SPIRITUAL CO CEIT.
BY HE RY WARD BEECHER
Lesson : Luke xv. 1-32. " Then drew near unto him all the Publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and Scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them." With our manners and customs it would be considered as an impertinence for us to inquire at a hotel table, or restaurant, or any public gathering, as to the moral character of any person there. So that they observe the ordinary rules of etiquette, to eat with people means very little, except that you simply eat with them; but there was in Christ's association with these persons who were considered outcasts that which offended the conscience and the taste and the leligious customs of his time, and brought him under a ban. It was not that he merely preached to wicked people, as anybody might be supposed to be at liberty to do, but there can be no question that he made himseK so manifestly a companion with these people, — that he exercised such a sympathy for them, that he so recognized their manhood, and so made them feel that, wonderful as he was, a person followed and looked up to, took a personal interest in each one of them, — that he offended the Jews. It was that personality among them, and that putting himself on a level with them, that was so agreeable to them on the one side, and so offensive to the Jews on the other ; and the pressure of reprehension became so great that it gave rise to a train of instruction on that subject which is very remarkable. He spoke this parable : " What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them dotli not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go
214 SPIBITUAL CO CEIT. after that which is lost, until he find it ? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me ; for I have found my sheep which was lost. 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." The teacbing here is that a revelation of the divine nature has in itself a healing power, and that the restoration or elevation of men, or their growth toward perfection, is a thousand times more rejoiced in than the fact that any one of the imperfect has attained perfection, or anything like it. " Either what womari 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 ? And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbors together, saying. Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth." Thus far the Saviour illustrates the attitude of the divine mind toward those that have fallen below the morals of the age in which they live. ' ow he gives the memorable parable which contained in it a fatal stroke at the Pharisees : " A certain man had two sons : 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. 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. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land ; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country ; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. " And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the
swine did eat, and no man gave unto him. 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! I will arise 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. " 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. 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. 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 ; and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it ; and let us eat, and be merry : For
SPIRITUAL CO CEIT. 215 this my son was dead, and is alive again ; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry." Tims far, like the other two parables, this is a recognition of the divine feeling and attitude toward those who have gone wrong, but who are trying to reinstate themselves and to go right again. ow he turns to the Pharisees : " His elder son was in the field ; and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come ; and thy father hatii killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. And he was angry, and would not go in : therefore came his father out, and entreated him. 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. But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured
thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. And he said unto him, Son, 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; and was lost and is found." Usually in reading the j)arable of the Prodigal Son, the whole force is supposed to consist simply in the fall of the young man and in the paternal love which received him back again ; but that is not the haK. It is not even the point of the parable. Here are contrasted, with wonderful power, two styles of livelihood — one, that of the moralist, who had observed every external command, and who was scrupulous in his morality, but in whom the natural affections were absolutely extinguished. He kept all the days and observed all the services that were prescribed ; and he had grown perfect in his obedience to the external law ; but he was stony in his better feelings. It was moral consciousness, it was rightness of outward conduct, that made him believe that he was so good, and so high above the level of common men, that he was justified in neglecting them, and even in feeling repulsion from them. This character is drawn in direct contrast with that of the dissolute young man ; and I will defy any one to read the narrative in a calm mind, and not have sympathy with the dissipated brother as against the Pharisaic older brother. At the same time, no one ever feels that in the young man's wild and dissipated life there is any excuse or palliation ; everybody feels that he was gross and
216 SPIRITUAL CO CEIT. wicked ; everybody is repelled from his career ; and yet there was heart left in him, and penitence, and ont of all his wickedness and misery there arose in him a yearning for elevation. So he went back to his father with repentance and without excuse, and onr hearts go with him. On the other hand, contrast with him the hard, cold, severe, stern religionist who thought so much of God and his service that he could tread under foot his younger brother, and who on
his restoration felt not one single throb of gladness. You cannot help feeling repelled from such a man with indignation ; and this parable is an epitome of one of the most awful teachings of the Saviour, where he checks the dispositions that go with the passions, and with all selfishness, through the higher moral sentiments and the educated reason, and substantially says, ^^The dissipation of the passions is worse than you think it to be, but the perversion of the higher faculties is worse than that." To be perfectly moral, to be scrupulous in the observance of every decency of society, and to lose all sympathy for men, and all care for the weak and poor and imperfect in taking care of yourself — this is more horrible to God than if you were a drunkard and a libertine. The dissipation of the top of the head is guiltier than the dissipation of the bottom. Therefore Christ looked around upon the multitude, and said to the proudest teachers and the best men of those days, *^ The publicans and the harlots shall enter the kingdom of heaven before you." That is the very style into which civilization , or what is called culture, is carrying thousands of people. It is tending to separate them from their kind, and to make them believe that nobody is worthy of their notice who is not cultivated. If common people get a living by hard work, or if by reason of neglect or a strong endowment of passion they have gone wrong, good men are supercilious and contemptuous toward them. They do not feel bound to have any care or thought for the average man. Only the select, the refined, and the cultivated will they live with in reciprocity of politeness, being thoroughly selfish ; and the Saviour says that that spirit is more damnable than drunkenness. It is a very dangerous thing to pervert the best faculties of a man's nature.
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