By Steve Hudgins
Have you given or do you give any thought or plan for your funeral service? It is becoming more and more common for some prearrangements to be made. Insurance salesmen have long stressed the concern a husband and father should have for the well being of his wife and children after he is gone and how he ought to have a good insurance program to assist them. Cemetery salesmen remind us that a resting place selected and purchased beforehand will remove a burden from those we love so that at the time of such sadness a hasty decision will not have to be made, then too this expense will have already been taken care of. Booklets are printed and given out by funeral homes, banks, insurance companies, etc. to help make matters easier for the widow and children. Information is furnished as to wills, insurance policies, properties, the wishes of the deceased pertaining to the final arrangements, etc.
There is good reasoning in all of this but one of the most important matters is frequently ignored, overlooked or forgotten. What thought, what preparation has been made so that true words of comfort can be spoken at the funeral service to the family, loved ones and friends? More importantly what arrangements have been made to assure appearance at the right hand of the Lord in judgment? (Matt. 25:34). Would it be a great help and of real comfort to the sorrowing if a gospel preacher could speak true words of hope for a better life for this individual? For this to happen some prearrangements must be made. A faithful servant of God cannot give hope to the bereaved when the deceased has neglected or refused his opportunities to obey the gospel or to live in harmony with it (2 Thess. 1:7-9; Phil. 1:27; 2 Pet. 2:20-22).
Death changes many things. Frequently it tends to make people forget all the bad and remember only the good about one. Death does not change a sinner into a saint nor the unfaithful and wayward into acceptable servants of God. A preacher must not allow his sentiments, friendship nor sympathy to cause him to give hope when there is no hope. This should not be expected of him. Such would undo what good is done in pulpit preaching. To preach the necessity of gospel obedience and faithfulness to the Lord on the Lord’s day and then to leave the impression at a funeral service that there is hope for one who hay, not obeyed or has not been faithful is a contradiction. This was impressed on me while a student of brother N. B. Hardeman. In class one day, he told of being called to conduct a funeral service for a man he knew and had preached to a number of times. This man who had a wife and children who were Christians had passed up opportunities to be one himself. At that service in Finger, Tennessee, brother Hardeman spoke of his acquaintance with the man and the fact that he had preached to him a number of times. He said the man was a good man, but that good was a relative term. He illustrated his point by saying that his Tennessee walking horse was a good horse-for show but not good for plowing. This man he said was good to his wife and family, a good husband, a good father, a good neighbor and a good citizen, but he was not good to himself as he did not obey the gospel. It is not the preacher’s responsibility to condemn nor justify but it is his responsibility to preach the truth. Funeral services cannot help the dead but they should help the living. Such help is not given by allowing people to go away with wrong ideas. Many no doubt have gone away with false feelings of security for themselves as they compare themselves with what they know of the dead in view of the preacher’s remarks about them.
Denominational preachers make some absurd statements about the dead. How many have you ever heard express any doubt about the eternal welfare of the dead? I heard a Methodist preacher once give, as a reason for a woman’s hope, a statement made by a man who had known her since he was a boy. He said she made the best cookies he had ever tasted and he knew she could not be lost. A daughter of this woman said that if her mother had attended that church since she had lived in that small town she did not know it. The same preacher was overheard comforting a woman whose husband had just dropped dead and who was concerned because he had never professed anything religiously. He asked if she thought he was gall right. Is it any wonder that many have no more interest than they do in preparing for death?
A funeral affords a gospel preacher an opportunity to preach to some who would not hear him under other circumstances. Is it not a good time to point out God’s great and wonderful love for mankind and the ample provisions He has made through His Son Jesus Christ for mankind’s eternal well being and just how one can obtain real hope in the hereafter? To say of one who has never obeyed the Gospel or who had not been faithful to the Lord, “He is in the hands of a just God,” might be misunderstood. It seems that many are confused over the terms “justice” and “mercy.” Such people may be left with the idea that in spite of what the individual did or failed to do there is still hope that God through His great mercy will save him anyway, and if another, “Why not me?” The Psalmist said, “Justice and judgment are the habitation of Thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before Thy face” (Psa. 89:14). It is through God’s mercy that we have the truth and the opportunity to obey it and thus be prepared for judgment (John 1:17). Justice will be rendered in judgment. The story is told of a man who about to be tried for a charge against him was told not to worry that he would get justice His reply was that was what he was afraid of-he did not want justice but mercy. He knew the difference.
Being a faithful Christian a man can make his funeral service less difficult for the preacher, his death more bearable for his family, and, most importantly, facing the judgment easier for himself. Are we making our prearrangements?
Truth Magazine XXIII: 5, pp. 90-91
February 1, 1979