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Famous Last WordsOctober 19, 2023
Over the years of my ministry, some of the most meaningful moments have been when I have been by the bedside of the dying. Their thoughts about life always seem more profound from this perspective. Some examples of some famous atheist’s final words before death follow. Clarence Darrow, the lawyer from the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925, while dying asked several clergymen to, “Please intercede for me with the Almighty. During my life I have spoken many times against Christians, and I now realize that I may have been wrong.”
What about Joseph Stalin, the atheist Soviet leader who murdered many millions? His daughter, Svetlana told Malcolm Muggeridge, “He suddenly sat up, groaned, shook his fist at the ceiling as if he could see beyond it, then fell back and died.”
Voltaire, one of history’s best-known atheists, often stated that, “by the time I’m buried, the Bible will be non-existent.” His last words were, “I am abandoned by God and man; I shall die and go to hell alone.”
The thing that was most impressive about these and many other death bed confessions of famous atheists was the way they went into death with such fear, anger, and complete defeat. It did not have to be that way. Even on their death bed, these arrogant men could have changed their ways. There is no better example than the criminal on the cross who confesses that Jesus is innocent, and he is receiving what he deserves. Jesus responds with one of the seven last words from the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). The other criminal chose to hold on to his pride, his foolish pride, until his dying breath. The second criminal waited until his dying breath to make the most important decision of life, but he humbly made it, and Jesus showered mercy and grace upon him for the last moments of his life, and for eternity. Let us not forget, eternity is for a long time!
This is consistent with what Jesus teaches in the “The Parable of the Day Laborers” (Matthew 20:1-16). In this parable about the mercy of God, the landowner hires laborers throughout the day, and everyone gets paid the same whether they worked all day or for one hour. When God showers mercy and grace upon us He does so in the full amount all the time. Each will receive the full benefits of abundant life today and eternal life tomorrow.
In the “Parable of the Prodigal Son” (Luke 15:11-32) the eldest brother is upset that his prodigal brother gets a big party. He has been faithful to his Father, but has never gotten such a party. The Father (who symbolizes God) says, “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours”. God will reward the faithful in other ways (e.g. I Corinthians 3:10-15), but grace is always given abundantly.
In stark contrast, notice how the tone of these Christians death bed confessions is full of hope for the eternity that lies ahead. John Knox, Scottish clergyman and founder of the Presbyterian Church, was asked where he found hope. He pointed heavenward, and with a peaceful countenance he died.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German theologian who spoke out against Adolph Hitler and plotted to assassinate Hitler was sentenced to death by firing squad. While waiting to die he said, “This may seem to be the end for me, but it is just the beginning.”
John Wesley, Methodist preacher and songwriter, is reported to have said, “The best of all is that God is with us, farewell, farewell.”
The question that strikes me today is why wait? If you are holding out to give your life to Christ because you don’t want to change or give up any sins, I assure you, life is far more abundant with Christ in your life, than without Him. Imagine, for a moment, that you are about to die. What would you say to someone about life as you face what happens after death? If you don’t like what you would say, know that God will help you change your life to line up with the perfect plan for it that He has already designed. (To find out more about Al Earley or read previous articles see, www.lagrangepres.com).