Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Famous last words


"Who got the last word, oh, Death? Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now? It was sin that made death so frightening and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power. But now, in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three—sin, guilt, death—are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God! (I Corinthians 15:56-57, The Message)

By Bishop Robert Hayes Jr.

Have you ever given thought to what your final words would be if you knew your life was ending? If you had only one sermon to preach, one song to sing, or one prayer to offer before you departed this earth, what words would you choose?

That query is not as farfetched as you may think. I recently learned about one man who, knowing the dark shadow of death was about to engulf him, found strength to write one more song. That hymn has become a staple in so many churches.

His farewell words are so much a part of our faith that I must share his inspirational story during this Lenten season, when we consider the death of our Lord and Savior

The songwriter was Eugene Bartlett. His name was legendary in Southern Gospel Music circles in the early 1900s. Born in 1885, he went on to teach singing throughout the South. He founded the Hartford Music Co. in 1918, and he introduced gospel music to churches large and small. People came from long distances to hear him play and sing.

In 1939, when he was 54, Bartlett suffered a serious stroke. Partially paralyzed, he was virtually confined to bed for the remainder of his life. No more could he travel, performing concerts and encouraging churches in their singing. He could no longer do what he most loved—teaching students how to compose and play music. Finding his ability to communicate greatly diminished and his ability to write music almost depleted, Bartlett prepared himself to die.

However, he summoned what strength he still had within his weakened body to write one last song. In I John 5:4, Bartlett found the words that comprised his last musical arrangement: "Whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world—our faith!"

He gathered the wherewithal to write:

"I heard an old, old story, how a Savior came from glory, how he gave his life on Calvary to save a wretch like me. I heard about his groaning, of his precious blood’s atoning, then I repented of my sins and won the victory. Oh, victory in Jesus, my Savior forever! He sought me and bought me with his redeeming blood. He loved me ere I knew him, and all my love is due him. He plunged me to victory beneath the cleansing flood."

What a remarkable story of a dying man writing about overcoming the world through his faith! Now I know why the hymn "Victory in Jesus" is so powerful.

Now you know why I asked the question. What would your final words be if you knew your life was ending? Would you be remorseful? Or would you be eager to find out what the next chapter holds in store for you?

All of us are dying a little each day! Only God can determine the time of departure—­tomorrow, next year, perhaps years from now. With each day we move closer to that time when there will be only one more sermon, one song, or one prayer.

During these 40 days of Lent, I want to rehearse the words I will use. I want God to hear line by line, removing those phrases and thoughts not pleasing to Him. I want to clean up my life and move forward as God directs me.

While making the journey, I want my life to reflect a Christ-like nature in everything I do.

When we consider a man dying for me and you, that act seems incomprehensible. The apostle Paul summed it up well: "We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God puts His love on the line for us by offering His son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to Him." (Romans 5:7-8, The Message)

Sin, guilt, and death were conquered in one amazing act of courage and love!

Gutzon Borglum, who sculpted the faces of presidents onto Mount Rushmore, was asked to carve a bust of Abraham Lincoln for display at the nation’s Capitol. A housekeeper was fascinated as she daily watched Lincoln’s features emerge from the stone. When the work was completed, she enthusiastically asked Borglum, "How’d you know Mr. Lincoln was in that rock?"

Only God knows what is inside each of us. This holy season of Lent can bring out the best we have to offer. It is a time to shape and mold ourselves into the people God wants us to be, so like Eugene Bartlett, when we arrive at that glorious Resurrection Day, we can claim God’s victory over sin, guilt, and death. It is the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God!


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