HH Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
And he arose and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him–Luke 15:20
The Tenderness of Jesus’ Words
A friend of mine told me she was on one occasion visiting one of our sister hospitals. It chanced that at the time of her visit two accident victims were lying ill there; both of them rough, wild men who had led a wandering and riotous life. With a silent prayer to God that He would guide her to some suitable passage of Scripture, she read to them the parable of the prodigal son. And great was her wonder when she looked up from her book and saw tears streaming down the patients’ cheeks. They had never heard the parable before. It broke on them freshly with its matchless music. It touched some of those secret chords that had lain silent through many a sinful year. And my friend used to say that she never realized the reach and the tenderness of Jesus’ words, till she read them, without note or comment in that ward. Is there no danger in a too familiar Bible? Have we not read and read again such passages as these, till we have almost ceased to feel the wonder of them? It is a heavenly mind, said Thomas Boston, that is the best interpreter of Scripture.
Self-Will Leads to Misery
Now first let us note how self-will leads to misery. Like many another child of other countries, this younger son chafed at the bonds of home. He wanted to live; he wanted to see the world; it was intolerable for a young fellow like him to be pent up in that lonely farm. His heart was away, long before he left. He had really wandered before he ever set out. So he came to his father and he got his portion; and without a thought of the sore hearts at home, he started lightly for the far country. I daresay the sun had never shone so brightly, and the world was never so magical, so intoxicating, as on that morning when he left the farm. Now he had burst the shackles, now he was going to be free–and before long, instead of being free, he found that he had made himself a slave. It was a sweet slavery for a little while, but the sweetness passed and the degradation came. Then (for troubles never come singly) there broke out a great famine in the land, until at last there was nothing left for him but to take service with some citizen and feed his swine–and you know what degradation that was for a Jew. It was to this that his self-will had brought him. He longed to be free, and he was free to starve. It was a strangely different world, out with the swine, from the world that had danced before him when he started–and he had no one to blame for it except himself. He had been self-willed, and now he was self-made. There was a way that had seemed right in the man’s eyes, and he was finding that its end was death.
It Was the Prodigal’s Want That Turned His Heart Homeward
Again mark that it was the prodigal’s want that turned his heart homeward. In his days of pleasure, he had forgotten his home. Life sped so merrily when money was plentiful, that he hardly ever gave a thought to his father. And had his portion only lasted long enough, he might have been forgetful till he died. But the day came when he began to be in want, and on the back of his hunger memory revived. He had never known the value of his home till he was homeless in a stranger’s field. But he knew it then; he saw it clearly then. His need set everything in its true light. And then urged by his destitution, and spurred by these happy visions of love and plenty, he was thrilled by the strong purpose to return. Had he sat still and only dreamed of home, he would have been the victim of remorse. When he rose up and started out for home he was the subject of genuine repentance. For repentance, says the catechism, is a saving grace, whereby a sinner out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.
The Father’s Love: Strong and Deep
Then note how strong and deep the father ‘s love was. The prodigal had well-nigh forgotten his father, but the father had never forgotten his younger son. He never walked in the morning but it flashed on him that perhaps the wanderer would come home today. His heart had given a strange leap many a time when he spied a distant figure on the hill. But always it was another disappointment and a stronger entreaty arose in the evening prayer. But today there was no disappointment. However ragged and haggard and wayworn, he would have recognized that figure in a thousand. They say that love is blind, but the love of the prodigal’s father was not so. His love, then, was unchanging, ever watchful; but it was more, it was generous, loyal, forgiving. There is the kiss of peace; there is the noble welcome; there is never a whisper of “I told you so.” I think that if the elder brother had met the prodigal, he would have sneaked him round and in by the back door. But the love of the father wishes no concealment; the whole house must be sharers in the joy. Is not that worthy of the name of love? Do you not say such love is wonderful? Yet that is the picture of the love of God when He pardons and welcomes and blesses you and me.
The Unbrotherliness of the Elder Brother
Note lastly how unbrotherly the elder brother was. He was almost unworthy to have such a father. He took the feasting as a personal insult: he cannot call him brother–“this thy son.” You might have thought he would have been glad to get him home. Instead of that, he was angry at the welcome. And he who loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how shall he love God whom he hath not seen? The younger brother had been selfish once, but the elder brother was selfish all along. The younger brother had a broken heart; the elder brother knew not his need of one. The younger brother, through bitterness and famine, had realized the priceless worth of love; but the elder brother, with everything he wanted, was loveless still. God keep us from the narrow and nasty spirit! May we all grow brotherly, and never elder-brotherly. And we shall never do that if in every evening prayer, amid all the joy and thanksgiving of grateful hearts, we whisper seriously, “Father, I have sinned, and am no more worthy to be called Thy son.”