IMMEDIATELY after the Saviour had said, "It is finished," He breathed His last breath, but with that last breath He said, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit."
Through all the centuries holy men, dying, have repeated these words. The first martyr, Stephen, as the stones were hurled at him, prayed, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge; Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." We see how the memory of Christ's dying helped His followers, from the first, to quit them like men. Only a few years ago the whole world was moved by the Christian prayer of a martyred President, "Not my but thine be done." With the memory of Jesus, death loses all its fears. To go to a Father who loves us as Jesus has shown that He loves us,--what could be better than that! Will He not certainly do what is best and happiest for us and ours? The shadows may draw down thick and black, but behind them all is the brightness of the Father's Face. He will do for us better things than we can desire or pray for. When, therefore, we see no way before us, when we come to the unknown, there is but one thing to do, an act of faith bright and beautiful, full of rest and peace: "Into thy hands, O Father, we commend our spirits."
But the thought of this last word of Christ was not new to Him. Its strengthening power came from the fact that all His life long He had been saying it. It is the indication of complete trust in God which makes the perfection of our Saviour's life. He had taken God at His word. He did the impossible, because God told Him to do it. He found comfort in dreariness and agony, because God's will was within them.
I ask you to think of such trust in God today. Good Friday is not to teach us how to die but how to live. For Jesus died as He died, because He had lived as He had lived. If you live through the common days, trusting in God, you will smile in the face of death: your trust will be firm and steady to the very end.
"Into thy hands, O Father, I commend my spirit." Let us meditate what that means for one who has life ahead. Well, In the first place, God has rules and laws, He wishes us to love Him. Loving Him we shall do what He wishes us to do: we shall keep His rules. Yet on all hands there are people careless of what He may wish them to do. Let us not be thoughtless of His desire. He bids us do extremely difficult things, such as forgiving our enemies from our hearts. Then there are simple things which He bids us do. He bids us assemble ourselves together on the Day of Rest, to worship Him; He bids us to break bread and eat, to pour out wine and taste of it, in memory of His Love through Jesus Christ, with the assurance that so we shall receive into our lives the inmost Life of Christ, and our lives shall melt into His. His commandments are not grievous. But they are definite. To commit ourselves to His keeping means that we lose our little wills in His infinite will. We do not dare decide when we have gone far enough. As the eyes of children look up to the face of the mother, so we, as trusting servants and children of God, look up to Him for direction.
What I beg of you today is to cultivate tenderness of heart. Do not think of giving God ninety-nine one-hundredths of your lives. Do not say, "I must keep back an ancient bitterness in my heart,--God can have all but the resignation of that!" Give God all--every atom of your nature. Lay your self-conceit, your boasted clearness, your logical sense, your withholdings, your pride, your enmities, your encrusted dignity,--lay them all at His feet. Do not be like a spoiled child and try to argue with God. Give your independence to Him, that with His strength your independence may be His gift to you. Do not be always weeping, large-eyed with anxiety, because your stubborn persistence in thinking that you know how to live leads you into days of melancholy, into days when you are unbearable to yourself, and, you fear, to all who must live with you. Surrender! Surrender unconditionally. Surrender every whim and prejudice, every habit and self-made rule--surrender all to God.
I can imagine that, if these words seem at all real to you, you will say that you are too old to begin anew. The old bitterness has sunk into your life, and you cannot dislodge it. It is not a question of can. It is a question of will. Do you really wish to give up everything to God, to obey Him in every single motion? I do not mean, Have you a sentiment in that direction, have you a little flutter of emotion? I mean, Do you long to do exactly what He tells you? Does it make you weep because all these years you have been so stubborn, self-opinionated, and cold? When you pray for such surrender to His will, do you pray as you have perhaps prayed when one you loved was ill, or when some stunning blow seemed imminent in your life? Do you have an honest longing to be rid of your stupidly conceited self-management, and to be taken prisoner by God's Almighty Spirit? I am not saying these words to fill in the moments. I am trying to probe your hearts, that you may ask yourselves the honest question, and get from yourselves an honest answer. Can you say with St. Augustine, "O Lord, my heart can find no peace, till it rests in Thee"--or does that sound like the exalted word of a dreaming mystic?
I wish to inspire no answer which is not real. If you do not think you care to give God everything you have, everything you are--then confess it. Let us face the situation fairly. Do not escape by that cowardly device which says, "I do not submit altogether to God, but then I submit as much as anyone submits." That is both cowardly and false. There have been men who, at any rate, have tried to surrender all to God. There are such people today. If they really have tried and are still trying, some day they will succeed. God is pleased by our genuine efforts--not, mark, our wishes or our sentiments. The man who really tries to please God will please Him.
But let me suppose that you frankly admit that there are bitternesses in your life so deep seated, so much part of you, that you cannot say, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." What then? Then remember that this is Good Friday. Forget your difficulties, forget yourself. Look up at the Cross of Christ. See the King of Surrender, the King of Love. Why did He do it all? Because God told Him to do it. Why did God tell Him? Because "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son," that everyone who surrenders as He surrendered may have joy and peace and eternal life. That is the way God loves you. Do you understand even a little of it? He surrendered all for you--every attribute and prerogative of His Almighty Perfection. He surrendered that He might love you with an infinite love. He was not displaying Love, He was not setting an example of Love, He was loving you--when Jesus died on the Cross. He gave all He had for you. I am not using strong words. I believe every syllable that I utter. If I could get stronger words I should use them. In the Cross of Jesus we see God giving up all for our sakes. He loves us to the utmost limit of His infinite power.
When Jesus came to Golgotha they hanged Him on a tree,
They drave great nails through hands and feet and made a Calvary.
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.
When Jesus came to Birmingham they simply passed Him by,
They never hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die.
For men had grown more tender and they would not give Him pain,
They only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.
Still Jesus cried, "Forgive them, for they know not what they do,"
And still it rained the winter rain that drenched Him through and through,
The crowds went home and left the streets without a soul to see,
And Jesus crouched against a wall and cried for Calvary.
Now do you not believe that? I think you must believe it. Then is not your gratitude stirred? Will you not give love for love? Will you not surrender your little all to God, as God surrendered His omnipotent All to you? Do you not feel your love transcend all your conceit, your poor little treasure of wisdom, your pride? Does it really seem to you hard to forgive a poor blundering fellow mortal when you know how Jesus forgave such as you? Do you really feel that you can set the bounds of legitimate obedience and surrender, when you see your King crucified for the love which God bore to you? Do you not see the folly of resistance, of isolation!
Then let us away to the Cross of Christ! O Lord, Thou mayest have all we have and all we are. Not one shred of the old life is left us. We give all to Thee. Thou hast loved us; our love is Thine. We give Thee love for love. To Thee, O King of Kings, we surrender. We live to do Thy will. Call us whither Thou wilt, thither will we go. No duty can be too trifling, no sacrifice too great. We are dead to ourselves. Our life is hid with Christ in God. "Father, into thy hands we commend our spirits."
O GOD, whose blessed Son endured the bitterness of the cross; Grant that all thy servants in trouble may remember him, receiving strength from his strength, till they all partake of his victory; through the same Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.
ALMIGHTY God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified; Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
O GOD, who hast prepared for those who love thee such good things as pass man's understanding; Pour into our hearts such love toward thee, that we, loving thee above all things, may obtain thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.