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Secondly, The prodigal's return. Preparatory to this, he is represented as reflecting so seriously on his conduct and situation, as to "come to himself," for, he had been as one beside himself, in his career of thoughtlessness and dissipation. As soon as he was capable of thinking soberly, he contrasted, in his mind, the happy condition even of the servants of his father with the miserable condition of himself, who was his son. "How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough, and to spare, and I perish with hunger!" Thus reflecting, he resolved that he would remain no longer in his wretched and disgraceful condition, but, whatever might be his reception, would arise and return to his father and to his home. He resolves with himself, too, what he was to say. He was to venture to address him by the tender appellation of "father:" he was not to conceal, nor to extenuate his crimes, but was ingenuously and humbly to confess that he had offended grievously against the God of heaven,* as well as against his earthly father; he was to acknowledge that he was unworthy to be called or treated as a son; and he was to implore him to make him " as one of his hired servants," whose work he would cheerfully do, and with whose humble place and provision he would be well contented, so be that he would only receive him back into favour, and allow him to live with him. And these good resolutions he executed without delay. "He arose," and set out on his long journey. He probably begged his way, and his wasted strength would hardly suffice; but Providence secured him safety and sustenance, and he at last arrived at home, and made his premeditated confession and supplication, as fully as his father's returning kindness would permit.
Now, all this most exactly and strikingly describes the steps of the sinner's conversion, or return, to God. Circumstances may vary, but the change is substantially the same. He comes to himself. Formerly "madness was in his heart;" and his actions were totally at variance with reason and his own interest. "So foolish was I, and ignorant, I was as a beast before thee," may the returning sinner
The sinner is brought to his "right mind," when the Lord works effectually on him, by the influences of his Holy Spirit, and the instrumentality of his Word and providence. When light is thus communicated, he begins to
* Eis rov ovgavov: some are for rendering this, "Even unto heaven;" that is, exceedingly.
reason aright. He discovers the happiness of the people of God, of those who belong to the household of faith, and longs for its enjoyment, feeling that there is no relief for him but in the rich provision made in the gospel. He comes to a painful sense of his own guilt and misery: he perceives that, if he obtain not pardon and help, he must perish for ever. But, led by the Spirit, he does not remain in this dismal condition. He resolves, and he executes the resolution, to go to God, his heavenly Father. He comes to him mentally, by faith in the name and righteousness of the Redeemer. 66 Now, in Christ Jesus," says Paul to the Ephesians, "ye who once were far off, are made nigh by the blood of Christ." He comes, not hiding, but disclosing, his guilt. He comes, saying, "I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight, that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest." He is ashamed to come in so deplorably destitute a condition; but he despairs of ever being better, if he stay away; and therefore, he comes, at once, just as he is. He comes, enlarging on his unworthiness, and deeply grieving over it. He feels and confesses himself totally unworthy of the least favour, and still more of the honour and privileges of a son. Yet, he cannot but plead that he may not be entirely rejected. He feels that the meanest of the saints, whom he once despised, are more honourable and more happy than he. He desires to become as a hired servant, if he cannot be as a son. He would rather be "a hewer of wood, or a drawer of water, for the congregation and altar of the Lord," than hold the highest office without God's favour. He would rather be a doorkeeper in the Lord's house, than dwell gaily in the tents of wickedness. He confesses that the smallest favour would be more than he deserves: yea, he pleads earnestly for mercy and for some place in his Father's house. This spirit and language become even those who have been long blessed in God, and who are comparatively eminent in his service. Jacob said, "I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast showed unto thy servant:" and the Centurion, "I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof:" and Paul, σε ] am the least of the apostles, and am not meet to be called an apostle." Surely, then, this spirit and language especially become, as they do in fact characterize, the sinner,
on his first turning from sin to God. Happy are all they who thus apply to the fountain of mercy. Those who thus come unto God through Christ, he will in no wise cast
This would lead on to the consideration of the third part of the parable, namely, the prodigal's reception on his return; but this must be deferred till it please God to give us another opportunity. Meanwhile, the two points we have considered are most important, and demand our serious and immediate and practical attention. Let us think of our departure from God, and of the necessity of our returning to him. Let the sinner break through all the unlawful engagements he has formed with sin, Satan, and the world, and let him come, as he is, to the Lord, through the Redeemer. Let him come even now: let him not wait for a more convenient season, lest it should never arrive. And, let the believer look back on the escape he has made from the snare of the devil, from spiritual degradation, slavery, famine, and ruin-let him look back with gratitude for his deliverance. Let him be daily returning to God, in the exercise of faith and repentance; and let him he ever studying to maintain the views, temper, affections, language, and conduct, becoming every one who has the honour and happiness to belong to our heavenly Father's adopted and regenerated family.
LUKE XV. 11-32.
THE PRODIGAL SON-CONTINUED.
HAVING formerly considered the prodigal's departure from his father's house, and his return to it, let us now proceed to consider,
III. His reception on his return.
Let us suppose that his long journey homewards was nearly finished, and that he was thus thinking with himself how his father would receive him: "Will he refuse to see me? Will he dismiss me for ever from his presence? Will he overwhelm me with reproaches, and punish me? Or will he have pity on me, and restore me to favour?" While his mind was thus vibrating between fear and hope, and while he was yet at a considerable distance, his father, who had all along grieved over his absence, and longed for his return, looking out in the direction whence he was coming, saw him, and sadly altered as was his appearance by the scenes both of profligacy and of penury through which he had passed, and different from the splendour in which he left him and rode away, as was the sorry figure he now made, as dejected, and weary, and ashamed, he returned, walking, in rags, and without shoes to his feet; his father immediately knew him, and "had compassion" on him, and, forgetting the provocation he had given him, and kindly laying aside the dignity which usually marked his years and station, made haste to meet him, “and ran and fell on his neck, and kissed him," leaning over him with a most affectionate embrace. Similar to this, in some circumstances, was the meeting of Jacob and Esau:* Jacob "bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him; and they wept." So also, "Joseph fell upon his brother Benjamin's
* Gen. xxxiii. 3, xlv. 14.
neck, and wept; and Benjamin wept upon his neck. Moreover he kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them."
After having received this affecting proof of his father's forgiveness and love, the prodigal began to make his humble premeditated acknowledgment, and said, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son." You observe that part of what he intended to say, namely, " Make me as one of thy hired servants," is here wanting. In some manuscripts that clause is supplied, the transcribers, no doubt, thinking that its insertion was necessary to make the one part of the parable consistent with the other: in that way, however, a great beauty is lost in overlooking the consideration that the overflowing tenderness of his father did not leave time for the prodigal son to say all he intended, but interrupted him in the most gracious manner.
While the prodigal was in the act of making his penetential confession, his father turned to the servants, who had now gathered around, and said to them, first of all, "Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him." The robe* here mentioned, was probably a species of dress which servants did not wear; and, therefore, this order was a declaration that his father intended to treat him, not as a servant, but as a son. The greatness of the favour he intended to show him was still more strongly manifested by his directing the first," or very best robe in the house, to be brought out for him. This was such a robe as was used only on festival occasions. Thus, Rebekah "put goodly raiment on her son Jacob," when she sent him in to receive his father's blessing.t-"And put a ring on his hand," added the prodigal's father. Presenting a person with a ring, or putting it on his finger, is well known to have been always considered as a token of high regard and favour from a superior to an inferior. Thus, we read of king Ahasuerus taking off his ring, which was, no doubt, his seal, and giving it, at one time, to Haman, and at another to Mordecai. So also, Pharaoh signified his conferring favour, and also authority, on Joseph, by the following tokens: "And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph's hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck."-It is here added: “ And put shoes on his feet." It was a dismal sight to see this once gay youth so reduced as to be, not only ragged, but barefoot. Esth. iii. 10, viii. 2; Gen. xli. 42.
+ Gen. xxvii. 15.