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BURIAL OF THE DEAD IN SCOTLAND.
(Concluded from page 257.)
In a former article we noticed some of the irregularities connected with the Burial of the Dead in Scotland. We now wish to direct attention to the service which, with so much wisdom, the Church has appointed to be used on these solemn occasions, the mode of performing it, and those who are entitled to claim it.
The propriety and value of the Burial Service can hardly be doubted by any earnest-minded Christian. For if there is any time in which, more than another, the mind of man is fitted for devotional exercises, it must surely be, when saddened by a visitation from the hand of God, when mourning a temporal separation from some dear departed brother or sister. Then the word of God read for their instruction and comfort will be listened to with an attention which it never excited before, and will pierce like a two-edged sword: then the holy psalms will convey their praises and adorations to the Throne of Grace with a peculiar awe and reverence; then the prayers will be offered up with the utmost humility, earnestness, and fervour of devotion. It is one of the most striking marks that the Spirit of God dwells in the Church, and guides her into all truth, that she never omits any favourable opportunity of directing the eyes of her children upwards towards their everlasting home.
We are informed by ancient writers that the heathens treated with religious reverence the dead bodies of their departed friends, and held in the utmost detestation those who neglected this duty. The ancient mode of disposing of the body was to commit it to its mother
earth, as suggested by the original sentence, Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return;' but the custom of burning the body and preserving the ashes in an urn prevailed among the Romans, and in some other countries. The object in both cases was to honour the remains of the departed. Jews and Christians have always, with due solemnity, committed the bodies of their dead to the grave or tomb; and the latter have invariably done so with suitable religious rites. The primitive Christians sung psalms, and performed other devotional exercises on these solemn occasions; and often with the happiest results as regarded their heathen neighbours, whose hearts were thus opened to embrace the faith of Christ crucified. This is stated by Wheatly in a passage which we shall presently quote; and does not such a fact convey the severest possible reproof to those who would still wish to continue the secret celebrations of the Church services? If heathens, by witnessing the funeral rites of their Christian neighbours, were prepared to hear and receive the saving truths of the gospel, how much rather, may we not hope, that those who are unhappily aliens from the Church of Christ, through prejudices instilled into them from infancy, which no means have been used to remove, and for the consequences of which they are therefore hardly responsible, will be influenced, by listening to the soul awakening services of the Church, to embrace the divine and saving truth which she only teaches in all its fulness, and thus be led to seek admission to her communion and sacred privileges? There is something which, under Divine grace, is irresistible in her teaching when faithfully administered, ·and exhibited at the same time in the practice of her members. And if this is true of all her services, it must be still more so of that which she has appointed to be used at funerals for the comfort and edification of the living. For providing this service she had wise and good
The description of the persons who interred our Saviour,' says Wheatly in his illustration of this part of the Book of Common Prayer, 'the enumeration of their virtues, and the everlasting commendation of her who spent three hundred pennyworth of spikenard to anoint His Body to the burial, have always been thought sufficient grounds and encouragements for the careful and decent sepulture of Christians. And, indeed, if the regard due to a human soul rendered some respect to the dead a principle that manifested itself to the common sense of heathens; shall we think that less care is due to the bodies of Christians, who once entertained a more glorious Inhabitant, and were
living Temples of the Holy Ghost? To bodies which were consecrated to the service of God; which bore their part in the duties of religion, fought the good fight of faith and patience, self-denial and mortification; and underwent the fatigues of many hardships and afflictions for the sake of piety and virtue? To bodies which, we believe, shall one day be awakened again from their sleep of death; have all their scattered particles of dust summoned together into their due order; and be fashioned like unto the glorious Body of Christ, as being made partakers of the same glory with their immortal souls, as once they were of the same sufferings and good works? Surely bodies so honoured here, and to be so glorified hereafter, and which too we own, even in the state of death, to be under the care of a divine providence and protection, are not to be exposed and despised by us as unworthy of our regard. Moved by these considerations, the primitive Christians, though they made no use of ointments whilst they lived, yet they did not think the most precious too costly to be used about the dead. And this was so far from being reproached with superstition, that it is even reported as a laudable custom; and such as had something in it so engaging, so agreeable to the notions of civilized nature, as to have a very considerable influence upon the heathens, who observed and admired it,—it becoming instrumental in the disposing them to a favourable opinion at first, and afterwards to the embracing of the Christian religion, where these decencies and tender regards to deceased friends, and good people, were so constantly, so carefully, and so religiously practised.'
One object of the Church in this service is to remind the living, through the instrumentality of the Divine Word, that there will hereafter be a resurrection to eternal life; that the souls and bodies of the faithful will be reunited, when they will be invested by their Judge with a crown of glory, and admitted to dwell with their Redeemer for ever. They are thus taught that the separation of the true and faithful members of Christ's Body is but for a time; that when the departed are committed to the ground, they are not separated from the communion of saints,' but rather enjoy it in greater perfection. They cannot return to us, but we must soon go to them. Nothing can be better calculated to soothe our sorrow, and to impress upon us the necessity of preparing for our change from the visible to the invisible Church-the paradise into which our Lord Himself conducted the penitent thief. There, in Abraham's bosom,' we shall rest in joy and peace, waiting the consummation of all things and the
resurrection of the body, as the prelude to our entering upon the fruition of that eternal bliss and glory prepared for the righteous at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
An office having such an object in view cannot but be edifying; and its arrangement shows with what care it was composed in order to accomplish its purpose. It opens with the words of our Blessed Lord addressed to the disconsolate Martha, while on their way to the grave of Lazarus; and in the language of the patriarch Job, exercises faith, while it urges to a patient resignation by the assurance of St Paul, that as we brought nothing into this world, it is certain we can carry nothing out,' and as the Lord hath only taken away what he gave, we ought always to be ready to bless his holy name. The psalms which follow are admirably adapted to comfort the mourners, and to teach them how, in their meditations, to make a right use of the present trying affliction. The lesson sets before us the doctrine of a future resurrection, and contains every possible motive to submit to the Divine will, both in the present trial and in the prospect of our own mortality.
It is an affecting sight, even when we are mere onlookers, to see the remains of a fellow-creature committed to its last resting-place; and while the mind is full of serious thought and the heart is tender, the Church seizes the favourable moment to fix the impression. In a sublime meditation she dwells upon the shortness, uncertainty, and misery of human life, and leads our thoughts to God, the Author and Giver of life, as our only source of consolation. Though we have offended His holiness, she yet teaches us to cast ourselves at the foot of the Redeemer's cross for pardon of our sin, for preservation in our last hours of pain, and for deliverance from the bitter pains of eternal death. Then follows the act of committing the body to the ground, which we do in the most entire faith that He, into whose hands we there place it, will carefully keep it, and faithfully restore it again at the last day. It was the belief of the ancient Christians that angels guard the mouldering ashes of the dead; an idea which is countenanced by that passage in St Jude, where Michael the archangel is represented as disputing about the body of Moses. But be that as it may, we believe in the power of God to preserve it by such means as He sees fit; we cannot consign it to the grave as if it were the body of an irrational creature; but we carefully lay it in the ground as having in it a seed of eternity, and in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life: Not that we believe, that all whom we bury
shall rise again to joy and felicity, or profess this sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the person that is interred. It is not HIS resurrection but THE resurrection that is here expressed; nor do we go on to mention the change of HIS body, in the singular number, but of our vile body, which comprehends the bodies of Christians in general. And this being a principal article of our faith, it is highly reasonable, that we should publicly acknowledge and declare our steadfastness in it, when we lay the body of any Christian in the grave.' * Then is to be sung or said a consolatory sentence from the book of Revelations Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord.' But though the righteous departed rest from their labours, and are in joy and felicity, we are yet in the midst of our warfare. The Church, therefore, with the utmost wisdom and with the most pious solicitude, directs us to look up to the Fountain of Grace, for help to enable us to work out our salvation. The prayers that follow have this object in view; and are calculated to teach us to subdue our grief, because we have hope of a speedy reunion with our departed friend in a state of felicity; and the grief with which we now part will soon be superseded by the joy of that reunion, where there can be no more separation, sorrow, or death.
Such is the office appointed by the Church for the burial of the dead. Can we conceive any thing more beautiful, more edifying, more consolatory? How then ought it to be performed? Its very nature and object teach us that it ought to be done publicly. At our Baptism we are received publicly into the communion of the faithful; and the Church never deserts those whom she has once received into her bosom, unless they, by obstinate disobedience, despise their privileges and desert her. She continues to guide them in their heavenward journey until she consigns them to the safe keeping of ONE who, she knows, will restore them again when the day of restitution comes. This faith she desires her ministers and people publicly to profess; and it is for their edification and comfort that she has provided the last office which she has it in her power to bestow. It ought, then, always to be performed openly in the presence of the whole assembled company, to show that the deceased died in the peace and unity of the Church of Christ. It ought never, on any consideration, to be performed in a private room; nor ought the female portion of the flock to be excluded. That women are excluded from the full enjoyment of this affecting and * Wheatly's Illustration, pp. 510, and 511.