Read Luke xxiii. 39-43
I am going to take as my text a man who was the last one saved before Christ went to heaven, or before He died on the cross, and the story of his conversion ought to give hope to every man. We have got an account of the conversion of all classes of people in the Bible. There is not one class left out. There is the richest and the poorest; the greatest and the smallest; all classes of men, and all classes of women.
There are so many people nowadays talking against sudden conversions, that I think the very best thing we can do is to see what the Scripture says about it--to see how long it takes God to convert a soul. If I read my Bible correctly, there were eight thousand converted in two days. That was a good number in a short time, was it not? We have not got to that yet; I wish we had. But I feel sure, if the church of God would only wake up, we should see something like it.
NEVER TOO LATE.
Well, this man was not only a thief, but a reviler of God, right upon the threshold of eternity, a most depraved and abandoned wretch. Matthew tells us: "And the two thieves cast the same in His teeth." You would have thought they would have been doing something better than that, coming so near death and the grave; and that their thoughts would have been made very solemn in the face of not only death, but after death the judgment. Instead of that, they were reviling Christ, and casting accusations in His teeth a few hours before their death. Well, I do not think this thief could have sunk any further, until he sunk into hell. Though so far off Jesus found him. Matthew and Mark both tell us that these two thieves reviled Him. John says nothing about their reviling; in fact, he does not tell us about one of them being converted. The first we get of it is in Luke xxiii. 40, where we find him saying to the other thief, "Dost not thou fear God?" Solomon, the wise man, says, "The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God." Now, there we have the beginning of wisdom in this thief. He began to
fear God. I hope there will be hundreds in this building who will fear Him; for that is the true beginning of wisdom.
CONVICTION OF SIN.
Now, the next thing was, the man was convicted. No man is likely to be converted until he is first convicted of sin. This thief was convicted. And what convicted him? He heard no sermon from Christ. The rulers were then deriding Him. The chief men of His own country had found Him guilty of blasphemy, and had condemned Him to die the death of the cross. The chief men of the realm were there wagging their heads and mocking Him. What was it then that convicted this poor thief? He had seen Christ perform no miracles; he had heard no wonderful words fall from His lips; he saw no glittering crown upon His brow. True, it was written over His cross, "Jesus, the King of the Jews"; but where was His kingdom? He saw nothing of the Jews paying homage to Him. The Jews were putting Him to death. There was no sceptre in His hand. True, He had been crowned a little while before, but only with thorns, and yet amidst it all this poor thief was convicted after fear fell upon him.
THE POWER OF LOVE.
What convicted him? I will tell what I think convicted him, though I could not teach it dogmatically but I think it was the Saviour's prayer. When the Lord Jesus cried out from the very depths of His soul, "Father, forgive them," conviction flashed into his heart. He must have said, "Why, this is more than a man; He has got a very different spirit from me. I could not ask God to forgive them. I would call down fire from heaven to consume them, and I would call upon God to smite them with blindness as Elijah did, and I would sweep them from this mountain if I had the power." That's what he must have thought as he heard the piercing cry go up, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Ah, it was love that broke his heart. In those days, when they crucified a man, they used to scourge him. This poor man had been taken into the court, and tried and condemned by the judge; but that had not broken his heart. He had been led forth and scourged; but that had not broken his heart. And now they had nailed him to the cross; but even that had not broken his heart. There he is reviling his God. But when he saw that loving Saviour, he got a glimpse of His love, and that one glimpse broke his heart.
I heard of a young man once who was very hardhearted. His father loved him as he loved his own life. He had tried everything he could to win that prodigal boy back. When his father was dying, they sent for him; but he refused to come. But after his father's death, he returned home to attend the funeral; but not a tear fell from his eyes. He followed that father to his resting-place, and never dropped a tear over his grave. But when they got home, and the will was read, they found that father had not forgotten his prodigal boy, but had remembered him kindly in his will; and that proof of the father's love just broke his heart. And so I think it must have been with the thief when he heard the Saviour crying, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do"; it pierced like an arrow down into his heart, and he was convicted.
CONFESSION FOLLOWS CONVICTION.
Well, then, the next point in this man was, he confessed his sin. He says to his brother thief, "We are suffering justly; we deserve it." I never knew a man saved till he took his stand as a sinner. Cain never confessed his sin. Judas never confessed his sin to God, though he went and confessed it to man.
Now, I want to say that I am not come here to urge you to confess your sins to any man, unless you have done some sin against him and he is stumbling over it; if so, go and confess that certainly. We must not confess our sins to any but God. I have not much sympathy with the class of people that are always running to this man and that man to confess their sins. There is no priest on earth that can forgive sins. I have got a high priest who is "a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek." The only man we have a record of in Scripture who confessed his sins to man was Judas, and he went right out and hung himself.
FAITH IN CHRIST.
The next thing about this thief was his faith in Christ Jesus. We talk about the faith of Abraham and Moses; why, this thief had the most remarkable faith of any man on record. He took his stand at the very head of the class, passing by many who had wonderful faith. He heard no sermon, saw no sceptre in Christ's hand, no crown on His brow, nor witnessed any marvellous works, yet he had wondrous faith. Why, God was twenty-five years toning up Abraham's faith. God met Moses in the burning bush, and went up into the mountains and talked with him; and Isaiah saw God lifted up on His throne; but not so with this thief. There were many who had met Christ and seen wonderful things. His disciples had heard Him discourse, and had seen Him raise the dead, and yet they had forsaken and left Him. Yet here amidst the darkness and gloom this poor thief had faith in Him; for although the Jews had nailed his hands and feet to the cross, they did not nail his eyes, and he could look at Him. They did not nail his heart to the cross, and it is with the heart man believeth, as we read in Romans, and with his heart
he believed. There's faith for you.
NOT ASHAMED OF CHRIST.
Then the next thing is, he confessed Christ at that dark period. It was the darkest hour of Christ's pilgrimage down here. We will never see another dark hour like that. The sin of the world was on Him; heaven was closed against Him--locked, bolted, and barred. He was now hanging on the tree bearing our sins; and it is written, "Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree." And even God had to hide His face from Him, for He could not look on sin, and Christ was then bearing the sin of all the world. I believe that's what Christ meant in the garden of Gethsemane, when He prayed that the cup might pass from Him. Up to that time He saw His Father's face, and He knew He was blessed of Him, and from time to time a voice came from heaven, "This is my beloved Son." But now He was taking our place before God as a sinner, and God had to hide His face from Him. Yes, it was breaking the Saviour's heart; and now, when darkness is coming over creation, and the moon is to be turned into blood, and the sun is about to veil its face because it cannot look upon the terrible scene, and Peter, one of His most conspicuous disciples, had denied Him with a curse, and swore that he never knew Him, and Judas, one of His own disciples, had gone out and sold Him for thirty pieces of silver, and the chief men of the nation were mocking Him, saying, "He saved others, let Him save Himself, if He be the Christ"--amidst all this darkness and gloom, out comes this signal faith of the thief, "Lord, remember me," He called Him Lord there and then; and he said to the other thief, "This man hath done nothing amiss." Thank God for that confession. There's faith and confession for you. If you want to be saved, you must have faith in Christ, and be ready to confess Him before all men.
"LORD, REMEMBER ME."
Look at the prayer of the thief. People say, "Oh, pray for salvation, and you will get it!" Yes, but bear in mind you must have faith in Christ before you can pray. He had got faith in Christ, and now he calls Him "Lord." It was the sound of a young convert's voice, "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom." It was not a very long prayer, but it was a prayer red-hot, one right out of his heart. Some people tell you they cannot pray without a prayer-book. But the poor thief had no prayer-book; and if there had been any prayer-books then, there was nobody to give him one. He wanted salvation, he simply wanted to be saved, and he cried from his heart, "Lord, remember me!" and a more eloquent prayer never was heard or printed on earth. But not only that, he got more than he asked, for he only asked to be remembered. We always get more than we ask when we come to the Lord.
THE WORLD'S LAST LOOK AT CHRIST.
Now, when a great man dies, people are very anxious to get his last words and acts. It is sweet to get the last words of the Son of God. The last sight the world had of Christ was on the cross. They have never seen Him since. We have no record that any uncircumcised eye beheld Christ after He rose from the dead. The last glimpse the world had of Christ was saving a poor sinner as he hung upon the cross, saving him from the very jaws of hell, and the grasp of Satan. Christ snatched him out of the very grasp of the devil, and said unto him, "This day shalt thou be with me in paradise." The lion of the tribe of Judah conquered the lion of hell, when He snatched the dying thief as a lamb out of Satan's grasp. "This day shalt thou be with me in paradise." That's the glorious gospel. Free from the law. There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.
In the days of Wilberforce, when slavery was abolished, and it was said that no slave could live under the Union Jack, because a bill had been passed declaring every man free, the news had got abroad, and when the captain of a ship was going to a distant island in the slave dominions, the negroes were on the watch to get the news and make sure if it were true. They were anxious to know if the bill had passed that they were really free. And when the captain came in sight of the little island, there they were waiting to get the tidings, and the captain put his trumpet up to his mouth, and shouted across the island, "Free! Free!" And the cry was taken up and echoed through the island, "Free! Free!" And they shouted for joy, because they were slaves no longer. I bring you good news. The Son of God will speak the word, "Free." He spoke the words on the cross, and the poor thief was a free man, and Satan could not hold him.
Then think of the contrast! In the morning led out a poor condemned man, cursing and reviling the Son of God Himself; in the evening singing the new song of redemption. That evening I see him hard by the throne, singing the sweet song of Moses and the Lamb. In the morning cursing, in the evening singing, "Glory to God in the highest." Was it not a change? What a contrast! Think of it, O sinner. Condemned in the morning by man, cast out as too vile for earth; in the evening good enough for heaven; in the evening washed in the blood of the Lamb, and Christ ready to receive him into the kingdom of heaven. Christ was not ashamed to walk down the crystal pavement of heaven with him. He heard the shout on the cross when Christ called out, "It is finished!" How his soul must have thrilled with joy at that shout! He said, "My salvation is completed now." He saw the spear thrust into that side and the blood flow out, and I can see the sparkle on his face lit up with glory. "Without the shedding of blood there is no remission." It was a sad sight, but glorious.
THE BEST THING TO DO.
Now, young man, do you want Him to save you? Are you ready to confess Him as your Lord and Saviour, and take your stand by the Master, and say from this hour, I will serve the Lord Jesus? If so, it will be the best night in your life up to this time. The best thing you can do is to yield to Christ at once. Every true Christian would give you that advice, and if I could shout clear up to the throne, and ask the Saviour what He would have you to do, I should hear a voice rolling down from heaven, and saying, "Tell him to seek salvation." When the poor thief was converted, it was probably the first time he had ever heard of the Lord Jesus Christ, or had been invited. But it is surely not so with you. How many people keep putting salvation off and off, until it is one day too late! There are so many that live in the future. It is better you should be wise, and enter into the kingdom of God now. Let your prayer, like that of the poor thief, go up from your heart, "Lord, remember me," and you will not ask in vain.
A TIMELY CONVERSION.
A minister in Edinburgh tells a story of the conversion of a young man who was working in one of the mining districts. When the meeting at one of the churches was over on a particular evening, he saw him standing by a pillar in the church, the rest having gone out, all but two or three, and they asked this man if he was not going home. He said, "I have made up my mind that I will not leave this church till I become a Christian"; so they stopped and talked and prayed with him. It was the best thing he could do. I would like every man here to do the same thing. Make up your minds that you won't leave till you have settled about your soul for eternity. Well, the next day, while this young man was working in the mine, the coal fell in upon him, and before he died, he had just strength enough left to say to his companions, "It's a good thing that I settled it last night--a very good thing." Young man, I will leave you to answer the question, Was it not a good thing he settled it that night?
A young man, who was in the army during the Civil war, told me that when he heard that his brother, from whom he had never been separated, had joined a certain regiment, he went right away and put his name down under his brother's. They messed together, marched together, and fought shoulder to shoulder. At last his brother was struck with a Minnie ball, and he fell mortally wounded by his side. He saw too plainly that he must die, and as the battle was raging, and he could do nothing to save him, he put his brother's knapsack under his head, and made him as comfortable as he could, and bending over him, kissed him, bade him good-bye, and left him to die. As he was going away, his brother said, "Charlie, come back, and let me kiss you upon your lips." "As I bent over him," said the young soldier who told me the story, "he kissed me on my lips, and said, 'Take that home to mother, and tell her that I died praying for her'; and as I turned away from him, I could hear him say, 'This is glory,' and as he lay weltering in his blood, and I wondered what he meant, I asked him what was glory. He said, 'Charlie, it's glorious to die looking up--I see Christ in heaven.'"
DYING LOOKING UP.
If you want to die looking up and seeing Christ, seek the kingdom of God. You may never hear the call again. Do not leave this place without making up your mind to settle the solemn question of eternity at once.