Someone asked Charles Dickens once what was the best short story in the English language, and his reply was—`The Prodigal Son'.
(Luke 15. 11-32)
Dr. Draper, a Salvation Army doctor in India, once visited a dying man of 25, when he was about the same age himself. The young man was lying in hospital dying of T.B. He had been visited by many Christian people who had spoken to him about his soul, but he could not grasp the truth or understand the simple way of salvation. Dr. Draper read to him the story of the Prodigal Son, and it was the means of the young man's conversion.
Two preachers had been invited to a Gospel tea-meeting somewhere in London, and they went together, having carefully prepared their messages. When they arrived and saw the audience, composed of the very poor and not very literate who lived in the slums in that area, they looked at one another. `The sermon I have ready won't do here, I'm afraid,' said J. B. Watson. 'Nor mine,' said J. Stephen. 'I'll tell you what,' said J. B. Watson to his fellow-preacher, 'I'll take the prodigal son out to the far country, and you bring him home again.'
(Luke 15. 11-24)
Dr. A. T. Schofield narrates a wonderful story connected with a rough wooden bell-handle at Carlton Hall in the Dukeries.
The family had become very earnest Christians, and had started a mission hall in the village. They also held on Wednesday afternoons a family meeting for prayer for members of the family that were away from home, and especially for the eldest son—at that time the family prodigal, literally 'spending his substance on riotous living' in the 'far country' in Australia.
A great letter-writer, he delighted to recount his excesses in long weekly epistles. In spite of many prayer meetings, those letters, distressing in their tone, continued, and the mothers and daughters began to fear that their prayers were unheard, when suddenly a miracle took place. It appears the boy lived some twenty miles from the post town, and when he had written his weekly letter, he used always to ride through the bush to post it, returning the next day.
One afternoon, at Carlton Hall, they had just got their weekly letter, full of racing news, when the girls saw that a second letter from him was lying on the table. His mother opened it, little imagining what it contained. She read somewhat as follows:
`I was riding yesterday through the bush with my letter to you in my pocket. I think I must have got about half-way when, like Saul going to Damascus, I was suddenly arrested by a wonderful vision. Like a lightning flash I got an intense conviction that I was a lost man, riding to destruction. I reined in my horse, burst into a violent perspiration, and was so weak that I had to dismount and lean against the saddle. After some minutes I decided to go on and returned home slowly, my one desire being to relieve my agony.
`I found the Bible you gave me, at the bottom of my box, but could get no comfort from it; so next day I rode off to see the Bishop, but got no peace or rest from him. And now, dear mother, do tell me how I am to be saved from this awful condition. I am in intense suffering and long for your reply.'
Deciding that a letter was far too slow, they determined to send a telegram, and, after prayer, there came vividly into their minds the somewhat unsuitable words, 'And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both.' They immediately sent that message to the prodigal son.
On receiving it he saw in a moment he was freely forgiven through the merits and work of Christ. The prodigal, having come to himself, now 'arose and returned to his father'. The mother, hearing he was returning to England, had a bell put immediately over her bed, and it was the handle of that bell that had attracted Dr. Schofield's attention.
(Luke 7. 42; 15. 12-21)