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1. All the publicans - That is, all who were in that place. It seems our Lord was in some town of Galilee of the Gentiles, from whence he afterward went to Jerusalem, chap. xvii, 11.
3. He spake - Three parables of the same import: for the sheep, the piece of silver, and the lost son, all declare (in direct contrariety to the Pharisees and scribes) in what manner God receiveth sinners.
4. Leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness - Where they used to feed: all uncultivated ground, like our commons, was by the Jews termed wilderness or desert. And go after - In recovering a lost soul, God as it were labours. May we not learn hence, that to let them alone who are in sin, is both unchristian and inhuman! Matt. xviii, 12.
7. Joy shall be - Solemn and festal joy, in heaven - First, in our blessed Lord himself, and then among the angels and spirits of just men, perhaps informed thereof by God himself, or by the angels who ministered to them. Over one sinner - One gross, open, notorious sinner, that repenteth - That is, thoroughly changed in heart and life; more than over ninety and nine just persons - Comparatively just, outwardly blameless: that need not such a repentance - For they need not, cannot repent of the sins which they never committed. The sum is, as a father peculiarly rejoices when an extravagant child, supposed to be utterly lost, comes to a thorough sense of his duty; or as any other person who has recovered what he had given up for gone, has a more sensible satisfaction in it, than in several other things equally valuable, but not in such danger: so do the angels in heaven peculiarly rejoice in the conversion of the most abandoned sinners. Yea, and God himself so readily forgives and receives them, that he may be represented as having part in the joy.
12. Give me the part of goods that falleth to me - See the root of all sin! A desire of disposing of ourselves; of independency on God!
13. He took a journey into a far country - Far from God: God was not in all his thoughts: And squandered away his substance - All the grace he had received.
14. He began to be in want - All his worldly pleasures failing, he grew conscious of his want of real good.
15. And he joined himself to a citizen of that country - Either the devil or one of his children, the genuine citizens of that country which is far from God. He sent him to feed swine - He employed him in the base drudgery of sin.
16. He would fain have filled his belly with the husks - He would fain have satisfied himself with worldly comforts. Vain, fruitless endeavour!
17. And coming to himself - For till then he was beside himself, as all men are, so long as they are without God in the world.
18. I will arise and go to my father - How accurately are the first steps of true repentance here pointed out! Against Heaven - Against God.
20. And he arose and came to his father - The moment he had resolved, he began to execute his resolution. While he was yet a great way off, his father saw him - Returning, starved, naked.
22. But the father said - Interrupting him before he had finished what he intended to say. So does God frequently cut an earnest confession short by a display of his pardoning love.
23. Let us be merry - Both here, and wherever else this word occurs, whether in the Old or New Testament, it implies nothing of levity, but a solid, serious, religious, heartfelt joy: indeed this was the ordinary meaning of the word two hundred years ago, when our translation was made.
25. The elder son seems to represent the Pharisees and scribes, mentioned chap. xv, 2.
27. Thy father hath killed the fatted calf - Perhaps he mentions this rather than the robe or ring, as having a nearer connection with the music and dancing.
28. He was angry, and would not go in - How natural to us is this kind of resentment!
29. Lo, so many years do I serve thee - So he was one of the instances mentioned ver. 7. How admirably therefore does this parable confirm that assertion! Yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends - Perhaps God does not usually give much joy to those who never felt the sorrows of repentance.
31. Thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine - This suggests a strong reason against murmuring at the indulgence shown to the greatest of sinners. As the father's receiving the younger son did not cause him to disinherit the elder; so God's receiving notorious sinners will be no loss to those who have always served him; neither will he raise these to a state of glory equal to that of those who have always served him, if they have, upon the whole, made a greater progress in inward as well as outward holiness.
32. This thy brother was dead, and is alive - A thousand of these delicate touches in the inspired writings escape an inattentive reader. In ver. 30, the elder son had unkindly and indecently said, This thy son. The father in his reply mildly reproves him, and tenderly says, This thy brother - Amazing intimation, that the best of men ought to account the worst sinners their brethren still; and should especially remember this relation, when they show any inclination to return. Our Lord in this whole parable shows, not only that the Jews had no cause to murmur at the reception of the Gentiles, (a point which did not at that time so directly fall under consideration, ) but that if the Pharisees were indeed as good as they fancied themselves to be, still they had no reason to murmur at the kind treatment of any sincere penitent. Thus does he condemn them, even on their own principles, and so leaves them without excuse. We have in this parable a lively emblem of the condition and behaviour of sinners in their natural state. Thus, when enriched by the bounty of the great common Father, do they ungratefully run from him, ver. 12. Sensual pleasures are eagerly pursued, till they have squandered away all the grace of God, ver. 13. And while these continue, not a serious thought of God can find a place in their minds. And even when afflictions come upon them, ver. 14, still they will make hard shifts before they will let the grace of God, concurring with his providence, persuade them to think of a return, ver. 15, 16. When they see themselves naked, indigent, and undone, then they recover the exercise of their reason, ver. 17. Then they remember the blessings they have thrown away, and attend to the misery they have incurred. And hereupon they resolve to return to their father, and put the resolution immediately in practice, ver. 18, 19. Behold with wonder and pleasure the gracious reception they find from Divine, injured goodness! When such a prodigal comes to his father, he sees him afar off, ver. 20. He pities, meets, embraces him, and interrupts his acknowledgments with the tokens of his returning favour, ver. 21. He arrays him with the robe of a Redeemer's righteousness, with inward and outward holiness; adorns him with all his sanctifying graces, and honours him with the tokens of adopting love, ver. 22. And all this he does with unutterable delight, in that he who was lost is now found, ver. 23, 24. Let no elder brother murmur at this indulgence, but rather welcome the prodigal back into the family. And let those who have been thus received, wander no more, but emulate the strictest piety of those who for many years have served their heavenly Father, and not transgressed his commandments.
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