by C. H. Spurgeon
It was most fitting that every word of our Lord upon the cross should be gathered up and preserved. As not a bone of Him shall be broken, so not a word shall be lost. The Holy Spirit took special care that each of the sacred utterances should be fittingly recorded. There were, as you know, seven of those last words, and seven is the number of perfection and fullness; the number which blends the three of the infinite God with the four of complete creation. Our Lord in His death-cries, as in all else, was perfection itself. There is a fullness of meaning in each utterance which no man shall be able fully to bring forth, and when combined they make up a vast deep of thought, which no human line can fathom. Here, as everywhere else, we are constrained to say to our Lord, "Never man spoke like this man. "Amid all the anguish of His spirit His last words prove Him to have remained fully self-possessed, true to His forgiving nature, true to His kingly office, true to His filial relationship, true to His God, true to His love of the written Word, true to His glorious work, and true to His faith in His Father.
As these seven sayings were so faithfully recorded, we do not wonder that they have frequently been the subject of devout meditation. Fathers and confessors, preachers and divines have delighted to dwell upon every syllable of these matchless cries. These solemn sentences have shone like the seven golden candlesticks or the seven stars of the Apocalypse, and have lighted multitudes of men to Him who spoke them. Thoughtful men have drawn a wealth of meaning from them, and in so doing have arranged them into different groups, and placed them under several heads. I cannot give you more than a mere taste of this rich subject, but I have been most struck with two ways of regarding our Lord's last words.
First, they teach and confirm many of the doctrines of our holy faith. "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" is the first. Here is the forgiveness of sin—free forgiveness in answer to the Savior's plea. "Today shall you be with me in paradise" Here is the safety of the believer in the hour of his departure, and his instant admission into the presence of his Lord. It is a blow at the fable of purgatory which strikes it to the heart. "Woman, behold your son!" This plainly sets forth the true and proper humanity of Christ, who to the end recognized His human relationship to Mary, of whom He was born. Yet His language teaches us not to worship her, for He calls her "woman," but to honor Him who in His direst agony thought of her needs and griefs, as He also thinks of all His people, for these are His mother and sister and brother. "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" is the fourth cry, and it illustrates the penalty endured by our Substitute when He bore our sins, and so was forsaken of His God. The sharpness of that sentence no exposition can fully disclose to us: it is keen as the very edge and point of the sword which pierced His heart. "I thirst" is the fifth cry, and its utterance teaches us the truth of Scripture, for all things were accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, and therefore our Lord said, "I thirst." Holy Scripture remains the basis of our faith, established by every word and act of our Redeemer. The sixth word but one is, "It is finished" There is the complete justification of the believer, since the work by which he is accepted is fully accomplished. The last of His last words is also taken from the Scriptures, and shows where His mind was feeding. He cried, before He bowed the head which He had held erect amid all His conflict, as one who never yielded, "Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit." In that cry there is reconciliation to God. He who stood in our stead has finished all His work, and now His spirit comes back to the Father, and He brings us with Him. Every word, therefore, you see, teaches us some grand fundamental doctrine of our blessed faith. "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."
A second mode of treating these seven cries is to view them as setting forth the person and offices of our Lord who uttered them. "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" —here we see the Mediator interceding: Jesus standing before the Father pleading for the guilty. "Truly I say unto you, today shall you be with me in paradise" —this is the Lord Jesus in kingly power, opening with the key of David a door which none can shut, admitting into the gates of Heaven the poor soul who had confessed Him on the tree. Hail, everlasting King in Heaven, You do admit to Your paradise whoever You will! Nor do You set a time for waiting, but instantly You do set wide the gate of pearl; You have all power in Heaven as well as upon earth. Then came, "Woman, behold your son!" wherein we see the Son of man in the gentleness of a son caring for his bereaved mother. In the former cry, as He opened paradise, you saw the Son of God; now you see Him who was truly and truly born of a woman, made under the law; and under the law you see Him still, for He honors His mother and cares for her in the last article of death. Then comes the "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Here we behold His human soul in anguish, His inmost heart overwhelmed by the withdrawing of Jehovah's face, and made to cry out as if in perplexity and amazement. "I thirst" is His human body tormented by grievous pain. Here you see how the mortal flesh had to share in the agony of the inward spirit. "It is finished" is the last word but one, and there you see the perfected Savior, the Captain of our salvation, who has completed the undertaking upon which He had entered, finished transgression, made an end of sin, and brought in everlasting righteousness. The last expiring word in which He commended His spirit to His Father, is the note of acceptance for Himself and for us all. As He commends His spirit into the Father's hand, so does He bring all believers near to God, and henceforth we are in the hand of the Father, who is greater than all, and none shall pluck us thence. Is not this a fertile field of thought? May the Holy Spirit often lead us to glean therein.
There are many other ways in which these words might be read, and they would be found to be all full of instruction. Like the steps of a ladder or the links of a golden chain, there is a mutual dependence and interlinking of each of the cries, so that one leads to another and that to a third. Separately or in connection, our Master's words overflow with instruction to thoughtful minds.
Table of Contents
The First Word: FORGIVENESS
The Second Word: SALVATION
The Third Word: AFFECTION
The Fourth Word: ANGUISH
The Fifth Word: SUFFERING
The Sixth Word: VICTORY
The Seventh Word: CONTENTMENT