Almost but Lost
the true story of Mark Twain

Many of our readers, especially those in the United States , have been exposed to the gospel, either from godly parents or from the many sources so freely available.

Acceptance of Christ as personal Saviour is another matter, however. It is a decision to take sides with Christ who paid the penalty for our sins on Calvary 's cross. Mere exposure to truth does not make one a Christian. One may know all the facts of the gospel, may even faithfully read the Bible, be benevolent to his fellowman and moral and upright in his living but yet, at the end of his life, not be prepared to spend eternity with Christ in heaven. Such was apparently the case with Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known to us by his pen name, Mark Twain.

Clemens is probably the best known 19th century writer and two of his most famous books were Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Fin.

The first 36 years of Clemens' life gave him experiences; as a boy in a little town in Missouri , as a steamboat pilot, as a reporter on the far western frontier and as a traveler abroad which he thereafter used as materials for his writings.

Few of us are aware of the haunted life Clemens led, a gloomy, guilt-ridden one that deepened and darkened throughout the years. During his boyhood, Clemens hung around camp meetings at which many of his friends were converted. But the guilt-ridden part began early when a drunken tramp burned down the jail on himself with matches provided by Clemens and his friends. Then, there was his brother, Henry, who was critically burned in a steamboat explosion on the Mississippi . Clemens persuaded a medical student to administer a liberal dose of morphine for pain. Henry sank in a coma and died before daybreak.

Not wanting to be involved in the Civil War in which he had friends on both sides, Clemens left his job as boat captain and went west to try newspaper journalism. It was in Nevada that he settled on the name Mark Twain - a steamboat captain's call for two fathoms, meaning "safe water."

While traveling abroad, a companion gave Twain a photo of his sister and suggested he meet her. Olivia Langdon was a frail but beautiful woman who had been sheltered for 22 years by devout Christian parents, wealthy from coal mining interests. Twain was a worldly 35 year-old newspaperman and not a Christian. He soon won Livvy's heart and gained parental consent for marriage after promising to give up cursing, drinking and smoking and by participating in family Bible reading and prayers. Livvy's parents believed that Twain would eventually become a Christian.

At Livvy's request, the couple began each day by reading a chapter in the Bible. One morning Twain asked to be excused permanently, saying, "You're making me a hypocrite. I don't believe your Bible. It contradicts my reason." To the preacher of the church he attended irregularly he said, "For a moment, sometimes, I have been almost a believer, but it immediately drifts away from me again."

As he approached his 50's, Twain was moving closer towards publicly renouncing any belief in the Bible and Christianity. Humanistic thinkers, philosophers and ministers both in the United States and abroad were instrumental in persuading him that the Bible was merely a human book. He did not say that Christ never lived, but said He was no more a Saviour than anyone else. Human suffering troubled him deeply and further drove him to question the love of a Supreme Being.

From book royalties, lecturing and ownership of a publishing house, Twain became quite wealthy. He and Livvy kept their permanent home in Hartford , Connecticut , had summer homes in Maine and New Hampshire , took ocean cruises, and lived in Europe for extended periods. But the family was dogged with personal tragedies for which Twain's beliefs offered no comfort. Business reverses plunged Twain into bankruptcy. Livvy, who once thought she could win her husband to Christ, became herself a convert to his way of thinking. This added to his burden of guilt. His son, wife and two of his three daughters all died prematurely.

Twain began to suffer from angina attacks and felt his end was near. His misery was indicated by the fact that he envied the dead and wished that lightning would strike him. He took to wearing white suits and washing his hair every day, perhaps outward symbols of an inner yearning to be free from guilt and cleansed from sin. One of Twain's last stories was about a man who appeared at the gate of heaven and tried to prove himself worthy of life after death.

On April 21, 1910 , Twain told his daughter, Clara, good-bye then said to his doctor, "If we meet:" He never completed the sentence, but fell into a deep sleep, never again to awaken on earth.

This tragic but true account of Mark Twain's life reminds us of a prominent man in the Bible - King Agrippa. After listening to the gospel presented by the apostle Paul, he said, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian." (Acts 26:28).

Our hearts are saddened by these two men and many others like them, who almost accept the simple plan of salvation when presented to them, but their hearts become hardened and there is no desire for God or His Son. We read about such in the Bible: "He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed. and that without remedy." (Proverbs 29:1).

Twain's rejection of Christ as his personal Saviour may have best been expressed by his daughter Jean. His young family was living in Germany and an invitation came for him to call on Emperor William. "Why Papa," she exclaimed, "if it keeps on like this, pretty soon there won't be anybody left for you to get acquainted with but God!"

How important it is to get acquainted with God while we have opportunity. He sent His Son to this earth for the express purpose of dying for sinners, thereby making eternal salvation available for those who accept Christ as personal Saviour. Won't you confess your sins to Christ and trust His sacrificial death on Calvary 's cross as payment for them?

Paul told King Agrippa, "I would to God that thou:were both almost and altogether such as I am." We who have trusted the Lord as our personal Saviour can say the same to the reader who is still an unbeliever. To be almost saved is to be lost. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." (Acts 16:31 ).

-M.S.J.