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"and have need of nothing." Now it perceives that it is wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.
IV. When sinners first acquire such a sense of their condition, they betake themselves to false measures for relief.
The prodigal, in his distress, went and joined himself to a citizen of that country. And he sent him into his fields to feed swine. This citizen himself lived in that land of famine; and therefore had, in all probability, little or nothing to give to the suffering wretch, had he been ever so well disposed. We know that he actually gave him nothing. At the same time he sent him into his fields to feed swine, an employment everywhere low and debasing; but in the eye of a Jew, such as those were to whom this parable was addressed, supremely debasing, and held in religious abhorrence. Nothing could less correspond with the real interest of this unhappy man. He needed food, clothes, comfort, encouragement, hope, better friends, and more desirable employments. Thus the measures to which he betook himself were all false, fruitless, and fitted to increase, not to lessen, both the calamities which he suffered, and the distresses which futurity presented to him in a long and dismal train.
He ought immediately to have returned to his Father's house. There, if anywhere, he might reasonably have expected to find friends. Parents love their children long after they have ceased either to be dutiful or hopeful. There, also, he had reason to believe, means might be found both of support and comfort. There, finally, his profligacy might have been terminated, and he, by the happy efficacy of repentance and reformation, have been restored to an approving conscience and a virtuous life.
When sinners begin to feel that they are alienated from God, and that God is alienated from them, their first efforts. for their deliverance from this miserable situation are attempts to quiet their consciences, either by mixing with companions whose conversations and pursuits may enable them to forget their alarms, turn their eyes from their character, and follow
quietly their former courses, or to persuade themselves that the doctrines and denunciations of the Scriptures are to be understood with many qualifications and softenings, and that their case is therefore not so bad as they had been accustomed to suppose it. If neither of these schemes will succeed, they attempt to make their condition better by leaving off one sin, and performing one duty and another, particularly those which are of an external nature. In all this, there is not a single attempt to amend the heart, where the whole evil lies. In the first and second of these methods, their lives will become more, in the third commonly less, gross than before. But even in this case, there is no radical change for the better. If they attach themselves to such as they are, they will only conduct them to base employments, to greater guilt, and to more absolute degradation.
In the meantime, not a step is taken towards the sinner's home. The fewer sins he commits, the less he may suffer in the future world; still while he loves sin, he will steadily go onward towards perdition. All his efforts of this nature will therefore avail him nothing. His first duty is to repent of his sins, and turn to God. Every measure short of this is a false measure. His companions can never purify his mind from sin; and neither he nor they can save him from destruction.
V. This situation of a sinner is eminently unhappy.
The prodigal had spent his estate; was in a land of famine; had become a servant to a neighbouring citizen; was sent into his fields to feed swine; and was on the point of starving for want of food. So low was he reduced, that he would fain have filled his belly with the husks which the swine did eat. So low was he reduced, that, in the language of the original, he was earnestly desirous to feed with the swine upon the pods of leguminous plants, such as beans and peas, or the pods of the carob tree, which not a little resemble them. What must have been the situation of him, to whom these things were objects of earnest desire.
But this was not all. We are further informed that no
man gave unto him. In this miserable situation he was absolutely destitute of friends, hopeless of relief, and a stranger even to pity.
Neither was this all. To these ingredients of wretchedness was added a species of distraction. For the parable subjoins, "when he came to himself." Before this, therefore, he was not in his right mind. It is not, indeed, to be supposed, that he was in the proper sense delirious; but that by means of his profligacy and his distresses, his thoughts had become so disordered, as to be incapable of controlling his conduct with advantage, or directing him to safety and happiness.
Strong as this picture is, it is an exactly just representation of the sinner's miserable state, in the circumstances which are specified. In this state, his soul, instead of betaking itself for sustenance to the Bread of Life, labours to satisfy itself upon husks. Nay it is said in the Scriptures to feed upon wind, and to follow the east wind, and even to eat only in imagination, as when an hungry man dreameth, and behold he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty. All the objects to which the sinner resorts are mere husks, mere wind, visionary food, such as can never satisfy his mental hunger, the longing of his soul for good.
There is but one
At the same time, no one gives to him. who can give, and to him he does not apply. Other beings, however disposed, could not give him if they would; and those, to whom he actually applies, would not if they could.
At the same time, also, he is beside himself. Madness is justly defined to be that state of mind in which, although it is able to reason, the principles with which it sets out, and of course the conclusions with which it ends, are false and deceiving. Hence it pursues little good, and neglects that which is great; is intent on trifles, and forgets objects of the highest importance. Such is the true character of sinners. Their real interests they neglect, and look for happiness to things of no value. The favour of God, the forgiveness of their sins, and the immortal interests of their souls are all forgotten by them; while yet they struggle hard to find a substitute for these inestimable blessings in the toys of ambition, the dross
of avarice, and the riot of sensuality. To lose these blessings for any reason whatever is to be delirious. It is madness to love sin at all, to be an enemy of God, or to hazard the loss of the soul for a day, an hour, or a moment; to trust to a future reformation, and peculiarly to a death-bed repentance; madness, compared with which the extravagances of bedlam are the effusions of sober reason.
VI. The repentance of the Gospel is the resumption of a right mind.
"When he came to himself," says our Saviour. "God," says St. Paul," has given us the spirit of a sound mind." 2 Timothy, i. 7.
No person who reads this parable will hesitate a moment to admit, that the prodigal now first resumes his reason, or that before, he thought and acted like a madman. Truth passes the same sentence concerning a sinner in both situations.
When a sinner first begins to entertain thoughts which are sincerely penitent, he first begins to see moral subjects as they really are. Accordingly, men in a state of impenitence are, throughout the Scriptures, styled blind, and the manner in which they regard spiritual subjects is styled blindness. Thus, in Isaiah xlii. 16, God says, "I will bring the blind by "a way which they knew not; I will lead them in paths that "they have not known." And again, in verse 18th, “Hear, ye deaf, and look, ye blind, that ye may see." Of wicked ministers, he says, chap. lvi. 10, “His watchmen are blind, "they are all ignorant." In the same manner, Christ addresses the Pharisees, Matthew xxiii. "Woe unto you, ye blind guides;"" Ye fools and blind ;" and "Thou blind "Pharisee."
Of our Saviour, it is said, Mark iii. 5, That he looked around upon the sinful Jews, who opposed his design of healing the man with a withered hand, being grieved for the blindness of their hearts. "He that hateth his brother," says St.
is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth "not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded
"his eyes," 1 John ii. 11. "If our Gospel be hid," says St. Paul," it is hid to them that are lost in whom the god of "this world hath blinded the minds of them that believe not, "lest the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them," 2 Corinthians iv. 3, 4.
When a sinner begins to exercise a spirit of repentance, he begins first to see moral objects as they are, and to feel towards them emotions accordant with their real nature. Sin itself, in which before he so much delighted, he perceives for the first time to be an evil and a bitter thing. His own moral character, which before he thought in many respects good, and in none very bad, he now discerns to be deformed and loathsome. God he now readily pronounces to be just; his law holy, righteous, and reasonable, and his own violations of it deserving of the divine anger. Christ, for the first time, he sees to be divinely excellent and lovely, and an interest in his atonement to be infinitely desirable. His heart he willingly acknowledges to be deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, and all his righteousnesses as filthy rags.
This world he begins to consider merely as a stage of probation; its blessings as means of his support during his pilgrimage, and of his beneficence to his fellow-men; the pleasures of sin as momentary, deceitful, and ruinous; and godliness as profitable to all things, having promise of the life which now is, and of that which is to come.
Among the things which the sinner realizes, when he first comes to himself, are the following.
First, His own miserable condition.
"I," said the prodigal, "perish with hunger."
When the sinner looks round upon his circumstances and into his soul, he sees that he is wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. In the moral sense, he has nothing. He is destitute alike of happiness and safety, of righteousness and hope. These are not the conclusions of despondency, the views of a disturbed mind, the suggestions of terror. They are the sober conclusions of rational thought,