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—MAY 3.—LUKE 15:11-32.—
RESPECTING the parable of the Prodigal Son the following comments have been made: "One of the masterpieces of the Great Teacher."—David Gregg, D.D. "This has been fitly called the crown and pearl of all the parables—the Gospel within the Gospel!"—D. S. Clark, D.D. "Its beauty and its pathos are unequaled in the realm of fiction."—R. H. McKim, D.D. "It is more like a complete allegory than any other of our Lord's parables."—New Century Bible. "No other parable has touched so many hearts."—W. E. Burton, D.D.
The setting of the parable shows the Master's object in giving it. He was seeking in this parable, as in those considered a year ago last fall, to show the Pharisees that their position respecting the publicans and sinners [R5435 : page 106] was wrong. He here pointed out that their wrong attitude toward the common people was likely to cost them their own share in the Kingdom.
In the parable the father who had two sons evidently represents Jehovah God. The two sons here represented the two general classes into which the Jewish nation divided itself. The elder son represented those who sat in Moses' seat, and who remained loyal to God in their outward profession, at least, and in their endeavors outwardly to keep His Law. The younger son represented the common people, not so religiously strict as to their ideals. This class, the younger son, misused their privileges and opportunities as members of the nation of Israel, as beneficiaries of the Divine promises. They wasted their opportunities in self-gratification. They were known to others, and acknowledged by themselves, as publicans and sinners—not attempting to live godly lives.
This younger-son class of publicans and sinners felt their degradation, just as described in the parable. They were spiritually hungry. They were ragged. They felt a longing to be back in the Father's House, yet they hesitated to go back. It was just such characters that Jesus especially encouraged, saying, "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden; and I will give you rest." [R5435 : page 107] Jesus represented the Father's House, and prompted the younger-son class of the Jews to have confidence that the Father would receive them when they had come to Him penitently.
The parable tells us that some of this class, repentant, came back to God and were abundantly pardoned. And not only were they pardoned, but because of their penitence they were granted special manifestations of God's favor. Recurring to the parable, all this was illustrated by the prodigal's feeling his hunger and wretchedness and saying, I will return to my father's house. And while he was yet a great way off, the father saw him, ran to him, embraced him, had compassion on him and kissed him. And the prodigal said, "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; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring hither the fatted calf and kill it. Let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.
How grandly this illustrates to us the Love of God—its lengths and breadths and heights and depths! The best robe and the other attentions given to the repentant one well illustrate the provision God has made for all who return to Him from the ways of sin. The robe and all the blessings are provided through Christ—covering for all the imperfections of the fallen nature. The fatted calf well represents the "feast of fat things" which God has provided for the penitent class.—Isaiah 25:6-8.
Making a particular application of the parable, we might say that the time when the Father accepted the prodigal, kissed him and put upon him the robe of Christ's righteousness, provided in His sacrifice and freely granted to all who during this Age come unto the Father through Him, was at Pentecost. The feast and merrymaking may well represent the blessed promises of God, which become applicable to those who are covered by the robe of Christ's righteousness and accepted into God's family by the begetting of the Holy Spirit.
This is the Marriage Feast represented in another of our Lord's parables. (Matthew 22:2-14.) The elder brother of our lesson was indeed bidden, but refused. He would not go in. He was jealous that the father should receive the young spendthrift. This jealous spirit on the part of the Pharisees apparently kept many of them from appreciating the gift of God in Christ. Just as shown in the parables, they refused to enter in.
The parable represents the father as entreating the elder son to come in and join in the feast, rejoicing in the reclamation of his brother; but he was angry and declined. Likewise the elder-brother class of Jews did not show the right spirit for those for whom the kingly privileges were intended, all of whom must be meek, loving, copies of God's dear Son in their generous good will toward all who desire to come to the Father.
The refusal of the elder brother to participate in the festivities reminds us of another of the Lord's parables respecting the Marriage Feast. (Luke 14:15-24.) Those who were originally bidden appreciated not; one went to his farm and another to his merchandise. They dishonored the host who had invited them to his banquet. Then the servants were sent out into the streets and lanes to gather any who desired to come, and afterward they were sent to invite all everywhere who desired to share the feast; and finally the full number foreordained to be of this class was found.
While the parable of our lesson illustrated the two classes of Jews, the principles set forth in it are more generally applicable. For instance, there are noble characters in the world who love to do right—people who are well-born, and well-environed after birth, and who apparently should be the very first ones who would be chosen of God to be the joint-heirs with His Son in the great Kingdom that is to bless mankind in general. Nevertheless, the Scriptures make clear that not many of this kind may be expected to be of the Kingdom class—not that God is unwilling to have them because of their education, wealth and good morals, but that these very qualities make them less ready to accept the terms.
All are sinners, whether they know it or not. All should be honest enough to confess the fact; and God requires this very honesty, this very confession of our need, before the merit of Christ can be imputed to us as covering our blemishes. This better class, represented in the elder brother, seem to feel that in contrast with the lower strata of society they are perfection itself, and that God would be sure to desire them. His declaration, however, is that not many great, not many noble, not many learned, not many wise, are being chosen, but chiefly the mean things of this world, rich in faith, to be heirs of the Kingdom.
God evidently wishes to have a class honest enough to acknowledge their own imperfections and their own unworthiness of His favors. So doing, He will bless them with a knowledge of themselves and of His righteousness; whereas others, self-satisfied and unwilling to accept the grace of God in Christ or to confess their need of any covering for their blemishes, are not humble enough to be of the class that the Lord desires for the great work of glory by and by.
Thus it comes about that the majority who accept God's favor and become His children are from the younger-brother class—that described by the Apostles—not many rich, not many noble, not many learned, and not many wise, but chiefly the poor of this world, rich in faith. These have the ear to hear the invitation, "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden; and I will give you rest." These have the hearts to respond to this invitation. They realize their wretched condition and their need of help, while frequently the others who have lived more open lives do not recognize their need of forgiveness and help.
Perhaps no other parable has been so helpful to the poor and needy, the sinful and the weak who have a desire to return from the ways of sin and to be received back into the family of God. They see their own picture in this parable, and are encouraged by its representing the Father as willing to receive them. It is quite contrary to the thought generally entertained by sinners. The Heavenly Father's character has been so misrepresented to them by the creeds of the Dark Ages that they fear Him and expect no kind reception from Him. As the proper thought of God's character reaches the poor and the depraved, they receive a suggestion of hope from this parable and other Scriptures. This hope leads and assists many of them to a full return and a full surrender to the God of all grace.
The prodigal is represented as coming to himself, as awakening to a realization of his dire necessities, as coming to a knowledge of the fact that his father has an abundance, and probably will be willing to let him have a share of the blessing which he no longer merits. His expression, "I will arise and go to my father," represents [R5435 : page 108] what should be the attitude of all repentant ones—the attitude which all Christian people should help them to attain—reliance upon the love and mercy of the Heavenly Father and the provision which He has made in Christ Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins and for their reception again to His love and care, for their return to the fold and to harmony with the one from whom all blessings flow.