Putrefaction

“Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby lie is able even to subdue all things unto himself.”  –Phil. iii. 21.

[The body is …] More vile after death. When the soul, the inhabitant, is gone, when it becometh a breathless trunk, it must be removed out of sight; it must be buried in some little pit and hole of the earth, where it may be hidden, to keep others from being offended or infected with its rottenness, stench, and putrefaction: That I may bury my dead out of my sight,’ saith Abraham concerning his beloved Sarah, Gen. xxiii. 4. The presence of our bodies then is noisome to our dearest friends that most loved us.

This should be often thought of by us–

[1.] To humble us who are but dust and ashes as to our composition, constitution, and dissolution: Gen. xviii. 27, Who am I, that am but dust and ashes, that I should speak unto the Lord?’ All the nations are but as the dust of the balance unto God,’ Isa. xl. 15. What should we be proud of? should we glory in the nobility of our birth? We are made out of the dust of the earth as the worms are; yea, the worms are of the elder house, for every creeping thing was made before man. Of our beauty and strength? Prov. xxxi. 30, Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain.’ That part we glory in is but dust, and will be dust. Or in pomp of living? High and low shall lie down in the dust alike, and the worms shall cover them,’ Job xxi. 26. All of us have bodies subject to the necessities of nature, to the infirmities of nature, to the decays of nature, to the diseases of nature, which will at length totally prevail over us.

[2.] If our bodies are vile bodies, let us not seek the present good of the body as our chief happiness. If anything keep us from heaven, it is the love of the body, which should rather invite us thither, for hereafter our bodies shall be in their best estate. But alas! most men spend their time in caring for the body, to gratify it with daintiness in feeding, costliness in clothing; all the business of their life is to cherish, deck, and adorn proud rottenness. Now in a body over-cared for usually there dwelleth a neglected soul. This is to adorn the house and slight the inhabitant, to embroider the sheath and let the sword rust, to pamper the mortal body and quite neglect the immortal spirit.

[3.] To comfort those that are decaying more and more as to the bodily life, who are subject to continual pains and diseases, or, as Gaius, have a healthy soul in a sick and crazy body, 3 John 2. Why, here it will be a vile body; it cannot be helped. Beauty will be wrinkled with age, and strength fail and be invaded by diseases. The eternal spring and vigour of youth we look for in the other world.

Thomas Manton, “SERMON XVII”  The Works of Thomas Manton, D.D. Vol. XX

Thomas Manton (1620–1677) was an English Puritan. Some people may not have been too happy with the idea of considering our “vile bodies”, but Manton teaches several things in this short passage, things we may not have expected at the outset:

1) Burial is to be viewed as respect for the dead, and respect for the families of the deceased.

2) The vileness of our current bodies is a reason to set aside vanity and boasting and mortal pride.

3) We should seek other, higher things beyond the grooming, exquisite feeding, and adornment of the body. There is more to life.

4) Do not forget those whose bodies are failing.

PRAYER: Dear Lord, our bodies seem vile, may even stink. Let us not use this as reason for despair or the rejection of the less lovely around us.  Let us respect the dead, remembering also these norms are also about the care of the sensitivities of the bereaved. Let us be free of pride and excessive focus on the needs of the body and focus on You and our neighbor. Let this teaching about failing bodies cause us to scramble to help, not to avoid, those suffering around us. AMEN. 

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