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PARABLE OF THE PRODIGAL SON.
LUKE XV. 32.
It was stated, in my last discourse, that there were three grand leading principles which might be grafted on this parable, and that it would thus afford the opportunity of illustrating the following topics.
1. The characteristics of a sinner in his state of carelessness and unconcern.
2. The characteristics of a sinner in his conversion to God. And
3. The character of God's great mercy and compassion.
Under the first of these divisions, viz: the characteristics of a sinner in his state of carelessness and unconcern, he was considered-1. In his worldli
2. In his increasing estrangedness from God. 3. In his reckless unconcern. 4. In his entire disappointment. 5. In his resort to the most wretched expedients. 6. In his utter destitution. We take up, as the matter of this morning's discussion, the second of these grand subjects, viz: VOL. I.
II. The characteristics of the sinner's return to God.
Before I enter on the illustration, I will lay out the topics before you. We have-1. A representation of his condition as that of one just emerging from the overwhelming evils of mental derangement—“ And when he came to himself.” 2. We have him represented as one whose mind was just beginning to take in the idea of the relative happiness of others, even though the lowest in his father's house—“How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough, and to spare, and I perish with hunger." 3. We have him represented as one conscious of the utter prostration of his condition, and coming to the resolution to retrieve, if possible, his circumstances, “I will arise and go to my father.” 4. We have him represented as one conscious of the necessity of a suitable humiliation—“I will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.” And, 5. We have him represented as one carrying his resolution into instant effect“ And he arose, and went to his father.”
1. “And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough, and to spare, and I perish with hunger.
This idea is expressed with very extraordinary emphasis in the terms—“ When he came to himself.” This clearly implies, that during the whole period of his wanderings, he had been in a state of mental alienation. One characteristic of that aberration of intellect which marks the unhappy condition of so many of our race called insane, is that imagination has usurped the place of reason
fiction, of reality. There is no class of human beings looked upon with such undissembled pity as the insane, and thus to the very wreck and remnant of intellectual man is the unconverted sinner compared. It tells us, that every sinner, before his mind is awakened by the Spirit of God, is one in whom imagination has usurped the place of reason-fiction, of reality. Was not the theme entirely too appallingI might say disgusting ; but rather let me say distressing—I might show with what striking and wonderful minuteness this parallel could be carried out. I might place before you the unhappy maniac, in whose lot, rage, and fury, and restless anxiety, and persevering fatigue, most predominated, and put beside him that unconverted individual whose life is one continued round of dissipation and licentiousness; in whose bosom the unbridled passions reign with most terrific domination. Brethren, I might describe to you the more calm, and, to appearance, harmless victim, whose enfeebled mind is absorbed in some mere childish occupation; talking to the inanimate objects, as if they were living, sentient beings; weaving straws into fantastic shapes, drawing fantastic figures on the walls of his cell; and all this with the eagerness and activity of business or pleasures. And I might place by his side the man of the world not licentious—the man well spoken of-active in business, fervent in his pursuits, animated in his walk, kind in his family and the social circle, yet, in his heart, unconverted to God. He, like the maniac just described, gives himself to trifles; he, too, converses with inanimate things, as if they were sentient beings: for his conversation is more about the mere daily occurrences which are connected with his pursuits, than about the immortal interests of his undying soul;—he weaves the straws of this world's occupations into fantastic shapes which rivet his attention ; and he draws on the tablet of his immortal mind fantastic figures of earthly happiness and pleasures, which he busies himself in contemplating, just as if this world were all. The fiction of happiness he takes for the reality, and the reality he sees not, feels not, desires not. But the moment the sinner is awakened to a sense of his condition, the whole of his past being assumes a new and hitherto unthought of form. Picture to yourselves a maniac, by some miraculous exertion of omnipotent power, or, if you please, by the secondary agency of human science, brought to the free, full exercise of his senses, and surrounded by the fantastic form of animate and inanimate things on which he had spent so many hours of hurried occupation, or of pleasurable contemplation—with what amazement would he look upon them and inquire their use, their meaning or their end! Brethren, suppose that there should pass over his memory some slight recollection, that on these he had bestowed his time and his enjoyments, how painfully would he consider the days and weeks and years which had thus irrevocably gone, spent unconsciously on unconscious things; or perhaps the interval of alienation would have left no impression on his memory, and then all that had passed would be a blank, a dark, unnoticed passage in life's little space, a desert of the mind uncheered ! Now, my dear brethren, every unconverted man among you, from the day of his moral agency to the day which now spreads God's living light about him, has been spending all this on trifles; it will one day be all a blank, a dark, cheerless passage. The man who is awakened by the Spirit of God, is as one just coming out of this state; he sees the fragments of his little occupations about him; he wonders if he has thus spent his life on fancies; or he looks over the long waste desert of his days, and his previous life is all a blank, as to the real design of his being, the real happiness of his existence. He is waked up from his long delirium; his renovated intellect dwells painfully on the past, and is cheerless as to the future; he sees nothing clearly but the darkness of his past condition ; he feels nothing clearly but the painfulness of his lost, lost hours. And this is the Scripture representation—this the figure used by the Saviour of the world to point out the condition of an awakened sinner; one just burst from the terrible power of a disordered, disenthroned, subdued and prostrate intellect.
2. The next characteristic in a sinner's conversion, as illustrated by the parable, is, that he is represented as one whose mind was just beginning to take in the idea of the relative happiness even of the lowest in his father's house—“And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough, and to spare, and I perish with hunger.” There is something not only wonderfully touching, but wonderfully striking in this representation. The prodigal, in the depth of his degradation, and just on the recovery of his mental faculties, does not seem to have been willing to expatiate on the happiness of those who shared the excellence and pleasures and plenty of the family mansion. His mind did not dare, as it were, to rest on the social circle gathered round the well-stored