« AnteriorContinua »
feast of salvation prepared for all, I will, in the following discourse, apply to it more generally, and consider its several circumstances as referring to God's dealings with his penitent children.
Whether from its close analogy to the conduct of ordinary life, its awakening allusions to domestic scenes, the interest it excites in the bosom of every father of a family, the salutary and godly fear with which it may inspire every youth anxious to burst the bonds of parental authoritywhether from the engaging representation it gives us of the infinite mercy of God, of the insufficiency of sinful pleasures to add to the happiness of life, or of the efficacy of sincere repentance—the parable of the prodigal son has ever been a favourite topic with the preacher, and has seldom failed to give birth to serious, though transient, reflection in the breast of his hearers. The misfortune is, that the impression is only transient: your judgments are convinced, your feelings are roused, your consciences are awakened, butyour lives are not reformed. In the moment of conviction, you adopt the language of the returning prodigal ; but, the solemn services of the tabernacle ended, you forget the conscientious resolution of the preceding moment ; the interest which the parable excited, the moral it inculcated, the impression it made upon your hearts, fly before the earliest and most trifling object that addresses itself to your attention. Thus the lesson, which it was hoped would, at least, have governed the conduct of the week, until the impression should be renewed with the returning
sabbath, fades from your memories and is forgotten in an hour.
Let us examine into the several particulars of the parable and apply them as we proceed to our respective situations in life. First, in its literal sense, to our relative duties as parents, as children,-and spiritually, in the next, to the relation we bear to God as the creatures of his power, the adopted children of his mercy. The rise and progress, and evil consequences of error will be found intelligibly represented in the conduct of the prodigal.
“The younger of two sons said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me." In this his impatience of the wholesome restraints of parental authority, we behold the origin of all the after errors of the prodigal. Not satisfied with the calm and innocent enjoyments of domestic scenes, tastless to him while fettered by the obligations of filial obedience, he would fain embark on the buis-. terous ocean of life, blindly trusting to his own untried and incompetent powers, and spurning that affectionate and guiding hand which has conducted him through the weaknesses of childhood and the slippery pathways of early and inexperienced youth, into the opening plains of manhood. The pleasures of home have become insipid, not from their insufficient nature, but from the restraints which accompany them; whilst those less innocent enjoyments, which the wisdom of parental experience denies him, assume, from that very prohibition, a new value in his estimation. It was reserved for the woeful experience of future days to
convince him of his error, and, by stripping of their bor. rowed fascination the guilty pleasures for which he now pants so ardently, to bring his repentant heart to bitter but sincere reflection.
Anticipating the beneficial change that might be wrought upon the heart of his impatient child, though through the the medium of so severe a discipline, and fondly trusting that those convictions would follow upon experience which his own good counsel and authority had been incompetent to effect, his father “divides unto him his living." He gives him the portion of goods that falleth to him ; with a heavy heart he yields him up to his own self-government, and in a few days he sees his unconscious child set forward on a journey that will be beset with numberless dangers and vexed with various storms.
“The younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living."
No sooner is he released from the galling bonds of a father's authority, and let loose upon the plains of freedom, than he hastens to that ruinous consummation from which that father's authority would have preserved him. The wisdom and expediency of former restraint is immediately seen in the ill use he makes of his liberty. He 6s wastes his substance,” he “ spends all” that he has, and, to add to the sad catalogue of his privations, “there arises a mighty famine in the land, and he begins to be in want." He is compelled to have recourse to dependence upon a citizen of the country for immediate relief, to a degrading and peculiarly revolting employment for his daily food. Nor even by these humiliating services can he satisfy the cravings of hunger; fain would he have fed upon “ the husks that the swine did eat,” but “no man gave unto him.' This is the season for reflection : in this his hour of suffering, the follies of the past rush upon his recollection ; the kindness of that father, whom he had hastily left, the wisdom of that counsel he had despised, the comforts, the endearments of that home he had deserted,--all are opposed to the desolation, the necessities, the unfeeling hearts that surround him. This was indeed a trial of affliction, well calculated to “bring him to himself,” to bid him contrast his former fulness of supply with the scantiness of the present, to bid him bow beneath the chastening rod, and acknowledge himself humbled and repentant.
“How many hired servants of my father," was now his involuntary exclamation, “ have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!" Gladly would he exchange his present forlorn condition for the meanest among those who composed his father's household. When it recurs to his recollection how abundantly all their wants were satisfied, how blest he would now consider himself were he permitted to feed upon the superfluities of their daily supply ; the height from which he had fallen makes his present depression more insupportable; the comforts he once enjoyed, and which, but for his own folly he might have continued to enjoy, shed a darker horror over his existing privations. Under the pressure of present distress, and with the certainty of its becoming daily more severe, he comes to the
only wise resolution which could afford the prospect of relief. “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.” The consummation which the father had anticipated is thus happily brought about; the distress to which the body of his child has been made subject, has effected the wished-for change upon his mind. He arises, and “comes to his father." And what is the conduct of this justly offended parent? Does he visit the ill conduct, the ingratitude of his wayward son with punishment proportionate to his multiplied offences ? On the contrary, his affectionate heart is enraptured at that son's return. “When he wasłyet a great way off,” he“ saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck and kissed him." In proportion to his fears for his prodigal, is his gratitude for his safety; the sanguine expectations he had entertained of his child's conversion are realized in the lowly confession he now makes of the extent of his error, of his unworthiness to stand before the presence of one whom he had so ungratefully deserted, in opposition to whose precepts he had so grievously erred. Bring forth the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet ; 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,-was lost and is found.” By one immediate act of unhesitating forgiveness, all his former errors are cancelled and forgotten. His return from vice to virtue is welcomed by the happy father as a resurrection