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subsisting in their several accounts is owing not to artful contrivance, but to the truth of the facts which they have related.
41. And we, indeed, justly: for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man hath done nothing amiss.
This malefactor, although he took up arms upon what he considered as good principles, and with just intentions, yet might be sensible that he had been guilty of many unjustifiable excesses, which deservedly brought upon him the punishment of death, and for which he was now sincerely sorry. He discovers a knowledge of the life and character of Jesus, which is hardly consistent with his being a common robber; but which we might very well expect from a man of a religious turn of mind, who had taken up arms upon mistaken principles respecting the sovereignty and independence of the Jewish nation. It is possible that he had heard the discourses or seen some of the miracles of Jesus, before he betook himself to that way of life for which he now suffered. Without some supposition of this kind, it will be difficult to account for that faith in him as the Messiah which lie discovers in the next verse; as well as for the high opinion which he appears to entertain of him in this.
42. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, or master,” remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom, or, “when thou comest to thy kingdom.”
By this language it appears that this Jew believed Jesus to be the Messiah, and as all the Jews, not excepting the disciples of Jesus, even to the very close of his ministry, regarded the Messiah as a temporal deliverer, this man must have entertained the same opinion with the rest of his countrymen. By Christ's coming into or to his kingdom, he must mean his obtaining that temporal authority with which it was supposed to le the intention of Providence to invest him. By desiring to be remembered at that time, it would appear as if he thought that God would immediately interpose, to deliver him from the hands of his enemies, and to bestow upon him this authority: for it can hardly be supposed that he believed that Christ; after being put to death, would rise to life again; an event which was not looked for even by the apostles. As he was conscious of being actuated by good intentions in his past conduct, although guilty of some criminal excesses, of which, however, he now repented, he might with propriety hope for some marks of the favour of Christ; and Christ might with propriety grant them.
43. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise.
In answer to the request of the penitent malefactor, Christ promises that he should be in the same state with himself on that day. In order, therefore, to determine where this man was to be, we have only to consider where Christ was. Now it is evident from the history that Christ died on that day, and was laid in the grave; yet he lay there under the smiles of heaven, and with the certainty of a resurrection. The meaning of Christ then, as illustrated by fact, could be no more than that he should go to the state of the righteous dead; to pious men of former ages, where he should lie in hope of a resurrection. Agreeably to this notion it has been observed that according to the opinion of the Jews, paradise was that part of the habitation of the dead which was assigned to righteous and good men. This Jesus might well promise to him, because he discerned in him some promising dispositions, and was convinced, from what he now observed, and from the miraculous knowledge which he had of his character, that the conduct for which he was suffering was to be ascribed rather to the erroneousness of his principles than to the depravity of his heart. That Christ could not mean to promise this man that he should be with him that day in heaven, is evident hence that Christ did not go thither that day himself; for it was some time after his resurrection before he ascended into heaven. That the soul of Christ, whether it were that of a man or a superangelic spirit, quitted his body at his death, ascended into heaven, the residence of the blessed, continued there three days, and descended from heaven again to reanimate his body, is a supposition which cannot be admitted without some evidence, of which this passage affords none.
Some have supposed that Christ, on this occasion, intended to say, To-day, thou art certain of a place with me in heaven: it is a thing already done and determined; the words to-day being constantly used of any matter then fixed, -settled or declared, though not to commence till some months or even ages after. So, " In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” “ Hear, ( Israel, thou art to pass over Jordan this day;" although neither of these events took place till some time afterwards. In these places, and several others which might be produced, this day and to-day cannot be understood to mean instantly, or the day on which the words were spoken; but to refer generally to a future time not far distant,
Having thus given both interpretations, I must leave the reader to determine which is the more likely to be true. That the words of Christ were intended to convey some important meaning, whatever it was, is evident from his prefacing them with saying, Verily. I say unto thee; a form of expression which is never used but when he intended to announce something important.
1. From the passage which has now been explained, it has been inferred, that however wicked men may
have been in the preceding part of their lives, yet, if they repent of their sins when they come to die, although that repentance take place but a few hours before their departure out of life, they have good ground to hope for the divine favour and forgiveness, and for admission into heaven. But such a conclusion supposes that men may be prepared for heaven instantaneously, by the immediate agency of the Divine Being; and that he may do this, after the ordinary methods of his Providence have proved ineffectual for the reformation of sinners, which is contrary to the whole tenor of the scriptures, which teach us that without holiness no one shall see the Lord, and that this holiness, which is to consist in certain pious and virtuous dispositions, is to be acquired not by the agency of another, but by every man's own exertions; and which likewise teach us that if men will not become good in this manner, no other means will be employed by the Divine Being, This conclusion is also contrary to all the principles of huinan nature, which show that no man can become good at once, and that habits which have been a long time in forming, require a proportionate time to be overcome and to have contrary habits introduced. This is a conclusion, therefore, which cannot be admitted upon the authority of a single passage of scripture, unless the evidence arising from it be very clear and unexceptionable. But no such unexceptionable evidence appears in the present instance. On the contrary, there appears great reason to suppose that this man was a religious Jew, and that he was extremely zealous for preserving the institutions and customs of his religion ; and that it was this zeal which hurried him into the excesses for which he is now sorry, but for which he must suffer the punishment of the laws. So that he became worthy of the hopes which Christ communicated to him when he was dying, not by his present confession only, but by his for. mer character.
Let no one, therefore, take encouragement from this instance to go on in sinful practices, from the hope that he shall be able to repent, and to make his peace with
God, in his last moments. Whoever trusts to such expectations, relies upon that for which he has no authority from scripture, and which cannot take place without a miracle ; and a miracle too in favour of a presumptuous offender, and performed in direct opposition to every other part of the divine proceedings.
2. The attention shown by Christ to this malefac. tor-affords us a fresh proof of the humanity of his temper. He who in his life-time discovered so much readiness to listen to the requests and to relieve the distresses of the miserable, preserves the same temper to the very last moment of life, even when he was, as it were, in the agonies of death; which shows that it was not an assumed character but the natural disposition of his mind. If he cannot promise hiin any favour in a temporal kingdom, he assures him of what was of more consequence to a dying man, and might well enable him to resign himself into the hand of death in peace, an interest in that everlasting kingdom which is to be established beyond the grave.
Let it be remembered, however, that the custom of ministers of religion visiting notorious criminals or open violators of the law of God, when they are about to die, absolving them from their sins, or giving them assurances of pardon and salvation upon the profession of repentance, derives no countenance from this example: for Christ possessed a knowledge of the hearts and characters of men, which it would be the highest presumption in the ordinary ministers of religion to pretend to: he might therefore justly give assurances, where no other person can dare to offer any without assuming divine powers. Besides, it is pretty clear that the person to whom they were given in the present instance, was not a man who had led an aban. doned life to this time, and who never thought of God or religion till the last moment, as is the case with those of whom we are here speaking; but one of upright intentions, and, upon the whole, of a good cha