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LET THE DEAD BURY THE DEAD

“Now when Jesus saw great multitudes about Him, He gave commandment to depart onto the other side.” “And a certain scribe came, and said unto Him, Master, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest. And Jesus saith unto Him, the foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay His head. And another of His disciples said unto Him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. But Jesus said unto him, Follow Me; and let the dead bury their dead.” – Matthew viii, 18-22.

We realize continually our constant need of the Scripture for our Divine guidance: and it is equally certain that no other people save the saints of God have need of the Scripture: no other people are really interested in their teachings, or are able to comprehend their deep and hidden meaning.

The act of the Savior on this occasion was similar to His course when “Seeing the multitudes, He went up into a mountain: and when He was set, His disciples came unto Him: and He opened His mouth, and taught them.” – Matthew v, 1,2.

On this occasion when He “saw great multitudes about Him, He gave commandment to depart unto the other side.” Had He been anxious to convert the world; if His “mission” to earth was of this character, the multitude would be what He would have sought. The modern worldly teacher of the Beecher, Talmadge, Sam Jones, &c., type will make great effort to get up a crowd, by advertising beforehand, and drumming up all that can be induced to attend, by hook or crook; but Jesus frequently withdrew with His disciples from that crowd; especially when He had some great testimony to impart to them.

And on one occasion His disciples inquired: “Why speakest Thou unto them in parables?” He answered and said unto them, “Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the Kingdom, but to them it is not given.” – Matthew xiii, 10. So much for God “wanting to save every body!”

Upon the present occasion, “a certain scribe came, and saith unto Him, Master, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest.” Here was certainly an opportunity to make a convert, had this been the object of the Savior’s work! But His reply was certainly not encouraging to this volunteer. “And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay His head.” As if to say, “Do you yet wish to follow me whithersoever I goeth?” The answer seemed to settle the carnal zeal of this Inquirer.

But the second case was somewhat different; “and another of His disciples said unto Him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.” Luke gives a more complete account of this case. He says that Jesus “said unto another, Follow Me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.” – Luke ix, 59. Here then was a radical difference. In the first place the scribe offered his services to Jesus; in the second place Jesus called the man to “follow Him,” as He called Matthew from “the receipt of custom;” (Matthew ix, 9,) and “saith unto him, Follow Me. And he arose, and followed Him.” So far as this testimony pertains to Gospel preaching, Paul says: “If I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the Gospel is committed unto me. What is my reward?” “Wo is unto me,” he says, “if I preach not the Gospel!” – 1 Corinthians ix, 17, and 18:16.

The call of God is ever effectual. It can admit of no failure. The revelation of its power is seen in the life and conversation of those who are called “out of darkness into His marvelous light;” “an holy nation, to shew forth the praises of Him who has thus called them.” – 1 Peter ii,9. No obstacle or worldly excuse can be allowed to interfere with this high calling of free and sovereign effectual grace. On this occasion the excuse was offered, “Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.” If an excuse could be found in the long catalogue of worldly obstacles, trivial excuses, &c., here certainly it would appear, was one sufficient. This would be expected of the man by family and neighbors. But promptly the Master replies; “Follow Me; and let the dead bury their dead.”

It is generally supposed that a respect for the dead requires one to lay aside all religious convictions, and attend a funeral, especially if the dead is a relative; and more especially as near a relative as husband, wife, brother, sister, father or mother. Such respect is regarded by society as more important to preserve, than to maintain allegiance to the doctrine and order of the Gospel of Christ.

Some years ago in attending a funeral in Washington, D.C., the undertaker remarked, that this was a Scripture that he certainly could not understand. We thought, “Poor fellow, this is just the character of work that you are engaged in!” Let those who are “dead in trespasses and sins bury those who desire religious service of a worldly character at their funeral; living witnesses are not expected to attend such funerals; and even if one dies giving evidence of a hope in Christ, and the funeral is conducted by any save a Gospel minister in good standing, it must come under the ban of this Scripture; “Let the dead bury their dead.”

The great work of the ministry; and to bear witness under such a ministration absolutely requires that the efficient witness must be holy, “separated unto the Gospel of God,” – Romans i, 1; “all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.” – 1 Kings xix, 18. Such witnesses must not bid antichrist “God speed;” “For he that biddeth him God speed, is a partaker of his evil deeds.” – 2 John 10.

To give open countenance to the enemies of the cross of Christ, by attending their meetings is in a measure to this bid them God speed; and one of the very last places on earth to attend such meetings is at a funeral. For is not a funeral one of the last places for the living witness to give open countenance to the preaching of a lie? And certainly every thing that is not of the Truth is a lie.

The word holy is constantly used in Scripture in the sense of being separate. As we have already quoted from 1 Peter ii, 9; these people are called “an holy nation,” as separate from all other people. “Touch not, taste not, handle not” the unclean thing is the Divine command. – Colossians ii, 20-23. “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.” – Colossians iii, 1.

They were separate from all other nations in the type, they are required to be infinitely more so in the antitype. The line is drawn on all that relates to this world’s religion, which is nothing more or less than the worship “of the creature more than the Creator.” – Romans i, 25. To bow to their gods is to violate the Divine order which requires service to the God of heaven alone; and the presence of such true and living witnesses at any character of Arminianism’s will worship falsifies their own high calling, dishonors the profession which they have made, and brings them under the ban of the displeasure of Him who has called them out from such evil doings, and away from such evil company. With direct reference to such evil companionship the apostle says, “And such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” – 1 Corinthians vi, 11.

It matters not how near, nor how close the relationship is, for “He that loveth father or mother more then Me,” says the Savior, “is not worthy of Me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than Me, is not worthy of Me.” – Matthew x, 37. And “Whosoever shall do the will of My Father which is in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother.” – Matthew xii, 50. These are solemn words, and an understanding of them, and correct attention to their testimony is absolutely essential to bear witness to the Truth of Gospel grace.

It is written, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other, or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” – Matthew vi, 24. Again, “How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow Him: but if Baal, follow him.” – 1 Kings xviii, 21. We cannot have a divided allegiance. “Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. This is the first commandment.” – Mark xii, 29-30.

This commandment does not interfere with the duties and obligations required of these witnesses as citizens of a commonwealth, as neighbors, and in the varied relationships of life; but such earthly duties are not to be above or conflict with the higher, more important, and absolutely first requirements, the relationship sustained in the heavenly kingdom.

On a certain occasion the Pharisees came to Jesus endeavoring to “entangle Him in His talk,” “Tell us,” they inquired, “what thinkest Thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye Me, ye hypocrites? Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto Him a penny. And He saith unto them, Whose is this image, and superscription? They say unto Him, ‘Caesar’s.’ Then saith He unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar, the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” – Matthew xxii, 17-21.

Grace makes its possessor a better citizen, a better neighbor, husband, wife, father, or child; but it certainly does not lay him or her under obligation to bow to, or take any part in the Baal worship of the degenerate age in which we live! The line is drawn there, and requires a distinct separation; “If the Lord be God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.”

A proper and decent burial does not require religious service; but we have no objection to Gospel preaching on such, or any other, occasion, considering it merely as an opening for such preaching; but if a lie is to be preached, it is not in Gospel order that the witness of Truth eternal should attend such meetings, giving countenance and encouragement by their presence to such worldly or antichristian worship. We quote what we have before partly quoted: “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed; for he that biddeth him God speed, is partaker of his evil deeds.” – 2 John 10, 11.

The worship of the present day is undoubtedly idol worship; not a whit better than the heathen worship in the days of the prophets. In those days they cut down a tree (Isaiah xliv, 10-17;) and made a god out of a part of it, and did their baking from the fire produced by the other part; in these days they will carve a god out of their mind, the same mind with which they do their banking and other business; and the god so made by carnal imagination is not better than the god made in olden days by the same carnal mind and hands. Such worship is idol worship, and it is no place for the children of the regeneration to be seated in idol’s temples; affiliating with the worshippers of idol gods, creatures of the human brain, swayed by human influences, enthroned by human wisdom, upheld by human power; such gods are no better than the ignorant dupes who worship at such shrines.

We are told in Romans xiv, 23: “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin,” and we would inquire whether or not any child of grace, whose heart the Lord hath touched, who has been called unto holiness, has any faith in such idol worship whether at funerals or elsewhere, we are quite certain of a negative answer; then this would forbid any attention to such evil places. To plead that respect for the dead requires attendance, whether such dead be father, mother, brother, sister, husband, or wife; is to place such earthly relationship, or simple respect for it, above our allegiance to the Divine command which requires, as already shown, our separation from all such worship, and false preaching at funerals is the worship of a false god. It is the preaching of a falsehood; the exaltation of an imaginary god; the elevation of the creature more than the Creator: the praise and adoration of poor, puny man, for generally the dead person comes into the discourse more, infinitely so than Christ.

Some years ago a Vice President of the United States died, and his funeral services were held in the Capitol Building in Washington. The elaborate service consisted of praise and admiration of the dead without any reference to the merits of salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ; and this is a fair sample of all such “preaching.” If the speaker makes a show of explaining Scripture how can he succeed without a knowledge of the Truth, and if he fails to comprehend one single point, he must signally fail in all; for what is not of Truth must certainly be a lie; and hence our people bear testimony to the highest order of Divine Life, the purest evidence of living up to its requirements by abstaining “from all appearance of evil,” (1 Thessalonians v, 22,) and refusing to be found at such places, funerals, or otherwise, no matter how near the relationship; esteeming “the answer of a good conscience,” a great reward than the applause of the world, as Moses esteemed “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt.” – Hebrews xi, 26.

We are living in “perilous times.” Certainly in no previous age since the Christian Era has wickedness been more pronounced; in religion; a dark and terrible day wherein the Man of Sin is being rapidly developed, “the mystery of iniquity doth already work; * * * with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish.” – 2 Thessalonians ii, 2-12. It is the high calling of sovereign free grace to testify against all such works of antichrist. The Children of this Testimony, “rooted and built up” in Christ, “shine as lights,” “in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation,” – Philippians ii, 15; are living witnesses raise up of God to testify against the delusions of a wicked and adulterous age.

The result of their testimony is with Him who has called them to testify. They leave it in His hands, where it actually is. If they are to withstand the open opposition of enemies; they are also to withstand the blandishment of professed friends; the fleshly sympathetic pleadings of those near in the ties of nature. No fleshly offering can be laid upon the holy altar. After all as we have previously quoted who is our brother, sister? The Savior answers; “Whosoever shall do the will of My Father in heaven.” And on the cross the Savior said to the disciple whom He loved; “Woman, Behold thy son! Then saith He to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.” – John xix, 26-27. “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their dead.”

What an high calling is this! It must soar above every call that nature knows; for it is “the heavenly calling,” and those who are partakers are “holy brethren,” – Hebrews iii, 1. Were it of an earthly nature it would bend to earthly environments, be swayed by earthly sympathies, acknowledge earthly allegiance. But it lives in an atmosphere above the sordid atmosphere of earth. “It entereth into that within the veil.” – Hebrews vi, 19.

The faith which children of the Testimony profess must be tried as by fire; circumstances must arise in their mortal pilgrimage to make manifest the faith that is in them; “and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” – 1 John v, 4. The temptation must be met, and the victory achieved; and “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him.” – James 1, 12.

Onward and upward is the growth and development of the “Church of the First born” whose “names are written in heaven,” who have been called away from a dead world; who have come past flaming Sinai, and have come “unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” Then “See that ye refuse not Him that speaketh. * * * Whose voice then shook the earth; but now He hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.” – Hebrews xii, 22-29.

Among no other people are these testimonies taught. The ignorant world would laugh them to scorn. But to you dear saints of God, is this message sent, appealing to the higher instincts of the Divine Calling; a revelation in your own experience that you walk “unspotted from the world,” – James i, 27. “Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth to those things which are before.” This is not looking back like Lot’s wife and becoming a pillar of salt – Genesis xix, 26; looking back to the beggarly elements of the world, swayed by its sympathies, its influences, cowering before its frowns, fearful of its criticisms; but this is pressing “toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians iii, 13,14, “where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.” – Colossians iii, 1.

“God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. * * * and as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy upon the Israel of God.” – Galatians vi, 14,16.

“Thou seest our weakness Lord;
Our hearts are known to Thee;
O lift Thou up the sinking hand,
Confirm the feeble knee.

“Let us in life, in death,
Thy steadfast Truth declare;
And publish, with our latest breath,
Thy love and guardian care.”

Elder William M. Smoot,
February, 1915.