A while ago I had an e-mail note and then a call from a distant cousin in California ⎯ informing me that another cousin, who lived in Arizona, was not well and was likely to die within a short time. The dying man was my second cousin ⎯ our grandfathers were brothers. While I had never met him in person, I had corresponded with him. Over a period of several years we had been in touch, and he had sent me some pictures and documents relating to our family. One of these was a photo ⎯ made into a picture postcard ⎯ of the graves of Dr. Thomas and Bro. Roberts in the cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. It had been sent to our great-grandfather in the early 1900s. It had little meaning to the cousin, but he thought it might mean something to me ⎯ which it did.
Upon learning of his imminent death I made a point of writing to Cousin Stan right away. I received a reply from his daughter informing me that her father had just passed away. Her comments about his death seemed especially sad to me, as it appeared that someone with at least a family connection to the Truth had died with no expression of hope. He especially requested that there be no funeral service at all, and he directed that his ashes be scattered on his ranch in Arizona.
This is the note I received from his daughter: “Thank you for writing to my Dad. I read him your letter a few hours before he passed away. He said he always enjoyed hearing from you. He died yesterday morning, June 2. He was at home where he wanted to be, and my Mom and I were holding him. He was amazing to the end, almost a half-hour before he passed; he sang my mother a song, ‘On Top of Old Smoky’.” She went on to say that the other children would soon be there and that, as their father wanted no service, there would be just a family get-together to talk about their Dad. Then his ashes would be spread around the ranch he loved.
The reason this struck me was that we had both come from the same family background, going back a few generations, and there was such a contrast between my cousin’s demise and that of our mutual great-grandfather. I recalled reading of my great-grandfather’s death in an old Christadelphian magazine, so I turned it up. The year was 1914 and the news was sent in by one of his sons, Bro. Wilson Banta. In the news from Mason, Texas, it reads:
“We have been called on to perform the sad rites for our beloved father, John Banta, who died on April 17. May his sleep be brief and his awakening joyous. He entered the race forty-six years ago (1868). His field of service was mainly in central and western Texas, though he made extensive lecturing trips through the western section of the United States. He met many representatives of the Campbellites in debate in various places and was the means of bringing many to the truth. The last years of his life were spent in close confinement to an invalid’s chair (chronic rheumatism), but his last moments were free from pain, and he was perfectly conscious to the last. He spoke earnestly to those present. As the end drew near he said, ‘Now I want to bid you all good-bye.’ With tear-dimmed eyes over forty friends and relatives passed by, took his pale, withered hand, and kissed the lips made sweet by the Word of God. It is a consolation to see in this late day one who overcomes and keeps the Savior’s works to the end. And it inspires us to put forth renewed effort to make our calling and election sure” (H. W. Banta).
There is, of course, a background to the fact that my cousin, whose ashes are blowing around in Arizona, died seemingly without hope or even thought of a future existence. Stan’s grandfather was Seth Banta, one of the sons of the John Banta whose death we just read about. In 1906 great-uncle Seth, like his brothers and sisters, was baptized in Mason, Texas. All seemed to go well, until several weeks later a brother in the ecclesia expressed doubt that Seth had been truly baptized. The brother had observed that one of his hands had not gone under the water, but had said nothing at the time.
The result was an ecclesial crisis. Uncle Seth was asked to repeat the process of immersion, even though he believed he had been properly baptized. He felt he could not agree to do this, with the result that one or two brothers withdrew from fellowship. The dissenting brother wrote it all up in The Christadelphian magazine ⎯ along with accusations of “partial immersion” against the Mason Ecclesia (which they in turn denied).
The result of this controversy was that Uncle Seth drifted away from the Truth. He developed other interests. As a schoolteacher in Leakey, Texas, for most of his life, he wrote a book or two and numerous articles about the frontier history of Texas. Of course, these interests would not necessarily have taken him away from following his religious beliefs ⎯ his brother-in-law, Bro. Leonard Passmore, had similar interests but was a faithful and diligent Christadelphian as well.
It is not for us to pass judgment on the situation or anyone involved, but the point is that in this case the knowledge of God’s plan of salvation was not passed on as it might have been. As a result his descendant, my cousin, died ⎯ seemingly without knowledge and without hope.
This may be a roundabout way of making my point, but I think everyone will get it.
It’s true: even doing our best does not guarantee the continuance of the understanding of God’s Word to our children or to others. In the end each one of us makes the decision to follow the Way or not.
Editor’s comment: Surely we ought to examine carefully everything we say and do (before we say and do it!), and ask ourselves ⎯ honestly and often:
- What are the long-term consequences of my short-term actions?
- Will this help others? Or will it hurt them?
- If the latter, do I really need to say it, or do it?
- And if I do, then what is the very best, and most loving, way to do so?