There are some folks who always have to have the last word in a conversation. Then again, when someone is on his or her deathbed, it’s not that hard to get the last word.
A friend of mine wrote in his blog that he’ll be happy just so long as his last words are not “Hey guys, watch this!” or “Get them off me! Get them off me!”
I’ve always been fascinated by those “famous last words” that people say right before they go to their eternal reward – or their eternal non-reward, as the case may be.
For example, as he breathed his last on July 4, 1926, President John Adams exclaimed, “Thomas Jefferson still survives.” Except that he didn’t – Jefferson had died about five hours earlier, also on the Fourth of July. OK, so no one said famous last words have to be accurate. Yet another example of that was General John Sedgwick, a Union officer during the Civil War, who during the battle of the Wilderness insisted on peeking above the works to see the situation. As his men warned him to come down, he rejected their advice with the last words, “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist-.”
Some last words reveal a lot about the personality of the person. For example, Revolutionary War hero Ethan Allen – told by his doctor that the angels were waiting for him – said, “Waiting are they? Waiting are they? Well – let ’em wait.” Or there are the really honest examples, like scientist Luther Burbank who said, “I don’t feel good.”
Then there are last words that reflect the person’s deep faith. For example, it is recorded that the last words of Scotland’s Robert the Bruce were, “Now, God be with you, my dear children. I have breakfasted with you and shall sup with my Lord Jesus Christ.”
Being a preacher, I’m particularly interested in the last words of fellow members of the homiletical fraternity. John Calvin’s last words were, “I am abundantly satisfied, since it is from thy hand.” John Knox said, “Live in Christ, live in Christ, and the flesh need not fear death.” And the great John Wesley proclaimed on his deathbed, “The best of all is, God is with us. Farewell! Farewell!”
New England preacher Cotton Mather’s last words were, “Is this dying? Is this all? Is this what I feared when I prayed against a hard death? Oh, I can bear this! I can bear this!” And Brooklyn preacher Henry Ward Beecher entered eternity with the words, “Now comes the mystery!”
Then again, there is nothing like a bold, heroic statement at the end of one’s life, like that of Joan of Arc: “Hold the cross high so I may see it through the flames!” Or that of Saint Lawrence, one of the leaders of the Roman church when it was facing persecution. As he was suspended over a bed of coals to be slowly burned to death, he uttered these words: “Turn me. I am roasted on one side.” (Some say his courage was so remarkable that hundreds of Roman citizens converted to Christianity.)
Personally, I’m hoping my last words will be something along the lines of, “Get everyone to safety; I’ll hold them off!”
Then again, perhaps the most profound last words were those uttered by Karl Marx. As he was about to die, his housekeeper asked if he had any last words, to which he replied, “Go on, get out! Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough!”
Michael Duduit is Editor of Preaching magazine. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit his website at www.michaelduduit.com.