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3. The thoroughness of God's salvation is indicated by this colloquy. It produced in the guilty penitent renunciation of all he ever had been; it gave him illimitable confidence in Christ, and it inspired him with zeal to save others. He confessed that he was having his just retribution in the pangs of crucifixion; he admonished his comrade in guilt, and he committed himself to Christ in the greatest of all acts of worship, that of trusting his soul in his hands at the death of his body. This word he was able to accept on the cross as his passport to paradise.
The infinite love of God to man nowhere appears as in Christ offering himself for our sins. This sacrifice was then under the view of the thief, and the Holy Spirit opened his eyes to its significence. No career of earthly conquest and glory, which had been anticipated in the Messiah, appeared to him so God-like as what he saw in the patient sufferer by his side. This he no doubt felt; this inspired his confession of guilt from an eager desire to share in the same goodness; this impelled him to attempt the reclaim of his fellow criminal; and this by the mere spectacle of the cross without the resurrection, begot in him a prayer of faith, which was answered by the promise of paradise.
Here we have no legal patch-work of one^attempting amendment from fear or from prudential considerations; no ceremonial imposition; no change of creed from intellectual conviction, but a change in the deep currents of thought and feeling like the soul itself inbreathed from God, and creating in the guilty one a fitness for heavenly happiness.
4. The final destination of man to a state purely spiritual, whether of happiness or misery, is here indicated. The railing and the praying thief, though equally disembodied at death, must have gravitated to opposite moral centers, the one to heaven the other to hell, the one a savour of life unto life, the other of death unto death. Character, not arbitrary decree, determined the difference.
If the thief went with his Lord to paradise on the day of his death, then it must be a law of Providence that other redeemed souls shall meet with them there, and that the final destiny of man is to an existence without a material body, an existence with such powers of life, of action and of happiness as appertain to God, angels and other tenants of a purely spiritual world. The apostle is explicit in showing that all bodies in heaven are spiritual: "For flesh and blood cannot inherit eternal life." 1 Cor. xv. 50. The final end of God's government of the world is, a vast community of spiritual and immortal beings rising out of these material elements as flowers from vegetable mould, who, under the headship of Christ, shall constitute the church of the first-born, the New Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven. The present moral order of the world,'including instruction, providential events and the preaching of the gospel, is with reference to cultivating among men dispositions of heart and virtues of life that shall give them a fitness for this heavenly consociation. Thus the end of creation is "that unto principalities and powers in the heavenly place, may be made known by the church the manifold wisdom of God." Eph. iii. 10.
So much we know; but as to the disposition to be made of this material system, whether its order is ever to be changed, or its human, animal and vegetable generations are ever to cease, we are not informed. Those who make so much account of a burning world, of the restored Jews and rebuilt temple and throne of David, do err, not knowing the Scripture, nor the spiritual forces of the universe. "It doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that when he shall appear we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is."
Tabbytowh, N. Y.
TH E majority in so-called Christian lands deliberately postpone the claims of religion. In vain do the wise descant on the uncertainty of life, the vanity of applause, the solicitudes of power, the hollowness of pleasure, and the absurdity of avarice. In vain does the sacred teacher point to the path of peace, the need of forgiveness, and the danger of delay. The multitude will neither be convinced, persuaded, nor alarmed; and the influence of present things continue to preponderate. Ready to admit that without a total change of heart and life, death will bring'destruction and infinite penalty, they suffer months and years to roll on without one act of preparation for that tremendous hour.
Two delusions conspire to induce this delay, viz., that a religious life interferes with enjoyment, and that there will come "a more convenient season." The first of these is sufficiently exposed from the pulpit, the lives of believers, and the express words of Holy Writ. To show the folly and danger of the second, which quiets apprehension, is the-object of this paper. It is Satan's grand snare. It is the sole influence which sends myriads to hell. Our theme is,
The Folly and Danger of Trusting to a Death-bed Conversion.
Conversion involves true repentance, which is scarcely possible when death is near. Repentance is not sorrow, however sincere. Esau had sorrow and tears for his contemptuous, foolish, and wicked abandonment of his birthright, which embraced special consecration to the Lord. Exodus xiii. 2; xxii. 29; xxxiv. 19. But had he repented, he would have reformed. Remorse is not repentance. It may be pungent without purifying. It is but the upbraiding of a guilty conscience, and may be so strong as to produce despair, or even suicide, while yet there is no hatred of sin, no reference to Jesus. It is the gnawing worm of hell.
Repentance combines hatred of sin, a consciousness of just exposure to Divine wrath, and a turning to Christ. It produces that change of heart and life which is called being born again. It includes forgiveness of enemies, restitution to those we have wronged, and unreserved consecration of soul, body, and estate, to a life of love and obedience to God.
There is much in the near approach of death to produce the semblance of a saving change. A sense of utter helplessness, of ill desert, of the error of past neglect, and imminent ruin, may produce the semblance of a full surrender to God. Hence kind relatives cherish hope, and the careless are confirmed in procrastination. Or the being "resigned," on which relatives rely so much for comfort, may be but the result of hardness of heart, false views of religion, or the pressure of pain.
The Scripture characteristics of a Christian all have reference to life. They speak of running a race, carrying on a warfare, laboring in a vineyard, building a house, laying up treasure in heaven, coming out from the world, being lights to the world. When such figures are not used, we are told that a Christian is meek, humble, chaste, just, loving, watchful, diligent, patient, forgiving, etc. Have we any such evidences in the case of him who has rejected Christ till he comes to a death-bed, or a gallows; or is struck dead by an "accident"? On the other hand, we are painly told who are not saved. "No unclean person, or covetous, hath an inheritance in the kingdom of heaven." If such is the portrait of that man, does he give us hope at his death? Is he fitted for the skies by the teaching and training of the Holy Spirit? Does he resemble the portraiture given in Scripture of a servant of God, about to hear it said, "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of thy Lord "?
If a saving change of heart, in his case, be possibly genuine, it must always lack proof.
The only proof of such a change is a change of character; which can only be evidenced by a change of life. We cannot search the heart, and can judge men only by their fruits. Matthew vii. 16, 20; Luke iii. 8. Unless we see the life reformed, and tempers changed, we have no evidence that any one is a Christian. The dying can neither repeat transgressions, nor retain carnal delights. He will not be disposed to disparage piety, or disown Him into whose presence he is about to be ushered. Disease subdues passion, sufferings without hope of relief may make death welcome, a false creed may inspire false hopes, and past morality may remove apprehension. The only proof of being dead to sin, is being alive unto righteousness. Jehovah may bestow, at the last moment, that mercy which has been persistently rejected during a whole life. But how are we to know it? He has given us no instruction to that effect. Our love for the dying makes us slow to regard their death as damnation, though while in health no stretch of charity could make Ua regard the patient as a lover of God, and a disciple of Christ. The Scripture characteristics of those who are not saved, all militate against dependence on a conversion as life is closing. "The works of the flesh are adultery, fornication, idolatry, hatred, variance, strife, sedition, heresy, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you that they that do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. They that are Christ's, have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts." Such passages are numerous. Now look at him whose whole life has been such as here described. There he is. His character admits no mistake, and to alter it now is impossible. Every Christian duty has been left undone, and every voice of warning, command, or entreaty, has been disregarded. Why should God do more to convert a man when dying, than he does while living?
The only proof, to us, of being "dead unto sin," is living unto righteousness. The Judge of all may grant to the dying that which, during a whole life, has been rejected; but we have no warrant for such a belief. It must be remembered that, of the number of persons supposed to have been converted in what were deemed dying hours, such as have unexpectedly recovered have, in every instance, resumed a careless life. The gospel everywhere requires a holy life, just as much as it requires faith. It tells us that faith without works is dead. "Without holiness no one shall see God." "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments." "God will render to every man according to his deeds." Romans ii. 6-7. He saves them "who by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory." Many are the texts of this sort. There is not one intimating the contrary. If a holy life is not necessary, then we may see God without holiness. But "the unrighteous shall not enter into the kingdom of God." Dying spasms of grief and terror are nowhere pronounced as substitutes for love and obedience.