269) The Repentant Sinner

By Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), written in 1886

And he said unto Jesus, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy Kingdom.“ And Jesus said unto him, “Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” –Luke 23:42, 43

     There was once a man who lived for seventy years in the world, and lived in sin all that time.  He fell ill but even then did not repent.  Only at the last moment, as he was dying, he wept and said, ‘Lord! forgive me, as Thou forgave the thief upon the cross.’

     And as he said these words, his soul left his body.  And the soul of the sinner, feeling love towards God and faith in His mercy, went to the gates of heaven and knocked, praying to be let into the heavenly kingdom.  Then a voice spoke from within the gate, ‘What man is it that knocks at the gates of paradise and what deeds did he do during his life?’

     And the voice of the Accuser, the Devil, replied, recounting all the man’s evil deeds, and not a single good one.

     And the voice from within the gates answered, ‘Sinners cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.  Go hence!’

     Then the man said, ‘Lord, I hear your voice, but cannot see your face, nor do I know your name.’

     The voice answered, ‘I am Peter, the Apostle.’

     And the sinner replied, ‘Have pity on me, Apostle Peter!  Remember man’s weakness, and God’s mercy.  Were you not a disciple of Christ?  Did you not hear his teaching from his own lips, and did you not have his example before you?  Remember then how, when he sorrowed and was grieved in spirit, and three times asked you to keep awake and pray, you slept, because your eyes were heavy, and three times he found you sleeping.  So it was with me.  Remember, also, how you promised to be faithful unto death, and yet three times you denied him, when he was taken before Caiaphas.  So it was with me.  And remember, too, how when the cock crowed you went out and wept bitterly.  So it is with me.  You cannot refuse to let me in.’

     And the voice behind the gates was silent.

     Then the sinner stood a little while, and again began to knock, and to ask to be let into the kingdom of heaven.  And he heard another voice behind the gates, which said, ‘Who is this man, and how did he live on earth?’

     And the voice of the Accuser again repeated all the sinner’s evil deeds, and not a single good one.

     And the voice from behind the gates replied, ‘Go hence!  Such sinners cannot live with us in paradise.’

     Then the sinner said, ‘Lord, I hear your voice, but I see you not, nor do I know your name.’

     And the voice answered, ‘I am David; king and prophet.’

     The sinner did not despair, nor did he leave the gates of paradise, but said, ‘Have pity on me, King David!  Remember man’s weakness, and God’s mercy.  God loved you and exalted you among men.  You had it all:  a kingdom, and honor, and riches, and wives, and children; but you saw from your house-top the wife of a poor man, and sin entered into you, and you took the wife of Uriah, and slayed him with the sword of the Ammonites.  You, a rich man, took from the poor man his one ewe lamb, and killed him.  I have done likewise.  Remember, then, how you repented, and how you said, “I acknowledge my transgressions: my sin is ever before me?”  I have done the same.  You cannot refuse to let me in.’

     And the voice from within the gates was silent.

     The sinner having stood a little while, began knocking again, and asking to be let into the kingdom of heaven.  And a third voice was heard within the gates, saying, ‘Who is this man, and how has he spent his life on earth?’

     And the voice of the Accuser replied for the third time, recounting the sinner’s evil deeds, and not mentioning one good deed.

     And the voice within the gates said, ‘Depart hence!  Sinners cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.’

     And the sinner said, ‘Your voice I hear, but your face I see not, neither do I know your name.’

     Then the voice replied, ‘I am John the Divine, the beloved disciple of Christ.’

     And the sinner rejoiced and said, ‘Now surely I shall be allowed to enter.  Peter and David must let me in, because they know man’s weakness and God’s mercy; and you will let me in, because you love much.  Was it not you, John the Divine, who wrote that God is Love, and that he who loves not, knows not God?  And in your old age, did you not say to men:  “Brethren, love one another.”  How, then, can you look on me with hatred, and drive me away?  Either you must renounce what you have said, or loving me, must let me enter the kingdom of heaven.’

     And the gates of paradise opened, and John embraced the repentant sinner and took him into the kingdom of heaven.

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Psalm 116:7  —  Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.

Luke 6:31  —  (Jesus said), “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

I Timothy 1:15-16  —  Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners– of whom I am the worst.  But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. 

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Lord Jesus, remember me.