Page images

prayer of our Lord for his murderers first touched his heart- Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.' There was so much dignity, so much tenderness and mercy, in this, that perhaps it was the means, in the hands of the Spirit, for melting the rock of ice in his bosom. Or, who can say whether, before this unhappy, or shall I now say, happy man, joined himself to the gang of thieves, whether he had not now and then mingled with the multitude, who heard our Saviour's sermons, and saw his amazing miracles? And though his vices had long suppressed every good motion in his heart, yet now, in the time of his trouble, he calls to mind what he had before neglected. • For a grain of the divine word frequently falls on an uncultivated soil, so that it produces no fruit till many years after, when sufferings and afflictions cause it to spring up.' And this may afford a ray of comfort to ministers and parents, encouraging them to hope, that though their prayers and instructions seem for the present to be lost, yet that, finally, their labour shall not be in vain in the Lord.'

Behold he prayeth! So it was remarked of Saul, as a proof of his conversion; and thus we say, with wonder and surprise, of the thief-Behold he prayeth! Perhaps he never prayed before, or he had long forgotten to pray. Had he prayed, he had not come to the cross; he had not been a thief; for, according to the Dutch proverb, Praying will make a man leave sinning, or sinning will make a man leave praying. Now he prays; and, most wonderful! prays to him who hung upon a cross. He becomes a Christian at once, for a Christian is one who with the heart believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth maketh confession (of that faith) unto salvation.' Rom. x, 10.

He calls Jesus, LORD, which no man can do aright 'but by the Holy Ghost.' He gives him this title of dignity and authority, though degraded by the whole Jewish nation, and branded with the name of a rebel, a Samaritan, an impostor.

He owns him also as a King: for he begs to be remembered by Jesus' when he shall come into his kingdom.' You know the title that Pilate put over his head

on the cross, was Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews; and it was put there to intimate his crime, in assuming the character of king, in opposition to Cæsar; but he was really a king-he came into the world to be a king to set up a new and spiritual kingdom, in opposition, not to Cæser, but to Satan; and this character he boldly avowed before Pilate. The penitent thief allows his claim, and begs to be admitted among his subjects. He understands also, that Christ's kingdom is not of this world,' as the Jews foolishly thought the kingdom of Messiah was to be; and this was their fatal mistake: for, on this account, they rejected the humble Lord of glory. They despised his mean appearance; they saw no form, nor any beauty, that they should regard him;' he was not accounted in the number of men. He was despised, and they esteemed him not.' Isa. liii. 2, 3. But the faith of the thief broke through the clouds which obscured his real dignity; and beheld the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.'


He pays him the just honour of having Heaven at his disposal, according to what our Lord afterwards declared, I am he that liveth and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, and have the keys of hell,' or rather, the unseen world, including both Heaven and Hell. Rev. i. 18. The dying thief believed this, and his prayer was the language of faith, a confidential address to the Saviour.

Observe also the modesty of his application. Remember me not prefer me to honour in thy kingdom, as the two ambitious disciples had formerly requested; but, simply, remember me; he does not dictate how, or in what manner; he leaves it all to the Lord; but he commits his cause, his soul, to Christ; and, no doubt, with some degree of that satisfaction which St. Paul expressed in the view of death, I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.' 2 Tim. i. 12. It was a request like that which Joseph made to the butler (Gen. xl. 14.) Think on me, when it shall be well with thee; yet did not the chief butler remember Joseph, but forgot him.' The poor thief


succeeded better; he was remembered, and saved; for Jesus never said to any soul, 'Seek me, in vain.’ "Whoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.'

As the case of this man was singular and extraordinary, so he gave very singular and extraordinary proofs of his sincerity. The professions of repentance and faith, first made in the hour of distress and in the prospect of death, are often uncertain, and may justly be suspected. Too many, who, in the expectation of death, have seemed to be much in earnest, and gave great hope to Christian friends of a real change, have proved by their conduct, when they recovered, that they were not sincere; for the vilest of men generally respect religion in their dying hours. But the penitent thief was enabled to give the most satisfactory evidence of sincerity; and the answer of Christ to him puts it beyond a doubt. Observe now the marks of his sincerity;

1. He reproves sin in his comrade, especially his sin in reviling Christ- Dost thou not,fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation ?' Persecutors of Christ, in his person, or in his members, awfully prove their want of the fear of God; and every sin is greatly aggravated by that hardness of heart which persists in it, even in the time of sore affliction, True repentance will always occasion a sincere hatred to sin. True grace will ever make a man feel for others. The love of God and the love of man are always united. The true penitent will say, with penitent David, Then will I teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners shall be converted unto thee.' Ps. li. 13.

1. He condemns himself, and admits the justice of God, and of the magistrate, in bringing him to the fatal tree-We suffer justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds-shameful and painful as our death is, it is no more than we deserve. A just sense of sin, will make a sufferer patient. He will say, 'Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and clear when thou judgest.' Ps i. 4.

3. He vindicates Christ-' But this man hath done

[ocr errors]

nothing amiss.' The Jewish courts had condemned him to death, as the vilest of miscreants. and the whole multitude had cried, Crucify him, crucify him!' but the thief, more honest and better taught than they, justifies his whole character; and truly says, he hath done nothing amiss.' Thus in the face of all his infamous and powerful slanderers, he declares the innocence of Jesus, who was, indeed, holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.'

Thus was clearly manifested the reality of that great and gracious change which had taken place in his heart. He was evidently enlightened in the knowledge of Christ; he was convinced of his sin and misery, he was humbled for it; he reproved sin in his neighbour: he honoured the character of Christ; he owned him as Lord, and King, and Saviour; and he committed his departing spirit into his faithful hands. What wonders of grace were crowded into this small space, enabling him, in a few minutes, to give more glory to Christ, than many do in the whole course of their lives"!

II. Let us now proceed to consider the gracious answer of our Saviour to his dying request. And Jesus said unto him, Verily, I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise.

Recollect, my friends, the situation of our Lord when he made this answer. Call to mind his personal sufferings at the moment. Behold him naked upon the cross. He that clothed the heavens with stars, the earth with flowers, and man with raiment, is despoiled of all his garments, and hangs exposed to the scorn of the rude mob. Great was the torment of crucifixion. First stretched and racked upon the cross, while it lay on the ground; then nailed to it through the palms of his hands, and the soles of his feet with exquisite torture; the tree being elevated, is by a violent concussion settled in the ground; while every joint and sinew is painfully distended, and his whole weight borne by the wounded parts. But the sufferings of his soul, were the soul of his sufferings. A sense of his Father's wrath, and the burthen of the sins of the world, now lay heavy upon his soul. Darkness that might be felt filled his holy mind; and, in the agony of his spirit, he

[ocr errors]

cries aloud, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken


[ocr errors]

Remember,it was during this inexpressible grief, that the Lord of life vouchsafes this gracious answer. Excessive pain or grief, usually prevents our care for others; but the agonies of our Saviour lessened not his compassion for the sons of men. From the moment of his last visit to Jerusalem, when he wept over it,' until he gave up the ghost, tender pity to sinful men vented itself in the most affectionate accents. Witness his parting discourse, and pathetic prayer after the passover;-witness his kind apology for his sleeping disciples;-witness his direction to the sympathizing females Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.' Witness his intercession for his murderers: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.' And now, upon the first application of this poor abandoned sinner, he instantly complies with his request, and grants him exceeding abundantly above all he could ask or think.'


[ocr errors]


How readily does God regard the sinner's cry! With speed like that which winged the feet of the prodigal's aged father, who no soouer beheld at a distance his long-lost but now returning son, but while he was yet a great way off, had compassion, and ran and fell upon his neck and kissed him.' God is slow to anger, but quick to mercy-ready to forgive. He discerns the first motion of the soul heaven-ward, and while the sinner is yet speaking' in prayer, the prayer is heard and answered.

Observe the substance of the answer-a place in paradise-Christ's company there-immediately, 'today;' and the solemn assurance of the whole, Verily I say unto thee,' it shall be so.



A place in paradise is promised: a place in hell was his desert, and would have been his portion had he died in the same state as he was half-an-hour before. Heaven is here called Paradise,' in allusion to the garden of Eden, which the Lord God himself planted, and in which he put the man he had formed. By sin, Adam soon lost his garden and his God. He drove out the By the first Adam paradise is lost; by the se


« PreviousContinue »