Can life really be reduced to a vapor? Poof – over, that fast? Is that really all there is? You live and die and it’s over?
There are many in the world that embrace such a Carpe Diem mentality. Paul’s lament to the Corinthians was that if this is truly all there is then, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!”1 Way to go Paul! Sounds good, eh? Go for all the gusto you can get. But Paul didn’t stop there – he was making a case for the resurrection and the fact that this life, though as short as a disappearing vapor, is NOT the end. There waits for every soul a life in eternity.
Now for those of you who don’t believe this – hold on before you click this off, shaking your head in disgust.
Our finite minds have a hard time grasping the concept of eternity. It is difficult to imagine life as anything but what we are familiar with at present, a life generously sprinkled with both joyous and difficult experiences. Yet, how quickly it goes by – the older one gets, the more this becomes an almost palatable reality. The intent of this article is to admonish the reader to think about his life in terms of eternity – a reality many come to face when it is woefully too late.
I have recently been reading Solomon Benjamin Shaw’s, “Dying Testimonies of Saved and Unsaved”, a compilation of witness testimonies of 236 individuals facing imminent death. My initial interest was to be buoyed in my spirit by reading the glorious accounts of Christians preparing to be absent from their bodies and present with their Lord. To be sure, these testimonies are beautiful and all of them with similar characteristics. Glowing countenances, uplifted hands, a far away look to the eyes that focus on a place not of this world. Read this excerpt from Frances R. Havergal’s testimony, account #78:
“And now she looked up steadfastly as if she saw the Lord; and, surely, nothing less heavenly could have reflected such a glorious radiance upon her face. For ten minutes we watched that almost visible meeting with her King, and her countenance was so glad, as if she were already talking to Him.”
Surely we can ask, “O Death, where is your sting” 2, when reading an account such as this. There are also accounts of “eleventh hour” conversions, though very few of these are documented. For these we praise the Lord for His longsuffering. What prompted me to pen this article was the third type of witness testimony of which there were, uncomfortably, too many. These accounts chilled me to the bone. There is a Scripture passage in both Matthew and Mark where Jesus is addressing a multitude, some who think He is out of His mind, others who believe He is demon possessed. Our Lord shares the following:
“Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation” (Mark 3:28-29)
This, my friend, is the description of the unpardonable sin. A sin so grievous that when committed it cannot be repented of, cannot be forgiven and the perpetrator cannot be cleansed of all unrighteousness as 1John 1:9 promises. This sin leads to eternal condemnation – hell. This is the third type of testimony documented in Shaw’s compilation. The gut-wrenching truth of these desperate souls was their complete knowledge of their sin, the fact that they had said “No” to the Holy Spirit’s call to salvation and subsequently had their hearts hardened to the point where there was no turning back. No chance to make retribution. They were damned and they knew it and they were terrified. Read the words of a young man in account #20 who after being told he was dying responding to his doctor’s beseeching that he could come to salvation in this eleventh hour:
“My eleventh hour,” he rejoined, “was when I had that call of the Spirit. I have had none since — shall not have. I am given over to be lost. Oh! I have missed it! I have sold my soul for nothing — a feather — a straw — undone forever!” This was said with such indescribable despondency, that nothing was said in reply. After lying a few moments, he raised his head, and looking all around the room as if for some desired object, he buried his face in the pillow, and again exclaimed in agony and horror, “Oh! I have missed it at last!” and died.
Notice this similar account #26 and the realization of a hardened heart:
Mr. Barraclough gives the following account of what he witnessed. He says: “I went to see William Pope, and as soon as he saw me he exclaimed, ‘You are come to see one who is damned forever!’ I answered, ‘I hope not; Christ can save the chief of sinners.’ He replied, ‘I have denied Him, I have denied Him; therefore hath He cast me off forever! I know the day of grace is past, gone — gone, never more to return!’ I entreated him not to be too hasty, and to pray. He answered, ‘I cannot pray; my heart is quite hardened, I have no desire to receive any blessing at the hand of God,’ and then cried out, ‘Oh, the hell, the torment, the fire that I feel within reel Oh, eternity.’ eternity! To dwell forever with devils and damned spirits in the burning lake must be my portion, and that justly!’
We read these accounts and we think: Surely one can be saved if one knows how lost he is. If one knows the way to salvation then why not choose it? Ah, but the choice was made when the Holy Spirit called, wooed, presented the Truth, and the individual refused. A hardened heart that could no longer be circumcised, could no longer be redeemed, and was condemned to outer darkness.
It is important to also note the terror many of these people experienced (account #45):
The dying man cried out, “O God, deliver me from that awful pit!” It was not a penitential prayer, but the wail of a lost soul. About fifteen minutes before his death, which was at twelve, he exclaimed, “I am in the flames — pull me out, pull me out!” He kept repeating this until the breath left his body. As the bodily strength failed his words became more faint. At last Mr. N___ put his ear down close to catch his departing whispers, and the last words he could hear were, “Pull me out, pull me out!” “It was an awful scene,” said he. “It made an impression on me that I can never forget. I never want to witness such a scene again.”
Many witnesses, similar to the one above, claimed that the experience of watching an unsaved soul die was one they would never want to endure again.
Another noteworthy characteristic of the dying unsaved is their plea to tell others not to make the same mistake they had made. Such a plea is similar to the true story Jesus told of the Rich Man and the beggar Lazarus3. This is not a parable but an actual account Jesus is sharing – much like this actual account (#181):
There was a young man in Georgia who was constantly warned by his parents and others to turn from his wickedness, profanity and gambling, but he would not taste their advice, and became a miserable wreck of humanity. He was taken ill, and during his sickness he would exclaim, “Oh, drive these devils away with their chains, they will drag my soul down to hell before I die! Oh, brother and sister, take warning! Don’t come to this hell. This is hell enough! The devils are dragging me down!” And as he cried mightily, “Don’t come to this hell of woe, this hell, this hell!” his soul departed to everlasting ruin and perdition.
We see that those who have committed the unpardonable sin are fully aware of their choice, fully understanding the eternal decision they have made, knowing there is no way to reverse it. Hell is not a place to party with their friends as some today glibly refer – it is a place of unending torment and constant regret. I am not an advocate of one coming to Christ as a means of ‘fire insurance’. Being spared the horrors of hell is but a byproduct of being reconciled to our Creator God. Dwight L. Moody is the last account given in Shaw’s collection. His words are a comfort:
“If this is death, there is no valley. This is glorious. I have been within the gates and I saw the children, Dwight and Irene” (his two grandchildren who had died). “Earth is receding. Heaven is approaching. God is calling me.”
An awesome evangelist, Moody pulled no punches when he preached. He is quoted to have said, “When we preach on hell, we might at least do it with tears in our eyes.” So dear reader I implore you, with tears in my eyes, to be sure of your salvation. To those who know Jesus, let this article stir you to share the Truth. To those who do not know Jesus, the Holy Spirit is calling you to repentance, don’t put Him off. Repent of your sin and receive the free gift of salvation offered to you by God the Father through His son Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. There is one more witness testimony I want to leave you with. Claim it as your own through the power of His blood:
And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. (1John 5:11)