By Reuben Archer Torrey
CONDUCT OF FUNERALS
I. IMPORTANCE OF FUNERAL SERVICES AS A MEANS OF REACHING MEN WITH THE GOSPEL.
Funerals offer an excellent opportunity for getting hold of people and winning them to Christ. Many will attend a funeral service out of regard for the deceased or his family, who will not go to any other religious service. Atheists, skeptics, and utterly irreligious people, are often seen at funeral services. It is a time when peoples' hearts are made tender by sorrow, and when men are solemnized by the presence of death and the nearness of eternity. He is a poor minister of Jesus Christ who does not seize upon such an opportunity for preaching the Gospel and bringing men to Christ. It was once the writer's privilege to conduct the funeral services of a man who up to a short time before his death had been an out and out infidel. His wife was of another faith. A little while before his death I had pointed him to Christ, and he had found forgiveness of sins, and had died rejoicing in the Savior. As I stood by his casket, many of his old infidel friends were gathered around him. The opportunity was seized to preach the Gospel. The hearers were reminded of the long-standing infidelity of their friend, and then of how his infidelity had failed in the trying hour, and how he had found hope in Christ. As the sermon closed, I made an appeal to any who would then and there accept Christ as a Savior. One man stepped forward, and reaching his hand across the coffin said, "I have been an infidel just as my friend who lies here, but I will now take Christ as my Savior," and he gave me his hand upon it then and there. The wife of the man was also converted and united with our church and became a very faithful member.
II. HOW TO CONDUCT A FUNERAL SERVICE.
Very few directions are needed as to the proper conduct of a funeral service. It should be conducted very much as any other Gospel service, with a special reference of course to the circumstances.
1. IT IS IMPORTANT TO HAVE WISELY SELECTED MUSIC, RENDERED IN THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. One needs to be careful in regard to hymns sung at a funeral service. Some hymns that are supposed to be especially choice for such an occasion are sentimental trash. Hymns that are suitable for the funeral of a Christian are oftentimes not suitable for the funeral of an unconverted person. A good soloist who can sing effectively in the power of the Holy Spirit is a great help. A song properly rendered at such a time is likely to prove the means of some one's salvation. There is no place where a godless singer is more utterly out of place than at a funeral, and there is no place where a consecrated singer is more likely to be used of God.
2. Great dependence should be placed upon the reading of the Word of God. Passages should be selected full of comfort for the sorrowing, but also passages that drive home to the minds of the unsaved the lesson of the occasion, namely, the nearness of death and the certainty of judgment. The Scriptures should not be read carelessly, but with the purpose of impressing their truth upon the hearts of the hearers. The presence and power of the Holy Spirit is greatly needed to this end.
3. THE PRAYER IS OF GREAT IMPORTANCE. It should not be, as funeral prayers so often are, a mere attempt to say nice things, a smooth- flowing current of really meaningless words: it should be a real prayer, and a prayer of faith. There should be petition to God for His comfort to those who are in affliction; there should also be prayer that the lesson of the hour should not be forgotten, and direct prayer for the conversion of the unsaved who are present.
4. GREAT WISDOM AND SKILL ARE NECESSARY IN THE SERMON OR ADDRESS. All unwarranted eulogy of the deceased should be renounced utterly. If there have really been things worthy of imitation in the life of the one who has departed, it is well oftentimes to mention these, but to do it not for the sake of glorifying the dead, but for the sake of instructing the living, and leading them to the imitation in these respects of the one who has gone. If the one who lies in the casket has been beyond question a true child of God, it is well to call attention to the fact, and emphasize how it pays at such an hour to have been a Christian. It is well sometimes to drive home the thought, that if some of those who were present were in the casket instead of the one who is there, there would have been no hope. There should always be a direct appeal to the unconverted to accept Christ then and there.
If the deceased was an unsaved man, there need be no personal reference to him at all. Of course there should be no pronunciation of doom upon him, but there should be a plain declaration of the one way of salvation through Jesus Christ. This truth should not be applied to the deceased, but to those who are still living. They can draw their own inferences as to the application, but experience proves that in such an instance, if the work has been wisely done, the hearers will apply the truth to themselves instead of to the departed.
If there have been any special circumstances in connection with the death, these should be laid hold of as a point of interest that can be made to lead up to the truth. For example, if the deceased was clearly a true child of God, and some of the friends are Roman Catholics, it is well to emphasize the truth, backing it up well by Scripture, that the deceased has not gone to purgatory, but has departed to be with Christ. It was once my privilege to conduct the funeral of an earnest Christian woman, almost all of whose relatives were Roman Catholics. The church was filled with Roman Catholics. I made no reference whatever directly to the Roman Catholic church, but dwelt at considerable length upon the truth that those who have been saved by a living faith in Jesus Christ pass into no purgatory of torment, but pass at once to be with Christ. I did not use the word "purgatory." The Roman Catholic audience listened with great attention, and I have reason to think that the sermon was blessed of God. Of course if direct reference had been made to the fact that the woman had come out of the Roman Catholic Church and become a Protestant there would have been trouble at once and no good accomplished.
ALWAYS FOLLOW UP YOUR FUNERALS BY VISITATION. When you have been invited to conduct the funeral services of any person in a home, you have a right of entree into that home. Use it to the utmost. Take advantage of the circumstances. Deal with the people while their hearts are still tender with their great grief, and if possible lead them to the Savior. Many an irreligious home has become a Christian home because a wise minister has followed up the advantage that has been given him by his being invited to conduct a funeral service there.