This is Lance Duvall’s story of salvation.
Hello, my name is Lance Duvall. I would like to tell you about something exciting that happened to me many years ago, in the summer of 1965. I have described this occurrence many times since then. However, I believe that it is only in the last few weeks that I have truly understood the meaning of that day.
I graduated from Wayne State University in Detroit in June and accepted an offer as a teaching assistant in the physics department at Clemson University. This was my first experience of living away from home. A couple of weeks after arriving at Clemson, I was invited by several fellow grad students to join them on a ride to see Caesar’s Head.
As some of you are probably aware, Caesars Head is a large granite mountain that rises to 3,200 feet above sea level. It is located about 20 miles north of Greenville, SC. There is a panoramic view of upstate from near its summit, and an iron fence encloses the viewing area to prevent anyone from falling over the nearby cliff.
On one side there are sheer granite cliffs which fall 600 feet straight down, but as young men are prone to do, we decided that there was an even better view if we were to just climb over that fence and walk along a narrow dirt trail (18-24 inches wide) that went along the edge of the cliff. There were no park rangers to keep us from our risky adventure.
As we carefully picked our way along this forbidden trail, we had the cliff to our left, and to our right, there was a granite face that sloped upwards. That’s when I had a very dumb idea.
I decided to climb up that slope to “get a better view”. Because the granite face was smooth, with only an occasional small indentation from lightning strikes, I was forced to ease my way up backward, sitting on the smooth surface and pushing myself upwards with the soles of my shoes and the palms of my hands. Do any of you see a potential problem with this behavior? After I had moved up the granite slope for about 20-25 feet, I suddenly started to slip a little.
In spite of my pushing down harder with my hands and feet, I began to slide faster, and then I was quickly sliding back down to where I had started. I could see the small path at the base of the incline rapidly approaching, but there were no trees or bushes along the path that I could grab onto. With an utter sense of horror, I realized that I would hit the path and bounce over the edge of the cliff and fall to my doom. My death seemed certain, there was nothing I could do to save myself.
I had gotten myself into this mess and couldn’t get myself out of it!
Then something unexpected and miraculous happened. Bill McCanless, one of my fellow grad students saw me sliding, and without the slightest hesitation, he ran to the spot on the path where I was headed. Just as I was about to hit the path, Bill leaped upwards and landed forcefully on top of me. Between his upward momentum and the increase in friction due to his weight on top of mine, my forward progress stopped. We disentangled ourselves from one another, then stood back onto the trail.
Though visibly shaking, I carefully picked my way back along the trail and climbed over the fence. I thanked Bill for his quick response, and we rode back to Clemson. Bill had just graduated from the Citadel that summer, and I have always believed that his military training played a big part in his decisive action. Both Bill and I graduated from Clemson in 1971 with our Physics PhDs, and I lost track of him. But I have told this story to every Citadel graduate I have met since then, telling them why I have such deep respect for their school and its graduates.
Coming to Salvation
But that is not the end of the story. For the last 3-4 weeks, that summer day in 1965 has been on my heart, and I didn’t know why—until I heard a sermon by a guest pastor at our church. Dr. Dennis Nunn is an evangelical pastor, and I had heard him preach the gospel before and was very impressed by him. He truly believes that every believer is a witness.
But when I read the title of his sermon this time, “Can You Do It?”, it seemed that a fog lifted from my mind, and I could understand why I had been reliving this story and why I had felt called to try to contact Bill after all these years. Bill had risked his life to save mine.
If his action had not stopped my forward progress, we both would have gone over the edge to our deaths. He wasn’t throwing me a life preserver; he was my life preserver. So, I wanted to thank him again for his heroic act, because without it, all that I have done in my life since then, would not have happened. Now I realize that this event had a deeper religious meaning. This was god telling me how I was wasting my life.
At the time this happened, I was not a believer; I was an agnostic. I didn’t deny that God existed, I just wasn’t convinced. Maybe I was a seeker of God in my own way. I came from a family that did not attend church. At the time of the incident on Caesar’s Head, my life was sliding downhill. I was self-centered and prideful. I was drinking too much and was way too reckless, as you have just heard. I was pursuing the desires of the flesh, not of the spirit. The warning was this:
That just as there was someone to stop my slide down Caesar’s Head, at the risk of his own life, there also was someone who had already sacrificed his life so that my downward spiral to doom could be stopped. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, had given his life to save mine, and when I eventually repented of my sinful life and came to believe that He was the Messiah, the very Son of God, and that He had died for me, and that God raised Him from the dead, then I accepted Him as my Lord and Savior.
That’s when my life was really saved.
As the apostle John wrote in chapter 3, verse 16 of his gospel:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Now, as I look back on my life, I recognize multiple times where God was drawing me closer to him. It took many years before I was saved, but God was faithful, and as I drew closer to Him, He drew closer to me. If you haven’t accepted Jesus Christ as your savior, I urge you to examine your own life.
Are you spiraling downwards to eternal doom? Are there times in your life where you can feel God drawing you closer to Him? God doesn’t want you to go over the edge. He has paid the price for your eternal salvation.
He wasn’t held to the cross by iron nails, He was held there by His love for you and me. Draw nearer to Him as He draws nearer to you.