James Morison (1816-1893), in the final couple of pages his book The Extent of the Atonement, relates a number of gripping death-bed experiences of Bible scholars and theologians. The poignant words of this remarkable paragraph serve to show just how simple, and yet profound, child-like faith really is, and also how easy it is to live a life devoted to the study of the Bible while remaining completely in the dark as to the way of salvation:
Is this gospel a gospel that takes the sting out of death for you, and makes you even now ready, just as you are, to depart?…Though you were to grow as holy as Paul, or as holy even as an angel, all this holiness would not make it safer for you to die, than it would be at this moment, were you ready to look to Jesus as ‘all your salvation’. When the good and great David Dickson of Irvine [Scotland], afterwards professor of divinity in Glasgow, and then in Edinburgh, was upon his death-bed, he was asked how he found himself. His answer showed that he knew the gospel most accurately, and was building on no false foundation. “I have taken,” said he, “all my good deeds and all my bad deeds, and I have thrown them together in a heap, and fled from them both to Christ, and in Him I have peace.” His goodness and badness were equally immaterial in the matter of his safety. His goodness did not help him, and his badness did not hinder him. When Mr M’Laren, of the Tolbooth church of Edinburgh, was dying, his colleague Mr Gusthart paid him a visit and put the question to him, “What are you doing, brother?” His answer was, “I’ll tell you what I am doing, brother: I am gathering together all my prayers, all my sermons, all my good deeds and all my ill deeds, and I am going to throw them all overboard, and swim to glory on the plank of free grace.” Mr M’Laren knew the gospel, and I doubt not but you will find him in glory, if you yourself ever arrive there. How different, however, his view from that of many who try to be as good as possible, and to do as many duties as they can, in the hope of by and by becoming so holy that it will be safe to die. The eminent Bishop Butler, till the very close of his life almost, laboured under this delusion; and he made but a hair’s-breadth escape from the doom of the Pharisee. When on his death-bed, he called for his chaplain, and said, “Though I have endeavoured to avoid sin, and to please God, to the utmost of my power, yet from the consciousness of perpetual infirmities, I am still afraid to die.” “My Lord,” said the chaplain, “You have forgotten that Christ is a Saviour.” “True,” was his answer, “But how shall I know that he is a Saviour for me?” “My Lord,” said the chaplain, “It is written, him that cometh unto Me, I will in no wise cast out.” “True,” said the bishop, “and I am surprised that, though I have read that Scripture a thousand times over, I have never felt its virtue till this moment; now I die happy.” That great man who had done such service to the cause of Christianity was yet, it would appear, ignorant of the gospel till laid upon his death-bed. He thought that he would gradually attain to such a state that it would be safe for him to die, by trying to avoid sin and to please God. He looked in quite the wrong direction for safety, and in reality had, on his system, no use for Jesus at all, but to be a patch to his own deficiencies. All his trials to avoid sin and please God, he at last found out to be ‘filthy rags’ and sins, which were enough of themselves to condemn him and had no tendency at all to save him. His eye was at length turned away from himself, and his own feelings, and his own doings, to the blessed Jesus, and he saw that He was a Saviour for him, and had done all for him, and he died happy. The great Samuel Rutherford said on his deathbed, “I disclaim all that God ever made me will or do, and look on it as defiled and imperfect, as coming from me, and I take me to Christ.” Thus even the goodness which the Holy Spirit in-works is of no avail at all to make it safe for one to die. Nothing but ‘the blood [of Christ]’ is soul-saving. Have no respect to anything whatsoever, when you wish to know if it would be safe for you to die, but to the blood of atonement…”The blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son cleanseth from ALL sin.” Come as “the chief of sinners”; come as sin itself personified. Only come, and come just now, and you will assuredly find that Jesus Christ is “all in all”, and everything you need. Do you ask me how you are to come? I will tell you. You are to believe God’s record, when He tells you that Jesus is your substitute, your Saviour, and that there is in Him for you righteousness and everlasting life. This is truth. This is the truth. Believe it, and live.