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sacredly refrained from expending on his sins one penny of that sum which bore the impress of a mother's purity and a mother's love. But this graceless son employed the very gold which had just come from the hands of his father in the practice of vice, and made his kind and pious parent unwittingly the minister of his sin. At length he discovers, what all must sooner or later discover, that “the way of transgressors is hard.” Famine arises, his substance is gone, he is reduced to beggary and want. Does he now remember his sins? Does he now think of the father whose heart he so sorely wounded, and whose house he so offensively left? No. He will take another step lower still. He had been a stranger in that distant land hitherto; he will now, if possible, become naturalized, and so he joins himself to a citizen of the country, who sends him into the fields to feed swine. He who could not endure the gentle restraint of a well-ordered home is now obliged to bear the shameful bondage of a swineherd. But, spite of this humiliation, he is still in want. The husks of the swine do not fill his belly or satisfy his hunger,-for man cannot be content with the food of swine,--and no one offers him ought beside. There he is at last utterly undone. He has gradually reached the lowest point of degradation and misery ; to every eye his case appears hopeless, He has parted with his birth-right, happy and confidential intercourse with his father, has lost his purity, has squandered his substance, is utterly without the means of gratifying any wish, and sits down in filth and rags, to contend with the swine for the husks which they eat.
Does any one among you say,—" That, spiritually, is my position; that, in other words, is the very course that I have run?" Alas! it is by no means impossible, for it is the history of thousands. You can, perhaps, remember the time when you thought of God with reverence and love. Gentle hands led you to the mercy-seat, and taught you to say, “Our Father."
But gradually feelings of estrangement arose. The way in which your heavenly Father bade you walk was not quite in accordance with your wishes; you entertained hard thoughts of God; and when you knelt in prayer at night you knew that you did not love Him as you once had done. No one save yourself
, perhaps, at first noticed the change, as no one but the patient detects that slight shortness of breath which is yet the precursor of consumption and death. But that change was one of which, if you had then seen the termination, it would have caused your heart to quake. As long as we " acknowledge God in all our ways," and make “Him first and last and midst," as long as our hearts beat truly to Him, and, like young Samuel, we can promptly say, "Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth, so long do we preserve at once our manhood and our sonship untouched; but directly his presence becomes a burden, and we long to cast off the restraint of his law, that moment the heart of a child begins to go from us, and the loftiest and most conservative element in our humanity sinks and declines. It was so with you. Impatient of his control, wishing to follow out “the devices and desires " of your mind, you soon wandered from him altogether. You put aside your Bible on the shelf where it has slumbered ever since. You gave up prayer, and years have fled since last you bowed your knee in supplication. You deserted the assembly of Sabbath worshippers, or, if present, were totally ignorant of all that was passing. At last God was not in all your thoughts ; though He gave you your substance, and though his bounties ought to have reminded you every moment of your obligation, you forgot Him altogether, and lived far, far from Him in wicked works. Scarce any mark remained of that relationship which was once so hallowed-scarce any recollection of those happy days when the name of father was a fountain of joy. Nor was this the worst. When you forsook your father, you did not go portionless. You wished to take his gifts into your own hands, and use them without his interference, and he let you—in judgment and displeasure, --he let you. As he retains none and advises none against their will, he said to you virtually, * Go take what thou wishest or thinkest to belong to thee; have all under thy own power and use it as thou deemest fit. Assume the guidance of thy reason, thine affections, thy passions, thy tastes, acquired knowledge, and worldly goods, and find out by experience what it is to have thine own way and trust thine own heart.” And those gifts you took, gifts which came direct from the hands of the Holy One, and how did you use them ? You used them to undermine his authority, to break his commands, to sin against all He holds sacred, and to grieve his Holy Spirit. His very gists, the powers of mind and bounties of providence with which his hands endowed you, you employed to aid you in a course which you knew his soul abhorred. It may be that that course was not openly flagrant; you were simply lovers of pleasure, more than lovers of God. Or, it may, be that you gave yourself np to habits of impurity and intemperance, of profanity and dissipation. At any rate, you perverted the faculties and affections of your mind and the rich supplies
of God's bounty, and sank low in the gulph of sin. As long as outward circumstances continued prosperous, and you were urged forward by a favourable gale, you exulted in your independence and laughed away care; but when the clouds gathered darkness and a storm of sorrow broke on your head, then you were troubled. For your new situation you were utterly unprepared. You had nothing to comfort you. You were absolutely in want. But instead of turning your feet homeward, you only allied yourself more firmly to an ungodly world, and sought in its provisions relief from misery and despair. Ordinary pleasures became insipid, new and lower ones were resorted to, just as when the pampered, sickly appetite fails, more highly seasoned meats are prepared. You sought satisfaction in that which was merely outward and material, and, as this can never meet the cravings of the soul, you were till conscious of want. You strove to feed your mind on speculations which treated religion as fiction and folly, and, since the religious element is that which chiefly distinguishes man from the brute creation, you seemed resolved to live on the very husks which the swine did eat. And now you were the picture of wretchedness and degradation. Your Father forsaken, your nature polluted, your heart dissatisfied and desolate, your conscience restless, your hope gone. “Yes," you reply, "you have sketched me to the life, and my hope is gone. But why ? your history is indeed a shameful one, but why despair ? Has not your course been, step by step, the very counterpart of the prodigal, and was not he received ? Nay, not that very prodigal a description of your own self, drawn by the hand of infinite love, that, when every thing within and around you should speak only of despair, you might hear one voice which not distrust, saying to your trembling spirit, " be of good cheer, your sins are all forgiven.” Then left up your heads, ye desponding ones. Be not afraid, only believe. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall become, through the cleansing power of Christ's grace, white as snow, though red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
II. But perhaps, some of you are inclined to say, "My course has been a very ungrateful and unholy one, I know; I have been the very chief of sinners; but even this does not so much alarm me as the fact that I have become religiously a complete wreck ; my soul is a dark blank: can I ever be again what I once was, ever hope to occupy the meanest place among those who serve the Lord ?" Look again at the prodigal; his history may give you brighter thoughts. If ever there was a heart in which every holy affection appeared to be totally dried up, it was his. If ever there was a condition from which escape and restoration seemed impossible, it was his. But after all, his case was not desperate; neither is yours. The love of Christ, the power of the Spirit are allsufficient.
1. Just observe the way in which right feeling sprung up again in his heart. He was was in deep distress. Every thing that he had tried, to yield him comfort, failed. Looking forward and around him in sheer misery, and finding nothing that gave him rest, he turned his thoughts backward to the days of his youth; memory revisited the home of plenty and peace, felt the warm touch of a father's hand, and the kind greetings of a father's voice. Lost in the visions of by-gone happiness, he found old feelings returning. The flood-gates which had long been closed were once more opened, and, with tears of shame and wonder, he exclaimed, “How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! No sooner did he pronounce the name of father again, and allow his thoughts to dwell fixedly on that father's love, than " he comes to himself;" from that dried-up heart affection gushed forth, and with it sorrow and contrition, and his former self, which seemed lost and buried beneath passion, baseness, and guilt, came back, and he was a child again. And, dear friends, will not the same means produce the same results in you? Assuredly they will. If, turning away in very weariness from those worldly pleasures or sinful excesses, in which you have sought satisfaction in vain, you think of God, and remember those happier days when you were permitted to call him Father, that name will touch a chord which has long ceased to vibrate, and awaken a clear response in your dumb and dormant soul. As you muse on those proofs of a Father's considerate care, which you behold in the blessings which hourly fall to your lot, or on those words of parental love and promise which He has addressed to you, or on that rich provision of his grace which He has made for you in the Gospel, some answering child-like feelings will spring up in your heart, and, taught by the Divine Spirit Himself, you will cry, "Father! Father! "Oh! think of God-of God in Christ, your Creator, your Benefactor, your Preserver, your Redeemer, your Father,-and even your death-stricken soul may live again; yea, some good thing 2. Then further, notice that the right judgment which the prodigal formed of his condition and his deserts was a means of his recovery. “How many hired servants of my father's," said he, “have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!” The contrast between what he was and what he would have been had he never wandered, he now distinctly saw; and when he recollected that he brought himself, into this perishing state by his own wilfulness, no wonder that, with deep feeling, he exclaimed, "I am not worthy to be called thy son!” He could not endure his loathsome sinfulness or his abject wretchedness, and yet he saw that he could not think of himself too meanly. It was the sense of misery which made him conclude that he must do something; it was the conviction of his worthlessness which made him ready to do or be any thing; and it was this accurate perception of the whole of his pitiable case which led him to do the right thing. And, dear friends, the very perception which you have of the awfulness of your own condition, of your utter want of goodness and merit, does it not show that you begin to see the truth? Do not your convictions correspond with the reality? Does not this feeling of utter emptiness and want make you long for deliverance? Is it not that thirsting of the soul after righteousness, which ever precedes being filled? Does not your burning sense of unworthiness make you ready to fall in with methods of escape which once you would have spurned ? Do you not feel, “Any conditions would be welcome, if only I might find mercy; if I am saved at all, it must be by grace alone?” Now, this judgment is according to truth ; it is the conclusion which you must arrive arrive at, whenever the light is thrown in upon your soul. Till you see yourselves as you are, you can never become anything better; but directly you behold your guilt and shame, you are prepared to rise, and hopelessness itself becomes the pledge of hope.
3. And then, again, remark, that instead of dwelling on his wretched condition until he was paralysed with shame and fear, he hastened to resolve and to act. “If," said he, "I continue here, I can only perish; if I delay, resolution may perhaps fail. “I will arise and go to my father, and will say, Father, I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.'' Not only was sensibility restored and truth discovered, but his will began to act, and he set out to return. Penitent for the past, anxious to be all that he ought to be in the future, love and sorrow filling his soul, he took the first step towards his home. And, dear friends, does not this teach you that your chief danger now lies in pausing, hesitating, when you ought to decide ? It is well for you to have a clear, soul-humbling view of your lost state ; but if you only think of that, you will sit down in anguish and bewilderment, palsied and irresolute, and will never make an effort to escape. No; with penitence in your heart, and confession on your lip, and decision in your glance, listen to that inspired warning, “To-day, if ye will bear his voice, harden not your heart ;” and, without one moment's pause, resolve, “I will arise, and will go unto my Father.” Again, the prodigal's story resembles your own, and says to you, "Though your soul appears to you a blank and a wreck, still fear not."
III. But possibly some others of you may say, "We do now see that, wilful and wicked as was our departure from God, depraved and wretched as is the condition into which hearts will misgive us, and as we approach the seat of the Holy One, we shall start back with shamc and dread. The thought will rush across the mind, How can we meet his face? How dare we hope for forgiveness and acceptance ?” Once more let us look at the prodigal. He has set out on his journey; he has travelled many weary miles; he now begins to recognize old and familiar spots; his heart sinks and rises as he thinks that another hour or two may bring him within sight of home. In that same direction his father is walking, and very far off, just on the verge of the horizon, he sees a forlorn and ragged figure toiling slowly on his way. A servant of the household would never have guessed who it was, but a parent's eye could not be mistaken. In thiat squalid, povertystricken stranger he detects his own son, and, lest his courage should fail, he bastens to meet him, and, before the penitent can confess his sin or urge his humble petition, he falls on his neck and kisses him. O, wondrous illustration of the Great Father's love and pity to his returning children! He sees, beneath the reckless, godless, unpromising exterior, the first feeling of shame and sorrow, the first wish to be better; He hears the first whisper, inaudible and unsuspected by any but Himself, " I will arise and go to my father," and lest that feeble spark should be quenched, or the wish be extinguished in despair, He goes forth to meet him in his promises and his grace, and says, “ Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out.” O! is not this enough to scatter the fears of the most timid, and, while it encourages your heart, to fill it with fervent, lasting love ?
But this is not all. The son, still more smitten with shame and penitence by his father's tenderness and his father's welcome, sobbed out the impassioned acknowledgment, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son ;" but the father, absorbed in the joy of his return, answered by acts rather than words, and commanded his servants to put on him the best robe, to put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet, to kill the fatted calf, and prepare a feast, at which all might exult on the wanderer's return. He is reinstated in his old position, he lives again in his father's love, honours are heaped upon him, and the joyous refrain is ever and anon repeated, “This, my son, was dead and is alive again : he was lost and is found.” And this exquisite touch, so true to nature, is intended to encourage all those shrinking, trembling ones that are disposed to lose heart, when they think of drawing near to God. Not only will He not scorn or reproach you, not only will He manifest no hesitation to receive you, but “ before you call he will answer, and while you are yet speaking he will hear." Repel you ! reprove you! He, who made such a sacrifice to save you ? He will load you with honour, He will lavish on you his gifts. He will place you not among the servants, but the children; He will cleanse you by the grace of his Spirit, and adorn you with the robe of his righteousness; He will give you the pledge of indissoluble union and everlasting love ; He will refresh you by the ordinances of his house, the fellowship of his saints, and the promises of his Word; He will invite all holy beings to exult in your recovery and “rejoice over you with singing;" and at last He will bring you to that blest home where you shall for ever behold his presence and share in the fulness of his joy! Again we say, to those who wish to love God, wish to live the lives and wear the character of children, “Fear not, he will abundantly pardon."
be disheartened, not so much by the thought of God, as by the cold, reproachful, bitter tone in which some professedly religious men refer to the depraved and sunken, and to any expression of hope that they may be reclaimed and elevated. Such men, you believe, look on you with a little pity and with much contempt. Proud of their own fancied righteousness, they regard you as the offscouring of all things, they never darken your doors, or speak one kind helpful word to you, but only try to forget you, because the remembrance of you disturbs their quiet. Well, my brethren, I fancy that these men, if they ever existed, are daily getting fewer; that Christians are becoming more and more anxious to bless the irreligious and wretched, both in body and in soul; and that some of those whom you suspect of scorn and cold-heartedness are held back rather by the fear that you would resent their interference, than by unconcern about your condition. But, even if to any extent you are right, remeniber that the Pharisees, who thought themselves emphatically the religious men of their day, shrunk with a still more pious horror from the very touch of the publicans and sinners, whose case is set forth by the prodigal. But what did the prodigal do? If he had asked counsel of the lordly Pharisee, his elder brother, he would probably have been driven to despair, but, asking the help of no one, he went straight to his father, and, folded in his arms of love, forgot all about the sneers and surprise with which his welcome would be greeted. And when his Pharisaic brother began to sulk and to growl, that so much joy and feasting should be wasted on such a worthless wretch, and jealously intimated that years of obedience on his part had been rewarded by no such honour, did the father give up the wanderer, or say to the complainer, “You are right?" O, no! he reproved him for his sullen exclusiveness ; showed the unreasonableness of his angry remonstrance, and cried, “It is meet that we should make merry and be glad, for this thy brother was dead and is alive again ; he was lost and is found." If then, either with or without reason, you fear coldness and incredulity from those who ought to take you by the hand, go direct to the Saviour, make your confession to Him rest in His atonement, confide in His love, and let no proud Pharisee cheat you of the blessedness of being his son. Once at home again, your heart true and faithful, your life consistent and pure, you will receive a brother's welcome from many from whom you expected a sneer. Loving greetings and earnest prayers will be poured on your head, and if
should hold aloof and murmur their doubts and apprehensions, you will lose all sense of the passing annoyance in the warm smile of Him who knows your heart, and who says to each oubter, “This my son was dead and is alive again, was lost and is found.” May the Holy Spirit of God lead you to the Saviour, help you to trust in Him alone, and grant you grace to live and die as his sons. Amen.