The date was December 6, 1829, and his name was George Wilson. George was an ordinary man, an average guy, really, whose life was following a predictable path. That is, until one day. On December 6th, 1829, George left his life as a "law-abiding citizen" and robbed a United States mail carrier. He was caught and in May of 1830 found guilty on six charges, including robbery of the mail and "putting the life of the driver in jeopardy." Not long after his guilty verdict, George received his sentence - execution by hanging. Back then, the laws were swift and they were harsh.
This drastic sentencing outraged George's friends. This was his first offense and no one was even hurt. But the judge had made his decision. Period. So these friends of George took their case straight to the top - to President Andrew Jackson, himself. And, remarkably, history records that after much deliberation, President Jackson gave George a full pardon. He was no longer condemned to die. But the story doesn't end there. In fact, it's really just the beginning.
You see, George Wilson - freed from his sentence - refused the pardon. Yes, he held in his hands a deserved conviction, and the President, himself, offered to replace it with a full acquittal. But George Wilson refused. The case made national news and went all the way to the Supreme Court. In its landmark ruling, the Court gave this statement:
"A pardon is an act of grace... 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." - The U.S. Supreme Court
And he chose not to accept it. In the fall of 1830, before a vast crowd, George Wilson was executed by hanging. The gift of life was before him, yet this guilt-ridden man chose death. How tragic. But before we write this story off as a random act by a foolish man, consider this. Thousands of people every day are doing just that. The Cross of Jesus is a constant reminder of the pardon God offers to man. A pardon that would result in an eternity in the presence of God, rather than separation from Him in Hell. All they must do is believe. The Apostle Paul could not have put it any plainer…
"Brothers, listen! In this Man Jesus there is forgiveness of your sins. Everyone who believes in Him is freed from all guilt and declared right with God..." Acts 13:38, 39 (NLT)
… freed from all guilt. What a universal need. In a poll done by USA Today, when adults were asked what they most felt guilty about, a full third - 34% - said they felt guilty but didn't know why. Like George Wilson, the guilt is there, but many would rather die in it than accept a way out. When offered new life through Jesus, they simply refuse the pardon. How tragic. But it doesn't have to be. Listen to how life can be once we accept this pardon, through the work of the Cross.
"The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death." - Romans 8:2 (MSG)
…life in Christ…has cleared the air, freeing you from…sin and death. Sounds amazing, doesn't it? It is amazing. Amazing grace. Without forgiveness through Jesus, we are all tied to the guilt of our past. By accepting His pardon, we are freed from it.
Freedom from guilt. The gift of life. Embraced by Almighty God. How many more reasons do we need… to believe?
Written by Ann Mainse