Verse 31. "All that I have is thine." - See on ver. 28.
Verse 32. "This thy brother" - Or, THIS brother of THINE. To awaken this ill-natured, angry, inhumane man to a proper sense of his duty, both to his parent and brother, this amiable father returns him his own unkind words, but in a widely different spirit. This son of mine to whom I show mercy is THY brother, to whom thou shouldst show bowels of tenderness and affection; especially as he is no longer the person he was: he was dead in sin-he is quickened by the power of God: he was lost to thee, to me, to himself, and to our God; but now he is found: and he will be a comfort to me, a help to thee, and a standing proof, to the honour of the Most High, that God receiveth sinners. This, as well as the two preceding parables, was designed to vindicate the conduct of our blessed Lord in receiving tax-gatherers and heathens; and as the Jews, to whom it was addressed, could not but approve of the conduct of this benevolent father, and reprobate that of his elder son, so they could not but justify the conduct of Christ towards those outcasts of men, and, at least in the silence of their hearts, pass sentence of condemnation upon-themselves. For the sublime, the beautiful, the pathetic, and the instructive, the history of Joseph in the Old Testament, and the parable of the prodigal son in the New, have no parallels either in sacred or profane history.
THE following reflections, taken chiefly from pious Quesnel, cannot fail making this incomparable parable still more instructive.
Three points may be considered here: I. The degrees of his fall. II. The degrees of his restoration; and, III. The consequences of his conversion.
I. The prodigal son is the emblem of a sinner who refuses to depend on and be governed by the Lord. How dangerous is it for us to desire to be at our own disposal, to live in a state of independency, and to be our own governors! God cannot give to wretched man a greater proof of his wrath than to abandon him to the corruption of his own heart.
Not many days, &c., ver. 13. The misery of a sinner has its degrees; and he soon arrives, step by step, at the highest pitch of his wretchedness.
The first degree of his misery is, that he loses sight of God, and removes at a distance from him. There is a boundless distance between the love of God, and impure self-love; and yet, strange to tell, we pass in a moment from the one to the other! The second degree of a sinner's misery is, that the love of God being no longer retained in the heart, carnal love and impure desires necessarily enter in, reign there, and corrupt all his actions.
The third degree is, that he squanders away all spiritual riches, and wastes the substance of his gracious Father in riot and debauch.
When he had spent all, &c., ver. 14. The fourth degree of an apostate sinner's misery is, that having forsaken God, and lost his grace and love, he can now find nothing but poverty, misery, and want. How empty is that soul which God does not fill! What a famine is there in that heart which is no longer nourished by the bread of life! In this state, he joined himself-ekollhqh, he cemented, closely united himself, and fervently cleaved to a citizen of that country, ver. 15.
The fifth degree of a sinner's misery is, that he renders himself a slave to the devil, is made partaker of his nature, and incorporated into the infernal family. The farther a sinner goes from God, the nearer he comes to eternal ruin.
The sixth degree of his misery is, that he soon finds by experience the hardship and rigour of his slavery. There is no master so cruel as the devil; no yoke so heavy as that of sin; and no slavery so mean and vile as for a man to be the drudge of his own carnal, shameful, and brutish passions.
The seventh degree of a sinner's misery is, that he has an insatiable hunger and thirst after happiness; and as this can be had only in God, and he seeks it in the creature, his misery must be extreme. He desired to fill his belly with the husks, ver. 16. The pleasures of sense and appetite are the pleasures of swine, and to such creatures is he resembled who has frequent recourse to them, 2 Pet. ii. 22.
II. Let us observe, in the next place, the several degrees of a sinner's conversion and salvation.
The first is, he begins to know and feel his misery, the guilt of his conscience, and the corruption of his heart. He comes to himself, because the Spirit of God first comes to him, ver. 17.
The second is, that he resolves to forsake sin and all the occasions of it; and firmly purposes in his soul to return immediately to his God. I will arise, &c., ver. 18.
The third is, when, under the influence of the spirit of faith, he is enabled to look towards God as a compassionate and tender-hearted father. I will arise and go to my father.
The fourth is, when he makes confession of his sin, and feels himself utterly unworthy of all God's favours, ver. 19.
The fifth is, when he comes in the spirit of obedience, determined through grace to submit to the authority of God; and to take his word for the rule of all his actions, and his Spirit for the guide of all his affections and desires.
The sixth is, his putting his holy resolutions into practice without delay; using the light and power already mercifully restored to him, and seeking God in his appointed ways. And he arose and came, &c., ver. 20.
The seventh is, God tenderly receives him with the kiss of peace and love, blots out all his sins, and restores him to, and reinstates him in, the heavenly family. His father-fell on his neck, and kissed him, ver. 20.
The eighth is, his being clothed with holiness, united to God, married as it were to Christ Jesus, 2 Cor. xi. 2, and having his feet shod with the shoes of the preparation of the Gospel of peace, Eph. vi. 15, so that he may run the ways of God's commandments with alacrity and joy. Bring the best robe-put a ring-and shoes, &c., ver. 22.
III. The consequences of the sinner's restoration to the favour and image of God are, first, the sacrifice of thanksgiving is offered to God in his behalf; he enters into a covenant with his Maker, and feasts on the fatness of the house of the Most High.
Secondly, The whole heavenly family are called upon to share in the general joy; the Church above and the Church below both triumph; for there is joy (peculiar joy) in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth. See ver. 10.
Thirdly, God publicly acknowledges him for his son, not only by enabling him to abstain from every appearance of evil, but to walk before him in newness of life, ver. 24. The tender- hearted father repeats these words at ver. 32, to show more particularly that the soul is dead when separated from God; and that it can only be said to be alive when united to him through the Son of his love. A Christian's sin is a brother's death; and in proportion to our concern for this will our joy be at his restoration to spiritual life. Let us have a brotherly heart towards our brethren, as God has that of a father towards his children, and seems to be afflicted at their loss, and to rejoice at their being found again, as if they were necessary to his happiness.
In this parable, the younger profligate son may represent the Gentile world; and the elder son, who so long served his father, ver. 20, the Jewish people. The anger of the elder son explains itself at once-it means the indignation evidenced by the Jews at the Gentiles being received into the favour of God, and made, with them, fellow heirs of the kingdom of heaven.
It may also be remarked, that those who were since called Jews and Gentiles, were at first one family, and children of the same father: that the descendants of Ham and Japhet, from whom the principal part of the Gentile world was formed, were, in their progenitors, of the primitive great family, but had afterwards fallen off from the true religion: and that the parable of the prodigal son may well represent the conversion of the Gentile world, in order that, in the fullness of time, both Jews and Gentiles may become one fold, under one Shepherd and Bishop of all souls.