<< THE PRODIGAL SON. >>
THE SINNER'S RETURN TO THE LORD.
11Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them. 13"Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. 17"When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' 20So he got up and went to his father. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21"The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' 22"But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate. 25"Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.' 28"The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!' 31" 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' " (LUKE XV. 11-32.)
The abuse of knowledge, to favor selfish purposes, plunges the man into distress. But, when he recognizes the cause of his distress, and, in acknowledgment of the Lord, returns to the love and practice of the truth, all the Divine influences are exerted to restore him to an orderly condition. He who breaks away from the restraints of truth and order, finds, after all, that he has but exchanged a kind master for a cruel one; that, in departing from the guidance of the Lord, he has become a wretched slave to his own lusts, and to the hells. And he learns, also, that the laws of heavenly life, the very influences which he sought to escape, he must finally depend upon, to rescue him from his self-inflicted misery. On the other hand, a natural-minded man, though externally in order, cannot appreciate the quality of the Divine Love, nor the experiences of the spiritual-minded man. And yet the repentant sinner, when spiritual-minded, rises to a higher or more interior quality of spiritual life than the moral, but natural-minded, man can attain.
In the text and context there are three parables, All these parables exhibit the Lord's love to men, and His constant effort to save men from evil and sin. The parable of “The Lost Sheep" treats of the loss of some good affection, and the distress felt until that affection is found, again, and returned to our mental flock. The parable of "The Lost Piece of Silver" treats of the loss of some important truth, by our neglect to practise it. And the present parable displays, especially, the repentant sinner's effort to return to the Lord, as well as the Lord's prompt co-operation. And, as the sinner's desire to return to the Lord is prompted by the Lord, Himself so, in all three of the parables we have but different phases of the Divine activity in blessing men.
THE MAN. THE TWO SONS.
The “certain man" is the Divine Man, the Lord, Himself. And the "two sons" are two classes of men, in the Church. The Church is formed by means of truths. But there are two classes of men who are in the knowledge of truth; first, those who are in the external knowledge of truth, and who are external members of the Church, natural-minded, yet in the effort to govern their conduct by the doctrines of the Church; and secondly, those who are in the interior understanding of truth, and who are interior members of the Church, or who are becoming such.
The first class, or external members, are apt to live a good natural life, and yet without the higher, or more interior, phases of a spiritual life. In the second class, some are impulsive, and are liable to wander away into sins of life, from which they can return only by repentance and reformation. Some men are markedly intellectual, rather than affectional; in others, the will predominates, and they are more affectional than intellectual. Others are finely balanced, the will and the understanding being of equal prominence. These are the most perfect characters.
The good, moral men, who are yet external men, are the elder brother of the parable; and the sinning and repenting men, finally reaching a higher condition, are the younger brother; not that a certain amount of sinning is necessary to the attainment of a higher spiritual state ; far from it. A man can, if he will, resist his tendencies to sin, without allowing them to break out into actual sins of life. And the less he sins, the better it is for him.
But the parable was spoken in answer to the Pharisees, to show that a man may live a correct life, outwardly, and yet, inwardly, harbor uncharitable and evil feelings; while another man may plunge into evils, and yet finally repent and reform, and be regenerated. This latter condition is more apt to be the case with the emotional man.
The younger son felt the restraint of his father‘s house, and longed for what he supposed would be greater freedom. And, desiring the means of gratifying his love of pleasure, he asked from his father a division of the property.
Spiritually, a man's living, or means of living, is his supply of knowledges, knowledges of good and truth, which teach him how to live. These are mental riches. And, without these a man is poor, indeed. These riches are all the doctrines and teachings of the Lord's Word, and of the Church, by the practical application of which the man spiritually lives.
THE YOUNGER SON'S REQUEST.
When the son was not willing to live in his father's house, but wished to take his share of the property, and go away with it, he represented the mental condition in which a man desires to claim the knowledges of good and truth as his own, and to separate them from any connection with the Lord, or any acknowledgment of his dependence upon the Lord, for them.
This is the man who thinks himself sufficiently intelligent to discover truth and good, without any help from the Lord, and who feels that it is beneath his dignity to have to go to the Lord for truth to be revealed to him, So he separates his knowledges from any connection with the Lord, and regards them as his own. This state is in direct opposition to the state indicated by the man who sincerely prays, “Give us, this day, our daily bread," and who thus acknowledges his daily dependence upon the Lord's providence.
DIVIDING THE LIVING.
The father divided his living, giving the younger son his share; i. e., the man, seeking to separate himself from the Lord’s laws of life, and seeking his own way, feels that he has become his own master. For when a man will not receive a truth as the Lord's truth, he must be permitted to regard it as his own. Thus he can be led to have some acknowledgment of the truth, as a doctrine. And, finally, by discipline, he may be led to see his folly, and to repent, and to acknowledge the Lord. When a man thinks he can lead himself, he must be allowed to try, until, by failure, he is convinced of his error. And then he may be willing to be led and taught by the Lord. Only thus can he be taught that the freedom to do evil is infernal freedom , which is slavery to sin, while the only true freedom is the liberty to keep the Lord's commandments.
LEAVING HIS FATHER.
“Not many days after, the younger son gathered all [his property] together, and took his journey into a far country:" i. e., when the man began to imagine all knowledges to be his own , it required not many days, not many changes of state, to carry him far away from his former condition of dependence upon the Lord's truth. He soon descended to a low and sensuous state of mind.
The son was not driven away from home, but he was uneasy in his father's home. He was full of selfish desires. He did not think anything about any duty to his father, in return for what his father had done for him, through years of childhood. He was self-centred, and lusting for his own way, in seeing the world. The life of the world is the "far country," a state of mind which, when merely sensuous and disorderly, is far removed from the home of the human soul, in the Father's house of "many mansions."
Then the youth, bent upon sensuous pleasures, "wasted his substance in riotous living," that is, in dissipation; putting his heavenly Father, and his spiritual home, far from his thoughts. Thus the pleasure-seeker attempts to drive away the thoughts that arise to warn him of his folly. He abused his mental riches, his knowledges, by immersing them in sensuous lusts and disorderly pleasures, until the substance of them was gone.
And no wonder that "when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land, and he began to be in want." When truth is separated from the Lord as its Source and Life, its vitality is lost, and it ceases to sustain the human soul. The sensuous dissipation does not give the pleasure that was expected from it. And the mind soon loses even such enjoyment, There is, indeed, "a mighty famine in that land," in that state of mind and life. Man is made for spiritual life; and nothing less than spirituality of life can permanently sustain his spirit. In the sensuous life of the disorderly world, there is always a spiritual famine, "Man doth not live by bread, alone, but by every, word that proceeded out of the mouth of God." "O Lord, by these things men live, and in all these things is the life of my spirit; so wilt Thou recover me, and make me to live."
Seen in the light of spiritual truth, there is no more pitiable object than an intellectual man who has forgotten the Lord, and who is trying to be intelligent from himself: and who, in spite of his self-conceit, is utterly ignorant of the primary principles of genuine human life. The sinner begins, by making the world his servant, but he soon ends by becoming the slave of the world. And, finally, when he has spent all; when the world has drawn from him all his substance; it casts him out, as the pitiless ocean soon casts out, upon its desolate shore, the dead body of him whose life it first destroys.
ENGAGING TO FEED SWINE.
But, even when in want, the youth would not return to his father. "Ye will not come to Me, that ye might have life." Such a man misunderstands the heavenly Father, and will not return to Him. So he descends still further into external states, seeking some false principle, some "citizen" of a "far country," who can give him support. And this "citizen" sends "him into the fields to feed swine," that meanest of occupations in Oriental lands, and especially to the Jew, to whom the hog was unclean. In fact, even among the Egyptians, swineherds were the only persons forbidden to enter the temple.
Swine represent the filthy lusts of the sensuous mind, the low, greedy, selfish passions of grovelling men. And feeding swine, mentally, is cultivating such grovelling passions. Spiritually, every man joins himself to a citizen of a far country, and goes to feeding swine, when he adopts a false principle, and descends into the low excesses of worldly life, far removed from the spiritual state which is the home of the human soul; and when he there indulges his grovelling passions, feeding his mental swine, instead of his mental sheep. It is seen that swine must be filthy, from the fact that, when Jesus cast out some devils, they asked to be allowed to enter into the swine. And the citizen who sent the youth to this work, is the false principle to which he joined himself, in the pursuit of pleasure; the false view of life and its purposes. And, spiritually, sooner or later, every man who departs from the Lord, will come to feeding swine.
But, even with the swine, the youth hungered, and he would have eaten the husks, along with the swine, These husks were the pods of the carob tree, resembling our locust beans. They were used as food for swine, and, in an emergency, for food for the poor. Husks, Or shells, represent the externals, the mere outside of things, which cannot sustain the life of the human soul. “No man gave" these husks to the miserable son; i. e., they could not supply food to any manly principle of his mind.
Now, the youth has made his experiment, and has come to sorrow. And now is the time for the Divine influence to reach him, and to arouse whatever “remains," or states of good and truth, are still stored up in his inward mind. In the Divine Mercy, the youth's better nature was aroused to repentance.
CAME TO HIMSELF.
“And when he came to himself," etc. For, meanwhile, he had been beside himself, spiritually insane in his folly. A man is himself when he is rational; but he is insane when he throws away rational thought, and plunges into sensuous pleasures. And he comes to himself when reason returns. He comes to himself when he comes back to an acknowledgment of his heavenly Father. For, separated from the Lord, the man is as nothing. "Without Me, ye can do nothing." But when the man comes to himself, his humiliation and sorrow will be great, in proportion to the depth of his fall, and his capacity for better things.
And then he reflects that his father's servants have enough, while he, the erring son, is perishing with hunger. The hired servants are natural truths, which, in connection with the Lord, lead a man to a good life, and, hence, to happiness. In the Lord's service, there is spiritual food in plenty, for every man, each according to his capacity. " Happy is the people whose God is the Lord." And well is it, for every man who, even amid the swine of the world's sensuous life, awakes to a recognition of the fact that he is spiritually perishing with hunger, and that, in his heavenly Father's house, there is spiritual food for all. The youth could have known this, before he left home, if he would. " Lo, this is the man that made not God his strength, but trusted in the abundance of his riches, and strengthened himself in his wickedness."
But now he knows, to a certainty, that the human soul longs for food which the world, cannot supply. He has found that he who is not willing to remain a son, led by the Divine Father, will finally become a slave to the devil; that he who was not satisfied with the bread of angels, sinks
lower and lower, until he longs in vain, even for the food of swine, He who is determined to see the world, without the guidance of the Lord, is sure to see the evil and painful side of the world, and to plunge into that evil, until he finds himself perishing with spiritual hunger, even though there may be an abundance of husks about him.
The son thought he knew all about what the world could give him, of real enjoyment ; and so his father could but allow him to learn a lesson from bitter experience. "Experience keeps a hard school, but fools will learn in no other." But, if there be any spirituality within a man, he cannot long cover it up with the dust of the senses; he can not satisfy its nobler longings with the husks that are food for swine. In the midst of his grovelling life, miscalled pleasures, his immortal soul will go unfed, perishing with spiritual hunger. Even though the man is trying to warm himself with the fires of hell, his inward manhood will be shivering in a coldness that nothing of the senses can warm
THE DIVINE LEADING.
And, even in his self-inflicted misery, the Lord's love still follows him, and arouses in him, if possible, some latent truth in his memory, or some childlike affection still remaining in his heart, and thus develops within him the beginning of a nobler hunger which the lusts of the flesh cannot satisfy. Thus the Divine Love operates: it does not attempt to drive the swinish man away from the husks; but, whenever possible, it creates and arouses within the man, a higher aspiration and a nobler hunger; and, when these begin to operate, the man begins to loathe the swine and their food; and, in his own free-will, he gladly leaves the swine : saying, in humble repentance, "I will arise, and go to my Father."
Thus, the wretched man, like the sensuous Israelites, is finally led, by a long and devious path of wandering, to attain the blessed home which, at first, he might have secured with far less trouble.
How hard it is, to convince the natural-minded man, especially in his youthful days, that there are profounder things in human life than he has ever experienced; that the true life of manhood is in spirituality of character, and not in sensuousness; and that there is wisdom in the advice of those whose experience and observation have given them a clear understanding of the nature and purpose of human life; and that he who forsakes an orderly state of mind and life, to plunge into sensuous excesses, is spiritually insane, in his miserable folly.
And, indeed, how much of the mental insanity that fills our asylums, is the direct result of irregularity and excess in the indulgence of all the selfish passions. And how much of this sum of insanity could be avoided, especially in early life, by simplicity, integrity and cleanness of character, united with a calm spirit of contentment, and of trust in the Lord. We cannot tell just what our interior mental states may be, but we can tell what our moral and natural conditions are. Over these we have control. And if we keep these in good order, governed by the Lord's commandments, loving, thinking and acting upon good principle, we shall thus build up a base to support all the elements of a good spiritual character, which our Lord can develop within us, as we prepare ourselves for it, by doing our part, keeping the commandments, and humbly performing our uses, happy in doing good.
This parable clearly teaches us that the spirit of humility and of innocence, which is so distasteful to the man in his selfish prosperity, and which he will do so much to escape, he must finally come to, and even in a more painful way, before he can gain any enduring good. The sins that we hate to confess, still cling to us, and take us away to a far country, and put us to feeding swine. But the sins that we sincerely and unreservedly confess, and cease to do, fall from us, as we journey away from them, towards our Father's home.
It is always so, in our regenerating experiences, that the very things which our infernal pride urges us not to do, even when we know we should do them, are the very things that, finally, we have to do, in even more humiliating circumstances than if we had done them before. It was so with the Israelites, in their representative journey; those who were unwilling to fight their way through to the promised land, died in the wilderness. So, in our regeneration, all our old generation of rebellious, selfish affections and false thoughts, must die in the wilderness of temptation, before we can enter the promised land, the regenerate state.
Spirituality of life begins in the sincere acknowledgment of our Lord, and in the desire to be led and taught by Him. Devils are unwilling to be led by the Lord; but the higher the angel, the more he loves to be led by the Lord. And hence, while the devils are all in slavery, the angels are all in freedom. "There is no peace .. to the wicked." The human soul has but one home, and one Father; and, separated from them, it can have no real or enduring joy. And, as long as it dwells in this stage of life, the mercy of God will not let the soul rest in infernal evils, nor in worldly follies, without a constant reminder of its destiny and its capacities.
"I will arise, and go to my father." Spiritually considered, the parable treats of a mental arising, an elevation of the mind and life to higher purposes and plans. When a man sees that he has been wasting his spiritual substance in disorderly living, he needs resolutely to determine to lift himself up, to arise, to a higher and better career. Every truth that he knows then calls to him, as Jesus did to His disciples, "Arise, let us go hence;" let us arise, out of all these low and debasing ways of feeling, thinking and acting, which can never satisfy an immortal soul. Then the sinner sees his only hope is in the Lord ; and he says, I will go unto my Father; I will confess my sin, and acknowledge my unworthiness of the Divine mercies, I will look to the Divine Love to give me renewed life.
AS A HIRED SERVANT.
The penitent sinner is humble : he does not claim to be reinstated in his father's house as his son and heir. He says, "I am no more worthy to be called thy son; make me as one of thy hired servants." The grown son is in freedom, but the servant is under command of the master. The sinner realizes that, in his tendency to sin, he is not in the freedom of one who loves the truth and lives in it; but that he is as a hired servant, a natural-minded man, in the knowledge of natural truth, and under the compulsion of obedience to a law which his lower nature opposes. He seeks a humble place, to serve under his Father's commands, recognizing the fact that he is not fit to control himself in spiritual freedom. His confession is full and unconditional: he makes no attempt to excuse himself or to lay the censure upon others. And this is evidence of his sincerity. Insincere persons seek to shield their self-love by excuses. But the sincere penitent recognizes the evil and the sin to be his own; and, fairly and freely, he makes full confession of his guilt.
SIN AGAINST THE LORD.
And he recognizes that, though we may wrong men, the sin is against the Lord, who, alone, is good. “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight." And, spiritually, as applied to the Lord, these words imply that the sin is against the Divine Love, and is seen by the Divine Wisdom, and forbidden by the Divine Law. So, in his grievous wrong-doing, David sang, “I acknowledge any transgressions; and my sin is ever before me. Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done evil in Thy sight." He who is not willing to humble himself before the Lord, cannot attain any real goodness, because his self-love still controls him, and keeps him in evil. But humility casts down the self-love, and opens the mind to heaven. He goes to the Father.
THE FATHER :MEETING THE SON.
And then even when the man is "a great way off," far removed from a heavenly condition, but merely making an effort to reach that condition, the Father hastens to meet him, and receives him with affection. That the "father saw him," means, spiritually, that the man then recognizes the fact that the Lord is observing him. This is the action of the Divine Providence upon the man's understanding. And that the "father had compassion," is the action of the Lord's love upon the man's will, showing him that the Lord loves him. That the father "ran" to meet his son, denotes the Lord's action upon the man's life, or conduct, showing him how the Divine Father meets him in every act of man's love, done according to the Lord's commandments. As the man returns to the Lord, it seems to him that the Lord is coming to him, But, in fact, the Lord is always with every man, and as near as the man's condition will enable the Lord to come.
The father's "kiss" is a symbol of the union, or conjunction of those who love each other. It is also a token of reconciliation. Thus, though the penitent acknowledges his evil and considers himself as a servant, only, merely able to keep the truth externally, yet, in the new life that he receives from the Lord, he is enabled to keep the truth spiritually, also, in the freedom of love.
THE SERVANTS. THE BEST ROBE; ETC.
The father “said to his servants," etc.; i. e., the Divine Love communicates its purposes and plans, by means of practical truths, precepts of life, from the Divine Word, which serve the Lord. Thus, the good comes to the penitent through the Divine Word, as a means of regenerating men.
“The best robe" or chief robe, is the knowledge of primary and essential truths, which are given to the penitent man, that he may be clothed with necessary principles of interior and exterior life. Thus, in returning to the Lord, the first thing is to renew our knowledge of what the Lord is, and how He helps us.
THE RING. THE SHOES.
To put a “ring" on the penitent's hand, is to give him a pledge and confirmation of love and assistance. Rings were used to confirm and attest certain things. Seal rings were used to attest the hand of the party, and to confirm an agreement. A king, sending a messenger, in haste, sent, with the messenger, the royal ring, to attest and confirm the authority of the message. So, in marriage, rings are used to witness, confirm and bind the agreement.
Shoes, for the feet, were signs of freedom, as slaves went with bare feet. Shoes represent the doctrines of practical life, for the government of the daily conduct, in outward things. Therefore, to receive the son in his home, again, and to clothe him, etc., denotes to receive him as a free and rational man; and to give him spiritual and natural truths, for the government of his conduct, inwardly and outwardly ; and to attest and confirm, to him, all these truths, in the bonds of love.
THE FATTED CALF.
“And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat and be merry," etc. It was common for every well-to do family to keep on hand a fattening calf, ready for any occasion of rejoicing. The word here used for killing means for a sacrifice. And sacrifice means to make holy. And a season of rejoicing at any joyous event, represents spiritual rejoicing, at any change of state, by which greater fulness of spiritual life is received.
Fat, from its oil, represents the warm, smooth love of good. And the calf as a new generation from the cattle, or natural affections, represents a spiritual affection, which is a new spiritual generation, developed by means of good natural affections.
To prepare the fatted calf for a feast, denotes, then, to prepare our minds to come into new states of rejoicing in the better affections which the Lord communicates to us, when we go to Him fully and sincerely. These affections are, at first, natural good affections, in which there are the germs of spiritual and celestial affections; for all good natural affections are inwardly filled with things spiritual and celestial. Eating together, and being merry and glad, represent the joyous consociation of men who are in similar qualities of heavenly life, and who are conjoined to the Lord; or the consociation of such qualities in the mind.
Thus the penitent man, according to his sincerity, comes into participation in the delights of love to the Lord, and of love to the neighbor. And his eating with the household, at the feast, represents his appropriation of heavenly joys to his own heart, understanding and life. Thus, a return to the Lord, as its Divine Father, brings the penitent soul into blessed union with the Lord, and with all who love the Lord.
DEAD, AND RESTORED.
The prodigal's father asserted, as the occasion of rejoicing “For this, my son was lost, and is found." The sinner is dead to all that is good, true and joyous. He is dead to his spiritual home, and to his heavenly Father; dead to reason, and to angelic associations; dead, not only to his family, but also to the whole heavens; spiritually dead, in evils and sins; alienated from the Lord, who is the only Source of life. But, in repentance, reformation and regeneration, he returns to spiritual life. He was lost, wandering in sin, without the guidance of heavenly truth. But, in regeneration, he is found, because he returns to the Lord.
“And they began to be merry :" i. e., what was in their affections and thoughts, was carried out in their joyous conduct, as good news induces men to gladsome merriment; and a fulness of inward joy moves men to corresponding joyousness of bodily motion,
The parable assures us that, even if we have sinned, we need not despair; for, though, of ourselves, we are utterly powerless to return to a heavenly condition, yet the infinite, boundless and tender love of our heavenly Father is always bending over us, seeking to save that which is lost, and giving immediate and adequate rescue and aid to every honest endeavor for a higher and better life.
In the parable, the father is merciful and generous. But the son's own condition has much to do with the father's conduct. The son's humble repentance brought out the father's love. But, if the son had returned to his father's house, in an arrogant and insolent state of mind, he would have had a very different reception. Suppose he had pompously strutted into the house, and had said, Well, here I am again. I have spent all you gave me ; and now I want more. I am tired and hungry. Hasten, and get me the best you have in the house, to eat and to drink; and give me the best clothes you have. Kill your fatted calf, and make a grand feast for me. And be quick about it.
Suppose he had thus returned, what would the indignant father have done? Probably he would.' have subjected the youth to some wholesome discipline. But the changed condition of the young man proved him worthy of the loving father's aid. And so, if the sinner should demand to be taken into heaven, in his evil condition, he would, by his own doings, close, in himself, the ability to receive the things of heavenly life. For heaven is not merely a place; it is a condition of mind and of life.
In the literal sense, the son's repentance seems to begin in hunger and want; but, we remember that these things are representative of spiritual hunger and thirst after righteousness. The prodigal son is not one who merely wastes his money and health in physical dissipation; but spiritually, the prodigal is one who is in the Church, having the knowledges of good and truth, as the means of acquiring spiritual life, but who falls into falsity and into evil life, and does not obey the known truth.
This picture of the prodigal is no fancy sketch; it is a faithful portrait of men and women who know the truth, and yet indulge their selfish passions. Visit an asylum for the insane, and see some poor wretch, in rags, hollow eyed, imagining himself a king, and his keepers but his slaves. How can he think thus? He is insane. But he is not one whit more insane than the young man who goes out from his earthly father's house, imagining he can find greater freedom and happiness in the indulgence of his lower nature in the excesses of the world. And he is not more insane than the man who seeks to be free from the restraints of the Divine Law, in his heavenly Father's house, and who plunges into selfish life, looking for happiness.
Sooner or latter, he will find himself in spiritual slavery to his lusts, and in companionship with devils. And blessed shall he be, if ere it is too late, he shall awake to a recognition of his folly; and shall go to his Father, in humility, repentance and reformation ; like the poor maniac among the tombs, sitting at the feet of Jesus, “clothed, and in his right mind;"
STAGES OF PROGRESS.
The prodigal son passed through six stages of progress, and into the seventh: first, a state of self-will ; second, acts of folly; third, misery ; fourth, reflection ; fifth, repentance; sixth, reformation ; seventh, peace. These are his six days of the new creation, followed by the seventh state, as a Sabbath of spiritual rest in the Lord.
THE LORD'S LOVE.
This parable has given occasion to scoffers, to declare that, when a man has seen all he can of the world, and has exhausted himself or has become disappointed with the world, his last resource is to turn to be a saint.
Well, even if it be so, is it not evidence of the boundless mercy of the Lord, that He can make a saint of such a man? In fact, how else can the worldly man be turned from his worldliness, than by allowing him to discover, by experience, how utterly the world fails to satisfy the longings of a human soul. A reformed worldling is far better than his scoffing critics, who, beneath their even exteriors, hide a cold, pitiless selfishness, which never rises to the high level of Christian charity. It is one of the stumbling-blocks to natural-minded men, who, like children, think of outward rewards and punishments, that the Lord's blessings do not always fall upon a man according to his past career. But it is necessary to remember that the effort of the Divine Love is not to punish men for past acts, but to save men from their own folly, and to lift them out of evils. The Lord is not a great detective-officer, but a great Physician. "God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world, through Him, might be saved." He "came to seek, and to save, that which was lost.”
ALL SIN DANGEROUS.
But let no man imagine that a career of sin will help him to become regenerate. All sin is dangerous and destructive. And, even where repentance follows a bad career, the greater the departure from goodness, the harder and longer will be the work of returning to the Lord. "Trust in the Lord, and do good: so shalt thou dwell in the land; and verily, thou shalt be fed."
THE LORD'S WORK.
As Jesus walked in Judea, teaching the laws of spiritual and natural life, and illustrating these laws in His own heavenly conduct; healing the sick, the lame, the maimed, and the blind; casting out demons; and raising the dead; so, in all His ways, the Lord is, to-day, doing all these heavenly works, spiritually, in the soul of every man who will turn to Him for spiritual life, and follow Him in the regeneration. He is always doing all that can be done for every man.
THE ELDER BROTHER.
But, after all this beautiful picture of the repentance and reform of the sinner, and of the boundless love and generosity of the Father, the parable does not stop: it has another side, a dark, cold shadow, cast by something that obstructs the flow of the clear, warm sunshine of the Father's love. The elder son is angry, and out of sympathy with the feast of love.
The case of the elder son presents matter for careful thought. Why should he raise his voice as a harsh discord amid this harmony of love? He seems like a double character. In his long and faithful services; and his continued obedience, he presents an estimable side. But, in hid utter failure to rejoice in his lost brother's return and in his anger and complaint, he displays a spirit of envy, and of selfish uncharitableness. Like the self-righteous Pharisee in the temple, he boasted of his own goodness, and despised a sinner, even though that sinner was his brother, returned to a better life. For he had no reason to suppose that the penitent had not reformed. Not even the overflowing love and joy of his father could warm up the cold heart of the elder son.
THE EXTERNAL MORAL MAN.
This elder son stands as a representative of a natural minded man, correct in his outward life, seeking regeneration n on the natural plane, and yet without spirituality of mind, or of life. He is an external member of the Church, in the external reception of the truths of the Church. He is one who stands upon "original good," a continued good life, in orderly externals; but, in his present state, incapable of comprehending the interior quality of spiritual affection. He is like a pious Jew, envious of the Lord’s attention to the Gentiles.
IN THE FIELD.
When the repentant son arrived at the father's house, the elder brother “was in the field," i. e., he was in the external works of life, performing external uses, in a spirit of obedience to the law, And, in his appreciation of his own merits, he was envious of the father's kindness to his brother.
The elder son had led a correct life, and he was proud of his record, and unsympathetic towards those who had fallen into sin. The younger son had done evil, yet he had repented, and reformed, and was very humble. And in the circumstances, the younger son was in a better spiritual state than the elder son.
THE MUSIC AND DANCING.
The elder son heard the "music and the dancing," the spiritual affection and the natural expression of it. But he was not in condition to respond to the joy of the household. He called a servant, and asked the meaning of these things ;i. e., the mind of the natural man, coming in contact with the sphere of spiritual affection, inquires of his outward thought, as to the nature and quality of such a sphere of love. And he sees that the Lord's love always does well to repenting sinners.
WOULD NOT GO IN.
But he has no sympathy with such a love. He is sullen, and will not go in; i. e., the mind of the envious natural man feels, an opposition to the sphere of an interior, spiritual love, and is not willing to enter into such a state. It was natural that the elder son should feel indignation against the past evils of the younger son. But he was at fault, in thinking more of his brother' s past career, than of his present safety. Probably he feared that he would now have to divide his own share of the estate with his brother.
THE FATHER ENTREATING TO GO IN.
But, as he was angry, and in opposition, his father came out, and entreated him to go in, and welcome his brother; i. e., an influx of truth from the Lord comes to the mind of the natural man, inclining him, if possible, to unite with spiritual affections, as heavenly blessings. But the natural mind, not yet regenerated, feels an opposition to the sphere of heavenly love.
And it grumbles, to see that, in spite of their former evils, spiritual men are raised to high states of love and joy, while the natural man, in spite of his faithful obedience, is never given even a kid, to be merry over, even a new state of faith, to rejoice in. But, the trouble is with the natural man himself: he will not rise to new and higher states of mind and life.
THE FATHER'S REPLY.
And the father replied, “Son, thou art ever with me ; and all that I have is thine." The external man of the Church, obeying the law, as the Divine law, is, in his measure, ever with, the Lord; he does not go away into open sin. To the extent of his receptivity, all things of heaven are open to him, and are his, if he appreciates them, and uses them as principles in his own life. He can go on, and carry his regeneration further, if he will. The Lord is always ready to give him all the heavenly good and truth that he will love and use. He cannot fairly complain that others have attained greater degrees of regenerate life than he has, because these things are as open, and as free, to him, as they are to anyone.
It is, indeed, blessed, if a man can remain in “original good," living, from his youth up, in a good orderly life, and attaining a high degree of regeneration. This is what all should try to attain. But, to do so, a man must see and know his evil inclinations, and must hate and shun all his tendencies to evil. And he must bring his life into spiritual order, as well as into natural order. His natural good must be inwardly filled with spiritual good. He must not only do no wrong, but also hate and shun the feeling and thought of any wrong. And, until he does these things, his external correctness will not open his mind to the appreciation and experience of spiritual affections.
In fact, there are three different heavens, because there are three different general kinds, or qualities, of regenerate life, the natural, spiritual and celestial. And the characteristic quality of the life of each higher heaven is beyond the comprehension and experience of those who are in lower heavens.
THE TWO BROTHERS.
The natural-minded condition, even when orderly, and desiring regeneration, is but the first step in regeneration; and, hence, it is represented by the elder brother, the first born. And the spiritual-minded state is a second step in regeneration; and, hence, it is represented by the younger brother, a newer outbirth in development, And, when a newer spiritual condition comes, it comes as a result of enduring temptations. And, sometimes, we may fall, and waste our spiritual substance in riotous living in the things of worldly life, before we awake to a recognition of our real condition, and come to ourselves, and arise; and go to our Father.
And, if it be so, even our external mind should rejoice, and be glad, in the return of rationality and goodness. In each of us, there are these two sons; the elder, or the hard natural state, exacting, unappreciative, and critical, and the more affectional younger son, of spiritual-mindedness, often struggling out of evil tendencies, and finally attaining a higher condition of regeneration than the natural thought can appreciate, until the latter becomes reconciled and united with its younger brother. When evils and falses are indulged in our affection and thought, the younger son is, for the time, lost and as dead; but when repentance and reformation lift us up into higher states, the lost one is found, and the dead is alive, again.
And here we have a suggestion that men need not live in fear of the past, even though it was sinful. No evil that we now hate, and have lived ourselves out of, will be held against us. The Lord does not keep a debtor and creditor account with us; but, in pure mercy, He gives us all the heavenly life and joy that we are willing to receive, through regeneration.
The great principle is simply this: that there is one life, the Lord's life, and that men are sustained by that life; and that men are blessed and happy, when they are in right relations with the Lord, in love, faith and obedience. And they are in such condition, when, from sincere good principle, they keep the Lord's commandments. Whenever these right relations with the Lord are interrupted by selfishness and sin, the man cuts himself off from the source and means of happiness. And he can restore his connection with the Lord, and with happiness, by sincere repentance and reformation, which enable the Lord to regenerate him.
The elder son was kept in some external order, and yet, inwardly, he cherished hard, envious, and uncharitable feelings and thoughts. And, when an occasion arose, i.e displayed these evil traits of character. He believed in his own innocence, and yet he fiercely condemned his brother, for falling from a state of innocence. And yet, the elder brother had not been regenerated; he had simply maintained a moral external life, which would make regeneration easier, if he was sincere. He saw the truth, and judged from truth, alone, without the charity which should have filled his heart, and should have guided his feelings and thoughts; in applying the truth to his brother. To the elder son; in his external state, judging by hard, cold truth, the mercy of his father seemed like weakness. But, from the standpoint of the father's love, there was no weakness, but rather, the spiritual strength of love.
It is very hard for an externally moral man to avoid feeling a sense of superiority to a sinner. But, in this feeling, he fails to make acknowledgment of the fact that all men are sinners, secretly, if not openly. A feeling of superiority tends towards self-righteousness, which is one of the most malignant and subtle forms of human evil. Those who look upon themselves as saints will find themselves greatly mistaken in the reception awaiting them in the spiritual world. In many cases, "the first shall be last, and the last, first."
Self-righteousness induced the Pharisees to suppose that, as Jesus associated with sinners, He must be like them, in character. They complained that He was trying to make sin and sinners respectable, instead of condemning them as outcasts. And yet those very sinners, including even the "publicans and harlots," were more influenced by the preaching of Jesus, than the Pharisees were. Many sinners saw their condition, and repented, while the Pharisees closed their hearts against the Lord, as well as against the good that He gave men, and the truth that He taught.
And to some extent we find the elder son, in the parable, acting as the Pharisees acted. He condemned, in anger, and had no appreciation of the love that would save the lost. He thought his own rewards were not equal to his merits, while his brother's sins were greatly rewarded. And, in this, he exhibited his own lack of spirituality of character. The elder brother could not do justice to the younger, as long as he did not feel right towards him. The younger son was not in a higher condition than he could have attained if he had resisted his evil inclinations; but he was in a far higher condition than if he had never seen and acknowledged his evils. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise!”
In the parables of “The Lost Sheep," and "The Lost Piece of Silver," the Pharisees were shown how they should act; and, in the parable of “The Prodigal Son," they were shown how they did act.
In this parable, there is a suggestion of the story of Cain and Abel, or faith and charity, in the decline of the Church. Cain, the elder son, was jealous of the acceptance of the offerings of his younger brother, Abel; and his envy led to sin, in the murder of Abel. And we see the same spirit of sullen anger in the elder brother of the prodigal. Faith and charity are separated, in an unrighteous man ; but they are brought together, again, in the process of regeneration. For the understanding and the will of man are thus separated, in his first condition. He knows truths, which he does not love or practise. The understanding is more manageable, but the will is impulsive and unruly. But, when regenerated, the will attains the higher and more interior conditions, and then the will and the understanding come together in harmony.
The parable does not say the father finally reconciled the elder son to the younger; but it would need to be so, to represent the full regeneration of the will and the understanding, or of charity and faith, or of the external and the internal mind. In the story of Cain and Abel we see the destruction of charity by "faith alone" in the declining Church; and, in the present parable, we see the restoration of charity, in the New-Church. And, in the opposition of the elder brother, we see the opposition of all forms of external religions, and of the doctrine of "faith alone," towards the restoration of the higher manhood, in the New-Jerusalem.
But the Father will yet prevail upon the elder brother of faith to become reconciled to the younger brother of charity, or love, in his state of sincere repentance, reformation, and regeneration. And when the men of the New-Church rise to a high and holy life of Christian love, the Lord will be able to unite human faith and human love in the spiritual marriage of regeneration. Then will the New-Jerusalem have come down fully, from God, out of heaven, to dwell with men on earth. “And the Lord shall be King over all the earth : in that day shall there be one Lord, and His name one."
Author: Edward Craig Mitchell 1887