I have often wondered about how I would die. Would it be quick, coming after an accident or a medical emergency or naturally in my sleep? Or would it be slow, allowing me to prepare and put my house in order? What would be my last words if I knew I had just a few hours or days to live? What would my wishes be?
Recent losses around me have made me think a great deal about death. Coincidentally, these deaths occurred while I was reading J.C. Ryle’s Five English Reformers.
In his book, Ryle gives an account of the life of Rowland Taylor (1510-1555), the English Protestant Martyr. At the time of his death (he was 44), Taylor was Rector of Hadleigh in Suffolk. He was burnt at the stake at nearby Aldham Common on the 9th of February, 1555. His parting wishes to his wife and family and parishioners were written in a book which he gave his son as a parting legacy, only five days before his martyrdom.
His parting wishes are probably the best I have ever read, considering the kind of death he was preparing to face. Taylor was a man who was ready to die and who faced death with great courage. I was moved by his last words, and I present an excerpt below.
“I say to my wife and to my children, The Lord gave you unto me, and the Lord hath taken me from you and you from me: blessed be the name of the Lord! I believe that they are blessed which die in the Lord. God careth for sparrows, and for the hairs of our heads. I have ever found Him more faithful and favourable than any father or husband. Trust ye, therefore, in Him by the means of our dear Saviour Christ’s merits. Believe, love, fear, and obey Him: pray to Him, for He hath promised to help. Count me not dead, for I shall certainly live and never die. I go before, and you shall follow after, to our long home. I go to the rest of my children, Susan, George, Ellen, Robert, and Zachary. I have bequeathed you to the only Omnipotent.
I say to my dear friends of Hadleigh, and to all others who have heard me preach, that I depart hence with a quiet conscience as touching my doctrine, for the which I pray you thank God with me. Beware, for God’s sake, that ye deny not God, neither decline from the word of faith, lest God decline from you, and so do ye everlastingly perish. Beware of the sin against the Holy Ghost, now after such a light opened so plainly and simply, truly, thoroughly and generally to all England.
The Lord grant all men His good and Holy Spirit, increase of His wisdom, contemning the wicked world, hearty desire to be with God and the heavenly company; through Jesus Christ, our only Mediator, Advocate, Righteousness, Life, Sanctification, and Hope. Amen. Amen.
Rowland Taylor, departing hence in sure hope, without all doubting of eternal salvation. I thank God, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, my certain Saviour. Amen. 5th of February, anno 1555.
The Lord is my Light and my Salvation, whom then shall I fear? God is He that justifieth: who is he that can condemn?
In Thee, O Lord, have I trusted: let me never be confounded.”