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The Robber’s Grave

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Date February 23, 2007

In a corner of the Churchyard at Montgomery, Wales, is a space known as The Robber’s Grave. There lie the remains of a young man named JOHN NEWTON, (not the hymnwriter) who was hanged in 1821 at Montgomery for highway robbery. In token of his innocence he asserted, “The grass for one generation at least will not cover my grave.” I saw the grave in 1924, and it was still uncovered, although the grass, 103 years after the burial, was slowly encroaching over the spot.

In 1819 John Newton had come from a distant county to act as farm bailiff for a widow and her daughter; he was a zealous worker, devoting himself to the widow’s interests and his own duties. He made no friends outside the farm, conducting his business at surrounding fairs, etc., and going to and from them alone. He regularly attended church, and was devout. There were two other young men of the district. One was jealous of his success in making the farm a paying concern, for he had expected it to pass into his own hands if the widow could not make it pay. The other had cherished the hope that he might one day make the widow’s daughter his wife, and now she was evidently very fond of the young bailiff. So they regarded him as an enemy, and concocted a plan in order to drive him from the neighbourhood.

Both appeared against him in court accusing him of highway robbery, and seeing that the two men were respectable, of honest repute, and their testimony clear, and Newton employed no counsel for his defence (although he solemnly protested his innocence of the charge) the verdict was given, ‘Guilty.’ Then the judge asked the prisoner if he had anything to say; and he answered in a firm voice, closing with these words: ‘And now, my lord, I protest once more I am entirely innocent of this charge … I have therefore offered a prayer to Heaven, and believe it has been heard and accepted. And in meek dependence on a merciful God Whom I have offended, but Who through the atonement of His blessed Son has – I trust – pardoned my offence, I venture to assert that, if I am innocent, the grass for one generation at least will not cover my grave. My lord, I await your sentence without a murmur, without sorrow. And I devoutly pray that all who hear me now may repent of their sins, and meet me again in Heaven!’

The execution was marked by an appalling outburst of the elements, a fearful darkness spread around, lightnings flashed and thunders rolled, although the morning had been serene and beautiful. The people dispersed horror-stricken, some crying out, ‘The end of all things is come.’

But of the two witnesses, one became a drinking and blaspheming man, and died an untimely death when blasting a rock. The other became low and dispirited and as one said ‘wasted away from the earth.’ The above is a true and instructive incident.

1. JOHN NEWTON was wrongly accused and condemned. Not so we! ‘For all have sinned,’ and ‘all the world is guilty before God’ (Rom. 3.19,23) and ‘he that believeth not (on the Son of God) is condemned already’ (John 3.17).

2. The witnesses bore false witness, but the witness against us in God’s Word is true. And ‘If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater… he that believeth not God hath made Him a liar’ (1 John 5.9-10).

3. John Newton went to meet his Maker in confidence, knowing that he would be received ‘through the atonement of His blessed Son.’ Therefore, he could face death unflinchingly, praying for his enemies and others, because ‘he trusted in God’ Who is ‘able to deliver’ even from the power of death. He also knew that all is known in Heaven, and wrongs will be righted in due time.

4. God nevertheless overruled this grave miscarriage of justice, even as we read supremely of that case in Acts 2.23. Our Lord above is in control.

Have you this confidence and trust in God? Are you depending on ‘the Blood … which cleanseth from all sin?’ Could you face death unflinchingly at this moment, trusting in the Lord Jesus Who conquered death? If not, ‘Come now … and be ye saved,’ saith the Lord. Take refuge in the Rock cleft on Calvary – Jesus Himself – repenting of your sins, and you will be delivered from ‘the wrath to come.’ Like that young man you will be enabled to face the future unflinchingly, knowing God has forgiven and received you ‘through the atonement of His blessed Son.’ May God grant it.

John Newton is from Brundell, Norfolk.

Taken with permission from Cheering Words.

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