How do i feel and what am I doing about the fact that I am soon to die?

It’s quite certain, you see, that I will soon die. Such was not always the case. Fifty-five years ago when I began my struggle against tuberculosis (I learned years later that my family despaired of my recovery) I could only say, “I may die soon.” But now that I am an octogenarian, I can say without fear of contradiction that I am sure to pass away before much longer.

How do I feel about this prospect of imminent death? Just fine. I’m somewhat surprised at my spontaneous certainty that all will be well with me when I pass from this life. It’s a little like this: every time I come to a church I’m sure I will be safe and will have heartening fellowship. In the same way I’m happily expectant about the good life in the Great Beyond. When I read the New Testament I find myself saying, “I just couldn’t help believing in Jesus.” Just so, I find myself saying, “I just can’t help knowing I’ll be safe when I die.” Sometimes I start arguing with myself: “Are you so sure, old man? Aren’t there some things you haven’t taken into consideration? Are you fit to die happily? Better stop and investigate.” But it’s hard to get my own attention. I drift off into singing bits of songs that I love—I can’t help it.

I must admit I don’t enjoy the prospect of physical death. Let me illustrate what I mean. The first time I underwent a major operation I had complete confidence in the surgeon and in the nurses. I was sure I’d come through fine, and that I’d be in better health. But for some reason I’ve always had a horror of being smothered, and I was afraid the anesthetic would smother me. That’s how I feel about physical death. It’s like a dreaded anesthetic I need to take between the experiences of this world and the far better blessings of the future world.

Though I expect the future of life to transcend by far any experiences I have known here on earth, I can’t say I’ve attained to that eagerness for departure which Paul expressed. He said he had a desire to depart and to be with Christ—that he was willing to be absent from the body and present with the Lord. I’m reminded—if you’ll forgive me—of the one brother who alone remained seated when the preacher asked that all who wanted to go to heaven should stand. “My brother, don’t you want to go to heaven?” asked the pastor. “Why, I thought you meant right now,” came the reply.

I’m still interested in the affairs of this world. I watch the growing crops with eagerness. I was astounded when my doctor friend told me that his sister was incubating 350,000 turkey eggs this year. I would have missed every meal of the day before I would have missed watching Colonel Glenn on his epic flight. I cheer at the peewee baseball games. And I wish that for once District Attorney Berger would get the best of Perry Mason. No doubt the time will come when I can only sit and wait. But I hope that when I must turn my back on this world, I’ll be looking upward with a song on my lips.

Well, in view of its soon coming, am I preparing for death? Not much more than I have for years. I remember a brother who told me that in World War I he was on a transport ship when a sub was sighted. It was almost amusing, he said, to see men everywhere with their little New Testaments, trying to find something to help them in a watery grave. When the danger was past, they put away the books—for safekeeping until the next big scare! I’m not moved this way. I’ve been getting ready for the last impressive hour for many, many years. I’ve prepared faithfully: when I tried so hard to have one more sermon for the people. When I said to a gifted teacher, “Won’t you ask the Lord tonight to help you settle this matter?” and she joyously sought me the next day to confess Christ. When I went many times to a home so revolting I would ask none of our women to go there. When I happily preached to a mere 8 or 12 or 16 at mission stations, sure of being in the Lord’s appointed place. When I read and read until I wore out several Bibles. When I turned ever and again to a man’s best earthly refuge, my own Christian home. Oh, in all these and a thousand other activities I was getting ready to die. Let me make a suggestion here. Just go along living a Christian life of usefulness the way a Christian should, and when you approach 82 you’ll find yourself thinking, “Why, I’ve been getting ready for my last hour on earth for a long time.”

But I think it’s time to tell you on what ground I base my almost audacious confidence that all is well with me as death approaches. The universal longing for another life is best answered by Jesus’ words and deeds. He was sure he had lived with the Father before he came to us, and he was sure he would return to the Father. He remembered he had come from God. And he went back to God after he had washed the disciples’ feet. On his last night on earth he said, “Father, I come to thee. Glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory I had with thee before the world was.” On the cross he said, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”

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And he was sure he could save all believing disciples for eternity. He prayed that his friends might be with him to behold his glory. He said that his sheep hear his voice, that he the Shepherd knows them, that he gives them eternal life, and no one can pluck them out of his hand. Just before he died he told his disciples not to be troubled; he was going to prepare a place for them and would come to receive them unto himself, “that where I am, there ye may be also.” What a promise! What’s more, Jesus keeps his promises. When the first martyr, Stephen, was being tried for his life, he saw God in his glory and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “I see him, I see him!” he cried. Then while tormentors stoned him to death he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” Jesus was there to welcome Stephen; and I say in utmost humility, I expect him to be there to welcome me, too.

Dwight L. Moody was as mighty an evangelist in the last century as Billy Graham is today. I remember when in 1899, in the midst of a great revival in Kansas City, he became ill and was rushed home to Massachusetts. A few days later he was gone. In the last moments he had said to his son: “This is no dream, Will. If this be death, it is inexpressibly sweet. Earth is receding, heaven is opening, God is calling, and I must go.”—The Rev. S. F. MARSH, of Leland, Mississippi, retired Southern Baptist minister who served more than 40 years in Texas pastorates.

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