The following is an account of the character of the seventeenth century Irish Puritan James Ussher observed in the way he died, written by the great Scottish Presbyterian of the nineteenth century Horatius Bonar.
Archbishop Ussher’s Example
Few men ever lived a life so busy and so devoted to God as Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh. His learning, habits of business, station, friends, all contributed to keep his hands every moment full; and then his was a soul that seemed continually to hear a voice saying: “Redeem the time, for the days are evil.” Early, too, did he begin, for at ten years of age he was hopefully converted by a sermon preached on Romans 12:1: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice.” He was a painstaking, laborious preacher of the Word for fifty-five years.
Yet hear him on his death-bed! How he clings to Christ’s righteousness alone, and sees in himself, even after such a life, only sin and want. The last words he was heard to utter were about one o’clock in the afternoon, and these words were uttered in a loud voice: “But, Lord, in special forgive me my sins of omission.” It was omissions, says his biographer, he begged forgiveness of with his most fervent last breath – he who was never known to omit an hour, but who employed the shred ends of his life for his great Lord and Master! The very day he took his last sickness, he rose up from writing one of his great works and went out to visit a sick woman, to whom he spoke so fitly and fully that you would have taken him to have spoken of heaven before he came there. Yet this man was oppressed with a sense of his omissions!
Reader, what think you of yourself – your undone duties, your unimproved hourse, times of prayer omitted, your shrinking from unpleasant work and putting it on others, your being content to sit under your vine and fig tree without using all efforts for the souls of others? “Lord, in special forgive me my sins of omission!”
Horatius Bonar, Words to Winners of Souls (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1995), 35-36.