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.