Salvation - Sin & Repentance

What Is the Nature of True Repentance Unto Salvation?

By J. C. Ryle, edited by Dr. Paul M. Elliott
"This," comments J. C. Ryle, "is a point in the penitent thief's story which is fearfully overlooked."

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part two of a four-part series. Read part one.

"This," comments J. C. Ryle, "is a point in the penitent thief's story which is fearfully overlooked. Thousands look at the broad fact that he was saved in the hour of death, and look no further. They do not look at the distinct and well-defined evidences of repentance which fell from his lips before he died."

  1. Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, "If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us."
  2. But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, "Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation?
  3. "And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong."
  4. Then he said to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom."
  5. And Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise." (Luke 23:39-43)

We have begun a series of articles based on J. C. Ryle's exposition of the account of the penitent thief in Luke 23:39-43. Ryle began by noting the clear teaching of the sovereignty of God in salvation in this account:

There is no necessity that any one should be lost. There is no such a thing as decreed damnation in the Bible. The offers of the Gospel are wide, free and general...God's sovereignty was never meant to destroy man's responsibility. One thief was saved that no sinner might despair - but only one, that no sinner might presume.

Ryle continues with an exposition of the necessity and nature of true repentance as we find it expressed in the words of the dying thief:

We see secondly in this history, the unvarying character of repentance unto salvation. This is a point in the penitent thief's story which is fearfully overlooked. Thousands look at the broad fact that he was saved in the hour of death, and look no further. They do not look at the distinct and well-defined evidences of repentance which fell from his lips before he died. Those evidences deserve our closest attention.

The first notable step in the thief's repentance was his concern about his companion's wickedness in reviling Christ. "Do you not fear God," he said, "seeing you are in the same condemnation."

The second step was a full acknowledgment of his own sin. "We indeed are just in condemnation. We receive the due reward of our deeds."

The third step was an open confession of Christ's innocence. "This man has done nothing amiss."

The fourth step was faith in Jesus Christ's power and will to save him. He turned to a crucified sufferer, and called Him "Lord," and declared his belief that He had a kingdom.

The fifth step was prayer. He cried to Jesus when he was hanging on the cross, and asked Him even then to think upon his soul.

The sixth and last step was humility. He begged to be "remembered" by our Lord. He mentions no great thing. Enough for him if he is remembered by Christ.

In a footnote, Ryle mentions that a number of commentators rightly observe that at this stage in the unfolding of God's plan, "not one of the twelve apostles had such a clear and correct view of the real nature of Christ's" kingdom" as this penitent thief had. Luke's subsequent account of Jesus' conversation with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32) certainly bears this out.

Ryle continues:

These six points should always be remembered in connection with the penitent thief. His time was very short for giving proof of his conversion. But it was time well used. Few dying people have ever left behind them such good evidences as were left by this man.

Let us beware of a repentance without evidences. Thousands, it may be feared, are every year going out of the world with a lie in their right hand. They fancy they will be saved because the thief was saved in the hour of death. They forget that if they would be saved as he was, they must repent as he repented. The shorter a man's time is, the better must be the use he makes of it. The nearer he is to death, when he first begins to think, the clearer must be the evidence he leaves behind. Nothing, it may be safely laid down as a general rule, nothing is so thoroughly unsatisfactory [in that it is usually devoid of evidences] as a death-bed repentance.

References:

Taken from J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Luke, Volume 2 (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1986), pages 471-472.

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