On the Parable of the Prodigal


No. 4

Luke 15:14
And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.
Happy are they who have an unchangeable and unwasting portion. The blessings of God's grace increase upon our hands: the more we improve them and live upon them, the more they abound. Faith, love, obedience and the spirit of prayer are strengthened by exercise: believers grow in the knowledge of Christ and in the hope of eternal life, in peace and in comfort, by a patient continuance in well doing. But they who set their heart upon the things of this world, choose a portion which necessarily perishes with the using. A time will come to each of them, when like this prodigal they shall have spent all, and find famine and want come upon them like an armed man. The Lord make us wise to choose that good part which shall never be taken from us.
This circumstance in the parable is sometimes literally fulfilled – sinners by their extravagance and folly bring themselves into a state of poverty and distress, are forsaken of friends and destitute even of the necessaries of life. To many, such a dispensation has been sanctified – the Lord has made it an occasion of bringing them to their right minds, and awakening them to seek from him, that assistance of which they are utterly unworthy, and which they can obtain from none but himself. Often he has heard their prayers, and not only relieved them from their outward distress and opened them a way of escape but has led them to a knowledge of his grace. Perhaps many of you will look upon me as a remarkable illustration of the text I am preaching from. I may confess it – with shame to myself – and with gratitude to the God of my life. I have been this prodigal. I broke through the restraints of a religious education, cast the fear of God behind my back, went into a far country, and plunged myself into such misery and want, that I would indeed have been glad to have fed with the swine. O these were bitter days but I have reason to bless God for them. In that state he found me when I sought him not. I obtained mercy – And I stand forth to tell you not from books but from my own experience, That it is an evil and a bitter thing to sin against the Lord – and to tell you farther, It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance, etc. [1] O that others may profit by my example.
But we need not limit the parable to this one interpretation. The Lord has many prodigals who never run into these outward excesses, nor experienced these outward hardships. All who live in the spirit and love of the world, however decent their characters may be or whatever is their situation in life, are prodigals in his sight. They are hastening apace to a time of want. And those whom he is pleased to call by his grace, he first brings them into a state of famine – he puts an end to their short-lived joy, and the things which comforted them comfort them no longer. Let me mention some of the ways in which he does this – for he does not deal with all alike:
1. Though the heart in the natural state cleaves to the world and worldly objects, yet there is usually if not always, some one chief idol. And often the Lord when he is about to show mercy, takes that one, that idol away. Worldly happiness is so very precarious, that the loss of one thing we prize, may bring us into a famine, and make all the rest useless and tasteless. Thus the loss of a husband or wife, a favourite child or dear friend, has often made persons sensible of a want which nothing else could supply. Or if they make shift to get the better of one such stroke, the Lord will send another and another, for when he begins he will also make an end. Think of this you that are in affliction. Some of you perhaps have smarted by this rod. Has he taken away the desire of your eyes with a stroke? Has it had a proper effect to humble and bring you to himself? If not, you may well fear for what you have left. He can wound you still deeper, and if he loves you he probably will – for he will send all the afflictions of Job upon you rather than suffer you to ruin your soul.
2. Sometimes the Lord brings sinners into want and famine, without any change in their circumstances, by altering the state of their minds and taking away their peace, as in the case of Saul. He was a king, and had enough of the world, if that could have done him good – But an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him, and then he could take pleasure in nothing. He became suspicious, envious, melancholy. A beggar in the street, has as much happiness as Saul upon the throne. For if the Lord withdraws his blessing, creatures can yield us no content.
3. Sickness, brings us into a state of famine. Many of you have known it. Then how vain your former pleasures, pursuits and companions. Did you improve the warning, and are now seeking better things? I hope some have had reason to bless God for sickness; if not, remember, unless you are suddenly cut off, this season of famine will return upon you. You must be sick again.
4. The principal famine which the Lord brings upon many by such steps as I have mentioned, and which he can effect without any outward means, is a state of conviction. Then the soul finds itself in want indeed. Then there is an end of worldly pleasure. It little signifies whether we are rich or poor when the heart is pierced with a sense of guilt. This is like the handwriting upon the wall to Belshazzar – this drinks up the spirits, alters the countenance and the whole deportment. What will wine or music or company do for such a one – only add to his burden. This is a mighty famine. Yet though it is hard to bear, and though we pity those who suffer by it, yet we cannot but wish to see many in this case. What? because we love you not? God knoweth – yea, rather because we love you and long for the prosperity of your souls. We know you will never enjoy or truly desire the peace which passes all understanding, till you have at least tasted of this cup of trembling. May the Lord help me to speak a word for the conviction of sinners.

1. You must allow what I have said, that the hour is coming when the world can do you no good. O that I could persuade you to think seriously of your state. Compare your past life, with the law of God. Which of his commandments have you not broken? Especially if your sinful thoughts and intentions are taken into the account. Look back upon your former years, the places you have lived in – how you have passed your time in business, in company, and when alone. Let conscience speak plainly – it will speak hereafter whether you will or no.
2. Consider who you have sinned against: the Great God. You have rebelled against his authority, despised his power, abused his goodness, trifled with his patience. You have thus sinned against an All-seeing, and an Almighty God. And are you not afraid of falling into his hands?
3. Consider what he has denounced against sin: death and everlasting destruction. Tribulation, wrath and anguish are your due. But who can conceive of the wrath of an offended God? Nehemiah 1:6. [2]
4. Do not forget the contempt you have offered to his Gospel. He has sent his Word to heal you. He has made known to [you] his love in Christ. Jesus has been set forth crucified before your eyes. You have been called upon again and again to turn from your evil ways, to repent and believe the Gospel. But you have hitherto turned a deaf ear – have stifled convictions, and hardened your heart against his grace. This obstinate unbelief is the worst of all your sins, and if you persist in it you are lost and damned for ever. Ah, can you be content to dwell with devouring fire?
Yet still he waits to be gracious. Amazing mercy. You are yet out of hell, you are yet hearing the Gospel. The Lord by this parable shows you his readiness to receive returning sinners. O yet at last, before it is too late, take up the prodigal's resolve, and say, I will arise and go to my Father, etc.
You that are convinced of sin – O take encouragement from the character of this Good Father. Thus the Lord looks upon you with pity. Though you think yourselves a good way off, he is coming forth in the power of the ordinances to meet and save you.

[1] 1 Timothy 1:15 This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.
[2] Nehemiah 1:6 Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father's house have sinned.

Lambeth Palace Library MS 2939


Marylynn Rouse, 03/01/2017