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LIFE OF CHRIST.
PRAYING FOR HIS ENEMIES UPON THE CROSS.
LUKE xxiii. 34.
Falher, forgive them ; for they know not what they do.
Who does not admire in the Saviour that union of firmness and charity, which makes him forget his own sufferings, to attend to the woes of others; which appears to extinguish every personal feeling, in order to concentrate all his sensibility upon those whom he came to save? In the moments which precede his sufferings, his soul is affected only by the calamities which his death will produce upon the nation that has inflicted it; and beholding in the future the calamities of Judea, he turns the attention of the afflicted females who lamented his sorrows, to their own woes; and the last address which he makes to them, the last adieus which he utters, are contained in these touching words: “ Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves and your children.”
This same temper was displayed when extended upon the cross. The sufferings which he endures
do not make him insensible to the interests of those ungrateful men who inflicted them. The voice of charity is alone heard from him, and the first words that proceed from those lips, ready to breathe their last sigh, are words of peace, of love, of intercession: “ Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
Whence shall I derive ideas, expressions, proper to paint with any energy the sublimity of that moment? Ah! the language of men, that even of angels, here fails. All that I can hope, or dare attempt, is to inspire you with a desire of imitating this
a sublime example. To accomplish this, let us,
I. View the prayer of the Saviour in itself. And then,
II. In relation to ourselves, as a model and object of imitation.
1. To this prayer of the Saviour is to be attached 110 sense unworthy of the Son of God, incompatible with the doctrine which he came to teach men, or opposed to the divine attributes. The blessing that he asks, then, evidently is this, that God would suspend the strokes of his justice which these guilty men had deserved; that he would grant them leisure to see their criminality, and grace to inspire them with repentance; that he would then blot out their iniquities in that blood which they were shedding “ Father, forgive them.” He graciously pleads their ignorance as an extenuation of their offence. They see not his divine glory; they know not his excellence; they think that they render God service by persecuting, by nailing the Messiah to the cross.“ They know not what they do.”
And was not this prayer heard ? The destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, the dispersion of the
nation, which had denied the Holy One and the Just, and nailed the Prince of Life to the cross, were sus. pended in consequence of it. Forty years of delay and long-suffering are still granted; and during this time the apostles passed through Judea, announced the gospel of peace to the crucifiers of their Divine Master, published the doctrines of salvation, and sealed their testimony with their blood. The conversion of a vast multitude of Jews, among whom were many of the most ardent persecutors of Christ, was the happy fruit of this delay, and of the effusion of the Spirit granted to the intercession of the Son of God. At the foot of the cross, the Roman centurion avows him to be the Son of God. The troops who are present, moved with compassion, smite upon their breasts. On the day of Pentecost, three thousand are converted. Five thousand shortly after profess him as their Lord, whom they had crucified. The cross every day had new triumphs in Judea. May we not also add, as a proof of the efficacy of this
prayer, the miraculous preservation of the Jewish people for more than eighteen centuries, and the assurance that they will finally return, and be converted to the Prince of Life, whom their fathers had slain.
But I hasten to consider this prayer,
To love our enemies, to wish well to them, to render them good for evil, is one of the very first duties of Christianity. In order to engage us to the perfórmance of it, we have the most tender and impressive example that can be given. He who, by the most astonishing mercy, engages us to obey his laws; He, from whom we expect our salvation, and whose death seals to us the remission of our sins, teaches
us, from his example, to forgive our enemies, and preaches this great duty from the height of the cross. Represent to yourselves, Christians, your Saviour and your Lord, become the victim of your sins; paint to yourselves this Jesus contending with the inconceivable woes which his charity causes him to undergo for you; see him extending this charity even to his executioners, covering them with his intercession, as with a buckler, against the anger, cry: ing, “ Father, forgive them,” and here learn your duty to your brethren.
Let the revengeful man allege the most specious pretexts to justify his
let him unite every thing that will appear to sanction his fury, and let him then come and compare his case with that of Jesus, his woes with those of the Son of God, and he will see the frivolity of all his excuses for his neglect of this duty.
Is it a great injury and outrage you have received ?
loved ? Ah! what is your most ardent affection to that which Jesus felt for his murderers ? What have you done for him who has injured you, in comparison to what the Son of God did to rescue his enemy from hell?
Are the injuries inflicted on you multiplied, reiterated, and persevering? From the manger to the cross, those whom Jesus came to pluck from everlasting ruin pursued him with the most ferocious cruelty.
Approach, then, to the Son of God, nailed to the cross by guilty mortals; experiencing at once the most cruel suffering and the most painful outrages ; and before this charity of Christ, which passeth all understanding, shall not your most implacable re
sentments be extinguished, and the arms of revenge fall from your hands?
This great example, seriously considered, confounds also those studied disguises under which so many persons conceal their resentment, while they pretend to forgiveness. Such persons renounce vengeance; but they still continue to hate, and they see with a secret delight the afflictions of those who have injured them. But behold your Saviour. He not only abstains from vengeance; he does more; he implores for them the mercy of God, and obtains the choicest blessings. Learn, like him, to rejoice in conferring benefits upon your enemies,
This duty of forgiveness, to which we are thus solemnly exhorted by the cross of Christ, is enjoined upon us also by many other most impressive considerations.
1. It is solemnly commanded by your Judge; and your performance or neglect of it is represented as inseparably connected with the decisions of the final day. "If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive your trespasses." "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use and persecute you." To the same purpose he utters that striking parable of the unforgiving servant, who, forgetting the infinite mercies of his God, would not pardon a fellow-man, and who fell under the indignation of his Lord. To keep this duty always fresh upon our minds, our Redeemer incorporates it in our daily prayer; and if from our hearts we do not forgive our enemies, every time we use this prayer, we imprecate everlasting damnation on our own