(Article for publication week of 8-14- AD 2014)
"And he said unto Jesus, 'Lord remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom" (Luke 23:42).
Here we have another notable example of saving faith found in the conversion of the Dying Thief. This is the only account we have in the scriptures of one converted in the final hour. Dear old Samuel Medley commented on this text, "the scriptures give us one instance of a malefactor converted at the eleventh hour that none may despair, and only one that none may presume."
Reading the other gospel accounts, we know that there were two thieves crucified with our Lord. The prophet Isaiah had prophesied, "he made his grave with the wicked" (Isaiah 53:9) , and "he was numbered with the transgressors" (Isaiah 53:12). We also ascertain from the other gospels that both these thieves railed on our Lord, initially. But, Luke includes this glorious testimony that one of the thieves was changed from nature to grace in his final hour. There are indeed none so sinful that Christ cannot save.
The conversion of the Dying Thief proves that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ Alone. If the Dying Thief would be saved, it would have to be by sovereign grace alone. It was too late for the poor wretch to amend his ways or attempt moral reform. It was too late to learn the catechism. It was too late for the man to be baptised. It was too late for this despicable sinner to "do penance" (so-called). If salvation were in any way depending upon the dying thief's works or merits or efforts, he must be damned forever. But glory be to God, He justifies the ungodly (Romans 4:5)!
The Dying Thief knew two things which are indispensable for salvation: he knew he was a sinner, and He knew that Christ was able to save. Note well this man was in no way trying to justify himself. He acknowledged that he was being punished justly (Luke 23:41). He also perceived that Christ was sinless and impeccable ("this Man hath done nothing amiss"). He also acknowledged the Lordship of Christ ("Lord remember me"). All these things are evidences that the man was truly changed by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit.
Now, let us see how he expressed his faith in Christ. He simply pleaded, "Lord remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom." I want you to notice that there are no two conversions the same as far as what sinners said, or how they prayed. You don't have to try to put words into people's mouths when they are truly converted. Indeed, if you have to try to coach or coax people into making a profession of faith, they are not saved. (And preachers who try to do that show that they don't understand the gospel themselves, and probably are not truly converted.)
Poor sinner, salvation is not in your prayer, but it is in the Dear Saviour. Though you feel all your attempts at praying to be but chattering words, if in the sincerity of your heart you are crying out to the Saviour, "remember me", you may rest assured you will be with Christ in Paradise. As William Cowper expressed it in poetry, "The dying thief rejoiced to see that Fountain in his day. And there may I, though vile as he, wash all my sins away." Poor sinner, plunge now by faith into that fountain opened for sin and uncleanness and be washed as white as snow today.