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but “ Thou shalt be with Me,” which must have fallen upon his ears and his heart as an absolute surprise, ay, almost to the extent of deadening for a time the dread pains of crucifixion. With Him! With the King! I! O, amazing mercy, worthy of the Messiah!'
That such thoughts as these, perhaps these identical thoughts, passed through this man's mind at this hour of crisis, at once the darkest and the brightest of his life, we have no doubt. Unfit to live, being one of those social pests whose accursed lust of covetousness must be gratified in defiance of all law, human and divine, society in self-defence demands his life ; and as it is oozing out upon the cross, he glances at Jesus and thinks-'Yes, He is, He must be the Messiah promised to our nation; and if so, even this horrible death will not be able to deprive Him of His throne;' and then he says aloud-no doubt with the bitter consciousness of shame and sorrow for his evil life—“ Lord, remember Me when
Thou comest in Thy kingdom.”
Let us pause here and reflect. A little quiet thought over the scene will not be lost. Is there any thing in all history like to this ? Is there anything in the unparalleled life of the Saviour Himself more strongly interesting, more deeply impressive ? A procession of miracles had accompanied His footsteps as He went about doing good, drying tears, gladdening hearts and homes, and leaving the memorials of divine beneficence and the lessons of divine wisdom wherever He journeyed; and miracles too, wrought, not by Him, but on His account, bore witness to the grandeur of the Sufferer as He hung upon the cross. But where was that thing so feelingly prized by us all in the hour of affliction—a word of generous sympathy? Was there none for our blessed and beloved Lord ? not a word of gentle kindness to Him who had uttered thousands of loving words during His ministry of surpassing grace ? No, none ! All the disciples, bewildered, panic smitten, forsook Him and fed. “ And they that passed by reviled Him, wagging their head and saying, Thou that destroyest the temple and buildest it in three days, save Thyself. If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.
Likewise also the chief priests mocking Him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others, Himself He cannot save. If He be the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now, if He will have Him; for He said, I am the Son of God. The thieves also who were crucified with Him, cast the same in His teeth."
Is it possible that human wickedness could be so basely virulent? Can wretched robbers, writhing in the agony of a shameful death, the just penalty of their crimes, “mock" the wonderful beneficence, and faith, and piety, of the Son of Man ? Alas! what dismal darkness sin has spread over the human race. But the “cup” was not yet quite full. Very soon, however, it is filled to the brim and
can hold no more, as the startling cry proves : “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken ME ?”
But a light flashes upon the mind of one of the malefactors. Jesus is not to expire without one word of human sympathy. It comes not, however, from any of the disciples, or priests, or elders, or scribes, or professors of religion, but-strange fact !—from lips that a few minutes before had reviled Him. One of the transgressors with whom he was numbered,' thus rebukes his companion in crime and woe: “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; but this man hath done nothing amiss.” And then, looking at Jesus, he said, “Lord, remember me when Thou comest in Thy kingdom.”
It is surely remarkable that, under the circumstances and from such a quarter, this solitary gleam of light should suddenly shoot through the darkness and point to the Messiahship, and promised kingdom, and royal glory of Jesus, notwithstanding the fact that he was then a dying man nailed to an accursed cross. It impresses us as one of the sublimest things in all history that a wicked man, suffering the terrible but just penalty of his crimes against society, should be selected, in the marvellous wisdom of God, as the solitary comforter of the dying Saviour who came to seek and save the lost-of whom this member of a fierce band of robbers and murderers was one. Rich streams of comfort have been poured upon sorrowful hearts by sons of consolation through many generations, as they have spoken about the exceeding riches of the Redeemer's grace as the sympathising High Priest, the Advocate, the Surety, the Unchanging Lover, and the Elder Brother ; but the “penitent thief” comforted Christ himself! His pulpit was in very deed a sorry one, and his sermon was short; but it sent a thrill of joy through the heart of the Man of Sorrows; and the Prince of Israel then and there—that very day—claimed the kingdom by promising a very great thing to one who recognised him as the King of the Jews, and presented to him in that capacity the never to be forgotten petition, Remember me when Thou comest to reign.'
Surely this is the natural and true light in which to view this celebrated prayer. Whatever we may understand by “to-day" and " paradise,” it seems to us certain that we are not at liberty to claim them in support of Gentile theology on “disembodied souls ” " and "heaven." The penitent robber was a Jew, and his ideas of the kingdom would of course be such as were held by his countrymen, as instructed by their prophets. He knew absolutely nothing about the notion of departed souls ascending to heaven at death. Such a thought never entered the Jewish mind. It was not taught by the prophets; it formed no part of Divine revelation; and the false dogmas which crept into Christendom on these subjects, as well as “ Christendom” itself, were then in the far future. It is, therefore, impossible for us to admit the idea—notwithstanding the fact that countless sermons have been based upon it—that this man's prayer, translated into the language of the modern pulpit, was, ' Lord, pardon my sins, and remember me in mercy when Thou goest to heaven ; ' and that the answer-similarly translated -was. Verily I say unto thee, To-day shall thy soul be with Mine
I in heaven.' Let it not be imagined that we have anything to say against fervid declamation in the cause of righteousness, or that we underrate the guilt and danger of remaining foes of God until “the eleventh hour.” But, then, sacred eloquence should have assured truth for its brief; and appeals to the conscience should have “ Thus saith the Lord as their winged arrow. Besides, the commentator in the quiet of his study neither has nor desires to have the latitude which is readily granted to the public speaker. His business is calmly to examine the Scriptures, and to give, without respect to church or creed or current theory, what appears to him the exact meaning of any given passage. He must take into account the circumstances, the object of the writer or speaker, the language in which the document was originally written, and the harmony of the passage with the general tenor of Holy Scripture. His responsibility to God and man is very great. He knows not where his printed words may go, or what effect they may have upon other minds—it may be long after the hand that wrote them has turned to dust—and he is therefore bound to be extremely careful respecting every word he writes.
Under these impressions we proceed to the next point of inquiry, - the place where the Lord promised that the penitent man should be with Him,-PARADISE. Now, we hope the reader will see the vital importance, in this investigation, of the first remark we make here, namely,--the Lord must have meant His words to be distinctly intelligible to the person to whom He spoke. We are bound to accept this proposition as self-evident. The honour of our beloved Saviour, and the peace of the sinner just rescued, as if by miracle, from the curse of unpardoned sin, alike demand that. But, when that is granted, -as, of course, it must be,-what follows? Why, this: that the meaning of the word “Paradise" mu be found in the same Old Testament Scriptures which told the Jews about the “ kingdom” of the Messiah. No light, regarding the import of that word, shed since the awful day of Calvaryif any additional light has, in fact, been shed-is available here; for, whatever value it may have to us who live during the eve of the Second Advent, the men who lived at the time under notice had it not. If the dying malefactor, therefore, understood the King's promise, which we assume that he most certainly did, it was because, in the days of his youth, before he became a “companion of riotous men,” he had heard or read, or, what is almost certain, both heard and read many times, that the seers of Israel, in describing the future glorious kingdom of “ Messiah the Prince,"
pictured it not only as Paradise restored, but as Paradise so wonderfully expanded, that the Edenic garden of the first Adam shrinks into a hand-breadth in comparison. The gracious answer of the Saviour, then, amounted to this:-'I will not only remember thee when I come to reign, but thou shalt enjoy the bliss of My kingdom ;—thou shalt be with Me in Paradise.' What
What peace must have flowed into the heart of the pardoned penitent! He can endure the agonies of the cross now! He knew that resurrection was a doctrine of the Scriptures; and now that the King of Israel has promised him a place in the future paradise, he can die in peace, in the full assurance that the promise will be fulfilled at the
The word Paradise comes direct to us from the Greek Iapáoeloos; but the Greek here borrowed from the Eastern tongues. The Sanscrit has paradesa, a region of beauty and excellence. In Armenian and Persian, pardes was the term applied to the fine parks or pleasure grounds of the wealthy, and especially such as were possessed on a larger scale by monarchs. In the Septuagint of Gen. ii. 8, “ Paradise" is used for the garden of Eden. In the later books of the Old Testament, it appears in this sense as a Hebrew word. Thus, in Neh. ii. 8, where it is translated “ forest," —“A letter unto Asaph, the keeper of the pardes of the king; not exactly forest, in the sense commonly understood by us, yet in a sense that must have comprehended forest trees, if also others that were rather for ornament and pleasure ; for the object of the letter was to procure from this man wood for the doors and beams of certain houses Nehemiah was going to build. In Eccles. ii. 5,
. the preacher, speaking under the character of king of Jerusalem, says, “I made me gardens and paradesim ; " " orchards,” our translators put it: so it might be ; or parks, furnished with animals, as well as shrubs and trees. And in Song iv. 13," Thy plants are a pardes of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits; camphire, with spikenard : " which suggests very much the idea of our orchard, or fruit and pleasure garden. Hence the Greek translators quite naturally gave paradise as the equivalent of garden in Gen. ii. 8:“ The Lord God planted a paradise in Eden.” Josephus uses the same word. He writes : “Moses says farther, that God planted a paradise in the east, flourishing with all sorts of trees; and that among them was the tree of life, and another of knowledge, whereby was to be known what was good and evil; and that when He brought Adam and his wife into this garden, He commanded them to take care of the plants." Paradise was thus used among the Jews to express the beauty and fertility of the earth, and the peace and happiness of men, under the blessed reign of Messiah. Did their prophets, who had visions of that reign and its consequences, warrant such hopes ? Let us see. They shall speak for themselves, as they were instructed by the Holy Spirit.
“O let the nations be glad and sing for joy; for thou shalt judge
the people rtyuceously, and govern the nations upon earth
“In that day shall the branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and comely for them that are escaped of Israel.” (Isa. iv. 2.) “ Then shall He give the rain of thy seed, that thou shalt sow the ground withal ; and bread of the increase of the earth, and it shall be fat and plenteous : in that day shall thy cattle feed in large pastures. The oxen likewise and the young asses that ear the ground shall eat clean provender, which hath been winnowed with the shovel and with the fan." (xxx. 23, 24.) “ The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing : the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon : they shall see the glory of the Lord, and the excellency of our God. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water.
No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon." (xxxv. 1, 2, 5, 6, 9.) “I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the shittah tree, and the myrtle, and the oil tree; I will set in the desert the fir tree, and the pine, and the box tree together; that they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of the Lord hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it." (xli. 18-20.) “For the Lord shall comfort Zion : He will comfort all her waste places : and He will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord ; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody." (li. 3.) “For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations." (lxi. 11.)
“Thou shalt yet plant vines on the mountains of Samaria : the