Luke 15The publicans and sinners, as they had done several times before, came to hear our Saviour's instructions; he treated them very kindly, and conversed familiarly with them; at this the Pharisees were displeased and murmured, censured our Saviour for too much familiarity with those men, whom they looked upon as scandalous to converse with; not considering that he conversed with them as their physician, not as their companion; and therefore his proper work and employment lay among his patients: and that he might give all possible encouragement to the repentance of the greatest sinners, he sets forth at once the tender care of God in recovering such lost sinners, and the inexpressible joy that is found in heaven at the welcome news of their recovery; for thus it follows in the parables.
In this parable Christ compares sinners to sheep going astray, and God the Father to a tender and careful shepherd seeking his stray sheep; wherein he secretly taxes the Pharisees for their uncharitableness in censuring him for conversing with publicans and sinners, and for their envy at the recovery of such sinners by repentance; assuring them, that they are far from the temper of the holy angels, who rejoice more at the news of one notorious sinner's conversion, than for many righteous persons who went not astray; like as a father is touched with a more sensible joy for the recovery of one son who was dangerously sick, than for the health of all the rest who were in no such danger.
From the whole note,
1. That the creature's aberration may serve for our instruction; the sheep's straying away from us, should put us in mind of our wandering away from God.
2. That Christ the Great Sheperd of his church, with vigilance and care, seeks up and finds out his lost sheep, and will never give over his search until he has found them.
3. That the recovery of one lost sinner by repentance, is matter of exceeding joy and rejoicing to Christ the Great Shepherd, and to all the blessed company of heaven: There is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, or changes the whole course of his life, more than over ninety and nine just persons that need no such repentance. The opening of a sinner's heart to Christ, makes joy in heaven, and occasions triumph in the city of our God above; as when a young prince is born, all the kingdom rejoices, and the conduits run wine; so when a soul is born to Christ under the gospel, oh what mighty satisfaction is it to the heart of Christ, and to all the angels and saints, that another soul is espoused to him. "Oh sinner, Christ never rejoiced over thee before; thou has grieved him, and wounded him a thousand times, but he never rejoiced in thee until now." And if there be such joy in heaven at the conversion of a sinner, Lord, what rejoicing must there be at the glorification of saints.
The scope of this parable is the same with the former.
1. To express the joy that is found with God and his holy angels, at the recovery and conversion of a notorious sinner.
2. To justify Christ in conversing with such sinners in order to their repentance and conversion, from the malicious reflections of the Pharisees made upon our Saviour for so doing: the sense of the words seems to be this, "If you do all justify the diligence and care of a woman, using all possible means to recover the loss of a piece of silver that has Caesar's image upon it, why (might our Saviour say) will you Pharisees censure and condemn me for seeking to recover and save lost sinners, that have the image of an holy God instamped upon them?"
1. That the conversion of a sinner from a course and state of sin and wickedness, is highly acceptable and pleasing unto God.
2. That it is reasonable to suppose, that the holy angels in heaven do conceive a new joy at the notice and news of a sinner's repentance and conversion unto God: how the angels come by this knowledge, whether by virtue of their ministry here below, or whether God is pleased to reveal it to them above, as a thing extremely welcome and delightful to good spirits, it is neither material to enquire, nor possible to determine. But their happiness not being intensively infinite, it is certain that they may be happier than they are.
Note 3. That God is not only willing to receive and embrace returning and repenting sinners, but the news of their repentance is entertained with so much joy in heaven, that if it be possible for the blessed inhabitants of that place to have any thing added to their happiness, this will be a new accession to it: for though the happiness of God himself be intensively infinite, and can have nothing added to it; yet the happiness of angels and glorified spirits being but finite, is capable of addition: and as their knowledge and love do increase, so their felicity may be growing and improving to all eternity; so that it is reasonable enough to suppose that there is really joy among the angels and spirits of just men made perfect, over every sinner that repenteth.
In the two former parables of the lost sheep and lost goat, was represented to us the great pains and care which Christ takes for the recovery of lost sinners. In this third parable of this prodigal son, is shadowed forth unto us, with what great readiness, joy, and gladness, our heavenly Father receives repenting and returning sinners.
In the face of the prodigal, as in a glass, we may behold, first, a riotous sinner's aversion from God.
Secondly, a penitent sinner's conversion to God.
Thirdly, a pardoned sinner's acceptance and entertainment with God.
From the whole learn, 1. What is the nature of sin, and the practice of sinners. Sin is a departing from God, and every sinner does voluntarily and of his own accord depart from him: He took his journey into a far country.
Learn, 2. The great extravagancy which sinners run into when they forsake God, and give up themselves to the conduct of their lusts and vile affections; he wasted all his substance with riotous living; that is, spent his time, and consumed his treasure, in riot and excess.
Observe, 3. That sin will certainly bring men into streights, but streights do not always bring men off from sin: he began to be in want, yet thinks not of returning to his father's house.
Observe, 4. That sinners will try all ways, and go through the greatest hardships and difficulties, before they will leave their sins, and return home to their heavenly Father: He joined himself to a citizen of that country; and went into the fields to feed swine. He chooses rather to feed at the hog's trough, than to feast in his father's house.
Observe, 5. At last the happy fruits of a sanctified affliction: they put the prodigal upon serious consideration: He came to himself; upon wise consultation; I perish with hunger: and upon a fixed resolution; I will arise and go to my father. Serious consideration, and solid resolutions, are great steps to a sound conversion, and thorough reformation.
Observe, 6. The affectionate tenderness and compassion of the father towards the returning prodigal: though he had deserved to be sharply reproved, severely corrected, and finally rejected and shut out of doors; yet the father's compassion is above his anger: not a word of his miscarriages drops from his father's mouth, but as soon as ever the son looks back, mercy looks out and the father expresses,
1. His speedy readiness to receive his son, He ran unto him: the son did only arise and go, but the father made haste and ran; mercy has not only a quick eye to spy out a penitent, but a swift foot; it turns to embrace a penitent.
2. Wonderful tenderness, He fell upon his neck: it had been much to have looked upon him with the eye, more to have taken him by the hand, but most of all to fall upon his neck. Divine mercy will not only meet a penitent, but embrace him also.
3. Strong affectionateness: He kissed him; giving him thereby a pledge and assurance of perfect friendship and reconciliation with him.
Learn hence, that God is not only ready to give demonstrations of his mercy to penitent sinners, but also to give the seals and tokens of his special reconciled favor to them; they shall now have the kisses of his lips, who formerly deserved the blows of his hand: The father ran unto him, fell on his neck, and kissed him.
Observe, lastly, the great joy that appeared in the whole house, as well as in the father's heart, upon this great occasion, the prodigal son's returning: They all began to be merry, there was music and dancing.
Learn hence, that sincere conversion brings the soul into a joyful, into a very joyful state and condition. The joy that conversion brings is an holy and spiritual joy, a solid and substantial joy, a wonderful and transcendent joy, an increasing and never-fading joy. Our joy on earth is an earnest of the joys of heaven, where there will be rejoicing in the presence of our heavenly Father and his holy angels to all eternity: because we were dead, but are now alive again; we were lost, but are found.
By the murmuring of the elder son at the prodigal's returning to, and reception with, his father, some think the Jews in general are to be understood, whose peevishness to the Gentiles, and the repining at the offer of salvation made unto them by the gospel, is very evident from many places of scripture: others understand it of the scribes and Pharisees in particular, who presuming on their own righteousness, as if they had never transgressed God's commandments at any time, murmured at our Saviour for conversing with sinners, though it were in order to the bringing of them to repentance; which instead of being frowardly discontented at, they ought to have rejoiced at.
Learn hence, there is such an envious spirit in men, yea, even in the best of men, as inclined them to repine at such dispensations of divine grace and favor, as others receive, and they want.
Learn, 2. That to indulge such a spirit and temper in ourselves, argues great sin, and great folly: great sin in being dissatisfied with God's dispensations, and affronting his wisdom and justice; and great folly, in making another's good our grief; as if we had less, because another has more: The eldest son was angry, and would not go in: it follows, therefore came his father out and intreated him. This shows the meekness of God in dealing with us under, our frowardness; and the high satisfaction he takes in a sinner's conversion and returning to his duty.
Lastly, this points out unto us our duty to imitate God, and be followers of him as dear children. Does he rejoice at a sinner's return to this duty? So should we. It is the devil's temper to regret and envy the good and happiness of others: he gnashes his teeth, when the prey he thought himself sure of, is snatched out of his jaws. But to God, and all his holy angels, nothing is so agreeable as their repentance and conversion of a sinner from the error of his ways, and the saving of a soul from death; this is looked upon as a resurrection from the dead, and a ground of the greatest joy and rejoicing: It was meet that we should make merry and be glad, for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.
Whence note, that regeneration is the term from which all true pleasure commences. We never live a merry day until we begin to live unto God; when the prodigal son returned to his father, then, and not until then, they began to be merry.
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