A Historic Pardon

Today I have a little history lesson for you.

In 1829, George Wilson robbed a United States mail carrier. He was captured and tried in a court of law where he was found guilty of six charges. Wilson’s sentence was execution by hanging.

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.

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….”

Nobody knew what to do about this strange turn of events.

President Jackson felt that George Wilson had no choice but to take the pardon. Wilson argued that the pardon had no value if he did not accept it.

The case went all the way to the Supreme Court.

The Justices ruled that Wilson could not be forced to take the pardon and if Wilson did not accept the pardon then it did not have any value.

Chief Justice John Marshall wrote, “A pardon is an act of grace, proceeding from the power entrusted with the execution of the law. 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.”

George Wilson went to the gallows,
even though he had been pardoned.

Did you get that?
A pardon is an act of grace.
It is not complete without acceptance.
This act of grace cannot be forced on a person.
It is a free gift, but it can be rejected.

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord,
that he may have compassion on him,
    and to our God,
for he will abundantly pardon.

Isaiah 55:6-7

Pardon Me

I beg your pardon, but I have one more word on this topic of confession:

“The wise prayer of confession always leads to an acceptance of God’s pardon.” George Buttrick

Coming clean before God isn’t simply airing out your dirty laundry.
(There are plenty of day-time talk shows available for that kind of thing.)

It also isn’t groveling in sackcloth and ashes, ruthlessly berating yourself.
(That just leaves us feeling hopelessly worse off than before.)

Doing the dirty work of unearthing our inner stinky garbage must be followed by heaving it into the trash can, rolling it out to the curb, watching the waste management truck squish it to smithereens and waving goodbye. Sure, there will be another load next week — all the more reason to stay on top of it — but God never fails to remove our confessed sins, as far as the east landfill is from the west landfill.

Although God invites us into forgiveness, it didn’t come without cost.
But He prepared and paid for it, so we dare not squander such a gift.

When I am invited over to a friend’s house for lunch, I don’t wait for the bill. I don’t ask her how much I owe her. I don’t leave a few dollars on the table for a tip. She paid for the food and she prepared the meal from a heart of joy for our friendship. Receiving her gift in the same spirit of joy is the only appropriate response.

As I wrap up my confession, I might say something like this:
“Lord, I’m so sorry that it took Your Son’s blood to pay the price for my sin, but since it’s been done and my sins have been completely paid for, I will not insult You by refusing to receive forgiveness. Thank You from the bottom of my heart.”

Then I preach to myself by speaking aloud an assurance from the Word. Any of these would do just fine.

  • There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8:1)
  • Blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not count his sin. (Rom. 4:8)
  • I, I am He who blots out your transgression for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins. (Isa. 43:25)
  • If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with You there is forgiveness. (Ps. 130:3-4)
  • In Him we have redemption, through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace. (Eph. 1:7)
  • If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)