I came across a true but odd story about pardons….
In 1829 two men, George Wilson and James Porter, robbed a United States mail carrier. Both were subsequently captured and tried in a court of law. In May 1830 both men were found guilty of six charges, including robbery of the mail “and putting the life of the driver in jeopardy.” Both Wilson and Porter received their sentences: Execution by hanging, to be carried out on July 2.
Porter was executed on schedule, but Wilson was not. Influential friends pleaded for mercy to the President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, on his behalf. President Jackson issued a formal pardon, dropping all charges. Wilson would have to serve only a prison term of 20 years for his other crimes. Incredibly, George Wilson refused the pardon!
An official report stated Wilson chose to “waive and decline any advantage or protection which might be supposed to arise from the pardon….” Wilson also stated he “…had nothing to say, and did not wish in any manner to avail himself in order to avoid sentence….”
This was such an unusual response because no one had ever refused a pardon before. Great legal minds did not know if you could refuse a pardon. So, this case went to court, all the way to the Supreme Court.
The U.S. Supreme Court determined, “The court cannot give the prisoner the benefit of the pardon, unless he claims the benefit of it…. It is a grant to him: it is his property; and he may accept it or not as he pleases.”
Chief Justice John Marshall wrote, “A pardon is an act of grace, proceeding from the power entrusted with the execution of the laws…. (But) delivery is not completed without acceptance. It may then be rejected by the person to whom it is tendered, and…we have no power in a court to force it on him.”
Can you imagine not accepting a pardon if you were in George Wilson’s shoes? I certainly can’t! If someone wanted to pardon me to save me from the death penalty, I would gladly accept it, even if I was as guilty as George Wilson (and knew it).
Spiritually speaking, many don’t see themselves guilty of anything. We play the comparison game instead. You know, “I’m not as bad as that person over there.” Even Jesus tells us a story about this very thing in the parable of “The Pharisee and the Tax Collector” found in Luke 18:9-14. In this story, the Pharisee prays this prayer, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.”
God doesn’t play the comparison game and neither should we. Instead we should acknowledge our own culpability in the things that fall short of what God wants for us. When we do that, God is ready to pardon us in that very moment! When we point to someone else as being worse than us, what we are really doing is saying, “See, I am a good person” even though we are not.
The great evangelist Dwight L Moody (1837-1899) who founded “The Moody Bible Institute” in Chicago talks about pardons this way…
“Humans give pardons out for good character or good behavior; but God gives out pardons to people who do not have any character. God offers a pardon to every sinner on earth if they will take it. God says, I do not care who he (or she) is or what he (or she) is like. They may be the greatest unrestrained person that ever walked the streets, or the greatest user of foul language who ever lived, or thief, or tramp. Christ commissioned His disciples to preach the Gospel to every creature.”
That “Gospel” is a “pardon for sin and a peace that endureth” to quote an old hymn.
As for me, I am guilty. I seek God’s pardon and peace. I know I am not that good, but I am forgiven.