The Poor Man's Morning and Evening Portions
Robert Hawker (1753-1827)
"And Jesus said unto him, verily I say, unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in Paradise."—Luke xxiii. 43.
My soul, hear the gracious words of thy Jesus. This was the third cry of the Redeemer on the cross. And Oh! how full of grace, rich, free, unmerited, unexpected, unlooked-for grace, to a poor lost perishing sinner, even in the very moment of death. Let the self-righteous pharisee behold this example of redeeming love, and wonder, and be confounded. Surely no one will venture to suppose that this man's good works were any recommendation, when the poor wretch was dying under the hands of justice. What was it then that saved him but the complete salvation of Jesus? The Son of God was offering his soul on the cross a sacrifice for sin, and being between two notorious sinners, gave a rich display of the sovereignty of his grace, and his love to poor sinners; and in confirmation, snatched this one as a brand from the burning—took him from the very jaws of hell, and that very day led him in triumph to heaven; thereby manifesting to every poor sinner, in whose heart he puts the cry for mercy, that, that cry shall never be put forth in vain. And mark, my soul, how powerful, the grace of the Lord Jesus wrought upon this man. He and his companion both knew that before night they would both be in eternity. The thought affected neither; they joined the rabble in insulting Jesus. "Save thyself and us," was the language of the heart of both, until the grace of Jesus wrought on this man's mind, and changed the reviler into an humble suitor. What could there be in Jesus thus to affect him! Jesus hung upon the cross like a poor Jew. Jesus had been always poor, and never more so than now. And yet, in the midst of all these surrounding circumstances, such a ray of light broke in upon this man's mind, that he saw Jesus in all his glory and power, acknowledged him for a King, when all the disciples had forsook him and fled, and prayed to be remembered by him when he came into his kingdom. Precious Lamb of God! bestow upon me such a portion of thy grace as, under all the unpromising circumstances around, may call forth the like conviction of thy power, and my need. And Oh! that this pattern of mercy might be reviewed by thousands of poor perishing dying sinners! Methinks I would have it proclaimed through all the public places of resort, through all the haunts of licentiousness, among the numberless scenes of hardened sinners who fear that they have sinned beyond the possibility of forgiveness. Oh look at this example of Jesus's love, ye that are going down to the grave full of sin and despair! behold the thief! behold the Saviour! And Oh for a cry of grace like-that of the dying malefactor—"Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom;" and Jesus's gracious answer—"To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise."
"And one of the malefactors, which were hanged, railed on him, saying, if thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering, rebuked him."—Luke xxiii. 39, 40.
My soul! thy morning meditation was directed to that soul-reviving, penitent, encouraging prospect, which the cross of Christ affords, in the recovery of the thief upon the cross, as furnishing the most illustrious example of the sovereignty of grace! Oh! what a trophy was there of the Redeemer's conquest! Now take thy stand again at the foot of the cross, and look on the other side, and behold the dreadful reverse, in the obduracy of the human heart. Here view the sinner dying in all the possibilities of a hardened conscience, railing and blaspheming; while the other departs in the most finished act of faith and repentance, glorifying the Lord. Pause over the contemplation, and then ask, what was it made the mighty difference? Who made thee, my soul, to differ from another? And what hast thou, which thou didst not receive! Blessed Lord Jesus! I do indeed rejoice with trembling, when I consider what! am; yea, what every man is by nature; and how resolutely shut and bolted the hearts of all men are, in our universally fallen state, and cannot but remain so for ever, unless thou, who hast the key of David, dost open, and by thy sweet influences dost enter in! Pause once more, my soul! Perhaps, among the wonders which attended the crucifixion and death of Jesus, this, of a determined obduracy, is not the least. Nothing can be more plain, than that a general suspicion took place, both among the Jews and the Roman soldiers, who attended the crucifixion of Jesus, that he was more than man. Jesus had wrought many miracles, in confirmation of his being the Christ: and, now on the cross, the stupendous events which took place most loudly proclaimed it. The sun became dark at mid-day; the veil of the temple was rent in twain by an invisible hand; the earth did quake, the rocks were rent, and graves were opened! And to such a degree were these portentous sights carried, that the centurion, who presided at the execution, for the moment, felt himself so overcome with a conviction of Christ's real character, that, unable to resist the impulse on his mind, he cried out, and feared greatly, saying, "surely this was the Son of God!" Matt. xxvii. 51—54. But; as if to shew the desperately wicked state of the human heart, even these prodigies, and the renewal of them on the morning of our Lord's resurrection, soon lost their effect, and were considered no more. Though an earthquake ushered in the morning of Christ's triumph over the grave; though for a while, at this, and She presence of an angel, the Roman soldiers became as dead men; though Christ had foretold his resurrection, and the pharisees obtained a guard to watch the sepulchre on this account, and had it sealed with a seal, and a stone; still, both soldiers and pharisees, when recovered from their fright, rather than own Jesus for the Christ, will resolutely persist to their own damnation! My soul! pause over this solemn subject, and learn to have a proper view of the desperately wicked state of every man's heart by nature. Learn also where to ascribe the whole of that difference between one man and another, in the blessed effects of distinguishing grace. But for this, neither wouldest thou have believed in the resurrection of Jesus. That "Jesus is believed on in the world," is one of the wonders in the apostle's account "of the great mystery of godliness;" I Tim. iii. 16. And however astonishingly it strikes the mind, yet the word of God confirms the undeniable truth, that were the devils in hell liberated from their chains, still devils would they remain. This we learn from the solemn account in the book of Revelations. Under the vials of God's wrath, they who have hardened their hearts against God and his Christ, are there given up to be hardened for ever: "In the kingdom of darkness," it is said, "they gnawed their tongues for pain; and blasphemed the God of heaven, because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds; "Rev. xvi. 8—11. Lord Jesus! give grace to all thy redeemed, in the view of thy distinguishing love, to know our mercies, and to bless thee, as the author of them.