One of the scariest ideas I’ve come across is the idea of Debtors’ Prison. Since ancient times if a man is unable to pay his debts, he can be sent to debtors’ prison where he will be held until he can pay the debt. Now this seems like a horrible idea because how in the world could you earn enough money to pay your debts if you are stuck in prison?
I have a few documents that really drive home the reality of this concept. The first (shown in the photo above) is a set of three arrest warrants from the state of Vermont written in 1806. They order the sheriff to arrest the debtors named and produce them in court to pay the money they owe. The second is a debtor judgement case from Salem, Massachusetts from the year 1863. In it a man by the name of Frank D. Richardson is ordered to debtors’ prison until he can pay the debt he owes (a little over $400).
Every time I look at these documents it reminds me of the massive debts I have accumulated – not financial debts, but instead the spiritual debt of sin. I have made so many mistakes and if there were no redemption possible I know I would be trapped forever in a prison of my own making. But Christ has paid the penalty for sin – including yours and mine. He has opened the prison doors, but it is up to us to accept His conditions. Elder Boyd K. Packer gave a great talk about this, which has been made into a brief video.
One of the hardest parts for me is the task of forgiving myself. I’m often harder on myself than I would be on anyone else. And so, unfortunately, even after repenting and changing my ways and feeling the healing power of Christ’s atonement, I still insist on carrying the baggage of guilt and beating myself over the head with it every chance I get. It’s as though Christ has unlocked the door to the debtors’ prison and loosed my shackles and yet I sit there in the dust berating myself instead of stepping out into the sunshine and praising Him for releasing me.