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solemn reproof which he gave to his wicked, stupid, unfeeling associate. "Dost not thou fear God?" "He is angry with the wicked every day, and this day especially he is displaying his awful displeasure towards this sinful world, and his peculiar displeasure towards us the chief of sinners. I feel now, what I never felt before, the weight of God's wrath. And the thought strikes me with terror and consternation that I am just going into eternity, where I see nothing but that I must suffer the severest tokens of his wrath for ever. We have despised his wrath too long, and even presumed to insult him who calls himself the Son of God; and if he be his Son, will he not resent our malignant and presumptuous conduct, and make us feel, more sensibly than we now feel, the dreadful consequences of our aggravated guilt? My fears are alarmed. I feel as though God would instantly plunge me in everlasting darkness and despair. And have not you reason to fear, as well as I? I tremble for you as well as for myself." This poor, perishing criminal was thoroughly awakened from his long and habitual stupidity, and clearly saw his dangerous condition; which is usually the first step to conversion. He might, however, have seen and felt such danger, and with his eyes open gone to destruction.. But,
2. His awakening was followed with conviction. He not only realized that he was exposed to everlasting misery, but was convinced, in his conscience, that he deserved it. Sinners often feel exposed to endless destruction while their conscience is asleep, and they have no genuine conviction that any, or all of their sins deserve perpetual punishment. But when this awakened criminal saw the nature, number and magnitude of his transgressions, his conscience awoke and did its office, and convinced him that he deserved eternal death. So he said to his incorrigible associate, "Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds." This was expressive of his genuine conviction of sin, and of his just desert not only of the condemnation of man, but of the condemnation of God. He felt that he had been justly condemned before a human tribunal, and might be still more justly condemned before the tribunal of God, his supreme and final Judge. For he was now looking into eternity, and felt that he was already and justly condemned, by the righteous law of God, to everlasting death. This, he was convinced in his conscience, was but the due reward of his deeds. But though his fears were alarmed, and his conscience thoroughly convinced, yet he might have retained his enmity and opposition of heart to God, and actually suffered the eternal punishment due to him for sin. There
is reason to fear that multitudes have experienced great awakenings and great convictions, and yet have continued to contend with God, and to refuse to submit to the terms of life proposed in the gospel, till they sunk down into the pit of destruction. And this might have been the case of the awakened and convinced malefactor, had he not become cordially reconciled to the justice of God in casting him off for ever. But it appears,
3. That he did renounce his enmity to God, and become cordially reconciled to his vindictive justice. It is true, indeed, that his barely saying and feeling that he was justly condemned, and received the due reward of his deeds on the cross, was not a certain evidence that he was cordially reconciled to God in his future and eternal condemnation. All the finally condemned at the last day, will feel a full conviction of conscience that the Judge of all the earth has done right in dooming them to endless destruction, while they remain eternally unreconciled to his vindictive justice in their interminable punishment. The convictions of sinners, both in this life and in that which is to come, are so far from diminishing, that they increase their guilt and desert of punishment. But what the malefactor said, after he had acknowledged the justice of God in his condemnation, affords complete evidence that he cordially accepted the punishment of his iniquity, and was heartily willing that God should actually inflict it upon him, if his glory required it. For he directly turned to Christ and said, "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." Christ knew his heart, and knew that he justified God and condemned himself in his heart, as well as in his conscience, and exercised unconditional submission to divine sovereignty in saving and destroying guilty sinners. And it was upon the sole ground of his sincere repentance and unreserved submission, that he assured him that he should that day be with him in paradise. It is certain, therefore, that he renounced his enmity to God, and became cordially reconciled to his justice, as well as to his mercy.
4. Having exercised true love, repentance and submission towards God, he exercised a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. His love, repentance and submission towards God prepared him sincerely to desire salvation through the atonement which Christ was then making. He felt his perishing need of a Saviour, and Christ, whom he believed to be what he had professed to be, the Son of God who came to seek and save them that were lost, appeared to be such a Saviour as he needed. For he saw him actually giving his life a ransom for 54
many, as he had often declared in his preaching that he was about to do. It was a matter of public notoriety, that Jesus of Nazareth had frequently said that he must suffer and die, and rise again on the third day. It was upon the ground of such declarations that his enemies desired Pilate to set a guard around his sepulchre. The penitent malefactor believed Christ's predictions, and that he was then dying to rise again and enter into his kingdom of heaven. And in the language of his faith, he said, "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom." This was an expression of his sincere and lively faith in the dying Redeemer, that he was able to save to the uttermost all that come to God by him. Thus the two malefactors began to differ while hanging on the cross; and they continued to differ as long as they lived, and will continue to differ as long as they exist. The penitent and believing malefactor died, and immediately entered into paradise, where he will continue for ever perfectly holy, and perfectly happy. And the impenitent and unbelieving malefactor died, and immediately sunk down into a state of unalterable and eternal sin and misery. I now proceed to the improvement of the subject.
What has been said in this discourse may serve to throw light upon some important subjects which have been supposed to be dark and difficult to understand.
1. It appears from the conduct of the penitent malefactor, that the doctrine of unconditional submission is founded in fact. He really felt and expressed a cordial and unreserved submission to God, when he expected in a few moments to sink down into the pit of endless destruction. While he was suffering the excruciating pains of the cross, while his sins were set in order before him, while he had a clear view of an awful and miserable eternity, and before Christ had given him the least intimation that he would pardon and save him, he expressed a filial fear of God, and cordially justified his conduct in condemning him to eternal destruction. And he reproved his wicked and stupid associate for not having the same views and feelings which he had in his own mind. "Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation ? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds." This reproof flowed from his heart, as well as from his conscience. He loved God so well that he could not bear to hear him reproached; and he hated sin so much that he could not refrain from condemning it in himself and others. He loved God so well that he could praise and justify his conduct, though cast out of his favor and suffering his righteous displeasure for ever. This is what the scripture means by sinners accepting the punishment of their iniquity; and this is what we
mean by their exercising unconditional submission. We find, therefore, that the true doctrine of unconditional submission is founded in fact. Be it so, as many say, that Moses did not exercise unconditional submission when he desired God to blot him out of his book upon a certain condition; be it so, that Paul did not exercise unconditional submission when he said he could wish himself accursed from Christ for his brethren according to the flesh; be it so, that there is no text in the Bible that expressly requires men to exercise unconditional submission; yet it will always remain true in fact, that the penitent malefactor did exercise unconditional submission. And this fact proves that any penitent sinner may exercise unconditional submission. And it equally proves that every penitent sinner must exercise unconditional submission, in order to be saved. I know that we often hear it said that it is morally impossible that sinners should exercise unconditional submission, because it is entirely contrary to the human heart, or that love to self which is natural to every man. It is readily conceded that it is morally impossible for any sinner under the influence of his unrenewed, natural and impenitent heart, to exercise unconditional submission; yet this is no evidence that a sinner under the influence of a holy, benevolent, penitent heart, cannot exercise unconditional submission. For we find that one sinner under such a holy, benevolent, penitent heart, did actually exercise unconditional submission. I know we often hear it said that though it be morally possible for penitent sinners to exercise unconditional submission, yet there is no necessity or occasion for their exercising such submission in order to be saved. But the penitent malefactor, while standing on the verge of time and the borders of eternity, without any hope of escaping eternal death, the proper wages of sin, found an occasion, and even a necessity, of exercising unconditional submission in order to believe and be saved. Had he not been truly penitent and submissive to divine sovereignty, he could not have looked, with an eye of love and faith, to the dying Redeemer to save him. Or had he looked with any other than a submissive heart, he would have looked in vain. Christ would have let him perish with the other malefactor. Now there is a time when every penitent sinner is totally uncertain whether he shall be saved or lost; and at that time, he feels the propriety and necessity of exercising unconditional submission; and he does actually exercise it. It is as certain that he exercises unconditional submission, as it is that he believes in Christ, and renounces all self dependence and self righteousness. And it is equally true, that every christian under the hidings of God's face, and when he loses his hope, finds a propriety and neces
sity of exercising unconditional submission, and can find no peace till he does it. Only admit the doctrine of God's sovereignty in saving and destroying whom he pleases, and the doctrine of unconditional submission follows from one of the first principles of Christianity, as well as from the plain fact of the penitent and submissive malefactor.
2. It appears from the views and exercises of the penitent malefactor, that the doctrine of repentance before faith is founded in fact. This is asserted by some, but denied by others. They say that faith is before love and repentance towards God. And the reason they give for this opinion is, that no man can either love God, or repent of his sins against him, until he has some good evidence that God loves him, and intends to save him. They say that it is morally impossible for sinners to love God, or repent of sin, while they view him as their enemy, and disposed to punish them for ever; and therefore, they must believe that he intends to save them, before they can exercise either love or repentance towards him. This, however, some suppose is a false and dangerous doctrine; and maintain that every sinner must love God and repent of sin, before he can exercise a cordial, saving faith in Christ. Though we believe that the scriptures speak plainly and decidedly upon this question, yet much has been said, and much is still said, on both sides of it. Passing over all particular texts respecting the priority of faith to repentance, and the priority of repentance to faith, let us have recourse to the infallible decision of fact. As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of one true believer answereth to that of another. Though every true believer is not conscious of the exact order of his gracious exercises in conversion, yet no doubt, the gracious exercises of every believer do, in fact, take place in the same order. Now we know in what order the gracious exercises of the penitent malefactor took place at his conversion. He first of all loved God, and could not bear that he should be reproached, or dishonored. In the next place, he exercised unfeigned repentance, and unreserved submission to God. And in the last place, he exercised a cordial, saving faith in his suffering Redeemer. His love to God was before his repentance and submission; and his repentance and submission were before his faith in Christ. This is the natural order of the first gracious affections of every true believer; and it is difficult to conceive how they can ever take place in a different order. For no man can repent of sin against God, before he loves God; and no man can love Christ for condemning sin, before he hates and repents of sin. Repentance of sin, therefore, must be before faith in Christ. I know that some, in order to avoid this con