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PARABLE OF THE PRODIGAL SON.
LUKE xv. 18—24.
“ I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him,
• Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son ; make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. But, when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.' But the father said to his servants, · Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him ; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it ; and let us eat, and be merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again ; he was lost, and is found.'”
In the preceding discourse from the former part of this parable, after explaining its general nature, I observed, that we are taught by it the following doctrines.
I. Sinners regard God no farther than to gain from him whatever they can.
II. Sinners waste the blessings which they receive from his hands, and reduce themselves to absolute want.
III. Afflictions are very often the first means of bringing them to a sense of their condition.
IV. When they first acquire this sense they usually betake themselves to false measures for relief.
V. This situation of a sinner is eminently unhappy.
VI. The repentance of the Gospel is the resumption of a right mind.
Under this head I observed, that among the things which the sinner realizes, when he first comes to himself, are the following:
First, His own miserable condition.
Second, That in the house of his heavenly Father there is an abundance of good.
Third, A hope that this good may be his.
I shall now proceed in the consideration of the progress of a sinner towards his final acceptance with God as it is exhibited in the text. With this design, I observe,
I. True repentance is a voluntary exercise of the mind. “ I will arise, said the prodigal, and go to my father.”
The determination expressed in this language was spontaneous, and flowed from the present state of his heart as naturally as any effect from any cause; for example, as his former determination to leave his father flowed from the disposition which he possessed at that time.
There are those who believe that God creates, immediately, all the volitions of the mind. There are others who reject the doctrine, and who nevertheless appear, at least, to admit, that he created all its volitions. Both are, in my view, erroneous. The Scriptures appear to me everywhere to speak of man as an agent in the true and proper sense.
When angels were created they were furnished with all the powers of such an agent, and with a disposition, propensity, (or what in the Scriptures is called heart,) to use them in a virtuous manner. Such a disposition is communicated to the human soul by the
Holy Ghost when it is renewed unto repentance. This disposition, unknown, I confess, and mysterious, in the metaphysical sense, as all other causes are, as to their nature, but by its effects as clearly proved to exist as any other cause whatever, is the real source of all virtuous volitions and conduct in every virtuous being. It now became the disposition of the prodigal, and is the distinguishing characteristic of every penitent.
His determination to arise and go to his father sprang from a solid conviction of the propriety of this conduct, and a real change in his disposition; a complete persuasion that it was alike his duty and his interest. The state of his mind was new, but its agency was entire, and its actions perfectly voluntary The determination was freely and cheerfully made, and made at all hazards, without even the knowledge that he would be accepted. It was, therefore, certainly sin
This is an exact description of the state of mind which prevails in every penitent. A sense of danger and of suffering, as was remarked in the former discourse, is very often employed by God as a mean of bringing a sinner to repentance. But, were the sinner to stop here, he never would become a penitent. To this sense must be added, a realizing conviction of the evil nature of his past conduct, felt in such a manner as to make it exceedingly desirable in the sinner's view to forsake his former guilty pursuits, and renounce his former sinful character.
II. True repentance is a filial temper, disposing us to regard God as our parent, and ourselves as his children.
“ I will arise, and go to my father.”
Originally the prodigal used this compellation with a design to obtain the portion of goods which, as he said, fell to him, and then to separate himself from him for ever. Now he adopted the same language with the proper temper of a child. Now he designs to return to him; and, if it may be permitted, to live with him, to honour him, to love him, and to serve him even in the humble station of a hireling.
Such is the spirit of the penitent. Willing as he was in his
former state of sin to forget God, and little as he thought of his character, of his presence, or even of his existence; rarely as he felt a sense of duty, or realized that there was any relation or connection between himself and his Maker; he now remembers all these things with delight, and esteems them his only honour, comfort, and hope.
This is infinitely the most important relation which intelligent creatures can sustain. To be the child of God; to have him for our Father, Redeemer, and sanctifier, is to be blessed indeed. What creature would dare, unless expressly permitted by his Creator, to challenge this relation, and adopt this language? How much less would sinners, if possessed of sober thought, presume, without a direct licence from heaven, to change the awful name of Creator for the venerable, endearing, and delightful epithet of Father ; or to convert the humble title of creature into the elevated appellation of child? Who, of a servant, of a slothful servant, a rebellious servant, would expect to become an heir, to be acknowledged as a child, and to be put in possession of the inheritance which is undefiled and fadeth not away ? Yet this is the language which we are commanded to adopt, this the character which we are required to assume, and these the blessings which we are destined to enjoy, whenever we become the subjects of a penitent spirit.
III. True repentance is followed of course by a confession of sin.
“ Father, I have sinned,” was the language of the penitent prodigal. He was ready of himself, while yet unassured of acceptance, and before his parent had demanded such an acknowledgment. It was the spontaneous dictate, the instinctive language of his heart; produced as naturally by his present disposition as the fruit springs from its native tree.
This also is the conduct of every penitent. While his original spirit remained, while he was stout-hearted, and therefore far from righteousness, nothing was farther from his thoughts than a confession of his guilt. But whenever he becomes the subject of evangelical contrition, he hates the sin which he so intensely loved before, and abhors himself for having commit
ted it; sorrows for that in which he delighted, and is deeply ashamed for that in which he gloried. This sense of his guilt is a burden upon his heart, with which he labours and is heavy laden; and to confess it to God is the first method of lightening the burden. At the same time, it is the most natural, the most obvious, and therefore the first mode of endeavouring to make some amends for the injustice which he has done to his Maker. In addition to this, he is also earnestly desirous to declare solemnly the new views which he entertains concerning his conduct, the change which his disposition has undergone, and the determinations which he has formed to obey hereafter. A prime difference between the true and false penitent lies in this; the false penitent hates the confession and loves the sin ; the true penitent hates the sin and loves the confession.
IV. A real penitent feels that all his sins are committed against God.
“ I have sinned against heaven.”
The crime of the prodigal was immediately committed against his earthly parent; yet we see he felt it to have been supremely committed against heaven. Accordingly, his confession is, “I have sinned against heaven, and before thee." The consideration that he had sinned against God was that which plainly distressed him more than any other. Sinners, during their impenitence, have very commonly most erroneous apprehensions concerning this subject. Some of them feel as if their sins were never committed against God, because they are unable to do him any harm ; because they cannot lessen his glory or happiness, or prevent the accomplishment of his designs. Were this opinion just, all the guilt of man would lie in the power to do evil, and not in the inclination. Others suppose sins against God to be only those which are directed to him immediately; such as blasphemy, perjury, profaneness, and other exertions of impiety. Those directed immediately to men they consider as sins against men only ; not remembering that God has forbidden transgressions of this sort equal