Parable of the Prodigal Son

Spencer W. Kimball

In the impressive parable of the Prodigal Son the Lord taught us a remarkable lesson. This squanderer lived but for today. He spent his life in riotous living. He disregarded the commandments of God. His inheritance was expendable, and he spent it. He was never to enjoy it again, as it was irretrievably gone. No quantity of tears or regrets or remorse could bring it back.

Even though his father forgave him and dined him and clothed him and kissed him, he could not give back to the profligate son that which had been dissipated. But the other brother, who had been faithful, loyal, righteous and constant, retained his inheritance, and the father reassured him: “All that I have is thine.” . . .

The elder son, on returning from his work in the field, was angered at the display of lavish festivities for the brother who had wasted his all with harlots, and he complained to his father, who entreated him to join the party: “… 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.”

To this the father might have said something like this: “Son, this is your estate — all of it. Everything is yours. Your brother has squandered his part. You have everything. He has nothing but employment and Our forgiveness and Our love. We can well afford to receive him graciously. We will not give him, your estate nor can we give him back all that he has foolishly squandered.” He did say: “For this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found. . .” And he said also: “Son, thou art ever with me and all that I have is thine.”

Is there not significance in that statement of the father? Does not that signify eternal life?

When I was a child in Sunday School my teacher impressed upon me the contemptibility of the older son in his anger and complaining, while she immortalized the adulterous prodigal who was presumed to have expressed repentance. But let no reader compare grumbling and peevishness with the degrading sins of immorality and consorting with harlots in riotous living. John mentioned, “There is a sin unto death,” and the younger son’s transgressions might approach that terrifying condition if he did not repent and turn from his evil course.

Elder Talmage comments as follows upon the sins of the two brothers:

… Not a word appears in condonation or excuse for the prodigal’s sin upon that the Father could not look with the least degree of allowance; but over that sinner’s repentance and contrition of soul, God and the household of heaven rejoiced.

… There is no justification for the inference that a repentant sinner is to be given precedence over a righteous soul who has resisted sin; were such the way of God, then Christ, the one sinless Man, would be surpassed in the Father’s esteem by regenerate offenders.

Unqualifiedly offensive as is sin, the sinner is yet precious in the Father’s eyes, because of the possibility of his repentance and return to righteousness. The loss of a soul is a very real and a very great loss to God. He is pained and grieved thereby, for it is his will that not one should perish. [Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 460–461.]

This superb parable contains many lessons which relate to the material in this book. It teaches the importance of remaining pure and undefiled and retaining virtue and righteousness; and it teaches the heavy penalties of transgression.

It emphasizes the principle of repentance as a means of forgiveness and recovery of self.

It teaches the ugliness of pride, jealousy, peevishness, lack of understanding, and anger; and it stresses the glorious and ultimate blessings which are available to the worthy, even though they may exhibit some minor weaknesses.

The prodigal son certainly had every opportunity to enjoy permanently a full and valuable estate with resultant comforts, joys, harmony and peace. He had security. All was available to him until he left the path and dissipated his fortune, hating his birthright. He had demanded from his father, “… the portion of goods that falleth to me.” He took it “all” into a far country, and there, pressed by the demands of a carnal world, wasted his substance with riotous living. He spent “all” of his estate and was relegated to penury and hunger.

He admitted rather than confessed his broken covenants. And what a difference between admission and confession! He acknowledged his unworthiness but said not a word about changing from unrighteousness to purity through a reformed life. “Coming to himself” seems to be more a realization of his physical plight, his hunger pangs and his unemployment, than a true repentance. Is there here any reference to new goals, a transformed life, escalating ideals and attitudes? He talked about bread of the oven rather than the “bread of life” the water of the well rather than the “Living Water.” He said nothing about filling a crown with jewels of righteous accomplishments, but made much of filling a stomach which was shriveled by near starvation.

The older son’s being ever with his father is significant. If this parable is a reminder of life’s journey, we remember that for the faithful who live the commandments there is a great promise of seeing the Lord and being with him always in exaltation.

On the other hand, the younger son could hope for no more than salvation as a servant, since he “despised his birthright,” and dissipated “all” of his inheritance, leaving nothing to develop and accumulate toward eternal heirship again. He had sold it for a mess of pottage as did Esau, another prodigal.

He had sold something he could not recover. He had exchanged the priceless inheritance of great lasting value for a temporary satisfaction of physical desire, the future for the present, eternity for time, spiritual blessings for physical meat. Though he was sorry for his rash trade, it was now so late, “everlastingly too late.” Apparently neither his efforts nor his tears could retrieve his lost blessings. Thus God will forgive the repentant sinner who sins against divine law, but that forgiveness can never restore the losses he sustained during the period of his sinning.

But many wrongs can be repaired if repentance is sincere. President Joseph F. Smith amplified this thought as follows:

When we commit sin, it is necessary that we repent of it and make restitution as far as lies in our power. When we cannot make restitution for the wrong we have done, then we must apply for the grace and mercy of God to cleanse us from that iniquity.

Men cannot forgive their own sins they cannot cleanse themselves from the consequences of their sins. Men can stop sinning and can do right in the future, and so far their acts are acceptable before the Lord and worthy of consideration. But who shall repair the wrongs they have done to themselves and to others, which it seems impossible for them to repair themselves? By the atonement of Jesus Christ the sins of the repentant shall be washed away; though they be crimson they shall be made white as wool. This is the promise given to you. We who have not paid our tithing in the past, and are therefore under obligations to the Lord, which we are not in position to discharge, the Lord requires that no longer at our hands, but will forgive us for the past if we will observe this law honestly in the future. That is generous and kind, and I feel grateful for it. [Conference Report, October 1899, 42.]

When one realizes the vastness, the richness, the glory of that “all” which the Lord promises to bestow upon his faithful, it is worth all it costs in patience, faith, sacrifice, sweat and tears. The blessings of eternity contemplated in this “all” bring men immortality and everlasting life, eternal growth, divine leadership, eternal increase, perfection, and with it all, godhood. (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 109; The Miracle of Forgiveness, 307–311.)

The faithful son is more blessed than the prodigal.

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