We have read this chapter together many times; possibly some of us have read it hundreds of times; yet whenever we read it, we always find something fresh in it. It is ever bright and sparkling, full of diamonds and other precious gems of truth.
Luke 15:1-3. Then drew near unto him and the publicans and sinner, for to hear him, and the Pharisees, and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. And he spake this parable unto them,
The deepest feelings of our Saviour’s heart seem to have been brought out by the two classes of persons here mentioned, his pity and compassion towards the sinful, and his righteous anger at the perpetual objections of the hypocritical Pharisees and scribes. The one class caused his heart to overflow with love, the other excited his burning indignation, yet, even then, his soul was moved with pity and tenderness toward the wandering and erring. We ought to be grateful to the Pharisees for having led our Lord to utter the three wondering parables which we are about to read. Luke says, “He spake this parable unto them,” implying that the three are really one, a picture in three panels. The whole plan of salvation is not to be found in either of the parables by itself, but in all three combined. Some points omitted in any one of them will be found in one of the others. “He spake this parable unto them, saying,” —
Luke 15:3-7. Saying, what man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing: And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friend and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for have found my sheep which was lost. I say into you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.
The shepherd had an extraordinary joy in his flock through the wandering and recovery of that one sheep. If they had all kept in the fold, and none of them had strayed away, he would have been glad, but there would have been a sort of tameness and sameness about his constant satisfaction with them; but that wandering sheep stirred up other emotions in his heart, and when he had found it, he experienced a new joy, a higher joy than he would otherwise have known. So, though sin is a great evil, yet it has been overruled by God in such a way as to introduce a new joy into the universe. Songs of praise, that would never have made the angels’ harps to ring, are now heard in Paradise. There would never have been any repentance if there had never been any sin, and the love of the great and good Shepherd towards wandering sheep would never have been revealed if no sheep had ever wandered from the fold. I suppose it was some such feeling as this that caused Augustine somewhat rashly to exclaim, concerning the fall, “O beata culpa!” — O happy fault, which has thus made manifest the abounding mercy of God! Looked at in one aspect all sin is an unutterable calamity; but as it has had the effect of displaying still more of the matchless mercy of God in the person of Jesus Christ, we see how God brings forth good out of evil. The chief point of the parable is the shepherd’s joy derived from the finding of the lost sheep. Our Saviour needed no other reason for looking after publicans and sinners than the fact that he would get far more joy out of them than he would out of the Pharisees and scribes, even if they were what they professed to be, “just persons, which need no repentance.” This first panel of the picture specially sets forth the work of the Son of God. Why was not the Father’s work put first, as the Trinity is “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost”? Why is it also that, in the Benediction, Paul writes, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost be with you all.” Why, because the love of Christ is the first thing that the sinner apprehends. Our first Christian experience is not, as a rule, a knowledge of the Holy Spirit or the Father; but, to our consciousness, it is Jesus Christ who is first revealed to us. I think it is for this reason that the work of the Son of God is here first set forth.
Luke 15:8-10. Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.
As I have already said concerning the lost sheep, there was a new joy over the recovery of the lost silver. The woman always rejoiced over the pieces of silver, but that one particular piece had been the cause of new joy, the joy which is experienced whenever the sorrow of loss is outweighed by the joy of finding again that which was lost. Is this woman intended to represent the Church of Christ, and is she thus set before us because the Church is the great agent under the control of the Divine Spirit, in seeking the lost, carrying the lighted candle of the Word, sweeping with the besom of earnest, faithful preaching, applying the law of the Lord to the conscience of man, and turning everything upside down until, at last, the lost piece of silver is found? If so, this second panel of the picture sets forth the work of the Holy Spirit as wrought through the Church of Christ.
Luke 15:11-13. And he said, A certain man had two sons and the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after —
For sin is very rapid in its development, and sinners are often in great haste to get away from God. The young man’s heart was wrong already, or he would not have wanted to be his own master. He was already away in the far country so far as his heart was concerned, and it was not long before his body followed: “Not many days after” —
Luke 15:13-15. The younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.
Probably, that was the best thing he could do for him; and, usually, when the world does the best it can for a sinner, it sets him feeding swine. It was the most degrading employment to which a Hebrew could be put; and, in like manner, sin, before it is finished, bringeth forth degradation on the way to bringing forth death.
Luke 15:16. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.
“He would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat,” but he could not, for he was a man, and not one of the swine. Worldlings are happy in their own poor way, and I, for one, never grudge them their husks. One never craves the wash that is given to the pigs, we let them have their trough as full as they please, and never want so much as a taste of it; so, when sinners are full of worldly joys, we may not envy them, and we may scarcely blame them. Let the swine have their husks. Once, we too would fain have filled our belly with them; and if we did not, it was not because we would not, but because we could not.
Luke 15:17. And when he came to himself, —
For sin is insanity. He was out of his mind while he was acting so foolishly:
“When he came to himself,”
Luke 15:17-19. He said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
It was the knowledge that there was plenty in his father’s house that led him back; and you may depend upon it that the preaching of full salvation rich in blessing, is a strong inducement to a sinner to cry, “I will arise and go to my Father.” This prodigal son might never have gone back if his father had kept a miserly house with a scanty table; but he knew that even the servants in the kitchen had “bread enough and to spare,” his father never stinted them, they had what they needed, and there was always more than they could eat, so there was no need for his son to “perish with hunger.” In like manner, the extraordinary bounty of God in Christ Jesus the richness of his free redemption is, I doubt not, the means of bringing many a starving soul to Christ. The prodigal said that the servants had “bread enough and to spare.” There are some who seem to think that, in Christ, there is only just bread enough, but we believe that the largest possible idea of the value of his redemption may be indulged, and, often-times, the thought that first enters the sinner’s ear and heart is that there is “bread enough and to spare, so why should not he have some of the spare bread, at any rate? That was the way that the prodigal argued; he felt sure that his father could feed another hired servant, so he resolved that he would ask to be engaged in that capacity; yet you know that he never did ask that, his father stopped him before he could make that request.
Luke 15:20. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him,
Perhaps, before he saw his father: “his father saw him,”
Luke 15:20. And had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
Matthew Henry’s comment on this verse is excellent: “’His father saw him.’ Here were eyes of mercy. ‘And had compassion.’ Here were bowels of mercy. ‘And ran.’ Here were feet of mercy. ‘And fell on his neck.’ Here were arms of mercy. ‘And kissed him.’ Here were lips of mercy.” It was all mercy from first to last.
Luke 15:21. And the son said unto him,
The father kissed his son before he had time to say anything; and divine compassion is swifter even than our prayers.
Luke 15:21-22. Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him;
He did not let him finish his prayer with the request that he might be taken on as a hired servant; that part which was legal he stopped with a kiss on his mouth, and then he said to his servants, “Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him;”
Luke 15:22-24. And put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.
This, again, was a new joy in that family circle. There was joy when the elder brother was born, and joy when the younger son came into the household; but this joy over his return was one that they never would have known if he had not gone away. So, there is joy to be got even out of sinners. Christ’s object was to show that, bad as the publicans and other gross sinners were, and despised as they were by the Pharisees and scribes, yet there was joy to be got out of them. By their salvation, the very heart of the great Father is rejoiced.
Luke 15:25. Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing.
The elder brother in our day says, “I do not believe in these revival services. I like regular, orderly proceedings, and I do not approve of these crowds of people coming to hear the Word under such undue excitement as is sure to result.” That elder brother thought he knew a great many things. He did not get carried away by excitement, as other people did, he was too old for that, he was a man of very proper habits, and he liked everything done in a cold orthodox style.
Luke 15:26. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.
“What are you all at? Have you gone out of your minds? Why are you all dancing? Who is to pay for that music? You had better have been along with me out in the fields at work. What is the meaning of all this merriment?”
Luke 15:27. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come: and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.
These servants spoke as some of us have told to others what the Lord has done when souls have been saved, the unregenerate quickened, and those that were far off from God, by wicked works, have come back to him. We have told it all out, in the simplicity of our hearts, and have been so glad to tell the good tidings that we felt as if we could keep on dancing to the music while we were telling the story.
Luke 15:28. And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and entreated him.
I never know which to admire the more, — the love of the father in going to meet the returning prodigal, or in going out to talk with this cold-hearted elder brother. He was a son, but he had not the true spirit of his father, he had fallen into a very wrong state of mind, just like certain Christians that I know, who have always been very proper, and who have little sympathy with those who have been great sinners. They seem as if they do not want to see such people as these brought to the Saviour. “Why!” they exclaim, “there are girls from the street, and men that have been burglars, and all sorts of rabble being brought into the church.” I have heard such remarks, and I have seen the same sort of spirit displayed in the looks of others who have not liked to say what they thought. Yet they themselves were no better than others by nature, though grace has done much in restraining them from the sin into which others have fallen; and it was wrong for them to talk as if they were sheer legalists, as this Pharisaic elder brother did.
Luke 15:29. And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:
A Christian of this stamp seems to say to the Lord, “I have been thy child all these years, yet I am still full of doubts and fears. I have none of the high joys that I see these other people have. ‘Thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends.’ I am chastened every morning, and I go sighing all the day long. I seem to get but little comfort; yet here are these young folk, who have not been saved a week, and they seem to be full of assurance, and they are as happy as ever they can be. Surely, they cannot belong to the tried family of God; how can they be sincere with all that music and dancing? I cannot endure it, for I never had such an experience.”
Luke 15:30-31. But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.
Think of that, you who are the Lord’s people, but who have fallen into a grumbling state of heart. Are you not ever with your Lord, and is not all that he has yours? If you have never had a kid to make merry with your friends, whose fault is that? Your Father never denied it to you. All in his house is yours, so take the good that he provides for you, and rejoice over it, for then you will be in a fit state to go to meet your poor returning prodigal brother, and to welcome him with a smiling face and a gladsome heart.
Luke 15:32. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost and is found.
After that reply, there was nothing more that could be said, even by the grumbling elder brother.
Luke 15:11-13. And he said, A certain man had two sons: And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.
It was an act of ingratitude to leave his father at all, an act of extreme folly to turn his father’s goods to ill-account.
Luke 15:14. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.
And the sinner’s greatest all will be spent one day; the pleasures of sin are but for a season; the strongest sinew in an arm of flesh will one day crack; the flowers that grow in man’s garden will one day fade; man may think he has an eternity of pleasure before him, but if he is looking to the flesh for it, it shall be but for an hour.
Luke 15:15. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; And he sent him into his fields to feed swine.
At the very best the comforts of this world are ignominious to a man; they degrade him; as it was a very degrading employment for a Jew to feed swine so the comfort the world can give to a man does but degrade his noble spirit.
Luke 15:16. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat and no man gave unto him.
The prodigal cannot be brought any lower; he is made to herd with the swine, and he envies even them, because they are satisfied with the husks; he cannot eat of the same, and, therefore, he envies even the brutes. Surely, when a sinner becomes fully convinced of sin, he may well envy even the sparrows or the serpents because they have not sinned.
Luke 15:17-20. And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him.
Remember Matthew Henry’s paraphrase — here were eyes of mercy.
Luke 15:20. And had compassion,
Here was a heart of mercy
Luke 15:20. And ran,
Here were legs of mercy.
Luke 15:20. And fell on his neck,
Here were deeds of mercy.
Luke 15:20. And kissed him.
And here were lips of mercy.
Luke 15:21-22. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants,
Here were words of mercy, wonders of mercy, and, indeed, it is all mercy throughout.
Luke 15:22-25. Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. Now his elder son was in the field:
That is where these over-good elder sons always are; they are out at work, they are not at home in communion with God; they are in the field. Do not ask who the elder brother was; he is here tonight there is many an envious moralist ay, and an envious professor, too, who feels it hard that profligate offenders should be pardoned.
Luke 15:25-27. And as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. And he was angry,
He did not want the fatted calf killed, if this reprobate brother were allowed to come in at the back door, and to eat with the servants, he thought that quite good enough, but for this rebel to be put upon an equality with himself — he could not bear that!
Luke 15:28. And would not go in: therefore came his father out, and entreated him.
See the tenderness of this father; the same arms which embraced the sinning one were also ready to clasp the self-righteous one. I always feel great pity and great admiration for this dear, dear father. What with a bad son and a good son he had two bad sons, for this good son, you see, had got in a pet just as I have seen some real Christians get into a very un-Christian frame of mind. Well, they do not like somehow receiving into their company the women that have gone astray — the men that have lost their reputation. He was angry, and would not go in, and now his father crowned his love. He ran to meet one son and now he comes out to reason with another who is unnaturally and ungraciously angry with his father.
Luke 15:29. And he answering said, to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:
I know the brother. He says, “I have been a consistent Christian: I have been diligent in the service of God: I have abounded in prayer, and yet all the day long have I been plagued and chastened every morning. I do not get much joy: I have such a sight and sense of temptation and sin that I am generally low spirited. I seldom get a drop of full assurance. I never get a kid given me, that I might make merry with my friends. Those who are under the law never do make merry. You never knew a man yet that was trying to save himself by keeping the commandments of God that could dare to make merry. No, they have to draw long faces, and well they may, for they have a long task before them; they put on a garb of sadness, being of a sad countenance, as the hypocrites are.
Luke 15:30-32 But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.
And so, dear friends, there is more joy over the prodigal when he returns than over the man who thinks he never has been astray.
Most of us recognize the beauty of this parable as it concerns the prodigal, and his boundless forgiveness by the father, but few of us probably have seen how the elder brother has his portrait painted also by our Lord, and how he sets forth the self-righteous professor who hates to have prodigals made much of.
Luke 15:25. Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing.
This was the better one of the two. I have heard him often greatly blamed, and so he deserves to be; but, for all that, he was a true son. He was not at home. He was out at work. There are some Christians that are all for work, and never seem to have any fellowship and communion. They are always active, but they are not always contemplative. He was in the field.
Luke 15:26. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.
He was a gloomy spirit, good, solid, regular, constant, but not very joyful. He took things rather severely, so he did not understand what this amusement could mean. “Some of the Salvation Army got in here,” he said, “some of those boisterous Methodist people got her, and I do not like it. I am more regular than that. I do not like these rows and uproars. He asked of the servant what these things meant.
Luke 15:27-28. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come: and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound, And he was angry, and would not go in:
No, I dare say he was glad his brother was back, but he did not like such a fuss made over him, glad to see a wandering one restored, but why, why, why should there be all this extravagance of joy concerning this wandering young fellow, who had been no better than he should be? Why all this delight? And there are some kinds of Christians who always feel that when there is a sinner introduced into the church, “Well, I hope that it will turn out a genuine case,” and always that is the first thought. They are afraid that it cannot be. They have never sinned in that way, They have been kept, by the grace of God, from outward transgression, and they are half afraid to hear of these outrageous sinners being brought in, and so much joy made over them. “He was angry, and would not go in.”
Luke 15:28. Therefore came his father out, and entreated him.
He was worth fetching in. There was a good deal of solid worth in his character, and his father kindly came to ask him to come in and share the joy.
Luke 15:29. And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee
You may read it “slave for thee.”
Luke 15:29. neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:
Here have I been constant in the house of prayer, regular at my Sunday School class, and yet I get little or no joy of it. I go on just in the regular path of duty but I have no music and dancing. I have a great many doubts and fears, very little exhilaration, very little delight.
Luke 15:30. But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.
He has been a great sinner, and he is newly converted, and he has got all the joy. He has been running anyhow, and yet he is full of assurance full of delight, full of confidence. How can this be? I am a staid Christian having but slight joy, and he is but newly converted, and confident and full of delight. Thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. Even one of the little kid goats thou hast not give me. Thou has given him the fatted calf.
Luke 15:31. And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.
Why did not this son wake up to his privileges? Instead of not having a kid, he might have had whatever he liked. “All that I have is thine.” He had been put into such a position as that, instead of being badly treated, as he, perhaps, would half accuse his father of treating him. “Son, thou art ever with me; thou livest at my table. My house is thy house. I love thee and delight in thee. All that I have is thine.”
Luke 15:32. It was meet
It was right, it was proper, it Was fitting —
Luke 15:32. That we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother.
“You call him my son, but he is your brother, and I remind you of it — this thy brother.”
Luke 15:32. Was dead, and is alive again: and was lost, and is found.
So if there be any here that do not take the joy which they ought in the conversion of great sinners, let them hear the gentle persuasive voice of God. You, as believers, have everything. Christ is yours. Heaven is yours. You are always with God, and all that he has belongs to you. But it is proper and fit that, when a sinner returns from the error of his ways, they should ring the bells of heaven and make a fuss over him, for he was dead and is alive again. I hope that you and I will never catch the spirit of the elder brother. Yet I remember that Krummacher says that he found that same spirit in himself sometimes. There was a man in the village where Krummacher lived, who was a great drunkard and everything that was bad; and on a sudden he came into a very large sum of money and became a wealthy man. Krummacher felt, “Well, this hardly looks like the right thing — so many good, honest, hard-working people in the parish still remaining poor, and this worthless man has suddenly become wealthy and well-to-do.” It seemed a strange way in the order of providence. Oh! we ought to rejoice and be glad when another person prospers, and wish that his prosperity may be blessed to him. I remember a minister years ago, when first Mr. Moody came, saying that he did not believe that Mr. Moody was sent of God “because,” said he, “I find that many of the people who are converted under him never went to a place of worship before. It is only the riff-raff that are brought in.” There is a nasty elder brother spirit. The riff-raff were just the people that we wanted to bring in, and if they had never been to a place of worship before, it was time that they should go. It was a mercy that they were brought in. Oh! instead of ever sniffing at sinners as if we were better than they, let us welcome them with all our heart and praise the heavenly Father that he so lovingly takes them in.