J.C. Ryle on Deathbed Confession

A while back Dr. Siefkes posted “Expressing Christian Sympathy” in this blog, which was (still is) a wonderful Godward reminder to make much of God when one of our Christian loved ones pass away.

I want to piggyback on that thought from my recent reading from Holiness, where J.C. Ryle offered a warning to deathbed confessions. We often hear that so and so is in heaven now. But when asked about why, their reasons are often unsound (even unbiblical). Although insensitive comments are to be avoided, especially, during inappropriate time, nonetheless, truth needs to be spoken with love some time.

It is mournful to hear what people sometimes say about what they call deathbed evidences. It is perfectly fearful to observe how little satisfies some persons, and how easily they can persuade themselves that their friends have gone to heaven. They will tell you when their relative is dead and gone that “he made such a beautiful prayer one day,” or that “he talked so well,” or that “he was so sorry for his old ways, and intended to live so differently if he got better,” or that “he craved nothing in this world,” or that “he liked people to read to him, and pray with him.” And because they have this to go upon, they seem to have a comfortable hope that he is saved! Christ may never have been named – the way of salvation may never have been in the least mentioned. But it matters not; there was a little talk of religion, and so they are content!

Now I have no desire to hurt the feelings of anyone who reads this paper, but I must and will speak plainly upon this subject. Once for all, let me say that, as a general rule, nothing is so unsatisfactory as deathbed evidences. The things that men say, and the feelings they express when sick and frightened, are little to be depended on. Often, too often, they are the result of fear, and do not spring the ground of the heart. Often, too often, they are things said by rote; caught from the lips of ministers and anxious friends, but evidently not felt. And nothing can prove all this more clearly than the well-known fact that the great majority of persons who make promises of amendment on a sickbed, and then for the first time talk about religion, if they recover, go back to sin and the world (emphasis his; Holiness, [Moscow: Charles Nolan Publishers, 2001], 227-8).