Meet Edwin Thomas, a master of the stage. During the latter half of the 1800s, this small man with the huge voice had few rivals. Debuting in Richard III at the age of 15, he quickly established himself as a premier Shakespearean actor. In New York he performed Hamlet for 100 consecutive nights. In London he won the approval of the tough British critics. When it came to tragedy on the stage, Edwin Thomas was in a select group.
When it came to tragedy in life, the same could be said as well. Edwin had two brothers, John and Junius. Both were actors, although neither rose to his stature. In 1863, the three siblings united their talents to perform Julius Caesar
. The fact that Edwin’s brother John took the role of Brutus was an eerie harbinger of what awaited the brothers—and the nation—two years hence.
For this John who played the assassin in Julius Caesar
is the same John who took the role of assassin in Ford’s Theatre. On a crisp April night in 1865, he stole quietly into the rear of a box in the Washington theater and fired a bullet at the head of Abraham Lincoln. Yes, the last name of the brothers was Booth—Edwin Thomas Booth and John Wilkes Booth.
Edwin was never the same after that night. Shame from his brother’s crime drove him into retirement. He might never have returned to the stage had it not been for a twist of fate at a New Jersey train station. Edwin was awaiting his coach when a well-dressed young man, pressed by the crowd, lost his footing and fell between the platform and a moving train. Without hesitation, Edwin locked a leg around a railing, grabbed the man, and pulled him to safety. After the sighs of relief, the young man recognized the famous Edwin Booth.
Edwin, however, didn’t recognize the young man he’d rescued. That knowledge came weeks later in a letter, a letter he carried in his pocket to the grave. A letter from General Adams Budeau, chief secretary to General Ulysses S. Grant. A letter thanking Edwin Booth for saving the life of the child of an American hero, Abraham Lincoln.
How ironic that while one brother killed the president, the other brother saved the president’s son. The boy Edwin Booth yanked to safety? Robert Todd Lincoln.
Edwin and James Booth. Same father, mother, profession and passion—yet one chooses life, the other, death. How could it happen? I don’t know, but it does. Though their story is dramatic, it’s not unique. Abel and Cain, both sons of Adam. Abel chooses God. Cain chooses murder. And God lets him. Abraham and Lot, both pilgrims in Canaan. Abraham chooses God. Lot chooses Sodom. And God lets him. David and Saul, both kings of Israel. David chooses God. Saul chooses power. And God lets him. Peter and Judas, both deny their Lord. Peter seeks mercy. Judas seeks death. And God lets him.
In every age of history, on every page of Scripture, the truth is revealed: God allows us to make our own choices. And no one delineates this more clearly than Jesus. According to Him, we can choose: