CONSIDERED IN THE LIGHT OF THE WORD OF GOD
Considerable surprise has been expressed to me by a number of persons at my attitude to cremation as a method of disposal of the dead. Cremation has increased in popularity during recent years, and those who advocate this method are vigorous in their propaganda.
Some years ago I was asked to “take a funeral”, and that this term covered both interment and cremation was soon apparent to me. In ignorance of this fact I agreed, but the same evening I heard from a friend that the “funeral” was to be by cremation. This I could hardly believe, but went home feeling very anxious, for, whilst I desired to avoid wounding the mourners’ feelings, I wanted to act in the fear of the Lord. Up to this time I had not been brought face to face with the problem, yet some little time before I had suggested to a friend that in view of the common destiny of the body, it mattered little whether burial or cremation took place. But now being faced with participation in the latter, I was sorely exercised in mind before the Lord, and throughout the night I sought direction from the Most High. The following morning I studied the Word of God, and turning to Amos I read: “Thus saith the Lord; for three transgressions of Moab, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because he burned the bones of the King of Edom into lime” (2 1-3). I must believe the Lord directed me to this portion, and I felt that the prophet is describing God’s controversy with certain nations, in each case charging them with three unnamed crimes for which He would pour out His judgment. (See chapter 1, 3-5; 6-8; 9-10; 11-12; 13-15. Chapter 2 4-5; 6-8). But the fourth act of guilt in each case was a crowning one of impiety, and Moab’s final one was that of having “burned the bones of the King of Edom into lime”. Whether the King of Edom was killed in battle and his body immediately thrown upon some blazing heap, or if the latter was buried and then exhumed to suffer this indignity matters little, but the expression is remarkably expressive of cremation. Here inspiration records the holy indignation of a righteous God against an impious act described today as cremation. Since reading the above Scriptures I have felt obliged to decline to “take the funeral” where the body is to be cremated, and reflections spread over many months confirm me in my decision.
Other reasons of considerable weight have strengthened my conviction that this “new and popular” yet ancient method of disposal does not receive the sanction of the Lord, and in view of the
unchanging nature of the will of God, I cannot participate in any act of cremation. The main reasons of my objections are as follows:
- The instruction received in answer to anxious prayer as already recorded, resulting in a determination to obey God rather than yield to requests which are opposed to His revealed will.
- The popularity of cremation increases as true Godliness declines. The two Biblical references to the custom (I Sam. 31. 12 and Amos 6. 10) concern periods when vital religion was practically non-existent.
- Cremation is common among Hindus, and was the general practice of the Celts and Norsemen, but when the latter nations embraced the Christian faith they discontinued the practice. Cremation is a pagan and not a Christian custom.
Generalisations are always dangerous, but I will venture to make one here, with a proviso which I trust will be carefully marked by my readers. With few exceptions those who leave instructions for the cremation of their bodies and those who decide on this course when definite instructions are lacking are persons in whom true and vital godliness appears to find no place. Therefore, it cannot be the right way for a child of the living God.
It is proper to ask, “What is the example of Holy Writ?” In the Old Testament we have the record of the death of many saints, and invariably where instructions are given the method of disposal is by burial. Joseph’s desire to be buried in Canaan resulted in a definite commandment (Heb. 11. 22) and was an evidence of his faith. As recorded (Deut. 34, 5-6) God Himself buried Moses, yet surely He, who commanded fire from heaven on many occasions, could have used this element for the cremation of the body of this “man of God” had He approved the method! There is another evidence which to many will be the most convincing of all, viz., the burial of the body of Christ the Son of God, who fulfilled all righteousness. Had the Jews claimed His body after death and Pilate allowed their claim, it would have been cast into the dreadful Valley of Hinnom, where there were sullen fires burning which were never quenched. But “He made His grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death” (Is. 53 v. 9), being buried in “a new sepulchre wherein was never man yet laid” (John 19. 41). O the care taken of that holy, sacred body by the omnipotent Father! No searing fire was to touch it, for it was to rest in the tomb until the resurrection, and the living members of His mystical body will surely be ready to sing of their dear ones, with Dr. Watts:Â—
“Why should we tremble to convey their bodies to the tomb
There the dear flesh of Jesus lay and left a long perfume.
The graves of all His saints He blest and softened every bed;
Where should the dying members rest, but with their dying head.”
The cremation of today makes a personal appeal to the man who fears and would deny the resurrection of the dead, and it makes a strong one also to many upon the ground of hygienic expediency. But no motive should be allowed to overthrow the testimony of Holy Writ, which to the true believer is the “sole and complete rule of faith and practice”. So we cry “to the law and to the testimony”, and there we find no command to cremate our dead, but universal precepts and examples for burial. This is agreeable to the hope of a resurrection (see Job 19-25 and 26), and is also condemnatory of those who “burned the bones”. Both negative and positive evidence are sufficient.
I will include an extract from an article in the Free Presbyterian Magazine (July, 1941):Â—”Further, it violates all natural feeling. Those of our readers who have given the subject serious thought will find it very difficult to prefer cremation to burial in the case of those to whom they are bound by ties of tender love. Where parties are united by the double tie of natural and Christian love, and death makes it imperative that the living should seek a place where he might remove his dead out of sight, can any who have experienced that love think without horror of casting into one of these ‘furnaces for the dead’ the wife who has been to him ‘as the loving hind and pleasant roe’, the child who has been the subject of his many prayers at a throne of grace, or the mother in whose lap he was tenderly nursed in the helplessness of childhood. Where no such horror is felt in connection with such a matter, it is our firm conviction that tender love is conspicuous by its absence, and that in this we are bearing an unmistakable proof of being given over to the judgments of the Most High.”
It only remains for me to point out that the practice of cremation cannot prevent the resurrection of the body or affect it in any way (1. Corinthians, 15.44).
I commend this evidence, based as it is upon the testimony of God’s Holy Word, to your careful and serious consideration.
Copies of this article, in leaflet form, can be obtained from ‘Gospel Tidings Publications’, address on cover of magazine.