12 More Great Christians Who Died Young

Here are another dozen Christians who lived short lives while serving Christ:

Two related biblical truths always need to be kept in mind. One, Scripture often warns us about how fleeting life is. Compared to eternity, it really is short indeed. As we read in James 4:14 for example, “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”

Also, we are told that God numbers our days. We will live as long as God wants us to. As we find in Psalm 139:16, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” So life is short, but God is in charge of our lifespan.

A few years ago I did a piece on a dozen Christians who did not live very long. The article looked at some terrific men and women of God such as David Brainerd, Oswald Chambers, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Eric Liddell, Jim Elliot, and Keith Green. You can see it here: billmuehlenberg.com/2017/05/16/12-great-christians-died-quite-young/

There are of course many others that come to mind and thus this follow-up article. Here are another dozen terrific Christian men and women who died rather young as they served the Lord. May their stories inspire you to be all you can be for Christ and the Kingdom.

Girolamo Savonarola, 1452-1498, died at age 45.
The Italian reformer had planned a career in medicine, but he became a preacher of repentance and certainly stirred things up quite a bit. He preceded, and had an influence on, other famous Reformers like Luther (d. 1546) and Calvin (d. 1564). He joined the Dominican order in 1475 but became increasingly disturbed by corruption in the church and in the clergy, and by the accumulation of wealth at the expense of the poor and needy.

Eventually he became an itinerant preacher in northern Italy, proclaiming a message of repentance, and seeking to bring about radical reform in the church. The “meddlesome friar” was excommunicated by the pope in May 1497. Admittedly he was a bit off in some areas. For example he claimed to be a prophet and started sharing visions of the end times, etc. Nonetheless, for daring to speak out and seek to revive and renew the church, he was burned and hanged in Florence on May 23, 1498.

William Tyndale, 1494-1536, died at age 42.
William Tyndale was an English scholar who became a leading figure in Protestant reform in the years leading up to his execution. He is well known for his translation of the Bible into English. He was educated at Oxford and Cambridge, becoming a proficient scholar in Greek and Hebrew, and was ordained around 1521. He found little support from the church for his concerns so he went to Germany to continue his writing, his reforming work, and his evangelism.

It was there that he finished his translation of the New Testament and worked on the Old Testament. These were smuggled back into England. A century later those who put together the King James Version were strongly influenced by his work. But at the time he was fiercely opposed by people like Thomas More and Cardinal Wolsey.

He had to be careful, even while on the continent, as he undertook his work. But in May of 1535 he was found and arrested. Tyndale was tried for heresy and at his execution he was given a chance to recant. He refused, and is said to have proclaimed, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!” He was hung near Brussels.

Blaise Pascal, 1623-1662, died at age 39.
The famous French mathematician, physicist, theologian, philosopher and inventor is known for many things, including his important work, The Pensées. A child prodigy, he was educated by his father. Early on he showed his aptitude in science and math. His work in the area of probability theory is one of his key contributions to mathematics.

But it is his theological and philosophical works that are especially relevant here. Late in 1564 he experienced a strong religious conversion, and he then devoted himself to theological writings. His important volume Thoughts (Pensees) was published after his death, and is one of the most important works we have defending the Christian faith. It is famous both as a great work of literature as well as apologetics. It includes his famous philosophical argument for God’s existence, “Pascal’s wager”.

For most of his life he was in poor health, so his career was cut short. He passed away soon after turning 39 years of age because of the various illnesses he was suffering from. But his name will forever be associated with great Christian thinkers.

Henry Scougal, 1650-1678, died at age 27.
The Scottish theologian, Puritan minister and author is perhaps best known for his classic devotional work, The Life of God In the Soul of Man. He went to University of Aberdeen where he graduated from King’s College in 1665. At the age of just 19 he was appointed professor of philosophy at Aberdeen University and a year later he was made Professor of Divinity there.

His classic work began as a private letter of spiritual counsel and an explanation of Christianity to a friend, but it has gone on to be one of the great works of Christian spirituality. J. I. Packer said this about the book’s impact on the Great Awakening: “Henry Scougal’s exposition of ‘true religion’ (his phrase, echoed by Whitefield, meaning genuine Christianity) was from one standpoint the seed out of which the English side of the revival first sprouted; for the book was favourite reading in Oxford’s Holy Club, where the Wesleys and Whitefield first came together.”

Sadly Scougal died of tuberculosis while quite young, cutting short an incredible career and ministry.

Henry Martyn, 1781-1812, died age 31.
Anglican priest and missionary to India and Persia. Early on he had a brilliant academic career at Cambridge, but a spiritual awakening – partly spurred on by his father’s suicide – led to his ordination in 1803, and he sailed to India in 1805.

With his expertise in linguistics he translated the New Testament and the Book of Common Prayer into Hindustani. He too contracted tuberculosis, but went on to Persia where he translated the NT into Arabic and Persian. Sadly, as he set out for home, he died enroute.

Martyn said this in his journal some nine months before his death: “To all appearance, the present year will be more perilous than any I have seen; but if I live to complete the Persian New Testament, my life after that will be of less importance. But whether life or death be mine, may Christ be magnified in me! If he has work for me to do, I cannot die.”

Soren Kierkegaard, 1813-1855, died age 42.
Danish theologian, philosopher and writer. Born into a strict Lutheran home in Copenhagen, he eventually reacted against the cold and lifeless religion he found all around him. He also strongly opposed the philosophy of Hegel.

As the father of existentialism (but of a decidedly theistic variety) he is as well known in philosophical circles as he is in theological circles. His emphasis on the importance of choice, decision, and personal commitment earned him the title of the founder of existentialist philosophy, but he differed greatly from later atheist existentialists such as Sartre and Camus.

He saw Christianity as a vibrant, personal and subjective faith, and not a dry, arid academic exercise, nor the cheap and easy cultural Christianity of his day. He was a melancholic and sickly person all his life, and he died of illness associated with a spinal condition on November 11, 1855.

John Stam, 1907-1934, died at age 27.
He and his wife Betty (born 1906) were American missionaries in China, and both were martyred by the communists while ministering there. John began studies at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago in 1929 where he met Betty. The China Inland Mission accepted Stam for mission work in 1932.

A baby girl was born to the couple in 1934, but soon afterwards the communists found a Bible and Christian literature in their house, so they were captured, imprisoned, and executed. John was just 27 and Betty was 28. Their baby daughter miraculously survived however. As one account of their lives puts it:

“The Stams’ powerful Christian testimony was carried to the ends of the earth by hundreds of secular newspapers which featured front-page stories about the Stams’ faith, dedication—and martyrdom. Many unbelievers turned to Christ; many believers were so moved by the Stams’ zeal that they became missionaries themselves.”

Sophie Scholl, 1921-1943, died at age 21.
Just a few months ago the 100th anniversary of the birth of Sophie Scholl, the German resistance hero was commemorated. She and her brother and a few others were killed by the Nazis for their work in the White Rose Movement.

As students they wrote, printed and distributed six pamphlets urging Germans not to go along with Hitler and Nazism. They were eventually caught and executed. She was just 21 years old, while her brother Hans was 24. I have written about the story of these brave young Christians before. See these two articles for example: billmuehlenberg.com/2021/05/09/what-are-you-living-for-commemorating-sophie-scholl/

billmuehlenberg.com/2016/02/23/we-need-another-resistance-movement-remembering-the-scholls/

Greg Bahnsen, 1948-1995, died at age 47.
Bahnsen was an apologist, philosopher and debater. He was a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and was also a full-time Scholar in Residence for the Southern California Center for Christian Studies. He is known for his strong stances on Calvinism, postmillennialism and theonomy, or Christian Reconstructionism.

As to that last topic, he contributed to Rousas Rushdoony’s Chalcedon Foundation. He had penned a number of significant volumes before his death. Key titles include:
Theonomy in Christian Ethics (1977)
By This Standard: The Authority of God’s Law Today (1985)
Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith (1996)
Victory in Jesus: The Bright Hope of Postmillennialism (1999)

Rich Mullins, 1955-1997, died at age 41.
Rich Mullins was a noted contemporary Christian singer and song writer. Born in Indiana, he started playing piano at the age of four, and when he was six he said he wanted to be a missionary. He attended Cincinnati Bible College from 1974 to 1978. In the 1980s he moved to Nashville, Tennessee where he began his professional recording career. 

In the 1990s eight albums of his were released. One write-up says this: “At the peak of his career, Mullins turned his back on fame and success to live on a Native American reservation in New Mexico, teaching music to children and sharing his simple hope in the gospel of Jesus.”

Some of his most endearing worship songs include: “Awesome God,” “Hold Me Jesus” and “Sometimes by Step”. He was killed in a traffic accident on September 19 in Illinois as he was heading to a benefit concert.

Roy Pontoh, 1999, died at age 15.
A young believer killed for Christ in Indonesia. He was on a church camp with other Christians in Ambon when attacked by jihadists. Dr Patrick Sookhdeo tells the story:

[The] youngsters were confronted by fighters from the Laskar Jihad terrorist organisation at the gates of the University. Armed with machetes, spears, knives and clubs the fighters began hunting down the defenceless young people, whose desperate attempts to hide were futile.

Roy was targeted by one of the attackers and, when asked who he was, the teenager answered, “a soldier of God”. The attacker slashed Roy with a machete, almost severing his left arm. After being asked a second time Roy replied with the same answer. He received a blow to his right shoulder, leaving a big gash, and this time the attacker shouted, “What is God’s soldier?” “A soldier of God is ready to die for Christ” was Roy’s final answer, at which the machete flew down upon him one last time. As he died he screamed, “Jesus!” Roy’s body was later discovered by his family. barnabastoday.com/en/faith/heroes/roy-pontoh-1999-a-soldier-of-god-is-ready-to-die-for-christ/

Nabeel Qureshi, 1983-2017, died at age 34.
This former devout Muslim became a leading Christian evangelist and apologist. He had spent several years examining the evidence for Christianity and Islam. Conversations with Christian apologist David Wood, and some very vivid dreams led to his conversion. In 2005 he became a Christian while attending Eastern Virginia Medical School. He went on to study at Biola University, Duke University, and Oxford University. In 2011 he set up Creed 2:6 Ministries.

He spoke at over 100 universities around the world sharing the Christian message and how it differs from Islam. He died on September 16 following a year-long battle with stomach cancer. He left behind a wife and young daughter. In his somewhat brief time as a Christian, he penned three important books: Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus (2014), Answering Jihad (2016), and No God But One (2016).

Closing reflection

For what it is worth, I am now 68. I have lived far longer than all those mentioned here and in my previous article. As I said at the outset, we need to bear in mind the twin truths that life is short, and that our days are in God’s hands. One key question we must all seriously address is this: How are we living our life?

We all may need to take some time out and reflect on our journey here on earth and what we have been doing for Christ. As the noted preacher Leonard Ravenhill famously asked: Are the things you are living for worth Christ dying for?

Or as the Christian missionary and martyr Jim Elliot memorably said: He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose.

[2290 words]

16 Replies to “12 More Great Christians Who Died Young”

  1. Great article. Thanks Bill.

    Psalm 90:12 So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

  2. Hi Bill. Very interesting reading about these men of old. Amazing how God has kept the light of His Truth going through the ages and some have been very dark ages. Thanks for your articles. Keep pressing on.
    Praying.
    Shirley

  3. “he claimed to be a prophet and started sharing visions of the end times” – a bit off?
    Didn’t Paul urge us to desire the gifts of the Holy Spirit, prophecy the most?
    I think this requires a bit more explanation as to why he was “a bit off”, because based on what you have said, that is not proof.

  4. …but please let me add that I love these articles highlighting the faith and courage of great Christian saints.

    such truisms… encouragements to base the very fabric of our lives upon.
    Jim Elliot “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose.”
    Leonard Ravenhill “Are the things you are living for worth Christ dying for?”

  5. Thanks Garth. There is of course a difference between having a prophetic type of ministry (I might even be said to have something like that), and claiming to have inerrant and inspired words from God on a par with the inerrant and inspired writers of the biblical canon – which is now closed. And there is a difference between strongly pronouncing the need of repentance and the like, and declaring that certain things will come to pass – but do not. For example, he said people should construct an ark for a biblical-type flood that was coming, etc. So in those senses, yes, he was a bit off!

  6. Rich Mullins song, “when I die I want to go out like Elijah” made me cringe.
    I said to myself, please don’t say that.

    In his traffic accident, he was ejected onto the highway, and run over.

  7. Good to hear these stories Bill in a culture which strains for longevity and physical health above all else. Thanks.

  8. Thanks, Bill.
    With your permission, could mention three more, whose influence lives to this day—all of them hymn writers.
    1. Joachim Neander (1650-1680), who spent his early days in profligate living, but in 1671 heard a sermon by a Pietist preacher and found the Saviour. For the next 9 years he preached around Dusseldorf in the Neander Valley (later made famous for the discovery of remains of ‘Neanderthal man’). He composed about 60 hymns, the most famous of which is “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation”. Several of his hymns were translated into English by Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878). There is a verse in this hymn, not well known, but appropriate for our time:
    “Praise to the Lord, who when darkness and sin are abounding,
    Who, when the godless do triumph, all virtue confounding,
    Sheddeth His light,
    Chaseth the horrors of night,
    Saints with His mercy surrounding.”
    Neander tragically died young at age 30 in 1680.

    Elizabeth Clephane (1830-1869). The third daughter of Andrew Clephane, was born in Edinburgh and spent much of her short life in Fife shire. Little is known of that life, as she was a very private person, but in 1874 a collection of hymns was published under the title of “A Family Treasury”. The most famous of these is the hymn, “Beneath the cross of Jesus I fain would take my stand…” Her brief sojourn in this world (she died at 39) may have been one of obscurity, yet that one hymn has been a source of blessing to multitudes over the years and decades.

    Philipp Bliss (1838-1876). Born. in Rome, Pennsylvania, and raised in a Christian atmosphere. He was musical from his young days, writing songs for Sunday School use, but also engaged in evangelistic preaching with a Major Whittle. However, on Christmas Day, 1876, he with his wife travelled to his old home in Rome, but on the return journey four days later their train was wrecked and both he and his wife were tragically killed. Yet his hymns have been an inspiration and joy to many over the years, especially:
    “Man of sorrows! What a Name
    For the Son of God who came
    Ruined sinners to reclaim!
    Hallelujah, what a Saviour!”

    Finally, Bill, could you send me an email, since I no longer have your address. I have drafted a paper on resistance theory which may be of interest.

  9. Bill, The comment attributed to Jim Elliot was first uttered by Philip Henry, father of Matthew Henry, in the 1600s.

  10. Thanks Guy. I had to do some digging around online, but found this:

    Philip Henry (1631-1696), father of well known preacher and Bible commentator Matthew Henry (1662-1714), was credited with a very similar saying. In The Miscellaneous Works of the Rev. Matthew Henry…, published in 1833, is a biography of Philip by Matthew. The original biography had apparently been published in 1699. On page 35 of the volume, Matthew is recalling his father’s acts of kindness and charity and how he used to say, “He is no fool who parts with what he cannot keep, when he is sure to be recompensed with what he cannot lose.” https://ligonduncan.com/the-first-lesson-in-christs-school-of-discipleship-313/

  11. Here are two more teenagers. Their lives make us seriously think about what we spend our time on!

    Carlos Acuti who died of leukemia in 2006, aged 15. He used his computer skills to spread his faith in the year before he died.

    Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio, martyred aged 14 in 1928 during a period when the mexican government was run by communists who were trying to wipe out christianity. This period is known as the Cristero War.

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