And he said, A certain man had two sons:…
The elder son was one who had always remained at that very home from which the younger had wandered, and to which he had at last returned. He had been a faithful son, doing his father's commandments, and the parable would lose all its point, unless we were to see in it a picture of a father's heart which has depth and warmth enough not only to love a son who obeys, but to forgive a son who disobeys and repents. The elder son was not therefore a self-righteous Pharisee. He was not a hypocrite. But he was a somewhat narrow good man. He was a type of thousands among the Jews, and of thousands still among Christians, who look with jealous suspicion upon all who have been once abandoned and now have repented and turned to God. They have never fathomed the depths of sin. From their childhood they have walked uprightly.
I. In the first place we may see that THE POSITION OF THE ELDER SON IS PREFERABLE TO THAT OF THE YOUNGER BECAUSE OF THE RISK HE ESCAPED. It is true that the younger son returned, but then he might not have returned. When he turned his back upon his father's house, it might have been for ever.
II. The position of the elder brother is preferable BECAUSE A LIFE OF CONTINUOUS GODLINESS IS FAR EASIER THAN A LIFE OF GODLINESS SUCCEEDING A LIFE OF SIN. The prodigal, remember, does not start life afresh. He is not brought back to the point of innocence from which he started. His soul is not cleared and cleansed from all the past. If he be able to exercise a fair command over his speech and outward conduct, so as not to break out into the words and deeds of his profligate career, think how his memory and his imagination are poisoned! He has to undo so much that has been done. He has to strive hard to break the links of association which connect him with evil thoughts. What would he not sacrifice if he could but just wipe out of his remembrance the tormenting, polluting past. But he cannot. Though it be forgiven by God, it is there still to be struggled with. He has to pull down much that he has built up; he has to tear up much that he has planted; he has to put a double watch at those points where he so often fell; he often feels the old sin reviving and struggling for mastery again, and trembles lest he should be vanquished. Whereas the son who has remained at home has grown up into godliness with his advancing years.
III. Viewed as a whole, THE LIFE OF THE SON WHO REMAINED AT HOME MUST YIELD FAR MORE PLEASURE TO GOD THAN THE LIFE OF THE SON WHO WANDERS AND THEN RETURNS. Let experience be called in to testify which is preferable, the joy which a parent has over a son who is obedient and virtuous, who never sets at nought the laws of the house, whose ear is ever ready to hear and hands to do the will of his father, the serene joy which is felt every day and all the day, the joy which is like quiet and peaceful sunshine, or that tumultuous gladness which, after years of pain and sorrow over a son's profligacy, welcomes him home. Let any parent on earth who has the well-being of his children at heart answer, and he will say, Give me the obedient, loving son, with the quiet tranquil joy from day to day, before the brief ecstasy after long agony, which arises from a repenting prodigal. The one is but a mountain torrent — the other is a deep and noiseless stream. And as with the parent so too with the children; the joy of the obedient one is higher than that of the returning one. It may not seem so, because of the feast which the returning one sees provided for him. The merriment will cease. The fatted calf will not be killed again to-morrow. Even the prodigal's joy will sober down after a while, and he will have to find a sweeter banquet, though a less exciting one, in doing the will of his father.
(E. Mellor, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And he said, A certain man had two sons: