The evangelist Charles G. Finney tells the following incident that happened while he was conducting revival meetings. He had been preaching one evening when a sinister-looking man approached him and requested, “Mr. Finney, I ask you to come with me.”
Some of the evangelist’s friends warned him, “He is one of the most dangerous people in this town. He is a murderer.” Finney thought about it. God had removed all fear from his heart, and he replied, “This man has invited me, and I will go with him. Pray for me!”
His friends had great concern for him, but Finney followed the man through dark back alleys. Finally, they came to a door, and the man said, “Come in, Mr. Finney.” He then locked the door behind them and lit a candle. Finney looked around the room. There were several guns, and near him lay a revolver.
Finally, the man started talking: “Mr. Finney, I have been one of the worst people in this area until now. But I heard you preach tonight about the blood of Jesus, and it made a great impression on me. Now I want to hear your honest and straight-forward opinion.”
He pulled a revolver out of his pocket and said, “I have killed four people with this and caused the death of several others. Do you honestly believe that such a murderer as I am, whose hands are dripping with blood, can be redeemed?”
Finney looked at him and said, “I have preached that ‘if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:9). This is a promise from God.”
“Yes, but that’s not all I’ve done,” the man continued, pulling a pack of cards from his pocket and tossing them on the table. “Mr. Finney, I’m also a professional gambler. This is a gambling house. The fights and brawls that have taken place here have been gruesome. Some have committed suicide here. So, I am not only a murderer but also a professional gambler who has robbed many an unsuspecting man of all his money. Do you think God will forgive me?”
Finney replied, “I will tell you, my friend, God has commissioned me to preach His gospel. No matter what and how many sins you have committed, if you are willing to confess and forsake them, ‘the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin’” (1 John 1:7).
“But,” the man continued, “that’s not all. I have also been selling brandy here for years without having a license to do so. I have taken the last penny from a poor man’s hand for liquor, although I knew that his wife and children did not have anything to eat; indeed, they were almost starving. Often, I saw his children passing by here in the middle of winter and noticed how their shoes were so torn that their toes were visible in the snow, and their clothes were only rags. And despite all this, I took the last dollar from their father for liquor. Oh, all the misfortune that I have caused, the misery that I have brought upon others! Do you really think God will forgive me?”
Finney replied, “I am commissioned by God to preach His gospel. And in His Word, He said, ‘But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin’” (1 John 1:7).
“But, Mr. Finney, this is not all. I have such a good wife; I am sure you would not find one better. But this wife of mine only knows my heavy fist and the toe of my boot. I have beaten her often and hard. And I have a little daughter, eleven years old, and this little girl has never had a kiss from her father. The little girl is afraid of me, and rightly so, because she has also received many a kick from me. I have a beautiful home, but I am a murderer, a gambler, and a cruel man and father. O Mr. Finney, be quite honest and open with me! Do you really believe that God will forgive me?”
Finney looked at him and replied, “My friend, you have unrolled before me the picture of one of the darkest lives I have ever seen. But I tell you, the Scripture says, ‘“Come then, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord, ‘though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool’” (Isaiah 1:18). If you confess and forsake your sins, I believe God will have mercy on you.”
The man then gave Finney the address of his home and said, “Please, come and have lunch with us tomorrow.” He opened the door and let Finney out into the night.
This man began to clean up. He threw the playing cards into the fire. He rolled the liquor barrels out of the room and poured their contents into the street gutter. After he had cleaned up like this, he began to do the math. He had accumulated a large part of his possessions through fraud. Although he was very rich, he could only return 80% of what he had acquired fraudulently.
The night after the conversation with Finney, he could not sleep. It was not until morning that he went home and sat on the edge of his bed. About breakfast time, his little daughter called him to the table. She spoke to him through a little crack in the door, “Papa, Mama wishes you to come to breakfast.”
In a soft and kind voice, he replied, “No, Sweetie, Daddy doesn’t want to eat this morning.”
The girl ran down the stairs and called out to her mother, “Mommy, Daddy called me Sweetie!”
The mother said, “I can’t believe it; go and call him again.” This time, she was already braver, opened the door, and said, “Daddy, come to breakfast!” Again, he called her Sweetie, and she ran to tell her mother. The mother sent her to call her father for the third time.
The child seemed to have lost all fear of her father and smiled at him, and he beckoned her to come to him. She entered the room and sat down on her father’s knee. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her. The child’s heart was moved by her father’s actions. She looked up at her father in amazement and could not understand what had happened.
The mother had followed the child. She looked through the door and saw the child sitting on her father’s knee. He also beckoned her to come in, and she came and sat on the other knee. He said to her, “From now on, you are no longer a rich man’s wife.” She replied, “I would value your love much more than all the wealth in the world!” He replied, “Forgive me, my faithful one, forgive me!” Moved and overwhelmed, all three of them sank to their knees and worshiped the One who had performed such an unspeakable miracle on them.
Divine grace is able to make a child of God out of the greatest sinner.