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 for 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.
“Repent and believe!” is the message of God to fallen man. Some mean to believe without repentance; but they will find themselves mistaken. Faith without previous repentance is a dead thought, a mere notion, a doctrine admitted either with or without evidence,—a weak, second-handed conviction. Reasoning, at the best, built it up; reasoning may pluck it down again. It leaves the mind unenlightened, the heart untouched, unpurified, the life unaltered, the soul under condemnation of death.
Faith after true repentance is a conviction resting on experience and intuitive evidence; a truth of the first order; it is the substance of things hoped for and the unshaken evidence of things unseen by carnal eyes. It carries reason and logic headlong; it quickens and renews the heart, enlightens the mind, influences the life, overcomes the world, and lays hold on things heavenly and eternal. So was the faith of the penitent sinner: “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.” How does he come by this faith in circumstances so unspeakably unfavorable, so decidedly opposed to it? The condemned, expiring man, on yonder cross, the Lord of heaven! A stumbling-block of mountain size to the Jews, and the very height of foolishness to the Greeks! His was a giant stretch of faith, I confess. In respect to external support, it outstrips the faith of all the Apostles, the centurion, the distressed fathers and mothers, the blind, the deaf, the lepers, the paralytics; the faith of all martyrs on the stake, in the flames, in persecution, in caves and dens of the earth. It was pure faith, clear and free from every support from without, a work of the Holy Spirit unalloyed by any earthly ingredient. St. Peter walked on the sea,—but he saw Christ pacing with firm steps over the rolling wave. The Apostles remained faithful to their conviction, —but they had witnessed ten thousand exhibitions of Christ’s divine power, and had seen Him and conversed with Him for three years. The sick and the distressed came to Him from afar,—but the land was full of His fame. The saints in after times sacrificed their lives for Him,—but they had accumulating proofs of His all-overruling sceptre, daily adding strength (if this be possible) to the testimony of the sacred records. And what is it for us now to believe on Him when the cloud of witnesses and the mass of evidence in His favor have already become so boundless that it requires almost a life to pass over and duly estimate the whole of it? It is all comparatively nothing. Our faith is sight; and woe unto that man who can at this present day live and die without being a Christian from his heart! Sodom and Gomorrah, Bethsaida, Chorazin, and Capernaum, the scoffing Jews, the dying impenitent rebel of the text, will condemn him in the judgment day.
Father, perfect my trust! Strengthen my feeble faith! Let me feel as I would when I stand On the shores of the River of Death— Feel as I would were my feet Even now slipping over the brink; For it may be I’m nearer home, Nearer now than I think.
O THOU, who showest mercy and pity, grant me that through true faith, through good works, and through the Communion of Thy Holy Body and Blood, I may come to Thee at last; and have mercy on Thy creatures, and on me a great sinner; who reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost one God world without end. Amen.