The Grace of Christ, or,
Sinners Saved by Unmerited Kindness

William S. Plumer, 1853

"We believe it is through the grace of our
 Lord Jesus that we are saved." Acts 15:11

The Martyrs

As we can die but once, we should seek to die well. The honors which Christ and his gospel have won from the field of the last battle of the saints, have been vast, peculiar, and effective of much good. To glorify God in death is both a duty and a privilege. For this end we should labor and pray at all times. A pious death is a noble end of a well spent life. It crowns a consistent profession of piety with appropriate honors. It proves that God is still faithful. It evinces the tenderness of Christ to his chosen people. It soothes the bitter anguish of loved and loving survivors. In itself and for the manifold blessings which follow in its train, it is every way desirable. And yet how depressing to the spirits of many devout servants of God is the thought of lying down in the grave. That house is so narrow, so damp, and so dark, that they shrink from entering it. We naturally love and cherish our own bodies, and dread the pains of dissolution. Yet believers need not be dismayed at the prospect of exchanging worlds. Death is indeed our greatest enemy—but he is our last enemy. He is the king of terrors and the terror of kings; but it is, and was, and ever shall be true, that "The chamber where the godly man meets his fate, is privileged beyond the common walks of life—quite on the verge of heaven."

The wicked still have cause to say, "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his." Inspiration still cries: "Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright, for the end of that man is peace." The timid and desponding should lay fast hold of all the encouragements of God's word on this whole subject. In it we learn that "there remains a rest to the people of God." Heb. 4:9. Jesus Christ himself said: "There are many rooms in my Father's home, and I am going to prepare a place for you. If this were not so, I would tell you plainly. When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am." God's word abounds in strong consolations on this subject. Treasure them up. "Though death is the enemy of nature, it is the friend of grace." "Death is the day-break of eternity."

Let us not foster our natural dread of pain. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. Many die with very little bodily suffering. When our systems can bear no more, they will sink in death, and so we shall be at rest. Dissolution and corruption are painful subjects, but our blessed Lord has hallowed the tomb with his own sacred body. Let us follow him even into the grave. Besides, he has taken away the sting of death—which is the guilt of sin—and so has forever disarmed that enemy. Let no one afflict himself with needless fears of coming short of eternal life, simply because the prospect of death is not always pleasant. "Even a strong believer may be afraid to die. We are not in general fond of handling a serpent, or a viper, though his sting is removed and we know it to be so."

It powerfully tends to preserve human life and to prevent acts of self destruction, and so is a great mercy to our race, that men should have a natural dread of death. Nor is this commonly taken quite away until God is about to set his chosen people free from the bondage of the flesh. That is soon enough for all the best ends of the covenant of grace. Many have confirmed the testimony of Dr. Gill, who says: "Though a believer may have his darkness, doubts, and fears, and many conflicts of soul, while on his dying bed; yet usually these are all over and gone before his last moments come, and death does its office and work upon him. From the precious promises of God to be with his people, even until death; from the scriptural account of dying saints; and from the observations I have made during the course of my life, I am of opinion that, generally speaking, the people of God die comfortably; their spiritual enemies being made to be as still as a stone, while they pass through Jordan, or the stream of death."

The prevailing sentiment of every Christian community is, that in death Christ shows great grace to his elect, and fulfills the promise, "As your days—so shall your strength be." Every child of God may embrace this good word, and pray like him who said: "Lord, I am called to a work I never did—Oh, give me grace I never had." If men would more frequently visit the beds of dying Christians, they would better know the amazing mercy of Christ to departing saints. It is truly wonderful, and surpasses the love of women. And here it gives me great pleasure in a public and solemn manner to record my testimony for the glory of God, and the comfort of all his people, who may peruse these pages. It is this—that the tenderness of Christ to his sick and dying servants is great, and that in the hour of their last trial, he does not leave them, nor forsake them.

For a long time I have visited, as I had opportunity, the sick and suffering people of God, without regard to age, gender, rank, race, or denomination. The result is that I have never known one who had made so credible a profession of love to Christ, as to secure the general confidence of Christians of the vicinity, left to die an undesirable death. Some endured great bodily pain. but God was with them. Some left the world in a state of unconsciousness, but their last moments of rationality were cheered by blessed rays of light from heaven. Early in their sickness some were sorely tempted, but the victory came at last. Some had been subject to mental derangement, but they were permitted to enter eternity without a cloud over their reason. Yet had they died maniacs, the promises would not have failed. Some were young in years, and in Christian experience; but the good Shepherd gathered them like lambs in his arms, and carried them in his bosom. Some were in middle life, and left helpless children behind them; but I have seen the dying mother kiss her little babe, and bid the world farewell with entire composure. The peace of God ruled her heart by Jesus Christ. Some were old, nervous, and, on other subjects, full of fancies; but Christ, the Rock, followed them to Canaan.

What God has done for his people in days past, should encourage those who live at the present time. God's faithfulness to the departed should invigorate the faith, and expel the fears, of the waiting. God's people have left the world in various ways. Some have died violent and ignominious deaths, and some have died in their beds. Some have had long notice, and others hardly any. Some have died old, some in the midst of their days, and some in the morning of existence—yet they have commonly agreed in leaving an animating testimony to the power of Christ's grace to their departing spirits. The great advantages of good examples are that they express with clearness the duty to be done, that they show the possibility of doing it, and that they incite us to imitation. These advantages are fully realized in the examples of dying saints. The following sayings of God's people have been collected in the hope that they may encourage the faint, embolden the timid, confirm the strong, and animate all classes of real Christians. Most of them were uttered in a dying hour, and many of them were last words. Let us begin with the sayings of some of the martyrs.

Stephen said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit;" and "Lay not this sin to their charge."

Paul, the aged: "I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day, and not to me only, but also to all those who love his appearing."

Polycarp: "O Father of your beloved and blessed Son, Jesus Christ! O God of all principalities and of all creation! I bless you that you have counted me worthy of this day, and this hour, to receive my portion in the number of your martyrs, in the cup of Christ." "He who gave me strength to come to the fire, will give me patience to endure the flame without your tying me."

Ignatius: "I die willingly for God." "I am God's wheat, and shall be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of God." "Now I begin to be a disciple." "It is better for me to die for Jesus Christ than to reign over the ends of the earth."

Cyprian: "Let him fear death, who must pass from this to the second death." "I thank God for freeing me from the prison of this body."

Justin Martyr, with six other Christians, stood before the prefect, who examined each one, and then turned to Justin, saying, "Hear you, who have the character of an orator, and imagine yourself in possession of truth. If I scourge you from head to foot, do you think that you shall go to heaven?" Justin said: "Although I suffer what you threaten, yet I expect to enjoy the portion of all Christians; as I know that the divine grace and favor is laid up for all such, and shall be while the world endures." Rusticus asked: "Do you think that you shall go to heaven and receive a reward?" "I not only think so, but I know it, and have a certainty of it, which excludes all doubts," was the reply. Here the prefect insisted that they should all sacrifice to the gods. "No man," said Justin, "will desert true religion for the sake of error and impiety." Urbicus said: "Unless you comply, you shall be tormented without mercy." Justin replied: "We desire nothing more sincerely than to endure tortures for our Lord Jesus Christ, and be saved. Hence our happiness is promoted, and we shall have confidence before the solemn tribunal of our Lord and Savior, before which by divine appointment, the whole world must appear." The others assented, and said: "Despatch quickly your purpose; we are Christians, and cannot sacrifice to idols." The sentence was, that they should be scourged, and then beheaded. They heard it with joy, and bore the scourging without a murmur, nay with ecstacy. They were then beheaded, and their bodies were decently interred by their friends.

John Huss: "In these flames, I offer to you, O Christ, this soul of mine."

Jerome of Prague: "Kindle not the fire behind me, but before my face; for if I had been afraid of it, I had not come to this place, having had so many opportunities offered me to escape."

When Mrs. Jane Askew was offered her life at the stake, if she would recant, she said: "I came not hither to deny my Lord and Master."

Mrs. Joyce Lewis said: "As for death, I fear it not; for, when I behold the amiable countenance of Jesus Christ, my dear Savior, the ugly face of death does not much trouble me."

John Nisbet: "Now, farewell all true friends in Christ; farewell Christian relations; farewell sweet and holy Scriptures; farewell prayer and meditation; farewell sinning and suffering. Welcome heaven; welcome innumerable company of angels, and the church of the first-born, and the spirits of just men made perfect; welcome Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; welcome praises for evermore. Now, dear Father, receive my spirit, for it is yours; even so, come Lord Jesus."

Donald Cargill: "This is the most joyful day that ever I saw in my pilgrimage on earth. My joy is now begun, which shall never be interrupted. I see both my interest and His truth, and the sureness of the one, and the preciousness of the other. I have been a man of great sins—but he has been a God of great mercies. And now, through his mercies I have a conscience as sound and quiet, as if I had never sinned. It is long since I could have adventured on eternity, through God's mercy and Christ's merits, and now death is no more to me, but to cast myself into my Husband's arms, and to lie down with him."

Indeed so wonderfully has God been with the faithful martyrs in all ages, making them joyful in all their tribulation, that the effect has been truly astonishing. In the early ages it was often said, "The blood of the martyrs—is the seed of the church." It is stated that at the close of the martyrdom of one young woman in Rome, five hundred people were induced to offer themselves as victims to the rage of the persecutors. Similar effects have been noticed in modern times. Tillotson says, "that catechizing and the history of the martyrs have been the two main pillars of the Protestant religion."