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when his Enemies were insulting over him; when his own Disciples and the Companions of his Preaching and Miracles had forsaken him; when they, who once trusted it had been He, who should have redeemed Israel, despaired of him, when the Companion of his Wickedness was at the same time reproaching and blaspheming, him: That He, I say, should, in this lowest ebb of Misery, and Shame, and Scorn, that ever the Son of God did or could stoop to, throw himself upon his Protection, acknowledge his Kingdom, believe him Lord of a future and better State, and the Disposer of Rewards and Happiness after Death; And all this, upon so surprizing a Conviction, and in answer to the very first Calls of Grace: Thisargues so ingenuousa Temper, so noble and so bold a Faith, as never was outdone, as never can in all respects be equalled, except the same Jesus were again to be Crucified. For no Man's Conversion ever had, ever can have, upon other Terms, the same Disadvantages and Discouragements, which This Man's laboured under, and so generously overcame.
Might not then St. Chrysostom, as wit a great Force he does, rebuke the Impudence of those late Penitents, who presume to take Sanctuary in this Example? Them, who live under the Ministry of the Gospel, and enjoy both the Outward Calls of God's Word, and the Inward Sollicitations of his Spirit, but turn the deaf Earcontinually to Both? Who profess to believe a risen and glorified Redeemer, to expect him as their Judge, and call him Lord and King, and have listed themselves in his Service by Baptism ; But pay him no degree of that Respect, which this Stranger did, when he had rendred himself of no Reputation, and appeared in the Guise of the vilest Malefactor? This certainly shews such a Difference, as must, if reflected on, convince all wilful Delayers of Repentance, that they have no Precedent to produce for their Confidence. Indeed, Their State is as unlike to His, as that of a Conversion astonishingly
speedy and gallant, is to an obstinate Backwardness and Delay. And the only part of the Comparison that holds, is that of Death being at the Door.
That God should communicate the Affistance of his Grace very liberally, to One so disposed to close with the first Motions of it, as this Thief; agrees with those exalted Notions of his Goodness, which both Reason and Revelation hath given us. But, what Assurance can we have from Either, of his Readiness to assist and bring over those, who have received it in vain? Why should They suppose, that a Spirit, so often driven away, will be at their Call, whenever they please; and, by a more than common Influence, work in them a Change, just when they come to die, which they would never be
prevailed upon to concur with, or consent to, in the whole Course of their Lives? No, no. If these Men are desi. rous to find a Parallel, they have it here at Hand. The Other Thief, who went out of the World railing and reviling, is much more likely to be the true Emblem of Their sad Condition. He is far from being the only Instance of a wicked Creature, given up by God at his last Hour: But the penitent Thief is the only One we are sure of, reclaimed at his last Hour. And This too such a One, as cannot be drawn into Consequence by any Christian; By reason of those many Circumstances, in which it is not so much as possible, for this case to agree, with that of Any, who shall presume to defer his Repentance, tho' but till the next Hour,
Let us therefore deal fairly with our selves, and not read this Story by halves. Let us in it contemplate the Justice of a provoked, as well as the Mercy of a forgiving, God. If to day, while it is called to day, we do our part; we have a Title to the Consolations of this case. If we put off from Day to Day, and continue to har. den our Hearts; it contains not one Syllable of Comfort for Us, but all we build upon it, is without Foundation. The Extent of our Lives we cannot, but the
Difficulties of a Death-Bed Repentance we may, cer" tainly know. And, if once Matters come to this passi we cannot be sure of the Power; nay we cannot be sure of so much as the Will, to repent. But, supposing this also not to be denied us : We cannot have the same Assurance of being then accepted, which this Thief had. For many things, at such a time, concur to deceive us: And whether the good Purposes, then raised in our Minds, would be stedfast and perpetual, God only can foresee. We find by Experience, many, who have resolved well, if God grant an unexpected Recovery, relapse into their old Impieties: And do not only deceive Others, but Themselves too. The only Course then to be safe and easy, is to repent so early, that the Fruits may put the Sincerity of our Change past any doubt. For we can never have too mean a Thought, of doing this upon Beds of Languishing, and at the Approach of Death. And the most that ought to be said in favour of such a Delay, is not to pronounce it altogether desperate. But this is a Danger, which, I hope, the due Observance of this Holy Season we are now in, hath delivered us from. And if so, then may we, with great Equanimity, imitate our Blessed Lord, in that Act, which I proposed to treat of in the
III. Third and last Place, described in these Words, Ver. 46. Father, into thy Hands I commend my Spirit. The Observations, which this furnishes Matter for, are principally these that follow.
1. This proves the Reality of Christ's Human Nature, with regard to the Soul, no less than the Body: For the Spirit here commended to God, could not be the Divine Spirit, which some ancient Hereticks imagined Christ's Body to have been actuated by; but it must be the same intelligent part of him, as Man, which is, in every one of Us, the Principle of Life,
and Sense, and Motion; Because this is it, which Death dislodges from a fleshly Mass, no longer in Condition to receive, and to be influenced by it.
2. The manner of our Lord's giving up this Spirit hath generally been thought to carry in it an Air of Authority; and to intimate, that, as the delivering it was an Act of free Choice, so the resuming of it was likewise fully in his own Power. The Form made use of on this Occasion, is such as properly denotes the leaving Goods of Value, to be kept by a trusty Friend, till called for again. It may be said indeed, that Other Good Men, who confessedly have not the same Power, are found to have committed their Souls to God in like manner. They have indeed done so, but with this Difference: That, in Christ this was a Declaration of his having purchased Immortality for human Nature, and a sort of Claim for raising it from the Dead : In Others, it is an Expression of their Faith, that their Souls and Bodies shall again be united, by Virtue of that Resurrection, which their Saviour's Rising hath ensured to them.
3. From hence it follows, that the Human Soul is a Substance distinct from the Body; that it lives after it, in a State separate from it, and such a State, as is susceptible of Happiness or Misery. For, why is the Spirit here the Object of our Lord's Care, and deposited in God's Hands; but because these Phrases are set to signify a Place of Safety from Danger, where Souls shall not only survive, but live too in a manner, far distant from that, in which they lived here; where no Temptation shall be able to assault, no Sin to pollute, no A Miction to discompose them? This we find to have been the Sense even of the Jewish Church, before our
Saviour's time. The Souls of the RigbtlWisd. iii. 1, 2, 3.
ous are in the Hand of God, and there shall no. Torment touch them. In the Sight of the Unwise iba
seemed to die, and their Departure is taken for Misery.
And their going from us to be utter Destruction, but they are in Peace.
4. Lastly, From hence there seems also to be sufficient Foundation for concluding, that the Souls of Good Men enter upon some Degrees of Bliss, immediately after their Departure out of the Body. Especially, if together with these words to his Father, we take Christ's Promise, made just before to the Penitent Thief, that he should that Day be with Him in Paradise.
These are Particulars, which cannot now conveniently receive an Enlargement worthy of them: and are therefore recommended to the Improvement of the Reader. Who will not find it difficult, from hence to draw such Inferences, as may turn to great Account; By supporting him under the Trials of the
prea fent Life; By arming himn against the immoderate Fears of Death; And by quickning him in such Virtues and Graces, as are necessary, to justify his Hopes of exchanging this for an infinitely better State, when God shall see him ripe for it.
Lmighty God, we beseech thee graciously to behold Eph. iii. 14, 15,
contented to be betrayed, and given up into the Hands xxvii.
Acts ii. 23.
Lmighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the
1 Cor. xii. 12,13. whole Body of the Church is governed and sanctified; Eph. iv. 4.
Receive our Supplications and Prayers, which we offer i Pet. i. 2. before thee for all Estates of Men in thy holy Church; that Rom. xii. 4--8.
1 Cor. xii. 12,20, every Member of the same, in his Vocation and Ministry, may truly and godly serve Thee, through our Lord and Saviour Eph. iv. I, Jesus Christ. Amen.