The Prodigal Son is probably the best known, and the best loved, of all of the parables told by Jesus. I think that’s because it tells the story of the kind of father we would all like to have. Some of us may have been blessed with a father similar to the one in the story, but I would guess a majority of us have a deep longing for a father who loves and forgives us as the son’s father did.
I thought of this parable because it’s related to one of my top five 2010 posts. I mentioned in A New Year’s Anchor of Hope that finding the general introductory pages in the top three wasn’t a surprise to me, but the next two were. They told me about vital topics on people’s hearts in their searches. Anchor of Hope was one, while Abba! Father! was the other.
The Bible speaks of God the Father, but while calling God, Father, is easily done by some Christians, for others it is a struggle because it brings painful memories of their earthly father. There is confusion in our understanding of God and our emotions connected to those men who have failed us overlay truth of who God is. Sometimes we don’t comprehend the difference the Gospel makes in our lives. This isn’t new to our generation. In the 1600s, John Owen wrote a wonderful book, Communion With God, in which he provides truth after truth from the Bible to give us clarity and assurance. His pastor’s heart is evident within the pages. I have found such help from his work that I want to share with you some things he wrote. (There are a couple of footnotes to help with understanding his word usage. Owen’s emphasis is in italics and uppercase words, mine is in bold).
“…I come now to declare what it is wherein peculiarly1 and eminently the saints have communion2 with the Father; and this is LOVE,—free, undeserved, and eternal love. This the Father peculiarly fixes upon the saints; this they are immediately to eye in him, to receive of him, and to make such returns thereof as he is delighted withal. This is the great discovery of the gospel: for whereas the Father, as the fountain of the Deity, is not known any other way but as full of wrath, anger, and indignation against sin, nor can the sons of men have any other thoughts of him (Rom. i. 18; Isa. xxxiii. 13, 14; Hab. i. 13; Ps. v. 4–6; Eph. ii. 3),—here he is now revealed peculiarly as love, as full of it unto us; the manifestation whereof is the peculiar work of the gospel, Tit. iii. 4.”
This is the great discovery of the gospel: God the Father loves His children. Owen writes that love is distinctive to our communion with God the Father:
“When I assign any thing as peculiar wherein we distinctly hold communion with any person, I do not exclude the other persons [of the Trinity] from communion with the soul in the very same thing. Only this, I say, principally, immediately, and by the way of eminency, we have, in such a thing, or in such a way, communion with some one person [of the Trinity]; and therein with the others secondarily…”
With God the Father, love; with the Lord Jesus, grace; with the Holy Spirit, consolation. But I have just begun his book, and I wanted to bring this out because it was such a comforting thought. These are only a few of the verses Owen uses to make his case:
“1 John iv. 8, “God is love.” …So the apostle sets it forth in the following verses: “This is love,” verse 9; — “This is that which I would have you take notice of in him, that he makes out love unto you, in ‘sending his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.’ ” So also, verse 10, “He loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”…
“2 Cor. xiii. 14, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, THE LOVE OF GOD, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with you all.” Ascribing sundry things unto the distinct persons, it is love that he peculiarly assigns to the Father….
“John xvi. 26, 27, saith our Saviour, “I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you; for the Father himself loveth you.”…
“Rom. v. 5, “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us.” God, whose love this is, is plainly distinguished from the Holy Ghost, who sheds abroad that love of his; and, verse 8, he is also distinguished from the Son, for it is from that love of his that the Son is sent…
“…Christians walk oftentimes with exceedingly troubled hearts, concerning the thoughts of the Father towards them. They are well persuaded of the Lord Christ and his good-will; the difficulty lies in what is their acceptance with the Father, — what is his heart towards them? “Show us the Father, and it sufficeth us,” John xiv. 8….”
Jesus made this incredible reply to Philip’s question (my emphasis):
Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves.”
“When by and through Christ we have an access unto the Father, we then behold his glory also, and see his love that he peculiarly bears unto us, and act faith thereon. We are then, I say, to eye it, to believe it, to receive it, as in him; the issues and fruits thereof being made out unto us through Christ alone.”
There may be times we know great affliction in this world or times we undergo God’s discipline, but do not doubt the Father’s love. God the Father welcomes Prodigals home.
“For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God…”
The Return of the Prodigal Son: James Tissot, Public Domain.
1Peculiar: The common meaning today is odd, but it also means:
“characteristic of one only; distinctive or special”.
Princeton University “Peculiar.” WordNet. Princeton University. 2010.
2Communion: Defined by William Goold, editor of the 1851 edition of Owen, as:
“The term “Communion,” as used by Owen, is used in a wider sense than is consistent with that
which is now generally attached to it in religious phraseology. It denotes not merely the
interchange of feeling between God in his gracious character and a soul in a gracious state, but
the gracious relationship upon which this holy interchange is based. On the part of Christ, for
example, all his work and its results are described, from the atonement till it takes effect in the
actual justification of the sinner.”
John Owen, The Works of John Owen, William H. Goold, ed., Vol. 2, Communion with God,
Chapter III, pp. 19, 18, 19, 20–23. Reprinted by The Banner of Truth Trust.
Original content: Copyright ©2011 Iwana Carpenter