The Believing Thief
“And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto you, Today shall you be with Me in Paradise.”
Luke 23:42, 43
SOME time ago I preached upon the whole story of the dying thief. I do not propose to do the same today but only to look at it from one particular point of view. The story of the salvation of the dying thief is a standing instance of the power of Christ to save and of His abundant willingness to receive all that come to Him in whatever plight they may be. I cannot regard this act of Divine Grace as a solitary instance any more than the salvation of Zaccheus, the restoration of Peter, or the call of Saul, the persecutor. Every conversion is, in a sense, singular–no two are exactly alike and yet any one conversion is a type of others.
The case of the dying thief is much more similar to our conversion than it is dissimilar. In point of fact his case may be regarded as typical rather than as an extraordinary incident. So I shall use it at this time. May the Holy Spirit speak through it to the encouragement of those who are ready to despair!
Remember, beloved Friends, that our Lord Jesus at the time He saved this malefactor was at His lowest. His Glory had been ebbing out in Gethsemane and before Caiaphas and Herod and Pilate. But it had now reached the utmost low water mark. Stripped of His garments and nailed to the Cross, our Lord was mocked by a ribald crowd and was dying in agony–then was He “numbered with the transgressors,” and made as the offscouring of all things. Yet while in that condition He achieved this marvelous deed of Divine Grace. Behold the wonder worked by the Savior when emptied of all His Glory and a spectacle of shame upon the brink of death!
How certain is it that He can do great wonders of mercy now–seeing that He has returned unto His Glory and sits upon the Throne of light! “He is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever lives to make intercession for them.” If a dying Savior saved the thief, my argument is that He can do even more, now that He lives and reigns. All power is given unto Him in Heaven and in earth–can anything at this present time surpass the power of His Grace?
It is not only the weakness of our Lord which makes the salvation of the penitent thief memorable. It is the fact that the dying malefactor saw it before his very eyes. Can you put yourself into his place and suppose yourself to be looking upon one who hangs in agony upon a cross? Could you readily believe Him to be the Lord of Glory who would soon come to His kingdom? That was no mean faith which, at such a moment, could believe in Jesus as Lord and King. If the Apostle Paul were here and wanted to add a New Testament chapter to the eleventh of Hebrews, he might certainly commence his instances of remarkable faith with this thief.
He believed in a crucified, derided, and dying Christ and cried to Him as to one whose kingdom would surely come. The thief’s faith was the more remarkable because he was, himself, in great pain and bound to die. It is not easy to exercise confidence when you are tortured with deadly anguish. Our own rest of mind has at times been greatly hindered by pain of body. When we are the subjects of acute suffering it is not easy to exhibit that faith which we fancy we possess at other times. This man, suffering as he did and seeing the Savior in so sad a state, nevertheless believed unto life eternal. Herein was such faith as is seldom seen.
Remember also, that he was surrounded by scoffers. It is easy to swim with the current and hard to go against the stream. This man heard the priests, in their pride, ridicule the Lord. The great multitude of the common people, with one consent, joined in the scorning–even his comrade caught the spirit of the hour and also mocked Jesus. And perhaps he did the same for a while. But through the Grace of God he was changed and believed in the Lord Jesus in the teeth of all the scorn. His faith was not affected by his surroundings.
But he, dying thief as he was, proclaimed his confidence. Like a jutting rock standing out in the midst of a torrent, he declared the innocence of the Christ whom others blasphemed. His faith is worthy of our imitation in its fruits. He had no member that was free except his tongue, and he used that member wisely to rebuke his brother malefactor–and defend his Lord. His faith brought forth a brave testimony and a bold confession.
I am not going to praise the thief or his faith–I am going to extol the glory of that Divine Grace which gave the thief such faith and then freely saved him by its means. I am anxious to show how glorious is the Savior–that Savior to the uttermost, who at such a time could save such a man and give him so great a faith and so perfectly and speedily prepare him for eternal bliss. Behold the power of that Divine Spirit who could produce such faith on soil so unlikely and in a climate so unfavorable.
Let us enter at once into the center of our sermon. Note first the man who was our Lord’s last companion on earth. Note secondly that this same man was our Lord’s first companion at the gate of Paradise. And then, thirdly, let us note the sermon which our Lord preaches to us from this act of Divine Grace. Oh, for a blessing from the Holy Spirit all the sermon through!
- Carefully NOTE THAT THE CRUCIFIED THIEF WAS OUR LORD’S LAST COMPANION ON EARTH. What sorry company our Lord selected when He was here. He did not consort with the religious Pharisees or the philosophic Sadducees–He was known as “the friend of publicans and sinners.” How I rejoice at this! It gives me assurance that He will not refuse to associate with me. When the Lord Jesus made a friend of me He certainly did not make a choice which brought Him credit. Do you think He gained any honor when He made a friend of you? Has He ever gained anything by befriending us?
No, my Brethren. If Jesus had not stooped very low He would not have come to me. And if He did not seek the most unworthy He might not have come to you. You feel it so and you are thankful that He came “not to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” As the great Physician, our Lord was much with the sick–He went where there was room for Him to exercise His healing art. The whole have no need of a Physician–they cannot appreciate Him–and therefore He did not frequent their abodes. But after all, our Lord did make a good choice when He saved you and me. For in us He has found abundant room for His mercy and Grace. There has been plenty of elbow room for His love to work within the awful emptiness of our necessities and sins. And therein He has done great things for us, and we are glad.
Lest any here should be despairing and say, “He will never look on me,” I want you to notice that the last companion of Christ on earth was a sinner and no ordinary sinner. He had broken even the laws of man, for he was a robber. One calls him “a brigand,” and I suppose it is likely to have been the case. The brigands of those days mixed murder with their robberies–he was probably a freebooter in arms against the Roman government–making this a pretext for plundering as he had opportunity. At last he was arrested and was condemned by a Roman tribunal, which, on the whole, was usually just, and in this case was certainly just.
He himself confessed the justice of his condemnation. The malefactor who believed upon the cross was a convict who had lain in the condemned cell and was then undergoing execution for his crimes. A convicted felon was the person with whom our Lord last consorted upon earth. What a lover of the souls of guilty men is Jesus! How He stoops to the very lowest of mankind! To this most unworthy of men the Lord of Glory, before He gave up His life, spoke with matchless grace! He spoke to him such wondrous words as never can be excelled if you search the Scriptures through–“Today shall you be with Me in Paradise”!
I do not suppose that anywhere in this Tabernacle there will be found a man who has been convicted before the Law or who is even chargeable with a crime against common honesty. But if there should be such a person among my hearers, I would invite him to find pardon and change of heart though our Lord Jesus Christ. You may come to Him whoever you may be. For this man did. Here is a specimen of one who had gone to the extremes of guilt and who acknowledged that he had done so. He made no excuse and sought no cloak for his sin. He was in the hands of justice, confronted with execution–and yet he believed in Jesus and breathed a humble prayer to Him–and he was saved upon the spot!
As is the sample, such is the bulk. Jesus saves others of like kind. Let me, therefore, put it very plainly here so that no one may misunderstand me–none of you are excluded from the infinite mercy of Christ! However great your iniquity–if you believe in Jesus, He will save you.
This man was not only a sinner, he was a sinner newly awakened. I do not suppose that he had seriously thought of the Lord Jesus before. According to the other Evangelists he appears to have joined with his fellow thief in scoffing at Jesus. If he did not actually himself use opprobrious words he was so far consenting that the Evangelist did him no injustice when he said, “The thieves also, which were crucified with Him, cast the same in His teeth.” But, now, suddenly, he wakes up to the conviction that the Man who is dying at his side is something more than a man. He reads the title over His head and believes it to be true–“This is Jesus the King of the Jews.”
Thus believing, he makes his appeal to the Messiah, whom he had so newly found, and commits himself to His hands. My Hearer, do you see this Truth of God–that the moment a man knows Jesus to be the Christ of God he may at once put his trust in Him and be saved? A certain preacher, whose Gospel was very doubtful, said, “Do you, who have been living in sin for fifty years believe that you can in a moment be made clean through the blood of Jesus?” I answer, “Yes, we do believe that in one moment, through the precious blood of Jesus, the blackest soul can be made white. We believe that in a single instant the sins of sixty or seventy years can be absolutely forgiven and that the old nature which has gone on growing worse and worse can receive its death wound and eternal life may be implanted in the soul at once.”
It was so with this man. He had reached the end of his tether, but all of a sudden he woke up to the assured conviction that the Messiah was at his side–and believing–he looked to Him and lived. So now, my Brothers and Sisters, if you have never in your life before been the subject of any religious conviction–if you have lived up till now an utterly ungodly life–if now you will believe that God’s dear Son has come into the world to save men from sin and will sincerely confess your sin and trust in Him–you shall be immediately saved. Yes, while I speak the word, the deed of Divine Grace may be accomplished by that glorious One who has gone up into Heaven with omnipotent power to save.
I desire to put this case very plainly–this man who was the last companion of Christ upon earth was a sinner in misery. His sins had found him out–he was now enduring the reward of his deeds. I constantly meet with persons in this condition–they have lived a life of wantonness, excess and carelessness and they begin to feel the fire-flakes of the tempest of wrath falling upon their flesh. They dwell in an earthly Hell–a prelude of eternal woe. Remorse, like an asp, has stung them and set their blood on fire–they cannot rest, they are troubled day and night. “Be sure your sin will find you out.” It has found them out and arrested them and they feel the strong grip of conviction.
This man was in that horrible condition–what is more, he was in the absolutely extreme. He could not live long–the crucifixion was sure to be fatal. In a short time his legs would be broken to end his wretched existence. He, poor soul, had but a short time to live–only the space between noon and sundown. But it was long enough for the Savior, who is mighty to save. Some are very much afraid that people will put off coming to Christ if we state this. I cannot help what wicked men do with the Truth of God but I shall state it all the same. If you are now within an hour of death, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved. If you never reach your homes again but drop dead on the road, if you will now believe in the Lord Jesus you shall be saved–saved now–on the spot.
Looking and trusting to Jesus, He will give you a new heart and a right spirit and blot out your sins. This is the glory of Christ’s Grace. How I wish I could extol it in proper language! He was last seen on earth before His death in company with a convicted felon to whom He spoke most lovingly. Come, O you guilty and He will receive you graciously!
Once more, this thief whom Christ saved at last was a man who could do no good works. If salvation had been by good works he could not have been saved. For he was fastened hand and foot to the tree of doom. It was all over with him as to any act or deed of righteousness. He could say a good word or two but that was all. He could perform no acts. And if his salvation had depended on an active life of usefulness, certainly he never could have been saved. He was also a sinner who could not exhibit a long-enduring repentance for sin for he had so short a time to live. He could not have experienced bitter convictions lasting over months and years, for his time was measured by moments and he was on the borders of the grave.
His end was very near, and yet the Savior could save him and did save him so perfectly that the sun went not down till he was in Paradise with Christ! This sinner, whom I have painted to you in colors none too black, was one who believed in Jesus and confessed his faith. He did trust the Lord. Jesus was a man and he called Him so. But he knew that He was also Lord and he called Him so and said, “Lord, remember me.” He had such confidence in Jesus that he knew if He would but only think of him, if Jesus would only remember him when He came into His kingdom, that would be all that he would ask of Him.
Alas, my dear Hearers! The trouble with some of you is that you know all about my Lord and yet you do not trust Him. Trust is the saving act. Years ago you were on the verge of really trusting Jesus but you are just as far off from it now as you were then. This man did not hesitate–he grasped the one hope for himself. He did not keep his persuasion of our Lord’s Messiahship in his mind as a dry, dead belief. No, he turned it into trust and prayer, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” Oh, that in His infinite mercy many of you would trust my Lord this morning! You shall be saved, I am sure you shall–if you are not saved when you trust–I must myself also renounce all hope.
This is all that we have done–we looked and we lived and we continue to live because we look to the living Savior. Oh, that this morning, feeling your sin, you would look to Jesus, trust Him and confess that trust! Owning that He is Lord to the Glory of God the Father, you must and shall be saved! In consequence of having this faith which saved him, this poor man breathed the humble, but fitting prayer, “Lord, remember me.” This does not seem too much to ask. But as he understood it, it meant all that an anxious heart could desire. As he thought of the kingdom he had such clear ideas of the glory of the Savior that he felt that if the Lord would think of him, his eternal state would be safe.
Joseph, in prison, asked the chief butler to remember him when he was restored to power. But he forgot him. Our Joseph never forgets a sinner who cried to Him in the low dungeon. In His kingdom He remembers the moans and groans of poor sinners who are burdened with a sense of sin. Can you not pray this morning and thus secure a place in the memory of the Lord Jesus?
Thus I have tried to describe the thief. And after having done my best I shall fail of my objective unless I make you see that whatever this thief was–he is a picture of what you are. Especially if you have been a great offender and if you have been living long without caring for eternal things! And yet you, even you, may do as that thief did. You may believe that Jesus is the Christ and commit your souls into His hands and He will save you as surely as He saved the condemned brigand. Jesus graciously says, “Him that comes to Me I will in no wise cast out.” This means that if you come and trust Him, whoever you may be, He will for no reason and on no ground and under no circumstances ever cast you out. Do you catch that thought? Do you feel that it belongs to you and that if you come to Him you shall find eternal life? I rejoice if you so far perceive the Truth.
Few persons have so much contact with desponding and despairing souls as I have. Poor, cast down ones, write to me continually. I scarcely know why. I have no especial gift of consolation but I gladly lay myself out to comfort the distressed and they seem to know it. What joy I have when I see a despairing one find peace! I have had this joy several times during the week just ended. How much I desire that any of you who are breaking your hearts because you cannot find forgiveness, would come to my Lord and trust Him and enter into rest! Has He not said, “Come unto Me, all you that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest”? Come and try Him and that rest shall be yours.
II. In the second place, NOTE THAT THIS MAN WAS OUR LORD’S COMPANION AT THE GATE OF PARADISE. I am not going into any speculations as to where our Lord went when He quit the Body which hung on the Cross. It would seem from some Scriptures that He descended into the lower parts of the earth–that He might fulfill all things. But He very rapidly traversed the regions of the dead. Remember that He died perhaps an hour or two before the thief and during that time the eternal glory flamed through the underworld and was flashing through the gates of Paradise just when the pardoned thief was entering the eternal world.
Who is this that enters the pearly gate at the same moment as the King of Glory? Who is this favored companion of the Redeemer? Is it some honored martyr? Is it a faithful Apostle? Is it a Patriarch like Abraham? Or a prince like David? It is none of these. Behold and be amazed at Sovereign Grace! He that goes in at the gate of Paradise with the King of Glory is a thief who was saved in the article of death. He is saved in no inferior way and received into bliss in no secondary style. Verily there are last which shall be first!
Here I would have you notice the condescension of our Lord’s choice. The comrade of the Lord of Glory for whom the cherub turns aside his sword of fire is no great one, but a newly-converted malefactor. And why? I think the Savior took him with Him as a specimen of what He meant to do. He seemed to say to all the heavenly powers, “I bring a sinner with Me. He is a sample of the rest.” Have you ever heard of him who dreamed that he stood without the gate of Heaven and while there he heard sweet music from a band of venerable persons who were on their way to G
Enquiring “What are these?” he was told that they were the goodly fellowship of the Prophets. He sighed and said, “Alas, I am not one of those.” He waited a while and another band of shining ones drew near, who also entered Heaven with hallelujahs and when he enquired, “Who are these and from where they came?” the answer was, “These are the glorious company of the Apostles.” Again he sighed and said, “I cannot enter with them.” Then came another body of men, white-robed and bearing palms in their hands who marched amid great acclamation into the golden city. These he learned were the noble army of martyrs. And again he wept and said, “I cannot enter with these.”
In the end he heard the voices of much people and saw a greater multitude advancing among whom he perceived Rahab and Mary Magdalene, David and Peter, Manasseh and Saul of Tarsus and he espied especially the thief who died at the right hand of Jesus. These all entered in a strange company. Then he eagerly enquired, “Who are these?” and they answered, “This is the host of sinners saved by Divine Grace.” Then was he exceeding glad and said, “I can go in with these.” But he thought there would be no shouting at the approach of this company and that they would enter Heaven without song. Instead of which, there seemed to rise a seven-fold hallelujah of praise unto the Lord of Love. For there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over sinners that repent.
I invite any poor soul here that can neither aspire to serve Christ, nor to suffer for Him as yet, nevertheless to come in with other believing sinners–in the company of Jesus who now sets before us an open door. While we are handling this text, note well the blessedness of the place to which the Lord called this penitent. Jesus said, “Today shall you be with Me in Paradise.” Paradise means a garden–a garden filled with delights. The garden of Eden is the type of Heaven. We know that Paradise means Heaven, for the Apostle speaks of such a man caught up into Paradise and he calls it the third Heaven. Our Savior took this dying thief into the Paradise of infinite delight, and this is where He will take all of us sinners who believe in Him. If we are trusting Him, we shall ultimately be with Him in Paradise.
The next word is better still. Note the glory of the society to which this sinner is introduced–“Today shall you be with Me in Paradise.” If the Lord said, “Today shall you be with Me,” we should not need Him to add another word. Where He is, is Heaven to us. He added the word, “Paradise,” because otherwise none could have guessed where He was going. Think of it, you uncomely soul. You are to dwell with the Altogether Lovely One forever! You poor and needy ones–you are to be with Him in His Glory, in His bliss, in His perfection. Where He is and as He is, you shall be. The Lord looks into those weeping eyes of yours this morning and He says, “Poor Sinner, you shall one day be with Me.” I think I hear you say, “Lord, that is bliss too great for such a sinner as I am.” But He replies–I have loved you with an everlasting love–therefore with loving kindness will I draw you, till you shall be with Me where I am.
The stress of the text lies in the speediness of all this. “Verily I say unto you, today shall you be with Me in Paradise.” “Today.” You shall not lie in purgatory for ages, nor sleep in limbo for so many years. But you shall be ready for bliss at once and at once, you shall enjoy it. The sinner was hard by the gates of Hell but almighty mercy lifted him up and the Lord said, “Today shall you be with Me in Paradise.” What a change from the Cross to the crown, from the anguish of Calvary to the glory of the New Jerusalem!
In those few hours the beggar was lifted from the dunghill and set among princes. “Today shall you be with Me in Paradise.” Can you measure the change from that sinner–loathsome in his iniquity when the sun was at high noon–to that same sinner clothed in pure white and accepted in the Beloved, in the Paradise of God, when the sun went down? O glorious Savior, what marvels You can work! How rapidly can You work them!
Please notice, also, the majesty of the Lord’s Grace in this text. The Savior said to him, “Verily I say unto you, today shall you be with Me in Paradise.” Our Lord gives His own will as the reason for saving this man. “I say.” He says it, who claims the right thus to speak. It is He who will have mercy on whom He will have mercy and will have compassion on whom He will have compassion. He speaks royally, “Verily I say unto you.” Are they not imperial words? The Lord is a King in whose Word there is power. What He says none can deny. He that has the keys of Hell and of death says, “I say unto you, today shall you be with Me in Paradise.” Who shall prevent the fulfillment of His Word?
Notice the certainty of it. He says, “Verily.” Our blessed Lord on the Cross returned to His old majestic manner as He painfully turned His head and looked on His convert. He was likely to begin His preaching with,“ Verily, verily, I say unto you.” And now that He is dying He uses His favorite manner and says, “Verily.” Our Lord took no oath–His strongest asseveration was, “Verily, verily.” To give the penitent the most plain assurance, He says, “Verily I say unto you, today shall you be with Me in Paradise.” In this the thief had an absolutely indisputable assurance that though he must die, yet he would live and find himself in Paradise with his Lord.
I have thus shown you that our Lord passed within the pearly gate in company with one to whom He had pledged Himself. Why should not you and I pass through that pearly gate in due time, clothed in His merit, washed in His blood and resting on His power? One of these days angels will say of you and of me, “Who is this that comes up from the wilderness, leaning upon her Beloved?” The shining ones will be amazed to see some of us coming. If you have lived a life of sin until now, and yet shall repent and enter Heaven–what an amazement there will be in every golden street to think that you have come there! In the early Christian Church, Marcus Caius Victorinus was converted. But he had reached so great an age and had been so gross a sinner that the pastor and Church doubted him.
He gave, however, clear proof of having undergone the Divine change, and then there were great acclamations and many shouts of, “Victorinus has become a Christian!” Oh, that some of you big sinners might be saved! How gladly would we rejoice over you! Why not? Would it not glorify God? The salvation of this convicted highwayman has made our Lord illustrious for mercy even unto this day–would not your case do the same? Would not saints cry, “Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” if they heard that some of you had been turned from darkness to marvelous light? Why should it not be? Believe in Jesus and it is so. III. Now I come to my third and most practical point–NOTE THE LORD’S SERMON TO US FROM ALL THIS.
The devil wants to preach this morning a bit. Yes, Satan asks to come to the front and preach to you. But he cannot be allowed. Out of here, you deceiver! Yet I should not wonder if he gets at some of you when the sermon is over and whispers, “You see, you can be saved at the very last. Put off repentance and faith. You may be forgiven on your deathbed.” Sirs, you know who it is that would ruin you by this suggestion. Abhor his deceitful teaching! Do not be ungrateful because God is kind. Do not provoke the Lord because He is patient.
Such conduct would be unworthy and ungrateful. Do not run an awful risk because one escaped the tremendous peril. The Lord will accept all who repent. But how do you know that you will repent? It is true that one thief was saved–but the other thief was lost. One is saved and we may not despair. The other is lost and we may not presume. Dear Friends, I trust you are not made of such diabolical stuff as to fetch from the mercy of God an argument for continuing in sin. If you do, I can only say of you, that your damnation will be just. You will have brought it upon yourselves.
Consider now the teaching of our Lord–see the glory of Christ in salvation. He is ready to save at the last moment. He was just passing away–His foot was on the doorstep of the Father’s house. Up comes this poor sinner, the last thing at night–at the eleventh hour–and the Savior smiles and declares that He Himself will not enter except with this belated wanderer. At the very gate He declares that this seeking soul shall enter with Him. There was plenty of time for him to have come before–you know how apt we are to say, “You have waited to the last moment. I am just going off, and I cannot attend to you now.” Our Lord had His dying pangs upon Him and yet He attends to the perishing criminal and permits him to pass through the heavenly portal in His company.
Jesus easily saves the sinners for whom He painfully died. Jesus loves to rescue sinners from going down into the pit. You will be very happy if you are saved but you will not be one half so happy as He will be when He saves you. See how gentle He is–
“His hand no thunder bears,
No terror clothes His brow;
No bolts to drive our guilty souls
To fiercer flames below.”
He comes to us full of tenderness with tears in His eyes, mercy in His hands and love in His heart. Believe Him to be a great Savior of great sinners. I have heard of one who had received great mercy who went about saying, “He is a great forgiver.” And I would have you say the same. You shall find your transgressions put away and your sins pardoned once and for all if you trust Him now.
The next doctrine Christ preaches from this wonderful story is faith in its permitted attachment. This man believed that Jesus was the Christ. The next thing he did was to appropriate that Christ. He said, “Lord, remember me.” Jesus might have said, “What have I to do with you and what have you to do with Me? What has a thief to do with the perfect nocence! Society claims that we should not be familiar with people who have offended against its laws. We must not be seen associating with them, for it might discredit us. Infamous bosh!
Can anything discredit sinners such as we are by nature and by practice? If we know ourselves before God, are we not degraded enough in and of ourselves? Is there anybody, after all, who is worse than we are when we see ourselves in the faithful glass of the Word? As soon as ever a man believes that Jesus is the Christ, let him hook himself on to Him. The moment you believe Jesus to be the Savior, seize upon Him as your Savior. If I remember rightly, Augustine called this man, “Latro laudabilis et mirabilis,” a thief to be praised and wondered at–who dared, as it were–to seize the Savior for his own.
In this he is to be imitated. Take the Lord to be yours and you have Him. Jesus is the common property of all sinners who are bold enough to take Him. Every sinner who has the will to do so may take the Lord home with Him. He came into the world to save the sinful. Take Him by force as robbers take their prey. The kingdom of Heaven suffers the violence of daring faith. Get Him and He will never get Himself away from you. If you trust Him, He must save you.
Next, notice the doctrine of faith in its immediate power–
“The moment a sinner believes,
And trusts in his crucified God,
His pardon at once he receives,
Redemption in full through His blood.”
“Today shall you be with Me in Paradise.” He has no sooner believed than Christ gives him the seal of his believing in the full assurance that he shall be with Him forever in His Glory. O dear Hearts, if you believe this morning, you shall be saved this morning! God grant that you, by His rich Grace, may be brought into salvation here on the spot and at once!
The next thing is the nearness of eternal things. Think of that a minute. Heaven and Hell are not places far away. You may be in Heaven before the clock ticks again. Could we but rend that veil which parts us from the unseen! It is all there and all near. “Today,” said the Lord. Within three or four hours at the longest, “shall you be with Me in Paradise.” It is so near! A statesman has given us the expression of being “within measurable distance.” We are all within measurable distance of Heaven or Hell. If there is any difficulty in measuring the distance, it lies in its brevity rather than in its length–
One gentle sigh the fetter breaks,
We scarce can say, ‘He’s gone,’
Before the ransomed spirit takes
Its mansion near the Throne."
Oh, that we, instead of trifling about such things because they seem so far away, would solemnly realize them–since they are really so very near! This very day, before the sun goes down, some Hearer now sitting in this place may see in his own spirit the realities of Heaven or Hell. It has frequently happened in this large congregation–someone in our audience has died before the next Sabbath has come round–it may happen this week. Think of that, and let eternal things impress you all the more because they lie so near.
Furthermore, know that if you have believed in Jesus you are prepared for Heaven. It may be that you will have to live on earth twenty, or thirty, or forty years to glorify Christ. And if so, be thankful for the privilege. But if you do not live another hour, your instantaneous death would not alter the fact that he that believes in the Son of God is meet for Heaven. Surely, if anything beyond faith is needed to make us fit to enter Paradise, the thief would have been kept a little longer here. But no, he is in the morning in the state of nature–at noon he enters the state of Divine Grace–and by sunset he is in the state of Glory!
The question never is, whether a deathbed repentance is accepted if it is sincere–the question is–is it sincere? If it is–if the man dies five minutes after his first act of faith–he is as safe as if he had served the Lord for fifty years. If your faith is true, if you die one moment after you have believed in Christ you will be admitted into Paradise–even if you shall have enjoyed no time in which to produce good works and other evidences of Divine Grace. He that reads the heart will read your faith written on its fleshy tablets and He will accept you through Jesus Christ–even though no act of Divine Grace has been visible to the eye of man.
I conclude by again saying that this is not an exceptional case. I began with that and I want to finish with it. So many demi-semi-gospelers are so terribly afraid of preaching Free Grace too fully. I read somewhere and I think it is true, that some ministers preach the Gospel in the same way as donkeys eat thistles–namely, very, very cautiously. On the contrary, I will preach it boldly. I have not the slightest alarm about the matter. If any of you misuse Free Grace teaching, I cannot help it. He that will be damned can as well ruin himself by perverting the Gospel as by anything else. I cannot help what base hearts may invent.
But mine it is to set forth the Gospel in all its fullness of grace and I will do it. If the thief was an exceptional case–and our Lord does not usually act in such a way–there would have been a hint given of so important a fact. A hedge would have been set about this exception to all rules. Would not the Savior have whispered quietly to the dying man, “You are the only one I am going to treat in this way”? Whenever I have to do an exceptional favor to a person I have to say, “Do not mention this, or I shall have so many besieging me.”
If the Savior had meant this to be a solitary case, He would have faintly said to him, “Do not let anybody know. But you shall today be in the kingdom with Me.” No! Our Lord spoke openly and those about Him heard what He said. Moreover, the inspired penman has recorded it. If it had been an exceptional case it would not have been written in the Word of God. Men will not publish their actions in the newspapers if they feel that the record might lead others to expect from them what they cannot give. The Savior had this wonder of Divine Grace reported in the daily news of the Gospel because He means to repeat the marvel every day.
The bulk shall be equal to the sample, and therefore He sets the sample before you all. He is able to save to the uttermost–for He saved the dying thief. The case would not have been put there to encourage hopes which He cannot fulfill. Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning and not for our disappointing. I pray you, therefore, if any of you have not yet trusted in my Lord Jesus come and trust in Him now. Trust Him wholly. Trust Him only. Trust Him at once. Then will you sing with me–
“The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day,
And there have I, though vile as he,
Washed all my sins away.”