Ichabod Spencer, the “Bunyan of Brooklyn,” (whose pastoral sketches I recommend to anyone interested in evangelism), records a “deathbed gospel presentation” with a young lady. I was amazed at the Scriptures he could recall and the orderly method of presenting the gospel to a woman who did not have much time to live.
He must have quoted dozens of scriptures (certainly more than are recorded here), neatly categorized under 5 headings, which he was ready with!
At the end, I included his own remarks expressing a low opinion of “deathbed” conversions in general—and his displeasure at the fact that no one told this young lady about the gospel her whole life.
Let’s sit in Mr. Spencer’s evangelism classroom for a bit.
Below, Spencer speaks first, addressing the young woman.
“Religion is all simple and easy, if one desires to know it ; and if you do not understand me, it is my fault, not yours. ” And now, my dear child ; listen to me, a little while. I will not be long. But first allow me to pray with you, for a single minute.”
After prayer, I took the Bible, and told her it was God’s word, given to us to teach us the way to eternal life and happiness beyond the grave ; — that it taught all I knew, or needed to know about salvation ; — that though it was a large book, and contained many things, which might be profitable to her under other circumstances ; yet, all that she needed to think of just now, was embraced in a few ideas, which were easy to be understood ;— and I wanted her to listen to them, and try to understand them.
” I will — sir,” said she, ” as well — as I can.” ” Hear what God says then,” said I.
“The first thing is — that we are sinners.”
I explained sin. I explained the Law which it transgressed, how it is holy, just and good (Romans 7:12); and we have broken it, because we have not loved the Lord our God with all our heart, and our neighbor as ourselves (Luke 10:27).
“No, I have — never loved — him,” said she. I dwelt upon our sin, as guilt and alienation from God ; explained how sinners are worldly, proud, selfish ; and read the texts as proofs and explanations, — ” by the deeds of the Law shall no flesh be justified (Romans 3:20) — the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the Law of God.” (Romans 8:7). In short, that man is, in himself, a lost sinner ; God is angry with him, and he has a wicked heart.
Said she, ” That seems — strange — to me ; I wish — I had known it — before.”
“The second thing is — that just such sinners may be saved, because Jesus Christ came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).
I read from the Bible, ‘ God so loved the world that he gave his own Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16). The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin (1 John 1:7). He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon him. The Lord hath laid upon him the in iniquity of us all’ (Isaiah 53:5). You see, therefore, that sinners can be saved. Christ died for them.” (Romans 5:8).
” Will he — save me ?” said she. “I hope he will — but listen to me. —
The third thing is, that lost sinners will be saved by Christ, if they repent of sin and believe in him.”
I continued to select texts and read them to her. ” God now commandeth all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish (Luke 13:3). As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe in his name (John 1:12). Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to every one that believeth (Romans 10:4). Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow, though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isaiah 1:1)
As I read such passages, turning over the leaves of the book, as I stood by her bed-side ; her eyes followed the turning leaves, and she gazed upon the book in astonishment. At times, when repeating a peculiar text, my eyes rested on her face in stead of the book, and then she would ask, ” Is that in God’s word ?” I found it best, therefore, just to look on the book, and read slowly and deliberately.
” The fourth thing is, that we need the aid of the Holy Spirit to renew our hearts, and bring us to faith and repentance.
‘Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). That which is born of the flesh is flesh; that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (John 3:6). No man can come unto me, except the Father which sent me draw him (John 6:44). In me is thy help (Hosea 13:9). Let him take hold on my strength, that he may make peace with me, and he shall make peace with me.’ (Isaiah 27:5). Man is help less without the Holy Spirit.
” The last thing is, that all this salvation is freely offered to us now, to-day, and it is our duty and interest to accept it on the spot, and just as we are, undone sinners.
‘ Hear and your soul shall live (Isaiah 55:3). Seek ye the Lord while he may be found. Call ye upon him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God for he will abundantly pardon (Isaiah 55:6-7). If ye, being evil, ‘ know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him (Luke 11:13). Behold now is the accepted time; behold now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2). Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). The Spirit and the bride say, come; and let him that is athirst come ; and let him that hear- eth say, come and whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely (Revelation 22:17);.’
” Now, my dear child, this is all ; only these five things. I will now leave you for an hour, to rest, and then I will be back to see you.”
Spencer’s Reflections on this Incident and Opinion on Deathbed Conversions
If this was a conversion at all, it was a deathbed conversion. A suspicion or fear may justly attach to such instances perhaps ; and persons wiser than myself have doubted the propriety of publishing them to the world. But the instance of the thief on the cross is published to us ; and if the grace of God does sometimes reach an impenitent sinner on the bed of death ; why should we greatly fear the influence of its true history ? The wicked may indeed abuse it, as they abuse everything that is good and true ; but it must be an amazingly foolish abuse, if on account of a few such in stances, they are induced to neglect religion, till they come to die. It is very rare that a death-bed is like this.
I deemed it very important to convince her it was not too late to seek the Lord ; and I found it a very difficult thing. The truth, that it was not too late, came into conflict with the unbelief and deceitfulness of her heart. It seems to me, that we ought not to limit the Holy One of Israel, leading sinners to believe, that even a death-bed lies beyond hope. Truth is always safe ; error, never. And if there is good evidence of a death-bed conversion, why should it be kept out of sight ? And yet it is no wonder that careful minds are led to distrust sick-bed repentance. It seldom holds out. Manifestly, it is commonly nothing but deception. Health brings back the former impiety, or that which is worse.
It does not appear, that the dying thief knew anything about the Saviour, till he was dying ; and this woman seems to have been like him. And what a lesson of reproof to Christians, that this woman, living for twenty years among them, and in the sight of five or six Christian churches, should ” never have been inside of a church in her life,” and that “nobody asked her to go.” Year after year, she was in habits of intimacy with those, who belonged in Christian families ; she associated with the children of Christian parents ; and yet, she never had a Bible — she never read the Bible — she never was exhorted to seek the Lord ! And probably she would have died as she had lived ; had not divine Providence sent her, in her poverty, to be the tenant of the ” old lady,” who loved her so well. Oh ! how many are likely to die soon, with no ” old lady” to bring them the Bible, and pray for them in faith and love !”
Buy the book and read it for yourself.