James Smith, 1865
I have a great liking to village grave-yards, and seldom do I visit a country village, but one of my first walks is to the grave-yard. The sight leads one's thoughts back to the past — and reflection is profitable; and from the past — one looks forward to the future, when the dead, small and great, shall stand before God. And who can meditate upon that period, without benefit? As we walk over the dust of the dead — we think of what they may have been, and of what we ourselves shall soon be! They lie in silence, and are most of them forgotten; we shall also soon be committed to our mother earth, and, except by a few tenderly attached friends, be remembered no more below.
A short time ago I went to preach in a village in Bedfordshire, and, as usual, soon strolled into the churchyard. Nothing particular struck my mind at first — but I felt, as I often do in such places, a seriousness spread over my spirit. I walked among the long, thick grass, and read an inscription here and there; at length I was struck with the number of stones bearing the same family name. Each family seemed to have claimed a separate piece, and each appeared determined to perpetuate its name. But as I went toward one corner of the yard, I saw a number of stones — but not one word was legible on any of them; I tried — but could not decipher a word — time had erased the whole.
Well, thought I, if affection placed these stones here, and the design was to perpetuate the names and good deeds of the departed, affection is completely baffled — for wind and weather have blotted out all. A durable material had been chosen, the letters had been deeply cut — but all was of no avail, the whole inscription was eraced. Tradition may have handed down a few meager particulars to a remaining friend or relative; but, with this exception, the name was no more remembered in the village. The family had died out, or had emigrated to some other place, or were sunk into poverty.
Well, thought I, here is a lesson-book, and here are lessons to be learned. Let us be kind and attentive to our relatives while we have them: many, it is to be feared, who fail to perform their duty to their friends while they live, try to make up for this neglect by erecting a grave-stone for them when they are dead. The good that we do to the living will be remembered; but such acts for the dead will pass into oblivion. Let kindness carve our names on the hearts of the living, and they will carry the inscription beyond the bounds of this earth and the limits of time. Acts of kindness shown to God's saints — are recorded in Heaven, and the record will endure through eternal ages. We are always engaged in erecting monuments, either to our honor or disgrace. Every poor Christian that you relieve, every sorrowful soul that you comfort, every widow whose needs you supply, every orphan child whose tears you dry — will become a living monument, having inscribed upon it your good deeds, and there they will be read forever. You need not keep a record of them, such works will follow you, and will be mentioned to your honor before assembled worlds by the Judge of all (Matthew 25:34, 40).
Let everyone remember, that he is raising his own monument, and is writing his own epitaph, and that both will be preserved to all eternity. Whatever we write by our conduct is permanent, nothing can erase a letter, but the blood of Christ, and that only erases the bad, from those to whom it is applied. What appears transient to us — is permanent before God; the volumes written in time — will be read in eternity; the works performed in this world — will be remembered in the next.
Brethren, let us not trouble about a grave-stone, or be anxious to have our names engraved on perishable materials, in characters that may be erased; but let it be our concern to have our names written in Heaven. If written in the Lamb's book of life, if registered by the finger of God as born from above — the entry will remain forever. There are no erasures there. No destructive elements, no mischievous beings, can ever affect them there; they are more durable than the deepest sculpture in the most lasting material; more durable than if written with an iron pen in lead, in the the rock forever.
Let us, then, make our calling and our election sure. Let us never be satisfied until we obtain satisfactory evidence that our names are written on the heart of Jesus, and sculpted on his hands. And if we carry about with us this assurance, we may smile upon the attempts of our foes to mar our fair fame, or cast dishonor on our names; for we know that our God will bring us forth to the light, and we shall behold his righteousness. Let us imitate the conduct of Him who, though rich by nature, honorable by descent, spotless in character, and whose life was crowded with deeds of mercy and of might, lay in a borrowed grave, and never had a tomb-stone. But though he had no sculptured stone to mark the place of his burial, he had what was infinitely better — he had his name engraved on myriads of human hearts, his praises sounded by all the hosts of angelic tongues, and the highest seat in glory awarded him by his righteous and delighted Father.
Like him, let us go about doing good. Like him, let us minister to the poor, the sick, and the broken hearted. Like him, let us be known as the poor man's friend, the brother born for adversity. Like him, let us spend our health, our strength, our wealth, and every talent — to glorify God and do sinners good. Then, though persecuted by bitter foes, though misrepresented by the selfish throng, though cast out as unfit to live, we may cheerfully say with Job, "My witness is in Heaven, and my record is on high."
Let us, then, make it our daily care to do what is worth recording, and leave the recording of it to others. Let us aim to have a name in God's book, a name among God's saints, and a name in God's world, for aiming at his glory, walking by his word, and endeavoring to do the greatest amount of good to his creatures.
In our grave-yards we often read what is silly, what is erroneous, and what is false; but if we live for God's glory and the good of our fellow-men, if we live with eternity before us and the love of Christ is our hearts, if we live as those that must give an account, and whose desire is "to do it with joy and not with grief," we shall have an inscription that is wise, correct, and truthful; an inscription which angels will admire and saints read with pleasure; an inscription on which the beams of the Sun of Righteousness will ever rest, one letter of which eternity will never obliterate, and which will be placed before God's throne forever. This will gratify our kindest friends, satisfy our largest desires, and please the benevolent heart of our beneficent Redeemer.
Savior, let my heart be your monument, deeply engrave on it your love; let my life reflect the glory of your grace, and be a close copy of your own; let my death bring honor to your cause, and my endless employment be praising your name! Blessed be God for a good hope through grace, and the prospect of a glorious immortality.