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to be the true character of the man, and the nature of the request which he made to our Lord, and his answer to him. And,
Although there are but a very few circumstances related concerning this person, we may be able to gather a tolerably satisfactory account of him from them. The nature of the crime for which he suffered appears from the punishment inflicted on him; for crucifixion was a Roman punishment, appropriated to slaves, or to such as had rebelled against the state. Thus, when the Jewish rulers, unable to prevail with Pilate to put Jesus to death because he had declared himself the son of God, the Messiah, craftily suggested that he had assumed the character of a king, and set himself up against Cæsar, and the governor had meanly condescended to pass sentence on him for it against his own convictions, as it was a state crime, the condemnation to be crucified was prescribed by the Roman law, and followed of course. And it is probable that these two malefactors, who underwent the same punishment with him, had been concerned
cerned in some sedition and rising against the government, by their being condemned to the like punishment. So that our English translation gives a wrong idea of the men in calling them thieves, the word in the original being frequently applied by ancient writers to persons concerned in insurrections, and this is pointed out here to be the proper meaning of
; and our word rebels (two rebels) would be a more exact rendering than thieves.
Now although it be a great crime to disturb the peace of the state where we live and are protected, yet there are different gradations of it, according to particular seasons and circum
And whoever considers those times when the Jews were subject to the Roman yoke,→ the high sentiments of liberty which they entertained from their religion, which forbade them to set a stranger over them to be their king, (Deut. xvii.) which they might easily mistake and construe into the not bearing any foreign idolatrous power, like that of the Romans, to control them :
Whoever, also, reflects on the severity and injustice of Pilate's goverment, and to what
extremes oppression will drive men: how often those that are far from being bad men are drawn to take up arms out of motives of friendship, and from particular situations and connexions, which, as it were, impel them to it ;-whoever takes in all these circumstances in the present case, will not be inclined hastily to pronounce concerning this criminal, that he had been a profligate person. He might have come to this tragical end by this one wrong action and opposition to the laws: and whatever violence or injustice he might have committed, it appears that he sincerely repented of it, and acknowledged his punishment to be no more than he deserved. "We (says he) receive the due reward of our deeds."
As he was a Jew, he must have heard many things of our Saviour: it was hardly possible. it should be otherwise: for all the nation was. in expectation of the Messiah, and paid attention to Jesus. And he appears well acquainted with his character in that reproof of his fellow-prisoner; "This man hath done nothing amiss." Nay, we seem to be authorized to conclude from these words that he believed him to be the Messiah. For as our Lord all along assumed that character, and was now suf
suffering death for not giving up his preten sions to it, but persevering in them; if the man had not been persuaded that it really be longed to him, he must have thought that he did much amiss, and was very blameable in pretending to it.
I trust then, that it is not going further than the circumstances of the case authorize, and will bear us out, when I say, It is pro bable that, with many others of his countrymen, he had attended upon Christ; had seen his miracles, and heard his divine discourses, and been much impressed with them; but had been diverted from these better pursuits by that rash act and attempt, whatever it was, that had now brought him to the cross, and so infamous an end: when, during his imprisonment having had full leisure, and his unhappy situation turning him to serious thoughts; and comparing what he had before known and heard of the holy Jesus with what he now saw, viz. his speech to the women that bewailed him as they were going to Mount Calvary, his patient and meek demeanour yet uncommon greatness under his sufferings, his prayer for his enemies as they were nailing him to the cross, and
the like, he became fully convinced that he was the Messiah, their great promised prophet and Saviour of the world.
I would not willingly go beyond the truth into the contrary extreme, in vindication of a character that has been so much misrepresented.
But it seems to me that, besides this humility and just sense of his own sinfulness and demerits before God, we perceive the marks of pious and good dispositions, which could not have sprung up all at once, but must have flowed from long reflection and habit. Such is that his remarkable faith and owning of Jesus to be the Messiah, at a time when he was expiring together with himself upon the cross.
He must have had just sentiments of the great God, and a noble confidence in him, and a full persuasion that virtue was the only way to his favour, who could believe Christ to be the distinguished object of it, and apply to him as such in that his forlorn perishing condition, when his chosen disciples gave up all hope and expectation from him.
We have no grounds, then, to conclude him to have been a man of an abandoned character, as is commonly supposed, from the crime