And he said, A certain man had two sons:…
We know that God's service is perfect freedom, not a servitude; but this it is in the case of those who have long served Him; at first it is a kind of servitude, it is a task till our likings and tastes come to be in unison with those which God has sanctioned. It is the happiness of saints and angels in heaven to take pleasure in their duty, and nothing but their duty; for their mind goes that one way, and pours itself out in obedience to God, spontaneously and without thought or deliberation, just as man sins naturally. This is the state to which we are tending if we give ourselves up to religion; but in its commencement, religion is necessarily almost a task and a formal service. When a man begins to see his wickedness, and resolves on leading a new life, he asks, "What must I do?" he has a wide field before him, and he does not know hew to enter it. He must be bid to do some particular plain acts of obedience to fix him. He must be told to go to church regularly, to say his prayers morning and evening, and statedly to read the Scriptures. This will limit his efforts to a certain end, and relieve him of the perplexity and indecision which the greatness of his work at first causes. But who does not see that this going to church, praying in private, and reading Scripture, must in his case be, in great measure, what is called a form and a task? Having been used to do as he would, and indulge himself, and having very little understanding or liking for religion, he cannot take pleasure in these religious duties; they will necessarily be a weariness to him; nay, he will not be able even to give his attention to them. Nor will he see the use of them; he will not be able to find they make him better though he repeat them again and again. Thus his obedience at first is altogether that of a hired servant, "The servant knoweth not what his lord doeth." This is Christ's account of him. The servant is not in his lord's confidence, does not understand what he is aiming at, or why he commands this and forbids that. He executes the commands given him, he goes hither and thither, punctually, but by the mere letter of the command. Such is the state of those who begin religious obedience.
(J. H. Newman, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And he said, A certain man had two sons: