Sunday, March 15, 2015

Prisoners Smiled in Peace Before Choke to Death

So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:12-14)

Charles Wesley gives us an example of how one might obey Hebrews 13:13 and go “out the camp” and bear the abuse he endured. On July 18, 1738, two months after his conversion, Charles Wesley did an amazing thing. He had spent the week witnessing to inmates at the Newgate prison with a friend named “Bray,” whom he described as “a poor ignorant mechanic.” One of the men they spoke to was “a black [slave] that had robbed his master.” He was sick with a fever and was condemned to die.

On Tuesday, Wesley and Bray asked if they could be locked in overnight with the prisoners who were to be executed the next day [this is outside the camp!]. That night they spoke the gospel. They told the men that “One came down from heaven to save lost sinners.” They described the sufferings of the Son of God, his sorrows, agony, and death.

The next day the men were loaded onto a cart and taken to Tyburn. Wesley went with them. Ropes were fastened around their necks so that the cart could be driven off, leaving them swinging in the air to choke to death. The fruit of Wesley and Bray’s nightlong labour was astonishing. Here is what Wesley wrote:

“They were all cheerful; full of comfort, peace and triumph; assuredly persuaded Christ had died for them, and waited to receive them into paradise… The black [slave]… saluted me with his looks. As often as his eyes met mine, he smiled with the most composed, delightful countenance I ever saw.
            We left them going to meet their Lord, ready for the Bridegroom. When the cart drew off, not one stirred, or struggle for life, but meekly gave up their spirits. Exactly at twelve they were turned off. I spoke a few suitable words to the crowds; and returned, full of peace and confidence in our friends’ happiness. That hour under the gallows was the most blessed hour of my life.”

Two things in this story amaze and inspire me. One is the astonishing power of Wesley’s message about the truth and love of Christ. All the condemned prisoners were converted, and they were so deeply converted that they could look death in the face (without a long period of “follow up” or “discipling”) and give up their lives with confidence that Christ would receive them. Their suffering was not for righteousness’ sake, but the same dynamics were at work to sustain them. They looked on their suffering as something they must pass through on the way to heaven, and the hope of glory was so real that they died in peace. Oh, for such power in witness!

The other thing that amazes me is the sheer fact that Wesley went to the prison and asked to be locked up all night with condemned criminals who had nothing more to lose if they killed another person. Wesley had no supervisor telling him that this was his job. He was not a professional prison minister. It would have been comfortable and pleasant to spend the evening at home conversing with friends. Then why did he go?

God put it in his heart to go. And Wesley yielded. There are hundreds of strange and radical things God is calling his people to do in the cause of world missions. Not everyone will hear the same call. Yours will be unique. It may be something you never dreamed of doing. But I urge you to listen to the leading of the Spirit to see where “outside the camp” he may be taking you “to bear the reproach he endured.
[Quote from Let the Nation Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions by John Piper (Inter-Varsity Press, 1993, 2007), Page 81-82. Title mine]

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