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HE WAS ANGRY, AND WOULD NOT GO IN. LUKE, XV. 2!
It is quite remarkable that preachers so often preach about the Prodigal Son, and so seldom have anything to say of the Elder Brother; and when they do, that that something is so exceedingly and adroitly apologetic.
Now, the parable opens with the saying that a certain man had iwo sons, and goes on to show that the father was unfortunate in the fact that both his sons were sinners. And the parable describes these men as representative and typical men, showing the two types of sin : the one, the outbreaking, Prodigal type ; the other, the sneaking, Pharisaic type. So that every man in his course of sin may probably be found to be in one of these two categories. He is at all times the Prodigal Sinner or the Puritan Sinner. We come to-day to consider this Elder Son, who had all the bad traits of his brother save two, and
then he had seven additional ugly, sinful characteristics.
I. In the first place, he was generally a badtempered, uncomfortable individual.
That is shown in the whole story that is told of him. Whenever he appears it makes us feel as though we did not want to have him too near us — a very bad characteristic for any man, Christian or otherwise. His father knew that he was an unpleasant person ; he had probably seen this disposition manifested before. It is remarkable, when the younger son was coming in, penitent and falling upon his father's neck, and the father falling upon this son's neck, and there was a fatted calf killed, and feasting and music in the house, that the elder brother was not there, and that his father did 7iot call him in. His father knew that, however correct he might be externally, he was an exceedingly uncomfortable son ; that there was something in his style of behavior which would put a chill on the festivities should that son come in when they were at their
And now, dear brethren, let me stop awhile to warn you against being ill-tempered. You know
some baptized Christians with whose outward demeanor you can find no fault ; but somehow they act as a kind of rasp ; they dash the blessedness of society with a coldness and bitterness that makes society feel that they are very unpleasant kind of Christians. If you call the attention of one such man to his unfortunate characteristic, he will reply, "Yes, but that is my natural temperament ; I cannot help it."
This elder brother might have said the same. But, my friends, it is very far from being the Christian temper, very far from making you useful ; and if the Christian temper comes out in your life it will make you manly and agreeable. I do not believe in that kind of Christianity which makes men rough and ugly. I do not
believe in that kind of Christianity which allows you to shelter your lack of manners behind your ' ' frankness. " I tell you the greater part of your " frankness" is want of good breeding.
2. This elder brother was envious of his repentant brother.
He inquired of the domestics, and learned from one of the servants that his brother had come, and instead of being glad at once, he began to be jealous and envious. While that brother was gone he had had full sweep ; he was glad he had been gone, and every time he heard of some forlorn scoundrel that had been hanged in a distant place, he hoped it was his brother, and said, " Good riddance to bad rubbush ; I shall never be troubled with him again." But by-and-by his brother came home, and the dancing and the music made discord in his ear. " He was angry, he would not go in." "I will not see my brother in his prosperity ; I thought he was dead, done for, gone out of my way ; that I could come in and take the whole of my
father's affection and estate ; but here this fellow comes back and makes all this joy and gladness." His conduct shows all this.
You have seen Christian men that are just that way — Christian men that always groaned when-
The Elder Brother.
ever any one else shouted — that always grew uncomfortable just as other people grew happy — in • whose eyes the blazing light from festive scenes wrought a strange kind of darkness — on whose ear fell the gladnfess and music and dancing noise of the world around them and made them feel most miserable. Haven't you seen that kind of
Christian often ? And that is one reason, dearly beloved brethren, why some men do not like Christianity. They say, " This is a bitter, dark kind of religion."
Again, many Christian men would like to go in the way of sinners. Their conduct shows that they envy sinners. Such a Christian man says, "Here I am, going to the sanctuary every Sunday, fasting on Fridays, giving a portion of my goods to the poor; here I am, denying myself and taking up my cross, and here are these sinners of the market, these sinners of the ballroom and the theatre — their eyes stand out with fatness, they have more than heart could wish, they are thriving in all their business and pleasure." Men of this temper sit down in the church of God and are envious ! Being children, elder brothers in their Father's house, they are envious of the joys that sinners have ! Oh ! my Christian friends, why should you envy sinners? Why should you, as the Psalmist says, "be envious of evil-doers ?" Instead of being jealous, for charity's sake let them have a little joy, for
consider the darkness and bitterness that are to come after.
But in this case there was an additional thing against the brother. Joy on this occasion was natural and wholesome. They ought to have had music in the father's house when this son who had been lost was found again. It was right. It was ordered by the father. And just while they were rejoicing over the son that had come back, the elder brother was angry and would not go in.
3, There is a third thing in the young man that ought to be noticed. All along he had beeti unloving to his brother.
I want to call the attention of you who are Christian people — for I am speaking now to "good" people, and not to prodigals — to the absolute necessity of being humane if you are Christian, and the certainty, if you are not humane, that you are not Christian. The world looks in upon the Church and says, "Behold
these professors of religion ; there is many a man in the common walks of life more charitable, more humane, with a greater chord of tenderness in his heart than these people." And they tell the truth, and you know it. There is
the great argument of the apostle John : " If you do not love your brother whom you have seen, howr^r« you love God whom you have not seen?" i John, iv. 20. If that poor fallen woman, having flesh and blood like your wife, your daughter, your mother, does not stir your heart with tenderness, and pity, and Christian affection, how can you love God whom you have never seen ? I appeal to you, my dear friends, on this ground very earnestly. Mark that this elder son, when he was speaking to his father, speaking of his own and only brother, instead of saying, " When this my brother returns," called him " this thy son ! " Never in this narrative does it appear that the word " brother " was upon his lips. Put this to your hearts and con8
sciences, you fine, you well-to-do men, you decent Christian people; have you never felt, when you have looked upon the outcast and the sinner, " Yes, I suppose, somehow, distantly, he is my brother?" You have come upon the relationship by going around through God, and making the road as long as you pleased, saying, "Yes, I suppose he is a child of God, and therefore he is my brother," but you feel that there is a great distance between you and this unwashed sinner of the Five Points.
Do we not remind ourselves of this elder son? He did not rush in and seize his returning brother in loving embraces and cover him with kisses, as you and I know he ought to have done. If he had, no doubt the poor prodigal would have shrunk back from his decent and nice brother, and said, " I am not fit to be embraced by you ! " If he had done so, we know what it would have been proper for the elder brother to have said. If he had been good, he would have replied, " Don't say so, my darling, my only brother. The house has been so lonely since you went.
Recollect our childhood, how we played together, showing our toys and good things! Recollect how many plans we have formed together. You are my brother, my only brother. I don't care where you've been, now that you have come back again." That is what he should have felt and said. But he was not sorry when his brother left, nor glad when he returned.
How is it with you, sir, you that have been so long in the Church of God ? Does it strike you with pain when some one wanders away from the Father's house ? It is to be feared there are Christian people by the thousands in this city who are contented and quiet, while their brothers and sisters by the tens of thousands are going to destruction. Then there are Christian men and women that have comfort and prosperity,
The Elder Brother.
and everything right in the bank, who are far from rejoicing when some poor prodigal returns. Perhaps I am addressing some such man now, who would feel that it were inconvenient if, some evening, when friends were assembled in a gay and festive party at his elegant home, a poor man should ring the bell, and forcing his way past the servants to the master of the house, should say, " I understand that you are a Christian. I saw you at prayer-meeting last Wednesday night " — stop ! I shall have to change my figure. Such Christians as these are almost never seen in a prayer-meeting — or suppose that he had seen you partake of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, or somehow or other he had discovered that you are a professing Christian, and should say, " All last night long and all this day I have been in the midst of troubles and terrors. I am a stranger in a strange land. I do not know a
single soul in this great city, but I believe you to be a Christian. I have come to you for a few minutes to ask you to tell me the way of salvation." Would you not think it a painful interruption ? I am afraid you would say: "Just come to-morrow. I have invited a large company here, and there are some of the most elegant people in the city in my house, and I cannot attend to you to-night." On your honor, would you not feel sorry that this man had had that conviction, and had come to you to talk with him ? ^\\q\-\ yoii are that elder brother.
Why, if he had been the right kind of a brother, and had seen the younger son going astray, he would, some evening, have said to him : " Come, brother, let me sleep with you to-night ; I feel that 1 should like to lie in your arms again, just as when we were little boys." And then, when the night was on them, he would have gone over his life and say: "Brother, do you not recollect such and such things of our dead mother?" And those old scenes would have been brought up and talked over, and then the
boy would have been melted. And then the elder would have told the younger many sweet things his father had said of him, and have assured him of the father's love. And when the boy went to his father and said : " Give me that portion that belongs to me," the brother would have used persuasives to detain him ; and when he started out in the road his brother would have put the best horse before the best carriage and gone after him and said: "Come back, dear brother, I will give you half of the remainder of the estate ; come back, I will give you all." But he never placed one single straw of influence in the way of that brother to keep him from going
away from his father's house, even as our brothers stray away from God, because we do not try to keep them in the family.
And when the prodigal came back there was no rejoicing in the elder brother's heart. He ought to have known, when he saw the light in
his father's house, and heard the rejoicing and dancing, that there was something good going on; but, instead of entering promptly, he sent for the servant to come out, and asked about this thing, and when he heard what the rejoicing was for he was angry, and would not go in.
Ah ! my friends, Christianity — Christ's blessed Christianity — will never take this world until it beget in Christians a love for all their human kith and kin — until humanity be a precious thing in our sight, and the bond of all humanity be recognized by us.
There is a little poem of Leigh Hunt's, — a little poem that is worth all the things that have been written in the Edinburgh Review from the first number down to the present time, and will be remembered when all the great articles of the great writers in that famous periodical shall be forgotten. It will do me good to repeat them :
*' Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase) Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw within the moonlight in his room, Making it rich and like a lily in bloom, An angel writing in a book of gold ; Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold, And to the presence in the room he said, ' What writest thou .^ ' The vision raised its head. And, with a look made of all sweet accord. Answered, 'The names of those who love the Lord.' 'And is mine one.'' said Abou. ' Nay, not so,' Replied the angel. Abou spake more low. But cheerily still, and said : ' I pray thee, then, Write me as one that loves his fellow-men.' The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night It came again with a great wakening light, And showed the names whom love of God had blessed, And, lo ! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest."
That is the humanity of the Gospel. Peace to the memory of Leigh Hunt forever and ever ! These are lines that shall live while there is a fibre of brotherhood in any human heart.
4. But this man was not only destitute of love to his brother ; he was a slanderer.
It is very easy to speak badly of those we do not love, and we love so few people that most of us are slanderers of the majority of the people with whom we are acquainted. Have you stopped to think of that? There are very few who can say, " I have never spoken ill of man or
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woman." This wicked elder brother said : "When this thy son that has spent thy goods with harlots was come." He knew that this was a frightful stain on one's manhood, a terrible thing for a brother to say about his brother, and to their common father. It was an audacious
slander. How did he know that his brother had ever been in such scenes as these he depicts? I will tell you how this wicked brother came by the fancy. He knew that if ke could once slip the noose of his father's control, and go into a new country, he would enter such scenes as he painted, and that he would do that which he charged upon his brother. The voice of his own evil nature he mistook for the voice of humanity. Friends, whenever on suspicion you make a statement that is adverse to the reputation of your fellow-man, let me tell you that everybody who hears you has a right to think that you would do just that thing if you were in such circumstances.
Thus the world is perpetually slandering the Church, and the Church is perpetually slandering the world. The thoughtless man of the world says : " These men are hypocrites, they serve God for gain." Now that is what the devil said of Job, and when you say it of any man, you simply quote the devil's words, and you ought at least to give the devil credit for the
form of the allegation. And whenever you hear a man say that the Church is serving God for gain, you may believe that if ^^ joined the Church he would do it for that motive.
And Christians say many naughty things of men who are just as stainless as they themselves. This is a terrible trick of human nature to paint one's own portrait and put another man's name under it. Supposing a painter should see an ugly man in the street, and call him in and take his portrait, and while the painter stepped out of the room the hideous fellow should seize the brush and put your name under it, you would think him ugly in more ways than one.
5. The elder brother was a liar. The statements he makes are absolutely false. When men become excited with passion they are very apt to do this. This elder brother committed this sin thrice. He said to their father: " This thy son has gone and wasted thy substance." He had wasted substance, but it was not his father's. According to the law of the land the
son was entitled to so much, and the father gave him just what belonged to him. And now the elder brother not only utters a slanderous falsehood of the younger, but he tells a falsehood in regard to himself. He says : " / have kept thy
commandments all the time." He was professing allegiance to his father which was not true, for with the very breath that he was uttering that statement he was proving his disobedience. It was practical disobedience not to join in the festivities which his father had ordered and arranged. And, in the third place, he made a false statement al^out his father, because he said ; "I have done all these things, yet thou never gavest me a kid that I might make merry with my friends." Stop here, and ask what business that boy had with a friend that was not his father's friend. It is a very bad thing if a man's son has associates that he does not dare to bring in and introduce to his father. It is a terrible thing, allow me to say, in passing, when fathers
make their homes so strait and so disagreeable th.it the boys cannot feel that home is home. This man said he never had a kid from his father, when his father had given him the freedom of the house and the use of all that was therein.
6. Moreover, this elder brother was selfish and mercenary. He admits unconsciously that he was serving his father for profit. He had done all these things: "And now," said he, "what is the net result? Not a kid. The fatted calf for the prodigal, but not a kid for me." And thus for the kids and the calves, for the fat and the marrow, for the loaves and the fishes, for the gain and the profit, the puritan sinner is serving God.
7. In the seventh place, the elder brother was disrespectful and disobedient to his father. There is hardly any crime I can conceive of so wicked, so demoralizing, as disrespect to parents. The man that is not respectful to his father cannot be pious toward his God. You may
settle that now. A girl that is not respectful to her mother cannot have any sincere respect for God. It is out of nature.
Now see this case. His father came out and entreated him before the son said a word. He did not speak harshly to him, and say roughly : '' Why don't you come in and welcome my son ?" but he threw his arms around him and said : "Z>^ come in and welcome thy brother." But the wicked boy threw back this entreaty, and said, like a master talking to his servant : " Lo ! these many years have I served thee, neither have I transgressed at any time thy law, yet thou never gavest me a kid that I may make merry with my friends; but as soon as this thy son was come " (as though he reflected upon him for being the father of such a wretch) — ' ' as soon as this thy son was come, who hath devoured thy
The Elder Brother.
living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf." My friends, this is a melancholy picture of the elder brother, so often passed over carelessly. He is in the house ; he is in the Church ; and, mark, the very sin he charges upon his prodigal brother, that of devouring his substance, is the very sin the elder brother wants to commit now. Here was a man lost in his father's house.
Lastly, this son was a hypocrite, a Pharisee, a puritan, a man who, under the cover of piety, condemned the sins of others with loud preaching, and endeavored to show the sincerity of his condemnation by vehement exhortations, while he committed these very sins in private. He is a puritan that is loud for total abstinence, but has a private closet and a secret key for his bottle.
He is a puritan that denounces the man who keeps a faro-table, and himself, by sharp, shrewd ways, throws thousands of dollars wrongfully into his coffers. He is a puritan that condemns, it may be, the men that are struggling down in Wall-street and the Gold Room, while he himself, on a large, fat salary, is paid for writing slanders of these his brethren. He is the Elder Brother of our modern times.
It is a very black picture, my friends, which the blessed Saviour has painted with so much fidelity, as well as with so much benevolence. Bear with me while I strive to draw some lessons from it.
The first is, that the hypocrite is worse than the prodigal — is more injurious to society than he. What kept the prodigal from returning keeps many a young man and many a young woman gone into sin, in this city, from coming back to God. When one of these sinners that are all the while surrounded with temptations and seductions comes back, the Pharisee stands
at the door and holds it so tight that the poor fellow cannot enter. And every man who is in the Church, and does not join in welcoming the sinner, is in league to keep the poor prodigal out.
There is a second lesson. You and I may fancy that we are keeping the commandments of God, while the absence of love and the presence of evil principles may be in our hearts. You may be baptized with all the water that ever washed the banks of all the rivers on earth ; you may have had placed upon your head, day by day and night after night, the hands of all the men that have ever been ordained bishops, elders, or deacons of all the branches of God's Church on earth ; you may partake of the holy Eucharist ; you may fast and give goods to the poor, and yet, without the love of God and the love of man
in your heart, your sacrifice will be an abomination unto the Lord.
Then, there is another lesson : the ma=k of the hypocrite must sometime fall. Day by day this hypocrite had kept his domino over his face, a masquerader in the house of his father ; but in a moment when he did not expect it, when he had come sauntering in from the fields — where, perhaps, he had been looking over the grounds and saying, "What an elegant estate I should have if the old man would only die ; he looks a little shaky now, and if he would only go, what an estate I'd have ;" — suddenly, while he was hearing the feet of the dancers and the notes of the instruments making glad music over the poor, humbled, returned, penitent brother, the elder son stood before his father an unmasked hypocrite.
Dear brother, if you and I have not tender love for God and our brethren, let us be sure that, however long we hold the mask before ^«r faces, the hour will come when it shall drop, and God and the world shall behold our uncovered deformities.
Again, my friends, it is possible that we may
boast of righteousness while guilty of the lowest sin. Men of the world sometimes thank God that they are not like Christians. My unconverted friends, when you hear the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, who, do you think, is the Pharisee? "The church-member," you say. And who the Publican? "Well, I reckon I am the Publican, or will be when I go into the church and, striking my hands on my breast, say, ' God be merciful to me a sinner.' " I beg your pardon, my friend. Have you not seen churchmen in the stock exchange, or in a picture gallery, or on the street, and said, " God, I thank thee that I am a gentleman ; I thank thee that I am not as other men. I thank thee that I do not profess what I do not believe. I thank thee that I am not as these hypocritical church-members ?" And you thought that you were the Publican ! And perhaps that man, who looked so meek, broken down, and dispirited, that you fancied he had the face of a hypocrite, was in his heart saying, " I know I am not as good as many men out of the Church," and perhaps, looking over to you, he has said,
" And, Lord, I have heard that that sinner, who goes to the theatre and the gambling-house (I am using his own language), has made an immense self-sacrifice for his fellow-men, such as I have not had the power to make. Lord, I am not fit to be thy hired servant; just let me crawl into thy house and lie there anywhere." So grievously do we misread one another !
The Elder Brother.
Lastly, my friends, here is, I think, the grand lesson of the text, so far as we are concerned, namely, that the root of all sin is in the belief that we may enjoy good out of God. Whenever you think there is anything in music that you
can enjoy outside of God, you are a sinner. Whenever you think that in statuary, in wit, in poetry, in any of the arts and sciences, there is good that you can enjoy outside of God, and say to God, " Give me my substance, that I may go and enjoy it in my own way " — whenever you do that, it is a sin. And whenever in your father's house you say, " I wish my father would leave the house: I am going to invite three or four good fellows, and we are going to have a high time, and we want the key of the cellar and the larder;" or whenever you, my friends in the Church, say, "I want to have a kid and slay it without my Father," no matter what that kid is, no matter whether it be sensual pleasure or mental pleasure, if you want to enjoy it without the Father, you sin.
But here is the supreme lesson as touching the Father. If any of you hate the puritan, as Christ has painted him in this parable, stop and consider that there was no hate in the father's heart. Let us go home all very humble ; for see : " A certain man had two sons." They were both
his sons, and he behaved toward thern in the
most fatherly manner. When the prodigal came back he needed consolation and cordial assurances, and the father fell on his neck and kissed him. And when the puritan outside refused to come in the father went out and said : " Oh, my son — oh, my SON ! " Mark that tenderness. He has just come from inside of the house, and from saying, "This, my son, who was dead, is alive again, who was lost, is found," and he goes out and says to the obstinate brother : " My son, thou art ever with me." Is not it beautiful to see how tenderly God loves us ? He says these things to the hard-hearted brother : " It is all yours by inheritance — all yours by endowment, if you be a good boy : but if lost in your father's home, envious and jealous, none of these treasures can come to you. If you only rejoice with your brother, then all that I have is yours." Oh, my elder brother, God is not angry with you ; my younger brother, God is not angry with you.
It is at the bottom and the root of all the other teachings of the Gospel that God is my Father, God is your Father, God is every man's Father, and that we are all brothers and sisters of this family of sinners that are to be saved by Christ. Oh, blessed be the Father that comes out to the prodigal and falls upon his neck ; blessed be that Father that comes out to the puritan and entreats ana torgives even him, even him !
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