Seeing Ourselves In the Thief on the Cross — A.W. Pink
“Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God. The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.” — Matthew 27:41-44
Terrible indeed was the condition and action of this robber. On the very brink of eternity he unites with the enemies of Christ in the awful sin of mocking him. This was unparalleled turpitude. Think of it – a man in his dying hour deriding the suffering Saviour! O what a demonstration of human depravity and of the native enmity of the carnal mind against God! And reader, by nature there is the same depravity inhering within you, and unless a miracle of divine grace has been wrought upon you there is the same enmity against God and his Christ present in your heart. You may not think so, you may not feel so, you may not believe so. But that does not alter the fact. The word of him who cannot lie declares, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9). That is a statement of universal application. It describes what every human heart is by natural birth. And again the same scripture of truth declares, “The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom. 8:7). This, too, diagnoses the state of every descendant of Adam. “For there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:22-23). Unspeakably solemn is this: yet it needs to be pressed. It is not until our desperate condition is realized that we discover our need of a divine Saviour. It is not until we are brought to see our total corruption and unsoundness that we shall hasten to the great physician. It is not until we find in this dying thief a portrayal of ourselves that we shall join in saying, “Lord, remember me“.
We have to be abased before we can be exalted. We have to be stripped of the filthy rags of our self-righteousness before we are ready for the garments of salvation. We have to come to God as beggars, empty-handed, before we can receive the gift of eternal life. We have to take the place of lost sinners before him if we would be saved. Yes, we have to acknowledge ourselves as thieves before we can have a place in the family of God. “But,” you say, “I am no thief! I acknowledge I am not all I ought to be. I am not perfect. In fact,! will go so far as to admit I am a sinner. But I cannot allow that this thief represents my state and condition.” Ah, friend, your case is far worse than you suppose. You are a thief, and that of the worst type. You have robbed God! Suppose that a firm in the East appointed an agent to represent them in the West, and that every month they forwarded to him his salary. But suppose also at the end of the year his employers discovered that though the agent had been cashing the cheques they sent him, nevertheless, he had served another firm all that time. Would not that agent be a thief? Yet this is precisely the situation and state of every sinner. He has been sent into this world by God, and God has endowed him with talents and the capacity to use and improve them. God has blessed him with health and strength; he has supplied his every need, and provided innumerable opportunities to serve and glorify him. But with what result? The very things God has given him have been misappropriated. The sinner has served another master, even Satan. He dissipates his strength and wastes his time in the pleasures of sin. He has robbed God. Unsaved reader, in the sight of Heaven your condition is as desperate and your heart is as wicked as that of the thief. See in him a picture of yourself. . .
. . .Here we see that man has to come to the end of himself before he can be saved.
Above we have contemplated this dying robber as a representative sinner, a sample specimen of what all men are by nature and practice – by nature at enmity against God and his Christ; by practice robbers of God, misusing what he has given us and failing to render what is due him. We are now to see that this crucified robber was also a representative case in his conversion. And at this point we shall dwell simply upon his helplessness.
To see ourselves as lost sinners is not sufficient. To learn that we are corrupt and depraved by nature and sinful transgressors by practice is the first important lesson. The next is to learn that we are utterly undone, and that we can do nothing whatever to help ourselves. To discover that our condition is so desperate that it is entirely beyond human repair, is the second step toward salvation – looking at it from the human side. But if man is slow to learn that he is a lost sinner and unfit for the presence of a holy God, he is slower still to recognize that he can do nothing towards his salvation, and is unable to work any improvement in himself so as to be fit for God. Yet, it is not until we realize that we are “without strength” (Rom. 5:6), that we are “impotent” (John 5:3), that it is not by works of righteousness which we do, but by his mercy God saves us (Titus 3:5), not until then shall we despair of ourselves, and look outside of ourselves to the one who can save us.
The great scripture type of sin is leprosy, and for leprosy man can devise no cure. God alone can deal with this dreadful disease. So it is with sin. But, as we have said, man is slow to learn his lesson. He is like the prodigal son, who when he had squandered his substance in the far country in riotous living and began to be “in want”, instead of returning to the father straightaway, he “went and joined himself to a citizen of that country” (Luke 15:15) and went to the fields to feed swine; in other words he went to work. Likewise the sinner who has been aroused to his need, instead of going at once to Christ, he tries to work himself into God’s favour. But he will fare no better than the prodigal – the husks of the swine will be his only portion. Or again, like the woman bowed down with her infirmity for many long years. She tried many physicians before she sought the great physician: so the awakened sinner seeks relief and peace in first one thing and then another, until he completes the weary round of religious performances, and ends by being “nothing bettered, but rather grows worse” (Mark 5:26). No, it is not until that woman had “spent all she had” that she sought Christ: and it is not until the sinner comes to the end of his own resources that he will betake himself to the Saviour.
Before any sinner can be saved he must come to the place of realized weakness. This is what the conversion of the dying thief shows us. What could he do? He could not walk in the paths of righteousness for there was a nail through either foot. He could not perform any good works for there was a nail through either hand. He could not turn over a new leaf and live a better life for he was dying. And, my reader, those hands of yours which are so ready for self-righteous acting, and those feet of yours which are so swift to run in the way of legal obedience, must be nailed to the cross. The sinner has to be cut off from his own workings and be made willing to be saved by Christ. A realization of your sinful condition, of your lost condition, of your helpless condition, is nothing more or less than old-fashioned conviction of sin, and this is the sole prerequisite for coming to Christ for salvation, for Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
taken from: The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, pp. 40-43.
• This book can also be read online, or downloaded for mobile device, at the Arthur W. Pink Archive.
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