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THE THIEF ON THE CROSS.
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. LUKE xxiii. 42, 43.
We live in an age, when it is the practice of many to attempt the reduction of the Bible; not merely single verses, but whole chapters, and even whole books, are declared to be interpolations, and condemned as of no authority; this certainly is one method of silencing the objections of the Deists; but let us weigh and consider the many serious evils which must result from such a scheme. Not to mention the firm and solid basis on which every part of Scripture
rests; not to mention the unshaken evidences by which it is supported; not to state the arguments by which Dr. Lardner has for ever proved, that the Gospels all stand upon equal authority; let us only reflect a little on the subject, and we shall perceive that this attempt, if succeeded in, would make that unnatural, which is in itself perfectly natural.. Let us, for argument's sake, suppose, that only one of the Gospels was genuine, and of divine authority; that of all our Lord's disciples and followers, of all whom he taught, of all whom he healed, of all who were the spectators of his miracles, the witnesses of his actions, and the companions of his life, but one hand could be found to hold a pen, and write the memorial. Does an eminent statesman, an admiral, or general, a poet, or philosopher, drop among us? How many are instantly at work to record his history! How does the press teem with accounts of his life and actions! How natural is it to suppose that several of the disciples of our Lord would show their affection for his memory, by this token of respect! When several historians record a fact, where they agree in essentials, though there may be variation in trifles, we have the most solid and rational ground for believing their narration. The mode in which Christianity is delivered to us,
is precisely that mode in which the truth of the account can be best ascertained. One of the Evangelists records the chief of the parables, another (as St. John) gives most of the private discourses of our Lord; one relates what he did, another, what he taught, and thus their united history becomes varied and diversified in a degree, which could never have been effected by any single pen.
From the harmonies I have consulted, I find the expression I have now chosen, was the second uttered by our Lord at the awful period we have been contemplating. Our thoughts the last sabbath were devoted to his affecting intercession for his murderers; the very first words he uttered, when fastened to the cross, 66 Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do ;" forming a fine comment on an expression of St. Paul, "Had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory."
We are now to contemplate and improve his reply to the dying malefactor, who said to him, in that moment of agony, "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, to day shalt thou be with me in paradise."
Pilate, having to satisfy the Jews, commanded the crucifixion of our Lord, affixed
a superscription on the cross, to this effect, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." This was written in Greek, in Latin, and in Hebrew: in Greek, for there were many strangers in Jerusalem of that nation; in Latin, for it was the language of the whole Roman Empire, and Pilate must consult it; in Hebrew, for all the persecutors of Jesus were of that people. And the chief priests and rulers, when they heard it, were indignant at the title which was given, and they immediately apply to Pilate, desiring an alteration. Write not," said they, "the King of the Jews, but that he said I am the King of the Jews." But Pilate, wearied with their importunity and impertinence, refused their petition, saying unto them, What I have written, I have written." This refusal inflamed their rage, and they returned to the cross, and began to vent their indignation by every species of insult and mockery; for it is worthy of remark, that they never broke forth into any expressions of contempt, till after they had been to Pilate, and he had denied their request. But, amidst all these indignities, our Lord maintained a profound and dignified silence; he had spoken to intercede for his murderers, and he was about to speak to relieve a poor dying penitent; but at that
solemn moment, he had no time for useless expostulation.
In St. Matthew it is said, that both the malefactors, in the first instance, reviled him and some commentators have adopted this opinion; but I am rather inclined to suppose that this expression is owing to a very common construction in the Greek language, the use of the plural, where the singular only is intended. Thus we read of the cities where David dwelt, and the cities where Jeptha was buried, whereas, we know that, in either case, only one city could be meant. Again, we read of the disciples murmuring when a pious woman poured a box of precious ointment over our Lord; and we afterwards find it was only Judas who murmured. I am therefore strongly in favour of the opinion, that one only of the malefactors joined the multitude in deriding our Lord; the other, we are told, rebuked him, acknowledging, with all the contrition of a true penitent, the justice of their condemnation, and asserting the innocence of our Saviour; then, turning towards him a look of tender supplication, he said unto him, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom! And Jesus said unto him, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise."