I recently ran across a passage that I had marked from one of my favorite books called Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss. I don’t read two many novels, but this was one that I ran across that I have bought copies of and insisted it was mandatory reading for my girl friends. You can actually download the free audio version here on Librovox or download and read the free EPUB version from Project Guttenberg here. Or you can purchase a copy on Amazon here.
Below is one of my earmarked pages capturing a conversation about dying and entering Christ’s presence. It stood out to me as I reread the passage recently because we have been talking about death and dying a lot in our weekly women’s bible study at www.calledaside.com. Mainly because we are going through the book of Revelation and it is all about facing “the dread of the King of Terrors“. We were talking just a few weeks ago about the importance of dying well in a lesson called Preparing to Enter Heaven and it has been a lesson that I have been replaying over and over again in my mind, asking myself the same question we asked that evening which is this, “At your funeral, what will people say you loved most? What will people say you lived for? Will Jesus come to their mind? Will they be able to say that you were a person who loved God, who was marked by your love for Jesus?”
I hate attending funerals where you were never quite sure if the person was saved or not. They may have attended church once in awhile. They may have been baptized as a child but other than that there was no sign of a deep, genuine, life changing love for God and his son Jesus Christ in their lives. I can say they had an outstanding love for a lot of things, their family, their work, their music, sports and other hobbies but I can’t say they had an outstanding love for Jesus that outshone them all and that gives me no assurance. When it comes to assurance of another’s salvation, that is the first thing I honestly look for a deep genuine love for God that perfumes their entire life. Without this love, I am left with a nagging doubt, did they make it? I don’t know.It doesn’t mean they didn’t, God knows the heart but I am only saying that I don’t have assurance. I am often left silently wondering.
I don’t want anyone to have to go through that when I die. The one thing I want people to be able to say and be absolutely sure of whether they knew me from church, work, an old acquaintance, facebook, a neighbor, a close friend and especially my family who see my weaknesses and habits every day, I want them to be sure that I loved Christ, maybe too much they might think, but I loved Him to the best of my ability and because of that I spent my life trying to love them to my best ability. I want my life to be marked by love, not only for people but for God. 1 Cor. 8:3 ‘But whoever loves God is known by God.” As an introvert, I admit, I struggle with loving people as everyone does, maybe a little bit more so. Relationships are hard and have to be worked at and held onto, but as Andrew Murray so aptly once said, “Our love for God is measured by our everyday fellowship with others and the love it displays.” We can’t say we love God if we hate our brothers and are difficult to get a long with. 1 John 4:20-21 “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.”
This is tough but to grow in maturity in Christ is to grow in love both for God and man. All of this will affect our attitude in death. If we love God and have faith in Jesus, than death can be looked forward to with anticipation instead of dread as one looks forward to seeing a loved one after many years. There is so much to be looked forward to in death: rest, reunion, reward, eternity, complete joy and the best of all seeing Jesus Himself. The leaving behind of spouses, friends, family and children is the most difficult and painful part of death, separation from that which we love. But because of Christ death is no longer seen as an eternal separation, but an eternal union from all that now separates us, breaks us, split us apart from God and one another. If we are in Christ and have accepted him as our Savior we have no reason to fear death as an eternal separation. However, apart from Jesus, we should very much dread and fear death for it is very much an eternal separation from all that we love and all who loved us. We will face the judgment and penalty for our own sins against God and others and will be unable to appease the wrath of God against us for failing to love others and him as he created and commanded us to.
To die apart from Jesus Christ is to live eternally separated from the very source of life himself and to have no hope of any type of forgiveness or union that comes from the bonds of love that are found within him. If we have this assurance of forgiveness of our sins through the death of Christ and our new life in Christ then we too can sing, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55) and our response to facing eternity may not be too different then Katy’s response below to her father-in-law regarding her own encounter with death.
MARCH 30.-This experience of suffering has filled my mind with new thoughts. At one time I was so sick that Ernest sent for mother. Poor mother, she had to sleep with Martha. It was a great comfort to have her here, but I knew by her coming how sick I was, and then I began to ponder the question whether I as ready to die. Death looked to me as a most solemn, momentous event-but there was something very pleasant in the thought of being no longer a sinner, but a redeemed saint, and of dwelling forever in Christ’s presence. Father came to see me when I had just reached this point.
“My dear daughter,” he asked, “are you prepared to face the Judge of all the earth?”
“No, dear father,” I said, “Christ will do that for me.”
“Have you no misgivings?”
I could only smile; I had no strength to talk.
Then I heard Ernest—my dear, calm, self-controlled Ernest—burst out crying and rush out of the room. I looked after him, and how I loved him! But I felt that I loved my Savior infinitely more,and that if He now let me come home to be with Him I could trust Him to be a thousand-fold more to Ernest than I could ever be, and to take care of my darling baby and my precious mother far better than I could. The very gates of heaven seemed open to let me in. And then they were suddenly shut in my face, and I found myself a poor, weak, tempted creature here upon earth. I, who fancied myself an heir of glory, was nothing but a peevish, human creature-very human indeed, overcome if Martha shook the bed, as she always did, irritated if my food did not come at the right moment, or was not of the right sort, hurt and offended if Ernest put on at one less anxious and tender than he had used when I was very ill, and-in short, my own poor faulty self once more. Oh, what fearful battles I fought for patience, forbearance and unselfishness! What sorrowful tears of shame I shed over hasty, impatient words and fretful tones! No wonder I longed to be gone where weakness should be swallowed up in strength, and sin give place to eternal perfection!
But here I am, and suffering and work lie before me, for which I feel little physical or mental courage. But “blessed be the will of God.”
APRIL 5.-I was alone with father last evening, Ernest and Martha both being out, and soon saw by the way he fidgeted in his chair that he had something on his mind. So I laid down the book I was reading, and asked him what it was.
“My daughter,” he began, “can you bear a plain word from an old man?”
I felt frightened, for I knew I had been impatient to Martha of late, in spite of all my efforts to the contrary. I am still so miserably unwell.
“I have seen many death-beds,” he went on; “but I never saw one where there was not some dread of the King of Terrors exhibited; nor one where there was such absolute certainty of having found favor with God to make the hour of departure entirely free from such doubts and such humility as becomes a guilty sinner about to face his Judge.”
“I never saw such a one, either,” I replied; “but ere have been many such deaths, and I hardly know of any scene that so honors and magnifies the Lord.”
“Yes,” he said, slowly; “but they were old, mature, ripened
“Not always old, dear father. Let me describe to you a scene Ernest described to me only yesterday.”
He waved his hand in token that this would delay his coming to the point he was aiming at.
“To speak plainly,” he said, “I feel uneasy about you, my daughter. You are young and in the bloom of life, but when death seemed staring you in the face, you expressed no anxiety, asked for no counsel, showed no alarm. It must be pleasant to possess so comfortable a persuasion of our acceptance with God; but is it safe to rest on such an assurance while we know that the human heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked ?”
I thank you for the suggestion;” I said; “and, dear father, do not be afraid to speak still more plainly. You live in the house with me, see all my shortcomings and my faults, and I cannot wonder that you think me a poor, weak Christian. But do you really fear that I am deceived in believing that notwithstanding this I do really love my God and Savior and am His Child?”
“No,” he said, hesitating a little, “I can’t say that, exactly—I can’t say that.”
This hesitation distressed me. At first it seemed to me that my life must have uttered a very uncertain sound if those who saw it could misunderstand its language. But then I reflected that it was, at best, a very faulty life, and that its springs of action were not necessarily seen by lookers-on.
Father saw my distress and perplexity, and seemed touched by them.
Just then Ernest came in with Martha, but seeing that something was amiss, the latter took herself off to her room, which I thought really kind of her.
“What is it, father? What is it, Katy?” asked Ernest; looking from one troubled face to the other.
I tried to explain.
“I think, father, you may safely trust my wife’s spiritual interests to me,” Ernest said, with warmth. “You do not understand her. I do. Because there is nothing morbid about her, because she has a sweet, cheerful confidence in Christ; you doubt and misjudge her. You may depend upon it that people are individual in their piety as in other things, and cannot all be run in one mold. Katy has a playful way of speaking, I know, and often expresses her strongest feelings with what seems like levity, and is, perhaps, a little reckless about being misunderstood in consequence.”
He smiled on me, as he thus took up the cudgels in my defense, and I never felt so grateful to him in my life. The truth is, I hate sentimentalism so cordially, and have besides such an instinct to conceal my deepest, most sacred emotions, that I do not wonder people misunderstand and misjudge me.
“I did not refer to her playfulness,” father returned. “Old people must make allowances for the young; they must make allowances. What pains me is that this child, full of life and gayety as she is, sees death approach without that becoming awe and terror which befits mortal man.”
Ernest was going to reply, but I broke in eagerly upon his answer:
“It is true that I expressed no anxiety when I believed death to be at hand. I felt none. I had given myself away to Christ, and He had received me and why should I be afraid to take His hand and go where He led me? And it is true that I asked for no counsel. I was too weak to ask questions or to like to have questions asked; but my mind was bright and wide awake while my body was so feeble, and I took counsel of God. Oh, let me read to you two passages from the life of Caroline Fry which will make you understand how a poor sinner looks upon death. The first is an extract from a letter written after learning that her days on earth were numbered.
“‘As many will hear and will not understand, why I want no time of, preparation, often desired by far holier ones than I, I tell you why, and shall tell others, and so shall you. It is not because I am so holy but because I am so sinful. The peculiar character of my religious experience has always been a deep, an agonizing sense of sin; the sin of yesterday, of to-day, confessed with anguish hard to be endured, and cried for pardon that could not be unheard; each day cleansed anew in Jesus’ blood, and each day more and more hateful in my own sight; what can I do in death I have not done in life? What, do in this week, when I am told I cannot live, other than I did last week, when knew it not? Alas, there is but one thing undone, to serve Him better; and the death-bed is no place for that. Therefore I say, if I am not ready now, I shall not be by delay, so far as I have to do with it. If He has more to do in me that is His part. I need not ask Him not to spoil His work by too much haste.’
“And these were her dying words, a few days later:
“‘This is my bridal-day, the beginning of my life. I wish there should be no mistake about the reason of my desire to depart and to be with Christ. I confess myself the vilest, chiefest of sinners, and I desire to go to Him that I may be rid of the burden of sin-the sin of my nature-not the past, repented of every day, but the present, hourly, momentary sin, which I do commit, or may commit -the sense of which at times drives me half mad with grief!”‘
I shall never forget the expression of father’s face, as I finished reading these remarkable words. He rose slowly from his seat, and came and kissed me on the forehead. Then he left the room, but returned with a large volume, and pointing to a blank page, requested me to copy them there. He complains that I do not write legibly, so I printed them as plainly as I could, with my pen.
Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55)