Is your life a legacy for others – and for eternity?
I just recently bought a second hand book and I told the fellow it was in pretty good shape for having first come out in the 60s. I told the fellow I wish that I was in such good shape for being in my sixties! So I am getting old, and the older you get, the more you tend to think differently about life. What follows is a bit of a personal and autobiographical set of musings.
But in a moment I will discuss someone who really was personal and autobiographical in one of his famous books. As for myself, as I approach the ripe old age of 70 next year, I cannot help but think more and more of eternity, and also reflect quite a bit as I look back on my life and ask if I have done anything that is worthwhile – certainly worthwhile for Christ and the Kingdom.
As I type these words I am reminded of a 1998 movie I wrote about six years ago. Those who are familiar with the epic war film Saving Private Ryan will know that it begins and ends with an old man (Ryan) visiting a cemetery in Normandy, paying his respects to the man who gave his life in order to save his, Captain Miller (played by Tom Hanks).
In the closing scene he asks his elderly wife if he has been a good man and lived a worthy life. That is because decades earlier the dying Miller told Ryan to “earn this”. As I said in my article:
We would not tell a new convert that he has to “earn it” in the sense of earning what Christ has done for us. Salvation is a free gift of God’s grace, and we can never earn it. But if we take the phrase Miller used to Ryan and understand it in the sense of “live a life worthy of what this cost you” then it becomes much closer to the biblical message. https://billmuehlenberg.com/2016/04/04/wartime-hollywood-gospel/
So I often think in these terms of late. Have I been a good man – a good Christian? Has the life I have lived been worthy of what Christ did in dying for me? Or as the great saint Leonard Ravenhill once put it: “Are the things you are living for worth Christ dying for?” Those words are found on his gravestone.
The legacy of others
Being an introspective and melancholic type, I am often asking myself – and the Lord – whether the life I have led has been worthwhile. I often think it has not been. But I realise God created me and redeemed me for a purpose. Even if it seems that my impact is small and my outreach is limited, perhaps one day when I have passed on, some sort of legacy will remain.
We all want to leave a godly legacy as believers. Sure, we likely will soon be forgotten. Will anyone remember me 15 years after I pass on? Time will tell. These sorts of questions, coupled with the very dark and sad state of the world can easily get me discouraged. I can often be quite down, but then God will remind me of the faithfulness of past saints and the difference they made. And that really helps to keep me going.
Let me speak to two of them briefly. The great Augustine of Hippo (354-430) has been hugely influential and impactful. Anyone who is interested even slightly in philosophy, theology, ethics, law, history, politics and the like will know the name. He is being talked about and written about today just as much – if not more – than he was over 1500 years ago. Talk about leaving a legacy.
He has been called the greatest theologian of all times, yet in his day he was simply a Christian dealing with the various challenges around him and seeking to encourage and help other believers. Thus he dealt with the Donatists and the Arians and the Pelagians, and so on.
Just as today we work to combat false teachers and heretical views, he fought the good fight back then. His impact has been enormous and his writings have been read by millions (just think of his Confessions or his City of God). The former book is the first great work of autobiography with psychology and spirituality mixed in with biblical and theological truth. People are still being blessed by this and his other works today.
One more great saint – but a much more recent one – is the amazing C. S. Lewis (1898-1963). He too has left a rich and profound legacy. Many millions of his books are still being sold, whether his Chronicles of Narnia series or his classic works like Mere Christianity and The Problem of Pain.
How many people have become Christians because of his work? How many have grown and been discipled because of his work? Needless to say, I have plenty of articles devoted to him on this site. Let me speak to just one thing that blessed me, even just today from one of his works.
In 1967 his Letters To an American Lady was released. As the title implies, this is a collection of over 100 letters he had written over a period of several decades to some obscure woman in the US that he had never met. He was an exceedingly busy and famous academic and author, yet he took the time to carefully reply to her letters for years on end.
I like what Clyde Kilby the editor said about this:
Here is a man who could have found a whole bag of reasons to justify pitching his mail into the wastepaper basket. He was often worked to the point of distraction by his university duties, a man whose successful books both in scholarship and religion clamor for more of the same sort, a man with a remarkable combination of logic and imagination that might produce such books almost endlessly, a man who by nature tends to avoid strangers and loves the inner world of ideas and the intimate circle of old friends. Yet this man meticulously endeavors to answer, sometimes with an arm so rheumatic that he can hardly push the pen, the vast correspondence falling into his hands from around the world. Why? The main cause was that Lewis believed taking time out to advise or encourage another Christian was both the humbling of one’s talents before the Lord and also as much the work of the Holy Spirit as producing a book.
Wow, here is a man with a massive public influence, but also a huge private influence as well, treating a single person as being just as worthy of his time and attention as masses of adoring students, readers and fans. And as mentioned, one thing I just read a few hours ago in this book was quite valuable for me. With my wife now going through chemo, what he said in one of these letters really stood out to me:
“I have had dozens of blood transfusions in the last two years and know only too well the horrid—and long—moments during which they are poking about to find the vein. And then you think they’ve really got in at last and it turns out that they haven’t. (Is there an allegory here? The approaches of Grace often hurt because the spiritual vein in us hides itself from the celestial surgeon?).”
These two Christians certainly left a legacy – a lasting legacy. One problem with saying we should ignore these ‘old dead’ Christian writers and just stick to the Bible is at least twofold: 1) many of them contributed greatly to the advancement of the Kingdom; 2) we will be hanging around with them throughout all eternity. I for one greatly look forward to having long theological chats with Ambrose and Augustine and Anselm and Aquinas – and those are just the A’s! And how many chats will I and millions of others have with Lewis?
Afterword on abortion
As I write this, reports are coming out that the US Supreme Court might overturn the horrible abortion ruling of 1973, Roe v. Wade. If so, this will be the result of all the hard work, prayer and efforts of so many over so many decades. We spent years and years fighting for life, and if this happens, it is another example of any work we do for the Lord not being in vain. We ARE leaving a legacy. We must keep at it!
If, by God’s grace Roe is overturned, we can pray and work harder to see the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision (on homosexual marriage) overturned as well. But either one being overturned will result in a new civil war. If both were overturned, there will be blood on American streets. These are the two main sacraments of the secular left, and their demonic rage will be unleashed even more than it has been.
So please keep praying saints – and keep working. And now some reports are saying that barricades are already being put up around the Supreme Court. There WILL be a very hardcore reaction if Roe is dumped – the very demons of hell will be unleashed. Prayer is paramount right now! Work is still needed, and we have a further opportunity to create a lasting legacy!