Matthew Poole's Commentary
Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him.Luke 15:1,2 The Pharisees murmur at Christ for receiving sinners.
Luke 15:3-7 The parable of the lost sheep,
Luke 15:8-10 and piece of silver,
Luke 15:11-32 and of the prodigal son.
Ver. 1,2. I have so often taken notice, that the term all in the New Testament is very often used to signify, not all the individuals of that species, or order of men, to which it is applied, but only a great and considerable number of them, that it is needless again to repeat it. None can imagine, that every individual publican and sinner in those parts, where Christ now was, came to hear Christ, but only many of them, or some of every sort. Thus publicans and harlots entered into the kingdom of God, while the children of the kingdom, and such as appeared to lie fairer for it, were cast out. The scribes, who were the interpreters of the law, and the Pharisees, who were the rigid observers of their decrees and interpretations, murmured, they were disturbed and troubled at it; thinking that because the law appointed no sacrifice for bold and presumptuous sinners, therefore there was no mercy in God for them, or those of whom they had such a notion, and that they were ipso jure excommunicated, and therefore Christ sinned in eating or drinking with them, or in any degree receiving of them; and from hence concluding he was no prophet: as if because ordinarily persons are known by their companions with whom they converse, therefore it had been a general rule; as if one might have concluded, that their doctorships were ignorant, because they conversed with them that were so, for their instruction; or could conclude, that the physician is sick, because his converse is with the sick, for their cure and healing. A man is not to be judged to be such as he converses with necessarily, or in order to their good, which was the end of all our Saviour’s converse with these sinners. Besides, were they themselves without sin? The root of their uncharitableness was their opinion of their own righteousness, from the works of the law, according to their own jejune interpretation of it. But let us hear our Saviour’s reply.
And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.See Poole on "Luke 15:2"
And he spake this parable unto them, saying,Ver. 3-7. See Poole on "Matthew 18:12", and See Poole on "Matthew 18:13", where we met with the same parable, though not related with so many circumstances. Luke 15:7, which is the epiparabole, showeth us the principal thing which our Saviour by this parable designs to teach His hearers, and us also, viz. That Christ is so far from rejecting the greatest sinners, that repent, and flee unto his mercy, that, if it were possible, he should take a greater satisfaction in such an issue of Divine providence, than in all the glorified saints. No repenting sinner, let his sins be as many and as great as they can be, shall be unwelcome unto Christ, fleeing to him with a broken heart (resolved against his former courses) for pardon and mercy. But as it happeneth to them who by study and practice make great experiments, they can hardly find out what they mostly seek for, but in the way to it they will find out several other notions, which are of great use to them; so it will fall out to them who diligently study the parables of the gospel. Though some one truth be that the explication of which our Saviour doth chiefly intend; yet the parable will also afford some other profitable instructions, not unworthy of our notice and regard.
The man here intended is Christ, who was the Son of man, as well as the eternal Son of God. The hundred sheep signifies the whole number of his elect, whether in heaven or on earth, whether yet called or hereafter to be called. The sheep going astray signifieth all the elect, who are by nature children of wrath as well as others, dead in trespasses and sins, Ephesians 2:1,3. Here is mention but of one sheep so gone astray, though there be many, to let us know the love of Christ to every individual soul, that if but one of them had been to have been redeemed, he would have come down from heaven to have redeemed it.
The ninety-nine left in the wilderness seem to me to be the glorified saints, they are the only just persons, who need no repentance. The countryman’s going after the lost sheep till he finds it, then bringing it home upon his shoulders rejoicing, signifies the infinite love of Christ, both in leaving his Father’s throne, and the society of the glorified saints and angels, to come to seek and to save that which was lost, to pay a redemption price for them; then sending his Holy Spirit and the ministers of his gospel to invite and effectually to persuade them to accept of his salvation, truly repenting of their sins; and also preserving them through his power by faith unto salvation: for it is upon his shoulders that any elect soul is brought home; it is his eye must find them, and his power that must bring them home.
The countryman’s rejoicing, and calling his neighbours to rejoice, &c., signifieth the satisfaction and well pleasedness of Christ in the conversion of sinners, which is more plainly expressed Luke 15:7,
I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance. We have much the same again Luke 15:10, leaving out the comparative part. There also it is,
there is joy in the presence of the angels of God. We will consider the expressions in both the verses together; as to which there may arise these questions:
Question 1. What is here meant by joy in heaven? The inhabitants of heaven are, God, the blessed angels, and the glorified saints; how can they be said to rejoice, whereas rejoicing is in us the product of a passion by which we triumph in our union to some good, which we before wanted?
Answer. When terms expressive of our passions are applied to perfect beings, we must understand them so, as they alone can agree to such beings, separated from those excesses which they have in beings more imperfect. Joy signifieth nothing but the full satisfaction of the will in a good obtained. Thus God is said to rejoice in his people, Isaiah 62:5.
Question 2. Who are these ninety-nine just persons that need no repentance? (For the number, it is but an uncertain number put for one certain.)
1. Some by such as need no repentance understand, such as think so of themselves, though indeed they do need it. Others understand it comparatively, such as if compared with others need no repentance.
2. Others by repentance understand penance; such sober persons as stand in no need of a being called to a public confession, for the satisfaction of the church offended. I had rather understand it of the glorified saints, whose society Christ left when he came to work out our redemption. For the others, it had been no great matter for Christ to have told them, that God, and the holy saints and angels, rejoice more over one repenting sinner, than over ninety-nine impenitent sinners and self righteous persons, who continually grieve him, and whom he abhorreth. But then,
Question 3. How can it be said, that God, and the angels and saints, more rejoice over one repenting sinner, than over ninety-nine glorified saints?
Answer. It is universally agreed, that Christ speaks here of God, and of the angels, after the manner of men; of whose nature it is to express more passion upon a new object that pleaseth them, than upon others that they have been long pleased with; as a parent rejoiceth more over one child recovered from the jaws of death, than over all the rest of his children. Tough nothing can be new to God, that is, which he did not see and foreknow, yet some things may be new to him in facto esse, as done and fulfilled: and though we must not imagine any mutation or alteration of the Divine Being upon any emergency amongst men; yet to express how infinitely pleased God is, in the repentance and conversion of great sinners, he is set out as receiving an augmentation of satisfaction in the effecting of it. Such expressions as these condescended to by God for our consolation, must not be so strained by us as to occasion any unbecoming thoughts of God.
Question. Some query how the angels know of the conversion of a sinner; and from hence the papists would some of them infer, that they know our hearts, because that is the seat of conversion.
Answer. Both the angels and the glorified saints also may know it by God revealing it to them.
What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?See Poole on "Luke 15:3"
And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.See Poole on "Luke 15:4"
And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.Ver. 5 See Poole on "Luke 15:4"
I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.See Poole on "Luke 15:4"
Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it?Ver. 8-10. This parable (as appeareth by the conclusion of it) is of the same import with the other, and needs no further explication. By both these parables our blessed Lord lets the Pharisees know the end he aimed at in conversing with publicans and sinners, viz. In order to their repentance and conversion, than which nothing could be more grateful and well pleasing to that God who desireth not the death of a sinner, but rather that they should turn from their wickedness and live. Of the same import is also the following parable, which taketh up all the remaining part of this chapter.
And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost.See Poole on "Luke 15:8"
Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.See Poole on "Luke 15:8"
And he said, A certain man had two sons:Ver. 11-16. The scope of this excellent parable is apparently to magnify the grace of God, who is willing to receive and to treat kindly the greatest transgressors, seriously repenting, and turning unto God; but in it we are also,
1. Instructed in the original state of man, like that of a child in his father’s house, happy and wanting nothing.
2. The most miserable estate of fallen men, such especially as run to great excess of riot.
3. The true way of a sinner’s returning to God.
4. The readiness of our gracious Father to receive, and his wonderful kindness in the receiving and embracing, repenting and returning sinners.
5. The envy that is sometimes found in good souls to others receiving (as they think) more favour from God than they do.
6. The gentleness and meekness of God in dealing with us, notwithstanding our infirmities and misbecoming passions.
God is again here represented under the notion of a man who had two sons: some that are his children by regeneration as well as creation; he having given them that believe a right to be called the sons of God, John 1:12. Others that are his sons by creation only. The latter are here represented under the notion of a younger son. This younger son is represented as dissatisfied with living in his father’s house, desiring his portion, &c. All men and women by nature were equally the sons of God, being all in Adam, who was so. All men swerved from him; in Adam all sinned, all died. But some again by grace are returned to their Father’s house. Others challenge a relation to God, as his creatures, but are not of their Father’s house, but desire only a portion of the good things of this life. Some desire honours, some riches, all of them life and health, &c. God, like a liberal father, gives some of these good things to one, others to another; to some more than one kind of them: whatever they have of this nature is from him who maketh his sun to shine and his rain to fall upon the just and unjust. Wicked men, when they are thus furnished by God, quickly take their
journey into a far country, are more alienated and estranged from God by lewd and wicked practices than they were by nature; waste their substance, the health of their bodies, their time of life, their estates, their great and honourable capacities, by giving up themselves to lewd and riotous kinds of life, to the high dishonour of Almighty God. It pleaseth God by his providence sometimes to bring these men into straits; when they are so brought, they will take any base, sordid course to relieve themselves, rather than they will think of returning to their heavenly Father; of themselves they will rather choose to serve swine. But if they be such as belong to God’s election of grace, the providence of God will not leave them. Though there be little food for a soul in the husks of sensible satisfactions, yet they shall not have a bellyful of them. God will bring them off from satisfaction in any thing, and make every condition uneasy to them.
And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.See Poole on "Luke 15:11"
And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.See Poole on "Luke 15:12"
And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.See Poole on "Luke 15:11"
And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.See Poole on "Luke 15:11"
And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.See Poole on "Luke 15:11"
And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!Every sinner is beside himself; his reason lackeys to his lust and passion, he is governed by appetite, and that rageth in him, while his understanding is blind, and cannot discern between good and evil; and when he hath in any measure discerned any thing, his will is stubborn, and chooseth the evil. Conversion is but the return of a soul to itself. The first thoughts of which conversion arise from a soul’s consideration, what a poor miserable creature it is, ready to perish for ever, while never a poor soul belonging to God, no, not the meanest servant in his family, wanteth any good thing that is necessary for him. These things increase in a soul thoughts of returning to his heavenly Father, through the operation of the Holy Spirit of God; for of ourselves we are not sufficient so much as to think one good thought.
I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,Ver. 18-20. The way of a sinner’s returning to God must be by arising, going to the Father, confessing his sins with the aggravations of them, disclaiming any goodness, any righteousness in himself, humbling himself to God’s footstool.
I will arise (saith the prodigal) and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. He arose from the sleep and bed of sin, and came unto his father. We are not here told by whose strength, or in whose assistance, he arose and came. We must remember that our Saviour is here representing a spiritual notion by an ordinary human action; now men have an innate power to natural motions, though not to spiritual actions. We are elsewhere told, that no man cometh to the Father, but by Christ, nor doth any man come unto the Son, but he whom the Father draweth. Every one as he is taught of the Father cometh unto the Son. And again, that though we be saved by faith, yet it is not of ourselves, it is the gift of God; and, it is given to us in the behalf of Christ to believe, Philippians 1:29. These are but several expressions signifying, by the tender affections and gracious reception of earthly parents of a returning prodigal son, the exceeding readiness of our heavenly Father to receive penitent sinners; he is so far from discouraging great sinners from taking up thoughts of returning unto him, that he cherisheth the embryos of such resolutions: I said, (saith the psalmist), I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin, Psalm 32:5. God seeth the first good motions and stirrings of our hearts towards him, and he needs must do so, for he stirreth them up in us; there is no sacred fire upon our altar, but first cometh down from heaven. While yet the soul is far off from believing, and closing with Christ actually, and hath but some thoughts of that tendency, God looks upon it, encourages it, meeteth it as it were half way; and indeed if he did not, our goodness would be but like a morning dew, which would quickly pass away; our first inclinations would perish like an untimely birth, before it hath seen the light.
And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.See Poole on "Luke 15:18"
And he arose, and came to his father. 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.See Poole on "Luke 15:18"
And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.Now the good thoughts and resolutions of the sinner ripen into action, and the first of it is an expression of his convictions and humiliation by a humble confession of his sins, with their aggravations, as committed against God, and that in the sight of God, and this God his Father, his unworthiness so much as of the name of a son to such a Father. The petitionary part of what he resolved upon, Luke 15:19, is not here again repeated, but to be understood. Men may by the common grace of God, denied to no man, have some good thoughts, but they die away, and come to no maturity, unless the Holy Spirit of God breathes upon them, and maintains and upholdeth them in the soul; but where the Lord designs a thorough change in a soul, the Spirit of the Lord comes, and convinceth the soul of sin and of righteousness: and where he doth so, the resolution ripens into action, and produces in the soul a true and hearty contrition, and confession of its sin, with humble petitions and a resignation of itself to the Lord’s will, and a casting of itself upon God’s free grace and mercy.
But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:Ver. 22-24. We must remember that we are in a parable where a sinner is represented to us under the notion of a prodigal son; God, under the notion of an indulgent father; a repenting sinner, under the notion of a prodigal returning to his father, confessing his error, petitioning his father for mercy, acknowledging he deserveth none, but casting himself upon his father’s goodness and mercy. It is observed by an eminent author, that amongst all the parables this is one of the most famous, and wherein is the most full and perfect representation of the thing intended to be represented, and an applicableness of every part of the similitude to that which it is brought to represent. This part of it represents the grace of God to truly repenting sinners. We before heard his readiness and willingness to receive them, this part lets us see the manner how he will treat them. As in case of apostasy, the seeming righteousness and profession of men shall not be remembered, Ezekiel 3:20 33:13; so in case of a true and hearty repentance, the sins of a soul shall not be remembered, Isaiah 43:25.
The father taketh no notice of the prodigal’s leaving his house, or wasting his estate riotously, but saith,
Bring forth the best robe, thn stolhn thn prwthn; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring hither the fatted calf, ton moscon ton siteuton. I find some interpreters who by the fatted calf are willing enough to understand Christ; yet interpreting the best robe, innocency, or inherent righteousness. Nor is it an ill interpretation, if we consider, that God, at the same time when he imputeth the merits of Christ to the soul for justification, doth also put his Spirit of holiness into the soul, by which being renewed in the inward man, this man brings forth the fruits of holiness unto righteousness, Ezekiel 36:26,27. But why we should not understand both the phrases of the application of Christ’s merits, and the imputation of his righteousness to the soul, I cannot tell, considering, that the church of Laodicea is counselled to buy of him white raiment, that she might be clothed, Revelation 3:18; and that those clothed with white robes, Revelation 7:14, are said to have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb; and that though the habits of grace are sometimes in holy writ compared to clothing, Be ye clothed with humility, ( saith the apostle), yet these are not v stolv v prwtv. I should therefore rather choose to interpret the killing of the fatted calf for the prodigal son, as representing that application of the blood of Christ, which is made to every sinner that truly repenteth, and maketh its application to God for mercy; and the best robe, as the righteousness of Christ, in that moment reckoned unto the soul (thus believing) for righteousness. Further yet, (to consider it only in the parable), the word yusate, sacrifice the fatted calf, seems to signify what a great cause of thanksgiving to God, as well as joy amongst men, the conversion of a sinner is. We that are earthly parents, or ministers of the gospel, should not receive the news, or see the visible probability of a soul’s being converted, and returning unto God, without offering a sacrifice of thanksgiving unto God for doing such things for men, and without a true and hearty rejoicing in ourselves. But to return again to the meaning of the parable.
Let us eat, and be merry: consider these words as the words of a heavenly Father, they signify unto us, that the eternal God, from the day that a repenting soul hath the blood of Christ applied to it, and is clothed with his righteousness, is at peace with the soul, hath a communion with it, and that it from that time hath a true right to spiritual mirth and rejoicing; for light is sown for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart: though possibly the soul at present, through temptations, cannot apprehend it, and be not actually possessed of that joy and peace which followeth believing, yet it hath a right to it, and indeed none but that soul hath any thing to do with peace.
It followeth, For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. A sinful soul is a dead soul, as the woman that liveth in pleasure is said to be dead while she liveth, by the apostle. The conversion of a sinner is as a resurrection from the dead. Nor is any soul capable of any true mirth, till it be reconciled to God through the blood of Christ.
And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry:See Poole on "Luke 15:22"
For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.See Poole on "Luke 15:23"
Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing.Ver. 25-32. This last part of the parable is not so exactly applicable to that which it is brought to represent as the former parts are, but it serveth excellently to show us that envy which is found in our hearts by nature to the spiritual good and advantage of others. Two things are observable in it:
1. Man’s peevishness and envy.
2. God’s meekness towards us under our frowardness.
By the elder son some think the Jews are represented, whose peevishness to the Gentiles, and the offer of the grace of the gospel to them, is made appear to us from many places of holy writ. Others think that by the elder son are represented hypocrites, who swelling in all opinion of themselves, and their own righteousness, have no patience to hear that any others should be preferred in the favour of God before them. Why may we not say that all are understood by it, even the best of God’s people, who, if they narrowly search their own hearts, will find something of pride and envy remaining in the best of them? And as the former prompts them to judge themselves as much deserving the favour of God, even in special particular dispensations, as any others; so the latter inclineth them to repine at such dispensations of Divine grace as others receive, and they want: two corruptions which we are as much concerned to keep watch upon, or against, as any other; speaking both a peevishness to the honour and glory of God, a dissatisfaction in his dispensations, and an offer at the control of his wisdom and justice, and also a great degree of uncharitableness, our eye being evil because the Lord is good. Besides that it seemeth to put in a claim of merit; and the soul that indulges itself in such thoughts seems to say that it hath deserved more than it doth receive; for without such a supposition, it is the most unreasonable thing imaginable, that any person should be displeased that another should have a greater share in the favour of God than he, while he himself receives more than he can lay a claim unto, and God may do with his own what he pleaseth. The meekness of God in dealing with us under our frowardness is as much remarkable.
Son, ( saith this father in the parable), thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad; for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; was lost, and is found. This must be understood of God anyrwpopaywv as spoken after the manner of men, who show greater passions upon the receiving of a good that is new to them, and possibly surprising, than they ordinarily show upon the view of a good of which they have had longer fruition; so it confirms what was before said in Luke 15:7,10. We must take heed of thinking that any thing can make a change or alteration in God, but must look upon it only as an expression of God’s high satisfaction and well pleasedness in a sinner’s conversion, and turning unto him; so as if it were possible any good should more than other affect the Divine Being, it would be this. So as this whole parable is of excellent use, not only to instruct sinners in their miserable state, till they be reconciled to God, but to deliver them from all temptations to fear that, heartily returning, they shall not be accepted.
And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.See Poole on "Luke 15:25"
And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.See Poole on "Luke 15:25"
And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him.See Poole on "Luke 15:25"
And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:See Poole on "Luke 15:25".
But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.See Poole on "Luke 15:25"
And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.See Poole on "Luke 15:25"
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.See Poole on "Luke 15:25"