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Death Sentence

He was 25 and had already captured the hearts of Russia with his novel Poor Folk. Fame quickly went to his head. He drank immoderately and partied wildly. He carelessly criticized the Czarist regime. You did not to that in Czarist Russia. He was arrested in St. Petersburg and sentenced to death by the firing squad along with several other dissidents. It was a cold December morning. Dressed in a white execution gown, he was led to the wall of the prison courtyard with the others. Blindfolded, he waited for the last sound he would hear, the crack of a pistol echoing off the prison walls.

Instead he heard fast paced footsteps; then the announcement that the Czar had commuted his sentence to ten years of hard labor. So intense was that moment that he suffered an epileptic seizure, something he would live with the rest of his life. In that Siberian prison Fyodor Dostoevsky was allowed only a New Testament to read. There he discovered something more wonderful, more true than his socialistic ideals. He met Christ, and his heart was changed.

Upon leaving prison he wrote to a friend who had helped him grow in Christ, “To believe that there is nothing more beautiful, more profound, more sympathetic, more reasonable, more manly and more perfect than Christ. And not only is there nothing but I tell myself with jealous love that there can be nothing. Besides, if anyone proved to me that Christ was outside the truth and it really was so that the truth was outside Christ, then I would prefer to remain with Christ, than with the truth.”

Dostoevsky returned to civilian life. He wrote feverishly and produced his prison memories, The House of the Dead, and then Crime and Punishment, followed by many other major works. Yet his church attendance was sporadic, and he never grew as a Christian. He neglected Bible study and the fellowship of other believers. No Christian took him under his wing to disciple him. He began to drink. He gambled. Excessive drinking and compulsive gambling unraveled his life so that he died penniless and wasted. He felt prison with his flame lit for Christ and died with nothing more than smoldering embers. The tragedy of Fyodor Dostoevsky is not so much what he became but what he could have become for Christ.

In the words of the poet, “of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: ‘It might have been.’“

Fan The Flame, J. Stowell, Moody, 1986, p. 24

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