A Highly Improbable Pardon

Reverend Peter Miller was a faithful preacher during the Revolutionary War. He lived near Michael Widman, an unruly neighbor who despised him and sought to do him harm. Widman was a tavern owner and was later found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. Upon hearing this, Reverend Miller set out on foot to meet Gen. George Washington to intercede on his behalf. Washington listened but said he could not pardon his friend—”My friend,” exclaimed Reverend Miller, “He’s not my friend. In fact, he’s my worst enemy!” “What? Have you walked sixty miles to save the life of your enemy? That, in my judgment, puts the matter in a different light. I will grant your request.” With pardon in hand, Miller hastened to the place of execution and arrived just as his adversary was walking to the scaffold to be hanged. Widman exclaimed in anger, “Old Peter Miller has come to seek his revenge by watching me hang!” But to his astonishment, he watched the minister step out of the crowd and produce the pardon that spared his life. 

Before becoming acquainted with the Living Jesus at age 22, I regarded my standing before God as entirely safe. I wasn’t overly excited about the things of God, nor was I wholly indifferent. Much like spiritual pacifism, I felt secure residing in the realm of neutrality. I’ve long since learned no such neutrality exists: either Jesus is your friend, or you are foes. Either Christ is your enemy, or you are aligned with His cause. The lines of demarcation, according to Him, are by no means gray:

  • “Whoever is not with Me is against Me.” – Luke 11:23
  • “Whoever wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” – James 4:4

I found it highly improbable, or nearly impossible to believe the Father’s love could run so deep to pardon an avowed enemy like me, but it certainly did: “While we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son.” (Romans 5:10) Just like what Gen. Washington said: “That, in my judgment, puts the matter in a different light.” 

My friend Richard Simmons shares the following story: In 1829, 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 “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 to avoid sentence….” 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 complete 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.”

Truth, like a pardon, cannot be forced upon anyone but can be shared with everyone. If you find yourself on the wrong side of God’s dividing line, in other words, His enemy, the Gospel pardon to spare your life has been freely extended. You, however, must willfully receive what Christ offers: Himself. “Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God!” (John 1:12) 

According to T. M. Lindsay: “Pardon comes freely from God and begins the Christian life, and it not painfully won at the end of it.” Allow today to begin that new life in Christ. Receive Christ’s pardon! Even as improbable as it may seem.

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