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These two criminals had both lived in the same wicked coursewere both condemned to the same death-and were both to die in the company of the only Saviour. The story points out no difference in their crimes, or in their advantages and opportunities for repentance and yet we see, that one of them died a real and remarkable penitent; the other died in all the stupidity of vice, and in all the insolence of impiety. With his latest breath he upbraided and insulted the Saviour; "If thou be the Christ, save thyself and us."
You would think it a mighty privilege, if, when you lay on your last bed, you could have your Saviour by your bed side. You imagine, that if you could enjoy such a privilege as this, you would improve it to good effect. You think, you would humbly confess to him all the sins you could recollect-would employ every moment in conversing with him, seeking his direction and supplicating his grace-would pour out your whole soul into his bosom, and intreat his mercy with an importunity too strong to be denied. You would hold him by the hand, and not let him go until he blessed you. But here you see one who enjoyed this very privilege; and what was he the better for it?-what use did he make of it? Why, only to rail on that wonderful Saviour, from whose bleeding wounds salvation was then flowing for a guilty world. Not one penitent expression-not one petition for pardoning mercy was heard from him. He joined, not in the confession and supplication of his fellow criminal; but in the scoffs and jeers of the unbelieving multitude. He saw the blood which was shed for the redemption of sinners, and yet he perished without faith to apply it.
You see by this example, that a wicked life may issue in an impenitent death. If now you live regardless of Christ and his salvation, you cannot be sure, that you shall find a heart to apply to him in your latest hours.
Can you have fairer opportunities, or higher advantages hereafter, than you have now? Christ is not personally with you: but you have his gospel in your hands, which contains all that he saw necessary to be taught, when he was on earth. If you will not consult his gospel to learn the way of salvation, you would not ap
ply to his person for instruction, though he were with you in the flesh. He is in heaven; but he can hear you as easily, and will answer you as readily, as he did those who made their addresses to him, while he dwelt below. If you will not cry to him there, you would neglect him here. What stronger motives to repentance can be imagined, than those which the gospel proposes? If you will not regard them now, neither would you regard them, though you heard them from your Saviour's mouth. He has withdrawn his bodily, but not his spiritual presence. He has sent forth his Holy Spirit to strive with sinners, as well as to help the infirmities of the saints. If you resist his Spirit, what reason have you to suppose you should obey the living voice of his lips? And take heed lest you fall under that threatning, "My Spirit shall not always strive with man."
If you sin now in hopes of repentance, you may run to such a length, as to become incapable of repentance; and when you lie on your death-bed, you may be as far from all relentings, and from any disposition to apply to the Saviour, as was this unhappy malefactor. If you once give yourself up to a course of sin, you cannot set bounds to your progress. Habits gain strength insensibly. He who sets out with some caution and reserve, may, before he is aware, be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
When, from the example of the thief who cried to Jesus on the cross, and was remembered, you are tempted to delay your repentance, and to hope for mercy on a death-bed; look, I beseech you, on the other side of the cross, and behold the awful example there. You hope to imitate the former example: But beware, lest it be the latter.
ISAIAH LII. S.
Thus saith the Lord, Ye have sold yourselves for nought; and ye shall be redeemed without money.
THIS chapter relates to the captivity and restoration of the Jews. They had sold themselves into the hands of the Chaldeans by their iniquities, and had suffered under the oppressions of their enemies, without any compensation. But the time would come when they should be delivered, and their redemption should be free.-A king should arise in Babylon who would release them from their captivity without money. This king was Cyrus. In his reign the prophecy was fulfilled.
The words in the mystical sense, may be applied to the miserable captivity to which sinners enslave themselves, and the freedom of that redemption which Christ has wrought out for them. In this application we will consider and improve them.
Sinners have sold themselves for nought. And their redemption is without money.
I. Sinners have sold themselves for nought.
It is said of Ahab, that he sold himself to work wickedness. He gave himself up without restraint to the service of sin. They who are carnal are said to be sold under sin. St. Paul seems to use this phrase in relation to himself. But it could not be applied to him his regenerate state. He must be understood as personating an unregenerate man. And it is applicable in a greater or less degree, to all in whom the power of sin reigns.
The scripture represents sinners as being in a state of bondage and captivity. Sin has dominion over them. They are led captive by it. They are servants to it, and obey it in the lusts thereof.
You will observe,
1. This is a voluntary slavery. "Ye have sold yourselves." In a preceding chapter, God demands, "which of my creditors is it, to whom I have sold you?" He adds, "For your iniquities ye have sold yourselves." All sin is matter of choice, not of compulsion. It is said of habitual sinners, "They have chosen their own ways, and delighted in their abominations. "They have given themselves over to work all uncleanness with greediness." "They have yielded themselves servants to iniquity unto iniquity." "They do evil with both hands earnestly."
Slavery, in other cases, proceeds from necessity, and is therefore to be pitied. This moral slavery proceeds from choice, and is therefore to be condemned. It is criminal in its nature, and aggravated in its circumstances. Nothing can be pleaded in its ex
Men often acquire such strong habits of vice, as carry them into the most dangerous and detestable practices. But are these habits an extenuation of their guilt? No; they are an aggravation of it; for these habits are their own. They are introduced by their own choice. And they still love to obey them. A delight in sin is no excuse for the indulgence of it. In this state of mind the evil and guilt of sin chiefly consists. Will you say, your depravity originated from an ancient transgression, in which you had no concern? Be it so. The question now is, Have you not chosen it? If so, you have made it your own, and your slavery is voluntary.
2. In the servants of sin there is a complete slavery. They who sell themselves have nothing left, which they can call their own. This servitude extends to all their powers-their reason is enslaved. Their understanding is darkened through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their hearts. They have the faculty of reason; but the exercise of it is perverted. They
are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no understanding. They discern nothing in a spiritual manner. The things of religion are foolishness to them. They often confound the distinction between moral good and evil. They study to excuse sin, to explain away the obligations of virtue-to destroy the efficacy of Divine threatnings-and to quiet their fears of future punishment.
Their conscience is defiled, hardened and unfeeling. They call evil good, and good evil, and are not ashamed when they commit abominations. If conscience, at any time awakes to remonstrate against their wicked works, they put it to silence by sensual indulgence, by false reasoning, by recurring to the example of others, and by mingling with the ungodly who strengthen their hands in their evil ways.
Their affections are enslaved to the objects of the world. They love the world and the things that are in the world, and their hearts are at enmity with God. They are not subject to his law, but subject to the lusts of the flesh.
They have yielded their members instruments of unrighteousness to sin. Thus the Apostle describes them. "Their throat is an open sepulchre, with their tongue they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips; their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways, and the way of peace they have not known. Such is the character of those who have sold themselves to do evil.
Our text adds.
3. They have sold themselves for nought. When men sell an article, they aim to make some gain-to receive an equivalent, which may be more useful to them, than that which they alienate. But when they sell themselves, they can receive nothing in return. They sin and pervert that which is right and it profiteth them not. The Apostle demands of penitents-" what fruit had ye in those things whereof ye are now ashamed.”
They who sell themselves to do evil, hope to gain at least some worldly good. But they are usually disappointed.-If they seem to succeed for a time, they fail at last. "He who hasteth, in any evil way, to be rich, brings trouble on himself and his house."