The Lost Sheep
I was referred to the parable of the lost sheep. The ninety and nine sheep are left in the wilderness, and search is instituted for the one that has strayed. When the lost sheep is found, the shepherd elevates it to his shoulder and returns with rejoicing. He does not return murmuring and censuring the poor lost sheep for having made him so much trouble, but his return with the burden of the sheep is with rejoicing.
And a still greater demonstration of joy is demanded. Friends and neighbors are called to rejoice with the finder, "for I have found my sheep which was lost." The finding was the theme of rejoicing; the straying was not dwelt upon; for the joy of finding overbalanced the sorrow of the loss and the care, the perplexity and the peril, incurred in searching for the lost sheep and restoring it to safety. "I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance."
The Lost Silver
The lost piece of silver is designed to represent the erring, straying sinner. The carefulness of the woman to find the lost silver is to teach the followers of Christ a lesson in regard to their duty to the erring ones who are straying from the path of right. The woman lighted the candle to increase her light, and then swept the house, and sought diligently till she found it.
Here is clearly defined the duty of Christians toward those who need help because of their straying from God. The erring ones are not to be left in darkness and error, but every available means is to be used to bring them again to the light. The candle is lighted; and, with earnest prayer for heavenly light to meet the cases of those enshrouded in darkness and unbelief, the word of God is searched for clear points of truth, that Christians may be so fortified with arguments from the word of God, with its reproofs, threatenings, and encouragements,
that the erring ones may be reached. Indifference or neglect will meet the frown of God.
When the woman found the silver, she called her friends and her neighbors together, saying: "Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth." If the angels of God rejoice over the erring who see and confess their wrongs and return to the fellowship of their brethren, how much more should the followers of Christ, who are themselves erring, and who every day need the forgiveness of God and of their brethren, feel joy over the return of a brother or a sister who has been deceived by the sophistry of Satan and has taken a wrong course and suffered because of it.
Instead of holding the erring off, their brethren should meet them where they are. Instead of finding fault with them because they are in the dark, they should light their own lamp by obtaining more divine grace and a clearer knowledge of the Scriptures, that they may dispel the darkness of those in error by the light that they bring to them. And when they succeed, and the erring feel their error and submit to follow the light, they should be received gladly, and not with a spirit of murmuring or an effort to impress upon them their exceeding sinfulness, which had called forth extra exertion, anxiety, and wearisome labor. If the pure angels of God hail the event with joy, how much more should their brethren rejoice, who have themselves needed sympathy, love, and help when they have erred and in their darkness have not known how to help themselves.
The Prodigal Son
My attention was called to the parable of the prodigal son. He made a request that his father should give him his portion of the estate. He desired to separate his interest from that of his father, and to manage his share as best suited his own
inclination. His father complied with the request, and the son selfishly withdrew from his father, that he might not be troubled with his counsel or reproofs.
The son thought he should be happy when he could use his portion according to his own pleasure, without being annoyed by advice or restraint. He did not wish to be troubled with mutual obligation. If he shared his father's estate, his father had claims upon him as a son. But he did not feel under any obligation to his generous father, and he braced his selfish, rebellious spirit with the thought that a portion of his father's property belonged to him. He requested his share, when rightfully he could claim nothing and should have had nothing.
After his selfish heart had received the treasure, of which he was so undeserving, he went his way at a distance from his father, that he might even forget that he had a father. He despised restraint and was fully determined to have pleasure in any way and manner that he chose. After he had, by his sinful indulgences, spent all that his father had given him, the land was visited by a famine, and he felt pinching want. He then began to regret his sinful course of extravagant pleasure, for he was destitute and needed the means that he had squandered. He was obliged to come down from his life of sinful indulgence to the low business of feeding swine.
After he had come as low as he could he thought of the kindness and love of his father. He then felt the need of a father. He had brought upon himself his position of friendlessness and want. His own disobedience and sin had resulted in his separating himself from his father. He thought of the privileges and bounties that the hired servants of his father's house freely enjoyed, while he who had alienated himself from his father's house was perishing with hunger. Humiliated through adversity, he decided to return to his father by humble confession. He was a beggar, destitute of comfortable or even decent clothing. He was wretched in consequence of privation and was emaciated with hunger.
While the son was at a distance from his home, his father
saw the wanderer, and his first thought was of that rebellious son who had left him years before to follow a course of unrestrained sin. The paternal feeling was stirred. Notwithstanding all the marks of his degradation the father discerned his own image. He did not wait for his son to come all the distance to him, but hastened to meet him. He did not reproach his son, but with the tenderest pity and compassion, that, in consequence of his course of sin, he had brought upon himself so much suffering, the father hastened to give him proofs of his love and tokens of his forgiveness.
Although his son was emaciated and his countenance plainly indicated the dissolute life he had passed, although he was clothed with beggar's rags and his naked feet were soiled with the dust of travel, the father's tenderest pity was excited as the son fell prostrate in humility before him. He did not stand back upon his dignity; he was not exacting. He did not array before his son his past course of wrong and sin, to make him feel how low he had sunk. He lifted him up and kissed him. He took the rebellious son to his breast and wrapped his own rich robe about the nearly naked form. He took him to his heart with such warmth, and evinced such pity, that if the son had ever doubted the goodness and love of his father, he could do so no longer. If he had a sense of his sin when he decided to return to his father's house, he had a much deeper sense of his ungrateful course when he was thus received. His heart, before subdued, was now broken because he had grieved that father's love.
The penitent, trembling son, who had greatly feared that he would be disowned, was unprepared for such a reception. He knew he did not deserve it, and he thus acknowledged his sin in leaving his father: "I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son." He begged only to be accounted as a hired servant. But the father requested his servants to pay him special tokens of respect and to clothe him as if he had ever been his own obedient son.
The father made the return of his son an occasion of special
rejoicing. The elder son in the field knew not that his brother had returned, but he heard the general demonstrations of joy and inquired of the servants what it all meant. It was explained that his brother, whom they had thought dead, had returned, and that his father had killed the fatted calf for him because he had received him again as from the dead.
The brother was then angry and would not go in to see or receive his brother. His indignation was stirred that his unfaithful brother, who had left his father and thrown the heavy responsibility upon him of fulfilling the duties which should have been shared by both, should now be received with such honor. This brother had pursued a course of wicked profligacy, wasting the means his father had given him, until he was reduced to want, while his brother at home had been faithfully performing the duties of a son; and now this profligate comes to his father's house and is received with respect and honor beyond anything that he himself had ever received.
The father entreated his elder son to go and receive his brother with gladness because he was lost and is found; he was dead in sin and iniquity, but is alive again; he has come to his moral senses and abhors his course of sin. But his elder son pleads: "Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: but as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf."
He assured his son that he was ever with him, and that all he had was his, but that it was right that they should show this demonstration of joy, for "thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found." The fact that the lost is found, the dead is alive again, overbears all other considerations with the father.
This parable was given by Christ to represent the manner in which our heavenly Father receives the erring and repenting. The father is the one sinned against; yet he, in the com passion of his soul, full of pity and forgiveness, meets the
prodigal and shows his great joy that his son, whom he believed to be dead to all filial affection, has become sensible of his great sin and neglect, and has come back to his father, appreciating his love and acknowledging his claims. He knows that the son who has pursued a course of sin and now repents needs his pity and his love. This son has suffered; he has felt his need, and he comes to his father as the only one who can supply this great need.
The return of the prodigal son was a source of the greatest joy. The complaints of the elder brother were natural, but not right. Yet this is frequently the course that brother pursues toward brother. There is too much effort to make those in error feel where they have erred, and to keep reminding them of their mistakes. Those who have erred need pity, they need help, they need sympathy. They suffer in their feelings, and are frequently desponding and discouraged. Above everything else, they need free forgiveness.