Luke 15

CHAPTER XV.

Publicans and sinners draw near to hear our Lord, at which the

Pharisees are offended, 1, 2.

Christ vindicates his conduct in receiving them by the parable

of the lost sheep, 3-7.

The parable of the lost piece of money, 8-10;

and the affecting parable of the prodigal son, 11-32.

NOTES ON CHAP. XV.

Verse 1. Publicans and sinners] τελωναικαιαμαρτωλοι,

tax-gatherers and heathens; persons who neither believed in

Christ nor in Moses. See Clarke on Lu 7:36. Concerning the

tax-gatherers, See Clarke on Mt 5:46.

Verse 2. Receiveth sinners] προσδεχεται. He receives them

cordially, affectionately-takes them to his bosom; for so the

word implies. What mercy! Jesus receives sinners in the most

loving, affectionate manner, and saves them unto eternal life!

Reader, give glory to God for ever!

Verse 4. What man of you] Our Lord spoke this and the following

parable to justify his conduct in receiving and conversing with

sinners or heathens.

A hundred sheep] Parables similar to this are frequent among the

Jewish writers. The whole flock of mankind, both Jews and

Gentiles, belongs unto this Divine Shepherd; and it is but

reasonable to expect, that the gracious proprietor will look after

those who have gone astray, and bring them back to the flock. The

lost sheep is an emblem of a heedless, thoughtless sinner: one

who follows the corrupt dictates of his own heart, without ever

reflecting upon his conduct, or considering what will be the issue

of his unholy course of life. No creature strays more easily than

a sheep; none is more heedless; and none so incapable of finding

its way back to the flock, when once gone astray: it will bleat

for the flock, and still run on in an opposite direction to the

place where the flock is: this I have often noticed. No creature

is more defenceless than a sheep, and more exposed to be devoured

by dogs and wild beasts. Even the fowls of the air seek their

destruction. I have known ravens often attempt to destroy lambs by

picking out their eyes, in which, when they have succeeded, as the

creature does not see whither it is going, it soon falls an easy

prey to its destroyer. Satan is ever going about as a roaring lion

seeking whom he may devour; in order to succeed, he blinds the

understanding of sinners, and then finds it an easy matter to

tumble them into the pit of perdition. Who but a Pharisee or a

devil would find fault with the shepherd who endeavours to

rescue his sheep from so much danger and ruin!

Verse 7. Just persons, which need no repentance.] Who do not

require such a change of mind and purpose as these do-who are

not so profligate, and cannot repent of sins they have never

committed. Distinctions of this kind frequently occur in the

Jewish writings. There are many persons who have been brought up

in a sober and regular course of life, attending the ordinances of

God, and being true and just in all their dealings; these most

materially differ from the heathens mentioned, Lu 15:1, because

they believe in God, and attend the means of grace: they differ

also essentially from the tax-gatherers mentioned in the same

place, because they wrong no man, and are upright in their

dealings. Therefore they cannot repent of the sins of a heathen,

which they have not practised; nor of the rapine of a

tax-gatherer, of which they have never been guilty. As,

therefore, these just persons are put in opposition to the

tax-gatherers and heathens, we may at once see the scope and

design of our Lord's words: these needed no repentance in

comparison of the others, as not being guilty of their crimes. And

as these belonged, by outward profession at least, to the flock of

God, and were sincere and upright according to their light, they

are considered as being in no danger of being lost; and at they

fear God, and work righteousness according to their light, he will

take care to make those farther discoveries to them, of the purity

of his nature, the holiness of his law, and the necessity of the

atonement, which he sees to be necessary. See the case of

Cornelius, Ac 10:1, &c. On this ground, the owner is

represented as feeling more joy in consequence of finding one

sheep that was lost, there having been almost no hope of its

recovery, than he feels at seeing ninety and nine still safe under

his care. "Men generally rejoice more over a small unexpected

advantage, than over a much greater good to which they have been

accustomed." There are some, and their opinion need not be hastily

rejected, who imagine that by the ninety and nine just persons,

our Lord means the angels-that they are in proportion to men, as

ninety-nine are to one, and that the Lord takes more pleasure in

the return and salvation of one sinner, than in the uninterrupted

obedience of ninety-nine holy angels; and that it was through his

superior love to fallen man that he took upon him his nature, and

not the nature of angels. I have met with the following weak

objection to this: viz. "The text says just persons; now, angels

are not persons, therefore angels cannot be meant." This is

extremely foolish; there may be the person of an angel, as well as

of a man; we allow persons even in the Godhead; besides, the

original word, δικαιοις, means simply just ones, and may be, with

as much propriety, applied to angels as to men. After all, our

Lord may refer to the Essenes, a sect among the Jews, in the time

of our Lord, who were strictly and conscientiously moral; living

at the utmost distance from both the hypocrisy and pollutions of

their countrymen. These, when compared with the great mass of the

Jews, needed no repentance. The reader may take his choice of

these interpretations, or make a better for himself. I have seen

other methods of explaining these words; but they have appeared to

me either too absurd or too improbable to merit particular notice.

Verse 8. Ten pieces of silver] δραχμαςδεκα, ten drachmas. I

think it always best to retain the names of these ancient coins,

and to state their value in English money. Every reader will

naturally wish to know by what names such and such coins were

called in the countries in which they were current. The Grecian

drachma was worth about sevenpence three farthings of our money;

being about the same value as the Roman denarius.

The drachma that was lost is also a very expressive emblem of a

sinner who is estranged from God, and enslaved to habits of

iniquity. The longer a piece of money is lost, the less

probability is there of its being again found; as it may not only

lose its colour, and not be easily observed, but will continue to

be more and more covered with dust and dirt: or its value

may be vastly lessened by being so trampled on that a part of the

substance, together with the image and superscription, may be

worn off. So the sinner sinks deeper and deeper into the

impurities of sin, loses even his character among men, and gets

the image and superscription of his Maker defaced from his heart.

He who wishes to find the image of God, which he has lost by sin,

must attend to that word which will be a lantern to his steps, and

receive that Spirit which is a light to the soul, to convince of

sin, righteousness, and judgment. He must sweep the house-put away

the evil of his doings; and seek diligently-use every means of

grace, and cry incessantly to God, till he restore to him the

light of his countenance. Though parables of this kind must not be

obliged to go on all fours, as it is termed; yet they afford many

useful hints to preachers of the Gospel, by which they may edify

their hearers. Only let all such take care not to force meanings

on the words of Christ which are contrary to their gravity and

majesty.

Verse 12. Give me the portion of goods] It may seem strange that

such a demand should be made, and that the parent should have

acceded to it, when he knew that it was to minister to his

debauches that his profligate son made the demand here specified.

But the matter will appear plain, when it is considered, that it

has been an immemorial custom in the east for sons to demand and

receive their portion of the inheritance during their father's

lifetime; and the parent, however aware of the dissipated

inclinations of the child, could not legally refuse to comply with

the application. It appears indeed that the spirit of this law was

to provide for the child in case of ill treatment by the father:

yet the demand must first be acceded to, before the matter could

be legally inquired into; and then, "if it was found that the

father was irreproachable in his character, and had given no just

cause for the son to separate from him, in that case, the civil

magistrate fined the son in two hundred puns of cowries." See Code

of Gentoo laws, pr. disc. p. 56; see also do. chap. 2: sec. 9, p.

81, 82; xxi. sec. 10, p. 301.

Verse 13. Not many days after] He probably hastened his

departure for fear of the fine which he must have paid, and the

reproach to which he must have been subjected, had the matter come

before the civil magistrate. See above.

Riotous living.] ζωνασωτως, in a course of life that led him to

spend all: from α not, and σωω I save. And this we are

informed, Lu 15:30, was among

harlots; the readiest way in the world to exhaust the body,

debase the mind, ruin the soul, and destroy the substance.

Verse 14. A mighty famine in that land] As he was of a

profligate turn of mind himself, it is likely he sought out a

place where riot and excess were the ruling characteristics of the

inhabitants; and, as poverty is the sure consequence of

prodigality, it is no wonder that famine preyed on the whole

country.

Verse 15. To feed swine.] The basest and vilest of all

employments; and, to a Jew, peculiarly degrading. Shame, contempt,

and distress are wedded to sin, and can never be divorced. No

character could be meaner in the sight of a Jew than that of a

swineherd: and Herodotus informs us, that in Egypt they were not

permitted to mingle with civil society, nor to appear in the

worship of the gods, nor would the very dregs of the people have

any matrimonial connections with them. HEROD. lib. ii. cap. 47.

Verse 16. With the husks] κερατιων. Bochart, I think, has

proved that κερατια does not mean husks: to signify which the

Greek botanical writers use the word λοβοι; several examples of

which he gives from Theophrastus. He shows, also, that the

original word means the fruit of the ceratonia or charub tree,

which grows plentifully in Syria. This kind of pulse, Columella

observes, was made use of to feed swine. See BOCHART, Hieroz. lib.

ii. cap. lvi. col. 707-10.

Verse 17. When he came to himself] A state of sin is represented

in the sacred writings as a course of folly and madness; and

repentance is represented as a restoration to sound sense. See

this fully explained on Mt 3:2.

I perish with hunger!] Or, I perish HERE. ωδε, here, is

added by BDL, Syriac, all the Arabic and Persic, Coptic,

AEthiopic, Gothic, Saxon, Vulgate, all the Itala, and several of

the fathers.

Verse 18. Against heaven] ειςτονουρανον; that is, against God.

The Jews often make use of this periphrasis in order to avoid

mentioning the name of God, which they have ever treated with the

utmost reverence. But some contend that it should be translated,

even unto heaven; a Hebraism for, I have sinned

exceedingly-beyond all description.

Verse 20. And kissed him.] Or, kissed him again and again; the

proper import of καταεφιλησεναυτον. The father thus showed his

great tenderness towards him, and his great affection for him.

Verse 21. Make me as one of thy hired servants, is added here by

several MSS. and versions; but it is evident this has been added,

merely to make his conduct agree with his resolution, Lu 15:19.

But by this a very great beauty is lost: for the design of the

inspired penman is to show, not merely the depth of the profligate

son's repentance, and the sincerity of his conversion, but to

show the great affection of the father, and his readiness to

forgive his disobedient son. His tenderness of heart cannot wait

till the son has made his confession; his bowels yearn over him,

and he cuts short his tale of contrition and self-reproach, by

giving him the most plenary assurances of his pardoning love.

Verse 22. Bring forth the best robe] Bring out that chief

garment, τηνστοληντηνπρωτην, the garment which was laid by, to

be used only on birth-days or festival times. Such as that which

Rebecca had laid by for Esau, and which she put on Jacob when she

made him personate his brother. See Clarke on Ge 27:15.

Put a ring on his hand] Giving a ring was in ancient times a

mark of honour and dignity. See Ge 41:42; 1Ki 21:8;

Es 8:2; Da 6:17; Jas 2:2.

Shoes on his feet] Formerly those who were captivated had their

shoes taken off, Isa 20:1; and when they were restored to liberty

their shoes were restored. See 2Ch 28:15. In

Bengal, shoes of a superior quality make one of the

distinguishing parts of a person's dress. Some of them cost as

much as a hundred rupees a pair; �10 or �12. Reference is perhaps

made here to some such costly shoes. It is the same among the

Chinese: some very costly shoes and boots of that people are now

before me.

Verse 23. The fatted calf, and kill it] θυσατε, Sacrifice it.

In ancient times the animals provided for public feasts were first

sacrificed to God. The blood of the beast being poured out before

God, by way of atonement for sin, the flesh was considered as

consecrated, and the guests were considered as feeding on Divine

food. This custom is observed among the Asiatics to this day.

Verse 24. Was dead] Lost to all good-given up to all evil. In

this figurative sense the word is used by the best Greek writers.

See many examples in Kypke.

Verse 25. His elder son] Meaning probably persons of a regular

moral life, who needed no repentance in comparison of the prodigal

already described.

In the field] Attending the concerns of the farm.

He heard music] συμφωνιας, a number of sounds mingled

together, as in a concert.

Dancing.] χορων. But Le Clerc denies that the word means dancing

at all, as it properly means a choir of singers. The symphony

mentioned before may mean the musical instruments which

accompanied. the choirs of singers.

Verse 28. He was angry] This refers to the indignation of the

scribes and Pharisees, mentioned Lu 15:1, 2. In every point of

view, the anger of the older son was improper and unreasonable. He

had already received his part of the inheritance, see Lu 15:12,

and his profligate brother had received no more than what was his

just dividend. Besides, what the father had acquired since that

division he had a right to dispose of as he pleased, even to give

it all to one son; nor did the ancient customs of the Asiatic

countries permit the other children to claim any share in such

property thus disposed of. The following is an institute of the

GENTOO law on this subject: (CODE, chap. ii. sect. 9, p. 79:) "If

a father gives, by his own choice, land, houses, orchards, and the

earning of his own industry, to one of his sons, the other sons

shall not receive any share of it." Besides, whatever property the

father had acquired after the above division, the son or sons, as

the prodigal in the text, could have no claim at all on, according

to another institute in the above Asiatic laws, see chap. ii.

sect. ii. p. 85, but the father might divide it among those who

remained with him: therefore is it said in the text, "Son, thou

art ALWAYS with me, and ALL that I have is THINE," Lu 15:31.

Verse 29. Never-a kid] It is evident from Lu 15:12, that the

father gave him his portion when his profligate brother claimed

his; for he divided his whole substance between them. And though

he had not claimed it, so as to separate from, and live

independently of, his father, yet he might have done so whenever

he chose; and therefore his complaining was both undutiful and

unjust.

Verse 30. This thy son] THIS son of THINE-words expressive of

supreme contempt: THIS son-he would not condescend to call him by

his name, or to acknowledge him for his brother; and at the same

time, bitterly reproaches his amiable father for his affectionate

tenderness, and readiness to receive his once undutiful, but now

penitent, child!

For HIM] I have marked those words in small capitals which

should be strongly accented in the pronunciation: this last word

shows how supremely he despised his poor unfortunate brother.

Verse 31. All that I have is thine.] See Clarke on Lu 15:28.

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., Lu 15:13. 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., Lu 15:14. 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-εκολληθη, he cemented, closely

united himself, and fervently cleaved to a citizen of that

country, Lu 15:15.

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,

Lu 15:16. The pleasures of sense and appetite are the

pleasures of swine, and to such creatures is he resembled who has

frequent recourse to them, 2Pe 2:22.

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, Lu 15:17.

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., Lu 15:18.

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, Lu 15:19.

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., Lu 15:20.

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, Lu 15:20.

The eighth is, his being clothed with holiness, united to God,

married as it were to Christ Jesus, 2Co 11:2, and having his

feet shod with the shoes of the preparation of the Gospel of

peace, Eph 6:15, 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., Lu 15:22.

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 Lu 15:10.

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, Lu 15:24. The tender-hearted

father repeats these words at Lu 15:32, 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, Lu 15:20, 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 fulness of time, both Jews and

Gentiles may become one fold, under one Shepherd and Bishop of all

souls.

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