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come over again, (as the opportunity for a son to do something for the maintenance of his parents in their old age,) or our feelings in the matter may be so different, that it may never seem the same to us, as when our conscience did that once speak to us what we ought to do. Some strong impulse may move us. We put it down. It passes away and is felt no more. Had we then boldly obeyed that impulse, and boldly taken the right course, though at a sacrifice, it might have brought us a blessing for life ; but let pass, it becomes only one of the mercies placed within our reach, which we must answer for having quite neglected.
Secondly, as Jesus Christ was silent in the presence of Pilate, and suffered him to be as a judge over Him, so does God in many ways hold His peace, and keep silence before the wilfulness and unbelief of men, and leave them to sit in judgment upon and decide about holy things, which they understand not, and is near to them, when they know Him not. But there is a time when our God shall come and shall not keep silence. Then He will come to be our Judge. Then we shall stand before Him to be judged, as in our day He leaves His cause to be judged of, as though He stood before us. Then He will choose, whether He will receive, or whether He will reject us; as at this time we choose or reject Him in respect of His dealings with us, and in respect of our serving and confessing Him before men. May HE in that awful day be gracious to us! May He show to us more love and mercy than we, in our day, have shown toward Him.
OUR LORD'S FORBEARANCE TOWARDS THE CHIEF PRIESTS,
PREACHED ON GOOD FRIDAY
Luke xxiii. 34. “ Then said Jesus, FATHER, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Seven times did our most merciful and loving Saviour speak, after He had been fastened to the Cross. And the words just read were the first of those speeches, uttered, as is supposed, just as He was beginning to experience the first agonies of that dreadful punishment, and while the nails were yet being driven through those tender parts of His Hands or Feet. His own increasing tortures did but quicken the flow of His Divine charities. For, few as the words are, they are very comprehensive, asking the very greatest boon, nay, every thing that can be needed on behalf of offenders, and of very wide extent in respect of the persons who come within the compass of their benevolence.
For who would think of limiting their application within their narrowest possible span, as uttered only, or chiefly, on behalf of the four soldiers, who were the mere hardened instruments for executing the will of others ? For surely they apply to all who had part in His unjust sentence, as much as to the mere executioners of it-to Pilate, to the Chief Priests, to the false witnesses, to the excited and savage multitude, to the rebellious city, to all who mocked and cruelly used Him—to all sinners, at all times, whose burden and chastisement was then laid upon Him, who can in any way be said to sin in ignorance, not knowing what they do, as to the full enormity and proportions of guilt in what they sin.
For one only of those whose hand had been heaviest against Him, must we conclude His prayer could not avail—for the wretched Judas, who had already cut himself off from the hope of benefit, having laid desperate hands on his own life.
Specially, then, we may apply the prayer as uttered on behalf of the Chief Priests, whose hands, next to those of Judas, had been heaviest against Him, and whose guilt had been most complicated and deliberate, though they were not yet hopelessly swallowed up in it. The very fact of their having a heavier burden of guilt on them, would be the very reason for believing that our most compassionate Saviour had a chief eye to their case in His prayer. And we have the testimony of Scripture, that, in some sense, they knew not what they did. Thus St. Peter testifies of them : "I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers.” And St. Paul : “Had they known it, they would not have crucified the LORD OF GLORY.” And our Lord HIMSELF had said, “ Ye neither know Me nor My FATHER;" and again of His Apostles: “Whosoever killeth you, will think that he doeth God service : and these things will they do, because they have not known the Father nor Me!."
It is upon the case of the Chief Priests—those who actually took part in procuring sentence against our LORD—that I wish to turn your attention to-day; and shall endeavour here, as in the other cases already reviewed, to show how our Blessed LORD exercised a very merciful considerateness and forbearance towards them also during these days of His last sufferings, which (humanly speaking) were of their bringing on.
To bring their case clearly before you, it may be well shortly to refer back to what led to their deliberate determination of putting Jesus to death. It was upon receiving the account of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. “From that time forth" (the evangelist St. John writes), “they took counsel together for to put Him to death.” Nay, and further, as the same evangelist writes, “the Chief Priests consulted, that they might put Lazarus to death also, because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.” Next as to their plans for accomplishing their purpose. Their first plan seems to have been to catch Him in His words, which they endeavoured to
1 Acts iii. 17. 1 Cor. ii. 8. John viii. 19; xvi. 2.
carry into effect during our Lord's teaching in the Temple on Tuesday, by subtle questions previously arranged, from which they did not think He could have escaped without committing Himself. Having so signally failed in this scheme, that none of them durst ask Him any more questions; on the next day (Wednesday), while the Chief Priests and scribes were in consultation together how they might take Jesus by subtilty and kill Him, came Judas and made his bargain for thirty pieces of silver, said to be worth about 31. 15s. of our money. Having next succeeded in their treacherous plot for apprehending Jesus, they put Him on His trial, having bribed false witnesses to lay a charge against Him. Being foiled in bringing this charge home, He was, after further examination by the High Priest, condemned under pretence that He had spoken blasphemy. But this charge they knew could not stand before Pilate, so to him they accused Jesus of a political offence—that “He stirred up the people, and gave HIMSELF out to be a king.” We have seen, in considering the case of Pilate, how, notwithstanding the governor's repeated declaration of the innocence of Jesus, and his evident unwillingness to proceed further, and his three several appeals to their compassion and sense of justice, and that very remarkable proceeding of washing his hands, that he might be “ guiltless of the blood of that just person,” the Chief Priests extorted from him the sentence, that JESUS should be crucified.
To this sketch of their proceedings should be added the savage cruelty, with which they exulted in the insults and ill usage heaped upon Him by the soldiers and bystanders ; and, at last, their mocking Him on the Cross, reproaching Him with the very works of mercy He had done, even, as it would seem, with that greatest of miracles, the raising the dead man from the grave, saying, “ HE saved others, HIMSELF He cannot save;” thus apparently allowing that He had done so. Nor should their detestable hypocrisy be forgotten, in refusing to go into Pilate's judgment-hall, for fear of polluting themselves before the Passover, by entering under a heathen roof, when they were imbruing their hands knowingly in the blood of an innocent person.
Towards such, what forbearance and consideration could we expect to be shown ? and, least of all, by the very victim of their abominable wickedness? Can it be possible, that the words which have been made our text for the week can apply to their case also ? Can it be said, in any sense, of them, that Jesus Christ, thus persecuted, hated, craftily conspired against, falsely accused, unjustly condemned, reviled, mocked, savagely tormented, and now suffering agonies, to end in death, at their hands, " having loved them, loved them unto the end ?” The words of the text are, in themselves, the shortest and most ample proof and answer, that indeed it was so. He did indeed love them, and love them unto the end, notwithstanding all that had passed. Neither their wickedness nor His sufferings could extinguish or intermit the yearnings of the love He bare them. And the love that was so strong in death would not be lacking in previous kind offices towards them. Let us briefly call to our thoughts the many methods by which our merciful Lord sought to move the Chief Priests to a better mind towards Him.
To begin with what ought to have prepared their minds to give Him a far different reception at this Passover. They had, on former occasions, when He had been among them, impatiently asked, “ How long dost thou make us to doubt ?” “Show us a sign, that we may believe.” And a few months before this Passover, our LORD had shown them the greatest sign of His Divine power. He had raised to life again, after he had been dead and buried, and his body had begun to see corruption, a man known to many of them, living at a village hard by to the city, whom many did go out and see. Before He appeared among them again, they had had several months to consider, Whose presence among them was betokened in a work of such mighty power. And we are told its effect upon their wicked hearts. Though they could not deny the miracle, “ from that day forth they took counsel together to put Him to death ;” and afterwards further consulted how they might put Lazarus also to death, “because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away and believed on Jesus.” Yet even this desperate hardness did not prevent our LORD, on these days, from still giving many opportunities for recovering themselves, and coming to a better mind; opportunities which an honest mind could not have failed so far to have been influenced by, at least, and so far to have understood, as to have turned them aside from their sin in conspiring against His life.
Such were, secondly, that wonderful procession when our LORD