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ACT III.—THE WANDERER’S RETURN; OR, THE REMEDY FOR SIN.
We come now to the third and last act of the drama. There are two scenes. The first scene is the same lonely field. The young man sits beneath the carob tree with his face in his hands and in despair. He begins to think. Visions of the old home come before him. He sees his noble father; he sees the well-laden table; he sees the well-fed servants, and bitterly he cries, “How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I (his son) perish with hunger!” and his face sinks deeper into his hands. Then he lifts his head with the light of a new hope in his eyes, and he cries, “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. This is God’s picture of the remedy for sin. Notice what it is. In the first place he began to think—that is where salvation begins, in thinking. People say that Christianity is blind faith; not a bit of it. Christianity is a rational faith that comes from honest, candid, close thought. He began to think. Men often say to me, “I am not a Christian, because I think for myself.” My dear friend, you are not a Christian because you don’t think for yourself. You don’t think, and you know you don’t. For every man who is not a Christian because he thinks for himself, I will show you a hundred who are not Christians because they don’t and won’t think for themselves. What is the trouble with you who are out of Christ? The simple trouble is that you won’t think. You are bound not to think. You deliberately refuse to read every book that would make you think. You go down to hear some infidel lectures because you think that will prevent you thinking, because they stuff you with irrational nonsense. At a meeting like this you will go out when the preaching becomes too pointed and you are compelled to think; some of you would do it now if you dared. If I could get you men and women who are out of Christ to think for thirty consecutive minutes, I would get you saved. The trouble is you are bound not to think. A stubborn refusal to think is sending tens of thousands of the men of Great Britain down to perdition.
He thought about the comparative lots of his father’s servants and of himself in this far country. The comparative position of a child, or even a servant, of God and a servant of the devil; that is the thing to think about. I wish I could get a good and faithful servant of Christ and a faithful servant of the devil to stand together on this platform to-night and just let you look at the two. Pick out the best servant of the devil you know in London, and then pick out the most faithful and devoted servant of Jesus Christ that you know; then make a call on them the same day, and study their faces. If this does not make a Christian of you, it is because you are not willing to give up sin. Compare the lot of the child of God and that of the servant of the devil.
But, friends, he did not to stop with thinking; his thought brightened into resolution. He said, “I will arise and go.” It is not enough to think, you must resolve; there are people here to-night who have thought of this question often and who know just as well as I do that they ought to be Christians, but they never come to the point of resolution. In my first pastorate there was one of our leading men in business and politics whom I know very well. I said to him, “John, you ought to be a Christian.” ”‘I know it”’ he replied. “I would give everything in the world if I were a Christian. I know you have got the right of it, and the best of it, and I would like to be a Christian!” “Then,” I said, “John, give me your hand on it, and take Jesus Christ right now.” But he never would come to the point of resolution. Don’t only think; resolve! What are you to resolve? “I will arise and go to the Father.” That is the thing; come to God, to your Father. Come right to Him.
But notice how to come; come with a confession, and say, “I have sinned.” That is the only way a sinner can come to God—with a confession. God is willing to receive the vilest sinner on earth that will come with a confession on his lips.
The last step is “He arose and came to his Father.” He turned his back on husks and hogs and hunger and turned his face towards home. Now we come to the last scene. The boy is nearing home. I don’t know what his thoughts may have been by the way. He may have had doubts and fears., he may have wondered how he would be received, he may even have thought, “I wish I could fix myself up better before going home.” But he had sense enough to come just as he was, and he kept trudging right along on his journey, and now he is within a few miles of home. Away off yonder on the hilltop, as the sun was setting, stands a man, an old man, in the last rays of the setting sun, peering off into the west. He has often been there before; it is the father looking out into the west, for the home-coming of the boy that never came. The loving father is there again, for love never wearies, looking out into the west. Away down yonder towards the horizon he sees a speck. Can it be the boy? It grows larger and larger; it assumes the proportions and form of a man, but not at all the boy who left his home; no longer is it that rotund form, no longer is there the bright glow of youth in his face, no longer is there the light, tripping step. It is the figure of a man prematurely old, with sunken cheeks and emaciated form, clothed in rags and sore-footed limping slowly along the road. But those old eyes, though dim with age, are sharp with love. Hear that cry, “My son, my son!” The aged feet forget their feebleness. The old man runs and falls on the neck of him and kisses him. The son begins to stammer out his confession: “Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.” But the father won’t hear another word. He cries: “Bring forth the best robe and put it on him, a ring on his hand and robes 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.” Of what is this a picture? God—God’s attitude towards the sinner. Although the son had forgotten the father, the father had not forgotten the son. For many years you have forgotten God, but God has never forgotten you. You have not thought of God for many a long day, but there has not been a day in which God has not thought of you, waiting to see some sign of your home-coming. If you turn your back on your sin to-night, if you turn back on husks, hogs and hunger, turn you face towards God; while you are still a great way off, God will run to meet you; and there will be the best robe of God’s own righteousness in Christ to put on you, a ring for your finger, a pledge of your sonship; a kiss of reconciliation for your cheek, shoes of the preparation of the Gospel of Peace for your feet, and the fatted calf, typical of the great feast of joy and gladness in Jesus Christ. Men and women, come home to-night.
I heard years ago a story which I have never forgotten. A girl had gone astray and had left her home the great city. For some time she had continued to write to her mother, but after a while her letters became less frequent and at last they ceased altogether. The mother suspected the worst, and came up to the city to search for the lost girl. She went to a gentleman who worked in the lower parts of the city and asked him, “Can you get my daughter for me?” “Well.,” he replied, “I think I can, but you will have to do just what I tell you.” “I will do anything to get my daughter,” she replied. “Then,” said the missionary, “go to a photographer and have your picture taken; have it taken large size, and have a hundred of them, and bring them to me.” After a while the mother came, bringing the hundred photographs. “Now,” be said, “sit down and write underneath each photograph just these two words, ‘Come home,’” and the mother sat down and wrote. “Now,” said the missionary, “may I take these photographs down into the low parts of the city and put them up in the saloons and places of infamy?” It was a hard thing to ask of a pure woman, that her picture should be put up to the gaze of the outcast and the vile. But the mother’s lore said “Yes”—anything to win the girl. The man took them and put them up in a hundred dens of infamy. Then he said to the mother, “Now go right home and wait.” A few nights after, a group of revelers came into one of the places where the mother’s picture hung among the group was the lost daughter; who, looking across the saloon, saw that picture on the wall. It looked familiar. Stepping over to it, she saw in her mother’s handwriting the two words, “Come home.” She knew what it meant; it broke her heart; she fled from the saloon and took the first train for home, and in a few hours she was wrapped in her mother’s arms.
That is what God has done in this fifteenth chapter of Luke. He has sent down a picture of Himself, picture of His heart of love, of His love for you and me, and underneath it God has written, as it were in His own handwriting, these two words, “Come home.”
Will you come to-night?
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