Parables of the lost sheep, and the piece of silver. (1-10) The prodigal son, his wickedness and distress. (11-16) His repentance and pardon. (17-24) The elder brother offended. (25-32)
Verses 1-10 The parable of the lost sheep is very applicable to the great work of man's redemption. The lost sheep represents the sinner as departed from God, and exposed to certain ruin if not brought back to him, yet not desirous to return. Christ is earnest in bringing sinners home. In the parable of the lost piece of silver, that which is lost, is one piece, of small value compared with the rest. Yet the woman seeks diligently till she finds it. This represents the various means and methods God makes use of to bring lost souls home to himself, and the Saviour's joy on their return to him. How careful then should we be that our repentance is unto salvation!
Verses 11-16 The parable of the prodigal son shows the nature of repentance, and the Lord's readiness to welcome and bless all who return to him. It fully sets forth the riches of gospel grace; and it has been, and will be, while the world stands, of unspeakable use to poor sinners, to direct and to encourage them in repenting and returning to God. It is bad, and the beginning of worse, when men look upon God's gifts as debts due to them. The great folly of sinners, and that which ruins them, is, being content in their life-time to receive their good things. Our first parents ruined themselves and all their race, by a foolish ambition to be independent, and this is at the bottom of sinners' persisting in their sin. We may all discern some features of our own characters in that of the prodigal son. A sinful state is of departure and distance from God. A sinful state is a spending state: wilful sinners misemploy their thoughts and the powers of their souls, mispend their time and all their opportunities. A sinful state is a wanting state. Sinners want necessaries for their souls; they have neither food nor raiment for them, nor any provision for hereafter. A sinful state is a vile, slavish state. The business of the devil's servants is to make provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof, and that is no better than feeding swine. A sinful state is a state constant discontent. The wealth of the world and the pleasures of the senses will not even satisfy our bodies; but what are they to precious souls! A sinful state is a state which cannot look for relief from any creature. In vain do we cry to the world and to the flesh; they have that which will poison a soul, but have nothing to give which will feed and nourish it. A sinful state is a state of death. A sinner is dead in trespasses and sins, destitute of spiritual life. A sinful state is a lost state. Souls that are separated from God, if his mercy prevent not, will soon be lost for ever. The prodigal's wretched state, only faintly shadows forth the awful ruin of man by sin. Yet how few are sensible of their own state and character!
Verses 17-24 Having viewed the prodigal in his abject state of misery, we are next to consider his recovery from it. This begins by his coming to himself. That is a turning point in the sinner's conversion. The Lord opens his eyes, and convinces him of sin; then he views himself and every object, in a different light from what he did before. Thus the convinced sinner perceives that the meanest servant of God is happier than he is. To look unto God as a Father, and our Father, will be of great use in our repentance and return to him. The prodigal arose, nor stopped till he reached his home. Thus the repenting sinner resolutely quits the bondage of Satan and his lusts, and returns to God by prayer, notwithstanding fears and discouragements. The Lord meets him with unexpected tokens of his forgiving love. Again; the reception of the humbled sinner is like that of the prodigal. He is clothed in the robe of the Redeemer's righteousness, made partaker of the Spirit of adoption, prepared by peace of conscience and gospel grace to walk in the ways of holiness, and feasted with Divine consolations. Principles of grace and holiness are wrought in him, to do, as well as to will.
Verses 25-32 In the latter part of this parable we have the character of the Pharisees, though not of them alone. It sets forth the kindness of the Lord, and the proud manner in which his gracious kindness is often received. The Jews, in general, showed the same spirit towards the converted Gentiles; and numbers in every age object to the gospel and its preachers, on the same ground. What must that temper be, which stirs up a man to despise and abhor those for whom the Saviour shed his precious blood, who are objects of the Father's choice, and temples of the Holy Ghost! This springs from pride, self-preference, and ignorance of a man's own heart. The mercy and grace of our God in Christ, shine almost as bright in his tender and gentle bearing with peevish saints, as his receiving prodigal sinners upon their repentance. It is the unspeakable happiness of all the children of God, who keep close to their Father's house, that they are, and shall be ever with him. Happy will it be for those who thankfully accept Christ's invitation.
Luke 15:1-32 . PUBLICANS AND SINNERS WELCOMED BY CHRIST--THREE PARABLES TO EXPLAIN THIS.
1. drew near . . . all the publicans and sinners, &c.--drawn around Him by the extraordinary adaptation of His teaching to their case, who, till He appeared--at least His forerunner--might well say, "No man careth for my soul."
2. murmured, saying, &c.--took it ill, were scandalized at Him, and insinuated (on the principle that a man is known by the company he keeps) that He must have some secret sympathy with their character. But oh, what a truth of unspeakable preciousness do their lips, as on other occasions, unconsciously utter., Now follow three parables representing the sinner: (1) in his stupidity; (2) as all-unconscious of his lost condition; (3) knowingly and willingly estranged from God [BENGEL]. The first two set forth the seeking love of God; the last, His receiving love [TRENCH].
Luke 15:3-7 . I. THE LOST SHEEP.
3-7. Occurring again ( Matthew 18:12-14 ); but there to show how precious one of His sheep is to the Good Shepherd; here, to show that the shepherd, though the sheep stray never so widely, will seek it out, and when he hath found, will rejoice over it.
4. leave the ninety and nine--bend all His attention and care, as it were, to the one object of recovering the lost sheep; not saying. "It is but one; let it go; enough remain."
go after . . . until, &c.--pointing to all the diversified means which God sets in operation for recovering sinners.
6. Rejoice with me, &c.--The principle here is, that one feels exuberant joy to be almost too much for himself to bear alone, and is positively relieved by having others to share it with him.
7. ninety-nine just . . . needing no repentance--not angels, whose place in these parables is very different from this; but those represented by the prodigal's well-behaved brother, who have "served their Father" many years and not at any time transgressed His commandment (in the outrageous sense of the prodigal). such as have grown up from childhood in the fear of God and as the sheep of His pasture. Our Lord does not say "the Pharisees and scribes" were such; but as there was undoubtedly such a class, while "the publicans and sinners" were confessedly the strayed sheep and the prodigal children, He leaves them to fill up the place of the other class, if they could.
Luke 15:8-10 . II. THE LOST COIN.
8. sweep the house--"not done without dust on man's part" [BENGEL].
10. Likewise--on the same principle.
joy, &c.--Note carefully the language here--not "joy on the part," but "joy in the presence of the angels of God." True to the idea of the parables. The Great Shepherd. The Great Owner Himself, is He whose the joy properly is over His own recovered property; but so vast and exuberant is it ( Zechariah 8:17 ), that as if He could not keep it to Himself, He "calleth His friends and neighbors together"--His whole celestial family--saying, "Rejoice WITH ME, for I have found My sheep-My-piece," &c. In this sublime sense it is "joy," before "or in the presence of the angels"; they only "catch the flying joy," sharing it with Him! The application of this to the reception of those publicans and sinners that stood around our Lord is grand in the extreme: "Ye turn from these lost ones with disdain, and because I do not the same, ye murmur at it: but a very different feeling is cherished in heaven. There, the recovery of even one such outcast is watched with interest and hailed with joy; nor are they left to come home of themselves or perish; for lo! even now the great Shepherd is going after His lost sheep, and the Owner is making diligent search for the lost property; and He is finding it, too, and bringing it back with joy, and all heaven is full of it." (Let the reader mark what sublime claims Himself our Lord covertly puts in here--as if in Him they beheld, all unknown to themselves, nothing less than heaven in the habiliments of earth, the Great Shepherd above, clothed in a garment of flesh, come "to seek and to save that which was lost")!
Luke 15:11-32 . III. THE PRODIGAL SON.
12. the younger--as the more thoughtless.
said, &c.--weary of restraint, panting for independence, unable longer to abide the check of a father's eye. This is man impatient of divine control, desiring to be independent of God, seeking to be his own master; that "sin of sins, in which all subsequent sins are included as in their germ, for they are but the unfolding of this one" [TRENCH].
he divided, &c.--Thus "God, when His service no longer appears a perfect freedom, and man promises himself something far better elsewhere, allows him to make the trial; and he shall discover, if need be by saddest proof, that to depart from Him is not to throw off the yoke, but to exchange a light yoke for a heavy one, and one gracious Master for a thousand imperious tyrants and lords" [TRENCH].
13. not many days--intoxicated with his new--found resources, and eager for the luxury of using them at Will.
a far country--beyond all danger of interference from home.
wasted, &c.--So long as it lasted, the inward monitor ( Isaiah 55:2 ) would be silenced ( Isaiah 9:10 , 57:10 , Amos 4:6-10 ).
riotous living--( Luke 15:30 ), "with harlots." Ah! but this reaches farther than the sensualist; for "in the deep symbolical language of Scripture fornication is the standing image of idolatry; they are in fact ever spoken of as one and the same sin, considered now in its [TRENCH].
14. when he had spent all . . . a mighty famine--a mysterious providence holding back the famine till he was in circumstances to feel it in all its rigor. Thus, like Jonah, whom the storm did not overtake till on the mighty deep at the mercy of the waves, does the sinner feel as if "the stars in their courses were fighting against" him ( Judges 5:20 ).
in want--the first stage of his bitter experience, and preparation for a change.
15. joined himself, &c.--his pride not yet humbled, unable to brook the shame of a return.
to feed swine--glad to keep life anyhow, behold the son sank into a swineherd--among the Jews, on account of the prohibition of swine's flesh, emphatically vile! "He who begins by using the world as a servant, to minister to his pleasure, ends by reversing the relationship" [TRENCH].
16. would fain have filled--rather, "was fain to fill," ate greedily of the only food he could get.
the husks--"the hulls of a leguminous plant which in the East is the food of cattle and swine, and often the nourishment of the poorest in times of distress" [STIER].
no man gave . . . him--not this food, for that he had, but anything better ( Jeremiah 30:14 ). This was his lowest depth--perishing unpitied, alone in the world, and ready to disappear from it unmissed! But this is just the blessed turning-point; midnight before dawn of day ( 2 Chronicles 12:8 , 33:11-13 , Jeremiah 2:19 ).
17. came to himself--Before, he had been "beside himself" ( Ecclesiastes 9:3 ), in what sense will presently appear.
How many hired, &c.--What a testimony to the nature of the home he had left! But did he not know all this ere he departed and every day of his voluntary exile? He did, and he did not. His heart being wholly estranged from home and steeped in selfish gratification, his father's house never came within the range of his vision, or but as another name for bondage and gloom. Now empty, desolate, withered, perishing, home, with all its peace, plenty, freedom, dignity, starts into view, fills all his visions as a warm and living reality, and breaks his heart.
18. I will arise and go to my FATHER--The change has come at last, and what a change!--couched in terms of such exquisite simplicity and power as if expressly framed for all heart-broken penitents.
Father, &c.--Mark the term. Though "no more worthy to be called his son," the prodigal sinner is taught to claim the defiled, but still existing relationship, asking not to be made a servant, but remaining a son to be made "as a servant," willing to take the lowest place and do the meanest work. Ah! and is it come to this? Once it was, "Any place rather than home." Now, "Oh, that home! Could I but dare to hope that the door of it would not be closed against me, how gladly would I take any place and do any worK, happy only to be there at all." Well, that is conversion--nothing absolutely new, yet all new; old familiar things seen in a new light and for the first time as realities of overwhelming magnitude and power. How this is brought about the parable says not. (We have that abundantly elsewhere, Philippians 2:13 , &c.). Its one object is to paint the welcome home of the greatest sinners, when (no matter for the present how) they "arise and go to their Father."
20. a great way off--Oh yes, when but the face is turned homeward, though as yet far, far away, our Father recognizes His own child in us, and bounds to meet us--not saying, Let him come to Me and sue for pardon first, but Himself taking the first step.
fell on his neck and kissed him--What! In all his filth? Yes. In all his rags? Yes. In all his haggard, shattered wretchedness? Yes. "Our Father who art in heaven," is this Thy portraiture? It is even so ( Jeremiah 31:20 ). And because it is so, I wonder not that such incomparable teaching hath made the world new.
21. Father, I have sinned, &c.--"This confession is uttered after the kiss of reconciliation" ( Ezekiel 16:63 ) [TRENCH].
22. But the Father said, &c.--The son has not said all he purposed, not so much, because the father's demonstrations had rekindled the filial, and swallowed up all servile feeling [TRENCH] (on the word made to appear too full to listen, at that moment, to more in this strain.
the best robe--Compare Zechariah 3:4 Zechariah 3:5 , "Take away the filthy garments from him; behold I have clothed thee with change of raiment; and they clothed him with garments" ( Isaiah 61:10 , Revelation 3:18 ).
a ring--(Compare Genesis 41:42 , 2:2 ).
shoes--Slaves went barefoot. Thus, we have here a threefold symbol of freedom and honor, restored, as the fruit of perfect reconciliation.
23. the fatted calf--kept for festive occasions.
24. my son--now twice his son.
dead . . . lost--to me; to himself--to my service, my satisfaction; to his own dignity, peace, profit.
alive again . . . found--to all these.
25. in the field--engaged in his father's business: compare Luke 15:29 , "These many years do I serve thee."
28. came his father out, and entreated him--"Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him" ( Psalms 103:13 ). As it is the elder brother who now errs, so it is the same paternal compassion which had fallen on the neck of the younger that comes forth and pleads with the elder.
29. these many years . . . neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment--The words are not to be pressed too far. He is merely contrasting his constancy of love and service with the conduct of his brother; just as Job, resenting the charge of hypocrisy by his friends, speaks as if nothing could be laid to his charge ( Job 23:10-12 ), and David too ( Psalms 18:20-24 ). The father attests the truth of all he says.
never . . . a kid--I say not a calf, but not even a kid.
that I might make merry with my friends--Here lay his misapprehension. It was no entertainment for the gratification of the prodigal: it was a father's expression of the joy he felt at his recovery.
thy son . . . thy living--How unworthy a reflection on the common father of both, for the one not only to disown the other, but fling him over upon his father, as if he should say, Take him, and have joy of him!
31. Son, &c.--The father resents not the insult--how could he, after the largeness of heart which had kissed the returning prodigal? He calmly expostulates with him, "Son, listen to reason. What need for special, exuberant joy over thee? Didst thou say, 'Lo, these many years do I serve thee?' In that saidst thou truly; but just for that reason do I not set the whole household a-rejoicing over thee. For thee is reserved what is higher still--a tranquil lifelong satisfaction in thee, as a true-hearted faithful son in thy father's house, nor of the inheritance reserved for thee is aught alienated by this festive and fitting joy over the once foolish but now wise and newly recovered one."
32. It was meet--Was it possible he should simply take his long vacant place in the family without one special sign of wonder and delight at the change? Would that have been nature? But this being the meaning of the festivity, it would for that very reason be temporary. In time, the dutifulness of even the younger son would become the law and not the exception; he too at length might venture to say, "Lo, these many years do I serve thee"; and of him the father would say, "Son, thou art ever with me." In that case, therefore, it would not be "meet that they should make merry and be glad." The lessons are obvious, but how beautiful! (1) The deeper sunk and the longer estranged any sinner is, the more exuberant is the joy which his recovery occasions. (2) Such joy is not the portion of those whose whole lives have been spent in the service of their Father in heaven. (3) Instead of grudging the want of this, they should deem it the highest testimony to their lifelong fidelity, that something better is reserved for them--the deep, abiding complacency of their Father in heaven.