And he said, A certain man had two sons:…
I. GOD'S TREATMENT OF THE PENITENT.
1. The alienation of the heart from God.
(2) Worldly happiness is unsatisfying. Husks are not food.
2. The period of repentance.
(1) The first fact of religious experience which this parable suggests to us is that common truth — men desert the world when the world deserts them. The renegade came to himself when there were no more husks to eat. He would have remained away if he could have got them, but it is written, "no man gave unto him." And this is the record of our shame. Invitation is not enough; we must be driven to God. And the famine comes not by chance. God sends the famine into the soul — the hunger, and thirst, and the disappointment — to bring back his erring child again.
(2) There is another truth contained in this section of the parable. After a life of wild sinfulness religion is servitude at first, not freedom. Observe, he went back to duty with the feelings of a slave: "I am no more worthy to be called thy son, make me as one of thy hired servants." Any one who has lived in the excitement of the world, and then tried to settle down at once to quiet duty, knows how true that is. To borrow a metaphor from Israel's desert life, it is a tasteless thing to live on manna after you have been feasting upon quails. It is a dull cold drudgery to find pleasure in simple occupation when life has been a succession of strong emotions. Sonship it is not; it is slavery. A son obeys in love, entering heartily into his father's meaning. A servant obeys mechanically, rising early because he must; doing, it may be, his duty well, but feeling in all its force the irksomeness of the service. Sonship does not come all at once.
3. The reception which a sinner meets with on his return to God. The banquet represents to us two things.
(1) It tells of the father's gladness on his son's return. That represents God's joy on the reformation of a sinner.
(2) It tells of a banquet and a dance given to the long lost son. That represents the sinner's gladness when he first understood that God was reconciled to him in Christ. There is a strange, almost wild, rapture, a strong gush of love and happiness in those days which are called the days of first conversion. When a man who has sinned much — a profligate — turns to God, and it becomes first clear to his apprehension that there is love instead of spurning for him, there is a luxury of emotion — a banquet of tumultuous blessedness in the moment of first love to God, which stands alone in life, nothing before and nothing after like it. And, brethren, let us observe — This forgiveness is a thing granted while a man is yet afar off.
II. GOD'S EXPOSTULATION WITH A SAINT. The true interpretation seems to be that this elder brother represents a real Christian perplexed with God's mysterious dealings. We have before us the description of one of those happy persons who have been filled with the Holy Ghost from their mother's womb, and on the whole (with imperfections of course) remained God's servant all his life. For this is his own account of himself, which the father does not contradict. "Lo! these many years do I serve thee." We observe then: The objection made to the reception of a notorious sinner — "Thou never gavest me a kid." Now, in this we have a fact true to Christian experience. Joy seems to be felt more vividly and more exuberantly by men who have sinned much, than by men who have grown up consistently from childhood with religious education. Rapture belongs to him whose sins, which are forgiven, are many. In the perplexity which this fact occasions, there is a feeling which is partly right and partly wrong. There is a surprise which is natural. There is a resentful jealousy which is to be rebuked. And now mark the father's answer. It does not account for this strange dealing by God's sovereignty. It does not cut the knot of the difficulty, instead of untying it, by saying, God has a right to do what He will. He does not urge, God has a right to act on favouritism if He please. But it assigns two reasons. The first reason is, "It was meet, right that we should make merry." It is meet that God should be glad on the reclamation of a sinner. It is meet that that sinner, looking down into the dreadful chasm over which he had been tottering, should feel a shudder of delight through all his frame on thinking of his escape. And it is meet that religious men should not feel jealous of one another, but freely and generously join in thanking God that others have got happiness, even if they have not. The spirit of religious exclusiveness, which looks down contemptuously instead of tenderly on worldly men, and banishes a man for ever from the circle of its joys because he has sinned notoriously, is a bad spirit. Lastly, the reason given for this dealing is, "Son, thou art always with Me, and all that I have is thine." By which Christ seems to tell us that the disproportion between man and man is much less than we suppose. The profligate had had one hour of ecstasy — the other had had a whole life of peace. A consistent Christian may not have rapture; but he has that which is much better than rapture: calmness — God's serene and perpetual presence. And after all, brethren, that is the best.
(F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And he said, A certain man had two sons: