Abortion - A Biblical Look at an Emotional Issue
In January 1973, as the Supreme Court of the United States was announcing its decision in the Roe vs. Wade case which allowed for abortion on demand across the nation, a strange occurrence was taking place in downtown Philadelphia.
In what was to be a new shopping mall known as The New Market, an entire city block on Pine Street in Center City had to be excavated. During this process, a brick-lined outhouse was discovered near the rear of the property of what is now 110 Pine Street. As archaeologists dug into the pit, they found more than 1,000 artifacts of ceramic, glass, and metal. They also found varieties of pins, buttons, and wax seals from the 1750-1785 period. The pit also contained more than 11,000 pieces of bone, most of which were animal bones left over from dinners of long ago. But, to their horrort they discovered fifty-two human bones. When they examined them closely, they discovered they were the skeletal remains of two infants who had been victims of late term abortion or infanticide.
Sharon Anne Burnston wrote about this horrific discovery in her 1982 article, Babies in the Well, for the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. Her work finally proved true what many had thought about abortions in Pennsylvania. These babies represented thousands of children who had been murdered in the womb all across the early colonies of the United States.
Records have now revealed that in the states of Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts and New York, thousands of babies were murdered – many of them after they had been born – during the colonial era of our nation. The evil of abortion has a long and sordid history.
Here is where we need to understand not just the act of abortion – as heinous as it is – but the worldview of those involved in the abortion industry as well as those who – often in desperation – seek an abortion.
Back in 1967 when the state of Colorado began the process to loosen abortion laws to allow abortion on demand (for a host of reasons not at all associated with a woman’s health), the spiral downward began as the state of New York finally accomplished what abortion providers really wanted – the legal protection to abort a baby at any stage of pregnancy.
Advocates of the law codified by the 1973 case of Roe vs. Wade are still exuberant over the victory by the Supreme Court’s decision. Efforts to define and describe murder in terms of women’s health and the latest public relations campaign of multi-million dollar corporations (most of which are supported with federal funds) remain out in force with little to stop their advance.
Since the passage of Roe vs. Wade in 1973, more than 58 million babies have been aborted. Think of it – that is more than the number of people in the entire states of Texas, Florida, and New York combined. That number is far more than all of those killed in all of the wars of the United States since its founding.
Each day in the United States, more than 1,780 abortions are performed – most by Planned Parenthood – a group which has the financial support of the millions of dollars of federal grants. While unborn babies are not protected by law, they surely must be protected by the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Prophet Jeremiah gives us a divine perspective on the life of the unborn when he states, “Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Over the last few decades our understanding of what is happening in the womb has been illuminated by marvelous technology. With ultrasonography and miniature cameras, what was once visible only to God is now available to expecting parents. It is clearer now than ever before that a pregnant woman carries a “who,” not a “what” in her belly.
Jeremiah 1:4-5 reports God’s announcement of Jeremiah’s call to be a prophet. However, He actually called Jeremiah to be a prophet much earlier. The person who would be known as “the weeping prophet” was set apart for that office even before he was born. Friends, such is the wisdom and knowledge of the sovereign God.
Though the text concerns Jeremiah specifically, some of its truths apply universally. For instance, God tells Jeremiah that He “formed” him in the womb. The Hebrew verb yatsar, translated “formed,” comes from a family of words that includes the word for “potter.” Like a skillful potter, God forms every human being in the womb. The psalmist adds to the imagery of God as skillful artisan when he says he was “being made in secret, intricately woven” (Ps. 139:15).
We should also note how God tells Jeremiah that before He formed him in the womb He “knew” him. The Hebrew word for “know” can have a wide variety of meanings, from “factual knowledge” (Gen. 27:2) to “carnal knowledge” (Gen. 19:5; Judg. 21:11). The word here in this text connotes a personal relationship between God and the nascent prophet. God knew him thoroughly and completely, just as He knows every one of His human creations in an intimate way, even as they lie in the womb.
This is one of the reasons abortion is such a heinous act—it destroys a person with whom God is in intimate relation. He has formed them skillfully; He knows them intimately. Sovereignly, He has set them apart for His own purpose. To kill an unborn human being is not only murder, but an affront to God Himself.
What did the prophet Jeremiah say to God’s people? What were they doing that was so offensive to God? Jeremiah 7:30-31 says, “For the sons of Judah have done evil in my sight, declares the LORD. They have set their detestable things in the house that is called by my name, to defile it. And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind.”
Abortion is detestable to God, yet – as the statistics reveal – even professing Christians have defiled their worship by undergoing what some term a “medical procedure” that ends the life of their offspring. Insofar as this hypocritical practice has infiltrated the Church, it should expect ridicule, loss of credibility, and power.
Jeremiah’s daunting calling was to declare God’s judgment on his own people. God called him “to pluck up and break down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:10). He was to begin, of all places, in the temple, among God’s people (Jeremiah 7:1-2).
The people of Judah had become idolaters. In their foolishness, they did not even try to hide it. They put their idols in the temple itself, defiling the sacred place of worship. Moreover, they erected altars (the word here is topheth – from an Aramaic word for “furnace”) for child sacrifice in the Valley of Hinnom, the place where the garbage was burned. There in that shameful valley, they worshipped at the altar of Molech.
Molech worship was particularly gruesome. Children were passed between two scorching pillars of fire on Molech’s altar (hence, they were passed “through” the fire). If the child lived, this was taken as evidence of Molech’s approval…Most of the children, of course, died an excruciating death. The sin of worshipping Molech was so wicked that it was regarded as a capital offense under Levitical law (cf., Lev 18:21; 20:2-5).
God told Jeremiah that the people’s idolatry would result in horrible judgment: Judah would be slaughtered by the Babylonians; and it happened. The valley would be renamed the Valley of Slaughter because so many would die there; and it happened. The unburied corpses of the killers would be food for the birds and wild animals; and it happened.
Lest we think that the sophistication of our modern technological society has escaped or grown beyond the ancient practice of Molech, the 21st century has its own form of child sacrifice in medically assisted abortion.
It is not enough to simply call for the judgment of God by the Church against those who perform and assist in abortions. We must do more, and we must NOT begin with mere activism (as important as that may be).
We must confess together today that powerful forces are arrayed against the life of unborn children that are financed and possess powerful tools to influence and impact the public law of our nation. If you read the transcripts of the hearings for the Roe vs. Wade decision, you will soon discover that the back and forth between the lawyers reveals there really is no debate on whether a baby in the womb is actually a life that deserves the full protection of law in order to live.
We must begin with prayer: prayer to the God of heaven who knows exactly what is happening across our nation, even down to the blocks of this small borough we call home. Our task today begins first as intercessors with God for his mercy and his help to strengthen us in wisdom and understanding. We stand in weakness, but biblically we stand in great power. Scripture clearly states that God delights in the weakness of his people because it is at the point of greatest weakness that we are at our strongest. This is the paradox of Scripture and the perspective of the wisdom of God.
When sin seems to be most powerful, it is at precisely at that moment God does his work in us, through us, and for us. If prayer seems to be of little or no consequence to you and you would rather first begin in visible protest and action against those advancing abortion both in public life and in the medical community, then you do not understand the power of prayer as it is prioritized in Holy Scripture.
Read the word of God from the book of James, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit."
Friends, this is not some sort of game of bartering with God whereby we are able to exalt ourselves in power over others. Prayer naturally comes from the hearts of Christians when we clearly see just how powerless we truly are against those who stand against the Word of God. And so, we must begin with prayer.
Our prayers must extend to both the perpetrators AND victims of the entire modern abortion industry. As all of you know so well – the aftermath of abortion is often filled with thoughts of suicide, actions of drug addiction, stormy relationships, and heartbreak.
And our prayer today must be that the churches of the Lord Jesus Christ stand not only in opposition to abortion, but also in compassion to those who have chosen to end the life of a child. The guilt is overpowering; it is debilitating. And the church must stand as a deterrent before an abortion takes place – to save lives – and as a refuge for repentant parents who have murdered an innocent human being.
Today we stand in need of prayer and action. First, for ourselves to sacrifice our time and treasure to stand with those who stand against the forces of organized abortion here in our home. Second, we stand as servants of the Lord Jesus Christ who preach his Gospel as the only sure hope of salvation for those who have sinned in thought, word, and deed.
At an 1857 meeting of the Suffolk District Medical Society in Massachusetts, a young doctor, Horatio Robinson Storer, raised the uncomfortable topic of abortion, which was illegal, but common, at the time. He cited the cases of 15 women whom he had treated in the preceding six months for the procedure’s terrible effects. He noted widespread ignorance of the fact that the fetus was a human being from the earliest stages of pregnancy. But this was no excuse.
Indeed, Storer emphasized the “moral and absolute guilt of the parties offending” and called upon physicians to “show to the community the sincere abhorrence with which they viewed the crime.” Though some objected strongly to his position, he was not deterred. He would go on to become America’s most ardent defender of the unborn during the next half century. For his work, he was widely honored, including election as vice-president of the American Medical Association while he was still in his thirties.
Storer’s focus was unusual since few doctors dedicated themselves to women’s health in his day. In fact, when he began to practice medicine in 1853, most physicians refused to examine the bodies of females reporting problems with their reproductive organs. Instead, they merely prescribed medicine based on the patient’s description of the symptoms. As a result, women frequently suffered and died from conditions that would have been treatable if properly diagnosed. For Storer, this was totally unacceptable. So he became the first physician in America to establish gynecology as a legitimate medical specialty. In that field, he became a champion not only of women, but of the babies they carried.
For instance, in an 1856 book review, he attacked craniotomy—the practice of crushing a child’s skull to allow delivery in stalled labors: “The deliberately sacrificing an unborn but still living child, in cases where statistics go to prove that the adoption of another mode of delivery would give that child a good chance of successful birth, is nothing short of willful murder.”
Then, in 1858, in an address to the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he embraced and commended the words of Thomas Percival, the eighteenth-century founder of medical jurisprudence: “To extinguish the first spark of life is a crime of the same nature, both against our Maker and society, as to destroy an infant, a child, or a man.”
Storer founded a gynecological ward at Boston’s Lying-In Hospital and, contrary to common practice, admitted unmarried mothers, hoping that he could dissuade them from terminating illegitimate pregnancies with abortion or infanticide. He also earned a law degree from Harvard in order to advance the legal fight against abortion and improve his standing with attorneys prosecuting abortion cases.
He particularly appreciated Christians who stood for the sanctity of life. In his estimation, the Church had saved millions of lives with its teachings on fetal sacredness. Yet he was dismayed that many of the clergy were less vocal than physicians in decrying abortion. Significantly, his crusade for unborn life took on new meaning when he found eternal life in 1869, converting from Unitarianism to faith in the Triune God.
As one historian has argued, Storer was the most important American of the Nineteenth Century because so many owed their existence to his fight against abortion. Indeed, those who read these very words – as well as their friends and acquaintances – might not have existed at all had Storer not worked to protect their forebears throughout their days in the womb.
It all began with prayer by the church in Boston who dared to believe God could do the impossible. As Christinas in the Twenty-First Century, our responsibility remains the same. We must begin by calling out to God on behalf of unborn children and in opposition to the industry that seeks to destroy them. We serve a God that can still do the impossible, so let us seek him together.
This talk was given by Dr. Raymond Johnson at Chester County 40 Days for Life Rally at St. Agnes Catholic Church in West Chester, PA on November 5, 2017.
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