Joseph Welcome's Sentence

 •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 9
WELCOME, you have committed a terrible crime. Your punishment is to be more terrible still.
“The instinctive, unreasoning horror of mankind regards the death sentence as a severe punishment. This idea is not correct. You are now to receive a sterner punishment. Your victim died but once. You will die a hundred times. You will suffer more the day you put on your prison clothes than she did in her death. After that there will be only the hopeless, painful years, from day to day, from month to month, stretching out before you in their agony.
“In four or five years the eternal solitude and silence will begin to crush in upon you like an iron weight. You hear that street-car bell ringing in the street as it passes now. You will remember it in after years as the most exquisite music. It will mean hurrying crowds that go where they like, and do as they please; it will mean the greatest of all pleasures—freedom. You can only dream of it by day and by night, and your dream will be torture unspeakable.”
And with these fearfully solemn words of the judge ringing in his ears, and branding themselves for all time on the tablet of his memory, Joseph Welcome, murderer, was led recently from the criminal court of Chicago to the State penitentiary, there to spend the remainder of his days in solitary confinement, shut up with his own hopeless thoughts, with the remembrance of his crime, the remorseful recollection of his guilt, and the dread apprehension of its far-reaching consequences.
Capital punishment is to life imprisonment what annihilation is to the eternal punishment of Scripture. Men do not, as a rule, dread the thought of extinction: "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die," expresses pretty accurately their thought in this matter. The lie of soul-annihilation is welcomed by the world for the reason that it seems to offer to them the loophole of escape from the endless consequences of their sin, which they desire to go on in.
But Holy Scripture holds out no such hope to those who wish to live and die in sin; an everlasting imprisonment in the blackness of darkness is the punishment awaiting all who persist in their impenitence and rebellion against God. It is not necessary to prove this to you or to anyone. God's immutable word declares it to be so, and it is therefore true, absolutely.
Nor is it in the least unjust. Men speak of the incompatibility of an eternity of suffering for less than a century of sin. Welcome was but an instant in shooting to death an innocent woman, yet no one in the United States complained of the great difference between the length of time consumed in the committal of his crime, and the long years he is sentenced to spend in his cell. Men accept without question the verdicts of their courts; while God, " the Judge of all," must be told to His face that what He proposes to do with transgressors is unjust, cruel, impossible to a Being whose nature is love, and out of all proportion to the extent and gravity of their guilt.
But let them object. The day is fast approaching when He will fully "convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him." (Jude 15.)
And thou, reader, what wilt thou say when He shall punish thee? "You will die a hundred times," said Judge Marcus Kavanaugh to the guilty Joseph Welcome, as he was about to be led from his presence by the officers of justice. And those, who in the last day shall stand "guilty before God," will pass from His presence to suffer death, not once nor twice, nor yet a hundred times, nor a thousand times one thousand, but death forever, a living death repeated without end, suffered continuously, without cessation, forever and forever. "This is the second death," reserved for all who will not come to Christ that they might have life. (See John 5:4040And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life. (John 5:40) and Rev. 20:1414And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. (Revelation 20:14).)
There will be no such thing as "company" there. Each individual rebel against God will dwell in his confinement as solitarily as if he were the only lost soul in all the universe of God. The American judge spoke of the "eternal solitude and silence" crushing the prisoner, after a few years, like a weight of iron. What must an eternity of such solitude mean to the soul in hell. A silence broken only by the wail of those who have discovered too late that sin and its punishment are fearful realities, and that God is as good as His word when He declares that He will "by no means clear the guilty.”
The judge pathetically reminded the condemned murderer of the tinkling of the passing bell outside in the busy street, and how, in after years, he would remember its sound as the most exquisite music. "It will mean hurrying crowds," he said, "that go where they like and do as they please; it will mean the greatest of all pleasures—freedom.”
And will not the eternally imprisoned soul retain in its memory one sound heard while on earth (but never heard in hell)—the joyful sound of the gospel of God's love and grace in Christ, of Calvary and its cross, and the perfect atonement made there for sin, and Christ's willingness and power to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by HIM?
And though men now despise the gospel, the memory of it will be to them, when in a lost eternity, as music excelling in its exquisite sweetness all earthborn sounds of melody; but it will remind them of something they have forfeited forever, freedom, liberty enjoyed by the redeemed throng in that city whose street is gold, who follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth, who are in life, who dwell in love, and who sing one everlasting hymn of praise to Christ, by whose merits they are there: "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain." But the memory of the exquisite music will be exquisite torture then.
Thank God, for you—
“The gospel bells are ringing
Over land from sea to sea;
Blessed news of free salvation
Do they offer you and me.
'For God so loved the world
That His only Son He gave:
Whosoe'er believeth in Him
Everlasting life shall have.'”
Will you, reader, have this Christ as your Savior and Lord to-day? You will not have long to hesitate in your choice, remember. The die will soon be cast, and if you neglect or refuse to act promptly by reason of your love for sin, you may find yourself where you never expected to be-with "the spirits in prison," shut out of heaven and shut up in hell. A few more months, or even moments, of indecision may cause you to miss an eternity of bliss with the Man of Calvary, who was, and is, the Son of God.
If you should let slip so great, so happy, so desirable a destiny, how awfully true to your case would the words of Welcome's judge apply:
“You can only dream of it... and your dream will be torture unspeakable." C. K.