Reuben Johnson's Pardon

 •  3 min. read  •  grade level: 5
The following story, told by Dwight L. Moody, points up God's grace—and the sinner's incredulity.
When I was in Ohio, I was invited to preach in the State penitentiary. Eleven hundred convicts were brought into the chapel. After I got through preaching, the chaplain said to me: "Mr. Moody, I want to tell you of a scene which occurred in this room.
"A few years ago our commissioners went to the Governor of the state and got him to promise that he would pardon five men for good behavior.
"The Governor consented, with this proviso: that the record was to be kept secret, and at the end of six months, the five men highest on the roll should receive a pardon, regardless of who or what they were.
"At the end of six months the prisoners were all brought into the chapel. The commissioners came. The president stood on the platform, put his hand in his pocket, and brought out some papers.
"I hold in my hands," he said, "pardons for five men."
The chaplain told me he never witnessed anything on earth like it. Every man was still as death. Many were deadly pale. The suspense was awful; it seemed as if every heart had ceased to beat.
The president went on to tell them how they had got the pardon, but the chaplain interrupted him.
" 'Before you make that speech,' said the chaplain, 'read out the names. This suspense is awful.' "So he read out the first name: " 'Reuben Johnson will come and get his pardon,' he called, and held out the document. But no one came forward.
"He said to the Warden:
`Are all the prisoners here?'
"The Warden told him they were all there. "Then he said again: " 'Reuben Johnson will come and get his pardon. It is signed and sealed by the Governor. Reuben Johnson is a free man.'
"Not one moved. The chaplain looked right down where Reuben was. He was well known; he had been nineteen years there. Many were looking around to see the fortunate man who had got his pardon. Finally the chaplain caught his eye and said: " 'Reuben, you are the man.'
"Reuben turned around and looked behind him. The chaplain said the second time: " 'Reuben, you are the man,' and the second time Reuben looked around, thinking it must be some other Reuben. He had to say three times, `Reuben, come and get your pardon.'
"At last the truth began to dawn on the old man. He got up and came along down the hall, trembling from head to foot. When he got the pardon, he looked at it and went back to his seat, buried his face in his hands and cried.
"When the prisoners got into the ranks to go back to the cells, Reuben got into the ranks, too, and the chaplain had to call to him: " 'Reuben, get out of the ranks; you are a free man; you are no longer a prisoner.'
"And Reuben stepped out of the ranks. He was free!"
"That is the way," said Moody, "that men make out pardons; they make them out for good characters or good behavior. But God pardons men who haven't any characters.
"He offers a pardon to every repentant sinner on earth who will accept it. I don't care who he is or what he is like. He may be the greatest libertine that ever walked the streets, or the greatest blackguard who ever lived, or the greatest thief or vagabond. Christ commissioned His disciples to preach the gospel to every creature. Whosoever will may come."