As I never set myself up that I was a preacher, I shall, as a private Christian, nevertheless, venture on the following exposition, the latter interpretation therein having flashed in my mind in a moment on a certain day. "If anything be revealed to another that sitteth by," let wise men judge. (I Cor. 14:30)
It is concerning the meaning of God's "hired servants", which the prodigal son prayed to be made as one of. Some say it is that he wished to be a preacher; but to be made a parson, was I think, about the last thing that entered our "independent merchant's" mind, for so Huntington terms him. Our tattered and torn prodigal would have cut a poorish figure then in a pulpit; still Balaam, and gifted men of that kind without grace, are, Scripturally, God's hired servants, I believe, for we are well persuaded they are not sons. O how deep is the infinite government of God in grace as well as in providence!
Thus such men as Balaam, Ahithopel and Judas shall be made God's instruments of good, perhaps, to His people, and yet God shall have no more intention of final good towards them than to Ahab or Jezebel. Ahithopel was as if any one had inquired at the oracle of God, so wise was he (II Sam. 16:23). He was David's "counsellor;" and they went sweetly together to the house of God. Balaam, also, had the Spirit's gifted illumination. (Numbers 24:2) Thus Balaam and Ahithopel were God's hired servants in gifts of wisdom, etc. "Thus saith the Lord God, If the prince give a gift unto any of his sons the inheritance thereof shall be his sons; it shall be their possession by inheritance. But if he give a gift to one of his servants, it shall be his (the servant's) only to a certain time, not for ever." (Ezek. 46:16 &c.) This latter was the character of such as Balaam, and is the character of many in our day. "As for their knowledge, though it come from God," (Num. 22) which is a tough test to try many by, "it shall vanish away.
But there is another sense of a "hired servant of God," which, I think, is the true interpretation of the prodigal son's prayer when he roared out in his deep distress and insufferable agonies, that he would go to his heavenly Father, and set off on this very errand, namely, saying, "Make me AS one of thy hired servants.' "1 will arise," says he, "and go to Him, and say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before Thee, and am no more worthy to be called Thy son; and then put in his prayer to be as in hired servitude unto God. Could it then have entered into his mind to be a preacher, think you? I know, by bitter experience, in some degree, I believe, what was the meaning of it.
The poor prodigal had made sad work of it. He had had the "portion" that fell to him. Is it not evident that he had the Spirit of adoption? Otherwise, how could he call God, Father? I believe as Huntington observes, that an honest hearted child of God would no more call God, Father, until God had authorized him in his conscience, no, he could no more spiritually do it than he could fly. God has given His children an honest heart, and they are children that will not lie, so He was their Saviour. (Isa. 63:8)
Therefore it turns out, it seems, that the prodigal had been a sad character after he had received the Spirit of adoption enabling him to call God, Abba, Father. I know it was so with me. I got, like him, into a far country. The unmerciful enmity of the devil (as far as he is permitted) is like that of the Chaldeans against the children of Israel. "I was but a little displeased," said God, "and they helped forward the affliction." O when the younger son gets the share of spiritual goods that falleth to him, ten to one but the devil now tempts him, (and God, as in Job's case, permits temptation,) that now having got his share, he may do as he likes.
O how like that "bitter and hasty nation," the Chaldeans, the devil is! The younger son thus the devil will blow up like a bladder. Off into a far country the younger son will go; leave all, and set off. Poor thing, he thinks there is not such a Christian in the world as himself. Now the devil gets him even into the country of believing THAT SIN WILL DO US NO HARM if we are children of God. O the broken bones the youngster gets when he falls into this temptation, and acts upon it outwardly at all more particularly! Inward sins are poison, but outward sins are a raging fire that devastates widely. O how cut up the wretch is when the devil has got him into this net of sinning because it will not do a child of God any harm! (Ed. note: I'm glad he was moved to write this 140 years ago. We still hear it today! "It won't do him any good, but if he is one of God's poor little children, it can't do him any harm"! — but they will not allow a child play with a pretty little rattlesnake using the same argument!) I know, in distant times, (ten years back,) I have tasted of the splendid poison; splendid, for did ever any one hear of such outlandish wickedness? Achan thought the wedge of gold and the Babylonish vest were nice keepsakes of sin, but God ordered him, and all he had, to be stoned and burned, for he troubled Israel. (Jos. 7) O the horrid goings on that are often between Satan and a newly fledged child of God! The devil will persuade him that he can fly further than God has authorized. I know, for my own part, like him, I have been entangled, the many years back I have mentioned, in these dangerous traps of the devil.
Seeing, therefore, the terrible abuse he had made of the share, or portion, of goods that fell to him; (his whole inheritance, or sonship, of which the Spirit of adoption is the "earnest" or inward "first fruits";) lo! confounded at where he had got to, at his backsliding, at the awful use he had made of his Father's "riches" that had, as his noble portion, been "divided" to him, staggered into the dust at the upshot, as to how he had also been deluded by Satan, our prodigal, in making up the awful distance between his heavenly Father and himself, concludes his prayer by roaring out, "Make me as one of thy hired servants!" Shocked at the state he had gotten into, see how the devil, like a robber, along with the wickedness of the heart, will rob a child of God, and then make him cast away his confidence! See how a backsliding child of God is shocked; prays his heavenly Father to keep a tighter hand upon him as in hired servitude. He does not pray for hired servitude, but to be as in it, (mark the words) "as one of thy hired servants," while adoption breaks through the gloom in the word "Father."
Moral men are God's hired servants. Is it not evident, I think, from the following Scriptures? "If thou doest well shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door." "Now, I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant." "Verily, they have their reward." Thus morality has blessings which immorality has not naturally, and it is well known what earnestness and watchfulness, as a hireling, a child of God has while under the law in bondage to God.
As every stage of backsliding, and especially any turning the grace of God into licentiousness, will bring a child of God into sore places of feeling, he will tremble for the future more at being trusted with any thing, or at trusting to himself. Thus they who have backslidden much from God know what it is to have amazing repentance from God. Thus they have not the infernal jealousy, spite, and venom that some have. Thus the haughtiness and conceitedness so apparent in some are crushed in those who, like the prodigal son, have had their pride stained, and who have thus been brought into the beautiful paths of humility, where soaring finds its poison in pardoning blood, and where each Diotrephes that will have the preeminence shall never come. But see how the kind Father will not hear of His son being made as a hired servant, though the son had so vilely strayed. No; "Bring hither the fatted calf." says He, "and let us make merry." Undeserved mercy triumphs against justice through the all-conquering excellency of the Surety. Wariness, watchfulness, and more carefulness for the future shall not, as in a hireling, but as in a son, spring and rise from the past in him, when repentance has done its work, while adoption and wisdom finally supply ever defect.
The Gospel Standard - 1842