The Returning Prodigal

Sacramental Meditation XXIX

By John Willison, Practical Works (London: Blackie & Son, 1844), 285-6; minimally edited.


18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, 19 And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants” (Lk 15:18-19).



Father:— Ah! I may be ashamed to call Thee so, considering what a disobedient and unthankful child I have been. I am a most wretched prodigal: I left Thy house and presence, and went into a far country; far from Thee, my bliss and happiness. But now, Father, behold me desiring to come back as a poor penitent, and returning prodigal. I come from a far country indeed; I come from the land of sin and darkness; I come from the frontiers of hell, from the very borders of the burning lake! Ah, foolish creature that I am, how have I forsaken Thee, the fountain of living waters! How fond have I been of broken cisterns, and filthy pleasures! Oh the baseness, the disingenuity, the ingratitude that I have been guilty of! I have resisted Thy power, despised Thy wisdom, undervalued Thy goodness! Father of mercies, I now see what an evil thing and bitter it is to forsake the Lord, holy Lord Jesus. I now see what indignities I have done against thee! Thy blessed body was dreadfully torn with nails upon the cross, and Thy precious blood inhumanly spilt by Thy crucifiers! But Oh! have not I occasioned more grief and sorrow to Thee by my manifold sins against light and love? They crucified Thee but once, but I have crucified Thee day after day! They crucified Thee because they knew Thee not; but I have known Thee what Thou art in thyself, the Lord of glory, and what Thou art to me, a tender and merciful Father; yet I have continued to crucify Thee afresh. O Holy Spirit, I have resisted Thy strivings, quenched Thy motions, demolished Thy work, and put Thee away grieved. But, Lord, I condemn my folly, and see my misery. Oh, what have I gained by offending thee? Nothing but shame and confusion, fear, trembling, and horror! Oh what fruit had I in those things whereof I am now ashamed!

But, Father, I have heard of Thy compassions to the guilty when they confess, and forsake, and turn to thee; wherefore, though I am ashamed, like the publican, to lift up my eyes to heaven; yet let me, with humble Magdalene, come behind Thee weeping, and wash Thy feet with my tears, and kiss them. And let me hear the news of pardon from Thy mouth. Thou earnest, Lord, not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance; and of these I am chief. Lord, I am full of diseases, full of wounds, full of sores, full of infirmities, full of sins and pollutions. Here, Lord, is work for Thy strong hand, work for Thy wonder-working blood. Oh stretch out Thy hand and save. “Father, I am no more worthy to be called Thy son, make me as one of Thy hired servants;” and Thou knowest no hire, no wages will satisfy me but thyself; Lord, give me thyself, be Thou my exceeding great reward.

Lord, I am so vile a creature, that I may fear to come and present a petition to Thee upon the knee, and far more to come and sit down with Thee at Thy holy table. If John Baptist thought himself not worthy to stoop down and loose the latchet of Thy shoes, shall I, who am laden with sins, adventure to that holy feast, where angels wait as ministering spirits? But, Lord, in Thy compassion receive me, coming not to excuse, but to accuse myself, with eyes cast down, smiting on my breast with the publican, “Lord be merciful to me a sinner.” Thou didst graciously accept of the publican’s prayer, of Mary Magdalene’s tears, the faith of the thief on the cross, the repentance of Peter, and of those that crucified Thee. By these instances of Thy mercy, I am encouraged to draw near to Thee. Oh send me not away empty, lest I faint by the way; but satisfy my needy soul with Thy heavenly banquet, that I may receive spiritual strength and nourishment to eternal life.

Lord, hear my cry, and hide not Thy face from me. When Manasseh cried to Thee, Thou hadst respect to his prayer. When the Ninevites humbled themselves before Thee, Thou wast entreated; yea, Thou invitest the most crimson and scarlet-coloured sinners, to come and reason with Thee, and assurest them, Thou wilt cast out none that come. Many thousands, who have experienced the truth of Thy word, are, at this hour, singing Thy praises, and exalting Thy free grace. Lord, do Thou make me also a monument of Thy free grace to all eternity.

Ah, I may be ashamed to speak of mercy and grace, who have so long abused Thy grace, and trampled on the blood that should save me. Oh, that I could mourn and weep all my life for it! Oh, what shall I do with my stony heart that will not break and melt for abusing God’s mercy, and trampling Christ’s blood! Oh, shall I mourn and weep for a dead corpse, or departed friend, and not mourn for a dead heart, or for God’s departing from me! Shall the dear Son of God weep, sweat, and bleed for us, and we not weep for ourselves, or for our sins, that pierced his head with thorns, his hands with nails, and his side with a spear, and his heart with sorrows. Lord Jesus, I look to Thee for a penitent heart, seeing Thou tellest me, Thou art exalted for this very end, to give repentance to Israel.

“Lord, what is man that Thou art mindful of him?” and what am I, the unworthiest of men, that Thou shouldst call me to sit with Thy children at Thy table, to eat the bread of angels, who am not worthy to eat the bread of men? Amazing love! that God should court those to obedience, whom He can peremptorily command to it; and, in case of disobedience, punish instantly in hell; that He should take poor slaves, condemned to the prison of hell, and make them crowned kings in heaven, that He should not only be willing to dwell in flesh, but also to give us His flesh for our food; that He should not only save us from hell, but even leave His throne in heaven, and lose His life on earth, to enthrone us in His kingdom! These are prodigies of love, which should engage us to love our Saviour and mourn for sin while we live. Lord Jesus, pity a relenting, returning prodigal; take him home, and make him Thy servant forever. It is just, that I should offer up myself a living sacrifice to my Redeemer, who offered up himself a dying sacrifice for my redemption.