I read this two weeks ago, on schedule with Tim Challies, but haven’t taken time to post my thoughts yet.
The first chapter in this book deals with Christ’s words “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This was a chapter completely overflowing with wonder and encouragement.
Pink explains that, during the most horrific and evil act of all time, with the Son of God hanging on a cross erected by His own creatures, Christ’s first recorded words were those of prayer. And the prayer was not one of calling judgment down on wicked man, or a prayer requesting strength, or a prayer for the “friends” who had left him alone. It was a prayer of mercy and forgiveness for the sake of his murderers. Pink concludes that none are beyond the reach of prayer.
I was intrigued by the idea that Christ’s prayer was specifically and directly answered in Acts, during Peter’s preaching. Pink draws the link between “they know not what they do” and Peter’s statement in Acts 3:17 to his hearers who he said had “acted in ignorance.” And 3000 people were redeemed after Peter’s preaching, not from Peter’s eloquence, but because Christ Himself prayed for them. This is supported even more in John 17:20, where Christ states that He did not pray for the apostles alone, but for “those who will believe.” We, too, need to intercede in prayer for the enemies of God.
It was also noteworthy that sin is always sin to God, whether done willfully or in ignorance. Leviticus 5:15-16 addressed “sins of ignorance,” and shows that even these required blood sacrifice. Pink writes that “God is Holy, and He will not lower His standard of righteousness to the level of our ignorance.”
Another point Pink addresses is one that I had discussed briefly in a Sunday School class just the Sunday before reading the chapter. He deals with the matter of forgiveness, and when we are to forgive. I admit I am not settled in my mind yet as to how to properly divide this matter. Pink points out that Christ did not specifically forgive people here as he had done during his earthly ministry. Rather, he asks his Father to forgive them. Primarily this can be viewed that Christ, in hanging on the cross, was no longer in a position to forgive. (Matthew 9:6 says Christ has power on earth to forgive sins, and John 12:32 says on the cross he was “lifted up from the earth”; on the cross Christ was our substitute, and was no longer in the place of authority on the matter.) Building on the facts that Christ taught to pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44), and that he told us to forgive our brother if he repents (Luke 17:3-4), Pink concludes that Scripture does not teach that we must always forgive in all circumstances. He is careful to point out that withholding forgiveness should not include harboring ill feelings or ill will, but we are not to treat the unrepentant brother as if he had not wronged us. Most certainly, however, we are to pray for him. Again, I am not fully settled in my mind on this, and it warrants further study.
Pink pulls so much out of this first saying of the Savior. Do yourself a favor and read the chapter for yourself: The Word of Forgiveness
You can read Tim’s post here: Reading Classics Together – The Seven Sayings (Chapter 1)