On the Parable of the Prodigal


No. 2

Luke 15:12
And the younger of them said to his father,
Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me.
And he divided unto them his living.
I endeavoured in my former to show you, to whom the character of these two sons is applicable. We are now to attend chiefly to the conduct of the younger. Young as he was he wanted to be his own master, and therefore said, Father [give me the portion of goods …].
The unreasonableness of his request appears from the character of his good father. The letter of the parable shows us what is confirmed by daily observation – that good parents are sometimes troubled with perverse and rebellious children to the wounding their hearts while they live, and perhaps sometimes bringing down their grey hairs with sorrow to the grave. Sometimes parents are taken away from the evil to come, and do not live to see the course that their children take – to see the children for whom they so often prayed and wept, casting off all restraint and turning them back upon their parents' God. Grace does not run in the blood – nor can the best instructions change the heart. I might enlarge here, had I time, both to parents and children, but must only drop a word:
1. To parents
Let this quicken your prayers for your children – they derive from you an evil nature – were born children of wrath. Plead earnestly as Abraham – who though he had in Isaac a child of the promise, still pleaded for his other son, O that Ishmael may live before thee.[1]
Be careful to instruct them in the ways of the Lord – perhaps you may see the good effect; if not and they prove obstinate, you will deliver your own souls, and save yourselves the cutting reflection of having by your own remissness suffered them to go on to their ruin. And they may remember your words after you are dead, as this prodigal when he came to himself recalled to mind what had formally passed in his father's house.
2. To children
Learn from the example in my text that disobedience and ingratitude to parents is usually the first step to a course of wickedness and misery.
But leaving the letter, let us come to the spiritual meaning of the parable. We have here:
1. The person - the younger son
In the purpose of God there is neither younger or elder amongst his children – they were all chosen in Christ at once and before the foundation of the world. But with respect to their calling, those who already know and serve him are the elder – they who are yet in their natural state, are the younger. Thus the Apostle speaks of some who were in Christ before him. But the prodigal may be described as the younger for other reasons:
  1.1 to intimate the special dangers and temptations to which youth are exposed
Young persons have warm passions and little experience. They know not what sort of world they are come into, and therefore are ready enough to promise themselves great things, if they may but have their own way. Neither do they know or consider what their heavenly Father is worth unto – but suppose they can do well without him. I doubt but the hearts of many young here speak the language of this prodigal. You have an especial call to pray to the Lord to enable you to make a right choice. Wherewith can you possibly cleanse your way but by taking heed thereto according to his Word. [2] You are now setting out in life. O be not content with a portion here, but seek the Lord's face that your souls may live.
  1.2 to intimate that our depravity shows itself in early years
As we are conceived and brought forth in sin, so we are transgressors from the womb going astray as soon as born. And our first desires manifest an estrangedness from God. If these desires are indulged in youth, and not restrained by the grace of God, they grow with our years and strengthen with our strength. It is not so wonderful that young people who have not known and tried the world should be so fond of it. But alas, are there not many, who have had a long course of experience how little the world can do for them, yet their love to it, and their eagerness after it, are not abated by all the disappointments they have met with. I must say to such, as the Apostle on another occasion, Have ye suffered so many things in vain? [3] What fruit have ye found, in living so long without God in the world? You have had your portion and nearly spent it. The time cannot be far off when you will be in dreadful want, and will you not yet begin to think of your Father's house, etc?
2. His request
Here his language must be accommodated to the subject – by noting two exceptions in the case of children in an earthly family.
  2.1 If a man has two sons, the youngest may have some right to expect a portion. But sinful man has no claim upon God. Our proper portion if we would insist upon [it] is nothing but wrath. And the blessings any receive of his common providence are altogether of mercy and undeserved.
  2.2 The son at least asked for his portion. But sinners are bold to take and use theirs without asking. It is possible some of you who are favoured with health, food and raiment, do not so much as praise God for what you have, or pray to him for what you want, from one month or year to another. Well if you have them without his leave you have them without his blessing. And if there was nothing else against you, your living without prayer, is sufficient to denominate you as a rebel and a robber.
  [2.3] If you consider the request of this son to so good a father, you may observe much of the workings of the heart of man towards God, while he is a stranger to his grace. His language speaks:
    2.3.1 Ingratitude
He had been well provided for hitherto, but this was not enough. He thought his father had dealt hardly by him. Thus sinners, though insensible of God's goodness in what they have, are always murmuring and complaining, finding fault with his dispensations.
    2.3.2 Pride
He thought if he had his stock in his own hands he could manage it better than his father did for him. We long to be independent and have no doubt but if he[we] could but carve for ourselves we should do well enough. I doubt not but some of my hearers, are well satisfied with themselves, that if the providence of God should add to their possessions twenty or a hundredfold, they know very well what to do with it, and would greatly rejoice to be put to the trial.
    2.3.3 Impatience of control
He wanted to be gone from under his father's eye, that he might act as he pleased. Thus the sinners say to the Almighty, Depart from us, etc. [4]
    2.3.4 Contempt
He had no regard to the affection or company of his father; he slighted and was weary of the order of his house – though a child by birth he renounced his privilege and made himself a stranger. Such blindness and madness possess us by nature. Full of enmity against God and dislike of his ways, we place our pleasure in what is contrary to his will, and spurn at that communication with him, which is better than life.
3. The father's kindness
He divided to them his living – gave his younger according to his desire, but the elder who stayed at home under his father's eye, had the better part, though he remained under government. For his portion was secured by his father's care.
From this clause we may observe:
1. The Lord's long-suffering and goodness to rebels. He does not always cut them off as they deserve but waits to be gracious – gives them many good things, though they deserve nothing. He is kind to the unthankful and the evil.
2. He is pleased for wise reasons to suffer his people to go on for a season in their own ways, that they may learn by experience how unable they are to be happy without him.
3. It is however a great punishment to be given up to our own wills, and wishes; so this person found it – he soon spent all, and from plenty was reduced to want. O that all here might learn wisdom from his example.

[1] Genesis 17:18 And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee!
[2] Psalm 119:9 Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.
[3] Galatians 3:4 Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain.
[4] e.g. Job 21:14 Therefore they say unto God, Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways.

Lambeth Palace Library MS 2939