By Richard Innes

When is a pardon not a pardon?

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In Pennsylvania in 1929, George Wilson was sentenced to be hanged by the United States Court for robbing the Federal payroll and for murder. President Andrew Jackson pardoned him but this was refused, and Wilson insisted that it was not a pardon unless he accepted it. That was a point of law never before raised, and the President called the Supreme Court to decide.

Chief Justice John Marshal gave the following decision: 'A pardon is a paper, the value of which depends upon its acceptance by the person implicated. It is hardly to be supposed that one under sentence of death would refuse to accept a pardon, but if it is refused, there is no pardon. George Wilson must be hanged!' And he was.

As Chief Justice Marshal said, it is difficult to believe that a man sentenced to death would refuse to accept an unconditional pardon he was offered. But why is it that untold numbers of people have been offered a far greater pardon that George Wilson was offered and have either refused or failed to accept it.

And exactly what is this pardon? It is a full and free unconditional pardon from God, who gave His only Son, Jesus Christ, to die in our place on the insufferably cruel Roman cross at Easter time some 2,000 years ago. Jesus did this to pay the just penalty for all our sins so that God could fully and freely pardon every one of us.

However, like George Wilson's pardon, God's pardon only becomes a reality when it is believed and accepted. But why did Jesus have to die, you might ask.

The answer is that Jesus died for us because God is a God of infinite justice and cannot forgive sin without justice being served. Otherwise He wouldn't be God. This means that all sin must be judged according to the universal moral law of God. We can no more defy this law and live than we can defy the law of gravity by jumping out of an aeroplane without a parachute and survive.

It is 'the law of sin and death,' which means that the judgement and penalty of all sin is death that, after this life, is eternal separation from God in the place God's Word calls Hell. God's Word makes it very clear that 'the wages of sin is death' – eternal death. This happens unless we apply a higher law which is 'the law of the Spirit of Life,' which is a God-given 'spiritual parachute' to save us from eternal death.

God is a God of absolute holiness so no sin or unforgiven sinners can survive in His presence. As some bacteria are not able to survive in the light if they are exposed to it, so it is with us. In our sinful state if we were exposed to God and His incredible light, we would be destroyed instantaneously. And herein lies our dilemma.

However, God's answer to our dilemma is that God is not only a God of infinite justice and absolute holiness, but also a God of eternal love. Because of his love, God gave His very own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to die on the Cross in our place to pay the penalty for our sins to meet the automatic demands of God's justice and holiness. Christ's death made possible God's 'law of the Spirit of Life' – a God-given 'spiritual parachute' – to save us from eternal death. This is God's gift to you and me.

To accept this pardon all we need to do is confess our sinfulness, believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died in our place for our sins, and ask God for, and accept, His forgiveness and pardon. It may seem too simple but Jesus did all that needed to be done for us. All we need to do is accept the pardon.

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