THERE are different stages in the sinner’s history.
First stage - The young man sought independence of his father. He said, “Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me.” We know something of that state of mind. In his heart the young man desires a supposed liberty, he wishes to cast off all restraint. He is a man now. He wants now to exercise his own freedom of will, and to feel that he himself is really his own master.
Perhaps there are some to whom I am speaking who are just in such a state as that; if so, may the grace of God arrest you before you go any further away from Him! May you feel that, to be out of gear with God, to wish to be separated from Him, and to have other interests than those of Him who made you, must be dangerous, and probably will be fatal!
Second stage - Very soon, however, this young man in the parable entered upon quite another stage. He had received his portion of goods; all that he would have had at his father’s death he had turned into ready money, and there it is. It is his own, and he may do what he pleases with it. Anywhere near his father there is a check upon him; he feels that the influence of his home somewhat clips his wings. If he could get into a far country, there he should have the opportunity to develop; and all that evolution could do for him he would have the opportunity of enjoying, so he gathers all together, and goes into the far country.
It may be that I am addressing some who have reached that stage. Now there is all the delirium of self-indulgence. Now the cup is full, and the red wine sparkles in the bowl. As yet, it has not bitten you like a serpent, nor stung you like an adder, as it will do all too soon; but now, it is the deadly sweetness that you taste, and the exhilaration of that drugged chalice that deceives you. You are making haste to enjoy yourself. Sin is a dangerous joy, beloved, all the more because of the danger.
Third stage - that is when he has “spent all.” We have only a certain amount of spending money after all. He who has gold without limit, yet has not health without limit; or if health does not fail him in his sinning, yet desire fails, and satiety comes in, as it did with Solomon when he tried this way of seeking happiness. At last, there is no honey left, there is only the sting of the bee. It is very apt to lead to despair, and even deeper sin.
A SINNER IS BESIDE HIMSELF. I am sure that it is so. There is nothing more like to madness than sin. He considers it possible for a creature to be at enmity against the Creator, or indifferent to Him, and yet to be happy. He fancies that he knows better what is right for him than the law of God declares. He has unshipped the rudder of his judgment, and steers towards the rocks with awful deliberation, and seems as if he would wish to know where he can find the surest place to commit eternal shipwreck. His judgment is out of order. For me to have interests apart from Him who made me, and keeps me alive,— for me, the creature of an hour, to fancy that I can have a will in opposition to the will of God, and that I can so live and prosper,— why, I must be a fool! I must be mad to wish any such thing. The reason is that he is beside himself.
Then, next, that young man went away from his home. It was a happy home, well stored with all that the son could need; yet he quits it to go he knows not whither, among strangers who did not care a straw for him, and who, when they had drained his purse, would not give him even a penny with which to buy bread to save him from starving. Anyone who does this is acting against his own best interests, he is choosing the path of shame and sorrow, he is casting away all true delight; he must be mad.
You can see that this young man is out of his mind, because, when he gets into the far country, he begins spending his money riotously. He spends his money for that which is not bread, and his labour for that which satisfieth not; and that is just what the sinner does. Oh, if men were but rational,— and they often wrongly suppose that they are,— if they were but rational beings, they would see how irrational it is to sin! The most reasonable thing in the world is to spend life for its own true design, and not to fling it away as though it were a pebble on the sea-shore.
Further, the prodigal was a fool for he spent all. There is no limit to those who have started in a course of sin. He that stays back from it, by God’s grace may keep from it; but it is with sin as it is with the intoxicating cup. One said to me, the other day, “I can drink much, or I can drink none; but I have not the power to drink a little, for if I begin I cannot stop myself..” So is it with sin, God’s grace can keep you abstaining from sin; but, if you begin sinning, oh, how one sin draws on another! One sin is the decoy or magnet for another sin, and draws it on; and one cannot tell, when he begins to descend this slippery slide, how quickly and how far he may go.
Mad people do not know that they have been mad till they are cured; they think that they alone are wise, and all the rest are fools. Here is another point of their resemblance to sinners, for they also think that everybody is wrong except themselves. We, with tears, pray God to deliver them from their delusions, and to bring them to sit at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in their right minds.
Mad people sometimes, too, will rave, and then you know what dreadful things they will say. So is it with sinners when their fits are on them. I dare not speak of what they will do and what they will say. They often pull themselves up, afterwards, and feel ashamed to think that they should have gone so far.
IT IS A BLESSED THING WHEN THE SINNER COMES TO HIMSELF
“When he came to himself.” This is the first mark of grace working in the sinner as it was the first sign of hope for the prodigal. Now let us consider how this change happened. If you should ask me the outward circumstances of the prodigal’s case, I should say that it took a great deal to bring him to himself. “Why, surely!” one says, “he ought to have come to himself when he had spent all, he must have come to himself when he began to be hungry.” No; it took a great deal to bring him to himself, and to his father; and it takes a great deal to bring sinners to themselves, and to their God.
The occasion of the prodigal’s climax was this; he was very hungry, and in great sorrow, and he was alone. It is a good thing for a sinner sometimes to be alone. The prodigal had nobody to drink with him, nobody to sport with him; he was too far gone for that. He had not a rag to pawn to get another pint, he must therefore just sit still without one of his old companions. They only followed him for what they could got out of him. As long as he could treat them, they would treat him well; but when he had spent all, “no man gave unto him.” He was left without a comrade, in misery he could not allay, in hunger he could not satisfy. He was reduced almost to a skeleton; emaciation had taken hold of him, and lie was ready to lie down there and die. Then it was that he came to himself.
Perhaps somebody here says, “I wish I could come to myself, sir, without going through all that process.” Well, you have come to yourself already if you really wish that. Let me suggest to you that, in order to prove that it is so, you should begin seriously to think, to think about who you are, and where you are, and what is to become of you. Take time to think, and think in an orderly, steady, serious manner; and, if you can, jot down your thoughts. It is a wonderful help to some people to put down upon paper an account of their own condition. Men and women, I pray you, do not play the fool! If you must play the fool, take some lighter things to tribe with than your souls, and your eternal destinies.
WHEN HE CAME TO HIMSELF, THEN HE CAME TO HIS FATHER.
When a sinner comes to himself, he soon comes to his God. This poor prodigal, soon after he came to himself, said, “I will arise, and go to my father.” What led him back to his father?
First, his memory aroused him. He recollected his father’s house, he remembered the past, his own riotous living. Do not try to forget all that has happened; the terrible recollections of a misspent past may be the means of leading you to a new life. Set memory to work.
Then, his fears whipped him back. He said, “I perish with hunger.” He had not perished yet, but he was afraid that he soon would do so; he feared that he really would die, for he felt so faint. Let your fears drive you home, as they drove home the poor prodigal.
Meanwhile, his hope drew him. This gentle cord was as powerful as the heavy whip: “In my father’s house there is bread enough and to spare; I need not perish with hunger, I may yet be filled.” Oh, think of what you may yet be! Poor sinner, think of what God can do and is ready to do for you, to do for you even to-night! How happy He can make you! How peaceful and how blessed! So let your hope draw you to Him.
Then, his resolve moved him. He said, “I will arise, and go to my father.” Lastly, there was the real act of going to his father; it was that which brought him home. So, when you are moved to return, and the resolution becomes an action, and you arise, and go to God, salvation is yours. While you are yet a great way off, your Father will outstrip the wind, and come and meet you. This shall be your portion if you will but trust the Lord Jesus Christ.
Excerpted from the sermon titled “The Prodigal’s Climax” (Luke 15:17) by CH Spurgeon dated 19 May 1887. You are encouraged to read the whole text of the sermon from https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/sermons/the-prodigals-climax/#flipbook/.