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thou not fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation ?" This was not reviling Christ, but reproving his fellow criminal for reviling him. He now felt differently from what he had felt, and from what the other reviler continued to feel. The question now is, when they began to differ. It was not when they received the sentence of death. It was not when they were
walking to the place of execution. It was not when l.. they were first nailed to the cross, For after they
had gone through those trying and affecting scenes, they both remained hardened and impenitent. Though
neither of the evangelists expressly informs us, wb * they began to differ ; yet two of them, Matthew and I Mark, implicitly inform us. Immediately after they şi have told us, that both the thieves reviled Christ, they ni mention the precise time, when the supernatural darkIz ness overspread the land. Matthew says, “ Now from
. & the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land
unto the ninth hour.” Mark says, “ And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.” This account of the supernatural darkness immediately after the ac
count of both the malefactors reviling Christ, very E plainly intimates, that they began to differ, at the time
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. It is highly probable, therefore, that some time between the sixth and ninth hour, the difference between the two malefactors began. It now remains to consider,
III. Wherein they eventually and finally differed. Here it may be observed,
1. That one realized the wrath of God abiding upon him, while the other did not. This appears from the pertinent and solemn reproof, which he gave to his wicked, stupid, unfeeling associate. "Dost not thou fear God ?” “He is angry with the wicked every day, and this day especially, he is displaying his awful displeasure towards this sinful world, and his peculiar displeasure towards us, the chief of sinners. I feel now, what I never felt before, the weight of God's wrath. And the thought strikes me, with terror and consternation, that I am just going into eternity, where I see nothing but that I must suffer the severest tokens of his wrath forever. We have despised his wrath too long, and even presumed to insult him, who calls himself the Son of God; and if he be his Son, will he not resent our malignant and presumptuous conduct, and make us feel more sensibly than we now feel, the dreadful consequences of our aggravated guilt? My fears are alarmed. I feel as though God would instantly plunge me in everlasting darkness and despair. And have not you reason to fear, as well as I ? I tremble for you, as well as for myself.” 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. Sinners often feel exposed to endless destruction, while their conscience is asleep, and they have no genuine conviction, that any, or all of their sins
deserve perpetual punishment. But when this awakened criminal saw the nature, number, and magnitude of his transgressions, his conscience awoke and did its office, and convinced him, that he deserved eternal death. So he said to his incorrigible associate, Dost thou not fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation ? And we indeed justly ; for we receive the due reward of our deeds.” This was expressive of his genuine conviction of sin, and of his just desert not only of the condemnation of man, but of the condemnation of God. He felt that he had been justly condemned before a human tribunal, and might be still more justly condemned before the tribunal of God, his supreme and final Judge. For he was now looking into eternity, and felt that he was already and justly condemned by the righteous law of God to everlasting death. This, he was convinced in his conscience, was but the due reward of his deeds. But though his fears were alarmed, and his conscience thoroughly convinced ; yet he might have retained his enmity and opposition of heart to God, and actually suffered the eternal punishment due to him for sin.
There is reason to fear, that multitudes have experienced great awakenings and great convictions, and yet have continued to contend with God, and to refuse to submit to the terms of life, proposed in the gospel, till they sunk down into the pit of destruction. And this might have been the case of the awakened and convinced malefactor, had he not become cordially reconciled to the justice of God in casting him off forever. But it appears,
3. That he did renounce his enmity to God, and become cordially reconciled to his vindictive justice,
It is true, indeed, that his barely saying and feeling, that he was justly condemned, and received the due reward of his deeds on the cross, was not a certain evidence, that he was cordially reconciled to God in his future and eternal condemnation. All the finally condemned, at the last day, will feel a full conviction of conscience, that the Judge of all the earth has done right, in dooming them to endless destruction ; while they remain eternally unreconciled to his vindictive justice in their exterminable punishment. The convictions of sinners, both in this life and in that which is to come, are so far from diminishing, that they increased their guilt and desert of punishment. But what the malefactor said, after he had acknowledged the justice of God in his condemnation, affords complete evidence, that he cordially accepted the punishment of his iniquity, and was heartily willing that God should actually inflict it upon him, if his glory required it. For he directly turned to Christ and said, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom, And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” Christ knew his heart, and knew that he justified God and condemn. ed himself in his heart, as well as in his conscience, and exercised unconditional submission to divine sovereignty in saving and destroying guilty sinners. And it was upon the sole ground of his sincere repentance and unreserved submission, that he assured him, that he should that day be with him in paradise. It is certain, therefore, that he renounced his enmity to God, and became cordially reconciled to his justice, as well as to his mercy.
4. Having exercised true love, repentance, and submission towards God, he exercised a saving faith in
the Lord Jesus Christ. His love, repentance, and submission towards God prepared him sincerely to desire salvation through the atonement, which Christ was then making. He felt his perishing need of a Savior, and Christ, whom he believed to be, what he had professed to be, the Son of God, who came to seek and save them that were lost, appeared to be such a Savior as he needed. For he saw him actually giving his life a ransom for many, as he had often declared in his preaching, that he was about to do. It was a matter
, of public notoriety, that Jesus of Nazareth had frequently said, that he must suffer and die, and rise again on the third day. It was upon the ground of such declarations, that his enemies desired Pilate to set a guard around his sepulchre. The penitent malefactor believed Christ's predictions, and that he was then dying, to rise again and enter into his kingdom of heaven, And in the language of his faith, he said, “Lord remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.”. This was an expression of his sincere and lively faith in the dying Redeemer, that he was able to save to the uttermost all that come to God by him. Thus the two malefactors began to differ while hanging on the cross : and they continued to differ as long as they lived, and will continue to differ as long as they exist. The penitent and believing malefactor died, and immediately entered into paradise, where he will continue forever perfectly holy and perfectly happy, And the impenitent and unbelieving malefactor died, and immediately sunk down into a state of unalterable and eternal sin and misery. I now proceed to the improvement of the subject.
What has been said in this discourse may serve to throw light upon some important subjects, which have