The Fatal Choice. (27 – “Gospel Messenger” Series) (16pp)
THE last rays of a summer's sun were lingering still over the busy town of ——, when one, who knew the Lord in that place, received an urgent message to attend the bedside of a dying woman.
"She is dying, and afraid to die," were words that admitted of no delay to any heart who knew the priceless value of one precious soul; who knew too, that it possessed a secret which could change the fear of death into a song of triumph, even the knowledge of Jesus, who by His death and resurrection, has robbed death of its sting, the grave of its victory, and made its dreary portals only the gateway into joy unspeakable for each soul who knows Him.
With a longing heart to speak of Jesus to a needy sinner, His servant's footsteps turned hastily, yet prayerfully, towards the part of the town indicated, taking the messenger, a young woman, as guide.
After winding through many a narrow street, the guide stopped before a dingy dwelling, one of a long row of similar-looking ones, and said: "You will find Mrs. —— in the right-hand room of the third story. You can knock, and go right in, for she will be expecting you.”
The house was one let out in single rooms, and crowded with inmates—a house where poverty, and wretchedness, and sin, and haggard forms, and faces with deep lines of care in them abounded—a house into which you longed to bring Christ for comfort now, as well as for eternal salvation. Your heart ached at the sights and sounds around you, as you murmured in His ear, ''And for such, for such, Thou didst die!''
In the room pointed out—the right-hand room of the third story—a young woman was lying on a poor low bed, apparently dying, apparently also in great concern as to her soul, and as to the hereafter, about which she had only very dim, misty ideas, to enter which seemed to her like "taking a leap in the dark,'' and this leap she feared to take.
On entering the dying woman's room, the deplorableness of it struck you. There were but few things in it, and these of the poorest description. Two little children were playing on the floor with the lid of an old box, and a tiny baby, a sickly, weakly looking infant, was lying on the bed by the side of its mother, uttering those piteous wailing sounds that move the very heart of the listener, however hardened, when it seems as though the poor little suffering one had not health or strength enough even to cry, only power to suffer.
In the mother, however, even deeper interest was centred; for the message, though brief, had conveyed this clearly enough, that she was dying without Christ. Sitting by her bedside, the visitor, whom she welcomed eagerly, read to her from God's own Word, how Jesus came, and bled, and died, to save just such as she. She listened, she asked for prayer, and earnest prayer went up for her that she might learn to trust Jesus.
Jesus and His love, however, seemed to have no power over her heart. She was afraid to die—terribly afraid to die. She wanted to be assured she would not go to hell, that was all. About this she was anxious. One or two neighbours were in the room, her husband being away at his work, and these gathered round the bed to listen, as once more God's offer of salvation that moment, through Christ and His finished work, was presented to her. His willingness to save, His desire to have her, were pressed upon her. She was moved, almost she was persuaded.
Again, she was besought, not to put off accepting Jesus and His offered mercy, but to give Him the joy and herself the blessing of letting Him save her that night; but beyond the ''almost persuaded," she did not get. She wept, she seemed in earnest, she did everything but accept Christ; and, promising to return the following morning, her friend at last left her, asking the Lord on the homeward way, to show what it was that hindered that soul, apparently anxious, apparently so near eternity, from closing with the offer of the Saviour.
Again, the next morning and the next evening was God's Word read to her, with the same results—almost persuaded, never quite decided. Jesus was a Saviour to her, but not her Saviour. Sometimes the deciding point came so near, there seemed but a hair's-breadth between her and eternal life. Still, she lingered on the shores of death, and deep anxiety and sorrow filled the heart of the one visiting her, which sorrow was only to be deepened.
Days passed on, and she hovered between death and life, naturally and spiritually. Her interest in the Word of God, her desire for prayer, continued unabated; yet it seemed as though she would put off till the last moment, her decision for Christ. Her anxiety for safety seemed great, and the City of Refuge was just before her; still she loitered on the road, within reach of safety, but not safe.
Presently there came a change. She rallied, as to her bodily health; and as her strength increased, her interest in the things of the Lord decreased.
A day or two more, and hopes were entertained of her recovery, and then the evening visits—once so eagerly looked for were evidently no longer welcome; for she was up in the evening for a short time, and neighbours came in.
With the thought of a prolonged earthly life, desire to possess eternal life seemed to disappear. It was only for death she wanted Christ. She was afraid to die without Him; but if she were to live, she would rather live without Him. She had only been half-persuaded to become a Christian.
Oh, how the devil laughs at ''almost persuaded" souls! He likes to see them almost persuaded, it kills their consciences, they rest there so often, and never take the half-step farther, that lands them at the feet of Jesus. "Almost persuaded " suits his purposes exactly. They have not got Christ, and he does not care what else they get.
Satan knows well their folly, though they do not; for he has tasted Heaven once himself—he knows its blessedness, its joys—he knows, too, what it is to lose it, to be an outcast from God, though he never knew our supreme joy, who believe, of being there, because Jesus Himself so loved us, that He died to have us by His side for ever.
About a fortnight after the first visit to Mrs. ——, there seemed every prospect of her speedy recovery; and then, though grateful to the one who visited her for kindness shown to her, it was quite apparent there was no longer real concern about the soul. The subject once so welcomed by her was now irksome.
One bright summer's morning, unwilling to give her up, longing with intense desire for her soul, and yet with a deep feeling of solemnity, her friend entered her room. She was up that morning, for the first time so early, and full of the joy of recovering health again, but with no note of praise to the Lord.
Several neighbours were in the room, young women like herself, and there was evidently some object of great interest being discussed. It soon came out what the subject was. A fair was to be held, at a short distance, in a week's time, and Mrs. —— was full of the thought of going, her friends persuading her she would be quite well enough by then.
Greatly distressed, her visitor listened, and then solemnly, earnestly, put this question to her:
"Would you give up Christ for a fair?"
"But I am getting well now. I am not dying now," she answered; ''and I do mean to be a Christian some day."
It was the world that shut out Christ. You would not have thought her world was much, could you have seen that poor, dark room, those little half-clothed children, the poverty and wretchedness of everything. But it was a big enough world, even that, to close her heart against the Saviour, to shut Him out. And you, who wonder at her, weigh for one moment your world in the scales of eternity, and say, are you making a wiser choice? Are you taking anything, everything this world can give, instead of Jesus, and life eternal in Him? Then your choice is like hers—a fatal one.
She chose to give up Christ for "the fair next week," and Satan cheated her even of the poor paltry joy he promised her.
Solemnly, as though on the very verge of eternity, with this as her last opportunity, was she warned not to risk her eternal salvation for so poor a thing—for this had plainly been the whole reason of her indecision. She had hoped to get well, and go to the fair, and so she wanted to wait, and put off being a Christian.
It was no new wile of Satan's; he has tried the same with thousands, saying, ''Be a Christian, of course, some day, but not to-day—do this first.''
With a sad heart, her friend was leaving, but turned back to leave these two scriptures with her: "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation," and "Be not deceived; God is not mocked." For a moment, once more she wavered; but a neighbour's laugh prevailed. Her decision was fixed.
"I will think of these things, another time but not to-day."
Turning to the women standing round, her friend said: "God grant you may never have to feel, you helped a soul on to everlasting ruin."
A laugh rang out as the door closed; it sounded like the mocking laugh of Satan.
It was about eleven in the morning when this visit was paid. Between three and four o'clock in the afternoon of the same day, the visitor was returning home, still thinking of Mrs. ——, feeling even no power to pray for her, and yet quite unable to think of almost anything else, when a voice said, suddenly, "Have you seen Mrs. —— to-day?"
It was the doctor who had been attending her who spoke, and his manner was very grave.
"Yes, doctor,'' was the answer. "I suppose she is getting quite well again now.''
''She is dying!" was his reply.
"Dying! Oh, surely that is not possible, she seemed so well this morning."
The doctor was a man of few words. His only explanation was: "Inflammation, acute. She may not last an hour.''
And he was hurrying on but turned back to say: "Probably she will not be conscious; but if you can be of any good to her, you had better go at once."
It needed no second bidding. Hurriedly, tremblingly, that well-known door was reached, "the right-hand door of the third story." On entering, what a sight met the eye! Mrs. —— was lying on the same bed on which she had so often listened to the Word of God, but how changed now! Her eyes looked painfully strained, her hands were tearing at her chest as though she would tear something out, and the only words she uttered were: ''On fire already. 'God is not mocked.' Too late! too late!" It was an awful scene! The same young women who were there in the morning, stood by now as though paralyzed.
Her friend knelt to pray that even now, at the eleventh hour, she might look to Jesus, and be saved. The words of prayer were interrupted by a half-struggle, half-shriek, so unearthly as to be appalling. Her face was the picture of despair, and agony, and wild affright. And with the terrible words, ''Too late! too late!" once more on her lips, and with one last awful struggle, she passed away.
The silence of death fell on that little company. The women cowered together, awe-stricken and trembling, and for a time, no one even went forward to close the eyes of the dead. That last "Too late" from those dying lips had seemed like a voice from another world.
Only a few short hours before, those lips, now cold and motionless on earth for ever, had said she "would think of these things another day, not to-day," and he, who "had the power of death, that is, the devil," had taken care, that for her, that other day should never come.
It was a moment of never-to-be-forgotten solemnity. For a time, the silence was unbroken even by a movement; and then in the presence of the dead—terrible witness of the danger, the awful folly, of delay—once more, Jesus and His present salvation were pressed on those who had witnessed that dying scene, and that this moment, this only, belonged to them.
She, like they, had intended to be a Christian some day, and never meant to die unsaved, only to live a little longer without Christ. She had even seemed to start on her road to Him.
The women were deeply impressed; and as once more words of prayer went up for them, deep sobs came from many. I believe that death-bed bore fruit of life, which the coming day will make manifest.
Dear reader, if you are unconverted still—that is, if you do not know what it is to belong to Jesus—may this sad story live in your memory as each sorrowful detail lives in mine and give you no rest till your choice for eternity be made. And may that choice be like the choice of one of old, of whom the Lord could say, she "hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her"! For what was that choice? To be close to Jesus for time, listening to Him, worshipping Him, and by His side for all eternity!
“Snow Water and other Gospel Narratives” X