Joy in Heaven

Joy in Heaven

“I say to you that…there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance…there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:7, 10).

A Presbyterian pastor named Benjamin Morgan Palmer was known as “the pastor of New Orleans” because of his faithful ministry to the sick during the yellow fever epidemics in that city in 1858, 1867, and 1878. He visited not only the homes of his own congregation, putting his own life in great danger for the sake of the Gospel, but he visited the homes of all those he knew were under quarantine. Palmer suffered greatly for the sake of Christ and His kingdom, losing 5 of 6 children, and his beloved wife. He wrote of the lessons God taught him through his personal afflictions in a book called, The Broken Home, or Lessons in Sorrow.

Palmer wrote an essay that was published in 1869, telling the story of God’s glorious work of salvation in the heart of a dying man.* The man was sick and getting very close to death. The pastor gently took his hand and asked him if he knew he was about to die. “Yes,” came the answer. “I shall soon cross over the river from which no traveler returns.” The pastor then asked the most loving and compassionate question he could ask. “Are you prepared for that journey? Are you ready to die?” The answer came without a thought, “No!”

The pastor knelt beside the bed of the dying man and prayed for him, asking the Lord to be merciful to this precious sinner’s soul. When he finished praying, he spoke with great urgency. “I know your parents are Christians and raised you to know and love the Lord. You do not have much longer to live in this world. I know you know the Gospel. You know what the Bible says, ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ Cast yourself on Jesus Christ as your only hope and you will be saved.”

The man then begged God to spare his life. He cried out that he would change his life, that if he could only be given another chance, he would follow the Lord, go to church, keep God’s commandments, love his neighbor as himself. The faithful pastor, knowing there was no hope for the man in this world, and no hope for any sinner who trusts in his own good works, shook his head and said, “Dear friend, there is no future for you in this world. You must cast yourself in faith on Jesus Christ, or you will not only perish, but afterward you will suffer forever for your sins in hell.”

There was a long silence. The man’s breathing became more labored and intense. Finally, the pastor tried one last time to persuade the dying man that he had a sickness to be healed of that was far worse than yellow fever. “Do you remember the dying thief on the cross? Do you remember how, even as he was dying, he cried out for mercy, and the Lord heard him and gave him peace for his soul?”

The dying man opened his eyes at these words and said, “It is not too late! Thank You, Lord, it is not too late!” The pastor then leaned over him and in the joy of one who has been graciously used by God to do what only God can do, he said, “Are you trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ?” The answer came with suddenness and great joy, “Yes! He is my Savior, and I am not afraid to die!”

What joy there is in a single sinner coming to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ! May we use every opportunity God gives us in this world to speak to dying sinners about Jesus, who is the Resurrection and the life!
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* This story is adapted from Caleb Cangelosi and C. N. Willborn, Selected Writings of Benjamin Morgan Palmer (The Banner of Truth Trust: 2014).

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