Sermon 897. The First Cry from the Cross
Delivered on Sunday Morning, October 24th, 1869, by
C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
"Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."-Luke 23:34.
OUR LORD WAS at that moment enduring the first pains of crucifixion; the executioners had just then driven the nails throughhis hands and feet. He must have been, moreover, greatly depressed, and brought into a condition of extreme weakness by theagony of the night in Gethsemane, and by the scourgings and cruel mockings which he had endured all through the morning, fromCaiaphas, Pilate, Herod, and the Praetorian guards. Yet neither the weakness of the past, nor the painof the present, could prevent him from continuing in prayer. The Lamb of God was silent to men, but he was not silentto God. Dumb as sheep before her shearers, he had not a word to say in his own defense to man, but he continues in his heartcrying unto his Father, and no pain and no weakness can silence his holy supplications. Beloved, what an example our Lordherein presents to us! Let us continue in prayer so long as our heart beats; let no excess of suffering drive us away fromthe throneof grace, but rather let it drive us closer to it.
"Long as they live should Christians pray,
For only while they pray they live."
To cease from prayer is to renounce the consolations which our case requires. Under all distractions of spirit, and overwhelmingsof heart, great God, help us still to pray, and never from the mercy-seat may our footsteps be driven by despair. Our blessedRedeemer persevered in prayer even when the cruel iron rent his tender nerves, and blow after blow of the hammer jarred hiswhole frame with anguish; and this perseverance may be accounted for by the fact that he was soin the habit of prayer that he could not cease from it; he had acquired a mighty velocity of intercession which forbadehim to pause. Those long nights upon the cold mountain side, those many days which had been spent in solitude, those perpetualejaculations which he was wont to dart up to heaven, all these had formed in him a habit so powerful, that the severest tormentscould not stay its force. Yet it was more than habit. Our Lord was baptised in the spirit of prayer; he lived in it, itlived in him, it had come to be an element of his nature. He was like that precious spice, which, being bruised, dothnot cease to give forth its perfume, but rather yieldeth it all the more abundantly because of the blows of the pestle, itsfragrance being no outward and superficial quality, but an inward virtue essential to its nature, which the pounding in themortar did not fetch from it, causing it to reveal its secret soul of sweetness. So Jesus prays, even as a bundle of myrrhgivesforth its smell, or as birds sing because they cannot do otherwise. Prayer enwrapped his very soul as with a garment,and his heart went forth in such array. I repeat it, let this be our example-never, under any circumstances, however severethe trial, or depressing the difficulty, let us cease from prayer.
Observe, further, that our Lord, in the prayer before us, remains in the vigour of faith as to his Sonship. The extreme trialto which he now submitted himself could not prevent his holding fast his Sonship. His prayer begins, "Father." It was notwithout meaning that he taught us when we pray to say, "Our Father," for our prevalence in prayer will much depend upon ourconfidence in our relationship to God. Under great losses and crosses, one is adapt to think that God isnot dealing with us as a father with a child, but rather as a severe judge with a condemned criminal; but the cry of Christ,when he is brought to an extremity which we shall never reach, betrays no faltering in the spirit of sonship. In Gethsemane,when the bloody sweat fell fast upon the ground, his bitterest cry commenced with, "My Father," asking that if it were possible the cup of gall might pass from him; he pleaded with the Lord as his Father, even as he overand over again hadcalled him on that dark and doleful night. Here, again, in this, the first of his seven expiring cries, it is "Father."O that the Spirit that makes us cry, "Abba, Father," may never cease his operations! May we never be brought into spiritualbondage by the suggestion, "If thou be the Son of God;" or if the tempter should so assail us, may we triumph as Jesus didin the hungry wilderness. May the Spirit which crieth, "Abba, Father," repel each unbelieving fear. When we are chastened,as wemust be (for what son is there whom his father chasteneth not?) may we be in loving subjection to the Father of our spirits,and live; but never may we become captives to the spirit of bondage, so as to doubt the love of our gracious Father, or ourshare in his adoption.
More remarkable, however, is the fact that our Lord's prayer to his Father was not for himself. He continued on the crossto pray for himself, it is true, and his lamentable cry, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" shows the personalityof his prayer; but the first of the seven great cries on the cross has scarcely even an indirect reference to himself. Itis, "Father, forgive them." The petition is altogether for others, and though there is an allusion tothe cruelties which they were exercising upon himself, yet it is remote; and you will observe, he does not say, "I forgivethem"-that is taken for granted-he seems to lose sight of the fact that they were doing any wrong to himself, it is the wrongwhich they were doing to the Father that is on his mind, the insult which they are paying to the Father, in the person ofthe Son; he thinks not of himself at all. The cry, "Father, forgive them," is altogether unselfish. He himself is, in theprayer, as though he were not; so complete is his self-annihilation, that he loses sight of himself and his woes. My brethren,if there had ever been a time in the life of the Son of man when he might have rigidly confined his prayer to himself, withoutany one cavilling thereat, surely it was when he was beginning his death throes. We could not marvel, if any man here werefastened to the stake, or fixed to a cross, if his first, and even his last and all his prayers, were for support under soarduous a trial. But see, the Lord Jesus began his prayer by pleading for others. See ye not what a great heart is hererevealed! What a soul of compassion was in the Crucified! How Godlike, how divine! Was there ever such a one before him, who,even in the very pangs of death, offers as his first prayer an intercession for others? Let this unselfish spirit be in youalso, my brethren. Look not every man upon his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Love your neighboursasyourselves, and as Christ has set before you this paragon of unselfishness, seek to follow him, treading in his steps.
There is, however, a crowning jewel in this diadem of glorious love. The Son of Righteousness sets upon Calvary in a wondroussplendour; but amongst the bright colours which glorify his departure, there is this one-the prayer was not alone for others,but it was for his cruellest enemies. His enemies, did I say, there is more than that to be considered. It was not a prayerfor enemies who had done him an ill deed years before, but for those who were there and thenmurdering him. Not in cold blood did the Saviour pray, after he had forgotten the injury, and could the more easily forgiveit, but while the first red drops of blood were spurting on the hands which drove the nails; while yet the hammer was bestainedwith crimson gore, his blessed mouth poured out the fresh warm prayer, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what theydo." I say, not that that prayer was confined to his immediate executioners. I believe that it was a far-reaching prayer,which included Scribes and Pharisees, Pilate and Herod, Jews and Gentiles-yea, the whole human race in a certain sense,since we were all concerned in that murder; but certainly the immediate persons, upon whom that prayer was poured like preciousnard, were those who there and then were committing the brutal act of fastening him to the accursed tree. How sublime is thisprayer if viewed in such a light! It stands alone upon a mount of solitary glory. No other had been prayed like it before.It is true, Abraham, and Moses, and the prophets had prayed for the wicked; but not for wicked men who had pierced theirhands and feet. It is true, that Christians have since that day offered the same prayer, even as Stephen cried, "Lay not thissin to their charge;" and many a martyr has made his last words at the stake words of pitying intercession for his persecutors;but you know where they learnt this, let me ask you where did he learn it? Was not Jesus the divine original? Helearnt it nowhere; it leaped up from his own Godlike nature. A compassion peculiar to himself dictated this originalityof prayer; the inward royalty of his love suggested to him so memorable an intercession, which may serve us for a pattern,but of which no pattern had existed before. I feel as though I could better kneel before my Lord's cross at this moment thanstand in this pulpit to talk to you. I want to adore him; I worship him in heart for that prayer; if I knew nothing else ofhim butthis one prayer, I must adore him, for that one matchless plea for mercy convinces me most overwhelmingly of the deityof him who offered it, and fills my heart with reverent affection.
Thus I have introduced to you our Lord's first vocal prayer upon the cross. I shall now, if we are helped by God's Holy Spirit,make some use of it. First, we shall view it as illustrative of our Saviour's intercession; secondly, we shall regard the text as instructive to the church's work; thirdly, we shall consider it as suggestive to the unconverted.
I. First, my dear brethren, let us look at this very wonderful text as ILLUSTRATIVE OF OUR LORD'S INTERCESSION.
He prayed for his enemies then, he is praying for his enemies now; the past on the cross was an earnest of the present onthe throne. He is in a higher place, and in a nobler condition, but his occupation is the same; he continues still beforethe eternal throne to present pleas on the behalf of guilty men, crying, "Father, O forgive them." All his intercession isin a measure like the intercession on Calvary, and Calvary's cries may help us to guess the character of thewhole of his intercession above.
The first point in which we may see the character of his intercession is this-it is most gracious. Those for whom our Lord prayed, according to the text, did not deserve his prayer. They had done nothing which could callforth from him a benediction as a reward for their endeavours in his service; on the contrary, they were most undeservingpersons, who had conspired to put him to death. They had crucified him, crucified him wantonly and malignantly; they wereeven taking away his innocent life. His clients were persons who, so far from being meritorious, were utterly undeservingof a single good wish from the Saviour's heart. They certainly never asked him to pray for them-it was the last thought intheir minds to say, "Intercede for us, thou dying King! Offer petitions on our behalf, thou Son of God!" I will venture tobelieve the prayer itself, when they heard it, was either disregarded, and passed over with contemptuous indifference, orperhapsit was caught as a theme for jest. I admit that it seems to be too severe upon humanity to suppose it possible that sucha prayer could have been the theme for laughter, and yet there were other things enacted around the cross which were quiteas brutal, and I can imagine that this also might have happened. Yet our Saviour prayed for persons who did not deserve theprayer, but, on the contrary, merited a curse-persons who did not ask for the prayer, and even scoffed at it when they heardit.Even so in heaven there stands the great High Priest, who pleads for guilty men-for guilty men, my hearers. There are none on earth that deserve his intercession. He pleads for none on the supposition that they dodeserve it. He stands there to plead as the just One on the behalf of the unjust. Not if any man be righteous, but "if anyman sin, we have an advocate with the Father." Remember, too, that our great Intercessor pleads for such as never asked himto plead for them. His elect,while yet dead in trespasses and sins, are the objects of his compassionate intercessions, and while they even scoff athis gospel, his heart of love is entreating the favour of heaven on their behalf. See, then, beloved, if such be the truth,how sure you are to spend with God who earnestly ask the Lord Jesus Christ to plead for you. Some of you, with many tearsand much earnestness, have been beseeching the Saviour to be your advocate? Will he refuse you? Stands it to reason that hecan? Hepleads for those that reject his pleadings, much more for you who prize them beyond gold. Remember, my dear hearer, ifthere be nothing good in you, and if there be everything conceivable that is malignant and bad, yet none of these things canbe any barrier to prevent Christ's exercising the office of Intercessor for you. Even for you he will plead. Come, put yourcase into his hands; for you he will find pleas which you cannot discover for yourselves, and he will put the case to Godfor youas for his murderers, "Father, forgive them."
A second quality of his intercession is this-its careful spirit. You notice in the prayer, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Our Saviour did, as it were, look his enemiesthrough and through to find something in them that he could urge in their favour; but he could not see nothing until his wiselyaffectionate eye lit upon their ignorance: "they know not what they do." How carefully he surveyed the circumstances, andthe characters of thosefor whom he importuned! Just so it is with him in heaven. Christ is no careless advocate for his people. He knows yourprecise condition at this moment, and the exact state of your heart with regard to the temptation through which you are passing;more than that, he foresees the temptation which is awaiting you, and in his intercession he takes note of the future eventwhich his prescient eye beholds. "Satan hath desired to have thee, that he may sift thee as wheat; but I have prayed for theethat thy faith fail not." Oh, the condescending tenderness of our great High Priest! He knows us better than we know ourselves.He understands every secret grief and groaning. You need not trouble yourself about the wording of your prayer, he will putthe wording right. And even the understanding as to the exact petition, if you should fail in it, he cannot, for as he knowethwhat is the mind of God, so he knoweth what is your mind also. He can spy out some reason for mercy in you which youcannot detect in yourselves, and when it is so dark and cloudy with your soul that you cannot discern a foothold for aplea that you may urge with heaven, the Lord Jesus has the pleas ready framed, and petitions ready drawn up, and he can presentthem acceptable before the mercy-seat. His intercession, then, you will observe is very gracious, and in the next place itis very thoughtful.
We must next note its earnestness. No one doubts who reads these words, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," that they were heaven-piercingin their fervour. Brethren, you are certain, even without a thought, that Christ was terribly in earnest in that prayer. Butthere is an argument to prove that. Earnest people are usually witty, and quick of understanding, to discover anything whichmay serve their turn. If you are pleading for life, and anargument for your being spared be asked of you, I will warrant you that you will think of one when no one else might.Now, Jesus was so in earnest for the salvation of his enemies, that he struck upon an argument for mercy which a less anxiousspirit would not have thought of: "They know not what they do." Why, sirs, that was in strictest justice but a scant reasonfor mercy; and indeed, ignorance, if it be wilful, does not extenuate sin, and yet the ignorance of many who surrounded thecrosswas a wilful ignorance. They might have known that he was the Lord of glory. Was not Moses plain enough? Had not Esaiasbeen very bold in his speech? Were not the signs and tokens such that one might as well doubt which is the sun in the firmamentas the claims of Jesus to be the Messias? Yet, for all that, the Saviour, with marvelous earnestness and consequent dexterity,turns what might not have been a plea into a plea, and puts it thus: "Father, forgive them, for they know not whatthey do." Oh, how mighty are his pleas in heaven, then, in their earnestness! Do not suppose that he is less quick ofunderstanding there, or less intense in the vehemence of his entreaties. No, my brethren, the heart of Christ still labourswith the eternal God. He is no slumbering intercessor, but, for Zion's sake, he doth not hold his peace, and for Jerusalem'ssake, he doth not cease, nor will he, till her righteousness go forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burneth.
It is interesting to note, in the fourth place, that the prayer here offered helps us to judge of his intercession in heavenas to its continuance, perseverance, and perpetuity. As I remarked before, if our Saviour might have paused from intercessory prayer, it was surelywhen they fastened him to the tree; when they were guilty of direct acts of deadly violence to his divine person, he mightthen have ceased to present petitions on their behalf. But sin cannot tiethe tongue of our interceding Friend! Oh, what comfort is here! You have sinned, believer, you have grieved his Spirit,but you have not stopped that potent tongue which pleads for you. You have been unfruitful, perhaps, my brother, and likethe barren tree, you deserve to be cut down; but your want of fruitfulness has not withdrawn the Intercessor from his place.He interposes at this moment, crying, "Spare it yet another year." Sinner, you have provoked God by long rejecting his mercyandgoing from bad to worse, but neither blasphemy nor unrighteousness, nor infidelity, shall stay the Christ of God fromurging the suit of the very chief of sinners. He lives, and while he lives he pleads; and while there is a sinner upon earthto be saved, there shall be an intercessor in heaven to plead for him. These are but fragments of thought, but they will helpyou, I hope, to realise the intercession of your great High Priest.
Think yet again, this prayer of our Lord on earth is like his prayer in heaven, because of its wisdom. He seeks the best thing, and that which his clients most need, "Father, forgive them." That was the great point in hand; they wanted most of all there and then forgiveness from God. He does not say, "Father,enlighten them, for they know not what they do," for mere enlightenment would but have created torture of conscience and hastenedon their hell; but hecrieth, "Father, forgive;" and while he used his voice, the precious drops of blood which were then distilling from thenail wounds were pleading too, and God heard, and doubtless did forgive. The first mercy which is needful to guilty sinnersis forgiven sin. Christ wisely prays for the boon most wanted. It is so in heaven; he pleads wisely and prudently. Let himalone, he knows what to ask for at the divine hand. Go you to the mercy-seat, and pour out your desires as best you can, butwhenyou have done so always put it thus, "O my Lord Jesus, answer no desire of mine if it be not according to thy judgment;and if in aught that I have asked I have failed to seek for what I want, amend my pleading, for thou art infinitely wiserthan I." Oh, is it sweet to have a friend at court to perfect our petitions for us before they come unto the great King. Ibelieved that there is never presented to God anything but a perfect prayer now; I mean, that before the great Father of usall, noprayer of his people ever comes up imperfect; there is nothing left out, and there is nothing to be erased; and this,not because their prayers were originally perfect in themselves, but because the Mediator makes them perfect through his infinitewisdom, and they come up before the mercy-seat moulded according to the mind of God himself, and he is sure to grant suchprayers.
Once more, this memorable prayer of our crucified Lord was like to his universal intercession in the matter of its prevalence. Those for whom he prayed were many of them forgiven. Do you remember that he said to his disciples when he bade them preach,"beginning at Jerusalem," and on that day when Peter stood up with the eleven, and charged the people with wicked hands theyhad crucified and slain the Saviour, three thousand of these persons who were thus justlyaccused of his crucifixion became believers in him, and were baptised in his name. That was an answer to Jesus' prayer.The priest were at the bottom of the Lord's murder, they were the most guilty; but it is said, "a great company also of thepriests believed." Here was another answer to the prayer. Since all men had their share representatively, Gentiles as wellas Jews, in the death of Jesus, the gospel was soon preached to the Jews, and within a short time it was preached to the Gentilesalso. Was not this prayer, "Father, forgive them," like a stone cast into a lake, forming at first a narrow circle, andthen a wider ring, and soon a larger sphere, until the whole lake is covered with circling waves? Such a prayer as this, castinto the whole world, first created a little ring of Jewish converts and of priest, and then a wider circle of such as werebeneath the Roman sway; and to-day its circumference is wide as the globe itself, so that tens of thousands are saved throughtheprevalence of this one intercession "Father, forgive them." It is certainly so with him in heaven, he never pleads invain. With bleeding hands, he yet won the day; with feet fastened to the wood, he was yet victorious; forsaken of God anddespised of the people, he was yet triumphant in his pleas; how much more so now the tiara is about his brow, his hand graspthe universal sceptre, and his feet are shod with silver sandals, and he is crowned King of kings, and Lord of lords! If tearsandcries out of weakness were omnipotent, even more mighty if possible must be that sacred authority which as the risen Priesthe claims when he stands before the Father's throne to mention the covenant which the Father made with him. O ye tremblingbelievers, trust him with your concerns! Come hither, ye guilty, and ask him to plead for you. O you that cannot pray, come,ask him to intercede for you. Broken hearts and weary heads, and disconsolate bosoms, come ye to him who into the golden censerwill put his merits, and then place your prayers with them, so that they shall come up as the smoke of perfume, even asa fragrant cloud into the nostrils of the Lord God of hosts, who will smell a sweet savour, and accept you and your prayersin the Beloved. We have now opened up more than enough sea-room for your meditations at home this afternoon, and, thereforewe leave this first point. We have an illustration in the prayer of Christ on the cross of what his prayers always are inheaven.
II. Secondly, the text is INSTRUCTIVE OF THE CHURCH'S WORK.
As Christ was, so his church is to be in this world. Christ came into this world not to be ministered unto, but to minister,not to be honoured, but to save others. His church, when she understands her work, will perceive that she is not here to gatherto herself wealth or honour, or to seek any temporal aggrandisement and position; she is here unselfishly to live, and ifneed be, unselfishly to die for the deliverance of the lost sheep, the salvation of lost men.Brethren, Christ's prayer on the cross I told you was altogether an unselfish one. He does not remember himself in it.Such ought to be the church's life-prayer, the church's active interposition on the behalf of sinners. She ought to live neverfor her ministers or for herself, but ever for the lost sons of men. Imagine you that churches are formed to maintain ministers?Do you conceive that the church exists in this land merely that so much salary may be given to bishops, and deans, andprebends, and curates, and I know not what? My brethren, it were well if the whole thing were abolished if that were itsonly aim. The aim of the church is not to provide out-door relief for the younger sons of nobility; when they have not brainsenough to win anyhow else their livelihood, they are stuck into family livings. Churches are not made that men of ready speechmay stand up on Sundays and talk, and so win daily bread from their admirers. Nay, there is another end and aim from this.These places are not built that you may sit here comfortably, and hear something that shall make you pass away your Sundayswith pleasure. A church in London which does not exist to do good in the slums, and dens, and kennels of the city, is a churchthat has no reason to justify its longer existing. A church that does not exist to reclaim heathenism, to fight with evil,to destroy error, to put down falsehood, a church that does not exist to take the side of the poor, to denounce injusticeandto hold up righteousness, is a church that has no right to be. Not for thyself, O church, dost thou exist, any more thanChrist existed for himself. His glory was that he laid aside his glory, and the glory of the church is when she lays asideher respectability and her dignity, and counts it to be her glory to gather together the outcast, and her highest honour toseek amid the foulest mire the priceless jewels for which Jesus shed his blood. To rescue souls from hell and lead to God,to hope,to heaven, this is her heavenly occupation. O that the church would always feel this! Let her have her bishops and herpreachers, and let them be supported, and let everything be done for Christ's sake decently and in order, but let the endbe looked to, namely, the conversion of the wandering, the teaching of the ignorant, the help of the poor, the maintenanceof the right, the putting down of the wrong, and the upholding at all hazards of the crown and kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now the prayer of Christ had a great spirituality of aim. You notice that nothing is sought for these people but that which concerns their souls, "Father, forgive them." And I believe the church will do well when she recollects that she wrestles not with flesh and blood, nor with principalitiesand powers, but with spiritual wickedness, and that what she has to dispense is not the law and order by which magistratesmay be upheld, or tyrannies pulled down, butthe spiritual government by which hearts are conquered to Christ, and judgments are brought into subjection to his truth.I believe that the more the church of God strains after, before God, the forgiveness of sinners, and the more she seeks inher life prayer to teach sinners what sin is, and what the blood of Christ is, and what the hell that must follow if sin benot washed out, and what the heaven is which will be ensured to all those who are cleansed from sin, the more she keeps tothisthe better. Press forward as one man, my brethren, to secure the root of the matter in the forgiveness of sinners. Asto all the evils that afflict humanity, by all means take your share in battling with them; let temperance be maintained,let education be supported; let reforms, political and ecclesiastical, be pushed forward as far as you have the time and theeffort to spare, but the first business of every Christian man and women is with the hearts and consciences of men as theystandbefore the everlasting God. O let nothing turn you aside from your divine errand of mercy to undying souls. This is yourone business. Tell to sinners that sin will damn them, that Christ alone can take away sin, and make this the one passionof your souls, "Father, forgive them, forgive them! Let them know how to be forgiven. Let them be actually forgiven, and letme never rest except as I am the means of bringing sinners to be forgiven, even the guiltiest of them."
Our Saviour's prayer teaches the church that while her spirit should be unselfish, and her aim should be spiritual, the range of her mission is to be unlimited. Christ prayed for the wicked, what if I say the most wicked of the wicked, that ribald crew that hadsurrounded his cross! He prayed for the ignorant. Doth he not say, "They know not what they do"? He prayed for his persecutors;the very persons who were most at enmity with him, lay nearest to his heart.Church of God, your mission is not to the respectable few who will gather about your ministers to listen respectfullyto their words; your mission is not to the â€šlite and the eclectic, the intelligent who will criticise your words and pass judgment upon every syllable of your teaching; yourmission is not to those who treat you kindly, generously, affectionately, not to these I mean alone, though certainly to theseas among the rest; but your great errand is to the harlot, to thethief, to the swearer and the drunkard, to the most depraved and debauched. If no one else cares for these, the churchalways must, and if there be any who are first in her prayers it should be these who alas! are generally last in our thoughts.The ignorant we ought diligently to consider. It is not enough for the preacher that he preaches so that those instructedfrom their youth up can understand him; he must think of those to whom the commonest phrases of theological truth are asmeaningless as the jargon of an unknown tongue; he must preach so as to reach the meanest comprehension; and if the ignorantmay come not to hear him, he must use such means as best he may to induce them, nay, compel them to hear the good news. Thegospel is meant also for those who persecute religion; it aims its arrows of love against the hearts of his foes. If therebe any whom we should first seek to bring to Jesus, it should be just these who are the farthest off and the most opposedtothe gospel of Christ. "Father, forgive them; if thou dost pardon none besides, yet be pleased to forgive them."
So, too, the church should be earnest as Christ was; and if she be so, she will be quick to notice any ground of hope in those she deals with, quick to observeany plea that she may use with God for their salvation.
She must be hopeful too, and surely no church ever had a more hopeful sphere than the church of this present age. If ignorance be a plea withGod, look on the heathen at this day-millions of them never heard Messiah's name. Forgive them, great God, indeed they knownot what they do. If ignorance be some ground for hope, there is hope enough in this great city of London, for have we notaround us hundreds of thousands to whom the simplest truths of the gospel wouldbe the greatest novelties? Brethren, it is sad to think that this country should still lie under such a pall of ignorance,but the sting of so dread a fact is blunted with hope when we read the Saviour's prayer aright-it helps us to hope while wecry, "Forgive them, for they know not what they do."
It is the church's business to seek after the most fallen and the most ignorant, and to seek them perseveringly. She shouldnever stay her hand from doing good. If the Lord be coming to-morrow, it is no reason why you Christian people should notsubside into mere talkers and readers, meeting together for mutual comfort, and forgetting the myriads of perishing souls.If it be true that this world is going to pieces in a fortnight, and that Louis Napoleon is the Apocalypticbeast, or if it be not true, I care not a fig, it makes no difference to my duty, and does not change my service. Letmy Lord come when he will, while I labour for him I am ready for his appearing. The business of the church is still to watchfor the salvation of souls. If she stood gazing, as modern prophets would have her; if she gave up her mission to indulgein speculative interpretations, she might well be afraid of her Lord's coming; but if she goes about her work, and with incessanttoilsearches out her Lord's precious jewels, she shall not be ashamed when her Bridegroom cometh.
My time has been much too short for so vast a subject as I have undertaken, but I wish I could speak words that were as loudas thunder, with a sense and earnestness as mighty as the lightening. I would fain excite every Christian here, and kindlein him a right idea of what his work is as a part of Christ's church. My brethren, you must not live to yourselves; the accumulationof money, the bringing up of your children, the building of houses, the earning of your dailybread, all this you may do; but there must be a greater object than this if you are to be Christlike, as you should be,since you are bought with Jesus' blood. Begin to live for others, make it apparent unto all men that you are not yourselvesthe end-all and be-all of your own existence, but that you are spending and being spent, that through the good you do to menGod may be glorified, and Christ may see in you his own image and be satisfied.
III. Time fails me, but the last point was to be a word SUGGESTIVE TO THE UNCONVERTED.
Listen attentively to these sentences. I will make them as terse and condensed as possible. Some of you here are not saved.Now, some of you have been very ignorant, and when you sinned you did not know what you did. You knew you were sinners, youknew that, but you did not know the far-reaching guilt of sin. You have not been attending the house of prayer long, you havenot read your Bible, you have not Christian parents. Now you are beginning to be anxious about yoursouls. Remember your ignorance does not excuse you, or else Christ would not say, "Forgive them;" they must be forgiven,even those that know not what they do, hence they are individually guilty; but still that ignorance of yours gives you justa little gleam of hope. The times of your ignorance God winked at, but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent. Bringforth, therefore, fruits meet for repentance. The God whom you have ignorantly forgotten is willing to pardon and ready toforgive.The gospel is just this, trust Jesus Christ who died for the guilty, and you shall be saved. O may God help you to doso this very morning, and you will become new men and new women, a change will take place in you equal to a new birth; youwill be new creatures in Christ Jesus.
But ah! My friends, there are some here for whom even Christ himself could not pray this prayer, in the widest sense at anyrate, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do," for you have known what you did, and every sermon you hear,and especially every impression that is made upon your understanding and conscience by the gospel, adds to your responsibility,and takes away from you the excuse of not knowing what you do. Ah! Sirs, you know that there is theworld and Christ, and that you cannot have both. You know that there is sin and God, and that you cannot serve both. Youknow that there are the pleasure of evil and the pleasures of heaven, and that you cannot have both. Oh! In the light whichGod has given you, may his Spirit also come and help you to choose that which true wisdom would make you choose. Decide to-dayfor God, for Christ, for heaven. The Lord decide you for his name's sake. Amen.
PORTION OF SCRIPTURE READ BEFORE SERMON-Luke 23:1-34.