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We will seek no further than this idea for the extravagancies by which the prodigal son added one unhappy example to the number. His fortune wasted—the followers of it fed in course—the wants of nature remain—the hand of God gone forth against him. “For when he had spent all, a mighty famine arose in that country.” Heaven have pity upon the youth, for he is in hunger and distress; strayed out of the reach of a parent who counts every hour of his absence with anguish; cut off from all his tender offices by his folly, and from relief and charity from others by the calamity of the times.
Nothing so powerfully calls home the mind as distress. The tense fibre then relaxes—the soul retires to itself—sits pensive and susceptible of right impressions. If we have a friend, it is then we think of him; if a benefactor, at that moment all his kindnesses press upon our mind. Gracious and bountiful God ! is it not for this that they who in their prosperity forget Thee, do yet remember and return to Thee in the hour of their sorrow? When our heart is in heaviness, upon whom can we think but Thee, who knowest our necessities afar off-puttest all our tears in Thy bottle—seest every careful thought-hearest every sigh and melancholy groan we utter?
Strange, that we should only begin to think of God with comfort, when with joy and comfort we can think of nothing else.
Man surely is a compound of riddles and contradictions. By the law of his nature he avoids pain, and yet, unless he suffers in the flesh, he will not cease from sin, though it is sure to bring pain and misery upon his head for ever.
Whilst all went pleasurably on with the prodigal, we hear not one word concerning his father—no pang of remorse for the sufferings in which he had left him, or resolution of returning to make up the account of his folly. His first hour of distress seemed to be his first hour of wisdom. “ When he
came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father have bread enough and to spare, whilst I perish !"
Of all the terrors of nature, that of one day or another dying by hunger is the greatest; and it is wisely wove into our frame to awaken man to industry, and call forth his talents. And though we seem to go on carelessly, sporting with it as we do with other terrors, yet, he that sees this enemy fairly, and in his most frightful shape, will need no long remonstrance to make him turn out of the way to avoid him.
It was the case of the prodigal. He arose to go to his father.
Alas! how shall he tell his story? Ye who have trod this round, tell me in what words he shall give in to his father the sad items of his extravagance and folly.
The feasts and banquets which he gave to whole cities in the east—the costs of Asiatic rarities, and of Asiatic cooks to dress them—the expenses of singing men and singing women —the flute, the harp, the sackbut, and of all kinds of musicthe dress of the Persian courts, how magnificent! their slaves, how numerous !-their chariots, their horses, their palaces, their furniture, what immense sums they had devoured! what expectations from strangers of condition! what exactions !
How shall the youth make his father comprehend that he was cheated at Damascus by one of the best men in the world; that he had lent a part of his substance to a friend at Nineveh, who had fled off with it to the Ganges; that he had been sold by a man of honour for twenty shekels of silver to a worker in graven images; that the images he had purchased had profited him nothing; that they could not be transported across the wilderness, and had been burnt with fire at Shushan; that the apes and peacocks,* which he had sent for from Tarshish, lay dead upon his hands; and that the mummies had not been dead long enough which had been brought him out of Egypt;
# Vide 2 Chron, ix, 21.
—that all had gone wrong since the day he forsook his father's house.
Leave the story: it will be told more concisely. “When he was yet afar off, his father saw him,"—compassion told it in three words,“ he fell upon his neck and kissed him.”
Great is the power of eloquence, but never is it so great as when it pleads along with nature, and the culprit is a child strayed from his duty, and returned to it again with tears. Casuists may settle the point as they will ; but what could a parent see more in the account than the natural one of an ingenuous heart too open for the world, smitten with strong sensations of pleasure, and suffered to sally forth unarmed into the midst of enemies stronger than himself?
Generosity sorrows as much for the overmatched as pity herself does.
The idea of a son so ruined would double the father's caresses. Every effusion of his tenderness would add bitterness to his son's remorse. “ Gracious heaven! what a father have I rendered miserable!”
“And he said, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.”
“But the father said, Bring forth the best robe
() ye affections! How fondly do you play at cross-purposes with each other! 'Tis the natural dialogue of true transport. Joy is not methodical; and where an offender, beloved, overcharges himself in the offence, words are too cold, and a conciliated heart replies by tokens of esteem.
“ And he said unto 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 let us eat and drink and be merry."
When the affections so kindly break loose, joy is another name for religion.
We look up as we taste it. The cold stoic without, when
he hears the dancing and the music, may ask sullenly (with the elder brother) what it means, and refuse to enter; but the humane and compassionate all fly impetuously to the banquet given “ for a son who was dead and is alive again; who was lost and is found.” Gentle spirits light up the pavilion with a sacred fire, and parental love and filial piety lead in the masque with riot and wild festivity! Was it not for this that God gave man music to strike upon the kindly passions; that nature taught the feet to dance to its movements, and as chief governess of the feast, poured forth wine into the goblet to crown it with gladness?
WILLIAM DODD, son of the Vicar of Bourne, in Lincolnshire, was born there in 1729. At Clare Hall, Cambridge, he gave proofs of superior ability, and commenced a somewhat precocious authorship, most of his publications being poems, on subjects grave or gay. On receiving orders he came out a clever and attractive preacher; and whilst, by the adroit use of his talents, he succeeded in obtaining various popular appointments, such as the preachership at the Magdalene Hospital, and several city lectureships, by a system of flattery and subserviency he secured a large amount of episcopal and aristocratic patronage. But during all this interval he was leading a life of the wildest profusion and most extravagant self-indulgence, and in order to extricate himself had recourse to expedients which betrayed his entire want of principle. When the rectory of St George's, Hanover Square, fell vacant, he offered Lady Apsley a bribe of three thousand pounds if she could obtain for him the presentation, but the only result was exposure and disgrace. His name was struck out of the list of chaplains to the king, and, overwhelmed with public obloquy, he took refuge on the Continent. Here, however, his expensive habits did not cease, and, on his return to London, he raised a large sum on the credit of a bond, bearing the signature of his former pupil, the Earl of Chesterfield. The signature was soon found to be a fabrication; and under the act then newly passed, and which rendered forgery a capital offence, Dr Dodd was tried at the Old Bailey, and convicted. Great but unavailing efforts were made to procure a mitigation of his sentence, and he was executed at Tyburn, June 27, 1777.
Read in the light of his melancholy end, we are apt to regard the sermons of Dr Dodd as the effusions of a mere clerical fop or charlatan, but it would be an error to deny their intrinsic merits. Their author was a man of extensive information, and his discourses are enlivened by interesting anecdotes, and opportune poetical quotations, which must have gone far to keep the hearers awake, and which almost bring them within the range of our lighter literature. They have too much of the smoothness of the courtier, and too little of the solemnity of Heaven's ambassador, and they entirely lack the light and unction of the Christian evangelist; but were they divested of their homiletic form, with their worldly wisdom and practical tendency, they would take a respectable place among our later British Essayists.
Each of his “ Sermons to Young Men” is followed by a collection of illustrative anecdotes—a method of which the following sample may give some idea :
Rules for Conversation.
Your great endeavour should be so to supply your own mind with the proper materials for conversation, that you may be able, like the rich householder, to bring out of your plenteous treasury, things new and old, for the entertainment and instruction of your friends and companions. We have before observed, that as it is “from the abundance of the heart the