Pillar Journal

Examples of Victorious Death

“I have taken all my bad deeds and put them on a heap, and I have taken my good deeds as well, and I have put them on the same heap. And I have run away from that heap into the arms of Jesus. I die in peace.”

God gives dying grace to His people for death’s hour. Some of His people die with little fanfare. They depart this life quietly, serenely, with barely a sigh. For others, the king of terrors is more violent, but Jesus brings them through in the end and gives them the victory. Still others receive special measures of dying grace, so that their deathbeds become their best pulpits. Such was the case with the well-known Scottish theologian, Thomas Halyburton (1674–1712), who died at the age of thirty-seven. To read in his Memoirs the nearly seventy pages of his last sayings, which were recorded by those around his deathbed, is to dwell in the vestibule of heaven. Here is only one example: “Come, sweet Lord Jesus, receive this spirit, fluttering within my breast like a bird to be out of a snare. I wait for thy salvation as the watchman watcheth for the morning. I am weary with delays. I faint for thy salvation. Why are His chariot wheels so long a coming?”1Memoirs of Thomas Halyburton, ed. Joel R. Beeke (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 1996), 266–67.

History is full of tens of thousands of saints who have died victoriously in Jesus with great joy, despite the affliction death brought. Biblical examples, such as those of Paul (2 Tim. 4:6–8) and Stephen (Acts 7:54–60), are well known. So are the cases of many martyrs, such as John Huss (1369–1415), Hugh Latimer (c. 1486–1555) and Nicholas Ridley (c. 1500– 1555), and repentant Thomas Cranmer (1489–1556). Cranmer recanted under pressure from Roman Catholic Queen Mary (1516–1558), but he recanted his recantation, went to the stake, and as the flames crept up his body, he stretched his right hand into the midst of the flames, and cried out: “This hand hath offended”—and died horrifically but victoriously!

One of my (Joel Beeke) favorite simple accounts of a victorious death is that of a Scotsman, David Dickson (c. 1583–1662), well-known for writing the first commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith and for his commentaries on the Psalms, Matthew, and Hebrews. When his friends were gathered around his deathbed, one of them asked him when in the throes of a painful death what he was thinking. Dickson replied, “I have taken all my bad deeds and put them on a heap, and I have taken my good deeds as well, and I have put them on the same heap. And I have run away from that heap into the arms of Jesus. I die in peace.”2Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson, Meet the Puritans (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2006), 668–72.

Still others have written helpfully about dying and death. Affliction was a life-long companion to Puritan pastor, Richard Baxter (1615–1691). He wrote a 700-page classic, The Saints’ Everlasting Rest, while suffering from tuberculosis (a severe respiratory disease with long-term debilitating effects), chronic pain, and the frequent prospect of dying. In this condition, Baxter looked death in the face and experienced the sufficient grace of God to sustain him until he fell asleep in Jesus in 1691.

Baxter impresses upon his readers that suffering, sickness, and death are to be expected in this life; they are the norm at present. According to Baxter, these miseries remind Christians they are not to seek physical comfort, rest, and healing here and now so much as we are to seek to know Christ better. He says that when we are “fastened to [our] beds with pining sickness, the world is nothing, and heaven is something.” Further, he writes:

O healthful sickness! O comfortable sorrows! O gainful losses! O enriching poverty! O blessed day that ever I was afflicted! Not only the green pastures and still waters, but the rod and staff, they comfort us. Though the word and Spirit do the main work, yet suffering so unbolts the door of the heart, that his word has an easier entrance.

Baxter describes disease, dying, and facing death as providential means God uses to permit “easier entrance” of the Spirit-blessed Word into the human heart, so that it may transform us and enable us to rejoice in the midst of sorrow. Contrary to the twenty-first-century mindset that sees suffering as worthless and meaningless, dying, death, and all of the misery they contain are full of significance. All of them point to the reality of the ultimate problem the entire human race faces, namely, sin, and to its only solution, faith and hope in the life and death of Jesus Christ, His resurrection from the dead, and His return from heaven with “healing in his wings” (Mal. 4:2).

Excerpt from
Dying and Death: Getting Rightly Prepared for the Inevitable
by Joel R. Beeke and Christopher W. Bogosh