No Solid Comfort in
Religious Rites and Ceremonies
George Mylne, 1871
In your bereavement seek not your comfort in religious rites and ceremonies and formal prayers. These may divert the mind and fill it with the form of worship, but they cannot give solid consolation. Can vaulted aisles dispel your sorrow, or surpliced choristers, or dim religious light finding its way through painted glass? Can these speak peace, or say to the winds and waves of sorrow, "Peace! be still"?
Neither intoned prayers, nor chanted sentences, nor the full measure of choral services, can fill the aching void in the heart. It is but filling it with emptiness itself. It is the husk without a kernel — an ornamented body without a soul — a voice without a meaning — a shadow without the substance — professing sympathy, with no power to console.
I speak of formal services — the mere routine of showy worship and formal prayer. Among the lovers of such rites, there may be devout and true worshipers, who look to Jesus through them all, and find their consolation. But all such services, persisted in from formal rote, can neither honor God, nor avail the worshiper, either for piety or consolation.
"God is a Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in Truth" (John 4:24). The very soul of worship, is God received into the heart by faith — faith in a Savior's sin-atoning blood. The soul of worship is to look to Jesus Christ, dwelling in the heart by faith (Ephesians 3:17). The soul of worship is the Spirit opening your eyes to see, your ears to hear — making you a new creature in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17) — bringing you into fellowship with God, that you may have the mind and learn the language of Scripture, and thus be one of those of whom it is written, He "seeks such to worship Him" (John 4:23).
But if you look no higher than the lectern or pulpit — are your aspirations bounded by choristers and their practiced melodies — if a dim devotion fixes your soul on the outward trappings of the sanctuary, the gorgeous vestments of the minister, with alb and cope, and chasuble and stole — the clouds of incense from the censer — the lighted candles on the table (the altar falsely called) — and artistic influence of glass and chiseled stone — is this to worship God in spirit? Is this the way to Him who keeps the keys of consolation, and opens it to whom He will. For, of this be sure, that vital worship and solid consolation go hand in hand.
Reader, inspect the nature of your worship, and your bearing in the house of prayer. Are you there to speak to God Himself — not merely to repeat responses; to think the thoughts and transact the business of true devotion? Do you feel that you have missed your object in the sanctuary, if you have had no sensible communion with the Lord? He who finds the Lord, finds life (Proverbs 8:35) — finds peace, finds hearty worship — finds genuine consolation — and, having tasted these, can have no appetite for empty forms which only cheat the soul.
But have you put Rites and Ceremonies to the test? Then tell me honestly, if they really comfort you. For the moment they may divert your sorrow, but the pealing organ and the swelling choir have no abiding influence on the soul. When once they are over, a void occurs — your sorrow rushes in — and so, to cheat it, you seek these empty religious forms yet again. It is a transient effect, a mere sensation after all, skimming the surface slightly, striking no deep roots of consolation, and, therefore, fruitless of relief.
How different is the consolation that Christ affords! There is something solid in it, something abiding, something to take away with you. You have it, sitting in your house, or walking by the way — as well as in the sanctuary. Are you confined with sickness, and for years unable to frequent the house of prayer — then this blessed principle abides the same. Could you fill your chamber with wreaths of incense, and a surpliced throng, or hear intonings by the hour — would it really aid your worship, minister consolation, or edify your soul?
Then let me ask you to desist from surface work, and dig the soil of sober truth. Let me ask you to renounce the shadow for the substance — to be satisfied with nothing but Christ Himself. Hide in Him for righteousness. Go to Him alone for your consolation. Enfold yourself in Christ, as in a garment. Take Him wherever you go; keep Him wherever you stay; live in the temple of His presence. Then may you find true consolation in the earthly sanctuary. Then will its services be sweet — because Christ is with you in them all. Then shall the preaching of the Word sustain you, and then your consolation shall abound. Thus will you love a service conducted simply, and shun the sensuous ornaments, and gaudy trappings, of mistaken zeal.
It is strange to see the straits that men are put to in their sorrow — the straws they catch at for their consolation. On the tombstone I have read it, that the dead person received his Baptism on such a Festival — and on the eve of such another festival he Died. Poor consolation, if you come to sift it! What has it done for the departed one? What could it do? Could it save his soul, that he was born or baptized on Easter — and died on Christmas?
If so, sadly have we misinterpreted God's Holy Word. It does not recognize such doors of entrance to the kingdom — such titles to celestial glory. The only door of which we read is Christ. He says, "I am the door." "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man comes unto the Father but by Me" (John 10:9; 14:6). How vain to look for comfort in such empty things! Look from the tombstone, look from the festival, to God's sacred Word. There is nothing to cheat you, nothing empty, there.
Others betake themselves to prayers for the departed. But what can this avail? If a man has perished in his sins, can prayer reverse the doom? Can prayer restrain the worm that never dies, and the fire that is never quenched? (Mark 9:44, 48). It is written, "He who is unjust — let him be unjust still; and he who is filthy — let him be filthy still; and he who is righteous — let him be righteous still; and he who is holy — let him be holy still." (Rev. 22:11). Can prayers overturn the divine sentence? Can Masses pluck a soul from Hell, or purgatory, falsely called?
Believe it not, my friend. "In the place where the tree falls — there it shall lie forever;" whether it falls heavenward — or towards Hell (Eccles. 11:3). Life is the time to save the soul, the only season to transact the business of eternal life — the only period, through grace, to qualify for Heaven. Then sin not against God, nor cast discredit on His Word, by futile prayers for the dead, for which you have no sanction in holy Scripture.
But have you reason to believe your friend is happy — that his last end was like the righteous — that even now he is gone to be with Christ, which is far better. If so, can he require your prayers, even if they were admissible? Could they make God better to him than He is already — the Savior's bosom more refreshing — or Heaven more glorious? Souls perfected above (Hebrews 12:23), need no prayers of sinners upon earth! Oh, monstrous thought, not to be harbored for a moment — a contradiction too gross for reasonable minds! If your friend was righteous — then he is righteous still; if he was holy — then he is holy still. What more does he require? What more do you require on his behalf? With reverence I say it, what could God do more than He has done — to give Himself to him — to give him Heaven? How can your masses or your prayers help him now?
Others there are who think they hold communion with the dead — and thus console themselves. But what warrant have they for the thought that disembodied spirits should return to hover in mid-air over their sorrowing friends? A bad beginning, one should say, of heavenly rest, forthwith to leave the bosom of the Father, and have to parley with a sinful world! A paltry compliment to Jesus, to exchange His presence, for fellowship with the dearest earthly friend! Nor were it only for a little season — for when would mourners wish it to subside, and thus part company with their disembodied ones? Whether this fellowship with the dead is sought in the unassisted fervor of a wandering mind, or at the hand of practiced "Mediums," profanely called — my friend, it is a mockery, to call it by a gentle name.
Some build the notion on the text, "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to those who are heirs of salvation"? (Hebrews 1:14). But Who are the ministering spirits here described? The context speaks of angels, and of them alone. But men catch at words, and because departed souls are spirits, they make the text apply to these, reading the Scriptures through the "glasses" of their own imagination, in disregard of sober reasoning and Scripture rule.
God is a spirit (John 4:24). angels are spirits (Hebrews 1:13, 14). Departed Souls are spirits (Hebrews 12:13). But are we to confound the several offices of God, and angels, and disembodied men? We think not of ascribing to the creature, whether men or angels, the office of the Creator. As little may we intermingle the offices of angels and departed men. Their nature is distinct, and so their office. From the beginning of the world, angels have been links of fellowship between God and man, "ministering spirits," to convey His messages or effect His purposes; agents of Providence. Now, can we, at our pleasure, impart an angel's office to a disembodied friend, and charge him with a message to ourselves, because it suits our foolish purpose? If so, we do it on our own responsibility — on the fiat of our own authority, and not the Lord's.
Again, angels are perfect in their kind. No sin has severed them in twain, body and soul apart; and hence they always have retained a capacity for office. Not so with man. On earth a fallen creature, after death a disorganised creation, one half of self embodied, the other moldering in the grave — say, is it consonant with reason, according to the principle of things, that a disjointed being should be employed as angels are? The spirit of a man, departed to be with Christ, is doubtless glorious, and happy in its glory. Yet, in another sense, it is the time of its humiliation, as bearing witness to the Fall, which caused its separate condition. It awaits a season of reunion hereafter; it waits "for the redemption of the body" (Romans 8:23), that, in organization perfected, it may fulfill whatever the Lord may have in store for it to do. Therefore, until Scripture tells you that your departed ones can return to watch and tend you — believe it not, nor seek with fantasies of your own to supplement the Word.
Besides, God bids us look to Him for consolation and spiritual influences. Nowhere does He encourage us to seek this in the creature, living or dead. His glory He gives not to another (Isaiah 42:8), no more to separate spirits than to graven images. His glory He gives not to the angels. We read not of their ministering to the soul, or taking the office of the Comforter.
And don't you see danger in the thought? Could you trust yourself to deal with God in fairness, and not to make your (so thought) hovering friend your chief, your only comforter? The Lord disclaims such partnerships. Give Him but half His homage — and you give Him none at all. Unconsciously you think to find more tender sympathy from your departed friend. But think again. Who is so kind, so tender, as the Lord — tender as Jesus — whence, as from a fountain, the springs of human sympathy are all derived?
"No other comforter I need,
If You, O Lord, are mine;
Your rod will bring my spirit low,
Your fire my heart refine,
And cause me pain that none can heal
By other love but Thine."
— A.L. Waring
Do not rest in living friends, however sound, however gifted, however kind. God sends them, I allow, to comfort you, and speak a word in season to your soul. But He sends them as His instruments — not to usurp His place. However sweet their fellowship, however much it savors of the sanctuary, make not an idol of the instrument. It is not your real strength — the staff of your support. Lean upon God, and ever find one moment's contact with the Lord of more avail than hours of converse with the creature. Nor forget that it is written, "I Am the Lord; that is My name — and My glory I will not give to another."