And he said to Jesus, Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.
The word repentance does not mean simple regret. It is a change of mind; an alteration of thought, feeling, and conduct. When a sinner truly repents he does more than lament the past, dread the future, and ask for mercy. He hates his sin, not only for the punishment it brings, but for itself. It is no longer in harmony with his taste. Holiness is no longer his aversion. However sudden may have been the dying thief's repentance, it was an entire change of heart and character, and would have resulted in an entire change of conduct had his life been prolonged. In proof of this, consider some of the elements of this repentance.
I. There was REVERENCE FOR GOD. He said to his companion "Dost thou not fear God." The absence of this fear is the main characteristic of the ungodly. "There is no fear of God before their eyes."
II. The dying thief indicated CONTRITION for his former life of sin. "We indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds." He was suffering the agonies of crucifixion. But the torture did not provoke him to complain of the severity of the sentence. He felt himself to be a criminal. He confessed it before his companion and the crowd. We infer from the entire narrative that he was a sincere penitent. He did honestly lament his wickedness. It was more than regret for the consequences; it was remorse for the sin. This is an element in all true repentance.
III. In the repentance of the dying thief there was APPRECIATION OF GOODNESS. He said of Jesus, "But this man hath done nothing amiss." False penitence, which laments only the discovery, the shame, the punishment of sin. and not sin itself, may regret the lack of virtues which bring rewards, but does not really appreciate and admire goodness for its own sake. It is otherwise with those who "unfeignedly repent."
IV. This repentance included a CONFESSION OF CHRIST. The dying thief testified to all around his admiration of Christ's character. By what he had heard from others, by what he had himself witnessed, he felt assured that Jesus was innocent. And he did not hesitate to declare this. A faithful confession of Christ will always follow sincere repentance. But how much such confession involves!
V. FAITH was illustriously manifested in this repentance. The dying thief said, "Lord, remember me when Thou comest in Thy kingdom." He called Jesus "Lord" — as possessing authority, a right to rule. He ascribed to Him kingship, for he spoke of His kingdom. This was wonderful. There was no outward indication of lordship, there were no insignia of royalty. Jesus was a captive, condemned, insulted, crucified; yet does the dying thief salute Him as a king! King? Where are His royal robes? They have torn from Him even His ordinary dress! King? Where is His throne? That cross of shame on which He hangs! Yet poor, vanquished, insulted, murdered, the dying thief has faith to recognize Him as a king, and able to confer royal gifts!
VI. The repentance of the dying thief manifested itself in PRAYER. Where there is true repentance there will be true prayer. In every case of conversion it may be said, as was said of Saul of Tarsus, "Behold he prayeth." Such prayer will be humble, believing, and obedient. And our prayers will not be merely for benefits we are to receive passively, but for strength and opportunity to serve God actively. We shall regard it as the best of all benefits to be numbered with His subjects, to be employed as His servants, to be remembered in His kingdom. Can repentance, when it includes such a spirit of prayer, be a trifling change in one who has neglected prayer, disbelieved its efficacy, disliked its exercise?
VII. The repentance of the dying thief already began to bring forth the GOOD WORKS of zeal for God and charity towards man. He honoured Christ before the world, and proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom. He also felt for the sad state of his companion in crime, and sought with his dying breath to lead him to repentance. However recent his own convictions he must make them known. He could not let his companion die impenitent without a word of remonstrance. He could not withhold the discovery he had made of a Saviour who could do more for them both than take them down from the cross.
(Newman Hall, LL. B.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.