February 24, 2015

Instructions to the Dying

by Nathan Busenitz

AnselmAnselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) is most famous for (1) his ontological argument for the existence of God and (2) the satisfaction theory of the atonement.

But today, I’d like to share my favorite quote from Anselm. It is found in his “Exhortation to a Dying Man,” in which he consoles those who are about to face death by asking them a series of questions.

The first set of questions is aimed at fellow clergy and the second is for laypeople.

* * * * *

Question. Do you rejoice, brother, that you are dying in the Christian Faith?
Answer. I do rejoice. . . .

Qu. Do you confess that you have lived so wickedly, that eternal punishment is due to your own merits?
An. I confess it.

Qu. Do you repent of this?
An. I do repent.

Qu. Do you have the willingness to amend your life, if you had time?
An. I have.

Qu. Do you believe that the Lord Jesus Christ died for you?
An. I believe it.

Qu. Do you thank Him [for His passion and death]?
An. I do thank Him.

Qu. Do you believe that you cannot be saved except by His Death?
An. I believe it.

Come then, while life remains in you, in His death alone place your whole trust; in nothing else place any trust; to His death commit yourself wholly; with this alone cover yourself wholly; in this enwrap yourself wholly.

And if the Lord your God wishes to judge you, say, “Lord, between Your judgment and me I present the death of our Lord Jesus Christ; in no other way can I contend with You.” And if He shall say that you are a sinner; you say, “Lord, I interpose the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between my sins and You.” If He says that you have deserved condemnation; say, “Lord, I set the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between my evil deserts and You; and His merits I offer for those which I ought to have, but have not.” If He says that He is angry with you; say, “Lord I set the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between Your wrath and me.” And when you hast completed this, say again, “Lord, I set the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between You and me.”

This done, let the sick man say thrice, “Into Your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit, for You have redeemed me, O Lord, God of truth.” . . .

If he is a layman, he should be questioned after the following manner . . .

Qu. Do you believe the things which belong unto the Christian faith, so far as regards what has been determined by the church?
An. I do believe.

Qu. Do you rejoice that you are dying in the Christian faith?
An. I do rejoice.

Qu. Do you grieve that you have offended your Creator?
An. I do grieve.

Qu. Do you purpose, if God prolong your life, to abstain from offending Him?
An. I do purpose.

Qu. Do you hope and believe, that not by your own merits, but by the merits of the passion of Jesus Christ, you may attain to everlasting salvation?
An. I do.

Then follows the assurance: and then let him say,
If any oppose you, and should object to you, set between him and you the merits of Christ’s passion.

Source: “Anselm’s Exhortation to a Dying Man, Greatly Alarmed on Account of His Sins.” Trans. from Meditations and Prayers, 275–77. English rendered clearer. Latin source: Migne, Patroligae Latinae 158.686-687.

Nathan Busenitz

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Nathan serves on the pastoral staff of Grace Church and teaches theology at The Master's Seminary in Los Angeles.
  • Jason

    *Do you confess that you have lived so wickedly, that eternal punishment is due to your own merits?

    *Do you grieve that you have offended your Creator?

    These are sometimes implied when we say things like “but for the grace of God and the sacrifice of Christ we would deserve punishment” but rarely are they stated so bluntly and without the cushoning of the blow with a “but Jesus” tagged on.

    I think we could use a bit more of that bluntness. Having grown up in the church it seems like a lot aren’t too grieved by their sin because “it’s been forgiven, so really everything’s good”. The reality is that we still have a holy God whom we have offended.

    It’s strange too, because when we do something against our neighbor and they forgive us we still try extra hard to be kind next time. However, somehow we spend so much time talking about how our sin was forgiven that we’ve managed to marginalize it.

  • pearlbaker

    Nathan, these are excellent questions for the living Christian, since no one knows the hour of his own death! Retitle “Exhortation to a Living Man”

  • Randy Kirkland

    Nathan, our church small group has been working through Pilgrim’s Progress, Parts 1 and 2, for several months. At the conclusion of both Part 1 and 2, Bunyan has poignant depictions of pilgrims traversing the river of death to the Celestial City. These sections are well worth reading and re-reading, particularly since we live in times when “life extension” rather than “death preparation” is the common theme among most churches. The Puritans, of course, lived among death in different ways than we do today, with many of them seeing their own children predecease them and witnessing personally the deaths (home goings) of family members and congregants on an ongoing basis. Their penchant for preparing people to “die well” is much needed in our times. I am reminded of Thomas Brooks message “Last Day, Best Day” and Thomas Goodwin’s query of a 12-year old candidate for University…”Are you ready to die?”
    In any event, your post is most helpful and a much needed reminder that this world is not our real home and we are strangers and aliens in this land.

  • MR

    What is the difference in this, and having someone repeat the “Sinners Prayer?”

  • This is fantastic! Thanks Nathan!

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  • Jim Dowdy

    Thanks Nathan. I’ve really been enjoying using your notes here at Word of Grace in Mexico City. Thanks for dedicating a huge chunk of your life to the study of church history. The gems you have found in the lives of both well known and obscure Christians have been precious and encouraging!

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