One of the criminals who hung there heaped abuse on Him. "Are You not the Christ?" he said. "Save Yourself and us!"
I. THE BREVITY WITH WHICH A GREAT' SPIRITUAL REVOLUTION MAY BE WROUGHT IN A HUMAN MIND. Twelve hours before, this man was a hardened criminal, habituated to a life of rapacious and murderous violence; his counterpart is to be found to-day in the cells of a penal establishment. And now, after a short companionship with Jesus, after hearing him speak and seeing him suffer, his heart is purged and cleansed of its iniquity, he is another man, he is a child of God, an heir of heaven. There are great capacities in these human souls of ours, which do not come often into exercise, but which are actually within us. Powerful speech, imminent peril, great emergencies, sudden inspiration from God, - these and other things will call them forth; there is a brilliant flash of remembrance, or of emotion, or of realization, or of conviction and resolution. And then that which is ordinarily wrought in many days or months is accomplished in an hour. The movements of our mind are not subject to any time-table calculations whatsoever. No man can define the limit of possibility here. Great revolutions can be and have been wrought almost momentarily. Not slowly toiling upward step by step, but more swiftly than the uprising of the strongest bird upon fleetest wing, may the human soul ascend from the darkness of death into the radiant sunshine of hope and life.
II. THE THOROUGHNESS OF THIS MAN'S CHANGE AS EVIDENCED BY HIS WORDS.
1. He recognizes the existence and the power and the providence of God (ver. 40).
2. He has a sense of the turpitude of his own conduct, a due sense of sin (ver. 41).
3. He recognizes the innocence and excellence of Jesus Christ (ver. 41).
4. He believes in his real royalty, though it is so hidden from sight, and though circumstances are so terribly against it (ver. 42).
5. He believes in the pitifulness as well as the power of this kingly Sufferer, and he makes his humble but not unhopeful appeal to his remembrance.
6. He does the one thing for Christ he can do as he is dying on the cross - he remonstrates with his companion in crime, and seeks to silence his cruel taunts. Here is penitence, faith, service, all springing up and in earnest exercise in this brief hour.
III. A SUDDEN TRANSITION FROM THE LOWEST TO THE HIGHEST ESTATE. (Ver. 43.) "What a day to that dying man! How strange a contrast between its opening and its close, its morning and its night! Its morning saw him a culprit condemned before the bar of earthly judgment; before evening shadowed the hill of Zion he stood accepted at the bar of heaven. The morning saw him led out through an earthly city's gates in company with One who was hooted at by the crowd that gathered round him; before night fell upon Jerusalem the gates of another city, even the heavenly, were lifted up, and he went through them in company with One around whom all the hosts of heaven were bowing down as he passed to take his place beside the Father on his everlasting throne" (Hanna). In view of this most interesting fact we gather two lessons.
1. One of hopefulness. It is never too late to repent; in other words, repentance, when real, is never ineffectual. None could be more undeniably impenitent until within a few hours of his death than this malefactor, and no man's penitence could be more decisively availing than his. It was real and thorough, and therefore it was accepted. It is a great thing for those who speak for Christ to be warranted, as they are, in going to the dying and despairing, and telling these departing ones, that true penitence, however late, avails with God; that his ear is not closed against the sigh of the contrite, even at the last hour of the day; that up to the last there is mercy to be had by them who truly seek it. But there is another lesson to be learnt.
2. One of warning and of fear. There is every reason to hope that true though late repentance is always accepted; but there is grave reason to fear that late repentance is seldom real and true. How often does experience prove that men in apparently dying hours have believed themselves to be penitent when they have only been apprehensive of coming doom! The dread of approaching judgment is far from being the same thing as repentance unto life. Not the last hour, when a selfish dread may be so easily mistaken for spiritual conviction, but the day of health and strength, when conviction can pass into action and honest shame into faithful service, is the time to turn from sin and to seek the face and the favor of the living God. Let none despair, but let none presume. - C.
And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on Him.I. THIS MAN'S TREATMENT OF CHRIST suggests several things for our consideration. "He railed on Him."
1. What inhumanity. The suffering of Jesus ought surely to have moved his heart to pity.
2. The friendlessness of the majestic Sufferer touched him not.
3. His like condition to the Sufferer by his side touched no chord of sympathy in his breast.
II. THE MALEFACTOR WAS AN UNBELIEVER. He had probably never seen Christ before. On this account he was less guilty than many at Calvary that day; and less guilty than thousands who hear the gospel to-day, but still reject Christ. According to light and privileges is our responsibility. But this robber had ground enough to warrant his belief in Christ. His companion bad, yet he joined those who railed upon Jesus.
III. CHRIST'S TREATMENT OF THE MALEFACTOR. Pitying silence. He will answer no man's prayer to prove His power. His word, His Church, the Christian, are the miracles that must testify to His power to save.
(G. E. Jones.)
The Lay Preacher.I. HUMAN LIFE ENDING AN UTTER MORAL WRECK.
II. HUMAN LIFE ENDING ON THE GALLOWS.
III. HUMAN LIFE ENDING IN SIGHT OF THE CROSS.
IV. HUMAN LIFE ENDING IN DESPAIR.
(The Lay Preacher.)
Essex Remembrancer.I. REFLECTIONS. Here we have a true picture of human nature as it appears amidst difficulties, and dangers, and sufferings, the appropriate fruits of sin. A care to avoid pain is universally prevalent, but a care to avoid sin is comparatively of rare occurrence. Of this conduct one of the malefactors crucified with Christ afforded a lamentable example. But the other, however bad he had previously been, however much hardened or debased, was brought to true repentance. There was an invisible energy touching his soul and melting it into contrition; the power of the cross of Christ was felt, and it proved the Redeemer to be great in sufferings. Yes, this criminal became humble, his heart believed, and his faith penetrated the vail of the incarnation, realizing what was concealed from an eye of sense, even a ground of hope for his guilty soul.
1. Let us see the greatness and the glory of the Saviour's character. What power I what grace! what dominion over the invisible world!
2. The language of the text supplies a plain proof of the separate and happy existence of the spirits of just men after death.
3. The sufficiency of the sacrifice for sin made by the death of Christ, is illustrated by the case we have considered. He contemplated sinners, the chief of sinners, when he offered Himself to God.
4. What different effects may result amidst a sameness of circumstances and opportunities. Here were two of similar character, both exceedingly wicked, with death in immediate prospect; one becomes a penitent seeking his salvation, the other remains hardened in his sins.
5. The subject suggests the language of encouragement and of caution.
1. One delays his conversion because he imagines that a time of sickness and suffering will present a more favourable opportunity to think of it. He flatters himself that he will not be carried away by a violent or sudden death; that a long and slow malady, during the course of which he will have time to reflect, and to make an account of his ways, will permit him to prepare himself for the meeting with his God. But how does he know whether a malady, under the weight of which the very organism of the constitution sinks, will not oppress his senses, dull his spirit, take from his mind its energy, and paralyze his faculties? Who can be ignorant that, in such a case, nothing is more usual than hesitations, adjournments, and delays, seeing the man has accustomed himself to the deceitful hope of a recovery, sooner or later?
2. A second reason, as I said, for which the worldly-minded defer their conversion is, that they suppose that at the hour of death Providence will work miracles of salvation, other and more efficacious than those which they have been able to enjoy during their life; and that the most pressing invitations of grace, the most irresistible attractions of the Holy Spirit, the most powerful manifestations of Divine love will be afforded. Where has God promised such manifestations? Nowhere. But so be it; what does this prove? When the heart is hardened by a long course of sin, will it not resist the evidence of truths the best established, and facts the most palpable, even the most powerful miracles of salvation?
3. Lastly, impenitent sinners defer their conversion upon the pretext that, at the time when they shall see death to be near, love of the world will disappear from the heart, carnal passions will be extinguished, and the soul will open itself to the influence of the truths of the Word of Life. But if the experience of many centuries is not sufficient to attest that such a time has not upon the soul that regenerating power which is supposed; that, instead of detaching himself from the things of earth, the unregenerated man will strive to attach himself more, and to cling more strongly, to measures which may prolong his existence in this world; that so far from becoming more susceptible to the beauty of truth and love, a long course of resistance renders the heart incapable of feeling their attractions, surely the example of the dying robber will be sufficient to dispel for ever those fatal delusions. Not only is this robber not touched by the truth, but he repels it; not only does he continue to sleep in the security of sin, but he is incensed against the Word; and whilst shame and remorse should have closed his lips, he unites with the multitude to insult the Saviour of the world: and to all his other sins he adds an impudent irony against the Son of God; he crowns all his crimes by blasphemy. After that, will you still count, O all you who defer your conversion, on the changes that accompany death, as if they could miraculously break the chain of your sins, or promote your eternal salvation? Three things have struck us in the history of the unconverted robber: first, that death was not startling; second, that extraordinary succour of grace was not received; third, that he aggravated his condemnation and hardened himself in circumstances, which it seems should have ameliorated his state. The conversion of his companion in iniquity presents to us reflections of quite another nature. And can you doubt, that if in this moment some one had been able to bring down the converted thief from the cross, had been able to lavish upon him the succours of art, and, in the end, cicatrize his wounds: if one could have contrived to arrest the fever to which he was a prey, to give him the use of his members; to restore him to life; can you doubt that, such being his feelings, the remainder of his earthly existence would have been other than a noble demonstration of the power of the faith and love which lived in his soul?
(Dr. Grandpierre.)I. Let us consider WHEREIN THESE TWO MALEFACTORS WERE ALIKE.
1. They were alike in respect to depravity of heart.
2. They were alike in respect to their knowledge of Christ.
3. They were alike in practice — both malefactors.
4. They were alike in condemnation.
II. WHEN THEY BEGAN TO DIFFER. Apparently it was when the darkness began. And we can easily believe that such an unexpected and solemn miracle, on such an awful occasion, did make a deep impression upon the minds of all the spectators of the crucifixion of the Lord of glory, and more upon some than others.
III. WHEREIN THEY EVENTUALLY AND FINALLY DIFFERED. Here it may be observed —
1. That one realized the wrath of God abiding upon him, whilst the other did not. This poor, perishing criminal was thoroughly awakened from his long and habitual stupidity, and clearly saw his dangerous condition; which is usually the first step to conversion. He might, however, have seen and felt such danger, and with his eyes open gone to destruction. But —
2. His awakening was followed with conviction. He not only realized that he was exposed to everlasting misery, but was convinced, in his conscience, that he deserved it.
3. He renounced his enmity to God, and became cordially reconciled to His vindictive justice.
4. Having exercised true love, repentance, and submission towards God, he exercised a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus the two malefactors began to differ while hanging on the cross; and they continue to differ as long as they lived, and will continue to differ as long as they exist.What has been said in this discourse may serve to throw light upon some important subjects which have been supposed to be dark and difficult to understand.
1. It appears from the conduct of the penitent malefactor, that the doctrine of unconditional submission is founded in fact. He really felt and expressed a cordial and unreserved submission to God, when he expected in a few moments to sink down into the pit of endless destruction.
2. It appears from the views and exercises of the penitent malefactor, that the doctrine of repentance before faith is founded in fact.
3. It appears from the views and feelings of the penitent malefactor, that the doctrine of instantaneous regeneration is founded in fact.
4. It appears from the conduct of God towards the two malefactors, that He acts as a Sovereign in renewing the hearts of men.
5. The conduct of the impenitent malefactor shows that no external means or motives are sufficient to awaken, convince, or convert any stupid sinner.
6. It appears from the fate of the impenitent malefactor, that impenitent sinners have no ground to rely upon the mere mercy of Christ in a dying hour. It is, therefore, presumption in any sinners to live in the hope of a death-bed repentances.
7. It appears from the conduct and the condition of the penitent malefactor, that sinners may be saved at the eleventh or last hour of life, if they really repent and believe in Christ.
(N. Emmons, D. D.)I. THE WAGES OF SIN IS DEATH.
1. Death to the sinner — the death of the body, and afterwards the death of the soul in hell.
2. Death to the Saviour, who knew no sin, but bears our iniquities on the cross.
3. Death to the saint; for though on him the second and more awful death, the death of the soul, hath no power, yet he cannot escape the death of the body; for all saints since Abel have had to pass through the river Jordan, save two, Enoch and Elijah. God must be just; and nothing short of death is sin's just recompense. Oh that you would turn to Him whose "gift is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord!"
II. Another lesson we learn from this solemn scene is, that THE UNCONVERTED GROW WORSE AND WORSE. Perhaps the lost thief was brought up by pious parents; most likely he was taught to kneel before God by his mother, and was led up to the temple, and heard the sweet music echo among its marble arches, when the worshippers sang God's praises. Often had he wondered, and perhaps wept, when hearing the history of Joseph, and Samuel, and Daniel. But, alas! he was led away by little and little, adding sin to sin, until sinning became a habit, and habit became confirmed and strengthened, till he walked openly with the ungodly, stood in the way of sinners, and at last sat down in the seat of the scorner; and though rebuked, remained hardened, and went down a doomed man to hell. You cannot indulge one sin without opening the door for others. The man who begins by walking in the downhill path of sin, goes on to running, until he falls headlong into hell.
III. THERE ARE NONE TOO BAD TO BE FORGIVEN. Art thou a thief? As the thief on the cross was saved, so mayest thou; take heart, and cry to Jesus. Art thou a blasphemer? The blasphemer, Bunyan, was saved, and so mayest thou; take heart, and cry to Jesus. Art thou a harlot? The harlot, Mary, was saved, and so mayest thou; take heart, and cry to Jesus. Art thou a murderer? There may be some such here; for God knows there are not only murders that never saw the light, but "he that hateth his brother is a murderer." But oh! the murderer David was saved, and so mayest thou; take heart, and cry to Jesus. Saul of Tarsus, whose hands were dyed with the blood of Stephen, was washed with the blood of Jesus. I saw, not long since, lying on the bed of sickness and death, a poor outcast woman, whose spirit has since departed. She spoke to this effect to a dear friend of mine: — "I have been, not five, not ten, not fifteen, but twenty years living in open and loathsome sin; but I have found that Christ will cast out none — no, not the most hell-deserving sinner who cries to Him. And now I am dying; but I am happy, for 'the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth me from all sin.' And when I am gone, let these words be written on my tombstone — 'So foolish was I, and ignorant, I was as a beast before Thee. Nevertheless I am continually with Thee: Thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel and afterward receive me to glory.'" Oh, whoever you are, Christ can save you!
IV. Learn, too, from Calvary. that WHEN A SINNER IS SAVED, IT IS BY FAITH IN JESUS. How can I prove to you the faith of the penitent thief? By his wonderful prayer.
(H. G. Guinness, B. A.)
Dost not thou fear God?
1. The Cross, my brothers, witnessed to two things — God's awful and necessary judgments on human sin. It must be so. God could not be God if it were otherwise. The atonement is nothing else but the fearful statement of Divine holiness in relation to sin. Our first clear intimations of God, it has been truly argued, are not conclusions from reasoning on final causes, or evidences from the harmonies of a material world. No; they are the voice of conscience, and the self-evident consistency of the moral law. It is always possible to conceive, so it has been wisely said, all sorts of changes in the structure of the material world, and we find no difficulty to the intellect, whatever may be said about the imagination in the revelation of its final transformation by fire — that unimagined and yet inevitable catastrophe. But one thing is impossible — we cannot conceive right being otherwise than right, and wrong than wrong; we cannot imagine created dissonances in the harmony of the moral law, and what is that but saying that there are eternal necessities in the being of our Creator? And if so, being good, His judgment must be severe, must be awful, on persistent sin. We say so in our saner moments, but how are we to feel the truth of our saying? The answer is — Calvary.
2. But this fear is also a serious apprehension of the dreadfulness of evil in itself. The Cross showed the intensity of the love of God, and, by the form of the revelation, was revealed His knowledge of our fearful danger. The genius of Michael Angelo made the Sibyls splendid on the ceiling of the Sistine from the magnificence of proportion quite as much as from the softness of colour. Proportion is the secret of lasting charm. It is holy fear that is the principle of proportion in the relation of the creature — the fallen creature — to his Creator. To see God in suffering is, by grace, to have a proportionate affection. By it we are restrained, by it we are awed and solemnized, by it we act as men should in the felt presence of their Maker, by it we learn, in fact, our proper place.
(Canon Knox Little.)
(Canon Knox Little.)
(D. Brown, D. D.)
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