On the Parable of the Prodigal


No. 6

Luke 15:17
And when he came to himself, he said,
How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare,
and I perish with hunger!
We now come to the more pleasing part of the parable. The prodigal was lost as to any help he could obtain abroad, but he had a good father. Thus we have destroyed ourselves by sin but in the Lord is our help. Here we have his change of mind, his reflections, which soon brought him to a determination to return home.
1. When he came to himself
What was he then [1] before? The prodigal was surely beside himself – and so is the sinner. Madness is in the heart. They know not what they do. The resemblance of sinners to madmen might be shown in many things. Of people that are mad or distracted, though their disorder works very variously, you may observe in general such things as these:
  1.1 They are under the power of a strong delusion
In London many poor creatures are to be seen, confined in chains, laid in straw, and cut off from all the true comforts of life – and yet they think themselves in far other circumstances – perhaps will tell you that they are kings, and boast of their riches and pleasures. Are not sinners mad then? Tied and bound in the chains of their sins, under the curse of the law, they talk swelling words of vanity, and boast as if they were the only happy people. If you had dear friends, in such a state of madness, you would not be satisfied that they were happy because they said so; rather, we would consider all they said as a proof of their disorder. You would pity the poor satisfaction they seem to take, and use every means to bring them to their right minds, though their cure would necessarily deprive them of all their imaginary riches and honours.
  1.2 Their disorder makes all places alike to them for they carry it within them
If you should take them from their miserable cells, and lodge them in a palace, you could do them no good by the exchange. Thus the sinner in every state of life, and in every change carries his madness with him. Adversity cannot tame him, prosperity cannot relieve him.
  1.3 They listen to no arguments or entreaties
If you attempt to reason with them, you will soon find, you might as well talk to the wind. And no more encouragement should we have to plead with sinners, were not our endeavours herein, when we reason with them from Scripture, the means which God has appointed, to bring them to their right minds. Alas how many do we persuade by the terrors of the Lord, by the mercies of God in Christ, with no more effect than if we were preaching to the poor people in Bethlem. [2] Yet when the Lord is pleased to work with us, one or another is brought to himself. Let me therefore try again. O that Jesus may bring you to sit at his feet in your right minds.
  1.4 They regard no consequences
A madman will throw fire and arrows and death, and say, Am not I in sport? He will wound himself without consideration, and others without provocation or remorse, and rush heedlessly upon the greatest dangers as a horse rusheth into battle. [3] Here is the sinner's character again – many destroy their health, their substance, the peace of their families, heap up wrath upon themselves, insult the patience of God and defy his power – they are bent upon their own destruction, and all the while say, Am not I in sport?
  1.5 They are insensible of their disorder
In fevers and other illnesses, people know they are ill, readily own it, and desire relief. But distracted people usually think themselves well – or at least that what they suffer arises from without and not from within. This is the sinner's case again. Nothing but the power of the convincing Spirit, can make him sensible of his true state, so as to feel one desire for the great Physician. Sometimes in distraction they think everybody mad but themselves. There are many such mad sinners, who though they have all these marks of an unsound mind, think themselves the only wise folks, and affect to pity or despise them that fear the Lord, as if they were out of their senses.
Having stayed so long upon this circumstance I have not time at present to proceed to the prodigal's reflection when he came to himself. Shall at present only add a few observations by way of improvement:
1. Let us be thankful for the use of our senses
The disorder I have spoken of with a view to illustrate the case of sinners, is perhaps, all things considered, the greatest of all temporal afflictions. Such persons are a burden to themselves, and to all about them. Yet it is the lot of many. It is what all are liable to. A deep impression of trouble, or a small alteration in the animal frame, may bring on this sore affliction. Let not the wise boast of his wisdom, the strong of his strength. Who had more to boast of than the great Nebuchadnezzar? He had great power and dominion, and ruled without control over a mighty Empire. Whom he would he slew and whom he would he kept alive. [4] But behold in the midst of his pomp, God struck him with this disorder, his reason departed from him, and he was driven from men, to eat grass with the beasts. [5] We have all deserved this. We have abused our understandings and faculties. We have all like him, though in a lower way, boasted and trusted in ourselves. Whatever therefore you suffer, account it a mercy that the Lord has not bereaved you of your senses.
2. Let us learn a proper spirit and conduct to poor sinners
Considered in this light they are objects rather of pity than anger. If you received a blow or injury from a distracted person, you could not resent it, if you knew his case. If sinners speak evil of you, for the Gospel‘s sake, [6] pray for them, they know not what they do. Their madness indeed does not take away their guilt in the sight of God, because it is spiritual; the faculties he has given them, the means of grace he has afforded them, are sufficient to leave them without excuse. But we have no warrant to return evil for evil. The case was once our own and would have been so still but for distinguishing grace. And the same grace can reach them. If the Lord is pleased to show them what he has shown us, they would soon act otherwise, etc.
3. I observed the Lord has appointed the preaching of the Gospel to bring sinners to their right minds
Though you are mad in sin, you are rational creatures in the common sense of the word. It is your duty to attend to the warnings, motives and declarations of Scripture. You must soon die, and if you are not restored you must die forever. But there is a Physician who is mighty to save, etc. [7]
4. You that have experienced his power
Admire his grace. If he has not given you health or welfare, or worldly comfort – he has cured you of your worst disorder, and guided your feet into the way of peace. Praise for yourselves, and pray for others. Think of the woman of Canaan, and go to Jesus, and say, Lord I have a husband or a wife, a parent or child, a friend or neighbour grievously tormented.

[1] the word is indistinct in the ms – it appears to be ‘then’ with an ‘e’ added – edited here for clarity
[2] Bethlem, also known as Bedlam, was a hospital for the mentally disordered.
[3] Jeremiah 8:6 I hearkened and heard, but they spake not aright: no man repented him of his wickedness, saying, What have I done? every one turned to his course, as the horse rusheth into the battle.
[4] Daniel 5:19 And for the majesty that he gave him, all people, nations, and languages, trembled and feared before him: whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive; and whom he would he set up; and whom he would he put down.
[5] Daniel 4:33 The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar: and he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles' feathers, and his nails like birds' claws.
[6] ms ‘for the Gospel sake’
[7] Isaiah 63:1 Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? this that is glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength? I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save.

Lambeth Palace Library MS 2939


Marylynn Rouse, 03/01/2017