A FATHER FINDING HIS LOST SON
D. M. PANTON
In the pearl and crown of our Lord’s parables, entire humanity is embodied in a wandering youth. As Adam, "the son of God" (Luke 3: 38), left his Father’s presence for a far land, so has every one of us since, becoming spiritually bankrupt beyond. Then in that far-off godless world a mighty revolution takes place in the lost soul; and the whole of the saved are embodied in the returning lad. He hungers; he prays; he retraces his steps; he reaches his father’s arms; re-clothed and re-fed, he dwells in his father’s house for ever.*
[* The parable of the lost son is a parable of restoration; not one of regeneration. Upon repentance he was restored back into fellowship again: “This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15: 24). See also Rev. 3: 1. That is, the indwelling Holy Spirit, after his confession and repentance, once again restored fellowship with his father, and placed him once again in his father’s servive.]
Now the young man’s [initial and eternal] inheritance is God’s magnificent gift of a clean, strong, upright life. So he says to his father, "give me the portion of thy substance that falleth to me" (Luke 15: 12). Our heritage, which falls to us simply as made in the image of God, is a wealth we little conceive. The body, with its exquisite functions, powers, pleasures; the mind - reason with its limitless range of vision, culture, powers that can master a world; the spirit, holding infinite possibilities of affection, capable even of fellowship with the Godhead; the circumstances into which we are born, vast in possibilities, resources, unforeseen developments:- lo, the heritage every one of us receives before we leave for the Far Country. Without a word the father grants him what he asks.
And now the human tragedy begins. "Not many days after" - how early in childhood sin starts! - "the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country." The gigantic mistake the soul makes is to claim and enjoy all that God gives without God: God is, to him, the ‘kill-joy’: therefore the far distance which the sinner between himself and God amounts to oblivion. "God is not in all their thoughts"; and His Christ, His Scriptures, His call, His awful revelations of the eternity beyond - all these, to the [redeemed] man of the world, are the baseless fabric of a dream. The man of the world is out to enjoy the only world he knows. In a pathetic word the Almighty Himself says: - "What unrighteousness have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me, and have walked after vanity?" (Jer. 2: 5).
Now there mounts up the horizon a terrible truth which confronts us every day in a lost world. "He wasted his substance" - his noble heritage God-given - "with riotous living." [Wilful] sin [in the life of a regenerate believer] is the most fearfully expensive luxury in the universe. The very gifts of God are his ruin: blessings actually become curses. It is a profound truth that we cannot break the laws of God - we can only break ourselves against those laws; and the prison, the hospital, the lunatic asylum are only rehearsals of eternal [age-lasting] ruin.* The subtilty that would have made a great scientist makes a great criminal, and the greater the gifts, the more dangerous the ruffian. "Hunger caters to gluttony; thirst to drunkenness; the eye administers to lust; it reads wicked books, delights in wanton shows, in pomp, and vanity, and folly. The ear drinks in blasphemy, irreligion, and indecency. The heart is made the residence of evil affections; the head and understanding, of wicked, ungodly, infidel principles. The winter of life brings a bloated, enfeebled, disordered body - a foolish head, an unregenerate heart, a guilty conscience. There is now no more capacity for enjoying pleasure; the appetite is vanished, the health squandered, the faculties ruined" (T. D. Gregg, M.A.).
[* Reaping corruption of the flesh for a regenerate believer, is the lying of his/her body in the grave for 1,000 years before the resurrection of all the dead: and that is his/her loss of an inheritance in the millennial kingdom of Christ.]
We are next given a photograph of the heart of a lost soul. "And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that country; and no man gave unto him." The famine is a soul-hunger which always comes when earth’s wealth has ceased to satisfy, and the soul-hunger never ends. Nothing earthly can satisfy soul-hunger: science, philosophy, art, politics, travel, business, pleasure, even religion without Christ - all are "husks which the swine" - our Lord calls the outsiders swine (Matt. 7: 6) - "did eat," for it is all the spiritual food the worldly have. No man gave unto him, for in matters of the soul no man has anything to give: there is never any famine of husks, but husks are no food for man made in the image of God. No one in English history is more the embodiment of all elegance and taste in life than Lord Chesterfield; and it was he who wrote:- "I am now sixty years of age; I have been as wicked as Solomon;* I have not been so wise; but this I know, I am wise enough to test the truth of his reflection that all is vanity and vexation of spirit."
[* Solomon “did evil in the eyes of the Lord:” (1 Kings 11: 6).]
crisis arrives, and a fearful truth confronts us. Very
few prodigals ever
McCabe, a Jesuit who became an Atheist, says:-
"I have had thirty years'
intercourse, by letter
or conversation, with men and women over the whole English-speaking
have given up the belief in God, and though in some cases the critical
was painful, I never met one who wanted to get back the belief or
loss of it." The
while a mere lad, composed what claimed to be ancient poems with such
consummate skill that the connoisseurs were deceived, and he
into fame. He
The parable now faces us with an unutterably solemn truth. The entire responsibility of returning rests on the individual soul. An awful power is lodged in the human heart: a man can choose his path, and walk in the road he selects: God allows each of us absolute liberty to create his eternal [and age-lasting] destiny.* Therefore, as the father made no demur the prodigal’s departure, so now the whole return is the responsibility of the son alone; and this son shoulders it to complete salvation.** "I will arise and go to my father, and I will say unto him, Father, I have sinned." The confession - "I have sinned" - is all that God asks, but He accepts no less. For every soul returns a bankrupt. There is no other road back to God: we can never return on any ground but that of mercy alone. "Let the wicked man forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him RETURN UNTO THE LORD, and he will have mercy him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (Isa. 55: 7). So, as we watch that strained and anxious face, we learn the unutterably solemn truth: not one is forced home, even now, in the day of grace; and inconceivably less when love and mercy are over for ever, and when final judgment has overwhelmed the Far Country.
[* The age-lasting destiny for a regenerate believer is to remain in Hades – the place of the dead.
** The ‘Complete’ salvation refers to a double portion of the inheritance. That is, an inheritance in the age to come as well as an eternal inheritance in “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1)]
Another fact now dawns still more fearfully critical. The lad made for God. The supreme question for a man drowning at sea is not whether he is a powerful swimmer, but whether he is heading towards shore: if he strikes out away from land, nothing can save him. Salvation is found in God alone; and it is found when a man is alone. Throughout the whole landscape, in the moment of this typical salvation, from horizon to horizon there are two figures, and two figures only, the father and his boy. It may be in a concourse of five or ten thousand souls in an evangelistic hall, or in a revival in the mission field sweeping in its thousands, or in the last moments on a battlefield, or on a sinking ship, or in a lonely attic: no matter where it be, when a soul comes to God everything, everybody vanishes; God and my soul must settle my eternal [and age-lasting] destiny alone.
So now all closes on what might almost be called something utterly unintelligible - the love of God. Every stroke of the picture is meant to drive home on us all the warm and joyous welcome that awaits every emigrant from the Far Country. The son walks, the father runs - what a revelation! The father meets his boy with a wonderful silence, a silence that is Godlike for the sins are a fact, and nothing can change the awful past but what cannot be excused can be forgiven; and the moment the boy says, "I have sinned," the father says, "Put on him the best robe" - the best of all robes, the righteousness of Christ.* The boy said that he would ask to be made a hired servant: one look in his father’s face shows him that he will be a son for ever.** It is all summed up in one divine word:- "In Christ Jesus ye that once were far off are MADE NIGH in the blood of Christ" (Eph. 2: 13).
[* It is true that the imputed righteousness of Christ is the best robe; but there is another robe for regenerate believers to wear: “The righteous acts of saints” (Rev. 19: 8): and without the latter robe, attained only by the Christian’s good works, there cannot be the required qualification for entitlement to a double portion of the Father’s inheritance: “Let us [regenerate believers] therefore, make every effort to enter that rest,” (Heb. 4: 11; Num. 14: 22, 23.)]
[** This parable is the solitary New Testament Scripture which seems to assert God’s fatherhood of all men. (Acts 17: 28) speaks of ‘offspring’ not ‘sonship’). But the prodigal himself gives the clue. After his fall, he says:- "I am no more worthy to be called thy son." In the inspired genealogy of mankind un-fallen Adam alone is described as "the son of God" (Luke 3: 38), and - as the rest of the genealogy proves - the Fall forfeited the sonship. Ever since, a man has to be re-born into the family of God. "This my son was dead, and is ALIVE AGAIN."]
impossible for a lamp to be lit - to hold or to transmit light -
without contact with fire, or with that which contains fire; we must
fire, ignite and to do so we must contain oil. The contact
is asking; the oil is the Holy Spirit. A clever agnostic doctor in