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The Christian Burial.
That the manner how, and the place where, his body should be buried, was a matter of deep concern to Jacob himself is abundantly evident. The whole transaction is as earnest as it was possible to make it. The moment when he manifested this concern, is a moment when matters of light import do not concern the mind-it was the moment when Israel must die! The preface to his request shows how earnest he was: “ If now I have found grace in thy sight”-that is, if you have any disposition to do me a favor. The oath which he demanded of his son shows the same:“ Swear unto me." The language itself, is emphatically earnest : “ Bury me not, I pray thee, in Egypt.” That he was earnest is also seen from the fact that he afterwards renews his request in the presence of all his sons. "And Jacob called unto his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, and hear, ye sons of Jacob ; and hearken unto Israel, your father. And, after having blessed each, he charged them, and said unto them, I am to be gathered unto my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittites, in the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittitehow carefully he described it, that there may be no mistake-for a possession of a burying-place. There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife, there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife ; and there I buried Leah !"
In what shocking contrast with this touching tenderness, stands the cold and cruel spirit of paganism. “Diogenes," said one, “when you die, what shall be the disposition of your body?” “Hang me up,” said the Cynic, “ on a tree, with my staff in my hand, to scare away crows !"
The respect for the dead which thus manifested itself so strongly in the "father of the faithful,” continued to possess the minds of the Jews in latter ages.”
When Joseph was about to die, he manifested the same abhorrence at being buried in Egypt, as his father Israel had done. “And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence. So Joseph died, and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt. Gen. i, 25. After this, when Moses brought the children of Israel forth from Egypt, we are told that they brought with them the bones of Joseph, according to his request, and buried them all in Shechem, in a parcel of ground which Jacob bought of the sons of IIamor, the father of Shechem, for an hundred pieces of silver ; and it became the inheritance of the children of Joseph.” Josh. xxiv, 32. In the epistle to the Hebrews, this act of Joseph in giving commandment concerning his bones," is commended, and mentioned as an evidence of his faith. So firmly did he believe that Egypt would be in time entirely forsaken by his kindred, that he was not willing that his bones should remain there, when there was none left to whom the place where his ashes reposed would be sacred.
After the death of Saul, some valiant men of Jabesh-gilead took and buried his bones under a tree. David afterwards, when it was told him who had buried Saul, commended the act highly, and requited the humane act with special kindness towards the men who did it. Jonathan, too, it seems was buried in the same place, for we are told that “in their death they were not divided." After this some bratish men of Jabesh
gilead committed sacrilege upon their graves, stealing their bones and carrying them away ; but David interfered, secured the bones of Saul and Jonathan again, and buried them decently in Zelah, in the sepulchre of Kish, Saul's father. 2 Sam. xxi. 12 et seq.
This tender respect for the bodies of the dead continued still later among the Jews. To bury the dead among the poor and unfortunate, was considered a pious duty, and he who excelled in devotion in the discharge of this duty, was reverenced for his attainments in piety and er. cellence. For proof of this we need but refer to the first two chapters of the Book of Tobit. Tobit diligently performed this duty, in the true spirit and devotion of Scott's Old Mortality. He rose up from his table, before he had finished his meal, when he was told that one of his nation was strangled and lay unburied in the market place. He suffered the loss of all his goods, and even exposed himself to the penalty of death in purforming a duty prompted by his religious feelings, but which the laws of the land forbade as a punishment of the Jews. By night he stole out, where he knew the body of one slain had been left, carried it away and buried it decently !
The Rabbis, we are told, taught that it was not lawful to demolish tombs, or to disturb the repose of the dead, by burying another corpce, even a long time afterwards, in the same place. It was also considered by them a desecration to suffer cattle to graze in cemetaries, and thus to feed upon the grass which grew over the slumbers of the dead. Perhaps the reason of this is founded upon a sentiment thus expressed by Osborne, an old author : “He that lieth under the herse of heavenue, is convertible into sweet herbs and flowers."
Why should brutes be allowed to eat or tread under foot the green grass, and the beautiful flower, which God causes year after year to renew their freshness and beauty over the lonely dead ? Rather let them grow and fade, bloom and die, and by this unceasing renovation, be a fit emblem of the final resurrection of those who sleep beneath, and a pledge of that immortal renovation in the glorious prospect of which they are now only feebly held in the arms of death. I find no fault with this law. Let no unfeeling foot, much less a brutish one, tread upon the sacred ashes of the dead !
In the New Testament, we have the same tender regard for the body manifested. How touching is the conduct of the disciples of John, after he was beheaded in the prison to satisfy the caprice of a foolish girl. And his disciples came and took up the body, and buried it, and went and told Jesus. John xiv, 13. Who does not admire their devotion ? who does not commend their conduct? Their sorrow was great, and they were anxious to tell Jesus: but they buried the body first!
The tender care which was bestowed upon our Saviour's body is known and admired by all. How moving is the story of his burial! Joseph of Arimathea (being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews) besought Pilate that he might take the body of Jesus. And there came also Nicodemus (which at the first came to Jesus by night) and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pounds weight. Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury. Now in the place where he was crucified, there was a garden; and in the garden a new
sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus.” John xix, 38. This was not all the respect which it was intended to show to our Saviour's body. He was crucified on Friday, and that evening he was laid in Joseph's new tomb, and when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had brought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. Mark xvi, 1. They were, however, not enabled to perform their intentions of love, for he had risen, and they could only behold the place where he had lain. The great stone which was rolled against the door, shows also how anxious they were to secure the body against desecration. All this shows that the body among the Jews was considered a sacred treasure, which should be laid decently away. This was not an isolated instance of such respect for the dead, for the tomb where he was laid was Joseph's own new tomb, which he had hewn out of a rock in one part of the garden for himself: thus it shows also the desire of Joseph to provide a beautiful resting place for his own body. We are told also in le same history, that this was the manner of the Jews to bury.
The early Christians as well as the Jews were distinguished for their respect for their dead. To bury them decently was considered an urgent religious duty, which they performed with peculiar promptness and devotion. This is one peculiarity about them which was so striking and prominent as to attract the attention of Julian the Apostaie; this trait in them was by him admired and commended. In time of persecution, the Christians buried their dead by night, their persecutors not allowing it if known. The fact that they were prohibited from burying their dead, as a punishment, proves that their persecutors considered this their tenderest point, and believed that in no way could they afflict and pain them more. It seems from this that a desire to inter their dead was their strongest passion, to which their hearts clung longest and last. For this, in the spirit of Tobit of old and Old Mortality of modern days, they braved danger and death!
The early Christians had a great horror for the practice of burning the bodies of the dead, which was a custom at that time prevailing in the Roman Empire. It was no doubt the doctrine of the resurrection of the body which inspired this disgust at such a practice. They had, moreover, precedents in sacred history for interring or depositing it in a vault or cave in the earth, which practice was most accordant with their own feelings. Accordingly it soon became customary to employ for this purpose a piece of ground in connection with the church property; all of which was consecrated by religious solemnities as a sacred place of repose for the dead. On their graves, the anniversaries of their death was celebrated by their friends with tender devotion. This practice, and the feeling which occasioned it, are beautifully seen in the conduct of the congregation of Smyrna, in reference to the body of Polycarp their bishop, after he had suffered martyrdom ; “ We take up his bones (was their language) which are more precious to us than gold and precious stones, and we lay them down in a becoming place; and God will grant that we may gather together there in peace and joy, and celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom, in remembrance of the departed warrior, and for the practice and exercise of those whom the battle still awaits." Who does not admire their simple devotion, and their tender affection for their teacher, who had not only taught them how to live for Christ, but who was willing for their sakes and for Christ's, to seal his teachings with his blood. Let the place where his bones repose be honored for ever ; " for the righteous shall be held in everlasting remembrance.”
Often, among the ancient Christians, on the anniversary of the death of some eminent saints, a congregation was formed around their graves, exhortations to faithfulness were heard, and the Lord's supper was celebrated, in the consciousness of an inseparable mystical union in Christ, with those who had died as his faithful witnesses. Whether this is all to be defended and practised when times and modes have changed, we need not now determine. That it deserves our admiration more than that cold neglect of the bodies of the dead which we sometimes witness in our time, must be plain to all. It serves to show the strong conviction which reigned in their bosoms, that the bodies of the dead ought to be laid aside decently, and cared for piously, as peculiar treasures to be called for again in due time. The question is not whether we manifest the same spirit in the same way, but whether that spirit is yet among us at all, and whether it is not highly proper that it should be
BY THE EDITOR.
To-Day the holy communion is to be administered. What an interesting day—what a solemn, yet joyful occasion! What a penitential sadness steals over my spirit. My heart remembers my sins before the cross. The view of my dying Lord causes my spirit to tremble, and a strange sadness, for a moment, fills my soul. But how soon it is again sweetly driven away; and every dark fear that comes to rest upon my heart, flies before the tender melting look of the sufferer, like as shadows are chased before the advancing sunlight upon the landscape in Autumn.
Faith has carried me back over many centuries. Faith has set aside time and space. Faith brings me into the presence of that awfully glorious scene, where the sinless one bore my sins in His own body upon the tree. Faith makes it all real to me-it hears the groans, sees the agony that works upon his sacred brow, and the purple drops that fall from his hands, his feet, his side.
For me these pangs his soul assail,
For me this death is borne;
And pointed every thorn. Love draws me to the cross. Love longs after communion with the unseen, fairest among ten thousand. Love finds rest and peace in jorful communion with Him who makes us one with Himself, and the Father, in one spirit. Love hears Him say: He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. Love constrains me this
O for such love let rocks and hills,
Their lasting silence break;
And all harmonious human tongues
The Saviour's praises speak. Hope points upward, and promises to me the full fruition of what is here begun. Hope waits, praying and praising, till I drink anew of the fruit of the vine with Him in his father's kingdom. Hope cheers every fainting and feeble energy, and gently reproves every dull delay. Hope anchors the soul in the eternal haven of peace.
A hope so much divine
May trials well endure ;
As Christ the Lord is pure. I am to remember the sufferer always, but especially on this day. The bread is to show me His broken body—the wine is to set before mine eyes his shed blood. In my heart the whole scene of his sufferings is to be reproduced ; and I am to feel all the tenderness, and sympathy, and sacred love which was felt by John and the Mary who stood near Himand gazed upon the cross. But of myself I cannot do it. Grace must do it—the same love which died for me must touch my heart and make it live. He has touched me with his power of love. To him be gratitude and praise forever.
Why was I made to hear thy voice
And enter while there's room ;
And rather starve than come. O the cross-what a melting power there is in the cross. That which was the symbol of shame, has become the symbol of glory. God forbid that I should glory save in the cross, by which the world is crucified unto me, and I am crucified unto the world. As when the sufferer hung upon it so still, let all the world veil itself in darkness before the cross-and when all is dark, let that alone be bright in the midst. This is the star of hope to guide weary wanderers home.
Sweet the moments, rich in blessing,
Which before the cross I spend ;
From the sinner's dying friend.
Mercy's streams, in streams of blood ;
Plead and claim my peace with God.
While upon the Lamb I gaze;
Lost in wonder, love and praise.
In all need to Jesus go;
And himself more deeply know.
I LIKE that ancient Saxon phrase, which calls
The burial ground God's Acre! it is just;
And breathes a benison o'er the sleeping dust.