Charles Simeon Commentary - Luke 15:28 - 15:28

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Charles Simeon Commentary - Luke 15:28 - 15:28

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Luk_15:28. And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and entreated him.

IT is an undeniable fact, that many who have lived a profligate life are received afterwards to God’s favour; and that many who have been externally moral are excluded from it. But this ought not to be a stumbling-block to us, since there will always be found a corresponding difference of character in the persons rejected or received. The Prodigal had been abandoned; but was renewed in the spirit of his mind: the elder brother had been moral; but was proud, envious, discontented, querulous. The character of the latter well deserves a distinct consideration. We shall notice,

I.       The disposition of the elder brother—

Some think that he was intended to represent a pious character; and doubtless there have been good men, who too nearly resembled him [Note: Jon_3:10; Jon_4:1; Jon_4:9. Act_11:2-3.]: and, on this supposition, his father’s address to him will have no difficulty [Note: ver. 31.]. But the parable in this case would not have been suitable to the occasion [Note: ver. 1–3.]: yea, it would rather have tended to mislead the Pharisees, and to foster the conceit they had of their own piety. His character rather represents that of the murmuring Pharisees, as that of the Prodigal does of the repenting Publicans. It might indeed have some further reference to the Jews and Gentiles [Note: Act_13:42; Act_13:44-45; Act_22:21-23.]: but it admirably portrays the character of Pharisees in every age. The two things noticed in the text especially demand our attention:

1.       His displeasure at the reception of the Prodigal—

[On being informed of his brother’s reception, “he was angry.” When entreated by his father to join in the festivity, he began to boast of his own blameless and meritorious conduct. He complained that sufficient respect had not been paid to his services; he rehearsed with envious triumph and malicious exaggeration the misconduct of the Prodigal; and disdained to acknowledge him as a brother, whom his father had received and entertained as a son. How strongly does this exhibit the disposition and conduct of modern Pharisees! It affords them pain rather than pleasure to hear of the conversion of notorious sinners. When urged to embrace the salvation offered in the Gospel, they deny that they are in danger of perishing, or that they have ever merited the wrath of God: when told that their own righteousness can never justify them before God, they complain that their works are undervalued, and that all inducement to perform them is taken away. The recital of a penitent’s joy fills them with envious rage and malignant jealousy: they take occasion from his former misconduct to represent his change as mere hypocrisy; and, instead of regarding him with brotherly affection, they pour contempt upon him as a weak deluded enthusiast [Note: With what bitter contempt and sarcastic virulence, will they sometimes exclaim, That is one of your saints!].]

2.       His unwillingness to participate in the happiness provided for him—

[The invitations given to him by his father were rejected with disdain. As the feast was not made in honour of him, he could find no pleasure in partaking of it. Thus it is with Pharisees in every age. When we invite them to come to the feast provided in the Gospel, they put us off with excuses. However rich the feast, or sublime the joy, they have no appetite for it, no desire after it. If we were to tell them that their own good works should be the objects of admiration and applause, they would be delighted with the idea, and eagerly embrace the honour offered them: but when they find that all the praise is to be given “to God and to the Lamb,” they have no ear for such music, no taste for such employment.]

Having seen the disposition of the elder brother, let us notice,

II.      The conduct of the father as contrasted with it—

Nothing can be more odious than the character we have seen; or more amiable than that which we are going to contemplate. Behold,

1.       His forbearance—

[How justly might the father have closed the conference on the first refusal, and given orders for the final exclusion of this insolent complainant! But, as he had borne with the Prodigal in his departure, so now he bears with the pride and obstinacy of his envious brother. And how long has he exercised his patience towards us! Times without number has he entreated us to accept of mercy; yet his invitations have, in many instances, excited nothing but disgust: still however, with much long-suffering, he continues to strive with us by his word and Spirit.]

2.       His condescension—

[He did not send a servant, but went out himself to entreat his son; and, instead of controverting, as he might well have done, the statement of his son, he argued with him on his own principles [Note: This gives the proper clew to the difficulties in ver. 31. The Pharisees had access to God at all times; and all the privileges they could desire were enjoyed by them (see Rom_9:4.) so that, whatever favour might be shewn to others, they could lose nothing, nor could have any reason to complain.]. He affectionately reminded him, that if no such feast had been made for him, there had not been any thing withheld from him that he had desired: that the favour shewn to the Prodigal did not proceed from any undue partiality, but from the peculiar circumstances of his return; and that nothing would be more gratifying to him, than to have both his sons partakers of the same happiness. He shewed him further, that there was a meetness and propriety in the joy manifested on that occasion; and that he, as a “brother” ought to join in it with his whole heart. Such is the condescension which we also have experienced at God’s hands. How has he argued with us to overcome our reluctance, and laboured to convince us, when he might justly have left us to our own obstinate resolves!]

3.       His love—

[The love shewn by him to the returning Prodigal excites our admiration; but that was no less which was manifested to his ungracious brother: the solicitude expressed was not at all inferior to the joy. And is he not shewing to us also the same parental tenderness? Is he not as unwilling to give us up to our own delusions? Yes, his language to us is precisely that which he used to Israel of old [Note: Hos_11:8.]—]

Surely then this subject may teach us,

1.       The evil and danger of self-righteousness—

[Self-righteousness is a more complicated evil than is generally imagined. It not unfrequently is accompanied with pride, envy, discontent, and a thousand other evil tempers reigning in the bosom; and it always involves in it a high conceit of ourselves, a supercilious contempt of others, and a rooted aversion to the Gospel method of salvation [Note: Luk_18:11.]: moreover, if persevered in, it will infallibly leave us self-excluded from the kingdom of heaven. Let us pause then, and solemnly examine whether we be not under its dominion? Let us inquire whether we more resemble this elder brother or the repenting Prodigal? and, instead of justifying ourselves before God, let us thankfully accept his proferred mercy.]

2.       The blessedness of true penitents—

[While the elder brother was agitated with evil tempers, the Prodigal was filled with peace: and while the elder brother was self-excluded from the scenes of bliss, the Prodigal had “meat to eat which the world knows not of,”and “joy with which the stranger intermeddleth not.” Such is the harvest which all shall reap who sow in tears. Who that compares the state of the two brothers would not prefer that of the penitent, even in this life? And how much more will its superiority appear, when the happiness of admission to the Father’s house, and the misery of exclusion from it, will be consummated! Let us then, if we determine (as we must) in favour of the Prodigal, go instantly, and prostrate ourselves before our offended God.]