Salvation - Sin & Repentance

What Is the Extent of Christ's Power to Save?

By J. C. Ryle, edited by Dr. Paul M. Elliott
J. C. Ryle comments, "If we search the Bible through, from Genesis to Revelation, we shall never find a more striking proof of Christ's power and mercy than the salvation of the penitent thief."

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

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

J. C. Ryle comments, "If we search the Bible through, from Genesis to Revelation, we shall never find a more striking proof of Christ's power and mercy than the salvation of the penitent thief."

  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)

In this series of articles based on J. C. Ryle's exposition of the account of the penitent thief, we have seen that the passage teaches us the sovereignty of God in salvation and the nature of true repentance unto salvation. On the latter point Ryle comments that the characteristics of the nature of true repentance "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."

Ryle continues his exposition of this account by showing us how it demonstrates the power of Christ to save men, even in the very hour of His death:

We see, thirdly, in this history, the amazing power and willingness of Christ to save sinners. It is written that He is "able to save to the uttermost" (Hebrews 7:25). If we search the Bible through, from Genesis to Revelation, we shall never find a more striking proof of Christ's power and mercy than the salvation of the penitent thief.

In a footnote Ryle notes Jesus' use of the word "verily", or "amen" in the Greek:

The use of the word "amen," or "verily" here, shows the authority and power with which our Lord even on the cross could save souls, and the certainty with which the grant of paradise was made to the thief...No child of Adam ever received such an assurance as this.

This statement of Christ also demonstrates that the God-man was in complete control and retained Divine authority while on the cross. Jesus said, "Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father" (John 10:17-18). His final cry, "It is finished!" (John 17:30) was not a sigh of weak, out-of-control resignation as some postmodern preachers claim, but the triumphant shout of He who had done the Father's will by giving His life, "a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28).

Ryle continues:

The time when the thief was saved was the hour of our Lord's greatest weakness. He was hanging in agony on the cross. Yet even then He heard and granted a sinner's petition, and opened to him the gate of life. Surely this was "power!"

The man whom our Lord saved was a wicked sinner at the point of death, with nothing in his past life to recommend him, and nothing notable in his present position but a humble prayer. Yet even he was plucked like a brand from the burning [Zechariah 3:2, cf. Jude 23]. Surely this was "mercy."

Do we want proof that salvation is of grace and not of works? We have it in the case before us. The dying thief was nailed hand and foot to the cross. He could do literally nothing for his own soul. Yet even he through Christ's infinite grace was saved. No one ever received such a strong assurance of his own forgiveness as this man.

Do we want proof that sacraments and ordinances are not absolutely needful to salvation...? We have it in the case before us. The dying thief was never baptized, belonged to no visible church, and never received the Lord's supper. But he repented and believed, and therefore he was saved.

Let these things sink down into our hearts. Christ never changes. The way of salvation is always one and the same. He lives who saved the penitent thief. There is hope for the vilest sinner, if he will only repent and believe.

References:

Taken from J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Luke, Volume 2 (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1986), pages 472-473.

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