I Stood in the Presence of Death

By Wallace H. Little

Not long ago, with another Christian, I stood at the bedside of a man dying of cancer in a hospital. He knew he had not long to live, and had accepted the fact of his soon-coming death. He was completely paralyzed and without sensation from the waist down. The loathsome disease had progressed to the point of softening his bones. As careful as the attendants were, and I verified this carefulness by my observation, they had accidentally broken one of his legs a week or so before. He was in considerable pain, and knew he had no chance of recovery, and his only hope for release from his physical agony was death.

But he was disturbed for reasons other than his cancer. A long time prior to this, he had been taught the first principles of the oracles of God. While recognizing truth and its application to him, he put off obedience. It was “not convenient”; besides, he was enjoying things he knew he would have to give up to become a Christian. Now he fully knew he was about to die, and that he was not prepared to do so. This, not his physical condition, was the cause of his mental anguish.

We talked for a few minutes, if the sounds he made could be called “talk.” He wanted to hear again Christ’s call for sinners to come to Him. In ten minutes or so, he urgently requested I baptize him.

It was not easy. His condition was so bad we were convinced to move him from the hospital to the nearest place suitable for immersion would cause him much pain and possibly kill him too. One of the nurses suggested trying a large tub in the hospital. The attending doctor gave his permission, so we carefully shifted him from his bed to a stretcher, and from there to the tub, which by this time was filled with water. Getting him into it was not easy. After baptizing him, getting him back out, onto the stretcher again and then returning him to bed was even more difficult. I know we hurt him, for several times he was unable to keep from groaning.

But now he was no longer troubled in heart. He was completely relaxed and content. Why he waited as long as he did, coming as close to death as he did before being baptized, I do not know. It is doubtful he really knew either. But God in His compassion extended this man mercy: our new brother in Christ lived just short of eight days after being immersed.

I stood in the presence of death . . . then in the presence of life powerful enough to overcome death. Our brother “squeaked through.” But we all stand in the presence of death daily. Oh, not necessarily physical death, but surely separation from God (Isa. 59:1, 2). And unlike this man, most of these will pass through physical death in their present condition, unprepared. The only hope of these lost ones is those of us who know the gospel of Christ and are willing to take it to them.

Without this gospel and ourselves as God’s messengers in bringing it to the lost, we will all continue to stand in the presence of death daily . . . and one day, we will stand in the presence of our own death for having failed to do as God would have us do (Jas. 4:17), not having tried to bring life to the lost, as was brought to our dying brother.

Will you stand in the presence of your own spiritual death?

Truth Magazine XX: 33, p. 522
August 19, 1976