits of prayer, and peculiar views of God and duty. He came absorbed, rather, with one thought--devoted to one sublime, unselfish mission. It was to go after His lost sheep. This yearning, this irrepressible desire, it was, which burned and glowed in His whole life, as the pure fire glows in the diamond. This it was which gave fervour and intense beauty to His life. Before Christ came, who cared for the lost? Who cares for the bleaching bone in the wilderness?--it may be the bone of an ox, or a dog, or a man; who cares which? It is a dry and lifeless bone, and nothing more. It has no connection with our beating flesh, no relation with our living thought. Who cares for the shell on the shore? The waves have heaved it up from the caverns of the deep, and ground it into the sand: there let it lie. What hunter cares for the scattered feathers which some fierce hawk has torn from the back and breast of its prey? Why mourn over a bunch of soiled plumage? Had the hunter seen the hawk pounce on it, he might, perchance, have shot the hawk, and spared the bird; but the bird is lost. Why look? why mourn? why care? So little man cared for man before Christ came. The life of Christ was wonderful, because it was full of leeds nobody else had ever done. His very sympathies were a revelation. Ask Film as He rises from His agonizing prayer in the garden, when a thicker darkness than subsequently draped the earth lies on His soul; and He says again, “I came to save the lost.” Ask Him as he sinks fainting beneath the cross; and amid His panting are shaped the selfsame words--“To save the lost.” Ask Him as He hangs on the cross itself, about to yield up the ghost; and His quivering lips reply, “I came to save the lost; and here My task is finished.” We are like vases of rare tint and exquisite workmanship, which, shattered by some violent stroke, have been regathered in all their fragments, and so carefully rejoined, and glued with transparent cement, that no eye can detect where were the lines of rupture. The seeking love of God found us in fragments, and made us over into a perfect whole. If any of you have children, or friends, or relatives, far away from God, widely wandering from the truth of statement and life, I trust you will not be discouraged. Hope and pray always. Die as you have lived, hoping and praying. Build your hope on the seeking love of Christ. Ally your life with His in this work. Help reform society; help reform the Church, so that people shall not stare and look astonished when a really bad man or wicked woman is saved--when a soul that has in very fact been lost, and which was found in its sins as a lamb found in some dark, stony gorge, nearly dead from exposure and wounds, is brought to the fold. (W. H. H. Murray.)

The danger of the soul astray

One soul, gone astray, is in greater danger than the rest. It has fallen, first from creation, and then from redemption. It has fallen from its Divine acceptance, both in the first Adam and in the second. It is “twice dead.” “The last state of that man is worse than the first.” “There remaineth no more sacrifice for sin.” “It is impossible for those who were ones enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance.” There is no second “baptism for the remission of sins.” That one lost soul is in the way which leads beyond the boundaries of grace. Every day brings it nearer to the fatal brink. Dangers are ever thickening; temptation waxing mightier; sins are hourly multiplied; the dye is daily blacker; life is fast wearing away, eternity fast coming on; therefore the Good Shepherd speeds apace with a hasty step, to find that one sheep which is lost. (H. E. Manning.)

Search prompted by love

Following the law of love, He seems to leave the faithful, that He may seek for sinners. As there is a fold in heaven, so there is a fold on earth, a visible fold-the Church, in which He gathers His lost sheep. There is, besides, within that visible fold, another fold unseen, His own encircling Presence, the circuit of His own watchful care, within which the faithful and obedient are securely sheltered. These are they who walk stedfast in baptismal purity. They keep close to the eye and to the pathway of their Lord, going in and out by the gates of obedience. These are the ninety and nine who keep close to the feet of the Good Shepherd. For a while He passes them by, that He may seek sinners who, after baptism, fall from grace. For many are they who go out of this inward fold. They go out into ways of this world, the tangled masses of this wilderness, losing themselves by losing sight of Him; and, by losing sight of Him, losing their own souls. What is this wilderness but sin? Every several sin that man commits is a wilderness to that man’s soul, whether it be a sin of the flesh, as lust, gluttony, excess; or a sin of the spirit, as inward impurity, pride, anger, hardness of heart, sloth, or falsehood--whatever it be, that sin is a wilderness in each man’s soul, in which he is lost. For sin raises a cloud between the soul and the gaze of the Good Shepherd’s face. The sinner closes the eye which guides him; he loses the light of that countenance which shone upon the track of life. His will breaks away from the will of our Divine Guide, by which will he was sanctified; for so long as His will and our will are united, we are drawn by a thread of gold, which leads us in the way of life; but when, by sin, we start back and snap asunder that guiding clue, we are straightway lost. (H. E. Manning.)

The sheep that was lost and found

I. THE NATURALNESS OF GOD’S SEARCH FOR THE SINNER. “What man of you,” saith Christ, with that touch of surprise that we so often trace when He found men blind to truths that seemed to Him clear as day, “having a 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?” What else could he do? What could be more natural? He would be certain to go; his duty, his thought of loss to himself, his affection for the animal he had so long taken care of, his thought of all the poor thing was suffering, all would urge him forth. The inference followed, none could mistake it, that God would do the same for His erring and lost children, that He could not do otherwise, that to do otherwise would be unnatural. A similar relation to that which the shepherd bore the sheep, God bears to men. Let one of them lose himself, and it would be impossible for God to rest till He found the lost one. Duty, if I may use the term, the inward, self-created imperative, by which God must be true to Himself, would urge Him forth.

II. THE PERSEVERANCE OF GOD. We are told a great deal about God being wearied out with us, anti so offended with our wrongdoing as to give up trying to make us better. That is not Christ’s doctrine about God. In His mind He saw the Father going after the lost sheep unweariedly, and never, never resting till He found it and brought it home. Only when it was laid to sleep in the fold could God’s perseverance of love take any rest. There is no pause in God’s work till He find us. It is God who will find us, and not we Him, and He will re,ver rest till we are laid on His strong shoulder, and understand His love, and rest in His peace. No, not if it takes half an eternity to find us, will He give up the search. The law of God has made it plain that He will not find us in this comforting way till we repent, and the greater part of His search consists in so working on our lives as to make us cry with the prodigal, “I will arise and go to my Father.” And that is severe and punishing work.

III. THE JOY OF GOD IN REDEMPTION. It is pleasant, when we think how easily we get tried, to consider this unwearyingness of God, and that however long He persevere, His interest cannot be exhausted by pursuit or by success. Pursuit is agreeable enough to us, for as long as a thing is unreached it charms, but our dangerous moment is the moment of success. “When we have laid our hand on the goal, if it be pleasure, we too often give it a languid assent; if it be the good of another, we are too often so weary as not to be interested any longer. That is the weakness of our mortal nature. It is nothing to be proud of, as some think. It is want of power, of imagination, of capacity. Were we greater in heart and brain, victory of pleasure, success in good would double our joy. An infinite nature has infinite delight and interest. The joy of God in redeeming the lost is, then, the last truth the parable teaches. It is frank, complete, ungrudging, unmixed. (Stopford A. Brooke, M. A.)

The shepherd misses one when it has strayed from the flock

The Redeemer’s knowledge is infinite; He looks not only over the multitude generally, but into each individual. When I stand on a hillock at the edge of a broad meadow, and look across the sward, it may be said in a general way that I look on all the grass of that field: but the sun in the sky looks on it after another fashion--shines on every down-spike that protrudes from every blade. It is thus that the Good Shepherd knows the flock. Knowing all, He misses any one that wanders. He missed a world when it fell, although His worlds lie scattered like grains of golden dust on the blue field of Heaven--the open infinite. (W. Arnot.)

God mindful of the unit

Next, much comfort may be gathered from this point in hand. Though the godly are but few, yet (we see) God will be nevertheless mindful of them. If but one sheep go astray, He will fetch it home; if but one great lost, He will look it up; if but one sinner repents, there shall be joy in heaven for him; if but one prodigal come home, he shall be received. With man it is otherwise; who will bestow gathering of one apple upon some top bough, or send a reaper into a field for one ear of wheat standing in some corner of it? Or what husbandman will beat over his straw again for one grain of corn, or winnow over all his chaff for a few grains of wheat? But God will not lose an apple, not aa ear, not one kernel; He will winnow a great heap for a few grains, as He did the old world for Genesis 7:7; 1 Peter 3:20). And it is no rare thing, but often seen that God sends many of His servants to thresh or winnow in great assemblies of chaff, and yet after divers years’ pains and sore sweating labour, they get but one grain of corn. After all their toil they convert but one or two souls, whom God in His providence hath sent them, by all their pains to save. (N. Rogers.)

Christ seeking the lost

No place did He leave unsought to find His own; in the wilderness we see here He seeks the sheep; in the house, as we read in the next, He seeks the great; in the world He seeks up the prodigal and lost son. He goes to Samaria to seek the woman; to Bethany to seek up Mary; to Capernaum to seek the centurion; to Jericho to seek Zaccheus; no place that He left unsought or unsanctified. (N. Rogers.)

Christ’s sympathy for sinners

1. A yearning sympathy.

2. An active sympathy.

3. A tender sympathy.

4. A joyful sympathy. (C. E. Walker.)

The tendency to wander

There is in sin a centrifugal tendency, and the wanderings of this wanderer could be only further and further away. If, therefore, it shall be found at all, this can only be by its Shepherd’s going to seek it; else, being once lost, it is lost for ever. (Archbishop Trench.)

No instinct to return

The sinner is like the strayed sheep, the most stupid of animals. The cat, the dog, the horse, when lost, find their way home--who knows how?--but the sheep has no such instinct. (J. Wells.)

Tact in teaching

How easily they all understood Him! But how few Christian people there are who understand how to fasten the truths of God and religion to the souls of men. Truman Osborne, one of the evangelists who went through this country some years ago, had a wonderful art in the right direction. He came to my father’s house one day, and while we were all seated in the room, he said, “Mr. Talmage, are all your children Christians?” Father said, “Yes, all but De Witt.” Then Truman Osborne looked down into the fireplace, and began to tell a story of a storm that came on the mountains, and all the sheep were in the fold; but there was one lamb outside that perished in the storm. Had he looked me in the eye, I should have been angered when he told that story; but he looked into the fireplace, and it was so pathetically and beautifully done, that I never found any peace until I was sure I was inside the fold, where the other sheep are. (De Witt Talmage, D. D.)

God seeking after men

The distinction between Christianity and all other systems of religion consists largely in this: that in these others men are found seeking after God, while Christianity is God seeking after men. (T. Arnold, D. D.)

Seeking a lost shep

One evening in 1861, as General Garibaldi was going home, he met a Sardinian shepherd lamenting the loss of a lamb out of his flock. Garibaldi at once turned to his staff, and announced his intention of scouring the mountain in search of the lamb. A grand expedition was organized. Lanterns were brought, and old officers of many a campaign started off full of zeal to hunt the fugitive. But no lamb was found, and the soldiers were ordered to their beds. The next morning Garibaldi’s attendant found him in bed fast asleep. The attendant waked him. The general rubbed his eyes; and so did his attendant when he saw the old warrior take from under the covering the lost lamb, and bid him convey it to the shepherd. The general had kept up the search through the night until he had found it. Even so doth the Good Shepherd go in search of His lost sheep until He finds them. (Sunday School Times.)

Tenderness of the Good Shepherd

Among the hills of our native land I have met a shepherd far from the flocks and folds, driving home a lost sheep--one which had “gone astray,” a creature panting for breath, amazed, alarmed, footsore; and when the rocks around rang loud to the baying of the dogs, I have seen them, whenever it offered to turn from the path, with open mouth dash fiercely at its sides, and so hound it home. How differently Jesus brings back His lost ones! The lost sheep sought and found, He lifts it up tenderly, lays it on His shoulder, and retracing His steps, returns homeward with joy, inviting His neighbours to rejoice with Him. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)

Seeking the lost

A lady, while passing along one of our public streets, in pulling off her glove, pulled from her finger a very valuable jewelled ring, which, before she could secure it, rolled into the gutter. She stood hesitatingly on the brink of the filthy puddle for a few moments, as if considering what to do, when she bared her fair arm, and plunging her hand into the gutter, secured her treasure. Ah! there is the treasure of the precious soul lost in many a vile sink of human poilu tion, and to save it we must be willing to follow the Saviour’s example, and to go to the vilest outcasts with the glad tidings of salvation. From the parable of the lost sheep we are impressed with the thought of the Saviour’s deep personal interest in every sinner. One sheep went astray, and this careful Shepherd missed even that one. The sinner, in his wanderings, is apt to think that Christ does not notice him; that amid the vastness of the affairs of the universe which occupy the Divine mind, he, if not overlooked, is but little attended to. But this is a dangerous mistake. There is not a step which the sinner can take in his departure from God which the watchful eye of the Shepherd does not follow; and the loved child is not more surely missed from the affectionate family circle than is every sinner who departs from the living God. (J. R. Boyd.)

One sheep against “ninety and nine”

A traveller describes a scene which he once saw that strongly reminded him of this parable: “On the Aletsch glacier I saw a strange, a beautiful sight--the parable of our Lord reacted in the letter. One day we were making our way with ice-axe and alpenstock down the glacier, when we observed a flock of sheep following their shepherd over the intricate windings of the crevasses, and so passing from the pastures on one side of the glacier to the pastures on the other. The flock had numbered two hundred, all told. But on the way one sheep had got lost. One of the shepherds, in his German patois, appealed to us if we had seen it. Fortunately one of the party had a field-glass. With its aid we discovered the lost sheep far up, amid a tangle of brushwood, on the rocky mountain side. It was beautiful to see how the shepherd, without a word, left his hundred and ninety-nine sheep on the glacier waste (knowing they would stand there perfectly still and safe), and went clambering back after the lost sheep until he found it.”

In search of stray sheep

Uncle John Vassar, the celebrated colporteur of the American Tract Society, who tramped the country over from Illinois to Florida, used to describe himself as the “Shepherd’s Dog.” He did not claim to be a shepherd, for he put great power upon an educated and ordained ministry. He regarded himself only as a faithful dog, hunting after the stray sheep of the Master’s flock, and endeavouring to bring into the fold those Christless souls who were wandering over the devil’s commons. A young clergyman says that he once overtook Uncle John Vassar on the road (in Duchess county), and made some inquiry as to the residence of a friend. Uncle John gave him the information, and then promptly inquired, “My young friend, are you a Christian?” The ministerial brother told him that he hoped he was. A few words more passed, and Vassar pushed on, remarking that “he was in a hurry to look up some sheep.” When the clergyman reached his friend’s house, he told them that he had met a crazy man on the road, who was hunting after sheep. The family laughed heartily, and said, “Why, that was John Vassar, our Duchess county missionary, and the sheep that he is in search of are the Lord’s.”

Anxieties of pastoral care

St. Francis, reflecting on a story he heard of a mountaineer in the Alps, who had risked his life to save a sheep, says, “O God, if such was the earnestness of this shepherd in seeking for a mean animal, which had probably been frozen on the glacier, how is it that I am so indifferent in seeking my sheep?”

Seeking the wanderer

An American bishop, speaking of the personal love and earnestness which in Christian work prove, with God’s blessing, so successful, related that a youth belonged to a Bible-class, but at last the time came when he thought fit to discontinue his attendance, and to otherwise occupy his time. The class assembled, but his place was empty, and the leader looked for the familiar face in vain. He could not be content to conduct the Bible-reading as usual, ignorant as to the condition and whereabouts of the missing one. “Friends,” he said, “read, sing, and pray; my work is to seek and find a stray sheep;” and he started off on the quest. “The stray sheep is before you,” said the bishop to his hearers. “My teacher found me, and I could not resist his pleading; I could not continue to wander and stray whilst I was sought so tenderly.” (The Quiver.)

Until he find it

The Savior does not go after the wandering sheep for a mile or so in the wilderness, and then, because the way is wet or weary, or because the clouds of evening are gathering, say to Himself, “Well, I have done as much as this ridiculous and stupid sheep deserves. There was no occasion that the sheep should wander away from the fold. It is its own folly. Let it reap the fruit of its own folly. I have done all I can; I will go home now.” Not at all. He goes on and on and on. He does not consider how tired He is. He has not done His business until He has found the sheep and put it on His shoulder, and brought it back again rejoicing. (H. P. Hughes, M. A.)

Search for soul-jewels

A jeweller received a very valuable diamond to be re-set. He wrapped it up carefully, and laid it away; but, when it was wanted, it could not be found. Its loss would ruin the jeweller. He searched everywhere; day after day, doing nothing else till he found it. At last he discovered a bit of the paper, in which the jewel had been wrapped, among the ashes of a fireplace. He then sifted all the ashes made after reception of the jewel, and was overjoyed to discover the lost treasure perfectly uninjured. What diligent search, then, should be made for lost but immortal soul-jewels!

Rejoicing.

Christ’s joy in saving sinners

I. CHRIST’S ANXIETY TO SAVE THE LOST.

1. He knows the sinner’s present condition.

2. He adopts active means for the sinner’s recovery..

II. HIS JOY OVER THEIR SALVATION.

1. This joy is represented by the shepherd laying the lost sheep upon his shoulder, and carrying it home rejoicing. We know why the shepherd acts thus. The sheep is wearied and distressed by its wanderings. If let loose, it might again escape and wander farther than ever from the fold. If it were allowed to walk by the shepherd’s side, it might be devoured by beasts, who are watching for their prey even in the shepherd’s presence. You must all see from this representation how safe you, the redeemed of Christ, are.

2. But Jesus not only rejoices Himself in your salvation, He also calls upon the angels of heaven to participate in His joy. APPLICATION:

1. Warning to the indifferent.

2. Comfort to the penitent. (Canon Clayton.)

Christian joy at a sinner’s conversion

About three hundred years after the time of the apostles, Caius Marius Victorius, an old pagan, was converted from his impiety, and brought over to the Christian faith; and when the people of God heard this, there was a wonderful rejoicing, and shouting, and leaping for gladness, and psalms were sung in every church, while the people joyously said one to another, “Caius Marius Victorius is become a Christian! Caius Marius Victorius is become a Christian!” Dear reader, it may be that you are an old offender. What joy would be made among the best of people by your conversion! Some of your dearest friends would be ready to dance with delight; and hundreds, who know what a hardened rebel you have been, would sing and shout for joy of heart, “Old---- has become a Christian!” Oh, that you might be led to cause this happiness on earth; and there is this at the back of it--the holy mirth would reach to the highest heaven! (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Joy of a community in recovering the lost

The following anecdote was told to Todd by an old hunter in the forests of America: “I had been out all winter alone trapping for furs. It was in March, when I was hunting beaver, just as the ice began to break up, and on one of the farthest, wildest lakes I ever visited. I calculated there could be no human being nearer than one hundred miles. I was pushing my canoe through the loose ice, one cold day, when just around a point that projected into the lake, I heard something walking through the ice. It made so much noise, and stepped so regularly, that I felt sure it must be a moose. I got my rifle ready, and held it cocked in one hand, while I pushed the canoe with the other. Slowly and carefully I rounded the point, when, what was my astonishment to see, not a moose, but a man, wading in the water--the ice water! He had nothing on his hands or feet, and his clothes were torn almost from his limbs. He was walking, gesticulating with his hands, and talking to himself. He seemed to be wasted to a skeleton. With great difficulty I got him into my canoe, when I landed and made up a fire, and got him some hot tea and food. He had a bone of some animal in his bosom, which he had gnawed almost to nothing. He was nearly frozen, and quieted down, and soon fell asleep. I nursed him like an infant. With great difficulty, and in a roundabout way, I found out the name of the town from which he came. Slowly and carefully I got him along, around falls, and over portages, keeping a resolute watch on him, lest he should escape from me in the forest. At length, after nearly a week’s travel, I reached the village where I supposed he lived. I found the whole community under deep excitement, and more than a hundred men were scattered in the woods and on the mountains, seeking for my crazy companion, for they had learned that he had wandered into the woods. It had been agreed upon that if he was found, the bells should be immediately rung and guns fired; and as soon as I landed a shout was raised, his friends rushed to him; the bells broke out in loud notes, and guns were fired, and their reports echoed again and again in forest and on mountain, till every seeker knew that the lost one was found. How many times I had to tell the story over. I never saw people so crazy with joy; for the man was of the first and best families, and they hoped his insanity would be but temporary, as I afterwards learned it was. How they feasted me, and when I came away, loaded my canoe with provisions and clothing, and everything for my comfort. It was a time and place of wonderful joy. They seemed to forget everything else, and think only of the poor man whom I had brought back.” The old hunter ceased, and said: “Don’t this make you think of the fifteenth chapter of Luke, where the man who lost one sheep left all the rest and sought it, and brought it home rejoicing; and of the teaching of our Saviour, that there is joy in heaven oyez one repenting, returning sinner?” “Oh yes; I have often compared the two, and though I don’t suppose they ring bells and fire guns in that world, yet I have no doubt they have some way of making their joy known.”

The joy occasioned by the lost sheep being found

I. A FACT ACKNOWLEDGED.

1. It reminds us of the sheep’s relation to the Saviour. He has an interest in it. “My sheep.” His, even before it was found.

2. It reminds us of the sheep’s former state. “Lost.”

II. THE SATISFACTION HERE IMPLIED. This is the Saviour’s own joy on the occasion. We see this implied, and necessarily implied; for how could He call upon others to rejoice with Him, unless He was rejoicing Himself? How could you, unless you were walking, invite others to walk with you? But this satisfaction of the shepherd is not left at an uncertainty. It is here expressly affirmed.

1. The sheep was Hot conscious of the shepherd’s kindness. No. When he laid hold of it, it punted and trembled; and when he was laying it on his shoulder, it struggled, and endeavoured to free itself, and as he carried it off, it wondered what he was going to do with it. It is the same with us, when, to use the words of the apostle, we are “apprehended of Christ Jesus.”

2. We may view this joy of the Saviour in contrast with the convert’s own connections and friends. Some of these may be alarmed and distressed, and imagine the man is going into distraction, or into despair. They know nothing of “a wounded spirit;” they are ignorant of the methods of Divine grace--how God wounds in order to heal; how He humbles in order to exalt; how He impoverishes in order to enrich; how He empties in order to fill. Hence they often send for the physician when they ought to send for the divine. You remember, that when Christian left the city of destruction and was crossing the field, his neighbours and friends, supposing he was deranged or disordered, cried out, “Stop! return!” but he, putting his fingers in his ears, rushed forward, crying, “Life, Life! Eternal life!”

3. We may review this joy as the result of success. How delightful to the husbandman after months of ploughing and sowing, to go forth and “see, first the blade, then the ear, and after that the full corn in the ear”: and then, to “reap with joy” and carry home his “sheaves with him”! How pleasing to the builder, after furnishing the materials, to see the edifice rising in lovely proportion, till the topstone thereof is brought forth, with shoutings of “Grace, grace, unto it.” And, oh, what joy did the Saviour experience when “He ascended to His Father and our Father; to His God and our God”: after saying, “I have finished the work Thou gavest me to do.”

4. Then this joy may be viewed as indicative of His benevolence.

5. This joy of His should be the penitent’s encouragement.

6. If this joy be the sinner’s hope, it should be the saint’s example. He was infinitely more than example, but nothing less. And “he who says He abideth in him, ought himself, also, so to walk even as He walked.” If you depend upon Him, you must resemble Him.

III. THE DISPOSITION HERE ENJOINED. Not willing to enjoy the pleasure alone, He calls on others to share it. (W. Jay.)

Joy enhanced by partnership

Every man rejoices twice when he has a partner of his joy. A friend shares my sorrow, and makes it but a moiety; but he swells my joy, and makes it double. For so two channels divide the river, and lessen it into rivulets, and make it fordable, and apt to be drunk up by the first revels of the Syrian star; but two torches do not divide, but increase the flame. And though my tears are the sooner dried up when they run on my friend’s cheeks in the furrows of compassion, yet, when my flame hath kindled his lamp, we unite the glories, and make them radiant, like the golden candlesticks that burn before the throne of God, because they shine by numbers, by light, and joy. (H. W. Beecher.)

A search that never fails

The Rev. J.R. Macduff, D.D., tells of a gallant vessel, manned with gallant hearts, which went forth amid the frowning icebergs of the northern seas to search for a band of missing explorers. They sailed thither, buoyed with the faint feeble hope that the objects of their search might still be found, battling bravely with eternal winter. They went after the lost until they found them; but, alas I they found them with the stiffened snow and ice as their winding-sheets. They brought not back the living, but only some sad mementoes and memorials of the dead. Not so is the journey, not so the pursuits of the great Shepherd of the sheep. Those whom He has marked for His own, He will, without fail, bring home. Not one can elude His pursuit nor evade His loving scrutiny.

The lost found

One week evening an old woman, very poor and very lame, heard the church bell ring for service. She had never been to church before, but took it into her head to go this once. The minister preached on the parable of the lost sheep, and his words conveyed real news, and joyful news too, to the old woman. She sat drinking it in as a traveller drinks at a well in the desert, to save his very life. “What,” said she to herself, “ be I then a sinner? Yes, surely I be. What, be I then just like a lost sheep? Aye, for sure, I am just like that. And be there a Shepherd searching about for me? Will He find me? Be I worth His while? A Saviour for a poor thing like me! ‘Tis wonderful loving.” These were her self-communings as she hobbled back on her crutches to her dark cellar. A short time afterwards the clergyman received a message that the poor old woman was dying and earnestly desirous of seeing him. The moment he made his appearance she exclaimed: “That is the man who told me about the lost sheep. I want to know more about it.” So he sat down, saying, “I will gladly tell you more about it. I will tell you also about the Sheep that was found.” “Yes,” she exclaimed, “found! found! found!” She did not live long after this interview, and she passed away with the same words on her dying lips: “Found I found! found!”

Rescue of lost

Some years ago Southwark was divided into districts by the visitors of the Auxiliary Bible Society. One district was found to contain such a depraved neighbourhood that it was spoken of as the “Forlorn Hope;” and for some time no individual would engage to visit it. At length three ladies, advanced in life, undertook the hopeless task. On entering one house of the vilest description, they found, in the first room into which they went, a young female, of pleasing appearance, mixing something in a cup, which she put into a closet when she saw them. They conversed with her, and asked if she would accept a Testament, which she gladly received. They found she was the daughter of a clergyman, but, vain of her personal attractions, she had been betrayed into that wretched course of life. She eagerly listened to all they said; and finding her anxious to leave the paths of wickedness, they procured her admission into an asylum, and the event proved that she was indeed desirous to return to the paths of virtue. The mixture in the cup when these ladies entered the house was poison. In a few short hours, in all human probability, she would have departed to everlasting misery. She afterwards filled a situation of comfort, and was enabled to look forward with hope to a blissful eternity.

Joy shall be in heaven

On the joy which is in heaven at the repentance of a sinner

I. HOW WE ARE TO UNDERSTAND THE JOY THAT IS IN HEAVEN AT THE REPENTANCE OF A SINNER. As it refers to God, it seems very inconsistent with the happiness and perfection of the Divine nature to suppose Him really capable of joy, any more than of grief, or any other passion. Because this would be to imagine some new accession to His pleasure and happiness, which being always infinite, can never have anything added to it. And, therefore, we are to understand this, as it relates to God, in the same manner as we do infinite other passages of Scripture, where human passions are ascribed to Him, to be spoken by way of condescension and after the language and manner of the sons of men; and to signify only thus much to us, that the conversion of a sinner is a thing highly pleasing and acceptable to God. As it refers to angels and other blessed spirits, I see no inconvenience why it may not be understood more strictly and literally; that they conceive a new joy at the news of a sinner’s repentance, and find a fresh pleasure and delight springing up in their minds, whenever they hear the joyful tidings of a sinner rescued from the slavery of the devil and the danger of eternal damnation; of a new member added to the kingdom of God, that shall be a companion and a sharer with them in that blessedness which they enjoy.

II. WHO ARE HERE MEANT BY THE JUST PERSONS THAT NEED NO REPENTANCE. Our Saviour plainly designs those who, being religiously educated, and brought up in the fear of God, had never broke out into any extravagant and vicious course of life, and so in some sense had no need of repentance, that is, of changing the whole course of their lives, as the prodigal son had.

III. WITH WHAT REASON IT IS HERE SAID, THAT THERE IS “MORE JOY IN HEAVEN OVER ONE SINNER THAT REPENTETH, THAN OVER NINETY AND NINE JUST PERSONS WHO NEED NO REPENTANCE.”

1. That the same thing, considered in several respects, may in some respects have the advantage of another thing, and for those reasons be preferred before it, and yet not have the advantage of it absolutely and in all respects. Moral comparisons are not to be exacted to a mathematical strictness and rigour.

2. Our Saviour does not hero compare repentance with absolute innocence and perfect righteousness, but with the imperfect obedience of good men, who are guilty of many sins and infirmities; but yet, upon account of the general course and tenor of their lives, are, by the mercy and favour of the gospel, esteemed just and righteous persons; and, for the merits and perfect obedience of Christ, so accepted by God.

3. This utterance of our Saviour is to be understood as spoken very much after the manner of men, and suitably to the nature of human passions, and the usual occasion of moving them. We are apt to be exceedingly affected with the obtaining of what we did not hope for, and much more with regaining of what we looked upon as lost and desperate.

Concluding inferences:

1. The blessed spirits above have some knowledge of the affairs of men here below.

2. If God and the blessed spirits above rejoice at the conversion of a sinner, so should we too: and not fret and murmur as the Pharisees did.

3. The consideration of what hath been said should mightily inflame our zeal, and quicken our industry and diligence for the conversion of sinners.

4. What an argument and encouragement is hero to repentance, even to the greatest of sinners. (Archbishop Tillotson.)

Angels’ joy over penitence

Why should these heavenly beings rise into such an excitement? What have they to do with our repentance down here? We look for an explanation.

I. We must bear in mind THE INTENSE SYMPATHY WHICH THESE ANGELS HAVE WITH JEHOVAH, WHO IS GOD OVER ALL. They unceasingly catch their inspiration and impulse from His face, before which they stand. If we were to draw a picture of that shining host, we might represent a throng which no man can number, with gaze all attracted one way towards the throne from which emanates the whole bliss and beauty of that heavenly estate. A gleam of gladness on the ineffable features is reproduced upon the countenances of all in that assemblage, and the quick response beams from every eye, trembles in every voice of eager utterance, and rings out joyously from every struck harp. Thus they serve Him day and night in His temple. Hence, the view which God Himself has of a repentant soul is immediately observed and transmitted. And what that view is, is easily found out (see John 1:18).

II. But again: In order to appreciate the full meaning of a gladness so extraordinary as this in heaven, WE MUST REMEMBER THAT THESE ANGELS HAVE ALWAYS MANIFESTED AN ABSORBING INTEREST IN MEN AS THE CREATURES OF GOD. They know, better than we know ourselves, we shall have to admit, what we once were, and what we now are, and in the end what we may become by the manifold grace of God.

1. They saw our race at its beginning, before it was defiled by sin. They sang together at the creation (see Job 38:7). It is needful for us to struggle up to gain an adequate idea of what perfect holiness is; they know by intuition; and they saw man when the race was as holy as their own, and they have not forgotten it.

2. They know what we are now better than we know ourselves. We see as in enigma, darkly; they see in the sunshine of God’s great love, out of which they know we have fallen.

3. They know what we can become better than we know ourselves. They understand the essential grandeur of grace as a process of renewal and restoration. To them a soul is priceless because it can hold a palm-branch, it can wear a crown, it can sing a song for the King. They measure the supreme height into which the redeemed are advanced when by penitence and faith they are lifted into love.

III. Once more: In order to understand this great emotion of the angels, WE MUST RECOLLECT THAT THEY HAVE ALWAYS EXHIBITED AN EAGER INTEREST IN THE PURPOSE AND WORD OF CHRIST AS THE SON OF GOD.

1. This was a matter of great difficulty to them in the beginning. It is not revealed to us that there was any subject which ever attracted their attention more than this scheme of redemption by Jesus. That, we are told, “the angels desire to look into” (see 1 Peter 1:12).

2. The steps of the wonderful disclosure were all under their observation. They saw the Saviour pass by through their shining ranks out of heaven on His way to the world. They marked how He laid aside His glory, and took the form of a servant. But lest they should imagine they were to despise Him in His humiliation, there came then a sudden command through heaven: “Lot all the angels of God worship Him!” Then He moved on. Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Capernaum, Calvary, and Bethany succeeded; at last they saw what it all meant.

3. The risk now must have been fully appreciated. Would this plan succeed? At first these angels seem to have indulged in one irrepressible acclamation of supreme delight; they sang “Glory to God in the highest,” over Bethlehem plains. But then they settled back upon their “looking into” the rest. Peering over the battlements of their celestial abode, they watched John the Baptist as he preached repentance; they saw how the whole success or failure turned upon that. Would anybody repent and come back to God’s love in answer to the invitation? Must Jesus have died and pleaded in vain?

4. Now think of the announcement of a sinner returning unto purity. Imagine Simon Peter, or Nathanael, or Nicodemus, on bended knees before Christ, the sinner’s Friend. Repentance had begun upon earth; the plan of redemption would answer! With what abashed joy these angels must have looked in each other’s faces; and then in an instant of delighted wonderment they would seek the Divine Countenance in the throne.

Now let our minds slowly receive two or three reflections:

1. See the value of the conversion of just one soul. “One sinner that repenteth.” What is Zion’s glory? Read Psalms 87:5-6.

2. When angels are so excited, how strange seems our apathy! Just out of sight is a world all alive with enthusiasm and zeal.

3. Is it possible that angels cars more for sinners’ salvation than some of the sinners seem to care for themselves to be saved? (C. S.Robinson, D. D.)

Joy in heaven

1. They rejoice because an heir of heaven has been led to claim his inheritance. Mark the words, “Joy in heaven.” Heaven belongs to the penitent soul, and he belongs to heaven. For heaven is the dwelling-place of God and the home of His children. It is our home by a double title. Every member of the Church of Christ who is as the lost sheep, or as the lost piece of money, or as the younger son, is one lost out of the family of God, and when he returns, he is one restored to the place from which he was missing.

2. And the joy at his repentance finds its reason in the fact, that a man’s repentance is the removal of that one obstacle which prevents his restoration to his place in the family of God. What is that obstacle? Do I need to name it? It is sin.

3. And thus we are led to notice another element in those causes from which the joy of the heavenly ones proceeds; it is the value of the soul which is thus emancipated by the mighty change which has passed upon it. “The redemption of the soul is precious.” We are in danger of forgetting the intrinsic worth and dignity of the soul of man in consequence of the loss which it has sustained through the Fall and by sin.. (W. R. Clark, M. A.)

Joy over penitents

I. Who are those that need no repentance? There are two modes of solving this difficulty, so as perfectly to harmonize the doctrine of the text with the general system of Divine truth. In the first place, there are those who have repented, and are no longer denominated penitents. In the next place, there is no necessity for taking the words in their absolute sense. Our Lord frequently speaks in an hypothetical or supposititious manner.

II. Why is there more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth than over ninety-nine just persons that need no repentance? Whether we can fully understand the causes of their joy is uncertain. There may be certain relations in which they exist that our more limited nature cannot comprehend, and which powerfully affect their minds with impressions of joy. We are a great deal more affected by recent than by remote causes. Now it is probable that all beings have a great similarity in this respect, and as repentance is a thing of recent occurrence, as it is the essential fact in the history of man’s felicity, as it is the very gate to the celestial country, angels may feel a peculiar delight in an event so singular, and connected with infinite results. Then, again, it is probable that, like ourselves, angels are affected by contrast; and what contrast can be more striking than that exhibited by the impenitent and the penitent? Lastly, I would suggest a few hints which naturally arise out of the subject. In the first place, what an infinite value is stamped upon this transformation of the heart--repentance! The penitent becomes entitled to all the benefits which are comprehended in the enjoyment of the presence and blessing of God. Secondly, we see the importance of the gospel. This is the great instrument for producing repentance. Thirdly, it affords the most delighful encouragement to sinners to repent. (R. Hall, M. A.)

Celestial sympathy

I. IT IS POSSIBLE FOR US TO AUGMENT THE HAPPINESS OF HEAVEN. If you would this day repent and come to God, the news of your salvation would reach heaven, and then, hark to the shouts of the ransomed! Your little child went away from you into the good land. While she was here you brought her all kinds of beautiful presents. Sometimes you came home at nightfall with your pockets full of gifts for her, and no sooner did you put your night-key into the latch than she began at you, saying, “Father, what have you brought me?” She is now before the throne of God. Can you bring her a gift to-day? You may. Coming to Christ and repenting of sin, the tidings will go up to the throne of God, and your child will hear of it. Oh! what a gift for her soul today. She will skip with new gladness on the everlasting hills when she hears of it. I was at Sharpsburg during the war, and one day I saw a sergeant dash past on a lathered horse, the blood dripping from the spurs. I said: “That sergeant must be going on a very important message--he must be carrying a very important dispatch, or he wouldn’t ride like that.” Here are two angels of God flitting through the house, flitting toward the throne on quick dispatch. What is the news? Carrying up the story of souls repentant and forgiven, carrying the news to the throne of God, carrying the news to your kindred who are for ever saved. Oh! “there is joy in heaven among the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” And suppose this whole audience should turn to the Lord this morning? Heaven would be filled with doxologies. I was reading of a king who, after gaining a great victory, said to his army: “Now, no shouting; let everything be quiet, no shouting.” But if this morning your soul should come to God, nothing could stop the shouting of the armies of God before the throne; for “there is joy in heaven among the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.”

II. HEAVEN AND EARTH ARE IN CLOSE SYMPATHY. People talk of heaven as though it were a great way off. They say it is hundreds of thousands of miles before you reach the first star, and then you go hundreds of thousands of miles before you get to the second star, and then it is millions of miles before you reach heaven. They say heaven is the centre of the universe, and we are on the rim of the universe. That is not the idea of my text. I think the heart of heaven beats very close to our world. We measure distances by the time taken to traverse those distances. It used to be a long distance to San Francisco. Many weeks and months were passed before you could reach that city. Now it is seven days. It used to be six weeks before you could voyage from here to Liverpool. Now you can go that distance in eight or nine days. And so I measure the distance between earth and heaven, and I find it is only a flash. It is one instant here, and another instant there. It is very near to-day. Christ says in one place it is not twenty-four hours’ distance, when He says to the penitent thief: “This day, this day, shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.” Oh! how near heaven is to earth! By oceanic cable you send a message. As it is expensive to send the message, you compress a great deal of meaning in a few words. Sometimes in two words you can put vast meaning. And it seems to me that the angels of God who carry news from earth to heaven need to take up this morning, in regard to your soul, only two words in order to kindle with gladness all the redeemed before the throne: only two words: “Father saved,” “mother saved,” “son saved,” “daughter saved.” And “there is joy in heaven among the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.”

III. THE SALVATION OF THE SOUL IS OF VAST IMPORTANCE. When the French Government passed from Thiers to McMahon, I do not suppose it was reported in heaven. When, in the recent English elections, the contest was between Conservatives and Liberals, the result, I do not suppose, was reported in heaven. But there is one item that must go up--there is one thing that must be told. Let the flying hoofs of God’s courier clash through the portals, and the news fly from gate to temple, and from temple to mansion, and from mansion to throne, that one soul has been converted. Last summer, among the White Mountains, a stage driver was very reckless. He had a large company of passengers and drove six horses. Coming along a dangerous place, the leaders shied off, and the stage was thrown over the rocks. A few men leaped out and were saved, others went down and were bruised, and some were slain. When those who were saved got home, how their friends must have congratulated them that they got off from all that peril! Well! the angels of God look down, and see men driving along the edge of eternal disasters, drawn by leaping, foaming, uncontrollable perils: and when a man, just before he comes to the fatal capsize, leaps off and comes away in safety, do you wonder that the angels of God clap their hands and cry: “Good! Good! saved from hell! Saved for heaven! Saved for ever!” The redemption of a soul must be a very wonderful thing, or heaven would not make such a jubilation about it. It must be a great thing, or there would not be so much excitement in that land where coronations are every-day occurrences, and the stones of the field are amethysts and chrysoprases. (De Witt Talmage, D. D.)

Joy over the saved

We may illustrate this text by an incident which occurred in connection with the wreck of the ill-fated steamer, Central America. A few days after that startling event, which sent hundreds to a watery grave, and plunged the nation in grief, a pilot boat was seen, on a fair breezy morning, standing up the bay of New York. The very appearance of the vessel gave token that she was freighted with tidings of no common interest. With every sail set, and streamers flying, she leaped along the waters as if buoyant with some great joy; while the glad winds that swelled her canvas, and the sparkling waves that kissed her sides and urged her on her way, seemed to laugh with conscious delight. As she drew nearer, an unusual excitement was visible on her deck; and her captain, running out to the extreme point of the bowsprit and swinging his cap, appeared to be shouting something with intense earnestness and animation. At first the distance prevented his being distinctly understood. But soon, as the vessel came farther into the harbour, the words, “Three more saved! Three more saved!” reached the nearest listeners. They were caught up by the crews of the multitudinous ships that lay anchored around, and sailors sprang wildly into the rigging and shouted, “Three more saved!” They were heard on the wharves; and the porter threw down his load, and the drayman stopped his noisy cart, and shouted, “Three more saved.” The tidings ran along the streets; and the news-boys left off crying the last murder, and shouted, “Three more saved.” Busy salesmen dropped their goods, bookkeepers their pens, bankers their discounts, tellers their gold, and merchants, hurrying on the stroke of the last hour of grace to pay their notes, paused in their headlong haste, and shouted, “Three more saved!” Louder and louder grew the cry--fast and faster it spread--along the crowded piers of the Hudson and East River--up by the graves of Trinity, the Hotels of Broadway, the marble palaces of the Fifth Avenue--over the heights of Brooklyn--across to Hoboken and Jersey City--away, away, beyond tower and pinnacle, beyond mansion and temple, beyond suburb and hamlet--till a million hearts pulsated with its thrill, and above all the sounds of the vast metropolis, mightier than all, hushing all, rose the great exultant shout, “Three more saved! Three more saved!” If cold and selfish men will thus stop short in the eager quest of gain or of pleasure, to let the voice of humanity speak out, and to express their joy that three fellow-beings have been rescued from the ocean depths, shall we deem it an incredible thing that the holy and loving denizens of heaven should rejoice when a sinner repents, and is delivered from the abyss of hell? (Dr. Ide.)

Repentance not better than obedience

And in truth we may learn, from the working of human affection, that the rejoicing more of the lost sheep than of the ninety and nine, proves not that the one is more beloved than the rest. If one member of his family be in sickness or danger, does not that one seem almost to engross the heart of the parent? Are not the other members comparatively forgotten, so completely, for a while, are the thoughts absorbed in the suffering individual? It is not--and the fathers and mothers amongst you know that it is not--that the sick child is better loved than those which are in health. It is not that your affections are more centred on the son who is far away amid the perils of the deep than on those who are sitting safely at your fireside. It is only that danger causes you to feel a special interest for the time in some one of your offspring--an interest which for the most part ceases with the occasion, and which would be immediately transferred to another of the family, if that other were the subject of the peril. Oh, we quite believe that the mother, gazing on the child who seems about to be taken from her by death, is conscious of a feeling of passionate attachment which does not throb within her as she looks on her other little ones sleeping in their unbroken healthfulness. And if disease be suddenly arrested, and the child over whom she had wept in her agony smile on her again, and again charm her with its prattle, why we are persuaded that she will rejoice more of that child than of its brothers and its sisters, over whose beds she has never hung in anguish. Yet it is not that the one is dearer to her than the others. The probability of losing the one, whilst the others were safe, has caused a concentration of her solicitudes and anxieties. But her heart is all the while as thoroughly devoted to those who need not the same intenseness of her maternal care; and you have only to suppose the sickness from which one child has recovered seizing on another, and presently you will see her centring on this other the same eager watchfulness; and for a time will there be again the same apparent absorption of the affections: and if again there be restoration to health, oh, again there will be the manifestations of an exuberant gladness, and the mother will rejoice more of the boy or the girl who has been snatched back from the grave than of those members of her household who have not approached its confines. But not, we again say, because she loves one child better than the rest--not because the healthful must become the sick in order to their being cherished and prized. Whatever her rapture on being told “thy son liveth,” the mother would far prefer the deep and unruffled tranquillity of a household not visited by danger and disease. And thus also with regard to moral peril, which brings the case nearer to that of the parable under review. If one member of a family grow up vicious and dissolute, whilst the others pursue stedfastly a course of obedience and virtue, it is not to be disputed that the thoughts of the parents will almost be engrossed by their profligate child, and that the workings of anxious affection will be more evident in regard of this prodigal than of the sons and the daughters who have given them no cause for uneasiness. Is it that they love the reckless better than the obedient? is it that they would love the obedient better if they were turned into the reckless? You know that this is no true account of the matter. You know that the seeing what we love in danger excites that interest on its behalf which we are scarcely conscious of whilst we see it in security. The danger serves to bring out the affection, and to show us its depth; but it rather affords occasion of manifestation than increases the amount. And, beyond question, if the child whose perverseness and profligacy have disquieted the father and the mother, causing them anxious days and sleepless nights, turn from the error of his ways, and seek their forgiveness and blessing ere they die, there will be excited such emotions in their hearts as have never been stirred by the rectitude and obedience of the rest of their offspring. And, in like manner, so far as we may carry up the illustration from the earthly to the heavenly we deny that, in representing God as rejoicing more over the recovered tribe than over those which never fell, we represent Him as better pleased with repentance than with uniform obedience. We do but ascribe to Him human emotions, just in order to show that there is a tenderness in Deity which makes Him solicitous, if the word be allowable, for those who have brought themselves into danger and difficulty, and which renders their deliverance an object of such mighty importance that, when achieved, it may be said to minister more to His happiness than the homage of the myriads who never moved His displeasure. And when, through the energies of redemption, the human race was reinstated in the place whence it fell, it was not that God prefers the penitent to those who never swerved from allegiance, and has greater delight in men who have sinned than in angels who have always obeyed; it was not on these accounts that He was more gladdened, as we suppose Him, by the recovery of what had wandered than by the steadfastness of what remained. It was only because, where there has been ground of anxiety, and a beloved object has been in peril, his restoration and safety open channels into which, for a while, the sympathies of the heart seem to pour all their fulness--it was only on this account that, Divine things being illustrated by human, our Creator might be likened to a man who, having found on the mountains the one sheep he had lost, “rejoiceth more of that sheep than of the ninety and nine which went not astray.” We judge from its context, as given by St. Matthew, that Christ designed to indicate the carefulness of God in reference to the erring members of the Church, which is specially His flock. He is there speaking of the little ones, who are His disciples and followers; and the truth which He declares illustrated by the parable is, that it is not the will of the Father that “one of these little ones should perish. (H. Melvill, B. D.)


Verses 8-10

Luke 15:8-10

Either what woman having ten pieces of silver

Man resembled to silver coin

1.
And that in regard of matter. No metal except gold (which indeed is most solid and perfectly concocted with sufficient heat, so that it never corrupteth by rust) is to be compared with it. So man is the excellentest of all God’s creatures except angels, and but a little inferior unto them Psalms 8:5).

2. In regard of lustre. For albeit silver in the ore be base and unsightly to look on, yet coming out of the mint purified and fined, it is beautiful. Thus, though man, while he was in the lump of clay, was without beauty; yet being formed, God put upon him great glory and majesty (Psalms 8:1-9.), so that in beauty and fairness he excelled all other visible creatures, as by those relics yet remaining, and to be found in sinful men, we may gather. As the complexion of David (1 Samuel 16:12). The beauty of Absalom, in whom there was not a blemish from top to toe (2 Samuel 14:1-33.). The stature of Saul (1 Samuel 10:1-27.)

3. In regard of stamp. Money hath some impress and image on it, as the Jewish shekel, which on the one side had Aaron’s rod, and on the other side the pot of manna. So the Romans had Caesar’s image upon their coin, whereby they acknowledged subjection; and the coin which Jacob paid unto the Shechemites was stamped with a lamb (Genesis 33:19). Thus had man the image of his Maker, which God stamped on him as a mark of his possession.

4. Money hath its stamp and form from regal authority; it must be refined and made (for it makes not itself) by the prince’s royalty. Thus man was the work of God’s bands (Psalms 100:1-5.), and His alone (Job 10:8).

5. Silver hath a good sound above other metals. And hence it was that trumpets of silver were commanded by the Lord to be made (Numbers 10:1-2) for shrillness and clearness. Thus man above other creatures had a tongue given him to praise his Maker with, which is therefore called the glory of man (Genesis 49:6; Psalms 16:9).

6. Silver commands all things, and answers all things, as speaketh Solomon Ecclesiastes 10:19). There is nothing (whether holy or profane) but are at the beck and command of it. Such a commanding power had man by his creation over all creatures (Psalms 8:6). “Thou hast made him to have dominion in the works of Thy hands”; such authority God gave him Genesis 1:28), willing him to “rule over the fishes of the sea, over the fowls of heaven, and over every beast that moveth upon the earth.” Silver is not all of a like worth; there are different pieces and of different value. The Jews had their gerah, and half shekel, and shekel (Exodus 30:13), with divers other corns of silver. So all were not of a like degree in the creation, though all excellent and good; for God observed order from the beginning. Amongst the angels some are superior, and some inferior; there are degrees amongst them (Colossians 1:16). (N. Rogers.)

The lost coin

I. LOOK AT THE THING LOST, AND YOU WILL FIND SEVERAL POINTS OF IMPORTANCE THEREBY SUGGESTED.

1. It was a coin. That is to say, it was not simply a piece of a precious metal, but that metal moulded and minted into money, bearing on it the king’s image and superscription, and witnessing to his authority wherever it circulated.

2. But the corn was lost, and this suggests that in sinful man the image of his Maker has gone out of sight, and the great purpose of his being has been frustrated. His intellect does not like to retain God in its knowledge; his heart has estranged its love from God; and his life is devoted to another lord than his Creator. He is lost.

3. Yet he is not absolutely worthless. The coin, though lost, has still a value. If it can be recovered, it will be worth as much as ever.

4. But yet, again, this coin was lost in the house. The woman did not let it fall as she was crossing the wild and trackless moor, neither did she drop it into the unfathomed depths of ocean. Had she done so, she would never have thought of seeking for it; she would have given it up as irrecoverable. Now, this points to the fact that the soul of the sinner is recoverable. It is capable of being restored to its original dignity and honour. It has in it still potentialities as great and glorious as those which ever belonged to it.

II. This brings me to the consideration of THE SEARCH, WHEREIN WE HAVE ALSO SOME THINGS SUGGESTED WHICH ARE PECULIAR TO THIS PARABLE. Eastern houses, unlike our own, are constructed in such a way as to keep out the light and heat of the sun as much as possible. They have few windows, and even the few which they have are shaded with such latticework as tends to exclude rather than admit the sunbeam. Hence the rooms are generally dark; and so, even if the coin were lost at noonday, the light of a candle would be required to seek for it. Nor was there, in Eastern dwellings, the same scrupulous cleanliness that we love to see in so many homes around us. The floors were often covered with rushes, which, being changed only at rare intervals, collected a vast amount of dust and filth, among which a piece of money might be most readily lost. Hence the lighting of a candle and the sweeping of the house were the most natural things to be done in such a case. But whom does this woman represent? and what, spiritually, are we to understand by the lighting of a candle and the sweeping of the house? The woman, in my judgment, symbolizes the Holy Spirit, and I look upon the means which she employed in her search for the lost coin as denoting the efforts made by the Holy Spirit for the recovery of a lost soul. Now let us see what these were. She lighted a candle, and swept the house, and searched diligently. The light most evidently represents the truth; but what are we to make of the sweeping? Some would take it to illustrate the purifying work of the Holy Ghost in the heart. But that view cannot be maintained, since the purifying of the soul is not a work in order to, but rather subsequent upon, its recovery. I take it rather, therefore, to represent that disturbance of settled opinions and practices--that turning of the soul, as it were, upside down--which is frequently seen as a forerunner of conversion; that confusion and disorder occasioned by some providential dealing with the man, such as personal illness, or business difficulties, or family bereavement, or the like, and which frequently issues in the coming of the soul to God; for here also chaos often precedes the new creation. Truth introduced into the heart, and providential disturbances and unsettlements in order to its introduction--these are the things symbolized by the lighting of the candle and the sweeping of the house. The truth which the Holy Spirit employs for the purpose of conversion is the Word of God, all of which has been given to men by His own inspiration; and the especial portion of that Word which He uses for His saving work is the wondrous story of the Cross.

III. We come now, in the third place, to look at THE JOY OVER THE RECOVERED COIN and here, as before, we shall restrict ourselves to that which is peculiar to this parable. In the story of the lost sheep, while the social character of the joy is certainly referred to, the speciality in the gladness of the shepherd over its finding lay in the fact, to which prominence is given in the appended note of interpretation, that it was greater than over the ninety and nine which had never strayed. Here, however, the peculiarity is in the sociality of the joy. God’s joy, if I may dare to use the words, needs society to make it complete; and the fact that there are those beside Him to whom He can make known the story of each recovered soul, redoubles His own gladness, and diffuses among them His own Divine delight. Nor let it be supposed that this is a mere fanciful idea, for which there is no foundation in Scripture apart from the teaching of this parable. What says Paul? “God hath created all things by Jesus Christ; to the intent that now, unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places, might be known through the Church the manifold wisdom of God” Ephesians 3:10). Now, these words mean, if they mean anything at all, that through means of the Church, God designed to show to principalities and powers in heavenly places His manifold wisdom. In the manifestation of this wisdom God has His highest work, and, in its appreciation by spiritual intelligences, through the Church of Christ, He has His greatest joy. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

The search of love

Type of a soul ignorant of its death, utterly unconcerned with the thought of sin. Yet a coin, having image and superscription. It may be covered with dust, it may be half defaced or hidden under heaps of rubbish; but it has not returned, and cannot return, into the uncoined state. Meet emblem of man’s soul in its lowest estate. “I am God’s coin,” said one of old; “from His treasure-house I have wandered.” And it is because we are God’s, that He seeks.

I. GOD’S LOVE LIGHTS A LAMP OF REVELATION IN THE WORLD. Though you may care little about your lost soul, God cares for it much. He has lit His candle--the candle of Divine revelation, and He is throwing its illumination upon you. Hinder not, thwart not, His search for your soul. Love herself might light the candle, and yet the lost coin not be found under the long accumulation of dirt--of easily-besetting sins and long-indulged habits. So the parable goes on to speak of a sweeping.

II. THE LOVE OF GOD SWEEPS THE HOUSE, WHICH IS THE MAN. Is not this the real meaning of that sickness, that bereavement, that disappointment which seemed to you so casual, or so wanton, or so cruel? It was the love of God still.

III. THE SEEKING IS UNTO FINDING. Love will not stay till she finds. Help her. Kick not against the goad.

IV. TREAT THE TEXT AS A PRECEPT. Light a candle, sweep the house, and seek diligently till you find. (Dean Vaughan.)

The lost groat

I. THE LOST GROAT.

1. It is a symbol of the human soul.

2. How the groat, the human soul, is lost.

3. The consequences are most deplorable.

II. THE SEEKING WOMAN.

1. This “woman” is the Church.

2. The “candle” is Christ, the light of the world.

3. The “friends and neighbours” are the angels and saints. (W. Reischl.)

The parable of the lost silver

I. AS THE SILVER WAS PRECIOUS TO THE WOMAN, SO ARE OUR SOULS IN THE SIGHT OF GOD OUR SAVIOUR. We estimate a person’s value for a thing by the price he gives, the sacrifice he makes, to obtain or recover it. How dear, then, was man to God, who loved him when fallen; yea who so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish, but have eternal life.

II. AS THE PIECE OF MONEY WAS LOST TO THE WOMAN, SO IS EVERY ONE WHO CONTINUES IN SIN LOST TO GOD. He is alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in him.

III. AS THE WOMAN SEARCHED FOR HER LOST TREASURE, AND SPARED NO PAINS TO RECOVER IT SO DOES JESUS CHRIST SEEK THE SOUL THAT IS LOST BY SIN.

IV. AS THE WOMAN CALLS HER FRIENDS AND NEIGHBOURS TO REJOICE WITH HER, FOR THE LOST PIECE FOUND SO IS THERE JOY IN HEAVEN, IN THE PRESENCE OF THE ANGELS OF GOD, OVER ONE REPENTING SINNER. For this joy, Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame. Thus He sees of the travail of His soul, and is satisfied. And His joy is shared by the angels that surround His throne.

1. Let this parable, then, rebuke self-righteousness; let it teach humility.

2. Again--let this parable suggest the most powerful motive to instant repentance. For what motive is there, like Christ’s enduring and seeking love? (E. Blencowe, M. A.)

Man’s fall God’s loss

This parable pictures God as the Redeemer of man in three different modes or attitudes--shall I say of feeling?

I. The first division of the picture represents GOD AS CONTEMPLATING AS A LOSS TO HIMSELF THE STATE OF SIN INTO WHICH MAN HAS FALLEN. No one but God could have ventured thus to represent God. God mourns the fall of man as a lost treasure, as something in which He delighted, and of which sin has robbed Him. God has a property of the heart in man’s welfare.

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. The fact of atonement is here; the quickening work of the Holy Ghost is here, and the manifold ministry to man is here; by all which God is seeking to bring men to Himself and save them from sin; and 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.

III. The third point is that GOD AND THE GOOD ANGELS REJOICE IN HEAVEN OVER THE RECOVERY OF MEN. (A. Hannay.)

A priceless gem

I. THE HOMELY STORY.

1. It may seem like a little thing to you--this sixpence; but what is great to a child is not small to the father; and that is not little to God that is great to any man. He who knows all about the homes, and the hearts that beat in London in such homes, knows that sometimes the difference between sixpence and no sixpence may mean all the difference between food and no food, shelter and no shelter for the night, ease from pain, or no ease from pain. Oh, what magic that prosaic thing, the piece of silver, can work! Look at our Nonconformist father. Lawrence. See him seated under a hedgerow on the morning of the great Puritan exodus in 1662; see him looking as if fit to die, for he thinks about his hungry and homeless little ones. What is it that suddenly makes the eye flash, and the face quiver, and the foot spring? Only the sight of a lost piece of silver. He had just found a sixpence in the ditch before him, and it fairly seemed to him as if it had come down into that ditch from the very Throne of thrones that very moment.

2. The central person in this story is a woman--not some stately Cleopatra, not some gay Herodias, not some grand lady with face beautiful as a dream, and step graceful as a wave, who, having possessed ten gems of rarest water, or ten pearls of great price, has lost one of them; but only a poor village woman, who, having saved up for the rent, or a rainy day, ten pieces of silver, has lost one. She searches; finds; calls her neighbours together to rejoice with her. The event was not enough to electrify a cabinet but it was enough to lighten her heart, and to send a sensation all through her little world.

II. THE DIVINE MEANING.

1. Look at the coin, and then think of the value of the soul. Souls look through those waiting, gazing eyes around me, souls look out from those listening ears, souls thrill along those nerves. Souls! Why will ye cleave to the dust? Awake, know yourselves, and try to think about your own unimaginable value.

2. Look at the coin lost, and think of the soul lost in the house of this world. Some years ago the men working on the Thames Embankment--laying its foundations--found a lost piece of silver, stamped with the image of a Roman Emperor. Perhaps that piece of silver had been lost 1,800 years. My spirit flashes back to that spot, and to that moment, and I see the scene just how it all happened. I see a man coming down from the green solitudes of Camberwell, where the Roman station is, coming down to the edge of the river. I see him cross from what we now call the Surrey side, to what we now call the city side. I see him, as he step| out of the boat, take his purse out to pay the ferryman, and I see the piece of silver slip from his fingers through the water, and there it stuck in the black slime of the river. It was for ages lost to the purpose for which it was made. It might as well not have been silver. Now I say there are souls lost like that coin.

3. Look at the coin lost, but not knowing that it is lost, and think of the soul lost in this house and not knowing that it is lost. The frivolist. The sensualist. The formalist. These no more know they are lost than does the coin when it has rippled along the floor and slipped into a chink in the darkness! But it is a fact all the same. Once, certain explorers on an Arctic expedition were working their way through the still, gray air in the eternal silence, when they suddenly came upon an antique, spectral-looking ship locked in blocks of ice. They boarded it, and one man took his lantern and ran down the campanion-ladder into the state-cabin. He held it up. He found all the ship’s company there. There sat the captain, with his hand upon the log-book; and there sat the mate, and there sat the doctor, and there sat the others. “Captain!” There was no stir. He cried again, “Captain!” But there was only the silence that creeps and shudders. “Captain!” He held his light up again and flashed it around--and what did that light reveal? Dead hands! dead lips! dead eyes!--dead men! The cold that had been strong enough to steel them through, and to freeze the life of their blood, had been strong enough to arrest the touch of Decay’s hastening fingers, and to keep fixed in the form and attitude of life Death itself, and to keep it thus--so it was said--for nearly half a century. Oh I man do but think of what it is of which I am speaking. Dead souls! Lost souls!

4. Look at the search which this woman is making in the house, and think of the Holy Spirit’s part in searching for the lost soul. There was once heard in the Isle of Wight a little girl say to her mother, when sweeping the cottage floor, “Mother, mother, pull the blind down, the sunshine makes the room so dusty.” And so it is that the light in the house of the Interpreter may seem to make the room dusty, but it seems to create what it only reveals: it makes us think that we are worse than we are when we are only wiser than we were; it make us see ourselves, see our Saviour, and then, “ there is joy in the presence of the angels of God.” (C. Standford, D. D.)

The lost silver piece

I. First, the parable treats of man, the object of Divine mercy, as LOST.

1. Notice, first, the treasure was lost in the dust. The woman had lost her piece of silver, and in order to find it she had to sweep for it, which proves that it had fallen into a dusty place, fallen to the earth, where it might be hidden and concealed amid rubbish and dirt. Every man of Adam born is as a piece of silver lost, fallen, dishonoured, and some are buried amid foulness and dust. Thou art lost by nature, and thou must be found by grace, whoever thou mayst be.

2. In this parable that which was lost was altogether ignorant of its being lost. The silver coin was not a living thing, and therefore had no consciousness of its being lost or sought after. The piece of money lost was quite as content to be on the floor or in the dust, as it was to be in the purse of its owner amongst its like. It knew nothing about its being lost, and could not know. And it is just so with the sinner who is spiritually dead in sin, he is unconscious of his state, nor can we make him understand the danger and terror of his condition. The insensibility of the piece of money fairly pictures the utter indifference of souls unquickened by Divine grace.

3. The silver piece was lost but not forgotten. The woman knew that she had ten pieces of silver originally; she counted them over carefully, for they were all bet little store, and she found only nine, but she well remembered that one more was hers and ought to be in her hand. This is our hope for the Lord’s lost ones, they are lost but not forgotten, the heart of the Saviour remembers them, and prays for them.

4. Next, the piece of silver was lost but still claimed. Observe that the woman called the money, “my piece which was lost.” When she lost its possession she did not lose her right to it; it did not become somebody else’s when it slipped out of her hand and fell upon the floor. Those for whom Christ hath died, whom He hath peculiarly redeemed, are not Satan’s even when they are dead in sin. They may come under the devil’s usurped dominion, but the monster shall be chased from his throne.

5. Further, observe that the lost piece of money was not only remembered and claimed, but it was also valued. In these three parables the value of the lost article steadily rises. This is not very clear at first sight, because it may be said that a sheep is of more value than a piece of money; but notice that the shepherd only lost one sheep out of a hundred, but the woman lost one piece out of ten, and the father one son out of two. To the Lord of love a lost soul is very precious: it is not because of its intrinsic value, but it has a relative value which God sets at a high rate.

6. The piece of money was lost, but it was not lost hopelessly. The woman had hopes of recovering it, and therefore she did not despair, but set to work at once. I congratulate the Christian Church too, that her piece of money has not fallen where she cannot find it. I rejoice that the fallen around us are not past hope; yea, though they dwell in the worst dens of

London, though they be thieves and harlots, they are not beyond the reach of mercy. Up, O Church of God, while possibilities of mercy remain!

7. One other point is worthy of notice. The piece of silver was lost, but it was lost in the house, and the woman knew it to be so. What thankfulness there ought to be in your minds that you are not lost as heathens, nor lost amid Romish or Mohammedan superstition, but lost where the gospel is faithfully and plainly preached to you; where you are lovingly told, that whosoever believeth in Christ Jesus is not condemned. Lost, but lost where the Church’s business is to look after you, where it is the Spirit’s work to seek and to find you. This is the condition of the lost soul, depicted as a lest piece of silver.

II. Secondly, we shall notice the soul under another condition, we shall view it as SOUGHT. By whom was the piece of silver sought?

1. It was sought by its owner personally.

2. This seeking became a matter of chief concern with the woman.

3. Now note, that the woman having thus set her heart to find her money, she used the most fit and proper means to accomplish her end. First, she lit a candle. So doth the Holy Spirit in the Church. But she was not content with her candle, she fetched her broom, she swept the house. If she could not find the silver as things were in the house, she brought the broom to bear upon the accumulated dust. Oh, how a Christian Church, when it is moved by the Holy Spirit, cleanses herself and purges all her work!

4. Carefully note that this seeking after the lost piece of silver with fitting instruments the broom and the candle, was attended with no small stir. She swept the house--there was dust for her eyes; if any neighbours were in the house there was dust for them. You cannot sweep a house without causing some confusion and temporary discomfort. It is to be remarked, also, that in the seeking of this piece of silver the coin was sought in a most engrossing manner.

5. This woman sought continuously--“till she found it.”

III. The piece of silver FOUND. Found!

1. In the first place, this was the woman’s ultimatum, and nothing short of it. She never stopped until the coin was found. So it is the Holy Spirit’s design, not that the sinner should be brought into a hopeful state, but that he should be actually saved: and this is the Church’s great concern, not that people be made hearers, not that they be made orthodox professors, but that they be really changed and renewed, regenerated and born again.

2. The woman herself found the piece of money. It did not turn up by accident, nor did some neighbour step in and find it. The Spirit of God himself finds sinners, and the Church of God herself, as a rule, is the instrument of their recovery.

3. Now notice when she had found it what she did--she rejoiced. The greater her trouble in searching, the higher her joy in finding. What joy there is in the Church of God when sinners are converted!

4. Next, she calls her friends and neighbours to share her joy. I am afraid we do not treat our friends and neighbours with quite enough respect, or remember to invite them to our joys. Who are they? I think the angels are here meant; not only the angels in heaven, but those who are watching here below. The angels are wherever the saints are, beholding our orders and rejoicing in our joy. The joy is a present joy; it is a joy in the house, in the Church in her own sphere; it is the joy of her neighbours who are round about her here below. All other joy seems swallowed up in this: as every other occupation was suspended to find the lost silver, so every other joy is hushed when the precious thing is found. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The lost piece of money

I. WHAT BEFELL THIS WOMAN. She had ten pieces of silver, and of these she lost one--only one. That lost piece is man’s soul. We were not always, not once, not at first, what we are now.

II. WHAT THIS WOMAN DID TO FIND THE MONEY. She did everything proper in the circumstances. She could not have done more. Assuming that the woman symbolizes the Spirit of God, the candle shining in her hand is the Bible, God’s revealed Word, which He takes and carries into the recesses of the sinner’s soul, revealing its foulness and danger and misery, and making him feel his need of a Saviour. As to the sweeping, which disturbs the house and reveals a foulness that, so long as it lay unstirred, was perhaps never suspected: that may indicate the convictions, the alarms, the dread discoveries, the searchings and agitations of heart, which not unfrequently accompany conversion. It is not till the glassy pool is stirred that the mud at the bottom rises to light; it is when storms sweep the sea that what it hides in its depths is thrown up on the shore; it is when brooms sweep walls and floor that the sunbeams, struggling through a cloud of dust, reveal the foulness of the house; and it is agitations and perturbations of the heart which reveal its corruption, and are preludes to the purity and peace that sooner or later follow on conversion.

III. THE WOMAN’S JOY AT FINDING THE PIECE OF SILVER. There is a peculiar pleasure felt in recovering what we have lost; or in having anything placed beyond the reach of danger which we are afraid of losing. No boat making the harbour over a glassy sea, its snowy canvas filled by the gentle breeze, and shining on the blue waters like a sea bird’s wing, is watched with such interest, or, as with sail flapping on the mast, it grates on the shingle, is welcomed with such joy, as one which, leaving the wreck on the thundering reef, comes through the roaring tempest, boldly breasts the billows, and bringing off the half-drowned, half-dead survivors, shoots within the harbour amid flowing tears and cheers that, bursting from the happy crowd, rise above the rage and din of elements. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)

The Bible a moveable light

The candle is a moveable light, carried by the woman from place to place. Wherever a lost piece of money is to be sought, there the candle must be carried that the searching may be thorough. This carrying of the candle, first into one place and then into another, is the Church’s part in seeking for lost souls. While the whole truth for man’s salvation is presented in Holy Scripture, and any man who would inquire as to the way of life may there find the light he needs to guide him aright, men do not readily search the Scriptures for themselves, that their own souls may be saved. In recognition of this neglect, illustrated in one way under the image of the wandering sheep, in another under the image of the lost piece of money, the necessity for the active work of seeking is acknowledged by the Church, as it is here taught by the Saviour. (Calderwood.)

A woman’s loss

You will have noticed that whereas in the other two parables of “the sheep,” and “the prodigal,” it is “a man” who is represented as rejoicing over the returning one--here it is “a woman.” This may, indeed, be only to show that every kind of affection combines in the joy over the penitent--the man’s strength and the woman’s tenderness. But there may be more. At least, almost all the ancient divines have seen another sense in it. They consider that under the female appellation is meant here, as in many other places, the Church; and that the thought intended to be conveyed is of the Church having sustained the loss, and the Church, as a Church, seeking diligently for the lost one. And yet not altogether the Church, as something distinct and independent in itself--but the Church as that in which the Holy Ghost dwells--the HolyGhost acting through the means of grace which constitute a Church. So, in the three parables, they would see the Trinity all combined in the same feeling of love and happiness--the Son designated by the Shepherd; the Holy Spirit in the Church, by the woman; and the Father, by the parent of the prodigal. A great thought and a true one, even though the steps by which we here arrive at it may appear to some fanciful. Certain it is, that every soul which is in a condition to perish, is lost, not only to God, but to the Church. And well were it if the Church always so regarded it. And well if every member of the Church so felt it a personal loss to himself that any one single soul should die, that he could not help but stir up himself, and stir up others, to seek that soul till it was found. Would that the Holy Ghost were going forth in the one great Catholic Church, uniting in this feeling and in this resolve--that she would give herself no rest so long as there was one precious soul committed to her care which was lying undiscovered and unredeemed. For mark, brethren, the woman--different in this from the shepherd and the prodigal’s father--seeks a thing which her own folly and her own carelessness had lost. First, she “lights a candle”--the well-known emblem in the Bible of three things--first, the Spirit ofGod in a man’s soul; secondly, the Word of God; thirdly, 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. O that every Church had lighted their candle! O that our candles were burning better! O that the Holy Ghost--prayed for and honoured, cherished and magnified in His own office--were here to be a great Illuminator in the midst of us! O that every baptized person were shining as he ought to be, in his daily walk, in good works, and kind acts, and witnesses of God’s truth in this world! O think you, brethren, how then would the dark places of our land begin to grow bright again! How would the whole house shine! How would the poor lost ones be found! So, with the lighted candle, the woman went to “sweep the house.” 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. It is only to disclose precious things out of the rubbish. And there are precious things in our souls so covered with dust that they need sweeping. Afflictions will come, and scatter to the winds the incrusted sediment that has been so long thickening upon a man’s mind. And for the time, while the sweeping is going on, the confusion and the obscurity will seem only the greater. But 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. Sweep our house, Lord, for we need it--not with the bosom of destruction, though we deserve it--but sweep away, Lord, as thou knowest best, every “refuge of lies” where our soul lies buried! All the parables agree in the one, blessed, crowning thought--“till she find it.” It is not a light achievement. It was not a day’s work--it was not a week’s work--or a year’s work--the recovery of that soul of yours. Many an enterprise was begun and laid down again, and never ended by men, in that very interval which elapsed between the time when God--your faithful, untiring God--began to deal with your soul, and the time when He made you go to Him. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

The Church’s neglect of souls

Sometimes, in visions of a mournful fancy, I seem to see this Mother-Church of ours sitting within her ancient and noble house, sitting as a woman exceeding fair, but very cold and still; and so she sitteth with her hands folded before her, as though she said to herself, “I shall be a lady for ever; f shall not sit as a widow, neither shall I know the loss of children.” And year by year, century after century, the dust falls and gathers, and falls in the silence around her, and all things are covered as with a shroud, and the precious coins are lost to sight and buried deep beneath. And then I seem to see her arousing herself at last from her long waking dream, and looking about with dismay for her lost treasures--bestirring herself to find them, sweeping the dust away here and there, bringing to light with busy toil many a shining effigy of the great King. And then I seem to hear indignant voices of those who clamour and storm against her for disturbing quiet things, and making unnecessary agitation, and raising an unpleasant dust; all the rich people, and the comfortable people, and the people that are well at ease, and all that have no care for souls--all are angry with her, and cry out to her, “Why can you not sit still as you did before, and if the dust falls, let it fall, and if the coins of the King be lost, let them be lost? only trouble us not, only do not vex our souls with all this stir and dust.” Once again I seem to see her that sometime sat as a queen and was not moved; I seem to see her disconcerted and perplexed, anxious to recover the lost, yet anxious not to give offence; I see her hesitate and quail, and lay aside her search with sorrow, and sit down again, but not at ease; I see the dust begin to fall and settle again, and fall and gather around her thicker and thicker, until every shining coin be lost beneath the growing litter of neglect. Last of all, I see a day arise, black with wind and rain, against that ancient house wherein the woman sits; I see the tempest of God’s anger loosed upon it, I see the lightning of His indignation launched against it; I see her crushed and buried beneath the wreck, among the silver pieces which she lost and did not find. (R. Winterbotham, M. A.)

The Oriental setting of this parable

The touches about lighting the candle (or better, lamp, or light), sweeping the house, and seeking diligently, and calling the friends and neighbours together, are not without some pertinent modem Oriental illustrations. Most of the native houses are without glass windows, and are very dark when shut up. Often the windows are small, and sometimes kept shut, as a rule depending on the door for light. They are dark places. The floor, too, is often earth, or perhaps mortar, and very dirty. Where animals dwell with the family, as is very common, the dirt is such as is best left to the imagination. In such cases the particulars mentioned in verse eight are by no means superfluous. So, too, the calling of the friends and neighbours together. One of the difficulties in picking up the Arabic language among the common people is the paucity of subjects of conversation. Little is to be heard except bargaining among the men, and accounts of the most ordinary household operations among the women--except in the case of some rather public scolds, whose voices, without a particle of exaggeration, sounds to the Occidental like the falling and rattling of boards. The occasion of losing and finding a piece of money would be a piece of great good fortune to the gossips, as the writer has actually witnessed. It would be an incident for a nine days’ talk. And such terrible busybodies as they are I Every one knows, at least, all his or her neighbours’ business, and more besides, to an extent not readily defined. The woman who loses and finds a piece of money would not be long in calling her friends and neighbours together; nor would they be slow to come even uninvited. The babel of telling the story and commenting and congratulating is not to be imagined in our land. The talk could be heard a long distance. (Professor Isaac H. Hall.)

The ten pieces of silver

In the three parables recorded in this chapter there is so evidently a progress and ascent of thought, they mount so naturally to a climax in their revelation of the redeeming love of God, that if at any point we fail to make that progress out, if we encounter anything in them which wears the aspect of an anti-climax, we are checked, disappointed, perplexed. And yet in the second of these parables there is at one point an apparent retrocession, where all else implies a forward and upward movement of thought. Every one can see how immense an interval there is between the one sheep lost out of a hundred, and the one son out of two, and that the younger--and in the Bible commonly the dearer--of the two. But where is the connecting link? How should the lost piece of money be dearer to the careful housewife than the lost sheep to the faithful shepherd, who knows and cares for every one of his flock and calleth them each by his name? One out of ten marks a great advance upon one out of a hundred indeed; but would it not be less to lose even ten silver coins than a single sheep--less in value, less in love? The answer to that question, the solution of the difficulty, is to be found in an Eastern custom, the application of which to the parable before us all commentators on it have, so far as I know, overlooked. The women of Bethlehem, and of other parts of the Holy Land, still wear a row of coins sewn upon their heart-dress, and pendant over their brows. And the number of the coins is very commonly ten, as I, in common with other travellers, have ascertained by counting. The custom reaches back far beyond the Christian era. In all probability, therefore, it was not simply a piece of silver which was lost out of her purse by the woman of our parable, but one of the ten precious coins which formed her most cherished ornament; and this would be a loss even more vividly felt than that of the shepherd when one out of his flock of a hundred went astray. So that immense as is the advance from both the care of the shepherd for his sheep, and of the pride of the woman in the burnished coins which gleamed upon her forehead, to the yearning and pitiful love of the father for his prodigal and self-banished son, we can nevertheless find a link between the first and last terms of the climax, and trace an advance even between the grief of the shepherd over his stray sheep, and that of the woman over her lost coin. A piece of money in her purse might easily be stolen or spent; but a coin from the head-dress could not be so much as touched by any stranger, nor even taken from its wearer by her husband unless she cut it off of her own accord and placed it in his hands. It was safe, sacred, dear. It was a strictly personal possession, and might very well be an heirloom--like the “silvers” of the Swiss women--hallowed by many fond and gracious memories. (A. G. Weld.)

Broken harmony

If, as has been alleged, the ten pieces of silver form the bride’s necklace, and constitute a marriage token, like our wedding ring, the work of the whole is marred by the destruction of its unity. And thus we can gauge more accurately God’s loss by man’s sin. The oneness of the creative plan is broken. From those beings whom God made for the harmonious unfolding of His purposes, for the manifestation of His glory, and for the beautifying of His universe, one order has broken loose and impaired the symmetry and perfect working of the whole. (J. W. Burn.)

Lost to use

Whatever ornamental or symbolical uses this coin might serve, it was the Roman denarius, and had, therefore, a money value.

Stamped with the monarch’s image and superscription, it was a means of purchase, and was capable of self-multiplication in the way of usury. So, made in the Divine likeness, man is the current coin of the Lord’s universe. He is so constituted in mind and body as to be of use to God in executing His sovereign purposes, and in multiplying himself in sought and rescued souls. No agency for these ends is comparable to man, and men failing in this high vocation are lost. And how many are thus lost? lost as utterly to usefulness as though they themselves, as well as their talent, were wrapped in a napkin and buried in the earth! And amongst them are many who are painfully anxious about their precious souls, but are lost because they act as though there were no precious souls but their own. For the solemn admonition of the Saviour holds good here: “Whosoever will seek to save his life shall lose it, and whosoever shall lose his life for My sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.” (J. W. Burn.)

Lost in the house

What a meaning this parable has for those who are lost in a Christian home, school, sanctuary, and who, while neither blasphemers, nor infidels, nor libertines, and while maintaining a nominal connection with God and His cause, are lost! Lost to duty, with all around them conducive to consecration; lost to the love of God, while daily loaded with Divine benefits! (J. W. Burn.)

The Spirit’s work in the soul

He is Christ’s fan and Christ’s fire. He thoroughly purges His floor and throws a lurid light on the sinner’s state. He sweeps away the cobwebs of error by His powerful convictions, and pours the truth of sin and righteousness and judgment into the mind. He overturns the temple of formalism by the might of His power and lays bare the hollowness of those who worship God with their lips while their hearts are far from Him. The dust of self-deception flies as His sharp appeals to the conscience leave the self-deluded without excuse. Some dire affliction clears the soul of its worldliness, and the lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God are confronted with their doom. He strips the sham of all his dissimulation by the manifestation of the stern realities of God and of eternity, and demonstrates the futility of the profession of religion without the possession of its power. Often His work has to be repeated. Encumbrances removed are replaced and removed again. Hunted from one corner the sinner takes refuge in another, and is still pursued. Nor does the Spirit cease to strive with man until resistance becomes hopeless obduracy, and until the final quenching of His light leaves the sinner in outer darkness. (J. W. Burn.)

The utility of disturbance

And as mere habit and neglect hide souls from themselves, and from the just sympathy and care of their fellows, God’s Spirit sends its great disturbing agencies into the society, the nation, the age, or into the narrower bounds of the family. The besom does not really make the new dust; but it only brings the old and long-gathering deposit more, for a time, into the air and upon the lungs. The messengers of the gospel are, for the time, regarded as “turning the world upside down.” Or God’s providences in calamities, and wars, and social revolutions, show men the magnitude of past hereditary errors. The besom of judgment goes shaking society out of its torpor and equanimity. It was so in Luther’s day, and in Calvin’s. It was so in the Puritans of our ancestral Britain, and in their colonists who crossed to this country. God, by them, broke up many a pile of quiet litter; and brushed aside many a film of long-settled green mould, picturesque in its verdure, or venerable in its grey, hoar antiquity, which had gathered upon the national conscience. But a Bunyan, and a Milton, and a Baxter, and an Owen, and a Howe were precious medals brought out by the besoming; and constitutional freedom and national morality, and English literature, and Christian piety were greatly enriched by the agitation. It was so in the revolution that made us a nation. It was so in the agitations that went over Europe in the train of our first revolution. It was so in our last great struggle. It has been so in modern missions. Would you put that shaking and bosoming peremptorily and effectually down? We hear, behind the turmoil and the thick streaming clouds of dust, as God’s great besoms sweep along, the words of an august cry: “I will overturn, and overturn, and overturn until He, whose right it is to reign, shall come.” (W. R. Williams.)

God’s search for the lost

God is as incapable of being indifferent towards His lost mankind, as is a mother towards her lost child. Lost mankind are not only His lost, but His lost children. His piece of money is money indeed, for originally it came out of the mine of His eternal nature. Heathen poets, Christian apostles, and modern philosophy are agreed that mankind “are His offspring.” And does not the Source of all hearts feel? And is He not concerned for His lost? In the Divinity of indifference I cannot believe. And yet I am strongly inclined to think that, to many, one great offence of the gospel is, that it is too gracious, too tender, too womanly. They can conceive God to have Almighty power, infinite wisdom and justice, but they cannot give Him credit for infinite affection. They know that a woman will light a candle and go into every hole and corner, stooping and searching, until she find that which she has missed; but they have no idea that this can be a true parable of God’s concern for His lost children. They are not surprised to find a heart in my Lady Franklin: they are not surprised at any measures that she may set on foot to recover the lost one. They are not surprised that the British and American Governments should be concerned to seek, and if possible, to save Sir John and his crew. No one said, they are not worth the expense and labour of seeking, because they are few. Not far from a million pounds were sacrificed in this search. Besides money, good brothers were not found backward to expose their own lives to danger, in the distant hope of finding and relieving their missing brothers. Have the English Government and people so great a concern to recover their lost, and has God none? Better say that a drop contains more than the ocean, that a candle gives more light than the sun, that there are higher virtues in a stream than in its source, and that the creature has more heart than God. Otherwise confess, that the gospel is infinitely worthy of the heart of God; and never more imagine the great Father to find rest under the loss of His human family, in the consolation: “They are nothing compared with My universe, they will never be missed. (J. Pulsford.)

Lost treasure

In the parable of the lost coin the first thing that strikes us is, that something considered of value had been lost. The lighting of the candle, the sweeping of the house, the diligent search, everything else being laid aside to attend to this matter, all showed that the thing lost was regarded as quite important. So when the soul of man becomes lost through sin, the most valuable object in the world is lost. Whether we reflect upon the soul’s vast power of endless progress; its wonderful capacity of investigating the universe, from the lowest depths of earth to the highest star; its ability to hold converse and communion with the great God Himself, and there to find its highest delight; its rapidity of thought by which it can move through the universe in the twinkling of an eye; or the great interest that has been manifested in it by all heaven--we must see its amazing value. The exceeding value of man’s soul is seen in what Jesus has done for it. Men often put forth great efforts for very insignificant objects. But when we see the Saviour leave His bright throne in the heavens, and become a homeless wanderer upon the earth, that He might save lost souls, we are able to form some estimate of the soul’s value. Oh, yes; in Calvary we see how much is lost when the soul is lost! This is the precious thing that was lost. What a loss I The loss of reputation, of wealth, of health, of property, of life--all are nothing to such a loss as this. And such is man’s position out of Christ. (J. R. Boyd.)


Verse 10

Luke 15:10

Joy in the presence of the angels of God

Joy among the angels over repenting sinners

I.
THE CLASS REPRESENTED AS BEING SPECIALLY EXCITED BY THE EMOTION OF JOY OVER A SINNER’S REPENTANCE. “The angels of God”--uncorporeal, immaculately holy, composed of various orders, active messengers of God to men.

II. Why do the angels rejoice when a sinner repents?

1. Because true repentance culminates in that holiness of heart and life which is the chief glory of the angels.

2. Because the moral character of a sinner’s influence is for ever changed by his conversion.

3. By repentance and conversion a sinner escapes eternal retribution for his sins, and secures moral fitness for eternal life.

III. WHAT LESSONS DO WE LEARN FROM THESE FACTS?

1. That we manifest the spirit of the angelic race when we labour to lead sinners to Christ and rejoice over their conversion.

2. That the preaching with which the angels sympathize is of that type best calculated to bring sinners to repentance.

3. The appalling peril of a sinner over whose repentance no angels have rejoiced. Sin has but one logical issue--eternal death. Give the angels a chance to rejoice to-day over your repentance. (S. V. Leach, D. D.)

Heaven’s joy over the repenting sinner

I. The truth here declared.

1. The joy mentioned is special.

2. The joy is shared, originated by God Himself.

II. THE CAUSE OF THE ANGELIC JOY.

1. A sinner.

2. Not the sinner while engaged in sin.

3. One sinner that repenteth.

4. Repentance stands before us here showing plainly two sides.

III. WHY SUCH GLADNESS SHOULD BE SHOWN.

1. When a sinner repents, God’s purpose is effected.

2. Christ’s kingdom is enlarged.

3. A soul is saved.

Conclusion:

1. Behold the value of a single soul.

2. Observe the necessity of repentance. (W. S. Bruce, M. A.)

Angels and men

I. THE NATURE AND CHARACTERISTICS OF ANGELS. Spiritual beings of high dignity and capacities.

1. Their might. They excel in strength. The army of God.

2. Their power. Great mental endowments.

3. Their purity.

II. THEIR JOY AT THE RECOVERY AND CONVERSION OF SINNERS.

1. It proceeds from their superior knowledge of what man’s place in the intelligent universe is: his Divine origin, and sublime destiny.

2. The conversion of a sinner brings joy to the angelic hosts, because thereby their liege Lord is honoured, His name exalted, His grace magnified, His rule acknowledged, and His word found not to have returned to Him void.

3. Their happiness is to see happiness, and conversion is the first step to a sinner’s happiness.

III. THE DUTY DEVOLVING UPON OURSELVES, TO DO THAT WHICH MAY AUGMENT BOTH THEIR JOY AND OURS. We must engage in good works, and endeavour, each in his own vocation and ministry, to lead sinners to repentance. (D. Moore, M. A.)

Angels joyful over the repentance of a sinner

I. VIEW THE SCENE ON EARTH WHICH THE TEXT SPREADS BEFORE US. What is its nature? To the carnal eye it presents nothing that is attractive or worthy of regard. It opens to our view, not an individual in a state of hilarity and mirth, indulging himself in sensual delights; but a poor weary, heavy-laden sinner, repenting of his transgressions.

1. Repentance includes brokenness of heart.

2. Self-abhorrence enters into the spirit of true repentance.

3. Godly sorrow for sin is an essential ingredient of evangelical repentance.

4. The spirit of prayer is always associated with repentance.

5. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is connected with scriptural repentance.

II. LET US GLANCE AT THE HEAVENLY SCENE.

1. Angels are benevolent beings; partaking largely of the moral qualities of the Deity, of the beneficence and compassion of His nature, they feel interested and delighted in whatever promotes the welfare and happiness of God’s intelligent creatures.

2. Angels are joyful at the repentance of a sinner, because a splendid victory is achieved.

3. Angels are joyful at the event, because an immortal being is saved.

4. There is joy among the angels at this occurrence, because God is glorified in it--each person in the Trinity. (Essex Remembrancer.)

Angels rejoice over repenting sinners

I would employ this subject in order--

I. TO REMIND CHRISTIAN BELIEVERS OF CERTAIN DUTIES WHICH THEY OWE. We learn, then, from the words before us, that the repentance of sinners is, to these holy beings, an occasion of rejoicing; and this may be supposed to arise, in the first place, from the reverence and love which they indulge for the character and authority of God. In a kingdom where the sovereign, ruling in equity and in mercy, dwells generally in the affections of his loyal subjects, when rebellion and treason lay down their arms and sue for mercy, the circumstance is surely hailed by every loyal subject as a matter of sincere rejoicing.

2. The joy indulged by angels over the repentance of a sinner, may be considered as arising, secondly, from that spirit of benevolence, that love to human nature, which forms, of course, one principal feature in their character, as it is an attribute of that God, whom, in this respect as well as in others, they must be considered to resemble. They, therefore, rejoice over the repentance of a sinner, because it is the beginning of his own salvation, and also, because it is the beginning of blessedness which is likely to extend, in a greater or less degree, to all around him.

3. The joy indulged by angels over the repentance of a sinner may be considered as arising, thirdly, from the interest they take in the spread of the Redeemer’s kingdom.

4. Another reason, probably, which has sometimes been referred to, why angels rejoice over the repentance of a sinner is, that they may have been instrumental, though in a way unknown to us, in bringing that sinner to repentance. For it has been said, there is nothing extravagant in supposing that He who so frequently employs, in the salvation of the souls of men, the instrumentality of human agents, should sometimes employ, though in a way unknown by us, the instrumentality of angels; and if so, we find in this circumstance another reason why angels indulge the joy referred to in the text, over the repentance of a sinner.

II. That while these words supply admonition and instruction to Christian believers, they ARE ALSO DESIGNED AND FITTED TO SUPPLY ENCOURAGEMENT TO PENITENTS.

III. BY WAY OF ADMONITION AND REPROOF, TO ADDRESS A WORD OR TWO TO THE IMPENITENT AND UNCONVERTED. First of all observe what a contrast there is between the joy that angels express on the repentance of a sinner and your unconcern about your own repentance. Once more I would observe, still addressing myself to persons of the same description, if, according to the declaration of my text, there be “joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth,” then may we not suppose that, if there be such a thing as joy in hell, there is joy there over every one that goeth on in his iniquity? (J. Crowther.)

The joy of heaven over a repentant sinner

I. In the first place, ATTEND TO THE EVENT ITSELF THUS EXPRESSED--“a sinner that repenteth.” In the first part of this statement we are all included, being all sinners. From the second part we may be excluded, for we may not be all penitents. There are also stupid unconcerned sinners, who look no farther than the body. There are light-minded, careless sinners, whom sorrow never clouds, to whom pleasure in every form is welcome, and into whose hearts no serious thought ever enters. And there are worldly-minded sinners, who have no time, no inclination, and no leisure, for religion. There are also procrastinating sinners, who admit the necessity, but delay the duty, of repentance. Nay, there are even, in some measure, convinced and awakened sinners, whose convictions have not terminated in conversion. Like Cain, they complain, and they wander, and they reckon somehow, that God is hard, and that they are suffering more than they can bear. Like Esau, they weep, but it is for an earthly portion, and because they succeed not according to what they reckon due to their talents, their skill, or their industry. Or, like Ahab, they may clothe themselves in sackcloth, and sit in ashes, and walk steadily for a season, but still their hearts are not right with God. The repentance supposed is not a seeming but a real repentance, and is in complete harmony with the law and the gospel. The law is honoured by the terror which it produces: the gospel is honoured by the peace which it maintains. God is obeyed, and the penitent himself praises God, and says, He hath delivered mine eyes from tears, my feet from falling, and my soul from hell.

II. Let us proceed now, then, to meditate on THE JOYFULNESS OF THE EVENT MENTIONED IN THE TEXT. “There is joy,” says our Lord, “in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” Think, then, in the first place, of the high character, of the high rank of the order of beings now spoken of as rejoicing--Angels, who occupy a higher place in the scale of creation than men.

2. In the second place, we may consider the intensity, the universality of the feeling that is produced. It might be true to say of the angels in heaven, that they rejoice, though the joy was but slight or transient, although it pervaded only a part of the heavenly host. The idea, however, conveyed to us here is the idea, not of a slight or of a transient, but of a deep and of a permanent impression, and it is the idea, moreover, not of joy only among a few, but of joy among all, of but one feeling and one expression of feeling, through all the innumerable company of angels.

3. Again we may think, in the third place, of the season at which such joy is stated as commencing, not when the sinner enters heaven, not when his repentance issues in eternal life.

4. I have only to state in the last place that each case of conversion is supposed here to be of sufficient magnitude to produce this joy. There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth. Numbers are not necessary in order to convey to us the idea of value or importance. No doubt there was great joy on the day of Pentecost; and when thousands were converted, no doubt there was great joy afterwards, when 5,000 were added to the Church; no doubt there was great joy again, when a multitude of the priests and of the people believed; but still each individual as marked in heaven’s book, may be considered as a fit occasion for praising God, and as serving to minister to the delight of angels. Or we shall even take it in another light--you may suppose that one soul converted may, in special circumstances, or at particular seasons, or because of the individual character, be of great importance, even as the conversion of Paul included within itself the conversion of thousands--even as Paul was a chosen vessel, and took many from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God. (J. Geddes, D. D.)

The birth of a soul a cause of joy

Let it admonish us to beware that we repine not at the bringing in of any into the state of grace. Shall heaven smile and earth frown? Shall the angels be glad and we sad? Shall we mock, scorn, deride, yea persecute our brethren for no other cause but this; that they have made heaven merry by their repentance and turning? Wretched creature, cursed caitiff, that dares thus do. Is there not joy in the whole family upon the birth of a little infant? Is not the father glad that a child is born unto him, the mother glad she is delivered, the servants glad that the family is enlarged, the children glad that their number is increased? If any be discontented it is some baseborn, an Ishmael--the son of the bondwoman not of the free. (N. Rogers.)

Joy in heaven over repenting sinners

I. WHO REJOICE?

1. God the Father.

2. The Son of God.

3. The blessed angels.

II. WHY DO THEY REJOICE?

1. God the Father rejoices--

2. The Son of God rejoices--

3. The angels rejoice--

Inferences:

1. From this subject we infer the incalculable worth of the human soul.

2. From this subject we infer that the consequence of dying in an impenitent state will be unspeakably dreadful.

3. From this subject we infer that all who repent will certainly persevere and be saved. Suppose, for one moment, that such may fall and perish? Would God, would Christ, would angels then rejoice to see sinners repent?

4. What an astonishing view does this subject give us of the benevolence of angels. Though they are perfectly happy, and though our character and conduct must to them appear inconceivably hateful, yet they forget themselves to think of us; they forget their own happiness to rejoice in ours.

5. From this subject we may learn whether we are prepared for heaven. We presume none will deny that preparation for heaven implies something of a heavenly temper. If, then, we are thus prepared we have something of such a temper. Like the angels, we are pleased with God’s sovereignty, and rejoice when sinners repent. We desire and pray that the kingdom of God may come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. (E. Payson, D. D.)

Joy of the angels

This assurance, coming from the lips of Jesus Himself, exhibits Christianity, both in its spirit and in its grandeur.

I. THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTIANITY. The fact which Jesus teaches hero is that gladness and surprise, that joy and gratified affection, with which love welcomes at last its alienated but unsurrendered objects. In one word, my friends, our Saviour, in the passage before us, shows the identity of the great sentiment of love in heaven and upon earth, in the depths of Divine love and in the heart of man. He appeals to those affections which are most profoundly interwoven in our being. He exhibits the spirit and power of the gospel as not above or foreign to the elements of our own consciousness, but intimately allied to it. He based this appeal upon that which can be demonstrated from the most familiar and common experience. But let me say further, under this head, that by the light of this central love and compassion we should interpret the different parts as well as the grand whole of the gospel. All the sayings of Jesus Christ are to be interpreted in harmony with that spirit; we must take the deep essence and substance of the gospel. We are to receive what grows out of that--what most accords with its general sentiment. And I say what most accords with the general sentiment of the gospel, with the deep spirit and substance of the gospel, is this simple doctrine, that God cares for the sinner, for the vilest and most abandoned sinner who is upon earth. In a mother’s heart there is a love that cannot be altered and exhausted, and that will claim that abandoned sinner when he comes back. So in the Infinite bosom, and in the bosoms of all heavenly beings, their exists the same love; the spirit that sent Jesus Christ on earth is that spirit; the purpose of Christ’s mission is to declare that spirit. That is the peculiarity of the gospel over and above everything else. Precisely where man’s faith falls and man’s hope falters, is it that the gospel becomes clear and strong.

II. THE GRANDEUR OF CHRISTIANITY. CONSIDER ITS GRANDEUR AS ILLUSTRATED in the announcement of Jesus. The declaration in the text reveals two things--the nature of man and his spiritual relations. It exhibits man as a living soul, and as a member of the great family of souls. It strips away all conventionality from him. Christianity is primal democracy, lifted far above anything that either pro or con bears that name in our day as a party distinction. It is the great doctrine of man higher than his conditions, nobler than any material good. Why? Because he is a living soul; because within him there are deathless powers; because he is allied to God by a nature that no other being on this earth bears, and faculties that no other creature on this footstool possesses. And this is the source of ‘its great achievement in modern civilization. Subtile theorists ask what Christianity has done for the progress of man. Christianity has thus sown the seeds of all progress, laid the foundation of all truth in government, and of all righteousness in society. It has been the master-key to all the grand efforts that man has made to be delivered from bondage, from oppression, from social wrong. It is the soul of liberty; it is the oriflamme that leads the hosts of humanity forward from effort to effort, to higher and higher social attainments. This is what Christianity has contributed to civilization and progress; it is the spring of all the, noble efforts of all time. In the next place, it reveals the relations of man to the whole spiritual universe--his relationship to all spiritual beings. Christianity is the complement of scientific truth in the spiritual facts it reveals to us; and nothing is more grand than man’s relation to spiritual beings--than the fact that the universe is filled up with blessed intelligences. I do not need to see them, or hear them, to be convinced of this fact; I know by surer sight than the eye, by more certain hearing than the ear, that they exist; I know it by my vital consciousness of a God and of a heaven. And Christianity interprets that fact. It shows man, poor, wretched, vile as he may be, linked with these innumerable relations. And what else does it show? It shows identity of nature in all spiritual things on earth and in heaven. Oh, if you could tear all the Bible in strips, but leave this one saying of Christ, what mighty truth and consolation there would be in it! “There is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth.” How much that reveals to us--lets in upon us. Joy in heaven! Then there are beings in heaven capable of joy, just like ourselves--beings in sympathy with us. Joy in heaven! Oh, forlorn and wayward brother! you are despised of men, and scorned, and perhaps feel that you ought to be; you have sinned vilely and grossly; but do you know what you are? There might be joy not only in that earthly home that nestles among the hills where your poor mother is praying for you to-day, but also great joy in heaven. What a revelation of an identity of nature--of a celestial sympathy! Moreover, there is not only sympathy, but there is solicitude there. God is anxious for your return. (E. H. Chapin, D. D.)

Joy in heaven over a repentant sinner

I. THE OBJECT OVER WHICH ANGELS REJOICE.

1. A sinner. Vile, apostate, rebellious man.

2. A sinner in a particular state of mind. A sinner that repenteth. What is repentance? It is a state of mind adapted to our condition: such a disposition as is suited to our state. It is an affecting discovery of our situation, our wants, our danger. It is a bewailing of our sad condition. With an almost broken heart the sinner comes to the Saviour’s feet, crying, with emotions of heart never before felt, with emotions which no language can fully express--“O save me, I have sinned, I have sinned! O save me, or I perish!”

II. THE GROUNDS OF THIS STRANGE JOY.

1. We may trace it to love. Love, when fixed on a right object, and exercised in a right manner, is a source of happiness. It is so on earth; and love makes heaven chiefly what it is as a world of joy.

2. Another ground of this joy of angels over a repenting sinner is their delight in the Divine glory.

3. They behold in the repentance of a sinner the advancement of the great work of grace, and receive in him a new pledge of its final accomplishment.

III. THE PROBABLE REASONS FOR WHICH OUR LORD HAS MADE US ACQUAINTED WITH IT.

1. It was no doubt to vindicate His own conduct in calling and saving heinous transgressors.

2. It shows us that there is something in repentance which is pleasing to God--that there is something in repentance of an excellent character.

3. These things are recorded to comfort and encourage the broken heart. (C. Bradley, M. A.)

Repenting sinners, a source of joy in heaven

I. In the first place, then, WE HAVE THE SPECTACLE WHICH IS HERE PRESENTED, A SINNER REPENTING. Not the most noteworthy object, some of the wise ones of this world would be tempted to say--not the most noteworthy object earth could present to the eye of God. There are many fairer and brighter scenes upon earth to attract the regard of her God and King. Man’s vagrant gaze is always wandering hither and thither in search of some scene of interest, or some form of beauty, on which for a moment it may rest; but who thinks of gazing with interest and hope, unless instructed out of the gospel of Christ, upon one sinner that repenteth? No; it is the halls of science, and the temples of art, and the statesman’s cabinet, and the battle-field of nations, which centre all man’s regard. Wherever the battle-cry of keenly conflicting interest is swelling on the ear, where brave words are being spoken, and brave deeds being done, thither man’s eye restlessly turns. It is the rising and the setting suns of empire, the waxing and the waning tide of greatness; the rise, culmination, and decline of those stars that lead man’s social progress; the chiefs and the heroes who are set far on in the van of the world--these offer to man the theme of his loftiest contemplations. And perhaps it is by the cradle of social reforms--it is by the birthplace of political revolutions and reformations that man’s purest and holiest vigils are held. My brethren, I am not here to deny the interest which may attach to any of these scenes or occasions. There is not one of these elements, so pregnant with future results to society, which are at work now, seething and surging in that great moral fermenting vat which we call society, that the angels do not look upon. That great battle which is being fought in every age, and perhaps never more earnestly fought than now--the battle which the ancients, for want of a better name, called the battle of the Gods and Titans--what we know as the battle of Chaos and Creation, Anarchy and Order, Might and Right, Slavery and Liberty--all these they look upon; nothing of this is hidden from their gaze. We do rightly to take deep interest in all these things, to let our hearts be stirred by them all. All these, God’s angels look upon; nothing is hidden from their sight. But one thing they see through all these--amidst all these great interests of society--one thing they see, which for them has more momentous interest, because they see that it has more pregnant consequences; it is the spectacle of one sinner that repenteth, one poor man, it may be. All that interest, remember, is concentrated upon the individual. I say there is that man wrestling in the sweat and agony of his soul with his spiritual tyrants and task-masters, he is bidding them defiance, he is casting them forth; but no trumpet-call summons the world to be spectator of his conflicts. There is nothing to distinguish his battle, so as to attract the eye of the man of this world. No, it will be in silence, silence that sometimes gives no outward indications of what is passing--silence, perhaps, only broken by these pleadings of a broken and contrite spirit, half uttered, half articulate, which God sees and answers as prayers--perhaps it may be thus that the repentant sinner will carry on and complete the work. Repentance is just the first stage and the first sign of that new life of the Christian, that life of which the Saviour said, “Ye must be born again”--that life which cannot come into a human spirit save by the work ofGod’s living Spirit within man’s heart. No man can work this transformation of himself, no man is strong enough to wrestle with this great monster of evil by himself. I say repentance is just the first stage of that new Divine life of which the Saviour spoke, in which a man, being freed from sin, has progressively his fruit unto holiness, and the end thereof life everlasting.

II. Direct your thoughts to THE JOYFUL WATCHERS OF THE SPECTACLE HERE PRESENTED. The progress of a soul through the various stages of its redemption excites, for the most part, very little interest upon earth. It connects itself with no great human interests, and it ministers no aid to purely human designs. But how differently is it regarded in heaven! Scribes and Pharisees, if they like, may mock at repentance; sophists and infidels, if they like, may jest at the penitent tear, or the pleading and struggling groan of a broken and contrite spirit; but I say to you, Christ says to you by my lips--I am speaking His own words--that “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over even one repenting sinner.” Brethren, we should teach ourselves to believe this. We cannot see it; nature does not seem to care for us; all we look upon seems to take little care for us in regard to our spiritual experience, but God and His angels watch us earnestly, and no sigh is breathed and no tear falls that is not caught and cherished by the spirits that are before the throne. I say this repentance, the soul turning away from sin by the power of the grace of Christ which it has received, awakens supreme interest, is a matter of intense importance to all dwellers in the spiritual world. Aye! as the soul thus rises from the dust to adorn herself with the only jewels that Christ cares for--jewels of penitence, humility, and charity--methinks there are God’s angels then harping with their harps, prepared to celebrate with vestal strains the indissoluble union of a repenting and ransomed spirit with its Lord. Those are the joyful watchers of the spectacle.

III. Now, in the third and last place, in bringing these remarks to a conclusion, I dwell upon the rising interest to which I have already averted more fully. Let us inquire WHAT IS THE SECRET OF THIS INTEREST WHICH THEY FIND IN THE SPECTACLE OF A REPENTING SINNER, and of their exulting joys. Of course we can only understand a portion of this matter, and only a portion of that portion can be brought within the limits of a brief discourse.

1. But, first, I should say that the angels of God who look upon all that is passing upon earth, all the scenes of interest that earth presents--scenes in which we are bound to take an interest, in which certainly the Christian ought not to be behindhand in his interest as compared with his fellow-men--look upon a repenting sinner as the directest and completest result of Christ’s working upon earth, and, therefore, they abundantly rejoice. He who was with God, who was God, by whom all things were made, became flesh and dwelt among us; and here, in a sinner repenting, you have the directest result of His Incarnation.

2. A second reason is this. In a sinner repenting we must remember there is a rising up of a fresh witness to God’s righteousness, a fresh subject of God’s kingdom in the universe, and, therefore, do the angels rejoice.

3. Lastly, in a sinner repenting, the angels see the widening of the kingdom of the Redeemer. They see that He sees increasingly of the travail of his soul, and is satisfied, and, therefore, one thinks they rejoice. He is their King as well as ours; their Master as well as ours. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)

Joy of the angels over even one repentant sinner

How loving are the angels to men; for they rejoice over one sinner that repenteth. There she is, in that garret where the stars look between the tiles. There is a miserable bed in that room, with but one bit of covering, and she lieth there to die! Poor creature! many a night she has walked the streets in the time of her merriment; but now her joys are over; a foul disease, like a demon, is devouring her heart! She is dying fast, and no one careth for her soul! But there, in that chamber, she turns her face to the wall, and she cries, “O Thou that savedst Magdalene, save me; Lord, I repent; have mercy upon me, I beseech thee.” Did the bells ring in the street? Was the trumpet blown? Ah! no. Did men rejoice? Was there a sound of thanksgiving in the midst of the great congregation? No; no one heard it; for she died unseen. But stay. There was one standing at her bedside, who noted well that tear; an angel, who had come down from heaven to watch over this stray sheep, and mark its return; and no sooner was her prayer uttered than he clapped his wings, and there was seen flying up to the pearly gates a spirit like a star. The heavenly guards came crowding to the gate, crying, “What news, O son of fire? “ He said, “‘Tis done.” “And what is done?’ they said. “Why, she has repented.” “What! she who was once a chief of sinners? has she turned to Christ?” “‘Tis even so,” said he. And then they told it through the streets, and the bells of heaven rang marriage peals, for Magdalene was saved, and she who had been the chief of sinners was turned unto the living God. It was in another place. A poor neglected little boy in ragged clothing had run about the streets for many a day. Tutored in crime, he was paving his path to the gallows; but one morning he passed by a humble room, where some men and women were sitting together teaching poor ragged children. He stepped in there, a wild Bedouin of the streets; they talked to him; they told him about a soul and about an eternity--things he had never heard before; they spoke ,of Jesus, and of goodtidings of great joy to this poor friendless lad. He went another Sabbath, and another; his wild habits hanging about him, for he could not get rid of them. At last it happened that his teacher said to him one day, “Jesus Christ receiveth sinners.” That little boy ran, but not home, for it was but a mockery to call it so--where a drunken father and a lascivious mother kept a hellish riot together. He ran, and under some dry arch, or in some wild unfrequented corner, he bent his little knees, and there he cried, that poor creature in his rags, “Lord, save me, or I perish”; and the little Arab was on his knees--the little thief was saved I He said--“Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to Thy bosom fly”; and up from that old arch, from that forsaken hovel, there flew a spirit, glad to bear the news to heaven that another heir of glory was born to God. I might picture many such scenes; bat will each of you try to picture your own? You remember the occasion when the Lord met with you. Ah! little did you think what a commotion there was in heaven. If the Queen had ordered out all her soldiers, the angels of heaven would not have stopped to notice them; if all the princes of earth had marched in pageant through the streets, with all their robes, and jewellery, and crowns, and all their regalia, their chariots, and their horsemen--if the pomps of ancient monarchies had risen from the tomb--if all the might of Babylon and Tyre and Greece had been concentratedinto one great parade, yet not an angel would have stopped in his course to smile at those poor tawdry things; but over you the vilest of the vile, the poorest of the poor, the most obscure and unknown--over you angelic wings were hovering, and concerning you it was said on earth and sung in heaven, “Hallelujah, for a child is born to God to-day.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Why should angels rejoice in the success of redemption?

To this question we reply generally, that redemption is the mightiest display of the Divine attributes; and that, wrapt as angels are in admiration and adoration at their Maker, whatever sets forth His properties must be to them a fresh source of praise and ecstasy. Without doubt we must add to this general account, the affection which they entertain towards men as members of the family of creation, their consequent desire for their happiness, and their knowledge that happiness is secured by repentance towards God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. But probably the joy in question results mainly from the glory accruing to God, or from the manifestation which redemption puts forth of the attributes of Deity. And therefore we shall chiefly labour to show you how the scheme of our salvation was a new discovery of God to heavenly beings, and why, therefore, there should be joy in the presence of those beings whensoever a sinner takes hold of the obedience proffered in the gospel. Now, the wisdom, the power, and the goodness of God--under which all His other attributes are comprehended--these constitute the glorious majesty of our Creator; and of these, weare bold to affirm, our redemption is the noblest manifestation. If this be once proved, you will readily understand why angels rejoice over penitent sinners. Angels must be gladdened by every exhibition of the high prerogative of their Maker; and if redemption be signally such an exhibition, then redemption--as wrought out for all, or as applied to individuals--must signally minister to their joyousness. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

In the heavenly empire

A pious Armenian calling on Mr. Hamlyn, a missionary at Constantinople, remarked, that he was astonished to see how the people were waking up to the truth; how even the most cultivated were seeking after it as for hidden treasure. “Yes,” said he, “it is going forward; it will triumph; but, alas! I shall not live to see it, alas! that I am born an age too soon.” “But,” said Mr. Hamlyn, “do you remember what our Saviour said, ‘There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth’? You may not live to see the truth triumphant in this empire; but should you, by Divine grace, reach the kingdom of heaven, and be with the angels, your joy over your whole nation, repentant and redeemed, will be infinitely greater than it could be on earth.” He seemed astonished at this thought; but after examining the various passages to which I referred him, he yielded to the evidence with the most lively expressions of delight. “O fool, and slow of heart,” said he, “to read the gospel so many times without perceiving such a glorious truth! If this be so, no matter in what age a Christian is born, nor when he dies.”

The greatness of repentance

Repentance is a great thing, or the angels of God would not rejoice over it. It is no insignificant matter. If we did not understand it, and all the consequences that flow from it, and did not quite perceive all the reasons why angels rejoice, yet we should naturally conclude that it must be great from this fact. Suppose we entered a strange city end found the bells ringing out a merry peal from every tower, the cannon roaring out their harsh joy from every fort, the streets at night blazing with illuminations, every countenance cheerful, the whole land vocal with joy, and all keeping jubilee together; why, we should say, “This great and intelligent people would not rejoice thus over a trifle; some great thing must have taken place”; if we did not know what it was. Oh! enter heaven when a sinner has repented, and find it all jubilee! Must it not be a great thing that would fill heaven thus with bliss? The repentance of a sinner does it. And then mark, it is not the conversion of a nation like China, with its three hundred millions of inhabitants, nor India with its myriads of idolaters, nor blood-stained Madagascar, nor Tahiti, nor New Zealand: not the conversion of an empire, but the conversion of a single soul. Not merely the soul of some great persecutor, like Saul of Tarsus, whose conversion may at once change the aspect of a country, and release it from intolerance and murder, and introduce it to liberty and joy. Not the conversion of a mighty monarch, who, once a despot, is now become through Christianity the father of his country. Not the conversion of a philosopher, whose great name might be supposed to add celebrity to Christianity. Not the conversion of a great poet, who had prostituted his genius to celebrate vice, and now consecrates it to the glory of God who gave him the intellect. No, but the conversion of “a sinner,” apart from all the personal circumstances in which that sinner might be found: any sinner; the inhabitant of a workhouse--the pauper’s child--or the pauper himself; for it is repentance, stript of all that is adventitious, all that might otherwise gather around it. It is the dropping of all these, and it is the bowing down of any human heart in the attitude of submission to God, and in the purpose of forsaking sin: it is that, which angels rejoice over. (J. A. James.)


Verses 11-32

Luke 15:11-32

A certain man had two sons.

The prodigal and his brother

I. GOD’S TREATMENT OF THE PENITENT.

1. The alienation of the heart from God.

2. The period of repentance.

3. The reception which a sinner meets with on his return to God. The banquet represents to us two things.

II. GOD’S EXPOSTULATION WITH A SAINT. The true interpretation seems to be that this elder brother represents a real Christian perplexed with God’s mysterious dealings. We have before us the description of one of those happy persons who have been filled with the Holy Ghost from their mother’s womb, and on the whole (with imperfections of course) remained God’s servant all his life. For this is his own account of himself, which the father does not contradict. “Lo! these many years do I serve thee.” We observe then: The objection made to the reception of a notorious sinner--“Thou never gavest me a kid.” Now, in this we have a fact true to Christian experience. Joy seems to be felt more vividly and more exuberantly by men who have sinned much, than by men who have grown up consistently from childhood with religious education. Rapture belongs to him whose sins, which are forgiven, are many. In the perplexity which this fact occasions, there is a feeling which is partly right and partly wrong. There is a surprise which is natural. There is a resentful jealousy which is to be rebuked. And now mark the father’s answer. It does not account for this strange dealing by God’s sovereignty. It does not cut the knot of the difficulty, instead of untying it, by saying, God has a right to do what He will. He does not urge, God has a right to act on favouritism if He please. But it assigns two reasons. The first reason is, “It was meet, right that we should make merry.” It is meet that God should be glad on the reclamation of a sinner. It is meet that that sinner, looking down into the dreadful chasm over which he had been tottering, should feel a shudder of delight through all his frame on thinking of his escape. And it is meet that religious men should not feel jealous of one another, but freely and generously join in thanking God that others have got happiness, even if they have not. The spirit of religious exclusiveness, which looks down contemptuously instead of tenderly on worldly men, and banishes a man for ever from the circle of its joys because he has sinned notoriously, is a bad spirit. Lastly, the reason given for this dealing is, “Son, thou art always with Me, and all that I have is thine.” By which Christ seems to tell us that the disproportion between man and man is much less than we suppose. The profligate had had one hour of ecstasy--the other had had a whole life of peace. A consistent Christian may not have rapture; but he has that which is much better than rapture: calmness--God’s serene and perpetual presence. And after all, brethren, that is the best. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

A mirror of mercy

1. First, then, in that he is called a young man, there is noted in him want of knowledge and experience as the ground and fountain of all his folly, he knew not as yet what his father was worth unto him. And, therefore, he is not afraid to forsake him. This is to teach us that none forsakes the Lord, but such as do know Him not, and understand not that in so doing they forsake their own mercy. As beasts that know not the value of pearls care not to trample them under their feet, or as young children laugh at the death of their parents, because they know not for the present what they lose thereby, but afterwards remember it with grief; so blinded man without remorse runs away from God, not knowing what he lost by departing from the Lord, for He is light, and they go into utter darkness that go from Him. He is life, and they are but dead who abide not in fellowship with Him. One example of this we have in the elect angels; they are never weary to behold His excellent Majesty; they find ever new matter of joy in His face.

2. Secondly, in this prodigal child is noted here, that natural rebellion which is in all men; that they will not submit themselves to the will of God their Heavenly Father, but will follow their own wills.

3. The third evil noted here in this prodigal is his hypocrisy; he calls him in word father, but in deed did not so account of him; he carried not toward him the heart of a child; this is a part of that poison wherewith Satan hath infected our nature. Is there any comparison between that which thou givest the Lord and that which thou gettest from Him?

4. That he seeks a portion of his father’s goods, but not his father’s favour and blessing, represents to us the earthly minds of naturalists, who prefer the gifts of God to God Himself. (Bishop Cowper.)

The parable of the prodigal

Captain Sir W.E. Parry observes, “There is nothing even in the whole compass of Scripture more calculated to awaken contrition in the hardest heart than the parable of the Prodigal Son. I knew a convict in New South Wales, in whom there appeared no symptoms of repentance in other respects, but who could never hear a sermon or comment on this parable without bursting into an agony of tears, which I witnessed on several occasions. Truly He who spoke it knew what was in man.” It is the prince of parables, a gospel within the gospel, a mirror of man, an artless yet profound little drama of human ruin and recovery. Wonderful, indeed, is its power to touch the sensibilities. “I have wept but once these forty years, said a veteran military officer, and that was when I heard Jesse Bushyhead, the Cherokee preacher, address his countrymen from the parable of the Prodigal Son, the tears flowing faster than he could wipe them away.” (A. G. Thomson, D. D.)

The parable of fatherhood

I. LET US FOLLOW THE SINNER IN HIS REBELLION. In this part of the picture we shall perceive that sin is vicious in principle, ruinous in operation, and ever multiplying its destructive issues.

(1) SIN IS VICIOUS IN PRINCIPLE.

1. What is the unexpressed but fundamental axiom of all sin? A human being exists to pursue his own gratification, without regard to the will of God. That is it.

2. The younger son acts out the rule of life ascribed to him. For observe, the employment of the resources of existence for self-indulgence he claims as a right. “Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me.”

3. Now definite plans for self-indulgence follow. His notions of life and felicity are not a theory, but meant to be a practice; and he does his best to be ready for it.

4. Notice, next, the haste of sin. “Not many days after, the younger son gathered all together.” It might have been the most sublime and hallowed enterprise in the world. The rapidity of his movements must not be attributed exclusively to the impetuosity of youth, but to the precipitancy of all sinful passion.

5. Remark, finally, here, the presence of God is “unfriendly to sin.” “And took his journey into a far country.” Banishment from home would have been accounted a great hardship, if it had been enjoined as a duty. The toils and perils of the road would have occasioned no little murmuring, if his hard travail had contemplated any other end than selfenjoyment. He is eager to swallow his indulgences, and equally anxious to be beyond his father’s eye and all the restraints of home. “Let me alone” is the impatient cry of sin to all remonstrance. “A far country” is always the coveted paradise of fools.

II. SIN IS RUINOUS IN OPERATION. “And there wasted his substance in riotous living.”

III. SIN IS EVER MULTIPLYING ITS DESTRUCTIVE ISSUES. There is no standing still in good or evil. The wheels of human progress never rest on their axles.

1. Instead of attaining to happiness, he is overtaken by poverty.

2. Now Providence fights against him. Nature is in the universal league against transgression.

3. He is already feeling the pinch of wrong-doing. “And he began to be in want.” The fruit of evil deeds is revealing its poison. He finds himself in the grasp of premonitory pangs.

4. Observe next, that the old principle is to be worked in new ways. “And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country.” You see that he has not become a citizen himself. He is still a stranger. He cannot absolutely settle down out there. No. A man cannot find entire satisfaction in a life of self-enjoyment without God. With nothing but worldly things he cannot attain to rest.

5. He now sinks to a lower level of degradation. A swine-herd!

6. Take notice, further, that the swine-herd is prepared to accept his shame. “And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks which the swine did eat.” Ever since he left his father’s house his inclinations have descended lower and lower. He tried to fill, to satisfy himself with them, but he could not. They merely stayed his hunger. There was a bitterness in their flavour which something in his palate nauseated. The pleasure of eating was gone. The food of a beast cannot satisfy the soul of a man.

7. Last of all, his schemes of felicity and methods of relief are all overturned together. “And no man gave unto him.” It does not mean, that no man gave him swine’s food. The swine-herd had the care of the husks, and ate plenty of them, but he could not enjoy them. “No man gave unto him” what could satisfy and bless a human soul. Man is the highest creature in the world; but if you seek your happiness or your deliverance from misery at his hands, you must end in failure. “Citizens” out in that country, “far” from God, could not surround a prodigal with the good which a father’s love at home can alone supply. “No man gave unto him,” because no man had anything to give.

II. LET US WATCH THE SINNER IN HIS REPENTANCE. There are four elements of repentance here requiring analysis.

1. REFLECTION. “And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare!” Sin creates a sort of moral insanity. While spurred by appetite and in the race after indulgence, the mind is actuated by a species of frenzy. “I perish with hunger!” There is the memory of a better past in that exclamation. This same recalling of brighter hours bows the spirit into the dust.

“This is truth the poet sings,

That a sorrow’s crown of sorrow is remembering happier things.”

Bygone years to a sinner, however in his beginning, is a glance up an ascending incline towards sunnier days.

2. RESOLUTION. “I will arise and go to my father.” He no sooner discerns his hapless state, than he determines to leave it. You are to imagine him prostrate, brooding in indecision or despair. But he will lie no longer in inaction. He protests, “I will arise,” and he rises.

3. RECOGNITION OF GUILT. His resolution, while unenfeebled by hesitation, was not formed in insensibility to his evil. He sees most distinctly the relation of sin towards God and towards himself.

4. RETURN TO GOD. His was no empty vow.

III. LET US BEHOLD THE SINNER IN HIS RESTORATION.

1. NOTICE GOD’S RECOGNITION OF THE EARLIEST BEGINNINGS OF PENITENCE. “When he was yet a great way off, his father saw him.” He had not seen his father, but “his father saw him.” Unconsciously to the son, the love of the father has been drawing him all the way. If he had lost the image of his father from his memory, he would never have attempted to return.

2. OBSERVE GOD’S WELCOME TO THE REPENTING.

3. NOW TURN TO BEHOLD HOW GOD LAVISHES HIS AFFECTION ON THE ACCEPTED PENITENT. The father is not going to treat his son as an “hired servant.” God’s forgiveness must be God-like. God’s love is always greater in experience than in our most sanguine wishes and brightest hopes.

4. LISTEN TO GOD’S EXHORTATION TO HIS UNIVERSE TO SHARE HIS JOY. “Bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat and be merry.” “Merry” is an old Saxon word. Its meaning has somewhat narrowed and lowered in our later tongue. “Be merry,” here, in the original is “rejoice.” A feast betokens gladness among all nations. The occasion is great, and great is to be the exultation. “Let us eat and rejoice.” The father does not ask his household to be glad and he himself remain only a spectator of the universal delight. It is, “Let us eat and rejoice.” It is God’s own joy that He would have His creatures share and proclaim. (Bishop Alexander.)

The prodigal son

I. AN EXHIBITION OF THE CONDITION AND THE CONDUCT OF MAN IN HIS NATURAL AND SINFUL STATE.

1. Absence of gratitude, or any sense of obligation to his father.

2. Impatience of his father’s government.

3. Breaking away from his father’s control.

4. Squandering his father’s property contrary to his father’s intention.

5. But his schemes all failed to make him happy.

II. WHEN MEN BEGIN TO FEEL THEIR WANT, THEY TAKE ERRONEOUS COURSES TO DELIVER THEMSELVES. One flies to his worldly companions; another to scepticism; another to business; another to pleasure; another to some external reformation; another determines to read his Bible a little more, and to pray a little more--not meaning by prayer his heart really coming back to God, but the utterance of some words and going more frequently on his knees. That is not prayer. Prayer is the child coming back to his Father; prayer is the heart meeting God; prayer is the heart delighting in God, pouring out its desires into the bosom of infinite Love, and feeling that God is there. You must get back to God through the mediation, the merit, and the sacrifice of the Lord our Righteousness and our Redeemer. All other refuges will fail: all other processes will fail: you may have convictions, and then you may do this, that, or the other that I have described; still you are in want. Husks, husks, husks are all you have received by staying away from your Father’s house.

III. THE NATURE OF REPENTANCE AND SUBMISSION--the way to get home to our Father. The young man is said to have come to himself: that means that he was beside himself before. Hence you find that the Word of God denominates sinners “fools”: and because they are practically so foolish, they would rather remain undisturbed in their sins for a few days, than go through the bitterness of repentance and the self-denial of religion now, that they may wear an eternal crown, and live in immortal peace. There is another proof of the derangement of the human heart. It is the feeling which men have, that they can be happy away from God, and that they know more about the secret of happiness than the God who made them. So repentance is turning to our right mind. Repentance is beginning to look at things aright--beginning to reason, and feel, and purpose, and act aright. The young man determines to come home, to confess his sin without any palliation. The willingness to humble ourselves, that is coming home. Look for a moment at this young man, and see how difficult it was for him to come home, and how impossible it would have been, if he had not humbled his pride. In the first place he had to go back in his rags. “There is not a child in the village but will see me; and they will say, That is the young man who went out in such splendid style; and they will point the finger at me and mock me”: and yet says be, “I will arise and go.”

IV. GOD’S RECEPTION OF THE RETURNING SINNER. (E. N. Kirk.)

The efficacy and joy of repentance

I. THE PARABLE. It can stand the two tests which Byron declared to be decisive upon the merit of literary creations. It pleases immediately, and it pleases permanently. The rose needs no essay to prove that it is a rose. This is fragrant with the breath of Christ, and coloured with the summer of His touch.

1. The prodigal’s sin.

2. The prodigal’s repentance. “He came to Himself.” He had been outside his true self before. When a man finds himself, he finds God.

3. The reception of the lost son. For every step the sinner takes towards God, God takes ten towards him. We will not dwell upon the particulars of that great reception. Enough to mention “the first stole”; the ring of honour; the shoes forbidden to slaves; the sacrificial feast; the father’s voice passing into the chant of a wondrous liturgy; and seen and heard across the darkening fields by the elder brother as he unwillingly faces homeward the long line of festal light, the symphony of instruments, and the choirs of dancers.

II. CHARACTERISTICS OF REPENTANCE.

1. Its efficacy. Not in the nature of things; not inherent in it. The sinner is in an awful land, where every rock is literally a “rock of ages”; where the facts which some men call spiritual are bound by a fatal succession quite as much as the facts which all men call material; where God is frozen into an icicle, and no tender touch of miracle can come from His law-stiffened fingers; where two and two always make four, and your sin always finds you out. To remove this impotence and inefficacy of repentance, Jesus lived and died. Repentance is His indulgence, flung down from the balcony by our great High Priest. Repentance is His gift; the efficacy of repentance is His secret.

2. Its joy.

(a) To judge the inner life only by the joy of which it is conscious is a sort of spiritual epicureanism. “The tears of penitents are the wine of angels”; but they were not intended to intoxicate those who shed them.

(b) Past sin, even when its guilt is pardoned, has penal consequences upon the inner life. It continues in the memory with its poisoned springs and in the imagination with its perilous susceptibilities.

“Tears that sweeter far

Than the world’s mad laughter are.”

There is a triumphant, a victorious delight, which leads the will along the narrow way, and will not be gainsaid. It is a mutilated Miserere which omits the verse “Make me to hear joy and gladness, that the hones which Thou hast broken may rejoice.” By one of those apparent contradictions which lies at the root of the Christian life, a perpetual yearning after pardon is consistent with a perpetual serenity of hope. God would mould His penitents that they may combine sorrow with joy; that they may hear at once a sigh in the depths of their souls, and a music far away. There must be in the renewed nature something of the iron that has been moulded in His furnace, and something of the rose which has been expanded in His sunshine. The life of Frederick the Great, by a writer of transcendent genius, contains incidentally a record of the death of an English general defeated in Canada. Twice only did the unhappy officer rouse himself out of the mortal stupor into which he fell from a broken heart. Once he sighed heavily--“Who would have thought it?” Many days after he said with more animation--“Another time we will do better.” And then “ the cataracts of soft, sweet sleep” rushed down upon the weary man. Do not these two sentences give us this view of the twofold aspect of repentance?--the first, the humiliation of the beaten soldier as he comes to himself;the second, his hope through Christ as he catches the music of the march of victory. (Bishop Wm. Alexander.)

The pearl of parables

I. WE SHALL NEED TO GROUP TOGETHER AT THE OUTSET THE PARTICULARS WHICH SHOW THIS YOUNG MAN’S ALIENATED CONDITION AT THE MOMENT WHEN THE STORY GIVES HIM INTRODUCTION. (see Luke 15:11-12).

1. He was estranged from all love for his father. His affections had been soured and turned before he made this abrupt demand. He addressed his father as to a division of his estate in a cool, technical way.

2. He was away from his home (see Luke 15:13). His father’s residence which he had left is pictured in the parable, with the family life in it, by two or three strokes of a master hand. Even the servants had enough and to spare. Feasts were not unknown. Music and dancing were part of the entertainment. But it is plain that the old father meant to be master there; and that was precisely the condition of life this impulsive youth resolved to escape.

3. He had fallen into poverty (see Luke 15:14). Removed from influences which had hitherto kept him in check, he began the career of a profligate and debauchee. A little time spent in this voluptuous folly sufficed to run through his fortune.

4. At last he sank to the lowest, and became a servant. He went and offered himself to a master. The citizen of that country put him at the very worst business he had for any menial to do.

5. At this moment the young man was actually hungering in the presence of his beasts (see Luke 15:16). So far from having the right to despise the lowly creatures of his charge, the prodigal began the rather to envy them. The picture must be turned now to show just how it illustrates the condition of a sinner alienated from his Father in heaven. His own pride of heart lies at the bottom of his departure; he wants to be master of himself. Gathering together all his resources of time, talent, energy--all his powers of mind and body--he rushes away into the world of dissipation and lust. Now he goes to the devil directly and hires himself out, and Satan accepts him at his own valuation, and puts him among the swine.

II. LET US NOW SEEK FOR THE PARTICULARS WHICH DISPLAY THIS PRODIGAL’S ENTIRE CHANGE IN PURPOSE AND FEELING BY WHICH HE WAS AT LAST LED BACK TO HIS HOME IN PENITENCE AND PEACE. (see Luke 15:17).

1. First of all, he began to think “I thought upon my ways and turned my feet unto Thy testimonies.” The expression here is as singular as it is strong--“When he came to himself.” A sort of madness was in his heart. He seeswhere he is, and what he is, and what he has so long been doing.

2. Then he began to remember. That is Scripture counsel for us in these later times--“Remember from whence thou art fallen.” The prodigal recollected the kindness of his home in the days gone by.

3. Then he began to regret. His grief over the wickedness of his career is shown by the softness and gentleness of his forms of meditation. We discover no demonstrations of spite.

4. Then he began to hate. Abruptly, but for ever, he throws up his engagement with his cruel master. He renounces absolutely all the associations of his life in this far country.

5. Then he began to resolve (see Luke 15:18-19). So critical is this as a point in his experience, that we must analyze it step by step to the end.

III. There remains for our study now only one more grouping of particulars which show THIS PRODIGAL’S RECEPTION WHEN AT THE LAST HE ARRIVED IN HIS OWN COUNTRY, AND CAME TO HIS FATHER’S HOUSE.

1. He carried out his purpose of arising and going to his father (see Luke 15:20). It would have done no good just to resolve and then sit still there among the swine.

2. He carried out his purpose of confessing his sin to his father (see Luke 15:21). Perhaps he had been fainting with hunger; but hope would tell him of comfort by and by. Perhaps he would meet a train of travellers, who would laugh at his sorry look and condition; but he would think of help coming before long. Perhaps his heart wholly sank at the moment when from the last hill he saw his home; but he would be sure to fall back on his sure faith in his father’s affection.

3. He carried out his purpose of full obedience of his father. To be sure, not a word was said about his being a servant any more. He was a sou now, and all the old honour had come with the robe and the ring. But the unspoken resolve still remained in his heart (see Hebrews 5:8). (C. S.Robinson, D. D.)

The prodigal son

I. THE SON’S FORTUNE, AND HIS WAY OF SPENDING IT. What, then, was his fortune? Man is gifted with health, by which he is able to enjoy life--strength, to provide for its necessities--faculties (such as common sense, reason, the understanding), to guide him to God as his true happiness--affections, to endear him to others, and others to him. Appetites of various and valuable sorts. The appetite of eating and drinking, which affords legitimate pleasure and real advantage when moderately indulged; the appetite for seeing, which opens a door to much useful discovery and delight, which enables us to admire on every hand the infinite wisdom, power, and goodness of our Creator and our God; the appetite for hearing, by which Divine knowledge gets admittance into the soul, by which the agreeable converse of our friends, and the delightful strains of heavenly melody, may be enjoyed and indulged in. These, and many others are precious items in the portion which God bountifully bestows upon His children. They should be enjoyed at His discretion, according to His command, and for His glory. Not so, however, the sinner. Like the prodigal, he gathers his riches, and takes his journey into a far country--that is to say, he wanders far from God and heaven. The prodigal becomes a worldling; he carries his portion into the unregenerate world, and there wastes his substance in riotous living. His gifts are debauched and misused; they are all made the servants of sin. Hunger eaters to gluttony; thirst to drunkenness; the eye administers to lust; it reads wicked looks, delights in wanton shows, in pomp, and vanity, and folly. The ear drinks in blasphemy, irreligion, and indecency. The heart is made the residence of evil affections; the head and understanding, of wicked, ungodly, infidel principles. The summer of life is spent in bringing to maturity the seeds of evil which were scattered in its spring--the autumn, in the neglect of what is good, and in the ingathering of what is bad, the poisoned fruits of a debauched manhood. The winter of life comes on, and in its train sharp disease, racking pains--a bloated, enfeebled, disordered carcase--a foolish head, an unregenerate heart, a guilty conscience. There is now no more capacity for enjoying pleasure; the sight is gone, the hearing lost, the appetite vanished, the strength decayed, the health squandered, the affections debased, the faculties degraded--the whole substance wasted in riotous living.

II. HIS DESTITUTION AND REPENTANCE. “And when he had spent all there began to be a mighty famine in that land.” So it is with sinners. They derive their pleasure from sensual enjoyments--the indulgences of the flesh; but, when they spend their strength, there is an end of these indulgences. The eye refuses to see, the ear to hear, the members to stir, in obedience to the miserable slave of sin. “And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat.” It is among the miseries of sinners that the appetite for wicked indulgence increases as the capacity for gratifying it decays. The longer the heart has been exercised in iniquity, the deeper will be the corruption with which it is tainted. “And no man gave unto him.” Be assured, sinner, this is a true picture of the world. While you can treat them--while you have anything that they can devour, they will praise andflatter you; but, when your substance is gone, you will find it true that no man will give unto you--none of your sinful companions. They have their own devouring lusts, their filthy lusts, to gratify. Do you think that they will deny themselves for your necessities? “And when he came to himself”--mark the expression, as though he had been in a fit of madness. It isthus the sinner is here spoken of; yea, and elsewhere the Holy Ghost says, “Madness is in their hearts while they live.” “I will arise,” etc. Here, then, were no excuses, no palliations--no saying others were in fault, I was led astray, I have not been as bad as some--no promises of great things for the future--no saying, I will devote myself to thy service, I will fight thy battles, I will do wonders for thy cause; but a simple declaration of guilt and wretchedness: “I have sinned, I am unworthy; I do not deserve the character of thy son; make me as one of thy servants; regard me as one of them.” He resolves to plead, not his merit, but his misery, and he puts his resolve into execution. For--

III. “HE AROSE AND CAME TO HIS FATHER.” “He arose and came”: it is important that you should mark this--he did not rest content with mere resolutions of repentance. He did not say, “I will arise and return,” and all the while stay where he was, desiring still to feed on husks. This too many do. “And while he was yet a great way off,” etc. Oh, the melting tenderness of our God and Saviour! He watches the very first movements towards repentance. (T. D. Gregg, M. A.)

The reformed prodigal

I. LET US INQUIRE WHO THE YOUNGER SON IS INTENDED TO REPRESENT. The parable is addressed to the scribes and Pharisees; but there was nothing in their character which resembled what is ascribed to the younger son, or that could admit a comparison with him. But, as we are told, it was delivered in the presence of publicans and sinners, who had assembled in crowds to hear Jesus, it cannot be doubted that it was that class who are portrayed by the younger son. The publicans and sinners are never represented in the Gospels as influenced by the religious opinions which prevailed among the Jews, but rather as led by their feelings; just as the younger son is exhibited in the parable. They are, however, drawn as more easily instructed, and more susceptible of repentance and reformation.

II. LET US NEXT POINT OUT WHAT USEFUL INSTRUCTION WE MAY DERIVE FROM THE CONDUCT OF THE YOUNGER BROTHER.

1. We see that extravagance and licentiousness are usually followed by want. Whoever, then, practices these vices, cannot plead ignorance of their natural and unavoidable consequences. Nor do evil effects belong to these vices alone; for every other vice has its peculiar evil consequences which accompany its train, as uniformly as a shadow goes along with a moving substance when the sun shines. Thus, even truth from the mouth of a known liar is usually received with incredulity, and always with suspicion. Pride is incessantly exposed to imaginary affronts and real mortifications, which cause to the unhappy victim many agonizing moments. The vain man is miserable when he is doomed to negligence and contempt, instead of receiving the coveted and expected praise. The gratification of revenge, in reality, consists of the pains of the rack.

2. As the evil consequences of sin are thus so evident to all, we ought to be convinced that this knowledge was intended to lead us to amendment. Such, indeed, is represented as the effect produced on the young man in the parable. His sufferings occasioned not only that repentance which consists in strong feelings, but that reformation which consists in a change of conduct. This is exhibited as genuine and sincere; it was speedy, nor was it partial but universal.

III. OUR ATTENTION IS NEXT CALLED TO THE ELDER BROTHER. We have concluded that the younger brother was designed to represent the publicans and sinners. Nor can we have any doubt that, under the similitude of the elder brother, the scribes and Pharisees are intended. It is true the character given of the elder brother is good--that he had served his father many years, and never transgressed his commands. But we must not overlook the circumstance that this favourable character is given by himself, while his conduct exhibits an opposite picture, bearing a close resemblance to the scribes and Pharisees; for they deemed themselves not only faultless but meritorious, as they are represented by the Pharisee in the parable, who thanked God for his superiority to others, and plumed himself because he fasted twice in the week, and gave tithes of all his possessions. Like the great body of the Pharisees, the elder brother is selfish and indifferent about others. He is angry at the fond reception given to his penitent brother, envious of the marks of favour conferred on him, and mortified at the supposed preference to himself by his noble-minded father. Had he possessed any natural affection he would have cordially testified his delight at the return of his long-lost brother. Had he felt as he ought to have done, he would have learned that his own happiness was highly enhanced; for there is no joy so elevated and refined as that which a good man feels at the return of a son, or a brother, or a friend, to God and duty.

IV. Lastly, THE CONDUCT OF THE FATHER IN THE PARABLE IS EVIDENTLY INTENDED TO REPRESENT THE GOODNESS OF OUR ALMIGHTY FATHER. (J. Thomson, D. D.)

The prodigal son

1. This young man was laying his life-plans, and his first idea was to get away from his father.

2. Freedom from restraint leads to recklessness.

3. Recklessness leads to want.

4. Want leads to recollection.

5. Recollection leads to repentance.

6. Repentance leads to reformation.

7. Reformation leads to restoration.

8. Restoration leads to rejoicing.

9. Rejoicing over the returning prodigal is well; but the conduct and character of the elder brother are immeasurably better. (T. Kelly.)

The parable of the prodigal son

I. SELF-WILL LEADS TO PRODIGALITY.

II. PRODIGALITY LEADS TO WANT.

III. WANT AWAKENS MEMORY.

IV. AWAKENED MEMORY LEADS TO REPENTANCE AND RETURN. (Geo. Gerrard.)

The prodigal

Let us regard it as giving a picture of man--

I. IN THE DIGNITY OF HIS ORIGIN. This young man was the son of a father who could bestow on him a large fortune, and surround his life with comfort and splendour. He was born to dignity. The destitution and misery to which he had reduced himself was not his natural heritage. “We are also His offspring.”

II. IN HIS DESIRE FOR INDEPENDENCE. All sins may be regarded as the unfolding of this single sin of selfishness. Hence the necessity that we should enter the Kingdom of God, where He asserts and maintains His dominion over us.

III. IN THE LIBERTY ALLOWED HIM, WITH THE RISK OF ITS ABUSE. When a man feels that the service of God is not perfect freedom, that he can better himself in some condition of his own seeking, God allows him to make the trial. The foolish experiment discovers at length to him that he is not really free by throwing off his former yoke. He has but exchanged it for a far heavier one.

1. We learn from this that the apostasy of the heart begins before the apostasy of the life.

2. Man abuses the liberty allowed him, and abandons himself to the dreadful possibilities of sin. Liberty is indeed a noble endowment, yet it is terrible to have the power to ruin ourselves. We can gain nothing by contending with our Maker.

IV. IN THE MANNER OF HIS SPIRITUAL RECOVERY. This recovery is possible. Such is the glad sound of the gospel. Let us trace the steps by which the prodigal gained the favour he had forfeited.

1. He was made to feel his utmost need.

2. His reformation commenced in thought.

3. He was sensible of the honour he had rejected.

4. He resolves to cast himself upon the mercy of his father.

5. He frames the design of his confession. Sin is acknowledged in its root--“before Thee.”

6. Still remaining as a son, he desired to be reckoned a servant.

V. IN THE MERCIFUL KINDNESS WITH WHICH HEAVEN FORGIVES THE EVIL OF HIS LIFE. God draws nigh unto those who draw nigh unto Him. When the face is turned towards God, the long journey is relieved by the arrival of mercy before we have trodden every weary step.

1. The penitent is raised to a position of honour.

2. There was sympathy awakened for him in the father’s household.

3. The joy was suited to the time--“it was meet.” But this intensity of joy could not, in the nature of things, long continue. He, too, must shortly settle down to the sober tasks of duty. The excitement of a great crisis must not be the permanent condition of the soul, or her energies would be consumed at too high a rate; and, instead of the glow of health, there would be the burning of a fever. Excessive joy must subside into the patience of faith, and the labour of love. (The Lay Preacher.)

The parable of the prodigal son

I. THE PRODIGAL SON LEAVES HIS FATHER’S HOUSE.

1. Why did he leave?

2. How did he leave?

II. THE PRODIGAL SON IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY.

1. He wastes his substance.

2. He begins to be in want. Poverty is the condition of the soul that seeks happiness in the world. By losing his God, the sinner loses everything.

3. His degradation. He who would not perform the daily work in the house of his father, is now obliged to labour as a hired servant.

4. He envies the brute beasts.

III. HIS RETURN AND RECEPTION.

1. The causes of his return.

2. The steps he takes in order to return.

3. His reception. (Repertorium Oratoris Sacri.)

The prodigal son

Look at the prodigal son--

I. IN HIS ORIGINAL CIRCUMSTANCES OF HONOUR AND HAPPINESS. Upright. Innocent. Happy. God his Father. Eden his home. The earth his domain. Angels his companions. All that Divine wisdom and love could provide, he possessed. An ample portion was his inheritance.

II. IN THE ARROGANCE OF HIS PRESUMPTUOUS CLAIM. What did he really want.? Where could he be more dignified or happy? But he seeks to have his portion to himself. He desires to do with it as he pleases. He seeks to throw off parental restraints and control.

III. IN HIS DISSIPATED WANDERINGS.

1. This wandering is very gradual and insidious.

2. Increasingly rapid.

3. Awfully dangerous.

IV. IN HIS WRETCHEDNESS AND MISERY. Profligacy is followed by want; extravagance by misery.

V. IN HIS UNALLEVIATED DISTRESS. (J. Burns, D. D.)

The prodigal’s return

I. REASON RESUMES HER DOMINION.

II. THE RESOLUTION HE ADOPTS.

1. He determines on an immediate return to his forsaken home.

2. He resolves freely to confess his sins.

3. He resolves to be content with any place in his father’s dwelling.

III. THE COURSE WHICH HE PROMPTLY CARRIES OUT.

1. Immediately; without delay.

2. And he perseveres in his homeward course. (J. Burns, D. D.)

The sequel

I. THE HAPPY MEETING.

II. THE HEARTY RECEPTION.

III. THE DISTINGUISHED BANQUET.

IV. THE COLD-HEARTED ENVY OF THE ELDER BROTHER. Lessons:

1. How generous and pure is the benevolence of the gospel. It is of God, and from Him, and resembles His tender and infinite love.

2. How hateful is an envious self-righteous spirit. It is the sprit of the evil one, and therefore from beneath.

3. Happy they who have repented of sin, and who have been received into the Saviour’s family of love. (J. Burns, D. D.)

The prodigal son

I. THE PRODIGAL’S DEPARTURE. He disliked all parental restraint. He broke the principle involved in the “first commandment with promise.” In his father’s house vice was out of place. He made the world his servant, little thinking how soon he should be under its most cruel tyranny. He was sadly deceived. We must never forget that all wasting of our gifts is a sin. Man is made for a noble purpose; his duties touch eternity, and are given for use in time. Shall we, for even a moment, dare assume that it is no concern of ours how we employ our powers?

II. THE PRODIGAL’S DESPAIR. His situation is portrayed by the one graphic description of Christ: “There arose a mighty famine in that land.” We are pointed to the darkest word in human history, precursor of the pestilence and death. It tells of the stony bed where the brook once ran. It tells of the fruitless trees, with branches prematurely stripped of their foliage.” It tells of the grass of summer all burned away. His property was all wasted, and despair was settling down upon his soul. His life was a failure in such a land; his “riotous living” was beginning its curse. No want of the human heart, good or bad, is ever satisfied here. Even the disciple’s anticipation is of a time when he shall awake in Christ’s likeness. Just so, the nobler desires turned earthward are more insatiate still. Epicure was never satisfied. The sustenance of vicious desires only awakens new ones. The drunkard drinks deeper week by week, his thirst deepened with every draught of the mocking cup. The miser’s lust burns fiercer as the gold in his chest becomes heavier.

III. THE PRODIGAL’S RESOLUTION. We are told of an English soldier, wounded and faint, left by the retreating army to die. Helpless and motionless he lay, expecting his death, screened from the burning sun by an overhanging cliff. While his strength was ebbing fast there alighted just before his face a greedy, ravenous bird, waiting for the end to come. Thoughts of himself becoming the prey of that loathsome bird gave him a now energy, and he slowly arose and at last was saved. In almost a like helpless state the prodigal “came to himself.” Two thoughts convinced him of his insane course--the abjectness of his misery, perishing with hunger; and the remembrance of the joys in the father’s house. It was thus the dissolute John Newton became himself again. But for a like critical resolve John Bunyan would ever have remained the same worthless profligate as in his youth. A moral coward may face the cannon’s mouth, but only a hero will turn from his sin. There is a splendour in such a moral conflict. Caesar’s political fats depended upon his passing the Rubicon; and yet the same resolution is demanded in the ease of every sinner.

IV. THE PRODIGAL’S WELCOME. Words are powerless in declaring the richness of such a reception. The prodigal loved his father because his father had first loved him. Day after day the hired servants had asked in vain, When will his love grow less? But it never ceased. (D. O. Mears.)

The prodigal son

I. THE SPIRIT OF THE SON AT THE BEGINNING. His underlying aim is to look out for himself. He wanted his father’s goods, but not his presence. This is the germ of sin--an independent, proud, unloving spirit toward God.

II. THE DEPARTURE. Not many days after he found that he could be independent, he started off on his journey. He who does not pray and obey God, rapidly withdraws from Him. God is not in his thoughts, and therefore he soon ceases to appreciate the character which God loves. The true generosity, which is love to men for their good, is lost. He loves men for what they are worth to please himself. Reverence is lost. The courage of gentleness is lost. Abhorrence of wickedness is lost. He sees wit in the rejection of Divine authority, courage in anger, manliness in vice.

III. THE LIFE OF UNHALLOWED PLEASURE. He chose the company that fitted his spirit. He sought others for what he could get out of them; they sought him for what they could get out of him. He had plenty of company as long as he had substance to waste on them. What he spent on them was wasted. What they gave him was wasted. The whole traffic was utter loss on both sides. They had not only outward possessions, but a wealth of intellect, affection, beauty, genius. They wasted it all. This the seeker for self and not God always does. He uses his talents to cover up his real aims and passions. Art has been made the handmaid of Sin. Music is called in to adorn the hideous nakedness of vice.

IV. THE COLLAPSE. The famine began when he had used up all he had. When all is gone, Nature herself turns against the prodigal. The world is a desert to a sinner who has run through the gifts of God, and he is absolutely certain to run them through in a little while. Alas for him when his own treasures are squandered, and the famine smites the far country! His one friend he has east off to win the admiration of the friends he had chosen; and they have cast him off as soon as his goods are gone.

V. THE NEW BUSINESS. No extreme of degradation could be greater than this to the mind of the Jew. He became the servant of a foreigner, whom the Jew despised. He tended swine, which were hateful to the Jew. He was hungry for the food which the swine fed on, and couldn’t get it. Yet even this degradation was his own choice.

VI. THE AWAKENING. “He came to himself.” Awakening to his wretchedness, he remembers one friend. Oh, if God were not a friend, the prodigal would sink into despair and hell when he comes to himself. He sees now where he is, that he has brought himself into this poverty. Many call God cruel after they have wasted the abundance of gifts from him. They have received all they ask for, have made no acknowledgment, have wasted all, and then, finding themselves wretched, they say that God has done it. But not so this prodigal. He said, “I have sinned.”

VII. THE RESOLVE. He is awakened to a hope of pardon and gracious reception. But this does not hinder the full confession of his sin. He accepts the deepest humiliation. He seeks now not to maintain his pride, but to confess the truth.

VIII. THE RETURN. He acted at once. Honest repentance always does. Resolves postponed are lies. Men befool themselves with them. He did not wait to cleanse himself and get a more becoming dress. He was not earning enough to keep himself alive, far less could he save enough to better his appearance. Besides, there was nothing in the far country which money could buy that would make him in the least degree presentable at home. The gay and costly attire which he wore when he was spending his living with harlots was as repulsive to his father as his rags. He was not to become better in order that he might go to his father, but he was to go to his father in order that he might be made better. Yet he went back, not to claim anything. His father had given him once all he had asked for, and he had taken it as if it had belonged to him, had wasted it, and ruined himself by it. He went back to make confession.

IX. THE MEETING. He was yet a great way off when the father saw him. Love is quicker than youth, loftier than pride, mightier than Satan. The love of God is compassion. It suffers with the penitent. It would even spare the recital of the sad history. (A. E. Dunning.)

The prodigal son

Six touching scenes.

I. A SINFUL LIFE.

1. A young man chafing under the restraints of home. This chafing arose--

2. A young man demanding his portion of the inheritance. This demand arose--

3. The young man receiving “the portion which befell him.”

II. THE DEPARTURE FROM HOME.

1. The departure was not long delayed.

2. The young man took all he could claim.

III. HIS MODE OF LIFE WHEN ONCE RELEASED FROM THE RESTRAINTS OF HOME.

1. His life riotous.

2. His substance wasted.

IV. THE RESULT OF HIS SELF-ELECTED LIFE.

1. Famine.

2. Want.

3. Degrading service.

4. Hunger.

V. THE REACTION.

1. Situation realized.

2. Reflection commenced.

3. Decision resolved on.

4. A plea constructed.

5. Decision executed.

VI. THE FATHER’S LOVE.

1. Love’s long range of vision.

2. Love’s tenderness.

3. Love’s generosity.

4. Love’s joy.

Lessons:

1. The infinite contrast--man’s selfishness and God’s love.

2. The infinite folly--man breaking away from God.

3. The infinite grace--God embracing, forgiving, and honouring the returning prodigal. (D. G. Hughes, M. A.)

The prodigal son

I. THE PRODIGAL’S SIN.

1. Discontent.

2. Departure.

3. Wilful waste.

II. HIS DESTITUTION.

1. Extreme poverty.

2. Deep degradation.

3. Woful want.

III. HIS REPENTANCE.

1. Awakening.

2. Penitence.

3. Resolution.

IV. HIS RESTORATION.

1. Return.

2. Confession.

3. Welcome. Applications:

1. Too many imitate the prodigal in his sin, but not in his repentance.

2. The Father is ever ready to meet and receive, with a kiss of affection, the returning prodigal.

3. God is exalted to have mercy. There is grace for the chief of sinners. Whosoever will, may return. Come home, prodigal! (L. O. Thompson.)

The prodigal

I. WILFUL.

II. WANDERING.

III. WASTEFUL.

IV. WANTING.

V. WRETCHED.

VI. WALKING HOME AGAIN.

VII. WELCOME. (J. Sanderson, D. D.)

The prodigal’s wandering, return, and reception

I. A SINNER’S AVERSION AND ALIENATION FROM GOD.

1. A sinful state is a state of departure from God.

2. An extravagant or spendthrift.

3. A wretched or destitute state.

4. A servile and slavish state.

5. A state of perpetual dissatisfaction.

6. A state of deadness or death.

II. THE SINNER’S RETURN TO GOD, AND THE MANNER THEREOF. The first demonstration of his return is--

1. Consideration of his father’s kindness.

2. By comparison, he saw his misery.

3. The view he got of the superiority of his father’s house.

4. Determination.

5. Confession.

6. Self-condemnation.

7. Humble submission.

8. Filial confidence.

9. His obedience.

III. THE SINNER’S APPREHENSIVE RECEPTION.

1. The father’s affection to his returning child.

2. Eyes of mercy: he saw him as from a mountain.

3. Bowels of mercy: he feels compassion.

4. Feet of mercy: “he ran,” while his son “came” only.

5. Arms of mercy: “he fell on his neck.”

6. Lips of mercy: “he kissed him.”

The provision presented.

1. He came in rags. “He put the best robe upon him, a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet” (see also Isaiah 61:10).

2. He came hungry. “Bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry” (see also John 6:54).

3. Great joy. “Let us be merry” (see Luke 15:10); “Let them also that love thy name, be joyful in Thee (Psalms 5:11).

4. The conduct of the elder brother (25-30) serves as a reproof to the Pharisees, who were displeased at the conversion of the Gentiles. (T.B. Baker.)

Parable of the prodigal son

I. Sinners regard God no farther than to gain from Him whatever they can.

II. Sinners waste the blessings which they receive from His hands, and reduce themselves to absolute want.

III. Afflictions are very often the first means of bringing them to a sense of their condition.

IV. When they first acquire this sense they usually betake themselves to false measures for relief.

V. This situation of a sinner is eminently unhappy.

VI. The repentance of the gospel is the resumption of a right mind. Among the things which the sinner realizes, when he first comes to himself, are the following.

1. His own miserable condition.

2. That in the house of his heavenly Father there is an abundance of good.

3. A hope that this good may be his. I shall now proceed in the consideration of the progress of a sinner towards his final acceptance with God as it is exhibited in the text. With this design, I observe--

I. True repentance is a voluntary exercise of the mind.

II. True repentance is a filial temper, disposing us to regard God as our parent, and ourselves as His children.

III. True repentance is followed, of course, by a confession of sin.

IV. A real penitent feels that all his sins are committed against God.

V. A real penitent is, of course, humble.

VI. A real penitent brings nothing to God, but his want, shame, and sorrow.

VII. A true penitent executes his resolutions of obedience.

VIII. God is entirely disposed to receive the sincere penitent.

IX. The richest provision is made for the enjoyment of the sincere penitent.

X. There is a peculiar joy in heaven over the repentance of returning sinners. (T. Dwight, D. D.)

Bitterness of prodigal sin

I. THE PRODIGAL’S SIN. Dissatisfaction. Alienation. Estrangement.

II. THE PRODIGAL’S MISERY. Sooner or later every sinner must be taught that to be estranged from God is to be estranged from happiness.

III. THE PRODIGAL’S REPENTANCE AND RETURN.

1. Sanity returns.

2. Comparison of the present with the past.

3. Resolution to return. His condition has conquered his pride.

4. Confession.

5. Action.

IV. THE RETURNING PRODIGAL’S RECEPTION.

1. The Father’s advance.

2. Acknowledgment of sin and unworthiness.

3. Honour and dignity.

4. Festivity and rejoicing. (J. H. Thomson, M. A.)

Sin and its consequences

I. THE PRODIGAL’S SIN.

1. Alienation of affection. There was the root of his rebellion. His heart had wandered from its early tenderness, and had become warped, by yielding to a sinful lust of freedom, from its filial love. From this alienated heart, in natural sequence, flowed his after disobedience and sin. With the heart thus alienated, you can the more readily explain the prodigal’s impatience of restraint, hankering after present licence of enjoyment, and departure from the house of his father. All these followed as the natural consequences of estranged affection. A yoke that is felt must always be galling; an enforced servitude stirs up within the man all latent feelings of rebellion. Hence, when the principle of filial love was gone, the restraint of the home became irksome, the desire for independence grew into a passion, and then followed the project of the journey into a far country, and of the uncontrolled rioting in the portion of goods.

II. THE CONSEQUENCES OF SIN. It were to defeat our own purpose to affirm that there are no pleasures in sin. The world would never continue in its ways if it reaped no gratification. There is, doubtless, something congenial to the wayward heart in the objects of its fond pursuit, and there is often thrown a blinding charm about the man, beneath whose spell unholy he fancies every Hecate a Ganymede, and dallies with deformity which he mistakes for beauty; but our point is this, that in every course of transgression, in every departure of the human spirit from God, there is debasement in the process, and there is ruin in the inevitable end.

1. Homelessness.

2. Waste and degradation.

3. Abandonment and famine. (W. M. Punshon, LL. D.)

The prodigal son

1. The fact that we are sinners is no reason why we should stay away from our God.

2. We do not require to work some good thing in us before God can love us. The sinner may come to God just as he is, through Jesus Christ. The parable firsts represents man in his departure from God. The son was at home, surrounded with all the comforts of home, and secure in the affection of his father; but he became dissatisfied, and wished to depart and be independent. How like to man’s conduct towards his God I There have been vast efforts of learning and of metaphysical skill put forth to account for the origin of evil, but we will find nowhere a better explanation than that furnished by God Himself: “God made man upright, but he hath sought out many inventions.” When the prodigal had apostatized in heart from his father, he then went and demanded his portion of goods. He is going to set up for himself, and demands his rights. As has been observed, his demand sounds as if he had been consulting his lawyer, and was particularly anxious to put his claim into strictly legal phraseology. The father made no opposition, but let him have his portion of goods. He saw that his heart was gone, and why should he retain his body? God has given to us a portion of goods. It is those things which men possess in common, irrespective of their character. When, however, man takes these gifts and seeks to employ them independent of God, and even against God, he plunges into fearful guilt and misery. What is meant by the prodigal son going into a far country? It is doubtless intended to represent the spiritual distance of the soul from God while in a state of unbelief. Our consciousness of sin makes us dread to think of God, and that dread ripens into absolute enmity--“The carnal mind is enmity against God.” When in this state of mind men put all thought of God as far away from them as they can. As you have seen a man bow a disagreeable visitor out of his house, so men put God far from them, saying, “Depart from us, we desire not a knowledge of Thy ways.” Oh! into what a far country has the sinner wandered when he has reached this state! And the longer he continues in it the wider becomes the distance between him and God, till at last he drifts into the dark sea of eternal death. When the prodigal got into the far country we are told that he began to be in want. This was a sad termination to his high prospects of enjoyment. Doubtless he thought that if he could only be once independent, and get away from all parental control, his wants would all be supplied. But now his trouble is only beginning. Lie has reached the far-off land of hope and promise, where all his desires were to be gratified, but he finds instead that there is a “mighty famine in that land.” Thus end all men’s attempts to be happy away from God. And the sooner we become convinced of this the better, that we may no longer fill our souls with disappointment and grief, by seeking happiness where it cannot possibly be found; for except those who have found peace in Christ, the whole race in the scramble after the world may be classed under two heads--those who have been disappointed with the world, and those who are going to be. In this state of famine and distress the prodigal “joined himself to a citizen of the country.” We would have supposed that his sufferings, his bitter disappointments, his pinching wants, would have sent him home at once. But no--man’s last resource is to go to God. When he fails in one worldly project, he turns to another; and as each new plan fails to give him the satisfaction he expected, he concludes that the reason is that he has not yet got enough of the world, and so with new vigour he takes a fresh start. Man thinks that his happiness is to be found without, when it is only to be found within. There can no more be happiness in a foul heart, than there can be ease and comfort in a diseased body. This last change of the prodigal, accordingly, did not mend his condition at all; on the contrary, it sank him into a deeper degradation. At last the prodigal begins to think. “He came to himself.” Before this he had been acting like one whose wild imagination has broken the bridle of reason, and dashes furiously on to destruction. It was such a display of headlong passion as reminds one of “moody madness laughing wild and severer woe.” The expressions “self-possessed,” “beside one’s self,” “losing one’s self,” are all very common and significant, and shadow forth the great truth that man’s nature, made by God harmonious and united, has been rent in two. His soul has become a battle-field where two eternities conflict. Conscience pulls one way--passion another. The symptom of man coming to his right mind is when he begins to reflect. “In my father’s house there is bread enough and to spare.” He thought of one heart that once loved him tenderly, of a loving home that once sheltered him, and as he reflected upon the past and contrasted it with the present, his soul broke down in contrition, and then came the resolve, “I will arise and go to my father.” A great point is gained when the sinner is led to think of eternal things. Whatever it may be that leads to this, whether it be under the faithful preaching of the word or the afflictions of Providence, if he is only led to reflect upon his lost condition it will surely do him good. No man can honestly and earnestly take up the claims of God upon him and his prospects for eternity, and look them fairly in the face, without being led to feel his need of a Saviour. Sinners rush down to destruction because they will not consider. The prodigal had now come to the resolution of going to his father, but his mind was full of dark misconceptions about that father’s character and his feelings towards him. He knew that his father once loved him; but that he loved him now, that he had loved him all along in his wicked wanderings, was something of which he could form no conception. He knew that he had wasted his all, and that he had therefore no price to bring in his baud with which to purchase his father’s love; but still he felt as if something must be done to turn away the anger which he thought burned in his father’s bosom against him. How hard it is to lead the sinner to think of the gospel as God’s free, full welcome to him to come just as he is and be saved! Oh how little did the prodigal know of the depth of that love he had so long despised and grieved! In the meantime the father sees his long-lost son, while he is yet afar off. The eye of affection is quick to detect its object under any and every disguise, and love is quick in its motions. He runs to meet the long-lost one. Oh, how different is this from what he expected! How all his unbelieving doubts and his misconceptions of his father’s true character are dispelled by the gracious reception he now receives! and how vile his former conduct now appears in the light of his father’s love! The very love that gives him such a hearty reception at the same time produces true repentance on account of the past, and plants in his soul the principle of a true obedience in the future. Sinner, this is a picture of the God with whom you have to do. He has followed you in your wanderings with ten thousand proofs of His love, though you have not heeded them. And even now He loves you still. (J. R. Boyd.)

A moving story

When in England, on one occasion, I heard of a city missionary in London who always was in the habit of reading this scriptural story, if at any time he gained access to the roughs of the metropolis--“A certain man had two sons!” By this interesting exordium their attention was immediately aroused. On one occasion he was interrupted by the running remarks of an impulsive youth, one of the reckless London thieves, who had evidently never heard the story before. When he read the younger son’s request “for the portion of goods that fell to him,” his astonished hearer interpolated, “Cool that--rather cool!” When he came to the story of his subsequent degradation and want, “Served him right,” was the ejaculation. But when he heard the account of the prodigal’s reception by his father, the impressed and delighted listener exclaimed, as the tears rolled down his cheeks, “Oh, what a good old cove!”--and even before the missionary had time to explain the parable, that “chief of sinners” seemed to have applied it in his own mind to the forgiving mercy of God. At the close of the service he waited on the missionary, and preferred to him this strange request: “Will you come and read that ere account o’ the kind old cove to some fellows I know, that would get summat o’ good from it like me?” When the missionary expressed his readiness to go, the only stipulation added was, that “he would bring no bobbies (policemen), for the bobbies knew them all.” Down in a den in the depths of London that missionary read that parable; and of a truth its Divine Author smiled upon him as he did so, for he recognized that, as of old, “publicans and sinners” had drawn near “to hear him.” When Dr. Chalmers first preached the annual missionary sermon in Surrey Chapel, London, Rowland Hill sat in the front of the gallery, all anxiety and expectation; for it was he who had spread his fame in the metropolis, and had persuaded the immense array of ministers to come together to hear the celebrated North-man. Similar was the relation which subsisted between the thief and the missionary in this instance, although otherwise the circumstances were very different. “This is the gemman wot has come to read us the story of the bad lad and the kind old cove wet I were telling ye off. It’s a regular stunner. Jim, assume the perpendicular, and give the gemman the seat” (for there was only one chair, or rather stool, in the dreary apartment). Thus introduced and recommended, the missionary began: “A certain man had two sons,” etc. As the narrative proceeded, verse by verse, he who had raised the expectations of the company so high, kept exclaiming, “Did ye ever hear the like o’ that? Bill, wasn’t I right? Isn’t it a regular stunner?” But when the reader reached the account of the embrace and the kiss, the marks of approbation from all the auditors, to whom also it was quite new, were so loud that he was compelled to stop. “But wait till ye hear what the old fellow did for him!” was the last whetting exclamation of his patron. And when they heard of the robe and the ring, and the rejoicing, they all rejoiced together; for they seemed by a kind of Pentecostal intuition to conclude that even so would the God of the Bible treat them. (F. Ferguson, D. D.)

The Fatherland

Of all God’s cords the finest, and perhaps the strongest, is the cord of love. Quitting his native chimney, among the canals and grassy fields of Holland, the stork pursues the retiring summer, and soon overtakes it in Nubia or Morocco. There, quite unconscious of the fetter beneath his wing, he revels on the snakes of Taurus or the frogs of Nile: till at last, on a brilliant May morning, there is a sharp tug, and then a long steady pull, and high overhead float the broad pinions, and presently in the streets of Haarlem the boys look up, and shout their welcome, as, with eager haste and noisy outcry, an old acquaintance drops down upon the gable, and, drawn back to the old anchorage by a hawser of a thousand miles, the feathery sails are once more furled. Like instinct over a generation’s interval brings back the exile to his Highland glen. It matters not that in the soft Bermudas life is luxury; it is of no avail that in this Canadian clearing a rosy household has sprung up and in proud affection clings around him; towards the haunts of his childhood there is a strange deep-hidden yearning which often sends absent looks towards northern stars, and ends at last in the actual pilgrimage. And although by the time of his return he finds that no money can buy back the ancestral abode; although, as he crosses the familiar bill and opens the sunny strath, strange solitude meets him; although when he comes up, the hamlet is roofless and silent, and the bonny beild, the nest of his boyhood, a ruin; although behind the cold hearth rank nettles wave, and from the calm covering the spot where in the mornings of another world he waked up so cosily, young weasels peep forth; although the plane is cut down, or the bourtree, under whose sabbatic shadow his father used at eventide to meditate; although where the vision dissolves a pang must remain, there is no need that he should go back, bleak and embittered, as to a disenchanted world. This glut of reality was wanted to quench a long fever: but even here, if his own heart is true, he will find that God’s cord is not broken. Cottages dissolve and family circles scatter, but piety and love cannot perish. The cord is not broken; it is only the mooring-post which a friendly hand has moved farther inland, and fixed sure and steadfast within the veil; and as the strain which used to pull along the level is now drawing upward, the home which memory used to picture in the Highlands, faith learns to seek in heaven. The true home of humanity is God--God trusted, communed with, beloved, obeyed; and,

“Not in entire forgetfulness,

And not in utter nakedness,”

do we come “from God, who is our home,” but “trailing clouds of glory with us.” Alloyed and interrupted by much that is base and wicked, there are in human nature still touches of tenderness, gleams of good feeling, noble impulses, momentary visitations of a natural piety, brought away from that better time and its blest abode, and which may be regarded as electric thrills along the line which connects with its Creator a fallen but redeemed humanity: as so many gentle checks of that golden chain which will one day bring back God’s banished, and see the world “all righteous.” The head of the great household is God, and the earthly home He has constituted so as to be an image of His own paternity. That home is founded in love, and in administering it love is called forth every day--often a pitying, for bearing, forgiving love--a love sometimes severe and frowning, often self-denying, it may chance self-sacrificing. As the world now is--a ruin, with a remedial scheme in the midst of it--that home is the nearest image of the Church, and should be the most efficient fellow-worker with it. “In the family the first man himself would receive lessons on self-government such as even the garden of Eden did not supply, and perpetual occasion for its exercise. In what a variety of ways would he learn to repeat to his children the substance of the Divine prohibition to himself--‘Thou shalt not eat of it.’ How soon would he who had had Paradise for a home discover that if he would convert home into a paradise he must guard his offspring at this point, subordinating their lower propensities to their superior powers.” If presided over by those who themselves fear God--and otherwise no house is a home--there will be something sacred in its atmosphere, and alike enforced by affection and authority the lessons of heavenly wisdom will sink deep; and with a sufficient probation superadded to a careful protection, it is to be hoped that, before transplantation into the world’s rough weather, good dispositions may have been so far confirmed as only to strengthen by further trial. 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. That love is yours already--an up-leaping, uplooking affection, if you do not destroy its tenderness by perpetual rebuffs, if you do not forfeit reverence by being yourself unworthy of it. “Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath”; be not always scolding, reproving, punishing; “but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Take advantage of their affection for yourself, and use it as the appointed medium for drawing them into the love of God. Train up the child in the way he should go. If he is not to go in the way of low pastime and coarse indulgence, point him to higher joys; open to him the well-spring of knowledge; try to ascertain and develop a turn for some ennobling pursuit, or create a taste for the treasures bequeathed by genius. After all, however, there is another influence which goes farther in creating the home. It is mother-love which endears the fatherland, and it is to the cradle that the fairy-line is fastened which even in the far country holds so mysteriously the heart of the wanderer. When Napoleon, with his army of invasion, lay at Boulogne, an English sailor who had been captured tried to escape in a little raft or skiff which he had patched together with bits of wood and the bark of trees. Hearing of his attempt, the First Consul ordered him to be brought into his presence, and asked if he really meant to cross the channel in such a crazy contrivance. “Yes, and if you will let me, I am still willing to try.” “You must have a sweetheart whom you are so anxious to revisit.” “No,” said the young man, “I only wish to see my mother, who is old and infirm.” “And you shall see her,” was the reply, “and take to her this money from me; for she must be a good mother who has such an affectionate son.” And orders were given to send the sailor with a flag of truce on board the first British cruiser which came near enough. Napoleon was always eager to declare his own obligations to his high-spirited and courageous mother, the beautiful Letizia Ramolini; but the difficulty would be to find any man of mark who has not made the same avowal. (James Hamilton, D. D.)

Give me the portion of goods that falleth to me

Impiety urging unjust demands

Here was--

1. A disregard of most sacred obligations. This young man was bound by the most sacred obligations to manifest ever a spirit of gratitude to his father--ever practically show that he recognized the immense obligation under which he was laid by the never-ending kindnesses of that father. But instead thereof, we find rebellion against home restraints, and discontent with a father’s rule and with home blessings. He resolved to leave the weary monotony of home for the variety and pleasure of distant scenes; and not caring for the injustice of the demand, would be free and unfettered; he would wander away as he pleased, and do whatever he listed; and gathering up his ingratitude, his selfishness, and his rebellion in one act of shameless courage, he said to his father, “Give me the portion of goods that falleth to me.” Ask yourselves whether you do not act thus with God. Is it a fact that you are happy in the smiles of God, or is it true that you try to shun Him and His laws? Is it a fact that you have placed yourself in His hands, and are trusting to His Fatherly love to guide you aright; or, is it true that you place no sincere dependence in God to guide you, but are trusting to yourself-your own energy and wisdom--for all you want? By these simple rules you may easily know your state; and I pray you, as you value your soul’s interest, know the truth at once. Here was--

2. A wrong standard of manhood. He imagined that whilst at home he was in leading strings, was a child, and would never be a man. To be a man, he thought he must break loose from the trammels of home, and walk out freed from all restraint. To be a man, he thought he must be his own master, and be responsible to no one. To be a man, he thought he must command his time and his purse, and satisfy the inquisitiveness of none. We know he was a fool, and knew nothing rightly: that he would have been a thousand times more of a man if he had ordered his life by a just and righteous law, if he had respected Divine and social obligations, and ii he had paid deference to the wisdom and experience of those who knew the world and would have given him sound and wholesome advice. Licence is not liberty. Rioting is not happiness. Extravagance, carelessness, and sensuality are not manliness. To be a man, you must be a gentleman; and every true gentleman pays respect to law; to the laws of social life as well as to the laws of the State; to the laws of God as well as to the laws of man. Here was--

3. A manifestation of the most intense selfishness. He well knew the grief and pain which he caused his father. He knew also the difference it would make to home comforts if he took away a share of the family estate. But he cared not for that. He would do as he pleased, regardless of all others’ claims and feelings. Selfishness is the most unfeeling passion in the human breast. This is just the spirit of the world. Its unceasing cry is, “Give me.” No matter what it costs; no matter what hearts break; no matter what misery is caused; no matter who lacks--“Give me.” In the temple of Mammon from every shrine there ascends the ceaseless litany, not “Grant me in mercy Thy favours,” but “Give me my claims.” From every unhumbled heart there ascends the constant petition, sharpened in the intensity of its appeal by the very benevolence of God’s character, “Give me.” (W. G. Pascoe.)

The younger son and his demand

The young man brought before us in this story is just the sort of person whom the world would describe as a thoroughly sensible fellow. I feel sure that such a man in our own day would be thus described by his companions. He showed his sense just in the way in which men of the world show theirs now. Let us regard him for a few moments from this point of view. The first thing that this sensible man does is to feel dissatisfied within himself at the condition of dependence in which he is introduced to us. The father seems to have been in comfortable circumstances-perhaps in affluence. The young man has never been begrudged anything; all his wants have been supplied as fast as they have arisen. But then his position was one of dependence, and it was that that made things so far from agreeable. It was not his father’s way to bestow his wealth upon his children, so that they might possess an independent property, but to supply their reasonable wants as fast as they occurred, and it was against this state of things that the young man’s will began to rebel. “Why should not I be like other fellows? What a humiliating thing it is that I should be treated like a grown up child! If I had my own fortune to do what I liked with, I should very soon be able to show this father of mine what the use of money is, and how it should be spent.” The father does not refuse: he will not keep his son in a state of compulsory dependence upon him. There and then “he divides unto them his living.” Observe, he “divides his living” between both his sons. It does not say that he gave half to the younger son and kept the other half himself, but “he divided unto them his living.” What became of the elder son’s portion? Where did he invest it? How did he employ it? We find that long years afterwards his elder sot, says, “Thou never gavest me a kid that I might make merry with my friends.” Ah! the elder brother had the wisdom to give back what was his. No sooner was his portion of goods assigned to him than he put it back again in safekeeping. I can fancy him saying to his father, “I do not want my portion, I am quite happy, I have all I want.” In a moment of discontent, at a later period, he allows himself to speak hardly of his father’s treatment, but this eldest son understood his father on the whole, although for a moment he might be unfaithful to the consciousness of the benefits of his position: and so he had the wisdom to give back what his father had given to him. But the younger son was a far more sensible fellow than that. So soon as he gets his money, he makes up his mind to spend it according to his own heart’s desire. So the second thing this particularly sensible young man does is to make up his mind that the restraints of home are positively intolerable. He cannot go on in this droning way any longer; he must see something of the world; life is hardly worth having under such conditions; he must break away from the restraints of the paternal roof, turn his back upon old associations, and go forth and enjoy himself: he has had enough of this hum-drum, tedious life; so, like a very sensible young man, he leaves his father’s home, and goes forth into a distant land. I can fancy it cost him something at the moment. Nobody ever goes to hell without meeting with difficulties in the way. As he looked into his father’s face and saw the tear rising in the old man’s eye--as he took a long last look at the dear old home where he had spent somany happy and innocent years, I can fancy it cost him something. A better instinct would sometimes assert itself within his nature. “Have you not been happy? Those sunny hours of childhood, what could have been more pleasant? If you have been unhappy it has been your own fault. Your brother is a happy man; why should not you have been?” But the lower instinct prevailed; his downright good common-sense was stronger than anything else: so that this thoroughly sensible man makes up his mind to turn his back upon his father’s house, and into a distant land he goes. Now what was the next step that this “sensible fellow” took? When he had asserted his independence and had got away from his father, and the restraints of home, he began to enjoy himself. Surely he showed his sense in that! How does he enjoy himself? He “wasted his substance in riotous living.” That does not sound very sensible just at first; but there are plenty of young men who show their good sense by pursuing the same course. “Oh,” you say, “we do not approve of fellows being spendthrifts:” yet you approve of men spending something that is far more precious than money. How have you been spending your time? What have you to show for it? How have you been spending your influence? Every one of you might have been using it for eternity, and already there might have been a crown of glory laid up as the result of well-used influence. What has become of it? How have you been spending your money? for we may as well speak of that too. Some of you have been scattering it to the winds; others hoarding it up in the bank; some, laying it out in business speculations, and the very gold which you might have so used as to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” has become the curse of your life. How does it appear in God’s sight? Wasted!--that substance of yours squandered, because it has never been turned to any really good purpose. What was the next thing that this “sensible” young man did? He formed a great ninny gay acquaintances. I do not think there is a young man in this congregation that lives for the world, but will agree that he was on the whole a “sensible man” in doing that. It is just what you do. How many a young man there is who is kept back from doing what he knows is right because he has formed so many acquaintances, and is surrounded by the influence of his companions. He would like to be different, but then he cannot shake off their influence; they keep him spell-bound. How sensible you are to let those friends of yours do the very worst that your worst enemy could desire to do for you! Do you think that is “sensible”? What was the next thing that this “sensible” young man did? When his pleasures had all failed him, when his roses had become thorns, then he began to be sober, and like many sober people, he began to look about for employment. He finds it rather difficult to obtain any employment that suits him, but employment he must have. Oh! how like many of our worldly prodigals! When they have spent their youth in following one wild excitement after another--in poor, empty, idle hilarity and futile mirth--when manhood comes on with all its grave cares, they begin to occupy their minds with business. The mighty famine has begun to assert itself; the man is beginning to find the emptiness of the pleasures which he has lived for; he can no longer enjoy them; the capacity of enjoyment is beginning to pass away from him; and now he plunges into business; he becomes a slave of daily routine, it may be; his mind is taken up with a thousand occupations; he begins to work hard, and all to satisfy the moral hunger of his nature. He gives himself up to money-making, yet that does not satisfy, but he thinks it will. He flies to speculation: that excites, but does not satisfy--he hopes it will. He betakes himself to domestic occupation, the joys or the cares of family life, and he hopes to find satisfaction there, yet he does not. Is not the man a sensible being? The mighty famine becomes more and more insupportable, and the want becomes more and more appalling. Our young friend sits solitary in the field; cannot you see him? His clothes are torn into rags, his eyes are sunken in their sockets, his cheeks are hollow, his lips are parched and cracked; he looks like the very effigy of famine itself. The swine are feeding around him; he is gnawing at the very husks which the swine eat. “And no man gave unto him.” What, no man? No man. Of all his former friends, of those who had stood by him so faithfully as long as he had money to spend and luxuries to offer, what! no man? Not that boon companion, not that friend who only a few weeks ago swore that he would stand by him through thick and thin? No man? Nay, the last crust has been devoured. There he sits famine-stricken, solitary, the preying of hunger in his body, far more the prey of remorse in his scull There he sits. Poor “sensible” man! That is what his common-sense has brought him to. At this moment a change takes place. Holy Scripture describes it as a change from insanity to sanity. He ceases to be a lunatic, and he begins to be himself. “He came to himself.” It passes from him like a horrible dream, that strange delirium of the life which he had been leading since he left his father’s home, with all its transient circumstances, its fleeting joys, its gaudy decorations, the poor, empty bubbles that have broken in his grasp--it has all passed from him like a horrible dream. He starts, as from a nightmare. Cannot you see him as he springs from the ground, with a sudden light beaming upon his countenance, his face turned toward the home of his infancy? “What a fool I have been! My whole life has been one great mistake. From beginning to end, I have just been adding error to error as well as sin to sin. I have thrown away health, and affluence, and comfort, and respectability, and peace of mind, and innocency, and reputation, everything worth having--I have lost it all! And here I am, a wreck of a man; all real pleasure gone out of my life; stricken down by the fatal pestilence of sin, shrivelled up by the miserable famine which reigns within my nature. What a fool I am!” Oh, happy they who come to this conclusion before it is too late! (W. M. Hay Aitken, M. A.)

The younger and elder sons; or, differences of character in the same family

Those who belong to the same family, and have enjoyed the same opportunities, often turn out very differently. One proves a comfort, another a grief, to his parents; for “a wise son maketh a glad father, but a foolish one is the heaviness of his mother.” Grace runs not in families; for, in this respect, a house is often divided. God takes “one of a city, and two of a family, and brings them to Zion.” Jacob and Esau were twin brothers; yet Jacob was a man of prayer, and, as a prince, had power with God and men, and prevailed; while Esau was a profane man, and sold his birthright for a mess of pottage. Some children become even exceedingly profligate, while others are quite steady; and among those who are steady there is much diversity, some being merely decent and inoffensive, while others are eminently dutiful and kind. So, in the case supposed in this parable, the two sons are represented as being of very opposite habits. (James Foote, M. A.)

Eastern law of inheritance

There are some who consider this demand so strange, and the father’s compliance with it, abused as the compliance was likely to be, so much stranger still, that the supposition can only appear natural when there is taken into view the custom which prevailed in Eastern countries of children claiming their share of their father’s property during his lifetime, which, it appears, they were legally entitled to do, and with which demand, of course, the father could not refuse to comply. The intention of this law was to protect children against harsh usage from their parents; but it was certainly very liable to abuse. The son might be unreasonable in his demand, “yet the demand must first be acceded to before the matter could be legally inquired into; and then, if it was found that the father was irreproachable in his character, and had given no just cause for the son to separate from him, in that case the civil magistrate fined the son.” Others, however, are of opinion that, though the Mosaic law provided against improper partialities and dislikes on the part of a father when disposing of his property, there is not sufficient ground for affirming that it vested any such right in children during the life of their parents; and they therefore look on the compliance of the father, here supposed, as an instance of singular generosity, which rendered the undutiful departure and conduct of his son peculiarly base. When the father assigned his portion to the younger son, he, at the same time, assigned his portion to the elder, who, according to the Jewish law, would receive a double portion. The words of the parable are, “He divided unto them his substance.” In doing so he may be supposed to have reserved what was merely sufficient for himself. (James Foote, M. A.)

Give me my portion

“Give me the portion of goods that falleth to me.” The young man seems to say, “My youth is my own, and all that it brings within my reach. Why should you fetter me with restraints, or impose upon me an unfriendly yoke? It is enjoyment that makes life worth having, and self-gratification means enjoyment. Let me have my liberty, and do exactly what I please. Why have to weigh each particular action, and turn away from pleasures that attract me because they are supposed to be wrong? Religion means giving up everything I like, and submitting to things that I don’t like; it means all that is tedious and irksome. I prefer to be my own. Give me my portion of goods--the sunny hours of youth; they are mine, and I will do with them as I please.” “Give me my portion of goods,” says that child of fashion. “Youth and beauty, and attractive manners, and wit and popularity, and the faculty of winning admiration and even affection--they are all alike mine, and I intend to get all I can out of them. Why shouldn’t I? If I were to listen to the claims of religion, I should have to stop and think before I allowed myself to enjoy anything; and conscience might be troublesome, and I might be checked and worried by all sorts of straight-laced notions, and thus I might leave the flowers of life unplucked and the fruit of the garden ungathered. Give me the portion of goods that falleth to me.” And it is not only the young and the heedless that urge the request. Would that we grew wiser as we grow older! “Give me my portion,” the man of the world seems to say. “Money, and all that it will buy--power and popularity, and success and social position, the excitements of commerce, the gratification of political or social ambition--these are my portion. If I were to become religious, who knows howmy course of life might have to be changed and modified? Indeed, I might have to alter its whole aim and purpose, and impose upon myself all sorts of obligations which I pay no heed to now. My money is mine; why shouldn’t I use it as I please? My time is mine; why should I not spend it as I like? My faculties and talents are my own; why should I not employ them for my own gratification?” “Give me my portion of goods,” exclaims the woman of the world. “My children are my own, and I will train them up in the way wherein I wish they should go. I will, if I please, educate them in vanity, and train them to ‘shine in society,’ so that my motherly pride may be gratified. My house is my own; it shall be the home of luxury and the temple of domestic pleasure. I will order it as i will, but there shall be no place there for Him who was welcomed of old at Bethany. Jesus Christ might prove a troublesome guest, and dispute my supreme authority, if He once were welcomed there. It is my own home, and I will do with it as I please.” Thus it is that men and women still claim their portion of goods. And God looks on, and sees them take His gifts without even the word of thanks which no doubt fell from the lips of the prodigal, and find in these His gifts a reason for turning their backs upon the Giver; and yet He does not interfere any more than this father did. Wilful man must have his own way, until at last, in bitter grief and anguish, either here or hereafter, he reaps the fruit of it, and finds that “there is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” (W. M. Hay Aitken, M. A.)

God allows man to use his independence

It is surely worthy of notice that the father makes no sort of difficulty of compliance with his request. We do not even hear of a word of expostulation on his part. And this may teach us that when we elect to break away from our proper relations with God, and to assert our own independence, or fancied independence, of Him, we are free to do so. God does not constrain our will by the assertion of His superior power. If me are determined to turn our backs on Him, and break away from His control, we can do it, and He won’t hinder us, however much it may cut Him to the heart that we should wish to adopt such a course. I see a look of sadness pass over that venerable face, but that is the only outward sign of the sorrow and disappointment that fill the father’s heart. He calls both his sons into his presence, and there and then he divides his whole fortune between them, and the discontented boy finds himself possessed of all he desired, and of more than all that tie had dared to hope for. At last he is his own master, and can take his own coulee, and do just as he pleases. His eyes glisten, his heart bounds; but in the midst of his wild, hilarious excitement that sorrowful look on his father’s face must ever and again, methinks, have risen on his memory. Do you think, after all, he was really happy? Was there not already a bitter drop in his cup? He had gained his fortune, but how much had it cost! (W. M. Hay Aitken, M. A.)

The discontented son gets his wish

The father might have refused. It was a grave step, but he sees that it springs from no sudden impulse. He had marked with anxious looks the unmistakable dissatisfaction of his younger son. The warmth of that once loving heart has gradually died away into a spirit of cold, sullen, settled discontent. This had not escaped the father’s eyes. Even the flimsy appearance of propriety, he foresees, must soon give way to some outbreak of avowed rebellion; so that now it is no use remonstrating--the time for that is gone by. Things are come to such a crisis that he has all but thrown off the yoke. “Well,” thought he, “be it so, since it must be. Better let him have his own way; better to let him follow out his own plans. He little thinks what this step will lead him to. Experience, perhaps, may teach him, by some bitter fruits, the sin, and folly, and ingratitude of all this.” “He divided to them his living.” This is God’s method with sinners. If they do not like to retain God in their knowledge, and set their heart upon their iniquities, bursting the bonds of conscience, and trampling on the warnings and precepts of His Word--ii they have loved idols, and after idols they will go--be it so. God will not contend for ever. He gives them up to their own hearts’ desire, and leaves them to be filled with their own devices. But it is a tremendous chastisement. It is the scourging with scorpions, and not with whips. Oh, better to hear any of those terrible threatenings that God thunders against sin and sinners, whereby, peradventure, they may be warned and turn. But no sentence is so terrible as that which silently leaves the sinner to himself. (W. B. Mackenzie, M. A.)

God does not deny foolish, inexperienced man his wish

The latter is a free agent, and must needs be treated as such. If he will have the management of his own affairs, why he must just have it. Doubtless there would be many unreported conversations between the father and the youth before he consented to give him his portion. He would often lay his hand affectionately on his son’s shoulder and remonstrate with him. He would beseech him to remain at home and keep him company. Perhaps he would say, “Now that your mother is dead and gone, my heart doats upon you; for you resemble her much.” But no; the selfish youth would have his own portion, and set up a separate establishment. In like manner, if men will set up and set off for themselves, the Lord does not absolutely deny them their wish, although He yields reluctantly and after long expostulation. And the Divine Spirit still mournfully hovers near, saying, “Turn ye, turn ye; for why will ye die?” (F. Ferguson, D. D.)

The divided living

“He divided unto them his living”--literally “his life.” That is what the heavenly Father has done. He has given His darling--the apple of His eye--His only begotten Son--His life. He has putHim down into the midst between the two classes of characters. The one thief rails, the other adores; the one son loves, the other rejects. But let us beware, for “this Child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel.” The great question of the judgment day will be, “How did you treat My life, whom I gave you as your portion?” Yes, every man has a portion from God. The humblest artizan has a portion. The poorest factory-girl has a rich dowry. Jesus is her portion. Your birthright, my reader, is eternal life in Him. But see that you sell it not, like Esau, for a mess of pottage. See that the intoxicating cup, or the pleasures of the world, do not rob you of immortal bliss. (F. Ferguson, D. D.)

Took his journey into a far country

Departure from home

Momentous is the occurrence, if not always sad, of a young man first leaving home. He launches his barque on life’s rough sea, and will he safely ride over the waters? will he avoid the quicksands of temptation? will he steer clear of the rocks of vicious indulgence? will he, guided by the heavenly Pilot, reach the port of heaven in safety? These are problems that the future alone will solve. Observe here--

I. IMPIETY OBTAINING UNJUST DEMANDS. We are not aware that the father made any great opposition to those demands. Perhaps he had reasoned with him so many times before, with no success, that he had grown tired. Perhaps he plainly saw that his son’s heart was gone from home, and he felt by no means anxious to retain a heartless boy. And with a heaving breast, though but few words, proceeded to divide unto each his living. The young man thus obtained his desire.

1. Man can generally get what he strives for. If a diligent, persevering, careful man sets his heart upon establishing a business, he can generally succeed. In such cases the prizes are far more common than the blanks. More than that; if a man sets his heart in obtaining any particular object, that object can generally be had. Energy, whether in a bad or a good cause, will mostly be crowned with success. This is a terrible view to take of those who live only for the things of time. One of the most terrific sentences that ever dropped from the Saviour’s lips illustrates this sentiment. Speaking of the Pharisees and their motives for fasting, praying, and giving alms: “Verily,” He says, “I say unto you, they have their reward.” Not “they shall have,” but “they have.” They do these things to be seen of men, and to have applause of men. That is the height of their ambition, and to that they attain.

2. A tremendous power this is in man. He can choose his own path, and walk in the way that he has marked out. Like the father of the prodigal, God will not hinder him from doing as he pleases. He did not in paradise; He left Adam free and unfettered in action. In like manner, when the Israelites cried out for flesh, and mourned for the flesh-pots of Egypt, God heard their cry, and brought them quails in abundance; but the object of their desire became the rod of their punishment. And God through all the ages has acted in like manner.

3. This power of choice in man will at once suggest his responsibility. Be assured that “Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap.” I have read of a man who, wandering along a rocky shore at ebb of the tide, saw a lobster under a rock, and thinking he could gain a prize for his supper, put in his hand to lay hold of its claw. Instead of laying hold of the lobster, the lobster laid hold of him, and he was shortly horrified at finding that what he meant to be his captive was his too sure captor. All the strength that he could exert could not draw away his hand from the lobster’s pinch. Above him from rock and ledge hung shells and seaweed, sure signs that if he remained there long the waves, rising inch by inch, would sweep completely over his head. The waters began to rise; they reached his hand. In the agony of despair he summoned every particle of remaining strength to get the imprisoned limb free, but all in vain. Higher and yet higher rose the waves, and his last dying shriek was lost in the roar of a breaker that spent its fury on the rocks around him. You pity him, do you not? But what would you say if told that he had deliberately fastened himself to a rock at ebb of the tide, and then waited for the waves to wash his life away? If you pity the one, you would be horrified at the other. But it is only a too true representation of the man who lives without God.

II. IMPIETY BREAKING LOOSE FROM HOME RESTRAINTS. “And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country.” “When the Emperor Decimus desired to place the crown upon the head of Decius his son, the young prince refused in the most strenuous manner, saying, “I am afraid lest, being an emperor, I should forget that I am a son; I had rather be no emperor and a dutiful son than an emperor and such a son as hath forgotten his true obedience.” What a contrast was that to the case of the prodigal! Not only did he demand his share of the goods, but he added insult to injury by refusing any longer to be bound by the ties of home. This was the natural result of his unnatural demand. As to locality, we cannot depart from God. He fills heaven and earth. Yet morally and spiritually man may forsake God. If God is banished from the thoughts, He is forsaken. You may be surrounded with the light of the sun, but although it is noonday, if you persist in closing your eyes, it is the same to you as though there were no sun. And if you persist in banishing God from your thoughts, it is the same to you as though there were no God. (W. G. Pascoe.)

The prodigal’s departure

There is a picture of Vernet’s which brings out with extraordinary power his character of selfish unconcern for the feelings of his father. It represents the courtyard of an Eastern house, in which he is taking leave. The mother is leaning, in the depths of distress, against the side of the door, the father is bending towards him with a countenance full of yearning affection and grief, as if his heart would break; a leading domestic, perhaps “the steward of the house,” clenches his hands as unable to restrain his feelings of indignation, astonishment, and shame at his cool indifference as he turns away from his father’s embrace to a groom who is holding a high-mettled and richly-caparisoned steed, so that lie may mount it at once and take his departure. Altogether it is a dreadful picture; but it may have been, and no doubt was, far below the reality of a multitude of such scenes, vividly present to the all-comprehending mind of the Divine Speaker. (M. F. Sadler.)

Moral declension

These words have had infinite applications; every one, perhaps, who has heard them, has applied them in many different ways. No one need contradict the other; those who have learnt the meaning from their own experience have understood it best. How the sense of an eternal home, of a father’s house, is awake in childhood; how it dies out as the youth begins to gather all together--to make a world for himself; how he travels further and further from the remembrance of home; how the Divine treasures of affection, hope, intellect, health, become dissipated; how he loses himself in the intoxications of the senses; here you have a story which is repeated again and again, and always finds mournful facts in us and in our fellows to illustrate and enforce it. And so the records of Gentile mythology and Gentile history explain themselves to us. We see what the cause of moral declension in the nations of the old world was; how the feeling of the invisible lost itself in visible worship; how the sense of unity broke into a number of objects of terror or of beauty; how the fear of a destroyer struggled with the hope of a deliverer; how the first overpowered the second; how the belief in justice contended with the dread of a Power which could overpower justice; how the lusts of the man darkened the images of the gods whom he adored; how he sought, by vile expedients, to avert the wrath before which he trembled; how superstitions grew to be more fearful; how moral corruptions always gained strength along with them; how protests against both mixed with an unbelief in those truths which the superstitions counterfeited, in the righteousness which the corruptions defied. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)

An ignoble departure

In old days the young knight rode forth to do justice and redress wrong--and that was a noble and a hopeful starting. But this young prodigal’s riding forth--it was all meanness and sadness and misery. Look for nothing brave or manly there. From innocence to sift, from sin to sorrow--there was no beauty in that path. To be the slave of Satan, to follow the whisper of temptation in the black and dark night--there was nothing but abomination in that errand. A bird hasting to the snare, an ox led to destruction, are the fit emblems of that pilgrimage. The roads are different, but all deadly; one leads to madness, one to suicide, one to sudden destruction, one to open shame; but they all sweep through the valley of the shadow, they all end in the chambers of death and hell. (Archdeacon Farrar.)

Leaving home

Seldom, it may be hoped, does a youth leave home simply because he has tired of it; still more rarely, we trust, because he wishes to lead a life of mere self-indulgence. More frequently it is on an honourable errand that the youthful pilgrim sets forth. A subsistence must be earned, an education must be obtained, a profession has been chosen, a Divine call is obeyed; and so the student goes to college, the recruit seeks his regiment, the sailor joins his ship, the aspirant after an honourable independence starts for the city or the distant colony; and there is on both sides true tenderness--on the one side the best intention, on the other many an earnest prayer. For character there is a twofold security--the first commandment and the fifth--love to God and hallowed domestic affections: nor is that character likely to drift where both anchors are out, and where the heart is well moored both to the home on earth and the home on high. If you wish to have a happy and honourable career, you must choose the best companions. Your fellow-clerks, your neighbours in the shop or factory, you cannot choose: they are chosen for you; but it is left in your own option to select your friends; and you may find it a great difficulty. If you were a dry, disagreeable fellow, people would let you alone; but if you are worth cultivating; if instead of being a preset or a pedant, you have pleasant dispositions and a frank, popular way, instead of being a silent, solemn automaton, or the next thing to it, a man of one idea--a wooden centaur who has grown -into the same substance with hishobby; if you have a rich and varied nature; if you have humour; if you are musical; if you are fond of athletic sports; if you read; if you row--every separate liking is just a several hook, a distinct affinity to which a kindred spirit will be apt to attach itself, and ere ever you are aware you may find yourself complicated with an acquaintanceship which, although at some point or other agreeable, is on the whole cumbrous or uncongenial. It is pleasant to feel that you are liked, and it is painful to keep at arm’s length those who take to you and would evidently value your society. Nor would it be fair to call them by hard names. They are not seducers or systematic assassins, lying in wait for the precious soul; and the harm they do is not so much from having any evil purpose as from their having no right principle. Nevertheless, if a man carrying contagion proposes a visit or offers you his arm, although he intends no injury, you stand aloof, and you are not to be denounced as a churl for declining a danger which he does not realize. Two are better than one, and you will find it both protection and incentive if you can secure a faithful friend; and in some respects better than two are the many; therefore you cannot do more wisely than seek out in the Young Men’s Society a wider companionship; and whilst instructed by the information of some, and strengthened by the firmer faith or larger experience of others, there are important themes on which you will learn to think with precision, and in the exercise of public speaking you will either acquire a useful talent or will turn it to good account. You are a young man away from home. We have said, choose good companions; we must add, beware of bad habits. It is of vast moment to be “just right” when starting. At Preston, at Malines, at many such places, the lines go gently asunder; so fine is the angle that at first the paths are almost parallel, and it seems of small moment which you select. But a little farther on one of them turns a corner or dives into a tunnel, and now that the speed is full the angle opens up, and at the rate of a mile a minute the divided convoy flies asunder: one passenger is on the way to Italy, another to the swamps of Holland; one will step out in London, the other in the Irish Channel. It is not enough that you book for the better country: you must keep the way, and a small deviation may send you entirely wrong. A slight deflection from honesty, a slight divergence from perfect truthfulness, from perfect sobriety, may throw you on a wrong track altogether, and make a failure of that life which should have proved a comfort to your family, a credit to your country, a blessing to mankind. Beware of the bad habit. It makes its first appearance as a tiny fay, and is so innocent, so playful, so minute, that none save a precisian would denounce it, and it seems hardly worth while to whisk it away. The trick is a good joke, the lie is white, the glass is harmless, the theft is only a few apples from a farmer’s orchard, the bet is only sixpence, the debt is only half-a-crown. But the tiny fay is capable of becoming a tremendous giant; and if you connive and harbour him, he will nourish himself at your expense, and then, springing on you as an armed man, will drag you down to destruction. (James Hamilton, D. D.)

Life abroad

I. IT WAS A LEAP OF UNBOUNDED LICENCE. My text says, “He spent his substance in riotous living.” His elder brother unveils some of that rioting by telling his father that he had “devoured his living with harlots.” What a picture! He had been trained by godly parents. How soon did he forget the guides of his youth! Not all at once, however, did he fall from a pure-minded youth to a degraded debauchee. One principle, smitten by the hand of pleasure, fell, then another, and at last there was nothing in common between him and his pious father. Let us look in upon this young man in the midst of his rioting. He has been for some time now in the far country, and has tolerably well established himself as a dissolute liver. See him in one of his midnight orgies. A numerous company is present. The profane and the sceptical, the abandoned and the unfortunate are there. But where is the prodigal? Surely that is not he at the end of the room, with bloated face, and cold, grey, glassy, loveless eye; with person unclean, and garments barely fastened; with one arm resting on the shoulders of a dissolute companion, and with the other lifting high the goblet in which the wine is red and sparkling; who, with the frequent faltering of a drunken hiccup, now swears bitter oaths, and now sings a lascivious song. Can this be he?

II. IT ENDED IN ABJECT MISERY AND WANT. “And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land, and he began to be in want.” His fortune, enough for ordinary demands, was soon run through at the rate he lived, and at last, in the midst of famine, he came to absolute need. He had spent all; and as he had never cultivated any branch of industry, and his life of vicious indulgence had most likely incapacitated him for labour, he was reduced to dire extremities. “He began to be in want.” Lord Chesterfield, than whom no nobleman has been more celebrated for all the elegancies of a courtly, and all the accomplishments of a social, life, said, “I am now at the age of sixty years; I have been as wicked as Solomon; I have not been so wise; but this I know, I am wise enough to test the truth of his reflection, that all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” He began to be in want! The reason of this felt want, both in the prodigal’s and in every sinner’s heart, is simply that man has a soul I You might as well try to feed your body on ashes as satisfy your soul with sinful indulgences. Reduced to such dire extremity he sought help. “He went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.” He who once scorned to be his father’s son now became a stranger’s slave. He had sought liberty and found a prison. Servants waited on him at home; he was the lowest of all servants abroad. Trapp truly says, “Ruin follows riot at the heels.” And now he comes to his lowest state. “And no man gave unto him.” We can hardly suppose that all his former companions were unaware of his sad condition; but not one of them will lend him a helping hand, or give him a morsel of bread. There is not one of the whole number that will render him assistance, or even afford him recognition. “Know him, did you say? Oh dear no, we do not know him. Know that swineherd? Oh, no; the society in which we move we hope is different from that. Know that man in rags, did you say? Do you mean to insult us by insinuating that our companions are ragged? See that wretched starveling before? Certainly not; we know nothing of him or of his history! If he is sick, they will not visit him. If he is dying, they will not minister to him. If he dies, they will not drop a tear over his grave, or abate their revels for a moment. How striking the contrast between the Christian and the sinner in these respects! (W. G.Pascoe.)

The nature and consequences of sin

I. Here is, first, THE NATURE OF SIN. It is a departure from our Heavenly Father--a determination to be independent of God--a taking of the ordering of our lives into our own hands-a chafing under the restraints alike of the Divine law and the Divine love, and a setting up of ourselves as our own gods. Cunningly did Satan say to our common parents at the first--“Ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil”; and still this self-assertionlies at the root of our alienation of heart from God, and rebellion of life against Him. But yet more, this alienation of heart is from a Father; this rebellion is against One who has done more for us than ever mother did for the son of her love. We condemn, as the most culpable of all things, the cruelty of a son to his venerable parent; and we have scarcely language strong enough to express our detestation of such conduct as that of Absalom to his father. Yet, in God’s sight, we have been doing the very same thing, and we have given Him occasion to say concerning us, as Israel of old, “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord hath spoken. I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me.”

II. But, secondly, we have here brought before us THE CONSEQUENCES OF SIN. The first stage of iniquity is riotous joy. We must not keep that out of view. There is a pleasure in it, of a sort; for if this were not so, men would not he found indulging in it at all. There must be some kind of exhilaration in the flowing bowl, or in the wild thrill of sensual gratification, or in the gains of dishonesty. In every sin there is something of riot. “Stolen waters are sweet,” just, perhaps, because they are stolen; but the sweetness does not last long. It turns to bitterness in the belly; for, see, as the next result, the waste which it occasions. It wastes money, it wastes health, it wears the body to decay; but that is not the worst. These things here are set forth as but the outward indications of the waste of the soul. And, in truth, what a blasting thing sin is on the human spirit! How many who, in their youth, gave high promise of mental greatness, are now reduced to the merest drivellers, unable either to speak or write save under the influence of opium or alcohol! There is nothing in iniquity that can give contentment to the spirit. “God has made us for Himself, and our souls are restless till they rest themselves in Him.” We could call into court nearly as many witnesses as there have been hunters of happiness, mighty Nimrods in the chase of pleasure and fame and favour. We might ask the statesman, and as we wished him a happy new year, Lord Dundas would answer, “It had need to be a happier than the last, for I never knew one happy day in it.” We might ask the successful lawyer, and the wariest, luckiest, most self-complacent of them all would answer, as Lord Eldon was privately recording when the whole Bar envied the Chancellor, “A few weeks will send me to dear Encombe, as a short resting-place betwixt vexation and the grave.” We might ask the golden millionaire, “You must be a happy man, Mr. Rothschild.” “Happy! me happy! What! happy! when just as you are going to dine you have a letter placed in your hand, saying, ‘If you don’t send me £500, I will blow your brains out!’ Happy! when you have to sleep with pistols at your pillows.” We might ask the world-famed warrior, and get for answer the “Miserere” of the Emperor-Monk (Charles V.), or the sigh of a broken heart from St. Helena. Oh! shall we never become wise? Shall we never learn that there is nothing but misery while we are away from God? Ye who are seeking after happiness in earthly things, forbear. Ye are pursuing a quest more visionary than that of the child, who sets out to catch the pillars of the many-coloured rainbow in the far horizon. Never, never can you obtain what you are seeking, save in God. Turn, then, and beseech Him to give you that which you desire. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

The far country

A far country! Yes, indeed, it is a long and weary journey that the soul takes when it turns its back upon God. Shall we compare it to an ill-starred voyage from the tropics to the Polar Sea? I see yon gallant bark, as she pursues her north ward course, gaily gliding over summer seas. She coasts along the shores of a vast continent, rich in tropical luxuriance and bathed in perennial sunshine; but still as she passes on the gorgeous vision keeps fading from her view. She is northward bound. By and by things begin to wear a different aspect. She is sailing past lands of the Temperate Zone; vegetation is less luxurious, the sun is ever and again obscured, and when it shines lacks its old power. A few weeks more and there is another change; sombre pine forests clothe the mountain-shoulder now, and snowy summits begin to appear above them, and the air grows chill, and the sun seems wan and powerless. A little further, and soon the pine woods are left behind, and ever and again huge, towering icebergs begin to appear. But still the cry is “Northward!” and the day grows shorter and the long nights colder, and the pitiless blast whistles through the frosted shrouds, end in the next scene there is the ship in “thrilling regions of thick-ribbed ice,” hemmed in by frozen seas, and far as the eye can reach, one weary waste of desolation, a region of perpetual winter, bereft of almost every sign of life, a place of the shadow of death. Such, as it seems to me, is a picture of the fatal progress of the human soul along the way of Cain, as he drifts further and further from the Divine influence, and his nobler impulses are checked, and his warmer affections chilled, and his holier energies paralyzed, while the heart is hardened with the deceitfulness of sin. Thus it is that men turn their backs on the true summer land, of the soul in God, and drift into the perpetual winter of godlessness. Yes, there is the chill of a perpetual winter in that tragic word godless. A godless heart! a heart whose highest honour it should have been to be the very dwelling-place of God; a heart that might have been warmed and brightened with the sunshine of His love, but now cold and indifferent to all His influences; a lonesome, desolate, orphaned heart, robbed of its highest honour and denied its holiest privileges; a desecrated shrine, a deserted temple, and yet an empty, weary, disappointed heart, that nothing else can satisfy. A godless home! where human love is never sanctified by the higher love of heaven, where all the purest and truest earthly pleasures that the great Father gives are received as mere matters of course without any recognition of the Giver, where His smile never adds lustre to human joys, and His sympathizing comfort is never sought in moments of anxiety and sorrow; a home where cares weigh heavily because there is no heavenly Friend to bear them, where strifes and dissensions are never stilled by the Prince of Pence, where “the daily round, the common task,” carry no blessing along with them because God is not recognized there. A godless life-work! “It is but lost labour that ye haste to rise up early, and so late take rest, and eat the bread of carefulness.” “Labour not for the bread that perisheth, but for that which endureth unto eternal life”; but this perishing bread is all that we have left to labour for when once we have broken away from God. And so men scheme, and plan, and speculate, and toil, and fret, and hurry, and push and sacrifice much of ease and comfort that they might enjoy; and all for what? What does commercial success mean but sooner or later the loss of all that we have been spending our lives in trying to gain, just because God is excluded from our busy lives? Worst of all, a godless religion! for religion may be adopted and its observances respected, not as a means of bringing us nearer to God, but rather as a means of making us the better contented to dispense with Him. Oar conscience is deadened by the thought that we come up to the conventional standard in religion, and we may be less likely to be alarmed at the thought of our spiritual danger than if we had no religion at all; and yet our religion may never have brought us into any actual personal and spiritual contact with God. Oh, my brethren, with whatever other curse we may be cursed, God save us from the curse of a godless religion! A godless end! Ah! this seems too terrible to contemplate, and yet we must contemplate it; for it is set before us that we may take warning by contemplating it. My friends, I would have you remember that this far country of which I have been speaking is but the frontier, so to speak, of the far realms of death. This going forth from the presence of God, what is it but incipient death? Already the wandering soul is drifting away from the one life-centre of the universe--the heart of God; and every day’s journey he takes is a journey deathward, until at length the terrible word “Depart,” falling from the Judge’s lips, sets the seal of doom upon the inexorable Nemesis of a lifelong sin. (W. M. Hay Aitken, M. A.)

Man going into the far country

As it is less labour to stay a stone before it be moved, than turn it back again when it is in the tumbling; thus, then, goeth a man away further and further from the Lord by multiplication of his sins, as a man by multiplication of his steps goeth further away from the place wherein he was. It should therefore be our first care to beware of the beginnings of sin; and the next to beware we multiply not our sin, lest by so doing we go far from the Lord. (Bishop Cowper.)

The far country

This far country, then, is to be estimate by the distance of man’s will and affections from the Lord, that is, Longinqua regio dissimilitudinis, for then is a man farthest from God, when he is most unlike unto God. So the Lord Himself expounds it; “What iniquity have your fathers found in Me, that they are gone far from Me, walking after vanity, and are become vain?” And the apostle to the Ephesians, comparing their former estate by nature, with that which now they were renewed to by grace, he saith, “Ye which once were far off, are now made near by the blood of Jesus Christ.” Whereof we see it is sins that makes to be far from the Lord, grace again that brings us near unto Him. Things that are far off were they never so precious and excellent, either else we see them not at all, or then they seem far less to us than they are. The sun is many times more than the earth, yet do we account it less than ourselves. The reason is, that it is far from us when men travel so far to the south, that the north pole in their sight comes near to the earth, and at length the sight thereof is intercepted from them by the earth, it is a sure argument they are far from it; even so, when men esteem the incomprehensible majesty of God, who by infinite degrees surmounts the beauty of the sun to be but small in their eyes, or when in their imagination they draw down the Lord to assimilate or compare Him to anything in earth, or when in their affections the earth comes in between their souls and the sight of the Lord, and the love of the earth prevails; it is an argument such miserable souls are far from the Lord. (Bishop Cowper.)

Wasted his substance with riotous living

Wasted substance

The English word “substance” is ambiguous. It may mean the pith and marrow of a man’s body, or the contents of his purse. It may be taken both ways at once; for these two kinds of substance generally melt away together, in the bitter experience of the prodigal. His fortune is lost; his health has failed; and his pleasures, such us they were, bare fled. The pleasures, when they flee, leave behind them stings and terrors in the conscience. The youth begins to be in want--in want of food, and clothing, and home; in want of friends, in want of peace--in want of all things. A waif drifting towards the eternal shore--a lost soul. Such is the track of a prodigal. (W. Arnot, D. D.)

Waste

One tragic word seems to describe this young man’s career of fatuous folly and sin in that far country, and oh, my brethren, it describes the lives of many more besides him! and that word is waste. “He wasted his substance in riotous living.” Yes, I say it describes the lives of many more beside him. Shall I be wrong in saying it describes the lives of all who do not according to the measure of their light and knowledge live to God? The man who has turned his back on God, and who regards himself as his own, has already entered upon a course of waste, even though he do not, like the prodigal, waste his substance in riotous living. In the case of those who emulate the prodigal in leading dissipated and profligate lives, the waste is as obvious as it was in his case, and unhappily such cases are by no means rare. It is astonishing how some men will waste things that we all value, and none, you would think, would willingly be stripped of. Take, for example, money, or social position, or health, or natural affection. No sane man doubts that each of these has a value of its own; indeed the general tendency of men is perhaps to value them too highly; yet what multitudes of men ruthlessly waste these precious possessions, as if they were not of the slightest value, and as if it were an object with them to get rid of them. And if you notice carefully, it is just the spirit of independence that leads them to do this. They conceive that liberty consists in doing whatever passing impulse may dispose them to do; but they feel that were they under the Divine control they would be continually subjected to checks and restraints which would interfere with their impulses, and prevent them from doing what at the moment they might wish. So the language of their hearts is, “Let us break His bands asunder, and cast away His cords from us.”

And they do exactly as they please, and the result is--waste. It is indeed surprising what exploits of waste some men contrive to perform under the influence of this habit of wilful self-pleasing. I heard of a Russian nobleman not Icing ago who was heir to a fortune of some £400,000 a year, yet it had not been in his hands very long before he was actually a bankrupt. It surely requires some ingenuity to get through such a fortune, and yet somehow he managed it, A friend of mine was called to the bedside of a poor miserable wretch who was dying of delirium tremens. I used the word bedside, but, strictly, bed there was none in the room where the dying man lay in his last lucid interval before the terrible end. There he lay, bloated, poverty stricken, filthy, scarcely covered with the rags which were his only apology for a bed; there he lay dying in stony despair; yet he told my friend that he had once been a prosperous London man of business, and had been worth his fifty thousand pounds. I visited a large seaside town a few years ago, and it was thought desirable, as multitudes thronged the esplanade, to send men with boards along it. I was told that one of the men, who carried the boards for a slender pittance of a few pence a day, was the son and heir of a man who had been once, and I believe continued to be up to his death, one of the richest shopkeepers in that large town; yet here was his son in absolute destitution, and he had brought it all upon himself by waste. But why should I multiply instances? Alas I there are few of us that have not had cases brought under our notice of the almost incredible folly exhibited by those who think themselves sensible men in this respect. I want to lay stress upon the fact that the folly arises from our taking a false view of what money is, and of what our relations to it are. If a man locks upon money as simply a means of purchasing self-gratification in whatever form it seems most attractive, it is not surprising that he should squander it lightly under the influence of a passing impulse. Considerations of prudence and forecast do not weigh against the claims of self-indulgence. The object of money seems to the spendthrift to be to procure enjoyment, and this is to be gained, it seems to him, rather by spending it than by keeping it, and therefore he proceeds to spend it. And so he wastes his substance, not because he spends, but because he regards that which he spends as his own to do exactly what he likes with. Oh, how many men are all the poorer for their fortunes! But money is not the only thing we waste when we turn our backs upon God, and we can trace the operation of the same law in every case. God has given to all of us faculties, and to some of us special gifts and talents. If we put these in His hands, as the elder brother gave back to the father his portion of goods, they must all contribute to our true wealth. If, on the other hand, we claim them for ourselves, and, regarding them as our own, turn our backs upon the Father, that which should have been our gain begins to be moral loss, and we are all the poorer for our natural endowments. Well used wealth contributes to the formation of a generous and godlike character, it helps to enrich your moral nature; and thus it is actually true that the hand of the liberal maketh rich. The material substance, which we can under no circumstances keep, passes from us, but it leaves us morally and spiritually the richer for its use. On the other hand, when we regard our substance merely as a means for self-gratification, our gain becomes positive moral loss. The abuse or unholy use of our substance means selfishness increased and developed, self-control weakened, the love of luxury, the passion for self-indulgence rendered more insatiable than ever; while our benevolence is diminished, and our sympathies are curtailed, the heart hardened, and the gain in the capacity to help and enlighten others; gain in the enjoyment of ever-enlarging visions of truth; gain in the acquisition of that spiritual knowledge which in the moral world must always as truly be power as is secular knowledge in the physical world. A consecrated intellect is wealth to the Church, wealth to the world, wealth to its possessor. But if you take your intellect out of God’s hands and regard it as your own, the process of waste at once begins. Your very gifts become snares. Intellectual pride breeds doubt, and doubt develops into crude, hasty unbelief. Or intellectual success induces self-conceit, which is one of the worst moral diseases that man’s nature can be afflicted with. Or intellectual gratification becomes the object for which the man lives, only to find, with Solomon, that in much knowledge is much sorrow; and that, while the head may be filled, the heart remains empty. For we cannot live for knowledge without finding out more and more how little we know, and how little we can know. And this tends to render life one long, bitter disappointment; while, as the swiftly-flying years bring the end nearer, we have the melancholy conviction forcing itself upon us, that even that little can only be retained for a short time. “Whether there be knowledge,” says St. Paul, “it shall vanish away.” It is only waste after all. Or has God given you personal influence, springing either from your natural character and gifts, or from your social position? More or less, I believe, He has given this to each of us; a great deal to some. What are you doing with it? Consecrate it to God, and use it for the good of man, and then your portion of goods in the Father’s hands shall ever go on increasing, and your satisfaction shall ever become deeper and truer as you use this gift for its proper object. Who shall describe the blessedness which flows back, to him who so exercises it, from a well-used influence? and who shall say where its effects will end, in time and in eternity? But if this influence is used merely for self-gratification, to minister to our love of popularity or of power, once again our gift becomes our bane, and exercises a most injurious effect upon our moral nature, ministering to our pride, and promoting our selfishness, and thus defeating the very purpose for the sake of which the gift was originally bestowed. So here again we have nothing but waste--the good that might have been done left undone for ever, and actual harm done both to ourselves and others through that very gift which should have been for the benefit of all--and, as a result, instead of a heart full of true gratification andsatisfaction, the terrible awakening by and by to find that all this influence has been cast into the wrong scale. Oh, think of the anguish of remorse that must fill the heart at the discovery that we have helped to drag others down by the abuse of the very gift that should have raised them, and that we are perishing not alone in our iniquity! (W. M. Hay Aitken, M. A.)

The law restraining a prodigal

The Evening Standard, Friday, Feb. 26, 1886, contained the following: (From our correspondent.)--Paris, Thursday Night.

Considerable sensation has been caused in French social and financial circles by the appointment of a curator or Conseil judiciaire to M. Raymond Seilliere, a member of the well-known family of bankers and army contractors. This appointment of a Conseil judiciaire in restraint of prodigality is a peculiarity of French law adopted or inherited from the Roman law. Supposing A squanders his money and the inheritance of his children, his next of kin are empowered to apply to the law courts to deprive him of the administration of his fortune, and transfer it to an advocate or solicitor. No matter what his age may be, the person thus dealt with is reduced to a state of legal infancy, and no debt he may contract is recoverable unless his curator has sanctioned it. In the case of

M. Raymond Seilliere, the application, which was made at the suit of his brother, was grounded on the fact that within twelve years he had run through a fortune of twelve millions of francs (£480,000 sterling), and had in addition contracted loans to the amount of five millions (£200,000 sterling). One of the creditors opposed on the plea that the suit was instituted solely to enable M. Sellliere to evade the payment of his debts. The court, however, granted the application. M. Raymond Seilliere was thirty-nine years of age.

Wasted substance

He had not been gone long before his “gathering” comes to be “scattering.” No doubt, he had his pleasure in all this wasting. There is a revelling and a merriment in these riotous passions. It is soon gone; but still there is pleasure, though it is short-lived, in sin and squandering. The passions soon grow dull the gilding wears off--the music and the dance grow insipid and wearisome, the drunkard’s cups, in time, deaden, but don’t intoxicate. Even Byron, before his life was half spent, was forced to acknowledge--

“My days are in the yellow leaf,

The flowers, the fruits of love are gone;

The worm, the canker, and the grief,

Are mine alone.”

There is the sinner, worn, weary, wasted; he has wasted his time--wasted his precious season for preparing for eternity--wasted his own energies and power--wasted his parent’s care, and labour, and no shudder felt now when words of foul meaning pollute another’s lips, or the name of God is uttered in blaspheming rage. Oh, how altered! But all this, very significant as it is, the parable passes by. It is not so much what he saw or heard in that strange land as what he wasted, and how he wasted it, that is here marked down “He wasted his substance with riotous living.” (W. B. Mackenzie, M. A.)

Riotous living

Nothing can be nobler than a true and thorough manhood, where, amid the seductions of sense, the soul still retains the mastery of itself by retaining its loyalty to God. On the other hand, it is deeply distressing to find the higher nature dethroned or in thraldom. Wild stories circulate in many lands. In Northern Europe they tell how a child has been carried off by wolves, and brought up amongst them--taught to live in wolfish fashion, sleeping in the forest, joining in the hunt of the reindeer or aurochs, and drinking with savage delight the blood of the palpitating prey. And in Africa the like story is told--how the man has been kidnapped by the baboon, and, hurried up the mountain, has spent amidst these hideous monsters a horrible captivity. The risk is real. The climate may be good, the settlement may promise all that heart can wish, and the vicinity may be so far cleared as to make the immediate homestead tolerably secure; but it is folly to deny all danger. A wise man will be cautious; and if cautious he need not be nervous. It is only right and kind to give warning; and pleasant as is the lot of your 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. There are even instances on record where they have vaulted over the enclosure and carried off from the threshold some hapless victim. The names of three of the best known and most mischievous 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. For a hundred years England has yielded no scholar comparable to Richard Person. With a memory in which words and things were alike imperishable, and with that marvellous intuition which enabled him to personate any author, Greek or Roman, and in the broken parchment or faded manuscript at once perceive what AEschylus or Tacitus had meant to say, he had withal a wit which made him welcome at the board of rich and clever men; and to feed the wit they plied the wine, till in floods of liquor wit and wisdom both were drowned, and, the remains of the scholar buried in mere beastliness, the sot disappeared from society. For a hundred years Ireland has yielded no dramatist, no orator, equal to Richard Brinsley Sheridan; but even for that brilliant genius, whose versatile talents brought London to his feet, and carried captive the senate, strong drink was too powerful, and, in place of bouquets and ribbons, with writs and executions showering around him, he lay on his desolate couch bankrupt in character as well as in fortune, and would have been carried off in his blankets to the debtor’s gaol had not the apparitor of a mightier tribunal stepped in before the sheriff’s officer and claimed the prisoner. For a hundred years--nay, through all the years--Scotland has yielded no poet who could seize the heart of the nation as it was seized by Robert Burns--master alike of its pathos, humour, chivalry. Alas! that pinions capable of such a flight as “Bruce at Bannockburn” and “Mary in Heaven,” should have come down to get smeared and bird-limed on the tapster’s bough; alas! that from the Cottar’s Saturday Evening he should have passed away to the companionship of drunken ploughboys and coarse bullies in their night-long carousals in low taverns. Like the spear, some ten or twelve fathoms long, with which the Vancouver Indian ploughs the river-bed, and the barbed point comes off in the first great sturgeon which it pierces, the tenacious fibre uncoiling as he flies; so, paddling over the surface of society, it is with a long shaft that the demon of Drunkenness explores for his victims; but when one of his barbs gets fairly through the mail it usually fixes and is fast. The line is a long one, and will hold for years. It marks the victim; and the first time he rises another dart strikes through his liver, and then another, and at last a great many--the social glass leading on to the glass suggestive or the glass inspiring, and the glass restorative leading on to the glass strength-giving, and that again to glasses fast and frequent--glasses care-drowning, conscience-coaxing, grief-dispelling--till, gasping and dying, the hulk is towed ashore, and pierced through with many sins, weak, wasted, worthless, the victim gives up the ghost, leaving in the tainted air a disastrous memory. Whether coarse or refined, riot speedily wastes the reveller’s “substance.” Not only does it sap the constitution, and soften the brain, and shatter the nerves, and enfeeble the mind, but it exhausts the estate, and soon brings the spendthrift to poverty. And if the passion still urge and the fear of God has departed, wild methods will be tried to meet the demand and assuage the frantic craving. Keepsakes will be sold or pledged, to part with which would once on a time have looked like sacrilege. Money will be borrowed as long as any one will lend it, and then it will be taken from the till, or intercepted on the way from a customer or correspondent; and thus--it is a tale a thousand times told--dissipation leads on to dishonesty; and in keeping up the jovial life, nay, in merely keeping up appearances, character will be vilely cast away. Our hearts are weak, and we have continual need to pray, “Deliver us from evil”; for temptations are sometimes terrible. When in front of his own cathedral Bishop Hooper was fastened to the stake and the fire was slowly burning, they held up a pardon, and told him that he had only to say the word and walk at liberty. “If you love my soul, away with it!” was the exclamation of the martyr as every tortured fibre called for pity, but the loyal spirit revolted from the wickedness. So there may come a fiery trial where the adversary has got in pledge your income, your earthly prospects, your parents or your children, and asks if you will be so infatuated as to cast them away when the stroke of a pen, the pronouncing of a word, a nod or sign would suffice and save the whole. When the furnace is thus seven-times heated it will need much grace, in view of the proffered bribe, to cry, “Away with it!” and yet, through His timely succour, who, in the days of His flesh and in view of an awful alternative, poured forth strong crying and tears, such ordeals have been encountered by men of like passions with ourselves, and hem this lesser Gethsemane they have emerged with spirit softened and character confirmed, enriched by the loss, perfected by the suffering. However, it was not by a roaring lion, but by a plausible tempter that man was first led into evil; and our greatest danger arises from the subtlety of Satan and the pleasures of sin. 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. If a mistake is committed, lose no time in acknowledging it; and beware of getting complicated with unprincipled or low-minded companions. They will be sure to use you as the cloak or the catspaw of their own designs, and then, when their purpose is served, or when the day of disclosure arrives, they will sacrifice you and save themselves. Keep within the homestead. If compelled to quit the parental roof, cast yourself all the rather on your heavenly Father’s grace and guidance. And do not forsake the sanctuary. (James Hamilton, D,D.)

The temptations to expense

The great temptations to expense are the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life; and to these the great antidote is, not a limited income so much as a large self-denial. It is the lust of the flesh when the little boy spends all his halfpence on sugarplums. It is the lust of the eye when the peer cannot resist the porcelain of Sevres or the mosaic of Rome, but exhausts his estate in adorning his palace. It is the pride of life when the servant flaunts in finery and lets her parents starve; when the merchant spends on his mansion or his equipage all by which his neighbour or the world might be profited. But just as people can be profuse who are not earning a penny, so there are rich men who do not riot, and who in the generous use of their income enjoy a continual feast. If self-denying, you, too, will be rich. From personal expenditure saving all that you can, you will find it available for the most blessed of all bestowments; and in paying the school-fees of a younger brother, in a thoughtful gift to a sister, in lightening the burden of a toilworn father, in promoting the comfort of a faithful old servant who can work no longer, in a subscription to the missionary society or the Sunday-school excursion, in contributing to the happiness or welfare of others, you will reap the Divine reward of self-denial. (James Hamilton, D,D.)

Wasted lives

Of five rich young men whom the Rev. A. Wylie knew, one, he tells us, shot himself, another died of delirium tremens, another was drowned in the midst of dissipation, a fourth was stabbed in a gambling-house, and the fifth, assisted home by a policeman at two o’clock in the morning, was found dead on his father’s hall floor.

Carlyle and the crust

It is related of Carlyle, that as he one day approached a street crossing, he suddenly stopped, and stooping down picked something out of the mud, at the risk of being run over by one of the many carriages in the street. With his bare hands he brushed the mud off, and placed the substance on a clean spot on the kerb-stone. “That,” said he, in a tone as sweet and in words as beautiful as I ever heard, “is only a crust of bread. Yet I was taught by my mother never to waste, and above all, bread, more precious than gold, the substance that is the same to the body that the mind is to the soul. I am sure that the little sparrows, or a hungry dog, will get nourishment from that bit of bread.”

Folly of leading a gay life

A practical illustration of the folly of leading a gay life came under the notice of the surgical staff of Chafing Cross Hospital in August, 1880. John Wallberoff, about fifty-five years of age, residing at a common lodging-house in Westminster, asked the surgeons to attend to an injury which he had received to his chest, which, he said, had been caused by the police while he was under their charge that morning. The man had a military appearance, bat was in a shockingly tattered and neglected condition, with scarcely any shoes to his feet. While his chest was being attended to he gave the doctor a brief history of himself. He said he had graduated as a B.A. at Trinity College, Cambridge, and as a proof of his classical education he gave quotations from Virgil and Homer, and challenged the doctor to a competition in mathematics. He said his grandfather was once a governor-general of the forces in India, and he himself had held a commission in the army. His mother was a handsome and, he regretted to say, gay woman, and, following the example of his parent, her son had led a life of pleasure, and now, instead of being, as he once was, in receipt of a yearly income of £1,500, he was in the pitiable plight of being without home, money, or friends.

A fast young man

A fast young man! He is a lovely picture to some eyes. He leads the fashion. If anything is stirring in the neighbourhood where mirth and laughter, songs and revelling can be found, he is conspicuous amongst those who attend. If anything is carried on that needs a greater stock of impudence than is common with men he can always command it. He is a fast young man. He is fast in acquiring habits that old debauchees take years in arriving at. He is fast in learning slang phrases with which his speech is spiced. He is fast in breaking loose from home restraints at an age when every sensible young man values a father’s counsels and a mother’s prayers. He is fast in leading others, not so far advanced as himself, into mischief, debauchery, and vice. He is fast in polluting virtuous hearts, and in bringing desolation into once happy homes. But there are other things in which he is fast. He is fast in sowing the seeds of disease in his constitution, and inducing premature old age. He is fast in driving out the forms of virtue from his soul, and in filling up their places with the filthiest forms of sin. He is fast in getting ready for the condemnation of God, and is fast in going to perdition! (W. G. Pascoe.)

When he had spent all there arose a mighty famine

The fruits of sin

What ate the fruits of sin? We see in this parable, and we know from our experience of human life, what the sinner himself thinks of it. He looks upon it as an assertion of liberty. Now, we are called upon in these parables to contemplate our Lord’s view of the same subject. He shows us in all three of them that sin has a kind of liberty which does not belong to the life of holiness; but He shows us also that this so-called liberty is no true liberty, and He reminds us that it leads to misery, destitution, and the most degrading bondage.

I. THE WASTEFULNESS OF SIN. We can easily see how extravagance, heedlessness, and idleness waste men’s temporal possessions. We cannot so easily discern the wasting of our spiritual possessions. Take first the effects of sin in the bodies of men. This frame of ours is a thing far more sensitive and delicate than most of us imagine, and sin often leaves traces upon it which can never be effaced. The sins of the flesh do visibly waste a portion of that substance which God divides to man. But there are ravages committed by sin which, however naked and open they may be to the eye of Him with whom we have to do, are not easily discerned by the eye of man, especially by the eye which is itself clouded and discoloured by sin. Sin, in all its forms, is a waster. In its more decent and respectable forms it may produce less apparent desolation, and yet the work of destruction may be as surely carried on. There are many things lost from a man’s soul of which he has little knowledge until some startling revelation is made unexpectedly, or the light of God’s truth and Spirit shines in and illumines the inner darkness. The corrupting and blighting of the affections, the hardening of the heart, the destruction of that tenderness of conscience which is one of man’s strongest safeguards, the weakening of the will, so that it loses its power of resistance to evil, the lost appreciation and enjoyment of the innocent pleasures of life, the utter inability to find any satisfaction in higher and better things--this is a fearful enumeration, and yet it is but a portion of the loss which is sustained through the ravages of sin. No tongues or pen can describe it, for no heart of man can know it.

II. THE SERVITUDE OF SIN. One should suppose that the sense of misery, arising from the destitution of sin, would drive the suffering sinner to the place of penitence and to the throne of grace. And so it sometimes does. But frequently the reverse happens. Such is often the awful deceitfulness of sin. Nay, such is oftentimes the awful deceitfulness of sin, that those who have reaped its bitter fruits have turned from one evil to another, in the hope of effacing the results or the remembrance of previous transgression; or else, and perhaps this is commoner, they have descended to deeper depths of sin, have gone the whole way that it was possible for them to go, have drunk to the very dregs the cup of misery and death, in the mad hope that life and happiness might after all be found within it. And thus have men sunk down into that awful condition in which, instead of using their passions as instruments for self-gratification, they have been governed and controlled by them. For a time they were their servants, but now they have become their masters. It is a bondage which is only too common, although sometimes its chains are unseen. In some cases, it is plain and clear and undeniable; in others it is disguised and often invisible. Take the case of the man who is addicted to excessive drinking. I have seen men who were amiable, accomplished, fascinating, fall under the power of this demon. I have seen men, the superior of their fellows in intellect and energy, who seemed to be made to rule over men, become themselves the slaves of intemperance. And slavery and bondage are the right expressions to apply to their condition. I have seen the most frantic efforts made to escape from this tyranny. The shame, the misery, the ruin which flowed from it had been pressed on the mind of its victim by a friend. “Be a man,” he aid to the poor crouching slave. “Be a man. Stand up. Assert your freedom, as a child of God. Seek His grace, which will not be withheld from you, and by the power of that grace you will arise and beat down this enemy under your feet.” And courage returned to the trembling heart; and the man who had lain prostrate under the throne of this idol summoned up new strength, collected his energies, and resolved to fight the battle over again, and win it by the help of God. And sometimes it has been done. And sometimes, alas! it has not been done.

III. THE DEGRADATION OF SIN. It was enough, one might think, that the free son should become a bond slave. No! He must be taught all that was involved in slavery. He was sent into the fields to feed swine, unclean beasts, which it was a degradation for a son of Abraham to have anything to do with; and there he was “fain to fill his belly with the husks which the swine did eat”; for no man gave him better food. It is the lowest depth reached at last. It is a picture of men “serving divers lusts and pleasures”; and, awful as it is, it does not exceed the truth. Many of us play with sin, trifle with it, not knowing what it is. Like the playful tiger’s cub, it has not gained all its fearful strength, and manifests but little of all its latent savage character. If we could follow it in its fearful descent, and see how it sinks deeper and deeper in the mire of shame and infamy, we should realize more clearly what is meant by the degradation of sin. “What fruit had ye in those things of which ye are now ashamed?” asks St. Paul, well knowing what the answer must be. Sin is the parent of shame. (W. R. Clark, M. A.)

The sinning soul a sufferer

The soul was made for God, and for delight in God. Sin prevents this end, and therefore there must be suffering and loss.

I. IT MUST BE A SUFFERER. It caries within a torment which the poet has pictured under the figure of twin serpents. Sin may be awhile alone, but it is sure to bring forth suffering.

1. Because God is what He is. He cannot deny Himself. Warmth excludes its opposite, cold; light its opposite, darkness; and life, death. God, being holy, must be an active opponent to sin.

2. Because man is what he is. Conscience only applauds right-doing, but bites back--in remorse for sin committed. A chaplain was preaching in India, when a deadly cobra crawled into the aisle. It was despatched without interrupting the service. Passing out after meeting, a native struck his foot against the head of the dead reptile. Instantly he cried aloud in agony, for an envenomed fang had pierced his flesh. Remedies were unavailing, and he soon died. So the memory of sin is like a poisoned fang in the breast.

3. Because of the necessity of law. Stanley never could have led his band of barbarians across the dark continent had he not subjected them all to stern, rigid law. One of them murdered his fellow. It was right that he should receive two hundred lashes, and be chained till delivered into the hands of proper authorities. God’s righteous law has its penalties. Penalty is suffering.

4. Experience teaches that a sinning soul is a sufferer. It is always so in the long run. Byron.

II. THE KIND OF SUFFERING.

1. It is want. Sin must starve the soul, as the plant pines for sunshine and cannot live on candle-light.

2. Friendlessness.

3. Slavery. The dominion of habit was illustrated in Robert Burns, who said that he would go for a jug of whisky, though it were guarded by one who would surely shoot him in the act--“for,” said he, “I could not help it.”

4. Degradation and utter loneliness. In the Sistine Chapel is a picture by Angelo, which paints a victim in the grasp of a fiend. Yet the fangs in his flesh are not so tormenting as is the mental anguish which the loss of heaven occasions. This absorbs his whole thought. (W. Hoyt, D. D.)

A mighty famine

Extravagance soon “brings the noble to ninepence,” and in the far country it is not far that nine-pence will go. But there may be so mighty a famine and so great, that even the noble will not buy the loaf of bread. One of the most pitiful incidents in the history of British genius is the death of Chatterton. We by no means quote it as a case of riotous living; but it will illustrate the “want” which comes over the spirit when other resources fail, and the Father’s house is far away. When a mere boy of seventeen he had passed off, in the name of an ancient English monk, poems of his own, with the archaic style so admirably simulated, and the historical allusions so adroitly managed, that for a time many clever men were taken in, and surmised no forgery. Elated by the success of this imposture, and conscious of no common powers, from Bristol he came up to London. There he promised himself a career of fame and fortune; and as he visited the theatres, and watched the grand equipages floating past, he saw in no distant vision the day when his verses should be in the mouths of men, and when the doors of the lordliest saloons would open to the poet. But the fame was slow in coming, and meanwhile the money failed. Hampered by no restraints of conscience, he made up his mind to pass himself off for a surgeon, and get appointed to a ship; but before he could carry his unprincipled scheme into execution, he found himself quite penniless. “Heaven send you the comforts of Christianity,” he wrote to a correspondent; “I request them not, for I am no Christian.” Bitterly boasting his disdain of Christianity, and his independence of it, he fell back on his own resources, and a fortnight after, a jury brought in a verdict of felo de se on a strange self-willed youth found dead in his little room in Brook Street, Holborn. He cared not for “the comforts of Christianity,” and so when the mighty famine arose--when editors no longer cared for his effusions, and when the frauds and figments of years began to collapse--with hunger in the cupboard, and with heartless Muses staring at him sohard and stony--the trials which in a Christian bring out the mettle and make the man, in the case of poor Chatterton left no resource save arsenic and impotent anathemas on human kind. Reverting to the riotous living: not only does it exhaust the worldly substance, but by exhausting health and spirits, it destroys the power of enjoyment. Poor as are the joys of sense, it is a stupid policy which would distil into a single cup every pleasure, and in one frantic moment drain it dry. Where life and reason have survived the wild experiment, the zest of existence is gone, and waking up to a flat and colourless world, fastidious and fretful, blasted and blase, in a frequent loathing of life and a general contempt of mankind, the voluptuary carries to the grave the sins of his youth. The Most High has so constituted the mind of man that the indulgence of the malevolent affections itself is misery; and 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. It is a vain attempt--

“With things of earthly sort, with aught but God,

With aught but moral excellence, and truth, and love,

To fill and satisfy the immortal soul.”

But you are not mocked by your Maker. Those great and glorious objects exist for which He has given you an affinity, and towards which, in their most exalted intervals, the highest powers in your nature aspire. There is truth, there is goodness, there is God. There is the life of Jesus recorded in the Book; there is the spirit of God now working in the world. Ponder that life till, associated with a living Redeemer, it shines around your path a purifying protecting presence. And pray for that spirit, till under His kindly teaching you “taste and see that the Lord is good”--till expanded affections find an infinite object--till He who has thus strengthened your heart is become your portion for ever. (James Hamilton, D. D.)

The degradation

Snow quickly melts when the thaw comes; and “a fool and his money are soon parted.” I have heard of people who had suddenly succeeded to a legacy which they had not sense to keep; and who, indeed, were not sober till all their money was exhausted. Such a rapid race did this young rake of the parable run.

I. THE FAMINE. “Ills,” the proverb says, “never come singly.” That he had reached the bottom of his purse was bad enough! but, to make matters worse, at the same time “there arose a mighty famine in the land.” In ancient days a failure of the harvest spread dearth and death all around, even as, a few years ago, the famine of Orissa, where the same Oriental mode of life continues, left millions of-corpses on the arid plains of India. Thanks to our commercial connection with the ends of the earth, and the abolition of our Corn Laws, it is not likely that such a lack of “the staff of life” will ever be felt within our borders again, as our forefathers have experienced in their day. The effect produced upon our young master’s circumstances was immediate--he began to be in want. What a transition from fulness to emptiness--from wasteful extravagance to absolute inability to obtain the necessaries of life! Now he would begin to wish that he had some of the golden guineas back again which he had so recklessly thrown away, and that he had husbanded the large resources which had been so unsparingly placed at his command. The prodigal hungered; but he did not at this stage think of returning to his father. Some transgressors take less of chastisement and grief to melt them down, and others more. He seems to have been specially hardened. He was too proud to go back yet. So “he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country.”

II. This is the second point to which we call attention in this chapter: THE FEE. A few days ago, in this city of my habitation, a larger number than usual of agricultural people were So be seen in our streets, for it was the hiring market for the next half-year. Hundreds who came into Glasgow in the morning, not knowing who their master was to be, or where their residence might be situated throughout the summer, during the course of the day came to know these important facts--important, because their destiny for good or evil might be largely influenced by the event. Poor things! as I saw many of them the worse for liquor, I thought they did not seem to be in a very fit state for forming a cool judgment, or for departing to their new homes. Doubtless some of them met with good masters, and some of them with bad ones. Some of them will rejoice in the decisions of the day, and bless their good fortune; whilst others will bitterly regret the same, and call their lot misfortune. “Which things are an allegory.” Christ is the good master; and Satan is the bad master. Christ may be called the Illustrious Stranger, who has come into our world to rectify its wrongs; while Satan is “the citizen of that country,” who has been in it from the first and has done it much evil.

III. THE FEEDING. Feeding! that’s good news. He will be reconciled to his servitude, if only his wants may be supplied. But, alas! the feeding is not of himself but of others--and these others he would rather not have fed--“He sent him into his fields to feed swine.” This is another dexterous touch of the painter. No occupation could possibly have been more degrading than this in the eyes of Jews, since they regarded swine as ceremonially unclean. It is written in Leviticus 11:7, “And the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be cloven-footed, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean unto you.” Nor was this feeling of aversion towards these animals peculiar to the Jews; for Herodotus tells us that in Egypt swineherds were not permitted to mingle with civil society, nor to appear in the worship of the gods, nor would the very dregs of the people have any matrimonial connection with them. Truly now our young master would be stripped of his pride. A poor, ragged, outcast, hungry swineherd! Satan’s nobility sit on bad eminences. His peers are known by their deeper degradation.

IV. THE FASTING. “He would fain have filled his belly with the husks the swine did eat; and no man gave unto him.” The word in the original (keratia)
does not mean, properly speaking, what we understand by husks, which are the outer integuments of fruit, but designates a leguminous fruit called in modern language the charub tree, which still grows in the South of Europe, the islands of the Mediterranean, and the North of Africa. It is sometimes called “John’s Bread,” from the tradition that it was the food used by John the Baptist during his wilderness life. On the beans of this tree the horses of the British cavalry were fed during the Peninsular war. It would appear that the famine which is referred to in the parable raged so severely that both man and beast were put upon short and spare allowance. In the fields, and when watching his unclean flock, the poor outcast would willingly have supplemented his own scanty meal by eating the raw, coarse fruits which the swine consumed; but “no man gave unto him.” He was not allowed to appropriate their portion
. (F. Ferguson, D. D.)

Touch iron

A minister from a distance was preaching one Sabbath, in the parish church of St. Monan’s, in the last century, who did not know the strange superstitions of a fishing village. He was discoursing with tolerable fluency on the parable of the Prodigal Son. When he came to the words, “and he sent him into the fields to feed swine,” he thought that he heard a sudden and simultaneous murmur over his congregation, accompanied by an equally sudden and simultaneous movement. The explanation was that the sow is an unlucky animal among the fishermen, as it was unclean among Jews; and the murmur, which the astonished preacher heard proceeding from every lip, was “Touch iron”--for iron they regard as a charm against the harmful word; while the movement he observed was the effort of each individual to put his finger on the nearest nail in the woodwork of the old church--a murmur and a movement which were repeated much to his consternation, as in the sequel of his exposition he, all unconscious of his mistake, used the dreaded word. A good story, doubtless, to be told at a tea-table, or at a bright fire on a winter evening--and ministers, it is to be feared, by their frailties and mistakes, affordamusement now and then to curious and critical neighbourhoods. But whether the tale be an exaggeration or not, I wish to turn the table upon the story-tellers, and consecrate it to the service of Christ. Yes; ye who have sunk so low in the service of Satan, that he has sent you into the fields to feed swine--“Touch iron”; extend the finger of faith to the blessed nails of the cross, and, more potent than fabled talismanic charm, they will raise you to the dignity of the sons of God. Do you complain that your nature is bad--that as soon a lion might be expected to become a lamb, or a swine--“Touch iron”; yea, “reach hither your hands and thrust them into his side,” and God’s Spirit will give you clean hearts and right spirits. (F. Ferguson, D. D.)

Dearth; or pain the end of sinful pleasure

The end of sinful pleasure is pain, the wealth of worldlings ends in fearful want. As the image which Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream had an head of gold, but feet of clay; so the glorious show of this miserable life of sinful men concludes with shame. The plenty which Egypt had in seven years was eaten up by the seven years of famine following it. The pleasant river of Jordan is at length swallowed up by the salt sea, or loach of Sodom. (Bishop Cowper.)

Famine makers

Such men help to bring about famines, men who eat all and produce nothing, men who are consumers and non-producers. These are the men that make famines. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Sin costly

The service of sin is a costly service; all the portion of goods thou hast is not sufficient for it. (Bishop Cowper.)

Religion no waste

Wilt thou abide with the Lord, and serve Him? He shall teach thee to use His gifts to His glory and thy good; for the service of the Lord is easy, honourable, profitable, nothing is wasted, nothing is lost, that thou spendest in it. (Bishop Cowper.)

The folly of extravagance

To how much the portion of goods amounted which the younger son took with him we are not told; nor are we told how long it lasted. But once it is in the hands of a spendthrift, wonderful is the speed with which money disappears. As paragons of senseless profusion, Dante has handed down the names of Stricca and his companions, who sold their estates and bought a princely mansion where they might spend their days in revelry. Their horses’ shoes were silver, and, if one came off, the servants were forbidden to pick it up; and, with like disdain of mean economy throughout, the united fortunes lasted only twenty months, and they finished off in the utmost misery. The Sienese spendthrifts have been often distanced in our living day; and the low taverns along the Thames, where our sailors waste their hard-won earnings--the hotels of Melbourne and San Francisco, where successful diggersfool away in a flash of riot the gold for which they have toiled so long, after a coarse and vulgar fashion could parallel the wildest waste of Heliogabalus or Lucullus. More remarkable than the speed with which the money disappears is the small satisfaction which it yields. If, like George Heriot with the king’s acknowledgment, you had put the bank-notes on the hearth, and sent them flaming up the chimney, they would have left you far richer than those you have spent on reckless companions and riotous living. If, like Cleopatra, you had dissolved a pearl--if you had put together the income of years--all that has been spent on self-indulgence--perhaps in enticing others into sin--could you have put it all together, and, like the queenly jewel, dissipated it in dust and air, we might have been sorry for the idle sacrifice, but the wasted money would not have wasted you. Cleopatra had another pearl, the gift of peerless beauty. That gift was perverted and it hatched a serpent; it came back into her bosom--the asp which stung her. So with the possessions of the prodigal. Talents laid up in a napkin, pearls melted in vinegar, will benefit no one; but rank, fortune, health, high spirits, laid out in the service of sin, are scorpion-eggs, and fostered and fully grown, the forthcoming furies will seize on the conscience, and with stings of fire will torment it evermore. (James Hamilton, D. D,)

Money all gone

It takes a great deal longer to make money than to spend it. Although it is only a little while since this young man got one-third of his father’s property, it is all gone--every cent of it. So you have known men toiling for twenty, thirty, forty years in commercial or mechanical life, have acquired large property, to lie down and die, leaving a great estate; and in five years the boys have got all through with it. So this young man of the text and his money was soon parted. I do not know just how it went, but there, in the first place, were his travelling expenses. A man who had been brought up as luxuriantly as he evidently was, from the surroundings of that home, could not lodge just anywhere, nor be contented with plain fare. He had been used to see things on a large scale, and I do not suppose he closely calculated the expense. I do not suppose he always stopped to take change. I suppose that sometimes he bought things without any regard to what they cost. Then, besides that, there came in the bill for his personal apparel, and a young man who had a third of his father’s property in his pocket could not afford to go shabbily dressed, and so he must have clothes of the best pattern and of the finest material. Besides that, the young man of the text had to meet the bill for social entertainment. He must treat, and it must be with the costliest wines and the rarest viands. Besides that, the sharpers found out that this young man had plenty of money, and they volunteer their services. They will show him the sights. They can tell him things ha never imagined away off on that father’s homestead. Well, they undertake to show this man the sights, and after a while he wakes up one day and he says, “I think I will count my money.” And he counted his money. It was half gone; but as his habits were thoroughly fastened upon him he could not stop. After awhile he counted his money again, and it was three-fourths gone; but he was on the down grade, going swifter and swifter and swifter, until, when he comes to look for his money, it is all gone. Now, these associates, who stuck to him as long as he had plenty of money, are gone. Morning-glories bloom when the sun is coming up, not when the sun is going down. There is no money with which to meet his expenses. Besides that, the crops have failed, and there is famine in the land, and at a time when affluent men are straitened about getting their daily bread, what is to become of this poor fellow, with an empty pocket and a discouraged heart? “Oh!” you say, “let him work.” He cannot work. His hands, soft and tender, would be dreadfully blistered with toil. Perhaps he comes then to some place where he can get occupation, he thinks, appropriate for an educated young man. He comes to a commercial establishment and asks for work. “No,” says the head man of the business firm, “we can’t have you. Why, you are nothing but a tramp of the street.” Perhaps he comes to the office of some official of the government, and seeks employment by which he can support himself. “No,” says that officer, “a man clad as you are cannot find any employment in my office.” What is he to do? In a strange land. Money all gone. No friends. Ragged. Wretched. Undone. My text with one stroke gives the awful full-length photograph: “He began to be in want.” Now, what does all that mean? It means you and me. Our race had a good starting; but we all went away from God, our home, and we have found sin to be an expensive luxury. It despoiled us. It hungered us. It robbed us. It made us hopeless and godless. We had a fine spiritual fortune to start with, and we spent it, and we “began to be in want.” I care not how fine our worldly estate may be, or how much bank stock we may possess, or how elegant our social position, sin has pauperized the whole race, and until we go back to God, our home, we are in an awful state of beggary and want. There is no exception to it. (Dr. Talmage.)

The beginning starvation

There is something very ominous in that expression, “He began to be in want.” It was only a beginning of want, but it was the pressage of starvation, and brought along with it the forecast of an agonizing death. Let me ask you to put side by side this expression and another, in which the same word occurs just at the end of the parable--“They began to be merry.” Surely both the parallelism and the contrast are alike instructive. Want begins when we wander into the far country, and joy begins when we find ourselves restored to the Father’s house; but the want is only the beginning of want, and the joy is only the beginning of joy.

The want must go on, becoming more and more cruel and tormenting as the mighty famine increases, while the “merriment,” the spiritual mirth of that “happy day” which fixes our choice upon our Saviour and our God, develops into the quiet and calm but deeper and fuller happiness of a life in which the soul feeds on Christ, rejoices in the Lord, and joys in the God of his salvation. Indeed, do not these contrasted sentences suggest to our minds the thought that heaven and hell have their commencements here on earth, to whatever each may develop hereafter? For heaven is that condition of existence that is induced by the satisfying of the soul in God. As yet our heaven is incomplete, for the satisfaction is not yet full. Only when we wake up in God’s likeness shall we be saris fled fully; but even here we are possessed of the secret of satisfaction, and when the sense of want arises we know where to turn to find what our spirits need. And while our joy in this satisfaction comes very far short now of what it will be, yet is it in kind, though not in degree, identical with the very joy of heaven. We have begun to be merry. The chief cause of the joy is the same, whether it be felt in heaven or on earth; its source is the same, and its character is the same. It is the very joy of God in the heart of man. And hell has its commencement here on earth in the restlessness and inanity of the godless life, and in the weariness and dissatisfaction of the godless heart. As fleeting pleasures and visionary acquisitions pass away, as one broken cistern after another falls to pieces, as sorrow casts its shadow on the home, as failure embitters our experience or success disappoints us, the want increases; and the pain and sorrow of that want are the same in kind, though not in degree, as that which falls to the lot of the lost under the sentence of doom; for hell is a want that cannot be satisfied, and a loss that cannot be repaired. (W. M. Hay Aitken, M. A)

In want

I have seen, sitting shoeless and shirtless on a cab, joining himself to the driver, if haply he might get anything out of him, a young man who bad inherited a large fortune, who had been in the same classes with me at school, and had sat as a student for the ministry on the same benches with me at college. I have visited in yonder prison, where he was under sentence of six months’ imprisonment for stealing a watch, which he had pawned for drink, a man who was an M.A. of a Scottish University, and who had been Principal of a college in a foreign land. I have had, as a beggar at my door, a man of my own age, brought up in the same street with me, who had squandered a large patrimony in such courses as I have described; and as I saw the grey hair of his premature old age streaming in the wind, and beard him call me by the old familiar name of my boyhood, as he besought me for assistance, I could not but think of these words, “And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in the land, and he began to be in want.” (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Feeding swine

In the days of the Regency there was a man much envied, and in the ranks of fashion his influence was paramount. It was not that he was a statesman or a hero, a thinker or a speaker; but, as far as an outsider can make it, he was a gentleman. His bow, his gait, his dress, were perfection: the Regent took lessons at his toilette; when peeresses brought out their daughters they awaited with anxiety his verdict, and no party was distinguished from which he withheld his presence. Very poor padding within, heartless and soulless, the usual sawdust which goes for a dandy, by infinite painstaking and equal impudence he scrambled into his much envied ascendancy, the arbiter of taste, the director of the drawing-room, the leader of the great army of beaux and butterflies. Then came a cloud. The prince withdrew his favour, and, of course, the prince’s friends. His mysterious wealth suddenly took wing, and means which he took to recover it sent him into life-long exile at Calais and Caen. He had no God. His God was the sunshine--court-favour, the smiles of the great and the gay. The instant these were withdrawn the poor Apollo butterfly came fluttering down, down into the dust, and never soared again. It was all in vain that old acquaintances tried to keep him out of debt and discredit. With no gratitude, and with little conscience, and with only that amount of pride which makes the misanthrope, he begged and borrowed on all sides, at the table dhote glad to get a bottle of wine from some casual tourist by telling stories of old times, and unable to cross the threshold when his only suit of clothes was in process of repair. The broken-down exquisite began to be in want, and, when borrowing a biscuit from a grocer, or a cup of coffee from a kindly hostess, he may have remembered the days when he lavished thousands on folly, the days when he was the favourite guest at the palace. Truly, it was a mighty famine, but it did not bring him to himself. It only alienated from mankind a heart which had all along been estranged from the living God, and gave frightful force to his cynicism. “Madame de St. Ursain,” as he said to his landlady, “were I to see a man and a dog drowning together in the same pond, and no one was looking on, I would prefer saving the dog.” And whether it be Richard Savage, whose riotous living at last imbrued his hands in another’s blood, and then landing him in the debtor’s prison, left him to be buried at the cost of the kind-hearted gaoler; or Emma, Lady Hamilton, passing like a meteor through foreign courts, and making wise men mad with brilliancy and beauty, then cast off by society, and from a sordid lodging carried in a deal box to a nameless grave; or men like Beckford, who, spending prodigious wealth in self-idolatry, have lived to find that the idol was not worth the worship; by cases which it would weary you to quote, we might show how invariably, if there be but time to work out the legitimate sequel, separation from God ends in desolation and sorrow. We might show how often the wayward child, who would not sit contented at the Father’s board and eat the children’s bread, has ended at the stye, and been fain to clutch at husks which the swine do eat. And from the nature of the case, as well as the Word of God, we might show how inevitably the far country becomes a waste and homing wilderness, and how, soon or late, the soul which there abides must die of hunger. (James Hamilton, D. D.)

Husks

The “husks that the swine did eat” are familiarly known as the pods of the Ceratonia siliqua of Linnaeus. It is a noble tree, stretching all along the southern points of the shores of the Mediterranean, and sometimes farther northward, from Spain to Palestine. Greece and Cyprus are the most favoured places, but southern Italy is beautiful with these trees. The foliage is dark green--evergreen; the pod is thick, and filled with a viscous, sweetish sub stance, from which is obtained a very useful dibs or molasses, which is often made to take the place of a similar product from the grape. These pods are to be seen now and then for sale in New York and Philadelphia. The smaller merchants often ridiculously call them “locusts and wild honey,” with about as much reason, and with just the same mistake, as those who call them “St. John’s bread.” The pod is thickish, and generally breaks up when dry, the pieces still holding the beans; not dropping them out as peas are dropped. The kharub bean can scarcely be shelled--except when fresh, and then not easily. Not only the beans, but the pods themselves, are an article of food for both beast and man. They are exported to Europe and America, and ground up to serve many purposes of food, and perhaps adulteration. One may look over the newspaper lists of arrivals of vessels at Constantinople, and often see that by far the greater number of vessels were loaded with kharub beans or pods, and most of them from Limassol in Cyprus. To be sure these vessels are very small, and one large steamer has the capacity of a hundred of them; but in numbers these kharub cargoes appear to lead the list in Constantinople. The identity of the fruit of the kharub-tree with these “husks” does not depend upon the Greek alone of the New Testament, but in the Peshitto Syriac rendering, the Syriac and Arabic names of both tree and fruit, and the tradition of the country which has kept the name. In Spain the same Arabic name is still retained, together with the article attached. In Italy the same name exists, though the writer oftener heard it pronounced carro’ba than carru’ba. In Arabic the accent is on the last syllable. As given in the English dictionaries, its pronunciation has departed about as widely from the original as the information they give has departed from completeness. They lay it down as car’ob. That, however, is more pardonable than the manner in which most English-speaking Hebraists abandon English coincidences with the true Shemitic pronunciation to adopt the mistakes of Germans, or the substitutes which Germans adopted for letters in cases where they “could not frame to pronounce it right.” Linnaeus doubtless named the tree Ceratonia siliqua in order to combine both the original Greek and the Latin Vulgate translation. The former is keration and the latter siliquis. With regard to this food as characteristic of the prodigal’s present or former condition, no great stress can be laid. Poor people eat it now; in Philadelphia it is sold as a sweatiness to the little boys. It is not likely that the young man found such faro at his father’s table. The talmudic proverb, however, says, “When the Israelite must eat rejected food, then he comes to himself.” But they have two other proverbs of great beauty in this connection. The first is: “ The doors of prayer are sometimes open, sometimes shut; but the doors of repentance are ever open.” The other is: “No sin resists sorrow and penitence.” (Prof. Isaac H. Hall.)

Pretty near to the husks

Vice-Chancellor Blake, of Toronto, in an address at the Mildmay Conference, June 21, 1882, said:--A young man came to our city some six or seven years ago, the son of a clergyman. He had been a ne’er-do-weel, and had been sent, as so many are sent, abroad, because you can do nothing with them here. He was taken up by the Association; one of the members took him, and kept him at his house for six months. To-day that young man stands as the head of a principal undertaking in our Dominion. I don’t wonder that his mother wrote a letter from Italy, where she was living, to say that if the broad Atlantic did not separate us, she would come to thank us for what our Association had done for her son. Another instance. A young man went to the Southern States, a distance of two thousand miles from our city, and the secretary of our Association wrote and said, “You will find so-and-so in your city; look him up, and see if anything can be done for him.” He was so low down that, although the son of wealthy parents, he was found in one of the fish-markets cleaning fish. “Young man,” said the delegate who found him, “you have got pretty near to the husks.” “Yes,” said he, “I have; it was painted very bright as I entered, but I find it a very dark and miserable place where I have got to.” “Do you want to leave it?” “I do.” “Are you determined to make a struggle? Yes. “Then come to my warehouse, and I will give you a place. I will expect you at my Bible-meeting every afternoon, and you will come and take a seat in my pew at church.” “I will,” he said. At our great Sunday-school Convention last year in the city, where we had delegates by the hundred, that young man came as one of the delegates sent up from that town in the United States.

Eating the husks

How often do young men break away from the wholesome restraints of home and of religious society, promising themselves peculiar enjoyment in pursuing their wayward fancies, dreaming of wealth, of fame, or flattering themselves with the delusive idea of a good time in some vague adventure! In the journal of a soldier belonging to the 72nd Regiment of the English army, published at the close of the last general continental war, an instance of this occurs. The writer of the journal had been induced, in hopes of a life of pleasure, to enlist, and to forsake his quiet and respectable home, greatly to the grief of his parents. A few years afterwards, he was, when serving in the Peninsula, glad to be allowed to eat of the biscuits which he was employed to break for the hounds of the commander-in-chief, at a time when provisions were scarce. “I ate them with tears,” he said, “and thought of the prodigal.” (A. G.Thomson, D. D.)

Vain efforts of the soul to find satisfaction

The soul of man is a clasping, clinging soul, seeking to something over which it can spread itself, and by means of which it can support itself. And just as in a neglected garden you may see the poor creepers making shift to sustain themselves as best they can; one convolvulus twisting round another, and both draggling on the ground; a clematis leaning on the door, which will by-and-by open and let the whole mass fall down; a vine or a passionflower wreathing round a prop which all the while chafes and cuts it; so in this fallen world it is mournful to see the efforts which human souls are making to get some sufficient object to lean upon and twine around. (James Hamilton, D. D.)

The world’s treatment of its votaries in time of need

The prodigal of whom we are speaking sought the companionship of the world. He courted the pleasures of the world; he lived for the world, and he spent his all upon the world. Is he singular in this? Have you not done the same? I speak not now of the world of business, of commerce and trade; I speak not now of this moving panorama of daily life that surrounds us; I believe even in that respect I might also speak of the unsatisfying nature even of the world of business, but I speak not of that now: I speak of the world of sin--the world, as alluded to in that text, “Love not the world, neither the things of the world; for if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” The world very cunningly allures you by its pleasures; is that an inducement sufficient to lead you from your Father’s home? Then I ask you, I catechise you to-day, What means that aching of the head, and that aching of the heart, and that surfeit and disappointment, which are so generally the accompaniments of those who follow after the so-called pleasures of the world? Do those pleasures satisfy you? Or will they ever compensate you for the loss of a Father’s favour and of a Father’s countenance? The world calls off the allegiance of many from the King of kings; the world lives on your substance while it lasts, and it sucks out no small advantage from many a prodigal. But then, when you, poor sinner, have spent, or rather misspent, all your golden opportunities, when you have lavished all your hopes of heaven, when you have bartered your heavenly birthright for an earthly mess of pottage, what next? Having cast your precious pearls before swine, be sure they will turn and rend you; and the world that once flattered you is now the first to forsake and forget you. Tell me, is that a reward worth living for? Is that a fate worth leaving your home to purchase? Is that a destiny worth putting yourself to so much trouble to attain? How much better the choice of Moses--“choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season”; or the experience of David--“A day in Thy courts is better than a thousand”--spent in the world and in the things of the world, and in sin and in the pleasures of the world: “I had rather be a door-keeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.” And oh! prodigal, let it never be said of you, that you have subsided to the lowest level of sin, that you prefer to abide in the tents of wickedness, as did the prodigal. (R. Maguire, D. D.)

Unsatisfied desires

Who will give to the hungry heart of man, whose appetite will not, cannot, be put off with husks, whose desires are so infinite, whose yearning is so unutterable? Where shall we look to satisfy the craving of that spirit made to be filled with all the fulness of God? Who will give to him? Shall we appeal to the gaudy, painted world, with its brief pageant, its short-lived joys, its aimless tumult and hubbub? What has Fashion to give her votaries and her victims? A delirious dream, a momentary intoxication, a giddy whirl of social and animal excitement, and then the bitterness and the heartache as this unsubstantial feast of Tantalus passes from us, and leaves us as empty as ever. But the heart wants something more than a masquerade, something more than toys and gewgaws, with which for a little season grown-up children may disport themselves--something more than the sights and sounds that please the eye and ear for the moment, only to leave the real man still unpleased, as he asks impatiently, “Is this all? Is this all?” And still the dismal record remains, “And no man gave unto him.” To whom shall we appeal? Can Mammon do nothing for us? Surely never was deity served with greater devotion by his devotees than day by day is lavished on him. Will he do nothing for our spiritual hunger? Ah, my brethren, the value of money is what it will fetch, and if it won’t fetch us true satisfaction, or peace, or hope, or moral dignity, what the richer are we? Can the human spirit digest gold, or assimilate it to its mysterious substance? The rich fool in the parable seemed to indulge some such delusion, but he only proved his folly by doing so. So little can Mammon do for our real happiness, that we are in the habit of distinguishing the most devoted of his worshippers, the very high priests of his shrine, with the title of “misers,” implying that they are of all men the most miserable. The indignant heart declines this mockery of its desire, and still the mournful sentence remains true, “And no man gave unto him.” Where shall we look? Shall we fall back upon the charms of literature and art, and satiate our senses in the hope of ministering to our spirits? Here we meet with some encouragement from some of our modern teachers, who will have us believe in no heaven save a picture-gallery or a concert-room, and in no Deity save high art. And some would have us think that Nature is our true foster-mother, and that the satisfaction denied elsewhere is to be found in prying into her secrets and examining her hidden mysteries. These are noble dreamers, these hierophants of art and science; and perhaps they come the nearest of answering our demands. Yet even here we only find disappointment. The wise man was right when he said, “All things are full of weariness; man cannot utter it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing.” These things please us most in early days, when first with youthful enthusiasm we begin to worship the beautiful or to investigate the curious; but there is something m man more divine than taste and more profound than curiosity, and this higher element in man neither art nor science can reach. “I don’t know how it is,” said a distinguished art critic, a man of the highest culture and refinement, and one who had possessed for the greater part of his life every facility for aesthetic enjoyment in his circumstances and training--“I don’t know how it is, but now, in middle life, art no longer affects me as it once did. There was once a keen joy that I would be conscious of in perusing a beautiful poem, or in looking at a really good picture, which I can’t get up now, however much I may try. I can’t work myself by any effort of my will into anything at all like the enthusiasm that once seemed quite spontaneous. I can’t say I get much enjoyment out of art now; it’s more a business than a pleasure.” Still even in these higher regions, visited only by the few, and where we might expect that the mighty famine would be less keenly felt, it remains true, “And no man gave unto him.” (W. M. Hay Aitken, M. A.)

When he came to himself

The prodigal repenting

I. THE PRODIGAL COMES TO HIMSELF. He had, as it were, been all abroad; he had not been really at home in any sense; he had not been looking at himself, nor studying himself, nor thinking of his real condition and his real want. Those interests which were really his highest, and which he should have felt to be his highest, he had never for a moment set his thoughts upon. All that he should have cared about he was quite careless of; unobservant, ignorant of that which was really his good. We speak of a man being out of his mind; we speak of a man coming again into his right mind; and these familiar expressions of ours may very well serve to help us to see something of the depth of meaning here--“He came to himself.” The mind which, as it were, should have been at home, roams abroad. So it was with this man: his mind, first in wild enjoyment, and then in despairing expedient; himself first clad in all sorts of gaiety and gaudy robes, and then clad again in rags; at one time in the haunts of sensual pleasure, at another time in the gloomy caves of woe: now intoxicated with the very delights on which his soul was set, now again obstinate and morose. The mind of his at last came home--“He came to himself”; and then it was, when he came to himself, that the great reality broke upon him, and he saw what was the truth at the time, and what had been the truth before. Then his real condition was apparent to him, and all his sadness stood up before him, firm, and stark, and stern, so as to terrify him. And then he could not but contrast the state of things in which he was, and the condition of things which he well knew existed at home--“How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare!”

II. THE PRODIGAL RESOLVES. Of all the ways in which he had hitherto gone, he now finds that none is the right way, particularly that way of all others which he first chose for himself, the way which led him from his father’s home, the first way in which he ever put his feet. But now he sees that there is only one certain way of peace and hope; that there is no way like this--the way that brings him back to his father. Therefore he determines to go and to confess the whole--to make a clean breast of the whole--to cast himself upon his father’s mercy, to be taken back upon his father’s terms, and upon no terms of his own--“Make me as one of thy hired servants”: give me even the very lowest place at thy feet; only receive me home. It is impossible, I think, to agree with the opinion of some, that in this expression, “Make me as one of thy hired servants,” there is a lurking pride. Some suppose that in this expression he purposes to work out his restoration. It is quite clear, however, that this explanation is quite contrary to the spirit of the gospel, and therefore cannot satisfy the words of the parable. The force of the passage is not in the words, “Make me as one of thy hired servants”; that is only thrown in to heighten the effect. The force of the petition lies in the words, “I am no more worthy to be called thy son.” Only take me home; only let me find my place near thee, in thy service, and I am content to have any terms whatever, even though I be “as one of thy hired servants.” And it is even thus that the Spirit of God leads an awakened sinner to his Father’s home on high; it is even thus that He pursues His work, when, having convinced the man of sin, He goes on to convince him of righteousness. The sinner is brought to the first real state of true awakening of heart and conscience; the sinner is made to see what he is; he comes to himself; and then, by the gracious teaching of the Spirit of God, there pass over him similar feelings to those which filled this younger son’s mind, and then he says, “I will arise, and go to my Father, and will say unto Him, I have sinned against heaven, and before Thee”; and so he feels that there is no need now for him to abide where he is. There may be, indeed, fears; there may be doubts; again and again these will arise; but there is an ever-urging impulse of the Spirit of all grace upon his conscience and upon his heart to take up the words so often, but, alas I so vainly repeated by hundreds of us--“I will arise, and go to my Father.”

III. There is yet a third stage--THE STAGE OF ACTION. It is of the first consequence that action should follow resolution. In any case, if a man makes a resolution that is worth anything, the sooner he puts it into action the better; and, of all the characteristics which call out admiration, this is above all others-decision; and the man who knows not only how to decide, but how to act upon his decision, is the man whom others most approve; that is the man to deserve our confidence, and the man to get it. And therefore the Lord draws a perfect picture, not simply of an awakened man, but of a man that feels pressure; not only of a man who resolves that something must be done to relieve this pressure, but one who gets up and does it; a man who acts; a man who knows how to do that which he has resolved to do--“He arose and came to his father.” Yes, there was hope for him. He felt that of all places where he was likely to find peace, his father’s heart and his father’s bosom was the place where he would find most. (C. D. Marston, M. A.)

The prodigal’s conversion

I. THE CAUSES OF THE PRODIGAL’S CONVERSION. First, affliction, bodily and mental. He suffered from hunger, from hard treatment, from base ingratitude of former companions, and from a deep consciousness of his most degraded condition. How naturally true is all this. How it perfectly accords with the experience of all without exception who sell themselves to the world! We do not say, that many profligate and worldly-minded men do not for a season prosper in their career. No, on the contrary, for a season their path lies undisturbed by any piercing sorrow or harrowing disappointment; but, notwithstanding this, a time does really come when the most reckless and the most indifferent feel the bitterness of the vanity they have courted, and taste with loathing the dregs of an existence they have worn out, wasted, and exhausted in the service of “the prince of darkness.” Secondly, a return to reason, and to a consciousness of his real state and condition, was another cause in operation with the prodigal. “When he came to himself,” it is said; so that before this time he was not himself. He was the slave of others, the slave of his own passions and pursuits, and thus he was not himself in the freedom of one who is impelled and influenced by the best and noblest feelings and faculties of our human nature. He was like one in a dream, apparently acting as a sane and wakeful man, but in reality not so. Or he might be justly considered as acting the part of a maniac--that part specially which throws up health, life, home, and all the dearest bonds of enlightened intelligence and parental fondness, for a passing shadow, for a bubble glittering momentarily on the very stream which breaks it, for false hopes which rise only to bewilder, mislead, and destroy, and, in short, for a small section of time at the cost of a bright immortality. Thirdly, another cause is found in the exercise and influence of memory. The poor prodigal goes back in thought to the home of his father. He said, “How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough, and to spare.” He remembers the days long past, when he was surrounded with every comfort, and when every association of his earlier days was hallowed by a father’s love and a father’s care. What a contrast does his present miser able state offer to that of a former period! Well, and it is still by the power of memory that men turn their thoughts and affections towards God.

II. THE RESULTS.

1. Here we discover, in the first place, decision of purpose. The young man does not halt or waver in his opinions. He is fully alive to the folly and sin of his former course of life, and now he is determined upon a change. And observe, this decision is absolutely necessary in the case of all who would become members of the household of Christ. There must be a steady and fixed determination to withstand every inducement to return, and to pursue the object set before the mind through every difficulty. The journey may be long and dreary; its pathways may be rugged and steep, full of pressing dangers on the right hand and on the left. Storms may await you m your passage, and many a lurking foe may dodge your footsteps on their weary march; but the purpose to return to God must remain unchanged; firm as the mountain summit, which still points heavenwards, whether the sunlight robes it in reflected grandeur, or whether the thundercloud clothes it with darkness, and the lightning scorches it with flame.

2. We observe another result in deep contrition of heart. The review of a past dissolute and thoughtless career produces in the awakening mind a humiliating sense of wrong and insult offered to the kind and tender father of an ungrateful child. And who so kind, and merciful, and loving as the Father of heaven and earth? And who so ungrateful and rebellious as the children of men? These are great truths recognized, acknowledged, and felt with the deepest humility by every sincere and honest-hearted disciple of the Saviour. (W. D. Horwood.)

The madness of sinners

It is related in the life of Colonel Gardiner, that, after his remarkable conversion from a course of irreligion and debauchery to the fear and love of God, and a conduct agreeable to the gospel, it was reported among his gay companions that he was stark mad, a report at which none who know the wisdom of the world in these matters will be surprised. He therefore took the first opportunity of meeting a number of them together; and after having defended a righteous, sober, and godly life, and challenged them to prove that a life of irreligion and sensuality was preferable to it, one of the company cut short the debate, and said, “Come, let us call another cause: we thought this man mad, and he is in goad earnest proving that we are so.” Perhaps there are few among the irreligious and licentious part of mankind who would make so flank a confession; yet if we take our notions of things from the dictates of unprejudiced reason and the Word of God, we shall be sensible that this sentiment is true, that religious men are the only persons in their right minds, and that all the rest are in a state of miserable distraction.

I. EVERY UNCONVERTED SINNER IS A MADMAN, OR BESIDE HIMSELF.

1. He does not use his understanding as he ought.

2. Further, he acts contrary to the nature of things, his own professed judgment and true interest (Ecclesiastes 9:3). “Madness in general,” as one observes, “means such an extravagant deviation from the common apprehensions and actions of men, as discovers either the want or total disorder of some of the principal faculties which men daily exercise in common life. Now vice is the same deviation from the established constitution of nature, and the same violation of its laws, as madness is of the ordinary practice of mankind.” As in a natural lunacy, there are oftentimes intervals in which the unhappy creature is himself, and seems for a time well, so it is in this moral disorder. Sinners are sometimes under strong convictions of the misery of their state; are sensible of the necessity and excellency of true religion, and accuse and condemn themselves for neglecting it; and for a while they act rationally, but soon return to folly. The distraction appears again; they grow worse than before, and forget their wise acknowledgments and good resolutions.

3. He is averse to the proper methods of cure. In many cases of lunacy persons will speak and act rationally except upon one particular subject. So it is here. Though with regard to the concerns of this world and his temporal interest he may act wisely and rationally, yet to that which is “the one thing needful,” “the whole of man,” and the main concern of an immortal being, he pays little attention. But there is this difference, and it shows the prodigious folly and madness of sinners, that their distraction is voluntary; they bring it upon themselves; they choose it, and love to have it so. Such is the deceitfulness of sin, that when once a man hath devoted himself to it, he generally persists in it against the clearest dictates of conscience, and will call it happiness, though he feels it to be misery, whereas a natural madness is a calamity, not a crime, and the unhappy persons who are affected with it deserve our tenderest sympathy. I observe--

II. WHEN A SINNER REPENTS AND RETURNS UNTO GOD HE COMES TO HIMSELF. So the prodigal in the text. His necessities brought him to himself. He thought and considered, received and returned to his father. And his father received him “safe and sound,” as it is expressed (Luke 15:27). (J. Orton.)

The resolution

I. In the first place, we have brought before us THE TRUE CONDITION OF THE SINNER SO LONG AS HE IS AWAY FROM GOD. “When he came to himself”: that implies that in some very real sense he had not been perfectly himself. Generally, commentators have supposed that the reference here is to insanity, and they tell us, with perfect truth, that the sinner is m some respects like a madman. He follows delusions as if they were realities, and he treats realities as if they were delusions. His moral nature is perverted, just as the lunatic’s intellect is beclouded; and, in regard to duty, he makes mistakes similar to those which the maniac makes in ordinary matters. So he may well be styled mad; but there is this solemn difference between him and the ordinary lunatic, that while insanity cancels responsibility, the sinner is not only blameworthy for his moral perversity, but his responsibility continues in spite of it. Although, however, there are thus many interesting and striking points of resemblance between the condition of the maniac and that of the sinner, I am not sure that the “coming to himself,” in the verse before me, suggests the being “ beside himself,” as the condition out of which he came. Equally it may imply that he was “beneath himself,” or that there was in him a certain unconsciousness, out of which he required to be roused before he could be thoroughly himself. When, for example, one has fainted away and recovers, we say that “he has come to himself again,” implying that his consciousness has returned. Now, in my view, this is the preferable way of looking at the analogy of my text. The moral nature of this poor youth was virtually dead. His conscience had become seared, so that he was, in a manner, unconscious that there was such a faculty within him. It was there, but it was asleep. It was there, but it was so precisely as the intellectual nature is in a man when he is in a faint: it was inoperative, it was not consciously possessed by him. At length, however, roused by a sense of his degradation, it awoke, and then he came to himself. Very much in the same way the sinner’s higher nature is dormant in him.

II. But we have here, secondly, THE CHANGE OF THIS CONDITION--“he came to himself.” A new light broke upon this youth in the midst of his darkness. He saw things as he had never before perceived them. Not till now did he discover the guilt and issue of the course which he had been pursuing; and never in his past experience had his father’s house seemed to him so precious. For the first time since he left his home, he awoke from “the dream his life-long fever gave him,” and things as they were stood unveiled before him. Now, so it is with the sinner. His conversion, too, is an awakening. New thoughts stir within his soul; new feelings vibrate in his bosom. He begins to see what before had been to him almost like a landscape to a man born blind. It is not that new things are called into existence outside of him, for all things are there as they were before. It is rather that his eyes have been opened to see them, and the wonder of his whole subsequent life is that he never saw them till then. He perceives now the danger in which he stands, and recognizing the ability and willingness of God to help him, he cries, like Peter, sinking in the waters, “Lord, save me; I perish.”

III. But it is time now that we should consider THE PRODIGAL’S REFLECTIONS ON COMING TO HIMSELF. They were twofold--having regard, first, to himself, and, second, to his father’s house. In reference to himself, he said, “I perish with hunger.” Now, as I said in the outset, there was distinct progress here. Never before had this youth allowed himself to think that death by starvation was to be the issue if he remained in the far land, but so soon as that shaped itself to him clearly, he took his resolution to arise. It is the same with men and their return to God. I believe that if we could narrow down the choice of the sinner to one or other of these two alternatives--everlasting destruction, as the consequence of guilt, or eternal salvation, through faith in Jesus Christ--we should have no difficulty in impelling him to decide in the right direction; but because he persists in believing that there is some loophole left him through which he may escape, even if he should not accept salvation through Christ, he continues indifferent to the statements of the gospel. Awake, O sinner! to the danger in which you stand. If you continue as you are, there is nothing but destruction before you. But the prodigal’s reflections had reference also to his father’s house. He said, “How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare!” Bread!--once he thought of greatness and wealth, now, however, he will be content with bread--yea, if he could only have what many a time he had seen his father’s servants lay aside as not required by them, he would be content. There was enough at home, if he were only there. Now, similarly, the sinner, in conversion, comes to the persuasion that there is plenty for him in God. If you ask how this is brought about in him, I answer, by his belief of the statements of the gospel, for it is here that we must bring in the doctrine of the Cross.

IV. I dare not conclude without noticing, however briefly, THE RESOLUTION TO WHICH THOSE REFLECTIONS LED. “I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. Make me as one of thy hired servants.” This youth determined, there and then, to go back to his home, not, however, in a dogged, sullen spirit, but in a thoroughly penitent disposition. He blames no one but himself; he resolves to make a full and frank acknowledgment of his folly; and now, instead of claiming anything as a rightful portion, he is willing to be treated as a servant. Now, taking this as representing the sinner’s repentance, one or two things need to be noted, as suggested by it. In the first place, there is an unreserved confession of sin: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee.” He does not soften matters, and speak of his “faults” or his “ failings.” He does not say, in a self-extenuating way, “I have been a little wild”; but he puts the plain truth forth in all its hideousness, “I have sinned!” Neither, again, does he cast the blame on others. His language is, “I have sinned; the guilt is mine. I have no wish to evade it, or explain it away. I am ashamed of myself.” Yet, once more, the enormity of his wickedness before heaven is that which most distresses him. He had brought many evils on himself. He had inflicted great injuries upon others; but that which most burdens him now is that he has sinned against God--the Father who has done so much for him, and has even, after all and above all, sent His Son into the world to make atonement for his guilt. This is painful to him in the extreme, and he can do nothing but weep over it, but his tears, in the estimation of God, are of more value than the glittering diamond, for they tell Him that He has found at last His long-lost child. This is true penitence. This is the contrite heart which the Lord will not despise. But, looking again at the resolution before us, we find in it a determination to personal exertion--“I will arise!” The prodigal did not wait till some one else should come and lift him and carry him to his home. Finally, here, this resolution was promptly acted upon--“He arose and went to his father.” Just as he was, all tattered and filthy, he went back. He did not say, looking at his garments the while, “I cannot go this way; I must wash myself, and change my raiment, and then set out.” Had he mused in that fashion, he would probably never have returned; but he went as he was. So, in conversion, the sinner gives himself back to God just as he is. He does not seek to make himself better. He delays not to work out for himself a robe of righteousness. He waits not even for deeper feelings, or for more intense conviction. He puts himself into God’s hands, sure that, for Christ’s sake, He will make him all that he should be. “Such as I am,” he says, “take me and make me such as Thou wouldst have me to be.” (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

The madness of sin

“He came to himself.” This implies his former mad and insane state. The sinner’s condition is one of madness.

I. MADNESS IS THE DERANGEMENT OF THE INTELLECTUAL POWERS.

II. IN MADNESS PASSION RULES INSTEAD OF REASON.

III. MADNESS IS CONNECTED WITH STRANGE DELUSIONS.

IV. MADNESS WILL BE PROVED BY THE OBJECTS OF CHOICE AND REJECTION. A sane person prefers good to evil, safety to danger, etc. A madman has no just idea of things. He trifles with peril, sports with danger, rejects the good, and chooses the evil.

V. MADNESS WILL BE MANIFEST FROM THE CONVERSATION. It is either violent, incoherent, or insipid.

VI. MADMEN ARE UNINFLUENCED BY COUNSEL. How true of sinners! Parents have counselled--“My son, if thy heart,” etc. Friends have counselled--“Come thou with us,” etc. Ministers have counselled; the Holy Spirit has counselled, etc. Yet sinners will not hear.

VII. MADMEN THINK ALL OTHERS MAD, SAVE THEMSELVES. Mad infidel, says all believers are mad; mad drunkard, thinks the sober are mad, etc. Worldling thinks the heavenly-minded Christian is mad. Festus, Paul. Even of Jesus they said, “He has a devil, and is mad.”

VIII. MADMEN ARE DANGEROUS TO OTHERS.

IX. MADNESS IS OFTEN FATAL IN ITS RESULTS. Application:

1. Spiritual madness is self-procured, therefore wilful and altogether inexcusable.

2. Spiritual madness tends to the death of the soul. Eternal woe.

3. For spiritual madness there is one grand efficient remedy, and one only, the glorious gospel of the blessed God, salvation by faith in the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ.

4. The application of this remedy invariably brings sinners to a right state of mind. (J. Burns, D. D.)

Sin as insanity

It is said of the lost son that after he had sunk into the lowest depths of misery and wretchedness “he came to himself.” These words tell us of the madness of sin. I am sure it is not without reason that we dwell upon the thought.

I. And, in doing so, I am not forgetting the objection, not altogether an unreasonable one, THAT IT IS OFTEN DANGEROUS TO LINGER OVER EVIL AND THE THOUGHT OF EVIL. There are morbid, diseased, scrupulous consciences, we may be told, which will never be rendered healthy by brooding over sin; and, besides, it is better for us to be gazing up into the clear blue sky of God’s holiness and love than to be bending over the foul, seething, poisonous cesspool of sin--And yet, on the other hand, we shall never escape from the power of sin until we obtain true views of it. And then, with regard to the other suggestion, it is indeed far better, in all ways, that men should raise up their heads into the pure atmosphere of God’s presence, and gaze upon the light of His holiness, rather than hang over the fumes of evil and corruption; but, alas I men do hang over these, do keep looking down into the fermenting, putrefying mass of evil without knowing its true character, and are continually inhaling its noxious, deadly vapours. It is only when they are thoroughly convinced of their pestilential character that they will withdraw from their influence and seek to breathe a purer atmosphere.

II. Now, let us ask this question seriously: ARE WE ALL OF US, OR EVEN MANY OF US, DEEPLY, SOLEMNLY IMPRESSED WITH THE FEARFUL, DESTRUCTIVE, DEADLY CHARACTER OF SIN? In order to answer the question, let us for one moment glance at those general features of moral evil which have already been brought before us in this parable, and then ask what evidence is found among us of that hatred and loathing of sin which its real character should produce.

III. SIN IS MADNESS, FROM WHATEVER POINT OF VIEW WE REGARD THE SUBJECT. There are different phases of insanity. There is raving madness, there is melancholy madness, there is the insanity of mental imbecility, there is monomania, the madness which is excited by one particular subject, whilst on all other points the mind is calm and rational. The mere mention of these forms of insanity will bring to your recollection corresponding forms of sin. You will think of the raving madness of unrestrained anger and violence of temper, or the frenzy of the drunkard; you will think of the solitary brooding over secret sin; of the foolish, irrational, inexplicable sins into which men allow themselves to be led; of the one besetting sin which oftentimes mars a character which were otherwise of exceptional and surprising excellence. Or, again, let us ask what are the signs by which we satisfy ourselves that the mind has lost its balance, and we shall find that these have their antitypes in the lives of sinful men. We say, for example, that a man is insane when he has a weakened or perverted judgment, so weakened and perverted that he is unable to discern between truth and falsehood, between right and wrong. Another sign of insanity is found in the subjection of the will to uncontrollable impulses--when its free action is so impaired that a sudden gust of passion, of anger, or of fear, or of any other passion, carries the whole man before it as a feather is carried by a blast of wind. Or, again, among the signs of insanity we reckon a liability to illusions respecting one’s own condition and circumstances, or regarding those by when we are surrounded. Once more, not to draw out the subject too tediously, we say that a man is mad when, in the conduct of his life or in the management of his affairs, he neglects the known and ordinary principles of human action. Every one of these signs is to be found among those who are subject to tim dominion of sin; not every one in all of them, but one sign in one and another in another, just as it is among those who are the victims of insanity.

IV. If any think that the language of exaggeration has been employed, or if any would desire to see still more clearly the true character of sin, I will ask them TO CONSIDER THE REMEDY WHICH GOD IN HIS WISDOM AND LOVE PROVIDED FOR THE DELIVERANCE OF MANKIND. It was nothing less than the incarnation and sacrifice of the eternal Son of God. God spared not His own Son, but gave Him up freely for us all. How sore, then, must have been man’s need, how terrible his malady, when no less remedy was thought sufficient by our Father in heaven! Let those who think lightly of sin, of its true character and of its effects, turn their eyes to Calvary, contemplate the Son of God agonizing and dying, and then let them consider the explanation of that which He endures: “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed.” I think, my brethren, that no one who duly considers what is involved in words like these will ever think or speak lightly on the subject of sin.

V. And here it is my duty, as it is my privilege, to offer AN EARNEST REMONSTRANCE WITH THOSE--AND THEY ARE NOT A FEW--WHO SEEM TO THINK BUT LITTLE OF THAT AWFUL MALADY WITH WHICH ALL MEN ARE MORE OR LESS AFFLICTED, AND UNDER WHICH MANY ARE NOW SUFFERING AND DYING. And let me remind you that there is no real cure for the madness of sin, there is no true remedy for this monster evil but that which sows in our hearts the seeds of holiness, as well as sheds upon our conscience the sense of pardon. The mere repression of evil, even if it were by itself possible, would be altogether insufficient. It is not enough to “cease to do evil”; we must “learn to do well.” We must not only forsake the service of the world and the devil; we must become the servants of God and of Christ. (W. R. Clark, M. A.)

Gaming to himself

History tells us that during the reign of Queen Elizabeth the Spaniards once unjustly imprisoned some English subjects. No reasoning or expostulation could induce the Spanish authorities to release them; when our queen, finding all other means had failed, lost all patience, and sent a peremptory message declaring that if the imprisoned English were not immediately liberated her fleets and armies should know the reason why. The threat accomplished more than all the previous remonstrances, for at the mention of “fleets and armies” the captives were immediately released. It is often found that one stroke of the rod will bring men to their senses sooner than all the reasoning which can be urged. They can afford to be stubborn and perverse so long as their persons are secure; but the first smart of a reversed fortune will make them yield to all your arguments. So it was with the prodigal. By the swine troughs he came to himself.

I. THE PRODIGAL’S MADNESS. Strange as it may seem to some, it may be proved to a demonstration that every unsaved sinner under heaven is a madman If you saw a river bursting its banks, and while the flood rushes over meadow and lawn, bearing everything before its fury, also saw a man, who, perceiving its approach, begins to clap his hands and laughs in high glee, making no effort to escape from the impending destruction, would you not deem that man mad? If you saw a snake coiling round the body of a man, and although he well knows that it will crush him in a short time, strokes the glittering thing, and, absorbed in admiring its speckled scales, makes no effort to extricate himself, would you not think him mad? If you saw a beggar sitting on a dunghill, with rags covering his body, some broken pottery on his head, and a thorn-stick in his hand, and shouting to all who passed that he is a king, his rags imperial purple, the broken pottery his diadem, and the thorn-stick his sceptre, would you not also deem him mad? Or if you saw men seeking with all the ardour of their nature certain ends by such means as in the nature of things could not possibly ensure success, or wasting their time on the most trivial matters, while their most important concerns are unattended to, would you not deem these men beside themselves? And how do sinners act? In common with all mankind they want peace and safety, and they seek them in the things that are passing away. They want an abiding refuge, and they take shelter in a world that every day is drawing nearer to its doom.

II. THE PRODIGAL RETURNING TO HIS SENSES. “He came to himself.” He went away that he might find himself; but the farther he went from home the farther he went from himself. Self was only found when he resolved on finding his father.

1. The first evidence of the prodigal’s returning to his senses is his stopping calmly to consider. The great want of sinners is reflection. But blinded by drink, or lust, or avarice, or deceived by pride or imaginary goodness, they heed not the cry of the charmer, charm he never so wisely. In their devotion to the pursuit of their glittering baubles they are deaf to the solicitations of wisdom; they will not consider. Reflection is the window which lets the light of truth in upon the soul, that its real wants may be discovered; is the friendly hand that plucks the child from danger when the house is on fire; is the voice of wisdom that checks the power of passion, and points to the path of peace. “Thus saith the Lord of hosts, Consider your ways:” There is hope of a man as soon as he begins to consider.

2. Another evidence of the prodigal’s returning to his senses is, his forming a right resolution. “I will arise, and go to my father.” (W. G. Pascoe.)

A mind’s transition

So rooted is the heart’s enmity to God, that man must often be driven, as by the blast of a tempest, to submission and to duty. The prodigal must suffer beneath want, and shame, and abandonment before he thinks on his ways, and turns longingly to the house of his Father. How often is it that the consequences of crime--the disease, the misery, the remorsefulness which wait upon the track of sin, though in themselves sequences of a purely natural law, are used of God as means to impression and salvation! You must not suppose that the mind of the prodigal came at once, in sudden revulsion, from heedlessness to serious thought, and from obduracy to tender and softened feeling. There would be, in all probability, in accordance with the laws of mental working, several preliminary stages. The earliest feelings would still partake of the character of resistance and rebellion. An awakened conscience, that is not pacified, only exasperates into more audacious rebellion. Many a man, whom shame has only maddened into more frantic resistance, walks the earth to-day a moral Laocoon, stung in a living martyrdom by the serpents which in his bosom ledge. It is hardly credible how much, not only of human sadness, but of human sin, has sprung from the soul’s first passionate recoil against detected criminality, or blasted reputation, or enforced penalty, or stained honour. When remorse scourges, it is not, like Solomon, with whips, but, like Rehoboam, with scorpions; and the intolerable anguish of a wounded spirit has prompted to many a deed of violence, from which, before his passions were hounded into madness by a guilty conscience, the man would have shrunk with loathing and with horror. Oh, when evil passions and an evil conscience seethe in the same caldron, who can imagine or create a deeper hell? The sullen despondency with which the prodigal would strive to reconcile himself to his fate would mingle with oft-repeated curses pronounced upon his adverse destiny, rather than his own folly. But all this was but the swathing grave-cloth out of whose folds the new man was to rise--the gathering of the dark and angry cloud which was soon to be dissolved in showers, and on whose bosom the triumphant sun would paint the iris by and by. That ever-present Spirit who strives with men to bring them to the knowledge of the truth was doubtless all the while at work up-n the prodigal’s heart; and when He works, out of the brooding storm come the calm and the zephyr of the summer-tide--out of the death of enjoyment the rare blessedness which is the highest good--out of the death-working sorrow of the world the repentance which is unto life eternal. We know not precisely how the change was effected from the hardness of heart, and contempt of God’s word and commandment, to the softening of thought and contrition. Perhaps the Divine Spirit, wrought by the power of memory, thawed the ice away from the frosted spirit by sunny pictures of the past--by the vision of the ancestral home--of the guileless childhood--of the father’s ceaseless strength of tenderness--of the spell of a living mother’s love, or of the holier spell of a dead one.

I. A TRANSITION FROM MADNESS TO REASON. All the habits in which the sinner is wont to indulge answer to the habits and delusions of those who have been bereft of reason, or in whom it has been deposed from its rightful government of the man. Madness is rash and inconsiderate action--action without thought of consequences. The madman’s hand is suddenin its violence; the madman’s tongue shoots out its barbed arrows; he is reckless of the slain reputation, or of the murdered life; and is not like rashness a characteristic of the sinner? Little recks he of his own dishonour, or of the life that he has wasted in excess of riot. He goes heedlessly on, though his every step were up the crater’s steep, and mid the crackling ashes. Madness is mistake of the great purposes of life; the employment of the faculties upon objects that are contemptible and unworthy. Hence you see the lunatic intently gazing into vacancy, or spending hours in the eager chase of insects on the wing, or scribbling, in strange medley of the ribald and the sacred, scraps of verse upon the tornout pages of a Bible. And are there not greater degradations in the pursuits which engross such multitudes of the unconverted? When a sinner comes to himself he blushes for his former frenzy; he feels himself a child of the Divine; he feels himself an heir of the eternal; and, looking with a strange disdain upon the things which formerly trammelled him, he lifts heavenward his flashing eye, and says, “There is my portion and my home.”

II. There is a transition, again, FROM PRIDE TO SUBMISSION AND ACKNOWLEDGMENT. In his former mood of mind he only intensified his own rebellion, and was ready, doubtless, to blame circumstances, or companions, or destiny, or anything rather than his own wickedness and folly. “All things have conspired against me; never, surely, bad any one so hard a lot as I. I might not have been exactly prudent now and then, but I have done nothing to merit such punishment as this. I will never confess that I have done wrong; if I were to return to my father, I would not abate a hair’s-breadth of my privileges; I would insist--and it is right, for am I not his son?--upon being treated precisely as I was before.” So might have thought the prodigal in his pride. But in his penitence no humiliation is too low for him--no concealment nor extenuation is for a moment entertained; with the expectation, not of sonship, but of servitude, and with the frank and sorrowful acknowledgment of sin, he purposes to travel, and to cast himself at the FEET OF HIS FATHER.

III. A TRANSITION FROM DESPONDENCY TO ACTIVE AND HOPEFUL ENDEAVOUR. There is not only the mental process, but the corresponding action--the rousing of the soul from its indolent and tormenting despair. This is one main difference between the godly sorrow and that consuming sadness which preys upon the heart of the worldling: the one disinclines, the other prompts to action; the one broods over its own haplessness until it wastes and dies, the other cries piteously for help, and then exults in deliverance and blessing. There was something more than fable in the old mythology which told of Pandora’s box--a very receptacle of ills made tolerable only because there was hope at the bottom. In every true contrition there is hope. (W. M. Punshon, LL. D.)

Coming to one’s self

We may interpret this as we use the term familiarly, as where a man is out of his head, out of his mind, and we say when his reason is restored that he has “come to himself” again. Or, when a man comes out of a swoon, he is said to “come to himself,” by which is meant, simply, that he comes to the possession and use of faculties that for a time were clouded, or hindered in their operation. You may also use it in a broader sense; and it is thus that I propose to use it. It may be made to throw much light on the course which men are pursuing at large--even those who do not indulge in passionate excesses, and in the wallow of the appetites. It is proper that we should determine what a man’s manhood is; what it is that is man, in man. Not everything. There is a difference between men and the animated creation, a part of which they are. And it is not fair to attempt to determine our manhood by the things which we have in common with the ass, with the ex, with the lion, or with the serpent. We must rise higher than the things which are possessed by these creatures, in order to find out what manhood is in man.

1. Looking at it in this light, the first thing that I will mention, as discriminating men from every other part of creation, and as constituting a portion of their true manhood, is their reason--and that in two aspects.

2. The next constituent element of a true manhood is moral sense, or a constitution by which the soul recognizes moral obligations, from which, by a comparison of the performance of our life, measured by obligation, we come to understand the qualities of right and wrong; to accept a higher standard of obligation than mere self-will, or than mere self-indulgence and pleasure. There is no evidence that animals ever have a conception of right and wrong.

3. Then we have one more characteristic--a spiritual nature--an endowment of sentiments which inspire the idea of purity, of self-denial, of holy love, of supersensuousness. It is in this higher range of faculties, thus very briefly, compendiously defined, that a man is to look for his manhood.

You are a man by as much as you have this particular part developed. You are less than a man just in the proportion in which you recede and shrink from this kind of measuring. Since one’s manhood, or his true self, is to be found in his nobler attributes, and in his true spiritual relations, he who leaves these unused, and lives in the lower range of faculties, may be truly said to have forsaken himself. He has gone down out of himself into that which was a supplementary nature, an auxiliary part. He has left that nature of reason, and that nature of moral sense, and that nature of spirituality, which constitute his manhood, and has given himself up to the range of the senses. And that is the way the bird lives. That is the way the brute creation lives. He and they alike live for the gratification of the appetites and the passions. It does not require that a man should become an assassin, or a mighty criminal, before it can be said that he is unnatural. Every man that teaches himself to find the chief employments and enjoyments of his manhood lower than in his reason and moral sentiments and spiritual nature, has forsaken himself. Every man whose business is manual and physical, and who contents himself with that business, and feeds himself by nothing higher than that, is a creature that is spending his life forces lower than the level of true manhood. Take a step higher. Do you live habitually, in your ordinary affairs, in your social intercourse, in the things that you seek and the things that you avoid, according to the dictates of your moral sense? Are you conscious that you bring to bear upon your conduct the great moral measurements, the rights and the wrongs, that have been determined by the holiest experiences of the best men of the world, and have come down to us in the records of God’s Word, as God’s best judgments expressed through such experiences through thousands of years? Do you live in accord with them? Are you uniformly generous, uniformly unselfish, uniformly true? Is your life straight? Is your path from day to day a line drawn as true as a rule could draw it? Are you right-eous, or are you unright-eous? Measure your life by this higher moral sentiment. Is there a man who does not know that his life will not bear any such measurement as that? Every man says, “There is not a faculty that, when it acts, does not act crookedly.” Take any single one of your feelings and watch it for a single day, and you will find it to be so. You are living below your true manhood. It is only once in a while that you come to yourself. You do once in a while. When a truly eminent Christian man dies, and the sound of life is for a short time hushed, all your better feelings lay down their warlike feathers, and there rises up in your soul a consciousness, an ideal, of what you ought to be, and how you ought to live, for a single moment, it may be, or a single hour. I have seen men come over from their business in New York, to attend the funeral of a brother--of some eminent Christian--and shed tears in this house. When, for instance, Brother Coming was buried, I saw hard-faced men cry. And I know what we should hear such men say if we could listen to their conversation as they walk away on such occasions. “Dear brother,” says one, “we have been working for money; but that is not the main thing. It is only a little while that it can do us any good.” “That is true,” says another. “We must die soon. It will not be long before there will be just such a funeral for us. And are we ready?” And so these two men, greyhaired, it may be, very simple and very much in earnest, give expression to their feelings as they go down to Fulton Ferry. And as they cross over they say to themselves, “I will think of these things, and try to carry the impression of them with me.” But when they go up the street on the other side they meet this man and that man, and their minds are distracted from these serious thoughts; and when they get back into their counting-room they forget all about them. They did think they would tell their wives all about it when they got home at night; but when, at the supper-table, they were asked, “Husband, did you go to the funeral to-day?” they said, “Yes.” “Was it a good funeral?” “Very, very.” That was all they had to say about it! And yet they had had a revelation. They had come to themselves, though it was but for an hour. (H. W.Beecher.)

The dawn of better things

“He came to himself.” He never had come anywhere to so good a purpose. He had come to a far country and gained much knowledge at a very, very dear rate. He had come to strange doings, and seen strange characters, whose face it had been a mercy never to have seen. He has seen the world, and some of its mysteries of iniquity, and paid dearly for it; but now, at length, he comes to himself. He had always been a stranger there, unwilling to converse seriously with his own proud, flattering, deceived heart. Sometimes, in such cases as this, a young man cannot communicate with his friends; letters are intercepted, communication cut off. One of Satan’s plans is this, to put a barrier to prevent the prodigal coming to himself. No prisoner was ever so vigilantly watched--none so guarded with high walls, and gates, and bars, and spikes, as the sinner, to keep him from coming to himself. He is worked hard, he is deceived, he is blinded and led astray; he is kept from church; his Sundays are desecrated; his Bible taken away, or left unread; while bad books are laid on his table, and greedily devoured. Every avenue seems blocked up by which the prodigal might come to himself. Come now to himself, let us hear what he thinks and speaks to himself about. “How many hired servants of my father have bread enough and to spare, and I here perish with hunger.” The first thing that now stands, like a spectre, in the chamber of his dark and troubled mind, is the long-excluded image of his father. “There,” thought he, “far, far away, there is my father; his house, once my home, enriched with every comfort; and the servants, hirelings as they are, yet not a want have they that is unsupplied; and his own son, in this place, perishing with hunger!” The recollection comes home fresh and vivid to his mind’s eye; he sees them all again. And then, looking round on the sad reality of his dreary desolation, his strength failing from hunger, he is touched and humbled by the contrast--I here, in this wretched country, perish with hunger. There is the picture of an awakened sinner. God be thanked for this. He is at length come to himself. The dream is broken. “Why,” says he--“why should I sit here to starve? I will arise and go to my father.” Do you ask me whence came that godly purpose? I answer, from the Friend of publicans and sinners. It was no spontaneous resolution that sprung up of itself, among the better purposes of that young man’s nature. No, no. Sinners do not repent and turn to God in that fashion of themselves. Let us give the praise to whom the praise is due. “No man can come to Me, except the Father, which hath sent Me, draw him.” The sense of his wretchedness drew him--his dread of perishing--the tender recollections of his father’s love, and his well-known mercy--the desire springing up in his heart, and the hope of pardon springing up in his breast- these are the drawings of the Father’s grace, and these prevailed to bring his godly purposes to good effect. (W. B. Mackenzie, M. A.)

The prodigal’s madness

He had been under a hallucination. No doubt, if one had charged him with insanity, he would have denied the charge; and if a physician’s certificate had been required to prove his soundness of mind, he could easily have got it from one of the “far country” doctors, who possibly had sat at his table while his money lasted, and freely quaffed his mixed wine; but it would not have been so easy for him to get such a certificate from his own father, or his God. And had not his actions been like the actions of a madman? If you saw a man flinging sovereigns in handfuls into the sea, would you not be disposed to look into his eyes to satisfy yourself as to whether or not the ray of reason had altogether fled away from these expressive orbs? Now, had not this youth virtually done so? And do not multitudes, in our own day and land, at race-courses and in taverns, do the same? “But they are amused,” you say, “and excited at these places of resort.” And so is the madman who heaves away the sovereigns. In truth, he puts the shining coins to a much more harmless use than these other maniacs. (F. Ferguson, D. D.)

Sadness of a lapse after recovery

I heard Thackeray in this city lecture on “The Four Georges.” With his own peculiar eloquence, he described the sad insanity of George

III. I recollect especially his account of the poor king’s transient recovery. Mr. Pitt was sent for. It was a great event. The king had “come to himself.” The Regency Bill was preparing; but even yet it might not be required. Alas! his sanity was short-lived. For, sitting down at his favourite organ, he played a few notes--stopped--covered his face with his hands-burst into tears--and then reason fled for ever!

“I’ll hear what God the Lord will speak;

To His folk He’ll speak peace,

And to His saints; but let them not

Return to foolishness.”

It lies with them to say whether they will return to it or not. The poor king could not help returning to his foolishness, but Christians can. As spiritual insanity, from the first, is voluntary and culpable, so is the relapse into it. Resist the devil, and he and his hallucinations will flee from you. This youth in the parable did not return to his folly again, but to his father. (F. Ferguson, D. D.)

A young man come to himself

“And when he came to himself.” Then he had run away from himself. Precisely. He had not only run away from his father, and his family, and his home; but he had run away from himself, made escape from the voice of reason and of conscience, from his better nature, from all that constituted him a man. No doubt he thought it a very jolly life. Every desire was gratified; every passion had its festival of pleasure. But, of course, this could not last long. If you unhook the pendulum of a clock, the works will go fast and merrily, but they will soon run down. Presently his money was spent; his capacity for pleasure blunted; his character gone; and then the reaction came. The man was famishing. It was not only food he wanted, but the hunger of home was upon him, the yearning for sympathy, and respect, and love; and this brought him to his senses; the prodigal “came to himself.” What is it for a young man to come to himself? In common everyday life the expression is variously used, but always denotes that the person has come to better judgment, or to a fuller use of his faculties, than before. I need not say, however, that the expression on the lips of our Divine Lord has a broader and more serious meaning. A man may be perfectly calm in temper, clear in head, and vigorous in body, and yet never have really “come to himself.” He may never have apprehended where his real manhood lies. There is a great deal that we have in common with the lower animals: and, whilst you keep to that plane--so long as you live merely for your baser appetites and passions--so long as all you do is simply to sleep, and walk, and eat, and drink, and toil because you must toil, you have not yet come to yourselves, as reasonable, moral, and spiritual beings. For there are mainly three things in which man is distinguished from the brutes; and it is by these, and not by what he has in common with them, that his life should be inspired and his actions governed. I say that a man truly comes to himself only when the grand motors of his conduct are reason, conscience, and the indwelling Spirit of God. When is it generally that a man comes to himself? Ah I let this story tell. When he gets into trouble. When he “has spent all,” and begins to be in want, and “no man gives unto him.” I don’t mean to say that it is only under such conditions. Thank God, no. There have been men sitting here, with every earthly thing to make them contented, and God has made this pulpit a bow from which He has shot an arrow straight to the centre of their heart, and the arrow was never pulled out till they could call Christ their own. Your sister wrote you a serious letter, and dropped it into yon village post-office far away; it was moistened with tears, and perfumed with prayers; and when you read it you clean broke down and fell on your knees; and since that hour you have been another man. The delicious memory of those Sabbath evenings in your country home, ay, maybe twenty years ago, when in the gloaming (for the candles were scarcely needed) you all gathered round, and old father put on his spectacles, and opened the big well-worn Bible, and mother had the youngest on her knee, and you all read verse by verse, and said your catechism, and then sung a psalm together; I say, the memory of this has chastened you amid the follies of this great city, and made you thirst for purer streams than the giddy world can yield. But, as a rule, it is by some trouble or sorrow that God brings a man to himself. Many a man has “come to himself “ under the blow of some crushing bereavement. Yes; all the sermons in the world would not move him; all our arguments failed to make an impression. But one day there came to him a stealthy preacher without notes, and that pale preacher was Death; and when he saw his bonnie little sister lying cold in her coffin, or the turf laid smoothly over the grave that contained his precious mother, he could stand it no longer; he said, “From this hour my treasure and my heart shall be in heaven.” And we have had young men here who, like this youth in the parable, never came to themselves till they were in want. You were out of a situation; you could find nothing to do; all your testimonials failed to get you an opening. Some of your friends treated you, as you thought, shabbily. You had letters blowing you up for being unfortunate. You had spent all, and no one gave unto you. Men who used to shake your hand so tightly that your knuckles ached, now gave you but the coldest nod. How next week’s lodging was to be paid you could not see. And then, only then, in the bitterness of your extremity, you flung yourself upon God, and found that you had a Father and a Friend above. Oh, how many never find this out till the day of sorrow comes! A good, pious man met a poor ragged urchin in the street, and, putting his hand on his head, said, “My little man, when your father and your mother forsake you, who will take you up?” And what, think you, was the wee laddie’s answer? “The perlice, sir.” (J. T. Davidson, D. D.)

A sinner brought to his right mind

1. This young man first “came to himself” with regard to the past. He had thought previously that he was acting “sensibly”: now he sees that he has been playing the fool. He has been trying all along to persuade himself that he has really been enjoying himself; now he suddenly comes to the conclusion that all the while he has been a stranger to real happiness. He looks at those four, or five, or six years: before, he had plumed himself upon the life he had been leading; now, he scarcely dares to think about it; he hides his face with shame; he buries it in his hands, as he sits there in the field, the hot tears streaming through his fingers. “What a fool I have been! What a wretch I have been! What a base ingrate I have been! Good God! wert Thou to strike me down with a thunderbolt of displeasure to the very depths of hell, it is only what I deserve.”

2. And he “comes to himself” with regard to the present. He finds himself face to face with death. Nearer and nearer the grim spectre draws; the bow seems already bent, and the arrow seems already fixed, and in a moment the fatal shaft may fly, and his mortal career may end in doom. Face to face with death--it is an awful thing! He feels it in his own body. That strange numbness that is creeping over him, that sense of mortal weakness, that stupor which has already been paralyzing the senses--what is it? Incipient death. His strength has passed into weakness; he can scarcely totter across the field; his haggard form seems more fit for a sepulchre than for human society. What can he do? Whatever he can do he must do quickly. The tide of life is ebbing fast; a few more hours, and his opportunity will be gone. It is a long way to the country he has left--a long way to his father’s house; if anything is to be done, not so much as a moment is to be lost.

3. And thus it is that he also “comes to himself” with regard to the future. The future! What can he do? What hope is there for him? Has he not lost every chance, and thrown away every possibility? Nay, it strikes him that there is just one faint ray of hope: it seems a very faint one. Is there a possibility that he may get some relief from his friends in this distant land? No, he has given that up altogether. Can he not find a better master somewhere. No, he has tried all through the famine-stricken country, and this man that has “ sent him into the fields to feed swine” is the best that he can find. What can he do? Can he work any harder? No, he has no strength left to work. Where is hope to be found? Where is that ray of dim, uncertain light coming from? There rises up within his recollection the memory of a peaceful home, of calm, happy days. The bright sunlight of his childhood returns to his memory like a pleasant dream amidst the frightful horrors of his present experience. Could he regain it; could he retrace his steps, and get one more look at that dear old place; could he but sit down amongst the “hired servants” of his father’s house!

4. My friends, he not only “comes to himself” with regard to himself, but also with regard to his father: he had taken a wrong view of his father--a distorted view: he had painted him in the most repulsive colours; now he takes a different view of the case, and comes to the conclusion that, after all, he was wrong. He had wronged those hoary hairs. The thought rises in his mind, “He loved me; yes, he loved me after all; I saw the tear start into his eye when I left home; he wrung my hand when I went away from him, and his lip was quivering; though I have given him so much trouble, I know he loved me; he was never hard on me: when, as a child, I wanted anything reasonable, it was always within my reach; if I had childish troubles, those kind, fatherly hands were laid upon my brow, and fatherly words of tenderness were spoken in my ear--yes, he did love me; I have wronged him, I had no right to think him hard; he was not hard: I wonder if he is changed; years have passed over him, years have passed over me; I left him with a smiting countenance; I put on my best appearance, and tried to seem as though I did not care a straw for leaving him: perhaps he has hardened his heart against me, and will never look at me again; yet, perhaps--perhaps there is something like love in his heart towards me still; surely he cannot have altogether ceased to love his poor wandering boy.” So he starts to his feet, and in another moment the word of resolution has sped forth from his lips, “I will arise and go to my father.” It is even so with thee, dear awakened sinner. So soon as God begins to awaken thee, He awakens thee first of all with regard to the past. Are there not some of you that are awakened with regard to the past? You used to look upon it with complacency, now you look upon it with horror. You used to think well of yourself, now you cannot speak of yourself too hardly. There was a time when you flattered yourself that, at any rate, you were no worse than other people; now it seems as if you could not invent any epithet sufficiently strong to indicate your horror and disgust at your past life. How is it? You are beginning to “come to yourself,” too, with regard to your present. You find yourself face to face with death. Spiritual death has already grasped you; its iron clutch is on you; that dread spectre is looking you in the face; you are beginning to realize, in your own terrible experience, the force of those words, “Dying, thou shalt die!” Do what you will, you cannot writhe out of the grasp of that terrible spiritual arrest. “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” And you come to yourself with respect to the future. “Is there a possibility that I can be otherwise? May I turn my back upon the past? Is it possible that a sinner like me can lead a new life? May even I become a new creature?” Then it is that the soul begins to “come to itself” with respect to the character of the Father. Ah, my dear friends, you may have maligned Him, you may have slandered Him, you may have allowed Satan to misrepresent Him to your own fancy; you may have conceived of Him “as an austere man, reaping where He had not sown, and gathering where He had not strayed.” It seemed as though you could not speak too harshly of Him. But all that has changed, and you are beginning to come to the conclusion that after all He is your Father, that He has a Father’s tenderness, pity and love; that although you have misrepresented Him so long, and sinned against Him so grossly, yet there must be something in that heart of His that goes out towards your misery. Ah! my friend, you are only just beginning to “come to yourself” about that Father: but if you will go a little nearer to that Father’s house, bare your bosom to that Father’s influence--if you will expose yourself to that Father’s eye, it will not be long before you will have a different estimate from what you have even at this moment of what that Father’s love really is. Think not of God the Father as if He were unsympathetic. Believe what Christ Himself has taught of His Father’s love (Oh that I could write it on your heart of hearts at this moment!): “God so loved the world that He gave His Son.” (W. M. Hay Aitken, M. A.)

A sinner brought to his right mind

A Christian father had a son whose conduct had nearly broken his heart. He had prayed for him, instructed him in the things of God, and done all that his deep love for his soul and for his future welfare dictated, but all to no avail. He grew up a vile, hardened sinner, and left his father’s home, young in years but old in sin. At length that father was thrown upon a bed of death. Before breathing his last he sent for his prodigal son, and asked him to promise, after his father was laid in the grave, that he would spend one hour alone each day in that room, for three months. The son readily gave the promise. The death of his father made but little impression on him, and again he rushed on in his mad career of sin. That hour alone, however, was a great burden to him. He greatly dreaded it, yet did not dare to break his promise, made under such solemn circumstances. At last one day the hour dragged along slower than usual. He had an engagement with some boon companions, and was in haste to go and enjoy their society. He often consulted his watch to see how the time passed. At last the thought came into his mind, “Why did my father lay upon me this strange obligation?” Then quick as lightning the thought flashed over his mind, “My father was a good man, he loved my soul, and it must have been for my soul’s good he did this.” This led him to reflect upon his father’s love, his past life in all its vileness, his lost and desperate state as a sinner against God’s holy law, till he fell upon his knees, and cried, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” He spent not only the hour but the whole day alone with God, nor did he leave the room till it could be said of him, that he “had come to himself.” He came out of that room a converted man.

The madness of sinners

A few months ago, I was conducting a Mission in the north of England, and the clergyman in whose church I was preaching, receiving from an anonymous correspondent one of the handbills which had been circulated in preparation for the Mission, with two words added after the words “A Mission”--viz., “for lunatics”; so that it read, “A Mission for lunatics!” I do not suppose that the man who wrote those words had any particular intention of telling the truth, but it is startling to think how near the truth he came. Perhaps, if we could see things as those bright intelligences see them, who are permitted to hover round this world of ours, and to be witnesses of human action, we should be disposed to regard (is it not possible that they do regard?) this world of ours as one great lunatic asylum. It must seem strange to them that to men and women there should be made such glorious offers, that before their eyes there should be spread such magnificent possibilities, and that, in the folly of their unbelief, they should turn their back upon their own truest interest, and sin against their own souls. Lunatics indeed! There are dangerous lunatics, frenzied by passion or goaded by ambition, so dangerous that sometimes their fellow lunatics have to put a kind of restraint upon them, for fear that the paroxysms of their mortal disease should carry them too far. Then there are harmless lunatics, men and women whose lives are simply insipid, who seem to be just as void of any object in life as the butterfly that flits from flower to flower, drifted about by every influence that happens to be for the moment affecting them, without any stability of purpose, without any recognition of the dignity of their own being. Then, again, there are the self-complacent lunatics, the men and women who are so particularly self-satisfied that they can afford to look down upon everybody else, and persuade themselves that they are models of good sense, and that those who are possessed of that spiritual wisdom which comes from above, are themselves in a state of insanity. Is it not so? Is not that just the way in which self-complacent men of the world speak about those who know something of the realities of eternity? Have we not heard it again and again, till we are almost tired of hearing it, ever since the days when Festus charged Paul with being “beside himself”? Indeed, this is one of the features of lunacy. You go into a lunatic asylum, and you will always find a large number of patients who regard themselves as injured persons, who are suffering not from their own disease of insanity, hut from the insanity of other people. There are some who fancy themselves kings upon their throne, and their subjects too insane to render them the honour which is their due. Others, who imagine themselves men of vast wealth and possessions, and those who ought to be their servants, too insane to render them the service they have a rightful claim to. So, while they persuade themselves that they indeed are in the full possession of their senses, they also contrive to please themselves by thinking that other persons who are actually sane are afflicted with the very disease from which they are suffering. Friends, it is even so in the spiritual world. The men and women whom Satan has deluded most completely are just those who are the least conscious of their own insanity. The disease has taken so firm a hold upon their moral system that they believe that they are much more sane than those who are living in the light of Divine wisdom. There view of the case is an exact inversion of the truth; and as long as this moral stupor continues, the efforts which are made by those (who see things as they are), to awaken them from their fatal slumber, are regarded by these spiritual lunatics as simply the indication of moral infatuation, and they themselves, in their profound stupor, flatter themselves that they indeed alone are reasonable beings. (W. M. Hay Aitken, M. A.)

He came to himself

The word may be applied to one waking out of a deep swoon. He had been unconscious of his true condition, and he had lost all power to deliver himself from it; but now he was coming round again, returning to consciousness and action. Returning, then, to true reason and sound judgment, the prodigal came to himself. Another illustration of the word may be found in the old-world fables of enchantment: when a man was disenthralled from the magician’s spell he “came to himself.” Classic story has its legend of Circe, the enchantress, who transformed men into swine. Surely this young man in our parable had been degraded in the same manner. He had lowered his manhood to the level of the brutes. It should be the property of man to have love to his kindred, to have respect for right, to have some care for his own interest; this young man had lost all these proper attributes of humanity, and so had become as the beast that perisheth. But as the poet sings of Ulysses, that he compelled the enchantress to restore his companions to their original form, so here we see the prodigal returning to manhood, looking away from his sensual pleasures, and commencing a course of conduct more consistent with his birth and parentage. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Beneficial results of affliction

In bringing sinners to their right mind, the sobering influence which God most frequently employs in affliction. A man who had a praying wife was himself a drunkard. He was a gambler, and went to all the races within his reach, usually returning tipsy. Fond of fighting, he was withal a brutal husband, and often struck his wife. Beyond all this, as he wished that there was no God, he tried to persuade himself that there is none. There never was a bolder blasphemer. One night, when he was swearing dreadfully, his wife begged him to desist. “Tom,” she said, “the Lord will strike you dead.” “Who is the Lord?” he shouted, and then started off in oath after oath with the wildest imprecations, defying the Lord to touch him, vociferating and gesticulating till the perspiration stood upon his brow, and he sank down exhausted by his paroxysm of frantic impiety. For capturing a leviathan like this you would have thought of an iron cable; you would have been for putting a tremendous hook in his nose. But the Lord had hold of him already. How? Through his excellent wife, you reply. Well, she lost her father, and on the Sabbath after the funeral she prevailed on her husband to accompany her to church. The sermon was on the depravity of man. He gnashed his teeth as he heard it, and with all his own corruption stirred to fury he turned on his poor helpmate as she came home, and, in her new mourning, kicked her downstairs. But a silken cord, if it be God’s, will draw out leviathan--nay, with such a cord in the hand of a little child He can lead the lion. This brutal father had a daughter two years of age, and out of the mouth of this babe the Lord often stilled the enemy and avenger. When coming home in a savage humour, and knocking about his helpless partner, the little Maria would scramble into her mother’s lap, and with her pinafore wiping the tears, would gently bid her “Don’t cry, mamma,” and turning on him a reproving face, would say, “Ah! naughty papa, to make poor mamma cry.” This little one he really loved, and this little one the Lord took. Soon after returning from her grave, the father was once more persuaded to enter a place of worship; and this time the word of the Lord found him. The parable of “The wise and foolish virgins” opened his eyes, and feeling that if he continued in his wickedness he must perish eternally, with all the earnestness of an awakened conscience he began to seek salvation. Night and day he sought it, often with crying and tears; and when at last the Saviour stood revealed before him, he consecrated life to His service, and has ever since proved a faithful follower and a valiant soldier of the Lord Jesus Christ. (James Hamilton, D. D.)

Revulsion after excess

Where there is any nobleness in the nature, it occasionally happens, that the very excess of riot leads to a revulsion. “I was converted by six weeks’ debauchery,” says a somewhat paradoxical character in fiction; and when the good minister remonstrates against his speaking thus lightly of the Divine operations, he replies, “I am not speaking lightly. If I had not seen that I was making a hog of myself very fast, and that pig-wash, even if I could get plenty of it, was a poor sort of thing, I should never have looked life fairly in the face to see what was to be done with it.” And when the Spirit of God enkindles or keeps smouldering on tram better days any of the finer feelings, in the very sight of the swine-trough there is enough to sober and startle. Greek writers tell of a creature which combined every element of hideousness, and was capable of much mischief as well; but if by any chance it got a glimpse of itself, the face in the mirror was fatal--the sight of the monster slew the miscreant. The perfection of ugliness is evil, and if, like the basilisk, the sinner could only view his own deformity, it is a sight which self-complacency could never survive. (James Hamilton, D. D.)

The pain of self-awakening

The process of awakening and coming to ourselves is usually painful, sometimes appalling, always humiliating, and hence men shrink from it, choosing rather to sleep on, even if it be in the sleep of death, than to face all the pain, and distress, and trouble, and conflict which must accompany an awakening. I remember when I was a boy a poor waggoner in our parish met with an accident that came within a little of costing him his life. He was bringing a load up a very steep incline when the horse jibed, and man and cart and horse all went over into a reservoir. The unfortunate man was held under water by the shaft of the cart, which had fallen on the top of him, and when at last he was extricated it was supposed that life was extinct. Happily there was a doctor within call-restoratives were applied, and the poor man’s life was saved; but when, after he had been under treatment for about an hour, he began to give signs of returning animation, the first exclamation that he uttered was, “Oh, let me die! let me die! Do, do, do let me die!” So cruel was the pain of awakening to one who was half dead. I have often thought that the cry of that poor man at pain of his physical restoration illustrates and explains the apparent perversity of some who seem to run away from conviction, and so endeavour to escape from the blessing they so sorely need. They shrink from coming to themselves because of the pain and anguish that this must need induce. The cry of their coward spirit seems to be not unlike that of that poor half-drowned wretch--“Oh, let me die! Do, do let me die!” But surely, brethren, life is worth having even at such a cost. Surely these sorrows and humiliations of returning vitality, these birth-throes of a new and higher life, are better than “the bitter pains of eternal death,” where the anguish and distress are only part of a process of destruction. (W. M. Hay Aitken, M. A.)

Brought to himself

A very interesting incident has recently been published in one of the London serials, concerning the conversion of an “Ethiopian Serenader,” through the faithfulness and holy guile of a pious bookseller, in an English country town. As it is guaranteed to be authentic by the Rev. Mr. Maguire, Vicar of Clerkenwell, and illustrates strikingly the portion of the parable already considered, I will insert it here:--“A band or ‘troupe’ of young men, with hands and faces blackened, and dressed in very grotesque costumes, arranged themselves before a publisher’s door one day for an exhibition of their peculiar ‘performances.’ These people used to be called ‘Ethiopian Serenaders.’ After they had smug some comic and some plaintive melodies, with their own peculiar accompaniments of gestures and grimaces, one of the party, a tall and interesting young man, who had the ‘look’ of one who was beneath his proper station, stepped up to the door, tambourine in hand, to ask for a few ‘dropping pennies’ of the people. Mr. Carr, taking one of the Bibles out of his window, addressed the youth--‘See here, young man,’ he said, ‘I will give you a shilling, and this book besides, if you will read a portion of it among your comrades there, and in the hearing of the bystanders.’ ‘Here’s a shilling for an easy job!’ he chuckled out to his mates--‘I’m going to give you a “public reading!”‘ Mr. Carr opened at the fifteenth chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel, and, pointing to the eleventh verse, requested the young man to commence reading at that verse. ‘Now, Jem, speak up!’ said one of the party, ‘and earn your shilling like a man!’ And Jem took the Book, and read--‘“And He said, A certain man had two sons: and the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.”’ There was something in the voice of the reader, as well as in the strangeness of the circumstances, that lulled all to silence; while an air of seriousness took possession of the youth, and still further commanded the rapt attention of the crowd. He read on--‘“And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.”’ ‘That’s thee, Jam!‘ ejaculated one of his comrades; ‘it’s just like what you told me of yourself and your father!’ The reader continued--‘“And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.”‘ ‘Why, that’s thee again, Jem!’ said the voice--‘Go on!’ ‘“And be went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.”‘ ‘That’s like us all!’ said the voice, once more interrupting; ‘we’re all beggars, and might be better than we are! Go on; let’s hear what came of it.’ And the young man read on, and as he read his voice trembled--‘“And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father--”’ At this point he fairly broke down, and could read no more. All were impressed and moved. The whole reality of the past rose up to view, and in the clear starry of the gospel a ray of hope dawned upon him for his future. His father--his father’s house--and his mother’s too; and the plenty and the love ever bestowed upon him there; and the hired servants, all having enough; and then himself, his father’s son; and his present state, his companionships, his habits, his sins, his poverty, his outcast condition, his absurdly questionable mode of living,--all these came climbing like an invading force of thoughts and reflections into the citadel of his mind, and fairly overcame him. That day--that scene--proved the turning-point of that young prodigal’s life. He sought the advice of the Christian friend who had thus providentially interposed for his deliverance. Communications were made to his parents, which resulted in a long-lost and dearly-loved child returning to the familiar earthly home; and, still better, in his return to his heavenly Father! He found, as I trust my readers will, how true are the promises of the parable of the ‘Prodigal Son’ both for time and for eternity.

“‘Yes, there is One who will not chide nor scoff,

But beckons us to homes of heavenly bliss;

Beholds the prodigal a great way off,

And flies to meet him with a Father’s kiss!’”

(F. Ferguson, D. D.)

Trouble draws the soul to God

When I was sixteen years of age, a youth very dear to me, two years older than myself, was seized with paralysis of the limbs. He was handsome and amiable and well-conducted--no prodigal, but the delight of the family circle, and a favouritethroughout a wider sphere. The ailment advanced by very slow degrees; but it advanced, and he died before he was twenty-two years of age. In the earliest stages he was pleasant, but reserved. Afterwards, for a while, he became sad. At the next stage he opened like a flower in spring, and blossomed into the most attractive beauty, both of person and spirit. He manifested peace and joy in believing. His society was sought even by aged and experienced Christians. After his soul’s burden was removed, his face lighted up and his lips opened; he told me fully the history of his spiritual course, which he had kept secret at the time. It was this: When he found himself a cripple, although otherwise enjoying a considerable measure of health, he saw that the world had for him lost its charm. The happiness he had promised him self was blasted. His former portion was gone, and he had none other. After the first sadness passed, he thought of turning towards Christ for comfort; but he was met and precipitously stopped at the very entrance on this path by the reflection: “Christ knows that as long as I had other pleasures I did not care for Him; He knows that if I come to Him now, it is because I have nothing else--that I am making a do-no-better of Him. He will spurn me away. If I had chosen Him while the world was bright before me, He might, perhaps, have received me; but as I never turned to Him till I had lost the portion I preferred, I can expect nothing but upbraiding.” This thought kept him long back. It was like a barrier reared across the path--the path that leadeth unto life--and he could not surmount it. By degrees, however, as he studied the Scriptures in his enforced leisure, he began to perceive that, although he deserved to be so treated, Christ would not treat him so. He discovered that “this Man receiveth sinners” when they come, without asking what it was that brought them. Further, he learned that whether one come when the world is smiling, or when it is shrouded in darkness--whether he come in health or in disease--it is in every case the love of Christ that draws him; and that no sinner saved will have any credit in the end. All and all alike will attribute their salvation to the free mercy of God. At first his thought was, “If I had the recommendation of having come when my fortune was at the full, I could have entertained a hope.” But at last he learned that whosoever will may come, and that he who cometh will in no wise be cast out. On these grounds he came at Christ’s command, was accepted, and redeemed. (W. Arnot, D. D.)

Bread enough and to spare

Abundance in the Father’s house

I. First, let us consider for a short time THE MORE THAN ABUNDANCE OF ALL GOOD THINGS IN THE FATHER’S HOUSE. Of all that thou needest, there is with God an all-sufficient, a superabounding supply--“bread enough and to spare.” Let us prove this to thee.

1. First, consider the Father Himself; and whosoever shall rightly consider the Father will at once perceive that there can be no stint to mercy, no bound to the possibilities of grace. If thou starve, thou starvest because thou wilt starve; for in the Father’s house there is “bread enough and to spare.”

2. But now consider a second matter which may set this more clearly before us. Think of the Son of God, who is indeed the true Bread of Life for sinners. In the atonement of Christ Jesus there is “bread enough and to spare”; even as Paul wrote to Timothy, “He is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.”

3. But now let me lead you to another point of solemnly joyful consideration, and that is the Holy Spirit. Now, sinner, thou needest a new life and thou needest holiness, for both of these are necessary to make thee fit for heaven. Is there a provision for this? The Holy Spirit is provided and given in the covenant of grace; and surely in Him there is “enough and to spare.” What cannot the Holy Spirit do? Being Divine, nothing can be beyond His power. I must leave this point, but I cannot do so without adding that I think “Bread enough and to spare” might be taken for the motto of the gospel.

II. According to the text there was not only bread enough in the house, but THE LOWEST IN THE FATHER’S HOUSE ENJOYED ENOUGH AND TO SPARE. We can never make a parable run on all fours, therefore we cannot find the exact counterpart of the “hired servants.” I understand the prodigal to have meant this, that the very lowest menial servant employed by his father had bread to eat, and had “bread enough and to spare.” Now, how should we translate this? Why, sinner, the very lowest creature that God has made, that has not sinned against Him, is well supplied and has abounding happiness. There are adaptations for pleasure in the organizations of the lowest animals. See how the gnats dance in the summer’s sunbeam; hear the swallows as they scream with delight when on the wing. He who cares for birds and insects will surely care for men. God who hears the ravens when they cry, will He not hear the returning penitent? He gives these insects happiness; did He mean me to be wretched? Surely He who opens His hand and supplies the lack of every living thing, will not refuse to open His hand and supply my needs if I seek His face. Yet I must not make these lowest creatures to be the hired servants. Whom shall I then select among men? I will put it thus. The very worst of sinners that have come to Christ have found grace “enough and to spare,” and the very least of saints who dwell in the house of the Lord find love “enough and to spare.” Take then the most guilty of sinners, and see how bountifully the Lord treats them when they turn unto Him. Did the blood of Christ avail to cleanse them? Oh, yes; and more than cleanse, for it added to them beauty not their own. Now, if the chief of sinners bear this witness, so do the most obscure.cf saints. You have many afflictions, doubts, and fears, but have you any complaints against your Lord? When you have waited upon Him for daily grace, has He denied you?

III. Notice in the third place, that the text dwells upon THE MULTITUDE OF THOSE WHO HAVE “BREAD ENOUGH AND TO SPARE.” The prodigal lays an emphasis upon that word, “How many hired servants of my father’s!” He was thinking of their great number, and counting them over. He thought of those that tended the cattle, of those that went out with the camels, of those that watched the sheep, and those that minded the corn, and those that waited in the house; he ran them over in his mind: his father was great in the land, and had many servants; yet he knew that they all had of the best food “enough and to spare.” Now, O thou awakened sinner, thou who dost feel this morning thy sin and misery, think of the numbers upon whom God has bestowed His grace already. Think of the countless hosts in heaven: if thou wert introduced there to-day, thou wouldst find it as easy to tell the stars, or the sands of the sea, as to count the multitudes that are before the throne even now. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

I perish with hunger

The hunger of the soul

What I propose for our meditation is the truth here expressed, that a life separated from God is a life of bitter hunger, or even of spiritual starvation.

I. To exhibit 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. Job brings it forward, by a direct and simple comparison, when he says, “For the ear trieth words, as the mouth tasteth meat”; where he means by the ear, you perceive, not the outward but the inward ear of the understanding. So the psalmist says, “My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness.” And so also the prophet, beholding his apostate countrymen dying for hunger and thirst in their sins, calls to them, saying, “He, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come ye, buy, and eat. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.” In the same way, an apostle speaks of them that have tasted the good Word of God, and the powers of the world to come; and another, of them that have tasted that the Lord is gracious, and therefore desire the sincere milk of the Word, that they may grow thereby. True, these are all figures of speech, transferred from the feeding of the body to that of the soul. But they are transferred because they have a fitness to be transferred. The analogy of the soul is so close to that of the body that it speaks of its hunger, its food, its fulness, and growth, and fatness, under the images it derives from the body. Hence you will observe that our blessed Lord appears to have always the feeling that He has come down into a realm of hungry, famishing souls. Apart from God, the soul is an incomplete creature, a poor, blank fragment of existence, hungry, dry, and cold. And still, alas! it cannot think so. Therefore Christ comes into the world to incarnate the Divine nature, otherwise unrecognized, before it; so to reveal God to its knowledge, enter Him into its faith and feeling, make Him its living bread, the food of its eternity. Therefore of His fulness we are called to feed, receiving of Him freely grace for grace. When He 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. Holding this view of the inherent relation between created souls and God as their nourishing principle, we pass--

II. To a consideration of THE NECESSARY HUNGER OF A STATE OF SIN, AND THE TOKENS BY WHICH IT IS INDICATED. A hungry herd of animals, waiting for 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 you to a few of these demonstrations. And a very impressive and remarkable one you have in this--viz., the common endeavour to make the body receive double, so as to satisfy both itself and the soul, too, with its pleasures. The effort is, how continually, to stimulate the body by delicacies, and condiments, and sparkling bowls, and licentious pleasures of all kinds, and so to make the body do double service. Hence, too, the drunkenness, and high feasting, and other vices of excess. The animals have no such vices, because they have no hunger save simply that of the body; but man has a hunger also of the mind or soul when separated from God by his sin, and therefore he must somehow try to pacify that. And he does it by a work of double feeding put upon the body. We call it sensuality. But the body asks not for it. The body is satisfied by simply that which allows it to grow and maintain its vigour. It is the unsatisfied, hungry mind that flies to the body for some stimulus of sensation, compelling it to devour so many more of the husks, or carobs, as will feed the hungry prodigal within. There is no end to the diverse acts men practise to get some food for their soul; and to whatever course they turn themselves you will see as clearly as possible that they are hungry. Nay, they say it themselves. What sad bewailings do you hear from them, calling the world ashes, wondering at the poverty of existence, fretting at the courses of Providence, and blaming their harshness, raging profanely against God’s appointments, and venting their impatience with life in curses on its emptiness. All this, you understand, is the hunger they are in. Feeding on carobs only, as they do, what shall we expect but to see them feed impatiently? This also you will notice as a striking evidence that, however well they succeed in the providing of earthly things, they are never saris fled. They say they are not, have it for a proverb that no man is, or can be. How can they be satisfied with lands, or money, or honour, or any finite good, when their hunger is infinite, reaching after God and the fulness of His infinite life--God, who is the object of their intelligence, their love, their hope, their worship; the complement of their weakness, the crown of their glory, the sublimity of their rest for ever. Such kind of hunger manifestly could not be satisfied with any finite good, and therefore it never is. (H. Bushnell, D. D.)

Deceived by pleasure

Worldly pleasure, like the rose, is sweet, but it has its thorn. Like the bee it gives some honey, but it carries its sting. Like Judas, it gives the kiss, but it is that of the betrayer. Pleasure is good for sauce but not for food; it may do for digestion, but not for a dinner. Those who get most of it are most deceived. (C. Leach.)

Hunger felt

If a man is dying of hunger, he feels it, or of thirst, he feels it; but the misery of a sinner is not to know his misery. Here the type of the prodigal fails. I offer a man the bread of life, and he tells me he is not hungry; living water, and he puts aside the cup, saying, “I am not thirsty”; I find him stricken down with a mortal disease, but, on bringing a physician to his bedside, he bids us go, and not disturb him, but leave him to sleep, for he feels no pain. Insensibility to pain is his worst symptom, fatal proof that mortification has begun, and that, unless it can be arrested, all is over--you may go, make his coffin, and dig him a grave. But let sensibilityreturn, so that on pressure being applied to the seat of disease, he shrinks and shrieks out with pain; alarmed and ignorant, his attendants may imagine that now his last hour is come, but the man of skill knows better fhere is life in that cry--it proves that the tide has turned, that he shall live. Sign as blessed, when brought to a sense of his sins, a man feels himself perishing; cries with Peter, sinking among the waves of Galilee, “I perish”; with the prodigal, sitting by the swine-troughs, “I perish”; with the jailer, at midnight in the prison, “What shall I do to be saved?” (T. Guthrie, D. D.)

I will arise and go to my father

Homesickness

There is nothing like hunger to take the energy out of a man. A hungry man can toil neither with pen nor hand nor foot. There has been many an army defeated not so much for lack of ammunition as for lack of bread. It was that lack that took the fire out of this young man of the text. Storm and exposure will wear out any man’s life in time, but hunger makes quick work. The most awful cry ever heard on earth is the cry for bread. I know there are a great many people who try to throw a fascination, a romance, a halo, about sin; but notwithstanding all that Lord Byron and George Sand have said in regard to it, it is a mean, low, contemptible business, and putting food and fodder into the troughs of a herd of iniquities that root and wallow in the soul of man, is a very poor business for men and women intended to be sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty; and when this young man resolved to go home, it was a very wise thing for him to do, and the only question is, whether we will follow him.

I. THIS RESOLUTION WAS FORMED IS A DISGUST AT HIS CIRCUMSTANCES. If this young man had been by his employer set to culturing flowers, or training vines over an arbour, or keeping account of the pork market, or overseeing other labourers, he would not have thought of going home. If he had his pockets full of money, if he had been able to say, “I have a thousand dollars now of my own; what’s the use of my going back to my father’s house? Do you think I am going back to apologize to the old man?” Ah! it was his pauperism, it was his beggary. A man never wants the gospel until he realizes he is in a famine-struck state.

II. THIS RESOLUTION OF THE YOUNG MAN OF THE TEXT WAS FOUNDED IN SORROW AT HIS MISBEHAVIOUR. It was not mere physical plight. It was grief that he had so maltreated his father. It is a sad thing after a father has done everything for a child to have that child be ungrateful.

“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is,

To have a thankless child.”

That is Shakespeare. “A foolish son is the heaviness of his mother.” That is the Bible. Well, my friends, have not some of us been cruel prodigals? Have we not maltreated our Father? And such a Father!

III. THIS RESOLUTION OF THE TEXT WAS FOUNDED IN A FEELING OF HOMESICKNESS. I do not know how long this young man had been away from his father’s house, but there is something about the reading of my text that makes me think he was homesick. Some of you know what that feeling is. Far away from home sometimes, surrounded by everything bright and pleasant--plenty of friends--you have said, “I would give the world to be home to-night.” Well, this young man was homesick for his father’s house. Are there any here to-day homesick for God, homesick for heaven?

IV. THE RESOLUTION WAS IMMEDIATELY PUT INTO EXECUTION. The context says, “He arose and came to his father.” There is a man who had the typhoid fever, he said: “Oh! if I could get over this terrible distress; if this fever should depart; if I could be restored to health, I would all the rest of my life serve God.” The fever departed. He got well enough to go over to New York and attend to business. He is well to-day--as well as he ever was. Where is the broken vow? (De W. Talmage, D. D.)

Two prodigals

I will tell you of two prodigals--the one that got back, and the other that did not get back. In Richmond there is a very prosperous and beautiful home in many respects. A young man wandered off from that home. He wandered very far into sin. They heard of him after, but he was always on the wrong track. He would not go home. At the door of that beautiful home one night there was a great outcry. The young man of the house ran down and opened the door to see what was the matter. It was midnight. The rest of the family were asleep. There were the wife and the children of this prodigal young man. The fact was he had come home and driven them out. He said, “Out of this house. Away with these children; I will dash their brains out. Out into the storm!” The mother gathered them up and fled. The next morning the brother, the young man who had stayed at home, went out to find this prodigal brother and son, and he came where he was, and saw the young man wandering up and down in front of the place where he had been staying, and the young man who had kept his integrity said to the older brother: “Here, what does all this mean? What is the matter with you? Why do you act in this way?” The prodigal looked at him and said: “Who am I? Who do you take me to be?” He said: “You are my brother?” “No, I am not. I am a brute. Have you seen anything of my wife and children? Are they dead? I drove them out last night in the storm. I am a brute, John, do you think there is any help for me? Do you think I will ever get over this life of dissipation?” He said: “John, there is just one thing that will stop this.” The prodigal ran his fingers across his throat and said: “That will stop it, and I’ll stop it before night. Oh! my brain; I can stand it no longer.” That prodigal never got home. But I will tell you of a prodigal that did get home. In England two young men started from their fathers’ house and went down to Portsmouth--I have been there--a beautiful seaport. Some of you have been there. The father could not pursue his children--for some reason he could not leave home--and so he wrote a letter down to Mr. Griffin, saying:--“Mr. Griffin,--I wish you would go and see my two sons. They have arrived in Portsmouth, and there they are going to take ship, and going away from home. I wish you would persuade them back.” Mr. Griffin went and tried to persuade them back. He persuaded one to go; he went with very easy persuasion, because he was very homesick already. The other young man said: “I will not go. I have had enough of home; I’ll never go home.” “Well,” said Mr. Griffin, “then, if you won’t go home, I’ll get you a respectable position on a respectable ship.” “No, you won’t,” said the prodigal; “no, you won’t. I am going as a private sailor, as a common sailor--that will plague my father most; and what will do most to tantalize and worry him will please me best.” Years passed on, and Mr. Griffin was seated in his study one day, when a messenger cams to him saying there was a young man in irons on a ship at the dock--a young man condemned to death--who wished to see this clergyman. Mr. Griffin went down to the dock and went on shipboard. The young man said to him, “You don’t know me, do you?” “No,” he said, “I don’t know you.” “Why, don’t you remember that young man you tried to persuade to go home, and he wouldn’t go?” “Oh, yes!” said Mr. Griffin; “are you that man?” “Yes, I am that man,” said the other. “I would like to have you pray for me. I have committed murder, and I must die; but I don’t want to go out of this world until some one prays for me. You are my father’s friend, and I would like to have you pray for me.” Mr. Griffin went from judicial authority to judicial authority to get that young man’s pardon. He slept not night nor day. He went from influential person to influential person, until in some way he got that young man’s pardon. He came down on the dock, and as he arrived on the dock with the pardon, the father came. He had heard that his son, under a disguised name, had been committing crime, and was going to be put to death. So Mr. Griffin and the father went on the ship’s deck, and at the very moment Mr. Griffin offered the pardon to the young man, the old father threw his arms around the son’s neck, and the son said, “Father, I have done very wrong, and I am very sorry. I wish I had never broken your heart. I am very sorry.” “Oh!” said the father, “don’t mention it. It won’t make any difference now. It is all over. I forgive you, my son,” and he kissed him and kissed.him and kissed him. To-day I offer you the pardon of the gospel--full pardon, free pardon. I do not care what your crime has been. Though you say you have committed a crime against God, against your own soul, against your fellow-man, against your family, against the day of judgment, against the Cross of Christ--whatever your crime has been here is pardon, full pardon, and the very moment you take that pardon your heavenly Father throws His arms around about you and says, “My son, I forgive you. It is all right. You are as much in my favour now as if you had never sinned.” Oh! there is joy on earth and joy in heaven. (De W. Talmage, D. D.)

Good resolutions to be cherished

The good motions of God’s blessed Spirit, at any time, in any measure, though never so weak, begun, are not to be choked, but to be cherished. When the Lord shall put any good motion into our hearts, we are to nourish and cherish the same; to one good motion we must add a second, and to that a third, and to them a many, and so fall to blowing, and give not over until at length they break forth into a comfortable flame of godly practice. “Quench not the Spirit,” saith the apostle; that is, quell not, choke not the gifts and motions of the Holy Ghost. He useth a metaphor borrowed from fire, whose heat and light when it is put out, is said to be quenched. Thus also he exhorts Timothy to stir up the graces of God which be in him. And therefore, in the next place, let it serve for admonition to thee, and me, and to us all, that we beware how we suffer that blessed heat to slake, which by God’s grace begins to be enkindled in our hearts. Suffer not that coal, that holy motion which the Lord hath cast into thy bosom, to die within thee, but blow it up, lay on more fuel, add daily more and more matter to it, and tremble to lose the least measure of God’s gracious gifts. Be frequent in spiritual exercises, as in hearing, reading, meditation, Christian conference, prayer, and the like. Let no means be neglected that God hath ordained for the working of establishment. (N. Rogers.)

Resolution lasting

Make not thyself ridiculous both to God and man. We all love lasting stuff in a suit, we cannot away with that horse that will tire; and can God like such as do not continue? He cannot do it. (N. Rogers.)

Resolution not followed to execution

Their purposes being like the minutes of a clock, the second follows the first, and the third the second, all day and year long, but never overtake the one the other. Many there are also, who when the hand of God is upon them by losses, or sickness, or such like visitation, they purpose and promise great reformation; but when God’s rod is removed, and His hand taken away, they are as bad as ever they were. So that we say of them, as the wise man by shearing his bogs, “Here is a great deal of cry, but a little wool.” Here is a great deal of purpose, but a little practice; abundance of resolution, but small store of action. (N. Rogers.)

Satan’s assailing resolutions

As a man pulling at an oak or other tree, if he finds it yielding, he plucks with greater force, and leaveth not till he have it down, so in this case, if Satan find us doubting and wavering, he will the more violently assault us, and not rest until he overcome us, when, if we were resolute and constant, and did thus resist him with settled determination, he would be out of heart, and, as James saith, “fly from us.” (N. Rogers.)

Good resolutions brought to perfection

But some may demand, What good means are to be used for the bringing these good motions to perfection, which is no easy matter, the devil being ready to steal every good motion out of our hearts, and our own corruption to extinguish it, before we can bring it forth into actions; For the attaining to this, let these rules be practised: First, resolve upon a good ground, build thy resolution on a strong foundation. If thou resolvest to leave any sin, consider well the absolute necessity of forsaking of it, the danger it wilt bring if it be continued in. A second means is speedy execution; delay not, but speedily put in practice. Before the iron cool, it is good striking, and while the wax is pliable, it is good setting on the seal; and, therefore, what Solomon exhorteth in the case of vows is generally to be practised in all holy purposes and motions, “be not slack to perform them.” They that know themselves know bow fickle and unconstant their hearts are. Now as we would deal with a variable and unconstant man, so let us deal with these hearts of ours. We would take such a one at his word, and lay hold of the opportunity, when we find him in a good vein, lest within a short space he alter his mind. Our hearts are far more variable and unconstant than any man is. (N. Rogers.)

Father

Remove the word Father from this sentence, and you rob it at once of all the wondrous pathos that lies in it, and that has so often brought tears to the eye of the penitent and contrition to his heart. Let us say, “Oh, Sovereign King, I have sinned against Thee!” and we may tremble, but we do not weep. “Oh, Judge of all, I have sinned against Thee!” and perhaps we tremble still more, but our heart doesn’t melt. But let us say and feel, “Father, I have sinned against Thee and Thy Fatherly love,” and, lo! our hard heart begins to break, and the unbidden tears most likely begin to rise. What a doubly damnable sin to sin against a Father, and such a Father! A young man at one of our meetings to whom I had spoken on the previous evening said to me, “When I went home last night I took up my Bible and began to read. I had not read very long when I came to these words, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son;‘ and, I can tell you, they pretty well broke my heart. I lay awake just sobbing, for I don’t know how long, repeating over these words, ‘Father, I have sinned.’” (W. HayAitken, M. A.)

Man invited to return to his home

Major D. W. Whittle was asked to preach Christ to a great crowd in the opera house at Pittsburg, and had but a few moments’ notice. He asked his wife, “What shall I say?” His little girl spoke up earnestly, “Papa, tell them to come home.” He did tell them, and God wonderfully blessed the simple message to the conversion of many souls. (Christian Age.)

Great resolutions

History tells us that great soldiers before their great battles, as Caesar at the Rubicon, and Lord Clive at Plassey, looked like men inspired the moment they resolved on their line of action. An earnest resolution, and the honest effort to carry it through, will fetch you new strength. The prodigal had formed the great resolve in the greatest of all battles. And no sooner resolved than done--he is off for home. He is quick to turn his thought into purpose, and his purpose into an accomplished fact. He had often repented before in a way, and then repented of his repentance; but now he must burn his boats, and break down all the bridges behind him, and make return to the swine-troughs impossible. (J. Wells.)

The Fatherhood of God

I advise every one--who wishes to be a true penitent--first of all to get a firm hold upon the fact that God is his Father, his loving Father still. Our sins do not change the Fatherhood of God. God loves sinners. If God did not love sinners, why did He give His own dearly beloved Son to die for sinners? And is not the feeling that his Father is grieved the severest part of that punishment, be that punishment whatever it may, to every child who has not quite sinned away the finer joys and the natural instincts of the human heart? “I can bear my punishment, father; but I cannot bear your tears, father!” was the true outcome of a son’s inmost feelings under his father’s chastening. Never, whatever you have done to offend God, or how long you have offended God, never let go the feeling of the confidence of a child to a loving Father. “He is my Father, He is not changed.” You are, not He. Do not confuse your feelings and His feelings. Cling to the Fatherhood of God. The Father may chasten, very severely chasten, but He is a Father who never hates; He is a Father who never tires; He is a Father who cannot finally refuse to accept the smallest confession, or one really penitential tear. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

A mental picture

The picture of the workings of the prodigal’s mind and of their practical results brings before us the features of genuine repentance with incomparably greater clearness and effect than a treatise of any supposable length on the abstract subject would have done. The features of true repentance apparent there are these:

1. A change of mind: he “came to himself.” How opposite his views and feelings now from what they had been when he forsook the paternal abode!

2. A deep sense of guilt arising from a right view of sin, as committed not against man only, but against heaven; not against his father only, but against God: “I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight,” etc.

3. A consequent sense of entire unworthiness, accompanied with a conviction that, if he met with a favourable reception, he should owe it entirely to free clemency; he should have no claim, no title, to it, but might justly be rejected: “I have sinned,” and am no more worthy. And--

4. A returning conviction that there was no happiness for him but under his father’s roof, and in the possession of his father’s favour: “I am no more worthy to be called thy son, make me as one of thy hired servants;” let me be but under thy roof, let me be the lowest menial; but let me not be cast out of thy sight, for “blessed are even these thy servants.” I have made myself wretched and unworthy, and I envy the lowest of them. This is the very counterpart of the spirit in which a truly penitent sinner comes back to God. (R. Wardlaw.)

I have sinned

Confession of sin

And you will see how these words, in the lips of different men, indicate very different feelings.

I. The first case I shall bring before you is that of the HARDENED SINNER, who, when under terror, says, “I have sinned.” And you will find the text in the Book of Exodus, the 9th chap and 27th verse: “And Pharaoh sent, and called for Moses and Aaron, and said unto them, I have sinned this time: the Lord is righteous, and I and my people are wicked.” But why this confession from the lips of the haughty tyrant? Of what avail and of what value was his confession? The repentance that was born in the storm died in the calm; that repentance of his that was begotten amidst the thunder and the lightning, ceased so soon as all was hushed in quiet.

II. Now for a second text. I beg to introduce to you another character--the DOUBLE-MINDED MAN, who says, “I have sinned,” and feels that he has, and feels it deeply too, but who is so worldly-minded that he “loves the wages of unrighteousness.” The character I have chosen to illustrate this, is that of Balaam (see Numbers 22:34).

III. And now a third character, and a third text. In the First Book of Samuel, the 15th chap and 24th verse: “And Saul said unto Samuel, I have sinned.” Here is the INSINCERE MAN--the man who is not, like Balaam, to a certain extent sincere in two things; but the man who is just the opposite--who has no prominent point in his character at all, but is moulded everlastingly by the circumstances that are passing over his head. To say, “I have sinned,” in an unmeaning manner, is worse than worthless, for it is a mockery of God thus to confess with insincerity of heart.

IV. THE DOUBTFUL PENITENT. Achan (Joshua 7:20). Achan is the representative of some whose characters are doubtful on their deathbeds; who do repent apparently, but of whom the most we can say is, that we hope their souls are saved at last, but indeed we cannot tell.

V. I must now give you another bad case; the worst of all. It is the REPENTANCE OF DESPAIR. Will you turn to the 27th chap of Matthew, and the 4th verse? There you have a dreadful case of the repentance of despair.

VI. And now I come into daylight. I have been taking you through dark and dreary confessions; I shall detain you there no longer, but bring you out to the two good confessions which I have read to you. The first is that of Job in 7th chap., at the 20th verse: “I have sinned; what shall I do unto Thee, O Thou preserver of men?” This is the REPENTANCE OF THE SAINT.

VII. I come now to the last instance, which I shall mention; it is the case of the prodigal. In Luke 15:18, we find the prodigal says: “Father, I have sinned.” Oh, here is A BLESSED CONFESSION? Here is that which proves a man to be a regenerate character--“Father, I have sinned.” (C. H.Spurgeon.)

Inordinate sorrow not necessary to repentance

If thus, then be you assured, that though you have not been cast down under that depth of humiliation that, others have, yet that degree of humiliation you have had, God in wisdom saw to be competent, and sufficient for you. It is good to grieve, because we can grieve no more; but to perplex the soul with needless fears, because we have not been so much humbled as others (the former marks and signs being found in us) argues ignorance and unthankfulness. As if one should cry out of a skilful chirurgeon, for setting our broken bones with less pain, or curing our wounds with less smart, than he did some others. It may be, God in mercy hath kept as yet from thee the ghastly aspect of thy sins, lest the horror of them should overwhelm thee. Bless God for it, and think not the worse of Him nor of thyself, ii thou be brought home by enticements and allurements: It is no small advantage the devil takes through immoderate sorrow of young beginners. (N. Rogers.)

The prodigal’s return

That cry of the prodigal to his father, which framed itself spontaneously in his mind, when first he came to himself in his misery and degradation--I suppose it is the common cry of repentant humanity. Taking this cry, therefore, as the natural utterance of penitent humanity, let us observe two things about it. In the first place, it is very humble, and therefore very hopeful. “I am no more worthy to be called thy son,” is no mere formal expression, such as might serve a purpose without costing anything; his condition and his state of mind were too serious to allow of hypocrisies, conscious or unconscious; it was the genuine feeling of the man, a feeling very painful and humiliating, yet the one which had the greatest hold of his mind, and therefore found the strongest expression in his words. I need not say that a genuine sense of unworthiness and of self-condemnation is the most hopeful sign which God can behold in His returning children. But we have to observe, in the second place, that the words which the prodigal intended to say, however natural and however hopeful they might be, were founded on a mistake, and implied an impossibility. For better or worse, he was a son, and a son he must remain; his sins had been the sins of a son, not of a servant; his punishment had been the misery of a self-exiled son, not of a runaway servant. Now let us ask how it may have fared with him in after days. Was there nothing hard in store, nothing difficult, when the first absorbing happiness of his welcome home was past? Would the habits and the manners which he had learnt in his long wanderings suit the gravity of his father’s house? Would the restlessness which grows with travel let him be at ease even within those pleasant walls? Could he without great effort exchange his former unrestrained licence for the dutiful behaviour of a younger son? In one word, could he, without a constant struggle with himself, fill again the place of a child within his father’s home? Now, it seems to me that here is a lesson most true, most necessary for us to learn. Many of us are apt to think that when once the prodigal has returned, when once the sinner has repented, then all the struggle and the difficulty and the sad consequence of former wilfulness is past and over--that henceforth all is calm and easy. Alas! what ignorance of human nature, even of redeemed human nature, does such a fancy display. The starved and ragged wanderer is indeed clasped within his father’s arms, is clothed in the finest and feasted of the best, but--he has to live henceforth as a son, and to render to his father the ready, thoughtful, loving obedience which is due from a son. And this, although it be so great a privilege, so much more than we could have asked, is yet so hard to the obstinate waywardness, to the ingrained lawlessness of our hearts. It is so hard that God will have us as children, or not have us at all. If we might only be as hired servants, and have our tasks assigned to us, and if we did not do them bear the loss of wages, and hear no more about it! The more unworthy we feel ourselves to be, the more conscious we are of the real inferiority of our character and of the very mixed nature of our motives, the more painful must we feel our position to be as sons of God. For my own part, I will say that this demand of a free and loving obedience, of an obedience which is absolutely unlimited, and which must be a law unto itself, is harder than any which God could have made of perverse and fallen creatures such as we. It seems to me that it would be infinitely easier to face the fires or the wild beasts once for all, than always to render the loving service of a child to the Father in heaven, always to strain after conformity to a standard which is far above our reach, always to accommodate ourselves to the dispositions of One who is infinitely holier than we. What is this to one who feels the law of sin at work within him, who feels the old wildness yet untamed, the old self-will yet unbroken, who consents to the rule of the Divine life with his mind, but cannot find how to put it in practice--what is it to him but a lifelong, a daily, hourly martyrdom? What is it but a perpetual crucifixion--as, indeed, the Bible calls it? Even so; that is the law of Christian life. What is happy and hopeful about it is due to God’s great love in receiving us once more as His children; what is sad and disheartening about it is due to our own sin and folly in having been alienated so long from Him. This is sad and disheartening in very truth, but it is saved from being intolerable by two things--the hope of heaven, and the sympathy of Christ. For concerning heaven, while many beautiful things are written in the Word of God, none is written so beautiful as that simple saying, “His servants shall serve Him”; for that is the very thing we are always trying to do, and always failing to do properly in this life. There shall really come a time when it will not be hard, not be painful, not be against the grain to do God’s wilt in all things--when we shall serve Him joyfully, naturally, as children should, from love, not from fear, for love, not for reward. And then for the present distress there is the sympathy of Christ. That prodigal had an eider brother who would certainly have added to his difficulties, who would have watched for and reported any breach of propriety, and rejoiced in any mortification. We have an elder Brother who has shared the same hardships and endured the same discipline as ourselves--who feels an infinite sympathy for the failures, the self-reproaches, the mortifications, which He understands so well. Far from alienating Him by our want of success, every disappointment over which we grieve only wakes in Him a livelier pity and a more tender love. (R. Winterbotham, M. A.)

The difficulty of God’s service to recent converts

We know that God’s service is perfect freedom, not a servitude; but this it 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. It is the happiness of saints and angels in heaven to take pleasure in their duty, and nothing but their duty; for their mind goes that one way, and pours itself out in obedience to God, spontaneously and without thought or deliberation, just as man sins naturally. This is the state to which we are tending if we give ourselves up to religion; but in its commencement, religion is necessarily almost a task and a formal service. When a man begins to see his wickedness, and resolves on leading a new life, he asks, “What must I do?” he has a wide field before him, and he does not know hew to enter it. He must be bid to do some particular plain acts of obedience to fix him. He must be told to go to church regularly, to say his prayers morning and evening, and statedly to read the Scriptures. This will limit his efforts to a certain end, and relieve him of the perplexity and indecision which the greatness of his work at first causes. But who does not see that this going to church, praying in private, and reading Scripture, must in his case be, in great measure, what is called a form and a task? Having been used to do as he would, and indulge himself, and having very little understanding or liking for religion, he cannot take pleasure in these religious duties; they will necessarily be a weariness to him; nay, he will not be able even to give his attention to them. Nor will he see the use of them; he will not be able to find they make him better though he repeat them again and again. Thus his obedience at first is altogether that of a hired servant, “The servant knoweth not what his lord doeth.” This is Christ’s account of him. The servant is not in his lord’s confidence, does not understand what he is aiming at, or why he commands this and forbids that. He executes the commands given him, he goes hither and thither, punctually, but by the mere letter of the command. Such is the state of those who begin religious obedience. (J. H. Newman, D. D.)

Complete surrender to God

There is no mention made here of any offering on his part to his father, any propitiatory work. This should be well observed. The truth is, that our Saviour has shown us in all things a more perfect way than was ever before shown to man. As He promises us a more exalted holiness, an exacter self-command, a more generous self-denial, and a fuller knowledge of truth, so He gives us a more true and noble repentance. The most noble repentance (if a fallen being can be noble in his fall), the most decorous conduct in a conscious sinner, is an unconditional surrender of himself to God--not a bargaining about terms, not a scheming (so to call it) to be received back again, but an instant surrender of himself in the first instance. Without knowing what will become of him, whether God will spare or not, merely with so much hope in his heart as not utterly to despair of pardon, still not looking merely to pardon as an end, but rather looking to the claims of the Benefactor whom he has offended, and smitten with shame, and the sense of his ingratitude, he must surrender himself to his lawful Sovereign. He is a runaway offender; he must come back, as a very first step, before anything can be determined about him, bad or good; he is a rebel, and must lay down his arms. Self-devised offerings might do in a less serious matter; as an atonement for sin, they imply a defective view of the evil and extent of sin in his own case. Such is that perfect way which nature shrinks from, but which our Lord enjoins in the parable--a surrender. The prodigal son waited not for his father to show signs of placability. He did not merely approach a space, and then stand as a coward, curiously inquiring, and dreading how his father felt towards him. He made up his mind at once to degradation at the best, perhaps to rejection. He arose and went straight on towards his father, with a collected mind; and though his relenting father saw him from a distance, and went out to meet him, still his purpose was that of an instant frank submission. Such must be Christian repentance: First we must put aside the idea of finding a remedy for our sin; then, though we feel the guilt of it, yet we must set out firmly towards God, not knowing for certain that we shall be forgiven. He, indeed, meets us on our 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, D. D.)

Our need of the Father

1. I would first recall your attention to seasons which must have marked more or less frequently the lives of all who hear me--seasons of inward uneasiness without any outward cause. They come sometimes in the dim solitude of evening or the quiet night-watches, sometimes in the yet deeper solitude of a heartless human throng.

2. We feel, it seems to me, peculiar need of a Father in heaven, in our communion with the fair and glorious scenes of nature. Did you ever see a little child taken by his father to see some glittering pageant, which seemed to the child immensely vast and grand? And have you not marked how the child will at short intervals look away from the gay show to his father’s face, as if to fortify himself by a glance of love? Were I an atheist, I would cut myself off from every grand view of nature, would shun the mountain and the ocean, and shut my eyes against the crimson sunset and the gemmed vault of night; for all these things would tell me what a solitary being I was, and how unsheltered--they would speak to me of a stupendous machinery beyond my control, of gigantic powers which I could not calculate, of material forces which my boasted intellect could neither comprehend nor modify.

3. In our domestic relations, we also deeply feel the need of a Father in heaven. How short-lived the family on earth! How frail the tie that here makes us one! O yes! we need the protecting providence and the regenerating spirit of our Father for the ground of immovable trust, at every stage of our domestic experience--else we might well resign our charge and remit our efforts, exclaiming in despair, “Who is sufficient for these things?”

4. Finally, as sinners, we need a Father in heaven. How often, my Christian friends, do our attainments fall short of our aims! How often are we betrayed into sudden sins of thought or speech! Under such experiences, we need to turn from our own frailty to our heart-seeing Father, with whom our witness is in heaven, our record on high. (A. P. Peabody.)

Adoniram Judson’s conversion

A new England student sets out on a tour through the Northern States. Before leaving home he avows himself an infidel. His father argues, his mother weeps. He can resist his father’s arguments, but finds it more difficult to resist his mother’s tears. Still he leaves home, resolved to see life, its dark side as well as its bright, having perfect confidence in his own self-control that it will protect him from anything mean and vicious. In the course of his travels he stops at a country inn. The landlord mentions, as he lights him to his room, that he has been obliged to place him next door to a young man who is probably in a dying state. The traveller passes a very restless night. Sounds come from the sick chamber--sometimes the movements of the watchers, sometimes the groans of the sufferer; but it is not these that disturb him. He thinks of what the landlord said--the stranger is probably in a dying state; and is he prepared? Alone, and in the dead of night, he feels a blush of shame steal over him at the question, for it proves the shallowness of his philosophy. What would his late companions say to his weakness. The clear-minded, intellectual, witty E--, what would he say to such consummate boyishness? But still his thoughts will revert to the sick man. Is he a Christian, calm and strong in the hope of a glorious immortality, or is he shuddering on the brink of a dark, unknown future? Perhaps he is a “Freethinker” educated by Christian parents, and prayed over by a Christian mother. At last morning comes, and its light dispels what he would fain consider his “superstitious illusions.” He goes in search of the landlord and inquires for his fellow-lodger. “He is dead.” “Dead!” “Yes, he is gone, poor fellow!” “Do you know who he was?” “Oh! yes; he was a young man from Providence College, a very fine fellow; his name was E.” Our traveller is completely stunned. E--! E--was his friend, the friend whose wit and raillery he dreaded, when he blushed at the thought of his own weakness during the wakeful night. And E was now dead. The traveller pursues his journey. But one single thought occupies his mind. The words dead! lost! lost! ring in his ears. Neither the pleasures nor the philosophies of the world can satisfy him now. The old resolution is virtually taken--“I will arise.” He abandons his travels, and turns his horse’s head homewards. His intellect does not readily accept the evidences of religion. But his moral nature is thoroughly aroused. And within a few months this young man surrenders his whole soul to Christ as his Saviour and Lord. This was Adoniram Judson, whose six-and-thirty years of unwearied devotion to missionary work have won for him the honourable appellation of the Apostle of Burmah. (J. Kennedy, D. D.)

The worlding arrested

Christopher Anderson was an impulsive and fearless lad, averse to all hypocrisy and deception. One after another of his brothers was converted to God, and he was left companionless in his ungodly course. But till he could enjoy religion, he was determined to enjoy the world. Much of his time was spent in the country, and there he was a devotee to the music and dancing in rural fetes. In town, where the accompaniments are less harmless, these gratifications were no less keenly sought after and indulged in. When about seventeen years of age he was sometimes alarmed at the course he was pursuing, and shuddered at the thought of where it must end; but he would not allow himself to think long enough on the subject, lest it should cost him those pleasures which he knew to be inconsistent with a godly life. But one evening, as he was returning home from a concert, he was suddenly and strangely impressed with a sense of the vanity of the world and its pleasures. There was no vision, nothing without, nothing within, on which the most critical could fasten a charge of fanaticism. But there was a profound conviction, suddenly awakened, as by the finger of God, that he was living the life of a fool, and that he must live it no longer. “I will arise,” he said in effect. And he arose, and at once gave himself up to God. The transition from darkness to light, from the spirit of bondage to the spirit of adoption, was nearly instantaneous. In less than one hour he was conscious of the change. And the reality of the change was attested by a long life of unvarying constancy, and of service to God and man. (J. Kennedy, D. D.)

Luther’s awakening

Martin Luther was worldly, not after the merchant’s fashion, but after the scholar’s. He gave himself to study, and became a Doctor in Philosophy. He was not without thoughts of God, which haunted him and marred his happiness, but they were not sufficient to turn the current of his life. Among his college friends there was one, named Alexis, with whom he was very intimate. One morning a report was spread that Alexis had been assassinated. Luther hurried to the spot, and found the report was true. This sudden loss of his friend affected him deeply, and he asked himself, “What would become of me if I were thus suddenly called away?” Some months after he visited the home of his childhood, and on his return to the university he was within a short distance of Erfurt, when he was overtaken by a violent storm. The thunder roared; a thunderbolt sank into the ground at his side. Luther threw himself on his knees; his hour, he thought, was perhaps come; death, judgment, eternity, were before him in all their terrors, and spoke with a voice which he could no longer resist; encompassed with the anguish and terror of death, as he himself relates, he made a vow, if God would deliver him from this danger, to forsake the world, and devote himself entirely to His service. Risen from the earth, having still before his eyes that death which must one day overtake him, he could be worldly no longer, he must now be godly. His whole soul went into the resolution, “I will arise”; and arise he did with singleness and earnestness of purpose, nor lingered for one moment until he found himself sheltered in peace under the roof of his heavenly Father. (J. Kennedy, D. D.)

A patchwork quilt

A good woman, whose son was in the army, made a patchwork quilt for the Soldiers’ Hospital. In the white squares were texts of Scripture--every block had been prayed and wept over. Many poor fellows had laid under that quilt. In course of time a boy came; he was nearly senseless for more than a week. At last he was seen to kiss the patchwork quilt. It was thought he was wandering, or had found a text of hope or comfort. But no; it was a calico block, a little crimson leaf on a dark ground. He kept looking at it, tears in his eyes; he kissed it again, and asked, “Do you know where this quilt came from?” He was told a good woman had sent it, with a note pinned on to it. This they showed him at his request. His hand trembled, his cheek grew white, when he saw the writing. “Please read it to me very slowly,” he said. It was read. “It is from my mother; that bit of calico was part of her dress.” Afterwards he pointed out the text. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight,” and said, “I am no more worthy.” The rest of the parable was read to him. A few days after he said, “I was a great way off; but God has met me, and had compassion on me; the Saviour’s love fills me with peace.” So the mother’s prayers were answered, and her son saved. And he arose and came to his father.

Good resolutions must be acted upon

Conviction is the first step to reformation. If we suffer conviction to cool upon our minds, the force and spirit of it will soon decay and evaporate. In all living creatures, it may be observed, that at first the dawnings and the beginning of life in them are very faint and hardly discernible. It is a small spark that just glimmers, and may easily be extinguished. But if it be cherished by heat and food, a wonderful alteration soon appears, and the little animal unfolds itself, and assumes its proper form. So it is in the first appearance of a spiritual life: there if a conviction and a resolution; and when that is exerted, a gradual reformation ensues. But the spiritual as well as the natural life is at first a tender thing, easily stopped, and hardly recovered. It concerns us, therefore, to cherish the rising resolutions, and improve them into a suitable practice. It is to be supposed that there are few persons who, when they do evil, have not some conviction and remorse arising upon it, with an intention of amending and making peace with God some time or other; tomorrow, or in a few days, or before the last hours. But in this there is too often a fair appearance and no vital principle; it is a spark that shines in a moment and goes out; a forward blossom that is nipped by the frost and withers away. Such faint essays and weak resolutions only aggravate the sins committed against them; and by thus continuing to offend, not only peace of mind is lost, but it becomes more difficult either to make new resolutions, or to trust to them when they are made; and consequently to satisfy ourselves of the sincerity of such a repentance. And yet this is a matter of infinite moment, and our all depends upon it. The sooner it is performed, the better; and God hath promised to concur with us in the undertaking. If we arise and go to Him, He, like the father in the parable, will come forth to meet us. (J. Jortin, D. D.)

Act at once on convictions

It is beyond my power to tell the importance of acting at once on your convictions. You will never attain to eminence without it. The pages of history are bright with the names, and the pathway of eminence is now crowded with men who added this to other qualities of mind--they carried out their purposes with a depth and power of resolution before which no ordinary considerations were permitted to stand. Take an instance. Nearly a hundred years ago, a young man from Peterborough entered Christ’s College, Cambridge. His head was clear, but his manners clumsy, his time wasted, and his University privileges fast passing away in idleness. He had spent an evening at a party. At five o’clock next morning he was awakened by one of his companions standing at his bedside. “Paley,” said he, “what a fool you are to waste your time this way! I could do nothing if I were to try; you could do anything. I have had no sleep with thinking about you. Now, I am come to tell you that, if you continue this idle life, I shall renounce your society.” The admonition was not lost. That very day, the startled sluggard formed a new plan for life. He rose every morning at five; he continued at work till nine at night. He kept his resolution. His industry was unconquerable, his progress unrivalled, until, in the general examination, at the top of the list, as Senior Wrangler, stood the name of William Paley, whose varied writings on Christian Evidences have rendered the greatest service to the cause of truth. The whole success of your recovery, young man, hinges upon immediate decision. You must arise and go to your Father. Four-and-twenty hours’ delay may utterly ruin your purpose. Oh, that every one here, that feels the relentings for past sin, would this night put his purpose into effect. (W. B. Mackenzie, M. A.)

The turning point

I. HERE WAS ACTION. He had passed beyond mere thought, mere regret, mere resolving; now “he arose.”

1. This action of the prodigal was immediate, and without further parley.

2. The prodigal aroused himself, and put forth all his energies.

II. HERE WAS A SOUL COMING INTO ACTUAL CONTACT WITH GOD. It would have been of no avail for him to have arisen, if he had not come to his father. Come to God; come just as you are, without merits or good works; trust in Jesus, and your sins will be forgiven you.

III. IN THAT ACTUAL THERE WAS AS ENTIRE YIELDING UP OF HIMSELF. His proud independence and self-will were gone. He gave up all idea of self-justification. He yielded up himself so thoroughly that he owned his father’s love to him to be an aggravation of his guilt. He also yielded up all his supposed rights and claims upon his father. And he made no terms or conditions.

IV. IN THIS ACT THERE WAS A MEASURE OF FAITH IN HIS FATHER. Faith in his father’s power, and in his readiness to pardon.

V. THIS ACT OF COMING INTO CONTACT WITH GOD IS PERFORMED BY THE SINNER JUST AS HE IS.

VI. THIS ACT WROUGHT THE GREATEST CONCEIVABLE CHANGE IN THE MAN. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

A great way off, his father saw him.

The penitent received

I. The love of God DISCERNS THE FIRST MOTIONS OF PENITENCE IN THE HEART OF MAN. The prodigal “arose and came to his father,” came, doubting and trembling, wondering, perhaps, how he would be received. Oh! how much better was his father than his fondest hopes imagined! And how much more gracious is God to the penitent than he could ever desire.

II. And then, as He discerns the beginnings of penitence, so HE MAKES HASTE TO MEET THE PENITENT ON HIS WAY, There is a loving minuteness in the details of the story--in the setting forth of the father’s acts, his words, his very emotions. It is the minuteness of love. Every sentiment of anger, every emotion of resentment, if they had ever been cherished, vanished in a moment. “His father saw him, and had compassion on him.” He forgot his ingratitude, selfishness, insolence; or, if he remembered them, the remembrance was over-powered by that which was far stronger, the sense of the penitent’s need, the feeling that the needy one was his son. It is God in Christ who alone can bring this lesson home to ear and mind and heart, and fill our whole being with a sense of its truth. Jesus Christ speaking words of tenderest love and pity, performing acts of superhuman power and mercy, weeping over sinful and doomed Jerusalem, agonizing on the cross for the salvation of a lost world, teaches us as no other has done the love of God for man, and convinces us powerfully that “His compassions fail not.”

III. And the immediate effect of this loving welcome which Almighty God accords to the penitent is at once TO DEEPEN HIS PENITENCE AND TO RAISE HIS HOPES. It is a wonderful picture of the twofold power of the pardoning love of God. We do not cease to feel our sinfulness, we do not fail to confess our unworthiness, because we are assured of our reconciliation to God. The love of God has broken his heart and humbled him in his own eyes as no sense of sin and misery had done; but it has also raised him up again, and given him new and brighter hopes, and brought him into the “glorious liberty of the children of God.”

IV. Nor is it long before the seal is put upon the reconciliation which has been effected by THE GREAT AND BLESSED PRIVILEGES TO WHICH THE PENITENT IS INTRODUCED. The penitent is clothed in the robe of righteousness which was wrought for him by the Passion of our Lord. As the lost son receives the signet ring on his finger, so he is sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise. He is shod, too, “with the preparation of the gospel of peace,” so that he is now no longer a mere wanderer from the fold of God, erring and straying from Him like a lost sheep, but is able to go with his whole heart in the way of life, and is fitted for a course of earnest devotion and holy obedience. There is not a line in the whole glorious picture but has its counterpart in the love of God to the penitent sinner. And then there is a fulness of meaning in the last words of the joyful father, when he bids them kill the fatted calf, that they may eat and be merry, because the dead is alive and the lost is found. These words proclaim to us the double truth of the joy with which the grace of God fills the heart of the penitent when he has been adopted into the family of God, and of the ample provision which has been made for his wants in the kingdom of grace and glory. And now I have but two thoughts to urge upon you in conclusion. First, I would remind you that all these blessings belong only to those who truly repent: not to those who entertain some transient regrets. But my second closing word is one of encouragement--of encouragement to those who are weary of evil, and desirous of returning to God. You, my brethren, find it hard to believe that God will receive you willingly, and “heal your backsliding, and love you freely.” Contemplate for a moment the teaching of this parable. He is saying to you, in the most convincing and affecting language, “Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” “I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth.” “Turn ye, turn ye, from your evil ways;for why will ye die?” I beseech you, therefore, by the love of God, that you will return to Him. He is more ready to receive you than you are to offer yourself to Him. (W. R. Clark, M. A.)

The prodigal’s return

I. First, then, what is the POSITION signified by being “a great way off”? I must just notice what is not that position. It is not the position of the man who is careless and entirely regardless of God; for you notice that the prodigal is represented now as having come to himself, and as returning to his father’s house. Once again, there is another person who is not intended by this description, namely, the very great man, the Pharisee who thinks himself extremely righteous, and has never learned to confess his sin. You, sir, in your apprehension, are not a great way off. You are so really in the sight of God; you are as far from Him as light from darkness, as the east is from the west; but you are not spoken of here. Your hope of self-salvation is a fallacy, and you are not addressed in the words of the text. It is the man who knows himself lost, but desires to be saved, who is here declared to be met by God, and received with affectionate embraces. And now we come to the question, Who is the man, and why is he said to be a great way off? For he seems to be very near the kingdom, now that he knows his need and is seeking the Saviour. I reply, in the first place, he is a great way off in his own apprehensions. Oh! poor heart; here is a comforting passage for thee: “When he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion on him.” but again, there is a second sense in which some now present feel themselves to be far off from God. Conscience tells every man that if he would be saved he must get rid of his sin. Let me present you with one other aspect of our distance from God. You have read your Bibles, and you believe that faith alone can unite the soul to Christ. You feel that unless you can believe in Him who died upon the cross for your sins, you can never see the kingdom of God; but you can say this morning, “Sir, I have striven to believe; I have searched the Scriptures, not hours, but days together, to find a promise upon which my weary foot might rest: I have been upon my knees many and many a time, earnestly supplicating a Divine blessing; but though I have pleaded, all in vain have I urged my plea, for until now no whisper have I had of grace, no token for good, no sign of mercy. Well, poor soul, thou art indeed far from God. I will repeat the words of the text to thee: “When he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion on him”!

II. Our second point is the PECULIAR TROUBLES which agitate the breasts of those who are in this position. There are yet many miles between him and his father whom he has neglected. Can you conceive his emotions when for the first time after so long an absence he sees the old house at home? He remembers it well in the distance; for though it is long since he trod its floors he has never ceased to recollect it; and the remembrance of his father’s kindness, and of his own prosperity when he was with him, has never yet been erased from his consciousness. You would imagine that for one moment he feels a flash of joy, like some flash of lightning in the midst of the tempest, but anon a black darkness comes over his spirit, In the first place, it is probable he will think, “Oh! suppose I could reach my home, will my father receive me? Will he not shut the door in my face and tell me to begone and spend the rest of my life where I have been spending the first of it? Then another suggestion might arise: “Surely, the demon that led me first astray may lead me back again, before I salute my parent.” “Or mayhap,” thought he, “I may even die upon the road, and so before I have received my father’s blessing my soul may stand before its God.” I doubt not each of these three thoughts has crossed your mind if you are now in the position of one who is seeking Christ, but mourns to feel himself far away from Him. First, you haw been afraid lest you should die before Christ has appeared to you. You have been for months seeking the Saviour without finding Him, and now the black thought comes, “And what if I should die with all these prayers unanswered? There was never a soul yet, that sincerely sought the Saviour, who perished before he found Him. No; the gates of death shall never shut on thee till the gates of grace have opened for thee. Your second fear is, “Ah, sir! I am not afraid of dying before I find Christ, I have a worse fear than that; I have had convictions before, and they have often passed away; my greatest fear to-day is, that these will be the same.” I have heard of a poor collier, who on one occasion, having been deeply impressed under a sermon, was led to repent of sin and forsake his former life; but he felt so great a horror of ever returning to his former conversation, that one day he knelt down and cried thus unto God, “O Lord, let me die on this spot, rather than ever deny the religion which I have espoused, and turn back to my former conversation”: and we are credibly told, that he died on that very spot, and so his prayer was answered. But the last and the most prominent thought which I suppose the prodigal would have, would be, that when he did get to his father, he would say to him, “Get along with you, I will have nothing more to do with you.” Now, sinners, dry your tears; let hopeless sorrows cease; look to the wounds of Christ, who died; let all your griefs now be removed, there is no further cause for them: your Father loves you; He accepts and receives you to His heart.

III. Now, in conclusion, I may notice--HOW THESE FEARS WERE MET IN THE PRODIGAL’S CASE, and how they shall be met in ours if we are in the same condition. The text says, “The Father saw him.” Yes, and God saw thee just now. That tear which was wiped away so hastily--as if thou wast ashamed of it--God saw it, and He stored it in His bottle. That prayer which thou didst breathe just a few moments ago, so faintly, and with such little faith--God heard it. Sinner, let this be thy comfort, that God sees thee when thou beginnest to repent. He does not see thee with His usual gaze, with which He looks on all men; but He sees thee with an eye of intense interest. He has been looking on thee in all thy sin, and in all thy sorrow, hoping that thou wouldst repent; and now He sees the first gleam of grace, and He beholds it with joy. Never warder on the lonely castle top saw the first grey light of morning with more joy than that with which God beholds the first desire in thy heart. Never physician rejoiced more when he saw the first heaving of the lungs in one that was supposed to be dead, than God doth rejoice over thee, now that He sees the first token for good. And then, the text says, “He had compassion on him.” Jehovah’s bowels yearn to-day over you. He is not angry with you; His anger is passed away, and His hands are stretched out still. Nor did this prodigal’s father stop in mere compassion. Having had compassion, “he ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.” This you do not understand yet; but you shall. As sure as God is God, if you this day are seeking Him aright through Christ, the day shall come when the kiss of full assurance shall be on your lip, when the arms of sovereign love shall embrace you, and you shall know it to be so. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The danger of trifling with convictions

A correspondent of the New York Christian Advocate furnishes the following affecting narrative:--“When I was travelling in the state of Massachusetts, twenty-six years ago, after preaching one evening in the town of---- a very serious-looking young man arose, and wished to address the assembly. After obtaining leave, he spoke as follows:--‘My friends, about one year ago, I set out in company with a young man of my intimate acquaintance, to seek the salvation of my soul. For several weeks we went on together, we laboured together, and often renewed our covenant never to give over seeking till we obtained the religion of Jesus. But, all at once, the young man neglected attending meeting, appeared to turn his back on all the means of grace, and grew so shy of me, that I could scarcely get an opportunity to speak with him. His strange conduct gave me much painful anxiety of mind; but still I felt resolved to obtain the salvation of my soul, or perish, making the publican’s plea. After a few days, a friend informed me that my young companion had received an invitation to attend a ball, and was determined to go. I went immediately to him, and, with tears in my eyes, endeavoured to persuade him to change his purpose, and to go with me on that evening to a prayer-meeting. I pleaded with him in vain. He told me, when we parted, that I must not give him up as lost, for after he had attended that ball, he intended to make a business of seeking religion. The appointed evening came, and he went to the ball, and I went to the prayer-meeting. Soon after the meeting opened, it pleased God, in answer to my prayer, to turn my spiritual captivity, and make my soul rejoice in His justifying love. Soon after the ball opened, my young friend was standing at the head of the ball-room, with the hand of a young lady in his hand, preparing to lead down the dance; and, while the musician was tuning his violin, without one moment’s warning, the young man sallied back, and fell dead on the floor. I was immediately sent for, to assist in devising means to convey his remains to his father’s house. You will be better able to judge what were the emotions of my heart, when I tell you that that young man was my own brother.’” Trifle not, then, with thy convictions, for eternity shall be too short for thee to utter thy lamentations over such trifling. (C. H.Spurgeon.)

The prodigal’s father

I. THE FATHER’S EYESIGHT. He has seen all your frailties, all your struggles, all your disadvantages. He has net been looking at you with a critic’s eye or a bailiff’s eye, but with a Father’s eye; and if a parent ever pitied a child, God pities you. You say: “Oh, I had so many evil surroundings when I started life.” Your Father sees it.

II. THE FATHER’S HASTE. He ran. No wonder. He didn’t know but that the young man would change his mind and go back. He didn’t know but that he would drop down from exhaustion. He did not know but something fatal might overtake him before he got up to the door-sill, and so the father ran. “When he was yet a great way off, his father ran.” When the sinner starts for God, God starts for the sinner. God does not come out with a slow and hesitating pace; the infinite spaces slip beneath His feet, and He takes worlds at a bound. “The father ran!”

III. THE FATHER’S KISS. Oh, this Father’s kiss! There is so much meaning, and love, and compassion in it; so much pardon in it; so much heaven in it. I proclaim Him the Lord God, merciful, gracious, and long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth. Lest you would not believe Him, He goes up Golgotha, and while the rocks are rending, and the graves are opening, and the mobs are howling, and the sun is biding, He dies for you. (De W. Talmage, D. D.)

The father’s silence

We must not fail to observe the father’s silence in reference to the confession. There is meaning in this. When a son is received in such circumstances, expressing his grief for the past, what be says is apt to give occasion for reproach, or, if a different spirit rule, the father is apt to go to the opposite extreme, and frame words of excuse. It is otherwise here. The father is silent, and that silence is Godlike. He receives the confession, for it is true, it is necessary; nothing can excuse the deeds, nothing can change the character of that awful past; but he does not dwell upon the painful subject, he does not open up the wound afresh. As he cannot say a word in excuse, he will not speak at all. His silence is condemnation. Thus God deals with man, maintaining a silence which is merciful. He casts the sins behind His back. “He giveth to all liberally, and upbraideth not.” (Prof. Calderwood.)

The return and the reception

I. THE PRODIGAL’S RETURN HOME. “He arose and came to his father.” He did not spend his remaining strength either in useless regrets, or in mere resolutions. “He arose and came.” In coming to Christ we must not allow difficulties to discourage us. We may expect them; for, if we have lived in sin, we have lived at a great distance from Him; and the king of the “far country” does not like to lose a subject. There is cause for all this steadfastness of purpose. If you, who have been awakened, advance no farther, sin will quickly overtake you, and will bind the chains of habit still more closely around your soul. There is no safety but in going forward boldly and confessing Christ. Haste! The cause of so many failures with those who attempt to walk in the “narrow path,” is, that they attempt in their own strength. This brings us to--

II. THE PRODIGAL’S RECEPTION. “When he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.” That prince of story-tellers, Dr. Guthrie, tells of a young sailor’s widow, who had parted with her husband after a few brief bright days of wedded bliss. He went to sea and never came back, his ship, probably foundering with all her crew, was never heard of again. When the time had arrived for her return, and she came not, this woman repaired to some bold headland and watched the white sails as they appeared on the blue waves, and at length as she saw vessels making for the harbour, hoped that one of them at least would bring her long-lost one home. At night on her lone bed she used to lie awake fancying she recognized his footstep, as some late traveller or midnight reveller wended his way home, but only to sink back on her pillow and weep away her disappointment as the footstep passed her door. And long after hope had died away in others’ breasts, would she on her lonely bed, or on the headland close by, watch for the coming of him who never came home again. Love like this may have prompted the father of the prodigal to daily watch, with eager eye, the distant hill over which he saw his son go on that sad morning of his leaving home. When the prodigal was a great way off his father ran to meet him. The son walked; the father ran. (W. G. Pascoe.)

The prodigal’s reception

I. First, dear friends, THE CONDITION OF SUCH A SEEKER--HE IS YET A GREAT WAY OFF. He is a great way off if you consider one or two things.

1. Remember his want of strength. This poor young man had for some time been without food--brought so very low that the husks upon which the swine fed would have seemed a dainty to him if he could have eaten them. He is so hungry that he has become emaciated, and to him every mite has the weariness of leagues within it. So the sinner is a long way off from God when you consider his utter want of strength to come to God.

2. He is a great way off, again, if you consider his want of courage. He longs to see his father, but yet the probabilities are that if his father should come he would run away; the very sound of his father’s footsteps would act upon him as they did on Adam in the garden--he would hide himself among the trees. His want of courage, therefore, makes the distance long, for every step hitherto has been taken as though into the jaws of death.

3. You are a great way off when we consider the difficulty of the way of repentance. John Bunyan tells us that Christian found, when he went back to the arbour after his lost roll, that it was very hard work going back. Every backslider finds it so, and every penitent sinner knows that there is a bitterness in mourning for sin comparable to the loss of an only son.

4. Let us look into this matter, and show that while the road seems long on this account it really is long if we view it in certain, lights.

II. Now consider THE MATCHLESS KINDNESS OF THE HEAVENLY FATHER. We must take each word and dwell upon it. First of all, we have here Divine observation. “When he was yet a great way off his father saw him.” It is true he has always seen him. God sees the sinner in every state and in every positron. The father does not turn away and try to forget him; he fixes his full gaze upon him. Observe this was a loving observation, for it is written, “his father saw him.” He did not see him as a mere casual observer; he did not note him as a man might note his friend’s child with some pity and benevolence; but he marked him as a father alone can do. What a quick eye a parent hath! The next thought to be well considered is Divine compassion. “When he saw him he had compassion on him.” Does not the word compassion mean suffering-with or fellow-suffering? What is compassion, then, but putting yourself into the place of the sufferer and feeling his grief? Notice and observe carefully the swiftness of this Divine love: “He ran.” After noticing thus observation, compassion, and swiftness, do not forget the nearness: “He fell upon his neck and kissed him.” Observe how near God comes to the sinner. It was said of that eminent saint and martyr, Bishop Hooper, that on one occasion a man in deep distress was allowed to go into his prison to tell his tale of conscience; but Bishop Hooper looked so sternly upon him, and addressed him so severely at first, that the poor soul ran away, and could not get comfort until he had sought out another minister of a gentler aspect. Now, Hooper really was a gracious and loving soul, but the sternness of his manner kept the penitent off. There is no such stern manner in our heavenly Father; he loves to receive His prodigals. When he comes there is no “Hold off!” no “Keep off!” to the sinner, but He falls upon his neck and He kisses him. In kissing his son the father recognizes relationship. He said with emphasis, “Thou art my son.” Again, that kiss was the seal of forgiveness. He would not have kissed him if he had been angry with him; he forgave him, forgave him all. There was, moreover, something more than forgiveness; there was acceptance. In summing up, one may notice that this sinner, though he was a great way off, was not received to full pardon and to adoption and acceptance by a gradual process, but he was received at once. (C. H.Spurgeon.)

The prodigal’s return

It was about midnight in one of the suburbs of Edinburgh, and everything around seemed peaceful and quiet, when a young man, whose age could not be more than nineteen, cautiously advanced towards one of the few shops that were to be found in that neighbourhood. He seemed anxious to escape observation; for, although it was so late, there were still many persons passing to and from the city. He very soon effected an entrance into the shop in some way known to himself, and after he gained admittance, groped his way into a part of the shop with which he seemed well acquainted, and where he found some matches and a candle, which he soon lighted. Then, looking carefully around him, his eye lighted on a desk which stood at the further end of the counter. After trying it, he found that it was locked; but not to be defeated in his purpose, he got hold of some blunt instrument and forced the lock. In doing so he made a considerable noise, and before he could proceed further in his operations he heard a voice saying, “Who is there?” He began to tremble and show signs of fear, and before he had time to escape a door leading towards the back part of the premises was opened. A middle-aged woman with a light in her hand then appeared. The first object that attracted her attention was the young man, who stood as if he was riveted to the floor. She looked at him for a short time, and then said, “Oh, Willie, Willie, my poor boy, have you become so wicked as to rob your widowed mother? Willie, my boy, this will break my heart.” “I cannot help it, mother,” he replied, in a husky voice. “I must have money; and you can see by my clothes that I have deserted from my regiment.” “I will tell you what to do,” his mother said. “Go back to your regiment.” “What! go back and be punished as a deserter!” he said, sullenly. “No, I will not. I will have this money that is in the desk; then I can get away to another country.” As he spoke he lifted the lid of the desk and seized the bag which contained the money. While thus engaged his mother stepped towards him, and grasped him by the arm, as she said, pleadingly, “Willie, don’t do this wicked thing; the money is of no value to me--it is your soul that I value. Come, say that you will not take it, and leave your mother.” “Come, mother,” he said, doggedly, “let go my arm”; but she still clung to him. Then with some violence he pushed her back into a chair, and the poor woman covered her face with her hands and wept bitterly. “Oh, Lord,” she said, “save my poor boy.” As he pushed his mother from him he made for the door with the money in his possession, but when he reached the door he looked back, and saw his mother sobbing as her whole frame shook with emotion. He stood for a moment undecided what to do; then, throwing back the money on the counter, he put his arms round his mother’s neck. “Mother,” he said, “I will not leave you; I will go back to my regiment to-morrow.” The following morning Willie gave himself up to the military authorities as a deserter, was tried by court-martial, and punished. Shortly afterwards he became seriously ill, and was sent to the Military Hospital at Edinburgh, where I first met him. The Lord blessed the Word to his soul, so that when he was discharged a short time afterwards he returned to his mother’s house a believer in the Lord Jesus and a new man. A short time after his discharge he got married to a Christian young woman, and in a few weeks afterwards both of them sailed for Australia, where his voice has often been heard preaching Christ to perishing sinners, both in the public parks and in the streets of the city of Melbourne. Before he left, he said to me, “I am sorry to leave you, J--, but take this Bible and keep it for my sake; it is the Bible my dear father gave me, and I value it above almost anything I possess. Keep it for my sake, and visit my mother, for she loves you as myself; and if we never meet on earth again, let us both so live here that we may meet ‘where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.’” (Notes from a Soldiers Diary.)

The return of the banished

Some people once lived in a happy isle, but for their misdeeds were banished. The place of their exile, however, lay within sight of their former home. They could look across the channel and discern the beach, with its border of golden sand, and the hills beyond, with their emerald slopes and cool snow-capped summits. Occasionally, too, in the stiller weather, they could hear voices from that land: the shout of happy playmates, the tinkling tune of browsing flocks, or the mellow peal summoning to welcome worship. Their own was a land of emptiness. From the brackish bog sprouted a few dingy weeds, and the glairy stems, or mallows among the bushes, were the food of the gaunt inhabitants. Few had any desire to leave, or any hope of bettering their condition. One exception we may notice. He was a thoughtful character. With those deep, melancholy eyes, which take so much for granted, and which seldom kindle to the fullest--for they have looked the world through and through, and seen an end of all perfection--glimpses of a noble soul could at times be caught as it climbed to the window of his wan and wistful countenance. Many an eager glance did he direct towards the blessed isle. Fain would he reach it. One morning, on waking, it struck him that the opposite coast was unusually near. So low was the tide that perhaps he might ford it, or at all events swim. So down through the swamp and over the dry shingle he posted; and then across the sad and solid sand, off which the gentle wavelets had folded, right athwart the wet stones and crackling fact, where tiny streams of laggard water and crustaceans tumbling topsy-turvy in their crawling haste were trying to overtake the ocean, till abruptly met by the rising tide, he found to his dismay that, deep as was the ebb, the channel still was deeper. Disappointed here, he by and by bethought him of another plan. Westward of his dwelling the coast-line stretched away in successive cliffs and headlands, till it ended in a lofty promontory, which in its turn seemed to abut against the happy isle. Thither he made up his mind that he would take a pilgrimage. With slopes and swells, zigzags and windings, it turned out much farther than it looked; and when at last, footsore and staggering, he got to the summit, instead of a bridge to the better land, he found it a dizzy cliff, with the same relentless ocean weltering at its base. Baulked in this final effort, he went down and flung himself on the rocks and wept. It was during this paroxysm of vexation that, looking up, he noticed a little boat, with whose appearance he was familiar. He was a little surprised to see it there, for he remembered that it used to ride exactly opposite his own habitation, although, belonging to no one in particular, and not having brought any of the commodities they cared for, he and the other inhabitants had never paid it much attention. Having now nothing else to do, he looked at it eagerly and somewhat wonderingly. It neared him. It came close up to the rocks where he was seated. It was a beautiful boat, with snowy sail and golden prow, and a red pennon flying. There was one on board, and only one. His raiment was bright and glistening, and his features were such as could only have come from the happy isle. “Son of man,” he said, “why weepest thou?” “Because I cannot reach yonder blessed region.” “Couldst thou trust thyself to me?” The pilgrim looked, first at the little skiff, and then at its benignant pilot, and said, “I can.” With that timid “yes” he stepped on board, and like a sunbeam, so swift, it bore him away from that dismal coast; and ere he could believe it he was a denizen of the happy isle, breathing its immortal air; at home amidst its loveliness, and numbered with its citizens. The happy isle is peace with God--the blessed state which men when sinless occupied. The dreary land is the state of alienation from the living God, in which, with joyless acquiescence, so many are living. And the little skiff--the only means of passing over from the one region to the other--is the atonement, the intercession of Jesus Christ. (James Hamilton, D. D.)

“My father will meet me”

A friend got into a railway carriage in Liverpool to go far north in Scotland, and there sat beside him a pale, weak, worn young mother, and she had upon the bend of her arm a strong but restless babe. Surely, he thought, this mother is not able to carry this child all these hundreds of miles. After a little he put the question to her, “Are you going far?” “I am.” “Are you going to carry that child all the way?” “Yes, I am.” “Will you not get tired? You look tired now.” “I am not well, and I am tired, and I do feel that it is a long way to go; but oh!”--and the tears stole down her cheek--“I do not mind, for my father willmeet me there.” Ah! beloved, thou mayest have many a load to carry, many a sin to weep over, many a long and weary day in life’s journey, and but little strength, little to solace or comfort; but never mind, you are going home, to die no more, and your Father will meet you at the journey’s end.

Conversion not necessarily a protracted process

When we read of the prodigal being a great way off, and so are led to think of his return as a long and toilsome journey, we are not to suppose that conversion is necessarily a protracted process. The coming back, of course, in the parable, must correspond to the departure into the far land; and though frequently there is a considerable time of anxiety and struggle between the moment of awakening and the time when the soul finds joy and peace in believing, yet this dark middle-passage is by no means essential. Rather it is the result either of faulty views as to the way of salvation, or of a want of faith in it as it is presented to the sinner. On this point I cannot refrain from reproducing an anecdote which I heard one evening in conversation from the lips of Mr. Spurgeon. An earnest young evangelist was one morning on his way from Granton to Edinburgh, and overtook a Newhaven fishwife carrying her burden to the market. Anxious to do some good, he said to her, “There you go with your burden on your back. Once I had a heavier load than that, but, thank God, I have got rid of it now.” “Oh,” she replied, “you mean the burden that John Bunyan speaks of; I know all about that; but I have got rid of mine many and many a year ago.” “I am happy to hear of it,” said the evangelist. “Yes,” she answered; “but, do you know, I don’t think that man Evangelist was a right preacher of the gospel at all. When Christian asked him where he was to go, he said, Do you see yonder wicket-gate? He said he didn’t; and it was no wonder. He asked again, Do you see yonder shining light? and he said he did; and then Evangelist directed him to make for that. Now, what business had he to speak either about the shining light or the wicket-gate? Couldn’t he have pointed him at once to the Redeemer’s cross. Christian never did lose his burden till he saw that cross; and he might have seen it sooner if Evangelist had known his business better. Much good he got, too, by making for the shining light. Why, before he knew where he was, he was floundering in the Slough of Despond; and if it had not been for the man Help he would never have got out.” “What!” said the evangelist to her, “were you never in the Slough of Despond?” “Ay, many a time, many a time,” was the reply; “but let me tell you, young man, it’s a hantel easier to get through that slough with your burden off than with your burden on!” Now, though as a record of what often actually happens, the immortal allegorist has given us a truthful portraiture, the Christian fishwife was in the right; for the moment a sinner rightly apprehends and thoroughly believes the doctrine of the Cross he loses his sin-burden; and this may be after no painfully protracted process of agony and inward conflict. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

The father’s readiness to forgive

As the father in the parable ran to meet the returning prodigal, so the Lord, while slow to condemn, makes haste to forgive. Some time ago a devoted Christian worker in Edinburgh, finding a young woman--one of the fallen--in rapid decline, earnestly entreated her to go back to her home. “No,” she said, “I cannot; my parents would never receive me.” Her Christian friend knew what a mother’s heart was, so she sat down and wrote a letter to the mother, telling her that she had met her daughter, who was deeply grieved, and wanted to return. The next post brought an answer back, and money along with it for the journey, and on the envelope was written, “Immediately! immediately!” That was a mother’s heart; she fully forgave, and desired the earliest possible return. This is what the great and loving God is saying to every wandering sinner: “Come immediately.” Yes, backsliders, you cannot come home too soon; for He will forgive you graciously and love you freely, and in heaven there will be joy unspeakable ever your return.

The Father’s joy at thy sinner’s return

This infinite joy in the Father’s heart seems to us appalling when we read of it, and try to believe that it is an actual revelation of the Divine mind. It is high--we cannot attain unto it; that is our natural language. And yet all Christendom is but an expression of this truth. What does the message of Christ’s full and perfect sacrifice mean--what do the sacraments mean--if it is not this? tire they not manifestations of One who of His tender love to mankind gave His only begotten Son to take our nature upon Him, and to suffer death upon the cross. Passion Week is either a dream or it is a translation into fact of this parable. It is a witness that the parable applies equally to both the sons of the Father--to those who are near and to those who are afar off. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)

And the son said unto him, Father

Confession and restoration

I. THE PRODIGAL’S CONFESSION.

1. This confession was the result of repentance.

2. This confession of the prodigal showed that his repentance was real. “Father, I have sinned.” There was nothing fictitious about that confession. It was the welling up of a bursting heart, too full of sadness, too conscious of error, too desirous of forgiveness to think of an excuse, or to say anything but the simple truth--“I have sinned.” It is a beautiful confession, when, coming from the lips of a truly earnest man, it is whispered into the ear of God.

3. This confession of the prodigal showed that his repentance was evangelical. “I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight.” The earthly aspect of the sin he saw in all its vileness; but when he turned his eyes towards heaven, he felt that God had been more bitterly sinned against.

4. This confession of the prodigal was humble--“And am no more worthy to be called thy son.” He did not say that he was humble; true humility never does this; but he showed it.

II. THE PRODIGAL’S RESTORATION.

1. The prodigal was restored to honour. “The best robe.”

2. He is restored to dignity. Ring on finger.

3. He is restored to comfort and strength. Shoes on feet.

4. He is restored to abundant provision. Fatted calf. (W. G. Pascoe.)

Bring forth the best robe

The best robe

I. The sinner by nature is SPIRITUALLY NAKED. Prodigal in rags.

II. A SUITABLE ROBE has been graciously prepared. Not “go and prepare one,” but “bring it forth.”

III. It is of UNPARALLELED BEAUTY AND VALUE. “The best robe.” Its beauty indescribable. Its beauty never fades. Purchased for us by a great price; but no price is asked from us. An invulnerable robe; clothed in it we have nothing to fear.

IV. It is brought to us and PUT UPON US BY APPOINTED AGENCY.

V. It is the FATHER’S GIFT.

VI. Bestowed upon none but the SINCERELY PENITENT. (J. Dobie, D. D.)

The best robe

The best robe is the “garment of salvation,” or the “robe of righteousness,” which God puts upon every one who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ.

1. It is the best robe, because it cost so much labour to make it.

2. It is the best robe, because becoming to all persons.

3. The excellence of this robe is seen in its suitableness for all occasions.

4. It is the best robe, because it wears so well.

5. Because it costs so little. The poorest person and the greatest sinner may have it for nothing.

6. Because it is the robe we shall wear in heaven. It will be our court dress. (D. Winters.)

The best robe

By the best robe we may scripturally understand what theologians and preachers have all along designated “the robe of righteousness.” It covers at once and completely the rags and unseemliness of sin. It was woven on Calvary for the race of man, out of the white warp of Divine mercy and the blood-red woof of the Redeemer’s sacrifice. It is like Christ’s own garment for which lots were cast, “without seam, woven from the top throughout,” and of which, when He was stripped by His executioners, He was significantly arrayed in the “scarlet robe,” emblematical of our crimson transgressions which He bore. This robe of righteousness has been hung up in heaven’s gospel wardrobe, “and is unto all and upon all them that believe.” It is beautifully bedecked with the ornaments of holiness, which the Spirit of Christ, with delicate hand, has embroidered on its indestructible texture. An affecting anecdote has been preserved concerning the work of God in Jamaica, before our slaves were set free. Although Britain had not liberated them, God’s Spirit often broke their spiritual chains; and the joy of salvation visited black and white alike. Once, at a certain plantation, a slave had entered into the peace of the gospel, while his master still remained in darkness; and the black freedman thus addressed the white bondman, who had not yet got rid of the galling chains of sin and Satan. “You see, Massa, it just like this. A gentleman pass our house one day and he offer two robe for notink--one to you and one to me. Me poor negro--very poor--got no good clothes--very glad to get robe for de taking. But you rich man--hab plenty better robe ob your own--you too proud to take de kind man’s robe. Jest so. Massa, wid de gospel. De Lord Jesus Christ is passing by our plantation wid robe of righteousness for poor sinners. Me poor sinful negro--black skin--black sin--very glad to get de robe dat was woven on de tree; but you go great deal to church--gib much money--hab minister many time in your house--tink yourself very good Christian--not willing to take de robe as a free gift. O Massa, be persuade to be poor in spirit like poor negro, and take de robe ob righteousness as a free gift.” (F. Ferguson, D. D.)

The ring

It is a conscience-keeping ring. I cannot explain my meaning here without narrating one of those Arabian tales in which a deep meaning is often found hidden. A genius or guardian spirit presented to his protege a ring, which had this virtue, that whenever the wearer went against the wishes of his protector, it tightened upon his finger and gave him pain. Beautiful emblem of the new heart and tender conscience which God’s grace brings to the penitent and believing soul! That is the magic ornament which the returning prodigal receives when his father dresses him for the feast, and which unspeakably exceeds in value the rarest jewels that sparkle on the brow, the neck, or hand of haughty beauty. (J. Ferguson.)

A father’s pity and love

A preacher one day wound up his sermon by saying that there was not a man in London so far gone but he could be saved. Next morning a young lady--a tract distributor--requested an interview, and repeated his words. “Do you mean it?” “I do.” “Well, there is a man down in the East End of London who says there is no hope for him. I wish you would go and see him.” He went down into one of those dark alleys till he came to a miserable-looking building. And up in the fifth storey he found the young man, mangled and bruised by the effects of sin. The minister talked to him and told him of the sinner’s Friend, and prayed with him until at last light began to break into his soul, and he was able to say, “I could die happy if I could hear my father say, ‘I forgive you.’ He lives in the West End of London, but he has had my name taken out of the family records. He treats me as if I were dead.” “I will go and see him,” said the minister. He found his abode--a beautiful mansion--rang the bell, and was answered by a servant in livery. He inquired if his master was in, and presently the man came down. “I believe you have a son called Joseph?” “No,” he said, “ I have no boy of that name. I had, but I have disinherited him. There is nothing good about him.” “But,” said the minister, “he is your boy, nevertheless.” “Is my Joseph sick?” “Yes, he is at the point of death. I ask you if you will forgive him. If you will, he can die in peace. Tell me that you forgive him, and I will take the message to him.”

“No, no; if my boy is sick, I will go and see him.” And so the carriage was taken out, and they went to the dark alley in the East End. The father hardly recognized him. The boy said, “Father, can you forgive me?” “Oh, Joseph, I would have forgiven you long ago, if I had known you wanted me to. Let my servants take you and put you in the carriage.” “No, father, I am not well enough to be moved. I shall not live much longer, but I can die happy now.” And soon he passed away to meet his Lord and Saviour.

Let us eat, and be merry

Joy on the prodigal’s return

I. THE NEW CONVERT’S JOY. You have seen, perhaps, a man running for his temporal liberty, and the officers of the law after him, and you saw him escape, or afterward you hear the judge had pardoned him, and how great was the glee of that rescued man; but it is a very tame thing that compared with the running for one’s everlasting life, the terrors of the law after hind, and Christ coming in to pardon and bless and rescue and save. You remember John Bunyan in his great story tells how the pilgrim put his fingers in his ears, and ran, crying: “Life, life, eternal life! “ A poor car-driver in this city, some months ago, after struggling for years to support his family, suddenly was informed that a large inheritance was his, and there was a joy amounting to bewilderment; but that is a small thing compared with the experience of one when he has put in his hands the title-deeds to the joys, the raptures, the splendours of heaven, and he can truly say, “Its mansions are mine, its temples are mine, its songs are mine, its God is mine!” Oh, it is no tame thing to become a Christian. It is a merrymaking. It is the killing of the fatted calf. It is a jubilee.

II. THE FATHER’S JOY. At the opening of the Exposition in New Orleans I saw a Mexican flutist, and he played the solo, and then afterward the eight or ten bands of music, accompanied by the great organ, came in; but the sound of that one flute as compared with all the orchestras was greater than all the combined joy of the universe when compared with the resounding heart of Almighty God.

III. THE JOY OF THE MINISTERS OF RELIGION. They blew the trumpet, and ought they not to be glad of the gathering of the host? They pointed to the full supply, and ought they not to rejoice when thirsty souls plunge as the hart for the water brooks? They came forth, saying: “All things are now ready”--ought they not to rejoice when the prodigal sits down at the banquet?

IV. THE JOY OF ALL EARNEST CHRISTIANS.

V. THE JOY OF THE INHABITANTS OF HEAVEN. (De W. Talmage, D. D.)

The merry household

I. THE OCCASION OF THIS MIRTH. It was the restoration of the prodigal son.

II. THE PARTICIPATORS IN THIS MIRTH.

1. The father took part in this mirth. But for him, indeed, there had been no merry-making. And in that happy party there was none so happy as the father!

2. The servants took part in this mirth. They rejoiced in sympathy with their master. “They say that if a piano is struck in a room where another stands unopened and untouched, he who lays his ear to the latter will hear a string within, as if touched by the hand of a shadowy spirit, sounding the same tone. But how far more strange that the strings of the heart vibrate to those of another.” Joy meets joy, feeling meets feeling. The rapturous gladness of the father is caught, and like two torches blended, heightened by the servants as they crowd the hall, and with music and dancing begin to be merry. When a sinner is converted to God the sympathy of all holy beings is with him.

3. The prodigal himself took part in this mirth. He had the greatest cause of all to do so. Had he not been rescued from a misery worse than death--the misery of a sinful life? Had he not been restored to all the honours he had originally possessed? Oh! the blessedness of that hour when God first whispered forgiveness to our heart.

III. THE EFFECT OF HIS MIRTH. It would establish the prodigal in his new mode of life. (W. G. Pascoe.)

The safety of moral return

Christmas Evans was once describing the prodigal’s coming back to his father’s house, and he said that when the prodigal sat at the father’s table his father put upon his plate all the daintiest bits of meat that he could find; but the son sat there and did not eat, and every now and then the tears began to flow. His father turned to him and said, “My dear son, why are you unhappy? You spoil the feasting. Do you not know that I love you? Have I not joyfully received you?” “Yes,” he said, “dear father, you are very kind, but have you really forgiven me? Have you forgiven me altogether, so that you will never be angry with me for all I have done?” His father looked on him with ineffable love and said, “I have blotted out thy sins and thy iniquities, and will remember them no more for ever. Eat, my dear son.” The father turned round and waited on the guests, but by and by his eyes were on his boy, they could not be long removed. There was the son weeping again, but not eating. “Come, dear child,” said his father, “come, why are you still mourning? What is it that you want?” Bursting into a flood of tears a second time, the son said, “Father, am I always to stop here? Will you never turn me out of doors?” The father replied, “No, my child, thou shalt go no more out for ever, for a son abides for ever.” Still the son did not enjoy the banquet; there was still something rankling within, and again he wept. Then his father said, “Now, tell me, tell me, my dear son, all that is in thy heart. What do you desire more?” The son answered, “Father, will you make me stop here? Father, I am afraid lest, if I were left to myself, I might play the prodigal again. Oh, constrain me to stay here for ever!” The father said, “I will put my fear in thy heart, and thou shalt not depart from me.” “Ah! then,” the son replied, “it is enough,” and merrily he feasted with the rest. So I preach to you just this--that the great Father, when He takes you to Himself, will never let you go away from Him again. Whatever your condition, if you trust your soul to Jesus, you shall be saved, and saved for ever. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Heavenly merry-makings

It is now his turn to act the prodigal in lavishing all upon the penitent. Little wonder that the elder brother reproached the father as the greater prodigal of the two. Such a costly merry-making had never been in their quiet home. The prodigality of grace surpasses the prodigality of sin. The best robe, the ring, and the shoes were the dress of a free-born son, and showed to all that the lost son had received the highest favours the father could bestow. “The fatted calf” was well known to the servants, as at Jewish farms a Calf was fattened for great festivals. “And they began to be merry” (Luke 15:24), but we are not told when they ended. Heaven has its merry-makings as well as earth, and they celebrate the prodigal’s home-coming. (J. Wells.)

His elder son

The elder son

The elder son was one who had always remained at that very home from which the younger had wandered, and to which he had at last returned. He had been a faithful son, doing his father’s commandments, and the parable would lose all its point, unless we were to see in it a picture of a father’s heart which has depth and warmth enough not only to love a son who obeys, but to forgive a son who disobeys and repents. The elder son was not therefore a self-righteous Pharisee. He was not a hypocrite. But he was a somewhat narrow good man. He was a type of thousands among the Jews, and of thousands still among Christians, who look with jealous suspicion upon all who have been once abandoned and now have repented and turned to God. They have never fathomed the depths of sin. From their childhood they have walked uprightly.

I. In the first place we may see that THE POSITION OF THE ELDER SON IS PREFERABLE TO THAT OF THE YOUNGER BECAUSE OF THE RISK HE ESCAPED. It is true that the younger son returned, but then he might not have returned. When he turned his back upon his father’s house, it might have been for ever.

II. The position of the elder brother is preferable BECAUSE A LIFE OF CONTINUOUS GODLINESS IS FAR EASIER THAN A LIFE OF GODLINESS SUCCEEDING A LIFE OF SIN. The prodigal, remember, does not start life afresh. He is not brought back to the point of innocence from which he started. His soul is not cleared and cleansed from all the past. If he be able to exercise a fair command over his speech and outward conduct, so as not to break out into the words and deeds of his profligate career, think how his memory and his imagination are poisoned! He has to undo so much that has been done. He has to strive hard to break the links of association which connect him with evil thoughts. What would he not sacrifice if he could but just wipe out of his remembrance the tormenting, polluting past. But he cannot. Though it be forgiven by God, it is there still to be struggled with. He has to pull down much that he has built up; he has to tear up much that he has planted; he has to put a double watch at those points where he so often fell; he often feels the old sin reviving and struggling for mastery again, and trembles lest he should be vanquished. Whereas the son who has remained at home has grown up into godliness with his advancing years.

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. Let experience be called in to testify which is preferable, the joy which a parent has over a son who is obedient and virtuous, who never sets at nought the laws of the house, whose ear is ever ready to hear and hands to do the will of his father, the serene joy which is felt every day and all the day, the joy which is like quiet and peaceful sunshine, or that tumultuous gladness which, after years of pain and sorrow over a son’s profligacy, welcomes him home. Let any parent on earth who has the well-being of his children at heart answer, and he will say, Give me the obedient, loving son, with the quiet tranquil joy from day to day, before the brief ecstasy after long agony, which arises from a repenting prodigal. The one is but a mountain torrent--the other is a deep and noiseless stream. And as with the parent so too with the children; the joy of the obedient one is higher than that of the returning one. It may not seem so, because of the feast which the returning one sees provided for him. The merriment will cease. The fatted calf will not be killed again to-morrow. Even the prodigal’s joy will sober down after a while, and he will have to find a sweeter banquet, though a less exciting one, in doing the will of his father. (E. Mellor, D. D.)

The prodigal’s elder brother

1. The first point which we have to consider is, that the elder could not rejoice, on account of jealousy, in the return of his younger brother. That such a character should take no delight in welcoming one of his own blood from habits which were leading him to inevitable ruin is a most humiliating proof that “every man at his best estate is altogether vanity.” Nor can we suppose that our Lord intends us to regard this character as an exception to the general rule; quite the reverse. We may find in this elder brother our own likeness. There is scarcely a fault more common than this very jealousy and grudging of good to others. In proof of this, a sceptical philosopher, whose wisdom we may suppose was not drawn from the sacred page, but from his own observation, has sneeringly affirmed that we rejoice in the misfortunes of our friends; and, though we may hope this is not universally true, it certainly requires much more Christian charity than most of us possess to rejoice from the heart in our neighbour’s good fortune.

2. The second remarkable point in the character of the elder brother is, that he set a value and merit upon his own decent behaviour. Now nothing can be more fatal to a right view of our position towards God than to suppose that any merit can attach to our obedience; or that it would be less incumbent upon us to obey were all prospective recompense removed! The only sound reason why we should ever live well is that God has commanded it--the only motive which can effectually influence our conduct is love for Him.

The conclusion to be drawn from this brief consideration of the elder brother’s character is what I have already summed up in the early part of my discourse.

1. In the first place, his past respectable domestic conduct could not have been the fruits of genuine good affections. Throughout the parable there is not the faintest trace of affection for any one but himself.

2. Secondly, it is evident that, however good his life may have been, his real taste was not for holiness and what is right. The mere fact that he could not take delight in the reformation of his brother is sufficient to prove this.

3. Finally, the many years’ service of which the elder brother boasted had not been given out of love to his parent: if he had not been watching from time to time for instances of parental indulgence, he could at any rate feel they were his due--“Long as I have served thee thou never gavest me a kid!” Thus did want of real love for his father unamiably show itself, hidden probably alike from himself and others until circumstances arose to develop it. Such a deficiency strikes at once all remaining interest from his character; and stained in sin as the prodigal had been, still, in his remnant of good affections, we trace how Divine grace operates more easily, and conquers more effectually, when it has to combat the vices of youthful excess, than when it has to contend with decent formalism, a hard and cold heart, a jealous temper, self-righteousness, and conceit. (A. Gatty, D. D.)

The elder son

It was a joyless life, that of the old son. While his dull round of duty lacked the colour and merriment of the prodigal’s gay time, it found no compensation from any sympathy of affection betwixt himself and his father. They were men of very different characters. The father’s heart yearned incessantly after his lost boy; but this worker in the field wasted no love on him. Alone or with the labourers he wrought; and his chief intercourse with his father was when he took his orders. Hear his own account of it: “These many years do I slave to thee, nor did I transgress at any time thy command.” To be a bondservant, that was his chosen place; to have wilfully disobeyed no injunction, that was his boast. Yet he had friends elsewhere who were not his father’s friends, and desires after other company than met at his father’s table; for, had he earned any pleasure by his toil, it would have been, he says, a kid with which to make merry with his own companions. Even this he did not get. It was thankless service. No glow of family love warmed it. Yet, if not quite satisfied, the old son was in a measure content to hold this unsonlike place, just because his cold heart had never dreamed that sonship meant anything more than this. The problem was, how to teach him that; how to open up what tender ness the heart of his father held, and what the claim of a son really meant, so that he shall discover that he for one has never yet entered into the joy of that relationship, nor known what is the deep confidential love which binds true parent and true child in one. What, then, does sonship really mean? It means that there is more sacred strength in that single word “son” than in ever so many years of laborious servitude; for it is the power of love and not of law which says, “All that I have is thine.” It means that this Father of yours, whom you have been observing as a taskmaster, and misjudging as a niggard, you have never really known in His Fatherhood; for see, to this scapegrace, just because he is become again a son indeed, and dares to trust the father’s heart, that father’s heart brims over instantly with unutterable tenderness and a generosity that knows no bounds. Oh, it means, if you will learn it, that you have been as little of a true son as this pitied outcast; else might you also have rejoiced all through these weary years past, in a love no less strong, in a joy no less deep, than the love and joy of this festive day; nay, more deep and strong, if less noisy or exuberant, because springing out of the calm depths of an unbroken intercourse, unmarred by the memory of separation or the shadow of guilt; for “Thou art ever with me”! (J. O. Dykes, D. D.)

The elder brother

The aim of every Christian is to be complete in Christ; but how many of His own are poor in the possession of His sympathies, His generosity and meekness, His large views? Let us see how these are represented by the elder brother, and show how our Father in heaven deals with the errors of such a disposition.

I. THE SOURCES OF IMPERFECTION IN THIS CHARACTER.

1. Wrong views of the character of God. This man had not sufficient trust in the integrity and goodness of his father.

2. Wrong views of the nature of religious service. This elder brother considered the service of his father as legal and constrained. The child of God ought to have feeling of possession in the property of his Father, serving Him as a son who is native to the inheritance.

3. Wrong feeling towards the objects of the Divine mercy. To mention the evils of his brother’s life, at such a time as this, was bad taste, and worse feeling. He might have trusted the honest affection of his father, and waited till his own soul rose to that high eminence. That feeling Which refuses to recognize a man as one of the family of Gods because he has greatly sinned, is a bad feeling.

II. THE DIVINE REMEDY. The same love which received the prodigal home now argues with the narrow-minded saint. That love is great to cover faults, and to develop the most unpromising germs of goodness. It is not expended in the single effort of forgiveness, but has reserves of force to transform, purify, and elevate. There are souls within the kingdom of God who are not fully in sympathy with the greatness of the Divine love. There are surfaces on which, when the light falls, some of the rays are quenched, and the reflection is imperfect. There are some souls who fail to reflect the full splendour of the love of God. What we know of this heavenly principle depends upon what we are able to receive.

1. The first remedy for this state of mind is to impress us with the sacredness and worth of true feeling. There is a logic of the heart which no sophistry can invade or dissipate. Let us follow those impulses of the Divine love within us, though we cannot now mark out by our reason the whole journey. At what time the mind disposes to unbelief, the heart can restore us to faith.

2. Another remedy is--We are reminded that God’s resources are infinite. Lavish bounty of design and provision is the rule of nature. How grudging and narrow is man! How good is God!

3. We are reminded that constancy of service is superior to sudden rapture. (The Lay Preacher.)

He was angry

The angry brother

I. THE WANT OF SYMPATHY WITH A BROTHER’S CONVERSION. The prodigal’s brother is “angry and will not go in.” Angry at what? The salvation of a brother! The reception of the lost one home again! No true saint will look coldly on a poor sinner who staggers to the mercy-seat.

II. SELFISHNESS PASSING CENSURE ON CAUSES FOR GLADNESS. Selfishness is a fire that burns all love out of the soul. Selfishness is an angry beast whose iron hoot crushes every flower in the garden of sympathy. Selfishness is a monster that has no eye for the beautiful, no ear for music, no appreciation of poetry or sentiment. Selfishness is a lean-souled miser who would snatch a crust from the hand of a beggar, and would begrudge hospitality to a starving wanderer.

III. ANGER SHUTTING OUT FROM A FEAST OF JOY. “He was angry and would not go in.” (W. G. Pascoe.)

The elder son’s dissatisfaction

How plausible this reasoning sounds! How perfectly invincible it must have seemed to this dutiful son! And yet, if we examine it, what does it come to but this? “I have been obedient, and I ought to be paid for my obedience. My brother has been disobedient. Why art thou glad that he has ceased to be disobedient? I see no cause for satisfaction in that. It causes me no delight.” Here is that flagrant opposition between the Divine purpose and the purpose of those who had been called to be the ministers of His will and purpose, which our Lord has been detecting in all His dealings with the scribes and Pharisees? “The Father’s joy is in the restoration of the lost. You have no such joy. You think the removal of their curse, of their sin, is an injury to you.” But is this consistent with the words, “Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.” Thoroughly consistent. For what do these words signify but this: “Son, I have called thee to know my goodness and loving-kindness. I have called thee to be a dispenser of that knowledge to the children of men. I can give thee no greater treasure. I can make thee partaker of no higher bliss than my own. Thou wilt not have that? Thou wishest for another kind of joy than mine? Well, if thou choosest it, thou must have it. Thou must try what that selfish joy is worth; whether it satisfies thee better than the husks which the swine eat have satisfied thy brother. But before thou formest that terrible resolution, I will come out and entreat thee. I will urge thee to partake of my festival. I will vindicate thy right to it. I will conjure thee to enter into thy father’s blessedness. Thou dost enter it when thou ownest the outcast for thy brother, when thou makest merry and art glad because he was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found.” So pleaded the Eternal Father by the mouth of Jesus with His Jewish people. So pleads He with us in this Passion Week. Do you want wages for your virtue, for your faith, for your superiority to the rest of mankind? You must ask the devil for those wages; for the service of pride he will give you strictly and punctually the wages of death. Do you desire the delight of the Father who so loved the world as to give His only-begotten Son for it? Do you want the delight of the Son who poured out His blood for all men, who is the Saviour of all men? Do you want the delight of the Spirit, who is seeking to bring all to repentance and the knowledge of the truth? “Son, thou art ever with Me, and all that I have is thine.” Thou mayest possess My own character. Thou mayest declare My purpose to those who have lost themselves. Thou mayest be My instrument in finding them. And if they never hear thy feeble voice, thou needest not doubt that they will hear the voice of the Son of Man; that by hunger and misery He will remind them of their Father’s house; that they will arise and go to Him; that He will meet them when they are a great way off; that He will embrace them and bring them to His banquet; that His Spirit will enable them to feed on the perfect Sacrifice, and to offer themselves acceptable sacrifices to Him. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)

Self-importance

1. Observe how self-importance makes a man moody and unhappy. He who is always thinking of his own excellences, renders himself thereby unfit to enjoy the good of others, and is prone to imagine that every token of affection given to another is an insult offered to himself. Hence he is touchy, sensitive, irritable, and envious. There is no surer way to make ourselves miserable than to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. It isolates us from all about us. May God deliver us from this idolatry of self, on whose altar all true nobleness and real happiness are completely immolated!

2. Notice, again, how repulsive to others this self-important spirit is. You cannot take to this elder brother. Even in his wanderings and sins, the younger was more lovable than he, his industry and sobriety notwithstanding. So it is ever with the selfish one. He is a non-conductor in society. The electricity of love never passes through him; and in the end, all loving hearts are driven from him. Thus he is not only the most unhappy, but also the most useless of men. He has no magnetism about him. He can gain no entrance into the hearts of others. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

The elder son’s disposition

When a Christian of long standing and irreproachable character, who has known some degree of happiness in Christ, but has not had anything approaching to ecstasy, is inclined to be suspicious of the genuineness of the transport of him who has just been converted from a life of grossest sin, and is disposed, in envy, to ask, “Why should such experiences be granted to him, while I, who have been seeking to follow Jesus all my days, know nothing of them?” we have the working of the same disposition as that which the elder brother here displayed. When a minister of age and excellence, who is mourning over the apparent fruitlessness of his labours, is tempted to ask how it comes that a young brother, in the very outset of his career, is made instrumental in bringing multitudes to Christ, and permits himself to think, if not to say, that it is “mean” in God to pass by an old and faithful servant such as he has been, and to use and bless an inexperienced lad; or when a stickler for order and decorum murmurs that the Lord should honour with success the irregularities of a revival meeting, and the labours of some “converted burglar,” in larger measure than he seems to bless the stated workings of the authorized ministry in the ordinary exercises of the sanctuary; or when some father, prominent in the Church for piety and usefulness, is led, in his haste and in his self-importance, to ask, “How comes it that the children of this one and that one--of little name among the brethren, and hardly known for their zeal and devotedness--are all converted, while my son is permitted to grow up in sin, and to become to me a source of constant anxiety?”--in each and all of these we have a phasis of that unlovely disposition which, in the elder brother, is here condemned. The Sabbath-school teacher who throws up the work because another seems more successful in it than himself; the labourer in any department of benevolent activity, who, because he thinks that more is made of some one else than of himself, gives way to personal pique, and will have no more to do with the concern; the over-sensitive, irritable, petted man, who is for ever taking offence, and manages somehow to exclude himself from every society with which he has been connected, and to estrange himself from the sympathy and co-operation of all with whom he has come into contact; may all look here, and in the elder brother of this parable they will behold themselves. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Elder brotherliness

Some years ago I preached to my congregation in Liverpool, one Lord’s Day morning, from this episode in the parable of the Prodigal Son. As I was leaving the church for my home, I was requested to visit a dying man whom I had seen frequently before, but who was just then, apparently, about to pass within the veil. He had been for many years a careless and irreligious man; but as I spoke with him from time to time, I marked that a great change had come over him. I had conversed faithfully and earnestly with him, of Jesus and His salvation; and he had turned in sincere penitence to his Father, and was, as I sincerely believe, accepted with Him. When I entered his room that morning, I found him in great happiness, rejoicing in the near prospect of being with his Lord, and apparently perfectly happy. I talked with him a little on the things of the kingdom, and after prayer I took my leave. His brother-in-law followed me downstairs, and said, “I cannot understand this at all. Here have I been serving Christ for these twenty years, and I have never experienced such joy as he expresses; and yet he has not been a Christian, if he be really one, for more than a few weeks.” Immediately I recognized the elder brother, and I stayed long enough to show him just how he looked in the light of this parable. I told him that I had been preaching about him that very morning. “About me?” he said. “Yes, about you”; and I then went on to explain to him the meaning of this episode, while I warned him of the danger of being angry, and refusing to go into the Father’s house to share the joy over the returning prodigal. The result was that he saw his error, and was delivered from his envy. Now, that incident, occurring just at that precise time, has given a new point to the parable in my view ever since, and makes me far more anxious to get the elder-brotherliness out of my own heart than to identify the elder brother with any particular class. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Pharisaism in ourselves

There is sufficient Pharisaism in each of us to justify the application of this to ourselves. They who have long served God with care and diligence, and yet find their life a hard struggle, with few bright passages, many disappointments, and never joy such as the penitent at once enters into, naturally feel some soreness that one step should bring a lifelong sinner abreast of them. You may have been striving all your days to be useful, and making great sacrifices to further what you believe to be the cause of God, and yet you cannot point to any success; but suddenly a man converted yesterday takes your place, and all things seem to shape themselves to his hand, and the field that was a heart-break to you is fertile to him. You have denied yourself every pleasure that you might know the happiness of communion with God, and you have not known it, but you see a banquet spread in God’s presence for him who has till this hour been delighting in sin. You have had neither the riotous living nor the fatted calf. You have gone among the abandoned and neglected, and striven to enlighten and lift them; you have done violence to your own feelings that you might be helpful to others; and, so far as you can see, nothing has come of it. But another man who has lived irregularly, who has not prepared himself for the work, who is untaught, imprudent, unsatisfactory, has the immediate joy of winning souls to God. Have you not been tempted to say, “Verily, I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency”? All this may be needful to convince you that it is not service that wins God’s love; that His love is with you now, and that your acceptance of it will make all that has seemed to you grievous to be light and happy. Take refuge from all failure and disappointment in the words, “Son, I am ever with thee, and all that I have is thine.” Learn to find your joy in Him, and you will be unable to think of any reward. (Marcus Dods, D. D.)

Contracted views in religion

In the conduct of the father, there seemed, at first sight, an evident 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? This is what we feel and act upon in life constantly. In doing good to the poor, for instance, a chief object is to encourage industrious and provident habits; and it is evident we should hurt and disappoint the better sort, and defeat our object, if, after all, we did not take into account the difference of their conduct, though we promised to do so, but gave those who did not work nor save all the benefits granted to those who did. The elder brother’s case, then, 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. Just as the promise of pardon is abused by bad men to encourage themselves in sinning on, that grace may abound; so, on the other hand, it is misapprehended by the good, so as to dispirit them. For what is our great stay and consolation amid the perturbations of this world? The truth and justice of God. This is our one light in the midst of darkness. “He loveth righteousness, and hateth iniquity;” “just and right is He.” Where else should we find rest for our foot all over the world? 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 disobey, expressly telling us that the Christian penitent is not placed on a 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? can there be any misconception on thy part because I welcome thy brother? dost thou not yet understand Me? Surely thou hast known Me too long to suppose that thou canst lose by his 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. We give praise and make professions to strangers, not to friends. Thou art My heir, all that I have is thine. “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” Who could have thought that it were needful to tell to thee truths which thou hast heard all thy life long? Thou art ever with Me; and canst thou really grudge that I should by one mere act of rejoicing, show My satisfaction at the sinner’s recovery, and should console him with a promise of mercy, who, before he heard of it, was sinking down under the dread of deserved punishment? “It was meet that we should, make merry and be glad,” thou as well as thy Father. Such is our merciful God’s answer to His suspicious servants, who think He cannot pardon the sinner without withdrawing His favour from them; and it contains in it both a consolation for the perplexed believer not to distrust Him; and again, a warning to the disobedient, not to suppose that repentance makes all straight and even, and puts a man in the same place as if he had never departed from grace given. But let us now notice the unworthy feeling which appears in the conduct of the elder brother. “He was angry, and would not go” into the house. How may this be fulfilled in our own case? There exists a great deal of infirmity and foolishness even in the better sort of men. This is not to be wondered at, considering the original corrupt state of their nature, however it is to be deplored, repented, of, and corrected. Good men are, like Elijah, jealous for the Lord God of hosts, and rightly solicitous to see His tokens around them, the pledges of His unchangeable just government; but then they mix with such good feelings undue notions of self-importance, of which they are not aware. This seemingly was the state of mind which dictated the complaint of the elder brother. This will especially happen in the case of those who are in the most favoured situations in the Church. All places possess their peculiar temptation. Quietness and peace, those greatest of blessings, constitute the trial of the Christians who enjoy them. They become not only over-confident of their knowledge of God’s ways, but positive in their over-confidence. They are apt to presume, and so to become irreverent. Give them much, they soon forget it is much; and when they find it is not all, and that for other men, too, even for penitents, God has some good in store, straightway they are offended. Without denying in words their own natural unworthiness, and still having real convictions of it to a certain point, nevertheless, somehow, they have a certain secret aver-regard for themselves; at least they act as if they thought that the Christian privileges belonged to them over others, by a sort of fitness. And they like respect to be shown them by the world, and are jealous of anything which is likely to interfere with the continuance of their credit and authority. Perhaps, too, they have pledged themselves to certain received opinions, and this is an additional reason for their being suspicious of what to them is a novelty. Hence such persons are least fitted to deal with difficult times. God works wondrously in the world; and at certain eras His providence puts on a new aspect. Religion seems to be failing, when it is merely changing its form. God seems for an instant to desert His own appointed instruments, and to be putting honour upon such as have been framed in express disobedience to His commands. For instance, sometimes He brings about good by means of wicked men, or seems to bless the efforts of those who have separated from His Holy Church more than those of His true labourers. Here is the trial of the Christian faith, who, if the fact is so, must not resist it, lest haply he be found fighting against God, nor must he quarrel with it after the manner of the elder brother; But he must take everything as God’s gift, hold fast his principles, not give them up because appearances are for the moment against them, but believe all things will come round at length. On the other hand, he must not cease to beg of God, and try to gain, the spirit of a sound mind, the power to separate truth from falsehood, and to try the spirits, the disposition to submit to God’s teaching, and the wisdom to act as the varied course of affairs requires. (J. H. Newman, D. D.)

Son, thou art ever with me

Constant obedience better than repentance

Here the father, who at first rejoiced so greatly at the return of the prodigal, yet in his sedate judgment makes a wide difference between the penitent son and the innocent son. Let us, then, make out this point.

1. It is in itself a singular advantage to have set out well betimes, and to have kept the right way, like the elder son in the parable, who always adhered to his father. There is a sort of proverb which says that a young saint makes an old sinner; a young angel makes an old devil. But this proverb seems to have been made by the devil, or by one of his agents, on purpose to ridicule and discourage an early piety, which of all acquisitions is the most valuable.

2. They have likewise this advantage, that the difficulties, struggles, and dangers, which they have to encounter, are not so formidable as those to which sinners remain exposed, even after their repentance and their good resolutions. Nothing is so hard as to overcome old vices, and to root up evil habits; for by custom they have taken firm hold, just like chronical diseases, which are seldom cured. From such grievous inconveniences he is freed who hath been accustomed to regular obedience.

3. There cannot be that settled content and security in the return and repentance of a sinner, as there is in an uniform and unbroken compliance with the laws of God. His hope will not be without a mixture of fear, as his fear is not without a mixture of hope.

4. Neither can such a penitent be so much in the favour of God, and so highly rewarded by Him, as one of more constant and regular virtues. This is a plain rule of eternal justice; it follows from the declarations that God will render to every one according to his works.

5. A regular obedience makes us more truly and properly the children of God.

Let us now review a little the nature of the foregoing doctrine.

1. This doctrine allows whatsoever is due to repentance, and excludes none of the encouragements to it. Repentance is the sovereign cure for the worst diseases of the soul; but it must be applied in due time. Yet still it is better to be always well, than too often to stand in need of this medicine.

2. Be it observed that we are speaking all this while of repentance for evil habits, and for great and wilful offences; and as to this repentance, it is to be hoped that many Christians stand not in need of it.

3. This shows the advantage of early habits of goodness. Nothing makes religion sit so well upon us, as when it hath taken the first possession of the mind.

4. This doctrine prevents a common and pernicious mistake about repentance; and that is, to delay it, and, to trust that a late sorrow and remorse shall reinstate an offender in the favour of God.

5. This doctrine stands upon such plain and solid principles, that no interpretation of any passages of Scripture contrary to it can possibly be true. (J. Jortin, D. D.)

Ever with God

All will admit that the angels in light have ever been, and ever are, with God; but the question has sometimes been keenly discussed among critics and theologians, “May it be said that, during this dispensation of the Holy Spirit, some children have been so admirably trained, that they have never wholly left their Heavenly Father, but have been ‘ever with Him’?” A sermon was once preached on this parable, by an earnest minister of the gospel, during a series of revival meetings, in which he went the length of saying that “it might be maintained concerning those who ‘could not recollect a time when they did not love Christ,’ that, like the elder son, they had never left their Father. They might be imperfect like him, and need forgiveness, as he evidently needed it--still they had never wholly left their Father.” In supporting this position, the preacher could not see that he was doing any disrespect to the grace of God. Indeed, he was rather magnifying it, since God had promised to be the God of His people’s seed, as well as their own God. When I was asked my opinion concerning this representation, I replied that I was inclined to go that length myself. There seems still to be such a thing as being “called from the womb.” Observe, this tenet does not involve a denial of human depravity. It does not amount to the assertion that any responsible human being has lived an absolutely perfect life, being literally free from sin, except the Lord Jesus Christ. It only ventures humbly to express the hope, to the praise of the glory of God’s grace, that where there has been much parental prayer and exemplary religious education, “the first springs of thought and will” may have been so early gained for the Redeemer, that the soul, although conscious of waywardness and sin, and therefore needing atoning blood, has never been wholly withdrawn from God’s fold, so that He could say to such a follower near the end of his course, “Son, thou hast ever been and ever art near Me.” (F. Ferguson, D. D.)

Love for all

There is room for all. Sometimes, when a little babe has been born in a house, the elder child is jealous. The two-year-old envier has been seen using its, happily not very forcible, fists against the tiny occupant of the cradle, because its arrival had deprived him of customary attention, and of that monopoly of love which he had enjoyed before. Then the concerned parent has taken the sulking pugilist on her knee and, with a tear in her eye, has said, “You are mother’s pet still. She has room in her heart for you and your baby brother too. You will always be mother’s child, although baby has come home--only you have been here many days, but he is only newly arrived. Therefore, wonder not at our joy, and grieve not, if for a time, you seem to be overlooked.” This is exactly the argument of the text, with the element of prodigality left out. (F. Ferguson, D. D.)

It was meet that we should make merry

Good reasons for joy

1. It is meet that we should rejoice, because when a sinner is brought to repentance, the kingdom of Christ is thereby promoted. He is all in all. Everything turns upon your receiving Him. Life and death, heaven or hell, felicity or ruin, here and hereafter, all rest with Him.

2. It is meet that we should rejoice, because, then, an immortal creature is rescued from misery, and another traveller is on the road to heaven.

3. It is meet that we should rejoice, because a sinner brought to repentance will injure others no more. When a sinner is converted, another agent of destruction is removed. Another gun on the enemy’s ramparts is spiked. Another soldier in Satan’s army is struck down. Another poison-chalice is dashed from the devil’s hand. Another upas tree is uprooted. Another electric cloud is dispersed, to send down thunder and death no more. Another vessel of honour is placed in the Master’s house, prepared for His use, to be employed hereafter in His blessed and holy service. (W. B. Mackenzie, M. A.)

God’s joy at the sinner’s return

I saw in Amsterdam the diamond cutting, and I noticed great wheels, a large factory and powerful engines, and all the power was made to bear upon a small stone no larger than the nail of my little finger. All that huge machinery for that little stone, because it was so precious! Methinks I see you poor insignificant sinners, who have rebelled against your God, brought back to your Father’s house, and now the whole universe is full of wheels, and all those wheels are working together for your good, to make out of you a jewel fit to glisten in the Redeemer’s crown. God is not represented as saying more of creation than that “it was very good,” but in the work of grace He is described as singing for joy. He breaks the eternal silence, and cries, “My son is found.” As the philosopher, when he had compelled nature to yield her secret, ran through the street, crying, “Eureka! Eureka! I have found it! I have found it!” so does the Father dwell on the word, “My son that was dead, is alive again, he that was lost is found.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Was dead, and is alive again

Life after death

Startling tales are sometimes related around the fire, on a winter’s night, of the dead who have come to life again. I remember being told in my youth that the mother of two eminent ministers bad been buried in a swoon before her twin sons were born. The covetous sexton, having opened her grave, was cutting off her finger to get her gold marriage ring, when she awoke and spoke. Who could envy such an one a joyous jubilation on her return to life? And who should envy the quickened sinner the honour that is paid him by God and man? For he is often brought to spiritual life when the Lord, by His faithful knife of chastisement, cuts some prized and precious treasure away. Some time ago the great Dr. Livingstone was thought to be dead--wholly lost in the African wilds. I so thoroughly believed the report which his lying companions circulated, that I preached a discourse which was designed to do him honour, and especially the God he had served. I take great pleasure in here acknowledging that my discourse was premature, and in expressing my delight at the news of the Doctor’s safety which has since reached our shores, as well as my hope that he may soon be welcomed home by his friends “safe and sound.” And what friend or fellow-townsman could grudge him a very special and remarkable reception--because “he was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found”? This is the very “expostulation” by means of which the Saviour in this parable seeks to still the murmurs of the Pharisees, and which at every time of revival earnestness and revival success is specially appropriate. A young woman mentioned to me one day that her brother, an engineer in a steamer between Bombay and the Red Sea, bad informed her in a recent letter that he saw the Abyssinian prisoners land at Suez. They looked pale and exhausted. They had the appearance of people who had suffered much by anxiety and confinement. But, as they stepped ashore, all the Europeans crowded around and gave them three hearty cheers, which they acknowledged with smiles of gratitude and satisfaction. I wish that I had seen them land. I would have cheered too with all my might. For Britain had done a grand thing in sending out that expedition--enough to stamp her as in reality Great Britain in the eyes of the nations. Nor can we find a better illustration of the gospel. It was meet that the sympathizing spectators at Suez should make the welkin ring with their shouts of joy; for the captives of Theodore, like the captives of sin and Satan, “had been dead, and were alive again; and had been lost, and were found.” And who could grudge them such a welcome to life and liberty again? (F. Ferguson, D. D.)

Concluding reflection on this parable

If John 3:16, and 1 Timothy 1:15, have been the most useful of Scripture texts, the parable of the prodigal son has been one of the most useful of Scripture paragraphs. If Romans 3:19-31 has ever been esteemed by scholars the locus classicus for the display of the righteousness of God, Luke 15:11-32, has ever been regarded by evangelists as the locus sanctus et fertilis for the display of the love of God. I would also observe that it suits rich and poor alike. I was paying a pastoral visit one day to one of the officials of a great poor-house in the neighbourhood of the city in which my lot has been cast. The chaplain asked me to conduct evening prayers. I found myself placed in unwonted circumstances. I stood in a spacious hall, capable of containing fifteen hundred individuals, and seated like a church. About twelve hundred paupers joined in the evening devotions. Three times a day they were wont to assemble there to receive the plain supplies of the bread that perisheth, which charity had provided; and, twice a day, to worship God. My heart filled as they sang with me the beautiful paraphrase, beginning “O God of Bethel, by whose hand,” and especially when they came to the couplet--

“Ospread Thy covering wings around

Till all our wanderings cease”;

for the great building in which they sang in rough, unpolished strains, since it had been reared by Christ-inspired benevolence, looked like the covering wings of the Almighty, which had been spread around them. In the course of conversation, at the close of the service, the chaplain informed me that several of the ministers of the city had preached on the Sabbath evenings of the preceding summer, and that the poor people had been greatly delighted with their discourses. But what had pleased them most of all had been a sermon by the late Doctor Norman Macleod on the Parable of the Prodigal Son. I had noticed in the newspapers that he had delivered the same sermon, a few weeks before, to a fashionable audience, when many carriages were standing at the door. It delighted me that he had dispensed that identical supply of the bread of life to the inmates of the poor-house; for, in truth, we are all on a level. We are all God’s offspring, and are all pensioners on His bounty. The poor people had enjoyed greatly the rich representation of the love of God which the parable contains. Many of them had been bathed in tears. For the career of the prodigal had been their career. They would not have been glad of the poor-house, if they had not “wasted their substance with riotous living.” And not only had the arms of the world’s charity been opened to receive them, but, warmer and kindlier far, the arms of the Divine good-will were ready to clasp them round. Yes, the parable to which I am bidding farewell for the present suits the high and low, the rich and poor, the West End and the East End alike. Lastly, it is capable of edifying application to the hour of death. Here we are all “in a far country.” “At home in the body, we are absent from the Lord.” We often feel that our engagements and pursuits are, like the prodigal’s occupation, beneath the dignity of our immortal spirits. Amid degraded men we sigh for the purity and royalty of our Father’s house on high. At length a gentle summons comes in friendly disease; and the dying Christian, responding to the call, says, “I will arise and go to my Father.” As he lies upon his bed of pain, in crowded city or rural hamlet, “his Father sees him afar off and has compassion on him.” By the kind ministrations of His grace, “He makes all his bed in his sickness.” At length, when his disembodied spirit approaches the heavenly house, a father’s kiss and a father’s welcome are received. Then the robe of glory, the ring of full redemption, and spiritual shoes, are given to the weary traveller. Oh, what rejoicing takes place over his safe arrival, at the heavenly feast, amid whose transports he completely forgets the sorrows of the far country! No sullen celestials seem jealous of his cordial reception--

“The wondering angels round Him throng

And swell the chorus of His praise.”?

(F. Ferguson, D. D.)
.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Luke 15:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/luke-15.html. 1905-1909. New York.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, January 24th, 2020
the Second Week after Epiphany
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