Luke 15:17
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!
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(17) And when he came to himself.—The phrase is wonderfully suggestive. The man’s guilt was, that he had been self-indulgent; but he had been living to a self which was not his true self. The first step in his repentance is to wake as out of an evil dream, and to be conscious of his better nature, and then there comes the memory of happier days which is as “Sorrow’s crown of sorrow.” The “hired servants” are obviously those who serve God, not in the spirit of filial love, but from the hope of a reward. Even in that lower form of duty they find what satisfies their wants. They have not the craving of unsatisfied desire which the son feels who has cast away his sonship. He envies them, and would fain be as they are.

Luke 15:17-18. And when he came to himself — When the infamy and distress of his present condition began to lead him into serious consideration; and he so far recovered the use of his reason, which had before been dethroned and extinguished by the mad intoxication of sensual pleasure; when the great distress he was in brought him at length to think and reflect on his unhappy condition, and to retrace the steps that had brought him into it; he said — Namely, in his heart; How many hired servants of my father’s — The meanest in his family, the very day- labourers; have bread enough and to spare — Have more meat than they can use. Even the hired servants in God’s house are well provided for; the meanest that will but hire themselves into his family to do his work, and depend upon his reward, shall have all things and abound: the consideration of which should encourage sinners, that have gone astray from God, to think of returning to him: and I perish with hunger — I, his child, who have known so many better days, am even ready to die with want, not being thought worth my food by this unkind master, to whom I have hired myself. Observe, reader, 1st, All who have wandered from God, and endeavour to satisfy themselves with earthly things, whether riches, honours, or pleasures, with worldly pursuits and carnal gratifications, living without God in the world, may really be said to be beside themselves, for they act like persons deprived of their reason. Observe, 2d, Sinners will not come to Christ, and enter into his service, till they are brought to see themselves just ready to perish in the service of sin. And though we be thus driven to Christ, he will not therefore reject us, nor think himself dishonoured by our being forced to him, but rather honoured by his being applied to in a desperate case. I will arise and go to my father — Whatever be the consequence, I am resolved that I will no longer remain in this miserable condition, but will immediately set out on my way home, if all my little remaining strength can but bring me to the end of such a journey. And I will say unto him, Father, I have sinned, &c. — That I may be received again, I am resolved to go in all humility, and confess my crimes to my father, acknowledging that I am utterly unworthy to be owned as a son, and will pray to be taken into his house, only as a hired servant, and will be contented for the future to labour and fare as the servants do, so I may but live in his sight. In saying, I have sinned against heaven and before thee, he meant, that God was injured in the person of his earthly father. And certainly nature itself teaches this, that whoever is insolent or disrespectful to his parents, rebels against God; who, by making them the instruments of communicating life to their children, has imparted to them some of his own paternal honour. In saying, I am no more worthy to be called thy son, he shows, that the idea of his undutiful behaviour was strongly impressed on his mind, whereby he was sensible that he had no title to be treated at home as a son. At the same time he knew that it never would be well with him till he was in his father’s family again; so with joy he entertained the thought of occupying the meanest station in it. Thus, while the liberality of the great Parent of men makes them wantonly run away from his family, the miseries which they involve themselves in, often constrain them to return. By the natural consequences of sin, God sometimes makes sinners to feel, that there is no felicity to be found anywhere but in himself.

15:17-24 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.He came to himself - This is a very expressive phrase. It is commonly applied to one who has been "deranged," and when he recovers we say he has "come to himself." In this place it denotes that the folly of the young man was a kind of derangement - that he was insane. So it is of every sinner. Madness is in their hearts Ecclesiastes 9:3; they are estranged from God, and led, by the influence of evil passions, contrary to their better judgment and the decisions of a sound mind.

Hired servants - Those in a low condition of life - those who were not born to wealth, and who had no friends to provide for them.

I perish - I, who had property and a kind father, and who might have been provided for and happy.

17. came to himself—Before, he had been "beside himself" (Ec 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.

Every sinner is beside himself; his reason lackeys to his lust and passion, he is governed by appetite, and that rageth in him, while his understanding is blind, and cannot discern between good and evil; and when he hath in any measure discerned any thing, his will is stubborn, and chooseth the evil. Conversion is but the return of a soul to itself. The first thoughts of which conversion arise from a soul’s consideration, what a poor miserable creature it is, ready to perish for ever, while never a poor soul belonging to God, no, not the meanest servant in his family, wanteth any good thing that is necessary for him. These things increase in a soul thoughts of returning to his heavenly Father, through the operation of the Holy Spirit of God; for of ourselves we are not sufficient so much as to think one good thought.

And when he came to himself,.... An unregenerate man, whether while a voluptuous man, or a self-righteous man, is not himself; he is beside himself; and is no other than a madman. The man that pursues his worldly lusts and pleasures, promises himself liberty, while he is a slave; he ruins himself, his soul, body, and estate, and chooses to do it rather than part with his lusts; he takes delight in doing mischief himself, and in seeing it done by others; he proclaims his folly publicly, declares his sin, and glories in it; all which a man in his right mind would never do. The self-righteous person trusts in his own heart, which is the greatest madness and folly in the world; he compasses himself about with sparks of his own kindling, and sacrifices to his own net; he dresses himself in his rags, and pleases and prides himself with them, when a robe of righteousness, and garments of salvation, are provided; which no man in his senses would ever do. But when the Spirit of God comes to work upon a sinner's heart in conversion, he brings him to himself; which a man may be said to be, when he is brought to true evangelical repentance for sin; and that is, when he has a true sense of it, as committed against God, and a godly sorrow for it, and makes an hearty and ingenuous acknowledgment of it, and forsakes it; and when he is brought to a sense of the insufficiency of his own righteousness, and is made willing to part with it, and desires to be found in Christ, and in his righteousness alone, which he is encouraged to lay hold on, and receive by faith, trust to, and rejoice in; when he has his spiritual senses exercised on Christ, and to discern between good and evil; and is brought to the feet of Jesus, as to submit to his righteousness, so to serve him; when he is all this, then, like the man in the Gospel, he is clothed, and in his right mind:

he said, how many hired servants of my father's; who, according to some, were the Scribes and Pharisees, men of a servile disposition, and of mercenary views; and were, by profession, the servants of God, and had plenty of bread, because they had all the external means and ordinances: but these are designed by the elder brother in the parable; and besides, this man had endeavoured to live as they did in this far country. It may be queried, whether the ministers of the Gospel are not intended, since these are the servants of the most high God; are labourers hired by him, and are worthy of their hire, and abound with Gospel provisions for the service of others. But to this it may be objected, the desire of this man to be made as one of them, Luke 15:19 which petition expresses his humility; whereas to be a servant, in this sense, is to have the highest place and office in his father's house. Rather therefore the meanest of the saints, and household of God, are here meant, who have the least degree of evangelical light, whose faith is weak, and their consolation small; and who, though they are sons, yet by reason of that legality and mercenariness that appear in their frames and services, differ little from servants: and yet these, in comparison of him, who was in a hungry and starving condition,

have bread enough, and to spare; as the doctrines, promises, and ordinances of the Gospel, the fulness of grace that is in Christ, and Christ himself the bread of life; which are more than enough for them, and sufficient for the whole family in heaven, and in earth; and even the meanest and weakest believer may be said to have enough and to spare, because he has an interest in all these; though by reason of the weakness of his faith, it is but now and then he has a full and comfortable meal; but this is infinitely better than to be starving, as this man was:

and I perish with hunger. The Vulgate Latin, and all the Oriental versions add, "here"; in this far country, in the citizen's fields, among his swine, and their husks: all mankind are in a lost and perishing condition; for having sinned against God, they have exposed themselves to the curses of the law, and are destitute of a justifying righteousness, and are in the way, to ruin and destruction; but all are not sensible of it, being ignorant of God, and his righteousness, of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and of the insufficiency of their own righteousness; but some are sensible of it, and in their own apprehensions are ready to perish: these see sin in its true light, without a view of pardon; an angry God without a smile; injured justice without a righteousness; and a broken law without a satisfaction for the violation of it; and such was this man's case. The Jewish writers (a) say,

"a sinner is like to a son that runs away from his father, and turns his back upon him, who yet afterwards repents, and has a mind to return to his father's house:''

so it was now with the publicans and sinners, signified by this man.

(a) R. Chayim in Lib. Chayim, par. 4. c. 6. apud Maii Jud. Theolog. loc 15. p. 243.

{3} 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!

(3) The beginning of repentance is the acknowledging of the mercy of God, which encourages us to hope expectantly.

Luke 15:17. εἰς ἑαυτὸν ἐλθὼν = either, realising the situation; or, coming to his true self, his sane mind (for the use of this phrase vide Kypke, Observ.). Perhaps both ideas are intended. He at last understood there was no hope for him there, and, reduced to despair, the human, the filial, the thought of home and father revived in the poor wretch.—περισσεύονται: passive, with gen. of the thing; here only in N.T. = are provided to excess, have more given them than they can use.

17. And when he came to himself ] His previous state was that of his false self—a brief delusion and madness—‘the old man with his affections and lusts.’ Now he was once more beginning to be “in his right mind.” “The heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live,” Ecclesiastes 9:3.

How many hired servants of my father’s] The hired servants correspond to any beings who stand in a lower or more distant relation to God, yet for whom His love provides.

Luke 15:17. Εἰς, to) The supply of foods that ministered to the scattering of his senses (which the French not inappropriately term se divertir, [the word diversion implying that one is thereby turned aside from self-inspection]) had now failed. The commencement of his return to himself is immediately linked to the height of his misery: it is by the latter that his mad recklessness in sin is cooled down, so that the man returns to himself, and presently after [also] to God. His repentance is his conversion.—[ἐγὼ δὲ ὧδε, but I here) The word, ὧδε, after ἐγὼ δὲ, has the force of here, emphatically.—Not. Crit.]

Verse 17. - And when he came to himself. This tardy repentance in the famous parable has been the occasion of many a sneer from the world. Even satiety, even soul-hunger, did not bring the prodigal to penitence; nothing but absolute bodily suffering, cruel hunger, drove him to take the step which in the end saved him. There is no doubt it would have been far more noble on the young man's part if, in the midst of his downhill career, he had suddenly paused, and, with a mighty and continued effort of self-control, had turned to purity, to duty, and to God. Certainly this had been hereto conduct - a term no one would think of applying to anything belonging to the life of the younger son of our story. But though not heroic, is not the conduct of the prodigal just what is of daily occurrence in common life? The world may sneer; but is not such a repentance, after all, a blessed thing? It is a poor mean way, some would tell us, of creeping into heaven; but is it not better to enter into God's city even thus, with bowed head, than not at all? Is it not better to consecrate a few months, or perhaps years, of a wasted life to God's service, to noble generous deeds, to brave attempts to undo past mischief and neglect, than to go sinning on to the bitter end? There is something intensely sorrowful in this consecrating to the Master the end of a sin-worn life; but there is what is infinitely worse. What a deep well, too, of comfort has the Church-taught teacher here to draw from in his weary life-experiences! How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! Among the bitternesses of his present degradation, not the least was the memory of his happy childhood and boyhood in his old home.

"For a sorrow's crown of sorrows
Is remembering happier things."
The family of the prodigal, as we have already remarked, was certainly possessed of wealth, and was probably one of high rank. In the old home there was nothing wanting. Luke 15:17Came to himself

A striking expression, putting the state of rebellion against God as a kind of madness. It is a wonderful stroke of art, to represent the beginning of repentance as the return of a sound consciousness. Ackermann ("Christian Element in Plato") observes that Plato thinks of redemption as a coming to one's self; an apprehending of one's self as existent; as a severing of the inmost being from the surrounding element. Several passages of Plato are very suggestive on this point. "He who bids a man know himself, would have him know his soul" ("Alcibiades," i., 130). "' To see her (the soul) as she really is, not as we now behold her, marred by communion with the body and other miseries, you should look upon her with the eye of reason, in her original purity, and then her beauty would be discovered, and in her image justice would be more clearly seen, and injustice, and all the things which we have described. Thus far we have spoken the truth concerning her as she appears at present; but we must remember also that we have seen her only in a condition which may be compared to that of the sea-god Glaucus, whose original image can hardly be discerned, because his natural members are broken off and crushed, and in many ways damaged by the waves; and incrustations have grown over them of sea-weed and shells and stones, so that he is liker to some sea-monster than to his natural form. And the soul is in a similar condition, disfigured by ten thousand ills: but not there, Glaucon, not there must we look.'

"'Where, then?'

"'At her love of wisdom. Let us see whom she affects, and what converse she seeks, in virtue of her near kindred with the immortal and eternal and divine; also, how different she would become, if wholly following this superior principle, and borne by a divine impulse out of the ocean in which she now is, and disengaged from the stones and shells and things of earth and rock, which, in wild variety, grow around her, because she feeds upon earth, and is crusted over by the good things of this life as they are termed. Then would you see her as she is'" ("Republic," 611).

Have bread enough and to spare (περισσεύονται ἄρτων)

Lit., abound in loaves. Wyc., plenty of loaves.


Better, I am perishing. The best texts insert ὧδε, here, in contrast with the father's house, suggested by the father's servants.

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