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especially Christian ministers, here directed and encouraged to labour to reclaim even the worst of men! Jesus Christ himself acted in this way; he defended his conduct in doing so, in these two parables; and he has herein set us an example, that we should follow his steps. Let us attend to all classes of persons; but, let us pay more than ordinary attention to those who most need it. Let us not dismiss them unceremoniously, nor treat them harshly; but, let us receive them, and address them, though faithfully, yet kindly, when they come to us; and let us even go to seek them, and follow after them, for their good. We may fail with many, and even with most of them; but we shall not fail with them all: and if even one sinner be gained, that one will be more than a recompense for all our endea
4. How greatly should we rejoice in the recovering of a soul to God! If there is joy, on this account, even in heaven, where God himself is visibly present-if even the blissful vision of God does not so absorb the souls of saints and angels, as to render them insensible to the importance of such an event; surely, when we witness, or hear of such a thing, there should be joy among us on earth. When Barnabas 66 saw the grace of God" at Antioch," he was glad." When Paul and Barnabas "passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles, they caused great joy unto all the brethren." So let it be with us.
In the last place, How affectionately are impenitent sinners here admonished to consider their lost state by nature, and encouraged to return to God, through the Redeemer, for forgiveness and safety! As the Saviour acted towards the sinners of Galilee and Judea of old, so he is still ready to act towards the sinners who have now come out to hear his word. He is ready to receive, to teach, to pity, and to save them. Is there, then, one now present, who feels himself like a lost sheep on a barren and dreary mountain, or like a lost piece of silver that has fallen and rolled away, and is lying hid in a corner? let him be humbled, but let him also be encouraged. Let him bethink himself, and begin to act wisely. Let him turn his steps homeward, towards the fold: let him come forth from his dismal hiding-place, and cast himself at the Saviour's feet. So, from having been the plague and the grief, he shall become the delight of the godly, nay, he shall become the beloved of the Lord, and the joy of heaven-he shall be happy with Christ's flock now, and form part of his choicest treasure for ever.
LUKE XV. 11-32.
"And he said, A certain man had two sons: 12. 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. 13. 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. 14. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. 15. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. 17. 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! 18. I will arise, and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, 19. And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. 20. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. 21. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. 22. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: 23. And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry. 24. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. 25. Now his elder son was in the field and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. 27. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. 28. And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and entreated him. 29. And he, answering, said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee; neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment; and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: 30. But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. 31. And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. 32. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and C was lost, and is found."
THE parable of the prodigal son is the king of parables. However beautiful any of the rest of them may be, this, by general consent, is more beautiful than they all. It is wonderfully adapted to call forth the sympathies of human
nature, even in its unconverted state; and it strikes chords which awaken into strong vibration every string of the renewed heart. While it is calculated to revive the penitential sorrow, to allay the returning fears, to confirm the filial devotedness, and to excite the grateful praise of believers, it has ever been, and it will ever continue to be, through divine grace, a signally blessed and effectual encouragement to sinners to return, through a compassionate Saviour, to the arms of a forgiving God. It is only to be found in Luke; and had he given us nothing new but this, his Gospel would have been a great acquisition to the Church and to the world. It is at once so plain, and so profound, so simple, and so dignified-its appeal to the understanding is so strong, and to the affections is so touching-the truths which it is intended to inculcate are brought out so fully, and the manner in which they are put together, and the very language in which they are clothed, are so finished, and so exquisite, that one is afraid to obtrude any remarks on it, lest the counsel it contains should be darkened by words without knowledge, and its inimitable fineness injured by the unskilful touch. Even now, it seemed as if the mere reading of this parable were enough, and as if the meetest procedure would be to shut the book, and say no more; for, indeed, what can be said, or what can be conceived, at all comparable to the text? Yet, such a procedure would be deemed strange, and unsatisfactory. Without seeking, then, to gild gold, or pretending to illuminate the sun, let us fix our attention, for some time, on the riches and glory of these the Redeemer's own words, in the earnest desire that the Holy Spirit may bless them for our good, whether we be yet in a state of distance and disobedience, or be already returned to our Father's house.
This parable was evidently spoken by our Lord, with the same general design as the two preceding parables of the lost sheep, and the lost piece of silver, namely, to obviate the objection raised against him, by the Pharisees and scribes, who, on seeing the publicans and sinners coming to hear him, said, "This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them:" and, whereas those were founded on comparisons drawn from the ordinary feelings and conduct of human beings in the case of lost property, this is founded on a comparison drawn from the far stronger and more affecting consideration of parental feelings and conduct, in the case of a lost son.
This parable naturally divides itself into four parts, which we shall consider in their order-the prodigal's departure from his father's house-his return-the reception he meets with-and the character and conduct of the elder brother. Let us consider, First, The prodigal's departure from his father's house.
"A certain man had two sons." 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 son 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 birth-right 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.
"The younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me." 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 life-time, 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
* "Give me the portion of goods that falleth to me"-Aos poI TO STIβαλλον μέρος της ουσίας. Herodotus (lib. iv.) says, that the men who married the Amazons, previously claimed, and obtained, from their own parents, the portion of property that fell to them, των κτημάτων το μέρος των κτημάτων το ἐπιβαλλον; that they might live apart from them. A similar phrase is used by Demosthenes and Aristides.
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.
The elder son is supposed not to have taken up his portion, though it was fixed and allocated, but to have allowed it to lie, and to have remained with his father. But "not many days after" the division," the younger son gathered all together" that fell to his share, "and took his journey into a far country." Under whatever specious pretexts he may have endeavoured to veil his conduct, there can be no doubt that the true reasons for it were very bad; such as, dislike to the quietness of the domestic circle, impatience of salutary restraint, self-confidence, and a desire to gratify his foolish and sinful propensities. Removed from the eye of paternal inspection, and sojourning where he was entirely unknown, he" wasted his substance with riotous living❞—with luxury and profligacy, in the society of the most abandoned characters. Thus, indeed, it too often happens, in fact, with the youth who gets the command of money, and leaves his parental roof. And, who can describe the wounded feelings of pious parents in such cases? Little do thoughtless youths, in the midst of their foolish and profligate career, consider the pangs they send to the hearts of those to whom, under God, they owe their being, or how they not only imbitter life to them, but shorten it, and contribute to bring down their grey hairs with sorrow to the grave.
"He that followeth after vain persons shall have poverty enough," says the wise man." Be not among wine-bibbers, among riotous eaters of flesh; for, the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty." The prodigal, accordingly, * Dr A. Clarke, quoting from the code of Gentoo laws. + Deut. xxi. 16.