Pastor Ichabod Spencer speaks to terminally ill woman near death

A MAN, who was entirely a stranger to me, and whose appearance convinced me he was poor, and whose address showed, that he was not very familiar with the subject of religion, called upon me one morning; and with some agitation desired me to go to a distant street, to see his wife, who was sick. On making some inquiries; I learned, that his wife had the consumption, was not expected to live many days, had not expressed any desire to see me; but that he had come for me, at the request of an aged Welsh woman, who lived in the same house. I immediately went to the place he described. I found the woman apparently in the last stages of the consumption. She was an interesting young woman, of about twenty years of age, and had been married a little more than a year. All the appearance of her room was indicative of poverty, though everything manifested the most perfect neatness. She was bolstered up, upon her bed, her face pale, with a bright red spot in the centre of each cheek. She appeared exceedingly weak; while her frequent cough seemed to be tearing her to pieces. Her condition affected me. Manifestly, her youth and beauty were destined to an early grave. She must soon leave the world; and how tender and terrible the thought, that she might still be unprepared for a happier one!
As I told her who I was, and why I had come there; she offered me her hand, with a ready and easy politeness; and yet, with a manifest embarrassment of feeling, which she evidently struggled to conceal.
I have seldom seen a more perfectly beautiful woman. Her frame was delicate, her complexion clear and white, her countenance indicative of a more than ordinary degree of intelligence and amiability; and as she lifted her languid eyes upon me, I could not but feel in an instant, that I was in the presence of an uncommon woman.
I felt her feverish pulse, which was rapidly beating, and expressing my sorrow at finding her so ill, she said to me, (speaking with some difficulty:)”—
You find me—in very humble circumstances—sir.”
“Yes,” said I, “you seem very sick.”
“We have not—always been—so straitened as we are now,” said she.—“We lived—very comfortably—before—I was sick. But, I am not able to do anything, now. And I am ashamed—to have you find me—with my room, and all things—in such a state;” (casting a look about the room.) “Once—I could have seen you in a more inviting place.—But, sir—we are now very poor—and cannot live—as we used to.—My situation—is—very humble indeed.”
“You have no occasion to be ashamed,” said I. “Your room is very neat; and if you are in want of anything, it will give me pleasure to aid you to whatever you need.”
“Oh, sir, I am not—in want—of anything now. I am too sick to need anything—more than the old lady—can do for me; and she is very kind.”
“And who is the old lady?” I asked.
“Mrs. Williams,” said she; “in whose house—we have lived since ours—was sold;—the woman that—wanted me to have you—come and see me. She has been—talking—to me about religion;—(she is a Welsh-woman;—) and she .has read—to me—in the Bible, but—I cannot—understand it.”
“And did you wish to .have me come and see you?”
“No—yes—I am willing—to see you; but—I am—in such—a place here—my room—”
“My dear friend,” said I, “do not think of such things at all. You have something of more moment to think of. You are very sick. Do you expect ever to get well?”
“No, sir; they—tell me—I shall not.”
“And do you feel prepared to die?”
“I do not know—what that—preparation means. And, it is too late, now, for me to do anything—about it.—I am too far-gone.”
“No, Madam, you are not. God is infinitely merciful; and you may be saved. Have you been praying to him to save you?”
“I never-prayed. Indeed, sir,—I never thought—of religion, till I was—sick, and the old lady talked—to me. But I cannot—understand her. I have never—read the Bible.—I never was inside—of a church—in my life. Nobody—ever asked me—to go, or told me—I ought to. I did not think—of religion. I just lived to enjoy—myself—as well—as I could. My aunt who took me—when my mother—died, never went—to church, and never said anything—to me about religion.—So I lived—as she—allowed me to, from the time I was three years old.—I had property—enough for everything—I wanted then; and after I left—school—about four years ago,—I had nothing—to do—but to go to parties—and dances—and attend to—my dress, and read—till—I was married.—Since that—we have had trouble.—My husband—I suppose—did not understand things—in our country—very well. He mortgaged—my house, and in a little while it was sold—and we were obliged—to leave it, and come here.”
“What did you read?” said I.
“Oh, I read novels; the most of the time—sometimes—I read other books; but—not much, except—some history, and biography.”
“Did you never read the Bible?”
“No, sir.”
“Have you got a Bible?”
“No, sir. The old lady—has got one—which she brings to me; but I am too weak—to read it. —It is a large book; and I—shall not live—long enough to read it.”
“You need not read it,” said I.—“But now suffer me to talk to you plainly. You are very sick. You may not live long. Will you give your attention to religion, as well as you can, in your weak state; and aim to get ready to die?”
“I would, sir—if I had time. But I do not—know anything—at all—about religion—and it would do me—no good—to try now, when I have—so little time—left.”
“You have time enough left.”
“Do you—think so—sir?”
“I know you have, Madam.”
She turned her eyes upon me, imploringly, and yet despondingly; and with a voice trembling with emotion, she said to me, speaking slowly and with difficulty:—
“Sir, I cannot—believe that—I have never begun—to learn religion.—I lived only for my—present enjoyment—till I was married; and since that, after—my husband—failed—all I have thought of—was to save—some little—of my property—if I could; so as not to—be a burden to other people.—And now,—there cannot—be time—enough left—for me—to begin with religion—and go—all the way through.”
“There is time enough,” said I.
Perceiving that she was already exhausted by her efforts to speak; I told her to rest for a few minutes, and I would see her again. I went into another room to see “the old lady,” (as she called her,) whom I found to be a pious Welsh woman, who had rented a part of her house to the sick woman’s husband, some months before, and who now devoted herself to take care of the poor sufferer. The tenant had squandered all his wife’s property; and now during her sickness, continued his dissipation, paying little attention to his dying wife. If he ever had a heart, rum had destroyed it.
“She is a good creature,” said the Welsh woman, “all but religion. When she was well, she was very kind to me. Though she was a lady, and had fine clothes, she was not ashamed to come and sit with me, an hour at a time, and talk to me and try to make me happy; for I am a poor, lone widow, seventy years old; and all my children are dead; and when I told her how it was with me, that I had nothing to live upon, but the rent I got for the rooms of my house; and she found out, (I did not tell her of it,) that her husband did not pay the rent any longer; she sold her rings and some of her clothes, and brought me the money, poor thing, and told me to take it. I did not know, at first, that she sold her rings and her clothes to get it; and when I asked her how she got it, and she told me, I said to her I would not have it, it would burn my fingers if I took it, and the rust of it would eat my flesh, as it were fire, and be a canker in my heart, and be a swift witness against me in the day of the great God, our Saviour. So I gave it back to her; but she would not take it: she laid it down there,”—(pointing to it with her finger,—) “on the mantlepiece,—it is five weeks yesterday,—and there it has been ever since. I cannot touch it. I never will touch it, unless I am forced to take it to buy her a coffin. Christ Jesus would not have taken the price of a lady’s rings and clothes, in such a case; and it is not for the like of me to do it. Poor thing! she will soon die, and then she will want rings and clothes no longer! Oh, sir! if I could only think she would wear robes of glory in heaven I would not weep so. But I am afraid it is all too late for her now! Religion is a hard business for a poor, sick sinner! And her husband would not go for you, week before last, nor last week. He never went till this morning, when I told him, as I was a living woman, he never should enter the house to-night,—he should sleep in the street, if he did not bring you here before the clock struck twelve. I want you to pray for her. There is no telling what God may do. May be he will send suddenly. But I cannot tell her the way. I have tried. I tried hard; but, poor thing, she said she could not understand me. And then, I could do nothing but come to my room and weep for her, and go to prayer, and then weep again. I am glad you have come. And now don’t leave her, till you have prayed and got a blessing,—if it is not too late.”
I have seldom heard eloquence surpassing that of “the old lady.” Some of her expressions were singular, but they seemed to have in them the majesty and tenderness of both nature and religion.
I borrowed the “old lady’s” Bible; and returned to the sick woman’s room. Seating myself by the side of her bed, I told her I did not wish her to talk, for it wearied her. But I wanted she should listen to me, without saying a word, only if she did not understand me, she might say so, and I would explain myself.
“Can I understand?”—said she, (with a look of mingled earnestness and despair.)
“Certainly you can. 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; and we have broken it, because we have not loved the Lord our God with all our heart, and our neighbor as ourselves.
“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—the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the Law of God.” 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; 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. 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. The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. 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 iniquity of us all.’ You see, therefore, that sinners can be saved. Christ died for them.”
“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. Except ye repent, ye shall all like, wise perish. As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe in his name. Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone that believeth. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow, though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
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 instead 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. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. No man can come unto me, except the Father which sent me draw him. In me is thy help. Let him take hold on my strength, that he may make peace with me, and he shall make peace with me.’ Man is helpless 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. 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. 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. Behold now is the accepted time; behold now is the day of salvation. Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. The Spirit and the bride say, come; and let him that is athirst come; and let him that heareth say, come; and whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.’
“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.”
In an hour I returned, determined to go over the same things; and explain them, if needful, more fully. As I entered the room she looked at me with a gladsome smile, and yet with an intense earnestness, which for an instant I feared was insanity. Said she, “I am so glad you have come;—I have been—thinking—of what yon read—to me. These things—must be true; but I don’t know—as I should—believe them, if they were not—in the word—of God. I understand some—of them.—I know I am—a sinner—I feel it. I never knew it—so before.—I have not loved God. I have been—wicked and foolish. I am—undone. And now—when I know it, my heart—is so bad, that instead of—loving God—it shrinks from—him,—and I am afraid—it is too late—for me!”
“Yes,” said I; “your heart is worse than you think. You can make it no better. Give it to God. Trust Christ to pardon all. He died for just such lost sinners.”
“Yes, sir,—I remember—that; but—what is it—to believe? I do not—understand that thing.—You said I must repent of sin,—and must believe—in Jesus Christ.-—I think that I understand one—of these things. To repent is to be sorry for my—sin,—and to leave it. But—what is it—to believe?—I cannot—understand that. What is believing—in Jesus Christ?”
“It is trusting him to save you. It is receiving him, as your own offered Saviour, and giving yourself to him, as a helpless sinner, to be saved by his mercy. He died to atone for sinners.”
“I believe that,—for God’s word—says so.—Is this—all the faith—that I must have?”
“No; not at all. You must have more. You must trust him. You must receive him as your own Saviour, and give yourself to him. You may remember the passage I read to you. Here it is in God’s word:—‘As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name’ You see that, here, ‘believing’ and ‘receiving’ express the same thing. You are to take Christ as God offers him to you; and you are to rely on Him to save you. That is faith.”
“Sir,—I am afraid—I can never—understand it,” said she, the tears coursing over her pale cheek.
“Yes, you can. It is very simple. There are only two things about it. Take Christ for your own, and give yourself to him to be his. Sometimes these two things are put together in the Bible, as when a happy believer says, ‘my beloved is mine, and I am his.’ It is union with Christ, as if he were your husband, and you were his bride.”
“Oh! sir,—it is all dark to me!—Faith—I cannot—understand it !”
“See here, my dear child. If you were here on this island, and it was going to sink; you would be in a sad condition, if you could not get off: There would be no hope for you, if you had no help. You would sink with the island. You could not save yourself. You might get down by the shore, and know and feel the necessity of being over on the other side, quickly, before the island should go down. But you could not get there alone. There is a wide river betwixt you and the place of safety, where you wish to go. It is so deep, that you could not wade it. It is so wide and rapid, that you could not swim it. Your case would be hopeless, if there was no help for you. You would be lost!—But there is a boat there. You see it, going back and forth, carrying people over, where they want to go. People tell you it is safe, and you have only to go on it. It seems safe to you, as you behold it in motion. You believe it is safe.—Now what do you do, in such a case? You just step on board the boat. You do not merely believe, it would save you, if you were on it; but you go on it. You commit yourself to it. When you get on; you do not work, or walk, or run, or ride. You do nothing, but one. You take care not to falloff. That is all. You just trust to the boat, to hold you up from sinking, and to carry you over, where you want to go. Just so, trust yourself to Jesus Christ to save you. He will carry you to heaven. Venture on him now He waits to take you.”
“But—will he save—such—a wicked—undone creature—as I am?”
“Yes; he will. He says he will. He came from heaven to do it; ‘to seek and to save that which was lost.’ He invites you to come to him. I read it to you in his word; ‘come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’”
“May I go?” says she, (her countenance indicating the most intense thought; and her eyes, suffused with tears of gladness and doubt, fixing upon me, as if she would read her doom from my lips.)
“Yes, you may go to Christ. Come in welcome. Come now. Come just such a sinner as you are. Christ loves to save such sinners.”
She raised herself upon her couch, and leaning upon her elbow, with her dark locks falling over the snowy whiteness of her neck, her brow knit, her lips compressed, her fine eyes fixed upon me, and her bosom heaving with emotion,—she paused for a moment,—said she:—
“I do want—to come to Christ.”
“He wants you to come,” said I.
“Will he—take-me?” said she.
“Yes, he will; he says he will,” said I.
“I am wicked—and do not—deserve it,” said she.
“He knows that; and died to save you,” said I.
“Oh, I think—I would come, if God,—if the Holy Spirit—would help—me. But—my heart is afraid. I thought,—just now; if I only knew—the way, I would do it. But now, when—you have told me; I cannot believe it. I cannot, trust Christ. I never—knew before; what—a distant heart I have!”
“The Holy Spirit does help you. At this moment in your heart, he urges you to come, to trust Christ. The Bible tells you to come. ‘The Spirit and the bride say, come.’ God lengthens the hours of your life, that you may come; while he says to you, ‘Behold now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation.’”
I paused for a little time; and as I watched her countenance, she appeared to be absorbed in the most intense thought. Her brow was slightly knit—her lips quivered—her fine eyes roamed from side to side, and often upwards; and then, closed, for a moment. And seeming utterly forgetful of my presence, she slowly pronounced the words, with a pause almost at every syllable;—“lost sinner—anger—God—Christ—blood —love—pardon—heaven—help—Bible—now—come.” And then, turning her eyes upon me, she said:
“I do want—to come—to Christ—and rest on him.—If my God—will accept—such—a vile sinner—I give myself—to him—forever!—oh!—he will—accept me—by Christ—who died!—Lord save me—I lie on thee—to save me.”
She sunk back upon her bed, with her eyes lifted to heaven, and her hands raised in the attitude of prayer; while her countenance indicated amazement.
I knelt by her bed, uttered a short prayer, and left her, to return at sunset.
As I returned, the old Welsh woman met me at the door, her eyes bathed in tears, and her hands lifted to the heavens. I supposed she was going to tell me that the sick woman was dead; but, with uplifted hands, she exclaimed, “Blessed be God! blessed be God ! The poor thing is happy now; she is so happy! Thank God! she is so happy! She looks like an angel now! She has seen Christ, her Lord; and she will be an angel soon! Now I can let her die! I can’t stop weeping! She has been a dear creature to me! But it makes my heart weep for joy now, when I see what God has done for her, and how happy she is.”
She conducted me to her sick friend’s room. As I entered, the dying woman lifted her eyes upon me, with a smile:—
“The Lord—has made me happy!—I am very happy. I was afraid—my wicked heart never would—love God. But, he has—led me to it. Christ—is very dear—to me. I can—lean on him now. I—can die—in peace.”
I conversed with her for some minutes, the “old lady” standing at my elbow, in tears. She was calm and full of peace. She said, “All you told me—was true; my heart finds it true.—How good—is Jesus, to save such sinners!—I was afraid—to fall upon him; but I know now—that believing is all. My heart—is different. I do love God. Jesus Christ is very dear—to me.”
She appeared to be fast sinking. I prayed with her, and left her. The next day she died. I visited her before her death. She was at peace. She could say but little; but some of her expressions were remarkable. She desired to be bolstered up in her bed, that she might “be able to speak once more.” She seemed to rally her strength; and speaking with the utmost difficulty, the death—gurgle in her throat, and the tears coursing down her pale, and still beautiful cheek, she said:—
“I wonder—at God.—Never was there such love.—He is all goodness.—I want—to praise—him.—My soul—loves him. I delight—to be his.—He—has forgiven me—a poor sinner—and now—his love exhausts me.—The Holy Spirit helped me—or my heart—would have held—in its own—goodness—in its unbelief.—God has heard me.—He has come—to me,—and now—I live—on prayer.—Pardon me—sir,—I forgot—to thank you—I was—so carried off—in thinking of my God.—He will—reward you—for coming to see me.—I am going—to him—soon—I hope.—Dying will be sweet—to me—for Christ—is with me.”
I said a few words to her, prayed with her, and left her. As I took her hand, at that last farewell she cast upon me a beseeching look, full of tenderness and delight, saying to me: “May hope— you—will always—go to see—dying sinners?”—It was impossible for me to answer audibly she answered for me;—“I know—you will—farewell.”
She continued to enjoy entire composure of mind till the last moment. Almost her last words to the “old lady” were, “My delight is—that God—is king—over all, and saves sinners—by Jesus Christ.”
I called at the house after she was dead, and proposed to the “old lady” that I would procure a sexton, and be at the expense of her funeral; lifting both her hands towards the heavens, she exclaimed,—“No, sir! indeed; no, sir! You wrong my heart to think of it! God sent you here at my call; and the poor thing has died in peace. My old heart would turn against me, if I should allow you to bury her! the midnight thought would torment me! She has been a dear creature to me, and died such a sweet death. I shall make her shroud with my own hands; I shall take her ring-money to buy her coffin; I shall pay for her grave; and then, as I believe her dear spirit has become a ministering angel, I shall hope she will come to me in the nights, and carry my prayer back to her Lord.”
She had it all in her own way; and we buried her with a tenderness of grief, which I am sure has seldom been equalled.

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