But for the Grace of God, there go I

Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. Isaiah 55:7

This verse in Isaiah 55 twice mentions the word “let” (ʿāzaḇ in Hebrew), which can be translated as “forsake, leave, leave off, faileth, fortify, help, committeth, destitute, refuseth, surely”.

It is clear from the text that the “wicked” and “unrighteous” need to “turn from” and then “turn to”. While its understandably easy to visualize an incarcerated inmate as the wicked and unrighteous, it should also dawn on each of us (who happen to read this outside a prison) that this verse is describing “me”.

But for the Grace of God, there go I” is a phrase most widely attributed to John Bradford, who said it upon seeing criminals who were being led to their execution in 1553. Bradford himself was executed two years later for heresy. He was a Protestant living in Roman Catholic English.

2023 and 1553 may be many years apart but it does not reduce the urgency for each of us to turn from wicked and unrighteous acts in our own lives and to urge, help (let) others to do the same.

Most attempts to help sinners, however, falls flat if the “turn to” does not end at the feet of Jesus where pardon is offered. Notice again that “Azab” include the active verb of “helping”. This helping clearly requires each of us whether we’re a prison chaplain or not, to actively work in word and in deed, in prayer or in giving to help (let) turn sinners to The LORD.

Please pray for us as chaplains never to forget… “But for the Grace of God, there go I.

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