Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
1. drew near . . . all the publicans and sinners, &c.--drawn around
Him by the extraordinary adaptation of His teaching to their case, who,
till He appeared--at least His forerunner--might well say, "No man
careth for my soul."
2. murmured, saying, &c.--took it ill, were scandalized at Him, and
insinuated (on the principle that a man is known by the company he
keeps) that He must have some secret sympathy with their character.
But oh, what a truth of unspeakable preciousness do their lips, as on
other occasions, unconsciously utter., Now follow three parables
representing the sinner: (1) in his stupidity; (2) as
all-unconscious of his lost condition; (3)
knowingly and willingly estranged from God
[BENGEL]. The first two
set forth the seeking love of God; the last, His receiving love
3-7. Occurring again
but there to show how precious one of His sheep is to the Good
Shepherd; here, to show that the shepherd, though the sheep stray never
so widely, will seek it out, and when he hath found, will rejoice over
4. leave the ninety and nine--bend all His attention and care, as it
were, to the one object of recovering the lost sheep; not saying. "It is
but one; let it go; enough remain."
go after . . . until, &c.--pointing to all the diversified means
which God sets in operation for recovering sinners.
6. Rejoice with me, &c.--The principle here is, that one feels
exuberant joy to be almost too much for himself to bear alone,
and is positively relieved by having others to share it with
him. (See on
7. ninety-nine just . . . needing no repentance--not
angels, whose place in these parables is very different from
this; but those represented by the prodigal's well-behaved
brother, who have "served their Father" many years and not at any
time transgressed His commandment (in the outrageous sense of the
prodigal). (See on
In other words, such as have grown up from childhood in the fear
of God and as the sheep of His pasture. Our Lord does not say
"the Pharisees and scribes" were such; but as there was undoubtedly
such a class, while "the publicans and sinners" were confessedly the
strayed sheep and the prodigal children, He leaves them to fill up the
place of the other class, if they could.
8. sweep the house--"not done without dust on man's part"
10. Likewise--on the same principle.
joy, &c.--Note carefully the language here--not "joy on the
part," but "joy in the presence of the angels of God." True
to the idea of the parables. The Great Shepherd. The Great Owner
Himself, is He whose the joy properly is over His own recovered
property; but so vast and exuberant is it
that as if He could not keep it to Himself, He "calleth His friends and
neighbors together"--His whole celestial family--saying, "Rejoice WITH ME, for I have found My
sheep-My-piece," &c. In this sublime sense it is "joy," before
"or in the presence of the angels"; they only "catch the flying
joy," sharing it with Him! The application of this to the
reception of those publicans and sinners that stood around our Lord is
grand in the extreme: "Ye turn from these lost ones with disdain, and
because I do not the same, ye murmur at it: but a very different
feeling is cherished in heaven. There, the recovery of even one such
outcast is watched with interest and hailed with joy; nor are they left
to come home of themselves or perish; for lo! even now the great
Shepherd is going after His lost sheep, and the Owner is making
diligent search for the lost property; and He is finding it, too, and
bringing it back with joy, and all heaven is full of it." (Let the
reader mark what sublime claims Himself our Lord covertly puts in
here--as if in Him they beheld, all unknown to themselves, nothing less
than heaven in the habiliments of earth, the Great Shepherd above,
clothed in a garment of flesh, come "to seek and to save that which was
12. the younger--as the more thoughtless.
said, &c.--weary of restraint, panting for independence, unable longer
to abide the check of a father's eye. This is man impatient of
divine control, desiring to be independent of God, seeking to be his own
master; that "sin of sins, in which all subsequent sins are included as
in their germ, for they are but the unfolding of this one" [TRENCH].
he divided, &c.--Thus "God, when His service no longer appears a
perfect freedom, and man promises himself something far better
elsewhere, allows him to make the trial; and he shall discover, if need
be by saddest proof, that to depart from Him is not to throw off the
yoke, but to exchange a light yoke for a heavy one, and one gracious
Master for a thousand imperious tyrants and lords" [TRENCH].
13. not many days--intoxicated with his new--found resources, and
eager for the luxury of using them at Will.
a far country--beyond all danger of interference from home.
wasted, &c.--So long as it lasted, the inward monitor
would be silenced
(Isa 9:10; 57:10;
"with harlots." Ah! but this reaches farther than the sensualist; for
"in the deep symbolical language of Scripture fornication is the
standing image of idolatry; they are in fact ever spoken of as one and
the same sin, considered now in its fleshly, now in its spiritual
14. when he had spent all . . . a mighty famine--a mysterious
providence holding back the famine till he was in circumstances to feel
it in all its rigor. Thus, like Jonah, whom the storm did not overtake
till on the mighty deep at the mercy of the waves, does the sinner feel
as if "the stars in their courses were fighting against" him
in want--the first stage of his bitter experience, and preparation
for a change.
15. joined himself, &c.--his pride not yet humbled, unable to brook
the shame of a return.
to feed swine--glad to keep life anyhow, behold the son sank into a
swineherd--among the Jews, on account of the prohibition of swine's
flesh, emphatically vile! "He who begins by using the world as a
servant, to minister to his pleasure, ends by reversing the
16. would fain have filled--rather, "was fain to fill," ate greedily
of the only food he could get.
the husks--"the hulls of a leguminous plant which in the East is the
food of cattle and swine, and often the nourishment of the poorest in
times of distress" [STIER].
no man gave . . . him--not this food, for that he had, but
This was his lowest depth--perishing unpitied, alone in the
world, and ready to disappear from it unmissed! But this is
just the blessed turning-point; midnight before dawn of day
(2Ch 12:8; 33:11-13;
17. came to himself--Before, he had been "beside himself"
in what sense will presently appear.
How many hired, &c.--What a testimony to the nature of the home
he had left! But did he not know all this ere he departed and every day
of his voluntary exile? He did, and he did not. His heart being wholly
estranged from home and steeped in selfish gratification, his father's
house never came within the range of his vision, or but as another name
for bondage and gloom. Now empty, desolate, withered, perishing,
home, with all its peace, plenty, freedom, dignity, starts into
view, fills all his visions as a warm and living reality, and breaks his
18. I will arise and go to my FATHER--The change has come at last,
and what a change!--couched in terms of such exquisite simplicity and
power as if expressly framed for all heart-broken penitents.
Father, &c.--Mark the term. Though "no more worthy to be called
his son," the prodigal sinner is taught to claim the defiled, but
still existing relationship, asking not to be made a servant, but
remaining a son to be made "as a servant," willing to take the
lowest place and do the meanest work. Ah! and is it come to this? Once
it was, "Any place rather than home." Now, "Oh, that home! Could I but
dare to hope that the door of it would not be closed against me, how
gladly would I take any place and do any worK, happy only to be there at
all." Well, that is conversion--nothing absolutely new, yet all new;
old familiar things seen in a new light and for the first time as
realities of overwhelming magnitude and power.
How this is brought about the parable says not. (We have that
&c.). Its one object is to paint
the welcome home of the greatest sinners, when (no matter for the
present how) they "arise and go to their Father."
20. a great way off--Oh yes, when but the face is turned homeward,
though as yet far, far away, our Father recognizes His own child in us,
and bounds to meet us--not saying, Let him come to Me and sue for pardon
first, but Himself taking the first step.
fell on his neck and kissed him--What! In all his filth? Yes. In
all his rags? Yes. In all his haggard, shattered wretchedness? Yes.
"Our Father who art in heaven," is this Thy portraiture? It is even so
And because it is so, I wonder not that such incomparable teaching hath
made the world new.
21. Father, I have sinned, &c.--"This confession is uttered
after the kiss of reconciliation"
22. But the Father said, &c.--The son has not said all he
purposed, not so much, because the father's demonstrations had
rekindled the filial, and swallowed up all servile feeling [TRENCH] (on the word "Father," see on
but because the father's heart is made to appear too full to listen, at
that moment, to more in this strain.
the best robe--Compare
Zec 3:4, 5,
"Take away the filthy garments from him; behold I have clothed thee
with change of raiment; and they clothed him with garments"
shoes--Slaves went barefoot. Thus, we have here a threefold symbol of
freedom and honor, restored, as the fruit of
23. the fatted calf--kept for festive occasions.
24. my son--now twice his son.
dead . . . lost--to me; to himself--to my service, my
satisfaction; to his own dignity, peace, profit.
alive again . . . found--to all these.
25. in the field--engaged in his father's business: compare
"These many years do I serve thee."
28. came his father out, and entreated him--"Like as a father pitieth
his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him"
As it is the elder brother who now errs, so it is the same paternal
compassion which had fallen on the neck of the younger that comes
forth and pleads with the elder.
29. these many years . . . neither transgressed I at any time thy
commandment--The words are not to be pressed too far. He is merely
contrasting his constancy of love and service with the conduct of
his brother; just as Job, resenting the charge of hypocrisy by his
friends, speaks as if nothing could be laid to his charge
and David too
The father attests the truth of all he says.
never . . . a kid--I say not a calf, but not even a kid.
that I might make merry with my friends--Here lay his misapprehension.
It was no entertainment for the gratification of the prodigal: it was a
father's expression of the joy he felt at his recovery.
thy son . . . thy living--How unworthy a reflection on the common
father of both, for the one not only to disown the other, but fling him
over upon his father, as if he should say, Take him, and have joy of
31. Son, &c.--The father resents not the insult--how could he,
after the largeness of heart which had kissed the returning prodigal? He
calmly expostulates with him, "Son, listen to reason. What need for
special, exuberant joy over thee? Didst thou say, 'Lo, these many years
do I serve thee?' In that saidst thou truly; but just for that reason
do I not set the whole household a-rejoicing over thee. For thee is
reserved what is higher still--a tranquil lifelong satisfaction in
thee, as a true-hearted faithful son in thy father's house, nor of the
inheritance reserved for thee is aught alienated by this festive and
fitting joy over the once foolish but now wise and newly recovered
32. It was meet--Was it possible he should simply take his long vacant
place in the family without one special sign of wonder and delight at
the change? Would that have been nature? But this being the
meaning of the festivity, it would for that very reason be temporary.
In time, the dutifulness of even the younger son would become the
law and not the exception; he too at length might venture to
say, "Lo, these many years do I serve thee"; and of him the father would
say, "Son, thou art ever with me." In that case, therefore, it would
not be "meet that they should make merry and be glad." The lessons
are obvious, but how beautiful! (1) The deeper sunk and the longer
estranged any sinner is, the more exuberant is the joy which his
recovery occasions. (2) Such joy is not the portion of those whose
whole lives have been spent in the service of their Father in heaven.
(3) Instead of grudging the want of this, they should deem it the
highest testimony to their lifelong fidelity, that something better is
reserved for them--the deep, abiding complacency of their Father in