Only One Life

Nathan Busenitz | June 24, 2015

(Today’s post is adapted from Nathan’s article “Living and Dying for the Glory of God,” originally published in Expositor Magazine.)

To live well is to live for Christ, and to die well is to die for His glory. A brief article in the 1857 edition of The Scottish Christian Journal, entitled “Dying Well,” summarized that truth with these words, “Would ye die well? then, through Christ, live well. The right way to die well is to live well.”

Three years later, on December 2, 1860, a man named Charles Thomas Studd was born into a wealthy family in England. Charles was a teenager when his father committed his life to Christ after attending an evangelistic meeting led by D. L. Moody. A short time later, at the age of 16, Charles himself came to saving faith in the Lord Jesus.

He would go on to Cambridge where he became one of the most celebrated cricket players of his day, famous not only in Britain but around the world. When his time at Cambridge ended, Charles realized that he did not want to pursue a career in athletics. As he said it, “I know that cricket would not last, and honour would not last, and nothing in this world would last, but it was worthwhile living for the world to come.”

Armed with an eternal perspective and motivated by a desire to glorify the Lord no matter the cost, Charles Thomas Studd (often referred to by his initials, C. T.) left England to serve as a missionary in China, under the oversight of Hudson Taylor. Explaining his missionary zeal, Studd quipped, “Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.”

The former cricketer spent a decade in China, much of that time working in a rehabilitation center for opium addicts, sharing the gospel and seeing lives transformed by the truth. While he was in China, his father died and left him a sizeable inheritance. But rather than keeping it, he immediately gave it all away to support evangelical ministries like those led by George Müller and D. L. Moody.

After a short time back in England, Charles and his wife (along with their four daughters) moved to India, where he pastored a local congregation for seven years. Though he struggled with severe asthma, often staying awake most of the night struggling to breath, he faithfully preached the gospel, and many souls in Southern India were converted to Christ.

Shortly thereafter, Charles became convinced that God was calling him to take the gospel to the innermost jungles of Africa. He eventually reached the Belgian Congo in 1913, though it was not easy. At one point, he contracted a severe case of malaria; on another occasion, he woke up in the morning to discover a poisonous snake had been sleeping by his side all night long.

Along with his fellow missionaries, Charles established a number of missionary stations in the heart of Africa — bringing the gospel to tribes that had previously never heard the name of Jesus Christ. He wrote over 200 hymns, translated the New Testament into the native language, and witnessed thousands of African people turn to the Lord.

C. T. Studd died in Africa, at the age of seventy, having spent most of his adult life in missionary service: ten years in China, seven years in India, and roughly twenty years in Africa. The pioneering missionary work he did was rigorous. But it was fueled by a simple and sincere conviction. He said, “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.”

His unwavering commitment to serve Christ no matter the cost is perhaps best captured in the words of a well-known poem he penned:

Two little lines I heard one day, Traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart, And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, ‘twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one, Soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet, And stand before His Judgment seat;
Only one life, ‘twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Nineteen centuries earlier, the apostle Paul articulated that same perspective in these words, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). The apostle’s mission was to glorify his Savior in everything. As he explained to the Corinthians, “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent [meaning in life or in death], to be pleasing to Him” (2 Cor. 5:9).

Armed with that resolve, Paul joyfully endured numerous hardships for the sake of the gospel, including imprisonments, beatings, stoning, and shipwrecks. As he explained to the Corinthians,

I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:26–29)

Incredibly, Paul wrote those words when his career as a missionary was only about half over (around A. D. 55–56). The unwearied apostle had not yet faced many of his best-known trials, including his arrest in Jerusalem, his two-year incarceration in Caesarea, his shipwreck on the isle of Malta, and his two Roman imprisonments (cf. Acts 21–28).

Even a brief survey of Paul’s life evidences his passion to live and die for the glory of God. Because he belonged to Christ, his one aim was to live for Him (cf. Gal. 2:20). As he told the Romans, “For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom. 14:7–8).

At the end of Paul’s earthly sojourn, as he awaited execution in a dank Roman dungeon, the faithful apostle could look back on decades of Christ-exalting ministry and say:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7–8).

Just a few verses later, at the close of his final epistle, Paul again articulated the hope-filled theme that had characterized his entire Christian life: “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (v. 18). Soon he would enter the presence of his Savior and hear Him say, “Well done.”

It was C. T. Studd who said, “There is no greater honour, after living for Christ, than to die for Him.” Clearly, his perspective was patterned after Paul’s. As both men understood, to live well is to live for Christ; to die well is to die for His glory.

Expositor_Mag


Nathan Busenitz avatar
Nathan Busenitz is the dean of faculty and associate professor of theology at The Master's Seminary. He is also one of the pastors of Cornerstone, a fellowship group at Grace Community Church.

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