IF I HAD BUT ONE YEAR TO LIVE
BY: A. W. TOZER
THE SACRIFICE OF PRAISE
This message by one of the Christian and Missionary Alliance’s best-known writers was first published in 1938. The references to war clouds and to date-setters among the students of prophecy belong especially to that era. Yet the message is as timeless as A. W. Tozer himself. Dr. Tozer never achieved the “ripe old age” he mentions in his closing sentence; he died at sixty-six in the midst of an active ministry as pastor, conference speaker, and Alliance Witness editor.
Moses prayed, “Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.”
Now, suppose that the first half of that prayer were to have literal fulfillment for me, and I were to learn positively that I had but one year to live – the number of my days were to be 365, no more, and at the end of that time my earthly life were to reach a sure and sudden termination in the shocking finality which is death. What could I do to bring the answer to the rest of that prayer? If I applied my heart, what would “wisdom” dictate that I should do with the precious days that remained to me?
The first thing that strikes me is that I should have to arrive at some plan of action in conformity with known facts. However much I might ignore them while the hope of long life lay before me, with that hope shrunk to a brief year, these facts would take on tremendous proportions. I mean the great cardinal facts of Bible doctrine. It is a significant thought that with death stalking me I should have no interest whatever in any controverted subjects; neither would the profundities of theology influence me, nor the abstruse refinements of Christian metaphysics.
When someone asked Mark Twain what he did with those passages in the Bible that he could not understand, he replied with grim humor: “The passages in Scripture which trouble me most are those which I do understand.” And I am sure that I should not be bothered by any of the minor differences that separate the brethren: Calvinism, church polity, the great pyramid, or the identity of the beast and the false prophet. I should only feel a real pity for those garrulous saints who, unmindful of the swift passing of the years, debate theological trivialities to their own confusion.
But just what would be the part of wisdom for one with but a few numbered years to go? Well, here is the way it would affect me.
If I were a sinner, I would stop hoping vaguely that somehow things would come out all right, and I would get down to realities. I would take no rest until I had absolute assurance on certain vital matters. I would want to know that my sins were forgiven, that I had passed from death unto life, and that Jesus Christ was my personal Savior. And in order to arrive at this assurance, I would put away diffidence, come boldly to Him, throw myself at His feet and refuse to go away.
I would not stand on ceremony nor allow myself to be hindered by the niceties of conventional religion. With my soul at stake, I could not afford to pray with one eye on the proprieties. So I would seek to take the kingdom by violence, and if any well-intentioned person, shocked by my boldness, should try to stop me, I would remember blind Bartimaeus and “[cry] the more a great deal, [Jesus,] thou Son of David, have mercy on me.” (Mark 10:48)
And then if some panicky dispensationalist ran up in a dither to remind me that I had my dispensations crossed, I would push him aside none too gently and press for mercy till I got the answer: “Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole.”
Then I would give that last remaining year to God. All the wreckage and loss of the years behind me would spur me on to make the one before me a God-blessed success.
And I would give my ransomed life to Him also. One life, one year, with God above me and the needy world around me – no one can prophesy the blessed outcome. It is remarkable how much glory God sometimes packs into a life at its decline even when that life has not been useful for so very long. Samson rose to such heights of faith just before his death that he was able to accomplish more in one last act of sacrifice than he had done during his whole previous life. Such is the grace of God!
As a Christian, the shock of numbered days would not be so great, for we have been taught to expect the return of Christ at almost any hour, yet the very familiarity of the teaching and the repeated cry of “Lo, He is in the desert! Behold, He is in the secret chamber!” at every turn of events in Europe or Palestine have dulled the hearts of many till the sense of imminence is not keenly felt. The doctrine of the Second Coming is still faithfully preached, but the note of expectancy is often missing.
Anyway, there are some things I should want to get done. Some things that dog the steps of God’s people, things for which we are occasionally languidly sorry, I should want to repent of once and for all, and make that repentance stick.
One thing is unbelief. The fact that I see it in others as well as in myself is no excuse for me. Unbelief is so common that we do not recognize it. In sickness we look almost everywhere first before trying God. In adversity we wilt too easily. In danger we scheme and contrive as if God did not exist. I should not want my only year to be hindered by such business. So I would try to live close to God, to read the Bible much, to cultivate trust, and to be bold in my faith.
Another blight I should seek to escape is worldliness… if not worldly conduct, then worldly moods. The old Christians had a word that covered a true believer’s mental outlook. They called it “otherworldliness.” This kind of old-fashioned godliness is not very popular now.
We are supposed to keep abreast of the times, and we are advised to “read the newspapers as well as the Bible so as to watch the fulfillment of prophecy.” This sounds very pious, but it is a philosophy that has bred a generation of worldly pre–millenarians who are little more than news commentators with a mildly religious bent.
Separation unto God is not achieved when we desert the dance floor and the motion picture house. True separation is a constant possession of the devotional mood. If I had but one year to live, I would seek to enjoy that mood every day.
Then I would also want to check on the use of my money. All that came into my possession should be prayed over and used with religious care. Money has such great power for good that I would try to make the most of every penny for the kingdom of God. I am quite sure that I could get along with less if I wanted to do so, and that I could find plenty of places to use what I had saved for the promotion of the gospel program and the relieving of human distress.
A frequent checkup on my speech might be helpful to me also. Remembering how many times I had been hindered by soiled speech on the part of otherwise good people, I would resolve that not one spotted word should ever pass my lips. It is easy to get careless here – even ministers and missionaries are not exempt – so I would make a covenant with my tongue and trust God to help me keep it.
And since evil words flow from evil thoughts, I would try to deal with the problem at its source. A human heart can be a cesspool where breeds every sort of slimy thing: envy, malice, lust, suspicion, and a hundred other kinds of larvae waiting to develop into full-grown deeds.
Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians would help me here: “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
And then there is gossip. Popular opinion has made gossip a female weakness, but no honest man will deny that it is all but universally prevalent among men. Many innocent people have had their ministry ruined by noxious chatter. With no real intention to do harm, someone yields to the temptation to talk, and the injury is done, sometimes irreparably.
If I had but a short time to live, I could not afford to spend any part of it indulging in curious speculations about the lives of others. Wesley defined evil speaking as any unnecessary repetition of uncomplimentary remarks about anyone. Every Christian should have a little graveyard where he buries rumors which might affect the lives of any of God’s children. These rumors, greatly distended and full of life, come in boldly as if they had a right to do it, and begin their unholy work of destroying reputations. They should be knocked soundly on the head, buried six feet under in an unmarked grave, and forgotten.
THE SACRIFICE OF PRAISE
Then I think I would want to get caught up on my thanksgiving. I would repent of ingratitude and remember the multitude of blessings I have to be grateful for. I would be thankful to God, and I would not forget to be thankful to people. I may have been mistreated a few times, to be sure, but for the most part people have treated me with a kindness and consideration far exceeding any merit of mine. There are so many people, living and dead, to whom I owe such a great moral debt that one year would not be long enough to thank God for them.
And with all her faults, I would not forget to be grateful for my country. I am thankful for freedom – political freedom and the rare freedom of conscience that makes it possible for me to worship God as I see the light without interference.
There is no place to stop when God’s mercies are the topic. I would spend my days being glad, and God would accept the offering.
Now all this would seem to me to be the good and right thing to do for one who had but a year to live. But since we do not know whether we have a year before us, or a day or ten days, and since what would be right for the last year would be right for the whole life – even if its years were many – then the conclusion is plain.
I know not what others may want to do, but I want to get down to business and live as if this year were my last. Then if God should spare me to a ripe old age, I can go without regrets.
IF I HAD BUT ONE YEAR TO LIVE [A. W. Tozer] 1