As heard on the JOY99 Tommy and Brooke Morning Show…
I recently read what must be one of the top 5 most bizarre Supreme Court cases of all time—United States v. Wilson, from 1833. The defendant, George Wilson, had pled guilty to several counts of robbery and “endangering the life of a mail driver.” This was apparently a serious enough combination of crimes that Wilson was sentenced to be executed. President Andrew Jackson issued Wilson a full pardon. But then Wilson (for reasons we will probably never know) refused the pardon. The odd case went all the way to the Supreme Court, and this was their verdict:
“A pardon is an act of grace … which exempts the individual on whom it is bestowed from the punishment the law inflicts for a crime he has committed. … A pardon is a deed, to the validity of which delivery is essential, and delivery is not complete without acceptance. It may then be rejected…and if it be rejected, we have discovered no power in a court to force it on him.”
This is the irony and the tragedy of so many of our friends and neighbors: they will die and go to hell with their sins paid for and pardoned.
It doesn’t matter how gracious the pardon is: if someone refuses to accept it, the pardon does no good. God has already extended the pardon. But we must choose it for ourselves. We are free, like George Wilson did, to reject it. But why? As the 17th century bishop Jeremy Taylor once said, “God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy in him.”
God’s wrath may be a doctrine that pains us—but not nearly like it pains God. There is no one in the universe that wants you to avoid hell more than God. For those who reject God, the last voice they will hear as they step into hell is the voice of Jesus saying, “You don’t have to do this!”
God will not override you. But until the day of your death, he will pursue you, trying to wake you up. Don’t confuse what God intends to be space to repent with his absence. Don’t be lulled into complacency. Flee to Christ, because today is the day of salvation. And none of us are guaranteed tomorrow.
(excerpt from, “A Pardon Must Be Valid” by J.D. Greear)