The Loss of Memory
How impaired the memory becomes as we advance in years! We are constantly forgetting the little occurrences of everyday life, and our past history sometimes appears to us like an indistinct and troubled dream. The friends and associates of our youth fade from our recollection, and we are frequently unable to recall even the names which they bore. It is true that an aged person will sometimes manifest as clear and as tenacious a memory as is possessed by anyone around him — but his case is a peculiar one, and does not warrant others to expect that they will be similarly favored. For loss of memory is a common and natural infirmity of old age; and we must not be surprised, and we ought not to be impatient, at this indication, among many others, of our mortality.
The present world is not our rest, although we are too prone to live as if it were so; and our failing strength and weakened faculties are kind and necessary remembrancers of our actual position here. And not only do they remind us that we have reached the evening of life, and should prepare for the dawn of immortality — but they tend to assist us in making that preparation, by withdrawing us from the arduous and engrossing occupations of the world, and by gradually weaning us from our natural attachment to this present state of existence.
Our feeble powers, both of body and mind, unfit us for the busy engagements into which we once entered so heartily, and in our retirement from the active duties of life we have opportunity for meditation and reflection; while the privations and trials to which we are subjected, incline us to say with the afflicted patriarch, "I would not live always;" and thus make us willing to depart.
The failure of memory is, however, very trying and inconvenient; and it is a loss which cannot be repaired. "My memory fails day by day," writes a Christian lady in her seventieth year to her sister. "I cannot remember where I put anything, no, not for an hour; and though the inconvenience might be prevented by having a place for everything, and being careful to put everything in its proper place — a rule good in every time of life — it is frustrated by my forgetting that I forget. No person can conceive the trial this is but they who have experienced it. It is equally distressing with regard to circumstances and dates. I must make a memorandum of everything; and then I lose the memorandum, or mislay the book in which I note down things of importance. However, I have mercies great and numerous to balance, and infinitely more than balance this; my life is hid with Christ in God; my Jesus is my surety that all will be well: he forgets not. All my concerns are in his hands; he will manage all, perfect all, finish all."
Oh, amidst the changes and the imperfections which are incidental to the present life, how full of comfort is the thought that Jesus forgets not! He ever remembers his people, and retains the liveliest interest in their minutest concerns. "Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yes, they may forget; yet will I not forget you." No lapse of time can enfeeble or destroy his perfect and perpetual cognizance of our affairs.
And although our memories are rapidly failing, although they are unable now to fulfill the trust which we once reposed in them, they can still gratefully recall the Savior's precious name, and ardently cherish the recollection of his unspeakable love.
The pious Bishop Beveridge, when on his deathbed, was unable to recognize any of his relatives or friends. A clergyman with whom he had been intimately acquainted visited him, and when introduced into his room, said, "Bishop Beveridge, do you know me?" "Who are you?" said the aged prelate. Being told who the minister was, he shook his head, and said that he did not know him. Another friend addressed him in a similar manner, "Do you know me, Bishop Beveridge?" "Who are you?" he again inquired. Being told that it was one of his old friends, he replied that he did not recollect him. His wife then came to his bedside, and asked him if he knew her — but the good bishop had lost all remembrance even of his wife. At last someone present said, "Well, Bishop Beveridge, do you know the Lord Jesus Christ?" "Jesus Christ!" repeated he, as if the name had produced upon him the influence of a charm; "oh, yes, I have known him these forty years; precious Savior! He is my only hope."
Savior! if we forget all besides, may we remember you! May we look to you — rest on you — abide in you — and wait for that happy period when we shall be forever with you!
And when we have reached Heaven, we shall no longer have to complain of the imperfection of memory. For then we shall remember — remember without any effort, any mistake, any omission — the way in which the Lord our God has led us so many years in the wilderness. What a retrospect will that be! The light of eternity will shine on the records of the past, and each page of our life will be clear and legible. And we shall read them without pain or regret. In this world, the recollection of bygone days is often fraught with much that is sorrowful. Scenes and events come back to our thoughts on which we dare not dwell, and which we would gladly forget. But it will not be so above. Perfect and vivid as that mental glance which shall survey our journey through life from the cradle to the grave, will unquestionably prove — it will be accompanied by so deep and augmented an acquaintance with the loving providence of our Heavenly Father, and by such sweet and entire submission to his will, as will render it impossible for the remembrances to awaken the slightest emotion of grief in our hearts. Or rather, it will furnish us with such accumulated and varied proofs of God's tenderness and care as will fill our spirits with grateful adoration. Oh, as we recall with accurate minuteness the circumstances of our earthly history, we shall see enough of God's marvelous wisdom and loving-kindness to excite our praise throughout all eternity.
Instead, then, of lamenting over our present infirmity, let us endeavor to realize that freedom from all imperfection and those superior mental faculties which we shall enjoy in a future state. We are now drawing near to the land of perpetual youth and vigor. The weakened intellect, the declining strength, the failing memory, these are tokens that it will not be very long before our weary spirits are at rest.
A poor aged widow — poor in this world's wealth — but rich in faith — in reply to the kind inquiry of her minister after her health, replied with cheerfulness, "What cause I have to be thankful! How many at my age are confined to their beds, while I am able to be about and clean my own house! I hope I may have my faculties to the last."
"You find, I dare say," he remarked, "that this earthly house of your tabernacle is being dissolved: now one pin is taken down, now another; now this part melts away, now that." "Yes, sir, I do indeed find that my poor old body is very weak; often when I only walk across the room I am extremely giddy; and my memory almost fails me. Sometimes I get up and go into the other room to fetch something which I want, and when I come there, I stand, and have quite forgotten for what I came."
"You remember, perhaps, what took place when you were a girl far more distinctly than what you heard or saw only last week?"
"Oh yes, sir; it seems to me but a few days since I was a girl; my father lived at the mill, and I remember how I used to go into the fields, and have many a game there with my little playfellows."
"Well, my dear friend, memory generally seems to be the first faculty which is taken from the aged; and God thus reminds them to forget those things which are behind, and to reach forth to those things which are before. He prevents their looking back, in order that they may learn to look forward."
Let us all "look forward;" and as we muse on the glorious realities of Heaven — can we murmur that we should forget the fading things of earth? Is it not well that the nearer we are to the joys of eternity — the less vivid and perceptible appear the vanities of time? A mist has gathered over the scenes of earth — but everlasting sunshine is about to break forth.