I want to tell you a scene that occurred some years ago. Our Commissioner went to the Governor of the State and asked him if he wouldn’t pardon out five men at the end of six months who stood highest on the list for good behavior. The Governor consented, and the record was to be kept secret; the men were not to know anything about it.
The six months rolled away and the prisoners were brought up–1,100 of them–and the President of the commission came up and said: “I hold in my hand pardons for five men.” I never witnessed anything like it. Every man held his breath, and you could almost hear the throbbing of every man’s heart. “Pardon for five men,” and the Commissioner went on to tell the men how they had got these pardons–how the Governor had given them, but the Chaplain said the surprise was so great that he told the Commissioner to read the names first and tell the reason afterward.
The first name was called–‘Reuben Johnson’–and he held out the pardon, but not a man moved. He looked all around, expecting to see a man spring to his feet at once; but no one moved. The Commissioner turned to the officer of the prison and inquired: “Are all the convicts here?” “Yes,” was the reply, “Reuben Johnson, come forward and get your pardon; you are no longer a criminal.” Still no one moved.
The real Reuben Johnson was looking all the time behind him, and around him to see where Reuben was. The Chaplain saw him standing right in front of the Commissioner, and beckoned to him; but he only turned and looked around him, thinking that the Chaplain might mean some other Reuben. A second time he beckoned to Reuben and called to him, and a second time the man looked around. At last the Chaplain said to him: “You are the Reuben.” He had been there for nineteen years, having been placed there for life, and he could not conceive it would be for him. At last it began to dawn upon him, and he took the pardon from the Commissioner’s hand, saw his name attached to it, and wept like a child. This is the way that men make out pardons for men; but, thank God, we have not to come to-night and say we have pardons for only five men–for those who have behaved themselves. We have assurance of pardon for every man. “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”