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Then said Pilate
The conduct of Christ contrasted with the conduct of other public characters
Amongst the philosophers of the heathen world not one can be named, who did not admit some favourite vice into his system of good morals; and who was not more than suspected of some criminal indulgence in his own practice; not one, whose public instructions were without error, and whose private conduct was without reproach. In the character of Jesus Christ no such imperfection can be traced. In His addresses to His followers, He taught virtue unpolluted by impurity: and in His practice He exemplified what He taught.
II. In the most distinguished of our contemporaries, we always find some weakness to pity or lament, or only some single and predominant excellence to admire. In each individual the learning or the activity, the counsel or the courage, only can be praised. We look in vain for consistency or perfection. The conduct of Christ betrays no such inequality. In Him no virtue is shaded by its correspondent infirmity. No pre-eminent quality obscures the rest. Every portion of His character is in harmony with every other. Every point in the picture shines with great and appropriate lustre.
In the heroes, which our fables delight to pourtray, we are continually astonished by such exploits as nothing in real life can parallel; by the achievements of sagacity that cannot be deceived, and of courage that cannot be resisted.
We are either perplexed by the union of qualities and endowments incompatible with each other, or overpowered by the glare of such excellencies and powers, as nature with all her bounty never bestowed upon man.
Jesus Christ has surpassed the heroes of romance.
In contemplating His character we are not less surprised by the variety of His merits, than delighted by their consistency. They always preserve their proportion to each other. No duty falls below the occasion that demands it. No virtue is carried to excess.
IV. In the most exalted of our fellow-creatures, and even in the practice of their most distinguished virtues, we can always discover some concern for their personal advantage; some secret hope of fame, of profit, or of power; some prospect of an addition to their present enjoyments. In the conduct of Christ none of the weakness of self-love can be discovered. “He went about doing good,” which He did not appear to share, and from which He did not seem to expect either immediate or future advantage. His benevolence, and His alone, was without self-interest, without variation and without alloy.
V. It is a very general and a very just complaint, that every man occasionally neglects the duties of his place and station. The character of Christ is exposed to no such imputation. The great purpose of His mission indeed, appears to have taken, entire possession of his thoughts.
VI. The pretended prophet of Arabia made religion the sanction of his licentiousness, and the cloak of his ambition.
VII. An impostor, of whatever description, though he has but one character to support, seldom supports it with such uniformity as to procure ultimate success to his imposition. Jesus Christ had a great variety of characters to sustain; and He sustained them all without failure and without reproach.
VIII. Men in general are apt to deviate into extremes. The lover of pleasure often pursues it till he becomes its victim or its slave. The lover of God sometimes grow into an enthusiast, and imposes upon himself self-denial without virtue, and mortification without use or value. From such weakness and such censure the character of Christ must be completely exempted. He did not disdain the social intercourse of life, or reject its innocent enjoyments.
IX. While we are displaying the various merits which adorned the personal character of Christ, one excellence more must not be passed in silence; the rare union of active and passive fortitude; the union of courage with patience; of courage without rashness, and patience without insensibility.
X. Such, then, is the unrivalled excellence of the personal character of Jesus Christ. Such is the proof which it affords that He was “a teacher sent from God”; and such is “ the example which He has left us, that we should follow His steps. (W. Barrow.)
I. PILATE WAS WEAK--MORALLY WEAK. He sinned in spite of his better self. He was thoroughly convinced of the innocence of his prisoner. His conscience forbad him to inflict punishment. He made strenuous efforts to save Him. And yet, after all, He gave Him up to death, and furnished the soldiers needed for carrying out the sentence. How many in our day resemble him! Are not some of you as weak as he was? Have you not had convictions of duty as strong as his, and maintained them for a while as stoutly as he did, and yet failed at last to carry them out? Remember that convictions of sin and duty do not keep men from sin; nor do they excuse sin. Beware of substituting religious knowledge or sentiment for religious principle.
II. PILATE WAS WORLDLY. This explains his weakness. His feelings were overpowered by a selfish regard to his own interest.
III. PILATE WAS IRRELIGIOUS. Here was the secret of that fatal power which the world exerted upon him. He was worldly because his life was not guided and governed by true religion. “This is the victory that overcometh the world--even your faith.” (R. P. Pratten, B. A.)
Let us consider, then, the strange behaviour of Pontius Pilate after our Lord’s formal acquittal.
I. HE DECLARES THE SAVIOUR TO BE INNOCENT, BUT HE DOES NOT SET HIM FREE.
II. HE DOES NOT SET HIM FREE, BUT ENDEAVOURS TO BE FREE FROM HIM--to get rid of Him.
III. HE ENDEAVOURS TO GET FREE FROM HIM, BUT RECEIVES HIM AGAIN AND AGAIN.
1. “I find no fault in this Man”--Pilate has minutely and thoroughly investigated the case of Him who was so eagerly accused by the people, and the result of this examination was the Lord’s acquittal. Well done, Pilate! you have taken the right way; only one step more, and the case will be honourably concluded! As a just judge you are bound to follow up your verdict by release. The little bit of nobleness which Pilate showed on his first appearance was fast declining, as generally happens when it is not founded on the fear of God. When a man has gone as far as to question what truth is, he will soon follow up his questioning with, What is justice? what is faith? what is virtue? The inevitable result of a perverse state of heart is that it must daily beget new perversities. Because Pilate was not moved by love of truth, it was impossible for him to be moved for any length of time by a sense of justice. He declares the Saviour to be free from guilt, but he does not set Him free. Even since the times have become Christian, and since men have become members of the Church of Jesus Christ, it is an universal fact that Pilate’s conduct has been repeated. Men have declared the Saviour free, but have not set Him free. Pilate was a Roman, and a Roman maxim it has ever been in Christianity to pay every possible outward respect to the Saviour, but not to set Him free. The Romish Church especially bound what ought especially to be free--the Word of Jesus Christ--the Bible--the gospel. They declare the Word of the Saviour to be free, but do not set it free. In the Middle Ages, under plea of its preciousness, they bound it with iron chains. At present they bind it by the approval of bishops, by episcopal approbation. Even in these days this Church has dared to brand Bible Societies as plague sores. Pontius Pilate was a Roman to whom truth was nothing, justice little, his own interest everything; therefore he did not set the Saviour free, though he declared Him to be entitled to freedom. And a Roman maxim it bus been to this very day to declare the Saviour free, but not to free Him. It is to the glorious Reformation that the honour belongs of having broken the chains by which Rome bound the Saviour. In the Church of the Reformation, our dear evangelical Church, Jesus is not only declared to be free, but is free. Freely He governs our Church; freely He communicates with every believing soul. May we, therefore, say that Pilatism exists no longer in evangelical Christianity? Ah! no, dearly beloved, we must sorrowfully confess that Satan did not fail to find an entrance again through a back door. For, among the numerous Christians who glory in Protestant freedom, many do not allow the Saviour to speak except at church on Sunday. He is not allowed to raise His voice during the week, nor in their own homes. What is this but declaring the Saviour to be free, and keeping Him bound? They bind Him to altar and pulpit; they hear Him every week or fortnight, but further advance is denied their Saviour. He is not permitted to leave the church nor go with them to their home. Mere church attendance is Pilatism; the Saviour is declared to be free, but He is not set free. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.” But, my friends, tot us who have given up our heart to the Saviour, to occupy a place in His throne-room, would it not be a subtle Pilatism if we lock the Saviour within the heart, and not set Him free for the whole life? Not only in the heart is the Saviour to have free range, but in the home, in your nursery and drawing-rooms, in your workshop, in your society, in your dally life and conversation, He is to be free, and the free ruler of your life. Oh, my friends, strive against Pilatism! Do not lock your Saviour in your church, nor in your heart, but allow Him to dispose of you how He will and where He will. The more He is allowed to shape a man’s life, the more freedom will that man enjoy. Therefore, once again, away with Pilatism! Do not only declare the Saviour to be free, but set Him free indeed!
II. PILATE DOES NOT SET THE SAVIOUR FREE, BUT ENDEAVOURS TO GET FREE FROM Him He does not give Jesus His liberty, for fear of the people. He endeavours to get free from Jesus because he fears Jesus. The quiet dignity of the King of Truth grows more and more painful to him. The whole matter, which at first he thought a great ado about nothing, is taking such a turn that he feels quite uneasy. “Is He a Galilaean?” he asks. The Saviour was no Galilaean. It is from Bethlehem of Judaea that the Messiah of Israel has come! but the people say He is a Galilaean. This is sufficient for Pilate. He had oftentimes trenched upon Galilee, and had thereby become the bitter enemy of Herod, the tetrarch of Galilee. But now it is most opportune to him, that Galilee is a province beyonds his jurisdiction. Let Herod burn his fingers in this affair. At least, he, Pilate, will be rid of a case which is getting more and more troublesome. Do you know those people that practise in our day the most contemptible kind of Pilatism? They cannot explain the powerful impression which the exalted personage of the God-man makes upon man. The pale beauty of His cross appears an unnatural rebuke to the frivolous ideal of life which they have entertained. His stretched-out pierced hands are quivering hints and points of interrogation, and signs of pain and sorrow. His humiliating crucifixion bears so loud an evidence against their pride of ancestry, pride of culture, and pride of riches, that they endeavour to get free from Him at any cost. “He is a Galilaean”: thus runs the old Jewish lie, which history confuted long ago. A Galilaean Rabbi could never--no, never--become so potent, that eighteen centuries would circle around him like planets round the sun. But those men who endeavour to get free from the God-man, will always grasp at this straw of a miserable fiction. He is a Galilaean! He is a Galilaean, and they think they have discovered the magic spell by which they can with some show of reason get rid of their belief in the God-man, who has given His life a ransom for a sinful world. “He is a Galilaean,” they say, and with that they send the Saviour away. They send Him to sceptical philosophers, urging, “Natural philosophy has explained this, and teaches us that miracles are impossible. Philosophy is a competent judge of the person of Jesus Christ, and of His miracles; and philosophers, not we, have to decide. And we submit to their judgment.” It makes them somewhat uneasy to know that there are likewise believing philosophers; that a Copernicus begged from the Crucified no other mercy than was received by yonder malefactor; that a Kepler, a Newton were true followers of Jesus, and believed in His miracles, and had faith in His words. On this point, therefore, they maintain a silence as deep as that of the tomb. Or they send the Saviour to sceptical historians, saying, “It is by history that the authenticity of the Bible is to be tested, and this science has broken a staff over the Scriptures.” It is nothing to their purpose that believing historians place a high value on the Bible, that one of them has pronounced Jesus Christ to be the very key of history. This testimony, however, they care fully overlook. Or they send the Lord Jesus to sceptical theologians, saying, “There are so many theologians who deny the divinity of Jesus, and theologians ought certainly to be possessed of the true knowledge.” They overlook the believing divines who exist too, and who ought to know at any rate as well as they. In short, fidelity and justice concerning the Lord Jesus are quite out of the question with those people. They will get free from the Lord Jesus at any hazard; therefore they seek for Herods wherever they may be found.
III. IMPOTENT STRUGGLING! Foolish prudence! After all, they will not get free from the Saviour. Having entered a man’s life, Jesus comes again and again, this way or that way, whatever may have been the turnings and windings of that life. Pilate endeavours to get free from the Saviour, but gets Him again and again. Pilate gets Jesus again from Herod, and receives Herod’s friendship besides. Pilate, on his part, to be sure would fain have renounced his friendship for Herod, if by so doing he had only got rid of the Lord Jesus. But his new friend had sent back the Saviour, and thus Pilate was obliged, much against his will, to concern himself further with the Saviour, and bring to an end a case which to himself was becoming more and more painful. And in the same condition in which Pilate was will all those who think and act like him ever be. Having once met the Saviour, they never get entirely free from Him, however they may struggle and whatever cunning devices they may make to accomplish this end. In the end they will avail nothing. Jesus comes again. His form assumes a more and more sorrowful aspect. His face becomes more grave and clouded. Jesus comes again. Each sound of the church bell reminds them, each Sunday admonishes them of Him. Jesus comes again. They do not get free from Him. They anxiously debar their home, their family, from His influences. Nevertheless, since the Spirit bloweth where it listeth, they cannot prevent their wives, nor daughters, nor sons from being converted; and every converted one is a living reproach to the unconverted. They cover, as it were, their heart with a coat of mail; they palisade their conscience; they fall into the habit of smiling at holy things; they affect the utmost indifference towards the God-man. Thus they live, thus they die; and when they are dying, again Jesus Christ is there; and in their dying moments His word sounds: Son of man, how often would I have drawn thee unto Me, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and thou wouldst not! (Emil Quandt.)
The character of Pilate
The estimate which history has put upon Pilate is fair. We talk of artistic combinations and poetical justice. But no art and no poetry can come up to that dramatic intensity of contrast in which history makes such a man as Pilate judge and executioner of Jesus Christ. It is as in another generation when such a man as Nero sits as judge of such a man as St. Paul. We know Pilate by ten years of his jurisdiction. A cruel Roman viceroy, he had created and had quelled more than one rebellion by his hard hand. He is one of a type of men such as you find in Napoleon’s history, who have their eye always on the Emperor, and always mean to win his favour. For the Pilates of the world this backward look to their chief supplies the place of law. Does Tiberius wish it? Then one answers “Yes.” Does Tiberius dislike it? Then one answers “No.” In the long run such a second hand conscience fails a man. It failed Pilate. Tiberius recalled him. But Tiberius died before Pilate could appear at court. And, then, neglected by everybody, scorned, I think, by those who knew him best, Pilate, who had no conscience now he had no Tiberius, killed himself. Was there, in that loathsome despair of the life of a favourite whose game is played through, was there always the memory of one face, of one prisoner, of one execution? Did he remember that day when he tried to wash off guilt with water: Did he remember how the sky blackened on that day, and men said nature itself testified against the wrong which that day saw? (E. E. Hall, D. D.)
When Herod saw Jesus, he was exceeding glad
Divine reserve; or, Christianity in relation to our mental moods
THAT ALL SUBJECTS REVEAL THEMSELVES ACCORDING TO THE MENTAL MOOD IN WHICH THEY ARE EXAMINED. That which is looked for, is found or thought to be found. The same person or principle examined through the respective media of sympathy and antipathy, will reveal aspects the most different. It is of vital importance to remember this fact in all our investigations of creeds, or balancings of contradictory evidence, so that we may escape both the traductions of prejudice and the blindings of partiality. The non-recognition of this truth has induced the grossest misrepresentations of social life, of individual belief, and of denominational doctrine.
II. THAT THE DIVINE BEING DISCRIMINATES OUR MENTAL MOODS. Apparently, Herod was in a pleasing state of mind. Superficial observers would have been delighted with his animated and cordial bearing. What could be more gratifying to Christ than that Herod was “exceeding glad” to see Him? There was no royal hauteur, no cold rebuff, no vengeful triumph. Why, then, that awful silence? Could Herod have done more to conciliate the favour of his renowned prisoner? Was it not an act of incomparable condescension for Herod to wear a smile in the presence of a reputed blasphemer and seditionist? For Christ’s significant reserve there must be some peculiar but satisfactory reason. It was not fear of the judge, for He was the judge’s Creator and Sovereign; it was not contempt, for He entertains a just regard for all the creatures of His hand; it was not constitutional sullenness, for none could be more open and engaging than He; it was not consciousness of guilt, for His most rancorous foes failed in their attempts at crimination. Why, then, did Christ thus treat a man who was “exceeding glad” to “see Him”? The only satisfactory answer which we can suggest is that Herod’s gladness did not arise from a proper cause; or, in other words, was no true index to his mental mood. Christ looked deeper than the smile which lighted Herod’s countenance, or the mere blandishment of his manner; He discriminated the mood of mind, and acted accordingly.
III. THAT CERTAIN MENTAL MOODS DEPRIVE MEN OF THE RICHEST BLESSINGS OF CHRISTIANITY. Why that solemn silence on the part of Christ? Because of Herod’s mental mood. The judge wished his curiosity gratified, he had heard of the great wonder-worker, and longed to behold His feats of skill, or His displays of power. Christ knew the treatment proper for the oblique-minded judge, and acted accordingly: He would not work miracles to gratify a king; He would smile on a child, or dry the tear of misery, but He would not court the applause or solicit the patronage of royalty. To whom, then, will the Lord Jesus deign to reveal Himself in tender speech or loving vision? Is there any intellect on whose conflicts with scepticism He will bestow His attention? Is there any heart on whose strugglings with sin He will lift up the light of His countenance? Since He was silent before Herod, will He be communicative to any of His creatures? He shall answer for Himself, “To this man will I look.” Suppose the Divine speaker had paused here, what inquisitiveness and suspense would have been occasioned! “To this man”; to which man, blessed Lord, wilt Thou look? to the man who has slain kings, and wandered to the throne of power through the blood of the warrior and the tears of the widow? to the man who has enrolled his name among the proudest of conquerors? to the man who boasts attachment to the cold exactitudes of a heartless theology? to the man arrayed in purple, and enshrined in the splendour of a palace? is this the man to whom Thou wilt look? Nay! ‘Tis a grander spectacle which attracts the Divine eye--to the man “that is poor, and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at My word” (Isaiah 66:2).Here, then, we have two conditions of Divine communion, viz., contrition and reverence: apart from these there can be no spiritual fellowship. In Herod these conditions were not found; hence Christ was dumb i So with us: if we would truly worship God we must fulfil the conditions herein demanded. To be more distinct on this part of the subject, I may enumerate a few classes of hearers, whose mental moods deprive them of spiritual enjoyment:
1. Men of violent personal antipathies. Such persons confound the minister with his message; so that if any whim has been assaulted, or any favourite dogma contravened, they forthwith resort to misinterpretation, they turn every appeal into a personality, and that which was intended as a blessing they pervert into a curse! God will not commune with them: they fulfil not the conditions of fellowship--they are neither contrite nor reverent--and Christ answers them nothing!
2. Men of large speculative curiosity. Herod belonged to this class. They wish to pry into the secrets of the Infinite: not content with the ample disclosures which the Divine Being has graciously granted, they would penetrate into the deepest recesses of His nature, and scale the loftiest altitudes of His universe. They conceive a philosophic dislike for the common-place truths of Christianity; and regard with patronising pity the minister who lingers on the melancholy hill of Calvary. Such men would understand all mystery: they would break the silence of the stars, or detain the whirlwind in converse: they would summon angels from their high abode and extort the secrets of heaven, they would even dare to cross-examine the Deity Himself on the propriety of His moral government! God will answer them nothing.
3. Men who accept rationalism as their highest guide. They reject all that reason cannot comprehend. Their own intellect must see through every subject, otherwise they consider it as worthy only of repudiation. They read the New Testament as they would read a work on mathematics, or a treatise on physical science, expecting demonstration of every point. Such men leave the Bible with dissatisfaction. Christ treats them with silence: their flippant questions elicit no response: their feeble reason plunges in hopeless confusion--Infinitude refuses to be grasped in a human span, and Eternity disdains to crowd into one little intellect its stupendous and magnificent treasures.
4. Men who delight in moral darkness. Such men have no objection to theological discussion; they may even delight in an exhibition of their controversial powers, and, at the same time, hate the moral nature and spiritual requirements of the gospel. So long as attention is confined to an analysis of abstract doctrines they listen with interest, but the moment the gospel tears away the veil from their moral condition--reveals their depravity--upbraids their ingratitude--smites their pride--and shakes their soul with the assurance of judgment and eternity, they sink back into sullenness, they take refuge in infidelity, or they curse and blaspheme! Your Herods care not for moral betterance; they wish their fancies gratified--they desire their questions answered, but they persist in following thedevices of their imagination, and imprisoning themselves in the bond-house of bestial passion. The text suggests--
IV. THAT MEN SO DEPRIVED RESORT TO OPPOSITION. “And Herod with his men of war set Him at naught, and mocked Him, and arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe, and sent Him again to Pilate.” This is a striking illustration of the manner in which the truth has been treated in all ages. Men have approached the Bible with foregone conclusions, and because those conclusions have not been verified they have revolted, and assumed an antagonistic attitude. Ample illustration of the proposition might be adduced from the history of infidelity, bigotry, and persecution: but instead of lingering on this department of the subject we hasten to indicate the practical bearing of the thesis on the matter more immediately in hand. As an assembly of men responsible in some degree for the dissemination of Christian truth, it is important to understand how we can best fulfil our mission. In prosecuting this inquiry let me remind you of three things:
1. That the Bible is God’s appointed representative. What Christ was to Herod, the Scriptures are to us, viz., the embodiment of Divine truth and love. The very fact of our having the Bible, involves a tremendous responsibility.
2. That the Bible must be approached in a sympathetic spirit.
3. That we are responsible for our manner of reproducing the Bible. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Imitating the silence of Christ
There lived in a village near Burnley a girl who was persecuted in her own home because she was a Christian. She struggled on bravely, seeking strength from God, and rejoicing that she was a partaker of Christ’s sufferings. The struggle was too much for her, but He willed it so; and at length her sufferings were ended. When they came to take off the clothes from her poor dead body, they found a piece of paper sewn inside her dress, and on it was written, “He opened not His mouth.” (W. Baxendale.)
Moltke, the great strategist, is a man of lowly habits and few words. He has been described as a man “who can hold his tongue in seven languages!” (H. O. Mackay.)
Herod Antipas: religious curiosity
Most of us will admit that this is an age of much curiosity about religion. The phrase would seem to include three things. First, curiosity about religion as an interesting phase of human thought. Then, curiosity about religion as exhibited in the picturesque and commanding personages who have founded new faiths. But yet again there may be curiosity about religion as a possible manifestation of the extra-natural or supernatural. Revivalism and spiritualism make the flesh creep not altogether unpleasingly. August and ancient ceremonials haunt the imagination with their weird magnificence. The verses which I have read bring before us the very type of irreligious or non-religious curiosity about religion, and of the punishment which awaits it.
I. In the passage itself let us note, in the first place, THE DEALINGS OF HEROD ANTIPAS WITH JESUS.
1. Herod did not take any active part in the greatest tragedy of time.
2. It will be necessary for our purpose to consider, secondly, Herod’s position in the religious world of his day. That he was a Sadducee would seem to be certain from profane history, and from a comparison of St. Matthew with St. Mark.
3. The character of Herod Antipas may be thought too black to contain even a warning for any of us. He was but a promising pupil in the school of which Tiberius was a master; a meaner trickster, a punier liar, a feebler murderer. He was “the fox,” as our Lord called him, not the wolf. Yet in one respect he was not so unlike some of us. A mist of superstition hung over the unclean pool of lust and hatred which he had made his soul. He was alternately repelled and attracted by Christ. That he was not incapable of religious curiosity the text sufficiently witnesses. Some in our day might exclaim that it was perhaps unfortunate that an opportunity was lost of gratifying the curiosity of a person so interesting--as if Christ was Incarnate to amuse dilettanti. But He who knows all men and what is in man knew better. The blood-stained hands are held out “half caressingly.” The voice which commanded the head of John Baptist to be given to the daughter of Herodias pours forth its flood of superficial questions. He will not waste one miracle or one word. As they of old loved to teach, the silent Jesus, working no sign, is a prophecy and a sign to us. “He answered him nothing.”
II. The whole incident thus becomes full of lessons to us. A thoughtful, meditative reader stops in awe. If we feel the awfulness of that silence, we shall, I think, recognize the truth of that which I am about to say. There is, no doubt, a sort of curiosity about religion which is the necessary result of quickened intellectual, nay, of quickened spiritual life. But the smiting of the people of Beth-shemesh is net recorded for nothing. Free inquiry is one thing, free-and-easy inquiry is another. If we play with God, it is at our own risk. The question is--what do you believe? We stand fronting eternity, not with the many propositions which we affect to believe or think we believe, but with the few which we do believe. Can we make an act of faith in God? We see Him standing mute before the curiosity of Herod Antipas, and we say, “Save us, oh save us, from that silence!” (Bishop Win. Alexander.)
I. HEROD BEFORE JESUS.
Our Lord before Herod
1. See idle curiosity at its best.
2. Idle curiosity disappointed.
(1) Our Lord came not into this world to be a performer.
(2) Herod had already silenced the Voice; no wonder he could not now hear the Word.
(3) Herod might have heard Christ hundreds of times before if he had chosen to do so.
(4) Christ had good reason for refusing to speak to Herod this time, because He would not have it supposed that He yielded to the pomp and dignity of men.
3. Idle curiosity curdles into derision.
II. JESUS IN THE PRESENCE OF HEROD. Although no blows are recorded, I greatly question whether our Divine Master suffered anywhere more than He did in the palace of tiered.
1. Fully in earnest for the salvation of souls, and in the midst of His griever’s passion, He is looked upon as a mountebank and a mere performer, who is expected to work a miracle for the amusement of an impious court.
2. Then to think of our Lord’s being questioned by such a fop as Herod!
3. Then the ribaldry of the whole thing!
4. It was no small pain to our Lord to be silent.
5. Think of the contempt that was poured upon Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The silence of Jesus
I. PREJUDICE, WHATEVER BE ITS SOURCE, GETS NOTHING OUT OF THE SCRIPTURES. If you bring a full pitcher to a spring, you can get nothing from that spring.
II. HABITUAL INDULGENCE IN SIN WILL PREVENT US FROM GETTING ANY ANSWER TO OUR INQUIRIES FROM SCRIPTURE. When you want an answer from the telephone, you not only put your ear to the instrument, but you also say to those about you, “Hush! I want to hear.” If you would hear Christ you must say “Hush” to the murmuring of sin.
III. THE INFLUENCE OF SCEPTICISM MAKES THE SCRIPTURES SILENT. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Release unto us Barabbas
Barabbas or Christ?
We speak of the choice in the Lord’s passion, which is--
I. A SIGN OF THE LORD’S GRACE AND PATIENCE.
II. A SIGN OF THE PEOPLE’S DEEP SHAME AND GUILT.
1. It was six o’clock in the morning. Conscience-smitten, as never before, Pilate perceives the mob--the Lord in their midst, with a white garment, and the crown of thorns on His head--returning from Herod, and approaching his palace. “Suffered under Pontius Pilate”--thus it runs in our imperishable creed, surely not to erect a monument to a weak man, but to warn us every Sunday. Christ suffered under indecision and doubt, under fear of man and flattery of man. We speak, however, of the peoples choice. It was the custom to release unto them a prisoner at the feast. Pilate tries to avail himself of that custom. They shall decide with perfect clearness and consciousness. The decision shall be made as easy as possible for them. They shall examine and compare. “Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you?”--thus asks Pilate. We have to make the same decision. Here, Christ, with the word of truth and life, which answers the deepest cravings of our heart; a light in our path which has never deceived any one. There, the wisdom of the world, with its devious ways and vain speech; with its final bankruptcy of all knowledge, asking, What is truth? Here, a love that seeks our salvation, that remains always true, even when human love is wavering; a love that never suffers the redeemed to be torn from its hand. There, selfishness, falsehood, and cunning; and finally, the comfortless advice, See thou to that! Here, forgiveness and peace; there, in spite of outward prosperity and splendour, a sting in the conscience that cannot be removed. Here, even in times of tribulation, the conviction: “The Lord is with me; His rod and His staff, they comfort me.” There, in times of want and distress, murmuring obstinacy and despair. Here, hope that lasts beyond death, and that anchors itself in the mercy and promises of God, therefore, even in dying, able to triumph: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” There, illusion upon illusion, for we never know what may happen, until death at last dispels every illusion I Who could still be doubtful about the choice? It is true many for a time allow others to decide for them. They move along as they are directed; they believe because others have told them so. Many avoid the decision even when commanded by the Word of God. But this is sure: There will come serious hours for each one, according to God’s design and will, when he must decide of his own free will, when the refusal to decide will be practically a decision. There is only the question: Are we capable of choosing? Are we really free? Does the decision lie in our hand? Indeed, there arise unbidden so many voices in the heart against it; so many evil influences act upon us from childhood. The heart is by nature deceitful above all things--now most exultant, now afflicted unto death. Luther, as you know, wrote a little book on the bondage of the will, or “that free will is nothing.” He compared it to a staff without life, a hard, cold stone. In this Luther is right, and is on the side of Paul, who says, “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy” (Romans 9:16). It is true that deep in our hearts there is a tendency to resist the truth, a proneness to sin and sensuality, a spirit that says “No” to the word and will of God. But, on the other hand, God embraces us with His unseen arms, and in spirit speaks to us. Conscience can be silenced, but not killed; the hunger for the life and peace of God will be felt again and again. As the flower is attracted toward the sun, the bird of passage to the south, the iron to the magnet, so the human heart is drawn to God and His Word. Both are destined for each other. We can and ought to choose; that is our privilege and responsibility: our salvation is left in our own hands.
II. A SIGN OF THE PEOPLE’S DEEP SHAME AND GUILT. Israel also had a choice. But in choosing it incurred the deepest shame and guilt. “And they cried out all at once, saying, Away with this Man, and release unto us Barabbas!” There is no wavering nor delay, no answer to the question, “What evil hath He done?” There is no inward struggle, and no examination, but the most frivolous levity, which is swift to condemn, even in the holiest and most important cause. Indeed, Pilate warns them several times, and God’s voice warns them through him, to think and to deliberate once more. But their levity turns into stubbornness and hardening of the heart. How many still decide for unbelief without hesitation, without having carefully examined! They merely repeat what others maintain; they merely follow their own natural inclination. They are opponents of faith, not because they reflect too much, but because they reflect too little. It is a simple condition of equity that one should examine before rejecting, and that one should compare what Jesus gives with what the world offers. Levity, however, does not examine, it postpones. It finds pleasure in the moment, and avoids all that is disagreeable. When hours of distress and helplessness again come upon us, our only resources are falsehood and deceit--human help and human counsel, which soon shall be changed into shame. Alas! how many there are whose thoughtlessness turns into stubbornness, and from that into entire surrender to the power of darkness. (W. Hahnelt.)
Barabbas or Jesus
All time is one history of this one manifold choice. Every evil deed since Adam’s fall has been belief in Satan and disbelief in God, a choice of Satan, his service, his wages, his kingdom, his sins, and his everlasting doom, instead of the glad obedience, the beauty of holiness, the sweet harmony, the everlasting glory of the ever-blessed God. Even heathens, from the relics of paradise, knew of this choice. They pictured to themselves man, at the outset of life, standing where two ways parted, pleasure alluring him to “a way full of all ease and sweetness”; virtue, with a holy majesty, calling him to present toil, and an inheritance with God. And they unknowing! They knew that they made an evil choice, they owned of themselves sorrowfully, “I know and approve what is best, I follow what is worst.” “I knew what I ought to be; unhappily, I could not do it.” They knew what they chose, but not whom they chose, or whom they denied. More fearful is the contest in Israel, because they knew more. “They chose,” Scripture says, “new gods.” “If it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord,” says Joshua, when his own warfare was accomplished, “choose you this day whom you will serve; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” “How long halt ye between two opinions?” says Elijah; “if the Lord be God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him.” Darker still and more evil was the choice, when Holiness Itself, “God, was manifest in the flesh.” “This is the condemnation, that light was come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” But His Godhead was still veiled in the flesh. His glory was not yet revealed, “the Spirit was not yet given.” More deadly the choice became, when the weakness of His human nature was taken up in the glory of His Divine, and He was “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of Holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” Hence the evil of some subtle sin, which the soul perhaps knows not to be sin, only it knows that, were its parents by, it would not do it. It has made an evil choice; and that choice cleaves to it, perhaps, through years of helpless strife and misery. The first evil choice is the parent of all which follows. It has chosen Satan instead of God; and now, before it can again choose aright, it must undo that first choice, and will that all had been unchosen which it ever chose out ff God. But there is no safety against making the very worst choice, except in the fixed, conscious purpose in all things to make the best. The last acts are mostly not in a person’s own power. They “who compass themselves about with sparks” cannot themselves quench the burning. They who make the first bad choice are often hurried on, whether they will or no. Each choice, so far, involves the whole character. The one choice is manifoldly repeated. The roads part asunder slightly; yet, unmarked, the distance between them is ever widening, until they end in heaven or in hell. Each act of choice is a step toward either. It is a bitter memory to think that we have so often chosen out of God. But we can never amend our choice, unless, in bitterness of soul, we own that it has been amiss. We can never come to true penitence unless we learn the intense evil of the manifold wrongness of our choice. Hard is it to own this, that all has to be undone and begun anew, that the whole choice is to be reformed; and therefore it is hard truly to turn to God and be saved. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
Albert, Bishop of Mayence, had a physician attached to his person, who, being a Protestant, did not enjoy the prelate’s favour. The man seeing this, and being an avaricious, ambitious world.seeker, denied his God, and turned back to Popery, saying to his associates, “I’ll put Jesus Christ by for a while till I’ve made my fortune, and then bring Him out again.” This horrible blasphemy met with its just reward; for next day the miserable hypocrite was found dead in his bed, his tongue hanging from his mouth, his face as black as a coal, and his neck twisted half round. I was myself an ocular witness of this merited chastisement of impiety. (M. Luther.)
He delivered Jesus to their will--
The illegal trial and condemnation of our Lord
THE TRIAL OF CHRIST FOR HIS LIFE WAS MANAGED MOST MALICIOUSLY AND ILLEGALLY AGAINST HIM, BY HIS UNRIGHTEOUS JUDGES.
1. Was Christ thus used when He stood before the great Council, the Scribes and Elders of Israel? Then surely great men are not always wise, neither do the aged understand judgment. (Job 32:9.)
2. Hence also we learn, that though we are not obliged to answer every captious, idle, or ensnaring question, yet we are bound faithfully to own and confess the truth, when we are solemnly called thereunto.
3. Once more, hence it follows, that to bear the revilings, contradictions, and abuses of men, with a meek, composed, and even spirit, is excellent and Christ-like.
II. ALTHOUGH NOTHING COULD BE PROVED AGAINST OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST WORTHY OF DEATH OR OF BONDS; YET WAS HE CONDEMNED TO BE NAILED TO THE CROSS, AND THERE TO HANG TILL HE DIED.
1. A most unjust and unrighteous sentence: the greatest perversion of judgment and equity that was ever known to the civilized world, since seats of judicature were first set up. Pilate should rather have come down from his seat of judgment, and adored Him, than sat there to judge Him. Oh! it was the highest piece of injustice that ever our ears heard of.
2. As it was an unrighteous, so it was a cruel sentence, delivering up Christ to their wills. This was that misery which David so earnestly deprecated--“O deliver me not over to the will of mine enemies” (Psalms 27:12). But Pilate delivers Christ over to the will of His enemies; men full of enmity, rage, and malice.
3. It was also a rash and hasty sentence. Trial of many a mean man hath taken up ten times more debates and time than was spent about Christ. They that look but slightly into the cause, easily pronounce and give sentence.
4. As it was a rash and hasty, so it was an extorted, forced sentence. They squeeze it out of Pilate by mere clamour, importunity, and suggestions of danger. In courts of judicature, such arguments should signify but little; not importunity, but proof, should carry it. But timorous Pilate bends like a willow at this breath of the people; he had neither such a sense of justice, nor spirit of courage, as to withstand it.
5. As it was an extorted, so it was a hypocritical sentence, masking horrid murder under a pretence and formality of law.
6. As it was a hypocritical, so it was an unrevoked sentence. It admitted not of a reprieve, no, not for a day; nor doth Christ appeal to any other judicature, or once desire the least delay; but away He is hurried in haste to the execution. Blush, O ye heavens! and tremble, O earth! at such a sentence as this. In what manner did Christ receive this cruel and unrighteous sentence? He received it like Himself, with admirable meekness and patience.
He doth as it were wrap Himself up in His own innocency, and obedience to His Father’s will, and stands at the bar with invincible patience and meek submission.
1. Do you see what was here done against Christ, under pretence of law? What cause have we to pray for good laws, and righteous executioners of them?
2. Was Christ condemned in a court of judicature? How evident then is it, that there is a judgment to come after this life? When you see Jesus condemned, and Barabbas released, conclude that a time will come when innocency shall be vindicated, and wickedness shamed.
3. Here you see how conscience may be overborne and run down by a fleshly interest.
4. Did Christ stand arraigned and condemned at Pilate’s bar? Then the believer shall never be arraigned and condemned at God’s bar. Christ stood at this time before a higher Judge than Pilate; He stood at God’s bar as well as his. Pilate did but that which God’s own hand and counsel had before determined to be done. (J. Flavel.)
The act of a moment and its results
I. IT WAS ONLY THE ACT OF A MOMENT THIS DELIVERING OF JESUS TO THE JEWS, BUT IT SEALED THE DOOM OF PILATE. Of many important acts it may be said that they are done both suddenly and slowly. In one way or another the decision must be made in a moment: and yet these momentary acts are not so isolated from all the life as they seem. Our life is truly one; all parts and all events of it are closely joined together. Each event is at once a cause and an effect--a link which grows out of a former link, and out of which in turn a new link is formed. Thus it happens that we could account for any strange-seeming word a man speaks, or act he does, if we could only go back far enough into his history, and see deeply enough into his character. His life has been slowly moving round towards the point it now has reached. Into the house which bad been slowly preparing to receive him, the guest has suddenly stepped. There has been a removal of obstacles which would have hindered, or a heaping up of obstacles which make it impossible to proceed. In a word, character and habit decide a man’s action at any moment of test and trial; and character and habit are not things of a moment. It is not always unfair, therefore, to judge a man by the act of a moment, or by his attitude under sore and sudden temptation. These things reveal the secrets of his character and life, perhaps to himself, certainly to other men; well if only he is willing to learn at the first lesson where his weakness is, and so make up the breach before the next assault. Peter was walking carelessly for hours, or days, before that terrible stumbling and fall in which his very heart was broken, and all his fancied righteousness and courage fell in a moment into ruins about him. In one of the western towns of the United States, a young man stood one day in the midst of a group of gay companions. A public house was open on the one side of the street, and the building of the Y.M.C.A. on the other. He was being pressed to go into the tavern, but suddenly he turned from all his companions, and amid their jests and laughter, entered the Y.M.C.A. rooms. From that moment his path in life was plain; he had committed himself on the right side. But was there no preparation for the sudden act? I am sure there was. If we knew all the story, we would find there was a godly home behind him. Many a warning conscience had given him. In a moment Pilate yielded to the request of the chief priest, and did this fatal act; but a whole life of selfishness and self-indulgence and cruelty had prepared him for that moment, and made it certain that when the time of trial came, he would do the wrong thing. Young men may be sure of it that there will come a time when they will be suddenly put to the test.
II. PILATE TRIED TO RID HIMSELF OF THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THIS ACT, BUT HE COULD NOT DO IT. There are some things of which we can easily divest ourselves. We can tear them off and throw them away in a few moments. I can change my dress and make myself, in outward appearance, another man. There are some things that cleave to us always and everywhere. I cannot destroy my personality; through all changes! remain myself, conscious of my own personal identity. One of the commonest excuses men make in such circumstances is, I did it under pressure. Some men are sensitive to the pressure of duty, of honour, of obligation, of truth, of love, of pity. This pressure is irresistible. When these influences are behind them, they must go on, no matter what lies in front. It was in this way that Christ was pressed to the cross, and many of Christ’s servants to the scaffold and the fire. “I cannot do otherwise, God help me,” were Luther’s words when this pressure was strong upon him. There are many, however, who scarcely feel such pressure at all, but who are keenly alive to every touch of popular applause, of the blame of men, of the sharp edge of ridicule, of the fear of loss and pain. By the force of popular opinion, they could be pressed anywhere, into anything. It is putting the same thing in other words to say, that men try to get rid of their responsibility for wrong-doing by throwing the blame upon others, and upon God. “It is the way I was brought up.”
“You see I was led into it.” “A man in my position must do such things.” “Every one does it, and you may as well be out of the world as out of the fashion.” “It is a weakness incidental to my constitution.” “Circumstances shut me in, so that I could do nothing else”; as if a man should not rather die than do the wrong! Pilate washed his hands. He tried, in the most public and solemn way, to cast off his responsibility; but though he had a better excuse than thousands have who sin against conscience and a sense of duty, we see, as we look back upon his case, that it was impossible for him to put the blame on any one else. When he delivered Jesus to the Jews, it was his own deliberate act, done against his conscience, not to speak of any supernatural warning; and he must take the consequences. And Pilate’s future history was very sad and hopeless. Responsibility is a thing I cannot get rid of. The gospel of Christ does not remove it. “Every man shall bear his own burden.” “Every one of us shall give account of himself unto God.” If I have done wrong, let me bravely confess it, and seek the grace of God to avoid the temptation again. Thus out of weakness I shall rise to strength, and my very errors and mistakes may be stairs leading me up to God.
III. PILATE’S GUILT WAS GREAT, BUT NOT SO GREAT AS THAT OF THE JEWS, WHO CHOSE BARABBAS AND REJECTED JESUS. That there are degrees of guilt is clearly taught by our Lord Jesus. Some shall be beaten with many stripes, and some with few. Christ does not exculpate Pilate, but He tells him, “He that delivered Me unto thee hath the greater sin.” Such choices--not sudden decisions like Pilate’s on partial knowledge and under pressure, but calm, quiet, almost unconscious acts of choice--we are making day by day. (W. Park, M. A.)
Jesus delivered to their will
I. WHAT WAS THIS WILL? What was the moving spring of their fierce resolution that Jesus of Nazareth should die?
1. It was their will that this stern censor of their manners and morals should die.
2. They willed that the witness to the truth should die. The Lord belonged to another world, which they did not care to enter; a world which troubled their selfish, sensual lives. It distracted them with visions, it oppressed them with dread.
3. They willed that this teacher of the people, this friend of publicans and sinners, should die. They were a ruling class, almost a caste. And such rulers hate none so bitterly as those who speak loving, quickening, emancipating words to the poor. As society was then constituted in Judaea, that meant that He or the rulers must fall.
4. There was something deeper and more malignant than this. It was their will that their Saviour should die. One cannot shake off the impression, reading the gospel narrative, that the rulers knew Him. This was the will of the Jews. But--
II. WHAT, MEANWHILE, WAS THE WILL OF GOD? St. Peter explains it Acts 2:23). To understand this, we must consider--
1. That it was not possible that the God-man should be holden of death. The flesh, the outer man, they killed. But what is the outer man, and what is death? They willed that He should die, but what He was, what they hated, could not die. God delivered it into their hands that they might see that they were powerless, that what they hated and had arrayed themselves against was eternal. His death made His life immortal, His witness to the truth eternal.
2. Through death the power of Christ, His witness to the truth, His witness against sin, His redemptive work for mankind, became living, nay, all-pervading and almighty realities in the world. Hidden for a moment by His death, the power reappeared, and reappeared to reign. Jesus delivered to their will was slain; but the world was soon filled with men who were charged with the spirit of Jesus, and who made His death the gospel of salvation to mankind. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)
Simon, a Syrenian
There is a series of very beautiful pictures in the cathedral at Antwerp, which represent Christ hearing His cross from the Praetorium to Calvary.
These pictures embody the popular idea of Christ’s weakness and exhaustion. In one He stands calm and erect, in another He is bending under the weight of the cross, and in another He has fallen beneath the load that was laid upon Him. It is at this stage of the proceedings that Simon, who is passing by, is arrested, and compelled to bear the cross after Christ.
I. THIS WAS A COMPULSORY CROSS. Simon had no choice but to bear it. And so it is still. No life without a cross.
1. Suffering is a cross we are compelled to bear. To some life is a perpetual cross-bearing. It may be a physical cross, or a mental cross, or a spiritual cross, but day by day they must bear it.
2. Death is a cross we are compelled to bear.
3. Every attempt to follow Christ and to bear His cross will be a determined struggle.
II. THIS WAS AN UNEXPECTED CROSS. The trials we anticipate in life seldom overtake us, but those we least expect are laid upon us. The cross is often laid upon us at an unexpected time, and in an unexpected place; but there is no escape, it must be borne.
1. Sometimes the cross we bear is self appointed. It is so with much of the physical pain and social distress we see around us. These afflictions come upon us unexpectedly, but they are often the fruit of our own folly and sin.
2. Sometimes the cross we bear is divinely appointed. If Simon’s cross was unexpected, Christ’s was foreseen. The cross was not a surprise to Christ. If Simon’s cross was compulsory, Christ’s was voluntary.
III. THIS WAS AN HONOURABLE CROSS. “To bear His cross.” Had not Simon rendered this brief service to Christ, his name might never have been known; but now it shall be held in everlasting remembrance. The cross ennobles man both for time and eternity; it is an honourable cross.
1. This was a cross borne for Christ. We often hear of Christ bearing the cross for sinners, but here is a sinner bearing the cross for Christ. The value of the cross depends upon the spirit in which we take it up.
2. There is something very beautiful in the thought that the cross borne for Christ is borne with Christ. Whether it be His cross or ours, we share His companionship. (J. T. Woodhouse.)
Bearing Christ’s cross
The memorable thing is, that it is Christ’s cross which must be borne. You are not to think that every cross is the cross which the Saviour requires you to take up. Many a cross is of our own manufacture; our troubles are often but the consequences of our own sins; and we may not dignify these by supposing them the cross which is to distinguish the Christian. Crosses they may be; but they are not the cross which was laid upon Simon, and which had first been borne by Christ. The cross of Christ is endurance for the glory of God and the futherance of the gospel. “This is thankworthy,” says St. Peter, “if a man for conscience towards God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.” But our comfort is, that the cross which we must carry has been already carried by Christ; and therefore, like the grave which He entered, been stripped of its hatefulness. It might almost be said to have changed its very nature, through being laid on the Son of God; it left behind it its terribleness and oppressiveness. And now it is transferred to the disciple; it is indeed a cross, but a cross which it is a privilege to bear--a cross which God never fails to give strength to bear; a cross which, as leading to a crown, may justly be prized, so that we would not have it off our shoulders until the diadem is on our brow. “If ye be reproached for the name of Christ”--and this is a cross--“happy are ye, for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you.” Together with this memorial, he would show, by a powerful instance, that in religion a temporizing policy is sure to defeat itself; so that, to fly from the cross is commonly to meet it dilated in size, and heavier in material. And he had one more truth to represent at the same time--the beautifully comforting truth, that He has borne what His followers have to bear, and thereby so lightened it, that as with death, which He made sleep to the believer, the burden but quickens the step towards an exceeding and eternal weight of glory; and that He might effectually convey all this through one great significative action, was it ordered, we may believe, in the providence of God, that as they led away Jesus carrying the cross, like Isaac with the wood for the burnt-offering, the soldiers laid hold on one Simon of Cyrene, and compelled him to bear the cross. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Daughters of Jerusalem
The daughters of Jerusalem
WHY DID THE DAUGHTERS OF JERUSALEM WEEP?
1. He was innocent. All they had heard about Him was favourable.
2. He was benevolent. His gifts were uncommon and priceless. Wherever He went, He left behind Him the footprint of mercy.
3. He was the hope of the people. The glory had departed; the land was under a curse, and the people groaned under the Roman yoke. But Jesus, although opposed to every public demonstration in His favour, had, by His teaching and example, aroused the public aspiration.
II. WHY DID JESUS REFUSE THEIR SYMPATHY?--“Weep not for Me.”
1. Weep not, My death is a necessity. It is not an accident, or the effect of unrestrained animosity, but the fulfilment of an old covenant, older than the earth or the heaven. Justice demands it before the prisoners of hope can come forth.
2. Weep not, I can bear it all. Hard as it may seem to bear the reproach as an evil-doer, and to suffer the enmity of those whom I have not offended, yet, my heart’s desire is to suffer in the sinner’s room.
3. Weep not, tears will avail nothing now. The plea of the tear is the most effective. Had the appeal of the tear been made before Pilate, humanly speaking, the evidence might have been taken, and the prisoner acquitted, but then it was too late. Weeping did not make the cross lighter, or the pains of death any the less.
4. Weep not, the course I am to take will ultimately wipe away all tears. The sorrow of to-day will be exchanged for peace and joy hereafter. The death on the cross will remove sorrow from the heart of the penitent, and tears will cease to flow.
III. WHICH, THEN, IS THE RIGHT CHANNEL OF TEARS? “Weep for yourselves and for your children.” Sin is the cause of sorrow. (The Weekly Pulpit.)
Weep not for Me
I. Let us consider them as addressed to that part of the multitude WHO HAD BELIEVED IN HIS DIVINE MISSION, and submitted to His authority. Their sorrow for our Lord did not spring from the proper source. His truest disciples partook of the common misapprehensions of their countrymen about the nature of Messiah’s kingdom. Yet sorrow was their proper mood of feeling. And why, my friends, should they have wept for themselves and their children, in looking upon the sufferings of their Lord?
1. We reply, because their sins occasioned Christ’s sufferings. It were well for us oftener to weep thus for ourselves.
2. They should have wept for themselves and their children, because they should no more hear Christ’s instructions.
II. ANOTHER CLASS, BESIDES TRUE BELIEVERS, MINGLED IN THE CROWD, WHICH ATTENDED CHRIST TOWARDS CALVARY. Let us consider the application of our text to them. It was the natural feelings, which prompt us to take part in any circumstances with the distressed, and which are pained, when innocence, or, at least, benevolence is oppressed, that caused their tears to pour down. Bight and worthy were these emotions, so far as they went; but they had deeper cause for sorrow than anything they thought of when they wept. They should have wept for themselves and for their children.
1. Because away from them were about to be taken the word of salvation, the admonitions and warnings of the Lord.
2. They should have wept for themselves and for their children, because this act by which Christ was taken away would speedily bring judgment upon their nation. To this our Lord had most express reference, as He showed by the language which follows the text. (S. Martin.)
Wherefore should I weep?
These words are especially noteworthy, because they constitute the last connected discourse of the Saviour before He died. All that He said afterwards was fragmentary and mainly of the nature of prayer. A sentence to John, and to His mother, and to the dying thief: just a word or two looking downward, but for the most part He uttered broken sentences, which flew upwards on the wings of strong desire.
I. He said to the weeping women, “WEEP NOT.” There are some cold, calculating expositors who make it out that our Lord reproved these women for weeping, and that there was something wrong in their sorrow--I think they call it “the sentimental sympathy” of these kind souls.Blame these women! No, bless them again and again. It was the one redeeming trait in the dread march along the Via Dolorosa; let it not be dreamed that Jesus could have censured those who wept for Him. These gentle women appear in a happy contrast to the chief priests, with their savage malice, and to the thoughtless multitude with their fierce cry of “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” They seem to me to have shown a noble courage in daring to express their sympathy with one whom everybody else hunted to death.
1. There can be nothing ill about the weeping of these women, and therefore let us proceed to say, first, that their sorrow was legitimate and well founded. It is little marvel that they should weep and bewail when they saw the innocent one about to die.
2. I think, too, that this weeping on the part of the women was a very hopeful emotion. It showed some tenderness of heart, and tenderness of heart, though it be but natural, may often serve as a groundwork upon which better and holier and more spiritual feelings may be placed.
3. Having said this much, we now add that on our Lord’s part such sorrow was fitly repressed; because after all, though naturally good, it is not more than natural, and falls short of spiritual excellence. It is no proof that you are truly saved, because you are moved to great emotions whenever you hear the details of the crucifixion, for the Bulgarian atrocities excited you equally as much. I think it good that you should be moved, as I have said before, but it is only naturally and not spiritually good. This feeling, too, may stand in the way of something a great deal better. Jesus would not have these women weep for one thing, because they were to weep for another thing which far more seriously demanded their weeping. Ye need not weep because Christ died one-tenth so much as because your sins rendered it necessary that He should die. To weep over a dying Saviour is to lament the remedy; it were wiser to bewail the disease.
II. Now we pass on from “Weep not” to “WEEP.” Though Jesus stops one channel for tears, He opens another and a wider one. Let us look to it.
1. First, when He said, “Weep for yourselves” He meant that they were to lament and bewail the sin which had brought Him where He was, seeing He had come to suffer for it; and He would have them weep because that sin would bring them and their children into yet deeper woe.
2. I beg you now to look again into the reason why our Lord bade them weep. It was, first, for their sin, but it was next for the impending punishment of their sins. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
“Weep for yourselves”
One who knew Whitefield well, and attended his preaching more frequently, perhaps, than any other person, said he hardly ever knew him go through a sermon without weeping: his voice was often interrupted by his tears, which sometimes were so excessive as to stop him from proceeding for a few moments. “You blame me for weeping,” he would say; “but how can I help it when you will not weep for yourselves, though your immortal souls are on the verge of destruction, and for aught you know, you are hearing your last sermon, and may never more have an opportunity to have Christ offered to you?” (J. R. Andrews.)
The grace of tears
When Christ was bearing His cross, He saw some women with their children in their arms, and He said to them, “Weep not for Me, weep for yourselves.” Am I wrong in saying He is looking down at this congregation now and saying, “Weep for yourselves”? Yes, we will and must compassionate ourselves. The further from the heart religion is for some of you the better; and I don’t wonder at it. I can apologize for you, for I know something of the disenchantment, humiliation, and bewildering experience which comes to a man when he is sent to pity himself. Let our prayer, believing brothers and sisters, be the prayer of St. Agustine: “Lord Jesus give me the grace of tears.” Those are the tears God will one day wipe away from our eyes--£1,000 for one of them! (W. Whyte.)
What shall be done in the dry?
The green tree and the dry
A word in explanation. The green tree is Christ; the dry tree in the first judgment is the Jewish nation; and the dry tree in the last judgment is the unconverted world. By a “green tree” Christ does not mean a young and tender tree, but rather one full grown and flourishing. By “the dry,” He means a tree withered, worthless, and dead. With respect to the first judgment He may mean this: “If the Romans so treat the innocent Jesus, how will they treat the guilty Jerusalem?” or He may mean, “If the Jews so punish Me, how will God punish them?” With respect to the second judgment, He surely means--“If God so bruise the innocent for the transgressions of others, how will He punish the guilty for their own iniquities?” I will now, with God’s help, try to open up to you this solemn text. We bare here two trees: one green--the other dry. I will show you, first, the glory and destruction of the green tree; and then, the shame and end of the dry.
I. THE GLORY AND DESTRUCTION OF THE GREEN TREE. In meditating upon the glory of the green tree, we had better keep the substance of it and the shadow of it apart from each other. To do so, we will look first at the natural tree, and next at the Saviour, who is represented by it. In the midst of yonder wilderness, overrun with all manner of weeds and poisonous plants, there lies an humble patch of dry, bare ground. From the midst of the dry, barren ground, where nothing ever grew before, there rises up a young tree, tall and fair to look upon. Higher and higher it grows, until its shadow falls upon the tops of the loftiest trees around it; higher and higher, until all the trees in the wilderness are but weeds when compared with it. Now turn to the reality. Christ is that tree of God. In his birth, He grew out of ground that was barren. As a man, He grew in stature, and wisdom, and favour, and glory, until there was none such upon the face of the earth; until tie stood alone as the great tree of life in the midst of the perishing; until He bid fair to stretch forth His branches to the uttermost ends of the world. Look back to the green tree. How beautiful it is! It has no crooked boughs, or twisted branches. There are no worm eaten or withered leaves: every leaf is as fresh as when first unfolded from the bud. There are no weather-beaten, time-stained flowers: every flower is perfect. There are no bitter or rotten fruits: all its fruits are ripe and uninjured. From the lowest root to the highest leaf, it is without a fault. Behold in this some faint picture of Jesus. His birth was as pure as the creation of an angel. His childhood was as spotless as sunshine. His thoughts were as clear as the river of God. His heart was a well of love. His soul was a great deep of light. His life was unstained by the shadow of evil. He was the admiration of angels. He was the joy of God! Look back again to the green tree. Mark its promise. Leave that tree untouched, and what will it become? Will it not reach up to heaven, and spread till it overshadows the world? Who will it leave without a shelter? What diseases will it not cure? What hunger will it not satisfy? Will it not grow into a universal blessing? Behold in this the shadow of Jesus! Had He dwelt upon earth until now, what would He not have done for mankind! If in three years He healed such crowds of diseased persons, what multitudes would He have cured in eighteen centuries! Oh, when we think of it, the glory of that green tree of God! Wonderful, wonderful Jesus! how can we now turn from the brightness of Thy glory, to the gloom of Thy sorrow? Oh! who shall tell the tale of destruction? The axe and the flame from beneath, and the glittering arrows from above, stripped and rent, and levelled all Thy glory. Thou wast slain and buried off the face of the earth!
II. And now I pause; and turn from Christ’s cross to CHRIST’S QUESTION--“What shall be done in the dry?” We have looked for a few moments atthe glory and destruction of the green tree. We turn to the shame and end of the dry. Look then, O unconverted man or woman, at that dry tree. It is springtime: thousands of plants around are putting forth green leaves; but not a leaf appears upon it. It is summer: the gardens are white, and many-coloured with flowers; but it stands as bare as it stood in spring. It is autumn: the orchards are golden and red with fruit; but it remains black and dead. Sinner I thou art that dry tree. Thousands around you are fruitful trees in the garden of God; they bring forth ripe faith, and tender love, and sweet hope, and mellow peace, and the fruits of joy and humility. God gathers their fruit in its season, and rewards them an hundredfold. But you are barren, without faith, without love, without hope, without peace, without joy, without humility; you stand unmindful alike of God’s commands, of God’s warnings, and of God’s forbearance--a withered cumberer of the ground. But the evil is still worse. You are taking up the room which others might occupy with advantage to the world, were you but removed. Look again, O unconverted man or woman, at that dry tree. The showers that soften the folded buds, and spread open the tender leaves of living trees in springtime, rain down upon it in abundance; but, alas; it only rots the more. The sunshine that ripens many a flower into fruit, and sweetens many a fruit into maturity, beams down upon it from day to day; but, alas! it only decays the faster. Sinner! thou art that dry tree. The gospel, which has softened many hard hearts, has made yours more callous. God’s mercies help to make you worse. Like the cross, the chief of all His gifts to you, they are “the savour of death unto death.” Before I conclude, I would give you all a word of warning, and a word of encouragement. Remember, O unconverted man or woman, that this fearful question,” What shall be done in the dry?” remains still unanswered. As certain as I see the sufferings of Jesus, I see the sufferings of the lost. I can doubt no more. Penitent, a word to thee. In my bitter text there is some sweetness for thee. Penitent, if they have done these things in the green tree, why should you die? If Jesus died, why should net you live? What if He died for you! (H. G. Guinness.)
The miseries of lost souls exceed those of Christ
I suppose He meant, “If I, who am no rebel against Caesar, suffer so, how will those suffer whom the Romans take in actual rebellion at the siege of Jerusalem?” And He meant next to say, “If I who am perfectly innocent, must nevertheless be put to such a death as this, what will become of the guilty?” If when fires are raging in the forest, the green trees full of sap and moisture crackle like stubble in the flame, how will the old dry trees burn, which are already rotten to the core and turned to touch-wood, and so prepared as fuel for the furnace. If Jesus suffers who hath no sin, but is full of the life of innocence, and the sap of holiness, how will they suffer who have long been dead in sin, and are rotten with iniquity? As Peter puts it in another place, “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be sayed, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” Note well that the sufferings of our Lord, though in some respects far beyond all conceivable woes, have yet some points about them in which they differ with advantage from the miseries of lost souls. For, first, our Lord knew that He was innocent, and therefore His righteousness upheld Him. Whatever He suffered He knew that He deserved none of it: He had no stings of conscience, nor agonies of remorse. Now, the sting of future punishment will lie in the indisputable conviction that it is well deserved. The finally impenitent will be tormented by their own passions, which will rage within them like an inward hell; but our Lord had none of this. There was no evil in Him, no lusting after evil, no self-seeking, no rebellion of heart, no anger, or discontent. Pride, ambition, greed, malice, revenge, these are the fuel of hell’s fire. Men’s selves, not devils, are their tormentors; their inward lusts are worms that never die, and fires that never can be quenched: there could be none of this in our Divine Lord. Again, lost souls hate God and love sin, but Christ ever loved God and hated sin. Now, to love evil is misery; when undisguised and rightly understood sin is hell. Our Lord Jesus knew that every pang He suffered was for the good of others: He endured cheerfully, because He saw that He was redeeming a multitude that no man can number from going down to the pit: but there is no redeeming power about the sufferings of the lost, they are not helping any one, nor achieving a benevolent design. The great God has good designs in their punishment, but they are strangers to any such a purpose. Our Lord had a reward before Him, because of which He endured the cross, despising the shame; but the finally condemned have no prospect of reward nor hope of rising from their doom. How can they expect either? He was full of hope, they are full of despair. “It is finished” was for Him, but there is no “It is finished” for them. Their sufferings, moreover, are self-caused, their sin was their own tie endured agonies because others had transgressed, and He willed to save them. They torment themselves with sin, to which they cleave, but it pleased the Father to bruise the Son, and the necessity for His bruising lay not in Himself, but in others. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
There they crucified Him
THE PLACE WHERE OUR LORD SUFFERED. Calvary, or Golgotha: a small eminence, half a mile from Jerusalem; the common place of execution, where the vilest offenders were put to death.
1. The place where Jesus suffered marks the malignant design of His enemies.
2. The place as mentioned by the evangelist marks His strong affection.
3. We may also add that this directs us to the place where we must look for mercy.
II. THE NATURE OF CHRIST’S SUFFERINGS--“THEY CRUCIFIED HIM.”
1. The death of the cross, though selected by Jewish malignity, would be the fulfilment of prophecy.
2. In our Lord’s suffering the death of the cross there was something analogous to what we as sinners had deserved; and probably it was with a view to represent this that the Jews were suffered to crucify Him.
1. A lingering death.
2. A most painful death.
3. A death attended with reproach and infamy.
4. The death of the cross was an accursed death, both in the esteem of God and man (Galatians 3:13).
III. THE COMPANY IN WHICH HE SUFFERED: THEY CRUCIFIED WITH HIM “TWO MALEFACTORS, ONE ON THE RIGHT HAND, AND THE OTHER ON THE LEFT.”
1. On the part of His enemies this was designed to render His death still more ignominious and shameful, and was no doubt contrived between Pilate and the chief priests.
2. But on the part of God we may see something of the wisdom of this appointment. Prophecy was hereby fulfilled, which said that He should be numbered with transgressors (Isaiah 53:11; Mark 15:27-28). (Theological Sketch-book.)
The cross a revelation of human sinfulness
There is a picture I have seen somewhere, painted by a celebrated artist, in which one aspect of the crucifixion is very significantly represented, or rather suggested. It is intended to bring before the mind the after scenes and the after hours of that memorable day, when the crowd had gone back again to pursue its wonted business in Jerusalem, when the thick gloom had been dispelled, and the clear light shone once more on that fatal spot called Calvary. The body of the Master had been conveyed to the sepulchre, the cross itself lies extended on the ground, and a band of little children, bright with the glow of childhood’s innocence, led thither by curiosity or accident, are represented as bending over the signs left around of the bloody deed which has that day been accomplished. One of the children holds in his hand a nail, but a short time ago piercing the hand or the foot of the patient Sufferer, and stands, spell-bound with horror, gazing at it. And upon every face the painter has plainly depicted the verdict which innocence must ever give with regard to that dreadful tragedy. It is so we would desire to consider the subject and the scene. The heart, conceiving aright the amazing impiety culminating at the cross, may well take this attitude of wonder, surprise, horror. The cross comes to be God’s great indictment against man.
I. The first word of the text may be looked upon as furnishing us with the first count of this indictment against man. IT SUPPLIES LOCALITY, FIXES THE SCENE OF THE DREADFUL TRAGEDY AS HERE UPON EARTH. “There they crucified Him.” The place where the commonest criminals were led out to die a lingering death. Earth has her mysteries, and this is one of them. The mystery of iniquity culminates here. It has lifted up its impious hands against God.
II. The second word of the text furnishes us with a further point in the indictment, as indicating HUMAN AGENCY. “There they crucified Him.” The actors in this eventful drama were men, those among whom Christ had wrought His miracles and exercised His pure and beneficent ministry.. And it was a typical act--such an act as man perpetrates every day. Envy, hatred, indifference, nailed Christ to the tree; and while these exist in the heart, what spirit shall stand excused?
III. The third word of the text may be looked upon as enforcing the indictment, since it implies A DEFINITE AND DELIBERATE ACT. “There they crucified Him.” What hardness and callousness of heart was exhibited here! It was necessary that sin should show its exceeding sinfulness, once and for all, truly detestable that it might be detested, heinous and black as perdition, that even our sinful spirits might shrink back in awe and trembling. For this is what all sin is tending to: contempt and callousness at the sight of suffering worth, scorn of innocence, hatred of a purity which condemns our darker deeds, rejection of God Himself if His claims interfere with our selfish schemes.
IV. The final and hopeful word of the text sheds a light upon this indictment, as indicating A DIVINE REDEEMER WORKING AMID ALL. “There they crucified Him.” Strangely enough, it is the Victim Himself who invests all else with worth, and makes the contemplation of such a deed alone profitable to us. When Socrates entered into prison, they said of it that it was a prison no longer; the dishonour and the infamy had passed away in the presence of such resplendent worth. So, but more memorably, it is at the cross. The place is nothing; the actors sink into insignificance; and of the act itself we care nothing, save as it stands associated with Him. There is a law of compensation in all things. Bend the bough of the giant oak for a moment, and it springs back with a momentum proportionate to its strength. And so it is with this Divine One who has bent before the strong blast of the adversary, for of Him it is written, “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me.” (Walter Baxendale.)
Christ lifted up
I. Remember that JESUS HAD THE CHANCE OF BEING LIFTED UP AS A MONARCH ALREADY, AND HAD DECLINED IT.
1. Men offered it to Him (John 6:15; John 12:13).
2. The devil offered to make Him a king also (Matthew 4:9).
3. Jesus has been offered the true dominion of the whole world in this showy sort of way, over and over again in human history since.
II. Understand that JESUS WAS TO BE LIFTED UP AS A SACRIFICE FOR SIN; hence, lifted on a cross, not on a throne.
1. Consider the spectacle which is proposed for our imagination. Let us seem to see the Saviour already nailed in crucifixion. Christ was lifted up as an object of scorn and contumely (see Luke 10:35-36). Christ was lifted up as an object of pity and love. At the foot of the cross a faithful few still lingered: men and women who believed in Him, and clung to Him even in these fallen fortunes to the very last.
2. Consider, once more, the force exerted by this spectacle. In the announcement of our Lord already quoted, He says that if He be lifted up He will draw all men unto Him; but in our version the single word men is printed in italics. Some have wasted time in asserting that Jesus meant what they name as “the elect”; some have said that He meant all Jews; and others have declared that He intended to include all things whatsoever, as well as men, unto His uses and His sovereignty. He would gather all money; He would collect all commerce; He would subjugate all power; He would attract all art; He would receive the trophies of all science; He would bring in to Himself the gains of all enterprise. In a word, the kingdoms of a united world should become the kingdoms of our Lord and His Christ.
III. Recollect that THE FINAL GLORY OF JESUS CHRIST WILL BE TO BE LIFTED UP AS THE SON OF GOD AND THE PRINCE OF LIFE.
1. God raised Him up from the grave, having loosed the pains of death. This was the great argument of Simon Peter on the day of Pentecost. The raising of Jesus from the grave was the pledge of His exaltation to the throne of heaven (see Acts 2:30-32).
2. The Lord has lifted Christ up to a place at His right hand (see Philippians 2:9-11). Satan’s kingdom is to be subdued (see Revelation 12:10). All the realms of this world are to give their tribute to that of Christ (see Revelation 11:15). The kings of the earth are to bring their honour in to beautify His capital city. The Church is to be the Lamb’s wife. The King’s daughter is all glorious within.
3. Believers must lift Him up as the one Saviour of lost souls. It is just Christ crucified who is the only Saviour. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
The crucifixion of Christ
I. WE PROPOSE TO NOTICE THE CIRCUMSTANCES UNDER WHICH THE CRUCIFIXION OF OUR LORD JESUS WAS PERFORMED.
1. It will be observed that the place at which He suffered deserves our notice: “The place which is called Calvary.” This place appointed for the death of Jesus, to use the language of Bishop Taylor, “was a place eminent for the publication of shame, a hill of death and of dead bones, polluted and impure.” Nor must we account it to be a trifling, insignificant circumstance in the Redeemer’s humiliation that this was the spot upon which we find He passed His last moments, and that He was to bow the bead, and to give up the ghost.
2. You will observe that the mode of death which the Lord Jesus Christ endured at this place also deserves our notice: “When they were come to the place which is called Calvary, there they crucified Him.”
(1) A most painful death.
(2) An exceedingly ignominious death.
3. It must also be observed that the society in which our Redeemer at this place suffered deserves notice.
4. The conduct of the spectators who witnessed the sufferings of our Saviour also demands our notice.
II. THE CONNECTION WHICH THE CRUCIFIXION OF THE LORD JESUS HAS WITH THE COUNSELS OF DIVINE MERCY AND THE WELFARE OF THE HUMAN RACE. Here there are three important facts to be noticed.
1. The crucifixion of the Lord Jesus was the special result of the Divine foreknowledge and determination.
2. And more particularly, The crucifixion of our Lord Jesus, was a perfect and efficacious atonement for human sin.
3. The crucifixion of our Lord Jesus being clearly the result of the Divine foreknowledge and determination, and being a proper and efficacious atonement for human sin, “it was at the foundation of the mighty mediatorial empire.”
III. THE PRACTICAL VIEWS IN WHICH THE CRUCIFIXION OF OUR LORD JESUS SHOULD BE CONTEMPLATED.
1. We shall contemplate it as affording the most affecting exhibition of the exceeding sinfulness of sin.
2. We must contemplate our Lord’s crucifixion as being an astonishing display of the riches of Divine love.
3. We must contemplate the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus, as furnishing the grand theme for ministerial proclamation. (J. Parsons.)
Scripture depends more upon the power of facts than of figures and illustrations. In human literature big words are used to overlay small ideas.; verbiage is laid on as paint; the theme is smothered under the gaudy clothing; and sense is rendered tributary to sound. Not so here. When the sacred writers have anything to describe, they depend upon the force of the thing itself, and not upon the manner of its telling. All they seem to strive at is plainness; simply to chronicle the event, and let it speak for itself.
I. THERE they crucified Him. Where? What land contracted the disgrace of such an act as crucifying the Lord of glory? Surely some land where He had not become known; some foreign country where His holy words bad never fallen on the people’s ears; some distant principality where the music of His voice had never touched the echoes into sympathy. It must have been in some uncultured territory where no temples were erected; where civilization left no footprint, and where no god was known. Was it in some savage wild where barbarism revelled? and where untrained passion clamoured for a holocaust, and for drink-offerings of blood? No; it was not in such a land that they crucified Him. It was in the laud where He was best known--the land He had hallowed by His advent, and blessed with His ministry; the land of His labours, where His mightiest miracles had been done, and His tenderest teachings had been uttered. Not in a godless realm without a temple or a shrine; but where they bowed the knee, and built the altar, and burned the sacrifice. A realm where they cried, “Lord, Lord”; where, with broad phylactery, the Pharisee rehearsed the law; and where the temple lifted its golden vanes beneath the sky, as the tribes went up with offerings to the Lord. It was in no barbarous seclusion, but in a region where the borrowed arts of tutored Rome flourished, and where the legacies of Solomon were respected and enshrined. It was in Galilee, on whose soil He made His first alighting, and whose fields and lanes, gardens and mountain groves, He had hallowed with His public ministries and His private communions. In Jewry, whose coasts were consecrated by His labours, THERE. they crucified Him!
II. There THEY crucified Him. Who are “they”? Who did this deed? What wicked hands were red with this precious blood? Were they those of some hireling assassins from afar, who were running riot in Jerusalem for a time?. Had violence got the upper hand of law and order, and was Jesus the victim of a turbulent incursion of foreign marauders? Or had the Roman tyrant despatched some myrmidon to put to death a teacher of doctrines which wrapped up liberty in their articles, lest men should grow too free in mind to brook subserviency as citizens? No; neither hypothesis is right. The execution bore the imprimatur of the government. It was a State transaction. Preceded by a trial, and surrounded with all the pomps and formulas of law. It was the act of the people. What people? The Jews. The very men whom He had chosen as His own peculiar and anointed ones.
III. There they CRUCIFIED Him. Look at the deed. Crucified Him! In a place which should have for ever resounded with the praises of His name; and by a people who should have enshrined Him in their hearts, and handed down His worship to their children’s children, He was crucified. They did not decorate the land with sculptured memorials of His fame; they did not build altars to His praise; they did not wait upon Him, adore Him, love Him., No; they crucified Him.
IV. Once more we shift the emphasis from the deed to the victim. There they crucified HIM. O look at Him--Him who is thus pierced; look at Him, and mourn! Whom did they crucify? It was customary to wreak this punishment upon their greatest criminals. But here is Barabbas walking free; the notable robber, suspected of crimes untold, loose on the pavements of Jerusalem. Yet, “He,” this Jesus, is handed over to be crucified. What! then is He a greater robber than Barabbas, that He is to be crucified? Is this why He may not be released? He has stolen away that which Barabbas could not touch. He has taken from the law its curse. He has torn from death its sting. He has despoiled the grave of its terror and its victory. Is not this a notable robber? But, O unnatural retribution which clamours for the cross, for such an One as this! Yet so it is. They crucified “Him”--Him, “the Lord of life and glory.” The meek, the kind, the gentle, Man of Nazareth; they crucified Him--who goes about teaching good, spreading good, doing good; lifting the fallen, helping the needy, lighting the dark; they crucify Him. And, alas! brethren, Calvary is not merely at Jerusalem; the place of a skull is not only at Golgotha. Look over the arena you have crossed during the last week of your life, and you will traverse a Calvary there. You may see the place where the cross has been reared afresh there. You may trace the details of the drama there. Oh! think not, ye daily triflers with the grace of the loving God, that there is no place near you where Jesus is not crucified. Every spot you stain by sin; everywhere where you have trampled on the fair commands of God; everywhere where the Spirit has been quenched, and the restraint neglected--is a Calvary; and THERE, in that unwilling and listless heart of yours--THERE you “crucify afresh the Lord of glory, and put Him to an open shame.” (A. Mursell.)
The death of Jesus, and its effects
I. In meditating upon these words, I would direct your attention, first, to the MANNER of Jesus’ death, and then to its EFFECTS.
1. Jesus dies with a sense of inward freedom. The Bible speaks of the bondage of death. What a tad impression does a death-bed give of the bondage of man, how painfully does it bring home to us the fact that man is not free, that he is in servitude to death! Hence men have given Death a sceptre and a sword, have put a scythe into his hand and a crown upon his head. But in the death of our Lord we see nothing of all this. Very different is His death from ours. When death comes upon us, it generally takes us by surprise, and herein too does it prove its might, in that it makes men its captives and its prey, before ever they are aware of its approach. In most cases, Death administers a sleeping-draught before he deals the final blow; and it is in a state of sleep and of dreaminess that by far the greater proportion of the dying go their way into that long slumber. But when death came to Jesus, it found Him waking. How regal is the impression it conveys! And let me here remind you, to what an apparent chance it is we owe it, that we see Jesus die in such a kingly way.
2. Christ dies with the clearest consciousness. Would that the experience of each of you in that hour may be, that when all earthly lights have faded from your view, God, as a great sun, will fill the eye of your soul! What a genial warmth would then be shed upon the cold last hour! how would the thought of God bridge the gulf which separates time from eternity! Even Christ had thoughts of His own in the closing hours of His life; He thought on His people; He thought on all the past of His earthly history. But when the last moment came, the thought with which He bowed His head was the thought of God. He died with a clear consciousness of what lay before Him.
3. He dies with the fullest assurance. This is testified by His dying cry. He knows that it is into the hands of the Father that He is giving up His Spirit. We are not, God be praised! without instances of blessed death-beds among ourselves.
II. Such a death cannot be without effect upon those who witness it. It will quicken the pious and susceptible; it will awe the hard-hearted and ungodly. When the centurion of the Roman guard saw what had happened, he glorified God, saying, “Truly this was a righteous man,” or “Truly this was the Son of God.” To die with perfect consciousness, like Jesus, is, indeed, a privilege which is not granted to every child of God; and it is this that makes death so sad, if not to him who suffers, at least to the relatives and friends who stand by. To witness a Christian die fully conscious and self-possessed, is such a sublime and elevating scene! And the full assurance on a bed of death with which Christ commended His spirit to His Father, He grants in mercy to His children too. (A. Tholuck.)
The Passion of our Lord
I. We should notice that these sufferings of our blessed Lord were most REAL; that He did indeed suffer all this, most truly; that in that body which “was prepared” for Him, He did bear every possible sting of physical agony; that He was held up in this fierce strife with pain, until He had explored all its secrets. His mind and human spirit were really the seat of every storm of deepest sorrow which the heart of man could know.
II. Next to it we should ever bear in mind, beneath the Cross, that all these sufferings were--FOR US. We must “look on Him whom we have pierced.”
III. That these sufferings were NEEDFUL. It becomes us to speak with the deepest reverence when we say that anything is rendered needful by the character of God. Rather is it the truest reverence to see that thus it must have been, if man wore to be redeemed at all; that there was, in the very perfection of God’s character--the one fixed centre of all being--a necessity for this infinite suffering; that the nature which had sinned must pay the price of sinning, must bear the wrath it had deserved; that without it there could not be, in the world of God’s holy and righteous love, forgiveness and restoration for the fallen and the separated; that “Christ must needs have suffered.” (Bishop Samuel Wilberforce.)
I. THE CRUCIFIXION OF CHRIST, AS ILLUSTRATING THE FEARFUL POSSIBILITIES OF THE HATRED OF MAN.
1. This is seen in the central act of this awful tragedy.
(1) The most painful of all forms of punishment.
(2) The most degrading. Not a Jewish, but heathen, punishment, and that on the worst of criminals.
2. This is shown in the scene.
(1) The place (Hebrews 13:11-13).
(2) The companionship.
(3) The insulting taunts.
II. THE CRUCIFIXION OF CHRIST, AS ILLUSTRATING HIS ALL-POWERFUL LOVE.
1. AS seen in the infinite contrast between Christ and His taunting murderers.
(1) The nature of the contrast.
(2) The elevation and matchlessness of the spirit of this conquest of love.
2. As seen in Christ’s readiness and ability to save.
(1) The contrast in the spirit of the two thieves.
(2) The contrast in the eternal destiny of the thieves.
(3) The condition on which their respective destiny hung.
III. THE CRUCIFIXION OF CHRIST, AS ILLUSTRATED IN ITS BEARING ON THE MATERIAL DESTINY OF THIS GLOBE, AND ON THE PRESENT SALVATION OF MEN.
1. The illustration which the darkness furnishes in respect to the changes which this earth is to undergo.
(1) The greatness of the change (2 Peter 3:8-12).
(2) The purpose of the change (2 Peter 3:13; Romans 8:19-22).
2. The illustration which the rending of the temple’s veil furnishes in respect to present salvation (Hebrews 10:19-20).
1. The ignorance of sinners of the possibilities of the evil nature within them.
2. The ignorance of sinners of the real enormity of their sins.
3. The ignorance of sinners of what God is doing for them, even when they are hating Him. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)
A look at the three crosses
Just look at the one on the right. Its victim dies scoffing. More tremendous than his physical anguish is his scorn and hatred of Him on the middle cross. If the scoffer could get one hand loose, and lie were within reach, he would smite the middle sufferer in the face lie hates Him with a perfect hatred. I think he wishes he were down on the ground, that he might spear Him. He envies the mechanics who, with their nails, have nailed Him fast. It was in some such hate that Voltaire, in his death hour, because he thought he saw Christ in his bedroom, got up on his elbow, and cried out: “Crush that wretch!” What had the middle cross done to arouse up this right-hand cross? Nothing. Oh, the enmity of the natural heart against Christ! The world likes a sentimental Christ or a philanthropic Christ; but a Christ who comes to snatch men from their sins, away with Hirer Men say: “Back with Him from the heart. I will not let Him take my sins. If He will die, let Him die for Himself, not for me.”
There has always been a war between this right hand cross and the middle cross, and wherever there is an unbelieving heart, there the fight goes on. Here from the right-hand cross I go to the left. Pass clear to the other side. That victim also twists himself upon the nails to look at the centre cross--yet not to scoff. It is to worship. He, too, would like to get his hand loose, not to smite, but to deliver the sufferer of the middle cross. He cries to the railer cursing on the other side: “Silence! between us is innocence in agony. We suffer for our crimes. Silence !” Gather around this left-hand cross. O! ye people, be not afraid. Bitter herbs are sometimes a tonic for the body, and the bitter aloes that grow on this tree shall give strength and life to thy soul. This left-hand cross is a repenting cross. Likewise must we repent. You say: “I have stolen nothing.” I reply: We have all been guilty of the mightiest felony of the universe, for we have robbed God--robbed Him of our time, robbed Him of our talents, robbed Him of our services. This left-hand cross was a believing cross. There was no guess-work in that prayer; no “if” in that supplication. The left-hand cross flung itself at the foot of the middle cross, expecting mercy. Faith is only just opening the hand to take what Christ offers us. Tap not at the door of God’s mercy with the tip of your fingers, but as a warrior, with gauntleted fists, beats at the castle gate, so, with all the aroused energies of our souls, let us pound at the gate of heaven. That gate is locked. You go to it with a bunch of keys. You try philosophy: that will not open it. You try good works: that will not open it. A large door generally has a ponderous key. I take the Cross and place the foot of it in the socket of the lock, and by the two arms of the Cross I turn the lock and the door opens. Now come to the middle cross. We stood at the one and found it yielded poison. We stood at the other and found it yielded bitter aloes. Come now to the middle cross, and shake down apples of love. You never saw so tender a scene as this. You may have seen father, or mother, or companion, or child die, but never so affecting a scene as this. It was a suffering cross. It was a vicarious cross--the right-hand cross suffered for itself; the left-hand cross for itself; butthe middle cross for you. My hand is free now, because Christ’s was crushed. My brow is painless now, because Christ’s was torn. My soul escapes, because Christ’s was bound. When the Swiss were, many years ago, contending against their enemies they saw these enemies standing in solid phalanx, and knew not how to break their ranks; but one of their heroes rushed out in front of his regiment and shouted--“Make way for liberty!” The weapons of the enemy were plunged into his heart, but while they were slaying him of course their ranks were broken, and through that gap in the ranks the Swiss marched to victory. Christ saw all the powers of darkness assailing men. He cried out: “Make way for the redemption of the world.” All the weapons of infernal wrath struck Him, but as they struck Him our race marched out free. To this middle cross, my dying hearers, look, that your souls may live. (Dr. Talmage.)
I. THE CRUCIFIXION. The horrible fact.
(1) This form of punishment was most painful, lingering, ignominious.
(2) In the case of our Lord, in every sense, unjust, unpardonable, and an exhibition of frenzied selfishness and cruelty.
2. The prophetic place--“Calvary.”
(1) Outside the city (Hebrews 13:11-12; Leviticus 16:27).
3. The wonderful prayer.
(1) The lovingness of its plea.
(2) The strength of its argument.
(3) A model for all Christians.
(4) A proof of Christ’s interest in all sinners.
4. The meanness of human nature (Luke 23:35-37; Luke 23:39).
5. The significant superscription.
(1) Significant in the title given to Jesus.
(2) Significant in the languages in which it was written.
1. The crucifixion of Christ reveals the fearful prerogative of free agency.
2. The unfathomable depths of human depravity.
3. What horrible crimes may be perpetrated in name of holiest principles.
4. How God’s most gracious purposes may be wrought out by man’s most heinous malevolence. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)
Who crucified Jesus?
He that says he did not crucify Christ is His greatest crucifier; he that will confess that they were his blasphemies which spat upon His face, his briberies that nailed His hands to the cross, his gluttony and drunkenness that gave Him gall to drink, his wrath and malice that pierced Him in the side, his disobedience against magistrates that bruised Him in the head, his wanton apparel that stripped Him of His robe, he that will not only die with Christ in his arms, as old Simeon did, but acknowledge that Christ died by his arms, he shall find peace at the last, and righteousness with the God of his salvation. What became of our Saviour’s reed, and of His robe, we find in holy Scripture--they were taken from Him by the soldiers; but it is not written whether any man took up the crown of thorns, as if that were our share, or any man’s else who is goaded with true compunction. And to say truth, all the sins which we do commit, let us make the best of them, are but thorns and briers; but if we confess them in humility, and ask pardon in tears and contrition, then they are corona spinea, a crown of thorns. (Bishop Hacket.)
Father, forgive them, for they know not
The unknown depths of sin
HOW DO SINNERS COME AT THEIR NOTION THAT SIN IS SO TRIFLING AN AFFAIR?
1. They have a very limited view of their own feelings and purposes while in a course of sin; and infer that they cannot be very guilty, because they have never been conscious of a very evil intention.
2. Many derive their limited views of their sins from their meagre conceptions of the Divine law.
3. Others erect a bar to conviction of personal guilt out of materials taken from infirmities incident to human nature.
4. Others diminish their conceptions of their guilt, by comparing themselves with greater sinners.
5. Sin appears very different according to the different light and circumstances in which it is seen.
6. Again, delay of punishment goes to confirm men in the opinion that sin is a trifle.
II. THAT THEIR VIEWS OF SIN ARE EXCEEDINGLY LIMITED, OR THAT SIN IS QUITE ANOTHER THING IN FACT, FROM WHAT IT IS IN THE SINNER’S ESTIMATION.
1. It is very different in its effects from what they esteem it.
2. Sin is very different if we consider the state of heart which gives birth to it.
3. The costly expiation for sin shows it to be no trifle.
4. The retributions of eternity will make sin to appear quite another thing from what it is here esteemed. (P. Cooke.)
Prayer for a murderer
Joseph Robbins was a bridge watchman on a railway. He was murdered by a neighbour who wanted to get his money. The murderer was caught directly after. During the trial he made this confession in open court:--“I knew that Robbins had just received his month’s wages, and I resolved to have his money. I got a shot-gun and went to the bridge. As I came near to the watch-house, on looking through the window, I saw Robbins sitting inside. His head and shoulders only could be seen. I raised the gun, took aim and fired. I waited a few minutes to see if the report of the gun had alarmed any one, but all was still. Then I went up to the watch-house door, and found Robbins on his knees praying. Very plainly I heard him say: ‘Oh, God, have mercy on the man who did this, and spare him for Jesus’ sake.’ I was horrified; I did not dare to enter the house. I couldn’t touch that man’s money. Instead of this, I turned and ran away, I knew not whither. His words have haunted me ever since.”
Christ’s pardoning mercy
“God is great in Sinai. The thunders precede Him, the lightnings attend Him, the earth trembles, the mountains fall in fragments. But there is a greater God than this. On Calvary, nailed to a cross, wounded, thirsting, dying, He cries, ‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they do!’ Great is the religion of power, but greater is the religion of love. Great is the religion of implacable justice, but greater is the religion of pardoning mercy.” (Senor Castelar.)
The first word of the dying Jesus
Let the first word of the dying Jesus be the subject of our meditation. It is--
I. A word of peace in the storm of suffering.
II. A word of love in the tumult of hatred.
III. A word of excuse amid the depths of wickedness. (A Stucker.)
I. OBSERVE THE PETITION ITSELF.
Christ’s intercession on the cross
1. The magnitude of the blessing prayed for.
2. The extreme unworthiness of the objects.
3. The heinous nature of their offence.
4. The efficacy of the petition in securing the blessing prayed for.
II. THE PLEA BY WHICH THE PETITION IS ENFORCED--“THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO.”
1. It is such as would have not been found by any other advocate.
2. It is a plea which shows theft sin has different degrees of guilt, according to the circumstances under which it is committed.
3. It is a plea which teaches us that for some there was no mercy, though there might be for those on whose behalf it was offered. There is a sin unto death, which has no forgiveness in this world, nor in that which is to come Matthew 12:32).
4. Though their ignorance afforded a plea for mercy, they were not to be pardoned without repentance.
1. We see there is that in the nature of sin which surpasses all our conceptions.
2. Still, we learn that notwithstanding the evil nature of sin, there is no reason for despair, not even for the chief of sinners.
3. The conduct of our blessed Lord is set before us in this instance as an example, teaching us what must be our spirit towards our enemies and persecutors. Stephen followed this example, and we must learn to do the Acts 7:60; Matthew 5:44-45). (Theological Sketch-book.)
Christ’s prayer for ignorant sinners
I. SIN IS FOUNDED IN MUCH IGNORANCE.
1. Men are ignorant of its extreme evil in the sight of God.
2. Men are ignorant of the baneful influence of sin upon themselves. They are not aware how it hardens the heart, stupifies the conscience, settles into habit, and at length gains complete ascendency.
3. Men are ignorant of the pernicious effect of sin on others. Few sins are confined to the transgressor only: they have a relative influence.
4. Men are ignorant of the dreadful consequences of sin in another world. There is a future state of gracious reward for the righteous, and of awful retribution for the wicked.
II. IGNORANCE IS NO SUFFICIENT EXCUSE FOR SIN. In some instances it mitigates offence.
1. Ignorance itself is sin. In all cases it is so, where the capacity and opportunity of knowledge are afforded.
2. The law of God condemns all sin, every kind and degree of sin.
3. Every act of sin implies a sinful nature: it springs from a depraved heart.
III. FORGIVENESS OF SIN IS AN ACT OF DIVINE MERCY, AND THE FRUIT OF THE SAVIOUR’S INTERCESSION. From the subject learn--
1. To regard the intercession of Jesus in the forgiveness of sins.
2. To imitate Jesus in the forgiveness of injuries. (T. Kidd.)
Father, forgive them!
I. WE SEE THE LOVE OF JESUS ENDURING.
II. WE SEE THAT LOVE REVEALING ITSELF. Love can use no better instrument than prayer. To this present our Lord Jesus continues to bless the people of His choice by continually interceding for them (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25).
III. WE SEE FOR WHAT THAT LOVE PRAYS. Forgiveness is the first, chief, and basis blessing. Forgiveness from the Father can even go so far as to pardon the murder of His Son. Forgiveness is the great petition of our Lord’s sacrifice. Love admits that pardon is needed, and it shudders at the thought of what must come to the guilty if pardon be not given.
IV. WE SEE HOW THE LOVING JESUS PRAYS. Are there any so guilty that Jesus would refuse to intercede for them?
V. WE SEE HOW HIS PRAYER BOTH WARNS AND WOOS. It warns, for it suggests that there is a limit to the possibility of pardon. Men may so sin that there shall remain no plea of ignorance; nay, no plea whatever. It woos, for it proves that if there be a plea, Jesus will find it.
VI. WE SEE HOW HE INSTRUCTS FROM THE CROSS. He teaches us to put the best construction on the deeds of our fellow-men, and to discover mitigating circumstances when they work us grievous ill. He teaches us to forgive the utmost wrong (Mark 11:25). He teaches us to pray for others to our last breath (Acts 7:59-60). That glorious appeal to the Divine Fatherhood, once made by the Lord Jesus, still prevails for us. Let the chief of sinners come unto God with the music of “Father, forgive them,” sounding in their ears. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The prayer of Christ for His murderers
You have in these words an affecting prayer, enforced by a plea equally affecting.
I. Your attention is invited to the prayer, which, in whatever light regarded, is fitted to awaken profound emotion and salutary reflection.
1. Observe the persons on whose behalf it was presented--the men who perpetrated the most flagitious and sanguinary deed that ever stained with its pollutions the face of the earth--the men who crucified the Son of God. The moral turpitude of their crime was aggravated by two considerations. In the first place, the victim of their ferocity was guiltless of the smallest offence. They were guilty of innocent blood! In the next place, their conduct was aggravated by the more than ordinary rancour, the pitiless hatred with which they pursued Him to the grave.
2. Not less remarkable is the subject of the prayer itself. It amounts to nothing less than that the men who nailed Him to the cross might live to put off the savage nature which could revel in the blood of innocence, and, through repentance and faith, be qualified for an eternal alliance with Himself in the glory of His mediatorial kingdom. Such is the compassion of Jesus Christ.
3. The time and the circumstances of this prayer render it peculiarly interesting. That which renders it worthy of particular notice, as illustrative of the grace of Christ, is, that He offered it up just at the time of His suspension on the cross, at the moment when His agonies were most severe, when His nerves were racked with keenest suffering. His languor and exhaustion might be greater afterwards, but His sensibility to pain was, perhaps, most exquisite at this critical moment. Yet this is the point of time at which He breathes forth the desires of His soul for mercy on His destroyers. There are two observations suggested by this fact. In the first place, the calmness, the self-possession, the sustained dignity of the mind of the Redeemer at this appalling crisis, demonstrate the fixed resolution with which He was bent on the design of His death. In the second place, I observe, that there was a remarkable fitness in the prayer of Jesus Christ, presented by Himself at this awful season. He suffered and He died as the Lamb of the great sacrifice for the expiation of human guilt. And being Himself both the victim and the priest, there was a peculiar fitness in His also interceding on behalf of the guilty, at the time when, as the High Priest of our profession, He was offering the blood of atonement.
II. This prayer is accompanied by a plea not less remarkable and affecting. “For they know not what they do!”
1. How far were the men who crucified our Lord ignorant of the nature of the transaction in which they were engaged? That they were implicated in innocent blood they knew; but that their crime was still more deeply coloured from the supernatural dignity of their victim, of this they were ignorant.
2. How far, then, was this their ignorance a plea for their forgiveness? The plea does not proceed, I conceive, on the concession of their comparative innocence, but upon the hopeless and inevitable ruin into which these blinded wretches were hastening to plunge. It was the dreadful ruin to which the blind madness of these men was hurrying them onwards, that awakened the pity of the Redeemer, even amidst the agonies of His own broken heart, and drew from His suppliant voice that prayer, “Forgive them, Father! they know not what they do!” Oh, how mysterious, how ineffable, the compassion of Jesus Christi The prayer itself contained a touching proof of the infinite mercy of the Redeemer; but, if possible, the plea by which He enforces that prayer, multiplies that proof, and places His love to miserable men in a light still more affecting and overwhelming. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
Christ’s prayer for His murderers
The words of the dying are wont to be much observed. When men depart out of the body, they are usually more serious and divine, and speak with greater weight. Especially the speeches of the godly dying are to be regarded, who, having laid aside worldly affairs and earthly thoughts, are wholly exercised in the contemplation of heavenly things. Now certainly, if any man’s dying speeches are to be observed, Christ’s are much more.
I. Christ’s request, “Father, forgive them.” “Father” is a word of confidence towards God and of love to His enemies; He mentioneth the sweetest relation. “Father” is a word of blandishment, as children, when they would obtain anything at their parent’s hands, cry, “Father!” Christ speaks as foreseeing the danger and punishment which they would bring on themselves as the fruit of their madness and folly, and therefore He prays, “Father, forgive them.” This act was provocation enough to move God to dissolve the bonds of nature, to cleave the earth, that it might swallow them up quick, or to rain hell out of heaven upon them. Lesser offences have been thus punished, and one word from Christ’s mouth had been enough. But, “Father, forgive them.” We hear nothing but words of mild pity. When He says, “Forgive,” He means also convert them; for where there is no conversion there can be no remission. I shall look upon this prayer under a twofold consideration.
I. Let us look upon it AS A MORAL ACTION. He doth not threaten fearful judgments, but prayed for His enemies; there was no stain of passion and revenge upon His sufferings (1 Peter 2:21). One great use of Christ’s death was to give us lessons of meekness and patience and humble suffering. In this act there is an excellent lesson. Let us look upon the necessary circumstances that serve to set it off
(1) For whom He prays;
(2) When He prays;
(3) Why He prays;
(4) In what manner. Information:
1. It informeth us that the love of Christ is greater than we can think or understand, much less express.
2. That all sins, even the greatest, except that against the Holy Ghost, are pardonable.
3. That remission of sins is the free gift of God, and the fruit of His pity and grace. Christ asketh it of His Father.
4. That pardon of sins is a special benefit. Christ asked no more than, “Father, forgive them.” It is a special benefit, because it freeth us from the greatest evil, wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10). And it maketh us capable of the greatest blessing, eternal life (Titus 3:7).
5. That love of enemies, and those that bare wronged us, is an high grace, and recommended to us by Christ’s own example. Sure it is needful that we should learn this lesson, to be like God (Luke 6:36).
6. Reproof of those that are cruel and revengeful. How different are they from Christ who are all for unkindness and revenge, and solicit vengeance against God’s suffering servants with eager aggravations! Oh, how can these men look upon Christ’s practice without shame! How can they look upon these prodigies of love and grace, and not blush!
II. The next consideration of this prayer of Christ is AS A TASTE AND PLEDGE OF HIS MEDIATION AND INTERCESSION. So it is prophesied: “He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bare the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).
1. It is an instance of Christ’s love and bowels to sinners; He loved mankind so well that He prayed for them that crucified Him. Look on the Lord Jesus as praying and dying for enemies, and improve it as a ground of confidence.
2. See what is the voice and merit of His sufferings, “Father, forgive them.” This is the speech that Christ uttered when He was laid on the cross. Abel’s blood was clamorous in the ears of God (Genesis 4:10). Christ’s blood hath another voice, it speaketh to God to pacify His wrath, and to pardon us, if penitent and believing sinners; it speaketh to conscience to be quiet, God hath found out a ransom.
3. In the mediatory consideration it hinteth the coupling of His intercession with His satisfaction. On the cross, there He dieth and there He prayeth; He was both priest and sacrifice.
4. This is a pledge of His constant intercession in heaven.
5. It shows the nature of His intercession.
6. The success of Christ’s intercession, “Father, forgive them.” Was He heard in this? Yes; this prayer converts the centurion, and those above “three thousand” (Acts 2:41), and presently after five thousand more Acts 4:4). In the compass of a few days above eight thousand of His enemies were converted. Christ is good at interceding; His prayers are always heard (John 11:42).
II. I come now to the argument used, “They know not what they do.” (T. Manton, D. D.)
A prayer for ignorant sinners
I. THAT IGNORANCE IS THE USUAL CAUSE OF ENMITY TO CHRIST. “These things” (saith the Lord) “will they do, because they have not known the Father, nor Me” (John 16:3).
1. What was their ignorance, who crucified Christ? Ignorance is two-fold, simple or respective. Simple ignorance is not supposable in these persons, for in many things they were a knowing people. But it was a respective particular ignorance, “Blindness in part is happened to Israel” (Romans 11:25). They knew many other truths, but did not know Jesus Christ. In that their eyes were held.
Though they had the Scriptures among them, they misunderstood them, and did not rightly measure Christ by that right rule.
(1) They supposed Christ to arise out of Galilee, whereas He was of Bethlehem, though much conversant in the parts of Galilee. And
(2) 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 conceit that Christ should not die, but live for ever John 12:34). Thus were they blinded about the person of Christ, by misinterpretations of Scripture-prophecies.
2. Another thing occasioning their mistake of Christ, was the outward meanness and despicableness of His condition.
3. Add to this, their implicit faith in the learned rabbles and doctors, who utterly misled them in this matter, and greatly prejudiced them against Christ. Let us see, in the next place, how this disposed them to such enmity against Christ. And this it doth three ways.
(1) Ignorance disposes men to enmity and opposition to Christ, by removing those hindrances that would otherwise keep them from it. As checks and rebukes of conscience, by which they are restrained from evil; but conscience binding and reproving in 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 sin.
(2) Ignorance enslaves and subjects the soul to the lusts of Satan, he is “the ruler of the darkness of this world” (Ephesians 6:12). There is no work so base and vile, but an ignorant man will undertake it.
(3) Nay, which is more, if a man be ignorant of Christ, His truths, or people, he will not only oppose, and persecute, but he will also do it conscientiously, i.e., he will look upon it as his duty so to do (John 16:3).
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 (Isaiah 11:6; Isaiah 11:9).
2. How dreadful is it to oppose Christ and His truths knowingly, and with open eyes? Christ pleads their ignorance as an argument to procure their pardon.
3. What an awful majesty sits upon the brow of holiness, that few dare to oppose it that see it!
4. The enemies of Christ are objects of pity. Alas, they are blind, and know not what they do.
5. How needful is it before we engage ourselves against any person or way, to be well satisfied and resolved that it is a wicked person or practice that we oppose.
II. THAT THERE IS FORGIVENESS WITH GOD FOR SUCH AS OPPOSE CHRIST OUT OF IGNORANCE. I have two things here to do:
1. To open the nature of the forgiveness, and show you what it is.
2. To evince the possibility of it, for such as mistakingly oppose Christ.
1. Forgiveness is God’s gracious discharge of a believing penitent sinner from the guilt of all his sin, for Christ’s sake.
2. Now, to evince the possibility of forgiveness for such as ignorantly oppose Christ, let these things be weighed.
(1) Why should any poor soul, that is now humbled for its enmity to Christ in the days of ignorance, question the possibility of forgiveness, when this effect doth not exceed the power of the cause; nay, when there is more efficacy in the blood of Christ, the meritorious cause, than is in this effect of it?
(2) And as this sin exceeds not the power of the meritorious cause of forgiveness, so neither is it anywhere excluded from pardon by any word of God.
III. THAT TO FORGIVE ENEMIES, AND BEG FORGIVENESS FOR THEM, IS THE TRUE CHARACTER AND PROPERTY OF THE CHRISTIAN SPIRIT.
1. Let us inquire what this Christian forgiveness is. And that the nature of it may the better appear, I shall show you both what it is not and what it is.
(1) It consists not in a stoical insensibility of wrongs and injuries.
(2) Christian forgiveness is not a politic concealment of our wrath and revenge because it will be a reproach to discover it, or because we want opportunity to vent it. This is carnal policy, not Christian meekness.
(3) Nor is it that moral virtue for which we are beholden to an easier and better nature and the help of moral rules and documents.
(4) Christian forgiveness is not an injurious giving up of our rights and properties to the lusts of every one that hath a mind to invade them. But, then, positively, it is a Christian lenity or gentleness of mind, not retaining, but freely passing by the injuries done to us, in obedience to the command of God. This is forgiveness in a Christian sense.
2. And this is excellent, and singularly becoming the profession of Christ, is evident, inasmuch as this speaks your religion excellent that can mould your hearts into that heavenly frame to which they are so averse, yea, contrarily disposed by nature.
1. Hence we clearly infer that Christian religion, exalted in its power, is the greatest friend to the peace and tranquillity of states and kingdoms.
2. How dangerous a thing is it to abuse and wrong meek and forgiving Christians?
3. Let us imitate our pattern Christ, and labour for meek forgiving spirits. I shall only propose two inducements to it--the honour of Christ, and your own peace: two dear things indeed to a Christian. (J. Flavel.)
The first cry from the cross
I. Let us look at this very wonderful text as ILLUSTRATIVE OF OUR LORD’S INTERCESSION.
1. 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.
2. 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 enemies through and through to find something in them that He could urge in their favour; but He could see nothing until His wisely affectionate eye lit upon their ignorance: “they know not what they do.”
3. We must next note its earnestness.
4. It is interesting to note, in the fourth place, that the prayer here offered helps us to judge of His intercession in heaven as to its continuance, perseverance, and perpetuity.
5. 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, “rather, forgive them.” That was the great point in hand; they wanted most of all there and then forgiveness from God.
6. Once more, this memorable prayer of our crucified Lord was like to His universal intercession in the matter of its prevalence.
II. The text is INSTRUCTIVE OF THE CHURCH’S WORK. As Christ was, so His Church is to be in this world.
1. Christ’s prayer on the cross 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 never for her ministers or for herself, but ever for the lost sons of men.
2. 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.”
3. 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.
4. 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 observe any plea that she may use with God for their salvation.
5. 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 with God, look on the heathen at this day--millions of them never heard Messiah’s name. Forgive them, great God, indeed they know not what they do.
III. A word, in conclusion, TO THE UNCONVERTED. 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 just a little gleam of hope. “Bring forth, therefore, fruits meet for repentance.” But there are some here for whom even Christ Himself could not pray this prayer, in the widest sense at any rate, “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. You know that there is sin and God, and that you cannot serve both. You know that there are the pleasures of evil and the pleasures of heaven, and that you cannot have both. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
This prayer included many. It included all who had any share in the mockery, and crucifixion, and death of Christ. It included the.Roman governor, who had given authority to crucify Him; the Roman soldiers, whose duty it was to see the sentence carried out into execution; the Jewish priests and rulers, who cried out for judgment; the multitude, who were stirred up by their religious guides and rulers. All these various classes were ignorant of the true nature of the deed which they were committing, but all were not equally ignorant. Some knew more than others; and according to their greater knowledge was their guilt, according to their ignorance was their personal share in the prayer offered at the cross. Not one of these knew altogether what he was doing, or how great was the sin in which he was taking part; and each of these individuals or groups of individuals has some one or many to correspond to them in our own day and amongst ourselves in this age. The cross is for ever the sign of the world’s darkest crime: it reveals what is lying at the root of all sin; and it opens up the nature of that dread conflict which is ever going on between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of God. Christ’s prayer to His Father is to be regarded in the further light of a declaration of forgiveness, and an assurance of it. Forgiveness is easier for God to give than for man to take. Forgiveness cannot be received by every one. If a man says he forgives me, I can only accept his word if I believe that I need his forgiveness--in other words, if I am conscious that I have offended him and done something wrong. If I am in my own mind sure that I hare not injured him, I decline to place myself on the footing of a forgiven man. I put away his forgiveness, I refuse to take the benefit of it, and I stand towards him as one claiming to have as much right to forgive him as he to forgive me. And if we transfer this comparison from earth to heaven, and inquire into the forgiveness which comes from God, we shall find that the only channel through which we can receive it is by accepting forgiveness as men who have done wrong, and who know the wrong they have done, and have confessed it and hated it. There are many who have passed a long way through the journey of life before they find out what they have been doing. Youth has often to pass into age before a man truly says, “Remember not the sins of my youth”; the hour of anger has to pass away before a man hears the voice of conscience, “Doest thou well to be angry.” Perhaps it is only to-day that we see yesterday’s faults, and not until another year may we see the faults of this; the scales fall away from our eyes, and we marvel that follies which are now so plain were not observed by us; we wonder how it was possible for us to do what we did, and not see its true character all the while. Conscience does not arouse us, and it is often not until the voice of memory cries aloud that the soul of a man is awakened, and his past life looks to him as if he had been walking in his sleep. Is it not time for every one to bestir himself, and ask whether he knows what his present life and actions mean? But there is another turn which we may give to the words. We may accept them as expressing our own spirit and our own life. And until we have received them into our hearts as the law of our own being, we have failed to see their true beauty and power. As He was in the world, so are we in the world. (A. Watson, D. D.)
Ignorance and forgiveness
What makes so wide a difference between Judas and those who carried out what Judas had begun? The answer is in the text: they knew not what they did. Doubtless they knew that He was innocent; but of His person, office, authority, they had no conception. Their ignorance did not wipe out their sin, but it did palliate it. It mitigated the awful blackness of the crime which they wrought. It brought it within the limits of Divine mercy.
I. OUR SINS OF IGNORANCE NEED PARDON.
1. In matters that concern the soul, much of our ignorance is simply the fruit of neglecting or despising information.
2. A vast amount of religious ignorance springs from a willingness to be misled. Let a book appear that controverts the clearly defined truths of evangelical belief. Let popular clamour lift its voice in wild hue and cry against creeds and dogmas. Multitudes of men are at once ready to fall in with such a drift, not because they have carefully satisfied their minds that the current is bearing them in the right direction, but because it is in accord with what they wish were true.
II. WHAT IS IT WHICH MEN DO NOT KNOW? There is an ignorance of our own doings which is absolutely marvellous. Visiting a factory not long ago I was shown a machine which produces a little article of commerce with an inconceivable rapidity. But the ingenious inventor had contrived an apparatus which registered every one produced. If it were a hundred in every minute, each one was noted by the contrivance that created it. But it is a strange fact that man, with all his powers of consciousness, keeps himself in utter ignorance of much that makes up his action. Our actions flow out from us into the great world so unheeded that they are forgotten as soon as done; as water through the parted marble lips of a statue which does duty as a fountain.
1. Men know not the origin of what they do. Has it never puzzled, while it saddened you, to talk with some friend in the last stages of consumption? The hectic flush if on his cheek. There is an unnatural lustre in his eye. His breathing is short and hurried. A hollow cough continually interrupts his speech. But he tells you that he is perfectly well. Of course he sees these symptoms. He freely acknowledges that they are unfavourable. But then be is thankful that his lungs are wholly unaffected. It is the seat and origin of the disease of which he is ignorant. Precisely identical is the way in which many treat the whole question of sin.
2. Equally is it true that the vast majority of men know not the effects of what they do. How thoughtlessly we sin I We may not think when we scatter sparks into a powder magazine, but it is none the less dangerous to do so. (Bishop Cheney.)
Prayer for murderers
In 1831, when the cholera first broke out in Hungary, the Sclavic peasants of the north, were fully persuaded that they had been poisoned by the nobles, to get rid of them. They accordingly rose in revolt, and committed the most dreadful excesses. A gentleman who, up to that moment, had been very popular with the poorer classes, was seized by them, dragged from his house into the streets, and beaten for several hours, to make him confess where he had concealed the poison. Weary, at last, with inflicting blows, the frenzied mob carried him to a blacksmith’s shop, and applied hot ploughshares to his feet. Exhausted with this excruciating torture, the innocent sufferer, finding all explanations and entreaties vain, fell back from weakness, apparently about to expire, when the dying prayer of his Lord and Saviour escaped his lips: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do!” The savage fury of the peasantry was calmed in a moment, as if by a miracle; and convinced of the innocence of their victim, and the enormity of their crime, they fled in terror from the place.
And cast lots
Christ had been condemned to death, and His property was being disposed of. He had no real estate. He was born in a stranger’s barn, and buried in a borrowed sepulchre. His personal property was of but little value. His coat was the only thing to come into consideration. His shoes had been worn out in the long journey for the world’s redemption. Who shall have His coat? Some one says: “Let us toss up in a lottery and decide this matter.” “I have it!” said one of the inhuman butchers. “I have it!” “Upon My vesture did they cast lots.” And there, on that spot, were born all the lotteries the world has seen. On that spot of cruelty and shame and infamy there was born the Royal Havana lottery, in which some of you may have had tickets. There was born the famous New York lottery, which pretended to have over £144,400 worth of cash prizes. There was born the Topeka, Kansas, Laramier City, Wyoming Territory lotteries. There was born the Louisville lottery, with diamonds and pearls, and watches by the bushel. There was born the Georgia lottery, for the east and the west. There was born the Louisiana lottery, sanctioned by influential names. There was born the Kentucky lottery, for the city school of Frankfort. All the lotteries that have swindled the world were born there. Without any exception all of them moral outrages, whether sanctioned by legislative authority, or antagonized by it, and moral outrages though respectable people have sometimes damaged their property with them, and blistered their immortal souls for eternity. Under the curse of the lottery tens of thousands of people are losing their fortunes and losing their souls. What they call a “wheel of fortune” is a Juggernaut crushing out the life of their immortal nature. In one of the insolvent courts of the country it was found that in one village £40,000 had been expended for lotteries. All the officers of the celebrated United States Bank which failed were found to have expended the embezzled moneys in lottery tickets. A man won £10,000 in a lottery. He sold his ticket for £8,500, and yet had not enough to pay charges against him for tickets. He owed the brokers £9,000. The editor of a newspaper writes: “My friend was blessed with £4,000 in a lottery, and from that time he began to go astray, and yesterday he asked of me ninepence to pay for a night’s lodging.” A man won £4,000 in a lottery. Flattered by his success, he bought another ticket and won still more largely. Another ticket and still more largely. Then, being fairly started on the road to ruin, here and there a loss did not seem to agitate him, and he went on and on until the select men of the village pronounced him a vagabond and picked up his children from the street, half-starved and almost naked. A hard-working machinist won £400 in a lottery. He was thrilled with the success, disgusted with his hard work, opened a rum grocery, got debauched in morals, and was found dead at the foot of his rum casks. Oh, it would take a pen plucked from the wing of the destroying angel, and dipped in human blood, to describe this lottery business. A suicide was found having in his pocket a card of address showing he was boarding at a grog-shop. Beside that he had three lottery tickets and a leaf from Seneca’s “Morals “ in behalf of the righteousness of self-murder. After a lottery in England there were fifty suicides of those who held unlucky numbers. There are people who have lottery tickets in their pockets--tickets which, if they have not wisdom enough to tear up or burn up, will be their admission tickets at the door of the lost world. The brazen gate will swing open and they will show their tickets, and they will go in, and they will go down. The wheel of their eternal fortune may turn very slowly, but they will find that the doom of those who reject the teachings of God and imperil their immortal souls is their only prize. (Dr. Talmage.)
What is gambling?
Gambling is risking something more or less valuable with the idea of winning mote than you hazard. Playing at cards is not gambling unless a stake be put up, while on the other hand a man may gamble without cards, without dice, without billiards, without ten-pin alley. It may not be bagatelle, it may not be billiards, it may not be any of the ordinary instruments of gambling, it may be a glass of wine. It may be a hundred shares in a prosperous railroad company. I do not care what the instruments of the game are, or what the stakes are that are put up--if you propose to get anything without paying for it in time, or skill, or money, unless you get it by inheritance, you get it either by theft or by gambling. A traveller said he travelled one thousand miles on Western waters, and at every waking moment, from the starting to the closing of his journey, he was in the presence of gambling. A man, if he is disposed to this vice, will find something to accommodate him; if not in the low restaurant behind the curtain, on the table covered with greasy cards, or in the steamboat cabin, where the bloated wretch with rings in his ears winks in an unsuspecting traveller, or in the elegant parlour, the polished drawing-room, the mirrored and pictured halls of wealth and beauty. This vice destroys through unhealthy stimulants. We all at times like excitements. There are a thousand voices within us that demand excitements. They are healthful, they are inspiriting, they are God-given. The desire is for excitement; but look out for any kind of excitement which, after the gratification of the appetite, hurls the man back into destructive reactions. Then the excitement is wicked. Beware of an agitation which, like a rough musician, in order to call out the tune, plays so hard he breaks down the instrument. God never yet made a man strong enough to endure gambling excitements without damage. It is no surprise that many a man seated at the game has lost and then begun to sweep off imaginary gold from the table. He sat down sane. He rose a maniac. The keepers of gambling saloons school themselves into placidity. They are fat, and round, and rollicking, and obese; but those who go to play for the sake of winning are thin, and pale, and exhausted, and nervous, and sick, and have the heart-disease, and are liable any moment to drop down dead. That is the character of nine out of ten of the gamblers. You cannot be healthy and practise that vice. It is killing to all industry. Do you notice that, just as soon as a man gets that vice on him, he stops his work? Do you not know that this vice has dulled the saw of the carpenter, and cut the band of the factory-wheel, and sunk the cargo, and broken the teeth of the farmer’s rake, and sent a strange lightning to the battery of the philosopher. What a dull thing is a plough to a farmer, when, in one night in the village restaurant, he can make or lose the price of a whole harvest I The whole theory of gambling is hostile to industry. Every other occupation yields something to the community. The street sweeper pays for what he gets by the cleanliness of the streets; the cat pays for what it eats by clearing the house of vermin; the fly pays for the sweets it extracts from the dregs of a cup by purifying the air and keeping back pestilence; but the gambler gives nothing. I recall that last sentence. He does make a return, but it is in the destruction of the man whom he fleeces, disgrace to his wife, ruin to his children, death to his soul. (Dr. Talmadge.)
He saved others, let Him save Himself
God in sovereignty often selects as His instruments those who have no desire to be subordinate to His will
Some passengers on the ship’s deck may be walking forward, and some walking aft, and some standing still; but all, and all alike, are borne onward to their destiny by the breath of heaven in the sails, and according to the will of the pilot who holds the helm in his hand.
This world in space is like a ship on the sea. Of the teeming multitudes that crowd its surface, some intelligently and willingly walk in the way of God’s commandments, others violently resist, and others cleave sluggishly to the dust like clods of the earth; but our Father is at the helm--he will make all subservient to His purpose. Every atom will be compelled to take its place and contribute its own share to the establishment of His kingdom and the redemption of His people. The sovereignty of God is a precious doctrine. Providence is sweet to them that believe: “Casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you.” Apart from the meaning of their words, the scuffing of these scribes was overruled by God for the accomplishment of His own purpose. By their conduct they unconsciously fulfilled the prophecy of Scripture regarding the Messiah. This reviling constituted one of the marks by which those who waited for redemption in Israel should know the Redeemer when He came. “A root out of a dry ground: no form nor comeliness--no beauty that He should be desired: rejected and despised: they shall look on Him whom they have pierced.” (W. Arnot.)
Himself He cannot save
The King’s Son has offered Himself as hostage for certain subjects that were held in captivity by a foreign power. He has gone into their place, and they have on the faith of this transaction been set free. Precisely because they have been set free, He cannot now escape. He has saved others by the substitution of Himself in their stead, and therefore Himself He cannot save. In order to explain fully how Jesus, having saved others, could not also save Himself, we must refer to the history of redemption. Bear in mind that we live under a Divine administration that has been well ordered from the beginning. When an architect begins to lay the foundation of a building, he has the perfect plan already before his eye. Although it be only a man’s covenant, it is not carried forward by fits and starts according to the changing circumstances of the times. The design is completed from the first, and its execution is carried forward, it may be from generation to generation, all in accordance with the first design. Much more certain and evident it is that God, who sees the end from the beginning, framed His plan at first, and conducts His administration from age to age according to that plan. The way of salvation for sinful men is not left uncertain, to be modified by the accidents of the day. The gospel does not take its character from passing events. It is, indeed, a transaction between the unchangeable God and erring man; but it takes its character from the Source whence it springs, and not from the objects to which it is directed. It partakes of the immutability of its Author: it has nothing in common with the caprice of men. It has come from heaven to earth, not to receive, but to give an impression. The sun’s rays when they reach the earth meet with a various reception. At one time they are intercepted before they touch its surface by an intervening subordinate orb; at another time the earth itself keeps out the light from that side of it whereon we stand: at one place, even when the rays are permitted to reach us, they stir corruption into greater energy; at another time they paint the flowers and ripen the fruit, stimulating life and gilding the landscape with varied beauty. But whether they are kept at a distance or received, whether when received they make corruption more corrupt, or make beauty more beautiful, the sun’s rays are ever the same; they remain true to their celestial character, and are never changed by the changing accidents of earth. They retain all the purity of the heaven they come from, and contract none of the defilement of the earth they come to. (W. Arnot.)
If Christ had saved Himself, man would have been left unsaved
A traveller in an Asiatic desert has spent his last bit of bread and his last drop of water. He has pursued his journey in hunger and thirst until his limbs have given way, and he has at length lain down on the ground to die. Already, as he looks on the hard dry sky, he sees the vultures swooping down, as if unwilling to wait till his breath go out. But a caravan of travellers with provisions and camels comes up. Hope revives in his fainting heart. They halt and look; but as the poor man cannot walk, they are unwilling to burden themselves, and coldly pass on. Now he is left to all the horrors of despair. They have saved themselves, but left him to die. A ship has caught fire at sea. The passengers and crew, shut up in one extremity of the burning ship, strain their eyes and sweep the horizon round for sight of help. At length, and just in time, a sail appears and bears down upon them. But the stranger, fearing fire, does not venture near, but puts about her helm, and soon is out of sight. The men in the burning ship are left to their fate. How dreadful their situation, when the selfish ship saved itself from danger, and left them to sink! Ah! what heart can conceive the misery of human kind, if the Son of God had saved Himself from suffering, and left a fallen world to the wrath of God! (W. Arnot.)
Refusing to save himself
A soldier on duty at the palace of the Emperor at St. Petersburg, which was burnt a few years ago, was stationed, and had been forgotten, in one suite of apartments that was in flames. A Greek priest was the last person to rush through the burning rooms, at the imminent risk of his life, to save a crucifix in a chapel, and, returning, he was hailed by the set, try, who must in a few instants more have been suffocated. “What do you want?” cried the priest. “Save yourself, or you will be lost.” “I can’t leave,” replied the sentry, “because I am unrelieved; but I called to you to give me your blessing before I die.” The priest blessed him, and the soldier died at his post.
Happiness in saving others
One of the Russian emperors, Alexander, when hunting, and riding in front of his suite, heard a groan which arrested him; he reined in his horse, alighted, looked round, and found a man at the point of death. He bent over him, chafed his temples, and tried to excite him. A surgeon was called, but he said “He is dead.” “Try what you can do,” said the Emperor. “He is dead,” replied the surgeon. “Try what you can do.” At this second command, the surgeon tried some processes; and after a time a drop of blood appeared from a vein which had been opened; respiration was being restored. On seeing this the Emperor, with deep feeling, exclaimed, “This is the happiest day of my life; I have saved the life of a fellow-creature.” If being thus useful in saving a man from death imparted such happiness to the Emperor, how much greater will our joy and satisfaction be if any of our efforts result in saving a soul from death. Let us try what we can do. There is the greatest encouragement for the largest faith, for Christ is able to save to the uttermost all who come unto God through Him.
Saving others by sacrifice of self
The plague was making a desert of the city of Marseilles; death was everywhere. The physicians could do nothing. In one of their counsels it was decided that a corpse must be dissected; but it would be death to the operator. A celebrated physician of the number arose, and said, “I devote myself for the safety of my country. Before this numerous assembly, I swear in the name of humanity and religion, that to-morrow, at the break of day, I will dissect a corpse, and write down as I proceed what I observe.” He immediately left the room, made his will, and spent the night in religious exercises. During the day a man had died in his house of the plague; and at daybreak on the following morning, the physician, whose name was Guyon, entered the room and critically made the necessary examinations, writing down all his surgical observations. He then left the room, threw the papers into a vase of vinegar, that they might not convey the disease to another, and retired to a convenient place, where he died in twelve hours. Before the battle of Hatchet’s Run, a Christian soldier said to his comrade, “You are detailed to go to the front, while I am to remain with the baggage. Let us change places. I’ll go front, you remain in camp.” “What for?” said the comrade. “Because I am prepared to die, I think; but you are not.” The exchange was made. The thought of the self-sacrifice of his friend, and his readiness for the exposure of life or the realities of death, led the unsaved soldier to repentance and a like preparation for life. A vessel had driven on the rocks in a storm, and was hopelessly lost. Another vessel had gone out in the blind desire to do something, but a long way off she stopped and watched. That was all, but it was not very much. The men, however, dared venture no further; it would be life for life, and they were not great enough for that. Nelson, the ship’s lad, said, “Cap’n, I’m going to try and save those men.” And the captain said, “Nelson, if you do, you’ll be drowned.” And Nelson replied--no nobler reply was ever given--“Cap’n, I’m not thinking of being drowned, I’m thinkin’ of savin’ those men.” So he and a shipmate took the boat, and went to the wreck, and saved every man who was there. Saving others:--A few years ago a vessel was wrecked on the southwest coast of this country; and with these words I close. It became known to the hamlets and villages, the towns and districts, that this vessel was wrecked, that men were seen clinging to the rigging. The life-boat was launched, and away the men went, and were a long while at sea. Darkness set in, but the people on the coast lighted fires; they kindled great flames so that the sailors might be aided, that the life-boat might be guided on its return to shore. After awhile they saw it returning, and a great strong man, of the name of John Holden, who was on the coast, cried aloud, as with a trumpet, to the Captain of the life-boat, “Hi! hi! have you saved the men?” The Captain answered, “Ay, ay, I have saved the men,” and all hearts were filled with gladness. But when the boat reached the coast it was found that one man was left clinging to the mast. “Why did not you save him?” said Holden; “why did not you save him?” “Because we were exhausted,” said the Captain, “and we thought it better to attempt to get safely to shore for those we had rescued and for ourselves. We should all have perished if we had remained another five minutes attempting to save one man.” “But you will go back--you will go back to the rescue? “ They said no, they had not the strength, the storm was so fierce. Holden threw himself on the shingle, and lifted up a prayer to God louder than the storm that God would put it into the hearts of some of those people to go to the rescue of this one man, just as Jesus Christ came to rescue one lost world. When he had ceased praying six men volunteered to accompany him, and John Holden, with six men, were prepared to go and rescue that one man. If seven men will go to the rescue of one man, how many men shall we send to save Africa? These men were preparing to start when the good old mother of John Holden came rushing down, and threw her arms around his neck, and said, “John, you must not go. What can I do if You perish? You know your father was drowned at sea, and it is just two years since your brother William left; we have never heard a word of him since. No doubt he, too, has perished. John, what shall I do if you perish?” John said, “Mother, God has put it in my heart to go, and if I perish He will take care of you.” And away he went; and after awhile the life-boat returned, and when he neared the coast a loud voice was raised, “Hi! hi! John, have you saved the man?” John answered in a trumpet voice, “Yes, we have saved the man; and tell my mother it is my brother William we have saved.” Now, there is your brother man the wide world over; haste to the rescue even if you perish in the attempt. (J. S. Balmer.)
The helmsman who stood at the wheel in the burning steamer till he brought her to the shore, and then dropped backed into the flames, conscious that he had saved the passengers; the soldier who, to save his fugitive comrades, blew up the bridge over which they had crossed, though he knew that he himself would be blown up with the bridge; the Arab, dying of thirst in the desert, yet giving his last drop of water to his faithful camel, may be cited as types of Christ in his self-sacrificing love. Not many years ago there was a colliery accident in the north of England. The mine was flooded, and there were still some of the miners imprisoned below. Rescue parties were made up and sent down. It was a hard piece of work, and they had to work in relays. One man, however, it was noticed, kept working all the time. Others told him that he would kill himself, and asked him to stop and rest. But he answered: “How can I stop? There are some of my own down there.” Is it not in some such way that Christ came down to seek His own on earth, and to give His life for them? (Sunday School Times.)
A superscription also was written over Him
The superscription affixed to the cross of Christ
It was the custom of the Romans, that the equity of their proceedings might more clearly appear when they crucified any man, to publish the cause of his death in a table written in capital letters, and placed over the head of the crucified.
And that there might be, at least, a show and face of justice in Christ’s death, He also shall have His title or superscription. The worst and most unrighteous actions labour to cover and shroud themselves under pretentions of equity. Sin is so shameful a thing that it cares not to own its name. Christ shall have a table written for Him also.
1. The character or description of Christ contained in that writing: “The King of the Jews.”
2. The person who drew His character or title. Pilate, who was His judge, becomes now His herald to proclaim His glory.
3. The time when this honour was done Him. When at the lowest ebb; amid shame and reproach.
I. THE NATURE AND QUALITY OF CHRIST’S TITLE OR INSCRIPTION.
1. An extraordinary title. Instead of proclaiming Christ’s crime, it vindicates His innocence.
2. Public. Written in three languages.
3. Honourable. Thus the cross became a throne of majesty.
4. A vindicating title.
5. A predicting and presaging title.
6. An immutable title.
II. WHAT HAND THE DIVINE PROVIDENCE HAD IN THIS BUSINESS.
1. In overruling the heart and hand of Pilate in the draught and style of it, and that contrary to his own inclination.
2. Herein the wisdom of Providence was gloriously displayed, in applying a present, proper, public remedy to the reproaches and blasphemies which Christ had then newly received in His name and honour. The superstitious Jews wound Him, and heathen Pilate prepares a plaster to heal Him: they reproach, he vindicates; they throw the dirt, he washes it off. Oh, the profound and inscrutable wisdom of Providence!
3. Moreover, Providence eminently appeared at this time, in keeping so timorous a person, a man of so base a spirit, that would not stick at anything to please the people, from receding or giving ground in the least to their importunities.
4. Herein also much of the wisdom of Providence appeared, in casting the ignominy of the death of Christ upon those very men who ought to bear it. Pilate was moved by Divine instinct at once to clear Christ and accuse them.
5. The Providence of God wonderfully discovered itself (as before was noted) in fixing this title to the cross of Christ, when there was so great a confluence of all sorts of people to take notice
1. Hence it fellows that the Providence of our God can and often doth overrule the counsels and actions of the worst of men to His own glory. He is never at a loss for means to promote and serve His own ends.
2. Hence likewise it follows, that the greatest services performed to Christ accidentally and undesignedly, shall never be accepted nor rewarded of God. Pilate did Christ an eminent piece of service. He did that for Christ that not one of His own disciples at that time durst do; and yet this service was not accepted of God, because he did it not designedly for His glory, but from the mere overrulings of Providence.
3. Would not Pilate recede from what he had written on Christ’s behalf? How shameful a thing is it for Christians to retract what they have said or done on Christ’s behalf?
4. Did Pilate affix such an honourable, vindicating title to the cross? Then the cross of Christ is a dignified cross. How did the martyrs glory in their sufferings for Christ? Calling their chains of iron, chains of gold; and their manacles, bracelets. I remember it is storied of Ludovicus Marsacus, a knight of France, that when he, with divers other Christians of an inferior rank and degree in the world, were condemned to die for religion, and the jailor had bound them with chains, but did not bind him, being a more honourable person than the rest, he was offended greatly by that omission, and said, “Why do you not honour me with a chain for Christ also, and create me a knight of that illustrious order?”
5. Did Pilate so stiffly assert and defend the honour of Christ? What doubt can then be made of the success of Christ’s interest, and the prosperity of His cause, when the very enemies thereof are made to serve it? Rather than Christ shall want honour, Pilate, the man that condemned Him, shall do Him honour. And as it fared with His person, just so with His interest also.
6. Did Pilate vindicate Christ in drawing up such a title to be affixed to His cross, then hence it follows that God will, sooner or later, clear up the innocence and integrity of His people who commit their cause to Him. (J. Flavel.)
And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on Him
The impenitent malefactor
THIS MAN’S TREATMENT OF CHRIST suggests several things for our consideration. “He railed on Him.”
1. What inhumanity. The suffering of Jesus ought surely to have moved his heart to pity.
2. The friendlessness of the majestic Sufferer touched him not.
3. His like condition to the Sufferer by his side touched no chord of sympathy in his breast.
II. THE MALEFACTOR WAS AN UNBELIEVER. He had probably never seen Christ before. On this account he was less guilty than many at Calvary that day; and less guilty than thousands who hear the gospel to-day, but still reject Christ. According to light and privileges is our responsibility. But this robber had ground enough to warrant his belief in Christ. His companion bad, yet he joined those who railed upon Jesus.
III. CHRIST’S TREATMENT OF THE MALEFACTOR. Pitying silence. He will answer no man’s prayer to prove His power. His word, His Church, the Christian, are the miracles that must testify to His power to save. (G. E. Jones.)
The impenitent thief
I. HUMAN LIFE ENDING AN UTTER MORAL WRECK.
II. HUMAN LIFE ENDING ON THE GALLOWS.
III. HUMAN LIFE ENDING IN SIGHT OF THE CROSS.
IV. HUMAN LIFE ENDING IN DESPAIR. (The Lay Preacher.)
The two malefactors
I. REFLECTIONS. Here we have a true picture of human nature as it appears amidst difficulties, and dangers, and sufferings, the appropriate fruits of sin. A care to avoid pain is universally prevalent, but a care to avoid sin is comparatively of rare occurrence. Of this conduct one of the malefactors crucified with Christ afforded a lamentable example. But the other, however bad he had previously been, however much hardened or debased, was brought to true repentance. There was an invisible energy touching his soul and melting it into contrition; the power of the cross of Christ was felt, and it proved the Redeemer to be great in sufferings. Yes, this criminal became humble, his heart believed, and his faith penetrated the vail of the incarnation, realizing what was concealed from an eye of sense, even a ground of hope for his guilty soul.
1. Let us see the greatness and the glory of the Saviour’s character. What power I what grace! what dominion over the invisible world!
2. The language of the text supplies a plain proof of the separate and happy existence of the spirits of just men after death.
3. The sufficiency of the sacrifice for sin made by the death of Christ, is illustrated by the case we have considered. He contemplated sinners, the chief of sinners, when he offered Himself to God.
4. What different effects may result amidst a sameness of circumstances and opportunities. Here were two of similar character, both exceedingly wicked, with death in immediate prospect; one becomes a penitent seeking his salvation, the other remains hardened in his sins.
5. The subject suggests the language of encouragement and of caution. (Essex Remembrancer.)
The two robbers
To defer the time of conversion, and as a pretext for persevering in the ways of sin, the worldly-minded flatter themselves with three principal delusions.
1. One delays his conversion because he imagines that a time of sickness and suffering will present a more favourable opportunity to think of it. He flatters himself that he will not be carried away by a violent or sudden death; that a long and slow malady, during the course of which he will have time to reflect, and to make an account of his ways, will permit him to prepare himself for the meeting with his God. But how does he know whether a malady, under the weight of which the very organism of the constitution sinks, will not oppress his senses, dull his spirit, take from his mind its energy, and paralyze his faculties? Who can be ignorant that, in such a case, nothing is more usual than hesitations, adjournments, and delays, seeing the man has accustomed himself to the deceitful hope of a recovery, sooner or later?
2. A second reason, as I said, for which the worldly-minded defer their conversion is, that they suppose that at the hour of death Providence will work miracles of salvation, other and more efficacious than those which they have been able to enjoy during their life; and that the most pressing invitations of grace, the most irresistible attractions of the Holy Spirit, the most powerful manifestations of Divine love will be afforded. Where has God promised such manifestations? Nowhere. But so be it; what does this prove? When the heart is hardened by a long course of sin, will it not resist the evidence of truths the best established, and facts the most palpable, even the most powerful miracles of salvation?
3. Lastly, impenitent sinners defer their conversion upon the pretext that, at the time when they shall see death to be near, love of the world will disappear from the heart, carnal passions will be extinguished, and the soul will open itself to the influence of the truths of the Word of Life. But if the experience of many centuries is not sufficient to attest that such a time has not upon the soul that regenerating power which is supposed; that, instead of detaching himself from the things of earth, the unregenerated man will strive to attach himself more, and to cling more strongly, to measures which may prolong his existence in this world; that so far from becoming more susceptible to the beauty of truth and love, a long course of resistance renders the heart incapable of feeling their attractions, surely the example of the dying robber will be sufficient to dispel for ever those fatal delusions. Not only is this robber not touched by the truth, but he repels it; not only does he continue to sleep in the security of sin, but he is incensed against the Word; and whilst shame and remorse should have closed his lips, he unites with the multitude to insult the Saviour of the world: and to all his other sins he adds an impudent irony against the Son of God; he crowns all his crimes by blasphemy. After that, will you still count, O all you who defer your conversion, on the changes that accompany death, as if they could miraculously break the chain of your sins, or promote your eternal salvation? Three things have struck us in the history of the unconverted robber: first, that death was not startling; second, that extraordinary succour of grace was not received; third, that he aggravated his condemnation and hardened himself in circumstances, which it seems should have ameliorated his state. The conversion of his companion in iniquity presents to us reflections of quite another nature. And can you doubt, that if in this moment some one had been able to bring down the converted thief from the cross, had been able to lavish upon him the succours of art, and, in the end, cicatrize his wounds: if one could have contrived to arrest the fever to which he was a prey, to give him the use of his members; to restore him to life; can you doubt that, such being his feelings, the remainder of his earthly existence would have been other than a noble demonstration of the power of the faith and love which lived in his soul? (Dr. Grandpierre.)
The crucified malefactors
I. Let us consider WHEREIN THESE TWO MALEFACTORS WERE ALIKE.
1. They were alike in respect to depravity of heart.
2. They were alike in respect to their knowledge of Christ.
3. They were alike in practice--both malefactors.
4. They were alike in condemnation.
II. WHEN THEY BEGAN TO DIFFER. Apparently it was when the darkness began. And we can easily believe that such an unexpected and solemn miracle, on such an awful occasion, did make a deep impression upon the minds of all the spectators of the crucifixion of the Lord of glory, and more upon some than others.
III. WHEREIN THEY EVENTUALLY AND FINALLY DIFFERED. Here it may be observed--
1. That one realized the wrath of God abiding upon him, whilst the other did not. This poor, perishing criminal was thoroughly awakened from his long and habitual stupidity, and clearly saw his dangerous condition; which is usually the first step to conversion. He might, however, have seen and felt such danger, and with his eyes open gone to destruction. But--
2. His awakening was followed with conviction. He not only realized that he was exposed to everlasting misery, but was convinced, in his conscience, that he deserved it.
3. He renounced his enmity to God, and became cordially reconciled to His vindictive justice.
4. Having exercised true love, repentance, and submission towards God, he exercised a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus the two malefactors began to differ while hanging on the cross; and they continue to differ as long as they lived, and will continue to differ as long as they exist.
What has been said in this discourse may serve to throw light upon some important subjects which have been supposed to be dark and difficult to understand.
1. It appears from the conduct of the penitent malefactor, that the doctrine of unconditional submission is founded in fact. He really felt and expressed a cordial and unreserved submission to God, when he expected in a few moments to sink down into the pit of endless destruction.
2. It appears from the views and exercises of the penitent malefactor, that the doctrine of repentance before faith is founded in fact.
3. It appears from the views and feelings of the penitent malefactor, that the doctrine of instantaneous regeneration is founded in fact.
4. It appears from the conduct of God towards the two malefactors, that He acts as a Sovereign in renewing the hearts of men.
5. The conduct of the impenitent malefactor shows that no external means or motives are sufficient to awaken, convince, or convert any stupid sinner.
6. It appears from the fate of the impenitent malefactor, that impenitent sinners have no ground to rely upon the mere mercy of Christ in a dying hour. It is, therefore, presumption in any sinners to live in the hope of a death-bed repentances.
7. It appears from the conduct and the condition of the penitent malefactor, that sinners may be saved at the eleventh or last hour of life, if they really repent and believe in Christ. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
Lessons from the three crosses on Calvary
I. THE WAGES OF SIN IS DEATH.
1. Death to the sinner--the death of the body, and afterwards the death of the soul in hell.
2. Death to the Saviour, who knew no sin, but bears our iniquities on the cross.
3. Death to the saint; for though on him the second and more awful death, the death of the soul, hath no power, yet he cannot escape the death of the body; for all saints since Abel have had to pass through the river Jordan, save two, Enoch and Elijah. God must be just; and nothing short of death is sin’s just recompense. Oh that you would turn to Him whose “gift is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
II. Another lesson we learn from this solemn scene is, that THE UNCONVERTED GROW WORSE AND WORSE. Perhaps the lost thief was brought up by pious parents; most likely he was taught to kneel before God by his mother, and was led up to the temple, and heard the sweet music echo among its marble arches, when the worshippers sang God’s praises. Often had he wondered, and perhaps wept, when hearing the history of Joseph, and Samuel, and Daniel. But, alas! he was led away by little and little, adding sin to sin, until sinning became a habit, and habit became confirmed and strengthened, till he walked openly with the ungodly, stood in the way of sinners, and at last sat down in the seat of the scorner; and though rebuked, remained hardened, and went down a doomed man to hell. You cannot indulge one sin without opening the door for others. The man who begins by walking in the downhill path of sin, goes on to running, until he falls headlong into hell.
III. THERE ARE NONE TOO BAD TO BE FORGIVEN. Art thou a thief? As the thief on the cross was saved, so mayest thou; take heart, and cry to Jesus. Art thou a blasphemer? The blasphemer, Bunyan, was saved, and so mayest thou; take heart, and cry to Jesus. Art thou a harlot? The harlot, Mary, was saved, and so mayest thou; take heart, and cry to Jesus. Art thou a murderer? There may be some such here; for God knows there are not only murders that never saw the light, but “he that hateth his brother is a murderer.” But oh! the murderer David was saved, and so mayest thou; take heart, and cry to Jesus. Saul of Tarsus, whose hands were dyed with the blood of Stephen, was washed with the blood of Jesus. I saw, not long since, lying on the bed of sickness and death, a poor outcast woman, whose spirit has since departed. She spoke to this effect to a dear friend of mine:--“I have been, not five, not ten, not fifteen, but twenty years living in open and loathsome sin; but I have found that Christ will cast out none--no, not the most hell-deserving sinner who cries to Him. And now I amdying; but I am happy, for ‘the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth me from all sin.’ And when I am gone, let these words be written on my tombstone--‘So foolish was I, and ignorant, I was as a beast before Thee. Nevertheless I am continually with Thee: Thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel and afterward receive me to glory.’” Oh, whoever you are, Christ can save you!
IV. Learn, too, from Calvary that WHEN A SINNER IS SAVED, IT IS BY FAITH IN JESUS. How can I prove to you the faith of the penitent thief? By his wonderful prayer. (H. G. Guinness, B. A.)
Dost not thou fear God?--
The restraining principle
And what is this fear? This fear is a solemn dread of the creature in presence of the Creator. Well, then, with real thought on the Passion, why must we feel, as a prominent principle, a fear of God?
1. The Cross, my brothers, witnessed to two things--God’s awful and necessary judgments on human sin. It must be so. God could not be God if it were otherwise. The atonement is nothing else but the fearful statement of Divine holiness in relation to sin. Our first clear intimations of God, it has been truly argued, are not conclusions from reasoning on final causes, or evidences from the harmonies of a material world. No; they are the voice of conscience, and the self-evident consistency of the moral law. It is always possible to conceive, so it has been wisely said, all sorts of changes in the structure of the material world, and we find no difficulty to the intellect, whatever may be said about the imagination in the revelation of its final transformation by fire--that unimagined and yet inevitable catastrophe. But one thing is impossible--we cannot conceive right being otherwise than right, and wrong than wrong; we cannot imagine created dissonances in the harmony of the moral law, and what is that but saying that there are eternal necessities in the being of our Creator? And if so, being good, His judgment must be severe, must be awful, on persistent sin. We say so in our saner moments, but how are we to feel the truth of our saying? The answer is--Calvary.
2. But this fear is also a serious apprehension of the dreadfulness of evil in itself. The Cross showed the intensity of the love of God, and, by the form of the revelation, was revealed His knowledge of our fearful danger. The genius of Michael Angelo made the Sibyls splendid on the ceiling of the Sistine from the magnificence of proportion quite as much as from the softness of colour. Proportion is the secret of lasting charm. It is holy fear that is the principle of proportion in the relation of the creature--the fallen creature--to his Creator. To see God in suffering is, by grace, to have a proportionate affection. By it we are restrained, by it we are awed and solemnized, by it we act as men should in the felt presence of their Maker, by it we learn, in fact, our proper place. (Canon Knox Little.)
The fear of God gives harmony to life
As the glow of a solemn sunrise gives to the tracts of impenetrable vapour a splendour which illumines and transforms, changing into awful beauty the cloud-folds of the slate-grey morning on the mountains, which were otherwise but the draperies of a sulking storm, so the fear of God gives harmony and colour to the more murky cloud]ands of the inner life. It is, it is indeed, to each of us a distinct and necessary element in that solid and faithful perseverance to which, and to which alone, is promised the reward of victory. Amidst the mysteries and miseries of this lower life; amidst its simple joys, its unspeakable sorrows; amidst the delirium of ambition, the intoxication of pleasure, the heart-corroding of daily care, the numbing frosts of encroaching worldliness, the blinding mists of severe temptations, we may be--if we will to realize its meaning--we may be arrested by the spectacle of the Passion; and among its fruitful and tremendous lessons, it teaches restraint of the tempest of our lower desires, brings us some sense of the vast issues of eternity, and says to us in accents which we may hear above the surge of the surf and the breaking of the billows, “Look to your Representative; contemplate the dignity, the mystery of His sorrow; whether high in rank or among (what the world calls) the dregs of society, whether with great gifts or with few attainments, walk as a creature in presence of his Creator; have a care what you are doing; live as those who live, but who have to die, or those who now in time must soon feel the pressure of eternity. Child, child of such an awful, such a splendid sacrifice, fear God! (Canon Knox Little.)
The dying thief’s testimony to our Lord
“Nothing amiss”--what does that mean, as used here? Literally, it means “nothing out of place”--unsuitable, unbecoming, improper. Does it mean, then, “He has not been guilty of crimes like ours--of robbery, violence, insurrection, murder”? With nothing of that sort was He ever charged; and none in the city, good or bad, could be a stranger to the one charge brought against Him; for the whole country, as well as the crowded streets of the metropolis, was full of it. He was dying under the charge of high treason against heaven--of blasphemy--of not only laying claim to royal honours, but malting Himself equal with God. I take it, therefore, that in saying, “This Man has done nothing amiss,” his words must mean, “He has made no false claim: He said, ‘I am the Christ,’ but in that He did nothing amiss; ‘I am the King of Israel,’ but in that He did nothing amiss; He called Himself the Son of God, the Light of the world, the Rest of the weary, the Physician of the sick at heart, but in this He did nothing amiss.” Not that I for a moment suppose that this penitent criminal had knowledge enough to say all this as I have said it; but I feel confident that he had gleams of it, and that I have not gone beyond the spirit of his testimony to the innocence of our Lord. Amidst the buzzings about this new kind of criminal--innocent, by universal consent, of all the ordinary crimes, yet charged with a crime never before laid to the charge of any--some account of the marvellous works ascribed to Him, and of the words of heavenly grace He was said to have uttered, might easily reach this man’s ear; and just as the wind bloweth where it listeth, so that grace which is the Spirit’s breath upon the soul might send what he heard like arrows into a softened breast--as not seldom it does even still. (D. Brown, D. D.)
Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom
The penitent robber’s faith and prayer
HIS WONDERFUL FAITH. “When Thou comest into Thy kingdom.” When Charles
I. of England, or Maximilian, the brilliantly brief Mexican emperor, were about to suffer death, suppose such an expectation had been expressed to them! It would have been considered a sickly taunt. Not so this.
II. HIS REMARKABLE REQUEST. “Remember me.” “God is not unrighteous to forget” Christian labour of love, but here was a miserable culprit who had never done Jesus any good turn. Charles
II. and Louis Napoleon rewarded friends of their exile, but how about this request? What could he expect to be remembered for?
1. As a penitent sinner.
2. As one who has trust in a perfect Saviour. (Charles M. Jones.)
The dying thief
I. THIS NARRATIVE PRESENTS FAITH TO US AS CONSISTING IN A FIRM AND TRUSTING PERSUASION THAT JESUS IS THE CHRIST; THAT HE HAS POWER TO HELP; AND THAT THE HELP HE GIVES IS SPIRITUAL HELP. On one side of Christ was a believer, on the other an unbeliever. Both in their pain pleaded with their more august and noble fellow-Sufferer. What said the unbeliever? “If Thou be the Christ, save Thyself and us.” Contrast with this the appeal which faith presents. It at once addresses Christ as Lord: “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.” The unbeliever refused to regard Jesus as the Christ, except on the condition of a temporal deliverance. Had Christ commanded the nails to loose their hold, and the cross to fall; had He healed the wounds and assuaged the pain; he might then in his turn have acknowledged Him as Lord. But the believer imposes no condition, he asks no proofs; but with the iron smarting in his flesh, and the death-pain thrilling through his frame, he finds a voice to call his Saviour by His rightful name. Mark, too, the confidence of the penitent in the power of God to save. You meet with no dubious “if”; the prayer he offers is simple in its trustfulness. “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.” He saw the triumphal arches decked with bright garlands from the tree of life, and angels waiting with the regal diadem, for the King of glory to come in and take His crown. And mark, too, the spirituality of his faith. He knew that Christ had the power to save his body from the pangs of death; yet it was for no such boon as this he asked. He hankered not after what he was leaving in the past. He thought of that with shame, and shuddered to recall it. He wanted to forget it in the brightness of a future kingdom, whence sin is banished, and shame is barred from entering. He felt for his soul. His faith looked above and beyond; above, to God’s right hand, and to the throne where angels worshipped, and the spirits of the just bowed down; and beyond, further than mortal gaze can soar, further than dwarfish time can reach, into the eternal ages.
II. THIS NARRATIVE TEACHES US SOMETHING OF THE DIFFICULTIES OF FAITH. It has often to contend both against experience and example. If ever there was a time when there seemed to be a strong excuse for disbelief, it was at the time that this dying malefactor displayed his faith. Speaking humanly, was it likely that that should be the Christ? What had the prophets said concerning Him, centuries before His coming? They had tuned trumpet and harp and voice to loudest, sweetest sound to tell of the dignity of His person, and the glory of His reign. They had depicted in vivid hues the splendour of His conquests, and His royal majesty. And what have we here? The convicted malefactor of man’s tribunal, the puppet of man’s small authority, belying, as it seemed, His own high pretensions, by the very weakness which He shows, and swallowing, if we may so say, His asseverations of immortality by His obedience to such a death. What! this the Christ! This bleeding, groaning, suffering, expiring clay; is this the royal King, the heaven-sent Messiah? Is there any might to save within that pallid arm? Is there any light under that glazing eye to scare the king of terrors from his prey? These were the thoughts which made the Jews refuse belief, and pour derision upon Christ. These were the semblances, in spite of which the dying thief believed, and called his dying Master, “Lord.” The conduct of others, as well as the condition or predicament of Christ, was against his faith. He knew that Jesus, while hanging on the cross, had heard the taunts of the rulers, the insults of the soldiery, and the ribald mockery of the common people. As yet, the sack-clothed veiling of the sun had not abashed them; the crimson blushing of the indignant sky had not rebuked them to forbear; the shuddering earthquake, and the gathering pall of night had not chid their railing tongues to silence. Amazing faith! This man believed when all others disbelieved. He worshipped when all the rest were mocking. He adored when all the universe seemed in arms.
III. But the narrative shows us, too, THE VICTORIES OF FAITH; AND WITH A GLANCE AT THESE WE CLOSE. The faith of the dying thief secured a favourable response from Christ; was afterwards verified by facts; and is now triumphant in heaven. What, think you, accounts for the difference between these two thieves? Why was the heart of one a thief’s heart to the last, hard as the millstone, reviling Christ, and hissing forth his last breath in insult at the Sufferer, while that of the other softened into a heart of flesh, and surged with sympathy for the innocence of the expiring Lord? It was faith in Christ which made the difference; the faith which worketh by love, and is the condition of the new creature in Christ Jesus; this accounted for the change wrought upon the penitent, and it justified the sinner. His guilt was removed; his iniquities were pardoned. The moment that the Master said, “This day shalt thou be with Me in paradise,” that moment he found peace with God, and felt the “great calm” deep in his soul. What reeked he of the cross, the pain, the wounds? Here was a victory for his faith. Let yours gain equal conquests, and it shall lead you to a like inheritance. We spoke just now of the apparent unreasonableness of this man’s faith. Let us here speak a word of its justification, and therefrom let reason learn to reserve her verdicts and her judgments till the time be ripe. Had those sage reasoners, who thought the Saviour dead because His clay was cold, waited but three short days, and then looked into His tomb, they would have seen the faith of the dying thief justified in the vacant vault, the empty shroud, and the unknotted bands. (A. Mursell.)
The dying robber saved
I. CONSIDER THE PREVIOUS CHARACTER OF THIS MAN.
1. He was not a pagan, but a Jew--a believer in the true God.
2. A believer in future existence and retribution.
3. He had become a hardened wretch.
II. NOTICE HIS TRUE REPENTANCE. This is evidenced--
1. In his viewing sin in its relation to God.
2. In his acknowledgment of his own guilt.
3. In his reproving the conduct of the other robber, and his anxiety for his welfare.
III. HIS STRONG FAITH. He believed--
1. That Christ had a kingdom.
2. That He would hear requests.
3. That He would grant blessings.
IV. His PRAYER.
1. Short; but a single sentence.
2. Humble; he only asked to be remembered.
3. Reliant. Remember all my past bad life; but remember, too, that I am dying trusting in Thy grace.
4. Earnest. The petition of an awakened sinner on the brink of eternity.
5. It included all he needed.
V. CHRIST’S ANSWER. Conclusions:
1. If Christ heard prayer when passing through His awful suffering upon the cross, will He not hear now that He is exalted to be a Prince and a Saviour?
2. The conversion of this man shows how quickly Christ can save.
3. Salvation is all of grace, and not of works or merit.
4. Christ can not only justify and give us a title to heaven in a short time; He can also quickly sanctify and make us “meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.”
5. One robber was taken and the other left.
6. This is the only case of death-bed conversion recorded in the
Bible. (J. L. Campbell.)
Marks of an accepted faith
I. TRUE FAITH IS SELF-CONDEMNATORY; IT IS ROOTED AND GROUNDED IN SINCERE REPENTANCE. If I merit not condemnation, I need no pardon; and until I discern distinctly and fully that I am guilty, and righteously condemned, I cannot feel my need of pardon; and not feeling my need of it, I cannot desire it. The thief hanging at the Saviour’s side did feel his guilt.
II. BUT HIS FAITH WAS ALSO UNHESITATING, FULL, CONFIDING. He sees his guilt; he feels his peril; he thinks that he discerns in Jesus evidence of power to help him; and at once and earnestly his suit is urged, “Lord, remember me.” No conditions are proposed, no terms offered; he throws his hopes on the mere mercy of Him he styles Lord. And truly this is the genuine temper of true faith.
III. HIS FAITH WAS FRANK AND OPEN. There is a noble ingenuousness in this appeal of the dying thief that is worthy of all admiration, and of all imitation too. He spake not to one courted, admired, and applauded, but to one despised, calumniated, condemned, and hanging beside Him on a cross. There is here discovered a matchless moral grandeur in this dying thief.
IV. HIS FAITH WAS SPIRITUAL; IT LOOKED THROUGH AND OVER ALL MERE OUTWARD CIRCUMSTANCES.
V. THE OBJECT PETITIONER FOR HAS RESPECT EXCLUSIVELY TO THE HIGHER INTERESTS OF A LIFE BEYOND THE GRAVE. (W. T. Hamilton, D. D.)
The penitent malefactor
I. Notice in the dying thief THE OPERATIONS OF GENUINE REPENTANCE.
1. He begins to rebuke the reviling malefactor.
2. He confesses his sin, and acknowledges the equity of his sentence.
3. He vindicates the character of Christ, while he unequivocally condemns himself.
4. His repentance is accompanied by faith in Christ.
5. And earnest prayer to Him.
II. View THE CONDUCT OF OUR LORD TOWARDS HIM.
1. Though Christ would take no notice of a reviler, nor give any answer to the language of reproach, yet He would attend to the plea of mercy; and to the plea of one of the most unworthy, and the least likely to obtain it. He would hear the prayer of a perishing sinner whose heart was contrite, even in the hour of death. What condescension, and what love!
2. He answered him without delay.
3. As the petition had implied much, so did the answer.
4. The promise is pronounced with a solemn asseveration; “Verily, I say unto thee.” This bears the form of an oath, and gives the fullest assurance for the performance of the promise (Hebrews 6:18).
1. We may observe, that there is a great difference between the conduct of this dying malefactor, and that of many dying penitents who are supposed to be converted. They often speak confidently of their state, and of their going to heaven; but this poor man did not, though Christ said so of him. He prayed that he might be saved; and after what Christ said, he might believe that he should; but he himself said not a word of that. The strong language that was used was Christ’s, and not his.
2. There is a request on Christ’s part as well as on ours: He desires to be remembered by us (1 Corinthians 11:24). He does not need it as we do; but love desires it, and wishes to live in the mind of its objects. (Theological Sketch-book.)
The dying thief
1. The triumph of faith over great difficulties.
2. How Christ honours the exercise of faith.
3. How the favour of Christ abates the force of earthly trouble.
4. The way to the kingdom of glory is by a suffering Saviour.
5. Necessity gives life to prayer. (J. S. Bright.)
The penitent thief
I. THE MARVELOUS PETITION PRESENTED BY THE DYING PENITENT.
1. Marvellous, coming from such a petitioner.
2. Marvellous, being offered in such circumstances.
3. Marvellous, in the spirit it revealed.
4. Marvellous, in its substance and purport.
II. THE YET MORE MARVELLOUS REPLY OF CHRIST.
1. The manner in which it was given excites our wonder; no delay or suspense, no conditions or qualifications.
2. When we look into the answer itself, we are amazed at its fulness, richness, and appropriateness.
(1) The place in which the delightful meeting was to occur:
(2) The society of which the dying penitent was assured: “With
(3) The immediacy of the happiness promised: “To-day.”
1. A blessed prospect is, in this language of our Divine Lord, opened up before those who are looking forward to death as the step into life.
2. A suitable prayer is, in the language of the penitent, suggested to our hearts.
3. The narrative affords encouragement to those who have long sinned, but who now sincerely repent and earnestly desire salvation. (J. R.Thomson, M. A.)
The saved malefactor
I. His CHARACTER. A malefactor, a criminal of the basest sort, probably selected for crucifixion on this very account, to put greater shame upon Jesus. Then, none need despair.
II. NO ONE HAS ANY RIGHT TO PRESUME. While this one is taken, the other is left. All do not repent at the eleventh hour.
III. NO MAN HAS A RIGHT TO EXPECT SALVATION WITHOUT GIVING EVIDENCE OF FAITH AND REPENTANCE. In the case of the penitent thief, there was--
1. A conviction of sin.
2. Faith in the Son of God.
4. Concern for others.
5. Testimony to Jesus. (Canon Fremantle.)
The penitent thief
I. THE EXAMPLE OF THE PENITENT THIEF IS ADAPTED TO EXCITE, EVEN IN GREAT OFFENDERS, A RELIANCE ON THE GOODNESS AND COMPASSION OF GOD, IF THEY WILL RETURN TO HIM AND TO THEIR DUTY. Here was a man who had committed a crime for which by his own confession he deserved to die. His faith, and the manner in which he showed it, were doubtless very commendable; and yet they seem to have been rather too highly extolled. The behaviour of Christ under His sufferings, and the wonderful circumstances attending His crucifixion, might easily induce an unprejudiced man to think that He could be no ordinary person, much less a malefactor; and these things, joined to the knowledge which this man, being of the Jewish nation, might have had before of Christ and of His ministry, might well induce him to acknowledge Him for the Messias. But then it is likewise to be considered that he ran no risk, as to his worldly concerns, in so doing; the world could not use him worse; and his miseries had placed him beyond earthly fear and hope, beyond the reach of malice and cruelty. To his repentance, then, is to be ascribed the gracious reception which he found; his repentance was sincere, and God was pleased to accept the will for the deed. For, since God is no respecter of persons, where the same dispositions are found, the same favour will be extended. The consequence thus far seems to be just.
II. The second use of the text, which ought always to be joined with the first, IS TO DISSUADE MEN FROM HABITUAL VICE, AND A DELAY OF REFORMATION, BY SHOWING THEM HOW LITTLE REASON SUCH OFFENDERS HAVE TO EXPECT THAT THEY SHALL EVER SO QUALIFY THEMSELVES, AS TO BECOME FIT TO OBTAIN THE FAVOUR WHICH WAS EXTENDED TO THIS MAN.
1. To abuse and provoke the lenity and long-suffering of God in this manner, to be wicked because He is good, is monstrously base and perverse, and shows a very dangerous depravity.
2. Sin, if it be not resisted, grows daily upon us, and makes the return to righteousness mere and more difficult and improbable; and he who cannot find in his heart to amend, even whilst he is a novice in iniquity, will be less disposed to it when time and custom have hardened him.
3. Sin is of a most infatuating nature, and corrupts not only the heart, but the understanding; and who knows where it may end?
4. As all other habits can no other way be removed than by introducing contrary habits, which is the work of patience, resolution, and repeated attempts; the same must hold true concerning sinful habits. So that though a change of mind and a purpose of amendment may be wrought soon and suddenly, yet a change of behaviour, which is the only sure proof of amendment, requires time and labour; and it is hard to conceive how a late repentance can change bad habits, unless we suppose that the alteration for the better, which is just beginning in this world, may be carried on and completed in the next. But concerning this the Scriptures are silent; and who would risk his soul upon conjectural hopes?
5. Since sinners have perhaps often designed and purposed, and resolved, without performing, they will have too much reason to suspect the sincerity of their own hearts, and to rely but little on a change of purpose which present and pressing danger extorts from them. Add to this, that a sinner may be removed out of this world suddenly and without any warning, or that many infirmities of body or mind may deprive him in a great measure of his understanding, and render him incapable of performing any rational act of any kind, and consequently the act of repenting.
6. The gospel requires from all men improvement and perseverance. A late repentance, such as it is, at the close of a bad life, can seldom exert the first of these duties, and never the second.
7. An intention to do just enough to save ourselves from perdition, and no more, is putting ourselves in a very dangerous situation. A cold and faint attempt to enter in must be attended with the hazard of being shut out. (J. Jortin, D. D.)
A sinner’s repentance
The word repentance does not mean simple regret. It is a change of mind; an alteration of thought, feeling, and conduct. When a sinner truly repents he does more than lament the past, dread the future, and ask for mercy. He hates his sin, not only for the punishment it brings, but for itself. It is no longer in harmony with his taste. Holiness is no longer his aversion. However sudden may have been the dying thief’s repentance, it was an entire change of heart and character, and would have resulted in an entire change of conduct had his life been prolonged. In proof of this, consider some of the elements of this repentance.
I. There was REVERENCE FOR GOD. He said to his companion “Dost thou not fear God.” The absence of this fear is the main characteristic of the ungodly. “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
II. The dying thief indicated CONTRITION for his former life of sin. “We indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds.” He was suffering the agonies of crucifixion. But the torture did not provoke him to complain of the severity of the sentence. He felt himself to be a criminal. He confessed it before his companion and the crowd. We infer from the entire narrative that he was a sincere penitent. He did honestly lament his wickedness. It was more than regret for the consequences; it was remorse for the sin. This is an element in all true repentance.
III. In the repentance of the dying thief there was APPRECIATION OF GOODNESS. He said of Jesus, “But this man hath done nothing amiss.” False penitence, which laments only the discovery, the shame, the punishment of sin and not sin itself, may regret the lack of virtues which bring rewards, but does not really appreciate and admire goodness for its own sake. It is otherwise with those who “unfeignedly repent.”
IV. This repentance included a CONFESSION OF CHRIST. The dying thief testified to all around his admiration of Christ’s character. By what he had heard from others, by what he had himself witnessed, he felt assured that Jesus was innocent. And he did not hesitate to declare this. A faithful confession of Christ will always follow sincere repentance. But how much such confession involves!
V. FAITH was illustriously manifested in this repentance. The dying thief said, “Lord, remember me when Thou comest in Thy kingdom.” He called Jesus “Lord”--as possessing authority, a right to rule. He ascribed to Him kingship, for he spoke of His kingdom. This was wonderful. There was no outward indication of lordship, there were no insignia of royalty. Jesus was a captive, condemned, insulted, crucified; yet does the dying thief salute Him as a king! King? Where are His royal robes? They have torn from Him even His ordinary dress! King? Where is His throne? That cross of shame on which He hangs! Yet poor, vanquished, insulted, murdered, the dying thief has faith to recognize Him as a king, and able to confer royal gifts!
VI. The repentance of the dying thief manifested itself in PRAYER. Where there is true repentance there will be true prayer. In every case of conversion it may be said, as was said of Saul of Tarsus, “Behold he prayeth.” Such prayer will be humble, believing, and obedient. And our prayers will not be merely for benefits we are to receive passively, but for strength and opportunity to serve God actively. We shall regard it as the best of all benefits to be numbered with His subjects, to be employed as His servants, to be remembered in His kingdom. Can repentance, when it includes such a spirit of prayer, be a trifling change in one who has neglected prayer, disbelieved its efficacy, disliked its exercise?
VII. The repentance of the dying thief already began to bring forth the GOOD WORKS of zeal for God and charity towards man. He honoured Christ before the world, and proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom. He also felt for the sad state of his companion in crime, and sought with his dying breath to lead him to repentance. However recent his own convictions he must make them known. He could not let his companion die impenitent without a word of remonstrance. He could not withhold the discovery he had made of a Saviour who could do more for them both than take them down from the cross. (Newman Hall, LL. B.)
The penitent robber
I like Luke’s description of these two men better than any other. He does not call them thieves: he calls them malefactors--that is, doers of evil, without specifying the exact form of crime to which they had committed themselves, and which had brought upon them the agonies of crucifixion. I am quite willing that one of them should be called a thief: he was small and mean of mind, and there was nothing in his speech that did not become a very low and vulgar order of intellectual and moral conception. But the one who is usually spoken of as the penitent thief proved himself in this last distress to be one of the greatest men that ever lived in the world. If you analyze his speech you will find that in philosophy, in audacity of thought, in width and penetration of conception, no greater speech was ever made by human lips. I am, therefore, prepared to defend this malefactor on the intellectual side, and to redeem him from the debasement of his association with a man of a nutshell mind and of a foul tongue. This is one of the stories in the Bible that must be true, by the mere force of its audacity. It never could have entered the mind of a romancist that such a man, under such circumstances, could have made such a speech. All the disciples are mean men, intellectually, compared with this dying malefactor. They never discovered, up to the time of the crucifixion, intellectual vigour enough to conceive a figure like this. They have painted women well, they have done justly by a thousand beautiful incidents in the life of their great, sweet Lord, but no man like this have they ever dreamed into being. He was real--he did say these words. They stand out from all other words so grandly as to be their own best testimony and vindication. What did this dying malefactor do to prove his intellectual greatness? He saw the Lord in the victim. What did all the other minds round about him? What vulgarity always does and must do--reviled, derided, scorned the weak, defied the impotent, crushed the worm. It was like them, worthy of them; in so doing they did not debase Christ; they wrote themselves little men. It is a great thing for thee, poor coward, to revile a man both of whose hands are nailed, and whose feet are pierced with iron, and whose temples are bleeding because of the cruel thorn. Art thou very witty, mighty in mind, very chivalrous and nobly heroic to speak derisive words of any man in such circumstances? Observe how all other men looked upon Christ just them All the disciples had forsaken Him, and fled away. The women were standing in helpless tears, dejected and speechless. All the people round about, big and little, were mocking and deriding the great Sufferer. One of the malefactors was saying, “If Thou be the Christ, save Thyself and us.” Little minds have all little scales of proof. If Jesus had come down from the cross and taken the two thieves with Him, that would have settled everything in the mind of the malefactor, but it would have only settled it for the moment. He would have taken from that wider liberty to repeat his petty felonies. He must be a thief, that man, and he would have made his calling and election sure. But in the midst of all this abandonment on the one hand, derision, contempt, and scorn on the other, an unexpected and unlikely voice says “Lord” to the dying Nazarene. It was a great thought, it was an audacious utterance. Viewed in relation to the time anti all the convergent circumstances of the case, to have said “Lord” then was to have seen the sun amid the darkness of midnight, to have penetrated the gloom of countless generations and ages, and to have seen all the stars in their keenest glitter of light far away above the dense and lowering gloom. Dost thou see big things in the dark, my friend, or art thou terrified by thine own shadow? What mind hast thou? A forecasting and prophetic mind, a seeing mind, a prophetic brain; or art thou dazed by lights that seem to have no relation and harmony, and confounded by voices coming from a thousand different quarters at once? Hast thou shaping power of mind, a grand power, all but creative, which orders chaos into Cosmos, which makes the darkness reveal its jewellery of stars? Where are thou in this great religious thinking? Learn from a strange teacher that Victim and Lord are compatible terms. Learn that a man may transiently be at the very depth of his history, that he may come up from that with a completer strength and a fuller lustre to the height of his power. “He made Himself of no reputation; He took upon Him the form of a servant; He became obedient unto death.” Dust thou only know a king when he is upon a throne? Dost thou require a great label in red letters to be put around a man’s neck to know just what he is? Dost thou know no man can be a great man who lives in a little house? Sayest thou of thy small vulgarized mind, “The man who lives amid all these bricks must be a huge man”? Dust thou never see a third-class passenger in a first-class carriage? What sort of mind hast thou? O that the Lord God of Elijah and Elisha would open thine eyes, poor servant, to see within the thronging soldier-host a circle of angels; keen as lightning, terrible as fire, defensive as almightiness! This malefactor, a man who could have played with thrones and nations, did more than see the Lord in the victim, and yet it was something exactly on the same line of thought. He saw life beyond death. Consider where he is: on the cross, bleeding, his life oozing out of him in red drops; his breath will presently be gone. Is he throttled, killed?--is he a beast thrust through that will baptize the earth with red water, and exhale and blend with the infinite azure? He is not conquered: he dies to live. “Lord,” said he, “remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.” “But you are dying.”--“No.” “You are to be buried.”--“No.” “It is your last hour.”--“No. I cannot die: if this Man take me in charge, death will be but a momentary shadow. I will come up into a larger life. This Man breathes eternity, and creates kingdoms, and sets up empires, and gives away thrones. I cannot die if He take charge of me.” Whoever made so grand a speech in circumstances so unlikely to have suggested such an outcome? What is your speech? A sad farewell--something little better than a whine--the whimper of a subdued nature--the tremulous breath of one whose strength is all gone? Or dost thou languish into life? Dost thou hear the angels singing, “Sister spirit, come away”? What is thy faith doing for thee? Be not shamed by a malefactor. The dying malefactor spoke up for Christ. Into what strange circumstances we are often drawn--our friends gone or dumb, our enemies deriding and mocking, and our defence spoken by a strange tongue! We are better known than we think for; all our help comes from unexpected quarters. The true man is not utterly deserted: some one will arise from a corner unthought of to speak a kind word for him. The malefactor said, “This Man hath done nothing amiss.” It was a bold thing to say: the court had condemned Him, the High Priest had reviled Him, the sentiment of the times was against Him, the mob had hustled Him to Golgotha; and the malefactor undertook from that high court to reverse the decree, and to pronounce the Son of God to be unworthy of such a death! We have our chances of speaking for Christ--how do we use them? He is still upon the cross--who speaks for Him? I have heard men speak for Christ whose way of doing it I have envied, and who were the very last men in the world, I thought, who could ever have spoken up for such a Lord. They have spoken with the pathos of gratitude; they have spoken with the directness of a burning and earnest conviction. Were they ministers in the usual sense of the term? No, but they were ordained prophets of God. We can be exemplars where we cannot be advocates: we can live a life where we cannot make a speech: every man amongst us can do something to proclaim, not the innocence only, but the infinite and incorruptible holiness of Jesus Christ. This malefactor saw the kingdom beyond the cross. Great man--piercing mind--audacious thinker. Is there a man here of such spirit and temper? It is not in man; it is a revelation of the Holy Ghost. God opens strange mouths to speak His truth. Just see, then, how our selfishness differs. The little thief said, “Save me, take me down from the cross,” the big thief said, “Never mind the present: let it be a kingdom when it comes--an ulterior salvation, an ulterior destiny.” Selfishness indeed, but on a nobler scale. The small mind wanted an immediate benefit; the great mind said, “Let us go through this tunnel into the great kingdom, into the beautiful landscape. When we shoot out of this darkness--Lord, remember me!” Perhaps not selfish either. Did not this dying malefactor say more in that interview with Christ than some of us have ever said in our lives? He defended Him, he hailed Him Lord, he ascribed to Him a kingdom, he triumphed over death, he saw the crown above the cross. Christianity invites and encourages vigour of intellect. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The dying thief
I. We see here an illustration of THE CROSS IN ITS POWER OF DRAWING MEN TO ITSELF. It is strange to think that, perhaps, at that moment the only human being that thoroughly believed in Christ was that dying robber. The disciples are all gone. The most faithful of them are recreant, denying, fleeing. Brethren, it is just the history of the gospel wherever it goes. It is its history now, and in this congregation. The gospel is preached equally to every man. The same message comes to us all, offering us the same terms. And what is the consequence? A parting of the whole mass of us, some on one side and some on the other. As when you take a magnet, and hold it to an indiscriminate heap of metal filings, it will gather out all the iron, and leave behind all the rest! “I, if I be lifted up,” said He, “will draw all men unto Me.” The attractive power will go out over the whole race of His brethren; but from some there will be no response. In some hearts there will be no yielding to the attraction. Some will remain rooted, obstinate, steadfast in their place; and to some the lightest word will be mighty enough to stir all the slumbering pulses of their sin-ridden hearts, and to bring them, broken and penitent, for mercy to His feet. To the one He is “a savour of life unto life, and to the other a savour of death unto death.” And now, there is another consideration. If we look at this man, this penitent thief, and contrast him, his previous history, and his present feelings, with the people that stood around, and rejected and scoffed, we get some light as to the sort of thing that unfits men for perceiving and accepting the gospel when it is offered to them. Why was it that scribes and Pharisees turned away from Him? For three reasons. Because of their pride of wisdom. “We are the men who know all about Moses and the traditions of the elders; we judge this new phenomenon not by the question, How does it come to our consciences, and how does it appeal to our hearts? but we judge it by the question, How does it tit our rabbinical learning? They turned away from the cross, and their hatred darkened into derision, and their menaces ended in a crucifixion, not merely because of a pride of wisdom, but because of a complacent self-righteousness that knew nothing of the fact of sin, that never had learned to believe itself to be full of evil, that had got so wrapped up in ceremonies as to have lost the life; that had degraded the Divine law of God, with all its lightning “splendours, and awful power, into a matter of “mint and anise and cummin.” They turned away for a third reason. Religion had become to them a mere set of traditional dogmas, to think accurately or to reason clearly about which was all that was needful. Still it is not sin in its outward forms that makes the worst impediment between a man and the cross, but it is sin plus self-righteousness which makes the insurmountable obstacle to all faith and repentance. And then we see here, too, the elements of which acceptable faith consists. Mark what it was that he believed and expressed--I am a sinful man; all punishment that comes down upon me is richly deserved: This man is pure and righteous; “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.” That is all--that is all. That is the thing that saves a man. How much He did know--whether he knew all the depth of what he was saying, when he said, “Lord!” is a question that we cannot answer; whether he understood what the “kingdom” was that he was expecting, is a question that we cannot solve; but this is clear--the intellectual part of faith may be dark and doubtful, but the moral and emotional part of it is manifest and plain. “My Saviour! My Saviour! He is righteous: He has died--He lives! I will stay no longer; I will cast myself upon Him!”
II. This incident reminds us not only of the attractive power of the cross, but of the prophetic power of the cross. We have here THE CROSS AS POINTING TO AND FORETELLING THE KINGDOM. Pointing out, and foretelling: that is to say, of course, and only, if we accept the scriptural statement of what these sufferings were, the Person that endured them, and the meaning of their being endured. But the only thing I would dwell upon here, is, that when we think of Christ as dying for us, we are never to separate it from that other solemn and future coming of which this poor robber catches a glimpse. The crown of thorns proclaims a sovereignty founded on sufferings. The sceptre of feeble reed speaks of power wielded in gentleness. The cross leads to the crown. He who was lifted up to the cross, was, by that very act, lifted up to be a Ruler and Commander to the peoples. “Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness before Him in the day of judgment.” “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.”
III. Here is the CROSS AS REVEALING AND OPENING THE TRUE PARADISE. “This day shalt thou be with Me in paradise.” It is of more practical worth to note: the penitent’s vague prayer is answered, and over-answered. Remember thee I thou shalt be with Me, close to My side. Remember thee when I come! this day shalt thou be with Me. And what a contrast that is--the conscious blessedness rushing in close upon the heels of themomentary darkness of death. At the one moment there hangs the thief writhing in mortal agony; the wild shouts of the fierce mob at his feet are growing faint upon his ear: the city spread out at his feet, and all the familiar sights of earth are growing dim to his filmy eye. The soldier’s spear comes, the legs are broken, and in an instant there hangs a relaxed corpse; and the spirit, the spirit--is where? Ah! how far away; released from all its sin and its sore agony, struggling up at once into such strange divine enlargement, a new star swimming into the firmament of heaven, a new face before the throne of God, another sinner redeemed from earth! (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The penitent malefactor
I. THE CHARACTER AND CIRCUMSTANCES OF THIS MAN. The Evangelists St. Matthew and St. Mark describe him as a “thief”; and in the text St. Luke denominates him a “malefactor.” It may not, therefore, be improper to trace the progress of iniquity in such persons; and to show the causes which contribute to form their mischievous and wretched characters. By this means inexperienced persons may be warned against the beginnings of evil, and the guardians of youth reminded of the responsibilities under which they lie. Among these causes we may specify--
1. The want of a sound religious and moral education.
2. The violation of the Sabbath is another fruitful source of evil.
3. The keeping of bad company, which is another frightful source of evil.
4. Habits of intemperance, The circumstances of the man who is described in our text were awful indeed. His end was actually come. Even to the holiest of men death is an affair of awful moment. It dissolves our earthly frame; it severs our connection with every person and object beneath the sun; it ends our short day of trial; and it forces us into a state which eternity will never reverse. The fear and trepidation which naturally arise, even in a good mind, at the arrival of death, are terribly heightened by that consciousness of guilt which the malefactor before us must have felt.
II. HIS CONDUCT UPON THIS MOMENTOUS OCCASION.
1. He reproved the rashness and impiety of his impenitent fellow-sufferer.
2. He acknowledged the justice of the sentence under which he lay. “We indeed,” said he, suffer death “justly.” It is an ill sign when persons who are punished for their faults are loud in their complaints of undue severity.
3. He bore witness to the innocence of Jesus. “This man,” said he, “hath done nothing amiss.”
4. He made a direct application to Christ for mercy. Turning his languid eyes to Jesus, he said, “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.”
III. THE ANSWER WHICH CHRIST GRACIOUSLY VOUCHSAFED: “Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with Me in paradise.”
1. This answer secured to the man the requisite preparation for future glory. If he was to be in paradise that day, he must on that day be qualified for its joys and employment. That this great work should be instantaneously wrought is not at all surprising when we consider its Author.
2. The answer of our Lord marks the true nature of man.
3. Our Lord’s answer teaches us that those who die in Him immediately enter into rest. No longer period of time elapses after the believing soul has left the body before its superior happiness begins. (J. Jackson.)
Folly of trusting to a death-bed repentance
Do not trust a death-bed repentance, my brother. I have stood by many a death-bed, and few indeed have there been where I could have believed that the man was in a condition physically (to say nothing of anything else) clearly to see and grasp the message of the gospel. I know that God’s mercy is boundless. I know that a man, going--swept down that great Niagara--if, before his little skiff tilts over into the awful rapids, he can make one great bound with all his strength, and reach the solid ground--I know he may be saved. It is an awful risk to run. A moment’s miscalculation, and skiff and voyager alike are whelming in the green chaos below, and come up mangled into nothing, far away down yonder upon the white turbulent foam. “One was saved upon the cross,” as the old divines used to tell us, “that none might despair; and only one that none might presume.” (Maclaren.)
A wonderful prayer
What if the two greatest believers that ever lived were at that moment hanging side by side! What if the faith of the far greater Believer, more sorely tried than it had ever been before, was strengthened in that hour of deepest need by the unshaken faith of the dying criminal beside Him, as He had before been strengthened, whether in mind, or body, or both, by an angel in the garden! What if the faith expressed in that prayer encouraged the Saviour of the world to believe in Himself and in His Father, by showing that some one else believed in Him still! What if the words, “When Thou comest in Thy kingdom,” brought the kingdom as a living reality for a moment before His mind, and put life into His fainting spirit! Why, then, if this were so, we can understand why such faith should be given to such a man. He would have an opportunity of manifesting it as no one else ever had before or since, and by so manifesting it, of rendering to the Incarnate Son of God perhaps the greatest help that He ever received from any human being. (S. Minton, M. A.)
Great faith manifested
Oh! what wondrous, yea, miraculous faith! How much had it to contend against!
1. Against the circumstances of the ease. Admit that the converted thief had witnessed Jesus’ miracles, and had heretofore conceived high notions of our Lord’s divinity and power; now when he saw that very Jesus, his Companion in death, nailed to the cross by his side, surely (humanly speaking), it was enough to stagger his faith, and lead him to join in the godless taunts of the godless men around him.
2. His faith had to contend against the voice of the times. For the whole national spirit was against Jesus, crying, “Away with Him, crucify Him.”
3. Example was against him. All around him are unbelievers; and we know well how contaminating is the society of unbelievers. And, further, his faith leads him to re prove sin in others: “Dost thou not fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation”--even in the very man who in all probability was his accomplice in crime; for he adds, “We indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds” (Luke 23:41). Well, I think his faith cannot be accounted for upon any principle derived from the nature of the case. What would you think of some politician now-a-days clinging to some favourite scheme of reform, when the spirit of the age was against him, the voice of his fellow-countrymen, his friends, and his neighbours pronounced his cherished scheme Utopian and ridiculous? The man would not be able to withstand all; and very likely he would abandon his project for ever as he finds himself thus alone in his views, or gain for himself the no very enviable appellation of a man of unsound mind. How, then, I ask, can you account for his unflinching faith? Oh! he was taught by God’s Holy Spirit, and that Spirit supplies with strength in the hour of need, with comfort in trouble and tribulations. And He only can make us call Jesus “Lord, even the Lord of our salvation.” (F. McGlynn, M. A.)
A wonderful request
It was a wonderful request. What a faith did it exhibit! He recognized a King in the dying Man, and saw that the Cross was the high road to His throne; he felt and proclaimed his own immortality, and knew himself no destructible thing, though the ministry of death was breaking down the fleshly tabernacle; but once assured that he had yet to enter on untried and unlimited destinies, he therefore asked to be remembered when all this sin and suffering should have passed away, and another and a wider range of being should spread before him. And “remember me.” He only asked to be remembered; but it was the memory of a King, trod that King Messiah, Lord of the invisible world, in whose chambers he solicited a place; and thus he evinced a thorough faith in the saving power of Jesus. What advantage in the being remembered by Jesus, unless Jesus could procure for him that pardon which He had been asking for His crucifiers? What advantage the being remembered by a king, except that as king he must have authority to portion out allotments of happiness? So that it is no overwrought or exaggerated statement that the dying thief exhibited all the tokens which can ever be demanded of a genuine conversion. There was confession of sin, there was spirituality of mind, there was anxiety for others, there was the fullest recognition of Christ’s power to deliver, and there was a mighty faith which, nothing daunted by all the circumstances of apparent helplessness and defeat, were sufficient to confound and overcome distance, sprang beyond the line of death and shame, and seemed to gaze on the palace and the crown; and though he had not an opportunity of showing by an altered life that his heart was renewed, yet his faith in Christ was so stupendous an act, that no one can doubt that, had space been allowed for development, every action would have proved its reality. (H. Melvill B. D.)
“Lord, remember me!”
Legh Richmond, the author of “The Dairyman’s Daughter,” in one of his visits to the Young Cottager, found the little girl asleep, with her finger lying on a Bible, which lay open before her, pointing at these words, “Lord, remember me, when Thou comest in Thy kingdom!” “Is this casual, or designed? thought I. Either way is remarkable. But, in another moment, I discovered that her finger was indeed an index to the thoughts of her heart. She half awoke from her dozing state, but not sufficiently so to perceive that any person was present, and said in a kind of whisper, ‘Lord, remember me--remember me--remember--remember a poor child; Lord, remember me!’”
Christ as Saviour
The last hours of Jesus were spent almost in silence. Teaching is at an end. His prophetic office is fulfilled. His priestly work has begun. The time has come to endure. But in the few words which He did utter He seemed to be all Saviour--never before so affectingly and impressively Saviour.
I. THERE IS A CRUCIFIED MALEFACTOR. Could Jesus interest Himself in such an one? Is he not beneath His notice? Ah! the Saviour can only know man as man. It is our nature as men, with all its mysterious, dread, and ineffable possibilities, that Jesus came to redeem. A dying malefactor contrite, is nearer to Jesus than a living king impenitent and estranged from God.
II. THE LORD IS VERY GRACIOUS. He did not breathe a word about that past guilty life. You and I would probably have recalled to the malefactor his terrible career, and would have felt it our duty to impress upon him a due sense of that evil state. A Saviour could not do that. Well, the Lord knew that no one ever turns to God whose heart is not already bruised and broken. When poor souls go to the Lord, it is not smiting which they need, but healing. Jesus blotted out the dreadful past, and unrolled the vision of the future. Our Lord seemed to say, “Yes, I will remember thee, but thy ‘sins and thine iniquities will I remember no more.’”
III. HOW ANXIOUS OUR BLESSED SAVIOUR WAS TO ASSURE THE PENITENT OF THE MERCY WHICH HE COVETED! “Verily I say unto thee.” It was only in moods of special intensity and on occasions peculiarly solemn that our Lord resorted to the asseveration. Verily I say unto thee. How the all-pitying Saviour shone forth in this emphatic expression!
IV. THE GREAT REDEEMER WAS ABSORBED TO THE LAST MOMENT IN THE WELFARE OF OTHERS.
V. IT WAS RIGHT TO PRAY TO THE LORD JESUS. (H. Batchelor.)
To-day shalt thou be with Me in paradise
The mercy of Christ to the penitent thief
I. LET US CONSIDER THE REPENTANCE AND CONVERSION OF THE MALEFACTOR MENTIONED IN THIS PASSAGE.
1. As to the means of his conversion. He was a Jew, and had probably some general knowledge of the prophecies concerning the Messiah. And no doubt what he witnessed of our Lord’s extraordinary meekness and patience under His sufferings, and His prayer for His murderers, greatly confirmed his faith in Him, as the Redeemer promised to the fathers. This shows us the importance of maintaining a becoming temper under all the provocations we are called to meet with, in the respective situations in which we are placed, that if any obey not the Word, they may, without the Word, be won by our good conversation in Christ.
2. Observe the evidence he gave of the reality of the change.
3. The prayer which he presents to our dying Lord. We see in his prayer the exercise of faith in the Redeemer, and of hope in His mercy. His genuine humility is also apparent. All he presumes to ask is to be remembered by Christ. He says nothing about receiving the brightest crown He has to bestow, or the largest mansion He has at His disposal.
4. The gracious answer which our Lord made to his urgent request. And was ever answer so satisfactory, gracious, and consolatory?
II. SOME OF THE LESSONS THE CONVERSION OF THE DYING THIEF IS INTENDED TO TEACH US.
1. It SHOWS US the sovereignty and freeness of the Divine mercy.
2. We have here a striking proof of the unspeakable efficacy of the atoning blood of Christ.
3. It becomes us to admire the almighty power of Christ, in subduing the hearts of sinners, and bringing the disobedient to the wisdom of the just.
4. We shall do well to notice the prevalency of prayer, in the instance before us. For this convinced, praying sinner no sooner asks than he receives, no sooner seeks than he finds, and no sooner knocks than the door of mercy is opened unto him.
5. The subject furnishes us with a specimen of the nature of true conversion, in every age.
6. This rich display of grace is intended to animate us in our endeavours, under the most discouraging circumstances, to bring sinners to repentance. (Essex Remembrancer.)
Christ’s greatest trophy
I. CHRIST’S POWER AND WILLINGNESS TO SAVE SINNERS. I believe the Lord Jesus never gave so complete a proof of His power and will to save as He did upon this occasion. In the day when He seemed most weak, He showed that He was a strong deliverer. In the hour when His body was racked with pain, He showed that He could feel tenderly for others. At the time when He Himself was dying, tie conferred on a sinner eternal life.
II. IF SOME ARE SAVED IN THE VERY HOUR OF DEATH OTHERS ARE NOT. There is warning as well as comfort in these verses, and that is a very solemn warning too. They tell me loudly, that though some may repent and be converted on their death-beds, it does not at all follow that all will. A death-bed is not always a saving time. They tell me loudly that two men may have the same opportunities of getting good for their souls, may be placed in the same position, see the same things, and hear the same things--and yet only one of the two shall take advantage of them, repent,believe, and be saved. They tell me, above all, that repentance and faith are the gifts of God, and are not in a man’s own power; and that if any one flatters himself he can repent at his own time, choose his own season, seek the Lord when he pleases, and, like the penitent thief, be saved at the very last--he may find at length he is greatly deceived. I want you to beware of letting slip good thoughts and godly convictions, if you have them. Cherish them and nourish them, lest you lose them for ever. Make the most of them, lest they take to themselves wings and flee away. Have you an inclination to begin praying? Put it in practice at once. Have you an idea of beginning really to serve Christ? Set about it at once.
III. THE SPIRIT ALWAYS LEADS SAVED SOULS IN ONE WAY. Every saved soul goes through the same experience, and the leading principles of the penitent thief’s religion were just the same as those of the oldest saint that ever lived.
1. See, then, for one thing, how strong was the faith of this man. He called Jesus “Lord.” He declared his belief that He would have “a kingdom.”
2. See, for another thing, what a right sense of sin the thief had. He says to his companion, “We receive the due reward of our deeds.” Would you know if you have the Spirit? Then mark my question--Do you feel your sins?
3. See, for another thing, what brotherly love the thief showed to his companion. He tried to stop his railing and blaspheming, and bring trim to a better mind. “Dost not thou fear God,” he says, “seeing thou art in the same condemnation?” There is no surer mark of grace than this! Grace shakes a man out of his selfishness, and makes him feel for the souls of others.
IV. BELIEVERS IN CHRIST WHEN THEY DIE ARE WITH THE LORD. It was a true saying of a dying girl, when her mother tried to comfort her by describing what paradise would be. “There,” she said to the child, “there you will have no pains, and no sickness; there you will see your brothers and sisters, who have gone before you, And will be always happy.” “Ah, mother!” was the reply, but there is one thing better than all, and that is, Christ will be there.”
V. THE ETERNAL PORTION OF EVERY MAN’S SOUL IS CLOSE TO HIM. “Today,” says our Lord to the penitent thief, “to-day shalt thou be with Me in paradise.” He names no distant period; He does not talk of his entering into a state of happiness as a thing “far away,” He speaks of to-day--“this very day in which thou art hanging on the cross.” How near that seems! The very moment that believers die they are in paradise. Their battle is fought; their strife is over. They have passed through that gloomy valley we must one day tread; they have gone over that dark river we must one day cross. They have drank that last bitter cup which sin has mingled for man; they have reached that place where sorrow and sighing are no more. Surely we should not wish them back again! We are warring still, but they are at peace. We are labouring, but they are at rest. We are wearing our spiritual armour, but they have for ever put it off. We are still at sea, but they are safe in harbour. We have tears, but they have joy. (Bishop Ryle.)
Conversion of the dying thief
I. THE PROMINENT FEATURES OF THIS STRIKING CONVERSION.
1. The former character of this person.
2. The means whereby the change was accomplished. Conversion is God’s work, but He usually employs certain means in effecting it.
(1) The words which the Saviour uttered.
(2) The spirit which the Saviour displayed.
3. The evidences he manifested of the reality of his conversion.
(1) He warned and reproved his fellow-sufferer.
(2) He made an open confession of his guilt, and acknowledged the justice of his sentence.
(3) He vindicates the character of Christ.
(4) He prays to Christ, and exercises unbounded confidence in Him.
II. WHAT THOSE LESSONS ARE WHICH WE SHOULD LEARN FROM THIS WONDERFUL EVENT.
1. Let us admire the riches of Divine grace. Oh how great, how unexpected, and especially how rapid was the change.
2. How striking a proof is here afforded of the Saviour’s power. What must that energy be, which, under such circumstances, could snatch this man as a brand from the burnings.
3. The danger of delay is another lesson we may deduce from this narrative. Suppose a person had once leaped unhurt from some projecting rock into the deep precipice below, would that justify others in running the same risk? Madness of the maddest kind would it be. (Expository Outlines.)
The great moral miracle of the Cross
I. THE SCENE OF THIS MORAL MIRACLE.
II. THE CHARACTERS PROMINENTLY BROUGHT BEFORE US ON CALVARY.
III. THE PETITION PRESENTED BY THE DYING SINNER. “Lord, remember me, when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.”
1. It is a prayer that is offered up. The first prayer ever offered by him. The prayer of this penitent malefactor was sincere.
2. It was the prayer of faith; he believed in the power and willingness of the Saviour to bless Him.
3. It recognizes the supreme authority of the Saviour as a King.
4. In this prayer we see, too, his faith in the doctrine of the immortality of the soul.
5. This prayer is distinguished by humility.
6. This prayer is distinguished by fervour.
IV. THE ANSWER OF THE DIVINE SAVIOUR. This answer directs our thoughts to the home of the righteous after death--paradise. In this answer of the Saviour, another great doctrine is implied--That the soul of man is immaterial; that it lives and acts when the frail body lies in the silent tomb. In this answer of the Saviour we are taught that the righteous soul, in leaving the body, ascends immediately to God. In this answer of the Saviour, too, we see His power and willingness to save--to save “to the uttermost.” (H. P. Bowen.)
Christ preaching on the cross
You are all aware that God’s ordinary engine for the conversion of sinners is the preaching of His Word. We think that it was so here. Lifted on the cross, Christ used it not only as an altar, but as a pulpit, from which to deliver the most touching of sermons. It was not merely that He preached by the beauty of His patience and His meekness; there must indeed have been a voice in this which ought to have spoken to the most hardened of the multitude, producing conviction of His innocence, and contrition for the share taken in His condemnation and crucifixion; but we may consider the prayer which Christ uttered for His murderers as most strictly the sermon which the malefactor heard, and which, carried home to his heart by the Spirit of God, wrought in him the change so quickly and strikingly developed. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” These, we think, were the words which penetrated the conscience of the thief, and assured him that the being who hung at his side was none other than the promised Saviour of the world; for there was contained in that prayer a distinct claim to the being the Christ--for since the Jews crucified Him for pretending to be the Messiah, Christ’s saying that they knew not what they did, amounted to an assertion that He actually was the Messiah. If there were pardon for those who crucified Christ, there must be also for every offender; and hence the thief, if once led to believe that Jesus was the Christ, would be further led to see forgiveness possible, and thus apply to his fellow-sufferer for salvation. So that in that short prayer which we have characterized as the sermon of Christ, there was all the publication of the gospel, which is ordinarily made effectual, by God’s Spirit, to conversion. There was a distinct announcement that every sin may be pardoned through the intercession of Christ, and what is this but the sum and substance of the gospel? And this preaching it was which, without indulging in fanciful supposition, we may believe to have been instrumental to change of heart in the malefactor. The Spirit of God took the prayer of Christ, as it often does a sentence or a text from the mouth of one of His ministers, and, winging it with power, sent it into the very soul of the man who had just reviled the Redeemer. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The state of the righteous after death
I. THE SOULS OF SAINTS SURVIVE THEIR BODIES.
1. Scripture plainly represents the soul to be different and distinct from the body.
2. The death of the body has no tendency to destroy the life of the soul.
3. Death has no more tendency to obstruct the free, voluntary, rational exercise of the soul, than to destroy it.
II. The souls of the saints after death GO IMMEDIATELY TO PARADISE.
1. Thes are essentially prepared to go there.
2. The Scripture gives no account of any other place than heaven or hell, to which the souls of men go after death.
3. That the Scripture assures us that many saints have actually gone to heaven immediately after they left this world.
1. This subject teaches the error of those who hold that the souls of all men are annihilated at death.
2. This subject teaches the error of those who maintain that the souls of men sleep during the intermediate state between death and the resurrection.
3. This subject teaches the enormous error of those who maintain that many of the souls of saints are at their death sent immediately to purgatory, and there confined for a longer or shorter time, before they are allowed to go to heaven.
4. This subject teaches us the immense value of the human soul. It is distinct from, and superior to, the body, in all its rational powers and faculties, and can exist in its full vigour and activity in a state of separation from the body. It is in its nature immortal, and no other power than that which gave it existence can destroy it.
5. If the soul survives the body, and as soon as it leaves it goes into a state of everlasting happiness or misery, then this life is the most important period in human existence.
6. If the souls of men survive their bodies, then the office of the ministry is a very serious and responsible office. It is the peculiar and appropriate business of ministers to watch for souls. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
Christ’s word to the penitent thief
I. THERE IS A FUTURE ETERNAL STATE, INTO WHICH SOULS PASS AT DEATH. This is a principal foundationstone to the hopes and happiness of souls.
And seeing our hopes must needs be as their foundation and ground-work is, I shall briefly establish this truth by these five arguments.
1. The being of a God evinces it.
2. The Scriptures of truth plainly reveal it. The consciences of all men have resentments of it.
4. The incarnation and death of Christ is but a vanity without it.
5. The immortality of human souls plainly discovers it.
II. ALL BELIEVERS ARE AT THEIR DEATH IMMEDIATELY RECEIVED INTO A STATE OF GLORY AND ETERNAL HAPPINESS. Inference
1. Are believers immediately with God after their dissolution? Then how surprisingly glorious will heaven be to believers! Not that they are in it before they think of it or are fitted for it; no, they have spent many thoughts upon it before, and been long preparing for it; but the suddenness and greatness of the change is amazing to our thoughts. Who can tell what sights, what apprehensions, what thoughts, what frames believing souls have before the bodies they left are removed from the eyes of their dear surviving friends?
2. Are believers immediately with God after their dissolution? Where, then, shall unbelievers be, and in what state will they find themselves immediately after death hath closed their eyes? Ah! what will the case of them be that go the other way! To be plucked out of house and body, from among friends and comforts, and thrust into endless miseries into the dark vault of hell; never to see the light of this world any more; never to see a comfortable sight; never to hear a joyful sound; never to know the meaning of rest, peace, or delight any more. O what a change is here!
3. How little cause have they to fear death, who shall be with God so soon after their death!
III. GOD MAY, THOUGH HE SELDOM DOES, PREPARE MEN FOR GLORY IMMEDIATELY BEFORE THEIR DISSOLUTION BY DEATH. Many, I know, have hardened themselves in ways of sin, by this example of mercy. But what God did at this time, for this man, cannot be expected to be done ordinarily for us: and the reasons thereof are--Reason
1. Because God hath vouchsafed us the ordinary and standing means of grace which this sinner had not; and therefore we cannot expect such extraordinary and unusual conversions as he had.
2. Such a conversion as this may not be ordinarily expected by any man, because such a time as that will never come again. It is possible, if Christ were to die again, and thou to be crucified with Him, thou mightest receive thy conversion in such a miraculous end extraordinary way; but Christ dies no more; such a day as that will never come again.
3. Such a conversion as this may not ordinarily be expected; for as such a time will never come again, so there will never be the like reason for such a conversion any more, Christ converted him upon the cross, to give an instance of His Divine power at that time, when it was almost wholly clouded.
4. None hath reason to expect the like conversion that enjoys the ordinary means; because, though in this convert we have a pattern of what free grace can do, yet as divines pertinently observe, it is a pattern without a promise; God hath not added any promise to it that ever He will do so for any other; and where we have not a promise to encourage our hope, our hope can signify but little to us.
1. Let those that have found mercy in the evening of their life admire the extraordinary grace that therein hath appeared to them. O that ever God should accept the bran, when Satan hath had the flour of thy days I
2. Let this convince and startle such as, even in their grey hairs, remain in an unconverted state.
3. Let this be a call and caution to all young ones to begin with God betime, and take heed of delays till the last, so as many thousands have done before them to their eternal ruin.
1. O set to the business of religion now, because this is the moulding age.
2. Now, because this is the freest part of your time. It is in the morning of your life, as in the morning of the day. If a man have any business to he done, let him take tile morning for it; for in the after part of the day a hurry of business comes on, so that you either forget it or want opportunity for it.
3. Now, because your life is immediately uncertain.
4. Now, because God will not spare you because you are but young sinners, little sinners, if you die Christless.
5. Now, because your life will be the more eminently useful and serviceable to God when you know Him betime, and begin with Him early.
6. Now, because your life will be the sweeter to you when the morning of it is dedicated to the Lord. (J. Flavel.)
Scriptural mention of paradise
This is the only occasion during the days of His flesh on which (so far at least as we know) paradise was made mention of by our Lord. Once, too, He mentions it in His glory Revelation 2:7), and once it is on the lips of His chief apostle (2 Corinthians 12:4). These are the only times that it occurs in the New Testament. Hanging on the accursed tree, His thoughts may well have travelled back to another tree, even the tree of life, standing in the paradise of God: in that paradise, which by all this sore agony He was at this instant winning back for the children of men--opening for them the gates of another paradise. (Archbishop Trench.)
The Saviour’s grace
I. There is a reference to PLACE. “Thou shalt be in paradise.” The royal garden of an Oriental palace was called a paradise. The word suggests the ideas of abundance, security, beauty, and delight. Paradise has been regained by Christ--a better paradise than our first parents ever knew; for the serpent shall never creep into it, the tempter’s trail shall never pollute it, Satan shall not approach it nor taint its purity by his poisonous breath. There flows the river of the water of life, issuing clear as crystal from the throne of God and of the Lamb. There grows the tree which bears twelve manner of fruits, and whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. No law forbids those who enter there to pluck and eat. No sword of the cherubim turns every way to debar access. There the rose is without a thorn.
II. The gracious answer of Christ referred to COMPANY as well as place. “Thou shalt be with Me.” The dying thief might have had doubts as to the meaning of the word “paradise.” Where is it? What are its occupations and its joys? Who will be my companions? But, to prevent all painful perplexity, our Lord, in addition to the promise of paradise, added that of Himself--“Thou shalt be with Me.” To be with Christ is represented throughout the New Testament as the climax of the believer’s hope. Jesus said, as the greatest reward He could offer--“Where I am, there shall also My servant be.” He consoled His disciples with the assurance, “I will come again, and take you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” He interceded on their behalf, saying--“Father, I will that they whom Thou hast given Me be with Me where I am.” Stephen’s hope in death was expressed in the prayer” Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” St. Paul said he was in a strait betwixt two, “having a desire to depart, and be with Christ, which is far better.” And Jesus promised this to the dying thief--“Thou shalt be with Me.” The promise of being with Christ includes perfect pardon, perfect purity, and perfect bliss. The father of the preacher, now, for some years, in the presence of that Sinner’s Friend whom he so loved to publish, used to tell of a soldier he well knew, who, in reward for character and long services, received from the commander-in-chief a captain’s commission. But he did not feel comfortable in his rank, for he fancied he was looked down upon by his new companions on account of his origin. There can be nothing more vulgar than to treat with dishonour those who have risen to a higher station. It needs no brains to possess money acquired by one’s ancestors, and rank attained by birth is not necessarily allied to genius, virtue, or achievements. To affect to despise those who, by rising from a humble origin, prove that they have merit as well as rank, is a mark of a mean and little mind. We will hope the soldier was mistaken, for British officers are gentlemen. But he felt uncomfortable, and asked to be restored to his former position. The commander-in-chief, guessing the reason, ordered a grand parade at the garrison, then, calling him by his title, walked up and down with him in familiar conversation. After this he no longer imagined that he was regarded with disfavour by his new associates. If we may compare the poor paltry distinctions of earth with those of heaven, this is what Jesus did to the dying thief. He said--“Thou shalt be with Me.” I will welcome thee at the threshold; I will lead thee by the hand into the palace; I will introduce thee to its glorious inhabitants, the angels and the spirits of just men made perfect; thou shalt be with Me.
III. Our Lord’s reply related to TIME. “To-day.’’
1. This proves the continued conscious existence of the soul after death. Surely if the dying thief had been about to fall into a deep sleep for hundreds or thousands of years the promise of being that day in paradise with Jesus would have been inappropriate and delusive.
2. We also learn that the soul of a believer is at death fitted to be at once with Jesus. There: must have been plenary and immediate absolution for the penitent thief. If on that very day with Jesus, on that very day fit to be with Him, and therefore purified from all sin.
(1) But is it just that a man who has lived in wickedness should, on repentance, be taken at once to paradise, as though he had never sinned? This would indeed be a difficulty were it not that Jesus died for sinners. A crucified Christ solves the mystery. Because His perfect obedience and atoning death satisfied the claims of law, those who trust in Him are delivered from the condemnation of that law. “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities.”
(2) But apart from considerations of justice, is it suitable and tit that a man who has all his life been a wilful transgressor, should, on repentance, go to dwell with Jesus? Certainly, if lie is no longer what he was. Consider. You have a ship about to sail with a valuable cargo; but she cannot leave the harbour till the title turns. Presently she swings round with the altered current. Now weigh anchor and set sail! If some one were to say “No, not yet, you are too hasty, the tide has only just turned,” would you not despise the folly of such an objection? And in this dying thief the stream of his soul, which had been running down to death, had turned and was now flowing up to life, and why should not he take it at the tide and with it enter heaven?
3. We learn that earth is very near to heaven. “How glorious the hope--there may be but a step between me and paradise!”
(1) Let us then be patient in affliction. Are we repining because of trials, murmuring at some difficult duty, some painful sacrifice? What? when angels and departed friends may be weaving our chaplet of victory, tuning our golden harp of praise, and gathering round the threshold to bid us welcome! Shall we give way to impatience, when this very day we may be in paradise?
(2) Let this nearness make us steadfast in resisting temptation. Shall we give up the fight when on the point of winning the victory? Shall we turn back in the journey when round the rock just before us we may be within sight of home? (Newman Hall, LL. B.)
The extraordinary penitence of the thief on the cross no argument for delaying repentance
I. THERE IS GROUND OF HOPE FOR TREMBLING SINNERS. And we may learn from this instance these following lessons.
1. They may go long on, and far on in the way to hell, whom yet God may bring home to Himself. Here is a man, a thief, whose course brought him to an ill end, to a violent death, and yet grace reaches him.
2. Grace sometimes catches them that in appearance, and to the eyes of the world, are farthest from it.
3. Grace makes a vast difference betwixt those in whom it finds none.
4. While there is life there is hope.
(1) Let those that seek God early be encouraged from this, that they shall find Him (Proverbs 8:17).
(2) Let not those whose day is almost gone, before they have begun their work, despair.
(3) Let us sow beside all waters, in the morning and in the evening.
II. BUT THERE IS NO GROUND HERE FOR THE CRAFTY DELAYING SINNER TO PUT OFF REPENTANCE, ESPECIALLY TILL A DYING HOUR. To set this matter in a true light, consider these following firings.
1. It is a most rare example.
(1) As one swallow makes not spring, so neither can this one event make a general rule that you or I may trust to.
(2) Are there not eminent instances to the contrary, wherein men living in their sin have been struck down in a moment, getting no time to repent of them, but fiery wrath has put an end to their days? Consider the case of Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-2), of whom it is thought they had erred through drink (Luke 23:9); Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Numbers 16:31), etc.; Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-42.), who died instantly with a lie in their mouth. But why do I instance in particular persons? Did not millions die together in their sins, by the deluge that swept away the old world, the fire and brimstone that burned up Sodom, Gomorrha, Admah, and Zeboim?
(3) The most that this so rare an example can amount to is a possibility. It is not to so much as a probability or likelihood.
2. Though there were two thieves on the cross at that time, yet it was but one of them that got grace to repent.
(1) Is it not possible that thou mayest die blaspheming ii thou do not repent now in time?
(2) It is at least an equal venture, that thou mayest die impenitent, as that thou mayest die a penitent.
(3) It is inconsistent with common sense, to leave that thing to a venture, which may be made sure, where a hit or a miss is of the utmost concern.
(4) Nay, but the venture is very unequal; for it is far more likely that delaying thou mayest die impenitent, than that thou mayest die penitent. Few took part with the good thief amongst all the crowd of spectators; the multitude went the other thief’s way, mocking (Luke 23:35).
3. There is no evidence that this thief had before such means of grace as you have.
4. This thief was converted, when by the hand of public justice he was to die. He was cut off perhaps in the midst of his days; at least he died not by the course of nature, nor by any sickness, but was executed for his evil deeds.
5. The conversion of the thief on the cross was an extraordinary manifestation of our Lord’s power, made for special reasons. And therefore though it shows what the Lord can do; it does not show what ordinarily He will do. Consider here, to evince this, that--
(1) It was done in such a juncture of time, as the like never was, and the like never will be again; namely, when the Lord of glory, the Saviour of the world, was actually hanging upon the cross, paying the ransom for the lost elect world (Romans 6:9).
(2) It was a wonder wrought in a time allotted in a particular manner beyond all times, for God’s working wonders.
6. The penitent thief on the cross was not only sincere, but he glorified Christ more in his late repentance, than thou art capable to do by thine, nay more than if thou hadst lived a penitent all thy days. (T. Boston, D. D.)
No encouragement to defer repentance
A man must be able to show that when stretched on a death-bed, he shall be in the same moral position as the thief when nailed to the cross. It is clear that nothing can be more unwarranted than his arguing from the certainty of the thief repenting, to the likelihood of himself repenting; and we are confident that you cannot possibly, when your death-bed draws nigh, stand morally in the same position, and hear the gospel for the first time on your death-bed. Yet this in all probability was the case with the thief. The man who professedly puts off repentance, must necessarily smother conviction; he will therefore carry with him to his death-bed a seared and a blunted conscience; he will have refused Christ fifty, or a hundred, or a thousand times; he will have grieved the Spirit, and possibly have quenched it by his obstinate resolve to defer what he had been made to feel essential; whereas, in all probability, the thief had never determined to put off repentance; he had never resisted the Spirit; he had never heard the gospel; he had never rejected Christ. And will any one dare to think, that with all this difference between himself and the malefactor, he can be warranted in so identifying the cases as to consider the last hour of life well-fitted for the work of repentance, or to bolster himself up with the flattering persuasion, that what happened to the dying thief will happen also to him--that just as life ebbs away there shall flow in upon one who has despised a thousand warnings and steeled his heart by long despite to the Spirit of God, all that glorious tide of faith and of assurance which rolled into the soul of a long-lost prodigal, who had never before been invited home, never heard the wonderful announcement, that those condemned justly at a human tribunal, might still find acquittal at a Divine, and who still, in this, his last extremity, having shown an unprecedented faith by giving utterance to the prayer--“Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom,” was sustained by those gracious words of the Redeemer--“Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with Me in paradise.” We are as clear as upon a Scriptural truth, that the only man who can think of repenting on a death-bed is the man who never stood by a death-bed. It is want of acquaintance with the frightful power with which bodily disease assails the strongest mind--it is this only that will lead men to harbour the idea that such stupendous things as the things of eternity may be fairly grappled with in a fever or a consumption. We do not say sickness throws a man beyond the limits within which repentance is possible; but we do say that in sickness there is commonly such a prostration of mind--the mind so sympathizes with the body, or rather is so swallowed up in it, that the probability is almost as an infinity to a unit, that he who has neglected God in health will be unable to seek Him under the pressure of disease. And from all this mental overthrow the dying thief was exempt. Tell me, then, is it quite right to think, that amid the emaciation of your last sickness you shall have power and collectedness of soul for this amazing prayer--“Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom”? And what right have you to hope that you shall be soothed by the gracious words, “To-day … paradise”? (H. Melvill, B. D.)
There was a darkness over all the earth
The three hours’ darkness
What a call must that mid-day midnight have been to the careless sons of men! They knew not that the Son of God was among them; nor that He was working out human redemption.
The grandest hour in all history seemed likely to pass by unheeded, when, suddenly, night hastened from her chambers and usurped the day. Every one asked his fellow, “What means this darkness?” Business stood still: the plough stayed in mid-furrow, and the axe paused uplifted. It was the middle of the day, when men are busiest; but they made a general pause. Around the great death-bed an appropriate quiet was secured. I doubt not that a shuddering awe came over the masses of the people, and the thoughtful foresaw terrible things. Those who had stood about the cross, and had dared to insult the majesty of Jesus, were paralyzed with fear.
I. First, let us view this darkness as A MIRACLE WHICH AMAZES US.
1. It may seem a trite observation that this darkness was altogether out of the natural course of things. Since the world began was it not heard that at high noon there should be darkness over all the land. It was out of the order of nature altogether. Some deny miracles; and if they also deny God, I will not at this time deal with them. He may make certain rules for His actions, and it may be His wisdom to keep to them; but surely He must reserve to Himself the liberty to depart from His own laws, or else He has in a measure laid aside his personal Godhead, deified law, and set it up above Himself.
2. Further, this miracle was not only out of the order of nature, but it is one which would have been pronounced impossible. It is not possible that there should be an eclipse of the sun at the time of the full moon. The moon at the time when she is in her full is not in a position in which she could possibly cast her shadow upon the earth. The Passover was at the time of the full moon, and therefore it was not possible that the sun should then undergo an eclipse. This darkening of the sun was not strictly an astronomical eclipse; the darkness was doubtless produced in some other way: yet to those who were present it did seem to be a total eclipse of the sun--a thing impossible.
3. Concerning this miracle, I have also further to remark that this darkening of the sun surpassed all ordinary and natural eclipses. It lasted longer than an ordinary eclipse, and it came in a different manner. According to Luke, the darkness all over the land came first, and the sun was darkened afterwards: the darkness did not begin with the sun, but mastered the sun. It was unique and supernatural.
4. Again, this darkness appears to have been most natural and fitting. Like the earthquake and the rending of the veil of the temple, it seems a proper attendant of the Lord’s passion.
II. Secondly, I desire you to regard this darkness as A VEIL WHICH CONCEALS.
1. What I see in that veil is, first of all, that it was a concealment for those guilty enemies. Did you ever think of that? It is as if God Himself said, “I cannot bear it. I will not see this infamy! Descend, O veil!” Down fell the heavy shades.
2. But further, that darkness was a sacred concealment for the blessed Person of our Divine Lord. So to speak, the angels found for their King a pavilion of thick clouds, in the which His Majesty might be sheltered in its hour of misery. It was too much for wicked eyes to gaze so rudely on that immaculate Person.
3. This darkness also warns us, even us who are most reverent. This darkness tells us all that the Passion is a great mystery, into which we cannot pry. God veiled the cross in darkness, and in darkness much of its deeper meaning lies; not because God would not reveal it, but because we have not capacity enough to discern it all.
4. Once again, this veil of darkness also pictures to me the way in which the powers of darkness will always endeavour to conceal the cross of Christ. We fight with darkness when we try to preach the cross.
III. Now we pass on to speak of this darkness as A SYMBOL WHICH INSTRUCTS. The yell falls down and conceals; but at the same time, as an emblem, it reveals.
1. The darkness is the symbol of the wrath of God which fell on those who slew His only begotten Son. God was angry, and His frown removed the light of day.
2. The symbol also tells us what our Lord Jesus Christ endured. The darkness outside of Him was the figure of the darkness that was within Him. In Gethsemane a thick darkness fell upon our Lord’s Spirit. His day was the light of His Father’s face: that face was hidden and a terrible night gathered around Him.
3. Again, I think I see in that darkness also what it was that Jesus was battling with; for we must never forget that the cross was a battle-field to Him, wherein He triumphed gloriously. He was fighting then with darkness; with the powers of darkness of which Satan is the head; with the darkness of human ignorance, depravity and falsehood.
IV. I come to my fourth point, and my closing words will deal with THE SYMPATHY WHICH PROPHESIES. Do you see the sympathy of mature with her Lord--the sympathy of the sun in the heavens with the Sun of Righteousness? It was not possible for Him by whom all things were made to be in darkness, and for nature to remain in the light.
1. The first sympathetic fact I see is this: all lights are dim when Christ shines not.
2. Next, see the dependence of all creation upon Christ, as evidenced by its darkness when He withdraws. It was not meet that He who made all worlds should die, and yet all worlds should go on just as they had done. If He suffers eclipse, they must suffer eclipse too; if the Sun of Righteousness be made to set in blood, the natural sun must keep touch with Him. There is no light for any man except in Christ; and till you believe in Him thick darkness shall blind you, and you shall stumble in it and perish.
3. Another practical lesson is this: If we are in the dark at this time, if our spirits are sunk in gloom, let us not despair, for the Lord Christ Himself was there. (C. H. Spurgeon)
The veiled cross
I. THE SUGGESTIONS OF THIS DARKNESS.
1. It indicated the going out of the world’s Light.
2. It represented the ignorance of the Gentiles, and the malignity of the Jews.
3. It reminds us of the mystery of the Atonement.
II. THE EFFECTS OF THE DARKNESS UPON THOSE WHO SURROUNDED THE CROSS.
1. It increased the solemnity of the event.
2. It veiled His agony from those who were around.
3. It whispered warning to the impenitent. (A. Rowland, LL. B.)
The veil of the temple was rent
The rent veil
This miraculous event was plainly typical of several important things.
1. This was a type of the violent rending of Christ’s body on the cross.
2. This typified our Lord’s own entrance into heaven.
3. This miracle intimated that, by the death of Christ, the ceremonies of the law were, at once, explained and abolished.
4. This miracle intimated that the distinction between Jew and Gentile was at an end.
5. The rending of the veil typified evangelical freeness of access to the throne of grace.
6. The miraculous rending of the veil was typical of Christ’s having opened up, by His death, an entrance into heaven for all His followers. (James Foote, M. A.)
The rent veil of the temple
I. THE VEIL IS REMOVED FROM HUMANITY. Surrounded by this ethereal light, how pale and sickly is the lamp of philosophy--how shallow are the findings of human reason--how contemptible and unintelligible are the mutterings of infidelity! Both for the reach and the grandeur of its discoveries, Christianity stands alone. Not only is it a mighty advance on all which went before, but it includes within itself that which will take infinite ages to evolve.
II. NATURE IS UNVEILED. It is a fact of which we ought never to lose sight, that there is no discrepancy between the readings of Nature and the higher readings of the Christian Book. Christianity did not come to ignore nature, but rather to unveil her more hidden life and beauty. Amid those disturbing forces which we everywhere find to be at work, we are reminded that the present condition of our world does not correspond with its original integrity; that all nature stands in need of a grand renovation; that this chancre must be brought about by the exertion of Divine power; and that the present throes of creation will result in some mightier birth. All nature will be delivered from the bondage of corruption; and the glorious liberty of the children of God will be preceded by making all things new. Such is the light which Christianity sheds over the constitution, design, and final condition of this material world.
III. TRUTH IS UNVEILED. We say not that this rending of the veil has left no mystery in the great wide field of revelation. Such a result would have been no positive advantage. Progress in discovery and in knowledge seems to be involved in the idea of mental existence and activity. Mind is endued with exhaustless power, and that power must be directed to pursuits and employments corresponding with the dignity of its nature, and the elevation of the ground to which it is raised. For this element of our nature, provision is made in that fulness of revelation which is reserved for another state of being. Heaven is a world of everlasting development.
IV. THE VEIL IS LIFTED FROM THE GRAVE. For the revelation of this immortality we are indebted to the advent and the ministry of Christ. He brought life and incorruption to light.
V. THE GLORIOUS FUTURE IS UNVEILED. It was like a morning without a dawn on which the Saviour rose from the dead. His resurrection was not only the triumph of Life over Death, but it became the pledge and assurance of a glorious immortality. (R. Furguson, LL. D.)
Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit
That dying believers are both warranted, and encouraged, by Christ’s example, believingly to commend their souls into the hands of God
WHAT IS IMPLIED IN A BELIEVER’S COMMENDING OR COMMITTING HIS SOUL INTO THE HAND OF GOD AT DEATH?
1. That the soul outlives the body.
2. That the soul’s true rest is in God.
3. The great value believers have for their souls. He thinks but little of his body comparatively.
4. These words imply the deep sense that dying believers have of the great change that is coming upon them by death; when all visible and sensible things are shrinking away from them and failing. They feel the world and the best comforts in it failing; every creature and creature-comfort failing: For at death we are said to fail (Luke 16:9). Hereupon the soul clasps the closer about its God, cleaves more close than ever to Him: “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.”
5. It implies the atonement of God, and His full reconciliation to believers, by the blood of the great Sacrifice; else they durst never commit their souls into His hands: “For it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living Hebrews 12:29).
6. It implies both the efficacy and excellency of faith, in supporting and relieving the soul at a time when nothing else is able to do it.
II. WHAT WARRANT OR ENCOURAGEMENT HAVE GRACIOUS SOULS TO COMMIT THEMSELVES, AT DEATH, INTO THE HANDS OF GOD? I answer, much every way; all things encourage and warrant its so doing: for--
1. This God, to whom the believer commits himself at death, is its Creator; the Father of its being: He created and inspired it, and so it hath relation of a creature to a Creator; yea, of a creature now in distress, to a faithful Creator (1 Peter 4:19).
2. As the gracious soul is His creature, so it is His redeemed creature; one that He hath bought, and that with a great price, even with the precious blood of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:18). This greatly encourages the departing soul to commit itself into the hands of God; so you find Psalms 31:5).
3. The gracious soul may confidently and securely commit itself into the hands of God when it parts with its body at death; not only because it is His creature, His redeemed creature, but because it is His renewed creature also. All natural excellency and beauty goes away at death (Job 4:1-21. ult.), but grace ascends with the soul; it is a sanctified, when a separate soul; and can God shut the door of glory upon such a soul, that by grace is made meet for the inheritance? Oh, it cannot be!
4. As the gracious soul is a renewed soul, so it is also a sealed soul; God hath sealed it in this world for that glory, into which it is now to enter at death. Surely, if God have sealed, He will not refuse you; if He have given His earnest, He will not shut you out; God’s earnest is not given in jest.
5. Moreover, every gracious soul may confidently cast itself into the arms of its God, when it goes hence, with “Father, into Thy hands I commit my spirit.” Forasmuch as every gracious soul is a soul in covenant with God, and God stands obliged, by His covenant and promise to such, not to cast them out, when they come unto Him. As soon as ever thou became His, by regeneration, that promise became thine (Hebrews 13:5).
6. But this is not all; the gracious soul sustains many intimate and dear relations to that God into whose hands it commends itself at death. It is His spouse, and the consideration of such a day of espousals may well encourage it to cast itself into the bosom of Christ, its head and husband. It is a member of His body, flesh and bones (Ephesians 5:30). It is His child, and He its everlasting Father (Isaiah 9:6). It is His friend.“Henceforth,” saith Christ, “I call you not servants, but friends” (John 15:15). What confidence may these, and all other the dear relations Christ owns to the renewed soul, beget, in such an hour as this is!
7. The unchangeableness of God’s love to His people gives confidence they shall in no wise be cast out. They know Christ is the same to them at last as He was at first the same in the pangs of death as He was in the comforts of life. Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them to the John 13:1). He doth not love as the world loves, only in prosperity; but they are as dear to Him when their beauty and strength are gone, as when they were in the greatest flourishing. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s (Romans 14:8).
1. Are dying believers, only, warranted and encouraged thus to commend their souls into the hands of God? What a sad strait, then, must all dying unbelievers be in about their souls? Such souls will fall into the hands of God, but that’s their misery, not their privilege. They are not put by faith into the bands of mercy, but fall by sin into the hands of justice.
2. Will God graciously accept, and faithfully keep what the saints commit to Him at death? How careful then should they be to keep what God commits to them, to be kept for Him while they live.
3. If believers may safely commit their souls into the hands of God, how confidently may they commit all lesser interests, and lower concernments into the same hand.
4. Is this the privilege of believers, that they can commit their souls to God in a dying hour? Then how precious, how useful grace is faith to the people of God, both living and dying?
5. Do the souls of dying believers commend themselves into the hands of God? Then let not the surviving relations of such sorrow as men that have no hope (J. Flavel.)
The last words of Christ
Jesus Christ did not die for Himself, any more than He lived for Himself; and He not only “died, the Just for the unjust, to bring us to God,” but the manner of His dying was a lesson and a pattern for us. That is the Christian way of dying--the way for all to die; and who would wish, or could imagine, any fitter or happier way? Who would not, in this sense, say, “Let me die the death of my Saviour, and let my last end be like His!” And how it disarms our helplessness of its terrors! “I am powerless,” it seems to say, “and therefore I commend to Thine omnipotence this frail and sensitive soul, which came at first from Thy creating hand. I do so reverently, but I do so confidently, for I do so as a child who calls Thee, ‘My Father.’” I have said it expresses dependence--and so it does; but in Christ’s case, and even in our own, the confidence expressed is more prominent still. In His case there seems a suggestion of the words, “No man taketh My life from Me, but I lay it down of Myself”; “I, as My own act, commend it, Father, to Thee.” We do not possess that power; our souls are “required” of us. But, more than that, we are accustomed to think of dying as the most terrible crisis of our history; the hour of supreme peril to our souls; the appalling event which decides our fate for ever. It is a great mistake. Our dying does not decide our future fate: it is our living which does that; the course we have taken, the choices we have made when opportunities were in our hands, and we used them, or threw them away! And therefore, I say, the peril of living is greater far than any peril there can be in dying. I commend My spirit into Thy hands to be delivered. Consider any human spirit now; consider your own. Before it are great possibilities of good and of evil. It must be so. If we can be God’s true children, and live with, and become like our Father, it is terrible to fail of this; and it is more dreadful still--it is an indescribable degradation--not even to care about it. Since, then, we are in this case; capable of being God’s children, but hindered and prevented from being so by our evil, there is supreme need for us each to cry, “Father, hear met deliver me! Into Thy hands I commend my spirit--my sin-stained spirit. I am Thine. Save me!” I commend my spirit into Thy hands, to be made pure. The deliverance and reformation which the Scriptures say that we require, they describe by the strong expressions “a new birth,” “a new creation.” They say that is needed in order that we may stand “without blame” before God. Does not our sad experience say the same? God prescribes it. God promises to perform it, and on us. (T. M. Herbert, M. A.)
Soul-resignation into the hands of God
Yea, and it is a very profitable thing for us to do it hereby we make a virtue of necessity; and where can we lodge our souls in safer hands? If a man cannot keep a thing himself, but must betrust and deposit it in other hands, will he not do it in the safest hands that he can find? Now three things there are that are required to a safe hand: power, wisdom, and love. If I deposit a thing in a man’s hand to keep, he must be able to keep it for me against violence, else his hand is no safe hand; though he be able and have power to keep it for me, yet if he be prodigal and lavish, and not wise, I shall not count his hand a safe hand to keep my depositum: but though he be never so wise, yet if he be not my friend, I shall not betrust him with any great matter: but if a man be able, wise and friendly, then his hand is a safe hand to keep my depositum. And again if we do not commend, commit, and resign ourselves and souls into His hands, we must be responsible for them ourselves. “What benefit shall we get thereby? Much every way. This resignation of our souls and selves unto God is an inlet to many mercies, graces, and comforts. As for mercies and blessings; what greater blessing can there be in in this world than to enjoy one’s-self; under God to enjoy one’s-self, and to be free from all things? As it is an inlet unto many blessings, so it is an inlet unto many graces and duties. What grace or duty will ye instance in? Will ye instance in prayer? It opens the sluices of prayer; and, as one speaks well, though you pray never so long or loud, yet if you do not resign up your soul and will unto God, your prayer is but nonsense, and a contradiction in re. As it is an inlet unto many graces, so it is an inlet also unto many comforts; yea, indeed, unto all our comforts: for what comfort can a man have in himself or condition, till he hath truly resigned and given up himself and soul and will unto God? but being done, ye may freely go about your business. If a man have a suit in law, and have left his cause in the hand of an able, careful friend and lawyer, he is quiet; much more may we be quiet, when we have left and lodged our case and way and soul with God. Well, but then how is this work to be done that we may truly resign and give up ourselves, our souls, and our wills unto God? It is not to be done slightly and overly, but seriously and solemnly. It is an ordinary thing with men to say, “The will of the Lord be done.” As this work is not to be done slightly and overly, so neither is it to be done forcedly and lastly, but freely and firstly. As it is not to be done lastly and forcedly, so it is not to be done partially, and by halves, but fully and totally. “I am Thine,” saith David to God, “Oh, save me” (Psalms 119:94). As this resignation must not be done partially, and by halves, so it must not be done conditionally, but absolutely. As this resignation is not to be done conditionally, so it is not to be done passively, and in a way of submission only, but actively. It is one thing for a man to submit unto God’s will, and another thing to resign up himself and will to the will of God. As this resignation is not to be done passively, so it is not to be done deceitfully and feignedly, but in all plainness and sincerity. Well, but when is this work to be done? It is to be done daily. There are some special times and seasons which do call for this work. I will name five. When a man doth convert and turn unto God. When a man is called forth unto any great work, or service, or employment, especially if it be beyond his own strength and power. When a man is in any great danger, distress, and affliction, then he is to resign and give up himself and will unto God. And if you would be able to do this work of soul-resignation in the day of your death rightly, then use yourself to do it every day. That is easily done which is often done. (W. Bridge, M. A.)
The soul given to God
Be sure that you do not give away your soul from God to anything else whilst you live. If you have given away your soul unto other things whilst you live, it will be a vain thing for you to say Christ’s words when you come to die. When men come to their death, ye know they do ordinarily make their wills; and in the first place they say, I give my soul unto God; then if they have lands, or houses, or money, they give them to their wives, children, relations and friends, according to their pleasure. But suppose, now, that a man shall give land or house to such or such a child or friend, which he hath sold or given away before, shall his will stand in force? Will not all men say, This he could not give away, for he had sold that or given that before? So in regard of one’s soul; though upon my death I say, As for my soul, I give that to God; yet if I have sold away my soul before, for unjust gain, or have given away my soul before unto filthy pleasures, how can I resign and give that to God when I die; will not the Lord say, Nay, this is none of yours to give, this you had sold or given away before? Oh, then, be sure of this, that whilst you live, you do not sell or give away your soul from God, for then death-bed resignation will be but as the act and deed of a man that makes his will when he is not compos mentis. (W. Bridge, M. A.)
Certainly this was a righteous man
The Cross, the source of compunction
Many reasons have been given to account for that providence of God which determined that the Cross should be the kind of death that Christ should die; and that He should not end His life by sword or fire, by which the animal victims in the Old Testament which were types of Him were slain and offered.
It is usual to explain the choice of this mode of death by showing its correspondence with various types and prophecies. Christ could not have been the antitype of the brazen serpent which was lifted up; neither could the prophecy--“they pierced My hands and My feet” have been fulfilled by Him, unless He died by crucifixion. This reply, however, only removes the inquiry another step off; to prove that our Lord’s death is the accomplishment of type and prophecy may be useful as an argument whereby to identify Him as the Messiah, but it can cast no light upon the events themselves. The revealing beforehand of that which was to come to pass, was a merciful provision to aid our faith and lead our minds to Christ, but it did not determine the things which should happen; any form of death might have been equally revealed by prophet and lawgiver. Passing by without mention many mystical expositions, the extreme torture of this kind of death has been assigned as a cause for its selection. Some have considered it the most painful death which a human being could undergo. Moreover, the Cross added to actual pain another, and an extremely delicate kind of torment--shame and humiliation. We can conceive another reason why our Lord died by crucifixion, and one with which in the line of thought we are pursuing we are especially concerned; Christ willed to die by a death which was itself a spectacle. They “came together to that sight.” The brazen serpent was lifted up for the express purpose of being looked upon. Christ ascribes power to the fact of His elevation upon the Cross--“I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me.” His death became an object of attraction, because it was an object of contemplation; the eye of sense, and the eye of a devout imagination could gaze upon His crucified form. The text describes the effects produced upon those persons who were standing before the Cross, when Christ died. Both the centurion and the people were deeply moved. They were representatives of different nations; and they illustrate the impressions which the Cross would make upon the mind and heart of man; there must be convictions in the mind concerning the person of the Sufferer before the heart can be touched with compunction.
In the centurion we see the working of the Cross upon the human mind: in the people, upon the human heart. Together these represent the Cross as “the source of compunction.”
I. THE CENTURION PASSED THROUGH A MENTAL REVOLUTION AS HE WATCHED JESUS. St. Mark says the centurion “stood over against Him”--that is--was in full view of the Cross; he was able then to see very distinctly the end. He was probably closer to Christ than any one else, for he was stationed there for the purpose of watching Him. The power of this sight may be estimated by considering the man who was impressed by it--his calling, race, and position. He was an unlikely person to be affected by such a sight. He was not present from any motive of curiosity, like many who were in that crowd. He was there on duty. Further, the centurion was not likely to be convinced through previous instruction; he did not come to the Cross with the religious training of the Jew. Another element in reckoning the power of the Cross upon the mind of the centurion is his position; he was the subject of an unprecedented impression. It was not a current of sensation with which he fell in, but which he seems to have led and inaugurated. He stands out as the first and prominent exponent of the thought and feeling which the Cross had stirred. Whilst, however, we are trying to form some estimate of the power of the Cross from the extreme unlikelihood of the person who was affected by it; we must on the other hand take notice of certain events which, accompanying Christ’s death, aroused the mind of the centurion. His faith was an intelligent faith, and not the product of a passing excitement or heated imagination; it rested on evidences. We must look to these, or otherwise we shall be in danger of regarding his faith as a sort of unreasoning impulse; and besides this, the inquiry will lead to some very solemn thoughts concerning our Lord’s death. The loud cry which Christ uttered when He died, astonished the centurion. When he “saw that He so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God.” Faith is the gift of God, but God gives also sensible helps to create dispositions for receiving His gifts. External grace appeals through the senses, whilst internal grace acts on the mind and will. The man was by this cry aroused either from indifference or hostility or contempt, and brought into a condition of receptiveness of Divine truth. There was another ground of faith connected with this cry, which also had its share in convincing the centurion. In the text St. Luke says when he “saw what was done, he glorified God.” St. Matthew is more explicit, and mentions the earthquake as causing fear. Christ was like Samson, He manifested His strength more in His death than in His life.
II. BUT BESIDES THE EFFECT UPON THE CENTURION, THE CROSS MANIFESTED ITS POWER UPON THE CROWD OF PERSONS WHO HAD GATHERED TOGETHER TO WITNESS THE CRUCIFIXION. They had cried, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” when Pilate had brought Him forth, His raiment dripping with the precious blood; but death produced a reaction, which pity could not excite. When the murderer sees death written upon the face of his victim, the passion which had prompted the deed melts into fear and remorse. The people felt that they had a share in that passion, had been instrumental in causing it; and the result was a new sorrow--new, as an experience, yet long ago predicted. Their sorrow was the fulfilment of the prophecy--“They shall look on Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him”; it was an epoch in the history of moral convictions. Their compunction was a result of grace, and not the mere cooling of vindictive passion. Those people had assembled out of curiosity and malice; they had come hither without any dispositions for receiving grace, but the Cross overcame them. The Spirit of God used that Cross as the instrument of a deep conviction of sin; and they became the first-fruits, the earnest of that which should afterwards be the normal effect of the Passion. Mourning for sin would henceforth be excited by the thought--“Jesus, my love, is crucified.” Compunction was a great grace. At the moment when the sin of man had culminated, for God to unlock His treasures and begin to bestow them is an astounding evidence of His quenchless love! That those very persons who had rejected Him should thus be visited inwardly with a subduing and softening unction from the Holy One is a marvel of Divine forbearance. CONCLUSION: There are three thoughts, which are of practical importance in enabling us now to experience the power of the Cross as a source of compunction.
1. Our sins caused the Passion. We did not drive the nails into His hands or pierce His side, but--“He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows … He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities … the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” He “bare our sins in His own body on the tree.” As the crowd who smote their breasts returned, they each one felt “I had a part in that.” What the outward share in that Passion was to the actual offender, that our sins are in relation to the Cross as a mystery.
2. Again, the Cross was not endured for mankind as for a multitude in discriminately, but for each individually. Every human being might truly say, “He loved me, and gave Himself for me.”
3. Once more--as the constant recurrence to the thought of Christ’s omniscience seems to bring the Cross close to us; so to regard His remembrance of all that happened on Calvary, now that He is in glory, is another help to meditation on the Passion. The memory of Christ, uninfluenced by the passage of time, can look back on every detail of the Passion. He is not capable of forgetfulness, who is the same yesterday, today, and for ever; each event, each sorrow, each pang is treasured up in His memory with a recollection more vivid than the creature can possess. Though in His glory, He is the same Jesus who suffered; and the marks of suffering abide--the sacred wounds, which are the perpetual memorials of His Passion. As with the eye of the soul we now behold Him and hold communion with Him, the remembrance of Calvary will pass from Him to us, and the spirit of compunction cause the heart to mourn over sin. Such thoughts may help us to gaze upon the Cross with a true sorrow. Whether it be the conversion of a whole life we need, or the renewal of some part of it, or victory over some habit of sin, we must place ourselves with the crowd before the Cross and pray for the manifestation of its power on our own minds and hearts. If there is the sense of lack of dispositions, the Cross can create them; only let us continue to contemplate it. Fire melts ice; the sun unfolds the flowers; the Cross can melt the hardened heart, and draw out from it new graces. (W. H. Hutchings, M. A.)
Smote their breasts
The spectators of the crucifixion smiting their breasts
BEHOLDING CHRIST ON THE CROSS. Look on the multitude now--see how they who before had triumphed in His misery, are struck with deep astonishment. One says, “Surely this was a righteous man.” Another says, “This is the Son of God,” “And all the people who came together to that sight seeing what had passed, smote their breasts and returned.” They came to the execution with eager haste and bitter zeal. They retired slow, silent, and pensive, with downcast looks and labouring thoughts. Their smiting their breasts indicated some painful sensations within.
1. It expressed their conviction of the innocence and divinity of this wonderful sufferer. Whatever sentiments they bad entertained in the morning, they had now seen enough to extort from them an acknowledgment that this was a “righteous man”--this was the “Son of God.” This character Jesus had openly assumed; and with unwavering constancy He maintained it to the last.
(1) Observe His calmness. Amidst the rudest and most provoking insults, He discovered no malice or resentment toward His enemies; but all His language and behaviour was mild and gentle. When He was reviled, He reviled not again; but committed Himself to Him who judgeth righteously.
(2) See His benevolence. He attended to the case of His afflicted mother, and commended her to the care of His beloved disciple. He wrought a miracle to heal an enemy wounded in the attempt to seize Him. He extended mercy to a malefactor who was suffering by His side.
(3) Consider His humble piety. He maintained His confidence in God; called Him His God and His Father; and into His hands committed His Spirit. Such distinguished piety, benevolence, and constancy, under trials like His, showed Him to be a righteous man--to be more than man. And heaven itself bare solemn testimony in His favour. The darkness which overspread the land was evidently supernatural.
2. Their smiting their breasts was expressive of their compassion for this innocent and glorious Sufferer. Their rage, which had been wrought up to the highest strain, now began to subside, and give way to the tender feelings of humanity.
3. This action expressed a deep remorse of conscience.
II. BEHOLDING CHRIST IN THE HOLY COMMUNION. To behold this Divine Saviour in the flesh, and to see Him expire on the cross, was the lot only of those who lived in His day. But the frequent contemplation of His death is a matter of so much importance, that He was pleased, just before He suffered, to appoint an ordinance for the purpose of exhibiting His death to our view, and bringing it to our remembrance. Here He is set forth crucified before our eyes. Do we turn away from this ordinance? We have little reason to think we should have attended the crucifixion on any higher motive than mere curiosity. If a real regard to Him would have invited us to follow Him to the cross, the same regard will invite us to come and see Him at His table.
1. Have any of you entertained indifferent notions of Christ and His religion? Come here, and reflect on those characters of divinity which He exhibited.
2. Here meditate on the worth of your souls.
3. Here behold the great evil of sin.
4. Here meditate on the wonderful mercy of God.
5. Look here and behold an instructive example of patience and resignation.
6. Look to Christ and learn to despise the world.
7. Look to Christ, and learn meekness and forgiveness. (J. Lathrop, D. D.)
The great sight
I. THE SIGHT. It is the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. You have often heard of it; have you thought of it until you could see it? Have its different incidents been grouped in your mind so as to form a complete picture? Try to realize it.
II. THE LESSONS OF THE SIGHT.
1. The first lesson to which we beg your attention is the antagonism of sin to God. As if to show to the universe the true nature and tendency of sin in all its forms, all classes of worldlings were grouped around the Cross; each had an opportunity of expressing its feelings; and how awfully significant and awfully condemnatory was the part which they acted! All classes--the religious world, and the learned world, and the sceptical world, and the fashionable world, and the money-loving world, ay, and the ordinary working world--all combined to show the murderous nature and the God-defiant attitude of sin.
2. But if this sight teaches the antagonism of sin to God, it also teaches us God’s hatred of sin. We cannot account for the Saviour’s sufferings if they have not some connection with the sin of man. Even a heathen could understand, that if an innocent being suffers, it must be because of the sins of others. Kajarnak, a chieftain inhabiting the mountains of Greenland, notorious for the robberies and murders he had perpetrated, came down to where a missionary in his hut was translating the Gospel of John. His curiosity being excited by the process, he asked to have it explained; and when the missionary told him how the marks he was making were words, and how a book could speak, he wished to hear what it said. The missionary read to him the narrative of the Saviour’s sufferings, when the chief immediately asked, “What has this Man done? Has He robbed anybody--has He murdered anybody?” “No,” replied the missionary, “He has robbed no one, murdered no one; He has done nothing wrong.” “Then why does He suffer? why does He die?” “Listen,” said the missionary; “this
Man has done no wrong, but Kajarnak has done wrong; this Man has not robbed any one, but Kajarnak has robbed many; this Man has murdered no one, bat Kajarnak has murdered--Kajarnak has murdered his wife, Kajarnak has murdered his brother, Kajarnak has murdered his child; this Man suffered that Kajarnak might not suffer; died that Kajarnak might not die.” “Tell me that again,” said the astonished chieftain; and by the repetition of the story the hard-hearted murderer was brought in contrition and tears to the foot of the Cross. Even so the Bible tells us, “He was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities; He bore our sins in His own body on the tree.”
3. But if this sight teaches such a fearful lesson in reference to God’s hatred of sin, thank God it also teaches that a way has been prepared by which men may escape from sin’s consequences. He who became our Sin-bearer did not lay down the load till He had borne our sins away. He did not cease to suffer until He could say, “It is finished.”
III. THE FEELINGS WHICH THE CONTEMPLATION OF THE SIGHT IS FITTED TO AWAKEN.
1. The first feeling which it naturally excites is that of which the bystanders were the subjects, when, “beholding the things which were done, they smote their breasts, and returned”--a feeling of shuddering horror at the magnitude of their offence.
2. But the sight is also fitted to awaken the apprehension of danger. This feeling, in the case of His murderers, mingled with the horror with which they regarded their crime. They did not understand the doctrine of the Messiahship sufficiently to know that even His death might become the ground of their pardon; and a fearful foreboding of punishment, as well as an appalling consciousness of guilt, led them to smite their breasts when they beheld the things that were done. And, no doubt, the Cross is fitted to awaken this feeling in every sinner to whom it has not imparted the hope of salvation. For nowhere is the evil desert of sin so strikingly exhibited.
3. But the sight is also fitted to awaken hopeful feelings. Whether any of the men who smote their breasts were led to cherish the hope of pardon, the narrative does not say; but we doubt not that some of them were among the three thousand who, on the day of Pentecost, found that the blood which they had shed was a sufficient atonement for the sin of shedding it, and that the death which they had been instrumental in effecting was the occasion of their endless life. Even so does the Cross proclaim pardon to you, and by it all who believe are justified from all things. The same sight which awakens in you an appalling sense of sin, and a fearful apprehension of punishment, tells you, that though you have done so wickedly and deserved to endure such suffering, there is pardon in Christ for you. Look at it until the peace which it speaks takes possession of your souls--look until you understand what Christ has done for you--look until your fears are dispelled--look until the boundless love which it reveals awakens in you the beginnings of a new and better life--look with the assurance that you cannot look in vain, for He, whose promise never fails, has said, “Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” (W. Landels.)
Mourning at the sight of the Crucified
I. First, then, let us ANALYZE THE GENERAL MOURNING which this text describes. “All the people that came together to that sight, beholding the things which were done, smote their breasts, and returned.” They all smote their breasts, but not all from the same cause. Others amongst that great crowd exhibited emotion based upon more thoughtful reflection. They saw that they had shared in the murder of an innocent person. No doubt there were a few in the crowd who smote upon their breasts because they felt, “We have put to death a prophet of God.” In the motley company who all went home smiting on their breasts, let us hope that there were some who said, “Certainly this was the Son of God,” and mourned to think He should have suffered for their transgressions, and been put to grief for their iniquities. Those who came to that point were saved.
II. We shall now ask you TO JOIN IN THE LAMENTATION, each man according to his sincerity of heart, beholding the Cross, and smiting upon his breast. I shall ask you first to smite your breasts, as you remember that you see in Him your own sins. Looking again--changing, as it were, our stand-point, but still keeping our eye upon that same, dear crucified One, let us see there the neglected and despised remedy for our sin. Still keeping you at the cross foot, every believer here may well smite upon his breast this morning as he thinks of Who it was that smarted so upon the Cross. Who was it? It was He who loved us or ever the world was made.
III. Remember that AT CALVARY, DOLOROUS NOTES ARE NOT THE ONLY SUITABLE MUSIC. After all, you and I are not in the same condition as the multitude who had surrounded Calvary; for at that time our Lord was still dead, but now He is risen indeed. Look up and thank God that death hath no more dominion over Him. He ever liveth to make intercession for us, and He shall shortly come with angelic bands surrounding Him, to judge the quick and dead. The argument for joy overshadows the reason for sorrow. Lastly, there is one thing for which we ought always to remember Christ’s death with joy, and that is, that although the crucifixion of Jesus was intended to be a blow at the honour and glory of our God--though in the death of Christ the world did, so far as it was able, put God Himself to death, and so earn for itself that hideous title, “a deicidal world,” yet never did God have such honour and glory as He obtained through the sufferings of Jesus. Oh, they thought to scorn Him, but they lifted His name on high! (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Lessons at Calvary
1. See here accumulated evidence of the truth of Christianity. Think of the fulfilled prophecies already noticed.
2. See here the true atonement for sin, and receive it by faith.
3. See here, and admire, the love of the Father, and of the Son to perishing sinners. This display of the Father’s love far surpasses any other which He has given.
4. See here the certainty and the dreadful nature of the punishment of the obstinately wicked in the other world.
5. See here your example. What I chiefly refer to at present is His patient submission to His sufferings.
6. See here the most powerful motives to repentance, the mortification of sin, and the prosecution of holiness. In the last place, see here every encouragement to perishing sinners to come to Christ for safety, and to believers to rejoice more and more in confidence in His merits. (James Foote, M. A.)
A man named Joseph
Joseph of Arimathea
We have here an illustration of the slow process by which some are brought to the full acknowledgment of the truth.
2. An illustration of how the very extremity of a cause brings fresh adherents from unexpected quarters.
3. An illustration of how the true character, the real spirts and power of a man, may be manifested in a single act. (M. Hutchison.)
Joseph of Arimathea
I. HE WAS A DISCIPLE OF JESUS SECRETLY. II. HE WAS LED TO BOLDLY AND OPENLY ACKNOWLEDGE CHRIST, A great trial brought out his character more clearly. When most of those who had followed Jesus during His ministry had forsaken Him and fled, then the weak one was made strong.
III. HE WAS, ALL THIS TIME, WAITING FOR THE KINGDOM OF GOD. Quietly preparing himself for full development of Christian character. And he was blessed in so doing. In His own good time God revealed Himself to this timid, yet faithful, disciple. (H. G. Hird, B. A.)
Laid It in a sepulchre
Significance of Christ’s burial
The burial of the Lord is a part of the gospel. Thus St. Paul (1 Corinthians 15:4).
1. His burial was an assurance that His resurrection was a reality: for His Body was taken down by friends in the presence of foes who knew that He was dead, and deposited by them, not in a common tomb, but in a cave, hollowed out of a hillside, with a great stone rolled to block up the entrance, which was guarded by the soldiers of Pilate.
2. His burial also was the last humiliation offered to Him; for, though Joseph and Nicodemus and the women who assisted performed it as a work of piety and love, yet in it He was not the less associated with us, whose bodies must be committed to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. He was the Incorruptible, and yet was buried, and they prepared to embalm Him as if He had been corruptible. In birth from a womb, and in burial in a tomb, He was one with His sinful brethren.
3. His burial is in a remarkably mysterious way connected with our baptism. The font represents the grave of the Lord, in which, as having died with Him, we are mystically and sacramentally buried, and from which we rise again, endued with new life from Him, as He rose from His grave endured with new life (Colossians 2:12; Romans 6:1-4). (M. F.Sadler.)
Our Lord’s burial
It is strange that so few have preached on the subject of our Redeemer’s burial.
I. Supposing ourselves to be sitting in the garden with our eyes fixed upon the great stone which formed the door of the tomb, we first of all ADMIRE THAT HE HAD A GRAVE AT ALL. We wonder how that stone could bide Him who is the brightness of His Father’s glory; how the Life of all could lie among the dead; how He who holds creation in His strong right hand could even for an hour be entombed.
1. Admiring this, we would calmly reflect, first, upon the testimony of His grave that He was really dead. Those tender women could not have been mistaken; their eyes were too quick to suffer Him to be buried alive, even if any one had wished to do so. Jesus was a real Man, and truly tasted the bitter pangs of death.
2. The testimony of the grave to Christ’s union with us. Before me rises a picture. I see the cemetery, or sleeping place, of the saints, where each one rests on his lowly bed. They lie not alone, but like soldiers sleeping round their captain’s pavilion, where He also spent the night, though He is up before them. The sepulchre of Jesus is the central grave of God’s acre; it is empty now, but His saints lie buried all around that cave in the rock, gathered in ranks around their dear Redeemer’s resting.place. Surely it robs the grave of its ancient terror when we think that Jesus slept in one of the chambers of the great dormitory of the sons of men.
3. Very much might be said about the tomb in which Jesus lay.
(1) It was a new tomb, wherein no remains had been previously laid, and thus if He came forth from it there would be no suspicion that another had arisen, nor could it be imagined that He rose through touching some old prophet’s bones, as he did who was laid in Elisha’s grave. As He was born of a virgin mother, so was He buried in a virgin tomb, wherein never man had lain.
(2) It was a rocky tomb, and therefore nobody could dig into it by night, or tunnel through the earth.
(3) It was a borrowed tomb; so poor was Jesus that He owed a grave to charity; but that tomb was spontaneously offered, so rich was tie in the love of hearts which He had won. That tomb He returned to Joseph, honoured unspeakably by His temporary sojourn therein.
4. Now, note that our Lord’s tomb was in a garden; for this is typically the testimony of His grave to the hope of better things. Just a little beyond the garden wall you would see a little knoll, of grim name and character, the
Tyburn of Jerusalem, Golgotha, the place of a skull, and there stood the Cross. That rising ground was given up to horror and barrenness; but around the actual tomb of our Saviour there grew herbs and plants and flowers. A spiritual garden still blooms around His tomb; the wilderness and the solitary place are glad for Him, and the desert rejoices and blossoms as the rose. He hath made another paradise for us, and He Himself is the sweetest flower therein.
5. Sitting over against the sepulchre, perhaps the best thought of all is that now it is empty, and so bears testimony to our resurrection.
6. Yet another thought comes to me, “Can I follow Christ as fully as these two women did? That is to say, can I still cling to Him though to sense and reason His cause should seem dead and laid in a rocky sepulchre? Can I like Joseph and Magdalene be a disciple of a dead Christ? Could I follow Him even at His lowest point?”
II. WE REJOICE IN THE HONOURS OF CHRIST’S BURIAL.
1. Its first effect was the development of timid minds. Joseph and Nicodemus both illustrate the dreadful truth that it is hard for them that have riches to enter into the kingdom of God; but they also show us that when they do enter they frequently excel. If they come last they remain to the last. If cowards when others are heroes, they can also be heroes when even apostles are cowards. Brave are the hearts which stand up for Jesus in His burial. I like to remember that the burial of the Lord displayed the union of loving hearts. The tomb became the meeting-place of the old disciples and the new, of those who had long consorted with the Master, and those who had but newly avowed Him. Magdalene and Mary had been with the Lord for years, and had administered to Him of their substance; but Joseph of Arimathea, as far as his public avowal of Christ is concerned, was, like Nicodemus, a new disciple; old and new followers united in the deed of love, and laid their Master in the tomb. A common sorrow and a Common love unite us wondrously.
III. I must now pass to a third point. While sitting over against the sepulchre WE OBSERVE THAT HIS ENEMIES WERE NOT AT REST. They had their own way, but they were not content; they had taken the Saviour, and with wicked hands they had crucified and slain Him; but they were not satisfied. They were the most uneasy people in the world, though they had gained their point (see Matthew 27:62-66). Christ is dead, but they are afraid of Him! He is dead, but they cannot shake off the dread that He will vanquish them yet. They are full of agitation and alarm. Nor was this all; they were to be made witnesses for God--to sign certificates of the death and resurrection of His Anointed. In order that there might be no doubt about the resurrection at all, there must be a seal, and they must go and set it; there must be a guard, and they must see it mustered. The disciples need not trouble about certifying that Jesus is in the grave, these Jews will do it, and set their own great seal to the evidence. These proud ones are sent to do drudges’ work in Christ’s kitchen, to wait upon a dead Christ, and to protect the Body which they had slain.
IV. And now our last thought is that while these enemies of Christ were in fear and trembling WE NOTE THAT HIS FOLLOWERS WERE RESTING. It was the seventh day, and therefore they ceased from labour. The Marys waited, and Joseph and Nicodemus refrained from visiting the tomb; they obediently observed the Sabbath rest. I am not sure that they had faith enough to feel very happy, but they evidently did expect something, and anxiously awaited the third day. They had enough of the comfort of hope to remain quiet on the seventh day. Now, beloved, sitting over against the sepulchre while Christ lies in it, my first thought about it is, I will rest, for He rests. What a wonderful stillness there was about our Lord in that rocky grave. The great stone shuts out all noise, and the Body is at peace. Well, if He rests, I may. If for a while the Lord seems to suspend His energies, His servants may cry unto Him, but they may not fret. He knows best when to sleep and when to wake. As I see the Christ resting in the grave, my next thought is, He has the power to come forth again. The rest of the Christian lies in believing in Christ under all circumstances. Once more, it will be well if we can obtain peace by having fellowship with our Lord in His burial. Die with Him, and be buried with Him; there is nothing like it. I desire for my soul while she lives in the Lord that, as to the world and all its wisdom, I may be as a dead man. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Luke 23". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28