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IN TESTIMONY OF THE DYING IS JOY OF THOSE WHO FIND A FOUNDATION IN THE 'VINEYARD OF THE LORD'
There's an old book called Dying Testimonies of the Saved and Unsaved by S. B. Shaw that recounts the experiences of the dying. There are great lessons in accounts of those who approach (or in some cases, pass) the threshold.
Somehow, hearing from a person who actually approaches and glimpses eternity means more than theological speculation (as St. Augustine himself, after such an experience, so clearly proclaimed). No doubting Thomases here.
There was Anna Crawson, a woman of faith in China Spring, Texas, who had worked in the "vineyard of the Lord" and who just before passing said to her grieving husband, "Oh, I can see the angels all in the room. I am going to Heaven. Meet me there!" (Soon after, her husband was delivered from a number of bad habits -- as if through her intercession -- and in fact he died four years later.)
Another reporting angels (these accounts are more than a century old) was Julia E. Strail of Portlandville, New York, who wrote about an aging woman in Worcester, New York, who had suffered a long illness without complaint. During the last three days of her life -- as she prepared to leave the shores of time -- she exhorted those of her children and neighbors who came to her bedside to prepare to meet their God. When they wept, she said to them, "O do not weep, this suffering will soon be over! I hear the angels singing around my bed! This poor body will soon be at rest!" And so she passed into the timeless realm where there is no death; never again. Nor hatred.
Are there negative experiences? There are. We die as we live. There are those who cry out in fear from their deathbeds that devils are waiting to haul them off. This is most pronounced among atheists and others who disdain God. Money is of no use. There is no bribing death. Some attempt to change at the very last. Desperation has many converts. Others refuse to yield (their arrogance). "It's too late, it's too late," was the lament of more than one person in these accounts (often, wealthy). There is literally gnashing of teeth. "Mother! I am lost! Lost! Lost!" were among one young man's final words. "Damned! Oh, mother, save me, the devils have come after me." One wealthy man who had never allowed anyone to speak about religion in his presence was said on his deathbed to have "warned all present not to live as he had lived " as he sank "into a devil's hell. At last he turned his face toward the wall, and cried out with an awful wail, 'Too late, too late, too late! and his soul went out into eternity."
The opposite is true, of course, for those who love God.
Said a converted woman on her deathbed as she contemplated Christ, "If this is death, let me always be dying."
"How beautiful everything appears!" said another identified only as Harvey of the light beyond. "Oh, how I wish I had the strength to tell everybody that I am happier in one minute than I ever was in all my life put together!" He saw a beautiful woman named Mary. "Here she is, with two angels with her. They've come for me." He died with "a smile retained on his countenance."
Purification? Perhaps. Yes. But after that, the Presence of God, forever.
As odd as it sounds, and as these old accounts show, death for the righteous should be viewed not as a morbid scene at some funeral home that makes money on morbid scenes but as a joy that comes free of charge. By their fruits you will know them.
There was the man in Fredrickson, Missouri identified as Brother Watts. He too had worked in that vineyard. He had preached for forty-five years, and as recounted by a minister who tended to him, Reverend E. Ray: "I have preached many a funeral sermon, but remember none where I have seen such joy as on this occasion. Brother Watts suffered greatly during the first of his illness, but during his last days on earth, while the outward man grew weaker and perished, the inward man grew stronger day by day. The last day seemed a golden sunset indeed, or rather the Sun Righteousness arose with healing in His wings, and he passed away in a flood of glory, with peace on earth and good will toward men.
"He said to his wife frequently, 'I am in a revival of religion.' His wife told me that the last day he lived on earth he sang alone, 'How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!'
"As his wife felt very keenly her loss, she said to him, 'I want to go with you.' 'No,' he replied, 'you must wait.' And thus sweetly passed the life away, calm as a May morning, his feet placed firmly on the Rock of Ages. 'How firm a foundation.'"
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