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LUKE XV. 11-32.
11 Moreover, he said, A certain man had two sons. 12 And "the younger of them said to the father, Father, give me the (6 part of the substance that falleth to me. And he divided his
living unto them. 13 And after not many days, the younger son, having gathered together every thing, went abroad to a "distant country; and there he dissipated his substance, living "prodigally. 14 And when he had spent every thing, there
came to pass a mighty famine in that country; and he began "himself to be in want. 15 And he went and attached himself "to one of the citizens of that country; and he sent him into
his fields, to feed swine. 16 And he would fain have filled his 'belly of the pods which the swine did eat: and no man did
give to him of them.
17" And being come to himself, he said, How many hired
PARABLE SEVENTEENTH. ALLE-
servants of my father's, have bread enough and to spare! but
"I am perishing with hunger. 18 I will rise up and go to my
father, and say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven,
"and before thee, 19 and am no longer worthy to be called a
son of thee: make me as one of thy hired servants. 20 And "he rose up, and went to his father.
And while he was still a great way off, his father saw him, "and was touched with pity; and he ran and fell upon his
neck, and kissed him tenderly. 21 And the son said to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and
am no longer worthy to be called a son of thee. 22 But the
THE PRODIGAL SON.
HARMONY, P. IV. 42. LUKE XV. 11–32.
father said to his servants, Bring forth the first-rate dress, and "put it upon him; and give me a ring for his hand, and shoes
"for his feet. 23 And bring and slay the calf that is fatted; "and let us eat it, and make ourselves merry: 24 because this, "my son, was dead and is come to life again, and was lost and "hath been found. And they began to make themselves 66 merry.
25" Now his son, his elder son, was in the field: and as he was coming and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and 26 And he called to him one of his ser
singing and dances.
"vants, and began to
inquire what these things might be. 27 And he said to him, Thy brother is come; and thy father "hath slain the calf that was fatted, because he hath received "him back safe and sound. 28 And he was angered, and did not
choose to go in.
"His father therefore, came out and began to entreat him. 29 And he answered and said to the father, Lo, so many years
am I serving thee, and never have transgressed a command of “thine; yet to me thou hast never given a kid, to make myself merry together with my friends. 30 But when this son of "thine, who hath eaten up thy living together with harlots, is
come, thou hast slain for him the calf that was fatted. 31 And
he said to him, Son, thou art at all times with me, and all
things that are mine, are thine. 32 Now it was meet that
we should make ourselves merry and be glad, because this "brother of thine was dead and is come to life again, and was "lost and hath been found."
IT is no disparagement to the excellence of the
rest of the parables, to say that the parable of the prodigal son, on the consideration of which we are about to enter, is the masterpiece of all: that among the many specimens of lively and picturesque narration, of genuine pathos, of unaffected simplicity, of justness of conception and felicity of expression, which the historians of our Saviour's parables have transmitted to us, there is none, more perfect in its kind, or which abounds in a greater va
riety of beauties, than this seventeenth parable in particular.
Even the superior extent of its detail is no slight recommendation in its favour, if we consider either the pleasure derived from its perusal, or the moral uses to which the material history itself may possibly be subservient. But, independent of this, the unity of design which pervades the narrative; the skill with which its proper end and purpose are by just and regular degrees brought about; the integrity of its action, resembling the plan of a well constructed epic or dramatic poem, which possesses both a beginning, a middle, and an end; the number and variety of its circumstances; the vicissitudes and turns of fortune exhibited in the story of the same individuals; the conjunction of two histories and as it were a double plot, in the same œconomy, both beginning and proceeding together, and both conspiring to the same effect, yet each assuming in its turn the prominent part; the appositeness of the point of time when this prominent part is resigned by the one, and taken up by the other, so as to render more striking the combined effect of the whole; the abrupt termination of the second history, after serving its proper purpose, not without a critical accommodation to the matter of fact, implied by it; the admirable vein of pathos, vivacity, and animation which runs through the narrative; the suitableness of the characters to the sentiments, and of the sentiments to the occasions which produce them these, and other circumstances of distinction, that might be mentioned, are characteristics which, if not altogether peculiar to the present parable, are more eminently true of it, than of any other; espe
cially as taken in conjunction, and by meeting in the constitution of this one parable in particular, as so far contributing to make it a singular instance of its kind.
Nor is it a little surprising that a narrative so beautifully diversified in its superstructure, is founded after all, on an incident the most simple and familiar imaginable; the temporary separation of the younger son of a certain family, from his father's house, and his ultimate restoration to it. The probability of the circumstances which make up the particulars of this transaction, and by which both these events are brought about, is such that the whole story might justly be supposed a reality. The fact of youthful indiscretion, and its natural consequences to the virtue or happiness of the individual; the tenderness of fathers, which disposes them so readily to treat with indulgence even their offending children; the unreasonable jealousies, the resentful peevishness, or the selfishness and envy of brothers, which frequently get the better of fraternal affection, and determine the conduct of one member of the same family towards another, accordingly; are sufficiently consistent with experience, to render a narrative, founded mainly on such suppositions, very natural and probable throughout.
One effect of this peculiar simplicity, is to make the parable of the prodigal son, a parable of all ages and of all places. Though delivered so many centuries ago, it exhibits nothing of the obsoleteness of antiquity; nothing which might not be understood by modern and unlearned readers, almost without explanation: and though addressed originally to Jews, it has little of Jewish nationalness, to ren
der it exclusively applicable to them. It is as fresh and lively, as familiar and appropriate, as if composed to-day, and as if intended for him who reads it to-day it supposes nothing which would not every where hold good; nor be just as congruous to the state of the case, and as intelligible at one time and in one country, as in another. So deeply is it rooted in nature and truth.
The narrative opens with a short and simple statement: "A certain man had two sons:" because, as the transaction about to be related, was entirely of a domestic kind, concerning the fortunes of a private family, and its several members; nothing more was necessary to be specified preparatory to the commencement of the account, than the simple existence of such a family, and the mutual relations to each other of the members composing it, as a father and his children. Who this father himself was, and who his sons; what was the country to which they all belonged, and the place of their common abode; what was their history previously to the commencement of the parabolic transaction, or subsequently to its close; are questions upon which no information is given, and therefore, we may presume which were purposely passed over in silence. We are at liberty however to conjecture, in respect to these things, that the parties, whose history was about to be related, would be understood by our Saviour's audience to be Jews; and consequently that the account of what happens to any of them, is to be considered the account of what befalls a Jew: a conclusion, not without its use in illustrating the propriety of certain circumstances, which will hereafter appear in the narrative.