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. St. Luke xxiii. 42, 43.
WE have heard the first of the messages and reproofs from the Cross. Listen, for the second comes. After each word of Christ there is silence, and in that silence is heard, first, one special teaching from His Cross, which teaching is to go on till the end of the world, and, secondly, some special reproof and rebuke, which likewise shall find its mark in sinful men as long as time shall last. Do not mistake the meaning of this instrument on which the Lord suffered. It represents His mercy; it equally displays His just and righteous judgment upon every soul of man that doeth evil. In our meditation to-day we take its messages all together, whether they comfort in trouble, or whether they convict of sin.
And so the first message was that love is the strongest power in the universe, and the only principle that can set right the hardness, injustice, cruelty, of the world j and the corresponding warning was this, that whosoever tries to set the world right on any other principle, and without the help of the Cross of Christ, is doomed to end in total and final and hopeless failure. Now let us see what message comes, and what reproof comes, after the utterance of the second word of Christ.
Men have no stronger, no more urgent need than this: to know if there be another life. It is an importunate demand, which may be stilled for a while when cares dull spiritual perception and pleasures stupefy the higher nature; but it comes back, that question: "If a man die, shall he live again?" No question calls so loudly for an answer; none is so plainly, so definitely answered elsewhere. There is somewhat startling in the way in which the answer is given.
What happened that day on Calvary? Two men were dying with Christ, the one on the right hand, the other on the left. To one of those men it was announced that he should live, though death meanwhile had come; that he should retain his conscious being; that he should find himself in a certain place, which Jesus named; that he should be there in the company of the Lord; and that all this should be on that same day, and on that very afternoon, and before the sun was set. It would not be possible to put a promise into words more exact than these, and the substance thereof we take to be so plain that it cannot be misunderstood. The reward of repentance, faith, love, humility, is sure. It is to be enjoyed in the rest of Paradise. And therefore to the Cross as now it stands before us, unfolding its meanings one by one, we owe a perfectly clear and delightful view of a realm of rest and peace beyond these scenes.
We owe this assurance to the Cross and what it stands for. No such assurance existed of old. Immortality was hardly believed by the wise. The poets sang of it, and popular notions of Elysian fields, and shadows of departed heroes, and images of ancestors caught up into the air and set among the stars, were held, with base, degrading conceptions of migration of souls of men into the carcasses of beasts; but as to a distinct and intelligent knowledge of the future, there was none. Not till Jesus came, and lived, and died, and rose again, were life and immortality brought to light.
This is the second message of the Cross, the announcement of the world beyond the tomb. Now let us hear the reproof from the Cross. It takes the old familiar shape of wondering remonstrance: "Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith!"
Are we not sometimes fearful! Are we not often doubtful! Do we not, now and then, wish for some sign that it is surely true! A horrible dread will occasionally steal over the soul and make the heart grow cold. The men in the old pagan days did not half believe in immortality. The men in these days of revival of pagan ideas do not believe it. You hear of services at the burial of the dead in which not a word is spoken to intimate a belief in anything to follow but the decomposition of the body and the dissipation of the spiritual element in illimitable space. Sternly speaks the Cross to us, who, no matter to what extent, are influenced by this revival of the worst of doubts, the doubt of our own reality and the truth of that God to whom all live. Why should the dread steal over you! Why should you say, "It seems so hard to believe, too precious to be true; I wish I could feel sure"! And why are you not sure! Can any words be more exact than those, "To-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise"? Are they not decisive of every question you can raise, save one 1 the fact, the place, the time, all stated with distinctness, all plain as words could make them! Why do you fear! What more evidence can you reasonably demand f Is it that one might come back from the grave, and show himself alive, and convince men of the truth? That also has occurred. ONE has come back--the same who spoke the words. Still you cannot feel sure? Nothing, then, could assure you. Unbelief would not trust its own eyes against its obdurate refusal to take God's word for truth, and so unbelief is hopeless.
How precious is this assurance from the Cross! And yet how darkly does that same Cross frown on a world which, after all this, will not believe! How threateningly does that Cross loom before our eyes when we give way to doubt of the truth of its message! If you, the redeemed of Christ, His favoured and elect children, are still so half-hearted, so fearful, you do not deserve the comfort, the cheer, the joy which the Gospel words convey. We owe to Jesus Christ our certainty of the life to come. If we will not accept His declaration as evidence, we cannot have, from any quarter, the proof of that of which we long to feel sure, Reason fails; logic fails; science fails. No man, however wise and learned, can by searching find out God. No man can, by process of argument alone, prove the existence of a Paradise, a Heaven, a Hell, or any particular of a life of the world to come. Jesus Christ, and only He, can do that for us. And we are condemned to the righteous judgment of God if we let that truth go. We must guard it as by far the dearest of our possessions. We must keep our faith alive and warm by practice in the nearness of that other world; by acting honestly and simply, as men who believe it; by daily thought of it; especially by a bond of prayer linking us closely with the tenants of the home beyond. We must not think of our dead as dead, but as alive unto God. They must have their old place in our hearts, in our prayers. May light perpetual shine on them! Such, for them, be our continual request to God.
This Cross, now vacant and still in the gathering dusk, stands like a monument on the grave of one blessed and happy soul saved by his simple, earnest faith in the Redeemer. From it, however, falls a black shadow on another grave--that of a lost companion, who died in sin, unrepentant, unabsolved, an alien and a stranger. The light and the darkness both touch us where we stand: light in the message of the sweet and blessed country, darkness our everlasting portion if we refuse to walk in the light of the Lord.