“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
How sublime and wonderful the language; amazing in pathos, and boundless in its scope, as with unlimited power it reaches to the depths of the inner consciousness of those who love the appearing of Jesus. It is not the prayer of a king,’ the King of Israel, neither the petitions of the High Priest of our profession, but the simple, prayerful pleading of the man Christ Jesus. He that was “made of a woman, made under the law,” to fulfill the law. The Son of God pleading with the Father for righteousness’ sake. The manifest humility of the possessor of all worlds, in the interest of misguided humanity. Let us look upon the scene: An angry tumultuous mob, seeking and wrecking vengeance upon an innocent victim, subjecting him to the basest ignominy, giving him the place of a seditious man and a murderer, and placing him between two thieves, to crucify him in their cruel, spiteful violence. Call to your mind of imagination a face belonging to a soul filled with hatred, and envy, and malice, and murder, and out of such imagery, behold the faces of whom the prophet spake in the days of old, “And they looked upon him whom they had pierced,” and listen to the dreadful cursings and ravings which proceed out, of their month. Then with an upward glance view the serene and lovely countenance of him who hung upon the cross, and who suffered as no man could suffer, and hear the gracious words which ascended to the throne of the Father’s grace in a rainbow of perfect love, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” How great the contrast, and how bottomless the chasm which separated them. With wicked and blinded zeal, they treacherously crucified the Lord of glory. Can we stand up with clean hands, in a transparent, sunlit cloud of virtue and offended dignity, and say to that swaying multitude, For shame, for shame? As sinners, conscious of our sin and its exceeding sinfulness, do we mot know that we ourselves have also crucified the Lord of glory with the same venomous hatred which characterized that fitful, dreadful morning! Hath not our very own flesh cried out (as did they), “Away with him, away with him, we will not have this man to reign over us?” Let us search our hearts, and discover if we were not among those who turned away from Jesus when be said, “He that is without sin first cast a stone.” In our moments of deep contrition, does not our heart confess and say, “It was my cruel sins that drove the nails through his unresisting, innocent hands, and that drove the spear far into his dear side, drawing therefrom the precious life-blood of a gracious Redeemer! How shall we stand in the great and terrible day of the vengeance of our God! How shall we stand in the face of the justice of an outraged and violated law! How shall we approach unto the mercy-seat of him whom we have murdered, when we view him in his mediatorship as the ladder which reaches from the heaven to the earth, from God to man? How does our heart burn within us, when by faith we see his bowed head and trembling form yielding obedience to the will of his Father, and as he talked with us by the way? And how precious is the wondrous truth, which takes root in our breast, and bearing fruit amid the whispers which say, “God commended his love unto us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” Then as the spirit of humility moves us, (as in the case of the poor publican) we approach unto a throne of £race with fear and trembling, “standing afar off” not so much as raising our eyes to heaven, but prostrate in dust and ashes, crying out of a burdened and broken heart and a contrite spirit, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.” How blessed is the heart that is filled with the spirit of forgiveness. Only the broken heart and the contrite spirit is able to forgive the enemies that seek to take away our life. In his ministry Jesus taught his disciples to pray for forgiveness in proportion as we forgive them that trespass against us. Therefore only as the spirit of forgiveness exercises us to forgive our debtors, shall we receive forgiveness of the Lord. Because only that spirit of forgiveness can antagonize and deliver us from those that conspire against our liberty in the gospel of Christ. May we as lowly followers of Jesus be blest with that spirit which Stephen possessed while being stoned to death. “He kneeled down and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge,” and the same spirit in the Master which said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
B. F. COULTER.
Philadelphia, Pa., Aug. 29, 1899.
Signs Of The Times
Volume 67, No. 19.
OCTOBER 1, 1899.