Sinner, call Him "Lord" now. Take your place as a poor condemned rebel, and cry out:
"Lord, remember me!"
That isn't a very long prayer, but it will prevail. You don't have to add—"when Thou comest into Thy kingdom," because Christ is now at His Father's right hand. Three words; a chain of three golden links that will bind the sinner to his Lord.
Some people think they must have a form of prayer, a prayer-book, perhaps, if they are going to address the Throne of Grace properly; but what could that poor fellow do with a prayer-book up there, hanging on the cross, with both hands nailed fast? Suppose it had been necessary for some priest or minister to pray for him, what could he do? Nobody is there to pray for him, and yet he is going to die in a few hours. He is out of reach of help from man, but God has laid help upon One who is mighty, and that One is close at hand. He prayed out of the heart. His prayer was short, but it brought the blessing. It came to the point: "Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom." He asked the Lord to give him, right there and then, what he wanted.
THE ANSWERED PRAYER.
Now consider the answer to his prayer. He got more than he asked, just as every one does who asks in faith. He only asked Christ to "remember" him; but Christ answered:
"To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise!"
Immediate blessing—promise of fellowship—eternal rest; this is the way Christ answered his prayer.
And now darkness falls upon the earth. The sun hides itself. Worse than all, the Father hides His face from His Son. What else is the meaning of that bitter cry:
"My God! my God! Why hast Thou forsaken me?"
Ah! It had been written, "Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree." Jesus was made a curse for us. God cannot look upon sin: and so when even His own Son was bearing our sins in His body, God could not look upon Him.
I think this is what bore heaviest upon the Savior's heart in the garden when He prayed:
"If it be possible, let this cup pass from me."
He could bear the unfaithfulness of His friends, the spite of His enemies, the pain of His crucifixion, and the shadow of death; He could bear all these; but when it came to the hiding of His Father's face, that seemed almost too much for even the Son of God to bear. But even this He endured for our sins; and now the face of God is turned back to us, whose sins had turned it away, and looking upon Jesus, the sinless One, He sees us in Him.
In the midst of all His agony, how sweet it must have been to Christ to hear that poor thief confessing Him!
He likes to have men confess Him. Don't you remember His asking Peter, "Whom do men say that I am?" and when Peter answered, "Some people say you are Moses, some people say you are Elias, and some people say you are one of the old Prophets," He asked again, "But, Peter, whom do you say I am?" When Peter said, "Thou art the Son of God," Jesus blessed him for that confession. And now this thief confesses Him—confesses Him in the darkness. Perhaps it is so dark he cannot see Him any longer; but he feels that He is there beside him. Christ wants us to confess Him in the dark as well as in the light; when it is hard as well as when it is easy. For He was not ashamed of us, but bore our sins and carried our sorrows, even unto death.
When a prominent man dies, we are anxious, to get his last words and acts.
THE LAST ACT OF THE SON OF GOD
was to save a sinner. That was a part of the glory of His death. He commenced His ministry by saving sinners, and ended it by saving this poor thief. "Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered? But thus saith the Lord: Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered." He took this captive from the jaws of death. He was on the borders of hell, and Christ snatched him away.
No doubt Satan was saying to himself: "I shall have the soul of that thief pretty soon. He belongs to me. He has been mine all these years."
But in his last hours the poor wretch cried out to the Lord, and He snapped the fetters that bound his soul, and set him at liberty. He threw him a passport into heaven. I can imagine, as the soldier drove his spear into our Savior's side, there came flashing into the mind of the thief the words of the prophet Zechariah:
"In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness."
You see, in the conversion of this thief, that
SALVATION IS DISTINCT AND SEPARATE FROM WORKS.
Some people tell us we have to work to be saved. What has the man who believes that to say about the salvation of this thief? How could he work, when he was nailed to the cross?
He took the Lord at His word, and believed. It is with the heart men believe, not with their hands or feet. All that is necessary for a man to be saved is to believe with his heart. This thief made a good confession. If he had been a Christian fifty years, he could not have done Christ more service there than he did. He confessed Him before the world; and for nineteen hundred years that confession has been told. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all recorded it. They felt it so important that they thought we should have it.
SALVATION IS SEPARATE AND DISTINCT FROM ALL ORDINANCES
—not but that ordinances are right in their place.
Many people think it is impossible for any one to get into the kingdom of God if he is not baptized into it. I know people who were greatly exercised because little children died unbaptized. I have seen them carry the children through the streets because the pastor could not come. I don't want you to think I am talking against ordinances. Baptism is right in its place; but when you put it in the place of salvation, you put a snare in the way. You cannot baptize men into the kingdom of God. The last conversion before Christ perished on the cross ought to forever settle that question. If you tell me a man cannot get into Paradise without being baptized, I answer, This thief was not baptized. If he had wanted to be baptized, I don't believe he could have found a man to baptize him.
I have known people who had sick relatives, and because they could not get a minister to come to their house and administer the sacrament, they were distressed and troubled. Now, I am not saying anything against the ordinance by which we commemorate the death of our Lord, and remember His return. God forbid! But let me say that it is not necessary for salvation. I might die and be lost before I could get to the Lord's table; but if I get to the Lord I am saved. Thank God, salvation is within my reach always, and I have to wait for no minister. This poor thief certainly never partook of the sacrament. Was there a man on that hill that would have had faith to believe he was saved? Would any church to-day have received him into membership? He had not to wait for this. The moment he asked life, our Savior gave it.
Baptism is one thing; the sacrament of the Lord's Supper is another thing; and salvation through Christ is quite another thing. If we have been saved through Christ, let us confess Him by baptism, let us go to His table, and do whatever else He bids. But let us not make stumbling-blocks out of these things.
That is what I call sudden conversion—men calling on God for salvation and getting it. You certainly won't get it unless you call for it, and unless you take it when He offers it to you. If you want Christ to remember you—to save you—call upon Him.
The cross of Christ divides all mankind. There are only two sides, those for Christ, and those against Him. Think of the two thieves; from the side of Christ one went down to death cursing God, and the other went to glory.
What a contrast! In the morning he is led out, a condemned criminal; in the evening he is saved from his sins. In the morning he is cursing; in the evening he is singing hallelujahs with a choir of angels. In the morning he is condemned by men as not fit to live on earth; in the evening he is reckoned good enough for heaven. In the morning nailed to the cross; in the evening in the Paradise of God, crowned with a crown he should wear through all the ages. In the morning not an eye to pity; in the evening washed and made clean in the blood of the Lamb. In the morning in the society of thieves and outcasts; in the evening Christ is not ashamed to walk arm-in-arm with him down the golden pavements of the eternal city.
The thief was
THE FIRST MAN TO ENTER PARADISE
after the veil of the Temple was rent. If we could look up yonder, and catch a glimpse of the throne, we would see the Father there, and Jesus Christ at His right hand; and hard by we would see that thief. He is there to-day. Nineteen hundred years he has been there, just because he cried in faith:
"Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom."
You know Christ died a little while before the thief. I can imagine that He wanted to hurry home to get a place ready for His new friend, the first soul brought from the world He was dying to redeem. The Lord loved him because he confessed Him in that dark hour. It was a dark hour for many who reviled the Savior. You have heard of the child who did not want to die and go to heaven because he didn't know anybody there. But the thief would have one acquaintance. I can imagine how his soul leaped within him when he saw the spear thrust into our Savior's side, and heard the cry:
"It is finished!"
He wanted to follow Christ. He was in a hurry to be gone, when they came to break his legs. I can hear the Lord calling:
"Gabriel, prepare a chariot. Make haste. There is a friend of mine hanging on that cross. They are breaking his legs. He will soon be ready to come. Make haste, and bring him to me?"
The angel in the chariot swept down from heaven, took the soul of that penitent thief, and hastened back to glory. The gates of the city swung wide open, and the angels shouted welcome to this poor sinner who had been washed white in the blood of the Lamb.
And that, my friends, is just what Christ wants to do for you. That is the business on which He came down from heaven. That is why He died. And if He gave such a swift salvation to this poor thief on the cross, surely He will give you the same if, like the penitent thief, you repent, and confess, and trust in the Savior.
Somebody says that this man "was saved at the eleventh hour." I don't know about that. It might have been the first hour with him. Perhaps he never knew of Christ until he was led out to die beside Him. This may have been the very first time he ever had a chance to know the Son of God.
How many of you gave your hearts to Christ the very first time He asked them of you? Are you not farther along in the day than even that poor thief?
Some years ago, in one of the mining districts of England, a young man attended one of our meetings and refused to go from the place till he had found peace in the Savior. The next day he went down into the pit, and the coal fell in upon him. When they took him out he was broken and mangled, and had only two or three minutes of life left in him. His friends gathered about him, saw his lips moving, and, bending down to catch his words, heard him say:
"It was a good thing I settled it last night."
Settle it now, my friends, once for all. Begin now to confess your sins, and pray the Lord to remember you. He will make you an heir of His kingdom, if you will accept the gift of salvation. He is just the same Savior the thief had. Will you not cry to Him for mercy?
. . . . . . . . . .
A cross,—and one who hangs thereon, in sight Of heaven and earth.
The cruel nails are fast In trembling hands and feet, the face is white And changed with agony, the failing head Is drooping heavily; but still again, And yet again, the weary eyes are raised To seek the face of One who hangeth pale Upon another cross. He hears no shrill And taunting voices of the crowd beneath, He marks no cruel looks of all that gaze Upon the woeful sight. He sees alone That face upon the cross. Oh, long, long look, That searcheth there the deep and awful things Which are of God!
In his first agony And horror he had joined with them that spake Against the Lord, the Lamb, who gave Himself That day for us. But when he met the look Of those calm eyes,—he paused that instant; pale And trembling, stricken to the heart, and faint At sight of Him. . . . . . . . .
At length The pale, glad lips have breathed the trembling prayer, "O Lord, remember me!" The hosts of God With wistful angel-faces, bending low Above their dying King, were surely stirred To wonder at the cry. Not one of all The shining host had dared to speak to Him In that dread hour of woe, when Heaven and Earth Stood trembling and amazed. Yet, lo! the voice Of one who speaks to Him, who dares to pray, "O Lord, remember me!" A sinful man May make his pitiful appeal to Christ, The sinner's Friend, when angels dare not speak. And sweetly from the dying lips that day The answer came.
Oh, strange and solemn joy Which broke upon the fading face of him Who there received the promise: "Thou shalt be In Paradise this night, this night, with Me."
. . . . . . . .
O Christ, the King! We also wander on the desert-hills, Though haunted by Thy call, returning sweet At morn and eve. We will not come to Thee Till Thou hast nailed us to some bitter cross, And made us look on Thine, and driven at last To call on Thee with trembling and with tears.— Thou lookest down in love, upbraiding not, And promising the kingdom!
. . . . . . . .
A throne,—and one Who kneels before it, bending low in new And speechless joy.
It is the night on earth. The shadows fall like dew upon the hills Around the Holy City, but above, Beyond the dark vale of the sky, beyond The smiling of the stars, they meet once more In peace and glory. Heaven is comforted,— For that strange warfare is accomplished now, Her King returned with joy: and one who watches The far-off morning in a prison dim, And hung at noonday on the bitter cross, Is kneeling at His feet, and tasteth now The sweet, sweet opening of an endless joy.