I suppose we all question the reality of deathbed conversions. We know that they can take place because the thief on the cross was assured of his salvation as he was dying. But are they likely? My guess is no.
Still, there is interesting anecdotal evidence that some hard-hearted people are at least considering biblical truths as they face death. Do you remember I told you of the final words of Charles IX of France, the murderer of countless French Protestants? “What blood, what murders! …Oh my God pardon me if thou canst…I am lost…” Clinging to his Protestant nurse…
And as Henry VIII lay dying, although he remained Catholic, he chose to have that great Protestant, Archbishop Cranmer, with him at his deathbed. Cranmer encouraged him, if possible, to give him a sign that he had determined to trust in Christ alone for his salvation. Henry squeezed his hand tightly just before dying.
God knows. Obviously, no human being can judge the sincerity of such incidents. But, sincere or not, I am sure these scenes where there seems to be last-minute repentance are rare. I would guess the habitual disregard of God over a lifetime is hardly ever changed even as death approaches.
There was a book published in 1898 called, “Dying Testimonies of Saved and Unsaved” by a man called Solomon B Shaw. I found it online. (Just google the name if you are interested, and you can read it on several different sites).
The people dying without Christ were mostly quite knowledgeable about Christianity – this was the Victorian Age, after all! (Though there are testimonies from earlier centuries, too) And the all-too-common theme was that there was no longer grace available to them. They simply could not turn, could not repent. They had denied too vehemently what they knew too clearly. Compassionate Christians would try to reason with them that this was not so. But person after person would insist God had completely withdrawn from him.
The week after reading this, I had an identical experience at my Christian hotline. A young woman called saying she had turned from Christ while a teen and lived sinfully for years. She now understood clearly what she had done and that she was accountable to God. But, try as I might, I could not persuade her grace was available to cover her sin. She kept insisting God had irrevocably turned from her. “He is gone. He is not there for me. I can’t repent. It is too late…Too late!”
Fearsome words. Terrifying words.
Obviously, the very significant moral to this sad tale is to never, never toy with God. May we seek to press this into the hearts of our children with everything in us. And may we not take those first steps into sin that can eventually disqualify us from our great and holy God….”I never knew you….”