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The Right Priest For A Deathbed

The Right Priest For A Deathbed poster

One evening I was crossing on the ferry-boat from Oakland to San Francisco, California, and among other passengers, I noticed a Roman Catholic priest. Going over to him I introduced myself as one seeking to present the Gospel of God to men. He was a pleasant, affable man, and we were soon engaged in a conversation on the momentous truth of justification by faith, based on the Scripture: “To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5).

The priest maintained that he firmly believed the Scriptural declaration, but seemed to have an idea the verse began, “To him that worketh and believeth.” He was unable to see that Christ had finished the work that saves.

Finding that we could not come to a common conclusion on the subject, he veered around to other matters, though in a gentlemanly manner, and finally said, “I am just on my way from the home of a dying girl in Oakland. She has been a good Christian for five years. I am her confessor, and she sent for me to come to see her; for you know Catholics always want a priest when they are about to die.”

In that, I am one with them,” I answered, “I too want a Priest with me if I die. I would feel the need of one at such a time. But I not only want a priest with me when I die, I want Him every moment that I live, and such a Priest I have—a Priest who is always occupied on my behalf, and whose absolution gives me perfect peace.”

Ah, you mean Jesus, I suppose,” he answered. “We believe in Him, too, but we want the human priest as well.”

But what can the human priest do for me that my great High Priest has not already done? He has died for me, borne all my many sins in His own body on the tree, and now He sits on the throne of God to maintain my cause and sustain me, while He succors me all along my pilgrim way. ‘He ever liveth to make intercession for me.’ Surely He is enough!”

But this, the man-made priest could not see, and so the conversation turned to the “Sacrament of Orders.” But of the first—the all-important question—I wish to speak with the reader.

Would you not like to have a Priest with you if you should have to die? At such a time would you not feel the need of one who could really help?—One who could truly say to you, “Thy sins are forgiven thee;” and carry you through death, and receive you in Paradise as He did with the repentant thief upon the cross? (see Luke 23:39-43). The presence of a Romish or Anglican priest, or a clergyman or any other preacher, cannot give you perfect rest in view of eternity. Jesus alone is the one. Ah, dear reader, you need such a Priest! No human priest can fit you for the presence of a holy God. True, a man whose soul has been saved through faith in Jesus might do much, in pointing you to the “Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), but no one, however earnest and godly, can accompany you beyond the portals of the grave.

But oh, if you know Jesus, if He is with you, a Priest to cheer you by His blessed “Absolvo te,”to give you to know the virtue of His own precious blood shed on Calvary and the abiding unction of the Holy Spirit, then indeed death need have no terror, for He who “hath abolished death” will bring you uncondemned into the presence of the Father as a trophy of His one offering upon the cross.

Such a Priest you may have; and not only in death, but in life. Trust in Him, then. Rely on the work He accomplished upon the cross, confide your soul to His care—He is worthy of your utmost confidence. “Through Him all that believe are justified from all things” (Acts 13:38).

Jesus has borne the judgment due to sin, made propitiation for the whole world, and His priestly service is for all who will believe Him—all who sincerely accept Him. In wondrous grace He waits upon you and longs to save you. Receiving Him now by simple faith, you will have a priest with you if you come to die; and He will care for you all through your life on Earth.

I have said purposely ifyou die, because while it is quite true that “It is appointed unto men once to die” (Hebrews 9:27), for the believer in Christ there is the glorious hope of our Lord’s return in person, to change us into His likeness and take us up with Himself instead of dying. Clear and decided is the Scripture statement, “We shall notall sleep, but we shall be changed” (see 1 Corinthians 15:51, 54; 1 Thessalonians 4:15–18). This, of course, refers only to those who are born again—to the children of God. But for the unsaved, there is not only the natural death, but the second death, which is the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). Ah, reader, no mere human priest can save you from that;it is only Jesus.

Why go on without Him, then? Why not close in with Christ now, and thus be assured of His continued care, interest, and companionship in life, death, and throughout the “ages to come?”

Trusting Him we may sing:

I need no other priest
Than my High Priest above;
His intercession ne’er has ceased, 
Since first I knew His love;
Through that, my faith shall never fail,
Even when passing death’s dark vale.

I need no human prop
In that last awful strife—
Christ is my refuge—Christ my hope, 
My way, my truth, my life!
On His own promise, I rely:
‘He that believeth ne’er shall die.’”