THE PRODIGAL SON
Sermon by Dr. J. Frank Norris
DR. NORRIS (Reading): “And he said, 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, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his field to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. And when he came to himself, 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 my. father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee. And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But 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.” (Luke 15:11-24.)
No wonder Theodore Roosevelt said that the simple story of the prodigal son moved and stirred his soul more than any other language that he had ever read or found. It touches at one stroke every chord of the human heart. The one illustration, or relation that God uses in His word to set forth His, the Father’s, attitude toward the lost is the relation of earthly father to his son. You will not find in all literature, or in any language, any story or history that sets forth in such a beautiful, tender way the wonderful heart-breaking and heart-appealing account of Abraham and Isaac, a child of old age, God’s special gift in fulfillment of a gracious promise, and yet when this child, this son of promise, reaches the tender years of 12 or 13, God comes to Abraham and gives him the command that should test his faith, and said to Abraham, “You have walked with me through all these years, together with Sarah, your wife. I want you to give the best that you love, the best that you have,” and I can see the old ranchman look on the cattle that covered the plains, but not so – God says, “What I want is your heart’s best love.” There is no debate, he kisses his wife, Sarah, good-bye to go for a three-days’ journey to the distant mountain of Moriah and when he comes to the base of the mountain the three servants who accompanied him, like the three disciples that went into the Garden with our Lord, they tarried while father and son climbed the steep sides. I can see Isaac as he looked up into his father’s face and said, “Father, here is the wood for the altar, but where is the offering, where is the lamb?” And the broken-hearted father, choking with tears said, “Son, God will provide,” and when they came to that spot that should forever become memorable as the future site of Solomon’s temple, he built the altar. After he built the altar then for the first time he unbosomed the secret of his soul and tells Isaac that it is God’s command, and Isaac, the son of Abraham, as the type of the Son of God, the Saviour of the world, submits to his Father’s command, and he is bound and laid on the altar. Abraham, in obedience to God’s command, lifts his strong right arm to execute, then in a flash, in a second, from the clear skies he hears the word that he had heard before, “Abraham! Abraham!” He stops, he listens, he looks, and then in the bushes a few feet away he sees, caught by the horns, a ram. God’s command has been obeyed and a substitute has been provided, giving the world an example, an illustration of how centuries after Christ should die on the cross, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.
The great king of Israel whose heart broke, a man who suffered perhaps as no man suffered, a man who had sinned as few men have sinned, of large family, but he had a prodigal son, and that prodigal son was ambitious to wear his father’s crown. He was handsome, fascinating, winsome, and he sat in the gates of the city and stole the hearts of Israel while he was stealing his father’s crown. Armies followed the father, armies followed the son. The day of battle came. David fled head covered and barefoot out from Jerusalem, surrounded by a few of his faithful friends and followers. The battle is on. The empire hangs in the balance. What does the father do? He forgets his own crown, and sends special messengers, one after the other, “Do the young man no harm.” At last, standing on the wall, he sees a messenger come running, swift as lightning. Who is it? What does he bring – good tidings or bad? When he comes, instead of telling him he sees another one coming. The first messenger was not bold enough to tell him that Absalom was slain, and the second one thought he was bringing a good message, and he told him that the rebel that had risen to steal his crown and rend his empire was shot through with the darts of his father’s armies. What did David do? It was no hour of rejoicing though overwhelming victory had come to his arms, though the empire was now safe and his crown was once more established. What did he do? He walked up on the walls and all could hear him, and out of a broken heart he cried, “Oh, Absalom Oh, Absalom! My son! My son! Oh, Absalom, my son! Oh, Absalom, my son! would God I had died for thee. Oh, Absalom, my son! Oh, Absalom, my son!” He forgot his crown, he forgot his kingdom. He forgot himself. He lost all in that hour of sore grief, in his love for a prodigal son, “My son” – not – “mine enemy.” “My son” – not a rebel. “My son – not a traitor.” My son, flesh of my flesh, soul of my soul, bone of my bone. What do I care for crowns, and thrones, and empires, when my son, his life, his destiny, are involved?” That is the illustration that God wants us to get tonight. Let me stop here and say if you have walked the prodigal route – and who is there that has not? – know this, that the Father heart of God goes with you every step of the way.
Here is a proud, splendid, young fellow in a home of riches. You know, we write up the lives of great men. We talk about how they come from humble beginnings, and from poverty, and had few opportunities. I want to tell you that the boy that I am in sympathy with – my hat is off to – let him come up from a home of riches, and if that boy can make a man he deserves ten thousand times more credit than the fellow that comes from the bottom. If a boy is down on the bottom he can only go one way – he can’t go further down. He has got to come up if he moves at all. Here is the son of wealth. The day comes when he reaches that age when he thinks he knows more than his father, and who is there among us that did not come to that age? I mean, feeling like you know more. There is quite a difference between thinking you know a thing and knowing it. This young man says to his father, “Father, divide your living. I want what comes to me.” The old father’s heart kindly consented to the son’s request. The day came to divide the estate. They looked out upon the folds of sheep,
they counted and gave him that which was his. They looked upon the herds of goats and they gave him his. They looked upon the great droves of camels, and they gave him his. On and on, everything that was his. At last the hour came when he should say good-by. There was a farewell reception. Neighbors and friends gathered at the home and they had a glorious time, on into the late hour of the night. He was to leave bright and early the next morning. There were two hearts that did not sleep that night. They wondered. You know what two they were. I only have to ask every father and mother what two they were. I can see the mother with her tears the next morning. Her eyes are red. That is a new experience in the home. Son is leaving home. They have had the family around the fireside always. They have had them around the family table, but at last he is leaving home, going among strangers. No longer will her tender hands be his caress and blessing. She gives him her kiss and love – a mother’s best blessing. And I can see the old father. He doesn’t say as much as the mother, but he, too, is bowed with grief. I can see him as at last he puts his hand on his son’s shoulder and says, “My boy, remember what mother has said. Remember the advice we gave you. When you get over there in Babylon, that great city, remember there are many pitfalls, and son, I want you to watch out about the crowd you run with and about your association. Remember the gamblers will rob you of everything. Don’t go with the crowd that drinks. Look out for bad women. Look out, my boy, look out. Remember what we say.”
At last, proud, with colors unfurled, he leaves the old home, and as he crosses the top of the last hill he glances back over his shoulder and he sees the tall trees under whose shade he played as a barefooted boy. Something comes up in his throat as he thinks of this association, but he says, “Good-by. I’m going out in the world on my own hook.” And as he passes place after place, village after village, with a long line of servants, cattle innumerable, and with his wealth, they said, “Who is this young man?” Many a mother would have coveted his hand for her daughter. Many a girl would have tempted him for her sweetheart. At last he comes to the big city. The papers announce a certain young man of great wealth has come to the city. He at once is received into all of the clubs. He joins without question for he has the wealth to pay the price. He is on the various directorates of the leading business corporations of the city. His advice is sought on every hand, and everything goes well and he prospers, All his investments are making good. Everything he touches doubles and quadruples.
Time rolls on. At last he finds that his body is being worked hard in the day time with heavy cares. He cannot stand the strain of the midnight dissipation, as no human machine can. At last, there is the red eye; at last, there is the trembling and nervous hand. At last, memory begins to slip. At last, the reason dulled, judgment isn’t as keen and penetrating as it was. At last, he finds his step is feeble. He begins to back off from every hard problem. What happens? He plunges into the depths of dissipation. He tries to drown his troubles. Then what happens to that man who was first in the business world, who stood as one of the first members of the stock exchange? His credit begins to shake. Bankers get together and say, “Do you understand about this fellow? We understand he is slipping.” Then he goes and sits at the wine table, and the card table through the long hours. He drives fast – rides in the fastest cars. He keeps strange company. Then the banks begin to call in his loans. In a short time the receiver has his business. He is closed out. Now he looks for a job and the very crowd that he ran with, that he drank with, that he danced with, that he gambled with, they shrug their shoulders and turn their backs upon him. In vain he walks the streets and hunts for a job to earn a decent, respectable living. He is ashamed to go back home and face the crowd. They look at him; they shrug his shoes run down, his old slouch hat no more respectable. No their shoulders. His clothes grow old. His sleeves become ragged, more does he wear fine tailored clothes. No more is he the fascinating, handsome young man that he was. No more do the young girls covet him for a sweetheart. No more is he allowed to come into his erstwhile social circles. Outcast from all that ever knew him, he walks out of the city, walks out into the country, walks by this house and that, asking, begging for a job, and they say, “No, we don’t have any.” At last he comes to a hog raiser and he says, “You got anything a fellow can do? I am starving to death. I haven’t had a square meal for many days.” The man looks at him with a cold, hard look, and with a still colder and harder answer he says, “I would like to have somebody tend that drove of hogs down there.” So this proud, splendid, rich young man of yesterday’s standing – it is the only thing he can do – he goes down to that hog pen – and nothing smells as bad as a hog pen – and the very husks that the hogs would eat he would fain fill himself to satisfy his hunger – for that is all of his wages. What did it? Gambling. What did it? Drinking. What did it? Wild women. What did it? Bad living. What did it? Leaving God. What did it? Leaving home. What did it? Running with the wrong crowd. What did it? Selling his soul. That is what did it. You want to stand well in the business world? Do you know how to do it? Have a good, strong, clean body – that is the first thing. If you don’t have one to start with – make one. You can do it. Have a clear, keen mind. You say, “Well, I haven’t got a chance there.” Take the one you have. There are two axes. One is dull, the other is sharp. Sharpen your axe. You know one thing about present business? They just won’t have you if they catch you wrong, and put it down they will catch you. Ten thousand eyes are upon every boy and girl in the business world today, and I am glad it is true.
You know what this boy’s greatest sins were? Three sins – yes, sir; the sins of the ages. There are three sins that are eating the heart out of America tonight, and the same three sins are cutting the foundation out from under Europe tonight. The same three sins brought down Rome. The same three sins overthrew the culture of Greece. The same three sins brought down proud Babylon, to where it was a place for bats and owls to roost in, where strange voices were heard and satyrs danced, and no Arab pitched his tent. Those same three sins have been the undoing of every civilization of the past. What are they ? Drink, gambling and vice. This boy wasted his substance. A willful waste brings a woeful want. Once rich, proud, splendid, handsome, popular – all gone! Why? Because he had the will to throw it away. As I am speaking tonight I hear some men say, many of you, Mr. Norris, you are right about it, and I am going to change.” Listen! I never buried a drunkard in my life but that some time during that drunkard’s life he didn’t say, “Some time I am going to change” – but he waited too late.
One afternoon I was walking down lower Main Street. Some man called me. I looked around behind me, and this man says, “Hello there, J. Frank Norris.” I didn’t recognize him. I wondered what he wanted. He says, “Don’t say you don’t know me, for you do.” I looked at him. I had never seen him before that I knew of. He was just about two-thirds drunk. He walked up and threw his arms around me. By that time the sidewalk was crowded and more coming. But there was no danger of him hurting me physically, morally, spiritually, or any other way. He told me he loved me better than anybody in the world, and then he put his head on my shoulder and commenced to cry. You know, you get a fellow about two-thirds drunk and he will cry until the tears run down his back. He says, “You got anybody in this town you want licked? If you need any fighting done, let me do it.” I says, “I don’t need it.” He says, “You know, I can whip anybody in town,” and I am sure he felt like it. I says, “You ought not to fight, it is wrong,” and then he put his head on my shoulder, and commenced crying again. He says, “Do you remember where you first met me?” I said, “No.” “”Well,” he said, “I used to go hear you preach. I said, “Where do you live?” and he told me. He lives here in Fort Worth. I says, “Have you got a family?” and he says, “I have,” and then he broke down and cried again. I said, “Have you got any children?” And he says, “I have,” and he told me their names. I pulled out a note book and Wrote down his address, and the children’s names, and his wife’s name – the street address where they live. By that time a much larger crowd had gathered, and I saw I was into it. Anyhow, it is a very comfortable feeling for a preacher to be in a place where he doesn’t have to take care of his reputation. That would have ruined most preachers, but it wouldn’t hurt me now you know. So I talked to him, and he cried a while and then he would straighten up, and then he would cry a while. I said, “I’m going to tell you what I am going to do. I’m going to see your family,” and he says, “Will you do it?” and I said, “I will.” I said, “Listen, man, you are not a mean man – you have just got this awful habit,” and then he looked at me as pathetic, as any poor, condemned fellow ever looked, and he says, “You are telling the God’s truth, I ain’t no mean man. You know, I’ve got the best wife God ever gave a man. She has stuck by me through all these years. I’ve got the best girl and the finest boy in the world, but they ain’t got no daddy. You know, I ain’t fit to live.” And I said, “You are sure telling the truth now.” He and I stood there and talked and I agreed with him on everything he would say, and he says, “You reckon you can do anything for a fellow like me?” And I says, “I can’t do anything for you but I will tell you what can be done. Your mother’s God can do something for you.” He says, “You reckon He can take this awful thirst out of me? You reckon I can get free from it? You know, I’ve lost job after job, and I just drink up everything I make. I would just give anything in the world if I could just get sober and straight one more time.” I said, Old man, you can get straight, God will straighten you out.” Time rolled on, three weeks passed by and on Sunday night I had the joy of leading that converted drunkard down into the baptismal waters, and the Father of mercy Who forgiveth all of our iniquities, Who receives every returning prodigal, gave him back to his wife and little children a saved, sober husband and father and changed that home from a living hell to a little heaven on earth.
I want to say this word, briefly. Some man says, “I know how far to go.” Do you? Do you know how far to go? You say, “I know how far to go and I am not going to make a fool of myself.”
The whole state has been shocked by the awful tragedy of a great lawyer, one who occupied the highest judicial position of the state, a man sixty years of age, murdering in cold blood a young girl What did it? Accursed liquor. No doubt this keen-minded lawyer said to himself a thousand times, “I know how far to go.” He served a term in state prison, he can go no further now – he crossed the dead line.
There is a time, we know not when,
A place, we know now where,
Which marks the destiny of men
To glory or despair.
There is a line by us unseen,
Which crosses every path,
Which marks the boundary between
God’s mercy and His wrath.
To pass that limit is to die,
To die as if by stealth,
It does not dim the beaming eye,
Nor pale the glow of health.
The conscience may be still at ease,
The spirit light and gay,
And that which pleases still may please
And care be thrust away.
He feels perchance that all is well,
And every fear is calmed;
He lives, he dies, he wakes in hell,
Not only doomed but damned.
Oh where is that mysterious line,
That may by man be crossed,
Beyond which God Himself hath sworn,
That he who goes is lost?
An answer from the skies repeats,
Ye who from God depart’
Today, repent, oh hear His voice,
And harden not your heart.”
Listen! As long as will power is on the throne, all right, but when that topples from the throne, then habit takes its place on the throne, and you are enslaved. Don’t do that. Don’t say, “Just a little while longer.” Once, twice, thrice-may be too late. It has been with many.
Yonder in the Himalayas was a sea of poisoned waters, which the eye of man had never seen or discovered. The birds of a thousand plumage looked out across those poisoned waters and said, “Who can spread his wings and go across this lake of death?” One after the other they tried it, but after a short distance down into the horrible lake they would plunge. The eagle, king of all the birds, perched on the topmost peak, watched all the heavenly host of birds as they flew out and plunged down to death. At last, proud, boastful king, he spread his wings and soared up, and up, and up, and up, until he was lost in the ethereal blue. Proud conqueror of the air, he says, “I will go across it. Others have too small wings, and too short, but look at mine as I spread them and conquer the air.” On and on he soared. At last those wings began to droop. At last that head, proud, and lifted up, begins to fall. At last he takes an awful plunge, and goes down to a terrible death. He went further, he went higher, but he didn’t have strength enough to cross the deadly fumes of the poisoned waters. So, my friends, it may be with you. Some man may make the race until he is 30. Some man may make the sad race until he is 40, but at last, know this: “That for all these things, God will bring thee into judgment.”
“God is calling the prodigal, come without delay
Hear, oh hear Him calling, calling now for thee;
Tho’ you have wandered so far from His presence, come today,
Hear his loving voice calling still.
Patient, loving, and tenderly still the Father pleads,
Hear, oh hear Him calling, calling now for thee;
Oh, return while the Spirit in mercy intercedes,
Hear his loving voice calling still.
Come, there’s bread in the house of thy Father, and to spare,
Hear, oh hear Him calling, calling now for thee;
Lo! the table is spread and the feast is waiting there,
Hear His loving voice calling still.”
A boy came home one night late, as many of you boys think it is smart to do. Go on, but at last you would give the world if you had the old home to go to. Mother and father sleep yonder in the silent city of the dead. You broke their hearts and sent them to a premature grave. This boy came home one night late. The old father was sitting up waiting. “Son,” he says, “you have broken your mother’s heart; you have broken my heart.” Proud, defiant, resentful, the boy folded his arms and said not a word. The father says, “Every time you say an oath, every time you take a drink, I’m going to drive a nail in that hitching post yonder at the front gate.” The boy turned with a half-satanic smile, and hurried himself away. The next day a nail went in that post. The next day another nail went in there, two, four, eight, sixteen, thirty-two, sixty-four, one hundred twenty-eight, two fifty-six, five twelve-soon that post was covered from top to bottom. One day that boy came home and stopped and looked at that post covered with nails. He said, “Is that my record? Is that my record? Is that my record?” He turned, and said, “I will change.” He turned his back on his old life. The father comes with the hammer and commences pulling out the nails, and he pulls them out one at a time until the last nail is pulled out, and then he says, “Oh, son, how proud is this day,” and he threw his arms around him. The son didn’t rejoice. He turned pale as death, and said, “Oh, father, oh, father, the nails are gone but the holes are there.” Oh, my friends, I plead with you boys tonight-not you old men, the nails are in your lives, the holes are there the scars are there, and no power on earth can change them, but listen! hear me, boys and girls! don’t drive the nails in the post! and the scars won’t be there, and if you don’t want the scars there, don’t drive the nails in the post.
Prodigal a Great Soul
I close with this word. One of the statements I love to make is this. Contrary to public opinion and what preachers generally say, I look upon this prodigal son as one of the greatest characters that ever lived. All my life, and for several years after I had been in the ministry, I looked upon him as one of the lowest reprobates – the rakings and scrapings of God’s creation. I have changed my mind. When I get to heaven, I’m going to hunt him up and apologize to him. I want to tell him that I think he is one of the greatest characters that ever lived. “What?” you say, “that gambler.” Yes, sir. “That drunkard?” Yes, sir. “That libertine?” Yes, sir. And here is why. He is a great deal different from a lot of you. He had enough courage, when he saw he had made a wreck and ruin of his life, to turn around and go back home! And here is what repentance is: Going away from home; going away rich, proud, boastful, everything he wants – going away from the family altar, going away from God, going away from the church, going down to the lowest depths. Now, he comes to himself, and he says, “I’m going back home. I’m going back to the father’s house. I’m going back to my first love. I’m going back just as I am. I’m going back without a dollar in the world. I’m going back with a high resolve.” That takes courage. That is repentance. Going away from God is going down to hell. Coming back to God is repentance for sin.
“I Will Arise and Go To My Father”
What a tragic picture, what a wreck! I see that boy now with his elbow on the top rail of that hog pen, in his rags, barefooted, hair disheveled, home sick, heart sick, ready to die, wanting to die, penniless, friendless, hopeless! His whole past leaps to view, he says, “What a fool I have been, would to God I had never left home, I’ve sold my soul, I’ve wrecked my career, I’ve disgraced my father’s name, all is lost!” But, lo, beneath the wreck and ruin in that sin-stained and sin-scarred face I see something going on in his soul, there is a surge, there is a conflict, a terrific battle is being fought. I see that boy, the soul of him, the courage of him, the man of him mount the throne of sovereign Will and say, “Let the past be past, let come what will, live or die, sink or swim, survive or perish, I will arise and go to my father.”
The “I Will” in a man is the real definition of man; it’s that thing in him that removes him an infinite distance from the horse with bit and bridle; it’s that thing in him which he received from the Creator’s hand when He breathed into him the breath of life; it’s that thing in him which makes him in the likeness of his God and in His image; it’s that thing in him which gives him dominion over the earth, over the fowls of the air and over the fishes in the sea; it’s that thing in him that never dies and will live long after the heavens have been folded together like a scroll and the sun grows cold and the stars cease to shine. It is the realest thing of all reality; it is the mystery of mysteries. It cannot be measured with a yard stick, weighed in the balances; it cannot be touched, seen, felt or heard. It’s the sixth sense and the last act of the Creator.
The “I will” in man explains every achievement, every invention, every discovery. It has written the laws of the nations of the earth and laid the foundations of every government. It has written every poem, every song, every epic, every drama. It has fought every war and signed every treaty of peace. The “I will” in man has tunneled the mountains, bridged rivers, cabled under seas, threaded the continents with lines of steel, whispered through the air around the world, discovered the secret of electricity, built every skyscraper, surveyed the heavens, photographed the stars, and counted their number. The “I will” in man has discovered the secrets of the dewdrop and revealed the hidden power of the Creator in every atom of matter. The “I will” stands before Sinai’s law and says, “Thou shalt,” or “Thou shalt not” to every commandment of the decalogue, and it stands before the cross and says with the Roman centurion, “Truly, this was the Son of God.” When the “I will” of man and the “I will” of God meet in reconciliation there is salvation. A sovereign God and a sovereign man meet before the throne of grace overarched with the promise, “Whosoever will.” God will not force any man to come to Him for salvation. The Father did not go after the prodigal son and force him to return home, but he waited, he longed, he looked, he loved but when the so said. “I will,” there was a father’s arms, a father’s robe, a father’s ring, a father’s sandals, and a father’s feast – that’s salvation.
Another thing I love to think about. This young man said, When I get in sight of home, I’m going to slip around to the back door. I just want the chance of a servant. I never expect to sit at father’s table any more. I never expect to be called a son any more; let me live in the servant’s quarters, let me have what is left over, for I have lost my title to sonship. But when he came in sight of home, what happened? When he was yet a great way off-here’s where God’s heart comes into action-with the swiftness of lightning, the father bridges that distance. He doesn’t bemean the son. He doesn’t condemn the son. The boy starts to confess. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight. I am no more worthy to be called a son.” But he didn’t say, “Make me one of thy hired servants.” Why? Just as he started to say that, before he. could get the words out of his mouth – sin-cursed, sin-stained, wrecked, not fit to live – I can see that old father grab that boy and hug him close to him, and as he hugs him, puts his hand over his mouth and says, “Son, that is enough. I have been waiting for you to come back home. I have been waiting to catch the first vision of your return.” And the boy says, “Oh, father, I am ashamed of these rags. I’m ashamed of my poverty. I’m ashamed I have disgraced your name.” And the father says, “That doesn’t make any difference.” And he turns back to the house and shouts to the servants, “Bring the best robe, the purple robe, bring that ring that is the symbol of undying and endless love. Bring the best pair of sandals.” And I can see that crowd of servants. Here one comes running with the robe. And here another one with the ring. And here another one with the sandals. And when that old father gets that robe he throws it around his boy’s shoulders and covers the rage from head to foot, and takes the ring and slips it on his finger, and he takes the sandals and gets down on his knees and he takes those sore, traveled-weary, dust-stained feet and kisses them and puts the sandals on them, and then he stands up and says to the world, “This is my son! This is my son! This is my son! He was lost and is found. He was dead and is alive again! Come on, son, let’s go and sit down at the table.” (Hallelujah.) They have the feast and the whole crowd came in, and the father sits at the head of the table. Do you know who sits here on the right side? That boy sits right there that is what he does. Some of the neighbors come in – a whole lot of them – and the old father just goes around there doing the turkey trot and the tango and the bunny hug, and all the rest of them. “Look here – see that fine robe? That is my boy. He is back home. All I have got is his.” He was a great father, wasn’t he? He was a great soul.
This is a true picture of the joy in heaven, joy among the angels, joy in the presence of the angels. Did you ever stop to think about it?. What is there that man does that brings joy in heaven? What scene, what act, what event on earth? Do you think it is some great invention? It caused no joy in heaven when the phonograph was invented, not even a ripple in that land of perfect music. There was no comment when electricity was discovered. It was not an event when the airplane was invented for what concern have the heavenly hosts about annihilating space and covering great distances? It was no event of interest when the radio was invented, for in heaven they hear the music of spheres. Only one thing can cause joy in heaven, and that is the return of a prodigal to the father’s house.
“Sinners Jesus will receive;
Sound this word of grace to all,
Who the heavenly pathway leave,
All who linger, all who fall.
Come, and He will give you rest;
Trust Him, for His word is plain;
He will take the sinfulest;
Christ receiveth sinful men.
Christ receiveth sinful men,
Even me with all my sin;
Purged from every spot and stain,
Heaven with Him I enter in.”
This word, and I am through. I think one of the greatest experiences I ever had was some years ago, the second meeting that I held in a northern city-some five years ago. There was a young man that had been converted and joined the church in the first meeting. He was manager of one of the stores there. He had been a wild, gambling, drinking, carousing young fellow, but he was saved. You let a dead-game sport get a good ease of religion and he makes a fine church member. Let me tell you something. I want to stop right here and give you a word – don’t misunderstand me. There are a whole lot of folks who go around and say, “I never took a drink in my life. I don’t know one card from another. I never swore an oath in my life. I never even fished on Sunday.” Bud, you are not going to enjoy heaven when you get there. Don’t misunderstand me. On this second meeting with this young fellow, above 30 years old, one night in the meeting, the power of the Lord came upon us in a great way and many were being saved, and I asked everybody to pray, especially for their unsaved friends and loved ones. That young man went home that night and as the midnight hour came he found his heart heavy for his lost and wracked and ruined brother who lived some 200 miles away in Detroit. He said, “I believe I will write that brother a letter,” and he lay, and rolled, and tossed, sleeplessly. After while he said, “Lord, I believe I will send him a telegram,” and then in a little while he said, “Lord, I believe I will call him up over the telephone.” He got up and put in a long distance telephone call and got that brother on the line and said: “Say, I want you to catch the next train and come to Cleveland. I have got the biggest business proposition you ever heard of – a great big deal, and we can put it over together.” And the brother says, “What is it? Tell me what it is. Give me some idea what it is.” And this man says, “I can’t do it. Get on the train and come over. It’s the biggest deal you ever heard of, and it will go through and we can clean up on it. Get on the train and come over – I will look for you in the morning. Good-by.
The next morning this brother showed up. This man called me up and said, “Say, you know that lost brother I was telling you about? He is here in my house now downstairs. You have got to help me out. I got him over here and you have got to do something with him.” “All right,” I said, “You bring him down and we will do something with him.” He said, “Listen. We are not going to let. him get away until we have put this thing over.” I said, “If you go at it that way, it will go over all right.” That night both of them came to the meeting. I preached on the Prodigal’s Return and used as my text, “I will arise and go to my father.” This lost brother had separated from his wife and three children, and they were living with her mother in Philadelphia. This man had been the manager of another store, but through drink and prodigality he had lost his position. I preached the best I could. When I gave the invitation he came to the front and gave his hand, and said, “Pray for me. I don’t think there is any chance or any hope.” When he did that he fell on his knees and cried.” He said, “My sins are too great. I have sinned away my day of grace. Good people, there is no use for you to pray for me. I have committed every sin in the category. The door of mercy is closed-there is no use.” When he started to leave the meeting that night, his brother, who had him by the arm, said, “Don’t go, let’s make an appointment with these preachers,” and so an appointment was made. At exactly ten o’clock the next morning, in the office of the Euclid Avenue Baptist Church, they came in and when a fellow comes in on you like that you have got to do something. I just reached over and took the Bible and said, “Gentlemen, we are here for a very serious business. Suppose the first thing we do is to let God speak to us,” and took the Bible and I read, “Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out.” And then I read and repeated the story I have just given you. And then I read: “Where sin abounds, grace doth much more abound.” Then after we had finished talking about how God saves us, turning from every known sin, coming to Him by faith, just like a hungry child comes for bread, I said to him, “Is that clear?” And he looked at me and says, “Mr. Norris, it is clear. My trouble is not to understand. I understand you, and I understood you last night. I know perfectly well what has got to be done. I know God will save a man if he comes to Him, but you don’t understand the guilty distance there is between God and me. If you knew my life as my brother knows my life, you would understand. Do you know what I have done in my domestic affairs? I broke my wife’s heart and marred her life. God gave us three of the most precious girls you ever saw. I am not fit at all to be their father. I have got the best mother and father on earth. I stood high in the business world and plunged down and lost everything. Did you know there isn’t a man in the world that would trust me with a dollar?” I said, “I didn’t know that, but I do know that you cannot be too big a sinner for God to save. Are you willing to try it? Let’s get down here and pray.” Both preachers and both brothers got right down on our knees. I said, Brother Pastor, you pray first.” And then I prayed the best that I could, and then I said to his saved brother, “You lead us in prayer.” And I shall never forget how he prayed. He said, “Oh, God, you know what my brother needs. I wish you would do for him what You did for me. You know how mean he has been. You know how he has treated that little wife and those three beautiful children.” And he just went on and told every mean thing his brother had done. And then he says, “Lord, I don’t know how to pray. I wish you would save him. If You will save him, I will just make You the best Christian I can. If you will save him, Lord, it will make that little woman the happiest woman in the world, and Lord, save him for his sake. Sin got hold of him and the devil has ruined him. Lord, is it asking too much? If You will just save him, Lord, I will show you what I will do.” And then I says to the seeking brother, “Now you pray.” “Oh,” he says, “I can’t pray.’ “Yes, you can.” “No, I can’t.” “Yes, you can.” “No, I can’t.” And I said, “You must, you. know what you need, tell God what you need.” And he commenced and he said, “Oh, God, I don’t know how to pray, but Mr. Norris says I’ve got to pray. You know what I need, and if You will give it to me, I will be much obliged.” My friends, listen! when he said that he broke down and stopped, and couldn’t say another word, and cried, and cried, and we cried; Dr. Bustard, the pastor, cried and I cried and his brother cried, and then we prayed again. After that I felt like something had happened. He got up, great big tears streaming down his sin-stained face, and he turned and said: “Come on, let’s go,” and he walked down to the Western Union and sent a message, and then he went to the ticket office and bought a ticket. His brother and he were exactly the same size, weight, height, he says, “I want two of the best suits of clothes you have in your house. I want to dress up.'” He put on one of his brother’s suits of clothes, and came by the hotel. He says, “Good-by, but you will hear from me again. I’m going to Philadelphia,” and the next morning he walked into his wife’s mother’s home and he says, “Wife, you have got a new husband. Wife, the old things are gone. I don’t ask you to take me back. All I ask you to do is this give me a chance, and you will see what a man can do.” What did she do? She threw her arms around his neck and said, “I have prayed for this hour.” And then the three little girls came in and he gathered them in his arms, and then the mother-in-law came and took them all in her arms. What happened? Next Sunday morning he walked down the main aisle of Grace Temple Baptist Church, wife, husband, children, all, and took their stands for Jesus Christ. Listen! Some times when I am tired, sometimes when these old legs won’t carry me, sometimes when this old head is about to burst, sometimes when these nerves are ready to give way, I just reach up in the drawer or my desk and pull out a letter he wrote. He says, “I am the happiest man in the world, because God’s grace has made me what I am.”
How many of you can say: “I know what the Father’s house is, and I’m going back to it?”
Who will come, who will say tonight, “Others may do as they will, sink or swim, survive or perish; I will arise and go to Jesus, I will go back to the Father’s house ?”
“I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Saviour,
Oh, there are ten thousand charms.
Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and power.
Come, ye thirsty, come, and welcome,
God’s free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings you nigh.
Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry ’till you’re better,
You will never come at all.
Let not conscience make you linger,
Not of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.”