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How incalculable the pecuniary gain if we could but substitute this rule of love for our imperfect and inefficient human rules; but more than that, what a gain in peace and good will, what a wealth of kindliness and happiness, what an era for all mental, moral and physical progress and development.
Is the rule impractical? Is it good in theory but not in practice? Does it savor of a weak and effeminate sentimentalism? So we are often told. But has it ever been fairly tried? There was One who tried it and lost his life by it. But was that necessarily the sign of failure? "He that loveth his life," He said, "shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal."
Judged by this rule that life was not a failure. For eighteen hundred years, the conviction has grown stronger and more universal, that instead of failure it was the highest kind of success-the type, in truth, of the only kind of success. It has fixed the standard of performance, and in all the succeeding years men, in constantly increasing numbers, have recognized it as at once the object of their hope and their despair, until to-day, in all the civilized regions of the globe, under various forms, with different ceremonies, but every where with the same common purpose, the great majority of the race is, at this very hour, engaged in contemplating anew the matchless excellence of the example set and in renewing its determination still more fully to work it into life.
Is it then too vain a hope, too optimistic an illusion that this rule of love shall yet prevail? It would not be if each one would see that as to him it did prevail. That does not seem so difficult a matter, but it is an undertaking which has thus far proved too great or has been approached with too weak a purpose.
Shall we then despair? Shall we acknowledge the weakness of the position and give over our efforts to maintain it? Let us rather see clearly that to make this rule prevail among men is the ultimate end and destiny of the race; that to this end all true progress tends; that whatever makes for this, either with the individual or the race, is alone important; and without faltering and without despairing, let us follow the "Eternal which makes for Righteousness."
THE PARABLE OF THE PRODIGAL SON,
BY PROF B. M. THOMPSON.
Delivered May 21, 1893.
The unquestioned purpose of this parable was to indicate the relation in which man stands to his Creator. Christ likens it here, as he has done elsewhere, to the relation between father and son.
It would seem from the context that this parable was related to an assembly made up largely of publicans and sinners, a class forming in that age, and, perhaps, in every age since, even to our own time, a majority of every assembly brought together by mere chance or idle curiosity. Jesus had, perhaps, been urging his hearers to repent, to cease to do evil and learn to do good, to refrain from violating the immutable laws which govern the spiritual world. He had, perhaps, emphasized the truth that obedience to those laws alone makes for happiness, and that disobedience necessarily and inevitably results in misery. Most of his hearers could, from their personal experience probably, testify to the truth of this doctrine. But, they might naturally ask, if we determine to do better hereafter, what will it avail us? Since we are being punished for past transgressions of the law, if we cease to transgress will the punishment cease? It was to answer such questions that, maybe, the parable was given, to make clear that, while a violation of the law is punished, one violation does not make a second necessary, that disobedience may be followed by obedi
ence, and that obedience, even when lagging behind disobedience will be encouraged and blessed, that the angels rejoice over a sinner who repents.
To understand its full force and meaning we must place ourselves in the position of the persons to whom this parable was told; surround ourselves with the social, political and religious laws and influences that hedged them in. Under the Mosaic law the father remained at the head of the household until his death, lawgiver, judge and priest. The command to obey father and mother was not confined to persons under twenty-one years of age, but rested upon all who had father or mother. When Isaac at the command of Abraham went with him to the mount to be offered as a sacrifice, he was not a youth, a stripling, but a mature man forty years of age and upwards. The entire earnings of the joint family belonged to the father as long as he lived, to be disposed of at his pleasure. Upon his death it was divided under fixed and definite laws governing the distribution of estates of inheritThose laws gave the father a right to dispose of a portion of his estate by will. But no son had a right to any of the family property during the life-time of his father, and it was his duty to remain under the control and direction of that father.
All those laws and customs were perfectly familiar to those who listened to this parable. They understood that this younger son had no right to a portion of his father's living and no right to be emancipated from his father's control. Indeed, that so far as the law and filial duty were concerned, he was required to remain in his father's household, subject to his father's commands. It was, therefore, plain to them that when the younger son made the request, "give me the portion
of goods that falleth to me," it implied a desire on his part to be emancipated from parental control, from the law governing the Hebrew household, and that when the father assented, divided his living, he really emancipated his son and gave him permission and authority to gather all together and to depart, "not many days after," into a far country. It was thus plain to them that this young man stood in the same relation to his parental inheritance that every man holds with reference to the gifts he has received from his Maker, a free agent to do, or not to do, as he wills.
What this young man did in that far country is presumably what he intended to do from the first, he wasted his substance in riotous living. Why anyone should deliberately enter upon a course of life which he knows begins in folly and ends in ruin, we do not stop to consider. The curious in such matters can readily enquire of the first prodigal they meet. You will find that he is not necessarily vicious, but he is always lawless and destitute of self discipline and self control, or, if he possesses those powers, he suffers them to slumber. He is as regardless of the future as the savage who, if his wigwam is to-day supplied with food, eats and sleeps, arises and eats again, heedless of the fact that when his casual guest, plenty, shall depart, his old and habitual companions, hunger and want, will again take their places at his board. And thus the prodigal of the parable continued to waste and squander his portion until it all disappeared and then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that distant and alien country' and fed swine, became the herder of unclean beasts, was filthy and ragged and withal hungry and no man gave unto him, SO that at last he gladly shared with the hogs the husks they ate. With most prodigals feeding swine and eating husks is not fol