A reader asks:
“A friend of mine believes that
proves that God showed favor to Cain and therefore grace. If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? He likes to emphasize the word ‘accepted.’ Looking forward for your views in the Standard Bearer.”
The incident to which the above mentioned text refers is the -sacrifices of Cain and Abel. There were two reasons why God looked in favor on Abel’s sacrifice. First, Abel took “of the firstlings of his flock and the fat thereof.” The sacrifice itself was pleasing to God, as is evident from the emphasis upon the firstling and the fat of it. Abel realized that he was a sinner and had access to God only through the blood of atonement. Second, as Hebrews I1 tells us, Abel brought a more excellent sacrifice by faith. God saw Abel’s heart, saw the evidence of God’s grace operating there, and God was pleased with the fruit of His own work in Abel. There were, on the other hand, two reasons why Cain’s sacrifice was rejected. First, Cain took “of the fruit of the ground,” as if he were presenting his own gifts to the Lord. Second, Cain brought a mere formal sacrifice, while his heart was far from God.
Added to Cain’s sin was the fact that he “was very wrath” with God. He accused God of injustice. Cain could see no reason whatever why Abel’s sacrifice should be accepted and his rejected. It is in answer to Cain’s wrath that God vindicates His name and His honor. God assures Cain that He is no respecter of persons. He does not look at the external sacrifice, but He sees the heart. If anyone brings a sacrifice of love to God, giving evidence of his faith, he will certainly be accepted. On the other hand, God warns that anyone who sins becomes a slave to sin. Sin is like a hungry lion lurking at the door of one’s heart, ready to pounce in and to destroy if but given the opportunity. Let the sinner beware, for God is just also in His judgments.
It is true that these words are addressed to Cain personally. But that does not change the idea. God assures Cain that “if thou doest well” the Judge of all the earth will declare that “well-done,” and will accept that sacrifice. This does not mean that Cain was able to do well. Nor does it imply that God intended that Cain should do well. Certainly it must be granted that God does not give Cain the grace to do well, to believe, and to bring a sacrifice of faith. Also as far as Cain is concerned this is only a statement of fact, maintaining God’s justice. The purpose of God is to warn Cain of his wickedness. For the just and holy God visits sin with sin. If Cain continues in his wicked ways, defying God, he can only expect that sin like a lion will tear him to shreds and devour him. His end will be everlasting torment in hell. Cain must never be able to say that he did not know the justice of God.
Obviously there is no evidence of grace here, nor even of favor. Cain was not accepted, nor was he given the grace to be acceptable in the sight of God.
A reader asks:
“In recent years, the practice of cremation instead of burial upon death seems to be on the increase. Some reasons given for this are the following: It is less expensive; there is a lack of room for burial; the body turns to dust anyway.
“Would you please give some Biblical insight as to how Christians should view this.”
The main Scriptural argument against cremation is the fact that the burial of the body of the believer has a rich symbolical significance.
Scripture compares the burial of the believer to the sowing of seed in the soil, awaiting the harvest. Our earthly bodies are the seed that is planted in the grave to break forth into its full power and splendor at the resurrection from the dead, when the entire harvest of the elect will be gathered in.
Thus, for example, Jesus says of His own death and burial, “Verily, verily I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” John 12:34. Jesus’ burial was another step in His state of humiliation. Jesus took His place among the dead of all the ages; His grave lies, as it were, in one line with our graves. Isaiah spoke of the fact that “he made his grave with the wicked.” Yet because He had already conquered over the devil and hell, He marched like a mighty Conqueror through our physical death and our grave to complete victory. “He was with the rich in his death.”Isaiah 53:11. The Conqueror was worthy of an honorable burial along His way to glory.
Christ’s burial also serves as proof of His resurrection. The vacated tomb is a silent testimony that “he is not here, for He is risen from the dead.” Moreover, Christ’s burial has its significance for us, for as we are buried with Christ in Baptism, so we also are raised with Him in newness of life. Thus we read in Romans 6:4. “We are buried with him in baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”
Returning to the figure of the seed sown in the earth, we find that Paul speaks of our earthly body as sown in the grave ready, as it were, to sprout forth in the glorious likeness of the resurrection body of our Lord Jesus Christ. “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness: it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.” Scripture speaks of the believers’ sleeping in their graves even while their souls rejoice before the throne of God, for our bodies will be awakened from death on that great resurrection Morning.
One can well understand that the unbeliever tries his utmost to deny the whole idea of a resurrection from the dead. Already when Christ arose and the tomb was left vacated the unbelieving Jews tried to say that the body of the Lord was stolen. Many prefer to have their bodies cremated, in order to try to prevent anything like a resurrection; or else they want their dust strewn over some favorite spot, in order to cling, as it were, to that spot even in death.
On the other hand, the believer insists on committing his body to the grave, to sleep in the Lord, awaiting the time when he will be awakened to be with the Lord forever. He cherishes the hope of the resurrection of the dead. Therefore he sees the rich symbolism of his grave and wants no part with those who favor cremation.