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THE INSTRUCTIVENESS OF CHRIST'S DEATH, IN HIS SEVEN LAST WORDS)—THE FIRST, "FATHER, FORGIVE THEM."
"Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Luke, 23:34.
We have considered the solitude and patience of Christ's death. We come now to its instructiveness in the excellent and weighty sayings which dropped from his blessed lips upon the cross, whilst his sacred blood dropped on the earth from his wounded hands and feet. These sayings are seven in number; three directed to his Father, and four to those about him. Of the former this is one, "Father, forgive them," &c. In which notice,
The mercy prayed for: "Father, forgive." Forgiveness is not only a mercy, a spiritual mercy, but one of the greatest mercies a soul can obtain from God, without which, whatever else we have from God is no mercy to us.
The persons for whom he requests forgiveness: who were the same that with wicked hands crucified him. Their crime was the most horrid ever committed by men. The best of mercies is by him desired for the worst of sinners.
The motive or argument urged to procure this mercy for them: "They know not what they do." As if he had said, Lord, what these poor creatures do, is not so much out of malice to me as the Son of God; it is from their ignorance. To the same purpose the apostle saith, "Whom none of the princes of this world knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." 1 Cor. 2 :8. Yet this is not to be extended to all that had a hand in the death of Christ, but to the ignorant multitude, among whom were some who afterwards believed in him; "And now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it." Acts, 3: 17. For them this prayer of Christ was heard. Hence we derive three propositions, which claim each to be distinctly considered, viz.
1. That ignorance is the usual cause of enmity to Christ.
2. That there is forgiveness with God, for such as oppose Christ through ignorance.
3. That to forgive enemies, and beg forgiveness for them, is the true christian spirit.
Proposition 1. Ignorance is the usual cause of enmity to Christ.
And here let us inquire, what their ignorance of Christ was; whence it was; and how it disposed them to such enmity against him.
I. What was their ignorance who crucified Christ 1 They knew many other truths, but did not know Jesus Christ; in that their eyes were held. Natural light they had; yea, and scripture light they had; but in this particular, that this was the Son of God, the Saviour of the world, they were blind and ignorant. But how could that be I Had they not heard at least of his miraculous works 1 Did they not see how his birth, life, and death agreed with the prophecies, both in time, place, and manner 1 Whence should their ignorance arise, when they saw, or at least might have seen, the Scriptures fulfilled in him; and that he came among them at a time when they were full of expectations of the Messiah 1
II. It is true, indeed, they knew the Scriptures; and it cannot but be supposed the fame of his mighty works had reached their ears: but yet,
1. Though they had the Scriptures among them, they misunderstood them. You find, John, 7 : 52, how they reason with Nicodemus against Christ; "Art thou also of Galilee 1 Search, and see: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet." Here is a double mistake: they supposed Christ to arise out of Galilee, whereas he was of Bethlehem, though much conversant in the parts of Galilee; and they thought, because they could find no prophet had arisen out of Galilee, therefore none should.
Another mistake that blinded them about Christ, was from their belief that Christ should not die, but live for ever: "We have heard out of the law, that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, the Son of man must be lifted up 1 who is this Son of man V John, 12: 34. This they probably gathered from such passages as Isa. 9 : 7, "Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David." In like manner we find them in another mistake; "We know this man whence he is; but when Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence he is." John, 7 : 27. This, likely, proceeded from their misunderstanding of Micah, 5: 2, "His goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting." Thus were they blinded about the person of Christ, by the misinterpretation of scripture prophecies.
2. Another thing occasioning their mistake of Christ, wa» the outward meanness of his condition. They expected a pompous Messiah, one that should come with state and glory, as the king of Israel. But when they saw him in the form of a servant, coming in poverty, not to be ministered unto, but to minister, they utterly rejected him: "We hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not." Isa. 53 : 3. Nor is it any great wonder these should be scandalized at his poverty, when the disciples themselves had such «tirhal apprehensions of his kingdom. Mark, 10 : 37, 38.
3. Add to this, their implicit faith in the learned rabbies and doctors, who utterly misled them in this matter, and greatly prejudiced them against Christ. "Lo, he speaketh boldly, and they say nothing to him. Do the rulers know indeed that this is the very Christ 1" They drew their faith from their rulers, and followed wherever they led.
III. Let us see how this ignorance disposed them to such enmity against Christ.
Ignorance disposes men to enmity and opposition to Christ, by removing those checks and rebukes of conscience by which they are restrained from evil. As conscience binds and reproves by the authority and virtue of the law of God, where that law is not known, there can be no reproofs; and therefore we truly say that ignorance is virtually every sr...
Ignorance enslaves and subjects the soul to the lusts of Satan; he is "the ruler of the darkness of this world." Eph. 6 : 12. There is no work so base and vile, but an ignorant man will undertake it.
Nay, if a man be ignorant of Christ, his truth, or people, he will not only oppose and persecute, but think it his duty so to do. John, 16 : 3. Before the Lord opened Paul's eyes, "he verily thought that he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Christ."
Inference 1. How falsely is the Gospel charged as the cause of discord and trouble in the world! It is not light, but darkness, that makes men fierce and cruel. As light increases, so doth peace: "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." Isa. 11 : 6,-9. What a sad condition would the world be in without Gospel light? all places would be dens of rapine, and mountains of prey
Certainly we owe much of our civil liberty and outward tranquillity to Gospel light. If a sword, or variance, at any time, follow the Gospel, it is but an accidental, not a direct and proper effect of it.
2. How dreadful is it to oppose Christ and his truths knowingly! Christ pleads their ignorance as an argument to procure their pardon. Paul himself was once filled with rage and madness against Christ and his truth: it was well for him that he did it ignorantly: had he gone against his light and knowledge, there had been little hope of him: "I was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and injurious; but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly, in unbelief." 1 Tim. 1: 13. I do not say, it is utterly impossible for one that knowingly and maliciously opposes and persecutes Christ and his people to be forgiven, but it is not usual. Heb. 6 : 4, 5. There are few instances of it.
3. What an awful majesty sits upon the brow of holiness, that so few, who see it, dare to oppose it! Few are
_,so daringly wicked as to fight against it with open eyes: "Who will harm you whilst ye are followers of that which is good V 1 Pet. 3 : 13. Who dare be so hardy as to attack known godliness, or afflict and wrong the known friends of it 1 The true reason why many christians suffer, is not because they are godly, but because they do not manifest the power of godliness more than they do: their lives are so like the lives of others, that they are often mistaken for others. For holiness, manifested in its power, is so awfully glorious, that the consciences of the vilest cannot but honor it. "Herod feared John, for he was a just man." Mark, 6 : 20.
4. The enemies of Christ are objects of pity. Alas, they are blind, and know not what they do. Nor should any other affection than pity stir in our hearts towards them. Were their eyes but open, they would never do as they do; we should look upon them as the physician