"…The Lord hath anointed me to preach…the opening of the prison to them that are bound" (Isa. 61.1)
INTRO.: A hymn which uses the picture of being bound in prison to symbolize being bound by sin is "My Plea." The text was written by Clyde V. Thompson, who was born in 1910, most likely in Texas. At the age of seventeen, he was sentenced to death in the electric chair for murder. The Department of Corrections at the prison in Huntsville, TX, considered him so dangerous that he was kept in silation for thirteen of his 28 years in prison. During that time, he was not allowed to read anything until he was finally given a Bible, which, he said, he angrily started reading "to keep from going crazy" and to prove that it was full of contradictions. Unsuccessful in his attempts to find any contradictions, he started memorizing it and eventually living by it. P. D. Wilmeth baptized him into Christ. This hymn was produced sometime before 1944 because it is found in a hymnbook that is copyrighted that year. The tune was composed by William Washington Slater (1885-1959).
Slater published in it several of his books with the footnote, "The author of these words is a life-time convict in the Texas prison, but has been converted to Christianity, and is a faithful Christian." In 1946, a young woman named Julia sent him a card after hearing a minister mention him. Correspondence with Julia took place over several years, and she worked for seven years to get influential people to study Thompson’s case. It took five years to get Clyde out of isolation, and afterwards he began teaching Bible classes for the other inmates. In 1955, Julia’s efforts paid off and Thompson was paroled at the age of 45. Upon his release from prison, she met him with a new suit, white shirt, and tie. Seventeen others were released the same day, but none of them had clothes, so Clyde and Julia vowed to return someday to Huntsville to help.
After Clyde and Julia were married, the Thompsons traveled for a while seeking to serve Christ wherever they went. This included working with several local churches and serving for a time as Superintendent of a Navajo Children’s Home in New Mexico. The promise to return to Huntsville was fulfilled on July 18, 1970, when the Thompsons established their Prisoners’ Aid Center there. Clyde taught the gospel to both inmates and parolees, and baptized more than 1,500 souls to Christ during that time. Around 1978, they moved to Lubbock, TX, where he became Chaplain of the Lubbock County Jail, and he baptized over 130 souls. Also, he continued producing hymns, such as "No Other Name" with a tune by John D. Bacon in 1975, which is found in the 1980 book Our Garden of Song compiled by Gene C. Finley. Thompson’s death occurred on July 3, 1979, probably in Lubbock.
Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, "My Plea" appeared in the 1944 Gospel Songs and Hymns, the 1952 Hymns of Praise and Devotion, the 1955 Sacred Praise, the 1958 Gospel Melody Songs, and the 1959 Gospel Service Hymnal, all edited by Will W. Slater; and the 1999 Into Our Hands edited by Leland R. Fleming.
The song reminds us that all of us at one time or another were prisoners to sin.
I. Stanza 1 talks about the need for understanding
"Could men, like God, but understand, And read a human’s chart,
They’d feel the sting of prison’s band That sears into the heart."
A. Only God can read the heart and know what is in man: Jn. 2.24-25
B. Unfortunately, man can read a human’s chart only by seeing what is outward: 1 Sam. 16.7
C. Of all people, Christians should be most compassionate to those who are physically in prison because we have felt the sting of sin’s prison band: Rom. 6.16-18
II. Stanza 2 talks about the need for consideration
"They’d read the message forged within, The heart that beats alone:
‘Let him be first, who has no sin, To cast a deadly stone."
A. While man cannot read the heart of others, we must be careful not to judge censoriously: Matt. 7.1-2
B. We must recognize that many hearts beat alone because they have been separated from God by sin: Isa. 59.1-2
C. As we consider such people, whatever their crime may be, we should remember the statement of Jesus that "He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first": Jn. 8.7
III. Stanza 3 talks about the need for fairness
"To judge me as your fellowman, Impartial, fair, and true,
To know me as I really am, Is all I ask of you."
A. Obviously, judgments have to be made about our fellowman from time to time: 1 Cor. 6.2
B. However, we must strive to be impartial, fair, and true in such judgments, and judge righteously: Jn. 7.24
C. This means that we will try to know others as they really are and consider ourselves lest we also be tempted: Gal. 6.1
IV. Stanza 4 talks about the need for sincerity
"O God, now that I am sincere, I seek my fellow’s hand;
Oh, grand me words to make it clear That men may understand."
A. "Now that I am sincere" apparently refers to the fact that the author has left a life of crime and has become a follower of Christ, who wants all of us to be sincere: Phil. 1.10
B. Whether we have escaped the bonds of prison or just the bonds of sin, we should then seek our fellows’ hands to teach others also: 2 Tim. 2.2
C. It should be our goal to teach and adorn the scriptures in such a way that we can lead others to understand: Eph. 3.3-5
CONCL.: The chorus expresses the request of the penitent to the Lord.
"I only ask a brand-new start, A life of Christian grace;
Dear God, I’ll surely do my part, And meet Thee face to face."
I may never have been in an actual prison and have the bear that stigma throughout life. However, I have been a prisoner of sin and should be thankful to the Lord for making it possible for me to become free. Therefore, in addition to being the cry of one who was in prison and turned to the Lord, the words of this song should also be "My Plea."