The Seven Words

Notes of an address at Leeds, 1937 on Luke 23:32-34, 39-43; John 19:25-27; Matthew 27:46; John 19:28-30; Luke 23:46.

You will recall the words of the aged Simeon as he took the Child Jesus in his arms; said he, "Behold this Child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel … that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed." The Cross of Christ is the test, by it are laid bare the thoughts of all hearts; but most of all His own thoughts, His deep feelings were revealed there. We learn what they were by the Seven Words that came from His lips.

I want us to consider the Lord Jesus as He was hanging upon a felon's cross. What a place for the Lord of glory! What a place for the Prince of life! Yet there He was, and for that He had come forth from the Father for that He had left His throne in the glory, and come into the world. And yet as we view His life among men we might well have expected something different. He went about doing good, He was the Servant of their needs His heart was ever moved with compassion for their sorrows; He healed them, He blessed their children He wept for them Surely universal acclamation, an undisputed throne and the crown of His people's affection were His just due; but instead, He was crowned with thorns, spit upon, buffeted, derided, execrated and nailed to the cross. Behold that multitude shouting and jostling there, a high festival for them is the crucifixion of the Nazarene. They have put Him to the utmost suffering and shame that their hell-inspired hatred could devise but they are not satisfied they gather round to mock at His sorrows; they make His weakness their jest. "Himself He cannot save" they cry. "Come down from the cross, and we will believe.2 Wave after wave of that raging hatred broke over Him, the hearts of men were exposed to their very core in that awful hour; but then it was that He spoke. Above the noise of the tempest His voice rises to His Father in prayer. "Father," He cries, "forgive them, for they know not what they do." That was His answer, the triumph of divine love over human hate.

He might have prayed another prayer. He might have asked for twelve legions of angels from His Father, and they would have stood between Him and the hosts of men and devils; but He did not; if He had done, it would have meant damnation for that multitude and for you and me; and He came to save, not to damn. He looked upon that mass of men and beyond them down all the generations to follow and prayed for forgiveness for them, and because of that prayer, repentance and remission of sins are preached in His Name among all nations.

His first word expressed His will for the world of sinners in His second He made known His will for every individual sinner that trusts himself to Him. We know not what it was that first arrested the thief at His side but the Spirit of God had opened his eyes to see and his heart to believe and his mouth to confess He owned his sinfulness and his just desert and confessed the truth as to the Person of the Lord His eyes pierced the surrounding gloom and saw the glory of the coming Kingdom. "Lord," he said, "remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom." He claimed the Lord's exclusive attention, as though he and the Lord alone existed in that hour. Was that presumptuous? Nay, it was faith; faith that was answered at once by the grace of the Lord, "Verily, I say to thee, today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise." And what a "thee" he was; a polluted wretch unfit to live on earth. How could he be in Paradise? One thing is certain, if the Lord said, "Thou shalt be with Me in Paradise," He would make him fit. "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses from all sin."

On that day no two people on earth loved Him more than His mother and John, and there they stood together by the cross. His sufferings and their love to Him had drawn them there. And Jesus said to Mary, "Woman, behold thy Son," and to John "Behold thy mother." That most surely meant, "You love Me, love one another." And that disciple took her to his own home that very day, and there they dwelt together in love and unity. In this third word He has expressed His will for all those who love Him, and should not this move our hearts profoundly? He has said to us, "Love one another, as I have loved you," and in this same Gospel we read that He died to gather together in one the children of God that are scattered abroad. Can we think of the cross and quarrel? Can we treat any of His loved ones with indifference as we stand by His cross? His death is the revelation of His love to every one of them, and shall not we love them also? Those outstretched arms embrace the whole of God's family, and He says to us, "Behold My mother and My brethren!"

"My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" What mortal mind can understand that cry, or mortal words explain it? It is the central cry of the seven, and rightly so, for upon its deep mysterious meaning there depends all the glory of God and our salvation. Why was it? The Lord Himself answers the question. "But Thou art holy" (Ps. 22:3). But was not Jesus holy? Yes, He was as holy in His perfect Manhood as in the Godhead glory; just as holy in His own Person when He hung upon that cross as when He created the angels. Then why was He forsaken? I answer for myself — It was for me. That which we were, He was made. Sin, which is eternally and infinitely abhorrent to God, He became, that God's love might reach us in absolute righteousness. The inflexibility of God's justice and the greatness of His love were revealed when that cry broke forth from the darkness and woe of Calvary. He was forsaken that we might be saved. Oh may we ever be preserved from thinking superficial thoughts of our salvation! I admit the mystery of that cry. No creature mind will ever fathom the depths of it. Father, Son and Holy Ghost alone understand it; but throughout eternity it will be the wonder of our hearts and the theme of our song. Jesus our Saviour, who knew no sin was made sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

For the first time the Lord speaks of His physical sufferings. His strength was dried up like a potsherd, and His tongue cave to His jaws. Then broke forth His cry, "I thirst." Did not ten thousand angels answer that cry and gird themselves to serve their suffering Lord and, breaking through the hosts of foes that beset Him, refresh His fevered mouth with better water than that of Bethlehem's spring? No. There was no answer to that cry from heaven. And what of men? Will they relent? They have watched Him in His agony: will compassion wake up within their hearts at last? "They gave Me gall for My meat and in My thirst they gave Me vinegar to drink." No there was no succour from men for Him. Man's answer to the Lord's deepest need was vinegar, the sourest thing that nature can produce. But there was more than physical thirst behind that cry. Why was He there at all? Why should He suffer? Because He thirsted for the love of men. And the challenge comes to every one of us this night. What shall be our answer to His thirst? Shall we pour out to Him the love of our hearts undivided, hearts that have been won by His great love? "The Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." What shall the answer be to that? The world still gives Him vinegar. Oh, Christians, let us hasten to His feet and give Him the rich pure wine of our love!

Now we are emerging into the light. Now we reach the triumph; for from His lips there breaks the triumphant cry, "It is finished." Every word as to His suffering fulfilled. He had yet to bow His head in death and His side had to be pierced, but in anticipation of that He could cry, "It is finished." We rest upon a finished work. We have many reasons for perfect peace of heart in regard to our relations with God, and this is not the least of them; the work of redemption has been finished by the Son of God, who only could have undertaken it. He has not failed. We glory in redemption accomplished. God is glorified; the devil is defeated; we are saved

His first word was "Father." His last word is "Father"; and between the two the darkness and tempest. "Father into Thy hands I commend My spirit." It is only in Luke's gospel that this cry is recorded, the Gospel that gives His first recorded words, "Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?" That business was finished now, not a jot of it left undone, and in the serenity and calm of that knowledge He commends His spirit to His Father and bows His head in death.

What shall our answer be to love so amazing, so divine? What but to yield ourselves up to Him, and, constrained by that love, live henceforth not to ourselves but to Him who died and rose again.

"Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all."