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fore righteous in their own eyes, and of those who, from a state of shame, sin, and ruin, return with a godly sorrow for their guilt, to a state of obedience and reconciliation to God. As this was speedily to be illustrated in the conversion of the Gentiles; as their sinful condition was essentially the same with that of every sinner; and their conversion that of every convert, the latter of these constructions becomes entirely parallel with the former; and may, with strict propriety, be assumed as true. I shall, therefore, adopt it on the present oc
This parable is, upon the whole, the best prosaic composition in the Scriptures. The subject is interesting beyond expression. The narrative is told with the simplicity of a child, and with a skill which answers to the highest wish of criticism. The facts are selected with extreme felicity, and arranged in the happiest order. The language is so concise, that there is not a word to spare; and so perspicuous, that not another word is necessary. No story of the same length is equally important to man, or equally pathetic. It ends also precisely where it ought, with a complete communication of the catastrophe, and at the interesting moment when the feelings are raised to the highest pitch. It contains almost as many truths as words; and all these are fraught with instruction of the most momentous nature: while the moral, if I may call it such, deeply interests the inhabitants of heaven, and awakens hope and transport in the whole family of Adam.
In explaining a parable, we are ever to remember the danger into which some critics have fallen, of endeavouring to adapt every fact and word to the principal meaning of the allegory. The nature of allegorical writing demands, of course, that some things should be said, in order to make the composition complete; in order to give meaning and force, grace and beauty to the story, so that it may be read with pleasure, and may make happy impressions. In these it is folly to hunt for any further meaning. The greatest justice will ever be done to compositions of this nature, when those instructions, and those only, are found in them, which they obviously contain, or can clearly be shown to contain. Such will be the
plan of explanation, intentionally pursued in the following dis
In this parable, the father represents God; the elder son, the Jews; and the younger, the Gentiles. Or the former may denote a moral, self-righteous man; and the latter, a very sinful one, becoming a penitent. Of the many evangelical doctrines, which, understood in the last sense, it conveys to us, I select the following:
I. Sinners regard God no farther, than to gain from him whatever they can.
This truth is forcibly exhibited in the parable. "And the younger son said unto his father, Father give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country." This youth was obviously disposed to be no further connected with his parent than was necessary, in order to obtain from him the property which his bounty might induce him to bestow. It was evidently his design, when he asked for this portion, to leave his benevolent parent as soon as he conveniently could. Within a few days he executed this design, and not only left him, but in his intentions, left him finally: for he went into a far country, from which he evidently intended never to re-. turn. It was for this reason that he gathered all together, and that he asked for his whole portion. This voluntary estrangement also, was, I think, the peculiar subject of his sorrow and contrition when he came to himself;-the crime which he most deeply lamented, and which, in his view, rendered him peculiarly unworthy to be regarded as a son.
No words could more successfully exhibit this part of a sinful character. All sinners are willing to be connected with their Maker, so long and so far as they think they can gain any thing from his hands. Men of this description have à loose and indefinite apprehension that their blessings are derived from God, without knowing, perhaps, or even thinking, how much they are indebted to him,-how much to what they call Nature, and how much to themselves. Generally, and
in this country perhaps always, they believe that they derive from him their existence, and, in a remote and subordinate sense, their enjoyments. As he made them, they believe that he is bound to provide for them, and that with no very sparing or illiberal hand. What he gives, they gather; and, during the period of enjoyment, think of him no more.
This spirit is expressed with the utmost precision and beauty in the address of the prodigal to his parent: "Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me:" not such a portion as the bounty of his father might induce him kindly to bestow; but that which fell to him in the course of things, to which he has a right; and which, therefore, he now claimed at his hands.
In exact accordance with the disposition here manifested, sinners feel no gratitude to God for the blessings which they receive; and never regard them as gifts of his bounty, but as enjoyments to which they have a claim, and on which, therefore, they riot without even an acknowledgment. That they deserve nothing at his hands, and that he still continues to give them innumerable blessings, are considerations which, although apparently fitted to overcome any obstinacy, and break down any self-dependence, awaken in them neither gratitude, nor humility, neither faith nor repentance.
The prodigal was impatient of living with his father. He loved, not his character, nor his mode of life,-the order of his house, nor the employments of his family. All these things were of such a nature as to counteract his ruling propensities, and violate his favourite views, wishes, and hopes. In the same manner the character and ways of God, as they are holy, pure, and perfect, are only painful to a sinful heart. Hence they reject both him and them, as much as possible, from their thoughts. The moral distance to which they remove from him, is exactly imaged by the prodigal's journey into a far country. They betake themselves to a world of sin and sinners,—a region where all the pursuits are opposed to God, and all the inhabitants are strangers. Here religion, God its object, and heaven its end, are disregarded and forgotten, and other objects of a nature wholly opposite, engross
the heart and the life. This region is not our Father's house. Heaven is the soul's home. Everywhere else it is a stranger, and finds no abiding place,—a wanderer, lost, bewildered, and forgotten.
II. Sinners waste their blessings, and reduce themselves to absolute want.
In the far country to which the prodigal took his journey, he wasted his substance with riotous living: in the Greek, living profligately, he entirely scattered his substance. To show his absolute poverty, Christ adds, " and when he had spent all." The portion distributed to him, was amply sufficient, had he exercised common prudence, to have carried him comfortably through life. But nothing will supply the demands of prodigality.
The blessings, communicated to sinners, were given for noble ends, and are means abundantly sufficient for their accomplishment. This is true of all their blessings, and peculiarly true of their powers of soul and body. With these it was intended that they should know, love, serve, and enjoy God; promote the well-being of their fellow-men; and secure to themselves comfort here, and immortal life hereafter. But to all these every sinner is steadily opposed, and vigorously hostile. His views, his wishes, his designs, terminate in himself, and, of course, are not only useless to every really valuable purpose, but directly frustrate the benevolent designs of God toward him. "Israel," says the prophet Hosea, with exact precision," is an empty vine. He bringeth forth fruit unto himself." Selfishness is abundantly fruitful, in its own view; and the soul is perpetually looking for the enjoyment which its produce is constantly expected to yield. But its fruits are those which are fabulously said to grow on the borders of the Red Sea, beautiful apples without, but within nothing but bitter ashes.
Riotous living, in the moral, as well as the natural sense, brings on absolute poverty. All the pursuits of avarice, ambition, and voluptuousness, are as injurious to the soul, as prodigality and luxury to the body; and leave it, in the end,
poor indeed. How little do the miserable wretches, who give up life, conscience, and hope, to these objects, think of the views which God forms of their conduct, or what will be its end.
III. Afflictions are very often the first means of bringing sinners to a sense of their condition.
"And, when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land, and he began to be in want." So long as there was food in the country, the prodigal felt, in some measure, safe. When the famine commenced, he began then to be destitute, and to feel that he was destitute: and this consciousness of suffering, derived from the famine spread around him, was the first rational apprehension which he entertained of himself or his condition, and the first step towards his relief.
Could sinners open their eyes, they would distinctively perceive, that this world is destitute of the good which they so ardently covet, and so eagerly pursue; that a famine absolutely prevails in it of such enjoyments as are necessary to sustain the soul. Nay, if they would open their ears, and believe what they hear, they would want no farther means of conviction. History is almost only a tale of sins and sorrows. The stream of tears has flowed down from the apostacy to the present hour. Sighs have been breathed in every wind: and there is hardly a mountain, or a hill, which has not echoed to the groans of human anguish. "Were a man," says Bishop Berkeley," to escape from this world, and to gain admission "into a world unpolluted with sin, he would probably return, "with much the same reluctance, as a prisoner, liberated from "his chains, would go back to a dungeon.”
Insensible as sinners usually are to the whole import of these truths, and confidently as they expect to find, somewhere, the happiness for which their souls so ardently long, there are seasons at which many of them awake to their real condition. Some severe suffering may lay hold even on a hard heart, and force the mind to realize its condition.
fore it said to itself, "I am rich, and increased in goods,