Having thus unfolded the difference in character between the two
dispensations, and the circumstances of the transition from the one to the
other, the Lord turns (chap. 15) to higher principles-the sources of the
one that was brought in by grace.
It is indeed a contrast between the two, as well as the chapters we have
been going through. But this contrast rises to its glorious source in God's
own grace, contrasted with the miserable self-righteousness of man.
The publicans and sinners draw near to hear Jesus. Grace had its true
dignity to those who needed it. Self-righteousness repulsed that which was
not as contemptible as itself, and God Himself at the same time in His
nature of love. The Pharisees and the scribes murmured against Him who was
a witness of this grace in fulfilling it.
I cannot meditate on this chapter, which has been the joy of so many souls,
and the subject of so many testimonies to grace, from the time that the
Lord pronounced it, without enlarging upon grace, perfect in its
application to the heart. Nevertheless I must confine myself here to great
principles, leaving their application to those who preach the word. This is
a difficulty that constantly presents itself in this portion of the word.
First, the great principle which the Lord exhibits, and on which He founds
the justification of God's dealings (sad state of heart that requires it!
marvellous grace and patience that gives it!)-the great principle, I
repeat, is that God finds His own joy in shewing grace. What an answer to
the horrid spirit of the Pharisees who made it an objection!
It is the Shepherd who rejoices when the sheep is found, the woman when
the piece of money is in her hand, the Father when His child is in His
arms. What an expression of that which God is! How truly is Jesus the one
to make it known! It is on this that all the blessing of man can alone be
founded. It is in this that God is glorified in His grace.
But there are two distinct parts in this grace-the love that seeks, and the
love with which one is received. The first two parables describe the former
character of this grace. The shepherd seeks his sheep, the woman her piece
of money: the sheep and the piece of silver are passive. The shepherd seeks
(and the woman also) until he finds, because he has an interest in the
matter. The sheep, wearied with its wanderings, has not to take one step in
returning. The shepherd lays it on his shoulders and carries it home. He
takes the whole charge, happy to recover his sheep. This is the mind of
heaven, whatever the heart of man on earth may be. It is the work of
Christ, the Good Shepherd. The woman sets before us the pains which God
takes in His love; so that it is more the work of the Spirit, which is
represented by that of the woman. The light is brought-she sweeps the house
until she finds the piece she had lost. Thus God acts in the world, seeking
sinners. The hateful and hating jealousy of self-righteousness finds no
place in the mind of heaven, where God dwells, and produces, in the
happiness that surrounds Him, the reflex of His own perfections.
But although neither the sheep nor the piece of silver does anything
towards its own recovery, there is a real work wrought in the heart of one
who is brought back; but this work, necessary as it is for the finding or
even the seeking of peace, is not that on which the peace is grounded. The
return and the reception of the sinner are therefore described in the third
parable. The work of grace, accomplished solely by the power of God, and
complete in its effects, is presented to us in the first two. Here the
sinner returns, with sentiments which we will now examine-sentiments
produced by grace, but which never rise to the height of the grace
manifested in his reception until he has returned.
First his estrangement from God is depicted. While as guilty at the moment
that he crosses the paternal threshold, in turning his back upon his
father, as when he eats husks with the swine, man, deceived by sin, is here
presented in the last state of degradation to which sin conducts him.
Having expended all that fell to him according to nature, the destitution
in which he finds himself (and many a soul feels the famine which it has
brought itself into, the emptiness of all around without a desire after God
or holiness, and often into what is degrading in sin) does not incline him
towards God, but leads him to seek a resource in that which Satan's country
(where nothing is given) can supply; and he finds himself among the swine.
But grace operates; and the thought of the happiness of his father's house,
and of the goodness that blessed all around it, awakes in his heart. Where
the Spirit of God works, there are always two things found, conviction in
the conscience and the attraction of the heart. It is really the revelation
of God to the soul, and God is light and He is love; as light, conviction
is produced in the soul, but as love there is the attraction of goodness,
and truthful confession is produced. It is not merely that we have sinned,
but that we have to do with God and desire to have, but fear because of
what He is, yet are led to go. So the woman in chapter 7. (See page 240.)
So Peter in the boat. This produces the conviction that we are perishing,
and a sense, feeble it may be, yet true, of the goodness of God and the
happiness to be found in His presence, although we may not feel sure of
being received; and we do not remain in the place where we are perishing.
There is the sense of sin, there is humiliation; the sense that there is
goodness in God; but not the sense of what the grace of God really is.
Grace attracts-one goes towards God, but one would be satisfied to be
received as a servant-a proof that, though the heart be wrought in by
grace, it has not yet met God. Progress, moreover, although real, never
gives peace. There is a certain rest of heart in going; but one does not
know what reception to expect, after having been guilty of forsaking God.
The nearer the prodigal son drew to the house, the more would his heart
beat at the thought of meeting his father. But the father anticipates his
coming, and acts towards him, not according to his son's deserts, but
according to his own heart as a father-the only measure of the ways of God
towards us. He is on his son's neck while the latter is still in rags,
before he has had time to say, "Make me as one of thy hired servants." It
was no longer time to say it. It belonged to a heart anticipating how it
would be received, not to one who had met God. Such an one knows how it has
been received. The prodigal arranges to say it (as people speak of an
humble hope, and a low place); but though the confession is complete when
he arrives, he does not then say, Make me a hired servant. How could he?
The father's heart had decided his position by its own sentiments, by its
love towards him, by the place his heart had given him towards himself. The
father's position decided that of the son. This was between himself and his
son; but this was not all. He loved his son, even as he was, but he did not
introduce him into the house in that condition. The same love that received
him as a son will have him enter the house as a son, and as the son of such
a father should be. The servants are ordered to bring the best robe and put
it on him. Thus loved, and received by love, in our wretchedness, we are
clothed with Christ to enter the house. We do not bring the robe: God
supplies us with it. It is an entirely new thing; and we become the
righteousness of God in Him. This is heaven's best robe. All the rest have
part in the joy, except the self righteous man, the true Jew. The joy is
the joy of the father, but all the house shares it. The elder son is not in
the house. He is near it, but he will not come in. He will have nothing to
do with the grace that makes the poor prodigal the subject of the joy of
love. Nevertheless, grace acts; the fathergoes out and entreats him to
come in. It is thus that God acted, in the Gospel, towards the Jew. Yet
man's righteousness, which is but selfishness and sin, rejects grace. But
God will not give up His grace. It becomes Him. God will be God; and God is
It is this which takes the place of the pretensions of the Jews, who
rejected the Lord, and the accomplishment of the promises in Him.
That which gives peace, and characterises our position, is not the
sentiments wrought in our hearts, although they indeed exist, but those of