by David Cummins
This article first appeared in FrontLine • May/June 1999. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.
The neighbors bristled to see the first Asian family move into the community. Though the mother appeared to be a young girl, she carried the little infant with all the tenderness of a seasoned mother. With a radiant smile on her face, she strolled daily with the baby, but she was usually ignored with a silent contempt by most of our neighbors. Seeing the young Korean mother with babe in arms touched my wife’s heart, and she invited the little lady in for refreshments. Communication at first was limited pretty much to smiles and pleasantness, but our Korean neighbor, Sun Shin, knew she had discovered a friend.
The visits increased, and as Sun’s English vocabulary slowly grew, the conversations began to center on the Lord Jesus Christ and His wonderful grace. It turned out that Sun had been raised in a Presbyterian church in Korea. That explained why the hymn tunes were familiar to her as she first visited the services of Faith Baptist Church in Warren, Michigan. Sun’s husband was never really interested in our services, but out of respect he too came from time to time. We never knew how much of the gospel presentation they fully understood. In time my wife obtained a copy of the Scriptures in Korean, and finding familiar gospel passages, she had Sun read the truth in Sun’s own language.
It was on a busy Saturday morning that the phone rang in the church study. I wasn’t too pleased at being interrupted, but I picked up the line to hear my wife’s voice. She reported that Mr. Shin was stranded about seven miles from our home—his car having been confiscated by the police! She asked if I could pick up Mr. Shin, and I grudgingly agreed. Arriving at the corner, I saw my Korean neighbor standing dejectedly. I opened the car door, and as he forlornly entered, he pushed three tickets toward me that he had been given by the police officer. The first was for speeding, the second ticket was for reckless driving, and the third was for driving a car without the proper registration and plates. The first two would have been handled in Traffic Court, but the third was of such a nature that he was assigned to appear in the 39th District Court before Judge Mary McDermitt in the town of the offense.
I tried to express the fact to Mr. Shin that he was in trouble, but that I would represent him in court. He understood very little of what I was saying. His wife, who by this time had improved in her use of the English language, explained it to him, and in great fear he awaited the next development. At last came the day for his court appearance. I picked him up, and as we drove for his court date, I attempted to tell him he must cooperate with me. Upon our arrival at the courthouse, both of us were nervous. We entered the courtroom and waited our turn before the judge. Fortunately, our case was not the first on the docket, and I was able to observe professional attorneys as they made their presentations.
In time Mr. Shin’s name was called. I nudged him, he stood, and we approached the bench. I said, “Your Honor, I am Dr. Cummins, pastor of the Faith Baptist Church of Warren, Michigan. Mr. Shin is my neighbor, and being from Korea, he knows very little of the English language. It is his desire that I represent him.” The judge, after acknowledging that this was a very unusual procedure, agreed that I could serve in that capacity.
In my best professional form, I began my defense of Mr. Shin. “Your honor, Mr. Shin has come to America from Korea. He is married and the father of one child. He is industrious and has attempted to supply his family’s needs, but his ability to make a living with his limited knowledge of our language has caused many complications.
“He has labored faithfully, but his inability to communicate has caused problems that have led to his dismissal from several jobs. In fact, on the Saturday in question, a very dejected Mr. Shin was just returning from a job interview where he had failed to obtain employment. He was emotionally distraught, and, doubtless, that led to his speeding and reckless driving.”
With these statements I could see that the judge was softening, and I sensed that those in the gallery were “in my corner,” and in essence were silently cheering me on. I continued: “Your Honor, my client [it is amazing how soon one adapts to the use of legalese] acknowledges his guilt, but we believe there are extenuating circumstances that must be taken into account. Your Honor, I must point out the fact that Mr. Shin, for a very logical reason in his mind, did not have his car properly registered. Mr. Shin had just recently purchased the car in question. His former vehicle had succumbed to old age, and he had secured a replacement. In Korea one transfers the plates to new purchases without doing any paperwork, and thus Mr. Shin had believed he was within the law. Realizing that ignorance is no excuse, my client admits total guilt on all three counts and wishes to throw himself upon the mercy of the Court.”
The judge seemed to weigh her words, but her first response was encouraging for she said, “Dr. Cummins, the Court appreciates your concern for your neighbor and the fine presentation you have made in his defense. The Court wishes to show mercy and justify Mr. Shin, but before mercy can be shown in any court of law, there must be a personal acknowledgement of guilt. Therefore, I must ask Mr. Shin directly, Sir, are you guilty?”
At this point, Mr. Shin tightened his resolve and stood at his full stature. He looked the judge in the eye, and resolutely answered, “No!” There was a ripple of laughter and a few audible gasps in the gallery.
I immediately stepped forward and said, “Your Honor, Mr. Shin does not understand English. Let me have a few moments aside to explain to him, and I am sure he will admit his guilt.” The judge graciously concurred, and I took Mr. Shin a few feet away and whispered firmly, “You must admit guilt. You will go free if you will admit your guilt. When the judge asks you another question, you must answer ‘yes.’ Do you understand?” With glazed eyes he looked at me, and we shuffled back before the bench. Again the judge intoned: “Sir, are you guilty?” Once again Mr. Shin stiffened as he looked forward and responded, “No.”
Amidst the laughter of the audience, I stepped forward again and said, “Your Honor, the Court must realize what is in Mr. Shin’s mind. In Korea any admission of guilt would mean immediate incarceration, and, when asked that question, my client could only envision prison bars.” It is not my purpose to report the resolution of the case, but I would point out the great truth that the secular judge stated: “Mercy can be granted only when there is a personal acknowledgement of guilt!”
It is also thus in the Divine Court of Heaven. God has abundant mercy, and it is available to sinners if they are willing to acknowledge their guilt before Him. The most difficult thing in the world today is to find a sinner. Men and women seek to justify themselves, not realizing that the mercy of God is available freely to all who will admit the guilt of sin and accept the grace of God. Justification, pardon, and mercy can only be experienced when men acknowledge and admit their sin. How appropriate for sinners to call unto the Lord, “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13).
Dear friend, the loving God offers you His free pardon today if you will admit your guilt and by faith trust in Him. If you by faith today would throw yourself on the mercy of God, your judgment would be removed, and eternal life would be yours. God would place you in His Son, and wonderfully, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
The late Dr. David L. Cummins was Deputation Director of Baptist World Mission in Decatur, Alabama. He says that Mr. Shin finally admitted his guilt and was allowed to go free.