|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
15:11-16 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!
Verse 11. - And he said, A certain man had two sons. It seems probable that this and the two preceding shorter parables were spoken by the Lord on the same occasion, towards the latter part of this slow solemn journeying to the holy city to keep his last Passover. The mention of the publicans and sinners in ver. 1 seems to point to some considerable city, or its immediate vicinity, as the place where these famous parables were spoken. This parable, as it is termed, of the prodigal sou completes the trilogy. Without it the Master's formal apologia for his life and work would be incomplete, and the rebuke of the Pharisaic selfishness and censoriousness would have been left unfinished. In the apologia much had still to be said concerning the limitless love and the boundless pity of God. In the rebuke the two first parables had shown the Pharisee party and the rulers of Israel how they ought to have acted: this third story shows them how they did act. But the Church of Christ - as each successive generation read this exquisite and true story - soon lost sight of all the temporal and national signification at first connected with it. The dweller in the cold and misty North feels that it belongs to him as it does to the Syrian, revelling in his almost perpetual summer, to whom it was first spoken. It is a story of the nineteenth century just as it was a story of the first. We may, with all reverence, think of the Divine Master, as he unfolded each successive scene which portrayed human sin and suffering, and heavenly pity and forgiveness, man's selfish pride and God's all-embracing love, passing into another and broader sphere than that bounded by the Arabian deserts to the south and the Syrian mountains to the north, forgetting for a moment the little Church of the Hebrews, and speaking to the great Church of the future - the Church of the world, to which, without doubt, this Catholic parable of the prodigal, in all its sublime beauty and exquisite pathos, with all its exhaustless wealth of comfort, belongs.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
And he said,.... The Syriac and Persic versions read "and Jesus said again"; he added another parable to the two former, at the same time, of the same import, with the same view, and on the same occasion; setting forth the different characters of the Scribes and Pharisees, and of the publicans and sinners; and what little reason the one had to murmur, at his conversation with the other:
a certain man had two sons; by "the certain man" is meant, God the Father: God indeed is not a man, nor is he to be represented by any human image; but inasmuch as man is the image of God, God is sometimes compared to man, and is called a man of war, an husbandman, &c. which no ways contradict his being a spirit; and true it is, that the second person only assumed human nature; and therefore, whenever a divine person is spoken of as man, Christ is commonly intended: but though the Father never appeared in an human form, yet he seems here to be designed; because the character of a Father, and having sons, more properly belong to him; and the reception of sinners, and the forgiveness of them for Christ's sake, agree with him: and besides, Christ is distinguished from the Father in this parable; and he and his blessings of grace, are signified by other things: by the "two sons" are meant, not angels and men, as that angels are the elder, and men the younger son; for though angels are called the sons of God, and may be said to be elder than men, with respect to creation; and good angels may be said to have been ever with God, and always serving him, and never sinned against him; yet they are never called the brethren of men, nor men their brethren; and besides, are never angry at the return and reception of repenting sinners; for this would be to represent them just the reverse of what they are said to be, in the preceding verse: nor are the Jews and Gentiles here intended, which is the more received and general sense of the parable: those who go this way, suppose the Jews to be the elder brother; and indeed they were so, with respect to external privileges; and were with God, being his household and family; all he had were theirs, that was external; and the character of the elder brother throughout the parable, agrees with the far greater part of that nation; and it is certain, that they did resent the calling of the Gentiles: and these suppose the Gentiles to be the younger brother, who indeed were brought into a church state, later than the Jews; and might be said to be afar off in a far country, and to have spent their substance in idolatry and wickedness; to have been in the utmost distress, and in the most deplorable condition: but to this sense it may be objected, that the Gospel was not as yet preached to the Gentiles; nor were they brought to repentance; nor were they openly received into the divine favour; nor as yet had the Jews murmured at, and resented the kindness of God to them: rather standing and fallen professors may be designed: since the former are very apt to carry it toward the latter, in like manner as the elder brother is represented in this parable, as carrying himself towards the younger: but the true sense, and which the context and occasion of the parable at once determine, is, that by the elder son are meant, the Scribes and Pharisees, and self-righteous persons, among the Jews; and by the younger, the publicans and sinners among the same people; as it is easy to observe, the same are meant by the two sons in the parable in Matthew 21:28. Now these are called the sons of God because the Jews in general were so by national adoption; and the self-righteous Pharisees looked upon themselves as the children of God, and favourites of heaven, in a special sense; and God's elect among them, even those that lay among publicans and sinners, were truly so; and that before conversion; for they were not only predestinated to the adoption of children, but were really taken into the relation of children, in the covenant of grace; and as such were given to Christ, and considered by him, when he assumed their nature, and died for them; and are so antecedent to the spirit of adoption, who is sent to witness their sonship to them; and which is consistent with their being children of wrath, as the descendants of Adam, and their being the children of God openly and manifestatively, by faith in Christ Jesus.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Lu 15:11-32. III. The Prodigal Son.
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