Christ's Object Lessons
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 16: "Lost, and is Found"
Based on Luke 15:11-32
The parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the
prodigal son, bring out in distinct lines God's pitying
love for those who are straying from Him. Although they
have turned away from God, He does not leave them in
their misery. He is full of kindness and tender pity toward
all who are exposed to the temptations of the artful foe.
In the parable of the prodigal son is presented the Lord's
dealing with those who have once known the Father's love,
but who have allowed the tempter to lead them captive at
|The Prodigal Returns.—Davis Collection.|
"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."
This younger son had become weary of the restraint of
his father's house. He thought that his liberty was restricted.
His father's love and care for him were misinterpreted,
and he determined to follow the dictates of his own
inclination. [p. 199]
The youth acknowledges no obligation to his father,
and expresses no gratitude; yet he claims the privilege of
a child in sharing his father's goods. The inheritance that
would fall to him at his father's death he desires to receive
now. He is bent on present enjoyment, and cares not for
Having obtained his patrimony, he goes into "a far
country," away from his father's home. With money in
plenty, and liberty to do as he likes, he flatters himself
that the desire of his heart is reached. There is no one
to say, Do not do this, for it will be an injury to yourself; or,
Do this, because it is right. Evil companions help him
to plunge ever deeper into sin, and he wastes his "substance
with riotous living."
The Bible tells of men who "professing themselves to
be wise" "became fools" (Rom. 1:22); and this is the
history of the young man of the parable. The wealth which
he has selfishly claimed from his father he squanders upon
harlots. The treasure of his young manhood is wasted. [p. 200] The precious years of life, the strength of intellect, the
bright visions of youth, the spiritual aspirations—all are
consumed in the fires of lust.
A great famine arises, he begins to be in want, and he
joins himself to a citizen of the country, who sends him
into the field to feed swine. To a Jew this was the most
menial and degrading of employments. The youth who has
boasted of his liberty, now finds himself a slave. He is in
the worst of bondage—"holden with the cords of his sins."
(Prov. 5:22.) The glitter and tinsel that enticed him have
disappeared, and he feels the burden of his chain. Sitting
upon the ground in that desolate and famine-stricken land,
with no companions but the swine, he is fain to fill himself
with the husks on which the beasts are fed. Of the gay
companions who flocked about him in his prosperous days
and ate and drank at his expense, there is not one left to
befriend him. Where now is his riotous joy? Stilling his
conscience, benumbing his sensibilities, he thought himself
happy; but now, with money spent, with hunger unsatisfied,
with pride humbled, with his moral nature dwarfed, with
his will weak and untrustworthy, with his finer feelings
seemingly dead, he is the most wretched of mortals.
What a picture here of the sinner's state! Although
surrounded with the blessings of His love, there is nothing
that the sinner, bent on self-indulgence and sinful pleasure,
desires so much as separation from God. Like the ungrateful
son, he claims the good things of God as his by right.
He takes them as a matter of course, and makes no return of
gratitude, renders no service of love. As Cain went out
from the presence of the Lord to seek his home; as the
prodigal wandered into the "far country," so do sinners seek
happiness in forgetfulness of God. (Rom. 1:28.)
Whatever the appearance may be, every life centered in
self squandered. Whoever attempts to live apart from [p. 201] God is wasting his substance. He is squandering the
precious years, squandering the powers of mind and heart
and soul, and working to make himself bankrupt for
eternity. The man who separates from God that he may serve
himself, is the slave of mammon. The mind that God
created for the companionship of angels has become degraded
to the service of that which is earthly and bestial. This is
the end to which self-serving tends.
If you have chosen such a life, you know that you are
spending money for that which is not bread, and labor for
that which satisfieth not. There come to you hours when
you realize your degradation. Alone in the far country
you feel your misery, and in despair you cry, "O wretched
man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this
death?" Rom. 7:24. It is the statement of a universal truth
which is contained in the prophet's words, "Cursed be the
man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and
whose heart departeth from the Lord. For he shall be like
the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh;
but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in
a salt land and not inhabited." Jer. 17:5, 6. God "maketh [p. 202] His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth
rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matt. 5:45); but men
have the power to shut themselves away from sunshine and
shower. So while the Sun of Righteousness shines, and the
showers of grace fall freely for all, we may by separating
ourselves from God still "inhabit the parched places in the
The love of God still yearns over the one who has
chosen to separate from Him, and He sets in operation
influences to bring him back to the Father's house. The
prodigal son in his wretchedness "came to himself." The
deceptive power that Satan had exercised over him was
broken. He saw that his suffering was the result of his
own folly, and 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 may father." Miserable as
he was, the prodigal found hope in the conviction of his
father's love. It was that love which was drawing him
toward home. So it is the assurance of God's love that
constrains the sinner to return to God. "The goodness of
God leadeth thee to repentance." Rom. 2:4. A golden
chain, the mercy and compassion of divine love, is passed
around every imperiled soul. The Lord declares, "I have
loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with
loving-kindness have I drawn thee." Jer.31:3.
The son determines to confess his guilt. He will go to
his father, saying, "I have sinned against heaven, and
before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son."
But he adds, showing how stinted is his conception of his
father's love, "Make me as one of thy hired servants."
The young man turns from the swine herds and the
husks, and sets his face toward home. Trembling with
weakness and faint from hunger, he presses eagerly on his
way. He has no covering to conceal his rags; but his [p. 203] misery has conquered pride ,and he hurries on to beg a
servant's place where he was once a child.
Little did the gay, thoughtless youth, as he went out
from his father's gate, dream of the ache and longing left in
that father's heart. When he danced and feasted with his
wild companions, little did he think of the shadow that had
fallen on his home. And now as with weary and painful
steps he pursues the homeward way, he knows not that one
is watching for his return. But while he is yet "a great
way off" the father discerns his form. Love is of quick
sight. Not even the degradation of the years of sin can
conceal the son from the father's eyes. He "had compassion,
and ran, and fell on his neck" in a long, clinging,
The father will permit no contemptuous eye to mock at
his son's misery and tatters. He takes from his own
shoulders the broad, rich mantle, and wraps it around the [p. 204] son's wasted form, and the youth sobs out his repentance,
saying, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy
sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son." The
father holds him close to his side, and brings him home.
No opportunity is given him to ask a servant's place. He
is a son, who shall be honored with the best the house
affords, and whom the waiting men and women shall respect
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 this my son was dead,
and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they
began to be merry."
In his restless youth the prodigal looked upon his
father as stern and severe. How different his conception of
him now! So those who are deceived by Satan look upon
God as hard and exacting. They regard Him as watching
to denounce and condemn, as unwilling to receive the
sinner so long as there is a legal excuse for not helping him.
His law they regard as a restriction upon men's happiness,
a burdensome yoke from which they are glad to escape.
But he whose eyes have been opened by the love of Christ
will behold God as full of compassion. He does not appear
as a tyrannical, relentless being, but as a father longing to
embrace his repenting son. The sinner will exclaim with
the Psalmist, "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the
Lord pitieth them that fear Him." Ps. 103:13.
In the parable there is no taunting, no casting up to
the prodigal of his evil course. The son feels that the
past is forgiven and forgotten, blotted out forever. And so
God says to the sinner, "I have blotted out, as a thick
cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins," Isa.
44:22. "I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember [p. 205] their sin no more." Jer. 31:34. "Let the wicked forsake
his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let
him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon
him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon." Isa.
55:7. "In those days, and in that time, saith the Lord, the
iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be
none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found."
What assurance here, of God's willingness to receive the
repenting sinner! Have you, reader, chosen your own way?
Have you wandered far from God? Have you sought to
feast upon the fruits of transgression, only to find them
turn to ashes upon your lips? And now, your substance
spent, your life-plans thwarted, and your hopes dead, do
you sit alone and desolate? Now that voice which has long
been speaking to your heart but to which you would not
listen comes to you distinct and clear, "Arise ye, and
depart; for this is not your rest; because it is polluted, it
shall destroy you, even with a sore destruction." Micah
2:10. Return to your Father's house. He invites you,
saying, "Return unto Me; for I have redeemed thee."
Do not listen to the enemy's suggestion to stay away
from Christ until you have made yourself better; until you
are good enough to come to God. If you wait until then, [p. 206] you will never come. When Satan points to your filthy
garments, repeat the promise of Jesus, "Him that cometh
to Me I will in no wise cast out." John 6:37. Tell the
enemy that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin.
Make the prayer of David your own, "Purge me with
hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter
than snow." Ps. 51:7.
Arise and go to your Father. He will meet you a
great way off. If you take even one step toward Him
in repentance, He will hasten to enfold you in His arms
of infinite love. His ear is open to the cry of the contrite
soul. The very first reaching out of the heart after God is
known to Him. Never a prayer is offered, however faltering,
never a tear is shed, however secret, never a sincere
desire after God is cherished, however feeble, but the Spirit
of God goes forth to meet it. Even before the prayer is
uttered or the yearning of the heart made known, grace
from Christ goes forth to meet the grace that is working
upon the human soul.
Your heavenly Father will take from you the garments
defiled by sin. In the beautiful parabolic prophecy of
Zechariah, the high priest Joshua, standing clothed in filthy
garments before the angel of the Lord, represents the
sinner. And the word is spoken by the Lord, "Take away the
filthy garments from him. And unto him He said, Behold,
I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will
clothe thee with change of raiment. . . . So they set a
fair miter upon his head, and clothed him with garments."
Zech. 3:4, 5. Even so God will clothe you with "the
garments of salvation," and cover you with "the robe of
righteousness." Isa. 61:10. "Though ye have lien among the
pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with
silver, and her feathers with yellow gold." Ps. 68:13.
He will bring you into His banqueting house, and His [p. 207] banner over you shall be love. (Cant. 2:4) "If thou wilt
walk in My ways," He declares, "I will give thee places to
walk among these that stand by"—even among the holy
angels that surround His throne. (Zech. 3:7.)
"As the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall
thy God rejoice over thee." Isa. 62:5. "He will save, He
will rejoice over thee with joy; He will rest in His love;
He will joy over thee with singing." Zeph. 3:17. And
heaven and earth shall unite in the Father's song of
rejoicing: "For this My son was dead, and is alive again;
he was lost, and is found."
Thus far in the Saviour's parable there is no discordant
note to jar the harmony of the scene of joy; but now
Christ introduces another element. When the prodigal
came home, the 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 hath killed the fatted calf, because
he hath received him safe and sound. And he was angry,
and would not go in." This elder brother has not been
sharing in his father's anxiety and watching for the one
that was lost. He shares not, therefore, in the father's joy
at the wanderer's return. The sounds of rejoicing kindle
no gladness in his heart. He inquires of a servant the
reason of the festivity, and the answer excites his jealousy.
He will not go in to welcome his lost brother. The favor
shown the prodigal he regards as an insult to himself.
When the father comes out to remonstrate with him,
the pride and malignity of his nature are revealed. He
dwells upon his own life in his father's house as a round of
unrequited service, and then places in mean contrast the
favor shown to the son just returned. He makes it plain
that his own service has been that of a servant rather [p. 208] than a son. When he should have found an abiding joy
in his father's presence, his mind has rested upon the profit
to accrue from his circumspect life. His words show that
it is for this he has foregone the pleasures of sin. Now if
this brother is to share in the father's gifts, the elder son
counts that he himself has been wronged. He grudges
his brother the favor shown him. He plainly shows that
had he been in the father's place, he would not have
received the prodigal. He does not even acknowledge him as
a brother, but coldly speaks of him as "thy son."
Yet the father deals tenderly with him. "Son," he says,
"thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine."
Through all these years of your brother's outcast life, have
you not had the privilege of companionship with me?
Everything that could minister to the happiness of his [p. 209] children was freely theirs. The son need have no question
of gift or reward. "All that I have is thine." You have
only to believe my love, and take the gift that is freely
One son had for a time cut himself off from the household,
not discerning the father's love. But now he has
returned, and the tide of joy sweeps away every disturbing
thought. "This thy brother was dead, and is alive again;
and was lost, and is found."
Was the elder brother brought to see his own mean,
ungrateful spirit? Did he come to see that though his
brother had done wickedly, he was his brother still? Did
the elder brother repent of his jealousy and hardheartedness?
Concerning this, Christ was silent. For the parable
was still enacting, and it rested with His hearers to determine
what the outcome should be.
By the elder son were represented the unrepenting Jews
of Christ's day, and also the Pharisees in every age, who
look with contempt upon those whom they regard as
publicans and sinners. Because they themselves have not
gone to great excesses in vice, they are filled with
self-righteousness. Christ met these cavilers on their own
ground. Like the elder son in the parable, they had enjoyed
special privileges from God. They claimed to be sons in
God's house, but they had the spirit of the hireling. They
were working, not from love, but from hope of reward. In
their eyes, God was an exacting taskmaster. They saw
Christ inviting publicans and sinners to receive freely the
gift of His grace—the gift which the rabbis hoped to
secure only by toil and penance—and they were offended.
The prodigal's return, which filled the Father's heart with
joy, only stirred them to jealousy.
In the parable the father's remonstrance with the elder
son was Heaven's tender appeal to the Pharisees. "All that [p. 210] I have is thine"—not as wages, but as a gift. Like the
prodigal, you can receive it only as the unmerited bestowal
of the Father's love.
Self-righteousness not only leads men to misrepresent
God, but makes them coldhearted and critical toward their
brethren. The elder son, in his selfishness and jealousy,
stood ready to watch his brother, to criticize every action,
and to accuse him for the least deficiency. He would detect
every mistake, and make the most of every wrong act.
Thus he would seek to justify his own unforgiving spirit.
Many today are doing the same thing. While the soul is
making its very first struggles against a flood of temptations,
they stand by, stubborn, self-willed, complaining,
accusing. They may claim to be children of God, but they
are acting out the spirit of Satan. By their attitude
toward their brethren, these accusers place themselves where
God cannot give them the light of His countenance.
Many are constantly questioning, "Wherewith shall I
come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God?
Shall I come before Him with burnt-offerings, with calves
of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands
of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil?" But "He
hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the
Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with thy God?" Micah 6:6-8.
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This is the service that God has chosen—"to loose the
bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let
the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke, . . .
and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh." Isa.
58:6, 7. When you see yourselves as sinners saved only by
the love of your heavenly Father, you will have tender pity
for others who are suffering in sin. You will no longer
meet misery and repentance with jealousy and censure. [p. 211] When the ice of selfishness is melted from your hearts,
you will be in sympathy with God, and will share His joy
in the saving of the lost.
It is true that you claim to be a child of God; but if this
claim be true, it is "thy brother" that was "dead, and is
alive again; and was lost, and is found." He is bound to
you by the closest ties; for God recognizes him as a son.
Deny your relationship to him, and you show that you are
but a hireling in the household, not a child in the family
Though you will not join in the greeting to the lost,
the joy will go on, the restored one will have his place by
the Father's side and in the Father's work. He that is
forgiven much, the same loves much. But you will be in
the darkness without. For "he that loveth not knoweth
not God; for God is love." 1 John 4:8.
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"Spare it this Year Also"