We saw earlier how John Lancaster, a prisoner condemned to death in Newgate prison, had come to faith in Christ.
Now we see him at his last moment and at his most triumphant. The year was 1748 and John Wesley recorded the events for future generations in his journals.
As Lancaster was led out of his cell, his confession was “Blessed be the day I came into this place! O what a glorious work hath the Lord carried on in my soul since I came hither!”
“O that I could tell the thousandth part of the joys I feel!”
Wesley adds, ‘Then he said to those near him, “O my dear friends, join in praise with me a sinner! O for a tongue to praise Him as I ought! My heart is like fire…I am ready to burst…O that I could tell the thousandth part of the joys I feel!”
‘One saying, “I am sorry to see you in that condition.” He answered, “I would not change it for ten thousands worlds.”
‘From the press-yard he was removed into a large room where he exhorted all the officers to repentance.
‘Thomas Atkins was brought in, whom he immediately asked, “How is it between God and your soul?” He answered, “Blessed be God, I am ready.”
“By one o’clock I will be in Paradise!”
An officer asked what time it was and Lancaster happily replied, “By one I shall be in Paradise, safely resting in Abraham’s bosom…I see [Jesus] by faith, standing at the right hand of God, with open arms to receive our souls.”
Another asked, “Which is Lancaster?” and he answered, “Here I am. Come see a Christian triumphing over death.”
‘A bystander said, “Be steadfast to the end.” He answered, “I am, by the grace of God, as steadfast as the rock I am built upon, and that rock is Christ.”
Why no-one should despair
‘Then he said to the people, “Cry to the Lord for mercy, and you will surely find it. I have found it; therefore none should despair. When I came first to this place, my heart was as hard as my cell walls, and as black as hell. But now I am washed, now I am made clean by the blood of Christ.”’
Speaking of the prayer time he had with other prisoners the night before he said, “I was as it were in heaven. O, if a foretaste be so sweet, what must the full enjoyment be?”
Wesley continues, ‘The people round, the mean time, were in tears; and the officers stood like men affrighted.’
Praying for the Nations and the Local Church
‘Then Lancaster exhorted one in doubt, never to rest till he had found rest in Christ. After this he broke out into strong prayer…that the true Gospel of Christ might spread to every corner of the habitable earth; that the [Methodist] congregation at the Foundery might abound more and more in the knowledge and love of God…’
‘When the officers told them it was time to go, [the converted prisoners] rose with inexpressible joy, and embraced each other…’
“I am going to Paradise today!”
‘Coming into the press yard, he saw Sarah Peters. He stepped to her, kissed her, and earnestly said, “I am going to Paradise today; and you will follow me soon.”
‘The crowd being great, they could not readily get through. So he had another opportunity of declaring the goodness of God [saying] “Rely on Him for mercy and you will surely find it.”
‘Turning to the spectators he said, “It is but a short time and we shall be where all sorrow and sighing flee away. Turn from the evil of your ways; and you also shall stand with the innumerable company on Mount Zion…See that you love Christ; and then you will come there too!”
‘All the people who saw them seemed to be amazed; but much more when they came to the place of execution. A solemn awe overwhelmed the whole multitude.
‘As soon as the executioner had done his part with Lancaster, and the two that were with him, he called for a hymn book, and gave out a hymn with a clear, strong voice.
‘Even,’ John Wesley adds, ‘a little circumstance that followed seems worth observing. His body was carried away by a company hired by the surgeons. But a crew of sailors pursued them, took it from them by force, and delivered it to his mother…
‘He died on Friday October 28 and was buried on Sunday the 30th.’
(All quotes from John Wesley’s Journal, Vol 2, p.123-125, Baker Edition)
© 2010 Lex Loizides