And he said, A certain man had two sons:…
We may interpret this as we use the term familiarly, as where a man is out of his head, out of his mind, and we say when his reason is restored that he has "come to himself" again. Or, when a man comes out of a swoon, he is said to "come to himself," by which is meant, simply, that he comes to the possession and use of faculties that for a time were clouded, or hindered in their operation. You may also use it in a broader sense; and it is thus that I propose to use it. It may be made to throw much light on the course which men are pursuing at large — even those who do not indulge in passionate excesses, and in the wallow of the appetites. It is proper that we should determine what a man's manhood is; what it is that is man, in man. Not everything. There is a difference between men and the animated creation, a part of which they are. And it is not fair to attempt to determine our manhood by the things which we have in common with the ass, with the ex, with the lion, or with the serpent. We must rise higher than the things which are possessed by these creatures, in order to find out what manhood is in man.
1. Looking at it in this light, the first thing that I will mention, as discriminating men from every other part of creation, and as constituting a portion of their true manhood, is their reason — and that in two aspects.
(1) First, let us consider it as a governing light and power. I believe the superior animals have the germs or rudiments of reason. There is no question that the dog does, in a very limited way, reason, and that the elephant does, and that the horse does. And that reason in these animals is of the same general kind as the human reason, I do not doubt. But it is very limited, very low, and only occasional.
(2) The other view which we are to take of reason, is that by its force we are able to prophecy. That is to say, experience does lay a foundation by which a man may judge from the results of certain causes to-day what will be the results of those causes to-morrow. For instance, if last year, sowing, we derived such and such results, we prophecy that if we sow this year, we shall derive the same results. And this it is which distinguishes between the human and brute reason more significantly than anything else.
2. The next constituent element of a true manhood is moral sense, or a constitution by which the soul recognizes moral obligations, from which, by a comparison of the performance of our life, measured by obligation, we come to understand the qualities of right and wrong; to accept a higher standard of obligation than mere self-will, or than mere self-indulgence and pleasure. There is no evidence that animals ever have a conception of right and wrong.
3. Then we have one more characteristic — a spiritual nature — an endowment of sentiments which inspire the idea of purity, of self-denial, of holy love, of supersensuousness. It is in this higher range of faculties, thus very briefly, compendiously defined, that a man is to look for his manhood. You are a man by as much as you have this particular part developed. You are less than a man just in the proportion in which you recede and shrink from this kind of measuring. Since one's manhood, or his true self, is to be found in his nobler attributes, and in his true spiritual relations, he who leaves these unused, and lives in the lower range of faculties, may be truly said to have forsaken himself. He has gone down out of himself into that which was a supplementary nature, an auxiliary part. He has left that nature of reason, and that nature of moral sense, and that nature of spirituality, which constitute his manhood, and has given himself up to the range of the senses. And that is the way the bird lives. That is the way the brute creation lives. He and they alike live for the gratification of the appetites and the passions. It does not require that a man should become an assassin, or a mighty criminal, before it can be said that he is unnatural. Every man that teaches himself to find the chief employments and enjoyments of his manhood lower than in his reason and moral sentiments and spiritual nature, has forsaken himself. Every man whose business is manual and physical, and who contents himself with that business, and feeds himself by nothing higher than that, is a creature that is spending his life forces lower than the level of true manhood. Take a step higher. Do you live habitually, in your ordinary affairs, in your social intercourse, in the things that you seek and the things that you avoid, according to the dictates of your moral sense? Are you conscious that you bring to bear upon your conduct the great moral measurements, the rights and the wrongs, that have been determined by the holiest experiences of the best men of the world, and have come down to us in the records of God's Word, as God's best judgments expressed through such experiences through thousands of years? Do you live in accord with them? Are you uniformly generous, uniformly unselfish, uniformly true? Is your life straight? Is your path from day to day a line drawn as true as a rule could draw it? Are you right-eous, or are you unright-eous? Measure your life by this higher moral sentiment. Is there a man who does not know that his life will not bear any such measurement as that? Every man says, "There is not a faculty that, when it acts, does not act crookedly." Take any single one of your feelings and watch it for a single day, and you will find it to be so. You are living below your true manhood. It is only once in a while that you come to yourself. You do once in a while. When a truly eminent Christian man dies, and the sound of life is for a short time hushed, all your better feelings lay down their warlike feathers, and there rises up in your soul a consciousness, an ideal, of what you ought to be, and how you ought to live, for a single moment, it may be, or a single hour. I have seen men come over from their business in New York, to attend the funeral of a brother — of some eminent Christian — and shed tears in this house. When, for instance, Brother Coming was buried, I saw hard-faced men cry. And I know what we should hear such men say if we could listen to their conversation as they walk away on such occasions. "Dear brother," says one, "we have been working for money; but that is not the main thing. It is only a little while that it can do us any good." "That is true," says another. "We must die soon. It will not be long before there will be just such a funeral for us. And are we ready?" And so these two men, greyhaired, it may be, very simple and very much in earnest, give expression to their feelings as they go down to Fulton Ferry. And as they cross over they say to themselves, "I will think of these things, and try to carry the impression of them with me." But when they go up the street on the other side they meet this man and that man, and their minds are distracted from these serious thoughts; and when they get back into their counting-room they forget all about them. They did think they would tell their wives all about it when they got home at night; but when, at the supper-table, they were asked, "Husband, did you go to the funeral to-day?" they said, "Yes." "Was it a good funeral?" "Very, very." That was all they had to say about it! And yet they had had a revelation. They had come to themselves, though it was but for an hour.
(H. W. Beecher.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And he said, A certain man had two sons: