Luke 23:39 Commentary - Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New TestamentHere we have a further aggravation of our Lord's sufferings upon the cross, from the company he suffered with, the two thieves who reviled him with the rest. St. Matthew and St. Marks say, they both reviled him; St. Luke says one of them reviled; possibly both of them might do it at first, and one of them repents; which, if so, increases the wonder of the penitent thief's conversion.
From the impenitent thief's reviling of Christ, when he was at the very point of death, and even in the suburbs of hell, we learn that neither shame nor pain will change the mind of a resolute sinner; but even then, when he is in the suburbs of hell, will he blaspheme.
From the penitent thief's confessing of Christ, and praying to him, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom; we learn, both the efficacy and freeness of divine grace.
1. The efficacious power of it: oh how powerful must that grace be, which wrought such a change in an instant, which supplied that heart in a moment, which had been hardening in sin for so many years.
2. The freeness of it; which takes hold of his heart, when he was at the height of sin, and was not only void of grace, but seemed past grace. Oh the powerful efficacy and adorable freeness of the heart changing grace of God in this vile person; it disposed him to own his sin; to confess the justness of his punishment, to justify Christ's innocency, to reprove his fellow companion, to pray to a crucified Christ, and to intercede with him, not for present deliverance from death, but for a place in Christ's kingdom.
Where we learn,
1. That true conversion is never too late for obtaining mercy and salvation.
2. That true conversion, how late soever, will have its fruits: the fore-mentioned fruits of faith and repentance were found with this penitent thief; yet must not this extraordinary case be drawn into example. This extraordinary and miraculous grace of God is not to be expected ordinarily: we have no warrant to expect an overpowering degree of God's grace to turn our heart in an instant at the hour of death, when we have lived in forgetfulness of God, and in a supine neglect of our soul's concerns all the days of our life; for it is evident as to this case of the penitent thief's conversion at the last hour.
1. It is an example without a promise.
2. It is but a single example.
3. It is an example recorded but by one evangelist: the Spirit of God, foreseeing what an ill use some would make of this instance, leaves one example upon record, that none might despair; and but one, that none might presume.
4. This thief probably had never any knowledge of Christ before.
5. This thief improved his time at last, as never did any before or after; for he believed Christ to be the Saviour of the world; when one disciple had betrayed, another denied, and all had forsaken him; he owned him to be the Son of God, the Lord of life, when he was suffering the pains of death, and seemingly deserted by his Father: he proclaims him Lord of paradise, and disposer of the kingdom of heaven, when the Jews had condemned him, and the Gentiles crucified him as the vilest of impostors. He feared God, owned the justice of his punishment; was solicitous, not for the preservation of his body, but for the salvation of his soul; yea, not for his own only, but of his brother's that suffered with him; so that he glorified Christ more at the moment of his death, than some do in the whole course of their lives.
6. This was a miracle, with the glory whereof Christ would honor the ignominy of his cross: so that we have no more ground to expect such another conversion, than we have to expect a second crucifixion. This converted person was the first fruits of the blood of the cross.
From whence we learn, that God can, and sometimes does, though very seldom, prepare men for glory, immediately before their dissolution by death. His grace is his own, he may dispense it how, and when, where, and to whom he pleases; yet this is no more warrant to neglect the ordinary, because God does sometimes manifest his grace in an extraordinary way. True, in this conversion, we have a pattern of what free grace can do; but it is a pattern without a promise: where we have not a promise to encourage our hope, our hope is nothing but presumption.
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Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament
William Burkitt (1650 - 1703) was a Church of England clergyman, bible expositor, and devotional writer.
Volume 1: Matthew - John, was published in 1700.
Volume 2: Acts - Revelation was published 1703.