LUKE, xxiii.39 to 43.
And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.
But the other answering, rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?
And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man hath done nothing amiss.
And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.
And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise.
_THIS passage of the evangelical history, to a condemned, dying criminal, near, and in the closing scene of final execution, contains matter of inexpressible importance. A most amazing instance of stupidity and wick|edness, in the one malefactor, acted out amidst his expiring struggles, and the tor|tures of crucifixion; and a most surprizing instance of the sudden and saying conver|sion Page 4 of the other, with the wonderful, infinite grace and power of the suffering Saviour, himself expiring on the cross— yet then amidst all the ignominy and an|guish of it, giving immortal life, and ensuring a seat that day with himself in paradise, to a guilty, but penitent sinner, then crucified and dying with him.— These things are exhibited, in a manner, and with circumstances the most affect|ing and instructive.
The enraged Jews, with their rulers at their head, having with unaccount|able malice and zeal sought the death of Jesus, and obtained an unjust sen|tence from Pilate, and offered him every indignity and cruel insult, and now fol|lowing him to the place of his cruci|fixion, the sacred history informs us, "And there were also two others, male|factors, led with him to be put to death. And when they were come to the place which is called Calvary, there they cru|cified him, and the malefactors; one on the right hand, and the other on the left. Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots. And the people stood beholding: and the rulers also with them derided him, saying, He saved others; let him save Page 5 himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God. And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar, And saying, if thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself. And a su|perscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and He|brew, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, say|ing, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering, rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemna|tion? And we indeed justly; for we re|ceive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise." The ill temper of the Jews and of the soldiers towards the divine Saviour, on this tragical occasion, cer|tainly exceeded in malignity, what is common to mankind, against their worst enemies, when they behold them in such suffering, dying scenes. Few, very few, can be disposed to mockery and derision in such dreadful extremities. But the one of the malefactors which were hang|ed, Page 6 "railing on him, saying, if thou be Christ, save thyself and us," argues a hardened, wicked heart, a mixture of stupidity and malignity of soul, hardly to be conceived; and to the sensibility of human, christian feelings, most awful to contemplate. He impiously scoffs, he mocks at death, and when he himself is hanging and dying on the cross: he scoffs, he mocks at the innocent, blessed expiring Saviour: he scoffs, he mocks at his Judge, on the verge of eternity, and when going immediately to appear before his dread tribunal. But what a contrast of character to this appears in the other malefactor? "The other an|swering, rebuked him, saying, 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, but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord; remember me, when thou comest into thy kingdom." What sentiments are these? how suited to the occasion? to his own circumstances? to the state of the other malefactor? and to the true character of the crucified Jesus? A ge|nuine thorough conversion, a sincere, unfeigned repentance, a true faith, vi|gorous and active in the divine Re|deemer, Page 7 appears in a most conspicuous manner, the fruits of it unequivocal, exercised and acted out, in the most evident and eminent degrees, in the most trying circumstances. He most humbly acknowledges his guilt, most justly re|bukes the dreadful impiety of the other malefactor, who railed on Christ, without any fear of God, in his own awful cir|cumstances, and when he himself was in the suburbs of Hell, launching into Eternity. And while he acknowledges that they both suffer justly, and receive the due reward of their deeds, he asserts the intire innocence of the suffering Sa|viour, and assents, with undoubting as|surance, with hearty affiance and recum|bency of soul, to the character he had assumed, as the Saviour of his people, the King of Israel, the King of Zion. "This man, says he, hath done nothing amiss. Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom." He saw through all the darkness of the tragical scene, through all the contradictions and railings of sinners, through all the tortures and ignominy of the cross; he saw through all these things, through all sur|rounding circumstances, however harden|ing to others, and made a subject for mocking and railing; he saw, inlight|ened Page 8 by the divine spirit, and renewed and changed by the power of divine grace; he saw, he believed in the glori|ous, wonderful character of Immanuel, the design of his coming into the world, and that he, and he alone, was "able to save to the uttermost all them that come unto God by him." He had just views of his "kingdom" as not "of this world," but leading and advancing all his faithful followers and subjects to im|mortal life, happiness and glory, in a future world. He asks no relief from temporal sufferings, he asks not for tem|poral life, though doubtless, he knew that Christ was able, if he pleased, to grant it to him; and to come down from the cross himself, and confound and de|stroy all his enemies in a moment. He owns the justice of his own punishment in the article of death, and meekly re|signs himself; only praying, and pour|ing out his soul, in penitence and faith, "Lord, remember me, when thou comest into thy kingdom," q. d. 'Blessed Jesus, interest me in thy divine love, and graciously remember me, and number me amongst thy redeemed, in that glo|rious and eternal kingdom, which thou dost purchase for them, and in which thou wilt make them blessed and happy Page 9 forever, at an infinite remove from all the sins and sufferings of the present state.' With a christian spirit he was willing to "suffer with him," that he might "also reign with him." He owned, he honored Christ—he committed himself, his immortal soul to his care, when others, his friends, and his own disciples forsook him and fled. "I can|not, therefore, (says one*) but look on this happy man, (for such, amidst all the ignominy and torture of the cross, he surely was) as a glorious instance of the power, as well as sovereignty of divine grace, which (as many have observed) perhaps taking the first occasion from the preternatural darkness, wrought so powerfully, as to produce, by a sudden and astonishing growth in his last mo|ments, all the virtues that could be croud|ed into so small a space, and which were eminently manifested in his confessing his own guilt, in his admonishing his companion for a crime, which he feared would prove fatal to him, in his vindi|cating the character of Christ, and re|posing his confidence in him, as the Lord of a Kingdom beyond the grave, when his enemies were triumphing over him, Page 10 and he himself, abandoned by most of his friends, was expiring on the cross."
And the blessed Jesus, who seems to have taken no other notice of his cruel murderers than to pray for them "Fa|ther, forgive them; for they know not what they do," no sooner hears the meek, the humble, fervent petition of this dy|ing penitent, than he returns a most gra|cious answer. "He said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise." What love and Grace! What dignity and power? What proof of his Divine mis|sion and Gospel! What encouragement! What sure ground of Hope to every humble penitent, dying Sinner, appears here in the depth of the abasement and sufferings of the Son of God! in his own dying moments, giving immortal life to a dying sinner, and assuring the believing penitent that he should be with him that very day in Paradise! That notwith|standing the crucifixion and death of the body, immediately upon his mortal dis|solution, his immortal spirit should be with him, in another life and world, happy, completely happy in his presence, and in the joys of the Paradise of God!
Page 11To comprize the ideas suggested in the text in a short compass, and one con|nected view, and impress them the more strongly upon the mind, I subjoin the paraphrase of Dr. Doddridge. "And one of the malefactors also, who hung on the cross with him, regardless of that innocence and dignity which Jesus ma|nifested under all his sufferings, and un|affected with a sense of his own aggra|vated guilt, upbraided him with the same reproach, and scornfully blasphemed him as an impostor, saying, if thou art the Messiah, why dost thou not save thyself and us, who are now dying with thee? But the other awakened to a sense of his sin, and convinced in his heart that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah, an|swered his companion, and rebuked him, saying, dost thou not fear God, even now when thou thyself art in the same con|demnation? In such an awful circum|stance as this dost thou dare to increase thy crimes with thy dying breath, and to behave thyself so insolently in the im|mediate view of God's righteous tribu|nal? And we indeed are justly thus con|demned; for we receive no more than what is due for the notorious crimes we have committed: but this man has done nothing by any means amiss, nor is there Page 12 the least insolence, or absurdity in that high claim which he has made, though appearances be for the present so much against it. And having thus rebuked his companion, and testified his full per|suasion of the innocence of Jesus, he then directed his discourse to him, and said to Jesus, looking upon him with the humblest and the most contrite regard. Lord, though this wretch derides thy mission, I firmly believe it; and I beg, that though wouldst graciously remem|ber me, when thou comest into that thy kingdom, to which I doubt not but God will raise thee in spite of death and hell. And Jesus turning towards him, said to him with a mixture of the greatest dig|nity and mercy, Verily I say unto thee, and solemnly assure thee of it as a most certain truth, that this very day thou shalt be with me in Paradise, sharing the entertainments of that garden of God, the abode of happy spirits when separate from the body; and there shall thy de|parting soul, as soon as thou hast breathed thy last, immediately begin to reap the fruits of that faith, which breaks through so dark a cloud, and honours me, in the midst of this infamy and distress."
A man, a fellow mortal, an acquaint|ance, a relation, who hath by his crimes Page 13 forfeited his life, and by the laws of God and man, must have his life taken from him, and die a violent death by the sword of civil justice, affords a very awful spec|tacle; a spectacle, heart affecting, and affecting in proportion as we have feel|ing hearts, and are connected by any special ties of friendship or kindred with the suffering criminal. Yet such an one, (neither murderers, nor any other the vilest sinners of mankind are excluded) may have recourse to the mercies of God through Jesus Christ, and by faith and repentance obtain forgiveness and ac|ceptance with God, and on the day of his execution upon earth, be translated from an ignominious death to be with Christ in Paradise: while the least sin, however unknown and irreprehensible by men, unrepented of, and unforgiven, will sink the impenitent and unbelieving into everlasting darkness and despair. Alarming thought! Let formalists and hypocrites, whose chief concern is to make a fair shew in the flesh, and appear well in the eyes of their fellow men, hear, fear and tremble; repent and be|lieve and obey the gospel, lest while a penitent malefactor, expiring on a cross or a gallows, is immediately received to be with his blessed Redeemer, they them|selves, Page 14 though they die a natural death, and have a burial honorable in the sight of men, lift up their eyes in torments, and can only see such penitent redeemed ones afar off in mansions of bliss, but must forever despair of joining them there. How? where? in what horror and debasement must such hypocritical sinners appear, who are so fitly compar|ed by our Lord, "to whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but within are full of dead mens' bones, and of all uncleanness." So they appear outwardly righteous in the sight of men, but their hearts are full of all manner of iniquity and wickedness. "For (says our Saviour, ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them, are not aware of them." Not any kinds or degrees of sin and guilt, sinners of no sort, nation, or character are excluded from mercy, except they exclude them|selves by an obstinate refusal of mercy, and by wilful, malignant perseverance in impenitence and unbelief. The great God proclaims his name, Exod. 34.5, &c. "The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long suffering, and abun|dant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity▪ transgression and sin;" and that will by no means clear the guilty, Page 15 i. e. obstinate offenders who will not be reclaimed.
Thomas Starr, to you my discourse is directed, to you applied, and on your attention and improvement, your all de|pends. You have had, to my personal knowledge, a fair, a candid trial before man; you have had the assistance of most able counsellors and advocates, who in managing your cause appeared to adduce every argument and motive that might possibly operate in your favour.
Your case was such as by the laws of God, as well as those of your country, could not be otherwise justly decided by an earthly tribunal. Though the mer|ciful God and Father of us all can and will pardon murder, as well as other sins, with respect to the penitent and believing, yet he hath restricted human judicatories, and given us special directi|on, that whosoever sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed. But as the Heavens are high above the Earth, so, saith the blessed God, are my ways above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts. You are indeed in a great strait, but in the article of death, and of mortal execution, bless God, that though you are falling under, yet, you will no longer fall into, the hands of men, but Page 16fall into the hand of the Lord; for his mercies are great. Serious, inexpressible serious, are your present circumstances; your last hour, your last moment is this day hastening upon you. You are con|demned, and to be cut off from the land of the living. You are going from a temporal to an eternal sentence, from a human to a divine tribunal, from the execution of a sentence which respects only your body and mortal life, to stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and receive a sentence from him for soul and body to all eternity. And what awful attention do the words of the blessed. Saviour to his disciples in the days of his flesh demand from you in your pre|sent condition? Luke 12.4, 5. "Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: fear him which, after he hath killed, hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, fear him."
You are justly under a sentence of con|demnation: The execution of it must fall upon you. No way of escape re|mains for you. The plain and awful words of holy scripture, shut you up in absolute despair, with respect to the least ray of hope to prolong your life to another day. You will never see the Page 17 light of another sun. "A man that doeth violence to the blood of any person, shall flee to the pit, let no man stay him." You have not only done violence to the blood of a fellow mortal—you have shed kindred blood. You have wounded the feelings of your dearest friends, in the tenderest manner. You will be soon in the place of execution, and suffer the punishment you justly deserve from the laws of your country. A just and pro|per sense of your sin, deep repentance, faith in Jesus Christ, in short, a temper like that of the dying penitent in my text, you must now have, as you would wish for pardon and acceptance with God. You have the same blessed, al|mighty, most merciful Saviour, to look to, that he had. A new heart, and a new spirit you want; May the God of mercy give it to you. Pray, pray for it, while life, and any moment of life, before you are launched into eternity, shall remain to you: let your whole soul, in all the ardency of importunity, be going forth to Jesus, the Saviour, in language like that in the text, "Lord, remember me in thy kingdom." And know, that though Jesus is absent now, in bodily presence from you, yet from his exalted throne his eyes are upon you, and in his divine spirit he is present with you, and if Page 18 you have but the temper, and make the petition of the dying penitent who was executed with his crucified Saviour, a like answer will be applied to you, as the Saviour made to him, and verily, this day shalt thou be with him in Para|dise. Every humane spectator is ten|derly moved, the hearts of your friends are bleeding for you. Can yours be less affected for yourself? The officers of justice surround you—the fatal machine from which you are to be launched into eternity is erected—the awful apparatus of the death before you made ready— your coffin is built—your grave is dug, it is open, and is waiting for your mor|tel remains to swallow them up. "Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was; and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it." Not as the funerals of other mortals are attended when dead and gone, and the last respects paid them at their graves by a solemn mourning train,—the concourse collected, on the awful occasion, the multitude that fol|low you, follow and lament and bewail you living, and follow you, but to see your certain death and burial together, cut off in the midst of your days by the sword of justice, and sent to your long home—to your final doom. Our souls plead for mercy, mercy to be granted to Page 19 you, that your soul with ours may be bound up in the bundle of life, and saved in the day of the Lord. Your concerns with this world are at an end: but you have infi|nitely more important concerns in Eter|nity into which you are entering. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin, the blood of Jesus speaks better things than the blood of Abel, it calls, not for ven|geance, but for mercy. He prayed for his murderers on his cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do:" Oh! how precious is that blood! how prevalent his intercession! how infinitely valuable to you. He is an advocate that never pleadeth in vain: for him the Father heareth always. He has arguments to plead, merits of his own to produce for sinners, blood infi|nitely more precious than the blood of sinful mortals, which they shed in mur|dering one another, and by which he washes us from our sins,—Such argu|ments, such merits, such precious blood he presents in the court of Heaven, where he appears in the presence of God for us as a Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.: "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It Page 20 is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died: yea, rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right-hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us."—Fall down before him, acknowledge the justice of your sentence, and of the punishment you are now to suffer from men, and the far more dreadful sentence you deserve from him; meekly submit yourself to him, adore and trust in his love and mercy, and may you be made an eternal trophy of the victories of his cross, and be removed from the ignominy of a shameful death, to the enjoyment of a crown of ever|lasting life with him in Paradise.
My Brethren and Hearers,
Late repeated instances of murder, in one part of the land, and another, are matter of humiliation to us as a people, and should excite in us all an awful con|cern, and the most fervent prayer, that God, the God of our salvation would deliver us, and our land from blood-guiltiness. And may all hear, and fear, and take warning from this example, that none may do so wickedly: and let this solemn thought sink deep into every heart, that though the greatest of crimi|nals, who must be cut off from the land of the living by the sword of civil jus|tice, Page 21 may by faith and repentance obtain forgiveness of God, and a seat in Para|dise; every impenitent, unconverted sin|ner, however unexceptionable or even commendable in the sight of man, or honored and dignified in human life, must be condemned at the bar of the great supreme Judge. "Repent ye, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out when the times of refreshing shall come from the pre|sence of the Lord, and he shall send Jesus Christ, who before was preached unto you, whom the heavens must re|ceive until the times of restitution of all things, when he shall be revealed from heaven in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that knew not God, and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall be punished with everlasting destruction, from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power, when he shall come to be admired in his saints, and glorified in all them that believe."
Human judicatories, and the judg|ments and executions dependent upon them, may be erroneous; the righteous and innocent may be condemned and suffer irreparably by them, while the most vile transgressors and bold offenders are spared; and their power extends no far|ther than this life, and the time we are Page 22 in the body. When they have killed the body they have no more that they can do. But there is ONE who is able to destroy both soul and body in bell forever; before HIM we must all shortly appear. "We must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ." How soon, and how sud|denly the time will come we know not, but we are assured that "the coming of the Lord draweth nigh." Was the time fixed to a day and an hour to our know|ledge, as the execution before us this day is fixed, and did we know this was the day, and the hour appointed, such a particu|lar hour of this very day, when we should be summoned away to death and judg|ment, how should we be affected? But the very day and hour "is appointed unto all," though unknown to us, and is every moment drawing nearer and nearer. How ought we then to be af|fected, and watch and pray for we know not when the time is? far the day and hour will soon be as near to us, as this day, and any hour of the day—it will be upon us, and none can escape the ••erring decisions and perfect retribu|tions of the final Judge, and the execu|tion of his sentence, of which there can be no reversion, and from which there ••es no appeal. The Lord grant that we may all find mercy of the Lord in that day▪ Amen.