Chuck Colson: A Life Redeemed
Chuck’s life was a wonderful redemption story.
John StonestreetChuck Colson
Today launches our annual Wilberforce Weekend. Ten years ago, Chuck Colson gave what would be his final message, at a Wilberforce Weekend event. His message that day was that the world needed the Church to be the Church.
His call that day remains the central purpose of the Wilberforce Weekend. This weekend, we will be looking at salvation and redemption from every possible angle we can, in order to better live a life that is redeemed.
Chuck’s life was a wonderful redemption story. Today on Breakpoint, I wanted you to hear Chuck Colson, in his own voice and his own words, tell his own redemption story.
I was the first person in my family to go to college, and when I got through there, it was time for me to go into the military because the Korean War was raging. So, I became a lieutenant in the Marines and rose very rapidly and won honors in school. I think everything I ever did in my life I was successful.
I went to law school nights while I was working as an assistant to a United States senator. At one point, Newsweek wrote about me as the youngest administrative assistant to a United States senator. I think I was 28—ran campaigns, loved it, started a law firm—great success. I got to know Richard Nixon in 1968 when he was elected president and went into his administration as his special counsel. I arrived in his office when I was 38 years old, and my office was immediately next door to his.
And you know, you go to the eight o’clock senior staff meetings. There would be 12 of us sitting around the table, and the 12 senior aides would come in with their big portfolios under their arms. Henry Kissinger would always be the last one to arrive. And he would sit down at the end of the table and say, “Mr. President, the decision we are going to make today is going to change the whole future course of human history.” I mean every day of the week for five days. That gets pretty exhausting. And we thought we really were doing things that were of great significance. And in many respects, I suppose, looking back, they were.
When the campaign was over—and I pretty well ran the campaign for President Nixon in 1972—I decided to go back to my law firm. But I was feeling—instead of jubilant over what was at that point the largest landslide victory in American politics—instead of being jubilant over it, I was feeling kind of down. At 41 years old, I’d been there, I’d done that. There wasn’t much else left to do. And I kept thinking to myself, “My grandfather who was an immigrant to this country from Sweden would be so proud to see his grandson in a place like this, but what am I really doing here?”
Took a couple of trips abroad, but I came back, and I still had that emptiness. And one day I was back in my law firm, and I went to visit a client whom I had not seen in the four years I’d been in the White House because I refused to see anyone I’d ever practiced law as their lawyer. I was so worried about a conflict of interest. Can you imagine that?
But I went back to see one of these men, Tom Phillips, who was the president of the largest corporation in New England. I had been his general counsel.
I walked in his office one day, still feeling kind of empty, and I looked at him, and he was a completely different guy. He’s a guy like myself who had worked his way up the hard way, self-made man, the CEO of this corporation when he was barely 40 years old. And he was at peace, and he started asking me about my family, and finally, I said to him, “Tom, you’ve changed since I saw you four years ago.”
He said, “Yes, I have, Chuck,” and then he looked up at the clock, and he didn’t look me straight in the eye, but he said, “I have accepted Jesus Christ and committed my life to Him.” He looked away as I later found out because he’d never done this with anyone before.
I thought about that for the next three months, and I couldn’t get it out of my mind. So, I went back to him one evening in August of 1973, and I said, “Tom, you’ve got to explain this to me,” and he said, “Before I do, I want to read you a chapter from C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity entitled the great vice, ‘The Great Sin.’”
I listened to this chapter, and I realized he’s writing about me. And I sat there that night in pain listening to that chapter, and I was really moved. He wanted to pray with me, and I said, “No. I have never prayed except in the church.” So, he prayed.
I left his home that night, and here I was a former Marine captain. And yeah, I was known as the White House hatchet man, the tough guy. And I got into the automobile, and I tried to drive away, but I could not because the tough guy was crying too hard. I couldn’t see the road in front of me. I pulled over and sat there. I have no idea for how long, thinking about my life, thinking about “Could there be a God, and if there were, could I know Him?” But that night for the first time in my life, I was sure there was a God, and I was sure He was hearing me.
I woke up the next morning figuring I was going to be embarrassed, and instead I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Mere Christianity and read it from cover to cover. Away from Watergate and before I was considered a target of the investigation, I simply quietly surrendered my life to Christ and asked Him to come into my life. I will tell you that’s 35 years ago this past summer. Nothing about my life has been the same since. Nothing about my life can be the same again. I am convinced Christ is who He says. I’m more convinced as Malcolm Muggeridge once said of the reality of Jesus Christ than I am of my own reality.
That was Chuck Colson describing the moment God got ahold of his life and changed it forever. Chuck’s redemption story is a feature of this year’s Wilberforce Weekend, this weekend in Orlando, Florida. To find out how you can gain access to all of the recordings and videos from this weekend’s event, visit breakpoint.org.
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