“Grace Abounding” or, The Murderer’s Conversion

“Grace Abounding” is the title of one of John Bunyan’s best-known works. The title is doubtless suggested by the verse, “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Rom. 5:20). Yes, it is blessedly true that there is no sin—murder, theft, lying, uncleanness—God cannot and does not forgive the repentant sinner.

God forgave David, adulterer and murderer. The Lord blessed the dying thief at His side. Thank God for it. No sooner were Cain’s hands imbued in the blood of his brother than God pointed him to the sin-offering crouching at the very door—a lamb ready for sacrifice. It is not only “grace abounding,” but “grace much more abounding.” The thought of it has brought many a vile sinner in repentance to God.

A tall, dark man, the subject of our story, was sitting gloomily in his cell. Two warders watched him night and day to prevent the possibility of escape, or weapon or poison being brought to him by such visitors as the local magistrates allowed to visit him. Some months previously this man, living then in a small South African town, had cruelly murdered his wife in order to marry one of his shop assistants.

In the town where the crime had been committed public feeling had run very high, consequently it was considered advisable by the authorities to remove him to another town—a hundred miles or so away—so that the jury might not be influenced by local feeling. However, the case was clear, and the wretched man was condemned to death.

A friend of the writer happened to be in the town, holding some gospel meetings. He was asked to visit the murderer in the condemned cell. Application was made to the magistrate. The man himself desired an interview. Leave was granted. Six times during the last two weeks of his life my friend had the great privilege of putting the gospel before him. Apparently he drank in the message of grace with great eagerness.

However, it came to my friend’s knowledge that the murderer was stoutly affirming his innocence, and he felt very pressed to put it plainly before him that there was no salvation for him, if he persisted in going into God’s presence with a lie upon his lips. “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso CONFESSETH and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Prov. 27:13).

The condemned man was taken aback, and energetically resisted the line my friend was led to take.

“You cannot prove that from the Bible,” said he.

“Indeed,” my friend replied, “what about King David upon his throne? He had committed a crime almost identical with that for which you have been found guilty. Not only did he confess his sin to God, but he was obliged to write down a full confession in Psalm 51 for the meanest subject of his kingdom to read, a confession which has been read by millions of people in succeeding generations.”

The murderer still refused to admit his guilt. My friend pleaded with him without avail. At length he solemnly warned him against going into God’s presence with a lie upon his lips, and left the town six days before the execution, with little hope of his salvation, though he heard afterwards that he had made a confession.

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Nearly two years later my friend contracted enteric fever—that scourge of South Africa. Whilst lying in hospital in Johannesburg he got into conversation with a young carpenter in the next bed but one to him. It transpired that he had been in G— at the time of the murder trial. When my friend told him that he had visited the condemned man six times, the interesting fact was elicited that this young carpenter had been lodging with a friend, also a carpenter, who had actually erected the gallows, and who told him that the guilty man had made a full confession of his crime, and that the night before the execution he had handed him a book, which he said had been used to his conversion, in which he had marked the articles that had particularly arrested his attention and helped him.

It at once occurred to my friend that this might be a book entitled “The Journey and Its End,” given by him to the prisoner, and which, according to the jailer’s report, he had read very diligently. This proved to be the case, the young carpenter identifying the book, and pointing out the articles, which had been marked by the condemned man.

Thus after two years God allowed my friend to have the joy of knowing that when the spoken message apparently had failed to reach the condemned man. He had used the printed page in bringing blessing to his soul.

God’s ways are truly wonderful. His grace is unbounded. Even the repentant murderer may be sure that God will not refuse his cry for mercy. If he turns in simple faith to the Saviour, who died on the Cross of Calvary, salvation will be his. Was not the very first trophy of the cross a thief, considered by his fellow men not fit to live?

Reader, if unsaved, you are in as much need of mercy as this poor murderer was. Will you not be warned in time? Turn to the Lord: He alone can save. He says, “Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). May God’s “grace abounding” touch your heart, and bring you before Him in true repentance and faith.

Gospel Tidings Annual 1911, p. 75