From “The Second Word from the Cross” (1906)
When the two thieves heard them blaspheme at the bottom of the Cross, they both of them caught up their blasphemy, and cast the same in his teeth, so that both of them blasphemed him upon the Cross.
Then one was converted, as we know. And I love to think, what was it that converted him? Was it that he heard him say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and thought he had never heard anyone put to death say such words of the executioners, was it that? Was it that he read the little Gospel over the top of the Cross, “Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews,” which Pilate had properly put there? He must have turned his head and looked on the Lord himself. That is what converted him, and that is what converts every soul that learns to love the Savior. His words are beautiful; his miracles are wonderful, but there is nothing like Jesus Christ himself.
It was himself. He looked and he saw him. It was the look of the Crucified One. There was something about him. He looked at Christ and Christ looked at him. And, just as when Peter blasphemed in the Judgment Hall, he, Peter, looked at Christ and found Christ looking at him (for Peter would never have known that he looked at him, if he had not been looking at Christ), and broke out into ears, so the suffering thief turned round and looked at Christ and saw Christ looking at him.
And there is life in a look from the Crucified. The man was converted, testified to his Savior, rebuked his fellow blasphemer, made his confession, confessed his Savior in the midst of all the darkness, and asked his Savior to give him remembrance. Then the Lord who who reigned from the tree, gave him something more than a remembrance; he gave him Paradise, and he gave him something even more than Paradise, for he gave him association with himself, “with me.” With Christ in Paradise! He, the very God of very God, could take a thief out of the deepest degradation and put him into Paradise…
That man who hung beside the Savior, once had a home and a mother. He was taught about the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob. He had seen the sunlight come and go upon the mountains. It was nothing to him. It was all thrown away; it never moved him.
He never had a chance until he hung in agony at the side of the Savior. In that position – in agony – he found salvation. That is the beautiful story; close by the side of the Savior he found salvation. And that is the Gospel – never too late – never too late. As long as the heart beats, if it beat with one throb for the Savior, it is never too late.
Arthur H. Stanton (1839-1913) was an English Anglo-Catholic priest, who served for 51 years, his entire ministry, as curate of St. Alban’s, Holborn, in London. He was a leader of the Ritualist Movement and a champion of the poor, and was famous for his emotional sermons. He preached “The Second Word from the Cross” at St. Alban’s on Good Friday, 1906.