Posted by: davidlarkin | March 15, 2020

Grace for the Prodigal Son – A Study of Biblical Grace and Salvation

The Return of the Prodigal Son is a painting by Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn. 1606-1669, Holland, circa 1668

This painting of the Grace of a father to his wayward, prodigal son is from the Parable of the Prodigal Son, a parable of Jesus found in the Gospel of Luke 15:11-32. The painting is found at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. Entered the Hermitage in 1766; formerly in the collection of Catherine the Great. Here is the catalog description at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg:

At one moment in his youth Rembrandt depicted himself in one of his many self-portraits as a reveller and spoilt child of fortune at the height of his fame and his powers, with a goblet in his hand and his beloved woman in his lap. His turning to the subject of the return of the prodigal son (Lk 15:11-32) is a sort of finale to that story. The artist painted the work just months before his death. It is hard to recognize the pale, emaciated, shattered man returning to the father whom he left in his youth as that same reckless pleasure-seeker, gambler and spendthrift, who asked his parent for his share of the inheritance and squandered it away down to the last coin. What has become of his self-confidence and fine clothing? Everything impermanent has slipped from him like an empty husk. At the cost of suffering and losses he has gained insight. Entering his father’s house, miserable, sick and exhausted, he falls on his knees before his parent, who bends over him, full of love and forgiveness. In the smoky twilight of the space the old man’s face shines like a star in the night sky: the light of consolation descends on the son. The red wrap over the old man’s shoulders forms a sort of canopy above the unhappy wanderer. The astonished witnesses look on in silence. In Holland, a Protestant country where there were no painted altarpieces in the churches and large pictures on religious subjects were rarely painted, Rembrandt produced without any commission a huge painting in which the peculiarities of the artist’s mature manner, colour and light themselves, acquired a spiritual character. It is as if he was drawing the balance of his life and his artistic career, placing himself before the judgement of Higher Mercy and of the world.

The parable of Jesus, the Prodigal Son, is only found in the Gospel of Luke:

And [Jesus] said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.  And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

Luke 15:11-24 (ESV).

In Christian theology, Grace is defined as “unmerited favor.” The word “grace” is used over 170 times in the New Testament alone. In this parable, Jesus gives us a portrait of the grace of God, as the Father in the Parable takes his repentant son back after he has wasted all he was given by the Father. He was lost in a life of sin, but as soon as he repented and returned to the Father, he was received by the Father with open arms, for as the Father explains, “‘For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.”

As the Apostle Paul wrote:

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 6:23 (ESV)

We are all sinners in need of a savior, separated from God, dead in our sins, with hope in the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus. As Paul writes:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 

Romans 3:23-24 (ESV).

Those who are Christian believers like me believe we were chosen to a new birth in the spirit, to salvation, as a gift, not by any thing we have done, or by any inherent good quality of birth.

In John, Chapter 3, Verse 3, Jesus said,

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Here, the Greek word translated “again” is ánōthen (ἄνωθεν.)

The word derives from ánō (ἄνω), meaning “above.” It literally and most usually means “from above,” as in describing the view from a mountain. But it can also mean “again.” translated “again” is purposely ambiguous and can mean both “again” and “from above.” Some translations of the Bible translate the phrase “unless one is born again from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” So, “born again” Christian is a somewhat misleading label, though it is not incorrect.

As the Apostle Paul succinctly stated:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV)

Paul further explained the means of salvation

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

2 Corinthians 7:10 (ESV)

And once the heart is broken by grief for sin and separation from God, as Paul further explains, calling on God brings grace and salvation:

because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Romans 10:9-13 (ESV).

Thus, after salvation or regeneration, our good works are given to us by God, prepared in advance for us to do, although we are not able to see the preordained character of our good works, the intricacy of the divine plan in the everyday occurrences of our lives, without special revelation or understanding given on the occasion.

Thus, Grace is a gift of God.  Truly Amazing Grace!  Further, any virtue of good character is a gift of God.

“Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us,”

Romans 12:6 (ESV).

James, the half-brother of Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph writes poetically:

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”

James 1:17 (ESV)

Each morning and evening, I read the entry morning and evening entry in my daily devotional, A Diary of Private Prayer,” by John Baillie, (1886-1960), a Scottish theologian, and Church of Scotland minister (Published in 1949 this updated 2014 editions was edited and updated by theologian and writer Susanna Wright, chosen by John Baillie’s son, Ian, to do the update). There are 31 morning and evening entries, plus a separate Sunday morning and evening entry. The evening entry for the 12th day of the month, has this prayer, and petition for an abundance of gifts of grace representing a wonderful and desirable set of virtuous character traits and disciplines, which if given at once would certainly overwhelm. We can only hope to gradually receive them and with diligence and discipline, both by regularly examining our conscience and taking care to limit our rash and thoughtless acts.

O LORD, all treasures of wisdom and truth and holiness are stored up in your boundless being.

Grant that through our constant fellowship with you, those graces of Christian character may more and more take shape within me:

The grace of a thankful and uncomplaining heart;

The grace to await your timing patiently and to answer your call promptly;

The grace of courage whether in suffering or in danger;

The grace to endure any hardship in the fight against evil;

The grace of boldness to stand up for what is right;

The grace of being adequately prepared for any temptation;

The grace of physical discipline;

The grace of truthfulness;

The grace to treat others as I would like them to treat me;

The grace of sensitivity, that I may refrain from hasty judgment;

The grace of silence, that I may refrain from thoughtless speech;

The grace of forgiveness toward all who have wronged me;

The grace of tenderness toward all who are weaker than myself;

The grace of faithfulness in continuing to desire that you will answer these prayers.



Note:  I used the Rembrandt painting in a slide show in a YouTube Video I made in August 2019 with a recording I made in 1988.  It is posted here:


  1. Loved this content, very well-written!
    God does have a plan for the prodigals. He plans to celebrate when they return.
    You may also check my blog about The Prodigal Son A Far Country
    Hope this will help. Thank you.

    • Thank you.

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