Hardened Convict

But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?
~ Luke 12:20

Ye fools, did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also?
~ Luke 11:40

Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.
~ James 4:14

Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;
~ 1 Timothy 4:2

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;
~ Romans 1:28

Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.
~ Ephesians 4:19

Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?
~ Jonah 3:9

Harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness:
~ Psalm 95:8

Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
~ Hebrews 4:7

The Hardened Convict, by Shepard Kosciuszko Kollock. The following contains Chapter Five of his work, “Pastoral Reminiscences”.

The minister of Christ should delight to follow the example of him who came to heal the broken-hearted, to hush the sorrowful sighs of the prisoner, to give deliverance to the captive, and the opening of the dungeon to them that are bound. He will gladly enter the prison, and bearing the word of God in his hand, and the message of salvation on his lips, endeavour to do good to its criminal inmates, sensible that even for these guilty wretches there is plenteous redemption, and that through the agency of the Spirit they may be brought to the light and liberty of the sons of God. How interesting to pious beneficence are such scenes! Never does the minister of Christ appear more like his Divine Master than when he is spreading blessings through such a receptacle of woe; conveying religion to minds sunk in ignorance, and stupefied by vice; softening the hardened heart, awakening the slumbering conscience, exciting the feeling and prayer of penitence, and opening the soul to all the affecting views of the Gospel.

Especially do those who have been convicted of a capital offence, and who are under sentence of death, require attention—immured within the gloomy walls of a prison, deprived of liberty, confined to a lonely cell, often loaded revenge we find the abject pleasure of an abject mind with irons, and just about to launch into eternity, they need the sympathy, prayers, and instructions of a Christian teacher.

Learning that there was a person of this character in prison, who was soon to be executed, I sought an opportunity of visiting the poor criminal. Without difficulty I gained access, and found the convict, a female of about twenty years of age, who had been brought up in great seclusion in the country, and evidently in the midst of much ignorance and vice. She had been tried for poisoning a family, was found guilty upon the clearest evidence, and condemned to be hung in a few w^eks. Her appearance, even at first sight, was disagreeable and repulsive—on a closer view, her countenance disclosed a dark and sullen expression; while a quick and rapid motion of the eye indicated the existence of inward feelings, which no outward art could conceal.

I commenced the conversation by telling her that I had heard of her situation; that I truly pitied her; and had come to endeavour to do her good.

She replied, ” I did not know that there was a single person in the place who had any care or feeling for me. I am glad that you are come, for I am very lonely.”

” I am a minister of the gospel, and would endeavour to benefit your soul. I have enquired into your case, and find that with an impartial trial, with every opportunity of defence, you were convicted of the awful crime with which you were charged, and sentenced to be hung. You have only a little more than a fortnight in which to live; and all your time should be devoted to preparation for eternity, for there is no hope of your being pardoned.” This last remark evidently affected her, and led her to ask with earnestness: ” O! do you think that there is no hope for me. No hope from man—no hope of escape from the punishment of death. I have learned all the particulars, and assure you that you must die at the time appointed no petitions for your pardon will have any effect; what the judge said, when he passed the sentence was true, that there is no hope of mercy for you, but at a higher than an earthly tribunal.”

” But I am not guilty. I never did what they charge me with, but I suppose that I must die. I have no friends to defend me, or who care for me.”

” Yes! every thing on your trial was done to defend you; but the evidence of your guilt was so clear, that no one doubted it. You have friends; we who visit you are interested; desire your salvation, and wish you to be prepared for another and better world. You have been condemned by an earthly tribunal you are also condemned by the law of God you are under its sentence and curse not in all things written in the book of the law to do them.’ If one violation of the Divine law expose you to a curse, what a multitude of curses are ready to fall upon your soul! It was truly awful to hear an earthly judge commanding you to be hanged by the neck until you were dead, how much more terrible to hear the Almighty Judge pronounce that unalterable sentence, Depart, accursed, into everlasting fire.’ You are soon to suffer the punishment of temporal death, and you are liable to eternal death, the vengeance of the Most High his wrath is revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness and ungodliness of men.’ Who knows the weight, cursed is every one that continueth and power of the wrath of God. At his rebuke, rocks melt—the earth quakes—devils tremble. How can you endure the severity of his vengeance—not only for a day, a month, or a year, but through the ages of eternity. Yet this is the doom of those who know not God, and obey not the Gospel. ‘ Can thine heart endure, or thine hands be strong in the day that I shall deal with thee, saith the Lord of hosts? I, the Lord, have spoken, and her; but I perceived that these awful truths had no effect; that she hardened her heart against all instructions, warnings, and threatenings. Not objecting to prayer, I commended her soul to God; but during this exercise, she was as unfeeling as ever—there was no self-reproach, no remorse for the past, no dread of the future. Leaving her, I was painfully dejected, and almost discouraged; I indeed wondered that one in her state could be so utterly insensible; one who, in a few days, must be in eternity, and, dying in her present state, must groan under the agonies of absolute despair.

The next day I again visited her, and found her situation the same, her feelings perfectly callous to all the circumstances in which she was placed. Thinking that she might be an atheist or infidel, I asked if she believed in the existence of a God. She acknowledged that there was a God who had created and preserved, and who would certainly judge her. ” Do you believe in a future state—that your soul is immortal—that it will live after the body dies. She answered with emphasis, “Yes, I am sure that my soul will live—they cannot kill that—will do it. I spoke solemnly and earnestly, for I really felt for it will live; your guilt he only who ‘ confesseth and forsaketh his sins, shall find mercy.’ Do not then die with a lie on your lips. You say that your soul is immortal—it must, then, when your body dies, go to heaven or to hell. In your present state, you can have no hope of the former and can you think of going to the latter, can you form any conception of its torments? Can you conceive what horror, anguish, and despair reign in that dreadful place? The soul is separated from God, who alone can give happiness; and from Christ, who alone is the Saviour of and from all hope of restoration to the Divine There is remorse of conscience—a quick and see and know many things, and be concerned with many persons.”

After these remarks, she sunk into her usual apathy. I endeavoured to rouse her, and, though painful to me, exhibited ” the terrors of the Lord,” thinking that these were needed to move and affect her.

” You say that you believe that there is a God—he is almighty, and cannot be resisted; holy, and infinitely hates sin; all-seeing, and perfectly acquainted with your conduct—a God against whom you have sinned;’ whose laws you have broken; whose mercies you have despised whose spirit you have resisted. By death, which is rapidly approaching, you will be brought into the presence of this God; and! what a death is before you! Its terrors are increased when it comes by violent means by the hand of the executioner, in the sight of gazing multitudes; and as the wages and desert of your crimes. It is now no time to dissemble you stand on the verge of life—the principles of religion require you to confess sight, ‘ though afar off,’ of the glories of heaven, and an impassible gulf between—the infliction of Divine wrath, termed in Scripture, the ‘ fierce’ and everlasting’ wrath of Almighty God. He has prepared this punishment, and inflicts it upon his enemies—they fall under his strokes—they suffer it without any mitigation or end—they will never be weary of sinning, nor God ever weary of punishing. Can you bear this % In the language of Scripture, ‘ Can you stand before the indignation of the Lord; and can you abide the fierceness of his anger?’ ”

All was in vain—she evidently listened to me—seemed to understand—and may have believed me, but sullen apathy still marked her character; she had not the least sense of awe for that God in whose presence she was so soon to appear.

After a pause of some time, I turned to the consolations of the Gospel, thinking that if she would not feel in contemplating Jesus Christ as an Almighty Judge, she might be softened by considering him as a gracious Saviour.

” If you should ask if there is any hope of your salvation, any possibility of the door of heaven being opened to you, I say that there is hope for sinners; Christ, the all-glorious Son of God, pitied their deplorable case, and came into the world to relieve them; nay, he came into their place, and stood in their room. Because we had broken the Divine law, he fulfilled it in all its perfection because we deserved punishment, he sustained it in its utmost extremity. He submitted to scorn, reproach, and persecution, though all angels were commanded to worship him; he was condemned to death, the most shameful and tormenting death, far more shameful, and unspeakably more tormenting, than the one which you must soon undergo; he suffered inconceivable pains and anguish in his soul from the indignation of God. Here is your door of hope—if you feel that you are a sinner, a vile and worthless sinner; that you have not only nothing good, but much and grievous guilt, here in Christ there is hope. He died for the c ungodly,’ the ‘ unjust,’ the ‘lost:’ and if you were the very chief of sinners, that might make you unpardonable before man, but would be no difficulty with Christ, and should be no hindrance to your believing in him. Only come as a poor, undone creature, and you will find him able and ‘willing to save, even unto the uttermost;’ for he promises, ‘ him that come thus to me I will in no wise cast out;’ be his guilt ever so great, I will not reject, nor deny his suit. Go to a great man on earth; beg him to use his interest in your behalf, and he will take no notice of you go to your earthly judge or governour; entreat him on your bended knees to pardon you—he cannot—must not—the laws forbid him—not so with Jesus Christ—tenderly compassionate, and infinitely condescending, he invites you to come to him, with the assurance that he will not abhor nor reject you.

It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.’ He came, not to judge or condemn; not merely to teach, but to save—that was his business, to save sinners, the very worst of sinners. It is therefore one on which you may rely; it is true, and therefore you may trust it, good, and therefore it deserves your attention. Observe that it is for great sinners, for prison sinners, like yourself, for condemned and convicted sinners.”

If I could have seen the least feeling under this exhibition of God’s love; the least symptom of fear, the least pang of conscience, I should have been encouraged but no threat of God, no invitation of the Saviour, no consideration of any kind could move her.

I thought, ” Can this be a rational being capable of feeling? can she believe that there is a God, and that her soul is immortal? Has the Spirit so long striven with her, and been so long resisted, that he has entirely withdrawn? If angels can weep, surely their tears must flow in contemplating the carelessness and insensibility of such an undone and ruined being.”

After remaining some time in silence, I felt that there was hope only in God; and coming to his u throne of grace,” entreated him to bring to pass, by his power, what the skill and wisdom of man could not effect; to open her eyes, that she might see her condition; to soften her heart, that she might bewail her sins; to turn her course, that she might flee from the wrath to come; to reveal to her his character, that she might no longer remain remorseless and unconcerned; to make her, even at the eleventh hour, a trophy of his rich, free, and sovereign grace.

After the prayer, observing a Bible in the cell, I asked if she could read; replying in the affirmative, I marked the fifty-first Psalm, the fifteenth chapter of Luke, containing the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and the third chapter of the gospel by John, and entreated her to read them attentively, and to tell me her opinion of them, when I next visited her.

When leaving her, I met with the jailer, a pious and devout man, and said to him: ” What should we think of that poor criminal ] She is to be hung in a few days, and yet is as insensible as a stone. I have never met with an instance of such perfect apathy. Is she insane? She cannot be an idiot, for she can read.”

” Did she tell you that she could read 1 She has been guilty of deliberate falsehood; she knows not a single letter; in my conversation, I have found precisely what you have, such hardness of heart, and searedness of conscience, as make me sometimes think that she is idiotic, and therefore not a fit subject for capital punishment. To-morrow the court will meet to examine that point, and you will be cited as a witness.”

The next day the court did meet; I testified to her conduct, while I visited her; a physician also was present, as a witness, who, after closely examining her, expressed his opinion. The court decided without hesitation that she was no idiot, but a moral and responsible agent; that the circumstance of her being “past feeling,” instead of a palliation, was an aggravation of her crimes.

Not long after this, I was again in her cell, urging her to prepare for that death which was so soon to come upon her. When I spoke of its agonies and horrors, its consequences here, reducing the body to darkness, inactivity and corruption; its. consequences hereafter, conveying the immortal soul into eternity, there was not the least degree of terror or concern. I could not account for it I asked myself a hundred times, ” Where there is so strange an effect, what is the cause? She is no atheist, no disbeliever in a future state, no lunatic, nor idiot what is the cause?”

I continued visiting her almost daily. When the awful day arrived on which the punishment pronounced upon her was to be publicly inflicted, I was in the prison some minutes before her departure, saw her dressed for the occasion, and found her even cheerful at the prospect of death. She kneeled when I committed her soul to God in prayer, but refused to answer any questions entered the vehicle that was to bear her to the place of execution, and sat upon her coffin, without emotion; quietly surveyed the crowd as she was going to the gallows, and ascended the scaffold with great composure. Not a nerve in her body trembled. While solemnity was on every countenance, there was none on hers. While all around were weeping, not one tear was shed by her. Just before her arms were bound, her eyes covered, and the fatal cord placed around her neck, the mystery was solved—the oft-repeated question, ” what is the cause?” …haunt him every night Til give him no rest Til torment him every way till I kill him; the sooner I am gone—the better he shall know the worst he shall know it this very night.” Her eyes glistened with joy while rapture at the thought of quickly revenging her enemy. She left the world with exultation and triumph. A few reflections are added to the foregoing narrative was answered. She cried with exulting emotion going to die; and when I am dead, I will haunt that man, who was the witness against me at the trial, who brought me to this death. I will expressing her feelings her countenance beamed…

1. We perceive in it the evil of superstition—of that kind of superstition which leads to the belief that the souls of the dead return to our world, visit their acquaintance, retain their former passions, and have the power of avenging injuries. This was the belief of the poor criminal whom we have considered. From her conversation in her last hours, and from what I learned afterwards, it was evident that she fully admitted the reality of spectres and apparitions; that she had long cherished these delusions of the imagination; that reared in the midst of ignorance, and deprived of a knowledge of Scripture, she had early imbibed this sentiment, and united the grossest superstition with the wildest fanaticism. Such superstitious notions were the reason why Divine truth made no impression on her; why she was regarded by some as an idiot; and why the crime for which she suffered death was so coolly and deliberately committed. How ruinous to the understanding and heart are such false ideas! How they enfetter the mind, corrupt the feelings, encourage ignorance, cherish vindictiveness, and even deify those passions which are the disgrace of human nature. We see strongly displayed, in the incident related, the nature of revenge.

There is no passion more hostile to a man’s happiness, and more frequently forbidden by reason and Scripture, than this; and yet there is none to which the depravity of human nature more powerfully incites us. How much blood has been shed by this demon, how many thousands have groaned under the miseries which it has inflicted, what countless multitudes has it converted into ferocious monsters! In the subject of this narrative, how strong was this restless and cruel spirit—what a secret, calm, fixed resolution did she make to avenge herself upon one who she thought had injured her and caused her infamy what sacrifices did she make for this purpose, what dark stratagems, gross deceptions, unworthy designs, were perpetrated to effect her object! Every thing was forgotten but this—God—judgment—heaven—hell—all were absorbed in this ruling passion.

The instance of the Spaniard, who sought revenge upon an enemy, and resolved to destroy him, has often been quoted. This enemy, apprized of his design, removed to another town at a distance; but he had been there only a day or two, before he found that his foe had arrived. He removed to several parts of the kingdom remote from each other, but soon perceived that his deadly pursuer was near him. At last he went to South America, where he enjoyed his security but for a short time; his unrelenting avenger came, and effected his purpose. This instance, striking as it is, is not so illustrative of the power of revenge as the one before us, where the subject of this passion cheerfully suffered all the hardship of imprisonment, and on the scaffold panted for death, to satiate her malice, and assail, in a manner more than human, her hated foe.

Who, in view of the consequences of this passion, will ever harbour a spirit of revenge; attempt to wrest the sceptre from the hands of the Ruler of the Universe; and to grasp his right and prerogative of inflicting punishment. Why should the soul of any be so infected as never to be happy until ‘he has made another miserable. We learn that a calm and happy death is in itself, no evidence of a safe departure.

The unhappy subject of this narrative, though guilty of awful crimes, had no fear of death, no anguish of conscience, no horror in anticipation of eternity—on the contrary, she experienced peace in view of her departure, and emotions of rapture at the last moment. This is not a solitary instance; surprising fortitude at death has been evinced by those who had no knowledge of the Gospel, and no preparation for eternity. The savage Indian, when taken prisoner, often endures without a groan the most excruciating tortures, dares his conquerors, amidst the bitterness of death, to do their utmost, and affects to triumph over every additional pang. It is a proud and determined obstinacy, occasioned by a desire to foil the gratification which a pusillanimous conduct, and an apparent sense of suffering might afford to his tormentors; an obstinacy which yields him a species of mental revenge, when no longer able to exert his physical strength against his foes. Heathen superstition has often led its votary to submit calmly to the severest bodily mortifications, to remain long in postures the most painful, and to cast himself beneath the ponderous car of his infernal idol; it has caused even females to place themselves, with unparalleled composure, on the funeral pile, until reduced to ashes with the corpses of their husbands.

In Christian lands, the same fearlessness is sometimes seen, when there is no well-founded hope of heaven. The soldier braves the approach of death through love of fame; and the fanatic, as in the case before us, greets it with rapture. Hume was sportive in his last hours, and Rousseau, contemplating his dissolution with pleasure, said, just before he expired a ‘how happy a thing it is to die’ when one has no reason for remorse or self-reproach.”

The Scripture no where lays stress upon the feelings which distinguish the hour of death, nor regards them as an evidence of real religion; on the contrary, it directs us to a proof far more unequivocal—to the tenour of a holy life, spent in conformity to the word of God. For the want of attention to this scriptural test, the nature of a Christian death is often mistaken; mere tranquillity, or even strong hope, is not, in itself, a clear indication of the right state of the soul. Why should a different proof of the reality of religion be assumed for the hour of dissolution from that which is presented for the vigour of health? In both cases, the excellence of one grace or virtue stamps not the character, but the possession of all the Christian graces; the uniform and complete conformity of the temper and conduct to the sacred Scriptures. In the death-bed scene of the Devout Widow,” which we have contemplated, no peculiar or new graces were called into action—the solemnity of the circumstances, and the greatness of the occasion, only heightened and exalted those that already existed faith was more lively than usual—assurance more steadfast—repentance more deep—humility more profound resignation more complete—love to God more perfect and obedience to his will more conspicuous.

Too many think that^if a man depart from the world willingly and without reluctance, he therefore departs safely; as if death makes a complete change in his nature as well as in his condition; as if that which is the vehicle to another state of being has the power to qualify us for that state; as if that which conveys us to a new world gives us, if we be calm and easy, a new heart, and transforms us into the Divine image. But there maybe calmness where there is no safety. In my visits to the beds of the dying, I have more than once seen those who were strangers to the power of godliness expiring with composure and resignation; I have seen those who during life wholly neglected religion, or who disgraced its profession by inconsistency, leaving the world with exultation when I desired to see tears; talking of joys unspeakable when I would rather hear the sighs of contrition; departing full of confidence and rapture when I wished to behold self-loathing, deep humiliation and unfeigned repentance. To witness such scenes is one of the trials of a pastor’s life. If he is cheered and animated by the sight of the Christian who in life honored the Redeemer, departing with ” hopes full of immortality,” founded upon the grace and atonement ,of Immanuel, how distressing to view such death-bed scenes as we have described; how afflictive to strive to remove the delusion, and to strive in vain; to labour to subvert the foundation on which calmness and composure are resting, and to labour in vain! Those who have known the subjects of this delusion in life, and who see them in death; who compare their sentiments, character and conduct then with those which are exhibited now, have little difficulty in tracing their quietness to its true source. Sometimes it is the effect of a false system of religion sometimes of the vain flatteries of self-love—sometimes of the desire to be released from excessive pain—sometimes of equability of temper or firmness of nerve sometimes it is affectation; and the heart is racked, while the deportment is calm—and sometimes it is a punishment for the long neglect of the warning voice of truth; the result of judicial blindness, in which God says to conscience and the spirit, a let them alone;” a blindness which prevents them from seeing the precipice into which they are plunging.

Such instances of composure in death where there has been no piety in life, instead of weakening, should strengthen our faith in the word of God; for that word declares that the wicked often ” have no bands in their death” it teaches, in several places and in various modes, by parables and direct assertions, that many who confidently expected heaven shall be disappointed; intimating that this expectation, and the calmness resulting from itj shall extend to the last hour.

We may be sure, then, that there is no really happy death but that which conducts to a happy immortality. no ” putting off the body,” if we have not put on the Lord Jesus”-—no comfort in escaping from the miseries of time, till we have obtained a well-grounded hope of a blissful immortality.—No moral truth has fewer exceptions than this: ” as a man lives so will he die”.