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nor hath indeed the truth of it, unless by those who deny the whole gospel of Christ, been ever called in question. Very different indeed have been the inferences made, and the con. clusions drawn from it, according to the various prejudices, passions and opinions of men. I shall not waste your time and attention by collecting and laying before you the various interpretations of different commentators with which these words have been perplexed; but (which will doubtless be a far more useful confideration) take notice of the very improper use which habitual finners have made of this passage, and the many idle and frivolous excuses too often brought for their misapplication and misinterpretation of it.
It is indeed astonishing to reflect how many wicked and impenitent finners fly for shelter to this sacred asylum; how many are misled by this extraordinary instance of a sudden conversion, to imagine, that as their faults and follies do by no means exceed, or even equal the guilt of such a criminal, their repentance and contrition, however late, and however imperfect, must consequently be attended with the same success: they are even too often prefumptuous enough to suppose, that as the ma, lefaétor on the cross was not only pardoned, but received into Paradise, without the painful task of repentance and reformation, that the same degree of favour and indulgence may be granted them in the last period of their existence.
But though this may have proved in some degree a matter (however groundless and unreasonable) of momentary consolation to the profligate and abandoned, who have no other reed to catch at in their desperate situation, never could it afford any rational hope to the sober and serious Christian, because there are many and most important peculiarities in the case before us, which cannot, by any sophistry or mode of false reasoning, be applied to any other.
And here, the first thing which, with respect to a general comparison, will naturally suggest itself to our imagination, is, that the penitent mentioned in my text, to whom the gracious promise of pardon and reward was given, did, we may suppose, embrace the faith of Christ, as soon as sufficient means of conviction were laid before him. It has been the opinion indeed of many learned writers on this subject, that this unhappy criminal knew nothing of our blessed Saviour, but what he might have collected from common report, and consequently had no better opinion of him than the unbelieving Jews, than his cruel persecutors and oppressors, who considered him, no doubt, as an hypocrite and impostor; and if so he did, the more powerful must have been his faith, and the more exalted his virtue, in that at once overcoming all his prejudices, in acknowledging that wisdom which he had contemned, and adoring that Saviour whom he had been taught to laugh at and deride; and our Redeemer might with reason
have said unto him, as he did unto the Cen. turion, I have not found so great faith, no not in Ifrael. His heart we fee was open to the first impression of grace; so far, therefore, from being considered as a late convert, he had rather the glory of being an early penitent; it was not inclination, but opportunity alone, that was wanting to render him a zealous be. liever, and a true Christian: he might therefore have fome title to that pardon which he received, and some claim to that reward which his divine master had here promised to beiłow upon him; and to this judgment we shall probably be more inclined, when we come likewise to consider his very uncommon and intrepid faith, in embracing our Lord at that disastrous crisis, when even those disciples and followers who had heard his blessed doctrines, and feen his divine miracles, when even those forsook him and fled; in this wretched and ignominious state, in this low and 'miferable condition, the unhappy fellow-sufferer throws himself on his protection, acknowledges his divinity, believes in him as the Lord and giver of a future and better life, as the great dispenser of blessings after death: fe noble and so bold a confidence at such a period, could not perhaps be equalled.
It must indeed, on the other hand, be acknowledged as a most extraordinary event, that a public malefactor, condemned probably for fome atrocious crime, to a shameful and ignominious punishment, should thus be parconed, and rewarded by the promise of eter,
nal happiness. This will undoubtedly appear, on the first transient view of it, an event little to be expected; and yet who can say what extraordinary circumstances, to us utterly unknown, might have recommended him to the divine favour? He might have been poilefied of qualities and virtues sufficient, in the eye of a merciful Redeemer, to atone for all his offences; he might even, perhaps, for aught we know to the contrary, have been perfectly innocent, like our blessed Saviour himself, of the crimes for which he suffered. There are but too many instances in every age and nation, of men who have been falfely accused, and who have paid with their lives, for crimes which they have never committed. Such we know was the power of an outrageous multi. tude, and the prejudice of misguided zcal, that the great Saviour of mankind was nailed to the cross, whilst the impious Barabbas, who was a murderer and a robber, escaped the prinishment due to his iniquities.
This, my brethren, may serve as an instructive lesson to us, never too rigidly to censure even those whom the laws have condemned, never to consider as utterly forsaken by the Almighty, those who are deferted and abhor. red of inen, because too many amongst is, who, to all outward appearance, have led good and exemplary lives, may, notwithftanding, have been secretly guilty of the greatest crimes; and those on the other hand, who, like the thief on the cross, have been publickly brande 1 for the most heinous offences, may still be de.
serving objects of divine mercy, and become the heirs of eternal falvation.
« To day, says our Saviour to the thief on the cross, thou shalt be with me in Paradise; thou shalt change this miserable and ignominious state, for a place of uninterrupted joy and felicity, and as thou now partakest of my fufferings, shalt soon partake of my reward also.” This, no doubt, must adminifter comfort and confolation to every fincere penitent, who is pierced with a hearty concern for his past offences; this wonderful monument of divine mercy must raise the hopes of the repenting profligate, and induce him to improve his last moments to the best advantage; but at the fame time, it will highly become us to remember, that there is no resemblance between him who submits to, and embraces the first suggestions of God's grace, and him who wilfully resists them; between him who obeys the first call, and him who has continually opposed all the motions and solicitations of God's holy fpirit.
Well would it be for those who lay fo uncommon, and fo unwarrantable a stress on this single and extraordinary instance, could they produce as uncommon and indisputable evidence of their imitation of his conduct, with regard to their faith and conviction. The thief on the cross acknowledged our blessed Saviour, when scarce any body else would acknowledge him; in that distressful and ignominious state, when even his own disciples had fortook him and fed; whilst too many amongst