Editor's note: News commentaries are intended to express the richness and variety of informed and responsible Adventist opinion on current issues. They do not necessary convey the viewpoint of the Adventist Review editorial team or the General Conference.
, director of operations for ARME Bible Camp, a supporting ministry of the Adventist Church
Do you remember Ellen G. White’s last words?
As the co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church neared death in 1915, she whispered to her son, “I know in whom I have believed.”
The powerful statement reflected the godly life that White led. I believe people’s last words can speak volumes about their lives.
A few years ago I purchased a book containing famous last words from 700 people, a mix of commoners, atheists, poets, politicians, Christians, and martyrs. That sparked my interest in finding even more phrases.
What fascinates me is the stark contrast between the Christians and the infidels. A total dichotomy emerges between the saint and the sinner.
Death can come suddenly. During a sleepless night in 1977, Elvis Presley, 42, told his fiancée, "I'm going to the bathroom to read." The words would be his last. Several hours later, the fiancée found Presley’s body slumped on the bathroom floor.
Some infidels and atheists panicked moments before they passed away.
Thomas Paine, a leading atheistic writer in the American colonies and author of The Age of Reason, which challenged institutional religion and the legitimacy of the Bible, reportedly cried on his deathbed in 1809: “Stay with me, for God's sake; I cannot bear to be left alone. Oh Lord, help me! Oh God, what have I done to suffer so much? What will become of me hereafter? I would give worlds if I had them, that The Age of Reason had never been published. Oh Lord, help me! Christ, help me! … No, don't leave; stay with me! Send even a child to stay with me; for I am on the edge of hell here alone. If ever the devil had an agent, I have been that one."
Sir Thomas Scott, an atheist and chancellor of England, said as he died in 1594: “Until this moment I thought there was neither a God nor a hell. Now I know and feel that there are both, and I am doomed to perdition by the just judgment of the Almighty.”
Anton LeVey, author of the Satanic Bible and high priest of a religion dedicated to the worship of Satan, made several bold statements during his lifetime, including, “There is a beast in man that needs to be exercised, not exorcised.”
However, according to some sources, his dying words in 1997 were: "Oh my, oh my, what have I done, there is something very wrong … there is something very wrong …”
Could it be that an apparition appeared at his bedside during his final moments and he realized that he had made a big mistake?
In stark contrast to these men, consider the words of Patrick Henry, a deeply religious American lawyer, politician, and orator who died in 1799. “Doctor,” he said, “I wish you to observe how real and beneficial the religion of Christ is to a man about to die.”
In his will, Henry wrote: “This is all the inheritance I give to my dear family. The religion of Christ which will give them one which will make them rich indeed.”
Well-known British explorer and missionary David Livingstone said in 1873: “Build me a hut to die in. I am going home.”
The last words of Adoniram Judson Jr., a U.S. Baptist missionary to Burma, echoed those of a schoolboy celebrating the end of the school year. “I go with the gladness of a boy bounding away from school,” Judson said in 1850. “I feel so strong in Christ.”
John A. Lyth, a beloved Wesleyan Methodist minister who served as a missionary in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), had this to say as he died on his 65th birthday in 1886: “Can this be death? Why, it is better than living! Tell them I die happy in Jesus!”
The apostle Paul lived on the brink of death as he faced anger on all sides over his missionary zeal. He often spoke about death. While we don’t know his final words, they could very well have echoed a letter that he sent to his friend and fellow missionary Timothy.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” Paul said in Timothy 4:7.
What is the good fight? 1 Timothy 6:12 says, “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.”
Paul was telling Timothy to follow his lead. Paul had kept up the faith that was committed to him despite an arduous life of difficulties, suffering, and conflict. He had persevered to the end. What a beautiful farewell speech.
You and I have a common denominator. We are all old-age positive. We will all die one day.
But the question is whether you will die in fear and agony because your life had no purpose and you've missed out what could have been yours? Or will you die with honor and dignity because you fought the good fight and finished the race?
What will your last words be?