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THE PRODIGAL SON.
Luke, xv. 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.
These words conclude the parable of the Prodigal Son; a parable, for its variety of incidents, and the affecting manner in wbich they are related, remarkably beautiful, even in the letter of it. A younger son, gay and thoughtless, as youth often is, grown weary of being in the house and under the direction of a kind and tender father, desires to have his fortune consigned over to him, that he may go out into the world, and manage for himself. Having obtained his request, he immediately makes use of the so much wished for liberty and independency, quits the habitation of his father, and takes his journey into a far country. Here, falling into bad company and strong temptations, he found his good resolutions presently staggered ; and his old principles not being firmly fixed, and having no support, soon gave way to a set of new ones, better adapted to the times, and the fashion of the country he was now in. Loose practices were the necessary consequences of false principles; and, as the paths of sin are not only slippery, but all upon the descent too, he fell from one wickedness to another, plunged into all manner of riot and debauchery, and spent the last farthing. To complete his misery, there arose at that time a mighty famine in the land where he was; and he was soon at a loss where to get a piece of bread. Nay, to so great an extremity was he driven by the violence of the famine, that, liaving been forced to submit to the very abject employment of feeding swine, he tried in vain to satisfy the cravings of nature with the dry and empty husks that the swine did eat. These had nothing in them fit to nourish the human body. Hungry and thirsty, his soul fainted in him, and there was no man that took any thought or care about him. The affliction was sharp, but the case required it; and now it began to work the intended cure. For by this time the sense of his misery, had, through God's grace, brought him to a sense of his folly, from which that misery flowed; and when he was starving at night in the fields with cold and hunger, he could not help thinking of the happy souls he had left behind him in his father's house, where there was joy, and comfort, and plenty of every thing. In that house he was once a beloved son. But his wickedness had been too great to suffer him to hope he should ever be owned there again in that capacity. Tribulation is the school of humility, and an excellent school it is: for by it the man whose pride and gaiety of heart were such, that he could not bear to stay in the house where he was a son, became so very meek and submissive, that to be in that same house as an hired servant was now the utmost of his wishes. Nay, he hardly could bring himself to hope that his father would take him in again even as a servant. In fear and trembling, therefore, he arose, and returned to him, whose face he was yet afraid, though so desirous, to see. But, lo, the bowels of the good old man yearned after his lost child, and he was continually looking out for him; so that at his return, he saw him while he was yet a great way off; and, with a heart overflowing with love and joy, ran forth to meet him, embraced him in his arms, fell upon his neck, and kissed him. He would hardly stay to hear his humiliation of him. self, and confession of his unworthiness, but ordered the servants instantly to produce the best robe, and put it upon him, and to put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet, and to bring forth the fatted calf and kill it, that they might eat and be merry.
All this was accordingly done; and now there was nothing to be heard but music and melody, and the voice of joy and thankfulness, in that house. But the elder brother, who had lived with the father, and happened at this time to be abroad in the field about his business, coming home, and drawing near to the house, was surprised with the noise of music and dancing; and calling one of the servants out, he asked what it meant. The servant told him, that his long lost brother was come home again, and that his father had killed the fatted calf, because he had received him safe and sound. Upon this, instead of participating in the common joy, he suffered pride and envy to get possession of his heart; he was angry, and would not go in. Therefore came his father out and entreated him; to whom he complained, that having served him so long, without transgressing at any time his commandments, he never had so much as a kid given him, that he might make merry with his friends; but as soon as this other son was come, who had devoured his living with harlots, the fatted calf had been killed for him. “Son,” says the good old man to him, “thou art ever with me, and all that “I have is thine," so that thou mayst have a feast at any time, or rather, indeed, hast a continual feast; but, surely, upon such an extraodinary occasion as this, “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.”
Such is the parable of the Prodigal Son, according to the letter. Let us now endeavour to discover the spirit and interpretation of this beautiful parable.
“A certain man had two sons." This father is God himself, the Father of both Jew and Gentile, represented here, as in many other places, under the figure of two sons. The Jew is considered in Scripture as the elder; the Gentile as the
For thus the rejection of the Jew and the acceptance of the Gentile, were showed forth by the rejection of Cain and the acceptance of Abel, the rejection of Ishmael and the acceptance of Isaac, the rejection of Esau and the acceptance of Jacob. These two sons, Jew and Gentile, at the beginning lived together in their Father's house, that is, the church, which, as says St. Paul, is “the house of the living “ God.” There, under their Father's immediate protection, they partook alike of the divine promises and sacred services, and had all things common; and there was, 'for some time, no difference between them.
“ But the younger son said unto 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, he gathered all together, and took “ his journey into a far country, and spent his sub“stance with riotous living.” In these words is described the departure of the Gentiles from God, who having conferred his divine promises, and in them the riches of the kingdom of heaven, on all alike, is said to have “divided his living between his two sons. The elder, the Jew, continued with bim in the church. This we know by the history of Abraham and his posterity, till the coming of Christ.
But the younger, the Gentile, growing weary of the service of God, and fond of independency, and the liberty of making his own religion, gathered together all the talents and abilities bestowed upon bim, with the knowledge he had acquired from the divine revelations and institutions, “and took his journey into a far country;" in other words, he went out from the presence of God in his chureh, and in his heart departed far from the Lord. Whence we often find the Gentiles spoken of under the phrase,
“ Those that are AFAR OFF." Thus this poor silly prodigal became, as St. Paul styles him, "an alien from the commonwealth of “ Israel, a stranger from the covenants of promise;
having no hope, and without God in the world.” The promises and services carried off by him were applied to false objects; and he soon " wasted his