I Still Do

Famous Last Words

A man's final utterances reflect the life that he lived. What will yours be?

by Dennis Rainey Dennis Rainey

Is there something innately a part of our human nature that causes us to want to collect things? There are all kinds of interesting collections today—oil paintings, sculptures, political campaign buttons, guns, stamps, and coins.

But with the world nearing 5 billion people you know there has to be some really strange collections. Consider Francis Johnson of Darwin, Minnesota, who has been collecting string since 1950. His ball of thread measures over 10 feet in diameter and weighs five tons! Or, how about Canadian Sailor Joe Simmons who died in 1965 with nearly 5,000 tattoos! There's a man in New Orleans with 129 Corvairs, and a Dallas man I met several years ago has over 4,000 hotel keys (he even told me of another collector who had made off with more than 10,000). I've even heard of a collection of the addresses of famous people—3,500 listings. But the prize for the most unusual collection goes to Italian dentist Giovanni Battista Orsenigo who by 1903 had a collection of 2,000,744 teeth he had extracted himself! (How would you like to have been one of his patients?)

My Personal Collection

Yes, I admit it. I've always brought match books, menus, and bars of soap from hotels back to my kids. And I've got to confess that I have a small and strange collection of my own—I've started collecting "exit lines"—a dying man's final utterance—his last words.

My collection of quotes is not as morbid as you may think. I've observed that these terminal lines are in many cases a summary statement of the life of the person speaking them. They not only tell you how a man died, but also how he lived. These last words are the bookend of the legacy a person leaves.

Consider the last words and legacy of these men:

Henry David Thoreau, the writer who was known as a stubborn, arrogant individualist (who is said to have loved a snowstorm more than Christ and wanted nothing to do with the church) died on May 6, 1862. Shortly before his death, his aunt asked him if he'd made his peace with God. Thoreau responded to her with his final cynical words—"I didn't know we'd ever quarreled."

Contrast Thoreau's legacy with the great evangelist, D.L. Moody's deathbed words. He was reported to have turned to his boys who were at his bedside and said, "If God be your partner, make your plans large."

Two themes are continually repeated and contrasted by those who are near to death's door. "Hopelessness," ominous and depressing, whispers of a feared fate. "Hopefulness" gleefully shouts its confident message—"This isn't it! Death is not the end—IT'S THE BEGINNING!"

Ponder these contrasting deathbed quotes of hopelessness and hopefulness:

"Bring down the curtain—the farce is over." -French philosopher and comic, Francois Rabelais, who died in 1553.

"Our God is the God from whom cometh salvation. God is the Lord by whom we escape death." -Martin Luther.

"I am abandoned by God and man! I shall go to hell! O Christ, O Jesus Christ!" -Voltaire.

"I enjoy heaven already in my soul. My prayers are all converted into praises." -Augustus Toplady, author of the great hymn "Rock of Ages," who died at age 38.

Thomas Paine, the great writer, has these final words attributed to him—"I would give worlds, if I had them, if The Age of Reason had never been published. O Lord, help me! Christ, help me! Stay with me! It is hell to be left alone!"

"I have pain—but I have peace, I have peace." -Richard Baxter, 17th Century Puritan Theologian.

Winston Churchill, the man whose vision and battle cry was to "never give up," said on his deathbed, "I am convinced that there is no hope."

John Knox uttered these piercing words and then died, "Live in Christ, die in Christ, and the flesh need not fear death."

Before dying of a heart attack, Italo Svevo, a Jewish novelist, told a nurse who was trying to administer last rites—"When you haven't prayed all your life, it's no use at the last moment!"

Billy Graham notes that when the great saint Joseph Everett was dying, he said, "GLORY! GLORY! GLORY!" and continued exclaiming "GLORY!" for over twenty-five minutes until he was whisked away by angels to the gates of heaven.

"When I lived, I provided for everything but death; now I must die, and I am unprepared to die." -Cesare Borgia.

August Strindberg, a Swedish dramatist who died May 14, 1912, left a legacy of forgiveness and redemption by dying with a Bible clasped tightly to his chest, saying, "It is atoned for."

Edgar Allen Poe was said to have lived at best an erratic life of lies and drunkenness. He died in 1849 at the age of 40 having been found in a street near death—"Lord help my poor soul!"

A legacy of betrayal was left by Judas Iscariot. "I have sinned in that I have betrayed innocent blood." He then went out and hanged himself.

Stephen died a martyr's death of stoning with these words, "Lord lay not this sin to their charge."

A Summary of Life

Why the visit to death's door, you ask?

Ecclesiastes 7:2 gives us a hint, "It is better to go to a house of mourning, than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man. And the living takes it to heart."

What do you think your last words would be if you knew they would be your last? How would they be a summary of your life?

The legacy you are passing on to your children and others is the life you are living today. Read the first 14 verses of Ecclesiastes 7— note verse 12, "... wisdom preserves the life of its possessors." You and I need wisdom, "skill in everyday living," if we are to leave a legacy of right choices and a life that is pleasing to God.

Perhaps we should consider the last words of Jesus Christ, who, even in His death, taught us how to live and what our priorities ought to be:

"IT IS FINISHED!"
 

The three most profound words in all of human history. Sin had been paid for in full with a life and love that demands our obedience.  

The three most profound words in all of human history. Sin had been paid for in full with a life and love that demands our obedience.  

Have you experienced the forgiveness of the Son of God? How then will you live?

After the resurrection, on the Mount of Olives before departing for heaven in a cloud, Christ gave us a profound promise and command by which to measure our lives, "... but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witness ... even to the remotest part of the earth."

What is your response to His life? His death? His command to tell others the Gospel?

What will your final words be?

How do you want to be remembered?

How is your life today another investment in the legacy you leave?

Do you measure your life by the world's yardstick or by Christ's words? If Christ is not Lord of your life today, then what guarantee is there that you will be a person of hopefulness when you die?

"Only one life will soon be past. Only what's done for Christ will last." -Jim Elliott, a missionary who was martyred in 1956 for his faith at age 29.

Be wise about the days you live.

Copyright © 2006 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

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