ON THE PARABLE OF THE PRODIGAL SON, LUKE xv.
Consider first, in the prodigal son, a lively image of the misery of every poor sinner, who by wilful sin goes away from his father’s house, into a far country, even the region of death, and there wastes all his substance, by living riotously; that is, loses and squanders away all the graces he had received from God, and abuses all his gifts and talents, by making them all subservient to his criminal passions and lusts. Alas! how soon does he experience the famine that reigns in the country! A mighty famine indeed! A dismal want of the bread of life, and of all true nourishment; a perpetual emptiness of the soul; a hunger and thirst that is never to be satisfied. For all that is brought to market there, though sold at a very dear rate, is but mere wind, froth, and bubbles, that can never fill the belly. In vain does that poor wretch, under this famine, sell himself for a slave to one of the citizens of that region, even to Satan, the ruler of that land of darkness, who sets him to feed his swine, viz, his own brutal passions and carnal inclinations: for he finds himself still perishing for hunger and want; he is not allowed to fill himself, even with the husks which the swine eat; they leave him still empty. Ah! sinners, see the dismal state you reduce yourselves to, when you turn your backs upon your Father and choose rather to be slaves of the devil than children of God. O never expect any solid satisfaction or so much as one happy hour till you return home again to your Father’s house!
Consider 2ndly, the steps by which the prodigal child was reclaimed, and brought home to his father; and thou shalt find that the beginning of his conversion was his return to himself, and being made sensible of his great misery. Alas! the poor deluded soul, at the same time that she leaves her Father’s house, by forgetting her God, leaves also and forgets herself; and is so strangely blinded and bewitched by the world, the flesh, and the devil as to imagine herself free, under the worst of slaveries; rich under the extremity of want; and honourable and happy in the very midst of disgrace, confusion, and perpetual uneasiness. But when she begins to open her inward eyes to the light of God by serious consideration, and to return into herself, she is greatly alarmed at the sight of her present wretched condition and the dreadful dangers that surround her on all sides, and threaten her continually with nothing less than a miserable eternity. No, it is a ready correspondence with this heavenly light and grace, by a desire to return to the best of Fathers, that is the first step to the prodigal’s conversion. But then see, my soul, how he rises up immediately, without the least delay, to follow the call. See with what dispositions of a most profound humility, with what a sense of his own unworthiness, with what a deep sorrow and contrition for his sins, he makes the best of his way home. O give ear to his sentiments on this occasion: ‘I will arise,’ saith he, ‘and I will go to my father, and say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee: I am not now worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.’ O that all sinners, who have imitated the prodigal in his extravagances, would imitate him also by returning to themselves, as he did, and by rising without delay, to go and to seek the true Father of their souls, with the like dispositions of a contrite and humble heart!
Consider 3rdly, the infinite goodness and mercy of God, expressed to us in the manner in which this heavenly Father received the prodigal child returning to him. He did not stay till he came to his house; but ‘when he was a great way off, he saw him, and was moved with compassion; and running to him, he fell upon his neck, and kissed him.’ He scarce gave him time to confess his guilt, before he ordered ‘his servants to bring forth quickly the first robe and to put it on him, and to put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet, and to bring the fatted calf, and kill it: and let us eat,’ said he ‘and make merry: because this my son was dead, and is come to life; he was lost, and is found.’ O blessed be this infinite goodness and mercy for ever, which daily exerts itself in this manner, and works the like wonder in favour of penitent sinners! He first excites them to desire to come home to him; he has pity on them, when as yet they are a great way off; he runs out to meet them; he lovingly receives them into his embraces; he clothes them again with the sacred robe of his divine grace; he restores them to the honour and dignity of his children, and to all the ornaments of virtue and grace, which they had forfeited by sin; he admits them to the divine banquet of the body and blood of his only Son; and curses all his heavenly court to celebrate a feast of joy upon their conversion. And shall not all this loving kindness, this tender mercy, these extraordinary favours shown to penitent sinners, encourage thee, my soul, and effectually determine thee to quit for good and all the husks of swine, and to run to the embraces of this Father of mercies?
Conclude, if thy case be like that of the prodigal, in being in a far country, away from thy Father’s house – that is, at great distance from thy God, by mortal sin, perishing for hunger and want, among the husks of swine – to determine to imitate the prodigal, in his ready correspondence with grace, in the resolution with which he presently rises and returns to his Father, in the dispositions of humility and contrition, and this great Father will undoubtedly receive thee as he did him; and all his heavenly family shall feast and rejoice at thy conversion.