State Road, Del., November 1886
Dear Bro. Respess: – I saw a request some time ago in the MESSENGER for an exposition of the parable of the “two sons,” The request was to the editor, but as they have not answered it, except by a few sentences at the time, I feel willing to offer some remarks upon it. I have some other subjects upon my mind, but this may prove as profitable as any other.
The parable is recorded in the xvth chapter of Luke, in connection with other parables bearing upon the same subject, which together, make up the whole chapter. Two others precede the parable of the sons. So this one, of the father and his two sons, appears to be a kind of culmination of the lessons designed to be taught. A man with a flock of sheep: has lost one out of his flock. A woman with a number of pieces of silver has lost one of them. Finally, a man with but two sons has lost one of them. The force of the argument would have been irresistible, and could not have been gainsaid in either one of the preceding: parables. But this is the method of inspiration. Two immutable things are still further confirmed.
The scribes and Pharisees murmured because Jesus received sinners into his favor. These sinners were not Gentiles, or heathens, but children of the stock of Abraham. And they were sinners only according to the Pharisees” standard, is that they had not observed alt .the precepts of the ceremonial law. The Pharisees had been very zealous, not only to observe all those things, but even more than was required. And they had given alms, and said their prayers, and paid their tithes, until they had become so pure and holy that a sinner must not touch them, or presume to sit at table with them, lest they contract some impurity from the touch. We would suppose, even upon their Own principles, that their zeal would have gone out in behalf of their erring brethren, and that they would have lauded and encouraged every effort to reclaim them. Not so. They have monopolized all the holiness, with all its benefits, to themselves; and ordered publicans arid sinners to stand by themselves, and come not near. All shepherds who owned sheep, and knew their value, would do just as this shepherd did. They would aim to restore the lost one. The woman has lost her silver, it was silver before she lost it, and it was her own. The shepherd is not gone out in an endeavor to domesticate some wild goats, and so increase his flock. The flock was the right size before. The woman is not engaged in an effort to increase her riches, or to convert other substances into silver, but to find and preserve silver that was already coined, and that already belonged to her treasures.
We may learn from these things the Work of the gospel ministry. The Master has not sent us but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The sons of Levi are .themselves purified and purged as gold and silver, and they might be expected to know the silver wherever they find it, and to know its value. The sons of Zion are comparable to fine gold, – Lam iv., 2. The superior value of the sheep and lambs of Christ over all other ;flocks and herds, and the distinguishing characteristics of gold; silver and precious stones as materials for the spiritual temple, are things of which a surprising ignorance abounds even to this present day. That the penitent sinner is represented by the silver found, and by the sheep returned to the fold, is shown by the closing. sentence of each paragraph; declaring the joy and rejoicing over this instance of repentance. If this repentance, in every single instance of it, is a cause of, rejoicing to the angels of God, well may the sons and daughters of men rejoice in it. In order to a full measure of joy, there must needs be some understanding of the wonderful work of redeeming grace that has taken place. I presume that this rejoicing is not in the heaven of glory, where the saints shah finally rest, but in that kingdom Of heaven that was to come and be set up in gospel times. And the angels in whose presence this rejoicing takes place, I presume, are those who are sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs to salvation. But their rejoicing is in the Lord and in his salvation. A new life is developed in the sinner and he ”turns with loathing and abhorrence from himself. He sees his sinfulness and just condemnation, and is found in contrition and penitence at the mercy seat. A knowledge of divine things and a love of holiness have been .imparted unto him, and repentance towards God is the:result. The church rejoices in it, and well she may. She calls her friends and neighbors to share her joy – to rejoice with her. The several churches have friends and neighbors; and here is a sign by which they maybe known: They will respond to such an appeal as this every time, and they will rejoice with and for the church when a lamb of the flock is thus brought to the fold. I think the churches have been rather remiss in celebrating these events as they are warranted in doing. It is meet that they should make merry and be glad. While others are dancing around their idols, and rejoicing in the work of their own hands, let Israel rejoice in the Lord, and clothe herself with the subjects of his grace with ornaments, and bind them upon her with all the pride and exultation of a bride with her jewels. Let others see, if they can and will, that we know and appreciate the value of the gold, silver and precious stones that the Lord has prepared for himself and that are destined to show forth his praise.
So far we have had but the one character presented. Now we shall have both. A certain man had two sons. These sons are representatives. The whole human family are sometimes thus represented. Adam had two representative sons; so had Abraham; so had Isaac. Two representative characters went up to the temple to pray; one a Pharisee, the other a publican. So here are publicans and sinners on the one hand, who, according to the claims of the Pharisees, have spent all their Jewish estate.. The Lord sees fit to take them upon their own grounds and allow their claim, both for themselves and those whom they call sinners. These murmuring scribes and Pharisees are represented by the elder son, and allows him to say: “Lo, these many years do I serve thee; neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment.”” This is as much as Saul, of Tarsus, claimed, and as much as any of them would presume to claim. And the Lord. concedes to them all that they had any desire for, or saw any need of. They had no desire for gospel blessings, and neither saw or felt any need of them. They had that legal covenant, with its national and temporal privileges, and they had that from their father Abraham, until the end came. But scribes and Pharisees never can understand how sinners can be received on the grounds of mercy instead of sacrifice. They have continued to murmur. The symbol is culminating. How much is a man better than a sheep! A Shepherd would not shut his heart and his fold against his retraining sheep. The owner of the silver is ever desirous to restore the lost piece. How much more, then, a father over his child. There is not a proud, haughty Jew in the land but knows that fathers, even of themselves, would act that way, and that he who would not, was unworthy to be called a father. But while the Redeemer puts these murmurers to silence and to shame, this was not his main object. His object was to instruct his own people in things concerning his kingdom.
As to the turning point in the life of the wandering son, we are simply told that he came to himself. He had come to a knowledge of himself, of the sinfulness of sin and of his own miserable condition, All the rest will follow as the effect. His resources are exhausted, and there is death and utter destitution of the things he now needs throughout all that land. The famine arose upon him, while we have no account of it disturbing any one else. Of such food as swine do eat, we do not read of any scarcity, and with such as could fill themselves with such trashy Stuff and satisfy their wants therewith, there was no hungering for living bread. That he should hire himself out to a citizen of that country, and get religion and go to work, in order to procure subsistence and comfort, was natural enough. It is a step that very many, when first awakened, have taken. The citizens of that country, which is so far off from Jerusalem, Sometimes undertake making preachers. But they make out very badly at it. They claim to have in charge many fields in which swine are roaming abroad, but no account of sheep. I presume there were none there. And if there had been, there would have been no food for them. They would not have fed on the husks, and the poor prodigal is not in any way qualified to feed them. He was not hired to do it, neither is he instructed nor furnished with any food. But he is sent to feed swine. They fail to make good: preachers, even out of a subject of grace. He has the lesson yet to learn that he learns in the hungerings of his own heart. Nothing but the bread of his father”s house will satisfy the longings of his soul But he has learned, the truth effectually and to purpose. He comes to be received with glad welcome, and what is a satisfying feast to him proves a feast in the same measure to all the human family. I, of course, except the elder son, who would not come in.
As this parable was addressed to the Jews, I understand the younger son to represent primarily those Israelites who had, by neglect and disobedience, forfeited their rights in the provisions of the legal covenant. But there was another and better covenant made with Abraham, in which all the kindred of the earth were embraced And God has from among the Gentiles raised up children unto Abraham. But they come into Abraham”s family, not on legal grounds or on account of fleshly relationship; but as children of promise are they counted for Abraham”s seed, and they are heirs according to that promise.
“He, from the caves of earth and hell,
Can take the hardest stones,
And fill the house of Abraham well
with new created seas.”