Summary: You and I have incurred an overwhelming debt that is a million times greater than any financial debt that we ever have had or could acquire. It is a debt that none of us will ever be able to pay. A debt that only grace could pay.
I AM A DEBTOR
Introduction: Have you ever been so deep in debt that you couldn’t sleep and your debt was so great that it was constantly on your mind? Your bills were so enormous that you didn’t know how you’d ever be in a position to pay them off. You may have even been behind on your payments. You may have been threatened with having your phone and utilities turned off. You feel like you are about to go under — just one step away from losing everything. Understand that you and I have incurred an overwhelming debt that is a million times greater than any financial debt that we ever have had or could acquire. It is a debt that none of us will ever be able to pay.
I. Grace paid a debt that we never could pay.
A. Czar Nicholas of Russia often used to wander about his military camps and barracks, clothed as an ordinary officer, in order that he might know, without being recognized, what was going on.
Late one night, when all lights were supposed to be extinguished, the Czar was making one of these tours of inspection. He noticed a light shining under the paymaster’s door, and, quietly opening it, he stepped inside, intending to have the offender punished. A young officer, son of an old friend of the Czar, was seated at a table, his head resting on his arms, sound asleep. The Czar stepped over to awaken him, but before doing so he noticed a loaded revolver, a small pile of money, and a sheet of paper with a pen that had fallen from the hand of the sleeping man. The light of the little candle let the Czar read what had just been written, and in a moment he understood the situation.
On the sheet of paper was a long list of debts, gambling and other evil debts. The total ran into many thousands of rubles. The officer had used army funds to pay these wicked, reckless debts, and now, having worked till late into the night trying to get his accounts straight, he had discovered for the first time how much he owed. It was hopeless; the pitifully small balance on hand left such a huge deficit to be made up! On the sheet of paper, below the terrible total, he had written this question: “Who can pay so great a debt?”
Unable to face the disgrace, the officer had intended to shoot himself, but completely worn out with sorrow and remorse, he had fallen asleep.
As the Czar realized what had happened, his first thought was to have the man immediately arrested and in due course brought before a court-martial. Justice must be done in the army, and such a crime could not be passed by. But as he remembered the long friendship with the young officer’s father, love overcame judgment, and in a moment he devised a plan whereby he could be just toward the army and yet justify the culprit. The Czar took up the pen that had dropped from the hand of the wearied, hopeless offender, and with his own hand answered the question with one word: “Nicholas.”
Yes, the Czar himself, Nicholas, could pay that debt and voluntarily undertook to do so. The young officer woke up soon after the Czar had gone, and he took up his revolver to blow out his brains, but as he did so, his eye caught the answer to his question. In bewildered astonishment he gazed on that one word, “Nicholas.” Surely such an answer was impossible! He had some papers in his possession which bore the genuine signature of the Czar, and quickly he compared the names, for it seemed too good to be true. To his intense joy, yet bitter humiliation, he realized that his Czar knew all about his sins, knew the utmost of his mighty debt, and yet, instead of inflicting the penalty he deserved, had assumed the debt himself and justified the debtor.