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THIRD OF CHRIST'S WORDS UPON THE CROSS-TO THE
“ And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thore be with me in paradise.” Like,
In this scripture you have the third excellent saying of Christ upon the cross, expressing the riches of free grace to the penitent thief; a man that had spent his life in wickedness, and for his wickedness was now to die. His conduct had been vile and profane, but now his heart was broken for it; he proves a convert, yea, the first-fruits of the blood of the cross. In the former verse he manifests his faith; "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” In this Christ manifests his pardon and gracious acceptance of him; "Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” In which consider,
1. The matter or substance of the promise made by Christ, that he shall be with him in paradise. By paradise he means heaven itself, which is here shadowed to us by a place of delight and pleasure. This is the receptacle of gracious souls, when separated from their bodies. And that paradise signifies heaven itself, and not a third place, as some have imagined, is evident from 2 Cor. 12: 2, 4; where the apostle calls the same place by the names of the third heaven, and paradise. This is the place of blessedness designed for the people of God. So you find, Rev. 2:7; "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God;" that is, to have the
fullest and most intimate communion with Jesus Christ in heaven. And this is the substance of Christ's promise to the tnief: "Tic:," that, thru in syrit, or thou in the noblest part, thy soul," shalt be with me in paradise.”
2. The person to whom Christ makes this excellent and glorious promise was one that had lived sinfully and profanely; a very vile and wretched man, now justly under condemnation. But the Lord gave him a penitent believing heart. Now, almost at the last gasp, he is soundly, in an extraordinary way, converted; and, being converted, he owns and professes Christ amidst all the shame and reproach of his death ; vindicates his innocency, and humbly supplicates for mercy ; "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.”
3. The set time for the performance of this gracious promise is, to-day; this very day, shalt thou be with me in glory; not after the resurrection, but immediately ficm the time of thy dissolution, thou shalt enjoy blessedness.
4. We have here the confirmation and seal of this most comfortable promise to him with Christ's solemn asseveration; "Verily I say unto thee.” Higher security cannot be given. I that am able to perform what I promise, for heaven and the glory thereof are mine: I that am faithful and true to my promises, and have never forfeited my credit with any ; I say it, I solemnly confirm it: "Verily I say unto thee, to-day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” Hence we have three plain obvious truths for our instruction and consolation.
1. There is a future eternal state, into which souls pass at death.
2. All believers are, at their death, immediately received into a state of glory and eternal happiness.
3. God may, though he seldom doth, prepare men for this glory, immediately before their dissolution by death.
Proposition 1. There is a future eternal stute, into which
souls pass at death. This truth is a principal foundation-stone to the hopes and happiness of souls; and is briefly established by the following arguments:
1. The being of a God undeniably evinces a future state for human souls after this life. For, if there be a God who rules the world which he hath made, he must rule it by rewards and punishments, equally and righteously distributed to good and bad ; putting a difference between the obedient and disobedient, the righteous and the wicked. To make a species of creatures capable of moral government, and not to rule them at all, is to make them in vain, and is inconsistent with his glory, which is the end of all things. To rule them, but not suitably to their natures, consists not with that infinite wisdom from which their beings proceeded. To rule them in a way suitable to their natures, namely, by rewards and punishments, and not to bestow or inflict them at all, is utterly incongruous with the veracity and truth of Him that cannot lie. So then, as he hath made rational creatures capable of moral government by rewards and punishments, he rules them in the way suitable to their natures, promising " it shall be well with the righteous, and ill with the wicked." These promises and threatenings can be no cheat, merely intended to terrify where there is no danger, or encourage where there is no real benefit; but what he promises, or threatens, must be accomplished, and every word of God must be fulfilled. But it is evident that no such distinction is made by the providence of God (at least ordinarily and generally) in this life; but all things come alike to all; and as with the righteous, so with the wicked. Yea, here it goes ill with them that fear God; they are op: pressed; they receive their evil things, and wicked men their good : therefore we conclude, the righteous Judge of the whole earth will, in another world, recompense to every one according as his work shall be.
2. As the very being of God evinces it, so the Scrip. tures plainly reveal it. These Scriptures are the system of laws for the government of man, which the wise and holy Ruler of the world hath enacted and ordained. And in them we find promises made to the righteous, of a full reward in the world to come, for all their obedience, patience, and sufferings; and threatenings made against the wicked, of eternal wrath and anguish, as the just recompense of their sin in hell for ever : " Treasuring up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who, by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory, and honor, and immortality ; eternal life: but unto them that are contentious, and obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil.” Rom. 2 : 5–10. So 2 Thess. 1:4-7, "We our. selves glory in you in the churches of God, for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure: which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer: seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; and to you, who are troubled, rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven in flaming fire.” To these plain testimonies multitudes might be added, if it were need. ful. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but these words shall never pass away.
3. As the Scriptures reveal it, so the consciences of all men have some presentiments of it. Where is the man whose conscience never felt any impressions of hope or fear from a future world ? If it is said that these may be but the effects of education, that, having read such things in the Scriptures, or heard them from preachers, we raise up to ourselves hopes and fears about them; I demand how the consciences of the hea: then, who have neither Scriptures nor preachers, came to be impressed with these things ? Does not the apos. tle tell us, that their consciences work upon these things ? Rom. 2:15; their thoughts, with reference to a future state, accuse, or else excuse; that is, their hearts are cheered and encouraged by the good they do, and terrified with fears about the evils they commit. Whereas, if there were no such impression respecting the future, conscience would neither accuse nor ex. cuse for good or evil done in this world.
4. The incarnation and death of Christ are in vain without it. What did he propose to himself, or what benefit have we by his coming, if there be no such future state ? Did he take our nature, and suffer such terrible things in it for nothing? If you say, christians have much comfort from it in this life: I answer, the comforts they have are identified with and inseparable from faith and expectation of the happiness to be enjoyed, as the purchase of his blood, in heaven. And if there be no such heaven to which they are appointed, no hell from which they are redeemed, they do but comfort themselves with a fable, and bless themselves with a thing of nought : their comfort is no greater than the comfort of a beggar that dreams he is a king, and when he awakes finds himself a beggar still. Surely the end of Christ's death was to deliver us from the wrath to come, 1 Thess. 1:10; not from an imaginary, but a real hell; to bring us to God, 1 Pet. 3:18; to be the author of eternal salvation to them that obey him. Heb. 5:9.
INFERENCE 1. Is there an eternal state, into which souls pass after this life? How precious then is present time,