In the preface of his book, Voices from the Edge of Eternity, John Meyers says, “Death is a subject no one can treat lightly. It is too final for that. Beauty, honour, wealth, earthly power, hopes, and dreams – all are swallowed up in that finality. Man was born with his hands clenched; he dies with them wide open. Entering life he desires to grasp everything; leaving the world, all that he possessed has slipped away. But it is not so much death itself, as the mystery of what lies beyond that closed door that has haunted mankind since time immemorial... The testimony of this book is that thousands of men and women – unbelievers as well as believers – standing on the very edge of eternity, caught up in life’s most dramatic experience, have quite clearly seen beyond the grave. What they saw and sensed not only bears evidence as to the fact of man’s immortality, but also answers many very pertinent questions that perplex the minds of thinking people today. I refer to such questions as the accuracy of the Biblical account of life after death... The reading of this book will constitute the dawn of hope – that glorious sense of goal and destiny which alone can defy the death grip of materialism which threatens to plunge our generation into the madness of a spiritually empty and purposeless life.”
The following are a few abridged excerpts from this book which was first published by the author in 1968. More biographical details on well-known personalities have been added to this article, as well as a concluding discussion on the profound significance of Christ’s atoning death.
The French writer and philosopher, Voltaire (1694-1778) was a deist – his belief in the existence of a supreme being arising from reason rather than revelation. He opposed Christian beliefs fiercely and said that the Gospels were fiction and Jesus thus did not exist. Voltaire ridiculed God by saying that he is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh. To him, religion was a social phenomenon and he was in favour of religious freedom in a multireligious society. He said that one religion would lead to despotism; when there were only two religions people would cut one another’s throats; but when there were many religions they would be happy and live together peacefully. As far as he was concerned, Christianity was a vanishing phenomenon: “One hundred years from my day there will not be a Bible in the earth except one that is looked upon by an antiquarian curiosity seeker.” He died 228 years ago in 1778.
When Voltaire felt the stroke he realised would end his life, he was overpowered with remorse. He at once sent for a priest and wanted to be reconciled to the church. His agnostic flatterers hastened to his room to prevent this from happening, but it was only to witness his ignominy and their own. He cursed them to their faces as his distress was increased by their presence. He loudly exclaimed, “Begone! It is you who have brought me to my present condition. What a wretched glory is this which you have produced for me!”
Voltaire was tortured with such an agony that he gnashed his teeth in impotent rage against God and man. At times he pleaded, “O Christ, O Lord Jesus!” then again, “I must die, abandoned of God and man!” As his end drew near his condition became so frightful that his agnostic associates were afraid to approach his bedside. They still guarded the door that others might not know how awfully an enemy of God was compelled to die. Even his nurse couldn’t tolerate the scene of horror. Such was the end of a man who had a high intellect, excellent education, great wealth and much earthly honour – but without God.
It may surprise many students of evolution to learn that in the closing days of his life, Charles Darwin rejected the deceptive theory of evolution and returned to his faith in the Bible, including the biblical account of Creation. The following are the words of Lady Hope of Northfield, England, a wonderful Christian woman who was often at his bedside before he died:
It was one of those glorious autumn afternoons that we sometimes enjoy in England when I was asked to go in and sit with Charles Darwin. He was sitting up in bed, propped up by pillows, gazing out on a far stretching scene of woods and corn fields which glowed in the light of a marvellous sunset. His features lit up with pleasure as I entered the room. In his hand he held an open Bible, which he was always studying.
“What are you reading now,” I asked. “Hebrews,” he answered. “I call it the Royal Book.” Then as he placed his fingers on certain passages he commented on them. I made some allusion to the strong opinions expressed by many on the history of the Creation, and their treatment of the earlier chapters of the book of Genesis. He seemed distressed, his fingers twitched nervously and a look of agony came over his face as he said, “I was a young man with unformed ideas. I threw out queries, suggestions, wondering all the time about everything. To my astonishment the ideas took like wild-fire. People made a religion of them.”
Then he paused, and after a few more sentences on the holiness of God and the grandeur of the Book, looking tenderly at the Bible which he was holding all the time, he said, “I have a summer house in the garden which holds about thirty people. I want you very much to speak there. I know you read the Bible in the villages. Tomorrow afternoon I should like the servants on the place, some tenants, and a few neighbours to gather there. Will you speak to them?”
“What shall I speak about?” I asked. “Christ Jesus,” he replied in a clear, emphatic voice, “and His salvation. Is not that the best theme? Then I want you to sing some hymns with them. You lead on your small instrument, do you not?” The look of brightness on his face as he said this, I shall never forget; for he added, “If you make the meeting at three o’clock, this window will be open, and you will know that I am joining in with the singing.”
Dr. Oswald Smith commented on this account as follows: “Was there ever a more dramatic scene? The very soul of tragedy is here exposed to us! Darwin, enthusiast for the Bible, speaking about the grandeur of this Book, reminded of that modern evolutionary movement in theology which, linked with sceptical criticism, has destroyed Biblical faith in multitudes. Darwin, with a look of agony, deploring it all and declaring, ‘I was a young man with unformed ideas.’ What an overwhelming criticism! The ‘unformed ideas’ of the young man Darwin are the basis of modern theology!”
But Darwin escaped the darkness of spiritual deception when there was still time to repent!
David Hume, the deistic philosopher and historian, published a book, Natural Religion, in which he went to great lengths to discredit the Christian religion. Much of his time was spent in France, where he found many kindred spirits as vile and depraved as himself. He died in Edinburgh, aged 65. In his book, Christianity and Infidelity, E.P. Goodwin revealed Hume as dishonest, indecent and a teacher of immorality.
A housekeeper of David Hume described the last days before his death: “When Mr. Hume’s friends were with him he was cheerful and seemed quite unconcerned about his approaching fate. But when he was alone, the scene was very different – he was anything but composed. His mental agitation was so great that at times it caused the whole bed to shake. And he would not allow the candles to be put out during the night, nor would he be left alone for a minute. I had always to ring the bell for one of the servants to be in the room before he would allow me to leave it. His sleep was disturbed and even more disturbed his wakings. The remorse and fear on his face continued and increased until he became unconscious. He was without God and without hope.
In a brief will, the great Italian painter and sculptor said, “I commit my soul to God, my body to the earth, my possessions to my nearest relatives. I die in the faith of Jesus Christ and in the firm hope of a better life.” His last words were, “Throughout life remember the sufferings of Jesus.”
The husband of a spiritualist was stricken down with disease. He had such a hatred for the cause of Christ that he had requested previously that his body not be taken to a church for a funeral service, or any pastor be called upon to officiate at the burial. His wife saw that he was troubled in his spirit and tried to comfort him by telling him that his spirit would return to her and that they would commune together as now. But this gave him no comfort in his awful hour. With a look of despair he said, “I see a great, high wall rising around me and am finding out at last – when it is too late – that it is easier to get into hell than it will be to get out!” Shortly afterwards, his spirit departed from this world to receive the reward of wickedness.
A young missionary, David Appleby, experienced on his death-bed how he was called to heaven. He said, “They are calling, calling, calling there in heaven!” He beheld the splendour of heaven and exclaimed in awe, “I didn’t know it could be so beautiful. All is well with my soul!”
When ten-year old Lillian Lee lay dying she spoke to her father thus: “O Papa, what a sweet sight! The golden gates are open and crowds of children come pouring out. Oh, such crowds!” Later she cried, “They ran up to me and began to kiss me and call me by a new name. I can’t remember what it was.” She lay gazing upwards in rapture. Her voice died into a whisper as she said, “Yes, yes, I come, I come.”
Some time ago, a doctor called upon a young man who was ill. After examining him he told him that he had but a very short time to live. The young man was astonished. He had forgotten that death often comes “in such an hour as ye think not.” At length he looked up into the face of the doctor and, with a most despairing countenance, said, “I have missed it at last!”
“What have you missed?” asked the tender-hearted physician. “Doctor, I have missed the salvation of my soul,” replied the young man. “Oh, say not so – it is not so. Do you remember the thief on the cross?” said the doctor. “Yes, I remember the thief on the cross. And I remember that he never said to the Holy Spirit, ‘Go your way!’ But I did. And now He is saying to me, ‘Go your way!’”
Then, looking up with vacant, fearful eyes, the young man said, “I was awakened and was anxious about my soul a little time ago. But I did not want to be saved then. Something seemed to say to me, ‘Don’t put it off. Make sure of salvation.’ I said to myself, ‘I will postpone it.’ I knew I ought not to do it. I knew I was a great sinner and needed a Saviour. I resolved, however, to dismiss the subject for the present and to take it up again at a more favourable time. I bargained away, resisted and insulted the Holy Spirit. I never thought of coming to this. I meant to have made my salvation sure, but now I have missed it!”
“You remember,” said the doctor, “that there were some who came at the eleventh hour.” This gave the man no comfort, “My eleventh hour was when I had that call of the Holy Spirit. I have had none since – neither will I have one again. I am given over to be lost. Oh, I have missed it! I have sold my soul for nothing – a feather, a straw. Now I am undone forever!” Then he buried his face in the pillow, and again exclaimed in agony and horror, “Oh, I have missed it at last!” and died.
Now is the accepted time! “Therefore as the Holy Spirit says: Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Heb. 3:7-8).
Augustus M. Toplady died in London at the age of 38. He was the author of these immortal words:
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure –
Save from wrath and make me pure.
He had everything before him to make life desirable, yet when death drew near, his soul exulted in gladness: “Sickness is no affliction, pain no curse, death itself no dissolution; and yet how this soul of mine longs to be gone – like a bird imprisoned in its cage, it longs to take its flight. Had I wings like a dove, then would I fly away to the bosom of God and be at rest forever.”
About an hour before he died he seemed to awaken from a gentle slumber. “Oh, what delights! Who can fathom the joys of heaven? What a bright sunshine has been spread around me! I have no words to express it. I know it cannot be long now till my Saviour will come for me... surely after the glories that God has manifested to my soul! All is light, light, light – the brightness of His own glory! O come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!”
Then he closed his eyes, his spirit going to be with Christ; his body falling asleep, to be awakened with others of like precious faith on that great day when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven “to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe” (2 Thess. 1:10).
When Clement Brown was about to die he pointed with his finger and said, “I see one, two, three, four, five angels awaiting their commission. I see them as plainly as I see you, Hester. How I wish you could see them! They are splendidly robed in white. They beckon me, and Jesus bids me come.”
A certain rich man spent his life amassing a fortune without giving any attention to his soul’s salvation. When he came to die his wealth was no satisfaction to him. Great anguish came upon him as he fully realised that he had spent his life in accumulating wealth to the neglect of his soul. In his dying condition he called his brother-in-law to pray for him. This man called loudly and earnestly for mercy but the rich man’s hardened, materialistic heart was unmoved by the prayer. He wanted mercy but couldn’t find it.
A little later his son came into his room and said, “Father, what arrangements do you whish to make in regard to the property?” The dying man answered, “I have given all my life to gain property and money but I cannot take a dollar with me. Property avails nothing – I want mercy!” And so he died, calling upon God for mercy, though he left no evidence that he found it.
“Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him when He is near” (Isa. 55:6). “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth...” (Eccles. 12:1). “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Heb. 2:3).
A former governor of Massachusetts, John Brooks, said the following words on his death-bed: “I see nothing terrible in death. In looking to the future I have no fears, for I know in whom I have believed. I look back upon my past life with humility and am aware of my many imperfections, but I now rest my soul on the mercy of my Creator through the only Mediator, His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Oh, what ground of hope there is in that saying of the Apostle that God is in Christ reconciling the guilty world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (2 Cor. 5:19). He put out his hand and was asked what he was reaching for. “A kingdom,” he whispered just as he passed away.
Carrie Carmen lay at death’s door, perfectly conscious. Suddenly she gazed upwards and saw angels, deceased loved ones and the Holy City: “Beautiful! beautiful! beautiful! Oh, they are so beautiful and they sing the sweetest of anything I have ever heard... I see the Holy City that was measured with the reed, whose length and breadth and height are equal, and whose top reaches to the skies. It is so beautiful; I can’t tell you how splendid it is.”
Then she said, “Through the valley of the shadow of death I must go.” She also spoke of the loneliness of her husband, praying that he might have grace to bear his bereavement and that strength may be given to him to go out and labour for souls. The couple were preparing to enter the ministry soon. She also prayed for her parents, asking that they might make an unbroken band in the beautiful city.
Carry again lifted her eyes and said, “Oh, carry me off from this bed.” Her husband said that she wanted to be removed from the bed, but her father said, “She is talking with the angels.” When asked if she were, she said, “Yes.”
Then she thanked the doctor for his kindness and asked him to meet her in heaven. She closed her eyes and seemed to be rapidly sinking away. Her husband then tenderly kissed her. She said little more, but prayed for herself and for her friends. Frequently she would gaze upward and smile as though the sights were very beautiful.
An avowed agnostic died in New York at the age of 74. He was a good neighbour in some respects, but was wicked and scoffed at Christianity. About seven years prior to his death he attended a revival service and the Spirit strove with him, but he resisted to the last. One Sunday after this, a local lay-preacher, while on his way to church, passed the man’s house and saw him standing by the gate. He invited him to come with him to the church. The agnostic held out his hand and replied, “Show me a hair on the palm of my hand, and I will show you a Christian.”
When this man was stricken with his last sickness, the lay-preacher called on him often, sat up with him several nights and was even with him when he died. The infidel was conscious of his near approaching end and now, too late, was also conscious of the terrors of his lost condition. On one occasion he said, “Warn the world not to live as I have lived, and escape my woe.” When visited by a doctor, he was groaning and making demonstrations of great agony. The doctor asked him why he was groaning since his disease was not painful. “Oh doctor, it is not the body but the soul that troubles me!”
On the evening of his death the burdened preacher visited the man again and experienced an awful presence in the room – as if he were near the region of the damned. The dying man cried out, “Oh God, deliver me from that awful pit!” It was not a penitential prayer but the wail of a lost soul. About 15 minutes before his death he exclaimed, “I am in the flames – pull me out, pull me out!” He kept on repeating this, but his words became very faint as his strength failed. At last the preacher put his ear down close to catch his departing whispers and the last words he could hear were, “Pull me out – pull me out!”
“Then He will also say to those on the left hand, Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels... And these will go away into everlasting punishment... there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 25:41,46,30).
A certain farmer who took ill with tuberculosis was a very wicked man, all of his life having been spent in laying up treasures on earth. The pastor of the local Methodist church hesitated to call on him because he was so ungodly and hostile towards the gospel. The pastor said, “I am waiting until the farmer is near his end, hoping he will then allow me to talk to him about his soul.” Thus, several days before his death, the pastor visited the man and talked with him about his moral and spiritual condition.
His mind was very dark and full of unbelief. The pastor talked to him earnestly about the saving of his soul and urged him to call on God to have mercy on him for Jesus’ sake. “I cannot!” he cried. “I have never spoken the name of Jesus except when using it in profanity, and I have used it that way all of these years. I have treated Christ like a dog all of my life and He will not hear me now. I would give all I am worth if I could only feel as you say you feel.”
The pastor told him that God was no respecter of persons, that He never turned any away that came to Him for pardon. He continued, “I cannot get any feeling. What can I do? My heart is so hard.” He was afraid to die without faith in God, but he seemed to have no ability to repent. He had all the treasures on earth, but that did not avail him anything when he came to face eternity.
Reader, how are you treating the Christ on whom you must depend to be saved? Jesus said, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and in the glory of the holy angels” (Luke 9:26).
A young man who led a wicked and sinful life became involved with crime and ended up in prison. His health was ruined by alcohol and his mother visited him in the prison hospital shortly before his death. She talked to him gently but he cried out: “It’s too late! It’s too late! I’m doing you the only good turn I’ve ever done you, mother. I’m dying and you won’t have to break your heart over me anymore. It wasn’t your fault. It was the cursed drink that ruined my life and brought me here. It’s murder now, but the hangman won’t have me – I’ll save that much disgrace for our name.” Then he lay down and died.
“The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).
Oliver Cromwell said, “The devil is ready to seduce us, and I have been seduced.”
Ann Cutler was a serious person and strict in her morals, but she did not understand the method of salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus. At the age of 26 she heard a Methodist preacher explain the way of salvation. She was convinced of sin and from that time gave all diligence to obtain mercy. In a short time she received pardon, and her new life evidenced the blessing she enjoyed.
It was not long, however, before Ann had a clearer insight into her own heart and, though she retained her assurance of forgiveness, she became insensitive to the need of perfect love. Upon hearing the doctrine of sanctification as a second work of grace, and believing that the blessing is to be received through faith, she prayed for the power to believe. Her confidence increased until she could say, “Jesus, thou wilt cleanse me from all unrighteousness.”
After receiving this blessing she became a humble person who fully depended upon God. Her language was, “Jesus, Thou knowest I love Thee with all my heart. I would rather die than grieve the Holy Spirit. Oh, I cannot express how much I love Jesus!” After this change something remarkable appeared in her countenance – there was a humble smile of sweet composure. It was noticed by many as a reflection of the divine nature, and it increased to the time of her death. She dedicated herself body and soul to God and became one of John Wesley’s workers in whom he had great confidence.
A few days before Anne’s death she said, “Jesus is about to take me home. I think I shall soon have done with this body of clay; and oh, how happy shall I then be when I cast my crown before Him, lost in wonder, love and praise.” On the day when she died Anne said, “I am going to die. Glory be to God and the Lamb forever!”
A young lady, under deep conviction of sin, left a revival meeting to attend a dance arranged by a party of ungodly men for the purpose of breaking up the revival meeting. She caught a severe cold at the dance and before long was on her death-bed. When a local minister visited her, she stiffly repulsed his efforts to counsel, saying, “Mr. Rice, my mind was never clearer. I tell you all today that I do not wish to be a Christian. I would rather go to hell than to heaven; they need not keep the gates closed.”
“But you don’t want to go to hell, do you, Jennie?” the minister implored. She broke down and replied, “No, Mr. Rice. Oh that I had never been born! I am suffering now the agonies of the lost. If I could but get away from God – but no, I must always see Him. How I hate Him – I cannot help it! I drove His Spirit from my heart when He would have filled it with His love; and now I am left to my own evil nature – given over to the devil for my eternal destruction. My agony is inexpressible! How can I endure the endless ages of eternity? Oh, the dreadful thought of eternity!”
When asked by Mr. Rice how she got into this despairing mood, she replied, “It was that Friday evening last winter when I deliberately stayed away from the meeting to attend the dance. With all my might I drove the influence of the Spirit away from me. It was then that I had the feeling that He had left me forever. I knew that I had done something terrible, but it was done. From that time I had no desire to be a Christian, but have been sinking down into deeper darkness and more bitter despair. And now all around, and above and beneath me, are impenetrable clouds of darkness. Oh, what horror!” Then turning to Mr. Rice, she said, “Go home now – I don’t want you to pray for me. I don’t want to be tormented with the sound or prayer.”
That evening she sent for Mr. Rice again, and said to him, “I want you to preach at my funeral. Warn all of my young friends... remember everything I have said and use it.” He again expressed the wish that she could be saved before she dies. “Now, Mr. Rice, I don’t want to hear anything about that. I do not want to be tormented with the thought. I am utterly hopeless, my time is growing short – my fate is eternally fixed. I am dying without hope because I insulted the Holy Spirit so bitterly. He has just left me alone to go down to eternal night. He could not have borne with me any longer and retained His divine honour and dignity.” Soon after that she began to struggle in the agonies of death. She gasped, “Oh, save me! They drag me down! Lost! lost! lost!” Then she whispered these words, “Bind me, ye chains of darkness! Oh, that I might cease to be, but still exist.”
A minister once said to a dying man, “If God should restore you to health, do you think that you would alter your course of life?” The man answered, “I call heaven and earth to witness, I would labour for holiness as I shall soon labour for life. As for riches and pleasure and the applause of men, I count them as dross. Oh, if the righteous Judge would spare me a little longer, in what spirit would I spend the remainder of my days! I would know no other business, I would aim at no other end, than perfecting myself in holiness. Whatever contributed to that – every means of grace, every opportunity of spiritual improvement – should be dearer to me than all the riches of gold and silver. But, alas! Why do I amuse myself with fond imaginations? The best resolutions are now insignificant, because they are too late!”
Such was the language of deep concern uttered by one who was beginning to look at these things in the light of the eternal world, which, after all, is the true light. Here we stand on the little molehills of earthly life, where we cannot get a clear view of that other world. But what must it be to stand on the top of the dark mountain of death and look out upon our surroundings – knowing that from the top of that mountain, if angels do not lift us to the skies, we must take a leap into the blackness of eternal darkness.
At the end of his life, Samuel Pierce said, “Blessed be His name who shed His blood for me! Now I fully see the value of the religion of the cross. It is a religion for a dying sinner. It is all that the most guilty and most wretched can desire.”
William Pitt, a former English statesman and First Earl of Chatham, said, “I have, like other men, neglected spiritual matters too much to have any ground of hope that can be efficacious on a death-bed. However, I now throw myself on the mercy of God through the merits of Christ.”
John Randon was a British soldier who fell in the battle of Bunker Hill. He said, “Bright angels stand around the turf on which I lie, ready to escort me to the arms of Jesus. Bending saints reveal my shining crown and beckon me away. Yea, Jesus bids me come! Adieu!”
When dying, the French statesman, Charles M. Talleyrand, was asked by King Louis how he felt. He replied: “I am suffering, sire, the pangs of the damned!”
An agnostic lawyer, Clarence Darrow, was troubled in his soul when he lay on his death-bed. “Get me three clergymen,” Darrow said to his law clerk. When the ministers arrived, Darrow, who publicly laughed at Bible beliefs, said, “Gentlemen, I have written and spoken many things against God and the churches during my lifetime. Now I wish I hadn’t! For I realise it is entirely possible that I may have been wrong. So I should like to ask a final favour – that each of you intercede for me with the Almighty.”
The ministers did pray for Clarence Darrow – and one hopes that he himself prayed the sinner’s prayer.
William Pope was at one time a member of the Methodist Church and seemingly a saved and happy man. His wife, a devoted Christian, died triumphantly. After her death, however, his zeal for religion declined, and by associating with backslidden hypocrites he apostatised and walked the path of spiritual ruin. His companions even professed to believe in the redemption of devils. William admired them, visited pubs with them and in time became a complete drunkard. He finally became a disciple of Thomas Paine and associated with a number of deistical people. They would assemble together on Sundays to confirm each other in their infidelity and often amused themselves by throwing the Word of God on the floor, kicking it around the room and treading it under their feet.
One day William took seriously ill with tuberculosis. Mr. Rhodes visited him, exhorted him to repentance and confidence in the Almighty Saviour, and also prayed with him before leaving. In the evening, William again sent for Mr. Rhodes. He found William in the utmost distress, overwhelmed with bitter anguish and despair. He endeavoured to encourage him by mentioning several cases in which God had saved the greatest of sinners, but he answered, “No case of any that has been mentioned is comparable to mine. I have no contrition; I cannot repent. God will damn me! I know the day of grace is lost.”
Mr. Rhodes asked him if he had ever really known anything of the mercy and love of God. “O yes,” he replied, “many years ago I truly repented and sought the Lord and found peace and happiness. But I have turned my back on Him, scoffed at Him and now I am damned forever! I know the day of grace is past, gone, never more to return! I cannot pray; my heart is quite hardened. I have no desire to receive any blessing at the hand of God.” He then cried out, “Oh, the hell, the torment, the fire that I feel within me! Oh, eternity! eternity! To dwell forever with devils and damned spirits in the burning lake must be my portion – and justly so!”
William often and loudly repeated the reasons for his impending doom: “I have crucified the Son of God afresh, and counted the blood of the covenant an unholy thing! Oh, that wicked and horrible deed of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit, which I know I have committed.” He was often heard to exclaim, “I want nothing but hell! Come, o devil, and take me!” At another time he said, “Oh, what a terrible thing it is! Once I could, and would not; now I want and cannot!” He declared that he was best satisfied when cursing. He passed away – without God.
An atheist took ill and went into rapid decline. Christian acquaintances prayed earnestly that his mind would be turned to his need for a Saviour, but they were met only with rebuffs from him. One of them visited him and explained to him the importance of preparing to meet God. He became angry and said that the visitor need not trouble himself any more about his soul, as there was no God, the Bible was a fable, and when we die that is the last of us. He was unwilling for the person to pray with him.
Some four weeks later, the doctors told him that he could not possibly live more than two hours, and probably not one. The Christian friend visited him just after he heard this bad news. There was agony on his face and he exclaimed, “Oh, I am not prepared to die! There is a God; the Bible is true! Oh, pray for me! Pray God to spare me a few days till I shall know I am saved!”
These words were uttered with the most intense emotion, while his whole frame quivered from the severe agony of his soul. The friend told him that Jesus was a great Saviour, able and willing to save all who would come to Him, even at the eleventh hour as He did the thief on the cross. Several other Christians joined in praying that God would spare the dying man by granting him a few more days.
That evening the man was stronger than in the morning. He settled his case with God and received the joy of forgiveness. The next morning when his friend entered, the man’s face expressed the fact that peace and joy had taken the place of fear and anxiety. He was spared some five days, giving clear evidence that he was indeed born again and had passed from death to life. His case was a great mystery to the doctors as they could not understand how he lived so long. But those who prayed for him knew it was in answer to prayer.
A physician in Pennsylvania gave a book on infidelity to one of his patients and persuaded him to deny his Saviour. When the man was about 50 years old he died. The infidel teacher was his physician, and as the end was approaching, the doctor told him to die as he had lived – a rejecter of God and Christ. “Hold on to that end,” urged the doctor. “Yes, doctor,” said the dying man, “that is just my trouble – you gave me nothing to hold to.” The doctor did not reply.
Alan Williams wrote the following: “My mother professed Christianity, but was all her lifetime in bondage to the fear of death (Heb. 2:15). Although a denominational church member, I was an alcoholic for many years, even estranged from all family contact for seven years. It was during this period that mother died. Before she died she became justified by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and found peace with God, leaving this message for me, “Tell Alan I still have faith in him.” Three years later, Jesus Christ, God’s dear Son, set me free from alcohol, and I am free indeed (John. 8:36). As a child of God, for seven years now, I have been led by the Holy Spirit to be a witness to Jesus my Lord.
“Once God led me to send a postcard message to a 70-year old man who had been a lifetime church member and was now on his death-bed. In the postcard I said, ‘Our weaknesses and inabilities are inconsequential, since Jesus Christ is our strength and peace. However, the joy of the Holy Spirit comes when we decide to dedicate our all to God’s service.’ The Spirit then bore witness with this dying man and he was saved. Before he died he made this statement, ‘Tell Alan it’s all right now. I believe and understand it all.’ He then gave his first smile of true joy and was gone shortly thereafter.”
A German saint, Margaretta, was on her death-bed when friends told her that God would help her. She replied, “Yes, into heaven!” The last words she whispered were, “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin! Oh, sweet words of eternal life!”
Mrs. Barnes’ wonderful conversion was brought about by the death of her little girl. The following is her story of the child’s passing:
“My little daughter, May, when but eight years old, was taken ill with scarlet fever and died four days later. During her short sickness, when asked if she was suffering, she would say that nothing hurt her, but that she wanted to go to heaven. She kept on repeating this all through the night. Towards the end she repeated the Lord’s prayer and then sweetly thanked us for all that we had done for her, insisting that we should not worry about her. Suddenly she looked up and said, ‘I thank You, dear Jesus. Dear Jesus, I thank You.’ After that she sang some beautiful songs. Just before she died she raised her eyes towards heaven and said, ‘O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.’ Then, with a peaceful look on her face, raised herself and with a glad expression said, ‘Oh!’ and was gone. It was evident that she saw something which our eyes could not see.”
A girl was taken very sick and was informed that she could not live. Her parents had educated her to follow the ways and fashions of the world and had turned her away from the truth of God. Now she lay dying, surrounded by her young friends, with whom she had indulged in the pleasures of sin. The wretched girl called her father to the bedside and in front of everybody said, “Your heart is as black as hell. If you had taught me to live for God, rather than spending your time quarrelling with mother, I might have been saved.” Turning to the others, she pled with them, saying, “Do not follow my ungodly example. Do not do as I have done. Do not indulge in the hellish pleasures of the world! Oh, if I had only heeded the warnings...” Then she suddenly cried, “Oh, the devil is coming to drag my soul down to hell! I am lost, forever.” Then she died.
Sir Francis Newport was taught in early life the great truths of the Gospel; and when yet a young man it was hoped that he would become a tribute and a blessing to his family and the nation. However, the result was far otherwise. He fell into company that corrupted his principles and morals, and became an avowed agnostic. The life of dissipation which followed soon brought on a disease that was incurable.
When realising that he must die, he threw himself on the bed, and after a brief pause, exclaimed, “Whence this war in my heart? What argument is there now to assist me against matters of fact? Do I assert that there is no hell, while I feel one in my own bosom? Am I certain there is no retribution after death, when I feel present judgement? Do I affirm my soul to be as mortal as my body, when this languishes, and the soul is vigorous as ever? Oh, that someone would restore to me that ancient gourd of piety and innocence! Wretch that I am, where shall I flee from this breast? What will become of me?”
An infidel companion tried to dispel his thoughts, but he only answered, “That there is a God, I know, because I continually feel the effects of His wrath. That there is a hell I am equally certain, having received an earnest of my inheritance there already in my breast. That there is a natural conscience I now feel with horror and amazement, being continually upbraided by it with my impieties and all my iniquities brought to my remembrance.”
To the dismay of his former friend he continued, “Why God has marked me out for an example of His vengeance, rather than you, or anyone of my acquaintance, I presume, is because I have been more religiously educated and thus have done greater despite to the Spirit of Grace. Oh, that I were to lie upon the fire that never is quenched a thousand years to purchase the favour of God. But it is a fruitless wish. Millions of millions of years will bring me no nearer to the end of my torments than one poor hour. Oh, eternity, eternity! Who can discover the abyss of eternity? Who can paraphrase upon these words – forever and ever?”
When some of his friends thought him insane, he said, “You imagine me to be melancholy or distracted. I wish I were either; but it is part of my awful judgement that I am not. No, my apprehension of persons and things is more quick and vigorous than it was when I was in perfect health – and it is my curse, because I am thus more sensible of my condition.
Would you be informed why I have become a skeleton in three or four days? It is because I have despised my Maker and denied my Redeemer. I joined myself to the atheist and profane and continued this course, in spite of many convictions, till my iniquity was ripe for vengeance. The just judgement of God overtook me when my security was the greatest and the checks of my conscience were the least.”
As his mental distress and bodily disease were driving him into eternity, he was asked if he wanted prayer offered on his behalf. Turning his face away, he exclaimed, “Tigers and monsters! Have you also become devils to torment me? Would you give me prospect of heaven to make my hell more intolerable?” Soon after this his voice failed, and uttering a groan of inexpressible horror, he cried out, “Oh, the insufferable pangs of hell!” – and was gone.
Merritt Caldwell was a gifted teacher and writer. Shortly before his death he said to his wife, “You will not, I am sure, lie down upon your bed and weep when I am gone. You will not mourn for me when God has been so good to me. When you visit my grave, do not come in the shade of the evening, nor in the dark of night – these are not the times to visit the grave of a Christian – but come in the morning, in the bright sunshine when the birds are singing.” His last expressions were, “Glory to Jesus! He is my trust – He is my strength! Jesus lives; I shall live also!”
The meaning of the last word uttered by Jesus Christ on the cross before He died enables all who truly believe in Him as their Saviour, to die in the peace and victory of Golgotha. Almost 2 000 years ago Jesus cried out on the cross: “It is finished!” All the demands for the salvation of sinners were met on the cross, and people everywhere are to be faced with the choice of either accepting or rejecting it. To be for or against Christ, and soon to be judged for all eternity in terms of your relationship with Him, calls for a clear understanding of what the atoning death of Jesus on the cross means to you. What is the full significance of His dying-word when He shouted with a loud voice: “It is finished”?
Jesus was nailed to the cross to pay the penalty for the sins of lost humanity (Isa. 53:5-6). As “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6: 23), He was not only to suffer physically but also to be executed on our behalf. It was therefore only when He died that He fulfilled all the requirements for God’s plan of salvation. During those very last moments when Jesus gave up His life, He said, “Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit!” and then exclaimed loudly: “Tetelestai!” – “It is finished!” (Luke 23:46; John 19:30).
To fully comprehend the significance of the word tetelestai that was uttered by Jesus at the moment of His death, we should briefly investigate its applications during the first century. This word was more meaningful to those people than to us today, and we will do well to retrieve its original meaning.
Fully paid. In the first instance, according to the Vocabulary of the Greek Testament, the word tetelestai was used as the first word on a receipt. It therefore conveys the meaning of fully paid. Have you ever considered the fact that Jesus actually bought you when He shed His blood and gave His life for you? Paul reminds us of this truth: “For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:20).
Peter said, “...you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct... but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet. 1:18-19). The testimony of the elders in heaven confirms their full realisation that they had been bought with the blood of the Lamb, when they sang: “You were slain (sacrificed) and with Your blood You purchased men unto God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9; Amplified Bible).
Dear reader, do you have the assurance that the price for your sins has been fully paid? Do you comply with the condition of repentance and confession of your sins to have them forgiven? The Word of God says: “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy” (Prov. 28: 13; see also 1 John 1:8-9).
After conversion, we ought to walk with the Lord and keep our record clean by confessing all sins of which the Holy Spirit convicts us (1 John 2:1-2). Don’t enter the new life with a heritage of carnal attitudes and unconfessed sins. It will eventually cripple you spiritually. Jesus has paid the full price to do a complete work in your life. He wants to save and sanctify you. Don’t leave the throne of grace with hidden sins that have not been confessed and forsaken.
Sentence served. During the first century it was common practice to nail the charge-sheet of a prisoner to his cell-door. The offences for which he was convicted were written on the charge-sheet, as well as the penalty imposed upon him. After he served his sentence, the charge-sheet was removed from the door and cancelled by writing across it in big letters: Tetelestai (‘fully served’). It was then given to him and nobody could ever charge him again for these offences. He had paid the price for his trespasses in full by serving the entire sentence.
In a spiritual sense all human beings are captives of Satan, “for all have sinned” (Rom. 3:23). They find themselves in his death cells awaiting their trial before the great white throne where they will be condemned to eternal death. The prison master is the devil, and no person can free himself of his own accord from this severe bondage, or from the death sentence imposed upon him.
To save lost sinners, Jesus Christ willingly served the death sentenced that has already in principle been imposed upon all sinners (Rom. 6:23). After His resurrection from the grave, He is in a position to cancel the charge-sheet of every lost sinner by writing in red letters with His blood across it: Tetelestai – Sentence served.
“You were dead in sins, and your sinful desires were not yet cut away. Then He gave you a share in the very life of Christ, for He forgave all your sins, and blotted out the charges proved against you, the list of his commandments which you had not obeyed. He took this list of sins and destroyed it by nailing it to Christ's cross” (Col. 2:13-14; Living Bible).
The Saviour was indeed sent to earth “to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house” (Isa. 42:7; King James Version). His mission to free those who are spiritual captives of Satan, is also reiterated in Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound” (Isa. 61:1).
Have all the sins of which the devil accuses you before the throne of God been blotted out by the blood of the Lamb? If so, nobody can ever accuse you again for those sins, no matter how serious they were, because the sentence for them has been fully served.
Victory gained. A third usage of the term tetelestai was related to successful military campaigns against the enemy. When a general returned from the battle-field and paraded his captives of war in the streets of Rome, he proclaimed his victory by shouting: Tetelestai... tetelestai... By this victory shout a clear statement was made that the enemy was conquered and its power broken: mission accomplished!
Although it was His dying-word on the cross, Jesus also proclaimed His victory over the enemy with the shout: Tetelestai! To die was a major victory for Jesus, “that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). “Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it” (Col. 2:15).
Jesus conquered the enemy, but has not yet obliterated him. The devil is still very active on earth; therefore we are called upon to share in the victory of Calvary and become “more than conquerors through Him that loved us” (Rom. 8:37). There is a battle to be fought and a victory to be gained.
Let us make the most of the remaining time by serving the Lord and extending His kingdom on earth. The shadows are falling and the sands of time are rapidly running out. Like the Lord Jesus, we should also say: “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4).
The night of God’s judgements in the great tribulation is fast approaching, and there is still much work to be done for Him before the last trumpet sounds. The lost must be saved and Christians must be spiritually prepared to meet their heavenly Bridegroom. Allow the Lord to complete His wonderful work in your life: “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it... that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27).
The Lord Jesus is not only our Saviour from the sins, corruptive influence and spiritual captivity of Satan; He is also our sanctification to lead us into a life of holiness, victory and abundant service in His everlasting kingdom.