"And kissed him."—Luke 15:20. (The story of the prodigal son)
The first word "and" links us on to all that had gone before. The parable is a very familiar one, yet it is so full of sacred meaning that it always has some fresh lesson for us. Let us, then, consider the preliminaries to this kissing. On the son's side there was something, and on the father's side much more. Before the prodigal son received these kisses of love, he had said in the far country, "I will arise and go to my father." He had, however, done more than that, else his father's kiss would never have been upon his cheek. The resolve had become a deed: "He arose, and came to his father." The determination to return home is good; but it is when the wandering boy begins the business of really carrying out the good resolve, that he draws near the blessing. If any of you here present have long been saying, "I will repent; I will turn to God"; leave off resolving, and come to practicing; and may God in His mercy lead you both to repent and to believe in Christ!
Before the kisses of love were given, this young man was on his way to his father; but he would not have reached him unless his father had come the major part of the way. When you give God and inch, He will give you an mile. If you come a little way to Him, when you are "yet a great way off" He will run to meet you. He sees a sinner long before a sinner sees Him.
I do not suppose that the prodigal travelled very fast. I should imagine that he came very slowly
He had resolved to come, yet he was half afraid. But we read that his father ran. Slow are the steps of repentance, but swift are the feet of forgiveness. God can run where we scarcely limp, and if we are limping towards Him, He will run towards us. These kisses were given in a hurry; the story is narrated in a way that almost makes us realize that such was the case: there is a sense of haste in the very wording of it. His father "ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him"—kissed him eagerly. There stood his son ready to confess his sin; therefore did his father kiss him all the more.
See the contrast. There is the son, scarcely daring to think of embracing his father, yet his father has scarcely seen him before he has fallen on his neck. The condescension of God towards penitent sinners is very great. He seems to stoop from His throne of glory to fall upon the neck of a repentant sinner. God on the neck of a sinner! What a wonderful picture! Can you conceive it? I do not think you can; but if you cannot imagine it, I hope that you will realize it. When God's arm is about our neck, and His lips are on our cheek, kissing us much, then we understand more than preachers or books can ever tell us of His condescending love.
The father "saw" his son. There is a great deal in that word, "saw." He saw who it was; saw where he had come from; saw the swineherd's dress; saw the filth upon his hands and feet; saw his rags; saw his penitent look; saw what he had been; saw what he was; and saw what he would soon be. "His father saw him." God has a way of seeing men and women that you and I cannot understand. He sees right through us at a glance, as if we were made of glass; He sees all our past, present and future.
"When he was yet a great way off, his father saw him." It was not with icy eyes that the father looked on his returning son. Love leaped into them, and as he beheld him, he "had compassion on him"; that is, he felt for him. There was no anger in his heart toward his son; he had nothing but pity for his poor boy, who had got into such a pitiable condition. It was true that it was all his own fault, but that did not come before his father's mind. It was the state that he was in, his poverty, his degradation, that pale face of his so wan with hunger, that touched his father to the quick. And God has compassion on the woes and miseries of people. They may have brought their troubles on themselves, and they have indeed done so; but nevertheless God has compassion upon them. "It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not."
His son deserved all the rough treatment that some heartless men might have given; and had the story been that of a selfish human father only, it might have been written that "as he was coming near, his father ran at him, and kicked him." There are such fathers in the world, who seem as if they cannot forgive. If he had kicked him, it would have been no more than he had deserved. But no, what is written in the Book stands true for all time, and for every sinner,—"He fell on his neck, and kissed him"; kissed him eagerly, kissed him much.
What does this much kissing mean? It signifies that, when sinners come to God, He gives them a loving reception, and a hearty welcome. If any one of you, while I am speaking, shall come to God, expecting mercy because of the great sacrifice of Christ, this shall be true of you as it has been true of many of us: "He kissed him much."
This kissing meant MUCH LOVE.
Oh, how God loves sinner! You who repent, and come to Him, will discover how greatly He loves you. There is no measuring the love He bears towards you. He has loved you before the foundation of the world, and He will love you when time shall be no more. Oh, the immeasurable love of God to sinners who come and cast themselves upon His mercy!
This much kissing means, further, much love perceived. When his father kissed him much, the poor prodigal knew, if never before, that his father loved him. He had no doubt about it; he had a clear perception of it. It is very frequently the case that the first moment a sinner believes in Jesus, he gets this "much" love. God reveals it to him, and he perceives it and enjoys it at the very beginning. Think not that God always keeps the best wine to the last; He gives us some of the richest dainties of His table the first moment we sit there. I recollect the joy that I had when first I believed in Jesus; and, even now, in looking back upon it, the memory of it is as fresh as if it were but yesterday. Oh, I could not have believed that a mortal could be so happy after having been so long burdened, and so terribly cast down! I did but look to Jesus on the cross, and the crushing load was immediately gone; and the heart which could only sigh and cry by reason of its burden, began to leap and dance and sing for joy. I had found in Christ all that I wanted, and rested in the love of God at once. So may it be with you also, if you will but return to God through Christ. It shall be said of you as of this prodigal, "The father saw him, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him in much love."
This much kissing meant MUCH FORGIVENESS.
The prodigal had many sins to confess; but before he came to the details of them, his father had forgiven him. I love confession of sin after forgiveness. Some suppose that after we are forgiven we are never to confess; but, oh, beloved, it is then that we confess most truly, because we know the guilt of sin most really!
To think that Christ should have washed me from my sins in His own blood, makes me feel my sin the more keenly, and confess it the more humbly before God. The picture of this prodigal is marvelously true to the experience of those who return to God. His father kissed him with the kiss of forgiveness; and yet, after that, the young man went on to say, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son." Do not hesitate, then, to acknowledge your sin to God, even though you know that in Christ it is all put away.
From this point of view, those kisses meant, first, "Your sin is all gone, and will never be mentioned any more. Come to my heart, my son! Thou hast grieved me sore, and angered me; but, as a thick cloud, I have blotted out thy transgressions, and as a cloud thy sins. I will never love you any the less. I will never treat you as though you were still an unworthy and untrustworthy person."
There stood the prodigal, overwhelmed by his father's goodness, yet remembering his past life. As he looked on himself, and thought, "I have these old rags on still, and I have just come from feeding the swine," I can imagine that his father would give him another kiss, as much as to say, "My boy, I do not recollect the past; I am so glad to see you that I do not see any filth on you, or any rags on you either. I am so delighted to have you with me once more that, as I would pick up a diamond out of the mire, and be glad to get the diamond again, so do I pick you up, you are so precious to me." This is the gracious and glorious way in which God treats those who return to Him. As for their sin, He has put it away so that He will not remember it. He forgives like a God. Well may we adore and magnify His matchless mercy as we sing—
"In wonder lost, with trembling joy
We take the pardon of our God;
Pardon for crimes of deepest dye;
A pardon bought with Jesus' blood;
Who is a pardoning God like Thee?
Or who has grace so rich and free?"
"Well," says one, "can such a wonderful change ever take place with me?" By the grace of God it may be experienced by every man who is willing to return to God. I pray God that it may happen now, and that you may get such assurance of it from the Word of God, by the power of His Holy Spirit, and from a sight of the precious blood of Christ shed for your redemption, that you may be able to say, "I understand it now; I see how He kisses all my sin away; and when it rises, He kisses it away again; and when I think of it with shame, He gives me another kiss; and when I blush all over at the remembrance of my evil deeds, he kisses me again and again, to assure me that I am fully and freely forgiven." Thus the many kisses from the prodigal's father combined to make his wayward son feel that his sin was indeed all gone. They revealed much love and much forgiveness.
These repeated kisses meant, FULL RESTORATION.
The prodigal was going to say to his father, "Make me as one of thy hired servants." In the far country he had resolved to make that request, but his father with a kiss, stopped him. By that kiss, his sonship was owned; by it the father said to the wretched wanderer, "You are my son." He gave him such a kiss as he would only give to his own son. In this parable Christ would have you know, poor sinner, that God will own you, if you come to Him confessing your sin through Jesus Christ. He will gladly receive you; for all things are ready against the day you return.
The father received his son with many kisses and so proved that his prayer was answered. Indeed, his father heard his prayer before he offered it. He was going to say, "Father, I have sinned," and to ask for forgiveness; but he got the mercy, and a kiss to seal it, before the prayer was presented. This also shall be true of thee, O sinner, who art returning to thy God, through Jesus Christ! You shall be permitted to pray, and God will answer you. Hear it, poor, despairing sinner, whose prayer has seemed to be shut out from heaven! Come to your Father's bosom now, and He will hear your prayers; and, before many days are over, you shall have the clearest proofs that you are fully restored to the divine favor by answers to your intercessions that shall make you marvel at the Lord's loving-kindness to you.
In this repeated kissing we see, then, these three things: much love, much forgiveness, and full restoration.
But these many kisses meant even more than this. They revealed his father's EXCEEDING JOY.
The father's heart is overflowing with gladness, and he cannot restrain his delight. The repeated kiss meant, also, a repeated blessing, for every time he put his arms round him, and kissed him, he kept saying, "Bless you; oh, bless you, my boy!" He felt that his son had brought a blessing to him by coming back, and he invoked fresh blessings upon his head. Oh sinner! If you did but know how God would welcome you, and how He would look at you, and how He would bless you, surely you would at once repent, and come to His arms and heart, and find yourself happy in His love. The many kisses meant, also, repeated delight. It is a very wonderful thing that it should be in the power of a sinner to make God glad. Yea, we believe it shall be even so, because of His presence with us, and because of the gracious working of the Holy Spirit. Surely that is the teaching of the prophet's words: "The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; He will save, He will rejoice over thee with joy; He will rest in His love, He will joy over thee with singing." Think of the eternal God singing, and remember that it is because a wandering sinner has returned to Him that He sings. He joys in the return of the prodigal, and all heaven shares in His joy.
As we take a fifth look, we find that these many kisses mean OVERFLOWING COMFORT.
This poor young man, in his hungry, faint, and wretched state, having come a very long way, had not much heart in him. His hunger had taken all energy out of him, and he was so conscious of his guilt that he had hardly the courage to face his father; so his father gives him a kiss, as much as to say, "Come, boy, do not be cast down; I love you."
"Oh, the past, the past, my father!" he might moan, as he thought of his wasted years; but he had no sooner said that than he received another kiss, as if his father said, "Never mind the past; I have forgotten all about that." This is the Lord's way with His saved ones. Their past lies hidden under the blood of atonement. The Lord saith by His servant Jeremiah, "The iniquity if Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found: for I will pardon them whom I reserve."
But then, perhaps, the young man looked down on his foul garments, and said, "The present, my father, the present, what a dreadful state I am in!" And with another kiss would come the answer, "Never mind the present, my boy. I am content to have thee as thou art. I love thee." This, too, is God's word to those who are "accepted in the Beloved." In spite of all their vileness, they are pure and spotless in Christ, and God says of each one of them, "Since thou wast precious in My sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee. Therefore, though in thyself thou art unworthy, through My dear Son thou art welcome to My home."
"Oh, but," the boy might have said, "the future, my father, the future! What would you think if I should ever go astray again?" Then would come another holy kiss, and his father would say, "I will see to the future, my boy; I will make home so bright for you that you will never want to go away again." But God does more than that for us when we return to Him. He not only surrounds us with tokens of His love, but He says concerning us, "They shall be My people, and I will be their God: and I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear Me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them: and I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me." Furthermore, He says to each returning one, "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put My spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments, and do them."
Whatever there was to trouble the son, the father gave him a kiss to set it all right; and, in like manner, our God has a love-token for every time of doubt and dismay which may come to His reconciled sons. Perhaps one whom I am addressing says, "Even though I confess my sin, and seek God's mercy, I shall still be in sore trouble, for through my sin, I have brought myself down to poverty." "There is a kiss for you," says the Lord: "Thy bread shall be given thee, and thy water shall be sure." "But I have even brought disease upon myself by sin," says another. "There is a kiss for you, for I am Jehovah-Rophi, the Lord that healeth thee, who forgiveth all thine iniquities, who healeth all thine diseases." "But I am dreadfully down at the heel," says another. The Lord gives you also a kiss, and says, "I will lift you up, and provide for all your needs. No good thing will I withhold from them that walk uprightly." All the promises in this Book belong to every repentant sinner, who returns to God believing in Jesus Christ, His Son.
For these many kisses had many meanings: love, forgiveness, restoration, joy, and comfort were in them, and also STRONG ASSURANCE.
The father kissed his son much to make him quite certain that it was all real. The prodigal, in receiving these many kisses, might say to himself, "All this love must be true, for a little while ago I heard the hogs grunt, and now I hear nothing but the kisses from my dear father's lips." So his father gave him another kiss, for there was no way of convincing him that the first was real like repeating it; and if there lingered any doubt about the second, the father gave him yet a third. If, when the dream of old was doubled, the interpretation was sure, these repeated kisses left no room for doubt. The father renewed the tokens of his love that his son might be fully assured of his reality.
He did it that in the future it might never be questioned. Sometimes the devil says to me, "You are no child of God." I have long ago given up answering him, for I found that it is a waste of time to argue with such a crafty old liar as he is; he knows too much for me. But if I must answer him, I say, "Why, I remember when I was saved by the Lord! I can never forget even the very spot of ground where first I saw my Saviour; there and then my joy rolled in like some great Atlantic billow, and burst in a mighty foam of bliss, covering all things. I cannot forget it." That is an argument which even the devil cannot answer, for he cannot make me believe that such a thing never happened. The Father kissed me much, and I remember it full well. The Lord gives to some of us a clear deliverance such a bright, sunshiny day at our conversion, that henceforth we cannot question our state before Him, but must believe that we are eternally saved.
Lord, give to many poor trembling souls the will to come to Thee! Bring many sinners to Thy blessed feet, and while they are yet a great way off, run and meet them; fall on their neck, give them many kisses of love, and fill them to the full with heavenly delight, for Jesus Christ's sake! Amen.
This was a sermon intended for reading on December 27th, 1891 to be delivered by C. H. SPURGEON. For the full sermon, visit this link.