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Have you considered, what a startling confirmation was given this last hour of the Lord's sorrow, to the great truth that sin, even in the most terrific revolt from God, must yet serve him? Can your most daring fancy form for itself any image, by which the idea of the God-like could more deeply agitate your souls, or penetrate them with a holier sorrow, than is done by this image which a Saviour's passion presents ?-by this man of pain, his bleeding shoulders covered with purple, the reed in his hand, the crown of thorns upon his head? Has ingenuity ever succeeded in devising a more sacred form, one which united greater contrarieties of abasement and majesty, one in which abasement bore upon itself such heavenly, significant and noble symbols? And did this rude insolence of the Roman soldiers and of the servants of Herod,-an insolence which was the occasion of your now beholding such an image of the Saviour,—an image which, for hundreds of years, has been one of holy consolation to all heavy laden hearts,-did this rude insolence, I ask, take place through the mere play of accident? Oh tell me, have you anywhere in history a single example, which more clearly demonstrates the existence of a power above the clouds, into whose hand the threads from all men's hearts and arms run together, at whose nod even the loose play of chance arranges itself into the regular chain of a sacred, everlasting law embracing earth and heaven? It is this sublime sentiment, which is awakened in our minds by the history contained in our text. That cross which they have erected for him between the malefactors, they have erected it for him as a kingly throne! Behold! the King of glory on his throne! The crown adorns his brow. His arms are stretched out to embrace the whole world, and place it at his heart. Above the throne shines the regal title,―This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.' At the right and the left are the two great divisions of the world; at the left the unbelieving world, who revile him; at the right, the converted world, who do him homage; and he himself is between them, imparting blessedness to the one, punishment to the other, bending from his throne to open the gates of paradise for the peni. tent transgressor. Of a truth, there is in this spectacle an inward greatness and sublimity, against which no heart of man can harden itself; and even from the lips of an unbeliever, the instant he turned
his mind to the spectacle and considered it, there was forced out the expression of astonishment,- Truly this was the Son of God!'
But secondly, there is something contained in the text, which may abash our spirits. Christians, you should learn,-yea verily, you should learn self-abasement from a malefactor; a malefactor who was nailed upon the cross. Refuse not the lesson from this man. If you will not receive it from him, he will pass sentence upon you!; pass sentence, as the Redeemer said of the queen of the South,'She shall rise at the last judgment against this generation and shall condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and a greater than Solomon is here.'
What a wonderful appearance,—this malefactor at the right hand! When the God-like man stood, and lifted up his face to heaven, and cried, Father, glorify thy name,' and the voice came from the clouds, I have glorified it and will glorify it again;' when he stood, and placed his hand upon the eyes of the blind, so that they saw, and upon the ears of the deaf, so that they heard; when he entered into the royal city, and the people cried aloud, Hosanna to the Son of David, blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord,' then many were able to doubt concerning him whether he were a King. But now, when he lets his bruised and bleeding head sink down upon the ignominious tree; when the heaven over his head veils itself in clouds; when instead of the celestial voice from above, no words come to him but those of hell from beneath, hath saved others and cannot save himself'; when the hands which were once placed upon the eyes of the blind, upon the breast of the leper, and upon the head of the little child, blessing everywhere and in all ways, are now nailed to the cursed wood; when the same people, who once cried' Hosanna,' are exclaiming,- If thou art the Son of God, come down from the cross;' even at this time, the eye of the repenting sinner sees the King in Jesus, and as his knee can no longer bow to him, the heart bows before him in adoration and lowliness.
Friends, do you consider what a strength of faith was requisite, at that juncture, for the act of believing, that a man, nailed to the cross, was yet a King; and that before his "Epphatha, be opened,"1 even the gates of paradise must be unclosed to a repenting malefactor? From what vapor, men have asked, could such a hope have been born at such an hour?
1 Mark 7: 34.
Perhaps the malefactors, who were crucified with him, saw the man, when he stood without an equal even before the court; and when Pilate led him forth, covered with blood, a spectacle to angels and to men; and presenting him to the people cried out,- Behold, what a man!' They certainly saw him walk along the tedious way through the city, from the place of judgment to the place of blood; he walked in silent sorrow, till he fainted under the burden of his cross. They heard him, when he said to the weeping daughters of Jerusalem,- Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and your children.' They certainly lent him their ears, and looked upon his face, as with them he raised his painburdened head, and cried out, under his crown of thorns,- Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do ;'-yea, as we conjecture, they beheld at that instant, and in that face, a spectacle, the like to which no mortal hath ever witnessed.
But friends, did not both of the crucified men behold the same? Why did the invective ascend from one heart, while the other presented homage? It was his perception of his own moral need, which gave to the relenting thief so clear a view of the afflicted yet royal personage at his side. The beams, which radiated from the noble fellow-sufferer, beams that impregnate the spirit; it was these, that by little and little melted away the ice of the heart that was benumbed by sin. Hear ye not from his mouth such words as the following?" And indeed we are justly in the condemnation, for we have received what our sins deserve ;-but that noble personage, who suffers in such a way, he cannot be a deceiver. When he bore witness of himself, that he held in his hand the keys of heaven and of the abyss, he spoke the truth.-Yet, how in a hand that was pierced through, could the key of heaven lie? And a head that was pale in death, shall it wear the crown of majesty? It is not possible! And yet it is possible !"-In this way does faith struggle with doubt in the agonized heart, until faith triumphs, and the man exclaims, Lord, think of me when thou comest into thy kingdom.'
Brethren, could he believe and adore, who saw nothing but the crown of thorns, and the pierced hand, and the running blood, and the death-sweat under the thorns upon the kingly brow; could he believe, that this man uttered no falsehood when he testified that the keys of heaven and of the abyss lay in his pierced hand?-and will you doubt, you who have lived to know of the ascension morning,
which burst open the grave of rock, and brought up the mighty dead, as the Prince of life? And will you doubt, who have lived to know of the ascension morning, which raised the Prince of life to the throne of majesty? And will you doubt, who have seen his invisible sceptre guide his church through more than a thousand years, and have beheld the seed-corn, which was planted in the dark night with tears, grow up to a tree, under the shadow whereof the fowls of the air take lodging?-Brethren, Christ has said that the queen of the South shall condemn the children of this generation, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon: Verily, you who can doubt whether the keys of heaven and of the abyss lie in that pierced hand, the thief on the cross shall be your condemning judge.1
But let us see in the third place, brethren, what this history exhibits that is apt to be misunderstood.
Is it then a fact, I hear you inquire, can the last spasmodic breath, with which the profligate breast is able to utter a 'God have mercy on me,' drown in silence the loud cry of a long, vicious life for vengeance? Is it a fact, that there are no blood spots so dark, and so great, that they cannot be washed away by that solitary tear, which falls from the glassy eye of a dying sinner? Oh happy me! so let me drink deeper of it, the intoxicating cup of pleasure;-I had only moistened my lips at its very brim! Ch happy me! Do I then have my portion in both worlds; the joys of salvation and of the present life? Let me first pluck the chequered, the sweet poison-flowers in the garden of time, ere I hasten to your spotless lilies, which bloom in the garden of your eternity!
Look at this! how the brightness of heaven, which lies over the spectacle that we are contemplating, is changed into the yellow reflection of hell, for our blinded, diseased eyes! It is true, we have a religion, which teaches that in the very interval of death, between, as it were, the lightning's flash and its stroke, there is time to secure salvation. We have a Scripture that proclaims, Where sin hath abounded, grace abounds still more.' We have a Saviour, whom the poet fitly represents as saying, Whoever devotes himself to me as my servant, I choose him as my bride; and the sin which his
1 See a further illustration of christian faith, in Note R, at the close of the Sermons.
'Between the lightning of death and its thunder.
heart repents of, I look upon as having never been committed.' And should you wonder at this? To believe,-with a bruised heart to believe, what is it either more or less than to open the door of the soul? When there was no penitence and faith, this door was shut; the Saviour knocked, but it was not opened. When however it is once opened, does he not enter the soul, and with the Father take up his abode therein? Does there not enter with him, the Spirit of discipline and of pardon, whose work it is to convert the heart of man into a temple of God? The kingdom of God then with all its treasures is within such a soul, and will you shut the door of heaven upon it, and leave it without?
The blind man, who as he rushes upon the precipice is suddenly restored to sight, and who with lifted arms and joyful thanksgiving springs back from the abyss, seizes and kisses the good hand that touched his eyes, and will never more let it go,-will you make no distinction between this blind man, and such an one as will not receive the kind hand that was about to touch his eye-lids, but thrusts it back, until-a more convenient season?-Blind man! and how do you know that the hand will ever come to you again? Do you suppose, that it will come to you just as soon as you will to become penitent, to shed tears of contrition, to exercise faith? Oh brethren, -so perhaps many of you may have already experienced, these holiest of all tears, they flow not barely when the man wills to have them. Have you not heard of the judicial obduracy which comes over those, who turn the grace of God into licentiousness? Believe me; in the inward life of the sinner, to whom the grace of God would give the sighings of repentance, and the tears of contrition, and the blessedness of faith, but he will not receive the gift,-there will come to him hours of slumbering, when the breast shall heave no more sighs, the eye shall shed no more tears, and the hands, though they shall fold themselves convulsively, yet shall not be able to extort a prayer; when the anchor of longing desire, thrown out on all sides, shall find no bottom to which it may cleave. Be not deceived, God will not be mocked! Oh the Holy Spirit which inviteth man to repentance is a tender Spirit,-once sent away, he comes back again-reluctantly and rarely. Of them who do evil, so that good may come, the word of truth testifies, their damnation is entirely just."1
1 Rom. 3: 8.