Thursday, September 14, 2006

A Pardon is Not a Pardon?

Allow me to comment on the following article excerpt by Jan LaRue, Chief Counsel for Concerned Women for America. The complete article is available here.

"On May 27, 1830, a federal judge sentenced George Wilson to death after he pleaded guilty to several counts of violating federal mail statutes, including placing the life of the mail carrier in jeopardy. The carrier was not injured. James Porter, Wilson’s co-defendant, was hanged on July 2 of the same year.

President Andrew Jackson pardoned Wilson in response to a plea from Wilson’s influential friends. Charges against Wilson were then brought in a second court, which allegedly involved the same acts that Wilson had pleaded guilty to in the first court. Nonetheless, Wilson pleaded guilty and the prosecutor moved the court to pronounce judgment on Wilson.

The judge had heard about Wilson’s pardon from President Jackson. Instead of granting the prosecutor’s motion for judgment, the judge expressed the “propriety of inquiring as to the effect of the pardon” to the conviction at hand.

On the next day, counsel for Wilson appeared in court “and on his behalf waived and declined any advantage or protection which might be supposed to arise from the pardon referred to.” Put simply, Wilson refused to plead his pardon. It would have protected him from being placed in jeopardy twice, if the acts were the same as those that he had pleaded guilty to in the first court. He thereby waived his Fifth Amendment right under the U.S. Constitution.

The case went to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit where the judges were divided on the questions of double jeopardy and the effect of the pardon. They ordered the questions certified to the Supreme Court for decision.

Mr. Taney, attorney general for the United States, argued that the charges didn’t violate the double jeopardy clause and that the pardon could not apply because the prisoner had not brought it before the court. No counsel appeared for Wilson.

The Court did not decide the double jeopardy issue because it found the appellate record incomplete. Chief Justice John Marshall wrote the majority opinion in answer to the question of the effect of an executive pardon:

A pardon is an act of grace, proceeding from the power entrusted with the execution of the laws, which exempts the individual, on whom it is bestowed, from the punishment the law inflicts for a crime he has committed. It is the private, though official act of the executive magistrate, delivered to the individual for whose benefit it is intended, and not communicated officially to the court. It is a constituent part of the judicial system, that the judge sees only with judicial eyes, and knows nothing respecting any particular case, of which he is not informed judicially. A private deed, not communicated to him, whatever may be its character, whether a pardon or release, is totally unknown and cannot be acted on. The looseness which would be introduced into judicial proceedings, would prove fatal to the great principles of justice, if the judge might notice and act upon facts not brought regularly into the cause. Such a proceeding, in ordinary cases, would subvert the best established principles, and overturn those rules which have been settled by the wisdom of ages. Id. at 160-161.

Wilson knew he had been pardoned but knowing wasn’t enough. His counsel knew about it too. The judges knew about it but were powerless because Wilson wouldn’t accept it or plead it before the court. God secured our pardon but it too must be accepted and asserted by the condemned."

Pastor Dave Stone of Southeast Christian Church preached a sermon with this illustration approximately 2 years ago. I had much to say about it then. I just heard it replayed on the radio yesterday, and I'll comment again. The jist is this: A pradon is not a pardon unless it is accepted. And I agree. But there is much more to be said.

In the above case, the defendant was sentenced to death for his crime. The President pardoned him - thereby forgiving the offense without executing justice. In other words, President Jackson was merciful, but not just. In our relationship with God however, this is not the case. When God pardons sinners, He forgives the offense; but He most certainly and necessarily executes justice. God, unlike President Jackson, remains both merciful and just. And He must do so - His character requires it. That's why Jesus Christ was handed over to death - even death on a cross. That's what the doctrine of substitutionary atonement is all about. And herein lies the difference between the Calvinist (Reformed) view and the Arminian view of Christ's atonement.

Calvinists named the Arminian view "unlimited atonement," because Arminians tend to beleive that Jesus actually was a substitutionary atonement for the sins of every man. In that sense, it was unlimted. Calvinists call their own view "limited atonement" or "particular redemption," because they tend to believe that Jesus actually was a substitutionary atonement for the sins of only some - namely the elect, or those who have true saving faith in Christ. Calvinists deny that Jesus died for the sins of those who die in unbelief. And it boils down to technical matters of consistency. Calvinists generally have thought out their position through Biblical study and understand that if Jesus actually paid for the sins of every man, then no man would be condemned. The pardon is not merely offered, but applied.

In the above court case, had President Jackson issued Mr. Wilson a pardon and justly replaced him with a substitute to die in his place, then even if Wilson refused the pardon, the President would have no right to put Wilson to death as well, since Wilson's substitute had paid the penalty. President Jackson would have been unjust to put to death 2 men when only one death was required for justice to be served.

So to conclude, it is appropriate - from man's perspective - to urge one another to "accept the pardon." A pardon is only a pardon if it is accepted. In this view, it's up to us. But we must understand - to be consistent in our understanding of God's Word - that from God's perspective, a pardon is only a pardon if it is received. It was never a pardon if it isn't received. Thus for the one who dies in unbelief, there never was a pardon. Because Christ bore none of the sins of the unbeliever on the tree, because Christ paid none of the debt owed to God, the totality of God' s just wrath will fall for all eternity upon the shoulders of those who know not the Lord. Receive the pardon!

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