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ready to judge from appearances, would conclude that he was of the same abandoned character as his fellow-sufferers : a piece of hellish policy in which the Jews have been imitated by the court of Inquisition, who brought out those whom they stigmatized as heretics, and committed them to the flames, along with persons guilty of unnatural and detestable crimes. By this means, too, the murderers of Jesus sought to aggravate his sufferings, by exposing him to be disturbed in his last moments by the groans, and shrieks, and blasphemies of such godless and impious wretches.
And in this they were not disappointed. For we are told, in verse thirty-ninth, that “one of the malefactors which were hanged, railed on him, saying, If thou be the Christ, save thyself and us.” Consider, my brethren, the situation in which Jesus was now placed. The chief priests and rulers of the Jews, mixing with the mob who surrounded his cross, encouraged them to load him with taunts and bitter mockery, crying, “ He saved others; himself he cannot save. If thou be the Christ, the king of Israel, come down from the cross, and we will believe on thee.” The soldiers who had crucified him, having parted his garments, and cast lots for his vesture, had joined in reviling him. And now at last, his fellow-sufferer, who hung by his side, bursts forth in that horrid expression, which has in it more of the irony of the fiend than the agony of the sufferer,—“ If thou be the Christ, save thyself and us." Now Jesus must have felt himself to be sunk low indeed, when he was become the scorn of the most abject of the abjects. Now he might be said to have descended into hell, and to endure the pains of hell, the inhabitants of which are exposed to the reproaches of their companions in torment. Ah ! how difficult was it to believe, at this moment, that he was the Holy One of God! Surely there was need of an attestation to his personal innocence. And was there none given? Yes :—For a voice was suddenly heard silencing the storm of ungodly scorn and blasphemy, and vindicating the oppressed and meek sufferer. And whence was it?
Was it the voice of an angel, sent from heaven to rebuke the madness of mankind and comfort the dying Saviour? Did
it proceed from one among the crowd who had formerly felt the healing virtue of his word, and whose gratitude would not suffer him to be longer silent ? Was it the voice of the disciple whom Jesus loved, who ordinarily lay on his breast, and who had come to witness the crucifixion? Or, was it that of Peter, who, having recovered from the panic into which he had been thrown, and escaped from the toils of Satan, was pressing through the multitude, determined to confess his Mastèr more openly than he had of late denied him ? No; the gates of heaven were shut, and the angels were commanded to stand at a distance. The friends of Jesus were scattered ; and such of them as were present, had their lips sealed with grief and fear. Did the voice then proceed from the rocks ? and was the prediction of Jesus, “ If these hold their peace, the stones shall cry out,” now fulfilled? Yes; it was fulfilled in a manner more striking than if that had happened which was literally expressed by his words. The voice proceeded from the lips of an ignorant and lawless robberthe fellow of the hardened malefactor, whose blasphemous tongue had just been heard from the cross above the clamour of the infuriate rabble which raged below. And what did this new confessor say? He rebuked his partner in language which intimated that they were partners in crime no longer, in solemn accents, but with a meekness which showed that his soul had already held secret converse with him who hung silent by his side. He confessed his past crimes, and the justice of the sentence under which he suffered, and without the least murmuring, or palliation, or discrimination between himself and his obdurate companion in guilt. Having exhibited these tokens of credibility, he justified the person who had been condemned to suffer along with them, and bore an unhesitating testimony to his spotless innocence. And then turning his eyes to Jesus, he said, “ Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” Who can tell what these words conveyed ? None but he to whom they were addressed, who saw into the bottom of the speaker's heart, approved of his confession, and answered his petition exceedingly above what the petitioner could ask or think, when he replied, Verily, I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” It was not a time, my brethren, for many words. But O how much is expressed by these two short sentences, spoken from such hearts, and in such circumstances! What a colloquy was this! What a communion! What a respite from torture ! What a foretaste of paradise! What a feast on a cross between earth and heaven! There was no opportunity for salutations or embracing, or the exchanging of the symbolical cup. But what an exchange of tender looks ! What a conjunction of hearts! What an intimate friendship on so short an acquaintance! What a joyful farewell before so awful a parting! Think you, my brethren, that either of the twain felt at this moment the nails with which they were transfixed to the tree? The soul of the penitent thief was filled with a joy unutterable which must have swallowed up
all sense of pain. He rejoiced in the death by which he now glorified God. He gloried on the cross, and “ in the cross.' True, he was crucified, but then he was “ crucified with Christ,” and that in another sense than his unhappy companion was, or than any of the spectators of the scene knew or apprehended. This was to him matter of ineffable gloriation. • Blessed day on which I was overtaken and seized by the pursuivants of justice! Blessed sentence, which brought me into the company and acquaintance of the Saviour of sinners, of the chief of sinners, and advanced me to the high, the distinguished honour of suffering along with him!' At that moment, too, Jesus rejoiced in spirit. He saw of the travail of his soul, and was satisfied. He felt that he was a conqueror, He had already begun to divide the spoil ravished from principalities and powers, which he made a show of openly, triumphing over them on his cross. In the conquest which he had just achieved, he beheld an earnest of his subsequent triumphs over the god of this world, and, exhilarated with the prospect, he “endured the cross, despising the shame.” The address of the believing, penitent malefactor, was, at the same time, a prayer, a confession of faith, and a sermon. such prayer had been offered up since “men began to call on the name of the Lord :" no such confession of faith was ever
made by council or assembly of divines : no such sermon was ever delivered by the most powerful and eloquent preacher. And then the Saviour's reply! Many a compassionate, benignant, and seasonable answer had he vouchsafed to those who invoked him, and who professed their faith in him. But none of them equalled this. Pleased with the confession of Nathanael, he said to him, “ Thou shalt see the heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man." To Peter he had said, “ Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona'; for flesh and blood hath not revealed this unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven.” To the Syrophenician, “ O woman, great is thy faith ; be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” To the Roman Centurion, “ I have not found such faith ; no, not in Israel.” And to his disciples, “ Henceforth I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until I drink it new with you in the kingdom of God.” But to none of these did he say as unto this poor, converted, crucified thief, “ To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” He had made many converts during his personal ministry, when he was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. But of this man he had made a convert on the cross, in the midst of great agony of body and soul; and, therefore, he rejoiced in him above all his fellows. He was his Benoni, the son of his sorrow; and, therefore, he made him his Benjamin, the son of his right hand.
But let us examine more coolly and attentively this singular address of the convert on the cross. Let us consider, in the first place, who he was, and the circumstances in which he was placed ; secondly, the situation in which Jesus was when he addressed him ; thirdly, the profession of faith which it contains; and, fourthly, the prayer which it expressed.
I. Consider the person who made the address, and the circumstances in which he was placed. He was a thief and a robber-one who, by his own confession, merited the ignominious death which he was suffering. Abandoning the path of honest industry, he had betaken himself to the highway, and procured his livelihood by preying on the property and life of the peaceable. When we consider the character of Barabbas, whom they preferred to Jesus, and the design for which his fellow-sufferers were selected, we may be sure that they were criminals of the worst sort, whose practices had excited general hatred and terror. We all know what the characters of those who have devoted themselves to this mode of living are -how reckless of life-how destitute of principle—how enslaved to every base and malignant passion-how dead to all the feelings of honour, reputation, compassion, or compunction-how insensible to the remonstrances of conscience, or the lessons of experience---how regardless of God or man-how disposed to mock at every thing that is sacred, at death, judgment, and eternity! You cannot point to a class of men from whom you could select an individual less likely to be affected with the scene of the crucifixion, or to sympathize with the meek, and patient, and forgiving Jesus. The conduct of the thief who reviled him, and the words which he is represented as having used, are just what we would have expected from such a person in such circumstances.
Matthew and Mark, in their account of the crucifixion, say, “ the thieves also who were crucified with him reviled him," and “cast the same in his teeth ;" from which we might conclude, that both acted in the same manner when first affixed to the cross, but that one of them underwent a sudden change in his sentiments, which produced a complete alteration on his language, and led him to justify and pray to the Saviour whom he had a little before reviled and outraged. This is no impossible thing. Transformations as wonderful and as sudden have been effected. Saul of Tarsus was arrested in the middle of his mad career, and he who was breathing out threatenings” against all who called on the name of Jesus of Nazareth was found the next moment invoking that name of which he had been “ a blasphemer,” and with the most humble and implicit submission, praying, “ Lord, what wilt thou have me to do ?” The jailer of Philippi is another example, Having found the prison-doors open, and supposing that Paul and Silas had escaped, he was in the very act of sheathing his drawn sword in his own bowels, when on a sudden, on the speaking of a few words, the weapon of destruction dropped