THESE addresses, delivered in the Church of the Transfiguration, are published in compliance with the request of a number of those who heard them.
This is all the more readily done, inasmuch as they contain--with whatever is original, be its value what it may--certainly many useful thoughts of others, expressed often in nearly or quite their own words. More is due in these respects, probably, to Canon King of Christ Church, Oxford, England, than to anyone else.
To these addresses is added the conclusion of the sermon which preceded them.
THROUGHOUT all the year, brethren, there are no such hours, hours so memorable, so solemn, so sacred, so awful--hours in which every heart should be so full of love and sorrow and sympathy and devoutest thankfulness--in which sin should seem so utterly horrible and detestable, and the divine compassion and mercy so infinite and wonderful--hours which we should so desire entirely to give up and to consecrate to our only Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ--as the three ensuing hours, the hours from twelve until three of this day. For, consider, they are the hours in which the work of our redemption, and the redemption of all mankind, by that only Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, was accomplished. They are the hours in which the otherwise irremediable ruin wrought by the sin of our first parents for themselves and for all our race, was by the Second Adam, our only Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, forever retrieved--and the way opened for us and for all our race by Him into a Paradise, which, if gained, as it might be, should never be forfeited, and in which the joys ten thousand fold of that first Eden should be forever found; but the hours in which that ruin was retrieved and that way was opened, as only they could be, by such awful and unmitigated torments of the body and soul of that, only Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, as in all the universe and throughout all eternity, was never hitherto known and experienced, nor ever shall be here after.
They are the hours in which, after that night of agony and betrayal and desertion, and that morning of scoffing and spitting and scourging and smiting with the reed and crowning with the thorns, and dragging, as if He had been the very felon of the earth, from the one end of Jerusalem to the other, and of false accusal and unjust condemnation, and bearing of the cross up the steep of Calvary until he fell beneath its weight, that He hung upon it, between Heaven and Earth, supported by the nails driven through His hands and His feet, with the thorns lacerating His head at every uneasy turning for a moment's relief--a spectacle to men and to angels. And they are the hours, when, with the scorching rays of the midday sun of that burning Eastern sky beating down upon his bare, bleeding, broken, crucified body--dying amid the sneers and deridings of the hostile multitude, and with a thief on either side, there was laid upon Him the intolerable burden of the iniquity of us all, the weight of every sin that had been committed or that should be committed by any one of our race--when He experienced in His own person on the tree the concentration of the punishment forever due to the sins of the whole world, and made an all sufficient and everlasting atonement for them--when the face of the Father was hidden from Him, and all the fiendish malevolence of all the powers of darkness, without let or hindrance, exercised itself upon Him.
Surely, were it possible, we might well desire that for these hours every other sight might completely fade from the view, and every other sound cease to be heard, and only Calvary rise distinct and clear before us with all that as on this day transpired upon it.
Surely we might well desire, if it were possible, that some supernatural vision might be vouchsafed us here in this church, of the scene for which these hours are forever memorable--that we might be permitted, as we remained kneeling upon our knees for these hours, to behold Christ uplifted upon the cross, to see the all-atoning blood trickling down from the tree, to feel somewhat of the heat of that midday sun that smote upon the exposed and dying Lord of us all, to know somewhat of the intolerable suffering, and weariness, and thirst that were then experienced--to hear every word that was then spoken--to make our own that prayer of the penitent, "Lord remember me, when thou comest in thy kingdom," until we should win from the dying lips the assurance, that for us also the day of death should be the day of entrance into Paradise.
No such vision as this, dear brethren, is to be vouchsafed us. We cannot thus, if we would, spend these awful hours. But, nevertheless, we have come together to employ them as best we can--to try to devote them, to give them entirely up, to the crucified--in them to offer unto Him our adoring love and gratitude: as we kneel at the foot of His cross to consecrate ourselves, body, soul, and spirit, all that we have and all that we are, anew unto Him and unto His service--to ask Him to take us, and to make us and to keep us, poor, wretched, utterly unworthy as we are, His wholly and forever, and to help us each day of our life hereafter to do something that shall testify to the sincerity of the love that we bear to Him, and to the sense that we have of our infinite and everlasting indebtedness to Him. We have come to spend these hours here in the House of God in briefly meditating upon the dying words of our Lord, the words spoken by Him from the cross: and in endeavoring to draw from them something that shall be very practical--something that may be very useful to ourselves and to others in our intercourse with them--something that may be practically illustrated by us in our life, and in our death; for I do not think that we can in any other way do that which will be so acceptable to our Lord, so well-pleasing and honorable in his sight--so far as these, His dying words, are concerned--than in striving to make them practically useful in our life and in our death. And we have come to unite in prayers and in hymns, and in the fullest profession of our faith in the Father, and in the Son, and in the Holy Ghost.
In that which we are about to do, let us endeavor that there, be the utmost reality, the utmost earnestness, the utmost devotion. Let us strive to keep our thoughts from wandering, and our bodies from a too readily yielding to weariness. Let us withhold no lowly gesture during these hours, certainly, at the adorable name, nor be found elsewhere in prayer, if it be possible, than kneeling down upon our knees. In all the service in which we are to engage, let heart and voice, let voice and heart be lifted up unto the Lord; while every heart goes out and goes up to Him, let no voice be silent, or restrained in prayer or hymn. If ever every voice should not fail to make itself distinctly and devoutly heard, it is surely in such a service as this. The earnestness and the heartiness with which we pray, and with which we sing, cannot but tell upon the devotion of all. And when we come at the close to join in that creed in which the Holy Catholic Church throughout all the world has for ages professed its faith, and in which the glory of the crucified is so fully unfolded, let it indeed be with a fervor, with a heart and voice which may not hitherto have been ours, and in all and through all may God the Holy Ghost so guide us and govern us and in spire us, that these hours may be so spent as shall be for our profit in life and in death, yes, throughout eternity, and for the glory of the crucified, our only Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. AMEN.
"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
By comparing the several accounts which it has pleased God that we should have in the Gospels, of the crucifixion, we find that our Lord Jesus Christ spoke seven times while hanging upon the cross. As everything in Holy Scripture is significant, and everything therein related concerning our blessed Lord is especially so, we must, as a matter of course, take it for granted that there is a meaning in His speaking just the number of times that He did, and neither more nor less. Seven, as used in Holy Scripture, is spoken of as the Mystical or Sacred number. The days of the creation with following day of rest were seven. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are seven-fold--the Archangels are seven. The Churches of God of which St. John speaks in the Revelation were seven. Seven was the sacrificial number--the cardinal virtues are seven. Those duties, which are the very groundwork of the Christian graces and tempers which we are to cultivate, would seem to be seven. We are told that there are seven principal evil spirits, and that the deadly sins are seven. We may well presume then that the very number of the sayings upon the cross would indicate that they are replete beyond all things with divine doctrine and instruction--and perhaps we should find that there would be scarcely anything more profitable than the weekly use which might be made of these sayings, by taking one each day for meditation in connection with the duty which, we shall presently see, would seem to be associated with it.
The prayer: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" is the first of the seven sayings spoken by our Lord from the cross. It is the general opinion, and an opinion which seems warranted by the Scriptures, that it. was while, stripped naked of all His clothes, our Lord was being fastened to the cross as it lay extended upon the ground before it was lifted up with its burden and its foot thrust into the hole which had been dug in the earth--while the two huge iron nails placed at the very center of the open palms were being driven home by the blows of a mallet into the wood, crushing with excruciating pain all the fine nerves and muscles of the hands, and the third nail was tearing its way through the quivering and bleeding flesh of the feet placed one over the other--that the voice of Jesus was first heard uplifted, not in a cry of natural agony at the fearful torture, but in divinest compassion calmly praying: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." For when St. Luke says: "And when they were come to the place which is called Calvary, there they crucified Him," that is fastened Him to the cross--he immediately adds: "Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." The direct and special reference of this prayer was of course to our Lord's murderers--to those who were engaged, or who had any, the most remote part or lot, in the. awful deed which was then being accomplished. For the Roman soldiers, for Pontius Pilate, for Herod and the Jewish people--for all who had conspired, and had done anything, or were doing anything, to further His death, He prayed in that moment of inconceivable agony, having Himself forgiven them that God the Father would do likewise--even to the extent of remitting the penalty and cleansing them from the guilt of their sin, and this on the ground of their ignorance--offering the only excuse, the only palliation, that could be made, viz.: that they knew not what they were doing--knew not that they were put ting to death one so innocent--the very and eternal Son of God--one who had come into the world to save them from everlasting death. But as it was sin that made the crucifixion necessary, that could in no other way be atoned for, and as it is sin that now crucifies the Son of God afresh: so that prayer has ever been rightly understood as embracing in its arms, as it were, all those who from first to last had sinned or should sin through ignorance--and the greatest crimes are oftentimes committed through ignorance--for St. Paul was a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious, and all through ignorance--and they who crucified the Lord of Glory would not have done it, we are told, had they known that He was the Lord of Glory. It was then for the forgiveness--not unconditionally, but on their repenting and turning to God--the remission of the punishment in the world to come, and the cleansing from guilt of all those who at any time or in any place should sin through ignorance, that our Lord offered this prayer upon the cross--and who can count the number of those for whom it was heard and answered, as in bitterest sorrow of heart they repented and turned unto the Lord? Doubtless many of those converted at Pentecost and afterward, and among them Saul of Tarsus it may be, had stood by the cross and heard that prayer.
And now, brethren, for the practical use that we ourselves may make of this first saying from the cross--the lessons that we may draw for our own instruction, and the resolutions that we may be led to form--for in no other way surely can we so truly and acceptably show our love for our Lord and our sympathy with our Lord, as we stand by His cross to-day and look up to Him and listen to Him, than in striving to make in the present, and in resolving to make in the future, practical use of the words which are falling from His dying lips--in making them tell now and for all time to come upon our daily lives and conduct.
In this first saying from the cross, and in the second and third also, our Lord did not speak of, or for Himself, but for others. His enemies, the penitent thief, and His mother were all thought of and cared for, and that in the midst of intolerable, torments--before there was any thought, so to, speak, of Himself--He prayed for the forgiveness of the first; He promised Paradise to the second; He made provision for the filial care of the third, and that while suffering the inconceivable agonies of crucifixion--before one word concerning Himself escaped His lips. Surely the lesson found in this is a lesson of unselfishness in bearing our cross whatever it may be--of active love for others--love that shall be mindful of their comfort, their interest, their welfare, and seek to further them--that shall strive to lighten their load, no matter how seemingly intolerable may be the burden that we ourselves are bearing--no matter how severe may be our own trials. Be there sickness or suffering of any sort, be there poverty or privation, be there loneliness and bereavement and sorrow, no matter what and how great be our own woes, we shall never let them, if we would be like our Lord and remember His first words from the cross, make us hard and selfish, forgetful of others, and altogether occupied and engrossed with ourselves.
So, too, will ours be a readiness to forgive, and a forgiving all others, be the wrongs that we have suffered at their hands never so great and grievous; and with the free gift of our forgiveness there will be a seeking of the divine forgiveness for the offender as well. Nor will this be all; there will be a looking into our own conduct likewise--a recalling of our words and deeds--to see whereinsoever others may have had injury or wrong done to them by us, and there will be the resolution to seek forgiveness and to make every possible amend, if so be we would honor our Lord, and show Him our love and sympathy as we listen to His first words from the cross to-day. Brethren, as we stand by the cross to day let us freely forgive, and from the heart, every one on the face of the earth who may have injured or wronged us, and resolve to seek reconciliation with those whom we may have offended. Let us not go forth from this place to-day without our hearts being in love and charity with all the world.
Let also from this day henceforth the words of our Lord "they know not what they do" be not without their practical influence upon us. In any sin that we commit, no matter how trivial--in any careless word that we may speak--in any scornful look--in any angry tone or gesture--in any prevarication or inexact dealing with our fellows--in our irregular attendance in the House of God--in our at any time irreverence or indevotion when there,--"we know not what we do"--we know not how great and how lasting for evil may be its effect upon another or upon others.
St. Paul tells us "Some men's sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment, and some men they follow after." Long after we have gone down to the grave the evil consequences of a word or deed of ours may live on to do its mischief.
Blessed Jesus, as we behold Thee being nailed to the cross, and listen to Thy words, we pray Thee that we may evermore be unselfish, mindful of others in all our trials and afflictions, be they never so severe; ever ready to forgive and to seek forgiveness; and ever guided and governed by the Holy Spirit in striving to speak and to do only that which is right, and the influence of which may be for the good of others.
Second Word. "Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise."
IN order that the indignity of the death to which He was condemned might be enhanced, bur Lord, as we know, was crucified between two thieves, the one on His right hand and the other on His left. It was to one of these, to the one who either before being led to execution or who while hanging on the cross had repented of all his life-long wickedness, of his murders, and violences, and robberies, that our Lord, when dying, addressed the second of His sayings. There is a tradition that for thirty years these men had been engaged in their life of crime, as leaders of a band of murderers and robbers; and that into their hands St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin and Jesus had fallen when returning from Egypt. Their names, it is said, were Titus and Dumachus. The former, it is related, prevailed upon the latter by a gift of money to consent to the release, while the rest of the band was sleeping, of their captives. On which account the Blessed Virgin said to him:
"The Lord God will sustain thee by His right hand, and will grant thee remission of thy sins." Hearing which, the tradition goes on to say, the Lord Jesus said to His mother: "Thirty years hence the Jews will crucify me at Jerusalem, and these two robbers will be raised upon the cross along with me, Titus on my right hand and Dumachus on my left; and after that day Titus shall go before me into Paradise."
To the penitent thief, whether he had become such upon the cross, or whether the tradition be true, and the thief, his life long, had remembered what had been said by his captives, and while in prison had learned that Jesus was the once child whose release he had secured, and, repenting of all his crimes, had come to believe in Him and trust in Him as the Saviour of sinners and the Lord of life and death and the Heavenly kingdom, as would seem to be most likely, and in answer to his confession of faith and petition, when there was so little seemingly to war rant that confession and lead to that petition--"Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom"--it was that our Lord said: "To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise."
The very obvious practical lesson which we are here taught is the great lesson of thorough penitence and perfect faith. Such penitence for all our sins, and such faith in our only Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, has that same assurance of an entrance at last into blessed Paradise. What the thief wanted was that Jesus should remember him just as he was. He would keep back nothing. He would have his whole life remembered--every sinful deed that he had ever committed, from the smallest pilfering and stealing up to greatest robbery and most wanton and inhuman murder. He cast himself, full of sin and fuller of penitence--asking to be remembered just as he was--desiring that no act, no word, no thought of his whole life should be forgotten--upon the heart of Jesus, believing that with Him, with Jesus, there was plenteous redemption and mercy sufficient for all his sins. He was a penitent believer in Jesus, and he was willing and ready that all should be known so that all should be forgiven, and, therefore, at once he received the assurance: "To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise." And ours, brethren, if we too would have the same assurance at the last, which surely we desire above all things else to have, must be a like whole-hearted repentance, a true, perfect contrition, a casting of ourselves upon the heart of Jesus, wishing Him to know all, and to do what He will with us; we should be thoroughly desirous to be thoroughly known of the Saviour, and rest perfectly content. We should say: "I am known through and through with all my vileness; but His love outweighs it all, washes it all, and I am saved by the love of Jesus." Let there, then, this day, brethren, be a like wholly venturing of ourselves upon the love and mercy of Jesus. Let there not be now or ever hereafter a keeping back of anything from Him. Let us ask Him to remember us just as we are, in all our sinfulness, in all our vileness; but to remember us as conscious of our sinfulness, conscious of our vileness, as penitent, and looking alone for His mercy. Let us lift up our hearts, as we hear Him saying to the penitent thief: "To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise," and cry
Jesu, open me the gate
That of old he entered,
Who in that most lost estate,
Wholly on Thee ventured
Thou, whose wounds are ever pleading,
And Thy passion interceding,
From my misery let me rise,
To a home in Paradise.
But there are other lessons for us in this second saying from the cross. Notwithstanding the thoroughness of his repentance; notwithstanding his readiness, his desire that Jesus should know all, that nothing should be kept back, no sin the smallest and no crime the greatest; and, notwithstanding the full and free forgiveness which he had received, and the pledge of Paradise, yet was there no remission of the temporal punishment due to the thief for his life of wickedness, and how sorely was his faith in Christ still to be put to the test!
He was still to hang upon the cross, still to endure all the agonies of crucifixion, to know no alleviation of any of his sufferings, to be enwrapt in that horror of darkness which was to come down upon Calvary, to hear that Lord in whom he had trusted cry out, "My God, my God! why hast thou forsaken me?" and see Him bow His head and give up the Ghost before him, and then beside that dead body to remain bleeding and writhing in mortal anguish until the merciful soldier, with another agony--the breaking of his legs--should end his agonies; and finally, to have his dead body cast, as something too vile for decent burial, perhaps with the offal of the city into the valley of Hinnom. And so we, brethren, though we have opened up everything; have kept back not so much as a single sin; have made all known to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ; are entirely penitent; have received from Him full pardon of all our sins; and have been cleansed from all their guilt by His most precious blood; and are on our way to Paradise--so we must expect and be willing, and even be thankful to suffer the penalty of our sins in this world, if so be we may escape eternal punishment in the world to come; and must expect again and again to have our faith tried, to be in darkness and to feel at times perhaps as if God had forsaken us. When trial of any sort shall come, then--pain, sickness, privation, bereavement, loneliness, suffering through others, doubts, discouragement, mental disquiet, despondency--let us accept it, whatever it be, with all meekness, and with none other words than these: "We receive the due reward of our deeds." Let us expect, though pardoned and on our way to Paradise, suffering and the trial of our faith.
Merciful and adorable Jesus, Thou who when dying didst promise Paradise to the dying, penitent thief, kneeling at the foot of Thy cross this day, we ask Thee to look upon us just as we are; there is no sin that we would keep back from Thee, for we desire that all may this day be forgiven, and we desire that we may be willing here after to suffer and to have our faith tried even as Thou wilt; if so be we may at the last be with Thee in Paradise, it matters not through what we pass in going thither.
"Woman, behold thy Son. Behold thy Mother."
WHEN our Lord spoke for the third time from the cross, it was in order that He might provide for the Blessed Virgin, His Mother, during the remaining years of her life, that maintenance and protection which He Himself could now no longer afford. St. Joseph had long since died, and it has ever been the faith and teaching of the holy Catholic Church through out all the world that our Lord was the only child born of the ever-blessed Virgin, His Mother--according to the custom of the Jews, so to designate such relatives, those who were in reality His cousins being called His brethren and sisters--so that when our Lord should be taken from her, she would indeed be desolate.
With the other weeping daughters of Jerusalem, she would seem to have followed Him up the steeps of Calvary, and, standing at a distance, to have witnessed the nailing to the cross, and its uplifting with its bleeding burden, and the sinking of its foot into the earth,--then, as time went on and others began to withdraw or fall back, she, with Mary, the wife of St. Joseph's brother, Cleophas, the penitent and pardoned Magdalene and the beloved disciple, St. John, probably pressed forward and stood just in front of the cross, so near to our Lord that He could easily, when speaking to her and to St. John, indicate by a look the per sons whom He addressed. As he saw them thus standing, looking down upon His Mother, He said to her, turning His eyes and His head as He spoke toward the beloved disciple--and how that motion must have forced the thorns into His lacerated head!--"Woman! behold thy Son!" and then added to St. John, with a fresh anguish turning His eyes and His head back with the words to the Blessed Virgin, "Behold thy Mother!" It was as if He had said, "I, indeed, pass from this world to the Father, and be cause I know thee, my Mother, to have neither parents, nor husband, nor brethren, nor sisters, nor child other than myself, that I may not leave, thee bare of all human help, I commend thee to John, my beloved disciple; he shall be to thee a son, and thou shalt be to him a mother." We need not hesitate to believe that as they heard these words they both bowed their heads in assent; and, as if to comfort the Blessed Jesus with the fullest possible assurance that His dying wish should be fulfilled, the beloved disciple we know at once led St. Mary away to his home--as we read: "And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home,"--while we learn from pious tradition that for the remaining fifteen years of her life he continued to care for her with more than filial tenderness.
The very obvious lesson which we are to learn from these words and from this act of our Lord, brethren, especially those of us who are so privileged and blessed as to have parents still surviving, is the lesson of filial piety, the duty, so far as in us lies, of ministering to the very utmost of our powers and abilities to. their comfort, and, if need be, to their support and maintenance; of withholding nothing of care or love or tenderness that may tend to the solacing of their declining years. Let us bethink ourselves, brethren, those of us who have father or mother, as we stand by the cross this day, and see our Blessed Lord, when in the very agonies of death, mindful of His mother, and providing for her future care and protection, of the manner in which we have performed, and are performing our duty as sons and daughters. Is that father or mother in any way suffering from our neglect, our want of kindness or sympathy, in deed, or word, or look--our want of seeing, so far as may be, that every need is supplied? Are we giving every constant and delicate attention that we can, never growing weary, never half-wishing that the end would come? Never vexed, or annoyed, or disrespectful, or worse, be the growing infirmities of body or mind, and the peculiarities of disposition what they may? Children, if any such there be within sound of my voice, when you were baptized, it was said that Baptism represents unto us our profession, which is to follow the example of our Saviour Christ, and to be made like unto Him. Remember then, whenever you are unmindful of your duty, of the obedience and love, and respect, and attention due, to father or mother, whenever you are cross, or speak to them as you ought not, or do anything to distress them; whenever you are not showing them all reverence and affection, doing everything to lighten their cares and make them happy--you are forgetting that profession, you are not being made like unto Christ, you are not following His life-long example, and His this day's example from the cross.
We cannot, brethren, for one moment suppose that there ever could have been a mother worthy of such filial thoughtfulness and honor as the Blessed Virgin, and so let me ask you who are parents to bethink yourselves this day and often, whether there be anything wanting on your part to elicit and secure the love and respect and reverence of your children? Whether there be nothing likely to provoke them to wrath, to discourage obedience, and reverence, and love? It is a heathen maxim that the greatest reverence is due to children, and surely there should be everything on the parents' part to excite and to foster filial piety.
But there is a less obvious lesson which would seem to be taught us all. or at least the most of us, by this third saying from the cross. It is a lesson with reference to conflicting duties. Humanly speaking, the divine mission, which our Lord had come into this world to fulfill, must have more and more absorbed His thoughts, and more and more drawn Him away from His home and from His mother. At twelve years of age, when His mother remonstrated with Him, as it were, for remaining behind in the temple, and told Him. that she and St. Joseph had sought Him sorrowing, He answered: "How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" Again when at the marriage in Cana of Galilee, His mother said: "They have no wine," our Lord answered, "Woman! what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come." And on another occasion, when told, "Behold Thy mother and Thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with Thee." We read: "But He answered and said unto him that told Him, who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth His hand toward His disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in Heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother." But yet when dying upon the cross, in that supreme moment when, in inconceivable anguish of body and soul, accomplishing the world's redeeming, we find Him mindful of that Mother, fulfilling a son's duty in providing for her; so that we must believe that throughout His life He had discharged every filial office, and had seen that her every want had been met. The performance of the infinitely higher duty had never, if we may so speak, interfered with the sufficient discharge of the lower. So with ourselves, our religious duties and calling, or that pursuit to which we have given ourselves up; the various new relations which we may form may separate us from home and parents, or prevent our giving the greater part, or it may be any considerable part of our time to those who have had, or who have claims upon us; but we are to see to it that we never let the old affections utterly die out, that we let not what we conceive to be, and what indeed may be, the higher duties and the higher life--our religious duties even, and our church going, and our interest in devout practices, and privileges now so happily revived--prevent the discharge, or interfere with the discharge of what may be subordinate duties, or may concern the welfare, or even the greater comfort of others. Let us see to it this day, dear brethren, as we stand by the cross and behold our dear Lord, when crushed with the weight of a world's redeeming, still mindful of His Mother, still careful to provide for her future comfort, commending her to the beloved disciple--that none other duties, and none other occupations are allowed to prejudice or affect the doing of what we are bound to do for our own kindred and household; that there be no neglect on any plea, the weightiest soever, of any one who has just claims upon our affection or time or attention. Let there be a looking into our lives and conduct this day on this point, dear brethren, and let our hearts go up with our voices in the prayer: "O blessed Jesus, our Lord and our God, help us so to hear Thy words and the words of Thy Father, that we may be enabled to fulfill all the duties which Thou wouldst have us fulfill towards all those whom Thou hast given to us. Let us not love father or mother, husband or wife, brother or sister, child or friend more than Thee; but ever mindful of Thy word and example, let not even our love for Thee, nor any thing, make us forgetful of the love and duty which we owe to others."
"My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?"
THE three sayings which we have thus far somewhat considered would seem to have been spoken by our Lord when first nailed to the cross. It was not until nearly the three hours had elapsed, until He was drawing near unto death, that the four following sayings were spoken. During this interval, while there was darkness over all the land, He remained silent. In all that He had said previous to the darkness, the reference had been solely to others, viz.: to His enemies, to the penitent thief, and to His Mother. In all that now follows, the reference is solely to himself. With our Lord, even when dying, it is others first, then Himself. Three of the sayings concerning Himself are taken from the Psalms, and it is supposed that the other also. "It is finished" was the original ending of the twenty-second Psalm.
We may gather from this perhaps that our Lord frequently used the Psalms in his own private devotions; when he let his heart and mind flow forth in communion with the Father it may have been in words taken from the Psalms. Certainly at the last, when He was not so much speaking to the people as pouring forth His heart to God, the Psalms seem to supply the words in which His thoughts could be most easily expressed. And might it not henceforth be more so with us, dear brethren? Might not the example of the saints of the past, above all might not our Lord's example move us to make more frequent use of the Psalms in pouring out our hearts towards God? At any rate when reciting the Psalms in public or private, shall not the thought that we are saying the words which were once upon our Lord's lips lead to greater reverence and devotion? The fourth saying: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" though as fruitful in comfort as any of the sayings, is the most difficult of them all to be fully understood and comprehended. One who in another language has written as fully, and perhaps as well as any one, on our Lord's dying words, says of this word, and of the loud voice with which it was spoken: "God forsook the Son when he permitted that the human nature of the Son should suffer woes the most bitter beyond all possible conception without any consolation whatsoever. And Christ, who had not complained of the Jews, or of Pilate, or of the executioners; who had not groaned or sighed, or given any sign of sorrow, cried with a loud voice to make known this forsaking, that all might understand the greatness of the price of redemption. These words: 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' are not words of accusation, or of indignation, or of complaining; but a solemn declaration, with perfect justice, and at the most fitting time, of the greatness of the passion."
The practical use which is wont to be made of these words, and which we are to make of them, brethren, is this. They have helped and comforted multitudes of God's people, and they are to help and comfort us, when tempted to despondency, when tempted to be Utterly dull and hopeless. At such times we are to look up as they have looked up, and we are to see, as they have seen, our Lord, not in bright cheerfulness, but in darkness. And we are to hear His voice as they heard it, crying, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" as though He were utterly depressed in soul, overwhelmed by some inward agony of the soul, undergoing as it were a very crucifixion of the heart. And we are to remember that He was still the only and well-beloved Son of the Father, soon to share again the glory which He had with the Father before the world was; and that when thus overwhelmed and desolate and depressed and void of all consolation, there was for our example no wavering, no distrust. It was still "My God, my God."
Let us then, brethren, while careful to check and control and put away, so far as possible, desponding thoughts, and watchful over our imaginations, not suffering them to fancy difficulties, obstacles, troubles, and failures, if like many saints before us and even like our Divine Master Himself, we have sometimes to pass through a cloud in the journey of life, not be afraid. If we sometimes have to feel that we are left, deserted, let us look up to Him and listen to His word which He has uttered for our consolation, our hope, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
IT is very properly thought that our Lord meant to have us understand-by His saying " I thirst," that He was true man as well as true God, that as He was really suffering, and that intolerably, from that keenest and most distressing of all bodily cravings, thirst, so, al though He might have refrained from acknowledging it, He preferred making it known; being a true man, He was not afraid or ashamed to acknowledge the necessary weakness of a man. He did thirst, and therefore He said "I thirst." And in this view the following practical use has been made of the fifth saying from the cross: "Our Lord did thirst as any mere man might thirst, and He was not above saying so--not above expressing a weakness of body. Let us not then be above saying we are tired; let us not be above saying we cannot do so much as others, that we cannot stay so long on our knees as others do, that we cannot fast so long as others, and let us not be ashamed to own it and eat. If we find that we cannot do without a little more sleep than others, then let us have it. Let us not be ashamed that we are human beings, and that we have various degrees of weakness, and are not such perfect models as we are tempted sometimes to appear. Let us not be above honestly saying, 'I am tired, I cannot go to church four or five times a day as some people do. I may get better, I may learn to do more. I trust I may, but I cannot now.' Our Lord could have kept back this word, but he said, 'I thirst,' and I thank Him from my heart, for it is a word of sympathy with me in my frequent bodily weariness, when I am trying to do the will of God. For we do get tired, physically tired, even in prayer. Let us be real and true, admit the fact that we are of different degrees of strength, and we cannot do what some people do. We should be much more cheerful, much better tempered, much happier, and. get on much better with our spiritual duties if sometimes we had the humble courage to say, "I can not do so much as you do, but I try, and I hope God will lead me on."--(King.)
But, brethren, while we thus strive to be real and honest; and while we are thus thankful for our Lord's sympathy with us in our necessary bodily weakness and weariness, let us not fail to endeavor to gather some idea of what He must have endured before He allowed Himself to say "I thirst," and of what He must have been enduring when He so said, that we may learn another and perhaps more generally needed lesson. There is probably no such intolerable craving as that of thirst. It is related that Alexander the Great, once making a long journey with his army through the deserts, after long drought and thirst, came to a certain river; and the soldiers began to drink the water with such eagerness that many choked themselves and died on the spot--the number that so perished being far greater than was lost in any war. The burning thirst was so intolerable that the soldiers could not restrain themselves, that they might breathe a little between drinking (Bellarmine). There is nothing that so aggravates thirst, intolerable as it might be from a mere protracted want of water, as loss of blood, and exhaustion from fatigue. It is told of one of the martyrs that, when bound to the stake and receiving many wounds, he complained only of thirst; and of another person, stricken by many wounds from which the blood flowed profusely, that he longed for nothing but drink, as if he suffered no harm but the most burning thirst.
In the agony of the preceding night our Lord's blood had been forced from His veins, and had fallen in great drops to the ground. In that pitiless scourging and crowning with thorns in this early morning, how must He again have been bathed in His gore. From those more and more distending wounds in His hands, and from the hole which the cruel nail had torn through His feet, for three weary hours the blood had been welling. And then let us think how utterly worn and weary the dear Lord of us all must have been when He came to the cross. He had tasted neither food nor drink since the supper of the night before, nor had He slept since we know not when. He had been rudely dragged and hustled along, jeered and mocked by the way, from the garden to the house of Annas, from the house of Annas to that of Caiaphas, from the house of Caiaphas to the Judgment Hall of Pilate, from the Judgment Hall to the Palace of Herod, from the Palace back again to Pilate--and then scourged and crowned with thorns, and tottering under the weight of the heavy cross, He had been urged to go faster and faster up the steep of Calvary until He stumbled and fell. Surely, surely, when He said "I thirst," there must have been a significance in the words, which they scarcely ever had when spoken by another; and throat, and tongue, and mouth, and lips must have been parched as those of scarcely ever another.
And, dear brethren, shall we not learn a lesson in Christian fortitude as we think of this, and as we hear these words from the cross to-day? Some thing at least to shame us out of our constant complaining and impatience? Does a single day of our life go and the things the most trivial, a want ungratified at the moment of its arising, a temporary discomfort, a pain not worthy a thought, even the vicissitudes of sky and temperature, not provoke our impatience and complaining? And yet it is in the daily routine of trivial matters that we are to show our likeness unto Christ. Our payer book tells us that there should be no greater comfort to Christian persons than to be made like unto Christ, by suffering patiently adversities, troubles, and sicknesses. If then our lives be too much lives of complaining and querulousness--making much of little--from this day forth let them be so no more. Let us be brave, enduring, reticent, in some poor measure like to our Master.
But the same lips that said "I thirst," said also, "Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness." And into those lips no doubt is it that David put the words: Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks, so longeth my soul after Thee, O God. My soul is athirst for God, yea, even for the living God; so that as there was a longing for something to slake the natural thirst, so there was a thirst which was a longing for the souls of men, a hunger and thirst for righteousness and for the accomplishment of the perfect will of God. And, brethren, know we anything of this sort? Is there with us any desire for the higher life, for holiness, for attaining to the righteousness which God would have us reach; any desire for extending Christ's kingdom for winning souls to Him; any desire to do all that in us lies for the missions and in the missionary work of the Church, answerable to the craving of the bodily appetite of thirst? O Blessed Jesus, that it might ever more be so! that we might be athirst for Thee, athirst for likeness to Thee, athirst for the saving of souls for which Thou didst hang this day upon the shameful tree.
"It is Finished."
WHEN our Lord, speaking for the sixth time from the cross, said, "It is finished," He used these words in a sense in which none other than Himself could use them. Everything which He had come into this world to do was accomplished--perfectly, entirely, thoroughly, completely, finished--so that there was nothing lacking, nothing that could be added, nothing that could be further done. He had fulfilled all that the prophets had foretold, He had realized every type of the Old Testament Scriptures, He had wrought every miracle that He came to perform, spoken every word that He was to speak, set up and established the New Kingdom, His Church, instituted the Sacraments, and made, by His now dying on the Cross, a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. He had done all that was to be done, or that could be done, and had done all in such a way that in regard of every single particular thereof, as His eyes were now closing in death, He could say, "It is finished." It could not be better, more perfectly, more entirely accomplished than it is. It could not have been brought to a more thorough and complete end than it has been: "It is finished." But how is it in this regard with the best of ourselves, brethren? Do we ever undertake all that we should undertake, or anything like it? Do we ever make a beginning? and of what we do undertake, and of what we do begin, how little is there, how scarce anything is there that we finish, that we bring to a perfect and complete close? What is our whole life, for the most part, but one continued series of incompletenesses? Our religious life, our religious duties, and our secular life, and our secular duties? What does the review of any day, if so be it receive it, disclose, save many of. the things that we should have done even unattempted, and scarcely anything so completed, brought to such a close as it might and should be--finished? With what a quantity, what a multitude, of undone things are the most of us surrounded! When we think of the blessed Master and example to us of quietly ending His life with the words, "It is finished," might not this be one practical reflection: are there not many important duties which we could and ought to finish? Would it not be a great thing, a very great thing, if part of our Good Friday's resolutions turned upon this word in this way? If we resolved to be more punctual in our worldly affairs, might we not hope that we should be more in order, more in hand, have more leisure, more peace of mind, more time for prayer and meditation, for reading God's Holy Word, which we may be now so neglecting, and more enjoy and derive greater profit from our attendance in this place? Let us listen to the wise and practical words of another on this point: Yes, this word, 'It is finished,' may be applied to ourselves in the simplest way in our daily life, and al though we cannot expect in our poor confused lives to be able to say like our Lord, 'It is all well done; it is finished,' there must be a ragged end to our work, we must be prepared to have ragged edges, we must be prepared for that; yet, still many of us might improve, and many of us might, do better than we do, if in the spirit of this word, 'It is finished,' we tried to exert ourselves, and do the right thing at the right time, and put things into their right places, and get all things and ourselves more in order. It would be altogether making our lives more powerful, more fruitful, shall I say? more in harmony with the Divine Government. For although great people are very often untidy and careless, there is nothing really great in being untidy and careless."--(King.) Let us then, dear brethren, now lift up our hearts to the Blessed Master and say: Hereafter may we strive, even in the very pettiest details of our daily life, and especially in all that we are to do in working out our own salvation, in the least as well as in the greatest of our secular duties, and in the least as well as in the greatest of our religious duties, to be more and more mindful, and more and more influenced by this Thy word upon the cross, "It is finished."
"Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit."
AND NOW, brethren, we have come to the last, the supreme moment. Jesus is dying. His sacred head is sinking down upon His breast. The light is going out from those loving eyes. Almost the last drop of his blood has oozed out and trickled down from those cruel wounds. The earth is quaking; the graves are opening; the rocks are rending; the darkness is growing thicker and blacker; the veil of the temple is parting asunder from top to bottom; and the people are beginning to smite upon their breasts and to hide their faces. The Divine sufferer has but one more, only one single more breath to expire, and with it--listen--listen--as if summoning back all His energy, all His life, He lifts up His voice, and with a cry that pierces even to Heaven, He pours forth from those lips, by which the tidings of a lost world's salvation was proclaimed, His last, last words: "Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit." "I now give up the breath of life, I cease to breathe and to live, but this spirit, this life, I commend to Thee, O Father, that after three days Thou mayest restore it to my body again." And now all is indeed over. Jesus is dead. There He hangs lifeless, crucified and slain for us men, and for our salvation. And as we look up to Him with adoring love and gratitude, and with the echo of these last words still sounding in our ears, what is the use that we shall make of them? What is the resolution that we shall form from them for the future, whereby to testify our love and gratitude for all that was accomplished for us as on this day, whereby to manifest our desire to be like in all things unto Christ our Master and example? Shall we resolve in all things hereafter to strive to be more resigned to the will of our Heavenly Father--to give up ourselves utterly and forever, body, soul, and spirit into His hands--to be content and to desire that He should rule and direct all that concerns us, from the least thing to the greatest--to see His hand in all things--living and dying to have no wishes and no will but His? Shall we resolve that our last words at night, as our eyes close in sleep, shall be none other than Thine, Blessed Jesus--Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit? That ever as we draw near to the altar to commemorate Thy most precious death, we will repeat them, as Thy saints of old have been wont to do? And that, with our expiring breath, when we too shall be dying, we will strive to make them our last utterance! All this may we indeed do. But may we not fail our life long to do that which we doubt not will be most honorable, most acceptable unto thee--even that which Thou by the mouth of thine apostle Peter hast bidden us, viz.: daily in well-doing to commit the keeping of our souls to God as unto a faithful creator. Be this our resolution, at Thy cross this day, daily hereafter, in well-doing, in daily striving to follow the blessed steps of Thy most holy life, to commit the keeping of our souls to God as unto a faithful creator.
ST. JOHN X 7.--The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.
BEARING witness as the death of this day does, then, that He who died upon it was none other than Very and Eternal God, we very plainly see what should be a very chief, if not the chiefest, element in all that should constitute its due observance.
It is, indeed, a day for kneeling, as never at another time, at the foot of the cross, and confessing and bewailing our sinfulness and our sins. It is a day for endeavoring to realize, as on no other day, that He who hangs upon that cross is the one and only atonement for that sinfulness and those sins; that in Him there is pardon and salvation for us and for all men.
It is a day for renouncing one by one the sins of our lives past, our pride, our coldness and hardness of heart, our rash and idle words, our filial impiety, our anger and malice, our impurity, our dishonesty, our untruthfulness, our covetousness and for praying that in our poor measure we may be enabled ever hereafter to walk in the blessed steps of the most holy life of Him who was truth, and patience, and tenderness, and spotless purity, who was silent before His accusers, who did humble Himself even to the death upon the cross, and even when dying could be mindful of the needs of his mother.
It is also indeed a day when, if we have eyes that can weep, hearts that can feel, bosoms that can swell with pity and compassion for the woes and sufferings of a fellow-man, ours should be the bitterness and fullness of grief and the tenderness of sympathy for Him who, as on this day by His bitter passion and death upon the cross, redeemed us from the everlasting bitterness of eternal death. It is a day when we should heed the call which we are so soon to hear made to us, as it were, by the Mother of our Lord:
"O come and mourn with me awhile;
O come ye to the Saviour's side;
O come, together let us mourn;
Jesus, our Lord, is crucified."
It is, too, indeed a day when we should pour forth the fullness of or love and gratitude, as never on another day, to Him who lived us and gave Himself for us. But it is a day for something more than penitence, and pity, and love. It is a day for the lowliest adoration, for the highest worship. If it be, indeed, God that hangs upon the cross, God that is dying for us, what utmost homage is there that is meet enough for us to offer to him? Surely it is the day when as never on another the words should go up from our lips and from our hearts: "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing. Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power be unto the Lamb forever and ever." Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ. Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father. "Crucified! we Thee adore!"
"To Christ, who won for sinners grace,
By bitter grief and anguish sore,
Be praise from all the ransomed race,
Forever and for evermore."
It is a day when above the Miserere for our sins, the dirge of our lamentation for the dying, and the Domine dilectissime of our love for our Redeemer, should rise from our innermost heart and soul to Christ our God, the Te Deum laudamus of our adoration. Let us fail not then, that in our private hallowing and observance of this day, there be indeed paid unto Christ our God such homage, such adoration, such worship, as on scarcely another.
GOOD FRIDAY, 1880.