By Pastor Ron Buxton
I really enjoy studying and reading history, and many of the documentaries produced on America”s history absolutely fascinate me. The old adage–”Truth is stranger than fiction” really comes to light from time to time when I read or view such things. A case in point would be the real life story of George Wilson almost 200 years ago.
The year was 1829, and outside of the city of Philadelphia Pennsylvania, George Wilson was arrested for robbery of a mail coach. The charges later against him were more serious after one person died during that robbery. Remember, this was the 1800’s, so Wilson was arrested, found guilty, and sentenced to be hung shortly thereafter. Amazingly, some friends intervened on his behalf, and to the disbelief of many, George Wilson received a pardon from President Andrew Jackson! But here’s where the truth becomes stranger than fiction.
When George Wilson was informed of this presidential pardon, he refused to accept it! Can you imagine that? This sent the whole judicial system of that time into confusion. The sheriff that had the responsibility to see that Wilson would face capital punishment for his crime was totally stunned. How could he execute a man that was pardoned by the United States President—even though that man refused the pardon? This was quite a predicament. The sheriff pursued all legal means to do the right thing, and eventually that meant appealing to President Jackson.
This then stunned President Jackson, so he turned to the United States Supreme Court for clarification. It would be Chief Justice Marshall who would rule on the matter. Basically, he ruled that a pardon is only a piece of paper and its value depends upon the acceptance of the person that it is given to. Thus, George Wilson was soon afterwards sent to the gallows. The presidential pardon remained as only a souvenir on the sheriff’s desk!
As strange and tragic that this true historical event was, everyday the message of Jesus Christ is treated as such. How sad that for the majority of people the Bible has become a “souvenir” on their bookshelves. Amazingly, inside that most Holy Book lies something much greater than a presidential pardon! The forgiveness of all our sins–through faith in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ–is offered to those who accept it. But just like was the case with George Wilson, the value of the pardon depends upon the acceptance of the person that it is given to.
In the First Epistle of John, we read these words: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) Amazing! If we “confess” (meaning “say what God says”–in agreement with His Word) our sins, and then receive by faith His redemption from the cross, He promises to forgive all our sins. Make no mistake about it. We all need a pardon. If we are completely honest with ourselves, we know that we have sinned against God, others, and ourselves. We live in a broken world, and it is all the combined sinful choices that have brought us to where we are today as individuals and as a society. First John 2:2 declares–”[Jesus] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”
The choice is ours. Will the message of Jesus’ redemption and forgiveness of all our sins be just a “souvenir”, or the most precious truth held by us? Pardon me…but did you know that you have been pardoned? Don’t be like George Wilson. The eternal consequences are worse than the gallows.