And he said, A certain man had two sons:…
If John 3:16, and 1 Timothy 1:15, have been the most useful of Scripture texts, the parable of the prodigal son has been one of the most useful of Scripture paragraphs. If Romans 3:19-31 has ever been esteemed by scholars the locus classicus for the display of the righteousness of God, Luke 15:11-32, has ever been regarded by evangelists as the locus sanctus et fertilis for the display of the love of God. I would also observe that it suits rich and poor alike. I was paying a pastoral visit one day to one of the officials of a great poor-house in the neighbourhood of the city in which my lot has been cast. The chaplain asked me to conduct evening prayers. I found myself placed in unwonted circumstances. I stood in a spacious hall, capable of containing fifteen hundred individuals, and seated like a church. About twelve hundred paupers joined in the evening devotions. Three times a day they were wont to assemble there to receive the plain supplies of the bread that perisheth, which charity had provided; and, twice a day, to worship God. My heart filled as they sang with me the beautiful paraphrase, beginning "O God of Bethel, by whose hand," and especially when they came to the couplet —
"Ospread Thy covering wings around
Till all our wanderings cease";for the great building in which they sang in rough, unpolished strains, since it had been reared by Christ-inspired benevolence, looked like the covering wings of the Almighty, which had been spread around them. In the course of conversation, at the close of the service, the chaplain informed me that several of the ministers of the city had preached on the Sabbath evenings of the preceding summer, and that the poor people had been greatly delighted with their discourses. But what had pleased them most of all had been a sermon by the late Doctor Norman Macleod on the Parable of the Prodigal Son. I had noticed in the newspapers that he had delivered the same sermon, a few weeks before, to a fashionable audience, when many carriages were standing at the door. It delighted me that he had dispensed that identical supply of the bread of life to the inmates of the poor-house; for, in truth, we are all on a level. We are all God's offspring, and are all pensioners on His bounty. The poor people had enjoyed greatly the rich representation of the love of God which the parable contains. Many of them had been bathed in tears. For the career of the prodigal had been their career. They would not have been glad of the poor-house, if they had not "wasted their substance with riotous living." And not only had the arms of the world's charity been opened to receive them, but, warmer and kindlier far, the arms of the Divine good-will were ready to clasp them round. Yes, the parable to which I am bidding farewell for the present suits the high and low, the rich and poor, the West End and the East End alike. Lastly, it is capable of edifying application to the hour of death. Here we are all "in a far country." "At home in the body, we are absent from the Lord." We often feel that our engagements and pursuits are, like the prodigal's occupation, beneath the dignity of our immortal spirits. Amid degraded men we sigh for the purity and royalty of our Father's house on high. At length a gentle summons comes in friendly disease; and the dying Christian, responding to the call, says, "I will arise and go to my Father." As he lies upon his bed of pain, in crowded city or rural hamlet, "his Father sees him afar off and has compassion on him." By the kind ministrations of His grace, "He makes all his bed in his sickness." At length, when his disembodied spirit approaches the heavenly house, a father's kiss and a father's welcome are received. Then the robe of glory, the ring of full redemption, and spiritual shoes, are given to the weary traveller. Oh, what rejoicing takes place over his safe arrival, at the heavenly feast, amid whose transports he completely forgets the sorrows of the far country! No sullen celestials seem jealous of his cordial reception —
"The wondering angels round Him throng
And swell the chorus of His praise."?
(F. Ferguson, D. D.).
Parallel VersesKJV: And he said, A certain man had two sons: