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“For me my Savionr suffered more, far more than I am now suffering, therefore I can trust his love." How often have these words been breathed from lips writhing in the agonies of lingering death ? Yes, the thought of the cross of Christ makes more easy the bed of the dying, and never can we know so well the depths of His love, as when we compare the aggravations of the miseries of His death, with the tender kindness with which we seek to soothe the dying hours of those we love. Oh! think of the tender care with which we shield the failing eyes from the glare of light, and moisten the parched and thirsty lips,—of the low gentle voices whispering words of anxious love. Then do we remember the bright hopes in the promises of Scripture, not for ourselves, for we do not in that hour think of ourselves, but to cheer and support the sinking spirit. Prayers rise round the dying bed, and the ministers of religion come there only to speak of pardon and of peace, It is thus we strive to sooth the awful struggle that parts the soul and body. Not thus the Saviour died. The scorching sun blazed down on His defenceless head. Thirst “dried Him up” “into the dust of death." There was no rest for his tortured body, writhing from the agonizing wounds in His hands and feet ; and worse, far worse than all, fierce crowds of furious men like beasts of prey,* howled and shrieked around Him. They mocked, they reviled, they cursed Him, and the chief priests, the appointed ministers of religion were there, to add the bit :erest taunts of all, to destroy if possible, all that remained to Him, His trust in God His Father.
And because He was without taint of sin, those sufferings must have been harder to bear, for there was in Him no answering scorn, no excitement of anger to rouse his fainting spirit, He was truly man, therefore He suffered all that man could suffer, He was more than man, the purity of God possessed His soul, therefore He suffered more than man can ever suffer. Still in that deep sea of agony, there was a lower depth which the spirit of man can never fathom, because it was the Son of God who suffered it. But before that dark and deeper gulf of woe is entered, Behold, a ray of heavenly light breaks across the gloom ! It gleams a moment round the dying felon at the Saviour's side, and then passes onward, lighting up the dark future for evermore, for none can read what follows without having their faith strengthened.
* Psalm xxii. 12, 13
A'll we know of the history of the two that were crucified with Jesus, is that they were malefactors (evil-doers.) It is probable from the dreadful death to which they were condemned, that they were murderers as well as thieves ; for by the Jewish law thieves were not punished with death. Perhaps they belonged to the ruffian bands which at that time filled the country with violence and rapine, and thus had fallen within the grasp of the Roman law.. Whatever had been their lives, they had followed one path of crime, and it had led them together to Calvary, but here they part for ever. On the very cross they make a separate choice, and there is no part of Scripture from beginning to end, that so clearly shews the reality of the inner life of men, the existence of the separate soul and spirit dwelling indeed in the body, but independent of it. Here are two men hanging in agonies upon the cross, dying inch by inch, yet in perfect possession of their thoughts and feelings, able to decide in what they believe, able to take part with either of the two parties in the midst of which they suddenly find themselves. Their bodies are fast nailed to a cross, one on the right side, the other on the left of Jesus ; but the mind and soul of each is free to take part with him or against him, and one of the two as it were goes forth to join the ranks of his enemies, the other enrols himself amongst his disciples. It is written,
LUKE xxii. 39-43. “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 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 to thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise."
Thus from the very cross breaks forth the first beam of the eternal day.
Even in Scripture we find no instance of faith like this, so entirely faith, without any help of sight, or outward aid of
“ Abraham by faith offered up Isaac when he was tried,” but it was by God's express command, and he had a distinct promise to depend upon. God had said to him, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called ;” therefore, believing His word, he knew that if Isaac died a sacrifice in early youth, he could not become the father of the promised race. In faith be obeyed, “believing that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from whence also he had received him in a figure.”* But the dying thief had received no promise, no command. No word had been spoken to him by the Lord. There might have been before a fierce struggle in his heart between the good and evil spirit, but he had yielded to the evil, and now he was paying the penalty. As a Jew he may, he must have known enough of God and his laws, to have brought him safe through temptation, but he had turned away from Him,-and could he find Him now? Who can tell the history of all that passed within that heart? In its midnight darkness, faith rises like a star, "and against hope he believes in hope." + He feels his life ebbing fast away. Death in its darkest reality is upon him, yet does he believe not only in life eternal, but he believes that Jesus hanging naked by his side, dying like himself the same dreadful death, is the king of heaven and earth, the Lord and Giver of life. Surely this is the very triumph of faith, a glory for evermore to Him who is the author and finisher of our faith.
* Hebrews xi. 17, 18, 19.
+ Romans iv. 18.
He speaks, and every word declares the Christian life, begun, carried on, and finished in his soul. He justifies God and man in his own condemnation, acknowledging that he "suffers justly the due reward of his deeds."
He tries to awaken the sense of sin and the fear of God in his fellow-sinner's soul, and though self-condemned, he turns with a bright undying hope to the Redeemer; thus he prays, “ Lord, remember me when thou comest to thy kingdom !” How much there is in these few words! He acknowledges Jesus, naked, bleeding, dying, to be the king of the eternal world—he hails him Lord-he believes in the life over which death has no power. “Remember me,” he says, looking forward to the kingdom where Christ shall reign for ever and ever.
Mark the calm majesty of our Lord's reply, “To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise." So calm, so brief, so full of power, it brings back to mind the first command, “Let there be light.” This was the first Christian death-the first fruit of the Redemption.
Blessed be Thou, Eternal God, for this Thy work, in the conversion and pardon of the dying thief. His story breaks, like a ray of the rising sun, through the darkness of night, and scatters the clouds that were gathering round. Even to read how that Jesus whom we have been following from miracle to miracle, confessing Him to be the Messiah, was seized upon by wicked men, bound, scourged, and nailed to the cross, without sign of power in himself, or of help from God, might shake our faith, and we might for a moment join in the cry, “If thou be the Son of God, save thyself.” But lo! on the very cross he shines forth the Saviour, in all the majesty of the King of heaven, the Lord and giver of life!
Prayer. Crucified Jesus, let me be as the dying thief. In every grief, in every pain, let me like him confess that I do but receive the due reward of my deeds. Let me turn to thee as mine only assured hope, and in my death let me receive from Thee the same blessed assurance, “ To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” Amen.
In the answer of Jesus to the repentant malefactor it is the Majesty of God that strikes us.
Immediately afterwards it is the tenderness of a man, remembering in death the early ties of his childhood. On the cross Jesus thinks of his mother.
JOHN xix. 25-27. “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son : Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother ! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.”
Love, stronger than fear, had drawn the three Maries to the foot of the cross. For a time they had stood afar off beholding, with many other women who had
MATTHEW xxvii. 55. ollowed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him." When we remember that he had nothing of his own, no home,