John Calvin on The Prodigal Son’s Repentance

John Calvin notes the goodness of the father that excites hope in the prodigal son (Luke 15:17, bold mine):

17. And when he came to himself. Here is described to us the way in which God invites men to repentance. If of their own accord they were wise, and became submissive, he would draw them more gently; but as they never stoop to obedience, till they have been subdued by the rod, he chastises them severely. Accordingly, to this young man, whom abundance (534) rendered fierce and rebellious, hunger proved to be the best teacher. Instructed by this example, let us not imagine that God deals cruelly with us, if at any time he visits us with heavy afflictions; for in this manner those who were obstinate and intoxicated with mirth are taught by him to be obedient. In short, all the miseries which we endure are a profitable invitation to repentance. (535) But as we are slow, we scarcely ever regain a sound mind, unless when we are forced by extreme distress; for until we are pressed by difficulties on every hand, and shut up to despair, the flesh always indulges in gaiety, or at least recoils. Hence we infer, that there is no reason to wonder, if the Lord often uses violent and even repeated strokes, in order to subdue our obstinacy, and, as the proverb runs, applies hard wedges to hard knots. It must also be observed, that the hope of bettering his condition, if he returned to his father, gave this young man courage to repent; for no severity of punishment will soften our depravity, or make us displeased with our sins, till we perceive some advantage. As this young man, therefore, is induced by confidence in his father’s kindness to seek reconciliation, so the beginning of our repentance must be an acknowledgment of the mercy of God to excite in us favorable hopes. (534) “ L’aise et la trop grande abondance;” — “ease and too great abundance.” (535) “ Ce sont autant d’avertissemens proufitables, par lequel Dieu nous convie a repentance;” — “they are so many profitable warnings, by which God invites us to repentance.”

© 2013, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.

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