The Prodigal’s Climax
“When he came to himself.”
THERE are different stages in the sinner’s history and they are worth marking in the prodigal’s experience. There is, first, the stage in which the young man sought independence from his father. The younger son said, “Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.” We know something of that state of mind and, alas, it is a very common one! As yet there is no open profligacy, no distinct rebellion against God. Religious services are attended, the father’s God is held in reverence, but in his heart the young man desires a supposed liberty–he wishes to cast off from all restraint. Companions hint that he is too much tied to his mother’s apron string. He, himself, feels that there may be some strange delights which he has never enjoyed and the curiosity of Mother Eve to taste the fruit of that tree which was good for food, and pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, comes into the young man’s mind–and he wishes to reach out his hand and take the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, that he may eat thereof. He never intends to spend his substance in riotous living, but he would like to have the opportunity of spending it as he likes. He does not mean to be a profligate, still, he would like to have the honor of choosing what is right on his own account. At any rate, he is a man, now–he feels his blushing honors full upon him and he wants, now, to exercise his own freedom of will and to feel that he, himself, is really his own master! Who, indeed, he asks, is Lord over him?
Perhaps there are some to whom I am speaking who are just in such a state as that–if so, may the Grace of God arrest you before you go any further away from Him! May you feel that to be out of gear with God–to wish to be separated from Him and to have other interests than those of Him who made you–must be dangerous and probably will be fatal! Therefore, now, even now, may you come to yourself at this earliest stage of your history and also come to love and rejoice in God as the prodigal returned to his father!
Very soon, however, this young man in the parable entered upon quite another stage. He had received his portion of goods–all that he would have had at his father’s death he had turned into ready money–and there it was. It is his own and he may do what he pleases with it. Having already indulged his independent feeling towards his father and his wish to have a separate establishment altogether from him, he knew that he would be freer to carry out his plans if he did so right away. Anywhere near his father there is a check upon him–he feels that the influence of his home somewhat clips his wings. If he could get into a far country, there he would have the opportunity to develop–and all that evolution could do for him, he would have the opportunity of enjoying–so he gathers all together and goes into the far country.
It may be that I am addressing some who have reached that stage. Now there is all the delirium of self-indulgence. Now it is all gaiety, “a short life and a merry one,” forgetting the long eternity and a woeful one! Now the cup is full and the red wine sparkles in the bowl. As yet, it has not bitten you like a serpent, nor stung you like an adder, as it will do all too soon–just now it is the deadly sweetness that you taste and the exhilaration of that drugged chalice that deceives you. You are making haste to enjoy yourself! Sin is a dangerous joy, beloved all the more because of the danger, for, where there is a fearful risk, there is often an intense pleasure to a daring heart and you, perhaps, are one of that venturous band, spending your days in folly and your nights in righteousness.
Before long there comes a third stage to the sinner as well as to the prodigal–that is when he has, “spent all.” We have only a certain amount of spending money, after all. He who has gold without limit, yet has not health without limit! Or if health does not fail him in his sinning, yet desire fails and satiety comes in as it did with Solomon when he tried this way of seeking happiness. At last there is no honey left, there is only the sting of the bee! At last there is no sweetness in the cup, there is only the delirium that follows the intoxication! At last the meat is eaten to the bone and there is nothing good to come out of that bone–it contains no marrow, the teeth are broken with it–and the man wishes that he had never sat down to so terrible a feast! He has reached the stage at which the prodigal arrived when he had spent all. Oh, there are some who spend all their character, spend all their health and strength, spend all their hope, spend all their uprightness, spend everything that was worth having! They have spent all! This is another stage in the sinner’s history and it is very apt to lead to despair, deeper sin and, sometimes, to that worst of sins which drives a man red-handed before the bar of his Maker to account for his own blood!
It is a dreadful state to be in, for there comes at the back of it a terrible hunger. There is a weary labor to get something that may stay the spirit, a descending to the degradation of feeding swine, a willingness to eat of the husks that swine eat, yet an inability to do so! Many have felt this craving that cannot be satisfied. But, for my part, I am glad when “the rake’s progress” has reached this point, for often, in the Grace of God, it is the way home for the prodigal! It is a roundabout way, but it is the way home for him! When men have spent all and poverty has followed on their recklessness–and sickness has come at the call of their vice–then it is that Omnipotent Grace has stepped in–and there has come another stage in the sinner’s history of which I am now going to speak, as God may help me. That is the point the prodigal had reached, “when he came to himself.”
- Then, first, A SINNER IS BESIDE HIMSELF.
While a man is living in his sin, he is out of his mind, he is beside himself. I am sure that it is so. There is nothing more like madness than sin and it is a moot point among those who study deep problems, how far insanity and the tendency to sin go side by side, and whereabouts it is that great sin and entire loss of responsibility may touch each other. I do not intend to discuss that question at all, but I am going to say that every sinner is morally and responsibly insane and, therefore, in a worse condition than if he were only mentally insane.
He is insane, first, because his judgment is altogether out of order. He makes fatal mistakes about all-important matters. He reckons a short time of this mortal life to be worth all his thoughts and he puts eternity into the background. He considers it possible for a creature to be at enmity against the Creator, or indifferent to Him, and yet to be happy! He fancies that he knows better what is right for him than the Law of God declares. He dreams that the everlasting Gospel, which cost God the life of His own Son, is scarcely worthy of his attention at all, and he passes it by with contempt. He has unshipped the rudder of his judgment and steers towards the rocks with awful deliberation–and seems as if he would wish to know where he can find the surest place to commit eternal shipwreck! His judgment is out of order.
Further, his actions are those of a madman. This prodigal son, first of all, had interests apart from his father. He must have been mad to have conceived such an idea as that! For me to have interests apart from Him who made me and keeps me alive–for me, the creature of an hour, to fancy that I can have a will in opposition to the will of God, and that I can so live and prosper–why, I must be a fool! I must be mad to wish any such thing, for it is consistent with the highest reason to believe that he who yields himself up to Omnipotent Goodness must be in the track of happiness, but that he who sets himself against the Almighty Grace of God must certainly be kicking against the pricks to his own wounding and hurt! Yet this sinner does not see that it is so and the reason is that he is beside himself.
Then, next, that young man went away from his home, though it was the best home in all the world. We can judge that from the exceeding tenderness and generosity of the father at the head of it and from the wonderful way in which all the servants had such entire sympathy with their master. It was a happy home–well stored with all that the son could need–yet he quits it to go, he knows not where, among strangers who did not care a straw for him and who, when they had drained his purse, would not give him even a penny with which to buy bread to save him from starving! The prodigal must have been mad to act like that–and for any of us to leave Him who has been the dwelling place of His saints in all generations, to quit the warmth and comfort of the Church of God which is the home of joy and peace–is clear insanity! Anyone who does this is acting against his own best interests–he is choosing the path of shame and sorrow, he is casting away all true delight–he must be mad.
You can see that this young man is out of his mind because, when he gets into the far country, he begins spending his money riotously. He does not lay it out judiciously. He spends his money for that which is not bread and his labor for that which satisfies not–and that is just what the sinner does. If he is self-righteous, he is trying to weave a robe out of the worthless material of his own works. And if he is a voluptuary, given up to sinful indulgence, what vanity it is for him to hope for pleasure in the midst of sin! Should I expect to meet with angels in the sewers? With heavenly light in a dark mine? No, these are not places for such things as those, and can I rationally look for joy to my heart from reveling, chambering, wantonness and such conduct? If I do, I must be mad! Oh, if men were but rational–and they often wrongly suppose that they are–if they were but rational beings, they would see how irrational it is to sin! The most reasonable thing in the world is to spend life for its own true design and not to fling it away as though it were a pebble on the seashore.
Further, the prodigal was a fool, he was mad, for he spent all. He did not even stop half-way on the road to penury, but he went on till he had spent all! There is no limit to those who have started in a course of sin. He that stays back from it, by God’s Grace, may keep from it, but it is with sin as it is with the intoxicating cup. One said to me, the other day, “I can drink much, or I can drink none, but I have not the power to drink a little, for if I begin, I cannot stop myself, and may go to any length.” So is it with sin, God’s Grace can keep you abstaining from sin, but, if you begin sinning, oh, how one sin draws on another! One sin is the decoy or magnet for another sin, and draws it on, and one cannot tell, when he begins to descend this slippery slide, how quickly and how far he may go! Thus the prodigal spent all in utter recklessness and, oh, the recklessness of some young sinners whom I know! And, oh, the greater recklessness of some old sinners who seem resolved to be damned, for, having but a little remnant of life, left, they waste that last fragment of it in fatal delay!
Then it was, dear Friends, when the prodigal had spent all, that he still further proved his madness! That would have been the time to go home to his father, but, apparently, that thought did not occur to him. “He went and joined himself to a citizen of that country,” still overpowered by the fascination that kept him away from the one place where he might have been happy–and that is one of the worst proofs of the madness of some of you who frequent these courts, that though you know about the great God and His infinite mercy, and know something of how much you need Him and His Grace, yet you still try to get what you need somewhere else and do not go back to Him!
I shall not have time to say much more upon this point, but I must remind you that, like sinners, the prodigal had the ways of a madman. I have had, at times, to deal with those whose reason has failed them, and I have noticed that many of them have been perfectly sane, and yet wise and clever, on all points except one. So is it with the inner. He is a famous politician, just hear him talk! He is a wonderful man of business–see how sharply he looks after every penny! He is very judicious in everything but this–he is mad on one point–he has a fatal monomania, for it concerns his own soul!
A madman will often conceal his madness from those around him–so will a sinner hide his sin. You may talk with this man about morals and you may watch him very closely–yet it may be a long time before you can figure him out and be able to say to him, “One thing you lack.” Perhaps, all of a sudden, you touch that weak point, and there he stands, fully developed before you, far gone in his insanity! He is right enough, elsewhere, but with regard to his soul his reason is gone!
Mad people do not know that they have been mad till they are cured–they think that they, alone, are wise, and all the rest are fools. Here is another point of their resemblance to sinners, for they, also, think that everybody is wrong except themselves. Listen how they will abuse a pious wife as “a fool”! What hard words they will use towards a gracious daughter! How they will rail at the ministers of the Gospel and try to tear God’s Bible to pieces! Poor mad souls, they think all are mad except themselves! We, with tears, pray God to deliver them from their delusions and to bring them to sit at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in their right minds.
Sometimes the sinner will be seen and known to be mad because he turns on his best friends, as madmen do. Those whom they otherwise would have loved the most, they reckon to be their worst enemies. So God, who is man’s best Friend, is most despised, and Christ, who is the Friend of sinners, is rejected, and the most earnest Christians are often the most avoided or persecuted by sinners.
Mad people sometimes, too, will rave, and then you know what dreadful things they will say. So is it with sinners when their fits are on them. I dare not speak of what they will do and what they will say. They often pull themselves up, afterwards, and feel ashamed to think that they should have gone so far. Yet it is so, for they are beside themselves, even as the prodigal was.
I will not dwell longer on this sad fact because I want to speak on the next and brighter part of my theme.
II. Secondly, IT IS A BLESSED THING WHEN THE SINNER COMES TO HIMSELF. “When he came to himself.” This is the first mark of Grace working in the sinner as it was the first sign of hope for the prodigal.
Sometimes, this change occurs suddenly. I was greatly charmed, this week, by meeting with one to whom this happened. It was an old fashioned sort of conversion with which I was delighted. There came into this building, some three months ago, a man who had not, for a long time, gone to any place of worship. He despised such things. He could swear and drink, and do worse things. He was careless, godless, but he had a mother who often prayed for him, and he had a brother who is, I believe, here, tonight, whose prayer has never ceased for him. He did not come here to worship–he came just to see the preacher whom his brother had been hearing for so many years. But, coming in, somehow he was no sooner in the place than he felt that he was unfit to be here, so he went up into the top gallery, as far back as he could, and when some friend beckoned him to take a seat, he felt that he could not do so–he must just lean against the wall at the back.
Someone else invited him to sit down, but he would not. He felt that he had no right to do so. And when the preacher announced his text, [See Sermon #1949, Volume 33–A Sermon for the Worst Man on Earth–Read/download entire sermon at . ]–“And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto Heaven,but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner”–and said something like this, “You that stand farthest off in the Tabernacle and dare not sit down because you feel your guilt to be so great–you are the man to whom God has sent me, this morning–and He bids you come to Christ and find mercy,” a miracle of love was worked! Then, “he came to himself,” as he will tell us, soon, at the Church meeting when he comes forward to confess his faith. I rejoiced greatly when I heard of it, for in his case there is a change that everybody who knows him can see! He has become full of a desire after everything that is gracious as once he practiced everything that was bad! Now that is what sometimes happens and why should it not happen, again, tonight? Why should not some other man, or some woman, come to himself or to herself tonight? This is the way home–first to come to yourself–and then to come to your God. “He came to himself.”
On the other hand, sometimes this change is very gradual. I need not dwell upon that, but there are many who have their eyes opened by degrees. They first see men as trees walking. Afterwards, they see all things clearly. So long as they do but come to themselves, and come to the Savior, I mind not how they come! Some conversions are sudden, some gradual, but in every case, if it is the work of the Holy Spirit, and the man comes to himself, it is well.
Now let us consider how this change happened. If you should ask me the outward circumstances of the prodigal’s case, I would say that it took a great deal to bring him to himself. “Why, surely,” one says, “he ought to have come to himself when he had spent all! He must have come to himself when he began to be hungry.” No, it took a great deal to bring him to himself, and to his father–and it takes a great deal to bring sinners to themselves and to their God. There are some of you who will have to be beaten with many stripes before you will be saved. I heard one say, who was crushed almost to death in an accident, “If I had not nearly perished, I would have wholly perished.” So is it with many sinners–if some had not lost all they had, they would have lost all–but, by strong winds, rough and raging, some are driven into the port of peace.
The occasion of the prodigal’s climax was this–he was very hungry, in great sorrow and he was alone. It is a grand thing if we can get people to be alone. There was nobody near the poor man and no sound for him to hear except the grunting of the hogs and their munching of those husks. Ah, to be alone! I wish that we had more opportunities of being alone in this great city, yet, perhaps, the most awful loneliness may be realized while walking a London street! It is a good thing for a sinner, sometimes, to be alone. The prodigal had nobody to drink with him, nobody to sport with him–he was too far gone for that. He had not a rag to pawn to get another pint–he must, therefore, just sit still without one of his old companions. They only followed him for what they could get out of him. As long as he could treat them, they would treat him well, but when he had spent all, “no man gave unto him.” He was left without a comrade in misery he could not allay, in hunger he could not satisfy. He pulled that belt up another notch and made it tighter–but it almost seemed as if he would cut himself in two if he drew it any tighter! He was almost reduced to a skeleton. Emaciation had taken hold of him and he was ready to lie down there and die. Then it was that he came to himself.
Do you know why this change occurred in the prodigal’s case? I believe that the real reason was that his father was secretly working for him all the while. His state was known to his father. I am sure it was because the elder brother knew it and if the elder brother heard of it, so did the father. The elder brother may have told him, or, if not, the father’s greater love would have a readier ear for tidings of his son than the elder brother had. Though the parable cannot tell us–for no parable is meant to teach us everything–yet it is true that our Father is Omnipotent and He was secretly touching the core of this young man’s heart, and dealing with him by this wondrous surgery of famine and of need to make him, at last, come to himself.
Perhaps somebody here says, “I wish I could come to myself, Sir, without going though all that process.” Well, you have come to yourself, already, if you really wish that! Let me suggest to you that in order to prove that it is so, you should begin seriously to think–to think about who you are, where you are and what is to become of you. Take time to think, and think in an orderly, steady, serious manner and, if you can, jot down your thoughts. It is a wonderful help to some people to put down upon paper an account of their own condition. I believe that there were many who found the Savior one night when I urged them, when they went home, to write on a piece of paper, “Saved as a Believer in Jesus,” or else, “Condemned because I believe not on the Son of God.” Some who began to write that word, “condemned,” have never finished it, for they found Christ, then and there, while seeking Him! You keep your account books, do you not? I am sure you do if you are in trade, unless you are going to cheat your creditors. You keep your business books–well, now, keep a record concerning your soul! Really look these matters in the face, the hereafter, death–which may come so suddenly–the great eternity, the Judgement Seat. Think about these things! Do not shut your eyes to them. Men and women, I pray you, do not play the fool! If you must play the fool, take some lighter things to trifle with than your souls and your eternal destinies! Shut yourselves up, alone, for a while–go through this matter steadily, lay it out in order, make a plan of it. See where you are going. Think over the way of salvation, the story of the Cross, the love of God, the readiness of Christ to save–and I think that, while this process is going on, you will feel your heart melting–and soon you will find your soul believing in the precious blood which sets the sinner free!
III. I had much more to say, but time has gone, so I must close with just a few words on this last point, WHEN HE CAME TO HIMSELF, THEN HE CAME TO HIS FATHER.
When a sinner comes to himself, he soon comes to his God. This poor prodigal, soon after he came to himself, said, “I will arise and go to my father.” What led him back to his father? Very briefly Let me answer that question.
First, his memory awakened him. He remembered his father’s house, he remembered the past, his own riotous living. Do not try to forget all that has happened–the terrible recollections of a misspent past may be the means of leading you to a new life. Set memory to work.
Next, his misery bestirred him. Every pang of hunger that he felt, the sight of his rags, the degradation of associating with swine–all these things drove him back to his father. O Sirs, let your very needs, your cravings, your misery, drive you to your God!
Then, his fears whipped him back. He said, “I perish with hunger.” He had not perished, yet, but he was afraid that he soon would do so. He feared that he really would die, for he felt so faint. O Sirs, see what will become of you if you die in your sins! What awaits you but an endless future of limitless misery? Sin will follow you into eternity and will increase upon you, there, and as you shall go on to sin, so shall you go on to sorrow always increasing. A deeper degradation and a more tremendous penalty will accompany your sin in the world to come! Therefore, let your fears drive you home, as they drove home the poor prodigal.
Meanwhile, his hope drew him. This gentle cord was as powerful as the heavy whip–“In my father’s house there is bread enough and to spare; I need not perish with hunger, I may yet be filled.” Oh, think of what you may yet be! Poor sinner, think of what God can do and is ready to do for you, to do for you even tonight! How happy He can make you! How peaceful and how blessed! So let your hope draw you to Him. Then, his resolve moved him. He said, “I will arise and go to my father.” All else drove him or drew him and now he is resolved to return home! He rose up from the earth on which he had been sitting amidst his filthiness and he said, “I will.” Then the man became a man! He had come to himself, the manhood had come back to him, and he said, “I will, I will.”
Lastly, there was the real act of going to his father–it was that which brought him home. No, let me correct myself. It is said, “He came to his father,” but there is a higher Truth of God at the back of that, for his father came to him. So, when you are moved to return and the resolution becomes an action and you arise, and go to God, salvation is yours almost before you could have expected it, for, once turn your face that way, and while you are yet a great way off, your Father will outstrip the wind and come and meet you, and fall upon your neck, and kiss you with the kisses of reconciliation! This shall be your portion if you will but trust the Lord Jesus Christ!
As for you Christian people who may be saying that there is nothing for you in the sermon, do not turn into a company of grumbling elder brothers! On the contrary, go home and pray God to bless this sermon. “But,” you say, “I have not had the fatted calf tonight.” “Oh, but if it were killed for the younger son, it was for you, also!” “I did not have the music and dancing tonight.” Well, they have had it over the returned prodigal, over some soul that has already believed in Christ, tonight–I know they have! God does not let us preach for nothing. He will pay us our wages and give us our reward! So rejoice with us over all that the Lord has done, and all that He is going to do! The Lord bless you, Beloved, all of you, without exception, for Christ’s sake! Amen.