Once-Saved Always Saved, Chapter 8

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The Fearful Estate of Francis Spira

  • The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. (1 Timothy 5:24)

Some men’s sins reach “the place of judgment ahead of them.” In other words, they feel the fires of judgment before they die. The following true account has been passed around since 1638. It is a story of a man who gave up his salvation for comfort, money, and acceptance by the church. With some reluctance I include this story, for Scripture alone should be sufficient to convince us of the error of once saved always saved. But if God has provided this example, we do well to heed it. We shortened, edited and updated the language of this man’s sad judgment—which reached him ahead of time.

The Fearful Estate of Francis Spira

By Nathaniel Bacon April 6, 1638

In 1548, during the reign of Edward VI of England, in the town of Citadella, Italy, lived Francis Spira, a Civil Lawyer. He was well known for being a very learned and composed sort of a man. He had a wife and eleven children and they lived wealthy, abundant lives. He said of himself, “I was excessively covetous of money and I lived accordingly to get on in the world by injustice. I corrupted justice with deceit and invented tricks to deceive justice. I would either dishonestly defend good causes or I would deceitfully sell them to my opponent. I maintained bad causes with all of my strength, willingly opposing the known truth. I either betrayed or perverted any trust given to me.”

When Luther revised his opinions on the Scriptures, Spira couldn’t resist examining them himself (being the man of learning that he was). He began to search the Scriptures and any books of controversy he could find, old and new alike. Spira began to take these teachings on as his own with such a zeal that he became a teacher of them, first to his wife and children, then to his friends and acquaintances. He seemed to neglect everything other than to impress his point to others that we must wholly and only depend on the free and unchangeable love of God in the death of Christ, as the only way to salvation. He continued in this teaching and took a stand against the Roman Catholic Church for about six years.

At this point the Roman Catholic clergy realized that the selling of their pardons was decreasing and their purgatory becoming less popular. At first they glossed over the issue with accusations against Luther and then they more specifically began to point the finger at Spira. In order to get other clergymen on their side against him they promised work for some, do favors for others, and offer kindness to others. Their aim was to separate Spira’s soul from his body, or both from God, by any means possible.

Determined to put a stop to Spira, they summoned the help of a man named John Casa, the Pope’s legate resident at Venice, a man thoroughly against the Protestants. The clergymen told him that Spira condemned the church. He was learned in the Scriptures and an eloquent speaker. Spira was a dangerous Lutheran who could not be ignored.

Faced with the full force of persecution, Spira was now left with only three options: He could either apostatize and give up his life as a lie; he could endure the malice of his enemies; or he could leave his wife, children, friends and possessions and flee to a foreign country in voluntary exile where he would suffer misery after misery. These things weighed on his mind but eventually he grew afraid of losing his family and his wealth, and so the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choked the seed that grew in his heart.

Spira then went to John Casa to apologize, admitted his error and folly in what he had taught to others, and asked for forgiveness. At this point Casa demanded that a paper of all Spira’s errors be written and then commanded Spira to sign it. Casa then commanded Spira to return to his own town to declare this confession, acknowledging the whole doctrine of Rome to be holy and true, and to declare the teachings of Luther and other such heretics as false and damnable.

While Spira prepared for this journey home, he found himself thinking not about what great testimony he had given of his faith, but how he had denied Christ and His gospel in Venice and now on his way to do so in his own country. He heard a voice say to him, “Spira, what are you doing here? Where are you going? Do you think eternal life so insignificant that you prefer this life? Is it good to prefer your wife and children to Christ? Is the applause of men better than the glory of God? Are the possessions of this world more dear to you than the salvation of your own soul? Is the blasphemous lie of one moment more desirable than dreadful eternal wrath? Think about what Christ endured for your sake. Shouldn’t you suffer something for Him? Remember, man, that the sufferings of this life are nothing compared to the glory that will be revealed. If you suffer for His sake, you will also reign with Him. You cannot answer for what you have already done but, nevertheless, the gate of mercy is not quite shut. Take heed that you don’t heap sin upon sin, otherwise you will repent when it is too late.”

Even though he knew clearly that he forsook the gospel, Spira continued the process which would restore him to the church and his family. He recited his paper in front of an assembly of around two thousand people and was fined thirty pieces of gold. He was then sent home to his goods, his wife, and his children.

Soon afterwards, Spira heard the voice again telling him that he had denied the Lord for “thirty pieces of silver” and had denied the truth of God. The voice condemned him to the sentence of eternal damnation. At this, Spira fell down, his body and his mind trembling and quaking. Although his body soon calmed, he never did find any peace of mind and continued on in excessive torments, professing that the revenging hand of God held him captive. He knew then that he was completely undone and that he could neither hope for grace nor Christ’s intercession with God on his behalf.

His friends believed him subject to some kind of madness. They took him to Padua and enlisted the help of both great physicians and pious diviners who came to the conclusion that Spira’s symptoms were caused by some grief. None of their skills could change any- thing and so Spira said to them, “Do you think that this disease is to be cured by potions? Believe me, there is no medicine! Because neither potions nor drugs can help a weak soul that is cast down with a sense of sin and the wrath of God. Only Christ must be the true Physician, and the Gospel the only Antidote.” They readily believed him once he explained the truth of the whole situation, and they urged him to seek some kind of spiritual comfort.

By this time, Spira’s fame had spread all over Padua and the neighboring country, partly because of the disease, but primarily because he had shown such remorse for standing before the church and rejecting Lutheran doctrine. Many people came to see him, some out of curiosity to talk to him and others out of a pious desire to try to comfort him again.

His own friends criticized him and asked him what he believed caused his disease. Contrarily, they tried to comfort him with God’s promises in the Scriptures and examples of His mercy but Spira replied, “My sin is now unworthy of God’s mercy.”

“No” they answered, “the mercy of God is above all sin. God wants all men to be saved.”

“That is not true” said Spira, “He would have all men that He has elected to be saved. He would not allow a damned reprobate to be spared and I’m telling you that I am one of their number. I know it, for I willingly, against my knowledge and belief, denied Christ before men, both in private and in public. My hardened heart will not allow me to hope.”

In the silence that followed, someone asked him if he really did believe the doctrine that he was accused of teaching. Again there was a long silence before he answered, “I did believe it when I denied it, but now I neither believe that nor the doctrine of the Roman Church. I believe nothing. I have no faith, no trust, and no hope. I am a reprobate like Cain or Judas, who trampled all hope of mercy and fell into despair. My heart is dead and cold, and it was so from the beginning, though I believed that Luther was right and Rome was wrong.”

They began to rebuke him claiming that he had not violated the mercy of God. He refused all comfort and said that God’s mercy only extends to the elect and not to people like him, who are deservingly sealed up for wrath. Then they reminded him that Christ came to take away sin. To this Spira answered, “This is indeed comforting to the elect, but as for a wretch like me it brings nothing but grief and torment because I condemned it. That makes me as guilty of nailing Jesus to the cross as Judas Iscariot.”

Spira then became overcome with grief. He tossed himself up and down upon the bed. The violence of these fits amazed many of the onlookers. Some of them whispered that he was possessed by demons.

“Do you doubt it?” He said overhearing them. “I have a whole legion of devils that live within me and have taken me as their own, and justly too for I have denied Christ before men.”

“Did you do that willingly, though?” they asked.

“That is not the point,” said Spira, “Christ said whoever denies me before men, I will deny before my Father who is in heaven. Christ will not be denied and therefore even though I did not want to deny Him in my heart, the fact is I did.”

Some asked him whether he thought there were worse pains than what he experienced now. He said that he knew there were far worse pains than those that he suffered. “For the wicked will rise to their judgment, but they will not stand in judgment; this makes me tremble when I think of it; yet I desire nothing more than that I might get to that place, where I will surely feel the worst, and so be freed from the fear of worse to come.”

“No, good Francis,” his friends said, “the devil is upon you. Don’t let the seriousness of your sin (if it is serious) amaze you.”

“You are right,” replied Spira, “the devil has possessed me, and God has left me to his power, for I find I can neither believe the Gospel, nor trust in God’s mercy. I have sinned against the Holy Ghost, and God has rightly handed me over to perpetual punishment, without any hope of pardon. It is true that the greatness of sin, or the multitude of sin, cannot bind God’s mercy. All the many sins of my former life didn’t trouble me so much because I trusted that God would not punish me for them. But I never repented for them by God’s grace as I repented before the church. Now, since I have sinned against the Holy Ghost, God has taken all power of a true repentance away from me, and this brings all of my sins back to memory, and I say guilty of one, guilty of all. Therefore, it does not matter whether my sins are great or small, few or many, they are all sins where neither Christ’s blood nor God’s mercy belongs to me. God will have mercy on whom He will have mercy and will harden whom He will harden. That is what eats at my heart. He has hardened me and therefore I cannot do anything but despair.”

“Your problem,” said Gribauldus, “is not as uncommon as you make it. Job was so far gone that he complained that God had set a mark against him; and David, who was a man after God’s own heart, often complained that God had forsaken him and had become his enemy; yet both received comfort again. Therefore, comfort yourself and God will come in the end, even if He seems far away now.”

“Oh brother,” Spira answered, “I agree with you in all of this. The devils believe and tremble, but David was elected and loved by God; and even though he fell, God didn’t completely take His Holy Spirit from him and so he was heard when he prayed, ‘Lord, please don’t take Your Holy Spirit from me.’ But I, on the other hand, am forever banished from the presence of God.

Therefore, I know that I will live in hardness of heart as long as I live. Oh! That I might feel even the least sense of the love of God for me, even just for a moment, for now I feel His heavy wrath burning against me as if the torments of hell were within me. My desperation is hell itself.”

With this Gribauldus said, “I really do believe, Spira, that now God has disciplined you in this life and corrected you in mercy here, that He might spare you after this, having mercies stored up for you in the time to come.”

“No,” replied Spira. “I already know that I am a reprobate because He has afflicted me with hardness of heart. Oh, how I wish that my body had suffered throughout my whole life so that He would be pleased to release my soul and ease my burdened conscience.”

With many other arguments they tried to convince Spira until eventually he cried out, “It is wonderful how I desire to pray to God with all my heart, and all my strength, and yet I can’t. I see my damnation and know that the only remedy is in Christ and yet I can’t make myself lay hold of it because this is one of the punishments of the damned. They confess the same as I do, they repent of their loss of heaven and they envy the elect, yet that selfish repentance does them no good, for they can’t change any of it without grace.”

At this time two bishops came in with some scholars of the University. They wanted to pray the Lord’s Prayer with Spira and he consented. “Our Father which art in Heaven,” then breaking into tears Spira wailed, “I have been forsaken by God and can’t call to him from my heart as I used to!”

But they went on. “Thy Kingdom come.”

“Oh Lord,” said Spira, “bring me also into this Kingdom; Please don’t shut me out.”

Then at the words “Give us this day our daily bread” he added, “Oh Lord, I have enough and abundance to feed this carcass of mine, but there is another bread. Above all things I humbly beg for the bread of Your grace, without which I know I am nothing but a dead man.”

“Lead us not into temptation”

“Lord, the enemy has overcome me, seeing that I might escape. Please help me to over- come this cruel beast.” Even after these prayers, though, Spira did not believe that God could give him His grace.

People from all over continued to visit Spira. Seldom less than twenty people sat with him at any one time. Spira exhorted them all: “Take heed, it is no light or easy matter to be a Christian. It is not Baptism or reading the Holy Scriptures, or boasting of your faith in Christ, even though these are good, that prove that you are a Christian. There must be conformity in your life to the Holy Word. A Christian must be strong, not carrying an obscure profession, expressing the image of Christ, and holding out against all opposition even until the last breath. He must be diligent in righteousness and holiness to make his calling and election sure.”

One of his friends asked how it could be that Spira spoke so well on the judgments and grace of God and the Holy Spirit, and eagerly desires them, and yet at the same time believe that he was utterly deprived of them. But no matter how many discussions they had, Spira continued on in his sorrow. Often he would turn aside to certain people present and plead with them to watch their lives closely. “Remember the Word” he said, “that he who loves father, mother, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, friends, houses or land more than Christ is not worthy of Him.”

“These words,” they said, “do not sound like the words of a wicked reprobate.”

“Remember the rich glutton in the Gospel, who though in hell, was careful that his brethren should not come to the same place of torment as he had. Take heed Brethren of the miserable estate I am in.”

Spira’s friends watched him grow worse as he talked with the people around him. They decided together to carry him back to his own country. When one man suggested that they pray together before they leave, Spira refused, saying that he was separated from God since he grew more and more hard-hearted and that their prayers would not help him. And so they began their journey, Spira often said that he envied the condition of Cain or Judas.

He refused to eat except by force and even then he would not allow the food to digest. Vehemently desiring water to drink, ever pining, yet fearful to live long, in dread of hell, yet coveting death. In continual torment, yet his own tormentor, and thus consuming himself with grief and horror, impatience and despair, like a living man in hell, Spira represented an extraordinary example of the justice and power of God. His appearance reduced to nothing but a pile of sinews and bones.

One day with a ghastly look, Spira saw a knife lying on the table and ran to harm himself, but his friends stopped him. Whereupon with indignation he said, “I would I were above God, for I know he will have no mercy on me.” Within a few days of his arrival home, he departed from this present life.

Take heed of backsliding, and keep a good conscience. A bad conscience is more to be feared than the Spanish Inquisition.

Spira lost his crown of life because he feared what he would have to suffer. However, few should chide him for this, because many more have lost the crown of life over less. Perhaps they disagreed with a doctrine, refused the voice of the Holy Spirit or objected to the cross they were given to carry. Remember well how many turned their backs on Jesus simply because His words offended them, not because the pressures of man were let loose on them.

  • Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Revelation 2:10)

We must pause and ask the question again. How can a person or a church be on guard against losing something they believe they cannot lose? It would be like warning a homeowner to lock his doors when he thinks there is no danger of anyone breaking in. Indeed, in foolish pride, he would declare, “Oh, we don’t need to lock our doors in this neighborhood.” Jesus commands all of his disciples not to be so stupid. We have to fight to “hold on” to our “crown.”

  • I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. (Revelation 3:11)

This is not a crown of rewards, but the crown of life. For this reason James wrote “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” Bottom line: unfaithful = no crown of life. But one has to compete for this crown according to God’s rules. Man’s religious ways and works cannot and will not save. Take heed from this man’s sad story that you too do not lose the crown of life.



The Consider Podcast attempts to express opinions through God’s holiness. Nothing concerning justice or injustice should be taken as legal advice or a call to action. There is no political agenda. There is no individual moral life advice. Indeed, each person is solely responsible before God and man for their actions or inactions. The Consider Podcast is narrowly focused on one thing, and only one thing – the need for all to surrender to a life of repentance according to the whole gospel.

The Consider Podcast
Examining today’s wisdom, folly and madness with the whole gospel.

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