“Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”—Luke 23:34
My soul, art thou still taking thy stand at the foot of the cross? Art thou still looking up to Jesus? If so, listen now to his voice. There were seven expressions of Jesus, which were his last words, which he uttered on the cross. The last words of dying friends are particularly regarded: how much more the last words of the best of all friends; even the dying friend of poor lost perishing sinners. Those which I have chosen for the portion of the day were the first; and they contain the strong cry of Jesus to his Father for forgiveness to his murderers. And what endears those expressions yet more to the heart are, that they are not only the first upon the cross, but they are wholly, not for himself, but the people. During the whole painful process of suffering, when they scourged him, crowned him with thorns, smote him with their hands, and mocked him, we hear no voice of complaint. “He was led as a lamb to the slaughter; and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.” Precious, meek Lamb of God! But now, when lifted up on the cross, Jesus broke silence, and cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Pause, my soul. Look again at the cross. Was not Jesus now entered upon his high priest’s office? Was not the cross as the altar from whence the sacrifice was offered? Was not Jesus himself the sacrifice? And was not Jesus the sacrificer? Might not the pale, the dying, whitened visage of Jesus be compared to the white ephod of the high priest; the streaming blood, flowing over his sacred body from the several wounds, as the incense of his censer; and the dying sweat of his holy frame, like the smoke ascending with the sweetest savour before God? As the arms of Jesus, when he thus prayed, were stretched forth on the cross, so the high priest spread forth his hands, when burning the incense for sacrifice, in pleading for the people. Hail, thou glorious high priest! in this the humblest moment, and the most powerful of thine intercessions. Surely every wound of thine, every look, every feature, every groan, pleaded with open mouth this gracious intercession for forgiveness of sinners. Lord, was I not included in the prayer? Was not the eye of Jesus upon me in the moment of this all-prevailing advocacy? Oh ye of every description and character, that still sit unconcerned and unmoved at this cry of the Son of God, “is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?” Think, my poor unawakened brother, how justly that voice might have been heard for all the enemies of Jesus—”Depart from me, ye cursed;” when the tender language of Jesus was, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And think, moreover, that the same gracious voice is still heard in heaven, and of the same blessed force and efficacy as ever; for while our sins are calling for judgment, the blood of Jesus calls louder for mercy. Dear Lord, let this first cry of thine upon the cross, be the first and last of all my thoughts, under every exercise and temptation of sin and Satan—”Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Robert Hawker (1753-1827) was an Anglican (High-Calvinist) preacher who served as Vicar of Charles Church, Plymouth. John Hazelton wrote of him:
“The prominent features…in Robert Hawker's testimony…was the Person of Christ….Dr. Hawker delighted to speak of his Lord as "My most glorious Christ.” What anxious heart but finds at times in the perusal of the doctor's writings a measure of relief, a softening, and a mellowing? an almost imperceptible yet secret and constraining power in leading out of self and off from the misery and bondage of the flesh into a contemplation of the Person and preciousness of Christ as "the chiefest among ten thousand and the altogether lovely." Christ and Him crucified was emphatically the burden of his song and the keynote of his ministry. He preached his last sermon in Charles Church on March 18th, 1827, and on April 6th he died, after being six years curate and forty-three years vicar of the parish. On the last day of his life he repeated a part of Ephesians 1, from the 6th to the 12th verses, and as he proceeded he enlarged on the verses, but dwelt more fully on these words: "To the praise of His glory Who first trusted in Christ." He paused and asked, "Who first trusted in Christ?" And then made this answer: "It was God the Father Who first trusted in Christ."