The Man of Sorrows, by John Nelson Darby, [n.d. (prior to 1882)], at sacred-texts.com
We have seen the Lord showing out His own rejection in grace, followed by an entirely new order of things. The Church brought in subsequently is not an age, properly so called, but a heavenly episode between the ages. There are three ages spoken of in Scripture: The age before the law; the age under the law; and the Millennial age. Christ was "made under the law," and that age is not finished yet. The disciples said to Him, "What shall be the sign of Thy coming and of the end of the age?" That was the age when He was there, but when they rejected Him the age was suspended. As He straitly charged Peter to tell no man He was the Christ, saying, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected" (Luke 17. 25). Therefore He says to them, "Ye shall not see Me till ye shall
say, Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord" (Mark 11. 9). We who form a part of the Church of God, and not having anything to do with the earth, are in no sense an age, but are a heavenly people united to Christ above during the suspension of this age, filling up the gap between the Lord's leaving the Jews and His return to them again. So in Romans 11 we have the olive tree with some of the branches broken off and others grafted in. This is a tree with its root in the earth, and consequently could have nothing directly to do with the Church in Heaven. Some of the branches were broken off and some left; but this could never be said of the Church, the body united to its head at the right hand of God. The Church, of course, does fill up a certain place and time, but it is during the suspension of the age to which Christ came. Characteristically we belong to that which is above and beyond anything connected with this world. It is grace that has set us there, and that is not of the earth but of Heaven.
In chapter 15 we find the Lord rising above Jewish dispensation altogether to the full display of God's own nature—love—in the Gospel. At the close of chapter 14 He takes up the professing system in its responsibility. "Salt is good, but if the salt have lost its savour" it is good for nothing. Thus He shows what man is. Then in chapter 15 come publicans and sinners, and we have the display of what God is. Here God is dealing with lost man in grace. Sinners who owned their sins and came to repentance were those who justified God. "Wisdom is justified of her children." God is vindicated in His ways, whether in condemnation or salvation of a
sinner. The publicans and sinners justified God, being baptised of John, while the Pharisees rejected His counsel against themselves. All that is wanted to justify God is that He should show Himself, and this is what the Lord now does. He manifests what God is in grace, and this it is which makes the chapter ever so fresh and full to our souls. The heart that has been awakened never tires of such a chapter.
Then in chapter 16 He shows the responsibility of those who are thus dealt with. The earth was given to the children of men, and God looked for fruit. He first dealt with man as to what he ought to have been on the earth, but there was entire failure. Now there comes out another thing, entire grace, which is irrespective of all that man was, and takes an absolutely heavenly character. Divine love is its source, and its character is heavenly. Revealing Heaven, it puts man into connection with it, and the people so put must be a heavenly people. Why so? Because this world is all gone wrong; it has fallen from God, and is become the "far country." Hence its riches are of no value, but a great hindrance unless used in a heavenly way, and chapter 16 shows how they should be used. Chapter 15 shows the sinner called out by grace; that which follows shows what He who is so called out is to be as a heavenly man. This world is a scene of evil, and that which attaches to it is now ruin and not blessedness (see the rich man and Lazarus) . Adam had a place in this world, and Israel had a place in it, but now that is all gone, and grace has come in, lifting those who are the subjects of it into another state of things altogether. Christ is justifying God. His nature being love, it
was His joy to manifest grace to sinners. It is not here the joy of those brought back, but God's own joy in bringing the sinner back to Himself. This gives the tone to Heaven. "There is joy" there in the poor wretched sinner brought back.
I have no doubt we have in these three parables the unfolding of the ways of the Trinity. In the first is shown the Son as the Good Shepherd going after the sheep. In the second, the woman lighting a candle and searching diligently till she find the piece of silver, we have the painstaking work of the Holy Ghost lighting up a testimony in this dark world. The third is the Father's reception of the returning sinner when brought back. In this, the prodigal son, we find the work in the sinner, but in the two previous ones it is the sovereignty and the activity of grace which go out in love to find that which was lost, and bring the sinner back without his having anything to do in it.
4-7.—This persevering energy of love is in the Shepherd Himself. The Good Shepherd cares for the sheep, and gives it no trouble in getting home; He carries it on His shoulders. Herein is seen the perfect grace in which the Lord Jesus has so charged Himself with bearing our every burden, our every trial and difficulty, all along the road. Christ is thus the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. Then mark, in verse 6, the peculiar character of this joy. "He calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost." There could not be a more genuine
picture, or a fuller expression, of a person being happy than this. Joy always speaks out.
8-10.—In the second parable we have the same general principle. The painstaking of the Holy Ghost is shown in the acting of the woman who sought the lost piece of silver; the piece of silver could have neither trouble nor joy itself. The difference in the two is that in the first the Shepherd bears all the burden; in the second it is the pains taken in finding the lost piece, proving the woman cared enough for it to take all this trouble to search it out. Thus does God's love act toward us to bring us out of the dark world to Himself. What a work it is to bring man's heart back to God!
11-32.—If we look at man as he is in himself, he could never get back to God. But look at what God is in Himself, and who or what can resist His grace? Still it is the joy of the finder, and not of the thing found. "Rejoice with Me, for I have found My sheep—My piece—that was lost." And in the case of the returning prodigal, who made the feast? Not the young man, but the father, saying to those in the house, "Let us eat and be merry, for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found." All caught the joy of the father's heart, the servants, etc., all except the unhappy, self-righteous elder brother (the Pharisee, the Jew), to whom the
father replied, "It was meet that we should make merry and be glad, for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again." It is the joy God has in receiving a sinner back to Himself. In the parable of the prodigal son by itself the full glory of grace is not seen, as these three parables set it forth together. The case of the sheep is the Shepherd charging Himself with the whole burden of the sheep; the silver is the painstaking of the Holy Ghost. Before actual departure there was moral departure. When the young man left his father's house it was but a display of the evil in his heart . He was just as wicked when he asked for his portion of goods and crossed his father's threshold as when he ate husks with the swine in the far country. He was, doubtless, more miserable then, but his heart was gone before. One man may run further into riot than another, but if we have turned our backs upon God we are utterly bad. In this sense there is no difference.
The moral evil was just the same with Eve. She gave up God for an apple. She virtually thought the devil a much better friend to her than God, and took his word instead of God's. Satan is a liar from the beginning, and at the Cross the Lord Jesus proved this. It cost the Lord His life to prove that God was good. Christ came to contradict the devil's lie, which man believed, and under which the whole world is lying. Grace and truth came by Christ, and, at all cost, were set up by Him on the Cross. Man can do without God, and from the beginning the whole world has been a public lie against God. Who could unriddle it? Look at creation, how it groans under the bondage of corruptions! Look at providence,
how can I account for the goodness of God when I see an infant writhing in pain? How can I reconcile the two things? The villain prospers, the good man suffers. When I see Christ on the Cross I see what God is. Death came on man by reason of sin. But Christ takes my sin on His own sinless person, bows His head in death upon the Cross, and thus sets aside the lie of Satan, "Ye shall not surely die." Thus was God's truth re-established here below in the work and person of the Lord Jesus, and nowhere else. In Him I see holiness, truth, and love, no matter at what cost.
14.—The natural man is just like this prodigal. He spends his substance in the far country and ruins himself. A man having £5000 a year and spending £20,000 will seem very rich for the time. But look at the result. He is a ruined man. The moment man departed from God he sold himself to Satan, and is spending his soul, his heart, away from God. He even spends what God has given him against God, and when he is thoroughly spent, and has nothing to live on, he begins to be in want. "There arose a mighty famine in that land," and all the world feels that. Every sinner does not go to the same length of eating the swine's husks, but all are in the same condition of ruin. Every man has turned his back upon God, though all have not run to the same excess of riot, nor fallen into the same degradation. The famine never draws back to the father's house. The prodigal joined himself to a citizen of that country, not his father's country.
16.—"He would fain have "filled his belly," and "no man gave to him." Satan never gives;
that is found where God's love is, who spared not His own Son. When the prodigal thinks of his father's house, the whole work is morally done, though he is not back there yet. He turns, his heart was changed, and thus his whole desire was to get back to his father's house from whence he had departed. He was not yet in the full liberty of grace so as to have peace and happiness, and he says to himself, "Make me as one of thy hired servants." He is brought to a sense of his guilt, and what was it? Feeding with the swine? No; that was the fruit of it, but his guilt was in leaving his father's house, turning away from God. When he came to himself he desired to return. This was truly a right wish, but the form it took in his mind, from his not yet knowing grace, was a legal one. "I am no more worthy to be called thy son; make me as one of thy hired servants." But the father does not give him time for that.
20.—We hear nothing more about hired servants. For when he was "yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion on him, and ran and fell on his neck, and kissed him." He could not have been a servant with the father's arms round his neck. It would have spoiled the father's feelings, if not the son's. It was the joy of Him who was receiving back the sinner to Himself. And it is the knowledge of this which gives peace to the soul. Nothing else does. If a man does not know love he does not know God, for God is love. The full revelation of God is what we have in Christ. "Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me?" (John 14. 9). God acts from the joy and
delight He has in Himself in receiving back the sinner, and therefore He does not think of the rags, but of the child He has got back again. What right has man to call God in question when He indulges His own heart in the outflow of love to the sinner? You will never get peace by the mere act of coming back, but by learning the Father's mind about you. Could the prodigal get peace as he was coming back if the father had not met him? No; all along the road he would be questioning: How will he receive me? Will he be angry with me? Will he spurn me from his presence? And if he does, what will become of me? "But when he was yet a great way off his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck, and kissed him." If not so, he would have trembled even to knock at the door. When the father's arms were on the son's neck, was he defiled by the rags? No; and he will not have the son bring rags into the house, but orders the best robe to be brought out of it. God sends His own Son out of Heaven, and clothes the sinner; and thus arrayed the young man could bring credit to his father's house. And surely if we are so clothed with Christ we shall do credit to God; and in the ages to come He will show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness towards us through Christ Jesus.
23.—"Let us eat and be merry." It is not: Let him eat and be merry. Again, he says, "It was meet that we should make merry and be glad." There was but one exception to the delight in the house. The elder brother (the self-righteous person) was angry, and would not go in. God had shown what He was in Himself, by His Son, in thus receiving the
prodigal, and now He would show what they were in themselves. We know the Pharisees murmured from the beginning, and the elder brother had no communion with his father, for if the father was happy, why was not he happy, too? He was angry, and would not go in. If such a vile person as the publican gets in that makes my righteousness go for nothing. It is truly so. For where God's happiness is, there self-righteousness cannot come. If God is good to the sinner, what avails my righteousness? He had no sympathy with his father. He ought to have said my father is happy, so I must be. There should have been communion in the joy. "Thy brother is back." That ought to have rung on his heart, but no.
28.—Then see the perfect patience of God's grace. The father goes out and entreats him. And do we not all through the Acts see God entreating the Jews to be reconciled, although they had crucified His Son? So Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 2. 15, 16, says that the Jews filled up the measure of their sins by forbidding the apostles to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved. It is all selfishness in the elder son. "Thou never gavest me a kid that I might make merry with my friends." To which the father replies, "Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine." The oracles of God, the covenants, the promises, God gave to the Jews, but He will not give up the right to show His grace to sinners because of the self-righteous selfishness of the Jews or of any one else. "It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found."